Srila Prabhupada received the rose each one of us offered him. He gave another rose back to us, and he lectured. While he lectured, like so many of my God-brothers, I felt that Srila Prabhupada was speaking just for me and was looking at me. I felt personally addressed by Srila Prabhupada. It reminded me of how, when Krishna ate lunch surrounded by His cowherd boyfriends, He communicated to each one of the thousands of them. Prabhupada’s eyes were wandering over his audience, and sometimes he closed his eyes in deep concentration, but somehow he connected to every one of us. Then, because I felt so personally addressed by Srila Prabhupada, I put a challenging question to him. Foolish as I was, I wanted to test Prabhupada to see if he was really the perfect spiritual master I could surrender to for my whole life. Such surrender would have serious consequences as far as money and my position in life were concerned. Since my mind was not spiritually developed, to see how Prabhupada would react I asked a question which I felt he could not answer. I said, “If God is all good, why did He create this maya which inflicts suffering upon the living entities?” Prabhupada looked at me and requested Shyamasundar to repeat the question. Shyamasundar had not heard my question, maybe due to my accent, and I repeated it. Prabhupada again asked for the question to be repeated. I became insecure, but I again asked, “You say God is all good. It can’t be because He has created maya, which is certainly not all good. So either He is not all good or maya is no longer under His control and makes us suffer against the good intentions of God.” Prabhupada looked at me intently and then said, “Krishna has not created maya, you have created maya.” I was startled. Philosophically I couldn’t understand what he was saying—I created the whole material world? I could not even create a house because at that moment I was insolvent. Later I understood his explanation, but at the time all I understood was that Krishna was not at fault for my situation. I was at fault. I thought, “What a brilliant answer. I have understood the point. I better surrender to Krishna and Srila Prabhupada,” who seemed to be very close with the Lord. It was my first memorable encounter with Srila Prabhupada and he had demolished, like a sadhu always does, my concept that I could challenge him. And besides answering my foolish question, he effected a transformation in my heart.
In London, while all the devotees were taking breakfast prasadam and the temple room was empty, Srila Prabhupada went to the temple alone to take darshan and pray to the Deities. After a long time he returned to his room. In the morning I washed Sri Sri Radha-London-Isvara’s dishes and at that time I was in turmoil. I thought, “What will be the consequences of my decision to surrender?” My fiancée had come to convince me to take up my old ways and my dying grandfather had requested me to come to his deathbed so he could ask me to give up Krishna consciousness. My family tradition was that you had to agree to the wish of a dying man, but I could not agree to give up the Lord’s grace upon me. So I stayed in the temple but I did not clean the Lord’s plates well. One morning as I was washing the plates, absorbed on the mental platform, the temple president came into the kitchen. His face was red and he stammered, “During Prabhupada’s darshan of the Deities, Krishna told Prabhupada that His plates are not nicely cleansed, that the old offering is still on the plates. Prabhupada said that whoever washes the dishes has to do a good job from now on.” This woke me from my dreaming state. I had to be responsible. I had been pondering deeply important issues but I had not performed my service correctly and Krishna had complained to Srila Prabhupada. Besides Krishna, only the cook, who put the new offering on the plates, could know that the plates were dirty. But the cook was too fast—he put the new offering on hurriedly, without looking at the plates. Then the dirty plate was covered and only the person who ate the offering could know that the plate was dirty. It was that Person, Lord Krishna, who had detected this and He had told Srila Prabhupada. I was moved. And I was also happy that there was a direct connection between Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna. I became more inspired to surrender my life to Srila Prabhupada.
On a morning walk in Amsterdam we passed many sleeping hippies and Prabhupada commented on them. Finally we came to a tree with a nest that had a little bird that was just about to fly. The bird was a little doubtful if he should fly or not, but Prabhupada encouraged him and finally the bird more or less tumbled down but with some idea of how to hold his little wings. Prabhupada turned to us and said, “How does the bird know how to fly?” “Instinct, Prabhupada,” said someone who wanted to represent the modern scientists. Prabhupada immediately said, “That is just a name. The Lord as Paramatma is in the heart of the bird directing him to fly.” Whatever Prabhupada saw, even a little bird making his first attempt to fly, he connected to Krishna. That was especially visible during morning walks.
My father was angry that Prabhupada had stolen his son and at a public program he confronted Srila Prabhupada. My father said, “It is not responsible to bring the Indian culture into Germany. It’s as irresponsible as taking a crocodile from Egypt to the cold Rhine River. Just as the crocodile cannot survive there, so the people who are with you now will not be able to stay.” Prabhupada must have understood that this man was the father of one of his disciples and he took up the challenge. He said, “You can become Krishna conscious in a suit and tie.” My father thought, “This answer is too simple for my intellectual challenge.” But the pure devotee’s words do not necessarily act on the intellectual or mental platform that the question came from. They have a transformative shakti which works on a much deeper platform. From Prabhupada’s answer my father understood that Krishna consciousness was more than externals. It was not a matter of Indian culture—one didn’t have to dress according to the Indian culture. The Germans are used to tough discussions and in the end my father thought, “What a pleasant encounter. My son is in good hands. This spiritual leader is a sensible personality.” I was very grateful to Srila Prabhupada for solving a difficult family issue.
Our temple leader had made a big poster with Prabhupada’s picture and in big letters “DER FÜHRER,” in small letters “of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness” and in big letters “KOMMT.” Anyone would read “DER FÜHRER KOMMT,” the führer comes, reminding them of someone totally lacking divine qualities. People drew little moustaches on the posters under Srila Prabhupada’s nose. It was an example of how Prabhupada’s disciples did not always serve his preaching mission well. Srila Prabhupada had a few hostile elements in the audience, probably in part due to the unintelligent advertising. One particularly disturbed man said, “The chanting is mass self-hypnosis,” maybe remembering Hitler’s influential and passionate speeches. Prabhupada kindly said, “It is not self-hypnosis, it is self-purification.” Prabhupada was so expert that with a few words he could alter the consciousness of those who heard him.