I believe there are many devotees like me who were initiated by Srila Prabhupada but had limited or no association with him. The closest I ever got to Prabhupada was after I left the movement and was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had seen posters up around town that Prabhupada was going to be in Chicago. I was trying to avoid devotees so I wouldn’t feel too much Jewish guilt. [laughs] I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but I wasn’t doing it. But somehow Prabhupada’s picture on the poster was irresistible, and I thought, “I have to go see Prabhupada. I have to go see my spiritual master.” I took my girlfriend with me to the temple in Chicago. This was the time of the big initiations. Everybody was there. All the big guns were there. At first I talked to Manu das and I said to him, “You know, I’m playing music but don’t let anybody know that I’m playing music.” It was maya at that time. Within thirty seconds Dhrstadyumna, at that time Dhrstadyumna Swami, came over and said, “Oh, so you play music?” He said, “Let me get Tamal over here.” It was Tamal and Dhrstadyumna who brought me in a room with Visnujana Swami and they were all going at it with me. Tamal was preaching to me very strongly. But it was compassionate. He was caring for my soul. In reality I was trying to stay away from the devotees because I knew once I was in the association of devotees, I would just want to stay. All the while I had brought my girlfriend, who had never been to a temple, and we were an hour and a half drive away from home. Tamal said to me, “Listen, if you want to see Prabhupada, you’re going to have to surrender right now. Move in with us right now.” [laughs] I was like, “Oh, my God. Are you kidding me?” But then I thought, “This is a golden opportunity. I have to do it.” I threw everything to the wind and told my girlfriend, “Listen, you’re going to have to find your way back home.” Tamal was heavy back in those days. I came into the darshan room, and I remember Prabhupada was sitting at a low desk on a cushion on the floor covered by white sheets, looking very regal. Tamal Krishna was introducing people to him and I was in the back on the opposite side of the room. [laughs] Then Tamal said, “And Srila Prabhupada, this is your disciple Badarayana. He left for some time, but he has come back now. He is surrendering and he wants to join the devotees association again and be with you.” Prabhupada was looking at Tamal and then he very slowly, as if in slow motion, turned one hundred eighty degrees in my direction and just stared at me. He stared at me for about three and a half seconds. He didn’t say a single thing. [laughs] It was just mind blowing. It was as if he saw right through me with all my nonsense, and I thought, “Okay, I’m staying.” The look that Prabhupada gave me was from an aristocratic resident of the spiritual realm. He saw everything about me and accepted me fully despite my innumerable faults. He was compassionate and forgiving, but at the same time he wasn’t conveying, “Okay, you’re off the hook,” but rather, “I forgive you. Now get your life back on track. Be serious.” It was intense. [laughs]
I was so captivated by the mood at that time of serving Prabhupada and his mission. Prabhupada was the consummate preacher in the mood of saving the planet and helping the conditioned souls whose future was very dark. Reading Prabhupada’s books, being in the association of the devotees, going on sankirtan, experiencing the absolute nectar of being in kirtan, and chanting the Holy Name was just deeply transforming for all of us. We were living in a whole other world. It was the spiritual world, but it was fueled by Prabhupada’s immense compassion for us to become pure and give that to others. His entire mood was, “Help them. Help me to help them.” In one sense, although I was fortunate to have Prabhupada’s direct association, it really didn’t matter. Many other devotees I know that were initiated by Prabhupada feel the same way. I didn’t need that direct connection all the time because that association of Prabhupada was and is available through his books. So that association is there for anyone. What I find so immensely important, having been around for some time, is reading Prabhupada’s books. I find that I have to read Prabhupada’s books every day, even if it is only for five minutes, or hear a lecture. At the same time, I also find that one of the most, perhaps the most valuable book or series of books that I have ever read for my devotional life, is this Memories Series. The reason is it gives you very profound glimpses into Prabhupada’s mood. You can see Prabhupada acting Krishna conscious in real-time. How did the pure devotee apply the high philosophy in every type of practical situation imaginable? Prabhupada dealt with innumerable issues, such as devotees arguing, conflicting philosophical viewpoints, somebody leaving the movement, somebody feeling insecure, sexual issues and philosophical deviation. By reading the anecdotes in the Memories Series you really get a glimpse into how to apply Krishna consciousness in a way that’s meaningful. I was with Shyamasundar recently and he said, “You know it blew my mind that Prabhupada sometimes in one day would tell one devotee one thing and six hours later he would say the exact opposite to another devotee. But it was a perfect response in each situation!” So how do we apply this principle of time and circumstance? Prabhupada was a master of time and circumstance. But we don’t really know how that works unless we hear how Prabhupada applied it. And that is what I found so illuminating about the Memories books. I couldn’t be in all the places where these devotees were with Prabhupada. I never had that type of association with Srila Prabhupada. But you can get all that association in these little anecdotes. They reveal the things that stuck out in the early disciples’ minds of how Prabhupada acted here or acted there, exposed this person, captured this person’s heart, brought this person back. And the way he did it was always brilliant—with perfect philosophy, perfect compassion, sometimes soft like a rose, sometimes stern and hard like a thunderbolt, but always the proper medicine. So that’s why I feel these oral histories are an invaluable contribution for future generations.