Nemi Maharaj Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Nemi Maharaj: I studied material science at the University of Oxford in England. I was agnostic at the time having previously been a Christian, but I lost faith at the University. I went to Africa for some time and I realized then that material science couldn’t explain life or consciousness. I went back to the UK and I started practicing Zen. I went to Japan and became a Zen monk for two years, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I came back again to England with no interest in getting a job on one hand, but on the other hand, I didn’t know what kind of spiritual path to follow. Finally, I prayed to God, probably for the first time in ten years, and I said, “If You exist, please help me.” The next day I was looking for a telephone and I finally found a telephone booth, but it was occupied. While I was waiting for the phone, a devotee came out of an apartment on the other side of the road. He said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I am looking for a spiritual path. I think I should chant the Holy Name, but I don’t know what Holy Name to chant.” He said, “Oh, you should come with me. We do it all the time.” That was it. Three days later I was shaved up and in the sankirtan van. That was at the end of 1973.

My first initiation was in 1974 with Dhananjaya performing the ceremony on behalf of Prabhupada. My second initiation occurred by listening to Srila Prabhupada’s voice on a tape recorder as he recited the Gayatri mantras. So, I didn’t receive either first initiation or second initiation from Srila Prabhupada personally. While serving Prabhupada, I traveled a lot to Germany, East Africa, Kenya, the UK, India, Scandinavia and finally to America, where I worked with the Bhaktivedanta Institute. When I was in the UK, I asked Prabhupada on a morning walk a question about sankirtan. At that time Hansadutta had introduced distribution of gramophone records. The devotees were selling those records out in the streets and making huge amounts of money. I asked Srila Prabhupada whether this was a good idea to sell gramophone records. He said, “Yes, but the people may not understand. They may take it as sense gratification, so better to distribute my books.” I think that was quite an important conversation because devotees were interested in that answer from Srila Prabhupada.

In Africa I had the most interaction with Prabhupada than anywhere else because there weren’t many devotees there at that time. I went on the morning walks with him a couple of times, and after class I would ask a question because I heard that he was happy when we asked intelligent questions. One time I asked about spiritual desires, and he said, “Why are you asking about spiritual desires when your heart is full of material desires?” Another time I asked, “If we are preaching to Christians and Muslims, should we read their literatures or scriptures?” He said, “Christians, have I ever said?” He turned to Brahmananda and Cyavana, who were both the GBCs at that time, and he asked them, “Have I ever talked about preaching to Christians?” “No, Srila Prabhupada.” Srila Prabhupada said, “No. We are preaching to human beings.” There was another time we were on a morning walk and I asked him how we should preach to the leaders. He said, “Yes, Prabhodananda Sarasvati has said you go to them with a straw in your mouth, even the first-class loafer class. Go with a straw in the mouth and very humbly you say, ‘My dear sir, I know you are a very learned person. You know everything. You are very educated. I just have one request. You please throw it all away and follow Lord Caitanya and chant Hare Krishna.’” When we got back to the temple and after the class that morning, I said, “Srila Prabhupada, you explained how to preach to the leaders. So how do you preach to the ordinary people here?” He said, “Yes, that we have explained.” He then repeated the exact same dialogue he had given about preaching to the leaders. Everyone laughed and he was also laughing. He really enjoyed that. Another time somebody suggested that I should buy a fruit farm. I didn’t have any money, but anyway, that person suggested that. So, I asked Srila Prabhupada how we should support ourselves. He said, “Begging, selling books. How else?” Then he explained that we should be self-sufficient. “You produce your own wheat, cotton, grains, beans, like this, and become free from… What do you call it? …‘Money civilization.’”

I was at the Bhaktivedanta Manor when Srila Prabhupada came for the last time in 1977. Bhakti Swarup Damodar, who was at that time a brahmacari, just arrived, and I was deputed to pick him up at the airport. He came from America through London to go to India to arrange for the Life Comes from Life Festival. When we got back to the temple, there was a message from Srila Prabhupada that Bhakti Swarup Damodar should go and see Prabhupada immediately. Prabhupada was adamant about emphasizing scientific preaching. The two of us entered Prabhupada’s room and as we were paying our obeisances, even before we got up, Prabhupada was preaching about how important this scientific preaching was. He said, “We are not animals that we deny education, but if you use your education to prove that God doesn’t exist, then that is a waste of time.” He said, “People are suffering so much because of the direction that material scientists have taken.” He was crying, and he was crying again and again, sarva-karana-karanam. When things had somewhat calmed down, Prabhupada asked Swarup Damodar, “So who is this?” Swarup Damodar said, “This is Jnana das, Srila Prabhupada. He is an Oxford scientist.” Prabhupada looked at me and asked, “So do you agree?” I said, “I agree, Srila Prabhupada.” I feel like he planted something in my heart at that moment.

After some time Srila Prabhupada returned to India. I also went to India to take part in the Life Comes from Life conference. When I saw Srila Prabhupada at that time in Vrindavan, I was really shocked. In the UK he was thin, but when he arrived back in India, he was like a skeleton. It was terrible. He was in the Krishna-Balaram Mandir for three or four months as we were preparing for the conference. We would enter Srila Prabhupada’s quarters while devotees were massaging his arms and legs. He could hardly move. Practically speaking, he was also physically blind. At one point I was very close to Prabhupada’s head as his head was pointing in the opposite direction. Then he turned his head over and he was looking right at me. Because of his poor sight he asked, “Who is this?” Someone said, “This is Jnana das, Srila Prabhupada. He is our Oxford scientist.” Prabhupada managed to say only, “Hmm.” And that was it. The first day of the conference arrived and Prabhupada was very worried. He sent over a bust of himself from one of his rooms at the Krishna-Balaram Mandir so that we would know that he was with us. All day he was asking, “How are they getting on? How are they getting on?” He was concerned because there were all sorts of Mayavadis and materialists attending the conference. Some devotees were making fun of us because we wore Western suits with ties and trousers. Somebody was about to say that we looked like Mormons, but Prabhupada cut in and said, “Yes, they look very elegant.” He was quite happy. After the first day’s conference, there was a message from Srila Prabhupada that we should come and see him straightaway. We didn’t have time to shower or change or anything. When we got into his room, Tamal Krishna said, “Srila Prabhupada, the scientists have come. They are dressed in suits.” [laughs] Prabhupada said, “Oh, bring them chairs,” because he knew it was difficult to sit on the floor with trousers. But there weren’t any chairs in the room. They did, however, find two chairs even though there were about seven of us. So, we just pretended to sit on chairs. Since Prabhupada couldn’t see very well at that time, and when he asked if we were sitting comfortably, we all said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada.” [chuckles] Then Prabhupada started preaching and telling us how important the scientific preaching was.

Srila Prabhupada had so much love for his devotees, and he had so much faith in them. Prabhupada was also very resolute. He knew what his mission was from the time he met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada back in 1922. He had so much inconceivable difficulty traveling to America. He came without resources of any kind, completely dependent on Krishna. He was alone in New York with practically no money, no friends, and no contacts. He was surrounded by a culture of enjoyment, drugs, sex and rock and roll, but he came to give something totally different. He told us that he was not one to be discouraged, and his devotees can confirm that he never gave up. That’s how much love he had for Krishna.

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