In 1978 I had an extremely vivid dream of Srila Prabhupada. It opened with me finding myself in a forest at night. Up ahead I saw an encampment--a group of persons seated in a ring around a fire under a very large tree. I came nearer and discerned these men to be sadhus. All at once I was astounded to see that on a simple wooden platform placed in the center of the group sat Srila Prabhupada! He was wrapped from head to foot in a brown chadar. I ran forward and fell prostrate in the dust, His Divine Grace on my left, the campfire on my right. Not only did I fall into dust, but into shock as well. My sweet Lord, Srila Prabhupada is here again!
I raised my head to see him smiling reassuringly at me, his face glowing yet ancient-looking in the dancing firelight, his eyes sparkling yet dark like glistening pools of oil. I couldn't find a word to say to him. But the only thought on my mind was, "How can I serve you, Srila Prabhupada?" In 1978 that was a profound and at the same time poignant question, now that His Divine Grace had physically departed this world. He nodded his head from side to side in his characteristic manner and, still smiling, said only this to me:
"Why don't you write?"
I awoke. Stunned, I could not take what I had just experienced as anything less than a direct darshan of my spiritual master. I had just gotten from him, in all my worthlessness, a direct order.
Since that time I labored to fulfill that order by writing three books that were published in the 1990's. This E-journal, appearing here under the title In2-MeC, is in further pursuance of that order. (If you find the title puzzling, well, think about it!) I call it a journal but I will not be limited to merely recording the things I am doing "in real time. " Here, I'll be writing. For Prabhupada.
When I was in high school and college I used to think I was blessed with a talent to write. But in fact it is only a blessing if you can write for Prabhupada and Krsna. It is a curse to write for one's own self. My very senior Godbrother, His Grace Brahmananda Prabhu, related to me that the only time he saw Srila Prabhupada actually curse someone was when a gifted disciple turned down writing for Prabhupada to write for himself. Srila Prabhupada offered that, If you desire to make a name for yourself as an author, we can give you all the credit for writing Nectar of Devotion, which is ready for publication. This person refused, got to his feet and turned to walk away from the spiritual master of the universe. In transcendental anger, Srila Prabhupada called after him, "Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, I perpetually cast into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life. Attaining repeated birth amongst the species of demoniac life, O son of Kunti, such persons can never approach Me. Gradually they sink down into the most abominable type of existence. " His Divine Grace actually cited only the Sanskrit of these verses (Bg 16. 19-20), but there you have the meaning. And indeed this person sank into abomination and many years later died most painfully of AIDS.
Save me, Srila Prabhupada! Please accept this attempt to serve your lotus feet.
All right, so since it is a journal too, what am I doing "in real time" these days? (Let's not forget, time is Krsna! We have to spend it for Him. ) Since December 31 I have been in this city of Mahalaksmi, Kolhapur, which Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited to have the darshan of the enchanting deity of the Goddess of Fortune who resides here in separation from Lord Vaikuntha Isvara (Venkateshwara, or Balaji, who dwells at Tirupati in Andra Pradesh). I will be here until the end of January. There is a community here of several hundred ISKCON devotees and congregation. Hence, I have ample opportunities for preaching. I've spoken at a Krsna conscious New Year's festival to some 500 celebrants, given a number of classes on Bhagavad-gita, and am now holding a four-day seminar on chanting the holy name, going through the 11 verses of Kali Santarana Upanisad.
The association here is very blissful. I hope in the next few days I can acquaint my readers more intimately with the Kolhapur devotees.
As per my usual routine, I worship Shaligram every morning with puja and a yajna. That takes about two and a half hours. More about that some other time. I do several hours of study each day too. I have a lot of verses I want to learn within the next two years.
It's been a long time since I had contact with my first temple president, HH Satsvarupa Maharaja, but whenever I come across one of his uncountable books, I'm in his thrall. In my study session of a few days ago, I found this passage of his. As soon as I read it I knew I would have to reproduce it here in In2-MeC. It's taken from From Imperfection, Purity will come About.
But some say, I grew up in gurukula with the devotees. I was forced to participate in Krsna consciousness. I didn't choose it. Now I want to check out the material scene. I can't repress it, it's breaking out of me--a desire to tour the town and to see what the materialists enjoy. I want to go to night clubs and dance. I want to find out who I am and I think the nondevotees can help me. They have so many teachings and ways. Perhaps I'll go to college. It's not that only Hare Krsna people are good. In fact, I'm beginning to think they're shallow. I don't want their company, at least not exclusively. I want to be with people who can think for themselves.
Satsvarupa Maharaja then comments:
It sounds feasible in some respects. I know you have good reasons to feel this way and you've convinced yourself. You won't listen to me why you should be patient and find all that you need within the wide bounds of devotional service. I will pray for you, but I won't go with you. I am satisfied with bhakti.
It's not only gurukula veterans who argue in this way. Yes, I too have a version of this argument! While writing my three books on philosophy, I had to acquaint myself with the ideas of Western thinkers. I found that some of these philosophers express themselves very well. They formulate penetrating questions that challenge some of the stock answers I learned to rely on in ISKCON. After finishing the philosophy books, I began writing a novel. So I delved into the works of stylish authors who, while not devotional, were at least pessimistic about life in the material world-Raymond Chandler, for example, who wrote that after sunset the streets of Los Angeles got dark with something more than night. I studied plotmaking and techniques for holding a reader's attention. They have so many teachings and ways. Yes they do.
Well then? The Aborigines of the Australian outback also have so many teachings and ways. But am I interested in that? No way.
Now let's get real about what's going on here. It's all a question of how a living entity is attracted to the modes of nature. Yup, we're talking about taste. Certain manifestations of the three modes I find interesting. The formative ideas that stand behind the culture of the West, for example. Other manifestations leave me cold. That's right, I couldn't care less about the Dreamtime myths of Downunder, though I've met Australians (devotees, no less!) who think that's the sixth Veda or something. Another example: I never in my life cared for sports. I know devotees who've lived in Sridham Mayapur practically all their lives who still read the sports page for the cricket scores. Anyway, as they say, "Whatever floats your boat", right? But what floats boats sooner or later sinks boats. That's where all paths of the progress of mundane ideas finally end up: under the waves of birth and death.
In reality, anarthopasamam saksad: I, the spirit soul, have no relationship to any manifestation of the modes of material nature. It's like being intrigued by cloud formations, finding familiar forms in them--"Oh, there's a hand! There's a woman kneeling to pray! There's a giant bird!" Accepting for argument's sake that those clouds, amazingly, really are shaped the way I see them, what can they do for me? Well, beyond exciting me for a very short time, nothing. But in fact, those shapes exist only from my perspective here on the ground. Up there, the clouds have their own shapes. They would look completely different to me if I was able to rise up from the earth and float among them. Moreover, clouds seen either from the earth or the sky are ever-changing. And finally, just what are clouds anyway? Only ephemeral water vapor.
So these material attractions, however we try to defend and preserve them, are insubstantial from where we really sit as spirit souls.
Yet at the same time, they pose a grave danger to the welfare of our real nature, which is consciousness. They can cover our remembrance of Krsna. Fascination for the simulacra exhibited by clouds in the sky diverts our attention from the sun. Forgetfulness of the sun, the source of our eyes' seeing power, invites the clouds to completely cover our vision. This is where repeated birth and death begins.
Bhuliya tomare, samsara asiya, peye nana-vidha byartha: "O Lord, forgetting you and coming to this material world, I have experienced a host of sins and sorrows. "
Of course, one can argue yukta-vairagya--"Sure, material interests are there, but I am engaging these propensities in Krsna's service. " That is indeed the process. Go fishing, yes--but don't get wet!
Speaking of remembrance. . .
THE FIRST TIME I MET SRILA PRABHUPADA
You may have seen my Godsister Mahamaya Devi Dasi's book, Srila Prabhupada is Coming! My Personal Memories of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Therein she recalls that she joined the Boston ISKCON temple in January, 1971. At that time, ISKCON Boston was located at 40 North Beacon Street in Allston. The building, a three-storey weatherboard house, still stands today. ISKCON Boston, of course, is now located on the more fashionable Commonwealth Avenue.
I had joined that North Beacon Street temple a few months before Mahamaya Devi Dasi. Actually, I must admit I don't remember her (Emily, as she was known in those days). I was a temple devotee, she was a press devotee, and she moved to New York with the ISKCON Press in April '71. In any case, her book is most valuable for my writing of this story, for she accurately records dates that I'd long forgotten.
After the press pulled out, Satsvarupa dasa Adhikari remained temple president for several more months until he relocated to Dallas by Srila Prabhupada's order. The vice president was Harer Nama Prabhu, whom I greatly respected. Rukmini Devi Dasi, wife of Bharadvaja Prabhu, stayed on for a while as pujari.
Most of the rest of us were uninitiated, and we were just a handful--Audry, Rosemary, Carol, Carolannie, Thomas, Larry, Jill, James, Barbara, Donna, Paul, Martin, Victor, Nancy, Jody, Joseph, and me, Roger. Though I was just "Roger Prabhu" (we did not use the terms "bhakta" or "bhaktin" then), I was the cook of quantity prasadam for the devotees. The few initiated devotees shared the Deity cooking for Their Lordships Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra.
In July 1971, Srila Prabhupada flew in from Detroit to install Sri-Sri Radha-Gopiballabha and to give initiations. He stayed in Boston three days, then flew to the Henry Street temple in Brooklyn, New York.
He arrived on an afternoon flight. That morning, the Boston temple was transcendentally stampeded by the lotus feet of 150 devotees who poured in from New York, Philadelphia, and other places I've forgotten. It was my service to cook lunch for all of them. And it was their service to receive Srila Prabhupada at the airport, leaving me to clean alone a kitchen in more disarray than I'd seen it for a long time. I remember I had 45 minutes to do the whole job before Srila Prabhupada was expected to walk into the temple. I'd heard that His Divine Grace would sometimes make surprise inspections of the temples he would visit. So I prayed to Krsna to empower me. And I guess He did, because when I finished that kitchen was cleaner than the clean it had been early that morning, before cooking began. But oh, how I wished I could have gone to the airport with the others!
As I raced around like a madman scrubbing everything in sight, a strange thing happened. I became aware of a faint kirtan. It sounded like a large gathering of devotees chanting the holy names, but from somewhere on the outer edge of my consciousness. Was it an ethereal phenomenon or just an audio tape that someone was playing somewhere else in the building? Now, I was pretty sure there was nobody in the temple except for poor old me, the kitchen-walla. At one point I even took a quick dash through the building to find out where this sound might be coming from. I thought that if it was a tape, the person playing it could help me clean the kitchen. But I saw no one. And no matter where I went, I seemed to get no closer to nor farther away from the source of the kirtan. It remained hardly more than a murmur at the limit of my hearing.
Well, I had no time to bother about it. Srila Prabhupada was coming! I finished the kitchen, ran up the back stairs into the men's bathroom and jumped into the shower. The water splashing onto my head blocked out all other sounds. When I shut the water off, I heard the same kirtan, now loud and clear in the temple room, which like the bathrooms was on the middle floor of the building. This was the sound of Srila Prabhupada's arrival!
In a frenzy I toweled myself off, stabbed some tilak on my body and jumped into a dhoti and kurta. Bolting from the bathroom through the hallway, I faced the side entrance of the temple room. (The main entrance, used by Srila Prabhupada and all the devotees, was a stairway leading up from the building's ground floor front door. The side entrance was a folding "accordian" door on the next floor. ) I yanked the door open in time to see Srila Prabhupada bow down before Lord Jagannatha's altar. My first direct vision of His Divine Grace!
The temple room was packed. After bowing down, I sat scrunched against a corner wall right there at the side entrance. Meanwhile, Srila Prabhupada was being shown his Vyasasana at the "back" of the temple room (i. e. the side of the room opposite the altar). He gracefully seated himself, gazed kindly around the expectant assembly of devotees, then closed his eyes. With a humble expression on his face, he began his arrival lecture.
The accordian door next to me opened. Harer Nama Prabhu stepped through holding a large metal plate of assorted cut fruits. Seeing me first, he handed the plate to me and whispered, "Offer this to Srila Prabhupada as soon as he finishes the lecture. "
I was stunned. I don't think I said anything, but my face must have registered a foolish, "Who, ME?" Harer Nama, a very ascetic-looking devotee at that time of his life, gave me a grave stare, an art he was very practiced in. As I noted earlier, I greatly respected him. "You have to bring this to the Vyasasana NOW," he hissed. "Sit down near Prabhupada and wait. When he stops his talk, step up with this plate. " Harer Nama left the way he came, pulling the door shut behind him.
Kindly allow me to digress by putting in a few words here about what sort of person I am. When I need to, I can put on a good front. . . but under the surface I am very unsure of myself. I am a lunar type of personality, and as you know, sometimes the moon is right up there in its full glory, and sometimes it's just a silvery sliver hanging forlornly on the horizon. On Amavasya night, the moon is not to be seen at all even though it is right there.
I came to Krsna consciousness driven by self-doubt. And even after joining ISKCON-but before meeting Srila Prabhupada--I was not at all sure I would stay in this movement. I kept the option to leave somewhere in the back of my mind. Sure, I couldn't argue with the philosophy, and I admired all the devotees, even the wacky ones. But I didn't think I really belonged to this group. So where did I belong? I didn't know. That was my condition.
Now here I was, Bhakta Loony Moonbeam. . . with a fruit plate in my lap meant for only the greatest person alive on Planet Earth. I had an order on my head given by the temple vice-president, a devotee I could never refuse. Was I wracked with insecurity? Absolutely. Was I happy? Oh yes, that too. Sweet and sour sauce all the way.
I took a careful look at Srila Prabhupada. His eyes were still closed. He was speaking about the modes of material nature, how they color the consciousness the way mud colors water. I made my move, gingerly threading my way through the devotees and guests seated close together on the floor, keeping an eye on Srila Prabhupada all the while. Thank Krsna! His eyes are always shut. He doesn't see me coming. If he suddenly looks my way, I might drop the plate.
I reached the Vyasasana but kept moving until I was close to the rear wall of the temple. Nobody was sitting in this spot because you couldn't see Srila Prabhupada's face here. I could sort of see him in profile, but it was from a rearward angle. The idea was to sit down safely outside of Srila Prabhupada's field of vision. I was sure he hadn't seen me yet, and when at last he did open his eyes, I didn't want them to fall on me. When the time comes for him to get the plate, let me pop up out of nowhere and then fall back out of sight.
The lecture was brief. Srila Prabhupada stopped and opened his eyes, looking at the Deities and at his audience. Everyone shouted "Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!" Then silence reigned. OK, now's the time. . .
But I couldn't move. Scared. Frozen to the spot. Angry at myself for not performing my duty, but too baffled by low self-esteem to do anything about it.
All at once Srila Prabhupada's golden head swiveled back in my direction. He looked at me and smiled graciously. "Ah, prasada!", I heard him say. The sound of his voice coursed through my consciousness like electricity, sparking me to action. In an instant I was on my feet. I stepped up close beside him so that he could select whatever he wanted. He took a piece of cantaloupe, bit into it, chewed, and put the remnant back on the plate. Then he poured water into his mouth from a styrofoam cup that was also on the plate. He leaned over to his left and spit the water on the floor. Amazing! After returning the cup, he got down from the Vyasasana, offered obeisances to the Deity, and swept out of the side door along with a dozen or so leading disciples.
The rest of the devotees, all 150, mobbed me for mahaprasadam. I did manage to swallow a grape or something before the plate was stripped of remnants.
Standing there, I suddenly realized I was ecstatic!
What had just happened?
Srila Prabhupada showed me he knows me! Without even having laid eyes on me before the moment he smiled at me and said "Ah, prasada," Prabhupada was transcendentally aware of my person. He knew full well my self-doubts, my hesitation to commit myself, yet he reached past this inner darkness to enliven my true identity with his Divine Grace. Regardless of the factors of time, space, even the state of my mind, that militated to keep me distant from him, Srila Prabhupada knows exactly who I am, where I am--and what my service to him is! At our first meeting, this realization was unshakably enshrined in my heart.
And what about that mysterious kirtan I'd begun hearing when the temple was empty of devotees, the ethereal chanting that turned into the kirtan of the devotees who accompanied Srila Prabhupada to the temple from Logan Airport? All these years later I still wonder about that.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
9 January 2003
THE SECOND TIME I MET SRILA PRABHUPADA
I met Srila Prabhupada again on the heels of my first encounter with him. Now, while watching Siddhanta Prabhu's "Srila Prabhupada Memories" video series, I've noted that several Godbrothers report that, like me, they were shy and hesitant the first time they met His Divine Grace. After being enthused by the mercy of the initial contact, some got a little too emboldened and tried to "force" a follow-up meeting with Prabhupada on one pretext or other. Every Godbrother whom I know of with a story like this said the second time around Srila Prabhupada shut him down, either by chastisement or dismissiveness (the transcendental "cold shoulder" treatment). My second attempt to serve Prabhupada was similarly too ambitious. But Prabhupada corrected me in a different way.
You'll recall from the previous journal entry that after His Divine Grace gently lifted this skittish little worm of a self into the light, up from out of my thick shell of defensive self-absorption, I found myself in ecstasy. "Liberation means joyful. " But liberation shouldn't mean that I then think I am the enjoyer.
Well, that's what happened next. Now wait a sec. . . no, truth be told, it wasn't quite like that. I didn't deliberately work out in my head a plan to try to take advantage of my new-found Relationship with Srila Prabhupada. But that's what the sudden burst of enthusiasm that dwelled up in my heart led me into. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" and all that. No, it wasn't like that either. I was still on the road to Srila Prabhupada. But along that road await heavy lessons for a disciple to learn.
Anyway, after Prabhupada exited the temple room I rushed out of the side door, leapt down the back stairs and burst into the kitchen. Within moments I had put together another fruit plate, this one featuring fresh New England blueberries, succulent pieces of green and orange melon, and a couple lumps of sugared butter in little cupcake paper holders. I raced back up the stairs with the plate in my hands and tapped at the door of Srila Prabhupada's quarters, located just across the hall from the side entrance to the temple.
Let's consider a moment what I was doing. My bringing that fruit plate to Prabhupada's room was more service to me than service to His Divine Grace. After all, not ten minutes earlier Srila Prabhupada had taken fruit. Just a little bit, true, but he could have taken more if he wanted. So why barge in his room with yet another plate of fruit? This illustrates what I mean about trying to take advantage of the relationship with the spiritual master.
The door opened just enough to reveal Satsvarupa Prabhu sitting on the floor inside. He looked up at me doubtfully. Whispering urgently, I told him "I've brought prasadam for Srila Prabhupada. " His eyes widened, then he turned away. I heard him ask something to Srila Prabhupada. In a moment the door swung open and I strode through.
Into the spiritual sky. I paid my dandavats and looked up in amazement.
Srila Prabhupada's room, as I recall, was painted white with blue trim. Mostly it seemed white. The floor, covered with spotless cotton sheets, was certainly all white. So Srila Prabhupada's transcendental effulgence in the midst of this color scheme had an almost blinding effect on the eye. It really seemed to me that the air in there sparkled, as if the molecules of oxygen were surcharged to a sublime glow by Prabhupada's presence.
Prabhupada sat against white bolsters behind a low table. Arrayed in a half circle around him were about a dozen of his eldest disciples, some of whom I'd only heard about--for example Karandhara Prabhu from Los Angeles, who'd arrived with Prabhupada. They looked as though they were drinking their spiritual master's divine form through their eyes.
In my new boldness I stepped up to serve Srila Prabhupada, but he motioned me to distribute the fruit to the devotees. The purport: I should not try to enjoy my relationship with the spiritual master. I should serve him by serving his servants.
But shortly, one of the disciples, Karunamoya Prabhu, spoke up. "Srila Prabhupada, he brought you a New England delicacy called blueberries. Please try them. " Prabhupada nodded to me and held out his hand. The purport: by the mercy of the spiritual master's servants, I may get a chance to serve His Divine Grace directly. I should not aspire for more than this.
I placed some blueberries in his truly lotuslike palm; but before tasting them, Prabhupada noticed the butter. He directed me to dab some of it onto the berries in his hand. Then he took, nodding his head appreciatively from side to side. Purport: Srila Prabhupada is independent, so he may call on me to personally serve him at any time.
But I must learn to remain humble.
I distributed the rest of the prasadam to the devotees, offered my obeisances, and silently withdrew.
It would be nice to be able to conclude here that I learned an important lesson from my first two meetings with Srila Prabhupada, and could thereafter move beyond my insecurities onto the steady platform of fixed devotion. But less than 48 hours later my propensity for self-doubt caused me to almost miss my initiation.
That's a story for another time.
A Godbrother speaking at the Krsna Balarama Mandira 2002 Srila Prabhupada Tirobhava observance said that the reminiscences of Prabhupada's disciples of their times with His Divine Grace are not nostalgia. Well, I'm doubtful if that entirely applies to me. No, I understand what he meant and do agree philosophically. But I belong to the kapha-prakrti type, according to Ayurvedic personality classification. We are prone to sentimentalism, looking backward, depression. I find myself often indulging in wishful thinking about the past. That's nostalgia, or something close to it.
In 1951, Harper's, a New York literary magazine, published a short story by Seymour Freedgood called "Grandma and the Hindu Monk. " It was about a sadhu from East Bengal who comes to live in a rooming house run by a Jewish family in a suburb of New York City (on Long Island, I think). The sadhu wears saffron robes, is a strict vegetarian, preaches from the Bhagavad-gita, keeps a Tulasi plant, and chants Krsna's name to the beat of a small drum.
I first read "Grandma and the Hindu Monk" in a paperback collection of 20th Century American fiction that I found in the Mayapur library (of all places!). That was six or eight years ago. Later I made a photocopy of the same story from an original Harper's 51/1 issue in the archives of the Los Angeles Public Library. Re-reading that awakened a nostalgic flood of interest in the America of the late '40's and early '50's--the period when most of Srila Prabhupada's disciples were taking their births.
This short story about a Bengali Vaishnava who comes to chant and preach in New York suggests that a chthonic anticipation for Krsna consciousness was stirring deep in the American psyche as early as 14 years before Srila Prabhupada's arrival.
It interests me that the same year Srila Prabhupada published the first issue of Back to Godhead in Calcutta, with its lead article on the problem of war, the so-called Beat Movement was gelling among certain disaffected New York intellectuals who were alienated by the war-plagued Western civilization. Among these founder-acaryas of the Beats was Allen Ginsberg, who would later render important service to Srila Prabhupada in the late 1960's. Another original Beat was John Clellon Holmes, who wrote a newspaper article in the early '50's titled "This is the Beat Generation. " He described the Beats as being opposite to the scientific materialists who had tried to banish God from human experience. The Beats were looking for God in everything.
What if Srila Prabhupada had come to New York in 1945 instead of 1965? (Don't take this "what if" too seriously, gentle reader. It is just a thought experiment. ) There already were people around then who would have certainly come forward to hear him. Poets, students, speculators, welfare workers, dopeheads and dropouts who very well might have followed him with the same sense of eager spiritual adventure as did his disciples of the 1960s. Imagine if ISKCON today was 57 years old, and had been personally guided by Srila Prabhupada for the first of its 37 years (from 1945 until November 1977)?
Just wishful thinking. Sorry.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
10 January 2003
Yesterday I wrote:
"I should not try to enjoy my relationship with the spiritual master. "
But that relationship is nectarean! Therefore it must certainly be enjoyable! So is it wrong for a disciple to be an enjoyer in his rasa with Lord Krsna's pure devotee?