Prabhupāda’s train, the Kalka Mail, pulled into Delhi Station. Prabhupāda and his two disciples had tickets with reserved seat numbers-but no car number. So while Prabhupāda waited with the baggage, Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja ran from one end of the train to the other looking for their car.
After they had found their seats and boarded, Acyutānanda untied Prabhupāda’s bedding and spread it open on the upper tier. Prabhupāda climbed the little ladder, sat comfortably on his cotton-stuffed quilt, and opened his Sanskrit Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, while Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja took their seats. It would take around twenty-four hours to reach Calcutta.
Near the end of the journey, a group of educated Bengali gentlemen struck up a philosophical conversation with the Swami. “We do not worship any form,” said one, speaking fluent English in a loud, deep voice. “We have a marble oṁkāra that we worship, and we sit and pray to that.”
“That is also a form,” said Prabhupāda. He was reluctant to attack their philosophical position directly.
“We practice karma-yoga,” the gentleman went on, not heeding Prabhupāda’s previous point. “Because in karma-yoga you can stay within your position.”
“But karma-yoga is not full surrender of the soul,” said Prabhupāda. “One must come to the stage of bhakti.”
“Oh, no,” the man protested, “emotionalism is very harmful. Karma-yoga-”
Śrīla Prabhupāda exploded: “Karma-yoga is for the fools!” Silence.
Another man, not with the Bengalis but seated beside them, spoke up. “Obviously Swamiji is a learned scholar,” he said. “You shouldn’t argue like that.” The Bengali that Prabhupāda had shouted at got up and moved to another seat. Later, he came back.
“Are you insulted?” Prabhupāda asked him.
“No, no, no,” he replied. “But I have never heard anyone say that about the teachings of the Gītā.”
The Bengalis then talked with Acyutānanda, lighting their cigarettes and smoking freely before him, although they had not dared to do so before Prabhupāda (it wasn’t proper to smoke in front of a sādhu). Bengalis, Acyutānanda told them, citing one of Prabhupāda’s examples, were very sorry that East Pakistan had been cut off from the rest of Bengal. But Kṛṣṇa consciousness could elevate people to international, universal consciousness. Then there wouldn’t be any such division. The Bengalis appreciated Acyutānanda’s remark, though they continued to blow smoke in his face as the train rattled over the last miles to Calcutta.
Prabhupāda was greeted at Calcutta’s Howrah Station by relatives, mostly from his sister’s family, and by devotees of the Goswami Math. About fifty people were on hand. They offered Prabhupāda flower garlands and sandalwood paste and then escorted him and his disciples into a car. Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja noticed that although Swamiji’s sister was shorter and more rotund than Prabhupāda, her facial features were strikingly similar. Her name was Bhavatarini, but Prabhupāda told them to call her Pisīmā, “aunt.”
As Prabhupāda rode through the streets he saw many images of goddess Kālī, ten-armed, riding a lion. Calcutta was observing the biggest religious celebration in Bengal, Kālī-pūjā, a month of festivities in honor of the goddess Kālī. Throughout the city, brass bands and radio music blared, and there were decorative lights, stages, and tents.
When Prabhupāda arrived at Pisīmā’s house in south Calcutta, his relatives seated him and performed an ārati ceremony in his honor, reverently offering him the traditional items: incense, a flaming lamp, flowers. They also bathed his feet. He sat smiling within the crowded room of relatives, who were proud of his having journeyed to America on behalf of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
As Prabhupāda’s family members sang Hare Kṛṣṇa kīrtana, from outside the room the ladies of the house began singing a high, shrill whooping sound. Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja were startled.
Pisīmā had prepared a large feast, much of it cooked in mustard seed oil, for the homecoming celebration. And Prabhupāda satisfied her by honoring the prasādam, even though he wasn’t feeling well and was tired from the train ride.
Soon after the festivities Prabhupāda and his disciples retired. Again his health wavered-this time because of his sister’s heavy cooking-and he felt a strain on his heart. He sent for an Āyur Vedic doctor, who taught Acyutānanda how to do a very gentle massage to help circulation and restricted Prabhupāda from sweets.
As Prabhupāda recovered he began regularly lecturing in his room during the evening. Although he spoke in English (for his disciples), the room would soon fill to capacity with relatives and friends. There were generally disturbances from outside due to the noises of Kālī-pūjā. Nearby Pisīmā’s house was a large tent, a center for evening street parties, which included a sweets counter, fireworks, and an excessively loud public address system that incongruously blared Julie Andrews singing songs from The Sound of Music.
One evening as Prabhupāda spoke-“My only qualification is that I have unflinching faith in my spiritual master”-a large firecracker exploded right outside the door. The audience smiled tolerantly. “Yes,” Prabhupāda said, taking the explosion as confirmation of his words, “it is glorious.”
One night Prabhupāda explained that according to Bhagavad-gītā, demigod worshipers are less intelligent. People worship Kālī for material rewards, he said, but since all material things are temporary, such worship is inferior to the worship of Kṛṣṇa. Kālī is not able to grant the worshiper liberation from birth and death.
“Which is better?” Acyutānanda asked, “the worship of the Christians and Jews, which is mostly impersonal, or the worship of the non-Absolute by the worshipers of Kālī?”
“Worship of Kālī is better,” Prabhupāda said, “because the worshipers are in the Vedic system. They are more likely to bow down to Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa or chant Hare Kṛṣṇa than a Christian or Jew. There is a chance that they will become Kṛṣṇa devotees in the future, if they lose their material attachments.”
Prabhupāda regularly invited his Godbrothers and their disciples to join him in America. Sometimes he seemed to do it just to get them at least to think more of preaching. Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had once chided that the Gaudiya Math āśrama was no more than a “joint mess,” the members going out each day and collecting enough alms so that they could eat together, but with no dynamic vision for preaching. So Prabhupāda’s frequent invitations-“You should go to America. Come back with me”-would stir them, even if they couldn’t actually come. On visiting the āśrama of Bhaktisāraṅga Goswami, Prabhupāda saw that the audience consisted almost entirely of old widows. But he spoke as usual.
One day, Prabhupāda’s Godbrother Haridāsa Swami came by. He was heavyset and loud, and he spoke very rapidly: “Very happy to see you coming here from America. This is wonderful-Kṛṣṇa is the summum bonum, the cause of all causes-I want you to come to my temple…”
When Haridāsa Mahārāja went into a separate room, Prabhupāda turned to Acyutānanda: “He wants us to go to his temple. But to go there I will have to go onto a ricksha and then onto a tramcar and then onto a train and then another ricksha.” Aware of Prabhupāda’s weak condition, Acyutānanda began shaking his head negatively.
When Haridāsa Mahārāja returned, Acyutānanda said that Swamiji couldn’t come to his maṭha. “Who are you?” Haridāsa Mahārāja said angrily. “You are just a brahmacārī! You should risk your life!”
Acyutānanda replied, “I will risk my life, but I can’t risk my spiritual master’s life.”
Haridāsa Mahārāja left insulted. “Don’t worry,” Prabhupāda said. “He is just very talkative.”
Prabhupāda paid a visit to B. P. Keśava Mahārāja, the Godbrother who had awarded him the sannyāsa order in 1959. Prabhupāda sat on the floor and spoke in Bengali to his Godbrother, who was very old and apparently on his deathbed. Prabhupāda had Acyutānanda sing for Keśava Mahārja. Keśava Mahārāja requested Prabhupāda to visit his āśrama, Devānanda Math, in Navadvīpa.
* * *
Śrīla Prabhupāda had wanted to return to the U.S. as a permanent resident, but his students in America hadn’t been able to get the necessary clearance from the U.S. immigration department. The devotees in Boston had gotten in touch with a few Harvard Indology professors but had obtained no signed statements about Prabhupāda’s importance. All the ISKCON centers had written formal letters inviting A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami and had presented copies to the U.S. immigration office. But unless the devotees could produce something more impressive, like a government recommendation or a university’s offer for him to join their faculty, Prabhupāda could not become a U.S. resident.
On October 13 Prabhupāda wrote to his disciples in Montreal:
I am very anxious to go to Montreal. Therefore you must try your best to get my immigration visa on the basis of my being an authorized Vaishnava minister, based on Śrīmad Bhagawatam and Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā.
Rather than wait indefinitely for permanent residency, Prabhupāda decided to apply for a visitor’s visa. He went with Acyutānanda to the U.S. Consulate on Harrington Road. There, in the middle of Calcutta, they entered a small piece of America, with everything shiny, new, and efficient: air conditioners, stainless steel water coolers, electric security doors, U.S. Marines, and American flags. Sitting before the secretary of the Consulate, Prabhupāda looked small and humble. “I want a visa to see my students in America,” he said softly.
“Do you have any letters?” the secretary asked. Acyutānanda handed over the letters from the temples. The secretary reviewed them and quickly gave Prabhupāda a four-month visa. While leaving the building Prabhupāda remarked, “I will just get anything, and then it can be extended.”
On October 19, Prabhupāda wrote Hayagrīva regarding his imminent return.
I am already preparing for returning to U.S.A. & I have obtained a visitor’s visa the day before yesterday. Most probably I shall take the first chance to return to U.S.A. upon my return from Navadvipa.
And on October 22 he wrote Umāpati.
You will be glad to know that I have already secured a visitor’s visa to your country and have asked my travel agent to book my seat on the earliest possible date. I think I shall be in your midst by the middle of Nov.
* * *
On October 24 Prabhupāda traveled with Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja to Navadvīpa. Although the local train took four hours, the lush Bengal countryside gradually revealed its heavenly beauty, and Prabhupāda’s health seemed to improve just from the pleasant journey. By the time they arrived at Navadvīpa, Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja were also feeling relief from the rigors of Calcutta; for the first time in weeks they could open their eyes without blinking through drops of perspiration.
A large kīrtana party of brahmacārīs, mostly members of Keśava Mahārāja’s Devānanda Gaudiya Math, met Śrīla Prabhupāda at the Navadvīpa train station. The brahmacārīs were meticulously neat, with their robes all dyed the same shade of saffron, their Vaiṣṇava tilaka markings bold and distinct, their heads smoothly shaved, their śikhās precise. They offered Prabhupāda and his party aromatic garlands made from flowers resembling lotuses and gathered around Śrīla Prabhupāda with worshipful enthusiasm. Also present were a few of Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s disciples, waiting with rickshas to take Prabhupāda and his disciples to their guru’s āśrama. Although between the two groups there was an unspoken competition for Prabhupāda’s presence, he had previously agreed to go to Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s place. He promised the members of Devānanda Math that he would visit them next.
Soon after leaving the station the rickshas turned onto a road lined with lush tropical vegetation: banana trees, tall bamboos, exotic blossoming flowers. Prabhupāda saw simple villagers working near their straw-and-mud huts and, in the distance, the spire of Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s temple.
A kīrtana party greeted Prabhupāda at the outer gates of Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s āśrama, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and playing karatālas and clay mṛdaṅgas. Prabhupāda entered the temple, offered obeisances before the Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, and then went to see his Godbrother.
Śrīdhara Mahārāja was very old, his sight failing, his joints stiff with arthritis. He stayed mostly in his room or sometimes on his veranda and moved only with slow, rickety motions. He was an austere and kindly Vaiṣṇava and smiled heartily on seeing Prabhupāda and his disciples. In fluent English he began praising Prabhupāda’s preaching in America, repeatedly using Prabhupāda’s phrase “Kṛṣṇa consciousness.” Swamiji’s work, he said, was the fulfillment of Lord Caitanya’s prophecy that Kṛṣṇa consciousness would one day spread all over the world. He laughed and smiled and praised the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement with no trace of jealousy.
“So you appreciate this phrase, “Kṛṣṇa consciousness.'” Prabhupāda smiled.
“Yes,” Śrīdhara Mahārāja replied, “and the disciples of Swami Mahārāja also.” And he turned towards Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja. “With very little effort your preaching will go far.”
The boys were astonished. This was really something to write home about: sitting on the roof of a temple in this jungle paradise with old Śrīdhara Mahārāja appreciating Swamiji’s work as the greatest work on behalf of Lord Caitanya, and Swamiji sitting relaxed, grinning, and making humble replies! It was the high point of the trip.
My dear Satsvarupa,
Please accept my blessings. I have already duly received the invitation from Harvard University. It is understood that they are scheduling me for 20 Nov. between 6 and 10 p.m. I can start immediately on the strength of my visitor’s visa, but I am awaiting for Mukunda’s reply for his trying for my permanent visa. Yesterday we have all come to Navadvipa. This place is another establishment of one of my Godbrothers. It is very nice and extensive place and my Godbrother, B. R. Sridhar Mahāraj, has spared one entire nice house for our stay. He has also agreed to cooperate with our society. We shall observe his birthday ceremony tomorrow and the brahmacaris shall learn how to celebrate the spiritual master’s birthday.
Vyāsa-pūjā day, the observance of B. R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s birthday, was October 27. His disciples had erected a paṇḍāl on the temple road, and about a hundred people attended. Śrīdhara Mahārāja sat on his vyāsāsana, and Prabhupāda and other sannyāsīs, all wearing flower garlands, sat in chairs next to Śrīdhara Mahārāja. Prabhupāda spoke in Bengali. Some of Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s disciples, inspired by Prabhupāda’s preaching about the glories of spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West, delivered speeches in English as Vyāsa-pūjā homages to their spiritual master. Śrīdhara Mahārāja, also speaking in English, gave a very scientific lecture on Kṛṣṇa consciousness and the senses. Afterwards Prabhupāda told his disciples, “He has very high realizations, but he is keeping them to himself.”
Every morning before dawn Śrīdhara Mahārāja sent out a party of brahmacārīs to perform kīrtana in the villages. On Prabhupāda’s request, Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja joined them, leaving before sunrise and returning at dusk. Although Prabhupāda and Śrīdhara Mahārāja usually remained at the temple, one day they got into a ricksha and accompanied the chanting party through the streets of Navadvīpa.
The festival at the Devānanda Math was a big affair. In contrast to Bhaktisāraṅga Goswami’s āśrama in Calcutta, where only widows had attended, B. P. Keśava Mahārāja’s Devānanda Math had about two hundred brahmacārīs and twenty sannyāsīs. Some of the brahmacārīs, however, were not full-time but were attending school outside; so the āśrama’s atmosphere was a little like that of a social club. But when the kīrtana and the circumambulation of the temple began, seven hundred people took part. The impeccably dressed sannyāsīs-whose every piece of saffron cloth, including their cloth-wrapped daṇḍas, was dyed exactly the same shade-danced back and forth before the Deities. A dozen sannyāsīs danced in a group, their daṇḍas moving together, dipping and rising, forward and back, to the delight of the brahmacārīs.
Prabhupāda sat on a dais with other dignitaries and spoke to the festival audience. Acyutānanda, on Prabhupāda’s request, spoke a few words in Bengali, bringing laughs and applause. Śrīdhara Mahārāja spoke gravely in Bengali. A sannyāsī from the Devānanda Math, speaking for their absent leader, B. P. Keśava Mahārāja, proclaimed in empassioned tones that although Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s movement had been predicted to spread throughout the world, no one had known how it could be possible. Now, thanks to the work of Bhaktivedanta Swami, it was happening.
After a large feast in the evening, Prabhupāda’s party returned to Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s āśrama. Śrīdhara Mahārāja intimated to Prabhupāda that the Devānanda Math emphasized quantity whereas his own āśrama emphasized quality. Curious as to what this meant, Acyutānanda wanted to ask Prabhupāda. But the time didn’t seem appropriate.
After nine days in Navadvīpa Prabhupāda was ready to return to Calcutta and prepare for his trip back to the United States. He and his two disciples took rickshas to Navadvīpa and caught a morning train to Calcutta.
On the train, Acyutānanda timidly put forward the question that had been on his mind: “Swamiji, what did you and Śrīdhara Mahārāja discuss?”
“Oh, many, many things,” Prabhupāda replied. “But if I were to tell you now, you would faint.” After a silence Prabhupāda added, “Still, I offered him to be president of our Society. I knew he would not accept. He is keeping things within him. Anyway, this is all beyond you. Do not have any ill feelings towards any of my Godbrothers. They are all great souls. There are just some differences on preaching and spreading. Even in your mind do not feel any ill will towards them. At the same time, do not mix very thickly with them.”
Acyutānanda suggested, “Maybe if these two sannyāsīs had each other’s qualities combined…”
“Ah, yes,” Prabhupāda said, “now you have understood me.”
* * *
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s intention in coming to Calcutta was simply to prepare to leave for America. He had his visitor’s visa already, but he thought that if he stayed in India a little longer, in San Francisco Mukunda might be able to secure permanent American residency for him. He went to his sister’s house to spend his last days in Calcutta there, but after only a few days he felt that the Rādhā-Govinda Deity-the Deity he had worshiped in his childhood-was calling him.
When Prabhupāda had been no more than an infant, his servant used to take him and his cousin Subuddhi Mullik on a perambulator, wheel them into the temple courtyard, and take them before the altar of Rādhā-Govinda. And as soon as Prabhupāda could walk, his father would hold his hand and take him before the Deity every day. Sometimes Prabhupāda would go alone and stand for hours gazing upon Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, who appeared very beautiful to him with Their slanted eyes and fine dress and ornaments. It had been for the pleasure of Rādhā-Govinda that as a child, beginning at the age of five, he had performed his miniature Ratha-yātrā festival.
Just two weeks ago, when Prabhupāda had been staying at his sister’s house, his health had prevented him from going to north Calcutta to see the Deity; so he had gone to Navadvīpa without taking Their blessings. But now, although still weak and although preoccupied with traveling to the U.S., he felt that the Deity was calling him.
For the past 150 years, the Rādhā-Govinda temple had been maintained by the aristocratic Mulliks, a branch of Prabhupāda’s own family. The Mulliks had owned the entire block on Harrison Road (now Mahātma Gandhi Road), and rents from the block-long building opposite the temple had financed the opulent worship of Rādhā-Govinda. In those days the Deities had been worshiped on a gorgeous altar in the large kīrtana hall, and They had been dressed in silks and ornamented with gilded and bejeweled crowns and necklaces. All the pious Vaiṣṇava families of the neighborhood would visit; and on Janmāṣṭamī, Kṛṣṇa’s birthday, even British gentlemen and ladies would come.
But today the Mullik family possessed only remnants of the European art and furnishings that had once filled their homes and temple-relics from an age of former grandeur. And the worship of Rādhā-Govinda had pitifully deteriorated.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was pained to see the neglect. No longer were Rādhā and Govinda the center of the Mulliks’ lives. The Deity worship still continued-conducted by paid brāhmaṇas-but few people came to see. The main attraction now was the golden deity of the goddess Kālī on the large altar in the kīrtana hall. Rādhā and Govinda, “in the family” for many generations, had been relegated to a small upstairs room in the Mullik compound. Their dress was no longer elegant, Their valuable crowns and ornaments had disappeared, and there were no large kīrtanas as before. Only a paid brāhmaṇa came in the morning to rub sandalwood pulp on Their shining bodies, dress Them carefully in whatever simple clothes remained, and place jasmine garlands around Their necks while a widow or two watched the silent proceedings.
Kṛṣṇa consciousness was dying in India, dying from neglect. At least it was dying here in Calcutta. And in many other places in India, even in Vṛndāvana, the impersonal philosophy prevailed, and grand old temples had become residences for pigeons, monkeys, and dogs. Sad as it was, it only reinforced Prabhupāda’s conviction of the need to return to the fertile ground in the West. Although here in India the spirit of devotion was dying, in the West it was just beginning to grow-in New York, San Francisco, Montreal, Boston.
If pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness were dying in India, then why shouldn’t it be transplanted in the fertile West? There it would flourish. It would spread worldwide and even back to India again. When India, bent on following the West, saw the materially advanced Americans taking to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, she would reevaluate her own culture.
Prabhupāda saw a Kṛṣṇa conscious revolution beginning in the United States. He didn’t consider himself its creator; he was the servant of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Lord Caitanya’s desire was that every Indian help to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness worldwide. Unfortunately, the very verses in the scriptures that prophesied a worldwide Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement were a puzzle even to most of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers. They admitted it.
But soon they would see. There was great potential in the West. Prabhupāda had shown many of his Godbrothers the newspaper articles-“Swami’s Flock” chanting in Tompkins Square Park, “Ancient Trance Dance” at Stanford University-and he had brought some disciples with him. These were only beginnings. Much more had to be done.
And who would help? B. P. Keśava Mahārāja was dying. Śrīdhara Mahārāja couldn’t come out. Who else? Most Indians were impersonalists, nondevotional yogīs, or demigod worshipers. As Śrīla Prabhupāda stood before the Rādhā-Govinda Deity, explaining to Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja how he had worshiped Them in his childhood and how They had been his first inspiration in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he understood deeply that he must take Kṛṣṇa consciousness all over the world, even if singlehandedly. Of course, he was not alone; he had disciples. And they were opening new centers even in his absence. He would have to return to them very soon and supervise his growing movement.
The Mulliks regarded Prabhupāda more as a relative than as a spiritual leader. To them he was a hometown cousin who had done something successful in America. Narendranath Mullik, a childhood friend of Prabhupāda’s, called Prabhupāda Dādā, “brother,” and regularly joked with him.
The Mulliks were glad to give Prabhupāda and his two followers a large room in the temple compound for as long as they wanted to stay in Calcutta. Prabhupāda set up his usual arrangement: a mat on the floor, a low table for a desk, and beside the desk his few possessions. Here he could study and write, receive guests, or rest. Daily some local women brought Prabhupāda and his disciples simple prasādam in a tiffin.
The Kālī-pūjā celebrations drew large crowds into the main hall before the Kālī deity, and Prabhupāda gave regular lectures there from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. He also spoke in the homes of various Mullik families. The hosts, members of the dwindling Bengali aristocracy, would offer Prabhupāda and his disciples Rādhā-Govinda prasādam: cut fruits, water chestnuts, minced ginger, and soaked, salted mung beans.
Most of those who came to visit Prabhupāda in his room were not really interested in spiritual life, but they wanted his blessings. There was a local brāhmaṇa whose occupation was to go from shop to shop carrying a few flowers, a cup of water, and a brass container with sandalwood paste and kuṅkuma powder. Using this paraphernalia, he would offer a blessing to the shopkeepers every day and receive a few paisā in payment. Knowing Prabhupāda to be a Vaiṣṇava, the brāhmaṇa came to see him to receive a spiritual benediction. The man’s forehead was decorated with both Vaiṣṇava tilaka (two vertical lines) and Śaivite tilaka (three horizontal lines). After the man left, Acyutānanda asked, “Swamiji, who was that?”
“He is a hired brāhmaṇa,” Prabhupāda said. “When he goes to the Vaiṣṇavas he gives them blessings, and when he goes to the Śaivites he gets money. He has to make a living.”
Another man came, asserting that he wanted to teach Prabhupāda’s disciples Hindi. He asked Prabhupāda to help him get to America, but Prabhupāda told him, “You must take sannyāsa. Then I will bring you to America.” After two visits, the man stopped coming.
A Mullik relation, a small, bald, bright-eyed man, came by one day carrying a book entitled Interesting Studies. He posed philosophical questions-simple queries about karma, jñāna, and bhakti-but then would interrupt Prabhupāda and answer them himself. Finally when the man asked one of his questions, Prabhupāda replied, “So what is your answer?” The man gave a general answer. But later, when Prabhupāda began explaining that Lord Kṛṣṇa, the speaker of Bhagavad-gītā, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the man interrupted: “You may call God “Kṛṣṇa,’ call Him “Śiva,’ call Him-”
“No,” Prabhupāda said. “Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Lord, and all others are demigods.” The man became a little nervous and quoted a popular Bengali impersonalist who taught that all gods and all methods of worship are the same.
“He’s an upstart,” Prabhupāda said. “That is not the teaching of the Gītā. What is this other teaching? It is all utter confusion.”
“If you go on speaking like this,” the man said angrily, “I’ll have to leave this place. Please don’t criticize this paramahaṁsa.”
“Why not?” Prabhupāda said. “He is a concocter.” The man got up and left, calling out, “You don’t know Kṛṣṇa!” as he left the room.
Prabhupāda turned to Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja and smiled: “Every time you introduce Kṛṣṇa they say, “Why only Kṛṣṇa?’ But that is what Kṛṣṇa says. Mattah parataraṁ nānyat: “There is no truth superior to Me.’ These rascal impersonalists have ruined Bengal.”
One day a man gave Prabhupāda a two-hundred-rupee donation, and Prabhupāda immediately asked the pūjārī for an old set of Rādhā Govinda’s clothes, gave the clothes to some of the temple ladies along with the two hundred rupees, and asked that the ladies make gold embroidered dresses for Rādhā-Govinda. “Rādhā-Govinda are taking care of us,” he said, “so we can take care of Them also.”
Rāmānuja’s beard was huge. Looking like an ordinary hippie, he misrepresented Śrīla Prabhupāda wherever they went. Prabhupāda told Acyutānanda, “Tell your friend to shave.” Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja talked, but Rāmānuja wouldn’t shave. Wanting Rāmānuja to agree on his own, Prabhupāda didn’t ask him again, but when a copy of the latest Back to Godhead magazine arrived from the States, Prabhupāda got an idea. Two illustrations in the magazine showed Haridāsa Ṭhākura converting a prostitute. After her conversion the prostitute had shaved her head. Showing the pictures to Rāmānuja, Prabhupāda asked, “What is the difference between this picture and that picture?”
“I don’t know, Swamiji,” Rāmānuja replied.
“No,” Prabhupāda said, pointing to the pictures. “What is the difference in this picture?”
“Oh, she’s a devotee.”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said, “but what else?”
“Oh, she has a shaved head.”
“Yes.” Prabhupāda smiled. “A devotee has a shaved head.”
“Do you want me to shave my head?”
Rāmānuja shaved. But within a few days he began growing his beard and hair back. “From now on,” Prabhupāda told Acyutānanda, “no more cheap initiations. They have to know something.”
Rāmānuja hung on. Prabhupāda wanted Rāmānuja and Acyutānanda to remain in India after his departure and continue to try for the American House in Vṛndāvana. Rāmānuja wrote his own impressions to his friend Mukunda in San Francisco.
Please be advised that we’re doing all we can to get him off as soon as possible but this primitive Indian government is putting obstacles in our way. The man who could have given Swamiji clearance for his P-form has just drowned, so the clearance has to be made in Bombay. This is the delay. Here in Calcutta we are having lots of fun addressing different people. Swamiji makes Acyutānanda and myself give a short speech. I am becoming more and more expert at this. I think that he makes us speak in order to show the audience that we American Vaiṣṇavas are for real. And also he wants everyone to preach Krishna Consciousness… It is very difficult to take care properly of Swamiji’s health here. For one thing it is a big thing to serve sweets in India and it is impolite to decline. Also we get all kinds of visitors. We have not been able to go to bed before 11 o’clock and Swamiji automatically wakes at 3. In this respect the people here are very inconsiderate but if Acyutānanda and I ask them to leave they will ask Swamiji if they should and Swamiji of course says no. Anyway his heart beat is a little fast and sometimes it is alarmingly fast, so I suggest that you get a good heart specialist to see him… Please arrange for this doctor and above all make sure that Swamiji gets plenty of rest. You need not restrict visitors too strictly because if the company is good Swamiji seems to enjoy visitors. Please do all you can to get Swamiji’s beat to normal again. His chariot needs to be fixed up so that he can remain on this earth for at least another ten years.
* * *
Knowing that Swamiji would soon be returning, the devotees in America began to increase their entreaties, each group asking him to come to their particular city. On November 4 Prabhupāda wrote Mukunda, “As you say that my absence is being felt now surely more deeply than ever, so I also feel to start immediately without waiting.” And to Mukunda’s wife, Jānakī, he wrote, “Every minute I think of you and as you asked me to go to San Francisco while returning from India, I am trying to fulfill my promise. I am thinking of going directly to San Francisco.” At the bottom of the same letter to Mukunda and Jānakī, Acyutānanda added a health report:
Swamiji is looking healthy and living and working regularly, but his pulse rate is generally too fast. Last night it was 95-unusually fast even for him as it generally hovers between 83 and 86.
Prabhupāda decided not to wait any longer on the chance that Mukunda might secure him permanent residency. “I want to return to your country, where there is good air and good water,” he told Acyutānanda one day. “Every day we are receiving letters that the devotees want me there. I thought that in my absence they might deteriorate, and I was reluctant to even come to India. But now I see that it is growing. There is need for me to go and supervise the expansion. So I want to go back.”
The only impediment now seemed to be a delayed P-form, a clearance from the Bank of India required for an Indian citizen traveling abroad.
I am just ready for starting for America but as you know our competent government is very slow in action. The P-form was submitted almost a month ago, but still it is undergoing red tapism. The visa was granted to me within half an hour. The passage money was deposited within two days but unfortunately the Reserve Bank of India is delaying the matter unnecessarily. I expect the P-form at any moment and as soon as I get it I shall start for your country.
Just to make certain that Swamiji would come first to San Francisco, Mukunda sent a telegram to Calcutta: “SWAMIJI. BRAHMANANDA AND I AGREE YOU START IMMEDIATELY. ADVISE EXACT ARRIVAL DATE. MUKUNDA.”
Prabhupāda had planned his route through Tokyo, intending to stop for a day “to probe if there is any possibility of starting a center.” In Tokyo he would let Mukunda know by telephone his arrival time in San Francisco. But three weeks passed while Prabhupāda continued to wait for his P-form.
Meanwhile, he received good news from New York. The Macmillan Company’s interest in Bhagavad-gītā was real; the contract was being drawn. Pleased with Brahmānanda, he wrote to him on November 11 explaining his visions for distributing Kṛṣṇa conscious literature.
If publications are there we can work from one center only like New York or San Francisco for propagating our cult all over the world. Let us stick to the publication of BTG more and more nicely and publish some Vedic literatures like Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Chaitanya Charitamrita, etc…
As Prabhupāda’s mind turned more to the preaching that awaited him in America, he assessed what he had done so far, what he would do, and the process by which he would do it.
I am not in agreement with Mr. Altman that we are expanding very thinly. In my opinion, a single sincere soul can maintain a center. You know I started the center at 26 2nd Ave. alone. I took the risk of 200.00 dollars per month for Rent. At that time there were no assistants. Mukunda was at that time a friend but there was no responsibility for him for maintaining the center. Gradually Kirtanananda and Hayagrīva joined but they did not take any responsibility. Still I was maintaining the establishment simply depending on Krishna and then Krishna sent me everything-men and money. Similarly, if a sincere soul goes out and opens a center in any part of the world Krishna will help him in all respects. Without being empowered by Krishna, nobody can preach Krishna Consciousness. It is not academic qualification or financial strength which helps in these matters, but it is sincerity of purpose which helps us always. Therefore I wish that you [Brahmānanda] will remain in charge of New York, let Satsvarūpa be in charge of Boston, Let Mukunda be in charge of San Francisco, Let Janardan be in charge of Montreal. Let Nandarani and Dayananda be in charge of Los Angeles. And let Subal das be in charge of Santa Fe. In this way you will follow my example as I did in the beginning at 26 2nd Ave. That is Preaching, cooking, writing, talking, chanting everything one man’s work. I never thought about the audience. I was prepared to chant if there were no man to hear me. The principle of chanting is to glorify the Lord and not to attract a crowd. If Krishna hears nicely then he will ask some sincere devotee to gather in such place. Therefore be advised that thousands of centers may be started if we find out a sincere soul for each and every center. We do not require more men to start. If there is one sincere soul that is sufficient to start a new center.
On November 12 Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to Kṛṣṇā-devī,
I am coming soon to San Francisco. I shall let you know the exact date some time next week. I am coming over very soon to see you when everything will be adjusted. Hope you are well.
And the health notes from Acyutānanda continued to arrive.
Please tell the devotees out there to take good care of him. It is a very hard task trying to restrain him from overworking himself, but they must be strict. He still has to take his medicines and get his massage every day.
On November 20 Prabhupāda dispatched by boat to New York more than eight hundred copies of the first three volumes of his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. And on the next day his P-form finally cleared. Immediately he booked passage on Pan American Airlines and sent a cable informing Mukunda that he would arrive in San Francisco on November 24 at 12:45 P.M.
But again his departure was delayed-this time by a strike by the Communist Party in Calcutta. Businesses closed. Cars, buses, rickshas, and trains stopped running. Riots broke out. There were murders and assassinations. Meanwhile, Prabhupāda remained at the Rādhā-Govinda temple.
My return to your country is already settled. But due to a petty revolution in Calcutta I am not able to leave… Our San Francisco friends may be very anxious because I sent them two telegrams, one informing them of my arrival and the other canceling it. Future arrangements are pending.
Two weeks passed. While waiting in his room for the political strike to end, Prabhupāda received a letter from Umāpati, one of the devotees he had initiated at the first initiation in New York, in September of 1966. Umāpati had given up practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness for half a year, but now he wrote to say he was back. Prabhupāda replied:
It is my duty to deliver you the right thing in right earnestness and it is the duty of the receiver to act in the standard spiritual regulation. When you left us I simply prayed to Krishna for your return to Krishna Consciousness because that was my duty. Any good soul who approaches me once for spiritual enlightenment is supposed to be depending on my responsibility to get him back to Krishna, back to home. The disciple may misunderstand a bona fide spiritual master being obliged to do so under the pressure of Maya’s influence. But a bona fide spiritual master never lets go a devotee once accepted. When a disciple misunderstands a bona fide spiritual master, the master regrets for his inability to protect the disciple and sometimes he cries with tears in the eyes. We had an experience while my Guru Maharaja was alive. One of His disciples who accepted sannyas was one day forcibly dragged by his wife. My Guru Maharaj lamented with tears in His eyes saying that He could not save the soul. We should always therefore be careful of being attacked by Maya’s influence and the only means of guarantee is to chant Hare Krishna offenselessly.
When Prabhupāda received news of quarreling in the Los Angeles temple he replied to Nandarāṇī,
I know that my presence is very urgently required. Arrangement is already completed and circumstances alone have checked my departure. Please therefore don’t be worried. I am coming to your place within a fortnight.
At the end of the first week of December the strike ended, and Śrīla Prabhupāda again booked passage.
You will be pleased to know that I have purchased my ticket for New York via Tokyo and San Francisco. I am starting tomorrow morning at nine thirty. By evening reaching Tokyo via Bangkok and Hong Kong. I shall rest 24 hours in Tokyo and on the 14th at night, I am starting for San Francisco. By local time I am reaching San Francisco on the same day, the 14th at 12:45 p.m. by P.A.A. 846. Yesterday I have sent one telegram to this effect, and I hope I shall reach there safely as scheduled. I am so glad to learn that Satyabrata and yourself are trying to get the teachings of Lord Caitanya published. You do not know how pleased I am to hear this news. When one book is published I think I have conquered an empire. So try to publish as many books as possible and that will enhance the beauty and prestige of our society. The impersonalist mission has nothing to say substantial but because they have money and have published so many rubbish literatures they have become very cheaply popular. You can just imagine how much powerful our society will become when we have as many substantial literatures published. We should not only publish in English but also in other important languages such as French and German.
When the day for Prabhupāda’s departure finally arrived he gave last instructions to Acyutānanda and Rāmānuja.
“Just pray to Lord Kṛṣṇa that I can go to America,” he requested Acyutānanda.
“How can I?” Acyutānanda replied. “You’ll be leaving me.”
“No,” Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, “we’ll always remain packed up together if you remember my teachings. If you preach you will become strong, and all these teachings will be in the proper perspective. When we stop our preaching, then everything becomes stagnated, and we lose our life. Even here in India people think that they know everything, but they are wrong. There is no end to hearing about Kṛṣṇa. God is unlimited. So no one can say, “I know everything about God.’ Those who say they know everything about God do not know. So everyone will appreciate you. Do not fear.”
Acyutānanda: When I returned to the room after sending off Swamiji and paying my obeisances at the airport, I felt a void. I felt very lonely and rather weak. I returned to the room in front of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Govinda, and chanting on my beads I started pacing back and forth. “What will I preach?” The black and white marble floor passed under me. I stepped on the cracks, in between the cracks, and on the black and white marble again and again. Then I realized I wasn’t seeing Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. So I sat down directly in front and saw the brilliant form of Rādhā-Govindajī, and my eyes filled with tears.
* * *
Śrīla Prabhupāda spent his stopover in Tokyo mostly in going to his hotel and checking into a room, bathing, resting, eating, and returning to the airport the next day in time for his flight to San Francisco. But he did speak with a government secretary, explaining that Kṛṣṇa consciousness was a universal philosophy for reviving a person’s original, eternal consciousness. And he explained the crucial need for Kṛṣṇa consciousness in human society. The secretary, however, said he felt certain that the Japanese government wouldn’t be able to help a religious movement.
Prabhupāda was annoyed. This supposedly educated man was so ignorant as to mistake Kṛṣṇa consciousness for merely another sectarian religion. Prabhupāda wanted intelligent men to try to understand Kṛṣṇa consciousness and understand that the Gītā was actual knowledge, transcendental knowledge, beyond the inferior knowledge of the senses and the mind. But he had his plane to catch. Japan would have to wait.
The passengers and flight crew saw Prabhupāda as an elderly Indian man dressed in saffron robes. The stewardesses weren’t sure at first whether he spoke English, but when he asked them for fruits they saw that he could and that he was a kind gentleman. He was quiet, putting on his glasses and reading from an old book of Indian scripture for hours at a time, or moving his lips in prayer while fingering Indian prayer beads in a cloth pouch, or sometimes resting beneath a blanket, his eyes shut.
No one knew or bothered to inquire into what he was doing. They didn’t know that anxious young hearts were awaiting him in San Francisco, or that the Macmillan Company in New York wanted to publish his English translation of Bhagavad-gītā, or that he had spiritual centers in two countries, with plans for expansion all over the world. Prabhupāda sat patiently, chanting often, his hand in his bead bag, depending on Kṛṣṇa as the hours passed.
After a ten-hour flight the plane landed in San Francisco. Standing with hundreds of other passengers, Prabhupāda gradually made his way to the exit. Down the long attached tunnel, even before he reached the terminal building, he could see Govinda dāsī and a few other disciples smiling and waving on the other side of a glass partition. As he entered the terminal building he moved towards the glass, and his disciples dropped to their knees, offering obeisances. As they raised their heads he smiled and continued walking down the corridor while they walked alongside, only the glass partition separating them. Then they disappeared from his view as he walked down the stairway towards immigration and customs.
The downstairs area was also glassed in, and Prabhupāda could see more than fifty devotees and friends waiting eagerly. As they again caught sight of him, they cried out as a group, “Hare Kṛṣṇa!”
Swamiji looked wonderful to them, tanned from his six months in India, younger, and more spritely. He smiled and triumphantly held up his hands in greeting. Devotees were crying in happiness.
As Prabhupāda stood in line at the customs inspection point, he could hear the devotees’ kīrtana, the glass walls only partially masking the sound. The customs officials ignored the chanting, although the connection between the saffron-robed passenger and the joyful chanters was not hard to see.
Śrīla Prabhupāda waited in line, glancing now and then at his chanting disciples. Since he had already sent ahead the eight hundred books and several crates of musical instruments, he had only one suitcase to place on the table before the inspector. Methodically the inspector went through the contents: cotton sārīs for the girls, silk garlands for the Jagannātha deities, karatālas, saffron dhotīs and kurtās, a coconut grater, and little bottles of Āyur Vedic medicine.
“What are these?” the inspector probed. The little bottles looked strange, and he called for another inspector. A delay. Swamiji’s disciples became perturbed by the petty-minded customs inspectors’ poking through Swamiji’s things, now opening the tightly corked bottles, sniffing and checking the contents.
The inspectors seemed satisfied. Prabhupāda tried to close his suitcase, but he couldn’t work the zipper. Another delay. The devotees, still anxiously chanting, watched as Swamiji, with the help of the gentleman behind him, managed to zip his suitcase closed.
Swamiji walked towards the glass doors. The devotees began chanting madly. As he stepped through the door a devotee blew a conchshell that resounded loudly throughout the hall. Devotees garlanded him, and everyone pressed in, handing him flowers. He entered their midst as a beloved father enters and reciprocates the embrace of his loving children.
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