I have always been favorable to God since I was a child. I am a Catholic from Italy. My grandmother used to take me to mass every morning when I was a child. I liked the idea of God. I liked the idea of the Supreme. I didn’t take anything for granted. But I didn’t find any reciprocation in the church. The only reciprocation I really found was when I saw the devotees for the first time here in Amsterdam; they were Aksayananda Swami, I think, and two brahmacaris doing Harinam. I was sitting in a cafe and I said to my friends, “What’s that? That’s far out!” And they said, “Oh! Something from California—Hare Krishna.” The next day they brought someone to my house. His name was Alex Kulik from San Diego. He brought me a Krishna Book, which had a picture of Prabhupada smelling a champaka flower. Alex said, “This man is the most advanced person on this planet.” He said, “You have to be a vegetarian.” I said, “I am already a vegetarian.” He said, “There’s no gambling and there are a couple other rules–not so important.” [laughs] I was thirty years old, so when I joined, I was already ten years older than the average age of the other devotees. I became a leader almost immediately and spent the first five years in India traveling in Bengal.
I made up my mind that I was going to go to India to see Prabhupada and somehow I managed to get away. There was a GBC resolution that any devotee who wanted to go to India should be facilitated, and based on that, I convinced Bhagavan to let me go. At the end of October, 1976, I went to Vrindavan to see Prabhupada. I had never seen him before. I arrived in Vrindavan in the evening. The temple commander said, “Ananda, if you stay here and work with me, I will recommend you for second initiation.” I had only received first initiation by mail six months before. We made the deal. Prabhupada gave the second initiation, and at that time there was a big initiation ceremony, but only two of us were getting Gayatri, a gurukula boy and me. When I went in to see Prabhupada, I paid my dandavats, sat down, and then he put the brahman thread around my neck. He said, “Do you know how to count?” I said, “Yes, Prabhupada.” I didn’t even finish saying, “Yes, Prabhupada,” when he abruptly said, “Show me.” I was so excited I made a mistake with my finger. He leaned over, and with his left hand, he gently slapped me on my wrist and said, “Not like that, like this.” [laughs] That was one lesson I learned, “Don’t be too smart. This person can read your mind.” I did get to go on one morning walk with Srila Prabhupada. The morning walk was inside the premises mainly in the gurukula building, which was under construction. We were going around the construction, up and down the scaffolding, here and there. There was a constant monologue from the GBC manager. He would say, “Everything is wonderful, Prabhupada.” “This is wonderful.” “That is wonderful.” Prabhupada didn’t say anything and he just kept walking—tik, tik, tik, making the sound with his cane on the ground. After about a half an hour of this propaganda, Prabhupada picked up his cane and he stuck it into the wall and the plaster crumbled off. He said, “Is this wonderful?” Tik, tik, tik. Then he saw some cement left out in the rain. “Is that wonderful?” Then he saw a pile of dirt. “Is that wonderful?” He made time stop. It was so much pressure. In the end there was nothing left to do but to cry. And to his credit the GBC started crying; tears came to his eyes. There I learned my lesson, which is: “Hype doesn’t cut it with His Divine Grace.”
The next thing I learned from Prabhupada in India was how powerful he was and how much he wanted to preach, how much his desire was to bring Krishna to the common man, to everyone. In the evening there was a pandal program in which Prabhupada spoke first, and then after him the other sannyasis; all Mayavadis that were invited also addressed the audience. One of the impersonalist Mayavadis was Satcitananda from the Sivananda Mission in Risikesh. Prabhupada found out that the traveling sankirtan party had a movie projector and The Hare Krishna People movie. He found out that I was the only one who knew how to work the projector, so he called me into his room and asked, “You know how to do the cinema?” I said, “Yes, Prabhupada.” He said, “This is good. Every evening you stay at the pandal until the last speaker is finished. Then, before everybody leaves, you put on the cinema.” I said, “But Prabhupada, they are Mayavadis.” He said, “Don’t worry. They will not affect you.” In those days there was no TV or satellite communications, so a movie like that was a big thing for the Indian audience. Prabhupada really liked that movie, which was Yadubara’s first production, and it was excellent for preaching in India. We used it for years to make life members.
I am a real believer that Prabhupada is to be known in his books. In Vrindavan when there was a twenty-four-hour kirtan, I had the two o’clock morning shift, and I would note that the light was on in Prabhupada’s room. He would be sitting underneath a custom-made mosquito net and translating. Despite all the management and dealing with the society, he put his best time into writing his books. And to this day, the Prabhupada I know is in the books. One day in Vrindavan I was walking behind Prabhupada, and there was a brahmacari sitting on the steps and reading the Bhagavatam. As Prabhupada went by, he leaned over and tapped the brahmacari on the head, “Good boy!” At that time there was a controversy with the management. They didn’t let us read. They wanted us to go out and collect laksmi or work around the temple. If you read, if you wanted to be a scholar, then there was some resistance. But Prabhupada said, “Good boy” as he patted his disciple on the head.
Prabhupada came to Mayapur in 1977 for the Gaura-Purnima festival. After the festival he was on his way to Puri, Bhubaneswar and Jagannatha Puri, but he first stopped in Calcutta for two days. The morning that Prabhupada was leaving Calcutta, I was sitting at the veranda opposite to his room waiting to see him go. Bhavananda Maharaj walked up to me, gave me a big garland, and said, “Ananda, keep this garland. When I give you the signal, come into Prabhupada’s room, put it around his neck, and I will put the chandan on his forehead.” I was in bliss. Five minutes went by and Bhavananda came back and he briskly took away the garland. He changed his mind. My heart went from here to here (chest to the stomach). I felt so bad I walked out. Calcutta temple was on the first floor and there is a little SP Memories - DVD 76 Page 13 of 20 mezzanine on top of the stairs where they keep the shoes. I was sitting there lamenting. Suddenly I looked up and I saw Prabhupada coming out and everybody was behind him. He looked at me, I looked at him, and we both looked down at his shoes that were on the cushion. I took the shoes and put them on his feet and he walked away. That was the last time I saw him. The lesson I got there is that no one can stop your devotion to guru, to Krishna. No one can come in your way. It doesn’t matter how many obstacles are put there. I would have been happy to put the garland on Prabhupada, but I was impeded from doing that. However, I got a better service of putting Prabhupada’s shoes on his feet!
Prabhupada was the mouthpiece of Paramatma. He directly knew what was going on in our hearts. When he spoke, it wasn’t just him, it was Krishna speaking through him, telling me what I needed for my spiritual SP Memories - DVD 76 Page 20 of 20 advancement. Knowledge is the most important thing. A judge makes his opinion when he has the knowledge from both sides. He hears the prosecution, he hears the defense, and then he makes the decision. Now who is more knowledgeable than Krishna? He is in our heart. He knows what we are carrying, the luggage, the baggage we are carrying from who knows how many millions of births. And Prabhupada was his representative. It was very clear to me that he knew exactly what I needed for my spiritual advancement. Even now when I am struggling, I still feel that he is there. The suffering I am going through is for my own benefit, nothing more, nothing less. If anything, it’s been diminished so that I can handle it. Prabhupada could read your mind. Prabhupada is often quoted as saying, “I did not write these books.” Actually Krishna was writing. Like Baladeva Vidyabhusana with Govinda-bhasya, Govinda Deva instructed him what to write. The quality of a guru is that he is connected with Paramatma, Krishna, and so he cannot give any bad advice.