Bonds of Love: Manmohini Devi Dasi
For as long as she could remember, Manmohini was looking for something like this movement. She was 19 when she joined the 61 Second Avenue temple in October of 1969, and soon after went to Boston.
I had tried to become a vegetarian over and over, but didn’t know what to eat until I found the devotees. I wrote Prabhupada a nice letter asking to be initiated, and in February 1970 I got a beautiful initiation letter back. I love the name Prabhupada gave me – it’s a name for Radharani. Man means “mind,” and mohini means “attractor of.”
In his letter to me, Prabhupada wrote, “My dear daughter Manmohini, Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your nice letter dated 18th February 1970 along with your beads for chanting and a pair of lovely flower garlands. Thank you very much. I have immediately offered the flower garlands to Radha and Krishna, and they are so nice looking. I am very happy to accept you as my disciple, and I am glad to know that you are praying to Lord Krishna only that you may always remember that your position eternally is to serve and take shelter of His transcendental lotus feet. So I am returning your beads duly chanted by me, and your spiritual name is Manmohini dasi. Manmohini is another name of Radharani, and Manmohini dasi is the maidservant of Radharani. Now please chant Hare Krishna mantra and be sublimely happy. You know that as my initiated disciple you must chant regularly 16 rounds of beads daily and follow the four restrictions, namely no eating of meat, fish or eggs, no illicit sex life, no taking of any kinds of intoxications, and no gambling or mental speculation. If you stick to these principles and chant the holy name, avoiding the 10 offenses in the matter of chanting, you will become steady and rapidly advanced in Krishna consciousness. I am very pleased to note that you are nicely engaged in preparing bhoga at the Boston temple and you are also going on sankirtan. Please study very carefully all our books and learn our philosophy with the help of our many experienced students there in Boston, and remain happy in Krishna consciousness under the care and guidance of Sriman Satsvarupa and Sriman Brahmananda as you are their younger sister. I am enclosing herewith one sheet listing the 26 qualifications of a devotee, the 10 offenses to be avoided in chanting the mahamantra, and standard practices for initiated devotees. Hope this will meet you in good health. Your ever well wisher, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami”
I was ecstatic to receive this letter. It melted my heart to know somebody so exalted, somebody directly in the parampara, cared so much about us fallen condition souls. Prabhupada risked his life to save us. He has such love and compassion and kindness and mercy and patience and tolerance and forbearance. I’m grateful and honored to be linked up with this movement, and my meager lifetime is not enough for me to repay the debt I owe Srila Prabhupada.
I got married when I was 20 and had a daughter soon after. My husband and I opened some temples, including one in Miami, Florida. Unfortunately, he stopped following the principles and left me, left the movement, and soon after passed away. Srila Prabhupada was in New Dwaraka at the time, and I went to Prabhupada’s quarters with my brother, Swarupa, to see Prabhupada.
Before we entered the room, I heard Prabhupada say, “So, you wish to remarry?” I said, “Not right away, Srila Prabhupada. I just wanted to know if I was prohibited.” Prabhupada said, “Prohibited? I will not prohibit. But you are asking my opinion?” I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada.” He said, “Don’t do it.”
By this time we were sitting down. It was me, Swarupa, and Prabhupada’s servant Srutakirti in the room. I was terrified and didn’t look at Prabhupada. Prabhupada said, “What is your guarantee that your next husband will be different from the first one?” He explained how in Kali-yuga, men have no training in dharma and women have no training in chastity. I already had one child, so I should give all my love to this child. There was no reason for remarriage.
At some point Swarupa said, “Srila Prabhupada my sister feels she needs to remarry for protection.” Prabhupada’s eyes got big as he looked at me. He said, “You are not protected?” He looked at Swarupa and said, “You are not protected?” He looked at Srutakirti and said, “You are not protected? Just see, there is no faith.” He explained that in relation to Krishna, we are all prakriti. Krishna is the only one who can protect us. A husband cannot protect a wife from disease or accidents, old age, death – nothing. Krishna is the only protector, and in relation to Krishna we are all prakriti, subservient.
This was lofty. We were still new devotees and, as Prabhupada always does, he gave us the absolute truth. At one point I looked up and saw that Prabhupada was beautiful. The sun was shining on him, and he was bronze and golden. His voice seemed to be coming from ages and ages ago and sounded like the Supersoul speaking. I felt fallen. My heart was beating fast, but I quietened and listened.
He said, “Can any man give you a written guarantee?” I shook my head no. He said, “Why gamble?”
As we were leaving, he spoke directly to me and with so much compassion and love said, “Read my books. I have written so many books. All day long I read, I write, I chant, I take bath. You do like this.” I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada.” Later, Prabhupada saw me wearing white and approved – and I lived to please Prabhupada.
When Prabhupada was at New Dwaraka, it was so thrilling I couldn’t sleep. I’d stay up at night and make him little presents. Once I made a jar of rasagullas, another time a little tulasi-manjari garland for his Deities. Once I schlepped all over Beverly Hills looking for saffron-colored cashmere socks and ended up finding a light brown pair with mostly cashmere and some cotton.
Of all the gifts I gave him, those socks were my favorite. I never told anyone that the gifts were from me for fear that everyone would copy me. It was great transcendental fun. I’d wrap the gifts in white tissue paper and put ribbons around them tied in a bow that was easy to open. Then I’d have someone put the gift on the vyasasana next to Srila Prabhupada.
At some point Prabhupada would see the gift, open the ribbons, peek inside, and usually be pleased. There were always ways to have ecstatic loving exchanges. When Prabhupada was at the temple it was almost like Watseka wasn’t part of the planet anymore.
One morning around 10, I was with two gurukula students when I saw Srila Prabhupada walking toward us with devotees on either side of him. Prabhupada came right before us, pointed to one of the students and said to me, “He’s not wearing neck beads. You can take care of this?” I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada.” Before I could finish my sentence they were gone. This was during the book-printing marathon and there was a lot going on. Yet Prabhupada noticed that one of the gurukula children didn’t have neck beads. It made me realize that every aspect of Krishna consciousness is equally important. After that I became a neck bead fanatic and always made sure all the children had neck beads.
After I was married, I called my mother to tell her and she said, “Really? What’s his name?” I said, “Hold on, I’ll ask him,” because I didn’t know my husband’s legal name. My mother said, “You’re nuts,” and hung up the phone. I thought she had a point! But when I thought about all that Prabhupada went through for us, what he did for us, and how he gave us the perfect diet, the perfect philosophy, the perfect lifestyle, I would gladly marry a guy I didn’t know and dance in the street wearing sheets and much more. I owe Srila Prabhupada so much. What else is there in life but to try and please him?