Just as Janmāṣṭamī is the day we are supposed to dedicate to remembering Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s appearance day is the day to immerse ourselves in memories of him. I don’t know if the fact that Śrīla Prabhupāda was born right after Janmāṣṭamī has any spiritual significance but it was a good strategy on Kṛṣṇa’s part.
Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are fascinating, if we watch the videos of Vṛndāvana or of devotees retelling them it naturally arises attachment in our hearts but, speaking for myself, it’s mostly a sentimental reaction. If we remember Śrīla Prabhupāda’s pastimes the next day we get a nice comparison that should help us check our pride and put us back on track. The spiritual components of both of these pastimes are non-different while external, not so important impacts, cancel each other out.
By listening to Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes we get attracted to Vṛndāvana and it makes us feel that nothing else matters, that simply continuing in this vein indefinitely is the real path to bhakti. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s pastimes, however, demand us being and serving now and here, work first, samādhi later. When the importance of this dictum finally enters our consciousness Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, so important just the day before, somehow fade away and seem like undeserved indulgence.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples shared plenty of memories, just type it into google and you are all set, not just for the day but probably for the rest of your life because by the time you take a second round of what is out there you’ll forget how it sounded the first time and it would seem as fresh as ever.
I spent the day looking at video testimonies recorded for Śrīla Prabhupāda centennial almost twenty years ago. You can find them on this Youtube channel and I don’t know how many of them are there, the stream seems endless. They have been uploaded only a couple of years ago but I believe they are DVD rips from “Prabhupada Memories” series sold on the internet. I think they are from the centennial celebrations because they feature devotees who long left this world since, and their words somehow seem more precious.
They all follow the same format, devotees sitting in front of the camera and speaking of their memories for a couple of minutes, not just general appreciation but something specific to them, often something no one has ever heard before, and so each recording is unique and heartfelt, and very personal, the most precious thing they are willing to share after all these years. I wanted to continue “all this years in the movement” but here’s the thing – many of these devotees have left ISKCON and some of them are quite inimical to us, and yet they all agreed to say something about Prabhupāda, who remains the patriarch of our sometimes feuding family.
Their names have become loaded and not all cognitive associations are beneficial for our spiritual progress. I don’t want people to think about pedophilia when hearing about certain persons, for example, so I’ll leave the names out, there’s a good reason not to dwell on negatives, as I’ve learned from one of the videos.
The “no more with ISKCON” devotees stand out as they look like they’ve just been dragged off the streets, drawn large tilakas on their foreheads, and put right in front of the camera. Some are openly gay, some came in drag, some look like new age massage gurus, you get everything. Sometimes their narratives are also out of sync with those who still stay and that sometimes unnerved me.
There was one devotee who denigrated Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s order to print books to a mere suggestion and turned Śrīla Prabhupāda’s success into mere choice to pick up one of such suggestions and run away with it. There’s this subtle implication that you can do whatever you want if you do it right and it’s really up to you. This means that you can’t judge anyone and all the paths lead to the same goal, and you are a master of your own success, guru is there only to provide help. There’s a GBC injunction to avoid association with this devotee, btw, and now I can see another reason why.
Another devotee in the series completely refuted this approach. He remembered how he and some other senior devotees went to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s room and caught him chanting japa while tears were flowing like rivers down his face. They were completely shocked that they walked onto a such intimate moment and they dropped on the floor in prostrated obeisances to make themselves invisible. When they finally got a chance to speak they were full of admiration and praise for Prabhupāda because they just saw that he was such a great devotee. Without even having time to think Śrīla Prabhupāda simply responded: “No, no, no, it’s all my guru mahārāja.”
We really have nothing but the mercy of our guru, no matter what success we think we achieved by a combination of external factors and our efforts.
This, btw, was delivered by a devotee who Śrīla Prabhupāda personally promised to come and save at the time of his death. He left the movement, engaged himself in most abominable activities, and when he was dying of AIDS one of his godbrothers went to find him in some slum, picked him up, put him in a rented apartment, and arranged with one of his godsisters who served with him in the early days to take care of him in this last stage of his life. He left this world in a very auspicious atmosphere and in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, which would have been impossible and unthinkable if he was left on his own. This story of his departure only confirms his testimony of Śrīla Prabhupāda – “It’s all by the mercy of my guru mahārāja.”
In another video an ISKCON devotee talked about one of his godbrothers who went into yoga and was still using ISKCON name to collect donations for his new, yogī guru. He thought Śrīla Prabhupāda would immediately disown him but, on the contrary, Prabhupāda said that “You have no idea of the extent of Lord Nityānanda’s mercy”. Soon enough that devotee was back in the fold, confirming that Lord Nityānanda has unlimited patience with our foolishness, not that we should exploit it or anything.
Once again, the common theme through all these testimonials is that Śrīla Prabhupāda engaged his disciples in whatever capacity they had. Maybe it was my biased selection but no one has ever said that Śrīla Prabhupāda thought their lives didn’t matter as long as they remembered Kṛṣṇa. No, he looked for and appreciated every bit of service they performed in their otherwise conditioned and illusioned state. Our guru is not just the “spritiual” master, no, he comes and saves our material form, too. We might not think much of our material activities but the guru comes and turns them into service, so they always matter even though we might think that chanting is our only real life.
That was a sobering thought for me – we can’t rely on our inner spiritual beauty blossoming out of nowhere sometime in the future. Remembering Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes might indicate that this is what’s important, but the guru comes and reminds us that we need to purify our present, material consciousness, which is a real, not an illusory thing, and it’s this present consciousness that needs to be engaged as much as possible. We can’t just switch off and say “This is nothing, it’s what I do for my job, never mind that”. It’s not nothing, it’s time taken away from the service to our guru, as if we do not understand the value of guru’s mercy. It should mean everything to us and not a bit less.