The Beautiful Life of
Jayananda Thakur
Remembering an American Saint
by Vishoka Dasa
(Edited by Dasaratha-suta Dasa)

(Part 1 -- Chapter 1)

The First Time I Saw Him

Only those who render unreserved,
uninterrupted, favorable service
unto the lotus feet of Lord Krishna,
who carries the wheel of the chariot in His hand,
can know the creator of the universe
in His full glory, power and transcendence.

(Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.38)

I knew Jayananda was a very extraordinary soul before I even laid eyes upon him or heard his name. Sounds impossible? Yes, this does seem impossible, but it is possible to see a Vaishnava's glory in the many eyes of a whole room full of people. Just as the sun's glory reflects at night from other astral bodies, so did Jayananda shine that day in a similar fashion. I saw his glory shining and reflecting from the many eyes and faces within a temple room full of devotees. They were all looking directly behind me as I got up from my obeisances. What I saw in their faces was something amazing. It was spontaneous and natural, not something formalized or followed. I thought, What a wonderful person he must be, this person behind me, then turned around.

It was right before one evening arotik service when I was standing in the temple room, and all of a sudden everyone hit the deck with big enthusiastic grins on their faces, their eyes looking up in rapture at someone, as if welcoming a great soul who had just entered. I turned around to see this giant of a man bowing down. Right then I knew that this man was an extraordinary devotee. He had hair and pants, yet even without the shaved head and saffron robe, you could tell that he was a special devotee by the way everyone reacted to him, and by the great surge of energy that suddenly filled the temple room. You could see his special charisma right away. When he picked up a drum and led the kirtan, jumping up and down, loudly chanting, it was really powerful. He was whipping up the devotees into a whirlpool of bhakti, they were just going wild. Then I knew that here was a great devotee; I was sure of it. I was attracted like iron filings to a magnet.

Jayananda the festival man

Soon after that, we all went to the San Diego festival. Jayananda drove the now famous red truck down to San Diego, loaded with all the festival paraphernalia. Jayananda quoted Srila Prabhupada, who said that he could give us a festival every day by honoring all the different Vaishnavas' appearance days. Jayananda was prepared to put on a festival every day. That was his favorite service -- festivals.

Jayananda pulled me into his service, and thus into Srila Prabhupada's service. I had never, ever, even dreamed that I would just voluntarily start to serve somebody else, without being cajoled into it. Normally I was averse to serving anybody else, being the typical selfish person looking out for #1. But before I knew it, I was helping Jayananda clean up after the festival and load the truck, and I didn't know why. It was starting to get dark and we were loading things up when Jayananda started an impromptu kirtan (he was famous for these causeless kirtans), dancing around the truck, everybody into it.

First exchange

Later I was up on top of the truck with Jayananda, helping him. I felt such warmth from him, like being back with an old, old friend. I asked him a question, What is the problem? Why can't we just surrender to Krishna? It seems like an easy thing. He gave me this blissful smile like he was pleased that I asked him a philosophical question. He said, It's not so easy because we are all rascals. I was surprised to hear him say that. I was naive at the time and thought all these shaven-headed devotees were so pure. I expected to hear him say that surrender wasn't easy for others, just the others, but he humbly included himself. This was our first exchange. It felt so good to be able to talk with Jayananda. I was thinking that he was such an exceptional person, and yet he would talk with me like an old friend.

Causeless good fortune

One day back in San Francisco, our temple president Bhakta Dasa came up to me and said, Bhakta Tom, you are very lucky! Why, any other devotee would give their right arm for the privilege of what you're about to get! He was so correct. Somehow providence had allowed me to travel with Jayananda on a long trip. I was to go with him on a two-week incense run up to Salt Lake City, and then another week to Northern California. We hit the road in a van, and for the whole ride we had so many wonderful talks on Krishna Consciousness. He saved my life. I wasn't so strong, but he sort of trained me up in Krishna Consciousness in those three weeks. He gave me the strength that I might not have had without his intimate association.

Jayananda sees with equal vision

Jayananda's great quality was that he seemed to see the Deity in everyone's' heart. He saw with equal vision no matter who the person was, Jayananda only saw him as a good person, and Jayananda wanted to give him Krishna. He would never judge or criticize anyone, nor would he tolerate hearing criticism or anything bad about anyone. He understood the true meaning of bhakti, which is divine love, love for Krishna and His parts and parcels. Jayananda gave his love to everyone, he loved them for what they were, not making material distinctions about what this person is or is not. Jayananda only gave them love, and that is why everyone loved Jayananda. Jayananda loved Krishna and Srila Prabhupada, and therefore naturally he loved everyone else. He saw criticism as a hateful negative energy that corrupts everyone it contacts. He was always very positive; even in seemingly unsuccessful events, he would only see the good in it, and never dwell on the bad. That is why everyone felt good around him and never depressed.

Other sannyasis said that Jayananda was the most advanced devotee in the Movement, and many of us said that he was ISKCON's saint. Jayananda didn't gain this reputation by intellectual prowess or by being a brilliant orator (ISKCON has seen many brilliant orators come and go). Jayananda earned his sainthood through his service attitude, and by using his mind, hands, and legs in Krishna's service. This may sound trifling (a lot of us used our hands and legs), but Jayananda's activities were not common, even though they appeared to be normal on the surface. His work was an endless inspiration of selfless service, a constant act of unselfishness, a proof of love for Krishna and His jivas, and proof of his great love for Srila Prabhupada. It was pure bhakti-yoga. He offered up his body and mind as a sacrifice to Krishna and the spiritual master. In this way, Jayananda showed the meaning of acarya, teaching by one's example.

Jayananda's incessant devotion

Jayananda practiced the yoga of hands and legs, doing lots of things nobody else wanted to, doing the needful, doing the practical. He dumped the trash, he made the bhoga runs, and he cooked breakfast prasad for the sankirtan devotees and served it out to them. He stayed up late into the night cleaning the kitchen. He was sort of like our mother, always doing the things we were too lazy to do. He was always in the garage welding Ratha cart wheels, fixing automobiles, building prasadam carts. He was always serving out the maha-prasadam to the guests. He worked tirelessly, and simultaneously always glorified the other devotees for their service. In this way he endlessly inspired us with his enthusiasm and service attitude.

A lot of us get some kind of special mercy which allows us to stay in Krishna Consciousness. Some of us got personal special mercy from Srila Prabhupada. I know that Jayananda gave me this special mercy, just as he gave it to scores of other devotees. Without him, I just don't know if I could have made it. I could easily have been just a flash-in-the-pan, sentimental bhakta, who would have eventually succumbed to maya. Jayananda saved me! He gave me Prabhupada in a very special way. As we traveled down those highways, he told me countless intimate stories of his early days with Srila Prabhupada, and thus he made me a Prabhupada man. And I learned a love and respect that I had never known. I owe my love to him, and I do love him more than ever. On any sub-freezing cold day in the Ratha-cart parking lot of my mind, I'd tear off my shirt any time to cover his lotus feet. May Krishna bless all who knew him or remember him, or have heard of him. Jaya Jaya Sriman Jayananda Thakur, the personification of the great victory of blissful love.

Vishoka dasa
(Editor, The Jayananda Website)
(To be continued.)
(Click here to order a copy of The Beautiful Life of Jayananda Thakur.)
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Causeless Mercy (#74)