Chapter 64: The Gift Vase

Śrīla Prabhupāda Uvāca 64
The Gift Vase

December 1973, ISKCON Los Angeles

Once, when Śrīla Prabhupāda was in Delhi, he received a silver vase from a life member. Originally, it was to be given to Indira Ghandi and was engraved with her name. Śrīla Prabhupāda was very pleased with the gift and had me carry it in the luggage until we reached Los Angeles.

"I will keep this here," Śrīla Prabhupāda said, pointing to his desk in his quarters. I showed it to the devotees who cleaned Śrīla Prabhupāda's rooms while he went on his morning walk.

"Śrīla Prabhupāda likes this vase very much," I told them. "You should put nice flowers in it."

Every morning they made a beautiful flower arrangement in the vase. It was a good size and could hold a large amount of flowers. One day we returned from the morning walk a little earlier than usual. As soon as Śrīla Prabhupāda walked into his room, he noticed that the vase was not on his desk.

"Where is the vase?" he asked me.

"Well, probably they took it into the kitchen to put fresh flowers in it," I said.

Now he was somewhat angry, and getting angrier with each sentence.

"Why?" he asked. "The flowers in it were fine. Why do they change these flowers every day? Why are they so wasteful? Who is this person doing this? Tell them to change them only when they go bad. You should never take the flowers out of this room until they are dwindling. It is not necessary. This is just wasteful. Where is the vase? Go find it immediately!"

I quickly left his room. Actually, I was eager to leave. It was not fun for me to be around Śrīla Prabhupāda when he was yelling, even if it wasn't directed towards me. Fortunately, the vase was in the temple kitchen.

"You had better stop changing these flowers every day," I told the devotees. "Śrīla Prabhupāda said it is very bad. Make sure this vase is never out of his room." Arriving in his sitting room with a beautiful new flower arrangement did not seem to appease him. I put the vase down on his desk and offered my obeisances wishing I could just keep my head on the floor.

"Just do it when it is necessary." he shouted. "They shouldn't be wasting so much on flowers. They shouldn't be wasting so much money, every day changing. This is your custom in America, simply wasting. In your country if you have some cloth, if there is something extra, instead of just folding it under you will cut it off and throw away. This is your process here in America. In India if there is something left, they will fold it over and sew. Whatever goes wrong, you solve it with money. In this way it appears very good. You make some accident, then because you have money you can cover it over very quickly. It is not that you are very capable of doing anything, but because money is there you make everything look very good. With money you can cover over all of your deficiencies."

Śrīla Prabhupāda often said, "Kṛṣṇa has given you American boys and girls so much facility." What wasn't apparent to me at the time was the reason 'so much' was there was because of his potency, not anything we were doing. Śrīla Prabhupāda saw Kṛṣṇa in everything, everywhere. Therefore sometimes he chastised us when we were wasteful. He was so very tolerant of our spiritual and material immaturity.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, please forgive me for my wasteful habits. Most of all, forgive me for wasting so much time in the service of the illusory energy. Sometimes in a lecture you would look at your watch and say how it was impossible to recover this moment in time ever again, no matter how much money you have. I would foolishly think, "Why is that so bad. We are eternal. What is the loss?"

Now, as I sit here with emptiness in my heart due to your absence, I have a little idea of how valuable each second was in your presence. No amount of money can bring you back to this most unfortunate soul. Again, I am feeling the bittersweet taste of separation from Your Divine Grace.