Brahmatirtha das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Brahmatirtha: The first time I met Srila Prabhupada was May 1971 in Calcutta. I was a Peace Corps volunteer, serving not too far from Calcutta, and I used to go into Calcutta for milkshakes. While I was there I saw a big poster announcing the Hare Krishna Festival. I had been attracted to the Hare Krishna mantra in the West and was curious if the Hare Krishna movement was bona fide. I immediately took a trolley to the festival, which was in a fancy part of Calcutta. Prabhupada was sitting on the pandal stage and the audience was all Bengali men in suits and ties. The devotees were all in dhotis. When I arrived, Giriraj das brahmachari was saying to the people, “You are chasing after the garbage we have given up.” Finally, after having lived in India for six months, somebody said something that made sense. I was intrigued. I went to the temple afterwards, and a devotee said, “Would you like to meet Prabhupada?” I said, “Sure.” I walked into Prabhupada’s room and offered him a little respect. The room was full of mattresses with sheets over them, and Prabhupada was sitting behind a little table. There were a few devotees in the back of the room arguing. I thought, “Here is a pure devotee, and they’re arguing? They should ask him.” I understood little of the philosophy. Later I understood that at least one of those devotees blooped shortly thereafter. He wasn’t accepting authority. Anyway, I was wondering what was going on, and Prabhupada said, “You have a question?” I said, “Yes. You are pushing this Hindu view, but why not Buddhism?” It was a stupid question. Prabhupada gave a typical response, “What does the Buddha say?” I didn’t know what the Buddha said. I remembered my Oriental Philosophy 1 course and replied, “Eightfold noble and fourfold path. Actually I don’t know what the Buddha says.” Prabhupada said, “Why do you want to follow the Buddhist path if you don’t even know what the path is? Why are you asking me that question?” At that point, I became a little humbler and sat and listened.

After I first met Prabhupada in 1971, I became vegetarian, although I still ate eggs. The next time I saw Prabhupada I proudly said, “After I met you I became a vegetarian.” He said, “So? The pigeons and monkeys are vegetarian, and they are big rascals.” I became humble at that moment.

Prabhupada was coming down the steps of Henry Street temple in New York, and I was in the driver’s seat of my car, which was surrounded by devotees. I thought, “I better offer my obeisances to Prabhupada. Once before when I didn’t offer my obeisances I got into trouble. But how can I do it? There’s not enough room to open the door. What am I going to do?” I was mentally debating this as Prabhupada came closer to the car and somebody opened the car door for him. I started crunching behind the steering wheel, trying to offer obeisances. Prabhupada got into the car, looked at me, patted me on the head, and said, “That’s okay.” Sometime in 1973, I was in the narrow hallway between Prabhupada’s quarters and the temple room in the Henry Street temple. Prabhupada was going to walk by, and the hallway was lined with devotees. I was very embarrassed, thinking, “People join and are initiated in six months, but I’m not initiated yet.” I was in graduate school and chanting sixteen rounds but not rendering any other service. I didn’t want Prabhupada to see me, so when he stepped out of his room, I immediately hit the dirt to offer my obeisances. I said the prayers as slowly as I could so that, by the time I stood up, Prabhupada would have walked by. Usually, devotees said the prayers quickly and stood up so they could see Prabhupada, but I said them slowly. I didn’t know that Prabhupada had seen me, but he stopped in front of me and waited until I was done. When I stood up, Prabhupada was next to me. He said, “Nice to see you,” put his arm around me, and gave me a hug. I was amazed.

A few weeks after I met Prabhupada in Mayapur, I saw him again in Calcutta. He said, “Do you have any questions?” I said, “Prabhupada, devotees are telling me to offer my food to Krishna.” I was the only Westerner around that wasn’t a devotee, so I received lots of preaching. I said to Prabhupada, “I can’t offer my food to Krishna, because I don’t know that Krishna’s God.” It wasn’t the most brilliant question. Prabhupada said, “That’s okay. But thank God for your food.” I don’t know why, but then I blurted out, “I should thank God silently.” Prabhupada said, “No, out loud you should thank God for the food so you can explain to everyone what you are doing.” Prabhupada wanted me to use my tiny faith in God to thank Him for my food and to preach. Prabhupada’s dealings with practically everything amazed me. When Prabhupada was sick, Atreyarishi came in, and Prabhupada used his sickness to convince Atreyarishi that the body and soul were different. Prabhupada was very practical and compassionate. He knew just when I needed encouragement, a pat on the head, and when I needed chastisement just through a stare. Prabhupada was also totally philosophical and detached. He wanted us to be Krishna conscious for our benefit. Whoever Prabhupada spoke to, he spoke to them for their benefit, not for his benefit. I might preach while thinking, “How many points am I going to get? What is my benefit?” But when Prabhupada spoke, you knew it was for your benefit. And everyone else present knew that as well.

After each day of every scientific conference, Prabhupada would call us in to hear the results. Tamal Krishna Maharaj was his secretary then, and Svarup Damodar Maharaj, Madhava, Jnana, Sadaputa, and I would come in. Once Tamal Krishna Maharaj said, “Prabhupada, your scientists are here.” Prabhupada said, “They’re all in suits and ties.” Even though the conference was in the Vrindavan temple, we wore suits and ties. Prabhupada said, “Get them chairs.” Svarup Damodar Maharaj said, “Oh, we’re your disciples. We will sit on the floor.” Prabhupada said, “No, you have to have chairs.” Prabhupada couldn’t see that well then, and there weren’t enough chairs, but to please Prabhupada three of us sat in one chair, and one of us sat down half way pretending to be in a chair. Prabhupada wanted his scientist gentlemen to be in chairs.

Some of Prabhupada’s God-brothers came to the ISKCON pandal. Prabhupada stood up from his vyasasana to receive them and insisted that they have chairs. There weren’t enough chairs. Where do you get chairs in Mayapur? But Prabhupada would not sit down until there was a chair for each of his God-brothers. Prabhupada always strictly observed etiquette. When I was with Prabhupada I would observe how he offered the proper etiquette to everybody, how he dealt with everyone suitably. He knew exactly what to do, the perfect thing for each person. Once a businessman said to Prabhupada, “I want to serve you, Swami. I want to dedicate my life to you. Everything is for you, Swami.” Prabhupada said, “I am going to Tokyo tomorrow. Come with me and join my preaching tour.” The man said, “But I can’t go.” Prabhupada knew how to call bluffs and how to engage people.

When I was in engineering school in the 1970s, I studied Bhagavad-gita in an Oriental Philosophy class. In the entire Gita there was only one verse that stuck in my mind, that “Even if Krishna’s devotees commit abominable acts, they are to be considered saintly because they are rightly situated.” It’s not one of the more significant verses of the Gita, but I was a blackand- white type person, that you’re either a saint or a sinner, and I couldn’t understand that verse. I asked my professor to explain it to me, and he said, “It’s intuitively obvious.” That was his way of saying he didn’t know, so I said, “Okay.” I had read the Gita in English, and in my life I had never read or seen Sanskrit. When I met Prabhupada, I asked him, “If somebody lives an evil life and prays to become rich, may he still become rich?” Prabhupada said, “Yes, praying to Krishna is not evil. Somehow or other, he prays to Krishna, so you cannot say he is evil.” “Yes,” I said. Srila Prabhupada said, “Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita “api cet su-duracaro bhajante mam ananya bhak.” Have you read it?” I said, “Yes. The Sanskrit I don’t know, but the English I do.” That was the only verse in the whole Bhagavad-gita that I knew in English, and that was the very first verse that Prabhupada quoted to me in Sanskrit and asked me if I knew what it meant. Later it dawned on me that Prabhupada transcendentally tricked me. Prabhupada knew that was the only verse I knew in Gita, and that’s the first one he quoted me.

What convinced me of Prabhupada’s authenticity was that he gave a cogent, satisfying answer to whatever I asked. There was never any doubt whether Prabhupada understood the philosophy or not. There were some things that I couldn’t understand yet and Prabhupada made it clear to me that there was a process for understanding Krishna consciousness. But Prabhupada never tried to force that understanding down my throat. He said, “Do what these boys and girls are doing for six months, then you’ll also understand.” I couldn’t expect to walk in off the street and understand everything without following any regulative principles. There was a process of understanding. Prabhupada was patient about that. He was confident that if I chose to follow the process, I could also experience what the devotees were experiencing and be happy.

I saw Prabhupada at Ratha-yatra in New York in 1976, when I was going to get initiated. Prabhupada wasn’t feeling well then, but he was in the temple room one morning giving out cookies. I walked up to get a cookie and I thought, “Wow, Prabhupada’s going to be glad to see me. I’m actually rendering some service. I’m getting initiated.” I thought I was rendering service. I didn’t understand that Prabhupada was offering me service by initiating me. I walked up to Prabhupada thinking, “All the devotees are here, and Prabhupada’s going to recognize me.” Prabhupada looked right through me as if I wasn’t there. It was as if I was a transparent sheet of glass. Only Prabhupada could have humbled me with that look, I hope for the rest of my life.

Just before Prabhupada left this world, I went to India to participate in a conference with Svarup Damodar Maharaj, Sataputa Prabhu, and others. It was the First International Conference on Life Comes from Life. I was a geologist, and I presented a paper on evolution. I arrived in Vrindavan with Atreyarishi, and we immediately went to see Prabhupada. Both of us were shocked to see Prabhupada so thin, just all bones. Prabhupada saw how shocked Atreya was, and he said to Atreya, “I’ve been preaching to you that I’m not this body. Now you can see that my body is gone but I’m still here. Now do you understand that we’re not the body?” Prabhupada used Atreya’s shocked expression to emphasize the point that we’re not this body.

Prabhupada was discussing how we suffer because of our karma. I didn’t want to challenge Prabhupada so I said, “Prabhupada, I ask you this very humbly. Do you get sick?” I thought that if he got sick it was from his karma. Prabhupada said, “Oh yes, I get sick.” I said, “But you’re a pure devotee, and pure devotees shouldn’t have karma. If a devotee claps his hands in front of the Deities, his karma is gone, and he’s not accumulating more karma, so why is it you’re getting sick?” Prabhupada humbly said, “I’m not a pure devotee.” I pursued it a little further. I said, “Why is it you suffer? Is it the way Christ suffered?” He said, “The reason I suffer is because I have done one sinful thing. I have taken too many disciples. When the spiritual master takes too many disciples then he must suffer the sins of his disciples.” That was a very heavy thing. The devotees present at the time were awestruck thinking that, “My sins are affecting Prabhupada.” Every one of them had total affection for Prabhupada, and to think, “My sins will affect him,” was painful. Prabhupada said, “My sinful activities are taking too many disciples, but for preaching purposes I am willing to take that suffering. For the sake of preaching, I’ll take too many disciples.”

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories - 22 Saradiya dasi, Nanda Kumar, Mahabuddhi, Brahmatirtha

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

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 03

Brahmatirtha: My experiences with Prabhupada, of course, occurred in the bhajan kutir where devotees wanted to know if I had any questions, which I certainly did. So I got to sit in there, I think, for several hours a day over probably a four-day period and discuss with Prabhupada my philosophical issues. I didn’t really know a whole lot about what was going on in terms of parampara and how things work. I knew a little, but I just appreciated the qualities of Prabhupada. He made me feel very comfortable. His humor was very disarming. And Prabhupada was on a platform, so I was on the floor. So I’d always be looking at Prabhupada’s feet, and somehow that gave me some blessing. One of the most dramatic moments for me personally is when I realize it’s time for me to leave Mayapur. Because the night before on Gaura Purnima night, Jamuna had come to me with tears in her eyes. And I remember the moon reflecting in her eyes and she had tears and she said, “You are so fortunate. Prabhupada is spending so much time with you.” She said it with such conviction that I was completely overwhelmed, and I realized that I might have to surrender. So I went behind the temple, behind the pandal and just collapsed in the rice paddies and started crying. I said, “I can’t give everything up.” So the next morning Prabhupada called for me again, asked if I had more questions. I said, “Thank you very much for what you’ve done, but I have to leave now. I have to get back to my teaching.” The Peace Corps had no idea where I was or what I did, so I could go back or not go back. And Prabhupada said, “Don’t talk L-E-A-V-E,” he spelled it out, “talk L-I-V-E. Don’t talk leave, talk live.” So I said to Prabhupada, “So you want me to stay longer?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, if you tell me to, I will.” And then he said to me, “Good boy,” the same way you would say it to your pet. So at that time, in my heart I felt I had become Prabhupada’s pet, not realizing that I in essence had accepted him as my guru. Though when I think back at it, after that time, I was sold out to Prabhupada. A minor incident, but for me it was very major. And Prabhupada timed it just perfectly well to capture me.