I remember specifically the first time I had an interaction with Prabhupada. I was a new devotee, not even initiated, but somehow or other I was able to go on a morning walk in San Francisco. Although I knew that Prabhupada was going to be my spiritual master, I wanted a direct confirmation from him. So I kept looking at him during the walk, trying to catch his gaze, and every time I did, he would avoid it. However, sometime during the walk when I least expected it, Prabhupada planted his cane, stopped, and looked directly at me, right through me. In that brief fraction of a second it was as if I became aware that he was trikalagya (above the influence of the three modes of material nature and to be the knower of the past, present and future). I had absolute faith somehow that he knew who I was in the past, he knew what I was thinking, and he knew what the future was going to hold for me. I immediately felt that he was my spiritual master. It was a very impactful moment. It felt like a mystical experience. It was almost like within that brief second my soul traveled with him to the end of time, and that I had no more questions in my mind, no more doubts ever that I can remember that Prabhupada was my spiritual master eternally.
At one point I assumed the position as temple commander in Mayapur. I was noticing that everyone was attending mangal artik except for the leaders in our society. Maybe one or two sannyasis were there but certainly not the majority of them. The sannyasis were GBC members and they were having their meetings at the time. And none of them were attending sundar arotik. I thought Prabhupada should know this, so I came into Prabhupada’s room, offered my obeisances and I said, “Srila Prabhupada, the devotees, the GBC men, are all there for your program, guru puja, and Srimad Bhagavatam class in the morning, but practically none of them are attending mangal arotik and none of them are coming to sundar arotik. I just felt that you should know.” Prabhupada understood the situation. He said, “Thank you very much”, and he waved his hand dismissing me. He immediately called all the GBC in, and he then ordered them, “From now on your GBC meetings must end one half hour before the evening arotik. All of you must attend the evening arotik, and all of you must attend mangal arotik from now on also.” I remember the next morning when all the leaders of our movement were there, it reminded me of a purport in the Bhagavad-gita where Srila Prabhupada talks about how faith is created by the association of devotees. It felt so impactful having all the leaders of our movement there during mangal arotik that I remember feeling this incredible feeling of accomplishment by Srila Prabhupada. The movement had spread all over the world and I felt blissful and secure having that association of advanced devotees. It also reminded me how one of the main mandates of Srila Prabhupada for sannyasis was to travel to other temples. I don’t know how much of that is being done currently but Prabhupada definitely wanted them to give classes to enliven the devotees.
I had been the temple commander in Mayapur for about four months when the festival began in 1976. We were trying to finish all the rooms for the devotees along the perimeter wall of Mayapur as there was a huge influx of devotees coming from all around the world. Being the temple commander I was in anxiety because we were behind schedule in getting the rooms ready. Prabhupada’s disciples were doing so much service and they deserved to come to Mayapur. I knew Prabhupada wanted them to have very nice facilities because Prabhupada said that Mayapur is our home. In that mood, I was trying to get every person who came a little early engaged, especially able-bodied devotees, in helping get the rooms ready for the other devotees. I was in a little bit of a passionate mode and I remember one specific incident of a devotee who had come early who appeared very stout and strong. However, every morning he would take prasad and then he would disappear for the rest of the day. I found out that he would go into where the banana patch was and he’d just chant Hare Krishna all day long. I approached him and asked him if he would help, but he said that he was in Mayapur just to chant Hare Krishna and that’s it. That rubbed me a little bit the wrong way and being temple commander and having that responsibility, I was frustrated and I thought maybe that would set a precedent for other devotees. I approached Srila Prabhupada at that time hoping he could remedy the situation. I had pretty much the ability, carte blanche, to enter Srila Prabhupada’s room, although it was only for important things, and I felt this was one of those times. I offered my obeisances as Srila Prabhupada sat and chanted his japa. I said, “Srila Prabhupada, I need do ask you something.” Still fingering his beads, he turned toward me and said, “Yes?” I said, “Srila Prabhupada, we’re trying to get the rooms ready on the perimeter wall for all the devotees who are coming and we’re behind schedule. I’m trying to get every single devotee I can who’s coming early who can to help us out. There’s one devotee in particular that’s really frustrating me because he won’t do any service. He simply goes to the banana patch and all day long all he does is chant Hare Krishna. He won’t do any service.” As I was telling Prabhupada my dilemma, he had his face turned away from me as he was softly chanting. When I finished saying, “He won’t do any service,” Prabhupada stopped and looked at me very gravely and said, “So, you think chanting Hare Krishna is not service?” He said, “That is the greatest service!” I immediately felt about a half inch tall. I felt so humiliated that I simply offered my obeisances and said, “Yes, thank you Srila Prabhupada,” and got what I consider one of the greatest personal instructions from my spiritual master to this day. Prabhupada was so expert, and as you hear the memories of so many other devotees, because he is in direct connection with Krishna all the time, it was so unpredictable to know what he was going to say in any given situation. To another devotee in the same situation he might have given a completely different instruction. But he knew that was exactly what I needed to hear.
I think the thing that impressed me the most about Srila Prabhupada was his perfect character. Prabhupada’s purpose in creating the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was that he wanted to create men of perfect character. Even if you never heard Prabhupada speak, just his hand gesture, his facial expression, the way he dealt with everything was perfect. Many qualities were embodied in the interactions between Prabhupada and others, such as his humility, peacefulness, freedom from anger, and his perfect timing in how he would do and say things. That in my mind sums up more than anything the quality that I remember most about Srila Prabhupada.