In observance of the World Holy Name Festival.
Srila Prabhupada came to the Western world to give us the holy name. He did so on the order of his spiritual master, with full faith in the holy name, that if people like us would just chant the holy name, everything else would follow.
Srila Prabhupada had a godbrother named Akinchana Krishnadasa Babaji, whom Prabhupada said was a paramahamsa, a liberated soul. Babaji Maharaja approached another godbrother of Prabhupada’s, who had been sent by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura to England to preach but who didn’t really have much effect and then came back to India, and said to him, “You went to the West, and Swami Maharaja [Srila Prabhupada] went to the West. You presented the teachings of Lord Chaitanya, and Swami Maharaja presented the teachings of Lord Chaitanya. You introduced the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and Swami Maharaja introduced the maha-mantra. But Swami Maharaja was tremendously successful, and you hardly achieved anything. What is the reason?” Then Babaji Maharaja himself gave the answer: “Because Swami Maharaja had full faith in the holy name of Krishna, and you didn’t.”
This is a very powerful statement, a most significant point. Prabhupada had full faith in the holy name, and with that conviction he came to the West, gave us the holy name, and encouraged us to chant.
Earlier, another godbrother, Dr. Oudh Bihari Lal (O. B. L.) Kapoor, initiated as Adi Kesava dasa, had met Prabhupada in Mathura. In grihastha-ashrama Srila Prabhupada had been a chemist, or pharmacist. Dr. Kapoor asked him, “You are a chemist; you know many formulas. Do you know the formula for developing love of God?” Srila Prabhupada answered, “Yes, I do.” Dr. Kapoor replied, “Can you tell me what it is?” And Prabhupada said, “Yes. Trnad api su-nicena, taror iva sahisnuna/ amanina mana-dena, kirtaniyah sada harih.” Srila Prabhupada’s faith in the holy name was there from the beginning. It formed the basis of his journey to the West and his service to his spiritual master and to all of us.
At Srila Prabhupada’s sannyasa initiation ceremony in Mathura, while the priest was conducting the fire sacrifice and reciting various mantras, Akinchana Krishnadasa Babaji was chanting the holy name. He really relished the holy name. (One night, on Ekadasi, His Holiness Bhakti Bhrnga Govinda Swami went to meet him. He was sitting in the courtyard of some ashram. It was very dark—maybe there was a bare light bulb in a corner—and he was just chanting japa and relishing. Clearly, he was tasting, savoring. He was truly drinking the nectar of the holy name.) So, during an interlude in the ceremony, Krishnadasa Babaji led kirtan, and when the time came to resume the ceremony with the recitation of mantras, the priest gestured to him, “You may end the kirtan now.” But when the priest returned to the ceremony, Prabhupada discreetly gestured to Babaji Maharaja, “Keep chanting. Keep chanting.” And Babaji Maharaja, while telling the story, commented, “Then I knew he would be the world leader of the Hare Krishna movement.” Srila Prabhupada had that deep faith in the holy name.
Soon after I joined the Boston temple, the devotees there faced a financial crisis. At that time, the devotees didn’t regularly perform hari-nama-sankirtana or distribute books in the streets. They had only evening programs in the temple on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and the love feast on Sunday afternoons. Prabhupada had said that if the devotees needed to get jobs, they could. Satsvarupa dasa, the temple president, was a social worker, and his paycheck from the welfare department was the only income the temple had. But as the art department grew and more devotees joined, that income became insufficient.
The devotees, who were very surrendered, had a meeting. One devotee, Patita-pavana, said that he had worked for the post office before he joined and so he could get a job with the post office. Another said that he knew the grocer down the street and might be able to get a job in the grocery store. Devotees volunteered to help in whatever ways they could. Then one devotee, Nanda-kisora, raised his hand. He was very humble—all the devotees were, but he was really very humble. He recalled a letter from Srila Prabhupada. All of Prabhupada’s letters were taken as important documents, instructive for everyone. Whenever a letter came, all the devotees would gather round, the addressee would open and read it, and everyone would listen. So, Nanda-kisora quoted a letter from Srila Prabhupada: “If you just go on sankirtana, all of your problems will be solved—spiritually and materially.” And everyone agreed: “Yes, this is what we should do.”
The next day, we went out on the streets. We chanted—we didn’t even have copies of Back to Godhead to distribute—and asked people for donations. Then we came back, counted up the laksmi, and found that we had collected seven dollars. In those days, seven dollars was something. The prospects looked promising, and we decided to try the same process the next day. So, we went out, perhaps with even more enthusiasm and conviction, came back, and counted up: twelve dollars. I thought, “This is getting good. What Prabhupada said is true.” We went out the third day, came back and counted up nineteen dollars. Then we had no doubt, and we would go out every day. What Prabhupada had said was true: “If you chant Hare Krishna, all your problems will be solved—materially and spiritually.” He had that faith.
Eventually we moved from the small storefront at 95 Glenville Avenue to a big mansion at 40 North Beacon Street. It was the first property that ISKCON owned, that the devotees purchased. Srila Prabhupada was very enthusiastic and said that the press should move from New York to Boston. The devotees began to print Prabhupada’s books, one of the first being Easy Journey to Other Planets. He guided every aspect of publication, including the presentation of the books. He gave the titles and at least in this case told us what he wanted on the cover: One part was to be the material universe—outer space with different stars and planets—and the other part was to be the spiritual sky, with some Vaikuntha planets, mainly Goloka Vrindavan with Radha and Krishna. And he wanted a devotee flying through space from the material universe into the spiritual sky, with dhoti, kurta, sikha, and japa-mala. The cover was meant to depict the theme of the book, that by bhakti-yoga, by chanting japa, one can travel beyond the material universe to the spiritual sky, to Goloka Vrindavan. The chanting is our ticket back to Godhead. Later, when the devotees showed Prabhupada the cover, he was pleased and said, “Yes, by the beads.” Chanting the holy name has such potency, and Srila Prabhupada had that faith.
Then Srila Prabhupada and some disciples went to India, and there he surprised us. We began doing hari-nama-sankirtana, as we had done in the West, but eventually Srila Prabhupada stopped us. He said that we should not do street sankirtana too much because in India beggars take to the streets and chant to solicit money, and he didn’t want people to think we were beggars. He introduced the life membership program, which he said was designed to distribute his books. And he encouraged big pandal programs, which he called Hare Krishna Festivals. The first was held in Bombay, and the second was to be in Calcutta. Calcutta then was under the sway of the Communist Party and a group of communist youth called Naxalites, whose program was to terrorize rich people. They would kidnap the sons of rich families and demand large ransoms. Sometimes they would just shoot rich people dead in the street. It was a terrible situation, and at that time many of the wealthier people actually left Calcutta and moved to Delhi and other places.
In this climate Srila Prabhupada wanted us to organize a big pandal, and he sent Tamal Krishna Goswami and me from Bombay. Before the program began, Prabhupada received a letter that said, “Fly or die.” It sounds overdramatic, but whoever sent the note cut the letters out of the newspaper so no one could trace the typewriter, pasted them on paper, and sent it. The day before the program, there was a press conference, and many of the reporters were in an aggressive mood. One reporter challenged Prabhupada, “What is this pandal program going to accomplish? You could spend the money to help poor people.” Prabhupada replied, “What will it accomplish? It will accomplish hearing. People will get a chance to hear.” Then he said, “This whole huge arrangement has come from hearing. I went to the West and spoke, and some young people heard me, and because they heard me, now they have come and arranged this big program.” Srila Prabhupada, always fearless, persisted in his mission.
It was the tradition for pandals that most of the ground was covered with dhurries (Indian carpets), with chairs for special guests on the side. In our pandal the chairs were reserved for invited VIPs, life members, and anyone who paid a rupee. So, on the first night, just as the program was beginning, a group of Naxalites raised a big ruckus: “Why do some people get to sit on chairs and other people have to sit on the ground? Everyone should sit on the ground.” They were looking for an excuse to pick a fight. And while Prabhupada was on the stage with the Deities and disciples, these Naxalites began shouting and hollering, deliberately making a disturbance. Then they took some of the folding chairs we had set up and began to clap them together. The situation was really tense, because these Naxalites could do anything; they could become violent. We didn’t want to provoke them further, but at the same time, unless they stopped, Srila Prabhupada wouldn’t be able to speak, because they were making such a commotion.
We all were looking to Prabhupada—What would he do? Suddenly he bent forward toward the microphone, and . . . he began to sing: “Govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami.” He sang the Govindam prayers, and somehow the whole disturbance subsided. The young men put down the chairs and quietly left. It seemed miraculous.
The next pandal program was in Delhi, and there Srila Prabhupada got an invitation to go to Madras. He was planning to go to Vrindavan, taking his disciples there for the first time, but he wanted someone to go to Madras. No one wanted to go; everyone wanted to go with him to Vrindavan. But I considered that the secret of success in Krishna consciousness was to follow the order of the spiritual master and please him, so I volunteered.
In Madras I was alone for much of the time. I kept asking for help, but it was hard to get devotees. In any case, while I was there a song came out. In Srila Prabhupada’s purports he sometimes mentions cinema songs, which are the most popular in India. The refrain of this song was “Dam maro dam . . . Hare Krishna, Hare Rama. Hare Krishna, Hare Rama. Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.” We didn’t have a center in Madras; I was just staying with different people. Because I kept hearing the song, I finally asked my host what the translation was. I don’t know if he misunderstood the actual meaning or was just being polite, but he said, “With every breath that I take, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama”—which sounded very nice. So, for a while we thought that was what the song meant. Eventually we found out what it really meant: “With every puff that I take, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.”
From Madras we went to Calcutta, and there the movie that featured this song was playing. We didn’t really know what the movie was, but in those days in America whenever the musical or the movie Hair would show, devotees would do hari-nama-sankirtana in front of the theater and distribute books, because Hair featured a song with the full Hare Krishna maha-mantra. So we thought, “Oh, the movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna will be a great opportunity.” So, we had hari-nama and distributed books outside the theater. But when most of the customers had entered, I thought, “Let me steal a peek. Let me see what this movie is.” So I went inside, just as it was about to begin. It was very impressive on a big screen, with loud amplifiers. The film began with shots of ocean waves on the shore. In a deep, resonant voice, the narrator intoned, “For centuries India’s spiritual culture remained within the shores of India, but one man . . .”—then it showed a picture of Srila Prabhupada—“took India’s spiritual culture across the ocean.” Then it showed the London Ratha-yatra, so dramatic on the big screen, and I thought, “Wow! This is amazing!” And then it showed a bunch of hippies smoking ganja and hashish and chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Rama. They were dressed just like hippies, with boys and girls mixing. It was really bad—the theme of the movie was that Srila Prabhupada was degrading the sacred Indian culture by giving it to hippies who were just misusing it, chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Rama and smoking dope and indulging in free sex and everything else.
That was a blow. Srila Prabhupada said that the government was behind the film, because they were afraid that our movement would become too popular and they wanted to turn people away from it. Communists in the government also started rumors that we were CIA agents. It was the same type of thing. They knew we weren’t, but they spread rumors about us because they didn’t want people to take to Krishna consciousness. They thought that spiritual life would keep the people down. Actually, they wanted to keep the people down.
Anyway, now we come to the point: Srila Prabhupada’s faith in the holy name. Prabhupada said, “In the long run the film will actually help us, because eventually people will forget the dam maro dam and just remember the Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.” And it came true. From Calcutta I went to Bombay, and especially the street urchins there—so many street urchins stand at corners and beg or sell magazines—whenever they saw us they would gather around us and put their hands to their mouths, as if they were smoking chillums with (hashish), and sing, in a mocking way, “Dam maro dam, dam maro dama . . .” Most of the time they wouldn’t even get to the “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama”—just “Dam maro dam.” It was like a plague. Wherever we went, these little kids would surround us and taunt us: “Dam maro dam.”
It went on like that for some time, and it was difficult. Then after maybe a year of the song playing—it was extraordinarily popular—the emphasis shifted. The two parts—the “Dam maro dam” and the “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama”— became equal. And eventually, just as Prabhupada had predicted, the “Dam maro dam” dropped out altogether. It was a mundane sound vibration and had no real attraction. But the Hare Krishna, Hare Rama was transcendental and ever-fresh. After the “Dam maro dam” dropped out, when people saw us they would simply smile and say, “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.” That came to pass.
Soon after, Srila Prabhupada took up the Juhu project. That’s a whole history, but after Srila Prabhupada’s first stay and public program there, while he and the devotees waited in the exclusive VIP lounge at the airport before Prabhupada’s departure, there was an uproarious kirtan, ecstatic chanting and dancing. And Prabhupada said, “If you go on having kirtans like this, our project will be successful.”
Srila Prabhupada named the project Hare Krishna Land. One day, in his room at the back of the property, hearing the kirtan from the small temple at the front, he said, “This is Hare Krishna Land. We should always hear the sounds of Hare Krishna.”
Later, some devotees printed postage-style stamps (without postal value) with a picture of Radha-Krishna and the words Hare Krishna, to be pasted on envelopes, and Srila Prabhupada wrote me, “These two words, ‘Hare Krishna,’ must appear everywhere.”
Another time, Srila Prabhupada was on the terrace of one of the old tenement buildings that came with the land, and a devotee named Haridas was fanning him. At seven o’clock Prabhupada looked at his watch and said, “Haridas, do you hear the sound of kirtan in the temple?” Haridas strained to hear but couldn’t. “No, Srila Prabhupada.” “You don’t hear kirtan coming from the temple?” “No.” “That is the point,” Srila Prabhupada said. “There is no kirtan in the temple, and there should be.” Then he asked Haridas, “Where are all the devotees?” Haridas ventured that they must have gone to the city to collect and had not yet returned. Prabhupada said, “That was not my idea, that the devotees should go and collect all day and night. They may go at nine and return at five, and then chant and dance before the Deities. Otherwise they will become like karmis.”
Then he asked Haridas, “Do you know why we were successful and Mr. Nair wasn’t? Nair was well established in Bombay, whereas we were completely new. He was very wealthy, whereas we had no money or regular income. As the owner of the Free Press Journal, one of three English dailies in Bombay, and the former sheriff, he knew many people and was very influential, whereas we hardly knew anyone and had practically no influence. But we were successful and he was not. Why?” And he gave the answer: “We were acting to please Krishna, and he was acting for his personal gain. And because we tried to please Krishna, Krishna mercifully reciprocated and we were successful—by His grace.
“So, the devotees should come and sing and dance before the Deities, for Their pleasure. By pleasing the Deities, by Their mercy, by Krishna’s mercy, we will be successful—not by our independent strength and endeavor.” Srila Prabhupada really had that faith in Krishna, in the holy name, in the Deities—that if we sincerely chant to please Krishna, Krishna will be satisfied and we will be successful.
The last incident I shall relate came toward the end, when Srila Prabhupada was already quite ill, in 1977. Srila Prabhupada had a staunch devotee, Sri P. L. Sethi—as Hanuman was to Rama, he was to Prabhupada. He was so staunch and had so much faith. From before he met Prabhupada, he was associated with a group called the Radha Madhava Prema Sudha Sankirtana Mandala. Their guru was based in Vrindavan, and they chanted the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. In Bombay they were all householders. Every Sunday they would have a twelve-hour akhanda-hari-nama-sankirtana—unbroken, continuous kirtan—from six in the morning to six in the evening, followed by two hours of Vraja songs.
Mr. Sethi had the idea that instead of having the kirtan in one of their devotees’ homes, as they usually did, they could have it at Hare Krishna Land. So we arranged it, before the Deities in the small temple, beside the new complex that was nearing completion, just beneath Srila Prabhupada’s new quarters. Although the construction wasn’t finished and the lift wasn’t working, Srila Prabhupada insisted on staying there. And ill as he was, he was listening to the kirtan, reclining or lying down. These devotees in the temple really wanted to see him, but they were too many to come up, Prabhupada was not able to come down, and anyway it would have been too taxing for him to meet them all.
At one stage the group was so eager to see Srila Prabhupada that they came out of the temple and were doing kirtan beneath his balcony. Eventually Mr. Sethi helped Prabhupada walk to the balcony, and Prabhupada glanced down upon the group. They were in ecstasy. One highlight came when one of the ladies sang, “Jaya radhe jaya radhe radhe, jaya radhe jaya sri radhe. Jaya krishna . . .” Later, Mr. Sethi told us that when Prabhupada was listening to that song, tears were streaming down his cheeks.
The next day, I went up to see Srila Prabhupada. “That kirtan was wonderful,” he said. “We should invite the whole group to stay at Hare Krishna Land. Tell them that we will maintain them. They won’t have to work. All they have to do is continuous kirtan.” I wasn’t sure what to do about that—I just heard it. But I think Prabhupada knew that his proposal might take some time. He said, “At least our devotees, they should do the twelve-hour kirtan every day, from six a.m. to six p.m.” Now, we had been taught by Prabhupada that we have to serve and spread the mission, and in Juhu we were especially busy, finishing the temple and getting it ready to open. I didn’t see how all the devotees could spend twelve hours a day in the temple chanting. So I said, “Srila Prabhupada, we have so much service to do. How will we be able to do it all?” Then Prabhupada said, “All right, then one day a week, on Sunday.” And when Prabhupada said that, I said, “Yes,” because I felt relieved—only one day, twelve hours. Later, Tamal Krishna Goswami commented that Prabhupada had done some transcendental bargaining. If he had begun with twelve hours every Sunday, we might have said, “Oh, that’s too much. Maybe four hours.” But because he began with twelve hours a day, seven days a week, when he finally said twelve hours, one day a week, we were relieved. “Oh yes, we can do that.”
So, every Sunday we did twelve hours’ continuous kirtan. And it was just as Prabhupada had said—that all problems would be solved, materially and spiritually. I was the temple president and had to deal with many problems. We had to construct the temple complex, deal with the civic authorities, organize the temple programs, deal with the devotees, and just survive in India, with all the disease and other hardships. So, devotees would come to me, and on Monday, Tuesday, maybe Wednesday, I would deal with the problems. But by Thursday we were getting close to the twelve-hour hari-nama, and I knew—it happened every time, without fail—that all the problems would be solved. Either the problem would solve itself or the devotee would realize that the problem wasn’t really a problem after all or we would get some insight into and inspiration about how to deal with it. So, from Thursday I would say, “Well, just give me a few days to think about it,” but I knew, “Let Sunday come—let us do the twelve-hour kirtan—and it will be solved.” And it happened every time. It was really wonderful.
By sincerely chanting Hare Krishna, Krishna is satisfied, and by Krishna’s pleasure and mercy, we are successful in all respects. This was Srila Prabhupada’s mood, his conviction. So we should give ourselves fully to that process, to pleasing Krishna by our chanting. In fact, whatever we do should be in the mood of pleasing guru and Krishna. From the beginning, I would think, “Prabhupada is hearing my chanting, so I should chant nicely, to please him.” On the Radha-Damodara party, Vishnujana had a large photo of Srila Prabhupada’s ear, and he would chant with that idea, that Prabhupada was hearing his japa; he would chant to please Srila Prabhupada.
So, it all goes together: service to guru, service to the holy name, chanting the holy name, pleasing Krishna, pleasing Srila Prabhupada, and being successful—materially and spiritually.
[A talk by Giriraj Swami delivered at a japa retreat in Srila Prabhupada’s Palace, New Vrindaban, West Virginia, on April 9, 2009.]