By His Example
The Wit and Wisdom of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
CHAPTER 1: HONORING SRILA PRABHUPADA
"Do something new."
-- A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
THE MORE I WAS AROUND Bhaktivedanta Swami, the more I loved him. He affected others that way, too. He never demanded respect, yet we all were very respectful of him. We whispered in his presence and let his words set the pace. He demonstrated determination, discipline, knowledge, and humility, woven together with threads of kindness, humor, and enthusiasm. In his presence it was easy to become interested and enthusiastic. He used jokes or stories to illustrate very important spiritual points. He did this with such ease that we absorbed his message and changed without knowing it. For example, he told me a story once about teaching math to students who claimed they couldn't learn the subject. As he told the story, he assumed the voices and faces of both the teacher and the students:
"How many feet are at the rear of the cow?" Swamiji said, taking on the authoritative teacher's voice.
"Two," the students replied innocently.
"And how many are in the front?" the teacher continued.
"Two," The students answered.
Teacher: "So how many feet are on the cow?"
Teacher: "Now you know math."
But the students didn't realize that they had learned and exclaimed, "No, we don't!"
At this, Prabhupada laughed and laughed and laughed, and then I laughed and laughed.
In such a manner, Prabhupada taught us everything about Krishna consciousness, without our being aware of it. He taught us how to become God conscious naturally in our everyday lifestyle, as we changed seamlessly from materialists to Vaishnava devotees.
He rarely asked for anything. We asked him if we could become his disciples. If any one of us had an idea and the idea was not wasteful, insane, or unreasonably dangerous, he would encourage the idea and suggest more ideas, giving hints how to bring that idea to fruition.
In this way, my life was changed and a movement was created, a spiritual movement of souls desiring to purify themselves by serving Krishna and thus serving others.
In the beginning there wasn't much money, but somehow donations were given and the things we needed appeared. More than once there was no money for rent, but then someone would walk through the door and the rent would be paid. I saw many mini miracles happen. A miracle is a deviation from the norm, and as I became more disciplined and regulated -- "normal" -- I felt my life become also miraculous as I developed my relationship with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
One of Krishna's most magnificent pastimes was lifting Govardhan Hill. For seven days His cowherd friends gazed at His beauty constantly, while being protected from lightning bolts and the weight of the large hill overhead. Although Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, had the hill perfectly secured, He acted as if He needed help. In this way, He engaged the cowherd boys and girls in devotional service. Similarly, when I was with Prabhupada, or serving in separation from him, I felt that he was, metaphorically speaking, holding up Govardhan Hill, which was the whole world. And although small, I was helping him.
When the Swami suddenly became ill in San Francisco and we were in the temple praying for his recovery with our plaintive cries -- chanting and bargaining with Krishna to make our father well again -- we felt the symbolic crush of Govardhan Hill in the form of our beloved Guru's impending death. However, our consciousness was engaged completely in Swamiji and Krishna. As such, we didn't waver, speculate, or get distracted by any of maya's baubles. We were focused and determined, just like the friends of Lord Krishna at Govardhan Hill. Prabhupada recovered and subsequently led us from one success to another throughout the following years.
Many times Prabhupada told me, "Being joyful is a sign of spiritual advancement." Though Srila Prabhupada displayed discipline and gravity when the time and circumstances called for them, his joy, humor, and quick wit transformed many situations. Whenever there was a chance to add levity, transcendentally tease, or make a joke, Prabhupada would oversee the fun. Sometimes he directed the fun toward me or my godbrothers and -sisters, and at other times even toward himself. Sometimes he made fun of silly acts (e.g., a man sawing a tree limb while sitting outside the cut), and sometimes he made fun of scientists who have "seen" proof by using instruments geared to imperfect senses. Prabhupada often jokingly referred to the wrangling scientists with their "perhap's" and "maybe's." He was an excellent mimic, punctuating his stories with imitations of character types or animal sounds. He joked: "The scientists claims that such and such poison is odorless and tasteless. How do they know that the poison is tasteless?" Laughing, he imitated the scientist whose final words are "It's tasteless!"
False yogis were another source of jokes. Once there was a yogi who threw gifts he received into Howrah River to demonstrate his detachment from material goods. But at night he pulled the gifts out of the water in a fishing net. Prabhupada, like Shakespeare, made fun of material life and the many absurdities of this material world. The more time I spent with Srila Prabhupada, relishing his humor, the more love, faith, devotion, and spiritual practice began to outweigh my material ambitions.
As we naturally cultivate our relationship, rasa, with Lord Krishna, so too does each and every disciple have a special rasa with his or her spiritual master. Many devotees can easily understand the mood of awe and reverence, but my special rasa with Prabhupada is friendship. I learned compassion by experiencing Prabhupada's humor and wit. Many times we related through humor, since neither of us could let a good joke pass us by. Prabhupada was accepting and open-minded to all, yet he could make each person feel special and wanted. Even if I had just seen him an hour before, he welcomed me as if we hadn't seen each other for a year. Sometimes he would even ask me for advice. Then, after coming to a solution together, our Jagat Guru of the Universe would humbly ask me, "Is that all right?" Sometimes Prabhupada would confide in me in a soft voice, and I would reveal my inner thoughts, while he allowed our elbows to touch. I drank in the saffron, sandalwood, mustard oil, and champa flowers that signified his presence. He cared for me when I was sick, as I cared for him when he was ill. His divine lotus hands even bandaged my wounded foot one night in Vrindavan.
To Prabhupada, the best instruction was by example.
Sometime he taught by being aloof, and sometimes with understanding and compassion. On more than one occasion my mentor taught me a hard lesson (in ISKCON jargon, by "giving me the sauce"), which I took as great mercy, a rough caress. On learning, Prabhupada taught: "If learned the hard way, it will be remembered well; if learned too easily, it is easily forgotten."
He mercifully granted me so much personal time with him, and sometimes, if I stayed away too long, he would call for me. If I didn't write, he would write saying he had not heard from me. When I had typhoid fever in Vrindavan, he demanded a report on my progress from wherever he was traveling.
We walked side by side, slept in the same train compartment, held hands, stepped carefully into a dark basement and shuffled along groping the wall together till we found the door.
We laughed and cried together. We sang and danced together. I ate maha-maha prasadam, touched by His Divine Grace's lips, which he had slid onto my plate with golden lotus fingers.
We held up a collapsing altar together, rode rickshaws, cars, trains, boats, planes, and walked seven and more steps together side by side.
Srila Prabhupada was the center, core, and zenith of all his students' lives. We wanted to please him and make his path easy and comfortable. We brought him dictaphones, pens, and watches; we cooked special dishes like shukta; we made garlands and knitted sweaters -- all to please our Guru Maharaja. When he came to visit us, we gravitated toward him like flowers toward the sun.
This phenomenon is analogous to Krishna and the gopis, a living illustration of how the gopis responded to Lord Krishna. They ran to Him when they heard His flute, just as we ran to Prabhupada when we heard his voice or his singing. The gopis, like Lalita or Visakha, would leave milk boiling on the stove, or be so attracted to Krishna's Shyama form that they would even leave a baby behind. When they saw Lord Krishna's beautiful, three-fold dancing form, they became so entranced that they swooned in exhilaration. We too became elated and disoriented when Prabhupada merely looked in our direction or sent us out on some spiritual mission. Whoever came in contact with Srila Prabhupada was changed forever. I am not a great scholar, but I remember so many moments, so many instructive words, so many looks which seemed to caress me, and so many humorous moments with my dear, wonderful Swamiji!
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