Gargamuni Swami, a young man in his early twenties was alone, a traveling mendicant. He had recently arrived in Gainesville from Miami where he had been teaching with three other sannyasis. They had decided to go separate ways, he making his way up to Gainesville.
Far from being cosmopolitan like his hometown of New York, Gainesville was a small college town, with only two main streets and a paltry excuse for a downtown. However, in the last couple of years it had become a bastion of progressive thought centered around the university, its hub being the Plaza of the Americas. People would gather there to convey their ideas and as of late, many political rallies were being held protesting America’s participation in the Vietnam War and the recent Kent State shootings.
One of the local leaders of the anti-war movement, David Liberman, was becoming frustrated with its efforts. He had long ago become disillusioned with the establishment but now could see the hypocrisy of those aiming to bring it down. He, along with a few friends, had begun gravitating towards another direction, reading Eastern philosophy and discussing amongst themselves. Then one day a friend told him that there was a swami in the Plaza. “What do you mean a swami in the Plaza?,” he asked incredulously. He proceeded to go there and to his amazement saw a bald-headed man in orange robes chanting, eyes closed intently with a crowd gathered around.
Gradually, the swami brought the chanting to a close and then reached for his bag, reverentially lifting out a large brick-colored book. Pointing to the research library just to his left he called out, “There are so many books in that building. But not one of them gives the Absolute Truth. It’s all just mental speculation and relative knowledge. But in this book,” he said as he displayed it for all to see, “the Absolute Truth is its sole content.”
David was impressed and that night told his girlfriend Adrienne the news, who astonishingly replied that she had seen him that very day as well. He told other friends including Paul, a seeker in his own right who had been reading an impersonal version of Bhagavad-gita. Paul went with them the next day, bringing along his edition of the Gita, and argued with the swami “in a very gentle way.” He was happily defeated and thus joined the group of students who were now coming.
During the day Gargamuni Swami would chant, talk for some time, and distribute whatever prasadam he had, be it fruit, sweets, or on a special day a little subji with chapatis. At night he would stay with whoever offered him a place in exchange for a feast he’d cook for them.
David: Paul and I would go around and try to find Gargamuni every night. We didn’t know where he was staying. We’d see him in the Plaza everyday and then go try to track him down at night. Sometimes we’d find him in an attic somewhere and sometimes he’d be in a utility room next to the hot water heater. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore. I said, “Okay, why don’t you just come stay with me.” I felt sorry for him…and he agreed.
Now Gargamuni Swami had a fixed residence in David and Adrienne’s small duplex, located in the “student ghetto”, just a few blocks away from campus and could regularly invite people over for morning and evening programs. The first thing he did was move all of the furniture from the living room out into the backyard (to make room for guests). Then, after cleaning thoroughly, he decorated the place with Indian madrases reserving one in particular to use as an altar, placing pictures of Srila Prabhupada and Sri Pancatattva on an overturned trunk. It was all very simple yet very devotional and soon became known as the Krishna House.
They first began holding Bhagavad-gita classes at the Catholic Student Center down the street but it wasn’t until they started the daily prasadam program that things really exploded.
David: It was Gargamuni’s idea [to do the prasadam program]. He felt that the best way to attract students was to have a program every day. It was some chanting and then a brief lecture and then prasadam. [Gargamuni] learned how to cook from Prabhupada and he taught all of us how to cook… When he would chaunce the dahl the aroma would go through the entire neighborhood and I remember coming back from class and I’d just see people running, coming out of their houses just running to the Krishna House.
People were packed into the living room, spilling out into the front lawn and even into the street just to taste this magnificent prasadam. As they would come, Gargamuni and crew would be making hot buttered chapatis and serving them to the many guests along with rice, subji and the famous dahl. In this way, some fifty people a day would come for lunch, another fifty for dinner, and even twenty for breakfast!
Gradually a group of regulars started forming, mostly consisting of David and Adrienne’s friends but also many newcomers. They would come for the programs and then some would spend the night—in sleeping bags in the living room or tents in the backyard, rising early the next morning to chant some more. It was a familial atmosphere with everyone being allowed to participate in everything. Gargamuni Swami used to say, “If you only knew what it was like in a real temple.” But they didn’t know, nor did they care as they took great pleasure in helping shop for the bhoga, cooking or making the offerings.
Maintaining the program was not easy. Doing all of these tasks required immense amounts of time and energy, not to speak of money. But somehow the money and help came and by Krishna’s mercy the program continued and many sincere souls came in contact with the Lord.
Then one day that spring Gargamuni Swami received a letter from Srila Prabhupada requesting him to go preach in East Pakistan (Bangladesh). He would have to leave his fledgling group but knew they were sincere and Krishna would take care of them.
While making preparations to leave, Paul showed up at Gargamuni’s door and asked if he could go with him. He had had enough of college (although he only had a few weeks left before graduating) and took this as his opportunity to make his break.
Joe: A friend of mine, Paul, used to come over to my apartment and show me these magazines he’d gotten from the devotees and try to get me to read them. Another friend, Allen, was going [to the Krishna House] every night for dinner and he used to try to get me to go over. I was a little distracted at the time but one day Paul came and unloaded all of his worldly possessions onto my front lawn. He had his head shaved and he said he was leaving for Bangladesh with a swami. I was shocked and began to think there must be something to this chanting of Hare Krishna so I began to go over to the apartment myself.
With Gargamuni Swami gone, David was put in charge. Although Gargamuni’s newly arrived assistant, Bill, had stayed to help, it was still a difficult adjustment. First, they were evicted from the house. David and Adrienne had recently gotten married so with their wedding money they rented a house near downtown. But this made things worse as it was farther from campus and less students were coming. David ventured into the incense business to support the temple and had to go on week-long trips to cities around Florida. Adrienne, feeling lonely and sick, decided to go back to her parents in Miami. At this point David decided to call Satsvarupa das, his GBC representative, requesting help. Satsvarupa assured him he would send someone immediately.
Adrienne: David eventually came down to get me but I was apprehensive about returning to a lonely situation. He promised me it would be different, that a new couple was coming from Boston and I would feel different about everything. So I was convinced. When I returned I was introduced to Hridayananda das and his wife, Ananga Manjari dasi. She was so sweet, she took me into her room and sang songs by Bhaktivinode Thakur for me. She was so personal and kind. I felt happy to be there with the devotees again.
There was something very magical when I first went to Gainesville,” recalls Hridayananda Goswami, looking back 46 years later. “Something very magical about it, effulgent and blissful; it was just enchanted.” It was May of 1971. He, and his then wife Ananga Manjari devi dasi, had been called by their GBC, Satsvarupa das, to take charge of the newly formed center, after its founder Gargamuni Swami had left for Pakistan.
They arrived at the two-story house near downtown and were greeted by the devotees living there, who numbered four at the time—Bhakta Dave (Amarendra) and his wife Adrienne (Gayatri), Bill (Radhavallabha), and Richard (Sridhara)—all very young and inexperienced, but sincere nonetheless.
Hridayananda and his wife had to fix a few things up beginning with the altar, which “consisted of a little picture of Krishna posted on an old radiator heater.” They then began a “maha-cleanup” of the kitchen, with the idea that “this is Prabhupada’s temple so it has to be clean.” Hridayananda remembers his feelings at the time:
It was all just amazing. Here we were; we had this preaching center to take care of. I remember looking at a picture of Krishna …[and it] was definitely a window to the spiritual world. It was all just glowing and [we were] feeling very enthusiastic.
From the very beginning, the center’s focus was on prasadam distribution. Homeless Gargamuni Swami had passed out whatever sweets, fruits or vegetables he could beg the night before. Then it had become a full-blown program at David and Adrienne’s house as 50—100 students would come to lunch or dinner daily. Now (since Gargamuni’s departure), it was practically the sole program. Recalls Hridayananda Goswami:
It was a real hangout for people because the food was great and the emphasis was on prasadam. It was a very informal atmosphere. One of the first things the devotees cautioned me was, “Don’t give long lectures.”
In fact, the students felt so comfortable there that sometimes men would “pick-up” women or even people would sell drugs to each other. In response, Hridayananda began giving strong lectures. “Not hogs, dogs, camels, and asses [type lectures],” he explains, referring to a famous Srimad-Bhagavatam verse, “but they were serious lectures.”
Besides the lunch and dinner programs, Hridayananda instituted morning classes on every one of Srila Prabhupada’s books. Whenever a new book would come out, he would add a new class. Remembers Gadi das:
Hridayananda was wonderful, and he was such a philosophical genius. He was so centered on Prabhupada’s books and learning the books and preaching that we just all got infected with it. We all became infected with this desire to learn and become educated in Krishna consciousness.
In addition, they began doing daily harinama sankirtana processions through downtown, and weekend trips to cities like Jacksonville and Orlando. But prasadam was still the main attraction. Many people would come for the standard fare of rice, dahl, and chapatis at lunch or Adrienne’s alluring banana bread with “simply wonderful” topping in the evening. One particular boy named Gary would come every day and eat, and eat, and eat. When devotees would preach to him he would nod affirmatively, mouth full, all the while concentrating on his next bite. Somehow, the power of prasadam took its course and he soon moved into the temple and was later initiated as Dharma das.
This emphasis on prasadam distribution and the overall preaching in Gainesville was confirmed and encouraged when the devotees received their first letter from Srila Prabhupada since Hridayananda’s arrival, dated June 29, 1971, wherein he said:
I am so glad to learn that Hridayananda Prabhu has joined you in Gainesville and that you have got a nice place also. Now my desire will be fulfilled. I have wanted a center in Florida for a very long time. Two years ago I tried to open a center there with the help of one local gentleman but it was not very successful … So do something wonderful there in Gainesville. Wonderful means simply you chant loudly and distribute prasadam. That is not very difficult. It is very easy. Simply if you do it enthusiastically and sincerely, then success will be there.
Three other boys, Allen Attias, Joe Magyer and Bruce Jacobs, were all regularly coming as well. They were part of the group of friends in which David, Adrienne and Paul (Pusta Krishna das) had come. Although very interested, no matter how hard they tried, they could not surrender. For them, Gainesville was too familiar; they knew too many people and “were just too attached to sense gratification.” So they came up with a plan to pile in Joe’s Volkswagen van and head north. Perhaps there they could find a temple in which they could surrender, they thought. They traveled to temples in Baltimore, New York and eventually Boston and although they met many nice devotees along the way, they still could not surrender. Finally, they decided that Krishna consciousness just wasn’t for them so they cut loose completely. When they returned to Gainesville they were so embarrassed that they avoided the devotees all together, going so far as to cross to the other side of the street if they saw one coming. That is until that fateful day when they were trapped …
Towards the end of June some very interesting news came out from Prabhupada’s secretary. Prabhupada had some time to spare in between his trip from New York to London and if any temple could arrange a nice lecture program and pay his travel expenses plus one thousand dollars he would go there. Hearing the news, the Gainesville devotees made all efforts to arrange a program at the university. But how to get the money? Being a former student leader and fraternity member, David had some connections with many of the students in high positions. After going through much bureaucracy and red tape, he went before the final committee meeting. He pleaded his case calmly but when he saw that they would not do it he exclaimed, “You’re paying all of these meat-eating, karmi demons to come to campus and here’s a pure devotee of God who’s come to save the world, and you don’t have any money for him?!!” Disgusted and angry, he stormed out of the building, slamming the door as he left.
Back at the temple the other devotees tried to comfort him. Hridayananda quoted a verse on how not to be attached, but young David could not be assuaged. He concluded finally that it was not meant to be. Then, about a couple of weeks later while in the middle of a kirtana the phone rang. David went to pick it up and on the other end was the person in charge of the committee. She said that they had changed their minds and had decided to give them the money. Amarendra remembers:
I went into the temple room and stopped the kirtan and said [to Hridayananda], “They’re going to give Prabhupada the money!” I remember the expression on his face. His eyes got real big and his jaw dropped open. And everything became a mad scramble for the next two weeks.
Mad scramble indeed as the temple needed to be cleaned, painted and decorated. Adrienne was asked to paint a picture of the Panca-tattva for the altar. They didn’t even have a vyasasana for Prabhupada to sit on. But Prabhupada was coming! The little town of Gainesville, Florida would be blessed with the lotus feet of the pure devotee! The date was set for Thursday, July 29th. That gave the devotees exactly two weeks to prepare. And for that time everyone was surcharged with Prabhupada’s impending presence.
Hridayananda made the flyers and was going around town putting them up when he noticed the three boys Joe, Bruce and Allen coming his way. They tried to look the other way, as if they didn’t see him, but it was too late. After a brief moment of awkwardness and their feeble attempt of explaining themselves, Hridayananda told them that Prabhupada was coming in one week. And it hit like a bombshell. Gadi das (Joe) remembers:
When we heard that, it was like D-Day; it was like this is the day to make-it-or-break-it, this is the day of reckoning. Because if we can’t do it when Prabhupada is here, we’ll never be able to do it.
Bruce was the first. He left for the temple that next day leaving Allen and Joe wondering what to do now. “We’re not ready,” they reasoned. “We’re just not ready.”
“I gotta take one more trip!” Allen exclaimed. “Are you with me?” “I’m not doin’ nothin’. Nothin’!” Joe replied. “I gotta think this out.”
That evening, at their rented house in the country, Joe and Allen were sitting on the porch when all of a sudden Allen, in the midst of his psychedelic hallucination, ran inside and returned with all of the Krishna conscious books they owned. He proceeded to place them on the hood of their car and began staring intently. Gadi:
So he’s staring at them and then he says, “Look! They’re glowing, they’re glowing! Look at the sky!” And it was. Colors were starting to appear. It was like a sign … And he says, “I’m surrendering! That’s it!” He throws all the books in the car and drives off, leaving me standing there. He goes flying into Gainesville, drives to the temple, runs and thrusts himself into the temple room paying dandavats. He’s crying, “I surrender, I surrender!” And Amarendra was there. “What’s wrong with you?”… So he kind of moved in and then I said, “I might as well move in too, I guess.” I was the only one left.
Now with the three new bhaktas and devotees from surrounding temples like Miami and Tallahassee converging on Gainesville, the temple was alive with activity. Joe (who had some carpentry skills) offered to help David build the vyasasana which turned out to be “as strong as a tank.” The devotees made midnight rendezvous on places such as the Fire Department and City Hall for flower “donations”. There was a special feeling in the air. Gadi explains:
So we all got engaged in this wonderful activity of preparing for Prabhupada to come. We had one week left. Aja (Allen) shaved up. I cut my hair, then shaved up two days before Prabhupada came. It was just so overwhelming; it was wonderful. And I never felt such peace. I remember the feeling of tranquility and rest. Like you’re home … It was very emotional realizing that just that little act of surrender creates such peace and such a harmony in your heart.
While eagerly mopping the temple room floor, David Liberman had hardly pondered the implications of what was soon to happen. His spiritual master, His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, founder of a worldwide religious movement, pure devotee and emissary from the spiritual world was coming to visit Gainesville. Gainesville of all places! But David was too busy to think about this. He had floors to wash, programs to arrange, a vyasasana to build. After all, it had been only two weeks since the university had called agreeing to pay the thousand dollars for Prabhupada to speak on campus. Since then it had been a mad rush to arrange everything so Prabhupada’s one day stay would be a grand success. Just then the kirtana outside began to grow louder. Devotees, who had gathered from such places as Miami, Tallahassee and New Orleans, began running about excitedly. “He must be here!” David thought as he frantically tried to clean the last few feet of floor. As he went to put the bucket and mop away, the door drew open and in walked His Divine Grace.
Srila Prabhupada entered the house covered in flower petals, which the devotees had sprinkled from the top floor, and made his way to the small altar of Sri Panca-tattva. He offered full dandavats as if he were in the most sacred of holy places charming all of the devotees and guests present and then retired to the room that had been prepared for him. It had been a long trip. From New York he flew to Atlanta where he did a lively program at the airport. From there he flew to Jacksonville (since Gainesville at that time did not have access to commercial flights) where he was received by Gainesville temple president Hridayananda das, and a few other devotees. The first thing he said to them was, “Which way?” just like a “transcendental fighter, asking to be pointed toward the battle.” On the hour and a half drive to Gainesville, Prabhupada didn’t say much. Mostly he stared out the window, studying the landscape and local farming. After a short rest he returned to the temple sitting on the large blue velvet vyasasana which, under David’s direction, Joe and Ananga Manjari had labored so hard to make. (In fact, it was only finished some fifteen minutes before he arrived!) At that point he proceeded to give his arrival address beginning with this now most famous quote:
“We see you chanting the maha-mantra. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu predicted that in every village, town and country on the surface of the globe this sankirtana movement will be spreading. So we are very much obliged to you that in this remote place, which is thousands and thousands of miles away from Lord Chaitanya’s birthplace, Navadvipa; you are carrying out, to fulfill His desire, chanting the Hare Krishna mantra.”
Prabhupada’s calling Gainesville “this remote place” can be interpreted in different ways. First of all, from his vantage point it was remote. After all, usually he would just fly directly to the city he wanted to go to. But in this case he had to fly from New York to Jacksonville, with a two-hour layover in Atlanta, and then the long drive from Jacksonville to Gainesville along a country road with not much in sight. But from another view point, when one has Navadvipa, the birthplace of Lord Chaitanya and the sankirtana movement, as the center, all of these Western cities be they Gainesville, New York or L.A. were far, far remote.
He continued by explaining how in giving Krishna “as He is” people are responding. “For thousands of years Bhagavad-gita was being read in foreign countries by big, big scholars, philosophers, but there was not even a single devotee of Krishna. But we have started this movement, not even five years old, we have got sixty branches, and there are thousands and thousands of devotees.” The secret, he said, was “we have not cheated people; we have not adulterated.” He went on to extol the glories of the Krishna consciousness movement and gave everyone the instruction: “Try to understand this philosophy. Don’t be misled. It is not a sectarian religion. It is a fact.”
When the time for questions arrived, a lady reporter from the local newspaper raised her hand.
Reporter: “It seems that most of the devotees are young people, persons under thirty, under twenty-five. Why is this so? Why hasn’t the movement spread? Is this a deliberate thing, or why do you feel it hasn’t spread to parents or to older people?”
Prabhupada: “Why the young people go to university?” he shot back.
Reporter: “I’m sorry?”
Prabhupada: “Why in the university you’ll find all the students are young boys and girls? Why?” (At this point, remembers Hridayananda Goswami, she was so startled by Prabhupada’s response that she literally dropped her pencil.)
Reporter: “That’s the age of education.”
Prabhupada: “That’s the age of Krishna consciousness (laughter). Old fools, they cannot change their opinion (laughter).”
Everyone present was awed by how deftly Prabhupada was able to answer these questions. Amarendra remembers his feelings at the time:
Prabhupada was so bold in his preaching. He never minced words. I was completely shocked, and ecstatic. I didn’t think it was inappropriate. It was just ecstatic because all these old people had been kicking us out from one temple after another; we’d been bounced around from one end of the city to the other. And that’s the first thing Prabhupada said was, “It’s too late for these old fools,” and everybody laughed.
After the address, Prabhupada spoke in his room with some guests, took lunch, and then prepared for the lecture for which he had come. This was to be given at the University of Florida’s Plaza of the Americas, a broad expanse of grasses and Magnolia trees, known as a great “hang-out” place to students and the center for speech and protest on the campus. The devotees had arranged for a platform to be set up where they had placed Prabhupada’s vyasasana, a microphone and loud speakers. It was the afternoon and summer rain clouds loomed ominously overhead. Seeing this, Ananga Manjari alerted Hridayananda to find an umbrella for Prabhupada. He asked a number of people present and was able to obtain one, and when a slight drizzle began he went on the stage with Prabhupada. “So I stood right next to Prabhupada,” Hridayananda Goswami recalls, “and held the umbrella. And even though it stopped raining, I just stayed there. I thought it was such an incredible opportunity to be near Prabhupada. So I just stood near him for the whole lecture.”
By this time, a nice sized crowd of more than five hundred students, professors and guests had gathered, all waiting to hear the pure devotee’s message. The devotees were amazed that so many people had come. After all, it was the summer semester when most students were gone. But by the influence of the pure devotee, Krishna had sent them.
Before Prabhupada began he noticed that someone was smoking and commented on it. Then a dog began to bark and when the devotees tried to stop it, it only began to bark louder. Prabhupada then looked in the dog’s direction and it mysteriously shut up.
The lecture was on the first verse of the seventh chapter of Bhagavad-gita wherein Lord Krishna begins to explain how to apply the teachings of the sixth chapter (astanga yoga) to one’s life. It was a technical lecture and the devotees present wondered how the students would be able to understand it, for they themselves could hardly do so. But afterwards, many students came up to them congratulating them on how wonderful the class was, some saying it was the best they ever heard. “Everyone who was there will never forget it,” remembers Amarendra. “Somehow it just went right straight into their heart and they were able to understand everything that Prabhupada had said.”
Next was an evening television interview on the campus station. The interviewer, Mark Damon, had been begging David to have Srila Prabhupada on his show. He was so determined, in fact, that he had been calling the temple daily during the week leading up to Prabhupada’s visit. Prabhupada, accompanied by all of the devotees, entered the studio; Prabhupada sitting on a chair next to Mr. Damon while the devotees gathered at his feet, just off camera.
Mr. Damon began by giving a brief introduction of Prabhupada, including a short history of the Krishna consciousness movement. It was obvious that he had done his research but it seemed he was looking for controversy. After a few background questions he cut straight to the point, “If there is already religion in the West, why did you come?” But Prabhupada was un-phased. He explained how the Krishna consciousness movement is not sectarian but is simply interested in teaching people how to love God. The interviewer then asked what is the Krishna conscious understanding of “the ethics of religion” or how one man deals with another.
“We are not concerned how one man deals with another man,” Prabhupada frankly replied.
“Isn’t that part of your Krishna consciousness movement?” Mr. Damon asked in surprise.
“No, this is not important. Because we know as soon as one knows how to deal with God, he will automatically deal very nicely with others.” Every question that came his way was dealt with perfectly by Prabhupada. Amarendra remembers:
We were right there next to Prabhupada… He would give these answers and he would smile and look at the devotees out of the corner of his eyes. And everybody knew that Prabhupada was ripping this guy to pieces [but]… the guy didn’t even know he was being dismantled…
Prabhupada was then asked what are the symptoms of a Krishna conscious person. He replied by saying he’d be “a perfect gentleman. That’s all. You cannot find any fault with him. That is perfect Krishna consciousness.”
By the time Prabhupada returned to the temple it was already quite late-almost midnight. Prabhupada had engaged in a full day’s worth of preaching and seemed very satisfied. But one thing remained to be done. Five devotees were expecting to be initiated. David and Adrienne, Gary, and Joseph and Sam (who had come all the way from New Orleans), had given their beads earlier in the day for Prabhupada to chant on. They waited throughout the day as the initiation was pushed back later and later. Now the day was almost over and Prabhupada would be leaving first thing the next morning. They were all congregating outside Prabhupada’s room when Aravinda, (Prabhupada’s servant at the time), asked Prabhupada when he would like to do it. “Now!” he said and they all came in feeling happy relief.
Prabhupada was sitting back comfortably on his cot, shirt off and dhoti hiked up nearly to his thighs. He was in a very relaxed mood and commented that the weather reminded him of India. The devotees were struck with wonder by his mystical presence and to them he seemed to be emanating a golden effulgence that “lit up the entire room.” They sat down on the floor and waited on him to call on them to receive their beads and new name. Gary was the first and after making his vows he was given the name Dharma das. Dharma remembers:
I was actually very nervous, and I was practically shaking because I was afraid I would do something wrong in front of Srila Prabhupada. I was so nervous practically I couldn’t even hear properly. But I was very happy to have been accepted by Srila Prabhupada. I knew, of course, there was no question of ever leaving the movement now. I never wanted to leave anyway, but now this was official. Even if I had considered it before, now there was no question of it. (Quote from the Srila Prahbupada Lilamrta by Satsvarupa Das Goswami)
Next was Joseph and when Prabhupada heard his name from Aravinda, who read from the sheet, he laughed and said, “Oh, Bhagavat das. There are two things-the book Bhagavat: Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, and there is the person Bhagavat: that is the pure devotees who live by the principles of Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. And you are Bhagavat das: you shall serve them both.”
Then Sam came up and was given the name Suvrata das. But just as Prabhupada was giving him the beads he noticed that Suvrata did not have neckbeads on and took them back. “Where are your neckbeads?” Prabhupada asked. He saw that none of the initiates were wearing neckbeads and when he turned towards Bhagavat, out of fear that Prabhupada would take his beads back as well, he hid them under his shirt. But Prabhupada did not direct his anger at these new devotees. Rather he chastised the senior leaders present who promised that they would have them for the fire sacrifice that was to be held the next day.
After David and Adrienne were initiated as Amarendra das and Gayatri dasi, respectively, Prabhupada asked if there were any questions. Bhagavat, who had been studying the Bhagavad-gita very carefully for the past year and a half, reading it some eight or nine times, asked how someone who is practicing devotional service could be considered to be on the transcendental platform if it appears he is still affected by the modes of material nature. Prabhupada explained that it could be compared to a man riding on a boat. You cannot say that he is not in the boat. But if he is not an expert boatman then the waves that come may rock him, and at times even knock him over. But as he becomes expert, he will not be disturbed by them.
Amarendra then asked the question, “How can we make the people take to Krishna consciousness?” He was hoping for the secret formula to get everyone to become devotees. Prabhupada said, “You just ask them to chant Hare Krishna. Then your business is finished.” Amarendra recalls:
I was struck with the simplicity of the process. There’s no complicated ritual or mysterious secret, or anything like that. That is our mission. We request people to chant Hare Krishna and try to engage them in devotional service.
Finally, the darsana had come to a close. None of the devotees wanted to leave. They never wanted this day to end. But Prabhupada had to take rest. For the return flight everyone accompanied Prabhupada to the airport. An additional van was brought to carry the vyasasana. Hridayananda explains: We were getting ready to take Prabhupada back to the airport and suddenly I had what I thought was a realization. I suddenly thought,
“Oh my God. Prabhupada is a pure devotee of Krishna from the spiritual world. How can a pure devotee sit in a seat which karmis have sat in?” So I thought the only solution was to take the vyasasana to the airport.
When Prabhupada arrived at the airport the vyasasana was not there yet. Hridayananda started getting nervous. Just then a group of husky, tough-looking Miami brahmacaris came rumbling down the main corridor carrying the vyasasana, half of them shirtless, the other half without shoes. By the way, this vyasasana was built huge and sturdy, strong enough, jokes Hridayananda, “to withstand a nuclear war.” So every ten yards, the brahmacaris had to put it down to regain their strength. This became an absurd spectacle as everyone in the airport was watching the scene. Finally, they made it to where Prabhupada was to be seated and let it down before him with a thundering crash. Prabhupada just looked at it in disbelief, walked passed it and sat in a regular airport seat. “At that point,” says Hridayananda Goswami, “I realized I had made an error in judgment.”
The devotees then gathered at Prabhupada’s feet and Bhagavat was asked to lead a kirtana. Many devotees crowded around jockeying for position to be close to Prabhupada. Hridayananda, feeling embarrassed about the vyasasana incident and seeing that a large crowd of people had congregated, decided, along with his wife, to rectify the situation by distributing books. Amarendra remembers:
“I was looking at Prabhupada and I was thinking, “Oh, I’m right next to Prabhupada, I’m really getting the mercy now. But Prabhupada wasn’t looking at anybody that was sitting there chanting. Prabhupada started watching [Hridayananda and Ananga Manjari] and he didn’t take his eyes off of them the entire time until his plane left. And I watched him watch them and I said, “That is the secret. That is what Prabhupada wants us to do. That is what’s most pleasing to him.”
After Prabhupada left, the devotees returned to the temple with mixed feelings of elation and sadness. But when Amarendra saw the vyasasana he could still see Prabhupada’s form imprinted on it. He then had the realization that Prabhupada was still present. Everything he had said was in his books. As mentioned before, the book Bhagavat and the person Bhagavat were one and the same. So he always had access to Srila Prabhupada, through his books. Not only then, but for all time to come.
46 years later it is more amazing than ever that Srila Prabhupada actually came to Gainesville. Looking back Ananga Manjari explains: “We were so untogether. And so young. But our enthusiasm overflowed and somehow or other he came and he was kind.” It was only twenty-four hours. But in that one day he planted the seed that thousands have flocked to and grown from. We will remember that day for generations to come.”
The end…of the beginning…