An interview with his personal secretary,
Tamala Krsna Gosvami.
Back to godhead: As Srila Prabhupada’s personal secretary, you came to know him quite intimately. Most of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples have only seen him seated on his vyasasana giving a formal lecture. And, of course, there are millions of people around the world who have read Srila Prabhupada’s books but never seen him. But I think you can give our readers a very personal glimpse of what Srila Prabhupada was like. Now, my first question is, what one thing pleased Srila Prabhupada more than anything else?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: What pleased Srila Prabhupada most was a willingness to serve Krsna. Whenever he could detect within a person a willingness to engage in the service of Krsna, that pleased him more than anything else. He would simply look for that quality in each person, no matter how hidden it was. If he saw even the slightest spark in anyone, Srila Prabhupada would be pleased. Sometimes I or another disciple could not see any spark of Krsna consciousness within a particular person, so we wouldn’t want him to talk with Srila Prabhupada and waste Prabhupada’s time. But Srila Prabhupada would seem to push us aside, bring the person close, and engage him in Krsna consciousness. In fact, Srila Prabhupada’s greatness was such that even if a person had practically no Krsna consciousness, somehow Srila Prabhupada would engage him in service to Krsna, or at least make him favorable to the Krsna consciousness movement.
BTG: Now, on the other hand, maybe you could tell us what displeased Srila Prabhupada. Did you ever see him angry?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: Yes. Sometimes Srila Prabhupada would become very angry if a disciple would disobey his instructions. Of course, this was not ordinary anger; because disobedience to the spiritual master’s order causes the disciple to lose his spiritual standing. Srila Prabhupada, out of love, would become angry at the disobedient disciple. But apart from that, Prabhupada would not very often become angry.
Also, during the years Srila Prabhupada spent traveling to preach around the world, he used to preach to anyone and everyone he met. Sometimes during those years, I saw Srila Prabhupada become angry at certain persons who came to visit him or attended his lectures. You see, those people were all potential devotees, and Srila Prabhupada wanted to defeat their nonsensical philosophies and arguments, so he would become angry. But his anger was always compassionate, just like the anger of a father and mother toward their naughty child who is doing something that will hurt him. That anger is actually love.
BTG: In the talk you gave earlier, you eulogized Srila Prabhupada as “a beautiful devotee.” Would you elaborate on that.
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: Yes. If someone wants to understand what Srila Prabhupada was like, he should read about Krsna’s intimate devotees and associates in transcendental books like Nectar of Devotion and Krsna. Actually, Srila Prabhupada manifested all the qualities of the eternal associates of Krsna. His humor was completely sublime, his compassion was sublime and transcendental. Courage, competitiveness—all the qualities we read about in Krsna and Nectar of Devotion were manifested in Srila Prabhupada. He was the living embodiment of Krsna—Krsna’s representative. We learned about Krsna by seeing Srila Prabhupada. And we learned to believe in Krsna by seeing Prabhupada, because we could see that here was a person who had actually come from the spiritual world to be among us. So “beautiful devotee” means that he was a pure devotee of Lord Krsna, with all transcendental, beautiful qualities. Srila Prabhupada called a chapter of one of his books “Wonderful Krsna.” And Srila Prabhupada was Krsna’s representative—so, “wonderful Prabhupada.” Everything he did was wonderful. Everything. All the qualities possessed by the greatest personalities were present in Srila Prabhupada to a wonderful degree.
BTG: Could you think of some incident that closely reveals Srila Prabhupada’s character?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: Well, what stands out the most in my mind right now is how in the last few months Srila Prabhupada constantly asked to allowed to pass away peacefully, and then how he repeatedly yielded to our quests for him to please stay with us. Our relationship with Srila Prabhupada as disciples has always been one of total obedience to his orders and desires. As his menial servants, we weren’t in a position to deny his requests or insist having things our way. Yet at the end, Srila Prabhupada seemed to be expecting exactly that from his personal servants. And he responded lovingly to our affectionate requests that he not leave us, that he please stay with us longer.
But first he brought us to the point of complete despair: he stopped all doctors and medicines and told us, “So now there is nothing left for me to do but die.” This brought within us such a great anxiety that we just begged him “Please, Srila Prabhupada, we need you. Please stay with us.” And when the intensity of our appeal reached a high enough level, then he said, “All right, I won’t leave. Let the doctor come. I’ll stay with you.” He did this several times during the last few months.
Finally I could understand that he was deepening our affection for him. After the last time he dealt with us like that, I told him, “First you bring us to the point of utter despair, and then you give relief by agreeing to remain with us. This is simply deepening our affection for you.” And Srila Prabhupada calmly replied, “That is my duty.” It was clear—he was teaching us how to 1ove him, and thereby how to love Krsna.
In fact, that’s how we have to understand Srila Prabhupada’s last few months with us. Physically, he didn’t really do much. He translated some, but only a very little. He didn’t open any new temples. He didn’t give any lectures. In fact, he hardly left his room. He simply lay on his bed. But he was giving all his disciples an opportunity to approach him render very intimate service to him, to deepen their affection and love him. And that was actually the purpose.
He told me, “I want to travel around the world one more time. If I can visit my temples, I can strengthen this movement and the disciples. I can strengthen their love for Krsna more.” Of course, his physical condition did not permit this, but that didn’t stop Srila Prabhupada. He accomplished the same end, simply by lying in bed. By his expertise, he trained us and helped us become more and more lovingly attached to him and in that way to Krsna. Therefore, I feel that these last months with Prabhupada were the most important months I ever spent with him.
BTG: People generally want to know just what accounts for the greatness of a great personality. Even to the common man, Srila Prabhupada appeared great—the founder of a successful worldwide movement, author of dozens of books. What traits did you see in him that contributed most to his greatness?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: Above all, there was one. And this was the real reason, the actual cause of Srila Prabhupada’s greatness: he was a completely surrendered servant of God. The Supreme Lord is the creator and maintainer of the entire creation. And He is the controller of all activities as well. If someone is completely surrendered unto the supreme controller, Krsna, then Krsna empowers that person to perfectly carry out the mission of the Supreme Lord within the world. So, because Srila Prabhupada chose to carry out Lord Krsna’s mission, and because he completely submitted himself to Krsna’s desires and control, he was fully successful. He was a great personality simply because he was a pure devotee of Lord Krsna. Krsna could act perfectly through him, so there was nothing impossible for Srila Prabhupada. God can do anything. And by God’s grace, His pure devotees become empowered. So this was actually Srila Prabhupada’s greatness.
BTG: You’ve been talking about the few of you who were personally with Srila Prabhupada, and the lessons that you learned from him. This raises a question. Sometimes people want to know how Srila Prabhupada could relate to all his disciples. He had so many. Certainly, they weren’t all able to be with him personally. In fact, they were in distant parts of the world. So how could he teach them all?’
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: That was one of Srila Prabhupada’s great qualities—he knew how to preach according to time, place, and circumstance. In the very beginning, even before he came to the West, Srila Prabhupada based this movement primarily on the instructions within his books. He called the press the big mrdanga—brhat mrdanga. When someone plays on a mrdanga drum, you can hear it for some distance. But the brhat mrdanga, the printing press, can be heard all around the world. So before he even came to the West, Srila Prabhupada first of all published the first three volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam, and then, with that big mrdanga, he began to play. And automatically, results sprang up all over the world. He was able to reach all his disciples. Only a few months ago he jokingly said to me, “People are wondering if this old man is still living. Now they should know that I am here, and that I am still beating on my mrdanga, and it is going all over the world.”
So even in his weakest physical condition, he was still able to create and instruct disciples, completely defeating the forces of materialistic civilization. Therefore it is said that vani, or the instructions of a spiritual master, are more important than vapuh, his physical presence. And in this respect we have to understand that Srila Prabhupada has not left us. He is present in his instructions. And those faithful, sincere disciples who are able to repeat his instructions perfectly, without changing them, can preserve and expand all the effects of Srila Prabhupada’s accomplishments.
BTG: I think it would be good if you could explain the significance of Srila Prabhupada’s life to the millions of people who were not actually followers of his teachings. Beyond the rather limited idea of being the leader of a particular sect, what relation does he have to our times and the world?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: Srila Prabhupada did not preach a sectarian philosophy. He taught sanatana-dharma, eternal religion. Sanatana-dharma means the principles enunciated for all humanity by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Srila Prabhupada taught the constitutional nature of all living entities in their eternal relationship with Krsna. That is called sanatana-dharma. For example, the dharma—the constitutional nature—of sugar is sweetness; you can’t separate sweetness from sugar. You cannot separate heat from fire, so heat is the dharma of fire. Similarly, you cannot sever the living entity’s connection with God; every living entity has a relationship with God. In that sense, to revive one’s sanatana-dharma means to revive one’s eternal relationship with Lord Krsna, or God.
That is the teaching of Srila Prabhupada—the most essential message for all living beings. The movement Srila Prabhupada has created, and the teachings he has given, will guide human civilization for centuries to come. The Vedic scriptures predict that over the next ten thousand years there will be a revival of God consciousness throughout the world. We understand that Srila Prabhupada has laid the foundation for this revival. Whereas cult leaders, faith leaders, and so-called religious teachers may have presented religious principles limited to their particular groups, the teachings of Lord Krsna, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and Srila Prabhupada are eternal and are intended for all humanity. They explain the eternal soul’s eternal relationship with God. These teachings are not subject to a particular time or place. They deal with the most basic eternal quality within the living entity: how he can again become a devotee of God.
Therefore, we have to realize that the disappearance of such a great spiritual master is the most unfortunate thing which can happen on this planet. The newspapers, due to their materialistic nature, have not at all comprehended the significance of Srila Prabhupada’s presence on this planet. But time will show that Srila Prabhupada’s presence in the world was the greatest positive influence in this age. He made the teachings of the Vedas available to the world, and he gave us the chanting of the holy name of Krsna, which is the only means for obtaining liberation in this age. These are just a few of Srila Prabhupada’s lasting gifts to the world.
BTG: Do you think he left untimely, prematurely?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: Well, of course we wanted Srila Prabhupada to stay with us for hundreds of years. But just as he came here by his causeless mercy, he also left us. His coming was perfect, and his departing was also perfect. Just as his appearance was full of meaning, so also there was great meaning in his timely departure. We should not think that he left untimely. He left when Krsna desired and he himself wanted to leave.
BTG: Could you explain more fully what you meant when you said that there was meaning in his having left at this particular time?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: He and Lord Krsna must have felt that this movement now had a sufficient basis on which to endure. Srila Prabhupada did his work. He laid the foundation and provided the framework for a worldwide movement to spread Krsna consciousness. So he and Krsna felt satisfied that this movement will endure.
BTG: Did Srila Prabhupada give any special instructions at the end?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: His instructions, of course, are given in his books. But this last instruction he gave to all of his disciples: now that this movement has attained a prestigious, respected position all over the world, now that our institutions throughout the world are substantial and we are well represented everywhere—now, please maintain this. Do not let it deteriorate or decrease.
Srila Prabhupada emphasized that even if we do not increase, if we simply maintain what has already been established, that will suffice to alleviate the suffering and ignorance in this world for many generations to come. So our first responsibility, as Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, is to see that whatever Srila Prabhupada gave to us—and we have to understand that whatever we have is the gift of Srila Prabhupada—is cherished and maintained.
Now, if we can increase even more, that is very good, and he would like that also. But at least we should not allow what he has given us thus far to be in anyway diminished. First of all care for your father’s property; then think of accumulating further property.
BTG: By “property” do you mean the actual money and the buildings?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: I mean the money, the buildings, the writings, the teachings, the institutions—everything Srila Prabhupada has given. That should not be in any way neglected. I think this is the most important duty of his disciples—this loving concern. They should maintain what they have inherited from their father. If a son neglects or squanders his father’s property, that is the greatest disgrace for the son.
BTG: What do you think Srila Prabhupada’s feelings were on this matter? Did he think that his disciples would fulfill his dreams?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: He repeatedly said to me that he had great hope that this Krsna consciousness movement would endure. “I am feeling that everything is in good hands,” he said.
BTG: One of our Godbrothers read a scriptural quotation saying that when the spiritual master appears he brings order to chaos, and when he leaves, the chaos returns. So, now that Srila Prabhupada is no longer physically present, what is your feeling about ISKCON’s future?
Tamala Krsna Gosvami: That depends on our strength in keeping Srila Prabhupada with us—not by his physical presence, but by his sound vibration. He’ll stay with us eternally if we follow his instructions. As long as all of his disciples constantly look to his instructions and remain faithful, there will not be any chaos. But if they look away from or neglect the teachings of their spiritual master, or if they fail to follow them, then there will be chaos. Prabhupada’s presence in his instruction is more important than his physical presence.
Yes, by the acarya’s presence he brings order to the chaos, and who’s to say that Srila Prabhupada is not still present? We do not feel that Srila Prabhupada has died. If we felt that way, we could not bear to live. We regret the loss of his physical presence, but we are consoled by his eternal presence in the form of his instructions, and therefore we are very hopeful that the order he has established will continue to exist for thousands of years to come