“What is life, if not new beginnings.” —Yamuna Devi
Yamuna, hidden Matriarch of Prabhupada’s Society,
You said everyone—men and women—were welcome in your ashram. Anyone could come and receive the wisdom and love you embodied, assimilated through your relationship with Prabhupada. “Come, as long as you don’t consider yourself man or woman.” The distinctions in our temples hurt your heart; they were not allowed to exist in the sacred space you crafted for Radha Banebihari.
Yamuna, for me you were the embodiment of Prabhupada’s love for us. Like Prabhupada, your love was not sentimental or mushy. It was unconditional. Your love inspired overwhelming admiration and a compelling desire to be near you.
Perhaps three stellar characteristics in you were the materials that enabled you to thoroughly embody Prabhupada’s love. Some people don’t know how pronounced these traits were in you because, when called to serve, you were outgoing. You were an eloquent speaker, writer, teacher and expert artisan and chef. These external aspects of your personality often hid the strong, underlying qualities that were most prominent in you.
You were extremely sensitive. Hyper-sensitive. You were acutely aware of other’s feelings and your own. Much was asked of you; you suffered tremendously for reasons you wish to remain private. But you didn’t allow the pain you experienced to close your heart. In fact, you opened it more and more. Last April when you came over to wish me happy birthday, you quietly sat in front of Srila Prabhupada and Giriraja, tears streaming down your face. You wiped them demurely. Almost frustrated, you said, “It’s so silly how much emotion I feel in these past months!”
Yamuna, I know how painfully shy you were. You were bashful, reluctant, cautious in the best sense. Your mental astuteness and deep intellectual capacity led you to think carefully, deliberately, slowly. This, coupled with your shyness and feeling so deeply, led you to an undying gentleness and softness.
And you were truly humble. You didn’t have a low opinion of yourself; you had a modest estimate of yourself. A simple, eloquent understanding of yourself as a finite spiritual Being and servant of your master. You were completely unpretentious.
I believe your shyness and humility played a large part in your perfectionism. You never assumed you could make a wonderful offering, though your skills, creative abilities, intuition, intellect, philosophical depth and wisdom were quite pronounced in you. You strived with attention to detail and much love to make each offering.
Both your shyness and humility gave you a sense of awe of other people. Not awe in reverence—though sometimes that—but of deep appreciation and respect. O Yamu! how deeply you appreciated others. How much you wished everyone well—even those steering odd or crazy courses.
Your sensitivity, shyness, and humility were supreme gems among your qualities and opened your heart wide open, vulnerable and feeling, so sympathetic and compassionate with everyone you were. You loved everyone with an immenseness of heart that stunned me and many others.
Bhakti wasn’t just devotional service meant for Deities or the Divine in the spiritual sky. Bhakti was to be given to each soul, to our Selves. Held in each moment. You spread Bhakti through your every action: cooking a meal, cleaning the house, raking the yard, speaking to hundreds, singing to thousands. Every movement an offering to your Lord.
Oh Yamuna! All your relationships were saturated with Bhakti. And that, I believe, is really Bhakti life.
Take my hand, dear friend. Draw me closer to you and your Bhakti. There I will sit at Srila Prabhupada’s lotus feet. Maybe we can kiss them together.
A million hearts back to you,
To Yamuna’s dearest friend, Dinatarine
December 21, 2011
I have been on the floor crying since news of Yamuna’s departure reached here. So I don’ t need to get down to offer you pranam dandavats. My grief is so overwhelming I am terrified to think of the scope of yours. There is no way in this lifetime I will understand the depth of your feelings of this loss of the most beautifully, happily, eloquently, exquisitely, artistically unique soul, Yamuna.
I am so sorry for your loss. I am so sorry for your loss. I am so terribly, awfully sorry for your loss.
And yet you were certainly blessed to receive so much intimate association.
Such a gift comes with a high price in losing. That is the vipralambha seva of divine love. Feeling it for lovely Yamuna is a taste of the nectar of loving Krsna, your “sree radha banabehari,” these very words cut and pasted from an email she sent me less than 24 hours before her departure.
I simply do not know what to do with her email. I cannot delete it. Maybe I’ll just keep it in my InBox for the rest of my life as a reminder of her as the embodiment of all that is good in Krsna consciousness. Perhaps I’ll use her email whose subject line is, “year closeout,” forever as a reminder that death is very near. I’ll open it and allow her chipper words and broad heart be an inspiration to make an offering to Srila Prabhupada with a fraction of her devotion, meticulousness, artistic excellence and penetrating humility.
The last words Yamuna spoke to me a few days ago, were “A million hearts.” It was her sign off from our phone conversation before pushing the Off button on the handset. Her version of goodbye, farewell, hari bol. All her opening lines and goodbyes endeared the heart to move toward Krishna and real feeling with other souls.
“A million hearts” is a significant gift to me. I told her in a follow up email that I would forever be indebted for the words which point to my goal in my own Bhakti practice. She was so expert at coming up with ingenious, flowing, and creative words and phrases that held deeply-felt Bhakti. Though she was sober and grave, Yamuna’s primary mood was of a child full of joy and verve. Here are her words, as we know she spoke to so many, and wanted to speak to many more. Here is a sampling of love and light that I pray we all share with each other more and more:
“Dandis and jaya jaya all around.”
“Dandies and hugs.”
“Jaya Jaya all things kc related.”
“Dear super girl”
“Mercy Mercy Be, Love Y and D”
“Sweet dreams srila prabhupada daughter”
“You are always in my heart and treasured.”
“Hari Hari Bifale, Love Yamuna and Dina”
“Pray you and your little chotti . . . well.”
“Hari Hari Hugs, kavachas, and all around jayas”
“With appreciation and love, d and y down south . . .”
“Hari Hari yours,”
“Dear ray of sunshine,”
“Dandies again and again,”
“Jaya jaya Srila Prabhupada”
“Jaya all things Krsna conscious”
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna”
“sree sree guru gouranga jayate”
“hare krishna dandies”
“jaya sree radhe love and appreciation your y”
“Hare Kreeshna greetings and Kreeshna Dandavats,”
“Oceans of gratitude your way,”
“Your grateful yamu”
“Dear girl who buffets strong winds”
“aho aho to honesty, clarity and purity,”
“the holy name alone is everything,”
“all glories to all things krsna conscious and the auspiciousness that it generates on so many levels.”
How can I ever forget these words and phrases and the concrete form of loving relationship they express? Yamuna arrived to penetrating understanding of the importance of relationships and how we conduct them as devotees. As a sublime giver of love she beckoned me to deeper relationships, anxious to emulate the great treasure she possessed.
I did not know how to reciprocate the tenderness and delicacy of profound love that Yamuna embodied. Her heart was buttery soft and yet powerfully strong with a shining Bhakti that commanded attention. Her presence always challenged even my surest assumptions about how I was approaching our quest of loving Krsna. She continually pushed me further in understanding the true nature of Bhakti and our path.
There is much more to say and perhaps one day we will be able to share more.
Sending an embrace and much love, a million hearts,
While visiting you, we saw your hand glide your calligraphy pen in deft beauty on meticulously chosen paper. You had sat in Professor Lloyd Reynolds classes at Reed University. Mr. Reynolds received the unusual honor of being named the Calligrapher Laureate of Oregon by Governor Tom McCall in 1972, the first such recognition of a calligrapher by a state. He had many students from 1949 to 1978. You were one of his favored and best.
There was no limit to your creative expression. Radha Banebihari’s altar was flanked by detailed pieces of stained glass you constructed, as well as hand-carved wood pieces.
In your ashram you framed large copper leaves, which hung on a wall. Into the copper you fastidiously engraved the name of each devotee who helped you and Dina build your ashram in Saranagati.
Your artistic eye and bhava bhakti oversaw the carving of Radha-Syamasundara in Vrindavana.
After recording the Radha-Krishna Temple album, George Harrison came to you with the proposal to make you a famous recording star. Your celestial singing had captured his attention. You decided your singing, and all your talents, were exclusively for direct service to Prabhupada and the Lord and so you declined George’s offer. What a very different life you would have had! Your singing didn’t stop. You went deeper into the kirtan of the name. Your intense affinity for the Lord’s holy names drove you mad as you tasted bhajan. You held Hari Hari Biphale as the most dear ever since Prabhupada told you it was his favorite.
Taking each exchange with Prabhupada with utmost seriousness, you furthered his initial instruction on cooking for the Lord into a masterful compilation of Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. Dubbed the Taj Mahal of cookbooks by the Chicago Tribune, your book won—the first time a vegetarian book had—the prestigious award by International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook of the Year. The Taj Mahal of cookbooks has been in print ever since its first release in 1987.