Ramai Swami Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Ramai Swami: One reporter asked Prabhupada, “Yours is a very ascetic movement, isn’t it?” Prabhupada said, “No.” The reporter said, “But isn’t your lifestyle one of self-denial?” Prabhupada said, “No. We teach love: love of God.” The reporter said, “But we’ve heard that you’re going to be driven away from here in a chauffeured Rolls Royce.” Prabhupada said, “We can use everything in Krishna’s service. If someone offers me a Rolls Royce, why should I refuse it? The guru is God’s representative, and everything should be used in God’s service. Krishna rides in a golden chariot. What is this Rolls Royce? Some tin, some rubber, some wood? I say, ‘It is not enough.’” All the devotees said, “Jaya, Prabhupada!” Before this I was wondering if we should be using this Rolls Royce. I was a little worried about what people would think—if it would appear ostentatious. But Prabhupada’s answer was so bold that even the press, who are used to being sharp and quick to practically anyone, were silenced. They were shocked, flabbergasted, by Prabhupada’s response and couldn’t say anymore. We paid our obeisances. There was some silence, and Prabhupada said, “Jaya, chant Hare Krishna.” Then Prabhupada got up, and we accompanied him with a kirtan to his Rolls Royce.

Prabhupada was staying in a grihastha’s house during his visit. It was a modest house in a modest suburb, not very far from the temple. When Prabhupada arrived, he walked through the house and said, “Oh, very nice house. How many families live here?” Ugrasrava, who lived there, said, “Only one family, Prabhupada.” Prabhupada said, “Only one family, such a big house.” Just previously Prabhupada was saying that a Rolls Royce is not enough—that Krishna has a golden chariot. Then in a modest house, he says, “Oh, such a big house, how many families live here?” The next year, we opened the new temple here in Melbourne. Devotees had been working for months renovating everything. We brought Prabhupada upstairs and showed him his quarters, which were quite well furnished, with parquet floor and chandeliers and a low desk for Prabhupada to work. Madhudvisa said, “Prabhupada, this is your room.” Prabhupada said, “What, all this for me? This is all mine?” Then we took him to his bedroom, which was a separate room, and Prabhupada said, “Oh, I have a bedroom, also?” Materialists generally portray a certain type of mood and attitude and live on that level without many other sides to them. But the sides I saw of Prabhupada showed that he was inexplicable even on the ordinary level. On one hand, he’d accept a Rolls Royce, and on another he’d say, “Oh, all this is for me?” A materialist couldn’t understand it, but we understood it because we understood Prabhupada’s transcendental position.

Prabhupada liked to walk in parks and gardens. When we took him to the famous botanical gardens in Melbourne, he said that they were better than New York City’s gardens. He very much appreciated the beauty of the garden. I was quite amazed that Prabhupada knew a lot about trees. He knew the names of the trees. Prabhupada would say, “This is a such and such tree.” All the trees had name tags, and Prabhupada would send someone over to see what they said. The devotee would come back with the Latin name. Prabhupada would say, “But what is it in English?” And when it was the same name he had said, he’d say, “Yes, just see.” Prabhupada knew about flowers as well. Another time we were walking early in the morning, about 6:00 a.m. There was heavy traffic going into the city, and Prabhupada said, “What is this traffic?” Someone answered, “They’re all going to work, Prabhupada.” Prabhupada stopped and was silent. Then he said, “They are working so hard.” I could see his eye was a little moist, just at the stage before a tear would come. He felt so much compassion for these people. He was concerned that even early in the morning they were racing in to work. That same morning he saw some businessmen parking their cars near the botanical gardens, which were about three or four kilometers from the city. Prabhupada asked, “What are they doing?” Someone explained that, “Prabhupada, they park their cars here so they can avoid paying parking fees in the city.” Prabhupada said, “Just see,” and then said, “A man can ride in a big carriage, but he can’t afford to feed the horses.” Everyone laughed. That point was poignant, because the big businessmen in their big cars were walking three or four kilometers to save a little money.

On his morning walks Prabhupada used to exchange greetings with non-devotees. Sometimes he would say, “Hello” or “Good morning,” and other times he would say, “Hare Krishna.” Once, half-a-dozen joggers jogged through, making loud stomping with their shoes and breathing heavily. Prabhupada stopped, turned around to all of us, and said, “They think that by this exercise they are increasing the duration of their life. But they do not know that one only has a certain number of breaths in one’s life. Because they are breathing more rapidly, they are actually decreasing their life span.” Another time we took Prabhupada for a morning walk along the beachfront and showed him a huge monastery we were thinking about buying for a temple. Some nuns were using it at the time. It had a big wall around the boundary, a convent, chapel, and many other buildings. At that time they wanted over a million dollars for it, which back then was a lot of money. Prabhupada heard about the property and asked, “What is their asking price?” Someone said, “They want over a million dollars.” I thought that when Prabhupada heard that he would say, “Oh, there’s no possibility of getting this property.” But he was very serious and kept asking different questions as we were walking. From that I learned that nothing was outside the scope of Prabhupada’s plan. We didn’t have that type of money, but Prabhupada was serious. Later on he walked through the buildings and grounds. After that we learned that this particular order would only sell us the property if we would demolish the chapel. They didn’t want us to use the chapel. Prabhupada said, “Let them demolish the chapel; we won’t demolish it. They can demolish it, but we never will.” However, they refused to sell us the property without that condition, and we informed Prabhupada of that and told him that we had found a smaller property—the property that the temple has now. Prabhupada said, “Well, sometimes smaller is better.” He opened our temple here and was pleased.

I was on sankirtan in plain clothes. When I came back, a big crowd had assembled near our downtown center. Smoke and flames were coming out of a nearby building, and some young girls, nineteen or twenty years old, on the third floor were screaming out, “Help, help. It’s coming up the stairs, it’s coming closer.” One of them was on the window ledge. The fire had come up the stairwell and blocked their exit, and the fire brigade hadn’t arrived yet. So Yaso and I ran back to the shop where all the preparations were going on for Rathayatra. The matajis were putting the finishing touches on the canopy for the cart. Yaso said, “Quick, give us that canopy.” We got this huge canopy, and we spread it out on the street and six devotees and a whole bunch of karmis stretched it and held it all the way around for the girls to jump onto. We were calling, “Jump! Jump!” The girls didn’t want to jump. They were high up, and they didn’t know what to make of this thing. But one or two girls did jump, to my amazement, because I actually thought no one would, and Lord Jagannath’s canopy saved them. The canopy held. All the devotees chanted “Hari Bol!” and all the karmis said, “Yeah!” Then the press arrived along with the fire brigade. Later that night it was reported to Prabhupada, and the next day that story made the front page in practically all the papers here in Melbourne as well as in other cities. It was also on the front page of a national paper. It said, “Hare Krishnas save women from blazing inferno.” Prabhupada was very happy, and he told the devotees to get all the clips and save them. He took copies of those clips with him. He said, “This is very good for our reputation.”

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 17 - The Australian Yatra

The full Prabhupada Memories Series can be viewed here and also at www.prabhupadamemories.com