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Part Two

Milk Drinkers' Beauty

Instead of doing the Varaha painting, I thought to begin work on a second painting of Narada Muni—this one for the San Francisco temple. It would be a welcome greeting for Prabhupada upon his return from Los Angeles this coming March.

I recalled the time, almost a year before, when Prabhupada had invited me into his room and said, "I want to give you an idea for a painting of Narada Muni." At that time he handed me a beautiful print of Narada Muni walking through an enchanting forest full of mango and other flowering trees. In his right hand Narada held a vina, a stringed instrument that was much like a tamboura. His left hand held wooden clappers made of two pieces of carved wood, one having holes for three fingers, and the other having one hole for a thumb. The clappers had bells attached, so that when the two pieces were struck together they would jingle.

"Please do a painting from this print and paint this mantra near the bottom of the painting," Prabhupada said at that time. He handed me a 1"x 6" strip of paper on which he had written the Sanskrit words: narada muni bajaya vina radhika-ramana namine. Then he said, "Narada Muni plays his vina and chants Hare Krsna. 'Ramana' means 'the enjoyer of Radhika,' or 'one who enjoys with Radhika'. So 'Radhika-Ramana' means 'Hare Krsna, Hare Rama.'"

The colors of the Indian print were bright and cheerful. While I painted I felt I had become almost transported into that forest where Narada walked, or at least to my conception of that forest. I wished to hear Narada as he played his clappers and strummed his vina. Of course, one would have to be at a very advanced stage of bhakti to almost hear his vina. One would have to be almost as advanced as the player of the vina for that. My feelings were not real spiritual feelings, but they were surely an encouragement to go further.

When I touched my paintbrush to the canvas to paint the topknot in Narada's hair, I felt I was touching a real person. I knew that I had a long way to go before I could actually experience Narada's presence. I knew I was just on the 'thinking' platform and not the realized platform. But even that small beginning gave me a joy I had not known before I met Prabhupada.

In the print, Narada was a very attractive young man with a magical and inviting smile. I prayed to be able to properly convey that magical beauty in the painting. As I painted Narada's feet, which in the print looked like they were not quite touching the ground, I marveled at his ability to travel throughout the universe without any sort of vehicle. He was like a transcendental spaceman, and I desired to experience his mystical presence. I felt both privileged and nervous to be in front of such a saintly being.

After a few days I'd asked Prabhupada to critique my painting. "Yes, it is all right," he said, looking it over carefully, "But one thing—Narada's chest looks a bit like it has breasts on it."

Embarrassed, I'd agreed and then made the proper corrections. The painting was complete the next day and Prabhupada seemed pleased. He asked Gargamuni to hang it in the temple room for the guests to see, and he asked me to paint similar ones for other temples.

Now, one year later, I began another one. Since my painting style had developed over the year, I now considered that first painting of Narada Muni rather crude and amateurish. I wanted this one to look professional, and therefore I took a bus to the Boston library where I spent the day studying photographs of the great Renaissance paintings and Western landscapes. I then chose what I thought were the perfect prints for my purposes, and brought them back to the temple.

This time I was not just copying a print, and I had to do more than just match the colors. With this painting I had the responsibility of creating my own color combinations, and I had to constantly consider the laws of color: Yellow would make things come forward; purple would make them go back, and so on. One and a half weeks later the painting was complete, and I sent it to the San Francisco temple. The devotees wrote me several letters of appreciation, saying how their kirtana singing increased in happiness when they gazed at Narada and his vina. I was overjoyed, and wrote them back detailing my desires to make Krsna conscious art more popular in the West than Leonardo de Vinci's Mona Lisa.

After another week, Prabhupada returned to San Francisco and saw the painting; but his opinion of it was different from that of his disciples. One of the devotees had told him of my desire to make Krsna conscious art more famous than that of the Old Masters, and despite his busy schedule, which included several radio and television engagements, Prabhupada took the time to write to me on April 8:

"You are already a great artist. You do not want to become a great artist to satisfy the senses of the public. If your present paintings are not acceptable to the general public, I do not mind; they are fools. You continue trying your best to make your pictures as far as they can be nice looking, but not to satisfy the senses of the rascal public.
"Yesterday I went to a Unitarian Church, and there I saw two pictures of only logs and bamboos. It was explained to me by our great artist, Govinda dasi, that these are modern abstract arts. Anyway I could see in them nothing but a combination of logs and bamboos. There was nothing to impel my Krsna consciousness. So if you want to be a great artist in that way, I will pray that Krsna may save you.

"Anyway, if the public does not buy, we do not mind. Why you are anxious for selling? We shall distribute them to devotees without any price. If our things have no market in the sense gratification society, that does not mean we are going to change our principles. We are meant for satisfying Krsna; not anybody's senses. That should be the principle of our life.

"In this connection, I may remark that you have sent one picture of Narada Muni which I understand was copied from some so-called great artist, but Narada Muni's body appears to be very sensuous. He was a first class brahmacari (celibate); he can't have such a sensuous body. So you will do well not to work from the so-called well-known artists, but you should follow exactly the descriptions of the scriptures.

"The picture of Narada Muni which you painted in New York in my presence was very nice and good-looking, but this picture here does not appeal to me. Better not to worry about this technique and style."
Prabhupada had asked Govinda dasi to write me also, and her letter was included with his: "Swamiji says this is the 'meat-eater's conception of beauty—muscles and sunken cheeks.' He says the 'milk-drinker's conception is full, smooth skin, and sweet red lips.' He just showed me a Brijbasi Indian print of Krsna as a child, coming to hear the singing of his blind devotee, Suradasa, Bilva Mongala Thakura. And he really praised the beauty of that print."



Prabhupada was right; my Narada Muni resembled a muscle-bound 'sadhu' with gaunt cheeks and a Christ-like 'dhoti'—all too characteristic of Michaelangelo's paintings. Although Narada still carried a vina, I had painted him in a California-style redwood forest!
Now I understood that when Prabhupada had written me that the Brijbasi artists made 'nice cartoons,' he did not mean children's cartoons. I had been proud that I painted more 'realistically' than them, but now I saw that Prabhupada preferred the 'cartoons'. I recalled the time when, in Prabhupada's quarters in New York, Gaurasundara was doing his pen and ink drawings for Teachings of Lord Caitanya. At that time Prabhupada had criticized him for making Lord Caitanya appear too muscular. He'd told him, "He is strong, but He does not need muscles."

I was now broken-hearted and discouraged that I had not been able to please my Guru Maharaja. I remembered one lecture where he'd commented: "Without pleasing the spiritual master, one's spiritual whereabouts are unknown." Not wanting my whereabouts to be unknown, and with a heavy heart, I wrote him an apology—and he wrote back immediately:

"Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter post-dated April 11, and this is the first time I received your letter finished in three lines; so I can understand that you have been depressed by receiving my letter.

"The idea is that there is a story. 'That I have lost my caste and still my belly is not fulfilled.' In India it is the custom that Hindus never take meals in the house of a Mohammedan, Christian, or anyone other than the house of a Hindu brahmana. But a man was very hungry, and accidentally he took his food in the house of a Mohammedan. And, when he wanted still more food, the man refused, as he could not supply further. So the Hindu man said, 'Sir, I have lost my caste and still I am hungry!'

"Similarly, if artistic pictures as they are approved by the people in general in this country can be sold quickly, I have not any objection to present our pictures in such a way. But I know that pictures in this country are not on the merit of the picture, but on the reputation of the artist. That system is also current in India. But to come to the point of a reputed artist will require a long duration of time. And our time is very short. We have to finish our Krsna consciousness during our lifetime, and we should not waste a single moment for anything else."

"It's not that I had a desire to become a famous artist for its own sake," I responded defensively in my mind. "I didn't want just personal recognition from the public; I wanted to be famous so you and Krsna could be glorified."

I continued reading: "According to Caitanya-caritamrta, a man is famous who is known as a great devotee of Krsna. So if there is not possibility of selling our pictures immediately on presentation, I do not think that there is any necessity to improve our artistic craftsmanship. We should be satisfied with our pictures hanging in our different temples, and we may not sacrifice our valuable time for becoming famous artists so that pictures may be sold like hot cakes."
My defensiveness softened and I admitted, "Well, maybe I did have some selfishness alongside my desire to do better service. Had I no personal desire, Krsna would have guided me to do the painting in the right way—not the wrong way." And whatever personal motive I did have, albeit unaware, would probably have turned into something a lot worse, had Prabhupada not re-directed me. He was not just chastising me. He was a loving father solacing his distressed child. I read on:

"Our institution is mainly for the devotees and as it is the custom in India, devotees are maintained by the general public, who are engaged in materialistic activities for sense gratification. But in this country it is not possible that the brahmacaris or sannyasis shall beg from door to door, as is the custom in India. But at the same time we require some money for conducting business of society. Therefore, the idea is that we may sell some pictures, but so far I understand that even if we follow the principles of modern artists, still our picture like Narada Muni, Panca-tattva, etc., will not have immediate prospective market.

"If there is actually any prospect for selling our pictures put up in this modern artistic way, then I have no objections for putting pictures in this way for selling them. But if that is not possible, then I think we should not waste time in this way. Of course, I am not an artist, neither have I power to see from artistic viewpoint; I am a layman, so whichever picture appeals to me, I say it is nice, and whichever picture does not appeal to me, I say it is not nice. That is my common sense affair. Therefore my remark has no value from artistic sense."

Prabhupada made it clear that because spiritual art is eternal, because it portrays eternal qualities, it was my duty to depict a spiritual culture that transcended mundane fads and trends. He ended his letter by saying: "Anyway, don't be depressed, you can go on with your work, and we shall talk more on this subject when we meet together."

Now I was no longer depressed, but relieved and grateful.

Prabhupada was due to arrive in New York on April 17 at 4:45 p.m., and Satsvarupa, Pradyumna and I came there from Boston on the day before him. It had been almost nine months since he had last visited the East Coast, and we were all eager to see him again. When we arrived at 26 Second Avenue, the temple was bustling with over one hundred devotees from New York and Montreal, many of whom had never seen Prabhupada before, and the next morning Brahmananda gave us all services to prepare for the big event. Some, like myself, made garlands, some cooked the feast, others made banners, others cleaned, and a few arranged for a large bus and van to take us all to the airport.

In the afternoon we all filed out of the temple and into the bus, chanting Hare Krsna, and continued chanting as the bus sped along the Van Wyck Expressway. When we arrived at JFK airport we filed out onto the walkways and danced in a harinama-sankirtana procession into the American Airlines terminal. Passengers and airport staff could not quite believe we were for real.

Some of the brahmacarinis rolled out an Oriental rug and set up a small altar with flower vases. They placed an easel on the rug, and my large painting of Radha-Krsna on the easel, and then we held a loud kirtana for about forty-five minutes in front of this new altar. When we heard the announcement that Prabhupada's plane had arrived, the kirtana rose to a crescendo; and when Prabhupada finally came into the terminal, we became exhilarated—jumping in the air, raising our arms and crying. It felt strange to be crying now. I had always known crying to be a sad affair. This was the first time in my life that I had ever cried because I was too happy to contain my joy.
Although only five feet tall, Prabhupada's regal bearing made him seem much taller. He danced majestically with us for a few moments, his arms raised high, his right and left feet alternately stepping forward and back, and his long cadar (Indian shawl) hanging from his arms. He reminded me of the painting of Lord Caitanya as he danced, and I was once again captivated by his oceanic smile. The kirtana ended and he spoke a few words of greeting: "If you are seeing the beauty in one, you miss the beauty in another. So you have to see all the beauty at once—and that is Krsna's beauty."

I found myself beside Kancanbala, and since this was her first time meeting Prabhupada, I asked her how she felt.

"Just that smile is enough," she said. "Even if we had done years and years of laborious work to prepare for his arrival, this would have been enough reward in itself."

Prabhupada sat on an airport seat and some of the devotees offered him garlands. Rayarama approached first, and Prabhupada laughed mildly as he playfully rumpled Rayarama's wavy russet-colored hair. Brahmananda, Purusottama, Balai and Himavati also offered garlands, and as they each got up from offering their obeisances, Prabhupada patted their heads.

Accepting a pair of karatalas someone held out to him, Prabhupada led us in another, more gentle, kirtana, and then addressed the audience of devotees and curious passersby: "God has got millions and trillions of names. Lord Caitanya has recommended that we chant the names of God. He chanted Hare Krsna, and, we are following Him. We are in the line of Lord Caitanya, and so we also chant Hare Krsna. But if you don't like the name of Krsna, you can chant any name of God that you have got. This chanting of the Lord's names is the only means to peace and prosperity in the world."

We then followed Prabhupada to the curbside where a car was waiting. Kancanbala, Annapurna, Lilasuka and Ekayani ran ahead of him, sprinkling rose water and rose petals in his path. The rest of us continued chanting in the kirtana as we ran alongside, trying to catch glimpses of him. It was impossible to see his feet in the crowd of devotees, but from where I was positioned, it looked as if he was floating slightly above the ground. It looked as if he was being almost carried, for his head was steadily poised and his shoulders were not moving up and down, or side to side, as they usually do when someone walks quickly.

Somehow our bus reached the temple before Prabhupada's car; so we waited outside for him. When he arrived he once again patted Kancanbala, Balai, and some of the other devotees on the head as he passed, and I wished I'd also been standing near his path. He offered his obeisances to Radha-Krsna in the temple and then went up to his quarters. We all followed him upstairs, and as many devotees who could, squeezed into the greeting room. I had not been in this room for nearly a year, and was surprised to see how opulent it now looked. In the previous few days the devotees had painted the walls sky blue and the baseboards gold; and my paintings of the Jagannatha temple in Puri and the Madana-mohana temple in Vrndavana were hung on the wall above Prabhupada's head.

Since the room was small, some of the devotees had to sit in the altar room and look through the window between the two rooms. Others stood outside the door, hoping to see Prabhupada through the crowd, and I had a good seat and a good view from the greeting room.

"Is everything all right, Madhusudana?" Prabhupada called out. Madhusudana was sitting in the back of the room, and we all turned to look at him. His facial expression said that he was overjoyed, simply to hear Prabhupada remember him.

Then Prabhupada saw Damodara in the crowd and said, "Oh, Damodara, I just visited the Radha-Damodara temple in India."

Damodara blushed. "Oh, Swamiji, I don't deserve it."

"You are Damodara dasa," Prabhupada joked.

Satsvarupa seemed to be concerned for Prabhupada's health, and he politely interrupted: "Swamiji, I think it's better if we leave, so you can rest now."

"Talking is resting," Prabhupada replied in a gentle voice. He ended the darsana after a few more moments of conversation, but as the devotees were leaving, he asked me to sit down by his desk.

"I'm sorry about producing the wrong kind of painting," I blurted out, not even waiting for Prabhupada to speak. "I understand that I'll have to be careful if I want to paint Krsna consciousness as it is, and not as I invent it."

"No, no, it was very nice," Prabhupada assured me. But then, as soon as I was 'assured', he continued from where his letter had left off. "Why should you waste time trying to compete with the best materialistic artists for this expertise? No one cares really how good a painting is, anyway. People just consider who did the painting. If it is done by a popular artist, they will say, 'Oh, this is good painting.'" He then became more animated and pretended to be an enthusiastic art lover as he said. "Oh, so-and-so did that? Oh, then it is very nice."
Feeling my spirits lift, I added, "Well, we say that too. We say, 'Oh, Swamiji said that? Then it is very nice.'"

Prabhupada lowered his head. "Of course, that is love. That is a different thing," He said, "It is like a mother who has a blind child and names the child 'Lotus-eyed'."

I had become so absorbed in his humility that I didn't notice that we both had our elbows perched on opposite sides of his small footlocker-desk. When I realized the casual pose I'd adopted, I sat back more respectfully.

He then startled me by saying, "I like your eyes—cat's eyes. Everyone likes cat's eyes; don't you?"

"I . . . I like your eyes," I stammered, "lotus eyes."

Prabhupada then leaned over to the side and replied, "Oh, I am an old fool."

Not knowing what to say in response, I excused myself, offered obeisances and walked out. I had barely reached the temple room when I regretted leaving, but I realized that I had simply become too overwhelmed by who he was—even though I really didn't know at all. He was surely Krsna's personal associate and manifestation, and that way he commanded my utmost respect, awe, obeisances and service, but on the other hand the whole thing was actually too unlimited to comprehend at all. Besides that, he also revealed that he was even more approachable than my own father. When I thought of him in that way, I felt that he was my dearest friend. The confusing part was how a single person could have both apparently contradictory qualities.

Lilasuka had been cleaning the temple room while I had been upstairs.

"You look blissed out," she said.

"I've just been talking with Swamiji."

"Did he show you the picture?" she asked.

I shook my head. "What picture?"

"The Indian print, the one of Radha-Krsna and the eight gopis."

"No," I said, thinking that I'd left too early and he was going to show it to me.

"Oh, it's so beautiful," Likasukha said. "All the gopis are holding something to offer Radha and Krsna. Swamiji described it to some of us, and then he turned to me and said, 'So, you want to be a sakhi?''"
I didn't know how to respond.

* * * *

Mohana Madhuri

Early the next day, one of the brahmacaris approached me in the temple room and told me, "Swamiji wants to see you."

I was so excited that I practically tripped as I ran up the stairs. After I offered my obeisances and sat down, Prabhupada smiled and showed me the beautiful 10"x14" print of a moonlit evening in a Vrndavana forest garden where Radha and Krsna were standing with the eight principal gopis.

"The land of Vrndavana," he said as though reciting a cherished verse, "is always spiritual. It is populated by goddesses of fortune called gopis, who are all beloved to Krsna. The trees of that land are kalpa-vrksa, wish-fulfilling trees, and one can have anything he wants from them." He closed his eyes as if visualizing the place in front of him, and when he opened them again he said, "The land there is made of touchstone and the water is nectar. There, all speech is song, all walking is dancing, and Krsna's constant companion is the flute. Everything there is self-luminous, just like the sun in this material world." He looked directly at me and said, "Human life is meant to understand this transcendental land of Vrndavana and its residents." Then he looked down at the picture and asked, "Do you think you could copy the scene onto a large canvas?"

I nodded and said, "I can try."

"This painting is called Mohana Madhuri, Radha-Krsna and the eight gopis," he said. "The gopis who serve Radha and Krsna are not ordinary girls. They are expansions of Krsna's pleasure potency. Radharani and the gopis, we should never think them as ordinary. We need the guidance of the spiritual master to understand their position." He pointed to the individual gopis. "They serve Radha and Krsna by their singing, by their dancing and by their offering refreshments; and they decorate Them—with flowers they decorate."
My only response was a technical question: "The gopis aren't all looking at Radha and Krsna. Shouldn't I make them looking?"

"That's all right," Prabhupada replied. "When people are dancing together, they have not to face each other always." He added, "The gopis in the picture have Bengali beauty because they are painted by a Bengali artist.

I noticed that whoever the Bengali artist was, he had not painted the forest flowers very clearly. They looked more like a variety of colored blobs. I asked, "Swamiji, what kind of flowers should I paint?"
Prabhupada smiled and said, "You can take any flowers and transport them to Vrndavana."

"And what color should I paint Krsna's eyes? I've sometimes read that Krsna's eyes are red."

Prabhupada closed his eyes and said, "They are red-ish. Reddish black."

"Krsna's supposed to be the color of a fresh rain cloud, but exactly what color is that?" I asked.

"They say that Krsna is the color of a fresh, new rain cloud," Prabhupada said, as he lowered his head and covered his entire face with his hand. He looked lost in a deep remembrance, and after a moment he slowly raised his head and moved his hand down, so that it was now only covering his mouth. This muffled his voice, but his words were still clear. "But I do not know what color that is," he said.
I felt as though he was trying to hide the fact from me that he always saw Krsna's color.

Prabhupada looked at the print again and said, "You may make Krsna slightly shorter than He is in this print. He is too much taller than Radharani. And in the original He looks a little fatty. This scene somewhat resembles San Francisco's Golden Gate Park where I recently performed harinama-sankirtana and took my morning walks."
"I'll begin the painting as soon as I'm back in Boston," I said.

* * * *


Distributing the Taste

As I was finishing my breakfast prasadam the next morning, Kancanbala practically floated into the temple room, bubbling over with happiness. I noticed that she had Prabhupada's dhoti in her hands, so I asked her, "Did you get the service of washing that?"

She held it out to me and said, "Just smell it."

I went closer, took a deep breath, and was astonished at its incense-like fragrance. I looked up at her and asked. "Does this scent come from his body?"

Kancanbala shrugged her shoulders and smiled, her large, brown, doe-like eyes growing even larger. "I was also blessed to be able to clean the altar room while Swamiji took his walk this morning. We worked as fast as we could, but he came back before we finished. It was wonderful. His presence turned the whole room into such a sanctified place"

I asked. "Did he speak to you?"

"When he saw me sweeping, he touched his neckbeads and asked if I was initiated. So, I said, 'Yes, Swamiji.' Then he asked, 'What is your name?' I said, 'Kancanbala dasi.' Then he nodded, 'Ah, Kancanbala dasi.'" She was utterly satisfied with that simple exchange and gave me a big hug.

Just then Govinda dasi came downstairs carrying a large plate. She had previously traveled with Prabhupada, and was now serving him as an assistant. In a way I yearned for a relationship with Prabhupada like hers, but supposed that she must have been serving him in a past life and was now simply continuing. She put the plate down, and we offered obeisances and embraced. "What happened?" I asked. "You've actually become plump. I remembered you as being super-thin."

"It's Swamiji's order," Govinda dasi laughed. "He said I had to gain weight, and told me to drink lots of milk. So I've been drinking a quart a day."

"And your hair is so long now," I said smiling. "The last time I saw you, you had that very short haircut. I remember Swamiji told you that he didn't like that 'bobcat cut'."

"It's because of him that I've let it grow," She said, as she bent down to retrieve the plate she had brought from Prabhupada's quarters. "Here; this is Swamiji's maha-maha-prasadam fruit," she said as she gave Kancanbala, Sudarsana, Lilasuka and me each a half-chewed slice from an orange. She told us, "Swamiji says that when Krsna eats, the remnants are called maha-prasadam, and after Krsna's pure devotee honors it, the leftovers become maha-maha-prasadam."

None of us had previously had the chance to eat Prabhupada's personal remnants, and we looked at each other with a little uncertainty before putting the orange slices in our mouths. I did not expect it to taste any different from any ordinary orange. Lilasuka broke our silent savoring by exclaiming, "It's hard to believe a taste like this can exist." We all agreed.

One of the brahmacaris then called my name and said that Prabhupada wanted to see me. I excused myself and ran upstairs.

"I have just received one postcard from Mahapurusa," Prabhupada said. "On July 12th and 13th, the city of Montreal will be hosting a World's Fair-Expo, and Mahapurusa wrote me that there will be hundreds of thousands of people attending. The devotees have a booth at the fair, and Mahapurusa has asked if we have some paintings they can display." He handed me the postcard, as if to confirm what he had just said.

I tried to think of what paintings might be suitable for an exhibition. "Kancanbala just finished a painting of Lord Varaha fighting the demon Hiranyaksa," I said, although when I had last seen it, it was only partially finished. Then, as I thought of my own attempt to paint that scene, I began to have reservations. I added, "But I don't think people will believe it really took place."

Prabhupada ignored my doubt, and said with a serene and dignified air, "When Lord Caitanya was planning to go to Varanasi to preach this love of Krsna, His devotees requested Him, 'Don't waste Your time.' They knew the people in Varanasi were mostly impersonalists and they probably would not believe in the Hare Krsna chanting. So Lord Caitanya said, 'If they don't like what I have to sell, I'll take it back.'" Prabhupada raised his arms high as if beckoning the entire world to come and chant and savor the exquisite taste of love of God. "So He chanted Hare Krsna and danced, and everyone purchased.

"When Lord Caitanya went to Varanasi, the Mayavadi sannyasi philosophers criticized Him. They said He was illiterate; a sentimental sannyasi who had no interest or understanding in Vedanta. Caitanya Mahaprabhu ignored them, but the devotees said they could not tolerate the offense. Hearing their appeal, Mahaprabhu showed them mercy by defeating the Mayavadis' arguments. At a big, big meeting he defeated them. When people came to know of this, large crowds gathered to see Him and they began to chant Hare Krsna. Hundreds of thousands of people laughed, chanted and danced. All the Mayavadi sannyasis offered Him their obeisances and gave up their impersonal Vedanta studies. They gave up their sin of not recognizing the personal form of the Lord as spiritual and of full bliss, and they began studying Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this way Caitanya Mahaprabhu delivered them. He turned the whole city of Varanasi into another Navadvipa. Lord Caitanya told His devotees, 'I came here to sell My emotional ecstatic love. Although I wanted to sell My goods, there were no customers and it appeared I would have to carry them back to My own country. But you all were feeling unhappy. Therefore, it is by your will only I have distributed them without charging.'"

As soon as I left his quarters, I sought out Kancanbala and asked her to bring Prabhupada her painting of Varahadeva. She was so delighted that I thought she might faint, and I was then surprised to see that her painting was a much nicer rendition than my own attempt.

* * * *


Jaya Radhe!

Satsvarupa, Pradyumna and I stayed in New York for two weeks, but then, together with a few New York devotees, we returned to Boston in order to prepare for Prabhupada's visit on May 1. This would be his first trip there since September 17, 1965. In that year, the Jaladuta, the ship on which he had sailed during his thirty-five day journey from Calcutta, had docked at Boston's Commonwealth Pier, and the captain had taken him for a walk around the docks and downtown shops.

Just before coming to New York, Prabhupada had written to tell me what sorts of arrangements we should make for him in Boston:

"So far the nine blocks are concerned, I do not mind a long walk, if it is flat land and not hills. Here I am walking at least two miles daily, voluntarily, so if the house is nice, you can keep it. If a car is available from New York, then that will be very nice, otherwise I can walk. As far as devotees are concerned, if there is only one toilet room, then not more than two devotees can remain with me. I must have a separate silent place; if there is no noise, all the six rooms could be filled up with devotees. For my personal service I require only one. So you can make arrangements in that way.

"Whenever there is need of my lecture, I am always prepared to serve; it doesn't matter whether big or small. Probably as you are making fine arrangements, many will come to the temple to hear me, so in that case, I must come. Best thing will be to see people in the class, not in my private apartment. Lecturing or meeting must be done in the classroom; that's all."

The Boston devotees and guests worked hard to clean and decorate the apartment we had secured for Prabhupada on Chester Street. It was the ground floor flat in a building filled with Boston University students, and the students living upstairs had agreed to keep the music and loud noise down during Prabhupada's stay.

On the day of his arrival it happened that everyone else was still too busy getting everything ready, and I was sent alone, by taxi, to greet him at the airport. I had also been busy painting the baseboards of his apartment, up until the last minute, and the taxi driver thought it strange that I was making a garland on the way to the airport.

When Prabhupada deplaned, along with Gaurasundara and Govinda dasi, I was once again struck by the dignity of his beauty—the folds of his robes fluttering in the Spring breeze and reminding me of a flock of graceful, saffron-hued flamingos. Although I had been feeling proud in the taxi that I was the only one going to greet him, I now felt awkwardly alone and afraid as I clumsily offered my obeisances. Prabhupada, on the other hand, was as regal as he had been at his large New York reception, and he bowed his head slightly to accept the garland.

On the taxi ride back to his new Chester Street apartment, Prabhupada sat in the back, next to Gaurasundara. Govinda dasi sat next to her husband, and I sat in the front seat next to the driver. I was both nervous and excited, as this was only the second time I had ever ridden in a car with Prabhupada, and I kept turning around to see him throughout the journey.

Satsvarupa and a few others met us at the car door and slowly walked with Prabhupada up the wooden stairs, across the front porch, and through the white columns of the old brown, stately looking wooden house. Passing through the long hallway that divided his quarters in two, we then entered the large living room on the left. Satsvarupa directed Gaurasundara to put Prabhupada's luggage in the front room on the right, he invited he and Govinda dasi to stay in the back room, and the middle room could serve as a darsana room and office for Prabhupada's translating work.

Not knowing what else to do, I suggested, "Why don't you take some rest now Swamiji?"

"I rested on the plane," Prabhupada replied.

"Well," I persisted, thinking I was being considerate of his needs, "you could rest some more."

He turned his head slightly and with a touch of sarcasm said, "I am not meant for resting all day and night." I recognized the look, for it was the same one he gave me when he had told me the year before, "If you love someone, you like to hear them speak." I was embarrassed, and then I said nervously, "In preparing for your visit I had to sew material for the altar, put up curtains behind the altar, make posters for the college and temple engagements we've arranged for you, and then post them all over the city."

Prabhupada titled his head, but said nothing, so I added, "Satsvarupa and Pradyumna were working at their office jobs, and I was the only one left to do these other things."

Although he knew everything, he looked bemused as to why I was saying all this. Then, as if to further explain, I said, "So please excuse me that I wasn't able to do my real service of painting."

"Don't worry," Prabhupada said, sounding apologetic, "I won't stay long."

Trying to save the situation, I said, "It is not that I didn't want to do those services. I was just confused about my priorities."

"The direct order of the spiritual master is the most important thing to do," he answered. "Except in an emergency."

I felt relieved.

A little later, while we were walking through the hallway outside Prabhupada's room, Govinda dasi whispered to me, "When Swamiji saw the Radha-Krsna painting you completed in New York, he said, 'It looks like Radharani had another boyfriend.'"

"I'm surprised. Why would he think that?" I asked.

Govinda said, "Well, you had Her standing next to Krsna and holding a garland, but you made Her turning away from Him.

I shook my head and said, "Oh, I know why. This painting was one of my first attempts at imitating the Old Masters' style. I wanted the scene to look realistic, so I used a photograph of a Renaissance painting of a young Dutch girl for my Radharani. It was the best I could find in the Boston Library. The girl was pretty and sweet looking, and she wore a long dress. And I wanted to paint a pretty Radharani."

"Well there was one main problem with that," Govinda dasi said, "The girl in your print was facing the wrong direction and you just plain copied her."

I felt terrible and wanted to immediately redo the painting. When we joined Prabhupada again in the living room, I found myself standing right next to him. He startled me by taking a step towards me, looked me straight in the eye, and asking, "Compared to the karmis, what inconvenience do you have?"

I felt exposed—because Prabhupada knew the inner state of my heart—that I was so often worried about one thing or another, and so often complaining about one thing or another.

"They are struggling and suffering so much," he said. "What inconvenience do you have?" He then sat down on the large and aged couch in the living room. Gaurasundara busied himself in arranging Prabhupada's things, Satsvarupa, Govinda dasi and I sat on the floor at his feet, and Jayadvaita, a new devotee from New York, sat down and joined us.

Prabhupada looked down at us, smiled and said, "Vrndavana is the kingdom of Radharani. There is a song by Narottama dasa Thakura: 'Vrndavana is the kingdom of Radharani, and Krsna is her aide-de-camp.'"

I couldn't stop thinking of my unbonafide painting of Radharani as Prabhupada continued, "Radharani is the center of all Vrndavana's activities. There, Krsna is Her instrument; so all the residents of Vrndavana chant, 'Jaya Radhe!' Krsna Himself has said that Radharani is the Queen of Vrndavana and that He is simply Her decoration. Krsna is known as the Madana-mohana, the enchanter of Cupid. Radharani is the enchanter of Krsna, Madana-mohana-mohini, the enchanter of the enchanter of Cupid. If we approach Krsna through Radharani's mercy, then our advancement becomes so much easy. If Radharani recommends someone, then Krsna immediately accepts that very person. Therefore in Vrndavana, all the devotees are chanting Radharani's name more than Krsna's.

"In Vrndavana, if someone wants to visit me, they call out…" Prabhupada looked over his shoulder toward the doorway down the hall. Then, as if imitating a visitor at that very door, he called out, "Jaya Rad-he!" He sang the mantra, extending the "Radhe" and making the last syllable rise in pitch. "And I call back . . . " he said as he again looked over his shoulder, 'Jaya Rad-he!'

"Krsna is very strict and Radharani is very nice," he continued. "A woman, unless she is unnatural, is very softhearted and very kind-hearted. And Radharani is not unnatural."

I could no longer contain the agitation I felt about having spoiled the painting; so I said, "Swamiji, Govinda dasi said that you don't like the Radharani I painted in New York. You said it looks like She has another boyfriend. So I can do it over if you want."

Prabhupada smiled and said, "No. Radharani is offering the garland to Jadurani for painting so many nice pictures of Krsna."

I blushed. "Would Radharani really personally do that?" I wondered. "Would the controller of the Supreme controller be personally appreciating my minuscule attempt to serve Prabhupada?

Prabhupada continued speaking, answering some of the other devotees questions and deepening everyone's affection for him. More devotee gathered and Prabhupada continued to feed his hungry disciples.

Satsvarupa finally said, "Swamiji, you probably have your work to do. Perhaps we should leave now."

Prabhupada's answer amused and charmed us all, and it was also instructive: "Talking is working." In New York he had said, "Talking is resting." Transcendence was not obligated to satisfy the laws of logic and contradiction, as mundane subject matters are bound to be.

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Copyright 2001-2002 Jadurani/Syamarani dasi.
All Rights Reserved.