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from Diary of a Traveling Preacher by H.H. Indradyumna Swami

Volume 3 Chapter 32

April 7-11, 2001


On Sunday afternoon a most wonderful thing happened. I had just finished giving a Sunday feast lecture to 300 guests in the temple room and we had all moved outside to the lawn to respect prasadam. A few devotees stayed in the temple room to finish their rounds, when suddenly an older man wandered in and approached Srila Prabhupada's vyasasana. For several minutes he respectfully stood before Srila Prabhupada's murti speaking softly to him.

After a while he realized he was standing before a diorama and began to cry. A devotee approached him and asked if anything was wrong. He replied, "He's not here, is he?" "You mean Srila Prabhupada?" the devotee said. "Yes, the Swami," the man replied. "No," the devotee said. "He passed away in 1977." More tears welled up in the man's eyes as he said, "He showed me real love."

Feeling compassion for the man, the devotee asked him to come outside and meet me. I was sitting on the front lawn with a few guests when the two of them came and sat down in front of me. I could see the man had been crying. The devotee told me how the man had attempted to speak to Srila Prabhupada in the temple. I said to him, "Did you know Srila Prabhupada?"

"Yes," he said. "I met him when I was 15 years old. One day I was walking through the Lower East Side of New York City when I saw him sitting and singing with some of his followers in Tompkins Square Park. I walked over and the Swami invited me to sit down next to him. I sat there for a long time. There was something special about the way he sang. Although his voice was very soft, you could hear him from quite a distance. He was singing for God. At one point he asked my name, and judging from my intoxicated appearance, he said I was on the wrong path in life. He asked me to visit his center."

"Did you go?" I asked. "Yes, I went a number of times," he said. "It was a storefront called 'Matchless Gifts.' It was easy to find because you could smell the incense they were burning a block away. Each evening Swami would give class. There were often many people there, but even if there were only two people he would still speak. I remember one time no one came. There were a number of drunks loitering in front of the storefront, so Swami told his followers to go out on the street and bring them in for the lecture. A boy named Keith said to the Swami that they wouldn't be able to understand a thing. But Swami said, "The soul will hear." So his boys went outside and brought in six or seven of these men. A couple of them were so intoxicated that as soon as they sat down against the wall they fell unconscious. The Swami's followers assembled and then Swami gave a lecture. Afterwards the boys took all the drunks back outside. They hardly knew what had happened, but we all knew they had been blessed.

"Sometimes the Swami personally cooked and served the food. There was something special about his cooking. When he cooked many people would come. He was very popular in that neighborhood. There were a number of so-called gurus from India in New York, but everyone on the Lower East Side knew that Swami was genuine, because he wasn't into money or fame. Everyone knew that God took care of him because he had so little money. Sometimes Allen Ginsburg would drop by the storefront and give him a big donation. 

"I had a number of exchanges with the Swami. Once I was helping in the kitchen and he showed my how to make the flat bread like in India. Another time he showed me how to play the hand cymbals. Sometimes I would ask questions after his classes, and one day he asked to meet my mother, but she wouldn't come to the Lower East Side.

"I was there when Keith shaved his head, and afterwards I watched the Swami put clay markings on his body, explaining how the body was a temple of God. The thing about the Swami was that you could always approach him. His door was always open. Because I was new, I was a little nervous to go upstairs to his apartment. But I liked to sit in the little courtyard below his room and listen to his typing. Can you believe that? I loved to hear him type. There was something mystical about his typing. My mother was a secretary and would often bring her typing work home. It used to drive me crazy. But when Swami typed I was captivated. I think it's because he was typing for God.

"He did everything for God. In fact, as long as he lived at 'Matchless Gifts' the whole Lower East Side was talking about God. But when he left the whole atmosphere changed and people resorted to their old ways.

"But I didn't forget. Although I was young and naive he cared for me. He showed me real love. In fact, I've been searching for that love my whole life. I haven't been able to find it anywhere, in my family, my relatives, my friends. Recently I lost my wife, then my job and home - everything. So I've been praying to God to lead me back to the Swami again. It's quite amazing. I knew him for only a short time, but as I look back I can see he was the most important person in my life.

"This morning, I went into a used book store. I had 50 cents in my pocket. I asked the man behind the counter if he had any books for that amount and he pointed to a shelf. I picked one book out called, Only He Could Lead Them. I walked outside to read it on the curb. Boy was I surprised when I saw that it was about the Swami! I felt that God had answered my 
prayers.

"I found the address of your temple on a card in the book. It took me all day to get here. When I walked in the door, I asked someone where the Swami was. They said he had just finished giving a lecture in the temple room. So I ran inside and there he was, sitting on that big seat! I was so happy! I went up and thanked him for everything he'd done for me. But when I asked him if he remembered me he didn't reply. When I looked closer I saw that there was only a statue there. Then your friend said that Swami had passed away. I don't know what to do now."

I sat there speechless. After a few moments, I said that he could find that love he was searching for by associating with Srila Prabhupada's followers. "Yes, I'm sure that's true," he said. Then his eyes filled up with tears again and he said, "But how to live without him?" He then got up and walked slowly towards the front gate. Turning back, he looked at us one last time and then was gone.

tulayama lavenapi na svargam napunar bhavam
bhagavat sangi sangasya martyanam kim utasisah

"The value of a moment's association with the devotee of the Lord cannot even be compared to the attainment of heavenly planets or liberation from matter, and what to speak of worldly benedictions in the form of material prosperity, which are for those who are meant for death."
[SB 1.18.13]

 

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