Bonds of Love-Jyotirmayi devi dasi remembrances of Srila Prabhupada

Bonds of Love: Jyotirmayi Devi Dasi

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Jyotirmayi was planning to go to Nepal to become a Buddhist monk when the devotees in Paris suggested that she and her friend, Mondakini, visit Prabhupada in London instead.

When I met Prabhupada, I expected something mystical to happen, but he was practical, and that put me off. Yet, I was attracted when Prabhupada looked at me because I felt he was seeing everything inside me.Three other things made me become a devotee instead of a Buddhist: First, I loved chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, and the most extraordinary thing I’d ever heard was Prabhupada chanting it. Prabhupada made kirtana a meditation; he was completely absorbed in the mantra and he absorbed us in it.

Second, although I didn’t appreciate Srila Prabhupada’s personalist philosophy – I used to listen to his lectures and think, “I don’t agree with that; this is not correct” – yet in each lecture he answered each of the philosophical points I had in mind, most of which were based on impersonalism vs. personalism, Vaishnavism vs. Buddhism. I started to think, “This is really strange,” and little by little I became convinced that Vaishnava philosophy was higher than Buddhism.

And third, I saw how much Prabhupada loved his disciples and his disciples loved him and one another. Prabhupada was personal with the devotees and the devotees were personal with him and one another. I’d never seen anything like that, and it attracted me very much.I became convinced by these three things. In later years, as Prabhupada initiated thousands of disciples, I was astonished to see that he remained so personal. Whenever he came to France, if he didn’t see me, he’d always ask my husband, Yogesvara, “How is Jyotirmayi?”

Fortunately, Prabhupada behaved exactly the same with the women as with the men. If it had been otherwise, I would not have joined. Both men and women went on morning walks and both got as close to Prabhupada as they could. When Prabhupada told Mondakini and me, Learn from the older women [Malati, Yamuna, and Janaki] in the temple,” I tried to do that. Those women were absolutely wonderful and were my heroes – intelligent, in love with Prabhupada, active, enterprising, capable in many different ways. All the devotees had as many women heroes as men heroes. At that time, men had no harshness or tension or disdain toward women, and neither were they condescending. There was separation, not segregation, between the sexes; and between us there was tenderness and kindness and sweetness.

We had little money, no heat or hot water, and we lived ten to a room – temple life was austere. But we were happy because the atmosphere was transcendental and there was a strong loving relationship between us. Gurudasa, Yamuna’s husband, was the temple president and like our father, and every evening when we were in our beds, he would read Krishna Book to us. Yamuna, who was like our mother, taught both the men and the women. The men had no ill feeling, “Oh, a woman is teaching me.” Prabhupada had brought a loving spiritual atmosphere, and the devotees were almost transparent in giving it to us.

We did everything the way Prabhupada did it, because that’s the only way we knew how to do it, and we felt constant spiritual ecstasy. It was completely out of this world. At that time, a wonderful part of the movement was that we would take responsibilities immediately, which made us strong and expert. We would learn and develop.

I’d been a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, where I had been studying ethnology (the study of the cultures and religion of different ancient traditions). I’d stopped my studies to become a devotee, but later I thought it would be good to finish them because then I could teach Krishna consciousness. I asked Prabhupada about my going back to school, and he said I was a very intelligent girl and should do it.

But I didn’t go back in the end, because instead I was asked to translate Srila Prabhupada’s books into French. When I was translating, I became engrossed in Prabhupada’s writing and in trying to render his words and thoughts in the best possible way in the French language. I loved Prabhupada’s intelligence. My God, he was so intelligent!

Since I was the main French translator, I usually translated Prabhupada’s lectures whenever he came to France. Once, we had an engagement at the College of Architecture in Paris. I asked Prabhupada to speak short sentences, and he was careful to do that. When I missed a word he told me what word I had missed. I wondered, “Does he understand French?” As Prabhupada saw that I was progressing in translating, he made his sentences longer. He adapted to my ability.

When I translated his classes it obliged me to concentrate on what he was saying. I saw that his classes were perfectly structured, with an introduction and a conclusion. Even when he’d stray to a side point, he’d always return to his main point. The time I noticed it most was when the Vice Mayor of Paris officially received Prabhupada at the Paris City Hall, and I translated Prabhupada’s talk. Later, when devotees wanted to know what Prabhupada had said I was able to recall the whole lecture because it was so perfectly structured.

Also, Prabhupada was able to adapt to different personalities. He would talk to some people in a soft, sweet, friendly way, with others he would be more teacherly, and with some he would be stern. When he was talking to Christians he’d speak about animal killing and that the animal has a soul. Whenever he’d preach in his room he’d invite the devotees in. I appreciated how Prabhupada wanted us to learn from his preaching. I also loved the way Prabhupada made devotees learn by having them lecture in his presence, as he did with Yamuna and others. Prabhupada appreciated that some devotees had less knowledge but could impress people with their love.

I learned the philosophy and practiced preaching. I tried to give class in a lively way, as Prabhupada did. Sometimes he would make us laugh, sometimes tell stories, sometimes he was strong and stern. The devotees loved my lectures and I loved giving them. Along with translating, speaking was my main service, my life. But little by little devotees came from America saying, “Women should not give classes,” and I became so disgusted by the attitude that I stopped.

I asked Prabhupada about it, and Prabhupada said yes, the women can give classes. He said, “The varnashrama way is that your husband is a brahmana, you are a brahmana. So he is preaching, you are preaching.” But it was a time when women were not supposed to have any responsibilities. I stopped giving classes and my translating services were taken away. I wrote to Prabhupada and explained the situation. At the end of a letter he wrote to Bhagavan, who was the GBC in France, what he had told me: “And as far as Jyotirmayi’s letter, she can give lectures.” Bhagavan never told me what Prabhupada had written. He put that letter in a wastepaper basket, where I happened to find it.

In June 1974, we invited Prabhupada to give a lecture at the Salle Pleyel, a hall that could fit 2,000 people. I organized publicity all over Paris and 1,800 people came. But typically for those times, the male devotees got credit for organizing the program. Anyway, Prabhupada lectured and I translated. When Prabhupada said, “If we abide by the laws of the state, then we are good citizen, peaceful citizen,” members of the audience started to whistle and complain. The French people were anti-authority and anti-government. One of them challenged Prabhupada, “Did God give you the authority to be seated on this big seat and receive obeisances from your disciples?”

I was embarrassed to translate what he said, so I minimized it. Prabhupada told me, “No, tell me what he said exactly.” I did, and Prabhupada turned to the boy and said, “You can also get this position. If you know God and if you can speak about God, then you are also welcome to sit here and speak about God.”After we left, Prabhupada told the devotees, “From now on when I preach in France, don’t give me a vyasasana. Give me a regular chair.” Prabhupada was perfectly able to adapt to different situations and knew how to handle difficult situations. From him I learned how to answer quickly and in a way that avoided war but made my point.

Prabhupada allowed all the devotees to develop in Krishna consciousness through their own personalities. Each of us was different; each of us were extraordinary in some way and had strong personalities. We developed as the persons we were. That made each of us happy and, when we were developed according to who we were, using whatever was good or bad in us in service, we were able do a lot. Prabhupada used even the bad in people. As he said, “Those devotees are GBCs because they have big egos.” He was able to take whatever good or bad there was in a person and dovetail it in Krishna consciousness, and the good became better and the bad became good.

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