The Gift of Remembrance

Naughty Krishna holding a piece of candy (photo: Jishnu Das)

Note: I wrote this article for the yearly book of tributes to my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. But somehow the article was overlooked this year and didn’t get published, so I am publishing it here.

In the Sri Chaitanya Charitamrta we find the following passage:

“Things that are very difficult to do become easy to execute if one somehow or other simply remembers Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. But if one does not remember Him, even easy things become very difficult. To this Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu I offer my respectful obeisances.” (Adi 14.1)

But how can someone like me get the mercy of remembering Lord Caitanya?

Only one way: the mercy of Lord Caitanya’s devotee. And because of this mercy, the impossible has become easy.

As a hippie on Manhattan’s Lower East Side,  I could not even hope to set foot on any path to the Absolute Truth. How could I? Could anyone today  perform austerities like the sages and yogis of the past?

Like the Zen monk Hui Ke in the sixth century? He cut off his own arm and  held it out to his teacher, Bodhidharma, in a desperate plea for enlightenment. And in more recent  times, just before the Vietnam War, Buddhist monks in Saigon set themselves on fire in protest against persecution by the Catholic government.  I saw the photos.  Bodies engulfed in  flames. But they sat calmly in meditation. Could I ever do that?

What about the Christian martyrs? They  knelt in prayer while hungry lions leaped toward them, fangs bared? Me do that? I get weak in the knees if a little dog growls at me.

I  wanted the Absolute Truth. Yes, but not  the austerities.

Maybe LSD would be the way. But each time, as the drug wore off, the visions of golden lights faded into apartment walls.  Sunsets over eternal beaches melted into unmade beds. Never any lasting knowledge. Where could I go from there?

Lord Caitanya (right) is Krishna himself. His companion Lord Nityananda is Krishna’s brother Balarama. They advented themselves in India 500 yeara ago to enjoy the life of a devotee,

But I didn’t have to go anywhere. No need to pack a suitcase or buy a ticket or stick my thumb out. Remembrance of Lord Caitanya came to the Lower East Side.

It came in the form of an elderly monk from India when Srila Prabhupada opened up the first Hare Krishna center at 26 Second Avenue. I stopped in the doorway that summer evening and listened to the chanting. I knew then that the impossible had become easy.

Here was the spiritual path  for someone who  lived on the Lower East Side. No need to cut off my arm or set myself on fire or leave the world behind and move into a monastery with rules I couldn’t  follow.

No need to sit up straight for hours in the leg-numbing lotus position. Just run my beads between my fingers and chant the Hare  Krishna mantra any way I felt comfortable.

No need to rack my brain trying to figure out what this evasive Truth really was. Just open up the Bhagavad Gita, the book that describes what other books call indescribable.

What’s more, every day Prabhupada served meals of a delicious food called prasada, and I could learn to make it myself.

Thank you Srila Prabhupada.

His Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Not only had Prabhupada brought remembrance of Lord Caitanya to the Lower East Side, but the remembrance would follow me wherever I went in the world. It became my backpack.

The old saying goes that the heaviest luggage is an empty purse. But even when my purse was empty, this backpack was still full. Sometimes in my travels I found myself on the steet with no money or standing in the rain with no place to go.

But remembrance of Lord Caitanya made the impossible easy. And I knew Prabhupada was with me, even after he had left this world. Because remembrance of Lord Caitanya is always Prabhupada’s gift.

Now, every day, I see news of the impossible on the internet. Some scientist is trying to unearth the secret of life: What started the first breath? the first heartbeat? But he can’t get to the essence.

Once more, remembrance of Lord Caitanya makes the impossible easy. Just pick up the Bhagavad-Gita: “I am the life of all that lives,” says Krishna. And there’s the answer. Krishna is the missing factor in the scientist’s equation.

Yes, in the first lesson Srila Prabhupada handed me what the great scientists of the material world cannot grasp even after decades of trying. He made the impossible easy.

But Prabhupada himself, with his unflinching remembrance of Lord Caitanya,  performed the impossible on a magnificent scale. Who could have imagined that this humble monk could accomplish more than a dream? There he sat with his typewriter in a little room at the Radha Damodar Temple, using salvaged paper to translate and explain a scripture of 17,000 verses.

And how could this same poverty-stricken monk sail across the ocean on a freighter to a strange land where he knew nobody and start a worldwide spiritual movement attracting thousands of followers?

I didn’t  believe it when I met Prabhupada. How could the Hare Krishna Movement become a real movement? How could it grow beyond a little group of people in a storefront?

I didn’t know that remembrance of Lord Caitanya made the impossible easy. I didn’t know that Srila Prabhupada, the bearer of this remembrance, was offering it not only to me but to the whole world.

I cannot separate Prabhupada from remembrance of Lord Caitanya.  Nor do I want to. I cringe when new people ask if they still need the spiritual master once they see Krishna. All I know is that whatever I have seen of Krishna has come from remembrance of Lord Caitanya.

It’s like liberation. As long as you are serving a liberated soul, said Prabhupada, you are also liberated just as a wire connected to an electrical outlet is charged. But don’t break the connection.

And Prabhupada is my only  connection for remembrance of Lord Caitanya.

So I pray to Krishna for this blessing: May I never think I have outgrown my need for Prabhupada. May I not grow  bigger and bigger but shrink smaller and smaller, more and more helpless. May I never see anything that blocks my vision of Prabhupada.

Prabhupada is everything to me. He is the hand that feeds me. He is the shepherd who leads me to green pastures. He is my morning sun and evening moon.

But above all, he is Prabhupada, my eternal spiritual master. He is taking me home, where I started from and never should have left, where I can live forever as his servant.

Bowing my head at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada,

Umapati Swami, Vyasa Puja 2022

Eternally touching my head to the floor at the lotus feet of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, for showing me all this.

~Umapati Swami, October 17 2022

 

(Note: The opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organization or any other person.)

Write to me: hoswami@yahoo.com

© Umapati Swami 2021
Scriptural passages © Bhaktivedanta Book Trust

Srila Prabhupada

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the teacher who brought Krishna Consciousness from India to the West and then to the rest of the world. He is the founder of the worldwide Hare Krishna Movement as well as the author and compiler of many works of Vedic knowledge. He left this world in 1977.

Umapati Swami

One of the first American devotees of the Hare Krishna Movement, he became Srila Prabhupada’s disciple in 1966. Since then, he has preached Krishna Consciousness in many countries and is the author of “My Days with Prabhupada,” available from Amazon. Now 85 years old, he has started this blog to share what he has learned.

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