Prabhupada Comes To Detroit July 1971 (Part 2)

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Nityananda das, New Jayapur, Vanua Levu, Fiji Islands


Apparently the devotees had set up the Vyasasana and Prabhupada’s reception impromptu, so Prabhupada dismounted from his seat, kirtan began, and the devotees surrounded their primary object of affection while proceeding down the corridors towards the terminal exit. It was a joyous parade with bold singing and mridanga drumming away. At the top of an escalator and being a little to the left side and forward of the kirtan party, I saw ahead that there was a double glass door through which Srila Prabhupada would exit to reach his waiting car at the outside curb. I quickly saw how I could offer some direct menial service to my spiritual master. Leaping down the stairs next to the slower moving escalator, I reached the doors before anyone else could and grabbed the handle, opening the door wide for Srila Prabhupada to pass through. As soon as he did so, I abandoned the door and edged closer to the maroon sedan into which Srila Prabhupada had entered. After Srila Prabhupada began to pull away, I could not find Kanya Kumari, and frantically decided to let her find her own way, running to our VW to speed back to the temple ahead of Srila Prabhupada. The departure of devotees from the airport was chaotic as they raced to reach the temple in time for Prabhupada’s next arrival ceremony, the bigger one. Each second of association with the mahabhagavata pure devotee was infinitely valuable, and no one wanted to miss any of it.

I had already prepared for this maneuver by studying a city map and memorizing the best route to the temple through America’s fifth largest city. I was not going to get lost or delayed in finding directions. Heart pounding, I reached the temple ahead of all others, now regretting not having waited for my slower moving wife. Parking on the side street, we saw that the grand reception was forming outside at the front of the temple, a large two storied brick building with a raised basement and attic dormers at 8311 E. Jefferson Avenue. The temple had once been an upscale mansion, now converted to the service of Krishna. Car after car arrived back from the airport ahead of Srila Prabhupada, and devotees rushed around for last minute preparations and assembled in a broad corridor from curb to doorway. Anticipation was the heightened at a maximum peak. Vamanadev and Indira dasi had arrived from their St. Louis center in their blue Volkswagen bus. Kirtanananda Swami and some scraggly, austere brahmacharies had come from New Vrindaban in a battered Chevy van. A crew of devotees came from nearby Buffalo, and Rupanuga came with devotees from New York where he was now the temple president. Jagadish and Laksmimoni also came; they had formerly assisted Bhagavan in Detroit, but had since established a growing temple in Toronto. Many devotees from Canada and around the U.S. had gathered in Detroit to see Srila Prabhupada on his return to America tour.

Soon Srila Prabhupada arrived, and he was greeted by many cries of “Jaya Prabhupada!,” a kirtan that began with “Nama Om Vishnupadaya ,” and a huge garland of large varied color roses. A bolt of white muslin cloth had been laid from the street, to the temple entrance, into the temple room, and right up to the Vyasasana, as a sort of transcendentally-antiseptic, royal carpet. As Srila Prabhupada smiled pleasantly and slowly proceeded with his walking cane, rosewater and flower petals were sprinkled in his path just ahead of his every step. Reaching the temple stairs, rose petals showered from above and Srila Prabhupada looked upwards to see several devotee ladies above on the balcony. These ladies, of course, ecstatically exclaimed very loudly, “Jaya Prabhupada!”

Prabhupada entered the large temple hallway and turned right into the temple room, mounting his Vyasasana across from the door. Devotees spilled into and soon crowded the room, and I squeezed to within a few feet of Prabhupada’s left, facing the curtained altar. It was around mid-day, and the kirtan began to increase in intensity, as more and more devotees began to dance before their spiritual father. I remember that someone had loud wompers behind me - the first time I had seen these huge kartals. I held a small Kodak camera, taking occasional photos.

Srila Prabhupada began to smile, sharing his great pleasure with the chanting and dancing of the devotees, and with their obvious ecstatic and devotional happiness.


                                                                                                                                                                        At the airport                            Reception outside the temple

In response, the devotees became more surcharged and the kirtan leapt forward to another level of intensity. Then… suddenly the atmosphere was saturated with spiritual electricity. Srila Prabhupada’s smile broadened more, and progressed into a wide grin, his eyes opening wide as silver dollars. The kirtan further intensified, beyond all previously experienced limits, and now everyone was vertically jump-dancing - no more mellow swaying side to side. Srila Prabhupada’s exultant face beamed, radiating supreme bliss from ear to ear. The sight of Srila Prabhupada’s supremely gleaming, spiritual super-smile, with eyes expanded fully open, was enough to cause everyone there to abandon all self-consciousness, forgetting who or where they were. I took three photos of Prabhupada’s progressive ecstasy, are now unfortunately lost.

As the singing turned to the “Jaya Prabhupada” refrain, something truly amazing happened which I cannot ever forget, the thought of which still gives me the flutters forty some years later. A qualitative change in the time and space continuum precipitated and the spiritual dimension opened up, as though Prabhupada’s ecstasy had forced back the heavy curtain of maya. The devotees simply became delirious, crying and floating, merged into the kirtan, thick with emotion and affection for their Prabhupada. He was obviously very happy with his disciples’ happiness in Krishna consciousness, and they were also so blissful to be with him again, focused intently on his physical form before them. We were no longer on Jefferson Avenue, in Detroit, or even on planet earth. We were in the spiritual realm.

Without any conscious decision or effort, I was bouncing, springing up and down as though weightless, with chills and shivers crawling over my body. The short hair on my head tingled. My bodily awareness was altered; I now felt clearer and lighter than ever before, as though afloat in the ethereal waters of a living dream. There was a profound absence of all the subtle aches, itches, and discomforts of wearing a gross body that accompany us throughout life like a heavy necklace. In a second, my consciousness transformed into a profoundly clean happiness - there was no more anxiety. Time stopped. Srila Prabhupada was giving us some mercy by sharing his spiritual bliss, a taste of the ocean of pleasure in Krishna consciousness. He was blessing us with a miracle, the experience of the transcendental field of purified consciousness. It was totally incomparable to any previous life event.

Then the episode gradually subsided as Prabhupada’s smile receded, and the mantle of bodily identification returned. Kirtan continued and the devotees assimilated their enigmatic metaphysical encounter. I was deeply moved and fully convinced of the supra-mundane reality. Now I would always follow Prabhupada. In spite of residual conditioning and fading attachments, all worldly so-called pleasures have paled piteously in the light of this brief contact with anandamaya, Krishna’s pleasure potency. I was fortified in the pursuit of the highest goal, a brief sight of which has crippled my interest in this temporary, miserable world. How did Prabhupada do that? He gave us a drop from the ocean of bliss, just as Lord Vishnu had encouraged Narada Muni with a short vision of his original spiritual form.

The kirtan ended, and devotees attempted to offer their obeisances in the very crowded room. There was no floor space for me to kneel, so I just stood with folded palms and continued to gaze at Prabhupada as he recited prayers to the predecessor gurus and holy places. Then followed the lecture, for which I managed to sit down. Prabhupada first asked whether the windows could be opened for ventilation, noting that “there are so many men.” He began by declaring that “this material advancement of civilization is not knowledge.” It was hedonism and out of ignorance of our real business, we were simply trying to “decorate the apartment” and “live comfortably.” However, death will come and forcibly evict us. Prabhupada brought laughter to the devotees when he described three kinds of persons: bhogi, rogi, and yogi.

(....To be continued)

Prabhupada Comes To Detroit July 1971 (Part 1)

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