My plan had been to come to Canada seeking spiritual enlightenment. A friend of my mother’s, who was a famous spiritualist, had read my tea leaves and said to me, “You’re going to meet your spiritual teacher very shortly.” Her daughter knew somebody called Lobsang Rampa, who was famous for writing various books and was supposedly a Tibetan monk living in Montreal. I ended up in Montreal and the daughter, who worked at the Bank of Montreal, made arrangements for me to meet Lobsang Rampa. On the weekend that I was supposed to meet him, the devotees invited me to Boston, so I took that option instead. For the seriousness of the occasion, I thought it wise to establish myself in a higher state of consciousness, so I went into the bathroom and took some LSD. When I came before Prabhupada in his room, I was on my way up, and Prabhupada asked me various questions about my level of education in Britain. I thought this level of questioning about my mundane education didn’t have any bearing on spiritual matters. I didn’t understand that Prabhupada was trying to figure out how he could engage me in Krishna’s service. In fact, I had four years of training in acting, and he could have engaged me in that way, but it never came up. I never volunteered this information. I was in the meantime becoming very absorbed by Prabhupada’s mahogany color and the lines on his face because I was perceiving things in an enhanced optical manner. Prabhupada said, “This is very nice that you have come to see the spiritual master, but it’s more important that you should hear from him.” This statement led me to my first realization that this enhanced LSD state of mind that I was in, was actually not getting me anywhere and that it would require patient understanding of the instructions and the writings of a spiritual master. During my twenty-minute or so darshan, Jadurani, who was there, wanted to reach a painting of Krishna that was on the wall above Prabhupada’s head. She said, “Prabhupada, I’m nervous because I don’t want to disturb you, but I need that painting. I’ve got to make some corrections to Him.” Prabhupada said, “You can stand on my head if you are reaching for a picture of Krishna.” And then on my way out, somebody had just called in and said, “Prabhupada, a dog has defecated in the hallway.” I think there were student lodgings or something like that where Prabhupada had his little apartment and suite of rooms. On my way out Prabhupada asked me, “Will you arrange for that to be dealt with? And see the janitor and sort that out?” So, my first service was to sort out the dog mess. [laughs] In Chinese astrology I am a fire dog. [laughs] Govardhan: I wanted to get initiated so the letter of recommendation was sent to Srila Prabhupada, and I was waiting for it to come back. I was thinking, “I wish I could have a name that has something to do with Vrindavan.” I had heard quite a few devotees talking about their names and how a magical thing happens at initiation. I was thinking, "The name ‘Yamuna’ has already been given and is no longer available, so what else is there for women?” I didn’t even know what places there were in Vrindavan. I think that my temple president, Patita-Udharan had recommended a name for me, which was Jaya Rukmini. I thought, “Gosh, I really wish I could have a name from Vrindavan.” And then the letter came, and Prabhupada gave me the name Govardhan dasi. I could not believe that. [laughs] Even today I am so thrilled to have that name. That was very special for me. I wanted something, and I received it, which confirms what Krishna says in the scriptures, that it is His pleasure to fulfill the desires of His devotees. And Prabhupada, who is directly with Him, chose the name and thus delivered a miracle for me.
After istagosthi I asked Satsvarupa Maharaj, “Should I be initiated? I would like to be. Would Prabhupada accept me? We have to go back to Montreal at short notice tomorrow morning, so is there any chance?” He said, “Let’s go and ask him.” We went to Prabhupada’s apartment door and Devananda met us at the door. He said, “Wait.” He went in and then he came back shortly thereafter and said, “It’s not possible for Prabhupada as he’s going to his shower, but he will accept you. Just send your beads to him from Montreal.” Interestingly, in those days we made our own beads from supplies we obtained from a craft shop. To actually tie the knots for my own japa beads and then send them off for Prabhupada to sanctify, was a personal and memorable experience. A few weeks later at the beginning of June, I got my beads back, and that was after we had the John Lennon-Yoko Ono “Bed-in for Peace.” This is my initiation letter Srila Prabhupada sent from New Vrindavan on May the 28th, 1969: My dear Sripati das: Please accept my blessings. I thank you very much for your letter dated May the 18th, 1969, sent along with your prayer beads, and I’ve duly chanted upon them and initiated you as my disciple. Your spiritual name is Sripati das. Sripati equals the husband of the goddess of fortune. This means the servant. You’re the servant of Lord Narayana or Krishna. If you will simply continue to develop your Krishna consciousness as you have been doing, then surely you will be an expert servant of Lord Krishna. Our process is to faithfully follow the rules of no illicit sex life, no non-vegetarian diet, no intoxication and no gambling activities. Also, we must chant at least sixteen rounds each day trying to avoid the ten kinds of offenses. You have very nice association with your nice god-brothers in the Montreal temple and you should help them to propagate Krishna consciousness in that area. So please consult with Hansadutta and there will be ample engagement for you in this connection. If any questions or difficulties arise, you may consult with older devotees there, or if you like, I’m always at your service to help you in any way that I can. So now you have a great opportunity to make perfection of your life and please always be serious about this. Then Krishna will surely give you all facilities for nice advancement. I hope this will meet you in very good health. Your ever well-wisher, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada The reason I wanted to become initiated was that I could understand the seriousness of Srila Prabhupada. He didn’t seem like a sensationalist guru. I had that opportunity to go see Lobsang Rampa and I’d been familiar with his persona through his writings, and Prabhupada seemed of a different order. Also, I think getting to know the devotees in Prabhupada’s association was very much a deciding factor. I could see that this was a movement and Prabhupada was the head of it. I knew I had a lot to learn about him, but by that one meeting, I was sufficiently impressed to feel that, “Yes, let me go on with his association and try this out. I can always change my mind.”
There is a famous photo of the “Bed-in for Peace” with John Lennon and Yoko Ono with the devotees in the Montreal Hotel. Approximately nine months after that photo was taken, I was the only one left in Montreal. The others had gone their separate ways. Hansadutta and quite a few of the devotees had gone to help in Vancouver. Baradraj and Rukmini had gone to help with the art in Boston, and therefore I inevitably became the president with Jayapataka’s training. As president I would customarily send reports to Prabhupada. One time someone who was in our temple asked me to offer a suggestion in my next report to Prabhupada. This person was lodging at the temple, but he was chanting some rounds. Because he was from Chile and had been in the Navy, he suggested to Srila Prabhupada, “We should have frigates full of sailors go around the world and demand at gunpoint that people chant Hare Krishna.” Prabhupada replied to him in a letter to me stating, “This is a very nice idea that you have to spread this Krishna consciousness. But we will not be requiring rifles. We already have our kartals. This will be our weapon and the chanting and the mridanga will cause explosions to those people around the world.” [laughs]
I received my second initiation from Prabhupada in Los Angeles. Later in the day I went up to Prabhupada’s room, and from my perspective coming from Canada, I was hot. It was summertime, so I was sitting in the window seat with the window open and having darshan listening to Prabhupada. Govinda dasi was there as well and she had a new wool sweater for Prabhupada she had knitted. She presented it to Prabhupada and Prabhupada changed right there on the spot sitting behind his table. Then Prabhupada looked at me and asked, “Are you cold?” I didn’t pick up on this straight away, but he was playing with me, and I said, “No, Prabhupada, I’m fine. I’m from Canada.” He asked again, “Are you sure?” He gave me a second chance, and I said, “Oh, yes, yes, now I am cold.” [laughs] So I received Prabhupada’s old sweater and treasured it very dearly and took it back with me to Montreal. I would wear it on special occasions, which turned into wearing it on sankirtan. Inevitably, we did have a hot day in Montreal and sitting there in Phillips Square chanting with the devotees, it got quite hot, so I took off the sweater and laid it down next to me. Sure enough, a greedy devotee swiped it from me. [laughs] However, after much searching I never got it back. Then I thought to myself, “At least one of us from the Montreal yatra has Prabhupada’s sweater.” [laughs]
While I was president in Montreal in 1971, Srila Prabhupada was in Boston, and we decided to join him with what was going to be quite a big initiation ceremony. After the greeting of Srila Prabhupada at Logan airport, I was able to give Karandhar a lift back to the temple. On the way back I was talking to him and said, “It is very difficult for us from Montreal to get Prabhupada’s association. What’s the trick?” He said, “Early morning. That’s what you want to do. I’ll call you.” The next morning Karandhar woke me up early, and we went into Srila Prabhupada’s room and spent about a half an hour with Srila Prabhupada. This was a bit of a revelation for me and, in fact, it led to a poem that I wrote a lot later: HOW TO GAIN AUDIENCE IN BOSTON, MASS In quiet predawn corridors air-damp and odorous a sandalwood aftermath strayed in tomorrow like a well-liked shawl aired and cared for. I asked how and got favor from a new-found friend. Karandhar cares enough to wake me creeping to shower we two only now at your feet form a triad. Your cabal of heartfullness alert for the birth for the show of your truth words. A day marked North Beacon Springs ’74. We asked and you said we listened and wanted to remember the most of it always of what to say to those who claim that all mere words are merely words. So why do you speak? Why strive to ardently argue and state the point—being that if words have no point, why do you make points by speaking at all? The most of it always eludes me but feelings are clear as Indian Bell. My consciousness stood to attention in that pared down domain of focus. Chill morning senses were turning nowhere.
I would say the quality that amazed me the most about Prabhupada was the fact that he could see through you. He could tell what was beyond your words or your expression or your immediate surface demeanor. Everything from that point on was significant and you were alerted to and awakened from the slumber of Kali’s soft bed.