“Overcoming Death through Mercy – A tale of a Silent Book Distributor”
By Vibhava Krsna Das
Seven decades ago in a remote Muslim village in the Kashmir valley (where a bus would come once in a day to drop the passengers) on the auspicious day of Akshaya Tritiya, a child was born in one of the few Hindu families that lived there. Although the family belonged to Brahmin class due to their association with the local Muslims for years they gradually fell from the Brahmanical standards and became voracious meat-eaters. The boy gradually grew up very intelligent and sharp. Though the family had a lot of land and facility life wasn’t easy. He had to walk almost 5 miles to his school and cross a river in between.
As time passed the family grew and so did the problems. Finally, the family decided to separate, and the property was divided between the brothers. The situation wasn’t friendly enough and somehow, he couldn’t hold on to his share. He easily gave it up and didn’t resist.
He left his village and tried to do some business on his own which initially went very well. But one dark night everything was lost due to an accident where one of the employees lost his life. He remembered it as one of the darkest nights of his life.
With no support from anywhere or anyone he left the state to undergo a training course in electronics. He successfully completed the course and started his small-time business in the city of Srinagar. He later was employed by a television company as their service engineer for the state. By that time, he had a family of his own with his wife and two kids (me and my brother). Gradually things started to settle for him and his hard work started paying dividends. Finally, after a lot of struggle of 13 years he bought some parcels of land and built a nice house.
But Krsna had some other plans and in January 1990 terrorism struck Kashmir valley in the worst possible way. Kashmiri Hindus were mercilessly killed in broad daylight. Even the Influential scholars, High-rank Government Officers who were Hindus were not spared. It created a panic situation in the whole Kashmir valley. Most of the others fled in the dead of night leaving behind everything they had, their homes, belongings everything. To write about the atrocities Hindus faced in the Kashmir valley in those years is humanly impossible. What to speak of hearing them??? This tragedy is one of the largest human exodus in the history of mankind. Official figures put it at 6,00,000 to 7,00,000.
At the age of 40 my father lost materially everything he had. He had nothing left, Absolutely Nothing. His family was literally on the road seeking shelter with some relatives and friends. They finally moved to Jammu (another city of J&K state). With no work he could hardly maintain himself forget his family. Things started to get tougher day by day. But what I vividly remember is that despite such hardships –
Ø He never gave up his faith in God. He never blamed God for whatever bad was happening to him and his family. He always maintained the vision. He would religiously worship Lord Shiva and never ask any material benedictions save and except goodwill for his family. His faith in God, I must say was the foundation of my own spiritual values & Culture.
Ø He continued doing charity though meagre. It created an extremely strong impression on me. I saw him doing it every now and then despite hardships. He would always say – Householders should do charity.
Ø He ensured anyone who came to his tiny little room (where the whole family lived) was fed sumptuously and given proper respect.
Ø He continued working honestly and whatever small amount he would earn was for sure earned through honest and fair means. This he told me was his greatest value of life. And this is etched in my heart forever and I haven’t forgotten this value in my life.
Despite the hardships he pushed me for higher studies and sent me to Pune, considered to be the Oxford of the east. Maybe that was Krsna’s plan as I never wanted to leave my native place. I came to Pune in 1998 and got introduced to devotees in the same year. He somehow managed to pull things off and in June 2002 I got a small job in Pune. I had seen him struggle his whole life, so I told him to that he should take rest now (though I wasn’t earning much) and on my pushing he retired from active material life. He wound up his small shop in Jammu and came to Pune. This led to his introduction to Srila Prabhupada’s supreme mercy, His books. I gifted him the “Srimad Bhagvatam” set in 2002 and he finished reading it in just over 3 months. I vividly remember he telling me after reading the third canto – “Are you planning to get married”? I said, “Yes” and he was kind of disappointed and he said, “This householder life is very tough and one gets captured by Maya further and entrapped forever. What have you learnt?? Didn’t you read SB properly?? It’s very clear.” He was so convinced with the words of Srila Prabhupada. After finishing the Srimad Bhagvatam he pointed out, “I am not sure about Krsna but this man (Srila Prabhupada) is extraordinary. How can someone write like this?”
Srila Prabhupada reciprocated with his genuine feelings and sincere heart. He soon began to serve in the temple immediately. He would take care of the accounts Dept. His meticulous nature was a perfect match for such service. Gradually, the devotees in the temple appreciated his service and gave him full support. He would also preach vehemently to devotees who were deciding their future ashram. He would tell them there is not much pleasure in this world, so better stay as a lifelong bramhachari.
Later, he got the service at the Jiva Daya Department (Book Distribution Program of ISKCON Pune) and would take care of the accounts for them. He spent the rest of his life serving in this department of the temple. He never expected anything in return for the service he did. He was always serving in the background always ensuring the temple got the necessary funds from the book sale. He made very nice strategic systems which ensured the funds flow was smooth enough and the book distribution service continued without any difficulty. He was very meticulous about his service and ensured the book distribution department not only managed to get the funds for the books but for the temple as well. He was always punctual for his service and would always be on time. He was never critical of devotees and who would never talk ill about them. In many ways he was a “Silent Book Distributor”. He was very sober and grave personality but had a very amazing sense of humor as well.
Recently, his health started deteriorating suddenly. Initially, he began to have back pain and we consulted an orthopaedic who gave some pain killers etc. But after some initial relief the pain increased again. All the X-rays were done but nothing was clear what was causing the pain. After some time, doctors recommended we go for MRI where they noticed some abnormalities in the lung area and bones especially spine. Later, on 30th Nov 2018 we got the PET scan done and our fears came true when the doctor confirmed that it was 4th stage Lung Cancer which had gone into his bones. The pain was excruciating, and it began to take a toll.
Soon, his mobility got restricted and he couldn’t even sit what to speak of stand and walk. We decided to undergo some radiation therapy focussed on his hips so that he could atleast get some mobility. Although an Ayurvedic man whole life he decided to go for some Chemo therapy cycles for immediate relief. After couple of chemo therapies, he began to feel better. He would tell me please pray that I become ONLY that much healthy that I can walk upto Jiva Daya Dept. for my service. He was focussed on his service of Book Distribution. During this year book marathon, he would keep asking about the book distribution scores of the devotees. He was worried that temple might not break the last year record. But the Pune Temple devotees gave him a beautiful prize of coming second in the world in this year marathon, which they very lovingly dedicated to him.
But on 5th Feb suddenly, his condition deteriorated and he started to breathe heavily. He started showing signs of dizziness. He began to loose the sense of time and a bit of memory. It was followed by a lot of breathlessness. We decided to take him to the doctor who was treating him. Upon reaching the hospital he underwent some checks and X-rays of the lungs which confirmed severe infection in his chest area. His breathing stayed heavy, but he was pretty much conscious.
As the oxygen level was dropping we had to admit him in the hospital. By early morning his oxygen level wasn’t improving, and they decided to put him on the ventilator. I wasn’t sure about that, so I decided to ask him. He immediately consented. He said he was too tired as the machine kept him awake throughout the night and he wanted to sleep. Before they put him on ventilator I went to him and told him that this might be the last time he will be talking. I asked if there was anything or any work he wanted to do. Raising his left hand in complete confidence and control he said, “All done”. I took this as an opportunity and went close to his ear as he lay there on the bed and expressed my gratitude to him. Thanked him for whatever he had done for me and told him to remember the holynames of Krsna and his service to Srila Prabhupada. I left the room for him to be prepared for the ventilation knowing well this will be the last time I will see him fully conscious. By that time my younger brother also arrived from Mumbai to be at his side.
On 7th his situation started deteriorating a bit more. I was in touch with HG Radheshyam Prabhu (Temple President, ISKCON Pune) and would give him regular updates. The doctors called us in the afternoon and told they would like to go for dialysis as his kidneys apparently weren’t functioning properly. After discussing this with HG Radheshyam Prabhu who suggested we don’t give my father and inflict further pain which was even confirmed by some of the devotee doctors as well. We decided to sign the palliative care form for him. The doctors gave us 3 days’ time. He was conscious meaning he could hear us. Sometimes I felt he was very fearful as he would shake his whole body but couldn’t move as his hands were tied up for the artificial ventilator. I remembered when my holy God-brother, HG Stoka Krsna Prabhu left his body Srila Radhanath Swami Maharaj would speak in his ear. I didn’t know what to say so I just repeated the same words like a parrot in my father’s ear – “Don’t be afraid. Leave this bag of flesh and bones. Remember Krsna’s Holyname and the service you rendered for Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada is waiting for you. He will take you by your hand back to Krsna. Don’t worry. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.” And yes, as I would say this my father would press my hand and become peaceful again. This I continued many times during the day.
In the evening I again called Radheshyam Prabhu and asked him if he could ask HH Radhanath Swami and other senior Vaishnavas (who were in Pune for the bureau meeting) to give their blessings for my father’s final journey. This was the first time ever Bureau Meeting was happening in Pune. He immediately agreed and even fixed up some time with Maharaj. I rushed to the temple immediately. HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj prayed for him intensely and chanted for him and he thanked my father for his selfless service to Srila Prabhupada. Later when I was leaving HH Gopal Krsna Goswami Maharaj asked me what happened, and I told Maharaj that father was sick and might leave his body. He looked at his picture and asked what service he did. I told Maharaj that he served in Book Distribution Department for many years. Immediately, Maharaj said he has perfected his life. He is in the hands of Srila Prabhupada. Then on the request of HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj I called my brother (who was with my father in the hospital) and both HH Gopal Krsna Goswami Maharaj and HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj chanted for my father. Later, HH Bhakti Rasamrita Swami also called him and blessed him through transcendental sound vibration.
I am not able to express what I felt at that moment. It was extremely special. All I remember now is that a sense of solace arose in my heart and soul. There was no fear in my heart after that. It was like ‘mission accomplished’ situation. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada!!! All Glories to our Supreme Saviour!!!
Immediately after that my father’s heart beat started to slow down. I was still at the temple but my younger brother who was there immediately poured Radha Kund water in his mouth. Kept Maha Tulasi from the Lordships Sri Sri Radha Vrindavanchandra on his tongue. His body was already marked with Vaishnava Tilak and Narashimadeva Maha abhishek Oil. We had also tied Tulasi (kanthi) malas on both his hands with Narshima Kavach. My brother ensured Srila Prabhupada chanting radio continued close to his ear and while listening to that he left his body.
I was wonderstruck by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada on my father. What a great fortune !!!! Imagine a life of 68 years of hard work and labour but that last few minutes of his life he received so much mercy which is unimaginable. Srila Prabhupada opened the doors of Vrindavan for him and even his ashes were offered to Mother Yamuna. We got much more than we could have ever imagined. That I believe is the true nature of our Dearmost Srila Prabhupada.
Dear Reader you might be wondering why did I put this article here ?? This article is not to glorify the material relationship I shared with my father or how he struggled in his life for his family or for that matter even his service to Srila Prabhupada (he would have never liked that) but I wrote this to share with you that this process of Krsna Consciousness works. It works even with the most down-trodden and sinful people like me. Whatever Srila Prabhupada has written and spoken is a fact. I saw this in action as things gradually unfolded in front of me. It took me time to realise – This is for REAL. This process is actually meant to give us Victory Over Death, make us fearless. Once someone asked Prabhupada – What is this movement going to do to us ?? And Prabhupada very boldly responded, It will make you Fearless. I have been always fearful in my life, always anxious of losing my possessions but this is one of the best things I ever heard in my life and I hope one fine day I realise this.
But the most important thing I wanted to share is that –
“SRILA PRABHUAPDA NEVER FORGETS EVEN AN IOTA OF SERVICE YOU RENDER FOR SRI SRI RADHA-KRSNA AND LORD CAITANYA. PRABHUAPDA NEVER FORGETS. PRABHUPADA WILL TAKE CARE.”
As Sukhdeva Goswami points out in the 6th Canto of Srimad Bhagvatam (6.1.15) –
na tathā hy aghavān rājan
My dear King, If a sinful person engages in the service of a bonafide devotee of the Lord and thus learns how to dedicate his life unto the lotus feet of Krsna, he can be completely purified.
Srila Prabhupada in the purport for the verse mentions –
Tat-purusa refers to the preacher of Krsna Consciousness, such as the spiritual master. Srila Narottam Das Thakur has said, chadiya vaisnava-seva nistara payeche keba, “Without serving a bonafide spiritual master, an ideal Vaishnava, who can be delivered from the clutches of maya?”
For all the devotees Srila Prabhupada is the first Tat-Purusa who through his books and his sincere followers is preaching Krsna Consciousness to us. Also Srimad Bhagavatam (5.5.2) explains mahat-sevāṁ dvāram āhur vimuktes, one can attain the path of liberation from material bondage ONLY by rendering service to highly advanced spiritual personalities. Somehow my father also got this rare opportunity to associate with Srila Prabhupada through his books and rendered some service for his pleasure. And Srila Prabhuapada also took care of him at the most important phase of his life. He fulfilled the promise he has made to all of us. Let’s do our part of the bargain…….
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to –
HH Radhanath Swami, my spiritual master for giving me shelter and showering his mercy and compassion upon my father
HH Gopal Krsna Goswami, for blessing my father at the very moment of his departure
HH Krsna Ksehtra Swami, for his blessings and inspiration behind this article
HG Rukhmini Devi (SP Disciple) for her selfless love and encouragement to my family and inspiring me to write this letter of gratitude
HH Bhakti Rasamrita Swami for his love and care, I will be lost without that.
HG Radheshyam Prabhu for introducing me to Krsna Consciousness and Srila Prabhupada. For that I am eternally indebted to him.
HG Sarva Laxan Prabhu for the friendship he shared with my father and engaging him in the transcendental book distribution service.
Congregation Devotees and Bramachari Ashram of ISKCON Pune for their endless support, love and care. You have shown the world through example what Prabhuapda Family really means.
My brother Shyam Ram Prabhu and my dear wife Janaki Prema dd for their selfless service during the last phase of my father’s life. Gratitude to them.
And to you Dear Reader who read this with an open heart and mind, allowed me to serve you.