Preaching at MIT

Prabhupada was well aware of the worldwide prestige of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Many Indians went there to study. It was, in fact, an Indian organization that invited Prabhupada to speak. When Prabhupada arrived in the evening, he found over a hundred people waiting in the carpeted, luxurious student lounge where he was to lecture. Some students were sitting on the floor, while others sat on the leather-upholstered couches and chairs scattered casually throughout the room.

Although it was time for the lecture to begin, the devotees had still not arrived with the paraphernalia. There was no flower garland for Prabhupada, no painting of Krsna, and no sign with the maha-mantra. The audience waited.

In anxiety, Satsvarupa asked Prabhupada, "Can you begin without the painting?" Looking at the large, momentous gathering, Srila Prabhupada said simply, "Painting is not important." He sat on the plain wooden platform and, since the musical instruments had not arrived, asked one of the devotees to play the Hare Krsna album. Prabhupada sat clapping his hands in time and listening.

Prabhupada spoke boldly, challenging the very concepts underlying MIT. Where in this big university, he asked, is a department for studying the technology of the soul, for understanding that principle which distinguishes a living body from a dead body, that principle which when present in the body gives life and when absent brings death? Where is the science to study this all-important principle of life? Although scientists consider life to be merely chemicals or electric impulses, he argued, still they are unable to assemble the chemicals and produce life. Why? There is no department in this university for answering this question, and therefore people are in ignorance. They don't know the self or the next life or the purpose of human life beyond animal activities. This science, however, is taught in the Bhagavad-gita.

After the lecture there were many questions. "What is the symbolism," one student asked, "of that object behind you on the stage?" Prabhupada turned and beheld a bare U-shaped metal stand-compliments of the janitor-for holding the painting of Krsna that never arrived.

"This?" Prabhupada frowned. "I do not know what this is. This is some kind of technological symbol."

Another student asked, "Why do you wear that marking on your forehead?"

"Why do you wear that necktie around your neck?" Prabhupada snapped back, annoyed with the question. The student sat down, looking at his necktie, and Prabhupada explained to him that questions about why people dress a certain way are trivial, especially considering the gravity of the present subject matter.

When the question-and-answer period ended, Satsvarupa stood and briefly addressed the students, inviting them to attend other college lectures by Srila Prabhupada or to come hear him at the temple. "Wherever a saintly person goes," Satsvarupa said, "becomes a tirtha, or holy place. And now for the month of May, Boston is a tirtha, so please take advantage of it."

As Srila Prabhupada was leaving with his disciples, a group of Indian faculty members and students came and stood around him, speaking rapidly, challenging him. One student, espousing the philosophy of monism, asserted that the highest expression of the Absolute Truth was that "All is One." Prabhupada tried to make him understand that simply oneness was a rudimentary idea, because from that "one" come so many variegated manifestations. But the man would not accept defeat, and Prabhupada became excited arguing with him. Taking the man by the shirt collar, Prabhupada shouted, "You say everything is one! But is this cotton shirt the same as a cotton ball? Why don't you wear a cotton ball instead of this shirt?"

The Indian technologists surrounded Prabhupada, raising their voices and arguing, while Prabhupada's disciples looked on anxiously. Govinda dasi warned the devotees about Swamiji's health, and Brahmananda and the others smoldered at the offensive Indians. This wasn't the way to speak with a sadhu.

Meanwhile, a devotee reported that Prabhupada's car had broken down, and someone ran out into the street to get a taxi. The arguing continued. When a taxi finally arrived, a few disciples pushed through the arguers, insisting, "Swamiji, please, your taxi is waiting. It can't wait any longer. You have to go." And they disengaged their spiritual master from the mass of arguing technologists. Prabhupada considered the evening a success.

- From "Prabhupada-lila" by HH Satsvarupa dasa Goswami

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  • Hare Krishna,
    Dandavat Pranam to all.

    Without any offences to anyone, just want to know how to understand Srila Prabhupas's anger at different instances as transcendental and not material?

    I find it really difficult.


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