When I arrived Saturday night with my sankirtan van at the temple, I wondered where the others were. The parking lot was empty, and I thought nobody could distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books that long. By that time, our meditation on Srila Prabhupada intensified in the form of endless book distribution marathons, as we had heard about His Divine Grace laying down in Vrndavana and fasting for a month. Yes! One time, a few crumbs of prasadam arrived in the mail, the maha maha of the only kachori He ate. And these precious remnants were carefully distributed in microscopic size from one devotee to another.
Srila Prabhupada repeatedly said that the only thing keeping Him alive is the distribution of His books. Nobody could imagine Srila Prabhupada leaving us behind at this stage. And His statement “whenever I read the sankirtan results I feel like a young boy” drove us to higher and higher book distribution results. Whenever we presented Srila Prabhupada the new results, He commented. “Double it!” Some devotee even printed buttons to be carried on our chest with one single slogan: “Double it!” And so we doubled it again. One marathon followed the other in a desperate attempt to keep Srila Prabhupada with us. The German yatra was at this time on the top of the world.
While looking for somebody and parking my car, finally, I saw someone. The last remaining devotee ran out of the temple door and told me the news: “Srila Prabhupada is in London!” I couldn’t believe it. How did He get there, rising from His bed, fasting?
In few minutes I unloaded the remaining books out of my car in order to avoid the possible customs problems on the way; there was no European Union at that time. In a moment, I was turning the car around with the last devotees remaining jumping in it. What did it matter that I was just returning from a week of book distribution, ready to take rest? I drove the whole night through Germany, Belgium, and France, arriving finally in England.
Never before this did I drive on the left-hand side of the road, and with this added difficulty I tried to find my way through the traffic in a desperate search for “London-Watford”, knowing only very vaguely where the Bhaktivedanta Manor was located. Driving around Piccadilly Circus, around and around, I tried to find my way out of the London City, somehow arriving at the Manor around 11:00 a.m. with a car full of sleepy devotees.
Full of joy, we jumped out of the car, ready to scream out our “Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!” But we got silenced instantly. The silence and intensity surrounding the place instantly got to us. Even though many devotees were present, everybody was very cautious about not producing any disturbing sound, moving swiftly and quietly around, talking in a low key.
Caught by the intensity of the Manor atmosphere, I retreated to the temple room, which was filled with praying devotees. Srila Prabhupada was upstairs in His rooms, obviously in critical condition. Servants were moving swiftly around, asking for various ingredients. The rest of the devotees were intensely chanting japa.
Finally, at noon, while sitting in the temple, I was chanting my gayatri, and then suddenly I saw my GBC, Harikesha, poking his head through the temple room door. He pointed to me, quietly hissing, “Hey, come, quickly, quickly!” I tried to finish my gayatri, but he was very persistent: ”Come! Come! Now!” So I got up and followed him.
He sped up the stairs and through a corridor. Then he opened a door, and there I was, falling at Srila Prabhupada’s lotus feet in His bed room. As if paralyzed, I could only move a few inches away, remaining seated maybe half a meter from these swollen, soft, wonderful lotus feet of His Divine Grace. Crying instantly, I washed my tears from my eyes to be able to see.
The intensity in the room hardly allowed one to breath. Present were a few devotees, maybe four of us all together. Harikesha introduced me as “one of the leading book distributors in Germany,” and Srila Prabhupada responded with closed eyes and a “Hmmm,” slightly shaking His head.
His swollen hands folded in front of His face, His eyes constantly moist with tears of ecstasy, this wasn’t the Srila Prabhupada I meditated upon all these years, our marching general, walking with great speed at His morning walks, declaring to all the scientists the missing link to be His foot in their faces, our commander who declared war on illusion by publishing one book after another, killing the ignorance in our hearts and the hearts of all those who dared to listen.
This was Srila Prabhupada as we also believed Him to be, not always manifest to unqualified human eyes, the resident of Goloka Dham, the participant in Krsna’s most intimate pastimes, the paramahamsa of highest order, the Prabhu at whose lotus feet all the Prabhus sit. Rocked from one devotional ecstasy to another, Srila Prabhupada gave up the role of a madhyama adhikari, the one who is preaching, and He manifested His full glory as the maha-bhagavata, the living representative of Srila Vyasadeva on this planet Earth.
Even for us, the dynamics of His ecstasies were impossible to understand. At least it was easy for everyone present to see and to feel that, indeed, there is a spiritual world and Srila Prabhupada is in it. The dynamic exchanges between Him and the Supreme Lord were visible even for the darkened eye of the conditioned soul, for all those who were present. The intensity and silence were tremendous, even one’s own breathing felt as if offensive and disturbing to His Divine Grace.
Suddenly a bird was chirping outside of the window, breaking the silence, and it could be heard as if amplified. Srila Prabhupada immediately broke into another ecstasy. For him this was already Vaikuntha, a sound from the spiritual world. To watch all this was breathtaking. To be present felt to be offensive on one side, and the other side there was no possibility of getting up to leave. So, I remained kneeling on the floor, staring at these wonderful soft lotus feet of His Divine Grace.
Tamal Krsna Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada’s secretary, began opening the mail. The system was that whatever mail arrived would be read out to Him, and whatever Srila Prabhupada commented upon, Tamal wrote down His remarks, subsequently answering on His behalf. While going through the mail, Tamal pulled out from one of the envelopes a big color picture of the L.A. Ratha Yatra festival. Srila Prabhupada’s eyes opened wide. Looking at the picture He said, “I always wanted to have such a big Ratha for Lord Jagannath, even when I was a small boy!”
The next envelope Tamal opened contained a newly published book, the title of which I could not see. It was soft bound. As soon Srila Prabhupada saw it, His eyes opened even more and His swollen hands reached instantly for the book. Holding it in His hand, He did something surprising. He turned it upside-down and tested the binding by bending it back. It was OK. Then, with an amazing display of transcendental pride, His chin raised, He placed the book lovingly in His lap. I remembered at that moment what He used to say, “Whenever one of my books gets published, I feel like I conquered a universe.” And at that moment it was clear how to please Srila Prabhupada instantly and eternaly: by publishing and distributing His books.
The moment for me to leave had arrived, and I followed Harikesha back to the temple room where everybody chanted and prayed to have Srila Prabhupada stay with us, even for just another minute more.
Then crisis arrived. Suddenly there was a great movement of devotees around Srila Prabhupada’s rooms. I heard calls for more warm water. A devotee rushed into the temple room with a mrdanga and started to pray to Lord Nrsimhadeva. We all joined in, not knowing what was happening. Behind the colored glass windows of the temple room an ambulance was seen arriving, and we heard that Srila Prabhupada was being rushed to the hospital. The chanting of the Nrsimha Prayers grew more and more intense. After chanting for an hour or so, suddenly and quietly, the ambulance returned, and Srila Prabhupada was transported to His rooms again. Some devotees cried, some simply chanted.
The next morning, Srila Prabhupada was carried down and placed in front of the altar, sitting with His big dark glasses in His improvised palanquin. The curtain was closed, and the temple room was filled with excited devotees to see Sri Sri London Gokula Chandra and Their most pure devotee. When the curtain opened and the Govindam Adi Purusam song started, a big sound of surprise went through the crowd.
I couldn’t believe what I just saw. I am by no means an “Oh, I saw Krsna’s flute moving” sahajiya-man, but what I saw was so clear and so distinctively perceivable that I was simply shocked. Srimati Radharani opened her lotus eyes widely and slightly bent forward, entirely focused on Srila Prabhupada. Her glance upon Him was so vivid that everyone who was present later on discussed in exited tones: “Did you see it? Did you see it? Radharani moved and looked at Srila Prabhupada!” This was not just what I saw, this was what everybody saw.
Then Srila Prabhupada was moved to the Vyasasana area, and Guru Puja started. In a very grave and intense mood, the kirtan leader chanted the prayers in low key, his voice filled with intensity and despair. Srila Prabhupada didn’t like it. His bushy eye brows raised, He opened His eyes more and slowly raised His swollen hands to encourage us to chant and dance more happily. As His hands were raising, the mrdanga beats sped up instantly. The first devotees started to dance, soon followed by those who started to jump. The kirtan became ferocious, devotees chanting full volume, jumping high, dancing, all to please Srila Prabhupada.
Seeing them following exactly even the slightest movement of Srila Prabhupada’s lotus hand, I remembered the pastime of Mahavisnu glancing over the Mahattatva, bringing forth all entities so Creation could take place. It was clear at this moment who was empowered to create the Hare Krsna Movement. We are all dependent on the movements of Srila Prabhupada’s lotus hands, seeking the perfection of life, to become self-conscious individual puppets in His hands, making us dance, making us dance.
Standing somewhat close to Srila Prabhupada on the left side of the His palanquin, I looked into the Manor temple room, which was packed with devotees dancing and chanting. The kirtan became so ecstatic that amongst the matajis (women), who usually danced in the back, an elderly lady way back in the left corner of the temple room, suddenly started jumping high, her face beaming, holding a huge collection of white lilies she hoped to offer to Srila Prabhupada. Realizing that she will never be able to reach His Vysasasana, while jumping high she simply threw them with great force. The lilies flew across the heads of all the devotees present, in the direction Srila Prabhupada. Instantly devotees started to catch these flying flowers in the air, throwing them further and further, and thus some indeed landed at Srila Prabhupada’s lotus feet.
I vaguely remember a man standing on the right side of the room, his camera mounted on a stand, probably a reporter of some sort. Obviously, this being his first time in the temple, he ended up being so overpowered by the ecstatic emotions of the devotees and Srila Prabhupada’s presence that, neglecting his photography, he simply stood there, crying intensely.
Suddenly, in midst of the dancing devotees, I saw emerging our German sankirtan leader. An eccentric person indeed, whose sankirtan results matched his aggressive way of distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books. Even later on he had to leave Germany due to his repeated contact with German police (that’s another story). But at this moment, forgetting that he joined ISKCON because he believed it was the only way to survive the Third World War, he danced his way through the devotees, pushing them aside so He could simply see Srila Prabhupada face to face.
I watched Srila Prabhupada taking notice of him. Srila Prabhupada’s face hardened, His chin moved forward and with a great deal of appreciation of this display of “good German quality”, our sankirtan leader’s and Srila Prabhupada’s eyes met. Maharama Dasa, so was his name, burst into ecstasy. He jumped even higher, as if touching the temple ceiling. Tears of joy poured from his eyes.
I wondered at that moment how Srila Prabhupada was able to extract from us the best, well aware of our conditioning, still most wonderfully bringing forth our spiritual nature, allowing us to be what we always were, the beautiful spiritual souls, part of Krsna’s family, entirely in bliss while by His grace remembering our constitutional position. That was so visible when seeing the “German” Maharama das melting in ecstasy in front of His Divine Grace. It was impossible to remain in our bodily incagement, as Srila Prabhupada was lifting us up one after another to have a glimpse of transcendental reality.
In the afternoon, suddenly everybody was heading for the parking lot. “Srila Prabhupada was going to the Burry Place temple to see London Isvara!” A white Rolls Royce from the Beatles arrived at the door, and Tamal Krsna Maharaja carried Srila Prabhupada out into the car. Like a child, Srila Prabhupada was holding on to Tamal’s neck. He was so light and so amazingly dependent on the Supreme Lord.
I quickly found my sankirtan van and lined up behind other cars, all ready to follow the white Rolls. The car left quickly, and not knowing where to go we keenly followed. The drive to the Burry Place temple became a race. The white Rolls Royce drove rather fast, followed closely by large number of cars.
My only thought was not to lose that car. After all, I didn’t know where we were, neither did I know how to get back to the temple. The policemen, certainly surprised by this unexpected display of car racing in the midst of London traffic, acted the English way. They assumed that something important was going on. Maybe they recognized the Beatles car. So they started to close down the crossings prior to our arrival.
We rushed through one crossing after another until we finally arrived at the small street where the temple was located. Parking here and there, we jumped out of our van, early enough to see Tamal Krsna Maharaja carry Srila Prabhupada into the temple. Seated, He had darshan while the arotika was going on in the very small temple room, which resembled the inner space of a ship.
During the darshan, devotees took turns fanning Srila Prabhupada with the peacock fan. After all, the room very quickly became steaming hot due to a large number of devotees pushing inside. The fanning had a peculiar system, but there was actually no system at all. Soon I realized that whoever is closest and whoever is most bold can grab the fan and keep on fanning His Divine Grace. I took my chance, using the momentum, taking over from the one who fanned before me.
After fanning Srila Prabhupada for few seconds, I earned a most disapproving look from Tamal Krsna maharaja, pointing out to me that I am getting too much in front of Srila Prabhupada, possibly blocking His vision. Being pushed by the devotees standing behind me I had no other choice as to give up my fan to somebody who was standing at the right angle. After all, one should fan with the peacock fan sideways, not from the front.
As soon the darshan was over, the same race continued back to the temple.
Days and nights started to blend with each other, it seemed like nobody slept those days. There was continuous soft kirtan going on in the temple, and suddenly I was told by a devotee from my sankirtan party: “Srila Prabhupada wants to see all the German sankirtan devotees in His room!”
Yes! The Germans did it again! Feeling to be most privileged, all the German sankirtan maharathis present rushed towards Srila Prabhupada’s room, filling it up completely. His Divine Grace was sitting in His improvised Vyasasana, again His hands folded in front of His face. Complete silence spread through the room and everybody waited for Srila Prabhupada to ask how many books we had distributed. Then Srila Prabhupada dropped the bomb. Into the complete silence, He said: “Do you know the philosophy?”
Shocked, nobody answered at first. Philosophy? Why speak about philosophy? After all, the numbers of books being distributed are speaking for themselves! Finally, after some moments of silence, my godbrother Haraka Dasa squeaked out in despair: “Sarva dharma parityaja mam ekam saranam vraja!”
Srila Prabhupada said gravely: “Yes, what does this mean?” Prthu Prabhu gave a short explanation and Srila Prabhhupada approved. Then it was silence again, and we started to understand that the darshan was over. Quietly, one after another, we paid our obeisances and exited the room. Outside, in the corridor, we, still amazed, remembered, “What did He say? Philosophy! Yes, there is also the philosophy in these books!”
Srila Prabhupada knew well the German fruitive ways of thinking and caught us right away where it was needed. As He had said many times prior to this meeting, “Enthusiasm is good, but some brain is also required.” And so Srila Prabhupada’s books are also to be read, not just distributed. That was the lesson I took from that darshan, the last one I had seen His Divine Grace.
The last monumental memory I have from our brief visit in the Manor was the theatre performance of the Vaikuntha players, an amazingly professional group of devotee actors. The Bhaktivedanta Manor has a small but beautiful theatre room with a nice stage, where the story of Bilvalamangala Thakura was so wonderfully performed that even though Srila Prabhupada was not directly present at the performance, the actors beamed with ecstasy, giving their best.
Between two plays, one devotee thought it appropriate to fill in the pause with a small bhajan. Nobody knew when and how it happened, but the “bhajan” soon grew into a ferocious kirtan, a kirtan to be remembered by all those who took part in it, remembering it as “the kirtan of their lives”.
As if Srila Prabhupada’s presence raised us all from our conditioned bodies, the chanting became so ecstatic that everybody in the theatre lost the concept of time and space. I vaguely remember devotees standing on the frames of the windows jumping into the kirtan just like one might jump into a large swimming pool. But nobody got hurt, everything was perfectly orchestrated by the internal energy of the Lord. Devotees cried in tremendous joy, jumping all the way up to the ceiling.
The sound coming out of that theatre was tremendous. And soon the temple president appeared at the door, fearing that we may demolish the amplification system standing in the back. Dozens of hands reached out for him, and he also disappeared into the whirlpool of devotees chanting and dancing for an indefinite time.
Just as if an electric current had been suddenly cut off, in a moment everything stopped. Coming back to our bodies again, without knowing where we really were, we found ourselves sitting on the floor breathing heavily. Then somebody spoke the prayers, and then somebody started to laugh, realizing just how amazing what had just happened really was. A soft bhajan followed, and the next play started. But that kirtan was never forgotten by those who took part in it. How wonderful it was not to be the body for a while, lifted out of our material incagement by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy, being submerged in the service of the Lord’s Holy Name.
One who can still remember,
Prague Ekadasi, 12th of January 2018