Giriraj Swami

Apr 302015

In honor of Jayananda Prabhu’s disappearance day on May 1, we submit the following account, derived from a letter by Kalindi Dasi to her spiritual master, Candramauli Swami.                                             — Giriraj Swami

Jayananda at Ratha-yatra site

A Hospice Miracle—Serving Jayananda’s Mother

In mid-July I started wearing tilak to my work at the hospice. I thought that since many other spiritual practitioners were expressing their faith by wearing crosses, doves, silk threads, pentacles, and other items, I would wear my tilak, which tells the world that I am a devotee of the Lord. And I have found that wearing tilak at work has opened the door for spiritual questions and conversations.

On the morning of Monday, August 6, 2007, after our daily report and medical-staff checks, we began doing our usual tasks of caring for the patients. As ours is only a ten-bed facility, we are able to give loving care to each patient individually. Often, while I care for or bathe patients who are unable to do such tasks for themselves, I chant or sing the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. On this particular morning I was caring for a woman named Jane Kohr, who had been with us for almost a week. She was a kind and polite person, and I enjoyed the time I spent with her. Around 8 a.m. on August 6, I entered her room and found that she was getting closer to leaving her body. She was unresponsive to verbal cues, and her body was limp. I sang the maha-mantra one last time, while she received her final bath. Hospice staff called her family, who were always friendly and appreciative for her care. When I was finished, I spoke with some of the family members in the hall. Jane’s grandson approached me to thank me and then pointed to his forehead and to my tilak and asked if I was a Hare Krishna. I smiled and said that yes, I was a devotee of Krishna. “Well,” he said, “then maybe you know of my uncle Jayananda.”

The Jayananda?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. And he told me how his uncle had built the Ratha-yatra carts. He then went in to inform his mother that I was a Hare Krishna.

Gaynelle, Jayananda Prabhu’s sister, came out of the room and said that she was so happy that a Krishna devotee had cared for her mother. The whole family expressed that it meant so much to them. Gaynelle kept saying that she couldn’t believe that I was a Hare Krishna. She said that she told her mother but wasn’t sure that her mom could hear her. I said that I had a feeling she already knew, and I laughed.

Jane, a granddaughter, mentioned that she remembered her uncle making really great Indian food and offering it to God and then the family sitting on the floor and eating it. She remembered his robes and how happy he was. Jane said that he had been pretty depressed before meeting devotees.

I let Jayananda Prabhu’s family know that during the Ratha-yatra festival we hang a nice photo of him next to Srila Prabhupada’s photo. They told me that an old friend of Jayananda’s (who is not a devotee) happened to be in Durban, South Africa, several years ago and saw his first Ratha-yatra festival there, and to his astonishment there was a huge photo of Jayananda Prabhu on the front of the cart. He had called Gaynelle to share the news.

They told me that Jayananda was always very kind, even as a child, and never spoke badly of others. From the many stories they told me, his saintly qualities shone through even in his childhood. Gaynelle told me that her brother once spent hours on a family vacation at the beach picking ticks and fleas off a homeless dog. He couldn’t stand to watch it suffering. Jayananda’s nephew told me about running around the kitchen table as a small child with his uncle, who was laughing and chanting Hare Krishna.

When I went back into Jane’s room, the family was gathered around her bed holding her hand. Her breaths were faint, and she was about to leave her body. I stepped out to give the family some space, and about five minutes later they came to the front desk and asked for me to look at her. When I opened the door, I saw that her body had turned yellow and waxy. It was apparent that the soul had left and that the physical body was all that remained. The nurse reported that she had passed, and the family, though sad, also felt relief.

Gaynelle told me that she had asked her brother for support. Since he couldn’t physically be at their mother’s passing, she had been looking for a sign that he was supporting her. She felt that a devotee’s being present and caring for her mother was not a mere coincidence. It was, I believe, Krishna’s endless mercy!

I thanked the relatives for allowing me to serve their family, offered my pranamas, and said, “Hare Krishna.”

Apr 282015

Wasted Beauty Getting out of the car to begin my walk today, I found myself before a white picket gate leading to a small, beautiful garden. The gate was flanked on either side by the most lovely rose bushes, but the flowers were past their prime and were falling apart. I thought, “They would have made such a beautiful offering to Lord Krishna, which would have perfected their lives as roses, but instead they are wasting away on the bush.

“How many human beings are wasting away without offering their lives to Krishna?” I thought. “We should help them realize their purpose.”

—Giriraj Swami


Srimati Radharani’s Appearance Day, September 2, 2014

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Sep 022014

Radharani in VrndavanaToday is Radhastami, the appearance day of Srimati Radharani, Lord Krishna’s pleasure-giving potency and eternal consort. Srila Prabhupada explains,

“We pray to Radharani because She is the pleasure potency of Krsna. Krsna means ‘all-attractive.’ But Radharani is so great that She attracts Krsna. So today we should try to understand the position of Srimati Radharani and offer our obeisances to Her.

radhe vrndavanesvari
vrsabhanu-sute devi
pranamami hari-priye

‘I offer my respects to Radharani, whose bodily complexion is like molten gold and who is the queen of Vrndavana. You are the daughter of King Vrsabhanu, and You are very dear to Lord Krsna.’

“Radharani is hari-priya, ‘very dear to Krsna.’ Approaching Krsna becomes very easy when done through Radharani, through the mercy of Radharani. If Radharani recommends, ‘This devotee is very nice,’ then Krsna immediately accepts us, however great a fool we may be. Because we have been recommended by Radharani, Krsna accepts us. Therefore in Vrndavana you’ll find all the devotees chanting Radharani’s name more than Krsna’s. Wherever you’ll go, you’ll find the devotees are addressing one another with, ‘Jaya Radhe!’ They are glorifying Radharani. They’re more interested in worshiping Radharani than in worshiping Krsna, because however fallen I may be, if some way or other I can please Radharani, then it will be very easy for me to understand Krsna.

“Otherwise, if you try to understand Krsna by the speculative process, it will take many, many lives. But if you take devotional service and just try to please Radharani, Krsna will be gotten very easily, because Radharani can deliver Krsna. She is such a great devotee—the emblem of the greatest devotee.” (Lecture on Radhastami, August 29, 1971, London, adapted from BTG, Sep/Oct 2014)

Srila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami prays,

bhajami radham aravindam netram
smarami radham madhura smitasyam
vadami radham karuna bharardram
tato mama nyasti gatir na kapi

“I worship Sri Radha, who has eyes like lotus flowers. I remember Sri Radha, who smiles so sweetly. I glorify Sri Radha, who is full of mercy. I have no destination but Her.” (Stavavali, Sri Visakhanandabhidha-stotra 131)

Hare Krishna.

—Giriraj Swami

Sri Krishna Janmastami, August 17, 2014

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Aug 172014

Lord Krishna's divine appearance

Today we are coming together to celebrate Sri Krishna Janmastami, the appearance of Lord Krishna in the material world. On special occasions such as this—we’ll soon be celebrating the pastime of Mother Yasoda binding Krishna with ropes, and then Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill—unless we know who Krishna is, we won’t know what to make of these seemingly fantastic stories.

The scriptures give different explanations of why Krishna, the all-loving, ever-blissful, Supreme Person appears. The Bhagavad-gita (4.8) states, paritranaya sadhunam, vinasaya ca duskrtam/ dharma-samsthapanarthaya, that He appears to deliver the devotees and to annihilate the miscreants and to reestablish the principles of religion. Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.33.36) explains further, anugrahaya bhaktanam, manusam deham asthitah/ bhajate tadrsih kridah, yah srutva tat-parobhavet: “When the Lord assumes a humanlike body to show mercy to His devotees, He engages in such pastimes as will attract those who hear about them to become dedicated to Him.”

So, who is this Krishna? Is Krishna just a concept or, as some people think, is it that the impersonal One assumes the form of Krishna, or Rama or Shiva or Ganesh or Durga, and you can worship any form and in the end merge into the oneness? To avoid such misunderstandings, we have to know who Krishna is, and that begins with the Bhagavad-gita and then the first cantos of the Bhagavatam. Ultimately, Srimad-Bhagavatam gives us a picture of the spiritual world, what life with God in the spiritual world is like. We read about Krishna, how He comes home from tending the cows, and we read that we can live with Him forever in a loving relationship in the most splendorous land of Vrndavana. And we become attracted and think, “Oh, I want to go there; I want to experience that life.”

That is why Krishna comes, specifically in His humanlike form—to show mercy to His devotees so that by hearing about life with Krishna, we become attracted to Him and inspired to dedicate our lives to Him.

But we should not think that Krishna is there only in the spiritual world; Krishna is everywhere, and if we surrender to Him, we can get the same benefit here in the material world that the pure devotees get in the spiritual world.

If you read the Krsna book or otherwise hear about the pastimes of Krishna, you’ll find that almost every day some demon was coming to Vrndavana to cause trouble. But did the residents of Vrndavana come rushing out with their ploughs and sticks to attack the demons? No. What did they do? They took shelter of Krishna. And what did Krishna do? He protected them. So when we hear these stories, we should think, “Wow—Krishna is so kind to His devotees. Even in the midst of the worst calamity, if we just take shelter of Him, He will protect us. All I need to do is surrender to Krishna.”

So Krishna appears for that reason, and we can make the purpose of His appearance successful by hearing about His pastimes and dedicating ourselves to Him.

Hare Krishna.

Your servant,

Giriraj Swami

Aug 062014

Madhudvisa-Prabhu-at-LA-Ratha-yatra-cropMy dear Madhudvisa Prabhu,

I am feeling your separation so much right now. My mind is flooded with memories of our service to Srila Prabhupada together, not the least of which was our meeting in the last months and remembering his glorious qualities and activities.

All the circumstances surrounding your departure were auspicious. As was your desire, you lived through Ratha-yatra in Los Angeles and sang before all three carts. Then, just two days later, while your caregiver chanted Hare Krishna by your side, you departed—with a smile on your face. You were a great pioneer and champion of Ratha-yatra. During last year’s procession we discussed the importance of following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions in regard to Ratha-yatras, and in our last meeting in your room at New Dvaraka, six weeks ago, you told me how Srila Prabhupada sent you from Juhu to Australia and you introduced Ratha-yatra there:

“I thought, ‘Australia sounds like a pretty good place.’ So I went down there, and it was great. Immediately I decided that we had to have a Ratha-yatra. One leader said, ‘No, no. We’ve got all these books. We have to sell these books. We have a whole warehouse of books here.’ But I said, ‘Yes, we will sell all those books—don’t worry. We’ll hold a Ratha-yatra and we’ll make devotees and all these devotees will sell all the books we can get.’

“Then I said, ‘We are going to make the whole country into one temple. The whole country is going to cooperate, and we’re going to have this Ratha-yatra, and then we are going to sell books.’

“So we started organizing a Ratha-yatra. ‘You need money for Ratha-yatra,’ I told the devotees, ‘a lot of money. We’ll collect a lot of money and use it for building the Ratha-yatra cart and for publicity and for everything like that.’ So we started collecting money like crazy. Continue reading »

Srila Prabhupada’s Victory

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Jul 152014

Prabhupada-on-Juhu-TerraceHere is another inspiring exchange with Srila Prabhupada about Hare Krishna Land, Juhu. —GS

Tamala Krsna: You always came out victorious—always. I have never seen you defeated. In Bombay it was absolutely impossible. It seemed to be impossible.

Prabhupada: Nobody encouraged—not a single man. Who could see that such a big project would come up?

Tamala Krsna: Only you could see that—you and Radha-Rasabihari. I was . . .

Prabhupada: Still, I was determined: “No, this place is very nice.”

Tamala Krsna: They should write a book about that.

Prabhupada: Yes, it is worth writing, history.

(Room Conversation, June 18, 1977, Vrindavan)


A Revealing Conversation

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Jul 062014

Srila Prabhupada on Juhu TerraceWhile gathering and reviewing information for writing about Srila Prabhupada and Juhu, I came across an interesting conversation with him that I thought to share with you. —GS

Hrdayananda: Your Bombay project is very impressive. We’ve just taken a tour.

Prabhupada: Therefore I persistently took that place. Nobody encouraged me, “He is all . . .” Nobody helped me. I hesitated a little, that “If I am persistent to take it, they will not cooperate. It may be a failure.” Still, I took it. And only fifty thousand and one lakh of rupees I gave this thief Nair: “All right, take it. Come on. Whatever I have got, you take it.” Still he thought, “Oh. I’ll get money.”

Tamala Krsna: He had already played the trick with one man.

Prabhupada: Still, I took the risk, that “I have no money. If he cheats me, that’s all right, but let me attempt.”

Tamala Krsna: Then you installed the Deity as soon as possible.

Prabhupada: Yes. Immediately Akash Ganga left. All Krsna’s desire.

Tamala Krsna: Everyone is appreciating how wonderful this project is—all of Bombay.

Prabhupada: So many obstacles, one after another, one after another, one after another.

Tamala Krsna: Krsna would not leave.

Prabhupada: No. That was my request: “Please sit down here tight. Then I shall do everything.” Continue reading »

Writing about Srila Prabhupada and Juhu

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Jul 042014

SP GS Juhu BeachAfter the conveyance of the Juhu land—Hare Krishna Land—was finally signed in 1973, Srila Prabhupada declared, “It was a good fight. Someone should write a book about it.”

Srila Prabhupada had already given me the direct instruction to write, and I thought that I would be the person to write that book.

In fact, I am the only devotee who was intimately involved in the project from the time Srila Prabhupada got possession of the land in 1972 to the time the temple opened in 1978.

Over the years, and especially recently, well-wishing friends, including Indradyumna Swami, Radhanath Swami, Rtadhvaja Swami, and Sacinandana Swami, have urged me to take up writing about Srila Prabhupada and Juhu as my first priority, and now, by Srila Prabhupada and the devotees’ grace, I have begun.

I request you to bless me with your prayers and good wishes, that I may complete this work as Srila Prabhupada and Sri Sri Radha-Rasabihari, the presiding Deities at Hare Krishna Land, would want, for their pleasure and for the pleasure of their devotees.

Thank you very much.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service to Srila Prabhupada,
Giriraj Swami

Sridhar Swami and Mayapur

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Apr 292014

Panca-tattva Installation AbhisekaSridhar Swami and Giriraj Swami in Carpinteria CarpThe Mayapur Temple of Vedic Planetarium (TOVP), under construction, recently opened an office in the ISKCON Juhu temple, at Hare Krishna Land in Mumbai. In honor of the occasion, and to further the cause, I thought to share an excerpt adapted from my article “Memories of Sridhar Swami” in my book Many Moons.

In November 2003, Srila Prabhupada’s staunch disciple Sridhar Swami phoned me from Bombay and told me that he was planning to go to Vancouver in April for four to six months. Soon thereafter, however, he sent an e-mail saying that he had been diagnosed with liver cancer and was going to Vancouver immediately to see if he could get a liver transplant, which was his “only hope.”

There the tests revealed that his cancer had spread beyond the limit allowed for transplants, and so his “only hope” was dashed, and it seemed like he was soon to leave his body.

I phoned Maharaja from Santa Barbara and eventually got him on his cell phone. “Where are you?” I asked. “I’m shopping,” he answered. He seemed so jolly—like always. But then he confirmed my worst fears: “The doctor says that I could go at any time. Phone me back later. We have to talk.” Continue reading »

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Prabhupada

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Sep 172013

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura Beside BooksToday marks the 175th anniversary of the birth—the appearance—of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, “the pioneer of the program for benedicting the entire world with Krishna consciousness.” To honor the occasion, I have written a short piece about “Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Prabhupada.” We pray for their continued guidance and mercy.

“Dedicated to the sacred service of Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who initiated the teachings of Lord Chaitanya in the Western world (McGill University, Canada) in 1896, the year of my birth.” These words are Srila Prabhupada’s dedication to Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, the first book he published after coming to America. They also apply to Srila Prabhupada’s life, which was dedicated to the sacred service of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and his own spiritual master—Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s son—Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.

Srila Prabhupada furthered many of Thakura Bhaktivinoda’s projects: engaging householders in local preaching initiatives (nama-hatta); establishing the principle that Vaishnavas, even not born brahmans, are greater than brahmans (and are brahmans too); translating, explaining, and publishing important Vaishnava scriptures for the understanding of the contemporary audience; implementing the vision of a wonderful temple and spiritual city in Mayapur; and, perhaps most significant, fulfilling the desire and prediction that the holy names and teachings of Sri Krishna Chaitanya—Krishna consciousness—be propagated all over the world.

In 1885, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote,

“Lord Chaitanya did not advent Himself to liberate only a few men in India. Rather, His main objective was to emancipate all living entities of all countries throughout the entire universe and preach the eternal dharma. Lord Chaitanya states in Sri Caitanya-bhagavata, ‘In every town, country, and village My name will be sung.’ There is no doubt that this unquestionable order will come to pass. . . . Although there is still no pure society of Vaishnavas, Lord Chaitanya’s prophetic words will in a few days come true . . .

“Very soon the unparalleled path of hari-nama-sankirtana will be propagated all over the world. . . . Oh, for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German, and American people will take up banners, mridangas, and karatalas and raise kirtana through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh, for the day when the Western fair-skinned men, from one side, while chanting ‘Jaya Sacinandana ki jaya!’ will extend their arms and, embracing the devotees of our country coming from another side, treat us with brotherly feelings. When will that day be?” Continue reading »