Pradyumna das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Pradyumna: I arrived in New York around midnight and walked through the Lower East Side to 26 Second Avenue. After I repeatedly knocked on the door, someone finally let me in. The place was packed with brahmacharis sleeping on the floor, and I couldn’t get to sleep very well. At about two or three o’clock I figured, “Swamiji must be up. I’ll get up and see him since I can’t sleep anyway.” I tiptoed over, opened the door, went through the garden, up the stairs to Prabhupada’s apartment, and knocked. A voice said, “Who is there?” I said, “It’s Paul from Montreal.” He said, “Oh.” I had already written two or three letters to Swamiji. Swamiji opened the door and said, “Come in,” and I went into his room. Prabhupada lived very simply. He had a metal trunk from India with a cloth over it and a couple of books on it. He sat on a blanket behind the trunk. He said, “How are things in Montreal?” In this way he talked with me, and at that time I did my first personal service, which was weighing Prabhupada’s correspondence. He had a small scale that you held up to see how much it would cost to send the letter. Prabhupada said, “Hold it up. How many cents will this letter go for?”

After a while I said, “When I came, I thought you’d be up at three o’clock.” He said, “I got up at one this morning. I am up since one, working.” At that first meeting with Prabhupada I asked if I could be initiated, and he said, “Oh yes, we can initiate you tomorrow or the next day.”

I began to learn Sanskrit on my own. In the Montreal temple, three Indian gentlemen used to pay a little money and then take their prasadam with us, and every time they came I would ask them about the Devanagari letters. One of them brought a little grammar book for me, and I began to learn Devanagari. When Prabhupada got sick in the summer of 1967, he was to go back to India, and everyone went to see him in New York. At that time, Achyutananda and I were poking around in a bookstore in New York and we found a book called Sri Brahma-samhita. It had a picture of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta in the front and was published by Bhakti Vilasa Tirtha of the Chaitanya Math. I thought, “This looks like the same teachings.” We purchased it and went back to 26 2nd Avenue. Prabhupada was weak and was sitting in his room most of the time. Devotees were letting him rest, but we went in, paid our obeisances, and gave him this book. I said, “We found this in the bookstore; is it bona fide?” Prabhupada opened it and said, “Ah, my Guru Maharaj.” I said, “Prabhupada, is it bona fide?” He said, “I knew this book, Brahma-samhita, by heart. It was done especially by my Guru Maharaj.” We said, “Can we read it?” He said, “Oh yes, it’s a very good book to read.” That particular edition of Brahma-samhita had the Sanskrit in Devanagari characters, then the translation, and then the purport in English. But it had no transliteration. Later during that summer, devotees were singing the Govindam prayers, but it was sometimes hard to hear the words. When the Govindam tapes were released, I thought, “I have this Brahma-samhita, maybe I can learn the characters, maybe I can transliterate this.” So I began to transliterate and I sent about half of the Brahma-samhita transliterations to Prabhupada. Prabhupada wrote back an extraordinary letter saying, “This is wonderful. I’ll make copies of this for all our devotees to use. Please complete doing this. You can do a great service for the Society if you do more work like this.” That was the beginning.

After I learned enough Sanskrit transliteration, Prabhupada gave me the manuscript of the Second Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam to edit. It was the original version that he had typed himself, and it had some of his corrections on it. It was quite a valuable thing, but he said, “Here, take this manuscript and edit it.” At that time a lot of people were editing Prabhupada’s books when they first came into Montreal. Kirtanananda had a copy of the Gita manuscript, Hayagriva had something else, and Rayarama had something else. These were the early days of ISKCON—1967, ’68. Anyway, he gave me the original Second Canto manuscript, and I began, in that way, doing some English and Sanskrit editing. Then Prabhupada began translating the Third Canto in tape form. He would send the audiotapes to Satsvarupa, and I was living with Satsvarupa and his wife Jadurani in the Boston temple. To help with the book production, Prabhupada asked me to do the transliteration of the verses of the Third Canto. He would send us pages from the Gita Press edition of the Srimad Bhagavatam which had the English translation and the Sanskrit. I would transliterate these and type them out.

Hayagriva went to work as an English professor at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Prabhupada wrote and said, “Start a center there and take Pradyumna das brahmachari with you.” So Hayagriva and I shared an apartment in Columbus, and we started something called the OSU Yoga Society, which became successful with a lot of student participation. Gradually I rented a house in Columbus, which we turned into a center, and invited Prabhupada to come. He came in May of 1969. At that time, Allen Ginsberg used to lecture and recite his poetry at universities all over the country. Before the poetry recitation, he’d always chant Hare Krishna for twenty minutes or so. Hayagriva was quite friendly with Allen, so Hayagriva wrote to him, “Will you consider coming to Columbus and doing a joint program with Swami Bhaktivedanta?” Allen agreed, and in May we had a huge event at Ohio State University with the poet and the Swami. We put big posters up all over with a picture of Ginsberg on one side and Prabhupada on the other, and we rented the biggest auditorium at the university. A massive crowd came. The event was very successful. When Prabhupada got up on the stage to dance, the entire audience got up and danced. It was the most wonderful sight I’ve ever seen. It was completely spontaneous.

As soon as I was married, my wife and I went to see Prabhupada. When someone was married, Prabhupada generally said, “Well, now that you’re married, what’s your service going to be?” Immediately he gave us a very heavy service. He said, “We’re having ISKCON Press in New York, and we need a word processor for my books. You find out about an IBM word processor that can do Sanskrit diacritic marks. Please ask how much it will cost, and then, since you are working, pay for it.” I made inquiries, and we purchased a top-of-the-line IBM word processor. When it was delivered Prabhupada said, “So, your wife will type. We will send tapes, she will word process, you will edit, and New York will print.” The first book was The Nectar of Devotion. We had this word processor in our bedroom. I went out to work in the day, and she would be typing away at The Nectar of Devotion. I’d edit it, and we’d send it to New York. We had this mail traffic between New York and Columbus. Then we started Isopanishad, and we were doing Isopanishad back and forth. Then it got to be too much because the Press moved to Boston in the fall of 1969. We were told, “You have to come to where the Press is.” I was president of the Columbus temple at that time, but I gave that up December 11, 1969, when we took a plane to Boston with the word processor on our laps. We became a part of the ISKCON Press in Boston. I did some English editing at first, but later I just did the Sanskrit. Sanskrit editing means that I would put the correct diacritic marks on the Sanskrit words, and I would spell them correctly according to the international system. I would also adjust Prabhupada’s grammar in the word-for-word translations. Also, if something was missing, I would send a lot of queries, “What about this, what about that, is this okay?” I had a lot of letters from Prabhupada, “Yes, you can do this. You can do this. Yes, that’s okay.” I also transliterated San- skrit prayers, and when Prabhupada said, “Now we should do a calendar every year,” for ten years or so I did the calendar for ISKCON, the almanac. Prabhupada would send me his almanac and I would translate it and then send it to L.A., where it was printed.

Prabhupada considered phones a nuisance. He never had a phone in his room, although there might have been a phone somewhere in the temple. When Prabhupada picked up the receiver he wouldn’t hold it like we hold phones. He’d hold it like it was a strange object. He commented a few times, “Your phone rings all the time; it’s a nuisance. In India, someone doesn’t call before they come; they just show up at your door, and you say, ‘Ayee, ayee, come in, come in.’” Once we were sitting in Prabhupada’s room in L.A. when he said, “Our Indian philosophy is open door, open window, open mind. This is our philosophy. We do not like to be blocked in.”

Prabhupada always considered that four books—the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, The Nectar of Devotion, and Sri Caitanya-caritamrita—were the necessary books. Outside of that, everything was extra. Once we were in Prabhupada’s room in New York when Radhaballabha asked Prabhupada, “So, after you finish the Bhagavatam, Prabhupada, what books would you like to translate?” Prabhupada said, “Oh, maybe Jiva Goswami’s Sat Sandharbha, or Vedanta-Sutra or Bhagavad-gita. There’re so many.” Someone spoke up, “But Prabhupada, you already did the Bhagavad-gita.” Prabhupada said, “There are so many commentaries. We did a small part.” He said, “Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, everyone has given a Gita commentary. We could do many Gitas, not just one.” So he had a conception like that.

Once Shyamasundar had an idea to invite the crème-de-la-crème to meet Prabhupada and have a series of discussions. So, one old, prominent British gentleman, a major member of the House of Lords, came to Bhaktivedanta Manor. Most commonly, Prabhupada would attack the English for eating meat. He proposed to start a separate society called the Society of Sinless Men. He said, “We know with these English, they’re very good in many respects, but they like to eat meat and they like to drink. That is a problem, but if we can convince them not to sin, we’ll start a Society for Sinless Men, that is my idea.” So when this lord came, Prabhupada greeted him respectfully and said, “How old are you?” The Lord was slightly older than Prabhupada. Prabhupada said, “Where are you from in England?” He said, “Actually I was born in Calcutta.” Prabhupada said, “Oh, what street?” The street he was born on was not very far from where Prabhupada lived. In fact, when Prabhupada was young they were living near each other for a few years. Then Prabhupada launched on the philosophy, on the preaching. He said, “You English have many good qualities, but one thing that we question is, how can you follow the philosophy of Jesus Christ, ‘Do not kill,’ and still kill the poor animals and eat them?” The lord said, “That’s a problem here.” Prabhupada said, “You must be a hypocrite if you do that.” The Lord said, “Well, I’m a vegetarian.” Prabhupada said, “Oh, you’re a vegetarian?” He said, “Yes, I’ve been a vegetarian for many years.” It was funny to see Prabhupada with this English lord who happened to be born in Calcutta around the same time and who was also vegetarian. Then Prabhupada proposed to him, “I have one proposition, I want to start a society called Society for Sinless Men. Please help.”

Once Gaurasundar Prabhu and I were sitting in Prabhupada’s room in Hawaii, and Prabhupada said, “Now you boys both know Bengali. So, why don’t you translate some of the important works of Bhaktivinode Thakura, like Caitanya Siksamrita or Jaiva Dharma?” He considered these important books. Some other books he didn’t consider so important. I used to carry Harinam Chintamani around with me because I liked reading about the offenses. I usually had to lecture about the offenses because I’d do the initiations, and at every initiation Prabhupada would say, “Now, explain the ten offenses.” So I’d recite the ten offenses. One time, Prabhupada was doing a bhajan recording in his room, and I took out a book I had with me. Prabhupada said, “What’s that book?” I said, “Harinam Chintamani.” He said, “Why are you still reading that? That’s not a very important book.” About the offenses, he said, “You’re still learning the offenses? Finish.”

Prabhupada had a few books in his room. He had two editions of Srimad-Bhagavatam, complete with eight commentaries. Originally there was one edition of Srimad-Bhagavatam with eight commentaries that was published in the last century. It’s called the Ashtatika-Bhagavatam. Prabhupada liked that edition. Those tikas, by Sridhar Swami, Viraraghavacharya, Jiva Goswami, Vishvanath Cakravarti Thakura, and so forth, are considered authoritative. That was the Bhagavatam that Prabhupada used for his translation work. Prabhupada also had one other edition of the Bhagavatam with three commentaries, as well as the Mahabharata, the Bhaktirasamritasindhu, and an original Gita published by the Gaudiya Math with Vishvanath Cakravarti Thakura’s commentary. Prabhupada liked Srila Vishvanath Cakravarti Thakura’s commentary on the Gita, and several of them were important in Prabhupada’s own devotional process. One commentary was about obeying the order of the spiritual master, and Srila Prabhupada said that when he read that he realized something about his spiritual master. He said, “This portion of this commentary was very important for him.” But for Bhagavad-gita, he primarily used the commentary of Baladev Vidyabhusan, which is very complete.

Prabhupada said, “The Goswamis never thought about being published. That’s their attitude.” That was a shock to me, but if you look at all the Goswami books, in the beginning there’s a line, “For my friend Sanatana Goswami or Rupa Goswami.” The Goswamis would write for friends, and afterwards their works were sent to Bengal to be copied. That was the way books were published in those days. But in the beginning, they were writing for the pleasure of a few friends. Prabhupada said, “That’s the Goswami ideal. They weren’t thinking, ‘I’m an author, I’ve been published.’”

There was a group in L.A. that called themselves the Gopi Bhava Club. I thought they had a disrespectful attitude toward the Bhagavad-gita, so I mentioned to Prabhupada, “In L.A. some people said to me that this Gita with Krishna and Arjuna is lower. They have no taste for that. These people say, ‘We’re interested in Krishna and the gopis, the higher thing.’” Prabhupada said, “Who says this? Bring them here immediately, whoever says this. What are their names?” So they were brought into Prabhupada’s room. Prabhupada said, “So you’re interested in gopi things?” “Yes.” Some discussion went on, and then someone said, “Isn’t it true that in Goloka Vrindavan, the position of the gopis is the highest? The gopis are higher than a cow, for instance, or a blade of grass.” Prabhupada said, “No! No difference, no difference.” I replied, “But, Prabhupada, between a gopi and a cow?” He repeated, “No difference. For you, no difference.” It was like a lightning bolt. Prabhupada was absolutely adamant, absolutely fierce. He insisted, “For you, no difference.” Philosophically, when you actually have the perception of what is transcendental, you may make distinctions. But from the material platform, you can make no distinctions whatsoever about the transcendental realm. If you do make a distinction, you make it on a material basis, not a spiritual one. Because neophytes were making a distinction, they were deviating. They were way off the track. There’s no distinction up to a point, and that point is when you have some personal revelation. So, when questions came at that level, from people who were not at the right level, Prabhupada got very angry about it.

Once Prabhupada’s Guru Maharaj was lecturing in Bombay. Prabhupada told us, “I was listening attentively when an old, respectable gentleman next to me leaned over to me to ask what Guru Maharaj had said. I leaned over to answer him, and immediately Guru Maharaj chastised me for not paying attention, for speaking while he was speaking. Guru Maharaj was so strict.” Prabhupada explained, “Even though the old man was very respectful and wanted to hear, I should not have done that in front of my Guru. That is the proper etiquette.”

I was with Prabhupada many times when he met some of his God-brothers. He treated them very respectfully. The etiquette is that you’re supposed to treat the God-brothers of the guru in the same way that you treat the guru, and you’re supposed to treat your senior God-brothers, those initiated before you, in a particular way as well. That’s Vaishnava etiquette. In the Gaudiya Math there’s generally an emphasis on senior God-brothers, and Prabhupada also observed this. One time in Montreal, an Indian scholar came to see Prabhupada. Janardan and I were there, and I was eager to hear from Prabhupada. I edged forward to get close, because I wanted to catch every word, and I was a little ahead of Janaradan. Janardan was not only older in age than me, but he had also been initiated before me. He was initiated at the first initiation Prabhupada did in New York. Prabhupada immediately said, “Ah, he is your elder brother. You should not sit in front of him.” I was ahead of him, a little closer to Prabhupada. Prabhupada said, “You should move back, he is senior to you, a senior God-brother, this is the etiquette. Just like my God-brother, Tirtha Maharaj, he used to be called Kunjada. Actually his name was Kunjabihari das, but everyone called him Kunjada. The ‘da’ means, “like the older brother or like the uncle.” Everyone called him Kunjada because he was one of the most senior God-brothers. Similarly, Janardan is your da. He is your elder brother, so you should give him respect. You should not sit before him.” That was in early 1967 or ’68, in Montreal.

One time in London, Nanda Kumar was very concerned with health, eating the right things, and exercise. He was Prabhupada’s servant, and he was also cooking for Prabhupada. So, while he was massaging Prabhupada in the morning, he popped a question. He said, “Prabhupada, I feel I need to do some kind of exercise for my body. Isn’t it good for a devotee to get physical exercise? Can we do yoga?” Prabhupada said, “Yes, you can do what it is called?” He got down on the floor and did a full, shaky push-up. Prabhupada said, “What is this called?” Nanda Kumar said, “It’s called a push-up.” Prabhupada said, “You can do that. It’s good for a brahmachari.”

He read his books. Whenever he traveled on the plane, his secretary would bring a Bhagavatam. Prabhupada would say, “Where is the book?” He would read the book and think, read, chant, and think. He would read a Gita, or a Bhagavatam, or The Nectar of Devotion. He’d say, “See, I read my own books. Who reads their own books? People don’t read their own books. Therefore, they were not written by me. They were written by Krishna.”

Once in Hyderabad, I asked Prabhupada about astrology. I was interested in Indian astrology, and I was trying to understand how one’s life is determined or not determined, what you can and can’t read in a chart, what was there and not there spiritually. I asked Prabhupada, “What about astrology? Is it part of Vaishnavism? Do we use astrology? Because Nilambara Chakravarti, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s grandfather, did an accurate chart for Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and Bhaktivinode Thakur also knew astrology very well. What’s its validity?” Prabhupada said, “The Vaishnava attitude and siddhanta is, whatever may come, may come. We don’t care. But, if you know it’s going to rain, it’s better to have an umbrella.” Again, he repeated it, “So our philosophy is, as Maharaj Kulashekar says, ‘Whatever may come by Your mercy, let it come.’ That’s our philosophy, that’s our siddhanta. But, if you know it’s going to rain, then it’s better to take an umbrella.”

One time Prabhupada was on a walk, and he said, “What is the most beautiful animal?” A devotee said, “Oh, Prabhupada, the cow.” Prabhupada said, “No.” The devotee then answered, “An elephant?” “No.” Prabhupada said, “The horse is the most beautiful animal.” The devotees said, “A horse?” Prabhupada explained, “Of course the horse is the most beautiful animal. The cow is not beautiful. The cow may be sacred, but she is not beautiful. The horse is the most beautiful animal.”

Once in 1968, Prabhupada finished a program at the Montreal temple and was walking back to his apartment a couple of blocks away, along with Gaurasundar, Vamanadeva, and me. We were on Park Avenue when Vamanadeva said to Prabhupada, “That was a great kirtan. I enjoyed it so much.” Prabhupada immediately turned to him and said, “Kirtan is not for you to enjoy. It is for Krishna’s pleasure. If you enjoy it, then that is not kirtan.” So, we chant for the pleasure of Krishna, we don’t chant for our own pleasure. If we chant for our own pleasure, we’re actually not doing Krishna kirtan, we’re doing what some call “maya kirtan.” Krishna kirtan is praising Krishna for His pleasure.

Prabhupada called me in when he was getting a mas- sage. He asked me, “So, in my absence, you can complete the Srimad-Bhagavatam?” I said, “Yes, Prabhupada I’ll try to do that.” “Yes,” he said, “Okay, good.” I said, “If I have questions, I could ask Sridhar Maharaj?” He said, “Yes, you can ask him questions, yes, that’s good.” I was right there in the Krishna-Balaram Temple in Vrindavan, but I wasn’t around Prabhupada too much in the final weeks, because for the final part of the Bhagavatam, Prabhupada asked me to do the verse translations, and that took all my time. I would read all the commentaries, translate the verse, do the synonyms, and then read it to Prabhupada. Then we would hold the microphone to his lips, and he would dictate the purport. That’s how the last volume was produced, and that kept me occupied because I had to have everything ready to read. It would take a lot to make sure it was right. After I read it I would go back to my room to work on the next verses. Anytime Prabhupada was ready to do more, I had to be ready. I

couldn’t say, “I’m not ready,” because that would mean a Bhagavatam verse and purport that people wouldn’t have. So for the last weeks, that’s basically what I was doing. I was in the compound, but I was always translating as fast as I could.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 16 - Bhakti Thirtha Swami, Pradyumna, Ambarish, Tamal Krishna Goswami

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

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 01

Pradyumna: During that Boston trip, almost every week new faces used to show up from New York. All the New York devotees would come up: Brahmananda, Rayarama, Rupanuga. The Boston temple had always been a small temple – three people, two people, five people, six people, but never more than about five or six; but during Prabhupada’s visit there, it was just packed with mostly New York devotees. I remember the day after the brahmana initiation we all went on a walk. I was also there, and I quipped, “Boston brahmins.” Prabhupada said, “Ah, yes, Boston brahmins.” There were six of us that got sacred thread in the first initiation, six men and no women. Then they raised a fuss and they didn’t show up. They were so angry that they weren’t going to get second initiation, they didn’t come.

Janardan arranged one time for Prabhupada to go speak to the professors at McGill University. They had a faculty meeting or something, so Prabhupada went to join them for dinner. Prabhupada doesn’t eat dinner with people who eat meat but he said, “I’m not supposed to do this, but it’s for preaching, I’ll go.” After Boston, Prabhupada went to Montreal and he spent the whole summer there. Actually he had to go there because his visa was finished and he had to leave the country, and it was uncertain even whether Prabhupada would be able to ever return to the United States. Allen Ginsberg was helping. Brahmananda had Ginsberg working with lawyers to try to get his…and they said, “The only way you can do this is if he leaves the country. He has to leave the country to make a new visa application, and it has to be three months at least.” So Prabhupada established in Montreal and he said, “It’s OK, it doesn’t matter. We get it, we don’t get it, then I’ll make Montreal the world headquarters.” A lot of devotees came up for the summer, and then it was under application. Then about in August sometime it came through. He got it.