I offer my millions of obeisances
unto the lotus feet of my revered Gurudeva, Srila Bhaktivedanta
Swami Prabhupada, and the same to my revered siksa-guru, Srila
Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja. It is the grace of
each that my sprouting of the understanding the other has begun.
Towards the bottom of this page I write, "We cheered, 'Jaya',
but I didn't know what the word really meant. I only knew that
it meant 'spiritual victory.' Thirty years later, Srila Narayana
Gosvami Maharaja expanded my understanding. Jaya means victorious,
and wherever there is a victorious party there must be a defeated
party. When the victorious conquers the defeated party, it controls
it and thoroughly takes over. We are piteously praying to Sri
Guru, Gauranga, Gandarvika-Giridhari and their associates to
conquer over our enemies—the senses, mind, material intelligence,
lust, anger, greed, and so on, and thoroughly control them.
Thus he taught me the meaning of 'Jaya Prabhupada.'
* * * *
On the day after
the Western world's third brahminical initiation ceremony, only
Gaurasundara and I accompanied Prabhupada on his morning walk.
Sometimes the entire group of devotees went, but somehow I had
the opportunity to go every day with him and his assistant,
Gaurasudara. It was by good fortune that, when I had complained
to him some days earlier about my long-hours-of-painting-related
backaches, he had invited me to go with him daily. He said the
brisk walks would help me, and he also suggested that Govinda
dasi give me back massages with mustard oil. Before bringing
the matter to Prabhupada, I had tried doctors and exorcise,
but they hadn't worked. They couldn't take away the karma, but
being with Prabhupada could.
We three left Prabhupada's house at 6:00 a.m., and Damodara,
who had now returned to Boston for the brahmanical initiations,
and who liked to video Prabhupada, was lying down on the street
beside a car, his camera poised for the door to open. When Prabhupada
came out onto the porch and walked down the stairs, he said
loudly, "Jayas tu pandu-putranam yesam pakse janardanah:
'Because Krsna was on the side of the Pandavas, they came out
victorious during the battle of Kuruksetra. So if you keep 'Hare
Krsna' on your side, you will always be victorious.'"
We cheered, "Jaya!" and then turned right to walk
down the street— Gaurasundara on Prabhupada's left, and
me on his right. Prabhupada turned to us and said, "We
do not serve Krsna for any benefit. And even if there is no
benefit, still we serve." I felt that statement speak directly
to my heart. I was always looking for a return from my service,
some external remuneration, even if it was only a smile from
Prabhupada indicating that he was pleased—that I was doing
so wonderfully—or some praise from my god-brothers and
god-sisters. "We only serve Krsna to make Him happy,"
Since it was Sunday, the streets were nearly empty of traffic,
although the odd car sped past now and then. Although it was
early May, the weather was still quite nippy. In his black trousers,
short beige jacket and wavy black hair, Gaurasundara resembled
an undercover agent or bodyguard. Although my hair wasn't covered
with a sari under my pea coat, I was wearing the long skirt
I had sewn from the large yellowish cloth Prabhupada had given
me a few days earlier. He'd told me to make two skirts from
it. I was happy in my positive alternative to the dungarees
I had been wearing up until then.
Prabhupada kept his left hand in his pocket and his right-hand
sleeve was pulled down to cover his hand which was holding a
cane. He would sometimes gracefully swing the cane upwards before
placing it again on the ground, and as we walked along the streets,
he looked around, ever observant. "So, on Sunday everyone
sleeps until twelve noon?" he asked. Gaurasundara and I
We walked a short distance further, just chanting. At one point
Prabhupada looked at both sides of the street and asked, "And
what are they teaching now in the schools—that there is
only one life and it is meant for sense gratification?"
Again we nodded.
We turned left, crossed another street, and past more wooden
houses, trees, and criss-crossed wire fences. One tree's branches
overstretched the path, and I felt very happy to be able to
lift them so that Prabhupada could easily pass under without
obstruction. Prabhupada stopped in front of the next tree. "The
impersonalists say 'It is all one,'" he began. "The
whole tree is green; there is no variety. We all merge with
God and 'become one.'" He then pulled a leaf from the tree
and resumed walking, studying the leaf in his hand. He said,
"It may all be green, but if you pull this particular leaf
from the tree, it cannot produce any more chlorophyll."
Then, as though the leaf had become useless, he grimaced and
threw it down. I watched the leaf as it gracefully floated to
the sidewalk. "And now nobody would touch it," Prabhupada
Gaurasundara and I smiled for his point was clear. By declaring
that everything is one with God, that they are also God, and
by rejecting Krsna's form, qualities, and devotional service,
impersonal philosophers lose their connection with Him. Their
ungodly life, full of no godly qualities, becomes as useless
like the detached leaf. As Prabhupada walked on, I ran back
to pick the leaf up. Even if it had no chlorophyll, I would
certainly touch it—because it had been touched by Krsna's
pure devotee—and I intended to keep it as a sacred item.
As we continued walking, Prabhupada said, "A devotee thinks,
'I am Krsna's and He is mine.'" He looked at me as if waiting
for a response of some sort. "Everything is Krsna's,"
I repeated. "So I can understand that I am Krsna's. But
how can a low person like me think that Krsna is mine?"
"Krsna is not a material thing," Prabhupada said,
"That if He is with one, He cannot be with another. Krsna
is everyone's. Everyone can think like that." It was inconceivable
for me to consider how the insignificant atomic soul not only
could, but should, think that he owns the infinite Godhead.
I had previously heard Prabhupada say that in his pure state,
the soul may be Krsna's intimate family member or friend, or
lover, in which case thinking Krsna to be one's own would be
natural. I wondered if that was what he meant now.
Prabhupada then turned a corner I did not recognize as the route
he had taken on all the other mornings. "Where are you
going?" I asked. Prabhupada smiled, opened his eyes wide
as if surprised, and said, "I don't know. Where are you
taking me?" He proceeded to lead Gaurasundara and me to
the red and white trolley. We boarded it and rode to downtown
Boston. Prabhupada told us that when he was just a boy he used
to see trolleys in his own city. He said at that time he had
thought that if he just stood on the tramline, took a stick,
and touched the wire, he could also move along. We laughed.
Then he said that trying for material happiness was like that—impossible.
I knew he was only joking about his own life. My understanding
was that he was a pure devotee his whole life. He had come from
the kingdom of God, so he couldn't really have been illusioned,
even as a youngster. But I also knew he was very serious about
the point of the story—the impossibility of material happiness—and
that he wanted me to be serious also.
We now walked through several streets in the downtown area;
a much busier section than the residential area where we had
begun the walk. As we passed various stores and shops, Prabhupada
said, "These are the same places the Captain of the Jaladuta
steamship took me in 1965, when I first arrived in your America.
We passed the Woolworth store, turning left at the corner. There
were advertising signs everywhere—on billboards and storefronts;
and I was pleased to see among all of these signs one of the
posters we had pasted around town to advertise Prabhupada's
arrival. Although it did not look professional, it listed all
Prabhupada's engagements. In addition to his photo, it read,
"The Spiritual Master of the Holy Name is Coming to Boston.
Bhagavad-gita classes at the Radha-Krsna temple."
* * * *
The next morning,
most of the New York and Boston devotees went for a morning
ride, rather than a walk, with Prabhupada. Hamsadutta had offered
to take everyone on his bus to visit Commonwealth Pier, where
the Jaladuta had first landed with Prabhupada in the United
States. But his bus had no seats. There were merely some blankets
spread across the floor. Brahmananda brought a chair from Prabhupada's
house for him to sit on, but as there was nothing to keep it
from sliding around when the bus moved, Brahmananda and some
of the others held the chair legs tight.
Prabhupada appeared unimpressed with the bus, but he sat on
the chair looking as princely as ever. Exhaust fumes came through
the holes where the seats had been pulled out, but we tolerated
it as we happily crowded around Prabhupada on the floor. We
all chanted japa with him as we drove into downtown Boston and
headed to the ocean dock, and there we disembarked and walked
around with him as he pointed out one 'landmark' after another
among the factories and warehouses. He said that the 'A &
P' sign was the first thing he had seen upon landing, and then
he pointed to a large 'Unalloyed Steel' sign, smiled and said,
"They have got unalloyed steel and we have got unalloyed
devotion." Noticing that many buildings were being demolished
and new buildings put up in their places, he added, "Building
and breaking, building and breaking. We have to build with Krsna
and break with maya."
As ever, it was hard to keep pace with Prabhupada's gait, and
for most of the walk I was struggling and lagging far behind.
I decided to make a dash to catch up with him, and eventually
I was able to walk beside him. At that point he turned to me
and said, "If the jackals praise you, what is the benefit?"
I did not know what to say. I supposed he meant that I should
only try to please Krsna and not my senses. Or, perhaps he meant
that I should not look for praise from materialists. He did
not elaborate further. At last he led us back to the bus; and
I felt purified from having been on this pilgrimage with him.
* * * *
The next evening several of
us accompanied Prabhupada on an engagement at Boston University's
Marsh Chapel, which was about half an hour from the temple.
It was exam time at the university and, although there were
thousands of students outside the chapel, there were only a
few in the audience. Still, Prabhupada remained enthusiastic
as always, and this time we managed to display my painting of
Lord Caitanya's samkirtana on an easel on the stage. After the
kirtana, Prabhupada asked Brahmananda to give an introductory
speech. I was impressed by Brahmananda's speaking so clearly
and confidently before our spiritual master—I would have
been petrified. He spoke nicely, mostly about chanting, while
giving the simple meanings of each of the words in the maha-mantra.
Prabhupada spoke after him, and he repeatedly made references
to his introductory remarks. He began: "The primary principles
of Krsna consciousness movement have been briefly described
by my disciple, Sriman Brahmananda brahmacari. It is a very
important science of God—understanding what is God. Of
course, in every religion this conception of God is there. Simply
by understanding God as great is not sufficient. We must have
knowledge about our relationship with God. This Krsna consciousness
movement is the movement for purifying consciousness. If you
take to this movement, it is very simple. Just like our president,
Brahmananda, explained to you that the mantra is simply sixteen
words: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare
Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Simply chant these sixteen
words. There is no loss on your part, but there is immense gain.
Why don't you make an experiment? It is not very difficult.
These American boys—they are also chanting. "I was
touched by Prabhupada's giving such credit and encouragement
to Brahmananda. I desired to become as magnanimous as he.
At the end of the lecture a student asked, "How does Krsna
consciousness relate to Advaita philosophy?" Another added,
"Yeah, total non-being." Prabhupada appreciated the
question; indeed, he loved defeating all impersonalist arguments.
He replied, "Advaita philosophy means non-different from
God. Have you studied Advaita philosophy?" The boy nodded
and Prabhupada continued, "The basic principle of Advaita
philosophy is non-difference from God," Prabhupada said.
"That is a fact—we are non-different from God. Just
like the president of your country; he is American. You are
also American. So there is no difference. As far as 'American'
is concerned; you are non-different. But at the same time, you
are not the President. Because you are American, it does not
mean that you are on the equal level with the President. Is
it not a fact? Similarly, we are qualitatively one with God."
Prabhupada explained the soul's relationship with Krsna as one
of simultaneous difference and non-difference, just as a drop
of seawater and the entire ocean itself are both different and
non-different. In response, the student asked the typical Mayavadi
question—about drops merging with the ocean and thus losing
their individuality. Although Prabhupada must have refuted this
typical question hundreds of times in his life, I was impressed
by how he appeared enlivened by the challenge and responded
now as though it were the first time he had heard it. "Well,
water is being poured, and water is being taken out. That is
a fact. From the seawater, water is evaporated, and the cloud
again falls down in water. So water is not fixed up. That is
eternally going on. You cannot stop this process. You do not
think that once you have mixed with the seawater, there is no
chance of coming out again? You have to come out. But if you
enter within the water by becoming one of the living entities
in the water, then you haven't got to come back."
He seemed able to see things from all angles at once. I loved
his example, for he had taken the student's own metaphor and
extended its sense to the logical conclusion, and in so doing
proved the Vaisnava conclusion (siddhanta). He knew that the
goal of philosophy was Krsna consciousness, he knew precisely
how to get there, and he knew how to avoid the pitfalls that
rise up on the path. He was like someone standing on top of
a mountain who, with even-minded compassion, helped others trying
to climb to the summit. Unavoidably, however, without using
his eyes, some became entangled in thorny bushes or fell down
the sides of the mountain.
I was also his audience, also a climber. Although I had been
his initiated disciple for almost a year and a half, and although
intellectually I had no problem with any of the Vaisnava conclusions,
and although I often gave classes on those conclusions to others,
emotionally I still had the lingering doubts about my eternal
individuality. Now, being walked through this succinct, logical,
and realized defeat of impersonalism, I became still more convinced.
At that moment I wanted to merge with Prabhupada—not like
a drop in the sea, but a heart-to-heart merge. His words were
beautiful, and so was he, and I wanted to be close to him forever.
Prabhupada continued, "So our philosophy is not to mix
with the water. We go deep into the water and become one of
the aquatics in the water. Therefore we haven't got to come
back again. And if you remain water, then you have to come back.
Even if you think, 'I am mixed with the water of the vast sea,'
that is your false identity. You have to come out. That is Vaisnava
philosophy, that we want to enter into the spiritual kingdom
and we want to live in our spiritual identity. Not superficially;
simply mixing with water and again evaporating—again coming
back." The student sat back in his seat, as if struck by
the truth of what he had heard.
Following the questions-and-answers period, Prabhupada led a
second kirtana, and afterwards, when the guests were leaving
and the devotees were collecting the temple paraphernalia, he
turned to me and said, "So, you may make one dozen pictures
like this." I didn't know what he meant. Was I supposed
to make a dozen pictures illustrating the aquatic animals living
personally in the sea? Taken aback, I asked, "What? One
dozen?" Prabhupada pointed to the sankirtana painting on
the easel. "Pictures. You make them. Yes." I was so
pleased to see once again that he considered painting an important
preaching tool. He knew how to make me feel close to him.
* * * *
The next evening
Prabhupada came into the temple room wearing what we called
his 'Swami hat.' It was a saffron colored cloth cap, loose and
squarish, which fit neatly over his head and ears and tied under
his chin. I had never seen him wearing it inside before. He
slowly walked up to the combined vyasasana–altar, bowed
down, and then as he rose stopped to look at one of the pictures
on the lower step. We had placed it there because it was so
beautiful, although none of us knew the pastime. It depicted
a lovely young 'ethereal' woman in a flowing white dress, with
black hair cascading over her shoulders, handing baby Krsna
to a man. She and the man were both standing in a body of water.
As we all knelt in concert with him, Prabhupada said, "This
is Vasudeva, Krsna's father in Mathura. He was taking baby Krsna
to Nanda Maharaja's house on the other side of the Yamuna River.
When he came to the river's bank, although the water was full
with waves and foam, it allowed him passage. In order to intensify
further Vasudeva's already great love, Krsna slipped from his
hands and fell in the river, and the dust from His lotus feet
sanctified it. Vasudeva became mad in separation from Krsna,
as he tried to recover Him from the rising and swirling river.
Just in the nick of time, Yamuna-devi herself, the river personified,
came out of the water and handed Krsna to Vasudeva. She said,
'I just wanted to play with Him for a little while. Now you
can take Him.'" It was such a sweet pastime, and told in
such a sweet way. "So Krsna, by one activity, satisfied
His two devotees in different ways." Prabhupada concluded,
"The Yamuna felt the ecstasy of His association, and Vasudeva
felt the ecstasy of intense separation."
Prabhupada stood up, and we all stood with him. Then, when he
began the usual evening program, everyone had big smiles on
their faces. Some of the devotees whispered that they felt as
if they'd fallen into a river of nectar. Then, following his
lecture and kirtana, the devotees followed Prabhupada on his
tour of our small storefront temple. I didn't know what made
him decide to do it just then, but I just followed the group.
After studying each of the paintings on the walls, he went downstairs
to the boiler room where Pradyumna lived and where I sometimes
painted while Pradyumna was at his office job. Prabhupada noted
the bathtub on its cinder block throne and the single hose that
yielded only icy water in the winter. He then walked around
the big oil boiler at the back of the basement, and showed interest
by enquiring whether it worked properly.
The tour was a brief one—about ten minutes long—and
Satsvarupa, Pradyumna and I felt badly that we didn't have much
to show him at the Boston temple. At the same time we were glad
just to be with him, even in a basement, for, at lease intellectually,
we knew that association with him was our tour of the spiritual
world. We only needed to realize it.
* * * *
morning, all the Boston and New York devotees gathered in Prabhupada's
Chester Street darsana room, listening attentively to his words
of wisdom. At one point he looked around the room and asked,
"Where is Gaurasundara?" We also looked around to
see him, but he was not sitting with us, and none of us knew
where he was. Someone volunteered to find him, and after a couple
of minutes, Gaurasundara came in. As Prabhupada's personal servant,
he was used to being with him almost every waking moment, so
he did not consider a morning darsana to be as special as the
rest of us did. A scholarly person who usually kept himself
aloof among groups of people, Gaurasundara had decided that
it would be time wisely spent if he studied Bengali in preparation
for his work on Prabhupada's future Sri Caitanya-caritamrta
translation. Looking grave and stern, Prabhupada didn't agree.
He reprimanded his disciple, "Don't ever think you are
too advanced to hear."
A few moments later, Govinda dasi began to walk out of the room.
Since she was in the process of cooking, she had been going
back and forth between the darsana room and the kitchen. Prabhupada
called out, "Where are you going?" "I'm going
to get you something else," she answered with a smile.
Then she left. Prabhupada didn't have any prasadam in front
of him, so I guessed he had honored some prasadam before the
darsana. Govinda dasi then reentered, carrying a large dish
of a fancy rice pudding, and she respectfully placed it on Prabhupada's
desk. Looking pleased, he tasted a spoonful. "This 'something
else' ," he said, "is better than all other 'something
elses'." We laughed and felt satisfied to see him enjoying
prasadam. After he finished his 'something else,' he continued
talking with us for another half-hour, and when it was time
for us to go, he stood by the door saying goodbye to the devotees
as they left his room.
I did not want to leave. I asked, "Swamiji, can I speak
with you a few minutes about my new painting?"
"Oh yes, why not?" He motioned for me to sit down
on the opposite side of his desk. He also sat down and gave
me his attention.
"I want to make the Panca-tattva painting accurate,"
I said. "In New York you gave me the print to copy, but
you didn't give me much instruction. I'd like to ask for more
"Certainly," he said. "It's important that our
pictures be without imagination. Then they will have preaching
"What are the ages of the five personalities?" I asked.
"Lord Caitanya, Nityananda, and Gadadhara should look about
twenty years old, Srivasa Thakura should look about fifty, and
Advaita Acarya should look about seventy."
He picked up a picture resting on his desk, and held it up for
me. It was that beautiful Brijbasi print of Krsna as Muralidhara,
poised near a waterfall in the transcendental moonlight, and
playing His flute. This was the same picture he had shown Govinda
dasi and me a year before at 26 2nd Ave.
"This is a very nice garden scene," he said. "This
can go in the background of the Panca-tattva painting."
I was puzzled. "The original print of the Panca-tattva
you had in New York had a solid green background and an aum
sign, with Radha-Krsna in it, above Lord Caitanya's head. Wasn't
that to indicate that Lord Caitanya is a combination of Radha
"That green background is the artist's imagination,"
Prabhupada answered. "It would be better to put in a garden
* * * *
The next day
I went to see him again—with more questions. He was not
in his darsana room, but on the veranda by the back doorway.
Sitting at ease on the couch with Gaurasundara nearby, his arms
were stretched out, his head back, and his eyes closed. He looked
like he was asleep, but seeing him now reminded me of a passage
I had recently read in the Bhagavad-gita. The pure devotees
never sleep, and that even when they appear to sleep, they are
always thinking of Krsna. I wondered if Prabhupada was somewhere
in Vrndavana with Radha and Krsna and Their friends and the
cows. A doubt arose: How could he be in two places, performing
different activities simultaneously? Was he dreaming of Krsna?
And was there a difference between dreaming of Krsna and being
with Him? I remembered a recent lecture, in which he'd said
that for a pure devotee there is no difference between dreaming
of Krsna and really being with Him. I decided that whatever
he was doing, there was no way I was going to disturb him. I
just stood there and watched him. In less than a minute Prabhupada
opened his eyes and looked at me, not at all groggy or indicating
in any way that he had just been unconscious.
"Swamiji, I have a couple more art questions," I said
sheepishly, feeling that perhaps I had disturbed him.
"Come on," he said smiling, tilting his head a bit
to the side, as Indians do.
Happy that I had not disturbed him, I asked, "The Indian
prints generally show Krsna wearing red tilaka. Should I paint
His like that?"
He replied clearly. "Krsna should wear whitish-yellow tilaka,
just as we wear. That is called Gaudiya tilaka, following Lord
Caitanya. Lord Caitanya is Krsna—a combination of Radha
and Krsna. So Krsna and His friends in Vrndavana wear Gaudiya
"Do you remember that I painted a kadamba tree in my first
Radha-Krsna painting in New York?"
"You had me copy it from your Srimad-Bhagavatam cover painting.
But that picture was so small that I couldn't see it very well.
Now I want to make the trees more realistic." As I spoke
I remembered the practically 'abstract-art' trees I had painted.
"The kadamba is round, like a ball," Prabhupada said,
shaping his hands around an invisible kadamba flower. "It
is yellow with white petals coming all around it." He paused
for a moment and added, "Looking like a porcupine."
We all laughed.
* * * *
The next morning
Govinda dasi invited me to help her clean Prabhupada's room
while he was out on his morning walk. We were still straightening
things when he returned, and he asked me to sit down. He then
began telling me about a Mayavadi guru who accepted unintelligent
and aged ladies as his disciples, seduced them, and then took
all their money.
I said, "I'm also less intelligent, but by your mercy I
have your association."
Prabhupada lowered his head. "I have done nothing extraordinary.
I am simply a canvasser for the disciplic succession."
In this simple reply he revealed part of the reason he was different
from the self-imagined, self-appointed, and so-called gurus
of the '60's: He came with pure humility from an unbroken disciplic
succession as the servant of the servant of Krsna. He was a
transparent medium between Krsna, His saints, and the individual
* * * *
Every day during
Prabhupada's visit, I sought his advice on some aspect of my
artwork, and it was certainly a good excuse to get his association.
I knew he had more important things to do than talk to me, but
I hankered to be with him. So each day I would make an appointment
to see him by asking Govinda dasi to arrange it. On May 23rd
I was to see him before his lunch prasadam. When I arrived he
was sitting behind his desk, writing. As he bent over his papers,
he looked up, looking like an innocent boy. I offered my obeisances
and said, "Swamiji, may I ask your advice on the Back to
Godhead comic strip series? I've been recently using devotee
models to help me draw the different poses, but the brahmacaris
wear their dhotis tied like a balloon in the front with different-sized
pleats and knots on the side." My hands gestured as I tried
to describe the knots. "It's different from Krsna's dhoti
in the Indian prints. Can you please explain how to put on the
Krsna-style dhoti, so that I can get someone to pose?"
Prabhupada stood up and wrapped another dhoti cloth over the
one he was wearing, and I realized he was actually going to
pose. He deftly pleated the top cloth, making it look just like
the way Krsna wore His dhotis in the Indian paintings. As if
that was not enough, he then wrapped a short piece of cloth
around his waist and tied that with the same unusual knot I
had seen in the Brijbasi prints. He said, "When the weather
is hot, the cowherd boys tie their cadars around their waists
like this." Then, placing the neat and symmetrical pleats
of the dhoti between his calves, he crossed his feet like Krsna,
assumed a three-fold bending form and pretended to play a flute.
Although nearly seventy-two years old, he looked lovely and
somehow quite like a plausible cowherd boy. It all happened
so quickly that I was unable to catch all the details. Without
thinking, I asked him to show me the whole wrapping of the dhoti
and cloth once again, and he quite readily complied.
I was elated to have had such a transcendental model, and Prabhupada,
still wearing the Krsna-style dhoti, sat down behind his low
desk. I sat down too, in front of the desk, feeling blessed.
At the same time, my past experience told me that if I simply
enjoyed the bliss of being with him, and did not take advantage
of his presence to tell him of my problems, I would regret it
later. So I stated my complaint, "I'm always frustrated
in my service. I'm frustrated that I can't paint nicely for
Krsna. It's true that Krsna's providing me the facilities I
need, but I have no intelligence or devotion, and so I'm failing
to make the best use of His gifts." Prabhupada replied
with compassion, "That frustration will make you advance.
Lord Caitanya was also frustrated, thinking that He could not
serve so nicely. But when He would see any body of water, any
water, He would think it was Yamuna. In His mind He would see
Krsna and the gopis in the river, and He would immediately faint
in ecstasy. Then, when His devotees awakened Him to external
consciousness by chanting, He would say, 'Why did you do that?
I was enjoying.'" "But my frustration is not like
Lord Caitanya's," I whined.
He looked at me gravely. I expected him to say something, and
when I recognized that he had obviously already said everything
he was going to say, I felt stupid. Even though his look made
me hesitate to say more, I could not bring myself to leave yet.
I felt I still needed more help. "Swamiji, I'm also suffering
because I'm jealous of some of my god-brothers." Surprisingly,
and without hesitation, Prabhupada said, "That is not jealousy;
that is appreciation. In the spiritual world although everyone
is equal, everyone is appreciating everyone else. In Vaikuntha,
all the inhabitants have the same hand symbols as Lord Visnu:
the club, conch-shell, disc and lotus flower. And they are all
beautiful like Visnu. They all have four arms. But still Visnu
is thinking He is God, and His servants are thinking that they
are servants or subordinates. In the spiritual world, everyone
feels like a subordinate. It is good that you feel subordinate."
Encouraged by this response, I ventured to explain what I perceived
as my problem in more detail. I sometimes could not get along
with Satsvarupa, probably because he was the authority and I
the subordinate. "Swamiji," I said. "One more
thing, if I may. I'm sorry, but I can't get along with a particular
devotee in the temple." Prabhupada didn't interrupt; he
just listened patiently. As I elaborated on the nature of my
difficulty, but gradually it was dawning on me that I was sitting
in front of the most important person in the universe—Krsna's
personal representative. He had come just to teach me and everyone
else that we were not this body—not this ego. He had come
to teach us how to love Krsna and everyone else, and I was foolishly
complaining about how I couldn't get along with another devotee.
Ashamed, I stopped in the middle of my sentence. Coming to my
senses, asked, "Should I just forget about it?" Prabhupada
smiled and said, "Yes, you have to forgive and forget.
Otherwise, how can you live?"
While contemplating Prabhupada's deep answer, I noticed an ant
crawling on his desk. Thinking that the ant might disturb him,
I tried to catch it.
"No, let him play," he said.
It was too late. My hand slipped and squashed him, and Prabhupada
simply lowered his head.
Govinda dasi, who was getting ready to serve Prabhupada his
lunch, saw what had just happened. Trying to lighten the atmosphere,
she asked, "Did the ant's soul go to another body yet?"
Prabhupada looked at Govinda dasi and in a grave, deep voice
he said, "Yes, he is at once transferred." Then, again
looking down he picked up a letter from his desk, and resumed
the work he had been doing when I first walked in. I mumbled
a cursory apology, but the words that came out were not the
ones I really meant. So I silently pleaded, "Swamiji, I'm
trying to apologize, but I can't find the words. Won't you just
look up and say something that will make everything okay?"
He ignored me. It was obvious that my time was up, so I offered
obeisances and left.
Then, walking the nine blocks back to the temple I could think
of nothing but Prabhupada's refusal to look at me. It was a
powerful indictment—I was a murderer. At that moment I
was so frustrated at being an inept so-called devotee that I
wished there were such a thing as merging. I wished Advaita
philosophy was the truth, and that I could forget my individual
existence. Or if not that, that I would wake up from the last
ten minutes to find that it had all been a bad dream. But I
was awake, and an individual. I prayed to Prabhupada to forgive
me and forget about the incident. Otherwise how could I live?
I thought about 'frustration' and how Prabhupada had said it
would make me advance—the more I would practice Krsna
consciousness, the more my frustration would become spiritual.
And when that frustration would be fully spiritual, I could
become a pure servant of Lord Caitanya and Prabhupada.
* * * *
Trained to be Irresponsible
Late the next
morning, Prabhupada invited the devotees to meet with him in
his quarters. By the time I arrived, the room was already crowded,
and Prabhupada noticed me squeezing in among the ladies. In
a loud voice he announced, "Jadurani doesn't like any boy
other than Krsna. Right?" I blushed, knowing well the real
state of my heart, and Prabhupada embarrassed me even further
by adding, "Jadurani is the leader of the brahmacarinis,
and Balai is the second leader!"
Balai had just married Advaita when Prabhupada was in New York.
She looked as embarrassed as I must have looked. "Swamiji,"
Advaita said, "How does sex life fit in with Krsna conscious
marriage?" Prabhupada looked at him affectionately and
said, "Make it insignificant." Advaita mildly objected,
"But Swamiji, sometimes I feel I love my wife. What's that
feeling?" Prabhupada replied, "One hand cannot love
the other hand. It must serve the other through the medium of
the stomach. Similarly, one person cannot love another person
unless God is in the center." "Is there ever sex for
any other reason than to have children?" Balai bravely
asked in an attempt to help clarify her husband's question.
The room became very silent as we waited for Prabhupada's answer.
"No," he said, "But on the tenth day after beginning
of the woman's cycle, a couple can try to conceive a child."
After a few more informal exchanges, Prabhupada described how
just after he had married in 1922, a school friend, Narendranatha
Mallika, encouraged him to meet Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
Thakura who was starting his Gaudiya Matha missionary activities
in Calcutta. Prabhupada recounted how on the day of the visit
he had been wearing khadi cloth in support of Gandhi. This was
a token gesture of wearing only home-spun indigenous fabrics
to symbolize his allegiance to the cause of Indian independence.
He told us that at that meeting, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
Thakura had requested him to preach the mission of Sri Caitanya
Mahaprabhu in the English language throughout the Western countries.
Prabhupada described himself as holding very strong nationalistic
views, and so he told his Guru Maharaja, "Unless our country
is freed from foreign subjugation, who will hear seriously the
message of Mahaprabhu?"
I could not understand why Prabhupada was speaking about himself
like that. He could never have been a nationalist, nor would
he ever have thought India's independence was more important
than Krsna consciousness. He was Krsna's pure devotee. Prabhupada
continued to explain that he argued with his Gurudeva over this
issue, but ended up being soundly defeated by him. As he described
the incident, he sat up very straight and tall. Smiling with
obvious pride, he said. "I liked being defeated by my Guru
Now I understood a bit more why he had this exchange—he
was setting an example for us. Just as he 'liked being defeated,'
we should also like our materialistic misconceptions to be defeated
by Krsna's pure desires.
* * * *
at 6:30 p.m., about thirty of us visited with Prabhupada again
in his apartment. At one point in the darsana he wanted to access
one of the several, very large volumes of Sanskrit scriptures
on the shelf behind him. I was awed as I watched him hold his
right arm back and up, pull one of the largest and heaviest
Sanskrit books from the shelf, and gently and slowly lower it
to his desk—with three fingers. And he did all this without
even turning around! At that angle any object becomes at least
five times heavier than it really is, and those thick books
were very heavy to begin with. Although Prabhupada appeared
to be fragile and delicate, I now needed no further confirmation
that what I'd read in the First Canto was true. He had mystic
powers should he choose to display them.
Before ending the evening's discussion, Prabhupada reminded
us that the next morning he would be scheduled to speak at the
Universalist Unitarian Church. He said, "Tomorrow we shall
meet at ten to nine." Then he asked, "Is it ten to
nine or ten of nine?"
"Ten to nine," someone said.
"Ten of nine," another devotee corrected.
"No, ten to nine," still another devotee said.
"No, ten of nine." A few devotees called out in unison.
It seemed there was no conclusion, until finally Pradyumna called
"Yes, that is more clear," Prabhupada said.
None of us were ready by eight-fifty the next morning. Some
of us did not even arrive until ten after nine. Prabhupada was
visibly disturbed, and chastised us, "A dozen times we
said 'ten to nine', and still you are late. In your country
everyone is trained to be irresponsible." Embarrassed,
practically every one of us lowered our heads in shame.