(Tribhuvanatha Das, 1952-2001)
By Ranchor Dasa
Tribhuvanatha Das, born in 1952 in Longford, Ireland, as Thomas Hegarty, was one of life's great individualists. All his life he stood out from the crowd. His charm and good humor contrasted with his sheer strength of character and fearless demeanor. Nothing was too much for him, and nothing dismayed him.
Misfortune dogged Tom's early life, much of it spent in and out of care homes in Ireland, which left him only semi-literate. By the age of sixteen he had arrived in London with his elder brother in search of adventure and drawn to Eastern mysticism. Almost at once he met Hare Krishna devotees and visited their London temple. He spent the day helping out, and when night fell and the community went to bed, he found himself back on the street. When the lights came on at 4:00 A.M. the next morning, Tom was waiting outside the front door to be re-admitted. He had slept that first night of his new Krishna life in a park near the temple. That was to be typical of his abiding sense of renunciation and dedication. That very day he was accepted into the community, and he at once threw his boundless energy into his new vocation.
By the time I joined the temple six months later, Tribhuvanatha was the mainstay of the temple workforce. If anything needed doing, he did it, and if any of us needed an example of what it meant to be fully absorbed in the service of Krishna, we had only to look to him. He was particularly good at giving out encouragement. Irrepressibly cheerful and always able to look on the positive side, he had the knack of putting across the philosophy of Krishna consciousness in a way that was memorable and practical, and totally sincere, despite his lack of formal education.
One day, shortly after I moved in, we were invited to the London School of Economics to make a presentation on Krishna consciousness. The LSE was a well-known melting pot of radical politics, and the students there were a tough audience. After we had chanted, Tribhuvanatha's talk held a large group spell-bound well beyond their lunch-hour, entertaining and instructing them in equal measure.
Tribhuvanatha's greatest love was to chant Hare Krishna on the street and play the drum. He would chant for hours, belting out the maha-mantra and pounding the drum as if his life depended on it, which in his mind it surely did. Anyone who saw him in full flow would be moved by his deep outpouring of devotion. Many days he would be worn out from long hours of work and too little sleep, but he would go out on the street, morning and afternoon, dragging us behind him. Seeing his example was enough to make us want to raise our own efforts. He showed us what was possible.
Gratitude for Guru's Grace
A key to Tribhuvanatha's unflagging energy was his love for his spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada. He considered that his guru's grace had saved him from disaster, and so his obedience to Prabhupada was unconditional.
When I first joined the temple I often used to hear Tribhuvanatha begin, "Prabhupada says." and then quote a suitable saying for the occasion. I asked him when he had heard all these things from Prabhupada. He was surprised.
"I haven't met Prabhupada yet," he replied, "but I've read all these things in his books."
We all read the same books, but with him, Prabhupada came to life.
The following summer, in 1971, Prabhupada came to London, and most of us met him for the first time. Tribhuvanatha was selected to give him a garland at the airport. In the weeks that followed, and in subsequent years whenever Prabhupada came, I saw he always had eyes especially for Tribhuvanatha. I wasn't the only one to notice this. We all knew that Prabhupada had special affection for Tribhuvanatha.
In 1973, on Prabhupada's first visit to Bhaktivedanta Manor, we were chanting Hare Krishna at the end of his Bhagavad-gita lecture. Prabhupada looked grave. Soon Tribhuvanatha stood up right in front of Prabhupada, playing a mrdanga drum, dancing his unique flat-footed dance, his back straight and erect like a trained actor, his weight back on his heels, and his feet beating the ground, while his head nodded up and down. His eyes met Prabhupada's, and suddenly they were both laughing with each other in perfect harmony.
In the years that followed I seldom saw Tribhuvanatha. Prabhupada called him to India to help lay the foundations for ISKCON's temples there, and after that he just kept traveling and preaching. But I will always remember him as he was on that day in 1973: laughing for sheer joy before his beloved spiritual master.