From Back to Godhead
By Kesava Bharati Swami
ARE YOU READY to hear about a miracle? Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with yet another story about some pseudo-miracle-worker. This story is about a seventy-nine-year-old woman completely set in her ways who, at the most difficult time of death, had a change of heart that brought her from the brink of terror to tears of joy.
The woman was my mother. Born Nadine Alma Eastlack, she was conservative to the extreme. Her early life read like a chapter from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Her family narrowly escaped the dust bowl by migrating from Grinnell, Kansas, to the “Promised Land” of Southern California, landing in the fire of the Great Depression. After struggling to put herself through college and marrying a minor war hero, Leslie Waldo Beck, she attained middle-class status.
While raising me, their only child, in the northern California town of Oroville, my parents both worked he as a parts manager of a local car dealership, and she as a high school teacher of sewing, cooking, and home economics. My parents watched with pride as their only son excelled in music, scholarship, and athletics, achieving numerous awards culminating in the “Young Man of the Year Award” for the class of 1964 at Oroville High. After high school, I attended UCLA, graduating with honors in 1968 and landing my first job as assistant to the studio manager at Columbia Pictures. About a year later, however, shortly after sweeping my mother off her feet with a whirlwind tour of the studio, I left that promising career, disillusioned with the superficiality of the Hollywood scene.
“My creative urges aren’t being fulfilled,” I thought, so I packed up and moved north to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district to pursue a career as a professional musician.
A Radical Change
After a year of grueling practice sessions, success emerged: I was part of a jazz-rock ensemble that toured the Bay Area with popular groups such as Boz Skaggs. Unfortunately, along with that so-called success reappeared the same falsities I had become disgusted with in Hollywood, only in a different dress: intoxicated people fighting over money, women, and power.
I began to withdraw from the mainstream of social life to study philosophies, religions, and methods of self-improvement. After a string of events too coincidental to be accidental and far too lengthy to describe here, I came face to face with my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. By his mercy I began to realize what I had actually been missing: God consciousness. Imagine the reaction of my small-town-northern-California parents when I announced I had joined the Hare Krsnas to dedicate myself to spiritual life. They disowned me. I wasn’t even allowed in their house. That was 1972.
I had always been closer to my mother than my father, and so for years, despite having been disowned, I wrote frequent letters to her, trying to keep our relationship alive. Finally I resigned myself to the occasional letter, mainly about the weather she had taught me not to talk about politics or religion if I wanted to be happy. I gave up hope that her attitude toward my newfound way of life would ever change. I would simply keep her informed about my frequent travels.
A glimmer of hope came in 1977. I was on my way to India to join Srila Prabhupada just before he passed away, and I needed my birth certificate to secure a passport. As I hurried to make a flight out of New York, my mother agreed to drive eighty miles to bring my birth certificate to me at the Sacramento airport. I thought she might be having a change of heart, since she’d gone out of her way to help me, but that brief encounter ended on a sour note an argument about the value of worshiping the form of God through a living spiritual master. A devout Methodist, she genuinely thought I had sold my soul to Satan.
THE NEXT TIME I saw my mother was in 1981 when I went to see my father just two days before he passed away. She had withheld news of his condition until near the end, not wanting to be responsible for a possible premature death my suddenly showing up might cause. Only on my insistence did she reluctantly give me permission to come home. The resultant reunion, during which my father not only acknowledged my existence but expressed in his own way appreciation for what I was doing (“Hey, I hear you’ve become a big shot”), left my mother standing in the corner with her mouth gaping. After that the tone of our letters became slightly more familiar. I kept her more closely informed of what I was doing, but she still refused to talk about my life’s mission. Our relationship remained distant.
In the spring of 1995, having seen my mother only once, briefly, in fourteen years, I was living in Bombay when I heard from a friend that my mother was feeling neglected. She had mentioned that I wasn’t writing. That seemed odd to me since we had been corresponding regularly for years. Still, in response to that news I called her and promised to visit her the following November.
Called to the Hospital
On October 7 I received a phone call. My mother had lost consciousness and had been found by friends two days later and taken to the hospital. She had been living alone since my father had passed away, but she had always seemed strong and fearless, at least from a distance. In her letters, she had never indicated having any problems, except for a persistent backache. I had never seen her weep or show any intense emotion. This was perhaps the first major health crisis in her life.
When I called from Bombay to her hospital room, she had to think before she could remember me. After some coaxing she recalled that she had a son and that he lived in India. Her power of recall returned somewhat with the sound of my voice, and she felt less anxious. I promised to be with her as soon as possible, which proved to be ten days later.
As soon as I walked into the hospital room, Mom motioned me to her. Embracing me, with tears in her eyes, the first I’d ever seen, she said, “Please forgive me for being so closed-minded.”
Feeling ashamed, I begged her forgiveness for not being with her when she had most needed her only child. After two all-day visits, during which her condition improved dramatically, the hospital staff decided she would do better at home with me.
For two weeks I took care of the household chores and visited with my mother while a home-care staff from the hospital helped her get back on her feet. There were no signs of stroke or heart attack. The doctors concluded that she had fainted from malnutrition and dehydration. That in itself was amazing to me, since she was a retired cooking teacher and nutrition expert. The doctors said she was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It was no wonder she couldn’t remember receiving my letters.
My mother and I had long talks about time, old age, and God. Her Christian faith seemed strong. Despite lapses of short-term memory, when we talked of spiritual issues she was lucid. She rose every morning, even when in pain, and read the Bible with a study guide from her church. She had always been an avid reader, but she mostly read magazines and novels. I tried to convince her to read the devotional books she had accumulated. I also tried to explain to her that the discomfort she was feeling from being withdrawn from the world was meant to encourage her to turn inward, to develop her internal, spiritual relationship with God.
As we spoke, she felt comforted and admitted she was feeling more favorable to what I was doing. She even admitted to having put me back into her living trust, although she had hesitated, not wanting to contribute anything, even indirectly, to the Krsnas. We had long since agreed to disagree, so there was no question of my trying to convince her about Krsna consciousness. But at least we were becoming closer again. The experience I had gained from twenty-three years of teaching and counseling others about spiritual life was paying off in an intensely personal way. She soon even insisted, strongly, that I return to India to continue my life’s course, which she didn’t want to interrupt.
AS I WAS TO REALIZE more clearly over the next two years, one of my mother’s prominent characteristics was her intense aversion to giving anyone trouble or taking service from anyone, including her only son. An ascetic in her own way, she had grown to love living alone. And although she was shaken by the two-day complete memory loss, which had left her weak short-term memory even weaker, her determination to stay independent was unshakeable.
Return to Bombay
Reluctantly I returned to Bombay, carrying my mother’s promise that I could come soon for another visit. I now found myself in a dilemma. For more than twenty years my life had been dedicated to the mission of my spiritual master. I was in a renounced position, wearing saffron cloth, living in India as a monk detached from family responsibilities. I had administrative and teaching duties in one of our society’s largest temples, a service that demanded full dedication, apparently ruling out frequent trips to the West to help my mother. And by choice I had no accumulated wealth or steady income.
AFTER PRAYING to Srila Prabhupada for guidance, consulting my senior Godbrothers, and thinking deeply on the situation, I concluded that I had to do whatever was needed to help my mother, despite her strong opposing will. Not only was it my God-given, scriptural duty to assist my helpless mother, and not only was I probably the only one who could do it, but the performance of this duty would purify my heart, making me a more honest person. Later I would realize the potency created by taking the trouble to fully care for someone and by setting an example for others to follow.
I phoned my mother regularly from Bombay. During those conversations it became clear she was in an intense state of denial. She feared she was losing her independence. In that anxiety, considering me a possible threat, she began to subtly discourage me from coming by repeatedly reminding me how much she was enjoying being alone. Luckily, her explicit letter asking me not to come arrived in Bombay while I was on my next flight to Oroville, in January 1996.
In Need of Help
There she was, sitting on her spot on the couch, surrounded by stacks of opened and unopened mail, looking helpless. Her credit card had expired, and she had received notices for unpaid utility bills. Normally an extraordinarily organized and tidy person, she tried to explain the situation away by insisting she had thought I was coming the next day and was sorting things that needed to be thrown away. But when I found the refrigerator empty, she could no longer hide that she needed help.
I began to organize her affairs, arranging automatic payments, establishing relationships with her banker, lawyer, doctor, and the local merchants with whom she shopped. I cooked for her and arranged for meals to be delivered when I wasn’t present. In between expressions of self-pity and anger, she regularly broke down in tears of love in appreciation for what I was doing.
This time I brought my worshipful Deity, Giri-Govardhana, a small piece of Govardhana Hill. (Krsna had lifted Govardhana like an umbrella to protect the residents of His village from a devastating rainstorm. Learned authorities accept Giri-Govardhana as spiritually the same as Krsna Himself.) The morning procedures I followed were elaborate compared to any religious service my mother had seen. At first she was suspicious and skeptical. She thought the paraphernalia was material and you couldn’t worship God with material things. I explained that everything belongs to God and should be offered to Him with love and devotion. After a few days her tone changed slightly.
“You certainly go to a lot of trouble to do that every morning, don’t you?” she said.
“Well,” I replied, “I’m serving God; don’t you think I should take some trouble?”
Shortly after that, while passing by she asked, “Need any help with the dishes?”
Her devotional service had begun.
Spiritual Inquiry in Oroville
During the next year and a half I made four more visits to Oroville from Bombay. During that time a childhood classmate of mine (since kindergarten), Jean Mather, who was also my mother’s ex-student, began to take serious interest in what I was doing. Apparently my presence was creating somewhat of a sensation around town. Jean, appreciating my answers to her questions, arranged programs in her home and lectures in a comparative religion class at a local college.
Among the professionals I was dealing with, some became impressed that I was coming all the way from Bombay just to help my mother. Jackie Pogue, my mother’s banker, was especially helpful in reacquainting me with a financial system I hadn’t used in the eighteen years I had been living outside the country. She extended herself in special ways, even visiting my mother at home to make sure her accounts were in order.
I didn’t preach to anyone. I just tried to be as friendly, conscientious, and caring as I could, but in my normal attire as a devotee of Krsna. And the local people responded. As they became accustomed to seeing me doing everyday chores, whatever resistance the conservative residents of that small northern-California town had to an orange-clad, shaven-headed Hare Krsna monk with stripes on his forehead melted away, and I found myself mostly absorbed in explaining Krsna consciousness wherever I went. A group of interested people began meeting once a week to hear seriously about Krsna consciousness.
I promised my mother that whatever adjustments to her life we were making together were simply meant to keep her at home. She had saved enough for professional care, if required, but was adamant about not going into a nursing home. Neither did she want to become bedridden. But with each visit, I watched her slowly deteriorate. And yet at the same time I also witnessed an intensely powerful effort on her part to stay regulated and active against tremendous odds. She began to feel secure as she saw for herself that I was simply trying to help her execute her own will, and our relationship flourished. I learned to appreciate more deeply the value of her association, especially in my formative years when she had instilled within me values that later enabled me to take spiritual life seriously.
WHENEVER I WAS back in Bombay, I kept in touch with Jean to monitor the situation. On April 14, 1997, she informed me by e-mail that she had discovered that my mother had been bleeding for “who knows how long.” Mom had been afraid of going to the doctor, thinking he would put her into the hospital. So Jean had taken her to her doctor, and the preliminary report wasn’t good. There appeared to be a growth in her uterus, but the condition of the mass had to be analyzed. I decided to be with her when she went back to the doctor.
I arrived on April 17 and the next day took my mother to receive the results of her tests. Sure enough, she had a huge malignant tumor. Anemic from loss of blood, she was weak and underweight, since the tumor had been taking most of her energy. Still, my mother’s reaction was consistent with her character. She refused to submit to any treatment. She declared in no uncertain terms that she wanted nature to take its course. Even if she had requested treatment, Dr. Joy admitted that he could not in good conscience prescribe the necessary treatment for such a large growth unless her anemia could be corrected and she gained some weight and strength; otherwise, any treatment could be fatal. He was forced by his oath to reveal to us that she was terminally ill, with probably no more than one year to live.
The next day my mother couldn’t remember having had the appointment, what to speak of the diagnosis. For more than a year our conversations had prepared us for this inevitability, but it was coming much sooner than expected. Following a few days of unconscious denial and deep philosophical and emotional exchanges, she finally understood and accepted that she was terminally ill. Not that she was a particularly philosophical person. She was simple in her approach to matters of life and death. But being completely honest, she could grasp the truth when it was presented straightforwardly.
After consulting with Tamal Krsna Goswami and Sivarama Swami, my two best friends, with whom I had been keeping in touch almost daily, I decided to stay on as her caretaker until the end. Being officially a terminal patient, she was now eligible for hospice care, which provided essential backup services. And so Krsna began making arrangements for my dear mother beyond either of our expectations.
While talking, my mother stayed alert and lucid, apparently in good spirits. But as soon as we stopped she either fell asleep or became overwhelmed by lamentation. To no avail, I tried again to convince her to read her own spiritual books. Finally, she confessed a crisis of faith. She didn’t know what she was supposed to be doing. She had become overly dependent on her daily routine. Forced to abandon it, she couldn’t focus her mind and had doubts about God’s existence. Her pastor had visited her once in the hospital, but since then he’d been busy preparing to transfer to another church. She felt as if living in a spiritual vacuum.
I decided to make an experiment by reading to her the Krsna book, Srila Prabhupada’s summary study of the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which describes the pastimes of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Her first reaction was, “What are you reading to me, a fairy tale or a nursery rhyme?”
I explained that these were the pastimes of God, descriptions of what was happening in His kingdom. Her only duty now was to hear about these things, the only subject matter powerful enough to absorb her mind. She sat back and listened. I began reading for one half hour daily, gradually increasing to three hours. Difficult as it was to keep her attention, I strained to read loudly and forcibly, with as much dramatic flair as I could.
One day, about thirteen chapters later, I looked up from the book to see her practically on the edge of her seat, eyes wide like saucers, her face changed.
“Mom, it looks like you’re enjoying this story,” I said.
“Oh yes, it’s wonderful!” she replied. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. And you’re reading it so nicely.”
“Maybe we should go back to the beginning of the book,” I suggested.
“Oh yes, please do,” she implored. “I have so many questions.”
HEARING KRSNA’S pastimes from Srila Prabhupada had lifted her out of her body. I got out my laptop and went to the beginning of the Srimad-Bhagavatam in the Bhaktivedanta Archives folio program, reading from the Preface, pausing while she asked questions. I carefully explained whatever I had learned from Srila Prabhupada about the science of Krsna consciousness. This went on for hours each day until May 30, when the crisis arrived.
The growth began intruding on her bladder, causing complications I couldn’t deal with. Despite my promise that I wouldn’t take her to the hospital, she allowed me to call an ambulance. I stayed up with her that night in the emergency room and the next day in the hospital. The emergency team and her family doctor concluded that not much could be done except to keep her as comfortable as possible. They agreed to allow her to go home. While the hospital staff arranged for her discharge, I ordered a hospital bed and the necessary paraphernalia to care for her. I also bought a CD player, thinking that I should introduce her to devotional songs chanted by Srila Prabhupada. On June 2, 1997, she went home.
A Strong Connection
The thing my mother had dreaded most had happened. She was bedridden. But she was thankful to be in her own home and to have me as her caretaker. We took up where we had left off in our reading, and her questions became more personal. The loving feelings exchanged between my mother and me during her last few days are difficult to describe. They are rare in this world and testify to the power of Krsna consciousness and the association of Krsna’s devotees.
On the evening of June 5, a name Nandarani popped into my mind while I was chanting with my mother.
Then it dawned on me that my mother had become a devotee.
“This is amazing,” I thought.
Before retiring that night, I looked at her and said, “Hare Krsna, Mom.”
She responded without hesitation, saying for the first time in her life “Hare Krsna!”
The sound was so powerful I felt moved by its force.
Mom and Her Guru
I had been keeping in touch with Sivarama Swami by e-mail, and the next day I received a message from him. He assured me I was doing the best thing by staying by my mother’s side. Krsna had lightened my responsibilities in Bombay so that I could do this.
“This will mend your relationship with your mother,” Sivarama Swami wrote, “and help you in your emotional and hence spiritual life. I’m a hundred percent clear that you should continue what you are doing. . . . I hope that when I pass away I will have the kind of loving care she has.”
Sivarama Swami then asked me to give the following message to my mother:
Dear Mrs. Beck,
You don’t know me, but I have heard a lot about you and know you indirectly. Your son, Kesava Bharati, is one of my closest friends and we’ve been acquaintances for the last twenty years. So I guess you and I are also related in that way. I have heard about your terminal situation and am praying for you. I think Krsna has really looked after you, due to some great fortune of yours. You have such a loving son, who is also an elevated Vaisnava, to care for you and give you spiritual guidance in the last moments of your life. This type of opportunity is rare and unique. You are very, very lucky.
Since you really have nothing to do at this point other than think about Krsna, try to focus your mind on His name, form, activities whatever attracts you the most. By your son’s association and such effort, no doubt you will achieve a most glorious destination soon. I am a bit far away, here in Budapest, but I think we are close spiritually. I will pray for your success at this momentous hour and intently follow your progress closer to Krsna.
If I can be of any other help, please let me know.
Then Sivarama Swami suggested to me that my mother be initiated.
“She should get every spiritual boost she can,” he wrote. “If she takes it seriously, I will give her a name. What do you think?”
I wrote back, telling him that the name Nandaranihad come into my mind the night before.
“I’m convinced that Krsna arranged that we both simultaneously thought the same thing,” I wrote. “When I read your letter to her, she was amazed at how, having never met her, you could write such a personal letter. I explained to her that the meaning of the conversations we’ve been having are coming to life now and that it was natural for her to come in contact with a bona fide spiritual master. When I told her that you and I were both thinking about her connecting with a spiritual master for gaining support and strength at this crucial time, in tears she immediately accepted, saying, ‘Yes, this is just what I need and want. Please arrange it.’ “
I asked Sivarama Swami to send a letter accepting her as his disciple. I told him that she knew exactly what she was doing and I would help her with the chanting.
In Sivarama Swami’s letter to my mother accepting her as his disciple, he wrote: “I am always amazed at how Krsna works so mysteriously. … Srila Prabhupada said that a good child indicates that the parents must be good. You have such a good son, so you must also be a good person. Now that you are chanting Hare Krsna, that makes you perfect. Therefore, why should I not accept you and let our eternal relationship begin?”
After explaining the meaning of her new name, Sivarama Swami continued:
We are servants and eternal family members of the Lord. You should try to understand that we have no other identification.
The world we live in is temporary. Our eternal, original home is the spiritual world. From there Lord Krsna descends to attract us lost souls back to His service. In that place, all speaking is song, all walking a dance, and all beings live eternally in full happiness. There everyone lives in harmony, accepting their position as a servant of the Lord. . . .
Try to absorb yourself in thoughts of Krsna. That is possible by always chanting God’s holy names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. As much as possible chant aloud or in your mind to yourself. If you do so carefully, you will understand that Krsna is not different from His name, and by this chanting He will transport you back to Godhead. Srila Prabhupada said, “This is the test. If one chants Krsna’s name at the time of death, he is guaranteed to go back to Him.” So try to concentrate on this chanting until the last breath. Krsna has sent Kesava Bharati there to help remind you when the time comes to chant. Remember to follow his direction when he instructs you.
Kesava Bharati is not just your son. He is your guru. He has saved you at the last minute and given you the greatest treasure, Krsna. He is a fitting son, for he has repaid his debt to you. Now you are indebted to him. That debt you can repay by chanting always. I am your initiator and he is your instructor guru. So now we are together. May you receive the full blessings of Lord Krsna. I feel happy that we have met like this, and I leave you in the capable hands of my good friend, your son and well-wisher.
THE DAY OF HER initiation, my mother had another crisis. Nurses from the hospice twice had to help her eliminate, because the tumor was intruding. She lost a lot of energy, so when I read her Sivarama Swami’s letter, it was difficult for her to reply. But she managed to say that she was eternally indebted to him and was trying to do the right thing. While in agony, she called out “Hare Krsna” again and again. When she woke up in the evening, after resting for some time, she could barely speak but asked me who was God. I replied confidently that Krsna is God.
Shaking her head affirmatively, she repeated again and again, “Krsna is God. Krsna is God.”
After I told her that hearing is the same as chanting, all she wanted to hear was Srila Prabhupada chanting.
The next day, I read Sivarama Swami’s letter to my mother again to see if she remembered what had been happening. Before reading it, I said I wasn’t sure if she would remember what had happened the day before. She quickly replied that of course she remembered.
As I read the letter again, I became overwhelmed by emotion and began weeping like a baby. She took my hand and looked at me in a very knowing, loving way.
When I finally made it through the letter, she had tears in her eyes as she repeated her name a few times. Then she said over and over, “This is so nice.” She told me to tell Sivarama Swami that she is happy to have met him.
I taught her the maha-mantra just after she received her new name, and she began chanting as much as possible. I could see that Srila Prabhupada was pouring mercy on her, giving her a well-deserved peace at the end. She said that she only wanted to be with me, that I should politely tell everyone she wasn’t receiving visitors.
She asked me to play Srila Prabhupada’s tapes constantly, and I chanted out loud to her. The hospice people commented on how strong the spiritual atmosphere was surrounding us. They were professionals who deal with family members and death every day, but without exception they testifed that they had never experienced anything like this.
ONE MORNING, when I said “Hare Krsna” to my mother, she at once responded with “Haribol” [“Please chant the names of God”] and smiled a kind of knowing smile. I was speechless. I wondered where she had heard that phrase. Then I remembered that my son had stayed with her for a few months while attending college nearby. She must have heard it from him because his habit is to say Haribol more than Hare Krsna. I was shocked to witness her transformation.
My mother became sweet and charming company. I moved the weekly program to our home, and after hearing me lead kirtana, lecture, and answer questions for the first time in a public program, my mother made me promise that I would “go on and on preaching Krsna consciousness.”
A few days after her initiation, my mother completely withdrew, even from me. At first she showed symptoms that made us all think she would pass away peacefully during the night. But the next morning she seemed disturbed and in severe pain. She spoke, but her words indicated she was bewildered and disoriented. The hospice nurses told me those were symptoms of a person close to death.
My mother began calling out Krsna’s name over and over when she was in pain. That inoffensive chanting was making her eligible to go back to Godhead.
I wrote to Sivarama Swami:
It’s amazing how powerful the material energy is. The hospice people say that the cancer has entered the bones and therefore managing her pain is increasingly difficult. She seems peaceful and free from pain for hours, but if you slightly move her she’s immediately in crisis pain. I may be forced to slightly sedate her to make her comfortable. Her anxiety is making it very difficult for her to hear as she had been hearing just before she accepted her initiation.
Nandarani doesn’t have the years of practice we’ve had. Her newfound feelings and commitment to Krsna consciousness, while real and meaningful, are undeveloped and therefore hard to maintain under the extreme circumstances she’s in. The only thing she responds to is constant preaching and the sound of Srila Prabhupada chanting. Let’s see how she responds when the pain is under control again. All the descriptions in the scriptures about the time of death are coming alive.
Please pray that her memory doesn’t fail and that she can keep remembering to the end.
By June 10 my mother had withdrawn almost completely. I played Srila Prabhupada’s tapes to her constantly, and she had become most attached to hearing him chant before she withdrew. Her vital signs were strong because she had lived a fairly clean life. I lamented that she hadn’t cultivated Krsna consciousness more in this life.
I kept reading to her descriptions of the spiritual world and trying to convince her to let go of the miserable material body and give herself to Krsna.
“All right, Nandarani,” I kept saying, “the runway is cleared for takeoff. You’ve taxied enough. Push down on the throttle and just go back to Krsna.”
She would sometimes move her mouth to indicate she wanted Srila Prabhupada’s chanting to continue. I knew everything was in Krsna’s hands, but I kept trying to absorb her in transcendental sound until her last breath. I read to her Sivarama Swami’s letter numerous times, and that helped her regain her focus while she was conscious. She cried out Krsna’s name in helplessness a number of times. I had complete faith that she had become eligible for a much better situation, even if she didn’t go back to Godhead.
MY DEAR mother, Srimati Nandarani Devi Dasi, departed peacefully sometime between 1:30 A.M. and 2:30 A.M. on July 11, 1997. I had dozed off, being emotionally and physically exhausted, so she was alone, which was consistent with her character as a very private person. Srila Prabhupada was chanting Hare Krsna during her departure, and I had just put water from Radha-Kunda, the most sacred of all holy lakes, in her mouth before I dozed. She had already received the water of Radha-Kunda a few times earlier that evening when she seemed about to leave. She was decorated with Vaisnava tilaka and tulasi neck beads.
Just a few hours before departing, my mother seemed to be leaving while I was dancing and chanting to a loud kirtana on Srila Prabhupada’s “Happening” album. We were alone in her house, exactly as she had wanted. She looked quite beautiful. The weather had been hot more than a hundred degrees, without a cloud in the sky. But in the evening, just before dusk, it began to rain gently, as if someone were pouring water from a big sprinkling can. I could understand that my mother was not an ordinary person. All glories to Nandarani Devi Dasi!
I wrote again to Sivarama Swami, giving him the news and thanking him for initiating her before her departure: “I know that she has your full mercy and the mercy of so many other great Vaisnavas and, as a result, has attained either the spiritual world or an exalted position before returning to Vraja the eternal abode of Krsna.”
About fifty people attended a memorial service in my mother’s church. Before she departed she had told me she didn’t want a memorial service, but when her friends insisted, I agreed for their sake.
After the service, the pastor had me speak to the congregation. The first words he spoke in his remembrance of Nandarani were that she was a saint. I was surprised. I had been thinking to start my talk in a similar way, but I was concerned that it be too much for such a conservative crowd. Still, in my talk I listed the divine qualities in Bhagavad-gita and gave examples of my mother’s behavior and character to confirm that she was indeed a saintly person.
Then I shared with the congregation how our relationship had come to a deep level of communion from an extremely estranged condition, how we had called on the names of God together, achieving a rare state of oneness I likened to a miracle. We had realized together that there was only one God. I ended by saying that to me our relationship symbolized a simple solution for a world in dire need of oneness amid cultural differences.
After the service, whatever doubt I’d had about having spoken too intimately to such a conservative Christian audience was removed by my mother’s friends, who all expressed how much they had enjoyed the message.
There was no funeral. My son, Rama, and I went alone to the gravesite and chanted together Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.