Friday, March 30, 2018

In The Heart: Memories Of My Gurudeva

These memories…there are so many I don’t know where to begin. I’ll just let them flow randomly and without any concern for chronological order. I hope the devotees and specifically my god brother and god sisters find some joy and devotional enthusiasm from these memories. I pray to Gurudeva that my sharing of these memories do not cause me to feel better than anyone else or somehow superior or more privileged. I only share these memories for the joy of the devotees, not for my own aggrandizement.


The first time I ever physically saw Gurudeva was at the Devasadan Mandir (Detroit ISKCON temple). That had to have been 1994 or 1995. I was in the temple room alone chanting japa waiting to attend a program with Gurudeva at Radhasundari and Hladini Shakti’s home. I had never met him before. I only heard about this IFAST program from a flyer on the prasadam hall bulletin board. It was late afternoon and I remember the main lights were off in the temple room, so the only illumination was coming from the Deities altar and from the light over Srila Prabhupada’s murti. It was quiet and still. Then all of a sudden the temple room door flung open and in walked Gurudeva. He was alone, but his energy was so intense! The room felt electric and vibrating. I was up near the Deities, so he didn’t see me. He walked over to Srila Prabhupada, paid obeisances and stood in front of him with folded palms for what seemed an eternity. He then quickly darted back out of the temple room. I had this feeling like I had just witnessed this intimate, silent conversation between him and Srila Prabhupada. I just remember sitting there thinking, “My god…that was him! That was Bhakti Tirtha Swami! That’s my Gurudeva!”


At the program at Radhasundari and Hladini Shakti prabhus’ home that evening is where I was able to first see and hear from Gurudeva in person. He walked in like a king and surcharged the environment/atmosphere so intensely. He radiated such amazing, transcendental energy. I brought a drawing to give to Gurudeva as a gift. I knew he would be there, because I was previously attending the IFAST programs at their home. At that time I had seen a printed, photocopied booklet with a picture of Gurudeva on the cover wearing his Nehru jacket and hat and a garland, with his hands in a praying position. I felt some connection to him just from seeing that fuzzy, photocopied image. I later asked Radhasundari about this feeling, that if this could be my Guru. She said to keep an open mind to other Gurus and to hear from as many senior devotees as I could and that in time Krishna would reveal to me who my Guru was. At the same time she said there could definitely be a connection with him and that time would tell. But I knew without a doubt in that moment that he was my Gurudeva. So back to that home program where he was speaking, I gave the drawing to Hladini Shakti to give to Gurudeva. He presented it to Gurudeva and I watched from a short distance as he looked at it. Then Hladini Shakti relayed my desire to meet with him for a personal darshan. So we made arrangements to meet the next day.


I came to the Devasadan Mandir early in the morning. I remember there was snow everywhere and it was cold out. I walk in through the front entrance of the temple with nervous anticipation. As I walk into the main foyer area I can hear classical music playing from upstairs where the restaurant is. Garuda prabhu is with Gurudeva, traveling with him as his personal servant and secretary. He greets me downstairs and takes me up to the restaurant where Gurudeva is. He first goes in and announces to Gurudeva that I’ve arrived. He comes back out a moment later and says, “You can go in now.” I walk in and pay my obeisances. Gurudeva is sitting at a small table drinking ginger tea. As I sit up he greets me and tells me to sit down with him. I sit in the chair across from him. Garuda brings me a cup of tea. So there we are, Gurudeva and I drinking ginger tea, listening to classical music and Gurudeva begins asking me polite questions, like where do you live, what do you do, do you have family, etc. It’s all a blur now as to what he specifically asked me. I just remember being so nervous and in awe of his presence. The conversation is brief and he ends it by inquiring what time it is. He then says that they invited him to visit the gurukula and he asks me if I have time to come along with him. I reply that I do, so he, Garuda and I all walk over to the trailer that’s being used for the gurukula. There’s a class in session as we walk in. Gurudeva speaks to the students for a bit as Garuda and I stand off to the side. As we’re leaving Gurudeva says to me, “So now you can stay in touch with me by writing me letters every now and then.” I respond that I definitely will. I still have all of those early, printed, hand signed letters from Gurudeva. They mean so much to me. I remember driving home in a blissful state of euphoria and being excited about the future.


Here are some random memories based around Gurudeva and his eating habits. One time Gurudeva ate a whole bag of cashews. Another time he asked me to make some popcorn. I had to run down to the temple, as there was no popcorn popper at the Institute house. It was so blissful running down through the woods in the evening, making the popcorn (he wanted salt, butter and nutritional yeast on it) and running it back up the hill and through the woods to the house. I think that was the time he commented how the salt was good for his throat, because his throat was a little sore. There was the time in Mayapur where I found a bunch of pistachio shells in his trashcan and ants had gathered around eating the crumbs. He ate once a day and most times the devotees would cook for him. It was usually healthy preps, like couscous, simple vegetables, salad and maybe bread. One time in New Vrindavan there were a lot of cookies left over from the guru-puja. Every day he and I would eat some. He told me one day to go run some errands. When I came back the plate of cookies was gone, but he had left some pieces for me as his maha. I felt so grateful eating those remnants. I remember how Gurudeva would sometimes lift his glasses up so that they rested on his head as he would read emails while eating. One time he even ate while dictating email messages. He didn’t want to waste one moment. One time, after the incident of me running away from Gita Nagari, he was really caring and kind to me. He was trying to be less intense with me and more aware of my needs. He melted my heart while we were doing his emails by walking out from the kitchen with a piece of apple pie and a fork, which he placed in front of me and said, “This is really good pie. Take a break and try it.” That memory still chokes me up. Just that level of love and personal care that he exhibited to me.


I had the good fortune of being with Gurudeva in Sri Mayapur Dhama and Sri Vrindavan Dhama in 1997. Here are some random memories from Mayapur: 1) He was feeling thirsty and wanted a coconut. So I went out around the temple grounds and outside the grounds looking for a coconut-walla. I couldn’t find any anywhere! So I instead brought him back sugar cane juice. When I told him there were no coconuts to be found and that all I could find was the cane juice, he made a disgusted face and commented how cane juice is too sweet. But he drank it anyway. After I left the room I was going down these black marble stairs. Somehow I didn’t see the bottom stair and I tripped and slammed by hands and knee onto the hard marble floor. It was a shock! I don’t know if that was a reaction to bringing my Guru the wrong drink. 2) I became ill while in Mayapur and I was missing some of the programs and darshans. Gurudeva relayed a message to Ekavira prabhu for me to “stop playing around and take my medicine.” Within in that message was some kind of blessing, because the next day I felt perfectly fine and healthy! 3) I was in the class Gurudeva gave entitled “Protecting Srila Prabhupada’s House”. It was an intense lecture and after it was finished I was walking out with him back to his room. He was wearing a gigantic garland. I said to him with appreciation, “Gurudeva, that was a very powerful class.” He smiled and said, “I have to be careful how I speak…sometimes I get so fired up!” 4) In the mornings he would fly down the stairs to the temple room. To this day whenever I’m walking down stairs I think of Gurudeva and remember how fast he went down the stairs. I don’t know how he did it. It was like he was gliding, like not even taking steps or lifting his legs. It was really something to witness. I could barely keep up with him. Then we traveled to Vrindavan. There was some plan that I would fly with him to Delhi, but then the plans changed and I ended up going with the rest of the devotees by train. Here are some random Vrindavan memories: 1) After Gurudeva’s vyasa-puja we were in a car traveling back to the ashram where he was staying. Gurudeva was in the front seat and I was in the back seat with the head pujari. They were having some conversation and I was just sitting there quietly. Then there was a moment of silence in the car. All of a sudden Gurudeva turns around and says, “Jayadeva! Here’s your chance to do some Deity seva!” pointing out that I was in the car with the head pujari and could ask for some service. It was amazing to me, because I had never verbally mentioned to Gurudeva that I wanted to do Deity seva in Vrindavan, but that’s how deeply he knew our hearts and desires. 2) We took a trip to Mathura to visit one of the largest, main temples there (I can’t remember the name now). While there we did a small kirtan for the pleasure of the Deities. A small family of Brijbasis was also present, but otherwise the temple room was empty. As we were sitting there performing kirtan a little boy stood up and started dancing ecstatically. Not in a crazy, wild fashion, but in a very deliberate, slow, rhythmic dance. It was completely enchanting. Some elderly, Indian-bodied ladies were smiling and clapping. Gurudeva had a huge grin and was also clapping to encourage this young boy. The dance is hard to explain in words, but he was doing this little step thing, with every step making his hip flick outwards. And with his hands he had one on his hip and the other one in the air, spinning and rotating like a dancing snake. It was amazing. After the kirtan Gurudeva leaned over to me, still smiling and said, “You should learn to dance like THAT in kirtan!”


I was on the phone relaying a message from Gurudeva to another disciple. Gurudeva wasn’t very happy with the person. I don’t remember the details of the conversation or why he was upset, but he wanted me to relay something that I thought was really intense and I felt uncomfortable saying it to this god sibling. So I somehow changed the message to make it a little less harsh sounding. Gurudeva quickly cut me off annoyed and said, “That’s not what I said! I said _________! Tell them I said ________!” I could tell that he was upset that I had changed what he said. He wanted me to repeat his message and to be direct.

New York Ratha Yatra. Gurudeva needed to use the restroom, but there were no outdoor portable restrooms on the parade route. So he, our god brother Agni and I ran off the route and into a large mall type building. We were moving fast, because Gurudeva didn’t want to get too far behind the parade. So we were weaving in and out and around customers. I think Agni was holding Gurudeva’s large, flat drum. We were all drenched in sweat. We followed the signs to the restrooms, but they were upstairs on another level, so we had to take an elevator. I remember being packed in the elevator with other people and there was a super awkward silence. That elevator seemed to take forever to go up one level! Gurudeva handed me his sannyasa cloth and bead bag and ran into the restroom. Then he came back out quickly and we again darted our way back to the elevator and back through the crowds of customers to the main entrance. There’s really no message in this memory! Haha. It was just nice being with Gurudeva, even in these seemingly mundane events.

Once in Detroit we were leaving a home program. It was a small and intimate program and Gurudeva lead an ecstatic kirtan in which everyone ended up standing up and dancing, even the older Prabhupada disciples that were normally more reserved and would never dance in kirtan. I was in the car with him and I believe Sri Nandanandana was driving him back to his house where he was staying. I said to Gurudeva, “You’re a very special servant of Krishna, Gurudeva!” He smiled and quickly replied, “We’re ALL special servants of Krishna!”

Once also in Detroit he was staying at the home of Jagat-purusa prabhu (technically I think it was a house that Jagat-purusa prabhu was home sitting for). During our stay there (I was staying in a separate room and was there for any of Gurudeva’s needs) I had asked him, “Gurudeva, it’s said that Srila Prabhupada is a shaktyavesa avatar, so does that mean he always appears after Lord Caitanya…” Gurudeva quickly cut me off and said with an intense tone, “Srila Prabhupada is a nitya-siddha and can appear whenever and wherever he wishes!” I was caught off guard with the intensity of Gurudeva’s reply. It was like he was irritated with my neophyte understanding of his beloved Gurudeva, Srila Prabhupada. I’ll never forget that moment.

Once driving from the Gita Nagari temple back to the Institute house I was sitting in the back seat and I asked Gurudeva about chanting with inattentiveness. I was questioning the value of chanting inattentive japa versus not chanting at all. Gurudeva told me it was better to chant then to not chant and to pray to have the attentiveness and to make the effort to try and focus on the sound of the Holy Name.


Evening routines at Gita-nagari. These were very sweet times. After a day of answering e-mails and Deity seva I would come back to the Institute house in the evenings to massage Gurudeva’s knees and feet. I would unroll this rectangular piece of 1-inch thick foam that he kept rolled up in his closet, lay it on the floor and place a twin-size sheet over it. That was his “bed”. I don’t remember there being a pillow, but I imagine there must have been one. He would lay on his back to fall asleep, but I honestly don’t think he ever really fully fell asleep. We would sometimes turn on a CD. Sometimes it would be a “new age” kind of instrumental music with synths and relaxing sounds. At one point he would put on Karnamrta dasi’s CD every night. While the music played I would massage beginning with his knees. He would often mention how his knees were sore. Then I would move to his feet. He would tell me to be careful with the foot with the large growth, as he said it was tender. When he found out my father was a massage therapist and knew something about reflexology and that he had taught me a little about it, he asked me to press on certain points that would be bothering him. For example, there was a time when he was having bladder issues, so he would ask me to focus on that point on his foot that correlated with his bladder (according to reflexology). Or if he were having a headache he would ask me to focus on that point on his foot. (One time he asked me to massage his head before he laid down for rest due to some chronic headache.) Sometimes as I would be massaging and placing pressure on certain points he would say, “Wait…right there…what is that spot? (meaning what did it relate to in the body according to reflexology). That spot there is a little tender.” There was never any indication of when to stop the massage. I never heard him fall into any sleep, like with snoring or changes in breathing pattern. I would just take my time with the massage and when it seemed he was relaxed I would move the bottle of massage oil or lotion and quietly stand up and tip-toe out of the room, quietly closing the door behind me. I would sometimes have to get up at 3:30am to get ready to wake Sri Sri Radha-Damodara and I didn’t have an alarm clock. So I would go downstairs and lay on the bare floor on my back (without a blanket or pillow) and leave the lights on so that I wouldn’t fall asleep too deeply. I would usually just fall into a light sleep for 4-5 hours. One time Gurudeva noticed that I was leaving the light on (which in retrospect I don’t know how he knew the light was on, since I was downstairs. I never heard him get up or heard him walking around upstairs) and he questioned why I was doing this. I explained that I didn’t want to oversleep so I would sleep with the light on. He didn’t really say anything in response, just kind of a sound of acknowledgement like, “Huh.” I really miss that intimate seva the most. Even though it was so intense (because I would always be so exhausted) it was very blissful. I think that’s why he once said to me that even though I was so stuck on the mental platform during my service, that one day I would look back on it with extreme gratitude. Nothing could be truer.


We’re out walking on the main road near Gita Nagari farm. We’re on a japa walk. It’s sweet and amazing being alone with him at this time. It’s just he and I walking and chanting on our japa beads. We walk over to an old abandoned covered bridge. Gurudeva inspects it, still continuing to chant his japa. He turns to me and says he needs to relieve his bladder and then begins looking for a place to urinate. There’s a small opening of open field that runs up to a wall of trees, bushes and foliage. Gurudeva hands me his japa bead bag and walks over to the line of trees and passes urine. He then looks around where to wipe his hands. There’s a tree that’s over hanging a bit with large leaves. Gurudeva plucks a couple leaves from the tree and rubs them over his hands, then tosses them into the bushes. He takes his bead bag back and begins chanting japa again. As we’re walking down the road again an elderly couple is coming towards us. Gurudeva takes his hand out of his bead bag and tells me to do the same. As they get closer he gives them a big smile and says hello. They exchange pleasantries as we keep walking by. Gurudeva then puts his hand back in his bead bag and continues chanting. I then realize he did this so as not to scare or disturb this couple. He didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable or nervous. He was always so constantly aware of other people’s energies.


I’m driving Gurudeva from Gita Nagari to Pittsburgh and then New Vrindavan. We’re using my god brother’s older car. It’s the kind of car that doesn’t really instill confidence in its reliability, but it’s the only car available for the trip. Half way into the trip the car start sputtering and shaking. I pull over to the side of the road and open the hood. There is now white smoke coming out of the engine and the car won’t start up again. I feel so terrible as Gurudeva has to endure this. I can’t remember how we eventually called a tow truck (this was before everyone on the planet had a cell phone). So we get into the tow truck and drive to a local car repair shop. Apparently the car needs a new alternator. Of course being a brahmacari I don’t have any money or credit cards or anything. Fortunately Gurudeva has cash with him. So he had to pay with his own money to get this car fixed! It was insane. I felt so bad. As we were sitting in the shop waiting for the car to be fixed I apologized to Gurudeva and said we would pay him back. He smiled and laughed and said something like, “You better be paying me back!” Even though I was in a ridiculous amount of anxiety, Gurudeva seemed completely unfazed by the whole experience.

Once on the way back to Gita Nagari from Lewistown (I think we went to Walmart for some reason) it was just Gurudeva and I in the car. Since I had this time with him alone I figured I would ask him a personal question that I was very curious about. I knew Gurudeva was very psychically attuned and sensitive to subtle phenomenon, so I assumed he was probably aware of his past lives and his previous relationship with Srila Prabhupada. So I mustered up the courage and asked, “Gurudeva…I was wondering…do you remember your previous relationship with Srila Prabhupada in a past life?” He was quiet for a moment and then simply replied, “Uhh…to some extent.” Then he was silent. The silence was intense and deafening. I could feel by his energy and mood that I had just asked an extremely inappropriate and personal question, one that I was not qualified to know the answer to. I sat there in the silence feeling like an idiot and I never again asked him about it.

Speaking of asking questions I was not qualified to ask, also at Gita Nagari, I once asked him about a topic he would sometimes bring up in classes. He would sometimes say that there were higher entities that were at Gita Nagari. I didn’t know if he meant demigods or what, so one day while I was serving him at the Institute House I asked, “Gurudeva, you know how you always mention there are higher beings in the environment here…I was curious…who are those beings?” He replied very vaguely with, “Uhh, just like there are higher beings and lower beings. Like there are ants, but there are also beings that are higher. Like that.” I had another one of those I-probably-shouldn’t-have-asked-that-question moments and just stayed quiet without pursuing more details.

One time while living in the Detroit temple I was going to make a painting of the Panca-tattva (which for some reason I started but never actually finished), but I had this idea to show Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu with a shaved head. I asked Gurudeva if that would be bonafide to which he responded with a question, “How is He normally depicted in the paintings?” I replied, “With hair.” He then said, “Then that’s how you should show Him.”

Once while serving him in Detroit I was so exhausted that I went to the room I was staying in to chant some japa while waiting for his prasadam to be delivered by another devotee. I sat down on the end of the bed chanting. Then I laid back and thought I would close my eyes for a moment. The next thing I know I hear Gurudeva’s voice saying, “Haribol! Haribol! Bhakta Jason! Haribol! I think the prasadam is here.” I jumped off the bed and instinctually dropped into obeisances. After he walked out I wiped the drool off of my chin. I was so disoriented and confused. It was so embarrassing. It was this same visit when in the morning that he was leaving I was sitting in that same room chanting japa in the dark. He came into the room and opened up the curtains to let the morning sun come shining in. It was very symbolic. He then stayed in the room and paced back and forth chanting japa with me.

One time I asked him if he was consciously aware of appearing in his disciples’ dreams. (This was probably another one of those questions I shouldn’t have been asking!) He was polite and replied, “Uh, sometimes that’s there.”

Once while staying in Maryland I had to drive Gurudeva to the bank. I sat in the car while he went inside to do what he needed to do. When he came back there was some conversation that made me wonder when his birthday was. (I actually knew, but in that moment for whatever reason I couldn’t recall it.) I asked, “Gurudeva, when is your actual birthday?” Oh my. What a dumb question on so many levels! Gurudeva was even shocked and replied sharply, “You don’t know your own Guru’s birthday?!” I was taken aback and couldn’t speak. Seeing my floundering he quickly replied with disbelief, “February 25th, 1950.” I felt like such an idiot and after he said it I was like, “Wait…I knew that…why did I ask that?!” I guess Krishna thought it was funny.

I remember once while Gurudeva was dictating an email message to some of his god brothers that he was very concerned for their health. He was lovingly encouraging them to take care of their physical bodies and to not always push themselves so hard with excessive traveling, lack of sleep and lack of nourishment. He then said to me to the side that so many of the leaders were falling ill from pushing themselves too hard and how it was important to find a balance. In retrospect it’s interesting to note his genuine concern for others, yet he never took his own health into consideration.

Once while at Gita Nagari he wanted to go outside to write some of his Beggar entries. So he asked me to bring a rocking chair out to the swing set that was outside on the Institute lawn. I remember it was super awkward and difficult to maneuver the large rocking chair up the ladder and into the small space at the top of the swing set. It had a little roof over top of it. I went back inside and told Gurudeva it was set up. He went out there with his notebook and pen. I remember looking out of his window from inside and I could see him sitting out there in the chair. It was such a sweet moment for some inexplicable reason watching him quietly writing out there. It’s these kind of small, little memories that really make me miss his physical presence.


Gurudeva used to have me print out his emails so that he could read them before dictating replies. This would create many challenges if we were traveling or if the printer broke, etc. One time I mentioned he could just read the emails on the computer screen, but he replied that he didn’t like doing it that way and that it strained his eyes. So anyway, at the end of dictating emails he would have a stack of printed emails. He would give them back to me to reuse by printing on the back of the paper. Once both sides had been printed on he would just tell me to throw them out. On one occasion he handed me the stack of emails and I took them with me like usual. Then I headed downstairs at the Institute House to connect the laptop computer to the dial-up Internet. As I was sending the emails I noticed a hand written note, in pen, on one of the printed emails. It was at the top of the paper and said “Please Krishna’s senses. Do not mind my personal distress.” I don’t know if Gurudeva wrote that as a reminder of what he was going to say in an email reply, if he was writing that for himself or if he wrote that with the intention of me seeing it. In any case I took it as a personal message. I carefully cut the top of that paper off before discarding the papers. Many years later I had that hand-written note framed along with a photo of Gurudeva and I. The importance of that message still resonates with me to this very day: advancement in Krishna Consciousness is all based upon the degree of our selflessness.

That echoes something Gurudeva wrote in my copy of Spiritual Warrior 2 in which he wrote to me: “Lust constantly attacks us on the gross and subtle levels. We will constantly be defeated unless we become truly selfless. Yours in the struggle for unconditional love, Swami Krishnapada”.


After Gurudeva found out he had cancer and had his leg amputated he was staying at Gita Nagari. I had left Gita Nagari in 2002 and moved back to Michigan. In 2004 I met my wife and moved to New Jersey. I knew that his time on this planet was drawing to a close, so I wanted to see him and have his physical association one last time. I think it was late 2004 or early 2005 when I drove from New Jersey to Gita Nagari to see him. There were a lot of devotees coming to see him and the Institute House was buzzing with activity. I remember waiting for my turn to go into his room to speak with him. They were letting devotees go in as small groups. I don’t remember who was in the room with me. (I remember there was a mataji there, because when we left the room she expressed to me feeling humbled by witnessing the sweetness of my exchange with Gurudeva.) I’m sitting there on the floor and just listening quietly as Gurudeva was speaking to the other devotees. Finally there is some opportunity to speak, so I say, “Gurudeva…I just wanted to apologize to you for all of my offenses and for not being able to surrender to you completely.” He had a big grin and replied, “I want to apologize to YOU for being so hard on you!” I was caught off guard with the power of his humility and in turn I felt extremely humbled. I replied, “No, no Gurudeva! You have no reason to apologize! I was just too selfish to accept your full love and mercy.” At this point in the memory I don’t remember what his response was. It has blurred with the passing of time. All I remember vividly was the energy of love and compassion and humility radiating from his being as he sat on the couch in his room. I think he wrapped up the darshan and said there were more devotees waiting. I paid obeisances and that’s the last time I physically saw him.

The next time I saw Gurudeva he had already left behind his mortal form. I remember getting the automated phone call that he was in the final stages of leaving his body. My wife and I jumped in the car and started driving to Gita Nagari from New Jersey, which was about a 3-hour drive. As we were passing through Harrisburg, Pennsylvania my cell phone rang again. It was the message that he had left his body. I felt like an empty shell. I was stunned and sitting in the passenger seat quietly. I felt sadness that I wasn’t there. It was only afterwards when I saw the photos of the state he was in that I realized Krishna had protected me from seeing him like that. If I had walked in and saw him in that condition (after the last time seeing him he was vibrant and smiling and sitting on his couch) I probably would have lost it emotionally and just been a disturbance. I remember walking down the hill in the procession that carried his body to the temple. I remember standing in front of his body in the temple room and just starring at his face and being filled with so many emotions. Mother Vrajalila was there next to me and handed me a maha incense stick. I didn’t cry at the time, but now, even all of this time later, thinking too intensely about Gurudeva and his departure can send me into fits of uncontrollable crying and sobbing. I miss him so much. And there were so many more experiences I wanted to share with him. Sometimes I feel so lost without him and I pray to Krishna to somehow bring me back into contact with him. There is so much solace in the association of my god family. I pray to Gurudeva to never leave me and that in the next life I can be reunited with him.


There is so much more that could be said and so many more memories that could be mined from my mind if I continued reflecting on Gurudeva and my experiences with him. But for now I will leave this here. I could even spend so much time discussing my correspondences with him and the things he told me in letters and emails, but it would be overwhelming for everyone (for me in writing and for the devotees in reading!). There are also the things from dreams, but those are generally quite personal in meaning and I don’t feel like sharing everything. I also have purposely left things out of these memories that were of a personal nature. But I hope and pray that the memories I have shared above are enlivening for the disciples of Srila Bhakti Tirtha Swami Maharaja. Perhaps in the future I will share even more for the pleasure of the devotees. I pray to all of you that have read this to please forgive me for any offenses and to please not think I have shared these memories for my own ego-boosting purposes. I have only written these things to keep Gurudeva’s presence alive in my own heart and hopefully in your hearts as well. All glories to Srila Bhakti Tirtha Swami Maharaja! All glories to the disciples and well-wishers of Gurudeva! All glories to His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja Srila Prabhupada! All glories to the assembly of Vaishnavas! All glories to Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga! All glories to Sri Nityananda Prabhu! Jai Nitai Jai Nitai Jai Nitai!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Sauce Archives: Memories in Service of my Gurudeva

Sometimes I feel like writing about my personal experiences with my Guru Maharaja can come across as being narcissistic or braggadocious. I have no intention of them sounding that way and I hope the readers will not interpret them in such a way. My sole reason for sharing these experiences is two fold: 1) it’s for my own remembrance/meditation/reflection and 2) for the pleasure of the devotees who may take something out of these memories for their own personal benefit.

I was thinking what would be the best way to present these memories. After all, there are so many that it becomes difficult to categorize them all. It also becomes very difficult to remember them in a chronological order, because the passing of time has blurred the exact details of when and where.  So as I was thinking about it I thought that perhaps I would just write spontaneously and allow the memories to appear randomly in my stream of consciousness.

Then I thought I would like to maybe first remember some of the interactions with my Gurudeva where I received “the sauce” (those great moments of chastisement or embarrassment). These memories may seem of a negative nature at first glance, but upon deeper reflection they allow me to see how he was showing me “tough love” out of a genuine concern for my well-being and spiritual advancement. So without further ado, here are some of the memories that I will call “The Sauce Archives”:


The year is 1995 or 1996 in Detroit, Michigan. Gurudeva is in town as the Detroit temple is one of the temples in the zones that he oversees. I don’t remember if I’m initiated yet or not at the point of this memory. He’s staying at someone’s house in the vicinity of the temple. I am there with him as his personal servant. We’re waiting for a car to come and pick him up to drive him to a devotee’s house (I think it may have been the house of our god sister Titiksa dasi and her husband, who’s name I can’t recall) for a disciples meeting. As we’re getting things prepared to leave he says to me, “Uh, make sure they have the things for guru-puja.” I acknowledge what he said. The devotee arrives to drive us.

As we’re driving, Gurudeva is in the front passenger seat and I am in the back. At some point he turns to me and inquires, “Do you have the instruments for kirtan?” I can’t remember what my full response was, but I tell him I forgot but that maybe we could borrow them from the temple. He then informs the driver to swing by the temple so we can pick up a mrdanga and kartals. I run in frantically, not wanting to make Gurudeva late. I come running back with instruments and get back into the car. Gurudeva was annoyed and said something like, “How did you forget the instruments? Was I supposed to just sit there and clap my hands?” I felt so incompetent and embarrassed! But wait, because this isn’t the worst part of this memory!

We arrive at the devotee’s house for the meeting and walk in to a kirtan. The devotees bow down as he enters and he sits down in a chair covered with a cloth. The kirtan goes on for a bit more with Gurudeva now playing kartals. As the end of the kirtan arrives and the premadhanavi prayers are recited there is then an awkward silence. There is a guru-puja tray set up and cookies to distribute, but no one is initiating the guru-puja! Everyone is kind of just standing around. Gurudeva then says something like, “So I guess we can just start the class”. I’m standing there confused, because I’m thinking, “Wait…didn’t Gurudeva tell me earlier that he wanted us to do guru-puja?” So I quickly blurt out, “Did you still want us to do guru-puja, Gurudeva?” Gurudeva quickly retorts in disbelief, “Do I want guru-puja?! I don’t want guru-puja!” (He puts the emphasis on the “I”. I can still to this day hear his voice in my head saying this!) Being such a neophyte I’m still confused and don’t fully understand what’s happening. Titiksa dasi steps in and says, “We want to OFFER you guru-puja, Gurudeva!” Gurudeva then replies, “That’s up to you, if you want to.” At that point someone steps up and begins the puja, while another devotee starts up a kirtan. It finally sinks in as I’m standing there like an idiot that the Guru doesn’t WANT guru-puja. It’s the offering of the disciples and what he wanted me to do was to oversee it and make sure it went smoothly (which I clearly totally botched!). After the program we were walking out back to the car. I remember it was cold and dark out and I still remember the way the porch light illuminated him and reflected off of his glasses and the hat he was wearing. I apologize to him for what happened with the guru-puja. He says very simply and directly, “You still have a lot to learn.”


I don’t remember the year (maybe 1998), but I was with Gurudeva at Gita-nagari as his personal servant. We were going to leave to the Washington DC area (I believe) and his first engagement there was an interview at a radio station. Before we left I had this brilliant idea that I would shave my head clean so that I could look more externally like a devotee for the upcoming preaching programs. We were going to be leaving in a few hours and I came running up to the Institute House all proud of my clean shaven head. When I walked into Gurudeva’s room and paid obeisances he turned around and said, “Why did you shave your head?” I explained to him that I wanted to look more like a devotee for the preaching programs. He then explained to me that these programs would be better if I DIDN’T look so much like a devotee! He then said, “You really should have asked me before you did this.” I felt so ashamed and crushed. Then he asked, “Do you have a hat or baseball cap you could wear?” I replied, “I don’t think so Gurudeva.” He then said, “Well maybe you can run down to the temple and see if anyone has a hat.”

So I ran down the hill and through the woods behind the Institute House. I went in search of our god brother Nrsima-titha prabhu. I found him and asked if he had a hat I could borrow. He gave me one of those flat cap Kangol style newsboy caps. I thought it looked odd when I wore it with the bill facing forward, so I turned the bill to the back and wore it backwards. I came running back up to Gurudeva. I came into his room and paid obeisances. As I was sitting up he knocked the cap off of my head and said smiling, “What are you…trying to be cool? Wear it the other way around!” I sheepishly replied, “Yes Gurudeva.”

I have to be honest: I looked REALLY weird in that cap and I was a super skinny brahmacari with big, round frame glasses. So there I was wearing hand-me-down khaki pants that were too large for me as well as an oversized long sleeve shirt that made me look like I was being swallowed up. Combine that with my clean-shaven head and that style of cap over it (which you could still see I was very bald!) and I looked like some kind of sickly alien! I could tell Gurudeva was still annoyed when we walked into the radio station. I felt so uncomfortable and self-conscious the whole time. I learned from that experience that Gurudeva was beyond the external designations and that in the world of preaching we could adapt our external appearances in order to be more effective in delivering the message and principles of bhakti-yoga.


There was one incident once at Gita-nagari (probably also around 1998) that is still embarrassing and shameful for me to think about. One evening after a program Gurudeva had gone back up to the Institute House. The plan was for me to take prasadam and then to come up later for his bedtime routine. So on this particular evening I was getting a ride back up to the House from bhakti Derek. As we were driving along the main road and right before the driveway for the Institute House we saw in the headlights a god sister of mine walking along the side of the road. I remember thinking, “Hmm…that’s odd. What’s she doing walking out here late at night?” I figured maybe she was just going for a japa walk. Then I thought, “Well, no worries then. I have to get up to the House to serve Gurudeva! I don’t want to be late or I might get reprimanded!” So we head up the driveway and pull around back. I get out of the car and quickly head into the House. There I see Gurudeva talking on the phone. I hear him say something about this devotee who went missing and had walked off. “Oh Gurudeva!” I say. “I just saw her walking along the road.” He tells the devotee on the other end of the phone and then hangs up. I’m sitting there thinking that I just did an amazing thing by solving this mystery and helping out with this information, but my Gurudeva says to me with anger and disbelief, “Why didn’t you stop and ask if they needed help?!” I’m shocked and scared and then I quickly realize I made a huge mistake. “Were you thinking just because she’s in a female body you can’t stop and offer help?” I reply, “No, no, Gurudeva. I just knew you were waiting for me up here and…” He then cuts me off and says, “That doesn’t matter! I would have understood if you were late helping your god sister! You’re thinking you have to serve your Guru but you’re neglecting the devotees that are in need!” He was so upset with me. I felt so tiny and foolish. It was a powerful lesson for me and made me realize how neophyte my consciousness was. Service to the Guru doesn’t just mean direct, physical service to him. It means serving all of the Vaishnavas in a spirit of humility, compassion and care.


At some point in my fanatical brahmacari days at Gita-nagari I wouldn’t eat the cooking of certain female devotees. I didn’t advertise that I did this. It was just my personal quirk. When some of my other god brothers heard of this practice of mine, they decided to also take it up. Somehow this got back to Gurudeva. He never directly talked to me about it, but in a morning Bhagavatam class he brought the issue up during a Q&A session. He was saying that it’s not only the consciousness of the person cooking that can affect the quality of the prasadam, but it’s also the consciousness of the person who is offering it to the Deities. I realized at that moment he was talking to/about me. It made me realize that I should be more concerned about the quality of my own consciousness rather than worrying about the faults of others.


There was one time at Gita-nagari in the late 90’s where we were getting ready for an upcoming Ratha Yatra festival. It meant that the regular out reach sankirtan had to be put on hold, because they needed everyone on the farm to help get things ready. There was a lot of service to be done. At that time one of the devotees who would regularly go out on sankirtan was a little perturbed and upset that we couldn’t go out as usual. He implored me, as Gurudeva’s personal secretary, to do something about it or to stand up for the sankirtan devotees. For whatever reason I became influenced by this devotee’s persuasion and decided to take action. I had this brilliant idea to quote an email that Gurudeva had sent to some devotees in South Africa. I figured the best time to bring it up would be during an istha-gosthi gathering of devotees. As Gurudeva’s secretary I was dictating all of his email messages, so I had access to these correspondences. (Looking back at it now and even thinking about it is so embarrassing! Like what the hell was I thinking?!) I made sure that the email from Gurudeva that I selected didn’t mention any specific names, but that was more of a general support for sankirtan. The problem was of course that the email was intended for a particular place, at a particular time. So even though the email supported the supremacy of performing public sankirtan and preaching, it didn’t take into account the importance of serving and assisting the devotees over one’s own personal desires!

So anyway, at the end of this meeting, there was an opportunity to bring up any questions or concerns. “Ah-ha! Here’s my moment!” I thought. So I raise my hand and take out this folded up, printed email out of my kurta pocket. I then looked over at the devotee who had been imploring me to “save” our sankirtan preaching. I thought I was doing God’s work. I clear my throat and start reading Gurudeva’s email…the personal email…that was meant for someone else…in a different part of the world…in front of all the devotees…in a public forum. At the end of the letter I say something like, “So this is why we should still be allowed to go out and preach on sankirtan.” I see the face of the facilitator looking at me with a blank stare, like she can’t believe what I just did. She then went on to explain why this was highly inappropriate to be reading this email and why it wasn’t relevant in this case. At that moment the severity (and stupidity) of my actions started to sink in.

A couple of days later that devotee approached me and told me that Gurudeva was informed of what I did and they relayed a message from him to me. I don’t remember the specifics of what Gurudeva told me (I probably blocked it out of my mind!), but all I know is that he was upset, disappointed and irritated.

A couple of days after that we were all back into full swing of getting the temple and grounds ready for Ratha Yatra. I was standing up on a scaffolding outside of the old temple room building. I think I was doing some painting. As I’m standing there painting and reflecting on what an idiot I was, I feel this sharp pain on my hand. I look down and see a giant wasp stinging me! I swat it off and immediately I start to feel nauseous and dizzy. I climbed down from the scaffolding and laid down on the ground with my hand beginning to swell. Ekavira prabhu brought me some kind of plant to chew and place on the sting. As I was laying there on the ground I realized that this was a karmic reaction for what I had done. Needless to say I never read any of Gurudeva’s emails in public again, nor shared them with anyone else!


I was once traveling with Gurudeva to New Vrindavan as his personal servant and secretary. It was probably around 1999. At this point I had been struggling with sex desire and wondering if I should really still be a brahmacari or not. I think this was also after I had ran away once from Gita-nagari (that’ll be a memory below). So I was in this really weird mental space while serving him. I was also kind of burnt out and exhausted mentally from being so close to him for so long (more on that below as well). I still have an email from him from this time that was sent to me shortly after the New Vrindavan trip. He said to me in that email that it was “interesting” that Krishna had arranged for myself and another brahmacari god brother to be there with him at the same time, because we were both “somewhat pretending” to be surrender brahmacaris.

I remember once being in Gurudeva’s room with him and dictating emails. I was so tired and hungry and I wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding my emotions. Gurudeva was naturally sensitive to other peoples’ energies anyway, so he could very easily sense that I was struggling. Out of nowhere he said to me, “…It’s like even right now, you’re just grudgingly doing this service.” I was like, “Woah, wait…what? Gurudeva just called me out for the thoughts I was having! In mid-sentence as he was dictating a message to someone else!” He was so irritated with me and I can’t blame him, because I was being so ungrateful and on the mental platform.

So later that day he said to me, “I want you to give the Bhagavatam class in the morning instead of me.” I started freaking out in my mind! “What?! Give the Bhagavatam class? In front of you? In front of HH Radhanatha Swami? In front of so many senior Prabhupada disciples?!” My anxiety was through the roof. I thought I was going to pass out and throw up at the same time. The whole next morning I was just silently freaking out in my mind and dreading the time for class to begin. Before I knew it there I was sitting on the vyasasana with my Gurudeva, HH Radhanatha Swami and the assembly of devotees starring at me. Now you have to remember, I’m already stressed about my service to my Guru Maharaja and I’m already feeling like a false renunciate/fake brahmacari, etc. and now there I am having to give a class to all of this senior Vaishnavas.

Unfortunately I don’t even remember what the verse was and I don’t even remember what I said. I do recall saying something about HDG Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja and a quote from him. Other than that it’s all an anxiety blur. I think at the end Mother Malati chimed in and tried to rescue me by adding to the discussion about pure bhakti. I remember I was so quiet and insecure and scared and nervous. I felt like such a fraud sitting up on that vyasasana. And I can look back and see it as Gurudeva’s mercy to let me know that I wasn’t ready to be a vessel to deliver any type of transcendental message. It was like he was saying, “So you think you’re so pure and surrendered? Let’s see you in action!” And I failed. It was as if he held a mirror up and allowed me to see myself, to see my selfishness, to see my faults and to see my weaknesses. I’ll never forget that moment.

On a side note: I sometimes think back on this memory and wish I could go back in time knowing what I know now and deliver a different kind of discussion. Maybe one day I’ll write a blog entry entitled, “The Class I Should Have Given”.


This memory is from 2001 and takes place at Gita-nagari. This is one of the most regretful, selfish things I did as Gurudeva’s personal servant. A lot of devotees probably don’t realize just how intense it was being so physically close to Gurudeva for such extended periods of time. A lot of devotees experiences with him were more like you see him at the temple, hear him give a class and then you go and take prasadam and go home and watch TV or relax with your family and friends or go on a relaxing japa walk, etc. My experience was more what I liken to that of a firefighter having to constantly be on call and waiting for the alarm to go off. There was always a constant, high level of anxiety, anticipation and attention. There was never any down time, never any time to relax. And that was just Gurudeva’s nature. He was intense in his service to Srila Prabhupada and the Vaishnavas. He never had an off-switch. He never contemplated his own sense-gratification. (One time I even heard him say, while serving him at the Institute House in DC, “Hmmm…I wonder why I’m not tired…I wonder what I didn’t do in my service to Srila Prabhupada.” which meant he couldn’t relax because he was in some transcendental anxiety feeling like he hadn’t done enough service that day! This is a symptom of someone experiencing the higher stages of devotional service.)

So anyway, my service as his secretary mainly consisted of dictating emails. And there were A LOT of emails. Sometimes we would spend HOURS replying to emails. And I would sit on the floor with crossed legs, hunched over while typing on his laptop, because many times we would be in his room and there was no table to sit at. This eventually lead to severe back pain and issues, but even when the back pain was intense I wouldn’t say anything. I would just work through it. (It was Brahma-muhurta prabhu that later realized you could just say to Gurudeva, “Is it okay if I sit at a table while we do this?”) So imagine sitting on the floor for hours, your back is having muscle spasms and burning, Gurudeva is asking you to repeat what he just said, not once, but twice or sometimes several times and you haven’t eaten anything all day and you only got 4 hours of sleep! And this isn’t just one day. It’s EVERY single day for sometimes two or three weeks at a time. And then you realize that after you’re finished with this service you have to run down to the temple and do an offering or arati and then quickly eat something and run back up to the Institute House up a steep hill through the dark woods to go and do more emails. It was a very unique and intense kind of seva! And it lead to a lot of my ungrateful attitude and struggles in my devotional service.

So at some point it just got to be too much for me to handle. I think there was one point where I had a fever and was falling ill. I hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day and was running on very little sleep. And Gurudeva was composing an important email to the GBC that he kept revising and having me read over and over and over. I thought I was going to lose my mind. At one point I had to tell him, “Gurudeva…I think I’m becoming sick. I have a really bad fever right now. Is there anyway I could go soon and go to bed?” He replied, “Uhh…sure. Let’s just finish up these emails.” So we spent another hour replying to them. I remember walking down that hill in the dark, feeling feverish and nauseous and thinking, “What even is my life? How is being selfless supposed to be blissful and yet here I am feeling so miserable?!” It was intense and it was the daily norm when he was physically there.

That was just a little backstory to what follows. So Gurudeva was away from Gita-nagari on a preaching tour. He was due to come back soon and I started having a panic attack, like a legitimate anxiety overload. I was freaking out. Then I had this brilliant idea: I’ll just leave! I’ll just get on a train and go back home to Michigan! For whatever reason that was the solution my panicked mind came up with: just run away! Of course in retrospect I can look at it and see that this wouldn’t solve anything, but at the time it was the only solution I could see. So I devised an entire plan about how I would tell a devotee who commuted to Harrisburg that I needed a ride to the train station because I was going home to visit, but I wouldn’t tell him the whole story. And so I did just that. I made some arrangements before hand to get a train ticket from my father that would be waiting for me at the station. And one morning this devotee drove me to Harrisburg as I slouched down in the passenger seat so no one would see me.

Looking back at this moment in my life is so embarrassing and regretful. I still don’t know why I did it. For some reason I had also used the writings of HH Satsvarupa Maharaja as justification for my actions. I had read that he had struggles in his service as a secretary to Srila Prabhupada to the point where he asked Srila Prabhupada if he could leave this service. (I later wrote to Maharaja about this and received a nice letter in response from him, which I still have.)

Anyway, I finally made it to Michigan and awaited the fall out and consequences of my actions. You can imagine that Gurudeva wasn’t happy with me. He sent me an email (which I also still have) basically calling me out for my selfish nature. The email is too personal and painful to really share the whole thing in public, but here is a small portion of it:

“So, it comes down to basically selfishness, dishonesty, and somewhat of a
hate of Krishna, or let us say distrust. So therefore there is always an
underlying frustration in your nature. You may only get out of this fully
by just changing into white, having your independence with a wife, and
having your sense-gratification, and at the same time doing devotional
service as it fits into your material desires.”

And well now…here I am! I try not to look back at this time with too much regret, but it’s definitely hard in retrospect, especially now that he’s physically gone. Of course at the time too I was much younger and much more immature. I was a kid when I joined and shortly afterwards got placed into this really intense service that probably would have cracked any mortal (at least I tell myself this to feel better about my choices). (There are some sweet memories that take place after this event, but I’ll save those for another blog entry.)


1. One time I was dressing Gurudeva’s Deities. None of Their outfits matched and all of the clothes were mixed up. It was taking me a long time to dress Them, as I was spending so much time searching for things that would match. Gurudeva noticed this and inquired why it was taking me so long. When I explained my predicament he replied, “You can just use whatever is there.” Then after a short pause he added, “Sometimes we have to be creative like anything in the service of the Lord!”

2. One time after having just arrived to Gita-nagari late at night from the Detroit temple (that’s a long story!), Gurudeva said I should call my mother to let her know I was okay and that I had arrived safely. So I used the phone in the living room. As I was talking to her he was standing near me and listening. I must have sounded scared or nervous or something, because when I got off the phone with her he said to me, “You should try not to upset your mother so much.”

3. One time on a Nirjala ekadasi I decided to take prasadam instead of doing a full fast. When I went up to the Institute House later to serve Gurudeva, he asked me if I was strictly following Nirjala. When I replied that I had taken prasadam he was grave and quiet. Then he said, “Sometimes it’s good to do some fasting. It helps control the mind and senses.” I felt like such a turd!

4. One time in Gita-nagari while I was serving Gurudeva we were sitting in his room. I asked him, “Gurudeva…I wanted to ask you a question.” “Sure, what is it?” he replied. I then said, “I was wondering…why is it so hard to be truly selfless?” He quickly replied, “Do you realize that you ask the same question over and over? Maybe you need to take a look at that.” Then he added, “It’s just like I’ve said before, the more you only worry about yourself the more miserable you will be. You need to do your service in a loving mood, not just in a begrudging mood.” I don’t fully remember what the actual answer was that he gave me. At the time I was thrown off by his comment that I ask the same question over and over! I couldn’t understand what he meant. In later reflection I could understand that he meant I wasn’t really applying the answer he was giving me. I was just asking to ask, but I wasn’t really doing the work to be more selfless!

5. One time while massaging Gurudeva’s feet in the evening he said to me, “Right now you’re caught up in your mind, but one day you’ll look back at this service and be extremely grateful.” I was shocked and almost started crying. I was so selfish and ungrateful in my service to Gurudeva, but he was right: I now look back at those experiences with such gratitude and appreciation.

6. One time while serving Gurudeva in New Vrindavan, we were sharing a cabin. I would sleep up in a loft and he had the room on the main floor. As a brahamcari I was into the whole kaupin thing. So I would wash them in the evening and hang them up to dry over the railing in the loft. On one particular morning Gurudeva said I could go to mangal-aratik by myself, because he had some work to do. So I went to the morning program and when I came back Gurudeva was chanting his japa and pacing back and forth in the main room. I paid obeisances and when I stood up he said to me, “Uh, can you take those down?” as he pointed with his japa finger towards my kaupins hanging off the railing! He then added, “I don’t want to be looking at your underwear!”

7. One time also in New Vrindavan he asked me to wash and iron his clothes. For whatever reason I accidentally left the laundry in a different building, so when he woke up that morning for mangal-aratik he asked me where his clothes were. When I told him that I forgot to bring them back and that it wasn’t even ironed yet, he became very upset and annoyed. He then said, “Well I can’t NOT go to mangal-aratik. I guess I’ll wear the clothes I was wearing yesterday. Where are they?” I had them wrapped up to be washed later, so they were all wrinkled. He didn’t say a word, but I could tell he was so annoyed at my incompetence. He quickly got dressed and I followed behind him as we walked to the temple. I felt so terrible!

8. One time at a preaching program at a college in Pittsburgh I was in charge of Gurudeva’s metal briefcase. After he gave his lecture we were all standing around talking. It was then time for Gurudeva to leave, so we rushed out. As we were walking off the campus and towards the car Gurudeva stopped dead in his tracks and looked at me and said, “Do you have my briefcase?” My heart sank. I looked at my hands. There was no briefcase in my hands! “Oh no…I forgot it Gurudeva! I’ll run back and get it!” So I took off sprinting. About 20 feet later I see a brahmacari running towards me shouting, “Maharaja! Maharaja!” I see in his hand he’s holding the briefcase. “Maharaja, you forgot your briefcase!” He hands it over to Gurudeva. Then he says, “Thank you so much. At least someone here was thinking.” Ouch! I felt like such an idiot. It was like the current meme where people say, “You had one job!” All I had to do was keep an eye on that briefcase and take care of it, but I couldn’t even do that right. Gurudeva later told me in the car that I have to be more aware and careful and that his briefcase was very important because he kept a lot of his legal documents and passport in there.

9. One time I was out with Gurudeva at a greenhouse in Mifflintown, as he wanted to go shopping for plants. He was about to leave on a month long worldwide preaching tour, but at the time he was also dealing with some health issues. As we were walking back to the car I said to him, “Gurudeva, I don’t know how you do it!” in reference to his intense traveling schedule and despite his health issues. He smiled that wonderful, big, bright grin of his and said to me, “Jayadeva…you think about yourself too much!”