I was in the Los Angeles temple in the early days when Vishnujana, who wasn’t a swami yet, Srimati and Kaushalya, made beautiful rod puppets. We would all go to Griffith Park early on Sundays with them as they put on improvised puppet shows to attract the people in the park to accept our free love feast invitations. On one of these days, Srila Prabhupada came and watched the puppet show on the life of Prahlad Maharaj. It was the first time I was ever seeing Prabhupada in such an informal setting. The puppet show started and Vishnujana, playing the part of Prahlad, started singing, “If you like singing, Krishna says you can sing for Him.” Then he would ask the crowd that had gathered, “Do you like to sing?” Everyone cheerfully said, “Yes.” Vishnujana would continue singing, “If you like dancing, Krishna says you can dance for Him.” Then he would ask everyone, “Do you like dancing?” In unison they all said, “Yes.” As this was going on, I looked over to see how Srila Prabhupada, the Jagat Guru, was reacting to this puppet show. He was smiling with a huge grin and he started laughing. Up to this point I had only seen Prabhupada as the “heavy” guru sitting on the vyasasana dispensing knowledge, but now I saw a new side to his personality. Srila Prabhupada had this childlike innocence of enjoyment and it just touched my heart.
In 1970 we moved into the new temple on Watseka Avenue. Because the building had been a church, there was a sanctuary where the existing temple room is now. There were stained glass windows, an organ and regular seats in the sanctuary that Srila Prabhupada liked for the guests who would come to the Sunday feasts. One day, Vishnujana, still not a swami, after the Sunday feast sat down at the organ. He began to play and led us in a kirtan. All of a sudden the door to the temple room opened up and Srila Prabhupada came out with his arms raised above his head and he began to dance. He motioned to all of us to stand up and dance. We all stood on the seats of the chairs and everybody went completely wild. It was amazing because I had never seen Srila Prabhupada dance before. It was like he was floating – his feet weren’t on the ground. He was a “Vaikuntha man”. He just picked all of us up and we became absorbed in the ecstasy of Prabhupada who transmitted his mood into our hearts. Needless to say, we were out of our bodies.
In 1973 the acting troupe of devotees known as “The Vaikuntha Players” came to Los Angeles. They choreographed the story of the killing of Pralambasura and it was decided that there would be a private viewing only for Srila Prabhupada in the temple room. I was invited to join the group to sing and play the mridanga for some musical accompaniment. We gathered in the temple room and Prajapati began as the narrator reading from Prabhupada’s Krsna Book. Prabhupada sat on the vyasasana and I sat right down on the floor at the bottom of Prabhupada’s vyasasana with the mridanga. When it came to the point in the play when Balaram killed Pralambasura, I looked up at Prabhupada at that moment, and his face was so expressive as if he was actually seeing Balaram kill Pralambasura. I just thought to myself that, “Prabhupada has the vision to actually enter into the pastime, straight from the Krsna Book that he translated.” I remember Prabhupada said the paintings were the windows to the spiritual world and he said that the dramas made his books come to life.
In 1972 my husband, Kanupriya, and I took our twin daughters, who were fourteen months old, to India. We were going to stay and live in India since my husband was going to work with the Spiritual Sky import business in Calcutta. We first went to Vrindavan, however, because Srila Prabhupada was there. Upon our arrival the devotees took us to see Prabhupada, and he said, “Oh! So Krishna has brought you here!” [laughs] I thought, “Wow, I had never thought like that. Krishna has actually brought us here to Vrindavan.” He then asked, “Have you taken prasadam?” We said, “No, Prabhupada.” He said, “You are following ekadasi?” I said, “No, Srila Prabhupada. I forgot.” I told him that the devotees from London gave us some bread as we were standing in line to get permission to come into the country and my children were hungry and I ate some as well. Prabhupada said, “Srutakirti, give them some sweets!” I thought he was going to say that I was going to hell or that I’ve committed the most abominable sin imaginable. But he just totally dismissed it and said to his servant, “Give them some sweets.” That showed me that even though breaking ekadasi is such a heavy thing, because it was unintentional and innocent on my part, Prabhupada was merciful and compassionate not to chastise me. I felt a lot of mercy and love in that lesson of realizing that up the road, if anything like that should happen, in exchanges with devotees, not to be harsh. Later on we learned that if we break ekadasi, we follow it the next day. But that was the most relaxed I had ever seen Prabhupada because he was in his element of the Holy Dham. Later on he would say that Vrindavan was his home.
At the beginning of 1973 I had an intense desire to go to Mayapur where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared, because I was given the name Chaitanya dasi. So we took the train and we went to Mayapur and moved into a little hut with a mud floor. At that time there were just five brahmacharis living there. After some time it was brought to our attention that the men weren’t happy having a grihasta couple living there and we were told that Prabhupada wanted to speak with my husband in Calcutta. When we got there Prabhupada began asking what we were doing and what was the problem. We told him mainly that the men didn’t want to give away any of the extra milk from the cows because we had two children. The bottom line of the complaint was that we really didn’t have an income. Prabhupada then began to have a back and forth discussion and he resolved that my husband could learn to make mridangas that could be shipped to other temples and he could get some income from those sales. Then one God-brother sannyasi said, “No, no, Prabhupada. That won’t work. Not possible.” He said, “They should go back to America.” I said, “But we came on a one-way ticket. How could we go?” He said, “Oh, you just go to the government and get repatriated. You give them your passport.” I said, “What does that mean?” He said, “It means you can never come back to India.” Prabhupada was sitting there very thoughtfully. I looked at him thinking, “Okay, please, please, get us out of this mess. What are we going to do?” Then Prabhupada said, “Actually Mayapur is meant for sannyasis, brahmacharis and vanaprasthas. Householders are meant to support the temple, not be supported by the temple. Therefore, you should become independent. Completely independent of the temples.” And that was it. Then we got up and walked out of the room. I thought, “We’ve been kicked out of ISKCON! Where are we going to stay? How are we going to live?” Anyway, it took a while to understand that Prabhupada was setting a precedent that householders should not journey off to India on a one-way ticket with young children and think that any temple is going to provide for them. It was very heavy but I was able to process it and understand the lesson that Srila Prabhupada was giving.
In Los Angeles Srila Prabhupada was giving one lecture and he told a story about how in India there was a grandmother who had a very nice temple in her home. She was very disappointed, however, that the family members, mainly the children and the grandchildren were not attending mangal arotik. So she decided to impose a fine upon the family members. She told them, “Whoever does not attend mangal arotik, they have to pay a fine.” Then Prabhupada said, “So, for anyone who isn’t coming to mangal arotik, your fine will be to distribute one set of Krsna Books. Is that alright?” Everybody went, “Jai, yes Srila Prabhupada!” [laughs] I lived a few blocks away from the temple and often I couldn’t make it to mangal arotik with my two children. But after that class I would carry a set of small Krishna books with me and I would think, “If I ever meet anyone I’ll try my best to distribute a set of Krsna Books, because in this way I would be paying the fine and Prabhupada will be pleased.”
In 1975, my husband, Kanupriya, went and studied astrology in London for about six months. When he came back he began doing astrology charts for devotees and he decided he should ask Srila Prabhupada’s opinion about it. He said, “Prabhupada, I learned some astrology and I want to know if it’s alright if I do charts for devotees?” Prabhupada said, “Oh, you are doing astrology? So can you tell me when will be the date when we will buy our new building for the New York temple?” Of course my husband said, “No, Prabhupada.” Prabhupada said, “That is because you have to study Hora Astrology.” He said, “That’s mathematics, and it takes at least ten years to learn it. My Guru Maharaj, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, was a very learned astrologer. He was the last bona fide living astrologer on this planet.” He said, “Doing astrology charts for devotees, you can sometimes know the future, but our philosophy is, ‘Whatever will be, will be.’ We simply chant Hare Krishna. So best you do not do astrology charts for devotees because they will start worshiping astrology and forget about Krishna.” Later on, Kanupriya and his astrologer friends, Jamadagni and Revatinandana wanted to have a meeting with Srila Prabhupada to discuss some questions that they had. Revatinandana, who used to be a sannyasi, took them up to Prabhupada’s room along with a cassette recorder to record the entire conversation. I listened to the tape afterwards. They believed that this would be an historical moment in ISKCON that was going to change and revolutionize everything in the society. They asked many challenging questions to Srila Prabhupada. One devotee said, “Srila Prabhupada, you stated that we should follow our GBC. My GBC in Hawaii is a homosexual. Does that mean that if he wants me to engage in homosexual activities that I should? Prabhupada asked, “What is this homosex?” Someone else in the room tried to explain what the devotee was getting at and Prabhupada still asked, “What is this homosex?” Prabhupada wasn’t comfortable. Prabhupada just dismissed it. Then they asked questions like, “Well, Srila Prabhupada, you say in the Krsna Book in the battle of Kuruksetra, there were six hundred million warriors. What did they do for toilets?” Prabhupada didn’t say anything. Then they asked, “Well, Srila Prabhupada, do we have to follow a GBC? Can we live outside the GBC? Can we live outside, follow the principles, read your books and still be devotees?” It went on like that. I couldn’t imagine the Jagat Guru having to respond. Then finally Srila Prabhupada understood their hearts and their minds and what they were getting at. They had grown long hair and my husband had a big beard. They gave themselves astrologer names, Shambu, Indra and Vyasa. Prabhupada then said to them, “Actually, you are more advanced than I am. You do not need a guru, but I do. Therefore, you should go out into the material world and enjoy. You are no longer my disciples.” I realized they were right. It was an historical moment. It was showing that we have free will. If you don’t want to worship and follow the spiritual master’s instructions, you can do that. Needless to say, it was a horrible time for me. But that was Srila Prabhupada’s mercy because they would have continued committing horrible offenses. In one sense, it was very painful, but Prabhupada didn’t have to take on the karmic reactions that their future sinful activities were going to reap.