Chapter-13: A Gift of Grace

January 31, 2004
By Indradyumna Swami

This chapter consists entirely of letters written by, to, or about Lance Ackerman, a South African devotee. His first letter is to Sankarsan Prabhu, a dear Godbrother of mine based in Austin, Texas.

December 1, 2003

Dear Sankarsan das,

I am trying to locate a devotee who taught me a great deal many years ago. He headed up the Temple of Understanding in Durban, South Africa, in 1987. His name was Indradyumna Swami.

He then went on a trip up the Amazon, and since then I have lost track of him. I would really love to talk to him again. He inspired my life at the time and started me on the road to higher consciousness.

I should be most happy if you could help me with this or steer me toward someone who could help me locate him.

Hare Krsna, Lance Ackerman

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December 3, 2003

Dear Lance,

Please accept my blessings.

Here’s a hot link that you can use to e-mail Indradyumna Swami. indradyumna.swami@pamho.net Hoping this meets you in good health,

Always your well-wisher, Sankarsan das

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December 8, 2003

Dear Indradyumna Swami,

I am not sure if you remember me.

I first met devotees in Durban, South Africa, back in 1988. I was lucky enough to stay at the Temple of Understanding and even sat in meditation with you. The year after this I had to undergo national conscription in our defense force. I turned to the temple yet again and went through this as a religious objector, never carrying a firearm and somehow managing to stay vegetarian through out the whole two-year ordeal. I cannot begin to tell you how much the devotees helped me collecting me on Sundays and taking me to Misty Hills [the Krsna Farm outside of Johannesburg], and then stuffing me full of prasad and sending me back with enough for the week, as well as some to give to all the others in my camp, many of whom had never heard of Krsna.

Whenever I complained about how terrible my situation was in this “war environment” I found myself trapped in, you would laugh and tell me Krsna was placing all these obstacles in my way to make me see that the only way forward in this age of illusion was Krsna Consciousness. You would say the sooner I resigned myself to the truth, the better for me.

When you heard that I spent a lot of time in the Bushveldt and had no Bhagavad Gita to read, you gave me a small copy. This fit in the ammo side-pockets of my pants and meant I always had access to the word of Krsna.

When I look back and realize how many blessings Krsna was bestowing on me at the tender age of 19, I now realize you were correct: there was only one real choice for me. Unfortunately, hindsight is always better and not a privilege you have when you most need it.

Unfortunately, I eventually fell back into my material ways and now find myself, at age 35, lost in maya and understanding less than I did when I was 19.

In 1994 I was diagnosed with a disease called cardiomyopathy and am now bedridden and battling for each breath I take. I often thought of contacting you and asking you for guidance, but never have until now.

Recently, when my heart dropped to a working rate of just 17%, the doctors installed a pacemaker. For a while it seemed like the miracle I had been waiting for. However, this was short-lived, and I developed something called atrial fibrillation. The result was that I eventually had to go to the hospital to have my heart shocked back into rhythm.

It was at this point that something happened which told me I had to contact you for guidance. In the hospital my neck beads, which I had been wearing since you placed them around my neck, fell off and left me in fear of demonic powers. It felt like Krsna was deserting me, or perhaps it was me that deserted him?

Now I find myself in a state of depression, wondering about suicide.

But my belief in karma will not allow me to do that either.

Please help me. I do not know who else to turn to.

Hare Krsna, Lance Ackerman

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December 10, 2003

Dear Lance,

Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

Thank you so much for your letter, which brought both joy and sadness to my heart. Joy that you have contacted me after so many years (I do remember you!), and sadness to learn of your severe illness.

I would like to help you, as I can understand that you may be nearing the last stage of your life. Of course, life is eternal, and if we are devotees of Krsna we are simply evolving slowly towards our service in the spiritual sky.

The Lord may be giving you notice of your imminent departure, and like Maharaja Pariksit (who knew he had only seven days to live), you should become very, very serious now about hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord. There are specific duties we have at every stage of life, and the duty of one approaching the final stage is to completely absorb himself in sravanam-kirtanam, hearing and chanting about God.

Should you survive your present ordeal by the grace of the Lord, there will be no loss in such hearing and chanting. It is always auspicious! But if you are to leave your body in the near future, such hearing and chanting is the best way to prepare yourself for death.

A devotee can make a lot of advancement at the last stage of life. I have seen it many times. It is sort of like a sprinter who on the last lap sometimes gets a second wind, which propels him ahead to win the race. So begin making an extra-special effort to advance towards life’s ultimate goal, love for Krsna. Leave behind all other considerations. Just focus on what you know is right and is in your best interest: Krsna consciousness. You are in the most favorable circumstances for doing just that. The Lord knows best what we all need to make progress in Krsna consciousness. So there is never anything to lament.

I am coming to South Africa in January. I will be there until February 28. I would love to come and visit you, wherever you are. We can talk more deeply then.

But know for sure that I’m with you all the way. Somehow you have remembered me after all these years. You can count on me to help you in your present situation.

I look forward to hearing from you again . . . and seeing you soon. Your servant always, Indradyumna Swami

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December 18, 2003

Dear Indradyumna Swami,

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I would like nothing more than to see you.

I have never forgotten you, because you had such a lasting impact on my life. I knew what you would tell me, so there were no surprises, but to think that I may have your association again leaves me ecstatic!

I am going to immerse myself in hearing and chanting, something which I have long since stopped doing.

I will tell you, it is not the thought of death that scares me, because I understand and realize it is just another step along my spiritual path. What does concern me is the way in which I will die. It is a very painful process indeed. It also makes your arrival seem a very long time away.

I also worry about the effect of my death on those around me- my family, who have been my strength during this period of my life. They are not devotees, or even remotely close to devotees, so I will need to talk to them and explain Krsna consciousness so that they can understand.

I live quite close to the airport and would gladly send someone to collect you. I am afraid I will not be in a position to come to get you personally at this stage. But I long to speak with you!

Just hearing from you has filled my heart with joy and lifted me a great deal. I am going to work very hard to survive until you come.

I am at a loss as to what else to say, so I will just say goodbye and go find my beads and begin chanting.

Hare Krsna, Lance

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December 24, 2003

Dear Indradyumna Swami,

I am Lance Ackerman’s sister. Lance died yesterday after a long debilitating illness. He spoke to me about your forthcoming trip to South Africa, which he was very excited about. He was determined to stay well long enough to meet with you. He was overjoyed to hear from you.

Lance and I have shared a home for many years. I had watched him getting weaker and more reliant on his family over the past few years. Since May of this year he had been permanently bedridden. Throughout all this he lived fearlessly, with love, joy, compassion, and intelligence, even at the worst times.

Recently, however, he became fearful, filled with anxiety and anger. When your email arrived he was about to go back into the hospital. Except for twenty-minute catnaps, he had not slept for weeks. He was despondent, in constant pain and discomfort. But after your letter arrived he slept peacefully for the first time in weeks. He made a remarkable recovery and did not have to go to the hospital. He was no longer fearful or anxious. He was relaxed and said he felt at peace.

He said that for years he had lost touch with his beliefs, but felt he was now on the right track again. He was happy and serene. Your letter gave him great comfort.

I am heartbroken that my little brother has gone. I will miss him terribly. I wanted him to hang on at any price. But I am also grateful that he found an inner peace before he died and that he was able to let go when he was ready, without fear. I thank you for that.

You had a great impact on his life. He tried to describe why he felt so joyful to hear from you, and what sticks in my mind is what he described as your passing on to him a special grace� a grace that touched him at the very end.

With thanks, Gail Ackerman

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January 31, 2003

Dear Gail,

It was with great sadness that I received your letter.

I was so much looking forward to meeting Lance again after many years. As you said, he wrote to me only a few weeks ago, asking for help in the difficult times he was going through. I am content that I was able to give him solace in the last moments of this life.

His spiritual quest grew more and more important to him in his last days. I suppose this is natural for all of us. That he died peacefully is a sign that he achieved a level of spiritual understanding and satisfaction for which all of us can be proud of him.

Like you, I will miss him. But I am sure that Lance’s higher goals have taken him to a place more beautiful than the one we live in now.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I appreciate it very much.

Sincerely, Indradyumna Swami