Remembering Karṇāmṛta dāsa
Published on February 11th, 2021 | by Harmonist staff2
A longtime friend of the Harmonist, Karṇāmṛta dāsa passed from this world on February 9, 2021, at 6 PM (MST). Below we share several remembrances and appreciations from Harmonist staff, writers, and friends.
Swāmī Śrī Bhaktivedānta Tripurāri
His ideal was sakhya-rasa. Only by his grace was I able to meet and serve so many devotees on the East Coast of the States. He used to listen to my lectures and eventually convinced his wife, Arcana-siddhi, to take a chance and host me at their home in Baltimore. From there they moved to North Carolina where I followed them and a good-sized community of like-minded devotees developed. I will miss him. He set a good example, and I plan to follow and catch up with him in the afterlife.
Swāmī Bhakti Praṇaya Padmanābha
Without knowing about it, during the precise moment Karṇāmṛta prabhu left we were discussing a very beautiful verse by Vṛtrāsura here at Madhuvan. Vṛtrāsura expresses deep longing in separation from his beloved Lord, and declares that he does not want anything that may obstruct his eventual union with him:
na nāka-pṛṣṭhaṁ na ca pārameṣṭhyaṁ
na sārva-bhaumaṁ na rasādhipatyam
na yoga-siddhīr apunar-bhavaṁ vā
samañjasa tvā virahayya kāṅkṣe
O my Lord, source of all opportunities! I do not desire to enjoy in Dhruvaloka, the heavenly planets or the planet where Lord Brahmā resides, nor do I want to be the supreme ruler of all the earthly planets or the lower planetary systems. I do not desire to be the master of the powers of mystic yoga, nor do I want liberation. Burning in separation from you, these things will not satisfy me.Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.11.25
Interestingly (mystically I should say) Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purport to this verse (which we also read while he was passing from this world without knowing about it) also clearly reflects the life and example of Karṇāmṛta prabhu:
A pure devotee never desires to gain material opportunities by rendering transcendental loving service to the Lord. A pure devotee desires only to engage in loving service to the Lord in the constant association of the Lord and His eternal associates, as stated in the previous verse (dāsānudāso bhavitāsmi). As confirmed by Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura:
tāṅdera caraṇa sevi bhakta-sane vāsa
janame janame haya, ei abhilāṣa
To serve the Lord and the servants of His servants, in the association of devotees, is the only objective of a pure, unalloyed devotee.
I now feel that such verse (and its purport) nicely applies to special sadhus like Karṇāmṛta prabhu, who led an exemplary life full of devotional desires and loving attitudes in the context of guru- and vaiṣṇava-sevā.
For sure, his own separation from his beloveds Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma and Śrīla Prabhupāda is coming to a close end… and that news is “karṇāmṛta,” nectar (amṛta) to my ears (karṇa), and most especially kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta, nectar to Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s own ears, who is eagerly waiting for his devotee with his most loving extended arms in the context of divine friendship.
Vṛndāraṇya dāsī and Guruniṣṭha dāsa
The sadness we are feeling at your passing is a bittersweet reminder of our eternal home. The stronger the love and affection, the greater the impetus to meet again in service. We’re feeling so much appreciation for your kindness and hospitality, as well as regret for our shortcomings and the inadvertent offenses we have undoubtedly committed as conditioned souls.
Guru Mahārāja told us that he gave you some unedited chapters of his latest book and we are finding some consolation in the knowledge that you could relish that nectar before leaving as well as the fact that you no longer have to suffer bodily pain. Thank you so much for setting such an inspiring example. The memories of the times we spent with you will be something we will cherish again and again. Our deepest condolences to Arcanā and Nārāyaṇa.
I am reminded of a sweet story that you must have read as well in Guru Mahārāja’s book:
Śrīmatī-devī quickly attained perfection in the friendly mood. Indeed, her sakhya-bhāva manifested even in her sādhaka-deha. Her behavior, her language, and so on all took on the characteristics of a cowherd boyfriend of Kṛṣṇa, and people even began to call her bhaiyā (“brother”).
Her health was poor, and she did not live much longer after this. One day, when her guru came to visit her, he took her head in his lap and she said,
Buddy, lets go. Look, Balarāma and Kṛṣṇa are calling their friends to come.” Kṛṣṇānanda Swāmī replied, overcome with emotion, “Go ahead, buddy. I’ll be right along.” Having received this permission from her guru, she entered the eternal world of Vraja.”
Praying for the auspicious moment when we will hear that call. However long it may take, we are so much looking forward to that day when we all can be reunited as best friends forever.
In my life, I met two people whom I see as my true fathers. One of those is Karṇāmṛta, who I refer to as “my Flower Father.”
For a bit more context, Karṇāmṛta grew up in Haight Asbury and definitely still had remnants of being a hippie–sometimes shown through his colorful shirts or his crystal collection. So over time, I jokingly started calling him “Flower Father” and ended up sticking for many years.
When I first started going to Kṛṣṇa Road Temple, I developed close relationships with the Prabhupāda disciples there who lovingly took me under their wing and very quickly became like family. I began spending a lot of time with Arcanā and Karṇām–often staying at their house for weeks or months at a time. Throughout my teenage years, he always guided me in learning how to perform deity worship, encouraged me in improving my standards in vaiṣṇava etiquette, laughed out loud at my silly jokes, made me protein smoothies after I got my wisdom teeth out, chanted early morning japa with me, and let me cry on his shoulder many times when I was upset. I can’t begin to explain what this meant to me.
While the things mentioned above feel like something that would be hard to top, the biggest thing Karṇām ever did for me and those in our saṅghā was shining a light on Gurudeva’s classes, books, guidance. Without him listening to those CDs or hosting the Sunday conference calls, I know that my life would be so deeply deprived and aimless. Thank you Flower Father for sharing the gift of Śrī Guru and Kṛṣṇa with me. I owe you–but I think we both know that because of the nature of grace, I will never be able to repay you.
His last email to me:
O, dear Śyāmala. Lovely to hear from you. I am glad to serve my vaiṣṇava family and glad you feel something from my talk and writings. I share my experiences in all their varied forms just to show the whole life of a devotee in dealing with all kinds of situations and reverses, and how we will all have to meet death in the best consciousness possible.
So we have to be able to deal with difficult bodily situations with acceptance and understand they are meant for our highest good, even as they may serve many purposes. I pray that my life and eventually the death of my physical body can be helpful for whoever reads or hears about it, though I sometimes don’t know how I will get through the day, I somehow manage. A very difficult and uncertain time for me. So every day, I have to choose my attitude and minimize my negativity about the situation when I am brought to my knees in pain and just the social isolation. I am not always very good association as sometimes I just have to lie down, and I still rise up to try again to be in the best consciousness of loving service and surrender.
When everything appears to be withdrawn, then surrender to what is, is really the only option. To choose love over despair, to know that we are meant to be givers and not exploiters of the world or other people. Thanks for writing. Vṛndāvana blessings to you and your family. Hare Kṛṣṇa!
Gaurangi Priya Gopal
Uncle, father, brother, Karṇāmṛta essentially started our sangha here in North Carolina by his insistence in bringing Guru Mahārāja to us. He always encouraged me to listen to my heart and was always supportive in facilitating my relationship with Guru Mahārāja. He even performed the yajña for my initiation, the first here in NC.
His eagerness to hear from Guru Mahārāja, always sitting in the front, drinking in the hari-kathā. He loved to serve. His attachment to deity worship and how he lovingly cared for his Ṭhākujis was very inspiring. He was thoughtful, always kind, and understanding. He made that effort to be personal, to check in with me, to ask about my children. He was invested in me and cared so much.
He took everything as the will of Kṛṣṇa, and had a naturally positive disposition. He was joyful to be around and made me smile and laugh. He gave the greatest hugs and was one of my favorite family members. I feel lost without him.
We love you so much Karṇām! I always looked up to you and now you are showing me what we all must do! You gave yourself wholeheartedly to your sadhana and spiritual growth always and dived so deep into surrender in the past few years. May you be free of the pain and soar high in your attainment of loving service to Śrī Śrī Kānu Ram!
Dulal Chandra dasa
aho bhāgyam, aho bhāgyaṁ
Oh what a greatly fortunate life, Oh what a greatly fortunate life.
Attaining, at an early age, the blessings through association, service, and mantra of the śaktyāveśa manifestation of Lord Nityananda, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Karṇāmṛta Prabhu became firmly grounded in a devotional practice which endured throughout his life.
I cannot speak of his early years of devotion within the ashrams of his spiritual master, but I can speak to how after some time he became an exemplar of household life making his house not just a home, but also a gateway into the Vaikuṇṭha atmosphere.
Seeking to deepen his spiritual awareness and further plumb the depths of spirituality that Gaudiya Vaisnavism had to offer his journey led him to hear from another specific sādhu in our line who captured his intellect and began to nurture his understanding. This sādhu was a godbrother and hearing from him developed into a deep friendly relationship that often resulted in many evenings of profound discourse that lasted well into the night. Karṇāmṛta soon began showcasing his new spiritual discovery and introduced Swami B.V. Tripurari into his close circle of friends.
Things then started to change, as they often do when there is a renewed enthusiasm in our spiritual lives, and Karṇāmṛta and family relocated into the rolling hills of North Carolina. Designing a new home around their daily worship, the local deities of Śrī Śrī Radha Gopinatha quickly made arrangements to move in, and soon a temple was established separately from the village temple. Karṇāmṛta became a covert spiritual warrior at this time seeking to establish a more “user-friendly” environment for the local devotees and establishing regular outreach for his newly adopted śikṣhā guru affectionately known as Swami.
As an exemplar of spiritual character, he quietly pursued a routine of daily deity worship and chanting a fixed number of names of the Lord. And when the opportunity presented itself he opened his home to guests hosting them in complete comfort both spiritually and materially as one would a family member. And when Swami would come to town there was always a flurry of activities as he sponsored daily sangas for the growing local community of devotees—young and old practitioners, those with a new budding interest, and those needing rehabilitation like myself.
This gallant spiritual diplomat laid the groundwork for the future Saragrahi community of essence-seekers like himself around the association afforded by Swami’s wisdom, beauty, and the charm of this saintly association.
And let us not forget his own outreach based upon his deep desire to help those struggling in this modern age of contrary mental and emotional challenges. An explorer of contemporary psychology and spiritual thought, he incorporated what was helpful and molded it around his firm foundation of genuine spirituality. This outreach was nourished by compassion and empathy with a sprinkling of new age insights but deeply grounded in gaudiya siddhānta. He and his wife became the home team for presenting a truly wholesome approach to the difficulties of modern living and household life by providing guidance and example in how to keep spirituality at the forefront of modern-day life.
His outreach extended into the written word as he openly exposed his personal spiritual journey for others to witness and take lessons from. By wearing his “heart on his sleeve” he provided courage and example to others on their spiritual journeys.
Dear brother, I fall in obeisance and weep tears of both sorrow and joy as my wretched heart is illuminated by the sun of your spiritual potential.