Chapter 111: Surabhi, the Toilet Seat & Temple Construction

Śrīla Prabhupāda Uvāca 111
Surabhi, the Toilet Seat & Temple Construction

April 1975, ISKCON Kṛṣṇa Balarāma Mandir,
Vrindavan, India

During this two-week visit at Kṛṣṇa Balarāma Mandir, everyone was busy preparing for the opening of the temple. Śrīla Prabhupāda took daily walks through the temple compound and advised Surabhi Mahārāja, the architect and engineer, on necessary corrections. Śrīla Prabhupāda's quarters were also being finished, although they were quite livable. As the glorious day approached, Surabhi Mahārāja was getting very little sleep. He was constantly running around supervising hundreds of carpenters and masons working on the premises.

One day Śrīla Prabhupāda called for me. I entered his room and offered my obeisances. He was upset.

"They have used a plastic toilet seat in the bathroom and already it has broken," he said. "Call Surabhi."

I walked around the property and told Surabhi about the situation. Together we hurried back to Śrīla Prabhupāda's quarters. We entered and offered our obeisances.

"The toilet seat is already broken," Śrīla Prabhupāda told Surabhi. "I need a new one. Otherwise, how can I sit down. I am an old man. I have to sit down."

"Yes, Śrīla Prabhupāda," Surabhi said. "I will arrange it."

Two days passed, but there was no change in Śrīla Prabhupāda's bathroom. Śrīla Prabhupāda called for me and said, "Where is my toilet seat. Call Surabhi."

Again, I found Surabhi and went with him to see Śrīla Prabhupāda.

"Where is my toilet seat?" Śrīla Prabhupāda inquired sharply.

"Śrīla Prabhupāda," Surabhi said. "They are looking for one in town today. They could not find one in Vrndavana, so today they are going to Mathura."

"No! I do not want one of these plastic seats," Śrīla Prabhupāda said. "They are cheap and will break again. Have one of the carpenters carve one from wood. I want it today."

Surabhi called one of the workers.

"Guru Mahārāja wants a toilet seat carved from wood," he explained. "You make him a very nice seat."

The Brijbasi carpenter was excited for the opportunity to perform personal service for Kṛṣṇa's pure devotee. Naturally, things did not go as planned. Surabhi was extremely busy and didn't take the time to supervise the carving of this important seat. The mistris were expert, but incredibly slow, as everything was done by hand with the simplest of tools. That afternoon Śrīla Prabhupāda called for me.

"Where is my toilet seat?" he asked.

"I will find out Śrīla Prabhupāda," I said.

I left his room in a hurry not wanting to be on the receiving end of Śrīla Prabhupāda's annoyance. Within minutes we were prostrating ourselves in His Divine Grace's room.

"I'm sorry, Śrīla Prabhupāda," Surabhi said. "I can't keep up with all of the people. I told him to have it ready. I thought you would have it installed by now."

"I want this seat now," Śrīla Prabhupāda said. "It has to be here. It must be finished."

We both offered our obeisances and hastily left the room. Overwhelmed with stress, my wounded false ego silently made excuses for not having fulfilled the transcendental expectation of His Divine Grace. Surabhi and I rushed to the mistri.

"You must get this seat finished or you are fired," Surabhi shouted. "You must finish it immediately."

I was amazed when I saw the simple tool being used to carve this seat from a piece of wood.

"Does Guru Mahārāja want designs carved into the seat?" the man calmly asked."Just get the seat finished," Surabhi said rolling his eyes. "Now!"

Finally, the mistri brought the seat into Śrīla Prabhupāda's quarters and offered his obeisances. He went into the bathroom and installed the hand-carved teakwood seat. The mistri was thrilled to have the chance to enter Śrīla Prabhupāda's sanctified rooms. He understood he was fortunate to be doing important personal service for the Guru. Whatever important service we appeared to be doing, Śrīla Prabhupāda always reminded us that our real business was to serve our Guru Mahārāja. We may be empowered to do some important project, but our real position is the servant. By remaining humble, we are guaranteed the continuation of eternal devotional service to our beloved spiritual master.

After everyone left, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, "Rub some mustard seed oil into the seat until it stops absorbing."

I happily complied with his instructions, relieved that the incident was coming to a close. After oiling the seat, I informed Śrīla Prabhupāda that his bathroom was ready for use. Later, Śrīla Prabhupāda entered the bathroom.

"It is all right," he said nodding, as he came out of his bathroom.

Śrīla Prabhupāda applied a strict standard of Kṛṣṇa consciousness in Vraj Dhama. He expected his resident disciples to live exemplary lives. This was apparent in every aspect of life at Kṛṣṇa Balarāma Mandir. Being inferior, we struggled to comprehend the importance of his superior vision. Therefore, His Divine Grace never recommended ordinary or mundane residence in Vrindavan. If devotees could not live up to the highest standards of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, then they had no business living in Vraj Dhama. Since life was like a razor's edge in this holiest of Dhamas, Śrīla Prabhupāda vigilantly supervised our devotional practice.

I was always in awe of Surabhi. Daily, Śrīla Prabhupāda called him into his room and chastised him about different aspects of the construction. The pressure on Surabhi was immense as the opening of the temple approached. Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted everything perfectly executed and it was Surabhi's service to see that His Divine Grace's desires were fulfilled. One day while walking, Śrīla Prabhupāda looked at the Deity rooms saying, "Why aren't the doors up yet."

"I'm trying, Śrīla Prabhupāda," Surabhi said. "But, there is so much to be done. It is difficult."

"Never mind," Śrīla Prabhupāda responded. "You have to get it done. These men, they are all cheating you. Don't let them cheat you. You have to be on top of things and make sure everything gets done."

This continued for a week as Śrīla Prabhupāda would ask Surabhi, "Why aren't the Deity doors on yet? Why aren't the front gates on?"

Surabhi would reply that he was working on it. Finally, by Kṛṣṇa's mercy, everything started to come together during the last few days before the opening of the temple. On one morning walk with Śrīla Prabhupāda through the temple compound the devotees were admiring how magnificent the temple looked.

"Surabhi has done a very good job, Śrīla Prabhupāda," one disciple said. "He has worked very hard. His work is excellent."

"Yes, everyone is saying, 'Surabhi has done a very nice job', but me," Śrīla Prabhupāda said laughing. "I am simply criticizing, saying, 'Why are you doing such a slow job? Why are you working so badly?' Everyone is complimenting him, but me. My job is to instruct him. Therefore, all the time I am criticizing him. That is my duty. I am his spiritual master. Therefore, I must guide."

I am not sure, but I think I noticed Surabhi Mahārāja take his first breath in two weeks.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, I stand in awe when I see the service my godbrothers and godsisters have done for you over the past thirty years. My service has been insignificant. I was not even able to accept your chastisement without brooding. You were always gentle with me, realizing how fragile my faith was. I pray to develop unflinching faith in your order so I may properly serve your lotus feet regardless of how you reciprocate with me. Please give me your causeless mercy. Allow me to be present for your pastimes and never again stray from your lotus feet.