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Everything Srila Prabhupada did was an example for us

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Bonds of Love: Nirakula Devi Dasi

Sometime in 1972, Nirakula was watching a black-and-white television show at a friend’s house in Brooklyn when Srila Prabhupada came on the news. He was arriving at a local airport and was surrounded by a throng of devotees.

 

I was seventeen. I’d heard of Hare Krishna from George Harrison’s Bangladesh concert, but I didn’t know about Prabhupada’s books and I hadn’t seen devotees. A couple of months later a few friends and I went to the temple on Henry Street in Brooklyn, where I saw a picture of Prabhupada and realized he was the person I’d seen on TV.

 

On February 23, 1973, a few friends and I moved into the Los Angeles temple. Srila Prabhupada came in mid-April that year. I was terribly excited to meet him. A few of us stayed up all night in the temple room upholstering and decorating his vyasasana, cleaning, and making gardenia and rose garlands. Finally, when Srila Prabhupada was physically present, I was overwhelmed. All the devotees were feeling sheer joy.

 

In Los Angeles on May 15, 1973, Srila Prabhupada initiated me. When he gave me my name, he said “kula” means to be confused. At that moment I felt like my brain was bouncing inside my head. I was the epitome of confusion. Then he said, “Nira means not. So Nirakula means one who is not confused – fixed up.” The devotees were laughing as Srila Prabhupada gave me my beads.

 

I helped clean his quarters in the mornings. I cleaned with awe and reverence. I felt like I was on the altar, dressing the Deities. His room was never dirty or dusty, and nothing ever seemed out of place. I could see that he’d been using things, but everything was where it was supposed to be.

 

Three days a week we’d change the flower vases in his room, using the flowers that had been taken from the vases on the Deities altar. Once, Srila Prabhupada noticed that there were fresh flowers in the vases although the flowers that had been there were still good. Prabhupada said the old flowers were still all right and it wasn’t necessary to spend laksmi for new ones. He said we should keep the flowers until they died. That’s when I realized that we could be wasteful even if we were using everything in service to Prabhupada and Krishna. It made an impression on me.

 

Everything I know – cleanliness, etiquette, basic human functions – I owe to Srila Prabhupada and those who were trained by him. I relearned everything after meeting the devotees.

 

Madhudvisa Maharaja used to lead wonderful kirtanas in the L.A. temple. When he left the sannyasa asrama, Prabhupada gave very specific instructions that Madhudvisa Prabhu was part of our family and should always feel welcome at the temple. He was not to be ostracized. Prabhupada wanted him to be able to come back and serve. It was a very loving, fatherly moment. It was like teaching young children how to behave. In those days we were so neophyte and fanatical that we could be fearful and judgmental and lose our humanness in dealing with one another.

 

Since the BBT was in New Dvaraka and because Prabhupada did a lot of translating there, I became instilled with the importance of reading and distributing Prabhupada’s books. Prabhupada took a personal interest in everything that was going on. He would go to the press, the artists’ studios, and to the FATE museum, to see the work being done. Srila Prabhupada even visited the small grocery store we had in the community and asked about prices, etc. He enlivened all the devotees.

 

If you just happened to be outside, Srila Prabhupada might walk across the street or up to the artists’ studios or to your apartment unannounced. This happened to me once – Srila Prabhupada came to the apartment where I and a few other devotees were living. It was shortly after breakfast, and he decided that he wanted to inspect one of the new apartments the temple had recently acquired. He was literally just a minutes away when we found out he was coming. The devotees accompanying Srila Prabhupada showed him around our two-bedroom apartment, even opening our closet doors! Fortunately, we lived very simply and neatly. Our only furniture was a rocking chair and an altar made of wooden crates covered by a madras. We also had a silver goblet that we used for offering beverages to our picture of Srila Prabhupada. Tirtharthi Prabhu had the good sense to use that goblet to offer him a cup of water while he was there.

 

I never felt I lacked an intimate relationship with Prabhupada, perhaps because I was setting up his plate for meals and doing his laundry and cleaning for him. My connection felt personal. Prabhupada was personal with all of us, and we felt close to him. He was teaching us lessons, correcting our imbalances and the fads we’d take up, like drinking only juices instead of honoring prasada. Prabhupada would immediately have a solution for our disagreements and problems or put an end to our lopsidedness or encourage whatever good we did. His word was the final word.

 

There was the time Srila Prabhupada was there for Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s disappearance day. He gave the lecture and expressed such deep humility. He said that we had all come to help him in his service to his Guru Maharaja. At this point he exhibited a great deal of emotion and thanked us all. It was overwhelming. Everyone began to cry. It was like we weren’t even breathing to see Prabhupada so grateful and humble.

 

Prabhupada taught me gratitude and showed me what real humility is. He is the exemplar of what I strive to be. Everything he did was an example for us, and to hear him, to watch him, to physically be in his presence – it satisfied every one of our senses.

 

Here we are, thirty-eight years after his departure, and the proof of our eternal spiritual connection to him is obvious. Although I was young and came from such a degraded background and had his vapu for such a short time, somehow I’ve been fortunate to remain in the association of his sincere and dedicated followers. Hare Krishna.

 


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