Vrndavana Vilasini was attached to a hippie life of independence but found that lifestyle to be no protection from painful events and the intense suffering they caused. In her travels around America, she met devotees, heard the holy name, and took prasada. Finally, she ended up back in Seattle, Washington, her hometown.
One day, I was visiting the Seattle temple when the president, Makhanlal, said to me, “Do you want to meet someone who loves God more than anyone else?” I said, “Sure!” A little later, on June 8, 1972, he invited me to join the devotees on a six-hour drive to the Portland, Oregon airport to meet that special person, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I had no idea how powerful a meeting that would be.
I was peering out of the airport lounge window when the plane taxied to a stop. In those days, arriving passengers deplaned by walking down a set of airplane stairs and then a short way across the tarmac before entering the terminal. I was anxious and curious. Who would he be who loves God more than anyone? Passengers poured out of the plane. Finally, I saw Srila Prabhupada.
The moment Prabhupada appeared at the plane door my heart jumped. I was transfixed. He began showering his mercy on us from that first moment. It appeared to me that he was totally effulgent and was not walking on the ground. I was astonished. Even though I was far away, my deep bond of love for him began at that moment. It was a heart-to-heart connection, something I had never experienced before. His heart said to my heart, “I love you, I will never leave you.” My heart replied, “I love you, and I will never leave you.” It was an unbelievable, unexpected internal bond of love and affection. For two or three hours, even as I went through my normal motions, I was experiencing the shock of another reality. I experienced the whole world – every radio, every person, every single blade of grass – as if everything and everyone was chanting Hare Krishna. Prabhupada gave that gift to me.
Ever since that day, I always feel Prabhupada is here with me. He’s my life and soul, my best friend, and closer to me than the air I breathe.
After meeting Srila Prabhupada in Portland, I flew to Los Angeles and joined the temple on Watseka Avenue. My connection to that community is a bond I have never broken. I was so happy to be there. Three months later, on Sri Balarama’s Appearance Day, Prabhupada initiated me. In the ceremony, all the initiates repeated the regulative principles they were vowing to follow. I wanted to please him, so after I recited the regulative principles, I looked up at him like a little kid and added, “And always remember Krishna and never forget Krishna.” Prabhupada laughed. He said, “Your name is Vrndavana Vilasini Devi Dasi. It’s a name for Radharani, the one who enjoys in Vrndavana.”
For seventeen years, day in and day out, I tried to please Prabhupada by distributing his books in L.A. and Denver. For ten of those years I distributed books full-time in addition to dressing the Deities in the mornings. We had so much energy then! For the next seven years, due to health problems, I had to cut back on sankirtana, so I distributed books part-time and managed the women’s ashram at the L.A. temple. I loved distributing books and, even today, I carry small books with me wherever I go in case I meet interested people. When Srila Prabhupada left this world, I put on white in order to dedicate myself fully to his service. In 1989, I moved to Vrndavana and taught at the gurukula for six years. Now, by Prabhupada’s mercy, I live on the banks of the Yamuna not far from his old home, the center of the universe, Radha-Damodara temple.
When I was engaged in those various services, I never felt limited by being in a woman’s body and I still don’t. The reason is that Srila Prabhupada did not see us as limited. He made us all, men and women, completely confident to do any service. When people asked Prabhupada about women being less intelligent, he said, “If you think you’re a woman, you’re always going to have troubles. Don’t think you’re a woman, think you’re a spirit soul, a servant of Krishna.” He never made women feel inferior, unequal. We had equal opportunity for service: women dressed the Deities, cooked for Them, gave class, had traveling preaching parties, and so many other services.
Prabhupada gave me the desire to serve and please him. That is the real bond. It’s because of his mercy that I’m enthusiastic, that I have a taste. When I first read that verse Prabhupada liked – yasya deve para bhaktir, yatha deve tatha guru, if you have implicit faith in guru and Krishna, then you will know all the imports of the Vedas – I thought, “I don’t have that firm faith, but I’ll pray for it and I am sure Prabhupada will give it.” I have faith in the process and follow as best I can. Krishna consciousness is simple, but we have to be patient and tolerant.
I did not have as much personal association with Srila Prabhupada as some of my godsisters and godbrothers. Even so, my connection with him is still strong. I attended a few darshans and was too shy to ask questions, but I saw and heard him speak many, many times. I was in the Los Angeles temple, which he visited often. When he came, the whole temple would go to the airport and hold a huge kirtan. It was such a wonderful, joyous experience. When he left, we would also have a huge kirtan, and I would weep like a child for her father. In L.A., I had the great good fortune to hear all his Srimad-Bhagavatam classes. And I received his maha-prasada, and lots of it. I also helped clean his quarters every day, especially his bathroom.
Prabhupada would go on a morning walk every day, except when it rained. We would clean his quarters while he was on the walk. Once, it rained every day for a few days and we did not get to clean his rooms during that time. Then finally it stopped raining and Prabhupada went out on a walk. The person in charge, assuming Prabhupada would go for a long walk, decided we would do a maha-cleanup that day to make up for the missed days. But a short time later, Prabhupada returned, surprising us all. As Prabhupada stood at the door to his rooms, the devotee tried to explain that he thought because it was sunny, Prabhupada would be out longer. Prabhupada just looked at him and replied, “Where there is Krishna, there is sunshine. Where there is no Krishna, there is darkness.” Then he put his head up, in that royal way he had, and walked in and shut the door.
I was also in India at the opening of the Krishna-Balaram Mandir in 1975 – my first time in India – as well as in Delhi and Vrindavana in 1976. I preached and distributed lots of books at the Delhi pandals and also when Prabhupada opened the Hyderabad temple – an opening I also attended. I was so fortunate. That fortune is his mercy, causeless mercy.
Prabhupada is an extraordinary transcendental personality; he descended from Goloka Vrindavana. He’s still glancing at us and sending us personal letters through his books. If we can offer our bhoga to a picture of Prabhupada and it becomes prasada, how is it that we can’t talk to him? We can. How is it we can’t get his glance? We can. It’s a matter of faith. We have faith that our bhoga becomes prasada, so why don’t we have faith that he can talk to us? He does. He is our eternal well-wisher and our Sri Guru. When we make him our life and soul and serve him with love, affection, and gratitude, he reciprocates. It’s a matter of faith. Jaya Srila Prabhupada!
(In the photo Vrndavana Vilasini Devi Dasi playing kartals)