Jayapataka Swami – 50 years of service in ISKCON

By Satya Medha Gauranga dasa - 3.7 2018

50 years ago, an enthusiastic young man dedicated his life in the service of Srila Prabhupada to fulfil the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

On 30th of June 1968, 19-year-old Jay shaved up his head, dressed in dhoti and chadar, singing Hare Krishna with joy, was pulling the chariot of Lord Jagannatha on the streets of San Francisco, the chariot that he had been helping to build with His Grace Jayananda Prabhu.

No one had imagined that this 19-year-old Jay, later known to be as Jayapataka Swami, would be coordinating thousands of Ratha-yatra all over the world over next 50 years.

Jayapataka Swami was born John Gordan Erdman in 1949 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

His grandfather was the founder of a multi-million dollar company. But from a very young age, Jay was looking for something else.

He wanted to search for God, he wanted to search for a deeper meaning of life; whatever that would take, wherever it would take him.
He was searching for a path and a teacher that would really speak to his heart.

“I was looking for a spiritual path. I had already tried Buddhism, I had tried esoteric Judaism. I tried doing yoga, I tried other western processes like astral projection and I decided I needed a Guru”.

In 1968, Gordan John received the first initiation in Montreal from His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of ISKCON, the extraordinary person who dedicated his life to teaching the world about Krishna consciousness. Gordan John was given the name Jayapataka dasa brahmachari.

“I went to Montreal, I met Srila Prabhupada and he gave me a lot of mercy, I committed, I took initiation”.

Having found this path at a young age, and having delved into that wisdom, into that knowledge, he felt a strong inner calling to share this sacred wisdom, share the experience as an act of service. And really, you could say that the rest is history.

There is so much we could say of 50 years of life lived in serving others in this way. He is regarded by thousands all around the world as their teacher, as their mentor, as their guide. He has affected the lives of countless people through social action projects like Food for Life and Congregational Development.

In 1970, in Kolkata, Srila Prabhupada personally performed the fire yajna and Jayapataka dasa got his sannyas initiation. He became the 12th sannyasi disciple of Srila Prabhupada.

He moved to India to preach. He flew for 48 hours in what was the “cheapest flight in history” flying from Montreal – London – Brussels – Bombay – Kolkata. He learnt to speak the Bengali language and became very popular among the local villagers. In 1977 he organized a big procession in West Bengal, about 25,000 people participated in the march which consisted of 168 kirtan groups.

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.

Jayapataka Maharaja became the world chairman for ‘Food for Life’, ISKCON’s worldwide food distribution program. By 1973 Srila Prabhupada wrote that he was glad about the prasadam 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, who had lost everything during the flood. 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.

He is also the Minister of Congregational Preaching and Minister of Congregational Development, the Vice-chairman of the World Hindu Federation. He developed the system of Bhakti Vriksa, a framework for congregational development.

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.

While stationed in India, His Holiness Jayapataka Swami traveled all along West Bengal and Bangladesh visiting villages performing sankirtana and book distribution. Later on, once he got his Indian citizenship and was invited by several leaders to visit their countries, he began what seems his endless traveling.

In 2008, he suffered a serious stroke. Doctors said that he had only 1% chance of survival. Half of his body was paralyzed. Despite having so many physical challenges, he continued to travel all over the world, organizing preaching programs, taking devotees into Spiritual Safari, establishing Nama-hatta and Bhakti Vriksa in different places. He continued to help devotees organizing all types of programs that are almost impossible for a person who is physically challenged in so many ways.

It did not stop him to continue his mission.

Between 2008 and 2017, being in a wheelchair he traveled 782,906 km on flight journeys using 325 flights, attended 1,427 meetings, traveled 25,942 km on road journeys, 1,629 km on train journeys and gave 1,411 lectures.

To summarise the life of someone who has done so much and had so much positive influence on the world is not an easy task.

But the most interesting, thought-provoking and simultaneously captivating point is that he never changed as a person.

He never changed in a way that he relates to people and the values that he embodies and the life that he practices. Even today, he is exactly the same person, just speaking heart to heart.

There could hardly be any place in the world that he has not traveled, accepting any service that is given to him, as the order of guru, Krishna and sadhus, His Holiness Jayapataka Swami does them all with love as an offering to his eternal spiritual master A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.