London: A Dream Fulfilled
September 11, 1969
WITH THE COOPERATION of Apple Records and Lufthansa German Airlines, the devotees arranged a reception for Prabhupāda at London’s Heathrow Airport. As soon as Prabhupāda descended the stairs of the airplane, he was escorted to a car and driven to a V.I.P. lounge, bypassing the formalities of immigration and customs. As Prabhupāda stepped from the car, the devotees ran out of the terminal and offered obeisances on the wet pavement, while Śrīla Prabhupāda looked down on them, smiling. The devotees rose, brushing wet macadam from their dhotīs and sārīs, and joyfully surrounded Prabhupāda as he entered the lounge.
Inside the terminal Prabhupāda confronted a mass of reporters and cameramen and several dozen friends of the devotees. A clean cloth covered one of the lounge sofas, and vases with yellow gladioluses sat on either side. Prabhupāda walked over to the sofa and sat down, and Śyāmasundara garlanded him with red and white carnations. Prabhupāda began leading kīrtana.
The devotees were oblivious to all but Prabhupāda, and the reporters resigned themselves to simply standing and observing while the devotees sang and danced ecstatically. The eager devotees were unabashed during the kīrtana, and their shouts of “Haribol!” and “Jaya Prabhupāda!” as well as blasts from a conchshell, punctuated the regular chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa.
After the kīrtana the reporters remained at a distance as Prabhupāda spoke affectionately to almost each devotee seated before him. “Where is Jānakī?” he asked. “Oh, yes, how are you? Vibhāvatī, how is your daughter? Actually, you are all my fathers and mothers. You are taking such care …”
For the devotees, only they and Prabhupāda were present in the lounge, and they strained to catch everything he did or said. They couldn’t have cared less about any outsider’s reaction. Finally, Mukunda invited the reporters to come forward: “If any of you gentlemen have any questions, you can ask them of Prabhupāda.”
The reporters, moving in: “What do you think of this reception?”
Prabhupāda: “I am not very much fond of reception. I want to know how people give reception to this movement. That is my concern.”
Devotees in unison: “Haribol!”
Reporter: “Is this a very special welcome for you, or is this a performance you go through each day?”
Prabhupāda: “No, wherever I go, I have got my disciples. In Western countries I have got now about twenty centers, especially in America. So the American boys are very enthusiastic. I think in Los Angeles and San Francisco I got a very great reception. In the Ratha-yātrā festival about ten thousand boys and girls followed me for seven miles.”
Sun reporter: “What do you try to teach, sir?”
Prabhupāda: “I am trying to teach what you have forgotten.”
Devotees (laughing): “Haribol! Hare Kṛṣṇa!”
Sun reporter: “Which is what?”
Prabhupāda: “That is God. Some of you are saying there is no God. Some of you are saying God is dead. And some of you are saying God is impersonal or void. These are all nonsense. I want to teach all the nonsense people that there is God. That is my mission. Any nonsense can come to me – I shall prove that there is God. That is my Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. It is a challenge to the atheistic people: This is God. As we are sitting here face to face, you can see God face to face, if you are sincere and if you are serious. That is possible. Unfortunately, you are trying to forget God. Therefore you are embracing so many miseries of life. So I am simply preaching that you become Kṛṣṇa conscious and be happy. Don’t be swayed by these nonsense waves of māyā, or illusion.”
When a reporter asked if the singing was “essential to the sustenance of your faith,” Prabhupāda answered at length, describing the cleansing effect of chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. He quoted Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam’s declaration that anyone without God consciousness has no good qualities. “Test any of our students,” Prabhupāda said, “ – how they are good, how they are advanced. Test it. Bring anyone in the world and compare with any one of our boys. You will find how much difference there is in their character and their feeling and their consciousness. If you want a peaceful society, then you must make people God conscious, Kṛṣṇa conscious. Everything will be automatically resolved. Otherwise your so-called United Nations will not help.”
The reporters asked about Billy Graham, the moon landing, the war in Ireland, and the whereabouts of Prabhupāda’s wife and children. They asked him to turn his head toward them, and they clicked away with their cameras. They thanked him, and the reception dispersed.
Prabhupāda went from the building to the gleaming white Rolls Royce awaiting him outside, courtesy of John Lennon. Prabhupāda entered the back seat and sat cross-legged. The limousine was equipped with darkened windows and a lavish interior, including a television. The devotees had become so confused in their excitement that none of them had thought to join Prabhupāda, and the chauffeur whisked him away to Tittenhurst. Prabhupāda sat silently, except for his occasionally audible chanting, as the chauffeur headed through the winding roads leading away from the airport.
He was in England. His father, Gour Mohan, had never wanted him to come to England. Once an uncle had told Gour Mohan that his son should go to England to become a barrister. But Gour Mohan had said no; if his son went there the meat-eaters, drinkers, and sex-mongers might influence him. But now, seventy years later, Prabhupāda had indeed come to London – not to be influenced by the Englishmen but to influence them. He had come to teach them what they had forgotten.
And he was off to a good start, under Kṛṣṇa’s special care. When he had had to live alone in New York City without any money, that had been Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. And now he was entering England in a chauffeured limousine, also Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. Accepting the ride as part of Kṛṣṇa’s plan, Prabhupāda remained deeply fixed in his purpose of carrying out the order of his spiritual master, whatever circumstances awaited.
As they turned onto Route 4, proceeding toward Slough, Prabhupāda saw factories and warehouses and then the flat countryside, with orchards, fields, and grazing horses. The grey, chilly weather hinted of winter ahead. After about twenty minutes Prabhupāda reached the wealthy neighborhood of Ascot and soon, appearing on the left, the high redwood fence surrounding the Lennon estate.
Prabhupāda had arrived before his disciples. But those who had remained at the manor excitedly received him and showed him to his room on the second floor of the servants’ quarters. The small room was chilly and damp, with a low table for a desk and wall-to-wall carpeting made from pieces of rug taken from the other rooms. The adjoining room was bare and even smaller. Prabhupāda sat down at his low desk. “Where is everyone?” he asked. As he leaned back and gazed out the window he saw rain just beginning to fall.
When George, John, and Yoko dropped by after Prabhupāda’s lunch, Śyāmasundara invited them to come up and meet Prabhupāda. George turned to John and asked, “Do you want to go up?” The bearded, bespectacled master of Tittenhurst, hair down to his shoulders, assented. Yoko also was curious. So up they all went to Prabhupāda’s little room.
Smiling graciously from behind his desk, Prabhupāda asked his guests to enter and be seated. Here were two of the most famous people in England, and Kṛṣṇa wanted him to speak to them. Prabhupāda removed his garland and handed it to Śyāmasundara, indicating that he should put it around George’s neck.
“Thank you,” said George. “Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
Prabhupāda smiled. “This is Kṛṣṇa’s blessing.”
“Hare Kṛṣṇa,” George replied again.
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said, “there is a verse in Bhagavad-gītā: yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas tat tad evetaro janaḥ / sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute lokas tad anuvartate. The idea is that anything which is accepted by the leading persons, ordinary persons follow them. Yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhaḥ. Śreṣṭhaḥ means ‘leading persons.’ Ācarati means ‘act.’ Whatever leading persons act, people in general follow them. If the leading person says it is nice, then it is all right – the others also accept it. So by the grace of God, Kṛṣṇa, you are leaders. Thousands of young men follow you. They like you. So if you give them something actually nice, the face of the world will change.”
Although George and John were about the same age as most of Prabhupāda’s disciples, Prabhupāda considered them śreṣṭhas, respected leaders. “You are also anxious to bring some peace in the world,” Prabhupāda continued. “I have read sometimes your statement. You are anxious also. Everyone is. Every saintly person should be anxious to bring in peace in the world. But we must know the process.” He explained the “peace formula” according to Bhagavad-gītā: only those who recognize the Supreme Personality of Godhead as the proprietor of everything, the object of all sacrifices, and the friend of everyone can find peace.
Prabhupāda then told the two Beatles even more directly what he had already hinted at: they should learn Kṛṣṇa consciousness and help teach it to the world. “I request you to at least understand this philosophy to your best knowledge,” he said. “If you think it is nice, pick it up. You are also willing to give something to the world. So try this. You have read our books, this Bhagavad-gītā As It Is?”
John: “I’ve read bits of the Bhagavad-gītā. I don’t know which version it was. There’s so many different translations.”
Prabhupāda: “There are different translations. Therefore I have given this edition, Bhagavad-gītā As It Is.”
Prabhupāda explained that the material world is a place of misery. Nature is cruel. In America President Kennedy was thought to be the most fortunate, happy man, honored throughout the world. “But within a second” – Prabhupāda loudly snapped his fingers – “he was finished. Temporary. Now what is his position? Where is he? If life is eternal, if the living entity is eternal, where he has gone? What he is doing? Is he happy, or is he distressed? He is born in America, or China? Nobody can say. But it is a fact that, as living entity, he is eternal. He is existing.”
Prabhupāda explained the transmigration of the soul. Then again he requested, “Try to understand it, and if it is nice you take it up. You are after something very nice. Is my proposal unreasonable?” The two Beatles glanced at one another but didn’t answer. Prabhupāda gave a soft, amused laugh. “You are all intelligent boys. Try to understand it.”
Prabhupāda spoke of the importance of music in the Vedas. “The Sāma Veda,” he said, “is full of music. Followers of the Sāma Veda are always in music. Through musical vibration they are approaching the Supreme.” He then sang slowly three verses from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:
mitho ’bhipadyeta gṛha-vratānām
adānta-gobhir viśatāṁ tamisraṁ
punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām
durāśayā ye bahir-artha-māninaḥ
andhā yathāndhair upanīyamānās
te ’pīśa-tantryām uru-dāmni baddhāḥ
* “Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Kṛṣṇa are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.
“Persons who are strongly entrapped by the consciousness of enjoying material life, and who have therefore accepted as their leaders or guru a similar blind man attached to external sense objects, cannot understand that the goal of life is to return home, back to Godhead, and engage in the service of Lord Viṣṇu. As blind men guided by another blind man miss the right path and fall into a ditch, materially attached men led by another materially attached man are bound by the ropes of fruitive labor, which are made of very strong cords, and they continue again and again in materialistic life, suffering the threefold miseries.
“Unless they smear upon their bodies the dust of the lotus feet of a Vaiṣṇava completely freed from material contamination, persons very much inclined toward materialistic life cannot be attached to the lotus feet of the Lord, who is glorified for his uncommon activities. Only by becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious and taking shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord in this way can one be freed from material contamination.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, 7.5.30–32)
Then Prabhupāda asked his guests what philosophy they were following. “Following?” John asked.
“We don’t follow anything,” Yoko said. “We are just living.”
“We’ve done meditation,” said George. “Or I do my meditation, mantra meditation.”
They began to ask questions – the same questions Prabhupāda had heard so many times before. After hearing Prabhupāda’s explanation of Brahman, the all-pervading spiritual energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Yoko doubted whether Brahman could remain pure and not deteriorate in time. Prabhupāda advised that she would have to become a serious student before she could actually understand spiritual philosophy.
John and Yoko, being devoted eclectics, had difficulty accepting Prabhupāda’s concept of Vedic authority.
John: “We still have to keep sifting through, like through sand, to see who’s got the best.”
Prabhupāda: “No. One thing you try to understand. Why these people – if Kṛṣṇa is not the supreme authority – why they are taking Kṛṣṇa’s book and translating? Why don’t you try to understand?”
George: “I’m not saying Kṛṣṇa isn’t the Supreme. I believe that. There is a misunderstanding about the translation of the Sanskrit Gītā into English. And I was saying that there are many versions, and I think we thought you were trying to say your version, your translation, was the authority and that the other translations were not. But we didn’t really have misunderstanding as to the identity of Kṛṣṇa.”
Prabhupāda: “That’s all right. If you believe Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Lord, if that is your version, then you have to see who is most addicted to Kṛṣṇa. These people are twenty-four hours chanting Kṛṣṇa. And another person, who has not a single word Kṛṣṇa – how can he become a devotee of Kṛṣṇa? How can he, who does not utter even the name of Kṛṣṇa, become a representative of Kṛṣṇa? If Kṛṣṇa is authority – and that is accepted – therefore those who are directly addicted to Kṛṣṇa, they are authorities.”
After more than an hour of conversation, Prabhupāda distributed some prasādam to John, George, Yoko, and the few disciples in his room. If these śreṣṭhas were to take up Kṛṣṇa consciousness, that would be good for them and many others also. He had done his duty and provided them the opportunity. It was Kṛṣṇa’s message, and to accept it or not was now up to them.
John said he had something to do, and he excused himself. As everyone was leaving, Yoko, walking down the stairs, turned to John and said, “Look at how simply he’s living. Could you live like that?”
In the evening Prabhupāda sat with the three couples – Śyāmasundara and Mālatī, Gurudāsa and Yamunā, and Mukunda and Jānakī. After a year’s separation they were happily with Prabhupāda, and he was happy to be with them. The love they shared and their mutual satisfaction at being together was based on a unifying desire to establish Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana movement in this important city. Now that Prabhupāda had come to London, work would not slacken; it would increase under his expert guidance. Prabhupāda could daily instruct the men on organizing more London preaching, and they could report to him as necessary.
The women could also directly serve him, cleaning his quarters, washing and ironing his laundry, and cooking his meals.
“No one can afford a house like this in England anymore,” Prabhupāda said. “England has gone down. Now these young boys own a place like this. And we are here.”
“Prabhupāda,” Śyāmasundara spoke up, “our record sold fifty thousand copies yesterday.”
“Oh!” Prabhupāda’s eyes widened. “Very big business!”
Prabhupāda said that their money and energy should go toward opening the temple in the city. Now they were living comfortably on this aristocratic estate in the suburbs, and certainly they should try to involve these important celebrities in Kṛṣṇa consciousness as far as possible. But the main business should be to open a temple in the city. Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had preferred to establish temples in the cities, where the people were. Of course, if John could give this place to Kṛṣṇa and if the devotees could maintain cows and cultivate the land, as in New Vrindaban, then that would be a different matter. They would have to see what Kṛṣṇa desired.
Prabhupāda was sorry that some of his disciples were obliged to work full time renovating the estate in exchange for their stay. Brāhmaṇas and Vaiṣṇavas, he said, had the serious work of cultivating spiritual knowledge and teaching it to others, and they deserved the respect and support of the rest of society. The arrangement at Tittenhurst seemed more business than charity. But they should tolerate it as a temporary situation.
Prabhupāda talked with Śyāmasundara, Mukunda, and Gurudāsa about their struggle to get housing permits and renovate the temple downtown. Śyāmasundara had been right, Prabhupāda said, to begin renovating the temple; Kṛṣṇa would protect their investment. When Prabhupāda learned they had secured a series of public lectures that would commit him to three months in London, he smiled. He would be glad to stay and preach in England, he said, for as long as it took to open the London center.
Prabhupāda commended his six London pioneers on succeeding where his sannyāsī Godbrothers had failed. He told them that because they had chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa with faith, they had succeeded. They were not great scholars or renunciants, yet they had faith in the holy name and the order of their spiritual master. Prabhupāda said that he also was not a great scholar, but that he had staunch faith, the real requirement for spiritual success.
A devotee could go to many places and accomplish many things, Prabhupāda said, but unless he was free of material motives he would not be able to implant the seed of bhakti into the hearts of others. Prabhupāda cited Śivānanda, who had gone alone to Hamburg and tried his best, with faith in his spiritual master. Now Kṛṣṇa was blessing Śivānanda with a little success: a storefront temple, newly recruited devotees, an interested professor, and other guests coming and chanting. Even one lone preacher could accomplish many things for Kṛṣṇa, provided the preacher was free from sense gratification and the desire for profit, adoration, and distinction.
Śrīla Prabhupāda rose early, about 1 A.M., and began dictating his latest book, Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Kṛṣṇa, begun in Los Angeles eight months before, was a summary of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam’s Tenth Canto. Starting in 1959 with the First Canto, Prabhupāda had been translating each successive verse, giving a roman transliteration, Sanskrit-English synonyms, the English translation, and then his commentary. Kṛṣṇa, however, was all in English, with translation and commentary blended together as transcendental stories.
In his verse-by-verse translation of the Bhāgavatam, Prabhupāda was still working on the Third Canto, so to reach the Tenth Canto could take many years. But he was uncertain how many years longer he would live, and the thought of passing away without giving the world an authorized, readable account of the Tenth Canto had been unbearable. Being the account of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s earthly pastimes, the Tenth Canto was the climax of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and the richest nectar of transcendental literature. Now Prabhupāda had enough manuscript pages to print a first volume, complete with the many color illustrations he had commissioned his artists to paint. To print such a book would be expensive, and Prabhupāda had no money. But he depended fully on Kṛṣṇa and translated quickly in the quiet of early morning.
At 4:30 Prabhupāda’s secretary, Puruṣottama, entered, followed by Yamunā dāsī. Puruṣottama offered ārati to Prabhupāda’s small Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities while Yamunā watched, eager to learn. Prabhupāda sang prayers, accompanying himself on the harmonium.
During Prabhupāda’s maṅgala-ārati ceremony, the other dozen or so disciples assembled for their own maṅgala-ārati at the temple. As they walked the damp pathway to the temple they felt the cold air and heard the bell and Prabhupāda’s singing. They could see through the predawn mist the light coming from Prabhupāda’s window on the second floor, and the building looked like a lantern in the dark. The sound of the harmonium drifted mystically through the trees.
Later that morning some of the devotees brought Prabhupāda several news articles about his London arrival. The Daily Sketch, with its headline “Enter His Divine Grace Abhaya Charan Bhaktivedanta Swami,” carried a foot-high photo of Prabhupāda playing karatālas. The Sun’s story, “Happiness is Hare Krishna,” appeared with a photo of Prabhupāda and the devotees. And the Daily Mirror showed Sarasvatī and one of the adult devotees.
The Daily Telegraph, however, carried a different kind of article: “Hindu Temple Protests.” “Conversion of office premises in Bloomsbury into a Hindu temple is being investigated by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works,” the article began. The devotees’ neighbors at Bury Place had apparently complained about the renovation that had been going on for the past two weeks. The article quoted a Camden council member: “If their planning application is not granted, it will cost them a lot of money.”
Prabhupāda said the devotees should do everything they could to prevent delays or obstacles to their establishing the temple and installing Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. He suggested they go daily into the city, work carefully and persistently with the officials, and secure the authorization. Meanwhile, Śyāmasundara should continue his remodeling work at Bury Place.
For Prabhupāda, such diplomatic and legal strategy was as spiritual as translating Kṛṣṇa or singing before his Deities. He was serious, heavy; and his disciples sensed this as he looked at them with full concentration, his intelligent gaze penetrating to see if they understood his directions. This heaviness of the guru was an essential part of their relationship with him. They were young men, inexperienced, and he was sending them on a mature assignment that required both transcendental and worldly expertise.
Serving as Prabhupāda’s menial messengers and workers, his disciples imbibed his gravity. And they too became heavy. They too became dedicated servants of their guru. To bungle an important order because of naiveté or carelessness would be a spiritual disqualification. Prabhupāda had often told them a Vaiṣṇava is not a retired person who only sleeps and eats and chants Hare Kṛṣṇa. Rather, a Vaiṣṇava fights for Kṛṣṇa, as did Arjuna and Hanumān. And as the devotee tries his best, working in full surrender, Kṛṣṇa supports and protects him.
Dawn arrived, and time for Prabhupāda’s morning walk. The cold September night shrouded the morning in heavy fog. Some of the low-lying grounds were waterlogged this time of year, and even in the higher plots the long grass would remain wet until mid-morning. “This climate,” Prabhupāda admitted, “is not at all suitable for me.” But having heard of the beauty of the grounds, he insisted on taking his usual morning walk.
Tittenhurst dated back to the 1770s, when the estate had been renowned for its many varieties of trees and shrubs – one of the most unusual collections in England. Even now, cypresses, weeping beech, austin poplars, royal palms, redwoods, varieties of pines, monkey puzzle trees, and orchards of cherry and apple graced the stately grounds. One cypress stood more than 125 feet tall, and the redwoods grew even taller. Bushes and vines grew in dense thickets. Close by the main house were hundreds of rhododendrons, a formal rose garden, and several fountains. The estate had its own lake, stocked with goldfish and perch, and at a far end of the property stood a row of greenhouses for grapes and peaches. Designed so as to be abloom in every season, the grounds had been carefully kept for generations, a recent owner having employed more than twenty gardeners. John, however, was deliberately allowing the grass to go uncut.
Prabhupāda walked out into the morning mist, onto the long, wet grass. Dressed almost entirely in black, he wore a Russian hat with earmuffs and black rubber Wellington boots. A black, full-length overcoat, given him by the devotees in Germany, covered his robes and sweater, leaving only glimpses of saffron cloth.
As Prabhupāda walked, accompanied by several of his disciples, he passed a fountain near the main house and entered a grove. The path narrowed, with vines and bushes close in, and led them into an open meadow, once a well-tended lawn but now a field of high grass. Bulldozers had excavated an area which according to rumor would soon be a helicopter landing field.
At the bottom of the sloping meadow, Prabhupāda entered an orchard. Many leaves had fallen from the trees, and the sun’s first rays now revealed shavings of autumn gold at Prabhupāda’s feet. He stood under one of the trees, and the diffused sunlight made the sky beyond the branches glow golden. “In my childhood,” he said, “there were so many names given to me. My maternal uncle called me Nandu, because I appeared the day after Kṛṣṇa appeared and there was a great celebration on that day. I was called Nandu because I was born the day after Kṛṣṇa. And I was also called Govardhana. One of my sisters used to call me Kacha. I’ve been called so many names. As children we were all very beautiful. There are always so many names given to them. But all these names – they are all dead and gone.” He turned and began to walk again, saying nothing more on the subject.
Prabhupāda mentioned the British economy, which he said was sinking into the sea because of the pound’s devaluation. So many British lords had gained their wealth by exploiting other nations; now, having exhausted their good karma, they were suffering the results of their sins. They were too poor to maintain their great estates. “They used to have seventeen men working full time just on the garden,” Prabhupāda exclaimed, “and now they cannot even pay the taxes. So they have to give the whole thing up. And it is falling into the hands of the śūdras.”
Īśāna asked Prabhupāda, “How is it that a person like me, from such a degraded background, can come to Kṛṣṇa consciousness?”
“Because you are intelligent,” Prabhupāda replied.
“I don’t understand.”
“Because you are intelligent,” Prabhupāda repeated.
Īśāna’s wife, Vibhāvatī, asked, “What is the meaning of spiritual master?”
“Actually I am not your spiritual master,” Prabhupāda replied. “That title is simply a formality. You should think of me as your spiritual father, your eternal father.”
As they walked past a tractor, Kulaśekhara remarked, “The tractor is a very wonderful invention, isn’t it?”
Prabhupāda turned to Kulaśekhara. “This tractor is the downfall of the Indian village system.”
“Why is that? It does the work of ten men.”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said. “Previously, the young men of the village would be engaged in plowing the field. Then this tractor came along and did the work of all those young men, and they had nothing to do. So they went to the cities to try to find work, and they fell into illusion.”
Stopping beside a clump of yellowed grass, Prabhupāda asked, “Why is this yellow grass different?” No one answered. “The other grass is green,” he said, “but this is yellow. What is the reason?” Still no one answered. “This yellow grass is drying up,” Prabhupāda explained, “because the roots are not attached. Therefore it is yellow. Similarly, when we detach ourselves from Kṛṣṇa, then we will dry up.”
They walked to a spot where the grass grew almost six feet high. Stopping at a path the tractor had cut, Prabhupāda smiled. “Oh, we can go through there?” And he strode ahead with his cane into the head-high jungle of grass and weeds. He walked until he came to a low hill that had been cleared, and he stopped. As he stood there, surrounded by the sea of grass and a few disciples, Kulaśekhara asked about the song Prabhupāda had been singing earlier that morning.
“The song,” Prabhupāda said, “is about Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He would rise, and He would go out at this time of morning, when the sun has risen but is not yet in the sky.” As Prabhupāda spoke, the mist was already dissipating, and the golden glow in the sky had moved higher above the horizon. Prabhupāda raised his hands and swayed from side to side. “In this way,” he said, “Caitanya Mahāprabhu would dance in the morning.”
As they returned by the main house John Lennon stood gazing out through the glass doors, watching. Prabhupāda, walking with a cane, dressed in his black coat and his Wellingtons, looked like the gentleman of the estate out for his morning walk. Stopping now and then, he would look at certain trees, touching their bark, rubbing their leaves, inspecting them closely. At the beginning of the walk, a devotee had picked a rose and handed it to him, and he still held it in his hand with care. He had walked for an hour. Everywhere the scenery had been beautiful, and everywhere he had instructed his followers in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
As Prabhupāda approached the building where he lived, he met little Sarasvatī. Taking her hand, he walked along with her to the foot of the stairs, where they stopped. Prabhupāda was halfway up the stairs when he turned and saw Sarasvatī standing in the doorway, watching. He beckoned and called to her, “Come on,” and she crawled up the stairs after him.
When Sarasvatī came into Prabhupāda’s room, he asked her, “So, are you old enough to go to gurukula?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head.
“Come here, I am going to put a stamp on your forehead, and then we are going to put you in a red mailbox and send you to gurukula.”
Sarasvatī began to cry, “Mālatī! Mālatī! I don’t want to go!” and ran and hid behind her mother.
“Come on, Sarasvatī,” Prabhupāda coaxed. “Come sit on my lap, and I will give you some prasādam.” She came and sat on Prabhupāda’s knee. “Now get me the stamps, Puruṣottama,” he teased. “We are going to send her to gurukula.” Sarasvatī shrieked and ran to Mālatī.
To Śrīla Prabhupāda, Sarasvatī was a pure spirit soul, but because she was in a small child’s body he didn’t teach her philosophy; he teased her, gave her prasādam, and treated her with the affection of a grandfather. But through her attachment to him, she would become attached to Kṛṣṇa.
After breakfast, when the sun had warmed the air, Prabhupāda opened his windows, sat down at his harmonium, and sang bhajanas. As he sang with closed eyes, his head shaking, he played the harmonium, and Yamunā sat at the bottom of the stairs, crying tears of appreciation. Prabhupāda had been singing for a while when he stopped and called for Yamunā. “Do you enjoy my kīrtana?” he asked.
“Yes,” she nodded, “very much.”
“The prayers of Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura,” he said. “This sound is above the material platform. It is directly from the spiritual platform. And there is no need of understanding the language. It is just like a thunderburst. Everyone can hear the sound of thunder – there is no misunderstanding. Similarly, these songs are above the material platform, and they crack like thunder within your heart. Why don’t you come here every day during my chanting?”
“That would be wonderful!”
“Yes,” said Prabhupāda, “from now on we will record.” And every morning after that, Prabhupāda sang, and Puruṣottama and Yamunā would come to his room and record.
“What is your favorite bhajana?” Yamunā asked.
“What’s yours?” Prabhupāda returned.
“Lord Caitanya’s Śikṣāṣṭakam prayers.”
“My favorite,” said Prabhupāda, “is Hari hari viphale.” He recited the gist of the prayer in English: “ ‘O Lord Hari, I have spent my life uselessly. Although I have taken this rare human birth, I have not worshiped Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, and so I have knowingly drunk poison.’ There is so much depth of meaning in Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura’s prayers.”
Puruṣottama: Once Prabhupāda was sitting alone in his room. I walked by, and I heard him singing a prayer I’d never heard before. And I went in. Of course everyone knows he sings – he can sing very beautifully, very greatly inspired – but I’d never heard him sing as beautifully as he did that one time. I’d heard him sing many, many times in many temples, but I’d never heard him sing as beautifully as this. I felt very honored to hear it, very privileged. It was beautiful. When he was done, he just got up and said, “Let’s go now.”
Puruṣottama reported to the devotees in the United States these activities of Śrīla Prabhupāda:
He is singing prayers a lot, and much of it is being recorded. I must admit that the tapes of songs and prayers he is making now are the best ones I have ever heard. Wait until you hear them when we get back. As the Bhāgavatam says, “Drink deep this nectar, O man of piety, and you shall be taken from this mortal frame!”
The women cooking for Prabhupāda were serving him American desserts: apple pie, doughnuts, glazed cookies. Prabhupāda would smile, but he would only nibble at his dessert. One afternoon he said, “These sweets are very nice, but no one has made me sandeśa.” None of the devotees knew how to make Bengali sweets, so Prabhupāda took them into the kitchen and taught them to make sandeśa. Although they had watched carefully, their first attempts produced sandeśa that was dry and grainy. But Prabhupāda accepted it, preferring the sandeśa – which Kṛṣṇa Himself used to eat – to the Western confections.
For the devotees at Tittenhurst, to have Prabhupāda living among them was again to witness Kṛṣṇa’s pure devotee as he engaged constantly in ecstatic devotional service with his body, mind, and words. They could see how Prabhupāda was speaking and acting in Kṛṣṇa consciousness at every moment, and his presence confirmed that the most exalted platform of pure devotional service was a reality. His disciples felt bliss and renewed determination just being with him.
Prabhupāda’s hosts, John and Yoko, also had the valuable opportunity to be near Prabhupāda, although they chose to keep apart. Remaining together in their own world, they mingled but rarely with the devotees. Prabhupāda’s men continued to work under John’s managers, and John was content to let the Swami and his entourage stay. When the head gardener asked John how to treat the devotees, he said, “Let them please themselves.” On hearing of certain activities in the main house, Prabhupāda commented about the bad influence women sometimes have on men, but he kept out of John and Yoko’s affairs. He had his own affairs in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Having been whisked from the airport to Tittenhurst, Prabhupāda had seen little of London, and one day he asked Śyāmasundara to take him on a tour of the city. Prabhupāda had grown up in British Calcutta hearing London praised as the seat of Britain’s world empire, so when he saw how small many of London’s historic landmarks were he was particularly surprised. At Buckingham Palace he remarked, “We have many houses in Calcutta bigger than this.” The Thames, celebrated in the writings of British authors he had studied in college, was a disappointment also. “It’s a canal” he said. “It’s only a canal. In my mind I thought it was bigger than the Ganges.”
But the most interesting sight was the building at 7 Bury Place. City officials had recently granted the devotees permission to occupy the temple. That part of the battle was won. Now Śyāmasundara and his few helpers had to finish the remodeling. On seeing the temple’s location near the British Museum and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Śrīla Prabhupāda became even more anxious that Śyāmasundara fix an opening date as soon as possible.
In September Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to Satsvarūpa about his stay at Tittenhurst Park.
Here there is a nice big hall, exactly suitable for a temple. I have begun to give lectures here on specific days, but there are no outsiders coming.
Prabhupāda wanted to preach to the “outsiders,” and if they wouldn’t come to him, he would go to them. His first outside meeting, arranged by the devotees, was at Camden Town Hall, in the heart of London, and was well attended both by Britishers and by Indians. After Prabhupāda’s brief lecture – only about fifteen minutes – a lively question-and-answer session began.
Woman: “Would you say Kṛṣṇa is God or Kṛṣṇa is love?”
Prabhupāda: “Without love, how can Kṛṣṇa be God?”
Woman: “No, I asked you.”
Prabhupāda: “Yes. That is the real position. Kṛṣṇa means ‘all-attractive.’ Anything which is all-attractive you generally love.”
Man: “Then the particle of the Supreme Being, man, is also all-love?”
Prabhupāda: “Yes, you are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa. You want to love somebody, and Kṛṣṇa wants to love you. This is loving exchange. But instead of loving Kṛṣṇa, you are trying to love something else. That is your trouble. The love is there in you and Kṛṣṇa, and when the love will be exchanged between you and Kṛṣṇa, that will be your perfection of life.”
Man: “Thank you.”
Indian woman: “Would it matter if I worshiped any other? Would it matter whether I worshiped Kṛṣṇa or Śiva or Christ or Buddha? Would it matter?”
Prabhupāda: “If you worship Śiva, you’ll get Śiva. If you worship Kṛṣṇa, you’ll get Kṛṣṇa. Why do you expect Kṛṣṇa by worshiping Śiva? What is your idea?”
Indian woman: “My idea is, would it matter?”
Prabhupāda: “Don’t you suppose if you purchase a ticket for India you’ll go to India? How can you go to America?”
Indian woman: “This is not the point.”
Prabhupāda: “This is the point. That is explained in Bhagavad-gītā: yānti deva-vratā devān pitṝn yānti pitṛ-vratāḥ.”
Indian woman: “But my point is …”
Prabhupāda: “Your point, you understand. Why don’t you understand the description of Bhagavad-gītā? If you worship demigods like Śiva and others, you will go there. If you worship Kṛṣṇa, you’ll go to Kṛṣṇa. What is the difficulty to understand?”
Indian woman: “Do you think that Śiva is a demigod?”
Prabhupāda: “Yes, why not?”
Indian woman: “But Kṛṣṇa says that it doesn’t matter the way you worship. All means have the same goal, and you will reach the same goal. ‘You can take the different paths, but you will come to Me eventually.’ ”
Prabhupāda: “Try to understand. Suppose you have to go to the forty-second floor of a building. And you are going up one after another. So the goal is the forty-second story, but you cannot claim that after going a few steps, ‘I have come to the goal, the forty-second story.’ The path is one – that’s all right – but you have to reach the ultimate goal. You do not know what is the ultimate goal. You simply say all paths reach to this goal. But you do not know what is the ultimate goal.”
A young hippie stood up and shouted, “Hey, Swamiji!” People in the audience turned around and looked. “You said if we’re not careful, in the next life we’ll become a dog. But I want to tell you that I don’t mind if I become a dog in my next life.”
“You have my blessings,” said Prabhupāda, and the young man sat down.
One-night lectures in scattered places around the city proved further the need of a temple. Prabhupāda had experienced a similar situation in New York City in 1965. At that time also he had had no temple. His audiences would listen respectfully and then disperse, and he would never see them again. To become Kṛṣṇa conscious, however, a person needed to hear about Kṛṣṇa repeatedly, and for that a temple was required. Once Prabhupāda had his temple established in London, thousands would be able to come and hear about Kṛṣṇa, take prasādam, and appreciate the lovely Deity form of the Lord. A temple would provide guests with regular, intimate contact with the devotees of the Lord, and this was essential. In the absence of a temple, however, Prabhupāda was prepared to go on lecturing all over London. Kṛṣṇa’s teachings, Kṛṣṇa’s kīrtana, and Kṛṣṇa’s prasādam were absolute good; they would act regardless of the external situation.
Conway Hall was a five-hundred-seat auditorium in Red Lion Square in central London. By arranging a series of twelve lectures over the next three months, the devotees hoped to oblige Prabhupāda to stay in England at least that long. Gurudāsa had drawn up a list of lecture titles and printed fifty thousand handbills. Admission would be two shillings and sixpence.
The first night at Conway Hall about a hundred people attended. Prabhupāda sat on a cushion atop a table, leading kīrtana, while his disciples sat on the floor. Yamunā played harmonium, and Mukunda and Kulaśekhara played mṛdaṅgas. Prabhupāda’s Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities stood on Their altar on a separate table beside Prabhupāda. A Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra banner hung against the back wall.
Gurudāsa had billed tonight’s lecture “Teachings of the Vedas,” and Prabhupāda explained that Vedic teachings can be understood only by hearing them from self-realized saints. After Prabhupāda’s lecture the audience gave a sustained round of applause. Prabhupāda answered questions and had Yamunā lead a final kīrtana. The next day Prabhupāda wrote to a Dr. Shyam Sundar das Brahmacari in India: “I spoke for about one hour, and after that they continued clapping, which confirms their appreciation.”
At the second Conway Hall engagement, when Prabhupāda stood during the kīrtana and began to dance, the devotees onstage joined him, dancing in a circle. Īśāna played his trumpet, and even Sarasvatī, her diapers showing beneath her short dress, jumped up and down in ecstasy. Each week would bring another Conway Hall meeting, and Prabhupāda’s dancing became a regular feature.
One night at Conway Hall an Englishman stood and asked, “Why is it you don’t try to help the people of your own country? Why did you come so far? Why don’t you simply approach the big politicians? There are big politicians to try to help there.”
Prabhupāda: “You are a great politician. Therefore, I am approaching you. Is that all right?”
Another man asked: “If this is the absolute truth, how come there’s so many people in London but not so many people are in attendance here?”
Prabhupāda: “When you are selling diamonds, you don’t expect many customers. But if you are giving cut glass, the fools will come. We have a very precious thing – this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Don’t expect that all the foolish people will take to it. Some sincere souls have come. You please also take it.”
Prabhupāda felt encouraged by the response of the English. Regularly the audiences would join in the chanting and dancing.
In London things are going on nicely, and last evening we had a meeting in Conway Hall and several hundred persons were joining us in chanting and dancing. After the meeting one reporter from the biggest London newspaper came behind the stage to get further information about our movement for publication in his paper. So I am very encouraged to see the nice reception that the people and the news medias are giving to our activities in London.
Late in October Prabhupāda spoke at the English Speakers Union to a predominantly Indian audience.
He began his talk, “Although we are a small gathering today, this is a very important meeting. India has got a message. You are all respectable Indians present here in an important city of the world, London, and I have come here with an important mission. It is not the same mission as Indians generally have who come here and to other foreign countries – to beg something. I have come here to give something. So you please try to cooperate with me.”
On October 30 Prabhupāda lectured at Oxford Town Hall. His talk was basic, although embellished with more Sanskrit quotes than usual. His disciples had not expected much of a response from the Oxford students, yet the hall was filled. And when Prabhupāda stood and gestured for everyone to raise their hands and dance, practically the entire audience responded. While Mukunda played the huge pipe organ and hundreds joined the chanting, Prabhupāda held his arms high and began powerfully jumping up and down.
Yesterday we had a very successful meeting at Oxford at the Town Hall. About 350 boys, girls, old men, ladies and gentlemen participated and we made them all dance and chant with us, every one. After the meeting, many boys and gentlemen came to congratulate me.
Prabhupāda received an invitation to appear on Britain’s most popular TV talk show, “Late Night Line-Up.” The interviewer, accustomed to snappy repartee, tried to engage Prabhupāda in his style of conversing, avoiding long, philosophical answers.
“Swamiji,” he asked, “do you have a concept of hell in your religion?”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda replied. “London is hell.”
The host appeared stunned, as if beaten at his own game from the start. Prabhupāda continued, “It is always damp, cloudy, and raining. In India the sun is always shining.”
The interviewer was still at a loss for words, and Prabhupāda, perhaps sensing the man’s embarrassment, added, “Of course, it is a very great credit to the English people to have established such a great civilization in such a climate.”
There were other questions, and Prabhupāda talked for an hour, explaining the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement and philosophy. The next day a London newspaper announced, “Swami Calls London Hell.”
The “Hare Krishna Mantra” record was still high on the charts in England and throughout the continent, and this fame led a Dutch television company to invite Prabhupāda’s disciples to Amsterdam, all expenses paid, to do a show. They would have only five minutes of air time, but Prabhupāda accepted it. “Five minutes,” he said, “is sufficient. We will preach the whole philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness in five minutes.”
Prabhupāda and his party took the ferry from Dover across the English Channel to France and then traveled by train to Amsterdam. The television studio, located outside the city, was in a modern, air-conditioned building, with constant loudspeaker announcements, artificial plants, a TV in every room – but no windows.
The receptionist brought Prabhupāda and his disciples to a windowless room with painted concrete walls. “In India,” Prabhupāda said, “we wouldn’t consider living in a place without windows and fresh air. I want to sit by a window.” So the devotees checked through the entire building until finally, in the third-floor hallway, they found a window. Moving their chairs with them, they went with Prabhupāda and sat by the window.
“By the year 2000, no one will see the light of day,” Prabhupāda said. “Cities will be forced to live underground. They will have artificial light and food, but no sunlight.”
The producer of the program arrived, surprised to find that “the Swami” was also going to be part of the act. The surprise was a pleasant one, and he welcomed Prabhupāda to his show. “Now, what I want you and your group to do,” he explained, “is to sing your record, ‘Hare Krishna Mantra.’ You don’t have to actually sing out loud. We’re going to play your record, and you mime. Pretend you’re playing those instruments. Pretend you’re singing.” He allowed that afterward Prabhupāda could speak – for two minutes.
Just before Prabhupāda and the devotees went onstage, they had to wait in the wings while a local Dutch group danced around, pretending to play their saxophones, trumpets, and drums. Then the producer brought in a table with a cushion on it for Prabhupāda and seated the devotees around Prabhupāda on the floor.
The cameras began, the record played, and the devotees started to mime. Suddenly clouds, produced by dry ice, rolled in on the set – a “mystical” effect. As the devotees disappeared under clouds of carbon dioxide, only Prabhupāda remained clearly visible. Seeing the special effect unsuccessful, the producer motioned the devotees to stand and dance beside the Swami.
The song ended, and a camera closed in on Prabhupāda. “Now you have two minutes, Swamiji,” the producer said. Prabhupāda began.
“We have been chanting this Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. This is a transcendental sound vibration, nondifferent from the Lord. The Lord’s name and His form are the same. Please chant this sublime sound, and your life will become perfect. You’ll become happy, and you’ll realize your true nature – that you are an eternal servant of God, Kṛṣṇa. This process is called bhakti-yoga, and we request everyone to take to this chanting. Thank you very much.”
Prabhupāda was pleased as his disciples’ record continued to be a hit in Europe.
The Hare Krishna record is selling very nicely. Yesterday, it sold 5,000 copies, and this week it is on the chronological list as 20. They say next week it will come to be 3, and after that it may come to 1. So they are very much hopeful of this record.
To Satsvarūpa in Boston Prabhupāda wrote:
The Hare Krishna record is going on in England nicely, and I heard that in Australia it stands 4th on the list of 50 important records.
“Hare Krishna Mantra” became the number one song in West Germany, number one in Czechoslovakia, and among the top ten all over Europe and even in Japan. With the income from the record, the devotees began paying their bills and financing the renovations of the Bury Place temple.
Sometimes the devotees would perform at concerts with professional groups, and sometimes they would receive invitations to appear in nightclubs. After one particularly late and nasty nightclub engagement, Yamunā went to Prabhupāda and told him what the place had been like. Prabhupāda called for all the devotees. “These places,” he explained, “are not good for brahmacārīs. The principle is that we have to make devotees. So we have to think where we are going. If we are going somewhere to preach but we can’t make any devotees there, what is the use? So we have to think like that.” He said he wasn’t forbidding them to preach in the nightclubs, but he told them to be careful.
One of the devotees asked if showing slides of Kṛṣṇa mixed in with psychedelic slides was permissible. Prabhupāda said no. Kṛṣṇa should be on a throne or an altar. If they watered Kṛṣṇa consciousness down, it would become idol worship.
Not since Prabhupāda had first left India in 1965 had he preached to Indians as extensively as now. Indians would always attend his lectures, and even if they didn’t dance and chant they appreciated Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Even before Prabhupāda’s arrival in England, a few Indians had stepped forward to help the devotees, and now the majority of Prabhupāda’s occasional guests at Tittenhurst were Indians. Bringing their families, they would sit and chat with Prabhupāda, often inviting him to their homes for dinner.
Kedar Nath Gupta: Prabhupāda agreed to come to our house. We received him with a warm welcome, and many other people also came to hear him. He was very much pleased to see that we had our family Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, given by my mother. And he commented, “I am very much pleased to come to this place and see that Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are here.”
He gave a very nice lecture and told that the purpose of the human form of life is self-realization. He said one should be inquisitive to know who he is. All those assembled who had come to hear him were very much pleased and impressed by his lecture. After his lecture, I did the ārati, and we offered the foodstuffs to the Deity. And then we distributed prasādam to everyone. Prabhupāda took the prasādam, and he was very much pleased to take prasādam in our house. As he was leaving I requested him, “When can I see you next?” He said, “You can see me any time you want.”
Sometimes there would be disagreements over philosophy, but Prabhupāda’s arguments were always convincing. The Indians were respectful to Prabhupāda and repeatedly invited him to their homes. One of Britain’s most prominent and respected Indians visited, Praful Patel, as did many businessmen with the means to help Prabhupāda’s mission. But few were willing to sacrifice.
The second moon landing by American astronauts was scheduled for mid-November, only a few weeks away. For months the moon shots had received much press coverage, and Prabhupāda would speak of them often. Almost a year ago in Los Angeles he had answered a reporter’s queries on the possibility of man’s landing on the moon: “Just like we are going from one place to another by motorcar or by airplane, this mechanical process will not help us go to the moon planet. The process is different, as described in the Vedic literature. One has to qualify. According to our literature, our information, it is not possible. In this body we cannot go there.”
At Tittenhurst Prabhupāda often brought up the moon landing while talking with his disciples. “The moon landing was a hoax,” he said one evening in his room, “for they cannot go to the moon. The moon planet, Candraloka, is a residence of the demigods, higher beings than these drunkards and cow-eating slaughterers who are trying to inhabit it. You cannot think this travel is allowed – like when I migrated from India to the U.S. The moon planet cannot be visited so quickly. It is not possible.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples accepted his statements. He was giving not simply his opinion but the verdict of the Vedic scriptures. Because he accepted Vedic authority over modern science, so did his disciples – but not Puruṣottama.
Detecting Puruṣottama’s dubious mentality, Prabhupāda would often joke lightly in Puruṣottama’s presence. Someone would ask a question – “Where is Jānakī?” – and Prabhupāda would reply, “Oh, Jānakī has gone to the moon.” Then everyone, except Puruṣottama, would laugh.
The devotees knew of Puruṣottama’s difficulty – he was an American, and proud that the Americans were conquering space – and they knew that Prabhupāda was joking about it. Puruṣottama was up on the latest scientific advancements. He was impressed by NASA’s achievements and astronaut Neil Armstrong’s “giant step for mankind.”
Although Puruṣottama went on with his duties, he became sullen, and Prabhupāda noted his lack of enthusiasm. One morning Puruṣottama and Yamunā were together with Prabhupāda in his room. Puruṣottama had several day’s growth of beard and was wearing the same orange sweater he had slept in, whereas Yamunā was neat and clean. Although she had only two simple cotton sārīs, she would always put on a freshly washed and ironed one before going to see Prabhupāda. Looking at his two servants, Prabhupāda said, “Yamunā, you have so many sārīs. They are all so beautiful.”
Yamunā looked up at Prabhupāda in surprise. “I don’t have so many, Śrīla Prabhupāda.”
“No,” he said, “you are wearing a new piece of cloth every day. It’s so nice. You’re always looking so neat and clean – and your tilaka. Puruṣottama, what do you think? Who do you think has the best tilaka?” Puruṣottama didn’t answer. “Beautiful tilaka,” Prabhupāda said, “means beautiful person.”
About six o’clock that same evening, Yamunā was cooking purīs and potatoes for Prabhupāda when she heard him ring the servant’s bell. Leaving the ghee on the fire, she ran up to Prabhupāda’s quarters. He talked with her about the lecture he would give that evening and eventually asked, “When will prasādam be ready – before the discourse?”
“Yes, Śrīla Prabhupāda. I’m …” Yamunā smelled smoke. “Oh!” she gasped. “Please excuse me, Prabhupāda! I’ve left some ghee on the fire!” Rushing downstairs, she found the kitchen filled with black smoke. She couldn’t see the stove. “Puruṣottama! Puruṣottama!” she cried. Puruṣottama arrived, and together they groped through the smoke. Somehow Puruṣottama extinguished the fire before it caused serious damage.
Puruṣottama and Yamunā were covered with soot. Their faces were black, and Puruṣottama’s orange sweater, his robes, and Yamunā’s sārī were all blackened. Suddenly Prabhupāda rang the servant’s bell, and they both hurried upstairs to tell him about the fire. When Jānakī returned downstairs and saw the mess, she ran upstairs to Prabhupāda’s room, where Yamunā and Puruṣottama stood, still covered with soot, before Prabhupāda.
“What has happened here?” Jānakī burst out.
Prabhupāda looked at her soberly and said, “Today Puruṣottama has gone to the moon.”
“What?” Jānakī asked.
Prabhupāda repeated, “Yes, our Puruṣottama has gone to the moon.”
“Prabhupāda,” Puruṣottama said, “I am a brahmacārī. Why are you saying these things?”
“Being a brahmacārī is no restriction from going to the moon. Anyone can go,” Prabhupāda said, winking.
The devotees regularly encountered John and Yoko. Although originally interested in a business relationship, John was inclined toward the devotees, but his friends advised him not to get involved with the Swami and his group. So he remained aloof.
Īśāna dāsa: I was in the kitchen working, and John was sitting at the piano. He had a piano in the kitchen, a great upright piano with all the varnish removed – bare wood. And in this way he was sitting at the piano, playing Hare Kṛṣṇa. The man was actually a great musician, and he played Hare Kṛṣṇa in every musical idiom you could think of – bluegrass music or classical music or rock-and-roll or whatever. He would go at will from one idiom to another, always singing Hare Kṛṣṇa. It was so natural for him, and one could see that he was a musical genius. And in this way he was entertaining me, and he was obviously really enjoying it. So anyway, while this piano-playing was going on with great vigor and enthusiasm, this chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, his wife, Yoko Ono, appeared in a nightgown or what have you and said, in a very distressed tone, “Please, John, I have a terrible headache. Can’t you stop that sort of thing and come upstairs with me?”
George was different. He was drawn to Prabhupāda. When one of the devotees had asked, “Why out of all the Beatles are only you interested?” George had replied, “It’s my karma. One of the things in my sign is the spiritual side.”
George Harrison: Prabhupāda just looked like I thought he would. I had like a mixed feeling of fear and awe about meeting him. That’s what I liked about later on after meeting him more – I felt that he was just more like a friend. I felt relaxed. It was much better than at first, because I hadn’t been able to tell what he was saying and I wasn’t sure if I was too worldly to even be there. But later I relaxed and felt much more at ease with him, and he was very warm towards me. He wouldn’t talk differently to me than to anybody else. He was always just speaking about Kṛṣṇa, and it was coincidental who happened to be there. Whenever you saw him, he would always be the same. It wasn’t like one time he would tell you to chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra and then the next time say, “Oh, no, I made a mistake.” He was always the same.
Seeing him was always a pleasure. Sometimes I would drop by, thinking I wasn’t planning to go but I better go because I ought to, and I would always come away just feeling so good. I was conscious that he was taking a personal interest in me. It was always a pleasure.
George was attracted to Kṛṣṇa, and he liked to chant. Even before meeting Prabhupāda, he had learned something of Kṛṣṇa from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, from the autobiography of Paramahansa Yogananda, and from traveling in India. But Prabhupāda’s instructions in particular impressed upon him that Lord Kṛṣṇa was the Absolute Truth, the origin of everything.
George: Prabhupāda helped me to realize the multifaceted way to approach Kṛṣṇa. Like the prasādam, for example. I think it is a very important thing, prasādam, even if it’s only a trick. Like they say, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well, even if it’s a way to a man’s spirit soul, it works. Because there is nothing better than having been dancing and singing or just sitting and talking and then suddenly they give you some food. It’s like it’s a blessing. And then when you learn to touch Him or taste Him, it’s important.
Kṛṣṇa is not limited. And just by Prabhupāda’s being there and pouring out all this information, I was moved. It’s like the mind is stubborn, but it’s all Kṛṣṇa. That’s all you need to know – it’s all Kṛṣṇa. This world is His material energy too – the universal form. And in Prabhupāda’s books there are these pictures showing Kṛṣṇa in the heart of a dog and a cow and a human being. It helps you to realize that Kṛṣṇa is within everybody.
Although Prabhupāda might have been teaching some higher aspect, what came through to me a lot was a greater understanding of how Kṛṣṇa is everywhere and in everything. Prabhupāda explained about the different aspects of Kṛṣṇa, and he provided a meditation where you could see Kṛṣṇa as a person everywhere. I mean, there isn’t anything that isn’t Kṛṣṇa.
Prabhupāda saw George as a “nice young boy,” and a devotee of Kṛṣṇa. According to the Bhāgavatam, no matter what a person may be materially, if he is a nondevotee and never utters the holy name of God he cannot possess any good qualities. Many swamis and yogīs in India, even some who considered themselves Vaiṣṇavas, had no faith in or understanding of the holy names of Kṛṣṇa. But George liked to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, and he had put the holy name of Kṛṣṇa in his songs, which were tremendously popular all over the world. So he was serving Kṛṣṇa through his music, and that made all the difference.
Mr. George Harrison appears to be a very intelligent boy, and he is, by the Grace of Krishna fortunate also. On the first day, he came to see me along with John Lennon, and we had talks about 2 hours. He wanted to talk with me more, but he has now gone to his sick mother in Liverpool.
Prabhupāda also saw George as a rich man, and Lord Caitanya had strictly instructed devotees in the renounced order not to mix with worldly men. But Lord Caitanya had also taught that a devotee should accept any favorable opportunity for propagating Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
If this boy cooperates with our movement, it will be very nice impetus for after all, he is a monied man. These monied men have to be very cautiously dealt with in spiritual life. We have to sometimes deal with them on account of preaching work; otherwise, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has strictly restricted to mix with them for Krishna Conscious people. But we get instruction from Rupa Goswami that whatever opportunity is favorable for pushing on Krishna Consciousness we should accept.
Prabhupāda dealt with George cautiously, but encouraged him to chant the Lord’s name, take His prasādam, and surrender all his works to Him.
When the devotees in the U.S. heard of Prabhupāda’s dealings with the Beatles, some of them exaggerated the closeness of the relationship, especially in the case of John Lennon. Prabhupāda heard of this and immediately stopped it.
Regarding the booklet you and Gargamuni are sending, in the introductory portion signed by you and Gargamuni you have said that I am “personally instructing John Lennon and George Harrison in the yoga of ecstasy.” This is not very satisfactory. Of course, George Harrison sometimes comes to see me and naturally I instruct him on the bhakti yoga. But the statement in the letter gives hint as if I have been invited by them for this. If this comes to their notice, they may take some objection which will not go to our credit. These things should not be publicly advertised, and I do not know why this has been done. Anyway, if you have not distributed many of them, you just try to take out the portion which is not a fact.
George: Prabhupāda never really suggested that I shouldn’t do what I was doing. I heard that at different times he would say to the devotees that I was a better devotee because of my songs and the other things I was doing. He never actually said that to me, but I always heard that. And the good thing for me was that I didn’t have a feeling that I needed to join full time. I think it would have spoiled it if he had always been on at me, saying, “Why don’t you pack in doing what you are doing and go and live in a temple somewhere?” He never made me feel any different, like I wasn’t quite in the club. He was never like that.
I’m a plainclothes devotee. It’s like that. I saw my relationship – that I should help when and where I could, because I know people in society. It’s like any half-decent person; you just try and help each other a little bit.
He was always pleased with me, because anything I did was a help. I mean not just to the Kṛṣṇa temple as such, but just to anything spiritual that I did, either through songs or whatever – it pleased him. He was just always very friendly. He was always chanting, and at times he said that to me – just to keep chanting all the time, or as much as possible. I think once you do that, you realize the chanting is of benefit.
There are some gurus who go around making out that they are “it,” but Prabhupāda was saying, “I am the servant of the servant of the servant of Kṛṣṇa,” which is really what it is, you know. He wasn’t saying, “I am the greatest,” and “I am God,” and all that. With him it was only in the context of being a servant, and I liked that a lot. I think it’s part of the spiritual thing. The more they know, then the more they actually know that they are the servant. And the less they know, the more they think they are actually God’s gift to mankind.
So although he was obviously a very powerful individual, very spiritually advanced, he always retained that humbleness. And I think that is one of the most important things, because you learn – more than all the words he says – you learn really from the example of how he lives and what he does.
The Daily Sketch reported, “Krishna people dine out at John and Yoko’s place.” A photograph showed the devotees seated out of doors, taking prasādam.
Lunch time at Tittenhurst Park, stately home of John Lennon and Yoko Ono – and some of the Lennon’s house guests take their places in yesterday’s sunshine.
The picnickers are followers of the Indian Swami, His Divine Grace Abhay Charan Bhaktivedanta.
They have adopted the ways of the East, from their clothes and shaven heads right down to the Indian curry they eat with their fingers.
Which is all rather out of character for a place like Tittenhurst Park, which cost John £150,000 and covers sixty acres of most exclusive Sunninghill near Royal Ascot race course.
Prabhupāda and his people and John and Yoko and theirs made an odd combination. Two days after Prabhupāda’s arrival at Tittenhurst, John and Yoko had flown to Canada to perform with the Plastic Ono Band at Toronto’s Rock-N-Roll Revival at Varsity Stadium. In October John and Yoko had recorded Wedding Album and begun work on a film, Rock-and-Roll Circus, and John had recorded “Cold Turkey.” Although John was usually shy, the devotees working at the main house found him openhearted and generous with his possessions. He invited the devotees to stay permanently at Tittenhurst and farm. Whatever he had, he said, he would share with them.
One day Yoko asked Yamunā if a devotee couple could stand in for her and John onstage at a London theater. She and John had previously appeared there dressed in only a burlap bag and were supposed to make another appearance, but Yoko thought perhaps a devotee couple could take their place. The crowd, she said, might never know the difference, and even if they did, it would be a hilarious publicity stunt for the devotees. Politely declining, Yamunā explained why devotees could never do such a thing. When she told Prabhupāda, he was adamant: none of his disciples would go. For days afterward, he condemned this sensuality.
John invited Prabhupāda to the manor to hear his recent recording of “Cold Turkey.” Although such a song held little interest for Prabhupāda, John whimsically wanted him to hear it. Taking the opportunity to preach to the great man of the world, Prabhupāda went. Within John’s main sitting room, Prabhupāda sat on the couch before the fireplace. The tape was ready on the large sixteen-track machine that had recorded it, and as Prabhupāda sat patiently, John began to work the controls.
But the machine wouldn’t play. John began cursing under his breath, turning knobs and pushing buttons. Although only Puruṣottama had accompanied Prabhupāda, two other devotees hid outside beneath the windows, listening. When they peeked in and saw John struggling with the machine, they began giggling in the shadows.
“Oh,” Prabhupāda said, “so your machine is not working. Well, never mind. We have also made some recording, and we would like to play this music for your pleasure.” John resigned himself to listening to Prabhupāda’s singing, and Prabhupāda was saved from the “Cold Turkey.”
Prabhupāda kept his visit short. As he was leaving, he saw on the wall framed, life-size photos of John and Yoko naked. He also saw black and white silhouettes of a man and woman in various positions of sexual intercourse. On returning to his room, he commented, “It is not good for us to continue staying here.” He asked Mukunda to find him an apartment in London. The Bury Place renovations were still incomplete, and Prabhupāda said he preferred to be in the city so that he could oversee the work. The natural setting of Tittenhurst was pleasant, but Prabhupāda’s hosts’ way of life and his were incompatible.
One day John and Yoko, dressed in black, came to visit Prabhupāda. Acknowledging him to be a great yogī with mystic power, they asked him to use his powers to arrange with Kṛṣṇa that they be reunited after death. Prabhupāda was disappointed.
“This is not my business,” he said. “Kṛṣṇa provides you with life, and He takes it away in the form of death. It is impossible that you can be united after death. When you go back home, back to Godhead, you can be united with Kṛṣṇa. But husband and wife – this is simply a mundane relationship. It ends with the body at the time of death. You cannot pick up this kind of relationship again after death.”
At one end of the estate lived a bricklayer and his wife in a small, neglected Georgian house. Hired by John to build a recording studio on the property, the bricklayer had only recently moved to Tittenhurst. A tough, burly man, he never spoke to the devotees, until one day he asked several of them if they believed in ghosts.
“Oh, yes,” Kulaśekhara said. “Prabhupāda says there are ghosts.” “I don’t believe,” the bricklayer said. “My wife is having dreams, but I don’t believe in ghosts.”
The bricklayer’s wife revealed that both she and her husband had been hearing “something” at night. Last night they had gone running to John Lennon’s house, terrified, complaining of sounds: chains rattling, boot heels pounding, and the noise of something “like a body being dragged across the floor.” The bricklayer had seen his wife violently shaken by the shoulders, although no one else was there.
When the devotees told Prabhupāda, he said, “You tell John Lennon that if he wants we can get rid of these ghosts.” Mukunda relayed the message, but John had already invited his friend, a white witch, to come and exorcise the ghost.
The warlock visited the bricklayer’s cottage, and a few devotees tagged along. Over the fireplace in the main room they found a carving of a person with a ghost coming out of his forehead, and on the opposite wall, mahogany runes. “These are ancient witch runes,” the warlock said, shaking his head. “I can’t do anything here.”
When John asked the devotees to try their method, Prabhupāda directed them. At the bricklayer’s cottage they should sprinkle water offered to Kṛṣṇa in the doorways, blow conchshells, and then have kīrtana. A group of devotees went, and Kulaśekhara led the kīrtana. After half an hour of chanting, Kulaśekhara felt a great release of pressure within the room, and the kīrtana became ecstatic. The devotees returned to their engagements, assuring John that the ghosts would not return, and the bricklayer and his wife moved in again.
The next morning Prabhupāda passed the old cottage on his walk. “So, how is the ghost?” he asked.
“No news, Prabhupāda,” Kulaśekhara replied.
The following morning Prabhupāda again asked, “How is the ghost? Would they like to have him back?”
Years ago in India, Prabhupāda said, when he was running his chemical business, he had detected ghosts in the building at night.
“What did you do?” one of the devotees asked.
“I simply chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa, and the ghosts would go away.” Prabhupāda then opened his eyes wide and gestured with both hands, mimicking the frightened workers in the plant who had come running to him: “Bābājī! Bābājī! There is ghost! There is ghost!” The devotees laughed.
“Actually,” Prabhupāda said, “there are many ghosts here. Especially over by the stable areas. They are attached to this place. But they will not harm you if you just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
Prabhupāda was anxious to leave Tittenhurst, and by late October some of the devotees had moved to Bury Place. Prabhupāda no longer had any business at Tittenhurst. Mr. Lennon was an influential person who had seemed interested in Kṛṣṇa, but now there was no point in Prabhupāda’s staying on at the estate.
Yoko and her ex-husband, Dan, now John’s manager, were also pressing John to be rid of the devotees. Dan complained that the devotees were trying to take over the place. The devotees, on the other hand, complained to John that Dan and Yoko were misrepresenting them. On one side were Dan and Yoko, on the other the devotees. John was in the middle; he had to choose.
John told Mukunda that as far as he was concerned he got along fine with the devotees, but the people around him were having difficulty. He would give the devotees a couple more weeks to move to their new temple in the city. The devotees were already in the process of moving to Bury Place, and Mukunda had found an apartment for Prabhupāda a short drive from the temple. In a few days everything would be ready for Prabhupāda to move.
On the day Prabhupāda left Tittenhurst, he stopped at his car and said, “I want to say good-bye to a few friends first.” He then took a last walk through the grounds, giving careful attention to the trees, sometimes touching their leaves, just as on his morning walks. Then he left. The next day a severe storm swept through the Tittenhurst estate, breaking windows and uprooting trees.
November 3, 1969
Prabhupāda moved into his furnished apartment on Baker Street, a ten-minute drive from the Bury Place temple. After two months in London, he was anxious to see his temple open, and Śyāmasundara was working hard, although progressing slowly.
For the temple’s interior Śyāmasundara had an artistic concept taken from photographs he had seen of the Ajanta Caves, South Indian temples with walls and ceilings of carved stone. His inspiration was to produce a similar effect using California redwood he and Mukunda had shipped to England a year ago. On first hearing the plans, Prabhupāda had asked, “Why make it so artistic?” But Śyāmasundara had been so set on the idea that Prabhupāda had permitted him. With the ceiling partly finished, there was no turning back.
Śyāmasundara toiled day and night, yet each day the temple design seemed to grow more elaborate, with the walls and floor fashioned of solid redwood and the ceiling lined with redwood arches. Śyāmasundara took great care to see that each piece fit exactly into place. As Śyāmasundara inched along, devotees joked that the room looked like an upside-down boat. But Prabhupāda encouraged him, telling him it was very beautiful.
Prabhupāda often allowed his disciples to work as they liked. He reasoned that they were raising the money and could spend it in Kṛṣṇa’s service as they pleased. He also did not care to interfere in every detail of a disciple’s service, especially when that disciple was strongheaded and had ideas that were not harmful or obstructive. All Prabhupāda’s disciples were ultimately under his absolute decision, but he was often lenient – “eighty-percent lenient,” he would sometimes say.
Śyāmasundara particularly thrived on having his own big projects. He had arranged for the Mantra-Rock Dance in San Francisco, built the first Ratha-yātrā carts, established a friendship with George Harrison, and now he was designing a temple. Prabhupāda allowed it – watchfully, like a father.
Consulting the Vedic calendar, Prabhupāda chose December 14 for the temple-opening celebration. And despite predictions from Śyāmasundara and others that the deadline would be impossible to meet, Prabhupāda ordered invitations printed immediately. The devotees had tremendous work to do, and little time. Not only did they have the temple to complete, but also Prabhupāda’s quarters on the second floor and the kitchen in the basement. Faced with their tight deadline, they worked harder.
As Prabhupāda was anxious about the temple opening, he was also anxious about publishing the first volume of Kṛṣṇa. But he had no money.
According to printers’ estimates, the book would cost about $19,000. Prabhupāda told Śyāmasundara to ask his friend George for a donation. Śyāmasundara, who had always been careful not to ask George for money, was hesitant. But Prabhupāda insisted, and Śyāmasundara gave in.
George agreed, but regretted it afterward. Then Śyāmasundara began to feel sorry. After all, he hadn’t really wanted to ask George, and George hadn’t really wanted to be asked. When Prabhupāda heard of this, he invited George to see him.
George told Prabhupāda that every day people were asking him for his money. But when Prabhupāda explained the importance of the Kṛṣṇa book and how George’s donation would be devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, George dismissed his regrets. He also agreed to write a foreword to the volume.
George: I didn’t really think I was qualified to write the foreword to Prabhupāda’s book. But one way of looking at it is, because I am known, it would help. But from the other point of view, it could really hinder, because not everyone wants to listen or to believe what I say. There are a lot of people who would be put off just because I’m saying it. I mean, if I picked up a book on Kṛṣṇa and the foreword was written by Frank Zappa or somebody like that, I would think, “God, maybe I don’t want to know about it.”
So I thought that although he asked me, maybe Prabhupāda didn’t really want me to write the foreword. But it was one of those things I couldn’t get out of: Everybody had their minds made up, “You’re writing the foreword, and that’s it.” So I just did it.
When Śrīla Prabhupāda asked to watch the moon landing, the devotees rented a television and placed it in Prabhupāda’s living room. Prabhupāda took his massage as usual, sitting in a chair before the television.
Puruṣottama announced, “Well, Prabhupāda, it’s about time, so I’ll turn on the television, and soon we’ll be getting some pictures from the astronauts out in space.”
A reporter was speaking from Cape Canaveral, Florida: “We are just about to get the first pictures of this historic occasion.” The picture appeared fuzzy, then cleared. The spacecraft had landed on the moon. As the astronauts emerged from the ship, they slowly eased themselves down onto the moon’s surface. Puruṣottama was in ecstasy.
Dhanañjaya: I was attempting to massage Prabhupāda’s head and at the same time watch the program. All of a sudden, as the men were landing, Prabhupāda motioned for me to sit in front of him, so I came around. As soon as I sat down, Prabhupāda started to massage my head. I was quite embarrassed. “You have forgotten how to massage properly?” he asked. “This is how you do it.” He massaged my head for about two minutes.
Then I stood behind Prabhupāda and again began massaging his head. By this time, the astronauts were moving across the landscape. They had gotten out their little American flag and were sticking it in the ground and were jumping up and down. Apparently they were defying gravity, because every time they jumped up they would float through the air and then gently land again. There was a lot of jubilation and sounds from them.
“So, Puruṣottama,” Prabhupāda asked, “they have come to the moon?”
“Yes, Prabhupāda,” Puruṣottama said excitedly. “They’ve landed on the moon!”
Dhanañjaya: Again, Prabhupāda motioned me to the front. I moved around and sat down. I thought he wanted me to massage him from the front. But again he put his hands on my head and massaged. He said, “Can’t you learn this simple thing, massaging my head?” I had been watching the television and not giving my full attention to my service. I tried again, but again Prabhupāda said, “You still don’t know how to do this.” I said, “Well, Prabhupāda, I am trying my hardest.” He laughed and said, “That is all right. Continue.”
Prabhupāda asked Puruṣottama, “So, what can you see?”
“They’re exploring the moon’s surface,” he said.
“So, what is there?”
“Well, it looks like they have landed inside a crater somewhere, and the ground is sandy with some rocks. Oh, look, they’re showing some shadows from some of the rocks that are lying around!”
“That’s all you can see? There are no people? There are no trees? There are no rivers? There are no buildings?”
“No,” Puruṣottama replied. “The moon is barren.”
“They have not landed on the moon,” Prabhupāda said emphatically. “This is not the moon.”
Later when Mālatī brought in Prabhupāda’s lunch, he said, “What Mālatī has done, she has made this little kicharī for Kṛṣṇa, and that is far greater than what they have done.”
Even though Prabhupāda’s quarters were incomplete and temple renovation made 7 Bury Place noisy and hectic, Prabhupāda decided to move in. “I am not attached to a comfortable apartment,” he said. “My attachment is to living in the association of devotees.” He was moving into the temple at a time when the record sales were low and the devotees were having to purchase supplies piecemeal, whenever they got money. Yet with Prabhupāda living with them and supervising their work, they were satisfied.
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa arrived from Los Angeles, and in addition to supervising much of the construction, he began taking the devotees out daily to chant on the streets and sell Back to Godhead magazines. Yamunā was sewing curtains from morning until night. Īśāna, Śyāmasundara, and others were working every possible hour on the renovation. And every day Prabhupāda would walk through the building to see the progress.
With only one week left until the opening, Śyāmasundara still labored on the temple ceiling. He had not even begun the altar. Again the other devotees complained to Prabhupāda that Śyāmasundara was too slow, but Prabhupāda replied, “He wants to make it artistic. Let him do it.”
Śyāmasundara, this time on his own, asked George for a donation for an altar. George gave two thousand pounds, and Śyāmasundara picked out a slab of golden sienna marble and two slabs of red marble. Although Prabhupāda had a pair of seventeen-inch carved wood Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, he didn’t plan to use Them. And the size of the altar Śyāmasundara was building clearly required larger Deities.
One day a Mr. Doyal phoned, representing a large London Hindu society. He had heard the devotees wanted Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities, and he had a pair he would donate. When Prabhupāda heard the news, he sent Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, Mukunda, and Śyāmasundara to Mr. Doyal’s home to see the Deities.
Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa were white marble and stood about three feet high. Never before had the devotees seen such large Deities, and they offered obeisances. When they returned to the temple and told Prabhupāda, he said, “Take me there at once!”
Śrīla Prabhupāda, accompanied by Śyāmasundara, Mukunda, and Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, arrived by van at Mr. Doyal’s home. Prabhupāda entered the living room and sat down. The Deities, covered by a cloth, stood on a table in the corner. Tamāla Kṛṣṇa was about to unveil Them when Prabhupāda checked him: “No. That’s all right.” Prabhupāda sat and spoke with Mr. Doyal, asking him about his work and where he had come from in India, and he met Mr. Doyal’s family. Prabhupāda and his host chatted while the devotees listened.
“Swamiji,” Mr. Doyal said at length, “I want to show you my Deities.”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda replied, “I will see Them after some time.”
Prabhupāda began to speak about his Kṛṣṇa consciousness mission, and after a while Mr. Doyal again requested, “Please take a look at these Deities.” And with that he walked over and unveiled Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.
“Oh, yes,” Prabhupāda said, folding his hands respectfully. Mr. Doyal explained that he had ordered the Deities from India for his own use, but in transit a tiny piece of Rādhārāṇī’s finger had chipped off; therefore, according to Hindu tradition, the Deities could not be installed.
“Tamāla Kṛṣṇa,” Prabhupāda said. “See how heavy these Deities are.”
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, placing one hand at Rādhārāṇī’s base and the other around Her shoulder, lifted Her. “Not so heavy,” he said.
“Śyāmasundara,” Prabhupāda said. “See how heavy is Kṛṣṇa.” The Deities were actually heavy for one man to carry, but the devotees understood Prabhupāda’s intention.
“Not bad,” Śyāmasundara said, holding Kṛṣṇa a few inches off the table.
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said conclusively, “I think They’re all right. Let us take Them. We have our van.” And suddenly Prabhupāda was leaving, with his disciples following, carefully carrying Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Prabhupāda thanked Mr. Doyal.
“But Swamiji! Swamiji!” protested Mr. Doyal, who was not prepared for this sudden exit. “Please, we will arrange to bring Them. Our society will bring Them.” But Prabhupāda was already out the door and leading his men to the van.
“Please wait,” Mr. Doyal persisted. “We have to fix Them first, then you can take Them.”
“We have an expert man,” Prabhupāda said. “He can fix these things.” Prabhupāda was assuring Mr. Doyal and at the same time directing his disciples. He opened the door of the van, and Śyāmasundara and Tamāla Kṛṣṇa slowly entered, cautiously setting Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa within. Tamāla Kṛṣṇa knelt in the back to hold the Deities secure, while Śyāmasundara got into the driver’s seat.
“Now drive,” Prabhupāda said. And off they went, with Prabhupāda smiling from the window to Mr. Doyal and his family, who stood together on the curb.
Śyāmasundara had driven but a few blocks when Prabhupāda asked him to stop the van. Turning around in his seat, Prabhupāda began offering prayers: Govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi … He looked long at Kṛṣṇa, who was white with a slight bluish cast, and at the exquisite white Rādhārāṇī by His side. “Kṛṣṇa is so kind,” he said. “He has come like this.” Then he had Śyāmasundara continue driving slowly back to the temple.
Carefully, Prabhupāda supervised his disciples’ carrying the Deities up to the second floor. The devotees were astounded and delighted to see Prabhupāda in such an animated and intense state, bringing Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa into Their temple. He had the Deities placed in a curtained-off section of his own room, and then he sat at his desk.
Prabhupāda smiled. “Kṛṣṇa has played a great trick.” In the Mahābhārata also, he said, there are incidents where Kṛṣṇa plays tricks. One such trick was Kṛṣṇa’s agreeing to be on the side of the general He saw first in the morning. The two opposing generals, Arjuna and Duryodhana, had both come to Kṛṣṇa’s tent early in the morning as Kṛṣṇa slept. They had agreed that one of them would stand at Kṛṣṇa’s head and the other at Kṛṣṇa’s feet and that they would wait until Kṛṣṇa awoke. Duryodhana chose to stand by Kṛṣṇa’s head, while Arjuna chose His feet. Kṛṣṇa awoke and saw Arjuna.
“That was one great trick that was played by Kṛṣṇa,” Prabhupāda said. “Similarly, this is a great trick.” He told how Kṛṣṇa had also tricked Mother Yaśodā when she had tried to discipline Kṛṣṇa. He had run away, and she had run after Him, caught Him, and tried to tie Him with ropes. “But every time she came with more rope,” Prabhupāda said, “it was just a little too short. Kṛṣṇa can play any kind of trick. Another such trick has been played. They made so much effort to bring these Deities here, thinking They will be for their Hindu Centre. But all the time Kṛṣṇa wanted to come here. So this chip on the Deity’s hand is just Kṛṣṇa’s trick. And we have caught Them.”
“Prabhupāda,” Mukunda said, “you kidnapped Kṛṣṇa.”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said. “Once I was in the bank, and the manager had some scheme. But I foiled his scheme. So he said to me, ‘Mr. De, you should have been a politician.’ ” Prabhupāda laughed. Then he became grave and asked the devotees not to talk about the incident. Many people would not understand how he could install a chipped Deity. The devotees agreed to keep the secret, but they had no doubt that Prabhupāda’s love for Kṛṣṇa was transcendental to Hindu customs; Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa had come to London on Prabhupāda’s desire.
“How do you dress big Deities like this?” Yamunā asked. “They already have clothes on.”
Prabhupāda said, “You bring me some cloth.”
“What kind of cloth, Prabhupāda? What should the clothes look like?”
“Like in the pictures,” he replied.
“Well, there are so many different pictures,” she said. “Sometimes Kṛṣṇa has a ruffled skirt on, and sometimes He has a dhotī on, and sometimes He has a big crown on.”
“Kṛṣṇa looks very beautiful in saffron,” Prabhupāda said. “So you bring me some silk dhotīs in yellow and saffron color.”
Yamunā collected six silk sārīs with silver and gold borders, and Prabhupāda indicated the design he wanted and told Yamunā how to arrange the crowns. With only a few days remaining before the installation ceremony, Yamunā began working almost continuously at her sewing machine. Several times a day Prabhupāda would come to see her progress.
Śyāmasundara had completed most of the altar, except for Lord Jagannātha’s altar and the canopy over Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa’s throne. Both the canopy and Lord Jagannātha’s altar would be supported by four heavy wooden columns more than six feet high. Two rear columns would hold a marble slab for the Jagannātha deities to stand on, and two front columns were now supporting Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa’s large velvet canopy. The columns were big and heavy; Śyāmasundara called them “elephant-leg columns.” The columns now stood in place on the altar, although Śyāmasundara hadn’t had a chance to secure them. The day before the installation Śyāmasundara collapsed upstairs in exhaustion.
On opening day many guests, Indians especially, crowded the temple, responding to flyers and advertisements. Apple Records had supplied a professional florist, who had decorated the room with floral arrangements. A BBC television crew was on hand to videotape the ceremony. While most of the devotees held kīrtana, Prabhupāda, behind a curtain at the other end of the temple, bathed Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.
The plan was that after the bathing ceremony the Deities would be placed on the altar and Yamunā would dress Them. Once they were dressed and enthroned, the curtain would open for all the guests to behold Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Prabhupāda would lecture, and then everyone would feast. But because of Śyāmasundara’s oversight, the installation almost became a disaster.
Prabhupāda had finished bathing the Deities and They had been placed on the marble altar, when suddenly the “elephant-leg columns” tottered. The canopy above the Deities began to collapse. Prabhupāda, seeing the danger, jumped onto the altar and seized the heavy columns in a split second. With great strength he held the two front pillars in place. “Get this out of here!” he shouted. While Prabhupāda’s arms protected the Deities, the men removed the canopy, and then two men at a time carried each of the pillars away. The Deities remained unharmed.
While Prabhupāda was behind the curtain rescuing Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, on the other side of the curtain guests and reporters awaited the unveiling of the Deities. Unaware of the mishap, the guests saw only men emerging from behind the curtain carrying large pillars and a canopy. The BBC camera crew began filming the canopy and pillars as they appeared from behind the curtain, taking them to be part of a ceremonial procession.
The few devotees behind the curtain with Prabhupāda were amazed. But there was no time now for apologies or appreciations. Yamunā dressed the Deities, Prabhupāda hurrying her. When at last everything was ready, Prabhupāda opened the main curtain, revealing the graceful forms of Lord Kṛṣṇa and Rādhārāṇī to the temple full of guests. A devotee began to offer ārati, while Prabhupāda, wearing a saffron cādara and a garland of carnations, stood to one side, reverentially looking upon Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa as their worshiper and protector.
This was the culmination of months of effort. Actually, years of planning had preceded this auspicious occasion. One hundred years before, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had hoped for the day when Kṛṣṇa consciousness would come to England, and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had also desired it. Now that an authorized temple of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa was preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness in London, it was a historic occasion for Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism; a long-standing order of the previous ācāryas had been fulfilled. Prabhupāda had sent invitations to several of his Godbrothers in India. None of them had been able to come, of course, but at least they should have been pleased to learn that this dream of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s had been fulfilled.
Prabhupāda was seventy-three. He had now opened twenty-one temples in three years. Recently he had told some of his disciples that they should try to form a governing body for ISKCON, to relieve him of the management and allow him to concentrate fully on presenting Kṛṣṇa conscious literature. This literature could be introduced all over the world into homes, schools, and colleges for the benefit of everyone. It would be in such literature that he would live on. How much time he had left in this world he didn’t know, he said, but he wanted to go on serving and trying to please his Guru Mahārāja, life after life.
Nevertheless, despite Prabhupāda’s desire to retire from active work and absorb himself in writing books, here he was installing Deities in a new temple and protecting Them from his disciples’ carelessness. Had he not been present, the celebration would have been a disaster. So many hardworking disciples, and they still needed his personal guidance.
ISKCON was just beginning to grow. Prabhupāda wanted to open not just twenty-one temples, but at least 108. His world traveling and book printing were just beginning, and, like everything else, the number of disciples would increase. The prestige of his movement would increase, and with it opposition from the atheists. Kṛṣṇa consciousness was growing, and Prabhupāda was in the forefront. “All around I see bright,” he said. “That is the glory of Kṛṣṇa.” He saw himself as a servant of his spiritual master; the bright future was in Kṛṣṇa’s hands.
Prabhupāda called for Śyāmasundara. Although Prabhupāda was angry at first because of the near-disaster on the altar, he admitted that his disciples had done their best. The temple was beautiful, he told Śyāmasundara; he liked it. He then asked that a sign be placed out front with gold letters on a blue background:
This temple was constructed with great labor and effort
by Shyamasundar das Adhikary
On the day of Prabhupāda’s departure from London, he distributed some of his personal effects, such as sweaters and scarves, to his disciples. He then went downstairs alone into the temple to see the Deities. He offered fully prostrated obeisances on the floor for a long time and then stood, looking at Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.
Yamunā: Prabhupāda was looking at the Deities with complete devotion. He loved those Deities. He had commented about Their exquisite beauty and how They complemented each other – how sometimes Rādhārāṇī looked more beautiful but how Kṛṣṇa’s moonlike face and eyes were shining. Prabhupāda saw me and matter-of-factly said, “If you practice what I have taught you and follow the instructions of how I have taught you to worship the Deity, and if you read the books that we have printed, it is sufficient for you to go back to Godhead. You need not learn anything new. Simply practice what I have taught you, and your life will be perfect.” Then he left – just left.