How difficult it was becoming to preach in America among these crazy people! He had written prophetically in his poem the day he had arrived in Boston Harbor, “My dear Lord, I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do with me whatever You like. But I guess You have some business here, otherwise why would You bring me to this terrible place?” What about his scheduled classes? What about David – should he go back and try to talk with the boy? This had been David’s first fit of violence, but there had been other tense moments. David had a habit of leaving the soap on the floor of the shower stall and Prabhupada had asked him not to because it was a hazard. But David wouldn’t listen. Prabhupada had continued to remind him, and one day David had gotten angry and shouted at him. But there was no real enmity. Even today’s incident had not been a matter of personal differences – the boy was a victim.
Prabhupada walked quickly. He had free passage on the Scindia Line. He could go home to Vrindavana. But his spiritual master had ordered him to come here. “By the strong desire of Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura,” he had written while crossing the Atlantic, “the holy name of Lord Gauranga will spread throughout the countries of the Western world.” Before nightfall he would have to find some place to stay, a way to keep up the momentum of his preaching. This is what it meant to be working without government sponsorship, without the support of any religious organization, without a patron. It meant being vulnerable and insecure. Prabhupada faced the crisis as a test from Krishna. The instruction of Bhagavad-gita was to depend on Krishna for protection: “In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service be fully conscious of Me … You will pass over all the obstacles of conditional life by My grace.”
He decided to phone Carl Yeargens and ask him to help. Hearing the Swami’s voice on the phone – it was an emergency! – Carl at once agreed that Prabhupada could move in with him and his wife, Eva. Their place was close by, on Centre Street, five blocks west of Bowery near Chinatown. Carl would be right over.
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New people began coming to see Prabhupada on the Bowery. Carl Yeargens, a thirty-three year-old, black, bearded man from the Bronx had attended Cornell University and was now independently studying Indian religion and Zen Buddhism. He had experimented with drugs as “psychedelic tools” and he had an interest in the music and poetry of India. He was influential among his friends and tried to interest them in meditation. He had even been dabbling in Sanskrit.
Carl: I had just finished reading a book called The Wonder That Was India. I had gotten the definition of a sannyasi and a brahmacari and so forth. There was a vivid description in that particular book of how you could see a sannyasicoming down the road with his saffron robe. It must have made more than a superficial impression on me, because it came to me on this one chilly evening. I was going to visit Michael Grant – probably going to smoke some marijuana and sit around, maybe play some music – and I was coming down Hester Street. If you make a left on the Bowery, you can go up to Mike’s place on Grand Street. But it’s a funny thing that I chose to go that way, because the shorter way would have been to go down Grand Street. But if I had gone that way, I probably would have missed Swamiji.
So I decided to go down Hester and make a left. All of a sudden I saw in this dingy alcove, a brilliant saffron robe. As I passed, I saw it was Swamiji knocking on the door, trying to gain entrance. There were two bums hunched up against the door. It was like a two-part door – one of them was sealed and the other was locked. The two bums were lying on either side of Swamiji. One of these men had actually expired – which often happened and you had to call the police or health department to get them.
I don’t think I saw the men lying in the doorway until I walked up to Swamiji and asked him, “Are you a sannyasi?” And he answered, “Yes.” We started this conversation about how he was starting a temple, and he mentioned Lord Caitanya and the whole thing. He just came out with this flow of strange things to me, right there in the street. But I knew what he was talking about somehow. I had the familiarity of having just read this book and delved into Indian religion. So I knew that this was a momentous occasion for me and I wanted to help him. We banged on the door and eventually we got into the loft. He invited me to come to a kirtana, and I came back later that night for my first kirtana. From that point on, it was a fairly regular thing – three times a week. At one point Swamiji asked me to stay with him, and I stayed for about two weeks.
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On the auspicious occasion of the appearance day of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Dr Sahadeva Das offers two Esraj songs unto His divine lotus feet. These songs, ‘Ujjvala Varana Gaura Vara Deham’ and ‘Nava Gaura Varam’ were composed by Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya. The melody has been taken from the albums of Bhakti Charu Swami.
Esraj is an important instrument in traditional vaisnava music and by the 1980s the instrument was nearly extinct. Of late, this instrument is seeing some revival. However only a handful players remain all over the world. The Esraj played here is carved out of a century old block of Burma teakwood. No effects or reverb have been added to the sound of the instrument.
Each of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples has chosen to love him. It is a commitment that I will always honor, and I have sealed that commitment at my initiation. We have a contract of love now. Although my love for Srila Prabhupada may not yet be free of any material tinge, he is patient. And Prabhupada himself has placed conditions of his love on his disciples. He expects them to follow him. Although he will still love a disobedient disciple, his love will not reach a disciple who rebels or disobeys his order, and who blasphemes guru and Krishna. The relationship between guru and disciple is meant to be based on honor.
I have heard people say that this “condition” Prabhupada places on his love for us is not much different than the conditions some of our parents placed on us to win their love. Many people have been hurt by parents who sold their love for high grades in school, or conformity to family rules, etc. There was no chance for people who grew up in these families to develop themselves as individuals, or to feel self-worth despite their failings to meet their parents’ standards. They grew up only with conditions and have no experience of real love. Is Prabhupada’s love for us like that? Is it a lesser kind of love because he places on it the condition of our obedience?
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The fifth day of the ILS was the Appearance Day of His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, the spiritual master of Srila Prabhupada. ILS delegates were given a break from seminars on this holy day so that they could spend a day in prayers, meditation, hearing and chanting.
After mangala-arati, Niranjana Swami and Radhanatha Swami delivered a special class to mark the occasion.
Niranjana Swami explained that one can learn Prabhupada’s mood of humility from his diary entry on board the Jaladuta on 10thSeptember 1965, where he says, ‘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 Leela. I have left Bharat Bhumi just to execute the order of Sri Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati in pursuance of Lord Chaitanya’s order. I have no qualification, but I 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.’
“The criteria of the devotees’ success is not that he thinks ‘I am authorised, therefore I am qualified’. One should think, ‘I am authorised, but I need to be aware of my lack of qualifications, and will always become dependent on the Lord’. Success is always guaranteed to those who are conscious of their subordinate position,” said Niranjana Swami to the delegates, many of whom had lined up 30 minutes before the lecture to hear the two speakers. “Srila Prabhupada always gave credit to his higher authorities, his spiritual master and Lord Chaitanya, and never took credit for himself.”
Niranjana Swami recollected how Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraaswati Thakura instructed Srila Prabhupada in 1936 to push the Krishna consciousness movement to the English speaking world.
“Srila Prabhupada told us that if we strictly try to serve the spiritual master seriously, Krishna will give us all facilities,” concluded Niranjana Swami. “Therefore he requested us to please take this movement seriously. Prabhupada told us, ‘I shall go away and you will live, but you should push this movement’. The rest is dependent on ourselves – in how we keep ourselves in this humble and subordinate position.”
In the next address, Radhanatha Swami recalled Srila Prabhupada’s instructions delivered on a previous appearance day of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. “Srila Prabhupada told his followers that Lord Chaitanya had instructed all those born in India to accept this message and share it with the world. He explained that it was Srila Bhaktivinoda Thaura’s desire that people from the West and the East should accept this movement equally. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has asked: Oh, when will that day come when people from America, England, France, Germany and Russia will take up karatals and mridangas and chant Hare Krishna in their towns?”
Radhanatha Swami mentioned that Srila Prabhupada always felt the presence of his Guru Maharaja, and never felt alone. “After one year, Srila Prabhupada had only $200 left from the sale of his books. He invested everything he had in renting 26, Second Avenue. He had nothing more. In this way, Srila Prabhupada was always reminding us that our existence is fully reliant on how we humble ourselves, and how we depend on our spiritual master, and Lord Chaitanya.”
Radhanatha Swami read out a letter from Srila Prabhupada in which he ended the letter by saying, “I am trying a little bit and you are all helping me. So, I have to thank you more. You are actually the representatives of my Guru Maharaja… because you are helping me in executing the order of my Guru Maharaja.”
Radhanatha Swami explained that in the recording, Prabhupada said his last words in a choked voice. He urged everyone to keep aside differences, since they were all insignificant and did not matter in light of the instructions from our spiritual masters.
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The Museum of Sacred Art (MOSA) in Radhadesh, Belgium, has just published two lusciously illustrated books for devotees to feast their eyes on: “Illuminations from the Bhagavad-gita” and “Prabhupada Meditations.”
Illuminations From the Bhagavad-gita
On Sunday January 24th, MOSA Director Mahaprabhu Das presented “Illuminations…” to the murti of Srila Prabhupada at ISKCON Radhadesh. MOSA Director Mahaprabhu Das (right) presents Illuminations From the Bhagavad-gita to Srila Prabhupada
The book is in fact the fourth edition of the classic 1980 work by artist Kim Waters and Chris Murray, after the original by Harper and Row, and two in the 1990s and 2000s by Mandala.
Kim’s gorgeous, colorful, and completely charming paintings inspired by Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is and illuminated with verses from the ancient text remain, as do the original introduction by Satsvarupa Das Goswami and preface by musician Donovan.
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