“We sit silenty for many minutes as the sun winks out . . . and I sense this is a historic moment.”
By Shyamasundar das
Inspired by Prabhupada’s visit to his estate, George Harrison is ready to help with a unique, lasting gift.
[Excerpted from Chasing Rhinos with the Swami, Volume 3, by Shyamasundar das, © 2021 Samuel Paul Speerstra (Shyamasundar das) ISBN: 978-1-4951-7708-8. All rights reserved.
This excerpt retains the book’s style for Sanskrit and other considerations. This volume and the previous two are available at chasingrhinos.com and the Krishna.com Store.]
So on the afternoon of July 13, 1972, I guided the temple’s tank-like Ford Transit panel van, with Prabhupada buckled into the passenger seat, away from Reading and eight miles down Henley Road to Friar Park. It was a gorgeous, lazy summer afternoon, and we saw people with parasols rowing on the river Thames.
Pattie greets us at the heavy castle door, shy and beautiful as ever, in a canary yellow blouse and culottes under a long, open, cream-colored gauzy kameez. She tells us George will be along in a minute. She leads us through the vestibule into the main room, and we sit on couches, a little awkward, Prabhupada sitting forward and resting his head on his cane as his eyes take in the splendor of this vast English hall. Suddenly, George bursts into the room, his arms filled with freshcut flowers from his garden. He dumps them on a table and falls flat on his face before Srila Prabhupada, who is beaming with pride as he pats, then rubs his hand through George’s hair. George is in his usual country attire: bell-bottom jeans, no belt, and a light-blue work shirt, his face suffused with a rare happiness. They catch up.
“Shyamsundar has been telling me – sounds like you’ve set India on fire!”
“Yes, we have made some impression.”
“And how are things at Bury Place?”
“They have become so crowded they are sleeping on the stairs.” [laughs]
“You need a place like this . . .”
And we stand to make a tour of the place. George leads us up the wide staircase through a long hallway, past the huge master bedroom with its canopied bed, to his temple room. Along one wall of the room is a twelve-foot-long marble slab supported and
surrounded by massive carved mahogany columns, balustrades, and intaglio backdrops. It’s breathtaking! At the center of George’s altar is the three-foot-high Orissa-style pagoda I’d built a couple of years ago, painted bright gold, with a color photo of Radha-Londonishwara inside. Candles stand in front of Them, and on the right, a big picture of Krishna seated, wearing a jeweled crown and playing His flute. On the left, Krishna dances on the hoods of the Kaliya demon.
“Wow, George, this is magnificent!” I say, but George is modest, and says, “I chant rounds here every morning, and meditate, light some agarbatti – you won’t see me around the house most days till after noon.”
Then we walk around outside for a while, chattering like chipmunks. Prabhupada has the outsized head and feet and gangly walk of a teenager, loose at the waist in full stride, neck cocked back, knifing the wind. He’s on a leisurely summer afternoon stroll in Oxfordshire with gentlemen and a lady to see the estate and examine world affairs. We walk through alpine gardens at the base of the Matterhorn, past the topiary, the herb garden, and over to the maze. George explains to Prabhupada, “You go in that opening in the hedge and try to find your way out to this opening, over here.”
“Yes, it is just like the material world – you are lost inside, you cannot get out, but if you find a spiritual master, he can tell you, this way, that way, and you will come out successful.” [laughter]
We pause on the way back to the house when I ask if I can take a photo of everyone. I can see George is a little uptight with that – probably thinking by tomorrow it’ll be in the Daily Mirror: “Beatle’s New Guru!” – but he agrees, reluctantly. I know I’ve only got one shot at this – there will be no “now you take the camera and take a picture of us” – so I shoot the now famous photo of the four of them: Prabhupada, on the far left in flower-garden garland, hand on his cane, upright and smiling, proud of his children; Pattie, close on his left, grinning and shy; George, a bit distant from her, hip-cocked and formal, almost grim; and two feet away to his left, shaven-headed Dhananjaya in his yellow robes, maybe thinking, “Hey, I’m just the new guy here.”
Making our way slowly back to the house, we pass a lake, weeping willows and tall Scots pines cast across the water in tranquil reflection, and Prabhupada says: “We can see that the trees on the bank reflect upon the water with their branches down and roots up. Urdhva-mulam adhah-sakham. In other words, the tree of this material world is upside-down, only a reflection of the real tree of the spiritual world. This tree, this material tree, is an exact replica. Everything is there, original, in the spiritual world. . . . The material world is the perverted reflection, so the spiritual world must have the same variegatedness, but in reality. A reflection is temporary, for it is sometimes seen and sometimes not seen. But the origin from whence the reflection is reflected is eternal. The material reflection of the real tree has to be cut off.”
Back inside the manor, we move to the small, south-facing dayroom in the alpenglow of a long midsummer evening. Prabhupada turns to George and says, “Now you have given Krishna to the whole world, and He has given you, reciprocal. You have very nice arrangement, practically you have everything, wealth, fame, beauty . . . But all of this is gone at the moment of death.”
Prabhupada sits in an armchair in the half light, and there is, yes, a bluish aura around him – around us. Time is suspended in the gloaming, as Prabhupada gives us transcendental vision and takes us with him into the spiritual world. “In the spiritual sky, there is nothing but freshness. Even the flowers picked from the trees and plants remain fresh, for everything in the spiritual sky retains its originality and does not fade. The fragrance of the flowers picked from the trees and made into garlands does not fade, for both the trees and the flowers are spiritual: paritam vana-malaya. The bees are equally attracted to the flowers whether they are on the garland or on the trees. The significance of spirituality is that everything is eternal and inexhaustible. Everything taken from everything remains everything. The bees hum around the fresh flowers, and their sweet sound is enjoyed by the Lord.”
A phone jangles somewhere deep in the house, and Pattie rushes off to answer it. Shadows deepen across Prabhupada’s face and a patch of late sun, reflected from a mirror, slowly moves across the floor by his feet as he continues. “The women there are hundreds and thousands of times more beautiful than the women here in this material world, and the spiritual atmosphere is also many times better. Yet despite the pleasant atmosphere, the minds of the denizens do not become agitated because in the spiritual world, the Vaikuntha planets, the spiritualistic minds of the inhabitants are so much absorbed in the spiritual vibration of chanting the glories of the Lord that such enjoyment could not be surpassed by any other enjoyment, even sex, which is the culmination of all pleasure in the material world. Sex life is insignificant.”
Pattie returns with a tray of different juices, asks each what he would like, and passes them around. Prabhupada chooses mango juice, takes a small sip, and has our full attention.
“Chintamani-prakara-sadmasu kalpa-vriksha-lakshavriteshu. In the transcendental world – as we have got experience here, the houses are made of bricks – there, the houses are made of chintamani stone. Of course, there is no exact translation, but it is understood it is something like touchstone. Touchstone means the stone which if it touches iron, it transforms into gold. So the abode of Krishna is described that there are houses, chintamani-prakara-sadmasu. Prakara means house. And kalpa-vriksha, that the trees are desire trees. What is that desire tree? Just like here in this material world, a tree is meant for delivering a particular fruit or flower, but desire tree means whatever you desire you get immediately delivered from the tree. Kalpa means whatever you like, whatever you will, the tree will supply immediately. Everything is complete. Such a place and such abode and such activities are described about Krishna.
“And in the Vaikuntha world, the spiritual sky, only the mode of goodness in its pure form exists. The Lord and His devotees reside in the Vaikuntha planets, and they are of the same transcendental quality, namely, suddha-sattva, the mode of pure goodness. The Vaikuntha planets are very dear to the Vaishnavas, and for the progressive march of the Vaishnavas toward the kingdom of God, the Lord Himself helps His devotees. Bhagavan shabda gocharah.”
And this was the kicker: “But even within the material world one can spiritualize one’s existence by seeing the Supreme Lord within everything and worshiping Him by constant meditation.”
We sit silently for many minutes as the sun winks out – a quick glance at my watch says 9:15 – and full dark descends on the room. Prabhupada holds us in a magic spell, and I sense this is a historic moment. Prabhupada has zapped us, convincing George beyond all doubt now. When he finally speaks, George clears his throat then says in a husky voice, “I want to buy you an ashram, like this place. I will get my estate agents to start looking tomorrow.”