Vyasa Puja offering for the year 2011
My dear Srila Prabhupäda,
Please accept my prostrated obeisances at your transcendental lotus feet. All glories to Your Divine Grace.
For your Vyäsa-puja this year, I wish to speak about your dear friend and staunch devotee Mr. P. L. Sethi. Much of what I shall narrate I have experienced personally; the rest I have heard from Mr. Sethi himself, except the description of his last days, which I heard from his family. For your pleasure, I shall address my words to your followers.
A Special Recipient of Srila Prabhupäda’s Mercy
When Srila Prabhupäda first came to Bombay with his disciples from America in 1970, Mr. Sethi read a notice about them in the newspaper, which said that Srila Prabhupäda had arrived with sädhus from foreign countries who chanted the Hare Krishna mahä-mantra. Mr. Sethi was part of a group that also chanted Hare Krishna; so he wanted to meet Prabhupäda, and he got the address and came to see him.
At their first meeting, Srila Prabhupäda asked Mr. Sethi what he did during the day, starting from when he woke up in the morning. Mr. Sethi began, “I get up, brush my teeth, take my bath, have a cup of tea and a piece of toast, read the newspaper, and go to work.”
Srila Prabhupäda responded, “What is the difference between you and a pig?”
Mr. Sethi thought about it and seemed to agree: there was no difference. So he asked
Prabhupäda, “What should I do?”
Prabhupäda replied, “You should invite the devotees to Goregaon [the northern suburb of Bombay where Mr. Sethi lived] early every Sunday morning to do hari-näma-sankirtana, and then you should feed them sumptuous prasädam.” And this became a regular practice.
Later, when Srila Prabhupäda got the Juhu property, Mr. Sethi bought some land behind it and built a house for his family. In India people often give names to their houses and office buildings, and he named his new home Vrindavana.
Srila Prabhupäda underwent a great struggle to get the Juhu land and then to get the permissions to build on the land. Mr. Sethi was a building contractor, and Srila Prabhupäda engaged him in getting permits and doing some of the early construction. At the back of the land were six two-storey apartment buildings, and before we got permission to build the temple and main project, Mr. Sethi got permission to add one storey on top of each of the buildings at the back. The roofs of those old buildings were flat, with little white ceramic tile chips set in cement, and Srila Prabhupäda said that we should keep that flooring and build the walls and roof over it.
When the first additional quarters were ready, Mr. Sethi took Srila Prabhupäda on a tour. Srila Prabhupäda looked at Mr. Sethi with great affection and said, “Just as you are building these rooms for my disciples here, Krishna is building your rooms for you in Vaikuntha, the spiritual world.”
But we still did not have permission to build the main project. Finally, Mr. Sethi told Prabhupäda, “Unless we pay them some money, we can’t get the permission.” He wanted to know if Prabhupäda was willing to do that.
Srila Prabhupäda asked, “How much?”
Mr. Sethi said, “Five thousand rupees.”
Srila Prabhupäda asked, “How do we know that if we pay the money we’ll get the permission?”
Mr. Sethi said, “The municipal commissioner is the final authority, and he seems to be a decent man, and this is how it works in Bombay.”
Srila Prabhupäda said, “Let me think about it; I will tell you tomorrow morning.”
After Mr. Sethi left, Srila Prabhupäda discussed the matter with me and maybe one or two other managers of the Juhu project. “So, what should we do?” he asked. And he raised another question: “What if we give the money to Sethi and he doesn’t give it to the commissioner?” He quoted a Bengali saying that a goldsmith, while fashioning some gold his mother gave him to make into a ring, is thinking, “Should I use all the gold for the ring or put some in my pocket?” Prabhupäda said that this type of cheating is so much a part of the goldsmith’s business that even if his own mother gives him gold to make an ornament, he will think, “Should I cheat and keep some of the gold for myself?” Prabhupäda said that the construction business—paying bribes and getting permits—is such that someone in it will automatically think, “Should I keep some of the money for myself?”no matter whose money it is.
So there were many factors to consider—whether Mr. Sethi would give the money, or the full amount, to the commissioner, whether the commissioner, having taken the money, would in fact give the permission, or whether he might take the money and then ask for more and more and more—so many complexities. Finally Srila Prabhupäda decided, “We will not do this.”
The next morning we waited anxiously for Mr. Sethi to arrive, being a little apprehensive about how Srila Prabhupäda would present his decision to Mr. Sethi and how Mr. Sethi would take it. Eventually he came and, as usual, sat on the floor before Srila Prabhupäda.
“So, what do you think?” Prabhupäda asked. “Should we do it?”
Mr. Sethi replied, “Yes, because otherwise we are not getting the permission.”
Prabhupäda immediately said, “All right” just the opposite of the way the discussion had been going the day before. So Prabhupäda arranged the money, and we got the permission.
Srila Prabhupäda, as the äcärya, was teaching us. He often told us that intelligence means to see the same thing from many points of view and that we should do everything very cautiously and carefully. I do not believe that he actually doubted his dear friend and staunch devotee Mr. Sethi, but he was teaching us to be circumspect and consider every proposal with keen intelligence.
In the course of the struggle, the municipality had demolished the semi-permanent temple we had built for Sri Sri Rädhä-Räsabihäri. At first we actively campaigned to get permission to rebuild it. But eventually we concluded that we didn’t really need a permit to rebuild it because we already had permission and the municipality didn’t actually have valid grounds for demolishing it. Still, the landlady, Mrs. Nair, somehow heard about our intention and went to court to get an injunction to stop us from rebuilding the temple. That was on a Friday, and the judge said he would not give the injunction without hearing us. She said, “Just give a temporary injunction for the weekend, and then you can decide on the permanent injunction.”
But he said, “No, without hearing the other side I will not pass any judgment.”
So we knew we had the weekend to rebuild the temple, because once it was rebuilt, the injunction would be meaningless.
In those days it was difficult to get cement, and a little hard to get bricks. The supply was less than the demand. And the government had imposed “cement control”: to purchase cement legally, one had to procure a government-approved quota. But Mr. Sethi brought cement and bricks from his own construction sites so we could rebuild the temple over the weekend. While the work was going on, Mr. Mhatre, the local municipal counselor, who was in cahoots with Mrs. Nair, came to the site and demanded, “Stop the construction immediately.”
Mr. Sethi replied, “No. Why should we stop?”
Mr. Mhatre threatened, “Well, you can build it up, but I will come in the night with fifty gundas [hooligans] and break it down.”
Mr. Sethi turned to his son, who was by his side, and said, “Brij Mohan, bring my revolver and my rifle.” Then Mr. Sethi said to Mhatre, “Don’t bring fifty gundas. Bring a hundred. Bring two hundred. I have two hundred and fifty cartridges.” He was that staunch. Then he and his son—Mr. Sethi with rifle in hand, his son with revolver—stayed up all night, in the pouring rain, to complete and protect the project. And no one came to disturb the work.
On Monday morning we appeared in court and told the judge that the temple had already been rebuilt. And the judge said to Mrs. Nair, “What is built is built. No one can destroy the temple.”
Eventually we got permission to build the main complex. The question then became whether we needed piling. Piles are columns of reinforced concrete driven into the ground to support a building’s foundation. Generally, to determine if you need piles or how strong the piles must be, you hire a soil-testing company to drill into the earth and see how far down you have to go to reach bedrock. And because the Juhu land was near the beach, it was expected that the soil would be sandy, with water underneath, and that we would need piles, which would be quite an expense. Mr. Sethi approached Prabhupäda, who replied, “No, we don’t require piles.” Still, Mr. Sethi had some doubt, and he didn’t want to take any chances, so he hired a soil-testing company.
When the specialized machinery was drilling into the earth and had gone only about four feet deep, it hit bedrock. In fact, when it hit the hard rock, the drill broke. Nobody had expected to hit bedrock so soon. This was one of many, many instances that increased Mr. Sethi’s faith in Srila Prabhupäda. He felt that Srila Prabhupäda knew everything.
Once, Mr. Sethi approached Srila Prabhupäda to propose staging a charity benefit. The idea was that some famous performing artists—singers, dancers, musicians—would present an Indian cultural show, for which we would sell tickets, and the proceeds would go to the temple. Srila Prabhupäda replied, “Yes, you can do. If you can make money from the performance, it will be most welcome.”
Then Mr. Sethi added, “The only thing, Prabhupäda, is that we will need some devotees to sell tickets.”
Srila Prabhupäda replied, “Our devotees cannot sell tickets. They are meant for selling books.” He said that if Mr. Sethi and his friends promoted the program and gave the profit to the temple, he would have no objection, but that the devotees could not be directly involved.
Another time, Mr. Sethi had some ideas for other ways the devotees could make money for the project. Srila Prabhupäda replied, “Your ideas may be good, but if I tell my disciples, they will think, ‘I have come for bhajana, and now he wants me to do the same business again.’” Then Srila Prabhupäda told a story. Once, a boy was learning algebra and his mother saw him write A + B = C. Seeing the letters A, B, and C, she exclaimed, “Oh, you have grown so much, and still you are doing the same ABC?” She could not understand there was a gulf of difference between this ABC and that ABC, between a child’s learning to write the alphabet—ABC—and a young man’s doing algebra—ABC. Prabhupäda continued, “I can give my disciples so many ideas, but they will think, ‘I have come for bhajana, and again I am doing the same business?’ They cannot understand there is a gulf of difference between this business and that business—between working for Krishna and working for mäyä.”
Srila Prabhupäda knew our consciousness, the defects in our understanding. But he did not disturb us. He encouraged us to continue in devotional service, and he maintained faith that the process of hearing and chanting about Krishna and serving Lord Krishna’s mission would purify us and enlighten us in the proper understanding of Krishna consciousness.
Eventually, we built the temple complex in Juhu, and Saurabha Prabhu arranged beautiful quarters for Srila Prabhupäda on the top floor of the west tower, facing the sea. After Srila Prabhupäda moved in, he invited Mr. Sethi to see his new accommodations. He told Mr. Sethi, “Just see what beautiful arrangements my disciples have made for me—spacious rooms with beautiful chandeliers and carved-wood furniture and marble floors.” Then Prabhupäda said to Mr. Sethi, “I always wanted you to live with us, but you always felt that the conditions would be too austere for you. You weren’t used to living so simply. So you come and live here in my quarters, and I will stay somewhere else.”
Mr. Sethi protested, “No, no, your disciples have made this for you.”
Prabhupäda said, “I am a sannyasi; I can stay anywhere. You stay here.” That was Prabhupäda’s generosity of spirit and his graciousness toward Mr. Sethi.
The last incident I shall relate came toward the end, when Srila Prabhupäda was really quite ill, in 1977. From before Mr. Sethi had met Prabhupäda he had been associated with a group called the Radha Madhava Prema Sudha Sankirtana Mandala. Their guru was based in Vrindavana, and they chanted the Hare Krishna mahä-mantra. In Bombay they were all householders, and every Sunday they would have a twelve-hour akhanda-hari-näma-sankirtana—continuous Hare Krishna kirtana—from six in the morning to six in the evening, followed by two hours of Vraja songs.
So, Mr. Sethi had the idea that instead of having the kirtana in a home of one of their devotees, as they usually did, they could have it at Hare Krishna Land, in Juhu. So we arranged it, before the Deities in the small temple, beside the new complex that was nearing completion, just beneath Srila Prabhupäda’s new quarters. Although the construction wasn’t finished and the lift wasn’t working, Srila Prabhupäda had insisted on staying there. And ill as he was, he was listening to the kirtana, reclining or lying down.
The devotees in the temple really wanted to see him, but they were too many to come up, Prabhupäda was not able to come down, and anyway it would have been too taxing for him to meet them all. At one stage they were so eager that they came out of the temple and were doing kirtana beneath Srila Prabhupäda’s balcony. Eventually Mr. Sethi helped Prabhupäda walk to the balcony. Prabhupäda glanced down upon them. They were in ecstasy. He stayed for a little while and then went back in. One highlight came at the end when a lady devotee sang, “Jaya rädhe jaya rädhe rädhe, jaya rädhe jaya Sri rädhe. Jaya Krishna . . .” Later, Mr. Sethi told us that when Prabhupäda was listening to that song, tears were streaming down his cheeks.
Soon thereafter, Srila Prabhupäda left this world, but Mr. Sethi continued his service. He arranged and paid for a beautiful, ornate pure silver ärati set for offering guru-püjä to Srila Prabhupäda. And every year on Prabhupäda’s appearance and disappearance days he would sponsor a grand, opulent feast for everyone who came to the temple. Later, he created sizable fixed deposits in the bank, the interest from which would pay for opulent feasts on Prabhupäda’s appearance and disappearance days in perpetuity. And he contributed for the construction of two guest rooms, the rent from which would sponsor Srila Prabhupäda’s annual appearance and disappearance festivals.
Then, last year, Mr. Sethi became ill. He was eighty-eight, but he had no fear of death. He was completely detached from the body. Devotees constantly surrounded him with kirtana. His spiritual and biological families—everyone—was so attached to him. It is really powerful when the head of a family is such a staunch devotee. Sethiji’s wife is also a very good devotee. His sons and daughters and grandchildren—the whole, large family—is Krishna conscious. Their affection for him was exceptionally strong, with a familial relationship based on his being husband, father, and grandfather, and a spiritual relationship based on his bringing them to Srila Prabhupäda and inspiring them in Krishna consciousness.
Then, on February 12, he began to say, “Prabhupäda is calling me. He is preparing a room for me, and when it is ready he will take me. I am going from where I came, back to my guruji.” On February 13 he insisted on going to the temple. And three days later, at 11 p.m., surrounded by devotees lovingly chanting the holy names of Krishna in kirtana, he left his body to rejoin Srila Prabhupäda. He was so fixed in service and devotion to Srila Prabhupäda that at the very end his mind was fixed on Srila Prabhupäda.
Once, Mr. Sethi told Srila Prabhupäda that sometimes devotees would ask him why he didn’t get initiated. Prabhupäda replied, “You are better than initiated. An initiated disciple can serve Krishna, worship the Deity, but you are serving the servants of Krishna, and that is higher.” And he quoted a verse:
visnor aradhanam param
tasmat parataram devi
“Of all kinds of worship, the worship of Lord Vishnu, or Krishna, is the topmost. But above even the worship of Lord Vishnu is the rendering of service to Vaisnavas, who are related to Vishnu.”
And Prabhupäda added, “Besides, I have much work for you. There may be things I want you to do that would be awkward for an initiated disciple, but as you are now, you can do them conveniently.”
Srila Prabhupäda was very liberal. He knew the heart—the devotion, the service—of the person, and he accepted Mr. Sethi as more than an initiated disciple. And there is no doubt that Mr. Sethi’s attachment to Srila Prabhupäda and to Srila Prabhupäda’s service and the fact that his consciousness was fixed on Srila Prabhupäda at the end have carried him to Srila Prabhupäda again.
This is the story of one sincere, humble devotee’s service to Srila Prabhupäda and Srila Prabhupäda’s immense mercy and blessings upon him. And somehow or other, that same immense mercy from Srila Prabhupäda is available to all of us who are serving him and his mission even now.
Srila Prabhupäda ki jaya!
Mr. Sethi ki jaya!