Reflections
Recollections by Srila Prabhupada
of his journey to America
The following excerpts from Srila Prabhupada's room conversations and letters give further insights into his voyage to America and the incidents surrounding it. These selections have been obtained from the computer database "The Complete Works of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami."
Excerpt from a room conversation with His Divine Grace in Bombay on November 7, 1970.
Prabhupada: So I went in U.S.A. without any sponsor. No, I... That is the... One gentleman sponsored for one month; one month only. Not even one month. I remained there only three weeks, and then I chalked out my plan. He was my friend's son, and my friend wrote him that "You sponsor Swamiji for one month."
Guest (1): Some American gentleman?
Prabhupada: No, Indian. One gentleman from Agra. So his son immediately sent me, sponsoring. But still, the government objected that "We cannot allow you to go there because you are sponsored by an individual person." But I wanted to see chief controller of, what is called, foreign exchange, Mr. Rao. So he kindly accepted: "Yes, Swamiji, you can go." He fought.(?)
Guest (2): That time it was very difficult. Passport I have got already.
Prabhupada: Passport, visa... So there was no money with me and in an awkward position... My philosophy is completely different. I was to ask them to cease from four kinds of sinful activities, and they are habituated to these things. Illicit sex, and drinking, wine and intoxication and gambling-these are their daily affairs. So I was thinking, "I have to stop this. Who will hear me?" But Krsna... Everything became...
Guest (1): May I ask one thing? How you chose this America to be your first....?
Prabhupada: My Guru Maharaja ordered me that "You go and preach this cult amongst the English-speaking public and specially in the Western countries." So first of all I thought of London, where is London, but I had no money. So I got the opportunity for going U.S.A. free on the..., on a trade ship by the Scindia Steam Navigation. They gave me their first-class cabinet, the proprietor's cabinet. I was well carried. But first of all I went free on a steamship. I had no money what to speak of aeroplane. So... What was your question?
Guest (1): My question was that how you selected America to be your...
Prabhupada: Yes. So I got the opportunity to go to America because their ship goes to New York. So I accepted, "All right, we can see, either go to London or New York." New York is better place than London.
Excerpt from a room conversation with His Divine Grace in Los Angeles on June 8, 1976.
Prabhupada: So I did not say anything seriously, but perhaps he took it very seriously, Gopal's father. So he might have written to Gopal that "Swami Bhaktivedanta wants to go to America. If you sponsor, then he can go." So whatever the correspondence was there between the father and son, I did not know. I simply asked him, "Why don't you ask your son Gopal to sponsor so that I can go there? I want to preach there." So after some months, three, four months, the No Objection Certificate from the Indian embassy in New York. Gopal sent to me, yes, that he had already sponsored my arrival there for one month. So all of a sudden I got the paper, No Objection Certificate, by the Indian embassy. After so much inquiry, I learned that so much inquiry was done and so on, so on. Then I tried to take a passport and paper process. So I got the passport. Then I approached that Sumati Morarji. She once gave me five hundred rupees in exchange of my Bhagavata book, so I approached her, that "Give me one ticket." They have got their shipping company, Scindia Navigation. So she said, "Swamiji, you are so old, you are taking this so responsibility. Do you think it is right?" "No, it is all right." (laughs) At that time, I was seventy years old. So all the secretary, they thought that "Swamiji is going to die there." Anyway, they gave me the ticket, one return free ticket by their ship. Then arrangement was going on. So there is another process to get a P-form. You know.
Guest: P-form.
Prabhupada: P-form sanctioned by the state government, yes, state government. So it was applied for. It was... No sanction was coming. Then I went to the State Bank of India, the officer Mr. Bhattacari. So he told me: "Swamiji, you are sponsored by private man. So we cannot accept it. If you are invited by some institution, then we could consider, but you are invited by a private man for one month, and, after one month, if you are in difficulty, and there will be so much obstacles and so on." "Well, I have already prepared everything to go." So I said that "You, what you have done?" "No, I have decided not to sanction your P-form." "No, no, don't do this. You better send to your superior. It should not be done like that." So he took my request and he sent the file to Chief Officer of Foreign Exchange, something like that. Anyway, he is the supreme man in the State Bank of India. So I went to see him. So I asked his secretary that "You have got such file? You kindly put to Mr...."-his name was Mr. Rao-"I want to see him." So the secretary agreed, and he put the file and put my slip that I wanted to see him. I was waiting. So Mr. Rao came personally. He said, "Swamiji, I have passed your case. Don't worry." (laughs) In this way.
Hari-sauri: He knew you from before, or...?
Prabhupada: No. He did not know me. So somebody saw him in Bombay, so he reminded that "I know Swamiji when he went to U.S.A." Somebody was telling me.
Hari-sauri: He remembered.
Prabhupada: Hmm. The name is there, he remembered. After all, he is officer. He knows so many things. So it is a great history. (laughs) There was two days I was attacked in heart on the ship. So hardship.
Trivikrama: Then you had a dream?
Prabhupada: Hmm.
Hari-sauri: What was that, Srila Prabhupada?
Prabhupada: That is... (laughs) The dream was I must come here.
Hari-sauri: It was some instruction that you got?
Prabhupada: The dream was that Krsna in His many forms was bowing the row. What is called?
Hari-sauri: Rowing the boat.
Prabhupada: Yes.
Prabhupada: And when I arrived in Boston I wrote that poetry.
Hari-sauri: If you were only sponsored for one month, how is it that you were able to extend your visa all the time?
Prabhupada: I was extending. The immigration officer came in Boston in my boat. He inquired about this. So he asked me, "Sir, Swamiji, how long you want to stay?" So I thought that I have no shelter, I have no money, but I have got the return ticket. So I did not know how long I... (laughs) He asked me, "How long you want to stay?" So I thought, "In these circumstances, I can stay at most two months, because I have no means where to stay, how to eat, and where shall I go? So I may struggle for two months." So I told him: "I may stay at most two months." He immediately, two months, sanctioned immediately. I could not think that I shall be able to... (laughs) That one month were there, sponsoring. So I thought, "Another one month, that's all," that "This gentleman has sponsored for one month. So that is guaranteed. Then I can stay another one month. That's all." So after that, so I was staying here and there without any fixity. So I was extending the visa. Each time, I was paying ten dollars. Another three months, another three months, like that. And when one year was finished, they refused: "No extension."
Hari-sauri: But by that time you had some kind of...
Prabhupada: Yes.
Hari-sauri: ...organization going?
Prabhupada: Yes, hmm, at that time I was at Second Avenue. So then Rayarama took the help of a lawyer. He took the case, that he'll give me permanent residence. So he was extending only, and each time he was taking hundred and fifty dollars. So in this way, I entered in 1965, September, up to July-no, up to May-and in the May, month of May, there was heart stroke.
Hari-sauri: That was when, '67?
Prabhupada: '66. Yes. '66. Yes, after one and a half year.
Hari-sauri: No. That was '67 then.
Prabhupada: Because the time was taken, extension. Then, in 1967, in July, I thought, "Now the health is broken." I was very sick after heartstroke. So I thought, "Now I shall not exist. So let me go to Vrndavana and die there." So I came back in July 1967. So this Brahmananda and others, they were crying when I got on the boat. Hm? The heart was so weak...
Pusta Krsna: You went back to India by boat?
Prabhupada: No, by plane. I think...
Pusta Krsna: From San Francisco.
Prabhupada: Hm. At that time, I got some money. Five thousand was given by Jayananda. He gave me five thousand, and Brahmananda also gave me. So I spent some money for acquiring some... I had about six thousand. So then I purchased ticket coming back with Kirtanananda. In this way, came back to India.
Hari-sauri: You were just saying...
Prabhupada: And again I paid five thousand rupees to Kirtanananda to come back. (aside:) What is that?
Radhavallabha: Kirtiraja Prabhu bought this for your rocking chair.
Prabhupada: Oh.
Radhavallabha: Should I put it on?
Prabhupada: Rock and roll. (devotees laugh)
Hari-sauri: So when did you come back again?
Prabhupada: I came back in 1968, no, '67, December.
Hari-sauri: Oh, you weren't gone long then.
Trivikrama: Six months.
Prabhupada: Yes, July to December.
Trivikrama: And your health was better?
Prabhupada: Not very good. So many troubles. When I came back there's always a bad sound going on, gong gong gong, in my brain. Very disturbing, in this Los Angeles. I was staying in some... I forgot.
Trivikrama: La Cienega?
Prabhupada: No, no, La Cienega later on. I was staying near Pico. Is that Pico? There was a... I think Washington Boulevard? Near there. I forgot that quarter.
Excerpt from a room conversation with His Divine Grace in Vrndavana on September 9, 1976.
Prabhupada: ...because as soon as the ship stopped, Commonwealth Pier, Boston, the immigration department came and took their papers. So I entered America in Boston. There was no checking in New York. The ship stopped in Boston. The official entrance was done there. Then when I came to New York, it is just like one day's travel.
Harikesa: And then you went directly to Pennsylvania? By bus?
Prabhupada: Yes. Yes. Then one agent, appointed by my host, Gopal Agarwal... He was in Butler. So he arranged with some professional, what is called, host.
Harikesa: Travel agent?
Prabhupada: Maybe travel agent. He came to see me, that "I am sent by Gopal Agarwal, so I'll arrange for your dispatch. You come with me."
Hari-sauri: Dr. Agarwal was your sponsor?
Prabhupada: Yes. His father came to see me some time in Agra. Agra. His father, mother came.
Hari-sauri: And then they suggested that he be your sponsor.
Prabhupada: It was all by chance. I was for a few days guest at his father's place in Agra. I did not know that his son is in America. So he was talking about his family. He was little sorry that his eldest son went to America to study electric engineering, and he was entrapped by an English girl, and he married and settled there and did not come back. In this way... So I took the opportunity, that "Why don't you ask your son to sponsor me?" I wanted to go to America. So I did not know how seriously he took it. But I simply told him that "Why don't you ask your son to sponsor me at least for one month? So I am thinking of going to America." Then that was talking, beginning and end, that's all. I did not know that he took it very seriously. Then after two, three months, some documents came. I was receiving my letters in a postbox. So when I left Delhi I used to keep my key of postbox with some nice bookseller, Atmaram, he was manager. So he opened that, he got that documents. That is No Objection Certificate, Sponsor, and everything. I was out of Delhi. Then when I came back I took it. So everything was there, that sheet (indistinct) from the Indian Consulate, No Objection Certificate. Then I applied for a passport. In this way I had to go. So Gopal was unknown to me, but his father was, his father was known to me. His father was... Then his agent got me on the bus. So on the bus (I) went to Pennsylvania.
Hari-sauri: That's a long drive.
Prabhupada: Yes, nine hours on the bus. And I took a little chipped rice, and whatever I had with me. So I got down from the ship about one o'clock. Then I had to wait for the bus till five o'clock. Then at five o'clock the bus started. About two o'clock, three o'clock in the morning, I went to Pennsylvania, and just in front of the bus Gopal was standing with his car, that... What is called? Van car?
Harikesa: Station wagon.
Prabhupada: Station wagon. So he took my luggage, and from there thirty miles off, the Butler County. So I went there. Then at night he took my (indistinct). The next day, he had no many rooms in his apartment, he arranged for my stay in the YMCA nearby them.
Hari-sauri: You never actually stayed with him, then.
Prabhupada: I was going. I was taking my meals there.
Hari-sauri: Oh. And just keeping a room at the YMCA.
Prabhupada: Because he had no room, so I was staying there.
Hari-sauri: And then he arranged programs, speaking programs?
Prabhupada: His wife, Sally. His wife, Sally, she was arranging. A very intelligent girl. They were of the same age, about thirty. Gopal was more than thirty and she was (indistinct). I saw that she was feeding her child, one boy, meat powder.
Harikesa: Beef bouillon?
Prabhupada: I do not know what is the name. But I asked. She said, "It is meat powder." That is the system?
Hari-sauri: When they're very young and they can't eat solids.
Prabhupada: With hot water.
Hari-sauri: Yes, they have instant meals for children. All different kinds of things.
Prabhupada: So Gopal was very much pleased that he could get some Indian capatis, like this.
Hari-sauri: So he had you cook for him. You took your cooker with you? Is that the same one?
Prabhupada: No. So I lived with him for twenty-one days. Then I came to New York.
Hari-sauri: Yes, that picture in the Butler Eagle. It's in the Vyasa-Puja book this year.
Prabhupada: Yes, yes. Butler County, it is good (indistinct), there were many churches, (indistinct) people have got so many churches (indistinct) (break) ...some time, that one piece of wire Iying in one place, one piece of bamboo was Iying in another place, and one dry shell of a squash was Iying. So one intelligent man collected. So this dry shell became the tambura's what is called...
Hari-sauri: I don't know. Like sound chamber. What do you call it?
Prabhupada: Sound chamber may be called. So with that dry squash he made the sound chamber. The bamboo he fixed up and the wire upon it, and then it became a "tin, tin, tin, tin..." (laughs) Our organization is like that. I was loitering in the street. Somebody was over there, somebody was there. Not combined together. International Society String Band. Yes. Separately we are all useless. Eh?
The following letter is to Sumati Morarji, who gave Srila Prabhupada free passage to New York on the Jaladuta.
New York
27 October, 1965
Madam Sumati Morarji Baisaheba,
Please accept my greetings. I am very glad to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated the 9th instant and have noted the contents. Since I have landed in U.S.A. I have improved in my health and I am very glad to see that in America practically everything is available for our Indian vegetarian dishes. By the grace of Lord Krishna the American are prosperous in every respect and they are not poverty-stricken like the Indians. The people in general are satisfied so far their material needs are concerned and they are spiritually inclined. When I was in Butler, Pennsylvania about 500 miles from the New York city, I saw there many churches and they were attending regularly. This shows that they are spiritually inclined. I was also invited by some churches church governed schools and colleges and I spoke there and they appreciated and presented me some token rewards. When I was speaking to the students they were very much eagerly hearing me about the principles of Srimad-Bhagavatam rather the clergymen were cautious to allow the students to hear me so patiently. They thought that the students may not be converted into Hindu ideas as it is quite natural for any religious sect. But they do not know that the devotional service of the Lord (Sri Krishna) is the common religion for every one including the aborigines and the cannibals in the jungles.
Any way so far I have studied the American people they are very much eager to learn about the Indian way spiritual realization and there are so many so-called Yoga ashramas in America. Unfortunately they are not very much adored by the Government and it is heard that such yoga ashramas have exploited the innocent people as it has been the case in India also. The only hope is that they are spiritually inclined and immense benefit can be done to them if the Cult of Srimad-Bhagavatam is preached here.
The American public also give reception to the Indian art and music. So many of them come and every one of them is given good reception. Recently one dancer from Madras came here (Balasaraswati) and just to see the mode of reception, I went to see the dance with a friend although for the last forty years I have never attended such dance ceremony. The dancer was successful in her demonstration. The music was in Indian classical tune mostly in Sanskrit language and the American public appreciated them. So I was encouraged to see the favorable circumstances about my future preaching work.
The Bhagavata cult is preached also through the art of music and dance as it was done by Lord Caitanya. I am just thinking of introducing the very same system for my Bhagavatam preaching but I have no means. The Christian missionary people are backed by huge resources and they preach the Christian cult all over the world. Similarly the devotees of Lord Krishna may also combine together to start the mission of preaching Bhagavatam cult all over the world. It is not for serving any political purpose but it is necessary to preach cult for saving the people in general from the dangerous tendency of Godlessness. The Christian cult or any other cult cannot save the people from being under the clutches of the growing communism but the Bhagavatam cult can save them because of its philosophical and scientific approach.
I am therefore thinking of bringing a Sankirtana party from India but I do not know how to do it. Unless there is an organized party or association it is very difficult to do it. The Rama Krishna Mission here is busy in preaching a misrepresentation and therefore practically they have failed to preach the real cult of India. The so-called Yogis also could not establish the real cult of Bhagavad-gita. They are after material gains. The Bhagavata Cult is not there at all although it is the only remedy for raising the people in the world in the path of self-realization and spiritual salvation.
I do not know what is in the mind of Lord Bala Krishna but I think that your attention to give an impetus to the Bhagavata cult and my humble attempt can serve great purpose. By the grace of the Lord you have a great position in the world and it is learnt that you are one of the richest woman in the world. But above all you are a pious lady with great devotion for Lord Bala Krishna and you can do a lot in this connection.
By the Grace of Lord Bala Krishna you are also free from all family encumbrances and as I have seen you in your Palm Ban house, you live like a sage and a Tapaswini. I wish that you may take up this idea of Bhagavatam preaching work a little more seriously. What I want that immediately a society for this purpose may be formed and that will be recognized by the Government for cultural activity. So many cultural missions come here from India at the expense of Government and they simply waste the money. But if there is a real cultural mission for preaching the Bhagavatam cult a great philanthropic work will be done for the human society at large. I am just giving you the idea and if you kindly think over the matter seriously and consult your beloved Lord Bala Krishna surely you will be further enlightened in the matter. There is scope and there is necessity also and it is the duty of every Indian specially the devotees of Lord Krishna to take up the matter.
I shall be glad to hear from you about my humble suggestions per return of mail. Hope you are well. With my best regards, I am
Yours sincerely,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
N.B. I am very glad to note the last line of your letter under reply in which you write to say "I feel that if you should stay there till you fully recover from your illness and return only after you have completed your mission." Yes I wish to stay here for all the days till I have finished the mission of life to preach Bhagavata Cult very rightly and for this very reason only I have suggested the above means and ways. If you kindly cooperate in forming a society for this purpose with your great influence surely all Indians will combine and thus we can fulfill the mission very nicely declaring the glories of India. Please do it for the Lord's sake.
The following is an excerpt from a letter to Hanuman Prasad Poddar, who was the head of the Gita Press, a prominent publishing house in India which specializes in religious literature.
Los Angeles
5 February, 1970
To Gita Press
Gorakhpur
My Dear Bhaiji Hanuman Prasad Poddar,
Please accept my obeisances. I hope by this time you have received my acknowledgement dated yesterday for your letter dated 26 January, 1970. As you want to publish a comprehensive article about my activities in the "Kalyana," I think it is proper to give you a short history of my coming to the western world.
Sometime in the year 1922, when I was acting as manager of Dr. Bose's Laboratory Ltd., I was fortunate enough to meet my Spiritual Master, His Divine Grace Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya 108 Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada. On the very first meeting with His Divine Grace, He asked me to preach the message of Lord Caitanya in the Western world.
At that time, I was a young man and a nationalist, admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and C.R. Dass. So I replied Him at that time, who would care for the message of Lord Caitanya while we are a subject nation? In this way, I had some argument with my Spiritual Master, and at the end I was defeated. But at that time, because I was already married, I could not take His words very seriously.
In this way, I passed on as a householder, but, by the causeless mercy of my Divine Master, that order of preaching was impressed on my heart. I was initiated regularly in 1933 at Allahabad, when Sir Malcolm Haley, the then Governor of U.P., opened our Gaudiya Math branch there. Then, in 1936, my Spiritual Master left this world leaving a message for me that it would be better for me to preach in English language.
So I was thinking very seriously, and then, as late as 1944 I started my paper, "Back to Godhead." Gradually, in 1954,1 retired from my family life and began to live alone in Mathura Vrindaban. In 1959, I was awarded Sannyas by one of my Godbrothers, His Holiness B. P. Kesava Maharaja.
Then I began translating Srimad-Bhagavatam in 1960; and, perhaps in 1961, I was your guest in the Gita Bagicha. You were very kind to help me partially for publishing my first volume of Srimad-Bhagavatam through the Dalmia Charitable Trust. With great difficulty, I then published the second and third volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam until 1965, when I prepared myself to come to this country with some books.
With great difficulty, I was able to get the "P" Form passed by the Controller of Foreign Exchange, and, someway or other, I reached Boston on 17th September, 1965. I was thinking, while on board the ship "Jaladuta," why Krishna had brought me to this country. I knew that Western people are too much addicted to so many forbidden things according to our Vedic conception of life. So out of sentiment I wrote a long poetry addressing Lord Krishna as to what was His purpose in bringing me to this country.
At that time, I was sponsored by a friend's son, Gopala Agarwal, who is settled up in this country by marrying an American girl, Sally. I was their guest, and I feel very much obliged to Gopala and his wife Sally for their nice treatment and reception. I was with them for three weeks in Butler, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then I came to New York. I was getting some money by selling my Srimad-Bhagavatam, thus I was maintaining myself in New York. After some time, I rented one apartment at number 100 71st Street West, but after a few months, all my things-typewriter, tape recorder, books-were stolen. Then for some time one of my students gave me shelter at Bowery Street.
I then rented one store-front and an apartment at 26 Second Avenue for $200 per month, but without any source of income. I started my classes and sometimes, on Sundays, I used to chant Hare Krishna Mantra in Tompkins Square Park from three to 5 p.m. During this time, all the young boys and girls used to gather around me, sometimes poet Ginsberg would come to see me, and sometimes a reporter from the New York Times came to see me. In this way, the Hare Krishna Mantra chanting became very popular on the Lower East Side.
In this way, the younger generation became attracted, and gradually many branches were opened one after another. After New York, the next branch was opened in San Francisco, then in Montreal, then in Boston, and in Los Angeles. We have now the following centers in the States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Australia.

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