Chapter 125: Mercy By Serving According To Śrīla Prabhupāda's Desire

Śrīla Prabhupāda Uvāca 125
Mercy By Serving According To Śrīla Prabhupāda's Desire

September 1973, ISKCON Bombay

Besides getting ill whenever I traveled to India, cultural differences played a major part in my dislike of traveling to this very different part of the world. I was not alone in my aversion to staying in India. I witnessed many devotees coming to the holy land, only to leave a short time later. Their difficulties included poor health, lack of facility, personality conflicts with management and culture shock.

I observed two of Śrīla Prabhupāda's veteran disciples also facing their personal limitation in the holy land. Stories of fruitful preaching opportunities in the West seemed to call them back to the States. Preaching to potential life members seemed painfully slow in India. The Indians would tell us we were not telling them anything they did not already know. After all, they grew up hearing about Kṛṣṇa. Life members often said, "Oh, yes. We know Kṛṣṇa."

Many times Śrīla Prabhupāda illustrated this point by saying it was as if we westerners were 100 miles away from Kṛṣṇa, but now under his guidance we were heading toward the Lord. The Indians were ten miles from Kṛṣṇa, but unfortunately going away from Him. Our problem was finding a way to turn them around, so they could head "Back to Godhead." Sometimes it was anything but enlivening.

One day a few disciples were in Śrīla Prabhupāda's quarters pleading with him to go back to the West.

"We are just like businessmen," one disciple told Śrīla Prabhupāda. "We are collecting money and making life members."

In one sense he was correct, but the difference was we were doing it for Śrīla Prabhupāda and Kṛṣṇa and not for our personal profit.

Śrīla Prabhupāda was sympathetic to their frustrations, but in a stern voice told them, "But, I want you to stay here. It is the spiritual master's desire that you stay here, so that is better."

"Isn't it service to go to America and preach?" one sannyasi asked. "In America the preaching is so much better."

I was sitting off to the side, amazed at the intensity of my godbrothers. It was a rare sight. Śrīla Prabhupāda's disciples seemed relentless. The more they were determined to leave India, the more Śrīla Prabhupāda was determined to have them stay. It was evident that Śrīla Prabhupāda considered the preaching work in India to be of the utmost importance. This was a lesson I learned on my first trip to India with my Guru Mahārāja.

Previously in January of 1973 at Kartikeya Mahādevia's flat, a heated conversation took place between Śrīla Prabhupāda and some of his disciples. The two sannyasis who pleaded with Śrīla Prabhupāda then were present for this discussion as well. It was amazing to witness Śrīla Prabhupāda's determination as well as his mastery in managing his young disciples in devotional service.

Śrīla Prabhupāda was outraged because he had received reports that life members were paying their money, but not getting books they had been promised. The record keeping was not being done properly. Complaints from the life members were regularly coming in the mail to Śrīla Prabhupāda.

"If you cannot manage properly then we should just pack up and leave India," Śrīla Prabhupāda told his disciples. "This is not good. Everything must be done very carefully."

Everyone could understand how important it was to Śrīla Prabhupāda that his transcendental literatures be distributed. Ultimately, we sincerely wanted to please His Divine Grace despite any obstacles placed before us.

Nine months later, Śrīla Prabhupāda was again pleading with the same two senior sannyasis to remain in India. It was not going well. Seeing how upset Śrīla Prabhupāda was, I was squirming in the corner of the room. I also understood how hard it was to stay in India. Śrīla Prabhupāda was depending on these men to assist him in this important work, but they just couldn't do it any longer. It was a fierce battle. The intensity of negotiation was what I would have expected amongst peers, rather than between spiritual master and disciple. Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted them to stay, and that was final. His disciples argued that they needed to leave India to preach. At this time the West was a fertile preaching field. Finally, in apparent disgust, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, "All right, you just chant your sixteen rounds, follow the four regulative principles and do any damn thing you want."

That is how this rare room conversation ended. Our most magnanimous leader gave them permission to serve him in whatever capacity they could. Again it was evident that Śrīla Prabhupāda considered us all volunteers in his transcendental army. It is up to us to decide how quickly we want to get the mercy and make advancement by serving our spiritual master according to his desires. Daily, we choose what, and how much, we are willing to do in the service of our Guru Mahārāja.

Once in his quarters in New Dwaraka, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, "Ultimately, we must all fly our own airplane." Śrīla Prabhupāda, I am still trying to find my way back to the airport. Without you in front of me it is very difficult to find my way. You have given us all the tools necessary to engage in devotional service, but I do not think I will ever be qualified to fly my own plane back to Kṛṣṇa. Let me serve those who are qualified to fly their own airplane "Back to Godhead." I am praying you allow me to be your flight attendant as you travel around the universe liberating conditioned souls.