“The Art of Spiritual Life” for the Purebhakti website,
every once in a while I say a couple of words about the part
Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja plays in that writing.
Now, at the beginning of Chapter 5, Part 2, my couple of words
is as follows: Srila Maharaja has increased my affection and
philosophical understanding of Srila Prabhupada and his message.
Learn To Paint By Painting
Throughout the first three months of the
year, and now going into the fourth, all the artists worked
diligently. Devahuti mostly worked in her own room, on a large
painting of the rasa dance. Although she was basically copying
the scene from a small Indian print, her version seemed especially
beautiful, with lots of detail and brilliant, warm colors. As
for the rest of us, we usually met our tight assembly-line deadlines.
We were all satisfied with the temple and Iskcon Press facilities
and we lacked nothing; neither food, clothing, shelter, friends,
paints and brushes, nor scriptural resources. Sri Krsna and
Srila Prabhupada had provided these things through the qualified
Press management and we felt no anxiety. However, we were not
satisfied with our own service. It was easy for us to meet together,
because with the exception of Devahuti we all worked in the
same art room with our canvasses leaning against different walls,
for several hours a day. Devahuti also frequently visited, and
we therefore discussed our dilemma on several occasions. We
all agreed that our paintings were not good enough for Prabhupada's
divine translations and commentaries. His were the most important
books in the world, and our work was not at all on a professional
standard. We also agreed that Prabhupada could not have been
truly satisfied with our childish attempts. Of course he was
always encouraging us, but he knew what Krsna really looked
like and how beautiful the spiritual world really is. He also
obviously knew the difference between professional and amateur
Baradraja suggested we get training in Renaissance art so that
we could paint as well as the 17th and 18th century masters.
“It would be best if we would go to school,” he
said, “but at least we should extensively study the Renaissance
art books.” Although the rest of us agreed on principle,
we hesitated to put the idea into practice. We were now in the
midst of a marathon for both Krsna book and The Nectar of Devotion,
so how could we take time off to study Renaissance art? Yet,
how could we continue making second-class paintings?
We wrote to Prabhupada and explained our dilemma, and he replied
on April 21st. It was obvious that although he did not read
newspapers, he was aware of the precarious world situation and
the urgent need of the hour – Krsna consciousness –
and he wanted to remind us of the urgency. He wrote: "Regarding
organization of the artists, there is no need of wasting time
for learning art from study of texts. We should always remember
that our time is very short. I think our artists should be satisfied
with whatever they have learned already. That is sufficient.
They should simply be engaged in painting pictures always, and
that will teach them the art sufficiently.
"In the beginning, I was seriously corresponding with Indian
friends to get some good mrdanga players, but when I found it
too difficult to get a man from India, some of my students were
given rudimentary lessons in playing. Simply by practice they
are pulling sankirtana party everywhere.
"My Guru Maharaja used to say that in a foreign land where
you cannot speak the language with the natives very nicely,
what do you do when there is a fire in your house just to get
their help? In such emergency one has to express himself somehow
or other to his foreign friends and get their help to extinguish
the fire. But if he wants to learn the language first and then
talk with the foreign friends to get help, everything in the
meantime would be finished. Similarly, if we have to learn and
then paint, it will be a long-term affair. Immediately we want
so many pictures for all of our books; so all the artists may
always be engaged in painting works, and that painting itself
will gradually teach them how to make things nice.
"Regarding how the art department should be organized,
that is to be managed amongst themselves. I do not know the
technical details, I want only that they may be always engaged.
Now it is up to them how to manage these things. As you have
suggested, you may take any suitable arrangement and that is
approved by me however you make it fit. The only thing is the
artists must be always engaged full-time in the painting work.
"You may inform Devahuti and the others that I am always
satisfied with their work. I am satisfied only to see that every
one of us is always engaged in his respective duties, as the
teacher wants to see that the students are engaged in their
handwriting work. Who is writing good hand, that is a secondary
question. The teacher's duty is to see that everyone is engaged
in handwriting work. So if all the artists are always engaged
in painting, that will satisfy me, and that will gradually make
them experienced for making good paintings."
After we all read the letter, I said with relief, "It looks
like our Renaissance 'schooling' is this emergency marathon."
"Actually, now that I think about it," Muralidhara
said, also happy, "Prabhupada once said that this very
Krsna consciousness movement is a 'major revolutionary renaissance.'"
We understood Prabhupada's words. He hadn't said we didn't require
improvement; rather we would improve through practice. Although
he acknowledged our lack of expertise, our feelings were not
at all hurt. Our understanding was reconfirmed, that the whole
purpose of fine arts in Vedic tradition was to enlighten people
about their eternal relationship with Krsna. As aspiring artists,
and more importantly as aspiring Vaisnavas, if we were to fulfill
this mission, we needed a working knowledge of the scriptures
more than we needed the knowledge of chiaroscuro, the dark and
light interplay of Rembrandt and the like.
We were still very new in Krsna Consciousness, and we needed
to put our time into learning that. Our lives would have to
reflect the message we painted, and that would require self-control,
devotion, pridelessness and seeing Krsna in the details of life's
every moment – details that escape the notice of non-devotees
and neophyte devotees like ourselves. That would require training,
as much as the mechanics of art need the training of breaking
down scenes of nature into colors, shapes, contrasts, perspectives,
planes, and a thousand other details that escape the untrained
eye requires training.
We were excited that Srila Prabhupada was including us in his
own marathon for Sri Krsna, and that he was protecting us from
being too side-tracked and diverted. If we would serve Krsna
with what He had already given us, however much or little that
may be, He would give us more to give back. Time was of the
essence. People were on their way to hell in 1970, and we couldn't
ask them to wait. Art was important because perception controls
thinking. If someone were in a dark room, his perception would
produce fear in him. So our duty would be to help others to
think of Krsna by seeing His pictures. By our serving Krsna
through Prabhupada, everyone and everything else would be served.
And ultimately, it wasn’t the pictures that would make
people Krsna conscious. It would be the mercy of Krsna and Guru.
I had some knowledge of this, because I had heard Prabhupada
say that all living entities are wandering in different types
of bodies throughout different planets, and if, in the course
of their wanderings, by dint of their previous lives’
activities they come in contact with a devotee by the direction
of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, their lives would become
"This reminds me of the letter Prabhupada wrote me back
in 1967," I told the others. "When I tried to copy
the old masters' style of painting, he told me that it would
take too much time and too much work to become a 'great' artist.
And in the meantime, I might lose my Krsna consciousness. When
I was in Hawaii the devotees were learning guitar and other
rock and roll instruments, to make kirtana better for the hippies.
So I asked Prabhupada about it. I have the letter here in my
loose-leaf notebook of letters. I'll read it to you:
"’Regarding your question about kirtana, practically
we are not concerned with the instruments. They are used sometimes
to make it sweeter, but if we divert our attention to using
the instruments more, that is not good. Generally kirtana is
performed with mrdanga and karatalas, but if somebody is expert
instrument player, he can be admitted to join sankirtana. We
can accept everything for Krsna's service, but not taking the
risk of diverting attention to any other thing which will hinder
our Krsna consciousness. That should be our motto, or principle.’"
Beyond the Mind
to painting of a Monet the famous French art master, one sees
only loose brushstrokes, and getting close to matter one sees
only blobs. Getting close to Krsna, on the other hand, means
seeing eternal life, unfathomable bliss, and full knowledge.
I tried to remember that as I painted. Art is imaging. There
is nothing really there – only paint. Yet, the viewer
has an emotional relationship with that paint. Everything in
a painting is placed in such a way as to create emotion. The
artist creates as illusion of three dimensions by putting a
highlight in exactly the right place, he creates a tear with
a highlight in the right place, and he creates a moist rose
flower by placing a highlight in the right place. Color is important;
everyone knows that – like the power of profound meaning
in the color blue. There is an inner appeal in the blue color.
It is heavenly, ethereal and vast like the sky, and when it
is almost black, it echoes a sense of the unknown. A famous
artist once said, “Art is a lie to tell the truth.”
The truth would be the sky and the lie would be the blue paint
with some lighter areas representing clouds. There is no sky
or clouds there on the canvas, only blue paint. Krsna, on the
other hand is really there on the canvas, full with all His
divine powers – when the picture is authorized by guru,
sadhu and sastra.
* * * *
By May of 1970,
the paintings for Krsna book volume one were completed. While
some of the press devotees prepared the book for sending to
Dai Nippon Printers in Japan, we continued the paintings for
volume two. In that volume, Prabhupada invited the reader to
be with Lord Krsna in Mathura and Dvaraka.
One pastime told of Lord Krsna and Lord Balarama's brahmacari
student life at the asrama of their spiritual master, Sandipani
Muni. In order to set the example for all people, they followed
the regulative principles under their guru's instructions, and
devotedly behaved as menial servants. In the scene we were painting,
they were requesting Varuna, the demigod of the ocean, to return
their guru's son who had drowned in the ocean.
Although Krsna and Balarama had assumed the role of students,
at the same time Krsna was the original Godhead and Balarama,
appearing as His brother, was His original expansion. So I wondered
how we could paint the two Lords as brahmacaris. I wrote and
asked Prabhupada, "Did they actually have shaved heads
and tilaka like the devotees we knew, or should we paint them
as they are usually dressed in Vrndavana?" None of us had
ever seen them with shaved heads in any Indian prints, and no
one would benefit from our speculation. The paintings had to
manifest through Prabhupada's instructions. "Yes,"
he replied, "When Krsna and Balarama were students of Sandipani
Muni, They may be shown with shaved heads and sikhas, kanthi
(neck beads), etc., just like our brahmacaris."
As usual, after designing, drawing, and painting for two days,
Baradraja handed me his first-layered painting. I loved the
composition – the panoramic scene behind the two 'brahmacaris',
the beach, the dark ocean, and the palm trees. It was awe-inspiring.
Somehow, because Krsna was actually present in the picture,
and instrumentally because of the way Baradraja orchestrated
the color, contrast and composition, the picture itself made
it appear like Krsna was the source of the scene – the
ocean, trees, beach and sky.
* * * *
written in his Krsna book manuscript, his summary translation
of the ancient Srimad-Bhagavatam texts, that Krsna and Balarama
stayed in their guru's asrama for sixty-four days and nights,
and thus received their education. They learned all the necessary
arts and sciences required in human society. During daytime
they took their lessons on a given subject, and by nightfall
they were expert in that department of knowledge. Then, after
their education was completed, they returned to Mathura.
On one occasion Sri Krsna sent his cousin Uddhava to Vrndavana,
to convey His affection to His friends and relatives there.
When Uddhava arrived in Vrndavana, he found Krsna's most exalted
beloved Srimati Radharani, along with Her associates, absorbed
in feelings of separation from Krsna. He saw that, overwhelmed
by Her own ecstatic sentiments, Radharani was speaking to a
bumblebee. Thinking that the bee, and not Uddhava, was Krsna's
messenger, Radharani was expressing Her heart's feelings:
"One of the gopis, namely Srimati Radharani, was so much
absorbed in thoughts of Krsna by dint of Her personal touch
with Him that She actually began to talk with a bumblebee which
was flying there and trying to touch her lotus feet… 'Bumblebee,
you are accustomed to drinking honey from the flowers, and therefore
you have preferred to be a messenger of Krsna, who is of the
same nature as you.' … This talk of Radharani with the
bumblebee messenger, Her accusing Krsna, and, at the same time,
Her inability to give up talking about Him are symptoms of the
topmost transcendental ecstasy called mahabhava. The ecstatic
mahabhava is possible only in the persons like Radharani and
Her associates. "
I'd previously read in Teachings of Lord Caitanya and Srimad-Bhagavatam,
and now in the Krsna book manuscript, that these sentiments
of Srimati Radhika constituted the highest expression of devotional
sentiment. I recalled Prabhupada's Caitanya-caritamrta lectures
at 26 Second Avenue, when he had talked about Lord Caitanya.
Krsna in the mood of Radharani – and how He exhibited
all Her exalted sentiments. I remembered Prabhupada who, out
of his great mercy as servant of Lord Caitanya, had come to
the world of sins, the Western world, and into the hippie, left
wing, Lower East Side of New York where I'd met him. I couldn't
begin to fathom the meaning of passages such as this one in
Krsna book, but just hearing that there was a wonderful, spiritual
emotion-filled life beyond these material emotions – the
madness of burning lust, anger, greed, pride, envy, bewilderment,
fear, hate, hunger, worry and the like – and knowing that
by Krsna's grace I was with the right person to attain it, made
life worth living. Hearing and reading that there was a real
'madness' which was full of joy in relation to loving Krsna,
and that the madness in this world to fulfill bodily demands
is just an unreal perverted reflection, kept me repeatedly trying
to follow Prabhupada's instructions. I had a hope, even in the
most difficult times – when my senses pulled in their
own whimsical directions, when circumstances went opposite to
my plans, and when this body was tormented with pains, diseases,
I wanted to understand more, and so I turned to Teachings of
Lord Caitanya. Prabhupada and read: "Those under the shelter
of the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, can understand
that His mode of worship of the Supreme Lord Krsna in separation
is the real worship of the Lord. When the feelings of separation
become very intense, one attains the stage of meeting Sri Krsna.
That transcendental separation serves as a nourishing element
for future meetings.
"In the highest transcendental ecstasy there is a feeling
of being enchanted in the presence of the enchanter. When the
enchanter and the enchanted become separated, bewilderment,
occurs. When so bewildered due to separation, one becomes stunned,
and at that time all the bodily symptoms of transcendental ecstasy
are manifested. When they are manifest, one appears inconceivably
crazy. This is called transcendental madness. In this state,
there is imaginative discourse, and one experiences emotions
like those of a madman. Radharani as the supreme emblem of Krsna's
pleasure potency. The body of Radharani is in itself an actual
evolution of transcendental pleasure. Even though one is very
advanced and learned, however he cannot understand it. It is
not at all understandable by a person on the material platform.
"The lamentation of Srimati Radharani when Uddhava visited
Vrndavana gradually became a feature Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's
transcendental madness. Such is the state of transcendental
madness. When one is highly elevated in love of Krsna, he becomes
transcendentally mad and talks like a madman."
This would be our next painting – Radharani speaking to
the bumblebee. The painting's background showed a beautiful
rose-matter and lavender sky, behind a lush garden of mango,
banana and other typically Indian fruit and flower-bearing trees.
The center of the canvas showed Uddhava, his bodily features
and dress very similar to those of Sri Krsna, reading Krsna's
message to the gopis, who were greatly eager to hear. In the
foreground, Radharani was shown with expressive facial and hand
gestures, and speaking to the large blackish bumblebee before
In 1970 we had no easels or painting tables. Rather, we rested
our canvases and painting paraphernalia on newspapers on the
floor, just as I had done when I first began in New York City
three years earlier. Our canvases leaned against our three respective
walls, and my wall was opposite the window. As I put on the
last touches before handing the painting over to Muralidhara,
all of a sudden, from the window above Muralidhara's seat, a
bumblebee flew in the room and began to buzz around the painting
– right next to the bee in the painting. After a couple
of minutes it flew out the window. This was the only time a
bee had ever flown in the window.
* * * *
After the painting
of Radharani and the bumblebee was completed, we wanted to illustrate
one of the final volume two chapters, called "Prayers of
the Personified Vedas." According to Prabhupada’s
manuscript, this was one of the important chapters in the volume.
We read aloud in the art-room, to get an idea for the painting
"King Pariksit inquired from Sukadeva Gosvami about a very
important topic in understanding transcendental subject matter.
His question was, 'Since Vedic knowledge generally deals with
the subject matter of the three qualities of the material world,
how, then, can it approach the subject matter of transcendence,
which is beyond the approach of the three material modes? Since
the mind is material and the vibration of words is a material
sound, how can the Vedic knowledge, expressing by material sound
the thoughts of the mind, approach transcendence? Description
of a subject matter necessitates describing its source of emanation,
its qualities and its activities. Such description can be possible
only by thinking with the material mind and by vibrating material
words. Although Brahman, or the Absolute Truth, has no material
qualities, our power of speaking does not go beyond the material
qualities. How then can Brahman, the Absolute Truth, be described
by your words?'"
I read the paragraph five times, and still couldn't understand
the meaning. I tried to rephrase the question in my mind. "How
could any literature in this world show words from the spiritual
world? How can spiritual words ever be seen or heard? How can
the mind, which is material, think of anything beyond matter?
If the Absolute Truth is beyond material sound and other qualities,
how can words describe Him?’ ´Transcendence,’
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna Himself, could be
described, when He agreed to be, when He personally would manifest
as words, just as He could be worshipped when He would manifest
as the Deity. Still, the questions themselves were confusing.
Finally, after a few grueling moments, I had the sense to read
on; and Prabhupada immediately clarified the issue. Pariksit
Maharaja's real question was hidden, and it required Srila Prabhupada
to bring it out. The king was really asking Sukadeva Gosvami
to prove that The Absolute Truth is a person – not impersonal.
In fact, the main purpose of that entire chapter was to defeat
the theory of impersonalism. Just because God is beyond matter,
it doesn't mean He is formless and without qualities. Therefore,
authorized, empowered spiritual words can describe Him. Quoting
the Personified Vedas themselves, the manuscript stated:
"After the dissolution of the whole cosmic manifestation,
the entire energy and the whole creation in its nucleus form
enters into the body of Garbhodakasayi Visnu. The Lord at that
time remains asleep for a long, long time, and where there is
again necessity of creation, the Vedas Personified assemble
around the Lord and begin to glorify Him, describing His wonderful
transcendental pastimes. It is exactly like a king: when he
is asleep in the morning, the appointed reciters come around
his bedroom and begin to sing of his chivalrous activities,
and while hearing of his glorious activities, the king gradually
It amazed me that Prabhupada was planning to take an incident
that took place countless ages ago and skillfully superimpose
it on the modern West – the 1970 chaos of drugs, liquor,
sex and insane, animalistic violence. But then, this was Prabhupada's
standard approach. Right from the beginning of his coming to
New York City, he had told us that impersonalism was the cause
of sinful life, and sinful life was the cause of the soul's
transmigration from one body to another. To establish Sri Krsna's
supreme personality was his only business, the only way to do
that was through the Vedas, and the Vedas, after all, are ancient.
As artists, our impossible task was to make the painting of
the personified Vedas have at least a semblance of the same
wonderful effect as their words. As their words properly described
transcendence, our painting would have to do the same. The Personified
Vedas had to look right.
One of the temple devotees, overhearing the discussion, of Baradraja,
Muralidhara, and I on the subject, suggested, "Maybe the
personified Vedas are books with heads, arms, and legs sticking
"Very funny," we answered wryly, although we weren't
able to think of anything better. "You've probably gotten
that idea from watching hundreds of kids’ television commercials."
I didn't tell anyone at the time, but if I had been on my own,
that was probably the way I would have drawn them – books
with heads, arms and legs.
We wrote to Prabhupada, the brilliant spiritual master who was
himself the Vedas personified, and he replied on May 9th. I
read his answer aloud as the others painted with raised ears.
"Regarding the Vedas Personified, they should be drawn
just like you have seen some pictures of great sages. They are
young in appearance, like perfect Vaisnavas, and they may be
shown with tilaka and Vaisnava markings in that way."
"The Vedas are real people!" Muralidhara said as he
looked up from his canvas. "They must just manifest as
books for us down here on Earth."
"Even Krsna is manifesting as a book," Baradraja added,
still painting. "When Prabhupada wrote the first Krsna
book advertisement he said that Krsna book is Krsna in book-form.
Prabhupada's answer was obvious, but it was only obvious after
he had just given us the key to understand. Although he had
saved us from that speculation, as soon as we began discussing
the actual composition, we again had questions. There were so
many kinds of sages – clean-shaven, bearded, with hair
but without beard, with top-knot and without, in sannyasi dress,
and in householder dress. Which kind were these Personified
Vedas?" I again wrote Prabhupada, who was patience personified,
and he replied:
"The Personified Vedas are just like great sages in appearance.
Some of them may be looking like Vyasadeva, Valmiki, Narada,
etc. Some of them are older and some of them are younger, some
of them have full hair like Vyasa because they are householders,
and others are brahmacaris. But they are all great souls, highly
elevated in transcendental science. They are paramahamsas. So,
as you suggest, these pictures will be needed for illustrating
the long portion of text describing their prayers to Garbhodaksayi
Visnu. This is a very important chapter, and if possible it
should also be very appropriately illustrated. So you are very
able to choose out suitable subject matter for the pictures.
Then, execute them carefully for Krsna's satisfaction. If you
are requiring any other information like this, please write
your inquiries to me and I shall be glad to give you the proper
Prabhupada was surely Sri Krsna's personified kindness. He ended
his letter by showering us with encouragement:
"We have now received the full set of paintings for the
first volume of Krsna book, and they are all very, very excellent.
So your art department is doing very nicely, and surely the
production will improve even more by the grace of Krsna. You
are all being inspired just how to portray the Lord and His
associates for the devotees' eyes. So everyone who sees these
transcendental pictures will turn to become devotees. That is
"Prabhupada says we're inspired by Krsna Himself,"
I said with false pride.
"I think what he's implying is that our aim should be to
become more inspired," sober Baradraja offered. "In
other words, we should become so serious that Krsna and His
associates will reveal Themselves to us, and to the world through
us. I think we're supposed to aim for that."
* * * *
Prabhupada had told me to write
the captions for the completed Krsna book paintings. This meant
I would have to know the pastimes well, and copy those parts
of the texts that best described each painting, and Prabhupada
considered me adept, I thought, in understanding his books.
During the few days that I was writing the captions, I took
a break each day to read parts of the Nectar of Devotion manuscript,
because we would have to illustrate it. Chapter 43 described
Mother Yasoda as having a complexion like the bluish lotus flower:
“There is another description of mother Yasoda in a devotee’s
prayer: “Let me be given protection by mother Yasoda,
whose curly hairs are bound with thread, whose hair is very
brightly beautified by the vermilion placed in the part and
whose bodily frame derides all her ornaments. Her eyes are always
engaged in seeing the face of Krsna, and thus they are always
filled with tears. Her complexion, which resembles the bluish
lotus flower, is enhanced in beauty by her dressing herself
with many colorful garments. Let her merciful glance fall on
all of us so that we may be protected from the clutches of maya
and smoothly progress in our devotional service!”
"A bluish lotus flower!" I exclaimed. "Prabhus,"
I told the artists, "We've made a big blunder. We have
five paintings of Mother Yasoda with a golden complexion."
I showed them the quote and they agreed that I should repaint
her blue like Krsna. I happily lined up the five Mother Yasoda
paintings against the wall, changed her color, and left the
canvases to dry. Blue was heavenly looking, I thought, and I
liked her that way.
The next day, a devotee visiting from out of town, came to the
art room and was shocked to see the five canvases. He did not
believe Mother Yasoda was blue, and his words made me also doubtful.
Just to make sure, I asked one of the devotees who would be
calling Prabhupada to verify her coloring. Prabhupada answered,
"Blue lotus flower means white lotus with blue veins. You
should paint her as Indians are, generally a light brown tan,
like wheat." She wasn't blue at all.
Even with Prabhupada's manuscript pages right in front of me,
I still needed his personal help. And who wouldn't? Anyone who
had read the Nectar of Devotion quote would have thought the
same as I. How lucky we all were, I reflected, to have Prabhupada
personally present, to help us conditioned souls gradually understand
that which was beyond material understanding. It would be another
22 years before I would know what the word “gradually”
meant. I immediately changed Mother Yasoda back to her original
* * * *
Prabhupada was still in Los
Angeles, and that center quickly became a model for the rest
of ISKCON because it was under his personal direction. In the
morning Bhagavatam classes he introduced the responsive chanting
of the Sanskrit verses before the reading of his translation
and purport, and he asked that this become the standard for
all the temples. He wrote to each of his twenty-six temple presidents
throughout North America and Europe, and invited them to come
immediately to visit him, to see how things were going on. In
this way they could raise the standards in their own temples.
Our temple president was also invited, and he had now been in
Los Angeles for a few weeks. When he finally came back near
the end of May, he told us about temple-room color schemes,
temple schedules, kirtana tunes and sankirtana management. He
told of Prabhupada's plans for a twelve-man Governing Body Commission
to manage Iskcon's affairs, as well as his plan to create more
sannyisis to take to India and to train for preaching. He also
told us that Prabhupada's secretary had announced that the 'ordinary'
devotees in each center should henceforth write their questions
to their local temple presidents, who would then write only
the necessary questions to Prabhupada.
Baradraja, Muralidhara and I were crushed. We mutually agreed
that this was a terrible standard. We also wanted to be special
to Prabhupada, like we thought the temple presidents were. There
was nothing more important to most of Prabhupada’s disciples
than to feel personally recognized and loved by him, and we
were surely no exceptions. In spite of being hurt for our own
personal reasons, however, and in spite of our fears at the
thought of anyone else even attempting to answer our art questions,
we also wanted to surrender. We complied – at least partially
– by getting our temple president’s authorized signature
at the bottom of our next letter.
Understanding our plight, Prabhupada surprised us by his June
4 reply: "So any one of my students can inquire directly
from me in the matter of serving Krsna, and especially you are
advanced and approved students. Sometimes somebody sends irrelevant
inquiries which students should not ask from the spiritual master,
and for them the restrictive circulars were issued. So you are
at liberty to send your letters directly, and I will reply them
We felt great. Prabhupada's letter continued:
"So far as painting the pictures, you are already doing
it nicely, as I have seen so many pictures in Krsna book, and
I am also answering specific inquiries. So there is no difficulty.
The best thing will be that you paint pictures to your best
discretion. In controversial points you can write to me and
I will send instructions. All of you are expert painters, so
your mutual decision for painting a picture is more valuable
than my suggestion. The descriptions are already given there
in the book, so there is no difficulty to take out the points
and prepare a sketch."
Our questions had been about the history of Lord Krsna fighting
with Jambavan, a powerful devotee who had served Krsna in His
form as Lord Ramacandra millions of years before Krsna’s
advent. By Krsna's will, Jambavan could not realize that Krsna
was the same Lord Ramacandra, and by a set of unusual circumstances
they had became engaged in combat in Jambavan's cave-home. The
Krsna book manuscript had described Jambavan both as 'king of
the gorillas' and 'king of the bears,' so we could not figure
out whether he was a bear or a monkey. Since he had previously
helped Hanuman to serve Lord Rama, I'd thought he might have
been a monkey. But Baradraja leaned more toward the bear. "After
all," he'd said, "His other name is Rksaraja, and
that means 'king of the bears.' He's not only titled as king
of the bears, but that's actually his name." I had missed
that in the text, but Baradraja had caught it. Unable to solve
the problem we had asked Prabhupada, and he replied in this
same June 4th letter:
"Jambavan – the name does not suggest a bear, because
his daughter was one of the queens in Dvaraka married by Krsna.
Just like sometimes our name is Krsna; that does not mean that
I am the real Krsna. I am Krsna dasa or servant of Krsna. From
the description of Srimad-Bhagavatam, we understand that this
Jambavan was a very sturdy and strong fighter. Sometimes we
get such a picture of bodily construction of a black man in
your country. So in this way you can guess what should be the
features of his body. But certainly he was not a bear."
We couldn't help but laugh with embarrassment. Prabhupada had
written in the earlier part of his letter that we should paint
according to our own discretion. Our mutual decision, he said,
would be better than asking him. But now, in this part of the
letter, he showed us how much we needed his continued protective
guidance. Our best discretion is to ask Prabhupada, we agreed.
The painting was almost completed by the time we received Prabhupada's
instruction, and Krsna was therefore already absorbed in combat
with Jambavan, who looked distinctly like a bear-like monkey.
Because I was the middle person in the assembly line, I would
be the one to change him.
During the next two days, as I transformed Jambavan into a powerful
man, my mind was also absorbed in combat. Like most wives, I
had family problems. Forgetting that my husband belonged to
Krsna, I sometimes became angry and frustrated when our relationship
did not go my way. I knew theoretically what Prabhupada's books
said, that according to Vedic culture, not only is the wife
the shareholder of the husband's pious activities, but she is
considered half the husband's body. She is also supposed to
be her husband's best well-wisher and encourager. However, despite
Prabhupada's personal encouragement in this matter since the
time I married, I had been too 'modern' to accept the role of
the Vedic wife, and my mentality now forced me to suffer. I
usually didn't bring my family life into my service. Normally,
my intelligence was usually stronger than my mind in that respect.
This day, however, I was overcome with anger. "Life is
all wrong," I thought. "What's the use of all this
painting anyway? It's not helping me at all!"
I painted a large black X across the entire painting of Krsna
and Jambavan, but a minute later I recovered myself and remembered
that the only antidote for suffering is devotional service.
I immediately began to remove the giant X, a tedious process
since parts of the canvas were wet, and then I resumed my usual
work. Although Muralidhara and Baradraja were not in the room,
I knew that Prabhupada was. Miserable and embarrassed, I prayed
to him to save me, a conditioned soul, from maya, and engage
me in service with real devotion.
"Any ordinary, intelligent, and good-natured person would
feel sorry for a close relative struggling and suffering,"
I thought a few minutes later. "And what to speak of an
extraordinary person like Prabhupada, who had already agreed
to enter our hearts. Unlike us, he's fully conscious of this
world as nothing more than a mirage in the arid desert, where
the sunshine reflecting on the scalding sand makes a false replica
of water; where, when one tries to quench his thirst, the brutal
sun burns and cracks his throat. Prabhupada is fully aware that
in this world there is only a perverted reflection of the love
we are all looking for. The deer runs after the false water,
but the water always remains in his front, and the poor animal,
without finding water, dies. The deer simply dies. We're like
dying deer, and Prabhupada, brilliant and compassionate, is
overloading us with heavy deadline work to save us."
I shared with Rukmini what I'd done and how I was now thinking,
and she added with a grin, "And he's also kindly giving
us the sense of obligation to fulfill those deadlines. We have
to keep putting aside our maya in order to get our service done.
And gradually, as we keep going, we get devotional credits.
Prabhupada said that when you want to buy a car you gradually
collect the money, and finally, when your dollar bills reach
a certain number, you can get the car. Working for him, and
at least trying to follow his instructions, is like collecting
the money, and real Krsna consciousness is like the car.”
I agreed. Though we didn’t know what his exact arrangements
would be, we had faith that he would make arrangements for us
to become Krsna conscious. He knew that we got nothing but discouragement
on the material side of life, so he's always satisfying our
hunger for encouragement. Without him, we would have been just
like our parents and all their neighbors and friends –
a hundred percent in a whirl of material activities and emotions
leading to new bodies. Fearing hate, hating fear, being attached
to anger, and being angry at our attachments. It was insane.
Without Prabhupada, instead of feeling trapped in the jail of
material emotions and at least trying to take advantage of the
process to get out, we would have been completely and complacently
decorating the jail.”
* * * *
A Change Of Heart
In addition to his order that
we complete the Krsna book as soon as possible, Prabhupada now
wanted the Second Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam to start coming
out in installments – as single chapters. These chapters
would first be printed by our own Iskcon Press in paperback
pocketbooks. Then, after printing several separate chapters,
they would again be printed in a single, hard-cover volume.
Chapter Two, "The Lord in the Heart," would be the
subject of our first Bhagavatam painting, and it contained a
detailed description of Lord Visnu's bodily features. Prabhupada
had written in his translation:
"Others conceive of the Personality of Godhead residing
within the body in the region of the heart and measuring only
eight inches, with four hands, carrying a lotus, a wheel or
a chariot, a conchshell, and a club respectively. His mouth
expresses His happiness. His eyes spread like the petals of
a lotus, and His garments, yellowish like the saffron of a kadamba
flower, are bedecked with valuable jewels. His ornaments are
all made of gold, set with jewels, and He wears a glowing head
dress and earrings. His lotus feet are placed over the whorls
of the lotus-like hearts of great mystics. On His chest is the
Kaustubha jewel, engraved with a beautiful calf, and there are
other jewels on His shoulders. His complete torso is garlanded
with fresh flowers.
"He is well decorated with an ornamental wreath about His
waist and rings studded with valuable jewels on His fingers.
His leglets, His bangles, His oiled hair, curling with a bluish
tint, and His beautiful smiling face are all very pleasing.
The Lord's magnanimous pastimes and the glowing glancing of
His smiling face are all indications of His extensive benedictions.
One must therefore concentrate on this transcendental form of
the Lord, as long as the mind can be fixed on Him by meditation."
The Lord in the heart, who is the overseer and permitter of
all our activities, the Lord who awards the results of all our
activities, would Himself be standing on the cover of the book,
face to face with the reader. An exciting proposition. These
verses were a stunning description, and in the original Sanskrit,
they even rhymed. Though they didn't rhyme in the English translation,
still, with their use of words like “glowing glances,”
“ornamental wreaths,” and so on, they were sheer
poetry. Although part of me was always feeling a pinching pain
of separation from Prabhupada, I was still so happy that he
had given me his words to try to serve.
After reading the entire narration of the Lord's form and paraphernalia,
I was surprised that the description did not include the mark
of srivatsa, the curl of golden-white hair on the Lord's chest.
I remembered hearing about that mark nearly two years earlier
in New York. At that time Prabhupada had compared it to the
badge of the President, which distinguishes him from all other
Americans. He'd said that in the same way, the srivatsa distinguishes
Lord Visnu from all the other Vaikuntha residents. Having seen
a few Indian prints and posters of Lord Visnu, none of which
showed that mark, I now wondered whether to include it in this
Another distinguishing feature of the Lord, which this Second
Canto chapter did mention, was the famous Kaustubha jewel on
his necklace. We needed to know what it looked like, and Prabhupada
helped us. He replied in his letter: "The Kaustubha jewel
should be painted to look just like a very precious jewel. Lord
Visnu should be surrounded by effulgence from his person. The
first concentration should be on the lotus feet. That should
be very distinct and very nicely decorated with jewels, sandal
pulp and tulasi."
We'd also asked about the 'sole of Brghu' on the Lord's chest.
When Prabhupada had given me the print of Lord Visnu in New
York three years earlier, he had explained its significance.
Now, because it was not described in the Second Canto texts,
we hesitated to add it, and Prabhupada's letter confirmed our
doubt: "In the cover picture, the foot mark on the chest
of the Lord should not be painted."
Since our work on the second volume of Krsna book was not yet
finished, my letter also included our final question on that.
Krsna, the original Lord in the heart and acting now as the
Prince of Dvaraka, was engaged in battle with Paundraka, a demon
who pretended to be Krsna Himself and who had a large following
of ignorant people. I had asked Prabhupada, "How was it
possible that Paundraka looked like Krsna? Did he also make
himself look blue like Krsna?” Prabhupada replied in the
same letter: "Regarding the picture of King Paundraka,
yes, he may be colored blue. Because he was imitating Vasudeva
(Krsna) he had two artificial extra hands attached also. He
might have painted himself blue also . . ."
So many questions; so many answers. So many paintings; so many
books – everything at once. This marathon was certainly
not only for others' benefit. The Lord in the heart had manifested
externally as the spiritual master, as our spiritual master,
and he was engaging us in the whirlwind of publishing books
to save us from the whirlpool of gross materialism.
* * * *