Radha–Krsna and the
It was by now the beginning of the second week
of December, and 5:30 in the morning. Chanting on my beads,
I walked up the steep stairs to the train station to take my
usual 1 ½ hour ride on the IRT train from my parents’
house in the Bronx to the temple. I reflected that before I’d
met Prabhupada, my train journeys were always filled with some
kind of fearful anxiety. I had always justified the existence
of that anxiety by citing one thing or another as it’s
source. I felt a sense of relief.
The train rolled back and forth
for about twenty minutes, forcing everyone to hold onto the
poles and hanging hand-straps in the carriage, or, if they were
children, onto their mothers—for dear life. The rattling
train then went underground and a few stations later I got off
to change to the IND. Walking through that station was like
entering a hellish realm. The artificial lighting imbued the
connecting tunnels with an unnatural, eerie glow, and the arriving
and departing trains roared as if there was an earthquake overhead.
Still chanting japa, I boarded the next train. Some of the people
in the subway car stared at each other blankly; some held newspapers
in front of their faces, staring at headlines announcing death
by murder, death by traffic accident, death by old age or death
through the war in Vietnam. I had some faith that my fellow
passengers would benefit spiritually by hearing Krsna’s
name, even if they did not understand, so I chanted audibly.
At Canal Street I got off to change trains for the second time.
By now it was 6:30 and the station was filled with thousands
of people. Although most of them were passengers, many were
homeless, living right in the station, and I tried not to breath
too deeply the fetid air as I made my way down the platform.
How could all these unfortunate people not die of hopelessness
without Krsna consciousness?
I remembered Prabhupada telling us how a passenger absorbed
in contemplating his final destination, on board a crowded,
stuffy and bumpy bus is not disturbed. He had used the example
to show how a devotee does not mind awkward situations, because
he keeps his mind fixed on goal of love for Krsna and going
back to Godhead. I certainly wasn’t very fixed; in that
I was new. But at least I was thinking of going to see Prabhupada
and his temple.
About two stations from Second Avenue, a young man took the
seat next to me. Recognizing my tilaka and japa beads, he asked
me a few questions about the temple. Then he challenged, “What’s
wrong with killing a cow? Why do you people give so much attention
to the cow? And what’s wrong with eating meat anyway?”
I responded as best I could, but I knew my answers were not
really satisfying him. I was aware of the need for vegetarianism
because Krsna is a vegetarian and we offer all our food to Him
before we eat. I also knew that meat eating was bad because
the animals have a developed consciousness and felt pain. Prabhupada
had even written in his first canto of Srimad Bhagavatam that
the killer of a cow and the killer of a child in a secluded
place is awarded the same punishment given to the killer of
a cow. But I had only become a vegetarian myself a few weeks
before, and I hardly knew anything about the cow’s importance.
I invited the young man to the temple so that he could put his
questions directly to Prabhupada. He said he had something else
to do, and so we parted at Second Avenue and Houston Street,
where I got off. By now it was already 7:00 a.m. and I was anxious
not to be late for the kirtana and class.
When the morning program was over, I went upstairs to begin
painting. Still thinking about my encounter on the train, I
was sorry that I had not been able to answer the young man’s
questions to either of our satisfaction. After Prabhupada completed
his breakfast I knocked on his door, and offered my obeisances.
He looked up and greeted me as he often did, saying, “Jah-duraah-
nee.” As usual, this somehow made me feel as if we were
the only two people in the world.
“Swamiji, I tried to preach to someone on the train this
morning; but I’m frustrated by how it turned out. I couldn’t
properly answer the boy’s challenge about meat-eating.
Can you tell me what I should have said?”
“What have you done?” Prabhupada sarcastically replied.
I was speechless. What did I do? What did I do wrong?
“What have you done for society?” he repeated. “The
cow gives so much to society in the form of milk, which is made
into so many health giving products. Milking the cow means drawing
the principles of religion in a liquid form. The great rsis
and munis would live only on milk. What have you given?”
I finally realized Prabhupada was not speaking to me as Jadurani,
but to “me” as the young man. So I repeated his
version. “He says there’s no mention in the Bible
that meat-eating is sinful or that a meat-eater can’t
enter the kingdom of God.”
Prabhupada used neither the Bible nor the Vedas in his answer.
“You have to use common sense,” he said. “Suppose
one son kills and eats his less intelligent brother. If the
son then boasts, ‘Oh father, I’ve just killed your
foolish son,’ would his father, who loves both sons, be
“Wow! All beings are Krsna’s children and He loves
them all. I’ve heard that before—in many other ways;
so many people have said it. But it never meant anything to
me until now.”
Prabhupada continued, “Better-endowed sons should not
live by exploiting those less fortunate, and that includes the
animals.” He described briefly how calves are taken from
their mothers just after birth and slaughtered. “These
sinful acts are responsible for all the trouble in the present
society, they don’t know what they are doing in the name
of economic development. As he spoke, a few tears fell from
his eyes. Cow is mother. Mother supplies milk, and you are killing
mother. Is that very good gratitude? Is that advancement of
I had to shake my head in agreement and disgust.
“Now every twenty-five years there is big war. Wars and
crime. This is their punishment. And they will suffer more.”
Now they are repenting, and they will have to repent more and
I thought of the Vietnam War. So many mother cows in America
had their calves taken from them, and now so many mothers had
their sons taken from them and slaughtered in Vietnam.
Prabhupada seemed lost in his own reverie, and I looked above
his head at the picture on the wall. It was an Indian print
of a youthful and debonair Krsna, looking about fourteen or
fifteen years old, holding His flute and standing on the earth
globe—a soft, beautiful white cow behind Him. The cow
was craning her neck backward to look at Krsna with loving eyes.
I looked at Prabhupada again. His eyes were also full of love,
so much so that I was almost embarrassed to look back at him.
Feeling totally unqualified, and uncomfortable because I didn’t
know how to react, I just offered my obeisances and left.
* * * *
Later that afternoon, as I was sweeping the altar room floor,
Prabhupada was speaking with a few devotees in the next room.
I heard him mention my name, and through the window between
our rooms I saw him motion toward me. I strained to hear him
say, “Krsna’s housewife.” Flattered by the
designation, I swept the floor more enthusiastically.
When he had finished speaking with the others, he called me
into his room. “Just wait a minute,” he said, walking
over to his bookshelf and pulling out one of the volumes of
his Srimad-Bhagavatams. He handed me only the dust jacket and
asked me to duplicate the cover art in a large painting.
“The whole thing?” I asked, looking at the many
forms of Krsna within the spiritual planet bubbles floating
in the blue sky.
“No. Only the middle section showing Radha and Krsna and
two cows in Vrndavana.”
I squinted at the middle section. It looked like the center
of a lotus flower. Was this Vrndavana? Although I hadn’t
a clue as to what the picture was about, I was too shy to ask
any more details, and so I merely agreed to do the painting.
On my way out to go the art store for supplies, I passed Hayagriva
who was speaking with a guest, and I stopped for a moment to
listen. Hayagriva had joined Prabhupada seven or eight months
before me, and seemed to be very knowledgeable in the Krsna
conscious philosophy. The guest asked him why Krsna is blue,
and Hayagriva answered. “The Swami actually just answered
that the other day. He said that the shade of blue which is
Krsna’s color is the most beautiful color existing.”
“Well, why is the sky blue?” the guest joked.
“Swamiji says it’s because the sky is a reflection
of Krsna’s body,” Hayagriva answered good-naturedly.
As I hurried on to purchase my art materials, I reflected how
timely it was to have heard about Krsna’s color. If I
could remember things like that while I painted Krsna’s
form, surely I would be able to imbue my paintings with more
* * * * *
Once I had the first layer of color on the painting, Prabhupada
came over and asked me to paint nice garlands hanging from Radha
and Krsna’s shoulders. He said to make them look like
they did on the book cover. But that tiny picture was anything
but clear. Besides being only about two inches high, it was
obviously not made on the best of presses, because the primary
red, blue and yellow colors did not exactly overlap each other.
Bright blue stuck out on one side, and a very bright red showed
through on the other. It was not easy to see what Radha and
Krsna were wearing on Their shoulders
I had never even heard the word 'garland' before, what to speak
of seen one. I had seen Hawaiians wearing leis in movies, but
I did not know that garlands and leis were the same thing. Consequently,
my garlands looked more like diagonally striped garden hoses
Prabhupada told me that the trees in the background were “desire
trees of the name kadamba”. “Whatever you like,
you can get from these trees,” he said. “In this
world from apple trees you get apples; from mango trees, mangos.
But in the spiritual world, anytime, anything you like, you
It sounded magical, for sure, but I had no idea what a kadamba
tree looked like. Therefore, trying to copy the tiny print,
I made abstract kadamba trees that looked more like light green
skies with dark green stars than a forest of wish-fulfilling
When the painting was nearly done, Prabhupada again came over
and, in his distinctively graceful Indian way, squatted in front
of it. He handed me a small piece of paper on which he had written
some Sanskrit words complete with diacritical marks indicating
their phonetic pronunciations, and recited:
namo brahmanya devaya
go brahmanaya hitaya ca
jagad dhitaya Krsnaya
govindaya namo namah
“I offer my respectful obeisances to the Supreme Absolute
Truth, Krsna, who is the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas,
as well as all living entities in general. I offer my obeisances
to Govinda, Krsna, who is the pleasure reservoir for all the
senses, and especially the senses of His devotees.”
Prabhupada asked me to write the prayer on the lower right cover
of the canvas, by Radharani’s feet. Not knowing how to
print letters professionally, I used stencils and painted the
words as best I could.
Soon after I completed the painting, three Indian gentlemen
Prabhupada. As I was in the next room, he called me into his
greeting room to welcome them. I then watched him offer the
men pieces of an Indian sweet called pera, which had been sent
from Mathura by his intimate friend and siksa-disciple, Srila
Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja. I watched the guests
first touch their sweets to their heads and then put them in
their mouths, without touching their hands to their mouths.
Out of the corner of his eye, Prabhupada indicated to me that
I should note their reverential behavior and follow their example
in showing respect to prasadam.
Prabhupada then directed the men to look through the window
to my painting, now hanging above his small, oblong altar. “She
is not painting out of concoction,” he said. “She
is authorized by higher authorities.” I felt honored.
For me, of course, that higher authority was Prabhupada; I knew
no one else. But, at the same time, his words reaffirmed my
connection to our important and authorized spiritual lineage
and disciplic succession.
After the men left, I admitted to Prabhupada that I felt discouraged
about how the painting had turned out, that it was crude and
flat. “It seems like every painting I do is worse than
the previous one.” A part of me wanted him to say, “Oh
no, you are getting better and better. You are doing wonderfully.”
But instead, looking at me seriously, he said, “What can
you do? The demigods are painting Krsna, and Radharani is painting
Krsna. What can you do?”
I felt humbled and embarrassed to have had such a proud desire
exposed. During the kirtana that evening I looked around the
temple walls at the Indian prints and at my own paintings. I
prayed to Krsna that He might dispel my thoughts that those
paintings were mine, and that He might take away all my sense
of false pride in relation to them. I prayed that He would show
me that they are really Himself.