I can’t do justice to the reality of life. This photo is once-removed from the reality, and my description of it is twice-removed. But devotion, even one drop of it, can immediately penetrate time, memory, and photo-moment poses. I look for that drop to spring out of my heart when I look at the photo of Prabhupada.
This picture was taken in Srila Prabhupada’s room (not the present residence) at Krishna-Balarama Mandhir. He is wearing the rust-colored sweater, and from the devotees gathered there I can tell it’s India circa 1971-72. Syamasundara, Gurukripa, Rsi Kumara, Revatinandana, Pancadravida, Mahamsa, and one lady, barely visible, in the back, maybe Visakha. I see the dictaphone on his desk with the dust cover on it. Sheet-covered bolster pillows. I am curious where this room is, set up for his use with the low desk, but I can’t tell.
I know the layout of this desk. These objects are like exact paraphernalia for a special yajna, known in detail only by his intimate servants and secretaries. Eyeglasses case, container for tilaka, desk lamp, stainless steel water cup, a bell to call his servant. Other items are optional—the picture of Krishna running to His mother, a small Radha-Krishna painting in a frame, a picture of his Guru Maharaj.
Srila Prabhupada is gesturing with his left hand. It is intriguing to see the disciples’ faces as they listen intently to their guru. Everyone goes through so much in their minds. Many of the devotees gave up strict practice after some years, but they retained deep impressions of Srila Prabhupada.
Prabhupada, you were always getting things started. Your whole time preaching in this world was digging hard earth, planting—harvesting too—but always working with raw materials, men and women and Indians and sadhus and construction crews and cement. I don’t know exactly what you are saying in this picture. I don’t even see the microphone recording your words. There is a small pack of letters on your desk. I know you are probably preaching, saying something about the general ignorance of Kali-yuga and describing the various misunderstandings you want your disciples to avoid. You usually didn’t tell us directly that we were the mistaken ones you referred to. You spoke of mayavadis and mundane politicians and envious people. We knew the kind of people we had to avoid if we wanted to keep our bhakti-lata growing. One thing is for sure. You are a fit spiritual master that can comfort us through a life beset with doubts.[ meditations ]