I just found out that something I posted online from my book Japa Transformations received 23,000 readers. I intended it for a small readership, but it exploded. I also wrote a Journal, Worshiping with the Pen, to be published this summer in fifty copies. I wrote it to Prabhupada, Krsna—and to “that individual who is my reader.” So that’s intended for a small audience too. But maybe I’ll get more readers. Last year I published sixteen books exclusively about Srila Prabhupada, aside from Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta. I also publish a weekly Journal, and I’ve also finished two books in the last eight months (and I’m starting on a new one). These are all small printing runs. So although I call my writing “Little Life,” it seems I’m also playing on the big mrdanga, and I hope Prabhupada will be pleased.
I am 83, and my bodily functions are breaking down. I do not know which dysfunction will become most tenacious. (Recently I had to stop reading out loud with my disciples group to save my voice for dictation of Journals, books and letters.) I don’t know when or if my voice will come back.
We should follow Srila Prabhupada’s example. He went through many illnesses, especially in his later years. But he tolerated and pushed on the mission. We cannot imitate Prabhupada, but we should try to tolerate. Push on the preaching of the mission.
We had extra guests today. Muktavandya came from Boston, and he brought with him the temple’s main cook and pujari. He’s a disciple of Radhanath Swami, and his name is Laksman Priya. With Baladeva showing where the utensils, the bhoga and the spices were in the kitchen, Laksman Priya prepared Gauranga potatoes, baked yams, quinoa, and carrot halava. Also present was Krsna dasi’s sister Savitri. She’s from Trinidad and is here to celebrate Krsna dasi’s birthday, which is tomorrow. She will stay on for the week. Also present was Lalita Kisori from Massachusetts. She is staying here to help out while her husband, Atindra, went to do some work at their house in Massachusetts. Muktavandya was here, but he didn’t bring so many flowers. There’s been a change in relationship with the wholesalers, who are not freely giving away as many flowers as they used to. Everyone seemed to be in a happy spring mood. Today started out rainy, but then the sun came out. My voice wasn’t good enough to take a turn reading out loud with the others in our one-and-a-half hour session of reading Prabhupada’s books. But I said hello and goodbye to all the devotees whose faces appeared on the computer after the reading was over.
We received a letter from my disciple Syama-gopa-rupa from Gita Nagari requesting sets of books—the sixteen books on Srila Prabhupada, the books of essays from Back to Godhead, and other new books which might be available. Syama-gopa-rupa never misses an opportunity whenever there is a festival or gathering at Gita Nagari. She puts out a book table and tries her best to distribute the books. Muktavandya wanted the books for her today, but we weren’t ready. We will give them to him next week because he’s going to Gita Nagari the following week.
I just read Govinda dasi’s memoir of Srila Prabhupada, A Place of Sandalwood and Roses. Govinda dasi and her boyfriend left college at the University of Texas and moved to San Francisco (Haight-Ashbury) to find a guru. They met Srila Prabhupada and were instantly attracted to him. Prabhupada got them married as Govinda dasi and Gaurasundara dasa. Govinda dasi’s memoir tells of her intimate association with Prabhupada in the early days of his preaching in America. Although a woman, she was his secretary, servant, artist, and companion on his walks, talks, etc. She had great love for Prabhupada, and she expresses it in her memoir.
She stayed with him in California, and when he returned to New York City, she and Gaurasundara joined him there. Here is what she writes from her stay in New York City:
“Govinda dasi cannot fathom what the Swami has in mind for the future. At this time, she cannot possibly know that this tiny seed being planted in a dark and destitute part of New York City will someday grow into a major worldwide organization, bringing spiritual culture into the lives of millions of people. These thoughts never occur to her, as she is simply absorbed in day-to-day life with Swamiji—the loving exchanges, the service to him, and the painting work he assigns to her. It is like a wonderful dream that Govinda dasi hopes will last forever. She savors each day and, because she is young, she is unaware of the passing of time. In the years to come, she will look back at these days as the happiest time of her life.”
Govinda dasi writes how she was separated from Swamiji for a few days due to dental work.
“A sweet and melodious kirtana followed the class, and Govinda dasi is beside herself with joy. Only a few days of separation from Swamiji has made her appreciate him even more. She now understands that absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder. ‘But frankly,’ she thinks, ‘I much prefer to be in his divine presence than to be separated from him.’ And that is not likely to change.”
Govinda dasi definitely prefers the vapu, the personal service to the guru, than service in separation. She gets much personal association in these early years in San Francisco and New York City. She treasures these memories for the rest of her life and always feels the presence of Prabhupada.
Today Krsna dasi was joined by about five women devotees at Viraha Bhavan, where she celebrated her birthday. Present were her sister Savitri from Trinidad, Damodara Priya and her daughter, Amalini Radha, from across the street (who made a huge birthday cake). Also present was Lalita Kisori, who did the kitchen up with balloons and streamers, and cut out “Happy Birthday” letters. Lalita Kisori’s husband, Atindra, left Viraha Bhavan and went home to Massachusetts on the lame excuse that he had to fix the electricity. Baladeva and Lalita Kisori cooked the lunch. I stayed upstairs with Baladeva, listening to the devotees in the group reading of Srimad-Bhagavatam on Zoom. I think the practice of devotees worshiping birthdays is a little sentimental, but it’s all in good fun.
I have watched the videos done by Siddhanta Dasa, and they are very good. Now those memories have been printed into books. They call the series Memories: Anecdotes of a Modern-Day Saint. It’s nice to read the devotees telling their memories of Prabhupada. I found the videos hard to follow when there were many devotees on one disc. But reading the books is easier.
Here is an excerpt from a memory spoken by Gauridasa Pandit:
Once, someone asked Prabhupada if they could get rid of the cockroaches in the temple by spraying them. Prabhupada said, “No! The cockroaches are there because you are too lazy to clean. Instead of cleaning, you leave the place dirty and kill the cockroaches.” Unless it was an extreme emergency, he didn’t want us to kill pests.
In Bombay, I had just become Prabhupada’s servant when Tamala asked Prabhupada, “Can we kill mosquitoes?” Prabhupada said, “If they are biting you, you can kill them. But otherwise, you shouldn’t.”
A devotee sent me some pages from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. It was a list of people from Staten Island. It read,
This is a list of notable people who were either born or who have lived in Staten Island, today a borough of New York City, New York, at some time in their lives.
I was born in Queens, New York City, but at eight years old our family moved to Staten Island. I lived there with my family for thirteen years, and then I went into the U.S. Navy. So I lived a good amount of my life in Staten Island.
Under “Religion,” I am listed along with many priests and bishops. Here is the entry:
Satsvarupa das Goswami (born Stephen Guarino, 1939—), writer, poet, artist, and guru for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
I had a visit from a Nurse Practitioner from a home service provided by the insurance company. It was very convenient to get my cough and sore throat checked out.
I said to her, “I’m glad to see you. I need help.”
She said, “What’s wrong with you?”
I said, “I have lost most of my voice, and my throat is sore. I cough at night and can’t get much sleep.”
She listened to my lungs and fortunately said they were clear. I was worried about the pneumonia coming back. She checked all my vitals, and they were good. She prescribed a nasal spray for the throat and another medicine for the cough, treating it as if it were an allergy. She said I should gargle twice a day with salt water and drink tea with honey (or even just lick honey off the spoon). If my condition doesn’t get better in a couple of days, there is an antibiotic I can take. She said to stop gargling with Listerine because it was too strong. She didn’t stay long, but she seemed thorough. And she relieved my anxieties about my condition. I hope it will go away now, with her suggestions.
I am giving another excerpt from Memories: Anecdotes of a Modern-Day Saint.
In the final days we were with Prabhupada in Vrndavana, taking turns to softly chant with little cymbals in a vigil kirtana. At a certain point, I got sick. I collapsed in my room with a fever, and it took me about a week to recover. Then I was again able to go and see Prabhupada. When I came into his room, Prabhupada was lying on his bed conversing with his servants. Sometimes he would ask who was leading the kirtana. That particular day he mentioned my name. Prabhupada said, ‘Oh, Brahmananda?’ I came forward. He said, ‘You are ill? You’re not feeling well?’ Here is Prabhupada, completely shriveled up from fasting, but he was concerned that I was not feeling well. I just had a little fever, and here’s Prabhupada on his departure bed, saying, ‘Oh, you are not feeling well?’ with such concern and love. I was totally affected by that, how Prabhupada could be thinking that I wasn’t feeling well.
The thing that affected me most was how much Prabhupada loved us although we were not very lovable, as we all had defects. Why did Prabhupada love us? He loved us because he saw us as servants of Krsna. He said that we were sent by his Guru Maharaja to help him in his mission. Prabhupada saw us as Krsna’s servants, and Prabhupada’s mission was to spread Krsna consciousness. Whatever we could do to assist in this cause of Krsna consciousness, Prabhupada very much appreciated. I think this is the essence of Srila Prabhupada: he can see us as servants of Krsna. So let us just try to be that. That’s all.”
Yesterday we had one helper, Atindra, but he’s gone back to his house in Massachusetts. Today we have three helpers, Syama Mayi dasi, Varun, and Haridasa from Schenectady, who will stay for a few days. We go from scratching our heads and thinking “How will we get everything done?”, and now we’re wondering how to engage everyone nicely, and where will they stay, and how will we feed them?
Haridasa will do whatever Krsna dasi tells him to do. Syama Mayi, who plans to stay here for a month, will do cooking at lunch as well as some of the Deity worship (so she can be trained to the local standard and can fill in for Krsna dasi, who leaves at the end of the month to attend a wedding). Varun is just in training. He’s very enthusiastic and talented, so he shouldn’t be a problem. But there are just so many simple services in regard to my health. We hope he will stay enlivened.
In our out-loud reading group, we just heard about Krsna and Aghasura. Aghasura was related to other demons that Krsna killed, and he wanted revenge. Putana and Bakasura were his sister and brother. He took the shape of a huge python and lay down on the road near Krsna and His boyhood friends. At first the boys didn’t know whether it was actually a live python, or whether it was just a statue. They debated for a while and then thought that it must be a real python. One of them exclaimed that even if he were a real python, Krsna would protect them from him just as He killed Bakasura. So the boys ran into the open mouth of the giant python. Krsna didn’t want them to go in, but they ran in so fast He couldn’t prevent them. The python was waiting for Krsna to enter. Krsna thought a moment about how to simultaneously save the boys and kill the demon. Then He also ran into the open mouth of Aghasura. Aghasura shut his mouth and tried to swallow Krsna. But Krsna expanded Himself and suffocated the demon. He brought the boys and calves back to life and left the python. When they were outside, they saw a bright light hovering in the air which then entered Krsna’s body after He had come out from the demon. So all the demigods and sages who were watching saw this actually happen. Aghasura had attained sarupya-mukti. He got the same form as Visnu in Vaikuntha.
Again our out-loud reading group began a new reading of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. The first chapter is “Observing the Armies on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra.” From the beginning, it’s a great story! The leading warriors on both sides blew their conchshells, and the sound was tumultuous. But it is mentioned that when the Pandavas blew their conchshells, the hearts of the Kurus were cracked. Arjuna asked Lord Krsna, who was driving the chariot, to please draw up the chariot between the two armies so he can see who he has to fight. Krsna obeys His friend and brings Arjuna between the two armies. When Arjuna sees that on the other side there are all his relatives and friends, he is gripped with compassion for them. He loses fighting spirit, the Gandiva bow slips from his hand, and he tells Krsna, “I shall not fight.” Arjuna tells Krsna the ill effects that will come from the fighting. But Krsna tells Arjuna that he is speaking learned words but they are not befitting an Aryan. Arjuna remains perplexed, and finally he surrenders to Krsna, and ending their friendly talks, he submits himself as a disciple. Krsna then begins the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita:
dehino ’smin yatha dehe
kaumaram yauvanam jara
dhiras tatra na muhyati
As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body,
from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly
passes into another body at death. The self-realized
soul is not bewildered by such a change. (Bg. 2.13)
Krsna teaches that the soul is immortal but the body is perishable. Krsna also tells him that the Kuru soldiers are already dead anyway, by Krsna’s arrangement. He asks Arjuna to be the instrument of killing them in the fight.
For example, Baladeva gave a work assignment to Varun. But Haridasa wasn’t engaged, so he did the project—cleaning the humidifiers—himself. Baladeva had another project for Varun, but Varun went to work on his computer (for his job). So Baladeva ended up doing the job himself. Krsna dasi, who usually is the temple commander who gives out the assignments, is mostly distracted by preparing for a wedding which comes in a couple of weeks in Trinidad. She is buying clothes and gifts, and her sister Savitra is with her also doing this. Varun drove them to a shopping center where they accomplished their task. And then they’ll call for a ride back when they’ve finished their shopping.
Syama Mayi kept herself busy, making a nice lunch for everyone.
Varun is finding out that his service here is mostly doing intermittent personal service for me. Haridasa took off from work for three days to be here, but Krsna dasi, who is the main organizer, is not engaging Haridasa because she and her sister are distracted doing shopping for the wedding, which will keep her away from Viraha Bhavan for a week. It hasn’t been the most productive situation, but now we’re learning how to keep a list of projects for the devotees and make sure they have all the right tools.
Even while in the grips of the crocodile’s jaws, Gajendra practiced concentrated prayer upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead. According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Gajendra “fixed his mind in his heart with perfect intelligence and chanted a mantra which he had learned in his previous birth.” (Bhag. 8.3.1) His spiritual trance is described as samadhaya mano hrdi, which indicates the perfection of focus on the Supreme Truth. And yet Gajendra achieved it under excruciatingly painful physical and mental conditions. This is not general instruction for aspiring meditators, that they should throw themselves into the jaws of a beast, but it often happens like that in this dangerous material world. If we try to wait until we find the best place and until our minds quiet down like “a lamp in a windless place,” we may never be able to approach Krsna meditation or Prabhupada meditation.
Arjuna is the bhakta who is most often recommended as the example to follow. Arjuna was a ksatriya, and so he had to think of Krsna even while on the battlefield. He was willing to give up the ksatriya’s duties in order to think of Krsna in a secluded place, but Lord Krsna insisted that Arjuna stay on the battlefield. The real point is not that we should enlist in the army, as if that is the ideal occupation for Krsna consciousness. But we should learn to serve Krsna and think of Him favorably, without making strenuous endeavors to find a new occupation or a new place for living. Krsna advised Arjuna as follows:
Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krsna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.
For evening massage, Prabhupada would lie down on his bed ready to take rest for the night. He would close his eyes and appear to rest. This was not a signal to the masseur that he should also doze off. But that was hard to avoid, because you had done a long day’s work and you also wanted to rest. It appeared that Prabhupada was sleeping, breathing slowly and heavily. You might think, “I guess that’s it, he is asleep for the night, so I’ll go take rest.” But that was usually not the case. Prabhupada wanted you to continue the massage until a certain point when he was ready to dismiss you, and then he would say, “Go take rest.” At that point, he would turn over and sleep for the night. But it wasn’t up to you to determine when. My mind would be crying out that I should go and take rest, or I might allow myself to get drowsy. Sometimes Prabhupada would notice it and tell me to go take rest. I don’t think I ever said, “Prabhupada, I want to take rest. I can’t do this anymore,” but my thoughts were like that.
And that is why, when some of us who were with Prabhupada, try to remember him, we come up with blanks. Or we come up with painful remembrances of what we were doing when we were with Prabhupada. If one was able to overcome the austerities and serve Prabhupada nicely, then Krsna would be pleased. That’s the most important thing—not our own memories, but how Krsna remembers what we did. We pray He will forgive us for our transgressions against Srila Prabhupada. Surely Krsna knows that even when our minds were raging and our bodies failing, we really did desire to serve His pure devotee.
Vedic literatures are filled with statements which strongly encourage hearing and remembering the activities of pure devotees. In his Bhaktivedanta purport Srila Prabhupada writes, “Such pure devotees of the Lord are as glorious as the Lord; they are, in fact, recommended by the Lord as more worshipable than He Himself. Worship of the devotee is more potent than worship of the Lord.” (Bhag. 3.13.4 purport)
I found these quotes to be particularly applicable to Prabhupada Meditations, but when I read further in the same purport, I became doubtful. Prabhupada writes, “It is therefore the duty of the transcendental students to hear of pure devotees, as explained by similar devotees of the Lord, because one cannot explain about the Lord or His devotee unless one happens to be a pure devotee himself.”
Does this mean I should not remember and glorify Srila Prabhupada until I become a pure devotee? I don’t think this is the intended meaning. But I should recognize that my own appreciation of Srila Prabhupada is very limited. Only a pure devotee can fully understand the nature of pure Vaisnavas, but if I follow the principles of prayer and glorification as given by the great acaryas, then I too can raise my tiny voice in praise of my spiritual master. This affirmation was expressed by the “professional reciters” who were praising King Prthu:
Although we are unable to glorify you adequately, we nonetheless have a transcendental taste to glorify your activities. We shall try to glorify you according to the instructions received from authoritative sages and scholars. Whatever we speak, however, is always inadequate and very insignificant.
Discussion of the activities of mahatmas will help me to become a better devotee. When a young disciple of Srila Prabhupada’s sent him an original poem, “Eight Verses In Praise of My Spiritual Master,” Prabhupada replied that it was “very nice and thoughtful.” He encouraged his disciple to continue praising the Vaisnavas:
May Krsna bless you to improve more and more in writing the glories of our previous acaryas and the Lord. Be engaged in glorifying the parampara system and your life will be glorified automatically thousands of times.
—Letter August 14, 1971
Let me examine how I’ve been thinking about Prabhupada throughout the day. I went before his murti in his room, alone. I went up quite close, but then wondered whether it was all right for me to sit so close. When I chanted gayatri-mantra I thought, “I am living. I have not died yet. The important thing for someone who is alive is to go on with regular duties.” Therefore, I was being pragmatic in using my time with Prabhupada in his room to chant Gayatri.
The point is that we sometimes spend so much time going on with our regular duties that we forget about Prabhupada, or we don’t think of him enough. “Business as usual” for an ISKCON devotee is always something done in Prabhupada’s service, and it is true that Prabhupada preferred us to be fully engaged. However, we have to be careful of self-centered passion as we drive on in the present with our project. To actually stop and focus on Prabhupada as a person, the person who was here, is beneficial. We have to become still enough, quiet enough, to be able to remember him.
The point I am making is that although we pay our respects to these memorials, we tend to be moving quickly through the present. When we relate to the memorials, we do so like the present caretaker, or like the present preacher, who is stopping here, but thinking of his own activities. Yet the fact is that we, too, will be finished up. We will join Prabhupada in our next life, wherever that may be. We will go on to a next life. We tend to be almost arrogant about the fact that we are living now, as if that gives us a superior vision of Prabhupada, as if he is among the dead and we are among the living. Actually, we have a feeble hold on this life. In this tiny amount of space in time, we will each disappear.
It is hard to speak in a general way about Prabhupada or to talk about many people’s appreciation for him. We feel on sure ground talking about our own appreciation for Prabhupada, but we each have such a tiny version of him. It is good when we can appreciate Prabhupada in some universal way. Then it has substance. Maintaining ISKCON with its book distribution and Deity worship and inter-national centers is a group effort. People work together because they want to please Prabhupada. Even now, at a time when Prabhupada’s disciples have disciples of their own, the central focus and motivation is still to please Prabhupada. One group may think, “To please Prabhupada, let us distribute books.” Another group may think, “To please Prabhupada, let us maintain his centers.” I like to reflect on these group appreciations of Prabhupada. At the same time, when within a group one person speaks his own realization, that can touch all of us. When we see how Prabhupada touched a single person and how that person is able to articulate it, we can feel a part of that realization. What I want to do in Prabhupada consciousness is to bring Prabhupada’s presence more into the forefront.
Prabhupada emphasized all the important things: yena tena prakarena manakrsna nivesayet, “Keep the mind fixed on Krsna.” One may argue, “Yes, keep the mind fixed on Krsna as the first thing, and the rules and regulations will come later. So the rules and regulations have to come, not that you ‘66 boys—what do you want to have us do, continue to wear japa beads around our necks and have beards on our faces just because Swamiji let you do that?” No, we have to progress. But we cannot lose the instructive value of Prabhupada’s methods.
One way that Prabhupada’s early teachings can be applied is in preaching. Devotees who are preaching especially in countries where ISKCON is just beginning, as in Eastern Europe, can feel safe to keep things simple by Prabhupada’s example. They are eternal beginning principles—how to emphasize preaching without getting bogged down by the rules and regulations. Rules and regulations can be added later, but the beginning foundation of stressing devotion is how Prabhupada taught us.
There is a certain sweetness to our exchanges with Prabhupada in those days when he summed up Karttika in a sentence: “It is to increase your devotion.” He also explained Radharani in a sentence: “She is the best devotee of Krsna because She loves Him the most.” Those are irreplaceable, stripped-bare instructions for the simple people. We should keep them with us forever. We may like to laugh about the early days, but we should never laugh at Swamiji as if he were too primitive. He touched us in a way that I don’t think we’ve been touched since.
Swamiji, please let us remember you and continue to be in touch with the devotion you emanated and gave to us in those early days. You freely dispensed Krsna consciousness in the mood of Lord Caitanya from your relaxed, sitting position behind your tin trunk. Sometimes you sat upright, performing your “bells” ceremony. You taught us how to worship Krsna by chanting Hare Krsna. You gave us Krsna consciousness for life by making it so accessible to us.
Our only purpose in remembering the old days is to share them with others. You were there with us, Swamiji, and we loved you. Please allow me to serve you by making your teachings, even your 1966 teachings, available to everyone everywhere. Let us never forget those days.
Prabhupada was not a rabble-rouser. He didn’t get any particular joy out of people trying to harass his movement; he simply knew that he had to preach seriously and accept the consequences from the materialists who became disturbed. And of course, he pointed to the long tradition of Vaisnavas who were grateful for all troubles that came as a result of their preaching. They knew it was bringing them closer to Krsna and accepted it as proof that their preaching was effective. Prabhupada sometimes gave the example of Jesus Christ on this point of opposition. He called it “the favorite example,” that Jesus was willing to disturb people even at the risk of his life. But he also spoke of those in the Vedic tradition—Lord Nityananda, Haridasa Thakura, and many others—who were willing to give up their lives for the cause of spreading Krsna consciousness. Prabhupada was in this same mood.
Prabhupada was especially uncompromising in his condemnation of materialistic activities. He used strong language to describe people who are devoid of the inclination for spiritual life, calling them dogs, hogs, camels, and asses. He also referred to them as rascals. He called the leaders of the countries cheaters. He said they were all going to hell for their impious activities. By any standard, this was harsh criticism.
He also protested against the government. He did it in a nonsectarian way, favoring neither the Communists nor the Capitalists. According to the scriptures, he said, any political leader in this age is bound to be the lowest kind of man. And, in a sense, he protested against the material bonds that held families together. When his young disciples joined him, it created friction between ISKCON and the parents of the devotees. The anti-cult movement became prominent and made ISKCON one of its main targets. But Prabhupada was willing to put himself and his followers on the firing line for the sake of spreading Krsna consciousness.
I was thinking about separation from Prabhupada. Unfortunately, we tend not to think so much about it because we are so busy doing our duties. But we should think about it; we should do whatever increases our feelings of separation.
But who can feel real separation? Only those who have a sense of strong intimacy and gratefulness to Prabhupada. If I think of Srila Prabhupada only in fear or only in reverence, the mood of separation will remain beyond my reach. But when I recall his pastimes and his mercy in an intimate way, as my master and friend, then I can cry. If we can cry for Prabhupada, then we can cry for Krsna. Crying is our dharma.
Prabhupada preached up to his last breath. He urged us to do that also. When he heard that Harikesa Swami was printing books in thirteen languages, he said, “You are the favorite grandson of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.” Other famous statements encouraging preachers: “Go to Bangladesh with the courage of a British soldier and the heart of a Bengali mother.” “Your love for me will be tested by how you work together after I am gone.” Remember what he said and try to think what it means to you; where it fits into your life.
Recently a devotee asked a sannyasi something like: “How should we consider our own limitations when we attempt to follow the guru’s order?” The sannyasi replied, “By the grace of the guru and his order, a lame man can cross mountains and a dumb man can become a great orator.” When he was pressed further, the sannyasi was unrelenting: “Change your life to fit the guru’s order. Impossible is a word in a fool’s dictionary.”
I probably would have answered it with more consideration for the earnest yet limited disciple— “Do whatever you can with devotion.” But the stern aspect of spiritual life is a reality. I say, “Let us hear what Srila Prabhupada said and think how we can absorb it and surrender to it. Experience has taught us a lot about fallibility and how people make vows but later become weak and unable to follow them. Experience is not everything, however. The order coming down in parampara is in some ways unchangeable. Surrender is surrender: doing that which is favorable to Krsna consciousness and avoiding that which is unfavorable.”
Be stern, don’t compromise, don’t give in to your weak side. Don’t pamper your body. Don’t indulge in whimsy. Stick to the diet Prabhupada has given, the program he gave.
Do we believe it? How far are we willing to go before we say, “That’s all I can take. Let me serve Prabhupada in an easier way”?
Bombay ISKCON is preparing a 1993 calendar and asked me to “write in two or three lines a summary of Prabhupada’s achievements.” I could only boil a statement down to four sentences as follows:
“His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada did what no incarnation of Lord Visnu had ever done—spread sanatana-dharma, Krsna consciousness, all over the modern world. Lord Krsna Himself desired the spreading of the Hare Krsna mantra and so did Lord Caitanya (who is Krsna in the form of His pure devotee). They desired it, because unless people receive bhakti unto God, there cannot be peace or happiness in this life or in future lives. That our Srila Prabhupada was alone chosen to go to America, to Europe, then back to India, to Russia, Africa and all over the world—and that he established an international society whose followers continue to practice Krsna consciousness seriously—this is the greatest miracle and it is proof that Prabhupada was empowered by Lord Krsna.”
Once Srila Prabhupada was asked for information for a short biography. He said a summary of his life should state that he transplanted Vedic culture from East to West. He said, “Just as it is very difficult and requires expertise in transplanting a tulasi plant from India to America, so the birth and growth of Krsna consciousness required such care.”
We may say this is the external achievement of his life. And it is true that the spiritual master has two lives, that of a sadhaka and that of a siddha. In his sadhaka form, he preaches, and that may be considered to exist within Caitanya-lila. (ISKCON is a branch of the Caitanya tree.) In the siddha form, the pure devotee spiritual master remembers his eternal identity and eventually joins Krsna in Vraja.
Except for occasional glimpses, Srila Prabhupada didn’t reveal to us his siddha identity. But his role as preacher in this world was so extraordinary that learned persons conclude he was a saktyavesa-avatara. If we apply ourselves to serve Srila Prabhupada in his mission to spread and maintain some of its many fields of work—temple life, congregational preaching, book distribution, devotee education, gurukula, or any of the other activities that are part of this mission, that is the way to qualify ourselves for further understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s identity. That in turn will reveal to us who we are in our own spiritual identities.
The development of our own Krsna consciousness is an important service to Srila Prabhupada. That begins with sravaṇam kirtanam visnoḥ smaraṇam. Chant Hare Krsna, read Srila Prabhupada’s books, chant with others—and always remember Krsna and devotional service. That will please Srila Prabhupada. Pleasing Srila Prabhupada is the goal of our lives.
A maha-bhagavata sees no distinction between friends and enemies, but in order to preach, the maha-bhagavata accepts the vision of a madhyama-bhakta. A preacher must distinguish between devotees and demons, and he must instruct his followers in this understanding. Srila Prabhupada certainly had to assert this knowledge. His movement was attacked in so many ways. Even his son tried to usurp the movement, claiming that his father was an ordinary man and therefore his son should inherit ISKCON, the family business.
In so many ways, his followers would have to face these challenges. Srila Prabhupada gave us the ammunition to dispel the doubts and asserted that he was empowered by Lord Caitanya to spread the Krsna consciousness movement. The Hare Krsna movement is authorized; its founder-acarya is authorized.
These are some of the reasons why he may have alluded to himself when discussing how envious people criticize a special, empowered devotee. It was a source of pain to Srila Prabhupada, but he resisted these envious criticisms and fought back against them on behalf of the worldwide movement. Srila Prabhupada was ultimately defending Lord Krsna and the spread of His mission. He was not trying to make himself look good in his purports. At the end of his life, Srila Prabhupada also apologized to his Godbrothers for any offenses or criticisms he made while preaching.
As I read this purport this morning, I thought about the symptoms of empowerment. By examining those symptoms, we can see that Srila Prabhupada is certainly empowered. He brought Krsna consciousness out of India single-handedly and transplanted it all over the world. I want to be a worthy, grateful son and assert the empowered position of my spiritual master.
Tomorrow is Ekadasi. My head is newly shaven, the breeze pleasant. I am living on a transcendental college campus, ISKCON Vrndavana. The seminar starts in a few days.
Sometimes I observe all this as if I were an outsider looking in. There is the group of sannyasis, dandas standing straight, waiting before the Deity doors to greet the Deities. I am among them. Three conches blow, the doors slide open, and the Deities give darsana. “Govindam” plays over the loudspeaker. We all stand, worshipping Gaura-Nitai.
I observe this, but it doesn’t seem right to remain apart from it. I realize now that I have a choice: I can continue my careful, aloof observation, or I can participate fully. This same act has been going on for hundreds and thousands of years—devotees waiting for the Lord to give His darsana. What is the real essence? What are we supposed to do while we are here? We are meant to make more than an official appearance; life is more than getting through with a decent reputation. One day we will all be gone and the ranks will be filled with another generation. Better to pray to answer the call to your true self, jivera ‘svarupa’ haya—krsnera ‘nitya-dasa’—the self that never dies or takes birth again. Better to pray to eternal Krsna that you can know Him in His lila. Better to pray to serve Him by serving your spiritual master forever.
Prabhupada says that tears are a way of expressing the consummation of Krsna consciousness. In another place he says tears are the price we pay for love of God, meaning that we should cry to attain the perfectional stage. One of the primary ways to practice bhajana is to chant the Hare Krsna mantra. As with other practices, there should be special emphasis on practicing it with heart, not just mechanically. We are supposed to hanker to live in Vrndavana, and we are supposed to feel real separation from Vrndavana and the Vrajavasis.
But before we can feel these things, we have to pray for the mercy of the holy name and cry in the mood of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s “Gopinatha” about our unworthiness and sinfulness. This is relevant because it deals with just where we are now—stuck in mechanical chanting. We don’t know how to feel deeply when we chant the holy name. Of course, crying and spiritual emotion cannot be imitated; spiritual emotion is given to us by Krsna’s grace.
I realize that it is one thing to study Prabhupada’s books and try to assimilate them, and another thing to get below the surface, below the intellectualized, verbalized discussion and emerge as a new person with deeper convictions in Krsna consciousness. We are looking for a very definite focus. It means we have to break through our mechanical attitudes and attachments. It means we have to specifically be trying to make advancement.
Krsna consciousness can be grasped intellectually without fully surrendering. I expressed this to one of my Godbrothers in Vrndavana one day. We are not just trying to become “hip” to the scriptures without giving our hearts to following them. Surrender means a change of heart. In the material world, just being “in the know” constitutes realization, but devotees want to go beyond the intellectual into the soul.
When I last wrote at this desk, the fir trees looked chilled in the early morning cold. Now the sunshine pours in. Can I drag myself back to the disciplines—to the studies I want to pursue?
My day goes up and down. I have the most exalted books in the world within my reach; at least physically I can take them off the shelf and try to read what’s written on their pages.
My new full-suit gear by Carhartt is “as rugged as the men who wear them.”
A 120’-pound hulk, I veer down the road, hoping the school kids won’t come out yet so I can enter the woods alone.
As for my serious purpose,
I have already told: someone has to chart this new territory. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but still, you’ve got to justify why you’re out here instead of at a temple and why you don’t sit on a committee.
So I told you: I am charting the unknown, and I’m trying to pick up a poor japa standard and making an open book for a serious purpose.
All this on the order of guru and sastra just as you too, brother, work under that order. (Please excuse me if this poem has no music.)
As for play, yes, the deer tracks are fresh,
I raise my arms to the sky. I call it worship to taste the getting-smaller-moon sliver and to report back to you.
A grateful prayer for health, though I know it can’t last.
I am not the rugged man,
befitting to wear a Carhartt,
but I am
going my way
for the purpose of serving
in this world and the next.
With tears flowing from his rolling eyes, singing verses of praise and offering respects, hairs standing on end, he pleased the Lord. The Lord, an ocean of mercy, pleased him.
The Lord showed His four armed form, shining brighter than a million suns. The brāhmaṇa became ever more blissful and recited praises.
What the best of brāhmaṇas, very bold and satisfied, recited, Bṛhaspati himself could not recite, even in the future, and even with endeavor.
The Lord stayed some days and then decided to go to the south. Going with all the devotees, together they walked and chanted the Lord’s names.
Having fallen on the ground at the base of a tree and wanting to give mercy to Sārvabhauma, the merciful Lord lay there for the rest of the day and the whole night.
In the morning He woke up and, very disturbed, with choked voice said, “I have made a great offense to the great devotee Sārvabhauma.” He then left that place.
“How can I reject him out of bewilderment and pride and tour the holy sites? I will return to Puri and serve him. He is a great soul.
“I will do nothing except serve him.” Saying this, the ocean of mercy arrived in Puri in one prahara.
Sārvabhauma sent a servant to bring Gopināthācārya. The servant quickly arrived and spoke to Gopīnātha.
The servant said, “O ācārya! Lord Caitanya is coming here.” Gopīnātha said, “You must be telling a lie. He has joyfully gone to the south.
“He is a great soul, a form of the Lord, delivering the three worlds. He performs pure actions, for from his mouth, one nice, faultless verse containing the name of Kṛṣṇa has arisen.
“Therefore I must serve Sārvabhauma. This is my service to the Lord. Thinking in this way, though I left, I have returned from the pilgrimage.”
Hearing those most unfathomable words, the essence of the śrutis and smṛtis, which should be heard, the brāhmaṇa Gopīnātha suddenly smiled, showing his shining teeth.
“See the acts of the most merciful lord, compassionate to the miserable people. Who can understand His inaccessible glory? We are just insects.
“See the mercy given to Sārvabhauma by the greatly merciful Lord who desired to make the universe full of mercy. This mercy cannot be attained in Brahmā’s life.
“Sārvabhauma, famous among all knowers of Vedānta, devoid of any trace of bhakti, by chance mentioned Kṛṣṇa in a verse and became the object of your mercy.
“What foolish person would not worship this greatly merciful Lord? Rejecting all his faults, accepting a small good quality in a person, he shows mercy.
“What should happen to the person who does not mention the name of Kṛṣṇa? I understand that now you will give the greatest mercy to Sārvabhauma.”
Hearing his words filled with the rasas of astonishment and enthusiasm, the Lord said, “Do not speak like this, O great soul! I should simply serve him.”
Saying this, He passed the day, and at the end of night, He rose from bed to see the dawn. With the devotees He performed His nitya-kriyas.
Putting on His lower cloth and a cloth around His waist, eager to chant the name, the Lord entered the temple, like the autumn moon appearing on Sunrise Mountain.
Standing behind the Garuḍa-stambha like golden pole, He gazed at the crown jewel of Nīlācala, as streams of tears washed His body.
Watching the worship till the offering of incense and accepting very attractive mahā-prasādam, He then went outside.
The Lord went to see Sārvabhauma at his house. Sārvabhauma by chance had not risen from his bed at the dawn.
A servant, seeing the Lord, was about to go to wake him up. The Lord stopped him and went into the bedroom.
As Sārvabhauma was turning over, the Lord heard him utter Kṛṣṇa’s name indistinctly and felt spontaneous, unlimited happiness.
Sārvabhauma, the best of brāhmaṇas, then awoke, and saw beautiful Gauracandra, the crown jewel of sannyāsīs.
With his mind in confusion, he rose from the bed and in joy offered respects to the Lord. They spend some time in great joy discussing various topics.
The merciful Lord, a great ocean of rasa for all people, pulled from the border of His cloth some prasādam and held it in His lotus hand.
Offering the prasādam in His hands, like a desire tree holding powerful medicine, He said, “After performing your nitya-kriyas, please eat this.” Then He gave him the prasādam.
Standing up, Sārvabhauma quickly took the mahā-prasādam in his hand with great desire. “If one delays on receiving prasādam, what use is all one’s acquired knowledge?”
Saying this, he immediately put the prasādam in his mouth, while his hairs stood on end. The tender-hearted Lord with great joy embraced him in His arms and became blissful.
This collection of Satsvarūpa dāsa Goswami’s writings is comprised of essays that were originally published in Back to Godhead magazine between 1966 and 1978, and compiled in 1979 by Gita Nagari Press as the volume A Handbook for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness.
This second volume of Satsvarūpa dāsa Goswami’s Back to Godhead essays encompasses the last 11 years of his 20-year tenure as Editor-in-Chief of Back to Godhead magazine. The essays in this book consist mostly of SDG’s ‘Notes from the Editor’ column, which was typically featured towards the end of each issue starting in 1978 and running until Mahārāja retired from his duties as editor in 1989.
This collection of Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s writings is comprised of essays that were originally published in Back to Godhead magazine between 1991 and 2002, picking up where Volume 2 leaves off. The volume is supplemented by essays about devotional service from issues of Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s magazine, Among Friends, published in the 1990s.
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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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.