Bhagavatananda says that assisting the dying is helping him “cash in on the blessings” he received from one of Srila Prabhupada’s departed disciples, Tribhuvanatha Dasa. Bhagavatananda met Tribhuvanatha near the end of Tribhuvanatha’s life, when he was emaciated and wheelchair-bound. “But his eyes were huge saucers of spirituality,” says Bhagavatananda. At an evening program, Bhagavatananda suddenly stopped and asked Tribhuvanatha for his blessings. At first, Tribhuvanatha looked surprised, as if he could not understand why anyone would ask for such a thing. “Then suddenly his mood changed. He touched my head and said, ‘You have all my blessings.’”
Tribhuvanatha passed away in 2001 due to stomach cancer. He was well-known for preaching Krishna consciousness in the Middle East under very difficult circumstances. For example, he was arrested for his preaching activities in Damascus, Syria. For one month, he was tortured in a terrorist cell.
Bhagavatananda realized some of Tribhuvanatha’s blessings almost immediately. Parasurama Dasa, who organizes an ox cart program in India every year, overheard Bhagavatananda saying that he had never visited India before. Parasurama suddenly invited Bhagavatananda to come to Vrindavan with him. Parasurama had been Tribhuvanatha’s assistant. Bhagavatananda says, “Tribhuvanatha’s blessings cashed in. That is the only reason I went to Vrindavan.” For a few years after, Bhagavatananda returned to Vrindavan every year.
In 2005, while shopping in Vrindavan, he saw a book called The Final Journey: Complete Hospice Care for Departing Vaishnavas (Torchlight Publishing). He purchased the book and started reading it. It made him more aware of the issue of death and dying. So when an announcement was made during the morning program that a terminally ill devotee was asking for visitors, Bhagavatananda volunteered.
The devotee was Narmada Goswami from Mumbai. Narmada Goswami had been involved with the BBT Mumbai for many years. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and was weak and bed-ridden.
Bhagavatananda recalls the unlimited mercy he received from the small service of visiting Narmada Goswami. “Narmada Goswami was overwhelmed to see that I had come. He could barely speak, but everything was transmitted through his glance. He was just so grateful. All I can figure is that he knew Krishna was in that room, and he was passing on that benediction to me through his glance. I felt very blessed and fortunate to be there.”
In July 2008, Bhagavatananda met Sangita Devi Dasi, the author of The Final Journey, when she gave a seminar on hospice care at the Philadelphia temple. That seminar was the impetus for creating the Philadelphia Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. Team. Through his service with Vaisnavas C.A.R.E., Bhagavatananda feels he is finally beginning to realize the blessings he received from Tribhuvanatha. Bhagavatananda says, “When devotees are dying, Krishna is very close to the scene. Anytime I connect with a dying devotee, I get a feeling of being very close to Krishna. I get a sense of peace from that.”
Moreover, Bhagavatananda’s service with Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. is preparing him for his own death. “Maharaja Yudhisthira says that nobody thinks they are going to die. I don’t think I am going to die either. But through my service, I am learning that everything is temporary. I am learning that I am only temporarily situated here. The real business is to prepare for my next body.”
But even more than preparing for his own death, Bhagavatananda says he can feel his heart softening. This is the real benefit of his service with Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. “The passing away of the devotees are living Bhagavatam stories. As I see devotees with whom I have a personal connection go through this process, slowly my heart is softening. I need to soften my heart, so I can have an impact when I talk to people. I want to develop good qualities. This is my offering to Srila Prabhupada’s movement.”
Within the next few years, Sangita Devi Dasi, along with her godsister Jagarini devi dasi, a Board member of Vaisnavas C.A.R.E., hopes to visit temples throughout North America to encourage C.A.R.E. teams in those communities. C.A.R.E. stands for “Counseling, assistance, resource, and education.” C.A.R.E. teams are links between the temple and a congregation member who is suffering from an acute, chronic, or terminal illness. They make sure the devotee knows he is part of a loving family – Prabhupada’s family – by sending maha-prasadam, making hospital visits, sponsoring Deity garlands, and offering support and reassurance through phone calls.
Within the next few weeks, a Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. Team will begin operating in Houston, Texas. Kalindi Devi Dasi and Guru Bhakti Devi Dasi, a medical internist with a private practice, are the main organizers of the Houston team. Recently, Kalindi invited Sangita to give a seminar in hospice care. Fifty-two people attended the seminar, which was held on Lord Nityananda’s Appearance Day.
Devotees outside North America have also expressed interest in organizing C.A.R.E. Teams in their communities. For example, a devotee in Australia who is studying to become a naturopathic practitioner, is hoping to organize a team in her community.
If you are interested in starting a Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. Team in your community, please contact Sangita Devi Dasi or Jagarini Devi Dasi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. at www.vaisnavascare.com[ death ]