na svargam napunar-bhavam
martyanam kim utasisah
The value of a moment's association with the devotee of the Lord cannot
even be compared to the attainment of heavenly planets or liberation from
matter; and what to speak of worldly benedictions in the form of material
prosperity, which are for those who are meant for death.
- Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.18.13
Anecdotes from the Life of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Founder -Acarya of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness
1 It was only after two years of leading ISKCON in America that Srila
Prabhupada agreed to be addressed by the proper title Prabhupada instead
of Swamiji. As early as 1960, in his first volume of Srimad-Bhagavatam,
he had written in a purport, "The pure devotees whose only business is
serving are honoured by the names Prabhupada and Visnupada, which indicates
such devotees to be representatives of the lotus feet of the Lord."
(Bhag. 1.1.15) Yet although the address Swamiji is common and not very
respectful, it was the only name his followers knew and had become a most
endearing term for them. They inquired and prayed to him by that
name, and they addressed all their letters, "Dear Swamiji". So it
was a bit of a shock when the name changed.
One devotee on hearing the new name from Srila Prabhupada's secretary,
couldn't accept it without personally asking Srila Prabhupada. On
the next morning walk he inquired, "Swamiji?"
"Yes?" Prabhupada replied.
"I understand that you prefer to be called Prabhupada."
Prabhupada turned quickly. "Where did you hear this?
Who told you this?"
Prabhupada appeared annoyed and then he became silent.
But after a few moments he spoke again. "Actually I do not prefer.
But it is better."
2 LITTLE DROPS OF NECTAR
In San Francisco in 1967, Srila Prabhupada only gradually raised
the standards of his followers. Most of them were not much more than
hippies having a good time eating and singing in the storefront.
Right next to the temple was an ice cream shop, and at the end of the street
there was a doughnut shop - both frequented by devotees. Unless there
was a specific function in the temple, many of the devotees could be found
in one of the two food shops. Therefore, when Prabhupada would come
down from his apartment, he would sometimes pass very slowly in front of
the ice cream shop to see if any of his followers were there. Then
he would go down to the doughnut shop and look in the window therein.
The "devotees" would even slink down in their seats so as not to be spotted
as Srila Prabhupada looked in. More than once in the evening lecture
Srila Prabhupada mentioned that devotees don't take part in eating in ice
cream shops or eating doughnuts, but they eat only Krsna prasadam.
From the very beginning of his preaching in America, Prabhupada
used to encourage his devotees to take part in the devotional ecstasy of
chanting and dancing. On morning walks, he would sometimes ask each
devotee, "Were you chanting last night?" referring to the congregational
kirtana in the temple.
"I tried to, but there wasn't any room." one devotee replied.
Gargamuni said, "No, because I was afraid I would cry."
No doubt these remarks by his disciples contained neophyte emotions, yet
Srila Prabhupada replied seriously. "When you are with ordinary people,"
he said, "then you should not cry, because they will not understand.
But when you are with devotees, you can cry, because the devotees will
know that you are crying for Krsna."
And Prabhupada also demonstrated this crying. Once during
the Sunday feast program, the devotees enacted the drama of Narada Muni's
rescuing the hunter Mrgari. Visnujana dasa played Narada and when
he recited verses from "The Prayers to the Spiritual Master," everyone
could notice something shining in the corner of Prabhupada's eye.
He had a tear in his eye, but it was particularly shiny, like a diamond.
After Prabhupada left the temple, many devotees were commenting, "Did you
see the diamond in Prabhupada's eye?"
3 Srila Prabhupada's servant was having difficulty controlling his senses,
and he asked Prabhupada to give him a special diet. When word got
around that Prabhupada had recommended a special diet, another devotee
approached Prabhupada for similar treatment.
"Prabhupada is there anything I could get that would help me
control my tongue more? Are there certain things to avoid like sugar?"
Prabhupada said, "The method to control the tongue is to chant
and to pray."
"Well", the devotee said, "I am chanting and praying, but still
I am having difficulty."
Prabhupada sat back in his seat and laughed. "Yes", he
said, "I know". I have a tongue too. It may be difficult, but
as much as you can, try to eat simply.
Srila Prabhupada went on to describe how during World War II
there was a bombing of Calcutta - during a time when Prabhupada was just
about to honour prasadam. Friends had come running to the house giving
warning: "Abhay Caran, come quickly! The air raid siren is going off!
The bombs are coming!" Prabhupada had responded by saying that he
could not go because his wife had just prepared some kacauris. He
told his friends, "You go to the shelter. I will stay here."
And so he offered the kacauris, ate them, and chanted Hare Krsna.
4 One evening in Bhaktivedanta Manor in London, Srila Prabhupada was
sitting in his room with his disciples and a few quests, including a woman
reported who had come to interview Srila Prabhupada. Despite the
chilly English summer weather, the reported was dressed in a scanty mini
skirt. Her first few questions revealed her sceptical and almost
cynical attitude toward the Hare Krsna movement. As usual, Srila
Prabhupada coolly and expertly answered her questions. Somewhat exasperated
and in a challenging mood, she brought up the old question. "Why
do you people have bald heads?" Srila Prabhupada immediately retorted,
"Why do you have bare legs?" She was speechless. Srila Prabhupada
then offered, "Better to have warm legs and a cool head." Everyone,
including the reporter, laughed with delight. Prabhupada added, :You
must have a cool head to understand this Krsna consciousness philosophy."
5 During an early-morning walk in Vrndavana, devotees were asking Srila
Prabhupada about the moon. A pale remainder of the moon could still
be seen in the sky and various birds were cooing and calling from the trees.
Prabhupada said the moon is shining and therefore has heat, and yet its
effect on the earth is cooling. Visakha dasi was one of the few women
who regularly accompanied Srila Prabhupada on his walks, because of her
assignment as photographer. On this occasion, she stopped taking
pictures and walked closer to ask Prabhupada a question about the moon.
"Prabhupada, it is stated in your Bhagavad-gita purport that
because of the moonlight, vegetables have taste. So why is it that
the moon makes the vegetables have flavour?"
Prabhupada stopped walking to consider her question. His
demeanour was mellow and soft, but his look penetrated into her eyes.
:Why don't you ask him?" was his only reply, and then he walked on.
6 PRABHUPADA SAID
"Regarding prasadam, leftovers should always be taken if they
have not spoiled or if they have not been touched by a diseased person.
We should never waste Krsna prasadam, best thing is to cook only what is
required and then give each person what he wants. That is Vedic system,
that people sit in rows behind their plates and servers pass down the rows
and put a very small portion of each foodstuff on each plate, unless there
is some objection by a person then nothing is given. Then if anyone
wants more the servers pass up and down the rows continually and give more
if anyone requests. In this way nothing is wasted and everyone is
Letter of November 27, 1971
In India, Prabhupada instructed the devotees how a gentlemen
would eat and how to feed quests who came to the temple. During the
meal the host should be very attentive to his guest's needs, supplying
him servings of hot puris, fresh water, and more of everything. He
should also engage his guest in light, relaxing conversation, and not heavy,
anxiety producing topics.
Prabhupada said rice was useless unless served hot. He
also said reheating rice must never be done, since it causes a poisonous
"So far as offering to Krsna apple cider, this can be done only
if it is prepared by the devotees. These food manufacturers do not
take proper precautions in cleanliness nor do they have devotion for Krsna
in their labours, so it is not very acceptable offering. If you can
make this preparation yourself, then it would be all right."
Letter of December 19, 1968.
7 PRABHUPADA TELLS A STORY
During Srila Prabhupada's last days in Vrndavana he used to be
carried up and down the stairs in a palanquin-chair. His habit was
to take rest during the day in his bed on the roof. One day, going
up the narrow staircase from the first floor to the roof, Satadhanya Maharaja
carried the rear portion of Prabhupada's palanquin by its two handles and
another man carried the front. Tamala Krsna Gosvami led the group,
and Upendra dasa followed, carrying Prabhupada's drinking lota and quilt.
Suddenly Srila Prabhupada began to laugh uncontrollably. The devotees
were amazed because Srila Prabhupada was very ill and had been silent and
"Do you want to hear a funny story?" he asked.
They all answered, "Yes, Prabhupada!"
"Let us go upstairs. There I can say."
While Upendra rushed to get his tape recorder, the others brought
Srila Prabhupada to the roof, placed him on his bed, and sat at his feet.
Srila Prabhupada's body was very gaunt from the months of fasting, and
he lay back but continued laughing.
"There is a Bengali proverb," he said. "Garib manus ca
chinga khai hakta gelo gauda jaya". Just to say it made Prabhupada
laugh more. The devotees remained mystified, and expectant.
"Now I'll explain," said Srila Prabhupada. "Garib
manus Garib means 'poor' and manus means 'man'. " Again Srila Prabhupada
broke into laughter, his thin body shaking and his whole face smiling.
"Ca chinga khai," he continued. "Ca chinga means 'a grasshopper'.
Khai 'eats'. So this poor man has nothing to eat except he is finding
some grasshoppers and eating them. Garib manus ca chinga khai hakta
gelo. But when he goes to pass stool, - gauda jaya he rides on a
big white horse." Prabhupada laughed loudly, and all the devotees sat by
in amazement. Then Prabhupada turned to Upendra and said, "You understand?"
Upendra's face became red in non understanding. Satadhanya Maharaja
was thinking, :I hope Prabhupada does not ask me." Satadhanya turned to
Tamala Krsna Maharaja and whispered, "Tamala, do you understand?"
Tamala Krsna Maharaja gave an unsure nod and said, "Yes". But he
Prabhupada said, "Just see. Garib manus. He is a poor man
eating only grasshoppers. But when he goes to pass stool, he rides
a big white horse." When Prabhupada saw that they could not understand,
he explained further. "Similarly, I am a sannyasi. So a sannyasi
is a beggar, a poor man. I am a poor man, and yet when I have to
go to sleep, then four men must carry me in a palanquin." In this
way, they all laughed and enjoyed Prabhupada's story, but not quite as
much as did Prabhupada himself.
In height he was maybe 5'5". So a nondevotee would say,
"a small man." Most of his disciples stood taller than he.
But we didn't think like that, that he was a little man. If we saw
reporters describe him as a little man, it didn't make sense. That
was obviously the defective vision of the nondevotee. (His servant
once said, "For someone who is supposed to be small, it takes all your
energy to cover his back to massage it. I can't understand it!)"
His shoe size was 8, his sweater size around 36". The palms of his
hands were soft an boldly lined, with long, firm life lines.
There was something protective that came out of his disciples
in the fact that Prabhupada's height was shorter. We wanted to be
sure to protect him because he was so great, so valuable, our spiritual
master. In the company of karmis or in the company of devotees, he
was regal as he walked with his cane, not at all like a "small" or "old"
man. Any person, regardless of his phyiscal stature, would approach
Prabhupada respectfully, deferring to him. Prabhupada was elderly
and a gentleman and was almost always treated in that way,, very respectfully.
Because when he spoke he was very refined and proper, he himself
proclaimed his spiritual mission by his every action, and people could
see that for themselves.
Usually accompanying him were his Western disciples, who were
very worshipful of Prabhupada; that was also impressive. He was not
alone, but with his servants, if he looked small, still he controlled others
who were tall; therefore he was taller than they. He had strength,
he would say his mind was strong. His face was not small, nor was
his aristocratic nose and full mouth; his eyes were large.
Again, these contradicted the "small man" idea. He was saint, sadhu,
not small. He didn't sit small. His voice was deep, could be
gruff, loud, commanding - not small. His control of big men like
Brahmananda, Jayapataka, Bhavananda was complete. His word,
the raising of his eyebrows, or the turn of his mouth could humiliate them
utterly or drive them running into action. And he wrote so many books.
He was not small. But if he chose, he could be like a child, and
you had to care for him completely; that was his love.
9 In India, Srila Prabhupada was often invited to attend programs in
people's homes. Sometimes these people were very pious and became
devotees by such contact with Srila Prabhupada. In some cases they
mainly wanted material blessings - health and prosperity - in return for
hosting a sadhu and his followers. On one occasion, Srila Prabhupada,
along with twenty of his devotees, was sitting in a man's living room while
the man introduced each member of his family.
"This is my wife," said the man, and the wife came forward, bowing
slightly and folding her palms. "And this is my older son, and this
is my daughter, and this is my younger son" - each came forward, said his
name, while Prabhupada nodded genially. "This is the husband of my
daughter." the man continued, "and these are their children." Each
batch quickly appeared and exited. Finally, all the members had been
introduced and had departed, momentarily leaving Srila Prabhupada alone
in the room with his devotees. In a confidential aside, Prabhupada
spoke quietly to his disciples, "This is my sex life."
10 Srila Prabhupada once said that whenever a manuscript of his was
printed and published as a book he felt as if he had just conquered an
empire. And so for his disciples, it was also an opportunity for
intimate association, to be ale to prepare his books for printing and to
bring him an advance copy fresh from the printer.
When Volume 7, Part 2 of the Srimad-Bhagavatam was printed, Srila
Prabhupada was staying at the New York City ISKCON centre. Ramesvara
Swami and Radhavallabha had gone to the airport and received the first
two copies by special freight. It was about 2 a.m. when they returned
to the temple. Eager to present the book to Prabhupada they took
the elevator up to his rooms on the eleventh floor. The light was
on in his sitting room. Quietly opening his door they found that
he was not there. They went again into the hall and saw the light
on in the bathroom. With childlike glee, barely controlling their
laughter, they each hid a book behind their backs and waited smiling to
present it to Prabhupada. When Prabhupada came out, he saw them and
said, "Oh, you are here? He noticed they were holding something behind
their backs and trying to control their smiling. "You have something
for me?" he said, perfectly reciprocating their mood. He then walked
ahead into the sitting room, looking playfully over his shoulder, and invited
them, "Come on!"
When they handed Srila Prabhupada the books, he exclaimed, "Aaah!"
immediately took one and touched it to his head. He looked at the
cover and then turned the book and look at the back cover.
He opened up the front page and read aloud the selected epithet verse.
He went through the front matter page by page and then carefully looked
at all the pictures. Then Srila Prabhupada started reading the book
aloud, from "Prahlada Pacifies the Lord with Prayers." The joyful presentation
party merged into the ecstasy of a Bhagavatam reading by Srila Prabhupada.
He read on for about forty minutes, seemingly oblivious to everything else.