He Leaves and Stays

There was a sacred atmosphere in Prabhupada's apartment, in the 'altar room' where I painted, even though devotees were always doing various services there. Earphones in his ears, Satsvarupa sometimes transcribed Prabhupada’s dictations. A new boy, Neil, also occasionally typed Prabhupada’s Bhagavadgita manuscript on a desk he had constructed from milk cartons and a piece of wood. Brahmananda often sat on the floor examining invoices. Gargamuni
sometimes sat on the floor, next to his brother, doing his accounting. Kirtanananda and Acyutananda continually passed back and forth through the room while they cooked in the kitchen. I figured this serene atmosphere was partially because all the activities were related to Krsna, but mostly because of Prabhupada’s personal presence; I felt fortunate to have a new spiritual family.

One morning, towards the end of the first week in January, Neil and I were straightening up the altar room after class. Prabhupada came in and told us that something had gone wrong with the plumbing, and he was therefore unable to take a shower.

“In India,” he said, “the people take three showers a day.”

Personally, by Prabhupada’s association, I had just graduated from taking one shower a week to one shower a day. That was clean enough for me.

Then Prabhupada added, “But of course in your country it is very cold.”

I grinned as Prabhupada asked us rhetorically, “Why is Mr. Chutey (the landlord) trying to save money? Why is he so miserly? He doesn’t even have a dog.”
In Prabhupada’s classes he had often criticized Americans for spending lots of hard-earned money on their dogs. Because people were frustrated in their relationships with each other, he’d said, and not wanting to turn to Krsna, they took shelter of dogs, petting them this way and that, without realizing that by thinking of their dogs at the time of death they would become dogs in their next lives. I appreciated how Prabhupada saw the broader picture, and how he also had a good sense of humor.

The altar room wall phone, which almost never rang, rang, and Acyutananda went to answer it. It was for Prabhupada, who then took the receiver from Acyutananda's hand and said, “This is A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami here.” He paused to listen, and then said, “Oh, Mr. Kallman, I am always thinking of you.” Mr. Kallman was the producer of the album Prabhupada had recorded in early December, and it appeared from Prabhupada’s response that he had
called concerning some delays in the production.

After Prabhupada finished his conversation and hung up the phone, he turned to us and said, “Yes, I am always thinking of him—just as Kamsa was always thinking of Krsna.”

We all laughed, almost honored that Prabhupada had let us in on the confidential joke. At the same time, although he had been very polite with Mr. Kallman, he looked disturbed with the delay, and I was also so grateful that he was binding us into an affectionate concern for him.

* * * *

Although I had only known Prabhupada for a few months, by now he had grown to mean practically everything to me. Everything he did and said, even his cutting humor about the landlord and the record agent, were endearing, and it was obvious that the other devotees felt the same. Therefore, when Kirtanananda told me later that morning that our ‘everything’ would be going to San Francisco in a few days, I was horrified.

Kirtanananda explained that Prabhupada had sent a householder couple, Mukunda and Janaki, along with Janaki’s sister Jamuna, to preach in San Francisco, just before I joined in the previous October. They had actually been on route to India via San Francisco, but inspired by Prabhupada’s request, along with some other San Francisco friends they had now opened a storefront temple right in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury district—and they wanted Prabhupada to join them.

While the thought of losing Prabhupada devastated me, I had to admit that San Francisco was an ideal place for him to preach. Tens of thousands of hippies were migrating there from all over the country, in a youth renaissance much bigger even than what was going on in New York.

I felt sorry for myself. Wanting him to tell me it wasn’t true, I went to Prabhupada’s greeting room and hesitatingly asked, “Swamiji, I . . . I heard you are going to be leaving us soon?”

Prabhupada glanced up at me, full of love. He very obviously wanted me to feel the depth of his expression. “Do you think I would ever leave you?” he asked. “Don’t think like that. You are always with me, and I am always with you.”

I found it difficult to meet his gaze. It would have been impossible to reciprocate with his love‚ so I didn’t even try.

The very next day Rayarama and Ravindra-svarupa hired a car and drove to San Francisco. Then, three days later, on January 16, Prabhupada packed his belongings. He really was leaving! An hour later he walked out of his apartment in his tweed winter coat, and those of us who did not have outside employment accompanied him to the Airport.

Feeling the need to do one last thing for him, I offered to carry his clay mrdanga, one of two that he had recently received from his intimate friend and siksa-disciple, Srila Narayana Maharaja, in India. This was the mrdanga he was going to take to San Francisco. At the airport terminal about twenty of us walked along the pavement together, stopping for a few moments outside the automatic doorway of the airport building entrance, to gather around Prabhupada as he spoke to us informally. My arms grew tired from carrying the mrdanga, so I looked around for somewhere to rest it for a minute. I spied a high metal platform near the door and placed the mrdanga on it. I failed to notice that the platform was slanted, so a few seconds later the mrdanga rolled off the platform and onto the street, breaking into a hundred pieces at Prabhupada’s lotus feet. Bitten by failure, my heart also broke into pieces.

To my surprise Prabhupada did not look angry, but instead compassionately said, “Don’t be sorry.” Half an hour later, while we sat at his feet in the airport waiting room, all I could think of was the broken mrdanga. But Prabhupada consoled me, “We will get hundreds of mrdangas,” He said, “but don’t break them.”

Just before he left to board the plane with Ranacora, his new personal assistant, he called the men up to him, one by one, and gave each one an affectionate hug. Although he was my spiritual father, he was a sannyasi, in the renounced order of life. I would not even allow myself to dream of getting the same treatment as the men, but still I felt left out. I and a new girl were the only women there, and I lamented that we were woman and would miss out on any affectionate parting gesture. Just then Prabhupada called us to him and, as a loving father, patted us on our heads. I felt simultaneously lost and found—found, because he had brought me to him, and lost because I could not imagine living without him.

* * * *

One week after Prabhupada’s departure, Brahmananda, Hayagriva, Kirtanananda, Satsvarupa, Gargamuni, Acyutananda and I received a joint letter from him, where all our names were mentioned in the opening salutation. The letter read:

“You have already got the news of our safe arrival and good reception by the devotees here. Mr. Allen Ginsberg and about fifty or sixty others received us at the airport, and when I arrived at my apartment there were some press reporters who took note of my mission. Two or three papers, like the Examiner and the Chronicle, etc., have already published the report.

I understand that you are feeling my absence. Krsna will give you strength. Physical presence is immaterial. Presence of the transcendental sound received from the spiritual master should be the guidance of life. That will make our spiritual life successful. If you feel very strongly about my absence, you may place my picture on my sitting place and this will be a source of inspiration for you.
Hope you are well, and awaiting your early reply,

Yours affectionately, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.”

He had said he would never leave us, and now he made his meaning more clear. To an outsider this letter might have read just like any ordinary one, but for us his every word came from Krsna. His words were like sutras, concise and bristling with meaning; they were our lifeline. It amazed me that such an eminently great person, Krsna’s personal friend from the spiritual world, had such an affection for us that he could possibly be 'awaiting our early reply.'

A week later Brahmananda received another letter wherein Prabhupada wrote; “Please take care of Jadurani so that her painting work may go on very nicely. She is entrusted with great responsibility.” This was even more amazing to me—that Prabhupada considered my service to be a 'great responsibility.' I felt absolutely honored, and my sense of responsibility increased.

* * * *

Prabhupada had told us that he would never leave us. With the faith that he was still watching us, we resumed our services. Over the next few weeks therefore, instead of falling to pieces in his absence, it was as if we were all infused with some of his strength. It became obvious that he was able to continue being present, even though he was physically absent. We discussed our understanding that our feelings of separation from him were not at all the same feelings we’d had for other people in our lives. However neophyte, the longing I felt for him had a definite otherworldly flavor.

Copyright 2001-2002 Jadurani/Syamarani dasi.
All Rights Reserved.