When I was going to be initiated I was in anxiety and overwhelmed with many different feelings. Like many people I felt that I was transparent in Srila Prabhupada’s presence and that he could see everything about me. He could not only see that I was a pure spirit soul, but he could also see all my maya. I sat at the foot of the vyasasana on Srila Prabhupada’s right. Bhagavan was doing the fire sacrifice, and I couldn’t stop crying. Tears were pouring down, but I pulled my sari over my face. I’d seen a lot of initiations and I wanted to be careful to do everything right, to say the four principles, to say, “at least sixteen rounds,” not just “sixteen rounds,” to speak loudly so that Prabhupada could hear me. I did all of that right. Prabhupada said, “So, your name is . . .” and it sounded like he said “Barbara.” I thought, “That’s already my name, and maybe Barbara means something in Sanskrit, I’m not sure.” Prabhupada handed me my beads, but since I’d had surgery on my right hand it hurt, so I reached with my left hand. Prabhupada said, “Right hand,” but I couldn’t understand what he was saying, and he wouldn’t give me my beads. I thought he had changed his mind and wasn’t going to initiate me because he saw I wasn’t qualified. I was ready to burst out into loud sobs. Then Nanda Kumar elbowed me and loudly whispered, “Your right hand.” I reached with my right hand, and Srila Prabhupada handed me my beads. After the initiation Nanda Kumar said, “So your name is . . .” and I thought he said, “Brahmacharini.” I thought, “I’ve got two children, and I’m six months pregnant, but at least it’s Sanskrit.” Then Nanda Kumar handed me a paper with my name written on it, and it said, “Bhavatarini.” Nanda Kumar said, “You’re very lucky. Pradyumna picks all the names, but because they didn’t know that you were getting initiated, Srila Prabhupada named you on the spot. Bhavatarini is Srila Prabhupada’s sister’s name.” Later on I got to meet Prabhupada’s sister, and she used to call me “Bhavatarini dasi dasi.” It was my good fortune that the other devotees forgot to give me a name.
A devotee had epilepsy, and Brahmananda said to him, “You should use these pills from the West.” Prabhupada asked the devotee, “Is fasting working?” The devotee said, “Yes.” Srila Prabhupada said, “If you are sick, then fasting is the best cure.”
They were reading Krishna book, when Prabhupada said, “Yes, in India, all the girls must be married. And if a suitable husband cannot be found, then they are married to a tree.” As we were leaving the garden I said, “I wonder what kind of tree they marry the women to?” A devotee girl from India said, “That was a joke!” I had no concept that Srila Prabhupada could joke. When I saw him it was so serious, and I had butterflies in my stomach. But that was a joke.
When Siddhasvarupananda’s group was breaking away, Nandalal heard that Prabhupada said that they were leaving ISKCON because they were envious. For the benefit of the Siddhasvarupananda people, after class one day Nandalal asked Prabhupada how to become free from envy. Prabhupada looked straight at her and said, “Don’t envy the spiritual master.” Later, Nandalal said to me, “Maybe Prabhupada thought that I was envious.” Nandalal thought that Prabhupada had misunderstood her question, and she wanted to ask him further, so she went with me to Prabhupada’s room. When Prabhupada and I stopped speaking for a while, she said, “Could you explain further how to become free from envy?” Prabhupada said, “Just like Prahlad Maharaj. He was never envious. He was never afraid. When something bad happened, he thought, ‘Oh, here is my Lord, here is Krishna,’ and when something good happened, he thought ‘Oh, here is my Lord, here is Krishna.’ So he was never envious; he was never afraid.” Then Nandalal asked another question. Srila Prabhupada looked at her and said a little sternly, “Read my books. It’s all in my books.” Nandalal thought, “Maybe I’m asking questions to be talking, and Prabhupada is gently reprimanding me. Maybe I am envious, like we all are in the material world, and Prabhupada is correcting that also.” My one-and-a-half-year-old daughter was with me during the forty-five minutes or an hour that we were with Prabhupada. At one point my daughter started playing with the papers on Srila Prabhupada’s table, and he said, “No, no, no,” so I took her away. Then she started playing with his feet, and I grabbed her. Prabhupada said to me, “You must learn to instruct this child properly. The papers she should not touch. But my feet that is all right, they are hers.” Towards the end of the conversation he held up a cup of water and poured it in his mouth. Then he held it out to my daughter, put it on her lips, and offered it to her. She was getting tired and decided to throw herself backwards, banged her head on the floor, and started screaming. Srila Prabhupada pointed to the floor and said, “Look, you’ve broken the floor. Your head is not broken but the floor— you’ve broken the floor.” My daughter got up without a sound, turned around, and looked at the floor. She rubbed the floor. Prabhupada motioned for to me to take her out, and so I did, but I hung around outside. Prabhupada was having a massage and I could hear him speaking to Pandu about the paintings that Pandu was doing. That was very nice.
Whenever Srila Prabhupada was personally with us, we all were happy, we could do anything, we were superhuman, and we were in Vaikuntha. Once in a class he said, “If you chant one chapter of the Bhagavatam in Sanskrit every day for one year, at the end of one year you will be Sanskrit scholars. You can do this?” We said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada. Jaya, Srila Prabhupada!” He said, “All right, you will do this?” “Yes, Srila Prabhupada. Jaya, Prabhupada!” Three times he said, “You will do this now?” And three times we all said, “Yes!” I’ve never met one person who’s done this, but when he said to do it, it seemed easy. About two years later, I did it for six months, so maybe I’m half a Sanskrit scholar.
On a morning walk in Hawaii, Bali Mardan said, “Look at those clouds, Srila Prabhupada; they look like birds.” Srila Prabhupada said, “Yes. There are birds bigger than this that perch on planets and lay eggs while flying through outer space.” I didn’t know what all that meant. Another time Prabhupada said, “Why have they taken all the coconuts off the trees?” The devotees answered, “Srila Prabhupada, they think that the coconuts are going to fall on someone’s head and kill them.” Srila Prabhupada said, “That is not possible. Coconuts have eyes.”
I’d be in the back of the temple when we greeted the Deities. In the old temple room Prabhupada came in the back door, and we’d all shout, “Prabhupada, ki jaya!” Once I was yelling, “Prabhupada, jaya!” when he came in the door and he turned around, looked at me, and raised his eyebrow as if to say, “Yes, what?” I was yelling like a cheerleader at a football game. I didn’t have anything to say, so I paid my obeisances. After that I realized that he was a person. Before that he wasn’t real to me. When he looked at me and waited for me to speak, I was flabbergasted and didn’t have anything to say. I hardly spoke to him the entire time. But I listened.
Prabhupada entered the temple room as the pujari blew the conch shell and opened the Deity doors. Prabhupada walked up to Gaur-Nitai’s altar, offered his dandavats, and we all did the same. Then he went to Rukmini- Dvarkadhish, offered his dandavats, and took charanamrita. A devotee poured a whole ladle of charanamrita in Prabhupada’s right hand, and Prabhupada said, “This is so nice, I would like to have some more.” I expected him to put his hand out and get more, but he washed his hand and went on. Hari, my husband, said that maybe Prabhupada was showing by example how we use everything for Krishna’s service, not for our own pleasure. The charanamrita tasted so good that Prabhupada would have liked some more, but he didn’t.
I said, “What do I do when I need extra money?” Sudama said, “Srila Prabhupada, she does bake sales.” Prabhupada said, “No!” I said, “I could pick guavas.” Srila Prabhupada said, “No, no, no. You are a woman. You have a child. You should not strain.” I said, “Well, I like to distribute your books.” Prabhupada said, “Yes, you do that. There will be a profit. You keep that.”
Since I had already gotten second initiation by letter, I couldn’t be second initiated at the fire sacrifice Bhutatma organized in the San Francisco temple. I was disappointed because I heard that a lot of times Prabhupada touched your hand when he personally gave second initiation. I thought, “I wanted to take second initiation personally from Srila Prabhupada, because it would probably be the only opportunity in my entire life to have Srila Prabhupada physically touch my hand.” Because I had a child, I had my own room in the temple, and after the initiation Jayananda knocked on my door. Jayananda’s association is another amazing part of Krishna consciousness. He was so kind. He said, “I’m going to see Srila Prabhupada in Los Angeles. Would you like to have me take him some guru dakshin?” I said, “I don’t have anything.” Jayananda pointed to a framed pencil drawing I’d done of Krishna’s face. Krishna had a flute, was wearing a garland, and was in the clouds. Underneath it said “Om.” A lot of people had told me the drawing was not bona fide, and impersonal because Krishna was in a cloud, and none of His associates were there. I would never have thought of giving it to Srila Prabhupada, but when Jayananda said, “Oh, that’s nice,” I forgot all my doubts and hesitations. I said, “Okay, you can take that to Srila Prabhupada.” Jayananda said, “Would you like me to ask Prabhupada anything?” I had heard that all you were supposed to ask the spiritual master was how to serve him, so I said, “Please ask him how I can serve him best.” About a month later Jayananda got a letter from Srila Prabhupada, and in it Prabhupada wrote, “. . . and thank Bhavatarini dasi for her drawing of Gopal Krishna.” I felt that Prabhupada was saying, “It’s Gopal Krishna, it’s not impersonal.” Prabhupada also wrote, “As far as how she can serve me, the best service is to always chant Hare Krishna and to spread it to every town and village.”
Prabhupada could turn the whole world into Vaikuntha just by walking. He could turn the airport into the spiritual world just by walking through it and making everyone free from anxiety. He’d tell us, “Oh, you haven’t even tasted one drop. You are just licking the outside of the bottle.” By his association we were getting just the outside of the bottle.