Balabhadra das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Balabhadra: Just before I met Prabhupada, I had a horrendous fight with my mother. I wasn’t happy working as a carpenter’s apprentice for the state apprenticeship program in Hawaii, and I told my mother that I was going to quit my job if they didn’t put me in a housing project. She said, “If you quit your job, don’t come home.” The next morning I went to the union hall. The union people told me, “You’re not qualified to work on a housing project.” I said, “I’m out of here.” I wanted to learn how to propagate avocados, so I went to the library in downtown Honolulu and waited for it to open. It was about seven in the morning, and while I was sitting on the front steps of the library, a young lady walked past. I looked at her and she looked at me. A couple of minutes later she came back and said, “I have to talk to you. You look so miserable.” That was Govinda dasi. I was already a vegetarian, and I was reading different versions of the Bhagavad-gita as well as Paramahamsa Yogananda’s books and other things. Govinda dasi and I talked for several hours. She was doing some propaganda work for Srila Prabhupada at newspapers and radio stations. She said, “You have to meet my spiritual master.” So we met that afternoon at about 4:30 after she had done her work for Srila Prabhupada. I just had a bicycle. Krishna had taken everything away from me. I didn’t have a car, I was living with my parents, I had no job, and I had no money. My friends had deserted me because I wasn’t taking drugs or partying. I was no longer interested in the things that they were interested in. I left my bike at a friend’s house, and Govinda dasi and I hitch-hiked from downtown Honolulu to the North Shore, about forty-five miles. We walked to an old three-bedroom house on five acres of land. Govinda dasi said, “I’m going to go see my spiritual master. I’ll be right back.” About five minutes later she came back and said, “You can meet my spiritual master now,” and she walked with me into Srila Prabhupada’s room. Prabhupada was sitting behind his desk, which was a trunk. He didn’t have a shirt on and his body was golden-colored. I wasn’t wearing a shirt either. I was wearing a crucifix. Prabhupada said, “What is your philosophy of life?” I told him my impersonal philosophy. He listened for a few minutes and then started preaching from the Bhagavad-gita. He had the purple MacMillan Gita, and without me even asking, he answered questions that had completely puzzled me. I felt at peace. There was something so special about his words that I felt completely at ease. I stayed for three days and then picked up all my stuff and moved into the temple. That was Prabhupada’s first visit to Hawaii. When I came, he had been there for two weeks and he stayed for two more weeks. The other devotees, Govinda dasi, Gaurasundar, Mahapurush, Sudama, and I lived in the same house with Srila Prabhupada. It was a special situation. My first service was washing Srila Prabhupada’s clothes in the bathtub every morning. There was a casual atmosphere in the temple, but at the same time Srila Prabhupada was like a father directing his children how to be human beings.

Prabhupada said, “Your name is Balabhadra das. Balabhadra is another name for Lord Balaram.” I guess Srila Prabhupada knew the future, because I’ve always been involved in agriculture. Lord Balaram carries a plow, and as the servant of Lord Balaram, I work with the plow. By giving me that name, Prabhupada foresaw the future.

In 1975, when Srila Prabhupada again came to Hawaii, we went to the airport to greet him. Then we went back to the temple and had darshan. He spoke to all of the devotees until it was time for him to have his massage. As the devotees were leaving, Sudama grabbed me and said, “Massage Prabhupada.” My heart skipped a few beats. I said, “Massage Prabhupada?” I thought he was kidding. Sudama said, “Prabhupada is ready for his massage, and he needs somebody to massage him. I would like you to please give Prabhupada a massage. You have strong hands.” Krishna had given me a strong physique. I was petrified. I put on a gumsha and went into Prabhupada’s room. Srila Prabhupada indicated to me how he wanted his massage. He wanted his head massaged very vigorously for a long time. For his chest and back, I knelt in front of him and went up and down on his chest. Now, when you push on somebody, you can feel him resist you, but this was not the case with Srila Prabhupada. I was kneeling in front of him and going up and down on his chest, but I couldn’t budge him. Yet there was no resistance whatsoever. For about fifteen minutes, I massaged his chest, and he kept saying, “Harder.” I was giving everything I had. His eyes were closed, and he kept saying, “Harder.” Yet there was no resistance coming from him at all. I was completely devastated because I had been thinking, “I’m so strong.” Prabhupada was teaching me a lesson. Here was this “old man” who was like a boulder that I couldn’t budge. The same thing happened when I massaged his back. He kept saying, “Harder.” His skin was as soft as velvet, yet he was so solid, sitting there with his eyes closed. It was no big deal for him. At the end of the massage, he stood up, put his finger on his leg, and said, “Too much oil.” And that was that. I learned that the spiritual master is the strongest, and I should humbly follow in his footsteps.

We came back from town through sugarcane fields. Srila Prabhupada said, “Pull over here. Go and pick that tall sugarcane.” We picked that sugarcane, which was about ten feet tall, and when we got back to the temple, Srila Prabhupada changed from his dhoti into a gumsha. On one page of one of the Vyasa-puja books, there’re four small pictures of Srila Prabhupada sitting on a big plantation chair eating sugarcane. What you can’t see in the picture is that we’re all sitting at his lotus feet. He said, “If you’re trying to enjoy in the material world, it’s like chewing the chewed. After the juice has been sucked out of the sugarcane, there is nothing left, there is no sweetness.” However, after Srila Prabhupada chewed the sugarcane and discarded it, we scrambled for it and found that it was still sweet. We wondered about Prabhupada’s sugarcane analogy, but we concluded that because the sugarcane was coming from Srila Prabhupada’s lotus lips, its sweetness had become magnified. Prabhupada was just like a little boy happily chewing sugarcane, and we all got special mercy.

A lady who lived on the edge of the beach had a big German shepherd. Every day when Srila Prabhupada went walking, this German shepherd came out, ran around him, and sometimes even grazed his leg. Usually Srila Prabhupada would keep dogs at a distance, but he didn’t take any offense at this dog. Prabhupada just kept walking. There was something special about the living entity in this dog’s body. One day the dog ran between Srila Prabhupada’s legs, and we were petrified. Should we chase this dog? Srila Prabhupada just chuckled. There was some special rasa they had. The day after Srila Prabhupada left, that dog disappeared. He just vanished. The lady called us up and said, “I know the dog came to walk and play with you every day. Now he has disappeared. Have you seen him?” I said, “No, we haven’t seen him.” He never showed up again. Just before Srila Prabhupada arrived, Govinda dasi found kittens on the side of the road. She brought them to the back porch of the temple and gave them milk. She named one of them Nimbarka das brahmachari. One day, Prabhupada went through the kitchen and out the back door to have a walk in the yard. He didn’t know a kitten was there, and he just touched it with his foot and went on his way. The day after Srila Prabhupada left, we gave that kitten away to a neighbor. The kitten died the next day. So once again, an animal had a special encounter with Lord Krishna’s pure devotee.

In San Francisco in 1971 the temple was on Valencia Street. There weren’t nice accommodations for Srila Prabhupada in the temple, so Prabhupada stayed in a house in Berkeley with one of the friends of the temple. In the evening, all of the devotees would go to that house for Prabhupada’s darshan. One night I was sitting by Srila Prabhupada’s desk when he was using a spoon to sip milk from a nice goblet. Prabhupada explained that milk should be taken sipping hot. If it’s cooler than that, it simply goes to urine. But if you take it sipping hot, it nourishes the finer brain tissues. A few minutes later, he put his spoon down. I looked in the goblet, and it was still half full. The temperature had cooled down, and Prabhupada stopped drinking. Prabhupada didn’t say anything for a minute but gazed toward the back of the room. I followed his gaze, and there was Jayananda sound asleep. Srila Prabhupada and Jayananda had a special relationship. There was so much love between them. Prabhupada knew that Jayananda worked hard and didn’t say anything.

In 1975, I lived on the big island of Hawaii, which we called New Navadwipa, and I started a business packing and marketing raw Hawaiian honey. We offered the honey to Lord Balaram, since He likes honey, so it was also prasadam distribution. I wrote to Srila Prabhupada and explained the honey business and how the first year we had distributed 100,000 pounds of it and that I was getting devotee distributors on different islands to do the business. I asked, “Should we tithe a certain percentage to the temple or to specific projects?” Prabhupada wrote back and said, “The example that we are following is to give fifty percent, then your business will be successful. If you do not give fifty percent, then it will not be successful.” So I always tried to do that. When Srila Prabhupada came to Hawaii, I visited him, and we talked a little about the business. I had sent him some honey, and he liked it very much. At that time he repeated, “The formula is to give fifty percent.”

Srila Prabhupada, Gaurasundar, Govinda dasi, Mahapurush, and I drove to the radio station in town in an old station wagon we’d borrowed from Manadev. Srila Prabhupada was scheduled for a one-hour interview on the biggest station in Honolulu. When we got there Gaurasundar said to me, “Go with Srila Prabhupada and Govinda dasi while Srila Prabhupada does the program. Mahapurush and I have to get some bhoga.” So Srila Prabhupada, Govinda dasi, and I went into the radio station. Srila Prabhupada sat in a chair during the interview, and Govinda dasi and I sat at his lotus feet and listened. About three fourths of the way through, the radio personality asked Srila Prabhupada, “Could you please chant, so our listeners can hear this Hare Krishna mantra?” We thought that Srila Prabhupada was going to chant and we were going to listen. Prabhupada started chanting and we didn’t respond. He looked down at us and said, “Chant.” It was so intimate. Srila Prabhupada chanted, and Govinda dasi and I responded. Every day’s activities with Srila Prabhupada were so intimate that who would want to leave? Srila Prabhupada had a special loving quality. He was giving a kind of love that we had never found anywhere else. That love keeps us going to this very day.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 21 - Jyotirmayi Dasi, Balabhadra, Mahakratu, Nrihari

The full Prabhupada Memories Series can be viewed here and also at