PIONEERING THE WAY
Srila Prabhupada Impacts Mexico (Part 3)
SRILA PRABHUPADA ARRIVES
On his way to South America with the purpose of initiating preaching activities there, H.H. Hanuman das Goswami stopped in Mexico City to visit the temple. This helped the devotees to better prepare themselves for Srila Prabhupada's arrival.
Yamuna jivan das: We had just recently moved into the ashram when Maharaja visited the temple, so understandably we ignored the Vaishnava etiquette on how to deal with a sannyasi. Maharaja tolerated our ignorance and very patiently instructed us.
The devotees in the temple ashrams had a meeting in which the details concerning Srila Prabhupada's visit were discussed. Almost everyone there was new, so many instructions had to be given.
Rama Govinda das: I remember that the first time I visited the temple we were sitting in the garden in front of the building's main entrance when Shrivas das announced that Srila Prabhupada would be coming to Mexico. We all became very happy to hear this. He also talked to us about the significance and the great opportunity it represented to be able to meet a pure devotee of the Lord. Almost all of us were new and needed the information in order to be prepared for the event.
Devotee: The first time I went to the temple was on a Sunday and we were sitting in the garden when Shrivas Prabhu announced that Srila Prabhupada was going to visit the temple. Everyone around me became very happy to hear the news. He explained Prabhupada's arrival was an occasion of great transcendence. The Mexican devotees were very enthusiastic and they would surely do everything possible to be good hosts.
A section on the first floor was prepared for Srila Prabhupada. A large room with a terrace facing the garden would be used by him, and a small circular room next to it would serve for his secretary and personal servant. Next to this was a complete bathroom. These facilities would be suitable for Srila Prabhupada and could afford him some privacy.
Apsara devi dasi: On the day that Srila Prabhupada arrived everything was clean and decorated with fresh flowers. We filled up several baskets with rose petals. After this everyone went to the airport and I was left at the temple entrance with a basket in my hands.
Rama Govinda das: When we arrived at the international section of the airport we saw Pradyumna das and Shyamasundara das with their hands in the air trying to get our attention. This wasn't really necessary because they stood out in the crowd by their height, white robes, shaved heads, and tilak on their foreheads. When we saw them we got out of the car as soon as we could and left it to Shrivasa das. Maharaja ran after them toward where Srila Prabhupada was.
Rama Govinda das: We arrived as soon as we could where Srila Prabhuada was. And as soon as we did we fell to the floor like bamboo canes offering His Divine Grace our dandavats. This was the first time that I had the great fortune to see Srila Prabhupada. As we slowly stood up we could see that he was sitting on his suitcases; and with both hands on his walking cane, one on top of the other, he leaned over resting his chin on them. In some mystical way you could perceive the peace and tranquility of the spiritual world in his presence.
Many people passing by were visibly surprised by witnessing this scene. Apparently because the devotees were prostrated on the sidewalk offering respects to their spiritual master without caring what they thought. Other guests and devotees arrived, but there was no sign of the car that was supposed to take Srila Prabhupada to the temple.
Some people from the Indian embassy arrived at that place and, being familiar with the etiquette, they touched his feet and dhoti and then touched their foreheads with both hands as a sign of respect. This is the custom when meeting a saintly person. In the meantime a crowd had gathered around Srila Prabhupada. The Indian guests offered to take Srila Prabhupada to the temple when they saw that his car didn't arrive and His Divine Grace kindly accepted.
Apsara devi dasi: When Srila Prabhupada came to the temple I was overwhelmed by the surprise and for a moment I didn't know what to do, but then I started chanting and throwing flower petals at the car, and afterwards at Srila Prabhupada. I sung and and danced as I followed them. Then other devotees and guests approached and welcomed him. As Srila Prabhupada entered the temple someone indicated to him were the altar was, and he then went up to the first floor in that direction. At that moment the devotees and guests started to arrive and hurriedly followed Srila Prabhupada as he entered the altar room. The light green paint was fresh, Bhakta Francisco was giving the room its last touches, and a devotee had to put his chadar on the floor so that Srila Prabhupada could offer his obeisances without getting paint on his clothes or body.
After offering obeisances to the painting of the Panchatattva he slowly got up and looked at the pictures in the altar. There was a picture of his and another of his spiritual master, and the Panchatattva painting that had been carefully painted by local devotees.
Respectfully, with folded hands, he passed in front of the altar and went to the Vyasa-asana which was situated next to the entrance in front of the altar. It was a circular seat with four carved legs covered in gold leaf. The rest of the whole seat was a slate of white transparent onyx and on top of that was a circular cushion with red and gold upholstery matching the back of the seat. The seat itself stood on a low two level platform which was being covered with paper mache by two brothers who were also devotees. Srila Prabhupada got on the platform while all the assembled devotees and guests chanted and danced to the holy names. Elated by Srila Prabhupada's presence, a lady who was a regular guest at the temple began to glorify him, and noticing this, His Divine Grace gave her his blessings. Srila Prabhupada then began his arrival address.
Nandanandana das: When I arrived to the temple I went up and saw that he was sitting on the Vyasa-asana giving his arrival lecture. At that time the altar was in one of the rooms with a balcony to the street. The feelings I had were very intense for having the great opportunity of being with him personally. Before, I could only hear about him, but now he was personally present before me.
THE FIRST INITIATION CEREMONY IN THE TEMPLE
With the temple president's recommendation Srila Prabhupada agreed to accept Bhakta Jan Prabhu as his disciple and formally initiate him in the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. The Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita recommends. "On the path of regulative devotional service, one must observe the following items: (1) one must accept a bonfide spiritual master (2) and accept initiation from him. (Cc. Madhya 22.115)
Bhakta Jan was an American devotee who had arrived with the original group of devotees coming from Los Angeles. Chitsukananda wrote to Srila Prabhupada asking him to initiate Bhakta Jan. He explained to His Divine Grace how Jan was being very helpful in their preaching. Srila Prabhupada agreed to the proposal and wrote Bhakta Jan the following letter:
"My dear son, please accept my blessings. Upon the recommendation of Chitsukananda, I am very glad to consent to accept you as my duly initiated disciple, and I am sending your beads, duly chanted by me, under separate post. I have given you the spiritual name of Ujjvala das. I am very pleased to hear that you have been such a great help to Chiksukananda there in our Mexico City centre. I can understand that you are a very sincere boy and are a very eligible candidate for going back home back to Godhead. And the process is simple. Follow the regulative principles very strictly, chant at least sixteen rounds of beads daily, read our literature, go for street sankirtan, etc. In this way keep you engaged in Krishna's business 24 hours, and in this lifetime you will become perfectly happy and in the end reach the supreme destination.
Hoping this will meet you in good health.
You ever well wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami"
After this, Ujjvala das received his beads in the mail and became the first devotee initiated in ISKCON Mexico.
At that time all the devotees who lived in the temple were new and none of them had enough time to be recommended for initiation. This was explained by the temple president to the other devotees because of Ujjvala das's recent initiation. But Srila Prabhupada had another plan in mind. In the afternoon of his arrival, while the devotees in charge of the temple's administration presented their most recent reports on it's progress, Srila Prabhupada surprised them by talking about giving initiations.
Anantacarya: One of Srila Prabhupada's sannyasis H.H. Hanuman das Goswami arrived at the temple about a week before gurudeva. Hanuman das Goswami recommended that only one person be initiated by Srila Prabhupada. But the temple president recommended a total of seventeen persons. Srila Prabhupada accepted all seventeen for initiation.
At my initiation I stated, of course, all of the regulative principles, and when I finished Srila Prabhupada said, "And what are the forms of intoxication?" I the gave a complete rendering of all the different types of intoxication, but I purposely left out smoking, because for my entire life (39 years at that point) I had never smoked anything at all, not even a regular cigarette. So I assumed that it was certainly not necessary to include something like that in my case. Srila Prabhupada said, "Anything else?" and I answered, "No Prabhupada." Then with one hand he formed his fingers as if he were holding a cigarette, and moved those fingers up to his mouth. I then of course, added smoking to the list. At the moment I couldn't really understand why he insisted on that item for me. Buy later on I realized that what he was actually doing was making sure that in the future I could strongly preach on the subject when surrounded by marijuana smokers on the big island of Hawaii.
Since we did not have dhotis, kurtas, or neck beads for our initiations, we went to a textile factory and purchased a bolt of orange polyester fabric from which we fashioned some home-made dhotis and brahmachari tops. But our neck-beads were still lacking. When the initiations were completed, Srila Prabhupada said to the temple president, "Chitsukananda, without neck beads, it is not a ceremony."
Rohini Kumara das: At that time there were only a few Mexican devotees and Srila Prabhupada wanted to initiate some of them. Someone said: These are all new devotees; and Srila Prabhupada replied, "I don't want to initiate 'just anyone.' Who are these people? Are they following the regulative principles? Are they chanting sixteen rounds a day?" And since the answer to these questions was a clear: "Yes, they are doing that," he then said, "So I will initiate them."
Apsara devi dasi: Hanuman Swami came to me and said, "Srila Prabhupada says that you should be initiated," and I answered that I couldn't because I had many children and it wasn't possible for me to live in the temple. The Maharaja then told me that this wasn't a problem, that Srila Prabhupada would still initiate me.
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada considered awarding the order of sannyasa to a Spanish speaking Puerto Rican devotee (Jahadananda das) who had been with him since his early days in New York City. Since the sannyasa initiation of an American devotee (Pushta Krishna das) had already been agreed upon at the time, he was considering the same order of life for a Spanish speaking devotee in order to reinforce his movement in Latin America. The sannyasa order of life requires a high spiritual commitment which reflects in a life-style of intense traveling and preaching. Thus a sannyasi could cover a large section of Srila Prabhupada's movement by promoting and supervising its preaching and devotional activities.
Rohini Kumara das: There was an older devotee in Mexico City who had joined the movement in the early days of the twenty sixth second avenue New York City temple. He had gone to Mexico upon hearing that Spanish speaking devotees were needed there in order to help support the Mexican yatra. So, since he was able to speak Spanish and because of his time in the movement Srila Prabhupada wanted to offer him sannyasa. But Chitsukananda das and Haihaya das thought that he wasn't qualified for that kind of service and asked Srila Prabhupada to give me sannyasa instead. Although they had recommended me, they didn't tell me about it during the day, so, that afternoon, Srila Prabhupada's personal servant came to inform me that His Divine Grace wanted to see me. When I walked into his room Srila Prabhupada looked at me and said, "So, do you want to take sannyasa?" and I said "What?, I don't want to take sannyasa!" He the again calmly asked me, "Why do you want to take sannyasa?" and I again answered him startled, "I don't want to take sannyasa!" so he says, "Oh?, Chitsukananda and Haihaya were saying you want to take sannyasa." And I said, "No, no I don't want to take sannyasa." And he goes, "Anyway, why take sannyasa, just for a change of clothes? What is the need to change the cloth?" He asked, "What are you doing now?" and I answered, "I am preaching" and he said, "So that is sannyasa work, so you are already a sannyasi, so just for a change of cloth there is no need to take sannyasa." And I said, "Jaya Srila Prabhupada!"
It was his first morning in Mexico City and following his usual custom Srila Prabhupada woke up at one-thirty a.m. and began to translate the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Afterwards, he chanted his japa and refreshed himself. Just before dawn he went out for a walk and returned to have darshan with the Deities and guru puja. He then gave the Bhagavatam class, and finally, he honored prasadam.
On that day we were to have the first initiation ceremony. Initiation is an ancient Vaishnava tradition by which one is officially introduced into the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra by a benefited spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada wanted to establish the Krishna consciousness movement which meant establishing this tradition of accepting a bonfide spiritual master and taking initiation from him. This marks the beginning of spiritual training.
All of the ingredients for the ceremony such as flowers, fruits, vegetables, coconuts, grains, seeds, etc., were easily obtained in one of the city's giant produce marketplaces.
After mangala-arati, the area where the initiation ceremony would take place was cleaned. Banana tree leaves were laid down forming a square, and sand was spread on top of them. This would serve as a base for the fire sacrifice altar. Five different types of fruits, vegetables, grains, and colors were arranged around the arena. It was finally decorated with more flowers and palm leaves, and several plates of barley; sesame seeds and ghee (clarified butter) were also laid there. There was only only one problem: we didn't have any tulasi neck beads and japas for the initiation. According to Vaishnava tradition when one is initiated into the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra he should decorate himself with three loops of small tulasi beads around the neck, and he is also given a Rosary of 108 beads (called a japa) which has previously been sanctified by the spiritual master who chants on them and then gives them to the devotee. The disciple will then use these beads to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra a minimum of sixteen rounds a day. Srila Prabhupada advised the devotees to get whatever beads could be obtained locally with the condition that in the first opportunity they get tulasi beads from India. The devotees therefore used plastic beads, big ones for the japas, and small ones for the neck. When everything was ready for the ceremony, Srila Prabhupada entered the temple room accompanied by his secretary and personal servant and then headed towards the altar when its doors opened. He offered his obeisances to the Pancha-tattva by completely prostrating himself with his face to the floor, starting from the altar's right hand side. And as he slowly got up, with folded hands, he slightly inclined himself before going to his Vyasa-asana. All of the necessary items for the ceremony were arranged in front of his Vyasa-asana and Srila Prabhupada inspected them before taking his seat there. His servant collected all the japas and put them to Srila Prabhupada's right hand side. And a Tridandi was placed behind the Vyasa-asana for the devotee who was to receive sannyasa initiation. H.H. Hanuman das Goswami was asked to officiate the ceremony. And after sitting in front of the fire sacrifice arena he performed purification. Putting three drops of water on his right hand, he sipped it, and then put another one on and threw it to the side. All of the participants then did the same and recited the mantra for purification:
Om apavitro pavitro va/ sarvavastham gato pi va
Yah smaret pundarikaksam sa bahyantara sucih
Sri vishnu shri vishnu shri vishnu
This process was repeated three times while Srila Prabhupada chanted on the initiation japas. When the purification process was completed, Pushta Krishna das, the devotee being initiated into the order of renunciation, received his sannyasa robes which had been blessed by Srila Prabhupada. Hanuman das Goswami led him out of the room to show him how to put on the three piece set of robes; and when they returned Hanuman das Goswami took his seat in front of the sacrifice altar while Pusta Krishna das went to Srila Prabhupada to offer his dandavat obeisances. When he got up Srila Prabhupada leaned over to show him a piece of paper with the sannyasi mantra on it.
Pushta Krishna das remained kneeled, listening to Srila Prabhupada instruct him as he pointed to the paper and whispered the mantra into his ear. After this, Srila Prabhupada handed H.H. Pushta Krishna Swami his sannyasa danda, who then again offered his obeisance and returned to his seat for the rest of the ceremony. After the purification process, Srila Prabhupada asked H.H. Hanuman das Goswami to give the traditional initiation lecture.
Pushta Krishna das: Hanuman das Goswami told a story about a guru and his disciple which I had never heard before and I think that Srila Prabhupada hadn't either, it was strangely long and boring. Prabhupada suddenly stopped him and told him not to continue. Surprised by Prabhpada's sudden command he became silent.
After this, the temple president called the devotees receiving initiation so they could make their corresponding vows and receive from His Divine Grace their sanctified japas and spiritual names. After the ceremony Srila Prabhupada instructed Maharaja that in initiation ceremonies one should recitethe offenses to be avoided while chanting the holy manes of the Lord.
Bhakta Francisco was called and offered Srila Prabhupada his obeisances, and then he was asked to recite the four regulative principles:
1. no eating meat fish or eggs
2. no illicit sex
3. no intoxication
4. no gambling
He then also promised to chant sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra daily. Holding a japa in his right hand, Srila Prabhupada extended it towards the devotee giving it to him while simultaneously pronouncing his spiritual name: Prakashananda das. Chitsukananda das translated while devotees stepped up one by one. Next, a string of colorful beads was placed on their necks (since no tulasi beads were available) and Hanuman das Goswami lit up the sacrificial fire explaining how to throw grains into it. The
prayers to the disciplic succession and to Sri Krishna were chanted; and finally, getting up and holding a banana between both hands, everyone stood around the fire until Hanuman das Goswami finished reciting the last mantra, and then placed their bananas into the fire. Taking some ashes from the fire a devotee mixed them with ghee and smeared some on Srila Prabhupada's forehead, and then on the foreheads of the sannyasis, the initiated devotees, and everyone else present. Nanda kumar das, Srila Prabhupada's personal servant, began a kirtan and all the devotees joined in chanting and dancing in front of Srila Prabhupada who played his kartals and chanted along. When the kirtan finished, Srila Prabhupada got up from the Vyasa-asana, offered his obeisances and left the room. Under the direction of
His Divine Grace, a Vaishnava initiation had been consummated for the first time in Mexico, and in this way a successful preaching program that would cover the great Spanish speaking population of Latin America was started.
Rama Govinda das
(R.G. Bhakti Prapanna Parvata Maharaja)