From Back to Godhead
By Sukhada Devi Dasi
When Charles asked his son and daughter-in-law a Hare Krishna couple to move in with him, he knew he’d have to adapt, but his reward was more than he could ever imagine.
Charles was born in 1917. He grew into a man of courage and principles, serving his country in the U.S. Navy for twenty years and then the Civil Service for twenty more. Assigned to a submarine fleet during World War II, he saw his share of pain and suffering and, like many veterans, came to value a safe, secure home for his wife and two young children. Charles was proud of his country and its ideals and strove to instill values in his children that would enable them to grow into responsible, God-fearing citizens.
When his son Charlie, at the age of 24, announced his plan to join the Hare Krishna movement, Charles was shocked. What! Why? Where had Charles gone wrong? Like many parents, Charles was horrified that his son was choosing a path radically different from what he had envisioned for him. It seemed the foolish choice of a young man who couldn’t know the world as Charles did. He did his best to talk his son out of it, but it was no use. Ultimately, he could only accept Charlie’s decision and hope that someday Charlie would change his mind.
Little did Charles realize what a praiseworthy path his son had chosen. Giving up the usual pursuit of wealth and social status, Charlie instead chose to develop love for God, Sri Krishna. Charles had no way of knowing that he himself would someday reap great benefits from his son’s actions. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Lord Krishna assures a boy that because of his saintly behavior, his “entire dynasty has been purified.” Although to Charles his son’s decision seemed a rejection of his family values, Charlie would bring his family a spiritual opulence more transforming than any material success.
Moving in with Dad
In 1973 Charlie joined the Hare Krishna movement and was initiated by Srila Prabhupada, receiving the spiritual name Godruma Dasa. At the time, Charles was not in close contact with his son, who was spreading Krishna consciousness in the U.S.A., Japan, and India.
In 1983 Godruma married a girl named Visnupriya. They returned to the U.S.A. in 1985 because his mother was ill. Charles was excited to see his son after so long and couldn’t help but notice the changes in him. Godruma had become peaceful, friendly, and tolerant. Charles welcomed Visnupriya, who was moved by his kindness and wonderful sense of humor.
In 1986 Charles lost his beloved wife to cancer. Heartsick, he asked Godruma and Visnupriya to come live with him in Jacksonville, Florida. Moved by his loneliness, the young couple agreed. But they all had concerns about their different ways of life. Godruma and his wife wanted to keep up their spiritual practices. There could be no meat, fish, eggs, onions, or garlic in the house. Nothing could be eaten unless the food was blessed by offering it to Krishna. They would want to keep worshiping their deities, Sri Sri Radha Madana-mohana, installing Them in Charles’s house. Godruma and Visnupriya would need to rise early, before 4:00 A.M., to chant Hare Krishna and perform their morning worship before going to work. Then in the evenings they would cook an offering and once more worship their deities and read from Srila Prabhupada’s books.
Contemplating all of these changes, Charles decided it was a small price to pay for the closeness of his family.
“I guess I can learn,” he told them, adding that the most difficult thing would be to remember to offer his food to Krishna.
“But I can give it a shot!”
“We had several discussions about his needs and ours,” says Visnupriya. “We didn’t want to impose on him, and he really wanted to see if he could adapt. I had serious doubts but was amazed at how quickly he adapted to the changes. Godruma and I went through culture shock too. This was the first time we were not living at a temple, and the nearest one in Alachua was eighty miles away. We wanted to continue to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to the best of our ability.”
They soon became a close-knit family. Godruma and Visnupriya shared Prabhupada’s teachings with Charles, and Charles shared his home with them. Charles would listen to tapes of Srila Prabhupada’s singing and speaking, often commenting on how convinced Prabhupada sounded when he spoke. Charles appreciated what Srila Prabhupada had done for his son, feeling that Godruma had become a better person.
The young couple would invite devotee friends over, filling the house with feasting and the holy names. In time, Charles grew to look forward to these gatherings. He developed a special fondness for the food, known as krsna-prasadam, or “the mercy of Krishna.” Visnupriya’s sister, Sashi Mukhi, would bring her children Siddhartha and Sujata over. Charles grew to love the children and Sashi Mukhi’s cooking.
To everyone’s great sorrow, Charles developed prostate cancer. He received conventional treatment, but throughout the years 2000 and 2001 his health deteriorated. He was in and out of the hospital. Although Charles had recognized the benefits of the Hare Krishna movement for Godruma, and had come to love the devotees and their ways, he had not accepted the deep philosophy of the Vedas and the teachings of Srila Prabhupada. He saw himself as someone apart from the Hare Krishna devotees.
One day, listening to Visnupriya and her nephew discussing reincarnation and life after death, Charles said, “When I go, it will be the end for me. Nothing exists after death.”
Although the prostate cancer went into remission, Charles developed chronic leukemia. He also suffered from shingles, which made it impossible for him to walk. So Charles, all his life the strong and capable provider, was now forced to rely on others.
Charles’s doctor prescribed physical therapy for his legs, and the therapist would come to their home. One day the therapist mentioned that he had often seen Hare Krishna devotees on the campus of the University of Florida. Godruma offered the therapist a copy of the Bhagavad-gita, but the man hesitated to accept it.
Charles chimed in, “You really should take the book. It will help you.”
The therapist took the book.
Charles was in immeasurable pain. He didn’t regain his ability to walk. On a return stay in the hospital, he developed a urinary tract infection. There seemed no end to his misery.
He turned to Visnupriya and said, “You’ve got to help me.”
Reaching for the only solace she could offer, Visnupriya told him that if he prayed to Krishna, he would feel a lot better.
Helplessly, Charles replied, “Really?”
The three of them decided to end all of Charles’s treatment and bring him back home. Godruma and Visnupriya would care for him and surround him with their love and with the sound of the holy name. They told their beloved father that they would play a tape of Srila Prabhupada chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra twenty-four hours a day. Charles would only need to listen. And to relieve his distress, he could learn to chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
“I’m too old to learn that,” Charles protested. “Can I just chant ‘Krishna, Krishna’?”
“Absolutely,” they replied.
Difficult situations can often reveal our dependence on God. There are, it is said, no atheists in the foxhole. And the old fighter, in the depths of his helplessness and pain, was opening to the possibilities of God’s love. He began to love the sacred chanting that was his constant companion.
When hospice workers visited the house and asked about the unusual music, Charles happily told them, “This is our family music. Why don’t you sing along?”
When faced with unbearable pain or depression, Charles would call out, “Krishna! Krishna!”
During the summer of 2001, he started having terrible apparitions. He would see ghosts, skeletons, terrorists, wild animals, and dead bodies.
In fright he would cry out, “They’re coming to get me!”
Visnupriya and Godruma increased the spiritual protection. They placed sacred tulasi beads around his neck. (He had been eating tulasi leaves offered to Krishna since 1986 and was very fond of them.) And every morning Godruma started giving him caranamrta (water that has bathed deities). In his line of vision they placed large pictures of Srila Prabhupada, Gaura Nitai (Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda), Krishna-Balarama, and Radha-Syamsundara.
Watching this, Charles quietly noted, “You are preparing for my departure.”
Visnupriya could only admit to the truth.
“But,” she comforted him, “we want you to be surrounded by auspiciousness.”
As the terrible days of his increasing illness passed, Charles began to find more and more solace in Krishna consciousness. Visnupriya and Godruma would bring him special gifts from the temple, such as prasadam, flower garlands, and sanctified water. He rejoiced in the smallest signs of Krishna’s mercy on him.
One day Charles suffered a great deal and was afraid. Visnupriya gave him a Back to Godhead magazine, and he was pleased to recognize the picture of Nagaraja Dasa, whom he had met.
“Oh, I know him!” Charles said, “I think I’ll read this magazine.”
Reading Back to Godhead helped calm him down.
Godruma and Visnupriya read to him as much as they could from the Bhagvad-gita and Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Charles listened to the reading intensely.
“I don’t understand everything you read,” he told them, “but please continue. I love to listen.”
In September the nurses said they saw a difference in Charles. He seemed peaceful, even though his physical deterioration continued unabated. One evening Visnupriya was sitting at his side when she noticed he was smiling.
“There’s someone standing at the foot of my bed,” he told her.
“Who is it, Dad?” she asked.
Charles pointed to the picture of Srila Prabhupada near his bed.
Incredulous, Visnupriya grabbed Charles’s hand.
“Are you sure?”
“Dad, you’re going to be O.K.,” Visnupriya said in wonder. “You have the shelter of Srila Prabhupada.”
When this happened several more times, Visnupriya let go of her own fear and worry. Obviously, her father-in-law was under much greater care than her own.
A Blessed End
In the final weeks of September, as the level of pain greatly increased, Charles became peaceful. He loved looking at his picture of Srila Prabhupada. Then, on October 2, Charles found it difficult to breathe. Godruma had been giving him sacred Ganges water every morning and evening for the past two weeks, and he was eating tulasi from a garland from Radha-Syamsundara in Vrndavana, India. The nurse told Godruma and Visnupriya that their father had just a few hours to live.
They were filled with a jumble of feelings. They loved him dearly and didn’t want to say good-bye, but there was no chance of recovery. They had hoped and prayed that he would find his own way to Krishna, and he had. Death would not end the real Charles, the spiritual being who had come to love the sound of Krishna’s name. It would only end his body. Whatever lay ahead for Charles was surely wonderful and auspicious.
Godruma and Visnupriya sat chanting as Charles gradually dimmed from consciousness. They urged him to chant Krishna’s name.
With great difficulty, Charles said, “Ah, K . . . r . . . s . . . na, K . . . r . . . s . . . na.”
Those were his last words before he lost awareness. His son and daughter-in-law continued to chant. They
anointed his body with sacred water and marked him with tilaka (sacred clay). Sashi Mukhi arrived and joined in the chanting. The room was tranquil and charged with spiritual energy. At 11:00 P.M., he stopped breathing.
Visnupriya and Sashi Mukhi, filled with the peace of the room, went outside. They gazed up at the moon. It seemed so bright, and the sky was beautifully clear. They considered that according to the Vedas that particular full moon occurring during the month of Purusottama was an auspicious time, and they marveled at the way Charles had transformed his life into something so pleasing to the Lord. They rejoined Godruma and spent the night chanting and reading the Bhagavad-gita.
Krishna Svarupa Dasa from the Alachua temple community performed the last rites for Charles before cremation. Following Vedic custom, on the thirteenth day after his departure the family sponsored feasts in his memory at ISKCON temples in Alachua, Atlanta, and Hyderabad.