Vyasa-puja Offering to Srila Prabhupada — Meeting My Perfect Master
Dear Srila Prabhupada,
I wish to tell you about my journey to meet you–and how your journey to
meet me was effective.
In my youth I aspired to attain perfect happiness, and soon I realized that
such happiness could not be achieved materially but only spiritually. And,
through reading spiritual books, I came to understand that to achieve
spiritual perfection, I needed a guru. In fact, I read that I didn’t even
have to choose the guru. He was already there; all I had to do was find him.
So whenever I heard about a guru anywhere, even a thousand miles away, I
would go to meet him.
One teacher I met was a Zen master, supposedly enlightened and certified by
another enlightened master in Japan. I had read a book he had written, and
when I heard he was holding a three-day retreat at his ashram in Rochester,
New York, I went. Upon my arrival I found that his students were not very
happy. But I thought, “Anyway, they’re just students. Let me meet the
During the retreat he held meditation sessions in which everyone had to sit
up straight and look at the wall, concentrating on some object he would give
us. The master walked around with a stick, and if he thought any of us was
falling asleep or that someone’s mind was wandering, he would hit the
offender. After one such session, some of his students asked him about his
recently having become angry. “Yes, it’s true,” he said. “I lost my temper;
I shouldn’t have.” I started to doubt whether he was my guru. Still, I had
read that a Zen master might appear ordinary and that one might not
recognize him, so I thought, “Maybe this is part of it.” But my doubt
remained. Later, he came to Boston, near Brandeis University, where I was
studying. After his talk and demonstration, someone in the audience asked
about Vedanta. “I have enough trouble keeping up with Zen,” he answered.
“How do you expect me to know about Vedanta?” My previous doubt was
confirmed: “He is not my perfect master.”
Then a hatha-yogi came to Brandeis to give a lecture. He had long hair and a
beard and flowing robes. He said that by yoga you could attain complete
mastery over your bodily functions, including the movements of the bowels.
You could actually command your intestines: “Ascending colon, advance!
Transverse colon, advance! Descending colon, advance!” and finally, “Rectum,
pass!” I was really looking for a guru, so I thought, “Anyway, maybe.”
After the lecture, I tried to meet the swami, but he was leaving for the
airport. I wanted to ride with him in his car, but there was no room, so I
rode with some of his students. On the way, they discussed the various foods
they missed since they had joined the ashram. So I started to have some
doubts. But then I thought, “Anyway, they are just the students; the master
may be on a much higher level.”
When we arrived at the airport, I beheld the swami. There he was–long
flowing hair, beard, draping orange robes, a flower in his hair, a twinkle
in his eyes–the very picture of Indian spirituality. But then I saw him
tightly embracing his women disciples. And I knew: “He is not my perfect
master. I have to keep looking.”
Next I heard of an “enlightened” psychology professor who was teaching at
Antioch College, in Ohio, which was known as a progressive university, and I
wanted to meet him immediately. Ready to do anything to find my guru, I got
in my car and drove the seven hundred miles. When I arrived, with great
anticipation and eagerness I searched out the professor’s office and
inquired about him from his secretary. “He’s playing golf,” she informed me.
“Playing golf?” I asked incredulously. “I thought he was supposed to be
enlightened.” “That is his Zen,” she replied. “Oh, no!” I thought. “Playing
golf? He is not my perfect master.”
Although I was disappointed about the professor, the Antioch campus was full
of people interested in spiritual life, and while I was there I spoke with
some of them. Some students in the Student Union told me about a guru who
had recently visited the campus. “The guru is in the heart,” he had said,
“where he sits on a lotus flower. You can actually see him and speak with
him.” “Wow!” I thought; “that sounds attractive.” That night I tried to
really focus on my heart. And indeed, I got a definite impression that there
was a divine personality there, with whom I could have a sublime, personal
relationship. And he seemed just about to speak. I was very excited, and I
became eager to meet him.
Back at Brandeis, one of my psychology professors invited J. Krishnamurti to
speak. I attended the lecture, and during a break I told my professor that I
wanted to meet Krishnamurti. “Why?” my professor asked. “I may want him as
my guru,” I replied. “Oh, he doesn’t accept disciples,” my professor said.
“He doesn’t even touch money.” My professor was impressed. But I wasn’t. I
thought, “If he is actually able to help people, why should he refuse? Just
to be renounced? He is not my perfect master.”
I kept searching. I already had the idea that you don’t have to choose your
guru, that he is already there. I even had a mental picture of what he
looked like–and he didn’t have hair. All the swamis and yogis I had
encountered had long hair and beards, so I was starting to despair: “How am
I ever going to meet my guru?”
Then one day I saw a poster on campus: Lecture–Bhagavad-gita As It
Is–Swami Bhaktivedanta. My friends and I were supposed to go to the movies
that night, but I wanted to attend the lecture instead. When I suggested
that, however, one friend in particular got really upset. “Why can’t you be
normal like other people?” she complained. “All you want to do is see swamis
and yogis.” And the argument became so intense that I decided not to go. I
didn’t want to disappoint my friends, so I tried to go along with their
idea. But something inside me was impelling me to go to the lecture. Finally
I said, “Okay, let’s go to a later show. But first I have to go to the
lecture by the swami. I promise, he will be the last one I go see.”
My friends reluctantly came along, but because we’d been arguing, we arrived
at the auditorium late and missed the lecture.
Entering the auditorium, I beheld an elderly Indian gentleman–you–sitting
on a cushion on stage. To the side, a young devotee (Satsvarupa dasa) sang
into a microphone, and other devotees were dancing in a circle around you.
Satsvarupa was singing right into the microphone, and the sound was
reverberating off the bare brick walls. One by one, students from the
audience jumped onto the stage and joined in. I also felt like going up, but
I knew my friends wouldn’t approve; that would have been too much for them.
More students were jumping up, climbing on the stage, and joining the
circle, dancing. I kept trying to focus my eyes on you, but I couldn’t; your
effulgence was too great.
When the kirtan ended, one of the devotees announced that they needed a lift
to Harvard Square or to Boston. As my friends and I were still going to the
movie and it was at Harvard Square, I invited the devotees to ride with us,
and everyone piled into my station wagon. I was the driver, and also in
front were two ladies. In the back seat were three or four devotees, and in
the rear compartment were my friends and I don’t even know how many more–I
don’t think we could have fit anyone else.
Satsvarupa was squeezed in the rear with my best friend, Gary. Because of
our impersonal readings, my friend was saying that ultimately everything was
void. And Satsvarupa was saying, “There is no void in the creation of God.”
But my friend kept insisting: “Everything is ultimately void.” I was
overhearing them from the front, and puffed up as I was, I thought, “Oh, how
silly that they are arguing over this.” I thought I had it all figured out.
So I turned to the back and announced something I had read in some Zen book:
“It is not void, and it is not not-void, but to give it a name, we call it
the void.” I thought I had resolved the whole controversy. But still, they
One of the ladies up front with me was Jahnava. I had been trying to
understand all the different paths and philosophies, so I asked her about
Zen. “This world seems real,” she said, “but it is illusory, like images on
a movie screen. Now, if you withdraw your consciousness from the screen, you
will find that there is a beam of light.” I thought, “This is the best
explanation I’ve ever heard, even better than the Zen books.” “And if you
keep following that beam of light back,” she continued, “you come to a
point.” I thought, “Wow, this is getting to the void.” But then she said,
“But behind that point there is a projector, and behind the projector there
is a person.” Then I thought, “This philosophy encompasses everything that
Zen does, and more.”
Then I asked her about Yogananda. She dismissed him out of hand: “Oh, he is
just a shopkeeper. Whatever you want, he keeps in stock. You want yoga, he
will give you that. Whatever you ask for, he pulls off the shelf.” Then she
said, “At his ashram in California he has a Gandhi peace memorial. But
Gandhi wasn’t a worker for world peace. He was a politician who wanted to
drive the British out of India.” She just dismissed him: “He doesn’t even
know who Gandhi is.”
“She is speaking with authority,” I thought. But I sensed that it couldn’t
all be coming from her. How was it possible for a girl of only twenty or so
to have so much knowledge and speak with such authority? But she did have
authority. And I knew it wasn’t coming from her. Then I thought, “This must
be coming from her teacher. I want to meet him.”
When we got to Harvard Square, I let the devotees out. But as I was driving
away, I realized that I didn’t know how to get in touch with them. How would
I meet the guru? I immediately stopped the car–at the center of Harvard
Square–jumped out, and ran after them. I caught up to one, Patita Pavana.
When he stopped, he turned his head and pointed to the crowd around us. “You
see these people?” he said. “They’re all sleepwalkers. They don’t know what
they’re doing, or why. They’re just conforming.” His words were so
intriguing and deep; I wanted to hear more.
Suddenly I became aware of the honking of horns all around us. I’d left my
car in the middle of the roundabout, and the traffic at Harvard Square was
backed up. The honking kept getting louder. “I want to meet the Swami,” I
said. “Quick, give me the address.” “Come at seven,” he said, “tomorrow
night.” I could hardly wait.
The next evening when I arrived, the small storefront temple was packed with
young people. You were sitting on a cushion at the far end. The walls were
decorated with exotic paintings, and the aroma of incense filled the air.
When you began speaking, I had difficulty understanding what you were
saying. You had a thick Bengali accent, and the philosophy was new to me.
But I did hear you say that out of many thousands of men, one would seek
perfection. “That’s me!” I thought. “He’s talking about me!”
After the lecture, you called for questions. Someone asked, “Since
everything comes from God, or Krishna, does maya also come from Krishna?”
You replied that everything comes from Krishna, just like everything comes
from the sun. The cloud also comes from the sun, although it covers our
vision of the sun. But the sun is never covered by the cloud; only our
vision is covered.
I was burning to ask my question. “There are so many swamis and yogis” I
began, “and each recommends a different process of self-realization, and
each says that his is the best. So how do I know which is actually best?”
You responded, “What is your goal? Do you want to serve God, or do you want
to become God?” How brilliant–how perfect! I was asking about the means,
but to determine the best means, we must first establish the end, the goal.
“When you seek after God, God, who is situated within your heart, will give
you all facility. But if you want to become God, you will be cheated; you
are cheating yourself. How you can become God? You are trying to become God,
then how you became a dog? God cannot become a dog. God is always God.
“The Mayavadi philosopher says that ‘I am God, but by maya, I am thinking I
am not God. So, by meditation I shall become God.’ But that means he is
under the punishment of maya. God has come under the influence of maya? How
is that? God is great, and if He is under the influence of maya, then maya
becomes greater than God.
“So, the idea is that as long as we shall continue this hallucination that
‘I am God,’ there is no question of getting the favor of God. Then you do
your own business, and try to find yourself whether you are God or something
else. As soon as I think, ‘I am God,’ I am cheating myself. Who will help
you? That is going on. Everyone is thinking, ‘I am God.’
“So, what you are thinking? You are trying to become God? What is your idea?
Or you are thinking there is no God?”
“I am thinking that there is God,” I replied.
“There is God? You are thinking like that?”
But I knew that I couldn’t cheat you, so I replied, “Yes. But I can see that
I was trying to become God.”
“So, you are trying to become God–that means you are not God. Is it not?
How you became not-God? God is so great that He never becomes not-God. So,
your conclusion should be that ‘I am not that God who is great. I am a
different God who becomes sometimes not-God.’ Therefore you are a different
God from that God who is great. Is it not?
“That is a fact. Because you are part and parcel of God, you are minute God;
therefore you have the potency of becoming not-God. Just like a fire and a
spark of the fire: A spark, when it is in the fire, is bright fire, but as
soon as it goes out of the fire, it becomes extinguished. But the big fire
never becomes extinguished. Similarly, you are not that big fire; you are
that small spark. You have fallen down; therefore you are not God. Now you
have to raise yourself again to the fire, you will again be a blazing spark.
“So, that is the difference. That is stated in the Vedic literature. Every
living entity is Brahman, but the Supreme Brahman is Krishna. He never
becomes not-God. We see in Krishna’s life, when He was a child on the lap of
His mother, He was God. So many demons were killed. He didn’t have to
meditate to become God. While He was playing, He was God, and when He was
fighting on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, He was God. That is God. Not
that sometimes not-God, sometimes God. That is not God. God is always God,
in any circumstance. That is God.”
As you were speaking, I got the clear impression that you knew everything
about me, that you were seeing right into me, into Waltham, into my
apartment, into my bathroom, right to the wall on which I had pasted a sign
I had inscribed in beautiful ornate lettering: YOU ARE GOD.
My search was over. I offered my obeisances. I had found my spiritual
The devotees put their heads on the floor and offered obeisances. I also
kept my head on the floor in surrender–for a long time. I felt so glad. I
had finally found my perfect master and wanted to surrender fully. At the
same time, I also felt ashamed and humiliated–my abominable desire to
become God had been exposed; everyone there knew I had wanted to become God.
After some time, I heard sounds indicating that devotees were bringing
plates of food, prasada, to their guests. Something inside prompted me to
look up. I expected everyone would be glaring at me, but no. People were
blissfully taking prasada, and when they saw me get up they simply smiled.
Moments earlier, when a devotee had offered you a large plate of prasada,
you had responded, “I am not God; I cannot eat so much.”
The prasada I was given looked just like everything else in the
temple–colorful, attractive, and variegated. Because of macrobiotics and
other speculations, I never expected a feast. Where to begin? I picked up
what must have been a cauliflower pakora, put it in my mouth, bit into it. .
. and felt an explosion of taste. One by one, I sampled the preparations:
bada, sweet rice–every taste new, incomparable. I thought everything was
perfect: the guru, the prasada, the chanting.
I loved the chanting. The devotees had a sign with the Hare Krishna mantra
written in Indian-style lettering. During the kirtan, as I was looking at
the letters on the sign, they started to move, dissolve, form, and unform
themselves. These were the signs I’d been looking for, and everything
indicated that you were my spiritual master.
From the time you answered my question and I bowed my head, I surrendered.
From that first meeting, my whole life’s purpose became to bring people to
meet you. And I was able to do that for many years. But when you passed
away, I wondered, What will be my service now? My whole service had been to
bring people to you.
Now I understand that you are always present, and that by speaking of you,
hearing about you, remembering you, and, most significantly, by studying
your books and following your instructions, by practicing and preaching
Krishna consciousness, serving your mission, we can experience your
presence. So I can continue doing what I was doing when you were personally
present–introducing souls to you–which is what I feel most natural doing.
Because I know that somehow or other, if someone comes in touch with you,
his life will be successful.
Your eternal, humbled servant,