April 2-4, 1973, Zurich, Switzerland
While in Bombay, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada showed him a postcard of Saint Moritz with its colorful wildflowers and rolling green meadows. It looked heavenly. He suggested to Srila Prabhupada that since the flight to the USA was so long it would be a great place to stop and rest for a few days. Prabhupada had been traveling quite briskly, spending no more than six or seven days in each location. Stopping in Saint Moritz appeared to be a great idea.
The journey from the airport in Mumbai to Zurich was indeed much shorter than a non-stop to New York. After arriving at the Zurich Airport, Srila Prabhupada, a young brahmacari named Jai Hari, and I boarded a luxury train headed for San Moritz. The train ride through the Alps was magnificent. There was a glaring difference, though, between the Alps we were experiencing and the picture on that postcard. It was freezing and snow was everywhere. It was not the springlike weather we expected.
Following the contour of the snow-covered mountains, the train circled continuously in different directions. The awe-inspiring scenery had the full attention of Jai Hari and me. Srila Prabhupada quietly chanted as Jai Hari and I pointed out different scenic views to each other, completely oblivious to the fact that our eternal Spiritual Guide was sitting beside us.
“What do they call this place?” Srila Prabhupada casually asked, breaking our ‘meditation’.
“San Moritz, Srila Prabhupada. Saint Moritz!” I said enthusiastically, delighted with the opportunity to answer such a simple question. “They may call it Saint Moritz,” he responded. “I call it Saint Hellish. This place is hellish. Look out there. There is no life anywhere, simply branches of trees and snow. There is not a living thing for miles.”
With those few words, Srila Prabhupada effectively dismantled our illusion and then turned it into an opportunity to instruct his two fledgling disciples. Jai Hari and I spent the rest of the journey with our heads down, quietly chanting and hearing the transcendental sound vibration of the maha-mantra, just as Srila Prabhupada desired.
When we arrived in Saint Moritz, a first class ski resort, snow lay on the ground as far as the eye could see. The hotel had an attractive central lobby. It was a state-of-the-art building and was designed to be very energy efficient. We took the elevator to our lodging, a spacious three bedroom condominium, complete with a fully equipped kitchen. The large living room area had a sliding glass door leading to a veranda with a fantastic view of the snow-covered mountains. By the standards of many it was breathtaking, but not to Srila Prabhupada.
Prabhupada was very regulated. No matter where we were in the world, his schedule continued like clockwork. That night, we were happy to have our down comforters to keep us warm. It was quite a contrast to the weather we experienced the previous month, in Mumbai.
The next morning, Srila Prabhupada was up very early as usual, and by 6 a.m., he was ready for his morning walk. Fortunately, we were prepared for cold weather and I brought his wool, saffron coat. He put the coat on and drew the hood over his head. It was still somewhat dark out, but we could see that it was snowing. That, however, was not going to deter my Spiritual Master.
“We will go for a walk,” he said confidently. “Shall we see how cold it is?”
We were on the ground floor so the plan was simple. We would slide the door open and commence the brisk walk. I opened the door for His Divine Grace. As soon as it opened a whistling blast of ice cold air filled the entire condominium. It was blizzard-like. No! It was a blizzard.
His eyes opening wide he exclaimed, “Ooohhh, this is much too cold!” Whenever Srila Prabhupada exuded the innocence of a child, my heart melted with joy. While most disciples were fortunate to witness the power of his determination in preaching, I felt fortunate to see his face light up with these endearing expressions.
“We will walk in the hallway, inside the building,” Srila Prabhupada said. A little arctic blast wasn’t going to interfere with his morning walk. His Divine Grace, Pradyumna, who had joined us, and I then headed for the hallway, but this presented a different set of problems. The resort was designed to operate with very little energy waste. When the elevator doors opened the lights in the hallway would turn on for a specific amount of time and then turn off again. As we walked up and down the corridor, we were required to push various buttons along the way to keep the lights from going out. Had we not, we would have been walking in the dark.
After about 15 minutes Pradyumna asked Guru Maharaja if he could go back to the room, as he had a lot of work to do. Srila Prabhupada and I continued to walk up and down the hallway. I went from one wall button to the next, pushing and chanting, pushing and chanting. It was the only way to keep the lights on. This went on for about half an hour.
“The cold weather has given me an appetite,” Prabhupada said with a smile. “You can go and make me some halavah.” “All right, Srila Prabhupada,” I replied. I was concerned who was going to push the buttons and asked, “Do you want me to wait until after your walk or should I go now?” Smiling some more, he responded, “No, I will walk. You can go make the halavah.”
We loved it when Prabhupada had an appetite. A good appetite means good health. It was a joy to cook for him. When I went back to the room, I said to Pradyumna, “Prabhupada is still walking in the hall. Someone needs to go there and push the buttons to keep the lights on for him.” Then, just before heading out into the hallway, we peeked out the door into the hallway. There we saw Srila Prabhupada, casually pacing up and down and chanting, pushing the buttons with his cane, to keep the lights on.
We closed the door and just looked at each other, shaking our heads and feeling blissful. We could understand that while our spiritual master was completely capable himself of providing the light he required for his morning walk in the hallway, he had mercifully engaged us in doing that service for him. We realized that he was not slightly dependent on us for anything, but we were certainly dependent on him. We direly needed him at every moment to keep us out of the darkness of illusion.
To this day, Srila Prabhupada is always ready, in any situation, to turn the lights on for us.