Ravi das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Ravi: Hansadutta encouraged me to travel, which was not something I was really enthusiastic to do. He learned that I had engineering ability, and he wanted me to fix the buses because he was going to take his traveling sankirtan party worldwide. We drove over land with a group of devotees who were predominantly German, including Sacinandana. My idea was that we would meet in Vrindavan where he was taking sannyasa, and I would take Harinam initiation. That was my master plan. We were late, however, as it is always a challenge to drive from Europe to India, and when we got there, Srila Prabhupada had left Vrindavan for Mayapur. We immediately started planning to go to Mayapur. I just couldn’t wait to see His Divine Grace as I had never seen Srila Prabhupada, and Mukunda had inspired me so enthusiastically. We drove the grand trunk road from Vrindavan to Mayapur, and as we got very close to Mayapur, one of the two buses broke down. I was the guy that fixed the buses, so I got out to fix the bus, and all of the other devotees jumped in the other bus and drove off. I finally fixed the bus, and then I realized that I didn’t know how to get to Mayapur. In frustration I just yelled out the window, “Please, which way to Mayapur?” Somehow by Lord Caitanya’s mercy I arrived in Mayapur, and I jumped out totally dirty and greasy from fixing the bus. I took a shower, put on tilak, and ran to the temple room. When I entered the temple room, Prabhupada had just finished the initiation ceremony and stood up. But that first encounter with the pure devotee, a mahabhagavata, was so profound that I knew at that time that this was the person who was going to guide me in my life. After about six months we came back to Vrindavan, and I was still Bhakta Steve, also known as Bhakta Bozo, and was still driving the bus. Hansadutta approached me and asked, “Why aren’t you surrendering to Prabhupada?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You know you’ve been in the movement more than a year now and you still haven’t taken initiation. What’s the problem?” I stammered looking for an answer and responded, “Well, you know we haven’t really been in a suitable situation, but I have been trying. He looked at me askance thinking, “There’s something you’re withholding.” Later that day a devotee called me and said, “Srila Prabhupada wants to see you.” I initially thought, “Have I made some mistake or faux pas, and is Prabhupada going to chastise me?” I walked into Srila Prabhupada’s room with some trepidation. Prabhupada was sitting behind his desk, and as I walked in, Prabhupada looked up and said, “Your name is Ravi das.” I was stunned. I simply stood there, mouth agape, and Hansadutta, who was standing next to Srila Prabhupada, said, “I think you should pay your obeisances, prabhu.” I suddenly came to my senses and paid obeisances, and as I sat up, Prabhupada was looking at me, and he could see this sort of puzzled look on my face. I said to Srila Prabhupada, “Is that it?” Prabhupada looked at me and said, “What more do you want?” I was thrown aback. Srila Prabhupada had accepted me as his disciple and suddenly I was asking him, “Is that enough?” I said, “But Prabhupada, I’ve seen other devotees and they have some yajna.” Prabhupada said, “That is mere formality.” As he pointed to his heart, he said, “Initiation takes place here, in the heart.” I then realized that I had already accepted Prabhupada as my spiritual master when I first saw him in Mayapur.

Wherever Srila Prabhupada went, many devotees, including me, wanted to go and be there with him. When Prabhupada went from Vrindavan to Delhi, I followed him there and had the opportunity to go on a morning walk. I had read that there is a more powerful mantra than the maha-mantra, which is the pancha-tattva mantra. Because Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityanada forgive all offenses, I should chant more of the pancha-tattva mantra. Then I thought that Srila Prabhupada is more merciful than Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda; therefore, I really should be chanting the name of Srila Prabhupada on my japa beads. This was my great idea. So, on the morning walk I tested the theory initially by asking Prabhupada about the spiritual master and the second offense. If it is offensive to consider the names of the demigods as equal to or greater than Krishna, what about the name of the spiritual master? Does that fall in the same category? Lokanatha Swami was there and Prabhupada encouraged Lokanatha to answer, but I was slightly dissatisfied. [laughs] I didn’t get the direct answer. Another opportunity came up and I asked Srila Prabhupada, “Is the panca-tattva mantra more powerful?” He said, “Yes,” so I responded, “But more merciful than Lord Caitanya is you, so can I chant your name in japa?” He said, “Have I asked you to do that?” I said, “No, Srila Prabhupada.” He said, “It is correct that the pancha-tattva mantra is more powerful, but Lord Caitanya has asked us to chant the maha-mantra, and therefore we chant the maha-mantra.” It is said that one should appear a fool before the spiritual master, and for some of us it’s slightly easier than others. My master plan to make rapid advancement by chanting Prabhupada’s name was thus quashed. Also, during that time there was a pandal program where different devotees started to chant Haribol a lot. It was sort of popular then that we chant Haribol in different ways during the kirtan. This particular kirtan was led by a sannyasi when Prabhupada interrupted him and said, “Stop the kirtan!” We all were a little stunned and thought, “What happened?” Then Prabhupada got Pradyumna’s son to lead the kirtan and he instructed him, “Just chant the maha-mantra.” At that point I realized, “Don’t deviate.” That was a very important lesson. Another time in Delhi I had the opportunity to be in Prabhupada’s room when he was having darshan with an Indian family and speaking in Hindi. In the midst of their Hindi conversation, Prabhupada said in English, “Turn the fan on.” I was thinking, “Was Prabhupada addressing that gentleman who was there with his wife and family?” I began to feel very uncomfortable because no one was turning the fan on and I was the only one there. I had heard the instruction, but I hadn’t acted upon it. Then in the middle of his sentence, Prabhupada turned and looked at me and said, “Why don’t you turn the fan on!?” It shocked me. I leapt up and ran to the back of the room. In India it seems like there are a million switches on the panel and I just hit everything. I turned the lights on, the fans on and everything else that was powered by those switches. Then I spent ages trying to figure out which switch controlled the fan that Prabhupada wanted turned on. My realization was that Prabhupada gives the same instructions to everyone, but just as Bhakisiddhanta told everyone to preach, only Prabhupada heard the instruction and acted upon it, and in this instance, I had heard his instruction, but I didn’t act upon it. I later reflected on that incident. When you hear an instruction from Prabhupada, he’s not just making casual conversation, but he’s giving you an instruction and expecting you to follow it. That was a vital lesson.

There came a time in Vrindavan when the buses could no longer stay in India due to some governmental regulation, so there was a concern about what service the devotees would do in India. We approached Srila Prabhupada with this problem and that’s when he came up with the idea of Padayatra. I was born in London and I’m not the sort of rural person that could appreciate that service. Prabhupada described Padayatra as a tradition where brahmacaris and sannyasis would walk everywhere from village to village. I wasn’t sure that I was cut out for that particular experience. I looked through the Bhagavatam to see how I could approach Prabhupada with a reason to get out of this Padayatra service. I found the verse: yad yad acarati sresthas [Bg. 3.21] “Whatever great people do, lesser people follow.” I thought, “Okay, this is my ticket.” In darshan I asked Prabhupada, “Prabhupada, you know this Padayatra? Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita: yad yad acarati sresthas, ‘Whatever great people do, lesser people follow.’ So why are we going to the villages? We won’t find the great people there.” Prabhupada shot back, “Who are these great people that you want to preach to?” I hadn’t thought it through. [laughs] I was thinking I would like to preach to life members or have sumptuous prasadam and be treated in a dignified manner, not wandering around the countryside on foot. So, I said, “People in the media, people in films, sportspeople, people on television. How about those people?” Prabhupada said, “These people are not great.” He said, “In Kali-yuga anybody that chants Hare Krishna is great and those people you will find in the villages.” As if he could read my mind and my concerns, he said, “But don’t worry, Lokanatha is a village boy and he will look after you. We will meet in Kumbha-mela and review.” The lesson I took from that experience was realizing Prabhupada’s wonderful caring nature. He could see I was concerned and that I wanted to bail. Maybe I should take the bus and leave, or go back to Europe. Instead I sort of tacitly agreed that I would go. In the evening time later on, Prabhupada was lecturing in the courtyard of Vrindavan under the Tamal tree and lecturing in Hindi to the local people. After about two or three days listening to Prabhupada lecturing in Hindi, some of the non-Hindi speaking devotees started to think, “I could be washing my dhoti. I could be taking some extra rest—or whatever.” They were thinking, “I’ve got better things to do since I can’t understand what’s being said.” After three or four days, there were only two or three western devotees coming, and Prabhupada looked around and he asked, “Where are the devotees?” I thought, “I’m not going to say anything,” but some very brave devotee said, “Prabhupada, you are lecturing in Hindi and we can’t understand.” Prabhupada said, “You do not understand when I speak in English.” [laughs] Then he said, “The devotees should come every evening. It is very important that you hear from the spiritual master.” Again, this was another great lesson. If you understand or don’t understand, it is essential to always hear directly from the spiritual master. I had another experience much later when we were going back to get books from the Mumbai temple. We went to see Srila Prabhupada and he was inquiring, “What books are you distributing?” We said, “We are distributing Beyond Birth and Death written in Marathi, Bhagavata-darsana written in Hindi, and Marathi Back to Godhead magazines.” We were in Prabhupada’s room and Prabhupada said to Lokanatha, “Will you read me some?” Because Lokanatha was from Maharashtra, he speaks Marathi. He read a few pages and he asked Prabhupada, “Do you speak Marathi? Do you understand Marathi?” Prabhupada said, “No, but it is always nice to hear about Krishna.” Prabhupada was so eager to hear about Krishna that it didn’t matter whether he understood or not, as it was Krishna’s pastimes.

At one point during our Padayatra sankirtan, Lokanatha Swami said we needed a bullock cart to carry the Deities, the books and our equipment. So, he told me to go back to Vrindavan to deliver a letter to Srila Prabhupada via his secretary. He said that if Prabhupada doesn’t call you in a couple of days, then go to the darshan and hand it directly into Prabhupada’s hand. Lokanatha emphasized, “And come back with a bullock cart.” He said, “Because Srila Prabhupada may offer to give you books, but that will take us ten years to raise enough money for a cart.” So, he said, “Don’t come back with books. Come back with a cart!” I journeyed back to Vrindavan and dutifully went to Prabhupada’s room and gave the letter to his secretary and waited. After several days of not hearing from Prabhupada, I delivered it directly to him during an evening darshan. I said, “This is a letter from Lokanatha Swami.” Prabhupada said, “Okay.” The next morning, Prabhupada called me into his room and he said, “I have received the letter from Lokanatha Swami regarding the bullock cart. We will release books from the BBT, distribute these books, and then you can raise the money to buy the cart.” And then I was stuck between a bit of a rock and a hard place because I was going to have to disagree with Prabhupada and tell him that we couldn’t take the books. I said, “Prabhupada, that won’t work.” He said, “Why not?” I said, “Well, in the villages when we distribute a book, that book is passed around the village, so sometimes we distribute one book in the village and all of the other activities in the village are done by bartering.” Prabhupada said, “That is correct.” I was slightly relieved. Then he said, “I will give you the money from my personal account, but you have to pay it back without interest.” And then Prabhupada said, “And when you get the cart, don’t get the cart with wooden wheels. Get it with inflatable tires because that is not subject to road taxation.” I realized Srila Prabhupada was brilliant not only in spiritual matters but practical material matters as well.

When we were preparing to launch the Padayatra program, we decided that we would have to try and get Prabhupada’s blessings in different ways. We went around trying to raise money for some sort of offering to Prabhupada so that he would give us some mercy. We collected about fifty rupees, but we didn’t know what to spend it on. One devotee suggested a traditional offering of a coconut specific to South India. Some of our Indian boys were really expert in collecting the coconuts and they would cut them in beautiful ways. We got a plate from the Krishna-Balaram pujari’s room for the coconuts and gur, which is pretty much all we could afford at the time. We went into Prabhupada’s room and said, “Srila Prabhupada, this is an offering so that you’ll give us your blessings.” Prabhupada looked at the coconut and said, “Very nice.” He said, “But I do not have the teeth.” [laughs] He said, “But you can distribute it as prasadam.” I realized at that time how simple and humble Srila Prabhupada was. We were also thrilled that he blessed the prasadam, but then we realized that maybe we should have come up with something maybe slightly softer than coconuts. [laughs]

Eventually our bullock cart party arrived in Mayapur. Very enthusiastically we ran up to Prabhupada’s room to tell him that we had arrived, and when we got there, we were blocked by Prabhupada’s secretary, Hari Sauri. He said, “Prabhupada’s not available. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.” We were slightly disappointed and then Prabhupada came out and said, “Who’s arrived?” Hari Sauri said, “Oh, it’s the Padayatra.” Prabhupada said, “Bring them into my darshan room.” We were in ecstasy, so we all piled in and Prabhupada was again inquiring, “How was it?” We related different experiences that we’d had on Padayatra, where some people were very inviting and sometimes they were less inviting. Prabhupada told Hari Sauri, “Bring the milk sweets from New Vrindavan.” We had been on Padayatra for a long time, living on kitri, [laughs] and suddenly we got these milk sweets from New Vrindavan. From that we knew Prabhupada was so pleased with the bullock cart party.

While we were on sankirtan distributing books, occasionally our inventory of books would get low and we’d have to go back to one of the temples to get stocked up. Often we would go back and pick up books when Srila Prabhupada was there. So, double bonus, we’d get books and we’d see Srila Prabhupada. Once I returned to Bombay to get more books and this time Prabhupada was there. In the evening time Prabhupada would sit on the roof and give evening darshan. One evening a gentleman came and said, “I’d like to sponsor you for Kumbha-mela.” I thought, "Wow," because this way someone who knows what they’re doing can provide the tents, prasadam, and all the hard work so we can go there and just do Harinam and distribute books. Srila Prabhupada said, “Oh, what would be the benefit for you?” Prabhupada immediately realized this offer came with some strings attached, and Prabhupada knew that people got cachet from associating with us. The gentleman said to Prabhupada, “We just want to facilitate you at Kumbha-mela.” Prabhupada replied, “What is the philosophy of your group?” This elderly gentleman, probably in his sixties, said, “I’ve been a lifelong member of the Brahma Samaja.” Prabhupada said, “Oh, so tell us what is your philosophy?” Then this man starting spouting the impersonal message that we merge into Krishna. Then I saw Prabhupada do something that I realized I couldn’t do at all, probably ever. Prabhupada presented the personal philosophy in such a way that I felt sorry for this gentleman because his lifelong following of the Brahma Samaja had just been demolished as Prabhupada pointed out the fallacy of the impersonal path. Prabhupada said, “No. Krishna is a person and you are also always a person.” And this gentleman just sat there humbly listening to Prabhupada’s presentation. I realized if I tried to say anything to this elderly gentleman like, “No, your philosophy is wrong,” we would have gotten into an argument. But somehow Prabhupada totally convinced this person that his lifelong following was completely misguided and that he should take to the process of Krishna consciousness. I was just absolutely in awe of that ability and I realized it was because Prabhupada didn’t have a false ego. His presentation of Krishna consciousness was so beautiful and pure that anyone would accept it.

When I went to Vrindavan again, Srila Prabhupada was there. He would come out from his room, where the devotees gathered waiting for him, and then everyone would circumambulate the temple with Prabhupada before he would go in for darshan of the Deities and then guru-puja. This one morning, however, I was the only one greeting Prabhupada as he came out from his quarters to walk around the temple. I presumed everyone else was doing their service and couldn’t be there. Prabhupada came out and he looked around and it was just me. He didn’t say anything at that time but just went to do his parikrama. I was following behind doing my little kirtan, and when we got to the front of the temple, Prabhupada turned around and said, “Where are the devotees?” I said, “I don’t know, Srila Prabhupada. They must be doing some service or something.” Prabhupada said, “Where is Gunarnava?” who was the temple president at the time. I said, “I’ll go and get him,” and I dashed towards the devotees who were gathering outside Prabhupada’s room. Gunarnava was there, so I said, “Prabhupada is at the front.” He said, “What’s he doing there?” I said, “He came out early.” We all hurried toward Prabhupada, and when Gunarnava came, Prabhupada asked him about some storage units made with corrugated tin that were next to a fountain in front of the temple. Prabhupada said, “What is in these?” Gunarnava said, “I think there is cement in there.” They were padlocked and Prabhupada said, “Open the door.” Gunarnava didn’t have the key, so he quickly went to get the key, came back, and then unlocked the door. Prabhupada looked inside, which was very small, and then he came out and said, “This is where I will have my samadhi.” I was thinking, “Wow, in a hundred years’ time there is going to be a samadhi here for Prabhupada.” About a year later I was able to be in Vrindavan again in Prabhupada’s room during Prabhupada’s final moments with us. Baradraj was performing a kirtan, but it was not the usual kirtan where one person was leading and everyone else followed in response. It was just everyone chanting simultaneously, and I got this overwhelming impression that the Holy Name was carrying Srila Prabhupada back to Krishna. The room was full of devotees and the only space in the room was Prabhupada’s bed. It was so overwhelming, and the impression that came to mind was that perhaps if I looked up I might see the Holy Name penetrating the coverings of the universe and see Goloka Vrindavan. But then Prabhupada left and, of course, where Prabhupada said the samadhi should be, that is where the samadhi was and is. At that point I was ordered to go off and get Narayan Maharaj, whom Prabhupada had asked to oversee the arrangements of the spiritual master entering samadhi. Prabhupada was brought out and he was placed on his palanquin and took darhsan of the Deities and then was placed on the vyasasan. I thought Prabhupada was going to amaze us all by demonstrating that he is transcendental to the body and that he could open his eyes and carry on. It was reluctance in me to accept that I might not have the opportunity to be with him again. When Srila Prabhupada’s sister, Pishima, came, she offered a rose to Prabhupada, and at that time it hit me. She was saying goodbye to her brother, and I knew then that this would be the last time we were going to participate in Prabhupada’s earthly pastimes.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 68 - Manjuali dd, Ravi, Tamohara, Basu Ghosh

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