“When Prabhupada heard the favorable prospects of preaching in Boston, he said some devotees should go there. Because I had a job and we knew of no other way to support a temple, I was asked to go. I said to Raya Rama, ‘What am I going to do when I go there? Am I just going to say, “Well, here I am!” I’m not a pure devotee. What will I do?’ I knew I wasn’t a prepared preacher; I was a new devotee.... Was I supposed to organize a mission for an entire city just as Prabhupada did when he came to New York? I was unsure whether I could do anything.
“One day while Prabhupada was still in New York I traveled by bus to Boston to see if I could get a job there. I went to the Welfare Office in Boston and applied for a job on the basis that I’d worked several years for the Welfare Department in New York City. I had in my record a letter from the Commissioner of Welfare of New York City commending me for my uninterrupted work during the recent strike. Boston is a smaller city than New York. It is in New York’s shadow. The employers at the Welfare Office in Boston were impressed that I was coming from the big city. They asked me, ‘Why are you coming to Boston?’
“I said, ‘It’s too dirty in New York City; I don’t like it there. I just want to come to Boston.’ To my surprise, I was promised a job that very day. They said I could begin in August.
“When the job interview was finished, I still had some time before I had to catch the bus back to New York. I thought that when I did open a center in Boston it would not be in the city but in Cambridge, where Harvard and M.I.T. are. I took a bus to Harvard Square. It was the first time I had been there, and I saw intense activity—Hell’s Angels with their motorbikes, hippies and students browsing through many shops. I discovered that Harvard Square was one of the hardest places in the country to acquire real estate. Nevertheless, I walked around the campus, saw the exciting young people and thought, ‘I have to get a place here.’
“I took a bus back to New York City and then a taxi to the Lower East Side. I ran upstairs to see Prabhupada in the apartment. ‘I got the job,’ I boasted to Prabhupada, and I proudly told him that it was unusual for someone to get a promise of a job in one day—yet I had done it. Prabhupada reminded me, ‘By Krishna’s grace,’ and I immediately felt humbled. I had been boasting as if I had received the job on my own power, but Prabhupada pointed out that it was only by Krishna’s grace.
“Sometimes when I was supposed to be seeing clients (which was part of my welfare work) I would come by the temple and type some of the tapes Prabhupada had dictated. One time while bringing the tape recorder back into his room after finishing with it, he asked whether I was working. I was dressed in a shirt and tie and I explained to him that I was taking time off from work to type. I said I was like Sanatana because I was engaged in devotional service when I was supposed to be at my government work. I was making a little pun about Sanatana, about whom Prabhupada was telling us in The Teachings of Lord Caitanya. ‘But,’ Srila Prabhupada smiled broadly and said, ‘You are sanatana.’
“I remember one time I accompanied Srila Prabhupada with Raya Rama to a lawyer’s office on Chambers street. We took a taxi. Raya Rama was the main spokesman, but I also went along because Raya Rama had some business afterwards and I would have to return to the temple with Prabhupada. I remember sitting in the office with Srila Prabhupada, and he reached over and took a big bookend modeled after the stern of a ship. He twirled the propeller playfully. Upon seeing a woman typing in the office he said humorously, ‘So this is women’s liberation? That she is typing?’ Then we went in to see the lawyer and he discussed Prabhupada’s immigration case with us. Later Prabhupada commented that the lawyer was simply taking his money on the pretense of getting him residency status, but all he got us was months of delays.
“After finishing our business with the lawyer, I accompanied Srila Prabhupada back to the storefront. I suggested we take a taxi but he said no. What was the use of spending so much money? We would take a bus. I did not know exactly where the bus stop was but he did, so it was he who began leading me. I also tried to take care of him as we crossed a large street. I looked both ways for traffic. I commented to him that New York City resembled a jungle, but I said there were no snakes in this jungle. ‘What about Mr. Payne?’ Prabhupada asked. Then we took the bus, which went up to Second Avenue. When I thought we were near our neighborhood I said I would ring the buzzer, but Prabhupada said, ‘No, it is one more stop.’ He also pointed out to me where he had previously stayed and some other places with which he was familiar as we passed the Bowery. I felt happy to be with him so intimately.
“When we were walking the few blocks back to the storefront, I impulsively asked him why a bogus organization like the Ramakrishna mission, although not genuine, was able to establish so many branches around the world, whereas we were not able to? Prabhupada made no response. I was stunned that he didn’t reply to my question at all and I suddenly felt I had committed a wrong by speaking completely out of turn with a too-familiar attitude.
“As we walked the last block to the storefront I was suffering mentally because of the mistake of what I had said, and when we reached the storefront Prabhupada just went upstairs without saying anything and I went into the front part of the temple. Perhaps Prabhupada was not really displeased, and he said nothing about the matter again. Maybe I just misunderstood the whole thing. But a disciple cannot demand that his spiritual master explain everything in a disciple’s own terms. The servant should simply serve.
“After staying a month and a half in New York City, Prabhupada suddenly had a paralyzing stroke. I elaborately describe the incident of his hospitalization and recovering in Only He Could Lead Them. I have also described there how I took part in massaging Prabhupada and standing watch in the hospital room with others. These were chances for some intimate moments with Srila Prabhupada. One day Prabhupada took the vegetarian food the hospital gave him and mixed it with the prasadam we brought from the temple. Before he ate he gave each of the devotees in the room a handful of prasadam and he did not leave much for himself.
“From the hospital, Prabhupada went to New Jersey to rest and recuperate.
“Prabhupada would sit on his bed in the little house we had rented in New Jersey while his servant Gaurasundara massaged him. One day during his massage, Prabhupada gave an example: ‘How can you say the universe has no God? The universe is like a man. The man may go to the doctor and the doctor may examine him and find so many symptoms of life, like the man’s pulse, but if the doctor says in conclusion, “You are dead,” he has certainly made a crazy analysis.’
“There’s a photo of Prabhupada that was taken in a simple studio. It shows him without a shirt, his brahmana thread over his chest and nice tilaka marks. He appears to have an unhappy expression, at least superficially. During his stay in New Jersey, one of the devotees asked Prabhupada why he hadn’t looked happy when this picture was taken. Prabhupada said, ‘This is ecstasy.’
“Prabhupada tried to recuperate in New Jersey, but he couldn’t. He returned to San Francisco. A few weeks later he was back in New York, but this time he was on his way to India. He felt that was the only way he could recover his health.
“I felt insecure about Prabhupada’s leaving for India. One day while Prabhupada was upstairs in his apartment, I sat in the temple room and thought, ‘What if he goes, I’ll be like Arjuna describes himself in the Bhagavad-gita—a riven cloud. Will I be strong enough to continue in Krishna consciousness if he doesn’t come back?’ Srila Prabhupada preached to us, however, that we should continue, and I knew I had full engagement in which to absorb myself, Krishna would protect me.
“During the few days he remained in New York City I took my leave of him to preach in Boston. He told me I should hold public kirtana there. He said that kirtana was like a big cannon and if it sounded loudly, maya would be defeated.
“After Prabhupada wished me well preaching in Boston, I made my obeisances before him. While my head was bowed to the floor Prabhupada reached over and rubbed his hand several times up and down my back and neck. I could hardly believe my good fortune in receiving his transcendental touch. For months after, when I went through many different adventures in Boston, I repeatedly remembered the benediction of his hand on my head and back and was convinced that by this touch I had received sufficient blessings to conduct all of my activities to establish the beginnings of Krishna consciousness in Boston.
“In August I actually moved to Boston. I traveled alone with my Navy duffel bag. I didn’t know where to stay the first night, so I looked in the newspaper at ads for renting apartments. I was able to get one furnished room in a house in Central Square, which is not as wonderful as Harvard, but between Harvard University and M.I.T. It was just a place to stay while I worked at the Welfare Office and started a temple. I chanted on beads, prepared simple prasadam, and went to work. It was rather lonely living without devotees. Sometimes I would talk to them on the phone. Soon after I moved to Boston, I received a letter from Prabhupada.”