Prabhupada’s presence was so powerful that when you came in his presence, you felt as if you were no longer part of the material world. You felt that you were in some kind of a spiritual, transcendental environment. I didn’t know about Vrindavan then, but now we would say that Prabhupada brought Vrindavan with him. We felt the Vrindavan mood whenever we came in Prabhupada’s presence. He was carrying Krishna in his heart. I didn’t understand that but I felt it. Just being with Srila Prabhupada I could feel myself change. I could see that he was a genuine spiritual master, and that he practiced what he preached. Other people that I visited had books and teachings, but they didn’t practice those things. Seeing this helped build my faith and Prabhupada was very merciful to me. He immediately engaged me in service by having me assist his secretary, either Govinda dasi or Gaurasundar das. When they went shopping during Prabhupada’s afternoon nap, I sat outside in case Prabhupada woke up and wanted something. Sometimes Prabhupada would call me in and ask me different things. He told me, “If I get a flower every day it will increase my longevity,” and he asked, “Can you bring me a flower; a rose?” I was very excited. My spiritual master was asking me to bring him a rose daily. I said, “Yes.” I went back to the temple and told the temple president that I was going to get a rose for Srila Prabhupada. He said, “What are you doing? You’re in maya. You can’t do that.” I said, “Why? Prabhupada told me to get him a rose.” I thought, “I do everything else you say, but Prabhupada asked me to bring him a rose and I am going to bring him a rose.” I phoned a florist and was going to go pick up a rose. The temple president got angry and said I couldn’t do that, that I should do something else. So I became a little angry because he was yelling at me. I walked off with the vibrations ringing in my ear, and I came to a dead end. Nearby there was a florist shop. I walked in and the salesperson said, “I’ve been waiting for you. Here is the rose.” It was the shop that I had called, but I had forgotten the address. I offered Prabhupada the rose, and he said, “Thank you very much.”
Once Srila Prabhupada was giving a lecture about how we have to be cent percent Krishna conscious. He was ramming home the point that we have to surrender to Krishna one hundred percent. At the end of the class the devotees were serious. They were looking down thinking, “Who can come up to the standard of complete surrender?” As if he could read their minds, Prabhupada relaxed his mood a little bit and said, “If you can be ninety percent Krishna conscious, then you can also go back to Godhead.” He was on a large, high vyasasana, four feet in the air, and had to go down some steps to get off the vyasasana. As he started down he said, “Even if you are eighty percent surrendered, Krishna will still take you.” Then he got off the vyasasana and started walking away. His chaddar was flowing behind him, dragging on the ground. He stopped, looked at the devotees and said, “Even if you are seventy percent Krishna conscious, still Krishna will take you.” He threw his chaddar over his shoulder and walked off with his head high.
A devotee told me, “You should ask a good question every time Prabhupada gives class.” So at the end of every class I would always ask a question about something that related to the class. Once I asked about Radharani. Prabhupada said, “Who are you to ask about Radharani?” I asked questions every day, and Prabhupada would respond in a different way every day. At that time, we worked outside to maintain the Montreal temple. There was no other source of income. So I could only attend the morning class and had to miss the evening class. But the next day I would listen to the tape of the evening class. Once I was listening to the tape, and at the end of class Prabhupada asked if anyone had any questions. Nobody had any, and he said, “That Jay, he has nice questions.” Hearing that was a big thing for me because normally Prabhupada didn’t praise disciples to their face. He was very grave with his disciples. But sometimes he would comment to other devotees, and you’d hear it through the grapevine. That time I heard it on the tape.
I was on a morning walk with Srila Prabhupada when he stopped near a church. He looked at it and said that in the future our ISKCON temples were going to be something like the churches in that there would be some devotees living in the temples and many devotees living around the temples who would come on the weekends and for festivals. At that time, 1970, there weren’t many temples, and the whole mood was making temples, joining the temple, and becoming a temple devotee. But Prabhupada was saying that in the future the temples would be a center with big communities of devotees around them. Now I am coordinating congregation programs, and that instruction has a lot of importance to me, although at the time I really didn’t know what to think of it. It was a prediction.
In Montreal we would walk to McGill University or walk around the block, and Prabhupada would make observations. Once he said that if you see a big, healthy person, you can ask him where he does his grocery shopping because, since he’s healthy, he must have a good source. It happened that a taxi drove up and the taxi driver was very big. Prabhupada said, “Yes, ask him where he does his shopping.” Prabhupada was spontaneous in that way. A devotee asked the taxi driver where he did his shopping, and the taxi driver was bewildered. Why would someone ask him such a question?
One day they found a cockroach in the Montreal temple. Prabhupada took the cockroach in his hand, opened the window, and told the cockroach, “Here, I am giving you the whole world. Now enjoy it.” Then he threw the cockroach out the window and closed it.
We contacted a doctor who had just built a new house that he was going to make into a clinic. No one had moved in it yet. The doctor thought, “I will give it to you for six months. It will be auspicious for some sadhus to come and stay in my new house.” Then we had a place to invite Prabhupada. In the meantime, Prabhupada had left America and gone to Japan. We sent him a message that we had a separate place for him. Prabhu- pada said, “I am coming,” and we arranged for a big reception at the Calcutta airport. The media was there, and a whole truckload of Gaudiya Vaishnava devotees came to receive Prabhupada with kirtan. We invited all of Prabhupada’s God-brothers. We said, “Who would like to come and receive him?” because he was a conquering Gaudiya Vaishnava missionary who had successfully spread Krishna consciousness in places where no one had even ventured before, and now he was returning. One God-brother, Puri Maharaj, said, “Oh yes. I would like to go.” At that time I didn’t know much about the internal workings between the different Gaudiya Math people. But a grihastha devotee came up and said to Puri Maharaj, “Maharaj, how can you go? You are an older God-brother. You took initiation before Bhaktivedanta Swami did. You took sannyas before he did. You cannot go to him, he should come to you.” I said, “What does it matter if you were initiated earlier or later? Someone has done wonderful preaching.” In the end none of Prabhupada’s God-brothers came to the airport to meet him, but some disciples of his God-brothers came. Prabhupada noted that and was not very happy that none of his God-brothers had come. Then one of his God-brother’s disciples said, “Your God-brother is waiting for you at his temple. He has a feast for you there. He wants you to go from the airport to his temple.” Prabhupada became very grave and said, “Let us go in the car.” Before that we had had a big reception, a press conference, and an arati in the VIP lounge. Prabhupada didn’t have to go through any customs or immigration, he went straight to the VIP lounge and then came out and went to the car. We had a big American car from a Life Member for him, and Prabhupada got in it and said, “Take me to the house. I will not go to my God-brother’s temple. You can go later and bring the prasadam that they’ve made to the house. We will go straight to our house.”
We were invited to a Bhagavad-gita conference in Maharastra sponsored by Vinoda Bhave, a disciple of Gandhiji. Vinoda Bhave was one of the most famous saints in the Gandhi tradition, and big political leaders used to meet with him. One of his last campaigns was for cow protection. Somehow, he was holding a big conference on the Bhagavad-gita, and he invited Prabhupada and many other sadhus to come. I was there for that conference. Vinoda Bhave’s many women disciples chanted chapters of the Bhagavad-gita and Vinoda Bhave spoke. Then Prabhupada had us, his men and women disciples from all over the world, chant Hare Krishna in a big kirtan. Everybody got into the kirtan, laughing and clapping, and then Prabhupada delivered a very nice lecture. A Mayavadi sannyasi was upset at Prabhupada’s kirtan and the positive effect it had on the crowd. Normally this Mayavadi would have just given a Bhagavad-gita class, but now he wanted to do a kirtan also. He told the people, “You should all chant with me. We will have a kirtan.” It seemed as if he made up some unusual mantra right on the spot. Nobody was inspired by it. In the middle Prabhupada said to the devotees, “Chant Hare Krishna again,” and the devotees jumped up with kartals and mridanga and started chanting. Everyone was relieved because the Mayavadi’s chanting was so strange.
I was there with some other devotees when Srila Prabhupada went to meet Indira Gandhi. Prabhupada had a list of things he wanted to discuss with Indira Gandhi, but at that time she was very upset because the President of Bangladesh, Mujhibir Rahman, had just been assassinated. Still she made time for Prabhupada to see her on a Thursday afternoon. Prabhupada didn’t consult with astrologers much, but he didn’t want to have an important meeting on a Thursday afternoon. He said that it was not an auspicious time. That was about the only astrological thing he observed. He said, “Either in the morning or the evening, but not in the afternoon.” So they changed the time, and we all went together. But the devotees with Prabhupada only got as far as the door. Indira Gandhi came and met Prabhupada, and he went on alone to talk with her. Later he said that she was very respectful to him. She actually asked him, “How do you know that your followers are not CIA agents?” He explained, “I went to the West and preached. These people have sacrificed everything. They gave up their bad habits. They are getting up at four in the morning, attending mangal arati. If they were CIA, they would live in five star hotels and have a whole different lifestyle. They wouldn’t be vegetarians and give up all these habits.” She was convinced and said, “All right, I will give your devotees long-term visas.” After that meeting she passed some order, and the devotees who needed long-term visas got them.
Sometimes when we walked through the fields in Mayapur, Prabhupada would ask me to lead the way because there were narrow paths between the rice paddies. He said, “These are like little highways in the fields.” One winter day we were walking, and he said that he wanted to go to the Ganges. The river was low and clear, with a little saffron color. The flow had reduced so much that we could see the bottom. It was rare to see the Ganges like that. Prabhupada said that we must take bath. His secretary said, “Prabhupada, we don’t have any gamshas or towels. We just came for a walk.” Prabhupada looked around and said, “There are no women here. We can go in our kopins and then wear the top piece.” He took off his top piece and with all the brahmacharis and sannyasis went into the Ganges. Then Prabhupada did something I never saw anyone do before. When he was dipping under, he closed all the holes in his head. He put two fingers over his mouth, two over his nostrils, two over his eyes, and his thumbs over his ears. He took three dips and then came out. It was an ecstatic, spontaneous bath with Srila Prabhupada.
Once Prabhupada was sitting in his room in Calcutta when a Life Member businessman said, “Can you show us some miracle?” Prabhupada said, “Some yogis show a miracle by creating some rasgula. I went to America with forty rupees, and in a short span we now have temples all over the world worth more than 400 million rupees. Isn’t that a miracle?” The businessman thought for a minute and said, “That’s a miracle.”
We were walking near the river Jalangi one day when a villager came by with a big basket of vegetables on his head. Srila Prabhupada asked, “Are you going to sell those in the market?” He said, “Yes.” Prabhupada said, “How much will you sell them for? Sell us the whole basket.” Prabhupada had been telling the devotees how he liked fresh garden vegetables, how we should offer our vegetables to the Deity, and how you can save money if you buy wholesale. Prabhupada started bargaining with the villager. He told him, “If you go to the market, you will spend the whole day sitting there with the basket. I will buy it from you right now. You can do something else. You won’t have to walk two miles to the market and sell your goods.” He bargained him down to six rupees for the basket. Then he said, “Go to the temple and they will pay you.” The man went off with the basket, entered the temple and sold those vegetables. The devotees cooked them for the Deities and Prabhupada had them as well.
Once a Maharaj was cooking hot puris, and we were taking hot puris with date gur, date molasses. Prabhupada looked through the window and saw the sannyasis and brahmacharis taking hot puris with date gur one after another. He said, “This is not very good for sannyas life.”
One time, Tarun Kanti Ghosh, the Home Minister (the number two person in the state government in charge of the police), came to see Srila Prabhupada. He comes from a family of Vaishnavas. His grandfather said that Bhaktivinode Thakur was the seventh Goswami and wrote a book about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Now Tarun, his grandson, was a big politician and the editor of a major newspaper. When he came to see Srila Prabhupada, he went behind Prabhupada’s desk and tried to grab Srila Prabhupada’s feet. Brahmananda was about to jump on Tarun Kanti Ghosh. Prabhupada said, “No, no. It’s all right.” Tarun Kanti Ghosh grabbed Prabhupada’s feet and put them on his head.
Once he was strongly chastising me and giving me some instruction. The next time I came to see him he had changed his mood. He said, “I am sorry. Maybe I dealt with you too harshly. I am a very hard person to tolerate. I deal very harshly.” I couldn’t believe Prabhupada said such a thing to me. I said, “No Srila Prabhupada, I was offensive. There was no wrong on your part.”
Prabhupada came to Mayapur all of a sudden. The new building wasn’t ready, but Prabhupada stayed there, on the third floor, anyway. Since the piping hadn’t been connected the toilets didn’t flush, and our service was to empty the refuse. One day Prabhupada started calling out, “Jayapataka! Jayapataka!” I ran to the bathroom. Prabhupada was holding the door semi-shut. A venomous serpent was stuck in the door and was trying to bite Srila Prabhupada. It was leaping out and just missing him. By the pressure of the door that Prabhupada held, the snake was slightly crushed and couldn’t get loose. I hit the snake with a stick and got Prabhupada out. This was a very unusual circumstance and an urgent situation, but Prabhupada never lost his composure. He was calling out, but he was cool and calm under the circumstance. Later he said, “If there is one, there must be two, because snakes always go in pairs.” But the other one disappeared down the hall. We could never find it.
Prabhupada was walking down the stairway in Calcutta. Many devotees were there. Prabhupada slipped a little bit, and it looked like he was going to fall down. One of the senior devotees said, “Watch out, Srila Prabhupada.” Prabhupada stopped and said, “It is your responsibility to watch out. You have to take care of the body of the spiritual master. The spiritual master looks out for your spiritual well-being, but as far as whether I fall or not, that you have to guard against.”
We were on a morning walk with Srila Prabhupada in north Calcutta. Srila Prabhupada said, “Oh, here is a Life Member’s home.” For some reason Prabhupada wanted to stop in at the house of a wealthy Life Member. He went in and told the servant, “Tell your master that Bhaktivedanta Swami is here.” After a while the servant came out and said, “The master is worshiping his Deity. He will be here after some time.” Prabhupada commented, “Krishna is more pleased when the devotee is served than when He is served. If this person was more advanced he would have appreciated, ‘A spiritual master has come,’ and left his Deity worship to receive the devotee of Krishna. But because he thinks that his Deity worship is more important than receiving the devotee of Krishna, that shows that he is a neophyte, or kanistha adhikari.”
There was a con artist who dressed like a sannyasi and collected money in the name of ISKCON. He gave himself the name “Achyutananda” and was known amongst the devotees as “Achyutananda Number Two.” He was based in Rajastan and collected near Jaipur. He made a big construction plan for building a temple and somehow copied receipts, rubber stamps and everything else one needed to collect money. Some of the people who donated money to this Achyutananda appeared in Bombay and said, “We were made a Life Member by Achyutananda in Jaipur.” Achyutananda Number One was in Hyderabad so we sent a few devotees to find out who this Achyutananda was, and they discovered that he was a thief. Somehow, they got him to see Prabhupada in Mayapur. Prabhupada had called the CID, the equivalent of the FBI in India, and the Superintendent of Police. In the meantime, Prabhupada talked with Achyutananda Number Two, who said to him, “You are a great spiritual master, a saint, and I feel changed after talking with you. I want to surrender at your lotus feet. I am going to surrender my life to you and do whatever you say. I am giving up all my bad ways.” Prabhupada called in the big police officers who had come to take this person away (a case had already been registered) and said, “I have to give this person asylum because he has surrendered to me. As a spiritual master, if someone surrenders to me, I have to give him shelter.” The police were ready to dive in on him and take him away, but they said, “Guruji, what can we say? But we don’t believe this person. He is a thief.” Prabhupada said, “What can I do? If he sur- renders then I have to accept.” Prabhupada told Achyutananda Number Two, “If you follow, you are safe. But if you leave, I am going to turn you over to the police.” To keep him engaged Prabhupada had Achyutananda do some writing for him, but after about ten days some devotees spotted him during mangal arati trying to leave the front gate with a bag. They grabbed him and brought him to Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada said, “You said you were surrendering, and I gave you a chance. But now you have revealed that you are not sincere.” He called the police and gave Achyutananda over to them.
When we moved from the grass hut to the lotus building, the first multi-story temple guest house where Prabhupada’s quarters were, we had a big feast and invited many villagers to come. After the feast was over, all the leaf plates were thrown behind the temple and Prabhupada went upstairs to his room. I was sitting with Srila Prabhupada in the room when we heard a dog barking in the back. Prabhupada got up and walked all the way to the veranda, looked over, and saw the big pile of banana leaf plates. So many people had taken prasadam that there was a big pile of leaves (using a leaf as a plate is the organic way that one eats in India). There were some very poor young children with torn clothes and sticks in their hands who were beating off the dogs to get the remnants of food that people had left on their plates. When Prabhupada saw how children had to fight dogs to eat throwaways, he started to cry. Tears were coming down. He said, “How hungry they must be.” Who would stoop to that situation, to fight off dogs to eat things that other people had thrown away? Prabhupada was so moved by these hungry children that he said, “We have to organize in such a way that nobody within a ten mile radius of the temple is hungry. Everyone should have food to eat.” That’s when they organized “ISKCON Food Relief,” which later became “Food for Life.” Prabhupada wanted a regular program of prasadam distribution, and we were distributing seven days a week; Five days for children and pregnant and nursing mothers, and seven days for anybody without discrimination—Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, men, women, young and old. Prabhupada was so moved when he saw that the people were hungry.