Unlimited Opportunity, Limited Time
ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA WAS in his room, speaking with several disciples. “So, Annapūrṇā, you have got some news?” he asked. Annapūrṇā was a young British girl. A few months ago her father had written from England that he might be able to provide a house if some devotees came there.
“Yes,” she replied.
“So, what is our next program?” She was reticent. “That letter from your father is encouraging?”
“Yes, he encourages me. But he says he can’t provide any place if we come there.”
Prabhupāda looked disappointed. “That’s all right. It is up to Kṛṣṇa. When we go to someone to preach, we have to stand before them with folded hands, with all humility: ‘My dear sir, please take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness.’ ”
“Prabhupāda?” Pradyumna spoke up. “I was reading a book by this big atheist swami.”
“There are some letters in the back of the book, and I was looking at them …”
“Atheist swami’s book,” Prabhupāda said, “we have nothing to do with.”
“I wasn’t looking at his philosophy,” Pradyumna explained. “I was just looking at the techniques he used when he was in America. He wanted to go to Europe, so he had a man, a rich benefactor, who went on a six-week tour of France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and then back, arranging lectures. That’s how he did most of his tour. He had one or two influential people, and they arranged everything. And the lectures were arranged, and the society …”
“So, you can arrange like that?” Prabhupāda asked.
“I was thinking that there would be a Royal Asiatic Society in London. I think Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda was a member of that.”
“But where is Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda’s saṅga [association]?” Prabhupāda asked.
“Well,” Pradyumna continued, “still there may be some people you could open correspondence with. They might be interested in sponsoring you.”
“Is there anything about Kṛṣṇa in that swami’s speech?” Prabhupāda asked.
Prabhupāda sat thoughtfully. In England he would have no place to stay. Pradyumna might talk of influential persons traveling ahead and making all the arrangements, but where were such persons? Here was a shy girl who could barely speak up, whose father would not help, and Pradyumna reading an atheist swami and talking of a Royal Asiatic Society – but nothing practical. Prabhupāda had plans, though. He had asked Mukunda and Śyāmasundara to go to London and try to establish an ISKCON center. They had agreed and would be arriving in Montreal from San Francisco in a few days.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, Prabhupāda’s own spiritual master, had wanted Kṛṣṇa consciousness in Europe. During the 1930s he had sent his most experienced sannyāsīs to London, but they had returned, nothing accomplished. It wasn’t possible to teach Kṛṣṇa consciousness to the mlecchas, they had complained. Europeans couldn’t sit long enough to hear the Vaiṣṇava philosophy. One of the sannyāsīs had met Lord Zetland, who had inquired curiously, “Swamiji, can you make me a brāhmaṇa?” The sannyāsī had assured Lord Zetland he could, certainly, if Zetland would give up meat-eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex. “Impossible!” Lord Zetland had replied. And the sannyāsīs had accepted this response as the standard for all Europeans. The sannyāsīs had returned to India; Vaiṣṇavism could never take hold in the West. Prabhupāda had faith that his disciples would succeed; they would help him establish ISKCON centers in Europe, just as they had in North America. Certainly such success would greatly please Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. Prabhupāda told of a man who found a gourd lying on the road and picked it up and then found a stick and a wire and picked them up. In themselves, the three parts were useless. But by putting the gourd, the stick, and the wire together, the man made a vīṇā and began to play beautiful music. Similarly, Prabhupāda had come to the West and found some rejected youths lying here and there, and he himself had been rejected by the people of New York City; but by Kṛṣṇa’s grace the combination had become successful. If his disciples remained sincere and followed his orders, they would succeed in Europe.
Three married couples – Mukunda and Jānakī, Śyāmasundara and Mālatī (with their infant daughter, Sarasvatī), and Gurudāsa and Yamunā – arrived in Montreal, eager to travel to London. These three couples had begun the temple in San Francisco, where they had had close association with Śrīla Prabhupāda. They had helped Prabhupāda introduce kīrtana, prasādam, and Ratha-yātrā among the hippies of Haight-Ashbury. Now they were eager to help him introduce Kṛṣṇa consciousness in London.
Prabhupāda asked the three couples to remain with him in Montreal for a week or two, so that he could train them to perform kīrtana expertly. Chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa was not a theatrical performance but an act of devotion, properly conducted only by pure devotees – not by professional musicians. Yet if Prabhupāda’s disciples became proficient in their singing, Londoners would better appreciate Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
The thought of these devotees preaching in England made Prabhupāda ecstatic. With their kīrtana they would become more popular than the yogīs, with their gymnastics and impersonal meditation. As the London program became a tangible fact, Prabhupāda began to reveal more plans. Prabhupāda already seemed to have hundreds of detailed plans for implementing Kṛṣṇa consciousness around the world – he only needed willing helpers.
In the daily kīrtana rehearsals, Prabhupāda taught the devotees to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and other devotional songs, beginning with a slow tempo and building gradually. He would regularly interrupt and have them begin again. Listening carefully as Yamunā led the chanting, Prabhupāda would stop her at times to correct her Sanskrit pronunciation.
After two weeks in Montreal, the London party came together for a final meeting with Prabhupāda. He was sending them to start a center in London to fulfill his spiritual master’s dream. The sannyāsīs Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had sent to London, Prabhupāda told them, had lectured in a few places, posed for photos with lords and ladies, and then returned to India. But Prabhupāda wanted his disciples to go out boldly, chant the holy name, and attract others to chant.
Lord Caitanya had personally used this method while touring South India. Caitanya-caritāmṛta describes that whoever saw Lord Caitanya became ecstatic in love of God; then that ecstatic person would chant the holy name and ask others to chant; and when they saw that person, they too would become ecstatic. Thus the waves of ecstatic love of Kṛṣṇa would increase.
Prabhupāda predicted that when the devotees chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa, the people of London would hear the mantra, become devotees, and then enlighten others. Kṛṣṇa consciousness would grow. The only requirement was that the chanting be done purely, without any material motivation. Prabhupāda’s enthusiasm was contagious, and as he spoke he filled his disciples with the same contagious enthusiasm.
When Mukunda asked Prabhupāda if he had any specific instructions, Prabhupāda replied with a story. In his youth, he had once seen a movie of Charlie Chaplin. The setting was a formal ball held outdoors, and off from the main dance arena were lanes with benches where couples sat. Some mischievous boys had plastered glue on one of the benches, and a young man and his girlfriend came and sat down. “When the young man got up” – Prabhupāda laughed as he told the story – “his tails tore up the middle.”
Prabhupāda told how the couple had returned to the dance, unaware of what had happened. But now they drew stares from the other dancers. Wondering why he was suddenly attracting so much attention, the young man went into the dressing room and saw in the mirror his ripped coattails. Deliberately, he then tore his coat all the way up to the collar, returned to his partner, and began dancing exuberantly.
Then another man joined, ripping his own coattails and dancing with his partner, as if to compete with the first couple. One by one, the other dancers followed, ripping their coattails and dancing with abandon.
By the conclusion of the story, the devotees in Prabhupāda’s room were all laughing uproariously. But finally their laughter subsided and the meeting ended. Not until the devotees were already at the airport did Mukunda, talking with Śyāmasundara, begin to appreciate and marvel at how expertly Prabhupāda had answered his question. By their bold, enthusiastic, confident preaching, they would attract people. Not everyone would immediately “join in the dancing,” as had the people in the Charlie Chaplin film; the devotees might even be considered crazy at first. But they would be offering Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the highest and rarest gift, and intelligent people would gradually appreciate this, even if at first they scoffed.
By Śrīla Prabhupāda’s order, his London-bound disciples, holding kīrtana in public, would present a profile quite different from the reserved profile of his sannyāsī Godbrothers. His Godbrothers had imitated the British ways; but Prabhupāda wanted the British to imitate the Vaiṣṇavas. To appear in the streets of London with shaven heads and dhotīs would require boldness. But it would be exciting to chant, carrying out the order of Lord Caitanya. And the people would follow – gradually, but definitely. It was the will of Lord Caitanya.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s visit to Montreal took place early in the summer of 1968, six months after his return to America. In India, from July to December of 1967, he had recovered his health, and on December 14 he had returned to San Francisco. After a few weeks he had gone to Los Angeles, where a small group of disciples had opened a storefront temple in a middle-class black and Hispanic neighborhood. The storefront was bare and the location secluded. Prabhupāda had stayed there two months, delivering lectures, holding kīrtanas, and giving strength and inspiration to his disciples. Although a buzzing in his head had made working difficult, he had found the warm climate and sunshine agreeable and had continued to translate Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, dictating tapes and sending them to Boston for typing.
A reporter from Life had come to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s apartment and interviewed him for an upcoming Life feature, “The Year of the Guru.”
When the story had appeared it had mixed Śrīla Prabhupāda and his movement with coverage of other gurus. Although the article had carried a large color photo of Śrīla Prabhupāda and favorably described a reporter’s visit to the New York ISKCON center, Prabhupāda had said that being grouped with gurus who taught concoctions of yoga and meditation was not good.
In May, a few months after leaving Los Angeles, Prabhupāda had paid a first visit to his ISKCON center in Boston. There also he had found a few disciples based in a small storefront. He had lectured at many of the local universities, including Harvard and M.I.T. At M.I.T., addressing a gathering of students and faculty, he had challenged, “Where in this university is there a department to teach scientifically the difference between a living body and a dead body?” The most fundamental science, the science of the living soul, was not being taught.
After Boston, Śrīla Prabhupāda had come to Montreal. And after three months in Montreal, Prabhupāda flew to Seattle, where he stayed for one month. Then he briefly visited Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the ISKCON center was a tiny, isolated storefront.
Prabhupāda’s reasons for traveling from center to center were to train and convince each disciple and to speak with newcomers. Many young people came to hear, but Prabhupāda found the majority already ruined by illicit sex and drugs. They were “rich men’s sons,” but they had become hippies, wandering the streets. By Kṛṣṇa’s grace, now some of them were being saved.
Even while recuperating in India, Prabhupāda had always thought of returning to America to continue his movement. The Indians had seemed interested only in sense gratification, like that of the Americans. But many American youths, disillusioned with their fathers’ wealth, were not going to the skyscrapers or to their fathers’ businesses. As Prabhupāda had seen from his stay in New York City and San Francisco, thousands of youths were seeking an alternative to materialism. Frustrated, they were ripe for spiritual knowledge.
The devotees, still neophytes, knew nothing of spiritual life and in most cases very little of material life. But because they were sincerely taking to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Prabhupāda was confident that their shortcomings would not prevent their spiritual progress. Although naturally beautiful, these Western youths were now dirty and morose; their beauty had become covered. But the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa was reviving them, Prabhupāda said, just as the monsoon revives the land of Vṛndāvana, making it fresh and verdant. And as the Vṛndāvana peacocks sometimes dance jubilantly, so the devotees, having shed their material bonds, were now ecstatically dancing and chanting the holy names. When a reporter asked Prabhupāda if his disciples were hippies, Prabhupāda replied, “No, we are not hippies. We are happies.”
More than being a visiting lecturer or a formal guide, Śrīla Prabhupāda was the spiritual father of his disciples. They accepted him as their real father, and he found them devoted and affectionate, far more than his own family had been. These young American boys and girls – “the flower of your country,” Prabhupāda called them – had received the blessing of Lord Caitanya and were delivering that blessing to their countrymen. Prabhupāda said it was up to his American disciples to save their country. He was giving them the method, but they would have to implement it.
Śrīla Prabhupāda loved his disciples, and they loved him. Out of love, he was giving them the greatest treasure, and out of love they were following his instructions. This was the essence of spiritual life. On the basis of this love, the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement would grow. Not surprisingly, some disciples had fallen away to their former, materialistic way of living. But Prabhupāda sought those sincere souls who would stay. That was the important thing, he said. One moon is more valuable than many stars; so even a few sincere workers would accomplish wonderful things. The sincere and intelligent would stay, and Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu would empower them to carry out His desires for distributing love of Kṛṣṇa. In this way, the devotees’ lives would become perfect. Many disciples, in fact, already felt this happening. Kṛṣṇa consciousness worked because they sincerely practiced it and because Śrīla Prabhupāda carefully and patiently tended the growing plants of transcendental loving service he had planted in their hearts.
Śrīla Prabhupāda returned to find the devotees living and worshiping in an exciting location on Hollywood Boulevard. A large saṅkīrtana party, organized by his disciple Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, would chant Hare Kṛṣṇa on the streets all day and sell Back to Godhead magazines in larger quantities than ever before – as many as two hundred magazines a day, with a collection of over one hundred dollars.
Then one day, shortly after Prabhupāda’s arrival, the landlord evicted the devotees from their place on Hollywood Boulevard. With no temple the devotees moved to scattered locations throughout the city. As many evenings as possible, however, they would all gather in someone’s garage, lent to them for the evening, and Śrīla Prabhupāda would chant Hare Kṛṣṇa with them and lecture.
Then Prabhupāda rented a former Christian church on La Cienega Boulevard. He introduced a more regulated Deity worship and an increased Sunday Love Feast. Each week would bring a new, specially planned festival with a big feast and hundreds of guests. These new programs in Los Angeles encouraged Prabhupāda, and he wanted to see them introduced in ISKCON centers throughout the world.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was planning to go to England. But first he wanted to visit his farm project in West Virginia, and he had also been promising the devotees in San Francisco he would attend their Ratha-yātrā festival in July. This traveling to establish and expand his ISKCON was alone enough to keep him busy; yet he was also always meditating on his work of translating and commenting on Vedic literatures.
In L.A. during December, Śrīla Prabhupāda had begun The Nectar of Devotion, a summary study of Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. The Nectar of Devotion would be a handbook for his disciples, elaborately explaining the science and practice of bhakti-yoga. Simultaneous with The Nectar of Devotion, he had also begun Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a summary study of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam’s Tenth Canto. Visiting the temple only on Sundays, he had spent most of his time at his small rented house on the outskirts of Beverly Hills, where he worked intensely on his two major literary projects.
Prabhupāda’s most ambitious literary undertaking, the completion of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, was to be no less than sixty volumes. He had begun in India in 1959, and all along he had been aware that he was attempting a gigantic task at an advanced age. Now Kṛṣṇa was giving him opportunities both for writing Vedic literatures and for traveling, and he was working at an amazing pace.
The force driving Prabhupāda was the desire of his spiritual master, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. As for how much time he had remaining to execute his mission – that was in Kṛṣṇa’s hands. Everything was up to Kṛṣṇa: “If Kṛṣṇa wants to kill you, no one can save you; and if Kṛṣṇa wants to save you, no one can kill you.” Yet although Prabhupāda was always in transcendental consciousness, beyond the effects of old age, he was aware that he didn’t have many more years left. All along he had had the vision of a spiritual movement for all nations and cultures, and to establish this he was racing against time.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mood of urgency was the natural mood of the Vaiṣṇava preacher – an ambition to engage everyone in loving service to Kṛṣṇa. Without Kṛṣṇa consciousness the bewildered, conditioned souls of Kali-yuga were all heading for the horrible consequences of their sinful lives. Prabhupāda’s sense of urgency, therefore, was an expression of his compassion. He wanted to save the gross materialists, who were blind to the existence of the soul. If they wasted their human life, they would suffer millions of years before getting another chance to awaken their Kṛṣṇa consciousness and go back to Godhead.
The heart attack Prabhupāda had endured in 1967 had accelerated his mood of urgency. Although before the heart attack he had often worked like a young man and played the drum for hours, now Kṛṣṇa’s warning was clear. The heart attack was to have been the time of his death, Prabhupāda had said, but because his disciples had prayed, “Our master has not finished his work. Please protect him,” Kṛṣṇa had spared him. Similarly, on the boat to America in 1965 his heart had almost failed. But then also Kṛṣṇa had saved his life.
The scope of Prabhupāda’s work was enormous; even with many years and good health he could never finish. Prabhupāda saw that in future generations many people would come forward to help, and thus, by a combined effort, the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement would continue to check the forces of Kali-yuga and save the entire world. Caitanya Mahāprabhu had predicted this, and Prabhupāda knew that it must come to pass. But the task of erecting the framework for this universal effort rested on Prabhupāda alone. And he worked tirelessly, knowing that unless he established a complete foundation the entire mission might later collapse.
Beginning with Prabhupāda’s first success in New York City in 1966, Kṛṣṇa had shown unlimited opportunities for spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness. But how much time was there? Only Kṛṣṇa could say; it was up to Him. Prabhupāda remained ever mindful of the vast scope of his mission and the ever-narrowing span of time he had in which to complete it. “I am an old man,” he often told his disciples. “I could pass away at any moment.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda would receive several letters a week from the devotees in London. It was now December 1968 – the devotees had been in London four months – and still they had no temple, nor even a place where they could live and worship together. Mostly they had been visiting Hindu families, holding kīrtana and sharing prasādam. Śrīla Prabhupāda had encouraged this, but after hearing a few reports he decided the program was stagnant. The devotees should not expect much from the Hindus, he said. “They have become hodgepodge due to so many years of subjugation by foreigners and have lost their own culture. … I am concerned to preach this gospel amongst the Europeans and Americans.”
The devotees were jolted, but they knew Prabhupāda was right. Determined to change their tactics, they immediately began lecturing at colleges and universities and chanting in the streets. They were preaching to the British, and it felt right. When they wrote to Prabhupāda that although they had accomplished little they were “planting seeds,” Prabhupāda replied:
Regarding your analogy of sowing Krishna Consciousness seeds, I may inform you that there is a Bengali proverb – Sa bure Meoya Phale. This means that fruits like chestnuts and pomegranates, or similar other valuable fruits and nuts take some time to be fructified. So any good thing comes into our possession after hard struggle and endeavor. So Krishna Consciousness is the greatest of all good fruits. We must therefore have necessary endurance and enthusiasm to get the result. We shall never be disappointed when things are presented in reversed order. Anyway, your honest labor is now coming to be fructified. Always depend upon Krishna and go on working with enthusiasm, patience and conviction.
Through the spring and summer of 1969, Prabhupāda continued touring his American ISKCON centers. From Los Angeles he had sent Gaurasundara and Govinda dāsī, a young married couple, to Hawaii; and on their invitation that he come during the mango season, he joined them. But when he got there in March he found that it was not mango season and that his disciples had accomplished little. They had taken jobs and were working full time just to support themselves.
New York City
April 9, 1969
Prabhupāda traveled to New York City, the birthplace of his Kṛṣṇa consciousness society, where his movement had been growing for nearly three years. Although the center was established and his books were being distributed, he still had to visit to strengthen the devotees. His presence gave them determination and courage. For seven months they had carried on without his personal touch, but his visits – when he would sit in his room and reciprocate warmly with them – were vital. Nothing could equal these intimate meetings.
Many devotees, new and old, crowded into Prabhupāda’s apartment at 26 Second Avenue. “There was one reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser,” Prabhupāda said, “ – he was putting questions to me. And then he wrote an article: ‘The swami is a small man, but he is delivering a great message.’ That is true. I am small. But the message – that is not small.”
Brahmānanda showed Prabhupāda a globe with markers representing ISKCON centers. “Now there is one in North Carolina,” Brahmānanda said.
“Then it becomes fifteen?” Prabhupāda asked. He was smiling and looking directly from one devotee to another. “I want each of you to go and start a center. What is the difficulty? Take one mṛdaṅga. Then another person will come and join you – he will take karatālas. When I came here, Brahmānanda and Acyutānanda were dancing. And after chanting, hundreds of men will come to your storefront and enjoy chanting and dancing.”
“The girls also?” Rukmiṇī asked.
“There is no harm,” Prabhupāda said. “Kṛṣṇa does not make distinction – female dress or male dress. I mean to say, the female body is weaker, but spiritually the body does not matter. In the absence of Lord Nityānanda, His wife, Jāhnavā-devī, was preaching. First you must understand the philosophy. You must be prepared to answer questions. Kṛṣṇa will give you intelligence. Just like I was not prepared to answer all these questions, but Kṛṣṇa gives intelligence.”
After eight days in his New York City home, Prabhupāda went to Buffalo. At State University of New York at Buffalo, Rūpānuga was teaching an accredited course in Kṛṣṇa yoga with some sixty students enrolled, regularly chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra on beads. Prabhupāda stayed for a few days, lecturing and initiating disciples. Then he went to Boston for more initiations and several marriages.
May 9, 1969
The devotees had arranged for Prabhupāda and Allen Ginsberg to chant onstage at Ohio State University.
Allen had been a friend of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement from its first days on the Lower East Side. Shortly after Prabhupāda’s arrival in Columbus, he stopped by Prabhupāda’s house and discussed philosophy with Prabhupāda for several hours. Allen was friendly with Prabhupāda, as always. But he doubted whether Kṛṣṇa consciousness could become popular in America. “The need,” he said, “is for a large, single, unifying religious movement in America.”
“So here is Kṛṣṇa,” Prabhupāda replied, “ – all-attractive. Now you can say, ‘Why shall I accept Kṛṣṇa?’ But since you ask for a unifying element, then I say, ‘Here is Kṛṣṇa.’ Now you can analyze: Why should you accept Kṛṣṇa? And I shall reply, ‘Why you shall not?’ Whatever you want or expect from the Supreme or Unifying, everything is there in Kṛṣṇa.”
If Prabhupāda wanted his movement popularized, Allen suggested, he should consider omitting many of the sectarian Hindu aspects, such as the dress, the food, and the Sanskrit.
Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Prabhupāda replied, was not sectarian or Hindu. Lord Caitanya had said that a person could chant any name of God – but one must chant. As for the food, Prabhupāda explained that any food was acceptable as long as it was purely vegetarian. And dress – there was no stricture that Americans wear robes and shave their heads. The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, Prabhupāda added, was a natural sound, not foreign.
Allen objected. The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra sounded foreign; perhaps they should think of an alternative, more American mantra.
“This is going on,” Prabhupāda replied. “Some people are inclined to one thing and some to others. And it will go on until the end of creation. But our position is that we are searching after the center. And here is the center.”
At Ohio State’s Hitchcock Hall a thousand students occupied the seats, and a thousand more crowded the aisles and stage. The program began with a kīrtana led by Allen Ginsberg. Allen then introduced Prabhupāda, and Prabhupāda lectured. When Prabhupāda began the second and final kīrtana of the evening, the students responded wildly. Those seated stood and danced, some jumping in their seats, and those in the aisles and on the stage also joined in. Amid the thunderous kīrtana of nearly two thousand voices, Prabhupāda began to dance, jumping up and down on the speaker’s dais, his hands raised high. He threw flowers from his garland, and the students scrambled for them. The wildly ecstatic kīrtana continued for almost an hour, and then Prabhupāda brought it to a close.
Afterward hundreds of students crowded close around Prabhupāda, asking him questions. Many students continued to chant as they left the hall, and some left crying from the new sensations of spiritual happiness. The next day the ecstatic night of chanting at Hitchcock Hall was the talk of the campus. Prabhupāda was pleased with the evening, and he described the event in a letter to devotees in Los Angeles:
Yesterday, at the Ohio State University we had a tremendous meeting, and nearly two thousand students were dancing, clapping and chanting along with us. So it is clear that the student community has a nice potential for accepting this philosophy.
May 21, 1969
Accompanied by Kīrtanānanda Swami and Hayagrīva, Prabhupāda then traveled from Columbus to the New Vrindaban farm project in the hills of West Virginia. When their car got stuck in a neighbor’s garden near the entrance to the property, Prabhupāda decided to walk the final two miles along the muddy access road that led to the farm. The road soon ended, however, and Prabhupāda and his two guides picked up a footpath, entering the dense forest.
The mid-May trees were still coming into foliage, and the sunlight broke through the branches to a carpet of brilliant purple phlox. Prabhupāda walked quickly ahead of Kīrtanānanda Swami and Hayagrīva, who hurried to keep up. A winding creek repeatedly crossed the path, and Prabhupāda would cross by stepping from stone to stone. The road, he said, would not be difficult to travel by ox cart; the forest was like a jungle, just as he had expected and wanted.
For the past year, Prabhupāda had corresponded with Kīrtanānanda Swami and Hayagrīva concerning New Vrindaban, and this correspondence had established the direction for Kṛṣṇa conscious country living. Prabhupāda had said he wanted the community based on Vedic ideals, everyone living simply, keeping cows, and working the land. The devotees would have to develop these ideas gradually; it would take time. But even in the beginning the keynote should be “simple living and high thinking.” Because the community would remain completely aloof from the city, it would at first appear inconvenient and austere. But life would be peaceful, free from the anxieties of the artificial urban society based on hard work for sense gratification. And most important, the members of such a community would be serving Kṛṣṇa and chanting His name.
Prabhupāda spoke little, making his way along the path as if at his own home. They stopped beside the creek, and Prabhupāda sat down on a blanket Kīrtanānanda Swami and Hayagrīva spread for him on the grass. “We are stopping for Kīrtanānanda,” Prabhupāda said. “He is tired.” Prabhupāda and his party drank water from the creek, rested briefly, and then continued.
As they rounded a curve in the road, Prabhupāda could see a clearing on the ridge ahead. A small frame house and a barn stood at the lower end of the ridge. These two ancient structures, Hayagrīva explained, were the only buildings on New Vrindaban’s 120 acres. As no vehicles traveled here, the paths were overrun with high grass. A willow spread its branches close by the old house. The settlement was the picture of undisturbed primitive life.
Prabhupāda liked the simple life at New Vrindaban, and whatever simple thing the devotees offered him he accepted with satisfaction. They served him freshly ground wheat cereal cooked in milk, and he said it was wonderful. When he saw the kitchen’s dirt floor covered with cow dung, he approved, saying it was just like in an Indian village.
Prabhupāda also liked his room in the attic, directly above the temple room. He brought out the small Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities he had been traveling with for the last month and a half and had his servant, Devānanda, improvise an altar on a small table to one side of the room. Arranging his two trunks as a desk and placing a picture of his spiritual master on one of the trunks, Prabhupāda immediately resumed his usual schedule.
He would take his late-morning massage sitting outside and then bathe with warm water in an improvised outdoor shower stall. Kīrtanānanda Swami prepared Prabhupāda’s usual lunch of dāl, rice, and capātīs – plus some local pokeweed. The previous summer, Kīrtanānanda Swami and Hayagrīva had picked and canned blackberries, which they now served Prabhupāda as blackberry chutney. The capātīs were from freshly milled whole wheat, and everything was cooked over a wood fire. The best fuel for cooking, Prabhupāda said, was cow dung; wood was second, gas third, and electricity last.
Prabhupāda spent much of the day out of doors, under a persimmon tree about a hundred feet from the house. There he would sit and read at a low table one of the men had built. Often he would look up from his reading and gaze across the deep valley to the distant ridge, where the forest met the sky.
In the late afternoon, devotees would gather under the persimmon tree with Prabhupāda, sitting and talking with him until after sunset. They saw Prabhupāda’s living with them as a practical demonstration of New Vrindaban’s importance; if he, the greatest devotee, could be satisfied living simply and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa in this backwoods setting, then they should follow his example.
Comparing New Vrindaban to the Vṛndāvana in India, Prabhupāda said that New Vrindaban was in some ways better, since Vṛndāvana, India, was now congested with worldly men. Five hundred years ago the Gosvāmī followers of Lord Caitanya had excavated the sites of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in Vṛndāvana, and only pure devotees had lived there. But in recent years Vṛndāvana had become a place for materialists and impersonalists. New Vrindaban, however, should admit only the spiritually inclined. In Vedic society, Prabhupāda said, everyone had been satisfied to live like this, in a small village beside a river. Factories were unnecessary. Prabhupāda wanted this Vedic way of life for the entire world, and New Vrindaban could serve as a model for the benefit of the masses.
New Vrindaban had no phone, and mail had to be fetched by a two-mile walk. In this, Prabhupāda said, New Vrindaban was like Vṛndāvana, India – both Vṛndāvanas lacked in modern amenities. This “difficulty,” however, coupled well with the Vaiṣṇava philosophy that modern amenities were not worth the trouble required to get them. A devotee, accepting whatever nature provides, spends his time and energy in spiritual life.
New Vrindaban’s only cow was a black and white crossbreed named Kāliya, and Prabhupāda would drink a little of her milk morning, noon, and night. “I haven’t tasted milk like this in sixty-five years,” he said. One day, he predicted, New Vrindaban would have many cows, and their udders would be so full that the dripping milk would muddy the pastures. Although people in the West were blind to their great sin of cow slaughter and its grievous karmic reactions, he said, New Vrindaban would demonstrate to the world the social, moral, and economic advantages of protecting the cow and utilizing her milk, rather than killing her and eating her flesh.
Prabhupāda wanted the New Vrindaban devotees to build cottages. He wanted many buildings, even if at first they were primitive, and he gave a plan for a simple structure of baked mud. He also wanted a Kṛṣṇa conscious school, and the country, he said, would be the best place for it. “The city is made by man, and the country is made by God,” Prabhupāda said, paraphrasing the British poet Cowper. The young students should learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, and at the same time they should become pure devotees. In their play they could imitate the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa and His cowherd boyfriends, with one child massaging Kṛṣṇa, another wrestling with Kṛṣṇa – just as in the spiritual world. The women in New Vrindaban, Prabhupāda said, should care for the children, clean the temple, cook for the Deities, and churn butter.
He had many plans for New Vrindaban, and he was giving only idea seeds, with few details. “You develop it to your heart’s content,” he told Kīrtanānanda Swami. An ideal Vedic community with the members producing all their own food and necessities was what Prabhupāda wanted. Unless the devotees at New Vrindaban could become self-sufficient, he said, there was no use in their occupying such a big piece of land.
Even before Prabhupāda’s visit to New Vrindaban, he had requested Kīrtanānanda Swami and Hayagrīva to plan for seven temples on the property. These seven temples should be named after the major temples of old Vṛndāvana: Madana-mohana, Govindajī, Gopīnātha, Rādhā-Dāmodara, Rādhā-ramaṇa, Śyāmasundara, and Rādhā-Gokulānanda. Prabhupāda said he would personally secure Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities for each temple.
It was inevitable that Prabhupāda leave New Vrindaban; letters from London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco compelled him to travel. On the day of his departure, the New Vrindaban devotees teased him, saying he couldn’t go. Kīrtanānanda Swami went so far as to say they would block his way on the road. But Prabhupāda corrected him, “You can’t do that to the spiritual master.”
Accompanied by Kīrtanānanda Swami and the New Vrindaban devotees, Prabhupāda walked along the forest path. The New Vrindaban countryside was verdant, the summer air hot and moist. Prabhupāda was silent. He had come here to encourage his disciples, and he himself had also become encouraged. Here was simple village life as Kṛṣṇa Himself had lived it, depending on the land and the cow. That cow Kāliya had given such nice milk. New Vrindaban’s cows were not ordinary; they knew they would not be killed. So far only a few devotees were here, but by Kṛṣṇa’s grace more would come.
Prabhupāda and Kīrtanānanda Swami walked together along the forest path, saying little, but their mutual understanding was deep. Prabhupāda hadn’t given him many specific instructions: a few words while sitting or walking together outdoors, a gesture, a facial expression of pleasure or concern. Kīrtanānanda Swami could understand, however, that New Vrindaban was very dear to his spiritual master and should become dear to him also. Prabhupāda assured him that because the devotees of New Vrindaban were centered on chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, serving the Deities, and protecting the cows, Kṛṣṇa would bless them with success. The community was already successful, and Kṛṣṇa would continue to protect the devotees against all impediments and difficulties.
At the end of the two-mile walk, Prabhupāda, surrounded by his followers, stood beside the car that was to take him to the airport in Pittsburgh, from where he would fly to Los Angeles. His suitcases, which had come out on a horse-drawn cart, were loaded into the car’s luggage compartment, and Prabhupāda got in the back seat. Amid cries of “Hare Kṛṣṇa!” and “Prabhupāda!” the car pulled out onto the country highway, and Prabhupāda continued chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa on his beads.
Prabhupāda had been hearing regularly from his six disciples in London. Having little money and living as separate couples in different parts of the city, they found their greatest inspiration in Prabhupāda’s letters. They would repeatedly read his instructions and dream of when he would one day visit them in London. Although in San Francisco Kṛṣṇa consciousness had been fun for the three couples, in England it was becoming more and more difficult. The devotees, being foreigners, were not allowed to earn a salary, and except for a few contacts they knew no one. Although unable to live together, they were trying to maintain their morale and Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Yamunā: I had to move to a Jamaican ghetto, the top floor of one of the buildings. It was awful. Day after day after day I would sit and listen to a tape of Prabhupāda singing. It was a beautiful tape he had just done in Los Angeles. And I would pray to him, “Please come. Please come.”
Mukunda: Letters – that’s what kept us alive. Prabhupāda would write and say, “I am coming.” Two or three times he wrote to say, “I am coming by March.” And we would write back and say we wanted to get a place first. We really felt it wouldn’t be right for him to come unless we had a place first. He wrote a letter to my wife: “I was planning to come by March, but your husband is not allowing me. What can I do?”
The devotees in London had not seen Prabhupāda in four months, and still there was no date set for his visit. Although they sometimes became discouraged and talked of going back to America, they persevered. Prabhupāda had promised he would come when they got a temple, and that promise helped them remember that they were personally serving him. They felt that he was doing the work and they were his assistants. His absence was only external. By his instructions, whether written, spoken, or remembered in the heart, he was always with them. He was constantly directing them.
While trying out various schemes to popularize Kṛṣṇa consciousness in London, Śyāmasundara arranged for a program to which he invited many of London’s prominent citizens. About one hundred people responded to Śyāmasundara’s formal invitation – one member of Parliament, a few government officials, but mostly young people.
The devotees served a feast and showed a film of Śrīla Prabhupāda walking by Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park. Prabhupāda had sent a tape recording specifically for the evening, and the devotees highlighted it as the evening’s special attraction, even though they hadn’t had time to hear it in advance. Gurudāsa started the tape, and suddenly there was Prabhupāda’s voice.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please accept my greetings in the happy year of 1969, and blessings of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for your kindly participating in this happy meeting of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.”
Although Prabhupāda had recorded the tape in the quiet of his room in Los Angeles, the devotees were astonished to feel Prabhupāda’s direct presence, preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness to the English.
“Lord Caitanya informed us that the absolute Supreme Personality of Godhead can descend in transcendental sound vibration, and thus when we chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra offenselessly we immediately contact Kṛṣṇa and His internal energy. Thus we become immediately purified from all dirty things in our heart.”
The guests sat listening politely as Prabhupāda described the soul’s travail of transmigrating from body to body and the path of the soul’s liberation through chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare / Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Kṛṣṇa consciousness was “transcendentally colorful and full of transcendental pleasure.” Chanting could be done anywhere – on the street, in the park, or at home. Prabhupāda concluded his talk.
“But to assemble and sit together we require a place for congregation. Therefore a temple of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is required to be established in various centers in the world, irrespective of the particular country’s culture, philosophy, and religion. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is so universal and perfect that it can appeal to everyone, irrespective of his position. Therefore I fervently appeal to you all present in this meeting to extend your cooperation for successful execution of this great movement. Thanking you once more.”
There was a pause, and then Prabhupāda began playing the harmonium and singing Hare Kṛṣṇa. Afterward he again spoke.
“My disciples in London have very eagerly asked me to visit there, and I am also very anxious to see you all. So as soon as there is opportunity, I shall go with my saṅkīrtana party, who are now engaged in Los Angeles. And that will be a great pleasure, for you all to meet together. That is all.”
Only a few weeks after this meeting the group received their first important publicity: a photo of the six devotees and little Sarasvatī appeared with an article by the famous columnist Atticus in the Sunday Times. Gurudāsa was quoted as saying, “Hare Kṛṣṇa is a chant which sets God dancing on your tongue. Try chanting ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and see the difference.” The article described the missionary group from America as “very gentle people, a bit unworldly, but not at all ingenuous.” Citing their renunciation of illicit sex and intoxication, the article commented, “Tame you might think, but they look very well on it. And what’s likely to earn them a public is their chanting.” Within a few days the same article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, but with a new headline: “Krishna Chants Startle London.” Prabhupāda was pleased when he saw the headline. Indeed, his gṛhastha disciples had succeeded where his sannyāsī Godbrothers had failed. Although several of Prabhupāda’s scholarly Godbrothers had lectured around England over the last thirty-five years, only one person, an elderly English lady named Elizabeth Bowtell, had shown interest.
Yamunā had written Prabhupāda to find out if they should visit Mrs. Bowtell (she had received the name Vinoda-vāṇī dāsī), and Prabhupāda had replied, “The history of this Vani dasi is that she is an old lady, and has a house and has hung a sign, Gaudiya Math, but that is all.” If they liked, Prabhupāda had said, they could pay her a courtesy call and see if she would let them use her place for kīrtanas. One of the men had gone to see her at her home, several hours out of the city. But from behind her closed door she had refused to meet with him unless he brought an introductory letter from the Gaudiya Math in New Delhi. Vinoda-vāṇī dāsī was the fruit of thirty-five years of sannyāsīs’ preaching in England, whereas in four months Prabhupāda’s young American missionaries were “startling London.”
After months of living scattered throughout the city, the devotees met a landlord who allowed them to stay together rent-free in a vacant warehouse at Covent Garden. The devotees improvised a temporary temple and soon recruited their first three British devotees. The newcomers at once took to the full Kṛṣṇa conscious regimen, including the dhotī and shaved head – and loved it.
The devotees, thrilled to see their group expanding and Prabhupāda’s potency working, decided to phone Prabhupāda from their landlord’s office. The telephone was a conference phone, and Prabhupāda’s voice came over the little loudspeaker on the desk. The devotees sat around the desk, listening tensely.
“Prabhupāda,” Mukunda said, “we have some new brahmacārīs here.” “Oh, are they cooking capātīs?” Prabhupāda asked from across the ocean. The devotees laughed uncontrollably, then hushed to hear more.
“No,” said Mukunda. “But they will be now.” The devotees each told Prabhupāda how they missed him, and he said he missed them too and would come as soon as they could get a place.
After allowing the devotees three months in the warehouse at Covent Garden, the landlord announced that he needed to use the space and the devotees would have to move. The couples moved to three separate locations, and again their strong group spirit dissipated.
Prabhupāda began sending two or three letters a week to the scattered couples, praising them for their sincere determination. The devotees would gather regularly, if only to show one another their latest letters. Prabhupāda wrote to Mukunda of his desire to preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West, specifically London:
So far as I am concerned, I always wish only to expedite my mission of life to spread Krishna Consciousness in the Western part of the world. I am still firmly convinced that if I can establish this movement through the help of all the boys and girls who have now joined with me, then it will be a great achievement. I am old man, and there has already been warning, but before I leave this body, I wish to see some of you very strong in Krishna Consciousness understanding. I am very glad and proud also that you six boys and girls, although you have not been able to establish a nice center in London, still you have done your best. And the news has reached far away in India that my disciples are doing very nice work in Krishna Consciousness. So that is my pride. I have received a letter from my Godbrother informing me that it has been advertised in India that in Vietnam also somebody is spreading Hare Krishna Movement. So there is no need to be disappointed. You go on with your work as best as Krishna gives you the opportunity, and there is no cause of your anxiety. Everything is going smoothly. But since you are now separated, the strength of your activities appears to be a little disturbed. Now you try to assemble together in the same spirit as you were doing, and in that case, temple or no temple, your movement will go on progressively. We are not much concerned about the temple because temple worship is not primary factor in this age. Primary factor is Sankirtan. But sometimes we want a center where people may gather and see, so a temple is required secondarily. So try your best immediately to live together. I am very much eager to see that you are again living together.
For Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples, his instruction that they preach in London was much more binding than any other obligation. He was in their hearts, and they thought of him constantly. In carrying out his orders and trying to please him, they were constrained not by force or law but by love. To please the spiritual master is to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead; and for Prabhupāda’s sincere disciples, to please him seemed the end in itself.
June 23, 1969
After leaving New Vrindaban, Śrīla Prabhupāda visited his center in Los Angeles, where he installed Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Although, as he had told his disciples in London, the “primary factor” was saṅkīrtana, Deity worship was also necessary. In his writings Prabhupāda had discussed the need for Deity worship, and he had gradually introduced higher and higher standards of Deity worship in each of his ISKCON centers. Los Angeles, having become the model ISKCON center, was the natural place for him to introduce a more opulent and demanding standard for worshiping Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.
While more than a hundred devotees and guests sat in the spacious hall, Prabhupāda bathed and dressed the little forms of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, then placed Them on the altar. He was inviting Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa to descend, to give his disciples the opportunity to serve Them. He was offering his disciples Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, with faith that his disciples would not neglect Them. If the devotees somehow lost their enthusiasm, Prabhupāda explained in his lecture, then the worship would become like idol worship.
“If there is no life, then it is idol worship. Where there is life, feeling, then you think, ‘Where is Kṛṣṇa? Here is Kṛṣṇa. Oh, I have to serve Him. I have to dress Him. I have to serve Rādhārāṇī. She is here. Oh, I just have to do it very nicely and, as far as possible, decorate Her to the best capacity.’ If you think like this, then you are Kṛṣṇa conscious. But if you think that it is a brass-made doll or idol, then Kṛṣṇa will reciprocate with you accordingly. If you think that this is a brass-made idol, then it will remain brass-made idol to you forever. But if you elevate yourself to a higher platform of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, then Kṛṣṇa – this very Kṛṣṇa – will talk with you. This Kṛṣṇa will talk with you.”
With each visit to each center, Prabhupāda gave the devotees more service, deepening their commitment to Kṛṣṇa. All the various services were actually the spiritual master’s responsibility, he said, and when a disciple cleaned the temple or performed any service, he did so as the spiritual master’s assistant. And any job done improperly was the spiritual master’s anxiety. If the devotees whimsically changed the Deity worship or neglected the temple, then Prabhupāda, more than any disciple, would feel distress.
Whenever Prabhupāda saw a disciple eager to take on more of the anxiety of preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he would assign that devotee greater responsibility. Anxiety for serving Kṛṣṇa, Prabhupāda said, was the greatest satisfaction. As Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had stated, “The trouble I encounter in Your devotional service I will consider the greatest happiness.”
Satisfaction for the devotee, Prabhupāda explained, lay in pleasing the previous spiritual masters, and that was best accomplished by preaching to the fallen souls. To the degree that the devotees carried out that order, they would satisfy their spiritual master and subsequently feel satisfaction themselves. Prabhupāda gave the example of Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs. When the gopīs pleased Kṛṣṇa in the rāsa dance, Kṛṣṇa smiled, and when the gopīs saw Kṛṣṇa’s smile their happiness and beauty increased a million times. When Kṛṣṇa saw the newly increased beauty of the gopīs He became more pleased, and thus the happiness and beauty of the gopīs increased even more. This loving competition increased on and on unlimitedly.
Even in dealings between spiritual master and disciple a sense of loving competition prevailed, each wanting to serve the other, neither seeking service for himself. Prabhupāda was increasing the duties and responsibilities in each of his ISKCON centers, and sincere disciples were coming forward to accept those responsibilities; thus everyone was feeling satisfaction. This was pure devotional service – to be free from all material desires and to serve Kṛṣṇa as directed by the spiritual master and the scriptures.
When Prabhupāda said that his disciples would become happy by serving Kṛṣṇa, he spoke from his own deep realization of that ecstasy. Whenever he installed a Deity in one of the temples, his ecstasy was greater than that of any of his disciples. At the Ratha-yātrā festivals in Golden Gate Park or any public preaching function, he was the most enlivened. He, more than any of his disciples, wanted the public to come and chant and dance in the temple and see the Deity of Kṛṣṇa, and when they did, he was the most pleased. And if a disciple fell away, Prabhupāda was the most displeased.
Nor was Prabhupāda aloof from the details of temple management: the cost of things, how the devotees were being received in public, how each disciple was advancing. Although his disciples saw him as the most exalted Vaiṣṇava and intimate associate of Lord Kṛṣṇa, they knew he was always available to guide them in their services. He was their leader, but he was with them. He was far above them, but he remained close to them. Only rarely did he leave them behind – as at the Los Angeles Deity installation, when he began to cry, speaking directly to Kṛṣṇa: “Kṛṣṇa, I am most rotten and fallen, but I have brought this thing for You. Please take it.” Except for such rare moments, Prabhupāda’s disciples saw him preaching and serving along with them.
July 25, 1969
The day before the Ratha-yātrā festival, Prabhupāda arrived at the San Francisco airport, where a crowd of fifty chanting devotees greeted him. Reporters stepped forward with what to them was an important, relevant question: “Swami, what is your opinion on the recent manned U.S. moon landing?”
“Shall I flatter you or tell the truth?” Prabhupāda asked.
The truth, they said.
“It is a waste of time because it does not benefit you if you cannot live there. The time could have been better spent in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We must go beyond this universe to the spiritual sky, which is eternal, beyond birth, death, old age, and disease.” The San Francisco Chronicle printed a picture and story: “Ecstasy in Concourse B.”
On the day of the Ratha-yātrā parade, a hundred devotees and a crowd of one thousand gathered on Haight Street before the tall cart. The deities of Jagannātha, Subhadrā, and Balarāma, from their elevated platform within the cart, smiled down upon the crowd. A group of devotee-musicians seated themselves within the cart, made last-minute checks of their loudspeaker system, and began kīrtana. In the center of the cart, just beneath the deity platform, a red upholstered vyāsāsana awaited Prabhupāda’s arrival.
As Prabhupāda’s car approached he could hear the cries of the devotees, and as he stepped from the car he saw them all bow down in obeisances. Folding his hands and smiling, he acknowledged his enthusiastic disciples, and he looked around with pleasure at the large crowd that had already gathered. Turning toward the cart, he beheld the deities on their throne, the same deities who had inaugurated Ratha-yātrā in America two years before. They were beautifully dressed and garlanded, and multicolored pennants and thick garlands of carnations decorated their cart. Ratha-yātrā was becoming more wonderful each year. Prabhupāda bowed down before Jagannātha, Subhadrā, and Balarāma, and his disciples all bowed with him.
As Prabhupāda took his seat on the cart the kīrtana began again, and the cart, pulled with two long ropes by dozens of men and women, slowly began to move forward. Buckets of burning frankincense poured aromatic clouds from the deities’ platform above Prabhupāda’s head, as slowly the cart moved along the road to the park.
“How many people are behind us?” Prabhupāda asked, turning to Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, who rode beside him on the cart and had been leading the kīrtana. Tamāla Kṛṣṇa climbed back and surveyed the crowd as far as he could see.
“Sing ‘Jaya Jagannātha,’ ” Prabhupāda said, and Tamāla Kṛṣṇa then changed the chant from Hare Kṛṣṇa to “Jaya Jagannātha! Jaya Jagannātha!”
Throughout the parade Prabhupāda sat serenely watching, his right hand in his bead bag. The large crowd consisted mostly of young hippies but also included businessmen dressed in suits and ties, elderly persons with their grandchildren and families, and a few stray dogs. A mixed Sunday crowd.
Suddenly devotees in front began shouting, “Stop the cart! Stop the cart!” Ahead, the low arch of a park bridge spanned the roadway. The devotees managed to stop the 35-foot-high cart just before it reached the bridge. Although the parade appeared to have reached an unforeseen impasse, the chanting continued unabated. The previous year the procession had taken this same route – with a smaller cart – and even then Śyāmasundara had had to climb up and saw off the spire. This year, however, Nara-Nārāyaṇa had devised a collapsible dome with a crank to lower the canopy and superstructure. When Prabhupāda had heard of these plans, he had asked, “Are you sure you want to depend on mechanical means? It could be a disaster.” Now the time to lower the canopy had come, and the crank wouldn’t work.
With the cart stopped before the bridge, the chanters gathered in greater numbers, facing Prabhupāda and Lord Jagannātha. Under the bridge at least a thousand voices sang together, creating an incredible echo. Then Prabhupāda stood, raised his arms to the crowd, and began dancing.
Bhavānanda: Everyone went wild. The sound was so uproarious you were deafened under that bridge. Prabhupāda was dancing, jumping on the cart.
Nara-Nārāyaṇa: He was dancing, and as he danced his feet crushed the flowers. His garland broke and flowers began cascading everywhere as he danced up and down. He was leaping very deliberately, almost like slow motion.
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Prabhupāda was jumping up and down, and the people went crazy seeing him in complete ecstasy. He kept jumping and slowly turned around until he was face to face with Lord Jagannātha.
Prabhupāda sat down and still the car didn’t go, and the people were roaring.
“What do they want?” Prabhupāda asked Tamāla Kṛṣṇa.
“I think they want to see you dance again, Śrīla Prabhupāda,” Tamāla Kṛṣṇa replied.
“Do you think so?”
“Yes.” He then got up and started dancing again. The white wool cap pushed to the back of his head, his arms extended, with the right hand still clutching the japa bead bag, his right forefinger extended, and long robes flowing.
The ecstatic chanting and dancing continued. After about fifteen minutes, Nara-Nārāyaṇa finally got the crank to work, and down came the canopy. Again the cart moved forward, under the bridge and on through the park. The crowd had grown now to ten thousand. This was much bigger than any Kṛṣṇa conscious festival ever held before.
Bhavānanda: Many of these people who attended Ratha-yātrā were intoxicated. We were not intoxicated, of course, but we were higher than they. That we could understand. Everyone was smiling, everyone was laughing, everyone was in ecstasy, everyone was dancing, everyone was chanting. And we were doing it more than anyone. We were doing more chanting, more laughing and smiling, and feeling more freedom. We were free to have a shaved head, free to wear a dhotī, free to blow a conchshell, free to spin around on the street and jump up. Even if you were a hippie you couldn’t be more far out than the ratha cart and Jagannātha, because no one looks more far out than Him. The hippies had come dressed up in outfits with big feathers in their hair and everything, but they were dim compared to Jagannātha.
The parade route ended at an oceanside dance hall, The Family Dog Auditorium, where the devotees had prepared ten thousand feast plates of prasādam – fruit salad, apple chutney, halavā, and watermelon slices. Although the cart had stopped, the chanting continued, as Prabhupāda led the crowd inside the auditorium to a temporary stage and altar the devotees had erected among the bizarre trappings of the dance hall. A giant silk screen of Lord Caitanya covered the hall’s Tibetan maṇḍala, and pictures of Lord Viṣṇu and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī were on the stage. The Jagannātha deities now looked down from their high platform above Prabhupāda’s seat, and a garlanded statue of Lord Kṛṣṇa stood on a marble pillar.
Prabhupāda began speaking, and the crowd quieted. He quoted a song by Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura: “My dear Lord Caitanya, please be merciful upon me. I do not find anyone as merciful as You.” Drawing the audience’s attention to the large silkscreen of Lord Caitanya, Prabhupāda described the Lord’s merciful distribution of the holy name of God. Lord Caitanya, he said, was teaching the same thing Lord Kṛṣṇa had taught in Bhagavad-gītā: “My dear sons, do not suffer in this abominable condition of material existence. Come back to Me. Come back to home. Enjoy eternal, blissful life, a life of knowledge.”
Prabhupāda explained the simplicity of Kṛṣṇa consciousness:
“Lord Caitanya appeared five hundred years ago to establish the direct principles of Bhagavad-gītā. He showed that even if you do not understand the process of religion, then simply chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare / Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. The results are practical. For example, when we were chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa all the members who are assembled here were joining in, but now when I am talking about philosophy some are leaving. It is very practical. You can see. The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is so enchanting that anyone in any condition can take part. And if he continues to chant, gradually he will develop his dormant love of God. It is very simple.
“We are requesting everyone to chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra and take prasādam. When you are tired of chanting, the prasādam is ready; you can immediately take prasādam. And if you dance, then all bodily exercise is Kṛṣṇa-ized. And all of the attempts of the yoga processes are attained by this simple process.
“So chant, dance, take prasādam. Even if you do not at first hear this philosophy, it will act, and you will be elevated to the highest platform of perfection.”
In the middle of a winter of struggle came a fortunate break for the London devotees: a meeting with George Harrison of the Beatles. For a long time the devotees had been thinking of ways to get the Beatles to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. To the Beatles’ Apple Records Studio they had once sent an apple pie with Hare Krishna lettered on it. Another time they had sent a wind-up walking apple with the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra printed on it. They had even sent a tape of one of their kīrtanas and had received a standard rejection letter from Apple Records. So it seemed to be Kṛṣṇa’s special arrangement when Śyāmasundara suddenly met one of the most sought-after celebrities in the world, George Harrison.
In a crowded room at Apple Records, Śyāmasundara, shavenheaded and wearing robes, sat hoping for a chance to have a few words with someone connected with the Beatles. Then George came down the stairs from a conference. As he entered the room, he saw Śyāmasundara. Walking over and sitting down beside Śyāmasundara, he asked, “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to meet the Hare Kṛṣṇa people for the last couple of years.” Śyāmasundara and George talked together for an hour, while everyone else hovered around. “I’ve really been trying to meet you people,” George said. “Why don’t you come to my place tomorrow?”
The next day Śyāmasundara went to George’s for lunch, where he met the other Beatles: Ringo Starr, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney. They all had questions, but George was especially interested.
George: I had a copy of the Hare Kṛṣṇa album with Śrīla Prabhupāda singing Hare Kṛṣṇa with the devotees. I’d had the record at least two years. But I got it the week it was pressed. I was open to it. You attract those things. So I used to play that a lot of the time. I was chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra long before I met Śyāmasundara, Gurudāsa, and Mukunda. I was just pleased to hear the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra and have a copy of the record.
And I knew about Prabhupāda because I had read all the liner notes on that album. Having been to India I could tell where the devotees were all coming from, with the style of dress and shaved heads. I had seen them on the streets of Los Angeles and New York. Having read so many books and looking for yogīs, my concept of the devotees wasn’t like the other people, who think the devotees have all escaped from a lunatic asylum in their pajamas. No, I was aware of the thing and that it was a pretty heavy one, much more austerities than other groups – like no coffee, chocolate, or tea.
Śyāmasundara continued to see George regularly, and they soon became friends. George, who had been practicing a mantra given him by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, began to hear for the first time about bhakti-yoga and the Vedic philosophy. He talked openly to Śyāmasundara, Gurudāsa, and Mukunda of his spiritual quest and his realizations of karma.
George: A yogī I met in India said, “You are really lucky. You have youth, fame, fortune, health, but at the same time that’s not enough for you. You want to know about something else.” Most people don’t even get to the point where they realize there’s something beyond that wall. They are just trying to get up on top of that wall, to be able to eat and have a nice house and be comfortable and all that. But I was fortunate enough to get all that in time to realize there’s something else to life, whereas most people get worn out just trying to attain material things.
After a visit to Haight-Ashbury in 1967 George had begun to feel guilty for his role in promulgating the LSD culture. He had had the impression that the hippies of Haight-Ashbury were creative craftsmen, but when he saw them drugged, dirty, and hopeless – “a West Coast extension of the Bowery” – he felt partly responsible. He decided to use his influential position by writing and singing songs about something more than psychedelics and sex. He was also feeling an increasing interest in Indian spirituality, due, he felt, to karma from his previous lives.
George: I feel at home with Kṛṣṇa. I think that’s something that has been there from a previous birth. So it was like the door was opening to me at that time, but it was also like a jigsaw puzzle, and I needed all these little pieces to make a complete picture. And that is what has been happening by the devotees and Swami Bhaktivedanta coming along, or some devotee giving me a book or my hearing that album. It’s all been slowly fitting together.
And these are some of the reasons why I responded to Śyāmasundara and Gurudāsa when they first came to London. Let’s face it, if I’m going to have to stand up and be counted, then I’ll be with these guys rather than with those over there. It’s like that. I’ll be with the devotees rather than with the straight people who are the so-called saints.
George offered to help the devotees get a building in London, and he and Śyāmasundara spoke of making a Hare Kṛṣṇa record. But Śyāmasundara never pressed him.
George was the glamorous superstar, the “quiet, serious Beatle,” the fabulous guitarist and singer who had access to all the greats, to presidents and queens, wherever he went. And Śyāmasundara had a glamor of his own. He was tall, six feet two, and although shavenheaded, strikingly handsome. And he was a Vaiṣṇava, fully dedicated to the Indian spirituality George was so fond of.
When Prabhupāda heard about George, he took seriously the possibility that George might fully take up Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Carrying this to its logical conclusion, Prabhupāda envisioned a world revolution in consciousness – spearheaded by the Kṛṣṇa conscious Beatles:
It is understood from your letter that Mr. George Harrison has a little sympathy for our movement, and if Krishna is actually satisfied on him surely he will be able to join with us in pushing on the Samkirtan movement throughout the world. Somehow or other the Beatles have become the cynosure of the neighboring European countries and America also. He is attracted by our Samkirtan Party and if Mr. George Harrison takes the leading part in organizing a huge Samkirtan Party consisting of the Beatles and our ISKCON boys, surely we shall change the face of the world so much politically harassed by the maneuvers of the politicians.
For the London devotees, George’s friendship heightened the excitement of Prabhupāda’s coming to London. Now that a world-famous personality was waiting to meet Prabhupāda, they felt perhaps they had another way to please him and to make preaching in London a success.
George, by his association with Kṛṣṇa consciousness and by dint of his own spiritual evolution, began to express his devotion to Lord Kṛṣṇa in his songs. Reading Prabhupāda’s Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, he could appreciate the superiority of the personal conception of God over the impersonal. Gurudāsa showed George the verse in the Gīta where Kṛṣṇa says that He is the basis of the impersonal Brahman. George liked the concepts of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but he was wary of showing exclusive devotion to Prabhupāda and Kṛṣṇa. The devotees, therefore, dealt with him accordingly, so as not to disturb him.
On January 11 Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote another letter to the devotees in London, expressing more ideas of how George could best serve Kṛṣṇa:
I am so glad that Mr. Harrison is composing songs like “Lord whom we so long ignored.” He is very thoughtful. When we actually meet, I shall be able to give him thoughts about separation from Krishna, and they will be able to compose very attractive songs for public reception. The public is in need of such songs, and if they are administered through nice agents like the Beatles, it will surely be a great success.
Prabhupāda cautioned the devotees not to simply depend on George for help but to try to find a building themselves and rent it. George did want to help, however, and again he suggested the devotees make a record on the Apple label. An old favorite idea of the London devotees had been to get the Beatles to make a record chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa; if the Beatles did it, the mantra would certainly become world-famous. George liked the idea, but he preferred that the devotees sing it and he produce it on the Apple label. “You guys make the money, rather than we get it,” he said. “Let’s make a record.”
So the devotees went over to George’s house for a chanting session. George dubbed in his guitar, and a few weeks later the devotees returned and heard their tape. George was ready to try a session at the studio, so the devotees agreed to meet him and his musician friend Billy Preston at Trident Studios on St. Anne’s Alley. They recorded for a few hours; the tape sounded good. George and Śyāmasundara agreed on a date for the actual recording.
On the day of the recording about a dozen devotees, including some newly recruited Britishers, assembled at E.M.I. recording studios on Abbey Road. When the first group of devotees arrived in George’s Mercedes, a crowd of teenagers began singing Hare Kṛṣṇa to the tune popularized by the rock musical Hair. While Yamunā applied Vaiṣṇava tilaka to the foreheads of the recording technicians, Mālatī began unpacking the picnic baskets of prasādam she had brought, and some of the other devotees put up pictures of Kṛṣṇa and lit incense. The studio was Kṛṣṇa-ized.
With Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, operating the control console, the recording session began. Everyone worked quickly, making Side One of the 45 rpm record in about an hour. George played organ, and Mukunda played mṛdaṅga. Yamunā sang the lead with Śyāmasundara backing her, and the other voices blended in a chorus. And to make it come out exactly right, everyone concentrated on Prabhupāda and prayed for spiritual strength.
On the fourth take, everything went smoothly, with Mālatī spontaneously hitting a brass gong at the end. Then they recorded the flip side of the record: prayers to Śrīla Prabhupāda, Lord Caitanya and His associates, and the six Gosvāmīs. Afterward, George dubbed in the bass guitar and other voices. The devotees, engineers – everyone – felt good about it. “This is going to be big,” George promised.
As the record went into production the devotees returned to their regular work, still living separately. Prabhupāda set the time of his arrival for early September. He would go to Hamburg and then come to London, he said – even if there was no temple. Miraculously, only two months before Prabhupāda’s arrival, things began to come together.
Gurudāsa met a real estate agent with a building on Bury Place, near the British Museum; the devotees could move in immediately. An ideal location, forty-one pounds a week, and immediate occupancy – it was wonderful. Mukunda wrote Prabhupāda asking him for money for the down payment. Prabhupāda agreed. Śyāmasundara got a letter from George on Apple Corporation Ltd. stationery stating that Apple would guarantee payments if the devotees defaulted. Within a week, the devotees had a five-story building in central London.
But when the devotees went to live at their new center on Bury Place, city officials said they did not have the proper housing permits. The red tape could take weeks, even months. Again the devotees were without a place to live and worship together. Śyāmasundara, however, on faith that everything would work out, began constructing a temple room of California redwood in the building.
John Lennon then suggested to Śyāmasundara that the devotees come and live with him at Tittenhurst, a large estate he had recently purchased near Ascot. He needed some renovation done, and if the devotees would help he would give them a place to live. “Can our guru also stay there?” Śyāmasundara asked. John agreed, and the devotees moved into the former servants’ quarters at John’s estate.
Only a few weeks before Prabhupāda’s arrival the record, “Hare Krishna Mantra,” was released. Apple Records staged a promotion and brought press reporters and photographers in a multicolored bus to a blue and white pavilion where the devotees had gathered with George.
The first day the record sold seventy thousand copies. Within a few weeks the devotees appeared on the popular TV show Top of the Pops, singing “their song.”
John Lennon’s estate, formerly owned by the Cadbury family, consisted of seventy-six acres of lawn and forest, with a large manor and many smaller buildings. John and his wife, Yoko, lived in the manor. The servants’ quarters, where Prabhupāda and the devotees were to live, were four separate apartments in a single narrow building near the manor. About fifteen devotees moved in, reserving one apartment for Prabhupāda and his servant.
John wanted the devotees to tear out the hardwood walls and floors in the main house and replace them with new walls and black and white marble tile floors. While this renovation was beginning, Īśāna, who had recently arrived from Canada, began with a few helpers to convert the old music recital hall into a temple, complete with vyāsāsana for Śrīla Prabhupāda. The devotees worked day and night on Prabhupāda’s quarters, the temple room, and Prabhupāda’s vyāsāsana. With such energy did they work that John and Yoko could see that the devotees were obviously in love with their spiritual master. When the devotees were making a tape to send to Prabhupāda in Germany, Īśāna asked John if he had anything he wanted to say to their guru. John smiled and said he would like to know Prabhupāda’s secret that made his followers so devoted.
The stage was set. The time had come for the principal character to enter. Lord Kṛṣṇa’s pure devotee was at last coming to England. For the six devotees who had pioneered Kṛṣṇa consciousness in London, it had been a long struggle. But now it seemed that all their once-impossible dreams were coming true. They had found a place for Prabhupāda to live in, and they had obtained a temple in the center of London. This was Kṛṣṇa’s blessing.