The first darshan I ever attended with Srila Prabhupada was in 1976 when I was the temple president in Miami. I had a little photographic book to show Prabhupada what we were doing at the temple. The photos consisted of ponds, swans and flower gardens. Prabhupada opened the book, and he very carefully leafed through the book looking at all the different pictures, and then he said to me, “So, you like to preach?” I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada. I like preaching very much.” Prabhupada said, “So you develop this beautiful tropical paradise and people will be attracted by the natural beauty of nature. And in that situation of being immersed in the beauty of Krishna’s external energy, they will open their hearts.” Then he said, “This is the perfect opportunity to enlighten them about spirituality and begin their spiritual life.” We did that in Miami, and then in time I was asked to come to Hawaii and develop projects there. Tour buses eventually came by just to see the property, and people would say, “Wow! Why did you develop this beautiful place? How did this happen?” I would tell them, “Well, the instruction of my spiritual master is to develop this beautiful tropical paradise.” And then I would tell them what the real source of all this beauty is and thus plant the seed of Krishna consciousness. Then I would give them one of Srila Prabhupada’s books and send them on their way, praying that their spiritual life would now begin.
When Srila Prabhupada was visiting us in Miami and he was exiting the temple room, Prabhupada decided to go out the side exit that took him through the Tulasi room. At that time we had many Tulasi plants in big wooden pots underneath ultraviolet lights, and when Prabhupada stopped to look at Tulasi, with a beautiful smile he put his hands up in the air and said, “This is very nice.” His comment invoked within my heart a great appreciation for Prabhupada for recognizing and being happy with my service. But even more, it deepened my relationship with Tulasi devi, and since that time and to this very day, I take great joy and great pride in serving Srimati Tulasi because she is the mother of devotion.
I was a very young devotee at the very first festival that we had in Mayapur in 1974 since I had only been a devotee for one year. As Srila Prabhupada walked from greeting the Deities down the aisle of devotees back to his vyasasan, I saw devotees touching his feet as he went by. As he got closer and closer, I closed my eyes and I grabbed his feet. They were the softest, most wonderful feeling my hands had ever felt. All of a sudden it crossed my mind, “Wait a minute. I am holding his feet. I’m stopping Prabhupada from moving.” My heart started going really fast. I pulled my hands back and I looked up sheepishly as I saw Prabhupada smiling at me just like the moon was smiling. It was such an expression of love and I understood that Srila Prabhupada recognized what a neophyte I was. I didn’t mean any harm, but to encourage me, he gave me such a smile of love that really deepened my relationship with him.
When I was in a darshan with Srila Prabhupada in Potomac, Maryland, in 1976, I was showing Srila Prabhupada pictures of our temple in Miami. Prabhupada asked me an unusual question I never expected him to ask. He said, “How many rooms are in the temple?” Foolishly, without thinking, I have no idea where it came from—I just blurted out, “Thirteen rooms, Srila Prabhupada.” I said it very authoritatively without actually knowing the exact amount. Prabhupada nodded, and when I went back to the temple, I went through with a little notebook noting down how many rooms were actually there. I included all the rooms I could think of: a laundry room, a bedroom, a closet, this that and the other, and it ended up there were exactly thirteen rooms. I suppose my realization was that when I blurted out, “Thirteen,” it had come from Supersoul. But the spiritual master and Supersoul are really in a sense one and the same. jive saksat nahi tate guru caittya-rupe siksa-guru haya krsna-mahanta-svarupe [Cc. Adi 1.58] Because we can’t see Supersoul within, He comes externally as the guru. So as a team, Prabhupada asked the question, and then guru within, Supersoul, told me how many rooms there were. It was just a great realization how in touch Prabhupada is with Supersoul and how they work together.
I often hear devotees saying that, “Geez, I hope I am going to make it. I’m not sure if I am going to go back to Godhead in this lifetime.” I often ask a question, “Well, do you chant sixteen rounds?” “Yes.” “Do you follow the principles?” “Yes.” “Are you doing some service?” “Yes.” “Are you staying in the association of devotees?” That’s when I remember back when Srila Prabhupada came to the temple in Maryland. I had the honor of being there, and at the end of the class Prabhupada said, “Simply chant your rounds, follow the four regulative principles, and at the end of this life you’ll go back home, back to Godhead.” I remember that so clearly in my mind. I can literally see Prabhupada right now and those words just coming out of his lotus mouth, and I always share that with devotees. We can take Prabhupada at his word. Prabhupada wasn’t exaggerating. Prabhupada wasn’t bluffing. If we simply follow his basic instructions, Prabhupada told us we are going to go back to home, back to Godhead at the end of this life. So if we do that, it is a simple process. If we simply follow his instructions, then we can be assured because Prabhupada told us that we will attain all perfection and go back to the lotus feet of Krishna.
To share this realization I need to explain something from my past. When I was fifteen years old, a police officer knocked on our door, and he came in and informed us that my father had died untimely in an accident at our summer home. There was an explosion. One moment he was there and one moment he was gone. Everyone in my family was devastated and everyone was crying and crying. But for some reason days went by and I hadn’t cried. Even at the funeral everyone was obviously crying, but I didn’t. But as we were leaving the funeral and driving in the limousine, all of a sudden the tears just flowed like rivers out of my eyes. Now in 1977 when Srila Prabhupada left us, I was the temple president, and when we got notice that Srila Prabhupada had left us, I called all the devotees into the temple room and had a kirtan. All the devotees were crying and crying. But for some reason tears never came to my eyes. I thought, “Well, okay it’s going to come,” because I recalled the experience of my father leaving when I was a child and how it took a while before I could physically express my emotions. I rationalized that because Prabhupada is the ultimate father, I knew the tears would eventually come out. But days went by and I was waiting. The tears never came. Years went by, decades went by, and I am wondering, “Why no tears?” My conclusion is that probably two things are going on; one is just my lack of love for Srila Prabhupada as a neophyte. But perhaps, and I hope this is true, that unlike my material father, Prabhupada has never left us. And as I chant my japa in the morning and as I struggle to follow very strictly the principles, I am feeling that Prabhupada is always with me. There is not a moment in my life I don’t feel Prabhupada’s presence. So my realization is that Prabhupada never ever left and he is always with us, and that’s wonderful.