Just after Ratha-yatra around September of 1972, I was at a lecture that Srila Prabhupada was giving at an indoor auditorium, the House of Flowers. Prabhupada was on a stage speaking to about twelve hundred people while Bhutatma fanned him with a peacock fan that had a handle more then twelve feet long. I was trying to listen carefully, but at first it was hard to understand what Srila Prabhupada was saying. Toward the end, when he was answering questions, one young man stood up and said, “Swamiji, according to the teaching of Bahai—” Srila Prabhupada interrupted and said, “We are not talking here of Bahai. We are talking of Krishna.” The young man said, “Well, soand- so says—”, and Prabhupada immediately interrupted him again. “We are talking here of what Krishna says.” And then the young man tried again, “Well, the Bahai faith—” Prabhupada said, “Please sit down and be quiet. We are speaking only what Krishna says.” Previously I, like so many others, was looking for a spiritual master. I had been through TM, Autobiography of a Yogi, Baba Ram Das, and others, and I had seen how bogus yogis put everything together as one. I was never attracted. When I heard Prabhupada be so decisive, strict, and forceful, I immediately thought, “This is my guru. I want to take initiation from this spiritual master.” And I joined some time later.
In Vrindavan in 1976, Gopavrindapal Prabhu asked me to guard Srila Prabhupada’s door, which was a great honor. I never thought that Srila Prabhupada would come out and say anything or have a conversation. I wasn’t a big gun, a GBC person or a decision-maker, but a rank-and-file devotee. Srila Prabhupada was in his room when it was time for the devotees to go to Fogal Ashram for lunch prasadam. I was sitting on the porch. I didn’t know what Prabhupada’s rooms were like at that time. Neither did I know if any other servants were there. All of a sudden a buzzer rang from inside the room. I kept on reading the Seventh Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. I thought, “This is wonderful. I am in Vrindavan. I am reading the Bhagavatam. Prabhupada’s in his room. He just rang the buzzer. Some servant from somewhere is going to take care of it. Everything’s so wonderful in Vrindavan.” Within a few seconds, Srila Prabhupada was at the screen door. I immediately offered my obeisances. Prabhupada said, “I am an old man, and I am ringing, and you are a young man, and I must come to you?” I said, “Prabhupada, I had no idea.” I tried to explain that I was new to the job. Prabhupada said, “I am the spiritual master, and you are the disciple, and I must come to you?” Again I couldn’t say anything. I was dumbstruck. Prabhupada said, “I am the master, and you are the servants, and there are six of you.” I didn’t understand what Prabhupada was talking about. There were six of us? “And I must come to you?” Then Prabhupada said, “Go get Pusta Krishna,” and went back in his room. My adrenaline was flowing. This was one of my first face-to-face encounters with Srila Prabhupada, and I had blown it. I was immediately ready to get Pusta Krishna Maharaj at the Fogal Ashram, but I thought that if I left my post as guard, something could happen, and I’d be responsible. So I waited for a devotee to come by, and I yelled, “Please come quickly, we’ve got to get Pusta Krishna. Prabhupada needs him.” Unfortunately this devotee only spoke Spanish. The buzzer rang again. I ran into Srila Prabhupada’s quarters. I’d never been inside before. As I offered my obeisances Prabhupada said, “Where is Pusta Krishna?” I stood up before I finished my obeisances because I didn’t want Prabhupada to have to wait for my answer. I felt foolish. I didn’t know what to do, which way to go, what to say. I told Prabhupada, “Srila Prabhupada, he’s at the Fogal Ashram taking prasadam.” Prabhupada said, “Go in the back and get one of the other servants.” There were two doorways, one to the back of Prabhupada’s rooms in Vrindavan, and one to the servants’ quarters. Unfortunately, I entered the servants’ quarters, and Srila Prabhupada said, “No, the other door.” I realized then that one should feel like a fool in front of his spiritual master, but one shouldn’t act like a fool before the spiritual master. Hari Sauri was in the back, doing some service for Srila Prabhupada. I told him, “Srila Prabhupada needs you immediately. You’ve got to come quickly. It’s an emergency.” He said, “Okay, go around to the front and keep guarding, and I will tell you what to do. I’ll go talk to Srila Prabhupada.” So I went back to my post and continued reading the Seventh Canto of the Srimad- Bhagavatam. But by this time I couldn’t read a word. I was looking at the pages, but my mind was reeling in complete anxiety because I hadn’t pleased my spiritual master. I had an opportunity for service, but I’d blown it. When Pusta Krishna Maharaj came back we found out that Prabhupada wanted to go to Bhagaji’s across the way for lunch prasadam. It wasn’t as big of an emergency as I had thought, although Srila Prabhupada needed arrangements to be made. Pusta Krishna Maharaj told me to hold a big umbrella with a threefoot pole over Srila Prabhupada’s head and walk Srila Prabhupada over to Bhagaji’s house. As I was getting ready to do that, a kirtan started, and two senior sannyasis, Gurukripa Maharaj and Yasodanandana Swami, came and asked me, “What are you doing?” I said, “Srila Prabhupada is coming, and I am going to put the umbrella over his head and walk him to Bhagaji’s.” They immediately took the umbrella from my hands and prepared to perform that service, which was only appropriate as I was a brahmachari. I started walking down the stairs to join in the kirtan, when I realized that by Krishna’s arrangement there was nothing I could do to please my spiritual master. I had just blown a great opportunity. I was crying. At that time Srila Prabhupada came out. Crying, I offered dandavats on the stairs. My mind was reeling. I thought, “Prabhupada, please forgive me. I’m so sorry that I offended you or didn’t know how to act properly.” As I stood up with folded hands, Srila Prabhupada looked over and said, “Jaya!” to me. At that moment all the anxiety, fear, and tears were washed away. I became completely joyous because I knew that Srila Prabhupada knew my heart. He knew my intentions, and he forgave me for whatever offense I’d committed. Then Srila Prabhupada went on to Bhagaji’s, and I was in ecstasy, at least for the rest of that day.
On the walk Srila Prabhupada asked Lokanath Maharaj what type of berries were growing on the side of the road. Lokanath Maharaj told Prabhupada what the berries were called and said that great yogis and sannyasis perform meditation and subsist only on these types of berries. Prabhupada said, “Yes, our men should learn how to do like this. Chant Hare Krishna, eat a few berries, and once in a week go down to the village and beg a chapati from the village.” The devotees were looking at each other, because sometimes Srila Prabhupada would give instructions that would change everyone’s life forever, like, “Go to China” or who knows what. So a few of us said, “Prabhupada, we have to preach, we have to perform our activities.” Prabhupada said, “No, you should learn to do this. Chant Hare Krishna, eat a few berries, sit in the forest, and once a week go down to the village and beg some chapati.” All the devotees were silent, thinking, “My God, we may have to do this.” Only Lokanath Maharaj was happy, as he was naturally austere. Then Prabhupada said, “This is saintly. This is the life of a sadhu.” That was a significant little pastime with Lokanath Maharaj and Srila Prabhupada.
In 1976, Tripurari Maharaj and I were in the front row of Srila Prabhupada’s small room in Mayapur when he was speaking in Hindi. Mahabuddhi Prabhu was at the door instructing people to come in, have Prabhupada’s darshan, and then go out. At one point, a devotee brought a very large plate of sweets and gave it to Mahabuddhi. Srila Prabhupada stopped his darshan and asked Mahabuddhi, “Why don’t you distribute the sweets?” Mahabuddhi responded, “Srila Prabhupada, I will distribute the sweets as the devotees leave.” Prabhupada was sitting with one knee up. He looked around and said, “Leave? They will never leave.” Everybody in the audience exclaimed, “Jaya, Prabhupada!” We all thought that Prabhupada was blessing us. Of course, he was also making a joke.
In New Vrindavan in the summer of 1976, we were in a darshan with Srila Prabhupada when he was answering questions from Bhavan’s Journal. Prabhupada was sitting outdoors at one householder’s place, and his talks later became the book Civilization and Transcendence. During this time Srila Prabhupada had told the devotees to study his books very carefully and to know his books like a lawyer knows the law books. At one point in the darshan, Srila Prabhupada said, “Go find that verse.” It was a verse from the Seventh Canto, which had just come out. The devotees didn’t know many of those verses. The sannyasis, Drishtadyumna Maharaj and Kirtanananda Swami, were feverishly going through the books, because they knew that Srila Prabhupada became a little disturbed when the devotees couldn’t find the verses properly. Unfortunately, even after three or four minutes they couldn’t find that verse. Srila Prabhupada said, “Give me the book.” He opened the book, nonchalantly found the verse on the page that he opened the book at, and handed it to his servant to read. His servant read the exact verse that Srila Prabhupada had quoted. We were amazed. The place was not marked. Prabhupada simply took the book, opened it, and it was right there. It was Srila Prabhupada’s transcendental magic. In unison everyone said, “Jaya, Prabhupada!” Prabhupada smiled, put his head back, and said, “Accha.”
Sometimes all the other servants would leave and I would be left fanning Srila Prabhupada. Once I thought, “How is it that the spiritual master is sleeping? The sastra says that the spiritual master never sleeps.” I was speculating and perhaps bothering Srila Prabhupada on a psychic level. Prabhupada was sitting cross-legged on his bed on the outer veranda outside his upstairs room in Vrindavan. He was seemingly snoring in deep sleep. His lip was moving back and forth. I thought, “Prabhupada’s snoring, he’s sleeping, but the spiritual master never sleeps.” Right in the middle of my nonsense thought, Srila Prabhupada said, “What time is?” He was completely clear and attentive. I realized then that Srila Prabhupada knew exactly what I was thinking and wanted to destroy that thought. I said, “8:33, Srila Prabhupada.” I immediately thought, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare.” I realized that I shouldn’t think of anything in front of my spiritual master except Krishna conscious thoughts. My focus should be on love and devotion and the maha-mantra, the chanting of Hare Krishna.
In those days I was a sankirtan devotee, and we were told, “Don’t bother Srila Prabhupada. He’s busy translating and traveling. If you have any questions or problems, talk to your local GBC or to the sannyasis. In April of 1974, after we were initiated, we were doing sankirtan at the Spokane World’s Fair. There were many sankirtan devotees who were distributing books there. The temple president had written a letter to Srila Prabhupada inviting him to speak at the World’s Fair, and from the sankirtan side we had written a letter giving Srila Prabhupada information of how many books were being distributed and how the sankirtan was going at that time. This was the only letter we ever wrote to Srila Prabhupada, and Srila Prabhupada responded by letter a few weeks later. To the invitation of the temple president, he wrote, “If you simply distribute my books, distribute prasadam, and have harinam, it will be as good as my personally being there.” To our letter Prabhupada responded in a way that we’ve never forgotten. We were waiting to hear some kind of direct instruction like this. Prabhupada wrote that, “I am very keen on the distribution of my books, and I am ever indebted to all of you for your untiring efforts to see that every man and woman in the United States gets a book.”
A mataji asked Srila Prabhupada a question about women book distributors being aggressive. Srila Prabhupada said, “We can be a lion on the chase and a lamb at home.” Around that time, Jayatirtha showed Srila Prabhupada a famous cartoon that was in the Chicago Sun Times. In the first frame of the cartoon a devotee approaches a passenger at the airport with a Srimad-Bhagavatam. The second frame shows the passenger refusing the book. In the third frame, there was a scuffle, “Pow, bam, kaboom!” In the last frame, the Bhagavatam is down the traveler’s neck, and the devotee is walking away counting money. We were afraid that Srila Prabhupada would find this offensive. We thought this caricature of the devotees’ zealous distribution would upset Prabhupada. But on the contrary, Srila Prabhupada laughed and seemed to be amused and pleased with the cartoon.
We had the fortune of being present when Srila Prabhupada heard his secretary read the letters that he had received that day. There were a few letters that were outstanding. One letter discussed the preaching activities of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples in Yugoslavia. It had a description of how the people received prasadam, heard harinam, and bought books. They would leave with their hands full of books, their stomachs full of prasadam, and their purses empty. Srila Prabhupada responded, “This is my program: Hands full, stomachs full, and purses empty. When I hear the stories of their preaching, I forget about my diseased condition. It makes me feel very happy.” Another time, a letter described different achievements that were taking place, like a restaurant opening in South Africa, another activity that was going on, and so forth. Srila Prabhupada said, “When I hear the achievements of my disciples, my chest swells with pride for them.” So there were little statements that Srila Prabhupada made that rang through and will ring through, I am sure, for decades and centuries.