Hari Krishna das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Hari Krishna: I first saw Prabhupada in 1972 when he came to the Amsterdam temple. Prabhupada was making a tour through Europe and part of the tour was Amsterdam. The Amsterdam temple was very new and it sat in the worst part of Amsterdam—it was right on the edge of the red light district. Amsterdam was like San Francisco. It was like the European counterpart to San Francisco. It was like a hippie Mecca. There were thousands and thousands of young kids streaming into SP Memories - DVD 76 Page 4 of 20 Amsterdam especially during the summer. It was a big thing. You had a lot of the flower power celebrities—the Timothy Learys, Richard Alperts and gurus from India—coming to Amsterdam to give their speeches and lectures and so on. The city was really blossoming with many types of hippie and semi-spiritual activities. When Prabhupada arrived in Amsterdam, he was received at the airport by the fifteen to twenty devotees we had in the temple at that time. He was first taken to his hotel and then on to the temple, which was an old shabby garage. It was totally unworthy of receiving Srila Prabhupada. When he first saw the temple building from the exterior, he said, “Who is responsible for this?” It was not exactly the heart-warming welcome for the devotees who had worked for months and months and months to prepare for this event. But of course, Prabhupada was super appreciative of everything that was going on and all the efforts of the devotees to make a big event for him. He was on television because it was a national event and highlighted by an interview on the eight o’clock news. He stayed in Amsterdam for three days. On the last day there was an event in the Vondelpark that is the counterpart to the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Prabhupada went to the Vondelpark and it was full of hippies playing drums and guitars and smoking dope. This was a few years after the “Summer of Love,” but it was still hippiedom. I think at one point Shyamasundar was giving a kind of highbrow lecture with Sanskrit in it. Prabhupada cut him short and started playing a kirtan, and later on he said, “Let’s not waste our time talking highbrow philosophy. Chant Hare Krishna and distribute prasadam.”

We’ve had waves of gurus coming to the West, like Satcitananda and many others. And no disrespect, I’m sure most of them were sincere people, but Prabhupada was of a completely different caliber. His philosophy was so completely different. The typical wishy-washy, flowery language was not something that Prabhupada was speaking. He was speaking plain truth. In those days the plain truth sounded quite harsh in the hippie community. But on the other hand, because Prabhupada’s philosophy was so extreme and different from everything else, it also connected with people. The hippie movement was basically about liberation from the material world except people thought you could get liberation with drugs, free sex and a little bit of chanting mantras. Prabhupada said, “Well, the first two parts—the free sex and the drugs—forget about that and just focus on the chanting of mantras.” But the whole idea of liberation from the material world, which was really Prabhupada’s focus, was that we are not in the material world to enjoy. That was a radically different departure from everything else that we had heard. I had been studying Indian philosophy since I was thirteen or fourteen years old just out of interest. Nobody else explained that this material world is really not a good place. It’s a bad place. It is not just incidentally or temporarily bad. By its very nature, it is set up to be bad. This was my personal, big struggle because I had accepted the Mayavadi philosophy, which taught that there is God, but God is impersonal, and in the end we are all one. In the end we are God. I could not reconcile that with the fact that we are suffering. Prabhupada was the first teacher who said it plainly, “No, you are here not because you are God, but because you are servant of God. And at some time in our infinite, eternal history, we have decided to turn away from God, to try to enjoy ourselves independently, in a way competing with God, trying to become God.” The distinct difference in Prabhupada’s philosophy is this plainspoken fact that this material world is not here for our enjoyment. We are here to learn how to serve Krishna again in this human form of life and to have the opportunity to go back home, back to Godhead. He resolved my Mayavadi dilemma—how we can be God and at the same time be suffering in this world—which didn’t make any sense at all. The convincing argument that intensified my respect for Prabhupada was the unique experience having somebody of his stature, his age and the person he was, coming all the way from India to start a movement in the Western world by introducing a culture that was so totally different from our Western culture. I was convinced about the truth of Vaishnava philosophy as being a sublime philosophy, SP Memories - DVD 76 Page 6 of 20 which finally explained the dilemma that we are all facing, this existential question, “Why are we here in this material world?” For me, from then on, Vaishnava philosophy was it.

The most famous moment at our temple in Amsterdam occurred during the installation of the Janannatha Deities. The devotees that were there were totally inexperienced because they hardly knew what Deities were, what to speak of an installation ceremony. One of the devotees there, Kishori dasi, who was the wife of my brother Surabhi at the time, made the preparations for the ceremony. The temple was packed with people. It was an old garage that had been converted into a temple. There was no ventilation system, so the walls were dripping with condensation. In terms of facility, there were no showers for the devotees. We took showers just with a hose and some cold water in the morning. There was only one tap with cold water coming out. There was no heating in the winter in that place. It was a rather austere place to be living in a big city under those circumstances. When there is a fire ceremony, you have to have whole fruits, but Kishori had turned all the fruits into a fruit salad. Prabhupada got upset with her and he got a little angry with all of us because everything was so poorly managed and amateurish, and apparently nobody found out how to do a proper fire ceremony. At one point Prabhupada’s eyes were spewing fire. He was really angry with the fact that devotees had taken this so lightly. That only lasted for a few minutes. But it was intense. SP Memories - DVD 76 Page 9 of 20 We already knew from Prabhupada’s teachings that he is the spiritual master and we are the humble disciples. There was no question of equality. There is no Western concept that assumes, “We are all equal.” There was no misunderstanding between the guru and disciple. The Vaishnava spiritual master, a pure devotee, is on a different platform. We were just stunned with awe and respect. Prabhupada was angry, so we knew we must have done something really bad. But it was over very quickly.

What struck me right away was that Prabhupada said in his teachings and in all the lectures that religion without philosophy is sentimentalism and philosophy without religion is aimless mental speculation. What I found absolutely magnificent was the concept of the merger of religion and science, the merger of faith and reason. If we look at history, then this has been one of the biggest dilemmas, one of the biggest crises in the Western world. If we go back to the early history of Christianity, the church fathers like Tertullian stated, “I believe because it is absurd.” That was the total rejection of reason. It was not until the 13th century that Thomas Aquinas first stated that there is the human intellect, which can also be used for understanding God. That was kind of revolutionary because in Christianity it is blind faith that will liberate you. That’s not the message that the Vedic philosophy and Srila Prabhupada taught. No, we have athato brahma jijnasa. We have the human form of life, and the human form of life distinguishes from the animal form of life in that we have an intellect. And that intellect is not the workshop of the devil as Martin Luther called it, for instance. According to Vedic philosophy, the intellect is actually the blessing of Krishna in the human form of life that will enable us to understand God through reason and not just through emotion and sentiment. So that statement of Prabhupada—the merger of religion and science—means they are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, they are mutually, totally compatible. That message for me was a liberating statement.

Once on a morning walk in Paris, I asked Prabhupada a question. I have to be honest, I don’t remember exactly the question. It was something about the spiritual world. “Do people do this or that in the spiritual world?” Because that’s one of the big revelations of Vaishnava philosophy, that liberation is not just merging into an impersonal ocean of energy and that’s it. There is a spiritual world with cities and planets and individuals and living entities and, of course, Krishna Himself. That poses many questions about this world that we are living in, which is like a shadow world and the reflection of the real world. But this material world looks already very real. So how can the other world be even more real and how is it different from the world we are living in? I think I asked a question along those lines. Prabhupada said something like, “Don’t speculate too much about it. Just chant Hare Krishna.” He wrote me a letter once when I was the temple president in Amsterdam. Again he gave me the same message, “Just follow the principles, chant Hare Krishna, and go out on Harinam.” He wasn’t chastising, but saying, “Don’t depend too much on your intelligence or on your mental and intellectual capability, but just keep the focus on devotional service.” It was like he was putting me back in my place. Don’t be proud. Just be the humble servant of the servant of the servant of the servant. This humility has been explicitly explained in Vaishnavism going back, of course, to Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who left instructions on the virtue of being more humble than a blade of grass. This emphasis on humility is not the kind of artificial, fake humility. It’s really a deep understanding of the metaphysical, existential position of the living entity being a tiny little spark within the infinite reality and being just a tiny little part of Krishna. Therefore, we are not just the servant of God, but we are the servant SP Memories - DVD 76 Page 15 of 20 of the servant of the servant of Godhead. Having knowledge of the absolute truth is a privilege, and if you have humility, this knowledge does not make you feel superior to others who do not. That’s really something to always remember in terms of the essential teachings of Prabhupada—just always remember you are the servant of the servant of the servant of God.

Prabhupada showed total dedication to his mission and to his role. He was not preaching for self-glorification. You could see that he wasn’t presenting himself in a way just to appeal to people so that he would be popular or appreciated or liked. Not that he didn’t care about that, but that was not his motivating force. His motivating force was really his intense compassion for the fallen souls in this material world. He said that many times. One devotee lady said once that she was with Prabhupada in London and they were walking down Oxford Street. Prabhupada made some comment like, “Look at all these people. They are all suffering.” If, of course, you walk down Oxford Street, you see a lot of happy looking people, people drinking or whatever, and apparently having a good time. It doesn’t look that dramatic. But when you’re in the state of consciousness like Prabhupada, and you are looking at it from the bigger picture—from Vaikuntha right back down to planet earth in Kali-yuga—that’s overwhelming. You could see that was his mindset. He was looking at the people from the broadest perspective and seeing the very narrow reality that we are living here, walking down Oxford Street in London, planet earth. That’s really remarkable. It shows that he was driven by compassion for helping. He said it when he started his mission, “If I can just save one soul to go back to Krishna, then my mission will be considered accomplished.” That kind of attitude is overwhelming. When you think about it, it’s really heart-warming that Prabhupada had the determination to save people from hell. He was completely seeing with that vision.

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