October 9 2008

Speaking of diets, in March of 1977 I left Srila Prabhupada’s party and returned to Australia. Prabhupada made me the GBC there the following month.

Sometime in late April I came down with malaria. It was a reoccurrence of a couple of bouts I had in India in 1976. The medicine I had been given there only suppressed the malaria bug but didn’t flush it out of my system. So I spent five days in the Adelaide tropical diseases hospital with a cracking headache and no appetite. When I came out I was noticeably thinner.

In late May all the GBCs were called to Vrndavana. Srila Prabhupada’s condition had worsened and he had rushed back there from Rishikesh. He wrote his Will on May 23 and the GBCs were told to ask any questions they had and get them clarified. I was out on traveling sankirtana in Australia and didn’t get the message until a few days later.

I immediately flew to Delhi and arrived in Vrndavana on May 29. By that time the immediate crisis had passed and Srila Prabhupada seemed to improve. Some of the GBCs were already leaving by the time I arrived at Krishna Balarama Mandir. Having spent so much money to get there, and naturally keen to have His Divine Grace’s personal association again after two months absence, I decided to remain in Vrndavana for two weeks.

By that time Prabhupada’s daily routine had completely changed from when I was on the party. He needed 24 hour assistance and someone had to be with him at all times. Physically he was drastically debilitated and spent most of the time lying down.

Vrndavana 1977

Tamal Krishna Goswami, Upendra prabhu and Ksira-chora Gopinath (who took sannyasa a few days after I arrived and became Bhakti Charu Swami) made a roster, and I was assigned a two hour afternoon spot.

 The first day there then I went up onto the back section of the roof where Srila Prabhupada was lying down on a cot resting. When I came by his side Prabhupada glanced over at me.

“In Australia you are reducing?” he asked.

I missed the meaning. “Reducing Srila Prabhupada?”

“Yes, in Australia you are reducing?” he repeated.

Then I understood. He saw that I was noticeably thinner since I had left his party. Despite his own condition he was immediately concerned about my health.

“Oh, yes. I had a bout of malaria recently,” I explained, “But I am also eating less as well.” I added the last bit because I thought he would be pleased to hear that I was cutting down on my eating.

For good reason. On November 27, 1976 on this very same spot, I had made the biggest mistake of my life:

[TD 5] Sri Vrndavana Dhama

Today is exactly a year since I joined Prabhupada’s party, and today, I made my greatest blunder. In the morning, as usual, Prabhupada went upstairs right after his breakfast to take his nap in the sunshine. I escorted him through his rooftop room onto the back portion of the roof and left him lying comfortably on a mattress. On previous visits to Vrndavana I have always remained on the roof with him, ready to serve whenever he awoke. This summer, however, the devotees fitted a new bell system for Prabhupada to summon his servants even when he is on the roof. By pressing a button attached to his desk inside the upper room, Prabhupada can sound a bell both upstairs and downstairs. So, thinking there was little point to staying upstairs while Prabhupada was sleeping, I decided to go back down. If Prabhupada needed me he could simply ring the bell; I would hear it and respond immediately.

Off I went, back through the room, down the stairs, and eventually out onto the front entrance veranda where I ended up chitchatting with Ugrasrava and Citthari. After some time, I started to think that Prabhupada seemed to be resting a little longer than usual. I was waiting for his call, but the bell hadn’t rung. Looking at my watch, I was starting to think that maybe I should go up and see what was happening, but I was so engrossed in my prajalpa that I ignored my inner prompt and kept on talking. Just as I was starting to feel some unease, Maharathi dasa, a visiting devotee from Germany who is staying in the guesthouse, suddenly ran from around the corner of the guesthouse stairs, angst written all over his face. “Hari-sauri! Hari-sauri! Prabhupada is trapped on the roof!”

I went into instant shock, and I knew immediately what had happened. I raced through the house and up the back stairs full of anxiety and trepidation. As I entered the room from the front door, I saw Srila Prabhupada standing, glowering through the Fly screen on the back door, waiting for me to open it. It was sickenly clear what I had done. Part of my early training with Srila Prabhupada was to always shut doors and turn off lights and fans when leaving a room. Thus, when I left him to sleep on the back section of the roof, I had returned through the room, shut the screen door behind me and in a stupor of automation slid the bolt, locking it from the inside. Prabhupada hadn’t rung the bell on his desk, because he couldn’t.

There was no time to offer obeisances. I quickly slide the bolt back to free him from his imprisonment. As I did so, Prabhupada, glaring at me through the screen, shook his head and said simply, “You rascal! I’ve been waiting here for almost and hour!” I opened the door, and he strode past without another word.

I was mortified. Prabhupada’s anger was beyond words. There was no need for him to say anything, because the offense was so obvious and foolish. He had woken up, and when he couldn’t get into the room he had to wait on the roof for nearly an hour before Maharathi happened to look over from his guesthouse room. Signaling his attention, Prabhupada shouted to him. “Find Hari-sauri. He has kept me prisoner here!”

Downstairs, Prabhupada sat behind his desk. He was calm but serious. He was quite disgusted and told me, “Your brain is dull from too much voracious eating and sleeping.” I felt terrible. There was nothing to say in excuse; I simply apologized. …

That admonition had stuck. Although he had never mentioned anything about my eating and sleeping habits before, when I made this aparadha, that was what he attributed it to. Thus when I returned to Australia, to keep myself fit for my new service I had decided to cut down my eating. And now Prabhupada, sharp as ever, had noticed. But he was more concerned than pleased.

“No, but you have to keep your strength. A young man, he must eat.”

“Well Srila Prabhupada, I read in the Srimad Bhagavatam that if you are serious about spiritual advancement you should only eat once a day, so I am doing that.”

Prabhupada’s mood immediately changed. His eyebrows arched slightly in approval. “Oh, then it is alright.”  He didn’t mention it again and began to ask me how the preaching was going on in Australia.

It was typical of Srila Prabhupada. If we did something whimsically, he did not approve. But if our actions were based on shastra, then he was happy.

So my new diet is also a good component for spiritual life. Rupa Goswami advises us to practice control of the six urges:

vaco vegam manasah krodha-vegam

jihva-vegam udaropastha-vegam

etan vegan yo visaheta dhirah

[NoI: verse 1]

“A sober person should tolerate the forces of speech, mind and anger, and the force of the tongue, belly and genital.”

I have a long way to go but I guess a diet is a good start.

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