The Legend of Vishnujana Maharaja
By Patita Pavana das Adhikary
Monday, 05 October 2009
The soulful sankirtan of Shri Vishnujana Maharaja illuminated the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles , and then across the States, from the earliest days of Krishna consciousness. Today his uplifting bhajans and melodious kirtans still echo in the halls of ISKCON centers around the world. There was never a more faithful servant of Shrila Prabhupada, and the fortunate Vaishnavas who served under his loving care always keep his memories in their hearts. Shrila Prabhupada, who by his mystic potency sometimes appeared more as a member of ISKCON than the exalted founder-acharya, also expressed a desire to spend a week traveling with the bus party led by Vishnujana Swami.
Many fell under the irresistible spell of Vishnujana Maharaja and became Prabhupada’s devotees. HH Indradyumna Swami met him on a college campus in Michigan . He accepted his invitation to the love feast, and when he first showed up at the Detroit temple, he asked for Vishnujana Swami saying, “I want to be like him.”
Vishnujana Maharaja disappeared in 1977 never to be seen again. It is said that he followed in the footsteps of Lord Chaitanya’s servant, Shri Chhota Haridas who left this world at Prayag’s Triveni Sangam. His disappearance is discussed in the Lilamrita and in the Memories DVD interview with Pusta Krishna das, Shrila Prabhupada’s servant at that time.
Although Vishnujana Maharaja was known for his pure and simple explanations of the unquestionable need to surrender to the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna through service to His pure devotee, he remains a complex personality who is little understood. Those of us who look with wonder to such great pioneers can only try to empathize with the loneliness felt at the zenith. The following memoirs are extracted from the In2MeC Diary of His Holiness Suhotra Maharaja, who traveled with Vishnujana Swami on the legendary Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party bus from 1972. In the following extracts Suhotra Maharaja unravels a little about the mystery of the mahatma, our departed Godbrother.
Condensed from: “Listen! Vishnujana Maharaja is Singing”
Shripada Vihsnujana Maharaja
…I stayed on in Boston and learned to do big book distribution, a new phenomenon in the ISKCON of that time. I traveled around New England with a team of brahmacharis in a sankirtana van. This was nectar, but we always had to come back to a temple that stood on uncertain managerial legs. So by the end of ’72 I was looking for a way to stay on the book distribution road and never come back.
…To make a long story short, I begged Vishnujana Maharaja to take me with him when he left Boston for New York . Trai Dasa, our new temple president, was not happy with me, but what could he do? As the Road Show pulled out before dawn, I jumped onto one of the buses. Bliss! …The same day we arrived in New York , SURPRISE! Vishnujana Maharaja was unseated as the director of the Road Show. The very next morning, again before dawn, I was on the road with him and a half-dozen brahmacharis in the Radha-Damodara bus. We drove to Atlanta . This was the beginning of the Radha-Damodara Traveling Sankirtana Party (known popularly by the acronym “RD TSKP”).
…Vishnujana Maharaja remains for me the most compelling preacher I’ve ever known, except of course for His Divine Grace Shrila Prabhupada. Mahamaya Mataji (in her book Shrila Prabhupada is Coming) describes Maharaja’s speeches as “heart-penetrating”. That’s an excellent description. …Maharaja told me that when Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu departed on his South Indian tour, even He felt perturbed in His mind due to separation from the devotees whom He’d left behind. So He chanted loudly like a lion,
KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA HE !
KRISHNA KRISINA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA HE !
KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA RAKSHA MAM !
KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA PAHI MAM !
RAMA RAGHAVA RAMA RAGHAVA RAMA RAGHAVA RAKSHA MAM !
KRISHNA KESHAVA KRISHNA KESHAVA KRISHNA KESHAVA PAHI MAM !
Thus while the bus was rolling down the road to Atlanta , Vishnujana Maharaja encouraged me to lead the brahmacaris in what he called “a liberating kirtana”. I tried my best to chant like a lion. It was wild. But it really got rid of the blues.
…We all were ready to enter fire for him. At this point I should mention the other RD TSKP brahmacaris of that beginning period. There was Narada Muni Prabhu, Vishnudatta Prabhu, Dayal Chandra Prabhu, Sri Ballabha Prabhu, Patatriraja Prabhu, Hasyagrami Prabhu, and Jamadagni Prabhu. Soon Jamadagni left, while Aja, Riksharaja and Sri Galim Prabhus joined. During the two years I was with the RD TSKP, these devotees–and of course Maharaja and myself–made up the nucleus of the party. Bhakta Marty from Denver , who became Mahamantra Prabhu (and now is Bhakti Vishrambha Madhava Maharaja), joined us a bit later. He too became a core Radha-Damodara devotee.
By the time we arrived in Atlanta , I was so taken with Maharaja’s association that I went out on a Sunday, door-to-door, to collect $100 for him. In those days that was an almost unheard-of amount for one devotee to bring home. If a devotee came back with $20, that was really big news. I left Maharaja at 10:00 AM and returned at 8:00 PM to hand him $70 in bills and $30 in change. He was so pleased.
Another time I was going door-to-door in an apartment building, distributing books. …I was wearing dhoti, tilaka and shaved head. I knocked on a door and a man called from behind it, “Who are you?” I explained who I was and why I was at the door. I heard a woman say, “Open the door, let’s have a look at him.” In an instant, the door banged opened. I found myself face to face with a man aiming a revolver at my head. His wife was hiding behind him. I started preaching. Gradually the man lowered his gun and finally gave me a donation for a Krishna Book. I was so happy after that, because I had a great story to tell Vishnujana Maharaja when I got back to the bus! And, yes, he was very enlivened to hear it.
Vishnujana Maharaja was blessed with a soft, gentle heart. His prayer was that he might give that heart completely to the service of the lotus feet of his spiritual master and Shri-Shri Radha-Krishna. What fascinated me about him is that this mood of devotion was completely natural, and therefore completely authentic. …He was just following Shrila Prabhupada’s mood as he had personally experienced it. He told me a little about those (early) days. Before meeting Shrila Prabhupada, he lived in a tree on the Morning Star Ranch, which was a hippie commune outside of San Francisco . His name was Mark and his best friend was Tom (later to be initiated as Tamal Krishna das Brahmachari). Mark would sometimes come into the city to make a little money by selling wooden flutes that he’d carve on the farm. He’d sit with the flutes spread out on the sidewalk in Haight-Ashbury , sometimes wearing nothing but a blanket with a hole in the center through which he thrust his head.
He started visiting the temple on Frederick Street to join in the kirtanas. When the kirtana ended and Shrila Prabhupada started the lecture, Mark would stretch out on the floor and go to sleep, sometimes keeping his head on the lap of a girlfriend. Before joining ISKCON, he got married. His wife was very attached to him. She did not agree to join, so they separated painfully.
Vishnujana Maharaja told me that he became serious about joining after Shrila Prabhupada referred to him in his lecture (or perhaps it was in an instruction to the temple managers) as an example of a demon. It had to do with his sleeping in the class. Something like, “Here is a demon. Even he gets the opportunity to purify himself, he goes back to maya. So? Then go. Don’t come back again and again to do your nonsense here.” That’s not meant to be a quotation. It was Prabhupada’s mood, as least as Mark understood it then. It shook him up.
Later, after he’d been initiated, Shrila Prabhupada praised him: “You are advancing nicely.” “It is by your mercy, Shrila Prabhupada,” Vishnujana answered. “No, not like that. My mercy is open to everyone. You are taking it.”
Vishnujana had attracted that praise of His Divine Grace because of his ecstatic kirtanas. But sometimes Shrila Prabhupada had to chastise him still. Once Shrila Prabhupada was driven to see the evening chanting party in the Los Angeles streets. Vishnujana, as usual, was leading. But he was playing two mridangas at the same time. Shrila Prabhupada commented, “He cannot even play one mridanga properly, yet he beats two.”
From somewhere Vishnujana picked up a Mira Bai song that goes, “Gopala, Gopala, Devakinandana Gopala; Gopala, Gopala, Yasodanandana Gopala. “Shrila Prabhupada told him to stop singing it. “It may have been sung by great devotees,” he said, “but it was not sung by great authorities.”
Being a musically talented person, Vishnujana would invent melodies for the mahamantra. Once Shrila Prabhupada saw him composing a melody at the harmonium. “And what is wrong with my melodies?” His Divine Grace demanded.
Once Prabhupada asked why so many American gentlemen would go on walks with dogs on leashes. Vishnujana answered, “So they can watch how their dogs are nicely passing stool.” Shrila Prabhupada laughed and laughed at this.
Vishnujana Maharaja told us that he had personally witnessed Shrila Prabhupada talking to his spiritual master’s photograph, eyes flooded with tears.
About Vishnujana Swami Shrila Prabhupada said, “By his singing alone, he can go back to Godhead.”
Maharaja loved Shri-Shri Radha-Damodara. Here is the proof. One morning at 4:00 AM , he was preparing Their Lordships for Mangala-arati. By this time we’d left Atlanta . We were somewhere in the South, where winters are milder than Northern states like New York . But this morning it was soooooo cold! And there was no proper heating system on the bus. It was so frozen that Maharaja couldn’t move his fingers properly. I remember him so clearly, coming out from behind the velvet Deity curtains, bundled up against the cold, a forlorn look on his face. “It’s so cold. I can’t control my senses to serve Their Lordships,” he lamented. He was not complaining about the cold for himself. He was complaining for the sake of the Deities. That is love.
…A couple days later I got a phone call from Visnujana Maharaja. The Radha-Damodara bus had just gone up in flames in the middle of the desert! The differential on the rear axle got overheated and the grease and oil inside combusted. The devotees barely managed to save the Deities and themselves before the blaze turned the bus into a charred metal skeleton.
Maharaja went to LA and borrowed money from Karandhara Prabhu, the West Coast GBC. He bought a much better bus. The old one was just a plodding school bus; the new one was a long-distance coach. This was the first of a fleet of such busses. In the later part of 1974 HH Tamal Krsna Maharaja arrived from India to re-join his old friend from the Morning Star Ranch. Their teaming up was when the Radha-Damodara TSKP started to expand: first from one bus to three, then finally up to a dozen.
I mentioned earlier that I believe that Vishnujana Maharaja, though apparently not a siddha during his life, did achieve perfection. I know this from a vivid dream I had in the 1980s. Under an intense blue sky I saw a huge, perfectly manicured lawn extending in all directions as far as the eye could see. The only thing standing on the lawn was a huge white temple in the distance. I walked a long way across the grass to the temple, and then I started to climb wide marble stairs to reach the ornately arched entranceway. I noticed a sadhu sitting against a pillar halfway up the stairway. It was Vishnujana Maharaja. He smiled at me in the warmest way and said, “It’s wonderful here! When are you coming to join me?”
-His Holiness Suhotra Maharaja left this world from Mayapur while chanting Hare Krishna on his japa mala in his kutir in 2007
As always, we can see that Srila Prabhupad brought out the very best potential in each and every one of his disciples. What a transformation one can see in the person of Vishnujana das from Mark the dissheveled hippie into the wondrous soft-hearted devotee he became. His departure was surprising and sad. His kirtans and charisma were second to none in the Movement amongst his godbrothers. His sweet melodious kirtan softened everyone’s heart.
Jaya Srila Prabhupad! For you have created so much good fortune for us who otherwise had no hope for reviving
our spiritual life, what to speak of the apex of such pursuit, Krishna consciousness.
Pusta Krishna das
Visnujana Swami lives on in his songs, I daily hear his singing Sri Rupa Manjari Pada.There is no doubt in my heart for many generations to come devotees will remember Visnujana Swami as well as Jayananda Prabhu, to me Kusakrata Prabhu is another legend for translating so many books of the acaryas
Thank you very very much Patit Pavan Prabhu. The nectar you have started with all these wonderful pastimes of the most wonderful associates of Srila Prabhupada is so spiritually uplifting. We keep on hearing the philosphy and at times it seems so dry and difficult to follow or execute…. but when we hear or read about personalities like that of HH Vishnujana Swami Maharaja all the imports of the scriptures take life in front of us in form of their immaculate devotional service they perform here while on this planet. And you need HH Suhotra Swami to understand such personality. I really miss his divine association through his transcendental words.
All Glories to HH Vishnujana Swami.
All Glories to HH Suhotra Swami.
your humble servant,
vibhava krsna dasa.
In the middle 70’s Kirtanananda was leaving for India and he asked Vishnujana maharaja to reside at NV during his absence. At the time Ganapati, Riddha prabhu’s and myself were travelling in our converted school bus along with maharaja’s Radha Damodara bus. Maharaja came on our bus to make the trip to NV from Chicago. His sweet association was so inspiring to us new devotees. He led kirtan, gave wonderful lectures and cooked for us. We were in complete awe of him. Every spare moment he would break out in his big smile and blissfully begin chanting.
Late one evening while I was driving, maharaja came, sat on the door step and chanted and told Krishna stories to help keep me awake. He stayed with me for hours. I’ll always remember his sweetness and humility.
Vishnujana maharaja Ki Jaya!!
Dear Patita Pavan prabhu,
Please accept my humble obeisances _/\ò_. All glories to Srila
Great stories from Suhotra Maharaja about Visnujana Swami. He was
probably the most charismatic figure in early ISKCON history apart from
Srila Prabhupada himself. Who knows what he would have done had he chosen to
stay with us.
One slight correction in the story:
Pusta was the secretary for Srila Prabhupada from March to July
1976, which was when Visnujana Maharaja went missing. He was not however
with Srila Prabhupada in 1977 when the news of his suicide was reported.
I was told that you personally investigated his reported suicide and
went to Allahabad where you were told that a tall western sannyasi had hired
a boat to take him to the center of the Ganges and he had then jumped of the
side with a rock tied to him. Is that true? At any rate, TKG reported to
Srila Prabhupada in April 1977 that story, and Srila Prabhupada responded
that it seemed he had indeed committed suicide. TKG asked what was his fate
and Srila Prabhupada apparently said he was preaching in the heavenly
Your humble servant,
My dear Prabhu Hari Saur Prabhuji,
Dandavats. Many thanks for the input. Your perspective of ISKCON history is always welcome, no, needed. I did not research VJM Prayaga, and I do not know the name of the brahmachary who did go, but I was definitely told the sad story of our beloved Godbrother’s departure. Suicide is considered a sin equal to murder, except for the penitent ar Prayag. Hence there are brahmanas who will row someone out to Triveni, where the black Yamuna meets the white Ganga. There is a line there where the two rivers meet. These low-grade “pandits” chant mantras and the penitent person who is tied to a large rock then jumps from the boat. Though it was not me, my fellow Prabhus from the library party said that a brahmachari went to Prayag and, yes, there was a foreign bhakta who succumbed in this fashion. I believe Shriman Bahushira das Prabhu (now of Berkeley) related this story to me.
Again, I direct devotees to the DVD interview on the Memories series with Pusta Krishna. He underscores that Prabhupada said with utmost gravity, “That was not necessary.” Prabhupada”s advice is to remain in Krishna consciousness “somehow or other.” That is why His Divine Grace called his husband and wife preachers as “married sannyasis.”
Patita Pavana da
Please, we do not want to and should not try to imitate Chota Haridas! If that were the case, then there would be very few bhaktas left in this world. We were enthusiastic and young men and women…and Srila Prabhupad gave us so much responsibility to preach Krishna consciousness, and to make spiritual progress ourselves. If the waves of time were not always favorable to us, or if we lacked spiritual strength, then we surely will take up in our spiritual development where we left off when favorable breezes of Krishna consciousness. I very much object to individuals who write things that can discourage others in that regard. It takes the wind out of their sails, and it may make someone feel that Srila Prabhupad did not care about them. I hope you can understand this.
When one of our godbrothers or godsisters leave devotional service, we must never close the door to them, lest we gain a harsh judgement from God. “Judge not lest ye be judged.” The moral, give encouragement always. Never relish the failure of others. Failure is just around every corner, and we can only count ourselves are very fortunate if we do not meet with failure.
Vishnujana Maharaj had a very soft heart. He, no doubt, had many conflicting things swirling around in his mind. We must try to laugh a little at our frail situation, make light of it sometimes, so that we can continue on with our spiritual endeavours. Some may say, “just see how such and such fell down!” I advise you all to steer clear of this mentality. Remember that Srila Prabhupad could bring out miraculous things from very unqualified conditioned souls. If you think that you are beyond the influence of Maya…watch out!
Pusta Krishna das
In First Canto, Fifth Chapter of Srimad Bhagavatam, Narada Muni instructs Vyasa that those who have taken up Krishna consciousness but somehow or another fall down within an immature stage are never the same as ordinary fruitive workers. They go on remembering the fragrance of the Lord’s lotus feet, having once tasted even a little bit of His service. (na vai jano jatu kathancanavrajen…)
Prabhupada explains in the Purport that Krishna never forgets such persons. He gives the example that a rich man’s son may sometimes loiter in the street like a pauper, but he is not the same as an ordinary pauper, because he has a wealthy, powerful father who cares for him and wants to bring him back to the mansion house.
So, in ISKCON, Prabhupada has made a number of such “rich man’s sons” who took up Krishna consciousness very vigorously and enthusiastically in their youth, but then due to circumstances may have gotten more or less entangled in worldly affairs. If Krishna is always thinking about such sons and daughters, how much more so should the preachers of ISKCON always be thinking of opportunities to engage them and bring them back into the fold? How pleasing it will be to Prabhupada to help reclaim his wayward children!
There has been a lot of talk about “membership” lately. Srila Prabhupada created a Life Membership system that if someone gave a relatively small donation, they would have a right to come and stay for three days in an ISKCON temple, get all our books and BTG subscription for life. If even a Life Member who gave (in those days it was only Rs. 1,111) got so much, how much more disposed should we be to those who renounced everything and attended morning and evening program every day for four or five years and went out on sankirtan every day, even thirty years ago?
Now, what we can practically give someone may be limited by our material means. We cannot necessarily give very much in the way of material emolument. However, we always can and should give love, attention, best wishes, gratitude, recognition, encouragement to our comrades, even if they have become a little lax in their practices in recent years. They are actually members of our real spiritual family, although they may not be full fledged members in the sense that those who remain steadily engaged and strictly following are members. But we should encourage them and expect them to become full-fledged members in the near future, according to their capacity.
Oh,…Hare Krishna !
I want to thank HG Patita-Pavan Prabhu for another wonderful article !
I was one of those fortunates who served under H.H. Vishnu – Jana Swami for some time , and I have never forgotten the power , the warmth , and the purity of his personality . Compelling , and heart-penetrating are good descriptions of VJS`s preaching . In public preaching and in his Wonderful Kirtans , his personality and potency could practically melt a stone . Always soft , gentle , humble, and kind – Always blissful ! Never small ,or intolerant . Also , In private , he was extremely humble .
Those quotes about VJS in H.H. Suhotra`Swami`s book are all true , and were common knowledge among devotees at the time . He truly was a Living Legend .
I had the opportunity to serve as his personal servant for a short time in 1971 , as Bhakta Steve . We had come in to Atlanta , our TSP out of Phoenix / Tuscon,AZ. By Prabhupada`s Mercy , we had apparently done well with Hardbound Krsna Books – the 1st printing was sold out , and then the original hardbound TLC.
VJS had a big yellow school bus , and he had their Lordships “ Sri Sri Radha Damodara “ , but it was not yet called “ RDTSP .” We called it “ The Transcendental Road Show .” We wanted to link up with them and join their Festival Program . They had an ecstatic program for preaching . A Spiritual Festival with Drama, Music , Kirtan , and Prasadam Feast in a University town , with lectures , and BTG distribution in surrounding towns . It was Wild and Wonderful ! We would blow into a small town , in the deep South , hit the street running , pepper the Main Street with BTGs , while Hari Nam SanKirtan was rip-roaring up one side , then down the other side of the street. We would then pile into the bus , and flee before the police arrived . In those days , in the South or West , lingering too long could land you in jail !
Then we would have more Kirtan , cause we Always had Kirtan , unless we were chanting Jappa , taking prasadam , or sleeping . It was a very powerfully transcendental , and exciting experience that I have never been able to forget.
Somehow , VJS had heard that I could distribute Big Books . That is , they thought that there was some professional technique ,or trick to it . It was a new thing in our Movement …. Con`t in Part 2 .
Your servant ,
Oh,…Hare Krishna ! – Part 2 ,
Somehow , VJS had heard that I could distribute Big Books . That is , they thought that there was some professional technique ,or trick to it . It was a new thing in our Movement . There wasn`t really . I just showed people the beautiful pictures in the Krishna Book , talked about how wonderful Krishna was , and prayed to Prabhupada a lot ! That was the trick . The Temple was also interested , so they allowed VJS to test my “ skills “ in the immediate vicinity of the Atlanta Temple . The neighbors were already a little fried with the Temple`s Mangala Arotik Kirtans , so it was a tough area to distribute big books . Anyway , VJS accompanied me door to door , and after 6 or 8 failed attempts ,( I was praying intensely ) I finally distributed a HardBound KRSNA Book . VJS was ecstatic , and immediately swept me off my feet with a Bear – Hug !
I was deeply moved .
So , I became his servant and traveled with him on the bus until we arrived in NY – 439 Henry St. , Brooklyn .
One thing that struck me was that in private , he was always very sober . As sober and quiet as an alpine lake . He never wanted a massage . To him that would be sense gratification . He would never accept anything special ,even though he was a Sannyasi ! On his Party , Morning bath was a garden hose in somebody`s front yard , in pink “ Kopins” , in the Winter – and Vishnu -Jana Swami would be right there with the rest of us !
I think that ( aside from `Srila Prabupada ) , perhaps he was the most humble devotee that I have ever met.
And again , privately , In austerities , he set the standards – a perfect picture of austerity . I remember ,that in winter , he slept on the cold floor of the bus with only his Sannyasi Dhoti Top . No special mattress , or real blanket . No toothbrush , either . He would send me out to look for a twig from a tree with shiny leaves . He said that , S`rila Prabhupada taught him that . He was Totally dedicated to `Srila Prabhupada !
These are some of the things that I shall remember about H.H. Vishnu – Jana Swami .
Your humble servant ,
Dear Pusta Krishna and Patita Pavana, Prabhus.
I grew to really love Visnujana Maharaja’s bhajans and style of kirtana, dispute the fact that it was discouraged in the areas where I have joined by the local GBC there. He is a very attractive and effulgent personality, and sometimes I regret that he had to take sannyas to do what he was doing.
However serious doubts were raised by some devotees as to the story of his disapperance. The article claims that Lilamrita talks about it. However it does not refer to Visnujana’s disappearance. There is also no record of any mention of him directly after the fact in SP recored words, and it is clear that it was almost the year after his disappearance that some suggested that he did a “karma-free” drowning, which is not normal practice to Gaudiya Vaisnavas, it is usually practiced only by those who desire to attain moksa of sorts. It seems surprising if he actually did it at all, without telling anyone, leaving a note, without telling/mentioning reasons to Prabhupada or hearing Prabhupada personally telling him to do it. Was he that proud? Pusta Krishna prabhu, can you let us know what was exact situation with Visnujana Swami at the time of his departure? What was his service that he felt he could escape? What was his position and was he busy as a leader? What was the initial reaction of Prabhupada, since you were the personal servant at the time? We all love Visnujana Maharaja, and I think ISKCON now is mature enough to hear the real story without people telling some version or the another.
I appreciate your comments above very much. ys caitanya
Really, the only facts we have are those that occurred on that morning walk with Srila Prabhupad, Sripad Vishnujana Maharaj, myself and perhaps 5 or 10 others. As we walked through the field on a path several hundred yards from the first Mayapur ISKCON building, Sripad Vishnujana Maharaj softly asked Srila Prabhupad: “If someone has a falldown, should they follow the example of Chota Haridas?” Srila Prabhupad answered humbly, “yes, but it is not necessary”.
I do not know what the incident that must have occurred on the Travelling Sankirtan Party in the US with the large bus programs, but it had shaken Sripad Vishnujana Maharaj, obviously. Shortly after that morning walk, His Grace Vishnujana Maharaj left without telling anyone he was going nor his intentions.
We all miss his extraordinary charismatic example of kirtan and, as others have suggested above, his behavior in general. What is interesting to note in this regard, is comments that Srila Prabhupad made after the grand performance of the “Transcendental Road Show” at their performance in the Pittsburgh Syrian Mosque Theatre. It was full with plays, rock music performances of the poetry of Mangalananda and Janmejaya’s (?) creation. There was also rock accompanied kirtan. I sat quietly beside Srila Prabhupad in the theatre. His entry into the theatre was very glorious, as he walked into the theatre from the rear entrance accompanied by the rock performance of “Jagat Guru, Spiritual Master of the Universe”. He sat through the first act of the performance and then we left. I knew well the show since the bhaktas had put much of the show together during their stay in my new temple in Tampa, Florida in the early winter of 1971-2. Later, Srila Prabhupad requested that the Roadshow disband because “the close contact between the young men and women would lead to falldown”. Srila Prabhupad, as Sri Gurudeva, his first responsibility was to the spiritual progress of his disciples. This is important: Even if the roadshow was successful in attracting so many other young people to Krishna consciousness, Srila Prabhupad’s first priority was to help preserve the encourage the spiritual progress of his disciples. I hope that this makes a clear impression of what was valued by Srila Prabhupad. Although we may have dovetailed our former karma in Krishna’s service, His Divine Grace’s vision was simple and clear. No offense is intended toward those who continue to use nontraditional ways. Pusta Krishna
Thank you so much!
I actually found the conversation. And it does not look like his question is a confession in any way:
Visnujana: Srila Prabhupada, how did Chota Haridasa achieve perfection by killing himself after apparently pouring water on his devotional creeper by talking to a woman?
Prabhupada: His instance was that even an associate of Caitanya Mahaprabhu can fall down. And if one falls down, his punishment is that, suicide. There is no other punishment. He must commit suicide. This is Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s instruc…. Otherwise he is Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s personal servant. He cannot fall down. But Caitanya Mahaprabhu showed this instance that “Even one is My personal servant, he can fall down.” And if anyone by any cause he falls down, his punishment is he must commit suicide. This is instruction.
Tamala Krsna: Very strict.
Prabhupada: Oh, yes. “You have fallen down? You must commit suicide. No more My association.”
Pusta Krsna: Is that the same as in the Bhagavad-gita where Krsna says, “For one who is honored, dishonor is worse than death”?
Prabhupada: Yes. That is another thing. Caitanya Mahaprabhu personally taught this. To be victimized by maya is possi…. There is possibility…. Just like Jaya and Vijaya. They were gatekeepers in the Vaikuntha. They also fell down, Hiranyakasipu. So this falldown, there is possibility in any moment because we are very small. We can be captivated by maya at any moment. Therefore we shall be very, very careful. And if you fall down, then punishment is you make suicide. That’s all. Then next life we shall see.
Satsvarupa: But Srila Prabhupada, in The Nectar of Devotion it says devotional service is so pure that there’s no prayascitta necessary. Just again engage in your service.
Prabhupada: Yes. This is not prayascitta. This is exemplary punishment. He was not liable to be punished, but they played that “This is the…. This should be done.”
Guru-krpa: He did not kill himself immediately. He waited for a year.
Could it be connected with the difficulties in management of RDTSK rather then fall down that he left?
You typed a letter on the 4th of May, just a couple month after it happened, and in that letter TKG was told to be restored to the leadership of Radha-Damadara TSP. But was not he sent off to China before that? Where Visnujana was sent? Do you remember the story of what happened with RDTSK that year? They came to Mayapur – was Visnujana Maharaja already gone…
I once heard about Visnujana Swami from Tamala Krsna Maharaja in Vrindavan, he stated Visnujana asked the question about Chota Haridasa ,and Srila Prabhupada confirmed it is better to commit suicide than fall down as a sannyasi, but then stated that one should just stay on in KC, but I personally take it that Visnujana Swami is a reminder how strict a sannyasi should be , no one should fault him, he has shown real vaisnava character..and Srila PRabhupada confirmed that is he preaching in the heavenly planets,should not be seen as something fabricated.if one thinks I can take sannyasa and fall down and get married again, this is very bad for that person and for Srila Prabhupadas movement.We should see his example and take it as a warning to all of us.
There are two issues that need clarification. First, the conversation that Chaitanya Charitamrita das (ccd) describes above in #12 is not the discussion that I am referring to(#11). That discussion was not recorded and was very, very brief as I have mentioned above. If there is a tape recording of #12, that is another discussion, and it may have occurred earlier. There was no lengthy discussion over this issue on that morning walk, and it was the morning walk that preceeded our Vishnujana Maharaj’s departure within a day.
Second, Varahanarasimha’s comments are out of sync with Srila Prabhupad as they do not reflect my experience of the mood nor mercy of Srila Prabhupad. Yes, we all know, myself included, the torture personally that takes place when leaving the sanyas ashram to become a householder. But, Srila Prabhupad encouraged this for me, for Rupanuga Prabhu, and for others. If you think that the external dress is so important, you will try to understand that Srila Prabhupad was concerned with saving the souls of his disciples…at any cost. Even if it “hurt” the movement, Srila Prabhupad placed the disciple’s soul above all of that. I have personal experience of this both for myself and for other sanyas godbrothers who valiently served Srila Prabhupad’s preaching mission in those early days, and later took up householder life, with Srila Prabhupad’s personal blessings, and encouragement, I might add. Are we vantasi’s (eaters of one’s own vomit) or servants of Srila Prabhupad who continue to serve in whatever capacity we may be able. And, prabhu, it is not “very bad for that person and for Srila Prabhupads movement.” Judge not, lest ye be judged….a word of advice from higher places. Varnashrama dharma is a form for society, while loving service to Sri Guru and Sri Krishna are the substance. Hare Krishna.
Pusta Krishna das
I really like Pusta Krishna prabhu’s openness and clarity on the issue of the ”legend”. I agree that from a practical perspective and based on ‘do what I do’ of Prabhupada, we should be extremely careful when we say something along the lines of “very bad for that person and for Srila Prabhupads movement.” Prabhupada is immensely compassionate, we should represent it, and taking into consideration natural humility of Visnujana it is very hard to believe the story of taking his own life. I have also checked and every single morning walk after the one quoted (11th of March 76) up to the Gaura purnima (next day was Ekadasi the 12th. Purnima was the 15th of March that year). All morining walks ARE recorded. Very hard to believe that he would ask the same question twice given that such a long (if you look at it) discussion taken place in his presence. On the next day after the GP, Festival of Jaganathmisra Anandotsav, Prabhupada met with RDTSP (without Visnujana Swami?) Would you imagine Visnujana would wait until the tape-recorder was switched off and ask that question again in a personal way? If you read a bit of Hari Sauri’s diary, you will see the context of the situation and the looming conflict surrounding RDTSP. ys Caitanya
The fact is one should be carefull to not fall from any postion in devotional service this is the lesson to be learned.Suicide is not what Srila Prabhupada recommended, but to continue in devotional service.Lord Caitanya set a high example for sannyasa, as He is the Supreme Lord Himself…we should keep the example of Chota Haridas always in mind, and in my humble opinion Visnujana Swami, and stay strong in KC our asrama and varna, Srila Prabhupada has explained this nicely in SB 8.2.30 purport:
“From this we can understand that in this age the sannyāsa-āśrama is forbidden because people are not strong. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu showed us an example in taking sannyāsa at the age of twenty-four years, but even Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya advised Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu to be extremely careful because He had taken sannyāsa at an early age. For preaching we give young boys sannyāsa, but actually it is being experienced that they are not fit for sannyāsa. There is no harm, however, if one thinks that he is unfit for sannyāsa; if he is very much agitated sexually, he should go to the āśrama where sex is allowed, namely the gṛhastha-āśrama. That one has been found to be very weak in one place does not mean that he should stop fighting the crocodile of māyā. One should take shelter of the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, as we shall see Gajendra do, and at the same time one can be a gṛhastha if he is satisfied with sexual indulgence. There is no need to give up the fight. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu therefore recommended, sthāne sthitāḥ śruti-gatāḿ tanu-vān-manobhiḥ. One may stay in whichever āśrama is suitable for him; it is not essential that one take sannyāsa. If one is sexually agitated, he can enter the gṛhastha-āśrama. But one must continue fighting. For one who is not in a transcendental position, to take sannyāsa artificially is not a very great credit. If sannyāsa is not suitable, one may enter the gṛhastha-āśrama and fight māyā with great strength. But one should not give up the fighting and go away.”
When Visnujana Maharaja disappeared at the Mayapura festival in, I believe it was 1976, Tamal Krsna Maharaja had no idea that he was on his way to commit suicide (If that’s what he did). I can confidently say this because as a new bus leader TKG had arranged that I occupy a room with himself and VJM during the festival. Spending day and night with the two of them I was privilege to the conversations that went on in that room. For the most part these conversations were politically surcharged with various leaders (particularly sannyasis) constantly coming in to argue about the (grihasta verses sannyasa) issue.
Overall, VJM seemed disturbed by all the politics so when he failed to show up for bed one night everyone just thought that he had left to get away from it all. This is what TKG first believed had happened saying that he though that VJM had gone to Calcutta for a break. Later, after he had been gone for a few days TKG said that VJM must have skipped out to Puri. To my knowledge no one ever saw Visnujana Maharaja again, including his parents who looked for him at the SF Ratha yatra for the next couple of years.
there is a nice Ratha Yatra lecture by Visnujana Swami from Ratha Yatra 1975 in SF
Regarding comment #15 by His Grace Chaitanya Charitamrita das, actually I can say without any doubt, that many of the morning walks were not recorded. Having been on many of those walks, and while Srila Prabhupad’s secretary in 1976 being responsible for those recordings, there were many morning walks that were not recorded. But, this I can tell you for certain, my comments in #14 above are accurate. I was present for that walk. The discussion was limited to one question, one answer, and really no discussion.
The important thing, I believe, is that our Vishnujana Maharaj was a very sweet natured, charismatic devotee. Kirtan in his presence was always exciting and special. Many searching souls saw in Vishnujana Maharaj something of what they would want to become. He seemed so happy in devotional service. Yes, we were very young, and there are bound to be “casualties” in the war on maya. We are all carried along on the waves of Krishna’s mercy. We are not these bodies, and not of this world. Krishna is creating arrangements for our activities, devotional and otherwise. Krishna’s mercy is everything.
We want to remember the grand successes of His Holiness Vishnujana Maharaj in his service to Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. If he chose to live a reclusive and private life from that time, I have no doubt that he would be thinking about Krishna regularly and affectionately. As Srila Prabhupad mentioned that he had passed on to the swarga loka planets to continue to glorify Sri Krishna, no doubt, then we must not feel sorry for him. Prahlad Maharaj simply prays that he will not forget Krishna in any circumstance. Suddha bhaktas do not pray for liberation but rather for loving service to continue. In this way, I think, we can best remember Vishnujana Maharaj. Not as someone who had a minor falldown, but rather as one who ascended to higher and higher service to Lord Chaitanya.
My analysis of criticism is often that the conclusions are about 180 degrees opposite to the reality. And, do not take Srila Prabhupad for a fool. He knew perfectly well what our qualifications and disqualifications were. Still, he gave us sanyas to expand the preaching work. How many householders (very few) left the US to go preach Krishna consciousness in Africa, or Australia, or Eastern Europe, etc. to initiate the sankirtan movement in these places. The genius and mercy of Srila Prabhupad.
Pusta Krishna das
Here are two descriptions found in Srila Prabhupada’s books of the nature of falldown and the corresponding punishment or process of purification called for, especially for one in the sannyasa asrama. Both are given to explain Lord Caitanya’s pastime involving the falldown of Junior Haridasa.
“Lord Caitanya said, ‘For a sannyasi or anyone who is aspiring to get out of the clutches of material nature and trying to elevate himself to the spiritual nature and go back to home, back to Godhead, for him, looking toward material possessions and women for sense gratification — not even enjoying them, but just looking toward them with such a propensity — is so condemned that he had better commit suicide before experiencing such illicit desires.’ So these are the processes for purification.”
(Bhagavad-gita 16:1-3 purport)
“Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura remarks that after one adopts the renounced order and accepts the dress of either a sannyasi or babaji, if he entertains the idea of sense gratification, especially in relationship with a woman, the only atonement is to commit suicide in the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna. Only by such atonement can his sinful life be purified. If such a person is punished, it is possible for him to attain the shelter of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Without such punishment, however, the shelter of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is very difficult to regain.”
(Caitanya caritamrita Antya 2.166 purport)
These are both very stern warnings. Even the idea of entertaining sense gratification is considered a falldown, and not just for sannyasis, but for anyone aiming to go back to Godhead. Insofar as these instructions might have been considered by Visnujana Swami, the Antya lila had not yet been published
as of the time when he decided to disappear. Based on the instruction above taken from the Gita, a falldown does not necessarily mean a complete disregard for the regulative principles, only that someone has looked toward material possessions and women with a propensity to enjoy them. If that was the nature of his falldown, Visnujana must have been even more advanced at one point than anyone has yet to imagine.
I first met Visnujana Maharaja when his Sankirtana party arrived at the Henry Street temple in Brooklyn in the summer of 1972. I had heard all about him from Tamal Krishna Maharaja, who was living with me in Paris in the spring of 1970. He said he had a plan to rejoin Visnujana Swami and travel from place to place in Europe and Asia by boat to introduce the Sankirtana movement throughout the world. In those days there was a lot of talk about the World Sankirtana Party as part of Srila Prabhupada’s vision to spread Krishna consciousness.
One thing I noticed right away about the bus parked alongside the temple was a huge tulasi plant inside. It was obvious that tulasi was flourishing in response to the great devotion of her caretakers. One night I also went to see the play the Maharaja’s troupe was performing in the theater that was (and still is) situated in the anchor at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The next time we crossed paths was in Los Angeles at the very end of 1973. I remember doing Harinam with Visnujana Maharaja, and if I didn’t know better, I would have said that while dancing in kirtana his feet hardly touched the ground. We also went to chant at the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s Day.
When I saw him dancing in kirtana at the urging of devotees in Mayapura at the 1976 Gaura Purnima Festival, I could see in his expression that something was wrong. The bliss was not there, and his feet never left the ground. His mind was distracted and he was having misgivings, but I didn’t realize the extent of his despondency.
My connection with Visnujana Maharaja was not based on extensive association. I was more like a student who rarely saw his teacher but who could take inspiration from his example. While performing sankirtana from day to day, I always felt that our relationship was concrete. After he left the association
of Srila Prabhupada’s followers, it took me years to get over the sense of loss, in fact, well into the 80’s.
A few days ago in Mayapur I had the opportunity to ask H.H. Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami about the distinction and interrelation of “Varnasrama Dharma”, “Pancaratrika Viddhi’ and “Bhagavat Viddhi” at an extended session of the morning Bhagavatam class.
I probably will not be able to properly repeat his discussion here (I am sure I did not absorb it all, and I am also practically falling asleep as I write this), but I will try to say some of my impressions, perhaps mixed with some ideas of my own.
Maharaja said that “Bhagavat Marga” is the real sanatana dharma, the activity of the eternally liberated souls in the spiritual world, pure devotional service (hearing, chanting, etc.). It may be practiced by us conditioned souls under regulation.
Varnasrama Dharma (as Maharaja was explaining in the body of the class) is basically the law of God for human society, whether we know it or not. (I cannot do justice to the many points he was making). There is no question of “should we accept (believe) it or not?” because it is kind of all-pervading as the moral structure of the universe. If we act in accordance with dharma we succeed, and if we don’t, we fail. Vedic scriptures give a very sophisticated social science (far beyond modern economics and sociology) that explains the way human psychology works on an individual as well as a group level, all with reference to life’s ultimate goal, and indicates how human civilization should be arranged for everyone to be peaceful and prosperous and make spiritual progress. But the Vedic (varnasrama) instructions include advice for karmis, jnanis, mystic yogis, not just pure devotees.
Most humans will be on the path of dharma, artha, kama, and moksha, and do not have access to bhagavat dharma, pure devotional service (the fifth purusartha), unless they are very fortunate to receive blessings of a pure devotee.
The purpose of Varnasrama, however, is to lead people gradually to pure devotional service, and Bhagavatam declares that if they do not achieve bhakti by practice of their occupational duties they have wasted their time.
Pancaratrika is the distilled, essential Vedic instructions on rituals, worship, mantras, etc., that support pure devotional service by keeping the sadhaka sufficiently qualified to remain on the transcendental platform, so as to be able to practice bhagavat marg steadily.
Bhakti is so powerful that even one who commits sins will be quickly rectified if he keeps practicing…
Maharaja made this interesting point, that although one should be highly elevated in brahminical or pancaratrika culture to remain steady in bhakti yoga, in this Kali Yuga 75% of good qualities are already lacking in the population, and hardly anyone is really qualified to properly perform the prerequisite rituals and Deity worship, etc.
However, Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement is so powerful and compassionate that the anomalous situation exists, that it is by practicing bhakti marg, bhagavat marg (harer nama eva kevalam), that we become even qualified to practice the pancaratrika viddhi properly. Nevertheless, we still will need to take help from the purifying effects of performing the pancaratrika (and varnasrama) duties correctly or we will not be able to remain steadily engaged in bhakti and will never be able (as a practical matter) to chant Hare Krishna correctly or constantly, avoiding offenses.
So there is kind of this inverted situation where we get empowered by the chanting to become engaged in the purificatory practices that will help us to chant properly for the long haul.
Now, if we want to build a community, a society, we have to have some shared values. There have to be things we all aspire for, and also there has to be behavior we agree as a community ought to be condemned and punished. As a society of Prabhupada’s followers we should strive to inculcate the very refined values of Vedic civilization, but at the same time as a preaching movement we have to remain capable of attracting people to want to join our community. It has to work for them and make them happy and fulfilled and convinced and capable of convincing others.
The higher principle, bhakti principle, is “amanina manadena”. We are ready to offer all respect to anyone, especially to a devotee. If a bhakta makes a mistake, he does not have to undergo prayascitta, he has to just steadily remain a devotee some how or another.
But there is also a need to have shared understanding of what really is a mistake and what isn’t. Fidelity to vows, whether initiation vows to chant a fixed number of rounds, marital vows, vows of renunciation, have to be important to us as a society. And yet, Kali Yuga being what it is, we have to be flexible enough to accommodate and retain our members who have made mistakes (who hasn’t?), and still to be sensitive to the feelings of the victims of their mistakes. It is a tall order, and there are nuances and complexities…
In response to what my old friend Locanananda das has offered (20 & 21), as we did Sankirtan together in Paris in 1972-3, we can understand that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is very strict indeed. Therefore, “nitai pada kamala” the Lotus Feet of Nityananda Prabhu, are the refuge of the fallen souls. We know something of the identity of Nityananda Prabhu. He is Sankarshan, the first expansion of Sri Krishna. As the first expansion and greatest servant of Sri Krishna, He manifested all of the material and spiritual worlds, and the jiva-souls. He is merciful to the conditioned souls, like Jagai and Madhai. It is important to show mercy, for in so doing, we may ultimately become worthy recipients of mercy divine.
Akruranath Prabhu has tried to distill the essence, which is Bhagavat Dharma. It is the eternal religion of the soul, loving service to the Supreme Lord. It is safe to make the distinction between Bhagavat Dharma and Varnashrama Dharma. The ultimate goal of this is the surrender of the soul to Krishna. In so doing, we may be able to digest or not digest the fate that will await us. We have many lessons to learn in order to become qualified for Krishna’s complete mercy. To enter the fire, one has to become like fire. We should not equate the external with the internal. The example of Bhaktivinode Thakur helps us to understand his wonderful devotion while externally engaged as a magistrate. Just as we need to be given the “eyes” to see Krishna face to face, so too we need to be granted the wisdom to appreciate devotion where it might reside. We all understand these things intimately.
Mercy will beget mercy. The Bible alludes to the importance to avoid fault-finding. One may see a speck in someone’s eye when they themselves have a log in their eye. Although not technically followers of the Bible, we can be eclectic and wise when it comes to these matters. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, that for his loving servants, He will personally give the way to His abode…dadami buddhi yogam tam yena mam upayanti te. Hare Krishna.
Pusta Krishna das
I have so many fond memories from those times, beginning with the day you took over the Bhagavatam class at the Henry Street temple as a young sannyasi in 1972. Later that year, I was fortunate to have had your association at Fontenay aux Roses, just outside the city limits of Paris, where I assisted you in the installation of our Lord Jagannatha Deities. The ceremony went on for many hours and ended around midnight, as I recall. We gave everyone a little mahaprasad afterwards, but because it was so late, we honored the feast on the following day. Subsequent to the installation ceremony, I can still picture Indradyumna Swami, then a grhastha, running around the tiny kitchen, trying to prepare offerings for Their Lordships. It seemed so unnatural to see our constant Sankirtana buddy baking cookies instead of preaching in the field, but that is the balance between Bhagavat marga and Pancaratrika marga we must have in order to remain strong when preaching and pure when chanting.