November 1965: NEW YORK STATE – Dr. Misra’s Ananda Ashram
Joan Suval: The ashram was open only on the weekends. So we would come out Friday night, driving Swamiji and Guruji and our son, and then on Sunday night come back. Early on, I was given the name of “mother of the ashram.” So if I were mother of the ashram and I was only in my 30’s, then he had to be the grandfather of the ashram. My memories of him were mostly of him smiling and laughing because when he was with Sri Brahmananda, then Dr. Misra, they carried on in Hindi, and they usually ended up in total laughter. After the program of Vedantic readings and chanting, Guruji would turn over the latter part of the evening to Swamiji. He would try to caution him and he’d say, “Swamiji, only 15 minutes remaining. At most 20 minutes, Swamiji.” And Swamiji would look at him very sincerely and say, “I know, I know, people need rest, it is late. I will do little bit chanting.” But it was to no avail because once Swamiji went into that divine chanting, the bhakti chanting, he lost all sense of time and space every time he chanted, and it was seldom that it was less than an hour. And Guruji knew it. It was his joke with Swami Bhaktivedanta. He was serious only when he was chanting or talking about Krishna consciousness. But when he was relating to people, and certainly relating to Guruji, his face would light up. He had a radiance, because he was happy. When Swamiji was happy, it showed. He, I guess because he did a lot of traveling on his own, had become self-sufficient in the kitchen. And he also loved, absolutely loved to make meals for Guruji, and he would make a lot of food. So we knew when Swamiji was cooking that he could serve about 20 people, although he was cooking mainly for Guruji. We would gather around as he was cooking, we wanted to learn from him what he was doing. So we would ask him questions, and he wouldn’t answer because he’d be totally absorbed in his moment-to-moment activity. Although we were in a happy mood because we were anticipating a lovely meal and being with the two of them, he just remained serious until the last morsel was being finished. He was just one-pointed in everything he did. I always felt about him that he was a deeply serious man, serious about life. He never talked about his past, his personal life. I did ask him once or twice a question here and there, and he waved it away. He said, “Not important, that’s not important,” and then I began to feel it wasn’t important. What was important was what he was doing now. It was only once, when he touched me so much, I asked if I could hug him. He said something like, “Why not?” Nobody touched him usually. Guruji did, he would put his arm around him, but this was after I knew him for a while. But it was the Indian way of hugging. Somehow they manage to hug you and be miles apart in the hug; but at the same time, although the bodies were kept apart, it’s only really the shoulders that come together. It’s Indian style. But I felt Swamiji’s love. He was a tender man, he was a caring man, and an innocent man. And in the company of innocency you relax completely, and so I was always relaxed with Swami Bhaktivedanta.
October – November 1966: NEW YORK CITY – “Matchless Gifts”; “Happiness on 2nd Ave.”; First ISKCON temple at 26 2nd Avenue, Tompkins Square Park
Richard Witty: That’s when I decided I wanted to get into film, and when I came back to America I took two courses at Columbia. Then I was lucky enough to get a job with Leacock-Pennebaker, who were the preeminent cinema verite documentarians; and there I learned to edit, to take sound, and this film that we’re talking about was my first venture as a cameraman. This was entirely on our own, and we selected this because this was a movement that was different. I also was touched by, in a sense, their naïveté. One of the people, I remember asking him how he felt. He said, “Oh, this is the most wonderful thing. I am so moved, I want to devote my entire life to this.” I said, “How long have you been involved?” He said, “Since yesterday.”
Susan Witty: We went to the storefront, Matchless Gifts, and I’ve always been so taken with that sign. I can still remember it. It was beautifully done, so artistic, saying “Matchless Gifts”—wonderful colors and swirls and everything. So we entered. It was quite a simple room and they were eating on the floor, and I don’t remember any women being among that first group. My feeling about the Swami is that I think he was in some kind of a state, and I think that perhaps he passed something to us in that interview. But at the same time, I was having a very good time. I actually thought we were onto something big. I have a journalist’s instinct, but I also have—it sounds terrible—a spiritual instinct. After all, this was a very small little room, and the Swami was interviewed by us in the back in a smaller little room with a curtain over it. So to me, that’s where it started. Now, maybe it started before in someplace else. But amazing, we were there! And for me, that’s very significant
Kirtanananda das: Hayagriva first ran into Prabhupada on the street on Bowery, and Prabhupada invited him to come and attend his class that he was holding at 26 2nd Avenue. So he came back to the apartment and told me, and so the next night we both went to hear Prabhupada at 26 2nd Avenue. I was very attracted to Prabhupada right from the start. His message rang a bell; and his voice, when he quoted the Sanskrit, it was just like music to me. At any rate, I very quickly became Prabhupada’s assistant, and we would cook together for all the people that would come to share Prabhupada’s lunch. Everything was put on Prabhupada’s plate; and then from Prabhupada’s plate, he would distribute chapatis and rice and dahl and everything to 10, 15 people that gathered there. And there was always enough, everyone was always full. We cooked the prasadam in his apartment kitchen, and we served it in his bedroom. We all sat around in a circle on the floor. He had no furniture. The thing that attracted me most to Prabhupada was his certainty. He didn’t say, “Maybe this is the truth,” or “My opinion is…” He wasn’t like the professors I knew at Columbia. He spoke with finality, “Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita such-and-such. This is the way it is,” and he was sure.
Prabhupada das: I was in a very desperate state. I was brought up middle class in Brooklyn in a Jewish TV dinner kind of background – kind of pampered, I guess. And here I was out on the streets in a dangerous part of town with no money and affected by LSD and my own unbalanced mind. So I came to Prabhupada to ask him. Rather than asking him how could I somehow become more stable or some normal approach to my problem, I was just thinking of one thing. I asked Swamiji, I told him, “I work hard all day long. I’m like you – I’m also spreading the word, I’m also speaking to the people,” and I thought I was preaching something. Srila Prabhupada just looked at me, shook his head, and he spoke to me very strongly and he said, “Simply join us. We will solve all your problems.” Of course, in hindsight, we understand the depth of what Srila Prabhupada was talking about – no more birth, no more death, no more disease, no more old age. At that point, he handed me a cloth. I thought it was a dhoti, and I rejected it. I started stepping backwards. So as I was kind of walking backwards towards the door, I told him that “I’m not quite ready” in a very halting manner. As I was going out the door, Srila Prabhupada had his hand on the doorframe, and I distinctly remember he had a tear coming out of his eyes and he said, “Please come back,” just like that. While I did come back, but I didn’t come back the way he wanted me to right at that moment. I walked out and I almost got killed by some thugs right around the corner, almost an instant reaction.
Susan Witty: I remember his face. I don’t remember his body, it’s interesting. I remember his face. We did get these wonderful close-ups of his face. That’s where his power, his focus, and his calm presence were all gathered in his face. But here it was the beginning for us for meeting many spiritual masters, and it was also the beginning of the Hare Krishna Movement, and it was also the beginning of a trend that grew towards the appreciation of Eastern religions in America.
Gargamuni das: We had a big tape recorder that weighed 50 pounds. I was in charge of that. Brahmananda would bring it down from Prabhupada’s closet every night. So my job was to set up the tape for Prabhupada’s lecture. Prabhupada was very insistent in having his lectures tape recorded, so much so that when the tape ran out, he would stop and wait for me to rethread the tape with a new one. In those days, we didn’t have money, and those tapes, I remember they were three, four dollars for Scotch tapes. So Prabhupada wanted everything tape recorded. We didn’t think it was important in those days, but now we do. They’re important for preaching.
Prabhupada das: As usual, I just breezed into Srila Prabhupada’s apartment and I said, “Swamiji, I’d like to do something to help,” as if I were God’s gift to the world or to his mission. But immediately…it’s almost as if that’s what he was waiting for, and immediately Srila Prabhupada picked up this huge tray of prasadam and handed me this whole tray of prasadam and said, “You could be the one who distributes the prasadam to the devotees.” Those were his exact words. So I was OK. I had not only a service but a whole position now. I was the prasadam distributor. But unfortunately, I was so spaced out that I was standing on the top of the stairs outside of Prabhupada’s apartment to go down to the storefront and I was just thinking how I’m going to negotiate the stairs and not drop the tray, and some hippy devotees, whoever they were, they grabbed it from me. They didn’t have time to wait for this space case to decide how he’s going to walk down the stairs. So I lost my service, but I did continue my service of taking prasadam.
Gargamuni das: In the beginning, there was only one or two who were thinking how to give Prabhupada something instead of just taking from him. Because I had asked Prabhupada, I said, “Swamiji, we’re here with you, and what are we supposed to do? We come here, we take Krishna prasadam, and then we all go away. But what are we supposed to do for you? What are we here for?” I wanted something definite. Prabhupada said, “The duty of a disciple is to assist the spiritual master in his work.” That’s all he said. So then I thought, “Work?” Later on I pondered on this subject, work, and I said, “Prabhupada doesn’t work. What does he do? He doesn’t have a job. He’s a religious teacher.” So then it occurred to me there’s one thing he does do every day and that’s translate books, and he’s using this typewriter. Prabhupada wasn’t a typist. He used just his index fingers. That’s how he was typing his books. So I was walking one day, because there were four or five head shops that would carry Back to Godhead and I would always stop in the shops to see if they’re selling. So on my way I passed this Grundig shop, and something in the window caught my eye. It was like a miniature tape recorder, and it said Dictaphone. I said, “What the hell is a Dictaphone?” So I went inside, and I went up to the man and I said, “What’s this Dictaphone?” He says, “Well, it’s used by lawyers and doctors to keep notes.” I go, “Oh, yeah?” I said, “I know somebody who is translating books. It would be good for him?” He said, “Oh, yeah.” So he showed me how to use it, and I said, “I’m going to buy this for Prabhupada. Now I’m helping him because this will go a lot faster than typing.” Practically speaking, the Dictaphone revolutionized Prabhupada’s book. Because he wanted to do the Gita, and so it would take ages for him to finish typing by hand. It was 150 bucks [dollars], I think. So I brought it to Prabhupada. I was all excited and puffed up, and I said, “This is helping Prabhupada.” So I thought, “Boy, how am I going to show Prabhupada how to use this thing? He’s from the village. In Vrindavan, they don’t know what a Dictaphone is.” So I brought it up to Prabhupada’s room, and I showed it to him. I showed him the mike, and he looked at it. I said, “Prabhupada, there’s an instruction book here how to use it. I’ll go through it with you.” He said, “No, that’s OK, I know.” I was shocked. And sure enough, Prabhupada knew. He pressed the right buttons, he was testing it, and I was shocked. He never even looked at the book. It took me an hour with the guy. He had to show me everything, and here I’m showing it to someone from the village and he didn’t have to look at the book. Then I realized that this person, he’s not human. How does he know how to work this thing? He never had one. Prabhupada was very easy with electronics. He wasn’t at all intimidated. And then boom, Prabhupada started doing the tapes. It was great. But then we had the other problem – the tapes were building up, and the tapes were expensive. At the end, we had six or seven tapes and we didn’t have money to keep buying tapes. For some reason, nobody knew how to type properly because you have to have coordination. I think because we were all on LSD, nobody could coordinate their foot with their fingers. Because you had to use a foot pedal, and then you had to hear Prabhupada and coordinate, like driving a car, and nobody could do it. So all of a sudden this Neal shows up, and he’s from Antioch College. He has to do a summer course, three months course, joining a religious organization and writing about his experience. That was his paper. So he thought, “I’ll join you guys.” He said, “I’m going to do it.” I said, “Fine.” So I immediately asked him, “Do you know how to type?” We just thought we’d ask. He goes, “Yeah, I can type.” I said, “Do you know how to use a Dictaphone?” “Oh, yeah, that’s easy,” and right away the guy started typing 60 words a minute. We used to watch his foot – man, the foot was going a mile a minute. He knew how to go back and go forward in a second if he didn’t understand anything. And we go, “Wow!” We looked at each other, “This is mystical,” because this is the person we needed and then all of a sudden he shows up knocking at the door. You don’t know, the devotees then had an inner communication with each other. When things like this happened, we’d look at each other and go, “Wow, this is mystical.” And then we understood that Krishna provides. That was the famous word: “Krishna provides.” That’s why you really felt secure when you were with Prabhupada, because you felt nothing could hurt you or touch you and you felt wonderful. You always wanted to be around him because you felt fully protected – that feeling that everything’s going to work out when you’re with Prabhupada, because everything did work out.
Brahmananda das: The first dancing was in Tompkins Square Park, myself and Achyutananda. Prabhupada introduced this style of kirtan, which is very meditative. When Prabhupada sang in the park, that first time I danced and Achyutananda got up and we danced. As I was dancing, I felt I should dance with the kirtan and I should dance as long as Prabhupada has the kirtan, not that I should stop dancing and sit down – that would somehow be disrespectful to the Swamiji. So I danced for as long as Prabhupada had the kirtan, and Prabhupada had the kirtan for three hours, nonstop, he was singing. That’s the way Prabhupada had it, very long kirtans and very meditative. I once asked Srila Prabhupada, “What is the best way to sing kirtan?” He replied that “You sing in such a way that you never get tired.” So the kirtan should be able to go on endlessly. The New York Times, they came to that kirtan and they took a photograph of Achyutananda and myself and Prabhupada sitting there. You see the back of Prabhupada’s head, and he’s holding the bongo drum that he played. The caption was “Swami’s flock finds ecstasy in the park.” Prabhupada said the Times of New Yorkwas the most important newspaper in the world. “This article,” he said, “marked the beginning of my movement.”
Umapati das: One night I was walking down 2nd Avenue and I heard the “ching-ching-ching, ching-ching-ching.” So I walked over and I followed the sound, and it was the Krishna place and there was Prabhupada and they were chanting a mantra. I had read that chanting mantras was the best kind of meditation. So I thought, “Well, maybe this is what I’m looking for.” So I started to go in, but as I went in I saw Prabhupada was shaking his head from side to side like not to come in so I stopped. But then I saw that he was just moving his head in time with the music, so I went in and sat down and started chanting. Then when Prabhupada spoke, he said, “The Supreme Absolute Truth is a person.” And when he said that, I knew that I had found my spiritual master. Because I had been reading all these Buddhist books that say you cannot describe the truth, you cannot say it is, you cannot say it is not, you cannot say it both is and is not, you cannot say it neither is nor is not, and they never tell you what the truth is. So here was somebody telling me what the truth was, and it really made sense. So then I started coming regularly. At that time, there was lecture-kirtan every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night. So anyway, after a while I began to have a little doubt. I thought, “I can see that the Swami is very honest, he’s not cheating, but how do I know he really has knowledge? He could be a very honest man but also be misled.” While I was thinking this, I didn’t say anything to him but I went to hear him lecture and he said, “I teach only what is in scripture.” So when he said that, then I thought, “Well, then there’s no danger if he only teaches what’s in scripture.” So that’s how I started coming all of the time. Then after a while some of the guys started to do some kind of a service, and somebody said, “I’m doing this for the Swami,” or someone else would say, “I’m doing that for the Swami.” So I thought, “Well, I’d better get in on this,” because I thought he would maybe gather a few disciples and go off to a mountain cave somewhere and give them the secret teachings. So I didn’t want to miss out. So I went up to see Prabhupada and I said, “Is there something I can do for you?” He said, “Yes, you can take notes in class and type them up.” So the next day I took notes, but I really didn’t know what kind of format to write them up with. So I tried something and I showed it to Prabhupada, and then Prabhupada showed me what he was working on and it was the essay “Who is crazy?” So then I knew that he wanted me to type the notes up in essay form, and Prabhupada said, “And we will one day put all these essays together in a book and call it Practical Theology.”
Kirtanananda das: I was cooking for Prabhupada. Then it occurred to me that it would be nice to start a Sunday Feast program. I explained to Prabhupada that in this country people usually gather with their families together on Sunday and have a meal together. So I thought it would be a nice thing to have a Love Feast on Sunday when we could ask all the hippies and others who wanted to come and have a Krishna conscious feast. Prabhupada said, “Oh, that is a good idea,” and that’s the beginning of the Love Feast. We used to have the place packed every week. Every bit of prasad would be gobbled up. I cooked, Prabhupada cooked, Achyutananda cooked. We handed out fliers. I remember the first flier: “Stay high forever. No more coming down. Practice Krishna Consciousness.”
Richard Witty: How familiar these faces are, they are etched in my memory. Also I was very touched in part because I am aware that this is important for the devotees. Being able to give the film to the movement is more of a gift to us that we had something of value that was appreciated, and that was very rewarding to us. So it’s Matchless Gifts for us.
Umapati das: On the first day that we went to Tompkins Square Park with Srila Prabhupada, he had me dance holding up the picture of Lord Vishnu’s sankirtan. But after a while I put it down. Prabhupada said, “Why did you put it down?” I said, “I got tired.” I had no idea what an honor it was to be holding that picture on the first kirtan with Prabhupada in the Western world and what a momentous occasion it was. Of course, we didn’t see this as a momentous occasion. Prabhupada did, but we didn’t.
Gargamuni das: To see an Indian man in Indian dress in a park on Tompkins Square where the majority of the people were old Russian and Polish people, it was just too far out. So we used to go every weekend Sundays, especially Sundays, to Tompkins Square to chant with Prabhupada. I would be in the crowd with the leaflets, talking and inviting people. We used to make these leaflets called “Stay high forever.” People really got a kick out of those. We used that photograph of Prabhupada where he’s sitting and he’s smiling and he’s got his hand on his head. That photo was…people would look at that and say, “Wow! He is high. He’s so high, he’s trying to keep himself down just from the mantra.”
Happiness on 2nd Avenue
Jadurani dasi: Starting in November, he began lecturing on Chaitanya-caritamrta, Lord Chaitanya’s teachings to Sri Sanatan Goswami about Krishna’s innumerable incarnations and how He has a road show and goes all over the universe and every second appearing in another universe—the second second being the first second in the second universe and how He’s in millions of universes at the same time. He would say such interesting things like if you give somebody just an atomic particle of ptomaine poisoning, the person would die just by an atom of that. So similarly, the soul is so tiny but it gives all life to the body.
We just didn’t know what to call it. It’s arati, but we just called it “bells” in those days, “Prabhupada is doing…” or “Swamiji is doing bells.” Later on we learned about the genuine process of arati.
Damodar das: Srila Prabhupada was lecturing on the Chaitanya-caritamrta at 26 2nd Avenue. He was talking about Krishna and the cowherd boys. It was very juicy. He was just talking about their pastimes and their playing in the forest, and it was so wonderful to hear him talking about that. Then he would talk about how the cowherd boys were thinking, and he said that they were always thinking about Krishna. They were always thinking, “Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Krishna,” and he just kept going on, “Krishna,” repeating it, “Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Krishna.” I guess people would say he went into a trance. He was just saying, “Krishna, Krishna, Krishna.” I remember particularly Brahmananda, who was sitting at Prabhupada’s feet right next to him and looking up and Prabhupada, and Brahmananda started trembling. And then he let out a gasp, he just went “Ohhhhhh!” like that. I don’t know if Prabhupada stopped when he heard that or not, but it was an extraordinary moment. Srila Prabhupada was just…he was there, he was with the cowherd boys thinking nothing but “Krishna, Krishna, Krishna.” But we used to say—it was, I suppose, innocent of us—but anyway, we used to say that Prabhupada had Krishna painted on the inside of his eyelids so whenever he closed his eyes he would see Krishna. It was simple-minded, but it showed something of our appreciation for him.
Brahmananda das: Prabhupada is sitting, there’s a cushion from a sofa. I picked that up off the street. Someone had thrown out his old sofa. I picked up the cushion and brought it, and Prabhupada used it. There was no money, no books, there was no income. Prabhupada would pass the basket at the end of the kirtan and collect maybe three dollars. People would put coins in, quarters. Prabhupada’s first instruction to me was to do my job, I was a teacher for New York City Board of Education, and to give…he said, “Give your salary to Krishna.” I thought I would give up my job. Prabhupada said, “No, you do your job.” I asked Prabhupada, “How do I give my salary to Krishna?” Prabhupada said, “Well, you give it to me, and I’ll give it to Krishna.” I said, “OK,” and that’s how we were running on. But we had no money. Actually we were using as a subji in the summertime… Prabhupada started in the summer, it was May ’66, at 26 2nd Avenue. We would get watermelon because watermelon was so cheap, 10 cents a pound, and then we’d eat the watermelon and then take the rind and cook that as a subji. That was one of the big subjis, the watermelon rinds.
Damodar das: When Srila Prabhupada first settled into 26 2nd Avenue, he put a sign on the door saying any young man who wants to follow these rules and regulations can stay here and learn from me. That’s a paraphrase. So, of course, some young men came in—he had already had some disciples—and they moved in and stayed in the storefront. They would take a shower up in the apartment. The storefront was in a front part of the building that had apartments above it, but then there was a courtyard in the middle. Then there was what’s called the rear court building, and that’s where Srila Prabhupada’s apartment was on he second floor with windows looking out onto the courtyard. We used to chant our japa walking around and around in the courtyard; and Srila Prabhupada would look out the window and see us doing our japa, and he’d be very pleased to see his disciples doing that. At that time, the only record, the LP, that had come out was the Krishna Consciousness LP. We would play that—Srila Prabhupada speaking and his singing of the Samsara Prayers—and also the kirtan on the other side. We would play them in the apartment but with the speakers right up on the windows going out onto the street so that the sound of the kirtan was blaring out up and down the block so everybody could hear it. So we weren’t at all shy in those days about presenting Krishna consciousness to the masses. But many became introduced to Krishna consciousness or at least the chanting of the Maha-mantra through those speakers because people all up and down the streets, when they saw us walking up and down they would go “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna…” And that’s how they got to know us.
Jadurani dasi: This is Brahmananda, who is Gargamuni’s brother, and Prabhupada made him the first temple president and his brother the first temple treasurer. That’s me getting up to dance now. Prabhupada had them pose for my first Lord Nrsinghadev painting. He had one of them be Hiranyakasipu and the other be Lord Nrsinghadev, and he put one on the other one’s lap and he showed them how they should pose for Lord Nrsinghadev to rip apart the demon Hiranyakasipu. Prabhupada also posed for the painting, making his eyes crossed and showing himself ripping the demon with his hands and showing long nails. This painting on the window of Matchless Gifts is from a copy of a print that Prabhupada gave me of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s sankirtan party; His performing sankirtan at the courtyard of the house of Srivasa Thakur. Prabhupada pointed out who the different personalities in the painting are; that’s Mukunda and his sons, that’s Haridasa Thakur, and who the Panca Tattva members are. That was my very first painting that I did for Prabhupada, and it was so bad. Everything was out of proportion: the feet were gigantic and the heads were small and a hand was coming out someplace that wasn’t connected to the body. But Prabhupada was so encouraging that when he saw the painting…all the devotees would always gather around him. So he said to everybody, “Krishna has sent…” Lord Krishna sent me to paint. Even though it was so bad, he was so encouraging. On that day, he also invited me to come and paint up in his quarters. So for the next months I was painting there, and he would often come into the room, which was the room that he said bells, and give instructions about the paintings.
January 1967: SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – Arrival, Hippy Hill Kirtan
Shyamasundara das: Prabhupada arrived at the airport a day or two before the Mantra Rock Concert. No one knew what to expect. Mukunda and Jamuna had met Prabhupada, but none of us had met Prabhupada yet. There’s my dog walking up in front of Prabhupada, and Allen Ginsberg. We were, of course, delighted and could immediately see that we had made the right choice once we saw Prabhupada. He seemed to light up the whole room. We couldn’t take our eyes off of him. And obviously if he attracted our gurus like Allen Ginsberg… Allen Ginsberg had a great influence on most of us. He was one of the leading members of what was called the Beat Generation. He and Jack Kerouac practically single-handedly changed the consciousness of millions of young Americans with their ideas that life should be lived in a very open manner with freedoms and pursuing higher things and throw off the old shackles. If Prabhupada had the stamp of approval of the Beat Generation, he was for us.
Gour Hari das: So this area is known as Hippy Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Almost every day everyone would gather at Hippy Hill, and sometimes the devotees would come and chant. This particular day was like any other day there, but I remember entering the park and what attracted me was the beauty in the sound of the…I didn’t even know at that time was the Hare Krishna mantra. People had been chanting all around the Haight-Ashbury area for months and months prior to this. The idea that Srila Prabhupada was there that particular day just captured me through his sound vibration. He just reached into me, reached into my heart and somehow or other said, “This one is mine.” It wasn’t maybe a year or so later that I had actually started to join the temple.
Dayananda das: Prabhupada had introduced something that all of the youth were really attracted to, and he was really something of a Pied Piper. You can see here how much everybody is participating. These are not just devotees, but all of the people here in the park were completely open to this – as a matter of fact, so much so that they considered the Hare Krishna to be the hippy religion at this point in 1967 in San Francisco. So many hippies were in love with Prabhupada and in love with the devotees and considered themselves very much a part of Hare Krishna.
Allen Ginsberg: I did a lot of singing in the park, and so I used to come down, help out and sing along too. I had been singing Hare Krishna since ’63, and it seemed to me almost as if reinforcements had arrived from India. My idea at the time was that the more swamis the better and the more spiritual teachers the better because America seemed sunk in a morass of aggressive and murderous militarism in those days. That was right in the middle of the Vietnam War, and I’d come home from India via Saigon. So anybody going out on the street particularly and singing in the street seemed to lighten the whole American scene. That seemed like a breakthrough of joy and dancing, human voice, and so it seemed like a marvelous social contribution.
Yamuna dasi: This historic footage gives us a glimpse into the first Rathayatra celebrated in the Western world in 1967. On another track there's a kirtan that goes with this Rathayatra. And it was the melody that goes something like this: (Hare Krishna mantra) And that went for hours and hours as we sang it on the cart. A few wonderful things about this Rathayatra were that the crowd that gathered alongside of the cart of partly hippies that knew nothing about Lord Jagannath, and partly some hippies who had tasted Krishna prasad in our Temple and sampled the nectar of the Holy Name in our kirtans, were very genuinely enthusiastic to celebrate this Rathayatra. Lord Jagannath, Subhadra and Balaram faced different directions on the cart. So no matter what side you were on, you were able to get face-to-face darshan of Their Lordships. There was a pastime with this cart where the engine of the flatbed truck that the Deities were seated on stalled. And when we told that to Srila Prabhupada, he said that this was not uncommon that the cart would stall, even if it was pulled by hand, and stop at various places along the route. So he was happy to see that somehow in San Francisco without even knowing about this pastime, our cart stalled on the hill. The route was full length from the Haight-Ashbury all the way to the sea. And when the cart arrived at the sea, there was a very wonderful kirtan on the beach.
June 1967: LONG BRANCH, NEW JERSEY – Recuperating
Govinda dasi: He was recovering by the ocean for three weeks. Goursundar and I were staying there along with Kirtanananda. The four of us were staying in a beach bungalow. They sent a copy of this reel-to-reel tape, and it was so wild and it was a brand new tune. They made up their own tunes – unheard of in New York. This was not done, and it was wild – horns and cymbals and you name it. It was a full wild party-sounding kirtan, and some of the devotees in New York were, “Oh, my gosh, what is this?” But Prabhupada loved it, he was so happy, and I noticed this. He was so happy that they were still chanting. It didn’t matter that it was a different tune, it didn’t matter that they were wild hippies dancing in frenzies and probably some of them were…most of them even were still taking intoxication. Prabhupada loved it. There was another one that they sent called “Narada Muni, the Eternal Spaceman,” which was a little record that they made. They were creative and innovative and far out. That’s the kind of people that were in San Francisco. And Prabhupada encouraged them, whereas the nature in New was to criticize them and put them down because they weren’t conservative enough. Prabhupada didn’t have that mood at all. Instead he encouraged both. They were a little wild for me too because I was a little bit…I wasn’t as conservative as a New Yorker, but I was somewhat conservative. But what amazed me was when we went back there…sometime later we traveled back to San Francisco with Prabhupada…they had completely changed. The chanting had purified them. They were totally different. They were beautiful. We’re talking about Mukunda, Yamuna, Shyamasundara, Malati, all these early devotees. Malati was so wild. They were really heartfelt people willing to try anything, and they loved Prabhupada and they were out to do whatever they could.
July 1967: NEW YORK CITY – “Swamiji,” Srila Prabhupada’s room at 26 2nd Avenue
Damodar das: “Swamiji” was shot in the early summer, 1967, in Srila Prabhupada’s apartment at 26 2nd Avenue. He had recently returned to New York from New Jersey and San Francisco. He had had a stroke, he was not in good health, and he decided that he wanted to go to India to recuperate. We were really distraught because we felt if he goes to India he’s going to stay there. He doesn’t want to come back here because it’s bad for his health, the cold winters, and we didn’t know what to do. We thought, “Well, we’ll never see him again, or if we want to see him we’ll have to go to India. How can we keep him here?” Of course, we couldn’t keep him there. So the devotees asked me to make a simple documentary, just pictures, moving pictures of Srila Prabhupada. We had photographs to look at – the devotees wanted a film to look at, a movie of Srila Prabhupada, simply something to meditate on so we could feel close to him. So I asked Srila Prabhupada if I could do that, and he said yes. So I’m simply in his room with him, and he very kindly tolerated my presence there as I made the movie. I didn’t direct Srila Prabhupada at all, I didn’t ask him or tell him to do anything, I just followed his lead. This was with an 8 mm camera, very simple means, and this was the last day that Srila Prabhupada was in New York. He was leaving the next day for India. Kirtanananda was preparing his packing cases to go on the plane – bigger than suitcases, they were trunks. You see, this was really our Prabhupada murti while he was away in India. The devotees would look at this film, we would just chant our rounds or we would play a tape of Srila Prabhupada singing a bhajan or have a kirtan while looking at it. So really not much happens in this movie except we’re looking at Prabhupada and he’s looking at us. I would have to change rolls of film, and as I did that one time Srila Prabhupada asked me to show him how the film—which was Agfa black and white film, high speed—how the film was clipped onto the reel with a little plastic gripper, and Srila Prabhupada asked me to show him how it worked. After I showed him, he said, “They think of everything.” When Srila Prabhupada arrived in India—he was going to India for his health—and when he arrived in India and got off the plane, Kirtanananda, who was with him, who went with him as his servant, said that it was like walking into an oven in a letter that was sent to us. Kirtanananda’s comments were there, and then Srila Prabhupada followed up with his comments and he said, “I find it quite bracey myself.” So that was why he went to India, to get braced up. So it’s a pretty simple film, but the beauty of Srila Prabhupada is what makes it fascinating.
Jadurani dasi: I was doing a sign that he asked me to do upstairs in that first place where he was offering arati, a sign of the Hare Krishna mantra, because there was going to be a big program at Tompkins Square Park. So the sign was about four or five feet on oak tag, and I had to sprawl my whole body across it to reach to the other end. We didn’t have easels in those days. So I also apologized to Prabhupada when he came in the room that “I’m sorry that I’m offending the Holy Name.” So he told the story of when Krishna had a headache and the gopis took the dust from their feet to put on His head to relieve His headache, and they didn’t care if they would go to hell as long as Krishna would be cured. So when I apologized, Prabhupada told me that story and he said, “It’s fine because it’s for service.”
Govinda dasi: He used to sit and turn the globe, and he would meditate on the different countries. And he would say, “Brahmananda, you shall go to Russia. Goursundar, you shall go to Japan. Somebody else, you shall go to South America.” You have to understand, we had no money, we had no manpower, we had nothing. We were a handful of teenagers, 10 people in their early 20’s who were rather eccentric, all of us, because we had rejected our cultural values and we were following him like a Pied Piper. And he was telling us about these different countries we were going to go to and open temples. He had his plan. It was not haphazardly done. I have a beautiful picture of Prabhupada sitting and turning his globe. He did it a lot. He meditated on the globe. He looked at the different countries. You would see him doing it a lot, and he was planning. He had planned the takeover of Russia long before he ever went to Russia. This is a part of what he knew he had to come to this world and do. We just didn’t know what all he was doing, although sometimes in Montreal, when we had a lot of time and he would talk, he used to talk to me about his different plans. We had no money. We lived in a little flat. We had rats too. There was nothing and yet he was telling me how he was going to have a world sankirtan party, and he also told me how he wanted to have a big auditorium where people could come and watch bhajans and hear bhajans and see plays and Krishna conscious things rather than going to the cinemas. He felt the cinemas were drawing people into another world. He had plans of doing this. And when I go to Bombay and I see that great big auditorium, I say, “He said he was going to do this.” It’s just like if I’m a pauper and I tell you I’m going to build Disneyland, and that’s what it was like. But I never disbelieved anything he said, I just listened. I was just always listening to him, and he liked to talk about what he was going to do. And he talked about many things.
Brahmananda das: This painting, which was done by Jadurani, is a painting of Vrindavan. It’s the Madan-Mohan Temple. This is one of the first paintings that Jadurani did and it’s Madan-Mohan, Madan-Mohan Temple that Sanatan Goswami erected for the first deity in Lord Chaitanya’s movement. Prabhupada would give her a picture, and she would copy that into a painting. Prabhupada…he hung it right above his head, he sat underneath this. So it’s the first Western connection, you might say, with Vrindavan, and here’s the personification of Vrindavan sitting there.
Jadurani dasi: I did this painting, and then Prabhupada was going back to India in July of ’67 and we were all devastated that he was going. But then he looked at this picture and he said, “If you look at this picture, then we’ll all be together even though I’m in India. And if you chant Hare Krishna, then we’re all packed up tight even though I’m in India and you’re here.”
Umapati das: And, of course, everybody was a brand new devotee and nobody really knew much of anything. So there was a lot of nonsense going on and fighting and things like that. So I became disturbed, and I went to see Prabhupada to complain about some of the things that devotees were doing. Prabhupada said to me, “If you don’t like what they are doing, then you set the example.” A little later I again went to see him to complain about devotees and Srila Prabhupada said, “What do you want from them? They are trying to serve Krishna.” And the third time was in 1972, I think. I was living in San Francisco and I wrote Prabhupada a letter just complaining about so many things, and Prabhupada wrote me back. I complained people do bad things and they’re the example and this and that. Prabhupada said, “Who said that they’re an example?” He said, “Anyway, what are you doing? All you’re doing is making money and spending it on your own householder life.” And he ended the letter and said, “The whole movement is meant for…” Because I had said, “I don’t understand this movement.” Prabhupada said, “You have been with me for so many years and you still don’t understand. When will you understand?” He said, “The whole movement is meant for service.”
Brahmananda das: Here’s the Jagannatha deities that Shyamasundara made. He made four sets. When Prabhupada came to the airport, we had to collect the baggage. We walked over to the baggage place where the baggage came out. These big wooden crates came and Prabhupada pointed…there was his suitcase and then he said, “Also these wooden crates.” Of course, we had no idea what was in them, neither did we ask, and we brought the crates back. So these crates were in the next room, and Prabhupada told us to go and open the crates. So we went and opened the crates and there were these Jagannatha deities, but we had never seen Jagannatha in New York because Jagannatha came from San Francisco, Puri. Just as Prabhupada made Vrindavan in New York, he made San Francisco Puri. So we look at these Jagannatha deities. We can’t figure out. It’s not Krishna. What is it? Then somebody was making jokes that these look like North American Indian…it’s a totem pole, and there’s three parts to the totem pole. So we were trying to figure out which one is on top, which one is in the middle, which one is on the bottom to make the totem pole. That’s what we were thinking. There’s the ladder that I was painting the apartment with, I didn’t quite finish. And then Prabhupada walked in and he saw us, and we were joking, “Wow, this is really far out—an Indian totem pole.” Then Prabhupada said, “This is Lord Jagannatha, the Lord of the Universe! Bow down!” And everybody, boom, hit the floor. That’s how Prabhupada introduced Jagannatha worship. So those deities were worshipped. But we had drunks coming into the storefront and so on. It wasn’t proper to have Them available or vulnerable, so we kept Them in the apartment and worshipped there.
Summer 1967: NEW YORK CITY – Tompkins Square Park, Sankirtan
Damodar das: Srila Prabhupada had been leading these sankirtans in Tompkins Square Park at the beginning; and then when he was away in India and San Francisco, the devotees continued on their own. This Lord Jagannatha doll really—it isn’t really a Deity but a little doll of Lord Jagannatha. The devotees at one point all had Them hanging around their necks. We had a lot of questions for Srila Prabhupada, like is it all right to go into the bathroom with Lord Jagannatha hanging around your neck? He said, “You should take Him off before you go into the bathroom.” So we had some very basic questions about etiquette at that point. We didn’t know anything.
Madhusudana das: The devotees had seen in second volume of Prabhupada’s Bhagavatam, there was a verse and a purport. In the purport, it was written in verse form, it was names of Krishna. He Krishna Govinda Hari Murari, He Natha Narayana Vasudeva. In the purport, Prabhupada was explaining that Krishna is all of those in one. So we thought this was a mantra of some kind and they were obviously names of Krishna, so we started chanting it. We put it to music, of course, with all the various instruments, and we were singing it. It was kind of like a hootenanny. We were really having a ball chanting this new…because this was at the beginning when there were not very many mantras other than Hare Krishna. So we were singing this and having a great time. When Prabhupada arrived, we all bowed down and paid obeisances and he got on the vyasasana and he spoke to us and said, “Oh, who has given you this mantra?” Somebody said, “Oh, we saw this in your Bhagavatam, Prabhupada.” He said, “This should not be chanted.” He said, “This is not bona fide.” And we were just…talk about thunderstruck! We were so bewildered. He proceeded to explain. He said that “Even they are names of Krishna, unless the mantra is given by the disciplic succession it shouldn’t be chanted, even though they are names of Krishna.” And there’s a verse like that saying that it has to come from the sampradaya. So right after that, then he said, “Oh, so you want another mantra to chant?” And everybody just spontaneously said, “Yes!” and everybody kind of cheered. So he started singing jaya sri-krsna-caitanya prabhu nityananda, sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda, and then he introduced it in kirtan.
May 1968: BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Airport departure from New York City to Boston, Walk, Temple activities
Jadurani dasi: So about a week or so before Prabhupada arrived, I put up hundreds of these fliers all over the city – on lampposts, on billboards, in stores and anyplace I could – advertising Prabhupada’s bhakti-yoga and Bhagavad-gita classes.
Govinda dasi: Prabhupada always had his trunk as his desk. Wherever we went, he had his Indian trunk and all of his stuff would fit in it. And then we would move to another city. And then whenever we got to whatever room we were going to be in, then I would take all his stuff out of his trunk and arrange his room and his trunk was his desk – that’s just how he lived, it was normal – and he would sit on the floor. So I would commonly spend two, three hours a day sitting in front of him taking dictation of letters because often Prabhupada would just talk. There weren’t so many letters in those days, there were maybe 10 a day, sometimes less, and so there was time. And he would talk about everything: trains and buses and which is better, trains or buses, about tigers, about all kinds of things. He would sit and talk. One of the sweetest times was in the evening when Goursundar would give him massage, because all the work for the day had been done and I would sit at the doorway and listen. We were like family. He used to say, “We have become just like a family.” He used to tell me, “My mother died at an early age. Krishna has sent you to be my mother.” Actually I was only 21 years old or 20 years old, and he was the age of my grandfather because he was in his 70’s. When I would rent an apartment for him, I would just tell the landlord, “I’m getting it for my grandfather.”
Rukmini dasi: Once they called and he was coming and Jadurani, who was not much of a cook, asked him if he would be eating before he came or whether they should have something for him to eat when he arrived. So Prabhupada said, “I am just like a cow. I can eat in one pasture and then eat in another pasture also.”
Brahmananda das: That’s Damodar offering obeisances with the camera. See, that’s devotional filmmaking.
Pradyumna das: During that Boston trip, almost every week new faces used to show up from New York. All the New York devotees would come up: Brahmananda, Rayarama, Rupanuga. The Boston temple had always been a small temple – three people, two people, five people, six people, but never more than about five or six; but during Prabhupada’s visit there, it was just packed with mostly New York devotees. I remember the day after the brahmana initiation we all went on a walk. I was also there, and I quipped, “Boston brahmins.” Prabhupada said, “Ah, yes, Boston brahmins.” There were six of us that got sacred thread in the first initiation, six men and no women. Then they raised a fuss and they didn’t show up. They were so angry that they weren’t going to get second initiation, they didn’t come.
Govinda dasi: Goursundar really wanted this Gayatri mantra, so he talked to Prabhupada about it. He was reading all kinds of things. So Prabhupada agreed to give him Gayatri mantra and give him second initiation. So I met him on the street and he had his hair all shaved off, that really bothered me. But that night he had the Gayatri mantra initiation, and I was upset because he was going to give Goursundar a mantra but he wasn’t going to give it to me. So I felt very left out. So when it came time to go for the initiation ceremony, I said, “Well, I’m not feeling very well so I’m not going to go.” I was pouting. And then after they left, I thought to myself, “What am I doing? I don’t want to be not there!” So I ran out the door and ran the 10 blocks all the way to the temple and burst into the temple, and Prabhupada was sitting there giving the initiation and he looked up and he said, “Ah, Govinda dasi, I was wondering how you could stay away. You love to hear me speak so much.” Because he wanted me to come, but I was mad. I was very upset about this. And so because I was a little upset, he decided that the girls also should have Gayatri mantra. Jadurani was more upset. And so he gave us initiation the next evening with the Gayatri mantra because he knew that in this country the girls and the boys are educated in the same way.
Jadurani dasi: On this particular day, he took us downtown where he went when he first got off the Jaladuta boat. Because the captain was doing some shopping, so he took Prabhupada and Prabhupada was pointing out different places that he remembered. The next day, Prabhupada took all the devotees for a tour of where he first landed. I was in the back and I ran up so that I could walk right next to him, and he turned to me and he said, “If the jackals glorify you, what’s the benefit?” In other words, don’t try and get material glorification. And then he said—because the nature of any big city is that things are being broken down and things are being built up—he said, “Building and breaking, building and breaking. So we have to stop this building and breaking, and we have to break with Maya and build with Krishna.”
Vaikunthanath das: Prabhupada would arrive, I think, by taxi. But in the meantime, the devotees were chanting in the temple there at 95 Glenville Avenue deep in kirtan; and there would be all this frankincense, the whole room was full of smoke. When Prabhupada would come in, we were literally in ecstasy. You cannot conceive of the impact that Prabhupada had on us. Prabhupada’s every move and every gesture, he was just floating in ecstasy, and we could perceive that bliss that Prabhupada was in. I remember he got up on the vyasasana and he said, “The secret is to be praying while we’re chanting the name of Krishna, ‘Please, Krishna, just place me in the society of Your service.’”
Govinda dasi: All along everyone knew him as Swamiji. This is up until May of 1968. So Goursundar decided he wanted to call me Govindaji, and so he asked Prabhupada and Prabhupada said, “No, actually ‘ji’ is a third-class form of address. It’s better not to call her Govindaji.” So I piped up, I was sitting right in front of him and I said, “Well, if it’s a third-class form of address, why are we calling you ‘ji’? Why are we calling you Swamiji?” And he said, “It’s not very important.” I said, “Oh, no, it’s very important. If it’s a third-class form of address, then we don’t want to call you that. We want to call you the most first-class form of address. So tell us what would be a good name for us to call you by.” And he was very humble, very reluctant, but I pressed him, “We’ve got to change this,” and he said, “You can call me Gurudev or Guru Maharaj or Prabhupada.” So I said, “Well, that’s three. We need one.” So I said, “Well, which one is the best?” and he answered, “Srila Prabhupada is nice, that is the best.” So I said, “From today you will be called Srila Prabhupada.” So I told all the devotees. Some of the devotees didn’t like it because it kind of is a tongue twister, “Prabhupada,” and “Swamiji” kind of flows more easily. But we gradually started calling him Srila Prabhupada from that time.
June 1968: SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – Rathayatra
Makhanlal das: A total of about 15 people who immediately after the festival moved into the temple in San Francisco. The temple was just a very narrow storefront with Dutch-style doors that Shyamasundara had built. So a great family environment. There was no mangal arati in those days, there were no books in those days. So it was actually the power of the chanting of the Holy Name and the incredible charisma of the Rathayatra Festival that was drawing the devotees into the temple.
Shyamasundar das: This is actually the second Rathayatra Festival in San Francisco. The first one held in 1967 was just on the back of a rented truck, a Hertz truck. This is the first actual Rathayatra in the Western world done with a cart, which Jayananda and myself built along with a couple of other devotees. We’re bending redwood struts for the canopy. The entire cart was made out of redwood that we got very cheaply from a wrecking company which was demolishing old homes in San Francisco, and we sanded every board so that it looked like new wood. You can’t find wood like this anymore. And we formed it over many weeks of effort in the parking lot next to the temple on Frederick Street. We built it purposely low to fit below the wires, and in those days they had electric trolleys still on the streets in San Francisco. In those days, the carts were one of a kind. When the parade was finished, they were dismantled in place and the wood was hauled off and disposed of. Malati and the other girls sewed the cloth covering.
Malati dasi: That year was the first year that Lord Jagannatha ever wore clothes. Srila Prabhupada told us that we had to make clothes for Him, and he drew a little picture. I remember Shyamasundara was shocked because he was very proud of how carefully he painted the deities. He said, “They cover up the paint job.” But Jamuna and Harsharani, they immediately came to grips with the task, making beautiful outfits and turbans.
Yamuna dasi: The very, very first clothing or decoration that was given to Lord Jagannatha was, of course, given by Srila Prabhupada. And that wasn’t in June of 1968, but that was in December of 1967 when Srila Prabhupada returned from India after recuperation from his heart attack. Srila Prabhupada came off the plane with his danda—first time we’d seen Srila Prabhupada with his sannyasa rod—and hanging off of his sannyasa rod was a little saffron pouch. We thought how curious that was because we thought that the rod you held in front of you, but Srila Prabhupada had this rod over his shoulder and the little pouch was on the end. At any rate, we brought him to the Willard Street apartment. So when Srila Prabhupada sat down in the front room, he had his suitcases opened. He had brought gifts for all the ladies, every lady had a sari, and he brought our temple the first gift of a coconut grater. But in the little bag—he opened it up, unwrapped it and unfolded it and inside were three silken malas, the kind that you get at a deity store. For the small deities, of course, these are very, very thin, maybe a quarter of an inch wide; but these malas that Srila Prabhupada brought were a good inch-and-a-half thick. But because they were in this little bag, they were all crunched up and actually quite unattractive-looking because they had been a little bit damaged. So naturally we had never seen anything like that. What was it? So Swamiji explained that these were decorations that we could offer to Lord Jagannatha and, in fact, Lord Jagannatha, we could even make clothes for Him. So what kind of clothes would you make? Doesn’t He already have clothes on? Isn’t that what the painting is that’s on the deity? “No,” he said, “that’s one kind of painting. You’ll find deities who will be sometimes painted, sometimes there will be carving on the deities that will show that it’s jewelry or clothing but, no, you can make clothes.” So what kind of clothes do you make for a deity like Jagannatha? So Prabhupada said, “Here’s what you do.” So he said, “He wears a turban, He wears a shawl, and They wear a little skirt.” So then he asked for volunteers, who would sew. So Harsharani and Yamuna decided, “Well, we will volunteer.” So for this 1968 Rathayatra, we were working with the builders; and when they gave us the drawing, we had come up with this very, very handsome already made and pleated series of umbrellas, almost like umbrellas that went around these outpourings of these cupolas in this wonderful bright cloth of saffron and gold. Now, Jagannatha, Subhadra and Balarama were in red satin, and you can see the pictures of Them. We even managed to get some wonderful garlands of fragrant flowers for this, red turbans.
Gurudas: Jayananda planned the car and built the car, and subsequently every year he was known as “Mr. Rathayatra.” He would not sleep before the festival, and each year it improved – the decoration, from one car to three. This was the first car that he built, and it’s so beautiful. This became and has remained a San Francisco tradition. On this day is a special day for Lord Jagannatha, and this is acknowledged by the officials of San Francisco.
Yamuna dasi: One very exciting thing about this Rathayatra Festival for me was this prayer,
gauranga bolite habe pulaka-sarira, this bhajan. This bhajan was the theme practically. When there wasn’t a kirtan going on by one of the disciples, this bhajan was played over a little megaphone system of Prabhupada singing it. It sometimes played on the cart if somebody wasn’t leading, in between kirtans. At the end of the procession when the cart was at the beach, this bhajan of Prabhupada played for hours and hours the devotees said. I remember just the short time that I was at the beach that when the wind would move back and forth, it would catch the sound of this magnificent prayer; and in my mind, it’s always been the theme of our 1968 Rathayatra Festival of Lord Chaitanya’s longing for Krishna. I remember that when we were at an ocean kirtan one night, at the very end of the prayers after he said “Jaya Tulasi devi,” he said, “All glories to the Pacific Ocean,” and we said, “Hare Krishna.” He said, “All glories to the Pacific Ocean,” “Hare Krishna,” “All glories to the Pacific Ocean.” And he had his hands raised when he was facing the ocean, and it was the most…I think it was the only time that I can remember Prabhupada adding something other than our classic prayers to the end of a kirtan, but it moved us all. We were thinking how liberal Swamiji was that he was appreciating the place that we were at and the majesty of it.
Patit Uddaran das: I was living in the Bay area at the time basically as a hippie, but I always had aspirations to understand transcendence. Therefore, I didn’t really consider myself a hippie, but I considered myself a seeker. When I heard that there was the Rathayatra Festival being held by the Hare Krishna devotees through Golden Gate Park in 1968, I made up my mind to try to get there; and I think I walked the whole way, which is why I ended up being late. So I must have walked several miles because I came at the end of the festival and I saw Lord Jagannatha looking out at the ocean. Now, I had visited the temple a few times; but it was the moment that I saw Lord Jagannatha gazing out into the ocean that somehow some eternal quality was sparked, and at that moment I became a devotee.
June – August 1968: MONTREAL, CANADA – Arrival, Temple activities, Initiation
Kirtanananda das: Along towards summer Prabhupada went to Montreal, and I wrote to him and begged forgiveness for my offenses and told him I couldn’t forget him and couldn’t forget Krishna consciousness and I wanted to surrender to him. He wrote back and said, “Oh, my dear son, how have I ever lost you? I have been crying to Krishna, ‘How have I lost Kirtanananda?’” And he invited us to come and visit him in Montreal. We did, and he embraced me very warmly and said, “Now it is confirmed that we cannot be separated.”
Kancanbala dasi: One morning one of the devotees asked me to bring over some bhoga to Srila Prabhupada’s, where he was staying. So I walked over there with the groceries, and I knocked real softly on the door. Himavati opened the door just a little crack and I handed her the bhoga, and the corner of my eye when I looked down through the crack I saw Srila Prabhupada sitting and chanting japa. Srila Prabhupada asked Himavati, “Who is at the door?” and Himavati said, “Kancanbala came to bring bhoga.” And then Prabhupada said, “Tell her to come in.” So I came in and I didn’t expect it at all, it was just really a wonderful surprise, and I just fell down, bowed down and offered obeisances. Prabhupada told me to sit down, and we chanted japa together. That was real nice.
Hansadutta das: So when Prabhupada came, they rented him a small room and I got the opportunity to spend maybe it was five days with Prabhupada. It was just a room, and then it had a little side alcove where there was a sink and a place where you could cook something. So I slept under that sink and in that area. The first night I was so nervous I couldn’t sleep. About one in the morning I heard Prabhupada rustling and getting up, and he didn’t turn on the light or anything and he started chanting on his beads. So I wondered, “What should I do? Should I get up or pretend I’m sleeping?” I didn’t know what I should do so I didn’t do anything, I pretended I was sleeping. But the next day the same thing happened, I was so nervous I couldn’t sleep again. So when Prabhupada got up and started chanting, then I also made myself known. So Prabhupada, he turned on the light and he said, “Oh, you are up?” I said, “Well, Prabhupada, I’m so nervous I haven’t been able to sleep.” And he said, “Oh, that’s good, very good.” He said, “I think sleeping is a waste of time.” He said, “I don’t like to sleep.” He said, “And I don’t like my disciples to sleep.” Then he said, “Practically speaking, our aim is to make eating zero, sleeping zero, sex zero and defense zero. We don’t say that, but that is the aim.”
Vaikunthanath das: The Montreal temple was going very well, but we always had a difficult time paying the monthly rent. There was some danger that they would lose the temple at one point because they just didn’t have the rent money. Prabhupada actually proposed the idea to me and Pradyumna that we should go out and meet people in the Indian community and explain to them that we are trying to establish this Radha-Krishna temple here and maintain this temple and that we would like their support and help. But in any case, Pradyumna and I didn’t actually follow up that instruction. I think that we just didn’t know how to go about doing it. But one thing that I did know how to do, I knew how to go out and raise money at an airport. I was just a young boy, 17, and I remembered being short on my airline fare a couple of times and I didn’t know what to do. So I just started asking people, “Could you spare a buck? I’m five dollars short on my flight,” and miraculously people were kind enough to give me a few dollars. Here I was, I had absolutely no skill, I went out and went to the airport and I just started doing that, and I managed to raise a few hundred dollars. I gave it to the temple for the rent, and I wasn’t even aware that Prabhupada knew about it really. But about four or five years later, just out of the blue Prabhupada said to me, “I remember when you raised the money to save the Montreal temple,” and I was so touched to realize that Prabhupada had this memory of me, that I had done some service to help save the temple. It just really surprised me because I had no idea that Prabhupada was aware of that or that he would remember that. I’ll never forget, in so many ways Prabhupada always expressed such kindness and love for his disciples.
Pradyumna das: Janardan arranged one time for Prabhupada to go speak to the professors at McGill University. They had a faculty meeting or something, so Prabhupada went to join them for dinner. Prabhupada doesn’t eat dinner with people who eat meat but he said, “I’m not supposed to do this, but it’s for preaching, I’ll go.” After Boston, Prabhupada went to Montreal and he spent the whole summer there. Actually he had to go there because his visa was finished and he had to leave the country, and it was uncertain even whether Prabhupada would be able to ever return to the United States. Allen Ginsberg was helping. Brahmananda had Ginsberg working with lawyers to try to get his…and they said, “The only way you can do this is if he leaves the country. He has to leave the country to make a new visa application, and it has to be three months at least.” So Prabhupada established in Montreal and he said, “It’s OK, it doesn’t matter. We get it, we don’t get it, then I’ll make Montreal the world headquarters.” A lot of devotees came up for the summer, and then it was under application. Then about in August sometime it came through. He got it.
Summer 1968: BUFFALO, NEW YORK – Temple activities
Narottama das: This building is the first temple they had in Buffalo. It was LaSalle Avenue, not far from the university. I saw the devotees there and they were advertising the Sunday Feast, and I used to see them in some of the classrooms at night with kartals and burning incense and I was very curious about them. There was a class offered that was called Introduction to Vedic Literature. So Rupanuga presented this class on Krishna consciousness.
Prahladananda Swami: Rupanuga prabhu had invited him because he was giving a bhakti-yoga class at the university there, the University of Buffalo. Srila Prabhupada stayed around a week. He was staying at Rupanuga prabhu’s house. He gave lectures at different universities there and also at the University of Buffalo, and he gave classes daily at the temple there. As soon as I joined the temple, I had become a pujari. Actually they made me the head pujari the day I moved into the temple, although I wasn’t so sure what the names of the deities were. And I became the treasurer. I was a student at the University of Buffalo, although I was also a devotee who used to go with our full dhoti and tilak, shaven head, to school. But in the morning when I wasn’t going to the university, I’d spend it with Prabhupada listening to…So I’d spend practically every morning with him. One time I was trying to see Prabhupada’s effulgence because I was practicing hatha-yoga, and Prabhupada immediately looked at me and he said, “Our method is bhakti and not mystic yoga.” So then I could understand that Prabhupada was quite perceptive. He gave very nice instructions. One time he stopped when he was talking to us because sometimes it would be for a period of time, maybe a couple of hours. So every once in a while he’d stop and pick up his beads and start chanting and he said, “If you ever have time, then chant.” I remember one instruction he gave me. He said that “Don’t try and teach your godbrothers lessons.” Prabhupada was giving a lecture at a university, and during that time one person crawled up to Prabhupada and said, “Prabhupada, how far down do you have to get in order to see God? How humble do you have to get?” more or less, and he was crawling up to Prabhupada. Later on he became initiated by Prabhupada, his name is Kushakrata prabhu. He was quite an unusual personality at that time. But by Prabhupada’s mercy and by the mercy of the association of devotees, he became a Sanskrit editor.
Summer 1968: NEW YORK CITY – Recording studio, Sankirtan, Play in park
Gargamuni das: That record went everywhere, the first record of Hare Krishna. Nobody rehearsed it, and it went so smooth. The Happening record. There was a very hip station in those days—it was called WBAI—and there was a guy on it all night from eleven o’clock until eight o’clock. It was the most popular night station. I went up there with the record. He used to do far out things, this guy, and he played it nonstop until the next morning, over and over. People called in and said, “Hey, that’s cool, we love it,” and he did it.
Govinda dasi: He was talking about Krishna in the forest of Vrindavan, and he would close his eyes and he would get massage and he would talk about Krishna. He would describe how “They do not know Krishna is God. The cowherd boys are coming home from the forest and say, ‘Oh, mother, Krishna killed one very big demon today. Krishna is so wonderful!’ And they are not knowing He is God. They are simply thinking, ‘Krishna is so wonderful!’” And whenever he would talk like this, when he would stop you wouldn’t know where you were. You had been transported to some other loka. You would have to remember your identity and who you were and where…it was transporting. His power to transport you was there, and I got very addicted to that, to that sweetness, that transcendental sweetness. One time he was talking about how there is no fear. Krishna is playing leap frog with the boys, and they have no fear. They are just playing.” And all of a sudden you experience no fear, and you realize you’re always fearing. You don’t even know it, but in the back of your mind you’re always fearing. And for a few moments you experience no fear. Karttikeya was telling me, “It was such an amazing experience! For a few moments, I felt fearless!” In this way, when he would talk about Vrindavan, you would be there. He was in lila. He was seeing everything. You couldn’t see it, but you could feel it. And so I got very addicted to that. So then when he went off to India, the whole time he was in India I prayed to Lord Jagannatha. Lord Jagannatha, we had one murti in Montreal, I was there for six months, and I prayed, “Please let me take care of Swamiji when he comes back from India.” So while Prabhupada was in India, he wrote me a letter. I wrote him a letter expressing that desire. He wrote me a letter back saying, “I shall build a house in Vrindavan where you and your husband can come for all your days.” At the end of the letter he wrote, “I know your mind.” He knew everything I was thinking. He heard my prayers. He knew everything I was thinking. So when he came back, that desire was fulfilled. He allowed me to be with him to serve him for that whole year, which was very sweet because it was just in the time before the organization took off in a very big way. At that time, Prabhupada was still not completely well from his stroke, he was having some difficulty. So I would kind of mother him and he would kind of father us. We were like children, but we were like a family. Everything was out of love. And that’s a rare, sweet time that I think he also thinks is very special.
Jahnava dasi:I took this walk with Purusottam and Jadurani and Srila Prabhupada, and it was snowing. There were a couple of young teenage girls standing across the street and they had on mini skirts and, like I said, it was snowing. So Jadurani and I naturally were glancing across the street, thinking it was very odd for these two young teenage girls to have mini skirts on in the snow, and the teenage girls were looking across the street at Jadurani and I having these saris on. So Srila Prabhupada noted the humor and he said, “You are looking at them, and they are looking at you.” He said, “Their austerity is for sex life, and your austerity is for Krishna.”
Damodar das: It’s the late summer of ’68, “The Full Nectarean.” Nayanabhiram and I cooperated in making this film. He concentrated on the acting and the costumes and finding some of the sets. Most of the film was shot in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and here we have a devotee dressed up as Krishna. This particular aspect of the film earlier on had been a cause of some agitation because we had two brahmacarinis…these two brahmacarinis are supposed to be gopis. So we’re showing a little scene from Vrindavan. Here is Radha and Krishna walking through the woods of Vrindavan. Before making this film, these same two brahmacarinis had been made up in the same way and we had gone to the same place. We told Srila Prabhupada, who was not in New York at the time, what we had done with two devotees dressed up like Radha and Krishna and how we were worshiping them, and Srila Prabhupada blew his stack at us. He said, “That was the greatest offense of all,” and we were just stricken with despair. But somehow we recovered, and Srila Prabhupada allowed us to do the same thing again later on for this movie but with a new understanding that these people, of course, were not Radha and Krishna.
Nayanabhiram das: We took Prabhupada here for a stroll and he said, “This is just like Vrindavan,” and after that we called the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens “Brooklyn Vrindavan.” He was talking about how all this desire to make parks, urban parks and botanical gardens, things like that, it’s a sublimation of our desire to recreate Vrindavan. We actually did do that by having this tableau. The two girls that played Radha and Krishna, they were actually sisters, Indira and Ekayani. Indira played Krishna and Ekayani, her sister, played Radharani. They lived outside the temple. After the girl that played Krishna took a bite out of the fruit, then we took it as prasadam. At the time, Damodar…I think he had been an underground filmmaker before he joined the movement, and I was studying filmmaking at Columbia University at the time. So Damodar and I worked together. Prabhupada gave us an instruction that he wanted a movie made of the Bhagavad-gita including battle scenes of the Mahabharatand elephants. He spent a whole session telling us how the movie should be made. Prabhupada said when the time comes he would direct it, and I never quite understood what he meant by that – maybe through Supersoul or whether he would do it personally. But he did speak at length about it. But he was very serious, and we took that instruction very seriously for some time. Damodar and I used to go out of the temple and watch normal movies because we thought that would help us. Or maybe we rationalized that way; that we could only fulfill Prabhupada’s instructions by being cognizant with contemporary filmmaking.
Balai dasi: I remember Srila Prabhupada came down from his quarters, and we were all going to go to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens together. So there was a car. I don’t know how I got to ride in the car again; but I was in the backseat and the two devotees dressed up like Radha and Krishna were in the backseat. Brahmananda was there, Srila Prabhupada was there and a driver. The devotee who was dressed up like Krishna asked Srila Prabhupada if she could fan Prabhupada, and Prabhupada said, “No. The devotee never accepts service from Krishna.” So he was playing along, though later we found out we were not doing the right thing. Also, before we got in the car, he had come down from his quarters and we were standing on the sidewalk. We had made enough garlands for Srila Prabhupada and Radha and Krishna, but one garland got lost or something. So we put a garland on Krishna and then went to put one on Srila Prabhupada; and as we were putting it on, he was taking it off and putting it on the devotee dressed like Radharani.
Brahmananda das: When Prabhupada saw how disappointed we were, he saved the situation by saying, “I can understand by this impulse that you want to know about the spiritual world and Radha and Krishna, Goloka. I will explain it to you.” And then he just sat down and he started reciting the Brahma-samhita prayers and gave a very elaborate explanation of those prayers, the cintamani-dhama and Radha and Krishna, how They look, how They appear, what They do. He transported us to Goloka by his consciousness. When he finished, we were leaving Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Prabhupada ordered me, “This place is very nice and this will make a very nice location for a temple, and we want to build a temple. So you arrange to get this land donated. We’ll make a very nice temple.” Prabhupada had such a high vision that he would try for…so I had to do it. This park is a municipal park by the City of New York.
April 1969: “Gurudev,” Temple at 61 2nd Avenue
Damodar das: The film “Gurudev” was shot in the spring of 1969. We were waiting for Srila Prabhupada to arrive in New York at the airport. The chair was prepared for him, a vyasasana of sorts, and everybody was gathered. The United flight came in. The kirtan got ecstatic. There’s Subal, there’s Kancanbala and Lila-sukha, and Srila Prabhupada arrived. Of course, there was a great deal of commotion and I couldn’t get right at him immediately, but there he is walking down the aisle and, of course, a furious kirtan going on. Everybody else in the airport wondering what was happening. Srila Prabhupada is arriving from Los Angeles. These airport arrivals were certainly the most ecstatic and intense times because we had been away from him, he had been away from us, and the preparations were frantic and everybody is rushing out to get there on time and waiting and the plane arrives. And then Srila Prabhupada’s lotus feet make their landing on our ground, and we were so happy. The camera that I used couldn’t compensate for the strong lighting in back of Srila Prabhupada, so when I was at that angle you get a silhouette. I tried to get that word United on the tail of the plane in the shots because once again we were united with Srila Prabhupada, and that was our life.
Jadurani dasi: And now he’s sitting there in New York, and he said things like “You could chant any name of God, either Allah or any name of God that’s bona fide. But because we are followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, we chant the Hare Krishna mantra.”
Arundati dasi: There was a whole bunch of us waiting at this one gate, and all of a sudden somebody saw Prabhupada coming from this other gate and he said, “Oh, Srila Prabhupada’s coming from over there,” and we all ran to greet Srila Prabhupada and we fell down at his lotus feet. I was a new devotee so I didn’t know how long you’re supposed to stay down. So I stayed down for quite a while, and then I kind of peeked my head up to see if everybody had gotten up yet. Everyone was up, and Prabhupada was standing right over above me. I looked up into his lotus eyes and he went and patted my head, so I got up. So that was my first memory of Prabhupada. I was initiated by mail probably a few months before he had come to New York.
Rasananda das: Between the heads and the shoulders of the people just in the terminal, I caught intermittent glimpses of Prabhupada. I had never seen him, his actual form, and my senses were not very disturbed. I had not been a drug taker. I maybe experimented with each of the available drugs at the time once; but otherwise I was a trained observer, physiology labs and so on. I was certain he was not walking like an ordinary person. If you look at their head, it’ll be sort of bobbing. He was moving smoothly like a swan or other water bird floating on the water. That was my first glimpse of him. At that time actually I saw he was effulgent, and that was the first time I’d ever seen any effulgence like that. It was real, and I hadn’t had any vision like that in dreams or any religious experiences like that. It was as real as I see this door. And as I say, I was a trained observer. Then I paid obeisances and, rising up from the obeisances, I looked up and he was looking at me with that penetrating look that gave the one being looked at the understanding that this great personality sees our soul. In retrospect, we were so receptive. You see such nice faces, as Prabhupada says. But actually we had no position, no power, no use until Prabhupada joined us to him.
Nayanabhiram das: But I remember one time when I did go to the airport with Prabhupada and I was distributing prasadam and we were having a kirtan, and the airport authorities made us stop. I was at first distributing prasadam to the nondevotees who were onlooking. When they stopped our kirtan, Prabhupada was a little bit peeved; and he told me to come over with the prasadam and distribute the prasadam to the devotees instead of to the onlookers and he said, “Charity begins at home.” You see those garlands, they were all gardenias. We heard from the devotees on the West Coast that Prabhupada liked gardenias because they are very fragrant. So I used to buy the flowers for the temple, and we used to go to the flower shops and buy day-old gardenias, which were cheaper. Even though they were cheaper, they were more fragrant because I think Prabhupada had mentioned that a flower smells sweetest when it’s dying. They weren’t as fragrant when they were fresh, but they were more fragrant when they were older. Prabhupada said that the flowers that didn’t have a fragrance were useless Kali-yuga flowers so, therefore, he liked gardenias, whereas some of those carnations that we put in his garland were not very fragrant.
Damodar das: Srila Prabhupada got in the car in the airport and went back to Manhattan. Srila Prabhupada’s apartment was still at 26 2nd Avenue, and the devotees had repainted it and refinished it, redid the floors, so it was all gleaming and beautiful. Srila Prabhupada walked up the stairs – his apartment was on the second floor – and as he looked in the door into the apartment, he turned to us and said, “My old home,” and that really made us happy. We had painted the ceiling blue to look like the sky, and it was a wonderful reunion.
Nayanabhiram das: I remember that globe that Prabhupada had in his room in 26 2nd Avenue. I remember one time I was there with Prabhupada and he looked at the globe. I think he may have spun it a little bit and he said, “If they only knew my plans, they would put me away, they would lock me up,” because he was talking about plans to expand the movement all over the world. At that time, there were no branches in foreign countries and it was just kind of like a joke – somebody would go to Russia, somebody would go to China, somebody would go to England, and we all used to dream about it. We never really thought that the movement would expand beyond the hippie enclaves in New York and San Francisco and some college campuses, and even then… There was one college campus in Buffalo that Rupanuga prabhu was running a center at which was very successful, but we never really dreamed that Hare Krishna would be popular with college students because we thought it would only appeal to dropouts. I never thought that the movement was going to expand beyond the counterculture. 61 2nd Avenue before we took it over was a tuxedo parlor. So we retained those three-way mirrors and made alcoves out of them, and I think we put the vyasasana in one of the alcoves. There was one letter where Brahmananda wrote to Prabhupada about the Tuxedo Palace, and he still called it a palace when it was hardly a palace. Prabhupada wrote one letter, “Brahmananda has found me a palace.”
Rukmini dasi: The New York devotees had just acquired this new temple, the second New York temple at 61 2nd Avenue, and they were writing to Prabhupada telling him that the new temple was just like a palace. And I was feeling a lot of anxiety about this because I was thinking, “Prabhupada’s coming and he’s going to be so disappointed when he sees this temple. They’re telling him it’s just like a palace, but it’s just another storefront. It’s a little bit nicer than the first storefront, but it’s just another storefront.” I was thinking, “He’s going to be angry, he’ll be so disappointed, it’s going to be horrible.” So Prabhupada came in and he sat on the vyasasana and he said, “I prayed to Krishna to send me one moon, but Krishna has sent me so many moon-like boys and girls.” That’s what he said.
Jaiadvaita Swami: I remember one lecture Prabhupada gave there, he began saying om ajnana-timirandhasya... And then he just said, “Timirandhasya,” and he just lectured on that. He had his Bhagavatamopen to lecture on the Bhagavatamverse, but he didn’t lecture on that verse. He lectured on om ajnana-timirandhasya, he didn’t go beyond that, the importance of the spiritual master. There was one gentleman, an elderly gentleman, who walked one day into the temple and he had a letter from Prabhupada, and the letter said that “Dear Mr. such-and-such, so when I come to New York you can come see me.” OK. Brahmananda had me take him over to Prabhupada’s apartment a block or so away, and the man was very respectful. He was connected with a yoga society in New York. He said to Srila Prabhupada, “Swamiji, I like your movement very much, but one thing is that one of your disciples said that Swami such-and-such is a rascal. And it always seemed to me that he was a very holy man, and I don’t understand why your disciple would say that you said that he’s a rascal.” And Prabhupada said, “Who has said this?” And the man said, “You didn’t say?” Prabhupada said, “If they say that I have said and I have not said, then they are rascal.” So then the man was pacified. Then Prabhupada said a few things and Prabhupada pulled a book out of his bookshelf—a small hardbound blue book—and opened it up and gave it to the man. He said, “You know this book?” The man looked at it, “Oh, Swami such-and-such, Dr. such-and-such. Oh, Vedanta Society. Oh, yes,” and he was quite pleased at seeing something that he was familiar with. And Prabhupada opened it up and he said, “Read the translation.” The man read the translation, “Always think of Me, devote yourself to Me, worship Me, offer your homage to Me.” Prabhupada said, “Yes, he has done it nicely. He is very good scholar. Then the commentary, what does he say?” So the man began reading, “It is not to Krishna that we have to surrender but to the unborn impersonal…” something something. Prabhupada said, “Just see! Therefore, I say they are all rascals!” And then Prabhupada began explaining why such persons were rascals. He quoted, of course, “Na mam duskrtino mudhah prapadyante naradhamah, mayayapahrta-jnana asuram bhavam asritah, that they are the miscreants, lowest of mankind, their knowledge is stolen by illusion, they are demonic. Because just see, Krishna is saying Me and they are saying not Krishna. Therefore, I say.” Then Prabhupada said that “Sometimes strong words are needed to arouse a sleeping man.” Then Prabhupada said, “Anyway it is not my saying, it is Krishna saying.” Then Prabhupada gave a dismissive sort of shrug and he said, “What can I do?” Prabhupada did one initiation at 61 2nd Avenue, so Prabhupada was walking to his apartment. There’s still a photo of Srila Prabhupada walking surrounded by devotees chanting and dancing, and they’re having a really ecstatic kirtan. The fire yajna is completed, everybody’s initiated, people have their names, and Prabhupada is walking back to his apartment with his usual aristocratic gait with his head slightly raised and everyone’s chanting. Prabhupada didn’t say anything. Then Prabhupada just said, “We have increased the disciplic succession from Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”
Rukmini dasi: There were these girls in the New York temple, they were living at home and they would come to the temple. They were going to high school, and they were really nice girls. Prabhupada wanted them to stay in school and stay with their families, and they would come to the temple. I was more of a hippie. I had left home. I was in a different situation. But these girls, when Prabhupada would come, they would…they seemed very juvenile to me, but they really loved Prabhupada. And when he would come, they would scream and treat him like a rock and roll star. I was really quite embarrassed by it, but they were very loving and very devoted. So Prabhupada would come in and they would go, “Swamiji! Swamiji!” and scream and yell. Then at one point Prabhupada called them into his room and he said, “You are the children of the society so, therefore, you must be very grave.”
Vaikunthanath das: Saradiya and I were married in May of ’69, and shortly thereafter I returned to New York, because I was studying book binding at the time, to help set up the ISKCON Press. And I was very stunned when I was told that Prabhupada wanted us to stay in his quarters. There was an apartment behind 26 2nd Avenue. Those were considered the most holy places by all of us because that was where Prabhupada had his rooms; and although Prabhupada was not there in New York at the time, those were Prabhupada’s rooms. And yet Prabhupada instructed that me and Saradiya, having just recently been married and needing a place to stay, should stay in his rooms. And that deeply impressed me that he was willing to suggest that. And indeed we did stay there. We stayed there for probably a month or two in the summer of ’69.
Rukmini dasi: He was looking around the room on one of these evenings and he said, “I want each one of you to open a temple. I want each and every one of you to open a temple.” And because I’m a very impetuous person, and I was more impetuous then because I was only 16 years old, so I said, “Even the girls, Swamiji?” He said, “Yes, why not? There is no difference.” And he said, “In Nityananda’s absence, Jahnava-devi, she was preaching like anything. There is no difference between boys and girls.” That was very sweet.
Balai dasi: I was very late for my wedding. Srila Prabhupada was going to marry Advaita and I that day, and I walked in and I had my hair down, which I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to do. Srila Prabhupada, he looked at me and he said, “Balai is looking like the Goddess of Fortune.” Then he married us. After the marriage ceremony and the installation ceremony, Srila Prabhupada was sitting on the vyasasana and he was eating a popper and he broke the popper into several pieces and he said, “All glories to the provider of prasadam, all glories to the preparer of prasadam, and all glories to the eater of prasadam.”
April May 1969: BOSTON – Arrival, Initiation, Interview
Kirtiraj das: This was the first time I saw Srila Prabhupada in person. When we were waiting at Logan Airport, we were waiting for Prabhupada to arrive and when we got a first glimpse of him, I was really in awe—that he appeared as though he was floating down the exit from the airplane. And he seemed like he was just floating down the hallway with such a glow to him, that it was like no other person I ever saw in my life.
Tosan Krishna das: When Srila Prabhupada was greeted at airports, he would obviously be surrounded by his loving disciples. And then there would be a much larger group of people in the airport who would just be amazed at the whole spectacle of the flowers, the chanting, the ecstasy, the jumping for joy and then of course, the beaming and radiant Srila Prabhupada gliding through the corridors or being surrounded by his disciples covered in garlands. And Srila Prabhupada would note the crowd and quite often encourage the devotees to continue chanting for their benefit. Sometimes the chanting would die down and he would raise his arms—"Continue, continue." And then finally he would give a lecture, on occasions, to the crowd. In Boston, I remember, he looked around and he said, "About this greeting, it says in shastra, that the spiritual master should be worshipped on the same level as God. However, if he thinks he is God, he is dog.”
Kirtiraj das: Prabhupada was supposed to go to the hotel in downtown Boston for a press conference and Uddhava who was my boss at the press, didn’t allow me to go to the hotel. Instead, he took me back to the temple. So I was really angry with him that I didn’t get a chance to see Srila Prabhupada more, and as we were standing on the porch of the Boston temple—and I’m there kind of under my breath cursing Uddhava— all of a sudden Prabhupada’s car drove up and there was Prabhupada at the temple. There were probably only about five of us there, me and Uddhava, the pujari and a couple of others. So we walked—greeted Prabhupada and walked down the hall to Prabhupada’s room with him. In the meantime I guess, devotees figured out or found out that Prahbupada wasn’t going to the hotel so they all converged upon the temple and we all went to Prabhupada’s room. I couldn’t believe that here, first time in my life, I was sitting so close and right before Srila Prabhupada. So during the course of probably about an hour and a half or two hours of sitting in Prabhupada’s room with him—and of course the crowd grew—there was one devotee in the group, Patit Udaran, he had a brother, Madhu Mangal, and they were two of the first initiated devotees from New York. Prabhupada knew their mother. And Patit Udaran was in the room. Prabhupada asked him how he was doing and he asked him about his brother and then he asked him about his mother. So Patit Udaran said, “I want to try to save them, Srila Prabhupada. And Prabhupada said, “There’s one story in this regard. He said, “There was family of sparrows and a young baby sparrow flew out of the nest and got captured by the hunter. And the mother said, ‘Oh my baby she’s gotten captured by the hunter. I’ll go to try to save him.’ And she flew out of the nest and she got captured by the hunter. And then the father sparrow he said, ‘Oh my son has gone out of the nest. He’s gotten captured by the hunter. My wife has gone out. She’s gotten captured by the hunter’ He said, ‘If I go out I’ll get captured too.’ And he flew away and didn’t try to save them.” So Prabhupada said, “The most important thing is that you’ve got to save yourself and that’s of primary importance.”
Prabhupada das: It was the Boston temple where I finally ended up joining. The devotees knew that I had spoken with Srila Prabhupada so they thought that even though I was just a guest—I was an outside devotee, and I wasn’t following so strictly—but still they allowed me to have darshan with Srila Prabhupada. I was introduced a little the wrong way. Srila Prabhupada was told, “This is Bhakta Lon. He used to speak with you at 61 2nd Avenue, “ which was the second temple. And I was never even in that temple. But I was a little nervous now. I wasn’t quite as wild as I was in ’66 and also Srila Prabhupada was a little less anonymous in terms of his prestigious and important person that he really was. So I was a little in awe, finally. Instead of correcting and saying, “ No, it wasn’t 61, it was 26 2nd Ave,” instead of saying that, I wanted to give Srila Prabhupada some hint about our previous conversations. So I said, “Srila Prabhupada, when I used to speak with you in 1966, I was very very crazy. So I thought this would help Srila Prabhupada remember. So Srila Prabhupada looked at me and raised his eyebrows and said, “Oh, and are you still crazy?” So then the onus was on me to try to prove to Srila Prabhupada that I was not crazy anymore. So I said, “No, I’m not crazy anymore.” Srila Prabhupada said, “So what is your situation now? What are you doing? And I said, “Well now I have wife and I have apartment and I have a truck, or two trucks and I have a business. “ And I was kind of proud giving a list of things that almost made me normal to back up my statement that I wasn’t crazy. And Srila Prabhupada said, “It is ok. You don’t have to move in the temple.” D ifferent from the instruction he gave me in ’66. He said, “You stay with your wife; you stay with your business. But I only ask one thing of you. Just try to understand Krishna.” So I thought that was the end of the darshan, and it was actually. So I offered obeisances—I learned how to do that over the years—and as I was walking out the door, Srila Prabhupada said,—the last words I personally received from Srila Prabhupada’s lotus mouth was something a little enigmatic—he said to me, “And we are not asking for any money.” And I left.
Patit Udaran das: We set up the ISKCON Press in Boston. And after we were set up Prabhupada came and visited. And I was hand-binding Isopanisads, Nectar of Devotions. And I remember we did a run of Back to Godheads. I remember hand cutting 80,000 Back to Godheads. That requires three cuts per magazine. So that was quite a load of work. And some of the magazines, if I would load too many in the cutter, they would come out kind of misshapened, but we’d go out and sell them anyways. And next to my folding machine—I folded the papers and Advaita would print—so the printing press was right next to the folder. So Prabhupada came in and saw the folder and then walked over to the press and looked at Advaita, and looked at everybody in the crowd, and touched the printing press and he said, “This is my heart.” So I feel that my service was much appreciated by Prabhupada even though we switched from printing and binding to Japan soon thereafterwards. And I feel privileged to have served him in the press capacity in the earliest days.
Vaikunthanath das: I remember in the Boston temple taking a walk with Prabhupada. There was a small park nearby and as we were walking through the park, at one point, I’d asked a question. I don’t recall the question but Prabhupada turned, and looked at me straight in the eye, and said, “When you’re reading, understand every word before you go on.” And that’s always stuck with me. Often when I’m reading now I say “Prabhupada wanted me to try to understand every word before I continued.” But it was quite a profound instruction.
Arundhati dasi: At Boston it was just Jadurani and Satsvarupa. Devananda was the one brahmachari that was there. And then there was four brahmacharinis: me, Jahnava, Rukmini and Saradia. Satsvarupa said to Prabhupada, “All these brahmacharinis, they are always fighting with each other. And Prabhupada said, “That is because they need to be married, they are fighting. They must get married. Immediately arrange. I will perform wedding before I leave,” and he was leaving two days later. So instantly we were supposed to be getting married and it was pretty shocking. And then this other brahmachari came named Dayal Nitai and Prabhupada said I should marry Dayal Nitai. And I got really upset. Somehow I did not want to marry Dayal Nitai. I went up to this hill somewhere and was crying and praying to Krishna and not knowing what to do thinking that Prabhupada said I should do this and I just had very strong resistance to it. So as I came back down Satsvarupa said what’s wrong and I told him. So Satsvarupa went in to Prabhupada and said to him, “Arundhati’s upset. She doesn’t really want to marry Dayal Nitai.” And Prabhupada said, “That is ok. Nothing is by force in Krishna consciousness. And if she doesn’t want to marry now, then she can get married at some later date.” So I was very relieved. So the next day Prabhupada performed that wedding ceremony with the three couples. So I was praying to Krishna, “Please send me a husband. I don’t wanna…I just felt so uncomfortable. So then…I don’t know time exactly, whether it was a month or little bit longer but Purushottama called up and he said, “Prabhupada would like to know if you would like to come here and marry Pradyumna.” And I had met Pradyumna once before. We were both working on Prabhupada’s books. So I thought about it and I said, “Ok, I will come.” So then I went to Columbus and Prabhupada married us. And then Prabhupada asked me and Shyama dasi if we could do composing of his books. He bought the first composer machine. He was very involved with that and was writing to us quite regularly. He said we should learn. We went and learned how to use it and he gave us specific hours. He said, “Arundhati, you can work from seven to ten, and Shyma dasi, ten to one. And Arundhati you work again from one to four and Shyama dasi from four to seven so that we are really using the time and getting the books done.” And I think the first book we did on that machine was the Nectar of Devotion. Prabhupada was constantly writing letters and wanting to know how it was going and very involved with that.
Srila Prabhupada: Just like Krishna spoke to Arjun, and Jesus Christ spoke to some...generally the shepherds. You see? So status of life and their understanding was different. So, the representative of God speaks according to the circumstances—according to the country. So it was good for the people at that time. They should have concentrated through Jesus Christ. Is this Krishna consciousness sectarian? Can anyone take it up? Can Christians take it up?
Can Muslims take it up? Yes, you can see practically. All our students here in the Western countries they're mostly coming from Christian groups, this group... And there are many Mohammedans also,
Ranadhir das: I was in New Vrindavan. Things were pretty basic there, lot of dirt and mud. My mom sent me this sweater. It was saffron and of course we had trouble keeping stuff clean there so I didn’t want to get it dirty. I thought this would be nice for Prabhupada. It’s not going to be much use here. So I put it in a plastic bag and I was living in the brahmachari ashram and somehow I was able to protect the sweater from getting dirty for a couple of months. Then Prabhupada came to Boston to see the press and we drove up from New Vrindavan. I was all excited. I had the sweater that my mom had given me and I was going to give it to Prabhupada. So we got to Boston. I think there was an arotik and then Prabhupada went in the back of the temple. They had curtain to close off to make like a sitting room and all the big devotees were back there with Prabhupada. Now was my chance, so I barged in and stood there sort of stammering, “Prabhupada, my mom gave me this sweater. She sent it from England. It’s really nice and I wanted you to have it.” Prabhupada said, “Oh, no, no, no. I can’t take this. Your mother gave this to you. You should keep it.” So I was crushed and Prabhupada saw that and he said, “Well, all right. We’ll exchange.” And he had this saffron sweater on with little brown buttons on it. He unbuttoned the sweater and took it off and gave it to me and I gave him the sweater and it was just like a really wonderful exchange. All the devotees in the room were very moved. Everybody was crying. It was very nice. I was touching the sweater and I felt blessed to have it. I really held onto it for days; it didn’t leave my hands. I think it’s on the altar at New Vrindavan. I gave it to the temple as Prabhupada prasad.
Summer 1969: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Temple on La Cienega Avenue, Harinam Sankirtan
Sacidevi dasi: It was July of 1969 when I first joined the temple. Prabhupada was there that day, and I had just come out of a downward slide in hippie life and I was feeling such relief and such happiness to be in a safe and transcendental environment. Prabhupada, after he finished his prasadam, he got up to leave the room and a whole pathway was formed so Prabhupada could walk and we all paid our obeisances. I watched out of the corner of my eye Prabhupada’s feet coming toward me, and then his feet stopped right where my head was and I just almost lost my breath. I looked up to see what was going on and Prabhupada turned to Tamal and he said, “So when will she be initiated?” and Tamal said, “Oh, very soon, Srila Prabhupada.” So Prabhupada went out of the room, out of the exit and around the side of the temple, he was getting ready to leave, and I was standing on the steps and I must have had a smile past my ears. I was so happy that Prabhupada had acknowledged me and blessed me. Prabhupada was standing on the top step and I was standing on the bottom step and I looked up to Srila Prabhupada, his golden head and his beautiful golden skin and there was a complete blue sky canopy behind his head, and he smiled at me and he said, “So you are happy now?” And I said, “Oh, yes, Srila Prabhupada, I’m so happy.” He said, “Very good.”
Gargamuni das: We had eight sankirtan parties going out every day. We would come back and then at night go out again. We would stay out till twelve o’clock, one o’clock every night. The whole spirit behind this, I have to say, was Vishnujan. This person could chant Hare Krishna on a drum all day long. He must have been a divine personality because I don’t see how a human could do that. People were anxious to go on sankirtan, and it was such a wonderful sight to see. People would watch us for hours and hours and hours, it was so attractive. Then we used the conch shells to hold the money, and the deal was you’d give a Back To Godhead with a pack of incense for a buck. In those days, Prabhupada had me order Back To Godhead, and we would sit down once a month and he would give me the order. It came out to about 250,000 a month at that time. He would say, “How much New York?” I said, “Well, Prabhupada, you said 30,000.” He says, “Make it 40.” He would put adjustments. We were taking the most, though, L.A. We were taking 60,000 to 70,000 a month, and there was no problem in distributing them. By the end of the month, we were all out. That’s how big sankirtan was.
Visala das: I used to distribute books always from the beginning of my good fortune meeting Srila Prabhupada. I distributed 108 Back To Godheads in Los Angeles. Usually I went to Venice Beach. And I came in—Mukunda Maharaja I remember was there—and there were sannyasis and so many godbrothers and godsisters were there and I said, “Srila Prabhupada, I just distributed 108 Back To Godheadsin the hot sun! May I go to India?” Prabhupada said, “You are Narada Muni, you can go wherever you like.” I was happy because I was free to go wherever I wanted to go.
September – December 1969: LONDON, ENGLAND – Initiation, Installation Radha-London-isvara.
Dhananjaya das: So this initiation took place on the property of John Lennon, which is known as Tittenhurst Park, about 25 miles outside of London. There were supposed to be four of us taking initiation that particular time. And to my right there was this English fellow called Jimmy Doody. He was a businessman. He was quite wealthy and he had this really pretty girlfriend, and he hadn’t actually shaved up. When Prabhupada was just about to start putting the colors for the fire yajna, Jimmy Doody’s girlfriend appeared at a window just to the right of Prabhupada. She didn’t want to participate, but she wanted to catch Jimmy Doody’s attention. Finally he looks up and sees her. So he stands up, goes over to Prabhupada and whispers in Prabhupada’s ear and he says, “Excuse me, Prabhupada, I just have to step outside a moment. Is that all right?” Prabhupada just casually nodded his head and didn’t say anything, and that was the last we saw of Jimmy Doody. So when I got the name Dhananjaya, Prabhupada explained…this means, obviously, ‘the winner of wealth.’…he said that “Money is flying in all directions,” and he started making some gestures with his hands. And he told me, “In this life, you will have no difficulty with money.”
Yamuna dasi: This is the momentous occasion of the installation of Sri Sri Radha-London-isvara on December 14th, 1969, on the occasion of Odana Sasthi. The night before this event, Srila Prabhupada had us put two candles on the altar where the deities would stand and have a long kirtan to prepare for greeting Them. This was all photographed by the BBC, who brought their cameras, and there was great advertising. There was standing room only and people actually standing outside the temple looking in the window. The days leading up to this were feverish preparation. The altar was put together at the very, very last moment, much by Shyamasundar’s great and hard work. Shyamasundar worked so hard on this event that Srila Prabhupada asked for a plaque to be installed at the front of the temple honoring Shyamasundar for all the work that he had done in the preparation of making this a habitable place for the Lord.
Caturbhuja das: We were initiated as a grihastha family: my father, my mother and two other brothers. This was on the 14th of December, 1969. Here we see the start of initiation ceremony. We were nine, ten at the time, and initiation had a great significance for my parents because they were born in India. They had been raised in a family where initiation was considered important. We were surrounded by lots of devotee well-wishers and people who were really very very pleased that we were being initiated and equally we felt that wonderful beginning of reciprocation that you'd feel when you do become initiated, and how that grew in subsequent years. and how we came to relish the wonderful pastimes which Srila Prabhupada told us and the stories that he told us from various parts of the Vedic literature.
Jai Hari das: One of the highpoints of that installation of the Radha Krishna Deities at the time, was also my personal initiation. If I remember, I was probably let's say the third or fourth brahmachari to be initiated by him. But initiation was to me very very personal because I was at a very young age— 16 and a half, 17. It was Srila Prabhupada after meeting him that I became attracted to Krishna consciousness, because before then I hadn't really had any interest in spiritual life apart from doing a little meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi but that was when I was at college. And for some reason Prabhupada came to me like a father figure more than as a spiritual teacher. He could see that I was at a very very young age, he could see I was very vulnerable, So he didn't really preach that much to me about philosophy or about Krishna or whatever. It was much more of a son father relationship. And he was more concerned about my personal well-being, my health, my age. That's how I was drawn to him. I thought, "This is the man I've been looking for all my life. And it was through his guidance and support that I've managed to carry on what I'm doing now. Even now at my age—55, 56— the principles that he taught me of humility, forgiveness, kindness, caring, are still there in my everyday existence. I don't think if I'd met Srila Prabhupada when I was 16 and a half, 17 that I would have probably survived physically beyond 19, 20 or 21 years of age, because that the way things were in those days— you lived dangerously doing whatever you were doing and you died young. And Prabhupada came and saved me from that sort of existence.
Karanodakasayi Visnu das: Srila Prabhupada's saying not to cross over the Krishna bead. There's 108 beads plus one Krishna bead. So we chant on the Gopi beads, and just showing my father not to cross over the Krishna bead but to go in opposite directions. This is Jai Hari also getting initiated. After many visits at the Conway Hall lectures, and at Srila Prabhupada's flat in Baker Street, and Ascot—John Lennon's estate —finally my father and mother are initiated in Bury Place. This particular film was taken by Gurudas Prabhu. We were initiated—both my brothers—at the same time on this occasion. In addition, my father and mother had second initiation given to them. About six other devotees, including Dhananjaya Prabhu were initiated for their second initiation. It's a week after Sri Sri Radha London-isvara were installed.
Jai Hari das: What was striking about that time in Bury Place, with Srila Prabhupada being there, was that it was like a family. The brahmacharis were all like my brothers. The brahmacharinis were like my sisters. The elders, like Yamuna, Malati were like my mothers. For me, it was like being in my real home. I finally thought to myself, "This is what I've been looking for for the last 16 years. This is home." It felt like home, because nobody patronized you or told you off for doing something that you shouldn't do. Everybody supported each other. It was very very much like a family. But in due course of time that family got bigger as the years went by And I think that's probably where it became perhaps sometimes a bit impersonal, whereby younger devotees that joined didn't have the experience of association of senior devotees to nurture them. And this is where I was very very lucky, is because Prabhupada nurtured me. He knew the kind of qualities I had: whether I was restless, whether I had doubts, whether I was scared, whether I had issues emotionally, Without even me saying anything verbally to him, he knew it and he would say something. "So you have a problem with something?", or "Are you ok?" And I would always think to myself, "Well how did he know this, that I had an issue with something?" But he knew it just by looking into my eyes. He had that ability to just look into people's eyes and know exactly what they were thinking or what they wanted to do. Travel was one of them that I wanted to do, so he encouraged me to travel, whether it was to Paris, to Amsterdam, to Los Angeles, wherever. There was never, oh you can't do this, or you're too young for this, or this isn't allowed. He gave me the encouragement and inspiration to just do it and get it out of my system. And perhaps you made a mistake; that's neither here nor there. The fact is that it's the experience of doing it. So if you have made a mistake... It's like Prabhupada always said, "You can make one mistake, but never make the same mistake twice." So in that respect, he was forgiving and he knew that no one was perfect. Mistakes can be made very very easily. The day of that initiation was amazing, absolutely amazing. It was just so purifying and awe-inspiring. I'll never forget that day—it changed my life completely.
Karanodakasayi Visnu das: Shyamasundar Prabhu had the wonderful vision of bringing the California Redwood from America to build this Bury Place temple. Srila Prabhupada did comment that once we moved to Soho Street we were to keep that wood and we did keep it at Chaitanya College. Later on I had the privilege of working with Mayesvara Prabhu to build the Rath cart which we still have today— the same Rath cart that has that California Redwood. The wood was so solid and it had a transcendental aroma. I remember when we were cutting it up and building the pieces for the Rath cart, it was a transcendental experience just working with that wood.
Shyamasundar das: Prabhupada waited for months. He pushed me so hard to finish this temple. I mean this temple was a work of art that we put our hearts into. Because we were located in the center of downtown London, we wanted a very very nice place where people could come— cosmopolitan people could come, Londoners could walk in and feel at home—not a run down storefront but a proper temple. There were only two or three of us doing the work. We spent months building this temple room out of redwood that I brought from California and wood that we bought in England. It was a massive renovation.We tore out one floor above and made it a two story high room. And we had to soundproof the entire premises because we were right in the middle of a residential district. So everything was double walled. Prabhupada was very patient. But finally after sitting in John Lennon’s place and in various apartments for month after month— he arrived I think in September— finally he gave us a deadline that we had to have the temple opening by December. We were so busy. There were so few of us and we had so many activities to perform that we didn’t plan ahead very well. We didn’t even know where we were going to get Deities but we knew Krishna would take care of it somehow. This was the kind of spirit that prevailed in those days; just work as hard as you can to spread Krishna consciousness and things will happen, the magic will happen.
Karanodakasayi Visnu das: Srila Prabhupada is very pleased. This was his first Indian disciple that he’d made in London. Of course not many Indian disciples came forward in those times. He wrote about 50 letters to my father about what was going on in the movement. My father felt Srila Prabhupada confided in him a lot.
Shyamasundar das: The Deities appeared, just as if by magic, only days before the installation was to take place. After so much preparation, months of building this temple and no Deities. We didn’t give a thought, where are these going to come from? So Krishna had to appear. He had to. He promises. But anyway, there They are and They are still the most beautiful Deities. They’re in the Soho temple now, in downtown. The Soho temple in London still maintains the spirit of Bury Place. It’s right in the heart, just off of Oxford Street. Still attracts the same kind of young people, curious young people along with men in suits and women in nice clothes. It’s not just a hippy center. That was the purpose of being in the center of London with a nice place; it attracted a higher class of people. But Prabhupada was very anxious to get moved in. When we left John Lennon’s place, the temple quarters were still not finished, so we took a temporary apartment on Baker Street for Srila Prabhupada, just near Regents Park. That’s where he saw the so-called moon landing on television. We worked day and night at Bury Place to finish by Prabhupada’s deadline. When Prabhupada set a deadline, that was it. There was no budging. He was very lenient up until deadline time and then it had to be finished. We worked up until the last moment to build the altar. In fact the altar was not very well made because it was so hurried. Much more time was spent on the vyasasan and other features of the temple. George Harrison donated the marble for the altar so we had a very nice slab of marble that was selected by David Wynne, who was the sculptor laureate of England. No canopy was made so we had to very quickly construct a canopy. And you probably have read the story how that collapsed during the installation ceremony. Prabhupada became like Nrsimhadev, he was so angry. He held the canopy up from collapsing on the Deities. I’d gone upstairs; I’d collapsed myself— so exhausted from the work. Afterwards I found out about it, I felt very bad. I came into Prabhupada’s room to apologize for such a sloppy construction job; tears in my eyes. Prabhupada laughed and he said “Never mind, They did not want a canopy over Their heads.” He was so merciful, Prabhupada.
Yamuna dasi: So glorious was this Bury Place Temple. The Deities are given the name Shri Shri Radha London-isvara or the isvaras, the Grand Supreme Lord of the whole of London. Such a poignant moment— witnessing Srila Prabhupada leaving the Bury Place front door on his way to Boston on December 21, 1969. All the devotees went to the airport to see Srila Prabhupada off, save myself who stayed back at the temple. At the moment of Prabhupada’s departure just before he left, he walked into the temple room to say goodbye to the Deities. He came in and paid obeisances: full out flat dandavats on the blue carpet, stayed on the ground for a long time and when he got up I noted that he had tears in his eyes. And he looked over at me and very matter of factly said, “If you just do as I have instructed—what I have taught you so far—you can go back to Godhead. Do it, just do it.” And at that point I, of course, teared up and folded my hands and simply watched Srila Prabhupada as he turned and walked away out the front door. This is a thrilling film for me to see—the airport—seeing as I didn’t see it personally but now I'm seeing it through the footage. Seeing all the devotees hanging onto every moment of Prabhupada’s last few minutes with him. I’m always caught at the wonder of watching baby Saraswati, who was only about 13 months old at this point but so spontaneously involved in the chanting of Hare Krishna and the worship of Prabhupada sometimes following him very shyly behind her mother’s sari and sometimes very boldly out front. But she was so present during the time that she spent with Srila Prabhupada. She was just a little baby body but very consciously present. So devotees who experienced these going and comings, either an arrival or departure, were always wondering if they would ever see Srila Prabhupada again, trying to capture the moment where he carried his bag and with his servants, headed towards the departure gate and got on a plane and left. Thank you Prabhupada, thank you.
Winter 1970 – San Francisco, Berkeley, Laguna Beach – Harinam Sankirtan
Madhudvisa das: We did go out on Harinam everyday, it was a fact, except Sundays because Sundays we were preparing the feast at the temple and cleaning the temple. Behind the kirtan, they're building the BART in the background. See Market Street is all torn up. So Srila Prabhupada instructed us in the beginning that Harinam was our main activity in the temple, and Back to Godhead distribution. In those early days we didn't have elaborate book production program going on. We didn't have elaborate Deity worship, and so that was ideal for Harinam. People could go on Harinam. Part of the troup could be around the Harinam distributing Back to Godheads. There wasn't any airports open in those days for book distribution. Door to door wasn't happening yet. It was all centered around Harinam. So we distributed a lot of Back to Godheads and invitations to come to the temple. So it was propaganda—ideal propaganda— because people were seeing the Harinam. They were inquisitive to what you guys are all about. Here's a Back to Godhead. Here's an invitation to the temple. Come for the Sunday feast. It all was hand in hand like that. So Prabhupada said, "Except for a few devotees "who stay back in the temple for cooking and cleaning, "the rest of the temple should go on Harinam." So everyday most of the devotees went on Harinam during the day, and some of the devotees would go in the evening. In San Francisco, we would go to North Beach in the evening time which is like an entertainment section of the city where they had clubs, coffee houses, burlesque, bars and things like that all in North Beach. So we would have Harinam there
because there was a lot of activity there during the evenings. Or we would go to the movie lines which was down at Market Street. Sometimes we would go to both. And on the weekends, on Friday and Saturday evenings, we would go maybe three different places. We would go to the movie lines and we would go to the theater, because "Hair" was performing at that time at the Geary Theater. So we timed it. We knew exactly when the theater was getting out. So we would be there with Harinam just as the crowd was coming out of the theater. We actually chanted Hare Krishna on the opening night at "Hair," because in the finale of "Hair" they have an onstage rally where they try to encourage people from the audience to stand up and sing, and what they're singing is Hare Krishna. So the cast of "Hair" asked us if we would come onto the stage for the first performance of "Hair." So we went on stage and we celebrated the culmination of the opening of "Hair" with chanting of Hare Krishna and they do it every evening as well. So we knew that the audience from "Hair" would be all hepped up with chanting Hare Krishna in the finale and then they would come out of the door and we were there with big handfulls of burning incense and roses and kirtan was going on. It was right in the middle of the Vietnam war so there was a lot of anti-war protests going on so we took advantage of that. We would hand a person a piece of incense and we'd say, "Burn incense, not babies." Because there was this big controversy about napalm being used in Vietnam where babies were being
maimed and everything. So one day we were chanting Hare Krishna in front of the theater and some merchant complained and they had the harebrained idea
of busting the Hare Krishnas in full view of all the sympathetic audience. They actually busted us and put us in the paddy wagon and we went downtown Before we even got there, there was like five or six lawyers from the audience of "Hair"
volunteering to represent us saying, "They can't do this to you. You're ok. You'll get out." Sure enough, we were out of jail within half an hour or so. Prabhupada was informed about how they were chanting Hare Krishna at the end of "Hair" and we were chanting with them. But I didn't mention the fact that the cast was naked on stage. In those situations, Prabhupada didn't want the brahmacharis to be around. So, we didn't go on stage again after that. I wasn't aware that
that was part of the show. So here we are on the campus of U.C. Berkeley and we're chanting Hare Krishna and along with the chanting there would be a lot of—we called them Bible bashers—evangelical Christians who'd be proselytizing for Christ. They were damning the devotees as heathens and idolaters. Here we are actually passing out prasadam right there. One Bible basher would take his bible and throw the bible on the ground—one of those leather bound Bibles—
and it would slap on the ground like that. And we said that, "Don't you think you should have a little more respect for the Bible?" He said, "No, I am simply
drawing attention He said, "No, I am simply drawing attention to the fact that you are idolators and you are heathens and you are damned to the lake of fire.” And he would go raging on and on. So a big crowd would gather when this guy would come. I forget his name—crazy Carl or something like that. He was a person that people knew around the campus. But when crazy Carl confronted the devotees, that was especially humorous because the devotees would be oblivious to him. They'd be just chanting in ecstacy, dancing, chanting and he'd be raving and raging and raving. And people would be taking prasadam. So it created a good atmosphere because you could see that, although the devotees looked exotic, they weren't that far from the students’ outlook on life. This is Laguna Beach. We would go to Laguna Beach for Harinam, especially on Sundays. We would actually take a bus down to Laguna Beach and bring devotees back for the feast. But soon thereafter, we opened a temple in Laguna. This is Sukadev. It was a very fertile place for recruiting devotees—a lot of young people involved with meditation and things like that. They would become devotees even though we didn't have a temple down there. So we finally decided that we should open a temple. And Durlab was one of the original devotees down there. Bhakta das was from San Diego. He might have been traveling up there just for a while. We would travel to different places. In Los Angeles we used to go to Griffith Park all the time on Sundays. In San Francisco, we would have Harinam in Golden Gate Park. Naturally Prabhupada went there on many occasions for his morning walk. But he would come to the park also to have kirtan, right there at Hippy Hill.
March 1970: BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA – Harinam, Temple activities, Festival for Lord Chaitanya
Bahulasva das: Hridayananda was a brahmacari at the same time as I was there, and Chitsukananda was the temple commander when I first joined. So Hridayananda had lots of friends on campus in Berkeley, and Prabhupada encouraged us to do college preaching. We met Dr. Judah and began…he came to the temple, and Srila Prabhupada corresponded with him. Dr. Judah explained to him the study he was doing to show what the religious conversion experience was like for Westerners, and Prabhupada wrote me back and told me that I should give him full cooperation and help him in whatever way I can—structure questions and make devotees available for him to speak with so that he could conduct his… He did surveys, different devotee surveys, why did they join and so on and so forth. Dr. Judah was very close with Prabhupada in the sense of he sent everything to Prabhupada before it was always published; and so Prabhupada had confidence in him from that, that he was sincere, and Dr. Judah proved to be a very good ally to the movement.
Revatinandan das: At that point, Vishnujan had his black nylon gloves on with little pieces of tile taped underneath on the outside of the gloves so he could just slip the gloves on and he’d have pieces of tile in all the places where his hands would hit the mrdanga shell because a mrdanga, after a while, it can cut your hands to ribbons. So to protect his hands, he had these gloves that he could slip on and off that already had taped pieces of tile in place so he could tap the drum all day without hurting his hands. He used to play that drum like that and lead that kirtan every day, day in, day out. Between the street and the temple aratiks, he probably led kirtan 10 hours a day, day in and day out. I’m not kidding. An average of three-and-a-half to four hours in the afternoon, an average of the same at night, and then at least three or four big kirtans in the temple throughout the day. Added all together, probably 10 hours a day chanting at the top of his lungs, and he never ever seemed to be tired of doing it. His dedication was philosophically based. It’s possible to be sentimentally based or emotionally based only. Vishnujan was actually very philosophical. He could give a good lecture.
Bahulasva das: So this building was on Durant, very close to the campus. This is the temple that I joined in. Hansadutta was president here. We used to have wonderful feasts because we were so close to the campus and we were right up where all the frat houses were.
Madhudvisa das: The Berkeley temple was an old fraternity house. The devotees would go there every day at Sproul Plaza and chant and distribute prasadam and preach, and they would invite people back to the temple to eat prasadam. In the back yard of this temple, that’s where Lord Chaitanya’s murti emerged like a giant sequoia tree growing up in the back yard. The neighbors were surprised to see Lord Chaitanya manifesting Himself above the peaks of the roof as the devotees were constructing Lord Chaitanya. Locan das, who eventually and still to this day carves all the murtis that sit in the temples around North America, he made that Lord Chaitanya deity, and that started the tradition of having Lord Chaitanya. This started right there at Sproul Plaza. It was a very famous place where the students began to have free speech, and then eventually it led to the anti-war demonstrations. They all started there at Sproul Plaza. They gave us permission to close off the street. Prabhupada made the comment that in the past whenever the students gathered for a demonstration, they would break all the windows up and down the street. So they would never give permission for the students to have this street closed, Telegraph Avenue, a famous street in Berkeley. But this time they allowed us to do it, and there was no breaking of any windows and no civil disturbances. It was all quite peaceful and joyful. So the locals were quite happy. There was great cooperation amongst the devotees at that time in the Bay area, and we had so many different joint activities. I remember the devotees all came together at the famous rock and roll concert at Altamont where the Rolling Stones came. All the devotees from the three or four different temples in the Bay area came, and we got there the night before and distributed prasadam to thousands. There was hundreds and thousands of people at that festival. But here in Sproul Plaza, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in all His glory.
Nalinikantha das: So Locan was the temple president, and Jayananda was helping him. We were living in Berkeley, and we wrote Srila Prabhupada a letter about having a festival in Berkeley for Lord Chaitanya. We told him that we were going to make eight banners of the Siksastaka prayers and put them up across the street for everybody. Prabhupada wrote back, he was very enthusiastic and he said, “I want that all the educated people in your country seriously understand these prayers of Lord Chaitanya, and I approve of your plan for the festival. Unfortunately, I will not be able to come. But we have 24 such festivals in a calendar year. If you can observe all of them in such a grand way, then the whole Bay area will become Krishna conscious.” So we did put up the banners and Jayananda, of course, was the moving force for all of these wonderful festivals. We had a good turnout, and we distributed about a thousand plates of prasadam at the park afterwards.
Revatinandan das: These were big days. These were some of my favorite days of the year because we got to have kirtan for hours at a stretch; and after about two hours of chanting in continuous kirtan, it goes through a kind of a change. This special thing used to happen where you felt like you were listening while your body did it, and it got real sweet at that time. And then you could go on and on and on and on after that. There were times when I led for 10 hours without stopping at a Rathayatra. This is when the sankirtan portion of the movement, which was the real movement, was in full swing at that time. Prabhupada used to say, “Our movement runs on two tracks – the pancaratriki-viddhi and the bhagavat-viddhi.” And he defined the pancaratriki-viddhi as being all of the regulations connected with deity worship basically by which devotees pattern their life, timing everything every day. And the bhagavat-viddhi he defined as chanting, dancing, feasting and philosophy. And that’s exactly how he defined it, he just said those four terms. He said, “I have written in our books that our movement runs on both tracks simultaneously, and they are both equally important.” But then he told me another time, he said, “But I’ll tell you, you can get along without the pancaratriki-viddhi in this age but you cannot get along without the bhagavat-viddhi.” So his main stress was on this, and it was livewire.
Bahulasva das: Prabhupada couldn’t come to this himself. There were lots of pictures that were sent. During this time in Berkeley’s history, there was a lot of political upheaval and so Srila Prabhupada said that this will be the antidote for giving that rebellious spirit some proper direction and means to express itself. So he was aware of what was going on.
Hridayananda Goswami: That was really still very much the time of the radical politics, the hippie culture and so on. So we were all young, we were part of that culture, and so we had a real sense of fitting in with the general ambiance. The turnout was not massive, but it was good. But this was the first large scale Gaura Purnima Festival. What pleased Prabhupada exceedingly was that after the festival was over, days later the Berkeley police issued a statement praising the fact that we had made the city more peaceful. Because in those days there were all kinds of demonstrations and often they turned violent, there was tear gas, police, riot squads and so on. So the fact that a bunch of young people who were “far out” held some kind of demonstration festival right down Telegraph Avenue and it was peaceful and brought peace to others, the police highly praised this and Prabhupada adored that quote and he would quote it all over. As he traveled around the world, he would again and again quote that praise from the Berkeley police.
Madhudvisa das: We emphasized that fact, that Prabhupada had written this pamphlet called “The Peace Formula” saying that real brotherhood could be attained only when we recognized our common father. Jayananda dancing with the hippies. Jayananda would always take the common man under his wing. He was a devotee that could always…he had the biggest heart. No one was ever too smelly or too dirty or too distraught for Jayananda. Jayananda would take anybody, the lowest, under his wing.