Today the ship is plying very smoothly. I feel today better. But I am feeling separation from Sri Vrindaban and my Lords Sri Govinda, Gopinath, Radha Damodar. My only solace is Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita in which I am tasting the nectarine of Lord Chaitanya’s lila. I have left Baharatabhumi just to execute the order of Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, in pursuance of Lord Chaitanya’s order. I have no qualification, but have taken up the risk just to carry out the order of His Divine Grace. I depend fully on Their mercy, so far away from Vrindaban.
September 10, 1965
The Jaladuta is a regular cargo carrier of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company, but there is a passenger cabin aboard. During the voyage from Calcutta to New York in August and September of 1965, the cabin was occupied by “Sri Abhoy Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami,” whose age was listed as sixty-nine and who was taken on board bearing “a complimentary ticket with food.”
The Jaladuta, under the command of Captain Arun Pandia, whose wife was also aboard, left at 9:00 A.M. on Friday, August 13. In his diary, Śrīla Prabhupāda noted: “The cabin is quite comfortable, thanks to Lord Sri Krishna for enlightening Sumati Morarji for all these arrangements. I am quite comfortable.” But on the fourteenth he reported: “Seasickness, dizziness, vomiting-Bay of Bengal. Heavy rains. More sickness.”
On the nineteenth, when the ship arrived at Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Prabhupāda was able to get relief from his seasickness. The captain took him ashore, and he traveled around Colombo by car. Then the ship went on toward Cochin, on the west coast of India. Janmāṣṭamī, the appearance day of Lord Kṛṣṇa, fell on the twentieth of August that year. Prabhupāda took the opportunity to speak to the crew about the philosophy of Lord Kṛṣṇa, and he distributed prasādam he had cooked himself. August 21 was his seventieth birthday, observed (without ceremony) at sea. That same day the ship arrived at Cochin, and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s trunks of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam volumes, which had been shipped from Bombay, were loaded on board.
By the twenty-third the ship had put out to the Red Sea, where Śrīla Prabhupāda encountered great difficulty. He noted in his diary: “Rain, seasickness, dizziness, headache, no appetite, vomiting.” The symptoms persisted, but it was more than seasickness. The pains in his chest made him think he would die at any moment. In two days he suffered two heart attacks. He tolerated the difficulty, meditating on the purpose of his mission, but after two days of such violent attacks he thought that if another were to come he would certainly not survive.
On the night of the second day, Prabhupāda had a dream. Lord Kṛṣṇa, in His many forms, was rowing a boat, and He told Prabhupāda that he should not fear, but should come along. Prabhupāda felt assured of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s protection, and the violent attacks did not recur.
The Jaladuta entered the Suez Canal on September 1 and stopped in Port Sa’id on the second. Śrīla Prabhupāda visited the city with the captain and said that he liked it. By the sixth he had recovered a little from his illness and was eating regularly again for the first time in two weeks, having cooked his own kicharī and purīs. He reported in his diary that his strength renewed little by little.
Thursday, September 9
To 4:00 this afternoon, we have crossed over the Atlantic Ocean for twenty-four hours. The whole day was clear and almost smooth. I am taking my food regularly and have got some strength to struggle. There is also a slight tacking of the ship and I am feeling a slight headache also. But I am struggling and the nectarine of life is Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, the source of all my vitality.
Friday, September 10
Today the ship is plying very smoothly. I feel today better. But I am feeling separation from Sri Vrindaban and my Lords Sri Govinda, Gopinath, Radha Damodar. The only solace is Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita in which I am tasting the nectarine of Lord Chaitanya’s lila [pastimes]. I have left Bharatabhumi just to execute the order of Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati in pursuance of Lord Chaitanya’s order. I have no qualification, but have taken up the risk just to carry out the order of His Divine Grace. I depend fully on Their mercy, so far away from Vrindaban.
During the voyage, Śrīla Prabhupāda sometimes stood on deck at the ship’s rail, watching the ocean and the sky and thinking of Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Vṛndāvana-dhāma, and the order of his spiritual master to go preach in the West. Mrs. Pandia, the captain’s wife, whom Śrīla Prabhupāda considered to be “an intelligent and learned lady,” foretold Śrīla Prabhupāda’s future. If he were to pass beyond this crisis in his health, she said, it would indicate the good will of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
The ocean voyage of 1965 was a calm one for the Jaladuta. The captain said that never in his entire career had he seen such a calm Atlantic crossing. Prabhupāda replied that the calmness was Lord Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, and Mrs. Pandia asked Prabhupāda to come back with them so that they might have another such crossing. Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote in his diary, “If the Atlantic would have shown its usual face, perhaps I would have died. But Lord Krishna has taken charge of the ship.”
On September 13, Prabhupāda noted in his diary: “Thirty-second day of journey. Cooked bati kichari. It appeared to be delicious, so I was able to take some food. Today I have disclosed my mind to my companion, Lord Śrī Krishna. There is a Bengali poem made by me in this connection.”
This poem was a prayer to Lord Kṛṣṇa, and it is filled with Prabhupāda’s devotional confidence in the mission that he had undertaken on behalf of his spiritual master. An English translation of the opening stanzas follows:*
I emphatically say to you, O brothers, you will obtain your good fortune from the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa only when Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī becomes pleased with you.
Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, who is very dear to Lord Gaurāṅga [Lord Caitanya], the son of mother Śacī, is unparalleled in his service to the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He is that great, saintly spiritual master who bestows intense devotion to Kṛṣṇa at different places throughout the world.
By his strong desire, the holy name of Lord Gaurāṅga will spread throughout all the countries of the Western world. In all the cities, towns, and villages on the earth, from all the oceans, seas, rivers, and streams, everyone will chant the holy name of Kṛṣṇa.
As the vast mercy of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu conquers all directions, a flood of transcendental ecstasy will certainly cover the land. When all the sinful, miserable living entities become happy, the Vaiṣṇavas’ desire is then fulfilled.
Although my Guru Mahārāja ordered me to accomplish this mission, I am not worthy or fit to do it. I am very fallen and insignificant. Therefore, O Lord, now I am begging for Your mercy so that I may become worthy, for You are the wisest and most experienced of all…
The poem ends:
Today that remembrance of You came to me in a very nice way. Because I have a great longing I called to You. I am Your eternal servant, and therefore I desire Your association so much. O Lord Kṛṣṇa, except for You there is no means of success.
In the same straightforward, factual manner in which he had noted the date, the weather, and his state of health, he now described his helpless dependence on his “companion, Lord Krishna,” and his absorption in the ecstasy of separation from Kṛṣṇa. He described the relationship between the spiritual master and the disciple, and he praised his own spiritual master, Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, “by whose strong desire the holy name of Lord Gaurāṅga will spread throughout all the countries of the Western world.” He plainly stated that his spiritual master had ordered him to accomplish this mission of worldwide Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and feeling unworthy he prayed to Lord Kṛṣṇa for strength. The last verses give an unexpected, confidential glimpse into Śrīla Prabhupāda’s direct relationship with Lord Kṛṣṇa. Prabhupāda called on Kṛṣṇa as his “dear friend” and longed for the joy of again wandering the fields of Vraja. This memory of Kṛṣṇa, he wrote, came because of a great desire to serve the Lord. Externally, Śrīla Prabhupāda was experiencing great inconvenience; he had been aboard ship for a month and had suffered heart attacks and repeated seasickness. Moreover, even if he were to recover from these difficulties, his arrival in America would undoubtedly bring many more difficulties. But remembering the desire of his spiritual master, taking strength from his reading of Caitanya-caritāmṛta, and revealing his mind in his prayer to Lord Kṛṣṇa, Prabhupāda remained confident.
After a thirty-five-day journey from Calcutta, the Jaladuta reached Boston’s Commonwealth Pier at 5:30 A.M. on September 17, 1965. The ship was to stop briefly in Boston before proceeding to New York City. Among the first things Śrīla Prabhupāda saw in America were the letters “A & P” painted on a pierfront warehouse. The gray waterfront dawn revealed the ships in the harbor, a conglomeration of lobster stands and drab buildings, and, rising in the distance, the Boston skyline.
Prabhupāda had to pass through U.S. Immigration and Customs in Boston. His visa allowed him a three-month stay, and an official stamped it to indicate his expected date of departure. Captain Pandia invited Prabhupāda to take a walk into Boston, where the captain intended to do some shopping. They walked across a footbridge into a busy commercial area with old churches, warehouses, office buildings, bars, tawdry bookshops, nightclubs, and restaurants. Prabhupāda briefly observed the city, but the most significant thing about his short stay in Boston, aside from the fact that he had now set foot in America, was that at Commonwealth Pier he wrote another Bengali poem, entitled “Mārkine Bhāgavata-dharma” (“Teaching Kṛṣṇa Consciousness in America”). Some of the verses he wrote on board the ship that day are as follows:*
My dear Lord Kṛṣṇa, You are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me.
But I guess You have some business here, otherwise why would You bring me to this terrible place?
Most of the population here is covered by the material modes of ignorance and passion. Absorbed in material life they think themselves very happy and satisfied, and therefore they have no taste for the transcendental message of Vāsudeva [Kṛṣṇa]. I do not know how they will be able to understand it.
But I know that Your causeless mercy can make everything possible, because You are the most expert mystic.
How will they understand the mellows of devotional service? O Lord, I am simply praying for Your mercy so that I will be able to convince them about Your message.
All living entities have come under the control of the illusory energy by Your will, and therefore, if You like, by Your will they can also be released from the clutches of illusion.
I wish that You may deliver them. Therefore if You so desire their deliverance, then only will they be able to understand Your message…
How will I make them understand this message of Kṛṣṇa consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified, and the most fallen. Therefore I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them, for I am powerless to do so on my own.
Somehow or other, O Lord, You have brought me here to speak about You. Now, my Lord, it is up to You to make me a success or failure, as You like.
O spiritual master of all the worlds! I can simply repeat Your message. So if You like You can make my power of speaking suitable for their understanding.
Only by Your causeless mercy will my words become pure. I am sure that when this transcendental message penetrates their hearts, they will certainly feel gladdened and thus become liberated from all unhappy conditions of life.
O Lord, I am just like a puppet in Your hands. So if You have brought me here to dance, then make me dance, make me dance, O Lord, make me dance as You like.
I have no devotion, nor do I have any knowledge, but I have strong faith in the holy name of Kṛṣṇa. I have been designated as Bhaktivedanta, and now, if You like, You can fulfill the real purport of Bhaktivedanta.
Signed-the most unfortunate, insignificant beggar,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami,
On board the ship Jaladuta, Commonwealth Pier,
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Dated 18th September 1965.
He was now in America. He was in a major American city, rich with billions, populated with millions, and determined to stay the way it was. Prabhupāda saw Boston from the viewpoint of a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa. He saw the hellish city life, people dedicated to the illusion of material happiness. All his dedication and training moved him to give these people the transcendental knowledge and saving grace of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, yet he was feeling weak, lowly, and unable to help them on his own. He was but “an insignificant beggar” with no money. He had barely survived the two heart attacks at sea, he spoke a different language, he dressed strangely-yet he had come to tell people to give up meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling, and to teach them to worship Lord Kṛṣṇa, who to them was a mythical Hindu god. What would he be able to accomplish?
Helplessly he spoke his heart directly to God: “I wish that You may deliver them. I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them.” And for convincing them he would trust in the power of God’s holy name and in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. This transcendental sound would clean away desire for material enjoyment from their hearts and awaken loving service to Kṛṣṇa. On the streets of Boston, Prabhupāda was aware of the power of ignorance and passion that dominated the city; but he had faith in the transcendental process. He was tiny, but God was infinite, and God was Kṛṣṇa, his dear friend.
On the nineteenth of September the Jaladuta sailed into New York Harbor and docked at a Brooklyn pier, at Seventeenth Street. Śrīla Prabhupāda saw the awesome Manhattan skyline, the Empire State Building, and, like millions of visitors and immigrants in the past, the Statue of Liberty.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was dressed appropriately for a resident of Vṛndāvana. He wore kanthi-mālā (neck beads) and a simple cotton dhotī, and he carried japa-mālā (chanting beads) and an old chādar, or shawl. His complexion was golden, his head shaven, śikhā in the back, his forehead decorated with the whitish Vaiṣṇava tilaka. He wore pointed white rubber slippers, not uncommon for sādhus in India. But who in New York had ever seen or dreamed of anyone appearing like this Vaiṣṇava? He was possibly the first Vaiṣṇava sannyāsī to arrive in New York with uncompromised appearance. Of course, New Yorkers have an expertise in not giving much attention to any kind of strange new arrival.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was on his own. He had a sponsor, Mr. Agarwal, somewhere in Pennsylvania. Surely someone would be here to greet him. Although he had little idea of what to do as he walked off the ship onto the pier-“I did not know whether to turn left or right”-he passed through the dockside formalities and was met by a representative from Traveler’s Aid, sent by the Agarwals in Pennsylvania, who offered to take him to the Scindia ticket office in Manhattan to book his return passage to India.
At the Scindia office, Prabhupāda spoke with the ticket agent, Joseph Foerster, who was impressed by this unusual passenger’s Vaiṣṇava appearance, his light luggage, and his apparent poverty. He regarded Prabhupāda as a priest. Most of Scindia’s passengers were businessmen or families, so Mr. Foerster had never seen a passenger wearing the traditional Vaiṣṇava dress of India. He found Śrīla Prabhupāda to be “a pleasant gentleman” who spoke of “the nice accommodations and treatment he had received aboard the Jaladuta.” Prabhupāda asked Mr. Foerster to hold space for him on a return ship to India. His plans were to leave in about two months, and he told Mr. Foerster that he would keep in touch. Carrying only forty rupees cash, which he himself called “a few hours’ spending in New York,” and an additional twenty dollars he had collected from selling three volumes of the Bhāgavatam to Captain Pandia, Śrīla Prabhupāda, with umbrella and suitcase in hand, and still escorted by the Traveler’s Aid representative, set out for the Port Authority Bus Terminal to arrange for his trip to Butler.
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