Remembering Jayananda (Part 2)
by Ajitananda das
One day Jayananda confided in me that he had recently developed a strain of cancer which was having a debilitating effect upon his physical health. I was surprised to hear this, as he had never shown any apparent signs of illness. He explained to me that he had first noticed the affliction during the construction of Lord Jagannatha's carts for the 1976 New York Rathayatra Festival. At that time he began to observe the formation of "these funny bumps" all over his body, the nature of which he had no knowledge, and although they presented him with some cause for concern, his main concern was to get the carts built and successfully put on the Rathayatra Festival for the pleasure of the Lord. In his characteristically unpretentious manner, Jayananda told me that he had decided to ignore the "bumps" and remain fixed in his service to Lord Jagannatha. Hearing this, I began to understand for the first time something of Jayananda's exalted position, and felt very small and unworthy in his presence. I tried to place myself in his situation and imagined how frightened I would have become if the circumstances would have befallen me. I most certainly would have rushed off at once to see a doctor, forsaking all of my devotional responsibilities. Thinking in this way, I saw my illusions of being a staunch devotee blown away by the soft winds of Jayananda's humility and surrender.
Jayananda's response to his apparent misfortune reminds me now of the Bhagavad-gita verse in which Lord Krsna declares: "O best among men (Arjuna), the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation." (B.G. 2.15) Despite uncongenial circumstances, Jayananda remained completely cheerful at all times, absorbing himself cent-per-cent in the service of Lord Jagannatha and inspiring hundreds of healthy young devotees to enthusiastically engage in the service of the Rathayatra Festival. Always remaining humbler than a blade of grass, Jayananda was a constant source of happiness and inspiration for everyone and was the object of deep love for Srila Prabhupada, who considered Jayananda to be the ideal disciple.
Jayananda's exceeding humility was beautifully demonstrated in an episode which occurred shortly after he took leave of the college preaching program, a turn of events brought on by his deteriorating physical condition. One evening he was sitting in his wheelchair on the basement floor of the temple building, waiting for the elevator. When the elevator arrived it was filled to the brim with devotees. Although common courtesy should have impelled a few devotees to step off and make room for Jayananda, no one thought to extend him this favor and he was left to sit there as the elevator door closed. Upon seeing this, Jayananda meekly bowed his head and folded his hands respectfully, saying "That's alright, I can wait," and exhibited no discontent over the offense that had been committed against him.
Jayananda's enthusiasm for any kind of devotional service that he was asked to perform was unparalleled among the disciples of Srila Prabhupada with whom I have served. After leaving the college program, he was requested to assume the responsibility of managing and developing the temple's "Govinda Store." One would never have guessed that his body was a reservoir of pain and disease, as he cheerfully dashed here and there, transforming the store, which had previously been an embarrassing failure, into a shining success. Despite his failing health and the fact that he was instructed to conduct the store business from the third floor, an area of the temple building inconveniently located outside of the mainstream of daily visiting traffic, Jayananda never once uttered a complaint and did the best he could, perfectly following Srila Prabhupada's advice to make the best use of a bad bargain. His labor of love was so surcharged with pure desire and devotional zeal that the "Govinda Store" soon sparkled with a perceptible spiritual brilliance, attracting the temple guests and devotees as if by magic, from wherever they were located within the building. During the short time that Jayananda managed the store, it emerged as a financial and inspirational success and, having been blessed by his touch, eventually blossomed into a magnificently designed creation in the style of Vedic architecture.
Jayananda also lent his energy to the "festival truck" program, which was a source of great delight, not only to the devotees who took part in it, but to all of the New Yorkers who cheered it on every day as it paraded through the city streets, benedicting everyone in sight with free prasadam and the holy name. During one class given in the temple, Jayananda raised his hand to comment on the "festival truck" program. As he described the glories of this type of preaching in all of its lucid and colorful details, his words swelled with tremendous enthusiasm, and by the time he was finished there was not one devotee present who harbored the slightest doubt that this program was of the utmost importance and should be carried on nicely at all costs.
During Jayananda's final days with us he never once complained about his lot, only joking now and then about feeling "a little wiped out," as he dragged his weary body to as many temple functions as possible. Sometimes I would observe him sitting before Lord Jagannatha in the temple room for hours, meditating on the form of the Lord and chanting softly with tears in his eyes. Sometimes he would request me to come into his room in the evening and read to him or play him a tape of Srila Prabhupada narrating the Krsna Book. As Jayananda listened to this tape his saintly face brightened and he laughed with great delight, describing to me the great pleasure he felt from hearing Srila Prabhupada narrate Lord Krsna's pastimes in such a sweet and personal manner.
Jayananda's last days were spent in New Dwaraka, where he resided happily among the devotees and, in a final gesture of selflessness and surrender, offered to Srila Prabhupada the $5,000 that had been set aside for his medical treatments. On the morning of his disappearance from this world, Jayananda was lying in bed in his room, surrounded by a few of his close godbrothers. Mangal arotika was about to begin in the temple across the street, and the sound of the conch could be heard in his room. Jayananda, being too weak to move about, simply focused on the sound of Srila Prabhupada's chanting, coming from a tape player positioned near his pillow. As the arotika ceremony began, Lord Jagannatha's garland was brought over from the pujari room and gently placed around Jayananda's neck in a gesture of loving reciprocation for the kindness and friendship he had so freely given of himself throughout his life. At that moment, Jayananda moved his ear up closer to the sound of Srila Prabhupada's chanting, left his body in full glory and joined his beloved Lord in the spiritual world.
(Cont'd on next page.)