By Madhusudan Das
At 18 years old, around the time I met Brahmananda, the first president of an ISKCON temple in early 1967, I was still suffering from the effects of delusion resulting from so-called “consciousness-expanding drugs.” Wandering the streets late one night I knocked on the door of the temple when everyone was sleeping. Brahmananda, in his sober wisdom and seeing my state, would not let me in. A month or so later, after recovering a bit, I started going regularly to the temple.
He was a strong personality and leader; a college graduate with a teaching degree. He asked “the Swami” if he should give up his job and serve full time in the temple like the others but was told to continue working and support the temple with his earnings. He was surrendered to the Swami’s wishes. I, on the other hand, although sincerely attracted to Krishna consciousness was young and without any training or discipline. He was my leader, strict and forceful, and I naturally followed the authority.
After about 3 months when the Swami was arriving back from opening the San Francisco temple, Brahmananda had me and Purushottam stay back from going to the airport to help prepare the feast. When the Swami arrived we were called down to the temple and Brahmananda introduced us to the Swami. We bowed down, got up, and shook his lotus hand.
Brahmananda arranged for me to go regularly to Satsvarupa’s apartment to help type the manuscript for the TLC. He may not have appeared as erudite with the philosophy as some others, but he was the undisputed leader whose conviction about the philosophy and dedication to the Swami was strong and deep. He fearlessly led us on Harinam to the West Village. Often, we would return to have hot milk with “puffies and cukes,” with the special treat of slices of cream cheese “bricks,” as Brahmananda and Gargamuni jokingly called the 8oz squares of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Also at 26 Second Ave in there was a wall jutting out into the temple where the building’s incinerator was enclosed. They would often burn the tenants’ garbage that was deposited in it which would heat up the wall and its corners. During the cold winter mornings devotees would sit against this wall to keep warm but would invariably doze off. Brahmananda called this area of the temple, “Maya corner.”
After being brahmacari for about a year, when I told Brahmananda that I wanted to get married, he made the arrangements for me to marry Kanchanbala. At that time I had stopped working for the Press and got a job to earn money for my future householder life. When the Swami mentioned that the Press may move to New Vrindavan and that I wouldn’t have to work outside I offered to use the money I was saving to open a temple (and hoping to be a temple president). Brahmananda consulted with Srila Prabhupada and decided to have Damodar Prabhu and I open a temple in Washington DC, which we did—with Damodar as temple president, and me being treasurer.
When it was time for us to get married, it was uncertain when Swamiji would be coming to NY, and we not wanting to wait, Brahmananda performed the fire sacrifice. Since we were now living in Wash DC, our services took us apart from that time on for many years, although we would connect from time to time when he would travel to where we were. One time he came and we invited him over and he convinced us to purchase a 3-volume set of books. Whenever we invited him for Prasad we would always be in anxiety, not knowing how much to prepare; he was a big eater.
It wasn’t till about the last 6-7 years that we started to develop a sweet relationship when Kanchanbala and I would occasionally visit Vrindavan. He was always direct, even challenging, when I would visit, to get a feel for where I stood in Krishna consciousness. Was I a “ritvik,” was I a “fringy,” was I into this or that other group, etc? After some back and forth dialogue, with me standing my ground, he accepted that I had become more solid, and stable, in Krishna consciousness and seemed to be pleased that I had come a long way from how he knew me back when he was my temple president and leader.
Last August, when I went to Vrindavan, I visited and purchased from him his book of memoirs, Swamiji. I asked him to sign the book, and the inscription he wrote brought tears to my eyes with much gratitude:
“For Madhusudana dasa, my dear Godbrother. Our Swamiji put you in my care and I thank you for allowing me to serve you right from the very beginning.”
Brahmananda dasa, Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa Puja Day 2014, Vrindavan
I had been very much enjoying my recent visits with him, and was looking forward to getting his association again this coming October when I heard that he had gone to be with Srila Prabhupada. I wept then, and whenever I think about what I will miss about him I well up with tears. It was so sweet to be with my big brother, “Big B,” as we used to call him. I hope to be able to follow in his large footsteps, back to the intimate service of Srila Prabhupada.
Hoping to always be the servant of the servant,