We’d come from Dallas to Los Angeles to get initiated and the first time we saw Prabhupada he was getting out of a car to go into his quarters. His effulgence seemed to fill the whole street. Everybody couldn’t help but have tears in their eyes. Prabhupada was not only effulgent, but also his love of Krishna was contagious—we all got a glimpse of his ecstasy just by being with him. The next morning was the day I was supposed to get initiated and after mangal arati I was stringing my neckbeads. In those days, we didn’t have neckbeads with clasps. When you got initiated, your neckbeads were fastened together with a knot so they were tied on for life. One devotee came over to me and said, “Prabhupada wants you on the morning walk.” I said, “What do I do?” He said, “Meet at the foot of Prabhupada’s stairs.” I went there and a devotee said, “Where’s your flower?” I said, “What do you mean, flower?” He said, “If you’re going to greet Prabhupada, you have to have a flower.” I said, “Where do I get it?” “You have to find one.” I looked but I could only find one insignificant little rosebud, so I held it in my hand and waited for Prabhupada. He came down the stairs, we offered our obeisances, and then they introduced me. I again offered my obeisances to Prabhupada, and when I got up they had all walked out to get in their little Ford compact two-door car that said “Hare Krishna” on the side. Prabhupada was sitting in front, Karandhar was driving, and there were four or five of us in the backseat—somehow I got in on the bottom and devotees piled in on top of me, all wanting to go on the walk with Prabhupada. Just as we pulled out onto Venice Boulevard, a bearded, older drunk guy, who had been thrown out of the temple earlier, was sitting on the curb dejected. When he saw Prabhupada in the car, he looked up and said, “Hare Krishna” in a gruff voice. Prabhupada laughed in such a musical, contagious way that all of us in the car also laughed hysterically, not knowing exactly why we were laughing except that Prabhupada had laughed. On the ride to the beach Prabhupada asked me, “What is God?” Now, Mohanananda had primed me, “This is one of the questions Prabhupada might ask you.” So I’d learned, “The Supreme Person complete in six opulences, all wealth, all beauty…” I was nervous but I said, “Prabhupada, God is the person…” and I started telling him what I thought was the correct answer. He said, “That’s what we say. What do they say?” Prabhupada wanted to know what I had learned as a theologian. I said, “Prabhupada, they can’t make up their mind. They have no idea who God is.” He said, “You must defeat them. These people don’t know who God is. Therefore, by claiming they know God when they don’t, they are cheating.”
Since I had a degree in theology, Prabhupada wanted me to write theology. The first morning I walked with him he said, “You must defeat the rascal theologians who mislead innocent people.” Then, on a series of morning walks that started in December of ’73, Prabhupada said, “Theologician, you must write on the necessity of God.” I said, “Yes, Prabhupada.” The next day he said, “Did you do it?” I went home, quickly wrote something and gave it to Prabhupada’s servant. Then the next day Prabhupada said, “Very good. Where will you have it published?” He really pushed me in that area. And he pushed me in the area of theater also. The temple in Juhu had a big theater and Prabhupada wanted us to perform there. One of his last requests to us was that we have a theater troupe performing Krishna lila six months of the year based in Juhu and six months in the West. Once we did a play for him in Los Angeles called “The Cry of the She-Jackal,” from a chapter in the Bhagavatam called, “The Pandavas Retire Timely.” Prabhupada liked it very much. He blessed us that we were all going back to Godhead and afterwards in his quarters he said, “You must perfect this play. You don’t need to do a lot of plays. Just take this one and one or two others, and perform it everywhere in the world.” And in a letter about the theater and dance troupe he said, “You can have a party of about 15 people that can go everywhere. Sell tickets to cover the expenses.” He was enthusiastic about plays based on Chaitanya lila and Krishna lila, stories from the Bhagavatam, as well as contemporary plays dealing with philosophical issues, all as part of the Hare Krishna cultural expansion.
Prabhupada saw a Bhagavad-gita dance and a Pralambasura dance that we did in Los Angeles and he asked us to perform these at the opening of the Krishna-Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan. We also performed in Mayapur and the way the stage was arranged there our backs were to the Deities. Earlier we had been told that that was not acceptable, that the deity doors should be closed, and so we had some argument with the authorities that had made the arrangement in Mayapur. But since they were GBC and we were lowly dancers and actors, we did it their way. Prabhupada didn’t see the performance, but in his quarters he saw photographs of it. He said, “Backs should not be to the deity.” Instead of saying, “Yes, Prabhupada,” we tried to explain that we were told that Krishna is allpervasive, therefore it was okay if we had our backs to Him. Prabhupada got furious and animated. He said, “Krishna is all-pervasive? Then you should dance on the roof!” Once in New York, we performed the Krishna-Rukmini play and Prabhupada said some wonderful things. He said, “These plays are better than reading my books,” because they were bringing the books to life. And of course, his books should be brought to life.
On that first morning walk Prabhupada asked us a question. He said, “What if the mind wanted the eyes to see?” It wasn’t until years later that I understood that question. We can’t see without the help of the sun or some form of electricity —our eyes are completely dependent. Inwardly also the light of consciousness and the Supersoul allow our eyes to see, and in that sense we are totally dependent on Krishna. Prabhupada was pointing out that everything that we take for granted, like vision, is totally dependent on Krishna. We can’t do anything independently. Our disease, maya, exists not in the world around us but, as Prabhupada writes in the Prayers of Lord Brahma in the Krishna Book, “The existence of maya is only within the mind. Maya is nothing but ignorance of Krishna’s personality. When one forgets His personality then that is the conditioned state of maya. Therefore, one who is fixed upon Him both internally and externally is not illusioned.” Our vision is incorrect. When we are Krishna conscious, we see everything as Krishna’s energy. Prabhupada was not Krishna, but he was as close to Krishna as a living entity could come. He was totally transparent to Krishna, as was Jesus Christ and Mohammed and other great religionists. On one side there’s a danger to minimize Prabhupada and maximize somebody else, and on the other side there’s a danger to elevate Prabhupada to be the Supreme Person. As Prabhupada himself explains in Caitanya-caritamrta, he is the Supreme Personality of Servitor Godhead.
Once Prabhupada told us how he stays Krishna conscious. He said, “In my room I have a mridanga so I play it for a while. When I get tired of that, I do some translation. When I finish with that, I sing a song on the harmonium. Then I have correspondence to do. I have one activity after another, all connected to Krishna.”
The day after Prabhupada saw one of the Bhagavad-gita dance programs that I had narrated he went on a tour of the BBT warehouse. I wasn’t there but I heard that one of the devotees running a forklift ran into the ceiling lights and other devotees apologized to Prabhupada for his mistake. Everybody was nervous around Prabhupada. At that time Prabhupada talked about our dance performance and said, “Let them dance only, let them paint only. Whatever they love to do, let them do that for Krishna. That is the most important thing.” Prabhupada liked having the drama or dance narrated so that we could perform it in any language. The actors or dancers wouldn’t have to learn Spanish or Russian or whatever, because a narrator told the story while the others performed. We did the Bhagavad-gita dance twice for Prabhupada and after the first time he saw it he said there should be rear projections. If the narration was about a sage in the forest, then we should show a picture of that. A year or two later we did the same performance again but we still didn’t have the projections and Prabhupada mentioned the same point again. He thought it important that, instead of just seeing Krishna and Arjuna in a Bhagavad-gita performance, the audience should also see what the narrator was talking about.
One day when I went to see Prabhupada, he talked about the principles of dance and drama and he asked me to come back the next day to talk about theology. That day he said, “Call all the sannyasis in here.” The sannyasis were wondering, “What’s going on?” and crowded into Prabhupada’s room. Prabhupada talked about Christianity and Krishna consciousness. He said, “If Christians want to worship Jesus, all they have to do is have two altars – one altar where Jesus is worshiped and one altar where Radha and Krishna are worshiped.” I said, “Prabhupada, it would be better if they had an altar for Lord Jesus and then one for you.” Prabhupada modestly motioned “no” with hand but I thought, “Prabhupada’s in the same category as Lord Jesus Christ. He is the guru for the world.”