The Power of Saintly Association: My Personal Asssociaion with my Guru, Shrila Prabhupada Part II
As I flew to L.A. from Hawaii, I brought a very fragrant flower garland. When I arrived at the Temple, I wanted to personally garland him, but a devotee guard downstairs from his room stopped me. I thought about going into his room anyway, though I was too hesitant and fearful. Eventually Prabhupada came down to give his lecture---it was the disappearance day of his guru, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur. I was introduced by the local GBC and gave him the garland. He didn’t seem to really notice me, which upset me a bit. I was able to consider that he likely was absorbed in other thoughts, perhaps of his guru. This was the year he gave a famous talk about his guru where he became choked up with tears saying how we were all helping him serve Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta.
Actually this is the second time I gave him a garland. The previous year in 1972 after the Rathayatra festival we were waiting at the airport lounge for Prabhupada’s flight to depart. The devotees sat on the floor with a big sign with Prabhupada’s name in the back, while Prabhupada sat on a chair chanting japa. Someone gave me a garland to give him. I stood to present it to him and I froze, not really knowing what to do. I had so much awe and fear about him, and unfortunately this prevented any intimate dealings. Finally, without saying anything, I put the garland around his neck and bowed down. Not a very personal exchange, though I hope he accepted it. I was so unassertive and dull!
Other then our letter exchange I only had a few words with him at various times. I wish I had used a few when I gave him the garland, and perhaps we would have exchanged glances. I did sit in a few of his lectures, and touched his feet once at the Portland Temple, but I wasn’t able to really take advantage of his association. Perhaps that is true with many of his disciples. I appreciate him much more now than I did at that time. Imagine the questions we would ask him now!
There is an interesting experience I had when traveling to L.A from our temple in San Jose to receive 1st initiation. A few devotees and I were getting a ride from Chitshukananda Prabhu. His car was an old brightly colored station wagon Prabhupada had called a “hippie car”. About half way there the car broke down and we had to find a bus. As we were walking to the bus station in this dusty country town, an old man excitedly approached us, asking if we were going to get initiated. We were all amazed. How did he even know about such things here in the California Valley? Did everyone know I wondered? Actually he had never seen shaven headed devotees in saffron dhotis and kurtas, and thought the only explanation for our strange appearance is that we must be doing some bizarre initiation into a college fraternity. Even realizing the actual fact, I felt this was a special arrangement of Krishna to encourage us. That night I had a clear dream about Prabhupada, of which I unfortunately forgot the details.
The following day (August 1970) was our initiation ceremony in New Dvarka as Prabhupada named the L.A. Temple. Brahmananda (Swami at the time) did the fire ceremony, while Prabhupada sat on the Vyasana and chanted on our beads. When my turn came, I paid obeisances, and he asked me as he did everyone, what the four rules were and I informed him. Then he did something unusual. He broadly smil first looking around the room first and then at me, asked: “Is that alright?” I didn’t know what to say. Perhaps I had stayed the 4 rules in a way that indicated I really didn’t want to follow them---or he knew it would not be easy for me. Everyone laughed along with Prabhupada, except me. I guess it is good he got a laugh from me, but frankly, I didn’t appreciate it much. Though his smile was charming, it was different to be the object of his humor. I was very shy to begin with and now in front of so many devotees I felt put on the spot. I guess I said following the rules was ok, since he gave me my name and new tulasi beads. Of course later I laughed about it, but I wasn’t able to at the time.
While I was in Hawaii, Shrila Prabhupada visited twice. During his first visit he gave some Gita classes. At the beginning of one class he asked for a Gita, since he didn’t have one. Someone handed him one from the Temple bookshelf which happened to be mine. The verse he chose was from the 3rd chapter. He began, and while reading the purport came to a part about the importance of controlling the senses, upon which he looked up and said something like, “O, he doesn’t want to follow the rules and regulations?”
I had underlined that part of the purport and he thought I was crossing it out! He asked the Temple president whose book this was. The Temple President, Tarun Kanti Prabhu, looked at the closed book a saw my name in large letters on the binding. He told Prabhupada the book belonged to Karnamrita, and Prabhupada said, “Where is he?” I had just come down from the kitchen and was leaning on a wall to the right of Prabhupada in the back of the room. There weren’t a lot of devotees present, and the room was a little dark, so even though a few turned around no one noticed me. When Prabhupada said, “Where is he?” I froze. It seemed like I was in trouble, and I wasn’t about to stand and say “Here I am, the one that doesn’t want to follow the rules.” When I was growing up, doing something even a little bit displeasing to my father usually meant some type of physical pain. Thus, my gut reaction was to hide. Of course now I wish I had spoken up and had some exchange with Prabhupada. Another missed opportunity!
The next year (1975) Prabhupada returned to Hawaii. By this time the temple had moved to a large mansion donated by Ambarish Prabhu. I believe it was during guru puja during the kirtana that someone garlanded Prabhupada with with a huge set of Tulasi beads. Many of the tulasi beads were 1 ½ to 2 inches wide. It was astonishing to see them and Prabhupada’s face showed his amazement. He was holding the beads and looking at them like an innocent child. He seemed totally absorbed in the moment. I imagined later that I was looking at Prabhupada with a sentimental expression on my face, unbecoming of a disciple towards his guru, because as I was gawking at him, he suddenly became very grave and looked at me with one of his piecing glances that seemed to go straight to the heart. It was all an amazing experience, yet with his glance I paid my obeisances and left the Temple room.
During a noon arotik Prabhupada was present to witness and ecstatic enthusiastic kirtana. Devotees were dancing with abandon with the encouragement of Gurukripa Swami, so much so that the floor was became wet with perspiration. Prabhupada seemed to really aprreciate the enthusiasm of the devotees. In fact, during the Premadhavni prayers at the end of the kirtana, Prabhupada said, “All glories to the assembled dancers.” As Prabhupada was leaving the Temple he went to the altar (now closed) to pay his obeisances. He hesitated due to the wet floor and Guru Kripa and some other devotees dried the floor with their dhotis. Then Prabhupada left the Temple. Later on we took turns “guarding” Prabhupada’s room at the top of a beautiful flight of stairs---from whom I don’t know. I did get to take a few shifts, though I never had to stop anyone, and I can’t remember what instructions I was given.
After I spent a year in Japan I was given permission to go to India. I stayed in Mayapur for 3 months and then when to South India to travel with Acyutananda and Yasomatinanda Swamis. At some point we caught up with Prabhupada who was preaching in Madras. He was staying in a large family home with four generations living together. It was like a small village under one roof. I wasn’t very observant though there were all ages of people---grand and perhaps great grandparents, uncles and aunts and their nieces and nephews with their small children. I could really figure it all out, growing up as an only child and never having witnessed so many generations all living together. I am sure this must be a much easier way to raise children than in the West. Here was an ancient system that ensured there would be so many to help bring up and care for the kids.
Prabhupada stayed in a room with his customary white sheets covering the floor. Once when Prabhupada went for his morning walk I was one of the few who had the opportunity to clean his room. We changed his sheets, washed them along with his previous days clothes that he also slept in, and also swept and dusted the room. We hung everything on a line to dry. It was a very intimate service that I really relished.
Prabhupada was much more accessible in India. In spite of this I never got over my awe and reverence for him---to my detriment. I did get to tell him once that his prasadam wasn’t ready yet. Another time I and another devotee were posted outside his door---or we were just waited because no one invited us in for a "darshan" or audience with him. Finally my friend Nrisimha Prabhu went in, but I was too scared. He later said he was glad he did, and I lamented that my conditioning worked against me. That is the story of much of my devotional life, though I have gradually changed for the better.
Another service I did in India was to publish a monthly newspaper called, “The Hare Krishna Explosion” from Hyderabad, India. That was my first entry into the world of writing and I was totally at home in that arena. I worked on it for 3 months and felt completely absorbed in Krishna consciousness. It has taken me a long time to again take up writing but I feel it is one my elements of service.
I saw Prabhupada a few other times like in India at the Gaura Purnima Festival though I didn’t have experiences I can write about---not a personal exchange I can share, though to be in his association and with those that loved him was always uplifting. (Of course being in a great souls presence today is similar. It is a matter of affection.) I attended his lectures in various places like L.A, Portland OR, and N.Y City when I was on a traveling preaching program of book distribution.
There is one other short experience I observed in the Temple in San Francisco, on Valencia St. I don’t know why but at this time when Prabhupada came to the Temple there were only a few devotees there. Perhaps it was after the Rathayatra or something like that in 1972. Anyway someone let in Prabhupada and Jayananda was there throwing rose petals at his feet. When Prabhupada saw him, he lovingly called out “Jayananda”, and looked at him in the most loving way. Seeing Prabhupada’s loving expression was so charming and endearing. It is impossible to describe, and it sounds “New Age”, but it was like I could feel the loving exchange going on, and in some way I was also touched. Prabhupada’s eyes were very powerful, whether showing love or anger, as has been described by many of his disciples. To be the recipient of his love or chastisement was an experience that can't be forgotten.
I will finish by sharing my experience of how Prabhupada lives in his murti or Deity (consecrated statue or form). I had been bathing and dressing the Prabhupada murti in Potomac, MD for some months every day. Eventually I moved out of the Temple to find work and because I needed more independence.
Soon after moving I had a very vivid dream, where I was seeing the Deity of Prabhupada (a marble Deity playing hand cymbals or kartals). Then he transformed into the living breathing person who lived with us actively singing and playing kartels, then switching back to the apparently stationary Deity, and back and forth, it went for a while. I woke up with the understanding that serving the Deity of Prabhupada was identical to serving him personally, though to really understand this requires realization.
The personal service to our guru continues through his Deity form or picture, studying and carrying out his instructions, serving devotees in general, and by helping those who have taken the position of guru. In the absence of our guru we can become a guru ourself (not so easy), assist others acting as guru, or at least not impede the continuation of the disciplic succession (parampara).
My primary shiksha gurus are among my Godbrothers, whose service I see as identical with Prabhupadas. I deeply feel the current of spiritual life coming from them. They have come to me by Prabhupada’s mercy to give me guidance and to continue my education.
I have shared my personal association with Shrila Prabhupada, and how I continue to feel his guidance in many ways. I hope you find it interesting, inspiring, thought provoking and useful. It has been for me!