(Srila Prabhupada's first news photo in America taken in Sally Agarwal’s living room.)
On September 22, 1965, only five days after his arrival in America, Srila Prabhupada lectured at the YMCA in Butler, Pennsylvania. The local newspaper, the Butler Eagle, printed the above photo to accompany the following story.
In Fluent English
Devotee of Hindu Cult Explains Commission to Visit the West
By Penny Ritts/Butler Eagle Sept. 22, 1965
A slight brown man in faded orange drapes wearing white bathing shoes stepped out of a compact car yesterday and into the Butler YMCA to attend a meeting. He is A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swamiji, a messenger from India to the peoples of the West.
A Hindu by faith, the "learned teacher" has translated biblical literature such as Srimad Bhagavatam into English from ancient Sanskrit. He is now fulfilling a commission from his spiritual master to enlighten English-speaking people regarding their relationship with God.
"My mission is to revive a people's God-conciousness," says the Swamiji. "God is the Father of all living beings, in thousands of different forms," he explains. "Human life is a stage of perfection in evolution: if we miss the message, back we go through the process again," he believes.
The Swamiji has given himself a month to tell his message to all who will listen. He anticipates many informal meetings, such as a gathering of friends in the Gopal Agarwal home in Stirling Apartments Monday the night of his arrival, for an exchange of ideas regarding his philosophy of life. A simplified version of his theory is that life progresses from aquatic to plant, to reptile to bird, to beast to "beastly" human being and finally, to civilized man. "After this life there is a still better life on other planets," predicts the visitor. He believes that the highest possible state will be to go to God, or eternal life.
The traveler who left India for the first time Aug. 30 will welcome guest appearances or impromptu discussions with anyone who calls the Agarwal family. He says that he is here to talk.
Now 70 years old, the appointed "missionary" to the United States was educated in India where he received a bachelor of arts degree. He became a disciple in 1933 and received instructions until the death of his leader in 1936. He has severed all family ties, forsaking wife and children and a business in Calcutta to follow his beliefs.
His religion remains Hindu. He does not ask his listeners to change their religious affiliation, but merely to become "better Jews or Christians," etc.
Bhaktivedanta lives as a monk, and permits no woman to touch his food. On a six-week ocean voyage and at the Agarwal apartment in Butler he prepares his meals in a brass pan with separate levels for steaming rice, vegetables and making "bread" at the same time. He is a strict vegetarian, and is permitted to drink only milk, the "miracle food for babies and old men," he noted. Even onions, garlic, and eggs are forbidden in his cult.
The Swamiji is equally philosophical about physical discomforts or wars: "Its man's nature to fight" he shrugs. "We have to adjust to these things; currents come and go in life just as in an ocean."
"Life and Milk of Cow" is all-important to the Swamiji's way of life; all else is artificial, he claims. The government of India does not support the Hindu or Moslem religions, neither does it interfere with their practices, he says. His scholarly work is aided by benefactors when and where he finds them.
His special dress minimizes the importance of raiment; the white mark on his face is a symbol of devotion. The Swamiji renews his faith with daily prayer, chanting and meditation. If Americans would give more attention to their spirtitual life, they would be much happier, he says.
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Shortly afterwards Srila Prabhupada wrote to a friend in India:
"In the Butler Eagle Newspaper, which is one of the largest publications, they like my English, and together with my photograph they have printed this article: 'In Fluent English Devotee of Hindu Cult Explains Commission To Visit West' … I have explained in detail a short life history. Under my photograph, I wrote (in large letters): AMBASSADOR OF BHAKTIYOGA."
(Srila Prabhupada letter, October 4, 1965)
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Note to our readers: The journalist wrote in the article, "Bhaktivedanta lives as a monk, and permits no woman to touch his food."
The rules and regulations for a sannyasi (or celibate monk) in India are traditionally very strict, but Srila Prabhupada quickly adapted to Western culture without compromising his own principles. When his hostess in Butler, Sally Agarwal, apologized for the meat-eating and cigarette smoke in her house, Srila Prabhupada reassured her, "Think nothing of it, think nothing of it." Prabhupada was very practical and carefully studied American society with a view towards introducing Krishna consciousness in a way that could be easily performed by the common man:
"We don't say that you give up your engagement and become a mendicant or sannyasi like me and give up your wife and children. No. Krishna does not say that. You may ask then, 'Why you have given up your wife and children?' I have given up my wife and children for this purpose. If I am engaged in family life, then I cannot do this missionary work. I have taken absolute shelter to this work without any disturbance. So for a preacher, for a missionary, that is a different thing. But for ordinary man, he does not require to give up his family, his home. He will remain. You remain in your occupation, you remain at home, but chant this Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Is there any difficulty? Why don't you try it? This is our mission. We don't say that you change your life. We simply say that in whatever position you are, you please chant. That's all. You please chant. You will be happy."
(Srila Prabhupada lecture, December 8, 1966)
As the acarya, Srila Prabhupada was expert at applying Krishna consciouness according to time, place and circumstances:
"The acarya knows how to adjust things. The real purpose is how one will take to spiritual consciousness, or Krishna consciousness. Keeping one's aim to that point, some concession may be given. As far as possible, keeping pace with the time, circumstances."
(Srila Prabhupada lecture, February 20, 1973)
"Just like I am an Indian sannyasi. I have come to your country, at your country. Oh, there are many rules and regulations in India which is different from your rules and regulations. But if I follow, if I stick to rules and regulations of Indian conception, then it is impossible to remain here. So I have to propagate this mission, Krishna consciousness, so I am not so much attached to the rules and regulations, but I am attached to the preaching work."
(Srila Prabhupada lecture, August 8, 1966)
Readers should note that Srila Prabhupada engaged both men and women disciples in cooking for him. The reference in the above article (written in 1965) about preparing his food illustrates how Prabhupada was willing to accomodate the Westerners and offer them equal opportunity in making spiritual progress.