Epilogue to Daily Reflections on Srila Prabhupada
(Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Prabhupada’s Coming to America)
During the summer of 1966, after Swamiji had initiated them and married them, Mukunda and Janaki made plans to travel to California and from there to go on to India to further pursue their spiritual paths. Swamiji gave his permission. Mukunda made a farewell visit to Swamiji in his room. Swamiji gave Mukunda some contacts in India. As Mukunda was leaving the Swamiji’s room, Swamiji said to him, “If you can open a centre in San Francisco that would be very nice.” Mukunda was surprised, confused, and didn’t know whether to take this afterthought remark seriously. He decided to go ahead with his plans to travel to India.
When they arrived in California they met their friends, Sam and Melanie (later initiated as Syamasundara and Malati devi dasi). Mukunda and Janaki told their friends all about the Swami and the activities at 26 Second Avenue. Sam and Melanie became very enthusiastic. Mukunda told Sam about Swamiji’s suggestion that he open a centre in San Francisco. Sam became enthusiastic to hear this and suggested that Mukunda change his plans and do what Prabhupada suggested. One day Mukunda spent the time alone in a rowboat. He was contemplating his future. He thought deeply. At the end of the day, he decided to take Prabhupada’s request and stay in California and try to open an ISKCON centre. Then he and Sam set about doing it.
* * *
Sometimes, during the evening gathering in his room, Swamiji would ask whether Mukunda was ready on the West Coast. For months, Prabhupada’s going to the West Coast had been one of a number of alternatives. But then, during the first week of the New Year, a letter arrived from Mukunda: he had rented a storefront in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury district, on Frederick Street. “We are busy converting it into a temple now,” he wrote. And Prabhupada announced: “I shall go immediately.”
Mukunda had told of a “Gathering of the Tribes” in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. Thousands of hippies were migrating from all over the country to the very neighbourhood where Mukunda had rented the storefront. It was a youth renaissance much bigger than what was going on in New York City. In a scheme to raise funds for the new temple, Mukunda was planning a “Mantra Rock Dance” and famous rock bands were going to appear. And Swami Bhaktivedanta and the chanting of Hare Krishna were to be the center of attraction!
Although in his letter Mukunda had enclosed a plane ticket, some of Swamiji’s followers refused to accept that Swamiji would use it. Those who knew they could not leave New York began to criticize the idea of Swamiji’s going to San Francisco. They didn’t think that people out on the West Coast could take care of Swamiji properly. Swamiji appearing with rock musicians? Those people out there didn’t seem to have the proper respect. Anyway, there was no suitable temple there. There was no printing press, no Back to Godhead magazine. Why should Swamiji leave New York to attend a function like that with strangers in California? How could he leave them behind in New York? How could their spiritual life continue without him? Timidly, one or two dissenters indirectly expressed some of these feelings to Prabhupada, as if almost wishing to admonish him for thinking of leaving them, and even hinting that things would not go well, either in San Francisco or New York, if he departed. But they found Prabhupada quite confident and determined. He did not belong to New York, he belonged to Krishna, and he had to go wherever Krishna desired him to preach. Prabhupada showed a spirit of complete detachment, eager to travel and expand the chanting of Hare Krishna.
Brahmanda: But we were shocked that he was going to leave. I never thought that Krishna consciousness would go beyond the Lower East Side, what to speak of New York City. I thought that this was it, and it would stay here eternally.
In the last days of the second week of January, final plane reservations were made, and the devotees began packing Swamiji’s manuscripts away in trunks. Ranchor, a new devotee recruited from Tompkins Square Park, had collected enough money for a plane ticket, and the devotees decided that he should accompany Prabhupada as his personal assistant. Prabhupada explained that he would only be gone a few weeks and that he wanted all the programs to go on in his absence.
* * *
He waited in his room while the boys arranged for a car to take him to the airport. The day was gray and cold, and steam hissed in the radiators. He would take only a suitcase—mostly clothes and some books. He checked the closet to see that his manuscripts were in order. Kirtanananda would take care of his things in his apartment. He sat down at his desk where, for more than six months he had sat so many times working for hours at the typewriter preparing his Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and where he had sat talking to so many guests and to his followers. But today he would not be talking with friends or typing a manuscript, but waiting a last few minutes alone before his departure.
This was a nice place, 26 Second Avenue. He had started here. The boys would keep it up. Some of them were donating their salaries. It was a start.
Prabhupada looked at his watch. He put on his tweed winter coat and his hat and shoes, put his right hand in his bead bag and continued chanting. He walked out of the apartment, down the stairs and through the courtyard, which was now frozen and still, its trees starkly bare without a single leaf remaining. And he left the storefront behind.
He left, even while Brahmananda, Rupanuga and Satsvarupa were at their office jobs. There was not even a farewell scene or a farewell address.