Bhagavata das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Interview 01

Bhagavat: One of the things that struck me about Srila Prabhupada was how concerned he was about the welfare of his disciples. That especially struck me in Bombay. I had cut my foot, and Prabhupada noticed it during guru-puja. At that time he was receiving worship from a hundred devotees, and arati was going on. He called me to the vyasasana, completely ignoring everyone in the room for that moment, and said, “What happened to your foot?” I said, “I cut myself.” He said, “Are you all right? Is it very bad? Have you gone to the doctor? Do you need medicine?” I assured him that I had taken care of it. Then he said, “Remember, if you need anything, come and see me, and I will help.”

Srila Prabhupada displayed deep care and affection. Nothing was as important to him as the welfare of his disciples.

As exalted and as glorious as he was, Srila Prabhupada was humble, unlike other gurus who’d say they were something wonderful. Once there was a dispute between senior devotees about Srila Prabhupada’s position. A woman disciple wrote to Srila Prabhupada, “Some of the devotees say that you can see what’s in the hearts of all your disciples, and other devotees say that you can’t do that. What do you say? Please tell me.” Prabhupada’s secretary read this question and Prabhupada said, “For a greatly advanced pure devotee, this is not at all difficult. He can easily see what is going on in the hearts of all his disciples.”

The secretary said, “Okay, I should tell her that you can do this?” Prabhupada said, “I didn’t say that. I said, ‘A greatly advanced pure devotee could see that.’ I am not a greatly advanced pure devotee. I am not even a devotee. I am just trying to be a devotee.” So in that statement, he simultaneously exhibited his humility and also showed us what our state of consciousness should be in trying to develop our Krishna consciousness: We are trying to be a devotee.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 15 - The 1996 NYC and LA Reunions

Interview 02

Bhagavat: At the end of the talk, Prabhupada asked if anybody had questions. I said, “How does one become sincere?” because I thought that sincerity was the key quality in achieving self-realization. He said, “You become sincere by being sincere. You have to want Krishna consciousness. You have to sincerely want to surrender to a spiritual master and to Krishna,” and he talked a little about those things.

Later on, once in Africa and once in India, I came into Srila Prabhupada’s room to see him when some Life Members were present. He introduced me by saying, “This is my disciple, Bhagavat das, and he is very sincere.” That struck me. It touched my heart that Prabhupada remembered that I wanted to be sincere.

Srila Prabhupada was looking at all of us sitting before him. He picked up a set of beads and said, “Whose beads?” I recognized them and said, “They’re mine Srila Prabhupada.” He turned and said, “What is his name?” (They had the list of names in a book.) Aravinda said, “His name is Bhagavat das.” Prabhupada looked at me and laughed. He said, “Oh, Bhagavat das.” It was almost as if he knew me or was waiting for me to come. He said, “There are two things. There is the book Bhagavat, meaning scriptures like Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, and there is the person Bhagavat, meaning those persons who follow the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. You are Bhagavat das, and you shall serve them both.” He had my beads in his hand, and he said, “What are the four rules?” I said the four rules. He said, “How many rounds a day must you chant?” At the time, as an austerity, I had been chanting twenty rounds a day. I said, “We are supposed to chant sixteen rounds a day, but I am chanting twenty.” Prabhupada looked at me and frowned, as if to say, “Don’t be so egotistical.” Then he gave me my beads, and I started chanting in front of him. Prabhupada picked up the next beads and said, “Whose beads?” Subrata said, “Mine.” Prabhupada initiated him and was about to give him his beads when he noticed that Subrata didn’t have neck beads on. Just as Subrata reached for his beads, Prabhupada took them back. He said, “Where are your neck beads?” Then he looked at me and saw that I didn’t have neck beads on either. Prabhupada said, “He has no beads either.” He turned to Hridayananda, Aravinda, and Sridam and said, “You are the senior disciples. You know that they can’t get initiated without neck beads. Why don’t they have neck beads?” Everyone said, “We’re sorry, we’re sorry. We were busy with the lecture and TV show. We’ll make sure that they have neck beads before the fire yajna tomorrow.” Prabhupada said, “All right, all right. But before the fire yajna they must have neck beads.”

Srila Prabhupada asked if we had any questions. I was an avid reader, and by that time I had read the little blue Bhagavad-gita twelve or fourteen times. One of my favorite parts was “The Modes of Material Nature.” Being philosophical by nature, I wanted to understand some of the more refined and subtle points. So I said to Prabhupada, “I’m confused because throughout your books and in your lectures, you say that when you become a devotee you’re on the transcendental platform. But at the same time, you talk about being affected by the modes of material nature. Although I’m a devotee practicing the principles of devotional service and experiencing a certain amount of transcendental pleasure, at the same time I feel affected by the modes of material nature. How is it that I can be on the transcendental platform and still be affected by the modes of material nature?” Prabhupada smiled. He saw that it was a thoughtful and introspective question and said, “That is a very good question.” He answered, “It is just like being on a boat. When you’re on the boat, no one can say you’re not on the boat. You are on the boat. But sometimes big waves will come and rock that boat, so your position on the boat may not be steady. Those waves are the modes of material nature, and the boat is the transcendental platform. You’re on the transcendental platform, but sometimes the waves of material nature rock the boat, and therefore your position is not steady.” Then he asked, “How will you become steady? For that you have to learn from the captain of the boat, the spiritual master, how to steer the boat. If you learn expertly, then your position in the boat will be steady even in the greatest storm. Similarly, on the transcendental platform, if you learn from the spiritual master how to steer the boat of transcendence through the ocean of material life, then you will become steady even in the greatest storm of the modes of material nature.” I was extremely impressed at how Prabhupada explained complex philosophy with a simple analogy.

When he was in Vrindavan, Prabhupada heard that the municipality wouldn’t give us a permit to build the Bombay temple. Prabhupada asked Balavanta what we should do, and Balavanta said that we should engage in civil disobedience following Lord Chaitanya’s example. Prabhupada said, “Good.” He asked all the devotees who were there from all over the world to go to Bombay to preach, go on sankirtan, and engage in civil disobedience. Prabhupada appreciated Balavanta’s spiritual solution. He said, “Just see this man’s intelligence. Just see how intelligent he is. He has understood.” All the Australian, European, American, and African devotees went to Bombay right after the Vrindavan festival. I was given the responsibility of speaking with ministers. We were getting food from America to distribute to the people, and I spoke with different government officials to arrange for permits. I also collected donations of food and money for prasadam distribution to the public. Every day I went all the way downtown on the train and then came all the way back. In the evenings Prabhupada awaited my report, “What is the news today?” I said, “I collected 1,500 rupees from this man and sacks of grain from that person.” He would say, “Very good.” He was pleased to see any progress. He would also ask me about the ministers I had spoken with. One day I spoke to the Chief Minister of the State of Maharastra. Prabhupada was pleased. He beamed. Here his American disciples were speaking with the highest government officials and arranging for so many things. He appreciated how resourceful, adamant, and tenacious we were about serving our spiritual master. He would praise me for my accomplishments, and I always felt good. I was doing my spiritual master’s work. Once he gave me a bank form and money to put in the bank. I took the money and the bank form and put them in either my pocket or my bag. He said, “Don’t you count it?” I said, “Well, you gave me the money, Srila Prabhupada.” He said, “No. Whenever giving or taking money, always count.” I was thinking that in one sense this was a mundane affair but in another sense it was Krishna’s money, which was very important to Srila Prabhupada. His point was that you never know what could happen. He wasn’t just training us in spiritual matters, but he was training us in mundane matters as well. He saw that we were educated on one level, but on another level we were totally uneducated about the practicalities of the material world.

On another occasion, Prabhupada asked Satsvarupa Maharaj to get Tamal Krishna to come to the room. It was in the evening, and I was just coming back from downtown to give my report. As I was going to Prabhupada’s room, I saw Satsvarupa Maharaj, and he said, “Have you seen Tamal Krishna Goswami?” I said, “No, I just came back from downtown.” He said, “Okay.” I went to Prabhupada’s room. There were about four Life Members in the room with Prabhupada. Prabhupada said to me, “Come in and sit down.” I said, “You’re busy now, Prabhupada. I’ll come back later.” He said, “No. Come in and sit down.” I sat down in the corner. Then Tamal Krishna opened the door, and Prabhupada said, “Come in, sit down.” He sat down. The two of us were sitting there for a half-hour or so while Prabhupada spoke to these Indian gentlemen. He didn’t say a word to us. He was preaching. They all thanked Prabhupada, offered their obeisances, and walked out. Prabhupada said to us, “If you do not listen to me preach, then how will you learn to preach? You must listen to me preach so that you learn the art of explaining this philosophy to important and wealthy men.” Prabhupada was training us. It was a constant education. He saw that we were going to be his leaders on some level or another, and therefore he wanted us to learn.

Prabhupada said, “Can you quote this verse?” The two of us looked at each other, and I thought, “Tamal Krishna Goswami will quote the verse,” but Tamal Krishna Goswami thought I was going to do it. Neither of us knew the verse. Prabhupada said, “Just see. You are not reading my books. Every day you have to read, study, and learn my books just like a lawyer learns the law books. You must know everything, chapter and verse. If you do not know, how will you preach? Unless you know my books how will you teach these men? Do you know that every day even I read my own books? Do you know why I read my books?” We didn’t want to venture any answer. Prabhupada said, “I read my books every day because even I learn something new when I read my books. These are not my books. I do not write these books.” It seemed as if something mys- tical came over him at this point. He said, “Every morning, when I sit here to write my books, Krishna comes personally and dictates to me what to write. I simply take dictation from Krishna to write these books. Therefore, when I read them, even I learn something.” The way he said it was so dramatic that we felt the weight of his words. I was thinking, “I’m speaking with a person who’s speaking with God, who’s right next to God. I’m only one person removed from God. He’s so close.” Yet I knew, because of the state of my own consciousness, how far away I actually was. But by some grace, I was being placed right next to God by being with Prabhupada. It was amazing.

One day I was sitting in the room when Satsvarupa Maharaj said, “I won’t be able to give you your massage today, Srila Prabhupada,” and the substitute devotee also wasn’t available. I said, “I have big hands and I am strong. I can give you a good massage.” Prabhupada said, “Okay, you give me a massage.” Everyone told me, “You have to massage Prabhupada strongly,” so I was massaging his head, and in a deep voice which shook me to the core of my being, he said. “You are doing it too hard.” I was shocked. I tried to lighten up a little bit. During the course of the massage, ants gathered to climb on his feet. I stopped massaging him and tried to move the ants. Prabhupada said, “What are you doing? Why have you stopped the massage?” I said, “Some ants are coming on your feet, Srila Prabhupada.” He said, “They will not bother me. They will go away by themselves,” and he waved his hand over the ants. There must have been about twenty disorganized ants ready to go onto his mat and his feet, but when he waved his hand, I swear those ants immediately formed a single file and marched in the opposite direction. It was as if he had complete control over nature, as if whatever he willed would happen. I finished the massage, but I could tell that Prabhupada felt I did it a little too hard. On the morning walk a couple days later we were reading from the Krishna Book about Krishna fighting with the wrestlers. Two wrestlers, both fully grown men with bodies like solid slabs of stone, were to fight with two children, Krishna and Balaram. At that point Prabhupada stopped, picked up his cane, pointed it at me and said, “You are like those wrestlers.” Everyone laughed. I never massaged Prabhupada again, suffice to say.

In Bombay two Swami Narayan sannyasis came to see Prabhupada. In the Swami Narayan camp, a sannyasi is never allowed to look at the face of a woman. If they do, they have to fast the next day. In the Swami Narayan temples, women listen from the other side of a curtain. Prabhupada was in his room talking with Yasomatinandan and Yasomatinandan’s seventy year-old mother, an old wrinkled Indian woman. We opened the door, and when these two sannyasis saw this old woman they became disturbed and covered their faces. We said, “Let’s wait. Prabhupada will finish soon, and then you can go in.” They went downstairs and waited. When the woman came out, I went upstairs and told Prabhupada, “These Swami Narayan sannyasis wouldn’t come in before when they saw Yasomatinandan’s mother.” He said, “Bring them now. I will talk with them.” Prabhupada was very respectful toward them. He said, “I am so sorry, but one of my leading student’s elderly mother came to see me. I saw her while her son was present in the room. My sannyasi servant was also here.” They said, “Oh, but we do not see a woman under any circumstances.” Prabhupada said, “Yes, I understand, Lord Chaitanya was also very strict.” Then Prabhupada started to ask them questions about their religion, and immediately a confrontation began. They said that Swami Narayan was God. Prabhupada said, “Where in the Srimad-Bhagavatam does it say that Swami Narayan is God? I have not seen. I have seen Rama, Nrsimha, Varaha, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu mentioned in Bhagavatam, but where is Swami Narayan?” They said, “It is in this book.” Prabhupada said, “Who has written that book? Is it the Vedas? Is it written by Vyas?” They said, “No, such and such Swami wrote it.” Prabhupada said, “Oh, that Swami? Who is he and what parampara is he from?” Prabhupada was going on and on, hammering. He wouldn’t let them go for a second. They tried to embarrass him by making him feel like he was less than them because he was talking to an elderly woman. He showed them that he was transcendental to talking to an elderly woman. They didn’t understand the philosophy, and Prabhupada cut them to rivulets. He completely worked them over. They said, “Oh, okay, we’re going to leave, Swamiji. We’ve had enough now.” When they walked out, it was as if their heads had been in a ping-pong game. I said, “Srila Prabhupada, you are the greatest,” and I started going on and on, praising Prabhupada. Prabhupada said, “You appreciated?” I said, “Yes. You had an answer and a verse for everything that they said.” He said, “Yes, this is the way to preach. So, you like this preaching?” I said, “Oh yes, no one can defeat you, you are the best.” Prabhupada said, “Oh, so you think so?” I said, “Not just me.” Everyone in the room confirmed, “Yes, Prabhupada is the best. Prabhupada is the greatest.” He said, “Oh, maybe, maybe.” He was humble and he enjoyed the whole thing.

In the evening I was sitting with Srila Prabhupada on the roof above his apartment in Bombay. Just the two of us were there talking until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. He was telling me about Indian history, about Gandhi. He said that Gandhi had the proper plan for revitalizing India. He said, “Gandhi never wanted big cities. He never wanted factories to open up. He never liked that. Gandhi was concerned that people in the villages have the basic necessities of life. His plan was to first arrange for everyone to have food, clothing, education, a good water supply, religious training, and some occupation, a craft of making cloth or jewelry or something of that nature. These were the basic principles that Gandhi lived by. He felt that if, in every village, the basic needs of the people were met through simple, self-sufficient principles that later they could develop some factories here and there.” Prabhupada’s vision was that, “Sadhu Patel and Nehru betrayed Gandhi. They thought that India’s future was through developing factories to create jobs. Now look what has happened. Young men have left the land. Instead of growing food, they have come to the cities to live in squalor in shantytowns. They work in the factory for only a few rupees, not even enough money for a decent living.” Prabhupada said, “India has become spoiled by the Western civilization. Gandhi and Chitaranjana das wanted simple life, self-sufficient life. Gandhi and Chitaranjana das wanted to save India. But their attempt was spoiled by politicians.” On the morning walk the next morning, I was at Srila Prabhupada’s side as we walked down the beach. We seemed to walk an extraordinarily long distance. Prabhupada usually never walked that far down the beach. At a certain point, he turned and seemed to offer respects to a statue of Gandhi that was in the distance. Then we walked back, and some people joined us. By divine arrangement, one of them started talking about Gandhi. Prabhupada turned to him and said, “What is this I hear? This is all nonsense.” He went on saying, Gandhi is this and Gandhi is that. Then he looked at me and smiled. I thought, “This is a little secret that he had shared with me.” I felt honored. But at the same time he was letting me know, “You have to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it in order to preach this philosophy.” He was making me aware of how to preach.

There were three or four African disciples living in the house with Srila Prabhupada. One day Prabhupada called for Brahmananda and said, “Where are my clothes? Yesterday the African servant took my clothes to wash them, and he hasn’t returned them.” The servant came in, and Prabhupada said, “Where are my clothes?” The servant said, “I don’t know. I washed them and put them on the line, but now they’re gone.” Prabhupada said, “Someone has stolen my clothes?” Brahmananda said, “We didn’t lock the back door, so maybe some thieves stole the clothes.” Prabhupada laughed and said, “They are stealing pieces of silk from a sannyasi.” Prabhupada had two shoulder pieces of cloth left. He put one over his top and the other around his bottom. It was uncomfortable and his legs were sticking out. The next morning the African disciples came to hear Srila Prabhupada’s lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam. When Prabhupada saw the devotees he said, “You are wearing my shirt. You are wearing my dhoti. You are wearing my top.” Brahmananda got furious. He started disrobing them in front of Prabhupada, taking off the shirt, taking off the dhoti, saying, “You took your spiritual master’s clothes, what’s the matter with you?” Prabhupada laughed. He thought it was humorous that they were wearing his clothes.

Communists had taken over Tanzania, the country next to us. They held a midnight session of Congress, and the next day passed a law that no one could own property in the State of Tanzania anymore. All the property was now owned by the State, and everyone had to pay rent to the State. Prabhupada was furious. He said, “This is thievery. The people worked hard, earned money, bought property, developed it, and now the government rogues are stealing it from them. They are the worst rascals.” At that time Prabhupada was interviewed by the BBC and asked, “What is your message?” He said, “My message is that I want to kick out these rogues, rascals, thieves, and no-good politicians. The whole world is filled with such rogues and thieves. They are stealing the people’s hard-earned money. They are stealing their land. They are stealing their lifeblood! They are bloodsuckers.” Prabhupada was vehement. He said, “A real king is the protector of the people. A real king will see that everyone is living nicely, that all people have food, clothing, care, attention, and medical needs. The king takes so much responsibility that if anyone dies young, he feels responsible. If the son dies before the father, the king feels personally responsible. But these men are stealing. There are no qualified people to be king in this world. We need a king who has honesty, decency, and integrity.” Prabhupada talked about the qualities of kings like Maharaj Yudhisthira and Rama. The BBC man said, “Is there anybody in the world who is qualified to be king of the world?” Just when he said that the videotape ran out, but the interviewer didn’t know it. Prabhupada looked at him, put his cane on the ground and said, “Yes, me.” Just like that. He was qualified to be king of the world. The interviewer looked completely shocked. But Prabhupada realized that nobody else in the world had the qualifications, and that only a pure devotee could do this.

One morning he was talking with us about the future of the ISKCON movement. He said that he wanted to buy all the land in Mayapur and establish a self-sufficient community. Once that was established, he would then declare independence from India, secede from the country and make his own country, the Country of Mayapur. Then his temples around the world would become embassies for the Country of Mayapur and the temple presidents would be ambassadors. We would print our own money, called Chaitanyas. There would be one Chaitanya, five Chaitanyas, and ten Chaitanyas. For our export, we would make devotional items and sell them all over the world. Prabhupada had a vision of his own country, his own embassies, his own ambassadors, his own monetary system, his own economic system, and his own export production. Sometimes we don’t realize how big Prabhupada was actually thinking, how grand he wanted this mission to be. When I remember this discussion I think, “Whew! We’re so far away from where he wanted to take this movement. How much harder we need to work.”

At the end of the talk, Prabhupada asked if anybody had questions. I said, “How does one become sincere?” because I thought that sincerity was the key quality in achieving self-realization. He said, “You become sincere by being sincere. You have to want Krishna consciousness. You have to sincerely want to surrender to a spiritual master and to Krishna,” and he talked a little about those things.

Later on, once in Africa and once in India, I came into Srila Prabhupada’s room to see him when some Life Members were present. He introduced me by saying, “This is my disciple, Bhagavat das, and he is very sincere.” That struck me. It touched my heart that Prabhupada remembered that I wanted to be sincere.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 13 - Jadurani dd, Tripurari Swami, Bhagavata

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