From Bombay Śrīla Prabhupāda planned a world tour beginning January 25 that would take him to twelve major cities within fifty days, ending back in Bombay. His journey would not only completely orbit the planet eastward but would dip into the Southern Hemisphere, as far south as Venezuela. It would be the eighth time Śrīla Prabhupāda had traveled around the world in his ten years of preaching since going to America from India in 1965. He would enter seven different countries and travel thirty-four thousand miles.
Due back in India by March for the second international gathering of his disciples at Śrīdhāma Māyāpur, Śrīla Prabhupāda would have to move quickly. Almost one thousand ISKCON devotees from all over the world were planning to be in India for this year’s festival. This year was very special because after years of work and two prematurely announced openings, Śrīla Prabhupāda would at last hold the grand opening of the ISKCON Krishna-Balaram temple in Vṛndāvana and install the Deities of Gaura-Nitāi, Krishna-Balarāma, and Rādhā-Śyāmasundara.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had come to Vṛndāvana in September 1974 desiring to open the temple on Kṛṣṇa’s appearance day, but he had been disappointed by delays in construction. At that time Śrīla Prabhupāda became seriously ill in Vṛndāvana. His fever dangerously high, he had given permission to devotees in all the ISKCON temples to hold twenty-four-hour kīrtana to pray for his recovery. He had gradually regained his health, and he was now eating and translating again after several weeks.
Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted to travel before the Māyāpur-Vṛndāvana festival, but he had been delayed in Bombay, waiting for the local government to grant the No Objection Certificate so construction of his temple could begin. When Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Governing Body Commission secretary for South America, Hṛdayānanda Goswami, wrote asking him to please visit South America, he replied,
Yes, I want to come there very much. Now we are in Bombay trying to get permission from the government to build our temple. And it appears that we will possibly be getting the permission next week. If this works out then I will immediately be going to Honolulu and from Honolulu I can go directly to Mexico City then Caracas If the Bombay situation is not settled up I may have to stay until mid-January
But not until then end of January did the Bombay municipality finally grant the No Objection Certificate; Śrīla Prabhupāda was then free to travel. Prabhupāda had said on different occasions that he traveled to keep his devotees spiritually alive. Although sometimes Śrīla Prabhupāda would say he wanted to stay in one place and write his books, he regularly felt compelled to oversee personally the growth of his Kṛṣṇa consciousness mission on each continent. His time was limited, he felt, and he wanted to strengthen his disciples in their execution of Kṛṣṇa consciousness so they could continue in his absence. He had to travel. But even while traveling, he would continue his translation and commentary of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam wherever he stopped. Despite his advanced age of eighty years, despite the disruptive travel hours, the jet lag, and the inconveniences of waiting in airports and of customs delays, Prabhupāda was determined to maintain his writing schedule wherever he went. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s literary paraphernalia was a dictating machine and reference books. A secretary, Paramahaṁsa Swami, a personal servant, Śrutakīrti, and a Sanskrit student, Nitāi, were Prabhupāda’s traveling entourage. In this way he was prepared to preach and write anywhere and everywhere.
His first stop was Hong Kong.
Paramahaṁsa Swami: It was always funny to be in the airport with Prabhupāda. People would just come up and without any introduction say, “Hi. What are you doing?” And Prabhupāda would start speaking with them on that level. It was really different than hearing him talk with the devotees. Sometimes they would come up with a weird question. Prabhupāda would give a humorous answer, and often the person wouldn’t understand and would leave.
Only one disciple, Trivikrama Swami, was stationed in Hong Kong, but just before Śrīla Prabhupāda’s arrival, Pañcadraviḍa Swami arrived from Bangkok to greet Śrīla Prabhupāda. Sudāmā Vipra Swami, who had disassociated himself from ISKCON, also showed up for Prabhupāda’s arrival; these three sannyāsīs greeted Prabhupāda at the airport.
Trivikrama Swami had rented a luxury suite at the Hong Kong Hilton for Śrīla Prabhupāda and had arranged a speaking engagement in the Hilton’s convention hall. About two hundred Indians and a few Chinese attended. After speaking forty minutes from the first verse of the seventh chapter of Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīla Prabhupāda concluded, “If you want to get out of māyā’s activities, then you have to take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. There is no other way out. This is a scientific movement. Anyone intelligent, any thoughtful person, he must take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Otherwise, he is doomed.”
During Śrīla Prabhupāda’s two-day stay the devotees took him to a park in the heart of the city. It was so crowded with people that Śrīla Prabhupāda declared it “hellish.” When they passed people doing tai chi exercises, Trivikrama Swami called such activity useless. “Do not criticize,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said. As they walked on, Sudāmā Vipra Swami told Prabhupāda of the floods in Māyāpur. The devotees had lived on the roof of a shack and had had to fight off the snakes seeking shelter there. Śrīla Prabhupāda appreciated, “Yes, you did much service at that time.” Prabhupāda asked of another devotee the difficulties he had faced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Each told of some incident of austerities.
“What was your most troublesome time in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Śrīla Prabhupāda?” Trivikrama Swami asked. Prabhupāda became silent, then said, “Better you don’t ask.”
In the devotees’ small apartment Prabhupāda affirmed that Hong Kong was an important place to preach. Even if only one man remained, they should still develop the center there. “We can print Chinese Bhagavad-gītā,” Prabhupāda said. “Someday China will open, and we can go in.”
Pañcadraviḍa Swami had only come to visit Prabhupāda, but Prabhupāda told him, “You shall become our new manager for the Hong Kong center.” When Prabhupāda said this, the other devotees responded, “Jaya! Jaya!” But Pañcadraviḍa Mahārāja felt bewildered. I have to stay in Hong Kong? he thought. But then he remembered the letter Prabhupāda had just written him. Prabhupāda had stated that a devotee must be like a reaping machine—the Bengali saying is that a reaping machine will reap wheat in heaven or hell. So the devotee must serve Kṛṣṇa, in heaven or hell. Pañcadraviḍa had considered returning to India, but now Prabhupāda said, “It is not very important if you go back to India. The only thing that is important is to continue service.” The important thing was to distribute books in Hong Kong, Prabhupāda told him; it doesn’t matter whether people came to the programs. Somehow he should publish books in the Chinese language and distribute them. In this way the work would go on.
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