Srila Prabhupada remained in Vrndavana, but soon fell sick. August and September 1974 became a period of serious illness for Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada's ill-health had persisted for some time now -- an imbalance of pitta and vayu (bile and air), he said. Although devotees did not see Prabhupada's illness in a material way, it nevertheless caused them anxiety. Over the years, he had gone through various health crises: the debilitating stroke of 1967 had only temporarily curtailed his active preaching, and he had used it as an opportunity to return to India and contemplate the large-scale world preaching that was to epitomise ISKCON in the late '60s and early '70s. His illness of 1973 in Sydney, manifesting as a painful infection in his finger, had been specifically caused, he had said, by the recalcitrant behaviour of wayward disciples.
Now in Vrndavana, this period of particularly serious illness once again moved Srila Prabhupada to intimate to his senior men that this was again due to "the sins of his leaders". Srila Prabhupada had explained that at the time of initiation, Krsna absolves the initiate of all karmic reactions due to past sinful acts. The spiritual master, however, as the representative of Krsna, also shares in removing the disciple's karma, and thus partially suffers the reactions for a disciple's sins, sometimes becoming ill. The disciples knew they had to strictly follow his orders if they actually cared for his health. Of course, Prabhupada's preaching spirit could not be dampened and he would go on taking risks -- accepting more disciples, travelling widely despite his advanced years, and vigorously preaching wherever he went. But this crisis reminded his disciples that they had to avoid acting in ways that would disturb his health.
Despite the fact that Prabhupada himself did not dwell on the subject, he authorised a letter to be sent to all temples informing them to perform 24-hour kirtana to pray for his recovery. "Kirtana," Prabhupada had said, "is what actually gives us life". And so for the latter half of August 1974, devotees in the Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Auckland temples performed prayerful kirtana vigils throughout the day and night.
The mood was sombre and intense. Some devotees wondered if they would ever see Srila Prabhupada again. After two full weeks, news came that the immediate crisis was over. Prabhupada's fever had broken, and his health was improving. The emergency kirtanas could now stop, and work could proceed as usual.
- From "The Great Transcendental Adventure" by HG Kurma Prabhu