Overview

The Inception of Bhaktivedānta Institute

In late 1997, H.H. Bhaktisvarūpa Dāmodara Maharaja told me that he wanted to compile Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions on Bhaktivedānta Institute into a book. With that intent, he and I made some recordings, where Maharaja narrated the early history of Institute and I transcribed the tapes. Following this, I searched for quotes, letters, conversations, etc. from the published material and inserted in into the transcribed text. I believe Maharaja had bigger plans for this book, which included Śrīla Prabhupāda’s cultural approach to religion (“Srimad-Bhagavatam is a cultural presentation for the re-spiritualization of the entire human society.”). While I did not get a chance to work on it, I have had the transcribed copy of the recordings that we made in 1997. Over the years, I have read through this now and then, and it chokes me up every time. This isn’t my work, and these are (for the most part) not my words (except when I lightly edited the recordings). I have thought of making it public many times, but every time I asked myself: Why now? I have now changed the question: Why not? And since I don’t have a good answer, I’m taking the liberty of making this public. It isn’t in the form that Bhaktisvarūpa Dāmodara Maharaja had planned and envisioned. But it is what we had done twenty years ago.


PART 1

ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA’S INTIAL CONCEPTION

(APRIL 1970 – JULY 1974)

 

The First Meeting

The Vedic scriptures state that the living entities are wandering all over the universe transmigrating through different bodies in their futile search for lasting happiness and freedom from anxiety. The real means to attain such perfection is sometimes made available to a few when by some inconceivable arrangement of the Supreme Lord, and by dint of their great fortune accumulated during many previous life-times, they are able to contact a pure devotee of the Lord and having recognized his transcendental position they surrender to him in full faith and devotion. By following the bonafide instructions of such a devotee one can very soon become free from the struggle and fear of material existence.

Such a fortune happened to me when I first met Śrīla Prabhupāda at the Los Angeles ISKCON center sometime during April-May in 1970, through Dr. Ravindra Pratap Rao (Ramanada Raya Dasa), a friend of mine. Dr. Rao was a chemist by profession and he had already been visiting Śrīla Prabhupāda for some time. He had become greatly impressed by Śrīla Prabhupāda and would always talk to me about going and meeting him. I was, however, very reluctant and it was not until Dr. Rao threatened me that he will stop speaking to me unless I agreed to go with him that I yielded to his wish and went to see Śrīla Prabhupāda.

Upon meeting Śrīla Prabhupāda, Dr. Rao introduced me as a native of Manipur and a student working at the University of California, Irvine, for my Ph.D. in Chemistry. Śrīla Prabhupāda was already aware of the Vaishnava history of Manipur. He had seen temples constructed by Manipuris in Nawadwip, Radhakund, Vṛndāvana, and he knew that Manipuris were descendants of Babruvahana, the son of Arjuna. Therefore, upon seeing me, Śrīla Prabhupāda immediately felt that, given my background, it would be appropriate if I were engaged in spreading the mission of Krishna Consciousness.

Śrīla Prabhupāda had earlier seen many Indians living in the West and he knew well their intentions for coming to America. Upon seeing me, he commented that all brilliant young Indians were rushing towards the West, influenced by its advancement, to study science and earn dollars. Even I told him that many of my friends had been coming to America and my goal in life was to come to America. Śrīla Prabhupāda then countered, “You—young scholars and students—have come as beggars to beg scientific knowledge and dollars. But I have not come here to beg. I came here to give to the Americans something—the spiritual knowledge, which they do not have. Why don’t you also do the same? Why are you simply taking? Why don’t you also give something?” Śrīla Prabhupāda had made a strong statement, and he was very serious about it. I was struck by his sincerity, frankness and dedication to his purpose.

Science “Preaching” is Hari Kirtana

That was the first meeting. In the days that followed I started visiting Śrīla Prabhupāda more often. Dr. Rao and I would come to see Śrīla Prabhupāda almost every evening. Whenever Śrīla Prabhupāda saw me he would start some scientific discussion. He always felt that since I had some background in science, that knowledge must be used in scientifically promoting Krishna Consciousness. He used to say that any form of knowledge must be utilized in glorifying the Supreme Lord. He would often quote in this regard the instruction given by Nārada muni to Vyāsadeva:

idam hi pumsas tapasah srutasya va
svistasya suktasya ca buddhi-dattayoh
avicyuto ‘rthah kavibhir nirupito
yad-uttamasloka-gunanuvarnanam

Learned circles have positively concluded that the infallible purpose of the advancement of knowledge, namely austerities, study of the Vedas, sacrifice, chanting of hymns and charity, culminates in the transcendental descriptions of the Lord, who is defined in choice poetry. (Śrimad Bhāgavatam 1.5.22)

Śrīla Prabhupāda quoted this verse many, many times during morning walk conversations, classes and discussions on scientific preaching, and from my experiences with Śrīla Prabhupāda I can confidently say that this shloka forms the philosophical basis for scientific preaching.

Whenever I went to see Śrīla Prabhupāda, he would only talk about science and convincing the modern world about the existence of God.

“You are a science student. By your knowledge, you prove that behind these laws, there is Kṛṣṇa. Then your scientific knowledge is perfect.”[1]

“Your education has meaning when by your education, your scientific knowledge, you’ll prove that there is God, He is also glorified. Then you are welcome.”[2]

“Either chemical department or physical department or electrical department. Any department. It does not matter. Through that department you go to the center.”[3]

This kind of work, Śrīla Prabhupāda felt, would not only be a very important contribution to the world, but is also the process by which the intellectuals of the world can perfect their human mission. He explained how science engaged in the service of Lord is factually Hari kirtana. Kirtana is not just chanting the holy names of the Lord, he said, scientific knowledge used for Krishna is also kirtana. By engaging scientific knowledge in service of Krishna scientists can glorify Him through their natural activities.

“Yes. You are thinking simply by lungs and kartalas, kirtana will go on. Anything we do here has no material connection. We are not talking for how to increase our business and enjoy wine and women. That is not our business. Yad uttama sloka gunanuvarnanam. We are trying to establish Kṛṣṇa. And this is kirtana.”[4]

Life Comes From Life

From 1970 to 1973, I was involved in my Ph.D., yet I would always find time to visit Śrīla Prabhupāda whenever he came to Los Angeles. The Los Angeles temple (also called New Dwarka) was like headquarters for Śrīla Prabhupāda in the 70’s and he used to be in Los Angeles every year for an extensive period of time. During those times, every day I would drive about sixty miles from the University to be with Śrīla Prabhupāda for the morning walks. These morning walks became a forum for animated discussions on scientific preaching.

Śrīla Prabhupāda liked argument. He would ask somebody to present the scientific viewpoint and then he will challenge it from different angles. Often he used strong words against the scientists calling them ‘rascals’ because they claim that life is a chance combination of chemicals or that by scientific advancement one day they will create life in laboratories. His criticisms, however, were not malicious. Rather, they were very humorous and everybody was enlivened upon hearing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s comments. Often he would narrate stories to ridicule the fallacies of materialism and then joke about it. His intentions however were always serious. He was concerned that the scientists by their false claims they will one day create life are misleading the ordinary mass of people and we must challenge the scientists to refute their atheistic views. The Bhaktivedānta Book Trust (BBT) later published these discussions as a book called Life Comes From Life. After the morning walk, we would all go for the Śrimad Bhāgavatam class. Even here, often Śrīla Prabhupāda would talk about science preaching. Sometimes he would call me in the audience, and would ask, ‘What does our scientist say?’

Go Traveling Around the World

The initial idea about scientific preaching, that came through morning conversations, was that we must present the science and philosophy of Krishna Consciousness among the colleges and universities around the world. Śrīla Prabhupāda said that both Dr. Rao and I should go and present lectures in all colleges and universities around the world. Dr. Rao at that time was already in India. Around the end of 1970 he had become so inspired by Śrīla Prabhupāda that he had left his job in America and had gone to his native city of Gorakhpur to start a temple there. He was also working at the University of Gorakhpur. Śrīla Prabhupāda therefore suggested that Dr. Rao should take leave of absence from the university for some time, and both of us should go traveling around the world as soon as possible.

“You and Dr. Rao just make a combination, world-touring. I shall give you all expenditure. You go to the universities, scientists, talk with them. Our kirtana party will also go.”[5]

“Take assistance, you have got. Ask Dr. Rao to come, join. Make plan. Go from town to town, all over the world. This has to be done.”[6]

“I have asked Svarūpa Dāmodara to invite Dr. Ramananda Rao to come and join him to present this revolutionary theory to the learned advanced scientists.”[7]

Śrīla Prabhupāda said he will arrange all our travel expenses and he instructed Karandhara Prabhu who was then temple president in New Dwarka to meet all our requirements for college preaching. I was communicating with Dr. Rao in Gorakhpur and Śrīla Prabhupāda was also writing to me asking when we were starting. But, due to Dr. Rao’s engagement in the University and my involvement with Ph.D. we could not begin at that time. We were very new and we didn’t know how to start, although some conception for what needs to be done was already there.

Scientific Commentary on Vedanta Sutras

Śrīla Prabhupāda often told us that nothing in this world was actually material. Activities done for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord do not bind us, but are rather the cause of liberation from the material existence. Thus, he felt that the scientific propensity to inquire into the ultimate nature of things can be engaged in the search for the nature of the Absolute Truth, and thus it can be the cause of greatest human benefit. The human form of life is meant to understand the original source of everything and this is the first statement in the Vedanta Sutras, athatho brahma jijnasa. The scientists are attempting to understand reality but only in a limited way. The devotee scientists must however present the knowledge of Absolute Truth as summarized in the Vedanta Sutras.

“We have to explain what is meant by Vedanta. Veda means knowledge and anta means end, we have already explained. So everyone is searching after knowledge, inquisitiveness. The science is also the same process. Science is trying to find out the ultimate cause, starting point. Is it not? That is scientific research. So we have our departments of knowledge. He can study even a flower. Go on studying, you can come to the seed, the potential. This is scientific research. To find out the ultimate cause. So they so many department of knowledge. Department of science, department of art. Vedanta means the Ultimate knowledge, the Original. That is called brahma-jijnasa. … [it] means this human form of life is specially meant for enquiring Absolute Truth. If the human being does not enquire about it then he’s animal. You have to prove it logically, scientifically. This is first sutra. So you write on upon one sutra, then I give you next sutra. Everyone of you can write according to understanding, athatho-brahma-jijnasa. Now, this is the life for enquiring about the Ultimate goal, Absolute Truth.”[8]

Śrīla Prabhupāda felt that a scientific explanation of Vedanta Sutras would be very unique in the history of humankind. It will establish the Krishna consciousness movement on a solid philosophical footing. His instructions illustrate a vital point. As we will later see, Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted the athatho-brahma-jijnasa aphorism on the logo of the Bhaktivedānta Institute. He saw this sutra echoing the scientific mentality to search out in details the ultimate nature of reality. He was convinced that the scientific propensity can be utilized in service of Supreme Lord and this can be the source of great advantage in the spreading Vedic culture scientifically. Unfortunately, due to other preoccupations Śrīla Prabhupāda could not devote further time on this matter. His instructions present a task yet to be fulfilled.

The Scientific Basis of Krishna Consciousness

Often during morning walks Śrīla Prabhupāda would ask me to protest against the atheistic presentations of science, in particular Darwin’s evolution theory, by writing a book. He said that we must challenge the materialistic theory that “Life Comes From Matter” by presenting the Vedic view that “Life Comes From Life,” that Krishna is the original source of everything. Based upon the ideas that I got during morning walk conversations with Śrīla Prabhupāda, I wrote a book called the “The Scientific Basis of Krishna Consciousness” as an offering to Śrīla Prabhupāda on his Vyasa-puja celebrations in 1973. Śrīla Prabhupāda was extremely pleased with this offering and he would often show it to visitors with pride saying that it has been written by a scientist.

“Svarūpa Dāmodara has already written one small booklet, ‘Kṛṣṇa Consciousness, Purely on a Scientific Basis.’ So this is the business of big, big chemists and physicists to present the real fact in Krishna consciousness. Then such education is valid.”[9]

“Our Svarūpa Dāmodara, Doctor, Ph.D., he was defeated three times, four times daily and then he is now writing book ‘Scientific Basis of Krishna Consciousness.’ You see? And I was not a scientist. He was a Ph.D., but I talked on the basis of Kṛṣṇa assets. That’s all.”[10]

“Recently we have published one booklet. It is written by one scientist, my student, ‘The Scientific Basis of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness’. … His description is there in the last page, his photograph. … he’s Ph.D. from California University. And he graduated himself from Guwahati University. Very learned scholar.”[11]

Prabhupāda’s Personal Example

Although Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke strongly against the scientists, his personal example in treating the guest scientists was of an exemplary host. During the course of my study at Irvine I took many scientists to meet with Śrīla Prabhupāda and he was very nice with them, even if he criticized their atheistic views. On one particular occasion, in a meeting with Prof. Gregory Benford (a renowned astrophysicist from the University at Irvine) he gave to Prof. Benford his personal plate of Mahāprasādam saying, “This is for you!” Prof. Benford was visibly stunned. Perhaps, he did not expect such affectionate treatment from the renowned leader of an international spiritual movement. On other occasions also Śrīla Prabhupāda said that in all our dealings with scholars we must first feed them nice prasādam and after they are satisfied in this way they will be friendly with us and will listen to what we have to say.

In a lecture on Bhagavad-gita Śrīla Prabhupāda summarized our preaching strategy. 

“… our preaching process is this: dante nidhaya trnakam padayor nipatya. According to Vedic civilization, if one approaches before you with a straw in his mouth, that means he is fully surrendered. That is the sign. Therefore, Prabodhananda Sarasvati, he is speaking that “With a straw in my mouth,” dante nidhaya trnaka. Dante, “teeth,” padayor nipatya, “I am just falling down at your lotus feet, and I have come before you with this straw very humbly.” Dante nidhaya trnakam padayor nipatya kaku-satam krtva ca: “And I am flattering you hundred times.” Then naturally any rogue, any rascal will be pleased: “All right, you can speak something.” If you become so humble and meek, there is no man in the world who will say, “No, no, I am not going to hear you.” Of course, there are many rascals. They will say so, that “I have no time.” So anyway, generally people will hear. So when he says, “All right, what do you want to say?” Dante nidhaya trnakam padayor nipatya kaku-satam krtva ca aham brav…, he sadhava, again flattering: “O the great sadhu, you are…,” although you know he is a great rascal. (laughter) Still, I will have to speak to him. This is the process of preaching. Is that all right? You tell him, “Oh, you are a great sadhu.” Then he will be: “Oh, yes, yes. (laughter) You are right. You are right. What do you want from me? Tell me.” Then you can say, he sadhavah sakalam eva vihaya durad: “What every rascaldom you have learned, please forget. (laughter) Please forget.” “Then what I have to do?” Caitanya candra carane kurutanuragam. “You become adhered to the lotus feet of Lord Caitanya. That is my… That’s all.” ”[12]

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s criticisms were meant to get an urgent message across, but they were administered with finesse. When he used strong words with unfamiliar people, he would ease the tension by laughing, joking or smiling. The effect was that the audience would give a cool-headed, patient hearing to his arguments. His age made a lot of difference. Being an elderly person, his remarks calling scientists ‘rascal’ were affected as indulgent reproach rather than malicious criticism. On some occasions he expressed his attitude towards science, quite differently from his criticism of its atheism.

“No, no. We don’t condemn the scientists. We say that “Take credit as much as you can. But why do you defy the existence of God?” That is our protest.”[13]

A Challenge to the Scientists

Once, it so happened that there was a seminar organized in the Chemistry Department at the university. The seminar lasted about 4 or 5 days and many important speakers came from different parts of the United States.  The Department Chairman at the time was Prof. Rowland (he became a Nobel laureate in 1995). Dr. Stanley Miller, who first synthesized amino acids from simple molecules, gave two or three lectures during this seminar about evolution and life’s origin. The lecture was about interstellar chemistry, the chemistry in the upper atmospheric regions, and he spoke on life’s chemical origin. Miller was very hopeful that the life could have generated from chemical elements.

Since I was already with Śrīla Prabhupāda, I got the idea that I should ask this person a question. During the question session, therefore, I asked him, “At this stage of our chemical knowledge we practically know how to synthesize all the bio-chemicals in our body. Do you agree with that?” He agreed. “Suppose we assemble all these chemicals: nucleic acids, lipids, carbohydrates, enzymes in the laboratory then we don’t have wait for thousands of years for small molecules to become big molecules. DNA, RNA and everything are readily available. Do you think that if we put these together we will generate a living cell?” I asked like that, and he said, “I don’t know”. “Then how can you claim that the life could have come from this chemistry?  If it is really true, then you must be able to assemble life from chemicals!” Perceiving some difficulty for the guest, Dr. Rowland immediately interjected saying that this question would lead to a theological discussion and it was not appropriate for the occasion. As chairman of the seminar, he stopped the discussion there.

Next day during the morning walk I mentioned to Śrīla Prabhupāda the previous day’s happenings.  Śrīla Prabhupāda was extremely pleased to hear that I had openly challenged a great scientist. He said that this scientist must surrender to me! In the Vedic culture, when there is an argument, and if someone is not able to answer, they immediately surrender. So he must surrender to me! Śrīla Prabhupāda was very happy. The incident went deep into Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mind. He was convinced that modern scientists are responsible for bringing atheistic propaganda in the world and somehow this must be corrected. He felt that we must launch science preaching on a very, very big scale.


PART 2

FORMATION OF THE INSTITUTE AND ITS GOALS

(AUGUST 1974 – MARCH 1977)

 

The Institute Will Enhance the Prestige of ISKCON

In end of July 1974, after finishing my Ph.D., I decided to go to India. Rshabhadeva Prabhu who was at that time the temple president in Laguna Beach also accompanied me. On our way to India we stopped in London at Bhaktivedānta Manor and then came to Vṛndāvana where Prabhupāda was staying then. It was my first visit to Vṛndāvana. We came by train from Delhi to Mathura and we took a horse cart to the Krishna Balarama temple. When we arrived at the temple a message was given to Śrīla Prabhupāda that Svarūpa Dāmodara has come and Prabhupāda’s servant came out to receive us at the gate. Then we had darshan of Śrīla Prabhupāda and I stayed in Vṛndāvana for more than two weeks. This was around Janamastami time and every day there was a morning walk with Śrīla Prabhupāda on the wide road now called the ‘Bhaktivedānta Swami Marg.’ The weather was very pleasant since it had rained around that time and the trees were all green. In these morning walks Śrīla Prabhupāda talked a lot about science preaching but I did not make any recording.

During those days I was cleaning Śrīla Prabhupāda’s room. Once Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Godbrother Dr. Kapoor came during the massage time at around 11 o’clock. Śrīla Prabhupāda introduced me to Dr. Kapoor: “Dr. Svarūpa Dāmodara, Ph.D., scientist, now after finishing his Ph.D. he is engaged in cleaning my room!” Śrīla Prabhupāda laughed and greatly appreciated my little service. Dr. Kapoor was very happy and requested Prabhupāda that he should allow me to stay in Vṛndāvana.

One day just after his afternoon rest Prabhupāda called me to his room. He had about 5-6 magazines from Bon Maharaja’s Institute called “Oriental Research Institute”. Bon Maharaja is a Godbrother of Śrīla Prabhupāda and he was instructed by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati to preach in the Western countries. Showing me the magazines, Śrīla Prabhupāda said that he also wanted to have an academic wing of the Society. “We are famous for colorful dancing and chanting on the street, but I do not want to see our devotees only dancing and singing on the street. I also want to see that the public acknowledge our devotees to be great scholars.” Then he said that I should become the head of this Institute. I told Śrīla Prabhupāda that I have no experience in these things, and I won’t be able to do it. But he said, “No, No, I will give all the directions how to do it, whatever is needed. You just head this Institute.”

So the conception for the Bhaktivedānta Institute came in 1974, just one day before Janmastami. Śrīla Prabhupāda said that this academic wing will be to enhance the prestige of ISKCON and he intended it so the people will understand that devotional service is not just sentiment, but that devotees are also very intelligent. He often used to say, “Religion without philosophy is fanaticism and philosophy without religion is mental speculation.”[14]

In the beginning, Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted to have this Institute in Vṛndāvana. Bon Maharaja’s Institute was just opposite to the Krishna Balarama Mandir and it was not doing well. Prabhupāda made an appointment with Bon Maharaja to request him to give us his Institute. The following day Prabhupāda took us to Bon Maharaja: myself, Jagadish Prabhu who was then Secretary to Prabhupāda and Brahamananda Maharaja. At Śrīla Prabhupāda’s request I brought along a saffron bound copy of my Ph.D. thesis that was dedicated to him and also the also the book called ‘The Scientific Basis of Krishna Consciousness’. Prabhupāda introduced me to Bon Maharaja: “He is my disciple, scientist.” Prabhupāda was very proud to introduce me to Bon Maharaja and Bon Maharaja was also very pleased. Prabhupāda then said that we must present this Krishna consciousness movement cooperatively amongst the intellectuals, scholars, and scientists. Bon Maharaja was quite enthusiastic and Śrīla Prabhupāda said that he must hand over the Institute land to us. Bon Maharaja liked the idea but he wanted to think more about it. The following day, however, he left for Delhi to celebrate Janmastami there and for a long time we didn’t hear anything from him.

The Atlanta Conversations

After a few days, I left Vṛndāvana to return to Atlanta for my post-doctoral work at Emory University. From 1974 up till the end of 1976 I was staying in Atlanta. Emory University is called the Harvard of the South and it has a very good department in theology. There was Prof. Gardener, who was teaching a course on bio-medical ethics. I became friends with Prof. Gardener and through discussions with him I got the idea that bio-ethics is an important field for presenting Vedic ideas.

In 1975 Prabhupāda came back to US from India and I was told that he was going to South America. Balavanta Prabhu was the temple president at Atlanta at that time and he said to me, “Since Prabhupāda likes you, please invite him to Atlanta. If you write he will come.” So I wrote a letter to Prabhupāda informing him that I am in Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, and that it is a very nice city and the devotees are very eager to see you here. Prabhupāda agreed to come and he visited Atlanta at the end of February 1975 on his way back from South America.

Rupanuga Prabhu was the GBC at Atlanta at that time and he was very interested in scientific preaching. Madhava and Sadaputa Prabhus, two scientist disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda, were then in Washington. Rupanuga Prabhu said that since Śrīla Prabhupāda is coming, all the scientists must gather together to meet him and he brought both Madhava and Sadaputa Prabhus to Atlanta. We presented to Śrīla Prabhupāda our ideas about writing a book called “The Origin of Life and Matter.” I had outlined about 12 chapters in the book and we read it out aloud to Śrīla Prabhupāda. These chapters were to be written by different devotees including Sadaputa, Madhava, Rupanuga, Jnana Prabhus and myself. Śrīla Prabhupāda approved the contents of the book and said that we must add one more Chapter in the end entitled “Krishna is the origin of life”. I requested Śrīla Prabhupāda that he must write this chapter and he agreed.

It was in Atlanta that we decided upon the name ‘Bhaktivedānta Institute.’ I suggested this name to Śrīla Prabhupāda thinking that this will be his appropriate glorification. Śrīla Prabhupāda was not very enthusiastic about the Institute being named after him, but he agreed on the proposal. I also suggested the logo for the Institute and Śrīla Prabhupāda proposed that the words “athatho brahma jigyasa[15] must appear on top of the logo. We incorporated Śrīla Prabhupāda’s proposal and artists in BBT prepared the logo.

“Concerning the emblem for the Bhaktivedānta Institute, the words “athatho brahma jijnasa” is alright, however instead of inside the emblem, you can put athato on top (in Devanagari) and brahma jijnasa on the bottom (in Devanagari). That will be nice.”[16]

Although we decided upon a name and logo, we did not yet have a formal place of the Institute. During his visit to Atlanta, Śrīla Prabhupāda told me that he was still negotiating with Bon Maharaja about the land in Vṛndāvana so that we can start the Institute in Vṛndāvana. Just a few days later, however, after Prabhupāda’s leaving Atlanta I got a telephone call from his secretary Brahmananda Maharaja in New Orleans conveying Prabhupāda’s message that Bon Maharaja was hesitating about giving the Oriental Research Institute land to us and there has not been any progress since we last met him. Therefore, Prabhupāda was suggesting that we must start the Institute in America. At that time we had a gurukula in Dallas and there was some proposal to buy an old army building exclusively for the gurukula. Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to me saying,

“The negotiation with Bon Maharaja is not very feasible. It is too much encumberous. So if it is possible, you start the institute in USA. Do you think it is possible in India or in USA?”[17]

“In Dallas there is one former army base which is now vacant that has a number of buildings and enough land. It is located about 70 miles from the city of Dallas. So you should immediately correspond with Jagadish. It is very big and nice. I think we should take it for the Bhaktivedānta Institute. The climate there is also nice.”[18]

We tried as per Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions but the proposal did not materialize. Atlanta is about 3000 miles from Los Angeles and all during my stay there I could not visit Śrīla Prabhupāda like I used to during my student days at Irvine. My contact was only through letters.

Institute For Higher Education

One time during his visit and lecture at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, Śrīla Prabhupāda had commented that all over the world there were several Departments for study of different fields of material knowledge but there was not a single Department for the study of the science of the soul. At other occasions, he used to say that there was a great need for educating the intelligent class of people about the knowledge of the soul and our relation to God. Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to me instructions on the Institute.

“The Institute will be primarily for those who have not entered our temples. The subject matter will not be different from what is taught in our temples. There will be no difference between our temples and the Institute, but the Institute will be official for the general mass. It will be a formal education and they will get degree. It will be open for everyone, including those who have already entered our temples, they may also participate. But, the subject matter should not be different from what is in the temples.”[19]

Keeping Śrīla Prabhupāda’s desires in view, during my stay in Atlanta, I outlined several courses to be taught at Bhaktivedānta Institute: Bhagavad-Gita, sections from Śrimad Bhāgavatam, Vedic history, Sanskrit language etc., and sent these course outlines to Śrīla Prabhupāda. Śrīla Prabhupāda approved the course outlines and wrote to me saying,

“I have read the aims and objects of the Institute and it is done very nicely. I am satisfied that you are properly understanding the philosophy. …  I have also suggested for the GBC’s consideration, that we introduce a system of examinations for the devotees to take. Sometimes there is criticism that our men are not sufficiently learned, especially the brahmanas. Of course second initiation does not depend upon passing an examination. How one has moulded his life – chanting, attending arati, etc., these are essential. Still, Brahmana means pandita. Therefore I am suggesting examinations. Bhakti-sastri – (for all brahmana) based on Bhagavad-Gita, Sri Īśopaniṣad, Nectar of Devotion, Nectar of Instruction, and all the small paper backs. Bhakti-vaibhava – the above plus first six cantos of S.B. Bhaktivedānta – the above plus cantos 7-12 S.B. Bhakti-sarvabhauma – the above plus Caitanya-caritamrta. These titles can correspond to entrance, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. So just consider how to organize this Institute.”[20]

Śrīla Prabhupāda had earlier written a letter to me saying that I should collect the names of all devotees who have a degree from university.

“I am glad that you have keen interest in the Institute program. Be ready, as I am negotiating. As soon as it is complete, I shall send a telegram for you to come. In the meantime request all GBC’s to send lists of all our disciples who have B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. degrees.”[21]

Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted that all educated devotees must help in the Institute’s work. I then wrote to all the GBCs, as per Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions, requesting them to forward all the names, but the response unfortunately was not good. Only one GBC replied giving the details of his zone.

1976 GBC Meetings – An Opportunity Missed

Since I was still working at Emory University in Atlanta, I could not do anything concrete towards starting the Institute as Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted, although I used to talk with Rupanuga Prabhu about his plans and desires for the project. Rupanuga Prabhu was most interested, and he would always encourage me. He invited all the Institute members: Madhava Prabhu, Sadaputa Prabhu, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu and myself to a meeting on his farm in Virginia. I told about the course outlines that I had sent to Śrīla Prabhupāda and it was decided that these would be submitted for discussion at the forthcoming annual GBC meetings in March 1976. Śrīla Prabhupāda also wanted me to come to the annual GBC meetings in Mayapur, so we can finalize the details of the Bhaktivedānta Institute. Unfortunately, I had applied for my Green Card and I could not leave the US. I wrote a letter to Prabhupāda narrating the situation and Prabhupāda replied saying that,

“If you cannot come to India there is no harm. Ordinarily, if you leave, your application will be closed. Better not to take any chances. You instruct your assistants who are coming how and what to discuss with the GBC on your behalf.”[22]

So, I did not go to Mayapur and later I got the news that Prabhupāda appointed me at the GBC meetings the ‘ISKCON Minister for Higher Education’.

Vedic Model of the Universe

Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote me a letter in April 1976 saying,

“Now our Ph.D’s must collaborate and study the 5th Canto to make a model for building the Vedic Planetarium. My final decision is that the universe is just like a tree, with root upwards. … So now you all Ph.D.’s must carefully study the details of the 5th Canto and make a working model of the universe. If we can explain the passing seasons, eclipses, phases of the moon, passing of day and night, etc. then it will be very powerful propaganda. I am sending this letter to you, and you can make photocopies of it and send to our other Ph.D.’s and begin serious research into the matter in detail. But one thing, I am convinced that the universe is just like a great tree as described therein.”[23]

Śrīla Prabhupāda believed that with this model we will be able to show that the so-called astronauts never went to the moon or Mars. According to the Vedic conception, the moon is farther than the sun, and therefore the claim that astronauts went to the moon was incorrect because they did not even know the distance of the moon from the Earth.

“…can you tell me what is the scientific opinion of the days being consecutively Sunday then Monday, then Tuesday …? What is the history of this setup? According to our sastra, Sun is first, then Moon, then Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, like that. In other words, from Bhāgavatam we understand that the moon is 1,600,000 miles above the sun. If this is true, then is it possible to go to the Moon planet by persons who can never imagine to go the distance to the Sun planet? Under the circumstances, if we say that they have never gone to the Moon planet, is it exaggeration? … If the moon planet is actually far away from the sun planet, how they can go there and publish in the paper that the moon planet is the nearest planet.”[24]

“Regarding the ‘dust’ supposedly brought from the moon, that dust can be gotten anywhere. It has already been openly admitted that the same dust is available on the earth planet. The astronauts and scientists are all bluffing.”[25]

Śrīla Prabhupāda used to say that the different ‘atmospheres’ of different planets are meant for living entities with different kinds of mentality.

“…just as fish have a body suitable for living in the water …. in the sun globe … they have a body suitable to live in the sun globe …. In the Vedic literatures, it is said that there are germs (agni pok) within the fire.”[26]

The Washington Conversations

In July 1976 Śrīla Prabhupāda was visiting Washington D.C. to see the celebrations of the 200th year of American Independence. Again, Rupanuga Prabhu requested that all the scientists should come to Washington to see Prabhupāda. So we all went and stayed there for about a week. The 1975-Atlanta and 1976-Washington discussions are two important events in Bhaktivedānta Institute history. At the Washington discussions we focused on the moon landing issue: whether the ‘astronauts’ went to the moon or to the desert in Arizona! Śrīla Prabhupāda pointed out that all media reports about moon landing were comparing the moon to desert in Arizona.

“That means”, he said, “they are in Arizona. Just like one man was stealing from the room, and there were some sounds and the master of the house said, “Who is there? What is that sound?” The man said, “No, no I am not stealing. It is like that. … Who asked them to speak of Arizona? You are speaking of Arizona … that means they are working in Arizona.”[27]

We also spoke about the nature of life, and Sadaputa Prabhu and I made slide presentations to Śrīla Prabhupāda about some ideas that we wanted to put together in the form of a book to be called “What is Life? What is Matter?” We showed through these slides how even granting that life has arisen out of chance mutations it would not be possible to arrive at a living form in the time scale that present scientists attribute to the universe. Chance theory cannot explain the variegated nature of different living forms.

Śrīla Prabhupāda suggested that we must start a scientific journal for publishing papers defeating the atheistic conceptions of science. He even named the journal ‘Sa Vijnanam’ based upon the quotation from Bhagavad-Gita verse [7.2] which he translated as ‘In Scientific Knowledge.’ This was in the Baltimore temple.

“Yes, you can title sa vijnana. … Yes, nothing further to be known. … it must be very sa vijnanam, it must be very scientific. … It will be published by BBT, but coming from Bhaktivedānta Institute.”[28] 

Everyday we would go for morning walks and we also had a group photo. Then on the Independence Day we went to seen the fire works at the Capitol. A number of devotees had come for the festival and even the police joined in their chanting and dancing. Śrīla Prabhupāda was very happy seeing the police dancing to the tune of the Hare Krishna mantra.

Bhaktivedānta Institute Trust

In December 1976 Rupanuga Prabhu hosted an organizational meeting of the Institute at the Washington temple. Five of us – Rupanuga, Madhava, Sadaputa, Ravindra Svarupa and myself – formed the trust members of the Bhaktivedānta Institute on December 10, 1976, the auspicious disappearance day of His Divine Grace Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupāda.[29] Around the same time, I also got my permanent Visa to the US and I was getting job offers for faculty positions at different universities. However, I was now contemplating to join Śrīla Prabhupāda full time.

Bhuvneshwar Conversations

I wound up my post-doctoral responsibilities in Emory University and came to Calcutta, India in February 1977. Prabhupāda was then at Kumbha Mela in Allahabad and I wanted to go and see him. But because of the rush it was not possible to get a ticket. Later however, I was told that Prabhupāda is in Bhuvneshwar and I flew to meet him there. At that time he had come to lay the foundation for the Bhuvneshwar temple and I stayed with him for about a week. Everyday there was discussion in the morning walk, and Prabhupāda said that he wanted to make me GBC for science preaching. He said that the scientists were seeing only the gross situation and therefore they think that when the gross body is finished, life is finished. According to the Vedic conception, however, there is the subtle body which causes the transmigration of the soul.

“…That you have to convince. This subtle situation can carry the soul to the spiritual world. As there is spirit and matter, two things, apara and para that is, we can perceive, and we get it from Kṛṣṇa’s statement, apara, para. So a via media between this para and apara are this subtle situation. So if the subtle situation is spiritualized, then we are, the soul is transferred to the spiritual world. This you have to prove or you have to write in scientific knowledge. They are seeing simply the gross situation but the soul is being carried by the subtle situation, and therefore they are thinking, “This gross situation, body, is finished – everything is finished.” That’s not the fact. Tatha dehantara-praptir dhiras tatra na muhyati.[30]

Śrīla Prabhupāda said that we must start our science journal very soon.

“That is more important. Ordinary newspaper has no value. If you write in the scientific journal, then it will be very valuable. … You recruit all big, big scientists to write articles in our paper.”[31]

He said that we should travel to different colleges and universities to convince people about the knowledge in the Vedas.

“That is called visva-vijaya. Formerly, learned scholars used to do that. Dig-vijaya. Dig-vijaya. “I have got this knowledge.” You challenge, “Come on. Defeat me or I defeat you.” So whoever is defeated, becomes a disciple. Dig-vijaya. Just like one dig-vijaya pandita came in Navadvipa to defeat the learned scholar of Navadvipa and Chaitanya Mahāprabhu defeated him. … So this was the system. So you go out, dig-vijaya. Travel all over the world. Now, you are qualified to speak. They must defeat you, or if they are defeated, they must become…, must accept. This is wanted, dig-vijaya pandita.”[32]

“Yes. All universities you go. All universities. You three or four go. Talk with them. Most, you write scholarly.”[33] 

He said that ISKCON will spend all the money required for us.

“So you make it a point, six months outside, six months here. And all your expenditure will be spent by the Society. There is no question of spending money. We shall spend money like anything … Oh, yes, and everything. We shall beg and pay if there is no income. But they must be allowed to go from place to place. That is our real business. Payment will come. Kṛṣṇa will supply.”[34]

I suggested that we must invite Ramananda Roy Prabhu to plan for the future and Prabhupāda approved. But, one sannyasis from France said that Ramananada Roy Prabhu passed away about two months ago in Belgium. Prabhupāda was quite surprised and he asked me to drop a line to his family.

First Dress then Address

During the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Bhuvaneshwar temple Śrīla Prabhupāda asked me to speak about the science of Krishna consciousness. I spoke in English and there was a pandit translating in Oriya. Later, Prabhupāda left by train for Calcutta and Gargamuni Prabhu and I took Prabhupāda’s car and came to Calcutta.

Prabhupāda at that time was staying in the room that is presently the temple president’s office. In the evening we all gathered in his room and once again Śrīla Prabhupāda started speaking about the Bhaktivedānta Institute. Among many other things, he said that while addressing the scientists we must dress in suit and tie with tilaka and that our dress must command respect. This conversation was not recorded. Later, Śrīla Prabhupāda reiterated similar instructions.

“In suit, yes. You get first dress, then address. But tilaka must be there. You dress like up-to-date gentlemen, but tilaka must be there. That is our trademark. … if you think it is impediment, you can have hair. … you keep hair. I have no objection. That should not be an impediment. … Don’t disturb them, that ‘These are strange people.’ No, we don’t want that. But, we must have our position. Tilaka is our position. That is Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s stricture…. Tilaka must be there. And so far dress is concerned, you can dress up to the taste of the modern people.”[35]

GBC for Bhaktivedanta Institute

During his stay in Calcutta, Śrīla Prabhupāda would go for morning walks near the Victoria Memorial. The talks on scientific preaching continued. Afterwards, Śrīla Prabhupāda left for Mayapur and I accompanied him along with six or seven others. This was festival time in 1977 and Śrīla Prabhupāda had already made me GBC for science preaching. For the first time I was attending the GBC meetings. Śrīla Prabhupāda was not keeping well and everyday after finishing the meeting in the evening we would report to Śrīla Prabhupāda our discussion during the day. Śrīla Prabhupāda would say, “this resolution is good,” or, “this needs to be corrected.” Then he asked me, “What do you think about your GBC? Is it OK?”

Science Preaching with Audio-Visual Display

After the Mayapur festival, we went to Bombay. There was a pandal program at Cross Maidan in Bombay. The title was “Modern Civilization is a Failure: Kṛṣṇa Consciousness is the Only Solution.” Although he was very weak, Śrīla Prabhupāda would lecture every evening to an audience of about 4000. One evening in the presence of Śrīla Prabhupāda and a large audience, I spoke about the science of Krishna Consciousness. The talk was accompanied by colorful visuals projected onto a big screen.

Since his room at the temple was not yet ready, Śrīla Prabhupāda was staying at Mr. Mahadevia’s house. I was staying at the temple. Next morning a telephone call came from Śrīla Prabhupāda saying that I should come to Mahadevia’s house. I went, and there were about 10 sannyasis there. Śrīla Prabhupāda said to me, “Your last night’s slide show was very nice. It was very, very colorful with slides. So, whenever you speak, you speak with slides.” Later, he mentioned about Yadubara Prabhu’s video “The Spark of Life” and asked me how I felt about it. He said that the Institute should prepare a film on how the spiritual living entity is different from matter. Such films will be powerful preaching materials for presenting Krishna consciousness in scientific language.

“… we are ready to spend fifteen to twenty thousand dollars. Make it [the movie] nicely, everything. We shall spend. Make worldwide propaganda. And there will be no scarcity of money.”[36]

Combine Science Preaching with Cultural Programs

Then he said that I should go to Russia. The Russian people like Vedic culture, and I should be accompanied by a cultural group. I should speak about the science of Krishna Consciousness and it should be followed by a cultural program. At that time Sudāma Maharaja was there. He was the head of a drama party called Vaikunṭha players. They used to do plays on Mahabharata, Ramayana. Śrīla Prabhupāda said Sudāma must take his cultural group with me. I will do science preaching and Sudāma will do cultural programs, and these two should be combined. Earlier in 1970-73 also Śrīla Prabhupāda had said that our preaching should always be accompanied by a Sankirtan party. This was in Los Angeles, in one Śrimad Bhāgavatam lecture. At that time Vishnujana Maharaja had a group. As soon as Śrīla Prabhupāda’s class is over, they will chant kirtana. After the class Vishnujana Maharaja came up to me and said, ‘Svarupa Damodar, I am ready. Whenever you are ready, I will go with you. You speak on science and I will do Sankirtan”.


PART 3

STARTING UP – THE LOGISTICS

(APRIL 1977)

 

Next Phase is Yours

Around April 1977 the Bombay Guest House was ready and Śrīla Prabhupāda was to move into his room, on the fifth floor. I was in the Bombay temple at that time. We had heard that Śrīla Prabhupāda was coming but no one actually knew when he was coming. All of a sudden we heard that Śrīla Prabhupāda has already arrived in the temple and that he was standing near the lift. But, unfortunately the lift was not working. Everybody started running here and there, but they could not make the lift work. Śrīla Prabhupāda was very upset. Then we arranged a palanquin for Śrīla Prabhupāda and the devotees carried him to the fifth floor. When Śrīla Prabhupāda finally arrived inside his room, he was very happy. He sat down in the first room, and all the devotees sat around him. His mood was now changed and he started appreciating the devotees, “You have all given your life for this mission, I thank you all.” Then, he turned to me, and said, “Now the next phase is yours, science preaching. You must establish our movement as a genuine scientific movement. You must preach to all the scientists and scholars very vigorously.”

Finances for the Institute

Śrīla Prabhupāda started planning, and he asked me how much money I will need. I told Śrīla Prabhupāda that I had no experience; I had no idea how much I will need. But, Tamāl Krishna Maharaja is experienced in finance, and he may have some idea. I turned to Tamāl Krishna Maharaja and asked for his opinion and he said that perhaps $10,000 per month was required. Śrīla Prabhupāda immediately said, “$10,000 or more, whatever he needs must be made available through the BBT.” He at once drafted a letter addressed to Rameshwar Maharaja who was then Chairman of BBT trustees saying,

“… Now we are forming scientists party and we shall try with their help to establish Krishna consciousness as the genuine scientific movement of the world exposing the so-called scientists as nothing but speculators. He [Svarūpa Dāmodara] has drawn up a budget of immediate needs, a copy of which is enclosed and I immediately sanction this amount. Whatever expenditure he requires supply him immediately from the BBT. I am prepared to give $10,000 or more monthly if required to finance this most important preaching program. So whatever money Svarūpa Dāmodara needs must be supplied monthly and he will send you accounts. … Svarūpa Dāmodara has requested that Dravida das may come and help him with editing work. The scientists are publishing some booklets … If possible please arrange for Dravida das to join them.”[37]

Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote another letter to Amarendra Prabhu.

“You may be knowing that we have formed one party of scientists under the leadership of Sriman Svarūpa Dāmodara Prabhu. Also we have formed the Bhaktivedānta Institute for organizing scientific presentations of Krishna Consciousness. This party is our most important preaching arm with which we will be able to destroy the bogus speculation and cheating which goes under the banner of scientific advancement. Therefore I have got great hope for Svarūpa Dāmodara and his colleagues. I want them to travel vigorously throughout the world to lecture in all universities and other institutions. There is no lack of financial resources and we shall spare nothing to see to this party’s success. Svarūpa Dāmodara has approached me that he likes to have you join him for making arrangements and engagements for his lectures. I know that you are intelligent and very energetic so kindly try to arrange things in consultation with your GBC so that you may be spared for this most important work. You may contact Svarūpa Dāmodara, who is returning to America, for more details.”

These instructions highlight the great importance that Śrīla Prabhupāda laid on the mission of scientific preaching. Whereas, most other projects were supposed to generate their own means of survival: especially men and money, for the Institute, Śrīla Prabhupāda was prepared to meet these requirements through ISKCON.

On April 19, 1977 Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke about the Institute finances.

Prabhupāda: … I have asked to pay you for your department… What will be the savings?

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Well, Rasara said he could save half.

Prabhupāda: Half. What is that half?

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Somewhere between fifteen… Around fifteen, twenty thousand dollars perhaps, like that.

Prabhupāda: Fifteen, twenty thousand dollars per month.

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Yes.

Prabhupāda: So we can pay you so much. What was your estimate? You made some estimate.

Svarūpa Dāmodara: Yeah. It is about six thousand, six thousand dollars.

Prabhupāda: Six thousand dollars, but we are ready to spend fifteen to twenty thousand dollars. Make it nicely, everything. We shall spend. Make worldwide propaganda. And there will be no scarcity of money. Tour. Make extensive tour, especially in Russia. In Russia send this film group, the scientific group, … And make this program. And that twenty thousand dollars should not be touched. It will be simply spent for this propaganda.

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: So any money that’s saved now…from the budget should be banked? Should it be saved in an account?

Prabhupāda: Yes. Scientific propaganda.

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Even if they don’t use it, it can be saved?

Prabhupāda: It should be… It must be saved. Why not? … How it can be… This money must be reserved for scientific propaganda, twenty thousand rupees. They have agreed to save half, and half is twenty thousand. This must be saved.”

 Housing the Institute

During the last Mayapur festival around mangala arati time, Śrīla Prabhupāda had called me and Girirāj Prabhu. Śrīla Prabhupāda asked Girirāj Prabhu whether it was all right to give the ‘F’ (BBT) building to Bhaktivedānta Institute. At that time the Bombay Guest House was not ready and Śrīla Prabhupāda therefore wanted to give the ‘F’ building for BI. After the Mayapur festival, however, the Cross Maidan program was held in Bombay and several students and scholars came to visit me saying that they wanted to study at the Bhaktivedānta Institute. When I told this to Śrīla Prabhupāda he immediately said,

“Make them come, make them come. Treat them nicely. Give them good place. In this way increase the number of workers. Then people will, “Oh, they are not religious sentimentalists. They have got books. They have got scientists. They have got doctors. … Give them good place. We don’t want tenants, or turn the whole building into Bhaktivedānta Institute. And another building start. Yes … I want that the intelligent man should come and learn this science. That is wanted. … Bring important men, important student. Take this opportunity. Give them nice place so that they may not be uncomfortable. Give them good food. … there should not be any scarcity for their comfort. People are trained up to the modern comforts. Therefore I am building so big, big insti… Otherwise, … Radha-Damodara temple is sufficient for me. It is not for me I want these big, big buildings. I am accustomed to live anywhere. But those who are educated, scientists, they are accustomed, Europeans, Americans… They must be given proper place. That was my Guru Maharaja’s policy. Not that all of a sudden they should now live on the floor. No, that’s not possible. Then they will be disturbed. Give them nice place, give them nice food, nice instruction. You are all intelligent boys. Do it immediately. Another building construct. That colony should be for first-class Kṛṣṇa conscious people, to preach.”[38]


PART 4

INSTRUCTIONS IN THE LAST DAYS

(MAY 1977 – AUGUST 1977)

 

Bhaktivedānta Gurukula and Institute for Higher Studies

Soon after the programs in Bombay I went back to US. I wanted to publish some monographs that were being prepared by the Institute scientists. Around the month of May, however, Śrīla Prabhupāda was not well, and all the GBCs were called to Vṛndāvana. At that time Śrīla Prabhupāda was always speaking about the Bhaktivedānta Institute. He said that this Bhaktivedānta Institute will increase the prestige of ISKCON, and it is the most important preaching arm of the society, and that it must be conducted very nicely. One day he called me to his washroom and started speaking to me while rinsing and face and mouth. “You should establish a branch of the Institute here in Vṛndāvana. The Gurukula will be more prestigious if the Institute is added. The name of the institution here in Vṛndāvana should be ‘The Bhaktivedānta Gurukula and Institute for Higher Studies’ and you should be the Director of that.”

Planning A Conference

The idea of organizing a Conference came at that time in May 1977. I suggested to Śrīla Prabhupāda that we would have conferences annually and bring lot of scholars from around the world. I told Śrīla Prabhupāda that in the US there is a very prestigious annual conference called the Gordon Conference named after a great scientist Gordon and we should also organize annual conferences in that style. I suggested that our conference should be called the Bhaktivedānta Conference. Śrīla Prabhupāda said that a conference was a very good idea, and asked us to organize a conference that year. Śrīla Prabhupāda, Dr. Sharma who was the principal of the Gurukula, and myself discussed about the conference. Dr. Sharma was very enthusiastic and was ready to help me organize the conference. He was very elderly, and would speak to Śrīla Prabhupāda like a friend. He and Śrīla Prabhupāda decided that the conference should be held in Vṛndāvana.

I told Śrīla Prabhupāda that all facilities were not there. So it was decided that we must build a new Auditorium. The land was allocated and Surabhi Maharaja made a design. I had suggested to Śrīla Prabhupāda that the conference should be titled “Bhaktivedānta Conference” but he did not like the idea. He said that it wouldn’t be attractive to the scientists. Instead, he suggested that we should title the conference “Life Comes From Life”. Finally, it was decided that the conference will be called “The First International Conference on Life Comes From Life” and will be held in Vṛndāvana in October 1977.

Preaching in Vṛndāvana

On June 2, at 6:00 a.m. Śrīla Prabhupāda told me, “You have everything—books, money, men—so show that our movement is scientific. Make a movie to show that there is a superior energy, and that without spirit this material energy has no value. Also, hold conferences in Bombay and in all major cities around the world. Do it! I have trained you for all this.”

On June 4, at 5:00 am, Śrīla Prabhupāda instructed me, “Start a revolution. Hold conferences everywhere. Transform the Godless society.”

On June 5, at 3:00 am Śrīla Prabhupāda called me to come to the roof of the Vṛndāvana guesthouse. When I arrived, I saw Prabhupāda sitting and Satdhanya Maharaja was massaging his head. Śrīla Prabhupāda started instructing me about the Bhaktivedānta Institute.

“The Bhaktivedānta Institute should be based on Bhagavad-Gita. We have to prove that for the solution to economic problems agriculture and cow protection are the topmost programs – not industry. For all aspects of society—religion, economics, politics etc., the foundation is Bhagavad-Gita.”

On June 19, 1977 around noontime Tamāl Krishna Maharaja came in with the latest Sankīrtana Newsletter and read it aloud to Prabhupāda. Prabhupāda was extremely pleased and remarked with wide open eyes, “As long as book distribution goes on, I’ll never die; I’ll live forever.” Then he turned to me and said, “You have to distribute your publications to the scientists.”

At 8:00 ‘o clock in the evening on June 21 Śrīla Prabhupāda called me. “All religions of the world,” he said, “have some conception of God, but none of them has any idea about the personal character of God. Write books and show that God is a person.”

By end of June 1977, I wanted to leave for the US to prepare for the conference. We were planning to prepare three monographs before the conference. I was to write ‘What is Life? What is Matter?’ Sadāputa was writing “Proof by information theory that life cannot arise from chemicals” and “Consciousness and the Laws of Nature”. I told Śrīla Prabhupāda that these three booklets would be ready before the conference. When Tamāl Krishna Maharaja heard about my leaving Vṛndāvana he suggested that I should not go because Śrīla Prabhupāda was always talking to me about science preaching. “In these last days,” he said, “Śrīla Prabhupāda speaks to me more than anyone else.”

Get the Best Rooms

When I told Śrīla Prabhupāda that I was leaving for the US to prepare for the conference, he said that I should go via Bombay and take up the best rooms in the Bombay Guest House for housing the Institute facilities. He said that because we have to invite and host very important people, I will have the first choice for the rooms. Whatever I feel, I can take for the Bhaktivedānta Institute. It will be in the new guest house building, not in the old building as was earlier discussed in Mayapur. At that time Bali Mardan Maharaja was GBC in Bombay, and the temple president was Girirāj Prabhu and Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote a letter to be given to Girirāj and Bali Mardan asking them to give the best rooms to me. I came from Vṛndāvana to Bombay with that letter and gave it Girirāj Prabhu. Then, he and I selected a room on the first floor for my office, and also the rooms on the second floor that are used till today.

Preparing for the Conference

When I went to US, Śrīla Prabhupāda was going to Rishikesh for treatment and improving his health. During August Karandhara Prabhu called for a meeting in Los Angeles on the First American Theistic Exhibition, ‘FATE’. Rameswara Maharaja, Jayatirtha Maharaja, Sadaputa Prabhu, Nara Narayana Prabhu, Baradraja Prabhu, Karandhara Prabhu and myself were present for the meeting. While the meeting was going on we got a telephone call saying that Śrīla Prabhupāda was coming to the US. We were shocked; we could not believe it. We sent a telegram to Śrīla Prabhupāda in Vṛndāvana saying that “Śrīla Prabhupāda, please do not come, your health is not suitable for journey.” But within a few days we heard that Śrīla Prabhupāda was already in London. I was to return to India, after finishing the work on the monographs, and I decided to stop in London to see Śrīla Prabhupāda. Meanwhile, I got a telegram from Tamāl Krishna Maharaja saying that the Vṛndāvana Conference is canceled. I immediately started from Boston via London back to India.

The devotees at Boston had made a huge garland for Śrīla Prabhupāda and I was carrying it with me. Śrīla Prabhupāda was at the Bhaktivedānta Manor in London. I went to offer the garland to Śrīla Prabhupāda. Śrīla Prabhupāda was very sick. As soon as he saw me, he cried with tears in his eyes. I offered the garland. Then he started talking about science. He said that he was not against the scientists, but he is against their atheistic presentations. He said that he appreciates their intelligence, their contribution to the society, and their hard work, but they should not mislead the innocent people in the name of science.

The following morning Śrīla Prabhupāda called me in his room in the Manor and in Bengali he said to me, “Amaar jivana sesa hoya jache” (my life is coming to an end). “Now I have to go back to India. So make arrangement immediately so that I can go.” Referring to Tamāl Krishna Maharaja’s telegram I asked Śrīla Prabhupāda whether the Vṛndāvana Conference was cancelled or not. Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, “Why? The conference is not canceled, the conference will take place.” I then told Tamāl Krishna Gosvāmī that Śrīla Prabhupāda wants to go to India and we must make arrangements.

I came to Bombay one or two days before Prabhupāda so when Prabhupāda arrived in Bombay I was already there. Prabhupāda’s room Bombay was very noisy because of construction work and I asked Śrīla Prabhupāda if he wanted to stop the construction for a few days. But he said, “Why do you want to stop the construction? No, No, the construction will go on.” After staying for a few days in Bombay, Prabhupāda left for Vṛndāvana.

Do Something Significant  Before I Leave

At that time I was rushing back and forth between Vṛndāvana, Agra, Mathura and Delhi for organizing the conference. I was practically alone. A few days later, however, several GBCs came to see Prabhupāda in Vṛndāvana and Prabhupāda asked them to help me in organizing the conference. He said that when the scholars come we have to treat them nicely, arrange for their comfortable stay. He was checking whether the guesthouse was all right for their stay and whether the cooks and menu for prasādam were good and he called Kirtanananda Maharaja and Bhāvananda Maharaja to arrange for these things. He said to me, “Do something significant so I can see before I leave.” By running here and there I gathered some scholars. There was Dr. Kapoor – Prabhupāda’s Godbrother and Prof. Mishra from AIIMS (Head of Department of Biophysics), Dr. Ramaiya from AIIMS, Dr. Bhatt – a philosopher from Delhi University, Dr. Malviya from Agra Medical College and Dr. Pathak, the Head of the Veterinary science from Mathura. In all, I invited about 100 scholars.

The First Conference

Early in the morning of October 14 – the first day of the Conference – I went to see Śrīla Prabhupāda. He told me, “I want to come to your conference, but because of my health I cannot do so. So take this bust of mine and put it on a desk in the conference room and garland it every day during the conference. That will be as good as I am personally present.” During the conference we were all dressed in suit and tie and Śrīla Prabhupāda was so eager to know about the proceedings that he called me three times that morning at about two hour intervals just to enquire how everything was going. I would give him report, about who is speaking, what they are saying.

Then, at 6:00 in the evening when the first day of the conference was over, all of the devotee scientists went to see Prabhupāda. There was Brahmatīrtha Prabhu, Sadāputa Prabhu, Mādhava Prabhu, Jnana Prabhu, Rupanuga Prabhu and myself. We were dressed in suit and tie, and when we came in Prabhupāda’s room Tamāl Krishna Maharaja said, “Prabhupāda, all the scientists are here. They’re all dressed in suit and tie.” Śrīla Prabhupāda immediately opened his eyes wide and asked for chairs. We told Śrīla Prabhupāda that it was all right if we sat on the floor. But Prabhupāda insisted that we must sit on chairs. Then he asked how the scientists were doing, whether their Prasādam was arranged properly, whether their staying is comfortable. After he was satisfied, very affectionately he said, “You must all be tired now. Go and take rest.”

Early on 17th morning when the three-day conference was over Prabhupāda asked me, “What is your opinion about the conference?” He asked me how many scientists had come and what their overall reaction had been. I replied, “Only fifty scientists came, I was expecting more. Many more had promised to come, but did not come. Still those few who came were very interested. They thought it was a very good conference because it opened up some dialogue about the real status of our present understanding of the origin of life. It was a small beginning and I would have been happier if more scientists came.” Śrīla Prabhupāda was quiet. Then he remarked, “It was a success.” Prabhupāda was always appreciating whatever service we did. He then said, “In this way hold conferences everywhere and establish Kṛṣṇa consciousness as a scientific movement. That will be a great contribution. Whatever money, resources are required I will send them.”

The Final Instruction

The conference was held on 14th, 15th and 16th of October and Prabhupāda would depart exactly one month later on the 14th of November. After the conference I was attending to Prabhupāda every night. My duty was from 9:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m. Every night Prabhupāda will open his eyes around midnight, and he will speak to me in Bengali about his memories of the all the morning walks that we were together. He said, “I took you with me just to train you.” One day he asked me, “Are you convinced about Kṛṣṇa?” And I said, “Śrīla Prabhupāda, I am most insignificant. Your mercy is all that I am made of. I have no qualification.”

On October 27, Gopal Kṛṣṇa Prabhu brought Śrīla Prabhupāda a newspaper clipping about the conference we had done. The clipping was from Statesman, one of the prominent newspapers in India. The headline read ‘The Non-physical View of the Origin of Species’. Śrīla Prabhupāda asked Tamāl Krishna Maharaja to read it to him. When he heard the report, he was very pleased and he remarked, “The Bhaktivedānta Institute is now recognized.” During the next few days whenever any guest came to visit Śrīla Prabhupāda he would always ask someone to read the Statesman article on the conference. Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers Ananda Brahmacāri and Kṛṣṇa dāsa Bābāji came on October 30, and Śrīla Prabhupāda had someone read the article to them.

On November 6, Śrīla Prabhupāda specifically asked me, “What have you learned to preach?” I responded, “Śrīla Prabhupāda, we have learned only to repeat what you have taught us. We are all part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa and our duty is to serve Him in all circumstances.” Śrīla Prabhupāda nodded in approval.

Prabhupāda Departs

On 13th November in the night Śrīla Prabhupāda asked me to cover his body by a blanket and to turn him to one side. After that he did not speak. At 3 ‘o clock in the morning my duty was over and I left Śrīla Prabhupāda’s room only to return back after a few hours the following morning. An Ayurvedic physician Mr. Dāmodara Shastri from Calcutta was attending to Prabhupāda. He said that Śrīla Prabhupāda was not passing water and if it was not removed, it will become poison. The Kavirāja therefore suggested that we must remove the water by a tube. Śrīla Prabhupāda had made a will saying that his body should not be touched under any circumstances and so we did not know what to do. At that time most of the GBCs had already left for their respective zones and only about three or four of the GBCs were present in Vṛndāvana. We all had a meeting together and keeping Prabhupāda’s will in view we decided that we should not carry out any operation on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s body.

Slowly, the time passed. In the evening around four ’o clock most of the devotees went to take prasādam, but, I did not go. At 7 ‘o clock everyone started returning to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s room. Since the room was very small, only a few could fit inside. Hamsadūta Maharaja was chanting kirtana. Around 7:15 pm, Prabhupāda struggled to say ‘Hare Krishna,’ but it was audible. Śrīla Prabhupāda had left the mortal world.

Narayana Maharaja came to pay his respects to Śrīla Prabhupāda and we wanted to do Prabhupāda’s Samadhi in the night. But, several local residents insisted that they wanted to take darshan of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Śrīla Prabhupāda was dressed and taken around for a circumambulation of the Krishna Balarama temple. The whole night we were sitting around Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Krishna dāsa Bābaji came and sang ‘je anilo prema dhana.’ In the morning Śrīla Prabhupāda was put into Samadhi.


[1] Morning Walk Conversation, Los Angeles, April 20, 1973.

[2] Room Conversation, Baltimore, July 7, 1976.

[3] Morning Walk Conversation, Los Angeles, April 20, 1973.

[4] Room Conversation, Vrindaban, June 20, 1977.

[5] Morning Walk, Los Angeles, May 2, 1973.

[6] Morning Walk, Los Angeles, May 3, 1973.

[7] Letter to Niranjana das, May 21, 1973.

[8] Personal recording, Morning Walk Conversation, Los Angeles, April 15, 1973.

[9] Letter to Niranjan das, May 21, 1973.

[10] Morning Walk,  Bombay, April 16, 1976.

[11] Room Conversation, Germany, June 22, 1974.

[12] Bhagavad-gita lectures 13.4 Miami, February 27,1975

[13] Morning Walk Conversation, Washington D.C., July 5, 1976.

[14] Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, Chapter 3, Verse 3.

[15] This is the first aphorism from Vedanta Sutras, the essence of Vedic knowledge. Translated literally, it means, “Now, Therefore, inquire [about] Brahman [the Absolute Truth].”

[16] Letter to Svarupa Damodar das, 20 May, 1976.

[17] Letter to Svarupa Damodar das, 31 August, 1975.

[18] Letter to Svarupa Damodar das, 12 November, 1975.

[19] Letter to Svarupa Damodar das, 30 September, 1975.

[20] Letter to Svarupa Damodar das, 10 January, 1976.

[21] Letter to Svarūpa Dāmodara das, 31 August, 1975.

[22] Letter to Svarūpa Dāmodara das, 29 January, 1976.

[23] Letter to Svarūpa Dāmodara 27 April, 1976.

[24] Letter to Svarūpa Dāmodara das, 24 October, 1975.

[25] Letter to Trivikrama Swami, January 3, 1976.

[26] Letter to Svarupa Damodar das, 17 December, 1975.

[27] Room Conversation, Washington D.C., July 6, 1976.

[28] Room Conversation, Baltimore, July 7, 1976.

[29] The Spiritual Master of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda.

[30] Room Conversations -Extra, Bhuvaneshwar, 2 February, 1977.

[31] ibid.

[32] Room Conversations -Extra, Bhuvaneshwar, 2 February, 1977.

[33] ibid.

[34] ibid.

[35] Room Conversation, Bombay, March 31, 1977.

[36] Room Conversations, Bombay, April 19, 1977.

[37] Letter to Rameswar Swami, April 2, 1977.

[38] Room Conversation, Bombay, March 26, 1977.