We received news from San Francisco
that besides working on the publication of Bhagavad-gita, Prabhupada
was now dictating The Teachings of Lord Caitanya, a summary
study of the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. He was also speaking regularly
at colleges and had just attended a Mantra-Rock Dance at the
Avalon Ballroom, where thousands of young people were enthusiastically
chanting and dancing with him.
Back in New York, Rayarama, as editor of Back to Godhead, asked
me to stencil-copy a Kangra-style Indian print from a Gita Press
book of paintings. He wanted to use it as an illustration for
a short article about Krsna stealing the garments of the young
gopis. The Kangra book commentary on this pastime described
the story as a symbolic, mythological tale whose moral was:
“One must stand naked before the Lord in order to become
perfect.” I had read the commentary while copying the
print, and was pleased with the thought that it probably meant
naked of any desires other than to serve Krsna.
The Kangra print was flat and stylized—typically Indian—and
in it Krsna was sitting up in a tree, holding the clothing of
the young gopis in His arms. The gopis had performed great austerities
for one month to get Krsna as their husband, and now, on the
last day of their vows, they were taking bath in the Yamuna
River and had left their clothes hanging from a tree. In the
picture they stood naked before Krsna, trying to cover themselves
as they begged for their clothing.
Although I copied the print as best I could, the work was difficult.
Instead of drawing on the blue stencil paper with pencil, I
had to create faint impressions with an inkless ball-point pen.
It took me the whole day to finish it, but in the end I was
satisfied with the outcome, and I turned it over to Rayarama
* * * *
A few days later Hansa and Helena, a young married couple who
had just recently begun to visit the Second Avenue temple, stopped
by on their way to Montreal, Canada. Kirtanananda had recently
gone to Montreal at Prabhupada’s request to help start
a temple there, and now Hansa and Helena were going to join
the few devotees there. Because I no longer wanted to live at
my parent’s house, and because there was no facility for
girls to liv e in the New
York temple, and because Prabhupada was in San Francisco, Brahmananda
and a few others suggested that I also go with them.
Because of the present circumstances—especially because
of my family’s meateating and resistance to Krsna consciousness
at home—it seemed a reasonable suggestion, and I agreed.
I hurriedly packed all my painting gear and then went home to
pack my personal belongings and tell my parents about the move.
Unable to relate to Krsna consciousness in general, they were
saddened at the thought of my going, and my father even cried.
Though I sincerely felt sorry that they were unhappy, I remembered
Prabhupada's words that the best service to one's parents is
to become a devotee of Krsna. Therefore, despite their objections
I was determined to increase my temple involvement; and we three
left the next morning.
As we drove into the driveway of the Montreal temple we were
all amazed. “It’s gigantic,” I said.
Helena added, “It’s about ten times larger than
the New York temple.”
The temple had formerly been a bowling alley, and had no separate
rooms except for the kitchen and bathroom. It was just one large
room on the building's second floor. Kirtanananda, now the temple’s
co-president, lived with the other brahmacaris in one of the
near corners of the room, and after he welcomed us, he suggested
that Hansa and his wife set their things up in one of the far
corners. He then introduced us to his co-president, a local
devotee named Janardana.
Janaradana had been in the first group of devotees initiated
by Prabhupada in New York—before I’d joined—and
then he had returned to Montreal to open this center. With his
dark goti (triangular beard), his hair parted on the side, his
thick, dark-rimmed glasses, and his dark pants, shirt and tie,
he looked very sober and scholarly—like a young French–Canadian
college professor. He was also friendly, and after offering
me a corner of the temple room where I could paint during the
day, he invited me to stay at his house. He said that his wife
was only slightly favorable to Krsna consciousness, and he felt
that she would benefit by having a devotee-woman friend.
A week after I arrived in Montreal, Gargamuni sent us the unbound
pages of the next month’s Back to Godhead Magazine. As
my picture of Krsna and the gopis was to appear there, I had
been eagerly awaiting it. The Montreal devotees, like those
in New York, collated their own magazines each month. On the
day of the delivery, therefore, several of us sat together in
the temple’s small roped-off altar area, in the section
where we were regularly holding the temple programs. As we listened
to one of Prabhupada’s lecture tapes, we spent the afternoon
arranging the plain, letter-sized pages into piles for collating.
While we were still in the process of stapling the piles together,
Janardana received a phone call. When he returned to us he turned
off the tape recorder and very politely said, “Excuse
me, Prabhus. I’m so sorry to interrupt. That was Rayarama.
He said that Prabhupada just recently receiv ed an advance copy
of Back to Godhead.”
I felt elated, knowing that Prabhupada had already seen my artwork.
“After he read it,” Janardana continued, clearing
his throat, “He wrote Rayarama a letter instructing him
to take out the gopi picture and its commentary from every copy.”
My spirits crashed; though I tried not to show it, I was mortified.
What was the problem?
Janardana looked at me sympathetically. “Rayarama said
the pastime was not meant to be symbolic, as he had mistakenly
written. The gopis were actually transcendental cowherd girls
in Vrndavana who were performing severe austerities to become
I felt horrible: our ‘contribution’ was un-bona
fide. My first reaction was to blame Rayarama, but deep in my
heart I knew that I was equally responsible. I’d never
even thought to question the contents of Rayarama’s article,
and I’d given hardly any thought at all to its meaning.
Stung by guilt, I sullenly helped the others take these pages
out of the stapled copies.
A few days later a copy of Rayarama’s letter from Prabhupada
arrived detailing our mistake. It read:
“Please accept my blessings and offer the same to all
your god brothers for doing their respective duties nicely.
“I am in due receipt of the copy of Back to Godhead dated
15th February 1967, and I am glad that it is nicely done. The
only defect is that picture which is wrongly put there without
asking me. There was no need of interpretations. Why have you
interpreted the picture as ‘one has to be naked before
the Lord to become perfect?’ We have no interpretation
in any one of the verses in the Gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
They were not fictitious and therefore there is
no need of interpretation. Krsna actually took away the dresses
o the gopis and actually He saw the girls naked. There is no
“The girls of Vrndavana were of the same age as Krsna
and wanted Krsna as their husband. In India the girls are married
earlier, by ten years old, and thus the girls who were of the
same age as Krsna were married—although they wished Krsna
as their husband. Krsna fulfilled their wishes by this pastime.
Nobody can ask any woman or girl to become naked except the
husband. That is the moral etiquette of Vedic culture. Krsna
is actually the husband of every woman.
“There was no necessity of formal marriage. Krsna played
like a husband by asking them to become naked. In the spiritual
world there is no cohabitation; simply by such emotion in transcendental
ecstasy the desire is fulfilled.
“These pictures of Krsna and the gopis are not understandable
by a layman who has no idea of Krsna. Therefore, this picture
was wrongly put without asking me. Please, therefore, consult
me before putting any such picture or interpretations. One must
first understand Krsna from the Bhagavatam by reading the first
nine chapters, otherwise Krsna will be taken as an ordinary
man and His pastimes will be wrongly understood. Besides that,
a brahmacari should not see any kind of naked picture. That
is violation of brahmacari law.
“I am asking you therefore not to put the picture in the
issue of Back to Godhead. I have asked here [in San Francisco]
not to put this picture, and so also I am asking you. I think
all the pictures are not yet stapled and therefore it must not
be put in there.”
“This is surely on-the-job training,” I thought.
psychologists' comment on human nature is that when one is emotionally
involved when hearing something, that hearing have a deep impression
on him. I hope it's true in the case of this letter.”
A week later, Rayarama sent us a copy of Prabhupada’s
second letter, written on March 7, and it was yet another learning
experience for me. Prabhupada wrote:
“Gita Press is full of Mayavada philosophy which says
Krsna has no form but He assumes a form for facility of devotional
service. This is nonsense. I am just trying to wipe out this
Mayavada philosophy and you may not therefore order any more
copies of the English Bhagavatam published by the Gita Press.
The one which you have got may be kept only for reference on
having an understanding of the Mayavada philosophy, which is
very dangerous for ordinary persons.
“The Mayavada philosophy has played havoc in spiritual
understanding, leading to atheistic tendency. The interpretation
that one has to be naked before the Lord is also Mayavada philosophy.
The pictures which Dan might have brought in the temple are
certainly unauthorized. In the future, before publishing any
picture, you must consult me. At any stage of life in Krsna
consciousness one may be a victim of the strong material energy.
Therefore we have to always take care and strictly follow the
rules an regulations. You are a good boy and sincere devotee,
and I hope you will understand me right.”
Though I berated myself that I had blundered even after all
of Prabhupada’s lectures about Mayavada philosophy, it
never occurred to me to write an apology. I just went on with
my services, and prayed that I might improve in my understanding.
I immersed myself in painting a Radha and Krsna canvas similar
to the one I had done in New York. Knowing Prabhupada liked
that one, I felt safe. And while I painted, I preached to the
many students from the nearby McGill University who came to
the temple during the day.
Brahmananda came to Montreal for a few days, engaging all of
us in some dynamic preaching programs in the local colleges
and high schools. We held kirtanas, gave classes and answered
the students’ questions. It was a magical time. I felt
like one of Prabhupada’s pioneer representatives—absorbed
in preaching Krsna consciousness—and it thus became easy
to forget about the
But Prabhupada did not let me off the hook so easily. As soon
as Brahmananda left, I returned to my easel and listened to
one of Prabhupada’s recent taped lectures from New York.
As if on cue, in it Prabhupada mentioned the sahajiyas, those
who pretend to be spiritually advanced, but who take the gopis’
spiritual dealings as material: “Therefore, they are condemned,”
Prabhupada said on the tape. “It looks similar, but it
is not the same thing—one is gold; one is iron. A polished
iron golden thing, with golden color, does not make it gold.
‘All that glitters is not gold.’” His words
pierced the complacency within my own heart, as I continued
to listen, “You will find that the rascals who have no
idea about Krsna are very much fond of painting Krsna’s
pictures dealing with the gopis. They take it that it is just
like we deal with young men or women. They take it that it is
something like that, but that is a great mistake.”