Krsna book dictation tapes began to arrive more often now –
one every four or five days – and as best I could I began
a few paintings.
I was especially inspired by the pastime of Nanda Maharaja being
captured by Varunadeva, the demigod of waterways. Nanda Baba
was observing the holy ekadasi day. He fasted the entire day,
and early the next morning he bathed in the Yamuna. In a calm
voice, yet full of colorful expression, Prabhupada described
how Nanda Maharaja entered deep into the water of the river
and was immediately arrested by the servants of Varunadeva,
who brought him before their master. They accused him of taking
his bath at a time considered by astrological calculations to
be demoniac. Nanda had wanted to take a bath before sunrise,
but somehow he had been a little too early. When he was taken
away, his companions cried to Krsna and Balarama for help. Krsna
and Balarama immediately went to Varuna's abode, they were received
there with great respect, and then they took back their father.
Before Prabhupada had begun dictating the Krsna book, he had
told us many of Krsna’s pastimes in his classes and the
few books he had already published also told something –
but only in brief. I had never heard such long pastimes about
Krsna before these dictations, and with so much detail. And
this story was thousands of times more beautiful than all the
famous children's stories I had read as a youngster –
Alice in Wonderland, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood,
Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella. And what made it even
more wonderful was that it was real – it was the reality.
I wondered what the god of all the oceans, seas, rivers looked
like. Was he transparent like water? Was he blue? Did he look
like a fish? By now I had some faith that Prabhupada knew everything.
The Vedic scriptures said so, and my experiences with Prabhupada
never contradicted the Vedic version, so I had some faith in
their words. I wrote Prabhupada and he replied on September
25th: "Regarding Varunadeva, he is a very beautiful demigod
in the form of a man. He has a beautiful body, nice clothes,
helmet, and ornaments. So you may paint him in that way."
Besides sending the Krsna book tapes, Prabhupada was also sending
3rd Canto Srimad-Bhagavatam dictations by tape – to be
transcribed for later publication – and its histories
were equally fascinating. He hadn’t personally instructed
me to paint pictures for that book, though, so I had written
and asked him if I could do so. Now he replied in the same September
14th letter: "Regarding pictures for the Srimad-Bhagavatam,
if you have enough time, I can suggest so many pictures; but
for the time being you are engaged in pictures for Krsna. That
is also Srimad-Bhagavatam. First let these pictures be finished
nicely. Make them as nice as possible, and then later on you
can do pictures for our other books."
being so merciful to include me and his other disciples as his
instruments for bringing about the descent of these divine scriptures
to the material world. In fact, he was being so merciful to
give us enthusiasm in his divine service by allowing us to think
we were doing something for him – whereas he was doing
everything. By now I'd read many statements in the first and
second cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam – Prabhupada’s
already published translations and purports – about pure
devotees being able to exhibit all eight mystic powers. Those
powers actually constitute only very little of the godly opulence
pure devotees, who have all the qualities and powers of the
demigods including Lord Brahma. I knew that Prabhupada could
have painted all the pictures himself, and printed and distributed
all the books himself. He did not need our help. But he was
so nice that he wanted to engage us, his disciples, and all
the other fallen souls in the world – all the drunkards,
meat-eaters, sex-mongers and gamblers; all those attached to
cinemas, restaurants, and nightclubs – in Lord Krsna's
Therefore, when I had written him with my questions about Varunadeva
and the Srimad-Bhagavatam pictures, I had also expressed my
appreciation on this point; and now he ended his letter by demonstrating
another of his godly qualities – humility. He wrote: "As
you are talking of myself that I am your only shelter, similarly
I am always thinking that you all boys and girls are my only
* * * *
Best Painting Techniques
The year went
quickly, and now it was already early November. Wind often swirled,
and torrents of rain poured at a strong angle. Leaves rained
from trees, some falling down, some racing east or west, and
some gliding upwards with the changing directions of the winds.
Helpless leaves – and we tiny conditioned souls were all
like them. The war in Vietnam was still raging and, led by American
youth, the agitation against it was ever-mounting.
Prabhupada had also told us about this on several occasions.
He saw the war as an opportunity to enthuse young Americans
to join the Krsna consciousness movement. After much endeavor
to get his society recognized as a bona fide religious organization,
he had written to the Boston devotees earlier in the year that
the draft board had finally recognized it as such – as
a bona fide religious movement and a bona fide draft deferment.
Word spread quickly over the East Coast temples that there would
be a special traveling sankirtana party going to America's capital
city, Washington D.C. That party would chant and distribute
books at the great November 15th peace rally at the White House,
the home of the President of the United States. In mid-October,
the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam had
demanded a moratorium on the war, but the government wouldn't
budge. There were still about 540,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam
and about 72,000 allied forces. Neil Armstrong was supposedly
the second man to walk on the moon, and he was watched on television
as he stepped out of the lunar module from Apollo II. Some Americans
rightly believed the moon walk was staged in a studio to divert
attention from the Vietnam War, and millions more demanded that
money and technology be applied to more socially productive
purposes. Finally, in organized frustration, hundreds of thousands
of demonstrators would be coming to Washington, D.C.
I also wanted to go. Although my main service was painting,
preaching and distributing books was my favorite painting technique,
because it helped me understand why I was painting. It helped
me to see people more as souls, and to have more compassion
for them. A year earlier I had even written Prabhupada to ask
if I could quit painting and just go out to distribute his books
to the masses, but he'd replied: "No. Your specific talent
is painting. But you can go out on sankirtana sometimes, because
even in spiritual life variety makes one more fit for work."
Prabhupada was right, as always. Going on sankirtana increased
my enthusiasm to work. Looking forward to each opportunity to
preach, I took advantage of the demonstration.
Several Iskcon Press devotees and about one hundred other devotees
from the East Coast temples met in New York, and then we all
drove together to Washington, D.C. There, police surrounded
the White House with city transit buses parked bumper to bumper,
to protect the executive mansion, and they used tear gas to
disperse demonstrators gathered in front of the Justice Department.
It was almost winter; winds roared and the air was like vaporized
ice. Yet, Prabhupada's disciples walked around, danced around
and ran around, performing congregational chanting and distributing
thousands of pamphlets. We were distributing Prabhupada's essay
called The Peace Formula, which presented the only practical
solutions to the war. After a few hours of chanting and distributing,
I took time out to re- read some of the pamphlet:
"The greatest mistake of modern civilization is to encroach
on other's property as though it were one's own, and to thereby
create an unnecessary disturbance of the laws of nature. These
laws are very strong. No living entity can violate them. Only
one who is Krsna conscious can easily overcome the stringency
of the laws of nature, and thus become happy and peaceful in
"As a state is protected by the government of law and order,
so the state of the universe, of which this Earth is only an
insignificant fragment, is protected by the laws of nature.
This material nature is one of the different potencies of God,
who is the ultimate proprietor of everything that be. The Earth
is there for the property of God; but we, the living entities,
especially the so-called civilized beings, are claiming God's
property as our own, under both an individual and collective
false conception. If you want peace, you have to remove this
false conception from your mind and from the world. This false
claim of proprietorship by the human race on Earth is partly
or wholly the cause of all disturbance of peace on Earth."
Looking up from the page, I could see something of the demonstration.
All over the hills surrounding the White House, so many of the
protesters were getting intoxicated by smoking marijuana, engaging
in free love-making, playing guitars, singing songs longing
for sense gratification, and eating cows in the form of hamburgers.
I was struck to see in some areas of the grass, about one hundred
people on each pile were lying on top of each other in a big
and high pile. From Prabhupada’s point of view, their
picketing and demonstrating was less than useless. Not only
could they not stop the already existing war, a result of sinful
activities, but they were creating future problems and wars
by their present sins. I remembered Prabhupada's letter to us
one year earlier, in October of 1968, which said that the war
mongers and peace mongers were actually on the same side: the
side of sense gratification.
We had learned from Prabhupada about the causes of war and death.
Even though people knew smoking was bad, still maya made them
smoke. So many had died from it – and would die from it.
Although such deaths had become comparable to the great epidemic
diseases of typhoid and cholera in the 19th century, still people
were forced by habit and false ego to smoke. And then there
were abortions. In the previous year, in Britain, there had
been almost 30,000 abortions – mostly paid for by The
National Health Service – and in my own country, a California
anti-abortion law was just ruled unconstitutional by the state's
Supreme Court. They'd said the law infringes on a woman's right
to decide whether to risk childbirth and bear children. On one
hand, these babies could not be saved, because they were sinful
in the past. On the other hand, the abortionists had no idea
that they themselves would have to become aborted fetuses in
their next life – and life after life. I recalled Prabhupada's
words on the subject: "They will not see the light of the
sun for so many lives."
And then there was heroin; newspapers had recently reported
that sales to New York schoolchildren had recently jumped as
a result of the government's program to restrict the flow of
marijuana from Mexico. The price of marijuana then climbed so
high that heroin was able to sell at a competitive price. Could
they picket that?
A few months earlier, a big hurricane off the Mississippi Gulf
Coast killed 248 people, and made another 200,000 homeless –
just like the war in Vietnam. Sunny California's heavy rains
produced mud slides, also a few months earlier, which destroyed
or damaged ten thousand homes and one hundred died. I wondered;
could they picket that? They should have picketed against forgetfulness
Some of the devotees held up the Peace Formula, which was smaller
but more powerful than the banners held by the demonstrators.
During kirtana intermissions, they took turns making short speeches.
Hayagriva played the kol, an Indian two-sided drum, and Madhusudana,
wearing a large yellow turban, played mrdanga. Damodara, wearing
his winter trench coat and scholarly glasses, also played mrdanga,
accompanied by his usual intense expression.
The devotees looked as though they were enjoying a special secret,
and although they were shouting the secret, it still remained
a secret. They held up a large framed poster of Lord Krsna and
His surabhi – desire fulfilling – cow, and it was
seen by at least ten thousand of the one hundred thousand hippies
* * * *
Is There Another Artist?
In early December,
a young artist named Muralidhara came to Boston from the Los
Angeles temple to help with the book paintings. Quiet and good-natured,
he'd joined the movement two years earlier in Los Angeles, where,
like me, he received instructions from Prabhupada on how to
paint scenes for the Krsna book. As soon as he'd settled in
at the temple, he offered to share with me his exchanges with
Prabhupada, and I quickly called over to a few devotees to hear.
"When I was still Bhakta Mark, Prabhupada asked the temple
leaders to find someone who could draw the small Los Angeles
Radha-Krsna Deities. Knowing that I was some sort of an artist,
they engaged me in the work. Later, when Prabhupada saw the
completed drawing, he asked, 'Is there another artist in the
"Prabhupada forced me to be humble right from the beginning,"
Muralidhara said shyly. "And very soon I began to paint
seriously." He then turned to me and said, "I knew
that you'd already done several paintings which Prabhupada approved,
and I heard from Prabhupada himself that you can complete a
painting every few days, so I asked him how I could paint more
like you. He answered, 'I have taught her how to paint.' Muralidhara
now imitated the rest of Prabhupada's answer. He lifted his
arm and pretended to paint on an imaginary canvas in the air.
As his hand moved the imaginary paint brush, he chanted, "Hare
Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare."
"I don't get it," I said.
Muralidhara explained. "Prabhupada was saying that he'd
taught you how to paint by teaching you how to chant while you
I said, "By the way, I think Prabhupada was exaggerating
to encourage your spirit of enthusiasm. It takes me over a week
to do any painting. I'm wondering; did Prabhupada ever teach
you how to paint Krsna?"
"Well, I'd been thinking for some months, 'What do I know
about Krsna? How can I paint Krsna? What is my qualification?
How is it possible? How can I look at what I'm doing as a divine
representation? And if I can't, what will it mean to someone
"So one day I was sitting with Prabhupada, and I came out
and just asked him, 'I see so many pictures of Krsna here in
your room, but they're all different. Can you tell me which
one is most like Krsna?' Prabhupada looked at me as though I
was crazy and said, 'They're all Krsna. They're all Krsna. Each
one of these is exactly Krsna.'
"Even before I was initiated, Prabhupada had inspired me
to do a “painting marathon.” After getting several
instructions to produce paintings at a superhuman rate, I wrote
him and told him I was frustrated due to my inability. So then
he wrote back and consoled me. I have the letter. I'll read
you what he said:
"Anyway, I may inform you that it does not matter that
you cannot paint one picture daily, but you go on doing as many
pictures so you can finish in a month or in a week. Do it nicely.
I do not press upon you. The idea is that I wanted so many pictures
from Srimad-Bhagavatam. I wish that some of my disciples, either
individually or collectively, may produce at least half a dozen
pictures daily. Anyway, I think Krsna will give you strength
more and more. Do not stop your work; go on painting as far
Muralidhara laughed as he concluded, "He was encouraging
and supportive, but he didn't lower his expectations."
I particularly enjoyed the next part of the letter, where Prabhupada
answered Muralidhara's questions regarding his assigned Krsna
book paintings. Prabhupada was mercifully using him as a medium
to give some idea of the spiritual world to this world:
"Regarding your question, ‘What color is the ocean
of milk?’ it is white. You can make it a bluish shade
in order to distinguish that it is water. Visnu's color is sky
blue and Laksmi's color is just like gold; molten gold. Laksmi
is not always with Visnu; there are many Visnu forms who are
alone, and that form is called Vasudeva Visnu. No demigod remains
with Visnu. The demigods are destined to live within the material
world. In the spiritual world there is no place for the demigods,
but who are elevated to the position of pure devotee can be
promoted to the spiritual world. In the material world, both
the ordinary living entities and the demigods belong to the
same category of jiva-tattva, the marginal potency of Visnu.
"The marriage ceremony of Vasudeva and Devaki: the daughter
Devaki was offered by her father named Devaka, to Vasudeva.
Devaka had eight daughters, and all the eight daughters were
offered to Vasudeva. The marriage is generally performed by
a priest. You have seen what a sacrificial fire in our ceremonies.
It is similar, but there are some decorations: A canopy is resting
on four pillars and decorated with green foliage and flowers.
There is a water pot under each stand, and in this way, it is
decorated. Just outside the canopy, the relatives and other
brahmanas sit down to see the marriage ceremony."
"The omen was heard while Kamsa was carrying his sister
and brother-in-law in the chariot. There were hundreds of other
chariots also, given in dowry. The omen was addressed to Kamsa:
"My dear Kamsa, you are so joyfully carrying your sister,
but you do not know that the eighth son of your sister will
kill you." The eighth son of Devaki was Krsna Himself,
and before Krsna, all the sons of Devaki were taken by Kamsa
Muralidhara sat hunched over his few letters, until he looked
up from his reading and said, "A few months ago I saw a
print of your Mohona Madhuri painting, the painting of RAdha-Krsna
and the eight gopis, and I heard about the letter exchanges
with Prabhupada regarding that painting. So I wrote to Prabhupada
and asked permission to do the same one for the Los Angeles
temple. We had the same Indian print in LA.
“Here's how he answered me: 'You have mentioned a picture
of Krsna and the gopis, but Krsna and the gopis without Radharani
cannot be. If you mean to say the picture of Radha– Krsna
and the eight gopis, then that is all right. I do not know what
is this Krsna and the gopis. There are many unauthorized pictures
painted by so-called imaginative artists, but we do not want
such pictures in our temples.'
"Prabhupada is so kind," Muralidhara continued, "He
always gives us strict guidelines for the straight and narrow
path of serving Krsna. I'd actually meant to say Radha-Krsna
and the gopis, but I guess he wanted a chance to make sure I
always did things in a bona fide way."
* * * *
People of the Press
be coming to Boston in just two weeks. He promised to come as
soon as the Press operations were set up. He had previously
written that Boston was the "pioneer center – to
possess our own property and press," and later, he wrote
that he wanted the Press devotees to publish six books a year
plus Back to Godhead magazine. He already had enough manuscripts
for two years work and he wanted his Teachings of Lord Caitanya
printed in soft cover immediately.
In the past, Prabhupada had assigned various devotees to work
on different aspects of book production, but it had been difficult
because we were all living in different cities. Before, the
work was slow and uncoordinated. Now that we had the press in
Boston, however, Prabhupada sent all those devotees to live
there. Palika and her husband Bhavananda arrived from Los Angeles,
she to do composing and he to help with the management. Aravinda
also came from Los Angeles, to do layout with Candanacarya and
his wife, Kasturika. Brahmananda was the general manager of
the Press, and although he usually stayed in New York, he would
coordinate all the departments and sometimes visit Boston. He
told me this was a big jump forward for someone who had refused
to wear a wrist watch before meeting Prabhupada – because
he'd thought time too relative.
Prabhupada also sent Lilasuka and her husband Uddhava, and Balai
and her husband Advaita from New York, to do printing and photography.
Saradiya and Vaikunthanatha began to work in bookbinding, assisted
by Patita Uddharana. Pradyumna and his wife Arundhati returned
from Columbus, the Sanskrit department now became manifest,
and Prabhupada wanted Pradyumna's work to become the Iskcon
standard for Sanskrit transliterations and spelling. Hayagriva,
Prabhupada's English editor, and his wife Syama, also visited
from Columbus, and Jayadvaita came from New York to type and
Rukmini and Baradraja would also soon return from Montreal to
continue painting, because Prabhupada had written Baradraja
that in the Krsna book he was “showing the Western world
for the first time what is God.” He wrote him that it
was an important task, and that Baradraja “should try
to help, as far as possible." He had also written both
Baradraja and Rukmini that he required many paintings for his
many illustrated books, and also for his many new temples, so
as many nice paintings as they were able to do would be well-utilized.
* * * *
inspired by the other press workers, I was also gratified to
see how happy the temple devotees had become while they chanted
Hare Krsna in the streets and distributed Prabhupada's books
there. I was most inspired by those who went out even in knee-deep
snow. They always looked rosy-cheeked and glowing when they
returned from sankirtana in the frost. They inspired the Press
devotees, and the Press devotees inspired them. It was all Prabhupada’s
* * * *
The Heart of Iskcon
weather was wet, cold and dreary. It was always either raining
or snowing, and everything – the trees, the stately gardens
separating the old Boston houses, the buildings and the streets
– all looked white and gray. Because the temple was relatively
close to the Atlantic Ocean, stormy, icy winds raced through
our neighborhood, making even the inside of the temple building
cold most of the time. Although it was difficult to paint delicate
lines and tones while wearing woolen gloves, it was also difficult
to paint without them, and some of the typists could not type
without them. However, knowing that Prabhupada would be coming
soon made us almost forget the season and its austerities.
He arrived at Boston's Logan Airport on December 21, at 3:45
p.m. and about a hundred devotees from several East Coast centers
were there to greet him. Because of the Sunday feast and festival
I stayed home to greet the guests, perform kirtana and give
Bhagavad-gita class. When the class was half over, we heard
the faint sound of kirtana coming from downstairs, and as it
got louder our excitement increased. Neither the guests nor
I could concentrate on what I was saying, and I suddenly yelled
loudly, "Prabhupada is here!" The kirtana party danced
up the steps and into the temple room with Prabhupada, and we
all offered our obeisances.
Prabhupada was beautiful and effulgent. He began to walk towards
the altar in his usual dignified way, but there was such a congestion
of devotees and guests that there was no room for him to walk.
Jahnava cleared a path, and then picked up Lilavati's baby who
was crawling in front of Prabhupada's feet. Prabhupada asked
her to put back the baby and, after watching the baby crawl
for a moment or two, he approached the altar and offered his
obeisances to Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, Sri Sri Radha-Krsna, and
Sri Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra. He then sat down on the
vyasasana and again looked over at the altar and the Deities.
Finally he said, "If you keep the Deities' utensils clean,
your heart becomes cleansed." He said that the cooks should
now add a 9 p.m. offering of puris and milk, just as the devotees
were doing in London where he had just spent the last three
months. Then, after a short welcome address, he requested a
tour of the building.
Followed by a throng of devotees and guests, Prabhupada conducted
his long-awaited tour of the Press operations. Entering the
big pressroom on the ground floor just below the temple room,
he stood before the 30-foot press machine, which could print
50,000 Back to Godhead magazines at a time. As we all stood
there with him, I recalled his first press machine at 26 Second
Avenue, the old five-foot stencil mimeograph machine which he
had bought for $250 at a church sale. He had accepted it, crude
as it was, and utilized it to begin Lord Caitanya's movement
in the West. And now, Krsna had given him this wonderful, high-speed
As Prabhupada approached the press, he offered his full dandavats
before the machine and recited his spiritual master's pranama-mantra:
"Jaya om visnupada paramahamsa parivrajakacarya astottara-sata
Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja ki jaya."
After he raised himself to his feet, he smiled and said to Advaita,
the Press manager, who was as usual wearing his green work khakis,
"Keep the press as clean as glass. Then it will last a
long time and remain in good condition." Happy to have
this opportunity to say something to his spiritual master, Advaita
explained how, in four-color work, first print the yellow, then
black, then red, then blue – and Prabhupada said the blue
should come first. Then, seeing Patita Uddarana wearing his
dhoti, Prabhupada instructed that no dhotis should be permitted
near the machinery – only pants.
Approximately seventy of us surrounded Prabhupada as iron filings
grasp a magnet, and we watched him take a step closer to Advaita,
slap him lightly and affectionately on the back, and tell him,
"There is a Bengali saying that 'this body is so made that
anything you practice, it becomes easier.' So by practice, everything
will come out expertly done by the Press workers."
Knowing that Prabhupada had recently named the "New Vrndavana"
farm community in West Virginia and the "New Jagannatha
Puri" temple in San Francisco, Advaita asked, "Can
you give the ISKCON Press a name?"
"ISKCON Press," Prabhupada said and smiled. "It
is already named. The Press is the heart of ISKCON."
"You are the heart of ISKCON, Prabhupada." Advaita
"And the Press is my heart," Prabhupada replied.
Because most of us considered ourselves servants of ISKCON Press,
Prabhupada's statements made our already wide open eyes open
even wider, and our already big smiles even bigger. Then, walking
together with Advaita and followed by the rest of us, Prabhupada
proceeded downstairs to the large, cold basement to look at
the darkroom, the photo department, the typewriters, the composing
machines, binding machines, paper cutter and flats of paper-stock.
We crowded around him as he walked from one piece of press equipment
to another, and we were so eager to get a good view of him that
we left him hardly any room to walk. Still, he walked through
us as elegantly as a deer. He turned to Advaita and Uddhava,
Advaita's assistant manager, and said, "In India, everyone
who speaks Hindi has a Gita-Press publication. Similarly, everyone
who, I mean to say, speaks English, should have an ISKCON Press
publication. Since everyone in the world speaks English, your
market is unlimited."
Then he turned to Advaita’s wife Balai, who was holding
her little daughter, and said, "You should engage your
daughter in this work."
"Srila Prabhupada, she's only ten months old," Balai
"That is not too young," Prabhupada replied.
* * * *
The Topmost Subject
The next evening
Prabhupada again addressed the roomful of devotees and guests
in the temple room. "Successful life means to change our
consciousness to Krsna consciousness," he began. "That
is success. All you young boys and girls are fortunate. I am
not bluffing you." He paused for a moment and continued,
"Actually, you are fortunate." He said this last sentence
in a sing-song way, particularly stressing the word “fortunate”.
It made me feel fortunate, as he continued, "You have come
to the right place where you can learn Krsna consciousness."
After giving a few words of encouragement to his audience, he
decided to take a short tour of some of the devotees’
rooms. A few of us followed him as he glanced briefly into each
of the householders' rooms. Before his arrival we had concentrated
our cleaning efforts only on the public areas of the temple
and the Press. Not knowing beforehand about his tour, we had
made no attempt to clean our rooms. He first went to Jahnava's
room, where Arundhati and five other guests were staying. Because
of his visit, the men had moved into the brahmacari quarters
so the room could accommodate all the visiting women. The men
had left all their belongings in the room, including Pradyumna's
many books, and since the temple had no clothes dryer, clotheslines
criss-crossed the room in several places. I prayed to Krsna
that Prabhupada would not look into my room, but he did, and
he didn't say anything; he just looked in and then walked on.
His tour concluded at the art room at the end of the hallway.
Unfortunately, it was also a mess. None of us had thought to
clean it, and on the contrary, we'd just finished a short but
intense painting marathon in there in order to get some paintings
ready to show him. As we all stood around him, I gathered he
didn't appreciate the disarray and uncleanliness, and at that
moment, I wished for the mystic power to disappear – but
Prabhupada was interested in seeing everything, and nothing
escaped his notice. As he walked back to the temple room, he
looked at everything – everywhere. He even examined the
walls, the stairway, and under the stairway.
When he again entered the temple room, he began a long lecture
about the urgency of spiritual life. He quoted a verse from
Second Canto and then turned to Pradyumna, who sat by the side
of his vyasasana, and said, "So, do you know srotavyadini?"
"No," Pradyumna replied, embarrassed.
"Oh, you do not know? You do not know what srotavyadini
means?" he asked again. He repeated the word a few more
times and said again, "You do not know srotavyadini. Srotavyadini
rajendra?" Pradyumna shook his head and Prabhupada finally
said, "It means, 'subject matters for hearing'. One should
only talk about Krsna. Whatever subject matter you have got
for hearing, this is the topmost. Those who are blind to knowledge
of the Ultimate Truth talk about hundreds of thousand of other
After his preamble, Prabhupada continued his formal lecture:
"Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama
Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. I am so pleased that you are
doing things just to my satisfaction. Stick to this principle
and Krsna will bless you. Our line of action is not difficult:
chant sixteen rounds regularly, follow the four regulative principles,
take prasadam and read books. We have got so many books. Speak,
discuss about the subject matter amongst yourselves, and this
is the process.
"So Pariksit Maharaja, you know, I have several times spoken,
he had only seven days to meet his death. He was a young man,
but somehow or other, he was cursed by a brahmana boy, that
he would meet death within seven days.
“This is Vedic culture, that before death one should prepare
very nicely to go back to Godhead." Prabhupada repeated
his emphasis, "This is Vedic culture”, and continued,
“The modern civilization, they do not know what is going
to happen after death, but our Vedic culture is not so blind.
Vedic culture has got an aim: What is the aim of human life?
Not aimless life. Aimless life is animal life. They have no
aim. By the laws of nature they are going on, transforming from
one body to another. Ultimately they are coming by evolutionary
process to the human form of life and especially this civilized
human form of life. It is a very responsible life. One has to
make his choice whether he wants to continue his materialistic
way of life and change the body, one life after another. That
is very risky job. You should always remember that if in my
next body I am given a body like a tree – just see, in
this part of the world, how condemned that life would be."
Prabhupada took advantage of the freezing weather and the leafless
trees just outside the warm, bright temple room to illustrate
his point. "They are standing in the snowfall. You have
got house. You are protecting yourself. They cannot even move.
So there is possibility of getting such life. So we should be
so much responsible, how to avoid such laws of nature."
Prabhupada's voice made it sound like he was actually begging
us to understand. It was clear he could feel our present suffering
and foresee our future increased suffering if we would not hear
As though reading our 'young' minds he continued, "And
one may think that 'Now we are young men, young boys and girls.
Let us enjoy life.' And that facility is very much easy to obtain
in your country. In the school, college or society, the young
boys and young girls, they have got ample facility for enjoying
material life. Enjoying material life means sex life. So Bhagavata
says, "No, you should immediately try for the ultimate
success of your life. Don't spoil your life.' This is not a
pessimistic view of life, but this is a fact. Only responsible
persons can understand."
Although there was a very good microphone in front of him, Prabhupada
leaned forward as if to be heard better, continuing in his urgent
tone. "Pariksit Maharaja was aware he was going to live
for seven days. We do not know if our life will last for seven
days, or seven minutes. It may end at any moment; there is no
guarantee. Don't think that we shall take up this business of
Krsna consciousness in our old age.
"He took it very seriously, that 'I have offended the brahmana,
and he has cursed me. That's nice.' You see? How liberal he
was! So he accepted. Immediately he prepared for death. After
all, he was a great devotee. In his childhood, he was playing
with Radha– Krsna Deity. Just like our child devotee,
'Mr. DDD' Dvarakadisa dasa, was one of the children at the New
Vrndavana gurukula. Playing with his name, Prabhupada made us
"Yes. He is playing with Jagannatha. That is very nice.
This is the opportunity. My father also gave me Deities in my
childhood, and I had the opportunity to serve Radha and Krsna
Hearing the word 'Jagannatha' my mind and eyes immediately wandered
over to the Jagannatha Deities on the altar, and particularly
to Subhadra in the middle. I had painted her only a few months
earlier, to get her ready her for Her installation. Although
I was not satisfied with the results, the devotees had put Her
on the altar. Then, at the time of the installation, when the
curtains opened, it looked as though a different Subhadra was
standing there. She looked so much better than when I had completed
the painting work. Now, as I looked at her, I thanked her again
for completing herself, and my attention returned to the lecture.
"Who needs newspapers, movies, or television, when we can
hear from Prabhupada?" I said to the guest sitting next
to me as I mused about Subhadra's mystical transformation.
Prabhupada continued paraphrasing Srila Sukadeva Gosvami's statements:
"Grhamedhi. Just like 'ordinary persons', their household
life means they have made the homes as the center of their existence."
Prabhupada is criticizing the grhamedhis – the 'ordinary
married persons' – I thought. "We are grhasthas (householders
who have Krsna in the center of their lives) by Prabhupada's
mercy." I was proud that Prabhupada had made us 'not ordinary'
– until he spoke further: "I was seeing just now
the rooms of our grhastha, householder boys and girls. Things
are scattered," he said with a slight laugh. "If you
go to another person's house, you will find their apartment
nicely decorated, with chairs, cushions, and sitting places,
but they have no vision about the self. And here, we see that
household affairs, their resting places, are not so nicely decorated,
but their aim is Krsna."
It was a reprimand, but a kind one.
After further criticizing the materialists and their newspapers,
Prabhupada closed his lecture by explaining that instead of
diverting our attention to varieties of news about this world,
we must hear about Krsna. We must hear and then preach. "After
hearing, the next thing is spreading," he concluded.
* * * *
The next evening
Prabhupada's lecture was as great as the previous night's. He
spoke in that special way I loved to hear – saying certain
words in a sing-song way to dramatize his points. Speaking about
the different yoga processes and wanting to explain how bhakti-yoga
was the highest, he chose a note – “re” or
“me” on the Western scale – and sang each
word in an almost whispered voice. "Bhakti-yoga is the
highest process, but nobody knows it."
* * * *
On the fourth
day of his visit, Prabhupada met with the Back to Godhead staff
– Brahmananda, Advaita, Pradyumna, Satsvarupa, Hayagriva
and Kirtanananda. Since the Art Department served both the Iskcon
press and Back to Godhead, Satsvarupa took the opportunity to
ask Prabhupada my question: "Jadurani asks if they're going
too slow. They have thirty pictures ready."
Prabhupada replied, "One thing is that Jadurani should
have some assistants. She alone cannot do that."
"Well," Satsvarupa replied. "You used that word
once before – assistant. So then when the others saw that
letter they thought, 'That means I should paint.' I don't know
what you mean by the word 'assistant.'"
"'Assistant' means that they should work under her direction,"
Prabhupada explained. "That is assistant."
"And produce pictures side by side with her," Satsvarupa
Prabhupada agreed, "They may be given to practice, but
not the actual work." Then, after a short pause he said,
"But they are scattered in different places."
He added that Baradraja was a gifted painter and that he could
produce paintings. Muralidhara was another adept artist who
produced a great deal of work, and Devahuti, although a talented
painter, was not painting at the present, as she was living
away from the temple. Brahmananda offered to find her address
and write to her.
* * * *
A few days later
I visited Prabhupada in his new quarters, a house in the suburbs
about an hour from the temple. Just after I sat down, a dignified
looking women of about fifty years old with blond-gray hair
walked in and offered her obeisances. "Devahuti!"
Prabhupada said with affection, as she sat down just in front
"So this is the famous Devahuti I've heard so much about,"
I thought. "The one from Los Angeles who painted that beautiful
Radha and Krsna seated on a swing that Prabhupada liked so much."
Prabhupada had been speaking with others, but as soon as she
came in he gave her his full attention. It seemed from their
conversation that they were old friends who had not seen each
other for a long time. "I want your service," he told
her, and turned toward me, "You can put her in charge of
the Art Department. She is very expert.
I half-nodded and half-smiled, not sure I would like the idea
of having someone other than myself in charge.
Prabhupada told Devahuti about his recent trip to New Vrndavana,
where he had met the young guru-kula boy Dvarakadisa dasa, and
he again affectionately referred to him as Mr. DDD. He told
her that Mr. DDD's non-devotee father had given his son some
toys. "But he rejected them," Prabhupada said proudly.
"He actually rejected them." Then he looked again
toward the rest of us and said proudly, "And he's chanting
seventeen rounds a day. That is one more than everyone else."
Prabhupada then told me that I should sleep eight hours a day
for my health, which was still poor. "Sleeping is like
death," I protested mentally. "Can't I have more time
for service?" I asked desperately.
"You cannot do very much," Prabhupada answered simply,
and now I felt completely discouraged. First he wanted Devahuti
to replace me and now he wants me to do less! I became absorbed
in wishing my body was stronger, and then Prabhupada turned
to the others and said, "But she has spiritual strength,
I must admit." Again I was encouraged by his praise. I
was like a three-year-old baby becoming happy and sad by my
baby-understanding of Prabhupada's words.
I'd brought two small paintings with me that I'd recently completed
for the Krsna book, each about 16"x20". I had copied
the first one from a Banarji Indian print, and in it Krsna was
stealing butter for His friends and monkeys and Mother Yasoda
was coming with a stick to punish Him. The original print was
better than my crude copy, and we could have easily used the
original for the Krsna book, but still Prabhupada looked lovingly
at my picture and said, "When a child is naughty, that
means he will grow up to be very intelligent."
I asked him if his Guru Maharaja was naughty as a child and
he answered, "No, he was a perfect gentleman." Then,
looking again at the painting, he continued, "Krsna is
teaching here, 'Do not stock up on things. Distribute everything
generously as Krsna– prasadam.'"
My second painting showed Krsna killing Kamsa, which I had copied
partly from a small Indian print and had then added my own details,
and this one was also unrefined and crude. Although it looked
like it was done by a grade-school student, Prabhupada held
it up to have a closer look. He then held it out to show to
Brahmananda, Bhavananda, and Gopal Krsna, who were sitting nearby,
and said, "First– class".
He then turned to Gopal Krsna, a new, Indian devotee who had
just come from Monteal. He was now in charge of the French language
Back to Godhead, which was being produced locally by the Montreal
temple. When Prabhupada asked him why the French version Back
to Godhead was not coming out regularly, he complained humbly;
"It's so ugly – and short." Because the French
magazine publication was just beginning, it was only xeroxed
and only had sixteen pages. It was always short of articles
and there was almost no art.
"Ugly or short, it must come out," Prabhupada encouraged.
"These Back to Godheads will one day be accepted as authoritative
* * * *
To me, Baradraja
and Muralidhara seemed to be empowered by Prabhupada. Just a
few days before Prabhupada left Boston, they offered to help
raise the standard of quality of my large, five-foot painting
of Narada Muni that I had made for the Krsna book. Although
I'd thought it already complete, I accepted their generous offer.
I had only seen one or two of their paintings, but it was sufficient
for me to trust them. I could see that their art was high quality,
and very meticulous. After a few days of their efforts a beautiful
princely peacock was profiled just behind Narada, with the highlight
on the peacock's back feathers painted as perfectly as the exact
amount of salt in a tasty cooked preparation. The peacock now
looked completely round, as though one could put his arm around
it. They gave my stiff uniform trees unique personalities, with
large knots, winding roots and purple, orange and chartreuse
overtones. All this was combined with blue flowering creepers
surrounding the trees, brilliantly colored flowers at their
bases, and bushes sprinkled here and there in their midst. The
still, fresh green, almost mirror-like pond clearly reflected
both the pinkish, purple rocks and the two pink flamingos. The
bright red lotus flowers, contrasted by the glowing green of
the water and lotus leaves, created an electric complement that
almost vibrated. I had previously made the forest one shade
of green and added darks and lights, but Muralidhara and Baradraja
created depth by painting some greens more golden, some more
orange, some more saturated, and some more bluish. All this
made the forest look magical and enchantingly alive, and in
front of this incredible scenery, Narada himself now looked
lighter and more effulgent. By turning up the cloth at the bottom
of the dhoti and by his use of highlights, Baradraja had turned
the burlap-like, heavy cloth which I'd made into fine, light
I loved it. I could tell we would be a good team.
On Prabhupada's last morning in Boston, a few devotees and I
were in his darsana room. After telling us that good management
was crucial for our temple, he studied the revised painting
of Narada Muni on the wall behind him and said, "It is
"But it took so long," I said.
"Yes, unless you spend some time," he answered. "How
can you expect something first class?"