In a letter to all temple presidents Karandhar wrote, “The etiquette is to invite the guru to your temple. It’s not likely that he’ll come, but invite him.” As I was president in Sydney, I duly wrote a letter saying, “Please come and visit Australia,” and I was shocked when Prabhupada responded, “I’m coming, send two tickets.” We had no money whatsoever. We sold Back to Godheads and made fifty dollars on a big day. Paying the rent was a major achievement. Our temple was a storefront with a big window at a bus stop in Paddington, which was a trendy area. We held evening arati at six o’clock where 30 or 40 commuters, who were waiting to go home, could see it. The temple was wonderful, but it wasn’t clean. We hadn’t changed the carpet from when it had been a store and we didn’t even know that carpets were dirty. We really didn’t know anything about devotional service. The first two devotees in Australia were Bali Mardan and Upendra. Then Upananda joined and shortly thereafter Vaibhavi and I joined, and two weeks later the others left. Upendra went to Fiji and Bali Mardan went to Hong Kong. While I was driving them to the airport I said, “Who’s going to be in charge?” They said, “You are.” And a few months later Prabhupada came. At this time there were virtually no books. There was just that old blue Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and, to be honest, I couldn’t understand it. Later, by listening to cassettes and taking notes, I understood the philosophy, but reading Bhagavad-gita was over my head. When Prabhupada agreed to come, we let it be known that we needed three thousand dollars for two tickets, and a Baha’i guest, who later was initiated as Raghunatha, donated the money. So, after the big Cross Maidan pandal in Bombay, Prabhupada arrived in Sydney with the Deities of Radha-Gopinatha. Prabhupada was understandably appalled at our lack of knowledge but he said, “They are sincere boys and girls,” and he held an initiation ceremony. I have always been good with the media and at my invitation three or four television stations crowded into our small storefront with their big cameras and lights, and a hundred people were in a room that could comfortably only fit forty or fifty. Prabhupada installed the Deities and we got our brahman initiation. We didn’t know what a brahman thread was. Prabhupada said, “Where are the brahman threads?” and we said, “What are brahman threads?” So Vaibhavi went downstairs and got a ball of string, tied the threads together, brought them up, and we had our brahman initiation. Prabhupada later said that he left the Deities in mleccha-desh.
During Srila Prabhupada’s visit in 1971, I booked him on a number of national television shows but we’d have to travel quite a distance to get to the studios and then they’d ask superficial questions for five or ten minutes. After one interview Prabhupada looked at me, shook his head and said, “They do not know how to question.” Another time Prabhupada and I were sitting in the waiting room to go onto a national TV show, and on a little TV we saw a graphic scene of a woman being violated in the woods. Prabhupada was astounded— incredulous—that these kinds of things were displayed on a public medium. He looked at the whole thing and then turned to me and said, “The world is going to hell,” and shook his head. Once, Prabhupada was on the Mike Willesee Show. Mike Willesee was a famous, cynical, acerbic interviewer who would always verbally damage his guests. Almost no one went away from the Mike Willesee Show without bleeding from several wounds. Prabhupada sat between Mike Willesee and a picture of Krishna. Mike Willesee said, “This is your Hindu God?” Prabhupada said, “No, this is God. Tell me whatever you’d like to about God as He’s described in your scriptures—His name, fame, qualities, and pastimes. If you’re saying that this is a Hindu God, then tell me about your Christian God, as much information as you’d like to share with me and the audience.” Willesee said, “There isn’t much.” Prabhupada said, “We have all the information in our scriptures and if you’re interested, we’ll show you that Krishna is not a Hindu God, He’s God, He fits all the qualifications, and you have to accept Him. You failed to present me with a superior description of God. I have His picture right here. You have not even a word to say. So you please accept Him as God right now.” Mike Willesee was devastated. No one had turned him upside down like that before. Sometime later, Prabhupada asked me not to book him more television engagements. Even though he was reaching a million people, the questions weren’t deep and the time was too short. I canceled a couple of national shows because Prabhupada wanted to give Krishna consciousness in depth, even if to a smaller audience.
I booked Srila Prabhupada two speaking engagements in one day. The first was at nine o’clock in the morning at the very exclusive North Sydney Boys School. Two or three hundred third and fourth graders in uniforms sat in the auditorium along with their teachers to hear from Prabhupada. We always carried Prabhupada’s vyasasana with us, we always had a kirtan, and there was a lot of brouhaha. Prabhupada began by asking the boys to chant the maha-mantra responsively, word-by-word, and Prabhupada chided them in a friendly way when they weren’t enthusiastic enough. Then Prabhupada asked, “Do you know what is God? Can any one of you stand up and tell me what is God?” One boy raised his hand and said, “God is self-realization, and God is found in the unconscious mind.” Prabhupada asked that boy to come forward. Prabhupada was kind and gentle with him and steered him in the right direction, until the boy got the idea that consciousness is the spark of sensation within the body. From there Prabhupada discussed the supreme consciousness as it’s described in the Thirteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita: ksetra-jnam capi mam viddhi sarva-ksetresu bharata . . . about the field of activities, the individual soul, and the supreme soul. It was a technical lecture, but Prabhupada unfolded it in a way that was perfectly palatable for these young boys. They were satisfied and I felt that they had ingested most of what Prabhupada had said. In the evening we went to the Wayside Chapel, which was a gathering place for radicals, fanatics, homosexuals, and Nazis. The moderator was Reverend Ted Noffs, who delighted in increasing attendance through sensationalism and controversy. His constituency was eloquent but morally bankrupt and politically extreme. Prabhupada gave a brief and simple lecture. He sensed that this was not a good forum. Those persons were used to haranguing and weren’t interested in surrendering. Prabhupada calculated, “Let’s make this as brief and painless as possible.” Compared to what he’d talked about in the morning with the boys, he spoke more simply, as if they were less intellectual than the boys, which, in spiritual terms, they were. Spiritually they were totally unqualified. Then Prabhupada asked for questions, and the questions were challenging. In a very elongated way one person said, “What’s the practical good of it?” Prabhupada answered with a tone that said, “You wouldn’t understand, but this is what it does,” and he said, “The practical result of chanting Hare Krishna is that it saves you from death.” After the program Reverend Noffs escorted Prabhupada to the car, and Prabhupada asked him, “What do you do here?” Reverend Noffs said, “One of the things we do is help kids with drugs.” Prabhupada got in the car and asked Ugrasrava, “So they give young people drugs?”
Two young interviewers asked Prabhupada, “Have you seen God?” Prabhupada said, “What do you think? Before you buy gold, you should first educate yourself so you can recognize gold. So to know whether my answer is right or wrong, you need to know who God is and the qualifications for seeing Him. Do you know who God is and who is qualified to see Him?” They said no. “Since you don’t know, for better or worse you have to accept whatever I say. Will you do that?” “Yes.” “Then I have seen God.” That was powerful.
Srila Prabhupada gave many speaking programs in Sydney—in Paddington Town Hall, in Ormond Hall, in Sydney Town Hall, and, since we advertised them, they were all well attended. But the people who came weren’t completely happy because Prabhupada didn’t fit their preconceptions. At a public speaking engagement in a big hall in South Melbourne, someone asked a long question about what Prabhupada thought of Guru Maharaji, who was very popular at the time. Although Prabhupada knew him, in public he would never criticize anyone by name. Prabhupada asked, “What is his philosophy?” “God is the light between your eyes.” Prabhupada looked at that person and said, “Thank you very much.” Someone else asked about Lobsang Rampa and someone asked about Meher Baba and Prabhupada said, “What is their philosophy?” and didn’t give any of them any credence. People complained, “How come he’s like that?” We said, “That’s our guru; unalloyed devotional service, nothing less.”
I arranged a program at St. Pascal’s Franciscan Seminary and Prabhupada gave a wonderful lecture about the universality of God consciousness—how God consciousness is for everyone. He said that a religious person is not necessarily Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jew or one who pays lip service to this or that denomination, but one who follows the laws of God. Dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam. At the end one of the seminarians asked, “What do you think of St. Francis?” Prabhupada said, “What is his philosophy?” The seminarian said, “He talked about brother tree, sister bird.” Prabhupada said, “That is real God consciousness. One who is pandit, learned, his vision is equal. So if St. Francis was thinking like that, that is the highest standard of spiritual understanding.” Prabhupada’s appreciation was greater than the seminarians, and they were followers of St. Francis. Prabhupada had never heard of St. Francis and yet based on a two- or three-sentence description of how St. Francis saw the world, Prabhupada immediately recognized that he was a kindred spirit, another guru, another spiritual master, and Prabhupada said, “That is real God consciousness!” His statement profoundly affected the seminarians. After the question period Prabhupada said, “God’s name is Christ or Kristo or Krishna. So let’s join in glorifying God. You say Kristo and we’ll say Krishna.” And the frocked and collared seminarians stood up and started chanting, “Kristo, Kristo, Kristo, Kristo, Krishna, Krishna, Krishna.” They were young men, some of them bearded, a little older than us. We were in our early 20’s and they were mostly in their mid or late 20’s or early 30’s and older mentors were there also. The place was rocking. Many of the seminarians had tears rolling down their faces. It was a moving, nondenominational glorification of God’s names.
On a morning walk in Sydney, I asked Prabhupada about the power of the kshatriyas. Based on our philosophy, I thought that having many wives and being sexually active would decrease a person’s spiritual and physical power. Once, Prabhupada said that Gandhi was successful in driving the British out of India because he was celibate after the age of 35. So I asked Prabhupada, “How is it that the kshatriyas were the most physically powerful people in society and yet at the same time they were dispensing their seed profusely?” Prabhupada said, “System of eating.” That’s all he said.
In Paddington, a fellow asked Prabhupada for permission to interview some of the disciples to see what their backgrounds were and try to find some keys as to why certain types of people became devotees. Prabhupada said, “You don’t need to do that.” The man said, “Why?” Prabhupada said, “Because their backgrounds are all black. It doesn’t matter if they were a Nobel Prize winner or a Ph.D. or a beggar on the street. Before they came to Krishna consciousness, it was all black. Don’t pay any attention to what they were before.” There’s a verse, “One who sees a Vaishnava as a member of a particular sect or creed, the spiritual master as an ordinary man or the Deity as stone has jadamatir buddhi, he has hellish consciousness.” This fellow was thinking, “This Vaishnava has a B.A., this Vaishnava took drugs, or this Vaishnava worked for the Defense Department,” but Prabhupada was saying, “A Vaishnava is a Vaishnava. Do not distinguish higher and lower Vaishnavas.” For example, sometimes the sky is cloudless all day long and sometimes there are clouds in the morning but they dissipate and in the evening the sky is cloudless. Under the clear evening sky, what difference does it make whether or not there had been clouds earlier in the day? Either way the sky is cloudless now. Similarly, Prabhupada said, “Just see them as Vaishnavas, that’s all. Don’t see them in terms of where they came from or make relative determinations that this one was good and this one was bad. It was all bad, it was all black and now it’s all white.”
On one morning walk Prabhupada was told that two ladies, Swati and Shasti, had observed Ekadasi every day for a year. Prabhupada said, “That is very good. Grains are for animals.” A month later I was in Vrindavan and went on another morning walk with Prabhupada, when Prabhupada said something about grains building strength. One devotee said, “But Prabhupada, I thought you said grains were for animals.” Prabhupada said, “I eat grains. Am I an animal?”
At the end of a lecture, I asked, “If Christians would give up eating meat, would they be Krishna conscious?” He said, “Yes, definitely. Krishna is pure, you become pure, you will understand. Krishna will be revealed to you if you are pure.”
Prabhupada sat on the vyasasana and the first question the reporter asked was, “What’s going to happen to the movement after you die?” Before he’d even finished the sentence Prabhupada said, “I will never die!” A long pause, “I will live forever in my books.” Going back to Australia, before Prabhupada arrived I would inform the press and make his arrival a media event. Reporters would follow him from the airport to the temple. Once, Prabhupada spent quite a bit of time with a reporter for the Melbourne Age, the largest daily newspaper in Melbourne. Prabhupada treated the reporters as individuals. He didn’t give them a media package, a slick presentation for newspapers. Prabhupada tried to get them to be Krishna conscious, and he really gave this fellow a lot of mercy. But the article that came out the next day had a picture of Prabhupada and the heading, “Swami says he’ll be an animal in his next life.” We were aghast and upset at the ingratitude and dullness of this reporter. We showed Prabhupada the article, “Look what he’s written…” Prabhupada smiled and said, “Caru, count the number of times that Krishna is mentioned in the article.” It was eight or ten times. Prabhupada asked, “What is the circulation?” It was two or three hundred thousand. “How many people read it?” We figured and it turned out that the name of Krishna was repeated or read more than a million times as a result of that article. Prabhupada said, “How can that be bad? The name of Krishna has been intoned mentally or verbally more than a million times on this day. That cannot be bad.”
The whole temple room in the Lotus Building in Mayapur was packed with devotees. Prabhupada was lecturing and for a moment he looked at us—20-yearold kids—and said, “I am an old man, I may go at any time. But there are hundreds of you young men and women, and all of you have at least 50 years left.” I got a sense of how exciting every day was for him, preaching Krishna consciousness, captaining a world movement, as it was exciting for all of us who participated in it. At that moment, Prabhupada was transcendentally envious of us, that he was going to have to go and we had 50 years—so he started crying out of sheer enthusiasm to preach.
Before Prabhupada first visited us in Australia, we had a couple of his books and we knew something of him as an author. One tends to think of the author and his works as being separate and one is curious to know what the author is like as a person. Having read his commentaries, I wondered what Prabhupada would be like in person. I was in charge the first time Prabhupada came to Australia and I was with him more than anybody. Whether I was alone with him or whether there were 20 or 30 other people, he was the personification of the Bhagavatam and the Gita. There wasn’t any difference between his work and himself. He was truly the person Bhagavat, and early on I realized that one need not be in the physical presence of Prabhupada because Prabhupada is perfectly and completely present in his books. Since there is no difference between Prabhupada and his books, I always had plenty of inspiration in my devotional life. When Prabhupada left the planet it was the worst day of my life, but everything was still there. The books, the senior devotees, our international society, our vision, our goal, our inspiration—and to this day I haven’t faltered for any lack of inspiration.