By Nikunja Vilasini Devi Dasi
A little connection to Krishna can save us from the greatest fear.
The past year and a half in my circle of family and friends was fraught with tears and valuable lessons in the face of danger and death, but during that difficult time, a pattern emerged. Whoever was in touch with Krishna – in whatever way – benefited from His presence in their life. Krishna did not forsake anyone striving to come closer to Him.
It all started at the deathbed of my grandmother Dayavati Devi Dasi, as she lay in a comatose condition. I had always imagined death to be a dark, ominous creature waiting to squeeze out life’s breath and rip the soul from the body. Now I saw death as a kind benefactor waiting to release my grandmother from her suffering.
But was she really suffering? I remembered the past few months when death had almost taken her. Yet each time that her body collapsed in the throes of agonizing pain, her mind became sharper, her meditation on the Lord more intense. Even when she had suffered from a locked jaw and had not eaten in days, she was able to read the Srimad-Bhagavatam loudly for hours at a time without signs of weakness or fatigue. She told me that the holy name was like a soothing balm to her pain, that prayers to Lord Nrisimhadeva gave her new life, and that the words of Srimad-Bhagavatam, the spotless Purana, were giving her joy through her intense bodily suffering.
I remembered how I had lain beside her the day before her departure, stroking her head and singing prayers to Nrisimha. She was too weak to speak or open her eyes, but as soon as she heard the song, her voice returned, and she sang along loudly. Recognizing her imminent departure, I was hopeful for her next destination as I remembered the words of the Bhagavad-gita (12.6–7) in which Krishna says that for those who have fixed their minds upon Him and have devoted their lives to Him, He is the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.
But now that she had lost external consciousness, I wondered, would she still be able to remember Krishna and be delivered by His hand instead of the hand of menacing death? Would Krishna abandon her now when she needed Him the most? All we could do was surrender to Krishna’s plan and continue chanting His holy names, which would invoke all auspiciousness.
When the chanting had reached a crescendo, my grandmother suddenly sat up, lifted her arms, and uttered Hare Krishna as she took her final breath. Seeing the beautiful smile on her face, I remembered Krishna’s promise in the Bhagavad-gita (9.22): “Those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form – to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.”
Krishna Intervenes for His Devotee
Months later, my grandmother’s spiritual master, Srila Krishna Dasa Swami, was in a similar position, ready to leave this world after heart failure. His disciples rushed him in an ambulance to Vrindavan, which is described in the Mathura-mahatmya as being the perfect place to depart from this world. Living and dying in Vrindavan would secure a glorious next life in Krishna’s own abode. But time was cheating them. Maharaja could barely hold on after years of fighting as Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual warrior. Would Krishna fulfill his final wish to die in the holy dhama?
We celebrated with tears of joy and heartache when we heard that Maharaja had breathed his last amid the chanting of Krishna’s holy names just as he had entered the outskirts of Vraja-mandala. Again I was encouraged by Krishna’s intervention. He had kept to His word that His devotees will never perish. (Gita 9.31)
But what about those who are not as fortunate, who are not able to dedicate their lives in the same way and get the same result? Are all their endeavors in vain? Lord Krishna reminds us: “In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Gita 2.40) I was soon to discover the import of these words.
One Monday morning, just before Maharaja’s departure, we discovered that Priya, our pet cat, was missing. For days we frantically searched for her and waited to see her sweet black-and-white face in the doorway. We remembered the way she would dash across the garden when we called her name at mealtimes; the way she enjoyed her favorite halava prasada; the way she would quietly sit and listen to us chant Lord Krishna’s names every morning. But then we discovered that Priya had been hit by a car and had died. If only we had found out earlier and had at least cremated her and given her a proper farewell, we would have been consoled. But it was not meant to be.
Did Krishna forget the ajnata-sukriti (unconscious spiritual advancement) she had attained in her short lifetime? I remembered the wonderful pastime of how Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had delivered the dog of His devotee Sri Shivananda Sena. The dog had wandered from Shivananda Sena and his traveling party that was on its way from Bengal to Jagannath Puri to meet Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. When the party arrived in Mahaprabhu’s presence, the devotees saw the Lord eating some green coconut pulp and throwing the remnants to the dog. He told the dog to chant the names “Rama,” “Krishna,” and “Hari.” As the dog began to relish the prasada, the merciful remnants of the Lord, he danced and chanted in bliss. The devotees were astounded. The next day they discovered that the dog had assumed a spiritual form and had gone to the Lord’s spiritual realm.
We were reminded of the glorious effects of maha-prasada and the holy name when, two weeks later, my daughter had a dream. Priya appeared to her as a beautiful girl with black hair and thanked her for all we had done for her. Whatever the dream meant, we were comforted and reassured that Krishna had given her better opportunities to progress in the next life.
Spiritual Efforts Preserved Forever
My mind immediately drifted to all those devotees who had died in recent years – through terminal disease, numerous horrifying crimes in our country, and horrendous accidents. Surely Krishna has protected all these devotees who had been endeavoring for spiritual perfection. Even though He may or may not protect the material body, He protects the soul from its ensnarement in illusory happiness, from its wandering further from Him, and ultimately from repeated birth and death. These devotees’ spiritual journeys would continue from where they had left off. Sometimes a devotee’s advancement is accelerated in the last moments of life, opening the door to the spiritual world.
Whatever the case, the results of spiritual efforts are never lost, unlike material efforts, which are thwarted by failure. Srila Prabhupada explains that if you end this life with one percent of effort towards Krishna, you begin in the next life from two percent. It is a continuous progression of consciousness until, by Krishna’s help and reciprocation, we reach a hundred percent – when we are finally in Krishna’s loving embrace in His spiritual abode.
But what about those who are not directly linked to Krishna, who are connected to Him through others or through family members? Does Krishna reciprocate with them too?
Fortunate Father of a Devotee Son
About a month ago we received a call that my father-in-law had collapsed in his home and had died from a heart attack. My husband rushed to Portugal for the funeral, regretting that he had not seen his father before his death and had not helped him more in his final days. My father-in-law had no contact with Krishna and spiritual practices except through us. He had always lived alone in the Portuguese countryside with his dogs as his only companions. In his young days, when his son wanted to leave work at his printing press to join Srila Prabhupada’s movement, he readily agreed. And when the devotees had asked him to print Srila Prabhupada’s books in Portuguese, he eagerly served. And now, more than thirty years later, when it was time for him to leave this world, he was surrounded by old paintings of Krishna and framed renditions of the maha-mantra that he had kept for us. The Bhagavad-gita in Portuguese, although apparently untouched, sat nearby on his table. Surely the Lord did not forget his small service.
As my husband mourned his father’s passing, Giriraja Swami, our spiritual master, reminded us of Krishna’s kindness by referring us to the following conversation (July 5, 1975, Chicago):
Disciple (1): We are giving these books to so many common men. Then the books will perhaps attract them to chanting and following the regulative principles.
Prabhupada: Yes, if they read. Even if they touch. That is the difference between this book and an ordinary book. Even if they touch and they read one line. If he says, “Oh, it is very nice,” he makes a step forward. If he simply says this word, “Oh, it is very nice,” that is sufficient to bring him. . . . Therefore we are trying to push. At least let him say, “It is very nice.”
Kartikeya’s mother – practical experience. Kartikeya, when he used to go to see his mother, she used to go out. The same mother gradually, in the association of her son, became Krishna conscious. So at the time of death she asked Kartikeya, “Is your Krishna here?” and she died immediately. This is the effect. . . . She remembered Krishna, so her life was successful. . . . So she got the benefit of her son’s Krishna consciousness. . . .
So all the mothers of my disciples, they will get salvation because she has got a nice son. . . .
Disciple (2): What about the fathers?
Prabhupada: Father also. Both the father and mother. Because they are the father and mother of a Vaishnava devotee, so they will be taken special care of. You’ll find from Prahlada Maharaja’s description, even a father like Hiranyakashipu, he got salvation because Prahlada was his son.
Disciple (3): Srila Prabhupada, it seems strange that so many parents who are engaged in meat-eating and illicit sex and intoxication and gambling could have a son who would become a Vaishnava.
Prabhupada: Therefore they will get the advantage of the son. Somehow or other they have produced a son, Vaishnava, so the son’s activities will react upon the life of the parents. Because naturally the sons think of the father and mother, that is beneficial for them. However one may be renounced, he cannot get be rid of family affection. That is natural. So the Vaishnava son sometimes thinks of the father and mother. So they are getting the benefit.
Srila Prabhupada’s words lightened our sorrow and deepened our hope and faith. Later my father-in-law’s ashes were immersed in the holy Yamuna River in Vrindavan, and thus he received blessings for his onward journey.
Given More Time
A few days ago, Krishna again showed us His kindness, demonstrating that He takes special care of those who turn to Him. My sister Yamuna Devi Dasi had thought she was staring death in the face when she suddenly had severe chest pains. Knowing that she would pass out, she cried out to the Lord, chanting His holy names. She placed a deity of Lord Nrisimhadeva on her chest, ready to leave her body, and then lost consciousness. Our dad, who arrived on the scene just in time, desperately did CPR to revive her, pleading to the Lord to save her. But her body was already cold and her pulse too faint to recognize. He tried over and over again to resuscitate her until finally she coughed and regained consciousness.
When I reflect on this incident, I see how Krishna sometimes pushes us to increase our taking shelter of Him. He doesn’t calculate spiritual advancement by material means. In fact, when we take ten steps towards Him, He takes twenty towards us. As a result, my sister doesn’t see life the same way now.
“Facing death and coming back changes you forever,” she told us. “I see life for this moment and not for tomorrow. I judge no one and expect nothing. I see life as to live and love for now and that all of us are beautiful beings of Krishna. When death stares you in the face, resentment and fear disappear, and all you see is that you wish you had the chance for a single moment again, and I have that now. I see this incident as a miracle that created wonderful realizations for us all. Such is the beauty of life and the mercy of guru and Krishna.”
Krishna showed us that if He saves the material body, it is meant for a purpose too – it is meant for us to take many more steps towards Him and not risk getting another life in mundane consciousness.
We see Srila Prabhupada validating this point in the following excerpt from TKG Memories, Volume 2 (2005), a compendium of recollections about Tamal Krishna Goswami. Under the heading “Conveyor of Prabhupada’s Encouragement,” an unidentified devotee is speaking:
In the early days in Los Angeles, before the devotees moved to Watseka Avenue, they were staying in a little church on La Cienega Boulevard. Tamal Krishna Goswami was the temple president, and he was always eager to pass on inspiration and encouragement from Srila Prabhupada. One day he said, “Prabhus, Srila Prabhupada just said that we should go back to Godhead in this lifetime. We should not waste another birth. We should finish it up now. However, if we need more time, Krishna will add more years to our life. If we are sincere and serious, Krishna will add more years to our life so we can finish it in this very lifetime.”
Krishna Fans a Spark
But Krishna’s mercy doesn’t stop there. He even reciprocates with those who have a small interest in Him. This morning our twelve-year-old neighbor friend, Kaydi, knocked on our door. She hadn’t come to eat her favorite prasada or offer our Krishna deity new flowers from her garden. She hands me an obituary booklet with her aunt’s picture on the cover. Her favorite aunt has just died from cancer, and Kaydi is still distraught after returning from the funeral yesterday. I read the obituary messages in Afrikaans. They are full of heartfelt appreciations and touching remembrances of someone dearly loved.
I place her aunt’s picture on our altar under the deities of Radha-Syamasundara and Giriraja Govardhana, right next to my father-in-law’s. Kaydi’s face lights up like a hundred stars. She knows that Krishna’s blessings are meant for everyone. I bid her farewell, telling her that we’ll offer a lamp to Krishna tonight on her aunt’s behalf.
As I glance at the altar pictures of those who have recently left us, and as I watch our new dachshund puppy scampering for prasada biscuits in the garden, I marvel at how there is no loss in even a small awakening of spiritual consciousness – even a small connection to Krishna will save us when it matters most.