My first contact with the Hare Krishna movement came in the summer of 1969 when I saw its members chanting on the streets of Hollywood. My initial reaction to the shaven heads, saffron-colored robes and seemingly strange activity was one of bewilderment and, to some degree, comic relief. It was not until a year later that I was able to appreciate the sound philosophy which stems from one of the world's oldest religious traditions, as explained in their Back to Godhead magazine. I soon realized that there was a tremendous wealth of knowledge and logic behind the activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and that it was far from being a new “hippie” cult. In fact, the information contained in that first magazine concisely answered all the questions I ever had regarding life, its purpose and more.
The next year in Dallas, Texas, it was my good fortune to actually come in personal contact with the author of that Back to Godhead magazine, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada. I greeted him along with the other devotees at the airport and then followed the procession back to the temple where Prabhupada gave a Sunday Feast lecture. What struck me most about that lecture more than anything was one question that was asked of him by a member of the audience. Srila Prabhupada had been stressing the importance of chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, and the guest asked what Srila Prabhupada personally felt when he chanted this mantra. Without hesitation, Srila Prabhupada answered, “I feel no fear”; Because his response was so immediate and filled with such conviction, I sensed that not only what he said was true, but I felt an urgency to try the same mantra-meditation process myself.
Over time, it became apparent to many who observed him firsthand that Srila Prabhupada was steadily situated in a higher state of consciousness, beyond anything that was part of our common experience. But that was not all. After a further study of the teachings in his books and observing his interactions with others, I realized that here was a person who was not materially motivated. He was not interested in mundane acquisition, exploitation or adoration. He was also in complete control of his senses, the very foundation of all yoga practice. By his own example, he was a perfect teacher of the divine process of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. And by means of his unconditional love and devotion, he was in touch with and connected to the Supreme Being. His mission appeared to be for all of our best interests by making me and everyone else who cared to listen, spiritually happy by engaging our mind, body and soul in serving God, Krishna. Srila Prabhupada taught that as a fish out of water cannot be happy out of its constitutional element, water, similarly, we as spiritual beings cannot be happy simply engaging in activities meant to satisfy our material senses.
Years later, after accepting Srila Prabhupada as a pure representative of God and having taken spiritual initiation from him in Denver, Colorado, I had the opportunity to be with him again. Previously I had been convinced on an intellectual level that Prabhupada was in direct contact with the Absolute Truth, but not until I offered flowers at his feet and looked at him as I offered my obeisances did I understand on an emotional level the depth of my guru. When Srila Prabhupada looked at me, he looked right through the external me, touching the internal me, the soul. I felt naked in front of him, feeling as though he could not only read my mind, but my heart as well. It was the most humbling experience of my life.
That morning during Srila Prabhupada's daily walk, he was talking about prasadam, food offered to God before it is personally consumed. Prabhupada said prasadam is so spiritually potent that if a human being simply eats prasadam once, in his next life, he will take birth in a family of devotees. He then stated that if an animal eats prasadam, in its next life it will immediately take birth in the human form of life, jumping over all other species of life that a soul would normally have to pass through before obtaining a human birth.
After this discussion, I was contemplating asking him about something that had been bothering me for some time. I had become affected by so many people I met when distributing Srila Prabhupada's books who would say that we as devotees should get jobs and not take from society by asking for donations. I said to Srila Prabhupada, “People think we are just trying to escape material life by joining this sankirtan movement.” Srila Prabhupada turned to me, smiled and asked, “A rich man, does he work? We are rich men. We don't work. Any rich man, he is not working. Is he escaping? He is engaging everyone in the factory but he is not working. So is that escaping? We are rich men. We are Krishna's sons.” He said the problems we have are eating, sleeping and mating, and we can arrange for these things very easily. Prabhupada taught the philosophy of “Simple Living, High Thinking.” One can till the ground anywhere and get some food. He said, “I keep some cows and I have got land. My whole economic question is solved.” He asked, “Why shall I make big, big arrangements for these things?” He continued, “You may do it, but why should you forget your real business? That is the defect, that you are so foolish that only for maintaining this body, you have forgotten your real business-self-realization.” Prabhupada then said, “In the spiritual world there is no question of working. You get everything. So why not endeavor to go there?”
Prabhupada then looked around the beautiful park that we were walking in, surrounded by trees, lakes and swans. He noted how there was no one else in the park and how we were the only ones who were taking advantage of the park and all its beauty. He said, “They worked so hard, yet they are sleeping. We are taking advantage.” He then told the story of the mouse and the snake. The mouse builds a nice home for himself underground and lives comfortably. Then the snake comes and eats the mouse and lives comfortably in the home the mouse has built. He finished by telling me and the others that accompanied him on his morning walk that we can tell people that actually, “Yes, we are escaping this horrible condition of life, meat-eating, drinking and intoxication. We are escaping these things, but not happiness.”
In his kindness, Prabhupada dispelled my doubt about distributing books rather than living to fulfill the expectations of the public by having a 9-to-5 job. I had been affected by the negative feedback I received from the people I met, but Prabhupada, who was unaffected by them, reminded me that the point of life is self-realization and our role in the varnashram scheme of things was to remind others about that fact.
Later on I realized that if I had this small glimpse of truth from being with Srila Prabhupada for such a brief period of time, there must be many more realizations from other devotees who had as much or more association with His Divine Grace. It was obvious that each devotee's encounter would be unique and would reveal other aspects of Srila Prabhupada's personality and boundless wisdom that were not necessarily contained in his books which could help me and others in our daily lives. It is with that belief that I ventured out to acquire the stories contained in this book. These stories are not only informative but also entertaining in the way the devotees express themselves, seemingly going into a regression-type trance as they recall those times spent with Srila Prabhupada. From an historical standpoint, it seemed important to record these personal instructions thinking that if someone had been able to record the recollections of the disciples of Jesus Christ, that these memories would be meaningful today. So starting in 1991, the process of obtaining the oral histories of Srila Prabhupada's disciples began through videotaped sessions and subsequently transcribed to be presented in this book form.
There are no hard and fast rules in reading this collection of memories as they are not recorded in any chronological order or by subject matter. The memories are simply a stream of consciousness by each devotee, and therefore, can be read in a non-linear fashion. This book is meant to be, as Srila Prabhupada stated once about his books, readable in such a way that one can start in the middle and still derive sweetness, as biting into candy anywhere will result in the same sweet taste. As there were some 5,000 initiated disciples, this process has just begun, and we hope that there will be more volumes to come in the future.
We must thank Nitai das, Kartika, Kishore das, Raghunath das, Vikram das, Jalandhar das, and Kalpalatika dasi for their hard work in the transcription process, Kapila das and Ram Prasad das for their proofreading, Visakha dasi for her tremendous work in refining the transcriptions and Bhojadev das for his assistance with the Introduction. We want to acknowledge Bhakta Jack Stephens, Dr. Desai and Ambarish das for their encouraging words and financial support in bringing Srila Prabhupada's message to the world. I also want to acknowledge my wife, Ajita devi, and daughters Kartika and Renukah for their emotional and spiritual support in this ongoing project. We of course would be remiss not to give our heartfelt appreciation to all the devotees who shared their memories of Srila Prabhupada, and we pray that we have delivered their stories accurately.