Learning from Srila Prabhupada how to see beyond the material coverings to perceive the real dhama.
I bend down to get through the door and enter a small, sparsely furnished room. Suddenly, I'm face to face with Srila Prabhupada. He's sitting on the floor behind a low desk piled with books and papers.
"Jai!" he says. "Our Hayagriva has arrived."
I pay dandabat obeisances by prostrating myself and touching his feet with my right hand. Then I place my hand to my forehead. To remember the spiritual master's lotus feet is to remember Krsna. The effect is as cooling as sandalwood.
"nama om visnu-padaya krsna presthilya bhu-tale srimate bhaktivedanta- svamin iti namine," I say, offering respects. Then I sit before him, and he smiles.
Although seventy-six, Prabhupada seems as ageless as ever. His head is freshly shaved, and the aroma of mustard- seed oil tells me that he has just received a massage. His complexion is radiant, his eyes clear, his face full and healthy. This is the face that attracted me that day when I was walking down New York's Houston Street and first met him, the face that brought so many young seekers to that little storefront temple on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. For us, his face embodies all the attractive qualities of devotion, for it's a pure, truthful, and compassionate face. It is both happy and grave. It is magnanimous, gentle, and forgiving. It is also determined and self-controlled, and, above all, most learned and intelligent. It's a face not afraid to love and give all in love for Krsna.
Indeed, Prabhupada's face conjures all those virtues that lead to love of Krsna. It's not an ordinary man's face. It transports an entire spiritual fact, the Vedic culture, an atmosphere of bhakti . I first began realizing his potency just by Jlooking at his face. Whenever I'm Kr,na conscious, it makes me joyful. Whenever I'm not, I'm afraid to look at it; it accuses me, makes me ashamed without uttering a word. What power there is in the spiritual master's face! What magne tism! What volumes of wisdom! '
"I'm glad you invited me here, Srila Prabhupada," I say.
SEEING THE REAL DHAMA
"I think the sanitation facilities are not up to your country's," he laughs. Then seriously: "Since 1965, they have not kept the streets very nicely. The sewage is spoiling it all, even the river. Now there's no place to go bathing."
"Most people agree that India's main problem is overpopulation," I say.
"Nonsense," Prabhupada says. "Does that mean Krsna can't supply His children with sufficient food, clothing, and shelter? No. The creation is perfect because it comes from the Supreme Perfect. Om purnam adah purnam idam. The Supreme Perfect has made perfect arrangements for all living entities. The problem is misuse of Krsna's gifts, misappropriation. Isavasyam idam sarvam. Everything belongs to the Supreme."
"But why is it, Srila Prabhupada, that here in Vrndavana, Krsna's devotees also seem to suffer so?" Gurudasa asks.
"Suffer? What is that suffering?" Prabhupada says.
"Many don't have sufficient food. They sleep on the streets and-"
"Who says there's not sufficient food? Is anyone starving? Just show me one starving man. In any temple a man can go and take prasadam. And as for sleeping, everyone is sleeping. When you sleep, do you know whether you're on a king's couch or a stone road? The Gosvamis would sleep under a different tree every night, and then for only two or three hours. There's no problem eating, sleeping, defending, mating. There's no lack there, no poverty. The only poverty in India today is lack of Krsna consciousness- that's all"
"But most tourists are appalled when they come here and see the conditions," Dr. Kapoor says. He is dressed in a spotless white kurta and pajama pants. "It will take more than your temple at Raman Reti to change all that."
"Therefore I'm recommending a general program of clean-up, preservation, and restoration," Prabhupada says. "True, the beautiful temples of the Gosvamis-Madana Govindaji, especially-are due to neglect." Mohana, crumbling
"Sometimes people even use them as stone quarries," Dr. Kapoor laments.
"So, we must first protect them. Then restore them to first-class condition, install Deities, and conduct daily aratiks. Then many people will come and benefit."
"Why has Krsna allowed His dhama to deteriorate, Srila Prabhupada?" Gurudasa asks.
"It has not deteriorated," he replies.
"Well, you just said that the Gosvami temples were neglected."
"That's a fact. But Vrndavana has not deteriorated."
"Most Americans would be shocked to see what I saw this morning," I say.
"How's that" Prabhupada asks.
"Well , for one, they'd consider it unhygienic."
"Just see. For a materialist, everything is topsyturvy because his vision is perverted. Beauty and ugliness are in the eye of the seer."
"But what's this veneer covering the hoIy dhama?"
"The ugliness that you see here is yoga-maya," Prabhupada says ." It's Krsna's covering. Vrndilvana appears this way to drive away the atheists and imperson a lists, just as New York attracts th em. For a devotee, this Vrndavana is as good as Krsna's transcen dental abode in the spiritual sky Goloka Vrndavana. But you must have the eyes to see."
"Transcendental vision," Dr. Kapoor says.
"Yes, Vrndavana hides herself from the materialist," Prabhupada says.
"You speak of Vrndavana as a person," I say.
"In spiritual consciousness, everything is personal," Prabhupada says. "Even the city of Raval,a appeared before Hanuman as a gigantic Raksasi, and Hanuman knocked her down because she challenged him."
"Well, I've certainly noticed a difference between the consciousness of Delhi and here," I say. "I couldn't help but feel it. Still, the poverty-"
"Krsna mercy keeps His devotees poor," Prabhupada says. "Their only wealth is Krsna con sciousness. Krsna doesn't want them diverted by Maya Devi."
"But I still don't see how this is as good as Goloka Vrndavana," I say.
"Then you must try to rediscover Vrndavana," Prabhupada says. "That you must do. It is a question of consciousness. The real Vrndavana is there in your own heart, hiding herself from you."
"So how do I go about it?" I ask.
"Just follow the examples of the elevated Brijbasis,'' he says, smiling. "For instance, the gopis, the milkmaids of Vrndavana, simply tried to make Krsna happy. That is Krsna consciousness: making Krsna happy. When you love someon e, you want to make him happy, right?"
"In Vrndavana, everyone is trying to please Krsna: the birds, trees, cows, the river, and all KrsnaS associates. It's not that Vpulavana is only here. We can have Vrndavana everywhere. Krsna is not limited. We should not think that because Krsna is far away in Goloka Vrndavana, He cannot accept what we offer Him. If you offer food with love, Krsna eats. Krsna does not leave Goloka Vpldavana, but His expansion goes and accepts food. This Vrndavana that just happens to appear in India is as worshipable as Krsna. So we cannot offend His dhama, His home. If we live in Vrndavana, we are living with Krsna, because Vrndavana is nondifferent from Krsna. There's no difference between the origin al Vpldavana and this Vrndavana. Vrndavana is so powerful"
Again, I feel stupid and confused. I look at Gurudasa and Syamasunder, expecting to see my con fusion reflected, but they continue staring at Srila Prabhupada. According to scripture, the original Vrndavana, Goloka Vrndavana, is shaped like the whorl of a lotus and is situated in Vaikuntha, the spiritual sky. In Vaikuntha, there's no anxiety, no birth, old age, disease or death, and everything partakes of the nature of satcit- ananda, eternity, knowledge, and bliss.
I wonder: Are the lepers composed of sat-cit-ananda? Are they actually fourarmed demigods in disguise? Do they simply assume their ghastly appearances just to frighten the worldly?
"Srila Prabhupada" I venture, breaking the brief, thoughtful silence.
"Now I'm confused."
"How's that? I have not explained clearly?"
"That I can understand," I say. "What I don't understand is how this Vrndavana is nondifferent from Goloka Vrndavana. When coming here in the rickshaw, I saw many old people, a dead man, and many diseased people, lepers. So, old age, disease, and death exist here."
"Of course," Prabhupada says. "Just listen. This is not Goloka Vrndavana. This Vrndavana is a replica, and therefore nondifferent, but because it's manifest in the material universe, the laws of material nature are working here. When we worship Deities in the temple, everyone can see that They are made of stone, metal, or wood, but still the Deities are not different from Krsna. They are Krsna. We certainly are not worshiping stone and wood, though to the naked eye it may appear so. When Caitanya Mahaprabhu went to Puri and saw Lord Jagannatha, He immediately fell down and said, 'Here is Krsna.' It's a matter of vision. Now do you understand?"
"Yes," I say. "My eyes deceive me."
"Not just you," Prabhupada laughs. "Everyone in a madhouse is more or less a lunatic, and everyone in this material universe is blind to Krsna. Otherwise, no one would be here."
"Another point I don't understand," I say, "is Krsna's departure from this earth. You once said that when He leaves, He takes His paraphernalia with Him to the spiritual sky."
"Yes. When a governor comes and goes from a circuit house, he takes his things with him but leaves the empty house behind. Similarly, when Krsna comes to this plan et, He comes here. This Vpldavana is Krsna's house. Therefore it's as good as Goloka Vrndavana."
"Will He come again in this age?"
"No, not in Kali Yuga. But when He comes, this is the place."
"But it wasn't like this when He was here, was it?"
"That may be," Prabhupada says patiently, "but that doesn't mean it's less important. Rest assured that those who are responsible for the upkeep of Vrndavana will have to suffer by taking birth as dogs and hogs here. Still, they are not the losers. Vrndavana is even more potent because the dogs and hogs here are going to be liberated. Life here is not polluted because even the most polluted are being purified."
"I still don't understand why Krsna has allowed His own abode to deteriorate," I say.
"It is not deteriorating," Prabhupada says firmly. "If even the dogs are going to be liberated, how has it deteriorated?"
"But it's not nicely kept up."
"Not nicely kept up in your eyes, but your vision is imperfect."
"Not only mine," I persist.
"No. Everyone's. But even if everyone says that two plus two equals five, is that a fact?"
"Therefore the majority opinion may be mistaken. You must take sh elter of a perfect authority like the bona fide guru. Because he never contradicts Sastra, the guru's opin ion outweighs all oth ers. If gw'u says that grass is blue and sky is green, his opinion must still be accepted. We must accept the fact that our vision is so imperfect that we are mistaken about the color."
"People are often mistaken about Vrndavana in the beginning," Gurudasa says.
"Yes, because they are trying to find fault with Vrndavana," Prabhupa:da says. "But a devotee knows that Vrndavana is Vrndavana. 'England, with all your faults, I love you still.' So, even if the people living in Vrndavana do not appear very pious, they are most fortunate because they live in the land of Krsna. Jaya jaya vrndavana-vasi yata jana. All glories to all the inhabitants of Vrndavana! It is not said that only the devotees here are glorified. Everyone! Even the hogs. It is more fortunate to be born in Vrndavana than in a rich or aristocratic family, because in the next life, one will go back to Godhead. Both hogs and devotees here are liberated, indiscriminately. Unless one is a devotee in a previous life, he cannot take birth here. He may take a hog's or dog's body for a few years, but that's no imped iment. He is simply getting rid of sinful reactions."
THE BEST SITUATION
"Srila Prabhupada, are people here liberated even if they don't have a bonafide spiritual master?" Gurudasa asks.
"Yes," Prabhupada says, "because Vrndavana is directly under Krsna's supervision. Krsna is their spiritual master."
"I think it's better to have you as a spiritual master," Gurudasa says, "than to be born in Vrndavana."
"That's a Vaisnava attitude," Prabhupada smiles. "I remember that wherever my Guru Maharaja went, Vrndavana was there also. Since the bonafide spiritual master carries the Vrnddvana atmosphere with him, then it's better to be with him."
"We're in the best situation of all Prabhupada," Syamasunder says. "We have both you and Vrndavana."
Hayagriva Dasa was one of the earliest disciples of Srila Prabhupada and helped Srila Prabhupada in editing his books and early issues of Back To Godhead magazine.