Stop the Clocks

A dear friend passed away this morning. I didn’t have time to write anything today, but my daughter Jahnavi did. I thought I’d share it with you here. Please say a prayer for my friend, Harivamsa Das.

Today began with a 4am drive into central London, where a dear friend and uncle was passing away. It was quite unexpected, as these things usually are. We bundled out of the car into the biting March wind, desperately trying to find the main entrance to the hospital. Lights were out, seats empty – reception desks abandoned in the early hours. Unusual things catch your attention in such moments, and I noticed the chorus of birds singing incredibly sweetly just before we reached the sliding doors.

Upstairs in the ICU, close to fifty friends and family had gathered to say a last farewell. Nurses were even threatening to call security as the number swelled and the hallways became packed with clusters of people. I had a couple of minutes to say goodbye – a strange, dreamlike moment amidst the chaos, then back downstairs to wait. It wasn’t long. Death comes fast, especially when you least expect it. According to the culture of bhakti yoga, the most important thing to do in times of happiness or distress is chant the names of God. In doing so we connect with our Divine source, with each other and with our essential nature. So even though it probably turned some heads on a Thursday morning in the hospital reception, we sung our hearts out. Tears streamed and voices rose, some ragged, some strong and powerful, determined to make this moment count. We sang for the safe passage of our dear friend, we sang to honour him, and we sang because that is what we do.

My Dad and I sat for a while when we got home, reflecting on the reality of death, and the lessons we must learn and learn again, each time we lose another dear one. He remarked that whilst we spend so much of life worrying about our own happiness and satisfaction, what ultimately matters at the end is how much we did for others. These moments, the times we serve, the times we care, nurture, assist and selflessly give, accumulate like the tiny particles of pollen on the leg of a bee. Though they may seem insignificant, it is these tiny, golden specks that collect in life’s jar to become the honey. No one knows when their time will come, but whenever it does, the jar will reveal how much you made a difference in the lives of those around you.

As much as death is a sad occasion, it is a cause for celebration. The person that leaves us also gives a gift – the chance to reexamine who we hold dear and cherish them, the chance to look again at the things we choose to prioritise and most of all, the chance to come together and sing in kirtan – the beating heart of the bhakti tradition.

Two years ago I wrote a little adaptation of the famous W.H. Auden poem – ‘Stop The Clocks’. It is quite melancholy, and often read at funerals, but this version speaks more of the way I see this last farewell.

Vaishnava Farewell

after W.H. Auden

The sun will rise soon, throw off your sleep,

Today we will celebrate, we shall not weep,

Leave your houses as bells resound,

Let the drums and cymbals be heard all around.

Let unseen aeroplanes circle above,

Let them gather to hear our offerings of love

Hang fragrant garlands around each door

Give rice in hand to the young and poor

The shore bears witness as we honour you today,

May our prayers be your ferry as the ocean gives way

You have nothing to fear as you leave this place,

Run now, run to his waiting embrace!




Filed under Journal

5 responses to “Stop the Clocks

  1. Bhajahari das

    Thanks Krpa prabhu & Jahnavi. Read this just before taking rest tonight. I did not know Hari Vamsa very well unfortunately. We would just exchange friendly ‘Haribols’ as we passed each other at The Manor. I have been praying for him today and it is a comfort to hear that so many devotees were around him as he left. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

  2. Dave Edwards

    How very sad, our thoughts and prayers here in Reading are with all the friends and family of Harivamsa prabhu. May Lord Krishna be merciful unto his spirit soul now and always.

  3. Lynne

    My dearest friend Vicki died 2 weeks ago, a close friend for over 24 years and still only in her early 50s. A terrible shock for all her friends and family. I would just like to share with you the joyous occasion when I brought her to the Manor. Vicki was of Irish descent and always completely happy and at home with her Catholic upbringing and path through life. We often went for days out together and after many times of asking she agreed to visit the Manor with me “just for the fun of it” as she said.

    I was able to introduce her to many friendly and welcoming devotees and she loved the prasadam. But the wonderful moment was as we stood among the devotees and she saw the curtains open, I heard her gasp with astonishment at the sheer beauty of Krishna. On our 4 hour journey home she told me it was the only time she had felt a real religious and spiritual experience.

    After that she asked me to buy Krishna cards for her to stand on her bookshelves and sometimes she would light a small candle in front of them and offer up a prayer. She didn’t want to visit again and remained happy in her Catholicism but whenever we were among friends and talked about spiritual matters she would always tell them of the feeling of bliss she had when she saw the Deities. I will miss her every day and pray that Lord Krishna shows her His mercy.

  4. Ganga Devi devi dasi

    What a wonderful poem, Jahnavi – I shall keep this, you never know when it will come in handy!

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