Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #36 – May She Rest in Peace

September 6th, 2021

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a topic for this Monday Morning Greetings. When one finally did come to mind, and it came time to write something down, somehow nothing came to mind. This happened repeatedly. Only when my older brother Barry called with the news that my mother, already past her one-hundredth year, had passed away a few hours earlier, did I understand why. This Monday Morning Greetings was to be reserved in her honor. I always thought that when she passes away, I would just reprint my article “The Mother, The Mind and Food,” which glorifies motherhood. There was a problem with that. I just reprinted it a month ago in honor of her hundredth birthday. Fortunately, there is another story glorifying motherhood that just came to my mind. I pray that retelling it is relevant to honor her passing.

 

Over twenty-five years ago I lived in Vrindavan on the roof of a funky house on the other side of the backside wall of Bon Maharaja’s college, a large institution that was directly across from the ISKCON gurukula building. One evening as I was leaving my house to visit the Krishna-Balarama temple for ārati, I saw the great Odia Vaiṣṇava and scholar, Dr. Fakir Mohan, briskly walking by on the path. We had a relationship for many years, so I was eager to greet him and thus quickly caught up to him. Evidently, something was on his mind, because just after he smiled to acknowledge my greeting, he immediately sought my help: “Where is Bhakti Caitanya’s house? I heard Partha Sarathi Goswami is staying there.” Fakir Mohan Prabhu had this penchant to seek out and honor all Vaiṣṇavas, even those much junior to him like ISKCON gurus and sannyāsīs, so I directed him and accompanied him to Bhakti Caitanya’s house.

 

When we arrived, Partha Sarathi Maharaja immediately got down from his seat, paid his obeisances and offered Prabhu a seat opposite him. They chatted for a while, and then on Maharaja’s request, Prabhu began to sing “Mangala Gitam” with heart wrenching devotion, a favorite of his that expresses Śrī Radha’s feelings of separation when Śrī Krishna mounts Akrūra’s chariot to leave Vrindavan. I was expecting this wonderful exchange between these Vaiṣṇavas to continue, so I was a bit disappointed when Partha Sarathi Maharaja apologetically excused himself: “My mother, aunt, brother, and younger sister are visiting and staying next door in the MVT. I left home over twenty years ago, so my family is excited to spend time with me. I must take leave now. In fact, I am already a bit late.” Neither Maharaja nor I were expecting Prabhu’s response: “I will also come! I will also come!” The enthusiasm of his entreaty was quite compelling. We thus took off together to the MVT.

 

As we entered the apartment where his family was staying, Partha Sarathi Maharaja’s stately mother from Oxford, the wife of a retired Royal Air Force commandant, came out of her bedroom to greet us. However, before Partha Sarathi Maharaja could introduce us, Prabhu was already on the ground in deep meditation offering her his prostrated obeisances. When he finally began to slowly rise, Maharaja, almost embarrassed, began to introduce Prabhu so that she would not misunderstand the status of this elderly man at her feet. “This is Dr. Fakir Mohan Prabhu, the former chairman of the department of Sanskrit of Utkal University, a bhāva bhakta—a devotee of the highest devotion, a naishtika brahmacārī—a life-long celibate, and a sangeet acharya—a master of devotional music.” Dr. Fakir Mohan looked sheepishly at Maharaja’s family almost as to pardon himself, “Excuse me, but this is our culture.” He then immediately corrected himself, “No, we feel it!” He then began to quote from the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam how when one becomes a pure devotee fourteen previous generations become liberated. He went on for some time supporting his deep reverence for Maharaja’s mother with unfailing logic and śāstra.

 

I can’t gauge the power of my own devotion to influence generations of my family, but I am confident that to whatever extent I have remained fixed in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s service, my mother, who selflessly sacrificed her life for my care, and whose deep affection for me continued until the end of her life, will certainly be the recipient of his mercy. I will end with just a few indications of that fact.

 

In our tradition, visiting the holy land of Vrindavan is indeed God’s grace. In 1982, my mother and father visited me in Vrindavan, a visit which changed their whole perspective on Krishna consciousness. I remember calling her the following year. When she asked where I was, and I informed her I was calling her from Vrindavan, the emotion of her reply struck me. With deep affection she inquired, “How is my Vrindavan?” And she continued from those days on to have unbounded respect and affection for the devotees of Krishna, who showered their affection on her.

 

I returned after one month from Colombia this Friday. The first chance I got to pay my mother a visit just happened to be Janmāṣṭamī, this past Monday. My mother has been confined to a reclining chair in her home with one assistant for several years, but especially the isolation of the first year of COVID had taken a toll on her physical and mental health. I was thus pleasantly surprised when I entered her room. She calmly turned her head, greeted me with a truly beatific smile, and informed me that she was very happy and had no complaints in life. When I left her room, I related to her caretaker and the devotees picking me up the same thing: “I have never in my life seen my mother so peaceful and vibrant. I think she will live many more years.” She passed from this world shortly after on Wednesday morning.

 

I am not so confident in my own devotion to elevate generations of my family, but I am confident that somehow Krishna blessed my mother for whatever service I have offered at the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda. To me that is the only explanation why I was fortunate to be directed to visit her on her last days in this world, and why inexplicably a deep inner peace entered her heart just before she left reflected in a beatific smile. I thus remember her in gratitude. May she rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

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