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Part Four


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.'

* * * *


Pilgrimage

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," Prabhupada continued.
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 nodded.

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 concluded.

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.

* * * *


Merging

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.

* * * *


Overflowing River

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.

* * * *


Something Else

Late Friday 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 specifics."

"Certainly," he said. "It's important that our pictures be without imagination. Then they will have preaching effect."

"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 and Krsna?"

"That green background is the artist's imagination," Prabhupada answered. "It would be better to put in a garden scene."

* * * *

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 tilaka."

"Do you remember that I painted a kadamba tree in my first Radha-Krsna painting in New York?"

Prabhupada nodded.
"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 spirit souls.

* * * *


Frustration

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 Maharaja."

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.

* * * *

That evening 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 out, "Eight-fifty!"

"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.

 


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