Sri Paratrikananda Dasa's encounters and fond memories of Srila Prabhupada
By Sri Paratrikananda Dasa (Los Angeles, California)
Original source of this article: http://krishna.org/prabhupadas-coming/
Although I joined the Krsna consciousness movement many years ago, I can’t honestly say I’ve been a devotee a long time. Over the years I’ve drifted away from devotional practices I once followed. Many of us have drifted away to some degree, and it’s a great tragedy. However, if we help each other remember our spiritual master and the wonderful times we had serving him, I’m confident we can turn things around. “Prabhupada’s Coming” was written to reflect my impressions of the time His Divine Grace was physically with us. Truth be told, we had our share of problems and personality clashes, but somehow we managed because of our mutual love for Srila Prabhupada. It’s this mutual love for him that moves me to reflect on those times with the deepest admiration and affection for all the devotees who were there, who shared the experience and who accepted me as a brother.
The high regard with which I write of my God brothers and sisters of that era is not to imply that devotees of my generation were in some way better than those of subsequent generations—many devotees from newer generations are equally dedicated and hard working and their devotion to Prabhupada is inspirational—rather, I simply beg to share some of my memories. Hopefully they will help stimulate your love and appreciation for Srila Prabhupada, his family and the missionary spirit embraced during a happier time.
I began writing, “Prabhupada’s Coming,” in 1987. It started as a poem, but after writing a few verses I realized that newer devotees may not relate to all the references, so I decided to tell some of the back-story. Over the years the back-story grew larger as I compiled more details and anecdotes to help set the scene.
Setting the Scene
In May of 1970, Srila Prabhupada sent the following message to his temple presidents:
Please accept my blessings. I hope everything is going on well in your center.
As each and every ISKCON Center is my life and soul for preaching this movement, I hope you are doing your best to conduct the regular routine duties of the Temple–chanting regularly the beads, observing the restrictive regulations, taking Sankirtana Party to the streets, and selling our magazines and books…
The men that received this letter were each responsible for one of twenty-six temples. It had taken the first four years of Srila Prabhupada’s International Society for Krishna Consciousness to establish these centers.
In June of 1971, during the Rathayatra Festival in San Francisco, Prabhupada asked Karandhara, “We have got fifty centers…, how many centers now?” Karandhara replied, “Almost sixty, fifty-eight.” In slightly over a year, thirty-two new centers (almost three a month) had been opened and the number of temples had more than doubled!
That was my first Rathayatra and I remember standing in the hall at 4 A.M. with scores of other men waiting to use the only bathroom available. Karandhara prabhu was planted next to the sole bathtub with his stone cold mug fixed on his watch, counting down the time to make sure no one took more than their allotted thirty seconds to shower. Some devotees had risen earlier and some were still doing service from the previous night but there certainly were well over a hundred men who used the single bathroom that morning and everyone made mangala-aratik on time. Karandhara and Kesava talked about how Prabhupada would be pleased because there were so many new devotees this year.
During the festival I overheard one devotee, who apparently was overlooked for initiation, tell his friend with all sincerity, “It doesn’t matter. I can serve Prabhupada whether I’m initiated or not.” This struck me and made me a bit ashamed because I had received initiation a couple months earlier but my motive was to insure my own liberation. This prabhu only wanted to serve Prabhupada. Here was a real disciple and a vivid example of the selfless attitude that enabled the movement to grow at such an astonishing rate in the seventies.
My journeys on traveling sankirtan in addition to my own wanderlust during this time allowed me to observe the differences and similarities among Krsna temples from coast to coast in North America. There were many more similarities than differences. For example, a devotee visiting any temple was immediately greeted with obeisances (the kind where you actually get down on the floor) followed by a hug, a flower garland and a big plate of maha prasadam. There was a palpable comaraderie and unity of spirit among devotees during this period and the service rendered by my God brothers and God sisters was accented by dedication, simplicity and unwavering attachment to Srila Prabhupada.
In those days we had no furniture, and everyone slept on the floor. Offensive language was never spoken. and seeing a movie or watching TV was unthinkable. All Laksmi was turned over to the temple treasurer and all personal possessions easily fit in a BTG box. These usually consisted of a Bhagavad-gita, japa beads, a toothbrush, and perhaps a couple articles of clothing. No one ever took a day off or went on vacation. From the moment of waking ‘til the time of rest, devotees would be busy serving Krsna. In fact, it was a general practice that if someone finished their assigned duties they would report to the temple commander with folded hands and request more service.
Most of the buildings that served as temples were rented houses. It wasn’t hard to find the Sri Sri Radha Krsna Temple. You knew you had the right place if you came across a house painted with a somewhat psychedelic combination of pastel yellow, orange, peach or blue and saw long, narrow strips of saffron cloth hanging out the windows (curiously, one might also see similar strips of cloth hanging out the backside of the men’s dhotis). To help support the temple, devotees spent time each week stuffing incense sticks into Spiritual Sky Incense packages and these were wholesaled to local head shops and retail stores. A fair amount of the flowers used to decorate the altar were appropriated from neighboring homes, much to the aggravation of the homeowners. This, and hounding people for donations on sankirtan, were our most notorious indiscretions of the time. With the exception of a few large centers, most temples had an average of ten to twenty members, some with as few as two or three. But these small groups of devotees would regularly perform sankirtan at every major venue in a metropolitan area. Although the entire body of devotees numbered only in the hundreds, people would often remark that they saw us everywhere and therefore believed we had many thousands of followers. They didn’t realize they were seeing the same devotees over and over again.
At that time very few devotees had gone to India and almost all our devotional articles were makeshift western facsimiles. One temple I stayed in had no mrdanga so during kirtan a devotee would play the drum beats on a plastic one gallon jar. We strung our own japa mala from colored beads—red, yellow, green or blue—purchased from local bead shops. Our tilak was made from Fuller’s Earth which turned white when it dried on the body. Our dhotis and saris were cut from bolts of polyester cloth. Householders wore yellow then, and the single men and women both wore saffron. We usually wore t-shirts or button- down shirts, and at one point the turtleneck became a fashion trend. At times, even Srila Prabhupada wore such shirts. A standard element of the Krsna uniform, for both men and women, was the cape—a rectangular piece of cloth tied at two corners, draped over one shoulder and across the chest (now worn exclusively by sannyasis). Genuine Indian kurtas and saris were rare commodities and if anyone happened to acquire one they became the envy of the temple. For the most part, clothing was communal property and you took what you could get. Dirty clothing was thrown in a barrel, washed and returned in the same barrel. To find a matching pair of socks was like discovering gold. To find matching socks without holes was as rare as pure devotional service. During winter months devotees wore hooded sweatshirts. In colder parts of the country they’d wear a hooded sweatshirt, thermal underwear and an extra pair of socks, which made it really hard to keep flip-flops on when trudging through snow.
Before coming to Krsna Consciousness, most of us had been hippies and had led lives devoid of any regulation. We were used to going to bed at sunrise and sleeping ten or more hours a day. But as devotees we rose before the sun after five or six hours sleep and often less. The transition was painfully difficult. It took me four years before I was able to stay awake during mangala-aratik. One friend told me he’d been jumping up and down during kirtan and had fallen asleep in mid air.
Nevertheless, in the morning everyone would rise by 3:30 or 4:00, including those who’d been up most of the night doing service or finishing rounds. We’d brush our teeth with a toothpaste made from baking soda, salt and mustard oil—a formula given by Srila Prabhupada. In the dead of winter we dutifully took bone chilling, cold showers. Kirk’s was the official soap of the devotees. To save money, bath towels were cut into two or three pieces, so after showering we’d dry off with a terry cloth rag about the size of a hand towel. Fresh razor blades were uncommon and when it came time to shave up, heads were scalped and sikhas hewn with ancient, jagged blades, by God brothers anxious to get to aratik on time. Bloodshed was profuse and occasionally a careless stroke of the razor would transform someone into a Mayavadi.
As Prabhupada said, our recreation was chanting & dancing. This was the grandfather of all aerobics and we really got a workout, often jumping up and down or back and forth non-stop through the entire aratik. This also helped us stay awake because, more often than not, if someone sat down during the morning program it meant they were going to sleep. Even the person giving class would sometimes nod off in the middle of a sentence. But snoozers didn’t dally long with maya because there was always one irritating devotee who would place his mouth about three inches from his sleeping victim’s eardrum and shout, “Hare Krsna!” The typical response was to indignantly insist, “I’m just resting my eyes!” But no one could stay awake long while sitting down. The only exception to this axiom was when devotees took prasadam. Then the principle reversed—during prasadam, no one could fall asleep even while sitting down. But if you sat down any time other than prasadam, it was just as good as waving the white flag to maya.
The alternative was to stand but then you ran the risk of dozing off and falling over, which is exactly what happened to my God brother, Pratyaya prabhu. Pratyaya had been working non-stop to prepare for Prabhupada’s first visit to San Diego in 1972. In addition to neglecting sleep he told me he had also been neglecting his rounds, believing his service was more important. One morning while he stood listening to Prabhupada’s Bhagavatam class, he nodded out and tumbled over like a bag of rice. Despite Pratyaya’s sacrifices, Prabhupada made it decidedly clear later in his lecture that nothing is more important than finishing your rounds.
Prabhupada: So similarly, how to see God. You will see God with these eyes when it is clarified. Premanjana-cchurita, by the ointment of love of Godhead. So these are the function, how to love. One has to rise early in the morning. He doesn’t like, but, "No. I will have to satisfy Krsna." This is the beginning.
Then Prabhupada panned the room and when he came to Pratyaya he stopped and looked him dead in the eye.
Prabhupada: "Oh, I have to chant sixteen rounds." He is lazy. He doesn’t want to do it. But if he loves Krsna, he must do it. He must do it.
Pratyaya was stunned by Prabhupada’s perceptivity, but also elated to be personally disciplined by his spiritual master in regard to chanting japa.
The holy name was the linchpin in our relationship with Krsna and devotees went to extreme lengths to stay alert while chanting rounds in the morning. One God brother, in order to hear his rounds clearly and avoid distractions, would chant japa with a 5 gallon plastic bucket over his head. I also heard of one small-framed devotee who chanted his rounds in the utility room while curled up inside the clothes dryer. Pinching, straining, stretching, slapping yourself in the face, running around the block, chanting japa loudly while leaping up and down, plundering the maha sweets, standing in a bucket of cold water, taping eyelids to the forehead, lightly banging one’s head against the wall and shooting each other in the face with squirt guns; these were some of the zany devices devotees employed to stay awake during the brahma-muhurta—the most sacred period of the day. For visitors, it probably looked like an episode of The Three Stooges.
But devotional service was a declaration of war on the external energy and at times one would lose the battle. This could be something as innocent as getting discouraged on sankirtan, or it could fall under the heading of a bloop. There were three types of bloops. The least serious bloop was when a cook ruined a preparation by burning it, adding too much salt or some other carelessness. The most serious bloop, of course, was when someone left the movement. And the marginal bloop was when someone moved to another temple without authorization from his temple president. Ironically, in this case the other temple would usually see it as Krsna’s arrangement rather than blooping because more often than not, someone had just blooped from their temple and they needed a replacement.
Despite all the wacky behavior there was something very noble about the assembly of devotees. They were sincere and they were trying their very best to please Srila Prabhupada. In addition to following the regulative principles and chanting sixteen rounds, which was inconceivable to the overwhelming majority of the population, devotees had taken upon themselves the enormous task of helping Prabhupada bring Krsna consciousness to millions of forgetful souls.
After the morning program everyone would help clean the temple and then we’d all go on sankirtan. We’d cram into one vehicle and drive to a business district or college campus, chanting rounds along the way and trying valiantly to stay awake. Within ten minutes we’d be out cold, but Krsna usually made sure there was at least one conscious person in the vehicle who could wake up the driver.
When we reached our sankirtan spot, we’d scramble out of the van and form a line facing our audience. The men would be stationed at either end of the line with the women in the middle, to insure their safety. A brief pep rally prefaced the chanting as the sankirtan leader called out, “Back to home!” with devotees responding, “Back to Godhead!” We really felt we were going home, and this call and response was repeated three times with escalating enthusiasm. Then the mrdanga came in with a couple bars of pounding rhythm, followed by the sizzle of kartals and prayers to our spiritual master. While chanting, we’d dance in time to the music and in step with one another. Every ten minutes one devotee would address the onlookers with a brief explanation of Krsna consciousness. We’d also chant and dance in procession, moving single file or double file up and down the street while remaining in step with each other. After thirty minutes we’d break into two groups. Half the devotees would continue chanting and the other half would distribute BTGs, trying to get a quarter for each magazine. Every half hour the chanters and distributors would trade places. At that time it was considered a good day for a small temple if the entire sankirtan party distributed two or three dozen BTGs and collected fifteen to twenty dollars. To sell even one hardback book was nothing short of a certified miracle. But later, when we realized Prabhupada’s precedent desire was to distribute his books, we made that our priority and amazing things happened.
In 1971, as book distribution was getting off the ground, an average distributor could easily sell four, five, even six big books a day! And we’d always stuff about twice as many books as we could sell into our canvas book bags, just in case we got lucky. Before the discovery of airports and wigs we’d spend the entire day running door to door in devotional clothing with thirty pounds of Krsna books bouncing off our hips. If we went to the store, ran errands or went out to chant japa, we brought our book bag along and made sure everyone that crossed our path had a chance to know about Krsna. And though sankirtan often meant being ridiculed by the public or harassed by the police, we were determined to please our spiritual master by this service and convinced that Krsna consciousness would take over the world within twenty years. It was exciting and blissful being in the vanguard of Prabhupada’s mission.
While preaching, one of the most frequently heard comments was, “You guys have an answer for everything.” And we did, because we had unshakable faith in Srila Prabhupada. Even if we didn’t know the answer to a challenging question, if we were preaching intrepidly and depending on Krsna, He would provide the answer on the spot. It would come to you like a lightning bolt and you could just stand back and watch in amazement as Krsna used your tongue and your mouth to silence the opposition by revealing something even you weren’t aware of.
We were a handful of youngsters. We had almost no resources. We had almost no experience in spiritual life or in the ways of the world. But we did have Prabhupada as our spiritual master. And this singular asset gave us unabashed confidence to face any adversary—students, professors, scholars, scientists, politicians, atheists, impersonalists or yogis—it didn’t matter. Srila Prabhupada made a similar declaration during his morning walk at Cheviot Hills in 1973:
Just like we dare to face any chemist, any scientist, any philosopher. Why? On the strength of Krsna, we believe that "There is Krsna. When I shall talk with him, Krsna will give me intelligence." This is the basics. Otherwise, from qualification, standard, they are very much qualified. We are common laymen before them. But how do we challenge them? Because we know. Just like a small child He can challenge a very big man because he knows, "My father is there." He is catching the hand of the father, and he’s sure that "Nobody can do anything to me."
In the evening we’d head back to the temple for prasadam, aratik, and Bhagavad-gita class. And before taking rest we drank hot banana milk and read from Krsna book. We read from each of Srila Prabhupada’s books every day, 6 classes in all—Bhagavatam, Nectar of Devotion, TLC, Sri Isopanisad, Bhagavad-gita and Krsna book. Reading Prabhupada’s books was paramount ecstasy. He was our absolute authority and practically everything that came out of a devotee’s mouth was prefaced with: “Srila Prabhupada said…”. Everything fell into one of two categories—bona fide and bogus. All that came from Prabhupada was bona fide and anything else was simply bogus.
During the week, prasadam was served on sheets of wax paper to save money. We ate with our fingers and refrained from conversation while honoring Krsna’s mercy. The lunch staples were rice, capatis and spicy hot dahl. Dahl chaunces were so devastating that when the chaunce pan was flung into a boiling pot of dahl, flames would shoot up, blowing the lid off the pot and filling the kitchen with a dark, pungent cloud that sent everyone scrambling out the door, coughing and wheezing.
When Sunday came around most, if not all, the devotees would stay back to clean and decorate the temple or help prepare the Sunday Love Feast. The kitchen was considered an extension of the deity room and the jurisdiction of Sri Radha. Some devotees would offer obeisances before beginning kitchen service. Karmi clothing and prajalpa were strictly forbidden and only initiated Brahmins could work with the fire. And the word was, Krsna would not accept an offering unless the kitchen was spotless. Pots, utensils and tables were rinsed immediately before use, even if they’d been cleaned minutes prior. We even kept Krsna’s pots shiny on the outside and often spent an hour or more scouring the carbon and rust off the underside of a wok. Preparations were made with utmost care, while struggling to refrain from savoring the aroma of the un-offered food. The entire process was a meditation on pleasing Krsna. Many of these standards were described in a letter Srila Prabhupada wrote to Aniruddha in 1968:
Kitchen should be considered as good as the Lord’s room, and nobody should wear shoes in the kitchen, smelling and tasting of foods being prepared for the Lord should never be done, talking within the kitchen should be only what is necessary for preparing the prasadam, or about the Lord…
Daily prasadam was irresistible but Sunday feast prasadam was simply beyond mortal conception—sweet rice flavored with camphor, butter oozing from the halava, puris puffed like balloons, gulabs exploding in your mouth, saffron rice with fried curd balls, samosas the size of your fist, exotic lassis, fresh milk burfi, crispy golden pakoras, subjis and chutneys so hot your forehead would sweat, and everything floating in puddles of ghee. We always took to our full satisfaction, and then some! After the Sunday lecture we’d have two or three massive plates of prasadam while preaching to guests. When the guests went home we’d finish whatever was left on their plates. When that was gone we’d wipe out whatever was left in the serving containers and pots. And when the prasadam supply was finally exhausted we’d have a kirtan. We knew prasadam was spiritual because it was physically impossible to consume as much as we did. During my first year of devotional service I heard repeatedly, “Prabhupada said new devotees should take so much prasadam that they waddle like a duck.” This was one instruction I took to heart. But later on, when I tried to become more serious about Krsna consciousness, I came to dread Sundays, knowing I wouldn’t be able to control myself during the feast. I felt like a werewolf on a full moon night and once I actually asked Bhakta das, my temple president, to lock me in the office so my senses wouldn’t get the best of me. But he didn’t take me seriously and I remained a servant of my tongue for a long time. Controlling the senses was difficult but at least prasadam was non-different from Krsna. He appeared in this form to help us become attached to Him. In becoming addicted to prasadam we became addicted to Krsna.
Chanting, dancing, feasting and philosophy. This was Lord Caitanya’s movement—Prabhupada’s gift to the world. And although Krsna Consciousness was sometimes a struggle, it was always wonderful. Perhaps the most wonderful part was how much Prabhupada cared about us despite our deficiencies. We were all lost souls who had given up on God, turned our backs on religion, and rejected the moral standards of our parents. Some of us were drug addicts, some of us were suicidal, and some of us were just crazy. Some of us were even civilized and educated, but none of us had a clue. It was not until we met Srila Prabhupada that we understood the purpose of life. He brought us hope and gave thousands of young hearts a reason to live.
In Prabhupada we realized a gentle father, a trusted friend, an exalted teacher. He guided us beyond the insanity of materialism and offered us the precious gift of devotion to Krsna. In return we were fiercely loyal. At a time when it was fashionable to sport hair below the shoulder, we shaved our heads clean to please him. When sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll were a way of life, we gave them up because he asked us to. When love and peace were bywords, he taught us to stand and fight for Krsna. When others were preparing for their future, we gave the best years of our lives to him. And although he always directed our love toward Krsna, that made us love him even more. Whenever he would visit our temple and we had a chance to see him, it made all our sacrifices worthwhile. The week prior to his arrival would always turn into a ‘round the clock marathon—remodeling, painting, cleaning, sewing, decorating, cooking and publicizing the arrival of, “His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Spiritual Master of the Universe”. The non-devotees had their “Miss Universe” and “Mr. Universe” contests but with Prabhupada there was no contest. He was the undisputed jagad-guru, Spiritual Master of the Universe, and we were proud to announce his arrival that way, no matter how strange or pretentious it sounded to outsiders.
For most of us, physical association with Srila Prabhupada was during guru-puja or Bhagavatam class, and occasionally we’d get a chance to offer some personal service. We were happy to be menial servants of such a great personality, though most of the time our service was in separation. That did not imply, however, that we weren’t greedy for Prabhupada’s physical association. No one could deny there was something magical about being in his presence.
When Prabhupada came to California in the summer of 1972, he spent much of his time in Los Angeles, but he also visited smaller temples in the area to enliven his disciples. I was on a traveling sankirtan party at that time and somehow our itinerary just happened to coincide exactly with Srila Prabhupada’s (hmmm…must’ve been Krsna’s arrangement). Every time Prabhupada landed at an airport or arrived at a temple on his ‘72 west coast tour, we were there to greet him. In Los Angeles, ours were faces in the crowd but with consecutive appearances in a string of smaller temples, those same faces stuck out like sore thumbs. But we had no shame—we’d do anything to see him. From Southern California to the Pacific Northwest, we were Prabhupada’s unofficial west coast welcoming committee. And Prabhupada didn’t seem to mind. Perhaps because all along the way we were distributing his books—we didn’t decrease our service.
For Prabhupada’s visit to Portland, the devotees had made accommodations for him in a fancy hotel suite, as the tiny temple facilities were crowded and inadequate. But Prabhupada wanted to be with the devotees and elected to stay at the temple. As no arrangement had been made for him there, he patiently waited for us to prepare a little space. With expeditious devotion, I helped scrub and clean the small room and adjacent bathroom that would serve as His Divine Grace’s quarters during his visit. Prabhupada’s humility and love for us made a deep impression on me.
While Srila Prabhupada was in Los Angeles, I was fortunate to be there also. In the morning he’d go for a japa walk then return to greet the deities and give class. The devotee that first saw Prabhupada’s car in the distance would enthusiastically cry out, “Prabhupada’s coming!,” and the message would quickly echo throughout the temple. This was our curtain call and upon hearing it we’d rush around making final arrangements for the reception of His Divine Grace and the greeting of the Lord. Someone would start a kirtan and we’d form two lines facing each other in front of the temple. When Prabhupada arrived he’d walk between us carrying a basket of flowers. He’d stop in front of each devotee, accept a flower from them, reach into his basket and offer a flower in return (to the best of my knowledge this pastime was unique to Los Angeles). Then he’d proceed to the temple room for darsana.
When greeting the deities, Prabhupada would always offer full dandavats at each altar. As he sat on his vyasasana we’d sing the Guruvastakam prayers and offer flower petals at his feet (the offering of aratik paraphernalia had not yet been introduced). Afterwards he’d lead us in an electrifying version of, “Jaya Radha Madhava” and deliver a brilliant lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam.
And then the grand finale: Kirtan began slow and purposeful like a locomotive leaving the station. Gradually picking up speed, the momentum soared until the energy of hundreds crystallized into a single mass. We were Prabhupada’s army and no force on earth could stop us. The power of serving him was almost more than we could wield. Our enthusiasm could not be contained, and it exploded like a volcano. Chanting and dancing in rampant ecstasy, we affirmed our allegiance and gratitude to our eternal spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Inevitably Srila Prabhupada went on to visit other centers in other parts of the world. But even when Prabhupada wasn’t physically present, the devotees in some centers would still relay the “Prabhupada’s coming” mantra throughout the temple when it was time to greet the deities. This was our way of remembering him and making the pain of separation a bit more tolerable.
Although many years have passed, we can still foster this mood today. We can still serve Srila Prabhupada as if his arrival was just around the corner. We can meditate on him traveling and preaching throughout the world or the universe and hope that someday he’ll visit us again. And if we believe and act as if Prabhupada’s coming, he will come. For the only thing that truly separates us from him is our own consciousness.
We stand waiting for you in front of the temple—
a field of orange and yellow
With flowers in our hands, we hope to win your smile
We live to serve you
No kurtas or khadi or gopi-candana
These are unknown to us
Just western shirts and polyester saffron,
Fuller’s Earth and off-beat kirtan
Crazy-quilt teenage sadhus
You’ve made us devotees
Vaisnavas in tennis shoes
with socks that never match
A most unusual batch of souls
waiting just to see you amidst a surge of, “Hari bols”,
as someone shouts, “He’s coming! Prabhupada’s coming!”
Hearts and drums beat frantically
As your car draws near we realize our great fortune
You are Krsna’s pure devotee…but so much more
No one else could have done what you did
You came into our world of darkness
when the others would not venture West
It was you who saved us…No one else
You’ve become our teacher, father and friend
—our spiritual master
However many lifetimes it’s taken,
somehow we’ve won the privilege of serving you
We’ve dedicated our lives to the sankirtan movement
and your books have been distributed in quantities no one could’ve imagined
This is what pleases you most
Now our efforts are being rewarded in the best way
We want only to be with you
As your car door opens you step out and look our way
Appearance thin and small but you stand out like a giant,
towering over all your young disciples
We love to see you
Faces beaming, touch the sidewalk
Obeisances are heartfelt but quickly offered
We don’t want to lose sight of you for a moment
You exchange flowers and smiles with us
Your glance maintains us and allows us to embrace impossible austerity
As you walk toward the temple
we scurry after you like anxious ducklings,
barely able to keep your pace
“govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami…”
You approach the altar and pledge your life to Lord Caitanya,
lying flat before the Supreme Personality of Godhead
We drop to the floor following your example
but we pledge our lives to you…
“venum kvanantam aravinda-dalayataksam
Radha and Krsna greet their beloved servant…
“angani yasya sakalendriya-vrittimanti
pasyanti panti kalayanti ciram jaganti…”
The Lord of the universe accepts a third wave of surrender…
“govindam adi purusam tam aham bhaja mi
govindam adi purusam tam aham bhaja mi
govindam adi purusam tam aham bhaja mi…”
Seated in red and golden splendor,
adorned with flowers and pure devotion,
the emissary of God appears before us
Crystal water cascades from a silver chalice held high above your open mouth and your
lotus feet are visible to those fortunate to be near the vyasasana
“Jaya Radha Madhava Kunjabi Hari,
Gopijana Valabha Girivaridhari…”
Your deep voice resonates
—not from this world but from Goloka
The temple is saturated with happiness
—an ocean of smiling faces
Your kartals ring sweetly, one cast decisively upon the other
as your fingers fan open and close like the tail feathers of a peacock
“Om namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya…”
The compassion of Krsna descends in your chanting
Our ears drink the pure sound of your voice
Surrendered devotees, only five or six hours of sleep
…there’s so much to be done
“Krishna, please let me stay awake”
…heads bob up and down
Your glasses sit low on your nose
and sometimes you peer over the rim at us when emphasizing a point
You urge us to be serious
—Don’t run the risk of taking birth again
And once more you comfort us with your promise:
“Chant sixteen rounds and follow the four regulative principles
…at the end of this lifetime go back to home back to Godhead.
Thank you very much.”
“Jai! All glories to Srila Prabhupada!”
“Nama om Vishnu padaya, Krsna prestaya bhutale,
Srimate Bhaktivedanta Swamin iti namine…”
We sway to the sound of the music
“Namaste Sarasvati Devam, Gouravani pracarine,
Nirvisesa sunyavadi pascatya desi tarine”
All eyes are fixed on you
“Bhaja Sri Krsna Caitanya, Prabhu Nityananda,
Sri Advaita, Gadadhar, Srivas adi Goura Bhakta Vrnda”
Your gong propels the kirtan
and your head bounces slightly to the rhythm
“Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”
Drums pound and kartals resound,
battering temple walls
“Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare…”
The untamed kirtan swells,
decimating our attachment to illusion
“…Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”
Defying gravity, we leap to the sky, competing for your glance
Wild and wonderful, transcendental, jumping madmen
“Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare,
Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”
Nothing can stop us
You are the life and soul of the devotees!