"Gopal Krishna Goswami": I first came to an ISKCON temple on Labor Day weekend, 1967, in Montreal. I was studying in Toronto and I had come for the weekend to visit the Expo. I casually asked one of my friends, “Is there any Hindu temple in Montreal?” He said, “Yes! The Americans have opened some temple here. Why don’t you visit it?” I went to the Montreal temple and took part in the Sunday program. The kirtan just went on and on and on and on, and as I was leaving the temple, they had a visitor’s book in which I wrote down my name and address. After returning to Toronto, I started getting a letter every month informing me about the Montreal temple schedule and asking for donations. [chuckles] Then in May of 1968, I received a letter: “Our Swamiji is coming to Montreal on June 1st, ’68. Please come and meet him.” I was planning on relocating back to Montreal in any case and I arrived in Montreal on May 31st. The first assignment the temple president gave me was to clean Prabhupada’s apartment because he was coming the next day. I had the privilege of meeting Prabhupada on June 1st, 1968, and interestingly, I had almost no exposure to sadhus from India before that time. In fact, there was one Bengali gentleman, Mr. Mukherjee, who used to meet Prabhupada regularly. He used to say, “Oh! This sadhu is different!” As time went on, I could see that Prabhupada was a genuine saint. He quoted from the scriptures. He never made something up. He was like a real well-wisher, very friendly, and he wanted everyone to be happy. But he knew that real happiness only comes if you follow the scriptures.
Prior to my meeting Srila Prabhupada, I had zero exposure to sadhus. I had never been to Vrindavan in my life. [chuckles] I’d never even heard of Vrindavan or Mayapur before I met Prabhupada and I had never heard of Lord Caitanya. The brief introduction to Prabhupada was given to me by a Bengali gentleman who said, “I’ve touched the feet of many sadhus, but he looks special.” Prabhupada had a strong desire to preach to the Indian community because he wanted them to take to Krishna Consciousness, which they had forgotten. Prabhupada gave me a lot of attention, and I became Prabhupada’s first Indian disciple in the West.
In June, 1968, we had gone to a high school engagement in a Christian school. It was a school for girls and there were many nuns in the school. This program was arranged by a French-Canadian devotee called Janardana prabhu, who was studying for his PhD at that time. Prabhupada gave the lecture, and as usual after Prabhupada’s lecture he would say, “Any questions?” The same Mr. Mukherjee, who had told me that Prabhupada was a different type of saint, got up from his chair and started attacking Prabhupada. He started saying, “Why do you have to come and preach this philosophy in these Christian countries? They have their own philosophy. You don’t need to do this.” The devotees were upset in the way Prabhupada was being attacked. Prabhupada was not being criticized by the Christian nuns. He was being criticized by one of the people who came in his entourage. The devotees were upset, but Prabhupada was very cool. In August Prabhupada was leaving Montreal to go to America and he told me, “Gopal, go and call that Mr. Mukherjee.” I said, “Prabhupada, he insulted you so badly. Why do you want to see him?” Prabhupada said, “I must have done something to him in my last life for which he took revenge.” I called this gentleman and Prabhupada blessed him before leaving. From this we can see how magnanimous and merciful Prabhupada was, and even though this man had humiliated Prabhupada, Prabhupada tolerated it, and he did not utter one word. In fact, he blessed him before leaving. I think from this example we should draw inspiration to not retaliate the moment somebody criticizes us. We have to learn to practice humility, “trinad api sunicena.”
When Prabhupada was in Montreal, he opened a bank account at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Prabhupada told me to handle that account for him, so I would give Prabhupada regular reports. Prabhupada saw the bank was charging a high fee for some reason. Prabhupada was very concerned about saving every penny of Krishna’s money. He told me, “Tell the bank not to charge this fee.” When the bank continued charging this high fee, Prabhupada said, “You can close the bank account.” As we know from numerous examples, Prabhupada’s concern was not to waste even a penny of Krishna’s money. He viewed everything as Krishna’s property. And whenever he saw some misuse, he would take steps to stop it.
When Prabhupada was in Montreal, many leaders from the movement also came, so Montreal had become a focal point. In fact, Prabhupada saw a building in Montreal and said, “This could be our world headquarters.” He was at one time planning on making the world headquarters in Montreal. Prabhupada saw everything as a possibility. Prabhupada was always thinking how he could use everything in the service of the Lord.
There was one lady who came to meet Prabhupada, and Prabhupada, as usual, preached to her, “Please chant the Hare Krishna mantra.” The lady said, “Swamiji, I am always chanting, twenty-four hours.” Prabhupada said, “Twenty-four hours? How do you chant?” She said, “I’m mentally chanting twenty-four hours.” Prabhupada replied to her, “When you are hungry, do you mentally eat or do you physically eat?” She said, “Physically.” Prabhupada said facetiously, “No, you just start eating mentally.” It seemed that she was getting it. Prabhupada told her, “If you want to chant the Holy Name, you chant and hear, not just mentally. That is as good as no chanting.” The lady was convinced that what Prabhupada said was right. Prabhupada emphasized that we chant the Holy Name and hear the Holy Name as the scriptures say, “The more attentive you are in chanting, the greater will be the effect and then faster will be the cleansing of the heart.”
Prabhupada came to India with his Western disciples, I believe, in 1971. Anyway, it created a big stir. Prabhupada held festivals in major cities of India, and over thirty thousand people attended them. Taking advantage of the popularity of the Krishna movement, one leading film star in India made a movie in 1973 called Hare Rama Hare Krishna. It was a big hit in India. The positive thing in the movie was that the Hare Krishna mantra was being played in the background from the beginning to the end of the film. The weak point in the movie was that they showed devotees taking drugs and then they would chant Hare Krishna. When I went to India for a holiday, I met Prabhupada in Akash Ganga and I told him, “Srila Prabhupada, this movie is going to give our movement a bad name.” Our movement was brand new in India at that time. I said, “This movie is showing that we chant Hare Krishna and take drugs, so that will spoil our image.” Prabhupada was totally undisturbed. He said, “Nothing will be lost. People will hear the Hare Krishna mantra and get purified, so don’t worry.” Interestingly, about three years ago I initiated a devotee in America, and I asked him, “How did you join the movement?” He told me when he was a young kid there was a movie released called Hare Rama Hare Krishna, and he heard the Hare Krishna mantra in that movie. After that he fell in love with the mantra, and he would go everywhere to hear this song that was a big hit. That movie planted a seed of Krishna consciousness in his heart and twenty-five years later he got initiated. What Prabhupada said was right. People will hear the Holy Name and benefit. Prabhupada is always right. We should know that.
Before I went to India there was almost no book production in that country, so Prabhupada told me to start that process. Prabhupada was very keen that we publish a lot of books. In 1977 I had arranged a very big book display of Prabhupada’s books in the International Book House. They were distributing Time Magazine and Reader’s Digest, and the owner was a life member that I was cultivating. We ran a promotion for one month, but after one month, not many books were sold. I went to Prabhupada to give my report, and even though we had a very heavy promotion, prominent display in the windows, etc., we didn’t sell a lot of books. Prabhupada said, “My books are sold because of the enthusiasm of my disciples. And in the store, nobody is enthusiastic. That’s why.” We have seen over the years now that when devotees are enthusiastic, they achieve outstanding results. It doesn’t matter what their service is, but enthusiasm is especially important in book distribution. If we’re not enthusiastic, if we do something half-heartedly, then the results are not the same. Prabhupada repeated that twice or thrice, “My books are sold because of the enthusiasm of my devotees.” I usually try and tell this story to sankirtan devotees, and they all testify that when they’re enthusiastic they do achieve very good results.
I went to Russia in 1976 and took Prabhupada’s books with me. We showed them to scholars in Moscow and Leningrad. At that time St. Petersburg was called Leningrad. The books were very much appreciated. Then I went there again in 1977 and met with Prithu-putra Maharaj and Bhugarbha. We took part in a huge book fair, and at the end we received a certificate from the Soviet Government in appreciation of Prabhupada’s books and their importance in bringing about world peace. I received the certificate in Bombay in September, 1977, and I took it right away to Prabhupada, who was in Vrindavan. Prabhupada was so happy with that certificate that he showed it to everyone who came. When his god-brothers came, he would say, “This is the recognition we got from the Soviet Union.” Unfortunately, we have lost that certificate somewhere, which I deeply regret, but Prabhupada very much appreciated that the Soviet Government was appreciating his books.
One of the big problems in those days was obtaining visas for Americans traveling to India. At that time, we virtually had no Indian devotees. Some of them were beginning to join but ninety-nine percent of our devotees were Americans, and they were all having visa problems. Constantly they had to go out of the country and come back. This was a great source of anxiety for Prabhupada. He personally deputed me to meet people to try and get the Indian government to give us some concession. I went and saw the foreign minister of India, who at that time was Mr. Vajpayee. I made a plea to him that some concession should be given to ISKCON devotees. When I came back to Vrindavan that evening and gave Prabhupada a report of the meeting, Prabhupada said, “One day this man will become more important. He will hold a very important position.” And a few years later he became the Prime Minister of India.
Prabhupada was very concerned that we not give away his books for free. We had a program in the house of the Home Minister of India. Prabhupada personally came and gave the lecture. After the lecture I gifted the Home Minister’s secretary many books, more than I should have. Some devotee told Prabhupada that I gave about ten or twelve books for free. The next day Prabhupada was very upset. He said, “You shouldn’t give away our books like this. We should be very careful.” In other words, Prabhupada didn’t want us to freely give out books. He wanted his books to be respected. Sometimes if we give away free books, people don’t value the books as much. I learned my lesson at that time, and I’ve been telling devotees we should be very cautious how we give these books for free.
One time at one o’clock in the morning, Prabhupada called for me. Prabhupada would often call for his secretaries and GBCs even in the middle of the night. With Prabhupada we were busy serving Krishna twenty-four hours a day. At this time Prabhupada had written an ad that read in brief, “Open invitation from ISKCON to all of India.” Prabhupada said, “India is a poor country. I will feed everyone.” He wrote this ad on a paper with his own handwriting: “Open invitation. Come and live with us—like us.” Prabhupada told me, “Go tomorrow to all the newspapers and tell them to put this in the papers. And put billboards that ISKCON is inviting everyone to come and live with us—like us.” I said, “We don’t have the means to do that. How are we going to feed everyone and accommodate everyone?” Prabhupada said, “Come and live with us—like us. ‘Like us’ means they have to follow our principles, chant Hare Krishna, and if they’re ready to do that, then I will maintain all of them. Not that they could do their nonsense and we will maintain.” Prabhupada was very intelligent. He said, “Open invitation. Come and live with us—like us.”
We were getting ready for the Kumbha Mela in 1976 or ’77. We were thinking of publishing cheap books for mass distribution. Many people were suggesting we print the Bhagavad-gita, like the Gita Press had, without any purports. They said, “We’ll sell lakhs!” I thought it was a good idea. Being the BBT manager, I went to Prabhupada and said, “Everyone is saying we can print the Gita like Gita Press—without purports. And we’ll distribute lakhs.” But Prabhupada said, “No! You can’t print any book without purports. This is not acceptable.” The point is Prabhupada’s purports make us understand the books better. Without Prabhupada’s purports we are free to give our own interpretation. Prabhupada was very keen that people understand this knowledge as it is. I have told this to the BBT mangers all over the world.
Before Prabhupada departed Bombay, I was discussing with Prabhupada how I was going to manage the temple. Prabhupada said, “Make a council and have decisions made in the council.” Then he said, “There’s a Bengali saying, ‘If you make a decision in a group and something goes wrong, you can always say you didn’t make it alone. Everybody was a party to the decision. And if you do it on your own and something goes wrong, you take the blame.’” So Prabhupada wanted a small council to be involved in decision-making.
Prabhupada was very particular about cleanliness. One day he was sitting in the front room and he asked me, “How is everything?” I said, “Okay.” And then Prabhupada looked up at a bird’s nest on top of the ceiling. He said, “You say everything is ‘Okay?’ This is okay? Look at this dirt.” Prabhupada had very sharp eyes. Also, one day he got up in the middle of the night and saw that the front gate watchman wasn’t there. Prabhupada was very concerned, so he thought of a good plan. He told this watchman, “Every hour you have to ring the bell.” Prabhupada’s logic was that if the watchman has to ring the bell every hour, he wouldn’t go to sleep. That was the event that led to the introduction of the watchman ringing the bell every hour to this day. Prabhupada was an expert manager. He knew how to solve all problems.
To attract donations, we had to give the donor some tax benefit. We were having trouble in maintaining our tax-exempt status, so many professional lawyers and chartered accountants suggested, “Why don’t you set up a research institute? And if you set up a research institute, the government will give you one hundred percent tax exemption.” From that suggestion, we came up with a plan to have a research institute called “Vedic Research Institute.” We went to Prabhupada and said, “This man could attract a lot of donations and we can establish our ‘Vedic Research Institute.’” Prabhupada responded, “Why ‘Vedic Research Institute’? Vyasadeva has done all the research. We don’t need to do any further research. There’s no need of ‘Vedic Research Institute.’” Prabhupada was not interested that it will attract more donations. Prabhupada wanted to preserve the purity. He was concerned that under the banner of “Vedic research” we may speculate, whereas he had given us the real philosophy in his purports through the books that he published.
Prabhupada was in his room chanting japa when some guests came in, and they started knocking at the door saying they wanted to see Prabhupada. The secretary said, “Prabhupada is taking rest.” But Prabhupada overheard these people, so he told his secretary, “Let them come in. Open the door.” Then Prabhupada sat for two or three hours and preached to the guests. This shows how Prabhupada was always concerned about preaching. Even when he wasn’t physically well, he did not stop his preaching. As we know, in Vrindavan, even in his last few months on the planet when he wasn’t physically well, he did not stop his translation work. He would go on with his translation. He had Pradyumna read the Sanskrit. He had somebody hold the Dictaphone. He was virtually whispering the purports. He continued his translation work to the very end because he wanted to save humanity. He wanted to leave behind scriptures that could save humanity. So, we should also cultivate a similar mood.
As far as I can see, Prabhupada was a Vaikuntha man. Once Prabhupada was asked to speak about his spiritual master. Prabhupada said, “What can I speak? He was a Vaikuntha man?’’ So Prabhupada was also a Vaikuntha man. In my opinion he possessed all the twenty-six qualities of a pure devotee. Caitanya Mahaprabhu had predicted the Holy Name would be chanted in every town and village around the world, and I have no doubt that Prabhupada appeared to fulfill this prediction of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Prabhupada was an empowered preacher. One great acharya said that Prabhupada was a saktyavesa-avatar, that he was an empowered preacher who was sent by Lord Caitanya to take the Holy Name to every corner of the globe. And today we see that Prabhupada’s glories are increasing even faster. You can go to any corner of the globe and people have heard of Prabhupada. In fact, many people come to the temple and say, “When is Swamiji going to speak?” Many people write and say, “Who is the author of these books?” Prabhupada’s fame is all over the world. And as we preach and spread the movement, his fame will increase more and more. We have to understand that everything we need to know is there in Prabhupada’s books. Have faith in the books and faith in Prabhupada’s instructions. We need to be determined to follow Prabhupada’s path, and not to say, “Yes, I am a prabhupada-anuga and I do my own thing.” The significance of Prabhupada-anuga is following Prabhupada one hundred percent.