“This Remote Corner of the World”
ALTHOUGH ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA had been away from America for a year, his Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement had flourished, by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, and the devotees’ attachment for him had grown. His disciples, having heard reports and seen photos of his triumphant tour of India, had felt inspired to increase their own preaching. In each American center new devotees had been joining and were learning Prabhupāda’s teachings from the senior devotees. Already accepting Śrīla Prabhupāda as their spiritual master, hundreds of newcomers were eagerly awaiting initiation.
How different from Prabhupāda’s first arrival in America, alone in 1965. Walking the cold streets with no money and no temple, he had been ignored. Sometimes he had thought of quitting, taking a boat back to India. But he had maintained absolute faith. And now, less than six years later, in dozens of ISKCON centers throughout America, hundreds of disciples worshiped him and would throng ecstatically to receive him.
June 26, 1971
When Prabhupāda had left Los Angeles a year ago, the political turmoil there had troubled his mind, but on returning he found the devotees recovered. Faithfully they were executing his orders to chant publicly, distribute Back to Godhead magazine, and worship the Deity of Rukmiṇī-Dvārakādhīśa. In the gorgeously decorated Los Angeles temple, Prabhupāda performed a large initiation ceremony, accepting dozens of new disciples.
On June 27 Śrīla Prabhupāda traveled from Los Angeles to San Francisco for the fifth annual Ratha-yātrā. Two hundred followers met him at the airport.
“How many devotees do you have?” a reporter asked.
“Unlimited,” Prabhupāda said. “Some admit and some don’t admit. Admit you are a servant of Lord Kṛṣṇa, and your life will be a success.”
After two days in San Francisco, Prabhupāda returned to Los Angeles and on July 16 flew to Detroit. Bhagavān dāsa, Prabhupāda’s Governing Body secretary for the Midwest, had preached vigorously in his zone, opening centers in St. Louis, Chicago, and other cities. Almost three hundred devotees, most of whom had never seen Prabhupāda, assembled at the Detroit airport to receive him.
Sureśvara: Devotees had come from all over the midwestern U.S. and eastern Canada to greet Śrīla Prabhupāda at Detroit’s Metro Airport. A red and gold throne stood in the center of the reception room, and the devotees were chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and dancing, awaiting Prabhupāda’s arrival. When the plane finally landed, all bliss broke loose. The disembarkation dolly joined the plane, but we couldn’t see Śrīla Prabhupāda. I became anxious – when would he enter the room? Suddenly a cry went up, and I looked around. Devotees were bowing down.
Urukrama: Śrīla Prabhupāda entered the room as bright as the sun, and everyone immediately prostrated themselves on the floor. Not like the other times when we bowed down together, but this was like an overwhelming force hit us and we were being thrown to our knees. When I stood up, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was Prabhupāda! Almost everyone in the room was crying.
Indradyumna: My first glimpse of Prabhupāda was through the lens of my camera, and I thought he looked just like he did in his pictures. I had only seen him in pictures, and now he looked just like the pictures, only moving. All the devotees began to cry and fall to the ground. It was a transcendental, emotional thing. I was looking, watching all the older devotees – how much love they had for Śrīla Prabhupāda. And I was feeling unqualified and sinful.
Urukrama: Prabhupāda appeared powerful, yet at the same time delicate and soft, like a very wonderful flower. As he moved along very slowly, the devotees lined up and made an aisle for him to walk. He walked up to Kīrtanānanda Mahārāja, put a garland around him, and embraced him. Kīrtanānanda Mahārāja was crying tears of ecstasy, and he looked like a little boy next to his father. Then Prabhupāda went to Bhagavān and patted him on the head. Then he embraced Bhagavān, who also began to weep like a little boy who has just seen his father after a very long time.
Viśvakarmā: I arrived late. When I got there, I was afraid to look at Śrīla Prabhupāda, because I felt too fallen to look upon the pure representative of the Lord. So I stayed behind a wall of devotees, afraid to look. Finally, I realized this is ridiculous, as the perfection of the eyes is to behold the form of Kṛṣṇa’s pure devotee. I raised my head, and I saw him sitting on his vyāsāsana, drinking a cup of water. Never had I seen anyone drink water like that – without touching the goblet to their mouth. The water poured from the cup like a shining silver stream, straight into Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mouth and throat, and he finished the water in a few swallows. He appeared to be a grand sage from the spiritual realm, and as everyone chanted, he looked around at the devotees, smiling with great pleasure. Everyone was overwhelmed with transcendental joy, and I joined with over half the devotees in weeping.
Prabhupāda began speaking.
“This is very satisfactory that so many devotees, boys and girls, are taking part in this great movement, Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. It is a very important movement, because it is correcting the human civilization. It is a great defect in the modern civilization – people are accepting this body as self. And based on this mistake in the foundation, everything is going wrong. Accepting this body as the self is the beginning of all problems. The great philosophers, scientists, theologians, and thoughtful men do not know what is the defect.
“Recently I was in Moscow. So I had a nice talk with a professor of Indology, Professor Kotovsky. He was speaking that, ‘Swamiji, after this annihilation of this body, everything is finished.’ So I was astonished that a learned professor, posing himself in a very responsible post, had no idea about the soul and the body – how they are different, how the soul is migrating from one body to another. …”
As Prabhupāda spoke, a voice announced over the public address system that the departure lounge had to be cleared for the next flight. “They are speaking about ourselves?” Prabhupāda asked. “We shall stop? All right. Let us go.”
That evening, in the temple room of Detroit’s ISKCON center, Śrīla Prabhupāda sat on his vyāsāsana before the deities of Lord Jagannātha, Subhadrā, and Balarāma. While a devotee led the kīrtana, Prabhupāda played his karatālas, looking around the room at his disciples. He was nodding his head, pleased to see them dancing and chanting. After the kīrtana, he lectured.
“Just see how their characters are being formed, how they are becoming purified, how their faces are becoming brighter. It is practical. So our request is, take full advantage of the center – you come here. It is being guided by one of my best disciples, Bhagavān dāsa. So he and others will help you. Please come regularly to this temple and take advantage of it.”
After his lecture, Prabhupāda asked for questions. Bahulāśva raised his hand. “Śrīla Prabhupāda, what is the thing that will please you the most?”
“Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa,” Prabhupāda replied, and the devotees spontaneously cried out, “Jaya! Jaya!”
Prabhupāda: “That is the simplest thing. You are chanting. I am very much pleased. That’s all. I came to your country to chant that you would chant also along with me. You are helping me by chanting, so I am pleased.
“But this tendency is very nice, that you want to please me. That is very good. And to please me is not very difficult. Caitanya Mahāprabhu said that ‘Under My order, every one of you go preach and become spiritual master.’ And what is that order? The order is, ‘Whomever you meet, you talk to him about Kṛṣṇa.’ ”
Prabhupāda emphasized that if one wanted to preach and represent Kṛṣṇa, then he could not change the message of Kṛṣṇa but must repeat what Kṛṣṇa says. “I have come here for the first time,” Prabhupāda continued, “but before me, Bhagavān dāsa, he has organized. And what is his credit? He has presented things as I told him. That’s all. This is wonderful. In Los Angeles also a program is going on very nicely. My disciple in charge there is Karandhara. He is present here. He is simply doing what I instruct, and he is doing very nicely – first class. Everyone who comes, they come and are enchanted by the temple, with the activities, with the disciples. So this is the way. This is called paramparā system. Don’t concoct.”
As Prabhupāda was leaving the temple that evening, the mother of one of his disciples approached him. “You know,” she said, “these boys actually worship you!”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said, “that is our system. I am also worshiping my Guru Mahārāja.” The devotees around Prabhupāda looked at one another and smiled. Although the woman had tried to make it appear extraordinary that Prabhupāda’s disciples worshiped him, Prabhupāda had taken it casually. One must worship the guru. It was the Vaiṣṇava standard and nothing to wonder at.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had so many centers in the U.S. that to visit each one was not practical. During his year in India, many new centers had opened – on the West Coast, in Florida, Texas, the Midwest, the East. Prabhupāda said he had more establishments than a wealthy businessman, and more residences. Were he to stay at each of his “houses,” he quipped, he couldn’t visit them all in a year. And especially to Indian audiences he would cite the monthly expenditures for his centers.
Though proud of ISKCON’s growth, Prabhupāda was never proud on his own account; he never considered using ISKCON for his own enjoyment. Whenever he visited a center, his quarters were usually an apartment arranged at the last minute, often fraught with annoyances like noisy neighbors and incompetent cooks. At seventy-five years, his constant traveling was hardly an arrangement for his health and comfort.
Prabhupāda never felt complacent over the small success his society enjoyed, nor would he claim the credit for that success. Rather, he said, it was due to the mercy of his spiritual master and the previous spiritual masters. ISKCON still had but little influence in the world; people considered it a small, exotic religious sect. But by the blessings of the previous ācāryas, it was growing. Prabhupāda was initiating more and more disciples, and the potential was unlimited.
One of Lord Caitanya’s chief followers, Jīva Gosvāmī, had warned that a spiritual master should not accept many disciples; many neophyte disciples would bring suffering to the spiritual master. Yet on Prabhupāda’s U.S. tour during the summer of 1971, he initiated more disciples than ever before. As Lord Caitanya’s empowered representative, he wanted to increase the number of devotees more and more. He was aware of the risk, but he was also aware of the great need. As he had written in The Nectar of Devotion:
The one point is that without increasing the number of disciples, there is no propagation of the cult of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Therefore, sometimes even at a risk, a sannyāsī in the line of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu may accept even a person who is not thoroughly fit to become a disciple. Later on, by the mercy of such a bona fide spiritual master, the disciple is gradually elevated. However, if one increases the number of disciples simply for some prestige or false honor, he will surely fall down in the matter of executing Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s test of a prospective disciple’s readiness for initiation was standard: the candidate must have followed the four rules and chanted sixteen rounds daily for at least six months and have the recommendation of the temple president and local G.B.C. secretary. Prabhupāda accepted anyone who fulfilled these conditions, and he expected the disciple to remain sincere and true to the vows of initiation.
Despite Prabhupāda’s growing number of disciples, he intimately touched each of their hearts. Although a few disciples enjoyed extended association with him, most of his hundreds of disciples saw him only from afar. Yet each of them was certain that Prabhupāda was his own. Each could say “my spiritual master.” Each could say “Prabhupāda” and feel close to their dearest friend and well-wisher, the one who was saving them from death. They knew that Prabhupāda was the direct representative of Kṛṣṇa and the most empowered ācārya of Lord Caitanya’s message. Those who were sincere knew without doubt that their connection with Prabhupāda was transcendental, not to be interrupted or limited by physical or geographical considerations. If they surrendered to Prabhupāda’s orders, Kṛṣṇa within their hearts would help them advance. If they were sincere, Kṛṣṇa would help them become better disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda.
The devotees’ love for Prabhupāda was not a vague sentiment. He was engaging them in Kṛṣṇa’s service, and they were directly experiencing the transcendental results. Only a devotee, however, could understand Śrīla Prabhupāda’s personality or the depth of his disciples’ attraction for him or the debt they owed him. No wonder onlookers at the Detroit airport had not understood the apparently delirious devotees in their blissful reception of Śrīla Prabhupāda.
New York City
July 19, 1971
After Detroit, Prabhupāda visited Boston and then flew to New York, where another large group of devotees had gathered. The New York Daily News covered his airport arrival with photos and an article: “Swami, How They Love You.”
Bhavānanda, the New York temple president, had decorated the temple room of the Brooklyn center with bright colors. Prabhupāda’s vyāsāsana was a special creation of plaids, stripes, and checks in fuchsia, lime, black, white, and red. Prabhupāda liked it very much.
Two hundred devotees – many having waited for more than a year to be initiated – converged on the Brooklyn temple, and Prabhupāda held initiations for five consecutive days, initiating around two dozen disciples each day. One after another, the young men and women would approach Prabhupāda on his multicolored vyāsāsana to receive their initiation beads and spiritual names. Those receiving the brāhmaṇa initiation went one by one to see Prabhupāda in his room and receive the Gāyatrī mantra.
Madhumaṅgala: I went to Prabhupāda’s room and offered obeisances. “Come here,” he said. So I went and sat close to him. He began teaching me the Gāyatrī mantra, and I was looking up at him. The sun was right behind his head. He looked like a mountain, like the Himalayas, and I was like a mole, a stone. He was very big, and I seemed very insignificant.
Rikthānanda: Prabhupāda turned to face me, and his eyes seemed like limitless pools of an entrancing liquid. I knew he was focused always on Kṛṣṇa, and his eyes were a reflection of that happiness. He said something to me, and I said, “No, sir.” Saying “sir” to him seemed natural, and he seemed to be happy that I had said it. Then in a very clear, soft, steady voice, he began to teach me the Gāyatrī mantra. Then he took the sacred thread and put it around my neck and across my shoulder, very gracefully and with such precision in his movements. “Now,” he said, “you are a brāhmaṇa.”
Daivī-śakti: Prabhupāda had the Gāyatrī mantra written on a small piece of paper, and as he was teaching it to me he had his eyes closed. I would repeat it word for word after him. When he got to the third line, however, instead of saying gurudevāya he said the word from the fifth line. I didn’t know whether to follow what he had said or just say what was on the paper. So I said what was on the paper, and then Prabhupāda immediately realized what he had done and changed it. But I suddenly realized that the perfect chanting of mantras was not so significant. Prabhupāda was fully absorbed in thinking of Kṛṣṇa, and although there may have been some apparent flaw in his pronunciation, he was perfect, regardless. I saw that the real perfection of devotional service was to follow Prabhupāda.
After I received my Gāyatrī mantra, I asked Prabhupāda if I could ask him some questions, and he said yes. “Śrīla Prabhupāda,” I said, “I haven’t been able to serve you in rapt attention. What can I do to serve you?” I was praying he would give me a special service to do for him personally. “Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa,” was all he said.
“Is there anything more?” I asked. He said, “Are you married?” I said, “Yes.” So he said, “Serve your husband.”
I said, “My husband and I don’t get along.” So he said, “Be a pūjārī – there are so many things.”
His answer seemed to solve all my difficulty. First and foremost was to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. And in addition to that, there are so many other services. If you don’t do one of them, then go on to the next one – “There are so many things.” When he said those words, it relieved all my anxiety.
In New York Prabhupāda lectured gravely and authoritatively from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, stressing surrender to Kṛṣṇa through surrendering to the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Unlike any other Bhāgavatam lecturer, Prabhupāda was able to offer a movement, a society, and a way of life that were fully Kṛṣṇa conscious and that gave any interested person practical entrance into the devotional service of the Lord.
Someone asked how a person who had been very sinful could be relieved of his karma, and Prabhupāda replied simply, “Come and live with us. That’s all. Is it very difficult? Our students – they are living with us. You simply come and live with us, and you are free from all karma. Is it difficult? Then do that. We shall give you food, we shall give you shelter, we shall give you nice philosophy. If you want to marry, we shall give you a good wife. What do you want more? So come and live with us. That’s all.”
Prabhupāda stressed this same point in his lectures: if a person seeking spiritual fulfillment lived and served with the ISKCON devotees, even material fulfillment would come.
“These Kṛṣṇa conscious boys and girls – in sixty centers – they are living in the best houses. They are eating the best food. They are in the best consciousness. They have got the best hope. Everything best. Their feature of body is best. What material happiness do you want more than this? They have got wife, children, happiness, home – everything full. So material happiness is nothing to a Kṛṣṇa conscious person. Material happiness will roll at his feet, saying, ‘Please take me, please take me.’ There is no need of asking for it. Simply be steady and ask Kṛṣṇa, ‘Please engage me in Your service.’ Then your satisfaction will automatically come. Don’t bother for material happiness.”
Nanda-kiśora asked, “What happens to a person out on the street if we just give him one Simply Wonderful* or some prasādam?”
* A sweet made from powdered milk, butter, and sugar and offered to Lord Kṛṣṇa.
Prabhupāda: “Then it is wonderful – simply wonderful. (The devotees laughed.) He has not tasted such wonderful sweet in his life. Therefore, you give him wonderful, and because he is eating that wonderful sweet, one day he will come to your temple and become wonderful. Therefore it is simply wonderful. So go on distributing this simply wonderful. Your philosophy is simply wonderful, your prasādam is simply wonderful, you are simply wonderful. And your Kṛṣṇa is simply wonderful. The whole process is simply wonderful. Kṛṣṇa acts wonderfully, and it is acting wonderfully. Who can deny it?”
Kīrtanānanda Mahārāja: “Prabhupāda is simply wonderful.”
While Prabhupāda continued in New York, poised to leave for London in a few days, his secretary mentioned that many U.S. centers were still vying for his presence. Prabhupāda casually remarked that if any center could arrange a good lecture program and pay his travel expenses plus one thousand dollars, then he would go there before leaving for London.
Hearing this, the devotees in Gainesville, Florida, determined to meet Prabhupāda’s transcendental challenge. The temple president, Hṛdayānanda, assigned an uninitiated devotee, David Liberman, to find a sponsor at the University of Florida willing to pay one thousand dollars for Prabhupāda to come and speak. David visited every student organization on campus until he found a donor.
Prabhupāda agreed to come, even though his secretary informed him that the flight would lay over two hours in Atlanta and then continue to Jacksonville, a one-and-a-half-hour car ride from Gainesville.
July 29, 1971
The ten residents of the recently opened Atlanta temple arranged to receive Prabhupāda during his layover at the Atlanta airport. They prepared a large feast and decorated the Eastern Airlines V.I.P. lounge with fruits, flowers, and garlands.
Bill Ogle: Although Śrīla Prabhupāda was not big physically, he immediately captured the consciousness of the entire Atlanta airport when he entered. Everyone was watching as he walked, with his head held high, his cane moving gracefully with every step. The airport is one of the busiest in the country, but everyone who saw Prabhupāda looked at him in amazement. Airport officials voluntarily began clearing a path for Prabhupāda to walk. But what was even more amazing was that he was so submissive to such insignificant disciples as we.
Prabhupāda entered the V.I.P. lounge with his disciples and about twenty Indian guests. Confronting the portable vyāsāsana atop a marble table, Prabhupāda declined; the seat seemed unsteady. But the devotees assured him that it was sturdy, so Prabhupāda climbed up, sat down, and began leading a kīrtana. After speaking for about fifteen minutes, Prabhupāda concluded his lecture.
“This is not sentimental chanting, but it is based on the soundest philosophy, Vedic literatures. We have got so many books, and you can buy them in our bookstore. Where is the bookstore?”
There was a long pause. The devotees had remembered fruits, flowers, the chair, the feast, invitations to the Indians – but they had forgotten Prabhupāda’s books. Prabhupāda continued to wait for an answer to his question, until finally the senior disciple, Janamejaya, replied, “Prabhupāda, we usually have a book store.”
“Hmm” was all Prabhupāda said. Again a long silence. “So,” Prabhupāda said, looking to the audience, “any questions?”
Prabhupāda chatted with the Indians, asking their names and where they were from in India. Most of them were young men with families and treated him respectfully, like a grandfather or a revered swami. One Indian man, about thirty-five, mentioned that he was getting his Ph.D. in biology.
“Oh, biology,” Prabhupāda said. “Hmm, poor frogs.” Everyone in the lounge – except the biologist – burst into laughter.
“No, no,” the biologist protested, embarrassed. “Why ‘poor frogs’?”
“Because you are killing,” Prabhupāda said.
“But it is for the advancement of knowledge,” said the biologist. “So it is worthwhile. It is for the advancement of knowledge.”
“All right,” said Prabhupāda, “if I ask you now, will you give your body for the advancement of knowledge?” Everyone in the room began to laugh.
“Yes! Yes, I would!” the man replied. But the more he protested, repeating, “Yes, I would!” the more ridiculous he seemed, and the harder everyone laughed.
“How many species of life are there?” Prabhupāda asked.
“Fifty million,” the biologist replied.
“Oh?” said Prabhupāda. “You have seen them all?”
“How many have you seen?”
“Perhaps five thousand.”
“And you are wrong,” Prabhupāda said. “There are 8,400,000 species of life. We have scientific knowledge from the Vedas.”
Bill Ogle: After Prabhupāda took prasāda, we performed a play for him. The play was “The Brāhmaṇa and the Cobbler.” I played Viṣṇu. It was terrible. I had to be Viṣṇu, and my wife had to be Lakṣmī. I was lying down as Lord Viṣṇu, and my wife was massaging my feet. Prabhupāda kept looking at me, and I thought he must be thinking, “Who is this rascal playing Viṣṇu?” My feeling was, “This is not very good. I shouldn’t be doing this.” I was very embarrassed to be in front of Prabhupāda like that.
Jayasena was Nārada Muni, and he offered obeisances about a hundred times throughout the play. Because Prabhupāda was there, Jayasena was constantly offering obeisances to everyone and anything. So although he was playing Nārada Muni, he offered obeisances to the cobbler. But some of the Indians spoke up. They were a little taken aback that Nārada Muni, such a great saint, was offering obeisances to a cobbler, who is ordinarily a very low-class person.
So at this point Prabhupāda interrupted and began to explain. “Actually,” he said, “it is all right that Nārada Muni has offered obeisances to the cobbler, because the cobbler is a Vaiṣṇava. Any Vaiṣṇava can receive obeisances, more than a brāhmaṇa.” He continued, narrating the play. He told the story, and we continued acting. It was ecstatic.
As Prabhupāda was leaving the lounge to board his flight for Jacksonville, a lady in a wheelchair, the mother of one of the devotees in Atlanta, raised herself up and threw herself at Prabhupāda’s feet. With tears in her eyes, she cried out, “I am dying of cancer. Save me! Save me!” Śrīla Prabhupāda bent down and put his hand on her head. “That is all right,” he said comfortingly. “That is all right.”
As Prabhupāda, garlanded with red roses and magnolias, walked down the corridor toward his plane, the devotees thought that Prabhupāda appeared majestic, like a king. He emanated a golden effulgence, and he seemed powerful, yet humble. The devotees felt spiritual strength and pledged to follow Prabhupāda’s teachings. They last glimpsed him walking across the airfield toward the small plane that would take him to Jacksonville. His saffron silk dhotī and kurtā blowing in the breeze, he turned to them and waved.
July 29, 1971
Śrīla Prabhupāda asked how fast the car was going and how long it would take them to get to Gainesville. Sixty-five miles per hour, the driver said; it would take an hour and a half. Prabhupāda observed the scenery along the highway – pine forests, marshes, exotic birds, an occasional armadillo foraging near the highway. Lotuses and lilies grew wild in the canals along the roadside, and bright sunshine warmed the clear air.
Gainesville was a side trip for Prabhupāda, a special day of preaching. He had left Śyāmasundara, his secretary, in New York and brought with him only Aravinda, his servant. He had come for a day to bring the mercy of Lord Caitanya to yet another city. When the devotees had picked him up at the airport, he had appeared grave. But on catching sight of the devotees he had smiled wonderfully, and then, turning to Hṛdayānanda, he had asked, “Which way?” He was like a transcendental fighter, asking to be pointed toward the battle.
Prabhupāda walked along a flower-sprinkled pathway and into the temple, a rented house near the University of Florida campus. In the temple room he stood a moment, studying a crude but sincerely executed painting of Lord Caitanya and His associates. Hṛdayānanda asked Prabhupāda if he would like to rest, and he nodded. While the devotees performed kīrtana, Prabhupāda retired to his room, returning later to sit on the large blue velvet vyāsāsana in the small temple room. In addition to Prabhupāda’s disciples from Gainesville, Miami, Tallahassee, and New Orleans, many university students and other guests were also present.
“It is so nice to see so many young boys and girls here,” Śrīla Prabhupāda began, “in this remote corner of the world, so far away from the birthplace of Lord Caitanya.”
Prabhupāda lectured about the saving grace of chanting the holy name of the Lord. One of his disciples, he said, had been present when his mother was dying. “Because he had been telling her about Kṛṣṇa and Hare Kṛṣṇa, she said to her son in her last words, ‘Where is your Kṛṣṇa? Is He here now?’ And then she died.” For her uttering the holy name and thinking of Kṛṣṇa, Prabhupāda said, she would go to the spiritual world.
After Prabhupāda finished his talk, a girl reporter from the university newspaper raised her hand. “I see almost all young people here,” she said. “Why is that?”
Prabhupāda replied with a question: “Why are there so many young people in the university?”
The girl reflected a moment, “Well … I guess that’s the age for education.”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said, “so this is the age for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks.”
The engagement for which Prabhupāda had come, and for which the University of Florida was paying a thousand dollars, was to be that afternoon on campus at the Plaza of the Americas. When Prabhupāda arrived, several hundred students were gathered near the temporary stage, sitting casually on the grass, lounging beneath the fragrant magnolia trees. The sky was overcast, and rain threatened.
As more students gathered, the crowd grew to five hundred. Then just as Prabhupāda was about to speak, a light drizzle began to fall, and Hṛdayānanda came onstage to hold an umbrella over Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Prabhupāda, sitting on his vyāsāsana, said softly into the microphone, “Someone is smoking,” and the students politely extinguished their cigarettes. No sooner did Prabhupāda begin his lecture, however, than a dog started yapping. Prabhupāda paused. “Who is that dog?” he asked. When the dog persisted, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “He also wants to talk.” Finally the barking stopped, and so did the rain. But Hṛdayānanda continued to hold the umbrella over Prabhupāda’s head.
While riding in the car back to the temple, Prabhupāda asked to hear the tape recording of his lecture. When he heard the dog barking at the beginning of his talk, he laughed.
“Prabhupāda,” Hṛdayānanda said, “your lecture was wonderful. Everyone liked it. The students liked it, the devotees liked it, the professors liked it.”
“All right,” Prabhupāda said. “Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s day of preaching was not over yet. Next was an evening television interview.
The interviewer had done some preparatory reading, and he introduced Śrīla Prabhupāda by first describing who Kṛṣṇa was, according to Vedic literature, and how Śrīla Prabhupāda was in the disciplic succession from Lord Caitanya. When the interviewer asked Prabhupāda for an introductory statement, Prabhupāda explained, “The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is trying to invoke in all people the original consciousness that we are a part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa.”
When the interviewer asked Prabhupāda, “Who is your spiritual master?” Prabhupāda lowered his head humbly and stated the full name of his Guru Mahārāja, “Oṁ Viṣṇupāda Paramahaṁsa Parivrājakācārya Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Mahārāja Prabhupāda.”
The interviewer, however, seemed bent on controversy. “In what way, sir, may I ask, did you think and do you think right now that the teaching of love of God that you are preaching is different and perhaps better than the teachings of love of God that were being conducted in this country and have been conducted in the rest of the world for centuries?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “This teaching is the most authorized. That is a fact. We are following in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya. He is accepted by us, according to the authority of Vedic religion, to be personally Kṛṣṇa Himself. For example, you are the expert in this establishment. If someone is doing something under your guidance and if you personally teach him, ‘Do like this,’ that is very authorized. So when Lord Caitanya taught God consciousness, God Himself was teaching.”
Prabhupāda had answered positively, avoiding the sectarian dispute the interviewer had invited. Yet repeatedly the interviewer tried to involve him in a controversy. He seemed to want Prabhupāda to appear arrogant, sectarian, and anti-American. Prabhupāda, however, insisted he was not opposed to any other religion and that anyone in the world could chant the name of God as it appeared in his religion.
Interviewer: “But there must have been an element of dissatisfaction on your part with the way Godhead was being professed in this part of the world before you came. Otherwise, there would have been no sense in your being here.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “It is not just this part of the world. Practically every part of the world has very little interest in God. They have more interest in dog.”
Prabhupāda’s answers were strong and philosophically strong. The interviewer, trying his professional best, again attempted to find some fault.
Interviewer: “It seems to me, sir, as interpreted in your writings, that there is a very high emphasis placed on the relationship between the individual and God.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Yes. That is found everywhere.”
Interviewer: “Yes, but you place more emphasis on that relationship than on the relationship between one individual and another. Am I right in that?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “We have to establish, first of all, our lost relationship with God. Then we can understand what is our relationship between one individual and another. If the central point is missing, then there is practically no relation. You are an American, and another is an American, and both of you feel American nationality because the center is America. So unless you understand God, you cannot understand who I am, nor can I understand who you are.”
Interviewer: “I think that in this part of the world, in the Western world, we place a great deal of emphasis on religion in the ways it gets one man to deal with another man – the ethic of religion. Now in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement …”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “We are not concerned how one man deals with another man.”
Interviewer: “Isn’t that part of your Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “No, this is not important. Because we know as soon as one knows how to deal with God, he will automatically deal very nicely with others.”
Interviewer: “But let’s take the Christian religion for an example. You know the Ten Commandments? There is a heavy emphasis in the Ten Commandments on the relationships between one human being and another: ‘Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not kill.’ You know, that sort of thing.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “But I say that Jesus Christ never said and never meant that ‘Thou shalt not kill’ refers to only human beings. Where is that evidence? Jesus Christ never said that ‘Thou shalt not kill’ refers only to human beings. Thou shalt not kill any animal.”
Interviewer: “Any life?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Any life. That is religion.”
Interviewer: “It has never been interpreted that way.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “You have interpreted it differently, but he said, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ He never said, ‘Thou shalt not kill amongst human beings.’ Why do you interpret it that way?”
Prabhupāda had given the TV interviewer the very thing he was after, controversy, but because it was not desirable controversy the interviewer promptly dropped it. Instead, he asked Prabhupāda how one could recognize a true follower of Kṛṣṇa consciousness by his behavior.
“He’d be a perfect gentleman,” Prabhupāda said, “that’s all. … Therefore, I prohibit my disciples to eat meat.”
Interviewer: “To eat meat?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Yes. And therefore I prohibit illicit sex life. Therefore I prohibit intoxication. They do not even smoke, what to speak of other intoxication.”
When Prabhupāda said that whoever observed these four rules would become a perfect gentleman, the interviewer asked whether there was a place for women in the religion. Prabhupāda replied that women and men had the same rights and followed the same principles. The interviewer asked whether Prabhupāda was encouraged or discouraged, and Prabhupāda said he was encouraged because so many devotees were joining. The interviewer doubted that many were joining, since out of two hundred million Americans, only two dozen devotees were present in the TV studio. “When you sell diamonds,” Prabhupāda replied, “you cannot expect that everyone will purchase.”
As a final question, the interviewer asked if Prabhupāda had any major complaints about American society.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “I have no complaint. These boys and girls are very nice. I am, rather, encouraged that these boys and girls are hankering after something nice. They are frustrated. So now, since they have the best thing, they are coming.”
The interviewer asked Śrīla Prabhupāda and his followers to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, and within half a minute they were off the air. The hot studio lights went out, and the engineers started talking among themselves. The interviewer bid Śrīla Prabhupāda a polite farewell – he had no intention of continuing their talk – but Śrīla Prabhupāda continued preaching. On-camera or off-camera made no difference to him. He saw the interviewer not merely as a television personality but as someone to receive Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.
The two had been sitting very closely for the interview, and Prabhupāda now leaned toward the interviewer and said, “Let me ask you one question. If you have some disease and you want to cure this disease, what is the best way to go about it? By asking a friend or by going to a medical doctor and asking how to cure this disease? Would you go to a friend?”
The man replied, “Yes.” Prabhupāda shook his head, “You would go to a friend?” Again the man said, “Yes.”
The interviewer was not concentrating, so Prabhupāda patiently repeated his example. “Try to understand,” he said. “If you have some disease, then would you go to a medical doctor or would you go to a friend?” The man could not grasp the point, so Prabhupāda answered, “No, you would not go to a friend. You would go to a physician – one who knows the answer. That is the spiritual master.” They talked a while longer, and finally Prabhupāda and the devotees left.
It was almost midnight, and Prabhupāda went to his room. When he had first arrived in Gainesville he had agreed to initiate the five eligible candidates and had even taken their japa beads. But now the day had passed, there had been no initiation, and Prabhupāda still had five strands of beads. Joseph and Sam, who had come all the way from New Orleans, and David Liberman and his wife, Adrienne, and a Gainesville boy named Gary were all in anxiety. They had stayed up, talking among themselves, wondering whether Śrīla Prabhupāda would hold an initiation ceremony in the morning, before he left.
Aravinda told them there would be no time for a ceremony in the morning, but that he would ask Śrīla Prabhupāda when they could have their beads back. He went to Prabhupāda’s room, leaving the devotees to sit and talk about Śrīla Prabhupāda. When Aravinda returned, he surprised everyone by announcing, “Prabhupāda is going to give you your beads now. He is going to give you your initiation in his room.” The devotees excitedly hurried to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s room.
Prabhupāda sat on his bed. He wore no shirt, only his dhotī, which he had pushed up high on his thighs and tucked under himself, like a loincloth or gamchā. His body was smooth and glowing. The devotees sat on the floor around his bed while he held their beads in his hands and chanted.
Prabhupāda handed Gary his beads. “So your name is now Dharma dāsa. This means ‘one who is a strict follower of all religious principles.’ ”
Dharma: I was actually very nervous, and I was practically shaking, because I was afraid I would do something wrong in front of Śrīla Prabhupāda. I was so nervous practically I couldn’t even hear properly. But I was very happy to have been accepted by Śrīla Prabhupāda. I knew, of course, there was no question of ever leaving the movement now. I never wanted to leave anyway, but now this was official. Even if I had considered it before, now there was no question of it.
Then there was Joseph from New Orleans. “What is his name?” Prabhupāda asked Aravinda. Aravinda read from a sheet, “Bhāgavata dāsa.” Prabhupāda smiled and said, “Oh, Bhāgavata dāsa. Very good. There are two things. There is the book bhāgavata – Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Bhagavad-gītā – and the person bhāgavata, who follows perfectly those teachings. He is a living manifestation of the book bhāgavata. And you are Bhāgavata dāsa. That means you are the servant of the book bhāgavata and the person bhāgavata.
Bhāgavata: I always wanted a name that meant I was the servant of the guru. So when I heard this, I was very happy. Prabhupāda started to hand me my beads, but then he pulled them back and asked, “And what are the four regulative principles?” So I told him, and he said, “Very good.”
Then he went to hand me my beads again, but again he pulled them back. He asked, “How many rounds do you chant?” I was very proud, because I had been chanting twenty rounds a day for about five months, so I sat up real straight and said, “You’re supposed to chant sixteen rounds a day, Śrīla Prabhupāda. But I chant twenty.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda just turned away from me and said, “That’s all right.” It was like he was saying, “Don’t get puffed up.” Then he turned to me and said, “Here are your beads.”
Handing Dave his beads, Prabhupāda said, “Your name is Amarendra. This means ‘the best of the immortals.’ ” He named Adrienne “Gāyatrī dāsī” and Sam “Suvrata.”
When Suvrata stood and Prabhupāda noticed he was not wearing neck beads, he withheld the chanting beads and said, “You have no neck beads? Where are your neck beads?” Prabhupāda turned to Bhāgavata dāsa. “You also have no neck beads?” Bhāgavata thought that Prabhupāda was going to take his chanting beads back, so he hid them against his stomach. Then Prabhupāda turned to the senior devotees in the room, criticizing. “What is the matter with you?” he said sternly. “You are leaders, and you don’t know these things? Don’t you know that you must put neck beads in giving initiation?”
The senior devotees were frightened by Prabhupāda’s anger. “We are sorry, Prabhupāda,” someone said. “Tomorrow for the fire yajña they will have neck beads.”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said, “you cannot do the fire yajña without neck beads. They must have neck beads.”
Although it was midnight, Prabhupāda asked if the devotees had any questions. Bhāgavata dāsa raised his hand. “How is it that we are on a transcendental platform but sometimes we are affected by the three modes of nature?”
“It is just like you are on a boat,” Prabhupāda replied. “If you are on the boat, then I cannot say you are not on the boat. Is it not? So you are on the transcendental boat. Therefore, you are on the transcendental platform. You cannot say that you are not. But the waves are coming, and they are rocking the boat.” Prabhupāda gestured with his hands like a boat rocking. “So the waves of the material nature are coming,” he continued, “and they are rocking the boat. But when you become an expert boatman, then even in the greatest storm you can stay steady and steer the boat, and it will not rock.”
“Well, how does one become an expert boatman?” Bhāgavata asked.
“You become expert,” Prabhupāda replied, “by becoming enthusiastic, sincere, confident, determined, and patient.” Seeing Bhāgavata’s anxious face, Prabhupāda added, “And you must be patient. Everything will come in due course.”
Sitting informally on the bed, in his abbreviated dhotī, Prabhupāda had answered Bhāgavata’s questions in such a way as to fully satisfy all the devotees. The devotees were already satisfied just to be with Prabhupāda, but by his answers to their questions not only they but all devotees could take encouragement and be satisfied. They would tell the others what he had said, and everyone would cherish these instructions of Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Amarendra also had a question. Amarendra was intense and impassioned, and so was his inquiry. Before becoming a devotee, he had been a leader of campus radicals. Now he wanted to bring that same intensity to bear in spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness. “Śrīla Prabhupāda,” Amarendra asked, “how can we make them take to this Kṛṣṇa consciousness? What can we say when we go to preach to people? What can we say that will make them take it?” His voice was heavy and forceful, demanding action.
“You simply ask them to please chant Hare Kṛṣṇa,” Prabhupāda replied. “Whether they take or not, that is their business. That is between them and Kṛṣṇa. But you have done your business. You have done your duty for Kṛṣṇa by simply asking them, ‘Please chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.’ ”
“How do we take our minds away from māyā and bring them to Kṛṣṇa?” Rādhāvallabha asked.
“You must drag the mind,” Prabhupāda said. “You must drag the mind back to the sound vibration of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare.” And again he repeated, “You must drag the mind back to the sound vibration.”
“All right.” Prabhupāda looked around. “You are satisfied now?”
The devotees responded, “Yes, Śrīla Prabhupāda. Thank you very much.” Then they all left. It had been the greatest day and night of their lives, they all agreed, and they would never forget it.
While Prabhupāda rode to the Jacksonville airport in a car with a few disciples, the other devotees followed in their van, bringing the vyāsāsana from the temple for Prabhupāda to use at the airport. Śrīla Prabhupāda closed his eyes and rested as he rode, and the devotees in the back seat of his car ate the remnants of his prasādam.
Hṛdayānanda: It was my idea to bring Prabhupāda’s vyāsāsana to the airport. I was thinking, “How can my spiritual master sit in the same seats that karmīs sit on?” It just seemed impossible. How could Prabhupāda put his lotus body, how could he sit, on the same seats as the karmīs? I was very agitated by that. Amarendra had built the vyāsāsana, and he used to build everything like a tank. The vyāsāsana must have weighed several hundred pounds. It took four or five devotees to carry it.
So Prabhupāda arrived first, and the vyāsāsana wasn’t there. By the time he got to his boarding gate and the vyāsāsana still wasn’t there, I was in anxiety, because I didn’t want him to sit in a regular seat. I thought it would be a great offense on my part. Then as I looked down the long, long airport corridor, I saw six brahmacārīs, half of them without their shoes on, lugging Prabhupāda’s vyāsāsana down the corridor. It was such an absurd scene. Prabhupāda just stood there looking in disbelief and disgust, and finally several sweating, groaning brahmacārīs came and dropped the vyāsāsana down in front of Prabhupāda. Prabhupāda just looked at it with disdain, walked past it, and sat down in the ordinary seat.
While most of the devotees sat at Prabhupāda’s feet, chanting the Gurv-aṣṭaka prayers to the spiritual master, Hṛdayānanda was preaching to the people who were standing and watching the spectacle. He had some of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, and he was trying to distribute them. Prabhupāda gave more attention to this preaching than to the devotees seated at his feet.
Having visited half a dozen cities in a little more than a month’s time, Śrīla Prabhupāda was planning next to visit London. Clearly, his field had become the entire world. And his traveling was the practical enactment of his conviction that Kṛṣṇa consciousness should be given to people everywhere.
By Prabhupāda’s wide traveling and bold preaching, the old idea that the Bhagavad-gītā and Kṛṣṇa were only for the Hindus had become an anachronism, a prejudice. Barriers of race, religion, nation, sex, class – all were now down. The Hindu saying that a swami should not cross the ocean had become a superstition, intended perhaps to protect lesser swamis but certainly never to restrict the message of the Absolute Truth from being spread.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s express desire was that in every town and village of the world His name be heard, and no Vedic injunction could prohibit that. Of course, the Vedic literatures advised a devotee to live in a secluded place and avoid worldly men and women, and they advised a devotee not to disturb the minds of innocent persons or preach to the faithless. According to one Vedic injunction, a devotee should not even see the face of a nonbeliever. Such rules and regulations, however, intended mainly for the protection and purification of the neophytes, were superseded by a stalwart ācārya acting on the higher principle of compassion.
And in support of that higher principle Lord Kṛṣṇa had promised, “My devotee shall never be vanquished.” The surrendered preacher, taking up Lord Caitanya’s highest order, would be immunized against contamination, despite regular contact with worldly persons. Even at the risk of his own spiritual life, the preacher approached worldly people, and in return Kṛṣṇa protected him.
Prabhupāda was merciful to everyone, everywhere. Therefore he was jagad-guru, the spiritual master for the entire world. To become jagad-guru didn’t mean to claim that one was better than everyone else or that he was the best guru in the world. Jagad-guru meant that, like Nārada Muni, a preacher of Kṛṣṇa consciousness went everywhere, preached everywhere, and had disciples everywhere. And Śrīla Prabhupāda did that.
On arriving at one U.S. airport, Śrīla Prabhupāda had mentioned that yogīs had formerly traveled in three different ways: by flying carpet, by pigeons, and by mantra. “Then why have you come today on American Airlines?” the reporter had challenged. “Just to be one with you,” Śrīla Prabhupāda had said, smiling.
But that Prabhupāda had come by jet instead of by some extraordinary mystic power was actually no less miraculous. The miracle was that he was always traveling and that wherever he went he spoke the message of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, created faith in the faithless, and transformed the low-grade persons of Kali-yuga into pure Vaiṣṇavas.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, in addition to his selfless, compassionate traveling, was also offering volumes of transcendental literature. His disciples in sixty-five centers around the world were gratefully accepting their role of assisting him, assuring him that they were able to preach to the people in their areas and that he should feel confident to go on opening new frontiers of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and presenting more and more transcendental literature. His disciples especially wanted him to have time for translating Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, because he had told them that that was his desire. Often he said that if he could simply spend time translating Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam he would stop traveling. He could not stop traveling for very long, however. Even if he found enough peace and a suitable place for concentrating on the Bhāgavatam, duty would call; again he would have to travel – to see new people, to introduce saṅkīrtana in a new place, to insure that his movement was progressing smoothly.
Prabhupāda, therefore, had developed a routine of translating Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam anywhere he went, for at least a few hours a day. He had a briefcase with Sanskrit Bhāgavatams and commentaries and a suitcase with a dictating machine. Wherever he was, he would rise in the middle of the night, sit at his desk with his dictating machine and Sanskrit and Bengali volumes, and take up where he had left off, translating the verses into English and composing his Bhaktivedanta purports. Thus his busy traveling and his translating were able to go on simultaneously.