In 1970 in Australia, Caru and Vaibhavi were advertising Srila Prabhupada’s coming to Australia. There was a sign on the temple in Paddington, “Pure devotee coming to Australia.” At that time, I had just started coming to the temple and getting association with the devotees who were all tremendously excited about meeting a pure devotee. We were all devotees, but thee big pure devotee was going to come, and their excitement and anticipation of his greatness and his purity really had a contagious effect on me. When Srila Prabhupada finally did come, everybody hit the dust in the street of the Paddington temple. I thought this was a very unusual phenomenon. I was wondering, “Should I also do the same thing? Should I bow down or not?” I wasn’t sure what to do, but I participated anyway and offered obeisances. Srila Prabhupada then went into the Paddington temple amidst a very enthusiastic kirtan. He sat down on the vyasasan and gave a class. As it was my first time seeing a pure devotee, it became an amazing, indescribable experience. The impact that Srila Prabhupada’s presence had on me was absolutely profound. I knew that something was happening to me just by coming into his association. Something purifying and auspicious was happening to me. Prior to meeting Srila Prabhupada I had been studying Lobsang Rampa’s books on auras, so I was checking out Prabhupada’s aura and I saw around him a wonderful effulgence. He was definitely an effulgent personality. When Prabhupada finally looked at me while I was looking at him, it was like he was looking at my soul. It was like he knew me, and it was like the meeting of an old friend. When Srila Prabhupada finally looked away, I knew that this was a pure devotee, and he certainly had a purifying impact on me without a doubt.
I received first initiation in 1972 in Glebe, a suburb of Sydney, and then I received second initiation in Mayapur on Gaura Purnima in 1975. Before the initiation took place, I was thinking in my mind that I wanted to ask Srila Prabhupada some intelligent philosophical questions. I wanted to impress upon him that I was studying his books, that I appreciated his presentation of the philosophy, and that I was having some philosophical understanding of it. In that way he would appreciate my being an intelligent disciple. But when I got in front of Srila Prabhupada, my mind went totally blank. I’d forgotten everything. Krishna blanked me out. [laughs] It was just quite incredible. Prabhupada recited the Gayatri mantras and I repeated those mantras, but I didn’t say anything else as I had planned. I ended up being an obedient, submissive disciple by dint of Krishna’s giving me a total blank as I was in awe of Srila Prabhupada. Many years later when I read very carefully Srila Prabhupada’s books, I noted that Prabhupada said that if a disciple thinks of himself as anything other than a fool in front of his spiritual master, he becomes a resident of nara-loka, a hellish planet. When I thought back how Krishna blanked my mind out in front of Srila Prabhupada, I thought that Krishna saved me from trying to make some impression on Srila Prabhupada. The fact that I didn’t say anything in front of Srila Prabhupada indicates that I am a fool, which was good. [laughs] I really learned the lesson that by the mercy of Krishna, one gets guru, and by the mercy of guru, one gets Krishna. Krishna is very merciful. Srila Prabhupada is very merciful, and I just hope that until my last breath I can always remain a fool in front of Srila Prabhupada.
I remember in Mayapur when the first mangala-arati took place with Srila Prabhupada upstairs and the arati was held on the ground floor. It was an absolutely tumultuous mangala-arati and it was led by His Holiness Tamal Krishna Maharaj. It was boisterous. It was an amazing kirtan. It was fully ecstatic from start to finish. Everyone was dancing and jumping, practically reaching the ceilings. It was an unforgettable mangala-arati. After the mangala-arati, Tamal Krishna Maharaj went up to Srila Prabhupada and Prabhupada commented about the mangala-arati. Tamal came back down and made an announcement to all the devotees. He announced that Srila Prabhupada said, “If you all keep chanting like that, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura himself will personally come here and take you all back home, back to Godhead.” All the devotees gave a big, huge “Haribol!” That was a very fond memory that I have of Srila Prabhupada’s appreciating the kirtan in the Mayapur temple.
One time in Mayapur Srila Prabhupada was engaging us in feeding the local residents kitri prasadam. I was one of the cooks and cooking is not my speciality, but when Prabhupada wanted something, we would specialize in it. We cooked this kitri that tasted like sweet rice. Not that it tasted like sweet rice, but it was so delicious that it tasted as delicious as sweet rice. We cooked it in huge woks, offered it to Srila Prabhupada, and he would relish it. On the east side of the bhajan-kutir, there was a little window. That window is not there now, but perhaps that should be restored because that window is a very famous window. Srila Prabhupada would spend a considerable amount of time watching the pilgrims eating the kitri prasadam through that window. The pilgrims could not see him, however, but he could see them and he would watch them with great satisfaction. Srila Prabhupada wanted to ensure that no one around the Mayapur campus would go hungry. It can be seen from different perspectives. One perspective is his material compassion for other people who were genuinely suffering for lack of food due to their poverty. The other perspective is that prasadam distribution is a spiritual compassion because they would make spiritual advancement by eating foodstuffs offered to the Lord. I thought Prabhupada’s vision to distribute prasadam was ingenious.
In Mayapur between 1974 and 1975, I somehow or other was privileged to participate in preparing Srila Prabhupada’s lunch prasadam. I specifically volunteered to cook the sweet rice because I had heard that Srila Prabhupada’s recipe for sweet rice was sixteen parts of milk, one part rice, one part sugar, and with a little bit of camphor. I followed that recipe religiously to make it perfect. It was a very hot kitchen, and I had to stir the sweet rice very slowly so that it didn’t stick as it might get burnt and then the whole thing would be ruined. Finally, it got done, was put on Srila Prabhupada’s plate, and sent up to his room. I was in the kitchen cleaning up when Tamal Krishna Maharaj came into the kitchen. He said, “Who cooked the sweet rice?” I thought, “Oh, my God. What have I done? I’ve had it.” [laughs] I confessed, “It was me.” He said, “Srila Prabhupada really liked it.” It was such a relief that I had actually pleased my spiritual master to such an extent that he deputed Tamal Krishna Maharaj to the kitchen to extend his appreciation similar to what he did regarding his appreciation for the first mangala-arati in Mayapur. That was one little memory of causeless mercy that I got from Srila Prabhupada. The fact that Prabhupada relished it, and then made the effort to extend that appreciation to someone who was unknown to him, struck me. A pure appreciation for something that he relished really speaks to his magnanimous character of how he appreciated everyone’s service, whether it was big or small, and this was definitely a small service. He was always grateful.
Srila Prabhupada at one point said that my service was to assist Jananivas prabhu with the Deity worship and to also look after the goshala. At that time there were about a half dozen cows. Word got back to Srila Prabhupada that we were hiring people to plough the land with the bullocks. Srila Prabhupada said, “Why are we spending money in this way? Our devotees should do it.” Right away I joined Jayapataka Maharaj and Prabhas prabhu in ploughing the land with the bullocks. There was a mantra for going left, a mantra for going right. “Dye Dye” and “Bye Bye” is the way you communicate with the bullocks to maneuver them through the fields. After about a month with all of us ploughing the land, however, it became too physically challenging. [laughs] We were really not cut out to plough the land. But because Prabhupada said he wanted us to plough the land, we ploughed the land. Whatever he said, whatever he wanted us to do, we would do. It came to Srila Prabhupada’s attention, however, that because we were ploughing the land, we were not doing the other things we were supposed to be doing. So Prabhupada had us stop the ploughing and told us to go back to our original service. What we learned from Prabhupada in that instance was that you have to do the needful sometimes. Sometimes you have to be prepared to plough the land. You also have to be prepared to not plough the land. In this way he was training us to be his unconditional servants. As a side note, Jayapataka Maharaj was the best at ploughing. I was a close second behind him. [laughs] In this way we had a competition to see who could plough the best for Srila Prabhupada.
In Mayapur Srila Prabhupada used to give class at the side of the bhajan-kutir. Every morning he would come out for his japa walk before the class. One morning he came out and he looked to the left and he looked to the right. He said, “Why you haven’t cleaned this? This whole balcony, this veranda should be cleaned every day. Should be nice and clean.” He was very insistent upon that point, and he was quite perturbed that it had not been done. Then a couple of other brahmacaris and I really cleaned it. We got it spic and span. The next day he came out, and he looked to the left, he looked to the right, and he said, “Very nice.” We maintained that for many days, but then one day we had a slip up where we didn’t do it. Prabhupada came out and said, “Why you haven’t done this? Why you didn’t clean this? We have to keep Mayapur clean.” We immediately resumed the regular cleaning of that veranda for Srila Prabhupada’s pleasure. What we learned from that is that Srila Prabhupada wanted everything in Mayapur to be neat, clean and tidy. This is the holy dhama. Srila Prabhupada wanted Mayapur to be the most magnificent, glorious, unique city in the world. At least it must be neat, clean and tidy. We, therefore, encourage all devotees to please keep Mayapur neat, clean and tidy. This was Srila Prabhupada’s implicit instruction.
One time in Mayapur Srila Prabhupada was giving a class shortly after the opening of the Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir. I remember this class very specifically, which exemplifies Srila Prabhupada’s sublime character of humility. This was a very successful moment in his preaching achievement. He had gone to the West, he had come back, he had built the Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir, and it was the opening ceremony. He was clearly emotional. The amazing thing he said that I remember was, “I am unfit to be your leader.” When I heard that, it didn’t register with me the depth of what he was saying. After reflection upon his words after all these years, however, I realize that out of genuine humility, he actually meant it. He would say, “I am unfit to be your leader.” He said, “Lord Caitanya has planted you all over the world because previously you were associated with Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement.” He said, “Actually, the credit is to you. I am unfit to be your leader.” At the time I just did not know what he was talking about. Having been a devotee for only four years, I could not understand. But now I understand that he actually meant it. What really impresses me tremendously is that he had everything to be proud of. He had everything to boast about. But he genuinely thought he was unqualified. He said, “I am not fit to be your leader.” And he actually meant it. I could never do that. If I get a little bit of achievement, I start gloating and feeling a little bit elated, but not with Srila Prabhupada. How can we understand the purity of such a maha-bhagavata like Srila Prabhupada and the humility he displayed amidst his glorious achievement? He never was proud. But at the same time, he was never fearful of chastising his god-brothers who didn’t spread the movement according to the wishes of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Srila Prabhupada’s character of humility in the midst of his absolutely amazing achievements is something that is very hard to comprehend. It can only come from someone who is a maha-bhagavata. And that was Srila Prabhupada.