When His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda 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 forgotten.’’
About the Author
When His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda 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 forgotten.’’ And indeed, this is the sole role of a bona fide spiritual master. The message of Kṛṣṇa (God) consciousness reaches beyond a limited sphere of oneʻs 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 guruʻs duty is to reawaken such consciousness, without creating artificial impositions on the mind. Through his instructions, one has a chance to discover oneʻs 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 Śrīla Prabhupāda, is performing this task most brilliantly at this very moment by instructing on the science of bhakti-yoga millions of Kṛṣṇa devotees all over the world 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 Vaiṣṇava saint, who once wrote: ‘‘He reasons ill who says that Vaiṣṇavas die, when thou art living still in sound! The Vaiṣṇavas die to live, and living try to spread the holy name around.’’
Śrīla Prabhupādaʻs teaching is appreciated not exclusively by a limited circle of disciples or followers of Kṛṣṇa only. Numerous scholars, professors, linguists and scientists from various fields admire him for his expertly 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 Śrīla Prabhupādaʻs 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 Śrīla Prabhupādaʻs most popular Bhagavad-gītā As It Is:
‘‘Whether the reader be an adept of Indian spiritualism or not, a reading of the Bhagavad-gītā 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.’’
Professor of Religious Sciences from the Institute of Political Studies in Paris
‘‘I can say that in the Bhagavad-gītā As It Is I have found explanations and answers to questions I had always posed regarding the interpretations of this sacred work, whose spiritual discipline I greatly admire. If the aesceticism and ideal of the apostles which form the message of the Bhagavad-gītā As It Is were more widespread and more respected, the world in which we live would be transformed into a better, more fraternal place.’’
Dr. Paul Lesourd, Author Professeur Honoraire from Catholic University of Paris
‘‘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. Garry Gelade, Professor of Psychology from Oxford University
What is significant is that Śrīla Prabhupādaʻs voluminous literary contribution confirms the powerful potency of Vedic writings. The Vedas, the most ancient scriptures in the world, are also called śruti, 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 the electricity passes through a linked-up wire. It is therefore the knowledge the spiritual master is speaking, not his physical presence, which is of importance. In order to ascertain the qualification of a spiritual master we should study what he says. Disciples all around the world are experiencing Śrīla Prabhupādaʻs 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 now without meeting Śrīla Prabhupāda personally. Although this is a standard practice for every disciple of Kṛṣṇa, 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 Śrīla Prabhupāda through his instructions can very easily come up to this standard. How is this possible? As Śrīla Prabhupāda 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 Śrīla Vyāsadeva 5,000 years ago. They contain complete knowledge ranging from spirituality, religion, art, politics, economics, astronomy, astrology up to military art and medicine. The essence or the cream of the Vedas is the beautiful Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, or Bhāgavata Purạ̄na. It is the last contribution of Śrīla Vyāsadeva to the world. In the First volume of this great literature we find the following prediction made:
“This Bhāgavata Purāṇa is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Kṛṣṇa 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 Purāṇa.” (Bhāg. 1.3.43)
According to the Vedas, history is divided into four ages of which presently Kali-yuga, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy, is the last. The verse says that the knowledge contained in the Bhāgavatam will bring solutions to the world wide crisis, and it is due to Śrīla Prabhupāda that the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is now accessible on a massive scale. It is of no wonder, 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, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the last, yet disguised appearance of Lord Kṛṣṇa in this world, predicted that the name of Kṛṣṇa would be heard in every town and every village throughout the world. Similarly, a great ācārya, Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākura, in the 19th century, wrote in his journal Vaiṣṇava Toṣaṇī that soon the Hare Kṛṣṇa 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 Kṛṣṇa in the streets of their towns. Śrīla Prabhupāda fulfilled both of these prophecies by sending groups of his disciples to chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra in all the corners of the planet—a task that is unparallel in the history of Vedic tradition, thus making the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra into a household word. These, and numerous other references, might give us a little hint as to the significance of Śrīla Prabhupādaʻs 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 Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, the founder of 64 Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Maṭhs in India; Berlin and London. Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī belongs to the ancient disciplic succession (paramparā) of spiritual masters through which the science of bhakti-yoga is passed down since Lord Kṛṣṇa introduced it to his friend Arjuna as the Bhagavad-gītā 5,000 years ago. The succession is still current and in short we can say that His Divine Grace belongs to the Brahma-Madhva, Gauḍīya-Vaiṣṇava sampradāya:
1) Kṛṣṇa, 2) Brahmā, 3) Nārada; 4) Vyāsa, 5) Madhva, 6) Padmanābha, 7) Nṛhari, 8) Mādhava, 9) Akṣobhya, 10) Jayatīrtha, 11) Jñānasindhu, 12) Dayānidhi, 13) Vidyānidhi, 14) Rājendra, 15) Jayadharma, 16) Puruṣottama, 17) Brahmaṇyatīrtha, 18) Vyāsatīrtha, 19) Lakṣmīpati, 20) Mādhavendra Purī, 21) Īśvara Purī, (Nityānanda, Advaita), 22) Lord Caitanya, 23) Rūpa (Svarūpa, Sanātana), 24) Raghunātha, Jīva, 25) Kṛṣṇadāsa, 26) Narottama, 27) Viśvanātha, 28) (Baladeva) Jagannātha, 29) Bhaktivinode, 30) Gaurakiśora, 31) Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, 32) His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda.
The succession protects the message from being adulterated by imposters and consists of fully-realized, liberated pure devotees of Kṛṣṇa, 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 studentʻs 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 Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatīʻs departure from this mortal world, he was specifically ordered by his master to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the English language to the West.
Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī also instructed his disciples in his Gauḍīya Maṭha 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. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes about these events in his purports to Caitanya-caritāmṛta:
‘‘In the beginning, during the presence of Oṁ Viṣṇupāda Paramahaṁsa Parivrājakācārya Aṣṭottara-śata Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda, all the disciples worked in agreement; but just after his disappearance, they disagreed. One party strictly followed the instructions of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, but another group created their own concoction about executing his desires. Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, 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 ācārya. But just after his passing away, his leading secretaries made plans, without authority, to occupy the post of ācārya, and they split into two factions over who the next ācārya would be. Consequently, both factions were asāra, or useless, because they had no authority, having disobeyed the order of the spiritual master.’’ (C.C. Ādi 12.8)
Journey to America
Remaining aloof from the politics of the Maṭha, in 1944 Śrīla Prabhupāda started a periodical ‘‘Back to Godhead’’ in the English language, and at the end of the 50’s he 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 (sannyāsa) and started working on his lifeʻs masterpiece—the translation of the 60-volume Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. He resided in the Rādha Dāmodara temple in Vṛndāvana, the birth place of Kṛṣṇa, where he found spiritual inspiration being surrounded by the places of pilgrimage commemorating the six Gosvāmīs, the direct disciples of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
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 Mahārāja Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī to spread the message of Kṛṣṇa as it is in the West. Upon arriving, he wrote the following prayer:
‘‘How will I make them understand this message of Kṛṣṇa 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 Kṛṣṇa. I have been designated as Bhaktivedānta, and now, if You like, You can fulfill the real purport of Bhaktivedānta.’’
(Mārkine Bhāgavata-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 mahā-mantra: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare / Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare under a tree in Tompkins Square Park, he soon attracted the attention of the younger generation, who resonated with the message of Kṛṣṇa and who joined him to form the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness (ISKCON). A world wide Hare Kṛṣṇa revolution began. Temples were established first in America, then Europe and gradually on all other continents. Thousands of young people of all types of faith, race, sexes and nationalities took up devotional life and turned into saints practically over night. This marked the only time in history that a Kṛṣṇa devotee was successfully training non-Indians in the strict disciplines of Vaiṣṇavism.
In 1970, George Harrison, of the popular musical group the Beatles, and Śrīla Prabhupādaʻs personal friend and admirer, applauded the movement by his song ‘‘My Sweet Lord’’ where he used the Hare Kṛṣṇa chant. He also financed the printing of Śrīla Prabhupādaʻs ‘‘Kṛṣṇa—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 Kṛṣṇa movement became widely-known, and in 1976 it was recognized by the American government as a bona fide religion. According to the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta this is not a feat of an ordinary man. Unless directly empowered by Kṛṣṇa, one cannot propagate the saṅkīrtana movement.
He Lives Forever Through His Instructions
Śrīla Prabhupāda did not choose a successor, but requested all his disciples to continue associating with him through his books and work in the same way as before cooperatively even after his physical departure. Unfortunately, after Śrīla Prabhupādaʻs demise in 1977, his leading disciples did not take his instruction in their hearts and artificially, despite Śrīla Prabhupādaʻs clear orders not to do so, took up the posts of initiating spiritual masters with the desire to enjoy the glory and respect such a position commands, but without meeting the required qualification such a position demands. On account of this offensive act, consequently the ISKCON institution has suffered greatly due to internal dispute over its leadership and there has been a major setback in its preaching activities.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, lives on in his books. His instructions on re-spiritualization of the human society are still waiting to be fulfilled. People of the world should therefore take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
“There are two ways of association – by vāṇī and by vapu. Vāṇī means words, and vapu means physical presence. Physical presence is sometimes appreciable and sometimes not, but vāṇī continues to exist eternally. Therefore we must take advantage of the vāṇī, not the physical presence.”
(Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Concluding Words)