Memories Of Srila Prabhupada
Posted January 19, 2006
Siddhanta: Tell me your name and how to spell it.
Dhanistha: OK, Dhanistha, D-H-A-N-I-S-T-H-A. Two dots.
Siddhanta: And you were first initiated when and where?
Dhanistha: I was initiated in '74 on Valencia Street, San Francisco temple, and Prabhupada was there.
Siddhanta: What year?
Siddhanta: During Prabhupada's times, what would you say that your service was?
Dhanistha: Book distribution essentially.
Siddhanta: Why don't you do a regression for me and for yourself, go back to that day that you first saw Prabhupada and tell me about your impressions that went through your mind at that time.
Dhanistha: Physically saw Prabhupada?
Dhanistha: The first time I saw Srila Prabhupada was in L.A. We all went from the San Francisco temple and went down to L.A. because Prabhupada was there. It was extraordinary, the buildup and everything I had been told about his presence. I had been reading his Gita for some time, but I had just been in the temple for a couple months. So we got the fortune to go down and see him in person in the L.A. temple. The most extraordinary thing to me the first time I saw him there was his effulgence and this saffron light came through the door before he did. He just pervaded the area with some beautiful light and sweetness, and then his presence. He seemed so small in stature, and the humility then was even more enhanced by the delicate nature of his body. He came in for greeting of the Deities, I believe, was the first time I saw him in his physical form. Because I was new, Bhaktin Debbie, everyone was so kind to push me a little forward. He came in the door, I think it was located a little behind the vyasasana at that time in the old temple room, that small temple. And when he came in, I was pushed enough forward to where I was right in line, the aisle that we parted for him to walk through to see the Deities. So I paid my obeisances as quickly as humanly possible so that I could get up in time to maybe see him as he passed, and just as I moved up his feet were right there in front of me. You could touch them, they were just inches. Of course you don't, but you want to. And he went on up for greeting of the Deities. That's the first time I saw his effulgence.
Siddhanta: Were you able to get first initiation from him personally or by letter?
Dhanistha: Yes. We got a letter, and my name was in the letter. Then he came for the Rathayatra that same year, it was in July. So he was present for the initiation as well, and he was on the vyasasana at the Valencia Street temple in San Francisco. We had a nice fire sacrifice, and Prabhupada was chanting there.
Siddhanta: Any memory of the things from then?
Dhanistha: It was extraordinary and overwhelming, the fact that so many people could fit into such a small room, it's quite an amazing thing to me, and so much going on in that room, a fire. The Valencia Street temple was a beautiful, beautiful temple. It was painted this beautiful yellow color with white columns along the side of the temple walls, and right in the center there was a skylight that was kind of in a pyramid shape and it was all glass. So some of the women got up on the roof and had flowers that they threw down through the skylight when Prabhupada came around for greeting of the Deities and for the ceremony. So that was traditional there, that when he would come we would get to throw petals from the roof. We'd go up to the roof and throw through the skylight. So that was very memorable. He loved to see it, it was nice. It was almost like the petals would just drift a little slower as he was watching. It was a timeless kind of feeling there. I remember red roses we used a lot.
Siddhanta: So when did you have association? Any personal instructions? Were you able to go on a morning walk and ask any questions or in a class?
Dhanistha: During that same period of time that he came the first time to Valencia Street temple when I was there, Jayananda prabhu would gather everyone up to go up to Prabhupada's room. He was staying in a second-floor flat about a block or two away from the temple, and we would go over for darshan with him then. That was really precious, to be able to sit in such an informal setting with Prabhupada traditionally behind his desk and all the great souls there. Jayananda was always sitting in the back. Of course, it was Rathayatra time so there was a lot of activity going on with the devotees. At the end of one of the darshans, particularly as far as personal exchange with Prabhupada, I asked a question I didn't know I was going to ask. My hand was all of a sudden up and he pointed to me. So I had been, with a couple of other godsisters, Keli Lalita and another godsister, maybe two or three, we would take turns cleaning Prabhupada's rooms when he would go on his morning walk. And that was so precious to touch his clothing and to feel that vibrational presence. So I was thinking... I went on book distribution every day for several months and book distribution is another kind of touching with Prabhupada, of course, and his presence is just as strong and just as vibrant in the airport or wherever. But this was a special sweetness, a personal touch by getting to clean his rooms. So my question was "Prabhupada, you're leaving soon. How do we get more personal association with you?" Because that particular type of personal intimacy was very nourishing and strengthening. So he said, "You just distribute my books," which was exactly why I wanted more personal association, so I could have the strength to distribute his books. Bhakta das was the temple president at the time and he said, "Oh, Prabhupada, that's what she does. She goes on book distribution every day and distributes your books." And he said, "Then that is very nice." So that was confirmation, complete confirmation in my heart to continue.
Siddhanta: Did you ever go to India?
Dhanistha: Yes, I went to India in '76. Also during that time at Krishna-Balaram Mandir, my godsisters, again, because we were book distributors we were given I think some special access to cleaning Prabhupada's rooms and being present. But I'd like to backtrack a little bit from that previous time. During the Valencia Street time, there was a particular instance where Prabhupada...this seemed to be repetitive in his manner, I think for the blessings of his spiritual daughters, that he would often come unpredictably early back from the morning walk and kind of trap us in his quarters a little bit before we could scurry out and be done with his cleaning. This happened several times, but this one particular time Keli Lalita and I were just finishing up his room. You know how he liked the white sheets down on the floor, and it was a nice hardwood floor and flat and very clean. Then we would put fresh sheets down. So we had just finished his room, and we were getting ready to go out to the hallway. It was a second-floor flat and required us to go down a very narrow stairway, which was the only way for Prabhupada to come up. As we started to go down this stairway to go back to the temple before Prabhupada got there, we thought, he came around the corner and was coming up the stairs with huge godbrothers - Brahmananda prabhu and so many extraordinary souls, Jayatirtha I think was there, and they were just a whole entourage coming up a very narrow stairway. There was no place for us to go so we backed back into his bedroom, which was to the left of the stairway. Normally Prabhupada would just come up the stairway, turn and go right into his room. Instead he turned to his left, and we were back in the quarters watching him down the hall. He went into the kitchen and all the devotees were laughing, it was a very jolly kind of mood and they were laughing. But all we could see was the backs of big sannyasis and tridandas and all this. Prabhupada was small in stature so he was hidden and there was this group around him, but they were all laughing. At one point all our godbrothers knelt down and Prabhupada was standing there alone, so we had a perfect view then. All our godbrothers were knelt down around him, and Jayatirtha prabhu was putting kumkum powder on Prabhupada's feet. They were just pouring a pound or so of kumkum powder all over Prabhupada's feet, and he was just laughing like anything. It was just like a child, he was really enjoying it, and everyone else was too. So we got that wonderful darshan, and it was the opportunity simultaneously to slip out and go down the stairs. So that was the last view: down the hallway, Prabhupada smiling, and the kumkum powder on his feet. So the next morning when we went back we were thinking, "Oh, how wonderful if we could have seen Prabhupada's feet covered with kumkum," but we couldn't see that part. We could only just barely see what they were doing. The next morning when we went back to clean his rooms, the white sheets when we went in had these incredible lotus kumkum powder footprints all over. So we found each footprint and we put our heads. But we were so thick that we didn't think...we washed the sheets.
Siddhanta: Where should we go now, to India? I don't edit these chronologically, so whatever comes to mind.
Dhanistha: I saw him here in New Vrindavan. We were on traveling sankirtan . It was probably 1975, and it was a small party of three women and two men on traveling sankirtan in a van and we came to New Vrindavan and Prabhupada was here. This is more of a grave story and very significant, I think, in my instruction of how Prabhupada speaks to us through the heart without words sometimes. We were so excited because...I think we had attended one Bhagavatam class the previous day, and then we were supposed to leave the next day and go ahead with our traveling sankirtan. So during Jaya Radha-Madhava prayers when Prabhupada was singing, I was tapped on the shoulder and the small old temple here in New Vrindavan was just packed. I don't even know how anyone got to me. I was right in the center there directly in front of Prabhupada, and I was so happy just to be able to sit there for that length of time. You knew it could carry you no matter what you go through in your service. Someone tapped me, and it was one of my godsisters who was on our sankirtan party. She said, "We have to go, we have to go on sankirtan." Prabhupada was chanting Jaya Radha-Madhavaprayers. You don't...it's not that you don't...you can't move. I shook it off a little bit and resisted and was determined, maybe I could stay, because surely we could get around the dynamic that was building there. But she was persistent and under instructions from higher that we had to leave. So rather than make a scene of disturbing the mood of Bhagavatam, etc., I didn't want to do that with Prabhupada there singing, so I got up. And as I got up...he, of course, Jaya Radha-Madhava, his eyes are closed. But when I got up, as soon as I started moving, I was the only one up, everyone's down, it seemed like hundreds of devotees all around and you have to move carefully, and he opened his eyes right into my eyes, exactly into my eyes. He was still...in fact, I think Jaya Radha-Madhava might have stopped and started into Bhagavatam, but the point was that he said, "Where are you going and why?" through the heart, though, you know? And I answered back through my eyes, "I have to go on sankirtan. I don't want to go," and I apologized. It was instantaneous. In one moment this exchange took place, but I knew he knew me and knew my heart. It seemed that it was as notable for him for me to leave as it was for me to have to leave, that that wasn't his desire. So that was a great feeling of separation. But in order not to cause disturbance, of course, I went ahead and went outside. And then we waited for the leader of the sankirtan party to come out, and he stayed for the whole class and left us standing in the parking lot fuming. I was fuming. Everyone else was humble, I was irate. Because we were women it would take us longer to get ready to leave, he figured. So, therefore, we had to go out and pack and everything. But the instruction itself was the essential thing to be learned. So whatever took place in that pastime with Prabhupada was exactly appropriate for my needs and my understanding, and it's just as deep. Prabhupada can deepen and broaden any tiny moment of interchange, either an extended Bhagavatam class or that eye contact. So it's timeless.
Siddhanta: Did he also kind of acknowledge your eye (inaudible)?
Dhanistha: Yes, but he was disturbed by it. There was notable disturbance, that it should not be done. That was one of the only times I remember direct eye contact like that, where it was that timeless...where I actually could hold the eye contact. Because I needed to, to hear what he was saying to me.
Siddhanta: Any other memories, instructions, qualities?
Dhanistha: I didn't have much personal exchange with Srila Prabhupada by words.
Siddhanta: Any action that he did or the way he related to anybody else that showed one of his qualities of kindness, humility, compassion, humor?
Dhanistha: I was there, but I'm sure you have this recorded from several different angles. The time that's pretty famous about Jayananda prabhu falling asleep during darshan with him. I was sitting right beside Jayananda at that time, and I remember this certain way that Jayananda fell asleep. It was precious, like a child, and you did want to let him sleep because you knew what he was doing. So I was there at that time when someone put their hand on his knee and shook him a little bit and Prabhupada said, "No, let Jayananda sleep." That was really lovely to see that exchange with Jayananda prabhu. His back would stay straight and he would stay just perfectly yogi, but his head would nod a little bit, you knew he was going.
We also cleaned Srila Prabhupada's rooms in India. There was one particular time. We would clean every morning as usual while he was on his morning walk, and during one of the mornings he came back just a little bit early. We were already on the porch there at Krishna-Balaram Mandir and Prabhupada was slipping off his shoes, and his shoes were completely filled with glittering Vrindavan dust, they were just filled up with it. Someone was intelligent enough and spontaneous enough to take the shoes, and we had formed a little circle of the entourage of persons who were on the morning walk with him as well as the women who had been cleaning and we held out our hands and the person who had grabbed his shoes took and poured into each of our hands some of that dust right from Prabhupada's shoes, the dust of Vrindavan right from Prabhupada's shoes. I still have some. I had a whole handful but over the years have a little bit left now. There's little straws and little pieces of stone still in there from what clung to Prabhupada's feet, so that was sweet.
Another time during that Krishna-Balaram cleaning of the quarters, the upstairs where he wrote was a quieter room, a little more reclusive area for him. One afternoon he called us back (I don't know how they found us even in Vrindavan) to clean because a cat, a big black cat had been kind of harassing Srila Prabhupada off and on. It would come in and come through, I think, up maybe a tree and through a window, and this particular time it had just made a mess all over that room and Prabhupada was very disturbed by it. So he had us to come back and clean it, change all the sheets and change the pillows particularly. He noted at that time that that cat was a demon, and he said a demon who had focused on the pure devotee to come in to harass him. So we did some service there, and it was nice.
Siddhanta: That's the first time I ever heard a story about a demon actually coming to...
Dhanistha: Yeah, he really pointed out that cat is a demon.
Siddhanta: That was not just a cat.
Dhanistha: No, it was a demon. But for us it was mercy because it was a chance to serve again and to be called on personally at an unusual time. So for us it was always mercy. For Prabhupada, so much inconvenience.
Siddhanta: That was here in New Vrindavan?
Dhanistha: No, no, no, that was in India.
Siddhanta: In Vrindavan, India.
Dhanistha: In Vrindavan, yes, at Krishna-Balaram in his quarters there. He came back from the morning walks, and it was a big...there was a lot of cleaning to do there. It was meticulous cleaning with the slate floors and changing his bedding and everything. So we would often run late. Another time he came in and he came with a large group of devotees again, and they were going to have a meeting of some kind. Tamal Krsna Maharaj was there, all the important devotees. I'm not sure which godsisters were with me at the time, but there were two others. We paid our obeisances when he came in with a group of probably 8 or 10 devotees, and when we raised up someone said, "Oh, Prabhupada, the women are here." And we just wanted to shrink into the floor, it sounds like "the cockroaches are here" or something. But we didn't want to disturb Prabhupada. We really didn't want to be there if it was going to be intrusive for him, but by circumstance sometimes we would get trapped there. Prabhupada said, "That is OK, they can stay." He actually said quite clearly, very distinctly, "That is OK, they can stay." It was a meeting. There was something very significant in his transferring that information of his care for us in that statement. We were very excited and almost sat down. But then some other godbrothers, they told us we had to leave anyway so we left. But just that he said that, what more could you ask for, that we could stay.
Siddhanta: So they didn't follow his instructions? They didn't let you stay after Prabhupada said you could?
Dhanistha: No, they immediately came to the side and said... In fact, I can tell you verbatim what was said: "Prabhupada said you can stay, but we say you should go." I'm saying "we," there was actually particular individuals involved, but collectively they didn't want us. But the thing is, that interchange with Prabhupada, that is the significant thing, between heart to heart. Whatever social dynamics and warfare that sometimes goes on amongst ourselves as we carry our baggage around and unload it on each other at random, that's irrelevant really. The point is that the guru is always caring for us and always significantly paying attention to our needs. Maybe if that hadn't have happened...it's speculation, of course...but you can see that maybe a big long meeting, you may not remember so much. But that interchange with Srila Prabhupada I remember. It's very significant. It soothes your heart from feeling neglected.
I can tell another story. This is not directly in Prabhupada's physical presence, it's a sense of when he was getting ready to leave, that feeling of wanting to be near him. So absence makes the heart grow stronger...fonder and stronger. We were in Berkeley, and at that time there were close to 25 women on one sankirtan party. It's an infamous, famous sankirtan women's party there and great, great souls who did so much service for Prabhupada. Our sankirtan leader came out. We were getting information at that time in '77 that Prabhupada is very ill and what different stages he was going through, but still we felt like we really didn't know. We didn't either want to know how serious this could be or we weren't getting...just bits and pieces of information, and the palpitations of the heart and the trauma that was on us. Oftentimes I think we tried to ignore that Prabhupada could ever possibly leave, that this was just a temporary illness. But this time our sankirtan leader, he came out and he said, "Prabhupada is in Vrindavan. He's saying he's going to leave his body, and he says that he wants all his disciples..." Just like he wants now, he wants all his disciples to come be with him. So then he was requesting all his disciples to come and be with him. So we were already dressed for sankirtan, the regular airport clothes, and the book bag was loaded, everything was almost out the door. But when they told us that, it was in the foyer of the Berkeley temple and we were just on our way out, and so I actually just dropped my book bag. It just fell off my shoulder, everything, I was going in a different direction, I was going to Vrindavan. Because when I heard that instruction, it was an instantaneous response, there was no thought, it was only "get there." So when I dropped my book bag and I started to...I just started to go. I thought we were going to go pack. The sankirtan leader said, "Wait a minute, Dhanistha, where are you going?" And I said, "Well, Prabhupada said he wanted us to be there, and you just told us this and so on. I thought we were going." And he said, "Oh, no, no, no. Prabhupada said that, but what he really means is he wants you to keep on doing service because the whole movement can't just stop. We have to have money and we have to continue." On a logical, practical level I'm sure...though there were probably sufficient bank accounts to hold us over. I'm sure that this was a logical, practical leadership decision; but it was a disheartening preventative measure to keep us from just running to his feet, which sometimes I think we need to just do that and stop all the practical, logical processing. But that made it extremely painful to go out on sankirtan because I felt...from that time forward until Prabhupada left, it became increasingly more difficult to do my service. Out of a sense of duty wasn't enough because I was torn by the fact of his personal indication that we should go be with him.
A couple of sweet short ones. In Berkeley when he came, the last time he was in Berkeley and the only time he came to the Berkeley temple as it is now there on Stuart Street, on his morning walk... Prior to his visit, we had a neighbor behind the temple on the other side of the block; if you went straight across from the back of the temple, there was a neighbor who wasn't so inclined to mangal arati. We were new in the neighborhood so there was some problem there, and it had built up to the point where... We also probably maybe...I would say we took a few flowers from his garden every once in a while probably, which added to the dilemma and the misunderstanding of our intentions. So this particular neighbor, he wasn't so happy with us and probably had a right to be that way. So Prabhupada, on his morning walks he would sometimes walk in the neighborhood, sometimes they would take him to the campus, the Berkeley University campus. He liked to walk there very much. This time he just came out of the temple and he decided just to walk around the block. In the meantime, this neighbor who was upset with us had put a sign in his yard and it said something negative about Krishna. I can't quote exactly, but it was a very direct statement and a very obvious sign. So the devotees tried to kind of get Prabhupada to go a different direction so he wouldn't walk by that. But that's the direction he was going and you know, when that's the direction Prabhupada is going, then we follow, we don't...hopefully. So he went all the way around the block, and he didn't even...there was no significant notice of that. As far as I can remember, there wasn't a problem with it. But I thought it was wonderful because his blessings of walking past the man's...on his sidewalk and right in front of him. The houses in Berkeley, they have a very small yard there, very petite. So with Prabhupada, his aura would radiate out that far to the man's house, enough to give him great blessings. So that was really sweet.
Another time when the reporters came, this is recorded I'm pretty sure. In the Berkeley temple in Prabhupada's room where he was staying, some reporters came and some important folks and they were asking questions. That was the period of time where the interviewer asked Prabhupada, "What will happen when you leave? When you leave, what will happen to this movement?" And that's at the time where Prabhupada said that "My books will never die, they will live on for ten thousand years." But also during that darshan, it was exquisite because there was this practical interchange of how interviews go and all of a sudden Prabhupada looked up over everyone's head into the corner, the exact corner of the room, and he said, "There's Narada Muni." So Prabhupada saw Narada Muni during that time in that room. I've always felt we should have a nice picture of Narada Muni and make Prabhupada's quarters very nice like that.
Siddhanta: That's not the time where he was laughing and he said Narada Muni was laughing because of all the mlecchas that were chanting Hare Krishna?
Dhanistha: No, that's a different time. This was just a pause, that statement, nothing else. And all the devotees, of course, looked in the direction but...
Siddhanta: No one else had the eyes. Let me finish with one thing. Of all the qualities that you saw in Prabhupada when you were with him, interacting with you and other devotees, what quality of a pure devotee stood out for you?
Dhanistha: Unconditional compassion. There's no better example than myself. If he can tolerate all these years and all these whirlwinds and tribulations that we put our guru through, all the burdens we set on their minds and hearts...compassion. That expression of compassion helps me to continue in whatever little service I can do to preach. Just to remember, "Oh, he accepted me." So, therefore, there are no limitations to who can receive and how Krishna consciousness can be received and through what means may be used. Whatever it takes to build those bridges and connect hearts to Krishna because no density of contamination can stop the pure devotee's mercy. I'm living proof of that.
Siddhanta: Thank you very much. Hare Krishna.