When His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada first visited his devotees in England in 1969 and was asked by a reporter to explain what he had come to teach, he calmly responded:
‘‘I am trying to teach
what you have
And indeed, this is the sole role of a bona fide spiritual master. The message of Krishna (God) consciousness reaches beyond the limited sphere of one’s nationality, race, sex, religious denomination or similar sectarian considerations. We, as spirit souls, are eternal, and our eternal function is to serve the Supreme eternal Person.
The guru’s duty is to reawaken such consciousness, without creating artificial impositions on the mind. Through his instructions, one has a chance to discover one’s original state of being, liberate the self from all misconceptions, and engage in a loving devotional relationship with God. His Divine Grace, or more commonly Srila Prabhupada, is performing this task most brilliantly at this very moment by instructing millions of Krishna devotees all over the world on the science of bhakti-yoga through his highly esteemed transcendental books, the medium of recorded transcendental vibration. He is thus fulfilling the purport of a poem written by a great Vaishnava saint, who wrote:
"He reasons ill who says that Vaishnavas die, when thou art living still in sound!
The Vaishnavas die to live,
and living try to spread the holy name around."
(SRILA BHAKTIVINODA THAKURA)
Srila Prabhupada’s teachings are not appreciated exclusively by a limited circle of disciples or followers of Krishna. Numerous scholars, professors, linguists and scientists from various fields admire him for his expert grasp on the ancient Vedic knowledge, and proclaim him to be the true ambassador of the original Indian culture. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise to find Srila Prabhupada’s scholarly translations practically in every major university and college on the planet. In fact, the teachers in many of these institutions use them as standard textbooks. The following is just a small sample of what prominent scholars wrote about Srila Prabhupada’s most popular Bhagavad-gita As It Is:
Professor of Religious
Sciences from the Institute of
Political Studies in Paris
‘‘Whether the reader be an adept of Indian spiritualism or not, a reading of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is will be extremely profitable. For many this will be the first contact with the true India, the ancient India, the eternal India.’’
Dr. Garry Gelade,
Professor of Psychology, Oxford University
‘‘This is a work to be treasured. No one of whatever faith or philosophical persuasion who reads these books with an open mind can fail to be both moved and impressed.’’
Dr. Thomas J. Hopkins,
Professor of Religion, Franklin and Marshall College
“There is little question that this edition is one of the best books available on the Gita and devotion. Prabhupada’s translation is an ideal blend of literal accuracy and religious insight.”
What is significant is that Srila Prabhupada’s voluminous literary contribution confirms the powerful potency of the Vedic writings. The Vedas, the most ancient scriptures in the world, are also called sruti, because they are understood by hearing. It has been said that a fool remains unnoticed until he speaks. The real master never deviates or contradicts the scripture, and in this way the potency of the spiritual message passes through him in a same way electricity passes through a linked-up wire. It is therefore the knowledge the spiritual master is speaking which is important rather than his physical presence, and we should study such knowledge from the lips of the spiritual master to ascertain his qualification.
Disciples all around the world are experiencing Srila Prabhupada’s direct guidance on a daily basis through his literatures, and the effect of this spiritual potency manifests in their ability to easily refrain from meat-eating, illicit sex, gambling and intoxication, even without meeting Srila Prabhupada personally. Although it is a standard practice for every disciple of Krishna to refrain from these activities, is not an easy job—especially in a modern society, where one is practically raised to indulge in these sinful activities. However, anyone
who links himself up with Srila Prabhupada through his instructions can very easily come up to this standard. How is this possible? As Srila Prabhupada mentions in one of his purports:
"The potency of
transcendental sound is never minimized because the vibrator is apparently absent."
Although the knowledge of the Vedas has no beginning, they were written down by Srila Vyasadeva 5,000 years ago. They contain complete knowledge ranging from spirituality, religion, art, politics, economics, astronomy and astrology—up to military art and medicine.
The essence or the cream of the Vedas is the beautiful Srimad-Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana. It is the last contribution of Srila Vyasadeva to the world. In the First volume of this great literature we find the following prediction made:
“This Bhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krishna to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the age of Kali shall get light from this Purana.”
According to the Vedas, history is divided into four ages, the last of which being the present age, Kali-yuga, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy. The above-mentioned verse says that the knowledge contained in the Bhagavatam will bring the solution to the world wide crisis, and it is due to Srila Prabhupada that the Srimad-Bhagavatam is now accessible on a massive scale. It is of no wonder, therefore, that the Delhi-printed translation of this work, along with a bag of cereals and a few coins, was the only possession he took with him on his journey to the western countries from his motherland India. Furthermore, in the 16th century, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the last, yet disguised appearance of Lord Krishna in this world, predicted that the name of Krishna would be heard in every town and every village in all countries across the globe. Similarly, a great acarya, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura, wrote in his 19th century journal, Vaisnava Toshani, that soon the Hare Krishna movement would be propagated all around the world and people from England, France, Russia, Germany and America would assemble together and chant the names of Krishna in the streets of their towns. Srila Prabhupada fulfilled both of these prophecies by sending groups of his disciples to chant the Hare Krishna mantra in all the corners of the planet—a task that is unparalleled in the history of the Vedic tradition, thus turning the Hare Krisna mantra into a household term. These, and numerous other references, might give us a little hint as to the significance of Srila Prabhupada’s appearance in this world.
Disciplic Line Of Spiritual Masters
His Divine Grace was born as Abhay Caran De on September 1, 1896 in Calcutta. In 1920 he finished his schooling, majoring in philosophy, English and economics at the University of Calcutta. Soon afterward, he took up the duties of a manager at a large chemical company. Then in 1922, he met His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja, the founder of 64 Gaudiya Vaishnava Maths in India, Berlin and London. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati belongs to the ancient disciplic succession (parampara) of spiritual masters through which the science of bhakti-yoga is passed down since Lord Krishna introduced it to his friend Arjuna as the Bhagavad-gita 5,000 years ago.
The succession is still current, and in short we can say that His Divine Grace belongs to the Brahma-Madhva Gaudiya-Vaishnava sampradaya:
1) Krishna, 2) Brahma, 3) Narada; 4) Vyasa, 5) Madhva, 6) Padmanabha, 7) Nrhari, 8) Madhava, 9) Aknobhya, 10) Jayatirtha, 11) Jnanasindhu, 12) Dayanidhi, 13) Vidyanidhi, 14) Rajendra, 15) Jayadharma, 16) Purusottama, 17) Brahmanyatirtha, 18) Vyasatirtha, 19) Laksmipati, 20) Madhavendra Puri, 21) Isvara Puri, (Nityananda, Advaita), 22) Lord Caitanya, 23) Rupa (Svarupa, Sanatana), 24) Raghunatha, Jiva, 25) Krishnadasa, 26) Narottama, 27) Visvanatha, 28) (Baladeva) Jagannatha, 29) Bhaktivinode, 30) Gaurakisora, 31) Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, 32) His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
The succession protects the message from being adulterated by imposters and consists of fully-realized, liberated pure devotees of Krishna, who act as transparent via mediums through which the teachings are broadcasted to the people of the world, as they are, without change. Any deviation from the line as above-mentioned will bewilder the student’s understanding. Unless one is on the highest platform of spiritual realization and strictly follows the instructions of his predecessor, one cannot become a spiritual master.
At Allahabad in 1933, Abhay Caran De was formally initiated, and in 1936, just days before Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s departure from this mortal world, he was specifically ordered by his master to spread Krishna Consciousness in the English language to the West. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati also instructed his disciples in his Gaudiya Matha institution to form a governing body commission to conduct the preaching in his absence. Unfortunately, the order was not followed, and the institution thereby broke into factions.
Srila Prabhupada writes about these events in his purports to Caitanya-caritamrta:
‘‘In the beginning, during the presence of Om Vishnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya Astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada, all the disciples worked in agreement; but just after his disappearance, they disagreed. One party strictly followed the instructions of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but another group created their own concoction about executing his desires. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, at
the time of his departure, requested all his disciples to form a governing body and conduct missionary activities cooperatively. He did not instruct a particular man to become the next acarya. But just after his passing away, his leading secretaries made plans, without authority, to occupy the post of acarya, and they split into two factions over who the next acarya would be. Consequently, both factions were asara, or useless, because they had no authority, having disobeyed the order of the spiritual master.’’
(C.C. Adi 12.8)
Journey to America
Remaining aloof from the politics of the Matha, in 1944 Srila Prabhupada started the periodical ‘‘Back to Godhead’’ in the English language, and at the end of the 50’s published Easy Journey to Other Planets—a small booklet challenging the authenticity of the moon landing expedition program, on the basis of astronomical information contained in the ancient Vedic texts. He also adopted the renounced order of life (sannyasa) and started working on his life’s masterpiece—the translation of the 60-volume Srimad-Bhagavatam.
He resided in the Radha Damodara temple in Vrndavana, the birth place of Krishna, where he found spiritual inspiration being surrounded by the places of pilgrimage commemorating the six Gosvamis, the direct disciples of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Then at the age of 70 in 1965, His Divine Grace arrived in the USA. He had only a great aspiration to fulfill the order of His Guru Maharaja Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati to spread the message of Krishna, as it is, in the West. Upon arriving, he wrote the following prayer:
"How will I make them understand this message of Krishna consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified and the most fallen. Therefore I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them, for I am powerless to do so on my own.’’
‘‘Somehow or other, O Lord, You have brought me here to speak about You. Now, my Lord, it is up to You to make me a success or failure as You like.’’
‘‘O spiritual master of all the worlds! I can simply repeat Your message, so if You like You can make my power of speaking suitable for their understanding.’’
‘‘Only by Your causeless mercy will my words become pure. I am sure that when this transcendental message penetrates their hearts they will certainly feel engladdened and thus become liberated from all unhappy conditions of life.’’
‘‘O Lord, I am just like a puppet in Your hands. So if You have brought me here to dance, then make me dance, make me dance, O Lord, make me dance as You like.’’
‘‘I have no devotion, nor do I have any knowledge, but I have strong faith in the holy name of Krishna. I have been designated as Bhaktivedanta, and now, if You like, You can fulfill the real purport of Bhaktivedanta.’’
(Markine Bhagavata-dharma, Boston Harbor, September 18, 1965)
Manifesting a perfect example of how a sincere disciple should be determined to fulfill the orders of the spiritual master, he manifested a pastime of struggling for one year without any external success in New York, the greatest city in the world. But by chanting the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare under a tree in Tompkins Square Park, he soon attracted the attention of the younger generation, who resonated with the message of Krishna and who joined him to form the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. A world wide Hare Krishna revolution began. Temples were established first in America, then Europe and gradually on all other continents. Thousands of young people of all faiths, races, sexes and nationalities took up devotional life and turned into saints practically over night. This marked the only time in history that a Krishna devotee was successfully training non-Indians in the strict disciplines of Vaishnavism.
In 1970, George Harrison, of the popular musical group the Beatles, and Srila
Prabhupada’s personal friend and admirer, applauded the movement by his song ‘‘My Sweet Lord’’ where he used the Hare Krishna chant. He also financed the printing of Srila Prabhupada’s ‘‘Krishna—The Supreme Personality of Godhead’’ book and wrote a foreword for it, in which he openly encouraged his fans to take up the chanting process. The Hare Krishna movement became widely-known, and in 1976 the Hare Krishna movement was recognized by the American government as a bona fide religion. According to the Sri Caitanyacaritamrta this is not a feat of an ordinary man. Unless directly empowered by Krishna, one cannot propagate the sankirtana movement.
Just like a lotus growing in muddy water remains untouched by the muddy water, similarly a pure devotee of the Lord can use all modern facilities; corporations, banks, dictaphones, airplanes, computers, television, etc. to broadcast the message of Krishna consciousness and yet remain completely unaffected. Srila Prabhupada’s exemplary behavior in dealing with the material world serves as an impetus to many aspiring spiritualists up to the present day.
Srila Prabhupada, within a short span of 12 years, accomplished his mission by writing approximately seventy books on the science of Krishna consciousness.
The Encyclopedia Britannica proclaimed that his voluminous translations from the original Sanskrit and his lucid commentaries “have astounded literary and academic communities worldwide.” (By 1976, over 55,000,000 literatures had been published in twenty-five languages and distributed in almost every country, making the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust the world’s largest publisher of Indian religious and philosophical texts. One printing alone of Bhagavad-gita As It Is required seventy-six train cars to ship the paper needed to print it.)
He also managed to initiate over 5,000 disciples, establish 108 Krishna temples on six continents, install the deity of Krishna in each center and train his disciples in the process of deity worship. He inaugurated the Ratha-yatra Festival of Lord Jagannatha in major cities around the globe, which in effect brought the temple to the people. He also instructed his disciples in 1967 to start an incense business in order to provide financial support for the maintenance of the temples. Within four years, the business, Spiritual Sky Incense, generated an annual revenue of one million dollars (equivalent to $4,600,000 in 2004).
He introduced the “Sunday Love Feast” and other prasadam (sanctified food) distribution programs that provided millions of free meals to the public. He created the world’s first chain of vegetarian restaurants. He built major temples in Bombay and Vrndavana, and founded a spiritual city at Mayapur. All became international sites of pilgrimage. He established primary schools to provide education in the principles of devotional service and founded The Bhaktivedanta Institute to advance Krishna consciousness within the scientific community, engaging serious academics in the consideration of the science of self-realization. He also set up farm communities to teach “simple living and high thinking,” emphasizing cow protection and dependence on God and nature.
He Lives Forever Through His Instructions
As the organization grew, Srila Prabhupada would accept new devotees not physically, but through his more experienced disciples. They would train the new devotees in the basic principles of Krishna consciousness and perform the formalities of the initiation ceremony on his behalf. Srila Prabhupada did not choose a successor, but requested all his disciples to continue associating with him through his books and work cooperatively even after his physical departure. Let us therefore take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
“There are two ways of association - by vani and by vapu. Vani means words, and vapu means physical presence. Physical presence is sometimes appreciable and sometimes not, but vani continues to exist eternally. Therefore we must take advantage of the vani, not the physical presence.”
(Caitanya-caritamrta 1975, Concluding Words)