Lest We Forget

A letter to the recently departed Ananta-shanti Dasa, Srila Prabhupada’s first disciple in the former Soviet Union.

by Indradyumna Swami

Ananta-shanti Dasa passed away on June 3 this year, as the result of a stroke. The following is adapted from Diary of a Traveling Monk, Volume 13, Chapter 11.

Dear Ananta-shanti Prabhu,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

It was with great sadness that I learned of your recent departure. I rarely, if ever, express any deep emotion, but upon hearing of your demise I broke down and cried, for you have always been a true hero to me. By the Lord’s arrangement, you met our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupda, on his first visit to the former Soviet Union, in June 1971. Knowing your heart, he initiated you after only a few days and instructed you to spread Lord Chaitanya’s movement throughout your country. Srila Prabhupada’s confidence in you was revealed when he said of you, “Just as you can judge whether rice is properly cooked by picking out one small grain, so you can know an entire nation by observing one of its handpicked youths.”

With Srila Prabhupada’s blessings you fearlessly proceeded to spread the holy names around the Soviet Union, often at great risk. Your effort was initially single-handed, but you made devotees and soon their preaching was causing great alarm amongst the communist leaders of the time. In a 1981 issue of Kommunist, the official journal of the Communist Party, Semyon Tsvigun, the Deputy Chairman of the KGB secret police, wrote that “the three greatest threats to the Soviet way of life are Western culture, rock-and-roll music, and Hare Krishna.”

Such warnings did not deter you, however, and you continued preaching Krishna consciousness with great vigor. After eleven years, your efforts finally attracted the attention of the KGB, who arrested you in 1982.

While awaiting trial, you were confined to the Butyrskaya Investigations Prison. In June 1983, you were tried and found guilty of “infringement of person and rights of citizens under appearance of performing religious ceremonies.” As punishment you were committed to the dreaded Smolensk Special Psychiatric Hospital rather than being put into prison. This enabled the authorities to keep you for an indefinite period of time. In the psychiatric hospital, you were continuously administered haloperidol, a neuroleptic drug that caused convulsions in your facial muscles and deterioration of your mental condition. In April 1986, you were transferred to the Special Psychiatric Hospital in Oryol, where you received the same severe treatment.

By that time, you and the other imprisoned devotees in the Soviet Union had attracted worldwide attention from human-rights organizations and devotees from within our movement. When numerous parcels and letters began arriving at the psychiatric hospital, the staff responded by strapping you to your bed and administering large doses of the drug sulfazine. This caused you to suffer high fevers, pain, and hallucinations. When your wife visited the hospital and asked the doctors when you would be released, they replied, “One’s understanding of life and reality are not so quickly cured.”

Years later you were freed, but being acutely affected by the inhumane treatment you received in prison, you drifted away from devotional service and the association of devotees for some time. No one should hold this against you, however, for it was clearly the result of the hideous drugs administered to you during your confinement. In recent years, you reestablished loving relationships with many devotees and took up the practice of Krishna consciousness again.

My dear godbrother Ananta-shanti, the sacrifices you made in spreading Krishna consciousness, the suffering you underwent in executing that mission, and the determination you displayed to serve the order of our spiritual master are rare even amongst Gaudiya Vaishnavas.

May all Vaishnavas know of your exploits. May they honor the pain you endured and the faith you regained despite all efforts by communist authorities to destroy it. Lest we forget, may we constantly remember your unique contribution to Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtana movement. From your transcendental position please look down upon this humble soul and grant me the same courage that you had to spread the glories of the holy names far and wide despite the greatest opposition.

With the deepest respect and admiration,

Your servant,

Indradyumna Swami