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The Beautiful Life of Jayananda Thakur

Jayananda Serves the Holy Name

Chapter 4

One who daily sings the glories of Yashoda's son,
Krishna, which are cooling as sandalwood and camphor,
is not troubled by the days of Kali-yuga.
For him at every step there is a
torrential flood of the sweetest nectar.
(Sri Kavi-ratna in Sri Padyavali by Srila Rupa Goswami)

What is the powerful proof that Krishna is God? It's hari-namasankirtan. Who among us have not experienced the divine presence during a great kirtan? Think of some really great kirtans and how we all came into direct contact with the divine internal energy. God's song is the only song that has been giving divine bliss to millions of people for thousands of years. No other song can claim this. Not the Beatles or anyone else, not one of their songs can enthrall the multitudes of humanity, time after time, for hundreds and thousands of years. Their song will get hackneyed. Hari-nama, or the chanting of the Holy Names of God, specifically –

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare,

– is always ever fresh. Kirtan alone does that, and the Holy Name does it at any given time. One simply has to go to a Hare Krishna temple and see for himself, it's happening every Sunday feast. We certainly saw this time after time at the old temple on Valencia Street in San Francisco, with Jayananda Prabhu. In this entry, I will attempt to recount the many divine kirtans that we had with Jayananda, and how he was always absorbed in the service of Sri Nama Prabhu. Jayananda was always saying, “Somehow, you just have to have faith in the Holy Name.” He said this to everybody, at all times – it was his panacea cure for all the pains and problems of this material existence.

Three holy entities

Jayananda had explicit faith in three holy entities: Sri Nama, the words of Srila Prabhupada, and prasadam. This was his means of success in all his activities while giving Krishna Consciousness to others. First of all, he would always be serving prasadam to others, giving the mercy. Sometimes it was to bums on Market Street or the patrons of some bar. He was missing at a certain time every day, and devotees wondered where he was, and someone found him cooking prasad for the poor souls at some bar. They were trying to drown their sorrow in some kind of rotten ale, but somehow they got the mercy. Whenever Jayananda was at the temple, he jumped at every chance to serve out maha-prasadam to the guests. And he would cook breakfast prasad for the sankirtan devotees. The two occasions that I went on incense runs with him, to Salt Lake City and to Redding, California, he would always cook our meals, and it was always nectar prasadam. Or we would stay at devotees' houses here and there, it seemed he always knew somebody in every city, and he would cook for everyone and we'd have a program. In the same way, he was always giving the Holy Name, or chanting the Holy Name, starting a kirtan whenever he could. His impromptu kirtans were real famous, I'll talk about that later.

Jayananda in powerful kirtan

The following is a real memorial kirtan occasion for me, when I was very new at the temple. I did not know the importance of chanting and thought that knowledge was more important. I wanted to know scripture well. I thought that reading Srila Prabhupada's books at every opportunity was the thing. Of course, it is still the thing, but back then I did not know the importance of kirtan. So one Sunday, after the feast, I thought that I was going to go upstairs to the brahmachari ashram and read. I got up there and was reading when the kirtan started down below. I was sitting there trying to concentrate on the book. But the floor started vibrating, and I heard the beginnings of the kirtan, and soon the floor was shaking. The vibration was so powerful, I was looking at the words on the page, but nothing registered. The floor was soon bouncing up and down. The kirtan beckoned me like the sirens in The Iliad; the Holy Name was like a huge magnet and I was iron filings. However important I thought the book was, I had to stop reading and just go, as I was sucked into the whirlpool of the sound of the kirtan and was forced to come running downstairs.
When I got to the scene, it was a wonder. San Francisco was famous for its Sunday feast kirtans. After the feast, there was always a huge kirtan in the hallway. Why the hallway? I suppose there was no time to clear out the temple. But these hallway kirtans were wonders. When I got there, I saw Jayananda in the center, surrounded by 40 or 50 devotees, just going wild. The kartals and drums were like staccato transcendental machine guns annihilating every inch of maya for miles around.
Jayananda was doing this dance, legs back and forth, twirling, going nuts, playing kartals like a madman, and everybody was equally mad, it was really powerful. I never saw such powerful energy, it was Krishna's internal energy. Maybe the sweet-rice had a little something to do with it! Yeah, mix ecstatic prasadam with ecstatic dancing and chanting, and you'll get a crowd of madmen/women there at the Frisco temple, every Sunday. It'll happen every time.

So many pastimes in San Francisco

Frisco was a transcendental chakra. My godbrothers/sisters who served there know what I mean. The whole material world is actually a vast wasteland, if it were not for the Lord's devotees. The soil of America has received the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada and the many Deities he installed here. Also from America's soil came a great saint named Jayananda Thakur. Without such, this land would be one condemned hell-hole. One very holy place is San Francisco, because there is the transcendental abode of New Jagannatha Puri, the temple of Lord Jagannatha. And Frisco is the site of many of the transcendental pastimes and activities of Srila Prabhupada and Jayananda. There are holy spots such as Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park, where Srila Prabhupada took his walk so many mornings. And there is Hippie Hill in the park, where Srila Prabhupada had those big kirtans with all the hippies. And there are meadows in the park, where many transcendental Ratha-yatras took place. There was the Avalon Ballroom, where Srila Prabhupada chanted at the Mantra-Rock Dance with the hippies. And there was Fisherman's Wharf, the site of many hari-namas.

Kirtan at the wharf

Boy, did we have hari-nama at the wharf! We had this wonderful place in Frisco called Fisherman's Wharf, and Jayananda would take us down there to give out the mercy. We would go double file down the sidewalks, and I remember how Jayananda would be in the front, and he'd turn around, facing us, and doing this nice dance backwards while beating the mridanga. It was neat to see him do this backward dance. The people were usually grumpy, trying to digest their putrid fish dinners (they got really nasty right after dinner time), but somehow the chanting made it so transcendental that at least they would laugh and mimic us in scorn, thus getting namabhasa and therefore liberation from their sordid lives and stinky fish dinners. The nasty vendors at the lobster-murder stand would throw hot stinky fish water at the devotees' feet as we went by. Later Jayananda brought them some cookie prasad and told them how nice it was that they were doing this nice service for us by cleaning the sidewalk!! They were melted.
Anyhow, they saw this big man dancing backwards towards them, with the devotees trailing behind, and they didn't know what to make of it. It was really cool though, whatever they thought, it certainly was the best day in their miserable sojourn in the long cycle of birth and death. We would chant around, up and down the sidewalk, and at certain points we'd huddle in a circle and chant, and people would gather around and stare. Jayananda would stop the kirtan and give a speech. He would be talking with his eyes closed, telling people the glories of the Holy Name. I can still see his face, intense, with eyes closed, preaching to the fallen souls. Then he would request them to repeat the mantra and chant along. He said, “Just try saying this mantra with us, you've got nothing to lose. Now, just try to repeat these words,” and he'd say – “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna” – and then wait for them to say it in return. But they just looked at us like we were from Mars. It was really hard to get them to chant, but Jayananda tried anyway. Regardless of what they thought, it was still the best day in their existence.

Happy campers get the mercy

One day, in deep hot summer, the whole temple decided to go to this swimming hole that was way out of town. It was a nice hot day, and we were swimming in this natural swimming hole, having really good Vaishnava fun. After a good deal of fun, the time was running out and Jayananda decided that we would do a little chanting before we left.
There was an RV park just nearby with a lot of people lounging in their chairs next to their RV's and so on. And so we all had this little harinama-sankirtan on the little road in between all the RV's, in everyone's full view. I can imagine the surprise and wonder in their minds to see the devotees chanting in such an unlikely place. Just a peaceful day out in the middle of nowhere, and here they are, the shaven-headed devotees are dancing and chanting like anything for all the happy campers. We had come to this river with intentions of only enjoying the approved Vaishnava sport of swimming, and we did, but still Jayananda was thinking about the conditioned souls and so we did an impromptu hari-nama for the all lucky campers. Jayananda never missed a transcendental opportunity to spread the Holy Name to the lost jivas of this world.

Jayananda frowns on my argumentation

One time we were in Salt Lake City, and we were staying at the house of some devotee that Jayananda knew. They had a nice Tulasi-devi plant. I was still the jnani that I was (seeking dry knowledge), and there happened to be some guests there with a Christian leaning. They struck up some questions with me, and I got sucked into the trap.


Jayananda started a kirtan in the living room, and they were chanting and dancing while I was caught in the trap of this false argument with the Christians. Jayananda was glancing at me, giving disapproving looks, seeming to say, “Stop the nonsense and chant with us!” But to my great misfortune, I was so entangled in the argument that I could not get away from it, due to false ego and so on. Afterwards, there was a guest who commented, “I really don't know about the philosophy so much, but I really do like that chanting we did ... that, I really like!” All my arguing was worthless, and Jayananda's kirtan was everything.

His famous impromptu kirtans

Jayananda was always starting impromptu kirtans at festivals, like the Lord Chaitanya festival in Berkeley and festivals in San Diego and Santa Cruz. When everybody thought it was kind of over, and Jayananda was getting help to clean up, he would start a kirtan all of a sudden and we all joined in. I remember this really sweet kirtan in Berkeley, the sun was going down and we were all dancing in a big circle around the red truck, and it was really sweet and from the heart, it was pure spontaneous devotion.
Once at the Ratha site in Frisco we all took a break and were sitting around a circle and Jayananda distributed some bananas and buttermilk (his favorite) and we were taking prasadam very enthusiastically. He was asking this person and that person about relating some Krishna-katha, and in turn he asked me. I said something for a while, and then I related how I thought it was too late for me, that I joined the Krishna Consciousness Movement too late in life, I was too old and felt some hopelessness. Jayananda took this as a sentiment of Vaishnava lamentation and humility, and he went into an ecstasy and bloomed with a big smile as his face lit up. Then he got up and took some kartals and started dancing and chanting around the lot and we all followed in single file, going around in a big circle. His powerful japa Next are some episodes of us chanting japa, or the personal recitation of the Holy Names of Lord Krishna. Jayananda's japa was so powerful. He would sit upright and chant really intensely. I vividly remember one occasion when we were in the temple one morning chanting japa. It was one of those rare occasions when Jayananda was not busy doing something else, and he somehow took time out for japa even though it was in the daytime, not the early morning hours. The sun was very bright, streaming down in the temple room. The temple room was really transcendentally beautiful in the daytime, with sunlight effulgence enveloping the whole room, coming in from the skylight dome in the roof right over the middle of the temple. The walls were a nice yellow with many transcendental pictures on the walls. Jayananda was sitting on a mat like a yogi, back straight, his eyes closed in deep concentration, and the mantra shot out from his lips in a very strong and forceful staccato rapid-fire stream of nectar. It seemed that all of us stopped our minds for a few moments, stopped our wandering thoughts, our breath stopped for a few moments and we all took serious notice of Jayananda's powerful japa. We all stopped what we were doing and looked at Jayananda and looked at each other in a kind of wonder.
Then there were two new bhaktas who were sitting near the door, and they too stopped with blank looks on their faces, and then both of them started to laugh. I think Jayananda's japa was so strong and unusual and startling, so vividly real, that they reacted with the confusion of humor because they didn't know what to make of it. But I immediately gave them a glance and frown, sort of saying not to make fun of Jayananda's japa, and their faces immediately turned somber also. His loud japa went on for a quite a long time, too. He didn't know that we were all taking notice because his eyes were closed the whole time.

We walk in darkness and fear no evil

There was another incident in Sacramento, California. One morning, Jayananda and I took a japa walk outside. We walked down the road, but it was early morning and so dark that I couldn't see Jayananda walking in front of me. I just walked blindly in the dark following his loud japa. Usually darkness elicits fear, but I remember how secure and unafraid I was, how I walked with a feeling of shelter and protection in the association of Jayananda and his loud japa. I remember specifically how his japa made me feel secure.

Lecturing on the Holy Name

I seem to have missed Jayananda's lectures for some reason, or do not have any specific memories of one. I had a tape of him lecturing, but somehow lost it. Jayananda did not come across as a big erudite scholar; he spoke simply, but was very intelligent and thought-provoking and convincing. My godbrother Srikanta told me of one of his lectures one time. It was not a lot of book knowledge or verses, but he told me of how Nalini-kanta and he were practically fainting in ecstasy when they were hearing Jayananda. Jayananda was just simply speaking about the boundless mercy of the Holy Name and how we must put our full faith in the Holy Name of Krishna. This sums up this entry; the important quality of Jayananda was his great faith and service to the Holy Name of Krishna, how we should always, “Just somehow, just have faith in Krishna's Holy Name and all success will follow.” Jayanandanugas – lower-than-straw devotees give tribute to Jayananda Thakur Karandhara remembers how Jayananda preached to him on his first day in the temple.

As they worked together preparing a little garden for Srila Prabhupada at the old Los Angeles temple, Jayananda said, “You know, things don't always go just right in Krishna Consciousness. You have to keep chanting.” At the time, Karandhara couldn't imagine how anything could go wrong in Krishna's service. Years later, however, as he found himself still remembering those words, Karandhara could appreciate the real potency of what Jayananda had said. “So many things may come and go. Just have faith in the Name.” Another example of his attachment to Krishna Consciousness is Jayananda's love for kirtan (chanting). Jayananda was always eager to take the whole temple out on hari-nama chanting parties. He had a special attraction for chanting in the streets. Whether kirtan was held in the temple or in the street, Jayananda could always be seen dancing and chanting enthusiastically. When he was making Maharaja Dasa into a devotee, Jayananda would visit his house and have big kirtans. Even if there were only two of them, they would jump and chant “Nitai-Gaura Hari-bol!” Also, Karandhara recalls how one day after working very hard for ten hours straight, Jayananda suddenly announced, “Hey, it's ten to seven. Let's go to artik.” Everyone else was so tired that artik was the last thing on their minds, but Jayananda quickly jumped into the shower and then bounced down to the temple room for artik. Jayananda was not only big and powerful in body; he was strong with faith in Krishna. Therefore nothing could frighten him. Once on San Francisco's Market Street, Jayananda was playing mridanga and leading a kirtan party when, down the street, an enormous man appeared. He was at least seven feet tall and weighed perhaps three hundred pounds. His unkempt beard and drunken appearance indicated that he was an old veteran living in the bars off his pension. As he approached the kirtan party, the temple's reserve kshatriyas, Keshava Dasa and Guru-kripa Dasa, readied themselves for a fight. Sure enough, the monster marched up to Jayananda, turned, and began to shout, “Stop that chanting!” Jayananda looked him straight in the eye and said firmly, “Just chant Hare Krishna! Just chant Hare Krishna!” To everyone's amazement, the drunk simply turned and walked away without a scrap. – from Remembering Jayananda by Kalakantha Dasa

I remember Jayananda Prabhu leading us down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley singing the Holy Names of Krishna to his heart's content. In those days Berkeley, California, was known as “Berserkly” (According to Webster, the descriptive word was quite appropriately placed, meaning, “in a frenzied rage.”)
There was a particularly acute representative of “Berserkly” who used to follow our street chanting party, shouting obscenities and making threats, ironically enough in the name of God. His religious affiliation, he had determined, gave him the special privilege to condemn our efforts in public prayer ... we ignored him by following Jayananda's joyful dancing. One day in particular, however, Jayananda Prabhu looked very serious and, to me, seemed urgent in his efforts to drown out the intruder's curses. He would look the man right in the eyes while jumping up and down to the rhythm of the kartals (small cymbals) he played so emphatically. The man, however, wouldn't release his evil intentions and persisted in harassing our little chanting choir. As we came to a street crossing on our daily route, the light was red and we were temporarily held face to face with this irate fellow who had now focused on Jayananda one-on-one.
I saw Jayananda warn him with deep concern and compassion,
“If you don't stop disturbing the devotees and Lord
Chaitanya's mission, Krishna will kill you. Please, you should
be more careful.” The man continued, mad with rage. Then, in
his blind climax of enthusiasm, the forever-angry man stepped
off the curb and was immediately hit by a bus. The light had
changed to green. We continued, unaware for a few moments,
as the crowd gathered behind us. Looking back, we
never stopped praying and our voices lifted in the clearing ether
to the rhythm of ringing kartals. There was sadness in Jayananda's
eyes that caused my heart to enlarge a bit, still I couldn't take it
all in, like I saw that he did in full. – Dhanistha Dasi

Chapter 5 - “I Won't Care for the Comforts of My Body...”