Like most organizations, Srila Prabhupada’s Hare Krishna movement has its share of jargon. If the word jargon brings to mind its negative definition—“unintelligible language”—consider that the first dictionary definition is “specialist language,” which simplifies communication within groups. Prasada, mangala-arati, kirtana, and many other Sanskrit words are part of the jargon of ISKCON, as are many English words with unique ISKCON usages.
These thoughts occurred to me when I looked over the Vaishnava Calendar in this issue and noticed that it includes Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance day.
Now, how did you react to the word disappearance in the last sentence? If you’re a regular reader of this magazine or have been around Prabhupada’s movement for a while, you probably didn’t react to this odd usage. If you’re new to all of this, you might have thought, “Disappearance? Like Amelia Earhart?”
Disappearance is one of our jargon words. We “insiders” all know what it means, but others might not, so why use it? Why not just say something like “the anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s death?”
First of all, disappearance is traditional. In Sanskrit, a pure devotee’s birth and death are referred to as avirbhava (appearance) and tirobhava (disappearance). Death doesn’t seem the right word when speaking of a pure devotee of the Lord. Ordinary people die, but a pure devotee leaves the body and this world and enters the eternal spiritual world. We celebrate the pure devotee’s tirobhava as a glorious event.
Whether pure devotee or ordinary Joe, each of us is an eternal soul temporarily inhabiting a particular body. We’re all just passing through, entering a body at conception and leaving it at death. But Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita (2.13) that these events don’t bewilder the self-realized soul, who, unlike the ordinary Joe, is free from misidentification with the body.
Because of my concern that speaking of a devotee’s disappearance might confuse some readers, I prefer to write that a devotee passed away. Writing guides often include that phrase in their list of euphemisms and suggest sticking with the straight-forward died. But I like passed away because it’s more accurate than died, at least from the spiritual perspective. We practitioners of bhakti-yoga are primarily concerned with the soul, and the soul never dies; it simply passes away—either to another material body or to the spiritual world.
Some of you reading this might have recalled the following lines by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, written in honor of the great chanter and teacher of the holy name Srila Haridasa Thakura: “He reasons ill who says that Vaishnavas die, When thou art living still in sound!”
This indicates that pure devotees live on in their teachings. So in that sense, too, they never die. We find this idea applied to anyone who has left behind something “immortal,” such as a literary or an artistic creation. But the sound by which pure devotees live on in this world is not a temporal creation but an eternal sound transmitted through them from the spiritual world. As Srila Narottama Dasa writes, “The sound of the glorification of Krishna is a gift from Goloka Vrindavana, Lord Krishna’s eternal abode.” If we immerse ourselves in that liberating sound, we won’t die either. As Prabhupada once said, at the end of our time in this body we’ll close our eyes, and when we open them, we’ll be with Krishna.