Madhusudana das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Madhusudana: At one point early on, Prabhupada was recuperating from a stroke. We heard that if he spoke too much, he would get tired and it would be bad for his health. We were concerned, so I wrote him a letter asking him not to speak much. I didn’t want him to get tired. He wrote back saying, “My dear boy, if I would not speak how would you come?” His mission was to preach. How ridiculous it was for an 18-year-old boy, who didn’t know much, to instruct him that way. But he also wrote, “I am taking help and precaution from Gaurasundar and Govinda dasi.” So he lightened the blow. He was being careful, but he didn’t need my advice.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 15 - The 1996 NYC and LA Reunions

Interview 02

Madhusudana: I had been involved in drug-taking, and my parents thought the Hare Krishna movement was another drug-taking cult. When they met Prabhupada he convinced them that wasn’t the case. After that, Prabhupada would often ask me how my parents were, and once he said, “You are the father of your father. The father means one who gives birth to life and you are giving birth to spiritual life. So actually, you are the real father.”

When I was 18 I was getting acne, and Srila Prabhupada asked me, “What is on your face?” I said, “They’re pimples, Prabhupada.” He said, “You should put a little tilak on them.” So I put tilak spots on my face, but I was too embarrassed to walk on the streets with white dots on my face. The next time he saw me he asked me about my pimples again and why wasn’t I using the tilak. I said, “I can’t walk around like that, it’s just too . . .” He said, “Take a little olive oil and boric acid and heat them in a spoon over the fire. Put that ointment on.” Sure enough that combination produced a salve that looked just like any ointment. That was his personal, caring side.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 10 - 1995 Prabhupada Festival

Interview 03

Madhusudana: One time I had the opportunity to chant while Prabhupada was present in a kirtan. Sometimes he would have devotees chanting kirtan rather than him doing it in the early days. I was always trying to be humble in whatever way I thought was humble. I was chanting not very loudly in order not to put myself forward as some great kirtan leader. Prabhupada shouted at me, “Chant loudly”. Over the years Prabhupada would say very clearly that boldly preaching was an act of humility, because it was the positive portion of humility. So if you preached loudly, then that took care of humility.

One time I was in the temple room after prasadam. In the early days devotees would take prasadam, which was cooked upstairs in Prabhupada’s apartment, and then brought downstairs for the devotees to eat in the temple. We had these grass mats that we’d lay out for this cacophony of plates that were purchased at thrift stores and so nothing matched. The plates had to be washed afterwards but they were all in the sink. I was in the temple alone either chanting japa or reading when Prabhupada came in. I offered my obeisances and then he saw in the sink all the dirty dishes and he said, “Why aren’t these dishes done?” I didn’t know what to say, but I could see Prabhupada thought, “Well if no one’s going to do it, then I’ll do it.” Naturally I got with the program and washed the dishes but Prabhupada was prepared to wash them himself.

I remember as a child lying in bed in the dark and thinking what it was like to die and imagining myself in a coffin, thinking I was dead. I got so scared because it was so frightening. I always had this image somewhere in my psyche about being afraid of death and probably that helped me to eventually come to Krishna consciousness. I used that thinking on my parents and asked my mother, “Aren’t you afraid of death?” My mother said, “No, I’m not afraid of dying.” That really confused me. How could anybody admit that they weren’t afraid of dying? So after one lecture where Prabhupada had been speaking about death and the fear of death, I said, “Prabhupada, I asked my mother about that and she said, ‘No, that she’s not afraid of death.’” Prabhupada said, “They may say they’re not afraid of death, but you give somebody a gun and say, ‘Okay, go ahead.’” Actually it is easy to say, but everyone is afraid of death. In my mother’s later years she was very receptive to Krishna consciousness and she would express that she was always fearful when going on a plane. When you get down to it, everyone is afraid of dying.

One time I wrote a letter to Prabhupada about an honest but embarrassing question I had. Basically I was pretty obsessed with sex life early on in my life and I was wondering if Krishna had genitals. I would see His picture and His body, and thus have this embarrassing thought. But I had to get this off my chest because I was just inquisitive. I was always very inquisitive. Prabhupada one time thanked me for my inquisitiveness in a letter in which I had asked ten questions. So I wrote a letter to Prabhupada and I asked him, “Please forgive me for this outrageous question, but does Krishna have genitals?” He wrote back and said, “No, it is not an outrageous question. Any sincere question is welcome.” He said, “Yes, Krishna has genitals. If we have got genitals then Krishna has got genitals, but His genitals are not like ours. He does not need His genitals to impregnate. He can impregnate with any part of His body. He can impregnate with His eyes and so on.” He was explaining as aspiring devotees we should be starting at the feet of Krishna just like we start at the beginning of the Bhagavatam, which is the feet of Krishna and we don’t go on until we’ve progressed. I was happy with his answer and realized I was trying to understand something more than I was actually qualified to understand.

I was going to get brahminical initiation in Boston along with four or five other devotees. We were sitting around the fire and there happened to be a professor of Sanskrit or Indology sitting behind us. The grains were being passed around as everybody was throwing grains in the fire whether they were being initiated or not. To be polite I turned around and offered the professor some grains and Prabhupada shouted at me that felt like a thunderbolt. “What are you doing? Don’t do that.” I don’t remember what else he said but it was clear. It was a thunderbolt. I had no idea at the time but I kept on questioning year after year what happened there? To this day it’s a matter of interpretation. My guess was that this person was really Prabhupada’s equal, not my equal. I was just a minor little brahmachari way out of the league of this man at least etiquette wise and Prabhupada wasn’t. So if the grains were to be offered to the professor, it was to be done by Srila Prabhupada and not by me.

In the early days of the movement in New York City, the devotees would sometimes go without their shirts when it got hot and humid. I was trying to be a good devotee so I asked Prabhupada, “Is it alright to go without a shirt?” He replied, “No, you should put yourself at the mercy of the sun.” That was very interesting, since this was way back in 1967 when there wasn’t really that kind of knowledge about how detrimental is the sun.

One thing that really impressed me was when Prabhupada got a stroke early on and not too long after I joined in 1967. He was in the hospital in Manhattan and the devotees just didn’t know what to do. Everybody was certainly very scared. One side of Prabhupada’s body was paralyzed. His lip was drooping on that side and his arm was paralyzed so he was having devotees massage that side of his body. I got a chance to massage his arm and they were feeding him vegetarian food that was just boiled or steamed vegetables. He really didn’t like that and he would try to spice it up with some salt and pepper but he wasn’t satisfied. Eventually, I believe that Brahmananda at one point snuck him out of the hospital because they didn’t want him to leave. I remember after a bit he came into the temple and he was very weak walking slowly with a cane. He walked up to a picture of his spiritual master Bhaktisiddhanta and slowly got down on his knees and down to full dandavats. It was just very impressive to see the kind of devotion he had even while he was so sick.

I think what really impressed me about Prabhupada was his infallibility. When I first met Prabhupada in New York I would hear challenging questions from people I would think, “Uh-oh, how is he going to be able to answer that one?” and sure enough, Prabhupada answered every question perfectly. I never saw Prabhupada defeated.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 48 - Balai dd, Hamsavatar, Jaya Gauranga, Kusa dd, Madhusudan, Naranarayan

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

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 01

Madhusudana: The devotees had seen in second volume of Prabhupada’s Bhagavatam, there was a verse and a purport. In the purport, it was written in verse form, it was names of Krishna. He Krishna Govinda Hari Murari, He Natha Narayana Vasudeva. In the purport, Prabhupada was explaining that Krishna is all of those in one. So we thought this was a mantra of some kind and they were obviously names of Krishna, so we started chanting it. We put it to music, of course, with all the various instruments, and we were singing it. It was kind of like a hootenanny. We were really having a ball chanting this new…because this was at the beginning when there were not very many mantras other than Hare Krishna. So we were singing this and having a great time. When Prabhupada arrived, we all bowed down and paid obeisances and he got on the vyasasana and he spoke to us and said, “Oh, who has given you this mantra?” Somebody said, “Oh, we saw this in your Bhagavatam, Prabhupada.” He said, “This should not be chanted.” He said, “This is not bona fide.” And we were just…talk about thunderstruck! We were so bewildered. He proceeded to explain. He said that “Even they are names of Krishna, unless the mantra is given by the disciplic succession it shouldn’t be chanted, even though they are names of Krishna.” And there’s a verse like that saying that it has to come from the sampradaya. So right after that, then he said, “Oh, so you want another mantra to chant?” And everybody just spontaneously said, “Yes!” and everybody kind of cheered. So he started singing jaya sri-krsna-caitanya prabhu nityananda, sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda, and then he introduced it in kirtan.