Srila Prabhupada’s First Visit to New Vrindaban – May, 1969

Srila Prabhupada sitting outside of the original New Vrindaban farmhouse, May 1969

Srila Prabhupada sitting outside of the original New Vrindaban farmhouse, May 1969

Srila Prabhupada’s First Visit to New Vrindaban – May, 1969

Excerpt from “Prabhupada: Your Ever Well Wisher”

Chapter titled: “In Every Town and Village.”

by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami


Accompanied by Kirtanananda Swami and Hayagriva, Prabhupada traveled to the New Vrindaban farm project in the hills of West Virginia. When their car got stuck in a neighbor’s garden near the entrance to the property, Prabhupada decided to walk the final two miles along the muddy access road that led to the farm. The road soon ended, however, and Prabhupada and his two guides picked a footpath, entering the dense forest.

The mid-May trees were still coming into foliage, and the sunlight broke through the branches to a carpet of brilliant purple phlox. Prabhupada walked quickly ahead of Kirtanananda Swami and Hayagriva, who hurried to keep up. A winding creek repeatedly crossed the path, and Prabhupada would cross by stepping from stone to stone. The road, he said, would not be difficult to travel by oxcart; the forest was like a jungle, just as he had expected and wanted.

For the past year, Prabhupada had corresponded with Kirtanananda Swami and Hayagriva concerning New Vrindaban, and this correspondence had established the direction for Krsna conscious country living. Prabhupada had said he wanted the community based on Vedic ideals, everyone living simply, keeping cows, and working the land. The devotees would have to develop these ideas gradually; it would take time. But even in the beginning the keynote should be “simple living and high thinking.” Because the community would remain completely aloof from the city it would at first appear inconvenient and austere. But life would be peaceful, free from the anxieties of the artificial urban society based on hard work for sense gratification. And most important, the members of such a community would be serving Krsna and chanting His name.

Prabhupada spoke little, making his way along the path as if at his own home. They stopped beside the creek, and Prabhupada sat down on a blanket Kirtanananda Swami and Hayagriva spread for him on the grass. “We are stopping for Kirtanananda,” Prabhupada said. “He is tired.” Prabhupada and his party drank water from the creek, rested briefly and then continued.

As they rounded a curve in the road, Prabhupada could see a clearing on the ridge ahead. A small frame house and a barn stood at the lower end of the ridge. These two ancient structures, Hayagriva explained, were the only buildings on New Vrindaban’s 120 acres. As no vehicles traveled here, the paths were overrun with high grass. A willow spread its branches close by the old house. The settlement was the picture of undisturbed primitive life.

Prabhupada like the simple life at New Vrindaban, and whatever simple thing the devotees offered him he accepted with satisfaction. They served him freshly-ground-wheat cereal cooked in milk, and he said it was wonderful. When he saw the kitchen’s dirt floor covered with cow dung, he approved, saying it was just like an Indian village.

Prabhupada also liked his room in the attic, directly above the temple room. He brought out the small Radha-Krsna Deities he had been traveling with for the last month and a half and had his servant, Devananda, improvise an altar on a small table to one side of the room. Arranging his two trunks as a desk and placing a picture of his spiritual master on one of the trunks, Prabhupada immediately resumed his usual schedule.

He would take his late-morning massage sitting outside and then bathe with warm water in an improvised outdoor shower stall. Kirtanananda Swami prepared Prabhupada’s usual lunch of dal, rice and capatis – plus some local pokeweed. The previous summer, Kirtanananda Swami and Hayagriva had picked and canned blackberries, which they now served Prabhupada as blackberry chutney. The capatis were from freshly milled whole wheat, and everything was cooked over a wood fire. The best fuel for cooking, Prabhupada said, was cow dung; wood was second, gas third, and electricity last.

Prabhupada spent much of the day out of doors, under a persimmon tree about a hundred feet from the house. There he would sit and read at a low table one of the men had built. Often he would look up from his reading and gaze across the deep valley to the distant ridge, where the forest met the sky.

In the late afternoon, devotees would gather under the persimmon tree with Prabhupada, sitting and talking with him until after sunset. They saw Prabhupada’s living with them as a practical demonstration of New Vrindaban’s importance; if he, the greatest devotee, could be satisfied living simply and chanting Hare Krsna in this backwoods setting, then they should follow his example.

Comparing New Vrindaban to the Vrindavana in India, Prabhupada said that New Vrindaban was in some ways better, since Vrindavana, India, was now congested with worldly men. Five hundred years ago the Gosvami followers of Lord Caitanya had excavated the sites of Krsna’s pastimes in Vrindavana, and only pure devotees lived there. But in recent years Vrindavana had become a place for materialists and impersonalists. New Vrindaban, however, should admit only the spiritually inclined. In Vedic society, Prabhupada said, everyone had been satisfied to live like this, in a small village beside a river. Factories were unnecessary. Prabhupada wanted this Vedic way of life for the entire world, and New Vrindaban could serve as a model for the benefit of the masses.

New Vrindaban had no phone, and mail had to be fetched by a two-mile walk. In this, Prabhupada said, New Vrindaban was like Vrindavana, India – both Vrindavanas lacked in modern amenities. This “difficulty,” however, coupled well with the Vaisnava philosophy that modern amenities were not worth the trouble required to get them. A devotee, accepting whatever nature provided, spends his time and energy in spiritual life.

New Vrindaban’s only cow was a black-and-white crossbreed named Kaliya, and Prabhupada would drink a little of her milk morning, noon, and night. “I haven’t tasted milk like this in sixty-five years,” he said. One day, he predicted, New Vrindaban would have many cows, and their udders would be so full that the dripping milk would muddy the pastures. Although people in the West were blind to their great sin of cow slaughter and its grievous karmic reactions, he said, New Vrindaban would demonstrate to the world the social, moral, and economic advantages of protecting the cow and utilizing her milk rather than killing her and eating her flesh.

Prabhupada wanted the New Vrindaban devotees to build cottages. He wanted many buildings, even if at first they were primitive, and he gave a plan for a simple structure of baked mud. He also wanted a Krsna Conscious school, and the country, he said, would be the best place for it. “The city is made by man, and the country is made by God,” Prabhupada said, paraphrasing the British poet Cowper. The young students should learn reading, writing and arithmetic, and at the same time they should become pure devotees. In their play they could imitate the pastimes of Krsna and His cowherd boyfriends, with one child massaging Krsna, another wrestling with Krsna – just as in the spiritual world. The women in New Vrindaban, Prabhupada said, should care for the children, clean the temple, cook for the Deities, and churn butter.

He had many plans for New Vrindaban, and he was giving only idea seeds, with a few details. “You develop it to your heart’s content,” he told Kirtanananda Swami. An Ideal Vedic community with the members producing all their own food and necessities was what Prabhupada wanted. Unless the devotees at New Vrindaban could become self-sufficient, he said, there was no use their occupying such a big piece of land.

Even before Prabhupada’s visit to New Vrindaban, he had requested Kirtanananda Swami and Hayagriva to plan for seven temples on their property. These seven temples should be names after the major temples of old Vrindavana: Madana-mohana, Govindaji, Gopinatha, Radha-Damodara, Radha-ramana, Syamasundara, and Radha-Gokulananda.  Prabhupada said he would personally secure Radha-Krsna Deities for each temple.

It was inevitable that Prabhupada leave New Vrindaban; letters from London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco compelled him to travel. On the day of his departure, the New Vrindaban devotees teased him, saying he couldn’t go. Kirtanananda Swami went so far as to say they would block his way on the road. But Prabhupada corrected him, “You can’t do that to the spiritual master.”

Accompanied by Kirtanananda Swami and the New Vrindaban devotees, Prabhupada walked along the forest path. The New Vrindaban countryside was verdant, the summer air hot and moist. Prabhupada was silent. He had come to encourage his disciples, and he himself had also become encouraged. Here was simple village life as Krsna Himself had lived it, depending on the land and the cow. So far only a few devotees were here, but by Krsna’s grace more would come.

Prabhupada and Kirtanananda Swami walked together along the forest path, saying little, but their mutual understanding was deep. Prabhupada hadn’t given him many specific instructions; a few words while sitting or walking together outdoors, a gesture, a facial expression of pleasure or concern. Kirtanananda Swami could understand however, that New Vrindaban was very dear to his spiritual master and should become dear to him also. Prabhupada assured him that because the devotees of New Vrindaban were centered on chanting Hare Krsna, serving the Deities, and protecting the cows, Krsna would bless them with success. The community was already successful, and Krsna would continue to protect the devotees against all impediments and difficulties.

At the end of the two-mile walk, Prabhupada, surrounded by his followers, stood beside the car that was to take him to the airport in Pittsburgh, from where he would fly to Los Angeles. His suitcases, which had come out on a horse-drawn cart, were loaded into the car’s luggage compartment, and Prabhupada got in the back seat. Amid the cries of “Hare Krsna!” and “Prabhupada!” the car pulled out onto the country highway, and Prabhupada continued chanting Hare Krsna on his beads.


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