Following In The FootSteps
Virtually every morning Srila Prabhupad would take a morning walk to chant japa. A select number of devotees would go out with him on the walk. Srila Prabhupad would often have philosophic discussions with different followers on these walks.
Prior to my initiation Srila Prabhupad made a visit to LA and so I asked Karandhar, who the leading GBC of ISKCON, and our local GBC for LA temple, if I could go out on a morning walk. LA had 100's of devotees living there full time, and when Srila Prabhupad would come, at least 100 more devotees would be there. Only a few got to go on the walk each day. Karandhar told me I would have to wait until after I was initiated, then, yes, he would schedule me. I got my initiation on Dec. 10th, 1973. Finally, on January 4th, 1974, Karandhar made the arrangement and I got to go out on my first morning walk with Srila Prabhupad. Actually, I only got to go out one other time, 2 years later.
Karandhar told me the day before. I had a Marantz cassette recorder (manufactured by Sony) and I used rechargeable batteries. So, I plugged the unit in to assue the batteries would have a good charge. The unit also included a battery meter, and the next morning the meter showed full. I also prepared by taking a Gita out the evening before and went through it. I wanted to be able to speak with Srila Prabhupad. And, I wanted to 'impress' him. I really couldn't think of any real question I wanted him to answer. I had no doubts about the philosophy or path I was on. So, I went skimming through the Gita and jotted down a list of about 5 questions that I felt were deep, that would require explanations from deep within out philosophy. This way, I was thinking when I ask these questions, Srila Prabhuapd will be so impressed, he will see that I am so intelligent.
Well, the first mercy Srila Prabhhpad, or Krsna, gave me, was that the next morning I was so excited about the walk, I totally forgot to bring the list with me. Since there were about 20 devotees out on the walk several cars were used. I did not ride with Srila Prabhupad. Oh yes, in LA, at least from that time onward, Srila Prabhupad did not normally take local walks, but devotees drove him to either Venice Beach, Santa Monica beach park or a park, I forgot the name, on Motor Avenue just near the Fox / Century-21 movie studios. It was to that, the later, park that we went that morning. Just after the walk started, my stomach sank. I fogot to bring the list of questions.
Why was it Krsna's mercy that I forgot? As many devotees will tell you, whenever a devotee foolishly tried to do what I was trying, to try and ask some lofty questions to 'show off' or show Prabhupad just how great or intelligent they were, Srila Prabhupad had a very sharp gift of smashing your false ego into little pieces. Such schemes would commonly backfire on many other devotees.
So, for over half the walk, I kept trying to think, what to ask Srila Prabhupad?
Another interesting thing about this walk. Remember I had plugged in my tape recorder and charged the batteries over night. The meter read full-charge. The devotee Nitai had the Uri (sp?) reel to reel tape recorder and was recording the official BBT tape. And, Swarup Damodar, the wonderful Phd devotee from Manipur, he also had a small cassette recorder, one that took a 9-volt battery. My unit and the larger BBT recorders had hand held microphones. So, the 3 of us were holding our microphones, or with Swarup he held his whole tape deck, up near Srila Prabhuapd to try and record his words as he spoke. But, then, about 10 minutes into the walk I noticed my battery meter was falling fast, it was showing weak. I couldn't believe it. I had just charged it overnight. The batteries were enough to last several hours of recording. Then about 20-30 minutes into the walk I noticed Nitai seemed to have a problem with his deck. He turned it off and back on several times. By that time my battery had totally died out. The motor stopped, it was dead. I had taken my microphone down and put it in my pocket. After struggling with the portable reel to reel deck, Nitia approached me and asked if he could use my tape deck to complete the rest of the walk. I told him, sorry, for some strange reason my battery died. Nitai looked at me and said, that is what happened with his deck also. We both had charged the batteries as usual, but somehow they both died out. So, he went to Swarup Damodar who was nearby and asked him if his deck was recording good. Swarup looked at it and was surprised, it also had stopped working. And, he had just put a brand new battery in his deck in the car on the way to the park. The batteries in all 3 recorders had failed, run down, at around the same time. While most of the walk was recorded by the BBT deck, after this Nitai had to keep turning it on and off to conserve power, and not everything was recorded. There is only one thing that I recall was not recorded, and I will tell that later.
Back to the walk. When the walk began I wanted to speak with Srila Prabhupad in order to get his attention, I wanted him to notice me, like a small child wanting some special attention. I couldn't believe, I forgot my list of questions. I kept trying to think of something to ask, but for long time, my mind was a blank (not unusual for my mind). I just couldn't think of anything.
Another thing was, when the walk started I tried to walk on the side of Srila Prabhupad. Yeah, right, like I was the only one out there wanting to do that. There were 20 devotees and everyone wanted to walk next to Srila Prabhupad. I had just got initiated, I looked around, everyone else were sannyasi, GBC, temple president, all were senior devotees. I was the most junior devotee out there, I had just got my first initiation just weeks before. But, I was trying to make a recording, so I would have to nudge my way in to get the microphone as close as possible. There were two flanks, one on either side of Srila Prabhupad, like wings of devotees in lines going out from his sides. When the battery ran down, I had no more pressing need to be so close, and seeing that I was the most junior devotee there, I wound up on the outside of one of those lines. It was so far away from Srila Prabhupad, I couldn't hear him very well at all. I then saw that no one was walking behind him. So, I went behind. From there, it was easier to hear him, even though it wasn't that easy, but better then way off to the side. I purposefully tried to get as close to Srila Prabhupad as I could.
As I started walking closely behind him, I started looking down at his feet. Seeing his feet just in front, I thought of the analogy that a disciple should walk in the footsteps of his guru. Meaning he should follow his instructions and follow his example. But, here I was light-heartedly thinking, 'Oh, I can actually walk right in his footsteps'. So, childlishly I began placing my feet in his footsteps as closely as I could. I was walking just behind him. I am fairly short by Western standards. I am 5' 5" tall. Srila Prabhupad was actually no taller, we seemed to be about the same height. At times Srila Prabhupad would walk quite briskly. It was my first time on a walk and another thing I learned was - when Srila Prabhupad is speaking and wants to make a point, he will stop, all of a sudden, so he can turn and give a short talk, or answer a devotee more personally. Well, even though I was just right behind him, actually, it wasn't that easy to hear him, and my mind began to focus more on making sure I placed each step right in Prabhupad's foot steps. So, there we were, walking briskly along, mind focused on the ground and watching Prabhupad's feet, not paying attention to much else, just a foot or less behind Srila Prabhupad and suddenly Srila Prabhupad -STOPS-. He just stopped dead in his tracks. There I was walking briskly along just behind him. 'Oh my God', I was thinking I was going to walk right into him. I also had to stop, quickly, and stopped right on the tip of my toes. My hands went out and up to the sides in the air as I tried to hold my balance, standing on the tips of my toes. I was trying my best not to walk, or fall, more like bash, right into Srila Prabhupad. By Krsna's mercy, He saved me. I just missed from hitting him. How close was it? The hair on my nose. Actually, even closer. My nose actually brushed into Srila Prabhupad's sikha. His sikha was not very long, not big at all, and my nose hit the hair of his sikha. But, somehow by Krsna's mercy, I did not hit Srila Prabhupad's body.
It goes without saying, but when Srila Prabhupad began walking again, I kept to a safe distance behind him, and paid more attention on what he was saying, not only to learn, but also so I could anticipate if he were to stop suddenly again.
Still, I was trying to think of something to ask him. Some how or other, I wanted Srila Prabhupad to notice me, to speak to me. But, what? What could I ask? I was blank. The only thing that came to my mind was to ask about Kahotek (sp?) Kahotec was a comet that had just been discovered (by a Russian named Kahotec). The comet was close enough to be visible in the sky with the naked eye. I thought, I can ask him about the comet. What are comets? What importance do they have? But, the other Gita questions I had planned to ask were more deep into our philosophy, I kept thinking, I wanted to ask something that would impress Srila Prabhupad. Comets? How would that impress him? He might turn around and chastise me that devotees shouldn't be concerned of such things. I was thinking he would probably ask me, 'oh, i see, you are listening or reading the news, why you not reading my books'. I was afraid he would chastise me in someway if I asked such a question that was not directly related to Krsna or Gita. So, I kept trying to think of something else. But, Kohotec, Kohotec, that is all my mind could think.
Knowing the walk would not last too much longer, I wanted him to notice me, so I thought, chastisment is better then nothing at all. I better just ask something, anything, so I will have to ask about the comet. He was still speaking on something else, so I waited. Finally, there was a chance, so I was just getting up my nerve, just ready to speak up when another devotee right next to Srila Prabhupad asked (paraphrasing), "Srila Prabhupad, what do you have to say about this comet named Kahotec?". I was devistated. For the past 20-30 minutes I had been racking my brain trying to think of a question to ask Srila Prabhupad, and the only thing that came up was this comet. And, it had taken me so long to finally decide to ask, get my nerve up, and here, some other devotee goes and asked "my" question. I was devistated. Now how will I get Srila Prabhupad to notice me, to speak to me? Srila Prabhupad turned and looked, he asked what, the devotee repeated the question. Srila Prabhupad was looking at him, he was fully aware who was asking the question. Prabhupad was still walking, then he stopped again. This time I stopped about 1 foot behind. Then, Srila Prabhupad did something so amazing. He turned completely around, 180 degrees, and there we were, standing face-to-face. Very close, I was no further than 1 foot. Srila Prabhupad held his finger in the air and began to shake it toward me - answering the question. It was "my" question, but someone else asked it. Still, Srila Prabhupad knew. The Lord in the heart told him. I was so humbled. Srila Prabhupad was looking right at me, eye to eye, about 12 inches away, face to face.
What was his answer? Comets, he said, are not bad omens. A bad omen, he explained, can be counter-acted by some chant or some means, one can counter a bad-omen. But, comets, he said, bring disaster. Then he explained how when a comet passes throught he solar system it influences the orbits of the planets. It disturbs the orbits of the planets slightly. This, Srila Prabhupad, explained caused disturbances in the ether, in the subtle plan and thus peoples minds become more readily disturbed. What ever small disturbance may be there, when a comet comes the disturbance is amplified, increased.
And, so, he began speaking about astrology after that. But, for about 1 minute Srila Prabhupad stood there, face-to-face, answering 'my' question (that someone else asked). He looked at me straight in the eye, shaking his finger in the air toward me to drive in the point - the real point he was driving home to me was that he was - with no doubt - answering my question and answering my prayer that he would take notice of me. Had I asked the question, it would not have been anything unusual for him to turn around and face me and answer. But, this made the experience much more mystic. More rememberable. I also knew Srila Prabhupad could see within me, clearly. There was no hiding. He knew my mind. If not him directly, it was obvious, Krsna was directly and personally directing Srila Prabhupad. I felt humbled and would look down at the ground, at the safron colored shoes Srila Prabhupad wore, and then look back up, thinking he would certainly be looking at someone else by then. No, he was still looking directly at me, eye to eye - just inches away.
Oh, so there was one point that I can remember Srila Prabhupad made that did not get onto the tapes. It was of some importance in my life. I previously had interest in astrology and had studied it a little before joining the temple. I wanted to study it more indepth as a devotee. But, after speaking of astrology Srila Prabhupad then said how for devotees astrology was not so important. He said that if a devotee goes before the Deities in the temple and claps his hands, all the lines in his hands will change. He said that astrology means that we are all born at a particular time and come under the influence of different planets and the controlling demigod - that is our karma. We are influenced by different planets and demigods due to our past karma. Then he said that a devotee takes shelter of Radharani, and Radharani is more powerful then all the demigods. Once one surrenders to Radharani and puts his life under her direct care, the demigods and the influence of their planets, no longer have any effect on such a devotee. So, he encouraged us to surrender to Radharani, place ourselves under her direct care, rather then be concerned of the mundane influence of the demigods. That very much stuck in my heart. But, I have not found this on the BBT tape, and it was the only thing I could not find. Nitai was able to manage to record most of the walk by conserving the battery by turning the deck off when Srila Prabhupad was not speaking. But, he may have missed a few things, and it did actually fully die before the walk was complete.
One last note. When we follow in the footsteps of the pure devotees, keep the mind focused on his words and on how to execute his order, not on your own feet and how close you want to imitate his stride.