Janananda Swami Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Janananda Swami: After finishing my university degree in England, I really didn’t feel like working, and I thought, “I want to see if there is another purpose in life.” At this time in the late sixties, there was a bit of interest in spirituality and eastern philosophy. My first contact with Srila Prabhupada was, like many of us, through his books. One day I was hanging out with some of my ex-college mates who were a little intoxicated, as we all were in those days. But by this time, I had given up drugs having had an experience that convinced me not to take any more intoxication. I wasn’t indulging with my friends, so I looked for something to occupy my time. There was a large selection of literatures in the apartment, and right at the bottom of the pile of literatures, I found two Back to Godhead magazines. I knew nothing about the Hare Krishna movement at this time, so I read the magazines throughout the night, and I felt an immediate attraction. I started chanting Hare Krishna straightaway. I had heard the maha-mantra before in various ways, but I never connected it to this philosophy. At that moment everything became clear as a result of reading both Srila Prabhupada’s articles, as well as articles written by various disciples of Prabhupada. Prabhupada clearly explained what the goal of life is and how to achieve that goal. I was literally convinced just by reading those two magazines.

Back in the early days, most of the devotees I knew did not have new sets of beads. Prabhupada wasn’t fussy about these things. He said it wasn’t the externals, but the internals, like receiving the Holy Name from a pure devotee in the parampara, that were important. So, the temple president, Dhananjaya prabhu, gave these unorthodox beads to Prabhupada to chant on for our initiation. I do remember, however, that when we sat down in front of Prabhupada for the initiation ceremony at Bury Place, he looked at us, and he saw we weren’t wearing any neck beads. He said, “Where are the neck beads?” So, the ceremony was postponed until someone went out and obtained neck beads for us. Finally, the initiation resumed, and Pradyumna called out the names of each initiate as he pulled out the beads from a bag for Prabhupada to hand to us. To my dismay, after everybody’s name was called out, my name was not mentioned. Pradyumna finished the yajna and I was still sitting there completely lost. I thought, “Oh, God. There’s a lesson here that you can’t cheat Krishna or his pure devotee. You can’t cheat them.” I felt like a complete demon, thinking that I really wasn’t eligible. After the yajna was finished, Dhananjaya prabhu came up to me and said, “What’s your name?” I said, “I don’t have one. I’m still the same name.” [chuckles] Dhananjaya immediately went running over to see Srila Prabhupada, who spoke with Pradyumna. Then Dhananjaya came back and told me to go straightaway back to the temple. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was thinking Srila Prabhupada might tell me, “Please go away. We don’t need people like you in the movement.” I didn’t know what he was going to say. I went back to the temple and noticed hardly anyone remained in the temple except for maybe the pujari. Pradyumna told me to wait outside Prabhupada’s room. I felt nervous, like waiting to go in to see a dentist. Finally, Pradyumna said, “Okay, you can go in now.” Pradyumna was one devotee I could always relate to and he could make anyone feel very comfortable. He was amazing. I thought he was going to come in with me, [chuckles] but he said, “Go in now.” I said, “Are you coming?” He said, “No, no, you’re on your own.” I thought, “Oh, my God.” I went in and saw Prabhupada sitting behind his desk on a cushion on the floor. Srila Prabhupada looked at me and asked me to recite the regulative principles, and then he asked whether I was chanting sixteen rounds. Somehow or other I managed to answer him. Prabhupada then picked up my unorthodox beads, which were not even made of wood. My beads were made with dough—flour and water. I would put the dough beads in the oven and cook them to make the dough hard in order to be able to chant on them. There weren’t even any knots between each bead. Anyway, Prabhupada chanted on those beads and then handed them to me. He told me my name, told me what it meant, and then he asked me to offer my obeisances. At this point I received my first direct instruction from Prabhupada. Even though he told us that the internals were more important than the externals, I learned a lesson about the importance of the external mechanics of offering obeisances. When Prabhupada gave me my beads in my right hand, I held them up in the air while I put my left hand down on the floor and began the mantras. Immediately, Prabhupada said, “Offer your obeisances properly! Put both hands on the floor.” I put the beads on the table, I offered my full dandavats with both hands flat on the floor, and then I sat up. I was about to go and he then opened his tiffin and handed me a Simply Wonderful. These are the famous sweets every devotee relished at that time and obviously still do now as well. However, I accepted the sweet with my right hand and went to offer obeisances again with my left hand on the floor and my right hand was in the air holding the sweet. Prabhupada again instructed me, “Offer your obeisances properly! Both hands flat on the floor.” I followed his instruction by putting down the sweet so I could place both hands flat on the floor, offered my full dandavats, sat up, picked up my beads, picked up the Simply Wonderful, and left the room. Walking out I thought to myself, “When am I ever going to learn this instruction?” [chuckles]

Soon after my first initiation in 1972, I was asked to cook an offering for the Deities. In those days you didn’t have to be brahmana to cook for Radha-Krishna. We even had two uninitiated Indian girls from Kenya who were cooking for Radha-Londonisvara. Prabhupada even encouraged them to cook. Anyway, I cooked the breakfast and went upstairs to give the pujari the offering while Prabhupada was giving the Bhagavatam class. There was no separate door to the Deity room, so I had to go through the temple room to the curtain to hand it off to the pujari. The temple room was crowded with devotees, so it was difficult to find a space to offer my obeisances. I just managed to get enough space to offer obeisances, but I had my back more or less to the Deities. When I went back to the kitchen after the class was over, Nanda Kumar came down and said, “Srila Prabhupada told me to tell you to offer your obeisances properly. Never offer your obeisances with your feet to the Deity.” This was the second time I got another lesson regarding how to offer obeisances properly. What I learned was that the essence of Krishna consciousness is to constantly be offering your obeisances to the spiritual master—constantly in everything we do.

Around 1974 or ’75 I was at the Manor when Srila Prabhupada was there. One day Prabhupada decided to take a walk in the afternoon, and this time, instead of going out the front entrance of the Manor, he went through the temple room. My god-brother Narendra was sitting outside his bedroom at the time, and when Prabhupada walked out of his room to go on the walk, Narendra grabbed his shoes. When Prabhupada got to the temple, I was reading and chanting, sitting against the wall looking at the Deities. The only other person there was a lady named Rtasya, who came regularly but had not yet been initiated. Upon Prabhupada entering the temple, I paid my obeisances with both hands flat on the floor, as I had previously been instructed, but Rtasya paid her obeisances with her feet towards the Deities. When Srila Prabhupada saw that, he immediately went up to the altar and asked, “Where is the pujari?” The pujari was a mataji who was behind the altar washing the paraphernalia after the bhoga offering. She came out and Prabhupada asked her, “You are the pujari?” “Yes, Srila Prabhupada.” Prabhupada said, “What are you doing?” She said, “Washing the dishes, Srila Prabhupada.” “No, no, no. What are you doing?” She didn’t know what to say. [laughs] I’m sure she thought, “What does Prabhupada want me to say?” Prabhupada said, “You are the pujari. There is a guest in the temple, and you are not teaching the guest how to offer her obeisances properly. It is the pujari’s responsibility to show the guest how to worship Krishna properly. That means to offer obeisances properly in front of the Deity.” He said, “You never offer your obeisances with your head or your feet towards the Deity or towards the spiritual master.” So that was another opportunity Krishna provided for me to learn the proper way to offer obeisances. Since Prabhupada was in a little bit of a teaching mood, he turned around and saw Narendra holding his shoes in front of the Deities. Prabhupada said, “What is this?” Prabhupada said, “Never bring those in the temple room!” Narendra was flustered, so he quickly wrapped a chaddar around the shoes. Prabhupada said, “This is another nonsense,” and then he walked out with Narendra behind him. Prabhupada was teaching us that we have to be ready at every moment. He was teaching us that Krishna is with us always and the spiritual master reminds us of that. We’ve got to be conscious of what we are doing, and not just focus on the mechanics. Prabhupada always taught us to be very conscious.

I was the treasurer at the Manor, so Prabhupada would instruct me about the necessity of not wasting anything. We had no money, but even so, Prabhupada was always concerned that we use Krishna’s energy wisely. He would check every light in the Manor to make sure they were turned off if no one was in the room. He would check to see if the heater was on in an empty room. So many instances he showed us that everything belongs to Krishna and nothing should be wasted, absolutely nothing.

I was cooking the milk sweets for the Deities late at night at the Manor while another devotee was washing the pots. Prabhupada hadn’t been eating much for a few days as he was a little sick at this time. Suddenly, Harikesa ran into the kitchen and said, “Prabhupada wants to eat right now.” [chuckles] It was around 10 o’clock at night and he said very dramatically, “He wants kitri, kitri!” And he said that Prabhupada wanted it in thirty minutes! We put everything down and all three of us ran around trying to get it together for Prabhupada. We finished, but we were about two minutes too late. Harikesa ran up the stairs and then five minutes later he came back down. He told us that Prabhupada said, “You were too late. It is too late.” He wanted it by 10:30 p.m. Prabhupada was teaching us that we should be on time. I don’t think it was so much that the kitri wasn’t ready, but that he was giving us a lesson to be on time. One thing I really understood about Srila Prabhupada was that he emphasized living in the present and not living in the past. We can very often think of the past or dream of the future. But he told us to live in the present and do the needful according to time, place and circumstance. What may be applicable in one place may not always be applicable in another place. He taught us to be open to seeing what works rather than just sticking only to one type of thinking. We have to know how to package the philosophy in such a way that people will take the medicine; otherwise, what’s the use? Prabhupada was the living example of how to adjust the situation according to time, place and circumstance. He adjusted some previous Gaudiya Math customs when he arrived in the West in order to expand the Krishna consciousness movement. He did say it takes a little intelligence to do so. We should have the willingness to take Prabhupada’s guidance and to present Krishna consciousness in a way that is effective, without compromising the actual philosophy and principles.

Srila Prabhupada, as we all know, was in extremely poor health when he came to London in August, 1977. We didn’t have much notice, maybe two or three days, prior to Prabhupada’s arrival. We were on a constant non-stop book marathon because it was understood that book distribution was the most pleasing thing to Srila Prabhupada. We were hoping that we could keep him with us through our book distribution. We felt Prabhupada’s presence by dedicating our lives to distribute his books. At that time, I was the sankirtan coordinator in the UK. Everyone went on sankirtan, literally all the men and all the women. As we were so focused on book distribution, we were paying less attention to the other areas of devotional service. Deity worship was going on as normal, but the cows, the gardens and the cleanliness were not as they should have been. I had secured a Rover car to pick up Prabhupada from the airport and this was the only time I ever drove Prabhupada. The first thing I said when I got in the car was, “Where’s the gearstick?” There was no gearstick as this was an automatic transmission, which I had never driven before. I was having a lot of paranoia thinking something bad might happen driving Prabhupada back to the Manor. When Prabhupada got in the car, I had the shock of my life because he was surprisingly thin. His body was so thin and gaunt that they had carried him and placed him in the back seat of the car. I could hardly look. Then the servant sat next to him and Tamal Krishna Maharaj sat right next to me in the front seat. There was only one hitch in my driving, which was when I pressed the accelerator instead of the brake as we went forward at a roundabout. But at that moment, Tamal Krishna Maharaj was talking to Prabhupada, so no one ever saw what happened, and fortunately there was no catastrophe as we just glided through the roundabout. During the ride to the temple, Prabhupada asked Tamal Krishna Maharaj to speak to me on his behalf. One thing Prabhupada wanted was for me to put the window down. The window was down and then Tamal said, “Put it up,” and Prabhupada said, “No, put it down.” You never really know the mind of a pure devotee. And then Prabhupada asked some questions. I was convinced, since I was the sankirtan leader, that if Prabhupada asked me anything, he was going to talk about sankirtan book distribution because that’s what we were into. Tamal said, “Prabhupada wants to ask a question.” I was expecting, “How many devotees have you made? How many books have you distributed?” He didn’t mention any of that. All he asked was, “How are the cows? How many cows? How much milk? Who’s looking after the cows?” I must say it was one of the most embarrassing times of my life. I knew practically nothing. I didn’t even know how many cows there were. I knew next to nothing about what was on Prabhupada’s mind—the cows. Then later on we heard through Tamal Krishna Maharaj that Srila Prabhupada wanted to go to America, particularly Gita-nagari, after stopping in London. Gita-nagari was a farm that had been acquired, and Prabhupada wanted to show us how to establish this varnasram aspect of ISKCON. At the same time, we were anxious to tell him about our success in the distribution of his books. One of Prabhupada’s secretaries, however, was not very enthusiastic about the book scores being brought to Prabhupada’s attention because his health was weak and he didn’t want him to get too excited. But Prabhupada did say book distribution was our life and soul, so he wanted to hear the scores every day. But in particular, he talked about varnasram and how important this was for our movement. Prabhupada’s vision for ISKCON was to create a society in which the whole world could live. The whole world cannot live in temples. It’s a society that goes way beyond the realms of the temple. It’s a society that includes everything. That was Prabhupada’s vision. As far as I could see, the cows that he was asking me about were the center point. Without the protection of the cows, there is no human society. Everything is dependent, basically speaking, on Krishna’s pleasure, and how can we please Krishna if we don’t serve the cows?

Srila Prabhupada would always deflect any praise that was given to him and pass it onto his spiritual master by saying, “It is the mercy of my Guru Maharaj.” He was always reminding us of that. Our success is the mercy of our Guru Maharaj. On Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja day in 1977 at the Manor, I was somehow or other able to be close to Prabhupada at his vyasasan. The devotees had prepared a beautiful cake for Srila Prabhupada and they put candles on it, which is the Western tradition. The cake came before Prabhupada and he whispered in his servant’s ear, “How many candles are there on the cake?” The servant replied, “Eighty-one.” Srila Prabhupada said, “No, eighty-two.” In the Western world it would have been eighty-one, but Prabhupada used the Asian system of dating that is quite logical. When you’re born, that is your first birthday. It’s not your zero birthday. It’s your first birthday. He often taught us things that required us to re-adjust our logic.

Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita says, “As they surrender to me, I reward them accordingly.” I saw that Srila Prabhupada had this ability to perfectly reciprocate with each and every person. He was able to encourage people in a way that was most helpful to their Krishna consciousness. For example, when I took initiation, as soon as I went into Prabhupada’s room, I was nervous. But when Prabhupada glanced at me, the nervousness went away. I felt relaxed. He could see that I was a lost cause. He had this ability to know what was required to encourage each devotee. He was in touch with the Supersoul because he had no false ego at all—just pure transparency. One quality anyone could see was that he had nothing to get from anyone. He had only the quality to give, to love, no matter what.

One time I went with a group of devotees to the airport to accompany Srila Prabhupada prior to his departure. The flight was delayed, so we went up to the mezzanine floor where we could sit and wait for the announcement of his plane’s boarding time. We sat on the floor while Prabhupada was sitting on a chair. I could see Prabhupada looking down onto the area below where people were running around to catch their flights. I could see tears coming down Prabhupada’s eyes. The tears were pouring down and I got the feeling that Srila Prabhupada was feeling para-duhkha-dukhi. He was feeling so much distress and pain for the suffering of others who are aimlessly going about their lives running for God knows what. Prabhupada was always feeling that compassion. Whatever Srila Prabhupada did was in the mood of compassion to help others because we are all so ignorant.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 74 - Janananda Swami, Naikatma, Jnana das:Nemi Maharaj, Bhaktisiddhanta

The full Prabhupada Memories Series can be viewed here and also at www.prabhupadamemories.com