Balavanta das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Balavanta: Once Srila Prabhupada was glancing around the Boston temple room when it was so filled with devotees that there was literally standing room only. I was in the back of the room, and my eyes and his eyes locked. It was only for a fraction of a second, but I felt that there was a personal connection between us. At such a time one may think, “Oh, I’m special,” but I didn’t think that, be- cause I realized that Srila Prabhupada had the capacity to relate to and connect with every person in that room. Srila Prabhupada was the external manifestation of the Supersoul, God in the heart of every living entity. Srila Prabhupada is not the Supersoul, he’s a perfected jiva soul, and because he’s perfected he has a transparent, direct connection to the Supersoul. Your connection and my connection to the Supersoul may be covered due to our false ego and conditioning. But in Srila Prabhupada’s case, there was no false ego and no conditioning. The spirit soul and the Supersoul were in perfect harmony. He could know my heart perfectly, because the Supersoul knew. After that, in other meetings with him, I sensed even more how much he knew because, after all, the Supersoul is closer to us than we are to ourselves. There couldn’t be anyone closer, and Srila Prabhupada was directly connected to Him. When Srila Prabhupada spoke, I understood that Supersoul was speaking. Srila Prabhupada himself explained that once when he was in New York. In an interview a reporter asked him, “Can you speak to God?” Srila Prabhupada said, “Yes.” Ramesvara began to explain to the reporter that what Prabhupada meant was that God within is the intelligence, and when one takes help from the intelligence, one’s taking help from God. Perhaps that was to make it more palatable to the Western mind. Prabhupada stopped Ramesvara emphatically and said, “No, directly.” Anyway, my experience in Boston was astounding to me.

I visited New Vrindavan in March of 1970. At that time the devotees had obtained a plate of Srila Prabhupada’s prasadam from Los Angeles where Prabhupada was staying. As they passed it out the devotees were making a big production out of this prasadam. I was skeptical, but I happened to get a golden raisin from the plate, and I popped it in my mouth. That was an experience. It tasted like a golden raisin, but the intensity of the taste was magnified thousands of times. I began to realize what the devotees were talking about. This was something extraordinary. This personality was very different from anyone else we’d experienced before or since.

My wife and I were in the Boston airport, and my wife gave Prabhupada a garland—some say that women should not be allowed to give garlands to Prabhupada, but she gave him one then and again at gurupuja time. When she garlanded him, Prabhupada smiled. Then he went to New York, and we also went. I was temple president at that time, and one advantage of being temple president was that you could write to Srila Prabhupada. Previously anyone could write to Srila Prabhupada, but he started getting too much mail. Then only the temple presidents wrote to him on behalf of all of the devotees in the temple. Also, temple presidents could visit Srila Prabhupada when he came to the United States. Once a number of us temple presidents went into Prabhupada’s room, and Prabhupada said, “Where are your wives? The wife is protection for husband. When the husband goes traveling, the wife should also go.”

Prabhupada gave a nice lecture, and then he began to banter with the Indians, especially one Dr. Mahanti who was about forty, young enough to be Prabhupada’s son. Prabhupada smiled and was cordial, friendly, and loving with this man. He said, “What part of India are you from?” Dr. Mahanti said, “From Orissa.” Dr. Mahanti was a little proud because he had a Ph.D. in biology. Prabhupada said, “Why have you come to America?” Dr. Mahanti said, “I am a biologist,” as if to say, “I’m your countryman, and I’ve succeeded in the material world. I’m an important man, a professor, so be proud of me.” Prabhupada said, “Oh, poor frogs,” and the room exploded in laughter. Dr. Mahanti wasn’t hurt—if it would have hurt him, Srila Prabhupada wouldn’t have said it. However, he protested. He said, “No, no it is for science.” Prabhupada laughed and said, “Oh? We’ll take your body for science.” Amid the laughter, Dr. Mahanti said, “Yes, yes, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” Prabhupada laughed and said, “No, no. This inquiry of science is not very important. It is better to study the Vedas. Study the Srimad-Bhagavatam.”

We were in the Bible Belt and many Christian guests attended the Sunday feast lecture. Prabhupada talked about Christianity. In his lecture Prabhupada explained very nicely that Christ was our guru. Then a man in the back said, “What happens to followers of Guru Nanak?” Prabhupada said, “The followers of Guru Nanak are fortunate.” Another guest named Peter, now being emboldened, said, “Prabhupada?” “Yes?” “Who is Sai Baba?” Prabhupada said, “I do not know, there are so many bogus Babas. Just know who is Krishna. That is sufficient.” It was wonderful. Peter had been resisting our preaching, but at that moment he surrendered and became a devotee of Prabhupada. He is now Parampara das.

A boy who had been one of the top men with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came to Srila Prabhupada and announced that Maharishi had sent him to Prabhupada. He had told Maharishi that he wanted to go higher, and Maharishi had responded, “If you want to go higher you must go to Swami Prabhupada.” The devotees thought, “This is wonderful, what a breakthrough.” The boy was introduced to Prabhupada, and the boy said to him, “Maharishi recognizes you are the real thing, and Maharishi’s program is to make people a little more qualified to follow your path. Maharishi is helping them get started. After that they can come to you.” Prabhupada listened to his presentation with his eyes closed, sitting behind a table in his typical fashion. Everyone was waiting to see what Prabhupada would do. Being passionate, we were thinking “This is our opportunity to make all these people devotees.” When the boy finally finished, Prabhupada opened his eyes and said, “This is bogus. Just chant Hare Krishna; there is no need for anything else.”

The GBC would make resolutions, and then Srila Prab- hupada would approve them. In fact, sometimes he would attend our meetings. He used to chastise us by saying, “Why are your meetings taking so long? You should finish up your business in two or three days, and in the remaining time you should discuss how we can become Krishna conscious and give Krishna consciousness to others.” But we would meet for weeks. When Prabhupada attended the meetings he said, “First you should make a proposal, then it should become resolution. Not simply discussing.” There was one time when we were sitting with him on the veranda. He was sitting in the sun on an asana at one end. We were in Mayapur, and his heart was obviously absorbed in Chaitanya lila and various ecstasies. Meanwhile, externally, his young disciples were holding their GBC meeting. Someone made a proposal, it was debated back and forth, and then it became time for a vote, yea or nay. The first vote was, “All those in favor, raise your hand,” and on this occasion the majority was in favor of the resolution. Once that became clear, Prabhupada raised his hand too and said, “Yes, I will vote for it.” He wanted to see what the majority was before he voted. And then he laughed. But sometimes he was much more serious about our resolutions. The first time I attended a GBC meeting, a resolution was passed that women with children and no husband could not live in the temple. The idea was that this was a tremendous drain on the temple finances. The woman couldn’t go on sankirtan, and the temple had to give money for the child and so on. We thought that the husband who fathered the child should take responsibility and that there was no real place for these women in the temple. How can you put a woman with a child in the brahmacharini ashram? It’s disruptive. And you can’t give an apartment to every woman with a child. It’s not practical. So we drew a line. Women with children and no husband cannot live in the temple. Once all the resolutions were fixed, they would then be read to Srila Prabhupada for approval, and typically he would approve them. But after he heard that resolution, “A woman with a child but without a husband may not live in the temple,” there was silence. We could feel that this resolution was worse than the others. Finally Satsvarupa Maharaj said, “Srila Prabhupada, should we change that one?” Prabhupada said, “Hmm.” He didn’t open his eyes, and he said, “As far as I am concerned, my only desire is that they become Krishna conscious. It does not matter if they are women with children or without children. I only want to give them the opportunity to be Krishna conscious.” He still didn’t open his eyes, and we could feel his compassion, his ocean of compassion. And here we were, the foolish manipulative management. Satsvarupa Maharaj said, “We’ll withdraw that one, Prabhupada.” Prabhupada said, “Hmm.” That whole day’s worth of resolutions were scrapped, and we went back, started over again, and changed them. He never actually said that we had to, but by his response it was clear that we were on the wrong path.

When Prabhupada offered the arati to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, it was a gorgeous sight to behold. The way he offered the paraphernalia was astounding. Every movement was perfectly coordinated and the circles that he made were like an orbit. But somehow or other, in setting up the arati tray, the devotees hadn’t put a bowl for the conch shell water. As temple president, I was standing next to Prabhupada, holding the arati tray. He offered the water in the conch, and it was time to put a little bit into a container, but there was no container. He looked at me, and I looked around into the sea of devotees, motioning for someone to get a container from the kitchen or the pujari room. But everyone’s attention was on Prabhupada. Conceivably, Prabhupada could have gone on and done another offering, but he wouldn’t. He was standing there waiting. It became a crisis, and it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to solve the crisis quickly and easily. Finally, with a flip of his wrist, Prabhupada shot the water from the conch shell into tulasi’s pot on the vyasasana. When he did that the kirtan stopped just long enough for everyone to go, “Haribol! Haribol!”

Once we were in the room with Prabhupada discussing the “In God We Trust” party. Someone said, “Prabhupada, if we take over the government, will we finish all of these nonsense religions?” Prabhupada said, “Oh, why? We have no quarrel with these religions. We would only like to see that they actually practice their religion. That is what we would like to see.”

On a whim I wrote to Srila Prabhupada, “Maybe I’ll also run for mayor.” Amarendra had run for mayor, so on one line of my letter I mentioned running in relation to myself. Most of Prabhupada’s reply letter was encouraging me to do this. He responded to other points I had made, but not very much. Instead he went on about how we must set the perfect example in all fields of life, so why not politics? I was stuck. Srila Prabhupada wanted me to do this. We corresponded a number of times and he told me what to say. I ran for office as Amarendra had done, and I was able to debate these fellows in public. It was a wonderful experience. Prabhupada told me to concentrate on the spiritual side of the issues and not get into all their details. He wanted us to give the public Krishna consciousness, and that’s what we did. Prabhupada said, “They’ve come here thinking that they will solve all their problems but this place is like a prison house. The people are like a wealthy man’s sons who have come to the prison house by misfortune. Somehow they’ve gotten the idea that they will solve all their problems in the prison house. But they will never find happiness there. They’ve forgotten that they are the sons of a wealthy man. So they should be reminded. This is the sum and substance of the purpose of human life. You speak like this.” And basically we did that, but we didn’t get many votes. After the election I wrote to him and said, “We didn’t get many votes.” He wrote back, “It doesn’t matter that you have not gotten many votes. I have seen that you have not compromised our philosophy. My spiritual master also never compromised. So Krishna will note what you have done to try to make them Krishna conscious. I am proud of you. Go on in this. There is no failure for the devotee.” I was a little discouraged from not getting as good a response as I had hoped, but Prabhupada encouraged us.

Rupanuga wrote to Prabhupada to ask if he could go to law school. Although I had not asked Rupanuga, he also asked Prabhupada if I could go, as well as other people like Amarendra. Srila Prabhupada wrote back, “Yes, you may go, but not that all of our men should become lawyers. But, in Balavanta’s case, I can understand that he wants to use this for political preaching, so in that way it is all right. But not that everyone should become lawyers.” Then he said, “I have always wanted a lawyer on the GBC.” So on that basis he gave us permission.

In the airport, literally everyone’s consciousness was on Srila Prabhupada. He commanded that much attention. This was a busy metropolitan airport, but he was so regal, with his head held high, that people deferred to him. It was obvious that he was a very important person. It was like other animals making way for a lion as it goes through a jungle. Similarly, people made way for Srila Prabhupada and didn’t mind doing so. The airport people provided a VIP room for him, and we put a simple vyasasana in it—it was a cushion with some wooden legs. We put this asana on top of a table. Remember, we were all young, and we were coming out of a most unregulated lifestyle, so everything was a daze for us. There wasn’t an older person amongst us. We figured Srila Prabhupada’s seat had to be high, and there were chairs for everyone else. Srila Prabhupada was old enough to be our grandfather, and yet we were the people that Krishna had sent to him somehow. So we directed Srila Prabhupada to this room and up to the table. That was the stopping point. We said to him “This is your seat.” He looked at us questioningly and we said, “Oh, it’s sturdy, Srila Prabhupada.” Perhaps it was against his better judgment, but in any case he climbed up a little step, went on this table and sat on the asana. He was very charitable to us. Rather than hurt our feelings, he would do something which is unbecoming for a gentleman of his age—to walk on top of a table and sit on a wooden asana with a cushion on it. But because we had done it for him and because we were trying in our immature way to honor him, he accepted it. A materialistic gentleman would have said, “This is not right, take this out of here. I’ll sit on the chair with the others. Don’t be so foolish.” But there was nothing of that nature in him. It was a loving exchange.

When devotees did a play on Chaitanya lila, Prabhupada made it clear how much pleasure it gave him. He told us that when he was young he had been in a Chaitanya lila play. He and the other actors rehearsed for a long time, and when they finally performed it by the end of the play everyone in the audience was crying. Prabhupada said, “I did not know why they were crying.” We put on the play of Lord Chaitanya and the Kazi. Prabhupada laughed and even interrupted the play to make statements. When one of the brahmans said, “If we give the holy name to the common people, it will be expanded.” Prabhupada said, “It is already expanded. It cannot be stopped.” We had a clay mridanga that was broken beyond repair, so we covered it with plaster of paris, and when the Kazi’s men came to stop the kirtan, one of them picked up this mridanga and threw it on the ground. Prabhupada’s eyes got big. It was a great offense. I was near the vyasasana, and I whispered to Prabhupada, “It was already broken, Prabhupada.” I don’t think that placated him too much. He didn’t get angry, but we would never do that again.

I had the opportunity to talk with him a little about the play. He said, “Yes, this play is so nice. There should be more plays of this standard.” I said, “The devotees worked hard for this, Srila Prabhupada. They had many rehearsals.” He said, “Yes, whatever you do sincerely for Krishna will be a success.”

Prabhupada was there Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and left on Monday. On Sunday morning I was very tired because we had been up twenty-four hours, so I missed mangal arati. Usually I went, but not that morning. That afternoon there was a small group of devotees in Prabhupada’s room, and he said, “One thing is, the devotees here do not go to mangal arati?” It had been a huge mangal arati. I said, “Oh, yes, Prabhupada, they go to mangal arati.” He said, “Hmm.”

We went for a morning walk in a park in Atlanta. At that time, Atlanta was up-and-coming, urbanized, and trying to become the next great city. The city planners were totally immersed in that consciousness. Since I was the temple president, Prabhupada spoke to me. He pointed to the skyscrapers and said, “Do not be impressed. Krishna will finish it in a moment.”

There was an era when the book distributors and the devotees who did temple services had some tension. The book distributors would exaggerate their position to some degree, and this caused anxiety, but there were quotes where Prabhupada said, “One of the best things is to go distribute my books.” Many book distributors were at the temple for Prabhupada’s visit, and after the Sunday Feast lecture, one book distributor raised his hand with the idea to resolve this dispute once and for all. He asked, “Srila Prabhupada, what pleases you the most?” Everybody was in great anticipation. Prabhupada’s immediate response was, “When you love Krishna.” We all said, “Haribol!” It was a very pleasing answer.

Srila Prabhupada came into the temple room and sat on the vyasasana. Everything was fresh. The devotees had worked literally twenty-four hours a day for a week. In fact, when he got to his room later, Prabhupada commented, “Wherever I go, there is always the smell of fresh paint,” and then he laughed. So, in the temple room it was hushed. Most of the devotees were in the temple, but not all could fit so they were also spilling out in the hallways and porch. Prabhupada chanted Parama Karuna. In fact, during that visit he chanted that song every time he came in the temple. Afterwards he gave his opening address, and he made everybody ecstatic by saying, “On my tour I have been in Los Angeles, Mexico City, Caracas, and Miami, and now I have come to Atlanta, and I see your temple is the best.” Then, more importantly, Srila Prabhupada said, “Krishna came and demanded surrender. Lord Chaitanya does not make such a demand. He simply distributes love of God to everyone.” As he began this address, all of us settled down to hear him speak. Everyone was hanging on every word, but we didn’t expect what was about to happen. He was speaking in a normal voice, and then he stopped. There was silence. You could see his tears. His eyes were closed, and tears were coming from his eyes. It was like trying to hold your hand to stop the water flowing from an open faucet. The pressure is such that you can’t, and the water leaks out. That was like the pressure from his eyes—almost as though, if his eyes were open, the water would shoot out, just as it’s described in the Caitanya-caritamrta. When he opened his mouth to go on speaking, the words wouldn’t come out. The emotion within him was like a volcano. He was almost shaking as his body filled with emotion. He tried three or four times to go on speaking, and he couldn’t. No one knew what to do. What was the etiquette? Should we get up? Begin chanting? Or just be quiet? It was an intimate thing, and yet we were in a public room. He was struggling within to go on, and finally he was able to speak, but his voice barely came out, and when it did it was very high. He said, “Just take shelter of Lord Chaitanya and be happy. Chant Hare Krishna.”

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 14 - Prahladananda Swami, Balavanta, Suresvara, Dayananda

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

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 04

Balavanta: I was in Atlanta. It was summertime, I remember that, and I was walking up the street and a devotee opened the window and stuck his head out and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Balavanta, Prabhupada’s on the phone!” which was just the shock of my life. So I ran with wings on my feet up and got the phone. It wasn’t actually Prabhupada on the phone, it was his secretary on the phone at his request, Prabhupada was in the room, and the secretary said, “Prabhupada wants to know if you can come to New York right away.” I said, “Of course.” So I dropped everything and went and got on the plane and flew to New York, and Prabhupada wanted to discuss politics. Actually what happened is I wrote to him and suggested that I could run for mayor of Atlanta, it would be a good preaching platform, and he wrote back with the most overwhelming enthusiasm I’d ever experienced. I took one step to him, he took a hundred steps to me. But the broad discussion, all I remember is basically he said, “So what do they say about our program?” I said, “Prabhupada, they say it is not practical.” He says, “Yes, it is not practical because they will not accept it. If they would accept it, it would be very practical.” I remember one devotee, we were discussing the In God We Trust Party and the devotee said, “Prabhupada, when we take over the government, we’ll outlaw all these religions.” Prabhupada said, “No, why? We only want to see that they are following their religion.” Srila Prabhupada was not for one religion taking over the government. He fully supported freedom of religion. In fact, he made it clear many times and told us that this is not a religion. This is a process of spiritual realization which is applicable to any religion. So he made it very clear that in terms of politics we’re not interested in changing people’s religion or taking over the government for one religion as opposed to another religion. We just would like to see that the leaders of human society are enlightened personalities, whatever religion they come from, and the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatamand the chanting of Hare Krishna facilitates that process.

Interview DVD 07

Balavanta: In order to let the devotees get to the temple first, I took a long route. So we drove through this excellent neighborhood and then came to the temple. The devotees had already arrived and there was this ocean of devotees all in complete ecstasy with their hands reaching up to Vaikuntha, and Srila Prabhupada just beamed from ear to ear, just beamed. You could feel it in the car, you could feel the ecstatic energy emanating from him. So as the car pulled up to the temple, Prabhupada got out and no one’s feet were on the ground. It was like the part of the Bhagavatam where it describes in Maharaj Yudhisthira’s kingdom no one felt anxiety, no one felt the pain of hunger or thirst or separation from relatives or all these things that we are constantly disturbed by. At that time, no one felt it. You did not feel the pain of being in the material world. It was Vaikuntha. Srila Prabhupada was the conductor of the orchestra, and we were all members of the orchestra playing our different parts.

Interview DVD 09

Balavanta: My father drove my wife and I and my daughter, who was an infant at the time, to Chicago Rathayatra to see Prabhupada. When we arrived, the devotees were on their way to the airport and they had not found a car. They had some old inappropriate car to pick up Prabhupada, which was so fortunate for us because my father happened to have a Cadillac at the time. So that car was taken for picking up Srila Prabhupada, it was very nice. And then he came back to the temple, and my father was given a chance to meet with Srila Prabhupada. So they had a discussion, and my father started with that the Western people were devils. It was a very broad statement. Prabhupada responded, “No, why?” And he said, “Well, they dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.” He mentioned that when he was in the Pacific in World War II that some of the sailors used to drop the Japanese prisoners of war off the boat to see them be eaten by sharks for sport. Prabhupada said, “No, they attacked you.” Then my father accepted that, but it was a nice exchange. Prabhupada was very kind and respectful. At the time, my father I think was…he would have been 54 years old, which I thought was extremely old at the time. I’m now 55.