I joined the London temple after my partner and I separated amicably even though we had a child together, as she was not ready to live in the temple in a monastic situation. I had just turned twenty years of age, having been in the temple for a couple of months, when it was announced that Srila Prabhupada was finally coming. The person that made me give up my life of pleasure seeking for a higher purpose was coming. I was excited needless to say as was everyone else. When his car finally arrived, he stepped out and went straight into the temple. The first thing that struck me was that he was a lot smaller than I expected. Not necessarily in stature, but I felt that this man has done so much so far that I was expecting a large warrior. When he smiled, I had never seen anything like that smile in my life. He had a wide mouth, grinning from ear to ear and when he opened his mouth, his teeth and his mouth shone like the sun. It was like the sun was shining from his mouth and he looked at us all clearly with love. After he paid his obeisances to Radha-Londonisvara, he went to the back of the temple, climbed up on his vyasasan, looked at us all, happy to be in our company, and said, “I’m so happy to be here again with you all in London.” Then he closed his eyes, opened them again and said, “Actually, we are not in London. We are in Vaikuntha. Wherever the Holy Name of Krishna is chanted, that is Vaikuntha.” I felt carried away into the clouds with this pronouncement. I felt safe. I thought to myself, “You’ve made the right choice.”
The first initiation I received from Srila Prabhupada was about five or six weeks after I joined the temple. I was reluctant at first, but I had a friend, an older devotee, one of the first English devotees, Kulasekhara, who always encouraged me in my service. There was going to be an initiation ceremony, and he said, “Pat, you should take initiation. You might not get another opportunity like this.” I said, “But I’ve only been around for a month or so. I don’t know yet. I’m not quite sure.” He said, “You should take the opportunity. It might not happen again.” Somehow or other he encouraged me to take initiation. There I was before Srila Prabhupada after five or six weeks of having been in the temple and I’m hoping that Prabhupada doesn’t give me a long, complicated name that I would never remember. I was hoping for something simple like my god-brother, Ranchor. I liked that name. It was simple and had just two syllables. Ranchor sounded sweet and easy to remember. When my turn came up, the initiate before me was a girl whom Prabhupada named Kishori. Then it was my turn, and I was praying that I would be able to remember the four regulative principles because I knew Prabhupada was going to ask me what they were. Fortunately, I stumbled through the four regulative principles, and then he gave me my beads and said, “Your name is Kishor.” He gave me my beads, and he looked in my eyes and said, “You know what is the meaning of Kishor?” I said, “No.” He looked at me and said, “Kishor means adolescent Krishna when He used to woo the gopis.” Then he said, “But you’re not Kishor. You’re Kishor das.” And off I went with a smile on my face, my hands clutching my beads, and my name, which I could remember. On top of that Prabhupada had even explained what my name meant! At the second initiation about a year later in Bury Place, Prabhupada was personally awarding brahman initiation. We weren’t expecting the initiations to come until later in the day, but Prabhupada’s schedule changed, as he had to leave to go on a preaching engagement. Someone came up to me and said, “Kishor, Kishor it’s time. You have to go now to get your initiation.” I said, “But I’m not ready. I haven’t prepared.” I think I had time to have a quick shower or maybe even just splash water on my face. I put on a fresh dhoti, quickly applied tilak, rushed up the stairs and immediately was ushered into Prabhupada’s room. The room was partially dark as Prabhupada’s servant was massaging him. Prabhupada was in his gumcha with this radiance coming off his body. You could see the oil and the radiance. I stepped inside with Prabhupada way at the other end of the room when Prabhupada immediately looked in my direction and said, “You have bathed today?” I barely had come into the room and I stammered, “Yes, Prabhupada.” I didn’t want to go through the whole explanation of why I had not properly prepared for this event, so I said, “Yes, Prabhupada.” He looked at me and said, “There is odor coming.” I thought, “I’ve blown it. I’ll have to wait until some other time. Prabhupada’s going to kick me out.” He repeated, “There is odor coming,” and he was way at the other end of the room! He looked at me and said, “Come.” I sat down and he said softly, “Brahman means clean. Brahman must bathe three times daily,” and then he proceeded to give me brahman initiation. I was astonished at how it was possible for him to even smell me from such a distance. But my lesson was that if I wanted to be brahmanical, I had to be clean.
In August of 1973, Srila Prabhupada had just installed Radha-Gokulananda at the Bhaktivedanta Manor, which George Harrison had recently donated. The following day was Vyasa-puja, Prabhupada’s appearance day. He had just given a lecture and it was time for questions. The devotee next to me put up his hand and asked, “Srila Prabhupada, is it possible for a pure devotee to ever forget Krishna?” Prabhupada looked at Radha-Gokulananda, closed his eyes for a moment and then looked at the devotee and said very slowly, “Every day I pray to Krishna, please don’t let me fall down.” My heart almost leaped out of me. I thought, “Here’s my master, and I really don’t know anything about his stature, but I know I am still a young boy running around doing service, and here is my spiritual master who is honestly declaring that every day he prays to Krishna, ‘Please don’t let me fall down.’” I concluded, “If that can happen to Prabhupada, then it can happen to anyone, including me, so I better pull my socks up and get serious.”
One time at the Bhaktivedanta Manor in 1973, I was upstairs in Prabhupada’s darshan room. It was a beautiful large room and this day it was packed with people from different religious denominations. Leaders of various traditions had come to see who this person was. Who is this Swami, the leader of this Hare Krishna group? As Prabhupada explained Krishna consciousness to this room full of devotees and guests, the door slowly opened and in walked little five-year-old Premananda, who was my stepson. I had recently married and Premananda that day was dressed from head to toe in a sannyasi outfit with a little danda. I thought to myself, “What’s his mother doing? [laughs] What is she thinking about?” Immediately, Prabhupada stopped speaking and looked over to Premananda and with a smile from ear to ear he said, “Maharaj!” With his eyes wide open he said, “Welcome, come.” [laughs] Premananda somehow or other started to clamber over, literally climbing over all the people sitting in the room to sit before Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada was beaming at him as though he was a sannyasi coming home from his travels. Prabhupada said, “Maharaj! What is your name?” My son answered, “Premananda.” Prabhupada continued the conversation, “Premananda Maharaj! Take,” and he offered him a sweet from the tray of sweet balls that sat on the table. Prabhupada was just enjoying watching him eat the sweet in his sannyasi outfit with the danda, and then Prabhupada continued his conversation with the others in the room. It was memorable to see Srila Prabhupada interact playfully with a child and then immediately transform back to the serious guru discussing spiritual matters with the adults in the room. The next morning, however, was a different circumstance. Prabhupada went on his morning walk while I kept an eye on Premananda who was running around playing with his friends, charging around using his danda as a weapon. The kids were having a great time, but suddenly I looked around and there was Srila Prabhupada standing in the corner looking at the scene. He was not looking happy. He was very grave indeed and I could feel it. Prabhupada quietly said to the person next to him, “Who is the father?” I thought, “Oh, Oh.” I walked forward, “I am the father, Srila Prabhupada.” He looked right into my eyes and with a grave voice said, “He shouldn’t dress like this anymore. Sannyasa is very serious business,” and he walked away. He wasn’t having any fun with Premananda this time at all. I thought, “What a difference from one evening to this morning. Same boy, same spiritual master, different message.” It was profound. I was learning that this person is unpredictable. I had no idea how he would be from moment to moment. He was like a chameleon able to change according to the circumstances and that’s what I found so attractive. He had a very profound message to deliver and he wanted me to be very aware of that.
Before I joined the movement, I had one poster of Krishna that was a favorite of mine. On this poster Krishna is playing His flute in Vrindavan with the river Yamuna, a little waterfall, and underneath the image was the name Murli Manohar. I always wondered what this name meant and none of the devotees had really been able to tell me. So, one day in 1971 or ’72 I found myself next to Srila Prabhupada on a morning walk in Regents Park in London. Normally I would stay in the back of the pack due to the sannyasis and older god-brothers surrounding Srila Prabhupada. But this day I opened my mouth and asked, “Srila Prabhupada, one of Krishna’s names is Murli Manohar. Could you tell us what this means?” He immediately looked at me, smiled and closed his eyes. He opened them again and said, “‘Murli’ means flute and ‘Manohar’ means beautiful. So, when Krishna takes His flute, He is even more beautiful.” Prabhupada smiled widely and walked on. [laughs] I thought, “Oh, he liked the question.” I felt even more connected with this movement. Krishna becomes even more beautiful when He takes his flute!
I was sitting on the lawn at the Manor in London with Prabhupada and a group of devotees in 1973. It was summertime and so often he would go on the lawn to sit and converse with the devotees or chant japa. Most of those occasions I would be busy doing service or sankirtan because I didn’t really feel like I wanted to just sit with Prabhupada for the sake of sitting with Prabhupada. I had a feeling that he might not approve necessarily, and I thought the ones that do get to sit with him are more qualified or that’s their good karma. But on this one occasion I was on the lawn with Prabhupada and it was a weekend. Not far away from the Manor was an airfield where people would come to fly their little planes for a hobby. Those little planes would make a bzzzz noise, and this weekend day there were a lot of people flying their planes. As we were trying to listen to Srila Prabhupada speak, all these little planes became a distraction. I could see myself in particular and a few of the other devotees looking up thinking, “I wish they would go away. We can’t hear properly.” I noticed that Prabhupada picked up on this and he looked up as well. He smiled from ear to ear as he watched all these little planes buzzing around, and then he looked around at us and said, “They will be mosquitoes.” That’s all he had to say. “They will be mosquitoes,” meaning don’t worry about them—don’t be distracted—focus.
I was sitting in Srila Prabhupada’s very small room in Bury Place on the first floor, and it was packed with various visitors and devotees. It was standing room only. As Prabhupada was speaking, just below the window outside came the sound of a pair of kartals clashing onto the sidewalk. There was a little group of devotees preparing to go out on Harinam. Prabhupada stopped speaking, looked towards where the noise was coming from, rose up from behind his desk, and walked over to the window. He looked out the window to see the devotees getting ready to go on sankirtan and he came and sat back down. He looked lovingly at us all and said, “Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu will personally protect them.” I had that feeling that I was in the right place. It was the affection with which Prabhupada said it that nailed it for me. I hadn’t really felt that kind of love before until Prabhupada came into my life. I felt loved no matter what. I was a nonsense, but it was as though Prabhupada spoke to me, “You’re loved and I want you here.”
We were in Bury Place temple and Prabhupada had just given a lecture to a packed room. Shyamasundar had done a magnificent job of building the temple into something that was otherworldly, and when it was packed, the condensation would drip from the ceiling. Prabhupada had just finished his talk and said, “Are there any questions?” Immediately an Indian lady, who visited quite frequently and was quite argumentative with devotees, stood up immediately and said, “Swami can you see God?” It was quite challenging and I thought, “Hmm!” Prabhupada shot back, “Yes, you cannot?” Then he looked around the room observing everything in sight and said, “Krishna is everywhere. Why you cannot see?” Prabhupada didn’t need to say anything else. For me, I realized everything in that moment, that Krishna is everywhere. So, if I can’t see Him, I have to start working. I have to do something. He is everywhere. Then Prabhupada said, “Why you cannot see?” There was silence as she remained standing and Prabhupada was staring at her affectionately and said, “Why you cannot see?” She didn’t know what to say. There was silence and more silence as they just looked at each other. Then Prabhupada said, “Do you want to see?” And again, more silence. Then she looked down at her feet and shook her head to indicate “No.” Then Prabhupada said loudly, “Therefore, you cannot see!” I was just stunned at how he dealt with this situation. At first it was a challenge, “Swami can you see God?” Immediately, “Yes, you cannot? Krishna is everywhere. Why you cannot see?” And then, “Do you want to see?” “No.” “Therefore you cannot see!” I almost saw the lightning come out, or whatever energy it was, come out of his finger. When he said that to this lady, she almost crumbled onto the floor. She gave pranams with folded hands. She didn’t want to ask anything else. She had heard what Prabhupada had to teach her. She had heard what she needed to hear from Prabhupada, so she sat down. Prabhupada may have said something more after that, but I don’t remember. I got what I needed from that exchange. It was a massive experience. Prabhupada sometimes could say more in one word, or in a couple of words, than you could read in an entire book of philosophy. That was another thing that I learned about Prabhupada. His way with words, his expertise in not misusing one word or using any words unnecessarily to get his point across was something to marvel. And as with that lady, he even used the silence to speak volumes because there were big pauses between, “Krishna is everywhere” and “Why you cannot see?” And then nothing, silence, silence. It was remarkable. I’d never seen anyone like this before and, of course, never ever will again. [laughs] So I’m glad that I remembered that one because usually if people ask me to tell a Prabhupada memory, that’s the one I start with, the way that lady was humbled.
The year was 1972 and we were in a hall in Glasgow, Scotland, which is where I was born. I left when I was seventeen because it was so heavy, it was rough, and it was violent. I’m sure it had other qualities as well of course, but as a little child, adolescent and an early teenage kid, I wanted to get away from that place. I didn’t enjoy my life in Glasgow as a child. Shortly after becoming a devotee and joining the Hare Krishna Movement, Prabhupada’s mission, we managed to organize a program in Glasgow at which Prabhupada would speak. We rented a big hall and it was a good turnout in Maryhill, Glasgow. This town is well known as one of the roughest parts of what was then a very rough city. The reason we rented the hall there was because there was a big Asian community in that part of Glasgow and also there was a university. We thought that combination could bring a big audience of students, youngsters and also Asians. We were right, as it was a good turnout. Prabhupada gave a very solid talk on Bhagavad-gita as he spoke about fighting, warfare and duty. I had my apprehensions. I thought people there have had enough of fighting. [laughs] Maybe he could be speaking more flowery, like peace and love, sweetness and light. But no, Prabhupada gave a very forceful lecture, which was very well received, contrary to what I was thinking. It was so well received that the audience was applauding heartily. Then it came time for questions and answers. What I remember was a long-haired, bearded hippie, and he didn’t sound very happy at all. He was raving mad from the back of the hall, shouting something Prabhupada could not hear. Prabhupada looked to his servant and said, “I cannot hear. Can you ask him to come forward?” Revatinandana Swami invited this person to come down to the front so that he could express himself to Prabhupada. He came all the way from the back of the hall, all the time just ranting and shouting, “You’re not God. We are all God. Why should I surrender to someone if I’m already God?” I don’t know whether he was stoned, drunk or just unhappy. Prabhupada just sat there listening quietly, and eventually the guy finished, and Prabhupada said, “So you’re finished now?” He looked at Prabhupada and said, “Yes.” There was silence, and then Prabhupada said into the microphone pretty quietly, but everyone could hear, “You’re not God. You are dog.” [laughs] Everyone immediately began to cheer and applaud. It was a relief. It was almost like Prabhupada had switched a relief valve. There was tension and now there was relief. But that wasn’t all. Prabhupada kindly engaged with him in a dialogue. He asked him, “Do you know what is God?” The guy said, “I think so, sometimes.” He said, “Yes.” Prabhupada said, “God means controller. Are you a controller?” He looked at Prabhupada and said, “Well, sometimes.” Prabhupada said, “Yes, sometimes in the office you are controller. At home you are controlled, but God is always controller. When you come across that person who is in absolute control, that is God.” He gave this person some time and some understanding, and then the person just turned around and walked all the way to the back of the hall. He seemed satisfied and the audience was applauding. The way Prabhupada handled that situation was just incredible. First of all, he said, “You’re not God. You are dog.” That could have been just a dismissal, but then Prabhupada explained to him what God meant. When the questions and answers were over, Prabhupada said, “Kirtan.” The devotees, led by Revatinandana, had a big kirtan on the stage. Everyone was dancing, chanting, and they opened all the doors to the hall allowing the streets kids into the hall. Because we were in a rough part of Glasgow, some of these kids were also very rough and looking to cause some trouble. Some of them made their way down to the stage and began to chant, mocking the “weird Hare Krishnas.” Some of the devotees, myself included, thought it would be best to get these guys off the stage. Revatinandana came up to Prabhupada and asked, “Prabhupada, should we get these children off the stage?” Prabhupada said, “No, let them dance. They are devotees.” Again, my heart went into my mouth because of the way he said it. I thought, “Prabhupada sees devotees whereas we see a bunch of kids we want to kick off the stage and back outside where they came from.” Prabhupada saw devotees. I felt that. I didn’t understand it, but I thought, “That’s how he sees them. They are devotees.” And he was quite firm, “No.” He said, “Let them dance. They are devotees.” I felt happy that I’d brought Prabhupada to this place that I had left as a teenager. And I was quite proud and honored. I felt I was giving something back to the town of my birth. “Here is a pure devotee of Krishna in return for what I got from you. You have got a pure devotee of Krishna and got his mercy.” And Prabhupada was also happy that day. We only had little bits of oranges as we were very poor, but he handed out the prasadam to everyone there. And I can remember when he left the stage to leave, he rubbed Tribhuvanatha’s head. It was Tribhuvanatha prabhu who had organized the entire program. Prabhupada rubbed him on the head and said, “Thank you very much for this.” Prabhupada told me later in a letter, “I liked that place, Scotland, very much and presently we’re looking for a new temple,” which became Bhaktivedanta Manor. “And hopefully, when I come back to England, then I will be able to come back to Scotland again, but I could not bare the cold, even in August.”
When Prabhupada came to Edinburgh, Scotland, he gave a welcome address. Many people had arrived to find out who was this leader of this still new Hare Krishna Movement. The people of Scotland were quite aghast and shocked by this new movement they couldn’t figure out. Scotland is a very Presbyterian and religious country with a lot of Christian history behind it. At the same time there were a lot of different Eastern groups springing up, such as Transcendental Meditation and the Guru Maharaj Ji. Now the Guru Maharaj Ji people, The Divine Light Mission, had their own ashram across the road with a big poster of Guru Maharaj Ji, staring right at us. It was like a little competition going on between them and us. But I noticed that a lot of their followers had come across the road to hear Prabhupada speak. I also noticed that most of them brought something to offer like a piece of fruit or pints of milk or just something to put next to the altar out of respect. At the end of Prabhupada’s address, he asked, “Are there any questions?” One of the premis, followers of the Guru Maharaj Ji, put his hand up, and asked, “Swami, why must God be philosophy?” Prabhupada looked straight back at him and said very quietly, “Krishna is God and God is great. Philosophy means to know how God is great.” He said it slowly, clearly, and the person who asked the question was happy. He paid his pranams and sat back down. I felt that Prabhupada’s response was like a thunderbolt and yet very quiet and clear because their philosophy is that if you do something, you go into the light by some mechanical way of disappearing and becoming one. This fellow wanted to know in a somewhat aggressive mood why God must be philosophy, but Prabhupada silenced him and he was happy. One other time in Edinburgh, Prabhupada was preparing to go to Glasgow for a press conference. There were a few journalists who had arrived to interview Prabhupada, but they didn’t look as though they were all that interested. They came with their notebooks and pens and pencils as they sat around a little makeshift table. Prabhupada sat at the head of the table and the journalists all sat looking at Prabhupada and looking at each other because they didn’t seem to know what to say. It was very quiet for a press conference. They did ask questions about the marking on his forehead and so forth, and in fact, when one of them asked a question like that, Prabhupada said, “What newspaper are you from?” He said, “From the Observer.” Prabhupada shot back, “So why haven’t you observed? Why don’t you know these things?” Then Prabhupada started controlling the conversation rather than answering the journalists’ inane questions. He said, “So this Edinburgh is called Festival City. Every year thousands of tourists?” “Yes, yes Swami.” “And you have two universities, not only one but two universities?” “Yes, yes.” “Very prestigious city you have.” So now he had them by softening them up. Sweetening them up almost. Then Prabhupada dropped a bombshell. He then asked, “So why your children are all becoming hippies and taking LSD?” [laughs] This was like a bombshell because that was the last thing they were expecting from this peaceful guru type swami figure. In fact, one or two of them, who appeared to have taken offense by his last question to them, got up and left as if they thought, “Oh, how can you speak like this?” The press conference didn’t last all that much longer with only a few small inquiries. They were from the lower end of the newspaper world, the Sun, the Mirror and the Daily Record, which are not the broadsheets or the higher-class papers. Upon reflection of that occasion, it shocked me when he said that about the children, “Why your children are becoming hippies and taking LSD? You’ve got such a nice city here, everything, two universities, all these tourists.” He also commented that the people of Edinburgh are very proud of their buildings because it is a very beautiful city with the Georgian buildings. [laughs]
I was always astonished at how relaxed Prabhupada seemed, no matter where he was. He absolutely knew that Krishna was guiding him at every moment.