Vaikunthanath dasa has written a memoir of his relationship with Srila Prabhupada. He was fortunate to get a lot of personal association in the early years, in Boston and Montreal in 1968. His writing is very effusive. He describes how coming into Prabhupada’s presence even for a moment drives away all troubles and anxieties and brings one into the spiritual world. He is very receptive and submissive to Prabhupada’s extraordinary spiritual presence. He makes a habit of traveling from temple to temple, wherever Prabhupada moves. Prabhupada seems to approve this. The reader joins in the euphoria of Vaikunthanatha and lets his ecstasies sweep him along. He has such a high opinion of Srila Prabhupada and loves to be with him.
Here is a sample of Vaikunthanatha’s writing:
“During these few weeks in Boston, in May 1969, I recall a wonderful morning walk with Srila Prabhupada. Just near the small temple on Glenville Avenue, there was a hilly green park with trees. There were only three or four disciples on that morning walk, and I remember how thrilled we were to be so intimate with Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada was walking in a relaxed manner, pointing to various things with his cane and commenting. At one point the landscape leveled out. Srila Prabhupada was discussing the reading and studying of Krsna conscious literature. Suddenly Srila Prabhupada stopped walking and turned toward me and looked at me straight in the eyes. I was overwhelmed by his gravity and depth and his fatherly love and concern. As he looked straight in my eyes, he said to me, ‘When you read, try to understand every word.’ I knew that I had received an instruction of great importance in my study of spiritual literature. I felt incredibly awestruck. I realized that Prabhupada was concerned with each and every one of his disciples, carefully guiding them in Krsna consciousness and giving them instructions based on their individual needs.”
We won’t stay up past midnight. We won’t drink excessive amounts of liquor. We are Hare Krsna monks, and we abstain from the low-minded reveling that is typical for New Year’s Eve. Some temples send out groups on harinama and chant along with the revelers. But the devotees usually come back by about 9:00 or 10:00, before it gets too degraded. This year there may not be hundreds of thousands of people packed together at Times Square to watch the ball come down at midnight. New York City is in the grip of COVID, and it’s not good to gather in crowds. I’ll be in bed by 7:00 PM and trying to rise by 2:00 AM on New Year’s Day 2022.
New Years Day 2022 was a quiet day like any other. But just before lunchtime, when Manohara was already finished cooking for three, three unexpected guests came. They had come just for lunch. Manohara had to cook extra, and the lunch was served late. The guests left soon after eating. Baladeva went out shopping, and the stores were mostly empty. But where stores were open, he found there was a jolly mood between employees and customers. Everyone was wishing each other a happy new year.
I got my vaccinations and didn’t catch COVID. I faithfully compiled my Free Write Journal every week for the whole year. I published two books in July for my family gathering, and three books for my Vyasa-puja in early December. and we are working to reprint all the books I’ve written about Prabhupada during the year 2022. During the year I mostly stayed indoors, but went out to see many doctors and nurses. I continued my immobility, being unable to walk, and rode in my “carrier,” being pushed by Baladeva. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The medicine I took for Parkinson’s improved the strength of my legs, but not enough to walk and abandon the cart.
My Vyasa-puja on December 4th was a success. A hundred people gathered at the VFW Hall. Two of my Godbrothers, Jayadvaita Swami and Kavichandra Maharaja, attended and spoke. Jayadvaita Maharaja is a close friend. He is a constant lecturer on Zoom, and he has written another book, Srila Prabhupada’s Standard for Kirtana. Kavichandra Maharaja was first-initiated by Prabhupada many years ago. He has preached in the Far East and now resides in the Brooklyn temple. He is an ideal sannyasi.
It was a dark year for the world, with rampant COVID and bitter politics splitting the United States in half.
In Kali-yuga people are so weak that they can’t keep a year-long resolution. They try to keep it up, but after a few weeks or months they can’t sustain it. We have our regulative principles: sixteen rounds and avoidance of four sinful activities. Those are our resolutions year after year. Mystic yogis in bygone ages were able to practice austerities for hundreds of years in order to get a boon from a demigod. Their motivations were often evil, an attempt to get power over the world. Often their resolutions caused trouble to the whole world populace, and the demigods prayed to Visnu to get the ascetic to stop his resolutions. In the case of Hiranyakasipu, he had control of the whole universe. But when he tortured his pure devotee son Prahlada, the Supreme Lord came and cut him into little pieces with His nails.
Manohara cleaned and dressed Radha-Govinda today. They’re wearing a beautiful pink outfit with scattered blue and silver flowers across Radharani’s skirt. Govinda wears a nice red-and-pink turban. Because Manohara was dressing the Deities, Baladeva prepared lunch. He was glad to take a turn and made American sandwiches filled with sprouts, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, roasted peppers and Vegenaise on homemade multigrain bread. It was delicious. While three of us honored the prasadam, about fifteen devotees on our out-loud Zoom hookup read from the Srimad-Bhagavatam First Canto, “The Prayers of Queen Kunti.”
Instead of asking us, “How is your bhajana?” (which for me mostly means, “How is your japa?”), people ask us about the weather. My sadhana is steady, and the out-loud reading is a great nourishment—to hear from Prabhupada’s books about two and a half hours a day. As for the weather, it went down to 11° Fahrenheit overnight, and in the daytime it went up to 32°. It was supposed to snow, but it didn’t. We find out about the weather at the little post office, where everyone has the latest information. But no one talks about the Bhagavad-gita.
Not much is happening in Stuyvesant Falls. The little post office at the corner is understaffed. They don’t pay enough to attract many new employees. They’re open only four hours a day. The post office is a center where people hang out and talk about the weather. Yesterday it was 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and today it’s 19 degrees. There aren’t many Democrats around here. But you can spot one if he talks about global warming.
Our neighbor, Louie, keeps chickens. The leader is a cock who goes, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” loudly all day long. The neighbors complained. The cock also led the chickens into the road and into other people’s yards. That went on for only two days. Louie had to chase them around and they wouldn’t come back. Then he killed a chicken and ate him. Now the chickens are quieter, and they don’t stray so much out of their yard.
Amit is a “born-again Hindu.” He is an Indian man but has a Christian background. Then he associated with young Hindus in Albany and converted. Then he met us Hare Krsnas and has come to accept Prabhupada’s books as the final authority, even though he still dabbles in “kitri” Hinduism. He likes prasadam, and he’s convinced of the importance of doing seva. He has a taste for darsana of our Deities. He loves kirtana, although we can’t supply him much at our ashram. He wears his hair in a topknot and has a long, pointy beard. He’s like a guru to his Hindu friends in Albany. To them he gives out Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and he himself bought a complete set of Srimad-Bhagavatams from one of Rama Raya’s men who was visiting us. When there are some different opinions about religion, Amit takes Prabhupada’s books as his final authority.
Devotees who are growing older and get ill are facing a dilemma. They’re having to decide whether they want to make out their will that they don’t want to be resuscitated if their heart stops. That status is called “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR). They say there are many risks involved if you allow the doctors to take extraordinary measures with medical machinery to keep you alive once your heart or breathing stops. Either way you look at it, it’s our karma acting. Srila Prabhupada said a devotee should just depend on Krsna, but he may accept normal medical treatment. He shouldn’t (or she shouldn’t) refuse all medical help. To do this is another form of suicide.
“That dream of Prabhupada on the chariot—I usually think, ‘Oh, here we go again, someone is claiming that he dreams of Prabhupada and is making a big deal of it.’
“But I listened too. I didn’t want to miss the chance.
I don’t want to be plunged into the miseries
and tortures of the material body and the material world.
I could write about that sort of thing,
and disturb people’s minds with Vietnam
war survivors’ memories, even Holocaust
memories or Bosnia or assault in Harlem and
at suburban college dorms.
I am aloof from all that in this cabin
in the hills. I need no locks on my door.
The only people who come are here to serve,
except for the dog who came (I was glad he wasn’t a bear).
“I should use this time to serve the Vaisnavas and all people
by spreading the glories of the Lord and the spiritual world Vaikuntha.
Prabhupada didn’t dwell on the tortures
in this world, although he saw stacks
of bodies from the Hindu-Muslim riots and
heard World War stories when he ran the pharmacy store.
He said these are all features of the dangerous
maya and we should get out of this world.
He didn’t dwell on the horrors of the
slaughterhouse where cows are mutilated and killed.
He said, ‘We do not wish to talk of such things.’
He spoke more of facts: we are souls and souls cannot be violated.
“This is important. No matter what they do, they cannot kill, cut, burn, annihilate the soul. This life is meant for improving ourselves for the next life. Best to hear about Krsna and become free of samsara.
“Krsna protects His devotees.
When one serves Murari, the dangerous
ocean of maya shrinks to the size of the hole
a calf makes with its foot.
through your token karma
and don’t resent the Lord’s mercy.
‘Your will. Your holy name. Please
forgive me and deliver me from nescience.’”
“What’s going on here? They want to know how Sukadeva met the king. Did he go to the cow shed and wait, standing there silently, or did he ask the householder, ‘May I have some milk?’ Can you draw a picture of that?
“The stove here overheats this room. Then as I let the fire die down, it gets cold in here. That’s what simple living is about. It means recognizing austerity. For devotees, they have to be living that austerity for a reason. People who are proponents of simple living say that we should see ordinary chores as meditations on God. Chop wood when you chop wood; be mindful. If a devotee doesn’t engage in his simple life activities as Krsna conscious meditation, he will feel like he is wasting his time because just to get through basic maintenance takes so much time. I have not conditioned myself to see bodily maintenance as holy because I am accustomed to the modern amenities that save me time so that I can do my real service of writing. It occurred to me, however, that in former times, monks living in monasteries would work and go through their group liturgies all day and usually have only a few hours to themselves at night. I say I want more time, to save time to chant Hare Krsna. The two ideas are not really opposed, and neither one is exactly right or wrong. It’s not wrong, I mean, to free yourself from chores in order to do other service. At the same time, it’s not wrong to do those chores as service.
“Sometimes I feel I can’t push myself too much. Still, I want to see more Krsna consciousness and to witness how the mind flows and ebbs and swells and proves our theme that we can all live a Bhagavatam life even when we are not actually reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
“I seek the satisfaction of no-planned architecture in the flight of a bird and its routine song, and fate, although man can do something on his own.
“I remember Sukadeva and Suta and Saunaka and Vyasa. All were devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who opened His mouth out of fear of His mother when she insisted that He had eaten dirt.
“I believe in God the Father
Almighty who killed Putana
when He was 3 months old.
And I believe in His son Brahma
and his sons the Kumaras and in Jesus
Christ, called ‘His only son, our
Lord.’ I don’t believe Jesus was
the only offspring devotee of God.
I believe in the resurrection of the soul
life after life, transmigration.
Not believe, it’s fact, said our
I believe in his presentation
of Vedic fact
and that’s that.”
“At least I’m happy to express what I can in the time I have available. To express Krsna consciousness from amid these mountain pines, in this cabin nestled like an animal in its lair. I’m hungry and restless and wander around curious to look under rocks and behind trees, and especially behind my own mind and heart. I am not a pure devotee yet. Why not? Keep foraging.
“Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between mist and sky in these mountains. It looks like the softness of a Chinese painting of pines and mountains and a white path leading into nowhere.
“Astrologers predicted that Pariksit Maharaja would be as powerful as Indra. He was the last surviving Kuru and a great devotee. The BBT painters depict him with a mustache. He was real, practicing courage and penance in his last seven days on earth.
“‘This is our disease,’ Srila Prabhupada said, ‘that we are not like Maharaja Pariksit, knowing death is coming and doing nothing except hearing.’ They say Bhisma also heard krsna-katha at the end of his life and then spoke words of comfort to Maharaja Yudhisthira while Krsna and the sages gathered to hear. When Pariksit was dying, however, there was no need to teach dharma. Rather, Sukadeva discussed the most essential topics; Pariksit had no other duty but to sit there and develop pure love of God through his attentive listening.
“Life is short for us too. There’s no point in dwelling on the intricacies of our own minds. The British Columbia pines were here before I came and will be here when I leave, but even they will have to let go with their roots and slide down the hillside. The hill will also have to go one day. In the end, when Lord Sankarsana breathes fire, there will be no rain to quench the flames. Then we will all be gone in a puff of smoke and dust. It doesn’t really matter how death comes to this body; the body belongs to the material nature, and material nature will arrange to reclaim it. Real life is the soul.”
“Therefore, I am a genuinely poor man, and my poor man’s petition in prayer is to please allow me to chant better. That prayer tends to surpass absorption in what we have been calling the trivial details. Actually, they support the genuine cry, ‘Please let me serve. I depend on You for everything spiritual and material. Please let me hear, O Lord, what You want me to do.’ Merton says that prayer is sacred and that God’s care for the saintly person is a secret between them. You can’t write too much about that inner side of life. You’re left, then, with the outer part—the details and the expressed cry. Scripture gives the balance.”
“I answered the questions the devotees asked. That’s my role. Most of them could probably answer those questions themselves, but I like to do it and to feel staunch and confident. We should never feel doubtful or defeated. A question may admit doubt or confusion, but when we seek direction and admit ignorance, doubt and confusion are automatically conquered. The person who answers questions becomes like a counselor who directs us to take shelter at Krsna’s lotus feet.
“We have heard that Vedic teachings can be given in the mood of different relationships. They can be spoken as if from teacher to student, as if between friends, or as if from a lover. When the instructions come as absolute injunction demanding submission to authority, then the Vedas teach like the preceptor. When they are spoken more intimately as if among equals, then the Bhagavatam is like a friend. The lover speaks through poetry and song. The Bhagavatam narrations are capable of instructing and inspiring us in all three of these relationships. There is no restriction.
“Similarly, when I answer questions, I don’t have to assume a stiff posture or claim that I am as perfect as the source of knowledge from which I speak. I might even admit that I don’t know something, but then assure the audience that the answers are in the books as well as in the hearts of the great devotees. (I am not a great devotee.)
“Thus the answer-man remains true to the demeanor of one who sits on the vyasasana, yet admits that he’s not perfect in his own example or precept. Or at least he doesn’t know all the intricacies of Vedic knowledge. However, he always keeps a positive attitude and trusts in Vedic authority.
“Then he sits down to free-write and appears to go even further astray. He’s off the vyasasana now, walking down a lonely street. The words pour out. He tries to answer the deeper questions, the ones that relate to his own soul. He tries to get beyond ritual and even ground rules, and to leave the ‘absolute answer-man’ behind. The questions have already been answered, the perfect counsel given, but that restlessness, both questioner and answer-man feel, has not been addressed. Maybe it’s because they didn’t reach down to the human element. Maybe they even suppressed their human feelings to come up with the absolute response. They played a role but didn’t allow themselves to speak from the heart.
“That’s where free expression comes in. Let’s find out what we really think. This may require that we speak the truth of our minds even when it’s less than ideal. Of course, we tend not to admit certain things in public. But in private, we may be willing to admit almost anything. At least we’re willing to make our confession to Krsna. We trust that He already sees our unworthiness. He knows we have not proven ourselves worthy of His mercy. Why hasn’t He transformed us by force into pure devotees? He leaves us suffering here with our own free will and mixed desires. We want to be able to answer that question. It’s important.
“‘O Krsna,’ I pray, but how to deepen my sincerity? Why is my desire for prema so small and insignificant? ‘Please accept me as I am and help me to improve.’”
Housatonic Community College, West Haven, Connecticut
“My lectures are restrained. The professor was satisfied. I contrasted Indian village life with materialistic American life. A boy objected that Indian social life wasn’t mobile. I admitted that social escalation for material success wasn’t stressed. These kids have no idea of spiritual life. Dull-headed kids said that they had this idea of immortality: not that you can become a dog, but ‘you live on in your kids.’ An hour and a half went by easily. Preaching against materialistic culture is natural. They may see the criticism, but they can’t see the soul or Krsna. One boy said it was nice, but how can it be done in the West, which is so neurotic and geared for technology? I told him to join ISKCON. They bought two dollars’ worth of books and chanted.
“Concerning social elevation, why be so eager to elevate within the prison from third-class to first-class prisoner? Everyone in material life is a prisoner. Vedic society teaches us how to become free and go back to Krsna, never mind sudra, vaisya, whatever—He takes everyone. But we are more concerned with the prison facilities. No knowledge.
“Two classes with Professor Braune, East Connecticut State College, Willimantic. His classes really chanted nicely. Before the class we spoke some philosophy with the professor.
“Everywhere we go we are respected by the professors. They want us to expose their students to the Vedic knowledge because it is so different and is related to their studies. I was preaching as a devotee saying, ‘Surrender to Krsna or you’ll remain in suffering.’ Now and then I would say, ‘According to Vedic philosophy,’ in order to set things in the academic, objective tone.”
“There is also sometimes a thin line between a brahmacari’s obligation to protect his celibacy and his obligation to be kind to women devotees. When a brahmacari becomes fanatical in his behavior, he exhibits the ‘love-hate’ syndrome, manifesting attraction to women by displays of hatred for them. A moderate but strict approach is advisable.
“When a brahmacari decides to become a grhastha, is that a falldown? The answer is no. He should be encouraged to take the responsibility for the asrama that is most suitable for him.
“However, devotees in the Krsna consciousness movement should encourage unmarried men and women to remain celibate if they desire to do so. A brahmacari once wrote to Prabhupada that the temple president was pressing him to get married. Prabhupada replied:
“‘I do not think that Hamsaduta is pressing you for marriage. Marriage is a concession for a person who cannot control his sex desires. Of course it is a difficult job for the boys in this country because they have free access to intermingling with the girls. Under the circumstances, it is my open order for everyone that everyone can marry without any artificial pose. But if somebody is able to remain a brahmacari, there should not be any causing for his marriage.
“‘. . . Our students, either brahmacari or Householder, are being trained up for constant engagement in Krsna consciousness service without any personal interest. This is perfect order of sannyas. So if everyone is trained up in this line of action, all of us are sannyasis in all circumstances.’
—Letter, March 7, 1970
“Unmarried ladies who aspire for celibacy are encouraged by several verses in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Fifth Canto, spoken by Laksmi-devi. She advises all women to accept only Krsna as their husband, otherwise one will have to accept a creature made of flesh, blood, mustaches, stool, and urine, a so-called husband who cannot offer his wife any ultimate protection.”
“April’s cold in Ireland
but yesterday was a sunny treat.
Halfway up the hill I followed
the muddy impressions of cows’ hooves,
and found a bit of turf to sit on.
White clouds floating. Pasture and fences.
I spend my time reading.
The hare didn’t stop running
until he was over the hill.
The magpies kept their distance.
It was nice to look out on the sunny day,
with white daisies popping up.
If I could only quiet my mind,
and find my heart,
I’d be face to face with Lord Krsna.
But if He does not reveal Himself to me,
I want to go again through the mud,
over the fence,
and open His book.
With Prabhupada’s guidance,
He is my Lord.”
“Abhaya dasa wrote me that after twenty-eight years in power, the PNC party in Guyana has been replaced by the PPP. He wonders if this will have an adverse effect on ISKCON. Multiply that by twenty and thirty different reports. Someone wants to know what he should do with a piece of land his father gave him in Trinidad. What is my opinion about entering contests that appear on the back of juice cartons in Ireland? A lady wants to know, ‘Now that the man I married has become inimical to Vaisnavas and doesn’t support his wife and children, should I still follow him?’ Another asks, ‘Would having a child solve the problem of my husband’s falling down and his coldness toward me?’ I don’t mean to heartlessly expose these confidential inquiries. I’m just explaining to myself why I may be pausing and looking around rather than taking earnest last stabs at being in Vrndavana.
“Just below me they are digging in their garden and talking. The Hindi ‘talk show’ radio is being broadcast as usual at this hour; I don’t know what they are saying. A man and his wife walking on the path. I feel as if I’m an owl revolving his head around 360 degrees, looking . . . for what?
“Flags are mostly limp. Domes saying to me, ‘Take your last chance and see us and speak. Do you know what temple domes are saying in Vrndavana?’ The ISKCON temple bell says, ‘Do you think you will always be able to hear me ring 4:00 P.M. in Vrndavana?’
“‘Although I sometimes hear the nectarean message of Godhead from the mouths of devotees, because I commit so many offenses, I do not become purified. . . . What will I do when death comes?
“‘Although again and again I heard the sruti and smrti scriptures’ declaration that one should take shelter of Lord Hari’s lotus feet in order to become fearless, I did not chant Lord Krsna’s name, and I did not meditate on His transcendental form.’ (Prarthana 8.4)”
“Bhaktivinoda Thakura says, ‘If I sing Your holy name every day, by Your mercy the ten offenses will gradually disappear. A taste for Your holy name will grow within me, and then I will taste the intoxicating spirit of the name.’ (Saranagati, 7.8.4).
“Other things you might do to improve japa:
“(1) Give time—a week or two—just for that. Don’t do any other extensive work. Chant thirty-two rounds.
“(2) Keep up the practice you developed in those weeks of chanting japa immediately upon rising, for an hour. It gives priority to your weak bhajana.
“(3) Think of your visits to Vrndavana as a way to improve chanting.
“(4) Speak about it in classes, in a non-hypocritical way. Write about it sincerely.
“(5) Can you pray for it? Before you chant, say prayers. Often we think we don’t have time for even ten or twenty minutes of prayer before japa. But it could help. Then when we start chanting, we are in a more sanctified state of mind.
“(6) There are other little tricks and things like writing japa or keeping a japa notebook. But these all take time. Ultimately, we have to get down to chanting.
“(7) Discuss it with friends who are in a position to help you.”
“Srila Prabhupada told us the story of how he first started writing the Srimad-Bhagavatam. He explained to us that a librarian (and later an army captain) suggested he should write books rather than only put out Back to Godhead because books are more permanent. This was the external reason, but he took it as an instruction from his spiritual master.
“Prabhupada then decided to produce the Srimad-Bhagavatam. I made a list from Prabhupada’s books themselves of why I thought he chose the Bhagavatam.
“‘The material miseries of the living entity, which are superfluous to him, can be directly mitigated by the linking process of devotional service. But the mass of people do not know this, and therefore the learned Vyasadeva compiled this Vedic literature, which is in relation to the Supreme Truth’ (Bhag. 1.7.6).
“Therefore, the Bhagavatam is such an essential literature in the age of Kali to relieve people of their suffering and give them Krsna consciousness.
“There are other reasons too, but they are related to these two. Taking on this work, which would become lifelong, was a great challenge. Prabhupada began it in his sixty-fourth year.
“As soon as he decided to translate the Srimad-Bhagavatam, a room became available at Radha-Damodara Mandir in Vrndavana. I like to think Rupa and Jiva Gosvamis were inviting and inspiring Prabhupada to live in the dhama and carry out this tremendous task. Prabhupada was not worried about his mistakes in the English presentation. He knew that those who were thoroughly honest would accept it. The Bhagavatam itself states that fact.
“Of course, he had to do everything himself—write, collect money for printing, shop and buy paper, deal with the printer, proofread. Finally he had to sell it. Printing these books was part of his mission on behalf of his spiritual master—he had to print books and take them to the West to preach.
“After finishing the first volume, he went back to Vrndavana and completed the second. He wrote quickly. He was in samadhi working on this project, and that samadhi is possible for any of us if we sincerely and intently follow the orders of our spiritual master.”
“In this room there’s a Modigliani print of a woman with a swan neck, pupil-less eyes, a coiffure—I think I kept the same print on my wall when I was in college. People used to ask, ‘What girl are you thinking of? Why a picture instead of the real thing?’ Now I want neither.
“Well then, what do you want? What are you serious enough to attain?
“‘I hereby surrender to my spiritual master. I can’t claim that my entire former identity is gone, but at least the vanity of “I” and “mine” has left me for now. I hope it never again finds a place within my heart. But I pray, “O Lord, please give me this strength, that I may be able to keep the false conceptions of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ far away.”’ (Saranagati, 2.6.6).
“We don’t live to create a niche and reside there like civil servants. We want to rise higher and higher, from sraddha to prema. We suffer sorrow and fear as long as we identify with our bodies, so we beg to be rid of the false conception of ourselves.
I am writing in a blind, groping way, rolling on and on. I mouth the words, ‘I surrender my works to Prabhupada.’ If it’s good literature, I dedicate it to him; if there’s something wrong, I take the blame. I am one of his devotees.
“I want Krsna conscious substance. I want something genuine. But that also can become a sense of false pride. So I push ahead imperfectly. ‘I submit at Your lotus feet, O Lord, that I am fallen ,and wretched, a fact known to the three worlds.’ (Saranagati 2.7.1). Bhaktivinoda Thakura declares himself redeemed in an earlier verse, but now he again claims that he is fallen. ‘By attempting to clear myself of all these sins and offenses I am put to shame and beg Your forgiveness.’ (Saranagati 2.7.3).
“He is serious. I am too. Why else would I be up at this desk at midnight writing? ‘Is it difficult?’ asked a technician at the Ayurvedic clinic. ‘No,’ I said, ‘because I want to do it. I have a serious purpose.’ It doesn’t matter that I don’t exactly know what ‘my purpose’ means. I am uncovering it a little bit at a time. I am not just filling up space; I am begging for mercy.”
“Prabhupada wanted his devotee-scientists to form the Bhaktivedanta Institute. By writing books and giving lectures, they should destroy the theories that life comes from matter and that there is no supreme being. The atheistic scientists will be very stubborn, he warned them. To illustrate the stubbornness of the materialists, Prabhupada told the story of ‘scissors philosophy.’
“Two men were arguing about which cutting instrument should be used, a knife or scissors. ‘Knife!’ said one. ‘No, scissors!’ said the other. Their talk became a heated fight.
“‘If you don’t agree,’ said the man who advocated the knife, ‘I will throw you in the river.’
“‘No, I’ll never change my mind. It’s scissors!’ So the knife advocate threw the other into the swift river. He swam for a while but became exhausted and began to sink. But he was so stubborn about holding his point of view, that even after he was sinking under the water to his death, he held up his arm and crossed his fingers back and forth like a pair of scissors cutting.’
“‘The scientists will be like that,’ said Prabhupada. ‘Even after defeating them with all logic, still they will say, ‘Life comes from matter.’ But more sane and innocent people would be convinced by Vedic presentation, that life comes from life.”
“Srila Prabhupada did not like his disciples to perform artificial austerities. When one devotee appeared bare-chested in the cold at a Kumbha-mela, Prabhupada reprimanded him. On another occasion, in America, he teased his disciple Nara-Narayana, who came into the cold temple room wearing only a light T-shirt.
“‘Nara-Narayana,’ said Prabhupada from the vyasasana, ‘you must be eating chickens.’ The other devotees turned and stared.
“‘Yes,’ said Prabhupada, ‘this is how the Mohammedans keep warm. Are you eating chickens, Nara-Narayana?’
“‘No, Srila Prabhupada.’
“Prabhupada then began telling a story how the Mohammedans keep warm. The system is that a man tries to eat one hundred chickens by eating a single chicken. A farmer will take a hundred chickens and then feed one of them to the ninety-nine. He then feeds another one to the remaining ninety-eight, and another one to the remaining ninety-seven. Finally, when there are only two chickens left, he feeds one chicken to the other. Then that chicken is fed to the emperor. In that way, it is considered that he is eating one hundred chickens.”
“Srila Prabhupada sometimes used the English language in special ways. His disciples didn’t consider his usage awkward or mistaken, but they appreciated it in a transcendental way.
“Hrdayananda dasa Goswami writes as follows:
“‘Srila Prabhupada was completely Krsna conscious. And from the material point of view, he was very brilliant. He was trained in British schools, so his English was brilliant. He would say so many humorous things, like ‘stalwart demon.’ The British are very expert in the use of language, and Prabhupada was trained in the English system, so he had a very good English vocabulary. Anyone who reads his books will be struck by his brilliant use of English.’
“Srila Prabhupada’s main English editor was his disciple, Jayadvaita Swami. He writes:
“‘In regard to Prabhupada’s unique use of words, he would sometimes use words in very unusual ways. Often he would use words very precisely, although in an unusual way that was not consistent with the usual, current usage. Sometimes I would look in a dictionary to find an appropriate synonym, but upon looking up the word Prabhupada used, I would find that because of its etymology, it was actually the perfect word to convey the meaning that Prabhupada intended.
“‘Another thing that Prabhupada would do would be to pronounce words in such a way as to give them a special meaning. For example, Prabhupada would say ignorance as ‘ig-nor-ance,’ and it would seem to give special meaning to the word, because our ignorance was due to ignoring Krsna. Other times Prabhupada would just pronounce words in a way that was logical but not according to correct usage. The most famous example is probably ‘infinite-simal.’ He would say ‘infinite and infinite-simal,’ and devotees always took special pleasure in these peculiarities of Prabhupada’s speech, even to the point of adopting them in their own lectures. And, of course, devotees have universally adopted Prabhupada’s pronunciation of ‘devo´tees’ rather than ‘dev´o tees.’ When Prabhupada would say something, the impression would be very memorable, so the devotees would try to reproduce or convey that spiritual potency by sometimes using Srila Prabhupada’s language exactly as he used it.”
“Let the sly Gulabjamon come and visit for three days. Here’s my latest logic. I get terrible migraine headaches, even when no one visits. I mean, a string of headaches during a time that has no “outer issues“ that would provoke them. So let the visitors come. I don’t mean everyone. Will keep our “no one come“ policy. Keli, with rifle in the treehouse and walkie-talkie, will be the advance guard: “Sorry, the only communication will be by email, and it will be warm and frequent if you wish it, but no telephone and flesh and blood. Reason: migraine, damn it. It helps enormously to be alone.
“But he is special. I said sly Gulab. He is sicker than I am. He had a double heart bypass. Still, he rests in his house and when he feels ‘good,’ he goes out touring by airplane, visiting various places around the world, receiving donations, working on a special project and getting high marks on ‘association with devotees,’ and high marks on convincing GBC members to “leave him alone and don’t expect him to travel; he’s very, very sick.’ So, if he doesn’t visit me very soon, in the meantime he may die. And how will I feel about that? Sly.
“But I will treat him to the life of an invalid to the hilt. Living at an assisted live-in care center, I’m buying a second pair of pajamas, so at all times day and night I will be wearing them, the patient in bed. Sometimes when we talk, I will ask him to sit in the comfortable chair beside my bed while I prop myself up with four pillows. If after 40 minutes I feel a twinge, I will call out, ‘Peremptory strike!’ And with no bashfulness (he ought to know himself, with double or triple bypass), I will press on the walkie-talkie for Nara: ‘Emergency.’ Nara will come in, six-foot four inches, and I’ll consult with him as to which pill to take and excuse myself. ‘The meeting is over.’ And I will ask Nara to turn off the light bulbs and lower the Venetian blinds. I will say, ‘This is powerful pain relief; it will probably work and we can meet later today. Why don’t you rest also?’
“Two pairs of pajamas. Each day a new clean pair. Each day a talk of no more than one hour. Don’t ask me more than I want to tell. I will show interest in your own projects. ‘How do you get around so much, since you are so ill? How is your sadhana?’ Mine is subpar (but I’ll keep it private as to exactly how poor). I was thinking of reading nine volumes of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, because Thomas Wolfe wrote in a letter to Fitzgerald that Tristram Shandy was immortal. Tristram Shandy is not tight but sprawling, like Wolfe and me, not like Madame Bovary. So my interest perked when I read those statements. Maybe I can just go on like this and write more than Tristram Shandy and don’t worry about the critics that forever damned him, as well as Wolfe. Wolfe damned those critics and said that he was definitely great, and so, they were immortals.
“Gulabjamon will say, ‘Of course we’re not interested in being immortal in that way are we, by writing mundane books? Okay?’
“The word ‘mundane’ will ring shrilly in my ears. It’s a real buzzword for me. What is mundane? But I don’t think I’m close enough with him to discuss it. I’ve been discussing that word with Nanda, and how we’ve grown to hate hearing ‘mundane’ used by devotees and questioning what mundane is, and disliking how they use it with such trigger fingers. I mentioned it to him how I just read a poem by Therese of Lisieux, and many of her poems are like this—seeing all the pleasures and beautiful things in the world as being the face of Jesus, and how love of Jesus is actually emanating in everything that be.
“‘I’ve the rainbow, pure snow,
Distant islands, the ripe harvest,
Butterflies, the bright springtime,
“‘I’ve the ships slipping away from the beach,
the golden wake on the shore.
I’ve the sun decorating the cloud
As it disappears
From the sky.
“‘You whose hand upholds the spheres,
Who planted the deep forests.
You who at a mirror glance makes them fertile,
You always watch over me
With a look of Love! . . .’”
“If the Lord likes, He can let you continue living and traveling in 1995 exactly as Madhu is planning it. Our tickets as we purchase them (from donated money) go to many places and, for example, make one connection from Ireland to Milan. We are changing that to Dublin to Madrid. But will we actually be able to follow that itinerary, or will we be stopped along the way? It’s no big thing for Krsna to allow it or to change it. As my dream said, ‘Pain softener, better take it now than later.’ As King Nrga decided, ‘Give me my trouble first.’
“I am hopelessly wandering but want to say, ‘I hope I can be true to the Lord.’ He is true to His vow (satya-vrata), so why not me too to my vow?
“Log burning, I’m on page six, it’s 5 A.M., and this is what you wanted.
“Christmas trees . . . there you go, back in memory, to a time you went with your father to pick out a special one from a special place. This wasn’t like buying X-mas trees from a parking lot, but we went to a place that was almost a village in the woods of a snowy hill. They sold all Christmas items. It was a big place, and you went in your father’s car. You were small, and this was going to be special. He was expert in everything, always manly and strong and no fear when you were with him, except maybe fear for yourself, you who he created, and who could squelch and shape as he liked, and as he did for twenty years or more of your life . . . you went to a special place and got the Christmas tree and put it on the top of the car and came back. Daddy cut off the top of the tree and fixed the bottom into a metal place with screws. Then he allowed your mother and you and Madeline to take over the decoration. Put the small, metal skaters and sledders on cotton underneath the tree, and a green wooden fence around it and a mirror for an ice pond . . .
“Now there will be nothing at all this Christmas, no contact with Dennis down the hill and his 90-year old father. He’ll have some family over, but they won’t extend any cheer to us because we don’t drink or eat meat. We can have our own Christmas party, make an extra sweet, maybe, and pray to Lord Jesus, ‘You came into the world, we are chanting Hare Krsna, please see it that way, that you are the son of God and we are serving the Father and writing . . .’ on that day too.
“O tide of blessed
words given by Lord Krsna,
may I go and chant,
that’s all I have to say.
The poem is an inner landscape,
a prayer that You touch me
with Your holy names, in my ear,
pain-softener, sooner the better.
‘Give me love,’ as rock stars sing . . .
‘Can’t buy me love,’ but You can,
You can in holy names
which I dryly utter and pray.
The mind is impossible.
You would know all this. It’s up to You, Lord.”
“Don’t feel so much like writing my life story right now. Wish we could go sooner to the retreat house. We start traveling on Sunday and don’t get there until Thursday midday! If I were writing as in September Catchall, that might be an exciting prospect, or if I were intent to tell a travel diary. Can I start my retreat meditation or an actual writing session while on the road? Of course, yes. But what shall it be, WS or timed book? Do I have to decide that in advance? Can’t I just enjoy the freedom once we travel, knowing we’re going on a retreat? But travel is stressful, anxious, ‘Will we make it? Will the van engine or Madhu or ferry break down? (I don’t seem to think I will break down.)’
“You can get ready. Even if you don’t know what you will write in the retreat, you can think about it. (Just by starting this WS, I am underway.)
“I’ve already decided on my main reading program for the next five weeks. But writing, all I know is I will have time and I haven’t written a lot each day in a long time. So, work up to it. The best may be the WS each day, short as they may be.
“If you were lucky, you might decide on a timed book tomorrow and begin it on Karttika Sunday. Karttika. I seem to think Karttika is not the main point. Main point is freedom to read and write in Krsna consciousness, and yes, it happens to be Karttika. Okay. You could burn candles at night, but you feel you don’t have time for it or for singing Damodarastakam. Once at the retreat house, you want to enter a prayerful state. You can’t do it until you get there.
“Travel can be inspiring. Look forward to it. Pray to Krsna to let you spend retreat time well. Write as you travel. Maybe now I’ll stop this Writing Session and talk to Madhu how I could gain inspiration right away and use the travel days. Mainly they are travel, a bridge to get there. You are always depending on Krsna to protect you. Writing your October sessions now.
“I’m a writer
I’m a Jew, a juvenile writer, juvenile delinquent in
saddle shoes (brown and white).
Pat Boone, Myles Standish, and others. Stand off
don’t aggravate the prose.
okay, Mighty Mouse, sing your
opera. Make us biscuits,
Missus, dry and cracky and
healthy and we can eat a lot.
Let me desire to speak with pen.
And you could even begin your “spiritualized
dictionary” discipline. Go to the van now and sort a few
things back into place.
get moving, soon you’ll be released.”
(13 minutes, October 6, north of Vraja-mandala, Spain)
“Here’s another WS, about an hour since I did the last one. M. running around to phone and fax regarding the van purchase. I’m up here in the tower room trying to think of what to write next. Just write.
“Perimeters. Tomorrow I give my last Bhag. lecture here. I go into M.’s little room when he’s not there. Twice I looked at the consumer guide magazine on trucks. Ford is the best of the bunch, they say. You notice the style of the writing. Pretty good. They speak of themselves as “we.” We have not driven the model, so we cannot say about its performance.
“Operator, please connect me
to Franks, to Franx
Dept. Store and Bar.
Yes. Yes. Corina, Corina . . .
Pleeze connect me to the GBC
office and Communications Dept.
I want to file a complaint
and a search warrant.
Flash the name SATSVAR-
OOP and ask Where is he?
He should report at once
to the barracks headquarters
and be prepared for all night
‘Sats-varoop, please report to station master
and bring your brass pot
Geez, oh no, my heart
skips, not that.
And I dreamt I was
faking it in the welfare
“Enter the water where you write and care. The light is dimming at 6 P.M., 6:30, and you ate enough today, four by four trucks have air bags when you crash, the greatest danger is if the truck rolls over. They are not always safer than cars.
Remember in a yurt
then in cold South Italy
it was nice writing there,
one retreat after another.
“Well, that’s coming up again. You want to say, ‘And nobody can stop me.’ But it’s up to Providence.
“JG shocks us (shocked?), dropping out of ISKCON. Someone may say that’s what I do too. But no, I’m in ISKCON temple lecturing and after a hiatus, I’ll be back again giving a seminar, visiting a temple, etc.
“Member goes to health clinic.
“Get any better?
Yes, Charlie Parker
I’m cured of my jazz-
listening and hyper-rash
and toothache and mild
“Oh, but what about –
I heard you get head-
aches. Don’t believe everything you
“Is it true you are milding in autumn orange, yellow leaves on trees in Spain villa? Is it true you could have eaten more but didn’t want to look like a glutton before your host? Yes.
“‘Is it true I heard you are embarking on a reading of Cc. and you write some nice devotional sentiments down?’
“‘Yeah, that’s so.’
“‘So, I want you to tell me how I too can read like that.’
“‘Wait and I’ll tell you later.’
“Director of the broadcast reads a word and makes Krsna conscious sense, write anything on the road, you’ll be okay. Preface to the Karttika retreat. You can’t talk to M. now; he’s too wired in van mania. I wish I were too, am getting that way for upcoming retreat. Think of it this way – after tomorrow’s class, you are free to read and write as you like.”
“(14 minutes, October 6, Nueva Vraja-mandala, Spain)”
Writing Sessions at Castlegregory, Ireland, 1993Start slowly, start fastly, offer your obeisances to your spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. You just drew his picture with your pencils. He appears carved out of wood…
I found I had hit a stride in my search for theme in writing, then began to feel the structure limiting me. After all, I had given myself precious time to write full-time; I wanted to enter the experience as fully as possible. For me, this means free-writing—writing sessions with no predetermined shape, theme, or topic…
This volume is comprised of three parts: prose meditations, free-writes, and poems each of which will be discussed in turn. As an introduction, a brief essay by the author, On Genre, has also been included to provide contextual coordinates for the writing which follows…
A comprehensive retrospective of poetic achievement and prose meditations, using a new trajectory described as “free-writing”. This volume will offer to readers an experience of the creativity versatility which is a hallmark of this author’s writing.
Stream of consciousness poetry that moves with the shifting shapes and colors characteristic of a kaleidoscope itself around the themes of authenticity. This is a book will transport you to the far reaches of the author’s heart and soul in daring ways and will move you to experience your own inner kaleidoscope.
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A narrative poem. challenging and profound, about the journey of an itinerant monk who pursues new means of self-expression.The reader is invited to discover his or her own spiritual pilgrimage within these pages as the author pushes every literary boundary to boldly create something wholly new and inspiring.