December 1, 2016
Prabhupada’s Transcendental Musicality
In the beginning, in the summer of 1966 at 26 Second Avenue, Swamiji played the one-headed bongo drum in leading the kirtana. We had about three pairs of karatalas, and they were played by the boys. One-two-three, one-two-three. Later a friend donated a big size khol (an Indian wooden drum with straps and pegs, different than the clay mrdanga). Swamiji began playing that, and you can hear it on the Happening record album kirtana that was produced in December of 1966.
Occasionally he would play a brass gong with a wooden peg, sometimes the khol, but mostly karatalas. He was a very artistic karatala player. He would play the fast two beats of the three-beat rhythm by holding the cloths very tightly, but on the third beat he would relax the cloths and slide a kind of “splash” sound almost akin to what a jazz drummer does with his cymbal. It would produce a lively, melodious ring, and then he would tighten the cloths again for the first two beats of the rhythm. He played variations of this method, sometimes playing almost four beats or clashing the cymbals in a clopping way on the first two beats.
The devotees loved to hear him play and to sing along in kirtana with him. Such a simple time-keeping musical instrument, and yet he played it like a maestro. Now almost anyone with a sense of rhythm can passably play the karatalas and some kirtaneers play them even more complicated than Prabhupada did, but there was not— and will not be–anyone who played them as sweetly and rhythmically as he did. He often participated with the karatalas while his disciples lead the kirtana in the later years. Yet in the beginning at 26 Second Avenue, Prabhupada led all the kirtanas. It was unthinkable that a kirtana could take place without him leading. It was like a holy rite that only he could perform. He did it with great concentration and loudly. He would keep the same tune and tempo, only gradually speeding up after a half-hour. He did the same thing two or three hours continually when he chanted on Sundays at Tompkins Square Park.
December 2, 2016
Srila Prabhupada’s Ecumenical Message
Even in the beginning, in the friendly and humble spirit of a Vaisnava, Srila Prabhupada encouraged everyone he met to chant the holy names of God, and to practice the essence of religion as contained in all scriptures: “Obey God’s laws.” Prabhupada’s uncompromising presentation of God consciousness may have disturbed some religionists, but if one carefully thinks about it, Prabhupada was only saying what was also said by the founders of the great religions. Those who wished to water down or change basic religious principles may have been disturbed by Srila Prabhupada’s insistence, but not those who were true seekers on the path of God consciousness.
Prabhupada once humorously compared himself to a karate expert who knew how to push on the weak spot of the opponent. He was not a belligerent preacher looking for a fight, but he did see major weaknesses or hypocrisy in many who claimed to be following religion, and so he would always press on those points to bring out the falsity.
Since he had traveled to the West, which was at least nominally Christian, he was prepared to regularly confront Christians as to why they did not obey the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Srila Prabhupada saw this as a preliminary teaching and therefore it was a great defect if a Christian follower neglected it. By pointing to their failure in this one commandment, Prabhupada would dismantle their whole position.
The “do-not-kill” commandment has been interpreted by theologians to mean, “Thou shalt not murder.” In other words, they say it applies to human beings but not the killing of animals. Srila Prabhupada insisted, however, that in the original language of the Bible, the word is “kill” and it should certainly apply to animals.
The fact that an animal is a less intelligent creature should not make him a candidate for killing by the human being, who should be his protector. Srila Prabhupada’s preaching points out a major embarrassment and a major lack in these world religions which don’t practice ahimsa towards animals. We should see Prabhupada’s confrontation in that way and not think of it as Hinduism, or think that he was just finding a way to trip up a religionist in order to defeat him in debate. Prabhupada was trying to be helpful.
The fact is, Prabhupada was a universal teacher and the philosophy he represented is one that embraces love of God wherever it appears. Prabhupada would often mention the Bhagavatam verse sa vai pumsam paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhoksaje. In giving the purport of that verse, Prabhupada would say that real religion is not to be a member of a particular sect such as Hinduism, Christianity, Islam or Buddhism. But real religion is bhakti, or love of God. That is the highest spiritual truth—uninterrupted, unmotivated devotional service. Srila Prabhupada wanted to deepen the ecumenical exchange. He couldn’t pretend to agree with the discrepancies of those who claim to be religionists, but who did not obey God’s commandment.
December 3, 2016
By Prabhupada’s Mercy We Can Remember Him
I have tried to elicit the cooperation of
my subconscious, my peaceful body,
the brain, the mind,
and whatever else Kapila
counts in his 24 elements.
But it’s only by Prabhupada’s mercy
that I can remember him.
who is in my heart.
Even as I marshal my tiny powers,
my pen makes dandavats at every stroke.
1965, New York City:
Prabhupada stepped off the Jaladuta.
Later he said, “I was in anxiety,
a new man … didn’t know which bus to take.”
Think of him
carrying the message of Lord Caitanya
“for you people.”
He was anxious to catch the bus to Butler, Pa.,
but much more than that—I can feel it—
he was anxious to deliver me.
Yes, me too.
I was so anxious by 1965
that I jumped out a window.
Multiply my story by 3,000
and that is the anxiety
of Prabhupada landing in New York,
looking around with his compassionate eyes.
Traveler’s Aid helped him.
He found the right bus.
He found us.
Fifty years later:
just tell us where you are
so we can come to you
and tell you what we did.
December 4, 2016
Prabhupada, the Life of Our Spiritual Archives
In 1965, about a year before I met Srila Prabhupada, I was confined to bed for six weeks with my legs in casts. During that time I used to daydream that I was a caretaker in a transcendental archives. I imagined a place where living scriptures were kept. Saints and scholars used to go there and meditate on the available wisdom. I wore the robes of a monk. It had an Eastern flair. Now things are much clearer, and I’m no longer seeking impersonal or vague forms of wisdom. I am fixed as a Bhagavad-gita follower, a follower of Prabhupada, a worshiper of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. I’m looking for memories of Srila Prabhupada. My own memory bank has stored versions of things Prabhupada did, and I’m grateful for these. But I’m looking for new threads, which may lead to new memories. And so I make requests in the spiritual archives.
I am not the only person seeking in these transcendental archives. Nor am I the only one who is praising Prabhupada. There are many devotees, many of them poets and writers. Service by writing praises has been done over the centuries by devotees who have praised their spiritual masters, the previous acaryas and the Supreme Lord. Even his many initiated disciples are not the only ones who are praising him. There are many Vaisnavas who praise Prabhupada. Some of them know him in his eternal rasa with Krishna. Therefore, much Prabhupada-katha is beyond me, but I’m satisfied in knowing my own relationship. There are many other things about Prabhupada I would like to know, but I don’t even know what to ask. At least I feel it is proper to ask for my own memories, which have somehow eluded me over the years.
In the transcendental archives, memories of Prabhupada are preserved; his lila is here as eternal music, literature, and eternal pastimes. The portion of Prabhupada’s pastimes that we took part in is only a very small part, but I request to see it again. Although I don’t know what is best for me, I want to hear of his first pastimes in New York in 1966. And I want to know the pastimes with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada with his disciples in the world.
It is also possible that by association with other devotees and writers in the transcendental archives, I can gain access to their resources and words of praise for the previous acaryas. Even though one can be praising Madhavacarya or some other spiritual master, because they are Vaisnava poets and scholars, they may share with me their methods of inspiration and their specific usage of words. I can certainly use help. On my own, all I have is a 20th Century American sensibility, meagre schooling in the English language, and a struggle with my sadhana. I want to come often to the transcendental library and become more accepted here. At present, I feel a bit lost, like a displaced person looking for his family roots, searching to see where his own name appears with Srila Prabhupada. I know everything is retained there and one just has to locate it.
As I sit in my allotted place in the archives, waiting to see if my requests will be answered, I do some writing on my own. My spiritual friends like to hear what I am doing. So even before I receive any new information, I’m writing home to my friends, sharing what comes to mind. I hope that my requests will be heard, and that the influence of this place will bring more memories of Prabhupada. In the meantime, by practice, I may improve.
December 5, 2016
The 26 Second Avenue Summer of 1966
Don’t reject the wisps of the past.
I once met Swamiji alone on the street,
going to his apartment.
I was so new he called me “Steve.”
Up the stairs. He gets his key out.
Opens the door and we both go in.
No one else is around.
“I want to become a trustee,” I say,
referring to a plan he had mentioned:
For forty dollars a month
you would get privileges in his society,
books, etc. It sounded good,
so I paid a month down.
I think he gave me a receipt.
He was wearing an American sweatshirt
of red or peach color
and he pulled it over his head.
I noticed his protruding belly.
He sat at his place.
I was shy and ready to leave.
Then he said, “You are a young man,
you will live a long time.
I am an old man, I won’t live as long.
So you should use your life for Krishna consciousness.”
It was too much for me to hear.
People I knew didn’t talk about death.
So I said, “Just because you’re older doesn’t mean
that you won’t live longer than me.”
“That’s in unusual cases,” he said,
“but normally a young man outlives an old man.”
And so I became a trustee,
and had an exchange
with this very unusual, saintly person
who brought the Hare Krishna mantra
and the brick-colored Bhagavatam
and his “Society” for Krishna consciousness.
Prabhupada, do I make too much
of one barely remembered moment?
Or do I make too little of it?
I don’t know if I’ll live as long as you did.
Will I be able to give myself to Krishna
and to others, as you did?
That’s what you are waiting to see:
it’s what you asked me to do
the day I paid forty dollars
and became a trustee.
December 6, 2016
“How Shall I Serve You?”
I would never just throw a question like, “What do you want me to do?” at Srila Prabhupada. Even in 1966 I wanted Swamiji to know that I already had an idea what I should do. I wanted him to know I was acting on my idea. But at the same time, from the very beginning, I wanted my spiritual master to know I was open to being disciplined by him, open to his changing my understanding of what I should be doing. If he ordered something that seemed as bitter as poison to me, I could ask him to explain why I must do it, but when he explained, I would follow. For example, when I wanted to quit my New York City welfare office job that year, I thought it was the right thing for my spiritual advancement. He explained why it was better to keep the job. Mainly, he explained that he wanted me to keep the job and to donate money to the society. Later, when I was his personal servant, I explained that I wanted to do some other service. He said that I was being whimsical. That was a tough one.
All things considered, we want to please him and serve his purposes. I’m doing it to some degree, following the sannyasa-dharma, writing books . . . but I know I can do a lot better. There is much more mercy I could be receiving from him.
So I ask him, in my conditioned way, “How may I serve you?” When Srila Prabhupada asked his spiritual master that question, he got a direct response: “Become a preacher in English.” That was a sufficiently broad reply; Prabhupada had to fill it out with his own initiative. It took years for Srila Prabhupada to prepare and find the opportunity to do it in the grand way he did. I needn’t be afraid to ask.
That is my main question: “Is what I am doing pleasing to you? What do you want me to do? How can I best improve? What do you want me to do? Please awaken in me my original spirit to carry out your orders wholeheartedly. Please give me the strength to serve you.”
Old emotions that first surfaced in ’66 are returning—my desire to serve him, the strong regret for my lack of surrender. If I am fortunate, I will cry tears of repentance. The experience is shattering my self-image, transforming me. There is no room for complacency when you are with Srila Prabhupada. By seeing Srila Prabhupada’s own complete dedication to Lord Krishna and his spiritual master, I am forced to recognize my own lacking. The destruction of my self-image is like a building crashing to the ground.
(I can’t guess what he would communicate and how I would respond, but I know it would be intense. The message would be, “You are not as Krishna conscious as you think you are.” The purpose would be to teach me humility and to bring me back to reality.)
December 7, 2016
Swamiji’s Thriving 26 Second Avenue Center
Swamiji developed 26 Second Avenue so that it operated three nights a week as a kirtana and lecture program. The original tiny white piece of paper in the window had been replaced by a restaurant-type sign containing the name of the establishment and times of the classes. (Later Swamiji would post the title of the lecture for the night, and it would be one of my first services to change it according to the title of the lecture. It took a long time for “Matchless Gifts” to be replaced by “Radha Krishna Temple.” In fact, I am not sure if it was ever done.)
The painting of the sankirtana group of Panca-tattva was done by Harvey Cohen, later initiated as Haridasa. On the other side of the painting, near the announcement sign, was the low-level shelf put there by the previous proprietor. When the room functioned as the temple the shelf became a space to put the smelly shoes of the congregation.
To the left of the storefront was a launderette. It said, “Open 24 hours,” but the metal shutter was usually closed shut. The red door in-between was the entrance to the apartment building in the back courtyard where Swamiji rented an apartment on the second floor. The courtyard was picturesque for the Lower East Side with a few weedy trees, plants and cement benches.
Prabhupada very much liked his setup of storefront and private rear apartment, although he could barely raise the rent each month. To have the phone installed one had to make a large down payment to Con Edison. But by Swamiji’s personal charm he went to Con Edison and convinced them to install the phone free of charge because he was a religious mendicant and was conducting an important mission. But he soon became so disturbed by people calling him on the phone in the night time that he had it removed.
He used to look out the window of his apartment at the view on First Street. He would repeatedly say about his stay at 26 Second Avenue (ISKCON kept it until 1968), “those were happy days.” On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays the hall would be half-filled with guests, and once he started Sunday Feasts it was filled to capacity, even overflowing into the courtyard.
Sometimes Bowery bums and dishevelled young hippies would wander into the storefront without a purpose of spirituality. Swamiji would allow them to sit if they did not make a disturbance. If they disturbed, he would ask one of his boys, like Brahmananda or Hayagriva, to remove them.
O Prabhupada, please let us think of you. You are everyone’s friend; you are my friend. You addressed us with love from the lectern at 26 Second Avenue. Soon I will hear your lecture again on tape. Everything you wrote and said is infused with truth and can save us.
Prabhupada, where are you now? Am I being impertinent by asking that question? I am only asking you this because I want to be with you.
I know one answer to that question: you are in my heart. We are still together at 26 Second Avenue like in the old days of ISKCON. I have my duties assigned by you—garbage to empty and dishes to wash, guests to talk to and devotees to counsel. And I still have my writing and reading. My service to you is ongoing. You haven’t cut me off. You are with us if we want you to be. There is no need to feel apart.
Prabhupada, I want to serve you with love, not just out of duty. Please teach me to give myself to you.
December 8, 2016
Swamiji Is Here!
The 26 Second Avenue devotees are excited and ecstatic when Swamiji is in their midst. Their love for what he brings to their lives and the charisma of his presence makes them smile and dance. He is the most important celebrity to them, more than the president of the United States or any popular entertainer. This response to Prabhupada by the devotees creates scenes which seem fanatical to outsiders. Why should these young people be so much attracted to this “old man”? But the outsiders who wander into the storefront don’t understand. Swamiji is bringing Krishna, the Supreme Lord, to the devotees. He is Krishna’s direct representative. They want to surround him in love, retain his transcendental words and cherish a visual image of his holy form. They want to make eye contact with him, to catch his attention and if possible, his smile. Hearing Swamiji’s voice or seeing his form is great solace and important inspiration. The devotees do not overdo their enthusiasm for being near Swamiji. He deserves every bit of it.
Later, Prabhupada would sometimes express transcendental annoyance at being photographed so much and recorded by multiple tape recorders. However, he considered the recording of his lectures important enough to do it himself with his own reel-to-reel tape recorder in 1966. The crowds of eager devotees pressing to be near him may have seemed amusing or overdone to an outsider, but the devotees were right in their guru-bhakti, and it never went in vain.
December 9, 2016
Being the Focus of Prabhupada’s Attention
I like looking at old photos of Srila Prabhupada at 26 Second Avenue. I have one where Prabhupada is talking. Srila Prabhupada had such unique facial expressions. I can’t really describe them. Sometimes when he was observing or listening to someone else, he would let his mouth fall open a bit. It seemed to aid his concentration on the other person.
He often seemed simultaneously amused and absorbed in what was going on. His powers of concentration were so great that we could feel his intelligence penetrating into the situation. What mercy to be scrutinized by him, even if it meant he saw your faults. Prabhupada used to playfully tease one devotee for not shaving his head and maintaining “Shakespearean locks.” Gargamuni was a loyal follower, raising money for the temple by buying loose incense, packaging it, and selling it in the “head shops” and at the temple. For his ability to raise money, Srila Prabhupada wittily nicknamed him “Gargamoney.”
December 10, 2016
Prabhupada is Each Devotee’s Closest Friend
When I think of my relationship with Srila Prabhupada, which started in the summer of ’66 and continues eternally, I think the most crucial point is to always be able to turn to him. Perhaps that is why I prefer to remember him in the early days of ISKCON, when turning to Prabhupada was as easy as walking into his room. Our guru-disciple contract is still valid, perhaps even more valid now than it was fifty years ago, and I have come to value more his transcendental intimacy with Krishna. Prabhupada let it be easy at the beginning. But now I aspire for that greater intimacy.
The most important thing about Prabhupada is that he is a self-realized, pure devotee in parampara. But where does that leave me? Do I have a place with him? I need a pure devotee in parampara to lead me out of the material world. I don’t want to be left behind, wandering in maya. I need him.
Certainly I am flawed and sometimes fear Prabhupada’s displeasure. Perhaps he will reprimand me, or perhaps he will give me something new to do for him. I’m not sure what to expect, and I sometimes doubt whether I will respond to him as fully as I should or want to. Pleasing the spiritual master is a delicate thing—as conditioned souls, we are so filled with our own desires. But I know Prabhupada accepts me anyway. I have faith that he will help me now and always, and when I submit to the discipline of the spiritual master, these desires are dovetailed by him in Krishna’s service.
Prabhupada is a giant compared to me; he has something very great to give me, and he is just waiting for me to want it enough before he will give it to me.
December 11, 2016
Swamiji Reveals the Panca-Tattva
Before leaving for California, one of Swamiji’s first-initiates, Haridasa (Harvey Cohen), gave Swamiji his original rendering of the Panca-Tattva. Swamiji was pleased and placed it in the window of his new storefront at 26 Second Avenue. The picture showed Lord Caitanya in a yellow dhoti, Lord Nityananda in a bluish dhoti, Advaita Acarya in a full white beard and white dhoti, Gadadhara with arms upraised in reddish dhoti, and Srivasa Acarya with shaved head and hands in pranams. Another devotee, perhaps Haridasa Thakura, was playing the mrdanga. There were other dancers and players in the background.
Some passers-by were naturally critical, thinking the long-haired young dancers were strange—perhaps women or transvestites. (They didn’t stop to think that if Lord Jesus raised his arms and danced, he would look much the same as the men depicted in this sankirtana party.) Others were intrigued, couldn’t figure it out, but liked the occult aura. So even though the characters in the picture were a little strange for the Lower East Side hippies to comprehend, it was certainly conceivable that a group of mind-expanding, ecstatic nonconformists—Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana party—would appear on Second Avenue in a bare, storefront window under a big sign reading “Matchless Gifts.”
It made even more sense when, after a few weeks of operation, Prabhupada had people inside the storefront up on their feet and dancing like the figures in the painting. Then the painting became an invitation to come on in and join the sankirtana song and dance.
December 12, 2016
What Is He Thinking?
No one could look as serious and grave as Srila Prabhupada. You couldn’t tell what he was thinking. The corners of his mouth turned down. He had so much to bear and his followers were always demanding that he look and act at the highest level of inspiration. He was naturally on that level, but still it was demanding. He was always giving himself for Krishna’s service.
What is he thinking? His face shines with a soft aura of dedication and inner absorption. He seems to be thinking of Krishna’s mission. He will be speaking the message of Srimad-Bhagavatam. He will not concoct anything new. I have seen him look pleased and soft-hearted as he does in this photo many times, but at the next moment, another expression might pass over his face—his eyebrows might furrow in worry, or there might be a sudden sadness in his eyes. Was it compassion? Was he feeling an intense spiritual emotion?
No one can understand his mind. He had so many levels. On one level he maybe saw some discrepancies in the temple construction, or in the arati as it was being performed by his disciples; I cannot even guess at other, deeper levels.
December 13, 2016
The Whorl at the Center of the Lotus
Another snapshot. This picture looks like Vrindavana at the grand opening. Srila Prabhupada is completely surrounded by his male devotees on one side and the women on the other. One of the women is his sister, I think. Prabhupada is like a lotus. He wears light, tan-saffron, a delicate garland, and his head is tilted slightly to one side as he plays karatalas.
Srila Prabhupada is satisfied in seeing Krishna. He installed the Deities for our benefit. Here he is fulfilling the Gurv-astakam verses, chanting in Mahaprabhu’s kirtana, leading his disciples in Deity worship of Radha and Krishna in the gorgeous temple puja. He is also delivering the rainfall of mercy to put out samsara’s fire. He should be worshiped as good as God because he is the confidential servant of Krishna. He is very dear to Krishna and can reciprocate with Him in many forms, including the arca-vigraha.
Prabhupada worked hard to build and open the temples. Now we continue to serve him by keeping the temples alive with sravanam-kirtanam. Thank you, Srila Prabhupada, for giving us this glimpse of you receiving darsana of the Deity. You look quiet and self-sustained, as if you are all alone, even though you are pressed on all sides by hundreds of devotees. Therefore, I say lotus.
December 14, 2016
I can’t do justice to the reality of life. This photo is once-removed from the reality, and my description of it is twice-removed. But devotion, even one drop of it, can immediately penetrate time, memory, and photo-moment poses. I look for that drop to spring out of my heart when I look at the photo of Prabhupada.
This picture was taken in Srila Prabhupada’s room (not the present residence) at Krishna-Balarama Mandhir. He is wearing the rust-colored sweater, and from the devotees gathered there I can tell it’s India circa 1971-72. Syamasundara, Gurukripa, Rsi Kumara, Revatinandana, Pancadravida, Mahamsa, and one lady, barely visible, in the back, maybe Visakha. I see the dictaphone on his desk with the dust cover on it. Sheet-covered bolster pillows. I am curious where this room is, set up for his use with the low desk, but I can’t tell.
I know the layout of this desk. These objects are like exact paraphernalia for a special yajna, known in detail only by his intimate servants and secretaries. Eyeglasses case, container for tilaka, desk lamp, stainless steel water cup, a bell to call his servant. Other items are optional—the picture of Krishna running to His mother, a small Radha-Krishna painting in a frame, a picture of his Guru Maharaj.
Srila Prabhupada is gesturing with his left hand. It is intriguing to see the disciples’ faces as they listen intently to their guru. Everyone goes through so much in their minds. Many of the devotees gave up strict practice after some years, but they retained deep impressions of Srila Prabhupada.
Prabhupada, you were always getting things started. Your whole time preaching in this world was digging hard earth, planting—harvesting too—but always working with raw materials, men and women and Indians and sadhus and construction crews and cement. I don’t know exactly what you are saying in this picture. I don’t even see the microphone recording your words. There is a small pack of letters on your desk. I know you are probably preaching, saying something about the general ignorance of Kali-yuga and describing the various misunderstandings you want your disciples to avoid. You usually didn’t tell us directly that we were the mistaken ones you referred to. You spoke of mayavadis and mundane politicians and envious people. We knew the kind of people we had to avoid if we wanted to keep our bhakti-lata growing. One thing is for sure. You are a fit spiritual master that can comfort us through a life beset with doubts.
December 15, 2016
Deliverer of a Rich, Eternal Message
Srila Prabhupada embraces opportunities to speak of Krishna at 26 Second Avenue. He recites premadhvani prayers and mangalacarana prayers before the verse of the day. “My dear boys and girls,” he says, “I thank you very much.” He speaks of the parampara from Lord Caitanya. He speaks of his unfinished work. He talks of Krishna consciousness and the great need for it. We are inspired to take up Krishna consciousness by his words. Yes, Srila Prabhupada delivered a powerful, personal message now preserved in his tapes and in his books. We are never without him—listen. Now he’s glorifying the holy name.
“I have nothing new to declare,” Srila Prabhupada says. “Chant Hare Krishna.” The same mantra he introduced to us in 1966 we chant today without change. “It is Lord Caitanya’s desire that by this simple method you can become perfect and escape the horrible effects of Kali-yuga and repeated birth and death.”
He asks the young men and women present to take part in preaching. Try to tell others about Krishna consciousness, whoever you meet. In this way you may all become gurus.” Srila Prabhupada then leaves the room, first bowing down to a picture of Panca-tattva. Everyone prostrates themselves, sincerely saying, “Jaya Srila Prabhupada!”
December 16, 2016
I loved my Swamiji, even when externally he did not appear happy. I knew that internally he was always all right, surrendered to guru and Krishna and feeling transcendental bliss. He appeared to tolerate old age and disease, but in actuality he had a spiritualized body. It was always wrong to judge him as an ordinary man. He took deep pleasure and satisfaction in creating new followers for Lord Caitanya. He never tired of his routine of kirtana and lecture, and neither did his disciples. There was always something new, something deepening in the process and in the relationship. He was situated far above us, but he patiently fed us the nectar of Vedic topics and helped us gradually advance from our novice status.
The devotees tried to prepare a beautiful sitting place with pillows and upholstery, and he fit into it perfectly, fulfilling the role of Founder-Acarya. He played the karatalas expertly, and the devotees’ hearts rang with joy. They were completely respectful and submissive to him, and he commanded this, he didn’t demand it. A crowded temple room full of devotees watched his every move, and some of them thought he was looking at them only. This was a phenomenon that regularly occurred. In fact, his eyes roamed throughout the room to each and every soul.
They knew they were fortunate to be in his presence and their hearts and minds went out to him, just wishing to be accepted as his student and servant. In the somber visage of Swamiji, he controlled all those devotees who were fortunate enough to attend this occasion and surrender to him.
December 17, 2016
Turning to Swamiji in the Here and Now
Now Prabhupada is descending the stairs to the storefront, about to give the Wednesday evening Bhagavad-gita class. He’s barefoot and wearing a silk dhoti. He’s smiling more radiantly than we have ever seen him smile. He is glowing with health. He is coming straight from the spiritual world, just as Narada Muni does.
What would I ask him if this scene were occurring today, with me at the foot of the stairs? A real disciple loves his guru through thick and thin. He should have deep appreciation for what his spiritual master has given him, as is summed up in this verse, “I was standing in darkness with my eyes shut and my spiritual master came and opened my eyes with the torchlight of knowledge. Therefore I offer him my repeated obeisances.” So what would my questions be? Do I need to ask him anything? Before I asked, I would want to fall at his feet and thank him and praise him. Then:
“I want to always be your devotee. I know I make many mistakes. You know that I made mistakes when you were present and maybe I make even more mistakes now.
“To you, I must admit I don’t know what is best. If I come before you in a self-defensive way, I’m not honoring your right to be my preceptor. As you wrote of your Guru Maharaja, ‘You hold the mace, you have the right.’
“I know you haven’t come today to hear me explain myself. Is there anything you wish to instruct me about?” I should leave it up to him. “Please tell me what you think and want of me.”
“How can I improve my japa? I know the answer. But . . .”
“How should I proceed? Should I continue my writing life and the kind of preaching I do?”
“What about my relationship with my Godbrothers?”
“Why do I aspire for something more when I can’t even practice the preliminary stages?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Do you know me now, who I am?”
“Have I failed you? And if so, please tell me what I need to do so I can be pleasing to you again.”
“Please give me the strength to serve you.”
“You have written in your books that the spiritual master is always right; the genuine disciple follows his guru explicitly and implicitly.”
I don’t think I can fill in Prabhupada’s words in this imaginary dialogue. By writing out my own words to him, however, I feel even stronger that I know what I must do. I have to serve in the absence of Prabhupada’s direct words; that’s how it actually is. That’s what serving in separation is about. You remember the orders he gave you, both generally and specifically, you look constantly in your heart, you use your intelligence, and you consult with Godbrothers while being obedient to the society of devotees. There is no simple formula. You can’t just “ask Srila Prabhupada.” Why should I have the privilege of asking him if others don’t? We have to struggle. And he is with us, informing us, according to the degree of our surrender.
December 18, 2016
Storefront of the Mind
I relish quietly listening to recordings of Prabhupada singing his kirtana in 1966. Hearing those tapes is the way I can feel my own love for Krishna and Prabhupada, which may be contrary to the impressions I get when I chant and cannot pay attention to the sound. I do love chanting when I hear Prabhupada singing and playing that drum, inducing us to go to the spiritual world. If I can sing with Prabhupada, something will be evoked in my heart. We always think we don’t have time to chant, although we seem to have time to talk and pile up sentences one after another. Do we think singing with Prabhupada when he was introducing Krishna consciousness in New York City is unproductive?
Yes, Prabhupada started his movement at that same 26 Second Avenue that today is a lively preaching center in New York, where you can walk off the streets and be with devotees in an atmosphere filled with the hopes of a new generation. It’s right there in New York City, that transcendental oasis. At the same time, I’m really talking about the 26 Second Avenue that exists only in my mind, only in my memory. It does exist.
When I hear him singing like that and I start to flash back a little on it, I wonder, “Prabhupada, are you going to come back and do it again? Are you going to bring us to you again? You brought us out of such total forgetfulness that we can’t even call it forgetfulness.” Theoretically, we may say we had forgotten Krishna, and that’s true, but Prabhupada woke us up.
December 19, 2016
Swamiji’s Eternal Servants Rediscover Themselves
At the storefront in 1966 Prabhupada said that in our past lives some of us must have been Indians and now had been born in this part of the world to continue the sankirtana movement. When I heard that I started to think how firm I had been in my other identity—when I was a young man who dressed all in black and who had broken away from his parents on Staten Island and had now lived for two years on his own on the Lower East Side. I wasn’t doing so well actually, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I didn’t go home except to try to get some money and feel bad again.
Prabhupada took me beyond that identity to a completely new consciousness. Talk about quantum leaps! I remember one devotee telling about his own change. He was a student at the University of Buffalo. He talked about his change from “buffalo to disciple.” We were buffaloes, ignoramuses. Then we became disciples of the pure devotee of Krishna.
If Prabhupada would come back again, maybe I could make another quantum leap from vaidhi-bhakti practitioner to something more, from someone who has lost some of his daring and who is making an all-out effort to convince himself and Krishna that he can go on writing and reading, chanting and hearing, developing his inner life, and who thinks that somehow this will do. I could be transformed into something more pleasing to Prabhupada, or at least I could know what Prabhupada wants. It’s not that I have to change the nature of my activities. Prabhupada might say, “This is good. Go on doing it. Now I’m going to show you the means to intensify it. You want to be an obscure prayer-maker? You want to be addicted to reading my books? That’s good. You think that by doing this you will become a potent preacher of my message? All right, I’ll allow you to do that service.” Whatever it is, Prabhupada can tell us. Or he might tell us something completely different. He might say, “Go to a new city and start up Krishna consciousness. Do what I want. Be with me. Be like me.”
December 20, 2016
The Cleansing Power of Swamiji’s Hare Krishna Mantra
When I hear the chorus from the 1966 “Happening” album: (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare), I think of it washing out the sins of those boys and a few girls who were up to their necks in the New York City counterculture. Not only counterculture, but square culture. Square culture we had been raised in and rebelled from. Now on top of it, we had the corrupt film, or icing, of trying to be young hippies. So much nonsense we picked up from others—our leaders—Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg. We were such confused people. Then suddenly, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna”—Prabhupada’s beating on his one-headed drum led us out of all of it. All that sin getting washed out. Hare Krishna is a washing song, a cleansing song.
It’s a different kind of cleansing because it produces tears. Those tears clean the body and soul and mind. And whether we know it or not, the chanting can take us out of the material world if we just keep with it. It’s not like any other singing. It seems to be ordinary, but that’s because we don’t understand what liberation is. Liberation doesn’t mean that suddenly your body is immune from birth, death, disease, and old age, or that you suddenly sprout two extra arms. It means that instead of doing things for yourself, you do them for Krishna under the spiritual master’s direction.
In our case, we found ourselves chanting just a few blocks away, in Tompkins Square Park, to the thud of several conga drums and the strummed chords of a folk guitar. We would normally have been chanting political slogans, but we were chanting the Hare Krishna mantra with the Swami. It was a washing, cleansing.
December 21, 2016
Srila Prabhupada was “Right On”
It’s a funny thing how Prabhupada didn’t appear simple, at least externally. He was not a village boy, but raised in civilized Calcutta. No one could cheat him. He wasn’t part of the world of ambiguity. At the same time, he was innocent and pure, deep and strong in his Krishna consciousness. Prabhupada didn’t flatter people. He was always polite, but he insisted on speaking the truth. That’s what we’re really not able to do, at least not to the same degree. We’re too afraid of our own hypocrisy and we don’t have the same strength. Neither do we have the same depth of compassion.
No one can know Prabhupada’s mind, but he was as they say, “Right on.” He stays on, whereas we make tentative approaches—we go forward, retreat, don’t quite like the way we present things, feel the opposite, try to explain that too, all in the name of honesty.
Turning to the material world of crumpled leaves on winter trees seems to be my song. When I try to reach a simple level of prayer: “O Lord! O God! O Krishna! I am a sinner, please relieve me.” I see that I can’t do that unless I drop my sophisticated pose and just cry out, “Help me, Lord!” I feel the ambiguity and acknowledge it and call it honestly. But Prabhupada wasn’t like that. He didn’t know ambiguity. He was always, honestly, “Right on.”
December 22, 2016
Looking for Prabhupada
In the confidentiality of our early exchanges with Prabhupada in 1966, we asked him, “Who is Krishna? How can we find Him?” Swamiji’s answer was that He is found in the Vedic literatures and by devotional service He will be revealed to us. This led us to other questions like, “How can we always have confidence that this gradual pace is best?” The answer was that we have to be patient. There is no other way.
Prabhupada really was—and is—available to us. We are never devoid of his association. All we need is a little faith. We don’t have to give up our regular duties in Prabhupada’s service to go off and look for Prabhupada. Prabhupada (and Krishna) reveal themselves through our service. Although we speak of patience, we don’t have to wait ten thousand years before we receive any revelation. All we have to do is look in the right place.
We keep looking for ecstasy in illicit acts or in places where our pleasure causes pain to others. Prabhupada taught us that with humility and contrition, we can seek the path of nectar in service to Krishna. He also taught us to be patient with the dryness that comes due to our offenses.
We still have doubts. How do we know that the nectar of our service is actually the nectar of Krishna consciousness and not the usual folly of the conditioned soul? We have to consult. We have to consult our hearts, pray to Krishna, and especially consult with the spiritual master.
We shouldn’t think that approaching Prabhupada is completely mystical or unattainable. Leave nothingness to the voidist philosophers. We can always do something. We can always open one of Prabhupada’s books. Even on the days we feel empty; even if we open the book and still feel blank. When that happens, we have no choice but to get over the slump. That much is in our power. We have to take hold of ourself and say, “Prabhupada is here in this book. Why do I think I can’t get anything out of it?” At least I can go to the stone wall of my heart and cry out, “Prabhupada, please help me. What have I done that now your mercy seems to be withheld from me?” Prabhupada will answer. Approaching Prabhupada in deeper and deeper ways requires deeper and deeper prayer and service, an intensification of the whole consciousness. Then Prabhupada will reciprocate. But the question is always there, “Do you really want to be with him?”
If you want to be with him, you will have to examine the things that keep you away from him. Prabhupada is not keeping away from us; we may be pushing him away due to lack of clarity in our desire. Once we get some of the direct power of Prabhupada’s association, then all our negative thought patterns fall into place. We understand that they are like scratches that will continue to bother us until we are liberated. They are not important; rather, they are bothersome. In no way do they stop us from our main activity of loving Prabhupada wholeheartedly.
December 23, 2016
Swamiji’s Core Principle: Always Think of Krishna
Remember that Krishna is in control. That’s why things don’t happen as man proposes—because God disposes. That’s the essence of Krishna consciousness. Smartavyah satatam visnur, vismartavyo na jatucit: just remember Krishna. All other rules and regulations serve that one.
One time in the storefront I heard Swamiji talking about this and explaining his preaching in America. He was saying that he is just trying to attract people to Krishna. He wanted them to chant Hare Krishna and to engage in other acceptable activities. He said that in India there are devotees or transcendentalists who follow so many rules and regulations, but he didn’t introduce that here. He said, “I’ve introduced only one percent. Somebody says of me in America, ‘Oh, Swamiji is so conservative. He has so many rules. You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ But I have only introduced one percent. I am not so interested in rules and regulations, but I am trying to follow Rupa Gosvami’s policy: yena tena prakarena manah krsne nivesayet sarva vidhi-nisedhasyur etayor eva kinkarah. Just somehow attract people to Krishna so they can think of Krishna. Rules and regulations can come later.”
“Always remember Krishna” is the grand principle of Krishna consciousness—to see that everything is controlled by Krishna. Samadhi is not in a person’s control. Samadhi is a sign that Krishna is controlling the devotee. Therefore the principle always remember Krishna is both for the beginner and the accomplished devotee. Just somehow do something Krishna conscious. Don’t bother about the rules and what you are not able to do right now. Just chant Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. Anyone can start with that. That’s the first step, and it is also the goal. It’s the core principle that Swamiji drilled into us. It’s what’s so wonderful about Krishna consciousness.
December 24, 2016
Prabhupada Taught Us ABCD
In his classes at 26 Second Avenue Swamiji constantly referred to the Bhagavad-gita as “ABCD”—the beginning principles of spiritual life. “Srimad-Bhagavatam,” he would say, “is a more advanced subject.” And as his fledgling ISKCON Society expanded around the globe, Prabhupada would repeatedly stress the vital importance at the heart of the Gita’s ABCD: We are not the body. Srila Prabhupada’s expertise was in removing us from the bodily platform by a full program of activities in Krishna consciousness.
We are not the mind either. The mind seems to be more a friend of the body when it’s under the sway of the senses. The body sends frantic messages to the mind and intelligence, “Woof! Woof! Please take care of me with all your intelligence and all your devotion. Please give me something to drink. Give me something to eat. I crave. I hurt. I feel pleasure.” Like a child. Kids disturb us with their unabashed, frank attachment to their immediate feelings. Any little inconvenience or restriction can cause their uncontrolled minds and senses to leap into action.
The ABCD first step in spiritual life was to seriously approach a spiritual master who would teach us to control the body and the mind and to uncover the soul. With his kindergarten ABCD approach, Prabhupada rescued us from our childlike state of bodily consciousness and reawakened our natural awareness of Krishna.
December 25, 2016
Prabhupada: The Cutting Edge
We didn’t know anything until we met Srila Prabhupada! We had an inkling that what passed as civilized was mostly bunk. We saw the establishment—the government and the military-industrial complex and the mass of people out for money and sense gratification as phony, “square.” We learned how to alter our consciousness via marijuana and LSD. We tried to free the language with Beat poetry and jazz. We were prepared to reject our parents’ civilization and carve out our own “superior” civilization. Unfortunately, we were carving out yet another form of animalism.
However, as we became submissive to the teachings of the Swami and the parampara, we began to realize that the animalistic approach was not what the devotee was aiming for. By exposing the flaws in our so-called logic, Swamiji convinced us of the positive advantages of Krishna consciousness. He taught us to desire to be molded by the spiritual master and civilized by the sastras. Nobility is gained by following Krishna conscious rules and regulations, not by endeavoring to be civilized in the way two-legged animals are civilized with their white cuffs and gold cufflinks, their artificial tan and their before-dinner cocktails. Civilization to a devotee means Bhagavatam culture; sense control.
Prabhupada mercifully taught us to want his kind of culture. By setting up shop in the storefront Swamiji was giving us real spiritual culture, real civilization. He taught us to chant Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. He wasn’t dependent on furnishings or externals. There was no prerequisite to receiving his teachings. He sat on a straw mat and, without the advantage of a shared culture, delivered pure Krishna consciousness.
Someone might argue, “Anyone could have done what Prabhupada did. After all, Krishna consciousness is universal.” But no, it remains a puzzle as to why Westerners brought up in a materialistic, secular, Judeo-Christian world would accept Krishna as God and take up “Indian” ways. That it has been planted in Western culture at all is because of Prabhupada’s insistence that Krishna consciousness is not sectarian. Krishna consciousness is for everyone. Pre-Prabhupada, the hope that Krishna consciousness could be taken up by people outside India seemed to have been something that would remain unrealized, esoteric. Prabhupada changed all that. Prabhupada was empowered.
Prabhupada was determined. Somehow or other, he would introduce Krishna and give these people Krishna consciousness. It was bound to work because Krishna consciousness is not sectarian. It is not an artificial imposition on the mind. It is the original consciousness of the living entity. Just chant and this sound vibration will open the heart. Prabhupada’s daring and conviction still holds the Krishna consciousness movement together today. His teachings are cutting edge.
December 26, 2016
Swamiji Gave Our Lives Value
The perfect guru in the person of Srila Prabhupada came to us, the sastras came to us, the Lord came to us. They told us what we should value above all else. They didn’t leave us groping in absurdity. They gave us the nectar of immortality. What has value compared to that? What can possibly measure up to the supreme value of serving the all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead?
In the beginning Prabhupada asked us to chant—just try it. When he said that he was asking us to have faith, and based on that faith, assign some value to the chanting. He wanted us to give ourselves to the chanting long enough for the chanting to justify the faith. Swamiji showed us we were not living in an absurd universe where we had to give everything to Krishna and He gave nothing in return. If we gave to Krishna, Krishna would reciprocate with us. Ye yatha mam prapadyante. As a matter of fact, even if we didn’t give to Krishna, Krishna was giving to us. Prabhupada gave us the most valuable of gifts: knowledge that if you want to have access to the nectar of immortality, to spiritual upliftment, to life behind the body and relief from the daily doldrums, you have to pay the price.
It’s interesting how Swamiji induced us—we who were born in the Western, materialistic camp—to accept Srimad-Bhagavatam. The story is relived every time a Western-born man or woman comes to Krishna consciousness. Somebody rotating through rock ‘n’ roll consciousness, or free-love consciousness, or nihilistic consciousness, stumbles into the storefront and onto Krishna’s pastimes revealed by the pure devotee. He stops to listen for awhile. “What the heck is this? Are they stories?” Maybe he’ll begin to wonder…
Prabhupada was able to prove that we should accept everything from authority, from hearing. Prabhupada’s deliverance of the Bhagavatam dispelled the vagueness people attach to God and presented Him as He is. Prabhupada came to deliver us. Only he, a maha-bhagavata Vaikuntha man, set up shop in a storefront on the Lower East Side. We have only Prabhupada to thank as our savior.
December 27, 2016
Exposed by the Swami
In the 1950s, Srila Prabhupada described the hard-core materialist’s self-absorption in his Message of Godhead:
“At present we are concerned primarily with two things: one, ourselves, and the other, the place where we live. We are concerned with these two objects, everything that is related to our gross and subtle bodies and the world at large with all its paraphernalia. But there are others above us, the transcendentalists, who are concerned not only with their bodies and minds and the world at large, but also with the transcendental subject, which is above the mind and body and the world at large.” (Message of Godhead, Introduction, p. 1)
While Vaisnava philosophy is equally applicable all over the universe, it seemed as if Prabhupada was specifically addressing the material mentalities of his first Western followers who would follow a decade later. We ’60s people were so anti-establishment (thus against the political world at large with all its paraphernalia). Out of ignorance we surrendered completely to the atheistic view of the scientists. As products of the intellectual counterculture, we accepted Freud, Darwin, and Marx. Atheism was our religion. Out of false pride, we would never yield to the concept of a descending process.
So it is strange that we “enlightened” free-thinkers who thought of ourselves as sensitive barometers of truth, who had our own code of truthfulness and didn’t appreciate anyone foisting anything upon us (especially if we perceived the foister as being phony or cheating or ego-tripping), embraced the parampara message as presented by Srila Prabhupada. We became sold on Prabhupada’s version of the truth and never looked back.
There are people—and this is one of the most important proofs of God’s existence—who are not concerned just with the self and the world at large, but with the Absolute Truth. The transcendentalists—saints, philosophers, reformers, messengers of God—appear in various places of the world at various times and render transcendental service to the Absolute Truth and to humans by preaching the message of the transcendental world. This is getting in touch with Krishna. We have a right and a need to do that, even if it’s awkward at times.
December 28, 2016
Prabhupada’s uncompromising nature is much of what attracted us to him. It’s not that everyone who came to spiritual life was a perfect connoisseur of spiritual topics or such a penetrating truth-seeker that he couldn’t be cheated. But Prabhupada made us feel safe. Prabhupada himself said that many of us came to him out of sentimentality. Of course that was still good, but if we didn’t become serious, we would fall away. His uncompromising nature helped us to become serious and to get past whatever sentimental reasons made us seek him out in the first place.
Then Prabhupada said that to practice spiritual life you have to rise above the modes, especially the modes of ignorance and passion. Again, he was uncompromising. He said we wouldn’t be able to talk about spiritual life until we rose above those two modes. How can one practice spiritual life and at the same time cultivate lust and greed? Therefore he told his students from the beginning that we had to give up illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating and gambling.
Prabhupada wanted to communicate with his sincere followers as humanely as possible, yet he was uncompromising. He didn’t care whether people’s superficial interests were satisfied or not. He spoke the truth; what was good for people and would actually delight them in their constitutional nature. And he wasn’t bored with his own presentation. He was always enthusiastic in his preaching. You can hear it in the early tapes. Prabhupada would be speaking enthusiastically and philosophically and then suddenly pause as if seeing the blank faces of his audience. “Oh, of course, this is a very dry subject. People will think we are talking about God and it is so much philosophy.” Then he would chuckle, realizing that for a New York crowd to gather and not hear music or something more immediate, sensational, controversial or attractive to the lower modes of nature, was unusual. He couldn’t expect to be too popular. He chuckled and he realized it, but he went forward anyway with his kirtana and his preaching. He did it because that’s what Krishna wanted. He wasn’t interested in pleasing the crowd. He wrote in one letter: “The kirtana is not to please a crowd. The lecture is for Krishna and for some sincere persons. No matter if nobody comes, you speak to the walls. We are Krishna dasa; we are Guru dasa.”
Krishna conscious purification is deep. Prabhupada recognized that those who were coming for some superficial titillation would find the topics dry. Therefore, few are interested. He knew that hearing only the outer form of Krishna consciousness is difficult—it sounds too much like theological talk. People are more accustomed to listening to things that attract their material senses—nice music, a speaker with good intonation, etc.—and they don’t get that gratification when the speech is full of foreign words, talk of sin and God consciousness and morality. When a devotee starts to describe the misery of material life and how we are all entangled in it, it can seem remote. They fly away.
December 29, 2016
Revealer of Our Spiritual Identity
Very early in my relationship with Srila Prabhupada, before I was initiated, I asked him a question. “Swamiji, it seems to me that I can be many different persons. When I think of who I am, I think of a composite of different persons. The moods are like different persons I can be. I have heard that the best thing is to act to please Krishna. My question is: how do I know which person in me, or what kind of person, Krishna wants me to be?”
Swamiji didn’t speak to the “mentalness” in my question, but he turned to some of the other people in the room and said, “This boy Steve is nice. He gives his money and he does typing. You also should do like this.” I wasn’t the least bit disappointed with his response. After all, what was I seeking but love, encouragement, and exchange? He looked at me as I actually was in his eyes, who he wanted me to be—a simple servitor who gives plainly and practically what he has. He did not see me as somebody so mental as to be ineffectual, so self-conscious as to not be able to serve.
This reminds me of something else. There’s a line in a poem by Allen Ginsberg that refers to Bhaktivedanta Swami. Imagine Prabhupada seeing Allen in New York and Allen writing candidly about it afterward. “Swami Bhaktivedanta looks at me with a sad eye, at my impossible self-consciousness.” Allen was aware that Prabhupada saw his lack of surrender. Allen could not become a devotee of Krishna. Prabhupada was sad about it, compassionate. He saw that Allen was too much into himself and his own concoctions to surrender to Krishna. Poets like Allen are too busy writing their own “song of God” to hear the message of Bhagavad-gita. They don’t have faith. They don’t accept Krishna’s representative. As Allen summed it up, it was due to his self-consciousness. He could never get past his false-ego consciousness.
Prabhupada looked at me differently. He saw a soul in the body of a young man twenty-six years old who lived in New York City. He saw my many impurities, but he also saw that by my actions I had some sincerity. He acknowledged that sincerity when he answered my question.
I know that I should say that question has been answered for all time, but it hasn’t. And Swamiji is not here in the same way to blast through a question like that—a question I’m crying out to have answered. After all, I wasn’t asking that question so Prabhupada would flatter me. I was crying out. I was trapped in my various selves as I resorted to different kinds of selves and behaviors in order to get along in the world. Prabhupada cut through that for me then. That’s the benefit of having a guru right there. You put yourself on the line and he cracks or cuts the knot in your heart. He doesn’t just work on the generic knot shared by all living entities, but he very directly and personally works on your attachments and confusion. Now that Prabhupada has disappeared, I feel the difference.
When I think of that question, I think also of a popular song. I don’t remember the words exactly, but it’s something like this: “I can be good, I can be bad, I can be happy, I can be sad, it all depends on you. I can be any one of these things and not be particularly happy or sad, except relative to what you want …” So, it is like that. I will do what pleases you, Srila Prabhupada. As you act toward me, I respond toward you. I have no self per se, except for my relationship with you. I have no self except as you define it in our loving, living relationship; our demanding relationship. Krishna consciousness means I am the eternal servant of you. “What do you want me to do?” If we can sincerely ask that question, then Krishna will tell us what He wants us to do.
December 30, 2016
Let’s Just Love Him
Right from the beginning of his preaching in the West, Srila Prabhupada offered the world a brilliant summary of the methods of bhakti-yoga, revealing the universal applicability of this simple but all-inclusive form of yoga. He showed how even those who are entangled in the complexity and chaos of modern materialistic life could begin an uncomplicated practice which purifies the mind and puts one in touch with the Supreme consciousness.
This, perhaps, was Srila Prabhupada’s greatest contribution to our age. Srila Prabhupada was an acknowledged master scholar of India’s ancient spiritual culture and of its linguistic foundation, the Sanskrit language. But he was not merely a textual scholar or a philosopher or theologian engaged in the manufacture of interesting philosophical or theological notions. He was a true spiritual genius who succeeded in bringing to life the efforts of India’s universal spiritual wisdom in a form which is easy for twenty-first century man to understand and practice.
The transforming quality of Prabhupada was that he could make people devotees of Krishna. He himself used to say, “So many editions of Bhagavad-gita have been translated into English, but as a result, not one person has become a devotee of Krishna. Now that we have presented it as it is, so many people are taking to Krishna consciousness.”
Even the fact that so many schisms and splinter movements of ISKCON flourish to some degree is a credit to Prabhupada. They are flourishing on the strength of his having made something apparently foreign available to Westerners.
For myself, I like to think of Prabhupada in a simple way, as he first manifested to us—as Swamiji at 26 Second Avenue. I don’t feel the need to prove to myself that he was great. I just want to love him as the Vrajavasis love Krishna. The Vrajavasis don’t have to prove that Krishna is God or that nobody else but Krishna is God. They just love Him and want to be with Him forever. If Krishna leaves them even for a moment, they simply think of Him and cry.
That’s one way to think, but we also need the Ramanujas and Madhvas and their learned followers to prove Prabhupada’s exalted position to the world. And who’s to tell us exactly how to develop our own relationship with Prabhupada? Of course we have to approach him in the standard way through inquiry and service, but there’s also room for different attitudes, even within ourselves. Sometimes I like to take up that role where I prove Prabhupada’s uniqueness. Other times, like during this 50th ISKCON year when we are expected to beat a particular drum of his glories, for example, I think, “What are we trying to prove? Let’s just love him and accept him as our guide.”
December 31, 2016
Where Would We Be Without Swamiji?
Srila Prabhupada, the empowered bhakti whirlwind who completely changed the lives of those he touched at 26 Second Avenue, molded himself as a preacher in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh several years before coming to the West. The people of Jhansi didn’t see him as a familyman or businessman, but as a preacher. I like to think of Prabhupada at Dr. Sastri’s clinic where he would sometimes sit and talk with the patients, occasionally recommending medicines, but mostly preaching. He sat with Mr. Ramcharan Mitra, the shopkeeper-poet, at his utensils shop and read Caitanya-caritamrta to a group gathered there. And he gave lectures, sometimes several a day at various temples, the Theosophical Society, and in people’s homes.
Prabhupada was an experienced preacher. He had no illusions about the people of Jhansi and how far they were prepared to be influenced by him. He saw their shallow devotion and their tendency toward sentimentality. They had invited him to lecture, but they weren’t prepared to facilitate a League of Devotees. Prabhupada said to Mr. Mitra, “The whole world is waiting, Mr. Mitra, for our spiritual revolution.” His ambition was to make the whole city of Jhansi alive with Krishna consciousness. And from Jhansi, he could reach out with a worldwide movement.
We don’t have to do what Prabhupada did and start a worldwide society of devotees; we already have ISKCON. But it’s worth noting: We can do what we are doing in ISKCON because our Founder-Acarya left his family and business and went alone to Jhansi. Because he tried to spread Krishna consciousness despite the discouragement of others, and because he persisted, we can now call ourselves devotees. We can claim to be part of that sankirtana spirit that moved Srila Prabhupada to pick us up in the first place, that same spirit that was operating in him even in those early days in Jhansi.
Supposing we hadn’t met him? What would have happened to us? Would we have died prematurely or gone crazy from a drug overdose? At the very least, our lives would have been totally useless. It’s worth considering: If Prabhupada had not come, where would I be today?
Epilogue to Daily Reflections on Srila Prabhupada
(Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Prabhupada’s Coming to America)
During the summer of 1966, after Swamiji had initiated them and married them, Mukunda and Janaki made plans to travel to California and from there to go on to India to further pursue their spiritual paths. Swamiji gave his permission. Mukunda made a farewell visit to Swamiji in his room. Swamiji gave Mukunda some contacts in India. As Mukunda was leaving the Swamiji’s room, Swamiji said to him, “If you can open a centre in San Francisco that would be very nice.” Mukunda was surprised, confused, and didn’t know whether to take this afterthought remark seriously. He decided to go ahead with his plans to travel to India.
When they arrived in California they met their friends, Sam and Melanie (later initiated as Syamasundara and Malati devi dasi). Mukunda and Janaki told their friends all about the Swami and the activities at 26 Second Avenue. Sam and Melanie became very enthusiastic. Mukunda told Sam about Swamiji’s suggestion that he open a centre in San Francisco. Sam became enthusiastic to hear this and suggested that Mukunda change his plans and do what Prabhupada suggested. One day Mukunda spent the time alone in a rowboat. He was contemplating his future. He thought deeply. At the end of the day, he decided to take Prabhupada’s request and stay in California and try to open an ISKCON centre. Then he and Sam set about doing it.
* * *
Sometimes, during the evening gathering in his room, Swamiji would ask whether Mukunda was ready on the West Coast. For months, Prabhupada’s going to the West Coast had been one of a number of alternatives. But then, during the first week of the New Year, a letter arrived from Mukunda: he had rented a storefront in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury district, on Frederick Street. “We are busy converting it into a temple now,” he wrote. And Prabhupada announced: “I shall go immediately.”
Mukunda had told of a “Gathering of the Tribes” in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. Thousands of hippies were migrating from all over the country to the very neighbourhood where Mukunda had rented the storefront. It was a youth renaissance much bigger than what was going on in New York City. In a scheme to raise funds for the new temple, Mukunda was planning a “Mantra Rock Dance” and famous rock bands were going to appear. And Swami Bhaktivedanta and the chanting of Hare Krishna were to be the center of attraction!
Although in his letter Mukunda had enclosed a plane ticket, some of Swamiji’s followers refused to accept that Swamiji would use it. Those who knew they could not leave New York began to criticize the idea of Swamiji’s going to San Francisco. They didn’t think that people out on the West Coast could take care of Swamiji properly. Swamiji appearing with rock musicians? Those people out there didn’t seem to have the proper respect. Anyway, there was no suitable temple there. There was no printing press, no Back to Godhead magazine. Why should Swamiji leave New York to attend a function like that with strangers in California? How could he leave them behind in New York? How could their spiritual life continue without him? Timidly, one or two dissenters indirectly expressed some of these feelings to Prabhupada, as if almost wishing to admonish him for thinking of leaving them, and even hinting that things would not go well, either in San Francisco or New York, if he departed. But they found Prabhupada quite confident and determined. He did not belong to New York, he belonged to Krishna, and he had to go wherever Krishna desired him to preach. Prabhupada showed a spirit of complete detachment, eager to travel and expand the chanting of Hare Krishna.
Brahmanda: But we were shocked that he was going to leave. I never thought that Krishna consciousness would go beyond the Lower East Side, what to speak of New York City. I thought that this was it, and it would stay here eternally.
In the last days of the second week of January, final plane reservations were made, and the devotees began packing Swamiji’s manuscripts away in trunks. Ranchor, a new devotee recruited from Tompkins Square Park, had collected enough money for a plane ticket, and the devotees decided that he should accompany Prabhupada as his personal assistant. Prabhupada explained that he would only be gone a few weeks and that he wanted all the programs to go on in his absence.
* * *
He waited in his room while the boys arranged for a car to take him to the airport. The day was gray and cold, and steam hissed in the radiators. He would take only a suitcase—mostly clothes and some books. He checked the closet to see that his manuscripts were in order. Kirtanananda would take care of his things in his apartment. He sat down at his desk where, for more than six months he had sat so many times working for hours at the typewriter preparing his Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and where he had sat talking to so many guests and to his followers. But today he would not be talking with friends or typing a manuscript, but waiting a last few minutes alone before his departure.
This was a nice place, 26 Second Avenue. He had started here. The boys would keep it up. Some of them were donating their salaries. It was a start.
Prabhupada looked at his watch. He put on his tweed winter coat and his hat and shoes, put his right hand in his bead bag and continued chanting. He walked out of the apartment, down the stairs and through the courtyard, which was now frozen and still, its trees starkly bare without a single leaf remaining. And he left the storefront behind.
He left, even while Brahmananda, Rupanuga and Satsvarupa were at their office jobs. There was not even a farewell scene or a farewell address.