I believe it was around 1972 or 1973 when I learned about video recording. I came to New York City on the behest of Rupanuga prabhu, who wanted me to get into booking engagements in schools as well as working with the media and public relations. I learned about cable TV and thought, “Okay, it would be a fantastic thing to get Krishna consciousness on cable TV.” I got a very generous contribution from my mother to buy a reel-to-reel tape deck and camera so I could video Srila Prabhupada giving class. After recording the first class, I lugged a big television monitor into Prabhupada’s room. Prabhupada came, sat at his desk, and began watching himself on TV. This was the same morning it was recorded and he was seeing himself! What really struck me was when towards the end of the video Srila Prabhupada had taken over leading the kirtan, and now he was sitting there watching himself and he began to clap along with the kirtan. [makes clapping sound with his hands] I got the sense that he was not like you or me who would be thinking, “Oh, that’s me.” He was hearing the kirtan and he was appreciating the kirtan. That was very moving to me. My sense was that Srila Prabhupada really saw Krishna in His Holy Name, and he really got to experience Krishna in a way that just pulled him in. He could appreciate Krishna’s Holy Name, whereas we might be looking more at the video and its technical aspects. For Prabhupada, however, it was just the Holy Name.
I was living in New York for the first five years of my devotional life. At one point I became responsible for the fundraising for ISKCON Food Relief. I began to develop a strategy to raise money from corporations. I thought these businesses wouldn’t relate to Krishna, so I came up with an idea to make a letterhead that just said “ISKCON.” I actually rented an address on 51st Street in Manhattan and installed a telephone. I did make some appointments, but I didn’t actually raise any money. When Srila Prabhupada visited New York a few months later, Brahmananda came up the stairs to my office and said, “Srila Prabhupada wants to see you.” I sensed that there was
something going on. I went down and entered Prabhupada’s room and that letterhead was on Prabhupada’s table. He looked at me and said, “You have done this?” I said, “Yes.” “So where is ‘International Society for Krishna Consciousness’ and ‘Founder-Acharya?’” I don’t know if I even tried to explain. [laughs] All I remember is, “So you won’t do this again?” I of course said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada,” and I’ve never done it again. Since then I’ve always told people about that incident because it was a lesson about the importance of always associating ISKCON with its full name, International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Wherever practical and possible we should recognize Srila Prabhupada as the Founder-Acharya. That was a good lesson.
At one class Prabhupada gave in New York, Bali Mardan put his chaddar down on the floor and placed his Srimad-Bhagavatam on the chaddar. Srila Prabhupada looked over to him and said, “Pick it up.” He said, “Keep it on your lap.” This is something that I find myself constantly pointing out to new devotees when they have a book in the temple or anywhere, “Don’t put it on the floor.” It’s interesting how these little lessons stick with us over the years and they become part of what we have to pass on. It’s important to teach others these small instructions here and there that form that big body of vani.
In New York 1974 part of my service was preaching in colleges. There was one very favorable professor at Fordham University who had this idea to do a course on the Bhagavad-gita for credit. He used to bring his students to the temple and he suggested that I should teach the course, but it would officially be his class so his students could receive credit from the college. I agreed and taught the course dressed in a suit. [laughs] I wrote to Srila Prabhupada to explain what had transpired. He wrote me back and it’s the one letter I received from Prabhupada that I truly treasure. He said, “You should make a newsletter and inform all the centers that they can try to do the same thing.” In other words, find a favorable professor who can give credit to his students but the devotee would teach the course. The other message in the letter to me was that if we can somehow or other package Krishna consciousness in new ways, like old wine in a new bottle, that can be successful preaching. That instruction has been one of my guiding lights in whatever I have tried to do.
In my relationship with Srila Prabhupada, his gravity was prominent. His seriousness about the mission of Krishna consciousness was everything. There was nothing trivial about Srila Prabhupada. He could be humorous, he could take things lightly, but even when he took things lightly, everything was meaningful. There was meaning in everything. In the way he held his hands there was meaning. In the way he looked at you there was meaning. That’s what has stuck with me all these years.