Srila Prabhupada (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami)
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), the founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), was the foremost proponent and teacher of Krishna consciousness—devotional service to the Supreme Person, Krishna—of the late twentieth century.
Srila Prabhupada, as he's known to his followers, translated and commented on over eighty volumes of the most important sacred bhakti texts. His books include Bhagavad-gita As It Is—the definitive commentary on Krishna's advice on how to be happy in this life and the next, and the multi-volume Srimad-Bhagavatam—a history of Krishna's activities, His avatars, and His many devotees throughout the universe. Srila Prabhupada also constantly traveled the world, initiating thousands of disciples and managing a global spiritual movement which continues to grow today.
When Srila Prabhupada met his own spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur in 1922, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta urged the young devotee later known as Srila Prabhupada to preach Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's message of Krishna consciousness in English.
The freezing wind blasting off the river becomes merciless when funneled between the walls of the city’s chartered canyons. The wind hurtles a birdshot of cinder and sleet; it sends trash skimming over the icy pavement and lifts it in sudden dizzying spirals high up the face of the blank, impassive towers. A dull unending roar, as though the buildings moaned under a drugged sleep, fills the chasms.
This most densely crowded city of America is also its most desolate waste, and nothing seems more inhospitable to man than the world where everything is man-made. This is New York, in the grip of an iron winter, in the middle of an iron age.
We see now a figure making its way along the bottom of one of the empty iron-rimmed abysses. Leaning forward into the wind, a cane in his left hand, he moves steadfastly on. Look at him closely: the saffron robes of an Indian mendicant priest flap below his overcoat, and his forehead bears the parallel clay lines of the devotee of Krishna. His face has an expression both indomitable and serene, as though he were not really walking this bitter wasteland, and indeed he appears so out of place here that a magnolia tree in full fragrant bloom on these hard and frigid streets would seem no less incongruous. This is Srila Prabhupada in the winter of 1966. He is alone, he has no money; and he is seventy years old. His small figure is dwarfed by the towers in icy reserve, whose stern, impervious faces turn all human effort on the streets below into tableaux of defeat. But Srila Prabhupada’s effort is not merely human, and the seed he brings with him from another world does indeed incredibly, miraculously take root in this barren and uninviting soil and flourish. Soon hundreds of saffron-robed devotees will blossom out into these streets, their American faces marked with the twin clay lines, and the sound of the Hare Krishna mantra will echo and re-echo against the hard high walls.
We should remind ourselves that what we see is not all there is; we never know what unseen presences hover over some lonely and modest endeavor, nor what invisible efforts cooperate to bring great results from meager beginnings. We believe that in nature no effect exceeds its cause, why should it be different in other affairs? Chance or luck are merely words to cover our ignorance.
Behind Srila Prabhupada’s appearance on the alien Manhattan streets stand five millennia of planning and effort. The story of it opens one sunrise fifty centuries ago in the Himalayas, where the sage Krishna-Dvaipayana Vyasa sits in trance on the bank of the Sarasvati. In his meditation, Vyasa sees a future of unrelieved horror unfold before him. He sees Kaliyuga, the age of iron, begin and bring with it universal deterioration. The decay is so deep-rooted that matter itself diminishes in potency, and all our food progressively decreases in quality as well as quantity. Vyasa sees the effects of chronic malnutrition on generation after generation; he watches it gradually diminish their span of life along with their brain power; no one can escape the progressive drop in intelligence and ability to remember.
The photographs show Srila Prabhupada in the mid nineteen-sixties.
Brahmatirtha dasa (as told to Anakadundubhi dasa)
A Peace Corps worker on assignment in India resolves to follow the transcendental call.
One hot smoggy day in the summer of 1968, I went for a walk in New York's Greenwich Village, browsing through the occult bookstores. As I stood inside one store, reading a small pocket copy of Bhagavad-gita, I saw an incredible sight: a group of young men and women in robes and saris, dancing double-file down the sidewalk. The men had shaved heads, and they were playing clay drums and cymbals. They were singing a song that they repeated to a simple melody, and it seemed to me I had heard this song before. I was very attracted.
All the way home, I tried to remember where I'd heard that song before. I went through all my record albums, and then finally it came to me—the Hair soundtrack. I played it time and time again: " Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
My parents had already planned a future for me: a good education and a good job. It wasn't that I consciously rebelled against them, but some unknown force seemed to be leading me in another direction—India. The dream of visiting India had grown with me since childhood. I'd seen pictures in National Geographic of lush tropical forests and jungles, magnificent temples, and fabulous festivals. By the time I finished a college course on Eastern philosophy, I was convinced I had to go. There were questions that I just had to find the answers to, and I sensed that the answers were hidden somewhere in that ancient tradition.
I couldn't just tell my parents that I was going to India for a spiritual search. So I decided to join the Peace Corps as a teacher and work in India. On the application form were three blank spaces for desired assignments, and I wrote India in all three spaces. Six months later I was on a plane bound for Delhi.
One day on a crowded Calcutta train, I saw a poster advertising a Hare Krishna festival at Deshapriya Park. I was elated; weren't these the people I had seen singing on the streets in New York? I turned to a Sikh gentleman in a large turban and asked, "Deshapriya Park—where?" Silently he pointed back in the direction we had just come. I struggled to get off the overcrowded train. Hurrying through the streets, I began asking everyone—sweepers, stall owners, police—where I could find the park. But by evening I still had not located it.
Finally I began to look for a taxi, abandoning the search for the day. It was now evening rush hour. I ran up to a taxi that had stopped at a traffic light, although it was too dark to see if there were passengers inside or not.
"Take me to Free School Street," I said, jumping in. I glanced over to my side, and there in the corner, amid piles of books and magazines, was a shaven-headed devotee in orange robes.
"Hare Krishna!" I shouted excitedly. "Hare Krishna," he replied, somewhat surprised.
"I've been looking for you people all day," I said. "I saw a poster advertising a festival in Deshapriya Park, but I can't find the place."
"It's just nearby," he said. "You came within two minutes of it. I'm going there now."
Within two minutes we pulled up in front of what looked like a large park. The entire park was covered with a huge circus tent, and under its canopy crowded almost fifteen thousand people. At the far end of the pavilion was a big stage, and at its center was a simple raised dais. There sat the founder and spiritual master of the Hare Krishna movement, His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, regally wearing scores of flower garlands offered by his disciples. He sat silently as one of his disciples introduced him to the crowd. When the disciple explained that Srila Prabhupada had traveled alone at the age of seventy to boldly preach Krishna consciousness in America, the audience responded with a standing ovation. The devotees jumped to their feet to lead them in the chanting of Hare Krishna.
When the program was over and Srila Prabhupada was being driven away in his car, I ran up to the devotee who had spoken. "Can I come?" I begged. "I'd like to meet the guru." "Sure, jump in," he replied, smiling.
We sped off, arriving fifteen minutes later at a huge old Victorian mansion, a remnant of the British raj. The interim had been converted into a temple. As we entered the temple, the devotees invitee me to meet Srila Prabhupada and to ask him any questions I might have.
Srila Prabhupada was sitting on a cushion behind a low desk. Six or seven Indian gentlemen surrounded him. I had always thought that if I ever met a guru I would ask him all the many questions that had haunted me over the years. But as I entered Srila Prabhupada's room, I couldn't remember a single question. I folded my palms and sat down nervously before him. Srila Prabhupada looked at me and smiled warmly.
"You have some questions?" he asked in a deep but gentle voice.
I couldn't remember any of my questions. Suddenly, something inside inspired me to challenge him. Considering myself somewhat knowledgeable in Buddhism, I thought to ask him about another, equally valid spiritual path.
"What about Buddhism?" I challenged. "Speak about Buddhism," he replied, totally undisturbed by my attack.
Fool that I was, I had to answer. I began to rattle off something I had read in a book about the eightfold mystic path. But soon I exhausted my knowledge of the matter and felt totally deflated.
Srila Prabhupada's face broke into a broad, radiant grin. He briefly explained that Buddhism was impractical because the soul is eternal and has personality, being part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. The soul can never be extinguished by the philosophical process of negation. Srila Prabhupada defeated me not out of a desire to establish his own erudition but out of concern and compassion. Immediately I felt great respect for him. Srila Prabhupada returned to his discussion with the other gentlemen, and I paid my obeisances and left the room.
The next day I had to return to my Peace Corps work in Bihar, about two hundred-fifty miles west of Calcutta. Already I was developing a bad taste for my life there. I seemed to be just killing time, living from day to day. I began to feel that my existence was bland compared to the fresh and colorful lives of Srila Prabhupada and his devotees.
Within a month I returned to Calcutta and went straight to the temple. Srila Prabhupada wasn't there, but the devotees welcomed me like a prodigal son returned. They fed me delicious vegetarian food and answered my barrage of questions and philosophical doubts with incredible patience. That evening, as I prepared to leave for my hotel, one of the devotees told me about a festival they were holding in Mayapur. Srila Prabhupada was there, as were many devotees from all over the world. An Indian boy named Manohara offered to take me with him the following day. Happily I accepted.
The next day we boarded a steam train that must have been left over from the Second World War. It was a five-hour journey to a country town called Navadvipa, where we hired a ricksha that took us through the town's center. Next we had to take a small wooden boat across the river Ganges. After thirty minutes of utter silence, except for the gentle splash of the water against the bottom of the boat, we had crossed the confluence of two Ganges branches. Paying the boatman a few coins, we again boarded a ricksha.
The azure sky was dotted with wispy clouds. Birds whistled and chattered in the dense undergrowth that practically engulfed the narrow road. Finally we stopped at a small encampment of rugged canvas tents.
"This is Mayapur," said Manohara, leading me to Srila Prabhupada's hut. Srila Prabhupada remembered me from our brief meeting in Calcutta and welcomed me warmly. It was wonderful to see him again. He sat on a clean white cushion, and he exuded an aura of perfect peace and tranquility.
"So, do you have some questions?" he asked me.
I didn't want to foolishly challenge him again. Within my mind I decided to at least theoretically accept that this person knew the Absolute Truth. It wasn't real surrender, only an intellectual adjustment. But it was a large step for me.
I asked Srila Prabhupada about science as a way of finding truth, and he began to explain about the all-attractive spiritual nature of God, Krishna, and about how everything has its source in Him. Everything about Srila Prabhupada enthralled me. The movements of his hands and the expressions of his mouth and eyes seemed to indicate a person whose consciousness was fixed beyond the limitations of the mundane sphere. When he spoke, I felt obliged to ponder deeply his profound and logical statements. As I sat there at his feet trying to understand, he destroyed my intellectual pride.
Each evening I would go to Srila Prabhupada's hut. How fortunate I was, I thought, to have come in contact with this person. Slowly, methodically, he was removing all of my misconceptions, bringing me to the platform of a sincere, inquisitive student of spiritual science.
One evening I took a walk along the front of the property. The moon was full, illuminating everything, and the Ganges shimmered in the distance like a thread of silver. A mild breeze blew, and the atmosphere felt somehow purifying. Walking alone, I began to consider how my consciousness was changing. Looking back on my life, I could see how kind God had been to me; it seemed that every stage had been a step in His plan to bring me to this point. I stood by the side of the shining Ganges, watching her flow down to the ocean. Yes, I thought, now I must begin my journey back to Krishna.
The next evening as we gathered at Srila Prabhupada's feet, I tried to explain that I would be leaving the next day to return to my work. Nervously I said, "Tomorrow I'll have to leave you and . . . "
Looking lovingly at me, he said, "Don't talk l-e-a-v-e, but talk l-i-v-e." Inconceivably, he seemed to address my soul directly. I suddenly became overwhelmed with love and appreciation for him. I felt such emotion that I had to excuse myself. Sitting down on the edge of a rice field, my eyes brimming with tears of happiness and relief, I knew my life would never be the same again. Srila Prabhupada wanted me to become a devotee, and I knew deep inside that this was all I had ever wanted.
Although I returned to my work with the Peace Corps, I spent as much time with the devotees as possible. Finally I returned to New York. The devotees assured me that there was a temple in New York and that Srila Prabhupada would come there to visit. I wrote to Srila Prabhupada and explained what I was doing. I felt that by writing I had a direct link with him.
Within a week I received his reply:
My dear Bob,
Please accept my blessings. I thank you very much for your letter dated June 12, 1972. I have noted the sentiments expressed therein with great pleasure. I am very glad to hear that you are associating with us. I know that you are a very good boy, very intelligent, and your behavior is gentle, so I have all confidence that very quickly Krishna will bestow all His blessings upon you, and you will feel yourself becoming perfectly happy in Krishna consciousness.... Any man with a good scientific and philosophical mind, like your good self, must first appreciate what transcendental knowledge is.... To get knowledge is the first item for anyone who is hoping to find the perfection of his life....
We are just now typing up the tapes of those conversations we held in Mayapur, and we shall be publishing them as a book. It will be called "PERFECT QUESTIONS, PERFECT ANSWERS." . . . I shall be very much engladdened to meet you in New York once again.
Your ever well-wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
This was a great surprise. Srila Prabhupada considered the questions I had asked in my foolishness and ignorance to be perfect transcendental inquiries! It was an incredible honor, although I felt somewhat embarrassed.
A month later Srila Prabhupada came to the New York temple. I went with my wife, Barbara, wanting her to meet him. Srila Prabhupada entered the hallway, and we all scattered flower petals and bowed down to offer respects.
In my heart I was feeling very much ashamed, because although I had received so much instruction and encouragement from him, I had still not fully committed myself. I felt that I was letting him down. As he approached me, I bowed down to the floor, hoping that he would not see me. I kept my head down and offered the Sanskrit prayers very slowly. After saying the prayers, I raised my head, thinking he had passed by. Then I saw two bronze-colored feet before me, and I looked up to see Srila Prabhupada's beaming face.
"Oh, it's you!" he exclaimed as I rose to my feet. He put his arms around my shoulders and gave me a welcoming embrace like a loving father. Everyone gave a loud exclamation of pleasure and jubilation that I had achieved such a place of affection in Srila Prabhupada's heart. He had literally embraced me into his fold.
Two years later, when my wife and I were fully ready, Srila Prabhupada accepted us both as his formally initiated disciples.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #15-05, 1980 — a brief history of the incorporation of ISKCON
by Satsvarupa Dasa Gosvami
July 11, 1966. 26 Second Avenue, New York City: A few sympathetic, interested people gather in a small downtown storefront to help an Indian swami's mission by adding their signature to a legal document.
Today, ISKCON has branches all over the world. Millions of lives have been transformed by the Hare Krishna mantra and the philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita—thanks to the vision of Srila Prabhupada and the efforts of his sincere followers.
But in 1966, no one (except Prabhupada himself) could foresee how this society could ever manifest on such a scale.
Here's an excerpt from Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita, a detailed biography of Srila Prabhupada, describing the humble yet momentous event of ISKCON's incorporation.
1966: The Lower East Side, New York. The building was humble, the membership small, yet Srila Prabhupada's vision encompassed the whole world.
by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Amid the cacophony of a storefront at 26 Second Avenue in New York, Srila Prabhupada had begun teaching the science of Krsna consciousness to a motley congregation drawn from the local community. Then, in his characteristically farseeing way, he founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
"We shall call our society 'ISKCON.' " Prabhupada laughed playfully when he first coined the acronym.
He had initiated the legal work of incorporation that spring, while still living on the Bowery. But even before its legal beginning, Prabhupada had been talking about his "International Society for Krishna Consciousness," and so it had appeared in letters to India and in The Village Voice.
A friend had suggested a title that would sound more familiar to Westerners, "International Society for God Consciousness," but Prabhupada had insisted: "Krishna Consciousness."
"God" was a vague term, whereas "Krishna" was exact and scientific; "God consciousness" was spiritually weaker, less personal. And if Westerners didn't know that Krsna was God, then the International Society for Krishna Consciousness would tell them, by spreading His glories "in every town and village."
"Krsna consciousness" was Prabhupada's own rendering of a phrase from Srila Rupa Goswami's Padyavali, written in the sixteenth century. Krsna-bhakti-rasa-bhavita. "to be absorbed in the mellow taste of executing devotional service to Krsna."
But to register ISKCON legally as a nonprofit, tax-exempt religion required money and a lawyer.
Carl Yeargens had already had some experience in forming a religious organization, and when he had met Prabhupada on the Bowery he had agreed to help. He had contacted his lawyer, a young Jewish man named Stephen Goldsmith.
Stephen Goldsmith had a wife and two children and an office on Park Avenue, yet he maintained an interest in spirituality. When Carl told him about Prabhupada's plans, he was immediately fascinated by the idea of setting up a religious corporation for an Indian swami.
He visited Prabhupada at 26 Second Avenue, and they discussed incorporation, tax exemption, Prabhupada's immigration status—and Krsna consciousness. Mr. Goldsmith visited Prabhupada several times. Once he brought his children, who liked the "soup" Prabhupada cooked.
He began attending the evening lectures, where he was often the only non-hippie member of the congregation. One evening, having completed all the legal groundwork and being ready to complete the procedures for incorporation, Mr. Goldsmith came to Prabhupada's lecture and kirtana to get signatures from the trustees for the new society.
July 11. Prabhupada is lecturing.
Mr. Goldsmith, wearing slacks and a shirt and tie, sits on the floor near the door, listening earnestly to the lecture, despite the distracting noises from the neighborhood.
Prabhupada has been explaining how scholars mislead innocent people with nondevotional interpretations of the Bhagavad-gita. Now, in recognition of the attorney's respectable presence, and as if to catch up Mr. Goldsmith's attention better, Prabhupada introduces him into the subject of the talk:
"I will give you a practical example of how things are misinterpreted. Just like our president, Mr. Goldsmith, he knows that expert lawyers, by interpretation, can do so many things.
When I was in Calcutta, there was a rent tax passed by the government, and some expert lawyer changed the whole thing by his interpretation. The government had to reenact a whole law, because their purpose was foiled by the interpretation of this lawyer.
So we are not out for foiling the purpose of Krsna, for which the Bhagavad-gita was spoken. But unauthorized persons are trying to foil the purpose of Krsna. Therefore, that is unauthorized.
All right, Mr. Goldsmith, you can ask anything."
Mr. Goldsmith stands, and to the surprise of the people gathered, he makes a short announcement asking for signers on an incorporation document for the Swami's new religious movement.
Prabhupada: They are present here. You can take the addresses now.
Mr. Goldsmith: I can take them now, yes.
Prabhupada: Yes, you can. Bill, you can give your address. And Raphael, you can give yours. And Don.... Raymond. ... Mr. Greene.
As the meeting breaks up, those called to sign as trustees come forward, standing around in the little storefront, waiting to leaf passively through the pages the lawyer has produced from his thin attache, and to sign as he directs.
Yet not a soul among them is committed to Krsna consciousness.
The lawyer meets his quota of signers, but they're merely a handful of sympathizers who feel enough reverence toward the Swami to want to help him.
The first trustees, who will hold office for a year, "until the first annual meeting of the corporation," are Michael Grant (who puts down his name and address without reading the document), Mike's girlfriend Jan, and James Greene. No one seriously intends to undertake any formal duties as trustee of the religious society, but they are happy to help the Swami by signing his fledgling society into legal existence.
According to law, a second group of trustees will assume office for the second year. They are Paul Gardiner, Roy, and Don. The trustees for the third year of office are Carl Yeargens, Bill Epstein, and Raphael.
No one knows exactly what the half-dozen legal-sized typed pages mean, except that "Swamiji is forming a society." Why?
For tax exemption, in case someone gives a big donation, and for other benefits an official religious society might receive.
But these purposes hardly seem urgent or even relevant to the present situation in the little storefront. Who's going to make donations? Except maybe for Mr. Goldsmith, who has any money?
But Prabhupada is planning for the future, and he's planning for much more than just tax exemptions. He is trying to serve his spiritual predecessors and fulfill the scriptural prediction of a spiritual movement that is to flourish for ten thousand years in the midst of the Age of Kali.
Within the vast Kali Age (a period that is to last 432,000 years), the 1960s are an insignificant moment.
The Vedas describe that the time of the universe revolves through a cycle of four "seasons," or yugas, and Kali-yuga is the worst of times, in which all spiritual qualities of men diminish, until humanity is finally reduced to a bestial civilization devoid of human decency.
Yet for ten thousand years after the advent of Lord Caitanya there is the possibility of a Golden Age of spiritual life, an eddy that runs against the current of Kali-yuga.
With a vision that soars off to the end of the millennium and far beyond, and yet with his two feet planted solidly on Second Avenue, Srila Prabhupada has begun an International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
He has many practical responsibilities: he has to pay the rent, and he has to incorporate his society and pave the way for a thriving worldwide congregation of devotees.
Somehow, he doesn't see his extremely reduced present situation as a deterrent from the greater scope of his divine mission. He knows that everything depends on Krsna, so whether he succeeds or fails is all up to the Supreme. He has only to try.
The purposes stated within ISKCON's articles of incorporation reveal Prabhupada's thinking. They are seven points; similar to those given in the Prospectus for the League of Devotees he had formed in Jhansi, India, in 1953. That attempt had been unsuccessful, yet his purposes remained unchanged.
Seven Purposes of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness:
1. To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
2. To propagate a consciousness of Krishna, as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krsna, the prime entity, and thus to develop the idea within the members and humanity at large that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krsna).
4. To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy name of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
5. To erect for the members and for society at large a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the Personality of Krsna.
6. To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.
7. With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.
Regardless of how ISKCON's charter members regarded the Society's purposes, Srila Prabhupada saw them as imminent realities.
As Mr. Ruben, the subway conductor who had met Prabhupada on a Manhattan park bench in 1965, remembers, "He seemed to know that he would have temples filled up with devotees. 'There are temples and books,' he said. 'They are existing, they are there, but the time is separating us from them.' "
The first purpose mentioned in the charter was propagation. "Preaching" was the word Prabhupada most often used. For him, preaching had a much broader significance than mere sermonizing. Preaching meant glorious, selfless adventures on behalf of the Supreme Lord.
Lord Caitanya had preached by walking all over southern India and inducing thousands of people to chant and dance with Him in ecstasy. Lord Krsna had preached the Bhagavad-gita while standing with Arjuna in his chariot on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra. Lord Buddha had preached, Lord Jesus had preached, and all other pure devotees preached.
ISKCON's preaching would achieve what the League of Nations and the United Nations had failed to achieve—"real unity and peace in the world." ISKCON workers would bring peace to a world deeply afflicted by materialism and strife.
They would "systematically propagate spiritual knowledge," knowledge of the nonsectarian science of God. It was not that a new religion was being born in July of 1966; rather, the eternal preaching of Godhead, known as sankirtana, was being transported from East to West.
And this new consciousness in the West would come about through the teachings of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The Society's members would come together, and by hearing the philosophy of Krsna consciousness and chanting the Hare Krsna mantra in mutual association they would realize that each was a spirit soul, eternally related to Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They would then preach these realizations to "humanity at large," especially through sankirtana, the chanting of the holy name of God.
ISKCON would also erect "a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the Personality of Krsna." Was this something beyond the storefront? Yes, certainly. He never thought small: "He seemed to know that he would have temples filled up with devotees."
He wanted ISKCON to demonstrate "a simple, more natural way of life." Such a life (Prabhupada thought of the villages of India, where people lived just as Krsna had lived) was most conducive to developing Krsna consciousness.
And all six of these purposes would be achieved by the seventh: ISKCON would publish and distribute literature. This was the special instruction given to Srila Prabhupada by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who had specifically told him one day in 1935 at Radha-kunda in Vrndavana, "If you ever get any money, publish books."
Certainly none of the signers saw any immediate shape to Prabhupada's dream, yet these seven purposes were not simply theistic rhetoric invented to convince a few New York State government officials. He literally meant to enact every item in the charter.
Of course, he was now working in extremely limited circumstances. The sole headquarters for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was "the principal place of worship, located at 26 Second Avenue in the city, county, and state of New York." Yet Prabhupada insisted that he was not living at 26 Second Avenue, New York City.
His vision was different.
His Guru Maharaja had gone out from the traditional holy places of spiritual meditation to preach in cities like Calcutta, Bombay, and New Delhi. And yet Prabhupada would say that his spiritual master had not really been living in any of those cities, but was always in Vaikuntha, the spiritual world, because of his absorption in devotional service.
Similarly, the place of worship, 26 Second Avenue, was not a New York storefront, a former curiosity shop. It was a small place, but it had now been spiritualized. The storefront and the apartment were now a transcendental haven.
"Society at large" could come here; the whole world could take shelter here, regardless of race or religion.
Plain, small, and impoverished as it was, Prabhupada regarded the storefront as "a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the Personality of Krsna:" It was a world headquarters, a publishing house. a sacred place of pilgrimage, and a center from which an army of devotees could issue forth and chant the holy names of God in all the streets in the world.
The entire universe could receive Krsna consciousness from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which was beginning here.
If you'd like to read the rest of the story, send us an email. We expect to receive a shipment of Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita this month.
These are notes found in a handwritten diary kept by Srila Prabhupada, outlining of how he intended to present the teachings of Krishna consciousness to the Western world [bracketed material added for clarity]:
1. Krishna consciousness means clear consciousness.
2. Material existence means hazy consciousness.
3. Identifying the body as self is hazy consciousness.
4. One has to understand himself first before making progress in Krishna consciousness.
5. [The] Constitutional position of a living entity is being [the] eternal servant of Krishna, or God.
6. God or Krishna means the Supreme Person and the supreme cause of all causes.
7. Forgetfulness of the eternal relationship to God, or Krishna, is the beginning of hazy consciousness.
8. To revive the original clear consciousness of the living entities, the Vedic literatures are there.
9. The Vedic literatures are as follows:
a. The four Vedas.
b. The Upanishads - numbering at least 108.
c. The Vedanta philosophy.
d. The 18 Puranas.
e. The Ramayana (original Valmiki).
f. The Mahabharata.
g. And any book following the tenets.
10. The Bhagavad-gita is part of the Mahabharata.
11. The original Veda is [the] Atharva-veda, later on divided into four for divisional understanding.
12. Mahabharata is called the fifth Veda and is meant for [the] less intelligent class of men who love history more than philosophy.
13. Bhagavad-gita, being part of [the] Mahabharata is the essence of all Vedic knowledge for [the] less intelligent class of men in this Age.
14. B.G. is called the "Bible of the Hindus," but actually it is the Bible for the human race.
15. In the B.G. the following subject matter has been discussed:
a. What is a living being.
b. He is not the body but spirit soul.
c. The spirit soul is encaged in [a] material body.
d. The body is subjected to birth, death, old age, and diseases.
e. The spirit soul is eternal, never takes birth or dies but he exists even after the annihilation of the material body.
f. The living entity is transmigrating from one body to another.
g. He can however stop this transmigration process and attain [an] eternal, blissful life of knowledge by Krishna consciousness.
16. What is God.
a. God is individual person. He is chief of all other persons of different parts — namely the demigods, the human beings, animals and the birds, insects, trees, and aquatics.
b. All these living entities are sons of God, and therefore they are all servants of God.
Part 5 shows Srila Prabhupada instructing his leaders in money management, challenging social welfare representatives on the meaning of social welfare, and predicting the end of the world.
On the morning of September 17, 1959, in the fifty-by-twenty-five-foot Deity room on the second floor of the Keshavaji Math, a group of devotees sat before the Deities of Radha-Krishna and Lord Chaitanya. The Deities were colorfully dressed in royal clothing and silver crowns. Radharani's right hand faced palm-forward in benediction for the worshiper; at Her side, Her left hand held a flower for Krishna. Krishna stood like a dancer, placing His right leg in a casual tiptoe pose before His left, playing His long silver flute, which He held gracefully to His red lips. His long black hair reached down past His shoulders, and the garland of marigolds around His neck reached down to His knees. On His right stood the Deity of Lord Chaitanya, His right arm raised, left arm at His side, His body straight, feet together. He was a soft golden color, and He had large eyes, a well-formed red mouth, and straight black hair down to His shoulders. One level below the Deities were pictures of the spiritual masters in disciplic succession: Jagannatha dasa Babaji, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhakura, Gaurakishora dasa Babaji, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, Bhakti prajnana Keshava Maharaja.
Abhay sat on a mat of kusha grass beside ninety-year-old Sanatana, also to receive sannyasa that day. Sitting opposite the two candidates, Narayana Maharaja, Keshava Maharaja's disciple, prepared to conduct the ceremony of mantras and offerings of grains and ghee into the fire. Akincana Krishnadasa Babaji, Abhay's Godbrother, known for sweet singing, played mridanga and sang Vaishnava bhajanas. Sitting on a raised asana, His Holiness Keshava Maharaja presided. Since there had been no notices or invitations, only the maṭha's few residents attended.
Narayana Maharaja chanted the required mantras and then sat back silently while Keshava Maharaja lectured. Then, to everyone's surprise, Keshava Maharaja asked Abhay to speak. Abhay had not expected this. As he looked around at the gathering of devotees, he understood that the common language was Hindi; only Keshava Maharaja and a few others spoke English. Yet he knew he must speak in English.
After Abhay's speech, each initiate received his sannyasa-danda, the traditional head-high staff made of four bamboo rods bound together and completely enwrapped in saffron cloth. They were given their sannyasa garments: one piece of saffron cloth for a dhoti, one for a top piece, and two strips for underwear. They also received tulasi neck beads and the sannyasa-mantra. Keshava Maharaja said that Abhay would now be known as Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja and that Sanatana would be Muni Maharaja. After the ceremony, the two new sannyasis posed for a photo, standing on either side of their sannyasa-guru, who sat in a chair.
Keshava Maharaja didn't impose any strictures on Abhay; he simply encouraged him to go on preaching. Yet Abhay knew that to become A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami did not mean merely that he was giving up family, home comforts, and business. That he had done five years ago. Changing from white cloth to saffron cloth, from Abhay Babu to Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja, had a special significance: it was the mandate he had required, the irrevocable commitment. Now it was only a matter of time before Bhaktivedanta Swami would travel to the West as Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had ordained. This was Bhaktivedanta Swami's realization of his new sannyasa status.
The Gaudiya Patrika's account of the sannyasa initiation included a biographical sketch of Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja, listing the major events of his life. The article concluded:
"Seeing his enthusiasm and ability to write articles in Hindi, English, and Bengali, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Maharaja gave him the instruction to take tridandi-sannyasa. For nearly one year he had been ready to accept sannyasa. In the month of Bhadra, on the day on which Vishvarupa accepted sannyasa, Bhaktivedanta Swami at the Shri Keshavaji Gaudiya Math accepted sannyasa from the founder of the Vedanta Samiti, Bhaktiprajnana Keshava Maharaja. Seeing him accept his ashrama of renunciation, seeing this pastime for accepting the renounced order of life, we have attained great affection and enthusiasm."
- from the Prabhupada Lilamrita, by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Read more about Srila Prabhupada's taking sannyasa in the Prabhupada Lilamrita online.
Vyasa-puja is an annual offering of special honor—puja—to the spiritual teacher, who represents Krishna Himself as well as Krishna's incarnation Vyasadeva, the editor of the Vedas. Krishna recommends everyone seeking God to first seek out God's representative and respectfully accept his guidance.
Members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness consider Srila Prabhupada the spiritual guide for everyone within the Society. Each year, we publish a Vyasa-puja book—a collection of homages to Srila Prabhupada—from devotees and temples all over the world.
These books are available for download here.
We like to quote our sources. This page is based on the following:
- Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 18.75, purport:
"Actually there is no difference between hearing directly from Krishna and hearing directly from Krishna via a bona fide spiritual master like Vyasa. The spiritual master is the representative of Vyasadeva also. Therefore, according to the Vedic system, on the birthday of the spiritual master the disciples conduct the ceremony called Vyasa-puja."
- Srimad-Bhagavatam, 8.24.48, purport:
"Even though we may not have the fortune to contact the Supreme Lord personally, the Lord's representative is as good as the Lord Himself because such a representative does not say anything unless it is spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. . . The bona fide guru is he who has accepted Krishna as guru. This is the guru-parampara system. The original guru is Vyasadeva because he is the speaker of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, wherein everything spoken relates to Krishna. Therefore guru-puja is known as Vyasa-puja. In the final analysis, the original guru is Krishna, His disciple is Narada, whose disciple is Vyasa. . One cannot become a guru if he does not know what the Personality of Godhead Krishna or His incarnation wants. The mission of the guru is the mission of the Supreme Personality of Godhead: to spread Krishna consciousness all over the world."
- Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi-lila 17.16, purport:
"Since Vyasadeva is the original guru (spiritual master) of all who follow the Vedic principles, worship of the spiritual master is called Vyasa-puja."
- Science of Self Realization, Chapter 2:
"The transcendental knowledge of the Vedas was first uttered by God to Brahma, the creator of this particular universe. From Brahma the knowledge descended to Narada, from Narada to Vyasadeva, from Vyasadeva to Madhva, and in this process of disciplic succession the transcendental knowledge was transmitted by one disciple to another. . . The knowledge that we receive from our Gurudeva is not different from that imparted by God Himself and the succession of the acharyas in the preceptorial line of Brahma. We adore this auspicious day as Sri Vyasa-puja-tithi, because the Acharya is the living representative of Vyasadeva, the divine compiler of the Vedas, the Puranas, the Bhagavad-gita, the Mahabharata, and the Srimad-Bhagavatam."
from Back To Godhead Magazine, #34-03, 2000
by Nagaraja Dasa
Reading Damodara Dasa’s memoir about Srila Prabhupada makes me wish I’d been there. But my time came later, in 1974. My head bowed to the floor in the San Francisco temple, I looked up briefly and saw, just inches away, Srila Prabhupada’s feet in rust-colored socks gliding by. He had come for the annual Rathayatra festival. The next day, dancing onstage, arms raised high, he inspired ten thousand souls to joyfully sing out the names of Krishna.
Most of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples had little opportunity for personal audience with him. We didn’t expect it. He would say that to be with him didn’t require physical proximity. If we followed his instructions, we would feel his presence.
The Vedas say that the company of great souls opens the door to liberation. Though Srila Prabhupada has left this world, we have unlimited access to him. He’s here in dozens of books and thousands of hours of recorded lectures and conversations, in video images and photographs. From the spiritual perspective, these are identical with Srila Prabhupada himself.
I cherish the priceless moments when I was in Srila Prabhupada’s presence. Still, I understand that getting his blessings is more important than being with him. When asked for his blessings, Srila Prabhupada would say that they were available in the form of his instructions, especially in his books. Whether or not we had Prabhupada’s personal association, if we take his instructions to heart we’ll reap their full benefit: love for Krishna.
Getting the blessings of the spiritual master is sometimes referred to as “receiving the dust of his lotus feet.” The spiritual master’s feet are called “lotus” because just as a lotus sits above the water, the spiritual master, untouched by the material energy, lives in the world but is not part of it.
A disciple once asked Srila Prabhupada what we mean when we say that the spiritual master is not an ordinary man. Srila Prabhupada had just been disparaging atheistic scientists and philosophers, and he replied, “He is not moved by the rascal scientist.” Scriptures and self-realized spiritual teachers of the past, not the ever-changing views of popular leaders, guide the spiritual master.
Bowing to the lotus feet of the spiritual master (figuratively or literally) is a sign of humility, which is essential for spiritual life. Humility is closely tied to faith. With faith and humility we approach a spiritual master whom we accept to be greater than us in spiritual knowledge and realization.
Like many others, I had little problem accepting Srila Prabhupada in that way. He was a spiritual teacher with more to say about God—both in quantity and quality—than anyone I had ever heard. And he so clearly lived an ideal spiritual life. His devotional service to the Lord never stopped. He barely slept, so intent was he on spreading Krishna’s glories.
Ultimately, the spiritual master is above the world because He sits at the lotus feet of Krishna. By following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, we can also get Krishna’s shelter. From the vantage point of Srila Prabhupada’s lotus feet, we can see the spiritual world.