While attending the Janmastami festival at the ISKCON farm in Czechoslovakia several years ago, I was asked to give a lecture about the appearance of Lord Krishna. Afterwards I asked for questions and an elderly, red-haired lady raised her hand. Since almost all the devotees there spoke only Czech, I was surprised when she began to speak in English. She said, “Satsvarupa Gosvami, could you tell us something about Prabhupada, because you knew him very well?”
I started out by remembering Janmastami 1966 in the storefront. “The room we are in now reminds me of that storefront,” I said. “It was about the same size. 1966 was the first year Prabhupada observed Janmastami in America. In 1965, he left India and observed Janmastami at sea a few days later. By 1966, ISKCON had just begun. So he asked the devotees to stay all day in the storefront and fast.
“His request seemed like a very difficult proposal. Some of us expressed doubt that we could do it, so Swamiji said, ‘If you get hungry or weak in the afternoon, you can take some fruit from our refrigerator.’
“When he said that, it gave us some hope, because it seemed almost impossible that a living being could go all day without eating. He wanted us to try for it, and yet it was not such a hard and fast rule that we had to do it or die.
“Fasting was one problem, and another problem was what to do all day? How to control the mind? When Prabhupada stayed with us in the storefront, reading his manuscript from the Bhagavad-gita, then it was very enjoyable. But whenever he left us alone, our consciousness and conversation dropped way down. We began to complain, ‘I don’t think I can do this. How does he expect us to stay like this all day? This is like being in prison; you can’t even leave the temple.”
Even while Prabhupada was present, one of the disciples who was later to be initiated as Janaki dasi said, “Swamiji, I am sorry but I have to leave. I have to go home and feed my cats.” Swamiji said, ‘No, do not do it. Stay here and you can take care of them later.’ Janaki thought about it but then said, ‘I’m sorry, I have to go and take care of them.’”
“The rest of us reluctantly surrendered and stayed there for a whole day, which very slowly turned into afternoon, and night. We sat against the wall drowsily and weakly, trying to chant on our new beads.”
I went on to tell the devotees about the jar of ISKCON bullets that Prabhupada kept in a corner of his room upstairs. Many of his devotees had been cigarette smokers and almost everyone committed illicit sex. This jar of ISKCON bullets was like the last resort against temptation. If you became agitated, before you broke any of the principles, you knew you could go up at any time and take a gulabjamumn, an ISKCON bullet.