The year was 1977 and I had just returned to Vrindavana after visiting Jaipur. It was quite a decision to visit India since it was public knowledge that His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada was traveling to the west even though gravely ill. It was a difficult decision based upon the fear that the frailness of his health could rob us of a last opportunity to spend time with the spiritual master.
Rightly or wrongly, I went to India and immediately preceding my return to the holy dhama, Srila Prabhupada arrived unannounced from England. We quickly learned the news that his health had taken a turn for the worse and that he had come to Vrindavana to spend his last days. To say the least, the devotees were in shock at the thought of losing Srila Prabhupada's association and guidance. We all prayed that our worst nightmare wouldn't come true.
Srila Prabhupada left his quarters only twice after his return from England and both times were to circumambulate the Deities. Recently, I saw a video of him circumambulating the temple and was surprised that the kirtan was so subdued. I had attended his last two outings and the kirtans were incredibly intense. My only thought is that the video-recorded instance occurred upon his arrival before my return.
In any event, the next day, as Srila Prabhupada sat on his palanquin, he was accompanied by a throng of devotees and a roaring kirtan. We were leaping and chanting in a manner I don't think any of us had experienced before. It was a herd of singing and dancing white elephants.
To see His Divine Grace in such a weakened condition was a jolt for us all. It drew out our love but was mixed with the unthinkable thought that Srila Prabhupada may not be in our midst forever. The chanting and dancing reflected our love for Srila Prabhupada and the thought of losing his direct association drew out even more intense emotion. The threat of his departure brought new realizations and intense appreciation of what he had done for us. It was both wonderful and horrible all mixed together. The sweet and sour emotions sparked intense kirtan, wild dancing and free-flowing tears. Our only contribution was to bathe him in the holy name and pray that Lord Krsna would save the situation for our benefit.
As we accompanied His Divine Grace around the temple courtyard, I had the opportunity to be dancing directly by his side. As I looked his way, there was a tear flowing from the corner of his eye and down the length of his cheek.
Of course, I cannot say for certain what was on Srila Prabhupada's mind. But my feeling was that he deeply appreciated that his disciples had developed a genuine attachment and affection for him and the holy name. Even in the closing moments of his pastimes he inspired us and drew out our dormant love of Godhead. As always, he was the perfect devotee and our spiritual beacon. Life without him was unimaginable.