Yadubara das Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Yadubara: During the two-month period when I lived with the devotees in India, in different ways Prabhupada encouraged me to become more of a devotee. Once I was a bit reluctant to bow down. I was taking pictures all the time and used that as an excuse. He sent one of his disciples to ask me to pay my obeisances when he came in. I didn’t have any hesitation doing that, as I had great respect and love for Prabhupada. Another time I shaved off my mustache. When I came in front of him, he said, “Oh that is very nice. You look very good.” In this way, with small exchanges, he encouraged me.

In 1973 in New York City, we started making the Hare Krishna People film, and at the Mayapur Festival in 1974, we premiered it. We showed it in Prabhupada’s room to Prabhupada and all the GBC members. He very much appreciated it. In fact, due to the Indian voltage, it was playing very slowly and all the voices were slow. That was traumatic for me, but Prabhupada and the devotees loved it.

Every time I filmed Prabhupada, he was totally himself. He wasn’t like a person who is usually in front of a camera, but he was completely natural. He never made any errors, and I never had to do a retake. In other words, I never had to stop Prabhupada and tell him to do this or that. Of course, that would have been the wrong thing to do anyway. Once we were filming in Bhaktivedanta Manor in England, and the tape recorder wasn’t working properly. We had to ask Prabhupada to stop speaking, and he didn’t like that at all. Finally we explained to him what the problem was, and he turned to Bhargava, who was operating the tape recorder, and said, “The tape recorder is useless, and you are useless.”

In Los Angeles I filmed Prabhupada’s daily activities for about a month, and then he traveled to Denver. I didn’t tell him that I was coming, but I also flew there to continue filming. I wanted to film Srila Prabhupada as much as I could. I set up lights in front of the vyasasana, and when he saw the lights he was disturbed. They were too bright. Brahmananda, his secretary, was asking, “Why did he come?” Prabhupada called me and said, “Whether I am sitting here or in Los Angeles, what is the difference? What is the need for more filming?” He cut me off at that point, but he was very concerned about what service I would have if I went back to Los Angeles. We did have another project, a film on New Vrindavan later called “The Spiritual Frontier”. But I was impressed that Prabhupada was concerned about what I would do next. He was always concerned in that way for his devotees.

I had gotten quite sick in India and, after returning to America, had gone on a special diet to try to regain my health. But the diet hadn’t worked. I had lost a lot of weight and was still sick. On a morning walk in Denver, Tamal Krishna Goswami began telling Prabhupada that, “Some devotees are involved in special diets. Yadubara has just tried one.” There was a discussion about such diets for a little while, and at one point I said, “Yes, Prabhupada these diets are useless.” All of a sudden Prabhupada stopped walking. Everybody else also stopped and got close to him to listen. Prabhupada looked at me and said, “The diet is useless or you are useless?” We create the diet and we embrace it. So we are the useless persons. We cannot blame the diet.

One time I was with Prabhupada when he arrived in Pittsburgh. I was walking backwards filming him as he came down the aisle. A devotee had paid his obeisances right behind me and I tripped and fell. The film shows what my camera did. Prabhupada walked by while I was on the ground, and he looked at me, unfazed. I was very fazed.

I was with Prabhupada in 1973 when George Harrison visited him in his room at Bhaktivedanta Manor. George had recorded a song called “Krishna, Where Are You?” that he played for Prabhupada. It had a very nice melody and words. Prabhupada appreciated it. He said, “Yes. Searching for Krishna is the proper mood.” As he heard the song he sat back and tapped his leg in time. He and George had a very nice relationship. They often would tell stories and laugh together in Prabhupada’s room.

I had a number of memorable incidents when I filmed Srila Prabhupada. One was on the roof of the apartments on our land in Juhu before the temple was built. Prabhupada would speak there in the twilight hours. One time the local eight, nine, and ten-year-old girls got dressed up and went to the roof to garland Prabhupada and do a dance for him. I filmed both the garlanding and the dancing. Later, when I was editing that film, I noticed that Prabhupada didn’t look at the girls. He had his hand in his bead bag, and he would look down and over and up but never at the girls. In this way he showed the example of an ideal sannyasi.

In Mayapur in 1974 or ’75, Prabhupada’s God-brother Sridhar Maharaj came to visit Prabhupada at the ISKCON Chandrodaya Mandir. When Prabhupada heard that Sridhar Maharaj had arrived, he immediately left his room and went down three flights of stairs to greet him. Sridhar Maharaj was old and weak and had to be carried upstairs. In Prabhupada’s room, the two of them had an affectionate, close, intimate discussion. Then out of ecstasy, Sridhar Swami started leading a kirtan, singing, “Haribol,” wonderfully. He jumped out of his chair, and as he got up, everybody got up and started dancing. In an old Vyasa-puja book there is a black-and-white picture from that time, showing Srila Prabhupada and the devotees dancing in Prabhupada’s room. Their meeting was very wonderful.

Once, during Srila Prabhupada’s last days in Vrindavan, I had the opportunity to massage him, and I was concerned that I didn’t give him pain. I asked Prabhupada, “Are you feeling pain?” Prabhupada looked at me as if to say, “What kind of a question is that?” and said, “No.” I could see that he was completely aloof from his bodily condition. His last purports, the third volume of the Tenth Canto, some of which I filmed him dictating, are lucid and clear. Although Prabhupada’s physical condition had deteriorated, his consciousness was perfectly clear, perfectly centered on Krishna.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 08 - Revatinandana, Malati dd, Chitsukananda, Yadubara

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

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 02

Yadubara: I first met Srila Prabhupada here in Surat. I’d come to India to do a master’s degree thesis in photography on the origins of Krishna consciousness in India. The summer before I’d done a couple of magazine articles on the movement. That’s me in the blue shirt. I brought those magazine articles with me and showed Srila Prabhupada, and he liked them. He went through each of them page by page, much to my embarrassment because one of them had some nudity in it. Srila Prabhupada didn’t bat an eye, he just kept going through until he reached the article on Krishna consciousness. And then his comment was, “Even we find gold in a dirty place, we take it.” The second day I was there Srila Prabhupada asked me, “So you’re going to become a devotee?” I couldn’t imagine myself wearing the robes and the shaved head so I said no, although inwardly I felt I was. So Srila Prabhupada’s reply was, “Then you cannot stay.” I was naturally shocked. And I didn’t leave, I stayed with the party for two months. Every day I’d sit in Srila Prabhupada’s room, and invariably when a visitor came in he’d introduce me. He would say, “This is Mr. John, he is from America. He is an expert photographer.” In this way Srila Prabhupada encouraged me, and he could understand I was becoming a devotee gradually.

Interview DVD 03

Yadubara: Srila Prabhupada took us to many holy spots in Vrindavan. We would go by bus, and he would ride in this Ambassador car. Here we are at Brahmanda Ghat in Gokula where Mother Yasoda saw the universe in Krishna’s mouth. Srila Prabhupada is telling the story, much to our delight. His eyes get big when Mother Yasoda sees the creation. For most of us, this is the first time we’d seen the Yamuna, and we were very eager to bathe in her transcendental waters.

Interview DVD 04

Yadubara: As a filmmaker, it was exciting time. This was my first 16 mm film, shot with a borrowed camera and 10 three-minute loads of film, and what better subject than Srila Prabhupada and the devotees in Mayapur during Gaura Purnima.

Interview DVD 05

Yadubara: During one of the temple kirtans, I had put down my movie camera and picked up the still camera to take pictures. I took a few pictures and then put that down and joined the kirtan. As I was dancing in kirtan, I turned to Prabhupada. He was motioning for me to come over. So I approached the vyasasan and he said something I couldn’t understand because of the loud kirtan. So I put my ear very close to Srila Prabhupada’s mouth and I heard the words, “Never put down your camera.” Immediately I ran over to the camera, picked it up and started taking pictures. And I’ve tried over the years, although not always successfully, to carry out that order.

One day we were sitting in Srila Prabhupada’s room, and all of a sudden George Harrison walked in with a group of Indian people. He paid obeisances, and he was very excited that he had a song he wanted to play for Srila Prabhupada. The song was “Krishna, where are You?” He had produced it and played instruments on it, and Laksmi Shankar, who was with him, sang the song. So Prabhupada listened to it and as he was listening, he was smiling and tapping his knee in rhythm. Then afterwards Srila Prabhupada said, “Yes, this is the proper mood, always searching for Krishna. Not that we have found Krishna, but we are always searching for Krishna—just like the Six Goswamis.” Of course, George was very, very happy. He and Srila Prabhupada had a wonderful relationship. When George walked in and paid obeisances, you could really see his great feeling and humility. “Krishna, where are You?” can be found on the album “Shankar Family and Friends,” referring to Ravi Shankar. The words are: “I am missing You. O Krishna, where are You? Though I can’t see You, I hear Your flute all the while. Please come wipe my tears and make me smile.” Here’s a short cut from it.

This is such a beautiful scene – Srila Prabhupada taking his Vyasa-puja feast in his room. Somehow or other Visakha devi and I were alone with him. She was taking stills and I was filming. In my years of filming Srila Prabhupada, this is one of the most memorable times. He was totally fixed and concentrated on taking prasadam. He seemed to be able to tell the quality of the preparation with his eyes.

Interview DVD 06

Yadubara: Srila Prabhupada stayed in Tirupati for three days, and the highlight of that trip was a special early morning darshan at 2:00 a.m. I remember it was just a very mystical atmosphere, entering the Deity room by torchlight and then coming in front of Lord Venkateshwara and the pujari waving the ghee lamp to illuminate His form. It was wonderful to see Srila Prabhupada gaze in reverence upon his Lord.

Interview DVD 07

Yadubara: We were traveling with Srila Prabhupada and, of course, on the flight we were trying to get some shots, as you see here. The most memorable part of that trip was getting off the plane. I was walking behind Srila Prabhupada going from the plane to the terminal. You could hear the kirtan, but you couldn’t see the devotees until we came around the bend and then saw literally devotee upon devotee stacked on top of each other, big beaming smiles on devotees’ faces, but that’s all you see. You couldn’t see beyond that. It was a solid wall of devotees. What an arrival.

When we heard Srila Prabhupada was to be interviewed at a TV station in San Francisco, we tagged along hoping to be able to film him. So we showed up at the TV station and asked the producer if it was all right to set up our 16 mm camera and shoot, and he said, “Why not?” He was very obliging. I was surprised actually. During the interview, you’ll hear a thumping sound as Srila Prabhupada is speaking; and that’s his hand, as you can see in the visual, going up and down thumping on the table. Unfortunately, we had placed our microphone right next to his hand. We didn’t pick a very good place for the mike. As we were shooting, we could hear that thumping and, of course, we couldn’t really stop the interview.

Interview DVD 09

Yadubara: This is probably the most intimate scene we’ve ever filmed of Srila Prabhupada. Visakha was doing the recording of the sound, and I was shooting the 16 mm camera. Really the reason we got a chance to film this scene goes back to the Gaura Purnima festival of 1974 where we premiered the first ISKCON film documentary, “The Hare Krishna People.” Srila Prabhupada appreciated that film and encouraged us to make more films. I thought at that time that I would eventually want to make a documentary on Srila Prabhupada’s life. So I asked him if that would be possible and his reply was, “What is the need?” And I said in the future people will want to know who started the Hare Krishna Movement. Srila Prabhupada thought for a moment and then gave his consent to make the film. We didn’t have a script at that time. I just thought we should film Srila Prabhupada in as many different situations as possible. So in the summer of 1975, Srila Prabhupada came to L.A. and we shot more film during that week than I think any other period of time. I was most nervous shooting this scene of Srila Prabhupada translating, really in fear of disturbing him, but we can see that he was totally absorbed in his translation. I don’t think anyone else could have done that, to have a large 16 mm camera pointing at them and at the same time being fully absorbed in their work. And it really must have been a distraction for him because we had set up lights inside, otherwise there wasn’t enough light. Actually at the end of this scene he looks up and speaks to me, and at that point I panicked and immediately turned off the camera. So it was just definitely his mercy that he allowed us to film so many different varieties of scenes during that time in Los Angeles.

In the winter of 1974-75, I was very sick with very poor digestion and tried to cure myself with fasting and on a diet with no milk or grains. Well, the diet didn’t work, and I lost a lot of weight. Srila Prabhupada visited L.A. that winter, and when he saw me he said, “What has happened to you?” I explained my problem, and he said I should just take a little prasad. Then he added it could be selective, but just take a little prasadam. I tried to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions as best I could and started eating grains and milk and rapidly gained my weight back. On this Denver morning walk, the subject of diets came up; and the devotees were critical of the dieting because that had become somewhat of a fad. When Prabhupada heard the comments, he said, “Yes, we should all eat prasadam. Let what may happen happen. Simply we should all eat prasad.” Then Tamal Krishna Goswami said, “Yes, that’s the best thing, Prabhupada. Let us die eating prasadam.” Prabhupada laughed and he said, “That is devotee, ‘Let us die eating prasad.’” So I thought I would add my opinion, and so I said, “Srila Prabhupada, I’m a good example that these diets are not good. I can testify.” When Srila Prabhupada heard my comment, he stopped and turned and looked at me and he said, “The diets are not good or you are not good?” At that moment, my mind went completely blank. I just couldn’t say anything. It was really something to think about because it’s not the diet. The diet is just something that somebody has an idea that this may be good and they embrace that idea. Looking back on it, it was extraordinary how with just a few words Srila Prabhupada exposed my foolishness.

Interview DVD 10

Yadubara: I had attended the University of California here at Berkeley in the early ’60s, and I remember there was so much anxiety with student rebellions and riots and the drug scene was exploding at the time. Most students, including myself, were just dissatisfied and bewildered. Regularly students were committing suicide by jumping off the clock tower we see in the background. When Srila Prabhupada was informed about this, his response put my whole university experience into perspective. He told the story of the Himalayas giving birth. So many people gathered at a cave at base of these huge mountains and then waited for days, and finally the mountains rumbled and the people only saw some rats run out of the cave. Everyone laughed, and then Bahulasva told Prabhupada that I had graduated from this university. Brahmananda said, “Oh, poor Yadubara,” and I stepped forward and said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada, I am one of those rats.”