Dear Srila Prabhupada,
Please accept my humble obeisances at your lotus feet.
There was a time in 1976 when you were being driven from Heathrow airport to Bhaktivedanta Manor. The M25 did not exist at that time, so you were moving along the road towards the village of Denham. We young men were excitedly following you in our yellow Ford parcel van. The windows were open and we were singing kirtan at the tops of our youthful voices. Guru and happy disciples on the A 412.
Then we realised that there should be a kirtan for you as you entered the Manor gates. That meant that we should arrive before you and assemble there to welcome you. But we couldn’t do that without overtaking. And how could we overtake our spiritual master? That didn’t seem right.
There then followed, as was common in those days, a small doubt about the details of guru-disciple etiquette. Could we jump over our spiritual master, albeit in a post office van?
Well, although the Chaitanya Caritamrita had been published the year before, none of us had read the one set we had at the temple, so we were not yet conversant with the incident of Govinda Das and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Govinda would massage the legs of Lord Chaitanya after lunch every day, but on this one occasion he would have to step over his Lord to do so. He was in a quandary. How could he possibly do that? Vaishnava etiquette dictates that one should always adopt a position of deference with one’s seniors, and one should never step over the body of another devotee, and especially a senior one, and what to speak of a sannyasi, and particularly the Lord Himself when He appears as one. And yet Govinda wanted to offer his service.
So he spread a cloth and stepped. Afterwards he simply remained in the room. Later, when he awoke, the Lord asked him why he had not gone to take his meal, Govinda Das explained that it would have meant stepping over Him. Asked how then, had he entered the room, he responded that he had stepped over his Lord for service, but could not do so for his own stomach.
Well, these fine points of Vaishnava etiquette, these niceties of theological discussion, were way beyond us at that moment, but we just felt uncomfortable about ‘overtaking Srila Prabhupada.’ But we did want to reach the Manor before he did. So we compromised. Being on a dual carriageway we drew up alongside our spiritual master, singing and stabbing the air like orange-clad lunatics, glorifying our eternal spiritual master whom we had taken as our life and soul, and travelling with him, through time and space, for a few precious seconds, at sixty miles an hour.
Seated in the back of the car, Srila Prabhupada turned to look at us, heard our noisy kirtan and saw the looks on our faces. He smiled and lifted his arm in greeting. We all manically waved. It was a precious moment of exchange, captured forever in our minds.
And so we then overtook our spiritual master on the A 412, just outside Denham, and talked about it all the way back. I’m still talking about it now. May we always travel with you, Srila Prabhupada. May we always walk behind you, faithfully listening to your voice, yet may we sometimes, but only ever for service, overtake you in order to glorify you more.
Your grateful servant on the road, Kripamoya Das