Ācārya Siṁha

The Life of Swami Bhakti Gaurava Narasiṅgha Mahārāja

Chapter 9 – “You are Jagat Guru Dāsa!”
(Los Angeles – July 1971)

All the devotees arrived in Los Angeles four days before the initiations which were to be held on July 3rd. It was an intense four days. During that time, Narasiṅgha Mahārāja and over a hundred devotees would go on hari-nāma in downtown LA led by Viṣṇujana Swami. After six hours everyone would return to the temple, take prasādam, attend the evening arati, then again Viṣṇujana would take them out for hari-nāma in Hollywood till 10:00pm.

When July 3rd finally arrived there were forty devotees sitting for the initiation ceremony that morning. All around them, hundreds of devotees had squeezed into the temple room to witness the event. Since there were no new beads to give out to the initiates, they were instructed to hand in their old beads to be chanted on. Eventually Śrīla Prabhupāda entered the temple room followed by Viṣṇujana Swami and other senior men and as everyone paid obeisances, he sat on his vyāsāsana. After a short kīrtana, Prabhupāda began chanting on the beads and since there so many devotees to initiate, he also requested Viṣṇujana Swami, Dayānanda Dāsa and a couple of temple presidents to chant on some of the beads on his behalf. After almost two hours of japa, Śrīla Prabhupāda began his lecture:

Everyone is trying to become happier, the karmīs, jñānīs, yogīs, devotees, because in the material world there is no happiness. So the karmīs are trying to be happier to increase their sense gratification. So one man has got hundred dollars income. He is trying to be happy, more happy, by increasing the income to a thousand dollars, because his sense gratification is not sufficient in one hundred dollars. He wants thousand dollars. So if one takes to devotional service, but, “My income is hundred dollars. Kṛṣṇa, give me thousand dollars,” so this is not pure devotion. Kṛṣṇa can give. Why thousand? Millions of dollars He can give. But anyone who asks from Kṛṣṇa for this material benefit, he is not a pure devotee. And unless one is pure devotee, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. By devotional service, if you want material prosperity, Kṛṣṇa can give you. Kṛṣṇa can… Whatever you want, Kṛṣṇa can give you. But that is not pure devotion. Dhruva Mahārāja went to obtain his father’s kingdom in the beginning, but at the end he said that “I don’t want.” That is the benefit. If anyone has got any desire for material benefit and takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Kṛṣṇa can give him, but the benefit is that one day he’ll come to the stage he’ll ask nothing from the Lord. Whereas, if anyone goes to demigods to ask some material profit, he will get, but it will be finished, and he’ll never come to the stage of transcendental platform, that he has no material necessities.

So similarly, Kṛṣṇa’s name, we should not try to exact some material profit by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. That is not pure devotion. Sarva… What is called? Sarvopādhi-vinirmuktam… anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyam…we shall simply aspire to serve Kṛṣṇa. The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra means, “Hey Kṛṣṇa, my Lord Kṛṣṇa.”, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare, “O the energy of Kṛṣṇa, O Kṛṣṇa, please engage me in Your service.” This is the sum total meaning of this Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. Simply praying, “Please engage me,” that is real profit. Not that “Please give me, instead of hundred dollars, give me thousand dollars.” No. This is not pure devotion. You should all understand this. Anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyam – completely freed from any material desire. That is pure devotion. That will make you happy.

Los Angeles Initiations 1971

Prabhupāda signalled for the initiations to begin and one by one, the initiates came up and offered obeisances and he who would ask them what the four regulative principles were. Then Prabhupāda would ask their name and give them their spiritual name and beads. Mahārāja was towards the end of the line and watched as each devotee took their vows and received their names – Śubhānanda Dāsa, Śrīnātha Dasa, Raghunātha Dāsa, Śivānī Dāsī, Gaṅgārāma Dāsa, Suruci Dāsī, Dhruvānanda Dāsa…on it went until finally it was time for Mahārāja to approach Śrīla Prabhupāda.

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: I was about third from the last person in the line. It was the same thing with everyone – the devotee would pay obeisances then Prabhupāda would ask, “What are the four regulative principles?”
The devotee would say, “No illicit sex, no gambling, no intoxication, no meat, fish, or eggs.”
Then Prabhupāda would say, “How many rounds do you chant?”
And they would say, “Sixteen.”
Then Prabhupāda would ask,“What is your name?” They would tell him and then they would get their spiritual name.

So when it came to my turn, I offered my obeisances and Prabhupāda said, “What is your name?” I told my name and felt very embarrassed to mention my material name identified with this material body. On one hand I was crying and on the other hand I was laughing because I felt so embarrassed. Then suddenly Prabhupāda had this wide smile on his face and he said, “You are Jagat Guru Dāsa the servant of the spiritual master of the world” then he gave me my beads. And when he said, “You are Jagat Guru Dāsa” there was a big gasp from everyone in the room and everybody spontaneously shouted, “Haribol!”

He didn’t ask me what the regulative principles were. He didn’t ask me if I chant sixteen rounds. So should I assume I wasn’t given any instruction to chant sixteen rounds or follow the four regulative principles like everyone else? No. The instruction was given to all. But I think he was so ecstatic to give that name that he forgot to ask.

Then the next person came and he asked, “What are the four regulative principles? How many rounds do you chant?”And after the last couple of devotees has received their beads, Viṣṇujana Swami did the fire sacrifice. It was a grand experience for everyone in the presence of Prabhupäda. Every devotee who was anybody in the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement in the US and Canada was there.

Naturally, all eyes in the room were on Śrīla Prabhupāda, but Narasiṅgha Mahārāja was also looking at Viṣṇujana Swami. He was the first sannyāsī he had ever seen. Mahārāja had heard that Śrīla Prabhupāda had expressed that he wanted an army of sannyāsīs, and Mahārāja thought that he would like to join that army. Seeing Viṣṇujana’s example and hearing how Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted more sannyāsīs inspired Mahārāja to preach.

After the ceremony was over, Viṣṇujana told the new initiates that they should all go out and collect $500 each as guru-dakṣiṇā to present to Śrīla Prabhupāda. Mahārāja ran outside immediately and went from door to door around the neighbourhood. Yet despite his enthusiasm, he was only able to collect $5. Later in the afternoon, when all the new initiates came before Prabhupāda with their guru-dakṣiṇā, Mahārāja sheepishly handed over his $5 to Prabhupāda, who smiled and touched it to his head.

Śrīla Prabhupāda remained in Los Angeles for another ten days, during which time he gave classes and met with various devotees. Eventually, when Prabhupāda left for Detroit, the devotees visiting LA began returning to their respective temples.

Before returning to Tucson, Śukadeva decided to take the devotees to the Laguna Beach temple where they stayed for two days. On their last afternoon there, as the Tucson devotees were all piling into the van, Mahārāja was in the brahmacārī āśrama rushing to put on tilaka when he noticed a pile of photographs on the window ledge. He picked them up and started looking through them.

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: I was just flipping through them thinking,“Oh wow! It’s the initiation ceremony.” Then suddenly I found one of Prabhupāda giving me my beads. It was a perfect picture – Prabhupāda is smiling, I’m smiling, and he’s handing the beads to me. So I finished putting on tilaka, stuffed the photo in my pocket, run outside to the van, jumped in and before we drove off, I showed the photo to one brahmacārī in the van – “Look what I found! A photo of my initiation!” And he said,“Oh man! You’re in māyā! You’re keeping a picture of yourself?”
Without thinking I said, “Oh yeah!” And I jumped out of the van, ran back into the brahmacārī āśrama, and left it on the dresser next to the tilaka bowl.

Of course, later on, I was kicking myself over that. Back in the 80’s I searched the Bhaktivedanta Archives over and over again, but I never found that photo. But where’s the photo of Prabhupāda’s initiation? Where’s the photo of Bhaktisiddhānta’s initiation? Sure, it’s nice to have a reminder of that day, but initiation means to initiate a connection with your guru. Our connection with the guru isn’t through a photo – it’s through our service to him and our service to the Holy Name. That’s what is most important.