Bonds of Love: Lilamrita Devi Dasi
My association with Srila Prabhupada has always been through reading his books, listening to his lectures, bhajanas, and japa tape, watching videos of him, and whenever possible, associating with those fortunate disciples who had his personal association. Hearing about Srila Prabhupada’s loving exchanges with his disciples has always been a great motivating force for me – that one day, if somehow or other I can keep trying to take shelter at his lotus feet by following his instructions to the best of my ability, I too will attain such good fortune as they had. It is my greatest hope. There is a truism in advertising that one must hear about something in order to want it. For me, hearing from the devotees acts like that.
I was born into a family that was fairly pious by Western standards. My grandmother was a vegetarian and so raised my father that way. She was also an astrologer, and when each of her grandchildren were born she drew up his or her chart. When she passed away, when I was l9, I met one of her friends and asked her to look at my chart. When she saw it, without me saying anything, she said, “Oh, you must not be very happy now, because your friends are not like-minded. Very soon you will join a pioneer movement, and you will be very happy.” Just over a year later, I met the devotees.
I moved into the Vancouver temple just before Gaura-Purnima in 1976. A few weeks later, the temple president called me into his office and asked me if I would like to be initiated. He was recommending several devotees to Srila Prabhupada for initiation, and he thought he could put my name in too. He asked, “Do you know what it means to receive initiation?” I said I didn’t, so he said, “It means you can never leave.” I told him that I couldn’t imagine ever *wanting* to leave Krishna consciousness. “Fine,” he said, “I will add you to the list.”
Soon, a letter came back – Srila Prabhupada had accepted us as his duly initiated disciples and given us new names. I really didn’t know how momentous an occasion this was – the most important one to have happened throughout my sojourn in this material world. One year later I received second initiation. In the beginning my main service was book distribution, and my favorite prayer was the one Srila Prabhupada wrote onboard the Jaladuta, which I would recite daily for inspiration in my preaching.
In November 1977 I was in Anchorage, Alaska distributing books at the airport with Radhika Devi Dasi. When we received the news of Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance we returned to the Vancouver temple to be with the other devotees. It was a very difficult time. From that time on I was away from the temple much of the time, traveling with one other devotee in a van throughout the northwest Canadian provinces. In our van we had a bookcase with all of Srila Prabhupada’s books and a small altar on top, where we had a small brass murti of Srila Prabhupada. We would be away for weeks, sometimes months, phoning the temple once a week. Our shelter was reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, listening to his lectures, serving his murti, and doing our service. Politics and problems happened back at the temple, but we never heard about most of them until they had come and gone (there was no internet back then). Srila Prabhupada’s mercy was available – our lifeline – and kept us going. Krishna consciousness seemed quite simple.
It became more difficult when I allowed the problems in the movement to disturb my practice. So, while I was dependent on devotees and leaders, I found that if I maintained my main connection to Srila Prabhupada, even when over time, devotees I knew had difficulties or even left Krishna consciousness, I was able to keep going. Of course, I have had many personal challenges to struggle with, but I feel that by continually hearing from Srila Prabhupada, the understanding has come to me that the biggest problems I have to face are my own shortcomings and my own inability to surrender to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions.
Once, a few years ago, a guest asked me what it was like to be in Srila Prabhupada’s company. I replied that I had not actually met him; I had received initiation through a letter. Afterward, my mind became disturbed about this and I began doubting that Srila Prabhupada knew me or the service I was trying to render him. That night I had a dream. A small group of book distributors from different countries were gathered, and Srila Prabhupada came into the room. I was crying tears of happiness, and when I came before Srila Prabhupada after offering obeisances, I said, “Oh, Srila Prabhupada, I am so happy to meet you!” Srila Prabhupada was standing there, smiling so beautifully, and then I noticed what he was wearing. It was a hand-knit woolen blanket, exactly like the one I had knitted for his murti at the Vancouver temple.
I had the good fortune to have association with Yamuna Devi, and she told us once that she asked Srila Prabhupada how much association he had had with his spiritual master. He said, “Not so much – only a few times.” But Yamuna asked again: how many times had he personally associated with his spiritual master? Prabhupada answered without a moment’s hesitation, “From the moment I met him, I have not been separated.” Yamuna said she had given much thought to this answer, and she realized that at every moment we are faced with so many choices. When we make those choices, based on what will be pleasing to guru, what is in line with his order, we are in his association by his instructions.
Yamuna would often marvel at the wonder of Srila Prabhupada’s mercy – how she had the opportunity of personal service and association, whereas I had never even met him, yet we were both being sustained by that mercy and grace. Such is the power of the pure devotee and his instructions.
I cannot claim to understand much about Krishna consciousness, but what I do understand is that Srila Prabhupada is most extraordinarily compassionate, and he has given us a way out of this miserable material world. I recently read in one Srimad-Bhagavatam purport a beautiful sentence. Srila Prabhupada simply states: “Krishna is lovable.” Srila Prabhupada, Krishna’s pure devotee, is also lovable. In my eyes, those devotees who are attached and dedicated to serving him are lovable, and I long to have their company and some opportunity to serve them.
Ananta koti vaisnava-vrinda ki jai! All glories to Srila Prabhupada!