An interview with Candramauli Swami
How did you become a devotee?
I met devotees in place called Denver, Colorado in 1972 and I officially joined the temple in New Vrindavan in March of 1973, which was about 9 months later. Searching, looking for something spiritual. I had been involved in many social and political issues, prior to my joining the HK movement. I suppose? social and political interests or evangelistic spirit lead me to eastern religion and through yoga, reincarnation, vegetarianism I somehow came in contact with people who knew Hare Krishna people and I ended up on one SF in Denver. Somehow or other I came to the temple, liked it but wasn’t thinking of joining. I became interested in philosophy and asked questions. Then in the beginning of 1973 I went back to east coast of America and decide to visit the temple in New York City and then I started regularly go to the SF. And from there I really became attracted to the philosophy, life style, to the devotees. Two things really attracted me: devotees, philosophy and, especially devotees. I saw people were really genuinely happy. I was inspired to take that association and then found out what is their philosophy, their lifestyle. I had been practicing few things on my own, but nothing really serious. I asked questions, read the books, and finally I decided to give it a try. I met some devotees who were visiting New Vrindavan and they invited me to come to visit. I was inspired by the rural atmosphere so in March 1973 I decided to stay.
How long did you stay there? You were serving there as a cook and pujari?
My first service was to take the milk from the cows (I wasn’t milking them. They would give me the milk) and I would separate cream from the milk. And then from the butter I would make cream, like mother Yasodha. Gopi lila. My first service was to churn butter. I used a little milk can, stick, and round thick disc with holes … I would make butter for the Lord. And also distribute the milk to different places where they needed it. That went on for a few months. On Radhastami, September 1973 I got initiated.
Was Prabhupada present there?
Prabhupada came in April 1974 and he gave initiations but I didn’t see much of Srila Prabhupada that time. I attended one of his classes but that was it.
How was for you meeting Srila Prabhupada for the first time?
In New Vrindavan we have an area for sitting outside and he was there surrounded by devotees. He was looking and he looked at me for about … I guess it was like a long second … I was just picked up by enthusiasm. Of course we heard about Prabhupada, we were reading his books, so we were inspired. There was always news where was Prabhupada, what he was doing. That news would come as often a possible and everyone would listen. So we learn about Prabhupada mostly by hearing about him. When I first saw him it was a nice experience but it was really quick. And I sat at one class but I was always in the background, I was never up front.
Was it difficult for you to maintain the relationship with him although you didn’t have so much personal association?
Yes, it was but I was inspired to read his books and through his books and hearing about his activities. … The community leader Kirtananda was very close to Prabhupada, one of his first disciples. So he was all the time talking about Prabhupada, glorifying him. So we learnt a lot about Prabhupada through him. My relationship was mostly with Kirtananda Swami, he was SP’s representative. When you have personal contact you have a tendency to develop strong relationship with that person, so that was more strong even from my relationship with SP although SP was my spiritual master.
One time you said that those devotees who had personal association were attached to this physical association.
Some of them. There is philosophical precept that is explained in Srimad Bhagavatam that real attachment to the spiritual master is through the instructions. Personal association brings about attachment but unless one thought that association goes with the instructions, then if association is not there then what is the association. Instructions remain prominent as our association. Those who were attached to his body then when SP’s body was gone they also were gone. Prabhupada’s presence was very powerful impact to people’s lives. You can see that even today. When spiritual master leaves, others leave or they become more serious because they are attached to the personal form. Spiritual master many times leaves in order to get rid off the nonsense people and to inspire those who are serious to go on a higher level. Because those who are serious once when spiritual master leaves they go deeper to relationship. For the other ones they haven’t really imbibed the instructions into the heart therefore they have a hard time and many they just go. It is a phenomenon of that relationship, it’s historical, not only with Srila Prabhupada but with any spiritual master. There are always those who are attached to the form and those who are attached to instructions.
How did your spiritual life changed since you officially became initiating spiritual master?
It has become a bigger headache. (Laugh) It is like having children. I was always doing it in unofficial way but now it is like there is more of a requirement to do it. I like to do it. I always have done it as a service anyway. When formalization came it was nothing different but now it’s like you have to really become more determined to help that person. Even if they don’t want help. When it is unofficially if they don’t want help you can also back off and there is nothing lost. But if people are falling away you have to go after and try to bring them back. It becomes more active on the part of the guru.
You have deity of Laksmi Narasimha and Jagantaha, also Gaura Nitai …
I have them in Chicago. I also have Prahlada Nrsimhadev.
Who is taking care for them?
One devotee in Chicago, Murari Caitanya Prabhu. He has many deities himself.
How did Lord Nrsimhadeva come to you?
I remember I had another Lord Narasimhadev. I gave it to someone to take care because I was traveling a lot. I don’t remember how this deity came. It’s a mystery. Well it’s not a mystery I just don’t remember. (Laugh) Somehow my memory is blocked on that area. I remember for other deities but for this deity I don’t.
How did you get Prahlada Nrsimhadev?
That is a nice story. When I first saw that deity in German farm I was really attracted to that deity. And then in Croatia, at the camp I saw a deity. I really wanted to have my own. I heard that there was one devotee who was actually making that deity. I made some inquiry to try to get it. That was the first time that I was on this camp, it was in 2002. I couldn’t at all somehow or rather reach him. Some devotees tried for me because I wanted to have this deity but nothing happened. Then one day when I was in Spain I was invited to someone’s house. Over lunch we were talking and I told a story how I wanted to have a deity like that. One man who was there came to me the next day with a box. With a big smile on his face he said: I have a gift for you. And I though what is this I have a lot of stuff to carry. When I opened it up it was Prahlada Nrsimhadev. It was his deity which he put to rest.
Are you maybe attached to some particular form of the Lord?
I like all the forms. I like Balarama. One day devotees from Chicago congregation asked me to give a talk to the kids (ranging from 6 to 14). They said you speak on Krishna forms. I spoke a little bit and asked all the kids what are their favorite forms and at the end they also asked me. And I said Balarama. He is the original spiritual master; he serves the Lord in different ways, he is the actual God who gives service and accepts service. He gives service in the form of expanding himself in the form of the spiritual world. Spiritual world is Balarama, all the planets of the spiritual world are Balarama, Balarama expands and finally becomes Maha Visnu, who expands in ultimately material manifestation of the creation. Maha Visnu, Garbodaksayi Visnu, Balarama is very interesting person. Lord Nityananda and Lord Balarama is the same person. Same person, two different forms. If we want mercy we have to approach him. Gaura Nitai. Krisna Balarama.
You were also actively involved in the preaching program Prison Ministry. Can you say something about that?
There was one devotee, SP’s disciple named Candrashekara. He was requested by SP to preach to people in (…….) and he didn’t do until 1989. He begun 12 years after SP left, by correspondence. He was writing to so many people. He was also putting out some newsletter by ISKCON Prison Ministry so I became inspired. And also before I met Candrasekara there was one devotee who was put into jail (1986/7) and I started to visit him and send him books. He was preaching there and distributing books and I was sending him all kinds of books. Finally I would visit him with other devotees. He was in prison just outside of New Vrindavan, West Virginia prison. After some time I got inspired by that and one thing led to another – I started writning to some prisoners. And when I came in contact with Candrasekara it really started off. In the early days 1986-91 I was actually visiting people in prisons, in 1996/7 I started to write letters more. Now I do both. We also have a newsletter coming out from Chicago written by one ex-inmate. I am involved with that. Prabhupada wanted this kind of preaching, in 1952 he did program in one prison, place called Tihar jail. That was the place where Gandhi was put into prison. Prabhupada was doing this preaching and he also requested from us. It didn’t really get off the ground until lately. Now we have newsletter, devotees in different places of America who are writing to prisoners and sending books. Syama dasi, she does so much, sends tapes, books, videos … she lives out side. Candrasekara write at least 20 handwritten letters a day. I was doing that for years and I still do. Majority of my postal correspondence is at least 95 % with inmate. We also have a program from New Vrindavana where …….. kesh Prabhu and he also sends tests to inmate to learn. I also do Bhagavad Gita test. As far as making devotees is very difficult because when they get out they go to their material life again. But we have good success. One person just came out last year that time and he joined Chicago temple – he is doing newsletter. But when they are in prison they chant and read SP books. In 2002 we did Vyasa puja book for SP – offering from prisoners. You wouldn’t believe their writings. They never met Prabhupada except maybe one or two who were devotees when they were put into jail. 99 % of them never met Prabhupada and they became devotees in jail. Bir Krishna Maharaja has got the most disciples that are inmate – at least 3.
How can we maintain good sadhana and quality sadhu-sanga?
They go together. Sadhu sanga is done in relationship to sadhana. Real sadhu sanga comes by way of sadhana, not separate. When we perform hearing and chanting together with devotees, attend the morning program we attend the real sadhu sanga. Whatever else is necessary becomes easier when we have this hearing and chanting together. Hearing and chanting, sadhana is the basis of all out spiritual advancement. Prabhupada has written: Attend mangala arotik, chant 16 rounds, and hear Srimad Bhagavatm class. If we don’t do this we will become lack, we will fall down. In many letters he states like this. For those who live outside they also have to have some type of sadhana: they must chant, worship their deities and also associate with devotees. It’s a fact when you go for the morning program your Krishna Consciousness becomes strong, if you don’t go it becomes weak. We need that. It’s our life, our spiritual nourishment.
If you live in temple …. There is no quality sadhu sanga…
We should find other times to associate. We associate through service – that is there. We associate at festivals and preaching programs. We can get so much wrapped up in service that it seems that we are not associating. But actually if you are absorbed in service you are actually associating with everybody because that is the real association. But we must also have sadhana type of service (?), just being there and discussing. Prabhupada talks about devotees should get together and discuss the philosophy. You can also do that separately, you can have classes during the day.,.. bodya…….. (Sanskrit) to discuss the different angles of philosophical teachings in my books. That way we become more fixed and more inspired to continue in our devotional life. Association is not simply coming together and maintaining the building.
Tomorrow Radhanath Maharaja is coming. As far as I know you are friends since small …
Well he joined New Vrindavan 1972 , I joined 1973. At that time we had bramacari asram. So we started KC at the same time. Our services were connected. In bramacari asrama he was pujari and I was the cook for a few years. That meant when other devotees were gone, in the building Prabhupada’s palace there was just myself, Maharaja and one other person. We were taking lunch together. But we hardly saw each other – he was fully engaged in deity worship and me also.
I heard that even before as children you actually lived in the same street?
No, I was born on the east coast, he was born in Chicago. That is nice but it is not true. What rumors get around? (laugh) Somehow or other things always get changed. Even Prabhupada said: ‘’Some say Prabhupada said but Prabhupada didn’t say.’’ There are a lot of Prabhupada things that Prabhupada didin’t say. It is just the way the mind is, it likes to recreate into a new way.
What would be your most important message for Slovenia devotees? And also how do you feel here?
Try to develop real, genuine vaishnava relationships, see each other more important than yourself and serve the other devotees in that mood and Krishna will take care of you. If we develop real friendships with devotees that mean that our KC is nice. Friendship means we have to give up our false ego which is hard. We should be concerned about other devotees and not only about our spiritual development. It’s not that temple president is the only one who is concerned about everyone and everyone else are concerned about themselves. That is not the idea. Devotees are concerned about each other because we are all for the same thing, we all try to develop our relationship with Krishna. When we help each other we help ourselves. There must be genuine vaishnava relationships based on spiritual principles not anything different. Devotee relationships go very deep because Krishna consciousness is deep. There should be genuine concern and care for each devotee. If some devotees have trouble it’s not that he/she is in maya. Why not help them to get out of maya?