During Kadamba Kanana Swami’s visit to the UK (10-17 June), Bhakta Nandan very diligently made notes during Maharaj’s classes and informal conversations with disciples. The content was too good not to share so here is Part One for you!
By Bhakta Nandan
From the airport, Maharaj along with his merry band of disciples arrived at the house (10 June). After a bit of conversing, it was inevitable that Maharaj would soon steer the subject towards Brahmananda Prabhu who had just recently passed away and was one of the pivotal members in setting up ISKCON.
It was obvious that Maharaj had a deep reverence, love and friendship with Brahmananda Prabhu and he recalled that no one had such absorption in always remembering Srila Prabhupada, twenty-four hours a day as did Brahmananda Prabhu.
For the next few hours, Maharaj just started glorifying Brahmananda Prabhu nonstop – his life, his achievements, his qualities and everything in between. It was truly wonderful to behold.
Maharaj explained how Brahmananda Prabhu was a phenomenon – one of a kind. With his huge kapha body, he remembered everything like an elephant. Not only was he one of the first leaders in ISKCON, he was also Srila Prabhupada’s secretary up until Srila Prabhupada had left the planet.
He was an extremely knowledgeable person and had, in recent years, accumulated vast knowledge with precise details about the life of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and the history of the Gaudiya Math institution.
Maharaj then started talking about the history of Brahmananda Prabhu’s own life. In 1964, his father had arranged a job for him on a ship to India. He loved it. He got sandals and lungi. He even learnt how to smoke beedies satvically, without touching the lips! Of course, when he went back to America, he lived around the corner on Sixth Street in those early days. In many ways, it was obvious he was a good candidate for Krsna consciousness. He did dissertations on Gandhi and talked about the demigods Ganesh and Shiva in oral presentations. For him it was all about, “India! India! India!”
When someone had asked Brahmananda Prabhu, when was the first time Srila Prabhupada touched his heart, he replied that it was with the very first time he saw him. It was obvious to Maharaj that Brahmananda Prabhu was dry grass from the start, waiting for the fire of bhakti to ignite.
Maharaj then stated how personal Brahmananda Prabhu was. He always knew who Maharaj was. The manner in which Maharaj said this was so sweet, almost like a star-struck kid – kind of similar to how Maharaj’s own disciples look at Maharaj these days! In 2002, Brahmananda Prabhu had even come up to Maharaj saying, “So you’re gonna be a Guru, huh?” Coming from Brahmananda Prabhu, who was Srila Prabhupada’s right hand man, this was incredibly overwhelming. When Tamal Krsna Maharaj had just left the planet, Maharaj was standing outside the gate of Mayapur with Brahmananda Prabhu waiting for Tamal Krsna Maharaj’s body to arrive. For hours, they were just conversing. Brahmananda Prabhu mentioned that this is not just the end of Tamal Krsna Goswami as a person but the end of an era. Now, so many years later, Maharaj admitted he felt the same for Brahmananda Prabhu. It is actually the end of an era; no one had a relationship with Srila Prabhupada like he did.
Maharaj then recalled how Srila Prabhupada sent Brahmananda Prabhu to Pakistan and Gargamuni to East Pakistan. Brahmananda Prabhu was in Pakistan with dhoti and tilak. Of course, the citizens were rather hostile and constantly trying to wipe off his tilak but he was in the mood of Haridas Thakur – tolerating and chanting Hare Krsna, amazing determination and loyalty to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions!
Shortly after, he went to Africa. Brahmananda Prabhu was the first in so many things; for example in Nigeria and Kenya. He had a finger in everything. Soon, he became a strong university preaching man, this was ideal for him. He was a man with a strong brain – kapha brain, slow but deep.
Maharaj then reminisced that in front of Brahmananda Prabhu, everyone felt like their love was being kindled. Bhakti Madhurya Swami said that he was not just famous now; he was a legend even back then. Mukunda Goswami was in the first batch of devotees and he got preaching going in San Francisco, New York and London. No doubt, this was hugely substantial but then Mukunda Goswami went more into the background and Brahmananda Prabhu came to the fore. Of course, he was a wrestler so hardly anyone disagreed with him but he was extremely warm as well. Maharaj then started remembering how he used to do collection tours for Vrindavana in the US. By this time, Brahamananda Prabhu was somewhat retired from active service in ISKCON, but in New York he would be there in his black dungarees and would still want to know in complete detail what Maharaj was doing. It was no good simply saying, “I’m just preaching.” He wanted a fully comprehensive, detailed report. This was Brahmananda.
Shortly after Maharaj shared his realizations on Brahmananda Prabhu, Maharaj and the rest of the party made their way to the kitchen for some evening prasadam. Dinner conversation continued to revolve around Brahmananda Prabhu. Krsna Kirtan Prabhu read out aloud a beautiful tribute to Brahmananda Prabhu by Jayapataka Maharaj. Gradually, the conversation started shifting onto other great devotees within the movement. Maharaj talked about the time he met Mukunda Goswami in Australia. He observed how Mukunda Goswami had become more reclusive compared to his younger days. On one hand, this is to be expected but Maharaj then started reflecting on whether advancement in spiritual life leads onto one becoming more reclusive or introverted. He had asked Mukunda Goswami this question and he seemed to think so.
Maharaj then asked Sutapa Prabhu, what he thought. It was fitting that Sutapa Prabhu was asked this question since amongst the devotees present, he was one of the most senior of Maharaj’s disciples. All the other devotees were rapt in attention. Sutapa Prabhu replied that he did not necessarily agree because often when one grows in responsibility, one is forced to become an extrovert. Then Maharaj counter argued by saying it can also be the other way around! But, Maharaj also added in, there are highly advanced devotees who seemed extroverts; for example, Jayapataka Maharaj and Indradyumna Maharaj. For those present, it was fascinating to watch this verbal tennis match between Guru and disciple.
Maharaj then started defining extroverts and introverts, noting that extroverts tend to get their energy in crowds. So, for example, Jayapataka Maharaj will be happy if there were twenty people in the room, he would be joyous if there were two hundred people, he would be ecstatic if there were two thousand people and would be positively in his element if he was speaking to a crowd of twenty thousand people! Maharaj then confessed that in that situation, he would probably just want to disappear!
By this time, it was getting rather late into the night and Maharaj was really just sharing his thoughts on various aspects of life with his disciples. The mood was quite intimate and relaxed. It was interesting because Maharaj was sitting on the floor with one leg outstretched, the other leg pressed up against his chest. One arm was resting on the knee of the pressed up leg and the other arm was outstretched behind him. The interesting part was that on the wall, directly above Maharaj, was a picture of Srila Prabhupada sitting in exactly the same pose. Judging from Srila Prabhupada’s smiling face, it also seemed to be one of those intimate, relaxed moments Srila Prabhupada was sharing with his disciples! The parampara continues in more ways than one!
Maharaj then spoke on the ‘60s and how ISKCON developed in the midst of the counterculture. Going on Maharaj’s vyasa puja lecture earlier this year, it is evident that Maharaj is in no way sentimental about that period and certainly does not subscribe to the “good old days” mentality. However, saying that, Maharaj did express some appreciation for that period. Maharaj asserted that in those days, the devotees were real free thinkers with seriously original thoughts. At this point, Sutapa Prabhu mentioned Blazing Saddhus by Acyutananda Prabhu. It was well written, with a strong, psychedelic, “out-there” feel to it. Maharaj knew of this book and made the astute observation that for Acyutananda Prabhu, the ‘60s and Krsna consciousness went together. Actually for many devotees, the ‘60s was synonymous with coming into the Hare Krsnas. It was a seamless progression from trying to elevate your consciousness through psychedelic paraphernalia through to natural, spiritual processes.
But there were also many devotees at the time for whom Krsna consciousness meant something different from the ‘60s. It meant, one had to extricate themselves from the ‘60s thing’ and then take to Krsna consciousness – almost like a fresh start. For Maharaj, the ‘60s was maya and Krsna consciousness was something altogether different. The ‘60s was a time when Maharaj would visit a tea house near his home town in Holland called the Electric Centre. Everyone, everyone was off their faces on drugs at this place. Just to add to the surrealism of this place, they were live tropical birds flying around inside this tea house. It was all about hippies, breaking all the taboos and singing, “Why don’t we do it in the road!?” Maharaj then humorously added that they did “do it” on the road! All the devotees burst out laughing.
Shortly after the Electric Centre period, Maharaj went off backpacking to India. When he came back, the Electric Centre had become zero. It became all Indian: white yoga pants, colourful neck beads etc. It was all over for Maharaj by that point. Krsna had already pulled him in.
Shortly afterward, Maharaj called it a day and the devotees left thoroughly satisfied and looking forward to what would be a great week ahead