by H.H. Radhanatha Swami Maharaj
I want to tell you about a very special and dear personality whom most of you do not know, one of the most grateful, gracious and blissful devotees I’ve ever seen — Kuvera.
Kuvera had one of the most painful terminal diseases, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). In America, it is called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It is a disease in which everything inside starts deteriorating and melting away. Once you get it, you die. There is no cure. You lose control of all your functions — your arms, legs, digestion, power to speak, etc. Generally, when one is diagnosed with it, one cannot live for more than two years. From a physical perspective, he suffered this disease over ten years.
He was a very simple devotee, a disciple of Srila Bhakti-Tirtha Maharaja. He really took the spirit of his guru as his life and soul. He was constantly giving his love and his compassion to others. Even in that terminal state, he never complained. He was simply giving, giving and giving.
Last year in Washington, D.C., on his birthday, I saw something that was unbelievable. There was a gathering, of whom about one-third each were Hare Krishna devotees, Christians and Muslims. It was like a Vyas Puja. Everyone was coming up to speak. Everyone who was speaking was crying in love for him and everyone in the audience was crying in love for him. He could hardly speak, maybe mumble in slurred sound, and only someone who knew him well could interpret. He was just sitting in a wheelchair.
People who were atheist, Muslims and Christians came up, weeping, saying he was the most saintly person and that he had completely changed their life. He gave understanding, each according to their own religion, as to what it means to love God. Devotees were getting to the stage explaining: “Just by his words, by his inspirational example, they understood what Krishna really is and what bhakti really is.”
He was always smiling, a smile that so much resembled Bhakti-Tirtha’s smile: a gigantic, blissful smile. He would come every Saturday to the Institute that Maharaja had established, where now Madhavacarya and Kuntidevi are living. To get there from home, he would have to take trains, he would have to take buses and he did all by himself. For all these years, somehow or other he did it, coming year after year to mangala arati and chanting japa with devotees. He never missed coming. How much pain, how much problem was it for him to get there? But he never asked or expected anyone to help him. It was a massive struggle for him every Saturday. But he was smiling all the way there, smiling while he was there and smiling all the way back.
One Saturday, while he was getting off the bus, someone who was in a hurry pushed him from behind, and Kuvera, who could hardly walk, was so fragile he fell down. On the roadside he lay there. He could not get up by himself, and he was alone. Everybody who walked by thought he was a drunken derelict lying down in the street. Nobody helped him. Everyone looked down at him in disdain. He got up, somehow or other, and made it to the institute, grateful, without complaint. And the next week he did it again.
His guru had given him a very appropriate name. Kuvera is the treasurer of the devatas. Among the demigods he has tremendous wealth. The only real wealth, the wealth of the heart, is gratitude, devotion, compassion and love. If you don’t have that, you are living in miserable poverty, even if you are a millionaire or a billionaire, because money, power, prestige and physical strength can give no fulfillment to the heart and cannot touch the soul. Humility, gratitude, compassion, devotion and love — these qualities bring real fulfillment. They water the tree of bhakti and they please Krishna. That is wealth.
Not only did Kuvera possess real wealth, but even though he could hardly talk, whatever few words came out of his mouth was wealth that he distributed profusely to everyone who came in contact with them — simply by his smile and by his compassionate concern for everyone else.
He was actually one of my very dearest friends. He was just a little person. Anytime that anyone did anything for him, he would always, with tearful eyes and compassionate smile, say: “Thank you.” Even if someone just folded hands and said, “Haribol,” he was grateful and felt indebted. Even if anyone said a word of kindness or encouragement, it conquered his heart. Even though his debilitating disease crippled him, he remained grateful to Krishna. There was nothing in this material world that could disturb his happiness, because his happiness was from deep within. It was his gurudeva’s mercy. Everyone who knew Kuvera — whether devotee or atheist, Muslim or Christian — felt, “I want what he has” — not the disease, of course, but what was in his heart.
Factually not he but the people who are running after money are diseased. From a spiritual perspective he was a very healthy person. He did not expect anything from anyone. He just wanted to give.
In that gathering for his birthday, he united hearts intimately, of atheists, Muslims, Christians and Vaishnavas. Everyone in that room felt such a deep love for each other, because of our love for Kuvera.
One woman said: “I was a prostitute. I was born in a ghetto. I knew no other way of making money. I had bad association, and everyone hated me, but Kuvera appreciated me. He awakened something deep inside of me that I did not know existed. Because of his kindness, I surrendered to God. Now I am a chaste and faithful wife and have several children. It is all due to Kuvera.” He did not judge her, and he was kind to her, and she became a very holy lady. There were young people getting up and saying that they had been criminals. Simply because Kuvera prabhu extended his kindness to them, they gave up their criminal activities and became spiritually minded, pious, moral people.
Seeing Kuvera, devotees understood the standard they have to strive for and what real bhakti means. His opulence was gratitude. With a grateful heart, he could be blissful in any situation, and he could give bliss, wisdom and bhakti to everyone he came in contact with him. Even though he could hardly walk, he could not talk and he could hardly move any limbs of his body, he gave pure devotional service to everyone because he was grateful, having seen that quality in his guru and having emulated it and lived it. Now, if we think about him, and we think about our position, what do we have to complain about?
On the 13th of November this beloved devotee Kuvera’s soul departed from this world. When I came back to Radha Gopinatha temple that evening, Madhavacarya prabhu spoke to me on the phone and told me about Kuvera’s departure from the world. When Kuvera was leaving, there were devotees all around him, chanting the Mahamantra and sincere, loving prayers. So many people had wanted to be there for him.
There was Ganges water in his mouth, tulasi leaves on his head, mahaprasad on his body, japa beads in his hand and pictures of his guru, of Radha and Krishna, and of Srila Prabhupada in front of him. Christians were coming and praying and reading the Bible, and Muslims were coming and reading the Qur’an. Everyone loved him.
Did you ever hear of a departure like this? He was no Mahatma Gandhi in stature. He was just a small, simple person who never had much money, a simple grihastha. He was living in the ghettos of D.C. and helping everyone around him, and he was giving Krishna consciousness, love of Krishna, to everyone. And everyone around him was just showing gratitude for him. While the Mahamantra was chanted he gave up his life. He brought everyone together, all united in love of God. He was an amazing devotee.