At the age of 70+, Srila Prabhupada traveled fourteen times around the world and planted seeds of devotion to Sri Krishna wherever he went. It's described in Shastra that wherever a pure devotee places his Lotus Feet, that place turns into a place of pilgrimage (1).
Last weekend we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s first visit to Switzerland (2). Srila Prabhupada arrived at Zurich Airport on Sunday, April 1, 1973. From there, his disciples brought him to St.Moritz, a famous health resort in the Swiss mountains. Srila Prabhupada spent one day there and returned on April 3rd to Zurich. He spent two nights here before taking a flight to New York on April 5th.
It's hard to understand how fortunate we are, that Srila Prabhupada actually came here and blessed our country with his divine presence. To celebrate this anniversary, we invited Srutakirti Prabhu, who came together with his wife Vishaka Devi Dasi, all the way from Vrindavana. Srutakirti was accompanying Srila Prabhupada fifty years ago as his personal servant to Switzerland. It was a unique experience to visit the places of Srila Prabhupada's pastimes together with him.
We started our parikrama on Friday evening with a visit to the Zurich train station, the Swiss Credit Bank and the Hotel Sonnenberg. Damodar Prasad Prabhu, the TP of ISKCON Zurich, welcomed the forty devotees that gathered and gave some background information. We then read from Shyamasundar Prabhu’s Book „Chasing Rhinos with the Swami - Vol. 3“ and heard memories from Sruktakirti Prabhu. From there we did a Harinama on the way to our next Tirtha, the Swiss Credit Bank.
Why to the Swiss Credit Bank? And why did Srila Prabhupada come to Switzerland? There were two main reasons for Prabhupada's visit and Shyamasundar was the cause for both of them. Shyamasundar repeatedly suggested that Srila Prabhupada visit the Swiss Alps as this would be good for his health. And it was Shyamasundar who had taken money from London and was in Zurich speculating on gold. Srila Prabhupada wanted to find out what was going on and therefore made arrangements for a flight from Mumbai to Zurich.
As the Swiss Credit Bank was on the way to the hotel, Srila Prabhupada wanted to visit the bank and find out more about Shyamasundar’s Gold speculation. Shyamasundar describes in his book about this visit: „We were a strange-looking lot as we entered the lobby and sat down in a row of chairs. Is that a swami? From India? Those four young men, they must be his disciples? People tried not to stare, but you could see even the cosmopolitan Swiss were blown away by the sight of us. We watched the red-on-black digital display roll by high on the wall. “These are stock prices, Srila Prabhupada. The plus or minus after each price indicates the current increase or decrease. Ah, now we’re coming to the commodities. You see? Metals ...” Prabhupada saw it first: “Gold, $89.70 it has increased today by forty-five cents.” (3)
Fifty years later, we stood there in front of the bank and remembered this pastime. From there, we took the local tram that brought us up to the hill of Zurich, where Hotel Sonnenberg is located, which is only 800 meters away from our Temple.
When Srila Prabhupada arrived at the Hotel, three of his GBC men were waiting for him; Hamsaduta from Hamburg, Bhagavan from Paris and Bali Madran, who came all the way from New York. They, too, heard about Shyamasundar's gold speculation and did not approve of it. Shamyasundar remembers: „Prabhupada listened to everything they said, seeming to agree with them, then asked me to leave the room. My heart fell, and my chest seized up. (..)I left, but I kept the door ajar a few inches and leaned in close to overhear Prabhupada say, “Yes, this purchasing of gold for speculation is a gambling business. You should not do it. You cannot do it. (long pause) But Shyamasundar, he knows the art, he may do it.” Thanks, Prabhupada! My heart swelled with love for my pirate chief, defending me in this way. Heat pounding, I feigned no emotion as the men slowly filed out, casting befuddled glances as I studied my fingernails. After they’d left for their rooms, I crept back into Prabhupada’s room and sat down with one eyebrow raised. “So?” He said, “Tomorrow we must sell the gold. They are objecting. Apart from that, price seems to be staying the same.”
The next day, Srila Prabhupada and Shamyasundar returned to the bank, sold the gold and opened an account. Shamyasundar: „I never knew what happened to that $26K. Prabhupada probably used it to print books or put it toward a new ISKCON center somewhere. His new Swiss Credit Bank checkbook disappeared into his little white case, but often, years later, he would pull it out and show it, saying, “I have got my Switzerland bank account.” (4)
But what about St.Moritz? There was a plan for Srila Prabhupada to stay for ten days. Why did he leave after only two nights? On Saturday morning, we traveled all the way from Zurich to St. Moritz to visit the place where Srila Prabhupada stayed and to hear about this pastime. From the train station, we did a Harinam walking along the lake of St.Moritz. From far we could already see the Skyline House in which Shyamasundar had booked an apartment for Srila Prabhupada.
Arriving in front of the building, we had some katha. This time Srukakirti reads from his own book „What’s the Difficulty?“: „Oooohhh, this is much too cold!“ Srila Prabhupada exclaimed with his eyes opened wide. „We will walk in the hallway inside the building, “ he said. A little arctic blast was not going to interfere with Srila Prabhupada's morning walks. So His Divine Grace, Pradyumna and I headed for the hallway. This, however, presented a different set of problems. The resort was designed to operate with little energy waste. When the hall sensor detected someone's presence, the lights would turn on for a set amount of time and 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...“ (5)
After the katha we had a picnic at the lake and Srutakirti Prabhu prepared the same halva that he cooked fifty years ago for Srila Prabhupada, who had told him: „The cold weather has given me an appetite; you can go and make some halva.“ The devotees who joined us for this day trip were in bliss; here we are, in the same place, relishing the same halva cooked by the same personal servant of Srila Prabhupada.
This concluded the second day and we drove back to Zurich. While appreciating the beauty of my country, I also remembered Srila Prabhupada's words to his disciples, who were fascinated by the natural beauty of this place. „You might call this place St. Moritz; I call it St.Hellish. There is only snow here, no life!“
On Sunday, Srutakirti Prabhu gave three wonderful lectures, one in the morning, one at noon and one in the later afternoon, speaking about Srila Prabhupada's transcendental character and life. Hearing these descriptions, told with so much love for his eternal master, we all felt extremely blissful. It's obvious that Srutakirti Prabhu has been specially blessed to help devotees come closer to Srila Prabhupada. At 6 pm, after a delicious feast, we gathered again and watched a video recording of H.G. Shyamasundar Prabhu sharing his memories of Prabhupada's visit to Switzerland. Shyamsundra Prabhu's enthusiasm to share his memories and his love for Prabhupada, expressed in his talk, was also heart-touching. After the Sandhya Arati we offered Srila Prabhupada Guru Puja and concluded our festival with Pushpanjali.
Personally, I felt that his three-day mediation on Srila Prabhupada's visit to Switzerland was extremely powerful. It made me reflect on my good fortune. To witness the love of Srila Prabhupada's disciples and to see how they have dedicated their lives in Srila Prabhupada's service has been very uplifting. How fortunate we are that we, the second generation of devotees, get a chance to still associate with those who directly interacted with His Divine Grace! And how wonderful it is that although many of us have never met Srila Prabhupada personally, we can still associate with him through his vani and through the association with his disciples! And how wonderful it is to know that Srila Prabhupada visited us here in Zurich. In fact, Zurich has become a Vaishnava Tirtha! Srila Prabhupada ki Jaya!
1 - Srimad Bhagavatam 1.13.10 2 - Srila Prabhupada visited Switzerland a second time in the year 1974 and spend ten days in Geneva 3 - From „Chasing Rhinos with the Swami - Vol. 3“ by Shyamasundar Dasa, page 210 4 - From „Chasing Rhinos with the Swami - Vol. 3“ by Shyamasundar Dasa, page 211-212 5 - From „What’s the Difficulty?“ by Srutakirti Dasa, page 95-96