November 14, 1977. The day our world stopped.
At the time I had collected almost enough money to go to India. Srila Prabhupada's health had been deteriorating and I was anxious to get to Vrindavan as soon as possible. Another week and I'd be ready to go. But then the phone call came. Prabhupada had left his body.
Words can't describe the devastation that we all felt. Hearts broke and tears flowed everywhere. The universe was in sorrow. The pure devotee of Lord Krishna had left the planet. We had lost our master, our protector and our ever well-wisher. Suddenly the universe became cold and dark, and all hope instantly fled from our lives. How could we go on without Prabhupada? It was inconceivable.
I could barely speak a word for the next three days. It was the same for most of us there in the temple. We never imagined that such a time would come. Prabhupada was everything to us and we thought that he would always be here. Of course the spiritual master is present wherever his instructions are followed, but most of us had not anticipated the day when Prabhupada's personal presence would no longer be available.
Years earlier—and only a couple of days after I had joined the temple—I found myself crammed in a van full of excited devotees headed for Los Angeles to see Srila Prabhupada. Living on the West coast meant that we could eagerly drive to California whenever Prabhupada was visiting there. The San Francisco Rathayatra in particular was an annual favorite. Then there was the yearly pilgrimage to India to associate with Srila Prabhupada for an entire month at the Mayapur/Vrindavan festival. Everyone got to attend Prabhupada's classes and offer him flowers at guru-puja each morning. Even when we had to return to our respective temples in different parts of the world, we received the latest news and tapes of Srila Prabhupada's lectures and conversations through the mail. Back to Godhead magazine arrived in large shipments from L.A. every month. Devotees eagerly grabbed a copy and disappeared for hours to savor the nectar. New editions of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta would appear miraculously on a regular basis. And who could forget the much anticipated BBT newsletters describing the latest number of Prabhupada's books distributed around the world? Day after day we felt blissfully saturated with Prabhupada's divine mercy and love.
Everything changed at 7:20 p.m. on November 14, 1977. No longer could we jump in a van or board an airplane to go see His Divine Grace in person. No longer came the reports of Prabhupada's latest preaching success or his most recent instructions to the devotees. No longer did the anticipation of greeting Prabhupada at the airport or watching him bow down before the Deities shiver in our hearts. No longer did we have the same youthful confidence that our movement could save the world.
Over the years we have tried to come to terms with our collective loss. In addition, we have each struggled to grasp the enormity and significance of Srila Prabhupada's appearance in our own lives. In the process we have had to grow and expand our vision of the spiritual master and his causeless mercy. While he was physically present, Srila Prabhupada repeatedly warned us that he might leave at a moment's notice, but he also assured us that we need not worry as long as we remain sincere and true to him.
"If you think of me and work for me, then I am in your heart. If you love somebody he is in your heart. It is common thing, everyone understands it."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, September 4, 1972)
In this short paragraph we find the answer to our great dilemma. Where is Srila Prabhupada now? He is in our hearts if we invite him there. As we each move closer towards all-devouring death, we're assured that Prabhupada has never left us at all.
"In the spiritual world, separation is more relishable than meeting. In other words, in spiritual life, there is no separation. Separation is eternal, and meeting is also eternal. The separation is simply another feature of meeting."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, April 3, 1969)
Srila Prabhupada has touched and changed the lives of so many of us. How he could do so in such a brief span of time is nothing short of mind-boggling. Even 40 years after his departure, Srila Prabhupada is still preaching and making new devotees everywhere. His mercy continues to expand without limit. He is still here. Therefore who can fathom the depth of his compassion and kindness? We have all been so fortunate to have found the most perfect master and teacher, so now there is nothing left to do but simply try our best to broadcast his glories everywhere.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.