Becoming A Servant
“Becoming A Servant”
As a Brahmachari with no special qualifications I never expected to ever get the chance to become one of Srila Prabhupada’s personal servants.
Pujari Gauridasa Pandita Dasa Vrindavan India 1975
The idea that it may be a possibility came in Vrindavan in 1975. The temple commander was asked to leave his post in Vrindavan. He went from there to New Delhi where Srila Prabhupada happened to be. When Srila Prabhupada came to Vrindavan a few days later The devotee who had been ‘kicked out’ was now one of Srila Prabhupada’s personal servants. Now he could give orders to the temple president, the shoe was on the other foot. Anyway I began to think that maybe I also, could be one Of Srila Prabhupada’s personal servants someday.
A few months later my visa expired and I had to leave India. Srila Prabhupada was in Hawaii so I decided to go there. Those pastimes will be described in another story. While in Hawaii I received the ‘Ganapati Stotram‘ from a devotee. It is said that if you chant the mantra three timesa day for six months you would obtain your desire and after a year of chanting you would attain perfection. I began to chant the mantra with the desire to become a personal servant. It took me about a month to memorize the mantras and six months later my desire was fulfilled.
I went to Mayapura for the Gaura Pournima festival in 1977. There I met Upendra Prabhu who I had met in Hawaii. He was preparing some flower vases in the hall way outside of Srila Prabhupada’s room. When he finished he told me to take them into Srila Prabhupada’s room. I was nervous and hesitated at the door when all of the sudden Upendra pushed me inside. Srila Prabhupada was alone sitting behind his desk. I really felt out of place so I put the vases on his desk, offered my obeisance’s and backed out of the room. That was the first time I’d been alone with Srila Prabhupada since I received my Gayatri initiation on Dec.3, 1975 in Vrindavan.
It was at the 1977 Goura-pournima festival that Srila Prabhupada’s health really started to deteriorate. He canceled a few classes and events that he was expected to attend.
We started to worry about our spiritual master.
At the Mayapur festival I also met a devotee I knew from Seattle named Jalakara. He convinced me to go to Africa to preach with him. I was to go to Bombay and wait for a ticket to be sent.
I arrived in Bombay in April of 1977. Tamal Krishna Maharaja was Srila Prabhupada’s secretary at the time. Knowing me from the RDTSP he asked me if I wanted to be a guard for Srila Prabhupada. I jumped at the chance. It was about six months after I had been chanting the ‘Ganapati Stotram’ by memory. I didn’t even get to see Srila Prabhupada for the first two weeks but later got to do more service when we went to Hrishikesh and ultimately Sri Vrindavan Dhama.
I would like to thank Upendra Prabhu for pushing me forward towards Srila Prabhupada and supporting me when I needed it. I must also thank Tamal Krishna Maharaja for giving me the rare opportunity to serve Srila Prabhupada as he did. I must also give some credit to Lord Ganesa for helping to fulfill my desire and gave me the perfection of hearing Srila Prabhupada say that he remembered me fondly in September of 1977. This news came in the form of a letter from Tamal while they were in England. I was sent to Gita-nagari by Srila Prabhupada when my visa ran out at the end of July 77 and was waiting for his arrival. I had sent a letter to Srila Prabhupada telling him how ecstatic the devotees were that he was coming and inclosed my vyasapuja offering. Tamal wrote back, “…I read your letter to Srila Prabhupada as I found it very poetic and an excellent description of Gita-nagari. When I told Srila Prabhupada you had written the letter; he remembered you very fondly.” My heart melted upon hearing this. Paramananda Prabhu, the temple president read the letter to all of the devotees, because it came from Srila Prabhupada’s secretary.
Srila Prabhupada never came to Gita-nagari because his health got worse in England. He decided to return to Vrindavan. Srila Prabhupada said that I could return to Vrindavan and be his servant again. I was the head pujari for Sri Sri Radha Damodara and had to train up another pujari before going. He turned out to be named Radha Damodara dasa! It took about two weeks to train him up and the first day he was doing all of the puja by himself I was chanting my japa circumambulating Tulasi Deva and Srila Prabhupada’s vyasasana. We got a phone call from India saying that Srila Prabhupada might be leaving his body; then later a call confirming that he indeed had ‘left his body’. I was shocked. We knew it would come but didn’t want to accept the fact that it had. I sensed something was going on during my japa which was the time it happened. I really didn’t want to see that pastime and I thank Lord Krishna for keeping me away.
HE LIVES FOREVER BY HIS DIVINE INSTRUCTIONS AND THE FOLLOWER LIVES WITH HIM
Serving Srila Prabhupada personally in Bombay, Hrishikesh and Vrindavan were the best days of my life. Those days were numbered and unfortunately ran out at the end of July of 1977. I had entered India on a three month tourist visa. I had received a three month extension already when I applied for another. It was denied. I considered just staying past my expiration date so I could remain with His Divine Grace who I knew was leaving soon. I decided it would be better to go back to America and get another visa and return.
It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make; leaving Srila Prabhupada’s precious personal service. Srila Prabhupada always told us to follow the law; so I did. I had packed my belongings and had it loaded onto a horse drawn cart for my trip to the Mathura train station. I went to offer my obeisance’s to Tamal Krishna Maharaja in his office before leaving. He told me I couldn’t leave without telling Srila Prabhupada. I said Srila Prabhupada knows everything; I don’t want to bother him. Tamal K.G. said to wait and he entered Srila Prabhupada’s room. A moment later he stuck his head out of the door and told me to come in. Now I was really getting nervous. This would prove to be the last time I would see Srila Prabhupada before his divine departure for Goloka Vrindavan.
Upon entering Srila Prabhupada’s room I offered my full dandavats. Tamal K.G. said, “Here’s Gauridasa Pandita, Srila Prabhupada; he has to go back to America now because his visa is expiring and the government wouldn’t give him an extension.” Srila Prabhupada said, “Just see. I just train him up and the rascal government takes him away!” He was sitting behind his desk and looked at me with compassionate eyes, melting my heart. Then he said, “Thank you very much for all of your service, you’ve been very sincere. You are welcome to be my personal servant anytime. So you go worship Radha Damodara and be happy.”
I was ecstatic at the mercy of Srila Prabhupada. Not only did he acknowledge me; but he said I could return to his personal service! I had renewed hope. I said, “Thank you, Srila Prabhupada” and offered my dandavats again and slowly backed out of his room. I paused at the door one last time and he gave me his final nod of his head. Then he continued to translate.
I boarded the horse cart and sat facing back and headed out of Vrindavan. The one hour trip seemed to last for forever as I lamenting having to leave Srila Prabhupada. I became overwhelmed with emotion and memories of Srila Prabhupada and couldn’t help crying most of the way to the Mathura Station.
Days later I arrived at Gita Nagari and became co-head pujari for Sri Sri Radha-Damodara with Sasthi Prabhu. We were a good team. When we got a letter from Upendra saying that we should fast to help Srila Prabhupada get better we took it up. We fasted for three days straight, then took prasadam one day, then fasted again for three days, like that, until Srila Prabhupada left his body.
Upendra Prabhu who was always sharing the mercy with the devotees gave me a bunch of Srila Prabhupada’s clothes as prasadam. They smelled like sandalwood and rose water. The whole trunk was stolen from the attic at Gita Nagari.
When we got the news that Srila Prabhupada had decided to come to Gita- Nagari; to establish the Varna-ashrama system, we were all ecstatic. The devotees were morose before, knowing that Srila Prabhupada was sick and maybe going to leave his body. Now we had renewed hope! The devotees were happy again and very enthusiastically preparing for Srila Prabhupada’s arrival. We painted his house and made all of the necessary arrangements. Seeing all of the renewed enthusiasm I wrote a letter to Srila Prabhupada who was in London at the time. We got a response from his secretary, Tamal K.G., which Paramananda Prabhu, the temple president, read to all of the devotees since it was about Srila Prabhupada. The letter started out, “I read your letter to Srila Prabhupada as I found it very poetic and an excellent description of Gita-Nagari. When I told Srila Prabhupada you had written the letter; he remembered you very fondly.” I was ecstatic to hear this. I was glad to hear that Srila Prabhupada even remembered me. Out of the whole four months I was allowed to serve him I only talked to him shortly a few times. This was because right in the beginning of my service in Bombay, Srila Prabhupada said that the proper etiquette for the servant was to not talk to the spiritual master unless the spiritual master spoke first. He complained about some of the Indian life members who were a bit too talkative and familiar with him at times. So from then on I didn’t say much, but listened as much as possible.
Later we got the unfortunate news that Srila Prabhupada had decided to return to Vrindavan and wouldn’t be coming to Gita-Nagari. We were saddened again.
I wrote Tamal K.G. and got his permission to return to resume my service to Srila Prabhupada. I had to train up a new pujari before leaving Gita-Nagari though. He turned out to be Radha Damodara Dasa! It took two weeks to train him up properly. The day he took over completely I chanted my japa outside the curtains circumambulating Tulasi Devi and the Vyasasana. During that time we got a call from India, that Srila Prabhupada may be leaving his body soon. Then we got a call a little later confirming that he had indeed made his divine departure for Krsna Loka. I sensed something special was going on during my japa, as it was. Actually I didn’t want to see that particular pastime. I thank Krsna for saving me from that. I know that Srila Prabhupada is as present as ever, for me now, and everyone who takes shelter of him.
He reasons ill
Who says that Vaisnavas die
When thou art living still in sound
The Vaisnava dies to live!
And living tries
To spread the Holy Name around.
Gauridasa Pandita Dasa
Oct 23, 1998