Srila Prabhupada, my spiritual master, sitting on the lawn of Bhaktivedanta Manor. On the birthday of the spiritual master it is customary for all disciples to write or speak something about him for the other Vaishnavas who assemble on the day. Here is my piece for this year. It is not a philosophical statement, but an expression of my current feelings. Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa Puja is on September 5th this year.
Krishna yadi kripa kare kona bhagyavan
Guru-antaryami-rupe sikhaya apane
“Krishna is situated in everyone’s heart as caitya-guru, the spiritual master within. When He is kind to some fortunate conditioned soul, He personally gives one lessons to progress in devotional service, instructing the person as the Supersoul within and the spiritual master without.” (Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 22.47)
Dear Srila Prabhupada,
This has been an extraordinary year for me. In fact, it has been a year so out of the ordinary that I can only describe it as the most unusual year of my life so far. There has been intense fear, pain, sadness, grief, remorse for a life not quite devoted enough, and a profound sense of being utterly lost. Yet there have also been great feelings of relief, gratitude, reassurance, and a sense of being found again.
I am very grateful to all of my devotee friends who gave me patience, encouragement and support at a time when I most needed it. I am very grateful to my wife and children who gave me so much tolerance and service when, through my self-absorption, I have probably least deserved it. I am very grateful to my doctors and nurses without whom I would have been in a wheelchair this morning, and a good customer of Chandu Tailor (our local Indian funeral service) this time next year.
Most of all, Srila Prabhupada, I am grateful to you. You taught me everything I know about living and dying. They say that everything you learn from your spiritual master is tested at the time of death. Well, this year I had a chance to do a dress rehearsal for the big day.
I don’t wish to sound overly dramatic – although it’s my tendency – but there’s nothing quite like raw fear to sharpen up one’s attentiveness during japa. And there’s nothing like the news: “You have cancer” to immediately transform japa from a mechanical ritual into the deepest calling out of the soul to God. You told us that we should chant Hare Krishna like a lost child cries for her mother. This year I got to be that lost child.
Someone once said that the soul is looking for Krishna, and that Krishna is always reaching out to the soul. Where they both meet – that point is the guru. You came to me at a time in my life when I most needed you. I am aware that the way my life and your life connected was not arbitrary. The time I spent with you, and what I learned, was no accident. At least I hope it is alright for me to think of it as being Krishna’s arrangement – not just the generalities but the details too. Especially the details.
My mind goes back to exactly thirty years ago this week. You were just returning from Watford Hospital where you had had a small operation in the Urology Department. Somehow I was the only one in the Bhaktivedanta Manor reception room at the time. I raised my hands and said: “Jaya Srila Prabhupada” as you passed me by. Although you must have been in pain at the time you folded your hands and replied “Jaya” looking straight at me.
That was the only word you said to me directly. Its only one word, ‘Jaya,’ but the Mahabharata spends at least a page or two explaining how much courage the word Jaya can give. Thirty years later, I also got to spend a morning in the operating theatre in the Urology Department of Watford Hospital. It’s not the sort of place that could be considered sacred – although I can guess that quite a few men of my age have, through the years, said their prayers there and called out loudly for Jesus Christ.
However, the fact that you were once there, that you’d had an operation there, and that you’d spoken to me minutes after your operation, made me feel close to you. As the doctor – from Mathura – began his work your word “Jaya” – “Victory” – was ringing in my ears. The doctor asked me to say something about Lord Krishna, and so began probably my most unusual preaching opportunity.
One word spoken thirty years previously, one small exchange, was exactly what I needed thirty years later. You came to me when I most needed you – yet again.
During your stay with us that summer, I learned from your practical example of tolerance. Amid physical pain you not only continued to preach but you had taken an uncomfortable journey all the way from India to come and be with your disciples one last time.
You came thousands of miles for all your disciples. I was 21 and you were 81. I had absolutely no idea what it felt like to be that age and could not understand the aches and pains of an old body. My naïve, boyish grasp of Vaishnava theology caused me to think of you only as a spiritual being that did not experience pain or age.
The reality of the situation makes me respect you, and love you, even more. That sick as you were, and pained as you must have been, you nevertheless made an enormous effort to come and see all of your beloved sons and daughters. There weren’t so many of us, and we were all young; and you knew how little philosophy we truly understood. And I’m sure you also knew how many mistakes we were going to make over the next thirty years. But you came to see us.
And you came to see me – personally – and spoke to me, and looked me in the eyes. Although I was just a boy you asked me to continue your mission. Your mission! Did you really think that I could do it? You must have had some confidence in me. Because you trusted me, and expected a lifelong commitment from me, I am still here. I was upstairs in your room and you said: “Please help me” and “Thank you very much”, and, equally politely: “Just give this one life to Krishna”
As you order, so you also give the strength necessary to fulfil the order. This year, when I needed more strength than I’ve ever needed before; during troubled weeks when my ability to think of Lord Krishna as the all-compassionate Godhead was seriously challenged; memory of you gave me great strength. And your words gave me courage. And your example of tolerance in the face of difficulty pulled me onwards.
And I couldn’t help thinking that because I am one of your beloved sons, and because you’ve asked me to do something for you, and that because Krishna directed me to you quite early on in my life, both you and He might still need me for something down here.
So, Srila Prabhupada I have one prayer today. It is not a selfless prayer, but I am hoping that you will kindly speak to Lord Krishna on my behalf. If you ask Him I know that He will listen. Please ask Him that: “This boy needs many more years before he can truly become your devotee. I also need him to do some more work for my mission. Help him to understand that his time is now limited so he must be more serious, but kindly allow him a good number of years before his time is finally up.”
And when my time is finally up, Srila Prabhupada, please allow me to think of you constantly. You are my eternal guru, my father, my friend, and the one who, I am sure, will come thousands of miles to see me at the end.