Chakra Discussions

Remembering Jayananda Prabhu

by Ajitananda dasa

Posted May 18, 2007

I first became acquainted with Jayananda in the autumn of 1976, in the old New York Temple, located on West 55th Street in Manhattan. I was delighted to be teamed up with Jayananda to preach in several universities.

From the very beginning of our association I sensed something special about Jayananda, and always felt extremely happy and contented in his company. I certainly considered him to be my spiritual superior, but never felt uncomfortable or intimidated in his presence. He was like a kind elder brother. I could sense that his heart was filled with genuine humility and spiritual affection, and this instantly endeared him to me. Never one to condescend, Jayananda would always take the humble position and solicit my advice on matters which he was obviously competent to deal with himself. That was his considerate nature, always depreciating his own importance, while offering all respect to others.

On our very first engagement, at New York University, Jayananda exhibited his tremendous enthusiasm for preaching Krsna consciousness. It seems that the devotee responsible for publicizing the program had neglected to sufficiently advertise it throughout the student body. As a result, no one came, and we were obliged to pack up and return to the temple about a half-hour after we had arrived. As we were leaving, however, a young student stuck her head into the room and curiously asked us if this was the location of the Krsna yoga feast that she had heard about. When we replied that it was, she immediately expressed her pleasure and an avid interest in learning about Krsna consiousness. Seizing the opportunity to bless this sincere soul with spiritual knowledge, Jayananda asked me to arrange a full plate of prasadam for the girl, and then proceeded to preach to her expertly for the next hour-and-a-half, patiently taking the time to answer all of her questions about Krsna consciousness. By the time Jayananda was finished, the student's face shone with an aura of satisfaction and, as she left, she expressed her heartfelt appreciation for the courtesy that had been extended to her by Jayananda.

After this incident we departed for the subway. Before descending the stairway to the underground station, however, Jayananda suggested that we hold a harinama party on the street and distribute the uneaten feast prasadam to the passersby. Being a bit introverted and self-conscious at the time, I declined the request to pass out plates of prasadam while he chanted. Unlike some, who might have had difficulty tolerating this disobedience, Jayananda did not show the least bit of anger towards me. Rather, being very sensitive to my awkward situation, he just smiled and told me that I could chant harinama while he distributed the remaining prasadam himself. Later on that evening, while recalling the day's events, I was pleasantly struck by how nicely Jayananda had transformed a seemingly hopeless situation into a glorious success. What had possessed all the earmarks of a completely wasted day was converted into a very rewarding preaching event and, from this humble beginning, the college program increased week by week, reaching many thousands of young students throughout the course of the year.

I find it difficult to precisely describe the feeling that Jayananda's presence would invoke in me, as we travelled in our car to and from the universities. The only thing that I can compare it to is the feeling that one may experience upon returning to the west from the holy dhamas, after having spent many days travelling on pilgrimage and bathing in the purifying waters of the sacred rivers. Upon returning from these journeys one sometimes has a sensation of spiritual lightness, a perception of having had the heavy effects of many sinful activities lifted from one's subtle body, and a feeling of closeness to Lord Krsna. When travelling with Jayananda these very tangible effects were always felt by me, and the spiritual dimension of reality seemed very close at hand.

Jayananda never exhibited even a trace of material anger during the time that I knew him and thus, as our relationship developed, my trust grew in him each passing day. The only time I saw him show the faintest glimmer of disapproval was during a preaching engagement in the lower Bronx. During the presentation one student, who had been showing some interest in Krsna consciousness, was simultanaeously maintaining an air of disrespect towards the Vedic tradition and viewpoint, an attitude that was reflected in several semi-derogatory remarks that he had made. Out of curiosity I glanced over to see how Jayananda would respond to the boy's remarks and observed him standing there with a look on his face more hurt than irate, although it was very clear to me that he was not pleased by the boy's prideful demeanor. I realized at the time, that Srila Prabhupada's movement and preaching work were very dear to Jayananda, and that he found it very difficult to tolerate such a show of disrespect. His disapproval, however, was not a manifestation of material anger, arising out of false ego, but bespoke his intense love and appreciation for Srila Prabhupada, to whom he had completely and uncompromisingly dedicated his life.

Later on we drove that same student back to the temple, at his own request, to learn more about the devotional lifestyle. In spite of his rascal tendencies, he had developed an attraction to Jayananda to compliment his partial interest in Krsna consciousness. His problem, however, was his uncontrolled tongue, which seemed incapable of uttering anything but complete nonsense and, in an effort to stymie his destructive habit, Jayananda requested me to read to him continually from Srila Prabhupada's books as we travelled in the car. Every time I paused to take a breath or clear my throat, Jayananda would immediately ask me to continue reading before the boy had a chance to begin babbling. In this way he not only introduced the student to Krsna consciousness, but also kept the atmosphere in the car free from the polluting influence of his mundane sound vibrations. We soon arrived at the temple, and the boy was mercifully engaged by Jayananda in practical devotional service.

One day Jayananda confided in me that he had recently developed a strain of cancer which was having a debilitating effect upon his physical health. I was surprised to hear this, as he had never shown any apparent signs of illness. He explained to me that he had first noticed the affliction during the construction of Lord Jagannatha's carts for the 1976 New York Rathayatra Festival. At that time he began to observe the formation of "these funny bumps" all over his body, the nature of which he had no knowledge, and although they presented him with some cause for concern, his main concern was to get the carts built and successfully put on the Rathayatra Festival for the pleasure of the Lord. In his characteristically unpretentious manner, Jayananda told me that he had decided to ignore the "bumps" and remain fixed in his service to Lord Jagannatha. Hearing this, I began to understand for the first time something of Jayananda's exalted position, and felt very small and unworthy in his presence. I tried to place myself in his situation and imagined how frightened I would have become if the circumstances would have befallen me. I most certainly would have rushed off at once to see a doctor, forsaking all of my devotional responsibilities. Thinking in this way, I saw my illusions of being a staunch devotee blown away by the soft winds of Jayananda's humility and surrender.

Jayananda's response to his apparent misfortune reminds me now of the Bhagavad-gita verse in which Lord Krsna declares: "O best among men (Arjuna), the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation." ( B.G. 2.15) Despite uncongenial circumstances, Jayananda remained completely cheerful at all times, absorbing himself cent-per-cent in the service of Lord Jagannatha and inspiring hundreds of healthy young devotees to enthusiastically engage in the service of the Rathayatra Festival. Always remaining humbler than a blade of grass, Jayananda was a constant source of happiness and inspiration for everyone and was the object of deep love for Srila Prabhupada, who considered Jayananda to be the ideal disciple.

Jayananda's exceeding humility was beautifully demonstrated in an episode which occurred shortly after he took leave of the college preaching program, a turn of events brought on by his deteriorating physical condition. One evening he was sitting in his wheelchair on the basement floor of the temple building, waiting for the elevator. When the elevator arrived it was filled to the brim with devotees. Although common courtesy should have impelled a few devotees to step off and make room for Jayananda, no one thought to extend him this favor and he was left to sit there as the elevator door closed. Upon seeing this, Jayananda meekly bowed his head and folded his hands respectfully, saying "That's alright, I can wait," and exhibited no discontent over the offense that had been committed against him.

Jayananda's enthusiasm for any kind of devotional service that he was asked to perform was unparalleled among the disciples of Srila Prabhupada with whom I have served. After leaving the college program, he was requested to assume the responsibility of managing and developing the temple's "Govinda Store." One would never have guessed that his body was a reservoir of pain and disease, as he cheerfully dashed here and there, transforming the store, which had previously been an embarrassing failure, into a shining success. Despite his failing health and the fact that he was instructed to conduct the store business from the third floor, an area of the temple building inconveniently located outside of the mainstream of daily visiting traffic, Jayananda never once uttered a complaint and did the best he could, perfectly following Srila Prabhupada's advice to make the best use of a bad bargain. His labor of love was so surcharged with pure desire and devotional zeal that the "Govinda Store" soon sparkled with a perceptible spiritual brilliance, attracting the temple guests and devotees as if by magic, from wherever they were located within the building. During the short time that Jayananda managed the store, it emerged as a financial and inspirational success and, having been blessed by his touch, eventually blossomed into a magnificently designed creation in the style of Vedic architecture.

Jayananda also lent his energy to the "festival truck" program, which was a source of great delight, not only to the devotees who took part in it, but to all of the New Yorkers who cheered it on every day as it paraded through the city streets, benedicting everyone in sight with free prasadam and the holy name. During one class given in the temple, Jayananda raised his hand to comment on the "festival truck" program. As he described the glories of this type of preaching in all of its lucid and colorful details, his words swelled with tremendous enthusiasm, and by the time he was finished there was not one devotee present who harbored the slightest doubt that this program was of the utmost importance and should be carried on nicely at all costs.

During Jayananda's final days with us he never once complained about his lot, only joking now and then about feeling "a little wiped out," as he dragged his weary body to as many temple functions as possible. Sometimes I would observe him sitting before Lord Jagannatha in the temple room for hours, meditating on the form of the Lord and chanting softly with tears in his eyes. Sometimes he would request me to come into his room in the evening and read to him or play him a tape of Srila Prabhupada narrating the Krsna Book. As Jayananda listened to this tape his saintly face brightened and he laughed with great delight, describing to me the great pleasure he felt from hearing Srila Prabhupada narrate Lord Krsna's pastimes in such a sweet and personal manner.

Jayananda's last days were spent in New Dwaraka, where he resided happily among the devotees and, in a final gesture of selflessness and surrender, offered to Srila Prabhupada the $5,000 that had been set aside for his medical treatments. On the morning of his disappearance from this world, Jayananda was lying in bed in his room, surrounded by a few of his close godbrothers. Mangal arotika was about to begin in the temple across the street, and the sound of the conch could be heard in his room. Jayananda, being too weak to move about, simply focused on the sound of Srila Prabhupada's chanting, coming from a tape player positioned near his pillow. As the arotika ceremony began, Lord Jagannatha's garland was brought over from the pujari room and gently placed around Jayananda's neck in a gesture of loving reciprocation for the kindness and friendship he had so freely given of himself throughout his life. At that moment, Jayananda moved his ear up closer to the sound of Srila Prabhupada's chanting, left his body in full glory and joined his beloved Lord in the spiritual world