Dhristadyumna das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 04

Dhristadyumna: Winter of 1973, Vishnujana Swami’s bus had burned down somewhere in America; and while Karandhar and the BBT were building him a new bus, he came to sail down the Ganges and do harinam sankirtan and prasadam distribution and he had a slide show to show in these villages. Vishnujana was amazing doing kirtan through the villages. People were asking us to take their children with us, and they were just in shock. We’d have a program every night with a big slide show and show them London Rathayatra and San Francisco Rathayatra. They were blown away that their Hinduism was actually spreading all over the world. Because we were the first Western Hindus they had ever seen, and it wasn’t just that we were a handful. We represented this movement with temples and festivals all over the world. So, of course, who was the person responsible for all this is Prabhupada. The villagers were enormously impressed. Anyway, we sailed down the Ganges for 40 days and nights, and we got stopped in northern Bengal by a huge dam called Farakka Barrage. So then we took trips down to Calcutta, where we met Prabhupada. So we had some kind of little camera with us, but somebody had a shaky hand and it all came out looking like ghostly images. So we didn’t have anything to show Prabhupada. But when we were reporting in the room about it, Vishnujana Swami said that we had distributed 500 sets of japa beads. And Prabhupada looked very concerned and said, “You cannot do that. Now they think you are their guru.” So he was a little upset that we didn’t know these subtleties of Indian culture, that if you give someone beads and tell them to chant Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, you’ve just given them Harinam initiation and that’s how they see it. So I think there must be a lot of villages along the Ganges where they have this memory of this bronze god from the West who looked like Lord Chaitanya and gave them initiation.

Interview DVD 10

Dhristadyumna: There was some controversy at the time about the Radha-Damodar Party, and that culminated in Tamal Krishna Maharaja accepting an assignment to China. He had asked that I accompany him, and Prabhupada had approved. So then that next morning for the sannyasa initiation there was Guru Puja, and I got to lead it. I was playing mridanga and I was jumping up and down and leading everyone around in circumambulation parikrama of the temple, and Prabhupada would stop and play the bell every time he got by the Deities. So then later on that morning Tamal said, “I want to go up and talk to Prabhupada about China.” So we went up, and we went through his room to the back. He was sitting on the mat, Hari Sauri was massaging him with oil, and Prabhupada looked up and Tamal said, “Srila Prabhupada…” And Srila Prabhupada looked past him at me and said, “If you lead kirtan like that, the whole world will follow.”

Interview DVD 11

Dhristadyumna: When we picked up Prabhupada in the airport in New York, I was in the car following. Tamal, Adi Kesava, Ramesvara were in the car with Prabhupada, and they wanted to show Prabhupada where the temple was in relationship to all the other prestigious buildings in New York. So we went up Park Avenue around Grand Central Station and the Seagram’s Building where my father worked, and my father had been one of the guarantors for the temple. He had spoken up as a character reference for us to get this building. So as they drove by the Seagram’s Building, which itself was an architectural landmark, the first all-glass skyscraper in New York, they pointed out, “Oh, Prabhupada, look. That’s Dhristadyumna Swami’s father’s building, the biggest liquor company in the world.” Prabhupada said, “Liquor? Hiranyakasipu. But his son is like Prahlada.”

In 1976 after Mayapur, Tamal Krishna Maharaj and I went to New York to get help from my father to be able to get into China because China was closed. Madame Mao was in power and her Gang of Four, and it was terribly xenophobic. No Westerners were allowed in except under special circumstances. So through my father’s contacts, we were able to get IDs as Spiritual Sky Incense representatives going to look for incense punk. So in New York we got Brooks Brothers suits, we started to grow our hair. The party was now under Madhudvisa, who was the GBC of Radha Damodar New York and Gita Nagari, they had merged into one huge party. And Adi Kesava was the president there in New York. So we had a room there, we did our thing and we got prepared, and we were en route to Hong Kong via Hawaii, where Prabhupada was writing his Eighth Canto, the story of Gajendra. And at that time, two things happened simultaneously: one, he didn’t approve of us going to China anymore because he considered it a waste of time under those conditions, there wouldn’t be any possibility for preaching; and secondly that Madhudvisa had disappeared, given up his sannyasa. So Prabhupada said, “So you go back and take up your party,” which was the last thing we ever expected to hear from Prabhupada given the intensity of the emotions just two months earlier in Mayapur. So that was a big shock. Prabhupada said, “So now you go back and take up your party, but one thing you must learn: you cannot force.” So there were some discussions then about sannyasa. Prabhupada said, “Actually I have not given any of you sannyasa. But I am in a war with Maya, the material energy, and I need leaders.” He said, “It is called in wartime ‘battlefield commission.’ There are no qualified leaders, but someone has to lead the charge. So you take every fifth man, ‘You are now lieutenant of the squad.’ He is really a private, but we make him lieutenant for the day and he leads the charge.” Then Prabhupada said, “It is to be understood that you are not sufficiently equipped for this fight and most of you will go down.” I know what he means now that I’m older. We knew very little, but we were enthusiastic. So we show back up in New York, having never gone to China, and Prabhupada is coming. So Tamal and Adi Kesava asked would I manage the Rathayatra overall, so I did. And it was wonderful working with Jayananda. I’ll never forget that.