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Chapter 83: Prabhupāda Gives Devananda a Last Chance

Śrīla Prabhupāda Uvāca 83
Prabhupāda Gives Devananda a Last Chance

April 11, 1975, ISKCON Hyderabad, India

I can remember only a few times when it was difficult being in the same room with Śrīla Prabhupāda. Obviously, one could easily imagine yearning to be in His Divine Grace's presence 24-hours a day. However, the presence of others sometimes changed the atmosphere in Śrīla Prabhupāda's room.

One day, Devananda Mahārāja came to visit Śrīla Prabhupāda. He had been initiated by Śrīla Prabhupāda and was now a sannyasi. He had also been his personal servant for a short while in 1970. He asked to see Śrīla Prabhupāda and was allowed darsana even though he was no longer a member of ISKCON. Śrīla Prabhupāda was seated behind his desk and upon entering Śrīla Prabhupāda's room, Devananda did not offer his obeisances. Brahmānanda Mahārāja and I were also in the room. Devananda wore bright orange satin robes and his long hair and beard was matted. He had a very strange smile on his face. He began to speak to Śrīla Prabhupāda in such a peculiar way that I couldn't understand anything he was saying. He moved his hands about as if he were doing some type of mudra. It was too bizarre to watch. He appeared to have had too much intoxication.

Śrīla Prabhupāda tolerated his nonsense for a few minutes. There was no conversational exchange as Devananda was incoherent. Finally, his all merciful spiritual master, Śrīla Prabhupāda, said, "If you want to come back, you do like him." He pointed to Brahmānanda Mahārāja and continued. "You shave your head and face, put on a dhoti and then it's all right. You may come back."

Devananda continued flailing his arms.

"No. This is not why I am here," Devananda said.

He continued to move his body about while speaking nonsense. Śrīla Prabhupāda had enough.

"Get out," Śrīla Prabhupāda shouted.

Devananda started to shake with anger. Brahmānanda Mahārāja grabbed him and forcefully escorted him out of the room. Śrīla Prabhupāda was furious. Even though his anger was not directed toward me, I felt like I had been struck by lightning. Just being in the vicinity of Śrīla Prabhupāda's anger was frightening. If I could have disappeared, it was the time to do so. It is difficult to describe the spiritual potency generated by Śrīla Prabhupāda's rage. His total commitment to his disciples was obvious by this encounter.

This was one of the most difficult experiences I faced while being with Śrīla Prabhupāda. It was amazing how he tolerated Devananda's bizarre behavior. He offered to accept him back as his disciple even though Devananda had strayed far from the Kṛṣṇa Conscious path and had obviously crossed the threshold of sanity into madness. When His Divine Grace saw he had no interest in accepting instruction, he mercifully sent him away before he could commit any more offenses.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, I beg you to protect me from myself. I don't want to ever do anything that would cause you to become so angry. The greatest danger is to lose the shelter of your lotus feet. My senior godbrother was steeped in illusion, wallowing in the mode of ignorance and drowning in the quagmire of false ego. By your potency you had elevated him to a high post and by your grace he had achieved a grand standard of service as a sannyasi. Even while you were with us, some of your disciples became illusioned, thinking they needed to go elsewhere to find perfection. *The result of his deviation was apparently disastrous.

Perfection for me is to sit in my servant's quarters and wait for you to ring the bell. I pray to answer your call by running to your room, offering my obeisances and seeing your lotus feet as they peek out from under your desk.

*(Devananda later died of self-induced starvation in a cave in South India).