Nischintya das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Nischintya: I joined the Chicago temple just before Janmastami and Vyasa-puja in 1972. The devotees had just buzzed me up and we were all piling in a van to go to the big festival in New Vrindavan. You were a new devotee. You were ecstatic, Prabhupada’s coming. When Srila Prabhupada pulled up in the car and got out, in every molecule of my body I could feel that I had been traveling all over the material universe—the higher planets, the middle planets, the lower planets—for millions and millions of lifetimes. It wasn’t theoretical. I felt it. And there he was, the person who was my ticket out. My sojourn in the material world was over. I was in complete ecstasy. My hairs were standing on end and I was crying like anything. I can’t even remember if I paid my obeisances. I was so stunned and bowled over by a great feeling of relief. All I had to do was follow Srila Prabhupada and everything would be taken care of.

The pujari in Hawaii had put banana leaves, mounds of tulasi and flowers on the altar and when Srila Prabhupada began his lecture, he commented on how beautiful the Deities were and how the pujari had done a wonderful job. Prabhupada said, “You must decorate the Deities very nicely. By decorating the Deities, you are decorating your heart.” Everyone was ecstatic. Then in a grave voice Prabhupada said, “If you neglect decorating the Deities, you will neglect decorating your heart. Then your heart will become black. And that is why so many have left.” At that point, everybody got nervous.

I arrived in Hawaii in March, around Gaur-purnima time, and Srila Prabhupada was coming in May. I immediately started to learn everything I could about Hawaii because Prabhupada would regularly ask devotees questions about the place he was visiting. I learned about Hawaii’s history, the hotels, the beaches—you name it, I knew it. I thought that on a walk with Prabhupada one day I’d be able to answer any question he might ask about Hawaii. So, on Waikiki Beach I was carefully walking in Srila Prabhupada’s actual footsteps—they were leaving an impression in the sand and I was thinking, “You don’t get an opportunity like this in millions of lifetimes.” And I was also thinking, “Prabhupada’s going to ask a question, I’m going to know the answer. I’m going to be the man.” Suddenly Srila Prabhupada stopped, turned and looked right at me. He was very close. He pointed and said, “What is that?” I looked over, and I had no idea what it was. I was shaking. I felt about one inch tall. I was on the hellish planets and my entire life was ruined. And in the distance, I heard somebody say, “Prabhupada, that’s a device that measures how far a person has walked.” Prabhupada was still looking at me and he said, “So, they should make a device that tells how far death is, but that they cannot do.” Then he turned around and kept walking. I recovered a little, my pride had been completely eliminated, and I was ecstatic thinking of Prabhupada’s mystic power. He knew I’d learned all about Hawaii. I wanted him to ask a question, and I wanted to impress him. I understood that you don’t show off to your spiritual master. Besides his mystic power, I was also impressed with the philosophy and teachings Prabhupada gave, and his sense of humor. I had been chastised but it was humorous. And at the same time, he instructed all the devotees that you can’t measure how far away death is.

Prabhupada said that the person dressing the Lord and the person cleaning the Lord’s temple are equal in the eyes of the Lord. He said one shouldn’t think that because he’s dressing the Deity or because he’s a manager, he’s more important than the person who is washing the pots or cleaning the temple. Prabhupada said, “The dresser and the cleanser, they are the same. We are all serving Krishna, and Krishna sees every devotee’s service equally.”

In Hawaii, Prabhupada told Sudama Maharaj that the devotees could maintain their health by going swimming every day in the ocean, and Sudama Maharaj thought that the devotees wouldn’t just take a dip and come out, but they’d go swimming all day. Sudama Maharaj said, “Prabhupada, no, no, no!” So Prabhupada said, “Okay, but at least once a week they must go swimming.” So, it was very pleasant and joyful in Hawaii. But Prabhupada regularly reminded us that even though we were in a heavenly place, we were still in the material world, and that we needed to pay attention to our service and not get distracted by heavenly pleasures.

Paramahamsa Swami let me put the garland on Prabhupada and knowing that no one was assigned to do it, I made sure that I regularly garlanded Prabhupada. Nobody said anything to stop me. Then a devotee told me an ecstatic story about how he ground sandalwood paste and added camphor to make it cooling and saffron to make it a nice orange color, and how he dabbed it on Srila Prabhupada’s forehead. So I proudly thought, “I’m going to put the sandalwood paste on Prabhupada too.” I diligently ground it up, made it the right consistency so it wouldn’t drip and put in the right amount of camphor, but when I put it on Prabhupada, Prabhupada got a cross look on his face. I understood that it was supposed to be put on his temples more than his forehead. I was shaking, but somehow or other I got it on Prabhupada’s temples. I paid my obeisances, and I was thinking again, “My pride has been squished, I am on the hellish planets,” but as I got up I was in ecstasy because I had been chastised by my spiritual master. That was mercy too. Praise was mercy, and chastisement was mercy also. My pride had been curbed and I was in ecstasy that I had been chastised, although ordinarily I never become ecstatic if I’m chastised. So, it was instructive, and it was sweet.

Either because I was the sankirtan leader or because I had distributed more books than anybody else, I was going to get to bathe Srila Prabhupada’s feet. Prabhupada’s feet were swollen, and I could feel that Prabhupada had gone through so much. It wasn’t like he was touring around the world enjoying. Prabhupada was giving his life so that we would have life in Krishna consciousness. When I was bathing his feet, I was in ecstasy and somebody behind me said, “Hurry up, hurry up!” Then I got nervous and hurried. After that, anytime anybody said anything, I was oblivious to whatever they said. I thought, “You will get this close to Prabhupada only once, twice, three times in your lifetime. Just get this mercy and forget what anybody says.” Once I had made the sandalwood paste and was ready to put it on Prabhupada when Tamal Krishna Goswami took it from me and put it on Prabhupada. I thought, “Who does he think he is? I made that paste.” The next day I had a big chadar on and I hid the sandalwood paste and flower underneath it. Tamal looked all over for the sandalwood paste, and finally he gave up, offered Prabhupada a flower and paid his obeisances. Foom! My chadar went off and I put the sandalwood paste on Prabhupada. Prabhupada smiled. I think he knew what I did. We became transcendental rascals to get Prabhupada’s mercy. I was attached to that chadar because while we were in India at Haridas Thakur’s bhajan-kutir, Gurudas said, “Prabhupada needs something to sit on,” and that chadar came off, “Here.” Later Gurudas gave it back to me and I thought, “Prabhupada sat on this chadar.” On that day, Prabhupada gave the lecture in an Indian language, and we had no clue as to what he was saying. But I sat at his feet, looked at his feet and at him talking, and thought, “I’m getting purified even though I don’t understand anything he is saying.” That was also very sweet. Usually in India I didn’t get that close to Prabhupada. But that time, I was able to get close and do some personal service. In Hawaii, it was more intimate, you could get close, and you could pull tricks like hiding the sandalwood paste from Tamal Krishna Goswami to put it on Prabhupada yourself.

I was the sankirtan leader and I was supposed to keep the book room in order, but I’m a sloppy person. I knew where the books were, but there were empty boxes and other things around. It was messy. Then one day we heard that Prabhupada was inspecting the temple. I thought, “Oh, no!” and I ran to the book room. I stacked books up, busted boxes up, threw stuff in the trash, and then swept. I had just finished sweeping when Prabhupada came to the door and looked at me. I didn’t pay my obeisances. I was frozen. Prabhupada asked, “What is it?” And Srutakirti said, “This is the book room, Srila Prabhupada.” Then Prabhupada looked at me, and this time there was eye contact. I understood that Prabhupada knew that I had just cleaned that book room and that it was regularly messy, and that his book room should not be a mess. After that I resolved that the book room would always be clean and organized so that if Prabhupada was going on a walk, I’d be all right, I could walk with him and not have to run to the book room.

There’s only one question you should ask the spiritual master, and that’s “How may I serve you?” I thought I already knew how I was supposed to serve Prabhupada—by distributing his books, taking care of the temple, cleaning, cooking. But when I saw Ganesh worship on Gurukripa Swami’s party in Chicago, I wanted to do Ganesh worship too. I told the sankirtan devotees in Hawaii, “They’re collecting so much money there by doing Ganesh puja.” The sankirtan devotees got into it but when the temple president found out, he told us to stop. We didn’t listen. Then the GBC got involved. We said, “Oh, who’s the GBC? He doesn’t know anything. The Swami is doing it.” So, the first question I asked Srila Prabhupada was if I could do Ganesh puja. I didn’t say anything about money. I said that The Nectar of Devotion mentions Ganesh worship. All the sankirtan devotees signed the letter and Prabhupada wrote back, “My dear sons, please accept my blessings.” When we were sitting around reading it, we thought, “That’s it. Our lives are perfect. Prabhupada has given us his blessings.” Then Prabhupada wrote, “Krishna says just to worship Him, and you’re proposing to worship a demigod. Why is this? Krishna says you’re less intelligent if you do this.” We wouldn’t have taken that from anyone, but we were in ecstasy when Prabhupada told us that. Prabhupada went on to say, “But still if you are attached to worshipping Ganesh for huge amounts of laxmi” . . . and then penciled in—“to serve Krishna—then you please send me one hundred thousand dollars a month and not a single farthing less.” That was a very nice instruction. We stopped our Ganesh puja and went on sankirtan. Nobody else could have told us that, but when Prabhupada told us we were in ecstasy.

Prabhupada had a unique ability to chastise people or point out their folly or their lowness. The way he said it, you didn’t take any offense, you felt, “Oh, okay.” Once Prabhupada was walking in Hawaii, and he said that because the people there ate so many pigs they looked like pigs. Some Hawaiians heard Prabhupada say that and they wanted to talk to him about it. Prabhupada explained to them how they’re a soul, how they’re not their body but that there are different kinds of bodies and the bodies look different, and as he talked to them they became happy. They realized Prabhupada wasn’t offensive. They were enveloped in Prabhupada’s love and his spiritual instructions. We were thinking, “Only Prabhupada can do things like that. If we said anything like that, there would be a riot.”

Both times he was in Hawaii, Prabhupada talked about surfers. He said, “You say surfer, I say sufferer.” Every devotee who was a surfer told me Prabhupada looked right at him when he said it. I laughed at that because there were so many surfer devotees. But they all say that Prabhupada looked right at them when he said, “You say surfer, and I say sufferer.”

The devotees used to have a farm on the big island. Prabhupada asked them, “What grows here easily?” They said, “Prabhupada, we can grow cauliflower and broccoli” and they started telling him all the things they could grow. Prabhupada said, “No, no. What grows without any work?” The devotees said, “Well, corn and guavas, Prabhupada.” Prabhupada said, “Very good. We will have guava juice prasadam for breakfast, corn chapatis for lunch, business finished. The rest of the time chant Hare Krishna.” I don’t think the devotees thought they could do that. Another time Prabhupada told the devotees that dabs were very healthy and that you could actually live on two dabs a day. I don’t think anybody tried to do that either. But it was fun because Prabhupada made comments that were instructive and applied to being right there. When the geckos made their clicking sound, Prabhupada said, “When you hear this, you know the truth is being spoken.” In Hawaii we got all kinds of goodies like that, little things that we thought were special to Hawaii and the devotees there.

Prabhupada finished the Fifth and Seventh Cantos of the Srimad Bhagavatam in Hawaii, and he started the Sixth and Eighth Cantos there. At the end of the Seventh Canto, he wrote, “Completed on the night of Vaisakhi Sukla Ekadasi, the tenth of May, 1976 in the temple of the Pancatattva, New Navadvipa (Honolulu) by the mercy of sri-krsna-caitanya prabhu nityananda sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda. Thus we may happily chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” In the beginning of the Eighth Canto, he writes about how he has faithfully tried to publish these books on the order of his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, and he asked all the devotees to help him continue to publish more and more volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam. That was written in Hawaii, and we proudly thought, “Prabhupada translates here more than anywhere else in the world. Prabhupada loves coming to Hawaii.” Prabhupada would make us feel very special in Hawaii. I think he really did like Hawaii and the devotees reciprocated with that mood. We would do whatever we could to make it special for Prabhupada.

Once Prabhupada was talking about the regulative principles, because the devotees in Hawaii were notorious for falling down. They used to call it a sannyasi graveyard. Prabhupada said that Hawaii was perfect for spiritual life and he said, “also for material life.” Prabhupada would push home this point on a regular basis. Devotees were telling him that some people were chanting but not following the regulative principles. He said, “They may have to chant for 700 lifetimes before they can follow the regulative principles.” I thought, “I don’t want to do that. I better get serious.” As much as we were in ecstasy serving Srila Prabhupada, we were still very immature young people and there were always disagreements, fights, and craziness. When he got to a temple, Prabhupada would ask, “Is everything okay?” or “Is everything all right?” and when Prabhupada asked that, immediately our craziness dissipated. Even if we’d just been in a big fight or the temple commander was on our case, anything we’d been through, it was completely gone, and “Yeah, everything’s all right, everything’s okay.” Prabhupada actually meant it. He was concerned and he wanted to know that we were all right. Prabhupada really cared about us. He loved us and he appreciated what we were doing for him. You could feel his love. And when he said, “Is everything all right?”—it was all right.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 29 - Hrdayananda Goswami, Tamal Krsna Goswami, Nischintya, Jahnava dasi

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