Wherever Prabhupada traveled he showed how everything
– even the cynical press – can be used in the service of Krsna.
From an upcoming book entitled The Great Transcendental Adventure: The Pastimes of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in Australia and New Zealand.
Tuesday, June 25, 1974
THE EARLY-MORNING air was crisp as the Alitalia jet touched down on the airport tarmac, sending the devotees crowded on the observation deck into a frenzy. They raced back to the international terminal and started chanting ecstatically to receive His Divine Grace. Since Prabhupada had chosen to visit only Melbourne this time, virtually every devotee in the Australasian zone had converged there. Devotees waved flags and banners, blew conches, and danced and chanted unabashedly before the customs doors, jumping and straining to see Prabhupada as the doors opened and closed.
Customs authorities had agreed to allow Prabhupada to circumvent the usual protocol, which would have kept him queued up with the other passengers. Suddenly, a devotee from the back of the crowd yelled, "Prabhupada!" Devotees turned and to their surprise saw Prabhupada standing humbly behind them. Customs authorities had indeed given Prabhupada special priority, allowing him out through the VIP exit without informing anyone. The devotees had been at the wrong gate.
The airport was briefly quiet as the devotees fell to the ground in obeisances. Then the kirtana resumed, louder and more blissful than before. Flower petals flew, cameras flashed. With one devotee holding a mirror-studded blue and gold umbrella over Prabhupada's head, the group surged down the corridor to the press lounge.
Prabhupada looked graceful and aristocratic. He smiled brightly. A dark wool wrapper hung over one shoulder. In one hand he carried a bamboo cane and a large bouquet of yellow dahlias, in the other his white attach'. Prabhupada entered the lounge and sat down, removing from around his neck all but one of the many flower garlands he'd just received. Despite the long, taxing journey twenty-four hours from Frankfurt Prabhupada appeared fresh and relaxed.
The kirtana roared. TV and newspaper reporters jostled and knelt beside Prabhupada, pens and notebooks poised. Film crews quickly adjusted their cameras and microphones. Prabhupada seemed unaffected by the fanfare. Propping his cane next to his right knee, he put his hand inside his bead bag and chanted.
Madhudvisa Swami, brightly dressed in orange silk, shaven head glistening with perspiration under the hot press lights, brought the kirtana to a close. The devotees settled in, cross-legged and attentive. Prabhupada's eyes slowly scanned the room, briefly scrutinizing each face.
As the press conference began, the reporters seemed somewhat hostile. A young reporter, perplexed by the devotees' reverence, wanted to know why the devotees had pressed their faces to the ground in obeisance at Prabhupada's arrival.
Prabhupada answered soberly, unfazed by the reporter's aggressive mood.
"The devotees prostrate themselves," he said, "because the kingdom of God is for the humble and meek. I am teaching them how to become humble and meek. I have to collect obeisances as a tax collector has to collect taxes."
Another reporter, displaying the attitude of irreverent interrogation typical of his kind, made an issue out of the devotees' fund-raising on the streets of Melbourne.
"Have you any idea how much money the sect makes every year?" he asked.
Prabhupada grinned. "We can spend all the money of the world."
The devotees roared. "Haribol!"
Prabhupada added with a twinkle in his eye, "Unfortunately, you do not give us the money."
The devotees laughed, and Prabhupada grinned even more.
Prabhupada continued, "We're spending at least, at the present moment, eight hundred thousand dollars per month."
"On what, Your Grace?"
"On this propaganda, all over the world. And we are selling our books, not less than forty thousand dollars per month."
A woman reporter asked Prabhupada if he liked to work.
Prabhupada opened his eyes wide and looked her straight in the eyes. "We are working more than you twenty-four hours. In my old age I am traveling all over the world."
"But don't you get a lot of your money from begging?" asked another reporter.
Prabhupada shook his head. "No, no. First of all you see. Working you cannot work more than us, because I am an old man, seventy-nine years old, and I am traveling always, all over the world, twice, thrice in a year. You cannot work so much, at least."
On hearing Prabhupada's frank reply, the devotees cheered and again chanted, "Jaya! Haribol!"
Another reporter expressed disapproval of the handsome car waiting for Prabhupada outside the airport terminal. Madhudvisa Swami, having recalled previous bungled receptions for Prabhupada, had been determined to make this one a success. He had hired a chauffeur-driven maroon Rolls Royce to drive Prabhupada to the temple.
"Your Grace, your religion is a very ascetic one. Will you be living ascetically in Melbourne? We're told you'll be taken away in a Rolls Royce."
"Our religion does not say asceticism. Our religion teaches to love God." Prabhupada pointed to the reporter's stylish suit. "You can love God in this dress. There is no harm."
"But it is a self-denying religion, isn't it?"
Prabhupada shook his head slightly. "No, no. Not self-denying. We are using everything. Why self-denying? We simply use whatever is absolutely necessary, that's all."
The reporter was not about to back down.
"But wouldn't it be better that you were traveling in a much smaller car, less pretentious?"
Prabhupada wasn't backing down either.
"Why? If you give me a Rolls Royce to travel, why shall I refuse it? It is my favor upon you that I accept this. The guru is the representative of the Supreme Lord. Krsna rides in a golden chariot. What is this Rolls Royce? Tin, rubber, and wood. I say Rolls Royce is not enough."
The devotees laughed at Prabhupada's frankness. He wasn't intimidated by the press. They had come looking for hot scandal, but he had given them cool-headed facts. He left them baffled by his transcendental style.
Another kirtana escorted Prabhupada to the escalator leading to the ground-floor parking area. AsPrabhupada descended, he noticed Bhurijana Dasa, recently returned from Hong Kong, positioned at the bottom of the escalator. As Prabhupada reached the bottom, Bhurijana spontaneously reached out his hand, and Prabhupada affectionately grasped it.
Exiting the terminal building, Prabhupada, loaded with garlands, climbed into the back seat of his Rolls Royce, its windscreen now adorned with a parking ticket. As someone blew a long, loud blast on a pink-bellied conch shell, the car drove off towards the temple, leaving the devotees scrambling for their vans.
14 Burnett Street, St. Kilda
By the time the Rolls Royce pulled up in front of the narrow terrace house, a loud kirtana was in full swing on the street. Many neighbors stood in their gardens to witness the joyous scene. Devotees lined the path to the front door sprinkling flowers as Prabhupada entered the freshly painted temple.
Prabhupada's arrival address was brief. He was happy to be in Melbourne again, he said, and he complimented the devotees on their keeping the temple clean and bright. He was here, he explained, on the invitation of Madhudvisa Maharaja, to attend the Rathayatra festival of Lord Jagannatha.
Prabhupada's first evening class in Melbourne was on the Thirteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, verses twenty-two through twenty-four. Prabhupada explained that out of ignorance the living entities in the material world are claiming to be purusa, the enjoyer, when in fact they are prakrti, the enjoyed. Ultimately, Krsna is the supreme enjoyer.
"Just like in this temple. Who is the enjoyer? Krsna is the enjoyer. We are helping in Krsna's enjoyment. Krsna will eat something very nice. Our business is to prepare it nicely and offer it to Krsna. He is the enjoyer. He is enjoying His flute in the company of Srimati Radharani. So His very position is enjoyer, and we are His servants. We don't claim that we are on an equal level with Krsna. That is not our philo-sophy. We claim to be servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Krsna. This is our position."
Prabhupada glanced lovingly at the altar.
"Krsna has become your guest. You have brought Krsna here. He is very kind. Because you are devotees, because you want to serve Krsna, Krsna has come into your temple in a form which you can very easily serve. Krsna does not require your service, but He is so kind that He is accepting your service. You are bathing the Deity, you are dressing the Deity, offering flowers, garlands. And whatever preparation you can make, you are offering Krsna. So Krsna has accepted your service in a form which you can handle. That is His energy. And if you want to serve Krsna in His gigantic form, universal form, you do not know where to catch Him. That is not possible."
The secret of real enjoyment, Prabhupada concluded, was allowing oneself to be enjoyed by Krsna.
"The devotees are always anxious: 'Krsna is the enjoyer, and we are the enjoyed. So our business is to see how I am being enjoyed by Krsna, by serving Him.' This is devotion. This is Krsna consciousness. As long as you want to enjoy the material world, you remain in the material world. And as soon as you offer yourself to be enjoyed by Krsna as servant, according to His order you serve, and then immediately you are in the spiritual world.
"So you can be in the material world or the spiritual world as you desire. If you want to remain in the spiritual world, this temple is the spiritual world. We are not living in Melbourne. This temple is not Melbourne. It is Vaikuntha. It is Vrndavana."
Wednesday, June 26
A few devotees, eager to see whether Prabhupada's arrival had received any publicity, waited outside the local news agency for the morning papers.
The previous night's Herald had already published a frivolous article, entitled "Even the Divine Get Blueys" [Blueys are parking tickets.] The writers disapproved of Prabhupada's use of a Rolls Royce.
It was obvious from the superficial news reports that despite this being Prabhupada's fourth visit to Australia most reporters still had no idea of Prabhupada's actual position. To the press, Prabhupada was just another celebrity in a constant parade of faces and events.
The morning's Age followed in the same vein, with another sarcastic headline: "Divine Grace Comes Rollsing In." It also displayed the press's fascination with the trivial:
"Sixty young Hare Krsna devotees yesterday welcomed their earthly leader to the city with obeisances but official Melbourne met him coolly. His Divine Grace Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada came out of the airport to find pink parking tickets on the windscreens of his Rolls Royce and two supporting cars. …"
The devotees were already disgusted with the fault-finding and negative press. But an article on page two of the morning's Sun topped it off. A reporter who had visited the previous night had totally misconstrued Prabhupada's warnings about the dangers of sinking down to the animal kingdom. He had come to an amazing conclusion:
"Krishna Sect Founder: 'I'll Return as Animal.'
"His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is resigned to dying soon, then returning to Earth as an animal. …"
Amogha Dasa at once started working on a letter to the editor, asking that he publish what Prabhupada had actually said. By the time Prabhupada returned from his walk, the whole temple was discussing the article. "What will Prabhupada think about it?" the devotees wondered.
The bright morning sun shone through the saffron curtains behind Prabhupada's red and orange vyasasana (guru's seat). Prabhupada was giving the morning class from the Second Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam to a packed temple room. The business of a saintly person, he explained, was to perform welfare work for the people in general. And the best welfare is to awaken people to their sad-dharma, or real occupational duties.
"At the moment, I may be working as an American, or a European, or an Australian, but this is temporary because the body is temporary. As soon as this body is finished, I will begin another chapter of duty. Suppose this life I am a human being; next life I may not be a human being."
Prabhupada paused. Grinning, he looked around the room. "This statement was not liked by the newspaper man."
The devotees laughed. Obviously, Prabhupada had read the article.
"He was told that next life you can become animal, so he has published in my name, 'The Swami can become an animal.' The Swami can become an animal. The so-called swamis, they will become animals." More laughter.
"So that is not wrong. But we devotees, we are not afraid of becoming animals. Our only ambition is that we become Krsna conscious. So the animals the cows, the calves who are Krsna conscious … You have seen the picture of Krsna? Yes. So, better that we should become animal of Krsna.
"So there is nothing wrong. Even if we become an animal of Krsna, that is also very worthy. That is not an ordinary thing. Any associate of Krsna, either His cowherd boyfriends, or calves or cows, or the Vrndavana trees, plants, flowers, or water they are all devotees of Krsna. They like to serve Krsna in different capacities. So to become an animal of Krsna is a great, great fortune."
The devotees were delighted to see Prabhupada take positive meaning from the foolish article. But there was more. He explained that simply the printing of the holy names Hare Krsna greatly benefited the readers, regardless of whether the names were mentioned in reverence or disrespect.
"In the newspaper you hear so much news. But if you hear something about Krsna, that is the only perfect thing. That news has been published in many morning papers: 'Krishna,' 'the leader of the Krishna movement,' or 'this Hare Krishna movement.' There is some vibration of the word Krsna. That makes the atmosphere purified, surcharged. So many thousands and millions of people will read 'Krsna,' willingly or unwillingly. That is their profit. Immediately when they once utter the word Krsna, they become benefited.
"Never mind what is the news. We don't care for that. But because they will utter the word Krsna, that is their profit, and that is our profit for the Krsna consciousness movement. So, thank you very much."
Gopikanta, an enthusiastic full-time book distributor, asked Prabhupada what was the exact benefit for a person who took the Srimad-Bhagavatam on the street and gave a donation.
"That is already explained," Prabhupada said. "They will read. They will see the picture of Krsna. The immediate profit is that they will ask, 'What is this picture?' And you will say, 'Krsna.' 'Oh?' they say. 'It is Krsna?' From the beginning of the book from the cover the benefit begins, because uttering the word Krsna is beneficial. Then if he reads of course, if he pays for the book, he will read it. So he has a chance to know about Krsna. His life becomes sublime."
Later in his room, Prabhupada said that his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, in considering whether articles were worthy for publication, would count how many times the word Krsna or Caitanya had been used. If these holy names had been quoted sufficiently, he would say, "That's all right. This can be used."
Prabhupada turned to Caru Dasa.
"So, how many times has this man mentioned the word Krsna in the article?"
Caru quickly counted.
"Seventeen times, Prabhupada."
"And how many people live in Melbourne?"
"At least a couple of million, Prabhupada."
"So that's seventeen multiplied by two million times that the holy name of Krsna has been chanted."
Kurma Dasa, an Australian disciple of Srila Prabhupada's, is one of the Hare Krsna movement's most famous chefs. He is the author of Great Vegetarian Dishes and appears in the ITV (ISKCON Television) video series Cooking with Kurma.