Drops of Nectar #4
My wife and I ran a little store across the street called the "Surabhi Store." We would arrange for Srila Prabhupada's afternoon refreshment of dab (fresh coconut). The last year that Prabhupada was here in Los Angeles, the GBC came to me and two others and asked if we would like to be Srila Prabhupada's bodyguards. He thought the three of us should split up the 24-hour watch. About the middle of the second week we were doing this and my good friend Bhaskara, who was one of the other bodyguards, and I were having lunch and he said, "Did you notice that Srila Prabhupada does the same thing at the same time everyday?" I said, "Yeah, it's amazing you can almost set your watch by him." Bhaskara said, "Someone gave him a brand new pair of slippers the other day and he only wears them from his room to the curtains outside the temple room and then he takes them off. After class, he puts them on, wears them to go upstairs and takes them off at his door." I said, "Yeah?" He said, "They're new and I looked at them last night and got the model number and the manufacture's name and a bought another pair exactly like them." "Well, what are you going to do with them? His feet are not the same size as your feet." Bhaskara said, "Tomorrow morning when he goes down for class, I am going to exchange them for my slippers and then he will wear my slippers back upstairs. Then I will exchange them again and I will have a pair of slippers that Srila Prabhupada wore. He will have only worn them one time, but Srila Prabhupada will have worn my slippers." I thought, "Wow, that's a good idea. Tomorrow I am going to go out and buy a pair of slippers and do the same thing the next day." The next day we got together at lunch again. I said, "Did you get your slippers?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Where do I buy mine?" He said, "You shouldn't do it." I thought, "Yeah, you got your slippers." He said, "Let me tell you what happened. Srila Prabhupada put his slippers on in the morning, came downstairs, took them off by the curtain by the temple room, and I exchanged them. After class Srila Prabhupada came out, put on my slippers and wore them upstairs right into his room. He never took them off at the door." I said, "Really? What did you do?" He said, "I stood there chanting japa thinking, 'What am I gonna do now?' I was there about five minutes when a sannyasi came and asked, 'Is your name Bhaskara?' 'Yes.' The sannyasi said, 'Srila Prabhupada has a message for you. He thanks you very much for the new slippers. You may keep the old slippers. But most importantly, he said, it's not nice to play tricks on the spiritual master."
I was really hankering for Srila Prabhupada's personal association. I was desperate. It seemed that so many devotees were getting his personal association and that I was a nobody, a new devotee. Somehow I conned my way into a morning walk on Venice Beach. I was nervous and scared. I was walking on Srila Prabhupada's right and he was talking about the waves and the ocean. One wave came up high and almost touched Srila Prabhupada's feet. I jumped up on the embankment and Prabhupada saw that the wave was going to wet his feet. He put his hand out to me and I helped him up the embankment. That was it for me. I actually touched Prabhupada and helped him up the embankment. But I started to feel my oats. I started getting puffed up and I thought, "I'm gonna ask him a question. I am actually going to come right out and ask him a question." My heart's desire was to get Srila Prabhupada's recognition, not his answer to my question. I can't remember the exact question, but I asked something about tulasi devi. Srila Prabhupada turned to me and said, "Why are you asking me this question?" I stuttered and said, "Well I am worshiping tulasi devi, Srila Prabhupada..." He repeated, "Why are you asking me this question?" I lost it that time. I shut up and turned every color of the rainbow. Then he answered my question. In all his mercy, Prabhupada answered my question.
I was in Honolulu on my way to Japan to distribute books. Srila Prabhupada was also in Honolulu at that time and he asked me to come to his quarters to talk about book distribution. I had the wonderful experience of being alone with Srila Prabhupada. He was sitting on his chair asking all sorts of questions about how people liked the books, what kind of people were taking the books, and what I told the people. He was so joyful that it seemed as if it was Srila Prabhupada's favorite topic. When he asked, "What kind of people take the books?" I strained my mind to answer and said, "Doctors, young people and diplomats." Prabhupada said, "Diplomats? From what countries?" So I gave a list of the nationalities of anyone who had ever taken a book. Then I said, "Someone from Albania took a book." Prabhupada said, "Albania. That's behind the iron curtain." I said, "Yes Prabhupada, they take in their suitcase and because they have diplomatic immunity, no one can open the suit case." He laughed, leaned back and said, "Ahh! We cannot go, but Lord Chaitanya can go."
When I was eighteen I was getting acne and Srila Prabhupada asked me, "What is on your face?" I said, "They're pimples, Prabhupada." He said, "You should put a little tilak on them." So I put tilak spots on my face but I was too embarrassed to walk on the streets with white dots on my face. The next time he saw me he asked me about my pimples again and why wasn't I using the tilak. I said, "I can't walk around like that, it's just too..." He said, "Take a little olive oil and boric acid and heat them in a spoon over the fire. Put that ointment on." Sure enough that combination produced a salve that looked just like any ointment. That was his personal, caring side.
I remember one devotee asked Srila Prabhupada, "Have you told us all the rules and regulations?" Prabhupada said, "If I told you everything, you'd faint." He clearly gave us much room to toddle along.
In September of 1972, Srila Prabhupada flew to Dallas to install Sri Sri Radha Kalachanji. He arrived at Love Field via American Airlines. We ushered him into the VIP room where he sat on a makeshift dias and immediately started talking about the three ways to fly. He said, "There are three ways to fly." Reporters were jotting down, "Three ways to fly." Prabhupada continued, "Pigeon. (He didn't say "Swan," he said "Pigeon.") Pigeon, mantra and machine. Formerly people knew the art of training pigeons and could get on the pigeons and fly." I was standing next to a woman reporter and looking at her pad as she wrote, "Pigeon." Then he said. Mantra Simply by vibrating mantras, the yogi knew how to ride on the sound." She and the other reporters wrote down, "Mantra, machine." Then a lady asked, "Swami, if you know all these different ways to fly, why did you choose to fly American Airlines today?" Prabhupada said, "To be one with you." The lady turned to me and said, "I like that man!"
A guest asked, "If everything comes from Krishna, then illusion also comes from Krishna. But how can illusion, which comes from Krishna, cover Krishna?" Srila Prabhupada replied, "Everything comes from the sun. The cloud also comes from the sun, but the cloud doesn't actually cover the sun. The cloud covers our vision of the sun but the sun is never covered."
My wife and I loved cooking all the time in the kitchen in the Manhattan temple. Once Prabhupada was due to arrive the next day and we were told to make a skirt for Prabhupada's tulasi devi, but my wife didn't know how to sew. We had an assignment we couldn't do but we tried. My wife stayed up the whole night making that tulasi skirt. In the morning we brought the tulasi skirt, and the devotee said, "Oh this is a terrible job. How could you do this? Don't you have any sense?" We were broken-hearted. My wife started crying and I was hurt, but we put the skirt on tulasi devi anyway. When Prabhupada finally walked into the room the first statement he made was "What a beautiful tulasi skirt." We started crying again but this time out of great pleasure. Prabhupada's statement made us realize that we just met a pure representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Another time one of the local book distributors asked how, upon his arrival in New York, Srila Prabhupada had such success in distributing the first volumes of the Srimad Bhagavatam. Prabhupada thought for a moment and said, "I do not think it was my success. I think that they saw me as some fancy Indian gentleman and therefore they took whatever I asked them to take." He never thought that there was a technique. He thought it was his Indian flair, his Indian gentlemanliness.
One afternoon after his nap I was bringing him a little rasagulla and some drink. The sun was going down when I started to enter his room, which faced the backyard. The whole room seemed purple and gold. There was a certain energy in the room. Srila Prabhupada was chanting and crying tears of ecstasy. Well, we didn't even have "The Nectar of Devotion" yet. I got alarmed, backed out of the room with the tray, went to Govinda Dasi and said, "Govinda, what's happening? Is Prabhupada OK? Is he having a fit?" She said, "No. No. That's just Srila Prabhupada having a relationship with Krishna. That's Krishna consciousness." I said, "Wow." I went back in five minutes later. Srila Prabhupada was still there and this time he stopped me from leaving. He said, "SUDAMA don't leave. I am crying because of the mercy of my Guru Maharaja. By his mercy I am allowed to see Krishna. I see Him right now over those grasses." Oh, man. It was so heavy that I started crying. He said, "Why are you crying?" I said, "Because you are so powerful and merciful. I have never met a soul like you." He said, "That is Krishna's arrangement."
In Boston Hamsadutta had just gotten a school bus, the first sankirtan bus in the movement. One morning Prabhupada called Hamsadutta and said, "Let us go for a ride in your bus." Hamsadutta excitedly said, "Oh yes." But then he realized that they had taken all the seats out of the bus. There was just the floor. Prabhupada couldn't sit like that so I got a chair from the temple and held it down while Prabhupada sat in it. All the devotees piled into the bus. Everyone was very excited. "Where are we going?" I said, "For a ride with Prabhupada." Ramandeva was driving and Prabhupada was giving directions, "Turn here. Go on this road." Nobody knew where we were going and no one was bold enough to ask Prabhupada, but Prabhupada knew where he was going. While the devotees chanted on their beads, we got to the downtown area and finally we came to the waterfront, the dock area. And then we arrived at Commonwealth Pier. Actually, no devotees had ever even seen it. Prabhupada was always talking about Krishna and didn't tell us so many details about his arrival in America. Even when we got there, we didn't realize where we were, but this was the place where Prabhupada had first entered America. Prabhupada started walking and we clustered around him on this big pier with big roads, warehouses and factories surrounding us. Prabhupada preached as he always did on his morning walk. He talked about pure devotional service to Krishna and he used the word "unalloyed." It's exotic, this "unalloyed" devotional service, because an "alloy" is a metal made of many different kinds of metal. Prabhupada was always saying, "unalloyed." That meant just one metal, not many.
At a certain point he said, "Yes. Unalloyed devotional service" and he pointed with his cane. We all followed the cane and there was a hundred-foot long sign on the entire side of the warehouse that said, "Unalloyed Steel Company." We all said, "Yes. Unalloyed." That sign was one of the first things Prabhupada had seen when he entered America and he showed it to us to explain unalloyed devotional service; a very simple instruction that he made so graphic. We were like Prabhupada's young students and Prabhupada was our teacher. As a teacher writes a word on a blackboard and then takes a pointer to show the class, so Prabhupada was showing us.
There was a devotee named Patita-uddharan, tall and lanky and very unconventional in many ways. He danced in his own way, he sang in his own way and he talked in his own way. He obviously didn't fit into the narrow category of a book distributor. After a nice big kirtan in the temple, Prabhupada lectured and then suddenly said, "Are there any questions?" Out of the blue Patita-uddharan said, "Srila Prabhupada, we are all eager to hear what will please you the most. There are so many different types of service that are dear to you. Will you tell us clearly what service is most dear to you?" Prabhupada said, "Chant Hare Krishna and become simply wonderful. Eat simply wonderfuls and become simply wonderful. That is all. Hare Krishna."