Chapter 9: Fortune in Misfortune

January 23, 2020

By Indradyumna Swami

My dear spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada,

Please accept my most humble obeisances. All glories to you!

This letter was originally written as a private offering to you, but these days my life is an open book. Because I act as your representative in all that I do, I want to open my heart and share with you the realizations I have gained while dealing with two of life’s greatest challenges: old age and disease. In making this private offering public, I also hope to instruct my own disciples, your spiritual grandchildren, who I’ve taken under my wing on your command.

When I was younger, I would preach with strong conviction about the “perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease” that Lord Krsna describes in Bhagavad Gita (13.9). However, I must admit that I had little realization of those unpleasant features of material existence. Only now, when I myself am old and diseased, do I realize the stark reality of those miseries. There’s a saying: “The hardest lessons are the ones best learned.”

Albert Einstein wrote about the value of personal experience in learning. “I never teach my students,” he famously said. “I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

Because I know without a doubt that you watch over and protect me, I am sure that you are aware that the most dreaded disease, cancer, has attacked me not once or twice, but now a third time. We say, “third time lucky,” but it was certainly not luck that the silent killer raised its ugly head again. It can only be the result of my previous sins or the sins of others I have willingly taken upon my head. But I want you to know, Srila Prabhupada, that I have accepted all the pain, anxiety and the discomfort I’ve experienced as the Lord’s causeless mercy upon me. It was Queen Kunti who gave all vaisnavas the proper understanding of misfortune:

vipadah santu tah sasvat
tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darsanam yat syad
apunar bhava-darsanam

“I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.”

[Srimad Bhagavatam 1.8.25]

Though my suffering has been minimal compared to that endured by Queen Kunti, it is unsettling (to say the very least) to be on death’s doorstep. After my five-hour surgical operation and several days in the intensive care unit, my doctor said, “Swami, you’ve clearly used up your nine lives. Keep your fingers crossed from now on, just in case.”

But I don’t have to cross my fingers, Srila Prabhupada, because I’m confident of your protection and the Lord’s too. You once wrote to me that you always felt your spiritual master was watching over and protecting you. I feel the same. Yesterday, in a moment of despair due to complications arising from my surgery, I prayed to you for a sign that you’re still there. I hoped you would appear to me in a dream as you have in the past. Of course, in 1968 you wrote in a letter to Rayarama dasa that “dreams are nonsense.” Nevertheless, your disciple Hayagriva dasa once reminisced:

“I remember Swamiji telling me that although most dreams are simply functions of the mind, dreams of the spiritual master are of spiritual significance.” [Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita, Volume 2]

Srila Prabhupada, last night my prayers were answered, and I dreamt of you again! You were visiting a devotee community somewhere in Europe, but the facilities were not adequate. As devotees were discussing how to improve things I went to your room and cleaned and arranged everything very nicely. In the late evening, I found you walking in a nearby garden and I brought you to your room and helped you settle into bed. I sang a bhajan as you drifted off to sleep and stayed up all night sitting in a chair next to you in case you woke up and needed anything. As the sun rose the next morning, you opened your eyes and seeing me sitting there you smiled and said softly, “Thank you very much.”

I take that dream seriously, Srila Prabhupada. You once wrote to my godbrother Sudama dasa, who was trying to start a temple in Tokyo: “Actually, I was thinking of you from London, and by the grace of Krsna my anxiety was televisioned to you in your dream.” [Letter, January 8, 1970]

Srila Prabhupada, last night’s dream has given me even greater inspiration to overcome the difficulties I am presently encountering in regaining my health and returning to the preaching field as your soldier in the war with maya. The preaching field is where my heart is. It is where I belong. You indicated the same in your letter to Sudama:

“So Krsna is very kind upon us, and His kindness will be more exhibited the more we expand this Krsna Consciousness Movement. Take it as a fact, there is no question of doubting this statement, the whole world is in need of Krsna Consciousness. Krsna inspired my Guru Maharaja, and He inspired me, and I am trying to inspire you all because Krsna wants it.”

Srila Prabhupada, I’m grateful for all the challenges that have come with my ill health for the realizations I’ve gained far exceed the pain and discomfort I’ve endured. In your books, you often speak of the frailties of material existence and how there is no shelter in this world save and except Krsna. You write that we must tolerate the miseries of this world, while not being deterred in our services. Lord Brahma says the same in the famous verse:

tat te ’nukampam su-samiksamano
bhunjana evatma-krtam vipakam
hrd-vag-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jiveta yo mukti-pade sa daya-bhak

“My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.”

[Srimad Bhagavatam 10.14.8]

In your purport to this verse, you quote Srila Sridhara Swami who states that by just remaining alive and following the rules and regulations of Krsna consciousness, one becomes eligible to go back to Godhead.

It is certainly my good fortune to be alive. The doctors caught my cancer before it could spread to other parts of my body. At 70 years of age I’m in the twilight of my life. The writing is on the wall. But for the most part the inscriptions are positive. Now, each day I awake and thank Krsna for another day of service to you. Each time I pick up my japa beads I savor the holy names like never before. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph of your books now acts as a divine elixir relieving me of the struggle of material existence and giving me more hope that I will achieve the ultimate goal in this very life. Now every moment is like gold.

So, let these calamities come again and again for by seeing them I have come closer to you. And by coming nearer to you, I have come closer to Krsna and to the privilege of assisting you one day in your eternal service to Him in the spiritual world, far beyond the dualities of birth and death.

In closing, let me quote you, for your words are the choicest in illuminating everything in this world and the next:

“This material world is certified by the Lord in the Bhagavad-gita as a dangerous place full of calamities. The duty of the sane person, therefore, is to be undisturbed by worldly calamities, which are sure to happen in all circumstances. Suffering all sorts of unavoidable misfortunes, one should make progress in spiritual realization because that is the mission of human life. If someone is lucky enough to get in contact with the Lord by devotional service, it is all gain. Contact with the Lord by any one of the nine devotional services is always a forward step on the path going back to Godhead.” [Purport, Srimad Bhagavatam 1.8.25]

Forever your servant,
Indradyumna Swami