Both in living and in dying, this senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada's exemplified the essence of Krsna consciousness.
On June 5, 1986, Gauri-devi dasi passed from her body in the holy land of Vrndavana, India. For seventeen years she had been devotedly serving her spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, within the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Gauri was a sincere and dedicated preacher, giving herself fully to Srila Prabhupada's mission and working tirelessly to distribute his books. Even as she became very ill with cancer in late 1984, she never lost her vigorous determination to give Krsna consciousness to others.
In 1974 Srila Prabhupada heard how the devotees were distributing his books in increasing numbers. This book distribution is called sankirtana, a direct means of glorifying the Supreme Lord, Krsna. Lord Caitanya specifically cited sankirtana as the best process of self-realization in this age. For devotees in ISKCON, a favorite form of sankirtana is the distribution of Srila Prabhupada's books, as the words of the pure devotee reveal the true meaning of the scripture and awaken our natural devotion for Krsna. Srila Prabhupada was very pleased to hear how his disciples were sincerely selling his books:
Your sankirtana reports are very encouraging, especially that one girl, Gauri dasi, who has set an all ISKCON women's record of 108 big books. This is very wonderful. Formerly this would not have been possible, but by Krsna's grace everything is becoming possible. Encourage them all to increase more and more. This book distribution is the essence of our mission.
To determinedly face the opposition of a godless society and to continue the exalted service of distributing the confidential knowledge of devotional service requires much conviction and realization. The depth of Gauri's absorption in the will of her spiritual master was exhibited most clearly, however, in the way she confronted the tremendous pain of disease and death. Rather than lament her fate or bitterly blame God, she drew upon the knowledge and example given by Srila Prabhupada and faced death fearlessly, maintaining her serene, philosophical vision until the end. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna assures us that one who remembers Him at the end of life returns to the spiritual world after quitting the body. Despite the agonizing pain of the body and the emotional trauma of leaving the world we hold so dear, the devotee who remains fixed in concentration upon the lotus feet of the Lord achieves the highest perfection of returning to the spiritual world. How Gauri drew closer and closer to Krsna in the final stage of her life is wonderful evidence of the efficacy of the process of devotional service. Here some of the devotees share their memories of Srila Prabhupada's dear book distributor, Gauri-devi dasi.
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Jagad-ambika-devi dasi: One of Gauri's outstanding qualities was her desire to go out and distribute Srila Prabhupada's books, no matter what. Even when she was sick, she would go out.
You could see how she was empowered by Prabhupada in her heart to distribute books on such a high spiritual platform. She was a very special, pure preacher, and she wasn't sentimental at all. She could go all day long distributing books, and she would never repeat the same thing twice. She was very personal with each person she met. Even if the person was completely rude or obnoxious, she would still see the good in them. Practically everyone she approached, whether they took a book or not, never felt threatened by her. They always left with a good impression of Krsna consciousness.
On sankirtana she used to tell me that I must remember every person is a spirit soul, completely, eternally different from their material body. She said that we should be speaking to that spirit soul and offering something to that spirit soul. She said never to become angry in facial expressions or speech, and that we should always have qualities of compassion and mercy.
Madhu-devi dasi: Whenever Gauri chanted japa [prayerfully chanting the Hare Krsna mantra] she really called out to Krsna with intensity. Even before she knew about her terminal illness, her chanting was as if her dear life depended on it.
Nothing could stop her service to Srila Prabhupada and Krsna. She had the same mood as Srila Prabhupada for working tirelessly.
Gangamayi-devi dasi: I remember how we would be traveling and she just refused to lie down. She said she didn't want to slip into the mode of ignorance. At night she would sleep in the front seat. She would put some boxes of books between the two seats and stretch out. Although she was so austere, she always wanted to make sure we were comfortable.
Mata-devi dasi: When Jagaddhatri and I first took Gauri to UCLA in December of 1984, we knew that she was very sick. It was 10:00 P. M., and I drove as fast as I could. When you first hear the doctor say "cancer," it's quite a shock.
Gauri was in a lot of pain, but even then she would smile and ask how the sankirtana was going. She also said over and over again that she wished her body wasn't sick, so she could distribute books again.
Suruci-devi dasi: The first time Gauri got sick and went to India, her God-sisters had kirtanas and prayed to Lord Nrsimhadeva. We used to do this every Tuesday night, and we had a beautiful picture of Gauri distributing Srila Prabhupada's books at the Los Angeles airport. This picture was especially wonderful because as we sang and prayed for Gauri the activity of book distribution seemed to come to life. You could feel her presence and remember her sincerity and dedication to Prabhupada. Book distribution is the activity Gauri loved so much, and it fills one with great love and appreciation for her to remember all of her labor.
Nartaki-devi dasi: Living with Gauri and serving with her, I became very close to her. So when we found out about her illness, I immediately offered myself to help her. She allowed me to accompany her to Vrndavana, India, to help her in her final days. Of course, Krsna didn't make those her final days. He allowed her to come once again to the West.
During the time we were in Vrndavana, however, Gauri told me how uncomfortable she felt accepting service from me. Her body was becoming more and more invalid. But I saw total calmness overcome her when different devotees would come and read to her.
"Being in Vrndavana," she said, "is like being in the lap of Krsna. I feel totally protected."
Gauri had gone to Vrndavana to meet death, but Krsna had another plan. Gauri began recovering her health. With renewed strength she returned to America to continue preaching. In the summer of 1985 she headed a women's sankirtana party traveling across the country. She was as inspired and determined as ever. But once again illness forced her to realize that death was indeed near. In November she returned to Vrndavana, confident that one who dies in the sacred land of Vrndavana returns to the spiritual abode of Lord Krsna.
On February 27, 1986, Gauri wrote to two other friends, Virabahu dasa and his wife, Karta-devi dasi:
Krsna is being very kind to me by giving me a little more time here in Vrndavana in which to work on my relationship with the holy name and make my pleas to the Lords Gaura-Nitai to allow me to approach the love of Radha and Krsna. … I am finding more and more it is becoming my only desire to be able to chant Radha-Krsna uninterruptedly in ecstatic love. Why not beg for the topmost thing? There is nothing left for me to desire in this world. My body is completely finished. . . . But I am actually finding all of this because Krsna is doing everything in such a gentle way to give me plenty of time to adjust to the idea of giving up this useless body once and for all. I feel that He is just waiting for me to become completely ready, and then He will finish the whole thing off.
I have absolutely no hankering or lamentation left in my heart at least that I am conscious of. I feel very happy and peaceful, however totally unprepared I still am for the final showdown. So whatever time Krsna gives me I feel I can use every bit of it to try to pray more sincerely.
Virabahu wrote in reply:
I can see from sastra [scripture] that you are getting a rare opportunity afforded to great souls like Maharaja Pariksit of being able to prepare for the "final exam" with sufficient notice. From this I understand that you have gained Srila Prabhupada's special favor and his close association. Your life has been made a complete success by your surrendered and renounced service, and the only important thing now is that you get back home, back to Prabhupada, safe and sound.
Vidya-devi dasi: One year ago, when Gauri first came to Vrndavana, she was very strong and heroic. At that time she received so much association from her Godbrothers and Godsisters and good Ayurvedic medical treatment that she appeared to be miraculously cured. Gauri often said she was grateful to Krsna for this gift of one year, as it enabled her to return to the West and finish all the things that were undone. When she returned here to Vrndavana in November, she wanted to live. She had so many plans for preaching, and therefore thoughts of death were difficult for her.
Finally, about three weeks before her passing, Gauri traveled to the cancer specialist hospital in Delhi, where they explained frankly to her that she was in the final stages.
Each day she was noticeably weaker. She spoke quietly of many things, but mostly she was now anxious for death and prayed to Krsna to make her suffering short to quickly finish her suffering material body.
Gauri's greatest qualification in the eyes of the devotees was her sincere determination to please Prabhupada in his service to Krsna by distributing books to the fallen souls. All of Gauri's service was marked by this incredible determination. Now, with this same determination, she turned to the business of dying as Prabhupada had instructed. She often spoke of Prabhupada's perfect example of how to leave the material body. It was her desire to leave her body while preaching, as he had done. "My advancement has come from hard work," she said several times.
We told her all the devotees had come to learn from her how to die, so she must show them that even at the end one must chant the holy name. Her tongue was barely able to move, but somehow, barely audibly, she slowly chanted with us: "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare." After this she began to smile broadly about many things.
As the days passed Gauri became more and more childlike. Now she was showing signs of complete submission. She said she knew that when she wanted only Krsna, then He would take her back.
So we could "see" small doubts and thoughts pass through her mind. Sometimes she even looked furtively from one of us to another. But somehow with our preaching, Prabhupada's voice, and Gauri's chanting and absorption in the pictures of Srila Prabhupada she was always able to pull her consciousness back. And again she would start to smile broadly and lie peacefully.
Several times Gauri asked who was present, and she was pleased to hear each name. At one point she asked to sit at the end of the bed. "I want to put my feet flat on the floor, see who is here, and concentrate my mind on Srila Prabhupada." As she was very weak, she began to shake uncontrollably even with our fully supporting her body. So we quickly laid her back again.
Then she asked that we lower her to the floor. She said she was already so uncomfortable she wouldn't mind. From this vantage point the assembled devotees could see her better. The kirtana consisted mainly of the devotees chanting in response to Prabhupada on the continuously playing Happening album. Dr. Narottama came and said, "One hour more." She was still conscious. We read to her from Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta about Prabhupada's passing, and this consoled her greatly. Bhaktisiddhanta dasa brought remnants from the last water Srila Prabhupada drank before leaving this world, and we gave this to her.
We brought her Deities to stand close to her, and she studied Them tearfully. We took photographs and asked her to smile for her friend in Los Angeles, Vrndavana-vilasini, which she did.
Then, finally, she asked to be rolled over on her back. At that point she opened her eyes very wide and dryly said, "This is very intense." She slowly repeated the Hare Krsna mantra two more times.
Gauri then left her body on that day, June 5, surrounded by devotees loudly chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra.
Vidya-devi dasi: It is not as if Gauri was perfect in and of herself. But she had firm faith and fixed determination to follow her spiritual master's instructions as perfectly as possible. Therefore, we personally witnessed that by the time Gauri passed from her body, she appeared to be peacefully surrendered to the divine will of Krsna.
Jagad-ambika-devi dasi: I am eternally indebted to Mother Gauri, and I know I could never repay her for her unlimited mercy and patience. I'm sure she would be pleased if I would become a pure, unalloyed, eternal preacher and book distributor like she was. I pray to follow in her footsteps.