Tamohara das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Tamohara: An interesting incident was when our Bhaktivedanta Institute scholars, including Bhakti Swarupa Damodar brahmacari, came to give a presentation to Prabhupada. They were presenting some of the concepts that they were putting in their book, Life Comes from Life. They wanted to get Srila Prabhupada’s seal of approval so they could continue to publish the book. At one point, Swarupa Damodar was talking about the difference between life and matter. He said, “Things that are not living or dead, such as rocks or stones…” Prabhupada immediately stopped him by saying, “Oh, stones can be alive.” Everyone had to stop and take that in. We hadn’t heard anything like that before, and I could see that the scientists were busy trying to redo that part of the presentation. I thought, “What does Prabhupada mean?” Prabhupada later went on to explain how all living entities go through the different stages of life from birth, transformation, by-products, dwindling and death. He said, “You see a mountain goes through all these processes; it grows, it stops, etc.” Someone asked, “What about a crystal?” Prabhupada said, “Yes, a crystal you can see it’s growing.” And he gave examples like this. There was still a little confusion about that because some said, “Well, when you see a rock and pick it up, a rock doesn't seem to be alive.” Prabhupada said, “No, it is dead now. When you go into a forest, a tree is alive, but in time it falls and dies. You see the log and it’s decomposing. It was alive, but now it’s dead. In the same way many of these stones or mountains or rocks were alive and now they are not.” It actually made perfect sense, but it was very different from our conception, and so Prabhupada in this way was always giving us this very new and fresh information and knowledge. Ravi: 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.

Prabhupada came to Potomac, Maryland, in 1976, and at that time he showed his attention to detail. We had remodeled his bathroom completely because apparently in his last stop the toilet didn’t work properly. So, he said, “Are you sure everything works?” We said, “Absolutely Prabhupada. It’s a brand-new bathroom.” He said, “Hmm. We will see.” [laughs] He was a little bit incredulous, so the first thing he did was ask for some chapati dough. He took the dough, rolled it in a ball, and put it in the toilet. He then flushed the toilet to make sure the dough went down to confirm the toilet was working properly. It did and he was satisfied. However, about two days later the glass shower door fell out and broke to the ground. Fortunately, Prabhupada wasn’t in it and there was no harm, but Prabhupada’s apprehension about our new bathroom was well-founded.

We were walking with Prabhupada near the temple and there was a large transformer with a little tiny red light about sixty feet up that was blinking. Prabhupada looked up and said, “What is that red light?” We said, “We don’t know.” Prabhupada said, “You should find out.” Well, we forgot all about that as we were preparing for our Janmastami program. We were running extra lights everywhere and using a lot of electricity. Sure enough, the entire transformer blew up and everything went dark. Somehow or other Prabhupada had some cognition that there was a problem that completely escaped us. These were the kind of things that we always found with Srila Prabhupada, that he seemed to have this kind of attention to detail. He was also very attentive to our management. There are of course many stories of Prabhupada about how he accounted for every penny in his journals. Around the time we were preparing for Prabhupada to arrive, the temple president had spent tens of thousands of dollars that actually put us in debt and it took us months to pay it off. When Srila Prabhupada sat down on his vyasasan, he looked up at these beautiful chandeliers in the Potomac temple room. Prabhupada said to the temple president, “How much did those chandeliers cost?” The president said, “$5,000, Srila Prabhupada.” Prabhupada said, “Hmm.” He said, “Be very careful how you spend Krishna's money.” This was obviously an instruction for all of us to be very careful in spending money and to do things in a very practical way.

One of the amazing things about Srila Prabhupada was how he was always providing new insight, fresh information and new experiences for the devotees. In Miami 1974 he was giving Bhagavad-gita classes at night under the banyan tree in Coconut Grove. At one point he was talking about devotees coming to Krishna consciousness. Prabhupada said, “Actually all of you came because of prasadam.” Everyone laughed and was very amused by that, and he turned to the temple president, Abhirama das, who was a very intelligent and cultured individual, and said, “You too, you also came because of prasadam.” Abhirama had to agree. So that gave us actually a little humility as well as insight about the power of prasadam. During that same evening Srila Prabhupada was taking questions, and a young man, who had recently been coming to the temple but was a little disturbed, said to Prabhupada in an almost challenging way, “Why do we have to follow the regulative principles?” There was a hush in the crowd. We all wondered how Prabhupada was going to answer this? Prabhupada sat back for a moment and then he roared, “To keep you from going to hell!” It was so forceful that the young man almost jumped back two or three feet. The force of Prabhupada’s energy was incredible and the young man was stunned. Now of course we all should take that to heart and realize that Prabhupada’s comment was not just directed to this young man, but because of all our sinful activities in the past, Prabhupada had indeed saved us from going to hell.

When it was the Fourth of July, there was a huge firework celebration downtown at what they call the “Mall” in Washington, DC. Prabhupada heard about this and he said, “Let’s go.” We were all very surprised but happy that we would all go on a little trip with Srila Prabhupada. We were not aware that another five hundred thousand or a million other people would also attend the event. This whole troop of devotees headed across the Washington Parkway that goes over the Potomac River. Along the way, thousands of people were lined up along the Parkway to see the fireworks. The traffic was fairly slow due to the crowds so many people heard the kirtan from the open windows of our sankirtan van. A lot of the people were intoxicated at that point since it was a holiday weekend, but a lot of them were chanting Hare Krishna along with us, and in some cases almost making fun of it. We finally got down to the fireworks where Prabhupada was sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and the fireworks were down at the other end of the Mall. Prabhupada saw one or two go off and said, “Okay, that’s enough. Let’s go.” [laughs] He wasn’t that impressed, so we all came back. Later Srila Prabhupada said, “The best part was when the kirtan party was chanting and all those young people were chanting ‘Hare Krishna.’” He said, “Even if they were chanting in jest or making fun of the chanting, it does not matter.” He said, “They were hearing and chanting the Holy Name and their spiritual life has begun.” So that was very instructive to understand the power of the Holy Name and taking kirtan to the street.

July of 1976 was the ten-year anniversary of the founding and incorporation of ISKCON. In celebration of that day, we baked a big cake and presented it to Srila Prabhupada. We handed him a knife, and he looked at it a little bewildered as if to say, “What am I supposed to do?” Of course, in America the custom is that the guest of honor cuts the first piece of the cake. From a Vaishnava or Vedic perspective, to ask your spiritual master to cut the cake and serve it to you, as if he is your disciple, is completely wrong. Prabhupada probably had no idea of this American custom, so somebody explained to him that he should cut the first piece, and Prabhupada did not lecture us on how this was inappropriate. He smiled and he graciously accepted our cultural customs, cut the piece of cake, and then handed the knife to another disciple to continue. Prabhupada was always gracious and encouraging like that.

Another way that Srila Prabhupada was very encouraging to his disciples was often the way that he would treat us. One time my wife, who had previously made ice cream for Srila Prabhupada that he seemed to enjoy, wanted to make it again for him when he came to Potomac. I went out and bought the ingredients for her, and when I brought it to him one evening, the servants said, “Oh, he’s just had ice cream.” The devotees from New Vrindavan had shipped this ice cream in dry ice from New Vrindavan. I said, “Oh, my gosh. I’m not going to be able to compete with this. There goes my ice cream offering.” But Prabhupada heard there was more ice cream and he said, “What flavor?” I said, “Mango.” Prabhupada said, “Oh, bring it.” We were intelligent enough to know that Prabhupada liked mango very much, so Prabhupada tasted the ice cream and said, “This is very good. This is the best.” He said, “This is better than Bengali ice cream.” I don’t know what that means, what kind of ice cream they have in Bengal, but I took it as a compliment, and he said, “Bring it every night.” And of course, that was an instruction I was very happy to carry out. When we were in Miami in 1974, all the devotees were out on sankirtan and Prabhupada was pretty much there alone, except for some of the women and children. So, my wife came to Prabhupada’s room and she brought our daughter, Gopinath. She had made a nice picture of Krishna when she was in the gurukula. It was a picture made by a five-year-old child, nothing special, but she was a pretty good artist. When they entered Prabhupada’s room, he said, “Who is this?” My wife said, “This is my daughter,” and he said, “Who are you?” She said, “I’m her mother.” My wife later said to me, “Why didn’t I even think to give Prabhupada my name? I just said I’m her mother.” [laughs] In any case, she gave the drawing to Srila Prabhupada. He looked at it very solemnly and said, “Very great art. Very great art.” You can imagine how encouraging that was. I also remember him in San Francisco during the time of the famous Ratha-yatra when Srila Prabhupada got down from the cart and began dancing. During one lecture at the temple, my wife was with our other daughter, Lalita, and one of the other children who started crying and making noise. The sannyasis said, “All the women have to go out. You have to leave the temple.” My wife was of course devastated not being able to hear her spiritual master give class. But at the end of class, as often the devotees did, they brought Srila Prabhupada cookies to hand out. He called for the children, the doors opened, and he asked for all the women and children to come in. The sannyasis had to step aside as all the kids came up and Prabhupada gave them cookies. My daughter, Lalita, Lalita Saki now, was about six months old and so she had a little trouble reaching for the cookie. Prabhupada very carefully put it in her hand so that she could have that cookie. This was, of course, so pleasing to the mothers because they saw that here was a moment when the mothers and their children got some special attention from Srila Prabhupada. Again, this is another example of Prabhupada’s great kindness. There was one very special experience with Lalita in Miami when she was about two years old. Prabhupada was taking a tour of the property, and most of the men were out on sankirtan, so a lot of the women were left to tag along on the tour. Lalita, of course, had always seen pictures of Prabhupada, but here somehow, she put it together in her little mind that this was really Prabhupada and not just a picture. She kept saying during the whole time, pointing and saying, “Prabhupada, Prabhupada,” amazed it really was Prabhupada. At the end of the tour, Prabhupada was walking up the steps of the porch to where he was staying, and he turned around and said, “Who was that baby calling my name?” My wife thought, “This is an opportunity I can’t miss!” So, she held my daughter up, holding out her arms towards Prabhupada, and Prabhupada looked at her for a long, long time. It was like their eyes were locked, and my wife reported that Lalita was practically shivering with ecstatic-like symptoms looking at Prabhupada. Prabhupada folded his hands and said, “Thank you very much.” We don’t know what this means, but we know that somehow these children have a special relationship with Srila Prabhupada, and also it just shows the kindness of Prabhupada. He would always take that moment to give every devotee a little something extra.

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

The full Prabhupada Memories Series can be viewed here and also at www.prabhupadamemories.com