After Srila Prabhupada got out of the hospital I spent three weeks with him. Those three weeks changed my life and I wanted to continue serving him in that way. So, during the six months Prabhupada was in India, every day I prayed to Lord Jagannatha, “If he comes back, please let me be his servant. Let me cook for him. Let me clean his room. Let me do anything, just let me serve and be near him. This is my strong desire.” One of the first letters Prabhupada ever sent me was when he was in India, and the last statement in the letter was, “I know your mind.”
Several times when I brought Prabhupada’s lunch plate in with subji, rice, dahl, and chapatis, he said, “When I was in India, everyone told me, ‘Oh Swamiji, don’t go to America. In America there will be no food for you. You will starve. They only eat meat in America.’” Back then there wasn’t much interchange between India and America. Prabhupada said, “I simply told them, ‘What is that? I shall live on bread and potatoes.’ I thought I would be living on bread and potatoes, but now I see that Krishna has sent everything; dahl, rice, chapatis, subjis.” He was amazed and happy about that.
The night he had a stroke was very traumatic. He was weak and the boys, Satsvarupa, Brahmananda or whoever was there, would take turns sitting him up, opening the Srimad-Bhagavatam and listening as he continued teaching and reading the story of Prahlad Maharaj. Even though he was apparently suffering and at a very critical time, hovering between life and death, he didn’t care. He only cared about teaching us. I was deeply affected at that moment and realized a lot of things. I saw how much he loved us. I had never seen such selfless, pure love. And I realized that he wouldn’t be with us very long. I made a vow that I would do everything I could to take care of him, help him, and do whatever I could to make things easier for him.
When we were in New Jersey all of us used to sit and eat together. Prabhupada sat on the sofa and ate on a little table in front of the sofa, while we sat and ate on the floor. We would talk about different things during the meal. Once we were talking about brown rice, white rice, long grain rice, this rice, that rice, and Prabhupada said he once had a servant who didn’t like long grain, fine rice. That servant preferred lesser quality rice. Then Prabhupada said that brown rice was for animals. I said, “Wow! I must be an animal because I like brown rice.” He laughed and laughed and laughed. I said it in the mood of simplicity, but he thought it was funny.
In New York before he got ill, he had us drawing the story of Prahlad Maharaj and Hiranyakashipu. He was keen on having the story as a slide show for children, which we eventually did. Prabhupada told us about the poses and demonstrated them. He posed for Hiranyakashipu, standing on one leg. He loved to pose for Lord Nrsimhadeva. At least once a day he would come in, do a roar, and describe how Lord Nrsimhadeva came out of the column, “rrrrrrrhhhhhh!” His eyes would get big, and you could see the white up above. “Rrrrrrrhhhhhhh!” This was his delight and he enjoyed it very much. Once Jadurani had him pose like Krishna. He wrapped up in a white dhoti so that we could see how the pleats fell from a three-fold bending posture. He was right there watching us, seeing what and how we were doing.
There was a picture of Prahlad Maharaj sitting in boiling oil, and I had to come up with some demons for the picture. I didn’t know what demons looked like, but somehow, I drew demons. I asked Prabhupada if they were okay. He said, “Yes, this is very good. There are such demons. They are like this. Yes. Even on this planet there are such demons.” I said, “Oh, really? I didn’t know that.” He looked at me and said, “There are a lot of things you do not know.”
When we were in Montreal, Achyutananda was in India with a young brahmachari named Hrishikesh. Somehow or other Hrishikesh had gone to Bon Maharaj’s ashram and been reinitiated by Bon Maharaj. Prabhupada was extremely upset by this. I didn’t understand why, and he explained, “This boy is American. He does not know anything, so it’s not his fault. He’s a foolish youth. But Bon Maharaj is responsible. He knows that by doing this he is saying that I am not a bonafide spiritual master.” I had never seen Prabhupada that upset. He was dealing with a kind of Vaishnava etiquette that I didn’t understand.
I would open Prabhupada’s mail and read it to him. Once Harsharani sent Prabhupada a poem she had written. I thought it was bizarre. She wrote, “I offer my humble obeisances to my spiritual master, who is continuously running here and there playing hide-and-go-seek and leap frog with Krishna and the cowherd boys,” and she described many transcendental pastimes. Prabhupada said, “Ah, she has become advanced. Publish this poem in Back to Godhead.” And it was printed in Back to Godhead.
Everybody told Prabhupada not to go to Kumbha Mela, but at the last minute Prabhupada made his own decision. He was determined to go. The problem was that there was no way to get into the Kumbha Mela because twenty million people were there. No train or bus reservations were available. People were getting there by lying on top and stacking against the walls of trains. Flying in wasn’t an option because Prabhupada’s doctor said that he shouldn’t fly. But, miraculously, a sweet Indian gentleman named Mr. Gupta, who had joined about two months prior, happened to be the Chief Engineer of the Indian Railway System. He added a first class car and a second class car to the train bound for Kumbha Mela. This was totally unheard of in India. Mr. Gupta also arranged for Prabhupada’s car to be freshly painted, to have garlands hanging in it, and he arranged for his personal servant to drive with Prabhupada into the Mela. We stopped outside Allahabad in the dark, got off the train, and drove into the Mela. While we were there, Prabhupada wanted milk. There was no way to get milk. I talked to Mr. Gupta, and he arranged for a cow to be brought to our compound in the Mela so that Prabhupada could have fresh milk. Mr. Gupta was wonderful. He also arranged for a train to pick up Prabhupada when he was ready to leave the Mela. In India, making all these arrangements successfully would be considered a miracle.
We were sitting in the garden in New Jersey one day when we saw a slug crawling right next to Prabhupada. A slug is an ugly thing, like a snail without a shell. I said, “Ooo! Look.” I was a kid. Prabhupada got a look of tremendous compassion on his face and said, “Chant to the poor creature.” He had me sitting there chanting to this slug. I still chant to slugs or little insects or whatever, because I remember Prabhupada telling me to chant to that slug, and I take it as one of Prabhupada’s instructions. We’re given this human form of life, we can chant and they can’t. But the soul can hear. The tree can hear, the bird can hear. Prabhupada would sit outdoors and talk this way. Once he was talking about two butterflies that were flying together, and he said, “Just see, there is also family life in the butterfly’s world.” We were on the beach in New Jersey, and there were little ants on the beach, and he said, “They say there is no life on the moon, but here on the beach we see there is life. There is life in every part of God’s creation.” He was constantly viewing the world through the vision of Krishna-bhakti. There was never any time that he wasn’t seeing in that way.
Prabhupada described how the abominable snowman is a big demon that lives in the mountains and how he has big footprints. He explained how there are various entities deep in the ocean, up in the mountains, and in the dark jungles of Africa. When you are fresh out of school you think that everything has already been discovered and taught. But Prabhupada made it very clear that that’s not so, that there are a lot of things that we don’t know about. We accepted his view of the world. It was interesting to hear the things that he came up with.
A devotee sculptor came to visit Prabhupada in Hawaii. This devotee had helped me make some Deities, and at this time Prabhupada wanted him to make some Panchatattva Deities. Prabhupada explained at great length how he wanted the Deities made. After the conversation, this devotee asked Prabhupada if it was okay for his wife to kill silkworms to make silk. After he left Prabhupada said, “These Western boys are so creative. Next they will be asking me if they can kill cows to make mridangas.”
One of my most persistent memories is the sand crab story. This took place in Hawaii when we were walking on the beach. Prabhupada was talking about sand crabs, those little white crabs that run sideways and hide in their holes as one walks along. Prabhupada spoke for some time about the sand crabs, and it finally dawned on me that he was saying that there is no such word in Sanskrit as “instinct.” Prabhupada asked, “Why is the sand crab running?” Scientists would say, “The sand crab is running away due to instinct. His instinct is to go to his hole.” But Prabhupada said that there is no such thing as instinct. Instinct is a word that’s been coined by the scientists to cover up the fact that there is Supersoul, there is God and there is past experience. He explained this in detail, and it finally dawned on me that, “I have been taught Darwinism in school all my life, and even though I had been a devotee for seven years, I was raised to think that the birds and beasts are operating by instinct.” Day after day Prabhupada blasted this philosophy in great detail. Prabhupada said, “Suppose you know where the privy [bathroom] is, and twenty years from now you return to the same house. Because you were here twenty years ago, you still know where the privy is. Similarly, you have been in the body for many lifetimes, so you know to look for the mother’s breast. The baby animal is nudging for the mother’s breast. It’s past experience, the past life- time, and it’s the Supersoul within the heart that guides the living entity. It’s not instinct. There is no such thing as instinct. Instinct makes no sense. What does instinct mean? If you stop to think about it and analyze it, you will see that it means absolutely nothing. Yet the scientists have convinced everyone that the whole of nature is moving by instinct. But the whole of nature is not moving by instinct. It’s moving by Supersoul.” Prabhupada gave another example, “You can throw food outside, and within twenty minutes the birds will be eating it. They all say it’s instinct, but it’s actually the Supersoul guiding them, ‘Oh! There is food.’” This is the kind of talk that he would get into.
When we were living in Los Angeles, I would usually read Caitanya- caritamrta when Prabhupada took his nap. It was a seven-volume edition that Gaurasundar had gotten, translated by some scholar. Krishna das was also reading it. Prabhupada would come in and say, “Oh! What are you reading?” We would say, “This is Caitanya-caritamrta.” Prabhupada saw that we were really interested, and he decided to make a good translation of it. He engaged Gaurasundar in the transliteration work, and I started transcribing the tapes for Caitanya-caritamrta. He wanted to give us that because he could see that we were very eager for it.
Once Prabhupada was sitting on the rooftop of the Honolulu temple getting massaged by Srutakirti. The rooftop of the Honolulu temple faces the back of Nuuanu Valley, which is very beautiful. It usually has a rain cloud the color of Krishna and a rainbow or two. That day there was a rainbow. Prabhupada became very poetic and started talking about how the rainbow has the three colors of material nature. The red for raja guna, the mode of passion, yellow is for sattva guna, the mode of goodness, and blue for tama guna, the mode of ignorance. He explained how all the modes of nature came from these three. Just as all colors are made from a mixture of the primary colors, red, yellow, and blue, so the living entities come from various mixtures of the three gunas—raja, sattva, and tama. It was very poetic and beautiful.
I have a color photograph at home showing Prabhupada sitting and holding a globe. He was saying, “Brahmananda will go here, Gargamuni will go here.” He was turning the globe and indicating different countries. We were a handful of teenagers who couldn’t get it together, who practically didn’t know how to brush our teeth, but he had it in mind to send us all over the world to open centers. He was extremely interested in Russia. He always talked about Russia. He wanted the Russian people to receive the mercy of Lord Chaitanya.
Once in Los Angeles the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to visit us and Prabhupada said, “Let them in.” I let them in, and they preached their philosophy. Apparently, they believe that within this body you become liberated and that this body is eternal. Prabhupada kept asking them, “With this body?” He was incredulous that they could believe that this body was eternal. But he was polite and nice with them. He didn’t preach to them, he just wanted know what they were teaching. They gave him some literature, and as they left he had me give them a little brochure about chanting Hare Krishna. It had a drawing of the universal form that I had made and a picture of Lord Vishnu with all His arms. The next morning when he went on his walk, he saw that this brochure had been thrown on the street and run over by a car. He was disturbed that the Lord’s picture had been run over. He said, “We should not give out such things freely.”
Srila Prabhupada said, “The problem is that the Western boys and girls often go to the other side.” I asked, “What do you mean by ‘the other side?’ Do you mean that they go back to the way they were before they became devotees?” In other words, the tendency is that when devotees stop devotional service, they return to their previous lifestyle. He said, “Yes. They go as they were before. Therefore, many of them will have to take birth in India to finish their Krishna consciousness.”
When Srila Prabhupada spoke about something, you would experience it. It was like a transmission. Before going back to Hawaii, he began to speak about compassion. His eyes were closed and there were tears running down his cheeks. He said, “People are suffering in this world.” He was expressing divine compassion for all the souls suffering in this world without Krishna consciousness. He said, “Please go and teach them. Tell them about Krishna. Give them this knowledge because they are suffering. They don’t know they are suffering but they are suffering.” He was in such a compassionate mood that tears were coming down his cheeks. He was showing how much love he had for all the jivas in this world who don’t know about Krishna.