My dear Brahmananda Prabhu,
I bow down to your lotus feet again and again. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
The dreaded day has come, you have left the planet!
In 2002, I was together with you in Sridhama Mayapur outside the main gate on the Bhaktisiddhanta road, we stood there for hours waiting for Tamal Krsna Maharaja, who had left his body in a car accident. You told me then that this is not just the end of Tamal Krsna Maharaja, this is the end of an era. It is like that today, there was only one Brahamanda, a giant among the followers of Srila Prabhupapada, who has no equal, because of the greatness of his love for Srila Prabhupada. No one like you will there be again in this movement. You have been in Vrndavana for a long time now, semi-retired, and all you have done for every single moment of that time, is to remember Prabhupada with deep love. Prabhupada was your all and everything, you had nothing else.
You reminded us how your mother met Srila Prabhupada, who seated her on a chair and then asked her for a donation. “A donation,” she said, “I have given you my two sons.” Then you explained that with that statement, she gave you to Prabhupada.
Every word that came from your mouth was about Srila Prabhupada, always filled with love, filled with loyalty and service attitude, whatever Prabhupada said, did, or wanted that was on your mind. You must be with him now and again you will serve as his secretary. You were the first leader in ISKCON in its earliest pioneering days, and you remained a leader throughout, in your unalloyed love for Srila Prabhupada, and with that you lead us all to his lotus feet.
With your departure from this world you have gained everything. It is us who have lost the greatest treasure of your association.
Your servant with a broken heart,
Kadamba Kanana Swami
(Kadamba Kanana Swami, 29 September 2014, Pretoria, South Africa, House Program)
Srila Prabhupada came to the Western world. In the Western world, he began his movement and after a short time, he was successful in the Lower East Side. He began to attract some devotees. One of these devotees is Brahmananda Prabhu. I have been reading a new book which is not yet on the market but somehow or other I got an advance copy. Since I was reading it, it is on my mind.
Somehow or other, Brahmananda is a very big and powerful man. Spiritually, first of all and also physically. He has a big body. Brahmananda was a wrestler before Krsna consciousness and even a little bit in Krsna consciousness. Brahmananda, over the years, certainly became very big in size. Even big people look small next to Brahmananda.
One time Srila Prabhupada gave a big sweet ball – a simply wonderful, quite a big size one, maha-large – to one devotee. Prabhupada put it in front of the devotee, on the plate and then just looked at it. Brahmananda also looked at it and just popped it into his mouth and ate the whole thing! Prabhupada said, “Yes, that is the nature of mercy. If you do not take advantage of it immediately, it might just disappear!”
There are many stories to tell of Brahmananda. In the early days, Brahmananda became Prabhupada’s trusted representative. His nature was that he was completely surrendered to Prabhupada’s desire. Whatever Prabhupada would say, he would do it. I think if any quality is outstanding in his character, it is loyalty. He is the most loyal servant you can imagine, completely loyal to Prabhupada. Whatever Prabhupada said, “Okay, that is what we are going to do, whatever it is.” That is not so easy and that is not so often found in anyone. That is why Brahmananda got this unique position of being so close to Prabhupada.
In fact, of all the devotees in the early days, Brahmananda was the leader. Prabhupada chose him as the leader. When they were saying that we should select a treasurer, we should select a secretary and a president, then Brahmananda said, “Satsvarupa would make a good secretary.” Gargamuni, his nickname was Garga-money, so he was the obvious person for the treasurer. Prabhupada said, “You should be the president.” That was it and from that day on, Brahmananda was in charge of everything and it was quite amazing.
First of all, Prabhupada had this Bhagavad-gita manuscript which he wanted published. It was very difficult to do so but he told Brahmananda, “Just get it published.” Easier said than done, you know. Get it published? How? Well anyway, there was one man who worked for the Macmillan publishing company who had put in an order through the mail. So, Brahmananda decided to do some follow up and go there hoping to get some connection but it turned out the man was just working in the accounts department and had nothing to do with publishing. So, it did not look good at all.
Just then, the chief editor came into the office of the accountant and Brahmananda saw this opportunity. He said to the man, “Here, I have a Bhagavad-gita by A.C. Bhakivedanta Swami Prabhupada and I would like to offer the manuscript to you for publication.”
The man said, “A Bhagavad-gita? A Bhagavad-gita!? We just finished a series of spiritual topics and we need a Bhagavad-gita to complete it! I will take it.”
That was it! Macmillan, a big company, was publishing Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita. That was Brahmananda. Prabhupada was very eager to carry on with book publication.
Eventually they got to Japan and got some cheap prices. The Krsna book was meant to be printed there. Brahmananda was negotiating with the printers and telling them how to do and so on… But it was not ready when Brahmananda had to leave, he had go back, catch his flight. Although they promised it would be ready, it was not ready. So he was very disappointed and he knew that Prabhupada would be really disappointed. As he was going up the steps of the plane, suddenly this limousine, this large limousine just pulled up onto the tarmac and drove right up to the plane and all the executives of Dai Nippon printing company came out. Brahmananda saw all these people he had been working with and he went down the staircase. They just brought out this box and they gave it to him.
Brahmananda went on the plane and he just ripped open the box and took out a silver copy of the Krsna book and the man next to him asked, “What is that?”
He said, “That is a book, it is about Krsna. It is published by my spiritual master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami and it is been sponsored by George Harrison.”
The man said, “How much is it?”
The man said, “Okay, I will take it.” (laughter). He bought the book!
So when Brahamanda came to America, he felt a little bit embarrassed to give Prabhupada this box that was ripped open and Prabhupada said, “How many books are there?”
He said, “Twenty-four, Srila Prabhupada. There were twenty-five but now there are twenty-four.”
Prabhupada said, “Oh.”
He said, “Yes, I sold one book on the plane.”
Prabhupada said, “That is very nice.” Then Prabhupada had a copy in his hands and said, “All these other ones can be sold also.” He looked at his copy and he said, “This one can be sold also.”
They were all sold and Prabhupada was very, very pleased. So Brahmananda was a very close and intimate representative of Srila Prabhupada and practically like his son in so many ways, so close.
Prabhupada was saying like, “How can you be ill? How can you be ill?”
“I am just ill.”
“You are always ill.”
He just was not compassionate at all and Brahmananda was suffering, really suffering and Prabhupada was just harsh, going on like it was some horrible disease – disgusting! Brahmananda began to feel worse and worse. Then Prabhupada came up to him, rubbed his head and then he was cured. In this way, transcendental mercy is there.
Brahmananda said, “Yes, he cured me like that.”
Can’t stop smiling
Another story that I have about Brahmananda – once in Vrindavan, Madhudvisa, another sannyasi, arranged that a picture would be taken. This picture was a group photo of devotees in ISKCON and Madhudvisa organized it all, with everybody nicely in the right position.
Brahmananda stood right in the middle next to Prabhupada… naturally. Madhudvisa was behind the camera but what Madhudvisa had done is that he had put a timer on the camera. So he put the timer, he clicked and then he ran over and stood right in front of Brahmananda, right next to Prabhupada.
So Brahmananda said, “Get out of here,” in a deep voice, sort of like in a way that Prabhupada could not hear but that Madhudvisa could. Right in his ear, “Get out of here.” Madhudvisa did not move an inch. So then Brahmananda, being a big and powerful wrestler, pinched Madhudvisa as hard as he could in the back. Pretty hard! Madhudvisa, you can see on the photo, Madhudvisa was just standing there with the biggest smile on his face and Brahmananda was pinching as hard as he could (laughter), but Madhudvisa, for nothing in the world, you know, would stop smiling.
As good as God
Two years ago in Vrindavan, there was a devotee from a South American background who asked Brahmananda, “Brahmananda, in the early days with Prabhupada, it was very intimate, very close with only few devotees, but later it became a bigger movement. Do you feel that anything had changed in the relationship?”
Brahmananda said, “Look. When you are a child, your father is your father and when you are grown up, your father is still your father. What is the difference? Prabhupada was my spiritual master!”
The South American devotee said (Spanish/Portuguese accent), “I think, I think that for you Prabhupada is God.”
And then Brahmananda said, “Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, no. I made that mistake once in 1970. Oh no, Prabhupada is not God, Prabhupada is as good as God, he is as good as God.” He said, “But these days, these days, I think he is better than God because he came to the Lower East Side and saved me.”
Then he was overwhelmed by emotion and the whole crowd, we all felt this wave of emotion. It was dead silent…
A wonderful devotee
The stories of Brahmananda show incredible surrender. Are we ready to just take an order, no matter what? That is why I am saying that when we read this, hear this, and when we meet Brahmananda then we see so much love for Prabhupada and so much faith in Prabhupada and such conviction and dedication to Prabhupada. It is like inconceivable… extraordinary!
This is the most wonderful thing because we cannot approach Krsna directly. Nobody can. We have to approach him through his devotee and there is a chain of devotees. We approach devotees and they approach devotees. Prabhupada gave Krsna consciousness to us in a way that we can fit it in our modern life. If we would have to go back to traditional India, could we do it? Could we live that simple? Could we live that austere like the sadhus who were living before in India or even right now? I mean, could we? It would be very tough, very austere. Simply chant all day? Could we do it? Sixteen rounds and even during the sixteen rounds we think of so many other things to do. Send some SMSs (text messages) in-between and do anything but chanting. The mind wants to do anything but chanting. Then you think, “Oh! This is important. This, I have to do right away.” Any opportunity to interrupt our chanting, that is natural to us. So these points are there.
For us, everything has been simplified. So we understand that Brahmananda is an intimate associate of Srila Prabhupada. There is no doubt about it, not an ordinary person at all. Therefore, I tell everyone, I will tell you also, that he lives in Vrindavan and he likes it when devotees come to visit him. He likes it very much. It is not that you cannot see him, that he is too big a devotee to see. Not at all. That is not Brahmananda at all. He is happy to see any devotee. He is very personal and interested in devotees.
So after Pakistan, Srila Prabhupada sent Brahmananda to Africa. He gave him some time in Bombay to take a deep breath and then he said, “Hmmm… yes, now that you have done this, I think you should go to Africa.” That was the next assignment. At that time, he was in charge of all of Africa, of all the preaching in Africa; even South Africa was also under Brahmananda.
Although he could not come here, visa issues and that, he made arrangements for South Africa. And he made arrangements to start preaching in Kenya. Later he also went to Nigeria. Nigeria, he said, was totally different – people were so interested. In Kenya, it was tough but Nigeria, it really took off even then, foreboding what was to come.
So therefore, we should all go see Brahmananda. I have sent many devotees there. Sometimes, like last time, he was giving a lecture and I did not know about it and then I heard so I came late. So, I kind of ran in and I was just in time. He had already started. He just stopped the lecture and said, “Some of your boys came!”
He likes that. He remembers everybody… big man, big heart! He likes to embrace many people and therefore can take interest in the life of many. Such wonderful devotees. Yeah, so we need the blessing of these devotees, the blessing of the vaisnavas. We should not be shy.