My first personal contact with Srila Prabhupada was when I went on a morning walk with him. I was just a young boy about seventeen or eighteen. I hadn’t even joined the temple but I had heard that Srila Prabhupada was coming and the devotees had encouraged me to stay overnight to see Prabhupada. He came and he went on a morning walk before class as he does and we went to a small park, Russell Square. There were about ten devotees with Srila Prabhupada and I was the new boy. I was the bhakta. As such I was behind the others and I had difficulty understanding Srila Prabhupada. He had an unusual Bengali accent and as I never had a lot of exposure to Indian people, I was straining to hear what he said. I moved closer to Prabhupada to catch his words and in so doing I clipped Prabhupada’s heel. Srila Prabhupada walked about two or three paces without one shoe on and then he stopped. Everyone stopped. Prabhupada turned and he looked at me since he knew I had clipped his heel. He said, “You must always walk three feet behind the spiritual master.” I was completely mortified. There was one devotee who said to me, “This is a grave offense. You should immediately kill yourself.” (laughs) He said, “You should jump in the Thames River immediately for purification.” I thought, “Oh no, what have I done? I haven’t even started and I’ve set off on a bad foot.” No pun intended. It was much later when I was recounting this to one of my sannyasi God-brothers and he said, “That is the moment when Srila Prabhupada accepted you as his disciple.” He said, “That was his first instruction to you, that you must always walk three paces behind the spiritual master.”
Srila Prabhupada would give the most wonderful, practical examples to explain the most difficult philosophical concepts for his aspiring disciples. One time in Vrindavan Srila Prabhupada was struggling to present to us in terms that we could understand the fact that everything is absolutely conscious and sentient in the spiritual world. He paused for a short time and then he said, “Just like when Radharani is cooking for Krishna, She will ask the rice in the pot, ‘Are you ready yet?’ and the rice will say, ‘No, not yet. Give me a few more minutes.’”
Srila Prabhupada was very tricky. He knew the mentality of different people and how exactly to deal with them. In Vrindavan Prabhupada was exasperated because none of his disciples were willing to stay in Vrindavan and were unqualified to deal with the goings on in India. One time he thought that the solution was to get some local trusted people involved so that they would be our trustees to take care of things nicely. There was one brahmachari gentleman, Bhagaji, who lived right around the corner and the devotees brought him to Prabhupada. He had retired early and he just wanted to be involved in his bhajan. He knew the entire Bhagavad-gita by heart and he would take a rickshaw from Raman Reti into town in which he would recite half of the Bhagavad-gita and then on the way back he would recite the other half. Srila Prabhupada definitely wanted him to get involved in helping with the temple. Prabhupada would ask him and Bhagaji would find ways to avoid doing anything. There was a chess match going on between them and each was resistant. He was very respectful to Srila Prabhupada and he recognized Srila Prabhupada’s superior position. Srila Prabhupada would explain to him that preaching was a higher calling and was more important than bhajan. One day Prabhupada called for him and Bhagaji came in and sat down. Prabhupada was sitting at his desk at the Krishna-Balaram temple and he said to him, “It is the duty of every Indian gentleman to teach the teaching of Lord Krishna. Do you agree?” Bhagaji said, “Yes”. Prabhupada said, “It is also the duty of every Indian gentleman to set aside some time in his life to propagate these teachings. Do you agree?” Bhagaji said. “Yes. Yes, I agree.” Prabhupada said, “If there was a need where western people were eager for Krishna and would come to a person, this gentleman he would help.” Bhagaji said, “Yes.” So Bhagaji was agreeing to every point Srila Prabhupada presented. Then Prabhupada said, “Brahmananda, bring the paper.” Brahmananda brought a document and he gave it to Prabhupada. Prabhupada handed it to Bhagaji and Bhagaji looked alarmed. Later I learned it was a legal document in which Bhagaji had to sign to say that he was the new trustee of the Krishna-Balaram temple. He was shocked that as he was just trying to do his bhajan, now he was the manager of the temple, the trustee in charge of everything. He was looking at the document and Prabhupada went over all the points again and Bhagaji just started laughing. He realized he’d been outplayed. It was checkmate. Bhagaji just laughed, took the pen, signed the document and thus surrendered to Prabhupada.
One day a devotee came from Punjab and he said, “Srila Prabhupada, I am preaching in Punjab.” He said, “There’s a gentleman who owns land in Kurukshetra and he’s willing to give us the land to build a temple.” Srila Prabhupada said, “Tell the gentleman that we will build a very nice temple there with Arjuna and Krishna on the chariot, but he must give us clear title to the land.” He said, “We are not interested to develop another person’s land. If he gives us the land, gives us clear title to the land, we will build a very nice temple there.” He was very emphatic about that point. Then Prabhupada asked the devotee, “Who is your preaching partner? You’ve come alone? Who is your preaching partner?” The brahmachari said, “Prabhupada, I don’t have a preaching partner. I’m there by myself.” Prabhupada said, “This is not good.” He said, “You must have a preaching partner.” Then he turned to the GBC of Vrindavan and told him to give someone to preach with this person. The GBC said, “Prabhupada, I don’t have any extra people.” He had no interest to give a good man away to another zone. Prabhupada said, “There are so many people who come for darshan to see me every day. One of those people, they can go. They have nothing else to do if they are coming to see me.” He said, “They can be the preaching partner.” The GBC said, “No, Srila Prabhupada. I’ve stopped that. No one else is coming.” Prabhupada said, “Well, give him,” and he pointed to me. I was just a young boy. I was the pujari. He said, “Give him, he can preach. Let him go.” The GBC said, “Srila Prabhupada, we need him. He is the pujari here.” Srila Prabhupada said, “Pujari, this is fifth class.” He said, “Anyone can offer some Tulasi and some water. Let him go and preach.” He said, “Preaching, this is first class. Pujari, this is fifth class. Anyone can do this. “
Often Srila Prabhupada would give very concise philosophical purports. I remember one time he was explaining that Sahajiya was much better than Mayavadi. He said, “Better to be a Sahajiya than to be a Mayavadi.” He said, “With the Sahajiya there is some type of connection to Krishna.” He said, “It’s not considered a very elevated connection but at least some connection is there.” He said, “But for Mayavadi, there was absolutely no hope.”
One time at Bury Place Prabhupada was lying very casually chanting. Two or three other devotees and I were chanting along with him in his room when another disciple, who had been a devotee for two years or so, walked in. This devotee liked to boast, “I’m the first devotee in Europe. I’ve been a devotee for two years. I’m a brahmin.” We thought he was such an advanced devotee because he was two years in the movement. He said to Srila Prabhupada, “Every time I feel I’m making advancement I have a fall down.” He said, “This has happened so many times. I just do not know if I can find the strength to pick myself up again.” I was looking at Prabhupada and he totally surprised me. He laid back on his cushion with his head facing the ceiling and he just rippled with laughter. I had never seen Prabhupada laugh. It was a whole body laugh. Before this I had only seen a very grave, philosophical spiritual master. But now he was laughing like a young boy and it seemed to go on for two or three minutes. Srila Prabhupada brought his head back down with a nice fatherly smile and said, “Just as an infant when learning to walk falls down so many times, he picks himself up and persists and learns to walk.” He said, “After some time he can run, he can jump and do so many wonderful, athletic things.” He said, “But do not think you’re a big advanced devotee when you are still an infant in spiritual life.”
One day there were about six or eight people in Prabhupada’s room and I was sitting there listening. He was asking these people to come and join him in helping Lord Chaitanya’s mission because there was such a need in the western world that was so bereft of any spiritual understanding. Prabhupada explained that the western people were so keen and eager for this knowledge. He said, “Please come and help me. My disciples know nothing.” One western devotee was listening to this and he asked, “But Prabhupada, what about the pundits?” Prabhupada said, “Pundits? What pundits?” He said, “Prabhupada, your western pundits, you know, your western disciples, the pundits.” Prabhupada said, “Pundits?” He turned to the guests and said, “They do not know how to go to the market to buy themselves an apple.” He said, “We have no pundits.”
Srila Prabhupada was very clever in giving philosophical concepts in a very clear, concise, practical way. One day he told us a story. He said, “There was a king and the king had a brahmin who was his advisor. Some of the other ministers were a little upset that the brahmin advisor would get so many facilities because he didn’t seem to do too much. They said, ‘We are so busy going around the kingdom collecting taxes and overseeing the borders and so many things but this brahmin doesn’t seem to do much, yet he has so much facility and this is upsetting us a bit and we would like him not to hang around the palace anymore.’ The king said, ‘Let me consider your request and I will discuss it with you in the morning. In the meantime I would like you to tell me the concise weight of the two royal elephants.’ The next morning he asked for the brahmin to come to his stateroom when the ministers arrived. The king asked them, ‘What is the weight of the elephants?’ They said, ‘Well, we don’t exactly know because we put them on the scale, but the scale broke and then we tried to hoist them with ropes and then the ropes broke. We have an idea but we don’t know precisely.’ The king said, ‘Punditji, I would like you to weigh concisely the two royal elephants. Can you do this for me?’ The pundit said, ‘My lord, may I have use of the royal barge?’ and the king said, ‘Yes of course.’ The pundit then asked, ‘May I have access to the grain store houses?’ and the king said, ‘Yes.’ The pundit said, ‘I will give you this information in a few hours.’ In the afternoon the pundit, said, ‘My king, the male elephant weighs so many thousand kilos and the she elephant weighs such and such.’ The king said, ‘How did you arrive at this information?’ He said, ‘Well sir, first of all, one at a time, I put the elephants on the royal barge, then I measured how much the water had been displaced.’ He said, ‘Then, bag by bag I put the rice in the barge until the same amount of water had been displaced and then we simply measured the rice.’ Then the king turned to the ministers and said, ‘So now do you understand why I keep punditji?’” Then Prabhupada went on to explain that there were four different varnas. He said that there was the brahmin class of men who were governed by lazy intelligence. He said, “This advisor was a lazy man but an intelligent man.” He said, “This is a brahmin.” Prabhupada said, “The kshatriyas are active intelligent.” He said, “The vaishyas are lazy foolish. And he said, “The sudras are active foolish.” He said, “These are the four divisions: brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and sudra. Lazy foolish, active foolish, lazy intelligent and active intelligent.” In a very simple and concise way, Prabhupada explained the characteristics of the different orders.