In Memory of Hansadutta das (1941-2020)
Hansadutta das (né Hans Jürgen Kary) has passed and leaves behind his sister Heidi Marie, his former wife Lakshmi Kary-Rana and their three children. Hansadutta was one of the earliest and leading disciples of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (Srila Prabhupada), Founder-Acharya of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
The son of German immigrants who arrived in America shortly after World War II, Hansadutta grew up in New York City and then joined the Navy, where he served from 1959 to 1961. In 1967, Hansadutta and his wife at the time were living in Hoboken, New Jersey and running an art studio when he obtained a copy of Srila Prabhupada’s Easy Journey to Other Planets. He put the book in the glove compartment of his car, intending to read it later, but then his car was left parked in New York City. Suddenly one day he was compelled to go into the city to get that book. He sat in his car and read it through from start to finish and then went directly to 26 Second Avenue, where he met Brahmananda das and declared that he wanted to become a devotee. He was told that only unmarried devotees were staying at 26 Second Avenue, but Hansadutta and his wife were welcome to go to Montreal. Hansadutta and Himavati left for Montreal and helped to start up the Hare Krishna center there, and in early May, 1967 Hansadutta and his wife were formally initiated as disciples of Srila Prabhupada in New York.
Empowered by His Divine Grace, Hansadutta was fearless and innovative. Under Srila Prabhupada’s direction, he helped to pioneer the Hare Krishna movement by preaching and opening Hare Krishna centers in Canada (Montreal and Vancouver), USA (Boston and Berkeley), Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark) and Asia (Turkey, Cairo, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia), recruiting and training devotees in the service of Srila Prabhupada’s mission. He also several times met up with and lent support to Ananta Shanti das, who led the groundwork for Krishna consciousness in the former Soviet Union. Together they figured out ways to smuggle Srila Prabhupada’s books into the country. Hansadutta often said that these activities in the prime of his life and the devotees who worked under his leadership were his whole life.
In 1970 His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada formed a Governing Body Commission (GBC) to assist with management of ISKCON, which was rapidly expanding worldwide, and appointed Hansadutta das among the first of its members. In addition to his GBC role to oversee the activities and standards of temples in his zone, Hansadutta also simultaneously carried out various additional duties as temple president and sankirtan leader, and he took turns with the other GBC members to serve as Srila Prabhupada’s personal secretary. Over a hundred letters from Srila Prabhupada to Hansadutta bear testimony to the responsibilities he took on and his strong dedication to serving Srila Prabhupada.
Hansadutta is known for his ecstatic kirtans. He pushed harinam sankirtan (the congregational chanting of the holy names in public) with great enthusiasm and expertise. In appreciation, Srila Prabhupada christened him “King of Kirtan” (“Krishna Kirtan Thakur”) and directed him to organize sankirtan parties worldwide (World Sankirtan Party).
“Regarding ‘World Sankirtan Party’, now the best of my students interested in Sankirtan, namely Mukunda, Tamal and yourself, are now in Europe, so I hope in the very near future you shall organize a very grand World Sankirtan Party and make a tour the world over and if you like I can also go with you.” – SP to Hansadutta, Los Angeles, March 12, 1970
“Personally I still maintain the idea of a World Sankirtan Party, but such things, at the present moment, are a dream only. But one day maybe it will come out successful.” – SP to Hansadutta, Los Angeles, June 26, 1969
Hansadutta das staged Hare Krishna Festivals around Europe, and cut and sold records of Hare Krishna kirtans, including Srila Prabhupada’s album KRSNA Meditation, which was recorded at Schloss Rettershof in June, 1974.
He also organized and personally oversaw publication and mass distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s books in English, Russian, German, French, Danish, Swedish, Arabic, Tagalog, Tamil, Singhalese and Chinese languages. He was the first to publish the Back to Godhead magazine in four colors and in European languages.
In 1974 Srila Prabhupada appointed Hansadutta a lifetime trustee for the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, publisher of Srila Prabhupada’s books (“You have understood the importance of my books. Without being asked, you published and distributed my books.” And “The temples may fail, the devotees may fail, but my books will live forever.”–London, September 1974).
Hansadutta travelled extensively with Srila Prabhupada in India and on his own, meeting royalties and dignitaries, leading chanting parties and at Srila Prabhupada’s behest giving lectures to capacity crowds. In 1977 Srila Prabhupada asked Hansadutta to go to Sri Lanka, where he answered the public challenge of a then widely known atheist, Dr Kovoor. Sri Lankan newspapers covered the story, and the exchange pleased and enlivened Srila Prabhupada so much that he insisted on publishing it in his own book Life Comes from Life. It was a great honour, as the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust published Srila Prabhupada’s books exclusively, and Hansadutta is the only disciple whose words were published alongside Srila Prabhupada’s own at Srila Prabhupada’s insistence. This material has since been edited out of reprinted editions of Life Comes from Life.
After Srila Prabhupada passed away from this world in November, 1977, Hansadutta continued to act as BBT Trustee, and between 1980-1982 he set out to revolutionize publication and sales of Srila Prabhupada’s books, which had until that time been piecemeal, printing one book at a time and selling individual books. He arranged with the help of Chakravarti das, his godbrother who had remained close to him from the days when Hansadutta was in charge of the German yatra, to print entire sets of Srila Prabhupada’s books. Printing of the Srimad Bhagavatam alone was a huge undertaking which necessitated expansion of the printer’s operation in order to accommodate simultaneous printing of 20,000 copies multiplied by 30 volumes. On the distribution end, Hansadutta started up a ‘Contract Sales’ program selling Srila Prabhupada’s books door-to-door much in the same way that encyclopedia sets were marketed back in the day. He simultaneously printed The Golden Avatar, one-volume editions of Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya-charitamrita and three different editions of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is: a hardbound edition, a small paperback edition, and the first vinyl-cover edition with Bible paper. At that time the license with Macmillan had just expired, so these were the first reprints of that 1972 edition by Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Before Srila Prabhupada left his body, he had issued a written directive (the letter of July 9th, 1977) designating Hansadutta das as one of eleven deputies, “Rittvik representative of the Acharya”, authorized to recruit and initiate new disciples on behalf of Srila Prabhupada. Hansadutta received two letters from Srila Prabhupada (dated 10 July 1977 and 31 July 1977) confirming his appointment, and wondered at the time what the significance was, because he had already been acting as rittvik representative.
Years later Hansadutta admitted that almost immediately after Srila Prabhupada departed the eleven rittvik representatives took for granted that they had automatically become gurus. Then cracks appeared in the Society at the helm of leadership. There were reports of aberrant behavior amongst the gurus, and after some very public falldowns, ISKCON GBC took action to suspend some of the gurus. In December 1980 Tamal Krishna Gosvami revealed in talks recorded in Topango Canyon that Srila Prabhupada had never appointed the eleven disciples named in the letter of July 9, 1977 to be gurus; but only as rittvik representatives. This ran contrary to ISKCON GBC’s position that the eleven were pure devotees and fully qualified successor acharyas. Hansadutta openly questioned the ISKCON GBC narrative (“Gold does not rust, so if there’s rust, it’s not gold.”), and in 1983 he was removed from his GBC position and ousted from the Society.
While some detractors vilified him then and continue to do so now, Hansadutta remained steadfast in devotion to Srila Prabhupada and continued to associate with godbrothers over the years. Hansadutta continued to publish hundreds of thousands of Srila Prabhupada’s books in English and Chinese languages in Singapore through the agency of Bhima das of Malaysia, who distributed them throughout Southeast Asia. In 1984 he authorised Bhima to publish Light of the Bhagavat in Chinese and English. This was the first-ever printing, with distribution in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan. While serving as Srila Prabhupada’s personal secretary in 1971, Hansadutta had personally typed transcripts of Srila Prabhupada’s lectures recounting the story of Ajamila and had kept them in his possession. In 1987 he compiled them into a book which was given to Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc. for publication, and which came off the press in 1991 under the title A Second Chance. In 1993 he also published two little books by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur: NamHatta and The Holy Name. BBT International later published these same books. It should be noted here that while neither ISKCON nor BBT International acknowledged Hansadutta’s role, he deserves credit for his continued contributions as BBT Trustee.
In 1993 Hansadutta published Srila Prabhupada, His Movement and You, in which he acknowledged and apologized for his part in assuming the role of guru, and put forward the idea that Srila Prabhupada should be recognized as the Sampradaya Acharya. In this publication he offered evidence in support of Srila Prabhupada’s order to initiate on behalf of His Divine Grace, and that Srila Prabhuapda was himself the initiating spiritual master.
Most importantly, devotees have Hansadutta to thank for access to Srila Prabhupada’s original books today. It is not widely known, but from 1983 ISKCON GBC attempted to take control of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust with the creation of BBT International, Inc., a non-profit corporation, which postured itself as the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust but in fact had no legal connection to the California non-profit trust created by Srila Prabhupada in 1972. BBT International, Inc. took over the printing of Srila Prabhupada’s books and in line with ISKCON GBC policy at the time refused sales of Srila Prabhupada’s books to devotees who were disenfranchised from ISKCON. What is worse, BBT International, Inc. was making many unauthorized changes to Srila Prabhuapda’s words under Jayadvaita Swami’s direction. Meanwhile, Srila Prabhupada’s original books had been out of print and unavailable for several years. So, in 1990, Bhima das printed a Chinese edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is in Singapore, but one Sundar Gopal das, then head of the Singapore ISKCON outpost, instigated a lawsuit by BBT International, Inc. against Bhima das for copyright infringement. Hansadutta stepped up as BBT Trustee and produced evidence in Bhima’s defense that the copyrights were owned by Bhaktivedanta Books Trust, and this caused BBT International, Inc. to withdraw the lawsuit in Singapore because they were unable to show that they had acquired the copyright from Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. This led to BBT International, Inc. and ISKCON suing the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and Hansadutta in California in 1997. Hansadutta rose to the challenge in defense of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and for the preservation of the integrity of the books. It is by Hansadutta’s intervention that the original books of Srila Prabhupada now continue to be available.
Hansadutta authored several books of his own as well: The Hammer for Smashing Illusion, based on Shankaracharya’s famous Bhaja Govinda; Kirtan: Ancient Medicine for Modern Man; Fool’s Paradise; The Book, the afore-mentioned Srila Prabhupada, His Movement and You, and a number of essays, including Gopimania, as well as realizations on his websites (http://bhaktivedantas.com and http://namhatta.com). Over the years Hansadutta also gave lectures at Harvard University, McGill University, University of California at Berkeley and many other public venues around the world, and made TV and radio appearances.
Despite some occasional personal obstacles, Hansadutta was occupied with chanting on his beads and reading from His Divine Grace’s books. Hansadutta never wavered in his faith in his spiritual master and the holy name. For the last several years Hansadutta resided in Oakland. His health in gradual decline, he spent his days chanting, going for long walks and preaching to people he encountered. Hansadutta was compassionate towards anyone at all who showed interest in Krishna consciousness, no matter whether they were doctors, lawyers, or street people. Wherever he went, he brought along Srila Prabhupada’s books, and even in his last days he distributed Bhagavad-gita As It Is and spoke to whomever he met about Krishna consciousness. He often maintained contact with the people he had given books, as he said association was necessary to assimilate Srila Prabhupada’s teachings.
Hansadutta constantly carried these words with him:
“When the spiritual master goes there, somewhere, his nearest assistants, they automatically go there to assist him. When Kṛṣṇa comes, the demigods also come to help Him. That is there in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. All these Yadus, Yadu family, they came from heaven. So before Kṛṣṇa’s disappearance, by some trick they were all killed and they returned to their original place. It is nicely described in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta.” (Conversations with Srila Prabhupada, Morning Walk, 11 July 1976, New York)
“You are simply born because the mission was to be started. Just like in Yadu-vaṁśa Kṛṣṇa ordered all the devotee demigods to ‘Go and take birth there to help Me.’ Similarly, you are also. You were born in Europe, America, to help this. Otherwise you were devotees in your past lives.” (Conversations with Srila Prabhupada, 16 February 1977, Mayapur)
In 2017, Hansadutta wrote to Yasodanandan, ‘It is not a chance happening. We are always in the orbit of Srila Prabhupada, life after life. I am convinced of this completely.’ And thus, departs this soldier with his heart set on rejoining Srila Prabhupada’s eternal tour of duty in the service of Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtan movement. “He [the spiritual Master] lives forever by His divine instruction and the disciple lives with him.”