Prabhupada Comes To Detroit July 1971 (Part 1)

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By: 
Nityananda das, New Jayapur, Vanua Levu, Fiji Islands

Srila Prabhupada had been in India for many months, and when we at the New Orleans temple heard that he was returning for a month’s tour of America after a few days in Moscow, we pondered to which temple that he was to visit would be best for us to go and see him. His itinerary was Los Angeles, San Francisco Rathayatra, Detroit, and New York before returning to India again. Detroit was the closest; furthermore I had joined there two years earlier and I wanted to see my old friends there, such as Narottamananda, Bhagavan, Jagadish, Lakshmi Narayan, Sri Govinda, and others. ISKCON Detroit had become a major North American center with many new devotees joining under the charismatic leadership of Bhagavan. Various temples in the central U.S. would gather in Detroit, and it promised to be an exciting reunion with Srila Prabhupada and many devotees. Bhaktin Betty stayed behind to watch the small temple.

In a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle, with no front bumper, right windshield wiper, or rear seat, Kanya Kumari, myself, and Bhakta Michael drove the 969 miles from New Orleans up Interstate 55 to see Srila Prabhupada in Detroit. The car had expired plates, no insurance, cracked windshield, and it just kept on going. It was July 16, 1971. Through the entire one day journey I was regularly calculating the remaining mileage and timing so not to miss Prabhupada’s flight arrival. We went directly to the

airport with less than an hour to spare, having driven all night.

(Left: typical VW Beetle- ours was green)

We parked and entered the terminal, happy to find the devotees at the arrival gate. A grand vyasasana on a four foot high platform was set up in an alcove waiting area just off the main corridor. I noted a handmade, high-gloss white-painted “A”- frame bookstand to showcase Srila Prabhupada’s books, the barely dry paint still emanating strong odors, which included the hardback Krishna Books, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, abridged Gita, Sri Isopanisad, and Nectar of Devotion. A recent instruction from Srila Prabhupada had emphasized that he wanted his books displayed at every public function.

Perhaps a hundred devotees and guests were present, and the kirtan jumped into high gear and strength as Srila Prabhupada came into sight. He appeared at the top of a moving escalator, and seemed to float some inches above the floor, moving forward effortlessly. The devotees became overwhelmed with spiritual emotions, being finally in the personal association of the pure devotee of the Lord, many for the first time. Loud exclamations of “Jaya Prabhupada!” resounded amongst a chaotic melee of stunned, overwhelmed, crying, jubilant, and blissful devotees, with passing onlookers quite amazed at the otherworldly spectacle. Without hesitation, Srila Prabhupada nimbly climbed up onto his umbrella shaded seat and settled on the cushions, surveying the scene with great gravity. He was the only person there who was calm and composed. He bore a slight smile. The kirtan stopped and Prabhupada recited the premadhvani prayers, culminating in devotees again exclaiming, “All Glories to Srila Prabhupada!”

Bhagavan das placed a large garland of fragrant roses around Srila Prabhupada’s neck, visibly shedding tears. It was maybe the first time I had seen a man crying in happiness; here was our loving master, the topmost guru, and the tears were contagious. Srila Prabhupada then nonchalantly raised aloft a long-stemmed, silver cup and as he tilted his head back, sent a crystal clear stream of water pouring forth into the air. Opening his mouth slightly and, with the cup a foot from his mouth, most skillfully received the precisely measured flow, without a spilled drop or a hint of miscalculation. This happened so quickly that, to me, it was an amazing spectacle of graceful perfection - a miraculous feat of casual physical coordination that was executed as easily as blinking the eyes. It seemed to be mystical control over the natural elements. His second sip brought the cup closer to the mouth, as in the photo. I thought of the phrase, “Many a slip between the cup and the mouth,” and how it did not apply to Srila Prabhupada in the least. His index and pinky fingers were extended - Goloka style.

  The second sip was closer than the first                               Ichimati dasi & Pratyatosa das adore Prabhupada

Rochan das held up a painting of Lord Nrsinghadeva to contribute to the special occasion. Srila Prabhupada then smiled broadly and nodded, admiring approvingly the bookstand display, and then proceeded with an arrival address.

Prabhupada: It has become very satisfactory that so many devotees, boys and girls, are taking part in this great movement, Krishna consciousness movement. It is very important movement because it is correcting the human civilization. There is a great defect in the modern civilization, and people are accepting this body as self, and based on this mistake in the foundation, everything is going wrong. The basic principle of civilization—accepting this body as the soul—is the beginning of all problems. The great philosophers, scientists, theologists and thoughtful men, they do not know what is the defect. Recently I was in Moscow. I had a talk with a big professor of Indology, Professor Kotovsky. So he was speaking that "Swamiji, after this finishing, annihilation of this body, everything is finished." So I was astonished that a learned professor who is posing himself on a very advanced post, he has no idea about the soul and the body, how they are different, how the soul migrating from one body to another. And everyone is accepting this body as the self, and "There is no life after death; therefore make the best use of this bad bargain and enjoy sense gratification as far as possible." But this Krishna consciousness movement is checking this wrong progress of human civilization. Our first proposition is that "You are not this body; you are spirit soul. Some way or other, you are in contact with this material world, and you have got this material body, and under illusion, you are accepting something which you are not."

So basic principle of this Krishna consciousness movement is to correct the wrong foundation of the human civilization. In the Bhagavad-gita this is the beginning of spiritual knowledge. When Arjuna was identifying himself with this body and bodily relationship, Krishna first of all corrected that "You are not this body." So if we do not understand these first steps of spiritual knowledge, then where is the question of making further progress? Yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke sva-dhih kalatradisu bhauma ijya-dhih [SB 10.84.13]. This is the verdict of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Yasya atma-buddhih. One who has accepted as self kunape tri-dhatuke, this bag of bones and flesh and blood... This body is made of... According to Vedic medicine or Vedic anatomy, it is made of three elements—mucus, bile, and air. Tri-dhatu. Apart from that medical science, this body, one who accepts this body as self and Sva-dhih kalatradisu, and persons in relationship with this body as kinsmen, own men, bhauma ijya-dhih, and the land where we take our birth as worshipable, sa eva go-kharah [SB 10.84.13], he is accepted as go-kharah. Go means cow, and khara means ass. That means animal. The animal, they accept this, that "I am this body." But human form of life, which is so advanced in knowledge...

Suddenly an announcement cut in over the airport public address system: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have to ask you to clear the boarding area so we can start our flight.” As Prabhupada acknowledged, “All right. Then we shall stop,” and the devotees once more exclaimed, “All Glories to Srila Prabhupada!”, the speaker again boomed forth:

Ladies and gentlemen, I have to ask you to clear the boarding area. We have a flight leaving here in about thirty minutes. We have to check it in. So if you'll kindly clear the boarding area, please.”

(....To be continued)

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