The plane flew during the night and arrived in London by morning. Śrīla Prabhupāda had planned a stopover. He checked into an airport hotel, took his massage, and rested. In the afternoon he rose and bathed, and then he and Kīrtanānanda boarded their plane, bound for New Delhi via Moscow. While the plane was still on the ground, however, a crew member announced “a short delay due to health regulations.” A passenger who had disembarked earlier that day was now sick, apparently with smallpox, so the plane would have to be thoroughly fumigated. Prabhupāda and Kīrtanānanda stayed in a room at the Excelsior Hotel for the night.
Early the next morning, July 24, seated in his hotel room, complete with air conditioning and television, neither of which he had used, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote a letter to Brahmānanda in New York.
Accept my blessings. I am always thinking of your separation feelings. Please do your duty nicely and Krishna will help you in all respects. We were delayed here for 16 hours. Starting this morning at nine for Delhi. The attention of Mr. B. K. Nehru the Ambassador of India was drawn to me the other day. I have told him about my Permanent Visa and he has promised to help me when I come back. Please make an appointment with him informing that I wish to present him our set of Bhāgavatam and our other literatures. Then go to him and personally present the books etc. at Washington D.C. It may be that as soon as I feel some strength I shall be coming back. Up to now there was no disturbance about my health and I hope to reach Delhi this night. I shall write you again after reaching Vrindaban. Convey my ardent affection and blessings for all the boys and girls. I am very much hopeful of my movement. Please keep steady, follow all my instructions scrupulously, chant Hare Krishna and Krishna will give you all strength.
Prabhupāda and Kīrtanānanda flew to Moscow. There they walked around the terminal, observing what Prabhupāda called “propaganda pictures.” After a one-hour stopover they reboarded and flew another eight hours, arriving in Delhi around midnight.
The wall of heat that greeted them felt good to Prabhupāda. He had come for this. Inside the airport terminal, overhead fans stirred the muggy air as Prabhupāda and Kīrtanānanda stood in slow-moving lines while uniformed clerks checked passports and customs forms, without Western-style computers or efficiency. Just beyond the areas for immigration and customs, people waiting for arriving passengers were waving, calling, and coming together with friends and family members.
After Prabhupāda and Kīrtanānanda claimed their luggage and cleared customs, they stood on the sidewalk outside the terminal. Although Prabhupāda had removed his sweater, Kīrtanānanda stood sweltering in his black wool suit. It was two A.M. All around, passengers were meeting loved ones, who embraced them-sometimes even garlanded them-and helped them into cars or taxis. But no one was there for Prabhupāda. It was certainly different from the recent tearful airport scenes, where Prabhupāda had been with his loved ones. Now, instead of being surrounded by loving disciples, Prabhupāda was besieged by taxi drivers and porters wanting to carry his luggage for a fee. In Hindi Prabhupāda asked one of the drivers to take them to Chippiwada, in Old Delhi. The driver put their luggage in the trunk, and Prabhupāda and his disciple climbed into the back seat.
The small Ambassador taxi drove through streets well known to Śrīla Prabhupāda. Nighttime traffic was light-an occasional taxi or motor ricksha. Mostly the streets were empty and quiet, the shops closed, an occasional person or cow sleeping outdoors.
Just a few years before, Prabhupāda had sold Back to Godhead magazines, solicited donations, and printed his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatams here. In those days he had been alone, practically without money or residence. Yet he had been happy, completely dependent on Kṛṣṇa.
But India’s leaders were rejecting Vedic culture and imitating the West. Although some Indians still professed to follow Vedic culture, mostly they were victims of hodgepodge teachers who didn’t accept Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So he had felt obliged to leave-to go and transplant the Vedic culture in the West. He had held strictly to the vision of his predecessor spiritual masters, and he had been proven right: the West was a very good field for Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
As the taxi drove through Old Delhi and approached Chawri Bazaar, Prabhupāda saw the printing and paper shops, now closed for the night. And the usual dense traffic of human-hauled carts was now absent, though some laborers were sleeping on their carts till the morning, when they would bathe in an outdoor well and begin another day’s hauling. When Śrīla Prabhupāda had been overseeing the publishing of his first volumes of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, he had daily walked these streets, buying paper, picking up proofs from the printer, returning with the corrected proofs. His First Canto had been a triumph.
Chawri Bazaar led to side streets that led to the narrow lanes of Chippiwada, where upright metal posts blocked autos and rickshas from entering. The driver stopped the taxi on an empty road and turned for his payment. Prabhupāda took from his billfold forty rupees (the same forty rupees he had carried with him on the boat to America in 1965). But the driver took the entire forty rupees and said he would keep it all as the just fare. Prabhupāda protested; the fare should not be even half that! Loudly they argued back and forth in Hindi. The driver had pocketed the money and would give no change. Prabhupāda knew that to get a policeman at this hour would be very difficult. Finally, although this had been nothing less than a robbery, Prabhupāda let the man go. “He cheated me,” Prabhupāda said. He and Kīrtanānanda took their luggage and walked the last block, up to the door of the Chippiwada Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple.
It was locked. As they pounded loudly, Prabhupāda called out for Sri Krishna Pandit until a man came to the door, recognized Prabhupāda, and let them in. The man showed them upstairs and unlocked the door to Prabhupāda’s room. Prabhupāda turned on the light.
The room was bare and dusty, and the bulb hanging from the ceiling created stark light and shadows. On the floor was the three-foot-high cement dome indicating that directly below were the altar and the Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. (The dome prevented anyone from accidentally committing the offense of walking directly above the Deities.) The closet was stacked with printed Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam pages, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam dust jackets, and form letters to prospective members of the League of Devotees. Everything was just as Prabhupāda had left it.
“This is the room where I compiled Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam,” Śrīla Prabhupāda told Kīrtanānanda. “I slept here. And over here was my cooker and my typewriter. I would sleep and type and cook and type and sleep and type.” Kīrtanānanda was shocked to think of Swamiji living here in such a poor, humble place. It wasn’t even clean.
Although Kīrtanānanda was uncomfortable in his suit and wondered when he would be able to get rid of it, he managed to get a thin mattress for Swamiji. Two Āyur Vedic doctors came. They both agreed that the trouble was Swamiji’s heart but that the danger was now past. They gave him medicines and advised him to keep to a regulated schedule of eating, resting, and working. Sri Krishna Pandit came by to sit and converse, and Prabhupāda told him of his success in America and of all the young devotees in New York and San Francisco. Prabhupāda played his record for Sri Krishna Pandit, and this drew a crowd of curious persons from other rooms in the temple.
In the afternoon Prabhupāda developed a cough. It didn’t seem serious, and he said he wanted to travel the next day to Vṛndāvana. But by evening the cough had become persistent; he couldn’t rest. Kīrtanānanda tried massages and the pills the Āyur Vedic doctors had prescribed, but nothing worked; Prabhupāda remained awake all night, and when Kīrtanānanda touched him in the morning he was feverish.
The doctors came again. Prabhupāda’s temperature was over 104. They gave teas and Āyur Vedic powders while Kīrtanānanda looked on skeptically. Because Prabhupāda was having a lot of difficulty breathing when he lay down, Kīrtanānanda thought it might be pneumonia. So Kīrtanānanda gave him penicillin, of which he had brought a supply. In the afternoon an elderly Sikh doctor who practiced Western medicine came by and gave Prabhupāda a penicillin injection. Prabhupāda then fell asleep and rested quietly for the first time in twenty-four hours.
While Prabhupāda slept, Kīrtanānanda wrote a letter to his Godbrothers in New York.
I know you would like me to say straight out my opinion as to how He is, and that is not good. The outcome-as always, but now very apparently-is only in Krishna’s hands. Please chant HARE KRISHNA for that is the only thing that can save Him. That is what saved Him before, and that can do it again. I know that His task is not yet complete, and by Krishna’s Mercy He can again be spared.
Kīrtanānanda also asked the New York devotees to call the devotees in San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Boston and have them continue chanting for Swamiji’s health. He reminded them to strictly follow all of Swamiji’s instructions.
The next day Śrīla Prabhupāda’s fever was down to 100.6. He was still sick, but he talked again of going to Vṛndāvana. He dictated a letter to his bookselling agents in Delhi, Atmarama & Sons, asking them for an up-to-date account of their sales of his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Old acquaintances came by and were disappointed to find Swamiji unable to accept their invitations. Prabhupāda asked that they invite Kīrtanānanda in his stead.
For several days Kīrtanānanda visited the homes of these pious Hindus. He played the record on his portable phonograph, chanting along and dancing with his arms upraised. Then he would give a short speech. His hosts accepted him as a sādhu, fascinated that an American had taken so seriously to Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
* * *
On August 1, after six days in Delhi, Prabhupāda went to Vṛndāvana. Kīrtanānanda wrote back to New York:
My dear brothers and sisters,
Greetings in the NAME of KRISHNA from VRINDABAN.
Obviously Swamiji is much better-especially after reaching Vrindaban -His eyes now have a special glow. We left Delhi yesterday (31st) morning on the Taj Express, and in two hours were at Mathura. We rode “special third class” and it was quite satisfactory, not at all crowded like the usual third class. Anyway, we are now here and are in the process of settling down. Swamiji has two very nice rooms-quite cool-just off the porch where the Bhāgavatam is read. How appropriate! The only difficulty on His behalf is that these Indians all want to see Him-and they are very persistent, and I am not very successful in keeping them out…
Vrindaban, seen materially, is a very beautiful place. The country is very flat, and there are many trees, monkeys, peacocks, and of course temples. It is also very poor. Both the people and the temples are in a bad state of disrepair. But spiritually considered there are many great devotees here, and it is wonderful to walk down the streets and see teeloks all over the place, and people chanting on their beads. If I can develop a fraction of their devotion for Krishna, my life will be successful. It is also thrilling to hear the temple bells ringing so many times throughout the day. Last night I played our record for Lord Damodar here in the temple and then performed kirtan with some of the local devotees. It was very nice. But you will be surprised, I think, when I say that I prefer your kirtan in N.Y.
After Prabhupāda had been in Vṛndāvana only one day and his health had only slightly improved, he began planning his return to America. “I am always thinking of you,” he wrote to the devotees, whom he addressed as his “dear students.”
I cannot stop my western world activities and I have taken leave from you only for six months; and it may be that on or before I will come to you again. Kirtanananda says from my bodily feature that I am improving. I am also feeling like that.
In Delhi Prabhupāda had received a letter from Brahmānanda saying that the Macmillan Company was definitely interested in publishing the Bhagavad-gītā. In Vṛndāvana Prabhupāda wrote Brahmānanda to sign a contract at once on his behalf. Prabhupāda had been considering whether to print privately in Japan or India or to wait for Macmillan. He wasn’t concerned with the prestige and financial advantages of publishing through Macmillan; his first concern was to print as quickly as possible.
I shall be satisfied with the commission and shall only be glad to see that the books are being read by hundreds and thousands of men. Whatever profit may be derived from it will be utilized for the development of an American House here.
Prabhupāda stayed in his old rooms at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple. Still incapacitated, he was being massaged and cared for by Kīrtanānanda, who himself was listless and tired from the heat. But Prabhupāda continued to range from one active and ambitious vision for his youthful Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement to another. He would think aloud about the volumes of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam ready to be published- if Macmillan would take them and the boys could act on his behalf. There was so much to do. He wanted to return by October and oversee things personally.
Temperatures rose to more than 110 degrees, and Prabhupāda and Kīrtanānanda had to stay inside with the doors shut and the overhead fan on. Although Kīrtanānanda could barely perform his duties, Prabhupāda found the heat bracing and said that it was restoring his health. Then, after the first week, the monsoon rains began, and the heat broke.
On August 10 Kīrtanānanda wrote home again.
God is it a hot place! But at last the rains have started again and there is some relief-from the heat. You can believe me when I say it was hot. But now it is raining a great deal of the time, and that has made the weather quite comfortable for me-but unfortunately not for Swamiji. Also I have developed the inevitable case of dysentery, which has been persisting for about a week now.
Yesterday began the festival of Jhulan, in which Radha and Krishna come out and swing for about five days, so I made the rounds of about a half dozen temples here. Some of them are extremely beautiful inside, although most are small. Still I can say this with all truthfulness and sincerity that none are so transcendentally beautiful and spiritual as 3720 Park Avenue Montreal-and I think even Swamiji would agree with me there.
Kīrtanānanda’s letter gave heart to the devotees back home and confirmed their suspicion: it was not Hinduism, not India-it was Swamiji and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa that was sustaining their spiritual life.
As Prabhupāda’s spiritual children wrote from the fledgling centers in half a dozen cities in North America, he would reply.
Vrindaban is an inspiration only but our real field work is all over the world. Even if I die you are my future hopes & you will do it. I am feeling very much for you all. Please let the ball roll on just as it is set.
Brahmānanda wrote from New York asking for an explanation of why Swamiji, a pure devotee, was suffering serious illness. Swamiji had explained that conditioned souls and even beginning devotees are “attacked by māyā.” But was Swamiji also being attacked by māyā? On August 14 Śrīla Prabhupāda replied.
Don’t be afraid of my being attacked by maya. When there is fight between two belligerent parties, it is always expected that there will sometimes be reverses. Your country and the western world is mostly under the grip of Maya and the modes of nature in passion and ignorance, and my declaration of war against the maya is certainly a great battle. Maya saw me very successful within one year, so that I got so many sincere young followers like yourself and others, so it was a great defeat to the activities of maya: western country youngsters giving up illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating and gambling is certainly a great reverse in the activities of maya. Therefore she took advantage of my old age weakness and gave me a death dash. But Krishna saved me; therefore we should thank more Krishna than eulogize maya. So far as my present health is concerned I think I am improving: at least I am taking lunch better than in N.Y. So, as soon as I am a little fit to return to the field of battle I shall again be in your midst.
* * *
Śrīla Prabhupāda envisioned an American House, a place where resident disciples could study Sanskrit and Vaiṣṇava literature in Vṛndāvana. When he had suffered his stroke he had said that Rāya Rāma should finish the translation of the Bhāgavatams. He had also requested Acyutānanda, Gaurasundara, and others to learn Sanskrit, Bengali, and Hindi so that if he did not recover they could carry on his work. And he hoped that some of his leading men, like Brahmānanda, Hayagrīva, and Rāya Rāma, would come to India, obtain property, and establish his American House. “Even if I am well,” he wrote on September 9, “it is not possible for me to look after the affairs of the American House.”
Prabhupāda decided to ask one of his Godbrothers, Swami B. H. Bon Maharaja, to accommodate some students from America at his Institute of Oriental Philosophy. Swami Bon Maharaja’s institute was a provincial college of about three hundred students, located in Vṛndāvana and affiliated with Agra University. It was what is known in India as a “degree college,” an institution geared toward improving the economic condition of its graduates by making them eligible for better jobs.
When Śrīla Prabhupāda and Kīrtanānanda visited Swami Bon Maharaja at the Institute of Oriental Philosophy, Swami Bon received them in a clean parlor furnished with chairs, couches, and a radio. Swami Bon, wearing leather slippers, shorts visible through his thin dhotī, and an ironed shirt with brass studs, appeared suave and sophisticated-an educated man with straight, neatly parted graying hair. Although a resident of Vṛndāvana, in the 1930s he had spent several years in England, where he had been received by members of the royal family and had lectured at a number of colleges. But he had aroused no lasting interest. When Prabhupāda had been struggling alone in New York in 1965, he had written to Swami Bon asking for help. But Swami Bon had not responded. Even now, as Prabhupāda told him of the work in America, Bon Maharaja didn’t have much to say. But he was interested in the prospect of Americans coming to live and study at his institute; foreign students would enhance the prestige of the institute in the eyes of the government. He said the students could possibly be accommodated free of charge.
Encouraged by the meeting with Bon Maharaja, Prabhupāda wrote several letters to his disciples, inviting them to come and study Sanskrit.
If you want to learn Sanskrit, there is ample opportunity in this institute. We had some preliminary talks, and it is hopeful that Swami Bon can give us some land for our own building; but even so, arrangements can be made with the existing facilities so that there would be no difficulty for the students who come here to study Sanskrit and the Goswami literature… It is a good opportunity for our students, and I shall be very glad to learn how many of you desire to come.
* * *
On Janmāṣṭamī day, August 28, Śrīla Prabhupāda awarded the order of sannyāsa to Kīrtanānanda in a ceremony in the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple. Kīrtanānanda thus became Śrīla Prabhupāda’s first disciple to become a sannyāsī: Kīrtanānanda Swami. During the initiation hundreds of visitors were present observing the birthday of Lord Kṛṣṇa, and many of them came by to congratulate the young sannyāsī. Someone said he looked like Lord Caitanya. Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote,
He will be going back to the States very soon to begin preaching work with greater vigor and success. In the meantime, I shall try to utilize this “white sannyāsī” for recruiting some members in India.
Early in September, Acyutānanda arrived in Delhi. A Hindu lady gave him five rupees, and he took the train to Mathurā, where he got directions to the Keśavajī Gaudiya Math. Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja, a friend of Prabhupāda’s, took Acyutānanda under his care and, after showing him the hall where Prabhupāda had taken sannyāsa in 1959, put him on a bus to Vṛndāvana with an old gentleman for an escort. Accompanied by this escort, Acyutānanda arrived by ricksha before the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple.
Acyutānanda walked into Prabhupāda’s room and fell prostrate at his feet. “Oh,” Prabhupāda said, “you are here.” When Acyutānanda looked up he saw that Swamiji had a five-day beard and was wearing only one piece of cloth, wrapped around his waist from behind, crossed over his chest, and tied behind his neck. Prabhupāda smiled, apparently in good health.
Kīrtanānanda Swami also greeted Acyutānanda and showed him his new daṇḍa.
For Acyutānanda, the most wonderful thing about Swamiji in Vṛndāvana was the simplicity of his life. Although in New York Swamiji had worn simple robes, he had always been regal, a guru. But here he lived very simply and humbly. Once when he sat down on the veranda outside his room to wash his hands, his body instantly became covered with flies. Kīrtanānanda and Acyutānanda were always being bothered by the flies-this was the rainy season-but Prabhupāda scarcely noticed them and sat quietly washing his hands.
Kīrtanānanda and Acyutānanda agreed that Swamiji wasn’t just another Vṛndāvana bābājī. There was no one else like him. Certainly Gaurachand Goswami, proprietor of the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, wasn’t like Swamiji. He wore thick glasses and could barely see, and when Kīrtanānanda and Acyutānanda went before the Deities in the temple, Gaurachand Goswami asked them loudly, “So how do you like ’em? Which one do you like the best?”
“I like them all,” said Acyutānanda.
“I like that big one on the end there,” said the priest, pointing in an offhand manner at the Deity of Kṛṣṇa. “It looks a bit like General Choudry.” The Swami’s boys exchanged looks-what kind of guys are these?-and went back to Swamiji for an explanation.
“They are caste gosvāmīs,” Prabhupāda explained. The original gosvāmīs, such as Jiva Gosvāmī, who established the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, had engaged householders to worship the Deities. And these caste gosvāmīs were descendants of those first householder pūjārīs. Prabhupāda explained that the caste gosvāmīs were the proprietors of the temples and that they maintained the temples and ran the Deity worship as a business to support their families. Several years ago each of the Deities now on the altar had had His own temple, land, income, and priests. But for economy the gosvāmīs had sold the property, reduced the opulence of the worship, and amalgamated the Deities.
There were many other interesting characters: the old widow Sarajini, with bald head and śikhā and callused bare feet, who slept in a room by the gate of the temple and swept Swamiji’s kitchen and washed his clothes; Pancudas Goswami, the temple proprietor’s son, who always chewed pān and went around sleepy-eyed in a silk dhotī with a red-embroidered border; the dark old bābājī who came at night, who was constantly laughing, and who made sandalwood paste for Swamiji; the local herbal doctor, Vanamali Kaviraja, who presided, brightly smiling, from behind a desk in a tiny chamber filled from ceiling to floor with little bottles; and a famous paṇḍita who visited Swamiji and wore a gold linked tulasī necklace and diamond rings. All of these persons were devotees, residents of holy Vṛndāvana. But no one was like Swamiji.
Kīrtanānanda Swami even became disappointed that no one else in Vṛndāvana was like Swamiji. In the land where everyone was an Indian and everyone was a devotee, Swamiji was still unique. No one else was so simple, so grave, so able to penetrate through falsity, so attractive to the heart, or so absolutely attached to Kṛṣṇa. No one else could lead them.
If Kīrtanānanda Swami and Acyutānanda were doubtful about some of the residents of Vṛndāvana, some of the residents of Vṛndāvana were also doubtful of them. When a European hippie couple wandered into Vṛndāvana one day, Acyutānanda accompanied them to some of the temples. But at the Raṅganātha temple they were refused entry. Acyutānanda told Prabhupāda, who replied, “That’s because you went with those fools.” When Prabhupāda walked in the streets, people regularly nodded to him with respect, saying, “Daṇḍavat, Mahārāja.” But they were cautious about accepting his American followers as Vaiṣṇavas.
* * *
Śrīla Prabhupāda, accompanied by his two disciples, again visited Swami Bon. Riding to Swami Bon’s institute by ricksha, Prabhupāda told Acyutānanda that Swami Bon had started the institute as an academy of Vaiṣṇava studies but had affiliated with Agra University because the institute had not been bringing in any money. Now Swami Bon had money, but the institute had become an ordinary school, devoid of spiritual value.
As Śrīla Prabhupāda and his disciples sat in Swami Bon’s parlor, Bon Maharaja made it clear that although he would not donate land for Prabhupāda’s American House, Prabhupāda’s students could come and study at his institution. Acyutānanda, he suggested, could be the first one.
Swami Bon then took them to the main building to visit a class in session. Instead of seeing paṇḍitas and brahmacārīs studying Sanskrit, as they had expected, Prabhupāda’s disciples saw boys with thin mustaches and giggling girls. Prabhupāda lectured and then asked Kīrtanānanda to play the Hare Kṛṣṇa record. After a few minutes, Bon Maharaja told Kīrtanānanda to stop the record, but Kīrtanānanda, seeing Swamiji enjoying the record, let it play.
Acyutānanda: We walked around the place, and I thought, “This is just a mundane school. I don’t want to go here. If I could learn Sanskrit and live at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, then I could have a nice time in India.”
They continued their tour of the facilities, and after seeing the dormitory Prabhupāda doubted whether his American disciples could endure the austerity and the academic studies. It seemed that one of the two boys was always sick. First Kīrtanānanda Swami had gotten dysentery, then something had been wrong with Acyutānanda’s stomach, then they had both been exhausted from the heat. “On the whole,” Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to Rūpānuga in New York, “the American boys who come here become first depressed, so I do not know how far our American House in Vrindaban will be successful.” His boys were not particularly studious or austere. Besides, both Kīrtanānanda Swami and Acyutānanda had developed a definite dislike for the rector of the Institute of Oriental Philosophy. And Śrīla Prabhupāda obviously had reservations about the place. “You can go and study there,” Prabhupāda told them, “but don’t live there. Live at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple and go. You can get a bicycle and go there.”
Gradually, the idea of immediately acquiring an American House in Vṛndāvana began to dwindle. Prabhupāda needed his own place for his disciples, and that would take time.
* * *
With regular medication, massages, rest, and the heat of Vṛndāvana, Prabhupāda felt himself recovering. By mid-September he declared himself ninety percent fit to return to the United States. He predicted that he would be back there by the end of October.
B. R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja, Prabhupāda’s Godbrother, whose āśrama was in Navadvīpa, West Bengal, wrote to invite Prabhupāda to spend the month of Kārttika with him at the āśrama and join him for his Vyāsa-pūjā celebration. Śrīla Prabhupāda liked the idea of going to the holy land of Navadvīpa, where Lord Caitanya had spent His early years, and seeing his Godbrother. He also wanted to visit Delhi again and inquire about printing his books.
“Swamiji,” Acyutānanda asked, “when you go to Navadvīpa am I supposed to stay here in Vṛndāvana and study?”
“Don’t you want to see the birthplace of Lord Caitanya?” Prabhupāda asked.
Acyutānanda did, and Prabhupāda, Kīrtanānanda Swami, and Acyutānanda left Vṛndāvana together and returned to the Chippiwada temple in Delhi.
For Prabhupāda’s two disciples, life at the Chippiwada temple was hard. Delhi was blazing hot and lacked the charm of Vṛndāvana. There was water for only two hours a day, early in the morning, and that only a slow trickle. They would fill two clay jugs for Prabhupāda’s room and several buckets for his bath and their own, and then there would be no more water for the rest of the day. A mongoose ran freely through the building.
“Do they eat snakes?” Acyutānanda asked.
“They eat snakes,” said Śrīla Prabhupāda, “they eat garbage, they eat anything.” Prabhupāda, who regarded the heat, the lack of water, and even the mongoose as normal, was undisturbed. Several young Indian musicians in the adjacent room regularly played cinema music on their electric organ, bongo drums, and electric guitars, rehearsing for a dance. Prabhupāda tolerated it.
Sri Krishna Pandit praised Prabhupāda’s work in America and his English translation of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. As manager of the Chippiwada Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple and secretary of an active Hinduism society, Sri Krishna Pandit was interested in spreading Hindu dharma, and therefore he wanted Prabhupāda to speak at the nearby Gaurī-Śaṅkara temple, one of Delhi’s most popular Hindu temples. Prabhupāda agreed to go and take with him Acyutānanda (Kīrtanānanda Swami had already left for the West on August 22).
The Gaurī-Śaṅkara temple was on Chandi Chowk. After a short walk through some of the busiest, most congested streets of Old Delhi, Prabhupāda and Acyutānanda removed their shoes at the door and entered the temple. The main deity was Lord Śiva, but there were many others: Rāma, Durgā, Kālī, Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, Hanumān. The crowds stood before the elaborate altars, viewing and petitioning the various deities.
Acyutānanda had learned about demigod worship from Prabhupāda at 26 Second Avenue. According to Bhagavad-gītā, demigods fulfill only material desires and are therefore worshiped by the less intelligent. A Vaiṣṇava, Prabhupāda had said, respects the demigods-in fact, he respects all living beings, even the ant-but he worships only the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, or Viṣṇu.
Acyutānanda had already seen firsthand that impersonalists were misleading Indians to disavow the personal form of God and accept all methods of worship as equal. Most Indians had no clear understanding of Bhagavad-gītā or Kṛṣṇa. Acyutānanda kept this in mind as Prabhupāda led him in bowing down before a few of the demigods’ altars. Then Prabhupāda brought him before the Deity of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. “Just see,” Prabhupāda said, “Kṛṣṇa is just playing His flute. As for the demigods, someone is holding bows and arrows, someone is holding clubs, someone is holding weapons, but Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are just dancing, and Kṛṣṇa is holding a flute. So He is the Supreme Lord.”
In one large room a heavyset man with a great white beard and wearing flower garlands sat on several pillows. Many people stood staring at him. He reminded Acyutānanda of Santa Claus. “Swamiji, who is that?” Acyutānanda asked.
“Some yogī,” Prabhupāda replied indifferently.
The main lecture hall had a large painting of Lord Śiva on the wall and was crowded with people-women in colored sārīs and many of the men in bright turbans. Amid such a welter of rituals and worshipers, Acyutānanda felt protected by Swamiji. They sat on the dais, and Sri Krishna Pandit introduced his friend Bhaktivedanta Swami to the crowd. Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke in Hindi for about an hour.
Walking back to Chippiwada, Acyutānanda wondered why Swamiji had gone to speak at a place withsuch hodgepodge worship. But with out his asking, it occurred to him that Swamiji was willing to speak about Kṛṣṇa anywhere to anyone. Hadn’t he come to New York City? And what could be a more hodgepodge place than New York’s Lower East Side?
Sitting on the veranda outside his room, Prabhupāda could see the huge domes of the Jama Mosque in the early evening sky. One evening, as Prabhupāda sat softly chanting japa and as Acyutānanda, who had not yet memorized the Gāyatrī mantra, sat nearby reading it to himself, a Hindu gentleman came and conversed with Prabhupāda. Acyutānanda soon finished the Gāyatrī mantra and sat listening to his spiritual master talk in Hindi to the unknown gentleman. Acyutānanda could catch only a word here or there-some mention of Āyur Vedic medicine, addresses, Indian names, cities. They talked for hours, and Acyutānanda wondered who this man was who could speak so long with Swamiji. When the man left, Acyutānanda asked, “Swamiji, was he your Godbrother?”
Prabhupāda said, “No.”
“Is he a swami?”
Prabhupāda said, “No.”
“Is he one of your relatives?”
“Well, who was he?”
“He’s my friend!” Prabhupāda answered emphatically.
Sometimes Prabhupāda’s visitors would bring donations of cloth or fruits or even complete cooked meals in metal tiffins. One visitor-a middle-aged woman who had heard Prabhupāda speak at the Gaurī-Śaṅkara temple-came to Prabhupāda’s office in Chippiwada requesting initiation. Prabhupāda spoke with her, agreed, and had Acyutānanda prepare a small fire sacrifice. At her initiation he gave her the name Mukunda dāsī. She came daily to clean Prabhupāda’s room, and when she saw that his wooden-peg sandals were broken, she bought him new ones.
Chandrashekhar had known Prabhupāda for several years and was supposed to have been his secretary. But he was a drunkard. Prabhupāda suspected him of having stolen from his mailbox more than two thousand rupees during the past two years. Prabhupāda’s Chippiwada address was listed in his magazines and books, and people had been sending money for books and Back to Godhead subscriptions. Even in the past two months, Prabhupāda’s disciples had written that they were enclosing money in their letters, but Prabhupāda never found any. One day he caught sight of Chandrashekhar in the building and asked him, “Where is my mailbox key?”
“I believe you have it,” Chandrashekhar replied. “Or maybe Sri Krishna Pandit has it.” Chandrashekhar was drunk.
“Swamiji,” Acyutānanda said angrīly, “maybe we should make a police case.”
Prabhupāda shook his head, “No.”
“Well,” Acyutānanda said, “if he’s not punished by the law, then in his next birth Kṛṣṇa will punish him.”
“That’s true,” Prabhupāda agreed. Chandrashekhar looked fearfully from Prabhupāda to his American disciple.
“Then there’s only one thing to do,” Acyutānanda said. “Shall I call the police?”
“No,” said Prabhupāda, “I forgive him.” Yet only a few days later Prabhupāda’s record player disappeared, and Prabhupāda suspected the drunkard, Chandrashekhar.
Prabhupāda brought Acyutānanda with him to his bank, the Bank of Baroda, to exchange some American currency. As they were about to enter the door, the guard refused them entry, thinking they were sādhus come to beg. Prabhupāda was angry. He spoke loudly in Hindi to the guard, an old man with a shotgun, a big strap of bullets, and a shabby semi-official uniform. “I have an account here,” Prabhupāda protested. Finally the guard allowed them to enter.
Prabhupāda went straight to the manager and complained. “Do you think,” Prabhupāda said, “because I am a sādhu I am to be regarded as a beggar?” Prabhupāda told the man of his organization in America and his account in the Bank of Baroda. The manager apologized and reprimanded the guard.
One day Prabhupāda sent Acyutānanda to a certain restaurant. “If you want to see varieties of Indian food,” Prabhupāda said, “tell the man you want ten rupees of sweets and ten rupees of salty preparations-that is called miṣṭi and nimaka. And just see the varieties.” Acyutānanda was sick and couldn’t imagine eating a lot of sweets. But he stopped by the restaurant and looked. When he returned to the temple at Chippiwada he told Prabhupāda that he had seen the food, although he couldn’t eat it. “Yes, but just see the varieties,” Prabhupāda concluded. And he explained how Kṛṣṇa consciousness was personal and full of varieties, not dry.
Another American disciple joined Prabhupāda-Rāmānuja, from Haight-Ashbury. He had been initiated just before Swamiji had left San Francisco, and he sported a full black beard. Prabhupāda didn’t like the beard. Cautiously and indirectly he mentioned it: but Rāmānuja’s beard stayed. Rāmānuja carried a book about Tibetan Buddhism, and he didn’t seem fixed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness philosophy. But here he was, one of the looser, sentimental San Francisco devotees, ready for Indian adventures with Swamiji.
* * *
Śrīla Prabhupāda visited the wealthy Delhi industrialist Mr. Seth Dalmia to discuss plans for printing some of his books in India. Mr. Dalmia received him well but gave only vague promises of help. Prabhupāda also met with Hitsaran Sharma, Mr. Dalmia’s secretary, who worked closely with Hanuman Prasad Poddar of the popular religious publishing company Gītā Press. Śrīla Prabhupāda was already acquainted with all three gentlemen, since they had all donated toward his first volume of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Prabhupāda wanted Gītā Press to publish his Gītopaniṣad and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Hitsaran Sharma showed him an illustrated Gītā in Hindi poetry that he had recently published. “But my Gītā, my Bhāgavatam,” said Śrīla Prabhupāda, appearing disgusted, “is the description of God. It is the description of Kṛṣṇa.” Mr. Sharma said he couldn’t see how Gītā Press could print Prabhupāda’s voluminous writings. Nevertheless, Prabhupāda still considered privately printing Gītopaniṣad, with Mr. Sharma as his agent.
On October 11, Prabhupāda wrote to Brahmānanda,
We must have our books printed; we have wasted much time in the matter of editing and finding out a suitable publisher. When I was alone there was three volumes published but during the last two years I could not publish a single volume more. It is a great defeat. If I have one or two sincere souls like you and if we can make more publications, then our mission will be a great success. I am prepared to sit down underneath a tree with one sincere soul and in such activity I shall be freed of all diseases.
* * *
Devotees from America were regularly writing Swamiji, anxious to see him again in good health. But he didn’t want to leave India, he explained, until he personally saw that the printing of his Gītopaniṣad was under way. Printing Gītopaniṣad and obtaining approval for permanent residency in the U.S. were the two short-term goals he wished to achieve before returning. But he thought often of his return to America.
As you are all feeling my separation, similarly I’m also anxious to return as soon as possible. I think I’m fit to go back to your country at present and as scheduled previously I’m sure by the end of October. I must be fit to return, but before this there are many things to be done. I’m not yet assured of the permanent visa. The best thing will be that from each center an invitation should be sent that my presence is urgently required… Presently I’m very much anxious to begin printing here if Macmillan company does not take up the work. Please, therefore, let me know yes or no from Macmillan. If he is not serious, then immediately send the manuscripts finished or not to the following address: Pundit Hitsaran Sharma c/o Dalmia Enterprises, Scindia House, New Delhi. After dispatching let me know and I shall do the needful.
Indian friends who visited Prabhupāda’s room listened eagerly as he told them about America-the millions of cars and the superhighways and thousands of young people rejecting their fathers’ wealth. But Prabhupāda’s visitors weren’t fully able to understand his visit to America. Not that they were too simple to understand and not just that they had never traveled in the West. Prabhupāda’s experience in America consisted of intimate spiritual relationships with his disciples. How could an outsider understand the dynamics of his temples and his disciples in the West? How could anyone except Prabhupāda and his disciples understand these things?
My mind is always with you. Practically your country is my home now. India is a foreign country for me. The reason is that my spiritual family is there and my material relationships are in India; therefore factually where my spiritual family exists, there is my home.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s vision of a worldwide society of devotees preaching in temples and publishing books-a vision he had had even before he had gone to America-was now becoming manifest. But it was dependent on him. In his absence his disciples were sustained only by carrying out his orders and receiving his letters. When Dayānanda and Nandarāṇī had gone from the San Francisco temple to start a temple in Los Angeles, it had been Swamiji’s instructions that had sustained and guided them: “Wherever there is a new branch of our society for Krishna Consciousness I become very very happy. And my blessings in heart and soul are with you.” On receipt of Swamiji’s letter, they knew they had done the right thing. No matter that husband and wife sometimes quarreled and that there wasn’t enough money-the main thing was that Swamiji was pleased.
From Boston, Satsvarūpa wrote that he and the other devotees there were moving from an apartment to a rented storefront near Boston University. The first time Satsvarūpa entered the new storefront, he found on the floor an aerogram from Swamiji, dated October 6 from Delhi.
I can understand that you have secured a very nice place in Boston and there is a very good possibility of pushing our movement amongst the student community there. Our movement is certainly very much appealing to the younger section of your country and if we are successful in the matter of attracting the student community in your country certainly this movement will scatter all over the world and fullfill the foretelling of Lord Caitanya that in every village and every town of the world the Lord will be famous for His glorious sankirtana movement. Please try for this with your heart and soul and your life will be a successful mission.
The letter was as good as Swamiji coming personally to open the storefront and begin the preaching. It gave Satsvarūpa full direction and inspiration. And it was personal. In that same letter, Prabhupāda had written,
I am always aspiring after returning to your care and overload you with typewriting tasks… I hope we shall very soon meet again and help each other in the matter of discharging Krishna conscious engagements. I am now 90% alright and I think I can return safely. This typewriting work is done by me. For two days I am alone and doing everything myself as experiment. This proves that I am now well. Please offer my blessings to all the boys and girls there.
In New Mexico, Subala was trying to arrange public speaking engagements for Prabhupāda’s return, and Prabhupāda was encouraging him: “If you think I can be on television by the first week in December, then you can arrange for it because I must be in your country by the middle of November.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to Janārdana in Montreal answering his philosophical doubts and encouraging him to be patient with his spiritually reluctant wife. And to Rāya Rāma, who was editing Back to Godhead magazine in New York, he gave another kind of thoughtful assurance.
I am very happy that since it [BTG] is entrusted to you the things are improving. This means that Krishna is giving you more & more facilities. Krishna is such a nice boss that he gives more facilities & improvement to the sincere servant.
On October 9, the day Prabhupāda started for Calcutta, he left behind a different kind of letter for Sri Krishna Pandit. Prabhupāda had been negotiating with Sri Krishna Pandit to purchase the Chippiwada temple for ISKCON or at least to rent the single room through a formal contract. Prabhupāda wanted the room as a Delhi headquarters for printing his books. On the day of his departure, however, Sri Krishna Pandit was unavailable, and Prabhupāda left him a short handwritten note.
If you are not settling anything with the room, then I may not come back to Delhi any more. I will go to U.S.A. directly from Calcutta via the Pacific route for which Sri Dalmia Seth has already promised for the ticket.
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