Presence in Absence
I first met Kadamba Kanana Swami over 20 years ago, and on this day, 15 years ago, I formally became his student. He gifted me vision, inspiration and encouragement... but also correction, challenge and constructive criticism. His presence in my life shifted paradigms and opened up new worlds. His physical departure has left a feeling of vacuum and marks the closing of a chapter. How do we transform absence into a deeper sense of presence?
When I came to Vrindavana in October you made so many arrangements – you sent your driver to the airport, you arranged everything in the room, you personally brought a mat to sit on when you saw me chanting on the floor... you even gave me your lock to keep the room secure. When you felt the weight of my danda, you gifted me yours which was much lighter... “The vow is already heavy!” you said. I was humbled (and uncomfortable) to be on the receiving end of your kind service. In that trip, living next to you for six weeks, I felt a surge of gratitude. I realised the greatest spiritual master is actually the greatest servant. They give every last bit of energy - physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual - to lift the disciple higher. We couldn’t ask for more... you gave everything and more.
At times you talked about exciting missionary ideas, and other times you established serious philosophical truths. One moment would be a heavy instruction, and the next a humorous observation of life. Sometimes you interjected and set the record straight, other times you sat back and heard our inputs. Just like Krishna played many roles while instructing Arjuna – patiently listening, other times sharing “an opinion,” coming in as an authoritative instructor, and ultimately giving independence and choice – you played all the roles. Our relationship with you encompassed all the flavours... but in every situation you were serving us in different ways, empowering us to be alive and involved, active participants in the greatest movement on Earth.
Some months ago you told me “I’m not leaving you anything in my will... only service.” When I considered whether to return to the UK for pending projects you told me “Yes, go... we meet in the mission of Mahaprabhu.” Later on you said, “My generation did our bit and had a go... now it’s your turn.” You encouraged me to embrace the path of life-long renunciation and said “Now we’re closing all the doors... it’s the key to opening up a whole new world.”
I had no idea where my journey was taking me, but now in hindsight I see a plan all along, masterfully engineered and executed by your divine grace. I’m humbled that you took such a personal interest. I’m amazed by your investment of faith. I’m indebted beyond my capacity to repay. According to Rupa Goswami’s science of bhakti, it all begins with Sri Guru – who gives shelter (asraya), initiation (diksa) and instruction (siksa). The disciple responds by offering service soaked with love (visrambhena guroh seva). You did everything for us, now we have to reciprocate with tangible service. As Srila Prabhupada told Visnujana at his initiation ceremony in 1968:
“You are instructed, you are guided, but you have to act. If you don’t act there will be no meaning.”
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