Son of rich American businessman joins the Hare Krsna movement, but soon ends up
with a lifelong handicap. He finds solace in the teachings of Lord and leads his life with …
I first heard about Radhanatha Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, in a class by a visiting sannyasi. He described how in spite of severe sickness and an operation that led to amputation of
lower limbs, Radhanatha Dasa was so grateful to the Lord. That left a desire in my mind to find out more about him. I did not have to wait long. In the summer of 2003, months after the talk, Radhanatha Dasa visited our temple, in Chowpatty, Mumbai, for a fortnight, and as destiny would have it, I was asked to assist him.
WINGS ON WHEELCHAIR
Radhanatha Dasa, I learnt, suffered from Ankylosing Spondylitis, a degenerative disease that causes stiffening and immobility of the joint by fusions of the bones. The disease ravaged his spine and legs. His back bones had been fused by an operation and there was rod running through his spine that made any flexion or bending impossible. An operation to treat his knees had led to complications and surgeons were left with no other choice but to amputate his legs. He could only move his neck a little and that enabled him to read and eat. He was dependent on an assistant for personal needs, but fin ancially he was ably supported by his family. That helped. He lived in a home that was designed with ramps and floor on which he could manouvre his electric wheel chair. He would visit the local market after his morning sadhana, and sell carnations offered to the Lord and distribute Srlla Prabhupada's books. He also ran a Krsna consciousness webpage for the kids. In our temple, he would attend the full morning program and often was the first person to come for mangal arati. Later in the day, he would read from pages of Srimad Bhagvatam or Bhagavad gita which were bound in a lighter bundle for him to easily turn the pages; the hardbound volume was too heavy for him. He made notes and filed them and often read from them during his Srimad Bhagvatam classes. During that day he loved to hear recitation of Caitanya caritamrita from my friend Vraja Candra Dasa. Later in the evening darsana he would set up a small table in the temple hall and display Srila Prabhupada's books. He loved book distribution and also gave a seminar on the Art of Book Distribution. We also arranged for a press interview with a leading national daily and he got fair coverage. He was happy, cheerful, and grateful.
This interview was taken during that visit. Here are some excerpts:
BTG: Please tell us how you came to Krsna consciousness and your earlier life.
Radhanatha Dasa (RND): My father was the president of a steel company. Even at a young age I wasn't so attracted to the steel business. One time, my father and we, one brother and five sisters went for a dinner. My father told me that all he did was to say yes and no all day long, yes and no and he got 250$/hour just for that.
Then he asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up? I told him that I wanted to be a migrant worker, someone who goes from village to village picking fruit. He was a little upset with that!
Later on , at college, I came across the devotees in Boston. I picked up a Bhagavad gita and started reading it. I became quite interested in the philosophy, and started chanting three rounds a day.
At the end of college, although I wasn't satisfied with my life; I went to work for my father in a steel company. But in a very short time, I started to get depressed. So I quit the job and went and joined the Philadelphia Temple. That was in 1975.
So that's how I came, but before I did that I met Srila Prabhupada once.
Srila Prabhupada had come to the New York Temple and gave a Bhagavatam class. I got to go before him. When I went in front of Srila Prabhupada, I went into ecstasy and I started falling on the ground, and I literally had to h old myself up. And then in my mind I said, "This man is so pure, he is just so pure." And he asked me, "You have a question?"
I said , "Yes. Can you fall back into animal life after being a human being?" I was shivering due to ecstasy of purification of being in front of him. He said, "Please repeat your question." I said, "Can you fall back into animal life after being a human being?" "Yes," he said. "Well you should take advantage of the human form of life. Born in a rich family, good education, wealthy Country, beautiful bodily features, intelligence. You should take advantage of that for your spiritual life." I thanked him. And from that point on, I tried my best to chant better.
I returned to the temple . Ravindra Svarupa Dasa was the temple president. Within a month I started to go out on book distribution. After a year, I joined the Radha-Damodara party, where I distributed more books.
BTG: How was your experience in the Radha Damodara bus party?
RND: We used to travel. We had a bus, and each bus had Gaur Nitai Deities and two three satellite vans with three or four devotees in each van. We would pour into a camp ground and in the morning, go through the whole morning program hearing, chanting, class and take nice prasadam. Then we took off in our smaller vans to small towns all over the place and distributed mostly big books. We used to travel around to each state doing fairs so we were kept busy all the time, going from one preaching event to another, that was very nice. I was mostly with Kavicandra Swami … so I had a very blissful engagement.
After the Radha Damodara bus party stopped, I came to India, while I preached in Juhu, but also went traveling on book distribution in India in different states.
BTG: When did your sickness start and what was the progress?
RND: Hmm … Shortly after joining the movement, my legs started aching up. And sometimes I couldn't even walk on sankirtana, I had to use a wheel chair. And for years, sometimes I walked, sometimes a wheelchair, sometimes I walked, sometimes I had to use a wheelchair,until finally the disease calcified my joints and the doctors decided just to put me permanently on a wheelchair.
BTG: When did it happen?
RND: It started developing about three years after joining the movement, and got progressively worse.
BTG: How many years you have been in the wheelchair?
RND: Probably, around twenty years.
BTG: What were your feelings, because people generally join a spiritual movement to get some relief or happiness? But in your case, the suffering started immediately after joining ISKCON?
RND: No, we have to remember the teachings of the Bhagavad gita and the law of karma. We understand that for every action there is a reaction. I can only imagine what type of sinful activities I performed. I've almost died four times. So, something I've done in the past has created this reaction. But, if you want to be happy, you help others, you become happy. So, we are distributing Krsna consciousness, and no matter what you are doing: Deity worship, prasadam distribution, preaching, any aspect, you become blissful because you are doing the highest welfare work. You just do what you are able to do. That's all what Prabhupada wanted us to do endeavor to preach. And, he is satisfied with the endeavor.
BTG: Who is the person who gives you the maximum spiritual strength?
RND: By looking at Srila Prabhupada's example of what he went through. Here is a devotee who spent twenty years trying to get to his countrymen to preach and one thing after another went wrong. And then when he finally gets on a ship to America, he has two heart attacks. No one else would have ever left the country at age of 70 to simply preach. But Srila Prabhupada had firm faith in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, his spiritual master. So he, in spite of two heart attacks, stepped off the ship, and in one year time he had an international society incorporated in America, and Hare Krsna is a house-hold word due to one pure devotee's endeavor.
BTG: When you are on book distribution, you must be meeting people with similar kinds of sickness, so what is their reaction? Or if somebody comes to you for some guidance or encouragement, how do you answer them, supposing he is a non-devotee?
RND: When non-devotees come to me and they are also sick, that happens sometimes. I explain to them, how if they want to be satisfied, they have to help others in spite of their condition. And if they do something to help others, they'll become happy. And that's Krsna consciousness. They take this book and read a little bit and understand he philosophical understanding that's behind it. They'll become more satisfied and they won't just be feeling sorry for themselves or they won't be bewildered saying: "why has this happened to me?" They actually have a philosophical understanding. With a philosophical understanding it's a lot easier to push on in your life.
BTG: So, what is the general reaction of the devotees when they see you?
RND: When some devotees see me chanting, or in the temple, they figure that if I can do it then they can do it. They think, "He's still going on, he is here chanting. So let me go on with my preaching and be happy to be doing it." So if I can help the devotees, encourage them just by sitting in a temple room then that's a service in itself.
BTG: What are your realizations in Krsna consciousness?
RND: Krsnas tu bhagavan svayam We are so happy to understand how God is a person and how personally Prabhupada wanted to make everybody happy. And that happiness comes through understanding everything: "Why am I here? What is life actually about? How can I be satisfied all the time, not just after work or at the end of our day? How can I be happy all the time?" So, these things are answered within Krsna consciousness and we should see how other people can become satisfied. So, by endeavoring, by reading Prabhupada's books, on a daily basis, we'll become satisfied and it will help maintain our enthusiasm and determination which is important in maintaining our Krsna consciousness.
Tell me, philanthropic groups are there, but we have joined the most good for the whole world. You see in any country, by preaching we're doing the best work. So we should understand we're in the greatest movement in the world and the flag of Caitanya Mahaprabhu will fly, either with us or without us. If it's without us we're simply suffering, if it's with us, we'll be on this ship crossing over the waves of the modes of material nature and just pushing on the greatest movement with Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada had made these law books for the next 10,000 years and we're so fortunate we're taking part in distributing these law books. So we should always remember how fortunate we are. At least three times a day offer respects to our spiritual master.
BTG: What is your advice to devotees who are aspiring to progress in Krsna consciousness?
RND: Just chant Hare Krsna. Just like I met a man, he was chanting two rounds a day. So I just encouraged him to keep on chanting those two rounds. And slowly, slowly it'll become easier for him as he gets purified. And for all of us who are initiated, we have to make sure we chant our rounds as nicely as we can, preferably in a temple room, and read as much as we can everyday.
BTG: We see that you are very particular about morning program. How much importance should we give it in our life?
RND: Srila Prabhupada says it is important that we get spiritual strength. We have a whole ISKCON sandwich, our morning program. We sing before the Deities, chant our rounds, worship tulasi, a pure devotee, offer respects to Srila Prabhupada and then read Srimad Bhagavatam. And, if people start to miss that, not only is it a bad example but also their enthusiasm and determination will waver. You can't just make an excuse "Oh, I have too much business, I have too much management," No.
BTG: Can you give us some examples of when you feel that Srila Prabhupada or Lord Krsna has helped you in some extraordinary way?
RND: Extraordinary way. Well, the fact that Krsna has sent Srila Prabhupada is the proof of that mercy. I consider meeting Srila Prabhupada as extraordinary, quite special. And because of that meet ing my determination, enthusiasm has maintained, and we can see if one desires to preach, Krsna will arrange those situations so we can preach.
BTG: I would like to know your views on other religious systems of the world.
RND: I was born Catholic, but we had no problem. Srila Prabhupada said: "We don't mind if someone is a Muslim, Jew, Christian, we just want them to follow their faith faithfully."
In the Catholic system there is a rosary, it's actually half the number, 54 beads where they chant. So we should encourage people no matter what religion they are. Prayer is so important to all religions. We have to encourage them. As soon as they say, "Oh, I am a Christian or a Muslim" We say, "Oh, that's very good, that's great" and encourage them in their religious conviction. Tell them that's the most important aspect of their life. So we have no qualms or problems with these other religions. Just so, that you recognize the importance of following the instructions of God.
BTG: Thank you very much.
A day before Radhanatha Dasa left our temple to rerurn to the USA, a devotee requested me to take him to Radhanatha for a meeting. He talked to Radhanatha about some personal issues and later, being satisfied, bowed before him for blessings. Radhanatha encouraged him with these parting words which have been etched in my heart ever since. "Just continue to serve the Lord," he said, "and trust me you will have no regrets."
For someone whom life had given so much hardships, he surely walked his talk.
Radhantha Dasa passed away from this world on 18 October 2007.