Written by Bhakti rasa dasa, ChristChurch, New Zealand.
Interview by Sangita devi dasi, from www.vaisnavascare.com
My name is Bhakti rasa dasa. Two years ago I was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer. Being born with only one kidney the doctors announced there was nothing they could do. My devotee wife and I had just been married two months prior.
I became a devotee 26 years ago and spent most of my time doing puja, preaching, running restaurants, but perhaps more well known for leading kirtan and making devotional recordings.
Before my diagnosis my wife and I were planning to start a family and had established a charity helping novice singer/songwriters by providing affordable recording facilities and guidance in the art of songwriting, arrangement and production.
Early on in our battle we discovered I was not able to bear children which pained my wife dreadfully. We fought the cancer through natural remedies, but in the end realised nothing was working. I was rapidly getting thinner, and dreadfully tired.
Despite my fading health I kept working, as helping people brought joy to my heart. Eventually I found I couldn’t keep up with the work and eventually had to stop.
About 6 months ago after and another scan that showed the cancer was rapidly progressing our hope of finding a cure disappeared.
Although we loved each other greatly the emotional effects of the cancer took it’s toll on our marriage and the terrible grief we were both feeling was more than my wife could bear. My wife announced she couldn’t cope watching her husband dying. My health took a rapid dive and I am now in a care centre waiting to die. My wife has now left me to begin a new life.
At present it is still unknown how much longer I will live, though I have narrowly escaped death twice in the last two months by medical intervention, but death may come at any time.
My teenage daughter from my first devotee marriage reads to me from Krsna book most nights which brings me great comfort, as I drift off to sleep and a small group of devotees have quiet, but sweet kirtan here twice a week. Throughout the night I have Prabhupada singing to me via an mp3 player.
My realisations include how much Srila Prabhupada did at his advanced age and the entire philosophy of Krsna consciousness has come alive for me. My daughter said to me recently ‘everything I have learnt at Gurukula has suddenly become real.’
I am attempting to write a book about my journey with cancer entitled ‘Stuck in the Departure Lounge’
My devotee sister is proving to be a wonderful source of support for me even though it is very hard for her to watch her much loved brother give up this life.
I have had a difficult life, fraught with ill heath and I can only hope and pray for a much better birth in a Vaisnava family. My non-devotee family have learnt to be respectful of my beliefs and have been very supportive.
I have realised that there is no real happiness in the material world and much of what we do is just filling in time until we die, as we all must. Our real purpose in life is to learn to take shelter of the Lotus feet of Guru and Krsna, and how without developing a real taste for chanting we will find it difficult in our final days.
In this care centre I see people around me dying who are wasting away their last days watching television, desperately trying to ignore what is happening to their bodies. I realise how without real faith in the holy name and the reality of the soul there is only fear and loneliness.
Anyone wishing to e-mail me is more than welcome. Thank you. firstname.lastname@example.org
Your servant, Bhaktirasa dasa
Interview with a Departing Vaisnava
By Sangita devi dasi in the U. S. and Bhakti rasa dasa Prabhu in New Zealand
Recently, I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to interview via internet, His Grace Bhakti rasa dasa Prabhu, a diciple of His Holiness Tamal Krishna Goswami. Bhakti rasa Prabhu is in his final months after being diagnosed with kidney cancer. Please read his letter of introduction above to better understand this meaningful interview. Thank you. (Sangita devi dasi, RN, CHPN)
1. You have already explained that you were born with one kidney and that the other kidney now has cancer. Can you please briefly explain to our readers if it has spread to other areas? What is the prognosis the doctors are giving at this time? (How long do they say you may have left with this illness?)
Answer by Bhakti rasa Prabhu: When I was diagnosed over two year ago my cancer was already well advanced. Along with a small tumour on my kidney the cancer had metastasised to several lymph nodes next to the kidney that had enlarged considerably. Since then the number and size of the lymph nodes affected have increased but have not spread as yet to any other parts or organs of my body keeping the disease somewhat isolated. The affect the growing tumors are having is the function of my kidney as the tumors are pressing on the kidney causing it to swell up and affect it’s function. In October last year I was rushed into hospital with incredible pain because the kidney and the tubes leading to the bladder had become blocked and without immediate operation I would have died that day. Since then I have had to tolerate a nephrostomy bag (a tube inserted into the kidney so that urine bypassed the bladder and goes into a bag strapped to my leg. As far as a prognosis is concerned doctors have never given me a time as kidney cancer is slow growing and rather uncommon. Recently my doctor said he was surprised I am still alive.
2. How has this disease affected your Krsna consciousness? Are you chanting more rounds daily? Are you reading more daily?
Answer by Bhakti rasa Prabhu: I have been a devotee for 26 years and despite a period of struggle with my Krsna consciousness I have always remained involved in leading kirtan and attending festivals and Sunday feasts. Prior to my diagnosis I had neglected my rounds due to involvement in work. After the initial shock of the diagnosis I began hearing and chanting daily and eventually was forced to gradually give up work. At present, living in a palliative care centre and suffering greatly from exhaustion and broken sleep I struggle to chant 16 rounds daily. sometimes I chant more, sometimes less, but the intensity of my chanting has improved greatly. I read Caitanya Caritamrita daily and along with readings on various days and special kirtan evenings I have devotees read to me every evening as I go to sleep. This is my favourite time of the day.
3. What does it feel like to face death so soon in your life? You are only 47 years old with a teenage daughter. Do you get depressed at times? Do you get angry? Even though you have been a devotee for 26 years, what emotions have you experienced since your diagnosis?
Answer by Bhakti rasa Prabhu: I was angry initially when I was first diagnosed but not since. I get lonely easily due to past experiences of being in hospital for long periods (as a devotee) and not receiving visitors from devotees. This was back in the old days as a brahmacari when attitudes in ISKCON were different. I went through a barrage of emotions at different times, too many to mention. I especially experienced a great deal of lamentation for wasted years neglecting my Krsna consciousness and not taking things more serious, but now I realise lamentation for my past follies is of no use now, but only focus on the intensity of my devotion now.
4. Some devotees write to VCARE and say that being a devotee would make one immediately come to the stage of accepting his or her prognosis/illness. Do you feel that being a devotee has helped you to accept your prognosis sooner than if you had never met your Guru Maharaja? (HH Tamal Krishna Goswami)
Answer by Bhakti rasa Prabhu: Most certainly. Living in a Care Centre surrounded by mostly elderly people facing their death shows you first hand how most people do not even acknowledge their mortality even though it is right in their face. They ignore it by spending most of their days watching television to escape from the fear and the pain. Without Krsna consciousness I cannot imagine how I would cope with this situation. Even the nurses here are amazed and inspired by how I am facing my death head on and have no difficulty talking about it with them.
5. Do you have any regrets in your life now that you are coming to the end of this life? Do you wish you had done things differently or not had done something at all?
Answer by Bhakti rasa Prabhu: Of course. I wish I had taken Krsna consciousness more seriously right from the start, many regrets. But realistically like most of us I was young, insecure and superficial about my practices for so many of my early years. And for some of the years just had to do what I knew best to figure out where I fitted in. But I feel blessed that I have remained addicted to kirtan and to the association of wonderful devotees.
6. If you wish, can you explain how you pray to your Guru and to Krsna now that you have cancer? How do your prayers differ now than before the diagnosis?
Answer by Bhakti rasa Prabhu: The main difference is the sincerity and intensity of my prayers and the almost fanatical rejection of all things that do not help my Krsna consciousness. I am particularly uncomfortable around non-devotee family members who want to ignore the issue of my death and talk about mundane topics. I simply wish to fully immerse myself in Krsna katha to ensure a blessed passing from this body to my next destination. I pray to my Guru and to Srila Prabhupada to forgive my weakness’ in the past and pray intensely for the strength to always remember Sri Sri Radha Krsna and Gaura-Nitai and their causeless mercy. This prayer begins from the moment I wake to my last waking moments in the evening.
7. What advice would you give to us since your prognosis? What can you tell us that would help us when it is our “turn” to leave this world? What can we do now that would help us then?
Answer by Bhakti rasa Prabhu: Learn to develop a real taste for hearing and for chanting. Don’t just ‘chant your rounds’ realise that you are ‘associating with the Lord directly through His Holy name’, He and His names are non-different, you are spending time with Nam Prabhu, not just ‘chanting your rounds’. Don’t just reat it like it is a chore! And learn to relish the association of devotees keeping humility, tolerance and honesty at the forefront of your association.
8. How does this illness effect your relationships with family, friends, and other devotees?
Answer by Bhakti rasa Prabhu: It has deepened all of my relationships. You quickly learn what is really important in your life.
9. Since being diagnosed, have you ever felt anger toward Krsna?
Answer by Bhakti rasa Prabhu: No I have not, though my wife did for awhile. It is a difficult journey for all who are directly involved, a journey that may be hard for others to understand.
10. Since being diagnosed, do you ever feel grateful to Krsna for giving you a chance to go back to Godhead sooner or to be in a better birth next time where you will know about Krsna consciousness sooner in your life with a nice Vaisnava family?
Answer by Bhaki rasa Prabhu: I feel extremely grateful all the time for this blessing. Being given notice of your death is a great blessing and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Dear Bhakti rasa Prabhu, We thank you so very much for taking your precious time in order to enlighten us about what it is like to face one’s end of life. We see you as courageous and strong and extremely surrendered to Guru and Krsna. All of us at Vaisnavas CARE are praying for you and wish you Srila Prabhupada’s blessings. May you remain forever at his lotus feet as you continue your journey back home, back to Godhead. –Sangita devi dasi