Talks with Shyama dasi, Berkeley, California, August 31, 2011
Why did Prabhupada publish all these books?
HANSADUTTA: The important thing is… The Harinam initiation is important. It’s the first initiation, it’s the most important. But in Kali Yuga it’s also good if you are – how do you say? – engaged in deity worship, so generally, after a person has been purified to a certain extent, they’re offered the sacred thread ceremony, so that they can also worship the deities. But… but the essential thing is the Harinam. That’s essential.
SHYAMA DASI: So if a person doesn’t have second, they can still go back to Godhead. There’s no bar to not going back to Godhead?
HANSADUTTA: Anyone… Vaikunthanatha, he told me that when he was in India, at one point he had this burning question for Prabhupada, and he found himself alone with Prabhupada at the Radha Damodar temple, and he thought, “Now’s my chance,” and he posed this question. He said, “Prabhupada, we’re distributing hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of books, but how will those people get initiated in the future? How will they get initiated?” Prabhupada’s response was: “One who reads my books is initiated.”
So… Like when I came, I didn’t have anyone preach to me. I received this little book, Easy Journey, and I read it. And as soon as I read it… I was sitting on Second Avenue and Eighth Street. That’s St. Mark’s place. That’s the main thoroughfare there on the lower East Side. I read that little book cover to cover, and I didn’t even think of going back to my place in Hoboken or you know… talk to Helena Miloskevitch – that’s Himavati before she was initiated. I just walked right into the temple, and said, you know, “I read this little book. Give me whatever I need to know, or tell me, because I want to join. I want to join.” So that’s basically how I became a devotee. And then in those days you got a bag full of beads and string in the bag, a plastic bag from the hobby shop. It had maybe one or two Back to Godhead magazines that were run on a stenciling machine. That was basically it. So I went out on Second Avenue and started walking up the street, chanting at the top of my lungs. First of all, just as I was leaving, I said, “How does that go – that ‘Krishna Krishna, Rama Rama’… that thing that you guys chant?” And Purushottam, he repeated it about a dozen times, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” So finally he said, “Yeah, you got it. That’s it.” I said, “Okay, good.” I went out on the street, and as loud as I could, I was chanting, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna…” And I noticed that people were looking at me like I was a goner. You know, when you see somebody talking to themselves on the street. You know, just carrying on talking to some invisible person. Then it hit me that I’m free, I’m liberated. So after I got a few blocks, I thought about Himavati. “What about her? Oh.” Then I said, “Well, I’ll get her some beads, and if she goes for it, that’s good. And if not, I’ll just come back to the temple.” And that’s kind of what happened. I took her some beads, and told her to read some of the text of the magazine, and she said, “Oh, I think it’s wonderful. Okay, cool.” Then we strung up our beads. We hooked them on the window, you know the clamp on the window. And then one bead after another, you tie a knot. That’s kinda how it happened.
SHYAMA DASI: Wow. That’s very interesting.
HANSADUTTA: I told my best friend Luke, Luke Faust. He lived downstairs from me. He was a banjo player. And he was growing pot in one of his rooms. He had a four-room apartment like I did. I was on the top floor, and he was on the floor below me. He was connected with Bob Dylan for some time. Anyway, I came bursting into his place and said, “Luke, I found it! I found the Absolute Truth!” He said, “What? Control your senses?” I said, “Yeah! How did you know?” He said, “You might have been looking for that, but I wasn’t looking for that.” Then I realized what a fool he was. So that was the end of that relationship.
SHYAMA DASI: Wow. That’s amazing. Wow.
HANSADUTTA: He said, “You were looking for that, but I wasn’t looking for that.” He was smoking pot from morning till night, along with some other herbs.
SHYAMA DASI: So basically what you’re saying is that the sum and subtance is not about the Gayatri mantra or… the sum and substance…
HANSADUTTA: No, the sum and substance is the chanting of the Holy Name. So the Gayatri is a little auxilliary. That was Prabhupada’s point. It’s auxilliary, a little helpful. But the main thing is to chant the Holy Name of Krishna. Hare nama harer nama, harer namaiva kevalam, kalau nasty eva nasty eva, nasty eva gatir anyatha [Chaitanya-charitamrita Adi-lila 17.21: ‘In this Age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means for self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari.’] That’s it. My point isn’t that people shouldn’t be second-initiated, but really the main substance, the foundation – just like this house has a foundation – so the foundation is primary. And then supporting beams and things. But the foundation is primary. You can’t build a house without a foundation, and that foundation is chanting of the Holy Names. Of course, when other people hear this, they’ll probably say, “Oh, what’s wrong with him?” But that’s actually a fact. The Holy Name is the foundation of our spiritual life.
SHYAMA DASI: So how is it that you feel Prabhupada… once you meet Prabhupada, you don’t really…
HANSADUTTA: To meet Prabhupada means to embrace his words, his instructions into the heart. That’s “meet Prabhupada”. Meet Prabhupada… a lot of people met Prabhupada, and nothing happened. Hundreds and thousands met Prabhupada in his travels and various programs. So to meet Prabhupada means to embrace his instructions and accept the discipline. Tad viddhi pranipatena, pariprashnena sevaya, upadekshyanti te jnanam, jnaninas tattva-darshinah [Bhagavad-gita 4.34: “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.”].
SHYAMA DASI: So you think Prabhupada can be everybody’s Guru and people can accept him as their Guru?
HANSADUTTA: Not “can be”. He is everyone’s Guru. Whether people accept him or not, that’s their business. Just like the sun is shining for everyone. The sun is shining for everyone, but if people don’t stand in a receptive place, they don’t get any benefit.
SHYAMA DASI: So they don’t really… would you say people need a formal ceremony?
SHYAMA DASI: They don’t really?
HANSADUTTA: No. If… because Prabhupada built an institution for propagating his books and practices – the sadhana – therefore the formal initiation was an important part of that development. But a person can be Krishna conscious without that formality. If he… In the Bhagavatam, the First Canto, Prabhupada said either the book Bhagavat or the person Bhagavat, either both of them or one of them is sufficient to awaken a person’s Krishna consciousness. So Prabhupada… here we have Prabhupada in person… some people were fortunate, they met Prabhupada in person, they heard him speak, they were given direct instructions on how to do a particular service. And some received only the books. Right? So if you read those books… Otherwise, what’s the use of distributing the books? What’s the meaning of distributing the books?
SHYAMA DASI: Well, one question is they say the spiritual master has to come to take you back, and if you don’t go back to Godhead, then he’ll come in your next life. So some people say Prabhupada was never here to formally accept you as his disciple, so how can you be his disciple if he never formally accepted you?
HANSADUTTA: Read his books. Otherwise, what is the meaning of books? Why did Prabhupada publish all these books? For what? Just for selling and making money? In a conversation with Madhudvisa, Madhudvisa asked Prabhupada, “What about a Christian who’s reading the Bible, but he doesn’t have a spiritual master?” Prabhupada’s immediate response was that if he’s reading the Bible, then his spiritual master is Lord Jesus Christ. And Madhudvisa said, “No, I mean a living spiritual master.” Prabhupada said there’s no question of living. The spiritual master is eternal. So if a person is reading the Bible, that means he’s following Lord Jesus Christ, and he may be assisted by some clergyman or priest in the Church. So this was Prabhupada’s arrangement, that he designated some eleven devotees or disciples who were experienced as ritvik representatives of the Acharya, so they can assist the general public or people who become – how do you say? – faithful under the discipline of Prabhupada’s instructions. They can assist and clarify things that may not be clear to a new student. So Prabhupada is always the spiritual master. He is eternal.
They’re Prabhupada’s disciples
SHYAMA DASI: So did you actually hear him use that word “ritvik“?
HANSADUTTA: It’s in the letter.
SHYAMA DASI: It’s in a letter?
HANSADUTTA: Yeah, it’s in a letter. He used that word. And then he wrote to me within two weeks. He said, “Now you have got a very good field (in Sri Lanka), continue to be ritvik, and make your own field.” Something like that. He wrote a similar letter to Kirtanananda. So he reiterated his formal letter to everyone several times, in a personal letter to myself and to Kirtanananda… I don’t know who else, but these two persons definitely.
SHYAMA DASI: So how is it that everyone suddenly became getting their feet washed and became gurus and acharyas? How did that all come about?
HANSADUTTA: Well, it’s just like children, they put on their father’s shoes and hat and coat. So we laugh about it. Right? The child wants to be, to imitate his father. That’s okay, but he can’t actually wear those shoes or hat or coat, because they don’t fit. Isn’t it? So we humor the child, but we can’t, don’t take it serious. So this is an unfortunate… unfortunately, I was part of that to a certain degree, or a large degree, but better late than never to understand, and to adjust or rectify.
SHYAMA DASI: So really Prabhupada never told these people to be acharyas and gurus and have foot baths.
HANSADUTTA: No. In the books it is said that everyone should be guru, that Lord Chaitanya said that everyone should be guru. That’s nice. That’s a general instruction. That’s like the government says anyone can be the president of the United States. Right? But does that mean that everyone is going to become the president? No, he has to be elected. He has to be empowered. He has to be – what do they call it? – inaugural ceremony and get official recognition. So I would say the last directive of the physician is the one to be followed. That direct instructions are more important than standard texts or reference books. Otherwise, why do we go and consult a lawyer? Why not just buy the law books and save money and represent yourself in the court? Why do we go to a doctor? Why not buy the medical books and cure yourself? Right? Because the doctor is the personification of all the medical books. He’s undergone the training, and he’s received – how do you say? – his license recognized by the government, so if we have a health problem, we consult the doctor. If the doctor says, “Well, here, read this book, you’ll be okay,” what do you think?
SHYAMA DASI: That’s no good, we need to see a doctor.
HANSADUTTA: Or if you have a legal problem, then what? What do you do? You go to see a lawyer. You find out who’s the best lawyer in Berkeley or in the Bay Area. And you lay out your case or your problem, and he’ll deliberate on that and give you some advice, and you pay him some fee. Otherwise the law books are available for anyone, you can read and be your own lawyer. So does that make sense? So it’s the same thing. Prabhupada is the authority. He’s the great Bhagavat authority, Acharya. And we consult Prabhupada. So his last directive, or – how do you say? – prescription or order was for these eleven men to perpetuate the recruiting of newcomers by acting as his representatives.
SHYAMA DASI: So they were never supposed to be their disciples; they were Prabhupada’s disciples.
HANSADUTTA: Yeah, they’re Prabhupada’s disciples. Just like you go to the bank, you give your money to the teller. Does the teller put the money in his pocket? Is it his money? Would you give your friend next door or upstairs, would you give them five thousand dollars to hold for you? Would you give it to your son to hold for you? No, you wouldn’t. But you don’t feel bad to give it to the teller. Because the teller has been qualified and authorized to accept money on behalf of the bank director or the bank chairman or president or the institution, whatever you want to call it. You don’t even know the man’s name, but you’ll give him five thousand dollars and say, “Put this in my account.” Right?
SHYAMA DASI: Right, right.
HANSADUTTA: You don’t say, “Oh, take a thousand for yourself and put the rest in my account.” No. Or if that man takes the money, puts it in his pocket and goes home, what do you think?
SHYAMA DASI: No, it’s thievery, really. Stealing. Stealing.
HANSADUTTA: Okay. So…
SHYAMA DASI: So Prabhupada….
HANSADUTTA: It’s the same thing. It’s Prabhupada’s institution. He empowered some men, he gave them conditional authority to extend or to initiate new people into the line of devotional service under his auspices. That’s basically what it is.
SHYAMA DASI: Not that they were the gurus, equal to him, no way.
HANSADUTTA: Well, if they’re equal to him, then they should do an equal thing. Right? They should do what he did. If you have now 90 gurus, they should do 90 times what Prabhupada did in ten years. But it’s been how many years since. How many? Since Prabhupada left, how many?
SHYAMA DASI: Thirty.
HANSADUTTA: Eighty-seven, ninety-seven, a hundred and seven… thirty-four years. So that means they should do a hundred times thirty.
Where did Prabhupada say it is okay to change his books?
SHYAMA DASI: By the way, just to get back to Prabhupada’s instructions. He did appoint you the trustee of his books. And what did he tell you about… a lot people say that Prabhupada said, “It’s okay to change my books.”
HANSADUTTA: Where did he say it? Where? Where? Where did he say it? Where? Where? Someone show me where he said that.
SHYAMA DASI: What did he tell you about changing his books?
HANSADUTTA: It never even became an issue for me. Why would anyone have the audacity to change his books? They can’t even read his books. Why should they change them? You know, read all those books. People who are changing them probably haven’t read them. They just think that they can tinker and change. Even in the karmi world, you can’t change a man’s books. You can’t change Shakespeare’s books, can you? You’re a teacher, right?
SHYAMA DASI: Yeah, an English teacher.
HANSADUTTA: An English teacher. Do they change Shakespeare’s books?
SHYAMA DASI: No, not at all. No, there are warnings. No, you don’t. I mean…
HANSADUTTA: He was a mundane personality. He might have been very poetic or artful, but we don’t change his books. How about if someone came and started changing the things on your house, took the door off the hinges… what would you think of that?
SHYAMA DASI: Personally, myself, how would anybody want to take a beautiful picture of Krishna or Arjuna riding on their chariot and then just put some other picture up there that’s nothing, compared… you know… take out so many beautiful pictures. I mean, Prabhupada really appreciated that artwork, didn’t he? In those books? I mean, how could you print his books without the artwork?
HANSADUTTA: Anyway, it’s an unhappy situation. Even an ordinary author or writer or artist or musician, they don’t change anything. But they’re changing. So what’s the benefit? What’s the benefit of changing?
SHYAMA DASI: Well, somehow they have…
HANSADUTTA: But what’s the benefit?
SHYAMA DASI: They feel that they have proof that Prabhupada…
HANSADUTTA: Berkeley temple is empty. San Francisco temple is nonexistent. Things going on like that… what benefit is there from changing the books? Any benefit? There’s no benefit.
SHYAMA DASI: Well, they might say that maybe there needed new punctuation marks or…
HANSADUTTA: Punctuation should be on your face. Or boots. As Prabhupada would say: “My boots on your face.” You get punctuated.
SHYAMA DASI: So you know for sure that Prabhupada would not be happy to see his books being changed?
HANSADUTTA: Would you like it if someone cut your hair off? If they said you look better with short hair? Would you like that? Huh? No, you wouldn’t like that.
SHYAMA DASI: So how has it happened that this has gone on? I mean, how could this go on? I mean how…
HANSADUTTA: A bunch of fools. Thinking they’re going to improve on Prabhupada. They’re going to improve on Prabhupada. Prabhupada couldn’t… he needed an entourage of punctuators.
SHYAMA DASI: So as you know, he never complained to you about his books having a problem? He never told you, “Oh, these books are needing this much improvement.”
HANSADUTTA: No. I once actually suggested that we reprint the original books that Prabhupada brought from India – the first three volumes of Bhagavatam, First Canto. And before I could hardly finish, he snapped at me. He said, “No. Whatever Hayagriva has done is perfect. Don’t touch it.” Prabhupada had great regard for Hayagriva’s editing work.
SHYAMA DASI: A lot of people talk about Hayagriva’s character, how he was insane, crazy.
HANSADUTTA: Who is not crazy? Who is not crazy? That’s my question. Who was not crazy when they became… when they came into Prabhupada’s orbit for being purified? Who was not crazy? Jayadvaita was not crazy? Who was not crazy? Kirtanananda? Myself? They were all crazy. The only sane man was Prabhupada. Who is crazy? Prabhupada published a little booklet, “Who is Crazy?” They say we’re crazy, we say they’re crazy. So who is crazy? Prabhupada was not crazy. Do you think he was crazy?
SHYAMA DASI: He’s a pure devotee. I mean… So when he said Hayagriva…
HANSADUTTA: Whatever. Is he crazy? Is he crazy? So Hayagriva was crazy. So Prabhupada was so intelligent he knew how to use a crazy person to do a sane thing. That’s how extraordinary Prabhupada is that he took crazy people and directed them in such a way that they would do wonderfully intelligent and sane work, either printing books or painting pictures or building temples or recruiting devotees or singing kirtan. He took crazy people, and he made them sane. He took crazy people and made them…
SHYAMA DASI: So again, he said he was very pleased with…
HANSADUTTA: Don’t badger the point. Prabhupada was not crazy. So now that he’s not here, the craziness has come back. So they’re doing crazy things. Is it not crazy to change his books? You don’t think it’s crazy?