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Misinterpretation

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 for publishing.


* * * *


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 Krsna’s wives.”

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 interpretation there.

“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. “The contemporary
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
gopi incident.

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.”


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