(an open letter to his disciples and followers)
by Hari-dhama dasa
Hari-dhama dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Mukunda Goswami, is a qualified and experienced bereavement and grief counsellor who has worked in the UK hospice movement for more than 15 years. He is currently the on-call Hindu-Vaisnava chaplain for two major London hospitals. In this open letter he throws light on how to recognise and respond to grief and bereavement in light of the recent departure of His Holiness Srila Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja.
Dear disciples and followers of His Holiness Srila Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
From our Lord Krsna’s perspective the departure of His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja was timely and planned. From our perspective it was untimely, unexpected and contrary to what we fervently prayed for. It was not what we wanted nor want we expected. For us, and in particular, for you as his disciples and followers, it can be considered as a “sudden death”: there was no poor prognosis, there was no terminal illness, and there was no extended period to prepare. And for those of you who prayed across the globe for Maharaja’s recovery may have found yourself perplexed that your prayers were not answered. These factors can compound your grief.
You have access to a wide range of support within ISKCON: godbrothers and -sisters, friends and family, fellow-devotees, siksha gurus, Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, and your own sadhana. But most importantly, you have direct access to the teachings, examples, legacies and memories of Bhakti Charu Swami in his Vani form.
But for the here and now you may have profound feelings of loss and bereavement. Grief and mourning are human experiences we all will face at some stage in our lives. It can have intense affects on our daily living and if unchecked, can develop into complicated grief, which often needs professional intervention. Grief that is never expressed, which is too intense for too long, that is delayed, can take on a grief pathology that can impact upon your mental health. Up to 3 months’ adjustment is usually the norm for healthy grieving.
No two devotees will grieve in the same way: it is a uniquely individual experience, and very much dependent on the depth, quality and longevity of your relationship with Maharaja. Grieving is a process that allows us to come to terms with loss and is a life event that requires adjustments. It is a time of life when we are at our most vulnerable, when we question the purpose of life and death, when we question our own faith and our faith in Krsna. Acknowledging our feelings and emotions is the first recognition that we are grieving.
Your healing is very much dependent on the 4 tasks of mourning (taken from “Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy” by William Worden)
Task 1: accept the reality of your loss – Maharaja is not going to come back. His Vapu has left us and we are left with his Vani.
Task 2: process the pain and grief – enter into a conversation with Krsna and Bhakti Charu Swami. Talk to others and share your experiences, good and bad about Maharaja. Recognise and acknowledge your feelings and stay with it. Be gentle on yourself. You may feel sad that you were separated from your guru even before he left this world, that you could not be at his bedside, that you were yearning for his association, and that he left his body in a “foreign” land.
Task 3: adjust to the world without Bhakti Charu Swami: How does his departure affect your everyday function? How does it affect your sense of self? How does his physical death affect your values, beliefs and assumptions about the world?
Task 4: As a bereaved devotee you need not “give up” on your relationship with Maharaja. It continues in his Vani form. You can find solace and comfort in your relationships with his godbrothers and -sisters, with your siksha guru(s) and other Vaisnavas. Find a suitable place for Bhakti Charu Swami in your heart and in your devotional and psychological lives – a place that is important but also leaves room for others.
These 4 tasks will ensure that you can accept the departure of Bhakti Charu Swami, find true meaning in it and arrive at a place where you can continue your devotional life and find new ways of embarking on a new life, of which he will always be an integral part. Your acceptance that it was Krsna’s plan will allow you the realisations we learn from the Gita: “And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt”; “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings, nor in the future shall any of us cease to be”; “For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time”; “He is not slain when the body is slain”; “This individual soul (His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja) is unbreakable and insoluble, and can never be burned nor died. He (Bhakti Charu Swami) is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.”
Allow yourself time to grieve, normalise what you are going through and identify the point at which you feel stuck in your grief, and seek help and support. Talking and reminiscing about your life with Bhakti Charu Swami is one of the best therapies available to you. This you can do by using evocative language to actualise your loss, revisit photos of Maharaja, write a letter to him, engage with him, talk or pray to him, draw him, follow his instructions, read his books, etc. Do not sanitise the process of your grief: you are not grieving for the benefit of others. You are grieving for the loss of a dear and intimate relationship in its Vani and Vapu forms. Grieving is a necessity because it is the unavoidable means by which the mind, body and spirit are able to adjust to immense change. We need to grieve because it makes us come to terms with our loss.
Last but not least, find a good listener to talk to. Someone who can enter your world and walk with you, who can listen to understand rather than to respond. This empathic person will strive to make you feel comfortable, whom you can trust, and accept your tears without attempting to help you over those tears quickly. A good listener will not proffer advice, or make judgements. They will just “BE” rather than “DO.”
All glories to His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaja.