Jayapataka Swami’s Biography
“I went to your country with a mission and you all good souls were sent by Krishna to me.”
One of the good souls sent by Krishna to Srila Prabhupada is His Holiness Tridandi Biksu Jayapataka Swami Maharaja who has been serving Srila Prabhupada as a “selfless worker” over the last 33 years.
Birth, Childhood and Education
Jayapataka Swami was born John Gordan Erdman on April 9, 1949 (the ekadasi after ramanavami) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA to John Hubert and Lorraine Erdman. He was born into opulent surroundings, his father’s father being the founder of a large paint factory, which was a multi-million dollar concern at the time of his birth. Later HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja was glad to see that his name – Gordan John (Gour Dhan Jan) – already suggested what Srila Prabhuapda confirmed, that he and two other devotees were formerly associates of Lord Caitanya and that they had taken their birth in the west to facilitate spreading Krishna consciousness around the world.
When Jayapataka Maharaja was eleven years old, at the suggestion of his grandfather he cured himself of a skin disease by calling on the name of God. At 14, he graduated almost effortlessly in the very top of his class from St.John’s academy, a college preparatory school. He was offered full scholarships including tuition, books, fooding, lodging plus incidental expenses by several major universities around America. He accepted admission into Brown University. There, as a fresh enrollee, he was so much moved by a guest lecture on the life of Buddha that he lost all interest in his studies and began searching for a spiritual teacher. After some time of searching and austerity he concluded he would have to got o India to find his teacher.
As he was preparing to leave for India, he met the devotees of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, founder acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, doing kirtan and distributing BTGs at the park. When one devotee approached him to take a copy of the BTG, he was stunned to see the tilak on his face and experiencing some strange feelings he began to run. After running a few minutes, he stopped to contemplate on what he had seen and how he had been so much affected. It was the experience of seeing something after a long time, a re-awakening of something that had been dormant and hidden from his memory. He walked back to the park but by then the devotees were gone!
There began his search for the Hare Krishna devotees. Since ISKCON was not very well known, he could not find them for a long time. It was finally during the Ratha-yatra preparations in San Francisco that he found the location of the ISKCON center. He came to the temple where HG Jayananda prabhu was making the ratha cart for Jagannatha. HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja was drawn into service of the Ratha by Jayananda prabhu. Later he met Srila Prabhupada who encouraged him by inviting him to take prasadam with him and making sure he got more than just generous servings.
In just two months after visiting ISKCON, HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja decided to commit himself to the principles of ISKCON. Jayananda prabhu shaved his head and everyone was surprised to see that within two months of coming in contact with ISKCON, he had shaved up and joined in. In 1968, Gordan John took first initiation in Montreal, Canada and was given the name Jayapataka dasa brahmachari and he was very soon awarded 2nd initiation in New York.
Several years later, while discussing a difficult situation in Mayapur, Srila Prabhupada remarked upon the name ‘Jayapataka’ as follows:
Jayapataka Maharaja: You gave me the name Jayapataka. I hope that name comes true, that there will be victory.
Prabhupada: It has already become so.
Jayaptaka Maharaja, (then Jayapataka dasa) began to render a number of services for ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada. The first most important was the service as the president of ISKCON Montreal. Srila Prabhupada wrote him in a letter, “For the present I think you cannot leave Montreal… Your service is much too valuable there.”
While in Montreal, His Holiness was was engaged in the service of printing books and dispatching them to other ISKCON Centres around the world. In a letter dated 6th October 1968, Srila Prabhupada wrote him, “I am interested in starting the press, so if you can manage it will be very nice.” His service to the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust continued in India and continues until today as he is one of the trustees of the BBT.
Later, on the instruction of Srila Prabhupada, HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja went to Toronto to open a center there. When Jagadish took over the Toronto center as president he wrote to Srila Prabhupada enquiring about his service and Srila Prabhupada told him to go to India on a long visa as “we have a great deal of work to do there”.
Jayapataka Maharaja’s flight to India gives already the hint of his expertise in traveling with the most mileage and least expense possible. He flew for 48 hours in what was the “cheapest flight in history” flying Montreal – London – Brussels – Bombay – Calcutta.
At Calcutta, Jayapataka Maharaja began to learn Bengali by going out to buy fruits and vegetables. Along with the other devotees, he conducted house programs, organized pandal programs, and personally went out on nagar sankirtan and book distribution though there was so much violence in the city.
Soon the devotees found a new place in Mayapur and Srila Prabhupada arrived 29th August 1970 in India. When he arrived, it was known that Srila Prabhupada had already given sannyas initiation to 9 persons in the US. Srila Prabhupada one day called Jayapataka das and asked him if he would take sannyasa and in response he said, “Yes, Prabhupada whatever you like”.
Thus on the day of the most auspicious Radhashtami in 1970, in Calcutta, Srila Prabhupada personally performed the fire yajna and Jayapataka dasa got his sannyas initiation. This 12th sannyasi disciple of Srila Prabhupada would be henceforth known as Tridandi Biksu Jayapataka Swami.
Arriving in Mayapur and eternal service to the holy Dham
When ISKCON got a land in Mayapur HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja went there on the instruction of Srila Prabhupada. When he first arrived in Mayapur, understanding that he was in the holy land, he offered his obeisances and then dipped his head into the cool Ganges mud to get the blessings, recollecting how Akrura, when he entered Vrndavana, saw the lotus footprints of Krsna in the holy mud of Vrndavana.
There were 5 other devotees with HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja in Mayapur. As funds were short, HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja began engaging in agriculture. He studied several books, learnt different methods and got the best crop. Local farmers were surprised and wanted to learn from him. This helped build a lasting relationship with the local people. Maharaja taught them modern techniques of agriculture and the farmers taught him Bengali. He began to give classes in Bengali where his few listeners would correct him in his language and soon he began to perfect his knowledge of the language. Jayapataka Maharaja had wanted to learn even in 1968 when he was in the West but it did not seem necessary there. His desire was fulfilled automatically when he was sent down to Bengal by Srila Prabhupada.
Life in Mayapur in the initial days was very austere and full of different types of dangers. Devotees would sleep on the floor of a grass hut. Since they were living on their own crop, they would have to eat the same vegetable for three months. Once when Srila Prabhupada was there a large cobra was found in his toilet. Prabhupada called out to Jayapataka Maharaj and he very quickly managed to save Prabhupada. Eventually they got a three-room warehouse built by the main gate.
Jayapataka Maharaja soon began to oversee construction work in Mayapur and the artistic lotus building was built. But envious circles began to give the devotees a lot of trouble. With permission from Srila Prabhupada and the police, HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja kept a gun for protecting ISKCON devotees and property. As a devotee who was with him at that time remarked, “He (Jayapataka Maharaj) was a great shooter”.
Jayapataka Maharaja also formed different teams of devotees called “Krishna team” “Arjuna team” etc to keep guard at night. Jayapataka Maharaja was very meticulous with all his services at Mayapur. He was very careful that not an anna was unnecessarily spent. He worked hard day and night and would most often be at least two hours late for his prasadam. Devotees who worked for him always found that when they took some matter to him, he not only solved it but also added new dimensions of expansion to it. An early devotee who worked with him remarks, “There are very few people who care from the bottom of their heart about ISKCON Mayapur. Jayapataka Maharaja’s experience, loyalty and capacity of Mayapur in-house are unparalleled.”
Preaching in India
With the permission of Srila Prabhupada, Jayapataka maharaja applied for Indian citizenship. This meant that he could not leave the country. He utilized this time for traveling within Bengal into the villages preaching and distributing books. Srila Prabhupada told Jayapataka Maharaja to distribute 10,000 big books and 100,000 small books every month.
He found unique ways of distributing books such as market-place distribution, pandal programs, festival programs and nama hatta. Maharaja made it a point to preach not only in the cities but also in the interiors of India, in the villages.
Kingdom of God
Srila Prabhupada had the vision of a Temple of the Vedic Planetarium to be built in Mayapur. He was talking to the scientists and telling them to figure out the 5th canto and build the planetarium and he also told Jayapataka Maharaja to figure it out.
One time when Jayapataka Maharaja came into the room to see Srila Prabhupada, he said, “I have given you the kingdom of God. Now develop it”. Jayapataka Maharaja found it as a serious and at the same time humorous statement.
During the period of the initial development of Sri Mayapur Candrodaya Mandir, the presiding deitis of the mandira, Sri Sri Radha Madhava, were brought to Mayapur and Jayapataka Maharaja recognised Them from a dream he once had years ago while preaching in the West.
In 1977 ISKCON Mayapur was attacked by the local villagers. They tried to take away everything and devotees were arrested. At that time HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja got the locals mobilized and organized a big procession from Mayapur to the Chand Kazi samadhi and then to the Jagannatha temple. About 25,000 people participated in the march, which consisted of 168 kirtan groups.
In Los Angeles in 1970 before Jayapataka Maharaja had come to India, Prabhupada had stopped in front of a church and said that in the future there’d just be a few devotees in the temples but so many would be practicing in their homes. At that time it was hard for Jayapataka Maharaja to understand this as most devotees were living in the temple and there was no congregation.
However, the protest march and the discovery of the 168 kirtan groups, and his services of book distribution, pandal programs, house programs and enrolling Life Members helped him understand that there were so many people who were interested in Krishna and that they needed to be given more care.
To engage all these devotees and give them training, first HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja considered making an ISKCON Sankirtan Organization or ISO. Srila Prabhupada not only gave his blessings for this project but also told him that the villagers could come to the temple, stay for a few days, get the idea about Krishna Consciousness, and go back to their villages and establish the same thing in their own village.
After Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja got the Gaudiya Patrika from Bhakti Caru Maharaja, which explains in detail the system of Namahatta preaching. This inspired Jayapataka Maharaja to establish, expand and develop this method of preaching.
In the recent times, Jayapataka Maharaja has also developed the system of Bhakti Vrksa preaching which assists namahatta preaching by enabling wider preaching and giving intensive and personal training to devotees so that everyone gets the chance to train to be a pure devotee while engaging in preaching activities.
Nitai Pada Kamala Boat
One devotee in Mayapur was touring down on the Ganga taking a boat from Padma down and this gave Jayapataka Maharaja the idea of a boat party. He got the permission of the devotees concerned and was sent enough money from New York to buy a boat. Jayapataka Maharaja personally went and bought a boat from Diamond Harbour, Habrah, to Mayapur. Here is an interesting conversation which shows Srila Prabhupada’s interest in this preaching mode:
Jayapataka: Would you like to see the goshala or the boat today, Srila Prabhupada?
Prabhupada: Which side is boat? Straight?
Bhavananda: Boat is at Hulor Ghat.
Prabhupada: Boat is worth seeing. (laughter) [break]
Morning walk, January 17, 1976, Mayapur.
Srila Prabhupada named the boat “Nitai Pada Kamala”. Soon a set of Gour Nitai deities appeared in Mayapur and Srila Prabhupada personally installed Them in the boat.
Food For Life
Srila Prabhupada wrote to the devotees in Mayapur, “I want that you shall distribute prasadam at least to hundreds of persons daily, and advertise very widely all over Nadia Province for people to come there and take prasadam daily without charge.” BY 1973 Srila Prabhupada wrote to them that he was glad with the prasdam distribution reports. In 1974 Prabhupada wanted a prasadam distribution pavilion built in Mayapur where one thousand people could take prasadam at the same time.
In 1978, when floods ravaged West Bengal, Jayapataka Maharaja risked his life several times, braving flood waters in inadequate boats, to deliver emergency flood relief supplies to villagers stranded on tree-tops and roof-tops. This and countless other selfless services for the masses of India caused tens of thousands of villagers to petition the Central Government to grant Jayapataka Maharaja Indian citizenship. This was granted by the Union Government Home Ministry in 1978.
Jayapataka Maharaja is the world chairman for ‘Food for Life’ and ISKCON’s Food Relief Programs. The descendant of Advaita Acharya himself, selected HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja to be in charge of the annual Santipur mass prasdam distribution program.
Mayapur Mandala Parikrama and Pilgrimages
Srila Prabhupada Mayapur to be a center where devotees from all over the world could conglomerate and be strengthened spiritually to continue their preaching. In March 1974, the first Gour Pournima festival was held. Four hundred devotees from America, England, Europe, South America, Australia, India, and other parts of the world joined in the festival.
So, for the first time in 1974, HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja led groups of devotees on parikrama (pilgrimage) to local holy places. This visit to Mayapur would constitute the first half of the devotees’ Indian pilgrimage; after ten days they were scheduled to go to Vrndavana.
The Navadvipa Mandala Parikrama has been continuing ever since with the number of devotees participating increasing each year in the thousands. During these parikramas, HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja takes care of not only the spiritual earnestness of all the devotees but as a perfect host, he also sees to it that they are comfortably situated.
Jayapataka Maharaja also has recently introduced the ‘Ganga Safari’ to visit those holy places connected to Lord Caitanya which are approachable only along the river flow. Similarly he conducts a tour of holy places in India and neighbouring countries to give the natives a chance to see how ‘foreigners’ are happy by following Krsna consciousness and to give the devotes more exposure to the places of pilgrimage. All these are organized very nicely and effectively.
Life Chairman of Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity Trust
On November 5 1977, Jayapataka Maharaja went to Vrndavana to meet Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada told him, “I am making Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity Trust” and added, “you are the life chairman.” Jayapataka Maharaja at this time also got the mandate from Prabhupada to unite the Sarasvat family, preserving the holy dham of Lord Caitanya and serving the pilgrims.
The beginning of the endless travels and GBC Responsibilities
Nine years after coming to India, finally in 1979, Jayapataka Maharaja got his Indian citizenship. Syamananda prabhu gave His Holiness an ‘around the world ticket’, encouraging him to travel. Then around 1980 Hridayananda Maharaja invited him to visit South America. That started his visits to South America, Chile, Peru, Bolivia. Later Ecuador came and other places in South America.
In 1982, on the requests of Hridayananda Maharaja, Balavanta prabhu and Rupanuga prabhu, Jayapataka Maharaja made a base in South-East USA. What just started as a visit soon led to becoming a GBC in that area. In this he got established.
In 1984, Hamsadutta left ISKCON and at that time there was a danger that Malaysia would be taken out of ISKCON. Then Jayapataka Maharaja was sent to Malaysia to save it and he spent 21 days there at one stretch, which was a record. Together with hari Sauri prabhu they were able to save the situation. Since then His Holiness has been looking after the preaching in Malaysia. Later on, Singapore was added.
HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja is also a GBC for Assam. The large size karatalas (whompers) that adds greatly to the ecstasy of his kirtans, are a traditional type of karatal in Assam. This was presented to His Holiness in Assam. Though it is played differently in Assam than the way Jayapataka Maharaja is used to, he developed this way of playing the karatals.
Jayapataka Maharaja started as GBC in East India which includes Bihar, Orissa and Bengal. From 1980 to 1999 he was the GBC for South-East USA, as well as South America. He is also the GBC for Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Jayapataka Maharaja serves as Co-GBC in the far east.
He is also the Minister of Congregational Preaching and Minister of Congregational Development, the Vice-chairman of the World Hindu Federation and Convenor of the Sarasvat Family.
While stationed in India, HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja traveled all along Bengal, and Bangladesh visiting villages performing sankirtana and book distribution. Later on, once he got his Indian citizenship and was invited from several leaders to visit their countries, he began what seems his endless traveling. Traveling agents are amazed at the extent of his traveling which are also done with very careful calculations and planning to get the most mileage at the least expense.
As much as HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja loves to undertake traveling to all parts of the world and accepts any harship for the purpose of preaching, it is a great austerity for him to have to hide the symbols of a vaisnava from his body when he is invited to preach in certain foreign countries.
Festivals and Celebrations
Jayapataka Maharaja personally loves attending ratha-yatras simply because he likes
Lord Jagannatha. It was during the ratha-yatra in San Francisco that he first came into ISKCON and his first service was to build Jagannatha’s rath cart. Thus he believes that it is by the mercy of Lord Jagannatha that he is a devotee.
His Holiness visited Puri during the ratha-yatra in the first year of his visit to India and Srila Prabhupada also told him to build a temple for Jagannatha in Puri for which he is endeavouring.
Wherever, there is ratha-yatra devotees are eager to invite HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja to attend and inspire the devotees with his ecstatic kirtan, and tireless dancing. Jayapataka Maharaja also in turn attends as many as ratha-yatras as possible and dances and sings for Lord Jagannatha forgetting his tiredness from traveling or other services.
Uniting the Sarasvat Gaudiya family
Initially Jayapataka Maharaja stayed in Gaudiya Matha for a few months in Calcutta and Mayapur, and earned their lifelong respect. That short period of stay in the gaudiya Math was perhaps Lord Krishna’s arrangement as it has made it easier for HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja to relate with some of the Gaudiya Maths. While Srila Prabhupada was in Mayapur, since he knew Bengali, Prabhupada would send him to deliver messages to Sridhara Maharaja, Givinda maharaja and others. Thus when Prabhupada told Jayapataka Maharaja to unite the Gaudiya Matha he made an effort to connect the spiritual family. After endeavouring for more than five years finally the Sarasvat Gaudiya Vaisnava Association was formed with the blessings of Prabhupada and blessings of all the senior Vaisnavas like Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharaja and other acaryas and His Holiness is the convenor for this association.
On two occasions HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja recollects Srila Prabhupada telling him, “You are authorized to take disciples but actually the etiquette is in the presence of guru you shouldn’t do, otherwise you are authorized.” And “you are a sannyasi so sannyasi is authorized to take disciples. That’s what sannyasa means but you don’t take in the presence of your guru.”
In 1977, as Srila Prabhupada’s health was getting worse, he once asked Jayapataka Maharaja “What does your astrologer say?” and Jayapataka Maharaja mentioned “that there was an astrologer in Mayapur who had read Prabhupada’s horoscope to Bhavananda along with all of our Society’s leaders about two weeks ago. This man said that Prabhupada was a kind of avatara especially empowered by God so that he was free to choose whether to come or go. As far as his future predictions went, he said that Prabhupada’s present illness would go by November 28 when Venus entered another house, that he would take another month to recuperate, and that there would be no further illness for seven years.(from TKG’s Diary)
Though all the devotees were hopeful that Srila Prabhupada would recover, His Divine Grace left the planet on November 14, 1977. Earlier, HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja was one among the eleven named by Srila Prabhupada to give initiation on his behalf when he was seriously ill.
Based on Srila Prabhupada’s personal instructions about how sannyasis are authorized to accept disciples when their spiritual master is no more present, following in the teachings in Srila Prabhupada’s books that initiation is given by one in the current link of the disciplic succession;
Brahma is the original spiritual master for the universe, and since he was initiated by the Lord Himself, the message of Srimad-Bhagavatam is coming down by disciplic succession, and in order to receive the real message of Srimad-Bhagavatam one should approach the current link, or spiritual master, in the chain of disciplic succession.
And the confirmation in his letters that:
Generally the spiritual master comes from the group of such eternal associates of the Lord; but anyone who follows the principles of such ever liberated persons is as good as one in the above mentioned group.
(Letter to Janardana New York 26 April 1968)
HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja began to accept disciples as a spiritual master in the Srila Prabhupada branch of the Goudiya Vaisnava sampradaya. Several devotees who were inspired by his dedication and sincerity to ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada accepted initiation from him. Many more continue to be inspired by His Holiness and aspire to take initiation from him.
His Holiness being a senior sannyasi disciple of Srila Prabhupada has also awarded sannyas initiation to 14 devotees so far:
Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja, Bhanu Maharaja, Prabhavisnu Maharaja, Bhakti Vikas Maharaja, Mahavisnu Maharaja, Gopal Krishna Maharaja, Mukunda Maharaja, Bhakti Vrajendranandana Maharaja, Bhakti Purusottama Maharaja, Bhakti Vaidurya Madhava Maharaja, Bhakti Raghava Maharaja.
Books written by His Holiness
Due to the intensity of his traveling and varied services all over the world, Jayapataka Maharaja hardly gets time for writing. Still, he has given translation and commentary to Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s Bengali poem ‘Vaishna ke?’ To counteract the speculated ideas of rtviksm which have no basis on shastra, His Holiness made a book called the rtvik-maya-vada-sata dushani which give 100 points supporting the importance of accepting initiation from the current link in a sampradaya.
His Holiness is adept in the principle of yukta vairagya and uses all modern facilities for spreading krsna consciousness. When the e-mail facility came into being, HH directed his disciples and others interested to keep in touch with him through e-mail as he traveled around the world. An e-mail conference was also formed where devotees could sk him Krsna conscious questions. These questions and answers have been compiled into a book called the “Spiritual Truths from Cyberspace”.
His Holiness’s translation of the Caitanya Bhagavat, ‘Prabhupada Remembrance” and 100 transcribed lectures await publication.
A Few of the Other Responsibilities of HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja in ISKCON
1. Zonal Secretary seva in West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Assam, Tripura, Andhra pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bangaldesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Atlanta, Hillsborough, Lynchburg, New Orleans, Carrierre, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Andaman Islands, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Pondicherry and Bhutan.
2. GBC committees – Constitutional and Law Revision Committee member, ISKCON Publications Review Board Member, Mayapur-vrndavana Festival Committee member, Philosophical research group, deity worship handbook committee, GBC Incorporation Committee, Executor’s committee member, and Puri Development Committee.
3. In relation to Mayapur – Mayapur Development Committee member, Exhibits and Theme park Department Head, Land Department Head, Ganges Erosion precautions, promote Sri Mayapur worldwide, GBC zonal secretary and Co-Director.
HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaja is an all-rounder. When he does book distribution, he does it with the utmost dedication and happiness. When he organizes a festival, or namahatta again it is with the utmost dedication and happiness. There could hardly be any place in the world that he has not traveled and hardly any service that he has not tried his hand at. Accepting any service that is given to him, as the order of guru, Krishna and sadhus, His Holiness does them all with love as an offering to his eternal spiritual master om visnupada paramahamsa parivrajaka acharya 108 sri srimad A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.