There was no warning that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s health would break down; or, if there were, no one heeded it. As he moved from his devotees in San Francisco to his devotees in New York, no one passed any words that Swamiji should slow down. After the five-and-a-half hour jet flight, Prabhupāda spoke of a “blockading” in his ears, but he seemed all right. He didn’t rest, but went straight through the festive airport reception into three hours of strong lecturing and chanting in the storefront at 26 Second Avenue. To his New York disciples he appeared dazzling and lovable, and by his presence, his glances, and his words, he increased their Kṛṣṇa consciousness. To them his advanced age, now nearing seventy-two years, was but another of his transcendental features. He was their strength, and they never thought to consider his strength.
In the temple, speaking from a new dais behind a velvet-covered lectern, Prabhupāda said, “In my absence things have improved.” New paintings hung on the freshly painted white walls. Otherwise, it was the same tiny storefront where he had begun his International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
He had written them that he wanted to enter the new building on his return, but they had failed. And they had foolishly lost six thousand dollars. But without dwelling on this, Prabhupāda made a more important observation: his disciples, despite the physical absence of their spiritual master, had made progress by following his instructions.
As he sat looking happily at the freshly painted walls and the bright faces of his disciples, Prabhupāda explained how one obtained expertise in Kṛṣṇa consciousness by submissively following the spiritual master. He gave the example that although an engineer’s apprentice may not be expert, if he turns a screw under the direct supervision of the expert engineer he is acting as an expert. Many of the devotees were relieved to hear this. They knew that giving up material desires was difficult and that they weren’t going to become completely pure devotees overnight. Brahmānanda had even written a poem stating that if, after many lifetimes, he could chant one round of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra with attention, he would consider this the greatest success. But Prabhupāda was explaining that even if they weren’t expert in love of Kṛṣṇa, if they worked under an expert they were also acting as experts.
The next morning, with the fanfare of Prabhupāda’s arrival past, it became apparent just how dependent the devotees were on their spiritual leader. The attendance was down to the dozen or so regulars, and Prabhupāda silently entered the storefront and began to lead the chanting. But when the moment came for the devotees to sing in response and Prabhupāda heard their first chorus, he looked out to them, startled and compassionate. Now he could hear: they were weak-more like croaking than singing. They had deteriorated in his absence! The kīrtanas had changed while he had been away, and now he was hearing what the devotees were like: helpless souls croaking without joy or verve.
Śrīla Prabhupāda lectured from Caitanya-caritāmṛta. “When flying from San Francisco I noticed that the plane was flying above an ocean of clouds. When I came from India by boat I saw an ocean of water, and on the plane I saw an ocean of clouds extending as far as you can see. Above the clouds is the sun, but when we come down through the clouds and land, everything in New York is dim and clouded. But the sun is still shining. Those clouds cannot cover the whole world. They cannot even cover the whole United States, which is no more than a speck in the universe. From an airplane we can see skyscrapers as very tiny. Similarly, from God’s position, all this material nonsense is insignificant. As a living entity, I am very insignificant, and my tendency is to come down. But the sun doesn’t have the come-down tendency. It is always above the clouds of māyā….”
A new boy raised his hand: “Why is it that one person, one soul, comes to Kṛṣṇa and another doesn’t?”
Prabhupāda replied with another question: “Why is one soul in the Bowery and another has come to the Kṛṣṇa temple?” He paused, but no one could reply. “Because one wants to be here and the other doesn’t,” he explained. “It is a question of free will. If we use it properly, we can go to Kṛṣṇa. Otherwise we will stay down in the material world.”
Everyone had something to ask Swamiji. Throughout the day, devotees would be in and out of his room, asking practical and philosophical questions. And they took up their old ways of reciprocating with him. Once again Prabhupāda was telling Acyutānanda what to cook for lunch and explaining to him that an expert servant learns to anticipate what the master wants even before he asks for it.
Satsvarūpa came in to show Prabhupāda the latest typed manuscripts for Teachings of Lord Caitanya. Although there was no difference in Satsvarūpa’s assignment, now that he was face to face with Prabhupāda he realized he had to type and edit more seriously. He asked whether he could resign from his job at the welfare office. Prabhupāda said no.
Jadurāṇī continued painting in the outer room of Prabhupāda’s apartment. Casting shyness aside, she asked him many questions about how to paint Kṛṣṇa. “How is Lord Viṣṇu situated in the heart?” she asked. “Is He sitting, or standing, or what?”
Prabhupāda replied, “Oh, for that you have to meditate for thousands of years.” Jadurāṇī stared at him in dismay. Then Prabhupāda said, “He is standing,” and she went off happily to paint.
When Jadurāṇī complained of weak health, Prabhupāda asked Acyutānanda to see that she got milk twice a day. Looking through the window that opened into the outer room, where typing, painting, and sometimes even construction went on, Prabhupāda watched Jadurāṇī one day as she worked on a painting of Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana party. Just as she started to paint the words of the mahā-mantra across the bottom of the painting, Prabhupāda called through the window “Don’t put the mahā-mantra there.”
“But you told me to put it there,” she said.
“I’ve changed my mind. Hare Kṛṣṇa should not be below Caitanya Mahāprabhu.”
One by one, Prabhupāda saw all his old New York followers: Gargamuni, the temple treasurer, who reported good sales of the Hare Kṛṣṇa record and incense; Rāya Rāma, editor of Back to Godhead, who talked about his indigestion; and Rūpānuga, who had a good job but was having difficulty convincing his wife about Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Even Mr. Chutey, the landlord, dropped by with complaints about the boys’ behavior.
Prabhupāda also met Michael Blumert, a newcomer. Michael had been seeing a psychiatrist as a result of devastating drug experiences. When he had begun coming to the temple, his mother and father had thought the Swami another evil force. On meeting Swamiji, however, Mrs. Blumert accepted his authenticity, although her husband remained doubtful. “Mr. Blumert,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “your wife is more intelligent.” Mr. Blumert said he wanted his son to help the world in a more practical way-by becoming a doctor. Prabhupāda argued that there were already so many doctors but still people were suffering. A Kṛṣṇa conscious person, however, could relieve a person’s suffering completely; so the work of Kṛṣṇa consciousness was more valuable. Mr. Blumert was unconvinced, but he agreed to let Michael stay with the devotees and drop going to the psychiatrist. He came to respect the Swami, even though disagreeing with him.
With Brahmānanda, Prabhupāda discussed the urgent problem of obtaining a permanent visa. Prabhupāda had repeatedly extended his visa ever since he had entered the country in 1965. Now immigration officials denied him any further extensions. He didn’t want to leave the U.S., but the only way he would be able to stay would be to get permanent residency. He had applied, but so far with no success. “Your government doesn’t want me to stay,” he had said, “so I may have to go back to India.”
Swamiji’s going back to India was a frightening prospect. His disciples had barely been able to accept that he could leave them for preaching elsewhere in the U.S. If he were to go back to India! They feared they might fall back into the material world. He was sustaining their spiritual life. How could they go on without him? And Prabhupāda felt the same way.
Brahmānanda managed to find a lawyer to delay the proceedings of the immigration office. The threat of deportation passed. Prabhupāda spoke of going to Montreal and getting permanent residency there, but his main intention was to stay in America and cultivate what he had begun.
Brahmānanda reported to Prabhupāda about printing the Bhagavad-gītā. The manuscript was ready, and they were considering the costs and where to print it, even though they didn’t have enough money to publish the book themselves. They hadn’t seriously attempted the arduous process of finding a publisher, but Prabhupāda pushed Brahmānanda to do so: “The only hope is that I have my books.”
Brahmānanda also talked with Prabhupāda about the six thousand dollars he had lost to Mr. Price. Prabhupāda insisted that they prosecute the culprits. He sent Brahmānanda to speak with various lawyers and also to tell Mr. Price and Mr. Tyler that “His Excellency” was back and would take them to court.
At that they relented. Mr. Tyler refunded most of the $5,000 deposit, and Mr. Price returned $750 of the $1,000 he had wheedled out of Brahmānanda. The legal services had cost more than a thousand dollars-so that was lost-but Prabhupāda said that when dealing with a tiger you can expect to get scratched.
In a letter to Kīrtanānanda in Montreal, Prabhupāda described the successful termination of the Price affair: “You will be glad to know that I have been able, by Grace of Krishna, to recover $4227… out of the $5000.00 gone in the belly of Sir Conman Fraud (Price)…”
There were signs that Prabhupāda should be cautious about his health. He had gone through difficulty while appearing on the Allen Burke TV show. Allen Burke was known for sitting back, smoking a cigar, and saying outrageous, even insulting, things to his guests; and if a guest became offended, Mr. Burke would provoke him all the more. It was a popular show.
Before they went on the air, Mr. Burke had asked Prabhupāda’s permission to smoke a cigar, and Prabhupāda had graciously consented. Mr. Burke had introduced his guest as “a real swami.” When he had asked Prabhupāda why he was against sex, Prabhupāda had said he wasn’t; sex should be restricted to marriage for raising Kṛṣṇa conscious children. But Mr. Burke had persisted, wanting to know what was wrong with sex outside of marriage. The real purpose of human life, Śrīla Prabhupāda had replied, was self-realization. When one’s mind is preoccupied with capturing new sex partners, keeping the mental peace necessary for self-realization becomes impossible. Mr. Burke had agreed. In fact, his manners had been the best ever. And at the end he had called Prabhupāda “a very charming gentleman.”
It was on his way home to the temple that Śrīla Prabhupāda had said that the TV lights had caused him so much pain in his head that at one point he had thought he would not be able to continue.
Then one day Rūpānuga, sitting close to Prabhupāda’s dais during a lecture, noticed Prabhupāda’s hand shaking as he spoke. Kīrtanānanda had been there when months ago, the morning after they had made the record, Prabhupāda had slept late and complained of his heart skipping and of not being able to move. “If I ever get badly sick,” Śrīla Prabhupāda had told Kīrtanānanda, “don’t call a doctor. Don’t take me to a hospital. Just give me my beads and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
Swamiji’s disciples were reluctant to restrain him. Kīrtanānanda had tried. At the Avalon, when Swamiji had been dancing and jumping and streaming with perspiration, Kīrtanānanda had insisted that the kīrtana stop. But the others had called him paranoid.
Besides, Swamiji didn’t like to be restrained. And who were they to restrain him? He was Kṛṣṇa’s empowered representative, able to surmount any difficulty. He was a pure devotee. He could do anything. Hadn’t he often described how a pure devotee is transcendental to material pangs?
Swamiji had written a letter consoling a disciple’s ailing grandmother.
All our ailments are due to the external body. Although we have to suffer some time from bodily inconveniences specially in the old age, still if we are God conscious, we shall not feel the pangs. The best thing is therefore to chant the holy Name of the Lord Constantly.
The devotees figured that although Swamiji might give good instructions to someone’s old grandmother, nothing like what had befallen her was ever going to affect him. Of course, he referred to himself as an old man, but that was mostly in lectures to show the inevitability of old age.
To the devotees, Prabhupāda’s health appeared strong. His eyes shone brightly with spiritual emotions, his complexion was smooth and golden, and his smile was a display of health and well-being. One time, one of the boys said that Swamiji’s smile was so virile that it made him think of a bull and iron nails. Swamiji was taking cold showers, going on earlymorning walks around the Lower East Side, playing mṛdaṅga, eating well. Even if his disciples wanted to slow him down, what could they do?
Some of his disciples had actually tried to prevent him from attending the controversial Cosmic Love-In at the East Village Theater, but not because of his health; they had wanted to protect his U.S. residency case. Śrīla Prabhupāda had been invited to attend the Love-In, a fund-raising show for Louis Abolafia, the “Love and Peace” presidential candidate. Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and others were attending, along with a full line-up of rock bands. But when Prabhupāda’s lawyer heard that he was going, he said it might jeopardize the visa case. Some of the boys took up the lawyer’s opinion and opposed Prabhupāda’s plan. Prabhupāda agreed that it might be best if he didn’t go. But on the day of the Cosmic Love-In he changed his mind and decided to go anyway. “I came to this country to preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness,” he declared. Now it was time to speak against these LSD leaders who claimed to be spiritualists. He had been saying that although he wanted to go, he wouldn’t go if his disciples forbade him. But in the end he simply said he was going. And that was that.
During the last week of May, Śrīla Prabhupāda began to feel exhausted. He spoke of heart palpitations. Hoping that the symptoms would clear up in a day or two, Kīrtanānanda requested Prabhupāda to rest and see no visitors. But Prabhupāda’s condition became worse.
Kīrtanānanda: Swamiji began to complain that his left arm wasn’t functioning properly. And then he began to develop a twitching in his left side, and his left arm would twitch uncontrollably. It seemed to pain him in some mysterious way, internally or psychologically.
Acyutānanda: It was Sunday, two days before Memorial Day, and we had arranged a large program in the afternoon in a hall uptown. I went up to get Swamiji, since all the devotees were ready. Swamiji was lying down, and his face was pale. He said, “Feel my heart.” And I felt a quivering vibration in his chest.
I went down but didn’t want to alert everyone and panic them. I went to Kīrtanānanda and quietly said, “The Swami is having some kind of mild heart palpitations.” And immediately we both flew back up. Swamiji said, “Just massage here.” So I rubbed him on the chest, and he showed me how. He said, “The others go, and Acyutānanda can stay here. If anything happens, he can call you.”
So the others went and did the program, and I waited. Once or twice he called me in and had me quickly rub over his chest. Then he looked up, and his color had come back. I was staring with my mouth open, wondering what to do. He looked at me and said, “Why are you sitting idle? Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.” During the evening, palpitations again occurred, so I slept in the room next to his. And late at night he called me in and again had me massage.
Kīrtanānanda: It was on Tuesday afternoon, Memorial Day, and I was sitting with Swamiji in his room. While kīrtana was going on downstairs, the twitching began again. The Swamiji’s face began to tighten up. His eyes started rolling. Then all of a sudden he threw himself back, and I caught him. He was gasping: “Hare Kṛṣṇa.” And then everything stopped. I thought it was the last, until his breathing started again, and with it the chanting. But he didn’t regain control over his body.
Brahmānanda: I was there along with Kīrtanānanda. It was on Memorial Day weekend. We couldn’t understand what was wrong with Swamiji. He couldn’t sit up, he was moaning, and nobody knew what was happening. We nursed him-myself and Kīrtanānanda-trying all different things. I had to go out and buy a bedpan for him.
Prabhupāda’s left side was paralyzed. He asked that a picture of his spiritual master be put on the wall in front of him. Thinking that Prabhupāda was preparing to leave his body and wanted to meditate at the last moment on his spiritual master, Acyutānanda taped it to the door facing Prabhupāda.
Devotees entered the front room of the apartment, and Prabhupāda told them to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. Then he told them to pray to Kṛṣṇa in His form of Nṛsiṁha-deva.
Satsvarūpa: Swamiji said we should pray to Lord Nṛsiṁha and the prayer should be “My master has not finished his work.” At different times he would allow us to take turns and massage different parts of his body. Then he had us go downstairs and hold kīrtana through the night.
Jadurāṇī: He taught us the prayers to Lord Nṛsiṁha-deva. He said the words one by one, and I wrote them down. I called up the temples in San Francisco and Montreal and told them the prayer. Swamiji said, “You should pray to Kṛṣṇa that, my spiritual master has not yet completed his work, so please let him finish.”
Dāmodara: I went into the temple. No one was downstairs, so I just sat down to chant some rounds. Then a devotee came down looking very disturbed, so I asked what was going on. When he told me, I rushed upstairs. Everyone was sitting around in the second room, where they could see into Swamiji’s room through the window in the wall. They were all chanting on their beads. Jadurāṇī was handing out little slips of paper with writing on them. Swamiji, she explained, wanted us to chant these prayers.
Brahmānanda: We brought the painting of Lord Nṛsiṁha into Swamiji’s room, and we were all chanting. When Swamiji had to use the bedpan in front of Lord Nṛsiṁha’s painting, he begged forgiveness of Lord Nṛsiṁha. He could understand that Lord Nsiṁha was sitting right in front of him. I saw it as a painting, but Swamiji saw it as Lord Nṛsiṁha Himself sitting there.
It was getting worse-total weakness and everything. I couldn’t get a doctor, because it was Memorial Day and everything was closed. I even called my family doctor, but he wasn’t in. Everyone had gone on vacation, because on Memorial Day everyone leaves the city. I couldn’t get anyone. I was calling hospitals, doctors-trying this and that. But I couldn’t get anyone. Finally I got a doctor by calling an emergency number for the New York City medical department. The doctor came. He was an old geezer with a real loud voice. When he saw Swamiji he said, “I think the old man is praying too much. I think he should get some exercise. He should go out for a walk in the morning.”
Acyutānanda: The doctor didn’t know very much. He said that Swamiji had a cold. I said, “What do you mean? His heart is palpitating.”
“Hmm, I don’t know what to do. Does he take any whiskey?”
I said, “He doesn’t even drink coffee or tea.”
“Ohhhh, very good, very good. Well, I think he has just got a cold.”
Dvārakādhīśa dāsa: He came and took a look at the place, and you could tell right away he didn’t like what he saw. He thought we were just a bunch of hippies. He couldn’t wait to get out of the place. But he said, “Oh, he’s got influenza.” That was a ridiculous diagnosis. And then he said, “Give me my money.” We paid him, the doctor left, and Swamiji got worse.
The devotees called a second doctor, who came and diagnosed Śrīla Prabhupāda as having had a mild heart attack. He said that Prabhupāda should at once go to the hospital.
Max Lerner (a lawyer friend of the devotees): I got a call one day that the Swami had had a mild heart attack and I could be of some help. At that time they were going to take him to Bellevue Hospital, but I suggested that at least I could try to get him into a private hospital. After several hours of talking and negotiating with people at the hospital, we were able to get Swamiji into Beth Israel Hospital.
Brahmānanda: The day after Memorial Day we had to arrange for an ambulance. Beth Israel had no ambulance, so I called a private ambulance company. It was all arranged with the hospital that Swamiji would arrive at nine o’clock that morning. But the ambulance didn’t come until about noon. During this time Swamiji kept moaning. Then finally the ambulance came, and they were horrible guys. They treated Swamiji like a bundle of cloth. I thought it would have been better if we had taken Swamiji in a cab.
Except for Kīrtanānanda, who stayed in Prabhupāda’s hospital room as a nurse, no one else was allowed to stay. They all went back to the temple to chant through the night, as Prabhupāda had requested. Kīrtanānanda phoned Hayagrīva in San Francisco and told him what had happened-how Swamiji had suddenly fallen back and cried out, “Hare Kṛṣṇa!” and how there had been nothing for about thirty seconds… and then a big gasp: “Hare Kṛṣṇa! Hare Kṛṣṇa!” Kīrtanānanda told Hayagrīva that the devotees in San Francisco should chant all night and pray to Lord Nṛsiṁha-deva:
tava kara-kamala-vare nakham adbhūta-śṛṅgaṁ
keśava dhṛta-narahari-rūpa jaya jagadīśa hare
Lord Nṛsiṁha-deva, the half-man, half-lion incarnation of Lord Kṛṣṇa, had appeared in another age to save His pure devotee Prahlada and kill the demon Hiraṇyakaśipu. Prabhupāda had asked his disciples to pray to Lord Nṛsiṁha-deva by chanting the special mantra and thinking, “Our master has not finished his work. Please protect him.” The boys went back to the temple and chanted together, but after a few hours they fell asleep. They wanted to rest so that they could go to the hospital the next day.
Haridāsa: When we heard about it in San Francisco, there was grief, and people were crying. There was a tremendous love and thinking about Swamiji and just concentration, a mass concentration of pulling him through, giving him strength and summoning the help of Kṛṣṇa and Lord Caitanya and everybody we could possibly call upon to lend their energies. People came into the temple doing rosaries, and whatever faiths or beliefs or trips they were on, they were directing that toward a healing. They were all chanting with us.
Hayagrīva: It’s a night I’ll never forget. We turn on the altar lights behind the Jagannāthas, light candles, and chant in the flickering shadows. It is solemn chanting and even more solemn dancing. News quickly spreads down Haight Street, and soon the temple is crowded with others come to chant with us through the night.
Mukunda and Jānakī phoned New York. But there is no additional information. Kīrtanānanda is spending the night in the hospital beside Swamiji’s bed. No one else is being allowed in. Hospital regulations. Yes, everyone in New York is chanting.
We chant past midnight. Most of the guests leave, but none of us yet feel sleepy. The chanting overtakes us in waves. My mind wanders to Swamiji, to New York, to the future, to the past… I have to yank it back into the room to confront the present, to realize why we are here chanting, to petition Śrī Kṛṣṇa to spare our master a little longer to allow him to spread Lord Caitanya’s glorious saṅkīrtana movement around the world.
The chanting is always here, insistent.
By two A.M. I begin to tire. I change instruments just to keep awake, sometimes playing mṛdaṅga, sometimes cymbals or harmonium. Many dance to stay awake. The girls serve prasādam-sliced apples. It is dangerous to sit next to the wall-an invitation to doze off. We are so frail.
Hare Kṛṣṇa soothes. The chanting releases us from so much needless fretting. Through it we can relieve tensions, grieve, plead, and hope.
It is between three and four A.M. The most ecstatic hour, the brāhma-muhūrta hour before the dawn. If he is alive at this hour, surely he will live.
We sing. We chant on beads. Constant Hare Kṛṣṇa. We chant through the usual seven A.M. kīrtana hour and into the morning. We chant fourteen hours without cessation. We cleanse the dust from the mind’s mirror. We see Kṛṣṇa and Swamiji everywhere. Surely now he is well!
During the night, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s heart pained him. The next day he remained in critical condition. He could speak but softly and was too exhausted to converse. Skeptical of the doctors, he diagnosed himself: a heart attack affecting part of his brain, thus paralyzing the left side of his body. Massage, he said, was the cure.
On the morning of June 1, other disciples joined Kīrtanānanda in Prabhupāda’s room and by taking shifts were able to give Prabhupāda a constant massage. They took turns massaging his head, chest, and legs as he directed. This simple act drew each of them into an intimate relationship with him.
When Prabhupāda heard that not only in New York but in San Francisco also the devotees had chanted and prayed all night, he expressed satisfaction, not by his usual hearty smile but by a very slight nodding and an approving sound. Despite his weakness, he was fully conscious.
The doctors, or more often their aides, took blood, gave injections, and investigated. Their diagnosis wasn’t conclusive: they had plans for experiments. Then suddenly a doctor came in and announced their next move: a spinal tap. Prabhupāda was too weak to discuss the pros and cons of a spinal tap. He had put himself in the care of his disciples and Kṛṣṇa.
The doctor didn’t want to be impeded. He explained why a spinal tap was necessary, but he wasn’t asking for consultation or permission. Everyone-except for Kīrtanānanda, who insisted on staying-had to leave the room while the doctor performed the spinal tap. Neither Prabhupāda, who was too weak, nor his boys, who were uncertain how to act on his behalf, opposed the doctor. The devotees filed out of Prabhupāda’s room while the doctor readied the largest, most frightening needle they had ever seen.
When they were allowed back, one disciple asked cautiously, “Did it hurt, Swamiji?” Śrīla Prabhupāda, his golden-skinned form wrapped in white hospital garments and lying between the white sheets, turned slightly and said, “We are tolerant.”
Rūpānuga: When Swamiji was first admitted to the hospital, it was very hard for me. I didn’t know how I should act. I didn’t have much experience with this kind of emergency. I was very uncertain as to what service to do for Swamiji. It was a frightening experience.
Swamiji’s life was at stake, yet his disciples didn’t know what to do to save him. He lay on the bed as if at their mercy. But the hospital staff considered him their property-an old man with heart trouble, a subject of investigation. And for Swamiji’s disciples this was a hundred times worse than dealing with Mr. Price and company. Now it was not just a matter of risking money but of risking Swamiji! Should they allow the EEG? What was an EEG? Was an operation necessary? An operation! But Swamiji had said that he should never even be brought to a hospital. “Give me massage,” was all he had said, and “Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
When Śrīla Prabhupāda mentioned his preference for the Āyur Vedic medical treatments available in India, some of the devotees suggested they bring a doctor from India. After considering the expense, Prabhupāda decided to send a letter first. Unable to sit up or write, he slowly dictated a letter to Sri Krishna Pandit, who had given him quarters for several years in his temple in Delhi. Satsvarūpa read it back to Prabhupāda and then typed it right there in Prabhupāda’s hospital room.
I am writing this letter from the hospital. All of a sudden I have developed some headache, as well as throbbing of the chest. When I rub my chest I feel some sensation in my left hand and when I rub my left hand I feel sensation in my chest. My left hand no more works independently. I therefore ask you if there is any good Vedic physician in Mathura who can send me some medicines, that is, you purchase and send them by air mail to our temple: ISKCON, 26 2nd Ave., New York, N. Y. The symptom is predominantly when I get severe pain within my head. And the trembling of the left hand is coming every ten or fifteen minutes. I am afraid if this is not a disease like Lakhya; the boys are taking utmost care of me, there is no scarcity of care. But still after all, this body is subject to death. I came here with a great mission to execute my Spiritual Master’s order but my heart is stabbing me. Of course, I’m not afraid of Maya, I know Maya cannot touch me, but still if I die in this condition, my mission will remain unfulfilled. Please therefore pray to Prabhu Lord Chaitanya and Vrindaban Bihar, to rescue me this time, my mission is still not finished. I wish to live for a few more days. They’re prepared to call an experienced Ayur Vedic physician who treats such diseases but I’ve not allowed the boys. But if necessary, if you can give me an expert physician who can travel here we can send necessary money for his coming here or arrange for air ticket. You can consult the man in charge of Dacca Shakti.
At last I may inform you that I am inclined toward Ayur Vedic treatment. You can consult the Ayur Vedic physician in Vrindaban who is a Goudiya Vaishnava. He knows me very well. He sells my books also.
Two things are to be done if it is possible; to send me proper medicines and directions, that will be nice. But if I require to return that also I can do. Please try to reply as soon as possible in English because my students cannot read Hindi. So long as I’m in bed it’s not possible to read letters. You can treat this letter very urgently. Consult necessary physicians and let me know what I am to do. In Mathura there are undoubtedly many Ayur Vedic physicians and many quacks also. Try to avoid the quacks. I would have returned to India immediately but the doctors say it is risky. If need be, I shall return as soon as I get strength to take the strain of the journey.
I repeat my symptoms so that you can take necessary care. All of a sudden I developed some throbbing between the heart and stomach about 4 days ago. I was so exhaustive, it was like fainting-then I consulted a doctor who came and gave me medicine but it was of no good effect therefore my students at once transferred me to the hospital where they’re spending more or less 400 rupees daily. There is no question of neglect. All scientific treatment is going on. But I think Ayur Vedic medicine will be proper. Therefore I request you to take immediate steps and reply me.
I hope this letter will convince you the actual position. While reading this letter you may consult some friend who knows English very well so that he’ll read it correctly and reply correctly. There is no scope for corresponding in Bengali or in Hindi.
By Kṛṣṇa’s grace, on the afternoon of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s second day in the hospital he showed slight improvement. His heart was still causing him pain, his facial expression remained grave, with never a smile, but he was a bit stronger. The interns, nurses, and doctors came and went on schedule, treating him-impersonally. One doctor did seem a little interested in what Prabhupāda was all about, and at Prabhupāda’s request, Kīrtanānanda played a taped lecture for the doctor. He listened politely, but then said, “It doesn’t ring a bell.”
The doctor said that he wanted to run a few more tests and that Swamiji might be able to leave after a few weeks-if all went well. Śrīla Prabhupāda tried speaking to the doctor, wanting to explain about Kṛṣṇa. Jadurāṇī had brought two of her paintings to the hospital room- one of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa and the other of the fierce half-lion, half-man incarnation, Lord Nṛsiṁha, tearing apart the demon Hiraṇyakaśipu. Speaking in a very low voice, Prabhupāda said that these two pictures show how God is many-sided: “Here He is in His loving exchange, and here also we see that anger comes from Kṛṣṇa, or God.”
The doctor politely said that he had his own philosophy and that Swamiji shouldn’t be preaching while in such weak health; he should rest. Advising the disciples not to allow their guru to speak, the doctor excused himself and continued his rounds.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, with his slight improvement, expressed more disapproval of being in the hands of the hospital personnel. They weren’t able to do anything, he said. Kṛṣṇa was in control: “If Kṛṣṇa wants to kill you, then no one can save you. But if Kṛṣṇa wants to save you, then no one can kill you.”
Dāmodara: I was there when a doctor came in to check his reflexes. There was the usual tapping with a little rubber hammer on his knee-that kind of thing. Swamiji was visibly annoyed with this man’s coming in and tapping him all over. He was capable of diagnosing and giving the prescription for the cure, and it annoyed him that these men, who obviously didn’t know what they were doing, were coming in and interfering with the process of recuperation.
Acyutānanda: The nurse would always let the door slam, and every time it slammed Swamiji would wince. He said, “Tell her not to slam the door”. She would say, “Okay,” and then she would let it slam again.
Śrīla Prabhupāda began sitting up in bed and taking prasādam from the temple, supplemented by some of the vegetarian items on the hospital menu. He would say a prayer and offer the hospital food to the picture of his spiritual master. The devotees would sit at his feet, watching him as he then mixed with his right hand the carrots, peas, and mashed potatoes. And he would always distribute some of his food into the hands of his disciples.
Jadurāṇī: We brought him many different kinds of fruit. We told him we had brought apples, but he was so tired he only said, “Oh” and seemed disinterested. We told him we had brought oranges, but again- “Oh.” He gave so many tired “Oh”s he seemed disinterested. Finally I said, “We brought you watermelons,” and immediately his face lit up- “Ohhh !”
Rotating in four-hour shifts, two devotees at a time were always with Prabhupāda. Although awake, he would remain silent for long intervals; but massaging always continued, except when he was asleep. Gradually, the paralysis on his left side went away.
Once while Śrīla Prabhupāda was sitting up in bed, one boy massaging his leg and another softly, almost consolingly, stroking the back of his neck, Prabhupāda remarked that if he were not sick he would have considered the massaging and rubbing too familiar.
Dāmodara: I was massaging Swamiji’s temples with one hand, my thumb on one temple and other fingers on the other temple. As I was massaging, Swamiji kept saying, “Harder ! Harder!” and I would squeeze harder. I thought, “Gee, I don’t know if I should squeeze so hard, because he’s sick.” But he kept insisting: “Harder! Harder!”
Puruṣottama: I was massaging Swamiji’s head, and I started singing the chant śrī kṛṣṇa-caitanya. When I started singing, a very beautiful smile came on his face. Although I did it only briefly, he took pleasure in hearing. He seemed to take it that I was ministering to him just by singing śrī kṛṣṇa-caitanya.
As Śrīla Prabhupāda gained strength, his disciples were ready with questions. Puruṣottama asked, “Swamiji, in the scriptures when it describes the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, what does that mean-lotus feet?”
Prabhupāda then sang a verse:
samāśritā ye pada-pallava-plavaṁ
mahat-padaṁ puṇya-yaśo murāreḥ
bhavāmbudhir vatsa-padaṁ paraṁ padaṁ
padaṁ padaṁ yad vipadāṁ na teṣām
Then he asked the three devotees present to repeat each line after him again and again, until they had learned both the tune and the words. “In this verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam,” Śrīla Prabhupāda explained, sitting up in his bed, “the time of death is compared to crossing a vast ocean. It is very fearful. One doesn’t know where he will go in the next life. And at every step there is danger in the material world. But for one who has taken shelter at the lotus feet of Lord Kṛṣṇa, that vast, dangerous ocean of birth and death becomes shrunk up to no more than the impression made in mud by a calf’s hoofprint. There is danger, but the devotee doesn’t care for it. Just like if a gentleman is riding by in a carriage and he passes a small puddle, he considers it insignificant. So do you understand now what “lotus feet’ means?” It was clear.
Then Puruṣottama asked another question: “Why do people say that God has no name?” Śrīla Prabhupāda replied by asking why, since God is everything, He should not have a name. “In fact,” he said, “all names are describing Kṛṣṇa.” Prabhupāda asked Puruṣottama what his name had been before initiation.
“Paul,” he said.
“What does Paul mean?” Prabhupāda asked.
“It means “little.'”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said, “that is Kṛṣṇa. He is the smallest of the small.”
Satsvarūpa then volunteered his name, Stephen, which means “crown.”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda replied, “Kṛṣṇa is the king.”
But discussions were rare. Usually the hours were quiet. Prabhupāda rested, and the devotees on watch sat in chairs on opposite sides of his bed, reading or chanting softly on their beads. Late one afternoon, as the Manhattan sky turned to twilight, Prabhupāda sat up after having been silent for an hour and said, “I don’t know Kṛṣṇa, but I know my Guru Mahārāja.”
One day Brahmānanda began giving Prabhupāda a minute breakdown of the financial condition of the New York temple. In the midst of the detailed report, Brahmānanda suddenly stopped, looked up at Prabhupāda, and said, “Do you want me to tell all the details? I thought you would want me to let you know. I mean, you should know.” Prabhupāda replied that if Brahmānanda could take care of everything without his knowing the details, that would be all right.
Suddenly one morning, Swami Satcidananda, the famous haṭha-yoga guru, entered Prabhupāda’s room, grinning through his big gray beard. He was dressed in a saffron silk kurtā and yogī pants and accompanied by one of his young American male disciples. Śrīla Prabhupāda sat up in bed, smiling at the pleasant surprise. They had not met before. Śrīla Prabhupāda offered Swami Satcidananda a seat at his bedside and asked Jadurāṇī to stand and give her seat to Swami Satcidananda’s disciple.
Prabhupāda and Swami Satcidananda spoke in Hindi, and no one else in the room could follow their conversation. At one point, however, Śrīla Prabhupāda held up his hand and looked at it with indifference and then with disgust. Although his words were Hindi, the gesture and sardonic expression conveyed his meaning: the body was material and therefore could not be expected to be well.
Prabhupāda asked Acyutānanda to read aloud from a particular purport of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
If there is enough milk, enough grains, enough fruit, enough cotton, enough silk and enough jewels then why the people need for economic development in the shape of machine and tools? Can the machine and tools supply vigour and vitality to the man and animals? Can the machinery produce grains, fruits and milk or jewellery or silk? Is not jewellery and silk, varieties of food stuff prepared with ghee and grains or milk and fruits sufficient for man’s pure luxurious and healthy life? Then why there is artificial luxurious life of cinema, cars, radio, flesh and hotels? Has this civilisation produced any good result more than the dog’s mentality of quarreling with one another individually and nationally? Has this civilisation enhanced the cause of equality and fraternity by sending thousands of men in the hellish factory and the war fields at the whims of a particular man?
When Prabhupāda offered to play the record he and his disciples had made, Swami Satcidananda politely agreed. But when Prabhupāda offered to play the other side of the record, Swami Satcidananda said he had to leave. He offered Prabhupāda some fruits, and Prabhupāda, after accepting them, told his disciples, “Distribute these, and give him some of our fruit in exchange.”
As Swami Satcidananda rose to leave, Śrīla Prabhupāda suddenly got out of bed and stood shakily. “No, no, no.” Swami Satcidananda protested. “Don’t disturb yourself.” And then he was gone, escorted by Acyutānanda. Śrīla Prabhupāda lay back in bed.
“Is he a swami?” Jadurāṇī asked.
“Why not?” Prabhupāda replied. But after a few moments he added, “Swami means one who knows Kṛṣṇa.” There was no more talk about it, but Prabhupāda was pleased by the unexpected visit.
The constant coming and going of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s young followers, wearing tilaka on their foreheads and carrying watermelons, special food, flowers, and paintings of Kṛṣṇa, created a special interest among the hospital staff. Sometimes workers would ask questions, and sometimes the devotees would talk with them about the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. Once a nurse came by Prabhupāda’s room and asked, “In the caste system in India, what is the name of the highest caste? What are they called?”
“Kṛṣṇa conscious,” Prabhupāda firmly replied. He asked a disciple to give the nurse prasādam.
On June 5 Prabhupāda received an affectionate letter signed by all his disciples in San Francisco. After reading how they had stayed up all night chanting and praying for his recovery, he dictated a short letter.
My dear boys and girls,
I am so much obliged to you for your prayers to Krishna to save my life. Due to your sincere and ardent prayer, Krishna has saved my life. I was to die on Tuesday certainly but because you prayed sincerely I am saved. Now I am improving gradually and coming to original condition. Now I can hope to meet you again and chant with you Hare Krishna. I am so glad to receive the report of your progressive march and hope there will be no difficulty in your understanding Krishna consciousness. My blessings are always with you and with confidence you go on with your chanting Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
The following day a tape arrived from Mukunda: a recording of the San Francisco devotees singing śrī rāma jaya rāma jaya jaya rāma and other bhajanas. Prabhupāda dictated another letter, saying that as soon as he got strength for traveling he would come again to San Francisco.
“In the meantime,” he wrote, “I shall be very glad to know what arrangements you are going to do for the Ratha-yātrā festival. Make it a grand procession and unique introduction in the United States.”
Some of Swamiji’s disciples gathered in the storefront at 26 Second Avenue one night. Sitting around on the faded rug, they discussed the meaning of Swamiji’s illness. He had said that when the heart attack had come, it had been meant for his death; therefore he had called out loudly, “Hare Kṛṣṇa!” thinking that the moment of death had come. Kīrtanānanda remembered that Swamiji had once told him that when he was on the boat coming to America the captain’s wife had read his palm and said that if he survived his seventy-first year he would live to be a hundred.
Madhusūdana asked, “How could a pure devotee be subject to a death blow?” Kīrtanānanda replied that it was impersonal to think that because Swamiji was a pure devotee nothing could happen to him and that they should not even worry about him. Of course, the apparent suffering or even the passing away of a pure devotee wasn’t the same as an ordinary man’s. Swamiji had given the example of the cat: sometimes she carries her kittens in her mouth, and sometimes she catches a mouse in the same jaws. The mouse feels the jaws of death, but the kitten feels safety and affection. So although Swamiji’s death call might have appeared similar to an ordinary man’s, for Swamiji there had been no fear or danger.
As the disciples discussed their realizations, they began to clear away their doubts about why such an apparent setback had come upon their spiritual master. Satsvarūpa mentioned the letter he had typed for Swamiji at the hospital. In the letter Swamiji had said he was not afraid of māyā and could not be touched by māyā. But he had also referred to being stabbed by his heart. Brahmānanda said that Swamiji had once told him that a spiritual master may suffer for the sins of his disciples, because he has to take their karma. Swamiji now had about fifty disciples, so maybe that had been the cause of his heart attack. They talked about the importance of being very strict and not committing any sins with which to burden their spiritual master.
Another reason for Swamiji’s illness, Kīrtanānanda said, was that Kṛṣṇa had arranged it to engage them all in intimate service to Swamiji. By serving a pure devotee, one gains the favor of Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa was letting them all become purified by massaging and serving Swamiji so intimately.
Satsvarūpa recalled that Swamiji had said in a letter to the devotees in San Francisco that he was supposed to have died but their prayers had saved him. Swamiji had told Kīrtanānanda that Kṛṣṇa had heard the devotees’ prayers and had granted their wishes. Kṛṣṇa was allowing Swamiji to go on with his mission of spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West. It wasn’t on his own behalf that Swamiji wanted to live, but to continue his mission.
Everyone agreed with Kīrtanānanda that it was a form of impersonalism for them to think that because Swamiji was a pure devotee he didn’t need their loving care. They should continue to care for Swamiji even after he got better. He had put himself in their care, and they had to reciprocate accordingly. Swamiji had said they were like fathers to him; so they should not allow him to play the drum long and vigorously, to sing in the park for hours, to stay up talking late at night, or to do anything that might endanger his health.
Rāya Rāma said that Swamiji had asked him to reply to several letters from devotees on the West Coast and explain that he would probably never again be able to take on the strain of public lectures; the saṅkīrtana movement now rested on their shoulders. Rāya Rāma had explained in his letters that it was Kṛṣṇa’s grace that Swamiji was still with them and able to advise them when things got rough; but now they must increase their efforts to distribute Kṛṣṇa consciousness to the world.
The talk turned to the need for them to realize Swamiji’s instructions and become strong devotees. Everyone agreed that they could do this by studying Swamiji’s books more carefully and always acting according to his instructions.
When they told Prabhupāda about their philosophical discussions, he replied only briefly: “Kṛṣṇa heard all your sincere prayers, and He thought, “All right, let him stay and do his nonsense-so many devotees are praying on his behalf.'”
* * *
Before Prabhupāda’s illness, the devotees had planned a big event in Tompkins Square Park for Sunday, June 4. The parks department had given them the use of a loudspeaker system and the stage in the band shell. Mr. Kallman, producer of the Hare Kṛṣṇa record, had encouraged them to advertise and had gotten in touch with the TV stations. The devotees had begun making Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra signs so that everyone, even the TV viewer, could chant.
Although now unable to go, Śrīla Prabhupāda said they should still have their festival; he would compose a special address for Kīrtanānanda to read to the public. From his hospital bed he dictated the short speech: “An Address to American Youth,” by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
On June 4, several hundred people gathered around the band shell in Tompkins Square Park, while the devotees played harmonium, karatālas, and mṛdaṅgas and chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa over the P.A. system. Many people in the crowd chanted along, playing their own instruments and even joining the devotees onstage.
Kīrtanānanda stood before the microphone and announced that Bhaktivedanta Swami, although ill at Beth Israel Hospital, had prepared a message for everyone. Many among the Lower East Side crowd were acquainted with Bhaktivedanta Swami and his chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa. They listened as Kīrtanānanda read.
My dear young beautiful boys and girls of America,
I have come to your country with great hope and a great mission. My Spiritual Master, Om Vishnupad Paramahansa Paribrajaka Acharya Sri Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaja, asked me to preach this cult of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the Western world. That was the seed-giving incident. Gradually the seed fructified, and I was prepared to come to the Western world. Still, I do not know why I was so much attracted by the land of America. But from within Krishna dictated that instead of going to Europe I should better go to America. So you can see that I have come to your country under order of superior authority. And even after arriving here, when I perceived that some of the youngsters are being misled, confused and frustrated-this is not the condition of your country only, but in every country, the young people are neglected, although it is they who are the flower and future hope of everyone-so I thought to myself that if I go to the American youth with my message and they join with me in this movement, then it will spread all over the world, and then all the problems of the world will be solved. How I would like to be with you in person today, but Krishna has prevented that, so please pardon me and accept my blessings in this written form.
This process of samkirtan-this singing and dancing-is so nice because from the very beginning it places everyone on the spiritual platform. There are different platforms or levels to our existence: the bodily platform, the mental platform, the intellectual platform, and the spiritual platform. When you stand on the spiritual platform, then all the problems created by the necessities of the body, mind, intellect, and ego become solved. Therefore I appeal to you to join this movement most seriously. The process is very simple: we ask everyone to come join with us in chanting, hear something of the philosophy of life taught by Lord Krishna, take a little prasadam (foodstuff that is prepared and offered to the Lord), and peacefully, with refreshed mind, go home. That is our mission.
We do have certain restrictions; practically, they are not restrictions, but something better in place of something inferior. The other day, Mr. Alan Burke questioned me on his television program, “Swamiji, why do you insist on marriage?” And I answered him, “Unless one becomes peaceful in home life, how can he make any advance in any other area of life or knowledge? Therefore everyone should get married-just to be happy and peaceful.” You are all beautiful, nice, educated boys and girls-why shouldn’t you get married and live happily? If you live peacefully regulated lives, eating nothing but Krishna prasadam, then the tissues in your brain will develop for spiritual consciousness and understanding.
However, if you are not agreeable to these simple restrictions, still I request you to join the chanting with us. Everybody can do that, and that will gradually clarify everything, and all problems will be solved, and you will find a new chapter of your life. Just this week I have received a letter from a girl in New Jersey who has had such an experience. She writes:
“Dear Swamiji, “You don’t know me by name, but I am the girl who joined your parade in Washington Square this past Saturday.
“When I first saw your group I thought you were all crazy. Either that or on dope of some kind. After listening and talking with some of you I realized that it was neither of those. You people plainly believed in what you were doing and I admired you for that much; but my curiosity drove me further and I had to find out why. So I followed you, and as I did, the chant you sang began to take hold. The next thing I knew I felt free of myself and I was singing too. I didn’t know where I was or where I was going but I was too elated to care. It wasn’t until we stopped that I learned where I was.
“By that time I had picked up bits and pieces of what Krishna Consciousness was about. One of your members asked me to visit your temple and I followed you still further, hoping to discover just what it was that made you feel so strong about something I’d never heard of.
“After having taken a meal with you and reading your literature I left; but not alone. I took with me a new awareness of life. It occurred to me how futile my desires for the material things in life were: that a new dress, or big house, or color television were not important. If only people would open their eyes to the endless number of pleasures God has already given us, there would be no need for looking any further.
“You people are truly lucky. You may have had to do without many things, but because of this you are able to enjoy the simple God-given treasures of the world. Because of your beliefs, you are the wealthy; and I thank you for sharing a bit of that wealth with me.”
So we invite you to please chant with us-it is such a nice thing. Come to our temple if you like, take a little prasadam, and be happy. It is not very difficult if you just chant this HARE KRISHNA, HARE KRISHNA, KRISHNA KRISHNA, HARE HARE, HARE RAMA, HARE RAMA, RAMA RAMA, HARE HARE. That will save you. Thank you very much, and God bless you.
* * *
Śrīla Prabhupāda was eager to leave the hospital. For several days he had wanted to go. “They are simply sticking needles,” he complained. And each day was putting his Society into further debt. The devotees had rented a small seaside house in Long Branch, New Jersey, where Prabhupāda could go to recuperate. Kīrtanānanda, they decided, would be Prabhupāda’s cook, and Gaurasundara and his wife, Govinda dāsī, were arriving from San Francisco to do the housekeeping and help. But the doctor wanted Prabhupāda to stay for another brain wave test and more observation.
One day while Brahmānanda and Gargamuni were visiting Prabhupāda, the doctor entered and announced that the Swami would have to go downstairs for an X ray.
“No needle?” Prabhupāda asked.
“Yes,” the doctor replied, “it’s all right.”
When the nurse brought in a bed on wheels, Prabhupāda said he wanted Gargamuni to push it. He then sat on it cross-legged and put his hand in his bead bag, and Gargamuni, following the nurse, wheeled him out the door, down the hall, and onto the elevator. They went down to the third floor and entered a room. The nurse left them alone. Gargamuni could sense Prabhupāda’s uneasiness. He was also nervous. It was such an unlikely place for him to be with his spiritual master. Then a different nurse entered, with a needle: “Time to give the Swami a little injection.”
“No.” Prabhupāda shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” Gargamuni said flatly. “We’re not going to do it.”
The nurse was exasperated but smiled: “It won’t hurt.”
“Take me back,” Prabhupāda ordered Gargamuni. When the nurse insisted, Gargamuni acted rashly-his usual tendency-and stepped between the nurse and Śrīla Prabhupāda.
I’m ready to fight if I have to, Gargamuni thought. “I won’t let you do it,” he said and wheeled the bed out of the room, leaving the nurse behind.
Gargamuni was lost. He was somewhere on the third or fourth floor, faced with corridors and doors. And Prabhupāda’s room was on the sixth floor. Unsure where he was going, Gargamuni wheeled through the corridors with Prabhupāda sitting cross-legged, chanting on his beads.
Brahmānanda arrived at the X-ray lab seconds after Gargamuni’s escape. The nurse and an intern complained to him about what had happened.
Brahmānanda: They considered this a theft. Swamiji was their property. As long as he was in the hospital, he was theirs to do whatever they pleased with. Gargamuni had stolen Swamiji away from them.
Gargamuni got to the elevator. He had difficulty maneuvering the bed and in his haste bumped into the wall. He forgot what floor Swamiji was on. He only knew that he was protecting Swamiji, who wanted to be taken away.
When Gargamuni finally reached Prabhupāda’s room, 607, an intern was there and spoke angrily. “I don’t care,” Gargamuni said. “He doesn’t want any more needles or tests. We want to leave.” Brahmānanda arrived, calmed his younger brother, and helped Prabhupāda back into bed.
Prabhupāda said he wanted to leave. When the doctor came in, Prabhupāda sat up and spoke decisively. “Doctor, I am all right. I can go.” And he shook the doctor’s hand to show him he was hale and hearty. The doctor chuckled. He said that although Swamiji was getting stronger, he would have to stay a few more days. He was by no means out of danger vet. He required careful medical surveillance. They needed to run another electroencephalogram.
Śrīla Prabhupāda still had pains around his heart, but he told the doctor his boys had a place for him to rest by the seaside. This was very good, the doctor said, but he couldn’t let his patient go just yet.
But Prabhupāda had made up his mind. Brahmānanda and Gargamuni arranged for a rented car. They gathered Prabhupāda’s things and helped him dress. As they escorted him out of his room and the hospital staff saw that the boys were actually taking the old man away, some of the doctors and nurses tried to stop them. Brahmānanda told them not to worry: Swamiji was very dear to them, and they would take good care of him. He would get regular massages and plenty of rest, and they would get him whatever medicines the doctors prescribed. After a rest by the seaside he could come back for a checkup.
Brahmānanda: Then the doctors became fed up. They threatened us: “This man is going to die.” They really scared us. They said, “This man is going to die, and it is going to be your fault.” Even as we left they said, “This man is condemned to death.” It was horrible.
At ten A.M. on June 8 they left the hospital. Prabhupāda wanted to stop briefly at the temple at 26 Second Avenue before going to the house in Long Branch. Entering the storefront, walking shakily, he came before the portraits of his spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, and his spiritual master’s father, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. For the first time, Prabhupāda’s disciples saw him offer fully prostrated obeisances. As he prostrated himself before his Guru Mahārāja, his disciples also paid obeisances and felt their devotion increase.
When Prabhupāda arrived at his cottage in Long Branch at one o’clock, he had Kīrtanānanda immediately begin cooking lunch. It would be Prabhupāda’s first regular hot meal-rice, dāl, capātīs, sabjī-since his stroke nine days ago.
Prabhupāda went to bed but soon got up and came into the kitchen, asking, “Is it ready?” Kīrtanānanda made a few excuses and said he would hurry. After a few minutes, Prabhupāda returned. He seemed furious: “Why are you taking so long?” Kīrtanānanda moved as quickly as he could, but he couldn’t make the dāl boil any faster. “Whatever you have,” Prabhupāda said, “let me eat it. I don’t care if it is raw.” Kīrtanānanda served lunch, and Prabhupāda ate with the relish of a person in good health. Kīrtanānanda telephoned his pal Hayagrīva in San Francisco: “He ate like anything. It was wonderful to see.”
The small one-story cottage was situated in a quiet suburb a short walk from the beach. The back yard was enclosed by trees and shrubs, and the neighborhood bloomed with fragrant roses.
But the weather was often blustery and the sky gray. Prabhupāda spoke of returning to India to recuperate. In Delhi, Sri Krishna Pandit had refused Prabhupāda’s urgent request for Āyur Vedic medicine: “You are in such a long place-if the medicine gives some bad reaction, then how to arrange for the good?” Prabhupāda had written back asking if an Āyur Vedic physician could be sent to America, but the proposal seemed impractical. It would be better for Prabhupāda to go to India. He received Swami Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja’s reply that since no Āyur Vedic doctor would go to America, Swamiji should come and be treated in Calcutta. Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja also enclosed a letter to Prabhupāda’s secretary, Rāya Rāma: “There is no need for anxiety. Always utter hari-nama (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare) near his ears. God will do for the best.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda talked of going to India not only for his health; he told Kīrtanānanda and Gaurasundara he wanted to start in Vṛndāvana an “American House,” a place where his American disciples could learn Vedic culture to help them preach all over the world. He also said he wanted to make some of his disciples-Kīrtanānanda, Brahmānanda, Hayagrīva-into sannyāsīs and he would do that also in India. His real work, however, was in America-if he could just regain his health. But where was the sunshine?
Govinda dāsī had cherished the desire to serve Swamiji personally ever since she had first met him in San Francisco. She saw that he was selfless, and his love for his disciples was unlike anything she had ever known before. She didn’t mention her cherished desire to anyone, even to Gaurasundara. But now Kṛṣṇa was fulfilling her desire by allowing her and Gaurasundara to come to New Jersey to serve Swamiji. To the devotees in New York, having a married couple take care of Swamiji seemed the best arrangement, and Govinda dāsī and Gaurasundara had been available. These were external reasons, but Govinda dāsī understood that Kṛṣṇa was fulfilling her desire.
Serving Swamiji, Govinda dāsī felt completely satisfied. Now that she was actually dedicating herself to Swamiji as she had always wanted, nothing else was on her mind. Despite the problems of working with Kīrtanānanda-who seemed to think she was less intelligent because she was a woman and who sometimes corrected her-she was happy.
Govinda dāsī: Swamiji would sit on a little couch with a table before him, and Gaurasundara and Kīrtanānanda and I would sit on the floor, and we would all eat together, like a family. We would talk, and one time the subject was rice. Kīrtanānanda said, “White rice is for human beings, and brown rice is for animals.” So I said, “I must be an animal, then, because I really like brown rice better.” And Swamiji just laughed and laughed and laughed. He thought it was so funny. I guess it did sound pretty simple. But he laughed and laughed.
Prabhupāda was sitting in the back yard when Govinda dāsī saw a large slug climbing on a wall. She showed it to Prabhupāda. “Chant to the poor thing,” he said, and she began to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Govinda dāsī would take walks daily and, with the neighbors’ permission, pick dozens of roses. On returning she would arrange them in vases and place them all around in Prabhupāda’s room. One time when Prabhupāda heard her loudly singing Hare Kṛṣṇa as she returned from the neighborhood, he remarked to Gaurasundara, “She is very simplehearted.”
Govinda dāsī: Swamiji talked about Kṛṣṇa in such a way that Kṛṣṇa was present in the room. This was so striking to me. He would talk about Kṛṣṇa’s activities-about how Kṛṣṇa is doing this and that and how Kṛṣṇa is so wonderful and Mother Yaśodā is thinking like this. He would talk, and he would get into such a beautiful state that the whole room would glow golden. I would feel as if I were being transported to some other realm, and it was all very new to me. I didn’t have any great understanding of what was going on, but it was all very new to me, and it was an actual transcendental experience of feeling Kṛṣṇa’s presence and almost glimpsing within the heart the memory of His pastimes.
Swamiji playing karatālas, Swamiji walking on the beach, Swamiji sitting in his room or taking a nap-everything he did seemed wonderful to Govinda dāsī. And everything he did or said seemed to endear him more and more to her.
Devotees would travel-no more than two at a time and only once a week-from Manhattan to Long Branch to visit Swamiji. Mostly they would see him sitting on his bed, but sometimes they would walk with him on the beach. The morning sunshine, he said, would help him. But the gray skies persisted.
As Prabhupāda sat one morning with Kīrtanānanda, Gaurasundara, Satsvarūpa, Govinda dāsī, and Jadurāṇī on a blanket spread on the sand, he noticed some boys with surfboards trying to ride the waves. “They think this is bliss, playing in the water,” he said. “Actually there is some bliss there, but it is not ānanda, the bliss of the spiritual world. On Kṛṣṇaloka everything is conscious. The water is conscious, the land is conscious. And everything is blissful. Here that is not so.” Devotees looked with him at the surfers bobbing in the sea. “Yes,” Kīrtanānanda said, “and also here it is dangerous. At any moment one of the surfboards could jump up and hit them on the head.”
“Yes,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “this is not real ānanda. Prahlāda Mahārāja has said that this material world is crushing him like a grinding wheel of repeated birth and death. He says that in material life he experiences either separation from what is beloved to him or meeting up with an obstacle he doesn’t want. And in order to combat this condition, the remedy he takes is even worse than the disease. LSD is like that, a remedy worse than the disease.”
Except that Prabhupāda’s face looked thin, his appearance was the same as before his illness. He sat among them, wrapped in a gray wool cādar. They knew he must be very careful about how much he did. They would never forget, as they had forgotten before, that he was seventy-two years old. Perhaps never again would they be able to enjoy spending as much time with him as before. Certainly for now his intimate association had become a rare treasure.
Sitting inches away from Prabhupāda on the beach blanket, Satsvarūpa asked a question on behalf of the devotees in New York. “Swamiji, is wearing of leather shoes permissible?”
“What if someone has given us some leather shoes?”
“Leather means violence,” Prabhupāda said. He pointed to Satsvarūpa’s shoes of inexpensive man-made material. “Your country is very nice. By your technology you can get these shoes easily without wearing leather.” For Satsvarūpa and the others the question was answered for a lifetime; and the time and place became a reference, like a chapter and verse number in the scriptures.
As Jadurāṇī helped Govinda dāsī gather flowers, the two girls talked together. Both had heard the men say that women were less intelligent, and they felt discouraged. Later Govinda dāsī told Prabhupāda about the problem. “Is it true,” she asked, “that because we are women we won’t make advancement as quickly as the brahmacārīs?”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda answered. “If you think of yourselves as women, how will you make any advancement? You must see yourself as spirit soul, eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda gave Jadurāṇī a photograph of himself to paint from. Taken in India, before he had come to America, it showed him grave and standing very straight against a blank white wall. “Oh, Swamiji,” Jadurāṇī remarked, “you look so unhappy here.”
“Noooo,” he said thoughtfully, stretching out the sound of the word. “No. That is not unhappy. That was a moment of ecstasy.”
Prabhupāda drew Jadurāṇī’s attention to a picture on his wall. Mother Yaśodā was rebuking her son, Kṛṣṇa, for stealing butter, while in the distance two of Kṛṣṇa’s friends were hiding behind a tree, laughing. Prabhupāda asked, “Do you think that Kṛṣṇa would let Himself get caught and His friends get away?” She looked at the picture again. By the light of Swamiji’s words she could see that Kṛṣṇa’s friends would also soon be caught. She suddenly felt she was there in Vṛndāvana. They both laughed.
After staying with Prabhupāda for two days, Satsvarūpa and Jadurāṇī, the devotees visiting from New York, had to return to their duties. Although Prabhupāda had been resting, he awoke just as they were about to depart, so they came into his room. In a faint voice Prabhupāda spoke a few words from his bed. Then he sat up and Gaurasundara began to massage him. People who think God is dead are crazy, Prabhupāda said. Although no one had introduced the subject, for Prabhupāda, preaching about Kṛṣṇa was always apropos. His voice picked up volume as he denounced the atheists: “Just like if I go to the doctor. If he checks my heart and it is beating well and if he checks my blood pressure and it is going on and my breathing is there, and after observing all these symptoms of life if I ask him, “So, doctor, what is the condition?’ if the doctor says, “My dear sir, you are dead’-is this not a crazy diagnosis?”
Gaurasundara, still massaging, glanced wide-eyed at the others. Prabhupāda was now speaking in a loud, forceful voice, as if addressing a large audience instead of a few visitors in his sickroom. “Similarly, just see the signs of life in this universe! The sun is rising just on time, the planets are all moving in their orbits, there are so many signs of life. And the universe is God’s body. And yet they are seeing all these symptoms and declaring God is dead? Is it not foolishness? They are rascals! I challenge them. Simply rascals!”
A few soft words had become half an hour of strong, emphatic speech meant to move the audience against all kinds of atheistic theorists. Although Kīrtanānanda had at first cautioned Swamiji, reminding him about his health, Swamiji had dismissed the caution by saying, “That’s all right.” But now he was exhausted and had to lie back down.
The devotees had just seen Swamiji immediately use up whatever energy he had gained from his afternoon’s rest. Although they admired how he was using everything for Kṛṣṇa, they were also fearful. But they were helpless to restrain him. They were even implicated-they wanted to hear him.
When Satsvarūpa and Jadurāṇī returned to New York, Brahmānanda had them tell the others about Swamiji. Satsvarūpa told how he had slept in the room with Swamiji and had felt that this nearness to Swamiji was very auspicious. He had felt light and peaceful and close to Kṛṣṇa all night. Satsvarūpa and Jadurāṇī told about sitting on the beach with Swamiji and his talking about everything’s being conscious in Kṛṣṇaloka. And they told how Swamiji had sat up in bed and had used his energy preaching, showing them that they should also use everything in the service of Kṛṣṇa. Brahmānanda beamed at the other devotees. “Just look! By your talking about Swamiji, everyone is feeling blissful.”
Prabhupāda stayed in Long Branch for three weeks. But when Sri Krishna Pandit wrote saying that he couldn’t arrange for an Āyur Vedic doctor to come to America, Prabhupāda began to think more seriously about going back to India. In India he could get sunshine and Āyur Vedic treatment. But his plans would vary from one day to another-San Francisco, Montreal, India, New York. He told Kīrtanānanda to inform the devotees in San Francisco that if they held a Ratha-yātrā festival he would come.
At the end of June, he returned to 26 Second Avenue and to the hospital for a checkup. The doctor was surprised at Swamiji’s recovery and had no objection to his flying to San Francisco. So in search of sunny skies, and eager to guide his followers in performing the first Ratha-yātrā, Prabhupāda had airline tickets booked for himself and Kīrtanānanda to San Francisco, New Jagannātha Purī.
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