Srila Prabhupada (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami)

Srila Prabhupada’s Blessings

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from Back To Godhead Magazine, #34-03, 2000

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.

The Essence of Compassion

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from Back To Godhead Magazine #30-04, 1996

According to The Nectar of Devotion, “A person who is unable to bear another’s distress is called compassionate.” Whereas generally people are too focused on their own interests to concern themselves with the distress of others, the devotee is focused on Krishna’s interests. Because Krishna desires that the conditioned souls be delivered, the devotee dedicates his life to fulfilling that desire. The devotee, therefore, is naturally compassionate.

Srila Prabhupada expressed his compassion through preaching, which is the essence of compassion. And the driving force of preaching is purity. Preaching exists on the strength of the purity of the hearts and minds of the devotees.

And what is purity? Purity means that the devotee has no desire other than to please Krishna. A pure devotee, therefore, preaches to fulfill the desire of Krishna.

In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.43-44), the great devotee Prahlada Maharaja expresses his spirit of compassion. Addressing Lord Nrisimha, Prahlada prays:

O best of the great personalities, I am not at all afraid of material existence, for wherever I stay I am fully absorbed in thoughts of Your glories and activities. My concern is only for the fools and rascals who are making elaborate plans for material happiness and maintaining their families, societies and countries. I am simply concerned with love for them. …
I see that there are many saintly persons indeed, but they are interested only in their own deliverance. Not caring for the big cities and towns, they go to the Himalayas or the forest to meditate with vows of silence [mauna-vrata]. They are not interested in delivering others.
As for me, however, I do not wish to be liberated alone, leaving aside all these poor fools and rascals. I know that without Krishna consciousness, without taking shelter of Your lotus feet, one cannot be happy. Therefore I wish to bring them back to shelter at Your lotus feet.

Srila Prabhupada honored the mood that Prahlada Maharaja expressed in his prayer: Although devotees are satisfied wherever they are because they always chant the holy name, they still feel a deep concern for the suffering nondevotees. The nondevotees are suffering because they are attached to the illusory world. They think happiness lies in a godless life. Actually, true happiness comes only when we engage in Krishna’s service. A compassionate devotee understands this. Tasting his own spiritual happiness, he desires to share that happiness with others.

Prahlada Maharaja’s prayer reminds us of Srila Prabhupada’s own situation. Before Prabhupada came to America, he was living the life of a saintly person in the holiest place in the universe, Vrindavana, India. He spent his time chanting, praying, translating the Srimad- Bhagavatam, speaking about Krishna, and associating with other devotees. Materialists are rarely interested in Vrindavana—it is a poor town—so the devotees are free to spend their time peacefully bathing in the Yamuna and Radha-kunda, worshiping the many Deities of Krishna, walking around Govardhana Hill, and relishing the special atmosphere of intimacy with Radha and Krishna.

Out of compassion, however, Srila Prabhupada left his peaceful life and came to America. Certainly he was acting on his spiritual master’s expression of compassion, which was a reflection of Lord Chaitanya’s desire that the holy name be spread to every town and village in the world. Still, it was Srila Prabhupada’s own great compassion that made him so wonderfully successful.

On his arrival at Commonwealth Pier in Boston on September 17, 1965, Prabhupada wrote a prayer to Krishna.

My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me.
But I guess You have some business here, otherwise why would You bring me to this terrible place?
Most of the population here is covered by the material modes of ignorance and passion. Absorbed in material life, they think themselves very happy and satisfied, and therefore they have no taste for the transcendental message of Vasudeva [Krishna]. I do not know how they will be able to understand it.
But I know your causeless mercy can make everything possible, because You are the most expert mystic.
How will they understand the mellows of devotional service? O Lord, I am simply praying for Your mercy so that I will be able to convince them about Your message.
All living entities have come under the control of the illusory energy by Your will. Therefore, if You like, by Your will they can also be released from the clutches of illusion.
I wish that You may deliver them. …

Lord Chaitanya’s benediction on us in this age is that we can awaken our dormant love of God simply by chanting the holy name of Krishna. Other forms of spiritual practice require much gradual and painstaking purification, which people in this age don’t have time for. People today are short- lived, unfortunate, and always distracted and disturbed. Srila Prabhupada at once saw this on his arrival in the West.

Still, Prabhupada was determined and compassionate. He had met many obstacles—Indian bureaucracy, two heart attacks at sea, no money, no friends—but he had remained dependent on guru and Krishna. He wrote in his poem:

“Therefore, if You desire their deliverance, then only will they be able to understand Your message. …

“O Lord, I am just 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.”

Srila Prabhupada visits Advaita Acharya's house

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In 1980, the head priest from Sri Advaita Acharya's house in Shantipura, West Bengal came to ISKCON's Chaitanya Chandrodaya Mandir in in Mayapur, carrying with him a copy of the Back to Godhead article about Srila Prabhupada, entitled "A Lifetime in Preparation." The following is what he's reported to have said:

"Just recently an amazing realization occurred to me that I wanted to share with devotees everywhere.

"I have been the pujari and sevaite (priest and caretaker) at the house of Advaita Acharya for many years. I was also there back in the 1940's and 50's. At that time, I noticed that one grihasta (married gentleman) Bengali devotee used to come to the temple quite regularly. He was dressed in a white khadi dhoti and kurta and he always came alone. He would sit in the back of the mandir (temple) without speaking, and would chant harinama (holy Names of God) on his mala (beads) very quietly and deeply. I noticed that he came on the weekends, usually once every month or two in regular way.

"After chanting there for many hours, he would always thank me when he left. His presence was profound and I became attracted to him. Since his devotions were solitary, I never spoke to disturb him. Sometimes I happened to notice that while he was chanting, his eyes would be full of tears and his voice would be choked up."

"Then, for a very long time he did not come. However, I distinctly recall that in August of 1965, I saw a saffron-clothed sannyasi (renounced, traveling preacher) sitting in the back of the mandir. In a moment I recognized him to be my old friend from before. Again he sat for a long time chanting Hare Krishna. I could see his beads moving, his eyes closed in concentrated devotion. He was weeping unabashedly even more than he used to while he took the Holy Name. Finally, as evening came, he paid his dandavat
pranama
(fully prostrated respects – "danda-vat" means "like a stick") for long time. When he arose he came up to me and again thanked me for my seva here at Advaita Bhavan. I asked him: 'Who are you? I remember you from so long ago.'"

"He replied, 'My name is Abaya Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja. I am an unworthy disciple of His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada, my divine master.

"'I have been coming here for such a long time because my Gurudeva has given me an impossible mission. His desire was for me to go across the ocean to the Western countries and spread the sublime teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. There are countless souls there who have never heard of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna and so they are suffering greatly. I have not known how this mission of his will be successful, so I have been coming here to this special house of Advaita Acharya, where he, Nityananda Prabhu, and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would gather together to plan the sankirtana (congregational chanting of Krishna's Names) movement. It was here that they launched the inundation of love of God that swept India and continues to this day. Thus, I have been praying very earnestly here that they will all give me their mercy that somehow they will empower me and guide me. I want to satisfy my gurudeva's desire, but I am feeling unqualified to do this.'"

"As he was speaking to me, I saw tears falling down on his cheeks again. Then he continued, 'Tomorrow I am leaving for Calcutta to go upon a ship across the ocean to America. I do not know what will befall me there, but I am praying most earnestly here for help.' Then he very humbly asked me for my blessings. I was indeed moved by this
Vaishnava's sincerity and determination as I watched him depart upon his journey."

"It was a few years later that I began noticing, for the first time, white Vaishnavas coming to Advaita Bhavan. They were wearing dhotis and saris and chanting on tulasi-mala. I never spoke to any of them but then one of them gave me this Back to Godhead magazine from America. As I looked at the photographs, suddenly I recognized a painting of the Founder-Acharya who had brought Krishna consciousness to the West. It was a picture of my friend, Bhaktivedanta Swami, who had come and prayed here so many times before. Then I realized that he has actually accomplished that impossible mission of his gurudeva. I saw that it was indeed he, starting alone and without pretense, who had accomplished this glorious miracle against all odds."

"As soon as I saw this, I came here to his temple in Mayapur to tell you this information. I know that he has gone from this world now, but I thought perhaps you might want to know this story about your and my beloved Srila Prabhupada."

- An excerpt from the book, Srila Prabhupada, a Friend to All, by Mulaprakriti devi dasi

Photo of Advaita Acharya's temple in Mayapur courtesy of Mayapur.com