I remember in 1972 the New Zealand Herald posted a picture of Srila Prabhupada on the front page, and the headline read, “His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada opens a Hare Krishna temple in Mount Eden, Auckland, New Zealand.” As a young person of about fourteen years of age at the time and still in school, I remembered something about this Hare Krishna temple being established in New Zealand that attracted my mind. I didn’t know why. I had imagined a temple would be something like up in the mountains with beautiful domes and things like that. I remember a friend of mine asked me, “Have you seen the Hare Krishna temple?” I said, “No, I heard about it. Let’s go there.” After school we rode home and we stopped off at the Hare Krishna temple. It was a simple little house in the suburbs of Auckland. We walked in and this wonderful devotee, Satyavati, who was the pujari, welcomed us and sent us into the temple room. There was a very big vyasasan with Srila Prabhupada’s picture on it. She sat us down and fed us Simply Wonderfuls. This began the process for me. I would continuously go to the Hare Krishna temple on my way home from school. Not long thereafter, Tusta Krishna das became my vartma-pradarsaka-guru. I would sit down and he would read Krishna Book to me. This was the start of my spiritual education; consequently, my interest in school started to diminish. It came the time when Srila Prabhupada was coming to New Zealand to establish the new temple on Gribblehirst Road. That was when I saw Srila Prabhupada for the first time in the flesh. I knew that in my heart he was my guru, and by this time I was also chanting sixteen rounds a day and having a lot of fun with my young friends who SP Memories - DVD 76 Page 3 of 20 also became devotees. A short while after that I was initiated as Kedara das, the servant of One who is easily pleased. I feel very blessed that I got that initiation directly from Srila Prabhupada.
At a certain point in time in the movement, we were experiencing significant differences of opinion among god-brothers. There was a controversy about “in the temple” and “outside of the temple” as to whether someone could actually be Krishna conscious living outside the temple. I was still at school then, so I was “outside the temple,” but I had received initiation and I was coming to the temple on a regular basis and chanting rounds. All the sannyasis were saying, “No, no, you cannot. You have to move into the temple, you have to shave your head, and you have to do all these things.” But my parents weren’t really that cool about me SP Memories - DVD 76 Page 7 of 20 shaving my head. When I did, my mother exclaimed, “Oh, your curls! You lost your curls.” I said, “Don’t worry mom. It’s going to grow back.” I had the courage on one morning walk to ask Srila Prabhupada about this controversy. I said, “Srila Prabhupada, there are so many devotees saying that you cannot live outside the temple, that you must live inside the temple, and this has created a little confusion for me.” He stopped at that moment, and in front of all of the sannyasis, he looked at me and said, “Inside the temple, outside the temple—always remember Krishna and never forget Krishna and your life will be sublime.” That was one of the first moments that I had with Srila Prabhupada.
When I was in Prabhupada’s presence, I felt like he was looking into my soul. If we just got one glance from Srila Prabhupada, we felt that our lives were perfected. Because I was just a kid, a young boy, I got to be a little forward with Srila Prabhupada. I could walk with Mudhudvisa while he was beside Prabhupada, and I was always chanting Hare Krishna. When Srila Prabhupada came to New Zealand, there was a situation among the devotees. Siddhasvarupananda came to the temple and told Srila Prabhupada that he was going to leave the movement because he could no longer work with his god-brothers. He was not in favor of the way that book distribution was going because in the old days we would hand out flowers, pieces of incense and Simply Wonderfuls on the street along with Back to Godhead magazines. That was our sankirtan, as we were known as the Haribols, and of course, the big sankirtan up on the main road, the Hare Krishnas, was slightly more aggressive. At this particular time we were all supposed to go to Fiji, as many devotees had booked their tickets, and all of a sudden something political happened. Being young devotees, we didn’t understand the politics. But Siddhasvarupa announced that he would not be going to Fiji and that he was leaving the Hare Krishna movement. All of a sudden there was a split, and all of Siddha’s followers, who had become Prabhupada’s disciples, cancelled their tickets. But having a ticket in my hand and just being a young person, I thought, “I am going to Fiji. I am going to go to Fiji with Srila Prabhupada.” All the devotees went to the gate and had a big kirtan for Srila Prabhupada’s departure. Srila Prabhupada was sitting on a chair in the departure lounge and I ran up, “Jaya, Srila Prabhupada! Jaya, Srila Prabhupada!” He looked up and he said, “Oh! You are coming?” I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada. I am coming.” SP Memories - DVD 76 Page 11 of 20 He said, “Very good. You sit right down here. Sit next to me.” I was just thrilled. It was amazing. And I was so glad that I had made that decision to go to Fiji. When we finally boarded the plane, I was seated back in economy and Srila Prabhupada was in first class. After we took off, the airline hostess came back to my section with a plate. She said, “There is a very nice elderly man in the front of the plane. He has sent this food back for you.” I said, “Really? Thank you. Thank you.” As far as I was concerned, I was in first class. Having the maha prasadam of Srila Prabhupada that was personally sent to me, meant to me that he recognized me, and he was thinking about me because certainly we were all thinking about him non-stop as our Gurudeva. I truly believe that incidents like that planted the seed, the bhakti-lata seed, in my heart so deeply and profoundly, just as we are told that a moment’s association with a pure devotee will bring us all the way back home, back to Godhead with Krishna.
We went to Lautoka, Fiji, and stayed with the Punja brothers, Deoji Punja and Vasudeva Punja, and began preparations for laying the foundation stone of the Krishna Kaliya temple in Lautoka. It was a most amazing experience. Of those seven days, many days were spent sitting with Prabhupada on the porch watching the Fijian people go by with their vegetables. It was a very cultural thing. Srila Prabhupada was fascinated with the Fijian people because they had dark skin, some of them had red hair, and it seemed like he had not seen people like this before. It felt like I was sitting on the porch with my grandfather, just people-watching. I finally worked up the courage and asked Prabhupada about the situation with Siddhasvarupananda. “Srila Prabhupada, I don’t understand how it is possible that he could leave or want to leave you?” He said, “Siddhasvarupa is a very nice boy. I like him very much. He has always wanted his independence; therefore, I have given it to him.” I said, “Srila Prabhupada, I think that you are Mr. ISKCON.” He said, “Yes, I am Mr. ISKCON.” I said, “I can’t understand why anybody would want to go away.” At that time I think Madhudvisa had also moved away. He said of Madhudvisa, “I don’t care what Madhudvisa has done. I just want my Madhudvisa back.” Srila Prabhupada cared for all of his devotees. I don’t believe that there was judgment there. His heart connection with us, what he planted in our hearts, was so strong that here I am, now in my sixties, and I am still chanting Hare Krishna. And it was on that recommendation: “Always remember Krishna, never forget Krishna, and your life will be sublime.”
The quality that was most significant about Srila Prabhupada for me was that he looked upon everyone with unconditional love. There was no barrier. There was no shield. There was no mask. He would look with love and compassion upon every single one and be totally present. He was so very present that it was undeniable for me. I think that we have a connection with our gurudevas from previous lives. I really do. I am a very strong believer that we pick up from wherever we left off. When I met Srila Prabhupada and my heart opened in his presence, despite all things going on, to me that was the indication that he was my guru. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know that I knew him. But somehow or other there was this resonance in my heart that said, “Yes, he is the one.” I didn’t even know what a guru was. I had no concept. I wasn’t growing up in a world where I was suffering. I feel like I am a natural devotee. I wasn’t really looking for anything. The Hare Krishnas stood across the street as we, as young kids, would laugh at them giving out incense sticks and Simply Wonderfuls. But that mercy of Srila Prabhupada—the acceptance of everyone—to me was a quality that I could not deny and that resonated within my being. SP Memories - DVD 76 Page 19 of 20 No matter how far I fall from the path or I stray from the path or I look elsewhere, I always come back to Krishna. I have Srila Prabhupada to thank for that. That’s how it affected me. It’s affected everything that I do. In my temple here in Maui, I sing English songs from a bhakti place: call-and-response in English and people respond. And I throw Krishna’s names in there and they all respond. “Can I get a Hallelujah?” “Hallelujah!” “Can I get a Hare Krishna?” “Hare Krishna!” “Can I get a Hare Rama?” “Hare Rama!” They’re all excited about it. So I am available to go as deeply as they want to go and I always refer them to our beloved Srila Prabhupada.