The Passing Away of Muktakesh

by Hrishikesh (Henry Doktorski)

Dearest Brijabasis,

Although I have not the necessary qualifications to write about the passing of a Vaishnava due to my own tendency to find fault and commit offenses, I humbly attempt to do so regardless because I was at Muktakesh’s departure from this world and some godbrothers have requested me to share my observations and limited realizations. I hope others will do the same, as I can only report what I personally experienced or heard.

Mukta joined ISKCON in Buffalo, New York, and was initiated in March 1974. (His brother Lokavarnottama was initiated 9 months earlier during June 1973.) Both brothers excelled at book distribution and rapidly became known as maharatis: big guns.

As Buffalo was part of Kirtanananda’s GBC Zone, both brothers had a strong relationship with New Vrindaban, and eventually relocated there when the Buffalo temple and farm was disbanded.

I first met Mukta on the pick in 1979. He was one of New Vrindaban’s biggest collectors and I admired him and tried to follow in his footsteps. More recently he served as Director of the New Vrindaban Office for the ISKCON Prison Ministry and I had some opportunity to assist him in editing and publishing books about Krishna Consciousness for prisoners.

Mukta married another big sankirtan picker, Mother Lilamrita, and they had one son: Cediraja, affectionately named after Mukta’s dear friend and godbrother from Buffalo who passed away tragically in 1985 while on the pick. Today Cedi is a student at West Virginia University and pursuing a career in biology.

As explained by Loka, during the last few weeks Mukta had been complaining of neck pains, and the doctors at first were unable to properly diagnose his condition. Later it was discovered he had a cyst in his throat and another in the spinal column in his neck, which needed immediate attention. Then a terrible accident prevented him from breathing for many minutes and irreparable brain damage ensued.

Three tests were performed to determine the condition of Mukta’s brain, and each test revealed that cognitive brain functions were practically nil. After these tests confirmed that Mukta would never recover external consciousness, it was decided that he should be removed from life support and allowed to die naturally.

I arrived at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Montefiore Hospital Intensive Care Unit at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 7. One of Mukta’s godbrothers was massaging his head, and Gadadhara (one of Cedi’s friends) was massaging Mukta’s left hand. A tape of kirtan was playing in the background. Mukta was covered with a harinama chaddar, and tilak was on his forehead. Pictures of Krishna, Prabhupada and Lord Nrsimhadev were strategically placed near Mukta on his hospital bed and on the walls.

After a while Cediraja entered, sat down next to the bed and began holding his father’s right hand. Cedi’s great love for his father was obvious at every moment of the vigil. Throughout the turbulent emotions he experienced, he remained at his father’s side continually. Loka also soon appeared with his son Krishnaloka, along with other devotees, including one Bhakta Bill who drove from Detroit to be with his Siksha Guru at his passing. Bill had been in prison for some time, and Mukta ministered to him through his ISKCON Prison Ministry. Because of Mukta’s ministry, Bill adopted the Vaishnava ways and developed a deep love for his Guru who had changed his life. I was very happy to meet Bill, one success of Mukta’s preaching.

After some time, Mukta was moved from Intensive Care to another floor where the hospital staff thought there would be more room for visiting devotees who would arrive for his passing. Although the room did not appear to be any bigger, it was situated at the end of a hallway with a lounge where devotees could sit if the room became full.

Mukta was moved about 3 p.m. We assisted by carrying devotional articles, pictures, tape player, etc. I carried a large photograph of Radha-Vrindaban Chandra and a colorful helium balloon someone had brought. We decorated the new room with pictures of Krishna and Prabhupada and devotional paraphernalia, so much so that I thought the room looked like a temple. We gave Mukta some privacy while the hospital staff cleaned him and transferred him to the new bed. Then we entered the room and Loka began leading kirtan.

Cedi sat at his father’s right hand, and Loka sat by Mukta’s head. Both obviously have great love for their father and brother, as evidenced by their fond and intimate ministrations. Soon many other devotees arrived: Varshan Swami, Soma, Tapapunja and his wife Kamalavati, Nitodita and his wife Ria and her two sisters Vidya Ratna and Purnamasi and her husband Tattva, Sri Galim, Sankirtan and his son Sanjaya, Mother Jaya Sri, Rupanuga & Vani, Vrsni, Sacipita, Devavati, Gopalasapriya, Purnima, Mother Chaitanya with her daughter Dove and two grandchildren, the brahmacaris Balarama Chandra, Chaitanya and Krishnadas. There were others also, but I do not know their names.

I guess that maybe 20-25 devotees packed the room at once, but throughout the day probably 40-50 devotees came to offer respects, including Damodar who visited in the morning and Loka’s other two sons who came earlier in the week. There was standing room only. There were more devotees standing outside the door.

Devotees brought deity garlands from New Vrindaban; two or three garlands were placed around Mukta’s head. Tapapunja played the mrdanga and I played a small accordion. Someone else played karatals softly. Several devotees took turns leading kirtan.

Devavati placed what appeared to be a small Salagram deity on Mukta’s chest. Kamalavati sprinkled what appeared to be Ganga water and Vrindaban dust on Mukta. Mother Gopa held a large framed picture of Prabhupada at the foot of Mukta’s bed.

I was especially impressed with the great love emanating from the devotees which filled the room. Everyone was there to support their dear friend and godbrother in his momentous passage from this life to the next. We were sad to see him go, but glad to be able to help make his passing more auspicious by chanting the Holy Names.

Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita: “And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt. Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.”

To be truthful, I was amazed that I had forgotten all these things. There in the hospital room with Mukta lying unconscious and all of us chanting, I could only remember Mukta’s service for Krishna, his devotion to Prabhupada, and his wonderful qualities. My heart was absorbed in love for Mukta: a love that I frankly did not know existed. It is said that one doesn’t realize what is important to them until it is taken away. Now I was all too conscious of my great affection for Mukta, and I regretted not always being kind to him while he was with us.

Srila Prabhupada taught us the proper way to perceive our sincere godbrothers, despite their faults. Once Prabhupada was informed that one of his uninitiated disciples had begun to backslide and was not always strictly following the regulative principles. Prabhupada declared: “No, no, he is very good boy. . . He is keeping Jagannatha within his beadbag and chanting. . . No, he’s our well-wisher, a good boy.” (Srila Prabhupada quoted by Hari Sauri Dasa in “A Transcendental Diary: Travels With His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada,” Volume 1 (pp. 156-157).

Prabhupada did not see the faults of this disciple. Prabhupada only saw the devotion, just as Radharani sees only the good in others. I believe Prabhupada might have said the same thing about Muktakesh when others would criticize: “No, no. He’s a good boy.”

About 4:30 p.m. a hospital staff member entered the room and disconnected Mukta’s breathing tube, as Cedi and Loka had requested. Now Mukta had to breathe on his own. He also hooked Mukta up intravenously to a bottle of morphine which would relax his body, slow his breathing, and make him as pain-free and comfortable as possible.

I had spoken to this staff member earlier in the company of Cedi and he said that normally a patient in this condition may continue to breath for an hour. Perhaps four hours at most. He also explained that normally before a person dies, their breathing becomes less frequent. There may be a prolonged time of stillness between each breath.

When Mukta was taken off life support, our emotions became very strong and tears flowed freely, because we knew Mukta’s remaining time in this world was coming to an end. The kirtan became more intense. Loka began kissing his brother. Cedi’s tears flowed profusely. Even Mukta shed a few glistening tears periodically. The room became very hot and stuffy, as we had to close the door to the hallway to keep from disturbing the other patients and hospital staff. Although cool air blew from the heater/air conditioner vent, it had little effect. It became so warm that Mukta began perspiring, and periodically Mother Devavati wiped the sweat from his brow and saliva from his lips.

At 5 p.m. I left to play organ at a Good Friday Church Service, but I had the feeling that when I returned Mukta would still be breathing. I had told Cedi earlier, “Your father is so stubborn, I wouldn’t be surprised if he kept breathing for another 12 hours after life support is removed.”

When I returned to the hospital shortly before 9 p.m., Mukta was still alive and breathing. The kirtan had stopped for a while and devotees were speaking about Mukta. I heard Varshan Swami glorify Mukta and his enthusiasm for chanting japa loudly.

At 9 p.m. an announcement was broadcast on the hallway loudspeaker: “Visiting hours are over. All visitors must leave now.” Quickly I ducked out of the hallway, entered Mukta’s room and stationed myself near his bed with my accordion. I wasn’t planning on leaving before Mukta. I picked up my accordion and the kirtan resumed. Several times the nurses and staff knocked on the door, apparently in an attempt to get us to leave, but no one budged. We did however chant softly as not to cause the hospital staff any additional stress.

Gradually the space between Mukta’s breaths became longer and longer and it seemed he was going to leave soon. At around 9:35 or 9:36, he took his last breath. There was no more movement in his chest. We waited and waited for the next breath. Nothing. No more movement.

Nityo stood up next to Mukta and examined him closely. Mother Devavati placed her fingers on Mukta’s neck to feel for a pulse, then sprinkled some Ganga water on Mukta’s lips. The kirtan softened. Mukta was unmoving. Gadadhara said he noticed an immediate change in the color of Mukta’s face. Two small silver tears appear in the corners of Mukta’s eyes. Gauranga Kishore (Narada Muni’s son) was leading the chanting when Mukta departed.

Someone called for a nurse who came with a stethoscope. The room became silent as she listened for a heartbeat. I could not hear what she said, but it seemed she said something like: “We must have a doctor confirm.”

Song sheets were passed out and Nityodita lead the singing of “Song for a Departed Vaishnava,” accompanying himself on the harmonium.

Shortly after this I departed. I was extremely grateful to be able to assist in the passing of Muktakesh in some small way by providing pleasing musical accompaniment for the kirtan. I was briefly reminded of the passing of Bhismadeva, as both Bhisma and Mukta were maharatis in their own respective fields of expertise: Bhisma on the battlefield and Mukta in the parking lots.

“Thus Bhismadeva merged himself in the Supersoul, Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, with his mind, speech, sight and actions, and thus he became silent, and his breathing stopped. Knowing that Bhismadeva had merged into the unlimited eternity of the Supreme Absolute, all present there became silent like birds at the end of the day. Thereafter, both men and demigods sounded drums in honor, and the honest royal order commenced demonstrations of honor and respect. And from the sky fell showers of flowers. O descendent of Bhrgu, after performing funeral rituals for the dead body of Bhismadeva, Maharaja Yudhisthira was momentarily overtaken with grief. All the great sages then glorified Lord Sri Krishna, who was present there, by confidential Vedic hymns. Then all of them returned to their respective hermitages, bearing always Lord Krishna within their hearts.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.9.43-47)

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väïchä-kalpatarubhyaç ca
kåpä-sindhubhya eva ca
patitänäà pävanebhyo
vaiñëavebhyo namo namaù

I had met Mukta 25 years ago on the Dhama. I read the entire article and the names of those present and thus I know that he left the this world as a cherished Vaisnava. I’m sure that his tenacity and Krsna’s protection will carry him toward higher stratums of life where his person will be received with an eager reception, for he was a rare soul amongst all living entities.

As Srila Prabhupada has written in his purports:

…In Vedic society, after the death of a relative, especially one’s father or mother, one must go to Gayä and there offer oblations to the lotus feet of Lord Viñëu. Therefore hundreds and thousands of men gather in Gayä daily to offer such oblations, or çräddha. Following this principle, Lord Caitanya Mahäprabhu also went there to offer piëòa to His dead father. Fortunately He met Éçvara Puré there. …

… If Kåñëa is accepted as a son, He will never die. Here we have a very loving son or child, but the father and mother, or those who are affectionate towards him, always hope, “May my son not die.” But Kåñëa actually never will die. Therefore those who accept Kåñëa, or the Supreme Lord, as their son will never be bereft of their son. In many instances devotees have accepted the Deity as a son. In Bengal there are many such instances, and even after the death of the devotee, the Deity performs the çräddha ceremony for the father. …

… Çräddha is a ritualistic performance observed by the followers of the Vedas. There is a yearly occasion of fifteen days when ritualistic religionists follow the principle of offering oblations to departed souls. Thus those fathers and ancestors who, by freaks of nature, might not have a gross body for material enjoyment can again gain such bodies due to the offering of çräddha oblations by their descendants. The performance of çräddha, or offering oblations with prasäda, is still current in India, especially at Gayä, where oblations are offered at the lotus feet of Viñëu in a celebrated temple. Because the Lord is thus pleased with the devotional service of the descendants, by His grace He liberates the condemned souls of forefathers who do not have gross bodies, and He favors them to again receive a gross body for development of spiritual advancement.
Unfortunately, by the influence of mäyä, the conditioned soul employs the body he gets for sense gratification, forgetting that such an occupation may lead him to return to an invisible body. The devotee of the Lord, or one who is in Kåñëa consciousness, however, does not need to perform such ritualistic ceremonies as çräddha because he is always pleasing the Supreme Lord; therefore his fathers and ancestors who might have been in difficulty are automatically relieved. …

…One should not make very elaborate arrangements to perform the çräddha ceremony of offering oblations to one’s forefathers. The best process for the çräddha ceremony is to distribute bhägavata-prasäda (remnants of food that has first been offered to Kåñëa) to all of one’s forefathers and relatives. This makes a first-class çräddha ceremony. …

… if one is habituated to taking the prasäda of Lord Viñëu, there is no chance of his becoming a ghost or anything lower than a human being. In Vedic civilization there is a performance called çräddha by which food is offered with faith and devotion. If one offers oblations with faith and devotion—either to the lotus feet of Lord Viñëu or to His representative in Pitåloka, Aryamä—one’s forefathers will attain material bodies to enjoy whatever material enjoyment is due them. …

… According to the Vedic system, everyone should marry. One has to accept a wife because a wife will produce children, and the children in their turn will offer foodstuffs and funeral ceremonies so that the forefathers, wherever they may live, will be made happy. The offering of oblations in the name of Lord Viñëu is called piëòodaka, and it is necessary that the descendants of a family offer piëòa to the forefathers. …

… Though overcome by feelings of separation from Kåñëa, Arjuna was nevertheless able to pacify himself by remembering all the various instructions given to him by the Lord. Arjuna then carried out the rituals of offering piëòa and so on for his dead relatives. …

… There are many other sages, like Çaìkaräcärya, Gautama Muni and Närada Muni, to whom we are indebted because we take advantage of their knowledge. Similarly, we are obliged to our forefathers, because we take our birth in a particular family, where we take all advantages and inherit property. Therefore, we are indebted to the forefathers and have to offer them piëòa (prasäda) after they are dead. Similarly, to the people in general we are also indebted, as well as to our relatives, friends and even animals such as cows and dogs who render us so much service.
In this way, we are indebted to the demigods, to the forefathers, to the sages, to the animals and to society in general. It is our duty to repay them all by proper discharge of service. But by the one stroke of devotional service, if someone gives up all obligations and simply surrenders unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is no longer a debtor, nor obliged to any other source of benefit.
In Bhagavad-gétä also, the Lord says, “Give up all your occupations and just become surrendered unto Me. I give you assurance that I shall give you protection from all sinful reactions.” One may think that because he is surrendering unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead he will not be able to perform all of his other obligations. But the Lord says repeatedly, “Don’t hesitate. Don’t consider that because you are giving up all other engagements there will be some flaw in your life. Don’t think like that. I will give you all protection.” That is the assurance of Lord Kåñëa in Bhagavad-gétä.
There is additional evidence in the Agastya-saàhitä: “As the regulative principles of scripture are not required by a liberated person, so the ritualistic principles indicated in the Vedic supplements are also not required for a person duly engaged in the service of Lord Rämacandra.” In other words, the devotees of Lord Rämacandra, or Kåñëa, are already liberated persons and are not required to follow all the regulative principles mentioned in the ritualistic portions of the Vedic literature.
Similarly, in the Eleventh Canto of Çrémad-Bhägavatam, Fifth Chapter, verse 42, Karabhäjana Muni addresses King Nimi and says, “My dear King, a person who has given up the worship of the demigods and has completely concentrated his energy in the devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead has become very, very dear to the Lord. As such, if by chance or mistake he does something which is forbidden, there is no need for him to perform any purificatory ceremonies. Because the Lord is situated within his heart, He takes compassion for the devotee’s accidental mistake and corrects him from within.” It is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gétä in many places that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kåñëa, takes a special interest in His devotees and declares emphatically that nothing can cause His devotees to fall down. He is always protecting them.
NoD 6: How to Discharge Devotional Service …

“… If things are made easy, this affords facility for the person who has made them easy and also for others who follow the same principles. The process recommended for crossing the ocean of nescience is easy not only for the devotee but for common persons who follow the devotee (mahä-jano yena gataù sa panthäù). [Bhäg. 10.2.30, purport] … ”

…Thus both by personal example and by precept, and even after their disappearance from the mortal world, the great souls help the conditioned souls who have forgotten their love for Kåñëa. As Çréla Bhaktivinoda Öhäkura so eloquently put it:

He reasons ill who says that Vaiñëavas die,
When thou art living still in sound!
The Vaiñëavas die to live, and living try
To spread the holy name around.

Aspiring servant of the servant of the Vaisnavas,
Bhakta John