Last spring I went through a series of heart attacks, one every night when I got into bed.
But why, you ask, did I not seek help after the first one? It’s because heart attacks often come disguised. There was no sharp pain in my heart, like the movies, and no pain on the inside of my left arm. I felt the pain throughout my whole body from the waist up, including my head.
A disciple brought a traditional Chinese doctor to my apartment, and I told him my symptoms. “It’s the kidneys,” he said.
“The kidneys?” I said. “How can the kidneys cause chest pain?”
“The fire and water circulate throughout the whole body,” answered my disciple Yadu, a Western doctor well versed in Chinese medicine.
Since most Chinese doctors are expert diagnosticians and Yadu agreed, I accepted the verdict. I lay down on my bed and chanted Hare Krishna between yells while the Chinese doctor jabbed me all over with acupuncture needles.
I had no problem for the next two days. I felt relieved. The problem had been solved with just one torture session.
If It Happens Again, You’ll Die
But when the nightly pains came back, my disciples drove me to a big new hospital. “Go to room 106,” said the doctor, “and get an electrocardiogram.” I didn’t mind because electrocardiograms don’t hurt.
The doctor looked at the result. “This is serious,” he said with furrowed brows. “You have to stay here tonight.”
“I’ll just go home,” I said, “and I’ll come back tomorrow.”
“No,” said the doctor. “If you have another heart attack you’ll die.”
Well, dying would be more fun than staying in a hospital, I thought. (If you’ve ever stayed in a hospital, you’ll know what I mean.)
“You have to stay here,” said Vidarbha Kanya, a woman disciple, “or you might die.”
“I agree to die,” I said.
“But we don’t agree,” she said.
So I stayed.
You Might Not Live through the Night
That evening Vidarbha Kanya came to my room with Tyaga, a male disciple. “You need to write a quick will,” said Tyaga as he handed me a pen, “so we can have your body if you leave this world.”
I yawned. “Let’s do this tomorrow,” I said.
“We have to do it now,” said Vidarbha Kanya. “The doctor said if you have a heart attack tonight, they’ll have to perform emergency surgery and you might not live through it.”
I scratched my head. “All right,” I said and took the pen.
“I am in a hospital after a series of heart attacks,” I wrote, “and I may die at any time. If I die, I want the following people to dispose of my body and to take care of any unfinished business I may have.”
Then I listed the names of three disciples. “I am fully conscious,” I continued, “and of sound mind.”
I signed the paper, and we asked two doctors to sign as witnesses.
Then my disciples left for the night except two men, Rasa and Jishnu, who stayed with me. We turned off the lights, and I lay down on my bed hoping to fall asleep in spite of the intravenous needle sticking me in the arm and the tangle of wires attached to my body, leading to a television screen showing my blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.
I looked over at the hanging bottle of intravenous fluid. “It’s dripping too slowly,” I said.
“It has to,” said Rasa. “It’s supposed to last all night to keep you from having a heart attack.”
Why Aren’t I Scared?
I turned over on my left side and draped my right arm over my face. “It’s a miracle, this Krishna Consciousness,” I said to myself.
“Here I’ve been told I may not live through the night, but I’m not disturbed. I should be scared. I should be biting my nails and pacing back and forth, but the only thing I’m worried about is getting some sleep in spite of these damn wires.”
It’s not that I was brave or stoic in the face of death. No. There was nothing to be brave or stoic about. I just wasn’t bothered. Who would ever imagine it? But Krishna knew. He predicted it five thousand years ago:
In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear. ⁓Bhagavad Gita
Eternally touching my head to the floor at the lotus feet of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada,
⁓Umapati Swami, August 25, 2018, revised April 6, 2021
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His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the teacher who brought Krishna Consciousness from India to the West and then to the rest of the world. He is the founder of the worldwide Hare Krishna Movement as well as the author and compiler of many works of Vedic knowledge. He left this world in 1977.
One of the first American devotees of the Hare Krishna Movement, he became Srila Prabhupada’s disciple in 1966. Since then, he has preached Krishna Consciousness in many countries and is the author of “My Days with Prabhupada,” available from Amazon. Now 84 years old, he has started this blog to share what he has learned.
© Umapati Swami 2018, 2021
Scriptural passages © Bhaktivedanta Book Trust