By Radha Sundari devi dasi
We have all heard the story of the house that Srila Prabhupada built in which the whole world can live. And how in his great mercy he lovingly created, in the body of ISKCON, a spiritual family to take up residence in that house. A family imbued with the qualities of love and trust, to stand at the door and welcome inside the rest of the world.
Although we have repeated these words many times over the past 38 years, it is only in the last few days, after Hari-sauri Prabhu launched an appeal to help our family, that we have been privileged to really experience first-hand what it means to be embraced by the love of that family. We feel as if we’ve been sitting in the centre of a magic circle surrounded by hundreds of devotees and well-wishers from all over the world, flooding us with blessings, prayers, gifts from the heart, pledges of laxmi and messages of hope, wisdom, comfort and succour. As unworthy as we may be, we have been the most fortunate recipients of the unconditional love generated by our beloved Srila Prabhupada and delivered through the channels of his growing devotee family – his spiritual children, grand-children, great-grand-children and well-wishing members of the international Vaisnava Community. Some names and faces we recognize, some we aren’t familiar with, but the way in which these family members have all immediately gathered in unity to support us, is a testament to the vision and painstaking effort Srila Prabhupada put into birthing and cultivating this Vaisnava family to become the life and world-changer that it is.
Cradled in the loving arms of these devotees, with immense gratitude we have awoken to the softness, the sweetness, the nurturing, the healing and the extraordinary power of the love that lies at the very heart of our movement – the manifestation of Sri Radha’s infinite compassion upon us all in Her aspect as our Divine Mother as mentioned in Caitanya Caritamrta.
As many of you may already know, our son Chaitanya Nitai Prana das suffers from mental illness and has tried on three separate occasions to end his life. Of course we are all crazy to some extent, having ever left the shelter of Krsna to come to the material world, but some of us are bit more crazy than others. People ask us why? Why us as parents? Why him? He was such a nice boy. Some offer words of encouragement, sympathy, empathy and answers from Shastra. We ask ourselves. Where did we go wrong? What mistakes did we make that may have contributed to his suffering? Perhaps we didn’t perform our Garbhadhana Samskara properly for his conception. Perhaps we passed on to him a legacy of anarthas along with our love as his parents. We tried our best – maybe it just wasn’t good enough. However, before we had children, my husband and I prayed for one thing above everything else – that in some small way we might be able to help the souls entrusted to us by taking birth in our family, on their journey back Home, Back to Godhead.
Tragically our first baby, Nitai-Gauranga das, was still-born, leaving his body one and a half hours before being born on Lord Nityananda’s Appearance Day 31 years ago. There was absolutely nothing physically wrong with him, he never took a breath in the material world and according to Vichitravirya Prabhu, who himself lost a daughter at 8 years old, Srila Prabhupada said “when children of devotees are taken away at a very early age, then they have only a very little karma left to finish up in the material world before going back Home”. Through this experience of heart-wrenching loss, my husband and I learnt a very valuable lesson. Every day when we chant we ask the Lord “Please engage me in Your loving devotional service”. As we came to terms with our sudden, desperate grief, we learned with love to rejoice in Nitai’s victory and in our service as his mother and father, having been able to give him shelter in the womb for nine months while he completed his sojourn here.
In the same way, although it has been extremely painful and almost impossible sometimes to deal with Chaitanya’s depression, distress, delusions and consequent desire to kill himself, we have accepted in our sacred hearts that this is one of the most important services that the Lord has assigned to us in this lifetime. At times it has almost destroyed us, our sanity, our sadhana, our ability to cope and keep going, but at the same time it has also been the source of our deepest realizations in Consciousness of Krsna and surrender to the sweet will of the Lord. Who are we to ask why? Our duty and responsibility is to parent him with love and the knowledge we have been so fortunate to glean over the 38 years we have been in ISKCON and in the association of devotees. Of course it is all karma, and the intricacies of the laws of karma are impossible to fathom. How are we to understand the steps Chaitanya takes in his own dance with the Lord. We are just the servants and have had to learn, sometimes the hard way, to just keep on keeping on, serving with love to the best of our ability.
There have been times when I have felt discouraged, embarrassed and even ashamed and guilty about the situation with Chaitanya and the dysfunctional effect it has wrought upon our family. I have been told that Krsna never gives more mercy to a devotee at one time than he or she is able to withstand. We came perilously close however, to a point of being submerged and slowly drowning. Confused, unable to see a clear way out of our predicament when Chaitanya recently experienced a severe meltdown and we had no means or money to take care of it. But then Srila Prabhupada threw us a lifebuoy. Sent in his beloved servants, Hari-sauri Prabhu and Sitala to catch us as we fell, and behind them the army of his spiritual family to hold us in their hearts and breathe life back into us with their love. And not just us. Love for our darling devotee daughter Kishori Radha. Love and unlimited streams of compassion for Chaitanya, their god-son and god-brother, a fallen soldier in the transcendental army of Srila Prabhupada.
We know philosophically that we are not this body but eternal spirit souls. At times however, it has been very hard to remember the devotee that lies beneath Chaitanya’s madness and his unacceptable behaviour. But he is a devotee in his heart and we feel so deeply grateful to all those who have extended their loving support, understanding and non-judgement to us as his family, so that we don’t feel so alone in facing what has seemed many times an insurmountable, inconceivable and insoluble challenge.
His psychiatrist told us the other day “There is one thing for sure. Chaitanya lives for Krsna. Krsna is his life and soul.” Even now, in the Clinic, he is chanting his rounds, reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, giving out devotional books, (his favourite one is “A Second Chance”), distributing prasadam, giving away clickers to the other patients so they can chant, engaging them in pujas and regularly having everyone dance and sing in kirtan. He really has no other interests in life except spiritual life, and somehow or other Krsna has given him to us to take care of.
Now, in turn, Krsna has sent the devotees to take care of us.
There is currently a flurry of interest in the media surrounding the recent deaths of prominent personalities due to suicide and celebrities admitting to their battles with mental illness. Perhaps in my forthcoming book “By Love Serve”, sharing the story of our family as aspiring servants of Krsna, I will be able to explain to them how the hand of God is behind everything. How “not a blade of grass moves without the will of the Supreme Personality of Godhead”. How there is a higher purpose for the ultimate good within the divine plan of God. How without Vaisnava Krpa and the intervention of the Holy Name, the madness that lies rampant now upon our planet can never be rectified. Ask us. We know. We are living proof of that salvation by the Lord and His devotees.
If you would like to read more about our story, please click here at www.gofundme.com/please-help-devotee-family or paste it into your browser, and if you feel so inclined, please help and share this appeal on Facebook or your other social media. Thank you.
With infinite gratitude and love we beg to remain your humble servants,
Radha Sundari devi dasi and Advaita Chandra das