ONE OF MY MOST wonderful experiences in life came when I accompanied Srila Prabhupada on his tour of India from October 1970 to February 1972. While every experience with Srila Prabhupada was wonderful, traveling with him as he spread Krsna consciousness was especially so. We visited Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Indore, Surat, Calcutta, Gorakhpur, Amritsar, and Allahabad.
Generally, Srila Prabhupada would address large public gatherings in the evening and meet individuals or small groups during the day. While speaking about Krsna consciousness to Indians, Srila Prabhupada touched one young American who was touring India. The young man began to travel with us, and sometimes he would sit next to me when we took our meals of Krsna-prasadam, food offered to Krsna.
"Krsna is definitely God!" he would exclaim. "Otherwise, how could I such a lowly creature get such nice prasadam every day. Krsna is truly merciful."
After associating with us for some days, the young man had learned enough of the philosophy to ask Srila Prabhupada a question: "If all service is absolute, why do we have to chant sixteen rounds?"
Srila Prabhupada answered, but somehow the young man was not satisfied and repeatedly pressed his point.
Finally, Srila Prabhupada sat erect, and in a grave voice said, "Why chant sixteen rounds? Because the Supreme Personality of Godhead wants you to!"
Even then the young man persisted.
Young Man: Why is any one activity of Krsna consciousness better than another? Take, for example, chanting sixteen rounds. Suppose you've served Krsna twenty-three hours, and in the last hour you can either finish your rounds or enroll someone as a life member of ISKCON. Instead of chanting your sixteen rounds …
Srila Prabhupada: You cannot concoct. You have to abide by the orders of Krsna.
Young Man: Then why …
Srila Prabhupada: There is no question of "why." It is the order of Krsna's representative. You have to abide by that. You cannot say, "Why?" As soon as you say, "Why?" then you are not fully surrendered. Surrender means there is no "Why?" It is ordered; it has to be done. That's all.
Young Man: Suppose, for example, last night I was chanting. Then I thought, "Oh, I'm not concentrating on the chanting anymore. Now I should go to sleep."
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore we have prescribed rules for chanting. You must finish sixteen rounds. Then go to sleep. You finish sixteen rounds and sleep the whole day. I have no objection.
[The devotees laughed.]
Young Man: But then …
Srila Prabhupada: There is no "then." If you are so addicted to sleeping, you simply chant sixteen rounds and sleep the whole day. But then, also, don't take food.
[Again the devotees laughed.]
Srila Prabhupada: Don't get up for taking prasadam. "Now I have to honor prasadam. Let me eat sumptuously and then again sleep." Still, if you cannot do anything else, simply chant sixteen rounds, take prasadam, and sleep.
[The devotees laughed.]
Srila Prabhupada: It is a special prerogative for you.
Srila Prabhupada's words were always full of truth, and sometimes full of humor. Subsequently, while studying Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya-lila 22.113), I found a philosophical truth underlying Srila Prabhupada's humorous reply. The basic principle of regulative devotional service is to always remember Krsna and never forget Him:
smartavyah satatam visnur
vismartavyo na jatucit
sarve vidhi-nisedhah syur
etayor eva kinkarah
Commenting on this verse from Padma Purana, Srila Prabhupada writes: "There are many regulative principles in the sastras [scriptures] and directions given by the spiritual master. These regulative principles should act as servants of the basic principle that is, one should always remember Krsna and never forget Him. This is possible when one chants the Hare Krsna mantra. Therefore one must strictly chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra twenty-four hours daily. One may have other duties to perform under the direction of the spiritual master, but he must first abide by the spiritual master's order to chant a certain number of rounds. In our Krsna consciousness movement, we have recommended that the neophyte chant at least sixteen rounds. This chanting of sixteen rounds is absolutely necessary if one wants to remember Krsna and not forget Him. Of all the regulative principles, the spiritual master's order to chant at least sixteen rounds is most essential."
Although Srila Prabhupada had instructed the young man not to ask "Why," here Srila Prabhupada gives the answer. Though we may have other important duties, the basic principle is to always remember Krsna. And to always remember Krsna, we must regularly chant sixteen rounds.
As Krsna's empowered representative, Srila Prabhupada understood the necessity for us to chant sixteen rounds. But is it true, as Srila Prabhupada said, that he would have no objection if the young man did nothing more than chant sixteen rounds, eat, and sleep?
Let us consider the meaning of the maha-mantra. When we chant we are addressing Krsna and His energy. If Krsna were to respond and ask, "Yes? You called? What do you want?" what would we reply? "A VCR"? "A new house"? "An imported car"? "A beautiful wife"? "A better job"? "A husband for my daughter"?
No. A pure devotee will not ask for anything material. He will ask only for service to Krsna and Krsna's devotees. "O Lord Krsna! O Srimati Radharani! Please engage me in Your devotional service."
Srila Prabhupada knew that if the young man chanted sixteen rounds every day, Krsna would hear his prayer and fulfill his desire. Krsna would give him more and more service at the lotus feet of His dear representative, Srila Prabhupada.
Giriraja Swami serves as an ISKCON Governing Body Commissioner for Mumbai, Mauritius, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, and several other places.