Transcendental Fraud of Jayananda Thakur

Jayandanda with Srila Prabhupada
Jayandanda with Srila Prabhupada

One who works in devotion, who is a pure soul,
and who controls his mind and senses,
is dear to everyone, and everyone is dear to him.
Though always working, such a man is never entangled.

Bhagavad-Gita 5.7

Everybody is looking for fame and recognition. Everyone admires actors and musicians and mundane writers, wishing to be like them, or to be noticed in some way by somebody. Even devotees sometimes want to be kirtan leaders, lecturers, and so forth. Haridasa Thakur told Lord Chaitanya that there was a fault in his heart, the desire for fame. Great devotees run from fame. Chaitanya-Charitamrita tells us how a devotee dodges fame, but still cannot escape it. Srila Madhavendra Puri saw it coming when the pujari told him how Lord Gopinatha hid the pot of sweet-rice behind His cloth for His devotee. Srila Madhavendra knew that crowds would gather, and then praise would pour down on him. He did not want that, and so he left in a hurry. But fame naturally followed him, since the great devotee cannot escape his spiritual reputation. Jayananda was like that. He tried his best to avoid recognition, but it followed anyway.

Moon in the sky

Jayananda and Srila Prabhupada
Jayananda and Srila Prabhupada

The fame of an ordinary man is like a burning meteorite speeding through the night sky and burning to a crisp. Fame is like a shooting star. The great devotee is like a bright moon in the sky. Only the pure devotee of God achieves lasting fame. Lord Chaitanya said a man is famous when he is known as a great devotee. This is real fame, as Srila Prabhupada says in his purport to Bhagavad-Gita 10.4-5:

Yashah, fame, should be according to Lord Chaitanya, who said that a man is famous when he is known as a great devotee. That is real fame. If one has become a great man in Krishna Consciousness and it is known, then he is truly famous. One who does not have such fame is infamous.

Jayananda was a moon in the sky of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples. We can see this in a picture of the Vyasa Puja book of ’97. Srila Prabhupada is at the airport and there is an umbrella above him, held by the same hands that hold a bouquet of flowers for Srila Prabhupada. The picture only shows the hands, but it is Jayananda. I remember the shirt he wore that day, and how he held the umbrella. You can see Srila Prabhupada’s loving look on Jayananda. You can see how pleased Srila Prabhupada was with Jayananda in this picture. Srila Prabhupada’s face is radiating. I remember that scene at the airport that day. Srila Prabhupada said he was always thinking of Jayananda.

The “most fallen” game

Jayananda-Prabhu-with-Srila-PrabhupadaJayananda and the rest of us devotees were always playing this funny game. It was the praise of him on our side, and being the most fallen on his side. There was the competition of us praising him, and him telling us how fallen he was. Jayananda always presented himself as lowly, and he praised other devotees endlessly. He would always say how he was just working in the garage, doing mundane things, and how the others were out on sankirtan, making such rapid advancement, going beyond himself. Actually this was not true, he was good at book distribution, and he was good at everything. He was always doing the needful, whether it was building Ratha carts, or distributing books, or cooking in the morning for the sankirtan devotees. Jayananda was the personification of the 3rd stanza of Mahaprabhu’s Sri Siksastakam, trinad api:

One should chant the Holy Name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the Holy Name of the Lord constantly.

Jayananda was always lower-than-the-straw in the street. He always felt himself low and humble, and we, on the other hand, knew that he was the most special. Thus praise naturally would spring to our lips; but we could not praise him, or he would just walk away.

He had it all backwards

This is the world of the cheaters and the cheated. Materially we are getting cheated or being cheaters ourselves. Well, spiritually also, there is transcendental cheating. Jayananda was good at this kind of transcendental cheating. He cheated us by making up imaginary qualities and ascribing them to us, and then he applied imaginary faults to himself … but he had it all backwards! He had it all topsy-turvy. Actually, he was the exalted devotee and we were the most fallen. That was the actual fact. But he tried to make it the other way around. Simply cheating.

Not such a cheap thing

-Jayananda-Prabhu-Confronting-a-PolicensesHere is an episode that is typical of Jayananda’s transcendental fraud. This was a great fraud. Once in San Francisco it was summertime and a few sannyasis came to the temple, like Vishnujana Maharaja and Tamal Krishna Maharaja, getting ready for the upcoming Ratha-yatra. I was really naive then (still am), and I thought that it was the natural thing to do … you know, when a devotee gets advanced, then if he is single he will just naturally take sannyasa. That is what you do. And they were always saying how Jayananda was the most advanced, so it seemed he was up for it. And so I asked Jayananda one day when he was going to take sannyasa, because it seemed like the natural thing to do.

He gave me this very severe and chastising look. I never remember him ever getting so real with me, getting in my face and all. He and I had this kind of special relationship. We knew that we were godbrothers, but it was like he was the teacher and I was the student. That is how it was. And he would sometimes chastise me like a teacher would, and sometimes give me looks of approval, which were really nice times. This time he gave me this hard staring look and said, “You know, it’s not so easy to be a sannyasi in this age of Kali, it is not such a cheap thing!”

I was a little taken aback by the sudden fury of his answer, wondering why at the time. Now, 20 years later, now I have finally figured it out. It was not that Jayananda was not qualified. Or even that he thought he was unqualified. He was supremely qualified. Because sannyasa is not just changing of the cloth and a yajna and then you’re suddenly renounced. Renunciation must first take place in the heart, the acharyas say, and then later there is change of the cloth. As Bhagavad-Gita 6.1 says –

One who is unattached to the fruits of his work
and who works as he is obligated is in the
renounced order of life, and he is the true mystic;
not he who lights no fire and performs no work.

Jayananda was totally unattached to the fruits, and always working for Krishna. He was truly in the renounced order, without all the trappings. He didn’t want the attention. He didn’t want the clean cloth all the time, it was too much work to do.

Too busy for staff and clean cloth

Jayananda building Ratha Yatra cart.
Jayananda building Ratha Yatra cart.

No, Jayananda did not want people to bow down when he entered a room. He did not want to carry a stick around, because he was too busy building carts and stuff. He did not want a maha plate every day, because he always wanted to serve out the maha himself to the guests. He did not want the praise of a sannyasi, or have to give the class all the time. He gave great classes, but he did not want to all the time. Jayananda was too busy being our father and mother and doing all the needful things. He deserved our worship, but would have none of it.

Now I can see, after all those years, how Jayananda made this plan. He was determined to wear white, and this was for a reason. Just like how he was always doing such mundane things (seemingly mundane, although it was all transcendental), like carrying out the trash and going on bhoga runs, working in the garage, welding cart wheels. He was always wearing dirty clothes. His hands were clean in the morning, but you could see the ground-in dirt and oil from the previous day. He would sit in class and look tired. This is because he was up late at night finishing his rounds (he never missed his rounds), and that was because he worked hard all day, and usually cleaned the kitchen at night when we were going to bed. Nobody really knew how much he slept. He had his own room in the garage. Nobody saw him go to bed. Someone said that at the old Fredrick Street temple in San Francisco Jayananda would sleep standing up in Prabhupada’s class, and Prabhupada would tell the devotees not to disturb him because he knew how hard Jayananda was working. He looked really tired in class some mornings, and he would nod off and catch a little nap sometimes. But the funny thing was, when somebody asked a question at the end of class, Jayananda would suddenly wake up, as if he had not heard a word of class, and would give a perfect answer.

Running from any hint of fame


Getting off the track, well, back to his plan. This was his transcendental fraud. He had this scheme, this trickery of an idea, that he was going to live and leave this world as a fallen householder. That was his plan. Not that householders are all fallen, no, they do great service by having little Vaishnavas. But generally, especially in the West, householders are known to be a bit more materially attached. That is why the sannyasi is a Maharaja, or a great soul. One who has given up worldly connections. Jayananda wanted us to remember him not as an exalted devotee, which he was, but to be known as a fallen householder, who was a good devotee for sure, but who did all these ordinary things. Here he was, running from any hint of fame and recognition. He really did not want any praise or fame, not in the least. And so this was his fraud of an idea regarding how he was to live in this world, free from his rightful claim of what he really was.

But we devotees, now in retrospection, especially those who really know, we are thinking, “No way, Josi!” It seemed that Krishna was thinking the same thing. Of course, I do not know what Krishna is thinking, but I feel that Krishna had a divine intervention in this fraud. Krishna put His transcendental hand into the play. Krishna seemed to step in and mess up Jayananda’s fraudulent attempt. Little did Jayananda know what would happen when he posed for that famous picture. The photographer was there, and Jayananda had no shirt. He was wearing a dhoti-top, a sheet-like piece of white cloth draped like a cape over one shoulder. A lot of devotees wore them in those days, but Jayananda had little idea of how it looked so sannyasa-like.

Showing his true colors

Jayananda-Ratha-YatraSo now we had the photo, and the lab technology. So we colored in the cloth, made it saffron, made it what it should be. Now we show his true colors. Now it was time to show his true renunciation. And he who ran from fame, the white-clothed ordinary devotee, now he is that blissful-looking sannyasi displayed on all the Ratha-yatra carts. Unwillingly, he got his colors; his renunciation was already there in his heart, and now the colors had followed. Now he is the Maharaja, which is what he always was, but wanted nobody to know. This was all Krishna’s trick, for in transcendental trickery, Krishna is the best of them all, He always gets the last laugh. And so Prabhupada asked that we use Jayananda’s picture at all Ratha-yatras. Now we will always advertise the glories of Jayananda by putting his blissful picture on the front of Lord Jagannatha’s cart, and parade his image through the many cities of the world. Now thousands of people will see his picture in hundreds of cities. Those who are new devotees will say, “Who is that blissful-looking sannyasi?” And those who know little of the philosophy will say, “Who is that blissful-looking man? See how he smiles with his eyes!”