Govinda dasi Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Govinda: 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.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 02 - Jayapataka Swami, Govinda dasi, Badrinarayana

Interview 02

Govinda: Gary and I were well situated in Texas, when we were mystically, incredibly drawn to the Haight-Ashbury area 1,500 miles away just a couple of months before Prabhupada arrived there. In San Francisco we saw some flyers that said, “The Swami is coming to town,” “Chant and be high forever,” this sort of thing. Gary looked at one of these flyers and said, “When this Swami comes to town, we’ll go see him and we’ll do whatever he says to do.” We went to Frederick Street and learned about the classes, and Mukunda das, who later became Mukunda Goswami, arranged for us to visit Prabhupada. In our first private meeting, Prabhupada was sitting in a lounge chair in the sunlight looking effulgent and peaceful near some bay windows in his apartment. I sat in another chair opposite him and Gary sat on the floor. Prabhupada began to ask us questions about our lives, who we were, where we had come from, what we were doing. He was personally interested in us, as he was in each of his disciples. We told him that we were artists and had studied art. He asked about our parents, our family. In the course of the conversation, I told him that I had traveled all over Europe and had studied art in various places, and he was quite surprised. He raised his eyes and said, “Oh, you have traveled so much?” I looked like I was 16, although I was actually 19 or 20. I said, “Yes, Swamiji, but none of it has made me happy.” He smiled and said, “Ah, that is required, to be disgusted with material life.”

At the time of my initiation, there were no saris—most of us didn’t know what saris were. I had been an art student, and art students wore jeans. So I was initiated in paint-stained beige jeans. It didn’t seem to matter to Srila Prabhupada. That was what our life was like at that time. During my initiation, I saw him put colored dyes down and build the fire, and I thought, “What is the depth of meaning to this? What is really going on?” I didn’t have any background information. Bhagavad-gita wasn’t printed yet. The only thing we had were Prabhupada’s three Srimad Bhagavatam volumes, which we read right away. I had some misgivings during my initiation, so afterwards I went upstairs to visit Srila Prabhupada and I told him that I didn’t feel liberated. I thought that when I got initiation, by golly, it was going to be immediate nirvana. Prabhupada was very patient with me. He said, “Just see the fan over here,” as there was a fan on in the corner. “If I unplug it, it may spin a few more times. But because it has been unplugged, it will eventually stop. So it’s like that. Although your material life may not cease immediately, because it has been unplugged, it will spin a few more times. But just follow the process as I have told you.” He explained the concept very beautifully and gently. Then he gave us our first job—to make a four-foot-by-four-foot Radha-Krishna painting.

Srila Prabhupada knew that we were art students and he immediately engaged us as artists. His very first project was to have me paint a four-foot-byfour- foot painting of Radha-Krishna from the cover of his Srimad-Bhagavatam. Then he had me paint a four-foot-by-three-foot painting of him sitting on the vyasasana with a painting of Lord Chaitanya dancing in a sankirtan party hanging behind him, and specifically with Lord Chaitanya’s foot touching his head. What I found so significant in this is that Srila Prabhupada engaged people in the work for which they had a natural propensity. Since the people already had an inclination to work in this particular way, doing that same work for Krishna gave them a taste for devotional service.

A significant thing that happened in Boston was that Swamiji became Srila Prabhupada. Gaurasundar was studying various forms of address in Sanskrit and he learned that “ji” is an affectionate form of address, which was news to us. I was sitting in Srila Prabhupada’s room taking dictation, as I often did, and Gaurasundar, at the doorway, said, “Swamiji, is it okay if I call Govinda dasi ‘Govindaji’?” Swamiji said, “No, ‘ji’ is a third-class form of address. You should not.” I said, “Why are we calling you Swamiji if it’s a third-class form of address?” He said, “It is not very important.” I said, “No, it is very important. What is the best thing we can call you?” Swamiji said, “You could call me Gurudeva or Guru Maharaj or Srila Prabhupada.” I said, “Which of those three is best?” and Swamiji said, “Srila Prabhupada is nice.” I said, “Okay,” and told all the devotees. From that day he was no longer Swamiji but Srila Prabhupada.

After Srila Prabhupada’s stroke, he and Gaurasundar and I were living in New Jersey for three weeks in the spring of 1968, and during that time Gaurasundar was called to an Army draft appointment in New York. Gaurasundar and I were in anxiety because he didn’t want to fight a war that he didn’t believe in and that Srila Prabhupada did not support. Before Gaurasundar left to catch the train to New York, he bowed down to Swamiji, who said, “Don’t worry, Krishna will protect you. He will take care of everything.” That day Srila Prabhupada mentioned Gaurasundar several times and was thinking of him. In the evening when Gaurasundar returned, he came up the stairs with a big smile on his face. He was very happy. Immediately Swamiji called Gaurasundar into his room, “What happened?” Gaurasundar explained that he was wearing a silken cord with a three-inch high murti of Lord Jagannatha around his neck and he also had big red chanting beads, and the doctors, who had never seen such odd things, decided he was not psychologically competent for the Army. Srila Prabhupada said, “Yes, if we are sincere, Krishna will protect us. He will make all arrangements. You have chosen Krishna’s service, not the Army’s service, so Krishna has arranged everything perfectly.”

Srila Prabhupada had several disciples in Hawaii who were intelligent and charismatic and had misled some of the more simple devotees. Since I had been the first devotee in Hawaii, I felt protective of the others—they were like my children—and I was in anxiety about what was going on. I explained to Prabhupada how these people were misleading devotees, changing the philosophy and so forth. Prabhupada calmly said, “The mouse respects the cat, and the cat respects the dog. The dog respects the wolf, and the wolf respects the tiger. But we see they are all animals.” In other words, from his perspective, all of the people that he had to deal with on this planet were on the level of animals. Prabhupada was coming from Krishnaloka while we were coming from low-grade backgrounds and once we realized this, there would be no chance of our getting puffed up and trying to outguess him, edit him, change his ideas or think we could do better. It’s impossible, we can’t. I saw many instances of this. Unfortunately, one close-to-home instance was my own husband, Gaurasundar, who I loved very much. He was brilliant, he was educated and he was a nice devotee. He was studying Sanskrit and Bengali, and did the transliteration for the first part of Caitanya-caritamrta. He took Prabhupada on walks and massaged Prabhupada every day. I give him all credit for the wonderful service he did. But later on he left and although Prabhupada knew I was quite attached, he many times commented to me, “Gaurasundar is suffering from too much intelligence. He has the disease of being too intelligent. He thinks he knows more than his guru.” This was Gaurasundar’s flaw. He was brilliant in every respect. But as soon as a person thinks he knows more than his guru, the fall down begins.

In Los Angeles in September of 1968 we were going to record the Govinda record album with Prabhupada reading his spiritual master’s Preface to Brahma-samhita, “The materialistic demeanor cannot stretch to the transcendental autocrat…” Prabhupada asked me to type this preface and then he read it to me a couple of times to see how it sounded. He would read things to me because I knew English fairly well. I listened very carefully and there was one word—“analogously”—that he pronounced “ana-lo-gously.” I had never corrected Srila Prabhupada before. In fact, I loved it when he called watermelons “waterlemons.” And when he called for some “antelope,” I never told him, “That’s called cantaloupe.” I was fine with that. I had a very motherly relationship with Prabhupada and I thought whatever he said was wonderful. But because people who may not understand his accent would be hearing this album and because this recording was for posterity, I thought, “Oh, you want your guru to come with the best foot forward.” I was not on an ego trip but had innocent and good intentions. I said, “Srila Prabhupada, I think that word is pronounced ‘an-al-ogously.” He looked at me and said, “You pronounce it your way, and I’ll pronounce it my way.”

At the Honolulu temple in Hawaii, one of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples was a sculptor and Prabhupada spent a great deal of time giving us elaborate instructions on how to make Gaura-Nitai Deities. Afterwards the sculptordevotee asked, “My wife would like to make silk, but in order to make silk you have to kill the silkworms. Is this okay?” After this devotee left, Srila Prabhupada expressed annoyance because he had given one instruction and instead there was talk of making silk. He said, “These Western disciples, they are so creative. Next they will be asking me if they can kill cows to make mridangas.”

Each morning at the end of class in the Frederick Street temple, Srila Prabhupada would ask for relevant questions. One morning I wanted to hear the story of Lord Chaitanya falling in the water, but I was shy about asking since it wasn’t relevant to the class. I raised my hand anyway and said, “Could you please tell the story about Lord Chaitanya falling into the water?” Prabhupada became totally quiet for about five minutes. I thought, “What have I done wrong now?” I didn’t know what was going on and I was worried. Then he said, “Yes,” and told the story of Lord Chaitanya falling in the water. Afterwards, the devotees said, “Didn’t you see? There were tears running down his face. He was in complete ecstasy.” I marveled at that. I began to see that when his Western children—we were just like children to him—asked about Lord Chaitanya it gave him great pleasure, great joy.

We were in Boston in May of 1968 when a new Back to Godhead magazine was published with a black-and-white picture of Prabhupada on the back cover and the caption, “This man changed the world.” It looked very slick for those days. Prabhupada called me in his room, handed it to me and said, “Look at this.” I looked and thought, “What’s wrong with it?” He said, “This is very serious. The spiritual master should never be referred to as a man. This consciousness, viewing the spiritual master as an ordinary man, even calling him a man, is the beginning of fall down.” This seriously affected Prabhupada because one should never refer to or consider the spiritual master on the level of a man.

Before they went to London to open a temple, Malati and her husband, Shyamasundar, Yamuna and Gurudas, and Janaki and Mukunda flew from San Francisco to Montreal to see Srila Prabhupada. Malati’s new baby, Saraswati, was also with them. When Malati danced in kirtan, Saraswati was on her hip with legs and arms flopping. When those devotees came to see Srila Prabhupada, Srila Prabhupada took little Saraswati, held her up over his head and said, “Do you remember me? I am your old friend.” On many occasions Srila Prabhupada indicated that these children were special. By Srila Prabhupada’s request they had been brought from higher dimensions to spread Lord Chaitanya’s mission. One of the most important things we can do is to let the children know how much Srila Prabhupada counts on them, how much he cares about them, and how important they are to him. Whatever has happened is unfortunate. Srila Prabhupada loved the children and wanted to teach them everything. Many years later I was in Dallas when Prabhupada was giving lectures about teaching the children not with a heavy hand but with love, disciplining them only with love. If you love them, they will respond, they will want to do things properly.

While Srila Prabhupada was in Los Angeles in 1968, we illustrated the Bhagavad-gita and Teachings of Lord Chaitanya. There were five drawings for Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, and they took quite a while. One was a picture of the Nawab coming to visit Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis, another was a picture of Lord Jagannatha in the Jagannatha Temple with Lord Chaitanya. At that time, I had no idea what the inside of the Jagannatha Temple looked like. Srila Prabhupada described how the interior was dark and how the pujari sat on the altar and handed down garlands. I did the drawings according to Srila Prabhupada’s descriptions. Later when those five drawings were removed from the book, Srila Prabhupada was disgusted. He said, “Why they have removed these drawings from this book? Why they have removed them?” Srila Prabhupada had supervised every aspect of them and personally overseen them. And when he saw that the illustrations to Krishna Book had been removed he said, “Why they have removed these paintings? Those early paintings were full of bhakti.” Even though the technical quality of the paintings might not have been perfect, their mood was very special.

When we were in Montreal it was Srila Prabhupada’s birthday and I decided to celebrate it like Westerners do by baking a two-layer cake. I frosted it, put a bunch of candles on it, lit them all and then brought it into his room. His eyes were big with surprise to see me carrying a flaming cake and he said, “Oh?” I put it on the altar, offered it, then brought it over to him and said, “Srila Prabhupada, this is how we celebrate birthdays in America. If you blow out all the candles, you can make a wish.” He blew out all the candles and then I said, “You don’t have to tell anybody what you wished for.” He said, “I wish only for Krishna’s service.” Then we enjoyed the cake, Western style.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 41 - Mahamaya dd, Govidna dd, Kulashekhara, Mahavir, Tulsi, Svavasa

The full Prabhupada Memories Series can be viewed here and also at

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 01

Govinda: He was recovering by the ocean for three weeks. Goursundar and I were staying there along with Kirtanananda. The four of us were staying in a beach bungalow. They sent a copy of this reel-to-reel tape, and it was so wild and it was a brand new tune. They made up their own tunes – unheard of in New York. This was not done, and it was wild – horns and cymbals and you name it. It was a full wild party-sounding kirtan, and some of the devotees in New York were, “Oh, my gosh, what is this?” But Prabhupada loved it, he was so happy, and I noticed this. He was so happy that they were still chanting. It didn’t matter that it was a different tune, it didn’t matter that they were wild hippies dancing in frenzies and probably some of them were…most of them even were still taking intoxication. Prabhupada loved it. There was another one that they sent called “Narada Muni, the Eternal Spaceman,” which was a little record that they made. They were creative and innovative and far out. That’s the kind of people that were in San Francisco. And Prabhupada encouraged them, whereas the nature in New was to criticize them and put them down because they weren’t conservative enough. Prabhupada didn’t have that mood at all. Instead he encouraged both. They were a little wild for me too because I was a little bit…I wasn’t as conservative as a New Yorker, but I was somewhat conservative. But what amazed me was when we went back there…sometime later we traveled back to San Francisco with Prabhupada…they had completely changed. The chanting had purified them. They were totally different. They were beautiful. We’re talking about Mukunda, Yamuna, Shyamasundara, Malati, all these early devotees. Malati was so wild. They were really heartfelt people willing to try anything, and they loved Prabhupada and they were out to do whatever they could.

He used to sit and turn the globe, and he would meditate on the different countries. And he would say, “Brahmananda, you shall go to Russia. Goursundar, you shall go to Japan. Somebody else, you shall go to South America.” You have to understand, we had no money, we had no manpower, we had nothing. We were a handful of teenagers, 10 people in their early 20’s who were rather eccentric, all of us, because we had rejected our cultural values and we were following him like a Pied Piper. And he was telling us about these different countries we were going to go to and open temples. He had his plan. It was not haphazardly done. I have a beautiful picture of Prabhupada sitting and turning his globe. He did it a lot. He meditated on the globe. He looked at the different countries. You would see him doing it a lot, and he was planning. He had planned the takeover of Russia long before he ever went to Russia. This is a part of what he knew he had to come to this world and do. We just didn’t know what all he was doing, although sometimes in Montreal, when we had a lot of time and he would talk, he used to talk to me about his different plans. We had no money. We lived in a little flat. We had rats too. There was nothing and yet he was telling me how he was going to have a world sankirtan party, and he also told me how he wanted to have a big auditorium where people could come and watch bhajans and hear bhajans and see plays and Krishna conscious things rather than going to the cinemas. He felt the cinemas were drawing people into another world. He had plans of doing this. And when I go to Bombay and I see that great big auditorium, I say, “He said he was going to do this.” It’s just like if I’m a pauper and I tell you I’m going to build Disneyland, and that’s what it was like. But I never disbelieved anything he said, I just listened. I was just always listening to him, and he liked to talk about what he was going to do. And he talked about many things.

Prabhupada always had his trunk as his desk. Wherever we went, he had his Indian trunk and all of his stuff would fit in it. And then we would move to another city. And then whenever we got to whatever room we were going to be in, then I would take all his stuff out of his trunk and arrange his room and his trunk was his desk – that’s just how he lived, it was normal – and he would sit on the floor. So I would commonly spend two, three hours a day sitting in front of him taking dictation of letters because often Prabhupada would just talk. There weren’t so many letters in those days, there were maybe 10 a day, sometimes less, and so there was time. And he would talk about everything: trains and buses and which is better, trains or buses, about tigers, about all kinds of things. He would sit and talk. One of the sweetest times was in the evening when Goursundar would give him massage, because all the work for the day had been done and I would sit at the doorway and listen. We were like family. He used to say, “We have become just like a family.” He used to tell me, “My mother died at an early age. Krishna has sent you to be my mother.” Actually I was only 21 years old or 20 years old, and he was the age of my grandfather because he was in his 70’s. When I would rent an apartment for him, I would just tell the landlord, “I’m getting it for my grandfather.”

Goursundar really wanted this Gayatri mantra, so he talked to Prabhupada about it. He was reading all kinds of things. So Prabhupada agreed to give him Gayatri mantra and give him second initiation. So I met him on the street and he had his hair all shaved off, that really bothered me. But that night he had the Gayatri mantra initiation, and I was upset because he was going to give Goursundar a mantra but he wasn’t going to give it to me. So I felt very left out. So when it came time to go for the initiation ceremony, I said, “Well, I’m not feeling very well so I’m not going to go.” I was pouting. And then after they left, I thought to myself, “What am I doing? I don’t want to be not there!” So I ran out the door and ran the 10 blocks all the way to the temple and burst into the temple, and Prabhupada was sitting there giving the initiation and he looked up and he said, “Ah, Govinda dasi, I was wondering how you could stay away. You love to hear me speak so much.” Because he wanted me to come, but I was mad. I was very upset about this. And so because I was a little upset, he decided that the girls also should have Gayatri mantra. Jadurani was more upset. And so he gave us initiation the next evening with the Gayatri mantra because he knew that in this country the girls and the boys are educated in the same way.

All along everyone knew him as Swamiji. This is up until May of 1968. So Goursundar decided he wanted to call me Govindaji, and so he asked Prabhupada and Prabhupada said, “No, actually ‘ji’ is a third-class form of address. It’s better not to call her Govindaji.” So I piped up, I was sitting right in front of him and I said, “Well, if it’s a third-class form of address, why are we calling you ‘ji’? Why are we calling you Swamiji?” And he said, “It’s not very important.” I said, “Oh, no, it’s very important. If it’s a third-class form of address, then we don’t want to call you that. We want to call you the most first-class form of address. So tell us what would be a good name for us to call you by.” And he was very humble, very reluctant, but I pressed him, “We’ve got to change this,” and he said, “You can call me Gurudev or Guru Maharaj or Prabhupada.” So I said, “Well, that’s three. We need one.” So I said, “Well, which one is the best?” and he answered, “Srila Prabhupada is nice, that is the best.” So I said, “From today you will be called Srila Prabhupada.” So I told all the devotees. Some of the devotees didn’t like it because it kind of is a tongue twister, “Prabhupada,” and “Swamiji” kind of flows more easily. But we gradually started calling him Srila Prabhupada from that time.

He was talking about Krishna in the forest of Vrindavan, and he would close his eyes and he would get massage and he would talk about Krishna. He would describe how “They do not know Krishna is God. The cowherd boys are coming home from the forest and say, ‘Oh, mother, Krishna killed one very big demon today. Krishna is so wonderful!’ And they are not knowing He is God. They are simply thinking, ‘Krishna is so wonderful!’” And whenever he would talk like this, when he would stop you wouldn’t know where you were. You had been transported to some other loka. You would have to remember your identity and who you were and where…it was transporting. His power to transport you was there, and I got very addicted to that, to that sweetness, that transcendental sweetness. One time he was talking about how there is no fear. Krishna is playing leap frog with the boys, and they have no fear. They are just playing.” And all of a sudden you experience no fear, and you realize you’re always fearing. You don’t even know it, but in the back of your mind you’re always fearing. And for a few moments you experience no fear. Karttikeya was telling me, “It was such an amazing experience! For a few moments, I felt fearless!” In this way, when he would talk about Vrindavan, you would be there. He was in lila. He was seeing everything. You couldn’t see it, but you could feel it. And so I got very addicted to that. So then when he went off to India, the whole time he was in India I prayed to Lord Jagannatha. Lord Jagannatha, we had one murti in Montreal, I was there for six months, and I prayed, “Please let me take care of Swamiji when he comes back from India.” So while Prabhupada was in India, he wrote me a letter. I wrote him a letter expressing that desire. He wrote me a letter back saying, “I shall build a house in Vrindavan where you and your husband can come for all your days.” At the end of the letter he wrote, “I know your mind.” He knew everything I was thinking. He heard my prayers. He knew everything I was thinking. So when he came back, that desire was fulfilled. He allowed me to be with him to serve him for that whole year, which was very sweet because it was just in the time before the organization took off in a very big way. At that time, Prabhupada was still not completely well from his stroke, he was having some difficulty. So I would kind of mother him and he would kind of father us. We were like children, but we were like a family. Everything was out of love. And that’s a rare, sweet time that I think he also thinks is very special.


Interview DVD 09

Govinda: The first time we were in Los Angeles, Srila Prabhupada went down there from San Francisco. This is in Los Angeles 1968, and at that time we joined him. Prabhupada was living in this apartment that was so noisy. There was a guy who liked loud music at night, which was disturbing to Prabhupada. But one of the things that happened there that’s very nice, Prabhupada had started teaching us up in San Francisco. This is just after he returned to America. We had expressed a desire to learn Bengali and Sanskrit. So every day we would come into his room at a certain time and he would recite the alphabet and we would recite it after him, and then he would talk about it. I really wanted to be able to read Caitanya-caritamrta, but I couldn’t because I didn’t know the language. So Prabhupada taught me one verse from the Caitanya-caritamrta, which by the way was not printed at this time. Remember, there was only his big Caitanya-caritamrta, which was always open every morning when I cleaned his room. That’s what he would read in the early morning times was his Caitanya-caritamrta. I would find it open. It was beautiful. It just glowed. I would clean it very nicely, and I would wish that I could read it. He knew that I had this affection for Caitanya-caritamrta, and so he taught me a verse from it and he would ask me to sing it every day: sri-krsna-caitanya-nityanandau sahoditau, gaudodaye puspavantau citrau sandau tamo-nudau. And he explained the meaning of this verse is that normally the sun and the moon don’t rise together. But in this case, both the sun and the moon have arisen over the land of Gauda and they are Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda, who are just like the sun and the moon and They are dispelling all the darkness of the world. Every day he would say, “Govinda dasi, have you remembered that verse?” And I would sing it to him, I never forgot it. And he was so happy, he was so delighted. So then we went down to L.A. and many times he would ask me, “Have you remembered that verse?” and I would sing it to him. He loved it. While we were in L.A. that time, this is the first time, we would sit at the kitchen table and write the letters. We were learning the alphabets of Sanskrit, Devanagari. One time Prabhupada came into the room and he looked over our shoulder at what we were doing for a few minutes and then he said, “Krishna does not need our service. He simply needs our love. He simply needs to see we are trying to serve Him. Just like the teacher may see that the child is making scribbles, but he sees that the child is trying so he feels happy. So it’s like that. Krishna doesn’t need anything from us, but He wants our love. He wants to see that we are trying to love Him.” It was a very profound instruction. That was a very sweet time. I was working on the cover of the Gita, the original Gita, the purple one, and he was supervising it. It was the Universal Form. It had a lot of arms, but McMillan took them all off. But the drawing that Prabhupada had me do had lots of arms. So Prabhupada would come in, and over my shoulder he would guide me in doing that. When Prabhupada took a nap, I would sit quietly and read. The books that Goursundar had gotten were the Caitanya-caritamrta. They were done by an Indian. They were the only Caitanya-caritamrta in English prior to Prabhupada’s, seven skinny little books that Goursundar had bought at some Indian store in New York. It wasn’t Gaudiya Math, it was a translation by some scholar, but they were nice. They were better than nothing. And so I used to sit on the floor and read them while Prabhupada was resting because we didn’t have any books. Just remember, the Gita hadn’t been printed, there was only the three volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam. So I would sit and read them and Prabhupada could see how much we liked them, and that was when he decided that he would translate Caitanya-caritamrta. And Goursundar was learning Bengali, so he would do the transliteration. He would give me a tape every day, and I would transcribe it. If you look in the front part of Caitanya-caritamrta, “Some of my friends have requested me to do…” It’s because we were so eager to have Caitanya-caritamrta.