The next morning Prabhupada had a new,
handwritten sign posted on the outside bathroom door of the
All initiated devotees must attend
morning and evening classes.
Must not be addicted to any kind of intoxicants,
including coffee, tea and cigarettes.
They are forbidden to have illicit sex-connections.
Must be strictly vegetarian.
Should not extensively mix with non-devotees.
Should not eat foodstuffs cooked by non-devotees.
Should not waste time in idle talks nor
Engage himself in frivolous sports.
Should always chant and sing the Lord’s Holy Names:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
handwriting intrigued me; and so did the list. I read it over
a few times. Most of the rules seemed natural enough. Although
I was still associating with non-devotees—my family—it
could hardly be called “extensive”. Practically
speaking I only slept at their house. And although I still had
a few non-devotee friends, our ideas were becoming increasingly
more polarized, and so the number of such friends was quickly
diminishing. My real friends and family were the devotees and
temple guests, and the few classmates who were slightly interested
in Krsna consciousness had recently helped me to arrange a preaching
engagement for Prabhupada at City College.
“Wasting time in idle talk” seemed difficult, though.
How, simply by speaking ordinary topics, could my spiritual
advancement be checked?
Thinking and thinking, I recalled Prabhupada’s recent
class saying that speech is the most important quality for everyone.
People get together and go on talking for no good purposes—either
for this life, or for the next. “If we are gaining something
materially, we may go on talking; or if we are gaining something
spiritually, we may talk. But if there is no gain, if it is
simply wasting time, then such talking should not be done.”
He’d gone so far as to say that mundane talk was like
the croaking of the frog, which simply invites the snake of
death to come and eat him. If we talked of Krsna, He would become
pleased and bless us with deathlessness.
It made sense. Now I would just have to apply this new found
understanding. On one level, the thought of only being able
to talk about Krsna was restrictiv e, but if by loose talk I
was cultivating an impure consciousness, then even though I
might be physically present in the temple, I would be binding
myself to the cycle of repeated birth and death. I began to
be aware of what I was speaking, and began to try to change.
* * * *
Later that morning, one of the devotees signaled that Prabhupada
wanted to see me in his apartment. When I arrived, he wasn’t
there, so I assumed he must have gone into the bathroom. Alone
in his greeting room for the first time, I looked around. The
second-hand, thick, Indian durrie-print rug I had donated to
him a month earlier now covered his sitting cushion, and the
small metal trunk he had brought from India, and which was now
covered by a dark, gray-brown blanket, served as his desk. A
manual typewriter, papers and books all sat in the middle of
the desk, and a bundle of what seemed to be manuscripts wrapped
in saffron cloth lay in a corner. A tall, metal closet opposite
Prabhupada’s desk held his stock of Srimad-Bhagavatams
and his few personal items of clothing. Two windows to the left
of the closet filtered morning sunlight through the fire escape,
illuminating the prints of Krsna on the wall. “A transcendental
office,” I mused.
Prabhupada walked in, and, happy to see him, I touched my head
to the floor as an offering of obeisance. He greeted me with
a nod and a smile, and then carefully lifted an 8”x10”
Indian print from a pile of papers on his desk. It was another
picture of Lord Caitanya and His four main associates, more
formal than the first, and looking like a posed portrait intended
for worship. In this print this Lord Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu
stood in the top center position, with the others standing in
two descending rows slightly below Him. Above His head, a very
small rendition of Radha and Krsna appeared within an aum sign,
superimposed over a bright green background.
“This is called Panca-tattva,” Prabhupada said,
sitting himself on the layers of thin mats behind his desk.
“The five-in-one Absolute Truth.”
Although this was a new concept for me, I tried to follow as
Prabhupada explained the print: “The first two, Sri Nityananda
Prabhu and Sri Advaita Acarya, are in the category of Lord Caitanya
Himself. They are Visnu tattva— God. They are energetic
Absolute Truth. The others, Sri Gadadhara Pandit and Sri Srivasa
Thakura, they are His devotees, His eternal associates. So They
are His energies. The energy and energetic are fundamentally
one, but because their functions are exhibited differently,
they are different also. So in this way the Absolute Truth is
manifested in diversity, in one unit. This is called acintya-bhedabheda-tattva,
or the conception of simultaneous oneness and difference.”
Prabhupada was filling in the blanks of my previous conception
of God: He was everything, yet at the same time He was different
from everything. Conceivably, it was inconceivable.
“If we follow the principles of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu,”
Prabhupada continued, “by associating with His devotees,
our desires for material enjoyment, like lust and greed, will
disappear from our heart. Then we will be able to understand
the meaning of all sastras. But if not, then such understanding
is not possible.”
“That must be why I have difficulty absorbing all these
new philosophical concepts,” I thought. Material desires
have not disappeared from my heart. I was embarrassed, but enthusiastic
to work for Prabhupada.
“Among these five diverse manifestations of the Supreme
Lord.” Prabhupada continued, “That is, the Lord
Himself, His incarnation, expansion and energies—there
is no spiritual difference. Simply They are five diverse manifestations.
Lord Caitanya is, I mean to say, the form of devotee, Lord Nityananda
is the identity of devotee, Advaita is incarnation of devotee.
Then, here is Gadadhara. He is the pure devotee and Srivasa
Thakura is devotional energy.”
“The Panca-tattva have Their own maha-mantra,” Prabhupada
continued. “Sri Krsna Caitanya prabhu Nityananda Sri Advaita
Gadadhara Srivasadi Gaura bhakta vrnda.’ This mantra has
some speciality. There are so many offenses in chanting Hare
Krsna. But the members of the Panca-tattva do not accept offenses.
They are the most merciful. By first chanting Their mantra,
They purify us to chant Hare Krsna.”
I remembered the sign with all the rules, glad now to be introduced
to the Panca-tattva, and praying that They might take away any
obstacles to my spiritual advancement. Wanting more explanation,
but unable to even begin formulating a question, I just looked
at the picture.
hair was styled differently than in the first print Prabhupada
had shown me. I fetched the other from the next room to compare
the two. In this new print some of His hair was pulled up in
a topknot, with the rest hanging in locks to His shoulders.
In the other print, it was parted down the middle and all of
it fell to His shoulders. Which style I should use? I asked.
He held both the prints on his lap and studied them. I wondered
whether he was looking at the paper or seeing Them in person,
as his large eyes were moist.
“Use the style with the topknot,” he said.
I offered my obeisances again, and left to purchase the canvas
and other materials. Since I wore old dungarees while I painted,
and since I was almost always misplacing my paint rag, the dungarees
became like a paint rag. Quite a messy painter, in fact, my
hands usually smeared with paint, while working with the original
Panca-tattva print I would occasionally smudge parts of its
glass covering or frame.
Towards the end of the week’s work, Prabhupada mentioned
the smudges. This picture is non-different from Lord Caitanya
and His associates Themselves, so you should keep it as clean
I immediately cleaned it up, and promised myself I’d be
more careful in the future. At the end of the day, I decided
not to leave Lord Caitanya standing on the newspapers on the
floor, as I had been doing. Instead, I hung the painting on
the wall by the inner window. Just before I left, Prabhupada
came into the room, walked over to the painting, and studied
it for a few moments. He
turned to me and, with his right palm upward, pointed to Lord
Caitanya’s raised arm. “You can paint an amulet
here,” he said. “He received it from His mother
on His birthday—to ward off all ill luck.”
The next day, when I informed Prabhupada that the painting was
complete, he asked me to, “paint the names of the Panca-tattva
under Their lotus feet.”
I thought perhaps I had missed something. “Lotus what?”
“Feet, lotus feet. The Lord’s feet are as beautiful
as fully bloomed lotus flowers. Meaning is also that Lord Caitanya
and His devotees dance eternally in one section of Krsna’s
planet. And that planet is shaped like lotus flower.”
I tried to visualize both the feet and the planet, without much
Prabhupada wrote the names on a small piece of paper so I would
know how to spell them, and I then printed them on the painting
in oil paint and then walked to the hardware store on Third
Avenue to buy some 1” wide plywood strips for a frame.
Enroute, I passed one of the thousands of New York’s Lower
East side Bowery bums. Slovenly dressed and wrinkled from a
life of hardship, he pushed a wooden cart piled high with bundles
of junk and cradled a bottle of whiskey. It was already the
beginning of December, and snow and slush covered the streets,
but this unfortunate fellow wore merely a few ripped sweaters,
and his feet were wrapped in newspapers and plastic bags. I
felt sorry for him.
I returned to the apartment, and, as I was nailing the wood
strips onto the sides of the painting, Gargamuni came by. I
mentioned to him about the bedraggled bum I’d encountered
“Was he carrying a heavy load?” he asked.
I nodded as I began applying bright blue paint over the plywood
frame and told him about the junk piled on the cart. “I
thought so. I’ve seen him around.” He paced across
the floor and then added, “You know Swamiji once told
us about the donkey who foolishly carries a heavy load, slaving
hard and thinking that at his next step he will catch the dangling
carrot that the owner tied two inches in front of his nose,
which, of course, he’ll never get. All he gets is a few
bites of grass at the end of the walk.”
He laughed, “And he doesn’t even realize there’s
already so much grass for free on the sides of the road.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. “But I felt
sorry for this bum. He was so poor.”
“I think you missed the Swami’s point,” Gargamuni
“Everyone is poor. Even the millionaire. Everyone is working
hard for material masters, hoping to get happiness—and
it never comes.”
“I get it now.” “I should feel sorry for the
‘rich’ as much as for the ‘poor’”.
“Anyway, people are either ‘rich’ or ‘poor’
in proportion to the amount of Krsna consciousness they have.”
Prabhupada asked Gargamuni to hang the Panca-tattva painting;
but instead of hanging it on the wall, he put it on the “side
altar”—an old table someone had covered with a checkered
cloth and set against the temple room’s side wall, halfway
between Prabhupada’s dais and the front entrance. That
evening, at the beginning of class, Prabhupada looked at the
large painting standing on the altar. He appeared disturbed
and asked that it be properly hung. The next day it was still
not hung. Finally, after three requests over three days, Gargamuni
hung the painting on the wall above the altar. The following
morning in his Srimad-Bhagavatam class Prabhupada spoke as if
making an announcement, “Now Lord Caitanya is here. There
should be no more nonsense in the temple. God is here, His expansion,
His incarnation, His spiritual energy and His marginal energy;
everything is here except His material energy. There is nothing
material about this painting. And, even if you think it is only
color, color is another of God’s energies, and therefore
it is also spiritual. If anyone simply chants Hare Krsna in
any part of the world and dances in front of this painting of
the Panca-tattva, he can become fully Krsna conscious.”
The other devotees were as amazed as I was. What kind of special
mercy was Prabhupada giving us?
Prabhupada explained that Lord Caitanya had started the sankirtana
movement when He was just a boy, and that He was always surrounded
by “this Hare Krsna party”. He said that Lord Caitanya
is the yuga-avatara of this age, and that He is worshipped simply
by chanting. He encouraged us to preach the maha-mantra sound
vibration along with this picture all over the world, and he
said that would bring peace and prosperity without a doubt.
He concluded by saying that this should be the mission of the
Krsna consciousness society.
“How incredibly fortunate I am to have joined this most
important and revolutionary society,” I thought to myself.
I remembered the sign on the bathroom door. “Should always
chant and sing the Lord’s holy names. Hare Krsna, Hare
Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama,
Hare Hare.” “Maybe the Panca-tattva would help me
if I asked Them.”