At one o'clock Prabhupada received the interviewer from Newsday, Kevin Layhart, and a photographer, Bill Semm. Kevin was a clear-faced, pleasant man in his mid-to-late thirties, and a highly qualified journalist. Prabhupada liked him immediately. He was polite and gentlemanly and knew his job, taking down every word Prabhupada said in professional shorthand.
Kevin asked many of the questions that Wanda had, but he was far more inquisitive about the underlying principles that support the external features. From the very beginning of the interview he was asking what was the ultimate objective in spiritual life. Srila Prabhupada was responsive and forthcoming. They struck up a rapport that had been noticeably absent in his Newsweek session.
Kevin wanted to know about consciousness, if it was something that lay within that had to be brought out. He also asked about our sankirtana activities. He had been accosted in the airports several times and he was curious how a seemingly commercial activity could give spiritual benefit.
When he inquired about Prabhupada's own past, he got a far different response than Wanda.
"You came here ten years ago, or eleven years ago. You were almost seventy at the time. What had you been doing previously?"
"Previously? I was family man. I retired in 1954. My Guru Maharaja asked me to take this task seriously when I was twenty-five years old. So I was at that time family man, so I thought, 'Let me adjust my family affairs. Then I shall take it.' So by doing the adjustment it took me long years. So I retired at the age of fifty-eight. Then I took up seriously. And when I was seventy years old, then I came here."
"Were you a businessman?"
"Yes, I was connected with some chemical industry. I was manager in a big chemical industry. Then I started my own business. In this way I was family man."
Ramesvara and Bali-mardana explained that throughout Prabhupada's life he was Krishna conscious, that even as a householder he was writing.
Prabhupada told him, "This Back to Godhead was started in 1944, when I was still a family man."
The mention of family sparked Kevin's curiosity. "Your blood family, are they Krishna conscious as well?"
"Not very much. Therefore I had to leave them and create another family." Prabhupada laughed.
"How many children do you have?"
"I have got two daughters and two sons," Prabhupada told him. "My wife is also still living."
"Is she Krishna conscious?"
"Not very much. Naturally women are after worldly opulence."
"Was it difficult for you to give up what you had been doing in order to devote full time?" Kevin asked.
"No," Prabhupada told him. "It is the Vedic system that at a certain age they should give up family connection and completely devote for God consciousness. In the beginning, twenty-five years, he should learn from guru about Krishna consciousness. Then, if he is able, he does not become a family man, but if he is unable or circumstantially, he may become a family man. So he can remain a family man up to fiftieth year, and then he retires from family life. He travels in holy places with his wife, and sometimes he comes home and sometimes she goes home. In this way, when he's practiced to give up family attachment, then the wife goes back home to the care of her elderly children, and the man takes sannyasa, and he remains alone simply for spreading Krishna consciousness. This is Vedic system."
Kevin was intelligent enough to pick up on the difference between the natural progression to sannyasa that Srila Prabhupada had just described in his own life, and his awarding of sannyasa to his young disciples. "Now, you are not practicing the Vedic system then, here, are you? Or are you?"
"It is all Vedic system," Prabhupada told him.
"Is it better to do it the way you did it? Or to start from a very early age?"
Prabhupada explained his motivation in facilitating his men to jump ahead in the path of spiritual progress. "The purpose is to train a person in brahmacari, not to enter into the entanglement of this material life. That is Vedic system. Basic principle is that don't be entangled with this material energy. So at the early age, up to twenty-five, he's trained up. If he can, he can continue as brahmacari. He directly can take sannyasa. But if he's unable, so let him go step by step. Let him become a family man, householder life, then retired life, then ... But sannyasa at the end, that is compulsory. Not that unless he is shot down by somebody, he's not going to give up family life. That is not Vedic system."
Kevin was sharp and could understand the kind of commitment needed to give up everything. "But young men don't tend to be wise, do they? Young men do not generally possess a great deal of wisdom."
Prabhupada's response reflected the positive ideas underlying the establishment of his preaching movement. "No, if he's trained up. Just like here we have got so many young men, they are trained up. So there is no prohibition that a young man cannot become a sannyasi. If he's able, he can take sannyasa from the very beginning. But if he's not able, let him enter into household life up to fiftieth year, then retire, then take sannyasa. It is not an enforcement; a gradual process. But the ultimate end is to become free from all material attachment and completely devote life for Krishna consciousness. Because human life is meant for that purpose, self-realization or spiritual realization, that opportunity must be given to all human beings. Unfortunately at the present moment the civilization has no scope for spiritual realization. They live like other animals, eating, sleeping, mating and defending. That's all. They do not know there is another life, spiritual life, and neither there is any education or institution to educate them. Now we are trying for that purpose."
When it was mentioned that we have nearly fifty centers in America, Kevin asked how they were supported. Prabhupada gave him the same answer he gave to Wanda, but it led to a much different exchange. "That is Krishna consciousness."
"I beg your pardon?"
"That is Krishna consciousness."
"The way they support themselves?"
"Yes," Prabhupada said. "Krishna supports."
"Yes. We do not know what we shall eat tomorrow, but we have no insufficiency. Rather, neighbors they are grudging that these people do not do anything and they live so comfortably. Sometimes they ask ... "
Intrigued, Kevin asked about the specifics. "How does Krishna support them? He mediates through physical things, does He?"
Because his interviewer's curiosity was aroused, Srila Prabhupada was willing to elaborate on what he meant in practical terms. "Everything belongs to Krishna."
"Yes," Kevin said, following the reasoning.
"So Krishna is within you," Prabhupada went on. "So if Krishna dictates, 'Give him three thousand dollars,' you'll give me. That's all. That actually it is fact. Yesterday Mr. Kallman came? He gave me a check for three thousand; I never asked him. So we are immediately depositing for our Vrindavana and Mayapur scheme. So Krishna sends money. We do not bother what will happen tomorrow. But we are very nicely maintained by Krishna's grace. That is Krishna consciousness. And Krishna says, tesham nityabhiyuktanam yoga-kshemam vahamy aham. Find out this verse."
As I looked up the verse, Kevin switched to another question, one that almost every interviewer has asked on this tour. "You are now the leader and the spiritual master. Who will take your place?"
"That Krishna will dictate who will take my place," Prabhupada said.
Kevin was again intrigued. "Krishna will tell you that?"
Before he could pursue it, I had the verse Prabhupada requested, so the question was temporarily put aside. I read out the translation. "But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form?to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.[Bg. 9.22]"
Kevin listened carefully and then asked, "They still have to go out and ask occasionally?"
Prabhupada explained that we don't sit down idly simply waiting for Krishna to give us everything; he and his disciples were working very hard. "I am now eighty years old. I am working twenty-four hours. I think I work more than my young disciples," he said only half-humorously.
We all agreed it was true. Ramesvara told Kevin that at times Prabhupada has been seventeen volumes of books ahead in translating the books his disciples publish.
Kevin asked him how he spent his days. "You do an awful lot of traveling I understand."
Prabhupada detailed his program. "Traveling is going on throughout the whole world, and wherever I go, at night I write books. And daytime I meet devotees. Manage. They have to ask me, final decision is taken from me. From all over the world letters are coming, some problem, some problem, some problem!" He was chuckling. "Although I have got about twenty secretaries, still they have to consult, I have to give them advice."
"In the evening Srila Prabhupada goes to bed at ten o'clock and gets up at eleven-thirty to begin translating," I added.
"That's it?" Kevin asked, impressed that anyone could sleep so little.
"Yes. Of course in daytime I take rest two hours. So in this way altogether about three to four hours. Our philosophy is not that you sit idly and God will send everything, no, not like that. We know God will send everything, still we work. Without God's sanction nothing can come. But we must be qualified to receive the favor of God. That is our philosophy."
Kevin put together the different bits of information he had heard how Krishna provides everything, and Srila Prabhupada's response that Krishna would dictate who would take his place. He revived his suspended question. "You are responsible for the organization. Are you the one who chooses who runs each center, who is responsible in each temple?"
"Yes. Our program is to open centers in every village, every town, to propagate Krishna consciousness."
"And you choose the leaders, or Krishna does and tells you. How does that work?"
Prabhupada refered to the process of parampara. "No, I have been chosen by my spiritual master."
"Yes. And you in turn choose others?"
"Oh yes," Prabhupada said. "That is our succession."
"On what basis?"
"Basis, on the order of Krishna. Originally the order is from Krishna."
"How does that come?" Kevin asked.
"Comes by disciplic succession. Just like Krishna said this knowledge to Arjuna and Arjuna said to others, and it is open. Everyone can take it, there is no secrecy. We have to accept only, that's all. It is open secret. Anyone can take it."
Kevin had grasped the general arrangement, but he wanted to dig down to the heart of the process. "All right. But in terms of specific, say, choosing, specific things, specific details ... "
Srila Prabhupada assured him that the sastra was complete and practical. "Yes, in all details, how to become Krishna conscious. There is all details in this book, Bhagavad-gita As It Is."
"So he's asking what's a man's qualification to be chosen," I noted.
Ramesvara Maharaja tried to clarify it. "In other words, Prabhupada will decide who should be leader if he's qualified. And there's a process for making him qualified, and there's a process for testing to see if he is qualified. So in that way it all comes from Krishna."
Kevin's intelligence was still probing. "You chose, for example, these fellows here to run the publishing house and be responsible for the East Coast."
"Yes, like that," Prabhupada said. "He's in charge of publication, he's in charge something else, like that."
"On what basis, though," Kevin went on, "can you tell me some of the things that ... "
"Basis," Prabhupada said. "Just to see whether he's qualified, that's all. Just like ordinarily one manager is appointed by the superior authority on the merit, on his qualification. That's all."
Kevin was finally able to formulate his point, the essence of his questioning. He wanted to know about the innermost workings of Krishna consciousness. "Okay, is it a mediated choice, or is it a direct communication from Krishna? That's my question."
Ramesvara couched it in plain terms. "He's asking whether we claim that God speaks to us directly."
Srila Prabhupada's reply was natural and matter of fact. "Yes, God speaks to you when you are qualified. You cannot expect God as order supplier. When he sees that you are qualified, He will speak to you."
Not wanting Kevin to think that this happens with just anyone, Bali-mardana qualified Prabhupada's statement even more. "The spiritual master is the representative of God to the disciple because he is in direct contact with God."
And Prabhupada added, "My spiritual master appointed me that 'You do this.' Similarly I shall appoint somebody else, this is the way."
Because Kevin's question was aiming at the most intimate levels of a devotee's relationship with Krishna, Ramesvara also felt it necessary to follow Bali-mardana's concern. He wanted Srila Prabhupada to specify the position and thus avoid any misunderstanding. "It's difficult for people to understand that God can speak to a man. They question, 'How can God speak to some man?' "
Prabhupada obliged with an analogy and a sastric quote. "The radio message is coming. A foolish man cannot understand how it is coming. He'll think, 'How it is that, speaking?' So any foolish man will be astonished how things are happening. That is foolishness. But God says, find out this verse: tesham satata-yuktanam bhajatam priti-purvakam/ dadami buddhi-yogam tam yena mam upayanti te."
I read aloud the translation from Bhagavad-gita [10.10] "To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give them the understanding by which they can come to Me."
To that Prabhupada added, "God is situated in everyone's heart. As soon as He sees that 'Here is a qualified person,' then He gives him instruction."
Kevin continued to probe. "But in the same way that Krishna says He'll provide for your needs, you still must work to achieve whatever Krishna is giving you."
"Yes," Prabhupada interjected, "you work for Krishna. You have to work to get your necessities."
"In the same way I'm curious with respect to the way Krishna communicates with you," Kevin continued. "Whether it's in a similar kind of way that He gives your necessities."
Bali-mardana caught what he was trying to say. "In other words, when you decide that someone is to be in charge of a particular temple, does Krishna tell you that this person should be in charge?"
"Or do you by judging him, say this person is qualified?" Kevin added.
"Yes," Prabhupada replied. "Because a devotee always consults Krishna and He gives order."
"It's a more direct communication."
"Yes," Prabhupada told him. "And He gives order."
At this point Ramesvara came into the conversation again, offering his own realization of the process of communication. "Because intelligence, our philosophy is that intelligence comes from Krishna. Try to understand. Suppose my intelligence sees that this person is qualified, that means Krishna has told me ... "
Prabhupada stopped him, making it perfectly clear that the process was not indirect. "No, not necessarily. Krishna will tell directly. A devotee always consults Krishna and Krishna tells him, 'Do like this.' Not figuratively."
We were all smiling at Prabhupada's unambiguous statement. His answer was firmly based on both sastra and his own personal experience.
"Does that apply then to other kinds of decisions and other kinds of activities as well?" Kevin wanted to know.
"Everything," Prabhupada told him. "Because a devotee does not do anything without consulting Krishna."
"But that applies to a very greatly elevated soul, that is not an ordinary person," Bali-mardana reaffirmed, just to make sure Kevin didn't get the wrong idea.
And Prabhupada added, "Therefore the minor devotees, they consult the spiritual master. That is our process."
Duly corrected, Ramesvara realized his mistake. "I see, I was trying to explain the minor devotees."
Kevin laughed. "No, I was talking about ... "
"You're talking about the topmost level," Ramesvara completed for him.
Everyone was smiling and enjoying the exchange. "He's getting right to the source," Bali-mardana laughed. "Right to the top."
The interview concluded at that. Kevin was well satisfied with his in-depth interview, and went away with prasadam and a flower presented personally to him by Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada's candor impressed upon us once again, as his reply to Bhagatji's letter on the 11th had done, that he operates on the most intimate levels of Krishna consciousness. It was a revealing session and a good indication of how far away we are from realizing what a relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead actually means. We are still very impersonal in our understanding, tending to forget that a pure devotee converses directly with Lord Krishna. As Prabhupada said, it is not at all figurative.