READING DAMODARA Dasa's memoir about Srila Prabhupada makes me wish I'd been there. But my time came later, in 1974. My head bowed to the floor in the San Francisco temple, I looked up briefly and saw, just inches away, Srila Prabhupada's feet in rust-colored socks gliding by. He had come for the annual Rathayatra festival. The next day, dancing onstage, arms raised high, he inspired ten thousand souls to joyfully sing out the names of Krsna.
Most of Srila Prabhupada's disciples had little opportunity for personal audience with him. We didn't expect it. He would say that to be with him didn't require physical proximity. If we followed his instructions, we would feel his presence.
The Vedas say that the company of great souls opens the door to liberation. Though Srila Prabhupada has left this world, we have unlimited access to him. He's here in dozens of books and thousands of hours of recorded lectures and conversations, in video images and photographs. From the spiritual perspective, these are identical with Srila Prabhupada himself.
I cherish the priceless moments when I was in Srila Prabhupada's presence. Still, I understand that getting his blessings is more important than being with him. When asked for his blessings, Srila Prabhupada would say that they were available in the form of his instructions, especially in his books. Whether or not we had Prabhupada's personal association, if we take his instructions to heart we'll reap their full benefit: love for Krsna.
Getting the blessings of the spiritual master is sometimes referred to as "receiving the dust of his lotus feet." The spiritual master's feet are called "lotus" because just as a lotus sits above the water, the spiritual master, untouched by the material energy, lives in the world but is not part of it.
A disciple once asked Srila Prabhupada what we mean when we say that the spiritual master is not an ordinary man. Srila Prabhupada had just been disparaging atheistic scientists and philosophers, and he replied, "He is not moved by the rascal scientist." Scriptures and self-realized spiritual teachers of the past, not the ever-changing views of popular leaders, guide the spiritual master.
Bowing to the lotus feet of the spiritual master (figuratively or literally) is a sign of humility, which is essential for spiritual life. Humility is closely tied to faith. With faith and humility we approach a spiritual master whom we accept to be greater than us in spiritual knowledge and realization.
Like many others, I had little problem accepting Srila Prabhupada in that way. He was a spiritual teacher with more to say about God both in quantity and quality than anyone I had ever heard. And he so clearly lived an ideal spiritual life. His devotional service to the Lord never stopped. He barely slept, so intent was he on spreading Krsna's glories.
Ultimately, the spiritual master is above the world because He sits at the lotus feet of Krsna. By following Srila Prabhupada's instructions, we can also get Krsna's shelter. From the vantage point of Srila Prabhupada's lotus feet, we can see the spiritual world.