Remembering Tribhuvannatha (Part 1)
(Tribhuvannatha Prabhu was my best friend in Krsna consciousness. He was a very dear disciple of Srila Prabhupada and so it was a great honor and privilege to have his close association. Therefore I wish to humbly share a few memories of Tribhuvannatha here so that others might get a glimpse of his greatness and feel inspired by his wonderful example of service and dedication to Srila Prabhupada, our beloved spiritual master.)
Tribhuvannatha was heroic
The first thing that impressed me about Tribhuvannatha Prabhu was his courage. He was ready to do anything for Srila Prabhupada at the drop of a pin, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, safety or danger. He loved to struggle for Prabhupada. That was his greatest joy. When you're around someone like that, you can't help but be humbled and feel a sense of awe. To be his friend was (and is) a source of spiritual inspiration and pride. We were all so proud of Tribhuvannatha Prabhu. He was heroic. That's why his name lives on -- and always in relation to Srila Prabhupada -- which is the only way he would want it. What a great soul indeed.
Simple but sublime
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
"Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth." (B.G. 4.34)
In the Bhaktivedanta Purport to this all-important verse in the Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada explains:
"Satisfaction of the self-realized spiritual master is the secret of advancement in spiritual life. Inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding. Unless there is submission and service, inquiries from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding."
Tribhuvannatha's devotional life was a practical demonstration of this purport. He didn't take it as a vague theoretical concept. Rather he saw it in personal terms. What does Srila Prabhupada want and like? Prabhupada wanted to deliver the world through preaching programs like harinama sankirtana, book distribution, prasadam distribution, opening of temples, etc. So Tribhuvannatha threw himself into all of the above at various times and places with great gusto. He lived an inspired life for us all to learn and benefit from.
Tribhuvannatha had personal charisma -- he could have become a great used car salesman, a real estate agent, a school teacher or whatever he wanted. But he consciously chose to serve His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada by utilizing his God-given talents in Prabhupada's service. He firmly believed that it was the highest service to humankind. So although he was very simple and straightforward in his understanding, Tribhuvannatha wasn't foolish. In fact, he was amazingly philosophical and realized, despite that he didn't have a material education. One thing I especially liked about him was that he used to make up words when he preached. He would sometimes add an extra syllable to long words unknowingly, but it was very endearing; so much so, that I liked his version rather than the dictionary version. But that certainly didn't make him any less of a preacher. When he was on a roll, which was everytime he preached or picked up a mrdanga and led kirtana, everyone was enthralled and felt ecstacy coming through from the spiritual stratum.
Tribhuvannatha embraced Prabhupada's purports and lived them, rather than simply regurgitate them. That's what made him so potent and effective in his preaching work. Of course, not everyone can become a Tribhuvannatha. Actually, no one can become
Tribhuvannatha, except of course Tribhuvannatha. But we can all endeavor to perfect who we are by offering our best to Srila Prabhupada and his mission. Simple, but sublime.
Working with Tribhuvannatha
Tribhuvannatha's association was a Godsend on many levels. He expected those who worked with him to depend on Krsna and so he naturally brought out the best in others. In fact, whether it was conscious or not, he inspired those who served with him to challenge themselves at every step. When I first joined him in India, he immediately put me
on a plane to Europe with nothing more than a mrdanga in hand and a crumpled U.S. dollar in my pocket. The flight was scheduled to briefly stop in Amsterdam before reaching London and he instructed me to disembark there, although I was supposed to carry on to the U.K. according to the flight particulars. When I got to customs, they asked me how much money I was carrying. I pulled out the dollar bill. Of course, they didn't like that and so they whisked me off to jail where I spent a long night chanting Hare Krsna, anxious about my crazed and drunken cellmate who kept muttering threats under his breath. (Funny enough, I actually gained a little realization about the yuga-dharma that night.) The next morning, they stamped my passport with a "no go" and escorted me to the airport where I was shipped off to England. When the authorities there saw the "refused" stamp on my passport, they wouldn't release me. Instead they decided to send me on to Canada, my home country. Canada? I was supposed to be meeting up with a crew of devotees headed in the other direction. So I pleaded with the authorities to let me call the Bhaktivedanta Manor and try to reach Tribhuvannatha Prabhu, who just happened to be "carrying all my money." Somehow or other, they agreed and tracked him down. After four or five hours, good old Tribhuvannatha showed up at the airport with some cash that he had borrowed to bail me out. They allowed me a weeks stay in the U.K. And so where did Tribhuvannatha send me next? Back to Amsterdam! That kind of thing happened all the time while working with Tribhuvannatha. Looking back on those years, I can only thank him for such wonderful opportunities to grow and test my faith. With Tribhuvannatha Prabhu, there wasn't much choice. It was always do or die. That was his way.
Sincerity of purpose
Sometimes Tribhuvannatha's plans would seem wildly utopian. He'd venture out on a big ambitious preaching project with sometimes nothing in his pocket, or very little. Or he'd send out some nervous devotee(s) somewhere to do the same. He didn't rely on material
formulas. Somehow or other, from out of the blue, someone would offer him money to open a center, print books, buy a van, or pay for a preaching program. He never worried about it. The bigger the challenge, the better.
In November of 1967, Srila Prabhupada wrote the following:
"In my opinion, a single sincere soul can maintain a center. You know I started the center at 26 2nd Ave. alone. I took the risk of 200.00 dollars per month for the rent... Still I was maintaining the establishment simply depending on Krishna and then Krishna sent me everything -- men and money. Similarly, if a sincere soul goes out and opens a center in any part of the world Krishna will help him in all respects. Without being empowered by Krishna, nobody can preach Krishna Consciousness. It is not academic qualification or financial strength which helps in these matters, but it is sincerity of purpose which helps us always.... That is preaching, cooking, writing, talking, chanting everything one man's show. I never thought about the audience. I was prepared to chant if there were no man to hear me. The principle of chanting is to glorify the Lord and not to attract a crowd. If Krishna hears nicely then he will ask some sincere devotee to gather in such place. Therefore, be advised that thousands of centers may be started if we find out a sincere soul for each and every center. We do not require more men to start. If there is one sincere soul that is sufficient to start a new center... Let us remain sincere to Krishna and His bona fide representative and we are sure to carry out our mission successfully."
Tribhuvannatha's faith in Srila Prabhupada's formula was unwavering and he loved to see it manifest into a tangible success. It made him eager for more.
His driving force
What always impressed me about Tribhuvannatha was his single-minded desire to please Srila Prabhupada. He didn't want to please Prabhupada so that he could make spiritual advancement. He wanted to please Srila Prabhupada because he actually wanted to make Prabhupada happy, no matter what. This is love. It was Tribhuvannatha's driving force, the fuel that kept him going through thick and thin. If you could open up his
heart and look inside, that's all you'd find: Prabhupada-prema. It was the secret to his success.