Remembering Kusakratha Prabhu, a transcendental genius, and …
Remembering Kusakratha Prabhu, a transcendental genius, and avadhuta.
Vishoka Dasa: Kusakratha Prabhu’s life is an inspiration to the devotees of Lord Krishna. I first saw him in the San Francisco temple, where he was staying for a short time, just coming from the NY temple.
He was sensitive to the cold weather, and so he wore pants or jeans under his dhoti. He chanted japa very, very slowly, carefully pronouncing each syllable of the maha-mantra, taking several hours to chant his rounds. This is a great example for us all, to remember to slow down and carefully enunciate the holy names during our japa.
I believe that he went to San Diego after that, where he told me that he would sometimes eat 20 japatis in a single sitting. Eventually he settled down in LA, and it was there at New Dwarka that I got to know him. I went to his room occasionally and we would talk for some time. He taught Sanskrit to the kids in gurukula and served with the BBT.
Kusa was a transcendental genius, and a bit of an avadhuta. He was always in high spirits. Often we would see each other at a distance, on Watseka, and he would immediately raise both arms above his head, in the Lord Caitanya mudra, walking briskly with a gleeful look on his face. I would raise my arms too as we both shouted out “Nitai-Gour!” He had a cowherd boy sense of humor and his speech was always full of Vaikuntha happiness.
Kusakratha was resolute in purpose, reminding me of the Gita verse, ekaha kuru nanadana, “Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one.”BG2.41. He utilized every moment for his service, being requested by devotees to produce the Krishna Library Corporation editions, the translations of some of the Gosvami’s books. He was a transcendental genius, being precocious as a boy, in music and literature. Along with being a genius, he was eccentric like an avadhuta, always inattentive to the exterior world, because of his constant internal absorption in Krishna and His service. A typical genius, like Einstein, is usually eccentric and absent minded, being absorbed in material lofty subjects like physics, trying to figure out the Lord’s material energy, with quantum theories and so on, but such genius is inconsequential to the real goal of life. Fortunately for us, Kusakratha’s genius was not wasted on material calculations, but was properly used for glorification of Lord Sri Krsna, by rendering transcendental literatures of the Gosvamis into English, only for the glorification of Sri Uttamasloka, meaning “one who is worshipped by the best of selected Sanskrit verses.”
Srila Prabhupada writes in Cc that he recommends for some devotees to read Lalita-madhava and other works of the Gosvamis, [and I may add this recommendation, after one has read Srila Prabhupada’s books 2-3 times], and these are his exact words- “Actually going to Vrndavana involves taking shelter of the six Gosvamis by reading the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Vidagdha-madhava, Lalita-madhava and the other books that they have given. In this way one can understand the transcendental loving affairs between Radha and Krsna.”Adi 8.31P. Srila Prabhupada made several other statements like this, and I believe there was a morning walk comment that he aspired that his disciples would finish the translations of the works of the Gosvamis. Kusa took up this service, requested by devotees, so that we could take advantage of Srila Prabhupada’s recommendations above.
After 1977 some devotees formed the Vaisnava Institute, which was later changed to the Krishna Library Corporation. The purpose was to fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s desire that the works of the six Gosvamis be printed. The Krishna Library was mainly Kusakratha dasa as the translator, with several members of the board to oversee his productions. The board members were comprised of several devotees like Rabindranatha and Srikanta, mature disciples of Srila Prabhupada, who all encouraged Kusa to do this service. In this way, the edict of Srila Krishna dasa Kaviraja was fulfilled, that being that no one should attempt to write or translate transcendental literatures without being sanctioned and blessed by other Vaisnavas.
So, Kusa was single-minded in unalloyed devotion to his work. For this reason, when I came over for a visit, I had to think of many philosophical points and questions to pose to him about one of his books, or some passage and it’s meaning. I had to keep the philosophic topics flowing, because if the conversation got a hole in it and started to sink, then he would say, “time to get back to work.” I never wanted to leave because such discussions were so nectarine and rare. He never wasted a moment.
When he first went to India and arrived in Vrndavan, he told me it only took him 5 minutes to know that he belonged in Vrindavan, and he decided to move his whole operation to Vrndavan. He said that he would sneak into the prasadam hall at odd times, when nobody was around. Because, if there was a crowd, then inevitably someone would say, “hey kush, how’s it going?” and then he’d be captured for about 20 minutes of prajalpa and distraction. He didn’t care for that, he just liked doing his work for Krishna. Kusa also told me that only a few people on the planet were able to make conversation in Sanskrit, and he would sometimes converse with them in that way.
I remember one night, I accosted Kusa on Watseka, and we stopped on the sidewalk, leaning against the fence, telling a few jokes, with Kusa laughing hard. [Humor of a transcendental nature, of course.] I was thinking, “here I am, hanging out with Kusa on Watseka, cracking jokes, what an oddity.” After a few minutes, he was back to work. It didn’t matter if it was day or night, he was always going full throttle at his work.
He told me about the most amazing book order I’ve ever heard of. It must have been a Guinness world record for a book sale in a single day, for a solitary self-publisher. Here was just one man writing, translating, producing and printing and selling hundreds of titles, all by himself. One day he got a call from a German devotee, who asked him how much it would cost to get two copies of every book Kusa had in stock, plus the shipping to Germany. Kusa calculated for a while and then told the German devotee it was, [if memory serves], about 5,000 dollars. The German devotee told Kusa that he was writing out the check, as they spoke. What a sale. What a flood of nectar for the German devotees.
He had a funny way of getting prasadam sometimes. Cooking was not his proclivity, as it took too much of his time. Living in the green apartments there in New Dwarka, he said there were always an occasional Vaisnava gathering, or some birthday party, in one of the green apartments. Kusa had this uncanny sixth sense of knowing exactly when the prasadam was about to be served, and at the opportune time he would crash the party with his big steel plate, and the servers would load him up to the top. In that way he would get prasadam that lasted another day. At feasts in the temple he would come with a huge bowl and tell the server in his ever-jovial voice, “don’t be shy,” and they would fill up his bowl, and that would hold him over to the next day.
His rooms were always full of books, and in my mind it was compared to a pastime of the sixteenth century, when Srila Jiva Gosvami formed the first traveling sankirtan party, which consisting of Shrinivas, Narottam, and Shyamananda. They left Vrindavan with the manuscripts of the original works by Rupa, Sanatan, Gopal Bhatta, Raghunath Das, and Jiva, in a large wooden chest. These manuscripts were the only existing copies of these works, and so this wooden chest was said to be a treasure of “the most precious gems.” During their journey, one night the chest was stolen by some dacoits, and afterwards there ensued the very nice pastime of how Srinivas recovered the stolen manuscripts and how King Birhambir became his disciple.
In that way, Kusa’s room was a treasure chest of the “most precious gems” of thousands of books of the Gosvamis and Vedic literatures. These books were stacked up all over the living room and other rooms, and it was difficult to walk around his apartment. Kusa lived and breathed books as his life and soul. He produced thousands of books, and was always producing new titles. In fact, he also wrote several books of his own poetry, in Sanskrit and English, several of which I have, very amazing books. He explained to me the business end of it all, how there was a mystical hand in the printing and selling of books. He said how he would send new titles to the printers, get hundreds printed, and then get a printing bill of several thousand dollars, with no plan of how to pay it. Then shortly after he would sell a whole bunch of books, which would cover the printing bill. Then the same thing would happen all over again, he would print a whole bunch of books, get a huge bill, and then sell enough books to pay off the bill, and then be broke again. He was going on, with faith that Krsna would provide, and the books expanded unlimitedly.
Kusa employed a few devotees to do the typing of the manuscripts into text form, but he did a lot of this typing himself. I asked if he was a good typist, and how fast he was. He told me that he only used his two forefingers, never learning the keyboard like most people do. He taught himself a method of memorizing keys only for his two fingers, and said he was “the fastest two finger picker west of the Mississippi.” He gave me a little demonstration and he was right, his fingers were blazing fast.
Kusa was totally resolute and fixed in a single purpose of doing this book service, which was his service to Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna. For this reason, Kusa was completely oblivious to the world around him, because he was always thinking of what to do next. You might call him an avadhuta, because he wasn’t so much aware as to the degree of neglect of his personal appearance and so on. He just didn’t see the external world around him.
He had this bundi where one section of the coat was completely disintegrated, should have been thrown away long ago, but he wore it like nothing was strange. His apartment was very untidy, and the books were stacked up with little organization. He told me that a certain devotee would sometimes come and clean the apartment and arrange the books in order. But, in a few weeks it would all be back to normal, chaotic and untidy. This is totally excusable though, because Kusa just didn’t have time to think about anything but his service. He showed me his astrological chart, done by Srikara dasa, and I noticed that Venus was in the 12th house, which always means untidy appearance and unkempt house, and so on. Of course, Mercury was very strong in the chart, indicating “a man of letters,” an author, or dealer of books.
His apartment at one time got infested with roaches, and I could see highways of roaches commuting on the wall, more congested than the Santa Monica freeway. But, being a roach in Kusa’s house wasn’t so bad for the roach, I guess, as Srila Bhaktivinode wrote that he prayed to be born in a devotee’s house, even as an insect. Kusa was completely oblivious to the roaches, didn’t see them at all, when some other person would be freaking out. Kusa handed me one of his new books, and it had a baby roach crawling on it. It surprised me that Kusa didn’t see the roach, maybe he did see it, I wasn’t sure. I said, “even the cockroaches are liberated.” Kusa laughed inaudibly so hard, that his whole body shook while rocking back and forth. Those were great times in my life.
One day, by great fortune, he treated me to a narration of Vidagdha-madhava in the local Laundromat. I was walking around the temple at night and saw Kusa carrying his laundry, so I walked with him to the Laundromat behind the temple. The subject of Vidagdha-madhava came up, and Kusa decided to narrate to me a synopsis of the pastime of Vidagdha-madhava, written by Srila Rupa Gosvami, which are very intricate pastimes of Lord Krsna and His devotees. While he did laundry, he recounted the whole story off the top of his head. Ordinarily, if I were to read such a book, I would have to read it over and over again, just to slightly understand just a fraction of one such amazing pastimes of Krsna. But Kusa knew it all by heart, and recited it like he perfectly understood it. And hearing it, my heart understood it at the moment, but I’ve forgotten it all since then. I was thinking of how only a very few devotees on the whole planet even knew these pastimes, even read the book, and even fewer understood them, and I was lucky to hear the straight narration of pastimes, in synopsis, from Kusa, and it was a river of nectar.
Here are a few of some of the many verses composed by Kusakratha, and these particular verses are personal aspirations of the highest order, his fervent petitions to Lord Krishna for service-
From “Sri Vedanta-rahasya” by Kusakratha dasa, English only-
Some day will I, acutely aware of how Lord Krsna is concerned for the welfare of the conditioned souls, earnestly preach the glories of Lord Krsna’s holy name to the people of this world?
Some day, simply by speaking the word ‘Krsna’ will I place lotus-limbed Lord Krsna in the hearts of all who hear me?
When, as I walk in Vrndavana and see the holy places of Lord Krsna’s pastimes, will tears flow from my eyes, and my heart become stunned, overcome with bliss and love?
When, chanting japa of Lord Krsna’s names, will I suddenly see Radha and Krsna, splendid like a lightning flash and a dark monsoon cloud?
When, walking in charming Vrndavana forest, suddenly seeing lotus-eyed Lord Krsna, and falling down to offer dandavat obeisances, will I recite many sweet and poetic prayers?
Yes, my dear godbrother, Kusakratha prabhu, I’m sure you’ve attained the treasured goals of these pure desires expressed in hundreds of your original verses. I’m sure you are walking in Vrndavana right now, with tears flowing from your eyes. You were always thinking, speaking, chanting and hearing the holy names of our Lordships, Sri Sri Radha-Krsna, every minute of your life. You have placed lotus-limbed Lord Krsna in many devotees’ hearts, and even my hard heart as well. Thank you so much for your life of dedication, all glories to your service, I will always think of you, and Krishna willing, may we all be reunited some day, in the green pastures of Goloka.
Begging to remain your servant, and a friend feeling your separation, Vishoka dasa.