Newsletter by Krishna Kshetra Swami, Issue #8 – December 6th, 2019
Memories of Srila Prabhupada
LONDON, SEPTEMBER 1977
I had been traveling with Ghanasyama Prabhu (now Bhakti Tirtha Swami) in East Germany (DDR) and Austria, assisting him in his work with the “Library Party” of distributing sets of books to libraries and colleges by acting as a translator into German. We had just completed four weeks of travel and returned to Schloss Rettershof, exhausted from a long drive from Austria. As soon as we arrived, devotees told us that Srila Prabhupada is in London! Such a surprise, since we had been hearing of his failing health, and that he was remaining in Vrindavan, inviting senior disciples to come there and be with him. Hearing of Srila Prabhupada’s presence in London, without the slightest hesitation Ghanasyama Prabhu and I immediately jumped back in the car, forgetting our tiredness, and drove to London.
At Bhaktivedanta Manor, we first saw Srila Prabhupada before the morning Deity darsana. He was carried downstairs from his quarters in a chair which had been outfitted with arms, making it into a kind of palanquin. Srila Prabhupada was wearing dark glasses, so one could not see his eyes. His body was shockingly emaciated. On seeing his physical condition, my first thought was, “He is leaving us.” I think we all felt that Srila Prabhupada, out of his infinite kindness and love for his disciples and followers, was sacrificing all comfort to come and see us once more, to give us this last physical darsana and to give his final blessings before departing from our physical presence.
In the temple, after being brought before the Deities and having Their darsana with intent looks, Srila Prabhupada would be carried to the opposite end of the room, where he remained on the palanquin chair to receive guru-puja. During the entire time of Srila Prabhupada’s presence in the temple he kept his sunglasses on, protecting him from the painful glare of the light. While kirtana would go on, Srila Prabhupada would look around the room, very slightly nodding his head to the rhythm, while tears flowed down his eyes. Now Srila Prabhpada’s mood was entirely different from what we had seen before. No longer acting as the fighting warrior teaching and training his foot-soldier disciples and being stern and corrective, now Srila Prabhupada was allowing the waves of ecstasy to overflow, to drown anyone and everyone in his presence. Now there seemed no need for words. Srila Prabhupada had already given us complete instructions. Now he would simply secure those instructions in our hearts with his pure, uncritical love for us as Krsna’s parts and parcels. One felt that Srila Prabhupada was already securely situated in Goloka Vrindavan, and seeing our potential ability to gain that same perfection, he was overlooking our countless faults and inviting us to join him soon in the spiritual world. These days were filled with pain, knowing that Srila Prabhupada was leaving us, and knowing that it was much too early for him to leave, that we still needed him as much as ever to guide us.
Later, Ghanasyama Prabhu was invited to come to Srila Prabhupada in his room and give a report of his recent book distribution efforts, and I was allowed to go with him, since I had been traveling with him. Ghanasyama had already been recognized and appreciated by Srila Prabhupada by his outstanding success in placing “standing orders” of Srila Prabhupada’s books in many libraries in America. Now Srila Prabhupada was interested to hear how his books were being sold in Europe, and particularly Eastern Europe, where we had just come from.
There were five of us in the room with Srila Prabhupada: Tamal Krsna Goswami, Upendra Prabhu (Prabhupada’s servant), Dvarakesa Prabhu (one of the Eastern Europe preaching pioneers), Ghanasyama Prabhu and myself. We came in and offered obeisances, then sat down on the carpet before Srila Prabhupada, who now had his dark glasses removed. He was sitting in a somewhat upright chair, as I remember, and Upendra was very gently massaging his legs. I found myself staring at Srila Prabhupada’s legs, which were nothing but skin and bone, as Upendra stoked them gently. I looked up to Srila Prabhupada’s face. Prabhupada had been looking at me while he listened to Ghanasyama as he read his report. As I looked up, Srila Prabhupada looked away. I felt foolish, seeing that he must have noted my mundane perception of his transcendental body.
As Ghanasyama Prabhu read about his activities in East Germany, Srila Prabhupada occasionally interrupted to make a comment about the conditions of communist countries. He told Tamal Krsna Maharaja to note down his comments. Ghanasyama had written some details about social conditions in East Germany, noting for example that people could be seen standing in long lines waiting to get the basic necessities of life from grocery stores. When Srila Prabhupada heard this, he became quite emotional, tears coming to his eyes. He said that due to the officially atheistic position of the government, material nature would withhold these necessities more and more. “They will not even get milk, butter and sugar,” Srila Prabhupada said sadly. I was moved to see Srila Prabhupada’s deep compassion for conditioned souls. Not only was he concerned for their spiritual welfare, but for their material welfare as well.
It was Janmastami time that Srila Prabhupada had come to London. The day after Janmastami was Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja ceremony. On that morning in Bhaktivedanta Manor, Srila Prabhupada would nod his head slightly, approving of the presentation and, in a sense seeming to “approve” of his own transcendental activities throughout his life, as described to us in a chronological summary by Tamal Krsna Goswami, standing next to Prabhupada. The presentation was poignant, because, again, it was clear that Srila Prabhupada was saying “goodbye.” He was wrapping up his pastimes on this planet and would be going elsewhere, perhaps to another place in this or another universe to preach, perhaps directly back to Goloka Vrindavan.
Perhaps it was the day after Vyasa-puja, some of us found out that Srila Prabhupada would be driven by car into central London (from Bhaktivedanta Manor, northwest of London) to have darsana of Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara. This would be a special event to witness because many felt that these Deities were Srila Prabhupada’s favourite and because he would probably be seeing Them (from our mundane point of view) for the last time. So, we piled into various cars and followed (or went ahead of) Srila Prabhupada, to be in the small Bury Place temple when he arrived. Srila Prabhupada was brought in on his “palanquin” and set before Their Lordships. He sat there silently, after a few moments taking off his dark glasses. Streams of tears were visible flowing down his cheeks. Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara seemed to be particularly pleased to see Their pure devotee, smiling at him and revealing increased effulgence and beauty. It was only a few silent minutes that Srila Prabhupada sat there, as a few of us sat or stood toward the back of the room, witnessing a transcendental exchange which we could not begin to fathom.
— Memories of Srila Prabhupada by Krsna-ksetra Dasa, October 1994.
PARIS, JULY 1972
I had just joined the devotees three weeks before, moving into the small preaching centre in Stuttgart and distributing “Zurück zur Gottheit” magazines for one Deutschmark each on the street, wearing a pink dhoti (made of synthetic material). The news came that Srila Prabhupada was coming to Paris! All of the devotees in Germany first assembled in Hamburg at the Bartelstrasse temple (maybe 25 to 30 altogether) and drove to Paris in three or four cars.
GREETING SRILA PRABHUPADA AT THE AIRPORT
My first direct sight of Srila Prabhupada was at the airport. Some 70 to 100 devotees converged on the airport, receiving Srila Prabhupada in the arrival hall with a roaring kirtana. I still have a copy of a small black-and-white photograph which I think was taken at the moment Srila Prabhupada became visible to us. He is smiling broadly and waving to the devotees, still yet to clear customs.
The feeling of seeing Srila Prabhupada in person after hearing so much about him from devotees, seeing pictures of him, reading his books and distributing his magazines was of course most exhilarating. His greatness seemed accented by his small physical stature and soft golden effulgence. I noted that he was even shorter than me, inspiring a particular affection perhaps blended with protectiveness. One of my first thoughts on seeing him was, “Yes, here is my eternal father!” We all threw ourselves on the floor in dandavats, making two lines with an aisle for Srila Prabhupada to walk through (toward a reception lounge for a press conference, I believe). As Srila Prabhupada walked by me, his right lotus foot slightly touched my thumb: As far as I remember it was my right thumb, though I’m not completely sure of that. Naturally, I felt especially blessed by the unsolicited inadvertent touch of Srila Prabhupada. On getting up, someone told me to come help retrieve Srila Prabhupada’s luggage from the luggage claim area. Two or three of us dashed gleefully to the luggage claim place with Srila Prabhupada’s servant, happy to be able to do a small, practical service to Srila Prabhupada’s tadiya (paraphernalia). We knew that in his luggage Srila Prabhupada carried his books and translation work. Indeed, the one large suitcase was very heavy. Another huskier devotee carried that while I carried one of the smaller cases.
AT L’ÉCOLE D’ARCHITECTURE
The Paris devotees had rented a hall and some rooms at L’École d’Architecture, where visiting devotees stayed and where Srila Prabhupada gave two (or was it three?) evening programs.
After some kirtana by devotees, Srila Prabhupada would arrive, sit on the vyasasana, and begin chanting Jaya Radha-Madhava while playing karatals. It was absorbing just to watch Srila Prabhupada chant, seeming to become more and more absorbed in Krsna’s form and pastimes in Vrindavan with each successive repetition of the short song. His eyes would be generally tightly closed, but would occasionally open to dart swiftly about the room, glancing at the devotees and guests, withdrawing again to his vision within. I remember, during one kirtana – perhaps it was at the end of the program – as one devotee chanted and the intensity of the kirtanagradually increased, Srila Prabhupada’s head shook more and more back and forth to the rhythm as he played the karatals and sang. A very small girl – perhaps 4 or 5 years old – was dancing in front of Srila Prabhupada. As he opened his eyes and saw her, his grave demeanor suddenly transformed into a wide smile. As the devotees saw Srila Prabhupada smile, it was as if the smile infused everyone with renewed energy. The intensity and ecstasy of the kirtana suddenly increased ten-fold.
At the end of one of these lectures Srila Prabhupada asked for questions. One middle-aged man – apparently a Christian – stood up and said, “I am afraid there is no religiosity present here whatsoever!” Srila Prabhupada responded immediately, with a look of genuine concern, “Oh, you are afraid?” His simple question so clearly cut to the core of the man’s ignorance that the man was left dumbfounded and simply sat down without a further word. By his simple, disarming question Srila Prabhupada communicated volumes. One felt how unfortunate is such a fearful, confused conditioned soul that he cannot take advantage of the pure transcendental teachings – the very essence of all religion – being delivered by a fully realized person full of compassion for such a fool.
The ceremony took place in the Jardin du Luxembourg, in a corner of the park. About 15 devotees would take initiation, and Srila Prabhupada would preside over the ceremony which would include a Vedic fire sacrifice. It was cloudy and somewhat cool when we took our places next to the fire arena. A small crowd had gathered, curious at the arrangements and strangely dressed people.
Srila Prabhupada arrived and sat on the vyasasana. He gave a short lecture, which was translated sentence by sentence, addressing briefly the crowd more than the devotees: “If you want real liberty, equality and fraternity then you must take to this Krsna consciousness…” Hansadutta Prabhu, acting as priest for the ceremony, began lighting the fire. Normally the procedure is that devotees first pronounce their vows and receive their new spiritual name and beads, after which the fire sacrifice is performed. This time, however, apparently due to threatening rainclouds, it was decided to go ahead with the fire sacrifice first. Just as we were concluding the ceremony with the final mantras, throwing the last grains into the fire and offering a banana into the fire as purnahuti, it began to rain. I looked over to the vyasasana to see that Srila Prabhupada had already left! Somewhat surprised, confused and dismayed, the rest of us got up and prepared to retreat from the quickly increasing rain.
For me, this was a lesson in not taking the spiritual master’s presence for granted. At the same time, it was a lesson in preparing for times when Srila Prabhupada would not be physically present, a lesson which he expounded on in his Bhagavatam lecture the next morning, as his initiation lecture addressed to us, the new initiates, prior to completion of the ceremony – albeit in reverse – in the temple room. Srila Prabhupada first chanted the Sad-gosvamyastakam, then lectured on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.15 which describes how the association of pure devotees is more purifying than that of the Ganges, which purifies only after prolonged use: “O Suta, those great sages who have completely taken shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord can at once sanctify those who come in touch with them, whereas the waters of the Ganges can sanctify only after prolonged use.” I remember Srila Prabhupada giving the example of flight training in regard to the necessity to take full advantage of the spiritual master’s instructions in preparation for death. Eventually the trainee must fly solo, in the same way that we all, at the time of death, must leave this world alone, without assistance from others.
After the lecture the devotees receiving first initiation were called forward one by one to make their vows before Srila Prabhupada and receive a spiritual name and the set of beads which were now “chanted on” by Srila Prabhupada. I remember that before me, amongst the devotees called forward was Harijaksa. When offering obeisances and raising again, Srila Prabhupada looked at his forehead and noticed that he was without the tilaka mark of a Vaisnava. “No tilaka?” he said gravely, indicating that he should immediately put it on before coming to receive a spiritual name.
I had been in some anxiety that I might forget one or another of the four regulative principles in pronouncing my vows to Srila Prabhupada. Perhaps he saw my anxiety. In any case, he didn’t ask me, “What are the four regulative principles which you will always follow” as he had asked the others. He simply handed me the beads (after I offered obeisances) and said, “Your name is Krsna-ksetra Dasa.” As I remember, he pronounced “ksetra” in the Bengali way, making the “s” silent. “It means the place where Krsna appears, or Vrindavan,” Srila Prabhupada added. I didn’t have any idea what my name was at the time Srila Prabhupada gave it. I understood only that he had given me a name which included the name “Krsna,” answering a prayer I had offhandedly expressed silently upon meeting one devotee in Germany named Smita Krsna Dasa (now Smita Krsna Swami).
LONDON, JULY 1973
If I am not mistaken, the devotees had recently moved into the Bhaktivedanta Manor. Now Srila Prabhupada was seeing it for the first time, and he was visibly pleased. I remember only vaguely at the beginning of a class that he made a small joke about the new situation, something about the point that the devotees always live in opulence.
In the beginning of the Bhagavad-gita class one day (I believe it was in the morning rather than in the evening) Bhagavan Dasa was reciting the Sanskrit of the first verse of Chapter One. As he pronounced kim akurvata sanjaya Srila Prabhupada corrected him two or three, or even four times: kim! The difference in pronunciation was slight or unnoticeable to all of us, but Srila Prabhupada was insistent that the pronunciation must be correct.
Rathayatra: Srila Prabhupada walked and danced with arms raised during most of the parade from Marble Arch to Trafalgar square. All the devotees were struck by Srila Prabhupada’s intense mood of ecstasy, in which one could see tears in his eyes as he would gaze at the Deities Jagannatha, Subhadra and Baladeva.
Watching Srila Prabhupada have darsana of the Deities in the temple – Radha-Londonisvara – was deeply impressive. One felt that here is Krsna and Krsna’s pure devotee, and Krsna is pleased to see Srila Prabhupada as much as Srila Prabhupada is pleased to see Krsna.
I was a part of the Amsterdam yatra when Srila Prabhupada came to Germany in 1974. For some reason, the group of devotees I came to Germany to see Srila Prabhupada with came one or two days after Srila Prabhupada had already arrived at Schloss Rettershof. Perhaps for this reason I missed at least two room conversations.
I remember wanting very much to do some personal service, some menial service for Srila Prabhupada – cleaning his room or whatever. At the same time, I didn’t want to impose myself. I knew that Srila Prabhupada had his servants and secretaries, and there would have been no purpose to my imposing myself except to call attention to myself. Srila Prabhupada was something like a military general for many of us, I believe, and we were his foot-soldiers. Yet we felt content to be insignificant, knowing that somehow or other Srila Prabhupada appreciated our service, and that we were participating in the greatest mission, that of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Naturally, as always when Srila Prabhupada was present, the temple atmosphere was surcharged. There were devotees everywhere, all with one interest – to get the association of the pure devotee Srila Prabhupada and somehow gain his blessings.
One evening, Srila Prabhupada gave a lecture in the temple room on the famous thirteenth verse of Chapter Two of the Bhagavad-gita. That lecture is recorded and available from the Archives. The next evening, Srila Prabhupada lectured on the fourteenth verse (matra-sparsas tu kaunteya). (Unfortunately, that lecture seems to be unavailable. I don’t know whether it was recorded or not, but at present it is unavailable.) Srila Prabhupada was emphasizing the necessity to tolerate the sufferings of the material body. I remember that he defined death as the point at which the spirit soul can no longer tolerate the pain of the body and is forced to leave. Then he discussed the necessity to give up material attachments and become attached to Krsna. At the end of the class, he asked for questions. First Iksvaku Dasa asked a question, something about Krsna’s statement in the Bhagavad-gita that of the senses He is the mind: “What does Krsna mean by this?” The question had nothing to do with the lecture, and Srila Prabhupada seemed not to understand the question, which after all was off the subject. I think he just turned in around, asking, “What is the difficulty? Of the senses, Krsna is the mind.”
Then I raised my hand, and Srila Prabhupada acknowledged. He had been speaking about giving up material desires and attachments, and I felt compelled to ask the classic “how-can-we” question. I don’t remember exactly how I phrased it, but at the time I felt it was a question from the heart. Inspired by Srila Prabhupada’s realized words, I really wanted to know how to give up material desires once and for all, and here was the perfect opportunity to learn how to do so, from the person who was obviously completely free from material desires. So, in a tight and nervous voice I asked my question.
Srila Prabhupada immediately responded, as if this were just the question he wanted to answer. I don’t know how long he elaborated his answer, but it seemed very long. He quoted anyabhilasita sunyam – I think he quoted the whole Sanskrit verse – and then gave a purport of some length. He concluded by giving examples of the unlimited varieties of activities one can do in service to Krsna. “One can cook for Krsna, one can clean for Krsna, one can distribute books for Krsna… one can drive a car for Krsna!”
At this point the devotees laughed, knowing that I was engaged as the temple driver. It was highly unlikely that Srila Prabhupada had been explicitly told by anyone that this was my service, so it was amusing that he mentioned this as an option for service to the Supreme Lord. It seemed almost intentional that he mentioned car driving to conclude his list of examples. It was as if he knew that this was my particular service at the time and was acknowledging it as a bona fide way to please Krsna and to overcome material desires.
I felt rewarded for my sincere inquiry by Srila Prabhupada’s thorough answer. Since then I have tried to see each of the variety of activities I do in the course of my devotional service as means by which to overcome material desires and please Srila Prabhupada and Krsna.
A MORNING WALK
Srila Prabhupada walked with the devotees from Schloss Rettershof, down the hill between open fields, to the village of Fischbach. On this particular walk he spoke hardly at all, preferring to chant japa softly. We followed his example. Entering the village and passing a butcher shop, Srila Prabhupada asked devotees the meaning of one or two of the advertising signs for meat on the shop window. On hearing their meaning, he gravely walked on. Soon he ended his walk, getting into a car the devotees had ready for him.
During the walk, although anticipating animated discussion (as we had heard from so many recordings of Srila Prabhupada) we were rather given exposure to another side of our spiritual master. To me it was a reminder that we are his servants, not that he is ours, and that he has his unfathomable relation to Lord Krsna which we, as insignificant disciples, dare not try to penetrate. Still, being with Srila Prabhupada, we naturally began to see things “through his eyes.” When he looked with sadness at the butcher shop, we also felt sad, but at the same time knew that our sadness was far from the depth of Srila Prabhupada’s transcendental sadness.
A PUBLIC PROGRAM IN BAD HOMBURG
All I remember from this program was that Srila Prabhupada, despite meagre attendance, preached in his usual determined, dignified way, undeterred by a noticeable mood of mild hostility against him and his followers. Srila Prabhupada always lectured with all his energy, as if every cell and muscle of his transcendental body were focused to deliver the transcendental message. Cakravarti Prabhu translated Srila Prabhupada’s lecture into German sentence by sentence, standing to Srila Prabhupada’s right. As on other occasions, I was struck by Srila Prabhupada’s timeless character: His face seemed to exhibit ages of “seasoned wisdom.” I was aware that to the casual observer, Srila Prabhupada must look unhappy or even angry. Yet we knew that he was beyond caring to show superficial moods. He was beyond being concerned with what people thought of him, because he had an urgent message for their welfare and benefit. He would simply deliver his message with full vigor, and if someone accepted it or not was not up to Srila Prabhupada.
The devotees had just acquired a new location, near the centre of Paris, on a street corner which made the building have an odd, narrow shape. Srila Prabhupada presided over installation procedures for Sri Sri Radha-Parisisvara. [note: I have just been informed that this installation took place in 1973 according to the Prabhupada-lilamrta and according to the Vedabase. If so, my memory is certainly in bad shape!] I remember very little from the occasion, but I have a distinct memory of Srila Prabhupada offering arati to the Deities at the conclusion of the installation, after the Deities had been dressed and offered bhoga. Srila Prabhupada was very intent on what he was doing, obviously offering each item of the arati with care and devotion – not to make any sort of show, but to please Their Lordships with his humble offering. His method of offering the cloth struck me: He made very slow arches, turning several small circles with his wrist as he moved the cloth in a large circle in clockwise direction around the form of the Lord.
I vaguely remember sitting in on one darsana of Srila Prabhupada in his room. Several devotees were present, and perhaps some guests, but the room was not crowded. It was afternoon. A devotee walked in with a large plate of fruit, apparently prasada from the Deity offering. Srila Prabhupada was absorbed in preaching, so at first, he looked slightly annoyed at the interruption. That expression of light annoyance struck me, showing how absorbed Srila Prabhupada was in preaching and how detached he was from sense gratification. He took a morsel or two of fruit, then gestured for it to be distributed, and continued preaching. Somehow, I don’t have memory of receiving any of the prasada. If I remember correctly, Srila Prabhupada was discussing the importance of brahminical standards and keeping clean.
Some 30 or 50 meters from the temple building was a small grassy parkway near a main road. One day, while I was sitting on that lawn chanting Hare Krsna, I happened to look back at the temple building, to see Srila Prabhupada come out on his balcony. Knowing he would be able to see me, I immediately offered obeisances.
— Memories of Srila Prabhupada by Krsna-ksetra Dasa, October 1994
5-12-2019 till 9-12-2019
Mayapur, India: … till 21-2-2020