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That was the magic of Prabhupada’s preaching.

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Guru-Gauranga: One of the very prominent personalities that came to visit Srila Prabhupada was a French professor, named Jean Herbert. He was an oriental studies scholar and a so-called expert in Hinduism. He was quite famous in France, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, and a chief interpreter at the founding of the United Nations. The man had a lot of weight, in all senses of the word. He was a big guy. I got in touch with this professor and told him that Prabhupada was coming to Geneva. I explained that we had a very active, busy program for Srila Prabhupada, and that his visit would not be complete unless he also participated by coming to talk with Prabhupada at the temple. Professor Herbert agreed, and on the appointed day when Professor Herbert was supposed to show up, he called about an hour before and said that sadly, he would be unable to make it. I was floored that how you can make an appointment, a commitment to the pure devotee, and now break that commitment? I just couldn’t process standing up a pure devotee.

At this time we had rented a Mercedes for Prabhupada to pick him at the airport as well as to go to different places in Geneva like the palace of the government in Geneva, and the World Health Organization. This fine vehicle was sitting in the driveway as I was fuming over this professor’s refusal to come. I asked another other devotee to join me and I told him we’re just going to go find out where this professor lives, and we’re going to make a plea, that “How can you do this? Prabhupada is waiting for you.” I got his address and we drove about a half an hour to his villa in the Geneva countryside. He had a long driveway leading up to a very nice country estate. As we were driving up the driveway, he must have seen us because he was standing on the terrace watching the car approach. When we got to the end of the driveway we parked the car, opened the doors, and got out dressed in dhotis and tilak. Herbert took one look at us and of course he understood the purpose of our visit. He knew immediately who we were, where we were coming from, and why. Without us saying a word he said to me, “Wait one second while I get my hat.” He got into the car and we drove him to the temple arriving at just about the time that he was scheduled to meet with Srila Prabhupada.

Professor Herbert came into the room and was greeted by Prabhupada who invited him to sit down on a cushion next to him. Professor Herbert told Srila Prabhupada how pleased he was to be able to share his understandings of Krishna. He explained to Prabhupada that he had been working on a book for more than twenty years, which was just about to be published, in which he, the professor, would explain the yogic interpretation of the myth of Sri Krishna’s childhood. You could just feel the storm clouds forming above his head.

Now prior to the professor’s arrival, I had gone to see Srila Prabhupada and said, “Prabhupada, tomorrow we’re going to have this professor, and if you’d like to get familiar a little bit with where he’s coming from, I have his book here.” Prabhupada said, “Yes, sit down and you can read portions of it for me.” It was written in French so I did sight translations for Prabhupada. The more I read, the more I could see Prabhupada’s displeasure. At one point Prabhupada said, “That’s good, that’s enough.” (laughs)

So the scene was set for the intellectual battle of Kurukshetra. When the professor said that he had taken more than twenty years to write this book, Prabhupada dryly commented, “And still there are mistakes.” The professor was so much taken aback by this comment he didn’t know what to say. Prabhupada then explained what Krishna consciousness is and that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, not a myth. Strangely, the professor became quiet. Perhaps out of being polite and properly raised, or maybe because he was just submitting to a devotee of Krishna whose knowledge of Krishna was not mythical or fantastical or imaginary but real.

I know that this professor made an impact on Prabhupada because in a letter Prabhupada wrote me some months later, he still remembered the professor. He said, “And regarding the visit of Professor Jean Herbert, tell him that the whole point of jnana (knowledge) as described by Krishna in Bhagavad-gita, is to come to an understanding that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Then Prabhupada listed about five verses, one after the other: “Tell him, ‘Sarva dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam….’ Tell him, ‘Yat karosi yad asnasi….’ Tell him …” The whole letter was ninety percent verses. My understanding is that Prabhupada came to the west to deliver us from nirvisesa and sunyavadi, from the impersonalism and the nihilist speculators who do not know Krishna and His supreme role as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Prabhupada again, as we saw so many times, was fearless. It didn’t matter how big or famous anybody was. Prabhupada schooled him. Prabhupada put him in his place, in a firm way but in the end the professor was glad. That was the magic, I think, of Prabhupada’s preaching, that no one ever took it in the wrong way.

 

 

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