Srila Prabhupada was coming to Chicago! He was to install several pairs of Gaur-Nitai Deities on the Radha-Damodara buses, initiate Audolomi Prabhu into the Babaji order, give
initiations to many devotees, meet with government officials to discuss their helping our movement to reduce crime, ("Crime: Why and what to do?" had been the Time magazine main article of the month), and to enthuse the devotees by his classes on Ajamila. Devotees from the mid-west arrived in their assorted buses, vans, and cars. Our group from the now-gone Winnipeg temple was headed by Nandikeswara Prabhu, and included Dharmaprana Prabhu, Jitarati Prabhu, a bhakta or two including Gaura dasa, two or three matajis, and myself, Tamoharadasa. We brahmacaris were quickly recruited to help with the last-minute rush to improve the looks of the temple. My jobs included peeling apples for Rathayatra chutney, and some painting. As I worked, word came that it was time for those who were going to the airport to hop into one of the vehicles. Although I had been instructed to stay back to finish the painting, it was the first time that I would see Srila Prabbupada in person. I agonized over what to do, thinking that I would be rewarded by Krsna for staying back to do the needful. However, I abandoned my duty and instead quickly got in with a load of brahmacaris and sannyasis headed to the airport. This was one of the wisest decisions of my life!
Needless to say, the airport kirtana was totally ecstatic, as Srila Prabhupada walked in smiling and effulgent and much larger than life, like Supersoul personified. Devotees have expressed surprise at the small size of Prabhupada's body, but to me at the time, he appeared to be like a shining giant! We all hit the floor in a wave of obeisances. I felt as if I was seeing my long-lost father and well-wisher after a very long absence. We cried and smiled at the same time, like experiencing vipralambha and sambhoga simultaneously. Hairs stood on end, I felt humbled and blessed, that now everything was alright, that these moments were rare and so special. Flowers decorated the air, and a large umbrella became manifest to honor the Vaishnava. All too soon we were back to the vans to accompany Prabhupada to the temple. Along the way, Dhrstadyumna Swami, in charge of Srila Prabhupada's luggage, called out into the van of brahmacaris, asking, "Who will help carry Prabhupada's bags up to his rooms?". Most responded quickly, but as fast as a bolt of lightning, without any hesitation whatsoever, my arm shot up like I was reaching for the moon, and with a look of surprise at the speed of my response, Maharajah said, "Alright! You, then."
On arrival, Srila Prabhupada entered the Chicago temple to the sounds of boisterous kirtana, cries of "Jaya Prabhupada!", and bodies spontaneously hitting the floor. At the temple entrance, a mound of sandals and shoes quickly piled up, such that later, at the time to leave, no one could pick out Prabhupada's footwear! The next day, one of the senior men told us that Prabhupada had been quite delayed while they tried to find his sandals, and he had remarked, "They are all calling out, "Prabhupada, Prabhupada", but let someone find my shoes!"
I proceeded to Prabhupada's quarters, and carried his bags up. Although politely asked to leave, I simply stayed, at the time not caring for the authorities as much as I cared for Srila Prabhupada. I felt it well worth the risk of a reprisal for the chance to associate with Prabhupada. After his discussion in an adjacent room with the sannyasis and temple presidents, it was time for his massage, and so Srila Prabhupada passed down the hallway where I was standing, led by Hari Sauri Prabhu. There he was, the lord of my life, who didn't even know who I was that I knew of, and he would quickly pass by and I might never see him again in this lifetime! I just had to say something, to at least be acknowledged by Krsna's dearmost pure devotee, my savior from hell, lest my heart break and I regret a failed opportunity for the rest of my life. How could I just let him pass without trying to convey what I felt for him? So, I cried out, stupidly, "All glories to Srila Prabhupada!", not knowing what else to say, and smiled so broadly, it must have looked like my head would fall off! In his graceful kindness, Prabhupada looked up and responded. He had just left a meeting in which the sannyasis and temple presidents and grhasthas had had their differences over how matters were to go for the two asramas. Prabhupada said, "All glories to the brahmacaris!" as he passed me, thus simultaneously reciprocating my salute, and also humbling the two asramas who had been fighting, by acknowledging the essential contributions of the brahmacaris to his movement. I was ecstatic, trembling inside. My Godbrothers were mercifully and lovingly smiling to see the young brahmacari offering his respects to our Prabhupada with such emotion. Shortly after, I left.
During his stay, many of us had the opportunity to do small services for our spiritual master directly, such as fanning him on the vyasasana with the camara. I wish to acknowledge the leaders at that time, who went out of their way to give us chances to do these services. During one such fanning service, as reported by Gaura Prabhu, Srila Prabhupada stopped in the middle of his lecture and entered some trance state, such that we onlookers were unsure what to do. We were all such new boys compared to the ancient traditions. The lectures were inspiring, and the initiations and installations went very nicely. So many new devotees! We all cried out "Haribol!", as the new devotional names were spoken. Srila Prabhupada, our father and great war-general, seemed to enjoy this name giving very much, and we felt like we were part of his crew, his intimate associates, Prabhupada's men.
This story has a second segment. It was about two years later, in Bombay, just before the Maha-kumbha-mela. As I had just arrived from Montreal, Gopala Krsna Prabhu instructed me to go to Delhi to help with the puja for Radha-Krsna, but I ignored this instruction in order to go to Prayaga for the mela, to see Prabhupada. It is curious how, in my case, by ignoring the authorities, I gained the most valuable and nectarean association and direct service, which has nourished and sustained my devotional life. This is not usually the recommended procedure!
Srila Prabhupada arrived at the crowded mela in his maroon limousine with chrome tilak marks on the hood, accompanied by enthusiastic kirtanas. He gradually made his way to the rough straw-thatched hut built on the sands of the Yamuna at the site of the ISKCON mela, followed by hundreds of devotees and curious onlookers. This time, I had remembered the incident in Chicago of the missing sandals, and so when he put his shoes off to enter his hutment, I made sure I knew which were his! He sat within the hut. I stood just nearby and in front of him. His eyes were so clear, like pools of dark water, as he sat back surrounded by the crush of persons seeking his blessings. He looked pure as a little child to me, humble despite the many admirers. He maintained a steady liquid calm, his eyes tearing, though, as he glanced mercifully at the many fallen conditioned souls surrounding him. The tent eventually cleared, and most left the area. I stayed just outside chanting japa, thinking that I might have a chance at service or something. After a while, his servant came out, and looked around dazedly at the pile of shoes. "Prabhu, are you looking for Prabhupada's shoes?", I asked. "Why, yes.", he replied. Then, "How do you know which shoes are Prabhupada's? " "I know because I made sure that I did", I responded, at which he took the shoes, and apparently it was correct. I might add that I took the dust of those shoes on my head, and also ate a little. It was great!
The mela was cold, being in January, and even a little ice covered any sitting water in the mornings. Among all the devotees freezing in their tents, few made it up for mangala arotik, except for the Canadian devotees, and Lokanatha Swami, and one or two other sannyasis. We Canadian-body devotees were recognized for this adherence to the program despite the cold, here and in our native land. Padmapani was asked to fetch a silver bucket of water for Prabhupada, from the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati rivers, on the auspicious day, just after mangala arotika, and as his faithful friend, I accompanied him. This story is revealed in greater detail in Satswarupa Goswami's memoirs. The waters were like ecstatic electricity! So purifying, so clean and pure. We felt as if we were awakening from some long sleep, like chanting so many rounds, more alive and real than real! All glories to Ganga-mata! Glories to the triveni at Prayaga!
Later, looking for some service, any service, I came across Prabhupada's servants about to clean his plate, and I begged for that service, and so was allowed. I quickly scooped up a little maha-prasad, apparently leftovers of Srila Prabhupada's ayurvedic medicine. I heard one of the devotees say, "Just see! They love Prabhupada so much, that they will even take his leftover medicine!".
So, by dint of enthusiasm to serve, as in the case of the luggage, on account of some small faith, and again on account of using my little brain in Prabhupada's service to remember his practical instructions, I was able to do a small service for Srila Prabhupada. I consider this position as insignificant servant my perfection of many many lifetimes.
That evening, in a rare moment, Srila Prabhupada sat alone on the stage erected for the mela on the ISKCON property, not six feet away. He chanted softly, and I sat nearby on the sand, amazed that here I was alone with my Gurudeva. I had the opportunity to look briefly deep into his eyes, where I found peace. He accepted my quiet wordless obeisances the same as he might have accepted the outpouring of the crowds; with calm softness, humbleness and sweetness of personality, and also detached masterly transcendence.
Even if nothing else auspicious happens to me again in this life, I consider it my perfection to have served, even in such a small way, Krsna’s dearmost servant.
All Glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Tamohara dasa vanaprastha (ACBSP)