I have come here in this old age neither for sightseeing nor for any personal interest. It is for the interest of the entire humanity that I am trying to implement the science of Krishna which will actually make them happy. So it is the duty of every devotee of Lord Krishna to help me by all means.
-from a letter to Sumati Morarji
November passed and December came, and Prabhupāda, having obtained an extension on his visa, stayed on. America seemed so opulent, yet many things were difficult to tolerate. The sirens and bells from fire engines and police cars seemed like they would crack his heart. Sometimes at night he would hear a person being attacked and crying for help. From his first days in the city, he had noted that the smell of dog stool was everywhere. And although it was such a rich city, he could rarely find a mango to purchase, and if he did, it was very expensive and usually had no taste. From his room he would sometimes hear the horns of ocean liners, and he would dream that some day he would sail around the world with a saṅkīrtana party, preaching in all the major cities of the world. The weather went below freezing, colder than he had ever experienced in India. Daily he had to walk toward the Hudson against a west wind that even on an ordinary winter’s day would take your breath away and make your eyes water and your face grow numb. On a stormy day, the driving wind and sudden gusts could even knock a man down. Sometimes a cold rain would turn the streets slick with ice. The cold would become especially severe as one approached the shelterless, windswept area of West Side Drive, where occasional whirlwinds carried brown leaves and paper trash mysteriously high into the air.
Śrīla Prabhupāda wore a coat Dr. Mishra had given him, but he never gave up wearing his dhotī, despite the cold, windy walks. Swami Nikhilananda of the Ramakrishna Mission had advised Prabhupāda that if he wanted to stay in the West he should abandon his traditional Indian dress and strict vegetarianism. Meat-eating and liquor, as well as pants and coat, were almost a necessity in this climate, he had said. Before Prabhupāda had left India, one of his Godbrothers had demonstrated to him how he should eat in the West with a knife and fork. But Prabhupāda never considered taking on Western ways. His advisors cautioned him not to remain an alien but to get into the spirit of American life, even if it meant breaking vows he had held in India; almost all Indian immigrants compromised their old ways. But Prabhupāda’s idea was different, and he could not be budged. The others may have had to compromise, he thought, but they had come to beg technological knowledge from the West. “I have not come to beg something,” he said, “but to give something.”
In his solitary wanderings, Śrīla Prabhupāda made acquaintances with a number of local people. There was Mr. Ruben, a Turkish Jew, who worked as a New York City subway conductor. Mr. Ruben met Prabhupāda on a park bench and, being a sociable fellow and a world traveler, sat and talked with the Indian holy man.
Mr. Ruben: He seemed to know that he would have temples filled up with devotees. He would look out and say, “I am not a poor man, I am rich. There are temples and books, they are existing, they are there, but the time is separating us from them.” He always mentioned “we” and spoke about the one who sent him, his spiritual master. He didn’t know people at that time, but he said, “I am never alone.” He always looked like a lonely man to me. That’s what made me think of him like a holy man, Elijah, who always went out alone. I don’t believe he had any followers.
When the weather was not rainy or icy, Prabhupāda would catch the bus to Grand Central Station and visit the Central Library on Forty-second Street. His Śrīmad-Bhāgavatams were there-some of the same volumes he had sold to the U.S. embassy in New Delhi-and he took pleasure in seeing them listed in the card catalog and learning that they were being regularly checked out and read. He would sometimes walk through U.N. Plaza or walk up to New India House on Sixty-fourth Street, where he had met Mr. Malhotra, a consulate officer. It was through Mr. Malhotra that he had contacted the Tagore Society and had secured an invitation to lecture before one of their meetings back in November.
Riding the bus down Fifth Avenue, he would look out at the buildings and imagine that some day they could be used in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He would take a special interest in certain buildings: one on Twenty-third Street and one with a dome on Fourteenth Street attracted his attention. He would think of how the materialists had constructed such elaborate buildings and had yet made no provisions for spiritual life. Despite all the great achievements of technology, the people felt empty and useless. They had built these great buildings, but the children were going to LSD.
New York Times headlines: “New York City Hospitals Report Marked Rise in LSD Cases Admitted for Care.” “Protest Against U.S. Participation in Vietnam War Mounts.”
The weather grew cold, but there was no snow in December. On Columbus Avenue shops were selling Christmas trees, and the continental restaurants were bright with holiday lighting. On Seventy-second the Retailers’ Association erected tall red poles topped with green tinsel Christmas trees. The tops of the trees on both sides of the street sprouted tinsel garlands that spanned the street and joined in red tinsel stars surrounded by colored lights.
Although Śrīla Prabhupāda did no Christmas shopping, he visited many bookstores-Orientalia, Sam Weiser’s, Doubleday, the Paragon, and others-trying to sell his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatams. Mrs. Ferber, the wife of the Paragon Book Gallery proprietor, considered Prabhupāda “a pleasant and extremely polite small gentleman.” The first time he called she wasn’t interested in his books, but he tried again, and she took several volumes. Prabhupāda used to stop by about once a week, and since his books were selling regularly, he would collect. Sometimes when he needed copies to sell personally, he would come by and pick them up from Mrs. Ferber, and sometimes he would phone to ask her how his books were selling.
Mrs. Ferber: Every time he came he would ask for a glass of water. If a customer would make such a request, I would ordinarily say, “There is the water cooler.” But because he was an old man, I couldn’t tell him that, of course. He was very polite always, very modest, and a great scholar. So whenever he would ask, I would fetch him a cup of water personally.
Once Prabhupāda was talking with Mrs. Ferber about Indian cuisine, and she mentioned that she especially liked samosās. The next time he paid her a visit, he brought a tray of samosās, which she enjoyed.
* * *
Harvey Cohen came often to room 501 to visit the swami who had so impressed him at Ananda Ashram.
Harvey: The room he occupied was a tiny office in the back of the Yoga Society in uptown Manhattan. I began to go there regularly, and we sat facing each other on the floor in this little office with his typewriter and a new tape recorder on top of two suitcases. And there was a box of books he had brought from India and a color reproduction of dancing figures which he looked at often. I told Swami Bhaktivedanta that I was an artist, and he asked me to please paint the picture of the dancers, which he explained was of Lord Caitanya and His disciples. The painting was called “Saṅkīrtana.” Whenever I came to visit him, Swami would always be happy to see me. I told him about myself, and we chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa together in his room many nights that winter. I would get the train uptown from my apartment to go see him.
* * *
January 11, 1966
Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died of a heart attack while visiting Russia. The prime minister had been a personal acquaintance of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s in India and an admirer of his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam translation. He had been scheduled to visit America, and Prabhupāda had expected to obtain a personal sanction from him for the release of funds from India. His untimely death was a great upset in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s plans to purchase the building at 143 West Seventy-second Street. The realtors had shown him the building, and he had already mentally designed the interior for Deity worship and distribution of prasādam. The money was to come from India, and Prime Minister Shastri was to give personal sanction for release of the funds. But suddenly that was all changed.
Prabhupāda decided to write to the owner of the building, Mr. A. M. Hartman. He explained how his plans had been upset, and he posed a new plan.
Now the Prime Minister, Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri, is suddenly dead, and I am greatly perplexed… As there is now great difficulty for getting money from India, I am requesting you to allow me to use the place for the International Institution for God Consciousness, at least for some time. The house is lying vacant for so many days without any use, and I learn it that you are paying the taxes, insurance, and other charges for the house, although you have no income from there. If you, however, allow this place for this public institution, you shall at least save the taxes and other charges which you are paying now for nothing.
If I can start the institution immediately, certainly I shall be able to get sympathy locally, and in that case I may not be required to get money from India. I am also requesting that your honor become one of the Directors of this public institution, because you will give a place to start the institution.
A. M. Hartman wasn’t interested.
On the same day he wrote Mr. Hartman, Prabhupāda received a letter from Sir Padampat Singhania, the director of the very large JK Organization in India. Prabhupāda had written Sir Padampatji for financial support, and his reply gave him hope. Not only was the Singhania family fabulously wealthy, but its members were devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
My dear Swamiji,
I have gone through your letter. I am very glad to note your idea of erecting a Shri Radha Krishna temple in New York. I think the proposal is a good one, but the following are the difficulties:
1. We have got to send foreign exchange for building the temple, for which Government sanction is required. Without the Government sanction, no money can be sent abroad. If the Government of India agrees, then one can think of erecting the temple in New York.
2. I doubt whether with this small amount of Rs. 7 lakhs [$110,000.00] a temple can be built in New York. I mean to carry out a nice Construction with Indian type of architecture. To get a temple completed in Indian type of architecture we have to send a man from India.
These are the two main difficulties, otherwise, your idea is very good.
Śrīla Prabhupāda and Mr. Singhania had a basic disagreement. A magnificent Indian temple in New York would cost many millions of dollars to construct. Prabhupāda knew, of course, that if Padampat Singhania wanted, he could provide millions of dollars. But then how would they get so much money out of India? Prabhupāda therefore again suggested that they spend only seven lakhs. “After purchasing the house,” he wrote, “we can build another story upon it with a temple dome, cakra, etc.” Prabhupāda had his own line of reasoning:
Lord Dwarkadish exhibited His opulence at Dwarka with 16,000 queens, and it is understood that He built a palace for each and every queen. And the palaces were made with jewels and stones so that there was no necessity for artificial light in the palaces. So your conception of building a temple of Lord Krishna is in opulence. But we are residents of Vrindaban, and Vrindaban has no palaces like your Dwarka. Vrindaban is full of forests and cows on the bank of the Jamuna, and Lord Krishna in His childhood played the part of a cowherd boy without any royal opulence as you people, the inhabitants of Dwarka, are accustomed. So when the Dwarka walas meet the Vrindaban walas, there may be a via media.
With Sir Padampat’s Dvārakā-like wealth and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Vṛndāvana-like devotion, Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Lord of both Vṛndāvana and Dvārakā, could be properly worshiped.
He received Bon Mahārāja’s reply. Two weeks before, Prabhupāda had written to his Godbrother, the director of the Institute of Oriental Philosophy in Vṛndāvana, that he had found a place for a temple in New York and that he wanted to install Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. In his reply, Bon Mahārāja quoted price estimates for fourteen-inch brass Deities of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, but he also warned that to begin Deity worship would be a heavy responsibility. Śrīla Prabhupāda responded:
I think that after the temple has started, some men, even from America, may be available, as I see they have at the Ramakrishna Mission as well as in so many yoga societies. So I am trying to open a temple here because Śrīla Prabhupad [Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī] wanted it.
Prabhupāda also requested Bon Mahārāja’s assistance in getting the government to sanction release of the money he felt Padampat Singhania would donate. He mentioned that he had carried on an extensive personal correspondence with the vice-president of India, Dr. Rādhākrishnan, who was also known to Bon Mahārāja.
Tell him that it is not an ordinary temple of worship but an international institution for God consciousness based on the Śrīmad Bhagwatam.
While Śrīla Prabhupāda prayed to receive Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa in New York, a snowstorm hit the city. That morning, Śrīla Prabhupāda, who had perhaps never before seen snow, woke and thought that someone had whitewashed the side of the building next door. Not until he went outside did he discover that it was snow. The temperature was ten degrees.
The city went into a state of emergency, but Prabhupāda continued his daily walks. Now he had to walk through heavy snow, only a thin dhotī beneath his overcoat, his head covered with his “swami hat.” The main roads were cleared, but many sidewalks were covered with snow. Along the strip of park dividing Broadway, the gusting winds piled snowbanks to shoulder height and buried the benches. The Broadway kiosks, plastered with layers of posters and notices, were now plastered with additional layers of snow and ice. But despite the weather, New Yorkers still walked their dogs, the pets now wearing raincoats and mackinaws. Such pampering by American dog owners left Prabhupāda with a feeling of surprised amusement. As he approached West End Avenue, he found the doormen blowing whistles to signal taxis as usual, but also scattering salt to melt the ice and create safe sidewalks in front of the buildings. In Riverside Park the benches, pathways, and trees were glazed with ice and gave off a shimmering reflection from the sky.
In the news, Selective Service officials announced the first substantial increase in the draft since the Korean war; a month-long peace ended with the U.S. Air Force bombing North Vietnam; the New York transit strike ended after three weeks, and the transit labor leader died in jail of a heart attack.
The East Coast was hit by severe blizzards. Seven inches of snow fell on the city, with winds up to fifty miles an hour. The City of New York offered warm rooms and meals for people living in tenements without heat. JFK Airport was closed, as were train lines and roadways into the city. For the second time within eight days, a state of emergency was declared because of snow.
As a lone individual, Śrīla Prabhupāda could not do anything about the snow emergency or the international warfare-he saw these as mere symptoms of the Age of Kali. Always there would be misery in the material world. But if he could bring Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa to a building in New York… Nothing was impossible for the Supreme Lord. Even in the midst of Kali-yuga a golden age could appear, and people could get relief. If Americans could take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the whole world would follow. Seeing through the eyes of the scriptures, Śrīla Prabhupāda pushed on through the blizzard and pursued the thin trail for support of his Kṛṣṇa consciousness mission.
He wrote again to Tīrtha Mahārāja, who had agreed to try for the government sanction if he first received written confirmation from a responsible donor pledging the funds for a temple. Prabhupāda informed him that the donor would be Sir Padampat Singhania, and he enclosed Mr. Singhania’s favorable letter of the fourteenth. Prabhupāda reminded his Godbrother:
Śrīla Prabhupad Bhaktisiddhanta wanted such temples in foreign cities like New York, London, Tokyo, etc., and I had personal talks with him when I first met him at Ulta Danga in 1922. Now here is a chance for me to carry out his transcendental order. I am just seeking your favor and mercy in making this attempt successful.
Discouragement came to the plans Śrīla Prabhupāda had formed around the promise of support by Padampat Singhania. The Dvārakāvālā wrote to express his dissatisfaction with the Seventy-second Street building.
I am afraid that I cannot agree with your suggestion that you should buy a small house and erect something on top of it. Unfortunately, such a kind of proposal will not suit me. The temple must be a small one, but it must be constructed properly. I quite agree that you cannot spend a lot of money at present, but within the amount the government may sanction, you should build something according to the architecture of Indian temples. Then only will we be able to create some impression on the American people. This is all I can write to you in this connection. I am very grateful for your taking the trouble of writing me.
Prabhupāda did not take this letter as final. He maintained hope that Sir Padampat Singhania would still give money for the temple, if only the transfer of money could be arranged. He continued writing his Godbrothers and other devotees, asking them to try to secure the government’s sanction. He maintained his same aspirations, even though his sole prospective donor had rejected his scheme of a cakra and dome atop a conventional two-story building.
* * *
He moved from room 501 downstairs two floors to a room all his own.
I have changed my room to Room 307, in the same building as above mentioned, for better air and light. It is on the roadside junction of two roads, the Columbus Avenue and 72nd Street.
According to Dr. Mishra, Prabhupāda moved in order to have his own place, independent of the Mishra Yoga Society.
* * *
Prabhupāda wrote to the proprietors of the Universal Book House of Bombay, giving some hints for selling his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in the Bombay area. He explained that he was trying to establish a Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple and that “a big industrialist of India has promised to pay for the cost.” Since it seemed that he might stay in the United States “for many more days,” he wanted the Book House to take increased charge of selling his books throughout India. They were his agent for selling his books in Maharashtra, but now he recommended they take the responsibility in all provinces and introduce his books in colleges and universities throughout India. He also requested that they credit his bank account there for the books sold so far.
Mr. A. P. Dharwadkar of the Universal Book House replied:
I cannot give you very happy news on the progress of the sale of Śrīmad Bhagwatam, because the subject is religious and only a small section of society may personally be interested in the books… We tried to push them through some book sellers to Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Poona, etc., but regret to inform you that after some time these book sellers return the books for want of response. As such, we are not only unenthusiastic to agree to your proposal of taking up sales for all India, but we were just thinking of requesting you to nominate some other people in our place to represent your sale program in Maharashtra.
So far, they had sold only six sets of his books, for which they were about to transfer Rs. 172 to his account. This was hardly encouraging to the author. Again, India was not interested. Even in “the land of religion,” religious subjects were only for “a small section of society.”
Another reverse. On February 8, Śrīla Prabhupāda had written to India’s new prime minister, Indira Gandhi, requesting her to sanction the release of money from India. A reply, dated February 25, New Delhi, came from the prime minister’s official secretary, Mr. L. K. Gha.
The Prime Minister has seen your letter of February 8, 1966. She appreciates the spirit which prompted you to carry the spiritual message of Śrīmad Bhagwat Geeta and Śrīmad Bhagwatam to other countries. Owing to the critical foreign exchange situation which the country is facing, it is greatly regretted that it will not be possible to assist you from here in your plan to set up a Radha Krishna temple.
But Prabhupāda had other hopes. After writing to the prime minister, he had written again to Tīrtha Mahārāja, asking him to request Dr. Rādhākrishnan to persuade the government to sanction the release of funds. He waited for one month. No answer.
Apparently his Godbrothers felt little obligation toward preaching in America; he had written that he needed encouragement from them to continue in America, because it was so expensive. He had explained that he was spending the equivalent of one thousand rupees a month. “As such, I am counting every day to receive your favorable replies.” But there was no reply.
He wrote again to Sir Padampat Singhania, requesting him to send a man from India to supervise work on the temple in New York, as Mr. Singhania had previously suggested.
There is no record of any reply to this request.
Prabhupāda wrote again to Sumati Morarji, requesting her to please send him a mṛdaṅga to accompany his chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. He also requested her that in the future, when he would send many men from India, she oblige by giving them free passage on Scindia Steamship Lines.
As his financial situation became more urgent and his hopes more strained, his support from India withdrew in silence. His unanswered correspondence was itself a kind of message, loud and clear: “We cannot help you.”
Although no one encouraged him, Śrīla Prabhupāda trusted in the order of his spiritual master and the will of Kṛṣṇa. The word from the prime minister regarding government sanction had been a definite no. But he had received another extension of his visa. Now his last hope was Sir Padampat Singhania. Prabhupāda knew that he was so influential a man in India that if he wanted he could send the money. He was Prabhupāda’s final hope.
Mr. Singhania did not reply personally. He had his secretary, Mr. Easwara Iyer, write to Prabhupāda, thoroughly discouraging his last hopes for purchasing a building in New York.
I regret to write that Sir Padampatji is not interested in the scheme of building a Radha Krishna temple in New York at present. In regard to the inquiry contained in the last paragraph of your letter, Sir Padampatji duly received your books of Śrīmad Bhagwatam from your Delhi office. Yours faithfully.
* * *
Seeing him from a distance-a tiny figure walking Manhattan’s streets and avenues among many other tiny figures, a foreigner whose visa had almost run out-we come upon only the external appearance of Śrīla Prabhupāda. These days of struggle were real enough and very difficult, but his transcendental consciousness was always predominant. He was not living in Manhattan consciousness, but was absorbed in dependence upon Kṛṣṇa, just as when on the Jaladuta he had suffered his heart attacks, his reading of Caitanya-caritāmṛta had supplied him “the nectarine of life.”
He had already succeeded. Certainly he wanted to provide Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa a temple in New York, but his success was that he was remembering Kṛṣṇa, even in New York City in the winter of 1965-66, whether the world recognized him or not. Not a day went by when he did not work on Kṛṣṇa’s book, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. And not a day went by when he did not offer food to Kṛṣṇa and speak on Kṛṣṇa’s philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā.
Lord Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā, “For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost to him, and he is never lost to Me.” And Kṛṣṇa assures His pure devotees that, “My devotee will never be vanquished.” There was never any doubt about this for Prabhupāda. The only question was whether Americans would take notice of the pure devotee in their midst. At this point it seemed that no one was going to take him seriously.
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