ISKCON 50 – S.Prabhupada Daily Meditations – Oct. 9-2015 – Dec. 31-2016
October 1, 2016
Maintaining Prabhupada Memories
A nostalgic appreciation of the early days is helpful, but it is also a fact that we have to live in the present situation. If we make new efforts in our relationship with Prabhupada, we will recover the childlike faith in bowing down before him and appreciating him. We have to deliberately fight off the deadening things that come by repetition and age.
It is also good that the caretakers of the Krishna consciousness movement pass resolutions that Prabhupada should be in the middle of all our activities and we should not forget him. We should publish and distribute his books, and we should collect money to maintain his temples. There is a need for institutionalized direction by responsible leaders in order to keep Prabhupada in the center of such a big movement. But it cannot be done only by the force of the institution and its officers. Those who make the resolutions must actually put Prabhupada in the center of their own lives in both substantial ways and in small personal ways. They should honestly advise us that each one has to do this on his own. One way to do this is to maintain our personal memories of association with Srila Prabhupada.
October 2, 2016
The “Radical Act” of Remembering Prabhupada
I am aware that my concentration on memories of Prabhupada may be seen as a radical act. Most of Prabhupada’s disciples are serving him by active service, but I think that remembrance of Prabhupada is also very helpful for all of us. We should know the person whose will we are following. It is important for us to know how he lived, even in all its detail.
Recently a Godbrother asked me to read the biography of a Jewish teacher of Hassidism, The Great Maggid; The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Dove Ber of Mezhirech. The founder of the Hassidic movement was Bal Shem Tov, and his successor was the great Maggid (“the great preacher”), Rabbi Dove Ber. I found something in this book which gave me encouragement in my proposal that remembering Prabhupada is very important.
The most comprehensive evaluation of the Maggid, perhaps, is that offered by Rabbi Leib Sarah’s. This saint was wont to say that man’s purpose is himself to become a Torah; all one’s doings, every emotion, act and speech should personify the Torah. This ideal he found fully realized in Rabbi Dove Ber, of whom he said: ‘I went to see the great Maggid of Mezhirech of blessed memory, not to learn Torah from his mouth but to learn how he ties and unties his shoelaces!’
It is important to hear the guru teach the Torah or the scripture, and yet we also want to learn everything about him, because a bona fide guru is a living example of the scripture. We want to learn how the realized speaker of the Bhagavad-gita dealt with his disciples; how did this great author of Srimad-Bhagavatam eat his prasadam? How did he sleep and how did he walk? This is similar to Arjuna’s request of Krishna. “What are the symptoms of one whose consciousness is thus merged in transcendence? How does he speak and what is his language? How does he sit and how does he walk?” (Bg. 2.54)
It is stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam that the scriptures are hard to understand because their imports are very grave, and sometimes they even appear contradictory. Therefore one should follow the way of the mahajanas. This following should be very comprehensive. To know how a realized spiritual master personifies the scripture, we should actually live with him. If a reputed preacher comes down from the pulpit and beats his wife, kicks his dog, and accepts bribes, then you know that he is actually a hypocrite. We want to see him not only when he is sitting on the vyasasana, but all the time. We want to learn, as far as possible, how he manages to serve and love Krishna 24 hours a day.
October 3, 2016
Retelling of Prabhupada’s Arrival in America
Sometimes I speak about Prabhupada to new devotees who have not yet read Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta. I start by telling how Prabhupada took the Jaladuta to America and narrate the story of the beginning of 26 Second Avenue. On these occasions I have a free field. It is an unusually good opportunity to speak without worrying whether they have heard the stories of Prabhupada in Butler, Pennsylvania, or Prabhupada staying with Dr. Mishra. I linger over those incidents with relish. I sense that Prabhupada is present and is pleased by my talking about him, especially at certain times when I say something humorous, or while talking about his difficulties … For example, he went regularly to the Scindia Steamship office in New York and asked, “When is the boat going back?” The Scindia agent finally said, “You ask so many times when is the boat going back, but you never go back, Swamiji.”
I speak whatever comes to mind from the Prabhupada-lilamrta, with added commentary. I want to impress upon my audience that Prabhupada carried all of us within him like seeds. It was especially precarious during that first year. It is fun to talk about him, and my memories come out a bit differently than they did in the Lilamrta. For example, I tell how the Agarwal family in Butler first received a photo of Prabhupada and knew that he was coming to stay with them. I might say, “They saw the picture of him and they were frightened,” but in the book, I emphasize that the Agarwals were uneasy, thinking that their middle-class values and their place in America might be compromised by the Swami’s coming. “Uneasy” is not the same as “frightened”.
October 4, 2016
The Deep Impact of the Spiritual Master
Srila Prabhupada told us of important guru realizations which occurred in his own life. As soon as he met Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in 1922, Srila Prabhupada knew that this was his spiritual master – “Not officially, but in my heart.” Srila Prabhupada did not move into the asrama of his guru but continued traveling throughout India, doing business as a householder. But he would often stop and think of the wonderful Vaisnava who had entered his life by Krishna’s arrangement: “I have met such a nice saintly person.”
Years later, while reading Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s commentary, Srila Prabhupada was struck by the force of this statement: “Just as life-breath is essential to a living being, so the order of the guru should be the life-breath of the disciple.” Thinking upon this deeply changed Srila Prabhupada’s life.
So every disciple should carry out the order of the spiritual master and repeatedly think of him, whenever one can. He is the saintly person who has come and changed our life from one of doom to one of hope. When we fall into dullness, or when passionate duties cause forgetfulness of our spiritual master, a reading of Vedic knowledge will remind us again and bring us toward absorption in Prabhupada. “He opens my darkened eyes and fills my heart with transcendental knowledge. He is my lord, birth after birth … The Vedic scriptures sing of his character.”
October 5, 2016
Levels of Prabhupada Consciousness
There are different levels of Prabhupada consciousness. Devotees have even spoken of “an illusory Prabhupada”, meaning a Prabhupada whom they imagine. When one is deviating, one can rationalize that Prabhupada won’t mind — an illusory Prabhupada. There is an official Prabhupada and a superficially worshiped Prabhupada, and so on. There’s a Prabhupada of the nectarean anecdotes whom the Western theologians would refer to as “the historical Prabhupada”. And there’s the all-pervading Prabhupada. As Rupa Gosvami said about Sukadeva: “I offer my obeisances to my spiritual master, who enters into the heart of everyone.” Similarly, Vyasadeva praised his spiritual master, Narada: “Like the sun, your goodness can travel everywhere in the three worlds, and like the air you can penetrate the internal region of everyone. As such, you are as good as the all-pervading Supersoul.” (Bhag. 1.5.7).
Unfortunately, one may live many years in contact with one of the lesser versions of Prabhupada. Also, one can bully others by a heavy-handed use of quotes from Prabhupada’s letters, and one can misuse Prabhupada’s authority in various ways. Therefore, it’s important to discover and remain aware of the most basic understanding one has of His Divine Grace. Remember that you promised him you would chant sixteen rounds every day and follow the four rules. Remember the day that you took the beads from him and made that vow in his presence? Feel the weight of it.
October 6, 2016
Prabhupada Will Claim Us
Srila Prabhupada may be in Goloka Vrindavana in the form of a gopa directly playing with Krishna, or he may be in the form of a manjari assisting the gopis who are arranging for the conjugal pastimes of Radha-Krishna, or he may be moving in Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana movement. Just as the eternally liberated Narada Muni travels sometimes in the spiritual world and sometimes in the material world, playing his vina and helping conditioned souls by glorifying and giving relevant instructions, so Srila Prabhupada may be doing like that. I do not know. I do know I had a very definite pastime connection with His Divine Grace when he came to us at 26 Second Avenue. A tiny, conditioned entity cannot expect to know very much about confidential devotional service. Furthermore, he should be satisfied to carry out the orders of the spiritual master as given in this world.
When all is said and done, I’m confident that Prabhupada will claim his devotees as long as we turn to him. He has specifically instructed us about the time of death. He said the same thing that Bhagavad-gita says: Think of Krishna at the end of life and “surely you will come to Me, without doubt.” This time-of-death concentration will carry us to the spiritual world. And Krishna will note the brand of our meditation – as the followers of His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada personally meditated on Lord Krishna until the last breath while serving in Krishna-Balarama Mandir, while urging his disciples never to give up preaching.
By Prabhupada’s grace he lives within me. Our communication in separation depends on the purity of the disciple. But whether pure or impure, the favorable remembrance of him can bring us immediately to our constitutional position. I may sometimes think that I have to go on my own, taking help from other spiritual masters, or daring to go directly to Krishna, yet the Vedic scriptures remind me and bring me back to my senses. Only if I please the spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, will Krishna be pleased with me. There is no conflict between thinking of Prabhupada and thinking of Krishna. Even when we feel we are most in tune with Krishna directly, by His words in Bhagavad-gita or in His beautiful Form in the arca-vigraha, even then we are gratefully aware, “Srila Prabhupada, I am doing what you told me, and, as always, you were right — Krishna is so nice.” According to Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy, the spiritual master leads the devotee into his eternal rasa with Sri Sri Radha-Krishna in Vrndavana. And just in case we have not done so well, it’s Srila Prabhupada who will stand between us and the Yamadutas’ fierce punishments.
October 7, 2016
The Fear of Prabhupada’s Presence
A possible weakness: I claim to be yearning for union with Srila Prabhupada, yet I am afraid of an actual encounter with him — because he makes me surrender. If I’m afraid of an encounter that means that I prefer to remember him, rather than to be with him. In the memory form, Prabhupada cannot answer me back. He is the object of my worship, but he remains silent. This type of meditation could come dangerously close to worshiping an “illusory Prabhupada”. But I shouldn’t damn myself and say that I am trying to avoid him. Despite my laziness, when Prabhupada speaks, I will obey. Neither is he entirely silent since his disappearance. He speaks through his many disciples, and I’m listening to them. He also speaks in my heart and I respond. He speaks directly in his writings. Thinking of Prabhupada does not mean one-way talks, with only me speaking whatever I like before an idol of my own creation. At their best, conversations with Prabhupada are two-way conversations by worshipful followers. As one can “talk” with Krishna, so it is possible to do this with guru also.
Srila Prabhupada was once asked about communication with him “when you’re not with us”. At first he said we can read his books, but the devotee asked, “What about in addition to your books, just as Supersoul speaks to us?” Prabhupada replied that it depended on the purity of the disciple.
Regarding his relationship with his own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada wrote, “I think that His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati is always seeing my activities and guiding me within my heart by his words. As it is said in Srimad-Bhagavatam, tene brahma hrda ya adi-kavaye: ‘Spiritual inspiration comes from within the heart, wherein the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His Paramatma feature, is always sitting with all His devotees and associates.’” (Concluding words of Caitanya-caritamrta)
I admit my failures, but I know that Srila Prabhupada is with me. I should consider that in my younger days with Prabhupada, I was only a boy. Prabhupada gave me orders for everything in my life: “You should chant, you should go there, you should do this, you should do that.” He taught as a father and mother teaches the child, sometimes pulling them by the hand. But when the father sees they have grown, he wants them to use their intelligence and do the service on their own.
You are given a chance to do better service. So you should think that, “I am a more surrendered soul than I was. I have to do highly qualified seva, which at that time I could not understand. I was not then at a standard to know what was wrong and what was right. Whatever he ordered or told I obeyed. But now I have to act according to his wish. So I am most surrendered.”
How can one understand that he’s pleasing the guru after the guru’s disappearance? Yenatma suprasidati. When Lord Hari is satisfied, then the individual soul is satisfied. If you want to do anything, or begin anything, you should think, “I’m doing it only for the pleasure of guru and Gauranga. Don’t be doubtful.” Although I have to consider the possibility that I’m still a rascal, I know that Srila Prabhupada loves me and finds a place for me in his service. We have to be confident of our ongoing exchange with him, but not too confident so that we think we know everything about Krishna and Prabhupada. Be confident of your own surrender — but always a fool before the guru.
“Every disciple must consider himself completely unaware of the science of Krishna and must always be ready to carry out the orders of the spiritual master to become competent in Krishna consciousness. A disciple should always remain a fool before his spiritual master.” (Cc. Adi, 7.72, purport)
Thinking of Prabhupada needn’t be esoteric and elusive. It’s remembering your spiritual father. You’re sorry that you’re not serving him better. But you know you shouldn’t just dwell on that in a negative way. Prabhupada writes, “If one has faith, even if for the time being he can’t fully carry out the injunctions of the Lord — as long as he doesn’t admit defeat and hopelessness — then gradually he will be elevated to the right position.” So you remember your spiritual father and you live by his instructions.
October 8, 2016
Thoughts of Swamiji from Five Blocks Away
Swamiji, you’re in your room
and I’m here at the welfare office
thinking of you.
to be so close to you,
and I’ll see you at lunchtime.
My supervisor doesn’t know
and Miss “Femme Fatale” doesn’t know
although I’d tell them more if I could.
For now I have to live within,
praying to Visnu
the Lord of bhakti-yoga.
Swamiji, as I think of your kind glances
and the chanting you’ve brought
to the Lower East Side,
I’m grateful to be your son.
I’ve got so many misconceptions
of spiritual life
and heaps of dirty things in my heart.
You’re changing all that
but I’m just a crawling infant.
Please stay with your children,
Brahmananda, Acyutananda, Kirtanananda, Rupanuga –
don’t leave us
or we’ll all fall down.
I’m praying at the office
to serve your mission
with $134 a week.
Hearing your lectures every morning,
sometimes I’m alone with you
to ask a question:
“Should I chant Hare Krsna within?”
I’ll see you again, O Spiritual Master,
pure devotee of Lord Krishna,
and I’m living for that.
Please accept this mango.
Harer-nama harer-nama, harer namaiva kevalam.
October 9, 2016
Wisps of ’66 Memories
One time in Prabhupada’s room, Lefkowitz asked, “Swamiji, when someone paints a portrait of Krishna, is it the artist’s conception of Him?” Prabhupada replied, “Yes.” That answer helped me because I knew that you were supposed to think and believe that Krishna was absolutely present in His picture. But on the other hand, the pictures were obviously stylized. They used techniques of Indian art, and you could see the weaknesses in the paintings, etc. This created a jarring problem. But Prabhupada said that it was the artist’s conception; however, the form of Krishna they painted was based on facts from the sastra.
Another time one of the boys was reading something to Swamiji from the Bible. The passage referred to a prophet’s lineage with worship and respect for the forefathers. When the person was described (let us say his name was Jacob), his name was given in connection with his forefathers. It was something like, “Jacob, a man of God, whose forefathers were so-and-so.” As soon as this passage was read, Swamiji said, “Yes, this is the way in spiritual life. One refers to himself in terms of his previous teachers and forefathers.” Prabhupada approved of the parampara principle in this passage of the Bible. He then gave examples from Vedic literature. He told the story of Lord Brahma who went to visit Lord Krishna in Dvaraka. At first Brahma was not allowed in, and the doorkeeper asked, “Which Brahma are you?” Brahma replied, “I am the father of the four Kumaras.” He identified himself in relationship to recognized devotees, the four Kumaras.
October 10, 2016
Our Pride in Prabhupada
There is no difference between the spiritual master’s instructions and the spiritual master himself. In his absence, therefore, his words of direction should be the pride of the disciple. – (Cc. Adi 1.35, purport)
What does this mean, that the guru’s order is the pride of the disciple? It means that the disciple has received a treasure and this is the cause of his satisfaction. He is not boastful about it, but undeniably, his guru’s order is the cause for self-congratulation. He is confident that a great soul is leading him back to Godhead. He is no longer downtrodden. The disciple of a bona fide spiritual master has won the prize, the cream, the flower.
Such pride exists even in the Supreme – Lord Krishna is proud of Srimate Radharani, and She is proud of Him. Srila Prabhupada was proud of his guru maharaj, who was never defeated. And his guru maharaj was proud to be the son of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. All devotees of Lord Caitanya are proud to belong to the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradāya.
Material existence crushes us and makes us ashamed. Our relationship with Srila Prabhupada makes us transcendental. Yet this pride doesn’t work against humility. We remain a fool before the spiritual master.
One time I wrote to Srila Prabhupada that I did not think myself a very bold preacher. He wrote that he too once thought he could not speak, but by practice he gained confidence. Moreover, he said, we are not cheating anyone when we speak, so you should not be hesitant or ashamed. Prabhupada compared the devotees of the Lord to the servant of the king. As the king is most honorable, so is his servant.
The spiritual pride in the guru’s order implies a grave responsibility. We are to discharge Prabhupada’s order for the benefit of the whole world. The pride of the elite must be preserved at all costs. Arjuna was proud of his friendship with Krishna, but when Arjuna wanted to renounce the kṣatriya’s duty, Krishna warned him not to dishonor the glorious relationship. And so it is stated that the spiritual master will always keep company with the disciple, as long as the disciple follows strictly the instruction of the spiritual master.
Let us be proud of the knowledge in Srila Prabhupada’s books. Never take it as a minor event that we have come to accept them as scriptures. Who can comprehend these things except the devotees themselves? People will take it as vainglory. But even at the risk of being misunderstood, we have to speak and write of Prabhupada’s glories. The world should see splendid architecture in his memory, his samadhis and museums – and the Bhaktivedanta Institute and the Bhaktivedanta Manor. Most important of all, we should consider ourselves blessed by his association, and so in pride, we bow down at his lotus feet. By the causeless mercy of Prabhupada, even the lowest born and most fallen can now aspire to topmost bliss, Krishna in Vrindavana. May we always remember that we are the servants of the true servant of the Supreme.
October 11, 2016
Why Didn’t I Keep a Diary in 1966?
(In the mood of Satsvarupa das Brahamacari)
Swamiji, they want to know why
I didn’t keep a diary filled
with the life of those days.
I thought everything was in your words,
and they were in books and tape recordings.
I also made notes of them.
What is it I should have saved for the future?
Should I have kept notes like:
“He has brown eyes . . .
today Hayagriva made a joke . . .
I feel happy in Krishna consciousness,
haven’t smoked pot in two months?”
Maybe I thought it was maya.
But I’m sorry now
I didn’t keep a journal of it all.
I had no presence of mind—
for me the main thing
was that you were restoring me to life—
I was fully occupied
holding on to your lotus feet.
Maybe I thought there was
no need to write it down
because we would never forget
everything that you did and said.
No, there’s no excuse for it.
Please bless me now, Master,
to live in those days
remembering your kirtanas and
the time I met you
on the street and bowed down
on the sidewalk before you.
As I rose you touched me with your hand.
I was in ecstasy!
You continued on your morning walk—
and I proceeded to the welfare office
to break through the line of angry workers on strike.
October 12, 2016
He Gave Us the Gayatri Mantra
aim gurudevaya vidmahe krsnanandaya dhimahi tan no guroh pracodayat
“Let us try to understand my spiritual master who is always in blissful Krishna consciousness. Let me meditate on him being enthused as he enthuses us.”
The Gayatri mantra provides us with a meditation on the spiritual master which may be applied to Srila Prabhupada. There are actually two mantras to the spiritual master in the Gayatri. The first is aim gurave namah: “I make my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master.” This means we should approach Srila Prabhupada offering obeisances. Srila Prabhupada is actually a most intimate friend, but he should not be taken as an ordinary person.
The Gayatri mantra advises us “to meditate on him being enthused.” One time when he was commenting on the word enthusiasm (utsaha), as used in Rupa Gosvami’s Upadesamrta, Srila Prabhupada gave himself as an example. He said, “How could I have come to America at such an old age unless I was enthusiastic?” He was enthusiastic to come to America because his guru ordered, and when for a whole year he got almost no response in America, Srila Prabhupada remained patient but still enthusiastic. That enthusiasm can be heard on tape recordings of Prabhupada lecturing on the Lower East Side, where his voice often cracks with earnestness to deliver the message of Krishna consciousness.
Prabhupada was so enthusiastic to write Srimad-Bhagavatam that he would rise at one in the morning to do so. His composing of his purports was the perfect example of combined patience and enthusiasm. As he said, “Little drops of water wear away the stone. In this way, I’ve written all these books.”
“Let us meditate,” the Gayatri mantra advises, and so one can continue on his own, or in the association of devotees, to think about and discuss the enthusiastic moods and activities of His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada’s translation contains a particularly interesting phrase, “Let me meditate on him being enthused as he enthuses us.” A genuine disciple has become enthusiastic in devotional service, and he knows that this is due to the enthusiasm of his spiritual master.
We may meditate on how our enthusiastic spiritual master has transferred this sakti of utsaha to us. Prabhupada said that the mother of his disciple, Acyutananda, complained that her son used to lounge around the house all the time and was unwilling to go on errands. But since he had come to live with Swamiji, he was always enthusiastic to cook and to run any errands asked by his spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada was also fond of a pamphlet produced by a Christian minister in Boston which made reference to Srila Prabhupada’s enthusiastic disciples. The minister said that he met a Hare Krishna devotee giving out literature in the neighborhood of the church. The priest said, “These are actually our boys, but previously they were never interested in going to church. Now they have become mad after God.” Srila Prabhupada also said that it was only by the enthusiasm of his disciples that the Krishna Consciousness Movement was spreading around the world.
When we do not feel enthusiastic, let us meditate on the enthusiasm of Srila Prabhupada. Let it ignite within us our natural enthusiasm to serve Krishna. This is krsna-ananda, which motivates all the thoughts and activities of a pure devotee of the Lord. Whether he is grave and silent, or dancing in the kirtana of Lord Caitanya, whether he is being honored by many followers or treated as an outcaste, the pure Vaisnava is always merged in enthusiasm and bliss. Let us meditate upon him being enthused just as he enthuses us.
October 13, 2016
(In the mood of Satsvarupa das Brahamacari)
Swamiji, I’m in my room thinking of you
and what you are giving us.
As I told my brother-in-law,
“It’s transcendental loving service.”
It’s raining today
and I will get initiated. It will be fun.
I’ve got my red japa beads. You are my guru.
I feel serious
about this initiation into Hinduism.
. . . Now it’s later
and you’ve given me a spiritual name.
My true name is Satsvarupa das. From now on
I’m no longer “Steve Guarino.”
When I say I believe in God and God is Krishna
and He is present in the japa beads,
is this my imagination? Is it my belief? Is it fact?
What is the proof?
Anyway, as long as I can see you,
my doubts will be defeated.
I’ve never met anyone like you:
You are close to us as a friend and father
and yet you are with Krishna in a trance of devotion.
You make strong arguments against all doubts.
What’s ahead? I don’t know.
Let me read your books. From now on
I’m no longer Steve Guarino.
Let me write it, Satsvarupa dasa.
And more visions of you:
in your turtleneck jersey, your shining eyes,
working at your Gita and Bhagavatam,
your spiritual body, your life in India,
the mystery of Radha and Krishna.
Now autumn is coming and it is a brilliant hope.
You say we will go out chanting in Tompkins Square Park,
you say we will go everywhere,
even Russia and China.
I too may have to go somewhere.
I want to be serious and get up very early
and fight sleep and sex desire and work for you.
It is a brilliant hope—that Krishna is the Supreme Godhead
and we can play with Him in Vrindavana.
If my father and mother don’t like it,
they can reject me, so what?
As Rayarama said, “It’s the oldest story in the world,
that kids grow up and go their way.”
Swamiji, you know all this and you know Krishna.
Please accept me.
I’ll write more soon if you are pleased with this.
October 14, 2016
Pleasing Swamiji by Working for Krishna
It was a real yajna to work for Swamiji at the welfare office. But it was successful yoga, partly because Swamiji was so physically near and I could know that I would see him soon enough. I was there to work for him, to get the money to pay the rent. It was an open secret to all the welfare workers and clients that I was a devotee of Krishna and the Swamiji. Before Prabhupada came, my secret was taking marijuana, but now my secret was open, different—that I had become a devotee of Krishna, with shaven head and sikha. I couldn’t preach at the office, and so, except for the visible appearance of a Vaisnava, I did the exact same work as everyone else. Devotional service was new to me and I wanted to keep it alive. I was aware at every moment I was acting outwardly while trying to maintain an inward focus. Swamiji had told us that Krishna is present in the heart as Visnu, Paramatma. And so I tried to think of Visnu and love Visnu in the heart. I was also writing Him a poem which I worked on at my office desk.
One morning I told Swamiji it was hard to remain Krishna conscious at work. I said, “Swamiji, sometimes when the people in the office say nonsense, I chant within myself without making any sound. Is that all right?” Prabhupada replied, “Not only are they saying nonsense sometimes, but even the greatest philosopher is talking nonsense. So you can chant all the time like that within, when you can’t actually chant out loud.” So I would chant within myself. But sometimes I was able to be alone in a corner of the welfare office and then I could chant audibly, at least loud enough for me to hear. A good place to do that was on the second floor in the soundproof booths where caseworkers dictated their day’s interviews in order to be typed up. You would take your recorder up there and start speaking into the machine: “I visited Mrs. Sally Burns at 62 Suffolk St. She is receiving aid for dependent children. She requests a refrigerator. . . .” Then a pause. This was a good place to do it—”Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare . . .” When I chanted softly but intensely, I felt as if I was pushing away the whole Manhattan welfare department and all their crazy clients and office girls and office men. . . . Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. In my mind’s eye I could sense the presence of Swamiji. And I spoke and prayed to him, “Swamiji, please let me get through this job for you and make money so the temple can run and you can spread Krishna consciousness. Please protect me. Nrsimhadeva, Prahlada, please protect me. If someone came by and eyed me suspiciously, I went back to dictating my welfare case. Or I took out my poem-in-progress:
I say I want to get out/ to where/ You are/ to be at Your feet—/ but what do I do? Why
don’t I answer every question
Why do I flinch/ when they ask me why I’m flowering
just by the thought of You?
—You the indweller in all of us—/Visnu-in-me!
Chanting without beads wasn’t as nice, and so I would think of my red japa beads and hanker to return to them. As the morning got late, my hunger would increase—it would not be long before lunch hour when I would be able to get out and go to see the Swami. There was always at least one important question on my mind which I wanted to ask him, or a realization that I wished to share. One time I went and told the Swami, “When I’m in the office I can feel the miseries you talked about, birth, death, disease and old age, and I can actually feel that I’m overcoming them.” Swamiji liked that and said, “Yes, but almost no one knows this. They put these problems aside, and yet everyone is being forced to die and grow old and be born again. For a devotee, these things are easily overcome.”
My practice of karma-yoga was a daily struggle, but the Swami was always there to make it victorious. Swamiji said, “Satsvarupa and Brahmananda are paying our entire expenses by their work.” That’s what made it possible, to know that you were doing something worthwhile. I never had such a warm feeling in my own family as I grew up. But now I was Swamiji’s son, part of a big family, and so I worked for that.
October 15, 2016
You Know What I Was
(In the mood of Satsvarupa das Brahamacari)
Swamiji, you know what I was;
you can see it in me still.
It’s obnoxious, my mind
filled with obscenities
even if I don’t speak them anymore.
So much semen wasted
and my brains scattered by LSD.
That time I sat before you
and imitated a yogi in lotus trance,
what did I think I was doing
to come into your presence like that?
I argued against your statement
that there was no need to read
other scriptures besides the Vedas.
And I complained, “I’m trying
to appreciate Bhagavad-gita, so why
do you have to throw in mind-blowers
about Krishna’s marrying 16,000 wives?”
They ask me why I didn’t write a diary;
maybe because it’s too much madness.
I had to relearn everything
and it took some time
before writing became
useful for your service.
There was no need to tell you, Swamiji,
all the gory details,
but I could have written down
how it was sweet in the morning
to be with you for Caitanya-caritamrta.
When you said, “If you love me, then I’ll love you,”
I should have written it down right away.
I’m sorry it’s mostly all a blank.
But thank you for coming.
You are saving me.
I don’t want to ever forget or think
your help was incidental, as if I were almost-spiritual
and you just added a few touches.
Until only a few days ago
I didn’t have a beadbag;
I thought you were going to teach the
Tibetan Book of the Dead;
I’d never seen a picture of Krishna.
I thought everything was One
and that I was the center,
and sorry for myself, love-starved, food-starved.
You saved me.
October 16, 2016
Inquiring from the Learned Spiritual Master
(In the mood of Satsvarupa das Brahmacari 1966)
Swamiji, I’m with my new godbrothers in ISKCON.
We all agree you are a “self-realized soul,”
although we don’t know exactly
what that means.
So we are going to ask you.
I also want to ask you:
“What is Visnu?”
“How can I keep up a taste for Krishna consciousness?”
“How do you spell Sanatan?”
“What is the difference between Brahma, Brahman and brahmana?” “Should we take a cold shower?”
“What does my name mean?”
“When can we expect to become pure devotees, if ever?”
“How did the souls fall here, and where does it say so in scripture?”
“Can we read Bhaktivinode Thakura?”
“What about The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna?”
“Should we remain brahmacari?”
Does it disturb you that we ask so many questions?
Like one night I told you some things
that I’d read in a Gaudiya Math book
and asked you a few questions and then you said,
“Go downstairs now and let me do my work.”
I’m sorry to pester you.
What I really want to know are things
I probably can’t know yet—
like the future, or advanced spiritual topics
and technical teachings too, like
at the time of death do we retain
consciousness into the next life?
I think you answered that once
but I didn’t grasp it.
We have to wait for the answers, right?
Also, many of my questions get answered
during the time when you walk
from the side door of the storefront
up to the dais. I mean
as soon as I see you, they are answered.
So mainly I have no questions except one
that I don’t even want to think of—
Will you stay with us?
Oh, and what about those four counter beads besides the sixteen?
Someone said every time we do sixteen rounds we push one.
And are there more songs you could teach us?
October 17, 2016
I Want to Say
(In the mood of Satsvarupa das Brahmacari 1966)
Swamiji, you’ve made my life happy and you give hope for the future life: You’ve given us the most relishable, all-attractive Personality of Godhead.
I want to thank you by becoming your menial servant.
You talk with us as if it’s normal for you,
but you are an intelligent, spiritual aristocrat
and we were ganja smokers, meat-eaters and other things
I needn’t mention. You seem glad to see us,
especially when we meet in your room and we ask you
about the spiritual world
and we also talk about this world.
I want to tell you, you are cleaning my heart
and my body and mind — I was so egocentric!
(I still am, but it was much worse.)
You’re giving me God,
and there’s no way I can repay such a gift.
I knew priests before but
they couldn’t figure me out.
My father said I was “a Greek tragedy waiting to happen”.
You’re the one in my life.
I want to say it and use my life as your servant,
along with your other disciples.
I like to work for you at the welfare office.
Please give me more typing of Bhagavatam,
and I like to change the titles of your lecture
on the sign in the storefront window.
Please give me more to do.
I’m young and can do things,
although mostly I’m incapable.
You could really use competent
well-to-do disciples, people with brains
for dealing with the world,
and people with pure hearts and humble natures,
or good philosophers and organizers,
at least simple, rugged souls
ready to do whatever you ask,
ready to transform themselves
into preachers because you have asked for it.
I’m none of those good things,
but you don’t hold it against me.
You act as if I am something good
and you give me the name Satsvarupa das,
“Truth Personified — the servant of.”
Also I want to say I like the mantra describing you as
“Very dear to Krishna on this earth.”
That’s you. Because you have “taken shelter
at the lotus feet of the transcendental Lord”.
I love the way you translate.
I want to offer you my obeisances
and do your work my whole life.
October 18, 2016
“He Saved Me”
One can meditate on one’s relationship with Srila Prabhupada in many ways. One way to quickly evoke gratitude toward the spiritual master is to think of how he saved you. Srila Prabhupada used to think of his Guru Maharaja in this way. On several occasions Prabhupada was overcome with emotion as he said, “He saved me,” and “He pulled me out of material life.”
While narrating the early life of Narada Muni, Prabhupada informs us that all bona fide acaryas work to rescue fallen souls:
The bhaktivedantas see that the people in general are wasting time in false, sensuous things. Their business is to get the ignorant mass of people to re-establish the lost relationship with the Personality of Godhead. By such endeavor, even the most forgotten soul is roused up to the sense of spiritual life, and thus being initiated by the bhaktivedantas, the people in general gradually progress on the path of transcendental realization.
(Bhag. 1.5.24, purport)
We may also profit by meditating on the words “causeless mercy.” We did not deserve the great fortune of Prabhupada’s association. Neither did he come under the force of karmic cause and effect. He didn’t come seeking a personal gain. There was no reason for him to come except for the loving desire of the Supreme Lord to bring all separated parts and parcels back to Godhead. Prabhupada’s causeless mercy is materially inconceivable, but it is a fact that we have become touched by his grace.
Srila Prabhupada has also advised us to remember what we were before we were saved by His Divine Grace. We should “be conscious of the difference between our present and past conditions and be always careful not to fall from the most exalted life.” (Bhagavatam 6.2.27, purport) When we think of our lives before and after meeting Srila Prabhupada, we are very grateful and happy, yet we should also be sorry that we were so entangled in sinful life. Both lines of thinking should be kept alive:
It is the duty of a pure devotee to regret his past sinful activities in illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating and gambling. Not only should one give up his past bad habits, but he must always regret his past sinful acts. This is the standard of pure devotion. (Bhagavatam 6.2.27, purport)
Gratitude for the causeless mercy of Srila Prabhupada impels us to act on his behalf as his disciples. And while acting in this way, one should be always conscious – both in general and in details – as to how the pure devotee came and pulled us out.
October 19, 2016
The Other Day
(In the mood of Satsvarupa das Brahmacari 1966)
The other day I came to you, Swamiji,
after I’d just talked with my father on the phone.
He said he didn’t like Krishna or the Swami,
and he said he and my mom
will have nothing to do with me until I quit.
I was teary-eyed when I spoke this to you
and don’t remember what you said (should have written it down).
But I remember your eyes smiled
when you saw that I’m definitely your son.
Please keep me that way.
Although I’m old enough to live
without my mom and dad,
spiritually speaking, I’m only three months old.
My upbringing was so bad
that I think insulting thoughts in your presence,
and I tend to disbelieve the scriptures.
But I’m sure it will come out all right.
And you say that you are sure too,
as long as I stick to it.
I need you to correct me,
but I can’t take stern reprimands.
You know this and so you’re always easy with me.
I just want to say that I appreciate it,
although I wish I were made of stronger stuff.
(When I told you I sleep only five hours like the Six Gosvamis
you were not impressed.
You scoffed at me, “You are not a Gosvami!”
I really liked that one.)
Please teach me the Bhagavad-gita,
tell me of Nanda and Yasoda’s son,
tell me every morning of Lord Caitanya
and please never stop.
And as you get to know me
and see I’m shot with vices — unclean,
can’t sit up straight, can’t remember,
don’t have pure faith to carry out orders —
please know that despite all my faults,
I really think I can make it
and be a follower of yours
my whole life
if you’ll accept me.
That’s what I’m asking.
October 20, 2016
Living Together in the Early Days
Gradually it became apparent to me that I should share my apartment with others. So one day while taking breakfast with the devotees at the storefront, I made a little announcement that they could use the bathroom in my apartment in the morning. By the next day I had roommates, and my apartment had become an asrama.
Everything was fresh and new in those days, and the concept of living in the association of devotees was a happy one. I thought of it as a trade: I was giving up something nice (to live alone), but it would be replaced by something even better (the association of the Vaisnavas). I stepped forward enthusiastically to do what was required. Sometimes when I would come home from work and find a few devotees asleep on the mattress, I would feel a twinge of regret. The sanctity of my space seemed disturbed. More often, however, the community spirit felt good, and we were all close friends.
ISKCON grew into an organization by gradual increments, and nothing was ever forced upon us by the Swami. Everything was voluntary. To the outsiders he would say, “You can see for yourself or speak with the boys who are here with me. They’re working twenty-four hours a day for Krishna. Just see how they’re feeling the good results.” His plan was that people should do things together in a group, and he invited everyone to be a part of it.
Most of us didn’t come with a deliberate desire to join a group. We went to see the Swami in the informal gatherings in his room, and bit by bit we found ourselves doing the same things together. At first Prabhupada was cooking for himself and eating alone. Then Kirtanananda began to cook for him and a few others, and soon a dozen were meeting every day for lunch. That was the lunch group. And then there was a group who came for the morning classes and a group who came for the evening classes. For the most part, they happened to be the same people. When Swamiji said that he needed help with his typing and editing, I typed and Hayagriva edited —another cooperation. And some came forward and gave him money to pay for his expenses. When he formed his incorporated society, ISKCON, that really brought things together and made his purposes obvious. We didn’t understand it all at once, but gradually, as it built up.
October 21, 2016
Swamiji’s Saving Grace
He saved me when I was in the darkness of ignorance. We should not forget, but keep alive, the memory of our conversion. Gratitude to Srila Prabhupada as the one who saved us is more than gratitude for a past favor. Rather, we are in constant need of his saving grace, and he is always ready to protect us. Even after diksa, a disciple is constantly tested by maya. There is every chance that one may fall down again and return to former ways. Even Lord Brahma is subject to illusion and suffering, and so he turns to the Lord: “I pray that in the course of my material activities I may not be deviated from the vibration of the Vedic hymns.” (Bhag. 3.9.24)
Srila Prabhupada comments on this prayer:
“Brahma, as the supermost brahmana, is afraid of a falldown, and therefore he prays to the Lord for protection. This is a warning for one and all in the spiritual advancement of life. Unless one is sufficiently protected by the Lord, he may fall down from his spiritual position; therefore, one has to pray constantly to the Lord for protection and the blessing to carry out one’s duty.” (Bhag. 3.9.24, purport)
In the case of Lord Brahma, the Supreme Lord was his direct spiritual master, but in everyone else’s case, we should turn to both guru and Krishna. Our need for this relationship is an ongoing one, and this is another proof that the relationship is not diminished by time or confined to one act which our guru performed when we were neophytes and needed an initial pick-me-up.
At the time of Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance from this world, his followers were forced to learn that their relationship with him continued by service in separation. Previous to Prabhupada’s disappearance, we had heard of serving in separation, but now we had to learn it as a substantial fact of life. The fact that Prabhupada’s followers could continue as before and increase their feelings of devotion, and even increase their serving capacity, proved that he was very much still with them.
Although in certain ways we may have grown up and matured, we remain disciples of Srila Prabhupada. After a few years of experience, the disciple knows what he is supposed to do, and so he follows the rules and regulations and discharges routine duties. He doesn’t need to be constantly told these things. One also comes to know that the strength for performing devotional service is given by Lord Krishna in the form of transcendental knowledge. But even when one knows these facts, and preaches about them to others, the active ingredient is always the guru’s mercy.
A warrior may possess a good weapon, but unless he has the strength to pick it up and use it, he will be defeated. The strength for fighting maya is a spiritual strength (bala) which is given by the grace of Lord Balarama. The spiritual master is the representative of Lord Balarama, and so it’s to him we should pray for ongoing protection. (We may make a distinction here between meditation and prayer. Prayer is a type of meditation, but with the emphasis on personal importuning. In the example of Lord Brahma previously quoted, he was petitioning the Supreme Lord and urgently requesting His help.) Prabhupada states, “The only prayer to make to Krishna is, ‘Dear Lord, please give me the strength to serve You.’ Any other prayer you’ll never be happy.” (Lecture, August 1975)
As Prabhupada’s mercy is the constant factor for spiritual success, so his disfavor will be the direct cause of falldown. Therefore, we should always be aware of the gross and subtle forms of guru-aparadha. But all dangers on the path, such as continued temptations from maya, or the committing of offenses to the guru, can be mitigated by sincere attempts to follow the teachings of Lord Krishna as given by His pure devotee. We need not be depressed by the fact that we’re always in need of help and that there is danger at every step. All we need is to be constantly aware of our weakness and turn to the one who can save us. As Prabhupada advises, “We must simply pray, ‘Krishna, please pick me up.’” Not just once.
October 22, 2016
Another Sunday with Swamiji
I go up to the Swami’s room and the door is open. I can see Jadurani back at her place. She must have eaten prasadam quickly and come right up, and now she is singing the Hare Krishna mantra and tinkling the brush in the glass. She paints a little on her canvas, then tinkles it in the glass to wipe it off, and then paints again. There are some guests in the Swami’s room and he’s speaking to them. So I’ll go in and sit down. The Swami is saying that there are symptoms of advancement in Krishna consciousness. You feel you should take down notes of what he’s saying because you have not heard this before. Right away you ask yourself, “Do I have these symptoms of advancement?” He says one symptom is that you’re not attached to the things of this world. You’re also not lusty or greedy for material things because you’re satisfied in Krishna. Hearing the Swami, you’re amazed at how he knows everything and speaks in such an ordered way, authoritative and very relaxed. The room is warm and he’s sitting back, with his dhoti hitched up a bit so that you can see his satiny skin up to the knee. He looks at me but doesn’t say anything because he’s really absorbed in talking, and I’m just glad that I’m there. I’m included and listening.
After a while I ask a question — “Are there more symptoms of advancement?” He says that another symptom is that you’re not afraid. There’s no fear because you know that even if you die, you don’t die. You are an eternal self. Some of the guests don’t agree with him. They make points and then the Swami counters again.
While he’s talking, Swamiji seems to take notice of the typing that’s in my hand. He says, “What is that? Do you have some typing for me?” “Yes.” You come forward on your knees and put the manuscript before him. He touches it, looks at it in an offhand way and goes back to preaching. But then a few minutes later he looks at you and asks, “Do you have more work?” “Yes, I have more.”
I had been feeling sleepy over at my apartment and thinking, “Oh well, I can go and see him in the morning.” But I’m glad I decided to come and see him, because this is where I really want to be. As the evening gets later, Acyutananda looks in and asks, “Swamiji, would you like something to eat? Would you like some puffed rice?” Some of the guests realize how late it is and say that they’ll have to leave. I think I should leave also and give the Swami some time to himself. Finally we all get up and start for the door. Swamiji says, “I need some time to work on the Srimad-Bhagavatam.” Then he says, “The store will be open tomorrow morning at six o’clock.” By the store he means himself. A man says, “I have to get back to the Bronx and the daily grind again. It sure has been nice being able to talk with you, Swamiji. And I hope I can follow some of these principles.” Everyone leaves Swamiji alone. Jadurani stays in her corner, painting. I could stay too, but I’m going to go. I’ll be back in the morning. We bow down and say goodnight, and somewhat reluctantly leave Swamiji. He’s smiling to us, and we know we’ll be able to come back soon. As I walk home, I picture the Swamiji in his room, alone, typing Srimad-Bhagavatam.
October 23, 2016
Typing for the Swami
Typing is yoga. You sit on the floor cross-legged in front of the typewriter. Instead of performing pranayama and raising the life air in the chakras, you type the words of Swamiji from the Bhagavad-gita manuscript. Concentrate and type, incorporating all the editing marks made by Hayagriva. If you make a mistake in typing, then stop and correct it. Everything is concentrated on looking at the message and making it right. Thinking of your typing as yoga gives a nice spirit to the work. But the most important thing is that it is in connection with the Swamiji. It is his words of Bhagavad-gita. I kept pounding them out. When I was supposed to be calling on welfare clients, I would often drop in at my apartment and do an hour of typing, always pushing it on. The Swami was aware of what I was doing. He asked about the progress, and when I handed the work in, he handled it and said it was nice. We were both interested in these clean white pages with typing marks on them, his work. It was very dear to him.
He had bundles of thousands of pages that he had typed, wrapped up in saffron and lying on the floor in his closet. When he first took some typing out of this mass of material and gave it to me, I remarked, “I think you have enough work to last me a whole winter.” Swamiji laughed and said, “I have many lifetimes of work for you.”
After I’d been doing it for some months, Swamiji started using a dictaphone. One day I stopped in at his apartment in the middle of my office workday to put in an hour on his manuscript. Swamiji kept the dictaphone covered in his room, except when it was in use. When I went in and got it, he noticed that I was dressed in shirt and tie from the office. He remarked, “You are still at your office work?” I replied, “Yes, but I go out to see clients. Right now, instead of seeing them, I’m coming to do this work. I’m like Sanatana Gosvami who stayed away from work in order to read the Srimad-Bhagavatam.” As I said that, I was holding the dictaphone and heading for the next room where Jadurani was painting, where the clotheslines were strung with Swamiji’s clothes and where the jar of ISKCON bullets was waiting in the corner. As I left his room, Swamiji smiled and said, “You are Sanatana.”
Sometimes when I was typing in his second room, he would walk in and see what I and the others were doing. One time I stopped and said, “Swamiji, you just said on this tape that the four Kumaras are eternal brahmacaris. How is that, that they could be eternal brahmacaris?” He’d reply, and then I’d go back into samadhi, locked into hearing his phrases and hearing the philosophy while typing. The typing work didn’t go through any secretary of Prabhupada’s, but direct from him to me. When I returned a batch he asked, “Is everything all right?”
“Oh fine, Swamiji,” I said. “I’m really enjoying typing the sixth chapter of Bhagavad-gita. It’s wonderful how Krishna consciousness is the same as the yogis except that we have more facility because the yogi can see Krishna only when he sits down and gets deep into meditation. But a devotee can see Krishna in His picture or chant His holy names.” It wasn’t artificial for me to engage in krsna-katha about what I’d just been reading because I was filled with it by the typing. At least I could read something and then repeat it exactly as I had heard it.
In a practical way, I was connected to him, and my mind was saturated with Krishna-thought. You knew that you couldn’t do nonsense because you had to type. Your time was taken up; you had to get up early, chant your rounds, type, go to work. A full life.
Swamiji said never be idle. He had written an announcement and posted it on the wall: Always be engaged, and if you don’t have any work, then chant Hare Krishna. This is how we worked for the Swami; different boys did different things.
October 24, 2016
Stanzas of 1966
(In the mood of Satsvarupa das Brahmacari 1966)
Swamiji, you said, “If you are not ashamed
you can wear your japa beads around your necks.”
And you said, “Thank you very much”
when I shaved my head.
People jeer at us sometimes on the streets,
but we remember you and Krishna
and it’s all right.
I go to work with tilaka on my forehead
because I want to show them I’m a Vaisnava,
and because the marks of Visnu are beautiful.
I’m not afraid to go out
to Saint Mark’s Place
and start calling out loud,
“Back to Godhead magazine!
The yoga of ecstasy!
Read how, by chanting Hare Krishna,
you can attain the state of bliss of love of God!”
I’m reading no more books, Swamiji,
except yours. And eating
no food, except yours.
The renounced saintly life
I’d read about is coming true.
Sometimes when a night starts out
I’m feeling doubtful,
or I may not like somebody,
but once we get into the kirtana
I go with you to Krishna
and everything’s all right.
October 25, 2016
How Much Should I Beg?
How important is this little project of marking Srila Prabhupada’s 50th anniversary as the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON with meditations on his glorious 1966 New York City days and significance in devotees’ lives? If it’s not important, why am I doing it? If it is important, why don’t I call out louder to Krishna, begging Him and Srila Prabhupada to manifest themselves fully? My initial response to this is, “I’m dedicated to my writing project. Let me get up early and do my writing, and whatever Krishna wants to send, I’ll accept it as prasadam. There’s no use in calling out louder. I don’t want to bother the Lord or Prabhupada, and besides that, they are already blessing me.”
Prabhupada teaches that our prayers should be reserved for sentiments like, “Please give me the strength to serve You.” He advises us, “For any activity done in devotional service, one should always pray to the previous acaryas to ‘Kindly help me.’” And yet I can’t help but feel reluctant to call out and be too demanding about my own project. But this raises questions. On the one hand, one should work humbly, not making demands of the Lord; on the other hand, we’re advised that the price of love of God is laulyam, intense desire to serve the Lord. One should desire to perform some service and cry tears — and those tears are the price of your devotion. Since I am not crying out so much, maybe I should ask myself, “Why don’t I want it more badly?” Perhaps I’m afraid I may be asking the Lord to make me a famous writer so that people will say, “You wrote such brilliant meditations about Prabhupada. You’re empowered! You must be very close to him.” If I actually take pleasure in hearing such praise, then my prayers to further glorify Prabhupada will be impure. Yet one cries out to Krishna in different ways. It doesn’t have to be literally looking upwards and crying out loud, “Krishna, please help me!” One can cry out by getting up early, writing as much as possible, trying always to think of Prabhupada, and taking notes about it. One expresses oneself to the Lord by those endeavors.
Sometimes it seems to me that the only prayer we should make is a prayer like that of Vasudeva Datta or Jesus Christ, asking the Lord to please save all the conditioned souls of the world. “Let there be no more suffering, but let everyone go back to Godhead.” Pure devotees who pray like that go beyond the standard and dare to call upon the Lord to be even more merciful. They offer themselves as sacrifices for this cause. Certainly my asking for the potency to write about Prabhupada is a request for a relatively minor thing (although not minor to me). Of course, if Krishna wanted, He could make these books so attractive that it would create a wonderful revival in Prabhupada-remembrance. At any rate, whether I call out loudly or not, I take this project seriously and I am praying by working at it. While I cannot sincerely pray for release of all living entities, I have come to do this seva unto the pure devotee, Srila Prabhupada. I know there are other important projects being done in ISKCON, and many may think those projects even more important. But I’m doing the best I can.
Srila Prabhupada also advises that we regard our offering as imperfect and small. We know that there’s nothing we can really do to impress Krishna in terms of a perfect offering. So we should pray to the Lord, “I’m offensive, I’m imperfect, and my offering is not wonderful. Please excuse me and please accept me.” This is the Vaisnava mood, to submit oneself as unworthy: “Dear Srila Prabhupada, I’ve come here to try to write of you in 1966 because I think it is important to expand remembrances of the pastimes of the saktyavesa-avatara and the Lord. We want to remember you. If you desire, please make this not just my own feeble memory or commentary, but make it wonderful. And in any case, please accept my offering.” I hope Prabhupada will be pleased, but I think that his pleasure will come when he sees me working as best I can. Then Krishna may think, “Just see how much this devotee wants to remember My pure devotee, Srila Prabhupada.” Also, if I can work at it nicely, Srila Prabhupada will enjoy being reminded again of his early days. The question is, how much should I beg? One begs according to his particular mood or rasa. I should not be passive in the name of humility, or refrain from asking the Lord at every step for His mercy. Prabhupada has advised us to do this: “Please help me. I can’t write. It’s not possible.” With every line we should think, “Please, I can’t remember Prabhupada. It’s not possible. Please help me to do it.”
October 26, 2016
Reviving a “Canned” Swamiji Memory
I want to remember the time when Prabhupada accepted a daily mango from me. The amazing thing is that Srila Prabhupada used to remember this insignificant act, and even in his very last weeks in Vrindavana, while recalling the happy days at 26 Second Avenue he said, “Satsvarupa would bring me a mango.” So there was something about it that I wish to remember. But when I try to recall the exchange, I come up with only the same old memory. I complained about this to myself, to the memory “file clerk” whose job it is to keep all these memories intact. He began to answer me back:
File Clerk: “You have spoken in a deriding way about canned memories. But the very thing you deride is also a strength. Time after time when you want to recall something, I’ve got it and I can supply it. You feel it’s stale by repeating it, but what can I say? At least you have them. And you can feel sure about these memories—they’re reliable. The fact that you don’t experience all the emotions you’d like to and all the colors you’d like to see, and that fact that you’re really not there as a person, but it’s the information presented in a codified way, well what can I say? A memory is what it is. So take it and appreciate it.”
When the file clerk spoke up so strongly, I began to pacify him, telling him my appreciation for his work. It’s true he’s kept important facts for history. But what about the actual experience? We didn’t appreciate how important Srila Prabhupada was. Now we understand that even things in relation to him which seemed unimportant at the time, were certainly worth keeping. Nothing should have been rejected. And so without criticizing the memories that still exist, I pointed out to my clerk that we should make more effort to remember Srila Prabhupada and not claim “that’s all there is.”
To this file clerk I replied: “I admit that memory is very deep and elusive: the ways of the mind are unknown to me also. I did not deliberately reject anything about Prabhupada, but we are all subjected to forgetfulness. Ultimately, Krishna is the final decider on these things. From Him comes knowledge, memory and forgetfulness. If He wants us to suddenly remember Srila Prabhupada, then that’s a great blessing on us, and if He wants us to forget something, it is our fate to accept that. The files of memory have no bottom to them, and so we can go as deep as possible and still keep going. If you like, we can do it together and keep trying.”
And so I researched for hours, but I found nothing new. I have resigned myself, at least for now, to offering to the reader the same dal, rice and capatis that I’ve offered before, in hopes that someone out there is hungry for more of the same. In support of repetition, I may offer this statement by Srila Prabhupada: “That question we have already discussed, but there is no harm discussing it again, because any substantial knowledge, if it is discussed one after another, twice, thrice, it is better.”
(Lecture on Bg. 2.13, March 1966)
October 27, 2016
A Mango for the Swami
The Swami mentioned mangoes. He told the story of his spiritual master, who when he was only two or three years old, ate a mango without offering it to the Deity. When his father (Bhaktivinode Thakura) told him that this was an offense, the young child vowed never to eat mango again. Prabhupada told us that we Americans could not fully estimate what a sacrifice that was, since in India the mango is appreciated as the most delicious of all fruits. Prabhupada also recalled that when he was a boy, they always had plenty of mangoes—he remembered running into the house from play and grabbing a mango whenever he liked. And Swamiji one time mentioned that mangoes were not available in America.
So one day while at the welfare office and thinking of Swamiji, I remembered his mention of the mango and decided that I would get him one. I went to a produce store on the corner of First Street and First Avenue and asked the man for a mango. He had none on display, but brought me back to a refrigerated room in the rear of the store where he had a special case for connoisseurs. One mango cost one dollar. It was small but nice, soft but not too soft, green and golden. I took it carefully in a bag and brought it at once to Swamiji.
Swamiji smiled and received the mango graciously. He asked me where I got it. After that, I stopped every day at the grocer and got another mango. When I had been doing this for two weeks, I came again one day when Swamiji’s room was filled with boys. The Mott Street boys were there, and they made me feel a twinge of envy. They didn’t do much work or raise any money, and yet they were able to stay more with Swamiji than I was. So I gave the mango to Swamiji and sat down with the others. Even as I did so, Swamiji said, “Very good boy.” He said it the way you would speak to a very young child. The boys burst out laughing. I blushed and felt I was the butt of a joke. But then Swamiji said, “No, this is love. This is Krishna consciousness.” And then I felt very pleased.
October 28, 2016
A Summer Morning (In the mood of Satsvarupa dasa Brahmachari)
I’m in my room up at 2 A.M., thinking of Krishna and Swamiji, or I should say, “Thinking of Swamiji,” ’cause I can’t really think yet of the Supreme Lord. But I have my red beads and I’m fighting sleep. I don’t know anything, but I’ll see my spiritual master in just a few hours. I’ll walk to the storefront, sit inside and he’ll come looking very serious and calm. He’ll begin to sing, “Softly, softly,” while the sunbeams filter dust motes and the first garbage cans start clanging. I’ll be listening to the new knowledge of Lord Caitanya’s teaching to Sanatana Goswami. (I think that’s how you spell it.) Swamiji doesn’t talk long in the morning ’cause Rupanuga and I have to get to work. That’s blissful too, saying goodbye to Swamiji and the boys, and then I’m on my own. I take my necktie out of my back pocket and tie it on as I walk, buttoning my jacket, feeling cowherd-boy bliss after two bowls of heavenly porridge with ISKCON bullet juice. Into that sad-glad atmosphere of the downtown street. I’m alone, but no longer alone. The Cowherd Boy Govinda, the Supreme Personality, who Swamiji loves and wants us to love—He seems to be calling me— I seem to be one of His frolicking friends and my necktie is like some paraphernalia for Govinda’s sports. I can’t explain it. But all I know is that before I met the Swami, going to work was never like this!
October 29, 2016
Prabhupada’s Teachings are Not Like a Computer
One can start with any thought and soon connect to a teaching by Srila Prabhupada. This makes us aware that we are always in the shelter of Srila Prabhupada. But it is not enough to know what Prabhupada said on many subjects, and to be able to bring them up like an index or computer. It has to be done with the devotion of a disciple. If we are expert at recalling instructions by Prabhupada in order to sanction our sense gratification, this is not a high order of Prabhupada-thought. Neither can that kind of following of Srila Prabhupada last for very long; it will leave us open to a falldown.
“. . . The practice of sense gratification under regulations may also lead one to go astray—as much as there is always the chance of an accident, even on the royal roads… therefore any attachment for regulated sense enjoyment must also be avoided by all means. But attachment to Krishna consciousness, or acting in the loving service of Krishna, detaches one from all kinds of sensory activities. Therefore, no one should try to be detached from Krishna consciousness at any stage of life.” (Bg. 3.34, purport)
The vital element in thinking of Prabhupada is the spirit for rendering service. Srila Prabhupada has explained this while describing the difference between the santa and dasya rasa with the Supreme Lord. If a person discovers that he has an intimate relationship with a great man of this world, this will make one happy. Similarly, when we understand that we have a relationship with Krishna, that is a sublime meditation. A more advanced and grateful person, however, will want to go forward and ask the great personality whether he can render some service in his cause.
Srila Prabhupada said the only question he asked of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was, “How can I serve you?” This is certainly better than seeking out the presence of the guru in order to get sanction for our own desires. If we can regularly think, “How can I serve you?” then we will be in the higher state of Prabhupada remembrance. If we are entangled or unable to serve Prabhupada as much as we know we should, still we should think of rendering service to him. Even the thinking will be accepted as favorable. Whatever we are actually able to render as service should be done with devotion. Srila Prabhupada said (describing the attitude of a pure devotee of the Lord), “‘Kindly accept whatever little service I can give.’ In this way be humble and offer your feeling, and Krishna will be satisfied.”
October 30, 2016
A Letter to Rayarama dasa Brahmachari (from Satsvarupa dasa Brahmachari)
I’m an old friend of yours from the Krishna consciousness movement, Satsvarupa dasa. It’s been more than two decades since you left Krishna consciousness, and probably you’ve forgotten it. But please let me explain why I’m writing to you. I still follow the teachings of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Recently, I’ve been trying to remember my first days of meeting and serving the Swamiji back in 1966 on the Lower East Side. Along with recalling the Swami, I have rediscovered many memories of my friendship with you, and they are fond ones. Therefore, I wanted to share them with you.
You were the first devotee who ever spoke to me. I wandered into the storefront at 26 Second Avenue, attracted by the advertisement for Bhagavad-gita classes which was taped to the front window. I felt shy, but you broke the ice and asked me my name and made me feel welcome. You were always warm and affectionate in that way. Although you had been following the Swami only a few weeks before I joined, I looked up to you, and you were able to answer some of my foolish questions. For example, after attending the Swami’s classes on Bhagavad-gita for a week, I asked you, “What scripture will the Swami be teaching next week? I would like to hear The Tibetan Book of the Dead”. You laughed and said that according to the Swami, all spiritual teachings were contained in the Bhagavad-gita, so there was no need for a survey on Eastern religions.
The first initiation the Swami held in America was on Lord Krishna’s birthday (Janmastami) in the summer of ’66, when you were initiated. I wasn’t ready at that time, but when I heard that there would be another initiation two weeks later, I asked the Swami to accept me as a disciple. You greeted me later and said, “I heard that you decided to get initiated. I think that’s wonderful. I’m really glad.”
I had an apartment half a block from the Swami’s storefront, and when I offered to share it with the devotees, you became my roommate. I remember having philosophical conversations with you while walking the streets of the Lower East Side. Once we were talking about art and you said, “What is art?” You pointed to an outdoor stand with fruits and vegetables on it and said, “See the way that man is placing the tomatoes in a box? That’s art. He could do it in a sloppy way, but he’s arranging it nicely and that’s art.” You so much impressed me as a down-to-earth intellectual, that to this day I remember your “art lesson” vividly. I even remember exactly where we were standing.
We then walked up Fifth Street heading west, and I began to tell you of my love for the novels of Dostoevsky. I said that there was a great searching for God in Dostoevsky, even though it was more a yearning than an attaining. Many of Dostoevsky’s characters were great sinners, even criminals, but there was always the theme of redemption from sin and surrender to God. You were the only one I could fully share this with, and you responded enthusiastically, “Yes, Dostoevsky is wonderful, he had a genuine search for God.”
In those days the Swami didn’t try to convince anyone that they had to shave their beards, and so you and Hayagriva wore beards. I remember you rarely wore an Indian dhoti, except maybe in the temple. One time when we were walking together, I asked you about your reluctance to wear the dhoti. You gave your amused laugh and said, “I’m sure there must be a spiritual planet where they wear pants.”
These are just little memories, but my main impression is that you were a serious student of the Swami with a quick grasp of Krishna consciousness siddhanta. I’m aware that your breaking from Krishna consciousness included criticism of our spiritual master and the Movement, and your way of life has since become opposed in many ways to Krishna conscious principles. In fact, when we tried to interview you ten years ago to help us compile the biography of Prabhupada, you refused even to talk. I’m not so naive, therefore, to think that a letter of reminiscence is going to change all that. Neither would I want to hear offensive things about Krishna consciousness from you. But at least I wanted to go on the record, since I am remembering those old days, and tell you that my association with you helped me in the beginning of my spiritual life. I want to remember all that you did in service to the Swami and to the worshipable Lord Krishna in those days, and I hope you too can remember it fondly, at least for a moment.
Yours sincerely, Satsvarupa dasa
October 31, 2016
The Glories of Lunchtime at 26 Second Avenue
One of the nicest times with the Swami was when we all came together to eat lunch. At the very beginning, a group of regulars would attend the Swami’s lecture, but as soon as the kirtana was over, each person would go back to his apartment and his separate life. But once we ate together every day, it created an intimacy.
Let me remember it again: I come in just a few minutes after one o’clock, straight from the welfare office. I’m not exactly late, but lunch is already underway, I’m a little anxious and hungry; I want to be sure that I get a plate. “Satsvarupa, come on!” They make a space for me and I sit down near the wall. The rug has been rolled back and we sit on the bare parquet floors. There is one row of eaters along the three walls, and then another half-circle of people in the center of the room. In the center of everything, sitting just to the right of the low table with the Panca-tattva picture, is the Swami. Kirtanananda comes in with capatis and says, “Everybody has to take at least two helpings. Right, Swamiji?” “Yes,” Swamiji says, “eat more.” Swamiji himself is eating. He mixes the different preparations together with his right hand—pours the dal onto the rice and then mixes the rice with the dal with his fingers, then pushes the sabji into the rice and takes the capati and pushes everything together. He eats quickly while everything is still warm and he continues to mix it. It’s almost like he’s tasting with his hand as well as with his mouth and eyes. The Swami’s eating was another art which was new and fascinating to us. We all eat with our right hands, just like the Swamiji. It’s a joyful but serious business, chewing meditatively and relishing.
Hayagriva says, “This is very succulent!” Others praise the food. Swamiji says, “I can teach you many preparations. I’ve only taught a few.” How foolish the nondevotees are for not knowing how to eat in Krishna consciousness! Aromas of food come from the kitchen, the smell of hot rice as it goes on everyone’s plate, and the vegetables and capatis and the butter in a combined good dinner aroma. Eating first and talking second. But there is talk also. The Swami is usually quiet, especially at the peak of the eating, but sometimes Hayagriva is talking about American poetry, Walt Whitman or Emily Dickenson, and Rayarama has something to say about that. After a while, the Swami looks up and asks, “Raphael, when will you fix the lock?” And, “Stryadhisa, how is your mother?” An old acquaintance of the Swami from uptown, Mr. Nelson, has come, and Swami is glad to see him. Some who come to see him are a bit eccentric and some aren’t serious devotees, but Swamiji is always cordial to them. He invites everyone to eat and eat more.
I like sitting on the floor cross-legged in front of my dish. I’m hungry and I like the tastes, and I like it when it’s hot. I never liked hot rice before. Rice was something my mother would be embarrassed to give you. It was for poor people or Chinese. But wow! This was good—rice and vegetables, and you touch it with your hand. Kirtanananda’s capatis are like pancakes. The Swami calls them rotis. I ask, “How do you make the capatis come out like this? Kirtanananda laughs and says, “Swamiji showed me.” Everyone is eating away or passing their plates in for seconds and thirds. We’re all sitting on the same level as the Swami and looking over to him. The Swami leans slightly over his plate and there he is—the heart of the new Krishna conscious life which you’ve adopted. His clothes are humble, whatever khadi he brought from India, with inexpensive additions that we bought him, T-shirts or jerseys from the Orchard Street markets. Although he is the guru, there is no elevated seat. He is barefoot and eating the same prasadam as everyone. When he finishes, Swamiji gets up and walks across the room and washes his hands in the bathroom, then goes to his own room. We begin to finish up also. This is a good time for sneaking in to see Swamiji to ask a question or get some more typing.