“I Will Build a Wonderful Temple for You”
PRABHUPĀDA HAD POSTPONED the Māyāpur cornerstone-laying ceremony until Gaura-pūrṇimā (the appearance day of Lord Caitanya), February 29, 1972. He had requested a big festival, with a paṇḍāl and free feasting for guests. His disciples from all over the world would attend.
I want very much to hold this function this year with all of my students. … It is a very important day and it will be a great service to Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur and to His son Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. So please arrange for this program.
In December, when the war had broken out between India and Pakistan over Bangladesh, near Māyāpur, the Indian government had forbidden foreigners to stay in the northern area of West Bengal. The devotees had vacated, returning a few weeks later when the war had ended. They had continued arranging for the festival, and a few days before Gaura-pūrṇimā Prabhupāda arrived to stay with them.
When Prabhupāda saw a banner on bamboo poles – “Welcome Śrīla Prabhupāda!” – he remarked, “I don’t know if my Godbrothers will like this.” He had already heard that some of his Godbrothers objected to his taking the same title as their spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Prabhupāda. He had not actually taken the name, but his disciples had given him the name a few years ago in America. In May 1968 while in Boston, Prabhupāda had been dictating a letter and had mentioned to his secretary that Swamiji was a third-class title for the spiritual master. “Then why do we call you Swamiji?” his secretary had asked.
“The spiritual master,” Prabhupāda had replied, “is usually addressed by names like Gurudeva, Viṣṇupāda, or Prabhupāda.”
“May we call you Prabhupāda?” his secretary had asked.
Prabhupāda had replied, “Yes,” and his disciples had switched from “Swamiji” to “Prabhupāda.” One of the devotees had inquired further from Prabhupāda about the meaning of the word and had published a statement in Back to Godhead magazine.
The word Prabhupada is a term of the utmost reverence in Vedic religious circles, and it signifies a great saint even among saints. The word actually has two meanings: first, one at whose feet (pada) there are many Prabhus (a term meaning “master,” which the disciples of a Guru use in addressing each other). The second meaning is one who is always found at the Lotus Feet of Krishna (the Supreme Master).
In the line of disciplic succession through which Krishna Consciousness is conveyed to mankind, there have been a number of figures of such spiritual importance as to be called Prabhupada.
Srila Rupa Goswami Prabhupada executed the will of his Master, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and therefore he and his associate Goswamis are called Prabhupada. Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur executed the will of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, and therefore he is also addressed as Prabhupada. Our Spiritual Master, Om Vishnupad 108 Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj has, in the same way, executed the will of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupada in carrying the message of love of Krishna to the Western world, and therefore we American and European humble servants of His Divine Grace, from all the different centers of the Sankirtan Movement have followed in the footsteps of Srila Rupa Goswami Prabhupada, and prefer to address His Grace our Spiritual Master as Prabhupada, and he has kindly said “Yes.”
Everyone concerned had been happy about the title Prabhupāda, and no one had foreseen the envy the name would uncover. How could Prabhupāda compete for the honor due his own spiritual master? He was fixed as the humble servant of his spiritual master.
The members of ISKCON saw no harm in calling their spiritual master Prabhupāda. And there could be no stopping them – he was their Prabhupāda. They had even printed A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda on their invitations for the Gaura-pūrṇimā festival. But Prabhupāda knew it would raise the eyebrows of certain of his more critical Godbrothers.
When inspecting the living accommodations for the devotees, Prabhupāda found spacious white canvas tents – one for the men and one for the women – with fluorescent lighting inside. A large paṇḍāl tent stood in the center of the other tents, and a small tent in the rear served as a kitchen. Immediately surrounding the small compound were rice fields. The ground, therefore, was slightly moist, and the wet fields bred large mosquitoes, which emerged at sunset. Conditions were primitive, but many of these devotees were the same disciples who had traveled with Prabhupāda for a year and a half in India, sometimes living in dirty dharmaśālās with bare rooms and sometimes living in cold tents in Allahabad. The devotees had not come to Māyāpur to be comfortable but to serve Prabhupāda. In future years, by the result of their efforts, many, many devotees would be able to gather comfortably in Māyāpur in the spacious buildings Prabhupāda was planning.
Well aware that Westerners were unaccustomed to the austerities of living in India, Prabhupāda wanted to provide facilities so his disciples could feel comfortable and be able to focus their stay in India on spiritual life, without distracting inconveniences. Therefore he was pushing them to help in various ways to establish a Māyāpur building with running water, electricity, and other conveniences.
Prabhupāda’s dwelling was a simple thatched Bengali hut about twelve feet square, with a dirt floor. A thin partition divided the main room from the servants’ quarters. In front was a small veranda, and in back a garden, where Prabhupāda could sit and take massage. Also in back were a hand pump for bathing and an outhouse. When the devotees apologized for offering Prabhupāda such a humble residence, he replied that he liked the natural simplicity. “Even if you build me the biggest palace,” he said, “still I would prefer to live here.”
While living so simply in Māyāpur, Prabhupāda spoke of his vision of a grand project yet to come. Although the Deities of Rādhā-Mādhava – whom he had worshiped at the 1971 Ardha-kumbha-melā in Allahabad – were installed in a tent, he spoke of a marble palace. He also spoke of first-class accommodations for guests and devotees, although as yet he had little to offer. Living simply and happily in his thatched hut, he gathered his disciples together and told them of his plans. At his request, devotees had built a small model of the proposed first major building, and there were also drawings of the proposed Temple of Human Understanding. He wanted to build a Māyāpur city, he said, with quarters for each of the four social classes of the varṇāśrama institution.
Tatpara: When Prabhupāda would go to the Western countries, he would be interviewed by many great persons, but when he came to Māyāpur, he was talking so friendly, sometimes taking juice or giving instructions, and he lived simple, like a villager. The Western devotees think sometimes of Prabhupāda in one līlā only, like a great king. But when he comes to India, he is like another person. He was laughing and talking like a friend.
Bhavānanda: In his straw house Prabhupāda sat on a bamboo platform. There was a bed and some mats on the floor. That was all. He was happier there than anywhere. We put a fan in there too, and Prabhupāda liked it. He liked it because it was so simple. There was an outhouse, but he didn’t mind it at all. He was relishing everything. At that time he made Jayapatāka and me codirectors of Māyāpur. He made four signers on the checking account for the building construction. In India, just to open up an account is very difficult. We were seeing that part of Prabhupāda, where he was very strict because he knows the difficulties you can run into. If you don’t fill out the proper forms, the bank can even keep your money. Or you may want to close your account and they won’t let you. Our mood was splayed out – we were babies. So Prabhupāda was training us in keeping accounts and management.
Jananivāsa: The first time Prabhupāda came to see the Deities, he said, “Who is dressing the Deities?” Someone said, “Jananivāsa.” The Deities were just standing on a tile platform with no decoration. They were just standing there, but Prabhupāda looked on Them so lovingly. He used to come and take darśana every day. One time he came to the Deity room and I wasn’t there. There were some Indian people taking darśana, and I had gone to get them a Back to Godhead magazine from a room about ten feet away. When I came back, Prabhupāda was there. He was also taking darśana, but he said, “You should always be standing here. People are coming, but no one is here.” I said, “Śrīla Prabhupāda, I just went to get a Back to Godhead. It is only ten feet away.” But he looked at me as if to say, “You are defending yourself again, making excuses.” Then he told Bhavānanda, “This boy, Jananivāsa, should have some help. He can’t do everything. He is an ordinary person.”
The five-day Gaura-pūrṇimā festival featured twenty-four-hour kīrtana, with groups of devotees chanting in two-hour shifts. Each morning the main body of devotees would form a kīrtana procession and go out visiting Navadvīpa’s holy sights: the nīm tree under which Lord Caitanya was born, the house of Śrīnivāsa Ācārya, where Lord Caitanya and His associates had performed nocturnal kīrtana, the spot where the Kazi had tried to stop Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana, the residence of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. (Often Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had stood in front of this house, Prabhupāda told the devotees, and looked out across the Jalāṅgī toward where Śrīla Prabhupāda now had his land.)
Throughout the day and especially in the evenings, the devotees would gather on the stage of the orange-striped paṇḍāl, while Rādhā-Mādhava stood at stage center within a traditional Bengali siṁhāsana of carved banana stalks covered with colored foil and flower garlands. Prabhupāda would have his disciples do most of the public speaking, with Acyutānanda Swami, lecturing in Bengali, as the main speaker.
Hundreds of people came and went in a steady stream, and the devotees distributed Bengali, English, and Hindi Back to Godhead magazines. In the evenings they would present a slide show or a film. Prabhupāda was especially pleased to watch the prasādam distribution from his window, hundreds of villagers squatting in long rows, eating kicharī from round leaf plates. “Continue this forever,” Prabhupāda told his disciples. “Always distribute prasādam.”
Even without a building, Prabhupāda’s preaching in Māyāpur was significant. While other nearby maṭhas were also observing Gaura-pūrṇimā – mostly by hosting Calcutta widows who paid a fee to live a few days in a temple and visit the holy places of Navadvīpa – Prabhupāda’s paṇḍāl program was the most vigorous celebration and drew the most visitors. The birthplace of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Prabhupāda said, had no meaning without preaching. Except for this time of the year, very few people visited Māyāpur.
“Which is more important,” Prabhupāda asked, “Lord Caitanya’s birthplace or His activities? It is His activities, His karma. His activities are more important than His janma, or place of birth.” The activities of Lord Caitanya were chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and distributing love of God to all people, and this should be the activity of devotees in Māyāpur.
On Gaura-pūrṇimā day, ten of Prabhupāda’s sannyāsī Godbrothers visited to participate along with Prabhupāda’s disciples and hundreds of visitors in the dedication and cornerstone-laying ceremony. Prabhupāda was gracious and friendly toward his Godbrothers, and he was gratified that they could all sit together to dedicate the world headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Sitting on a cushion next to the sacrificial arena, chanting on japa beads, Prabhupāda initiated six Bengali devotees and awarded the sannyāsa order to a young American disciple. Then Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers spoke, each expressing appreciation of Prabhupāda’s work in the West.
Finally they all gathered around the pit, five feet square and fifteen feet deep. Certain articles had been collected to be placed inside the pit in accordance with the scriptures: five kinds of flowers, five kinds of grains, five kinds of leaves, five kinds of metal, five kinds of nectar, five kinds of colors, five kinds of fruits, and five kinds of jewels. Prabhupāda’s Godbrother Purī Mahārāja descended a ladder into the pit to put coconuts and banana leaves in a pot and to place this, along with flowers, onto the altar of bricks.
Next Prabhupāda entered the pit, carrying a box with a gold, ruby-eyed mūrti of Ananta Śeṣa. Earlier that morning in his hut Prabhupāda had confidentially shown a few disciples the mūrti. “This is Lord Ananta,” he had said, “the serpent bed on which Lord Viṣṇu rests. He will hold the temple on His head.” Prabhupāda now placed Ananta Śeṣa on the altar of bricks and climbed back up the ladder. Then on Prabhupāda’s blissful invitation, everyone began to toss in offerings of flowers and money, followed by handfuls of earth.
Although Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers had praised his work on Gaura-pūrṇimā day, several of them returned a few days later to complain about his use of the title Prabhupāda. Prabhupāda asked his disciples to leave the room. When they were alone, one of the sannyāsī Godbrothers began challenging Prabhupāda in Bengali: “Why are you using Prabhupāda? You have no right. This is our Prabhupāda’s title. You cannot take it.”
“I did not take it,” Prabhupāda replied. “They are calling me Prabhupāda. What can I do?” Although the sannyāsī Godbrother then began to criticize Prabhupāda for not joining their preaching and for awarding the sacred thread and sannyāsa order to Westerners, mainly the Godbrothers wanted an explanation for his use of the title Prabhupāda.
“Brahmānanda Mahārāja!” Prabhupāda called. “Bring me a copy of my letterhead.” When Brahmānanda Swami returned with the stationery, Prabhupāda showed it to his Godbrothers. The letterhead read, “Tridandi Goswami A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.” No “Prabhupāda.” This proved that he himself did not use the title. This simple demonstration pacified his Godbrothers, and he then invited them to take prasādam with him, while his disciples served.
Later in his hut Prabhupāda talked with his disciples about envy. A devotee could judge his own advancement by how free he was from envy, he said. In the spiritual world envy was conspicuous by its absence. Although all the liberated associates of Kṛṣṇa were trying their best to serve Kṛṣṇa – in a kind of competition – everyone was pleased with one another. If Rādhārāṇī or a favorite gopī pleased Kṛṣṇa, the other gopīs did not think ill of her but thought, “Oh, how nicely she has served Kṛṣṇa. Let me try to offer some nice service to Kṛṣṇa so He will be even more pleased!” To be envious was materialistic.
Prabhupāda wished his Godbrothers had taken a different point of view. He wished they had not minded his being called Prabhupāda by his disciples. He was also sorry that some of his Godbrothers couldn’t sincerely praise his work. If Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was working successfully through him, why should they be disturbed? Why not accept his work and be happy that the mission of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu was being spread effectively? They should see it as Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s work, the work of their own spiritual master. It was also their work, their responsibility, and they should recognize that through Bhaktivedanta Swami Mahārāja it was being wonderfully done. At the ceremony they had praised his work. So if they didn’t mind praising him, then why not admit that for hundreds of Westerners whom he had saved from hell, he was Prabhupāda, that singular pure devotee whom they always thought of as seated at the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa.
In terms of authorized books produced and distributed, numbers of devotees initiated and engaged in devotional service, and numbers of temples opened, no one could compare. Of course, in one sense all of Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers were equally praiseworthy, as long as they followed the basic instructions of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa, and avoided sinful life. But if analysis or criticism was to be made with such scrutiny, then let the preaching records be scrutinized. Who, above all, was extending the mercy of Lord Nityānanda and making such tremendous gains on behalf of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī – gains that had previously seemed impossible? According to Caitanya-caritāmṛta, if a preacher could spread the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, then he must be accepted as empowered by God.
Prabhupāda was certainly empowered, yet he conducted himself very humbly, with no assistance from others. He had repeatedly invited his Godbrothers to join him in the West and take their places beside him as preachers in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Why had they not come forward to assist him in their spiritual master’s mission, instead of complaining about him, the one Godbrother who was carrying out Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s mission?
It was not the place of Prabhupāda’s disciples to criticize, however, and he had sternly warned them that they had no position to do so. They should treat his Godbrothers as disciples of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and therefore as on the level of their own spiritual master. Nevertheless, Prabhupāda’s disciples became sorry to see this lack of respect for their spiritual master. They could be humble and not protest, but how could they be affectionate toward persons who criticized their spiritual master and his Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement?
After the five-day festival, Prabhupāda left Māyāpur for Vṛndāvana, where he planned to hold another ground-breaking ceremony. The Māyāpur land was still completely undeveloped, and Prabhupāda urged his disciples in India to continue collecting the necessary funds.
We are making a very gorgeous plan at Mayapur, and if you all together can give shape to this plan it will be unique in the whole world. It will be a world center for teaching spiritual life. Students from all over the world will come and we shall revolutionize the atheistic and communistic tendencies of rascal philosophers. So we must be responsible for this great task. Not for a single moment shall we be without ISKCON thoughts. That is my request to you all.
During Prabhupāda’s absence from Vṛndāvana the devotees had been unable to persuade Mr. S. to grant legal permission for ISKCON to use the land. Prabhupāda had insistently directed one of his Indian-born disciples, Kṣīrodakaśāyī, to acquire from Mr. S. an actual deed. Kṣīrodakaśāyī had pleaded with Mr. S., and seeing Mr. S.’s indecision, he had spoken with Mrs. S. and then with the two of them together.
Mr. and Mrs. S. had agreed that since they could not decide, they would put the matter before Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī Herself. Mrs. S. had asked Kṣīrodakaśāyī to take two slips of paper and to write yes on one and no on the other. These she had folded and placed before the family Deity of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. She had then asked Kṣīrodakaśāyī to pick one of the papers. Kṣīrodakaśāyī had done so, and in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. S. and Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, he had opened the piece of paper on which was written the word yes.
When Prabhupāda had heard the news, he had been joyous.
I am especially pleased upon you that you have secured the S. land for Kṛṣṇa. Now let us cooperate to build up a wonderful center there in Vrndavana.
In March 1972 Prabhupāda returned to Vṛndāvana to sign the deed with Mr. S. and to perform the ground-breaking ceremony. With permission from the gosvāmīs at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, he arranged for quarters for his disciples so they would have a place to reside while the temple at Ramaṇa-reti was under construction.
Yamunā: It just so happened that on the morning that the gosvāmīs were to sign an agreement with Prabhupāda for use of the rooms at Rādhā-Dāmodara, the electricity went out. Prabhupāda’s secretary had only an electric typewriter, so I reminded Prabhupāda that I was trained in writing calligraphy. I had my writing pens with me, so immediately Prabhupāda drafted the writing that he wanted, and I took it into another room, sat down, and hand-lettered a contract with gold embossing on all the capitals. Within fifteen minutes we presented it to Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Before the gosvāmīs, Prabhupāda held up the document with pleasure and said, “Just see, my disciples are expert in everything.” Now the devotees would be allowed to reside above his rooms at Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, and they would also have access to his rooms for cleaning. Prabhupāda felt it was a grand occasion that there was something in writing for the preservation of his rooms in the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple.
To close the transaction for the land in Ramaṇa-reti, Prabhupāda and Mr. S. met at the Magistrate’s Court in Mathurā. In the presence of lawyers they completed the formalities. Prabhupāda saw it as Kṛṣṇa’s grace that he had acquired a good plot of land in Vṛndāvana, and writing to his G.B.C. secretaries in America, he asked them to send as many men as possible to help in the new project. He described his intentions “for raising up a very excellent center, to revive the spiritual life for Vrndavana on behalf of Rupa and Jiva Goswamis.”
Prabhupāda told Kṣīrodakaśāyī, “I want on this occasion huge prasādam should be prepared, and every man in Vṛndāvana should be invited and take prasādam.” Two days later, with a hundred people attending, Prabhupāda held the cornerstone-laying ceremony at Ramaṇa-reti. Again he descended into the ceremonial pit and placed the Deity of Ananta, on whose head the temple would rest.
But late that night the land was attacked. An elderly Indian widow, with local fame as a sādhu, became angry that Mr. S. had not given her the land, which she had several times requested. During the night she sent guṇḍās to dismantle the brick foundation of the ceremonial cornerstone and to desecrate the pit, which had just that day been filled with flowers and religious objects. The guṇḍās dug open the hole, threw garbage into it, and stole the “Posted” sign announcing the land’s new ownership.
Prabhupāda was in his room at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple when he heard what had happened. He became angry and told his disciples to show the deed to the police. That night several policemen guarded the land, and when the hired guṇḍās came again, the police accosted them and warned that if they caused any more trouble they would be arrested. And that was the end of that.
Prabhupāda had several times said that by becoming a devotee, one gains many enemies. The incident also served to confirm Prabhupāda’s conviction that ISKCON’s taking possession of the land should be followed as quickly as possible by construction of a temple. They should at least encircle the land with a fence, build small huts, and live on the land while preparing for temple construction.
Tejās: “This will be the Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma temple,” Prabhupāda said. We didn’t really know what was going on. We all thought it was so far away. It was really the boondocks, Ramaṇa-reti. Nobody was out there. It was such an isolated place, and there were lots of dacoits living out there. We thought, “If we’re going to have a temple out here, no one will ever come.” But Prabhupāda said, “Wherever there is Kṛṣṇa, everyone will come.”
Prabhupāda’s secretary, Śyāmasundara, wrote to a Godbrother about the newly acquired Vṛndāvana property.
Earlier in the day, before breakfast, Prabhupada sewed up the 4,800 sq. yd. gift plot in Raman Reti where Krishna used to sport with friends in the forest, about 10 minutes walk from Radha-Damodara. Prabhupada surveyed the land (with the rope from his mosquito-net), bargained-for, drew plans for, drew up the deed for, went to Mathura magistrate’s court for and signed, sealed, and delivered in an instant. Prabhupada has asked me to request you that AT LEAST FIFTY (50) MEN FROM THE U.S. MUST COME TO INDIA IMMEDIATELY!!! At last we have got a solid programme in India: Huge projects at Mayapur, Vrindaban and Bombay. All the lands are acquired, arrangements made, and everything by Prabhupada. But only a few of us men are here to struggle with an immense task – the biggest by far within the Society, of developing these three places, and believe me these three projects are more dear to Prabhupada than any yet contemplated.
In the month while Prabhupāda was away from Bombay (he had left on February 10) the payment of fifty thousand rupees was duly made. Slowly at first, a few devotees moved to the Juhu land, living in a tent. At night the rats and mosquitoes would disturb the devotees’ sleep. While attempting to clear the overgrown weeds, they came upon empty liquor bottles and overflowing sewage. Without Prabhupāda present, their resolution grew weak.
But then Brahmānanda Swami returned from Calcutta, where he had been with Śrīla Prabhupāda. Brahmānanda Swami was inspired, and he gave the Bombay devotees new impetus. They would have to clear the land and raise a paṇḍāl right away. Brahmānanda Swami had never put on a paṇḍāl program before, but he hired a contractor to build several chaṭāī (palm frond) houses for the devotees and a festival tent. Even before the construction could begin, however, the devotees would have to thoroughly clear the land.
Mr. Sethi, a neighbor and life member, hired a work crew to cut down the weeds and vegetation, and several life members and friends in Bombay also came forward to assist. Mr. N. offered to help by sending one of his assistants, Mr. Matar, to organize the hired laborers in clearing the fields. The devotees also worked in preparation for Prabhupāda’s return.
Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Rāsavihārī arrived at Hare Krishna Land in a taxi, riding across the laps of several devotees. They had moved before, and this time Their residence was a tent. They had first come to be with the devotees of Bombay during the paṇḍāl program at Cross Maidan in downtown Bombay. On that occasion there had been a procession to Chowpatti Beach, and when the devotees had arrived, Rādhā-Rāsavihārī, beautifully dressed and decorated and installed in an ornate palanquin, had been awaiting them. Kṛṣṇa was white marble and held a silver flute; Rādhārāṇī’s right hand, palm forward, extended a benediction. They were beautiful.
After Their first appearance at Chowpatti, Rādhā-Rāsavihārī had moved to the Akash Ganga Building, where gradually the devotees had established a decent standard of Deity worship. When Prabhupāda had left orders that Rādhā-Rāsavihārī should move to Juhu as soon as the down payment was made, some of the devotees had questioned him: Why should the Deity move before the facilities were proper? Shouldn’t they wait until the temple was built?
“Once the Deity is installed on a piece of property,” Prabhupāda had replied, “no one will remove Them.”
More than anyone else, Prabhupāda was aware of the proper worship to be offered to Rādhā-Rāsavihārī, but his emphasis now was on securing the land. How else, he reasoned, could he eventually give Rādhā-Rāsavihārī a royal throne and temple unless They Themselves first established Their right of proprietorship by taking up residence at Hare Krishna Land? The arrival of Rādhā-Rāsavihārī at Juhu also meant increased difficulties for the devotees, who now had to struggle to maintain the morning pūjā and cook six daily offerings in the meager kitchen. Even Rādhā-Rāsavihārī’s tent was insubstantial and swayed in the wind.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, saw the move as a necessary, transcendental tactic. He felt certain that everyone involved – himself, the owners of the land, the Bombay municipality – would accept that the land belonged to Kṛṣṇa, since Kṛṣṇa was already residing there. And because he was asking Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself to accept these inconveniences, he prayed to the Deity, “My dear Sir, please remain here, and I shall build a beautiful temple for You.”
By the time Prabhupāda returned to Bombay, Rādhā-Rāsavihārī were installed on the stage of the festival paṇḍāl. Attendance at the festival was not as great as it would have been in downtown Bombay – no more than five hundred people came a night – but Prabhupāda was satisfied. This festival was on their own property, and this was only the beginning.
Every evening Prabhupāda lectured at the paṇḍāl and attended the kīrtana and ārati before Rādhā-Rāsavihārī. Pañcadraviḍa Swami had collected donations of five tons of dāl, rice, and flour, and the devotees were regularly cooking enough kicharī to serve 125 people free prasādam daily. In the evening Prabhupāda himself would give out halavā from the Deities’ plate, and the crowd, including well-to-do businessmen and their wives, would press forward to receive the prasādam. Prabhupāda liked the festival so much that he told the devotees to arrange to keep the tent for a perpetual festival.
Prabhupāda lived on the land in a tent, just like the other devotees, until a Mr. Acharya, one of the more favorable tenants living in the back of the property, invited him to stay at his home.
Within a few days of his arrival at Juhu, Prabhupāda was ready to hold the ground-breaking and cornerstone-laying ceremony – another tactic for securing possession of the land. But it was more than a tactic, as he wanted a temple constructed as soon as possible. Rādhā-Rāsavihārī should not remain standing in a tent but should be protected by a silver and teakwood siṁhāsana on a marble altar. They should be surrounded by deities of the two gopīs Lalitā and Viśākhā, and Their temple should have marble domes more than a hundred feet high. Thousands should come daily for darśana and prasādam.
One morning, in the midst of the festival activities, the devotees of Hare Krishna Land joined Prabhupāda in a simple cornerstone-laying ceremony. They had dug a deep ceremonial pit and surrounded it with bricks. Prabhupāda descended and placed the Deity of Śeṣa. Then, sitting on a simple platform, Prabhupāda accompanied the kīrtana by playing a brass gong, while one by one the devotees came before him and threw dirt into the pit, filling it, while smoke rose from the sacrificial fire.
Prabhupāda was outraged that Brahmānanda Swami had agreed to pay the contractors forty thousand rupees for the paṇḍāl construction. It was the same old thing – the foolish Western disciples getting cheated. Prabhupāda refused to pay; four thousand rupees should be more than enough. When the contractors came to see him, he told them that he had little money and that they would have to be satisfied with four thousand rupees. They protested, but Prabhupāda became angry and insisted, “Accept it. You are making five hundred percent profit!”
“As soon as they see us,” Prabhupāda said later, “they say, ‘These Americans, they have got money!’ Our work is going on in India, but as soon as money is being spent, fifty percent is being spoiled because you Americans are inexperienced. What can be done? The Indians want your money, and they cheat like anything.”
During the paṇḍāl festival the tenement neighbors had become disturbed by kīrtanas over the loudspeaker. They were already disturbed that their landlord, Mr. N., was slow to repair the buildings and would sometimes let them go a full week without water before fixing the plumbing. Being suddenly forced to live with more than twenty American devotees only exacerbated their dissatisfaction. Some of the neighbors were converted Christians and unsympathetic to Vaiṣṇavism; they even feared their children might again be converted to Hinduism. Some tenants claimed the devotees were infringing on their privacy, some criticized the devotees for arguing among themselves, and others criticized that the unmarried men and women were living in close proximity – even though in separate quarters.
A few of the neighbors, however, could see that the Western Vaiṣṇavas were struggling to sincerely worship Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. None of the tenants criticized Prabhupāda, however, so when he was present, he was able to pacify them and resolve any disagreements. But Prabhupāda knew that after he left, the situation could easily become volatile.
Prabhupāda was planning an extensive world tour, traveling eastward to Australia, Japan, Hawaii, the U.S., and perhaps Mexico and Europe. It might be as long as half a year before he would return to India, and he wanted things to progress smoothly in Bombay without him.
A few days before Prabhupāda’s departure, Madhudviṣa Swami complained, “I’m not feeling very enthusiastic here. I think I need a change.” Prabhupāda asked him where he wanted to go, and Madhudviṣa replied that he was thinking of Australia. Prabhupāda said, “Yes, I am going there. You also come.” Brahmānanda Swami told Prabhupāda that the preaching was deteriorating in Nairobi in his absence, and Prabhupāda agreed that he should return to his duties there.
Again, Prabhupāda had to choose a new Bombay manager, and this time he chose Girirāja, a young brahmacārī and leading preacher in making ISKCON life members. Prabhupāda reasoned that since the essence of management was to collect donations and make life members, and since Girirāja was expert at that, then even though he was young and otherwise inexperienced, he had the most important qualifications. Prabhupāda had already found Girirāja to be simple and submissively dedicated to helping him develop Hare Krishna Land.
Girirāja: Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “You will do, Girirāja?” So I said, “Yes, Śrīla Prabhupāda, whatever you say.” I wasn’t actually very happy about it, but I understood that one should be surrendered to the spiritual master, and whatever he said, one should do. So I accepted. Prabhupāda said that good management meant that whatever needs doing, you do it – that’s all. Later I went in to see Śrīla Prabhupāda, and he was sitting behind his desk. He said, “Now the full responsibility is on you.” I winced when he said that, because I wasn’t used to taking responsibility.
During Prabhupāda’s stay in Bombay, Hans Kielman, a young architect from Holland, had come to hear the lectures and had become interested in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Prabhupāda convinced Hans to become a devotee and to help build the Hare Kṛṣṇa city in Bombay. Under Prabhupāda’s direction, Hans at once began to make architectural drawings for the buildings.
Hans: Prabhupāda said, “Now you listen carefully. Lord Kṛṣṇa has sent you here. You must design these temples for Him. You must do these very sincerely and not be afraid.” I was completely surrendered. That moment was really ecstasy for me. He had a pile of photographs on his desk, and he gave them to me and said, “Look at this.” I looked at the pictures, and they were photographs of the new Govindajī temple in Vṛndāvana. He said, “I want you to make a design like this.” So I asked him, “How big, Śrīla Prabhupāda?” He gave me a piece of typing paper and said I should draw on this paper. Then he gave me the photographs and a pencil and a ruler. He took me to the next room and told me to sit down at the table. Pradyumna was there with all his Sanskrit books, Śyāmasundara was there typing the letters, and suddenly I was in between, making the drawings.
Prabhupāda said Girirāja and the others would have to collect sixty-four lakhs of rupees for the construction. The devotees had no idea how they would raise even a fraction of that amount, but Prabhupāda gave them some ideas. He talked to them about enlisting the support of influential men by using the bheṅt-nāma system, whereby a person purchases the use of a guest room for life. And there were other ways.
But the immediate step was to get the land. They had possession of the land, but before building they should have the deed. Since Mr. N. was already overdue in delivering the deed, Prabhupāda told Girirāja to press him to comply with the written agreement and deliver the deed at once.
In Prabhupāda’s last lecture in Bombay, he spoke about the six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana and the bittersweet ecstasy of their hankering to be with Kṛṣṇa. Some of Prabhupāda’s disciples took it that Prabhupāda was speaking about this because he was himself going to be leaving for a long time.
At the airport the next day there was a joyful farewell, as Prabhupāda waited for his flight to Australia. Sitting in the VIP lounge surrounded by devotees, Prabhupāda watched Madhudviṣa Swami lead an ecstatic kīrtana. “If you go on having kīrtanas like this,” Prabhupāda told the devotees, “our Bombay project will be successful.” When Prabhupāda saw Mrs. N. had come, he exclaimed, “Oh, Mrs. N., you are also here! You are becoming one of us.”
Prabhupāda had the extraordinary ability to bring a spiritual vision into physical reality, to change a part of the material world into spiritual energy so that even a common man could perceive the spiritual reality. This was Prabhupāda’s constant effort. Often a transcendentalist hesitates to deal with the material world, fearing he may become spiritually weakened. The Vedic injunctions, therefore, warn the transcendentalist to avoid associating with money and materialistic persons. But Prabhupāda, following the principles taught by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, saw that everything material had the potential of being used in the service of Kṛṣṇa and thus of regaining its spiritual nature. Following this principle, an expert devotee, although apparently acting within the material sphere, could remain always in touch with the spiritual energy. For such a devotee, nothing was material.
In the Vedic scriptures the great devotee Nārada Muni, because of his ability to convert materialistic men into devotees, is referred to as cintāmaṇi, touchstone. Just as cintāmaṇi is said to convert iron into gold, so Nārada could transform a beastlike hunter into a pure Vaiṣṇava. And as Nārada is glorified in the Vedas for accomplishing such feats in bygone ages, so Śrīla Prabhupāda is a similarly potent touchstone in the present age. Again and again he showed by his straightforward application of Kṛṣṇa consciousness that he could change a materialist into a completely renounced, active devotee of the Lord. And now, after recruiting a number of devotees from māyā’s camp, he wanted to engage them in transforming as much as possible of the material world into living spirit. By his transcendental, visionary words, he was attempting to convert stone and human energy into glorious, spiritual temples.
While ambitious materialists sometimes criticize transcendentalists as unproductive, Prabhupāda, because of his constant activity, could never be so accused. Rather, people would criticize him as being a capitalist in the dress of a sannyāsī. But such criticism never deterred Prabhupāda; he was carrying out the desires of the previous ācāryas. He had written this conclusion in his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam even before coming to America in 1965.
Therefore, all the sages and devotees of the Lord have recommended that the subject matter of art, science, philosophy, physics, chemistry, psychology and all other branches of knowledge should be wholely and solely applied in the service of the Lord.
Prabhupāda wanted to convert significant portions of the material world into the spiritual world. In attempting to construct a spiritual city in Juhu, he realized he was launching a major attack against māyā. Within a few months so many complications and headaches had already disturbed his plans, and more would come; the battle was just beginning.
Sometimes Prabhupāda’s disciples found the work to be draining and stressful; they would become bewildered. They had come to spiritual life for bliss, not for anxiety. Prabhupāda’s presence and his constant encouragement helped them remain steadfast. He knew that once they tasted the nectar of selfless dedication to Kṛṣṇa, they would never accept anything lesser. He would encourage them, reminding them of the words of spiritual predecessors like Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, who had said, “Difficulties undertaken in the course of Your devotional service I will consider the greatest happiness.”