The spiritual master of the Hare Krishna movement, His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, is not an ordinary man. According to the verdict of the revealed scriptures and by the nature of his glorious activaties, he is an eternally perfectly realized soul who has come for the deliverance of the conditioned souls living in this material world. Unlike many other so called incarnations, Srila Prabhupada's appearance is supported by the evidence of Vedic sastra and he is widely accepted as such by the entire Vaishnava community.
The great politician Canakya said that if there is a good tree within a garden or forest, its flowers will fill the forest with their fragrance. Similarly, a good son within a family makes the whole family famous all over the world. But the family in which a maha-bhagavata takes his birth is especially fortunate, because on account of the birth of a first grade-devotee, the members of the family; past, present and future up to 100 generations, become liberated by the grace of the Lord in respect of His beloved devotee.
The Personality of Godhead and His liberated devotees appear in the material world by the same process. The Bhagavad-gita says that the birth and activities of the Lord are all transcendental. Therefore, according to authorized opinion the birth of a liberated devotee is also a transcendental pastime of the devotee. His appearance and disappearance are practically on the same level as that of the Lord. The Lord and His devotees are therefore simultaneously one and different as spiritual entities. They belong to the same category of transcendence. Just as Krsna is never born and never dies, His devotees who return to Godhead never die and never take birth within the material world. The Lord comes to this material world through the agency of His internal potency, and similarly, when a devotee or associate of the Lord descends to this material world, he does so through the action of the spiritual energy. Although Krsna appears in the same transcendental body, it still appears that He takes His birth like an ordinary living entity, although in fact He is Lord of the universe. Factually, His appearance and disappearance are like the sun moving before us and then disappearing from our eyesight. When the sun is out of sight, we think that the sun has set, and when the sun is before our eyes, we think that the sun is on the horizon, but actually, the sun is always there, but owing to our defective, insufficient senses, we calculate the appearance and disappearance of the sun in the sky. And, because the Lord’s appearance and disappearance are completely different from that of any ordinary, common living entity, it is evident that He is eternal, blissful knowledge by His internal potency and that He is never contaminated by material nature. The Vedas also confirm that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is unborn yet still appears to take His birth in multi-manifestations. The Vedic supplementary literatures also confirm that even though the Lord appears to be taking His birth, He is still without change of body. Similarly, although appearing in this world, a devotee is not under the condition of the material laws. Others, however, see that he has appeared like an ordinary man. As the Lord is not affected by the modes of material nature, so a pure devotee of the Lord is also not affected by the modes of nature. That is the primary qualification for being one with the Lord.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada appeared in this world on Tuesday, September 1st 1896, at about 4:00 in the afternoon in the Tollygunge suburb of Calcutta as the third son of his father, the late Gaura Mohon Dev, and mother, the late Rajani Devi. One of Prabhupada’s uncles gave him the name Nandadulal (shortly Nandu) since Prabhupada appeared on the auspicious day of Nandotsava, one day after Janmastami, the birthday of Lord Krsna. As the Western countries celebrate the birthday of Lord Christ on the Christmas day, the birth day of Krsna in India is observed by cent percent of the population. However, the annual festival of Nandotsava is a little less known. The origin of this celebration can be explained as follows. Although Krsna was the real son of Vasudeva and Devaki, Vasudeva could not enjoy the birth ceremony of his son Krsna on account of the various atrocious activities of the demon Kamsa. Vasudeva wanted to save the Lord, and that is why he brought Him from Mathura to Vrndavana (Gokula) to the care of Nanda Maharaja. Nanda Maharaja, the foster father of Krsna, then enjoyed the birth ceremony of Krsna very joyfully the next day. He immediately called for learned astrologer brahmanas to perform the birth ceremony exactly as it suits the Vedic custom, and this day is since then known as Nandotsava.
Besides the birth ceremony, there is another function held after the birth of a child according to the customs of Vedic civilization called the name-giving ceremony. The name of the child is calculated astrologically, since the name should carry a meaning that describes the activities of the child’s future life. An astrologer of this type was also called at the occasion of the divine appearance of Srila Prabhupada and prophetically remarked: "For executing his purpose, this boy can enter fire." Srila Prabhupada was thus given the name Abhay Caran. Abhaya means “no more fear,” and carana means “lotus feet.” This name thus designates a person who is fearless, having taken shelter of the lotus feet of Krsna. In India there is a great tradition of astrology. The astrologers will say what one was in his last birth, what he is now, and what he will be in his next birth. That is the real meaning of astrology. Scriptures like Bhrgu-samhita are still available to the people for this purpose. The moment the child is born, the position is immediately calculated by the astrologers who then can predict the child’s future.
Srila Prabhupada’s horoscope was also made in that way, and it was clearly written that after reaching the age of seventy, he would travel to foreign countries, become a great religious propagator and establish many temples throughout the whole world. In later years, some of Srila Prabhupada’s students have been shown this horoscope while helping in the preaching activities in India. Such an astronomical calculation of stellar influence upon a born living being is therefore not supposition but fact, as confirmed in the text of authoritative literatures like Srimad Bhagwatam. Every living being is controlled by the laws of nature at every moment, as much as a citizen is controlled by the influence of the state. Obligation of the state laws is grossly observed, but the laws of material nature, being very particularly subtle to our gross understanding cannot be experienced grossly. As stated in the Bhagwat Geeta (Bg. 3.9): every action of life is at once producing another reaction, which is another bind upon us, and only those who are acting on behalf of Yajna (Vishnu) are not bound up by the reactions. Our actions are judged by the higher authorities, the agents of the Lord, and thus we are awarded a body according to our own activities. The law of nature is so subtle that every part of our body is influenced by the respective stars, and such a living being obtains his working body to fulfill his terms of imprisonment by the manipulation of such astronomical influence. A man's destiny is therefore ascertained by the birth-time constellation of stars, and the factual horoscope is made by a learned astrologer. It is a great science, and misuse of a science does not render it useless. A pure devotee of the Lord, or even the Personality of Godhead Himself, appears at a certain particular constellation of good stars, and thus the influence is exerted upon the body thus born in that auspicious moment. The laws of appearance and disappearance of the almighty Lord or that of His bonafide servants are, however, different from the laws of nature, and both of them are free to make their choice as to where and how they should appear and where and how they should not. Srila Prabhupada, in a letter to a disciple, speaks of an astrologer who remarked about his previous life: “So far I am concerned, I cannot say what I was in my previous life, but one great astrologer calculated that I was previously a physician and that my life was sinless.” Srila Prabhupada further elaborates on this point on a different occasion: “From Bhrgu-samhita it was ascertained, they said—I do not know—that I was a big physician in my last life, very spotless character, without any sin, like that. The only sin, if it is taken as a sin, was that I killed some snakes for medicinal purpose. Ayurvedic physicians know how to capture snakes and take away their fangs to make a medicine. Otherwise I did not commit any sin. He said like that. [laughing] And it is right, because I had a tendency in my childhood play to imitate the physician. I would keep some medicine, and my playmates would come and I would feel their pulse and give some medicine. This was my play, I remember. Yes. Some powders. I was a very small child at the time. So I would play that my playmates would come as patient, they would stand and I would give them some medicine. [chuckles] And I was giving medicine in business also later on. I was appointed to be Dr. Bose’s laboratory manager. I still know how to prepare so many medicines. Practically I can prepare all allopathic medicines and some Ayurvedic also. What is written in the book, I can prepare. So that confirms my previous life also.”
Perfection in Krsna consciousness means one is free from material desires; one desires only Krsna and nothing else. So long one has a pinch of material desire, he has to take birth. If Srila Prabhupada in fact had a previous life, a question may be therefore raised whether he was formerly a conditioned soul. When a disciple asked Srila Prabhupada a question pertaining to this subject matter, Srila Prabhupada responded: “The position of a spiritual master is achieved by three processes. The first is sadhana-siddha, who is liberated by executing the regulative principle of devotional service. Another is krpa-siddha, one who is liberated by the mercy of Krsna or His devotee. And the third is nitya-siddha, who is never forgetful of Krsna throughout his whole life. So far my present life is concerned, I do not remember any part of my life when I was forgetful of Krsna.”
In addition, Srila Prabhupada hints of his nitya siddha status in several informal exchanges with his disciples and guests:
Pancadravida: The nitya-mukta devotees, Prabhupada, they are always engaged in the service of the Lord, and every thought of theirs is engaged at the lotus feet of Krsna, of serving Him completely. And when they appear on this earth, persons like yourself, they only come here for the purpose of reclaiming the fallen conditioned souls. They have no reason to come to this material world for their own enjoyment. That is never on their mind. But the nitya-bandhas, they are here simply to try and manipulate this material nature so that they can engage their own senses in gratification either of themselves or their extended self like their family. So the difference between the two is one is serving Krsna, the other is simply serving his senses.
Prabhupada: Is that all right?
Satsvarupa: Eternally liberated and eternally conditioned.
Prabhupada: Eternally liberated, they never forget Krsna. There is no period throughout the existence... There is no question of existence. It is their all existence. Never touched by maya, forgetfulness. That is nitya-mukta.
(Morning Walk -- April 20, 1974, Hyderabad)
Guest (1): I thought that you personally must have come back here because you wanted to. Because you had a job to do perhaps. Well, obviously—not perhaps.
Prabhupada: Come back?
Pradyumna: He said that you must have come back here because you had a job to do.
Guest (1): You see you, if you were freed in your previous time and did not have to come back, it does occur to me that you have come back because you have a job to do.
Prabhupada: Yes, that is also, just like, Krsna comes. Similarly Krsna's son, God's son, sometimes He comes. Sometimes Krsna's great devotee, servant, he comes because the spiritual enlightenment to the fallen souls, that is required. So in the human society, when the living entity gets the chance of having this human form of life, he has got the facility to understand his position, how to go back to home, back to Godhead. So that facility is offered by God, by Krsna. Therefore, we have got these books. We have got spiritual master, we have got acaryas. Just to enlighten these fallen souls to go back to home, back to Godhead.
(Room Conversation with British Man August 31, 1973, London)
We should always keep in mind that it is a characteristic of advanced Vaisnavas following the principles of bhakti that they think themselves ordinary human beings. This is not an artificial exhibition of humility; a Vaisnava sincerely thinks this way and therefore never admits his exalted position. In fact, Srila Prabhupada writes: “Even though one may be an incarnation of Krsna, or especially empowered by Him, he should not advertise that he is an incarnation. People will automatically accept the real truth in due course of time.” (SB 4.22.5) The Lord and the devotee may appear in this material world birth after birth, and yet such births are transcendental. Srila Prabhupada writes: “The Lord and His confidential devotees appear many times to fulfill the Lord's mission, but since such births are transcendental, they are not accompanied by the miserable conditions of material birth, and they are therefore called divya, transcendental. One must understand the transcendental birth of the Lord and the devotee. The purpose of the Lord's taking birth is to establish devotional service, which is the perfect system of religion, and the purpose of the birth of a devotee is to broadcast the same system of religion, or the bhakti cult, all over the world.” Exalted devotees, although eternally residing in the spiritual world, simultaneously appear in the material world birth after birth to fulfill the mission of the Lord. This is possible. An example of an eternally liberated associate is Arjuna, to whom Lord Krsna spoke the Bhagavad-gita. From one of the verses of this great literature it is understood that some millions of years ago when Lord Krsna spoke the Bhagavad-gita to the sun-god Vivasvan, Arjuna, in a different capacity, was also present. But the difference between the Lord and Arjuna was that the Lord remembered the incident, whereas Arjuna could not. That is the difference between the part and parcel living entity and the Supreme Lord. Srila Prabhupada writes: “Although Arjuna is addressed as the mighty hero who could subdue the enemies, he was unable to recall what had happened in his various past births. Therefore, a living entity, however great he may be in the material estimation, can never equal the Supreme Lord. Anyone who is a constant companion of the Lord is certainly a liberated person, but he cannot be equal to the Lord. The Lord is described in the Brahma-samhita as infallible (acyuta), which means that He never forgets Himself, even though He is in material contact. Therefore, the Lord and the living entity can never be equal in all respects, even if the living entity is as liberated as Arjuna.” That is the difference between Krsna and Arjuna. Although Arjuna is a friend of Krsna birth after birth and a nitya-siddha, he still forgets, so what to speak of others? Such forgetfulness on the part of Arjuna, however, is the working of yoga-maya. It should never be considered to be the arrangement of maha-maya. There is a difference between yoga-maya and maha-maya. Yoga-maya means the mercy of the Supreme Lord which connects a devotee to the transcendental loving service of the Lord, and maha-maya means the external potency of the Lord which puts a conditioned soul into the illusion that he will be happy by material adjustment. The glories of Lord Krsna and his associates are always sanctified by the action of yoga-maya or the internal potency of the Lord, and sometimes, by the influence of such yoga-maya, Krsna forgets that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the devotee forgets that he is eternal servant of Krsna. Therefore although the Supreme Godhead, His incarnations or His devotees may pose themselves as ordinary men, they are never to be considered as such. Nor should an ordinary man not supported by authorized statements of the sastras and acaryas be accepted as an incarnation or a devotee. By the evidence of sastra, Sanatana Gosvami detected Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu to be a direct incarnation of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although Lord Caitanya never disclosed the fact. It is therefore generally recommended that the acarya, or guru, should not be accepted as an ordinary man.