Eternal odyssey through people's hearts

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By Passing Through / Srila Jayapataka Swami SARBANI BHATTACHARYA
  • Published 16.02.04

The Iskcon Rathyatra, which left Guwahatians mesmerised with its grandeur and devotion, is over. But the journey undertaken by His Holiness Srila Jayapataka Swami seems never-ending — a sojourn that has been transformed into an eternal odyssey of devotion through the hearts of millions across the world.

From John Gordon, a vivacious youngster of Wisconsin in the US, to the austere life of His Holiness Srila Jayapataka Swami, the commissioner of the governing body of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Mayapur, it has been a truly marvellous and enriching journey.

Born an American, this Indian saint has roamed 74 countries of the world during his mission to spread love and harmony among the people.

He was in Guwahati recently to preside over the magnificent Jagannath Rathyatra, in which over 3,000 people from all walks of life took part. The procession criss-crossed its way through the city roads, filling the air with chants of Hare Krishna.

The rathyatra was organised by Sri Sri Rukmini Krishna Mandir of Iskcon, which has a beautiful temple at South Sarania in the city.

“The picturesque land of Assam with its pristine beauty and the warmth and hospitality of the people here enchant me every time I come here,” the seer said. His tryst with Guwahati took place over two-and-a-half decades ago, when he came to lay the foundation stone of the picturesque temple of Sri Sri Rukmini Krishna Mandir of Iskcon here. Since then, he has been visiting the state at regular intervals.

Between 1980 and 2004, the capital has undergone a sea change. Commenting on the transformation of the city over the years, he reminisced about his experiences.

“From an idyllic town on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra ringed by rugged hills, the city has taken the shape of a bustling metropolis. But the overall character of the Assamese and other northeasterners remains unchanged. Thousands of people from Assam and from different ethnic groups like Karbis and Bodos, and umpteen other tribes from Manipur, Meghalaya and other northeastern states, are taking part in the rally. They are nice, gentle people, though a bit reserved,” he said.

Born in a tycoon’s family in Wisconsin, Jayapataka Swami is an alumnus of Brown University. He was studying Eastern Philosophy and a series of lectures there on Buddhism had a profound impact on him, inspiring him to embark on his spiritual quest.

His quest culminated in a meeting with A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, the founder of Iskcon, in 1968. Srila Prabhupada initiated him into sanyas, rechristening John Gordon as Srila Jayapataka Swami.

After serving his tenure as president of the Iskcon temple in Montreal, he embarked on his mission to spread the message of love to the land of Sri Chaitanya, whose Vaishnava practices are the root of the Iskcon movement. The American saint played a pivotal role in the construction of Iskcon temple at Mayapur in Nadia district of West Bengal and settled there. But his odyssey to different countries in Europe, West Asia and North and South America and different states of India continued.

“Lord Jagannath is the God of love and our purpose is to uphold and spread the universal message of love in the hearts of people of all cultures, castes, creeds, religions and ethnic backgrounds. We have pledged to inculcate the divine feeling of love and brotherhood among people and resolved to unite people with bonds that transcend all political boundaries, religions and other disintegrating forces,” added the saint.

As the zonal governing body official, Srila Jayapataka Swami has been entrusted with the task of overseeing the programmes for world peace and harmony in hundreds of Iskcon centres across South American nations like Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile as well as Nepal, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Taiwan.

In India, states like Assam, West Bengal as well as those in south India have come under his jurisdiction. Among all the states in India, the lush, unspoilt landscapes of Assam hold a special corner in his heart. “Assam showcases a unique tapestry of diverse religions and ethnic elements of India. It is a crucible in which nestle different tribal communities like Karbis and Bodos to different religious sects like Vaishnavas, Saivas, Muslims and Christians. To me, it is India in miniature form, reflecting unity in diversity,” said the saint.

During the Hare Krishna festival, a meeting on world peace and harmony was also held at the Iskcon temple. All the Iskcon centres in the world have been implementing a slew of constructive activities dedicated to the service of humanity.

These include social orientation, spiritual educational programmes, personality development, stress management and meditation. According to Srila Jayapataka Swami, the true aim of education is to unearth what already lies in human beings and self-discovery is only possible through the Bhagavad Gita, the holy book which is itself a science of the self.

The centre has also undertaken relief programmes, which include noontime meal schemes. Iskcon members have been sponsoring activities that include hosting and organising important programmes in the fields of education and social work, cultivating interest in and preaching Vedic culture, promoting Sanskrit, giving courses on the scriptures, converting people to vegetarianism, distributing free food, preaching non-violence and love for Godhead, counselling prisoners in jail, developing holy places and pilgrimage centres in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, implementing namahattas and Bhakti Vrikshas and educating communities who are the target of religious proselytisation.

In Assam, Jayapataka Swami has launched hundreds of namhattas, holding dynamic interactive programmes that includes classes, lectures and question-answer sessions on spiritualism and philosophy. Bhakti Vriksha — a forum for discussion on spiritual applications for educated person — is the other programme he has conceived and implemented.

As a member of the World Hindu Federation, he received an award this year from the King of Nepal, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, for his contribution towards preservation, promotion and protection of the Hindu religion. “My vision is to uplift people spiritually as Sankardeva devoted his life towards that goal,” said the saint, who also expressed his yearning to visit Assam once again.