The day after Srila Prabhupada gave me brahman initiation was the first morning that I said my gayatri mantra, and I thought, “I’ll go down to Lake Michigan and when the sun starts rising, I’ll say my gayatri mantra.” We were in Evanston and there was a nice park along the lakefront. So I chanted japa there, got all set to say my gayatri mantra, and up drove the Ford Lincoln Continental. The door opened, and maybe thirty yards from me out steps His Loving Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. I said, “Jaya, Srila Prabhupada!” and I offered my obeisances, but Prabhupada’s back was to me. All these sannyasis were there; Brahmananda, Satsvarupa, and when everyone was ready Prabhupada turned and started walking right towards me. I hadn’t even memorized the gayatri mantra yet, and I was saying it as Prabhupada walked by. Prabhupada said, “Why is he not offering obeisances?” I had offered obeisances, but Prabhupada’s back was turned. And they said, “Prabhupada, he’s chanting his gayatri mantra.” I couldn’t hear Prabhupada’s answer, but he said, “What is the value of such chanting when the spiritual master comes by and you do not offer obeisances?” and then he walked on. I chanted my gayatri quickly and I ran to catch up with the devotees. Sudama Maharaj saw me and went to the back of the group to talk with me. I said, “Maharaj is it all right if I come?” He said, “Why didn’t you offer your obeisances?” I said, “I did.” He said, “When?” I said, “When Prabhupada got out of the car, I offered my obeisances.” He said, “Prabhupada didn’t see it,” and told me what Prabhupada had said. Immediately I couldn’t breathe, I was suffocating. I felt, “Oh, God, what is my worth? Why should I live another moment?” I carried that for a long time. Twenty-five years after that incident, I wrote a Vyasa-puja offering apologizing to Srila Prabhupada for committing that offense and thanking Srila Prabhupada for impregnating my heart with his few words. By his grace I was never familiar or took him lightly ever, ever again. Even though I didn’t think I was taking him lightly then, but after that I redoubled my determination to appreciate what it means to be in the association of the jagat guru. His words helped me for the rest of my life. Since that time I have offered my obeisances before and after saying gayatri mantra. If I’m sitting in front of the Deities and the curtain opens and there’s jagat guru sitting on the altar, I offer obeisances. Sometimes I see devotees chanting gayatri mantra when the Deities open and they don’t stop chanting. I think, “What is the value of this chanting?”
I was on the Radha-Damodar party for a little over two years, and occasionally we met Prabhupada in different places—Chicago, Atlanta, Rathayatra in San Francisco—and he would speak to us. In a personal darshan in Atlanta, Prabhupada stressed the importance of brahmacharya in spiritual life. He encouraged us to remain brahmacharis and he said, “If you stay brahmachari then you have a 75 percent chance of going back to Godhead in this very life, but if you take up the grihastha ashram, 25 percent. Therefore, try to see all women as mataji, as mother, and address them as, ‘my dear mataji.’ Mataji is a respectful term that means you love and respect that person just as you love and respect your own mother. A mataji is one of the gurus—the Bhagavatam says you should not become father or mother unless you can save your dependents from repeated birth and death. So if you address all women as matajis, you will not look at them as objects of sense gratification.”
All the devotees were in a particularly ecstatic mood and chanted and danced in ecstasy for almost an hour in a huge gurupuja. Prabhupada was sitting on the vyasasana and at the end he said the jaya om prayers while everyone offered their obeisances. Then Prabhupada said, “If you go to gurupuja every day with your God-brothers and God-sisters, then any problems you have between each other will be resolved.” Prabhupada stressed the importance of gurupuja and I’ve had experience that when we really get into gurupuja we really appreciate our God-brothers and God-sisters and we especially appreciate Srila Prabhupada.
One morning Prabhupada was walking towards the Ganga with the temple presidents, GBC and sannyasis. Some of the leaders took the opportunity to complain to Prabhupada, “This person in my zone is doing this,” or “He isn’t authorized.” One after another, these leading devotees were lodging complaints and backbiting. Prabhupada walked on without speaking until all of a sudden he stopped, turned around, whipped his cane around with a big sweeping motion of his arm and said, “All of you have come simply to discourage, and I have come only to encourage.” And he repeated, “All of you have come simply to discourage, and I have come only to encourage.” Then he turned around and continued walking. All of a sudden those devotees started saying, “Please accept my humble obeisances, Prabhu,” “Please accept mine,” “Forgive my offenses.” I took this to heart and thought, “Whatever happens in my life and whoever I associate with, I can make a better impression if I follow this instruction of Srila Prabhupada.”
In a class in Chicago in 1975, Prabhupada talked about how Visvamitra Muni had performed heavy tapasya for 60,000 years. Then he talked about sankirtan and book distribution and he said, “You can get the same benefit of this tapasya on a few days of sankirtan.” A few days on sankirtan are the equivalent of 60,000 years of tapasya by Visvamitra Muni! Everyone said, “Haribol!” After that there was a big installation of four sets of Gaura-Nitai Deities, one for each of the four buses. Srila Prabhupada’s mercy was to give us this great process.
As the 80 of us were leaving, my dear friend Praghosa Prabhu, stopped, went to Prabhupada and said, “Srila Prabhupada, thank you for bringing us to Sri Dham Mayapur.” Prabhupada said, “Sri Dham Mayapur is your home. This is your home. The West is only for preaching and sense gratification. So, if you’re not preaching you should be home in Sri Dham Mayapur.”
It was Rasa-purnima, the full moon night in the sarat season when Krishna performs His rasa lila with the gopis. Panca-dravida Maharaj said, “Srila Prabhupada, do you want to hear the chapters of the rasa lila?” Prabhupada said, “Yes, that would be nice,” and Maharaj started reading. It takes about three hours to read the five chapters. At that time somehow or other I was Prabhupada’s foot massager and I was massaging Prabhupada’s feet. So, there I was at the lotus feet of the jagat guru on Rasa-purnima at Krishna-Balaram Mandir in Sri Vrindavan Dham, listening to the rasa lila of Krishna and the gopis with His Divine Grace. Panca-dravida Maharaj read and read and I thought, “I can’t get any higher than this. If I had any pious credits, I could die right now. That would be perfection.” But I’m so sinful, here I am 25 years later still alive. Anyway, everyone was listening and Srila Prabhupada had his eyes closed. I thought, “Maybe he dozed off.” After about two hours Maharaj mispronounced a word in a Sanskrit verse, and immediately Prabhupada corrected him and then closed his eyes again. I realized that Prabhupada was in rapt attention, he was in samadhi, and all the hairs on my body stood on end. Prabhupada was absorbed in hearing the pastimes of Krishna from his own Krishna Book. At the end Maharaj said, “Prabhupada, maybe we can do this every night.” Prabhupada said, “Yes. We are simply here to enjoy.”
We had kirtan competitions. Devotees from the Chicago temple would do their thing, the L.A. devotees would do their thing, the Radha-Damodar party would do their thing and the London devotees would do their thing, like that. Everyone was fired up about chanting. But one of our God-brothers didn’t like it. He was in Prabhupada’s room with the Radha-Damodar boys and he said, “Prabhupada, it’s getting completely crazy out there, all the dancing like wildmen.” Prabhupada stopped him and said, “Yes. When you become a lover of Krishna, you dance just like a madman.” All the Radha-Damodar boys went, “Haribol!”
Bhakti-caru Swami came in early 1977 and Prabhupada immediately gave him first and second initiation and said, “He is not a new man in this movement.” Then a couple weeks later, Prabhupada was walking on the roof of the Lotus Building with Bhakti-caru Swami when Prabhupada said to him, “You have had billions of births. All of us have had billions of births, and we have always given those lives simply to sense gratification. If you give one birth to Krishna you will not be the loser. Just give one to Krishna. And if you’re not satisfied, you still get more births.” Prabhupada spoke matter-of-factly, just like saying the sun rises every day. He was considering transmigration, “Don’t worry, you can get billions of more births. But give one to Krishna and see what happens.” A week later Bhakti-caru Swami took sannyas, and he’s maintained his sannyas vows ever since. He’s given this one birth to Krishna. At any point in time we can also give our life to Krishna and that’s what I’m hoping to do.
Once, not long before Prabhupada left his body, he called Bhakticaru Swami over. Maharaj went to Prabhupada with a humble service mood and Prabhupada talked to him in Bengali. Bhakti-caru Swami smiled sweetly and laughed and Prabhupada smiled and laughed, enjoying this rasa with him. I was completely envious. They were sharing an intimate Bengali moment and I thought, “He’s so fortunate, he can talk to Prabhupada in his native tongue. I wonder what that joke was about.” Finally Prabhupada said, “Look at this body, it’s completely useless. I am practically proving that life does not come from a bag of bones.” We half chuckled and were half stunned in amazement. Srila Prabhupada transcended the whole situation. He defied the “logic” of science by saying, “I am practically proving that life does not come from a bag of bones.”
Govardhan das and I arrived in Vrindavan and checked into a room in the Krishna-Balaram guesthouse. Three minutes later Upendra knocked on the door and said, “Prabhupada wants to see you right away.” Prabhupada had asked for Govardhan because in Detroit, where he was temple president, they’d just had a magnificent wedding for Lekhasravanti, Walter Reuther’s daughter. Ambarish was the best man. So it was Ford and Reuther, and the ceremony was covered by Time magazine, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press— there was tremendous publicity throughout the country and it was a magnificent preaching opportunity. We were on our way to Prabhupada’s room when Tamal Krishna Maharaj stopped us and said, “You’ve never seen Srila Prabhupada look the way he does now. He’s not robust and healthy and it might be a shocking and painful sight for you. But don’t cry and don’t say anything negative. Just say encouraging things.” Maharaj didn’t want Prabhupada to be anxious. He said, “We’re trying to encourage Prabhupada, to uplift his spirits, to make him enthused to go on preaching for at least another 10 years. So don’t look shocked, don’t be sad.” We thought, “Okay, we’re prepared to do this.” Prabhupada was lying in his bed and we offered our obeisances. Then we stood at Prabhupada’s feet and saw him. We were shocked. Govardhan immediately lost it and quietly sobbed, covering his mouth with his chaddar. Prabhupada smiled and said, “Who has come?” Tamal said, “It’s Govardhan and Udayananda from Detroit, Prabhupada.” Prabhupada said, “Are your accommodations in the Krishna-Balaram guesthouse okay? Did you get prasadam? Are you comfortable? Is everything all right?” Govardhan, who was saddened by Srila Prabhupada’s condition, couldn’t talk, so I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada, it’s first class. Thank you for taking such good care of us.” Prabhupada said, “Are the devotees in Detroit happy in Krishna consciousness? And how are Lekhasravanti and Ambarish? How is the temple and how is the Deity worship? Are you preaching in the neighborhood?” Prabhupada went on talking about everyone else’s well-being. The kaviraj who was treating Srila Prabhupada had treated thousands of people with the same condition and he had said, “This disease is so painful that others have writhed in pain—they can barely tolerate the pain—and they become incoherent, delirious.” But Prabhupada’s consciousness was crystal clear and he was simply concerned about the well-being of others. Never once did he say, “Look at my condition. Look at how I am suffering.” I was trying to wrap my mind around how a person in such a condition could be so selfless.
My God-brother Praghosa Prabhu went to Washington, D.C. to distribute books at the airport and when he came back from sankirtan one day, Srila Prabhupada saw him and said, “Where have you been?” Praghosa offered his obeisances and said, “I’ve been distributing books, Srila Prabhupada.” Prabhupada said, “Come with me,” and together they went into Prabhupada’s room. Prabhupada said, “Where are you doing your service these days?” Praghosa said, “I’m in New York, Prabhupada, in the 55th Street temple.” Prabhupada said, “Oh, you’re in New York? I also started in New York” as if every single devotee in the movement did not know everything about Prabhupada, especially where he started. In his last days, Prabhupada talked about going on parikrama around Govardhan, but he wasn’t focused only on Govardhan. When news and letters arrived about the preaching and the book distribution that was going on, Prabhupada became inspired and once he said, “I should give up lying here in Vrindavan and go out and preach. You should take me to the New York temple. And if I die, put my tomb on top of the Radha-Govinda temple on 55th Street. I want to die preaching with my New York preachers.” So we know how important that temple was to Prabhupada and what a catastrophe it was to have lost that temple. Prabhupada said, “Place my tomb on the top of the 55th Street temple.”