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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
* * * *
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