Jul 252020

An interview with Giriraj Swami by the ISKCON Strategic Planning Office, July 9, 2020, via Facebook.

Gauranga Dasa: Hare Krishna. We welcome all the devotees who have joined this weekly care conversation, Vaishnava seva. This week we are very honored to have with us His Holiness Giriraj Swami Maharaja. We welcome His Holiness Giriraj Swami Maharaja, who is one of the most senior of Prabhupada’s disciples. He was very active on the GBC, and was one of the founders of ISKCON India, especially the Juhu temple. He spent many, many years serving Srila Prabhupada very closely, and has hundreds of remembrances of Srila Prabhupada, and he is just about to publish his book about the Juhu ISKCON temple.

Today our topic is “Srila Prabhupada as an Embodiment of Devotee Care.” So, thank you, Maharaja, for joining us. I would like to begin by asking, from your experiences with Srila Prabhupada, could you share any anecdote or exchanges in which he demonstrated care for the body or concern for the devotees’ health?

Giriraj Swami: There are a number of instances, some involving me and some involving others. One notable one involved Yamuna Devi from after the first Delhi pandal, at Dalmia Bhavan, which she describes in Yamuna Devi: A Life of Unalloyed Devotion:

“[I]t was a very crowded situation—perhaps ten to fifteen of us in one room—and the only place free was the bottom shelf in one of the walk-in closets. We had all of our paraphernalia piled up, and I was in a sleeping bag down on the bottom shelf. Srila Prabhupada noticed I was missing, and I was later told that he had inquired many times where I was.

“One day I became aware of the door being opened, and I turned to see Srila Prabhupada’s lotus feet walking into that closet room. . . .  He placed his hand on my head and inquired, ‘Yamuna? How are you doing?’ Firstly I said, ‘I am always thinking of you, Srila Prabhupada.’ Then I explained my symptoms, and he said, ‘I think this is jaundice . . .  Now I will take charge of your recovery. You will never get well in these conditions on the floor.’

“Srila Prabhupada had a hospital bed brought in for me and moved me into a room right next to his, with floor-to-ceiling windows, neem trees outside, and a fan. And I remember being propped up in this bed, and he came in every day to check on my progress.

“He also called in an Ayurvedic doctor and gave me a diet for jaundice. He said I had to take something called petha, a wax gourd or a white kind of pumpkin taken raw. It’s covered in a thick layer of caramelized sugar, so to me it looked like a ghastly thing to eat. Srila Prabhupada said, ‘This is your medicine. You have to eat it every day; and you also have to drink sugarcane juice.’ So, I remember the first time I took a bite of petha; it tasted like the most bitter, horrible thing because, of the jaundice. Srila Prabhupada would personally stand and watch me eat the petha, and he would actually smile and chuckle.”

So, that was an example from her experience. I have a small example from mine. We were in Juhu, and I used to go to the city all day long and come back at night and report to Srila Prabhupada. One evening after a long day in the city, having, as usual, traveled there and back in the crowded trains and to and from the train station in a crowded bus and not having had anything to eat since morning, I staggered up to Prabhupada’s room, exhausted.

Prabhupada looked at me and asked, “How are you feeling?”

Only then did I notice how weak and sick I was. “Well, frankly speaking, Srila Prabhupada,” I replied, “I feel a little tired.”

He already knew, and he immediately ordered grapes for me. He said that they were good for strength and energy. Then he insisted that I eat the grapes in his presence, and after a minute or two he asked if I was feeling stronger. And yes, I was. “To work very hard for Krishna for two days,” he concluded, “and then to recuperate for three days¾that is not a very good proposal.”

Another time, he encouraged me to dress better. He told me, “There is a saying: ‘One who is known as a brahman doesn’t have to wear a thread.’ People know you, and they also like you, but still, you should dress more nicely.”

Gauranga Dasa: Thank you, Maharaja, for sharing these beautiful stories about Srila Prabhupada’s care and concern and his demonstrating so much personal interest in helping devotees remain physically fit.

Of course, as you know, the temples have been created specifically for giving spiritual nourishment, but at times it may also happen that one does not understand the importance of what we are receiving, and one may become complacent about it, specifically with respect to spiritual care—for example, the chanting, the study of books, and attending the spiritual programs.

Could you share any of your memories of Srila Prabhupada emphasizing spiritual care? “Physician, heal thyself.” As devotees, we should be spiritually nourished, and then we can help others.

Giriraj Swami: Srila Prabhupada was constantly instructing us on the importance of sadhana, and he set the example, not only under ordinary circumstances, but also in extraordinary conditions.

One example was at the Kumbha-mela in 1971. We were living in tents, and Srila Prabhupada was also living in a tent, maybe a little bigger one with some furniture and probably a heater. We were expected to get up at four in the morning to bathe and attend mangala-arati, but it was so cold that we preferred to stay [on]{in} our sleeping bags rather than come out and face that biting cold air. Consequently, we were missing mangala-arati.

Prabhupada knew how important mangala-arati and the rest of the morning program was for us, and when he noticed that some of us were coming late and some were not coming at all, he became very upset. So, one morning, even though he was somewhat frail in health, he got up at four o’clock and came out in his gamcha, a thin cotton towel wrapped around his waist, sat down under the hand pump, and took an ice-cold bath—just to encourage us to get up, bathe, and go to mangala-arati. His action had a profound effect on all of us, and we felt so ashamed that from that morning on, we just couldn’t sleep late anymore.

Still, it was freezing out, and most of us continued to struggle with rising early, taking bath with the cold water from the pumps, and reaching the pandal in time for mangala-arati. Our pujari, Nanda Kumar, struggled along with the rest of us. He wore gloves to keep his hands from going numb, but one morning, no matter how hard he tried, he just could not light the ghee lamp to offer to the Deities. Cold gusts kept blowing out the matches before they reached the wicks, and when a lit match did manage to reach them, the wind would blow out either the match or some of the flames before all the wicks were lit. Nanda Kumar tried again and again to shield the matches and wicks with one hand while lighting them with the other, but he just couldn’t manage to do it.

Watching the futile exercise, Prabhupada urged Nanda Kumar to execute the task. One or two other devotees came forward to help, but they too were unsuccessful. Finally, in a mood of resignation born of frustration, but with profound spiritual realization, Prabhupada uttered,

harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha

“In this Age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means for self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari.” (Brhan-naradiya Purana 38.126)

We all knew how seriously Prabhupada took Deity worship. He understood that the Deity was Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Himself. And he was strict that his followers maintain the proper standard of worship as defined for us by guru and shastra. Still, in Kali-yuga, ultimately, harer namaiva kevalam.

Gauranga Dasa: Thank you, Maharaja. Related to this topic, you were witness to the care that Srila Prabhupada demonstrated in protecting Sri Sri Radha-Rasabihariji. Typically, we find that as the number of devotees of ISKCON is growing across the world, people may think that having a temple and Deities is normal, that it’s just one more temple opening and one more set of Deities. We just get the deities ordered and installed. But based on your experience with Srila Prabhupada during those days in Juhu and especially with Sri Sri Radha-Rasabihari, could you throw some light on what kind of care Srila Prabhupada demonstrated with respect to his relationship with those Deities and some of the challenges you faced in that period?

Giriraj Swami: Before Juhu, we were living in a posh apartment called Akash Ganga on Bhulabhai Desai Road, Warden Road, overlooking the sea. And then when we got the Juhu land, Srila Prabhupada naturally wanted us to bring the Deities. But although we had entered into an agreement to purchase the land, it was owned by one Mr. A. B. Nair, who was a demon. Once, in New Dvaraka, Los Angeles, I gave a class about what happened in Juhu, and afterwards His Grace Virabahu Prabhu told me, “I usually don’t like it when devotees use the word demon to describe people, but after hearing your description, I agree: Nair was actually a demon.” Nair was trying to cheat Srila Prabhupada, taking money from him and eventually, on some pretext, cancelling the agreement, keeping the money, and sending us away. But Srila Prabhupada understood that “possession is nine-tenths of the law” and how important it would be for us to maintain possession by having the Deities. And he made a promise to Them, “My dear Sir, You just come and sit here and I will build You a temple.” I took that statement for the title of my forthcoming book: “I’ll Build You a Temple.” And he did.

But all along he took great care to see that the Deities were worshipped properly. At Juhu, the Deities were first worshipped in a large and opulent hired pandal, but thereafter Nara Narayan and his wife, Dinadayadri, constructed a small and simple yet festive pandal-like structure. And on a wood-plank platform were the Deities.

To protect the Deities and Their paraphernalia, a devotee stood guard all night, but one night the devotee on duty fell asleep and some thieves slipped under the canvas and stole the Deities’ crowns and flute. There was no door—the pandal was really just a tent—so the robbers had just come in, stepped over the sleeping brahmachari, taken the flute and crowns, and left.

When Prabhupada heard about the incident, he wrote me, “I have got some reports that the Deities in Bombay are being much neglected. This is most abominable affair. Radha and Krishna should not ever be neglected or left unprotected, so I am wondering what you have done to rectify this situation. I have heard that Madhudvisa intervened to get the Deities a better place, so he has done nicely.”

My mind was reeling. I was shaken to the core that Prabhupada had criticized me so severely, saying that the Deities were neglected and calling the situation abominable. Still, I tried to maintain my spirit and formulate a proper reply. “You are so merciful to take the time to chastise this useless soul,” I wrote. “My sluggishness and thoughtlessness are very shameful, and worst of all, before receiving your letter, I was so unconscious of them. But your absolute mercy is such that your chastisement is as good as your blessings. So I pray that my determination and enthusiasm shall not be shaken in trying to follow your instructions.

“As far as the Deities are concerned, from what I heard from Madhudvisa Maharaja, at the time of shifting the Deities the finishing touches on Nara Narayan’s pandal had not been completed, plus the pandal throne itself was not very pukka. But now highly decorative cloth has been put on the sides of the Deities’ house, and for Their protection we have had all-day watch by devotees, and three men sleeping around the Deities at night. Soon the new structure should be up, and until then we shall have all-night awake watch for the Deities, beginning tonight. The Deity room in the Khandelwal structure will be pukka, brick and sheets, with locking door. Right now there is {a} problem of dust dirtying the Deity house, because the sides are open to wind, but the pujaris are very devoted, and in addition to big sewing work I have given a list of prospective donors for Deity things to one of our ladies.” (The Khandelwal structure was to be constructed with Khandelwal steel tubes, manufactured by a dear friend and supporter, the pious and prominent industrialist Biharilal Khandelwal.)

Prabhupada replied later that month: “I am glad to see that all of the programs are going on nicely, especially that the Deities are being cared for again properly. Now you give our ladies full facilities and help them by giving them money and other things wherever required by them so that our Deity program will not be lacking.”

I wrote back, “The Deity program is expanding, and nearly every day a new item appears on the altar. The Deities’ lotus has returned, dipped in silver. And the girls have arranged to purchase marble for the altar. Madri Dasi and others have already got three nice donations for Their Lordships. When the Deities are moved into Their new home, we will feel very relieved and encouraged.”

Prabhupada wrote that I should buy a safe and keep the Deities’ jewelry secured—it wasn’t real jewelry, but people might have thought it was. And he gave many detailed instructions about how to protect the Deities and Their paraphernalia.

Gauranga Dasa: Often devotees feel that the main aspect of Krishna consciousness is taking care of one’s spiritual sadhana—even to some extent taking care of the body. But they may feel that the mental or emotional aspects of one’s life may not be so directly important in the progress of spiritual life, because so many of our great acharyas and mahajanas in our sampradaya performed so many austerities, showing the way by their spiritual tapasya or spiritual progress.

So, at this point I would request you to share some of Srila Prabhupada’s pastimes or Prabhupada’s emphasis on mental and emotional care for the devotees and how important it is with respect to our progress in spiritual life. And if yes, then how is this emotional care connected to our spiritual life and spiritual progress, because it looks like spiritual life is a standalone element where the holy name is there, the holy name enters your heart, and then your progress is very much dependent on that. So where do you factor in this emotional element, and what has been your experience with Srila Prabhupada on this matter?

Giriraj Swami: As far as emotional care, I would translate that into how Srila Prabhupada protected us, or cared for us, and protected us from becoming discouraged.

I’ll give a little example. There were a lot of complications regarding establishing the Juhu temple, because of Nair and his accomplices. So, at one stage I would go to the city almost every day, which was quite far, to work on getting the permission to build the temple. And Srila Prabhupada was so concerned about getting the permit that he didn’t want to leave Bombay until we got it. And so he stayed in Bombay for three months, speaking every evening about the teachings of Lord Kapila to Devahuti, and his talks were eventually compiled into a book.

Usually I would return just in time to take some prasada and attend the kirtan and class. And Prabhupada was so concerned about the work that sometimes he would call me to the vyasasana during the program and ask for the news. But he also wanted us to be happy in Krishna consciousness. So, one evening during the program he announced from the vyasasana, “You must always dance in kirtan—even if you don’t get the permission.”

Another example: For some time we didn’t have a proper place for Srila Prabhupada in Juhu, and so he would stay at different life members’ homes in the city. So, in 1973, when he was staying in Kartikeya Mahadevia’s flat at Sea Face Park, I would meet him every evening and give him a report about my day’s activities.

Every day, all day, I would go out into the city and meet with people. When approaching prospective contributors, if someone didn’t want to become a life member, I would ask him to take an advertisement in a publication. If he didn’t want to take an ad, I would ask him to buy a set of books. If he didn’t buy a set of books, I would ask him to give a donation, or at least buy one book, or at least give something to help. And in the evening I would go report to Prabhupada about my preaching.

At the end of one day, I felt particularly discouraged. I’d gone to many people, but most of them had refused to meet me and the one or two I had met were not interested in helping. Not one person had contributed in any way. When I explained this to Prabhupada, he said, “Don’t be discouraged. If you sincerely try your best to please Krishna, Krishna will be satisfied—even if others are not.”

I considered Prabhupada’s words. The people I had met may not have been satisfied, and so they had not contributed. And even the devotees may not have been satisfied, since I had not achieved any desired results. But if Krishna was satisfied, what else mattered? I understood that if I sincerely tried to serve Krishna without any other motivation, Krishna would be pleased, regardless of the results.

So, I would say that a very important part of Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual protection was that he always encouraged us, no matter what was happening.

Even with the Juhu land, when there were so many complications and we weren’t getting the permission to build, Srila Prabhupada said, “If necessary, we can simply make Hare Krishna Land into a bus stop. We can have many buses for distributing our literature, and those buses can go traveling and distributing books, and they can come back to Hare Krishna Land, the bus stop, and the devotees can spend a few days and become rejuvenated and get more books and then go out again.”

So, he was always encouraging.

Gauranga Dasa: Thank you so much, Maharaja. It is really heartening to hear about Srila Prabhupada’s mood of encouraging devotees. Now, from ’77, if you compare the situation today, the number of congregation devotees has grown exponentially and ISKCON has become largely a congregation-based organization. So the very future stability and growth and spiritual strength of ISKCON very much rest upon the health of the grihastha ashrama. So, I would request you to share some of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions or demonstrations of care for the grihastha ashrama, or how the husband and wife should stay in a Krishna conscious setting, and how you saw Srila Prabhupada demonstrate care for the grihasthas.

Giriraj Swami: He very much emphasized that couples should not separate. There was a nice Bengali lady in Bombay who was having a very difficult time with her husband. She was a sort of devotee, and she appealed to Srila Prabhupada to give her permission to leave her husband. She didn’t mention divorce; she just asked for his permission to separate. And Srila Prabhupada refused. He was adamant that she remain with her husband.

In general, Prabhupada insisted that there was no divorce in Krishna consciousness, and he was concerned that the householders were able to maintain themselves. Now, during Srila Prabhupada’s time, pretty much all the devotees were temple devotees, meaning they lived in the temple and were maintained by the temple. But Srila Prabhupada had a concern that they shouldn’t take advantage of the temple; he wanted them to be responsible. He said that we could maintain householders if they were doing essential service, and he defined essential service as something we would have to pay someone else to do if the devotee wasn’t doing it. Under those circumstances we could maintain them. Otherwise, he wanted them to be responsible and maintain themselves; he didn’t want them to take advantage of the temple facility.

It is an odd way of looking at care in the sense that he wasn’t caring for them physically, but he was caring for them spiritually: he didn’t want them to take undue advantage of Krishna’s property and facilities.

But as a rule, on Hare Krishna Land Prabhupada didn’t allow the couples to stay together. He said that Hare Krishna Land was really for renounced, maybe older, householders. So, anyway, he would regularly check on how the space on the property was being used, and I would have to go one by one and tell him who was staying in each room. So, in one room I had put or allowed a householder couple to stay together, and Srila Prabhupada asked me why I had done that, because as a rule he didn’t want that. So, I mentioned the devotee’s name and said that I wanted to save him, because otherwise he was drifting further and further away. Srila Prabhupada replied, “In that way, if you are ready to give householders a room to stay together, with a fan, and food and everything else, the whole city of Bombay will come to be saved, and then what will you do?”

Of course, Prabhupada wanted to save every disciple, but he also wanted us to uphold certain principles that governed how we accommodated devotees—as you were asking about householders and how we would engage them.

There were a few cases involving householders whom Srila Prabhupada wanted to be responsible and not depend on the temple, and one interesting case was Ambarisa dasa, Alfred Ford. Ambarisa dasa came to Juhu and was my preaching assistant for a while; I used to take him to meet people. And before leaving Juhu, he had a serious meeting with Prabhupada about his future, and I happened to be present.

Prabhupada told Ambarisa that he wanted him to work. Almost all the devotees in ISKCON were full-time: they lived in the temple and were engaged in serving the mission. But to Ambarisa, Prabhupada said that he wanted people to see that one could be a devotee and still be a responsible member of society.

“Must I work with the Ford Motor Company?” Ambarisa asked.

“No,” Prabhupada replied. “That is your choice, but you should do some work. People should see that you are doing some work.”

“If I am working,” Ambarisa inquired, “what will I do for association?”

“If while you are working you are thinking, ‘I am doing this for Krishna,’ ” Prabhupada said, “that will be your association.”

Of course, association with devotees is essential, and as far as possible householders should have a morning and evening program. As Srila Prabhupada said—of course it’s in context—first best is to live in the temple, second best is to live near the temple and come to the temple every day, and next best is to turn your home into a temple. He definitely wanted the householders to have their spiritual programs in the temple or at home.

Gauranga Dasa: Thank you, Maharaja, for sharing your realizations. Just an added point is that many of the examples you quoted were of full-time devotees of those times, but then you also saw Srila Prabhupada interact with existing householders within the Indian society. What was Srila Prabhupada’s recommendation to them; how would he guide those who already had their own employment or business?

Giriraj Swami: He would encourage them to come to the temple, but mainly he would encourage them to do service, and for many of the householders that meant giving laksmi. Srila Prabhupada didn’t often ask for money personally, but he would talk about the principle, even the principle of householders giving 50 percent. And so he would encourage the householders to do service by contributing financially, and according to their ability, he would ask them to serve the mission.

One of Srila Prabhupada’s most prominent householder devotees in Bombay was Mr. P. L. Sethi, who was a building contractor, and Srila Prabhupada engaged him in the construction in Juhu, first in building an additional floor on the top of the six tenement buildings at the back of Hare Krishna Land, and Prabhupada told Mr. Sethi—this was part of Prabhupada’s care for his disciples—that they should have proper accommodations and that it is one of the duties of the spiritual master to see that his disciples have proper accommodations. So, he engaged Mr. Sethi in that building work, and when the first building was done, Mr. Sethi took Srila Prabhupada on a tour. Srila Prabhupada wanted to see the facility. And Srila Prabhupada was so pleased with Mr. Sethi for creating this facility for his disciples that he said, “Just as you are building these rooms for my disciples here, Krishna will be preparing your room for you in Vaikuntha.” And Mr. Sethi said, “I’m a sinful man”—which he wasn’t—“I’m a sinful man; how can I go to Vaikuntha?” And Prabhupada said, “You don’t worry about that. I’ll manage that.”

Gauranga Dasa: Thank you so much, Maharaja. We see that children are the future of the society, so with respect to ISKCON, how did Srila Prabhupada envisage the role for children, and what was Srila Prabhupada’s vision with respect to caring for children in the movement?

Giriraj Swami: Most of the devotees who joined ISKCON during Srila Prabhupada’s time were quite young and not many were even married, and then the ones who did get married didn’t have children for a while. And then, in the West, there were many children. But one child that we had in India was Saraswati, the daughter of Shyamasundar and Malati, and Srila Prabhupada was very affectionate toward her. There was one incident, not in Bombay, when the devotees were making a large quantity of chutney for a big feast for many guests. Somehow Saraswati fell into the pot of chutney, and all the devotees were so worried about the chutney, but Prabhupada was worried about Saraswati. He was always very personal and caring.

In Los Angeles after Deity greeting, he would have a plate of cookies for the children brought to him, and you can see videos of him giving cookies to the children. In Juhu we didn’t have devotee children, but we had tenants on the property, and they had children. Madhudvisa Prabhu, later assisted by Gargamuni Prabhu, would have informal classes for the children of the tenants, and Srila Prabhupada was very pleased with that program. He considered the gurukula program important, and before he left Bombay he told us that we should develop it. As it was, many of the children would attend the evening program in the pandal with their parents, and some would attend mangala-arati. Prabhupada even had us schedule mangala-arati a little later than in our other temples, to make it easier for the neighbors to attend. He said that the whole area surrounding Hare Krishna Land was “a pious quarter” and that he wanted us to do whatever we could to maintain a school for the local children. The children learned our regulative principles and how to offer food to Krishna. And at home, if their parents prepared any of the forbidden items, some of the children would ask why and tell them that it was not good. Some parents were embarrassed by this, however, and it became a source of tension.

Sumati Morarji, Srila Prabhupada’s old friend and the head of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company—who had contributed funds for the printing of Prabhupada’s Srimad-Bhagavatam in India and later had given him free passage to America on one of her ships—who lived nearby, was running her own school not far from us, but she was not attracting a sufficient number of students, so she sent a representative from her school to ask if they could distribute circulars to friends and visitors at our pandal and to invite me to meet with her to discuss various matters. I agreed to meet her, and I wrote Srila Prabhupada about her proposal.

But Prabhupada envisioned establishing our own proper Krishna conscious school. A week later, he wrote me from Sydney: “As soon as possible we should open our own school and teach children Krishna consciousness through English medium—that is one of our programs. Our school will not be government recognized, because we cannot follow the government syllabus. We want to teach only Krishna consciousness. . . . I know many parents are eager to educate their wards through English medium. If we can introduce this system, our girl disciples may be engaged for teaching them: a little English grammar, reading and writing, geography, arithmetic, history, Sanskrit, but all of them should be Krishna conscious—that is the Bhagavata program:

kaumara acaret prajno
dharman bhagavatan iha”

I replied, “Madhudvisa Swami and Gargamuni Swami have been leading classes for children from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. About 50–100 children come daily to learn prayers, kirtan, japa, and philosophy. They can be seen with tilak, neck beads, and their hands in their bead bags, not only in class but also outside.”

“I am very much pleased about the children’s classes,” Prabhupada wrote back. “These are very, very important programs, so let it go on nicely, even if Madhudvisa leaves there.” He wrote to Gargamuni, “In the absence of Madhudvisa, you take charge of the school.” And ten days later, he wrote to Gargamuni, “If you leave Bombay, make sure the school is in very capable hands such as yours, because this program is very, very important.”

That was the beginning of gurukula in India in an informal way, and the establishment of gurukulas was a very important part of Srila Prabhupada’s program—a way that he expressed his care for children. And he didn’t want parents to neglect their children in the name of service, or for the sake of service. He wrote to a new mother who was engaged in Deity worship, “For you, child-worship is more important than Deity-worship. If you cannot spend time with him, then stop the duties of pujari. At least you must take good care of your son until he is four years old . . . These children are given to us by Krishna. They are Vaishnavas, and we must be very careful to protect them. These are not ordinary children, they are Vaikuntha children, and we are very fortunate we can give them the chance to advance further in Krishna consciousness. That is a very great responsibility, do not neglect it or be confused. Your duty is very clear.” (Letter July 30, 1972)

Of course, it’s good that devotees are enthusiastic to do service, and I believe that in New Vrindaban Srila Prabhupada suggested an arrangement by which one mother could look after the children while the other mothers were engaged in service. So, that was good that the mothers were engaged in service, but he didn’t want the children neglected in any way. He took great care to make sure that the children were cared for.

Gauranga Dasa: Thank you so much, Maharaja, for sharing your experiences on Prabhupada and child care. I want to now take the topic towards the history of that period when all of you were joining. In those days it was quite common for youth, especially in the West, to drop out of colleges and join various movements and things like that. But now, as we see society, families are very concerned about education and employment and career and things like that, so based on that period when you saw Srila Prabhupada interacting with various devotees and with various families and youth, what is your understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s perspective on education and career and employment, considering what the world is today and considering the expectations of society and family? Could you shed some light on that aspect?

Giriraj Swami: In my own case, I was toward the end of my senior year in the university when I met Srila Prabhupada and joined the temple. I asked the devotees whether I should continue my studies and graduate or not, and the devotees said, “You should continue and get your degree. It could be useful in the future.” I never married and never had a career, but I think it was good that, with a little effort, I got a degree.

Later, Srila Prabhupada wrote me, “I beg to enclose herewith one letter I have received from your father, which will speak for itself. From this letter it appears that you are a good scholar and there is very good background in your educational career. So if you wish to make progress further in your educational career, that will be a nice asset for our Krishna consciousness movement. You have a taste for psychology and divinity studies, and this is very nice. Of course, our Krishna consciousness movement is on the line of divinity, and we have got so many books about the science of divinity. Unfortunately, these books are not yet in the university curriculum, but if you take your postgraduate studies in divinity by comparative study, then in the future we shall be able to present the philosophy of Krishna consciousness in comparison to other theological presentations. Actually, we are teaching the science of God; we are teaching how to develop our dormant propensity to love God. Being parts and parcels of the Supreme, we have got an eternal affinity to love God. Unfortunately, by our contact with matter we have practically forgotten that we are eternally related with God. In our Krishna consciousness philosophy there is no question of sectarian views. Krishna consciousness is the postgraduate study of all religious conceptions of the world. I like the idea that you should make a thorough study of all theological schools, and in the future if you can explain our Krishna consciousness movement as the postgraduate presentation of all theological theses, then it will be a great accomplishment. You are a grown-up boy and intelligent also, so you make your position clear and do the needful.” (Letter dated July 10, 1969)

I didn’t know whether Srila Prabhupada was instructing me to do that or giving me the choice. I consulted my temple president, Satsvarupa dasa, and he also didn’t know, so he said that I should clarify with Srila Prabhupada. So I wrote Srila Prabhupada, “If you want me to go back to the university I will, but if you are giving me the choice I would rather stay in the temple and worship the Deities and go on sankirtana with the other devotees.” And Srila Prabhupada wrote back, “When Lord Chaitanya was discussing with Ramananda Roy ‘who is the best educated man,’ the answer was that a person who is in Krishna consciousness is the topmost educated man. Similarly, Prahlada Maharaja stated before his father that one who has taken to Krishna consciousness is supposed to be the best educated man. In Srimad-Bhagavatam also it is said that unless a man is Krishna conscious, his external advancement of knowledge has no value. On the other hand, any person who is on the platform of Krishna consciousness is supposed to have acquired all the good qualities of the demigods. So your present engagement is very nice; neither I think that you can be better educated in the universities. . . . I think therefore that in all circumstances you should steadfastly continue your Krishna conscious engagement, rather than joining any more universities.” (Letter dated July 21, 1969)

When I proceeded from Boston to India, I happened to leave behind the earlier letter in which Prabhupada spoke about establishing Krishna consciousness as the postgraduate study of all theological conceptions, and Satsvarupa Maharaja shared that letter with Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu, who took it as an instruction to him, or direction for him, and he did go back to the university and got his PhD.

So, it’s an individual matter. Of course, the context now is quite different from when Srila Prabhupada was present, and I hesitate to presume what Srila Prabhupada would say in the present context, but I would say that if one wants to, it is certainly a valid course of action to pursue one’s studies and then a career as long as one is able to maintain Krishna consciousness. So, yes, of course that’s fine, but we shouldn’t get so carried away with our studies and our careers that we neglect our Krishna consciousness.

Gauranga Dasa: Thank you very much, Maharaja. The next question is connected to financial care, because you know that it is important for anyone to live in this world, especially in the grihastha ashrama, and ultimately the grihastha ashrama is the one that supports the other ashramas. So, what was Srila Prabhupada’s perspective on financial care, and I would also request you to share the story from Calcutta when you went to the Birlas’ house in a very unique manner and then got the first major donation for the Mayapur construction.

Giriraj Swami: Srila Prabhupada said that money is the honey. There was a famous so-called religious figure in India, and it was said that if people offered him money, his hand would curl and withdraw from it. And Srila Prabhupada said, “But if someone offers us money, we’ll take it and use it for Krishna.”

He encouraged devotees to earn and contribute.

I was a brahmachari, and so I didn’t have much personal facility, but as you mentioned, I wanted to approach the Birlas for a donation, and the head Birla in Calcutta was B. M. Birla, who was in charge of manufacturing Ambassador cars. I knew I couldn’t just show up at his door in a rickshaw or something and get anywhere. So I went to one of our life members and said, “I want to approach B. M. Birla, but I want to arrive there in a dignified manner. So can I borrow your car and driver?” He gave me his car and driver, and I went to the Birla mansion, and I looked pretty respectable with my car and chauffeur. And the guards just let me enter. The home had a circular driveway that took you right up to the entrance, and the entrance was open. So I just walked in with my briefcase, and I really didn’t know which way to turn. I took a chance and turned to the left, and Mr. Birla’s grandson was there—a very sweet, polite young man. He said, “Can I help you?” And I replied, “I’ve come to meet Mr. Brij Mohan Birla.”

So, Mr. Birla gave a big donation, the biggest up until that time. But there was a little delay in the donation’s coming, and I wasn’t sure what was happening, so I phoned the Birla residence and spoke to the grandson. I asked him, “Do you have any idea what’s happening with the donation your grandfather promised?”

So, we had a lot of good times and adventures in Srila Prabhupada’s service. Although personally we were poor, we were in touch with a lot of wealthy and aristocratic people in Calcutta, where I was before Bombay.

Before partition, the wealthiest man in what became Pakistan was Brijratan Mohatta, who was R. D. Birla’s son-in-law. R. D. Birla gave his daughter Radhaben in marriage to Brijratan Mohatta. Some time after Srila Prabhupada left, my parents came to visit me in Bombay, and we had a program at Mr. Mohatta’s home, and as was the custom, as the guests were leaving after the program, Mrs. Mohatta, perhaps with her husband, was at the door bidding them goodbye as they were leaving. And Mrs. Mohatta told my parents, “If I tell my husband to do something, he may or may not do it, but if your son tells him to do something, he’ll definitely do it.” What can I say? It’s just Prabhupada’s mercy that he engaged us and empowered or inspired us.

Gauranga Dasa: Can you tell us about Prabhupada’s dealings with your parents?

Giriraj Swami: This was very instructive. In October of 1971 my parents came to Calcutta to visit me, and I was a little apprehensive because I just didn’t know how I would deal with the situation. The first thing Prabhupada told me was that I should spend time with them—which I didn’t even know if I should do, beyond the bare minimum. He said, “You should spend time with them.” And he said, “You should not ask them for anything; otherwise they will think that we don’t take care of our devotees.” And factually I was being taken care of and didn’t need to ask them for anything.

While Srila Prabhupada was talking with some of his disciples in his quarters, I brought in my parents. He received them warmly and graciously. After hearing him speak for some time, they finally came to the point: they wanted me back.

Srila Prabhupada said, “I have no objection; ask your son.”

I said, “I want to stay with Srila Prabhupada.”

“We want to set up a big trust for Giriraj,” my father said. “And we want him to come home to sign the papers.”

“Yes, you can send the papers,” Prabhupada replied. “He can sign.”

My parents said that they had no objection to my remaining in the movement but that they did not want my health to deteriorate. So they wanted me to be stationed near home.

Srila Prabhupada said, “Do not worry; I will take personal care of him.”

My parents were still apprehensive, so Srila Prabhupada said, “Let him stay with me in India for some months more, and I will take personal care of him. Then, when I return to America in April, he can come with me.”

With my parents somewhat relieved, I said, “Just see how intelligent Srila Prabhupada is. In the winter, when the Western countries are cold and dark, he stays in India. And in the summer, when the West is warm and sunny, he goes there.”

My father was becoming enlivened by Srila Prabhupada, and he affirmed, “Yes, he is very intelligent.”

Prabhupada said, “No, your son is¾he has understood my strategy.”

My father said, “No—you are intelligent, actually.”

Prabhupada replied, “Yes, I must be intelligent; otherwise how could I attract so many intelligent young men like your son?”

My mother was still thinking of my poor health and long absence from home, and she began to cry. I was quite thin, and my mother was very concerned. And in those days, people in the West had the idea that if you didn’t eat meat, you wouldn’t get enough protein.

To cheer her, Prabhupada gave her a sandesa (milk sweet). At first my mother wouldn’t accept, but Srila Prabhupada’s kind and gentle persistence prevailed. Then he told her, “These sweets—sandesa and rasagulla—are made of cheese and are very high in protein.” Then he said, “Giriraj, you must take at least two dozen sandesa and rasagulla every day. Then you will become strong and healthy.”

Prabhupada assured my parents, “I will personally see that he is supplied with sufficient sandesa. Do not worry.”

Everyone was thoroughly pleased and satisfied by Srila Prabhupada’s loving dealings. As my father was leaving the room, he remarked, “Well, I can say two things about your master. He is a brilliant organizer, and he really knows how to deal with people.” And in my father’s system of values, those were the highest compliments.

After Calcutta, I went to Madras—the first ISKCON devotee to go to Madras—and there I was living at different people’s homes. And I was eating lots of good idlis and dosas and sambar, and I put on weight. Eventually I arranged a program for Srila Prabhupada. When he came, he saw that I had gained weight, and he said, “You should take a picture of yourself and send it to your mother.” He hadn’t forgotten about my health—or about my mother.

Gauranga Dasa: Thank you so much, Maharaja, for sharing these amazing experiences with Srila Prabhupada. On the point of care for the renounced order or senior preachers within ISKCON, devotees should be aware of the efforts that Tamal Krishna Goswami and you made to create a facility in Govardhana, especially for experienced preachers and sannyasis and senior brahmacharis, and how they could be cared for by taking retreats and taking time off, downtime, recuperating, reenergizing themselves again for preaching. So, could you share with us how that particular project came to be, what was the history of your acquiring that place and what was your thinking?

Giriraj Swami: We became aware of the importance of Govardhana not only from shastra but especially because in his last days Srila Prabhupada wanted to go there on parikrama for Govardhana-puja. His health did not allow him to do that, but it was in our minds that he wanted to do so. So this palace—it was a king’s—was not being used, and I found out about the owner: he was the Maharaja of Chhatarpur, in Madhya Pradesh, and he had two bases, one at Chhatarpur and one at Khajuraho, which is a tourist destination. I heard that he was favorable to ISKCON, so I went and met him.

I asked the Maharaja to donate the palace, and he said, “If you had asked me earlier, I would have been happy to donate it, but times are bad for kings nowadays, so I can’t donate. But I will give it to you for a very reasonable price,” which he did. It was really reasonable. His panda at Govardhana was very upset that he was giving it to us for so little, and some of his family members were upset, too. But he stuck to his word.

So, we acquired that palace at Govardhana. We wanted it to be a place for men to come and go deep in sadhana. So we had a rule that women could come but they could not spend the night there. That policy was good for our devotees, and it was very much appreciated by people in the area. They were pleased and impressed; otherwise they might have had some doubts about how strict we were, what our principles were.

So, Tamal Krishna Goswami and I acquired it, and Tamal Krishna Goswami engaged Kesava Bharati dasa Goswami, who oversaw the refurbishment. Tamal Krishna Goswami and I paid for most of it, but he oversaw the refurbishment of the palace. And senior devotees come. One year, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu was elected to be the GBC chairman, and he came and spent a month at Govardhana, chanting sixty-four rounds a day to prepare himself for the responsibility. And many devotees still come. Vaisesika Prabhu comes, and he and Kesava Bharati dasa Goswami have readings there during Kartik. So it has served a purpose especially for the brahmacharis and sannyasis to come and go deep in bhajana at the side of the holy Govardhana Hill.

Gauranga Dasa: Thank you, Maharaja. Thank you for covering so many different aspects in today’s discussion.

In conclusion I would request you to share some of your memories of His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja. The whole world of ISKCON is feeling separation from him; memorial programs are taking place all over the world. So as part of our conversation on devotee care—he was such an emblem and symbol of devotee care—we request you to share some of your memories of his interactions with Srila Prabhupada and some of your own interactions during those times and also after Srila Prabhupada departed—some of your heart’s memories.

Giriraj Swami: His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja took very good care of Srila Prabhupada during his last months and weeks when he was ill in Vrindavan. I feel eternally indebted to him for the way he took care of Srila Prabhupada. And there were many pastimes of Srila Prabhupada’s toward the end in which Bhakti Charu Swami was involved. One was Prabhupada’s desire to go to Govardhana Hill by bullock cart. Lokanath Swami had come to Vrindavan after traveling around India by bullock cart and going to holy places and holding programs and festivals and distributing books, and Srila Prabhupada was very encouraged by that program, and he also wanted to further encourage Lokanath Swami. So, he said he would go by bullock cart to Govardhana Hill on the occasion of Govardhana-puja.

Bhakti Charu Swami and the other devotees personally serving Srila Prabhupada then, including Tamal Krishna Goswami, understood that Srila Prabhupada’s health would not sustain that journey. Lokanath Swami’s group were saying they could put a mattress on the bullock cart, but even then the roads were so bumpy with potholes that Prabhupada wouldn’t have been able to sustain the journey. Also, Srila Prabhupada had had a dream about a Ramanuja kaviraja taking care of him, and Adri-dharana Prabhu from Calcutta had found a Ramanuja kaviraja who came to Vrindavan, and he was really good, and he was really helping Prabhupada, and he said that Prabhupada was making progress but that he would not be able to sustain that journey by bullock cart to Govardhana Hill.

In the end, Bhakti Charu Swami was instrumental in getting Srila Prabhupada’s godbrother Akincana Krishna dasa Babaji to appeal to Srila Prabhupada not to go, and Srila Prabhupada immediately agreed.

Later, in Mayapur, Bhakti Charu Swami had very large quarters upstairs at the very top of the Conch building. He was such a wonderful Vaishnava and a gracious host, and he had space to accommodate many devotees. So especially during the time of the Gaura-purnima festival and the GBC meetings, many devotees would stay upstairs in his area. One year he gave a room toward the end to His Holiness Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja, and Gour Govinda Maharaja would have darshans there and speak to devotees. There was a lot of space. More than one year Radhanath Swami and I stayed there.

He was a great cook and a great host, and he could organize good cooking. He would arrange grand feasts. He served us there. And he would arrange feasts for the GBC members that would be carried over to the Lotus building, where they would take prasada regularly.

He was such a loving and caring person. He would help with projects. There are so many projects he helped, but I’m thinking of one because just yesterday a devotee from South Africa, in the mood of appreciating Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja and feeling separation from him, wrote me, “Here in Pietermaritzburg devotees struggled for over twenty-five years to build a temple. It seemed impossible. Once, my mum went to Maharaja and explained the situation. Maharaja is a man of action. So upon hearing the situation, a week later he provided the means by which the temple could be established, and Sri Sri Dayal Nitai Gaura Hari have created all auspiciousness ever since. I think of the Midas touch—everything he touched turned to gold.”

And Bhakti Charu Swami would go to places and arrange for gold leafing. I don’t know all the places, but I know that in New Dvaraka, Los Angeles, he arranged for some gold leafing for the simhasanas of the Deities and that at Gita Nagari he arranged for gold leafing for Srila Prabhupada’s vyasasana.

He was so generous that Krishna gave him a lot of facility, and he used that facility to serve Srila Prabhupada and the devotees.

He was so personal with everyone, and so approachable. He is being missed sorely, and he will be missed. He was really a very, very loving and caring person.

Gauranga Dasa: Thank you so much, Maharaja, for sparing your valuable time with all of us. On behalf of the GBC organizing team and the Devotee Care Global Directorate, I wish to express gratitude for your sharing such amazing realizations and pastimes of Srila Prabhupada with respect to spiritual care, physical care, emotional care, caring for children and grihasthas. We hope and pray that these wonderful lessons, instructive pastimes which you have shared, will really act as the true north for devotee care which is happening right now in ISKCON, and that more and more leaders across the globe will be inspired to implement systems of devotee care in their temples and in their communities.

Once again offering prayers for His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja.

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