Remembering Visnujana Swami
(Reprinted from Notes #6)
As a new member of ISKCON, I was sometimes naive and overzealous. Having been instructed that hot showers meant too much attachment for the material body, I was very strict about taking cold showers only. One day while waiting in line for my morning shower, I noticed hot steam pouring from under the shower curtain. Being a little puffed up with my newfound enthusiasm, I banged on the cubicle and said aloud, "Hey Prabhu, that's maya" (illusion). There was no reply, so I banged a little harder: "Come on, Prabhu, that's sense gratification." Needless to say, I shrunk back in complete embarrassment when Visnujana Swami (a celebrated devotee of Lord Krsna) stuck his head out and looked at me. Thankfully, he had a big grin on his face. I promised myself from then on that I would be more careful at passing judgement on others.
Later that day, Visnujana Swami asked me if I could shave his head. I was struck with horror since I had never done such a thing before. I informed him so, but he said "that's alright, just do your best." By the time I had finished, there were streams of blood pouring down his head. I had nicked and cut his skin in a number of places. Visnujana Swami took one look in the mirror, had a chuckle and walked out of the bathroom joyfully singing "gaur nityananda bol hari bol hari bol," unfazed by my hatchet job. He was totally forgiving in his attitude, which impressed me to no end. That was more than thirty years ago and I'm still grateful to this day that he was so kind to me.
When Visnujana Swami led kirtan in Vancouver's Stanley Park, hundreds of people encircled our party, all transfixed by his melodious chanting. Usually we might have a couple of dozen onlookers in attendance for harinam, but this was a monumental occasion. The devotees danced and twirled and jumped with great abandon. The sense of harmony amongst us was real and palpable. The swelling crowd was a testament to the infectious joy of chanting Hare Krsna in unity and love.
Later in San Francisco, hundreds of devotees arrived for the Rathayatra Festival to be held in Golden Gate Park. A large hall was rented to provide extra accomodation for the visitors who came from all across America and Canada. Visnujana Swami was there along with his beloved traveling Deities, Sri Sri Radha-Damodar. Ecstatic kirtans lasted for hours as the devotees danced in circles for the pleasure of Their Lordships. Flowers were gathered every morning to offer the Deities, whose divine presence graced the stage. Srila Prabhupada, our spiritual father, was about to arrive soon. We were all family. In fact, as we drove to San Francisco from Vancouver through Seattle and Portland, we called the temples in advance and they each arranged prasadam feasts for us along the way to help carry us through our journey.
In 1976, the devotees chartered a Boeing 747 aircraft to fly to India from America for the annual spring pilgrimage and festival there. Visnujana Swami led the mangal arotik over the intercom system as we flew high over the Atlantic Ocean. When the airplane encountered some turbulence, the devotees chanted the Nrsimha prayers for protection. As we landed at the Calcutta airport, a reception party of devotees and a line of buses stood waiting to whisk us away to Sri Mayapur dhama. We were in good hands.
By recalling the events and experiences which have touched our hearts with Krsna consciousness, we can embrace the mood that Prabhupada shared with us all. While he was personally present among us, Prabhupada showed us practically that we're capable of working together and achieving great things. Srila Prabhupada undoubtedly loved us and he entrusted us with his movement. The basic principle behind everything was always love and trust:
"All of our men have volunteered good service, so the background is good will. So everything should be done on the basis of good will." (Srila Prabhupada letter, September 7, 1974)
Visnujana Swami helped to spread that good will wherever he went, and consequently he is forever loved and appreciated by all those who had the good fortune of his magnanimous association.