He left from these simple rooms
in the heart of Krsna's land to bring
others the spiritual bliss he knew here.
Before bringing Krsna consciousness to the West, Srila Prabhupada lived for six years at the four-hundred-year-old Radha-Damodara temple in Vrndavana, India. Living in two simple rooms a small room with a kitchen he was deeply absorbed in meditation, study, and writing, preparing himself for his mission.
Srila Prabhupada's disciples have continued to maintain the rooms, which are filled with his divine presence. Last March, one disciple, Sankarsana Dasa visited the rooms and recorded the following conversation with the present caretaker, Mahanidhi Swami.
Sankarsana Dasa: Maharaja, what first inspired you to take up this service?
Mahanidhi Swami: I always had a desire to have personal association with Srila Prabhupada, being his disciple. But since I was just a small devotee and came very late in Prabhupada's time with us, I never really had an intimate role other than distributing books. So when a chance came to serve here, I thought, "Here's an opportunity to serve Srila Prabhupada personally in his rooms. He himself said he's always residing here." So I thought, "Let me try living here and serving Prabhupada and see if I can increase my personal relationship with him."
SD: Of all the realizations you must have had while living in Srila Prabhupada's rooms, which one stands out the most?
MS: I'm appreciating the unlimited compassion Srila Prabhupada had for all the suffering people in the world. Living here in these rooms, you understand you're in the topmost place possible, because these rooms are situated in Seva Kunja, where Krsna and the gopisare eternally enjoying their pastimes. So when Prabhupada was here, he was obviously experiencing the most intimate service to Radha and Krsna and the highest ecstasies.
In other words, he was fully in the spiritual world in this place because this is a replica of Goloka Vrndavana. Yet out of love and to fulfill his mission, he gave this all up. Prabhupada left Vrajadhama, Vrndavana, to go to New York City a tremendous sacrifice.
SD: When Srila Prabhupada first went to New York, didn't he refer to this as his home?
MS: Yes.When Prabhupada referred to Radha-Damodara, to Vrndavana, he was referring to the spiritual world, because that is Prabhupada's home. And that Goloka Vrndavana is also our eternal home.
New York is part of the temporary manifestation it just lasts for one breath. Maha-Visnu exhales and everything comes into existence, and He inhales and it's all finished. So New York City with all of its glory and grandeur exists for only one breath. Yet people there become so entangled in what they're doing.
So when Prabhupada went there he didn't consider himself a part of that breath of New York. Rather, he thought of himself as a resident of Vrndavana who'd left his Lord Radha-Damodara to come to New York just for spreading Krsna consciousness.
Living here for some time, I can appreciate how much compassion Prabhupada had for all of us to give this up.
For a realized person like Srila Prabhupada, Vrndavana is the place of the highest opulence and the greatest madhurya. Madhuryameans sweetness or relishable intimacy with Radha and Krsna.
Prabhupada gave up all this opulence and all this sweetness to go to New York to live in the middle of the Bowery with garbage everywhere and drunks and those horrible things, just so he could give us and the world Krsna consciousness. So I'm very much appreciating that. I'm inspired by that depth of commitment and purity of compassion that Srila Prabhupada embodied.
SD: How is it that this is, as you said, the most opulent place to live?
MS: Again, it's because it's our real home. When a man is traveling and staying in different places, he may stay in very nice hotels and enjoy wonderful food. But no matter how opulent his accommodations are, in the back of his mind he's simply feeling attracted to being back in his home. There everything is just exactly how he wants it. The view, the home cooking-everything is the best. Nothing is more opulent than a man's home, because it's fully arranged for his satisfaction.
So Vrndavana is fully arranged for the satisfaction of Radha and Krsna, and because we are a part of that satisfaction we also enjoy it. We're home. It's Krsna's home and it's our home also, our eternal home.
Any place in this other world outside Vrndavana is simply a foreign place. We're on tour. There may be different foods here and there in different places, but when we enter Vrndavana we enter the opulence of our home.
And it's very austere for anyone to leave home. So for a devotee to live outside of Vrndavana is a great austerity.
SD: For those of us who do live elsewhere, there's such a great spiritual advantage in visiting these holy places in India. The spiritual potency of the great devotees is very powerful where they performed their worship.
MS: That's a fact. It's the mercy of the Lord and His devotees that they make themselves available. Otherwise, why should devotees build temples and other such places? They do it because these places are like depositories of mercy where other devotees can come and get the mercy. And they do.
Some people just offer obeisances but they don't really have the heart. To really get the mercy of the Lord, you have to have the heart. You have to want the mercy. A lot of us are afraid to beg for the mercy, because we think, "What's going to happen if I get the mercy of the Lord? My life is going to change."
It's just like being afraid to dive off a diving board. "I never did this before, and it looks, like a long way down there, and what happens when you hit the water?" But once you do it you see that it's wonderful. It's a lot of fun. Then you're running up and down jumping off like anything just like a little kid.
So when we actually jump off the deep end and just surrender to Krsna, we find out that it's wonderful. But we need the association of devotees to encourage us to jump off. If we stay with our own minds and our small circle of friends, generally we're reluctant.
SD: Staying here as the caretaker of Srila Prabhupada's rooms, you get the opportunity to host many devotees who come here from all over the world. Can you say something about that?
MS: Throughout the day there's a lot of opportunity to serve the devotees because they are always coming and visiting. As a neophyte devotee, I've found that their visits help me appreciate themadhyama, or intermediate, platform of devotional service. Because one of the symptoms of a madhyama devotee is that he loves and serves the devotees. The goal is uttama-bhakti, pure devotion. bututtama-bhakti does not come overnight. It's a gradual process.
SD: What personal service do you render here for Srila Prabhupada?
MS: All things that are required. I clean the rooms every day. I try to make all arrangements for Prabhupada's comfort. My meditation is that Srila Prabhupada is still present. So I offer him food every day, turn the lights on and off …
SD: Do you live here in Prabhupada's kitchen?
MS: Yes. Srila Prabhupada would only spend about an hour a day in the kitchen. He would cook and take his prasadam here. The other room is Prabhupada's actual bhajana-kutira, where he would translate and write and rest.
SD: So that room is kept strictly as Prabhupada's room. You just go in there to do service?
MS: The servant tries not to pass through that room, because his mood is that Prabhupada is in there eternally doing his translating or speaking to guests. So because of that, even though the way to the bathroom is through Prabhupada's room the servant doesn't go through there but rather goes around to another entrance at the front of the temple.
The services here are set up in such a way that it's easy to meditate on how Srila Prabhupada is personally here. We offer him food every day, clean his room every day, offer him incense, so many things. But then the individual devotee can meditate even more on how Srila Prabhupada is here and how the devotee is assisting. It depends on his own understanding.
We know different things about Prabhupada's stay here. We know that Prabhupada said he chants Hare Krsna on the veranda. Sometimes he walks up and down the veranda. Or sometimes he chants in his room or in front of Rupa Gosvami's samadhi. So we sweep the veranda every morning and sometimes in the afternoon during the hot season when all the dust is there. Because we're thinking that Prabhupada is going to walk out there, so it has to be nice. I had these fans installed on the veranda so Srila Prabhupada will be cool when he sits here in the evening.
It's just a matter of the individual devotee's personal meditation, because the reciprocation depends on the surrender. If you want to surrender to Krsna in a very intimate loving mood, then Krsna will reciprocate with you in an intimate loving mood.
SD: How long will you stay here?
MS: I have no plans to leave. It all depends on what Srila Prabhupada arranges. The longer you stay here in the divine association of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Rupa Gosvami, Srila Jiva Gosvami, and Radha-Damodara, the more you appreciate how wonderful this place is. And you naturally become attached. The attachment increases with the length of time you spend here.
You can also appreciate that since Srila Prabhupada spent six years here, how transcendentally attached he must have been to the lotus feet of Radha-Damodara and all the divine association in this sacred place, Seva Kunja. When he left here, he went straight to New York. So I hope I may feel inspired in a similar way to spread Krsna consciousness compassionately, as Srila Prabhupada has shown us he wanted us to do.
He never really wanted us to just sit in one place and lick up all the nectar for ourselves. He wanted us to distribute it to others. And that's the most pleasing thing to Srila Prabhupada. When Prabhupada sees how his sons and daughters have absorbed the mercy and have taken in all the instructions and learned sufficiently and then start to give it out to others that's the most pleasing thing to Srila Prabhupada. Those Godbrothers and Godsisters who are spreading Krsna consciousness around the world are certainly pleasing Srila Prabhupada in the highest way possible. And I'm praying that someday maybe I can also please Prabhupada in that way.