It was four A.M. Prabhupada sat in the cold darkness, with a small desk lamp shining before him. Having risen from bed at two and come into his main room to dictate Srimad-Bhagavatam purports, he now sat silently. He wore a wool knit hat pulled over his ears, a sweater, and a gray wool chadar around his shoulders.
On the other side of the double doors sat his servant, peeking in to see what his spiritual master was doing. On Prabhupada's last visit to the United States, he had acquired a new secretary-servant, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami. Despite the cold, Prabhupada's new assistant was happy to be in Vrindavana and so intimately situated close to his spiritual master.
Prabhupada rang his bell. The servant jumped up, opened the double doors, and entered the room. In the far corner of the large room, seated at the desk, he saw Prabhupada, looking grave and mystical, his beautifully intense eyes sparkling. As Satsvarupa offered obeisances, he thought of his great fortune in being there with his spiritual master. When he sat up, he saw Prabhupada nod slightly, and he felt that Prabhupada was acknowledging his servant's good fortune.
Sitting on the floor on the other side of the desk, Satsvarupa faced Srila Prabhupada. In awe and reverence he tensed, prepared to do whatever Prabhupada requested, yet fearful that the request might be something he wouldn't know how to do.
"Get the Krishna book, Volume Two," Prabhupada said. His servant ran and got it from the shelf, returned, and again sat down.
"Read the story of King Nrga," Prabhupada said. Though terse, Prabhupada's commands were complete. His servant paused, wondering if there was anything else. He opened the book, then hesitated. "Out loud?" he asked. Prabhupada nodded, and his servant began to read aloud.
Soon, however, Satsvarupa became puzzled as to why Prabhupada was having him do this so early in the morning when he was usually dictating Srimad-Bhagavatam. As Satsvarupa read aloud, Prabhupada sat motionless, giving no indication that he was pleased, or even listening. In that silence, Satsvarupa became very aware of his own voice reading, and he listened intently to the story.
King Nrga, the story explained, gave many cows in charity to the brahmanas. One day, however, one cow wandered back and entered among King Nrga's herd, and so the king unknowingly gave it in charity to another brahmana. But as the new owner was leading the cow away, the former owner returned to claim it. An argument ensued between the two brahmanas. Coming before King Nrga, they charged that he had taken back a cow previously given in charity – a great sin. The puzzled King Nrga very humbly offered each brahmana one hundred thousand cows in exchange for this one cow. Neither accepted, however, since according to Manu's law, a brahmana's property can't be taken under any condition, even by the government. Consequently, both brahmanas left in anger, and as a result King Nrga had to take his next birth as a lizard.
As Prabhupada's servant read on, he suddenly got the feeling that Prabhupada had asked him to read this story to expose the cheating of his own servant. In a panic, he tried to think of how he had committed the offense of stealing from his spiritual master. He couldn't think of anything wrong – until he recalled having taken a pair of socks which had been given to Prabhupada as a gift. Prabhupada was always receiving gifts wherever he went, and it was his practice, after collecting socks and scarves and so on, to give them to his disciples. Prabhupada would use only a fraction of the things given to him. So because it was cold in Vrindavana, Satsvarupa, who had no socks, had taken one inexpensive-looking pair that he was sure his spiritual master would never want to use. He had assumed that Prabhupada would not object, but now his cheating was indirectly exposed.
After the story was completed, Prabhupada remained silent, as did his servant. "Perhaps Prabhupada is sleeping," Satsvarupa thought, though he dared not say anything or even move. They both sat motionless, Satsvarupa looking down at the book and sometimes up at Prabhupada, waiting for an indication.
Five minutes passed. Finally Prabhupada said, "Now take this chapter and type it up." His servant acknowledged the instruction and got up to leave. But still it wasn't clear. Why had he read the story, and why type it? Prabhupada then spoke again. "Now I want to dictate one letter." Satsvarupa had a notepad with him, and he sat down and immediately began writing Prabhupada's words.
The letter was to Mr. S., and Prabhupada referred to Mr. S.'s donation of the land and to his desire to take back the front fifty feet. He reminded Mr. S. that, according to the original agreement, he had given the entire land with the sanction of Srimati Radharani. How could he say that now he was taking it back? Mr. S. should please reconsider what he was proposing. In this connection Prabhupada was enclosing the story from Srimad-Bhagavatam of King Nrga. Mr. S. should read it and consider the implications.
Prabhupada's servant felt relieved. But he also felt that his guilt was valid and that he should be wary of becoming too familiar with his spiritual master's possessions. And he had learned another lesson as well: his own viewpoint of Prabhupada was entirely subjective. Although he had been with Prabhupada, he had not correctly understood Prabhupada's thoughts and motives. He felt that perhaps he was not the only disciple who sometimes made that mistake. One may try to comprehend the many aspects of Srila Prabhupada, but one should not expect to understand completely. Even G.B.C. secretaries and other leading devotees who were right with Prabhupada in his dealings could not know what Prabhupada was thinking. Satsvarupa Maharaja decided that it was best to always follow Srila Prabhupada's instructions, and going back to the adjoining room, he began typing the story of King Nrga.