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The Beautiful Life of Jayananda Thakur

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

Chapter 5

For one who has conquered the mind,
the Supersoul is already reached,
for he has attained tranquility.
To such a man happiness and distress,
heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same.
(Bhagavad-Gita 6.7)

Srila Bhaktivinoda writes, “I won't care for the comforts of my body ... let me preach the Name divine ... when, oh when, will that day be mine?” These words set the mood for how Jayananda was always oblivious to the comforts of his body. He only cared to preach the Name, and serve Srila Prabhupada and others. Sometimes he tolerated excruciating pain and braved the wild elements of nature with no regard. We shall see this mood in the following pastimes, which I'll attempt to recount. Jayananda told me how one summer he was working so hard on the Ratha carts. He was always working hard on the carts every year, with sparse help sometimes, sometimes lots of help. Many times he would see a wandering vagrant hippie who happened to walk by the carts, and Jayananda would entice him with some prasad. The hippie would eat, and then Jayananda would persuade them to help on the carts. He got lots of help this way, and they got once-in-a-lifetime mercy.

Jayananda could not sleep

Anyway, Jayananda was working real hard this on particular Rathayatra. And what happened was he somehow stepped on a nail, which went right through his shoe and into his foot. Deep. It was very painful, but he did not let it stop him. He told me how he limped around for three days until the day of Ratha-yatra. Not only was his foot in pain for three days, but he did not sleep for those three days. Working day and night, 24 hours a day for Lord Jagannatha. This I also saw in the summer of '75. I would sleep a while at the Ratha site, and wake up any time of the night and see Jayananda working on Srila Prabhupada's vyasasana seat on the cart. It took him all night to get it the way he wanted it. After all, it was the day before the parade, and Srila Prabhupada would be riding on this cart, and Jayananda could not sleep until it was perfect. His devotion to Prabhupada was boundless.

He braves extreme elements of nature

We had some really cold summers in San Francisco. It sounds strange, but true. I think Mark Twain said something about that. The wind would blow in the cold ocean breeze, and it got real cold sometimes. I remember this one particular day, it was so cold! I had on a couple of shirts, sweatshirts and a coat or two. Then Jayananda came to the Ratha site, and he really blew my mind, I mean, my mind was really blown. I was standing there freezing to death, shivering with all my coats, and here he came – he was only wearing a T-shirt, and had recently shaved his head. The wind was just blasting all the heat away from his body and off his head, and I was standing, staring, awestruck, wondering how he was surviving hypothermia. He just worked away, like nothing was unusual. Then we got in the car and he read some Bhagavad-Gita, as we read some of Srila Prabhupada's books to each other at times. He spoke of the verse describing how the Supersoul is reached when one is equal to heat and cold, happiness and distress, honor and dishonor (BhagavadGita 6.7).

Never a bad hair day

When you think about it, Jayananda really had a tough job. His office was out there in the street, or going from door to door, to offices and stores, dealing with commissioners, etc., and his work was always on the spur of the moment. There were no appointments, he had no secretary to assist him; rather, he was out there meeting people one-on-one, and often when they were in a rush. Yet they always came away with a good taste in their minds. He was meeting people constantly, winning them over with a big heart, and he was always in a good mood, never having a bad hair day. This was because he wasn't thinking about himself. Depression is due to self-absorption and thinking we are these bodies. In fact, every misery you can think of is due to thinking we are these bodies. Jayananda was never thinking that way, he was always acting as a spirit soul and servant of Krishna, free from the bodily conception of life, and he was only thinking of how to serve others and Srila Prabhupada and Krishna. This would be a tough job for anybody else, to never have a negative mood swing – but Jayananda was always on the up-and-up, he was constantly in a high mood ... 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jayananda's enthusiasm is irresistible

Here is another story I heard. It was in New York City. The temple had a gift shop on the third floor, but it seemed that nobody was into it, there wasn't much enthusiasm to shop there. And Jayananda was getting weaker and weaker. He had to use a wheelchair to get around. They gave the service of the gift shop to Jayananda. Before long, all due to Jayananda's enthusiasm and ingenuity, he somehow had customers thronging the gift shop, coming up the elevator and stairs, whereas previously the shop was neglected. There was no impediment to his devotional service. The same thing happened in Los Angeles. Jayananda single-handedly organized the Ratha-yatra, making many phone calls from his bed. Sometimes he was so weak, confined to a wheelchair, but some mornings, he would come to mangal arotik and get up and dance. He was very weak in bed and told one Prabhu, “Someday, you're going to come in and find this bag of stool in the bed.” The Ratha festival in Los Angeles proved to be the biggest ever, and it all came about due to the desire of Jayananda.

Jayananda's great devotion to Srila Prabhupada

Now, gentle and loving bhaktas, this next story will break your heart, it makes me cry when I think about it. I had never heard this before, please listen to the nectar of Jayananda's devotion. For some reason Jayananda was put in a clinic near San Diego, California, for his cancer condition. A nice devotee, Muktakesha, told how he came to Jayananda's room to bring something to him. Muktakesha was there in the room and casually began to sit on the bed, but Jayananda stopped him before he did, asking him to please don't sit on the empty bed. Muktakesha was wondering, why not?, and then he turned and noticed a picture of Srila Prabhupada at the head of the bed, propped up by the pillow. Jayananda then explained how he had never had such a nice bed like this (as a devotee), and how he thought it was more appropriate that his spiritual master Srila Prabhupada should enjoy the bed. I tremble as I write this. Jayananda gave his nice bed to his beloved Gurudeva, in great love and devotion, and laid his cancer-riddled body on the floor in the small space in front of the bed.

Two letters from Jayananda

I received two handwritten letters from Jayananda, both within the final months. In the first letter Jayananda asked me to try to look around for his original brown-covered Srimad Bhagavatams, which he personally bought from Srila Prabhupada in 1967. Or he thought maybe he left them with me. He then said that the request was only an excuse to write to me. I wrote back to him and expressed my missing his association, etc., and that I didn't know about the Srimad Bhagavatams but would look around. In Jayananda's second letter, which came in the final two weeks or so, he did what he always did, which was to make up imaginary qualities for me and imaginary faults for himself. I remember when I received the letter in my hand and saw his name on the envelope, I quickly opened it and went into the prasadam room to be alone as tears quickly came to my eyes. Then Mishra Bhagavan asked if we could read it together and we did, and he said how it was such a nice, and tearful letter. We were both aware of the short time we had left with Jayananda. I wrote back and told Jayananda that he was “going back to Godhead,” and cited the verse in Srimad Bhagavatam: “ante narayana smrtih...” The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by acquirement of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of one's occupational duty, is to remember the Personality of Godhead at the end of life.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 2.1.6)

I told Jayananda that he would be chanting and thinking of Krishna and Srila Prabhupada at the end, and especially that he would be absorbed in the thoughts of his main service to Srila Prabhupada – Ratha-yatra. I was told later that this is what actually happened. In the final moments, it was like he was absorbed in Ratha-yatra rasa. I have kicked myself over and over for somehow losing those two letters. They were extremely valuable, but I lost them somewhere in the brahmachari ashram. But now the memory is the important keepsake.

My final visit to Jayananda

I came to see him in Los Angeles. It was about two weeks before he departed. Somehow I found a good reason to come to Los Angeles from Frisco, having no idea how long he still had. I came into his room, and saw him in bed, being real weak. This was the last time I saw him. It was very sweet. Normally, I am very non-eloquent, being quiet and tonguetied. Somehow the spirit entered into my heart and mouth, like I got a little help from Goddess Mother Sarasvati, it seemed. I had a great desire to say something very praiseworthy to Jayananda there, person-toperson. Some others were around, too. Besides, I sort of had him in a bind – he could not walk away – and so I took advantage of the situation. All of a sudden I got some eloquence in my tongue and glorified Jayananda, using examples from Chaitanya-Charitamrita how Lord Chaitanya started the sankirtan Movement all over the universe, and similarly Jayananda started Ratha-yatra all over the world just from his personal desire to serve Srila Prabhupada and Lord Jagannatha. I also spoke from the Bhagavatam, how Maharaja Parikshit waited fearlessly for the snakebird to come and bite him on the 7th day, because he was plunged in the nectar of Krishna-katha, and similarly Jayananda was not afraid of this snakebird cancer thing because he was plunged in the nectar of Ratha-yatra service to his Guru Maharaja and his dear Lord. And so I went on like this, and Jayananda sat there and took the whole thing without blinking an eye, no waving of the hand for me to stop, no look of disgust on his face – in fact, he looked a little pleased with me right then. And all the other devotees liked it, too. He graciously accepted my parting gift. And now, dear bhaktas, this was Jayananda's final gesture of love and sweetness, and total disregard for his body. It came the time, as it always does, when one is forced to leave, and finally I had to go. I had no idea then that it was the last time I'd see him. I said my good-byes and turned to leave, walked away a little and turned back, to my horror, to see Jayananda getting out of his bed. I knew what he was going to do. I protested, I told him to stop that nonsense and get back in the bed where he belonged. He would not listen to me. He sat up, got out of bed, came over to me, and bowed his weak body down to the floor, his head touching the floor, asking me to accept his obeisances. Such sweetness and love! Such tears now, when I remember it! Such disregard for his body! We paid obeisances to each other, and hugged. I left and that was the last time I saw him in his earthly form. I kept that image, along with the many other sacred images of him, all inside, all locked up deep inside, not to forget or fade away. Jayanandanugas – lower-than-straw devotees give tribute to Jayananda Thakur

Thank you so much for your help and inspiration from your web page. I wept deeply and spontaneously today reading about Jayananda giving his hospital bed to Srila Prabhupada. Jayananda has been giving me so much inspiration lately and his association thru the memories of other devotees is changing my dirty heart. Thank you, Prabhu. – Your servant, Krishna Prema Dasi

Dear Vishoka Prabhu – Obeisances – All glories to Srila Prabhupada and Jayananda Thakur!!!! Thanks for your latest letter and all that you've written, especially on Jayananda!! As usual, I need a tissue box handy when I read what you write about Jayananda because it speaks to the heart, something sorely needed in this day of heightened in-fighting amongst devotees. When I read writing such as yours, it further convinces me of the truth of Krishna Consciousness – that it is Eternal, and always Blissful!! Why not live that way and be happy as Prabhupada always told us? Some will never get it, and some will – and THOSE devotees I consider my real associates. – Hari-bol, Damaghosh Dasa

I just visited your site and savored the experience of your most recent song of praise for Jayananda Prabhu – it is so inspiring to hear a devotee uplift another devotee with such a devotional spirit! Thank you for the ambrosia. – Hare Krishna, Celta