Vyasa puja offering for the year 2012
nama om vishnu-pädäya Krishna-presthaya bhü-tale
srimate bhaktivedänta-sväminn iti nämine
namas te särasvate deve gaura-vani-pracharine
Srila Prabhupäda—A Vrindavana Man
It was April of 1977, in Bombay. You were living in your new quarters on the top floor of the west tower in Juhu, so ill that you never left them, and no one was allowed to visit you. I had become sick and practically just lay on the floor in my little office. My policy had been to listen only to the songs you had given us, the ones in Songs of the Vaisnava Äcäryas. Someone had handed me a tape of Mangalänanda Prabhu singing original songs, and somehow I thought, “Okay, maybe I’ll listen.” One song particularly affected me, and I listened to it again and again.
The words were about going back to Godhead, and while listening I would think of you. I would feel happy, because clearly you were soon going back to Godhead—although in one sense you already were, and always were, back to Godhead. And I felt, “This is also my destination. One day I am destined to also go to the same place.”
After that period in 1977 I never listened to the song again, for fear that it would bring back the memory of those days too intensely. But today the words strike me as relevant, for they remind me of you—what you were like and where you were going. They also suggest, as they did when I first heard them, what I should become like and, if I do, what destination I will achieve—all by your grace.
The song begins with a wonderful description of devotees—of you—and what happens to them:
Selflessness relieves distress.
The gentle rain of happiness
Puts out the burning fire of life,
Transports the soul beyond all strife,
Past starry night and cruel death
For those who give their living breath,
Upon their lips the holy name
In praise of Him who came.
To them a store of bliss is known,
And hidden worlds to them are shown.
And it concludes with a beautiful description of the spiritual abode and the life that awaits us there, which is our goal:
Where the Supreme Lord fills every eye
Sweet jubilation fills the sky
As dancing milkmaids and cowherd boys
Play in forests green with joys
Of bael and jackfruit lily white—
An endless full-moon nectar night
Of dancing magic loving smiles
And gopi damsels’ playful wiles.
They sport in lotus lakes with He
Whose glances taste of ecstasy.
Back in April 1977 I knew that you would probably be leaving us soon. And so I was thinking, “What will happen after you leave?” Once I even thought, “What will happen to me?” You had always personally protected me, so I wondered, “What will happen to me after you leave?” And I would listen to the song again and again.
I knew that you were going, and I knew that what was described in the song was my goal and ultimate destination, but I had no idea when I would reach it.
Thirty-five years have passed since then, and so much has happened—to me individually, to us collectively, to the movement, and to the world. And that goal, or destination, which seemed so immediate when we first met Your Divine Grace and joined you, now seems more and more distant—almost unattainable.
We know that your mercy is always there, and so there is always hope, but last year your mercy was manifest to me in a somewhat unexpected way, which made me feel new hope.
Last October you brought me to Vrindavana, and in Vrindavana to the association—the shelter and guidance and support and friendship—of many of your dear disciples. And that combination—Vrindavana with the association of close godbrothers—proved to be especially powerful.
As stated in Sri Caitanya-caritamrita (Madhya 22.128–29), five items of devotional service are especially potent:
sādhu-saṅga, nāma-kīrtana, bhāgavata-śravaṇa
mathurā-vāsa, śrī-mūrtira śraddhāya sevana
“One should associate with devotees, chant the holy name of the Lord, hear Srimad-Bhägavatam, reside at Mathurä, and worship the Deity with faith and veneration.”
sakala-sādhana-śreṣṭha ei pañca aṅga
kṛṣṇa-prema janmāya ei pāṅcera alpa saṅga
“These five limbs of devotional service are the best of all. Even a slight performance of these five awakens love for Krsna.”
Somehow, although I am so unqualified, you arranged for me to stay in Vrindavana, in the association of dear godbrothers, continuously for months—much longer than ever before. And I gained hope that I might one day, somehow, attain my eternal service, in my eternal home, with you.
Akrüra’s words as he approached Vrindavana suddenly seemed more relevant, more true:
kvacit tarati kaścana
“Because I am so fallen I shall never get a chance to see the Supreme Personality of Godhead.’ This was my false apprehension. Rather, by chance a person as fallen as I am may get to see the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Although one is being carried away by the waves of the river of time, one may eventually reach the shore.” (Srimad-Bhägavatam 10.38.5, as cited at Caitanya-caritamrita Madhya 22.44)
Of course, I do not know when I will ever see the Supreme Personality of Godhead directly,
but I did feel that “by chance a person as fallen as I. may eventually reach the shore.” Somehow, Srila Prabhupäda, your mercy was bringing me closer.
I felt at home in Vrindavana and could relate to one of your descriptions of Vrindavana in The Nectar of Devotion:
“I remember the Lord standing by the banks of the Yamunä River, so beautiful amid the kadamba trees, where many birds are chirping in the gardens. And these impressions are always giving me transcendental realization of beauty and bliss.” This feeling about Mathurä-mandala and Vrindavana described by Rüpa Goswami can actually be felt. The places in the 168-square-mile district of Mathurä are so beautifully situated on the banks of the river Yamunä that anyone who goes there will never want to return to this material world.
As my stay in Vrindavana was extended by your causeless mercy, week after week, I wondered how long you had willed me to remain there—secretly hoping it would be forever.
* * *
You, Srila Prabhupäda, were a resident of Vrindavana, but you left. Why, and how could you tolerate the separation?
You explained in an early talk in New York City:
I shall be very happy to return to my Vrindavana, that sacred place. “But then why you are. ?” Now, because it is my duty. I have brought some message for you people. Because I am ordered by superior, my spiritual master, that “Whatever you have learned, you should go to the Western countries, and you must distribute this knowledge.”
If you had not left Vrindavana, how would we ever have come to know about that most sacred of places—much less gotten the chance to serve there?
In leaving Vrindavana, you exemplified the mood of Sri Prahläda:
naivodvije para duratyaya-vaitaraṇyās
śoce tato vimukha-cetasa indriyārtha-
māyā-sukhāya bharam udvahato vimūḍhān
“O best of the great personalities, I am not at all afraid of material existence, for wherever I stay I am fully absorbed in thoughts of Your glories and activities. My concern is only for the fools and rascals who are making elaborate plans for material happiness and maintaining their families, societies, and countries. I am simply concerned with love for them.”
prāyeṇa deva munayaḥ sva-vimukti-kāmā
maunaṁ caranti vijane na parārtha-niṣṭhāḥ
naitān vihāya kṛpaṇān vimumukṣa eko
nānyaṁ tvad asya śaraṇaṁ bhramato ’nupaśye
“My dear Lord Narasimhadeva, there are many saintly persons indeed, but they are interested only in their own deliverance. Not caring for the big cities and towns, they go to the Himalayas or the forest to meditate with vows of silence [mauna-vrata]. They are not interested in delivering others. As for me, however, I do not wish to be liberated alone, leaving aside all these poor fools and rascals. I know that without Krishna consciousness, without taking shelter of Your lotus feet, one cannot be happy. Therefore I wish to bring them back to shelter at Your lotus feet.” (Srimad-Bhägavatam 7.9.44)
prāyeṇa deva munayaḥ sva-vimukti-kāmā—almost all the great saintly persons we find in India are interested in their own liberation. Maunaṁ caranti vijane na parārtha-niṣṭhāḥ —they wander silently in the Himalayas or forests, not working for the welfare of others.
When I first arrived in Bombay with a group of devotees in 1970, there was a gathering of sädhus, saintly persons, in a large hall along Marine Drive. There were long lines of tables set up next to each other, and sitting cross-legged on the tables were various yogis and munis in different types of attire (or lack of attire), with different types of tilaka and other markings and symbols—some with matted hair, some with flowing long hair, some with no hair—all engaged in different processes meant for their elevation, and I was quite impressed. Having been a spiritual seeker and read Autobiography of a Yogi, I was very intrigued by tales of saintly persons in India.
But when you arrived it became clear to me that you stood out from the rest. You were in a completely different category. You were like the sun, as effulgent as the sun, and in comparison the others were like little stars. Your mood was different from theirs: you did not want to go back home, back to Godhead, alone, leaving aside all the poor fools and rascals—in other words, us. And if that had not been your mood, where would we be? I shudder to think of it.
You imbibed that mood through the paramparä, the disciplic succession, from your spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhänta Sarasvati Thakura, and his father and shiksha-guru, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. And in your service to them, you were unparalleled.
Srila Bhaktisiddhänta Sarasvati wanted his disciples to go to the West and preach. At great expense, he even sent some to London, and they met some people and gave some talks, but somehow they did not have much effect. And eventually Srila Bhaktisiddhänta called them back.
When they returned, there was a nice reception for them. Soon thereafter, during the Navadwipa-dhäma parikramä, Srila Bhaktisiddhänta again expressed his ardent desire—and hope—that someone would deliver Krishna consciousness—the teachings of Lord Caitanya and the chanting of the Hare Krishna mahä-mantra—to the people in the Western world. Sripäda Nayanänanda Däsa Babaji, a disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhänta, relates:
The last year that our gurudeva organized and performed Navadwipa-dhäma parikramä, thousands of pilgrims assembled at our Canpahati temple. There was an entire village of tents stretching in all directions. On the afternoon of the last day, one of our godbrothers had just arrived in Navadwipa, recently come from London by ship. He had gone there to preach but had returned without meeting full success. That evening during his lecture, Guru Mahäräja explained his earnest desire that Caitanya Mahäprabhu’s teachings be spread in the Western countries. He said that this was the last request of his mother, Srimati Bhagavati Devi, to him before she left this world, and that indeed it would happen. Consequently, he had been willing to take the lifeblood of the Gaudiya Matha funds to send devotees there, yet their attempts had been largely unsuccessful.
At that point in his talk I noticed something mysterious happening. Guru Mahäräja had been looking out at the packed crowd of devotees, especially in the front, where all the sannyasis and brahmacharis in red cloth were. Then he turned his head and looked over to his left side, where I was standing. He was looking intently at someone and became silent for some time. I happened to look behind me and saw that the person with whom he was making eye contact was Abhaya Charanaravinda Prabhu [known after sannyäsa as A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami]. I felt that they were looking at each other in a special way. Then Guru Mahäräja turned and again addressed the audience in front of him and said, “But I have a prediction. However long in the future it may be, one of my disciples will cross the ocean and bring back the entire world.”
Srila Prabhupäda, without your having taken up this mood from your Guru Mahäräja, where would we be?
In your purport to Prahläda’s prayer in Srimad-Bhägavatam, you explain his—and your—determination:
Prahläda Mahäräja says clearly,
nanyamtvad asya saranam bhramato ‘nupasye:
“I know that without Krishna consciousness, without taking shelter of Your lotus feet, one cannot be happy.”
One wanders within the universe, life after life, but by the grace of a devotee, a servant of Sri Caitanya Mahäprabhu, one can get the clue to Krishna consciousness and then not only become happy in this world but also return home, back to Godhead. That is the real target in life.
This is the decision of the Vaisnava, the pure devotee of the Lord. For himself he has no problems, even if he has to stay in this material world, because his only business is to remain in Krishna consciousness. The Krishna conscious person can go even to hell and still be happy. [H]is interest is in the busiest part of the world, where he teaches people Krishna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupäda, in coming to deliver us you practically walked through hell—and still you were happy. Mukunda Goswami, in Miracle on Second Avenue, describes one incident when you were in San Francisco, in Haight-Ashbury, the center of the hippie movement. The devotees then were friends with two brothers, early supporters of your mission, who owned the Psychedelic Shop. Several times the brothers had invited the devotees to bring you to the program they held every Saturday evening in the meditation room at the back of their store, but the devotees had always refused, not wanting to subject you to the atmosphere there. But eventually they accepted.
And so you walked along Haight Street, accompanied by six devotees. The Haight was like a carnival—people in all sorts of dress, with different styles of hair and costumes, some singing and playing music, some drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, or taking some other drug. Mukunda was concerned about your walking through that whole scene, which must have appeared so decadent to you, and to break the silence he ventured, “It’s a beautiful night.”
As Mukunda Mahäräja describes,
[You] scrutinized the street sellers, looked at passing smokers and bongo players, people with painted faces and wild, brightly colored costumes. [You] appeared to smell the air, taking in the burning odor of marijuana and the sharp putrid stench of alcohol, which was tempered by the fragrance of roses and carnations. [You] turned, smiling, and said, “Everything is beautiful.”
And Mukunda Mahäräja reflected on your statement:
There was no good or bad from the pure angle of vision—everything and everyone in every part of creation was Krishna’s energy, and because the swami was in touch with that energy, he saw this beauty. The people were beautiful because they were all potential devotees. Everything was beautiful because everything was connected to Krishna
Srila Prabhupäda, your mercy—your vision—is inconceivable. No matter where you were, even in the Haight, you were happy, because you were spreading Krishna’s glories and pleasing your superiors.
* * *
Srila Bhaktisiddhänta Sarasvati Thakura said that the best goñöhyänandé is a bhajanänandé who preaches. Before you came to America you prepared yourself by intensely chanting and studying and praying for the power to preach. Then you left Vrindavana for New York, San Francisco, and the world. And you were fully absorbed in Sri Caitanya Mahäprabhu and your spiritual master’s mission.
Still, you hankered for Vrindavana.
In your Los Angeles headquarters one afternoon, after dealing with various managerial problems, you leaned back on the bolsters of your äsana and quoted a verse by Narottama Däsa Thakura:
visaya chadiya kabe suddha habe mana kabe häma heraba Sri-Vrindavana—“When will I give up material sense objects, and when will my mind become purified? Only then will I be able to behold Vrindavana.”
Then you added, perhaps for me to hear,
“Of course, it is not visaya, material; it is Krishna’s service. But still, I wish to be freed. I am hankering for Vrindavana.”
Thus you showed us the perfect example. You relished Krishna consciousness in Vrindavana; you left Vrindavana to preach, to fulfill the orders of your superior authorities; while outside Vrindavana you always remembered Vrindavana, hankered for Vrindavana; and in the end you returned to Vrindavana—back to your home, back to Godhead.
Just as Krishna does not take a step away from Vrindavana, Krishna’s devotee also does not like to leave Vrindavana. However, when he has to tend to Krishna’s business, he leaves Vrindavana. After finishing his mission, a pure devotee returns home, back to Vrindavana, back to Godhead.
(Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 13.156 purport)
On this occasion, I pray to follow you—wherever you are, whatever your service. You said of your spiritual master that he was “a Vaikuntha man” and that he came to this world to execute the mission of Caitanya Mahäprabhu. “So he executed it. And when it was required, he left this place and went to another place to do the same business.”
You, too, were a Vaikuntha man, or more specifically, a Vrindavana man.
In her offering to you on your disappearance day in 2003, your disciple Daivishakti Devi Dasi described your special relationship with Gita Devi Saraf, who donated the land for your Vrindavana temple.
One evening Gita Devi confided in her:
She said, “You know, Srila Prabhupäda was just like my own father.
He cared for me, and that was why I gave to him and no other.
He told me a secret once, when we were all alone.
I’ll tell you what he said to me; it’s something you should know.
“I came to see him one evening. He was sitting in his garden.
Devotees sat by his feet, secretary and servants all around.
As I came close he smiled at me and told them all to go.
I sat nearby his lotus feet, and this is what he told.
“‘Krishna sent me here to preach. He sent me from above.
With English, Bengali, and Hindi I could preach all over the world.
I’ve almost finished my task, and soon I’ll return to Him.’”
He told her this in 1976; soon our lives went dim.
I was amazed at what Prabhupäda had revealed to her alone.
She knew he came from Krishna and would soon be going home.
Such wisdom was not wasted on an ordinary Jiva.
This blessing was hers from Prabhupäda—confidentiality.
As we drove, she took my hand and made a simple wish.
She asked me in sincerity, “Please teach me to speak English.”
“But Gita Devi, you’re so old, your precious time will be wasted.”
“No,” she said, “I also want to preach as Prabhupäda did.”
I looked at her in amazement; she really wanted to preach.
She had been transformed by Srila Prabhupäda’s grace.
By associating with fire one becomes like fire; I saw
Her desire to preach like Prabhupäda in an old woman bereft of all.
The inspiration she received from a moment of Prabhupäda’s love
Reminds us how compassionate he was to come here from above.
Srila Prabhupäda—I, too, aspire to follow you, internally and externally, but I can do that only by your mercy, and by the mercy of those dear to you, who carry your mercy and love.
Please help me.
Your dependent servant,