In May of 1969 Prabhupada visited Boston. Giriraj Swami had met Prabhupada when Prabhupada spoke at the university, and the next day Giriraj came to the temple and surrendered. Giriraj was a guest at the temple, when another guest asked, “Why is this material world here?” Prabhupada said, “Why is the cloud there?” The guest didn’t know. None of us knew. Prabhupada said, “Because there is a need of rain. Similarly, there’s a need for this material world.” Just like the sky is there, from the sky comes the cloud, from the cloud comes the rain, from the rain comes the vegetation. Eventually, the vegetation is finished, the rain is finished, the cloud is finished, and only the sky is there. Similarly, Krishna creates this world temporarily, because there is a need for the conditioned souls to come to the human form of life and become Krishna conscious. Prabhupada made the most complicated things accessible.
Sometime in 1967 I was painting a picture in the altar room, when Prabhupada called me into the greeting room. He said, “I want to give you an idea for a new painting.” I thought that he was going to explain something, but instead of explaining, he handed me a print. For the first two years I didn’t make my own compositions but only copied. This time Prabhupada gave me a beautiful picture of Narada Muni playing the clappers and the vina in an enchanting forest, and he asked me to paint that. A few days later I brought the almost-completed painting to him. He said, “It’s all right, but it looks like Narada Muni has breasts.” I corrected that, and then Prabhupada accepted it. On a small piece of paper he wrote, “Narada Muni bajaya vina, ‘radhika-ramana’-name,” which means, “Narada Muni plays his vina and chants Hare Krishna.” Radhika is Radharani, and Radhika Ramana means “the enjoyer of Radhika.”
In 1968, when I was in Boston, Prabhupada said, “Whatever painting I give you to do I want that painting to be in each temple.” First there was only the New York temple, and then there was San Francisco, then Montreal, then Boston, then Seattle and Los Angeles. Each time, each painting had to be in greater numbers. I was doing my second Narada Muni painting, for San Francisco. Prabhupada was in Los Angeles, and soon he’d be going to San Francisco, so I thought it would be nice to welcome him with that painting. I wanted that painting to be better than my first, which was crude and amateurish. Before I joined Prabhupada, I lived in New York, and I saw that people came from all over the world and lined the streets for three blocks to get a one-minute view of the Mona Lisa in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I thought, “I’ll make Krishna pictures on the same level as Leonardo de Vinci’s and Michelangelo’s paintings, and in this way Krishna conscious pictures will be famous all over the world.” So I got some references for Michelangelo paintings and some American redwood forest pictures for the background. I couldn’t find an Indian background. I went back to the temple and began work. After a week or two, the painting was finished. It had a muscle-bound Narada Muni wearing a Christ-like dhoti in a redwood forest. I sent the painting to San Francisco on a Greyhound bus. The devotees wrote me, saying, “This painting has increased our ecstasy in kirtan. It’s so wonderful we practically jump to the ceiling.” About a week later, Prabhupada went to San Francisco. He didn’t have the same response. Prabhupada asked Govinda dasi, his personal servant, to write me that, “Prabhupada was looking at a print of blind Sura das playing his vina and five-year-old Krishna listening. The Vedic conception of beauty is full, smooth cheeks and sweet, red lips. This is the milk-drinker’s conception of beauty. But what you have done is the meat-eater’s conception of beauty: gaunt cheeks and muscles.” Govinda dasi explained, on behalf of Srila Prabhupada, that the standard of the beauty was this Brijabasi print. Previously Prabhupada said, “The Brijabasi company does nice cartoons,” and I thought, “I am a realistic painter, and these are just cartoons.” But now I could see that Prabhupada liked the cartoons better than my work. A little later I received a letter from Prabhupada saying, “We are not meant for satisfying the senses of the public. They are fools. We are meant for satisfying the senses of Krishna and the previous acharyas. We don’t mind if people don’t buy our paintings; we will distribute them freely to the centers. We are not interested in following the so-called great artists. The other day I went to a universalistic Unitarian church, and on their walls they have paintings of still-lives of ropes and bamboo rods, and fishermen’s nets. But this did not inspire my Krishna consciousness. I find that Govinda dasi is a great artist because she is painting Krishna. You will do well not to follow these so-called great artists.” I was completely devastated, depressed, discouraged, miserable, and suicidal. I wrote back a three-line letter apologizing. Prabhupada answered instantly. That’s another one of his qualities, that although he was the busiest person in the world, he answered letters quicker than anyone else in the world. A week later I got a letter from him saying, “This is the first time that I’ve received a letter from you that’s only three lines. Please don’t be depressed.” And he told a story of a brahman who was away from home. Generally, according to religious tradition, brahmans only eat at the house of a Hindu. If they eat at the house of a Muslim, they are ostracized from the brahminical community. This particular brahman, who was away from home and very hungry, went to a Mohammedan home and ate. But when the brahman said to the Mohammedan, “Do you have any more?” the Mohammedan said, “I’m sorry, that’s all I have.” So the brahman left the house lamenting, “I’ve lost my caste, and still I’m hungry.” That was an analogy. Prabhupada said, “It takes a long time to become a great artist, and in the meantime you will lose your Krishna consciousness. So take whatever talent you have now and immediately engage it in Krishna’s service. We will talk further when I come to New York,” and he told me when he was coming. A couple weeks later he arrived in New York, and again all the Boston devotees went there. After his darshan Prabhupada asked to see me. I didn’t know what he was going to say, so I blurted out, “I’m sorry I did that painting of Narada Muni. I’ll do it over.” Prabhupada said, “No, it was very nice.” He gave me ten seconds of relief, and then he started again from where his letter left off. He told me not to copy from the so-called great artists. He said, “People don’t like a painting for how technically great it is, but for who did it. Picasso’s art really isn’t that good, but he has a name so everybody buys his paintings for so much money. They say, ‘Oh, so-and-so painting, oh very good.’” By now I was feeling a little better in his association. I said, “We say that too. We say, ‘Oh, Swamiji said that, oh very good.’” Prabhupada was so humble. He said, “That is love. That is a different thing. Just like a mother has a blind child, and out of love she calls the child Padmalochan, or ‘lotus-eyed.’” He was talking so casually that I didn’t realize how he was sitting. His trunk desk was covered by some kind of blanket where he did a lot of his work, and we were both sitting looking at each other over this trunk desk. Since we were talking about eyes, he said, “I like your eyes—cat’s eyes. Everyone likes cat’s eyes. Don’t you?” I was completely flustered and said, “I like your eyes, lotus-eyes.” Prabhupada was sitting on a mat. He threw himself halfway onto the floor and said, “I am an old fool.” I was so bewildered by his overwhelming humility that I offered my obeisances and left. There are many times that I kick myself for leaving his association, and that was one of them.
In 1968, I was concerned about getting inspiration from the so-called old masters because I knew I wasn’t very talented. In a letter I asked Prabhupada if I should study, and he wrote back, “There is a story about a man from another country who spoke a different language and who lived in a house next to you. One day his house was on fire, and you had to tell him what to do. If you took time to learn his language, then everything would be finished. So somehow or other express your Krishna consciousness now.” Prabhupada also told a story that, “In India, many British men were shop owners, and many Indian people worked for them. Once when a British cloth shop owner was out, some monkeys messed everything up. The Indian worker in the shop couldn’t speak English, and when the owner came back, the worker jumped up and down saying, “Monkey, sir. Monkey, sir. Monkey, sir.” Prabhupada was telling us that whatever we knew of the artistic language, we should use it to express Krishna consciousness, because it was an emergency. Prabhupada did not want to wait for us to become talented. This amazed me because even though we were young devotees, we knew the powers of a pure devotee. We had read enough books and heard enough lectures to know the mystic and spiritual powers of a pure devotee. Prabhupada was Krishna’s associate. He could have asked a demigod or gotten some big, powerful person on the earth to paint for him. Yet he engaged people who had extremely little or no talent. On top of that, he wasn’t interested in waiting for us to get talented before we started painting for his books. The 1969 Krishna Book was our first attempt at our own compositions, and they were extremely crude. Still he wanted it done at that time. When Krishna chose a particular time for him to come to the West, Prabhupada came. Historically and sociologically the sixties were a unique time. The whole thing was planned by Krishna, and although I couldn’t understand it, there was some reason that Prabhupada didn’t want to wait for us to become expert.
Prabhupada said, “If you see a spark of Krishna consciousness in someone, you should fan that spark.” Then he told a story of a thief in Vrindavan who happened to hear a Bhagavat recital of the Tenth Canto. This thief heard how Mother Yasoda decorates Krishna in valuable ornaments and sends Him off to play in the forest with His friends and cows. The thief thought, “Ah, jewels. I shall go and get those jewels.” He went to the Vrindavan forest and began looking for Krishna, and because he had something good in him, Krishna appeared to him. The thief said, “Oh, You’re such a nice boy. Why don’t You give me Your jewels?” Krishna said, “No, Mother Yasoda wouldn’t like it.” The thief said, “Oh, yes, it’s all right. You can give them to me.” They argued back and forth, and by Krishna’s association the thief became a pure devotee. He fell down, offered his obeisances, and fully surrendered. Prabhupada said, “Similarly, if there’s anything in anyone, you should bring that out.”
About 1968 in New York, some fifteen or sixteen-year-old girls joined who had some artistic propensity. I was in Boston, and Prabhupada encouraged me to visit them and help them with art and with general Krishna consciousness. I don’t know how much help I could have been, because I was still wearing dungarees and turtleneck shirts. I was painting in those clothes, and whenever I had to change colors or clean my brushes I would wipe the brush on my dungarees. But Prabhupada didn’t wait for us to become expert. Prabhupada would call the girls in New York my assistants, and he started talking about a brahmacharini ashram. From San Francisco he wrote, “I would like to establish a brahmacharini ashram, the female equivalent of the brahmachari ashram, where ladies can get training. The devotees here are asking you to come to San Francisco for a couple of months, but how will they do without you on the East Coast? You have already started this program and are helping many girls there. Maybe the girls from San Francisco should come and join you in New York.” Even though I didn’t know anything about Krishna consciousness, Prabhupada was so encouraging. I thought, “Yes, I’ll do it. I’ll train up all the brahmacharinis.” That was the beginning of the brahmacharini ashram.
I heard rumors that Srila Prabhupada was leaving New York to go to San Francisco to help open a temple there. It was the first time that he would be leaving us. Of course, we had only been with him for a few months, but still it was like an eternity. He was already everything to us. I said, “Swamiji, I heard you are leaving in a few days. When are you leaving?” He said, “Do you think that I would ever leave you? Don’t think like that. I am always with you and you are always with me.” Of course he did leave, but in the next year and the year after that, when I was depressed by his absence and not feeling his presence in separation, those words would come back in my mind.
Just before Prabhupada came to Boston, the devotees were painting the walls and woodwork to get the temple ready for him. Everyone was so busy that I was the only one who went to meet him at the airport. I took a taxi and made the garland in the taxi. When Srila Prabhupada, Govinda dasi, and Gaurasundar came off the plane I clumsily garlanded him, and he graciously accepted it. We took a taxi back to his house on Chester Street, and as we were walking up the steps to the house, Govinda dasi whispered to me, “When we were in New York, Swamiji said that your painting of Radha-Krishna there makes it look like Radharani has another boy friend.” One of the paintings I did in my so-called great example to the brahmacharinis was a painting of Radha and Krishna. At that time I was using references from the old masters, and the only nice picture I found of a girl that looked anything like Radharani was a Dutch painting. But in that painting the girl was facing the wrong way, not towards Krishna. I wanted to have a realistic girl, and she was pretty, so I copied her just as she was. I didn’t think of turning her around by flipping her with a mirror. So in my painting, Radharani, holding a garland, was facing away from Krishna, who was playing His flute. After we went in the house, Prabhupada sat on a big sofa, and we all sat at his feet. I said, “Swamiji, I heard that you didn’t like that painting because it looks like Radharani has another boyfriend. I’ll do it over.” He said, “No, Radharani is offering Jadurani a garland for painting so many nice pictures of Krishna.” I thought, “She’s personally offering a garland to me?”
After Prabhupada’s lecture Madhusudana asked, “If prasadam is old or stale, is it still all right to eat it?” Prabhupada said, “If you have got the faith,” meaning if you don’t have faith you’ll get sick, and if you do have faith then you can take.
I didn’t know that I wasn’t getting second initiation so I was in the temple. But Govinda dasi, one of Prabhupada’s personal servants, wasn’t there because she knew she wasn’t going to get second initiation, and she felt bad. She came late. The fire sacrifice was taking place near the front door, and when she came in Prabhupada looked up and said, “Oh, I was just thinking, ‘Where is the girl?’ and Krishna has sent you.” Then the landlady stormed in drunk and saw all the smoke and the fire. She said, “Goddamn this house,” slammed the door closed, and left. Prabhupada looked up innocently and said, “What did she say, ‘this is the house of God?’” The next morning we joined Prabhupada for his morning walk, and he said to the devotees who received their second initiation, “Now don’t be a brahman in name only.” Govinda dasi and I, and Annapurna, who had joined us from London, felt miserable and horrible. I thought, “We’re not supposed to be on the bodily platform around here.” But I didn’t say anything. In fact, I was miserable because I was foolish enough to forget that I could have asked Prabhupada about it after the initiation. Instead I chose to feel bad. The next night, Prabhupada had second initiation just for the three girls, Govinda dasi, Annapurna, and I, although in subsequent second initiations, the girls and boys were initiated together. Most of his lecture that night was about how all women should be married. “When I was a householder,” he said, “my friend had a daughter who he wanted to marry, but the girl said, ‘I am not going to be the slave of any man.’” Prabhupada said to her, “Marriage is not slavery for the woman, it is grand protection.” Then he said, “There is no necessity of the brahman’s thread for a woman because she has to follow her husband. If her husband is a brahman then she automatically becomes a brahman by following his vows. And if her husband is not a brahman, what is the use of her becoming a brahman?” Then Srila Prabhupada pointed to a painting that I did, which was on the wall to his left, of Sita, Rama, Hanuman, and Laksman. That painting was a copy of a Brijabasi print. The only difference between my painting and the print was that I made Lord Rama green instead of blue because Prabhupada said He was green. The day that painting first hung in the temple room, I came in late for class. Prabhupada interrupted everything, and, although I was on the other side of the temple room, he called out to me, “Did you do that painting?” I said, “Yes, that’s my painting.” Then he made a big announcement, “You are already in Vaikuntha.” So again at this time Prabhupada motioned to that picture and said, “Just like Rama has a sacred thread but Sita doesn’t, but still we say Sita Rama. She is the energy. She is first, Sita Rama. We know so much about Krishna, and we hardly know anything about Radharani but still we say, Radha-Krishna.” Prabhupada was telling us that, “you’re not going to get a thread, but it doesn’t matter.” Then he said, “Don’t become implicated, just remain pure, and get yourselves married.” That was the thrust of his lecture.
At that time there were only three devotees in the temple, Satsvarupa Maharaj, Pradyumna, and myself, although one or two days before Prabhupada arrived, some other devotees came to help prepare and to stay during his visit. I wanted to tell Prabhupada that I had been so busy preparing for his arrival for a few weeks that I could not do all of the paintings he wanted, although I wanted to do them. I said, “I had to sew the vyasasana, make advertisements for your engagements, and go all around town pasting the ads on telephone poles.” It sounded like a complaint. Most indignantly and sarcastically, Prabhupada said, “Don’t worry I won’t be around that long.” I tried to explain that I just didn’t understand priorities. Then he showed a lot of compassion. He said, “When there is an order from the spiritual master that comes first, unless there’s an emergency.” By saying this, he showed me that he had understood. Then he stepped very close to me and looked me in the eye. He said, “Compared to the karmis, what suffering do you have? They are struggling and suffering so much. What inconvenience do you have?” That was his compassion.
I asked, “We learned that dinosaurs once ruled the earth. Is that true?” Prabhupada said, “How could they rule; they have no intelligence?” He would make the most complicated, philosophical understandings clear and simple. Once a devotee asked him, “How is it that you make this complicated philosophy so simple and clear?” He said, “Because it is simple. God is great, and you are not great. Therefore you are not God, and you should surrender to God.”
In 1969, when Arundhati was a new devotee, she asked me to ask Prabhupada, “Can you hear Krishna’s flute?” I asked Prabhupada, and at first he said, “Why not?” But then, to get attention off himself, he quoted the Sri Sri Sadgoswami- ashtaka by Srinivasa Acarya, about how the six Goswamis are serving Radha and Krishna in the transcendental land of Vrindavan, where there are beautiful trees full of fruits and flowers that have under their roots all valuable jewels. Prabhupada said, “A pure devotee can always hear Krishna’s flute.” In that way, he answered the question, but he got attention off himself.
After Prabhupada’s lecture, a strong-looking, lumberjack-type man who had come for the first time loudly challenged, “How do you know that God eats?” Prabhupada calmly said, “God says, ‘I eat,’ in the Bhagavad-gita. I may be a number-one fool, but who should I believe, God or a rascal like you?” Around the same time, Prabhupada spoke about prasadam in his lectures. He said, “The father gives the boy his supper, and they’re sitting together at the table, about to eat. The boy says, ‘Here father, you taste it first.’ The father doesn’t need food from his son. He provided it. But because the son offered it, the father says, ‘Oh yes, it looks very nice, I’ll take it.’ The fact that the son offered it to the father increases their loving relationship.” Prabhupada was teaching us the proper mentality. Then Prabhupada said, “People may criticize you for simply cutting up some fruit or making some chapatis, offering them with some prayers, and calling that food prasadam. But it is prasadam. Even an atheist can taste the difference between an unoffered chapati and an offered chapati.”
After the class, a boy stood up and asked, “Isn’t it all like a dream? When you wake up from a dream, you see that there’s really nothing there from the dream. Similarly, don’t we lose our individuality and merge?” Merging was the philosophy at the time. Prabhupada said, “You may not be the person you dream about, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a person. You’re the person who had the dream, although in the dream you thought that you were somebody else. When you wake up, then you realize who you are. That’s how Krishna consciousness is.”
Gaurasundar and Govinda dasi were Prabhupada’s personal servants as husband and wife. In Chester Street, we were all getting the nectar of Prabhupada’s personal association except for Gaurasundar. Gaurasundar felt that since he was always with Prabhupada, it would be better if he studied Bengali so that later he could help with Prabhupada’s Caitanya-caritamrta translations. Prabhupada said, “Where is Gaurasundar?” Somebody went out and brought him. Even though Gaurasundar was with Prabhupada so often, Prabhupada chastised him saying, “Don’t ever think you’re too advanced to hear.” In New York in 1974, the press was reprinting the Krishna book. We felt that the original Krishna book paintings were crude, and we wanted to put in new paintings that told similar stories. We spent hours picking out better versions of the old paintings and sent them to Rameshvara in Los Angeles. Rameshvara showed the new paintings to Prabhupada, and Prabhupada rejected 99% of them. He said, “These old Krishna paintings are our ISKCON trademarks, and unless you have my sanction, you can’t replace any of them.” He said, “This is such a beautiful picture, and this one just simply shows Putana’s black face. How can you say this is better?” In the original Krishna book there’s a painting of Vasudev crossing the Yamuna River carrying baby Krishna without Ananta Sesa. I wanted to replace it with another painting that was more expertly done but wasn’t the same pastime. Prabhupada said, “How can you take out this painting? It’s so important.” Ramesvara said, “But the old one doesn’t have Ananta Sesa over Vasudev.” Prabhupada said, “Then put Ananta in, but don’t take out the painting.” Prabhupada was very strict on the paintings, their importance, and how they have to be exactly right. Time and again he instilled in us the importance of the paintings.
One of the reasons that Prabhupada married me was because my health wasn’t good, and after I got married it got a little worse. Satsvarupa, my husband, and I asked Prabhupada about having children. We asked if we could pray for a ray of Vishnu to be our son, just as Bhaktivinode Thakur prayed and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur became his son. Prabhupada wrote back, “We cannot imitate the acharyas. We can only follow in their footsteps. You shouldn’t pray for a ray of Vishnu.” Because my health wasn’t good, Prabhupada concluded all these children letters by writing, “Better if you both become children of Krishna rather than trying to have a child for Krishna. If the mother is ill when she’s pregnant, then the baby will be sickly, and it will be a burden both on the child and on the parents.” I had a lot of problems with submission, as a lot of Westerners did. Since Satsvarupa would type and edit Prabhupada’s Srimad-Bhagavatams, we would get the manuscripts before anybody else on the planet. I read the transcript of the story of Devahuti and Kardama Muni. Devahuti was a great princess, but she gave up her prestige and served her husband like a menial servant. In that passage, Prabhupada wrote that if the wife serves the husband, then she shares his pious results. I wasn’t in favor of being the recipient of somebody else’s pious activities. I wanted to be the benefactor of the pious activities and take the predominant role. I thought, “Probably this is ancient Vedic culture, which doesn’t apply to me.” I hoped it didn’t. I wrote to Prabhupada quoting that verse in the Bhagavatam and said, “I’m writing this to you for confirmation.” Prabhupada wrote back, “Yes, it is confirmed by me that the wife is the shareholder of the husband’s pious activities. You should know that Sriman Satsvarupa’s life is fully dedicated to Krishna, and you should follow his instructions. Of course, he cannot stop or interfere with your service to me. But at least you should follow the general instructions.” Then I realized I had to do better.