Back in the luxurious Hare Krishna Hotel in Bombay, there are instructions
that I am not to be charged for the room. That is an unexpected generous thoughtful
gesture. I go up to Chitrakara’s office to thank him and to ask about
the chances of the much-delayed Interview with the over-worked President.
I am asked to wait; Chitrakara leaves the room. In
a minute he is back: get your recorder right now -- but right now — he
is saying it’s now or never!
From the beginning of my life I was attracted to God-consciousness
— I was born in Chicago in 1947 — in fact, my grandfather was like
a rabbi, and although everyone else in the family was attracted to sport, movies
and other amusements, I was attracted to grandfather. He taught me Hebrew and
the Torah and so many things. Everyone thought him old and dry, and they thought
they were enjoying. But I preferred to be with him in the temple. My family,
in spite of grandfather’s influence, thought God a concept created by
primitive people to answer the questions they couldn’t answer about nature.
Somehow this “modern” thinking covered my original tendency towards
God and I adopted the same thinking until I reached my 8th grade.
There I had a religious teacher who was God-conscious:
he gave so many arguments in favour of God’s existence that they defeated
my doubting conceptions. I was then convinced of the existence of God and started
seeing God everywhere: I would see him in the trees, the sky, the birds, in
people — everywhere. Practically every moment I was aware of Him and thinking
of Him. I was still not attracted to girls or parties or anything like that.
Every Friday night I went to the temple for the services.
You were never attracted
to any girls?
Fortunately or unfortunately in my junior year of high school I became infatuated
with a young lady who was not at all interested in me. I was always thinking
about her, and one night I was able to meet her at her house. I started revealing
my feelings about God; she laughed at the whole thing. I was so infatuated with
her that from that moment I again gave up believing in God. But I was still
looking for the ultimate truth. I next turned to a book: The Art of Loving by
Eric Fromm, and from that I got deeper and deeper into psychology and I thought
the mind the ultimate reality. From psychology I went through Autobiography
of a Yogi, and began thinking the impersonal
conception of God was the ultimate reality. Only when I met Shrila Prabhupada
did he deliver what was actually the ultimate truth, the absolute reality, which
Can you describe your
first meeting with Shrila Prabhupada?
It was in April 1969 when he came to deliver a lecture on the Bhagavad Gita at Brandeis University,
where I was studying. He was sitting on a magnificent chair, but the lecture
had ended; he was surrounded by chanting and dancing American devotees. I felt
like jumping up and joining them. As I was able to give some of the devotees
a lift in my station wagon at the end, we talked. The more I heard about these
teachings the more I wanted to hear their guru. This happened the next evening
at their temple.
Srila Prabhupada was again seated in the same chair:
he was quoting the Bhagavad Gita: Out of thousands, one
may search for perfection, and of the few who achieve perfection, hardly one
knows Me in truth. That struck me: Spiritual life is not cheap — that
I have already learned. After he finished speaking there were questions from
those gathered at his feet. I asked: There are so many paths and so many teachers
with each advocating his own as the best, how can we find the right way?
Srila Prabhupada then questioned me: First of all,
what is your goal? Do you want to serve God, or do you want to become God? If
you want to become God that means you are not God now, and no one can become
God — God is God, and He never had to become anything by any yogic practice:
He already is God. If you surrender to Him you at least can become godly —
He is ready to help you. If you want to serve Him, He will give you every facility.
I realized at that moment that here was the teacher I was looking for, and that
he could see right into my heart. Then he added: God is already in your heart,
and if you water the seed of devotion by chanting Hare Krishna, He will give you all the sunshine
to make it grow.
Every vibration in Srila Prabhupada’s voice
entered my heart, and a little later when a huge plate of prasad
was handed to him, he quipped: I cannot eat all this — I am not God —
distribute it! It was the most delicious food I had ever tasted. I reflected
that everything in Krishna Consciousness was that way: the
philosophy, the prasad,
the chanting, the temple, the devotees and their spiritual master. The next
evening I again visited them, and this time I joined in the chanting and dancing:
I began to sense that Lord Krishna was actually present, as He says,
“within all living things”. This was the brightest moment in my
spiritual life so far.
One night GuruMaharaj said something that I found especially
illuminating: Our whole life is wasted in two activities: hankering and lamenting
— either we are hankering after what we don’t have, or lamenting
over what we have lost… the peace we are longing for life after life comes
when all our desires are dovetailed with the Lord’s desires.
Did this mean you immediately
gave up everything and moved into the temple?
I was able to ask GuruMaharaj one night when I was driving
him to the temple: What should I do with the rest of my life? He replied: Just
study our books thoroughly and chant Hare Krishna. I could then see everything
would unfold naturally. But I did move into the Centre in Boston. It was very
primitive — on the ground floor was the temple-room, and we lived in the
basement. There were only about eight or ten centres in those days. We bathed
in freezing cold water, slept on the floor, and that was our life.
What were your parents’
reaction to all this?
I joined the movement a month or two before my graduation, and my parents were
looking forward to the day their son would graduate from Bandeis University…
I was an outstanding student and was awarded my degree cum laude. I knew they
would be upset if they knew I had become a devotee, so I concealed it as long
as possible. They were not happy.
Can you now say how you were allowed to come to
After I joined the Boston temple I served for a year and a half. Then Srila
Prabhupada was coming back to India to begin his preaching on a large scale
here: he requested the governing body that he wanted the best man from each
zone to be sent to India. I was selected from Boston. I took it as a special
blessing from Lord Krishna, as of course, we all wanted
to go. We were only about a party of twelve and we didn’t know what to
expect when we got off the plane at Bombay. Cars were waiting for us —
a royal reception. We were taken to a mansion on Marine Drive with its own temple.
We were so thrilled we thought that everyone in India must be completely spiritual.
What would you say is
the basic philosophy of the Hare Krishna Consciousness Movement?
It is simple: it is that God is great and we are very small, therefore it is
our duty to serve Him — everything else is detail.
How do you relate it
to the teachings you learned from your grandfather?
Our GuruMaharaj said that we had all been yogis in India, but because we did not
complete our practice we had to take birth again: that is why so many of us
were attracted to India even before joining the movement. In the Bhagavad Gita it says: One who has begun
the process of yoga but has not completed it takes birth
into a family of righteous people or into a family of wealthy aristocracy, and
in that birth he continues his yoga from where he left off in his previous
life — so without any effort he is attracted to the yogic principles.
I would say it was not due to my association with my grandfather that I became
attracted to Krishna Consciousness. Rather it was
through my previous lives’ activities I was automatically attracted to
God which brought me to Krishna Consciousness.
Perhaps at this stage
Your Holiness could relate some of the many personal incidents you must have
experienced of how your guru taught?
He was always kind and personal; he was just like a father raising us and taking
care of us in every respect. One day I was walking with him along with other
disciples: I was asking many questions, and I had many ideas. And Srila Prabhupada
was encouraging me and I was more and more blissful. Finally at the end of the
walk I decided to ask a last question. It was: Sometimes I feel I am not doing
as much as I should for Krishna and I am not making enough advancement.
He said: Oh, yes, that’s very good — a devotee should always feel
like that. Then I said: But sometimes this thought turns in a different way
and I fall into maya. Then he said: What do you mean
fall into maya — you are always in maya! So it’s like after so many
minutes he inflated me to such a point where I thought I was on top of the world,
and then in one sentence he completely deflated me.
And as he and the other disciples walked on I bowed
down and offered my obeisance on the dirt of the road. He always knew when to
encourage in a particular way, and at the same time he was careful that we shouldn’t
become puffed up or take Lord Krishna for granted.
Did he teach with humour…did
he have a sense of humour?
He had a wonderful sense of humour: he was a jolly, blissful person and his
sense of humour was inimitable. In 1971 my parents came out to see me –
they wanted me back, so they offered GuruMaharaj a huge donation if he would let
me go. The reply was: I am not keeping him here – perhaps you can offer
the money to him if you think he would accept. Then they said they were worried
about my health. So turning to me he said: Giriraja, you must take at least
two dozen of these sweets daily! And then he handed my parents the most delicious
sandesa – milk sweets – to try.
When my father, who is a successful Chicago lawyer,
was leaving, he said: Your spiritual teacher certainly knows how to deal with
people. And once when we were sitting next to GuruMaharaj in Mexico, we noticed some big
mosquitos flying around. One devotee asked: Are the mosquitos biting you, Sir.
No, was the reply. The devotee said: That must be because you are a pure devotee
of Krishna…they are bothering me,
but not you. Yes, said Srila Prabhupada, here they are respectful, but in Calcutta
they make no distinction.
Would it be a good moment
now to tell us how the teachings were taken to the West by Srila Prabhupada?
In 1966 he was already 69 years old and he just sat down under a tree in Central
Park in New York and chanted Hare Krishna(1).
And this elderly Indian gentleman attracted so many young American hippies and
made them devotees of Krishna. He actually said that when he
first thought of going to America in the 1960s, he imagined that when he started
to give out the four principles: No eating fish, meat or eggs; no gambling;
no intoxication including coffee, tea and cigarettes; no illicit sex, his audience
would leave because these principles and theirs were opposite. So the fact that
he attracted the younger generation is in itself a miracle.
To have accomplished
so much in such a short time does appear to be a miracle. But I wonder if he
ever performed miracles openly?
Once a newspaper reporter asked him: Swamiji, can you walk on water? He replied:
That’s a 10 cent trick, because for 10 cents I can take the ferry. The
so-called miracles are actually material, and we don’t want to increase
people’s infatuation with the material; we want to divert their attention
to the spiritual. A great devotee of one of India’s gurus known mainly for his siddhis
in manifesting objects, when she met Srila Prabhupada said: You have done the
greatest miracle by taking hundreds of thousands of meat-eaters, drunkards and
woman-hunters, and turned them into pure devotees of Lord Krishna.
With your close association
with GuruMaharaj, can you tell us what he considered
man,s worst enemy?
He considered lust the greatest enemy because it is the all-devouring enemy
of man which destroys self-realization.
How would you suggest people brought up to accept
a life of self-indulgence turn towards a life of self-control?
Everyone is interested in their own self-interest, but they don’t know
what their self-interest is. Their actual self-interest is to serve God and
go back home. If one experiences a higher taste, then he automatically forgets
the inferior standard and remains fixed in consciousness. So compared to Krishna Consciousness, material sense-gratification
is actually like a dry chapati compared to a wonderful plate of blessed prasad.
It is not a question of renouncing anything: it is a matter of gaining. Having
a greater thing we give up the lesser.
How is the spiritual
work going on now that GuruMaharaj has left the body?
He had appointed a governing body during his life to manage the affairs of the
society. For the giving of initiation to future disciples, he appointed eleven
of his disciples to accept that responsibility.
I presume you are the
guru for this area?
No. The guru does not stay here but comes three
or four times a year; he preaches and gives initiation – he is the ideal
example of Krishna Consciousness in every respect.
Can you describe your position here? I have seen
how busy you are with constant callers, phone calls and secretaries.
I am the President of the Bombay Centre, which means I’m the ultimate
authority and responsible person here. But our concept is that Krishna and guru are the masters, and we are all
We don’t discriminate that one is high and another
less high; we see that all are attempting to serve Krishna, and by his arrangement different
persons are placed in positions to perform specific functions. So one externally
may be an administrator, someone else a humble sweeper. But if each is serving
to his full capacity, then in Krishna’s eyes they are the same.
Srila Prabhupada said: Preaching is the essence,
purity the force, books the basis, and utility the principle. These four principles
make this movement unique. Of course, it was Srila Prabhupada who was unique,
and because of him the movement became unique.
The President has been mild; in spite of his threats
he hasn’t criticized anyone. Perhaps he has accepted the fact that there’s
room for other forms of devotion. We part with Hare Krishna smiles.
In the summer of 2006 having tried for several
months to get news of H. H. Giriraja Swami, the following personal message
arrived by email with permission to use a recent photograph which is taken
from H. H.’s website:
”I have been sick—and otherwise preoccupied for some weeks.
Kindly excuse my late reply.
From 1982 to 1998, I served as a member of the worldwide governing body
of ISKCON and assumed responsibiliy for the mission in various countries
in South Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Since then I have been based in Santa Barbara, California, to focus
on my spiritual master's earlier instruction to me to write. One book,
"Watering the Seed," has been published, and several others--some
about my association with Srila Prabhupada and some about celebrating
Krishna conscious festivals--are in various stages of production.
Personally, I am trying to chant the holy names of Krishna and practice
bhakti-yoga with greater purity, to realize my constitutional position
as the eternal servant of the servants of Krishna, the Supreme Personality
of Godhead and Lord of Vrindavan.”