Tosan Krsna das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Tosan Krishna: When Prabhupada rang the bell, I rushed in and said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada?” In 1968 “Prabhupada” was a new term—only months before we had addressed him as “Swamiji.” Prabhupada said, “First of all, you have forgotten to pay your obeisances.” I had rushed in out of my sleeping bag and when he said that I hit the floor. Then I heard Srila Prabhupada’s low chuckle. He said, “That’s all right. It’s all just for practice,” and he called me closer and said, “Come sit down. Why did you call me to Santa Fe and then tell me to go to Los Angeles?” I had nothing to do with Prabhupada’s travel arrangements—I was barely 18 and had been in the movement for just two months. Later, it occurred to me that Prabhupada was talking to me to help me relax, but at the time I was startled. I said, “Well, Srila Prabhupada, Govinda dasi . . .” and that’s as far as I got. I was a brahmachari, and Prabhupada was about to train me. “Govinda dasi! Never listen to a woman.” Now, Prabhupada loved Govinda dasi. Govinda dasi would go wherever Prabhupada went, or Prabhupada would send her in advance to check things out. He trusted her very much. She and her husband did illustrations for books and so forth. But in a teasing way he said, “Never listen to a woman.” Then he leaned back, looked at me again and said, “So what did she say?” I said, “Srila Prabhupada, she said that Santa Fe, New Mexico, is on the continental divide and is at a high elevation.” I don’t know why but maybe because I mentioned the continental divide, he said, “You’re an intelligent boy.” I went on, “We’re in the upper atmosphere here, the air is thin, you’re a heart patient and . . .” “Ohhh, so you think I will come here and die?” and he opened his eyes wide. I didn’t know what to say. He said, “So many people live here. I cannot come?” Then, with just me there and without kartals or mridanga, he recited the Samsara prayers, “samsara-davanala-lidha-loka,” and after that we chanted japa.

We couldn’t afford to have flowers in the temple back then and we used a pay phone because the temple didn’t have a phone. One day I found a beautiful piece of luxurious velvet with some trim on it in an abandoned, rustic, Catholic Church, and I brought it for Prabhupada. Govinda dasi saw it and she said to Prabhupada, “Tosan Krishna wants to know if you want this.” At the time Prabhupada was directing devotees to help him pack, saying, “Put this thing away, put this here, now roll this, put this there.” Prabhupada was being very exacting. When Govinda dasi asked him that question, Srila Prabhupada, who had been so sweet, suddenly said, “I want nothing!” and the room shook as if Lord Nrisimhadev had entered. After that I didn’t know what was going to happen to that piece of cloth but two months later I visited Srila Prabhupada in Los Angeles and Srila Prabhupada was using it as a backdrop for his Deities. I thought, “He wants nothing, but he’ll engage things for his Deities.”

In 1971, I was living in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, and I got a draft notice. I wrote Srila Prabhupada and asked, “What should I do?” He wrote back, “I’ll write you a letter to present to the draft board,” and the key line in his letter was, “My disciples do not have time to squander in these activities.” Luckily my draft board was San Francisco, and when I presented Prabhupada’s letter, it worked. Srila Prabhupada’s letter worked.

One night at the lecture someone came dressed, as people did in the hippie era, in a long robe with moons and stars and with their long hair carefully arranged. This person sat erect during the entire lecture and then, almost glaring at Srila Prabhupada, said, “What about Buddha?” Srila Prabhupada said, “What about Buddha?” and stared right back at him. This person said, “Can you see God?” Srila Prabhupada said, “No, you are in the way.” The funny thing was that that person was not the least bit annoyed by what Prabhupada said, but smiled and stayed around afterwards.

In 1972 I was marketing the famous Radha Damodar Road Show. At the time we thought we were on thin ice with the music but when Srila Prabhupada heard the music, he liked it. Later he went to a big performance in Pittsburgh and lectured. But before that I was asked to show Srila Prabhupada our advertising. I had seen the Srimad-Bhagavatam cover painted by Murlidhara, which was a remake of Srila Prabhupada’s original cover from India, and our poster largely utilized that art. I said, “Srila Prabhupada, this was actually your idea,” because Srila Prabhupada had designed the cover of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. He looked at me as if to say, “Nice try.” Then he said, “What is my idea? It is all in the shastra.” Srila Prabhupada would never go for flattery.

The first Ratha-yatra in New York City was in 1976. In New York it’s difficult to get a permit, and in 1962 the mayor had made an edict that no new parades could be held on Fifth Avenue. Yet somehow or other, with the advent of our new 55th Street temple, with Radha-Govinda moving into Manhattan, which is what Srila Prabhupada wanted, and with ISKCON celebrating its tenth birthday, there would be a Fifth Avenue Ratha-yatra. When he was in India, Srila Prabhupada telephoned us—which was very rare in those days because to even get a phone call from India was difficult—to find out if we had gotten the permit. I was in charge of getting this permit, and the Police Department had initially said ‘yes,’ but then they said ‘no.’ At the very end, I had a so-called last piece of paper that the Chief of Police himself, at Police Plaza One on the south tip of Manhattan, had to sign. The secretaries said, “We’ll run it down, he’ll sign it and it’ll be over.” I said, “No, I’m going to run it down.” They said, “All right, if you want, you can go.” I said, “I will, thank you,” because Srila Prabhupada had called on the phone. I took the subway to that building, went through heavy security, went to the right floor and found the Police Chief’s secretary. She looked at the paper and said, “He’s never going to sign this. There’s a mayor’s edict—no new parades on Fifth Avenue.” I ignored her. I hopped over the turnstile, which was a minimal barricade, and went into the Chief’s office. He was like a character out of a movie—a big fat guy who’d been in the force for a million years. I put the permit on his desk and said, “You are to sign this, if you will.” He looked at it, started chuckling and then said seriously, “I don’t know why I’m doing this.” By then, I knew. Srila Prabhupada wanted it and Krishna was in this Chief’s heart. He signed it. After that, Prabhupada, the leader of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, surrounded by disciples praising him, turned to Tamal Krishna Maharaj, who was then GBC of the New York temple, and said, “Who did it?” Prabhupada didn’t say, “I did it,” even though ISKCON was operating off of his energy and it was all his glory. He knew that things happen due to people, and his was a personal movement. Tamal Krishna Maharaj said, “Jayananda built the carts and Tosan Krishna got all the permits.” And right then and there Srila Prabhupada wrote me a thank you letter.

What I remember most about Srila Prabhupada was that he was always youthful. When he walked it was hard to keep up with him. In Los Angeles, when we delivered tapes of the Road Show to Srila Prabhupada to receive his comments on the music, there were five or six of us on a walk one morning, and we were puffing and couldn’t keep up with Srila Prabhupada. Amidst his concerns for his worldwide mission, his age and all his responsibilities, he remained a Vaikuntha man. He was always above it. In one sense he seemed to be right with us dealing with all the details, but it was quite apparent that he was with Krishna. He was a transcendental man, a Vaikuntha man, as he described his own Guru Maharaj.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 36 - Bhutatma, Tosan Krsna, Kuladri, Chitralekha dd, Rangavati dd, Atma Tava

The full Prabhupada Memories Series can be viewed here and also at

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 01

Tosan Krishna: When Srila Prabhupada was greeted at airports, he would obviously be surrounded by his loving disciples. And then there would be a much larger group of people in the airport who would just be amazed at the whole spectacle of the flowers, the chanting, the ecstasy, the jumping for joy and then of course, the beaming and radiant Srila Prabhupada gliding through the corridors or being surrounded by his disciples covered in garlands. And Srila Prabhupada would note the crowd and quite often encourage the devotees to continue chanting for their benefit. Sometimes the chanting would die down and he would raise his arms—"Continue, continue." And then finally he would give a lecture, on occasions, to the crowd. In Boston, I remember, he looked around and he said, "About this greeting, it says in shastra, that the spiritual master should be worshipped on the same level as God. However, if he thinks he is God, he is dog.”

Interview DVD 04

Tosan Krishna: I remember when Srila Prabhupada came to Henry Street, and we were so happy with everything the way it was going. We thought we had reached such a pinnacle in our development. And Srila Prabhupada said, “Yes, everything is very nice here. Now go back to Manhattan.” He said, “Brooklyn sounds like a poor man’s temple.” So he sent Shyamasundar, who happened to be traveling with him at the time, back into Manhattan and he started looking for buildings, and Shyamasundar started realizing we’re talking about millions of dollars here. Anyways, we were left with the task after they left, and we started collecting happily for this monumental move. We were collecting and collecting over a period of months and then even over a year. It was a joyous crusade. But at one point, we were a little wary if possibly the money that was being collected would be diverted into maybe other activities. So luckily one day we got a call from Srila Prabhupada, and he ordered that all the money we had collected all be sent to India and that we could start collecting again for a New York temple. Some devotees, I don’t know how they all felt about it. I was elated. I knew that Srila Prabhupada was specifically—almost as if to say sticking out his hand—reaching out and saying, “Give me the money,” and we were in effect putting it right into his hands. So we felt really good about that. And it turned out that all these wonderful devotees, their energies went toward the purchase of the Juhu property in Bombay—all the New York temple money purchased that—and the extra money that was left over built the Lotus Building, the first temple building in the Sri Dham Mayapur complex.

Interview DVD 11

Tosan Krishna: Regarding the Rathayatra, Srila Prabhupada actually asked, “How is it possible you got the permit?” because he was aware that it was very difficult to get a permit on Fifth Avenue. As a matter of fact, it was technically against the law because there was an edict by the mayor that said no new parades since 1962. So he asked, “How did you do it anyways?” And so I thought I would tell him something since he’s asking. It was ultimately his mercy, his pastime. So I simply said, “Well, Srila Prabhupada, on the application I said ‘three hand-pulled carts’.” And so Srila Prabhupada laughed and he said, “Yes, this is in our line. Just like Vamanadev, he only asked for three steps of land.” Of course, what’s always amazing about Srila Prabhupada’s quips is they’re so full of spiritual realization and knowledge and they’re so spontaneous and so quick. “Yes, that is in our line.” So wonderful.

The parade had already traveled about a mile from Central Park, and it was headed toward Washington Square Park at the end of Fifth Avenue. Srila Prabhupada stepped up onto the Subhadra cart at 34th Street, and the police who were overseeing the parade took note and they told me later, “That man was really special.” And they ended up volunteering, the same group, every year for that duty because they actually took some thrill in the occasion. It was a voluntary task. Obviously there was some compensation, but they took interest and they looked forward to participating themselves in the Rathayatra.