2023 Jananī Devī Dāsī – The marvel of your influence

Category: Offerings to Prabhupāda by Śivarāma Swami

Title: 2023 Jananī Devī Dāsī – The marvel of your influence

Upload date: 2024-02-15

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Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,

Please accept my humble obeisances at your lotus feet. All glories to your Divine Grace, and all glories to your divine appearance day.

Some thirty years ago I wrote a Vyāsa-puja offering about a granny in Hungary, who by the influence of your movement became a devotee. That story highlighted the transformation you have brought about in the lives of countless people who may live in even the most far-flung parts of the world. Many devotees contacted me about that old lady, and even today I am occasionally asked about her, and how she is.

She has moved on! But her history is not a one off, it was one of many.

Since that time, I have seen your movement continue to transform the young and the old. And while every person’s story is unique, they all have one thing in common: you are their saviour.

This year I would like to narrate another example of how Kṛṣṇa consciousness is saving people day by day, and how every story of salvation increases your already endless glories. I will tell the history of Jananī Devī Dāsī. However, I emphasise that her final words are the essence of my narration, the essence of her life, the essence of the marvel of your influence.

Sometime back in 1991, our book distributors entered a modest ice-cream shop in a very remote part of Hungary. The shop owner, Irene, was in her thirties, a mother of three girls, her husband a simple Christian working in the hospitality sector. Irene purchased whatever Bhāgavatams we had in print and thereafter, year after year, she would purchase every new book that came out, reading them very carefully. In this way Irene became a devotee.

She chanted sixteen rounds a day, was a vegetarian, made her little girls vegetarians, and raised them as devotees by telling them stories from Kṛṣṇa Book. After some years the book distributors no longer visited, but Irene continued on with her Kṛṣṇa conscious life, even though she never saw devotees or visited a temple.

Meanwhile all was not well at home. Irene’s husband was against Kṛṣṇa consciousness and the changes it was bringing into his house. He wanted to burn Irene’s Gītā and forbade her practices. But Irene would not stop her Kṛṣṇa consciousness, neither would she stop teaching it to her children. Needless to say, the differences between the parents became a source of ongoing tension in the household.

Yet Irene remained her serene, sweet, soft-spoken self. A lone devotee in her home, in her greater family, and in her village, she never faltered, but continued year after year, decade after decade, following what she read in your books. Her girls grew up, finished their education, and married with children of their own.

The middle daughter was named Bea, and she was an economist who worked at a bank as financial advisor. As Kṛṣṇa would have it, being a devotee, she used to visit the temple, and in conversing with some ladies, she became inspired to work for the Budapest temple, organising festival programs. We all knew that Bea was a devotee, but it took some time before we came to know that almost all her family were devotees, including her mother.

When I heard the story of her elderly Kṛṣṇa conscious mother, I asked if Irene could come to the temple. How was someone chanting sixteen rounds and following the principles for thirty-years and not initiated? I first met Irene in 2017 and we talked at length. She was such a sweet person, such a sweet devotee. We agreed that in time, she would formalise her relationship with Kṛṣṇa through initiation.

In the spring of 2019, Irene was taken to hospital for what was meant to be a minor colon operation, only to be told that she had fourth stage cancer that had spread throughout her body. The doctors were amazed that she did not complain of any pain, and they gave her only a few months to live. Irene took the news gracefully, peacefully, indeed so much so that the doctors sent her to a psychologist. But there was nothing wrong with Irene: she understood the temporary nature of the body, and she didn’t complain about her fate. She had full faith that everything was as it was supposed be.

Events moved quickly and predictably. With great difficulty Irene came to see me in August and we again spoke of initiation, which then took place the next month during the Rādhāṣṭamī festival. Irene received the name Jananī Devī Dāsī. She was a real mother. Jananī’s illness swiftly took its toll, and she was no longer able to travel the distance from home to the temple, or to Kṛṣṇa Valley.

Then came Covid, a period of two years that I spent almost exclusively in Kṛṣṇa Valley. It wasn’t a time of travel. And from that time, March 2021, Jananī’s condition deteriorated rapidly.

In May I began to call Jananī regularly to help prepare her for the final lesson, her departure from this world. I would speak to her or read to her while her girls took turns nursing her. Bea was with her 24/7, and in that time she witnessed Jananī’s non-stop, intense Kṛṣṇa consciousness, during which she was either listening to your Divine Grace, or hearing Caitanya-caritāmṛta.

Almost up until her passing, Jananī always chanted sixteen rounds and read your books. Then the evening before her passing, I called and read Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura’s prayer,

“My dear Lord! Please hear me. The day that I give up my body absorbed in thoughts of you, please give me shelter at your lotus feet.”

I encouraged her to pray to Kṛṣṇa so that she may always think of him, that he kindly take her back to Godhead to be either a gopa or gopī. All night your bhajana played as Jananī slept, and in the morning, Bea asked her if she remembered the prayer we had spoken about. She nodded in affirmation. Bea and her sister Rita bathed and dressed Jananī, and at 9.46 am, while the two girls were chanting beside her, Jananī Devī Dāsī left this world. It was the 9th of June, 2021.

As I said at the beginning, this story is an introduction to its conclusion, which is a summary of Jananī’s words spoken by Bea at the ashes immmersion ceremony in Kṛṣṇa Valley. Jananī had said,

“From the first day that I began to read Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, I accepted everything that he said as truth and followed everything that he instructed. Throughout my life, I never doubted Śrīla Prabhupāda for a moment, for I knew that in him and in his teachings, I had found what I was searching for all my life. I do not lament my imminent death, for I know everything is as it should be, and Kṛṣṇa will always be with me. Hare Kṛṣṇa.”

Śrīla Prabhupāda, I was and continue to be amazed at how this meek housewife had such unflinching faith in your teachings, and how, just by reading your books, she attained such an elevated state of devotion, without any devotee association.

I do not know how many other people in remote parts of the world, unknown to nearby temples or devotees, have been transformed in the same way. It is the wonder of your books and of your teachings. However, I do know that you continue to live and guide sincere souls who, like Jananī, are looking for the truth and want to live by it. Thank you for being so wonderful.

Oh yes! One final thing.

At the conclusion of the ashes ceremony, after having been with his wife all through her illness, after hearing her words of devotion, and after hearing the remembrances at the ceremony, Jananī’s husband approached me with tears in his eyes and extended his hand. As we shook hands he said in a choked voice, “Thank you! Thank you for all that you did for Jananī.”

Śrīla Prabhupāda, I didn’t do anything. We just distributed your books.

And another thing!

Ironically Rita, the other daughter, also married a husband who was against Kṛṣṇa consciousness and her devotional practices. While Jananī could still speak, the last instruction that she gave Rita was that she should make her whole family Kṛṣṇa conscious. And she did! Her husband has been chanting sixteen rounds for the last year.

And we didn’t do anything, other than distribute your books.

Your servant

Śivarāma Swami

April 15, 2023