At the San Francisco airport Prabhupāda smiled but said little as the devotees greeted him with flowers and kīrtana. It was different this time. He walked straight ahead, with the aid of a cane.
Jayānanda was waiting with his station wagon to drive Prabhupāda to the private house they had rented north of the city, at Stinson Beach. But first, Prabhupāda said, he wanted to visit the San Francisco Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple. Jayānanda drove to 518 Frederick Street. Prabhupāda got out of the car and entered the small storefront, which was filled with waiting devotees and guests. He bowed before the smiling Jagannātha deities and, without speaking a word, left the room, returned to the car, and departed for Stinson Beach.
The ride up through the seaside cliffs was so winding and climbing that Prabhupāda became nauseated. And even lying down in the back seat and having Jayānanda drive slower didn’t help much. Kīrtanānanda realized that it would be too difficult for Prabhupāda to visit the San Francisco temple from Stinson Beach. But maybe that would be just as well; he could spend all of his time recuperating.
It was a modern single-story six-room house with a Japanese roof. A sign out front read Paradisio. Śrīla Prabhupāda noticed in the front yard, amidst fashionable lawn furniture, a statue of Lord Buddha-a garden ornament. When Prabhupāda entered the house, he found Mukunda and his wife, Jānakī, waiting for him. They bowed down, and Jānakī wept in happiness. Prabhupāda smiled but kept walking, slowly and silently, through the house. The large living room overlooking the Pacific Ocean was decorated with some of Jadurāṇī’s paintings of Lord Viṣṇu, Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, and Lord Caitanya, as well as with Indian prints of Jagannātha Purī. Prabhupāda’s bedroom, also facing the ocean, had sliding windows. On the wall was a portrait of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and a painting of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Prabhupāda smiled and said the paintings were very nice.
The devotees agreed that only Kīrtanānanda and Upendra would stay and serve Swamiji. They wanted Swamiji’s stay to be peaceful, so that his health could improve.
That night Śrīla Prabhupāda felt pain in his heart and couldn’t sleep. And he didn’t rise early for translating. At five A.M. Kīrtanānanda came in and opened the window slightly so that Prabhupāda could receive the soft ocean breeze. Prabhupāda sat up in his bed chanting his japa and gazing at the feet of Lord Kṛṣṇa and Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. A mountain range to the east blocked the morning sun.
Ever since Prabhupāda’s stroke, Kīrtanānanda had been regularly massaging Prabhupāda morning and evening. Kīrtanānanda would rub Prabhupāda’s head vigorously and then sit behind him and massage his back; next he would massage Prabhupāda’s chest, his arms, and his legs, the complete massage lasting sometimes more than an hour. Since leaving the hospital, Prabhupāda had also been taking daily morning walks, even while on the Lower East Side. And this morning he went down for a walk on the beach, accompanied by Kīrtanānanda and Upendra.
As Prabhupāda walked on the beach, he pointed his cane towards some bubbles in the sand. “Just see,” he said. “There are living entities everywhere. There is no place without living entities. And yet they say there is no life on the moon!” The beach was rocky, and there were cliffs where the waves crashed powerfully like thunder. “You hear this sound?” Śrīla Prabhupāda asked. “This is an echo of the gopīs’ heartbeats when they are feeling separation from Kṛṣṇa.”
He walked for an hour, until his two young servants were both tired. “Do I tire you walking?” he laughed. “This walking and massaging are saving my life from day to day.” Then he continued walking.
By eleven o’clock the sun finally appeared over the mountains and through the clouds. Śrīla Prabhupāda, his head wrapped with a towel, sat in a folding chair on the beach, taking in the sunshine. He kept saying he needed more sun. After lunch the sky was again overcast.
In the evening Prabhupāda called Kīrtanānanda and Upendra into the large living room and led them in a subdued kīrtana, singing Hare Kṛṣṇa and Govinda Jaya Jaya. He stood and led them in a large circle around the room. He would stop before the picture of Kṛṣṇa, bow slightly with folded palms, turn around, and then continue in the circle.
On July 8, after Prabhupāda had been at Paradisio for two days, Śyāmasundara and Mukunda drove up from San Francisco. The next day was to be Ratha-yātrā, and Śyāmasundara and Mukunda, the first devotees to visit Prabhupāda since his arrival at Stinson Beach, told Prabhupāda all about the festival preparations. Of course, the whole festival had been Prabhupāda’s idea, but the devotees in San Francisco were trying to do exactly as he had asked.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had first gotten the idea for the festival while looking out the window of his room above Frederick Street. Noticing flatbed trucks passing below, he thought of putting Jagannātha deities on the back of such a truck and conducting an American-style Ratha-yātrā festival. He had even sketched a truck with a four-pillared canopy on the back and decorated with flags, bells, and flower garlands. And he had called in Śyāmasundara: “Make me this cart for Ratha-yātrā.” Now, ready and sitting outside the temple on Frederick Street, was the cart-a yellow Hertz rental truck, compliments of the Diggers and complete with five-foot columns and a pyramidal cloth canopy.
Sitting with Prabhupāda on the beach, Mukunda told how all the devotees were working with great enthusiasm and how the hippies in Haight-Ashbury were talking about the Jagannātha parade that would take place the next day. The devotees had tried to route the parade through Golden Gate Park, but the police department would only give permission for them to go south down Frederick Street to the sea. Mukunda said the devotees planned to have Jagannātha under the canopy, facing the right side of the truck, Subhadrā facing the rear, and Balarāma facing the left side; he wanted to know if that was all right. Actually, Prabhupāda said, the deities should ride in separate carts, pulled with ropes by the crowd through the streets; maybe that could happen in future years.
“Do it nicely,” he cautioned them. “And don’t hurry it up.” The devotees should drive the truck slowly through the streets down to the beach, and there should be constant kīrtana.
Mukunda and Śyāmasundara glorified Jayānanda: he drove all around San Francisco getting donations of fruits and flowers, found people to help decorate the cart, installed the sound system on the truck, and distributed posters in the stores. He was tireless, and his enthusiasm was inspiring everyone else to take part. The women had been cooking capātīs all day, so there should be thousands to give away to the crowd. The devotees had prepared hundreds of Hare Kṛṣṇa Ratha-yātrā festival balloons to release on the streets as the parade began.
When the devotees asked what else they should do, Prabhupāda said that this was all-a procession, prasādam distribution, kīrtana. The people should get a chance to see Lord Jagannātha and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. There should be chanting and dancing in front of the cart throughout the procession. “But do everything nicely,” Prabhupāda said. “Do it as well as you can, and Lord Jagannātha will be satisfied.”
The next day, in the quiet afternoon, Prabhupāda was sitting in the living room, chanting on his beads. Upendra was with him, and Kīrtanānanda was in the kitchen cooking a feast. Suddenly Prabhupāda heard the familiar ringing of cymbals, and he became very happy, his eyes widening. Looking outside he saw the Ratha-yātrā truck, with Lord Jagannātha, Subhadrā, and Balarāma and dozens of devotees and hippies eager to see him. He went out to greet them and had them bring the deities inside and set them on top of the upright piano. Devotees and guests followed, filling the large living room. Smiling, Prabhupāda embraced some of the men while others made obeisances at his feet. Some devotees helped Kīrtanānanda in the kitchen get ready to distribute the large feast he had prepared. Others reported on the success of the Ratha-yātrā festival.
It was great! It was wonderful! It was a beautiful day, they said. And Prabhupāda listened, moved by his disciples’ description of the celebration. Many hippies had joined the large procession. Mukunda, Haridāsa, Hayagrīva, and some of the women had been on the cart, and the instruments, including Yamunā’s playing on the harmonium, had all been amplified. Everyone in the streets had liked it. The police motor escorts had tried to hurry the devotees, but so many people had crowded in front that the parade had been obliged to go slowly, just as Swamiji had asked. Subala had danced wildly the whole time, and Jayānanda had been jumping up and down, playing karatālas. From the truck some of the women had handed out cut oranges, apples, and bananas, and others had thrown flowers. The crowds had loved it.
Śyāmasundara told how they had been going up a steep hill-Śyāmasundara had been driving, with his dog Ralph beside him on the front seat-when the truck had stalled. He had tried to start the engine but couldn’t. Then the brakes wouldn’t hold. The truck began rolling backward downhill! Finally he had managed to stop. But when he had tried to go forward the engine had stalled and the truck had rolled backwards again! He would get it started, the truck would go forward, then stall, then roll backwards. Everyone had been in anxiety. At last the truck had started forward, and the procession had continued all the way to the beach.
Śrīla Prabhupāda smiled. It was a pastime of Lord Jagannātha’s, he said. The same thing had happened when Lord Caitanya had attended Ratha-yātrā in Jagannātha Purī. Then also the cart had gotten stuck, and no one had been able to move it. The king of Orissa had brought forward the most powerful wrestlers to push the cart and pull on the ropes. But it wouldn’t go. Even the elephants couldn’t move it. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu had then put His head against the cart and pushed, and only then did the cart begin to move. Now Ratha-yātrā had come to the West, and with it this pastime of Lord Jagannātha’s.
Prabhupāda noticed some devotees were missing. “Where are Yamunā and Jānakī?” he asked. The devotees told him that some hippies had handed out candy spiked with LSD and that a few of the devotees had unwittingly accepted it and were just now recovering.
Subala related how, after the festival, they had traveled out on the freeway in their flower-bedecked, canopy-covered truck carrying thirty devotees and the deities of Jagannātha, Subhadrā, and Balarāma. They had driven up through the mountains in what must have been one of the most unusual vehicles ever seen.
After all the visitors departed, the deities remained in the house with Prabhupāda and his servants. Prabhupāda felt satisfied that his disciples had successfully held a Ratha-yātrā festival. Although untrained, they were sincere. Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would have been pleased to see the first American Ratha-yātrā.
The whole world was in anxiety, Prabhupāda explained to the devotees gathered in his room that evening. Only in the spiritual world was there freedom from anxiety. Becoming free from all anxiety and returning to the spiritual world was the purpose of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. And festivals like Ratha-yātrā made people Kṛṣṇa conscious. Prabhupāda had many, many ideas for festivals. If he had the money and the manpower, he said, he could have a festival every day. There was no limit to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This Ratha-yātrā festival was another sign of the good reception for Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West.
He wrote Brahmānanda in New York:
The house is situated in an exceptionally nice spot and the house itself is aristocratic. So there is nothing to complain about the house and place. The only difficulty is that I cannot go to the temple on account of the zigzag course of the road and crossing the mountains. Anyway, the devotees are coming here, and the Ratha-yatra festival was just performed with great pomp. More than five hundred people followed the procession to the beach, and there were about two dozen cars. They distributed thousands of chapaties, and at last Sri Jagannatha, Subhadra and Baladeva kindly came here in our house and will stay here for one week and then return.
* * *
Śrīla Prabhupāda still talked of going to India. He had virtually made up his mind to go; the question now was when, and whether by the western route, via Japan, or the eastern route, via New York. The gray skies and unseasonably cool temperatures of Stinson Beach were a disappointment. His health was still poor. He even spoke of dying. It didn’t matter whether he died in America or in Vṛndāvana, he said. If a Vaiṣṇava dies in Vṛndāvana, the land where Kṛṣṇa appeared, he is assured of joining Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world. Yet when Lord Caitanya had traveled outside Vṛndāvana, His devotee Advaita had assured Him, “Wherever You are is Vṛndāvana.” To be always absorbed in thinking of Kṛṣṇa was also Vṛndāvana. So if he were to pass away while preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness-anywhere in the world-certainly he would still attain to the eternal Vṛndāvana in the spiritual sky.
Nevertheless, Prabhupāda wanted to go to Vṛndāvana. It was the best place-to die or to recuperate. Besides, he had a plan for bringing his disciples to Vṛndāvana for training. He expressed this plan in a letter to Sumati Morarji, the owner of the Scindia Steamship Company.
I am thinking of going back to India as soon as I get sufficient strength. I am now considerably old; I will be 72 years next September. But the work which I have begun in the western world is not yet finished, and I require to train some of the American boys to preach this cult all over the western world. So if I return to India I will have to take with me some of the boys for training. They are all nice boys to take up the training. So your cooperation in this connection is greatly needed. You have already allowed my men from India free passage; similarly if you allow free passage for some of my American disciples they can come to India and taking training from me at Vrindaban. The idea is that in this old age I do not know when death will overcome me. And I wish to die in the last days of my life at Vrindaban.
Prabhupāda told Kīrtanānanda, Hayagrīva, and others that he would take them with him and show them the sacred places of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. With the New York temple’s building fund, he would start his American House in Vṛndāvana.
I may come to Montreal, perform the opening ceremony of installation of Radha-Krishna Vigraha. Then I may go back to India for six months, as there is a program for construction of an American house for training preachers at Vrindaban. Vrindaban is the only solitary transcendental abode within this universe where Krishna consciousness automatically reveals. Therefore I have a great hope to train some of my disciples for preaching work, even in my absence. I am now old man, and attacked with serious disease; I may be overcome by death at any moment. Therefore I wish to leave some trained preachers so that they can do the work of Krishna consciousness in the Western world. That is my ambition. I hope you all pray to Krishna so that I may be able to execute my duty properly.
When Govinda dāsī wrote Prabhupāda that she was anxious to serve him again as she had in New Jersey, he replied that he would be going to India to try to construct an American House “where you will be invited to come and live for all the days. Both your husband and yourself, you will find a very peaceful atmosphere in Vrindaban to worship Krishna.”
Waiting for sufficient strength to travel, Prabhupāda continued his daily routine at Stinson Beach. One or two at a time, devotees would visit him from San Francisco. His morning walks on the beach, his sitting to take in the sunshine whenever it peeked through the clouds, and his evenings of kīrtana or reading in the living room remained undisturbed and peaceful.
Upendra: He would sit in his chair on the beach side of the house. He liked to see us go in the water and play. At first I felt a bit strange going in the water and knowing that Swamiji was watching me. But I went in and began washing my body. When I looked back at Swamiji he was motioning from his chair, throwing his arms up like he was splashing in the water. He kept doing it until finally I understood that he wanted me to splash and play in the water. As I began to splash and jump around in the water, he nodded his head and smiled broadly.
Mukunda: I went on a walk on the beach with Swamiji, and when he sat down, I sat down opposite him. Then he asked me, “What is your definition of Kṛṇa?” I said, “Kṛṣṇa is God. He is the Supreme Being. Our duty is to worship and serve Him.” Swamiji seemed fairly satisfied, and then he said, “You must chant sixty-four rounds per day on your beads.” I was shocked at this and could not answer. I did not know if there was any need to answer. I just kept looking at Swamiji, and he looked at me. After some time he said, “Or at least you can chant thirty-two rounds a day.” Still silence. I considered it to be very difficult to chant even sixteen rounds. I was wondering how I could possibly chant thirty-two rounds. After some time, Swamiji said, “At the very least you must chant sixteen rounds every day.” I said, “Yes, Swamiji.” I knew that I could at least try to handle that much.
Prabhupāda told Kīrtanānanda that he wanted to play the piano. (The Jagannātha deities, who had sat atop the piano for a week, were now back in San Francisco at the temple.) But when Kīrtanānanda and Upendra moved the piano away from the wall, they heard the thud of a falling object. “What is that?” Prabhupāda asked. Kīrtanānanda reached behind the piano and produced a framed canvas wrapped in a madras. He uncovered it and revealed a painting of Lord Nṛsiṁha-deva. “Why is this being hidden behind the piano?” Prabhupāda asked. Jānakī happened to be visiting at the time, and she confessed. While she had been arranging the house for Prabhupāda’s arrival, someone had sent the painting out to the house. She had found it and hidden it. It was ghastly, she explained. Lord Nṛsiṁha was tearing open Hiraṇyakaśipu’s abdomen, and there was blood everywhere.
Patiently Prabhupāda explained that although materialistic people feel sorry for Hiraṇyakaśipu, devotees become ecstatic when they see Nṛsiṁha-deva tearing him apart. Hiraṇyakaśipu, he said, had terrorized the whole universe and had usurped the throne of Indra, the king of heaven. Hiraṇyakaśipu had even tortured his own five-year-old son, Prahlāda, a pure devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa. So there was nothing wrong in Lord Nṛsiṁha’s pastime. In fact, Hiraṇyakaśipu, having been killed by the Lord, had been liberated.
After directing the devotees to hang the picture on the wall, Śrīla Prabhupāda sat down and played the piano. The devotees had seen Prabhupāda beautifully play the Indian harmonium-his left hand pumping the bellows, his right hand fingering the keyboard-but never a piano. They weren’t aware he knew how. But he expertly played the melodies of Indian bhajanas. After about five minutes he stopped.
Some evenings Prabhupāda would speak or arrange debates, although Kīrtanānanda was constantly cautioning. When Prabhupāda wanted to speak, it was impossible for any of his disciples to stop him. Sometimes he would ask Kīrtanānanda to debate with one of the visiting devotees. One devotee would argue for the impersonalist’s or atheist’s position, and the other would argue for the Kṛṣṇa conscious position. Prabhupāda would judge. But no sooner would the argument begin than Prabhupāda would interrupt, take the position of the devotee, and defeat the atheistic or impersonalistic argument. The devotees loved it. Prabhupāda was unable to confine himself either to the role of a silent judge or to that of a recuperating patient.
“Why do we concentrate on the impersonalists?” Kīrtanānanda asked. “Why do we attack them so much? Why don’t we concentrate our attack on the atheists?”
“You say that because you are an impersonalist,” Prabhupāda an swered angrily.
On another occasion, Prabhupāda explained that nondevotees who mislead the innocent public are demons and should be exposed. Kīrtanānanda objected. “If we call them demons, they’ll never come around.”
“But they are demons,” Prabhupāda replied.
“But we can’t call them demons, Swamiji.”
“Yes, they are demons! Unless you understand this point, you will not make any advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.”
“Can demons become devotees?” Kīrtānanda asked.
“Oh, yes,” Prabhupāda answered. “If they chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and render service, even demons become devotees.”
Most of the devotees had to remain in San Fransisco, hoping for a chance to visit Swamiji. From the few who knew firsthand, they heard about Swamiji’s plans to leave for India, perhaps never to return. It was painful to hear. His going almost to death but then returning by Kṛṣṇa’s grace and rejoining them in San Francisco, yet being unable to stay with them as before, and now his plans of going to India, maybe forever-these activities intensified their concern and love for him.
Devotees worried, speculating on whether they could carry on without Swamiji. One devotee suggested that perhaps one of Swamiji’s Godbrothers should come to America and fill in for Swamiji and, if the worst happened, take over the leadership of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. When the suggestion reached Prabhupāda, he considered it without immediately replying.
Mukunda: I was sitting alone with Swamiji in his room, and he was very grave and silent. His eyes were closed. Then, suddenly, tears began flowing from his eyes. And he said in a choked voice, “My spiritual master was no ordinary spiritual master.” Then he paused for some time, and wiping the tears from his cheeks, he said in an even more choked voice, “He saved me.” At that point I began to understand the meaning of “spiritual master” and dropped all consideration of ever replacing Swamiji.
After two days Prabhupāda said he would not call any of his Godbrothers to come and take care of his disciples. He said, “If this person speaks just one word different from what I am speaking, there will be great confusion among you.” Actually, he said, the idea was an insult to the spiritual master.
Prabhupāda said that he would initiate the new followers in San Francisco and asked that they come one at a time and stay overnight. Without performing any fire ceremonies, he simply talked with each new person, asking him to follow the four rules and chant sixteen rounds a day. When the follower promised, Prabhupāda initiated him, sitting on the bed while the disciple sat before him on the floor. Prabhupāda would chant quietly on the disciple’s beads and then give him or her a spiritual name.
One day one of the new candidates for initiation came in very nervously and bowed down before Prabhupāda. The boy didn’t get up. “You can get up now,” Prabhupāda said. “So you want to be initiated?” The boy said yes and began chanting, not knowing what else to say. “I’ll chant on your beads,” Prabhupāda said. After chanting for ten minutes he returned them, saying, “Your name is Aniruddha.”
“What does that mean?” the boy asked.
“He’s the grandson of Kṛṣṇa. Do you have any questions?” Aniruddha couldn’t think of anything-he had already forgotten his name-and Prabhupāda said he could go
Later, Prabhupāda called for Aniruddha, but Aniruddha didn’t know that it was his name being called. “Aniruddha,” Kīrtanānanda said and looked at him. “Swamiji is calling you.”
Another boy who came out received the name Uddhava. The next day, as Prabhupāda was sitting in the yard, he called, “Kīrtanānanda, Upendra, Uddhava.” He wanted to read them a verse he had encountered while studying Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Kīrtanānanda and Upendra came and sat at Prabhupāda’s feet. “Oh, where is Uddhava?” Prabhupāda asked. Upendra told him that Uddhava had gone up to the hills to look at the cows and chant to them. Upendra thought that Swamiji would be pleased to hear that his new disciple had climbed the hills just to chant to the cows. But Prabhupāda shook his head unhappily: “Restlessness!” He had wanted the new boy to hear the verse.
jayati jayati devo devakī-nandano ‘sau
jayati jayati kṛṣṇo vṛṣṇi-vaṁśa-pradīpaḥ
jayati jayati megha-śyāmalaḥ komalāṅgo
jayati jayati pṛthvī-bhāra-nāśo mukundaḥ
Prabhupāda gave the translation: “All glories to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is known as the son of Devakī. All glories to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the light of the Vṛṣṇi dynasty. All glories to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose bodily luster is like that of a new cloud and whose body is as soft as lotus flowers. All glories to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who walks on the planet earth to deliver the world from the scorn of demons and who can offer liberation to everyone.” After repeating the Sanskrit and the translation, he told them they could return to their duties.
* * *
Prabhupāda told Kīrtanānanda he had definitely decided to go to India, via New York, as soon as possible. Kīrtanānanda packed Swamiji’s things and drove Swamiji down to San Francisco to spend the night at the temple. They would leave the next morning.
The temple and even Prabhupāda’s apartment were very hectic that night, with many devotees and guests wanting to see Prabhupāda and dozens of people wanting initiation. When Kīrtanānanda advised Prabhupāda not to exert himself by going down for the evening program, Prabhupāda insisted on at least going and sitting during the kīrtana.
When he entered the storefront, the devotees immediately stopped their kīrtana, dropping down to offer obeisances. There was a hush. He commanded a new reverence. This might be the last time they would see him. They watched him during the kīrtana as he played his karatālas, singing with them for the last time. The uninitiated wanted to accept him as their spiritual master-tonight, before it was too late.
Śrīla Prabhupāda asked for the microphone. No one had expected him to speak. Kīrtanānanda, the only person in a position to restrain him, said nothing and sat before him like the others, submissive and expectant. Prabhupāda spoke quietly about his mission: under the order of his spiritual master he was bringing Lord Caitanya’s movement to America, and Kṛṣṇa had kindly sent him so many sincere souls. “I have a few children in India from my family days,” he said, “but you are my real children. Now I am going to India for a little while.”
Everyone fixed his attention on Swamiji as he sat before them, leaning against the madras-covered wall, speaking softly. Suddenly the door opened, and Ravīndra-svarūpa unhappily entered. Everyone knew that Ravīndra-svarūpa wanted to leave Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He hadn’t taken his initiation vows seriously. He wanted to move on. He didn’t want a spiritual master any more. The other devotees had discouraged him, but he had persisted. They were incredulous. How could he do such a thing on the night before Swamiji’s departure!
Ravīndra-svarūpa fell to the floor to offer obeisances. But he didn’t rise up. Instead, he began crawling on his hands and knees towards Prabhupāda. Ravīndra usually had a cavalier manner, enhanced by a handsome face, long tousled hair, and a beard. But now he was wretched and sobbing and crazy. He crawled towards Prabhupāda, who sat but two steps off the floor on the simple redwood dais. Prabhupāda looked at him with compassion: “Come here, my boy.” Ravīndra crawled up the steps and placed his bushy head on Prabhupāda’s lap. Moved, the devotees watched as Prabhupāda stroked Ravīndra’s head and the boy cried and cried.
“What’s wrong, my son? You don’t have to be so unhappy.”
Ravīndra bawled out, “I want…,” he sobbed, “aah… to… aah… reach God directly! Without anyone in between!”
Prabhupāda continued to pat and stroke the boy’s head: “No, you continue to stay with us if possible. Don’t be a crazy fellow.” Ravīndra’s weeping subsided, and Prabhupāda continued, speaking both to Ravīndra and to the emotion-struck group in the room. “I am an old man,” he said. “I may die at any moment. But please, you all carry on this saṅkīrtana movement. You have to become humble and tolerant. As Lord Caitanya says, be as humble as a blade of grass and more tolerant than a tree. You must have enthusiasm and patience to push on this Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy.”
Suddenly Ravīndra’s tears were gone. He jumped up, dejectedly stood, hesitating for a moment, and then hurried out the door, banging it behind him.
Ravīndra-svarūpa’s dramatic exit from Kṛṣṇa consciousness shocked the devotees. Prabhupāda sat still and continued speaking to them gravely, asking them to stick together and push on the movement, for their own benefit and for others. Whatever they had learned, he said, they should repeat.
They realized, perhaps for the first time, that they were part of a preaching mission, a movement. They were together not just for good times and good vibrations; they had a loving obligation to Swamiji and Kṛṣṇa.
Prabhupāda returned to his apartment, which soon became chaotic. It was late. Many people wanted initiation. Mukunda, Jayānanda, and other temple leaders tried to determine which candidates were sincere. They selected candidates, half a dozen at a time, and allowed them into Prabhupāda’s room.
Prabhupāda sat behind his little desk, chanted on each person’s beads, and returned them, giving each person a spiritual name. Kīrtanānanda requested him to stop; further initiations could be done through the mail. But Prabhupāda said he would continue initiating whoever was present.
Mukunda and Jayānanda set priorities. Some persons had been waiting months to be initiated and were obviously sincere. Others would have to be turned away.
John Carter: At the end of the lecture I was sure that I wanted to be initiated. And even though there was some talk of being initiated by mail, I knew I wanted to have that personal connection with my spiritual master and be personally initiated by him, personally accepted. I ran up to Mukunda and said, “How many are on the list? I would like to get on the list.”
He said, “Well, Swamiji isn’t really taking them in any particular order. We are just going to try to pick out the most sincere people.”
“Please put my name on the list,” I said. “I am really sincere, I really want to get initiated.”
So he put me down and took the list up to Swamiji, and Swamiji began calling for people one by one. After the third person, when my name wasn’t called, I became a little worried. Then after the fourth person, I was really sitting on edge. Then when they called the fifth person and it wasn’t me, I was totally destroyed. I felt, “Oh, he’s going to India, and then he’s going back to Kṛṣṇa. I just lost my chance. This is it. There’s no use in me living anymore.”
I was trying to make it to the coat rack and get my coat and get out before anybody could see me crying. I hadn’t started crying, but I could tell it was coming. A couple of people patted me on the back and said, “It’s all right. He can write you a letter and tell you your name.” All I could think was, “Yeah, the way he was talking tonight, it may never happen.” I could barely stand up. I went outside and started walking across the parking lot towards Golden Gate Park. I was kind of heading towards the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought, “I’ll just jump off.” I hadn’t been there long enough to understand that if you commit suicide you have to become a ghost. I just figured my life was useless.
I got about halfway across the parking lot when the idea struck me: “What if he decided to take one more and I was out here somewhere?” The thought filled me with so much hope that I turned around and ran back to the temple. And just as I walked in the front of the temple Jānakī ran down and said, “He will take one more.” And she grabbed somebody else and ran up the stairs. I felt my knees start to collapse and tears came jutting out of my eyes. Harṣarāṇī was standing there, and she grabbed me by the arm and said, “Come with me.” She raced up the stairs, pulling me to the top, and burst into Swamiji ‘s room without even knocking.
Swamiji looked up with amazement. She said, “Swamiji, you have to initiate this boy.” I was just bawling, and Swamiji began to laugh. He said, “It’s all right. Don’t cry. Everything will be all right.” He chanted on my beads and gave me the name Jīvānanda.
* * *
The next morning, Prabhupāda had to leave his affectionate followers. Several cars filled with devotees accompanied him to the San Francisco airport.
Nandarāṇī: Some were sincere, and some were crying because it was appropriate to cry when the spiritual master leaves. Actually, none of us really knew much about what the spiritual master was.
Jānakī mischievously stole the ticket and passport from Prabhupāda’s hand. “Now you can’t go,” she said.
“That’s all right,” he smiled. “I already have my boarding ticket. I am Indian. They will let me into my own country.”
Prabhupāda turned to his adoring followers gathered close around him at the boarding gate: “Actually I have only one desire, and whoever does this will please me very much. Now I have a temple in New York, in Montreal, and a temple in San Francisco. But I do not have any temple in Los Angeles.” He told them to remain in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and to please preach.
They watched as he turned and walked through the gate, his cane in one hand, boarding pass in the other.
* * *
In New York there was hardly time for sadness. Śrīla Prabhupāda telegraphed Sri Krishna Pandit that his arrival in Delhi would be on July 24 at 7:30 A.M. and that Sri Krishna Pandit should prepare Prabhupāda’s quarters at the Chippiwada temple. In the telegram Prabhupāda mentioned his intention to consult a physician in Delhi and then go to Vṛndāvana. He was anxious to return to Vṛndāvana.
The day before his departure, Prabhupāda wrote to Sumati Morarji. In reply to his last letter she had agreed to provide free steamship passage to India for him, but not for his disciples. “As I had arranged for your passage to America,” she had written, “I think it is my duty to see that you return back to India safely, more so due to your indifferent health.” But she would not allow free passage for any disciples.
On July 20, Prabhupāda wrote:
I am feeling too much to return to Vrindabana to the lotus feet of Vrindabana Behary Lord Krishna; and therefore I have decided to return to India immediately. I would have liked to return via sea, as you have so kindly offered me passage in your letter, but in my precarious state of health that is not possible. So by the mercy of Krishna and through one friend here, somehow or other, I have received air passage, and I am expecting to leave here for New Delhi on Saturday next, reaching the Palam airport on the 24th instant at 7:30 a.m. From there I shall proceed to Vrindabana after a few days rest in Delhi.
I can understand that at present you cannot allow free passage to my disciples. But if you don’t do so, at least in the near future, then my mission will be half finished or failure. I am just enclosing one letter of appreciation for one of my principal students (Bruce Scharf) from Professor Davis Herron, and another from Professor Roberts of New York University. I think these letters will convince you how much my movement of Krishna consciousness is taking ground in the western world. The holy name of Hare Krishna is now being chanted not only in this country but also in England, Holland, and Mexico, that I know of. It may be even more widespread. I have sent you one gramophone record which I hope you may have received by this time. You will enjoy to learn how Krishna’s Holy Name is being appreciated by the Western World.
Acyutānanda told Prabhupāda he wanted to go to india to study in tensively, gather experiences, and become attached to Kṛṣṇa. He had heard Prabhupāda say that one could become more Kṛṣṇa conscious in two days in Vṛndāvana than in ten years in America. “Do you think I’ll be able to go?” Acyutānanda asked.
“Rest assured,” Prabhupāda told him, “we will meet again in Vraja.”
Devotees had been asking Satsvarūpa to transfer his civil service job to Boston and open a Kṛṣṇa conscious center there. They had also asked Rūpānuga to do the same in Buffalo. Satsvarūpa and Rūpānuga approached Prabhupāda to find out what he wanted. He became very pleased. Subala was going to open a center in Santa Fe, he said, and Dayānanda was going to Los Angeles. “Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is like a big cannon,” he told them. “Go and sound this cannon so everyone can hear it, and it will drive away māyā.”
The devotees wanted to ask, “But what if you don’t return?” They were fearful. What if Kṛṣṇa kept Swamiji in Vṛndāvana? What if Swamiji never returned? How could they survive against māyā? But Swamiji had already assured them that whatever Kṛṣṇa consciousness he had given them would be enough, even if he never returned.
Just thirty minutes before he had to leave for the airport, Prabhupāda sat in his room chanting on the beads of a girl who had asked to be initiated. Then, as he had done many times before, he left his apartment, went downstairs, crossed the courtyard, and entered the storefront.
Sitting on the old carpet, he spoke quietly and personally. “I may be going, but Guru Mahārāja and Bhaktivinoda are here.” He looked toward the paintings of his spiritual master and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. “I have asked them to kindly take care of all of you, my spiritual children. The grandfather always takes care of the children much better than the father. So do not fear. There is no question of separation. The sound vibration fixes us up together, even though the material body may not be there. What do we care for this material body? Just go on chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, and we will be packed up together. You will be chanting here, and I will be chanting there, and this vibration will circulate around this planet.”
Several devotees rode with Prabhupāda in the taxi-Brahmānanda in the front with the driver, Rāya Rāma and Kīrtanānanda in the back beside their spiritual master. “When Kīrtanānanda sees Vṛndāvana,” Prabhupāda said, “he will not be able to understand how I could have left that place and come to this place. It is so nice. There are no motorcars there like here, rushing whoosh! whoosh! and smelling. Only there is Hare Kṛṣṇa. Everybody always chanting. Thousands and thousands of temples. I will show you, Kīrtanānanda. We will walk all about there, and I will show you.”
Brahmānanda began to cry, and Prabhupāda patted him on the back. “I can understand that you are feeling separation,” he said. “I am feeling for my Guru Mahārāja. I think this is what Kṛṣṇa desires. You may be coming there to me and be training up, and we will spread this movement all over the world. Rāya Rāma-you will go to England. Brahmānanda-you want to go to Japan or Russia? That’s all right.”
The devotees converged on the Air-India waiting room, near a crowded cocktail lounge. Wearing a sweater, his cādar folded neatly over one shoulder, Prabhupāda sat in a chair. His disciples sat as closely as possible around his feet. He held an umbrella, just as when he had first come alone to New York, almost two years ago. Although exhausted, he was smiling.
Prabhupāda noted a mural of Indian women carrying large jars on their heads, and he called the name of a young girl who had recently gone with her husband, Haṁsadūta, to join the ISKCON center in Montreal. “Himāvatī, would you like to go to India and learn to carry this waterpot like the Indian women?”
“Yes, yes,” she said. “I’ll go.”
“Yes,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “some day we will all go.”
Kīrtanānanda was carrying a portable battery-operated phonograph and two copies of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra record. “Kīrtanānanda,” Prabhupāda asked, “why not play the record? They will enjoy.” Kīrtanānanda played the record very softly, its sound catching the attention of people in the cocktail lounge. “Make it a little louder,” Prabhupāda asked, and Kīrtanānanda increased the volume. Prabhupāda began nodding his head, keeping time.
Soon the devotees began humming along with the record, and then quietly singing, until gradually they were singing loudly. Kīrtanānanda, Brahmānanda, and other devotees began to cry.
Haṁsadūta: I was sitting right next to Swamiji, and all the time I was thinking, “Oh, my spiritual master is going to India.” And he said, “I want to die in Vṛndāvana.” We all knew Swamiji was going, but now it was the last moment. I was also seeing that I hadn’t done anything for my spiritual master. “He doesn’t even know who I am,” I thought. “There’s no relationship. I must do something. I must do something now. I must serve him in some way which will establish Someplace in his heart. Some thing.” I was thinking, “What can I do?” I was crying, and he didn’t even look at me. It was like I wasn’t even there, just like a chair or something. He was just always looking around and everything, and I was trying to catch his eye: if all of a sudden he would say something.
The kīrtana was getting heavier and heavier, and so was the crying. And the people in the waiting room were just looking at Swamiji like he was someone very special. And in the middle of it all, Swamiji was completely relaxed, as if this were his place and this was just a normal thing to do.
When the record ended, Haṁsadūta asked, “Swamiji, can I take a collection?” Prabhupāda nodded. Haṁsadūta stood and made a little speech: “Our mission is to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We have a temple in New York. We are always badly in need of money. Please help us.” Borrowing a hat from a soldier, Haṁsadūta went around taking a collection.
“Our traveling is very auspiciously beginning,” Prabhupāda said. “We had a nice kīrtana, and we had a nice collection. It is all Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.”
Then it was time to board the plane. Prabhupāda embraced each of his men. They stood in a line, and one after another approached him and embraced him. He patted a few of the women on the head.
Rūpānuga: Swamiji was embracing the men: Kīrtanānanda, Brahmānanda, Gargamuni. I never expected that he would ask me to step forward. I didn’t consider myself in the same category with the other devotees, so I was very much surprised when Swamiji motioned to me and spoke my name, “Rūpānuga.” I got up and walked to Swamiji. It might have been ten feet, but it seemed like a long distance. I embraced him, and that embrace was the most memorable embrace of my life. Right away I noticed Śrīla Prabhupāda’s strength. He was so strong it was like embracing a young man-a man my age. I was twenty-seven, and he seemed even stronger and younger than I. And he hugged me tightly, and I also embraced him very firmly. He was smaller than me in stature, so I instinctively buried my chin in the hollow of his left shoulder. While I was embracing him I felt very blissful, and I felt a light. I felt there was a light, something bright and pure, some kind of energy emanating from my face. I opened my eyes and I saw Kīrtanānanda watching. He was standing behind Swamiji, a few feet away, and I looked right into his eyes. And I was so happy and blissful that it reflected in him somehow. He broke into a big smile, smiled at me. And his eyes were very bright. It was as if some spiritual energy was actually emanating from me.
That airport scene was a very important part of my life. Because for me, a person who always had difficulty in loving another person, Swamiji’s leaving forced out a lot of love from my heart I didn’t even know was there. It’s like becoming a spiritual person when you feel love really developing for the spiritual master. I was becoming a spiritual person. It was a tremendous outpouring of feelings of separation and grief at his departure, because we all knew he was our life and soul. And to a person, none of us were sure we would ever see him again.
Accompanied by Kīrtanānanda, whose head was shaven and who wore an incongruous black woolen suit, Prabhupāda walked slowly toward the gate. As he disappeared from view, the devotees ran for the observation deck to get a last look at his departing plane.
A gentle rain was washing the airfield as the devotees raced across the wet observation deck. There below were Prabhupāda and Kīrtanānanda, walking towards their plane. Abandoning decorum, the devotees began to shout. Prabhupāda turned and waved. He climbed the movable stairway, turning again at the top and raising his arms, and then entered the plane. The devotees chanted wildly while the boarding steps moved away, the door closed, and the plane began to turn. The devotees had pressed close to the rail, but they pulled back as the jet exhaust blasted them with heat. With a great roar the Air-India jet, lights blinking, taxied out to the runway. The devotees continued to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa until the plane left the ground, became a speck in the sky, and then disappeared.
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