More Reflections On Kushakrata Prabhu
Posted November 16, 2005
We first met as brahmacaries, at New York’s Henry St. temple in 1971. Kushakrata remained a brahmacari for the rest of his life, while I’ve already been in three ashrams. After NY, we met again in Los Angeles in the mid to late ‘70s where he began his “career” as a Sanskrit scholar. I don’t know the details of how he started to translate, but one of Kushakrata’s most amazing qualities was how prolific he was. When I asked him much later, how many books he had translated he replied: “about 500 vaisnava texts.” He published several hundred books, under the aegis of The Krsna Institute. Many important texts are still in manuscript form. He told me he had been cheated by the person distributing his books, and was no longer getting any royalties so it was impossible to continue publishing. His latest work, started when he was living (and dying) in Vrindavan dham, was original English poetry, in sonnet form, of the pastimes of Radha and Krishna in Vrindavan. The last time we met, just a month before he died, he told me he had written something like 30,000 poems. These are all hand written and unpublished. He would often stay up throughout the night writing.
We were never close friends, but when we both turned up in Vrindavan, in late 2000, I made it a point to greet him whenever I saw him. It was clear to me that he was not experienced in living in India, so I offered him any help I could. Once, he needed to return to the US to get a new visa. He didn’t know any travel agents and was in anxiety about planning his trip. He wanted to return to Vrindavan as soon as possible. I introduced him to the best travel agent I knew in Mathura, who organized his ticket. Kusha also somehow arranged to stay at the Iskcon temple in Brooklyn while in NY. Everything was set for the trip and he left. The next week I saw him back in Vrindavan. I wondered if there had been a problem. No, he said, everything went perfectly. He landed in NY, got his visa at the consulate, spent a few nights at the Brooklyn temple and returned to India. The whole trip took 4 or 5 days, including his flights.
After renting an apartment at the MVT, Kusha moved, due to his finances, to a cheaper room downtown, across from the Radha Raman mandir. He would daily take a ricksaw from town to Raman Reti to have darshan of Sri Sri Krishna Balaram and Radha Shyamasundar. He would also purchase maha prasad. A large plate of the lunch offering would last him for 2 days.
Once in March, when it was already 32 degrees centigrade outside (90 F), I saw him walking around in a winter coat. I asked him why he was wearing such a heavy coat in the heat. “Oh, it’s time for Holi,” he said. “It’s my protective suit.” In Vrindavan, Holi lasts for a week, and the chemical dyes that people throw at you are intense. I usually stayed indoors for the week, but Kusha had his own strategy: a winter coat with a hood.
Kusha was usually cheerful, not in a showy way, but with a quirky kind of detached lightness. After he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his throat, he decided not to treat it. If it goes away by itself, fine, he told me. Otherwise, he would die in Vridnavan. No loss either way. He smiled. The only attachment that I could see in him was his desire to remain in the dham. He was determined to stay in Vrindavan regardless of circumstances. As the cancer progressed, his throat became enlarged to 3 times its normal size and his voice became thin and high pitched. Still, he continued to write his poetry and live on his own until the very last days. I was no longer staying in Vrindavan then, but during a visit to the dham this summer, just after Janmastami, we met at the MVT for the last time. He was bedridden, practically a skin and bones skeleton, with a beard and unshaved head. What impressed me was his clarity and his beautiful eyes which reflected a peaceful and fearless consciousness. He told me that he asked the doctor how long he had to live, and the doctor said three to six months. Kusha relayed this information in a clinical way, smiling. We talked more about his poetry which, he said, was getting more difficult to write because of his condition. When it was time to say goodbye, I held his hands in mine. I told him if he needed anything we could arrange it through the devotees at MVT. He thanked me. I asked him to give me his blessings. He did.
A month later I was in Holland and I read on the internet that Kushakrata had left his body on 7th October in Vrindavan, surrounded by devotees. I was happy for him. He was liberated from the disease and if any of us are going to be liberated from the material world in this life, Kushakrata was the most qualified among us. Learned, modest, detached and eccentric, without any hype or duplicity, with a prolific ability to serve Krishna in his own unique way and a firm determination to reside in Vrindavan dham, he was an inspiration and an exemplary vaisnava. He didn’t carve a big profile or make a show of his bhakti and his jnana. He didn’t attract followers. He remained simple, absorbed in Krishna consciousness. I am grateful for knowing him, and for the small interactions that we had. For him I would like to make a nice samadhi in my mind, so I can remember him and offer him the dandavats he is due.