Prayers for Muktakesh Prabhu

by Hrishikesh (Henry Doktorski)

Dearest Brijabasis,

I just had the opportunity of visiting Muktakesh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Montefiore Hospital Intensive Care Unit for about an hour yesterday afternoon. I was not very happy to see him at first, considering his suffering condition.

He is unconscious and doesn’t seem to be aware of his surroundings. His breathing is regulated by a respirator which is connected to his trachea through a hole in his throat. He is fed continuously from a bottle of tan-colored foodstuff which hangs from a rack by his bed and enters his stomach through a tube passing through his mouth and esophagus. The product consists of primarily liquid soybeans and vitamins, as I read on the ingredients label. His vital signs are continuously monitored by computer and nurses. He appears to be in stable condition. The nurse told me they tried this morning to allow him to breathe on his own, but they thought his breath rate was too high, so they put him back on the ventilator. He is wearing a neck brace, on account of the recent operation in his neck-spine to remove a tumor. While I was there the nurses had to move his head to reposition a tube which helps drain the wound in his trachea. When they were finished and laid his head back down on the bed, he seemed visibly disturbed and agitated for about ten minutes. Truly my heart was sore to see Mukta in this miserable condition.

Then gradually I began remembering my joyful personal pastimes with Mukta. One of my first memories of him was 28-some years ago when we, along with dozens of other New Vrindaban devotees, worked the Pope Pick in Chicago in October 1979. We all hawked Pope buttons before, during, and after John Paul II’s outdoor mass at Brighton Park. There must have been a million people there, and we worked the crowd all day long until late at night. After the crowd had dissipated, and the pick was over, I sat in Dharmatma’s van counting my collection. It was about 10 or 11 p.m. All our scores were counted, and Mukta was shocked that I, a brand-new sankirtan devotee, had collected $1643 and I had beaten his impressive score. Mukta was highly competitive to please Krishna, to be the biggest for Krishna, so he had some challenging words with me and promptly picked up his button bag and ran out back into the dark to try to find a few more people to buy a few more buttons.

A few months later, Dharmatma sent a few teams of devotees to work a big concert at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. I think we were distributing paperback books, probably Easy Journey To Other Planets, on the sidewalks. I could not get the hand of this type of sankirtan, so I just followed Mukta around to see how he did so big. Although I was shy at approaching people, Mukta was fearless and I tried to follow in his footsteps. But what big footsteps they were!

However, before I knew it, we were all picked up by the police and we spent a few hours in the Allegheny County Jail. Mukta was incensed that these ignorant cops would try to stop Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtan movement, and he told them so in no uncertain terms. I was surprised by his audacity. After things quieted down, Mukta rallied the devotees by starting a raucous kirtan in the jail holding cell, and we all passed the time chanting the Holy Name until we were released an hour or two later.

During the intervening years from 1979 until the present I have had other opportunities to serve with Mukta in one way or another; most recently in his ISKCON PRISON MINISTRY by helping edit and publish five books written by Tirtha in Prison. I always thought that Muktakesh was constantly thinking “How can I best serve Krishna?”

As I indicated earlier, I was sorely aggrieved when I first saw Mukta’s condition in Intensive Care, but little by little, I began to understand more clearly that Mukta was completely in Krishna’s hands. He was being served by the hospital staff, and by his son and brother Loka, and by the prayers of all the beloved Brijabasis. Earlier Loka had brought a small cassette player into the room and placed it on a shelf on some machinery near Mukta’s head. Minute after minute and hour after hour a self-repeating tape of Srila Prabhupada chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare; Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare” constantly bathed the room with the pleasing sound vibration of the Holy Names. Next to the tape player was placed a small photograph of a Lord Nrsimhadev Deity; the protector of the devotees.

The nurse was friendly and we chatted for a while. She was especially curious about the chanting on the cassette tape, and told me that Mukta’s brother had telephoned that morning to make sure the tape was playing. She wanted to know what were the words on the tape, and she attentively and respectively listened to my explanation of Mukta’s religious beliefs, the power of the Holy Names of Hare, Krishna and Rama, and Krishna’s statement in Bhagavad-gita: “Whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature.” I explained to her, “Most of Ronald’s friends call him Mukta; I don’t know how many people actually call him Ronald, so perhaps he may not clearly recognize the name. So I suggest when you talk to him to see if he is responsive, to see if he can consciously follow a direction to move his toe, perhaps you should address him by the name Mukta.” She laughed and agreed.

I also had some quality time alone with Mukta. Although he did not appear responsive, I thought perhaps he might be able to hear my voice, so I spoke with him for ten or fifteen minutes; I introduced myself, and expressed my appreciation for his association during the years. I told him all the Brijabasis were keeping him in their prayers. I told him that he was in Krishna’s hands (indeed at every moment of our lives we are in Krishna’s hands, but sometimes when we are particularly helpless, we become more aware of our dependency), and I told him that we all love him. He is very dear to us, as I am sure he is dear to Prabhupada and Krishna. I also told him he sometimes can be a big rascal, but I said so out of affection and half-joking. I think he appreciated my visit.

I finally left the hospital feeling great inspiration in my heart; believing that Krishna is taking care of Mukta, as He is taking care of us all. Is this not the quality of a Vaishnava; that he makes us remember Krishna in any condition of life?

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Reader Comments

Please accept my humble obeisance. I am thankful for your service to your dying friend. As a healhcare provider, though, I must add, if one leaves Instructions in the form of a Living Will, one doesn’t have to be kept alive in such a deplorable state. I have a living will and encourage anyone to get one. You can make one online . if in hospital (and you can still speak for yourself) you can appoint someone (like a friend or family) to say you don’t want to have respirators and feeding tubes. (unless of course , you DO want that) These Advance Directives are our service to ourselves, to prevent the scenario described. Having said all that, I am again grateful that your friend has devotees around him, making sure the chanting will continue. I can only pray for such, in my hour of death…In service to Guru and Gauranga, with love, Nalayani