Mercy in Prabhupad's Garden
This took place in LA in the summer of 1974. I joined in the summer of 73 and for most of my first year I did book distribution. I was not super big in book distribution even though I did make effort to do better. After sometime I felt I could offer more practical service for Srila Prabhupad if I were engaged in some other capacity. I felt I had many talents and wanted to exercise some of those talents in his service. One hobby was that I liked to do artwork. My personal experience when I first saw Srila Prabhupads books was that I was very impressed by the paintings. Without reading a word I could see and almost experience the pastimes of Lord Krsna. Srila Prabhupad called them "Windows to the Spiritual World", and that is the total and perfect description. When I first saw the Krishna Book, simply by seeing the pictures I knew the book was a description of Gods eternal activities. Then I wondered at the depth and realizations of the artists themselves. Within seconds of scanning over the paintings I immediately developed a strong desire to meet, know and become friends with the artists who painted those pictures. At the same time, I also knew that I could do that sort of art work.
After having lived at the temple for a year I learned that Srila Prabhupad had told the artists that their sankirtan (preaching), their book distribution, was their paintings. The paintings were a vital part of the preaching potency of his books. He would not allow them to be published, printed or distributed without sufficient and wonderful paintings to accompany them. I knew I had the talent to paint like that and felt I would be better engaged doing that.
I kept asking my authorities to let me join with a few artists that were in LA at the time. Actually, at the time the main art department was still in NY, only a few artists were in LA. Anyway, my direct authority, who was also the Sankritan (book distribution) leader, flatly refused to let me spend even one day a week painting. He and the temple commander were both brahmacaris (celibate students, as was I at the time) and they insisted that I would fall down into the deep dark well of grhasta (married) life if I started associating the artists. All of the artists at the time in LA, were householders.
Months were passing and every so often I would raise the issue, asking to be allowed to paint. Then, in the Summer of 74 Srila Prabhupad was making another visit to LA. When Srila Prabhupad would come the whole atmosphere would come alive. Cleaning, fixing, preparing, etc. Srila Prabhupad had said that his favorite spot in the whole world was the small garden the devotees had made for him in LA. Devotees had tore up a small 25 by 25 foot section of a parking lot off to the side of the ashram building, built a fence around it and planted all sorts of flowers and plants. While in LA Srila Prabhupad would go there every day for his daily oil massage and he would meet with devotees and guests there as well. (Unfortunately I never got his physical darshan in the garden, but I did get his mercy in the garden, as I will relate).
It was about 2 days before his arrival. A devotee had been working for weeks on making a new asan (seat) for the garden. He had cut the back in an ornate shape, and the whole design was like a medieval Florentine design. But the seat wasnt going to be done by the time Prabhupad arrived. Nara Narayan was in charge of the art department in LA. He called me over and said, Hey, Ameyatma, you have been asking to be allowed to do some art work for a long time, well, here is your chance. Prabhupad will be arriving in 2 days and his asan (seat) in the garden isnt complete yet." Nara Naryan had another devotee put together a large 3' foot square by about 18" high wooden box. He showed me the box that was being painted white and told me, "Here, paint something artistic on it". He said that Prabhupad will sit on that box for a few days until the asan is completed. "What should I paint?" Nara Narayan had lots to do, so he said, "You want to be an artist, you figure out something artistic". So, he handed me a box of acrylic artists paints, which I had never used before (I had only used oil paints), and told me it had to be done in 2 days. Acrylic paints dry in hours, oil paints would have taken weeks, (but acrylics are totally different and so the painting was a bit blotchy). After some thought I decided to paint a cow surrounded by flowers. I dont know if it was proper to have Srila Prabhupad sitting on a cow, since the cow is ones mother. But, Prabhupad didnt object. (It would have been totally offensive to have painted Krishna or Krishnas Name as you can not sit on top of Krishna or His Name. Once, I think it was in San Diego, devotees had painted the Hare Krishna mantra on the edge of the steps leading up to the temple. When Srila Prabhupad arrived by car and saw it on the steps I was told that he was so angry and so upset, he didnt even get out of the car and had the devotees drive him back to LA. He had said the devotees in San Diego had committed a great offense.).
The cow I painted was sitting and I put flowers along the sides. I left the top white thinking it would be covered. Nara Narayan liked the cow and told me to add something to the top since they would put just a small pillow on top for him to sit on.
I had been studying the Vedas for years before I joined the temple and I had previously seen and drawn lotus mandalas - a mechanical looking depiction of the lotus. So, I painted a Lotus Mandala on the top. I completed it the day Srila Prabhupad arrived and only hours before he was to go out to the garden to meet with some devotees. The paint had just dried. Nara Narayan came in to take it to the garden and saw the design on top for the first time. He starred down at it and loudly asked, "What is that???". "Its a lotus design". I said. Nara Narayan said it was horrible. He said it didnt look like any lotus flower he had ever seen. I tried to explain it was a mandala design, not a real lotus, but, he didnt care. He said he could not have Prabhupad see it. He knew Srila Prabhupad would not like it. There was no time to repaint it, so he ordered a devotee to run and find a cloth to cover it over.
They took the seat away and I went off to do my other duties. A few hours latter Nara Narayan came looking for me. With big eyes and lots of excitement he said, "Ameyatma, you wont believe what just happened in the garden. Srila Prabhupad has given you his mercy." He told me that when Srila Prabhupad first walked into the garden and saw the cow on the box he was very pleased. He didnt say anything, but Nara Narayan said he was watching Prabhupads eyes and Prabhupad was very pleased with the painting. Then he went to sit down, but just before he did he lifted the cloth that was covering the top. Nara Narayan told me at that point he was thinking, "oh no, now what?". He was thinking that Prabhupad would object to the painting of the lotus mandala I made and would make some complaint. But, to Nara-Narayan's great surprise, Srila Prabhupad said, "Oh, very nice, why have they covered this?". Then he sat down. Nara Narayan said that again Prabhupad lifted his knee and lifted the cloth and looked at the top very approvingly. Then he asked Nara Narayan, "Who has painted this?". Nara Narayan told him a new devotee named Ameyatma das. Prabhupad said, "Oh very nice, tell him he has done very nicely". So, as soon as their meeting was over, Nara Narayan came running to tell me what had happened and what Prabhupad said.
Even though I never got to have Prabhupads darshan in the garden personally, he did give me his mercy there. After this my authorities at the temple finally allowed me to start painting, but I never got to paint for Prabhupads books, like I originally wanted to. They wanted me to paint a few practice paintings first to see what I could do. I completed 2 and started on a 3rd, all of Srila Prabhupad. I was ready to paint my first painting for publication when I decided to join the doll project instead, first as an artist. But, still, that painting on the box, or at least part of it, as you can see in the photo on this page, was published in Prabhupads books. It was the first thing I had ever painted as a devotee and not only did Prabhupad get to see it, he sat on it (how many other artists can say that Srila Prabhupad sat on their paintings?), and he liked it, and it got published in his books. By-the-way, several days latter the asan was completed, and the box I painted was taken out, and the asan placed in the garden. When Prabhupad saw the asan he made a sour face and said it looked like a seat made for Lord Shiva. He didnt like it. He sat on it, but the next day they brought the box I painted back in and sat the asan on top of the box. After Srila Prabhupad's visit was over and he left that summer the box remained in the garden, but it lacked a protective clear coat. After a few months in the direct sun and rain the paint all cracked and chipped off and the box was eventually thrown out. Even though the box did not last so long, the mercy is eternal. Srila Prabhupad was so kind.