The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva das
Part III: New Vrindaban, 1968-1969
Paramhansa in the Hills
When we arrive at the foot of Aghasura Road, the devotees are waiting beside the powerwagon. The air is vibrant with the humming of bees and fragrant with the sweet aroma of white locust flowers.
The devotees offer obeisances as soon as the Lincoln turns down the driveway. They fall face down on the grass and gravel.
“Oh, there are many waiting here,” Prabhupada says, stepping out of the car. “Jai Sri Krishna!”
Little Dwarkadish, six years old, timidly obeys his mother and garlands Prabhupada with gardenias and red roses.
“Oh, thank you, Mr. D.D.D.,” Prabhupada says. “D.D.D.” is his nickname for Dwarkadish-das, who has just arrived with his mother from the Los Angeles temple. Present also are other recent arrivals: John and Susan, students from Ohio University, where Prabhupada lectured; Patita-pavana and Uddhava, two brothers from New York; Rupanuga and his five-year-old son Ekendra; and Nara-narayana, the carpenter who’s been helping Vamandev repair the farmhouse.
“So, where do we go from here?” Prabhupada asks.
“It’s two miles up that road, Prabhupada,” Ranandhir says, pointing at the muddy Aghasura winding its way down the creek through locust and maple.
“And we go in this?” Prabhupada asks, looking at the old powerwagon.
“It’s as strong as a tank, Prabhupada, “ Kirtanananda says, getting inside and starting it. The engine roars and smokes as he revs it up.
“Why not walk?” Prabhupada suggests.
We protest that the two-mile trek would be too hard on Prabhupada. Driving the power-wagon over Mr. Thompson’s property is quicker and easier.
Paramananda calls me aside to inform me that he couldn’t contact Mr. Thompson.
“He wasn’t in last night or this morning,” he says. “I guess it’s all right to drive over. He’s never refused.”
“Well, it’s an emergency,” I say.
Purushottam and Devananda load Prabhupada’s luggage in the back of the powerwagon. Prabhupada curiously asks about the vehicle’s model as he gets in. To cushion the jolts, we’ve placed clean pillows over the bare springs of the seat. Shama-dasi has even garlanded the dashboard.
Once Prabhupada is securely seated, Kirtanananda starts driving up the gravel road to Mr. Thompson’s farm. The powerwagon shudders and lurches forward. Hrishikesh, Paramananda, Ranandhir and I jump in back. The other devotees run behind in a hurried procession.
Driving around the back of Mr. Thompson’s house, Kirtanananda starts up the dirt road to the pasture running along the ridge two miles to New Vrindaban. As we pass Mr. Thompson’s horse corral and chicken coop, Prabhupada chants on his beads and looks about curiously.
When the powerwagon starts pulling the first small hill, it suddenly shakes violently. Then the engine hisses and dies. Kirtanananda starts it up again and throws in the clutch. The powerwagon rolls backward, lurches forward, roars, shudders and dies again. This process is repeated. We look anxiously at Prabhupada.
“Why not walk?” he asks Kirtanananda.
Kirtanananda turns the ignition. The powerwagon responds with a cough and a feline growl.
“It’s temperamental,” he says.
Paramananda opens the hood, and Chaitanya-das takes a look. He supposedly knows something about engines. Purushottam stands by the powerwagon door fanning Prabhupada with peacock feathers.
“If only I had some tools,” Chaitanya-das laments.
I start interrogating Paramananda. It seems he couldn’t get the powerwagon to the mechanic. Yes, it’s been dying periodically. It could be due to any number of problems. Well, if we could push it to the top of the hill, it might start coasting down.
“Maybe we can start it in reverse,” I suggest. “Let’s roll backwards.”
“Then Prabhupada should get out,” Purushottam says anxiously.
“We can walk,” Prabhupada says.
“It’s a two-mile walk, Prabhupada,” Devananda says.
As Prabhupada descends from the powerwagon, Mr. Thompson suddenly appears, driving his tractor over the hill, hauling a wagonload of cow dung. He stops and glowers at our stalled procession.
“You might have asked permission,” he says.
We explain that we’ve been trying to find him, that this is a special occasion, the arrival of our spiritual master.
“Well, all right,” he says. “But next time, ask permission.”
Before we can petition Mr. Thompson to help us with the powerwagon, Prabhupada starts walking back down the driveway. Purushottam runs behind him, carrying his Deities in a small suitcase. Prabhupada is waiting for no one.
“Better walk,” he says, marking a lively pace.
Hurrying after him, we leave the powerwagon and its karma with Paramananda and Chaitanya-das.
“Push it if necessary,” I tell them. “All Prabhupada’s things are in back.”
Kirtanananda informs Prabhupada that it would be easier to walk over the ridge, but Prabhupada heads straight toward the Aghasura demon.
“Better this road,” he says. “Better walk on our own property. Then we won’t be intruders.“
He enquires whether Mr. Thompson has taken prasadam with us. When we say no, he suggests that we invite him.
“He raises cows for eating,” Satyabhama says.
“Oh?” Prabhupada shakes his head. “Animal killers will not take to chanting. But no matter. You can offer him some prasadam. With tasteful prasadam, you can convince the karmis to give up their bad habits.”
Then, as nonchalantly as he would walk down a Calcutta street, Prabhupada starts up Aghasura Road, keeping his lively pace. We hurry after him, fretting. He walks, as usual, with his head held high, not looking down for anything, not even Aghasura’s mudholes and ruts.
“Govinda-dasi is doing nicely in Hawaii,” he says, “defeating the Mayavadis with some very strong preaching. What kind of tree is this?”
“Locust, Srila Prabhupada,” Kirtanananda says. “Very hard wood. They’re used for fenceposts.”
Prabhupada stops before a large flower-ladened tree. The limbs are buzzing with bees.
“And they are giving honey also,” he says. “Such trees are very useful. A tree that gives no fruit or fragrant flower is like a man devoid of Krishna consciousness, just standing in the way. A wasted life.”
Dwarkadish and Ekendra run ahead and place flat rocks in the shallow creek crossings so Prabhupada won’t wet his feet. Talking casually about the plants, trees and vines, Prabhupada keeps up the quick pace. Surely he must slow down going uphill. After two shallow creek crossings, Aghasura Road rises from the creekbed and runs along the hillside, twisting and turning, to the farmhouse.
“Maybe you would like to rest here, Srila Prabhupada,“ I suggest, indicating a large, flat rock beside a flowering dogwood.
“That’s all right,” he says, not even breathing hard, not even looking at the choice spot.
Finally, just at the top of the hill, as we round the curve and see the farmhouse ahead, Prabhupada stops. The devotees welcome the rest. Some, including Kirtanananda, are huffing.
“We are stopping just for Kirtanananda Maharaj, Prabhupada says, laughing.
Then, the brief rest over, he starts up again, not stopping until he reaches the farmhouse, where his dais awaits him beneath the willow.
After Prabhupada washes, we bring him fruit, honey and fresh milk from Kaliya. He sits outside under the willow, and we sit about him in a semicircle. Dwarkadish and Ekendra sit at his feet.
“I haven’t tasted milk like this in fifty years,” he says.
Ranandhir parades our cow Kaliya before him. Prabhupada admires her but doesn’t pet her. “We don’t have such fatty cows in India,” he says. “In days past, yes, but now no one can feed them nicely. That is the way the Vedas calculate a man’s wealth—in cows and grains.”
“The honey is from nearby,” Kirtanananda says. “It’s tulip honey. Maybe next year we can get a hive.”
“Then you will have the land of milk and honey complete,” Prabhupada says. “That is nature’s design, that everything is given complete for a happy life. We don’t require artificial amenities. All we need to realize Krishna is here.”
Walking out to the barn, Prabhupada watches Ranandhir put Kaliya in her stall.
“There’s a waterfall down there in the creekbed,” Kirtanananda tells him. “We’ve called it Kesi Ghat, as you suggested.”
“Yes,” Prabhupada says, “and that hill you must call Govardhan.“
“And this is Revachuggi,” I say, introducing the goat.
“Very good,” he laughs. “Just see the nipples on her neck. It is said that a man trying to derive pleasure from the senses is like someone trying to get milk from those nipples.”
Prabhupada then casually mentions that in her last life, Revachuggi was a Mohammedan who had killed goats.
Returning to the farmhouse, Prabhupada looks about, appraising the land, the road, the hill slanting down to the creekbed, the forests, the hill up to the main road, and the overgrown pasture.
“Where are the flat parts?” he asks, turning to me.
“I’m afraid we left them in Ohio,” I say, sadly admitting the obvious truth.
Again, Prabhupada looks about like a king surveying his domain.
“Well, you can flatten this part here,” he says, “by taking earth from Govardhan Hill and filling in over there.” He points to the field below the house. “Then,” he adds, “it will be nice and flat.”
As Prabhupada explains how we’re to level the land, we listen with silent amaze.
“Well, St. Paul speaks of faith moving mountains,” Kirtanananda says, baffled.
“Yes,” Prabhupada agrees. “Just do it!”
Lavanga-latika, Dwarkadish’s mother, timidly approaches Prabhupada with a silver cup of water freshly drawn from the well. Somehow she manages to offer obeisances, lying face down on the ground, without spilling a drop. Prabhupada accepts the water and drinks from the goblet, not letting it touch his mouth.
“Oh, it is very sweet water,” he says. “That is Krishna. That is the way of remembering Krishna. And it is so easy here at New Vrindaban. When we take fresh water, we can remember Krishna because Krishna is the taste of water. And we can remember Krishna as soon as we see the sunlight in the morning, because the sunlight is a reflection of Krishna’s bodily effulgence. And as soon as we see moonlight in the evening, we can remember Krishna because moonlight is the reflection of sunlight. When we hear any sound, we can remember Krishna because sound is Krishna. Even the cow reminds us of Krishna because Krishna is renowned as Govinda, who gives pleasure to the cows. And the countryside also reminds us of Him because He says He is the sweet fragrance of the earth. And when we see the flowers in springtime, that is also Krishna. And the wind and nature’s thunderbolt remind us. So much is there to remind us of Krishna that the devotee can’t forget Him for a moment.”
Kirtanananda leads Prabhupada down the hill to what was once a pigpen, located beneath a great shady maple. Vacated decades ago, the building-about fifteen feet square is hewn out of great logs, and structurally it is the most sturdy building around. For purification, Hrishikesh has scrubbed the stone floor with cow dung. For light and air, Kirtanananda has cut out windows and stapled screening over them.
“These are my new quarters,” Kirtanananda announces.
“Very good,” Prabhupada smiles. “A little cottage like this is just perfect for a sannyasi and brahmachari. It is cool and clean.”
Prabhupada enters and sits on the rough, wooden bench. He inspects the log siding and the roof. We don’t mention that it was originally made for pigs.
“It appears very well made,” he says. “I notice that people in your country are very expert at building. But cutting this wood is much labor, no? I will show you designs of simple houses made of mud. You can get clay and rock from the creek and make very solid houses at practically no cost.”
To show Prabhupada that cutting wood in America is swift and easy, I take the chainsaw and begin cutting some locust logs.
“We can zip through a cord of wood in no time,” I say, revving the engine proudly. Prabhupada has never seen a chainsaw in action before. He watches with interest as the sawdust flies.
Then, as I start on a second cut, the chain suddenly slips off the bar, breaking a couple of iron teeth.
The chain’s ruined.
Prabhupada looks at the smoking machine curiously and says nothing. It is not necessary.
Returning up the hill, Prabhupada selects a sitting spot beneath a persimmon tree near the farmhouse. Purushottam puts down a foam rubber mat for him, and he sits with his back toward Govardhan Hill and looks east, toward the next ridge.
“That is our property there?” he asks.
“No, Srila Prabhupada. New Vrindaban ends at the creekbed. The other side belongs to neighbors.”
“Maybe they will sell you a portion,” he says, “so we can put a footbridge there. What do you think, Nara-narayana? Is it possible to build a bridge?”
“Quite possible,” Nara-narayana says.
“With a bridge, we will have easy access to the property. Or maybe one—what do you call?—cablecart.”
“Very possible, Srila Prabhupada,” Nara-narayana says. “They’re quite successful in Alpine country.”
“But a bridge would be better. Not for automobiles. Just to walk over. Then many gentlemen will come.”
I look out at the swath cut by Wheeling Electric. From the opposite ridge, the land slants abruptly down to the creekbed, a steep descent and ascent, a long distance to have to span. The electric company was hard pressed just stringing the wires.
“In one sense, the isolation is good,” Prabhupada says. “In India, there are temples requiring some austerities to reach. At Tirupati, to see the Deity, you must walk barefoot up a mountain much steeper than this. But in your country, people will not go out of their way.”
The roar of the powerwagon descending Govardhan Hill interrupts us. Mr. Thompson helped push it. Paramananda parks before the farmhouse, and the devotees carry in Prabhupada’s luggage—suitcases, boxes, a big trunk full of manuscripts, and footlockers.
Purushottam and Devananda install Prabhupada’s Radha Krishna Deities upstairs in the small cherrywood room sectioned off from the bedroom. Prabhupada can comfortably watch aratik from a new innerspring mattress, which we have set on the floor without a bedstead. Usually, Prabhupada prefers mats to elevated beds. Because the room is a little dim, we have set up gooseneck floor lamps. Two small windows open out on the big willow. Along the walls stand bookcases filled with books accumulated since my high school days.
“These are all your books?” Prabhupada asks.
“A lot of impersonalism, I’m afraid,” I reply.
“That may be. But they are philosophical books. That is good. They do not deal with frivolous topics. You can tell a man by his library.“
Then, out of hundreds of books dealing with religion, Prabhupada instantly, magically. selects two volumes of Shankara. They are the Brahma-sutras, purchased by Kirtanananda two years ago in India. Although Shankara—an incarnation of Shiva—was ultimately a personalist, Lord Chaitanya discouraged the reading of his work due to the emphasis on impersonalism. Prabhupada’s pulling them out was remarkable, since the bindings are unmarked.
“You are reading?” Prabhupada asks.
“Not now,” I say. “I find them dry.”
“They must be,” he says. “They don’t deal with the pastimes of Krishna. Even Vyasadeva was dissatisfied after writing Vedanta-sutra. We will discuss that in class. But you can be sure that mundane literature will never give us peace of mind. Literature not dealing with the Supreme Absolute Truth, regardless of how literary, is food for crows. It only adds fuel to the fire of material life. But chanting and reading of Krishna is uttama-sloka, transcendental verse, full of meaning and life.”
Prabhupada likes his new room. A window fan keeps the air fresh, and it is convenient for his personal servants to bring him prasadam from the kitchen. We request everyone to keep quiet around the house. Whenever Prabhupada wants to work or rest, silence must reign.
Kirtanananda cooks dal and a vegetable kitri for Prabhupada, and Hrishikesh keeps running upstairs with hot chapatis. Sometimes, Prabhupada eats as many as five.
“Kirtanananda’s still the best cook in the movement,” he says, “and also the first to learn.”
After eating, Prabhupada rests, and we tiptoe around the house, cleaning and preparing for evening aratik. The women and children pick wildflowers in the fields—wild geraniums, buttercups, fiddleferns and the aromatic phlox—and arrange them in vases on the altar.
Prabhupada comes downstairs about an hour before sunset. Devananda brings out the foam rubber mat and asks him where he would like to sit. We suggest sitting beneath the willow, but again Prabhupada prefers the persimmon tree beside the well. Here, the ground is a little level, and he can sit comfortably and look out over the ridge. Devananda sets a small reading table on the grass before Prabhupada and puts Bhagavad-gita and Prabhupada’s reading glasses on it. Also the latest copy of Back To Godhead. About fifteen devotees sit around Prabhupada on the grass.
“So, Mr. Ekendra, what have you been doing to be so tired?” Prabhupada asks Rupanuga’s five-year-old son, who promptly hides his face.
“He’s been picking flowers, Prabhupada,” Rupanuga says.
“And the others?”
“Cleaning the barn,” Ranandhir says.
“And you, Mr. D.D.D.? Have you been tending your Deities?”
Dwarkadish blushes and stammers. Before Prabhupada, he’s too self-conscious to utter a word. After a moment of fidgeting, Dwarkadish abandons the attempt to answer. He is overwhelmed.
“That’s all right,” Prabhupada says, smiling. “So here at New Vrindaban we may get tired working, cleaning and so on, but that is an asset. We can attain perfection by these simple chores. But if it’s just to gratify our senses, we are wasting our time. If you work for maya, you’ll never be happy. Just tired and confused.”
Prabhupada then points out that in the country, it is possible to live on nature’s bounty and spend the rest of our valuable time cultivating Krishna consciousness.
“Karmis are busy working so many hours daily that they only have time for a little sex, intoxication, and then sleep. But that kind of life is abominable. Say we are now earning five hundred a month. If we earn five million, will we eat more than four chapatis? Will there be more than twenty-four hours in the day, or more months in the year, or more years in our lives? Will we occupy more space than the same six-foot bed? Though you may acquire the whole property of West Virginia, it is maya to think that you can improve your condition by economic development. The same four chapatis and six feet of space are there. And the same allotted time.”
“Most Americans would consider life here too austere,” Kirtanananda says. “They would rather work hard in the polluted cities.“
“Yes,” Prabhupada says. “That is due to lust. Lust is making the karmi world turn around, as they say. In the cities, there are so many facilities for gratifying this lust: cinemas and brothels and nightclubs. Even if they see that this New Vrindaban country atmosphere is so nice, they will refuse to come. Even Lord Indra, the king of heaven, was reluctant to leave his hog life. Because Indra committed some offense at the feet of his spiritual master, Brihaspati, he was cursed to take birth as a hog. When Lord Brahma went to earth to convince Indra to return to his throne in the heavenly kingdom, he found Indra enjoying himself as a hog. ‘You have become a hog due to your offenses,’ Brahma told Indra, ‘but I have come to deliver you. Please come with me.’ ‘No,’ the hog Indra said. ‘I cannot go. I have so many responsibilities. I have my children, my wife, my society, my country.’ So even if you offer to take a hog to heaven, he will refuse. This is called forgetfulness.“
A conchshell announces evening aratik. We follow Prabhupada into the temple room. During the aratik, Prabhupada stands and plays cymbals, and we stand a little behind him. Devananda is the pujari. Midway through aratik, Prabhupada encourages us to dance. Then he dances, dipping his body slightly forward on one foot, dancing in rhythm to the cymbals, striking them deftly so that they ring loud and long.
To lecture, he sits on the modest vyasasana beside the fireplace.
The dais is a simple wooden platform made of rough-cut native lumber, and covered with purple and gold cloth. Above, hangs a print of Lord Nrishingadev tearing out the entrails of Hiranyakasipu.
Prabhupada talks of Vyasadeva’s dissatisfaction after completing Vedanta-sutra. Vyasadeva’s spiritual master, Narada Muni, advised him to write of the pastimes of Krishna to attain happiness. The Vedas, Narada argued, are meant to liberate mankind from material bondage, and so far Vyasadeva had yet to write anything liberating. The knower of Krishna’s activities is immediately liberated; therefore glorify Krishna’s pastimes. In this way, Narada Muni encouraged Vyasadeva to write Srimad-Bhagavatam.
“This Srimad-Bhagavatam is self-luminous,” Prabhupada says. “Just as the sun does not need the light of glow-worms, Srimad Bhagavatam does not need the commentaries of mundane scholars. When Vyasadeva wrote Vedanta-sutra, he thought he had said the last word in self-realization. But no. He was dissatisfied. He did not deal directly with Krishna’s pastimes. Of course, today so much is made over Vedanta, and Vedanta continues to be misinterpreted by crows. So that its conclusion would not be misunderstood, Vyasadeva wrote the beautiful Srimad-Bhagavatam.“
After the lecture, we ask Prabhupada if he would like to walk outside for fresh air and a view of the stars.
“Yes. Why not? Purushottam, get my chadar.”
We follow him outside to the open field before the barn. The moon has yet to rise. The Milky Way, directly overhead, spans the dome of sky, a faint luster on black satin. Prabhupada looks up, then, like a captain reading his course, turns east, west, then north and south, as if he might order the helm set in any direction.
“There’s no moon?” he asks.
“It should rise in about an hour, Prabhupada,” Purushottam says.
“Just see all these globes floating in air,” Prabhupada says. “There are at least thirty-three million planets in this one universe, and they are like phantasmagoria, having no permanent existence. They are like the expression ‘sky flower.’ There is no flower in the sky. Or, as we say in Bengali, they are like ‘eggs of a horse.’ Finding happiness in these material worlds is like finding horse’s eggs—impossible. How can there be happiness when there is old age, disease, and death? Even if you have a demigod’s body and live long, so what? You still must die.”
We walk a little distance down the road, but Prabhupada stops, again looks about, then turns back. It is too dark to walk very far. With flashlights, we return to the farmhouse.
“Now Krishna has given you a very nice place here,” Prabhupada says. “You have everything. You are not needing cinemas or nightclubs here. At night, we can see the sky and just sit and listen about Krishna. Then take some warm milk and rest. Who would not be satisfied?”
“The karmis,” Satyabhama says.
“The karmis will never be satisfied. They are always running back and forth on the freeways, like in Los Angeles. Zoom, zoom, here and there. Always looking for more money and sex life, and never satisfied. So now Krishna has given you a tranquil place to meditate. The country is in sattva-guna, goodness. As you say, ‘Man made the city; God made the country.’ Here I see that you are already having a nice Vrindaban atmosphere.”
I sleep in the lean-to on the hill just above the garden. The moon, now rising over the ridge, is three-quarters full. The Big Dipper is descending over Govardhan Hill. Out by the barn, someone is chanting japa. The chirr of crickets is high and shrill. Lights are off in Prabhupada’s room.
I dream of Prabhupada. He is chanting Hare Krishna, and countless devotees sit around him chanting feverishly, sounding like bees in a hive. I see cowherds, hear milk pails rattle, clank, fall to the ground. I see no faces, but hear laughter and the sound of feet running, and the name “Krishna! Krishna!” shouted across great expanses.
Then I awake, back in the lean-to, looking out at the garden and stars. And I recall the dream I had outside Ananda Ashram, ages ago, it seems.
I look down the hill at the farmhouse. The light is now on in Prabhupada’s room. Although it is two in the morning, Prabhupada is still dictating.
Again I sleep, and when I awake, the moon is past its zenith. In the kitchen, the devotees are preparing for aratik. It is four a.m.
After brushing our teeth, bathing, putting on tilak and fresh robes, we attend the aratik ceremony, some twenty of us crowded into the downstairs temple room.
Standing, Prabhupada strikes the steel gongs with a mallet. He watches the Deities intently as Pradyumna offers incense, camphor, water, a handkerchief, peacock fan, and yak tail whisk, circulating them before Radha and Krishna and the Jagannathas in the alcove. We chant the Sri Gurv-astaka written by Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura.
After the offerings, Prabhupada goes upstairs and celebrates a second aratik before his own Radha Krishna Deities. He sits on the new innerspring mattress and rings a small bell as Purushottam makes the offerings.
After this aratik, Prabhupada sits alone in his room, chanting softly. Devotees circumambulate the temple while chanting the required sixteen rounds, about an hour and a half of chanting. Sitting out by the barn chanting, I wait for the first hints of dawn, chanting through the quiet but spiritually vibrant hour before sunrise. Night fades as the first sunbeams light up the mist in the hollows.
For breakfast prasadam, we eat a porridge of cornmeal ground in the small hand-turned mill in the barn, fresh milk from Kaliya, and local tulip honey.
After breakfast, chores are assigned. Before typing up Prabhupada’s daily correspondence, Purushottam takes me aside.
“We should be seeing Rayarama soon,” he tells me. “Prabhupada’s furious over the latest Back To Godhead. He called me in his room in the middle of the night and dictated a letter.”
“It’s over a number of things. In one issue, I interview the Beach Boys, and a photo shows one of them smoking. Well, Prabhupada didn’t like that. And there was an advertisement with a woman in it. But worst of all, he said, is the new cover picture of Arjuna in the chariot with Krishna. Arjuna is painted brown like a shudra. Prabhupada said he looks like a demon instead of the highest devotee. He wants to see Rayarama at once.”
Prabhupada walks out to the field by the barn to bask in the early morning sun. Devananda follows him and sets down the foam rubber mat. Prabhupada sits down, and Devananda begins to massage him with mustard seed oil. Purushottam takes letter dictations during the massage. Afterwards, we arrange a hot water bath on the porch, heating the water in washtubs over an outdoor woodfire.
In the afternoon, Prabhupada calls a general convocation. We all gather around the persimmon tree, and Prabhupada quickly starts the meeting.
“Here at New Vrindaban, only Krishna is master,” he says. “In the material world, everyone is trying hard to be master, but here it is different. Here we all acknowledge that Krishna is master; therefore we have called this land New Vrindaban. Lord Shiva or Brahma or incarnations of Vishnu or even Radharani—all are servants.
“In this consciousness of knowing that we are all servants, we divide duties among ourselves. By carrying out the duty prescribed by the spiritual master, you attain your perfection. So everyone here has to make his own routine. For chanting and reading Bhagavad-gita, you should allow, say, up to three hours daily. If twenty-four hours are at our disposal, we can use six or seven for sleeping, and two or three for chanting and reading.”
“At least five hours are devoted to aratik and kirtan,” Kirtanananda says.
“And at least two hours for prasadam,” Satyabhama says.
“And ten to twelve hours in the field,” Ranandhir says.
“So, what are you saying?” Prabhupada asks. “Do you want to stop chanting and reading?”
“No! No!” everyone protests.
“Then you can forego your sleeping and eating,” he says. “The Goswamis were doing that. If they could not finish their chanting, they would forfeit their eating and sleeping.”
“But the Goswamis didn’t swing axes all day,” Paramananda says. “Did they?”
“No,” Prabhupada laughs. “They were writing books. Anyway, just as I have to manage my own routine, you have to manage yours. But even if you don’t have time to read one chapter of Bhagavad-gita daily, that is all right because you’re already engaged in Bhagavad-gita. Any duty done here at New Vrindaban is spiritual. Because Krishna was inducing Arjuna to fight, his fighting was also devotional service. Similarly, work done here at New Vrindaban is also considered reading Bhagavad-gita. But in any case, chanting must go on.”
“Can you chant while working?” Hrishikesh asks.
“Yes,” Prabhupada says. “You must. Chanting is the basis of our life.”
Prabhupada then outlines the varnashrama social order to be followed. Being the sannyasi, Kirtanananda must be the acknowledged community leader. The brahmacharis, celibates, should live with him, under his directions. The grihastha householders should work in conjunction and contribute half their income to community maintenance. Since we have no vanaprasthas, retired men, that ashrama doesn’t apply.
“Now, I wish you would draw up some map of the land,” Prabhupada says, turning to Kirtanananda, “and I will lay out plans for everything—temples, guest houses, living quarters.”
“But we need men to construct such places,” Kirtanananda says.
“Right now you need fifty men,” Prabhupada says. “And eventually you may need two hundred.”
“Two hundred?!” Kirtanananda’s eyes widen.
“Yes,” Prabhupada says matter of factly. “You’ll have to manage so many temples.”
There is amazed silence as each devotee considers this. Kirtanananda looks dubious.
“I don’t know what to think, Prabhupada, “he says. “The conservation men were out last week. They took aerial photos. They say that properly developed, this land will support only eighteen cows. So, a cow per person, that’s only eighteen people.”
“Not per person,” Prabhupada says. “Per family. Anyway, it’s not possible to be self-sufficient immediately. There’s so much you have to get from outside.”
“We should invite people from other temples,” Satyabhama says.
“But there are no facilities,” Ranandhir says.
“There’s the barn,” Prabhupada suggests. “At least ten devotees can live in the barn. First the men. Then the facilities will follow.”
After the meeting, we return to our tasks with renewed enthusiasm. We agree to mail letters to all temples inviting devotees to come help build New Vrindaban. As soon as we get the money, we’ll buy building supplies to repair the barn. For ascetic brahmacharis, the barn is luxurious.
Desiring to see more of the property, Prabhupada walks to the top of Govardhan Hill and looks out across the rolling hills of forests and green pastures toward the Ohio River.
“Here you can build one small house,” he tells me. “You can live here and edit peacefully. No one will ever disturb you. Meditation in the forest is not our method; our way is preaching. Publishing books about Krishna is the most durable form of preaching. And one who instructs others about Krishna is most dear to Krishna.”
“This entire community can be an instruction,” Kirtanananda says.
“Yes, it must be,” Prabhupada agrees. “It is also a form of preaching. We are saying, ‘Look, you can be happy by putting Krishna at the center of your life.’ This is also Bhagavad-gita.”
From Govardhan Hill, we walk down the back road toward the state lake.
“The road’s a little steep,” Kirtanananda tells Prabhupada, “but it’s a beautiful walk.”
Prabhupada walks a short distance down the road, past the dense blackberry shrubs, big poplars, locust trees, and dogwoods. When we reach a place where thick vines cover the road, he stops.
“This is jungle,” he says.
We start clearing a way through the vines.
“It’s clear just on the other side, Prabhupada,” I say.
“No,” he says, refusing to go further. “It’s jungle. Now we can go back.
In the evening, there is a fire sacrifice before aratik. Ranandhir, Paramananda, and Devananda receive their brahminical threads, signifying rebirth in knowledge of Krishna consciousness.
“Brahmin means clean within and without, Prabhupada says.
“In India, in the Ganges, we see that some yogis can even remove their intestines—through their mouths—clean them in the river and then replace them. But generally, who can do these gymnastics? Brahmin means truthful and clean in body and mind. And tolerant.“
Prabhupada points out that in this debased age of Kali, people have become intolerant and are therefore always ready to quarrel. They lack all the brahminical qualifications.
“In this age, everyone is born shudra,” he says. “Parents do not beget children with brahminical qualities because they don’t perform the proper garbhadan ceremonies before having sex. Today, parents go to sex like hide-and-seek. And then they wonder why they beget children with shudra propensities, or even lower.”
“How can you tell when one is a brahmin?” Hrishikesh asks.
“By symptom,” Prabhupada says. “By birth, everyone is shudra. So we must look at the symptoms.”
Prabhupada then tells the story of the boy who went to the great sage Gotama and begged him for initiation.
“What is your father’s name?” Gotama Rishi asked.
“I don’t know,” the boy replied.
“Go ask your mother.”
The boy went to his mother, who said, “Before you were born, I was foolish and loved many men. I don’t know whose son you are.
The boy returned to Gotama Rishi.
“What did your mother say?”
“Since she was a prostitute, she doesn’t know,” the boy replied.
“Oh!” exclaimed the sage. “You are truthful. You are a brahmin. I will initiate you.”
“So there are brahmins throughout the world,” Prabhupada says, “and we must pick them up. You American boys show tolerance by taking up another culture, which you’re not accustomed to since birth. I ask you, ‘Don’t drink, don’t smoke,’ things to which you’re accustomed. And you’re following. This is tolerance, a brahminical qualification.”
He points out that tolerance and patience are two important brahminical qualities needed for success in Krishna consciousness.
“Sometimes the example of a young bride is given,” he says. “From the day of her marriage, a woman wonders, ‘When will I beget child?’ And time passes, and no child comes, but because she is married, we can rest assured that there will be a child. That is a gross example. So, you are initiated and take to the bhakti-yoga process, and you wonder, ‘When will that day come when Krishna consciousness will fully awaken in my heart?’ And many days pass, and you worry and are perhaps discouraged, but because you have been inducted into the process, you should know that someday you will see Krishna, that someday you will be fully established in Krishna consciousness and will be completely happy.”
Quickly Prabhupada fits into the New Vrindaban routine, or, more properly, New Vrindaban fits into his routine. Regardless of physical location, Prabhupada’s day revolves around Krishna. He dictates in the early hours, dozes after morning aratik, walks and takes his massage in the morning, then prasadam, and some more dictating or meetings with disciples, usually an afternoon rest, then more meetings, or dictating letters, or a walk and lecture, darshans, and dictating alone late at night, into the early hours again, then mangal-aratik again. Thus the hours of his days revolve, over and over, happily, tirelessly.
May 26. In the afternoon, after his rest, Prabhupada is visited by Mr. McIntyre, a Wheeling lawyer who has been helping Hrishikesh obtain ministerial status in order to avoid the draft call to Vietnam.
Mr. McIntyre is young, liberal, and already prominent in the local law field. He has read Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita.
Prabhupada explains varnashrama-dharma. Brahmins, he points out, are never meant to fight. That is the work of kshatriyas, warriors like Arjuna. By fighting, Arjuna could attain perfection, but not by pursuing the dharma of a brahmin. Each caste has its own work. Now Hrishikesh has just received his brahminical thread, so he must ask for exemption from the battlefield.
Mr. McIntyre agrees. “For all intents and purposes, he’s a monk, he says.
Prabhupada begins discussing Vedic law, which was set down thousands of years ago in the Manu-samhita.
“There it is stated that a murderer should be condemned to death so that in his next life he will not have to suffer the karma of his sins. Therefore when the king hangs the murderer, he is benefiting him.”
Mr. McIntyre points out that throughout history, official violence has been the standard way of administering justice. “An eye for an eye.
“But that isn’t real violence,” Prabhupada corrects. “The soul cannot be killed. For the administration of justice, so-called violence is permitted. Of course, we cannot kill whimsically. Personally, we don’t have the right to kill even an ant. And in any case, that is no work for brahmins. Now this business in Vietnam is simply dog eat dog. No religious principle is involved. This is typical Kali-yuga fighting.”
Mr. McIntyre says that many Americans consider the war in Vietnam to be in the pursuit of justice and therefore honorable.
“And what is this pursuit of justice?” Prabhupada asks. “We call Justice karma. You don’t have to pursue justice. It is automatically there. Do good, you reap good results. Do evil, you suffer. We don’t have to inflict the suffering. Material nature—Mayadevi—will do that effectively enough. Of course, to maintain order, the state must administer justice to the people—reward and punishment. But the state is fallible. Perhaps a criminal goes unpunished, or they punish the wrong man. But Mayadevi, working under Krishna’s directions, is infallible. It is impossible to escape the fruits of karma. Live like a dog, and for your next life, nature gives you a dog’s body. Eat meat, next life a tiger’s body. Sex life? All right, become a pigeon or rabbit. Chant Hare Krishna, you get an eternal blissful body like Krishna’s. So you may pursue justice, but actually justice is already there.”
Mr. McIntyre leaves, walks back down to the base of Aghasura Road, then returns, looking for his dog, a large Dalmatian.
“He’s never run off before, he says, muddy and bewildered.
He finally finds the dog chasing groundhogs in the field below the barn.
“Oh, lost dog?” Prabhupada laughs when Kirtanananda informs him. “It is Krishna’s grace. The lawyer has such affection for the dog. Now he can just turn his affection to God, to Krishna. Anyway, a dog will never get lost. Only men get lost.”
We are surprised when Foster visits from the Goat Farm, walking up the back road from the state lake.
“I hear your swami’s arrived, he says. “I was thinking I might get a chance to talk with him.”
Foster goes up to see Prabhupada in the upstairs room. We bring a chair so he won’t have to sit on the floor. When Prabhupada learns that Foster is the land lessor, he sends Purushottam running down for lemonade and kachoris.
“I am hearing that you want to start an ashram,” Prabhupada says, “a spiritual community.”
“Yes, well, that was my plan,” Foster says.
“Then you must help these boys here construct this New Vrindaban. There is so much to be done.”
“Yes, well, you see, I was interested in something appealing to seekers on all levels,” Foster says. “Not just your Krishna worship. I mean, that’s just one discipline, and not one that would appeal to everybody.”
“Nothing appeals to everybody,” Prabhupada says.
“I—? Well, I’m thinking of leaving that open. You see, I don’t want to close any avenues. When you close avenues, you block out knowledge. Now, over the years I’ve been giving this some thought, have met many wanderers on the paths of truth—”
“Just one thing,” Prabhupada interrupts.
“Here you must understand that in this material world, everyone is trying to become God.”
Foster looks around uncomfortably. He has told everyone at the Goat Farm that he is already God.
“Yes, everyone wants to imitate Krishna,” Prabhupada says. “Everyone here wants to dominate, to be master. That is why everyone’s in bondage to material nature, to suffering and death. That is the cause of our conditioning, our insanity.”
“Now, wait a minute,” Foster says, reddening. “You aren’t gonna tell me that those salt and pepper shakers are gonna save you from dying.”
Salt and pepper shakers? I suddenly realize that he’s referring to the Jagannatha Deities. If Prabhupada catches the irreverence, he doesn’t show it.
“No one escapes death,” he says. “It is there for everyone on all planets. Our concern is our consciousness at death. Our state of mind determines our next body.”
“But you can be liberated even in this body,” Foster says, almost gloating. “And you can see the universe for what it is, for what you’ve made it.”
“What have you made?” Prabhupada asks.
“Your world?” Prabhupada shakes his head, smiles. “That is our disease. We are each claiming proprietorship. ‘This is my land, my wife, my children, my house, my world.’ Everyone’s trying to be master, to be God. All this is going on, this insanity, just like a madhouse.”
“But you don’t know the ‘me’ I refer to,” Foster says, sticking to his guns.
“Whatever. You can never become God. That you must understand. You may strive for millions of years, millions of lifetimes, but you will be frustrated. I’m telling you frankly. If I wanted to cheat you, I’d say, ‘Yes, you can be God. Here. Pay me money, take this mantra, and you’ll become God in no time.’ And then you’ll go away saying, ‘Oh. Swamiji is such a great guru.’ The cheaters and the cheated. But I don’t say that. I say that you will never become God, and that you will suffer and suffer until you understand that only God, Krishna, is God and you are His eternal servant. Not just you—everyone. So understanding this is real knowledge. Everything else is cheating.”
Foster almost chokes on the prasadam. He tells us that people are waiting for him down the road, that he’s sorry he has to hurry off. Again, Prabhupada invites him to join us in building New Vrindaban. Silently swallowing his anger, Foster walks quickly back down the road, ignoring the devotees outside.
“I think he’s offended,” Kirtanananda tells Prabhupada.
“Because we did not lie to him?” Prabhupada shakes his head sadly. “Just see. Such a man strives hard all his life for money and still is not satisfied. Despite this, he will induce his sons and grandsons to follow him. Although he has experience that his life is not very pleasing, that he’s basically dissatisfied, he still forces his children to chew the chewed.”
“I’ve tried to talk to him about Krishna a number of times,” Kirtanananda says. “He doesn’t want to understand. Oh, he reads some philosophers, impersonalists, but he won’t hear of Krishna as a person.
“No one is interested in the lotus feet of the Supreme Person,” Prabhupada says. “If people were interested, they would be liberated and wouldn’t be here.”
“Well, Mr. Foster would say that he’s here just temporarily, that soon he will leave his body and become God again.”
“If he’s God,” Prabhupada says, “how did he become conditioned? How did he fall into this imperfect material body, into illusion? Is illusion stronger than God? Ask him this. Convince him logically so that he can see the beauty in Krishna consciousness and join us.”
“I’ve tried,” Kirtanananda says.
“Achha! Then just induce him to take prasadam. Just that much will help him.”
After years of dormancy, my hayfever returns with a vengeance. As the grass pollinates, my sneezing and wheezing begin. I run through dozens of handkerchiefs. My eyes constantly itch. At times, after paroxyms of sneezing, I sit helpless, totally congested.
“The threefold miseries exist everywhere,” Prabhupada says. “If you escape one, another will catch you. There’s adhibitautik, miseries inflicted by other living entities. Then adhyatmik, miseries arising from the body and mind. And adhidaivik, miseries arising from natural calamities like earthquakes and tornados.”
“This is a natural calamity,” I say.
“Looks more like adhyatmik to me,” Kirtanananda says.
“No,” I say, sneezing. “It’s the grass pollen. I know. I had tests once.”
“What are you saying?” Prabhupada asks. “That the grass is attacking you?”
“Exactly,” I say. “It’s adhibhautik. Misery inflicted by other living entities.”
Prabhupada laughs. “That is ridiculous,” he says. “Why should the pollen attack just you? Why not others?”
I look at Prabhupada through watery eyes. It’s true. No one else is being attacked.
“I don’t know,” I admit. “Maybe they’re not allergic.”
Again Prabhupada laughs. “Of all the people here,” he says, “why is it attacking only you?”
For a moment, I wonder whether I’m imagining that I’m sneezing, but a paroxym renders me helpless again.
Prabhupada asks Devananda for a valise, and from this he produces a small snuffbox.
“Here,” he says, handing it to me. “When there is discomfort, just take a pinch and sniff.”
I do so. The snuff sets off a fresh barrage of sneezes. Finally I sit dazed. Surely my head must be empty of mucus.
“When you’re irritated,” Prabhupada says, “you may use that. It will help. But you shouldn’t think that you are being attacked.“
Again he laughs, and suddenly, seeing myself pursued by legions of grass pollen, I laugh too.
“You don’t get tired living outside like you do indoors,” Prabhupada says, walking down the road to the spring just below Govardhan Hill. “Here, the fresh air and the cow’s milk will make you very healthy.”
Kirtanananda picks the tender tops of pokeweed growing by the barn, cuts them up and cooks them in butter for Prabhupada.
“Very tasty,” Prabhupada says. “Just see. The plants are just waiting to be picked. You can be like the Goswamis. They lived on whatever fruit dropped from the trees. They slept under trees and used their arms for pillows. And for clothes, they used whatever others discarded. All their time they devoted to Krishna consciousness.
As the late May days pass—beautiful, lengthening days with brief afternoon thundershowers—Prabhupada gradually builds his community, throwing out ideas, planning, even designing a two-wheel cart for the workhorses.
“With this kind of cart,” he says, showing me a drawing, “you can more readily go up and down the road. It will be easy for the horses to pull.”
I study the drawing. The cart is a much simpler conveyance than our Amish wagon, now in disrepair.
‘The karmis will see New Vrindaban as an undesirable place,” Prabhupada says. “They will say, ‘Oh, there’s so much trouble. No amenities, no bathroom or running water.’ But devotees will find it a very nice place. When you’re Krishna conscious, the world becomes a very beautiful place without problems. Why? Because you’ve taken shelter of Krishna.”
The first week in June, Rayarama, appears, summoned from New York by Prabhupada’s letter criticizing Back To Godhead.
“Arjuna looks like a monkey,” Prabhupada complains, waving the magazine cover before him, then tossing it on his desk for all to see. “Who painted this picture? By whose authorization?”
“Rohini-dasi,” Rayarama says. “A new girl. She didn’t know. She just thought he was dark like most Indians.”
“Most Indians?” Prabhupada asks, amazed. “She is equating Arjuna with most Indians? With shudras? With monkeys? He was a great kshatriya, a great devotee, and she makes him look like a demon with big moustaches and black face.”
“She didn’t know,” Rayarama says. “Anyway, he’s brown, not black.”
“But Arjuna’s neither. He’s the most elevated personal friend of Krishna, leader of a great dynasty, a great demigod by today’s standards. Men like Arjuna no longer exist.”
“The girl didn’t know,” Rayarama repeats, pleading. “She copied from some other pictures, some other artist.”
“Who?” Prabhupada asks. “What rascal paints Arjuna like a shudra? Never will you find such a description in authorized scriptures. Why didn’t you come to me? Why accept some unauthorized rascal artist who envies Arjuna?”
“But Prabhupada, I didn’t know. It certainly wasn’t done deliberately. We could print a retraction, if you want.”
“You don’t know, the girl didn’t know, nobody knows. But you are editor of our magazine. It is your business to know or consult.“
Bit by bit, Prabhupada forces Rayarama to accept the responsibility for the offense. Prabhupada also makes other criticisms —sex-oriented ads, political articles, a photo of the Beach Boys smoking cigarettes.
“What do they know of Krishna consciousness? Are they authorities, sitting there smoking and talking of Krishna? Why are you printing their opinions?”
Rayarama emerges from the meeting pale and haggard. He stands outside under the willow in a kind of trance. It looks as though his soul has been picked up, spun around and thrown back in his body. He stays long enough for some lemonade, then starts back to New York.
“I think you and Satsvarupa will be doing Back to Godhead, he tells me before leaving. Then: “I just don’t know why Prabhupada got so upset over one mistake. It’s not like we were presenting some Mayavadi philosophy.”
“Maybe it was more serious,” Pradyumna says. “Maybe Arjuna’s offended.“
No one knows what to say. When a disciple is scolded, we don’t always see the reason behind it. To us, the rebuke may seem arbitrary, but we know that Prabhupada sees the totality. Ultimately, chastisement is for the devotee’s benefit. It is Prabhupada’s mercy disguised.
Sleeping on the cool, stone floor of the pigpen, Kirtanananda is awakened by an enormous black snake slithering across his shaved head. The snake crawls up the log wall and rests on the windowsill.
“Maybe it’s a copperhead,” Kirtanananda says, dazed.
“Looks like a harmless blacksnake to me,” I say.
“The Vedas advise us to kill all serpents,” he says. And, with Vedic authority, he boldly grabs the snake’s tail, whirls the snake around like a whip, and beats it against the stones. Then he throws the remains into the bushes.
“The Vedas say that saintly persons take delight when serpents are killed,” he says.
“That was just a harmless creature,” I protest.
We consult Prabhupada. Should the snake have been killed?
“All serpents are dangerous,” he says. “If they are around the house, then you should kill them.”
“But I thought all living things are sacred,” I say.
“That may be,” Prabhupada says, “but the cow is giving milk, and the snake is giving poison. You don’t see the difference? A poison-giver, according to the Vedas, may be killed. But mother cow is nicely kept in the barn and pasture. One creature is envious; he is always ready to bite. The other creature is friendly; she just eats a little grass and gives you milk to make butter and cheese. Yes, they are both spirit souls, but these distinctions are there.”
June 4. A young couple from New York, Bill and Inez, come to be initiated by Prabhupada. Both are students at the University of Buffalo, and both were influenced by the night classes in bhakti-yoga given by Rupanuga.
Bill becomes Bhagavan das, and Inez becomes Krishna-bhamani.
“As soon as you hear this Hare Krishna,” Prabhupada tells them, “you immediately remember Krishna, His talks in Bhagavad-gita, His form, qualities and pastimes. Everything comes before you by remembering. So we chant Hare Krishna to remember and to remain always uncontaminated. If we forget Krishna, there is chance of contamination.”
Bhagavan das and his wife listen intently. Prabhupada continues. He seems to be laughing inwardly.
“Christmas, in Los Angeles, I took some vaccination against the Hong Kong flu,” he says. “Hayagriva was insisting because there was some epidemic. So you should know that this world is nothing but the Hong Kong flu. Mayadevi is always ready to attack, and we have to take the injection of Hare Krishna, the vaccine brought by Lord Chaitanya to kill the Hong Kong flu of material consciousness. If you chant Hare Krishna, you will be forced to remember Him. When you are more advanced, you will see nothing but Krishna. When you see a tree, you will actually see Krishna, you will not see the form of a tree. Once you’re conversant with the science of Krishna, you know how His energies are working. Therefore you will be sympathetic to all living entities. That is universal vision, universal love. If you love Krishna, there will be universal love; otherwise universal love is simply talk.”
After the initiation, we celebrate aratik, and Prabhupada gives his customary evening lecture, wherein he discusses sannyas, the renounced order, and the various stages of renunciation.
“There are four stages,” he says. “In the first, the sannyasi lives in a cottage outside his village. He doesn’t go home, but food is brought to him from home. In the second stage, he asks himself, ‘Why stay here? The world is my home.’ So he goes out to wander and beg. In India, there is no problem, because there, anyone will give to a sannyasi. Even shelter is offered. Thus a sannyasi can travel from village to village. In the third stage, he thinks, ‘Why should I just take from people? I should also give.’ So, instead of hoarding his knowledge, he begins to distribute it. In the last stage, he is experienced in spiritual knowledge and is beyond material infection. This is called the paramhansa stage, for, like a hansa, a swan, he can extract the essence of the cosmic manifestation—Krishna. The paramhansa knows that Krishna is the center, the cause of all causes. All devotees of Krishna are paramhansas. We’re teaching people to become paramhansas immediately, to attain the highest level of sannyas just by chanting Hare Krishna.
That night, I sleep outdoors in the lean-to. The conchshell announcing aratik awakes me. I hear the mantras telling everyone to come see the beautiful aratik of Radha and Krishna. I hurry to bathe and dress.
After aratik, Prabhupada sits in the upstairs room chanting bhajans and playing the harmonium. He calls me up to tell me to set up the tape recorders, that he would like to make a second recording, dubbing in the mridanga. He chants the “Chintamani” prayers from the Brahma-samhita, in praise of Krishna, and “Parama Karuna,” “Bhaja Bhakata,” and “Udila Aruna,” emotive songs of longing for Krishna, expressions of great bhaktas.
Afterwards, he tells me that Rayarama needs help on Back To Godhead. “He cannot make all the decisions,” he says. “He should consult with you and Satsvarupa. It is not difficult. Simply repeat what you have heard. When my Guru Maharaj was selecting articles for The Harmonist, if he saw that the writer several times wrote the word ‘Krishna’ or ‘Chaitanya,’ he would say, ‘All right, publish it. So many times he’s written Krishna and Chaitanya.’”
“We’re still afraid we don’t know enough about Krishna to write very well,” I say.
“No matter,” he says. “You may not pronounce Sanskrit well. You may call me ‘guru’ or ‘gau,’ master or cow. But I know your meaning. Similarly, if a book deals with Krishna’s pastimes, it’s for the swans, even if it’s written in broken language. And if it doesn’t deal with Krishna’s pastimes, it’s for the crows, however well written.”
“But you’ve said to try to make it like Time [magazine],” I say. “To appeal to a lot of people, we have to relate Krishna to contemporary ideas and events.“
“That you may do,” he says, “but just make certain that Krishna’s at the center. Now the problem lies with all these branches of knowledge. People are pursuing everything and anything, and everyone thinks his field is most important. People collect books, and there are great libraries filled with millions of books of mundane knowledge, and so much time and money is spent. But it’s not necessary to read a lot of books. Actually, it’s undesirable. Only one book is necessary.”
Prabhupada relates the story of a brahmin who was instructed by his spiritual master to read three chapters of Bhagavad-gita daily. Unfortunately, the brahmin was illiterate. Trying to follow the instructions, he sat in a temple and turned the pages of Bhagavad-gita one by one. Seeing this, many of his friends, knowing he couldn’t read, laughed and made fun. But the humble brahmin tolerated this and went on turning pages. When Lord Chaitanya saw this, He took compassion and approached the brahmin, asking, “My dear brahmin, what are you reading?”
Seeing that this was an elevated person, the brahmin replied, “My spiritual master told me to read three chapters of Bhagavad-gita daily, but, being illiterate, what can I do? Therefore I’m just sitting down here turning the pages.”
“But I see that you’re sometimes crying,” said the Lord. “You must be appreciating. How is this?”
“Oh yes, I’m appreciating,” said the brahmin. “When I open the book, I see a picture of Krishna and Arjuna. Arjuna is sitting in the chariot, and Krishna is instructing Bhagavad-gita to him.
So I am appreciating how kind the Lord is to accept the post of charioteer for His devotee. When I see that the Lord has become servant of His servant, I feel some ecstasy, and I cry.”
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu immediately embraced the brahmin and told him, “Your Bhagavad-gita reading is perfect.”
“This is the perfection of yoga,” Prabhupada says. “Thinking of the activities of Krishna and Arjuna. You don’t need academic degrees to read Bhagavad-gita. If you understand just one sloka, just one verse, and meditate upon it, that is perfect meditation. But no. People must collect and read hundreds of books, going from topic to topic, like crows from garbage to garbage. Therefore you should carefully receive knowledge from the right source and understand it. This means hearing well.”
“Isn’t academic education almost an impediment?” I ask. “A whole way of thinking has to be changed.”
“Yes,” Prabhupada says. “Material qualifications become disqualifications when they’re used to help us forget Krishna. But those same qualifications can be dovetailed to Krishna’s service. For instance, you learned to read and write in school. Now, you can use these abilities to earn money for sense gratification, or to advance in Krishna consciousness. That’s up to you. But usually the effects of education are to entangle us more and more in the world. People lack guidance. Therefore we have founded this Society. We invite everyone—educated and uneducated. Gaura-kishora could not even write his name, but he was so elevated that my Guru Maharaj, a great scholar of his time, accepted him as spiritual master. Transcendental knowledge is revealed to one who has unflinching love for Krishna and the spiritual master. One doesn’t have to be a scholar or even literate. The knowledge is revealed by the spiritual master, who is the mercy of Krishna.”
Satyabhama and Shama-dasi spearhead a drive for a washing machine. They convincingly argue that it takes too much time to carry the clothes down to the spring and beat them on the rocks. They could render Krishna much more service if all this were done automatically, electrically.
We agree to allocate fifty dollars, and Paramananda buys a second-hand Maytag washer in Wheeling. Since both the horse wagon and powerwagon are in disrepair, Paramananda, Hrishikesh, Ranandhir and Chaitanya-das have to carry the Maytag on poles for two muddy miles. When they finally arrive at the farmhouse, Prabhupada is amazed.
“This is called ugra-karma,” he says. “In Bhagavad-gita, ugra-karma is mentioned. It is extremely hard endeavor that is painful to carry out and leads to no good.” Then Prabhupada laughs. “Yes, you think you’re advancing by these materialistic inventions like slaughterhouses, atomic bombs, breweries and this machine. But it is all ugra-karma, all hard labor, all suffering.”
All suffering indeed. The used Maytag works only three days before breaking down. Now the defunct machine is referred to as “Shama-dasi’s ugra-karma.”
June 10. My parents visit New Vrindaban for a day. After talking with Prabhupada in his upstairs room, they are impressed. My mother says, “You can tell immediately that he’s a real holyman. All he talks about is Krishna.”
My parents are too kind to criticize the rundown farm or discourage our ambitions for a community, but by afternoon they decide to return to the Holiday Inn with its toilet and running water.
In the late afternoon, Prabhupada sits in his favorite spot beneath the persimmon tree, reads letters or a few verses, and looks out over the hills.
“This place is out of contact,” he says. “It is Krishna’s desire that no ordinary man will come here.” Prabhupada turns to me, smiling. “Is that not so?” He then begins laughing heartily and nodding his head. “Yes, it is beyond the reach of ordinary men. Just like your father said this morning, ‘I’ll never walk up that road again.”’
“I’m afraid Aghasura Road is our greatest enemy, Prabhupada,” I say.
“No,” he laughs. “Krishna’s devotee has no enemy. He sees everything as Krishna’s plan. Now you may be thinking you have to conquer the road, but someday you may see that it’s a great asset. Someday there may be many cottages by the road, and people will be driving up to see. Don’t be discouraged.”
For a long time, Prabhupada sits watching the boys working in the fields below, digging roots out of the garden with picks, clearing away the sticky blackberry shrubs with bush-axes, gathering the brambles and burning them.
“Krishna is so attractive that one becomes hypnotized,” he says. “Otherwise, why are these boys working so hard on this farm? They’re all qualified to earn money outside. In your country, sufficient money is paid for work, but these boys are hypnotized here.”
“You’ve hypnotized them, Prabhupada,” Pradyumna says.
“Not I. What attraction do I have? Krishna is the all-attractive. He hypnotizes you in spite of yourself. Like the Pandavas. Arjuna and all the Pandavas were friends and relatives of Krishna, but they were banished from their kingdom for twelve years, and their wife Draupadi was insulted. By becoming Krishna’s devotees, the Pandavas underwent many difficulties. Still, their love for Krishna increased. Narada Muni was astonished by this. ‘What kind of hypnotist is Krishna?’ he was asking.”
Prabhupada laughs, shaking all over, his smile enormous. He leans forward on the little table, and joins his palms as if in prayer. Devananda brings him a cup of water.
“They’ve been working all day,” Devananda observes, looking at the devotees in the field.
“Yes, I was just commenting,” Prabhupada says. “They are hypnotized by Krishna. That is samadhi. Samadhi doesn’t mean inactivity. It means being completely absorbed in Krishna. Anyone chanting Hare Krishna is in samadhi. Anyone cooking for Krishna or writing for Krishna or working in the field for Krishna is in samadhi because the consciousness is: ‘I am doing this for the satisfaction of Krishna.”‘
“Yogis are always speaking of entering samadhi,” I say.
“Yes,” Prabhupada says. “Samadhi is the goal of all yoga. It is total absorption. The illiterate brahmin looking at the picture was in samadhi because he was absorbed in thoughts of Krishna and Arjuna. But samadhi doesn’t mean sitting like a statue, holding your breath, and thinking of merging with some void or spirit. No. Working for Krishna is samadhi. Thinking of Him is samadhi. Preaching Bhagavad-gita is samadhi.”
“But often it doesn’t seem that way,” Pradyumna says. “Often it’s hard. People aren’t interested, or they’re antagonistic.”
“That’s another matter,” Prabhupada says. “People may not want to hear because the Vedic literatures are reminding us of God, whom we have forgotten since time immemorial. That forgetfulness is the goal of modern civilization. They want the kingdom of God—prosperity, enjoyment, happiness—without God. That was also Ravana’s desire. Ravana had much gold. His capital, Sri Lanka, was covered with gold. That is material civilization—paradise without God. So here, on this little piece of land at least, we are trying to restore consciousness of God. So what do you think? We can have paradise with God.”
June 14. We are entering Prabhupada’s fourth week at New Vrindaban. He is looking robust and is enjoying himself immensely. In the early mornings now, he walks down Aghasura Road to the spring and often takes a little fresh water in his hand and sips it. He comments on everything: the birds, flowers, fence, pasture, buildings. Nothing is too insignificant to escape his attention. He even inquires about a stray dog.
“Does he have a name?”
“We call him Hare Rama,” I say.
“And how’s that?”
“Because he chants. He can’t say Hare Krishna, but he can say Hare Rama.”
When I coax Hare Rama by chanting “Hare Rama,” he responds, as always, by lowering his head between his paws and making a strange sound that very closely resembles “Hare Ramaramarama.“
“Oh, very good!” Prabhupada laughs. “Even the stray dogs are making nice progress here. That is the potency of a holy dham. In Vrindaban, you will see many dogs running loose in the streets, but when they die, they are liberated. That is a special benediction for those who have committed offenses in Vrindaban. They receive one life as a dog or hog in Vrindaban. Then liberation.”
June 18. A letter arrives from Mukunda informing Prabhupada that he has found a house in downtown London, not far from the British Museum. There is some interest among the large Hindu population. And John Lennon has offered to host Prabhupada and the devotees at his Ascot estate north of London. George Harrison has taken the most initiative, helping Mukunda and Shyamasundar cut a Hare Krishna record. They expect big sales in England, and are recording more songs under George’s direction to be issued in an album by the Beatles’s Apple Record Company.
Clearly, Prabhupada stands on the brink of international recognition. Devotees are distributing Bhagavad-gita on streets, at games and races, in parks and airports. Arrested for soliciting, they generally win the court cases, and this sparks more newspaper coverage. Money flows quickly in and out, as big buildings with expensive overheads are rented and bought. In the name of transcendental competition, each center tries to establish a bigger and better temple to attract Prabhupada’s presence.
“I must go to London,” Prabhupada tells Purushottam. “Make reservations at once.”
This casts us into despair. We’ve been hoping that he would spend the entire summer in New Vrindaban, but he has been saying that everything depends on developments in London.
“There are many Indians in England who want to start a Hindu temple,” Prabhupada says, “but I’m not interested in something for Hindus. We want something for everybody. So far, in our Society, there is not one single Indian other than me.”
And, thinking of this, Prabhupada laughs loudly.
June 19. Purushottam schedules Prabhupada to fly from Pittsburg to New York on the morning of June 23. After spending a week in New York, he plans to fly on to London. From there, he will launch the Hare Krishna invasion of Europe.
June 21. Prabhupada calls a special meeting beneath the persimmon tree to discuss the founding of a gurukula at New Vrindaban.
So far, there are only three boys at our school. But not for long.
Prabhupada wants all the Society’s children sent to New Vrindaban.
“Now in this New Vrindaban we will have a community of enlightened fathers and mothers, and of sannyasis and brahmacharis. All the children here are very fortunate. They are learning automatically how to chant.
“If you can make just one child Krishna conscious, that will be a great service to the earth. Krishna will be very pleased. Many children will come here, because this place is very nice, and Krishna will give us all opportunity. I will also come again. I like it so much here, but first I must finish the little work still remaining. I want to go once to London and Germany. Then I’ll entrust the whole preaching work to you. So do not become too anxious. With cooperation, everything will be possible. Krishna will help you.”
June 22, Prabhupada’s last night in New Vrindaban. After kirtan, he tells us that even if we can’t prosecute Krishna consciousness in full, we should still accept it.
“Once a person has taken to Krishna consciousness, Krishna will never leave him,” he says. “His consciousness of Krishna will revive even in his next body as a shudra. Previously, you American boys and girls were addicted to eating meat and engaging in many abominable habits, yet you immediately took to this process. This is because in your last life you performed some Krishna conscious activity but somehow or other could not complete the process. So there is no loss, as Narada assures Vyasadeva, and as Bhagavad-gita confirms. It doesn’t matter. Once you have taken to Krishna consciousness, wherever you may take birth, in whatever country or planet, that consciousness will be revived. That is the nature of the plant of bhakti that grows and grows.
“Have I told you of the plant of bhakti? Lord Chaitanya likens bhakti to the sowing of a seed in the heart by the spiritual master. Once this seed is sown in the heart, and the disciple goes on watering it by chanting Hare Krishna, the seed will fructify and grow and grow until it penetrates the covering of the material universe and enters into the brahmajyoti effulgence in the spiritual sky, where it also grows more and more until it reaches the highest planet, Goloka Vrindaban, where the plant ultimately takes shelter under the lotus feet of Krishna, and there rests.
“So Krishna consciousness may seem checked for the time being, but that is only temporary. It will again come out. Just the desire to serve Krishna is sufficient to keep you intact. This desire will never die.”
After kirtan, Prabhupada goes upstairs, and Kirtanananda takes him hot milk. We crowd into the small room, all eager to catch his last words. He talks lightly of his travelling. Personally, he says, he would like to stay in New Vrindaban and finish translating Srimad-Bhagavatam.
When young Dwarkadish begins to nod sleepily, Prabhupada smiles.
“So, you are feeling samadhi, Mr. D. D. D. ?” he asks. “All right. Let him take rest. And you are also feeling samadhi, Mr. Ekendra? You are very good boys. You can also take rest.“
We sense that it is time to let Prabhupada himself take rest, but we remain in the room, knowing the importance of each precious moment spent with a sadhu. As Purushottam packs, he asks Prabhupada where he would like certain items placed, and Prabhupada gives him directions while answering everyone’s last question.
“Just as a doctor can tell the condition of his patient by feeling his pulse,” he says, “so the spiritual master can also tell the condition of his disciple and prescribe medicine accordingly.”
“But what if we don’t take the medicine?” Ranandhir asks.
“Oh, that much you must do,” Prabhupada says. “My Guru Maharaj used to give the example of a man trapped in the bottom of a well. If someone comes along and throws him a rope, he must grab it. If he does not, what can be done? One must make the effort to grab the rope. That much endeavor we must have. We have that much independence. We have to catch the rope. Then Krishna will grab us. So that is our situation, and we should know it. The test of all spiritual life is at the time of death. It is a difficult test. Therefore we must scientifically practise chanting Hare Krishna to remember Krishna at death. Training and association are important, not mundane education. Getting up for aratik, chanting our rounds, and reading Bhagavad-gita is real education.”
We sit before Prabhupada waiting. There is a silence in which we hear only Purushottam packing and the big bullfrog croaking away in the little pond beneath the spring. It is a very lonely sound.
“It’s getting late,” Kirtanananda says at last. “We’ll never get up for aratik if we don’t let Srila Prabhupada rest.”
Prabhupada says nothing, and this is a sign that we are to retire. We all offer obeisances and leave his room.
After hot milk, we sit a while under the willow just outside Prabhupada’s window and watch the moon slowly climb through the branches. From time to time, I see Purushottam behind the window, packing Prabhupada’s trunks. Finally, I walk up the hill past the garden to the lean-to and my sleeping bag.
Chanting one last round before sleep, looking up at the stars, I think of Prabhupada seated eternally behind his tin footlocker, waiting calmly with all the answers.
And how many perfect answers to endless questions! As we all approach Krishna from our own angle of vision, our karmic history, Prabhupada answers us all, patiently sifting and sifting, discarding nonessentials, explaining over and over until only the Truth remains.
“And when you have thus learned the Truth, you will know that all living beings are but part of Me—and that they are in Me, and are Mine.”
Pradyumna’s voice rises from below the hill: “Srila Prabhupada, ki jai! All glories to Srila Prabhupada!” And from the lower pasture, someone answers with “Haribol!”
I continue chanting softly on my beads and watch the moon, nearly full, shine over Govardhan Hill, spreading its cool light over the earth, like Prabhupada spreading pure love of Krishna. That love is what we all truly want. If we’re at all happy, it’s because some day we’ll attain it. Prabhupada’s promise. Whether we have to wait a thousand years, or only until tomorrow, that day will surely come.
End of Chapter 18