Remembering Jayananda (Part 1)
by Ajitananda das
I first became acquainted with Jayananda in the autumn of 1976, in the old New York Temple, located on West 55th Street in Manhattan. I was delighted to be teamed up with Jayananda to preach in several universities.
From the very beginning of our association I sensed something special about Jayananda, and always felt extremely happy and contented in his company. I certainly considered him to be my spiritual superior, but never felt uncomfortable or intimidated in his presence. He was like a kind elder brother. I could sense that his heart was filled with genuine humility and spiritual affection, and this instantly endeared him to me. Never one to condescend, Jayananda would always take the humble position and solicit my advice on matters which he was obviously competent to deal with himself. That was his considerate nature, always depreciating his own importance, while offering all respect to others.
On our very first engagement, at New York University, Jayananda exhibited his tremendous enthusiasm for preaching Krsna consciousness. It seems that the devotee responsible for publicizing the program had neglected to sufficiently advertise it throughout the student body. As a result, no one came, and we were obliged to pack up and return to the temple about a half-hour after we had arrived. As we were leaving, however, a young student stuck her head into the room and curiously asked us if this was the location of the Krsna yoga feast that she had heard about. When we replied that it was, she immediately expressed her pleasure and an avid interest in learning about Krsna consiousness. Seizing the opportunity to bless this sincere soul with spiritual knowledge, Jayananda asked me to arrange a full plate of prasadam for the girl, and then proceeded to preach to her expertly for the next hour-and-a-half, patiently taking the time to answer all of her questions about Krsna consciousness. By the time Jayananda was finished, the student's face shone with an aura of satisfaction and, as she left, she expressed her heartfelt appreciation for the courtesy that had been extended to her by Jayananda.
After this incident we departed for the subway. Before descending the stairway to the underground station, however, Jayananda suggested that we hold a harinama party on the street and distribute the uneaten feast prasadam to the passersby. Being a bit introverted and self-conscious at the time, I declined the request to pass out plates of prasadam while he chanted. Unlike some, who might have had difficulty tolerating this disobedience, Jayananda did not show the least bit of anger towards me. Rather, being very sensitive to my awkward situation, he just smiled and told me that I could chant harinama while he distributed the remaining prasadam himself. Later on that evening, while recalling the day's events, I was pleasantly struck by how nicely Jayananda had transformed a seemingly hopeless situation into a glorious success. What had possessed all the earmarks of a completely wasted day was converted into a very rewarding preaching event and, from this humble beginning, the college program increased week by week, reaching many thousands of young students throughout the course of the year.
I find it difficult to precisely describe the feeling that Jayananda's presence would invoke in me, as we travelled in our car to and from the universities. The only thing that I can compare it to is the feeling that one may experience upon returning to the west from the holy dhamas, after having spent many days travelling on pilgrimage and bathing in the purifying waters of the sacred rivers. Upon returning from these journeys one sometimes has a sensation of spiritual lightness, a perception of having had the heavy effects of many sinful activities lifted from one's subtle body, and a feeling of closeness to Lord Krsna. When travelling with Jayananda these very tangible effects were always felt by me, and the spiritual dimension of reality seemed very close at hand.
Jayananda never exhibited even a trace of material anger during the time that I knew him and thus, as our relationship developed, my trust grew in him each passing day. The only time I saw him show the faintest glimmer of disapproval was during a preaching engagement in the lower Bronx. During the presentation one student, who had been showing some interest in Krsna consciousness, was simultanaeously maintaining an air of disrespect towards the Vedic tradition and viewpoint, an attitude that was reflected in several semi-derogatory remarks that he had made. Out of curiosity I glanced over to see how Jayananda would respond to the boy's remarks and observed him standing there with a look on his face more hurt than irate, although it was very clear to me that he was not pleased by the boy's prideful demeanor. I realized at the time, that Srila Prabhupada's movement and preaching work were very dear to Jayananda, and that he found it very difficult to tolerate such a show of disrespect. His disapproval, however, was not a manifestation of material anger, arising out of false ego, but bespoke his intense love and appreciation for Srila Prabhupada, to whom he had completely and uncompromisingly dedicated his life.
Later on we drove that same student back to the temple, at his own request, to learn more about the devotional lifestyle. In spite of his rascal tendencies, he had developed an attraction to Jayananda to compliment his partial interest in Krsna consciousness. His problem, however, was his uncontrolled tongue, which seemed incapable of uttering anything but complete nonsense and, in an effort to stymie his destructive habit, Jayananda requested me to read to him continually from Srila Prabhupada's books as we travelled in the car. Every time I paused to take a breath or clear my throat, Jayananda would immediately ask me to continue reading before the boy had a chance to begin babbling. In this way he not only introduced the student to Krsna consciousness, but also kept the atmosphere in the car free from the polluting influence of his mundane sound vibrations. We soon arrived at the temple, and the boy was mercifully engaged by Jayananda in practical devotional service.
(Cont'd on next page.)