Checkmate! Smara Hari: My first personal contact with Srila…

Smara Hari: My first personal contact with Srila Prabhupada was when I went on a morning walk with him. I was just a young boy about seventeen or eighteen.
I hadn’t even joined the temple but I had heard that Srila Prabhupada was coming and the devotees had encouraged me to stay overnight to see Prabhupada.
He came and he went on a morning walk before class as he does and we went to a small park, Russell Square.
There were about ten devotees with Srila Prabhupada and I was the new boy. I was the bhakta.
As such I was behind the others and I had difficulty understanding Srila Prabhupada.
He had an unusual Bengali accent and as I never had a lot of exposure to Indian people, I was straining to hear what he said.
I moved closer to Prabhupada to catch his words and in so doing I clipped Prabhupada’s heel.
Srila Prabhupada walked about two or three paces without one shoe on and then he stopped. Everyone stopped.
Prabhupada turned and he looked at me since he knew I had clipped his heel.
He said, “You must always walk three feet behind the spiritual master.”
I was completely mortified.
There was one devotee who said to me, “This is a grave offense. You should immediately kill yourself.” (laughs)
He said, “You should jump in the Thames River immediately for purification.”
I thought, “Oh no, what have I done? I haven’t even started and I’ve set off on a bad foot.” No pun intended.
It was much later when I was recounting this to one of my sannyasi God-brothers and he said, “That is the moment when Srila Prabhupada accepted you as his disciple.”
He said, “That was his first instruction to you, that you must always walk three paces behind the spiritual master.”
Srila Prabhupada would give the most wonderful, practical examples to explain the most difficult philosophical concepts for his aspiring disciples.
One time in Vrindavan Srila Prabhupada was struggling to present to us in terms that we could understand the fact that everything is absolutely conscious and sentient in the spiritual world.
He paused for a short time and then he said, “Just like when Radharani is cooking for Krishna, she will ask the rice in the pot, ‘Are you ready yet?’ and the rice will say, ‘No, not yet. Give me a few more minutes.’”
Srila Prabhupada was very tricky. He knew the mentality of different people and how exactly to deal with them.
In Vrindavan Prabhupada was exasperated because none of his disciples were willing to stay in Vrindavan and were unqualified to deal with the goings on in India.
One time he thought that the solution was to get some local trusted people involved so that they would be our trustees to take care of things nicely.
There was one brahmachari gentleman, Bhagaji, who lived right around the corner and the devotees brought him to Prabhupada.
He had retired early and he just wanted to be involved in his bhajan.
He knew the entire Bhagavad-gita by heart and he would take a rickshaw from Raman Reti into town in which he would recite half of the Bhagavad-gita and then on the way back he would recite the other half.
Srila Prabhupada definitely wanted him to get involved in helping with the temple.
Prabhupada would ask him and Bhagaji would find ways to avoid doing anything.
There was a chess match going on between them and each was resistant.
He was very respectful to Srila Prabhupada and he recognized Srila Prabhupada’s superior position.
Srila Prabhupada would explain to him that preaching was a higher calling and was more important than bhajan.
One day Prabhupada called for him and Bhagaji came in and sat down.
Prabhupada was sitting at his desk at the Krishna-Balaram temple and he said to him,
“It is the duty of every Indian gentleman to teach the teaching of Lord Krishna. Do you agree?”
Bhagaji said, “Yes”. Prabhupada said, “It is also the duty of every Indian gentleman to set aside some time in his life to prorogate these teachings. Do you agree?”
Bhagaji said. “Yes. Yes, I agree.”
Prabhupada said, “If there was a need where western people were eager for Krishna and would come to a person, this gentleman he would help.”
Bhagaji said, “Yes.” So Bhagaji was agreeing to every point Srila Prabhupada presented.
Then Prabhupada said, “Brahmananda, bring the paper.” Brahmananada brought a document and he gave it to Prabhupada.
Prabhupada handed it to Bhagaji and Bhagaji looked alarmed.
Later I learned it was a legal document in which Bhagaji had to sign to say that he was the new trustee of the Krishna-Balaram temple.
He was shocked that as he was just trying to do his bhajan, now he was the manager of the temple, the trustee in charge of everything.
He was looking at the document and Prabhupada went over all the points again and Bhagaji just started laughing.
He realized he’d been outplayed. It was checkmate.
Bhagaji just laughed, took the pen, signed the document and thus surrendered to Prabhupada.
—Smara Hari
Excerpt from “Memories-Anecdotes of a Modern-Day Saint”
by Siddhanta das