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Jayananda Thakura: ISKCON’s first Saint

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T his year, Sriman Jayananda Thakura’s disappearance day anniversary falls on 28th April. Jayananda Thakura is lovingly called as ISKCON’s first Saint.

My Dear Jayananda,

Please accept my blessings.

I am feeling very intensely your separation. In 1967 you joined me in San Francisco. You were driving my car and chanting Hare Krsna. You were the first man to give me some contribution ($5000) for printing my Bhagavad-gita. After that, you have rendered very favorable service to Krsna in different ways. I so hope at the time of your death you were remembering Krsna and as such, you have been promoted to the eternal association of Krsna…as you were hearing Krsna-kirtana, I am sure that you were directly promoted to Krsna-loka.

janma karma ca me divyam     evam yo vetti tattvatah

tyaktva deham punar janmanaiti man eti so’ rjuna

(BG 4.9)

Krsna has done a great favor to you, not to continue your diseased body, and has given you a suitable place for your service. Thank you very much.

 

Your ever well-wisher,

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

Breaking the Bonds of False Fatherhood’”

– Letter to: Jayananda, Bombay, 5 May, 1977

Sriman Jayananda Thakura left his body in full glory during the auspicious time of brahma-muhurtaon May 1, 1977, listening to a tape of his beloved spiritual master chanting in his ear, and with a maha garland from Lord Jagannatha cradling his neck and resting on his chest. Srila Prabhupada remarked that “Jayananda’s death is glorious,” and instructed all the devotees from all over the world to commemorate the auspicious disappearance day of Jayananda Thakura as we do for the other great Vaishnava saints in our Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya. He also instructed that Jayananda Thakura’s picture be placed in the Ratha-yatra cart of Lord Jagannatha, and to this day, a picture of this Vaishnava saint is always seen on Lord Jagannatha’s cart.

Jayananda Thakura, formerly known as Jim Kohr, was born in a good, upper middle-class family and was a strong, handsome and intelligent man. Even though he got a degree in mechanical engineering from Ohio State University, he surprisingly ended up being a cab driver in San Francisco, and when asked why he didn’t get a better-paying job, he’d say that he “didn’t fit in with the upper class crowd.”

Jayananda Thakura was always introspective and compassionate by nature. His sister Gaynelle Kohr Pietrangelo recalls the one time when they went on a family holiday to the beach in California, Jim (Jayananda Thakura) spent hours on the beach picking ticks and fleas off a homeless dog because he simply “couldn’t stand to watch its suffering.”

During his college years, Jayananda always felt unsatisfied within himself. He felt empty and dejected to the point that his depression became almost suicidal. He later frequently stated that he was “never happy” before joining Krishna consciousness. In 1967, when Srila Prabhupada was in the Bay Area, Jayananda Thakur came across an article in the San Francisco paper about an Indian Swami who had come to the Bay Area to preach and spread the chanting of the names of God. This gave young Jim the feeling of a “ray of hope”, as he recalled it, and he decided to attend the Swami’s classes. He very much preferred and enjoyed the early morning classes with the Swami, and would sometimes be the only person there in the morning Bhagavatam class.

It was quite apparent how fond Srila Prabhupada was of Jayananda Thakura. Srila Prabhupada made a comment once during an initiation lecture in San Francisco in 1968. Chuckling, he said “Jayananda looks like Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu…Yes. He was tall and stout and strong, Caitanya Mahaprabhu.”He would constantly ask for Jayananda Thakura when he came to the temple, and sometimes even make repeated requests for his disciple. When finally located in some distant place, engaged in service, Jayananda Thakura would refuse to go, saying “No. I can’t go to see him. I’m too dirty. I’m too fallen.” Srila Prabhupada would sometimes invite his budding disciple to take prasadam with him in his room. Jayananda Thakura recalled, “Srila Prabhupada would cook prasadam and serve me. He didn’t say anything – he just kept feeding me, and I kept eating.”

Jayananda Thakura’s humility was true and genuine – everyone who associated with him knew that it was his most prominent quality. He’d stay back after festivals to do work so others could go see Srila Prabhupada. He would let others lead kirtan, do arati and give class, and would do menial work like cleaning toilets, taking out garbage, washing dishes or fixing cars and sankirtana buses instead because he felt himself unworthy. Once a new boy came to the temple to help out and he was directed to Jayananda Thakura, who was taking out the garbage. He told the boy, “I’m the garbage man around here. For years I’ve been watching garbage men carry out trash, and now Krishna is giving me a chance to do this for Him.” The boy helped Jayananda Thakura collect the garbage and take it to the garbage dump, and he later became a devotee. He recalled thinking, “If the garbage men at this temple can be so blissful, just imagine what the rest of the devotees are like!

Jayananda Thakura was always very conscious of Krishna being present in everything. Whenever a little prasadam would fall on the ground, Jayananda Thakura would bend down on all fours and lick it up – to him, prasadam was worshipable. He was well known for always being very enthusiastic to cook, offer and distribute prasadam on a grand scale. Whether he was out buying bhoga, or arranging park permits, or going out on Harinama, or working on the Ratha-yatra carts, he would always carry some prasadam with him and distribute it to everyone. He even said “prasadam” in a special way that would make whoever he was speaking to want to immediately take it.

Jayananda Thakura’s glories are endless, and it was obvious that he not only understood the philosophy but realised it as well. Srila Prabhupada wrote a letter to Jayananda Thakura in September of 1967 saying, “Your service attitude for Krishna and your sincere attempts at being advanced in Krishna Consciousness will work with you and make your life more and more glorious and a happy state. I’ve been very glad that you are appreciating by yourself the effects of sincere Krishna Consciousness. I’ve nothing new to instruct you, the same old instruction namely constant chanting and attentively hearing the transcendental vibration Hare Krishna is the only process for self realization in this age. In San Francisco while you were driving your car and I was sitting by you hearing your transcendental vibration, this very sincere attempt has enriched your consciousness and my only instruction is that you may constantly do this habit without fail.”

In 2012, a memorial for Jayananda Thakura was established in Sri Rajapur Jagannatha Mandir in Sri Mayapur Dhama, where he is honored by all who visit. His Grace Prahlada Priya Prabhu (ACBSP) donated Jayananda Thakura’s jacket and it is kept in Jayananda Thakura’s samadhi.

Sriman Jayananda Thakura was, as many devotees say, ISKCON’s first saint. He exemplified the qualities described in the Bhagavad-gita:

For one who worships Me, giving up all his activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, who has fixed his mind upon Me, O son of Pritha, for him I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.”
(Bhagavad-Gita 12.6-7)

One who is not envious but who is a kind friend to all living entities, who does not think himself a proprietor, who is free from false ego and equal both in happiness and distress, who is always satisfied and engaged in devotional service with determination and whose mind and intelligence are in agreement with Me –he is very dear to Me.
(Bhagavad-Gita 12.13-14)

 

All glories to Srila Jayananda Thakura!

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