Srila Prabhupada had just taken his bath and was putting on tilak when Gargamuni Maharaj and I went into his room. He didn’t have his shirt on. When he saw us, he was very happy. I offered my dandavats, and Gargamuni Maharaj introduced me to Srila Prabhupada, saying, “He has given up going to medical school to become a devotee.” He told Srila Prabhupada that we had just come from the East Bengal war zone. Srila Prabhupada was very grateful. He said, “You’ve risked your life for me and for Lord Chaitanya.” He asked me, “Do you like our books?” I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada.” He said, “Which book do you like the best?” I said, “Bhagavad-gita.” He said, “Oh, very good.” As time went by, I went out of the room, and Srila Prabhupada said to Gargamuni Maharaj, “I will make that boy a sannyasi.” I was 21 years old and had met Prabhupada for the first time.
For Mahaprabhu’s Appearance Day, I wrote a poem about surrender to Lord Chaitanya. I gave it to Srila Prabhupada’s servant to put on his desk for Mahaprabhu’s Appearance Day. Srila Prabhupada read it and liked it very much. Since it was unsigned, he asked who had written it. He called me into the room and very sweetly said, “You have written this poem?” I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada.” He said, “That’s very good. To be poetic is one of the qualities of a Vaishnava,” He said, “Get a piece of paper and a pencil.” He had written Six Verses of Surrender, which I wrote down one after another as he recited them. They were along the line of Rupa Goswami’s teachings. I still have them on our altar at home. During that meeting with Srila Prabhupada, I spoke with him alone and revealed some of the things that were on my mind and in my heart. I said to Srila Prabhupada, “Krishna revealed Himself to me and that’s why I have come to you.” He said, “Now you must tell them that God is not dead.” I said, “Srila Prabhupada, you are the only person I trust in this world.” Srila Prabhupada looked at me very kindly and said, “Don’t trust me, I will let you down. Trust Krishna. He will never let you down.”
Srila Prabhupada performed the initiation fire sacrifice for Tusta Krishna and me. Tusta Krishna had come from Hawaii and was with Siddhasvarup at the time. When Prabhupada gave us our names he said, “Tusta Krishna means ‘one who is satisfied with Krishna,’” and he said to me, “You are ‘Pusta Krishna das.’ ‘Pusta’ means ‘strength’, one who gets strength from Krishna.” He was amused by the names Tusta Krishna and Pusta Krishna. On the morning walk the next day he was jubilant. He looked at me and said, “Pusta Krishna das.” I said, “Thank you for giving me a name.” Then he became grave. At that time I understood that Srila Prabhupada could be a little unpredictable and that one had to be grave in his presence. And I always tried to be.
We were flying from Singapore to Australia. Prabhupada and Hari Sauri, his servant, were seated in the first class section, and I was in the coach section. The plane hit an air pocket and quickly dropped five or ten thousand feet as if it were going down a huge roller coaster. My stomach was in my head, and I was pretty shaken, although I was chanting through it all. As soon as the drop was over, I got up, walked to the front and asked Srila Prabhupada, “Are you okay?” Srila Prabhupada said, “Yes. We can die at anytime.” He looked as if nothing at all had happened.
We were flying from Mauritius to Durban on Quantas Airlines out of Perth, Australia. I was seated beside Srila Prabhupada wearing my little British hat, shirt, coat, and pants. At that time a rugby match had taken place between the South African and New Zealand teams, and there were a lot of rugby types on the plane. We had a seat on the non-smoking section, but people were smoking there, and I was disturbed. I was also concerned for Srila Prabhupada’s welfare. So I asked a stewardess to please ask them not to smoke in the nonsmoking section. She told the rugby-type guys, who were drinking quite a bit as well, to stop smoking. But they didn’t stop. I was about to ask the stewardess, “Please ask them again,” when Prabhupada stopped me. He said, “What is the difference between us and them if we cannot tolerate these sorts of things? Don’t be an ordinary, common, foolish man.”
Buddhimanta was tall, big, bright-faced, and appeared somewhat crazed. He was an imposing figure begging for money on the streets, and he was collecting a lot of it in a way that devotees had never done before. I had some difference of opinion about how money should be collected, and I made it known that I thought a monk shouldn’t act in the way Buddhimanta was acting. This was a point of contention between Bali Mardan and me. Bali Mardan called Srila Prabhupada and talked to Shyamasundar, objecting to my objecting to the way that they were collecting money. In response Srila Prabhupada wrote a very instructive letter. He didn’t criticize either of us. He didn’t say, “You are right,” and “You are wrong.” That wasn’t his concern at all, which tells something of his character. His concern was that we work together as a family. He wanted all of us to get along despite our different ideas about engaging in devotional service. Srila Prabhupada’s simple desire for us to work harmoniously is something that’s taken me a long time to understand.
I was Prabhupada’s secretary when the first copies of the Fifth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, which had just been printed, were sent by air express to Prabhupada in Johannesburg, South Africa. Bhargava was also with us, photographing Srila Prabhupada, and when Prabhupada received this box of books, Bhargava did his job, taking picture after picture after picture. Snap, snap, snap. Srila Prabhupada was happily relishing the books, but then, in an angry way, he said to Bhargava, “Why are you always taking so many pictures?” Bhargava prabhu was saddened and sheepish about the comment. He walked out of the room and out of the temple. As it happened, that night we had a big program in Pretoria, and all Prabhupada could think about was, “Where is Bhargava? Where is Bhargava? Why has he gone?” It was such a sweet thing, the way he was so concerned. Finally, about midnight, a call came from Bhargava. He felt terrible that he had angered Srila Prabhupada by taking so many pictures. I said, “Stay right where you are. I will come pick you up. Srila Prabhupada is anxious to see you.” We picked up Bhargava prabhu and brought him to Srila Prabhupada, and Srila Prabhupada, like a loving father, had a beautiful interaction with Bhargava. He said, “I don’t want you to feel saddened. I just don’t want you to always take pictures of me. What is the need of so many pictures? Here are my books.” Srila Prabhupada didn’t want a cult centered around himself. Of course, he is the spiritual master, but he is also the most humble servant of the Lord. He plays the role of a spiritual master to serve his spiritual master, and as the spiritual master, his desire was to magnify Krishna for everybody.
I wrote Prabhupada a letter saying that I was going to get married. He gave me his blessings and wrote, “But above all, continue to follow the four regulative principles and chant sixteen rounds of Hare Krishna mantra every day. That will protect you. My only request is that you don’t become an ordinary karmi, a foolish man.” He wasn’t concerned with one’s ashram, whether sannyas or grihastha. He wrote, “Even Chaitanya Mahaprabhu considered these things external.” Prabhupada wanted us to become and remain high-minded Vaishnavas.
Srila Prabhupada was invited to come to Geneva where Guru Gauranga had arranged for a program in a hall with a so-called sophisticated Swiss audience. One person asked, “Why are you vegetarians?” Srila Prabhupada replied, “Why don’t you eat your sister?” Prabhupada went on to explain that human life, eating included, involved discrimination. His example was very extreme and very instructive, although some of the devotees didn’t know how to take it at the time. Sometimes Srila Prabhupada would shock us to make a point. We could never predict how Srila Prabhupada was going to answer a question. Because of circumstances, he could answer the same question differently at different times. We may never understand why he said a certain thing, but we can appreciate Srila Prabhupada’s character and intent.
During Prabhupada’s lecture, he stressed studying the philosophy. He was concerned that we thoroughly understand the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. He said to me, “Do as I am doing. Sometimes I am managing, sometimes I am preaching, sometimes I am cooking, and sometimes I am cleaning. In that way, whatever needs to be done you do. That’s sannyas.” In this way he was teaching yukta vairagya, that real renunciation is to do whatever is required for the service of Krishna. It is not remaining aloof and maintaining some false posture of being only a preacher.
One day around Janmastami time in New Vrindavan in 1972, Prabhupada’s personal servant was unable to massage Prabhupada. At that time I was a fresh sannyasi. Prabhupada said to me, “Pusta Krishna, you can give a massage.” I had never massaged anybody. I said, “How do you do it?” He said, “Well, you start on the head with sandalwood oil, and then you do the body with mustard oil.” So we sat outside the house Srila Prabhupada was staying in. I went behind him, offered my obeisances, took some sandalwood oil on my hand, and started to very gently massage his head. I didn’t know what I was doing. Srila Prabhupada said, “What is this?” I said, “Well, Srila Prabhupada. I am trying to give you a massage.” He said, “Massage means hard.” So I started rubbing his head hard, and he was pleased. Then I worked on his back with mustard oil. It was a sweet experience to massage Srila Prabhupada because, apart from the personal service, Srila Prabhupada would sometimes talk about Krishna consciousness or business related to Krishna consciousness. He would sometimes be amused by the way that we would massage. You would continue massaging until he said, “Go to the next part.” Someone had told me that Srila Prabhupada liked his toes cracked, so I massaged his toes very hard, trying to crack them. Sometimes he used to laugh and say, “That’s enough.” He was a humorous, kind-hearted person, and those times were very sweet.
We were in the country driving from Durban, South Africa, and there were some big, long, white buildings some distance from the highway. Srila Prabhupada asked, “What are those buildings?” I responded, “They are chicken coops that belong to a large chicken farm. They use them as slaughterhouses.” Srila Prabhupada said, “Why do they buy chicken? Let them make a chicken. Let them take some egg, put some liquid in it, incubate it, and hatch a chicken. But those rascals can’t because they don’t understand that life is not the egg but the spirit soul.” He carried on in an animated way talking about that.
Vishnujana Maharaj was a very dear devotee. He was a great friend to many of those who were introduced to Krishna consciousness by his beautiful, angelic, heart-piercing kirtans and his traveling sankirtan party. Once we were a quarter of a mile away from the main temple building in Mayapur, heading back from a morning walk, when Vishnujana Maharaj asked Srila Prabhupada, “If someone falls down from the sannyas position, do they have to do what Chota Haridas did in order to keep Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy?” Srila Prabhupada said, “Yes.” Following that, Vishnujana Maharaj disappeared, and we have never seen him again.
In New Zealand, after Prabhupada had given a lecture, he asked if there were any questions. One after another, fathers and mothers came forward and said, “Srila Prabhupada, please give my child a name.” Prabhupada gave one name, then another, and it went on and on until finally when someone said, “Please name my daughter,” Prabhupada said, “Rose.” His patience had been tested at that point.
Directed by Srila Prabhupada, in March or April of 1976, I picked up Srila Sridhar Maharaj in Navadvip and brought him to meet with Srila Prabhupada at the ISKCON mandir in Mayapur. It was a glorious time, and many devotees were attending the festival. We made the long drive to the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math in Navadvip, and I went upstairs where Srila Sridhar Maharaj, an old gentleman, was sitting chanting japa. I offered my obeisances, invited him into the car, and took him to meet Srila Prabhupada in Srila Prabhupada’s room in the Mayapur temple. There was no doubt that he and Srila Prabhupada were very close, dear friends.
In Australia there were some ISKCON devotees who were displeased with Siddhasvarupananda Maharaj’s successful preaching in Hawaii. They noted how not all his followers were coming to Srila Prabhupada, although they used Srila Prabhupada’s books and chanted the holy names. When I mentioned this to Srila Prabhupada, he raised his eyebrows and said, “That is Vaishnava aparadh,” meaning it was Vaishnava aparadh against Siddhasvarupananda Maharaj. With all humility, Prabhupada said that there were many branches of the tree of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, that ISKCON was not the only branch. He said that we need to develop tolerance for the other branches of Mahaprabhu’s tree.