Aniruddha dasa, a second-generation devotee leader from Nigeria died as a result of a car accident a few days ago. His passing is a great loss for the Vaishnava community and especially for the Hare Krishna devotees in West Africa and the Communications Ministry world-wide.
Born in a Vaishnava family and University trained, Aniruddha was all that we could hope for in our next generation of ISKCON leaders.
I met Aniruddha just three months ago when I travelled to Ghana to teach the four-day communications course and lead a strategic planning session for ISKCON's West African region.
Among forty or so devotees in attendance, Aniruddha stood out. He was young, smart, energetic, outspoken, and enthusiastic. He was one of those young people who inspire you with challenging questions that force you to ponder carefully and to respond with both your brain and your heart.
When he posed his very first question (more of a statement really) I remember thinking this young man can make a difference for the Hare Krishna society and for his country.
He attentively soaked up every theory, principle and skill we discussed over the next few days. He was an excellent public speaker, but he wanted to learn how to do better. He thought deeply, but he wanted to know how to think strategically. He understood ISKCON can't survive or thrive in isolation, so he wanted to know how to build relationships with government officials, the media, religious leaders and others.
Each morning outside the class I observed that he chanted his japa like a man intensely desiring to connect with Krishna. He stood near a small samadhi of Bhakti Tirtha Swami at the temple entrance reciting the Holy Names while begging to be empowered.
Aniruddha led small group discussions, he assimilated whatever I had to offer, and he repeatedly asked questions that brought out and tested my own faith:
Why can't ISKCON do better? Why have there been so many mistakes? Why don't we get out and really change the world? Why don't we encourage more of our own young people to get involved and take responsibility? Why are we so proud and comfortable with what little has been done when there are so many people yet to reach?
He seemed relieved when his inquiries and doubts were met (by me and others present) without disrespect of his skepticism. We knew his critiques arose from earnestness not arrogance.
ISKCON we told him is becoming more and more all that you want it to be: Honest, open, pro-active, self-reflective, genuine, and working in a pro-active, cooperative, and humble way to make a difference in the "misguided lives" of the world's population.
His enthusiasm grew daily as the seminar proceeded, and his desire to engage his many God-given talents and his new-found expertise seemed to energize his soul.
By the end of the week, Aniruddha was selected as Communications Director for West Africa by Srivas Prabhu, Regional Secretary of West Africa. Perhaps, in his wisdom, this was Srivasa's plan all along. Either way, it was whole-heartedly endorsed all the devotees present.
For me it appeared that communications and outreach in West Africa had just received a powerful and visionary boost. For the next few days Aniruddha traveled with Srivasa and myself to meet with media leaders and government officials.
Aniruddha Dasa (left) and Srivasa Dasa
He was such a natural. Smart, easy going, able to make friends, respectful, attentive, organized, visionary, and pro-active. He asked more questions. He took more notes. He analyzed, he began planning, and he offered his vision for our critique and feedback.
Just days after I left Africa Aniruddha began to report his activities and his strategic progress. He was meeting VIPs, encouraging devotees, and soon organized a regional communications planning session attended by dozens of devotees. This empowered young man was immediately empowering others.
Then just a few days ago, suddenly, unexpectedly, like a bolt of lightening out of a clear sky I heard of a car accident and his passing from this world. I was shocked, dismayed and even disoriented. Like many in ISKCON Nigeria and temples nearby, I cried often throughout the day.
Aniruddha was such a bright star for our community! How is this possible that he has left us? Such a terrible loss.
I don't know the history of this young man as a child or student. I only met him in his prime, and for just a few days. But from what I observed it is not excessive to describe him as a young prince. A natural leader, compassionate and deeply committed to his elders, his gurus, his people, he was ready to offer himself to uplift others spiritually and socially.
Since his passsing, I’ve learned that Aniruddha wore many hats in service to ISKCON. He was the secretary of ISKCON Benin Temple Advisory committee, producer and director of numerous dramas depicting Krsna lila in Nigeria and all the West African Regional Festivals. In Mayapur 2012 Bhakti Marg Swami identified him as a talented actor and conscripted him into the VANDE group of actors. He was also an exceptional event manager and orator. He mentored many young people both in Vaishnava communities and in the secular world. He was a crusader of "education for every ISKCON child". He also served as a pujari and was much attached to the Deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra.
Thinking of Aniruddha, I can't help but remember Abhimanyu. Arjuna's son, by the Lord's plan, was also taken from this world as a young man, full of promise and while still the hope and dream of his family.
Lord Krishna, we know, is the best friend of all. He makes the sun rise and the seasons change. He brings us into this world and takes us away according to our karma, and more importantly, His own sweet will.
To see a flower like Aniruddha plucked from the world while on the cusp of accomplishing great things is, I admit, very hard for me to comprehend.
Like Aniruddha, perhaps, I find myself struggling with challenging thoughts and some doubt. Why Lord, why take this empowered devotee now? We need Vaishnavas of his stature. We need smart, capable, committed young men and women to lead us and to take over the reins of ISKCON as my generation ages and soon dies away. We need to help the suffering souls of this world in Africa, Asia, North and South America and beyond. How are we to do so if you take from us such powerful devotees as this one?
I can find no other reason, no other explanation, except that perhaps Lord Krishna has some mission for Aniruddha elsewhere right now. Or, perhaps Krishna wanted to bring Aniruddha directly to Him to rejoin His eternal pastimes. After all, Krishna is the supreme person. If we wish and long for Aniruddha’s association, can we deny the Supreme Lord that same feeling?
Either way, like Aniruddha I find myself seeking answers to difficult questions and feeling the pain of the world in front of me, full of contradictions and sorrow. Like Aniruddha, I know that the Lord is working in this world according to His own plan, and that we can but be His humble instruments.
I pray that those who knew Aniruddha, and those who are inspired to hear of him, can keep his memory and his mood of honest and joyful enthusiasm in their hearts. I pray that our doubts, fears and heartbreaks, like Aniruddha’s, may be soothed by a vision of the Lord’s ultimate kindness, even as we struggle to see His plan.
I thank Krishna for giving me a few days of association with my young friend Aniruddha. And I pray that I, throughout the rest of my life on earth, can act in such a way to honor to my young departed friend and his faith in Vaishnavas.
I pray to be able to help prove to Aniruddha that ISKCON was worth sacrificing his life for, and to demonstrate to him that the ideals he strived for, that he was praying so sincerely to be part of, are still alive and well in the world.
May the Lord be eternally pleased with His dear son, Aniruddha.[ nigeria ]