by Gauridas Pandita Dasa
"Tomorrow we will go to Vrindavan; better to die in Vrindavan." Those are the words of Srila Prabhupada in Hrsikesh in May of 1977. We were there trying to regain Srila Prabhupada's failing health on the advice of a good friend and life member in Bombay, Mahadeviya Kartikeya. Things were going good in Hrsikesh until one stormy night. Srila Prabhupada was up all night and at about 2:30am he made that statement to Upendra Prabhu who came downstairs and woke the rest of us up with the devastating news that Srila Prabhupada wanted to go to Vrindavan to leave his body. We were not at all ready for the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. Losing Srila Prabhupada's personal presence would seem to be the end of the best thing that ever happened to us.
The power had been going off and back on all night with the storm. It was like the description of the beginning of this age of Kali in the Srimad Bhagavatam.
Srila Prabhupada's health had started to deteriorate at the 1977 Goura Pournima Festival. He canceled a few of his scheduled classes and events. The devotees who came from all over the world started to worry about and pray for the health of Srila Prabhupada our ever well wishing spiritual master.
I went to Mayapura for the Gaura Pournima festival in the Spring of 1977 in hopes of becoming a personal servant for Srila Prabhupada. There I met Upendra Prabhu who I had known from the Hawaii Temple. He was arranging some flower vases in the hallway outside of Srila Prabhupada's room. When he finished he told me to take the vases into Srila Prabhupada's room. I was a little nervous and hesitated at the door when all of the sudden Upendra pushed me inside. Srila Prabhupada was alone sitting behind his desk. I put the vases on his desk, offered my obeisance's and quickly left the room. That was the first time I'd been alone with Srila Prabhupada since I received my Gayatri initiation from him on Dec.3, 1975 in Vrindavan.
Srila Prabhupada went from Mayapur to Bombay in April of 1977. Due to some good fortune I got the chance to serve Srila Prabhupada. My hearts desire was becoming fulfilled finally.
Tamal Krishna Maharaja was Srila Prabhupada's secretary at that time. I joined the movement for my first year in 1974 with him and Visnujana Swami. Knowing me from the RDTSP he asked me if I wanted to be a guard for Srila Prabhupada. I jumped at the chance. I didn't even get to see Srila Prabhupada for the first two weeks. Then an opportunity arose. I got to help carry a bookshelf into Srila Prabhupada's room. After putting it in place I quickly sat down in front of Srila Prabhupada. I wanted to relish the darshan of His Divine Grace as long as possible. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the secretary in the doorway waving at me to come out, but I acted like I didn't see him, so I could stay longer. Then I realized my service being his guard at the door shouldn't be neglected so I offered my obeisances and went back to my service.
His quarters in the new Temple in Bombay were not complete when Srila Prabhupada arrived so he told Surabhi Swami, the devotee architect, that he had three days to get it ready. When Srila Prabhupada was brought to the elevator for the first trip up to his quarters on the top floor the elevator doors opened and a rat ran across the floor. Srila Prabhupada said, "Just see! The Temple is not even finished, and the rats are already here." I am not sure if that was a joke or not, but since Srila Prabhupada was ill we did not laugh.
Srila Prabhupada's physical health continued to deteriorate in Bombay. . Srila Prabhupada decided to go to Hrsikesh to try to get healthy again. I asked if I could go and the secretary Tamal Krsna Maharaja said no. I asked again and again and finally asked if I paid my own way could I join them there. He said that would be alright. I was so happy. I sold a tent I had to get the money for the ticket. Then it was off to Hrsikesh and later Sri Vrindavan Dhama where my services increased dramatically satisfying my hearts desire.
Things were like heaven in Hrsikesh serving Srila Prabhupada. We were staying in a two story house right on the bank of the Holy Ganges River. The best Jalebi maker in the world was right across the street. Srila Prabhupada said that hot Jalebi's could cure the common cold, so used to have fruit, yogurt and hot Jalebi's for breakfast. Srila Prabhupada didn't like the devotees eating at regular restaurants but he said we could eat at a restaurant there called the Choti Wala, because the cooks were first class Brahman's.
I used to enjoy taking Japa Walks along the Ganges River in Hrsikesh. The forests are lush, filled with singing birds, and devotees. I would walk up along the Ganges Bank and then jump in the rushing Holy River and ride a log back to Srila Prabhupada's house chanting all the way.
We used to Perform Harinam Sankirtan every day in the Market Place. We would chant all afternoon until about 5pm then take the Kirtan back to the rooftop of the house that a life member was letting us use. Then at about 5:30pm Srila Prabhupada would give his darshan to the general public. Although we did not advertise the darshan; the room was always full of interested guests every evening. Srila Prabhupada preached in his authoritative, convincing and charming way. He used his great Vaisnava wit to charm the fortunate guests and inspire them to take to Krishna Consciousness. Srila Prabhupada said that the Bhagavad Gita should not be misinterpreted most every Darshan. The people are so easily misled. That's why Srila Prabhupada gave us Bhagavad Gita As It Is.
Srila Prabhupada was a perfect gentleman and a great and loving host, the topmost host! He always paid attention to everyone and made sure all of the guests received Prasadam.
When I first arrived in Hrsikesh Srila Prabhupada was having his evening darshan. I was told to stand at the door with some Prasadam sweets and give them to the guests as they left. Srila Prabhupada saw a man waiting outside the screendoor and told me to let him in. As I opened the door to let him in another person left the room at the same time. Srila Prabhupada asked me if I had given the man that left some Prasadam. I said I couldn't because they crossed paths. He looked over to his Secretary TKG, and told him, 'This boy is incompetent.' The secretary then told me to go downstairs and he would talk to me later.
I was devastated! I thought I was finished! I had given my life to serve Srila Prabhupada and now I had displeased him and felt I was rejected by him. I thought that my chance to serve him was over. I waded out into the Ganges and thought of drowning myself since I had been rejected by my guru. I thought of my first spiritual mentor Visnujana Swami and how he drowned himself at Prayag farther downstream and thought I could attone for my incompetence by following Visnujana Swami's example. As I was contemplating suicide, Tamal K.G. came down to the rivers edge smiling seeing my plight and he told me not to take it so seriously. He told me to go up and clean Srila Prabhupada's room. I was elated to know that I was going to get another chance to serve Srila Prabhupada. I rinsed myself off with the Ganges water and pulled myself together and made my way up to the house.
Still feeling ashamed I started to sweep the floor. Srila Prabhupada was sitting behind his coffee table. When I looked over at him he smiled real nice. I was surprised and delighted and all my anxiety left me immediately. Then I happily went back to cleaning the house. Guru means heavy. Thank God I didn't drown myself!
Srila Prabhupada also taught us each how to cook a basic meal of rice, dahl, subji and chapatis. The mercy of Srila Prabhupada was flowing like the Ganges and it still is!
Things were ecstatic in Hrisikesh, until that night when Srila Prabhupada first told us that he was going to leave his body. The next day Pradyumna Prabhu and I went ahead of the party to make arrangements for Srila Prabhupada's arrival. We arrived just before Mangala Aratika and informed the Temple President Akshayananda Maharaja, that Srila Prabhupada was coming that morning.
Srila Prabhupada arrived at the temple at about 7am. At this point Srila Prabhupada’s health had deteriorated so much that he could no longer walk on his own. The devotees in Vrindavan, and around the world, were unaware of how serious it was. We brought a rocking chair out to the car to carry Srila Prabhupada. He asked to see the Deities first. We carried him into the temple and set his chair down before Sri Sri Gaura–Nitai.
Srila Prabhupada stood up offering his respectful obeisance's to Their Lordships. At that point someone took the chair away. Srila Prabhupada stood there gazing at Sri Sri Goura-Nitai for a few moments as tears gliding down his face. Then he moved to sit in the chair that wasn’t there and we had to catch him. The devotees looked at each other with concern. The chair back was brought back and we carried Srila Prabhupada over to Sri Sri Krishna and Balarama. Again Srila Prabhupada stood up, even though it was difficult, with tears in his eyes as he gazed at Their Lordships with love and devotion for quite some time. We then moved over to Sri Sri Radha Symasundara and Sri Lalita and Sri Visaka's alter. Again Srila Prabhupada rose up and gazed lovingly at the Deities. After a few moments he turned to us and said that he wanted to see all of the devotees in his room.
We carried Srila Prabhupada to his room and he took his seat at his desk. The devotees filled the room quickly and were crowded around the doors and windows trying to see and hear our divine master. When all the devotees settled in as much as possible Srila Prabhupada, looking very serious, said,
"So I cannot speak. I am feeling weak. I was to go to other places like Chandigarh, but I canceled the program because the condition of my health is very deteriorating. So I preferred to come to Vrindavan. If death takes place, let it take here. So there is nothing new to be said. Whatever I have to speak, I have spoken in my books. Now you try to understand it and continue your endeavor. Whether I am present or not present, it doesn't matter. As Krsna is living eternally, similarly, the living being also lives eternally. But kirtiryasya sa jivah: 'One who has done service for the Lord lives forever.' So you have been taught to serve Krsna, and with Krsna we'll live eternally. Our life is eternal. Na hanyate hanyamane sarire. A temporary disappearance of this body, it doesn't matter. Body is meant for disappearance. Tatha dehantara-praptih. So live forever by serving Krsna. Thank you very much."
(Arrival Address 5-17-77)
At that point most of the devotees were crying. To me it still hadn't really sunk in yet that Srila Prabhupada was about to leave us physically. Philosophically we understood that Srila Prabhupada would live with us in his books etc. but we would so miss his physical presence.
Serving Srila Prabhupada personally in Bombay, Hrishikesh and Vrindavan were the best days of my life. Those days were numbered and unfortunately ran out. I had entered India on a three month tourist visa. I had received a three month extension already when I applied for another. It was denied. I considered just staying past my expiration date so I could remain with His Divine Grace who I knew was leaving the planet soon as he already said. I decided it would be better to go back to America and get another visa and then return.
It was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make; leaving Srila Prabhupada's precious personal association. Srila Prabhupada always told us to follow the law; so I did. I had packed my belongings and had it loaded onto a horse drawn cart for my trip to the Mathura train station. I went to offer my obeisance's to Tamal Krishna Maharaja in his office before leaving. He told me I couldn't leave without saying goodbye to Srila Prabhupada. I said Srila Prabhupada knows everything and I didn't want to bother him. Tamal said to wait a minute and he entered Srila Prabhupada's room. A moment later he stuck his head out of the door and told me to come in. This would be the last time I would see Srila Prabhupada before his divine departure for Goloka Vrindavan.
Upon entering Srila Prabhupada's room I offered my full dandavats. He was sitting behind his desk translating. Tamal K.G. said, "Here's Gauridasa Pandita, Srila Prabhupada; he has to go back to America now because his visa is expiring and the government wouldn't give him an extension." Srila Prabhupada looked at me with compassion and said, "Just see. I just train him up and the rascal government takes him away. Thank you very much for all of your service, you've been very sincere. You are welcome to be my personal servant anytime. So you go worship Radha Damodara and be happy." He already knew I would go to take care of Sri Sri Radha Damodar.
I was ecstatic at the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, he said I could return to his personal service anytime. I now had great hope and said, "Thank you, Srila Prabhupada" and offered my dandavats again and slowly backed out of his room. I paused at the door and took one last look at His Divine Grace and he nodded his head, like go ahead, it will be alright, then he continued to translate into his dictaphone.
I boarded the horse drawn cart and started my journey out of Vrindavan. The trip seemed to last for forever as I lamenting having to leave Srila Prabhupada's personal service and Sri Vrindavan Dhama. I became overwhelmed with emotion and memories of Srila Prabhupada and had a feeling I would not see him again in this world.
After arriving in Gita-Nagari we got the news that Srila Prabhupada had decided to come to Gita- Nagari; to establish the Varna-ashrama system and we were all ecstatic. The devotees were morose before, hearing that Srila Prabhupada was sick and maybe going to leave his body. Now we had renewed hope! The devotees were happy again and very enthusiastically preparing for Srila Prabhupada's arrival.
We painted Srila Prabhupada's house and made all of the necessary arrangements. Seeing all of the renewed enthusiasm I wrote a letter to Srila Prabhupada who was in London at the time on his way to us. I got a letter from his secretary, Tamal K.G., which Paramananda Prabhu, the temple president, read to all of the devotees since it was about Srila Prabhupada. The letter started out, "I read your letter to Srila Prabhupada as I found it very poetic and an excellent description of Gita-Nagari. When I told Srila Prabhupada you had written the letter; he remembered you very fondly." I was ecstatic to hear that. I was glad to hear that Srila Prabhupada remembered me fondly, as I remember him fondly.
Srila Prabhupada decided to return to Vrindavan from London because his health deteriorated further. I wrote Tamal K.G. A letter and got his permission to return to resume my service to Srila Prabhupada. I had to train up a new pujari before leaving Gita-Nagari first though. He turned out to be Radha Damodara Dasa! It took two weeks to train him up properly. The day he took over completely, I had chanted my japa outside the curtains circumambulating Tulasi Devi and the Vyasasana. During that time we got a call from India, that Srila Prabhupada may be leaving his body soon. Then we got a call a little later confirming that he had indeed made his divine departure for Krsna Loka. I sensed something special was going on during my japa, as it was. Actually I didn't want to see that particular pastime. I thank Krsna for saving me from that. I know that Srila Prabhupada is as present as ever, for me now, and everyone who takes shelter of him past, present and on into this Golden Age of Lord Chaitanya.
All glories to our ever well-wisher His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada who left this world so Courageously like Grandfather Bhismadeva.
He reasons ill Who says
that Vaisnavas die
When thou art living
still in sound
The Vaisnava dies to live!
And living tries
To spread the Holy Name around.
Hoping this meets you well and Happy in Krsna Consciousness
Your eternal friend and servant
Gauridasa Pandita Dasa