Lord Caitanya foretold the coming of an empowered devotee who would take the sankirtana process everywhere: "I want to flood the whole world with the chanting of the holy names. I will personally preach and flood India with harinama sankirtana, chanting of the holy names. And My senapati bhakta (great devotee commander) will come, preach in different countries and flood the world with the chanting of Hare Krishna." This means that, though Sri Caitanya came to establish and spread the process of congregational chanting of Krishna's names in India, there would be one great devotee who would appear and spread it throughout the world.
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This great empowered devotee came to us in the person of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, or more affectionately known by his many loving disciples as Srila Prabhupada. A description of a mahatma or a great soul is given in the Bhagavad-gita by Sri Krishna Himself;
"Those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature, They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible." (Bg 9.13)
"Always chanting My glories, endevoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion." (Bg 9.14)
In this verse the description of mahatma is clearly given. The first sign of the mahatma is that he is already situated in the divine nature. He is not under the controll of material nature. And how is this effected? That is explained in the Seventh Chapter of Bhagavada-gita: one who surrenders unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, at once becomes freed from the control of material nature. That is the qualification.
The mahatma cannot be manufactured by rubber-stamping an ordinary man. His symptoms are described here: a mahatma is always engaged in chanting the glories of the Supreme Lord Krishna, the Personality of Godhead. He has no other business. He is always engaged in the glorification of the Lord.
A Brief Biography
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
(Reprinted from the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust)
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada appeared in this world in 1896 in Calcutta, India. He first met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, in Calcutta in 1922. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, a prominent religious scholar and the founder of sixty-four Gaudiya Mathas (Vedic institutes) in India, liked this educated young man and convinced him to dedicate his life to teaching Vedic knowledge. Srila Prabhupada became his student and, in 1933, his formally initiated disciple.
At their first meeting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati requested Srila Prabhupada to broadcast Vedic knowledge in English. In the years that followed, Srila Prabhupada wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita, assisted the Gaudiya Matha in its work, and, in 1944, started Back to Godhead, an English fortnightly magazine. Single-handedly, Srila Prabhupada edited it, typed the manuscripts, checked the galley proofs, and even distributed the individual copies. The magazine is now being continued by his disciples in the West.
In 1950 Srila Prabhupada retired from married life, adopting the vanaprasta (retired) order to devote more time to his studies and writing. He traveled to the holy city of Vrndavana, where he lived in humble circumstances in the historic temple of Radha-Damodara. There he engaged for several years in deep study and writing. He accepted the renounced order of life (sannyasa) in 1959. At Radha-Damodara, Srila Prabhupada began work on his life's masterpiece: a multivolume commentated translation of the eighteen thousand verse Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana). He also wrote Easy Journey to Other Planets.
After publishing three volumes of the Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada came to the United States, in September 1965, to fulfill the mission of his spiritual master. Subsequently, His Divine Grace wrote more than fifty volumes of authoritative commentated translations and summary studies of the philosophical and religious classics of India.
When he first arrived by freighter in New York City, Srila Prabhupada was practically penniless. Only after almost a year of great difficulty did he establish the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, in July of 1966. Before he passed away on November 14, 1977, he had guided the Society and seen it grow to a worldwide confederation of more than one hundred asramas, schools, temples, institutes, and farm communities.
In 1972 His Divine Grace introduced the Vedic system of primary and secondary education in the West by founding the gurukula school in Dallas, Texas. Since then his disciples have established similar schools throughout the United States and the rest of the world.
Srila Prabhupada also inspired the construction of several large international cultural centers in India. The center at Sridhama Mayapur is the site for a planned spiritual city, an ambitious project for which construction will extend over many years to come. In Vrndavana are the magnificent Krsna-Balarama Temple and International Guesthouse, gurukula school, and Srila Prabhupada Memorial and Museum. There is also a major cultural and educational center in Bombay. Major centers are planned in Delhi and in a dozen other important locations on the Indian subcontinent.
Srila Prabhupada's most significant contribution, however, is his books. Highly respected by scholars for their authority, depth, and clarity, they are used as textbooks in numerous college courses. His writings have been translated into over fifty languages. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, established in 1972 to publish the works of His Divine Grace, has thus become the world's largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy.
In just twelve years, despite his advanced age, Srila Prabhupada circled the globe fourteen times on lecture tours that took him to six continents. Yet this vigorous schedule did not slow his prolific literary output. His writings constitute a veritable library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature, and culture.
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"I have Instructed everything in my books"
Srila Prabhupada wrote and published over 80 volumes of spiritual literature which he considered to be his most important contribution. Despite the heavy demands of establishing and managing a worldwide movement, Srila Prabhupada never failed to rise early in the morning to perform his beloved writing work. He applied great devotion and care in translating the ancient Vedic literatures into English from the original Sanskrit and Bengali languages. He would then dictate his famous "Bhaktivedanta Purports," further explaining the meaning of each verse and its relevance to the modern age. His books are highly acclaimed by scholars and students alike. They have been translated into more than 60 languages and have been sold in the hundreds of millions.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Srimad-Bhagavatam, cantos 1-10, (29 vols.)
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (17 vols.)
Easy Journey to Other Planets
Krsna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga System
Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers
Dialectical Spiritualism -- A Vedic View of Western Philosophy
Teachings of Lord Kapila, the Son of Devahuti
Transcendental Teachings of Prahlad Maharaja
Teachings of Queen Kunti
Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure
The Path of Perfection
Life Comes From Life
On the Way to Krsna
Elevation to Krsna Consciousness
Krsna Consciousness: The Matchless Gift
Back to Godhead magazine (founder)
(A complete catalog is available from the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust)
The Science of Self Realization
Foreword By Mukunda Das
From the very start, I knew that His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda was the most extraordinary person I had ever met. The first meeting occurred in the summer of 1966, in New York City. A friend had invited me to hear a lecture by “an old Indian svāmī” on lower Manhattan’s Bowery. Overwhelmed with curiosity about a svāmī lecturing on skid row, I went there and felt my way up a pitch-black staircase. A bell-like, rhythmic sound got louder and clearer as I climbed higher. Finally I reached the fourth floor and opened the door, and there he was.
About fifty feet away from where I stood, at the other end of a long, dark room, he sat on a small dais, his face and saffron robes radiant under a small light. He was elderly, perhaps sixty or so, I thought, and he sat cross-legged in an erect, stately posture. His head was shaven, and his powerful face and reddish horn-rimmed glasses gave him the look of a monk who had spent most of his life absorbed in study. His eyes were closed, and he softly chanted a simple Sanskrit prayer while playing a hand drum. The small audience joined in at intervals, in call-and-response fashion. A few played hand cymbals, which accounted for the bell-like sounds I’d heard. Fascinated, I sat down quietly at the back, tried to participate in the chanting, and waited.
After a few moments the svāmī began lecturing in English, apparently from a huge Sanskrit volume that lay open before him. Occasionally he would quote from the book, but more often from memory. The sound of the language was beautiful, and he followed each passage with meticulously detailed explanations.
He sounded like a scholar, his vocabulary intricately laced with philosophical terms and phrases. Elegant hand gestures and animated facial expressions added considerable impact to his delivery. The subject matter was the most weighty I had ever encountered: “I am not this body. I am not an Indian.... You are not Americans.... We are all spirit souls....”
But I could not understand why a gentleman of such distinction was residing and lecturing in the Bowery, of all places. He was certainly well educated and, by all appearances, born of an aristocratic Indian family. Why was he living in such poverty? What in the world had brought him here? one afternoon several days later, I stopped in to visit him and find out.
To my surprise, Śrīla Prabhupāda (as I later came to call him) was not too busy to talk with me. In fact, it seemed that he was prepared to talk all day. He was warm and friendly and explained that he had accepted the renounced order of life in India in 1959, and that he was not allowed to carry or earn money for his personal needs. He had completed his studies at the University of Calcutta many years ago and had raised a family, and then he had left his eldest sons in charge of family and business affairs, as the age-old vedic culture prescribes. After accepting the renounced order, he had arranged a free passage on an Indian freighter (Scindia Steamship Company’s Jaladuta) through mutual friends. In September 1965, he had sailed from Bombay to Boston, armed with only seven dollars’ worth of rupees, a trunk of books, and a few clothes. His spiritual master, His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, had entrusted him with delivering India’s vedic teachings to the English-speaking world. And this was why, at age sixty-nine, he had come to America. He told me he wanted to teach Americans about Indian music, cooking, languages, and various other arts. I was mildly amazed.
I saw that Śrīla Prabhupāda slept on a small mattress and that his clothes hung on lines at the back of the room, where they were drying in the summer afternoon heat. He washed them himself and cooked his own food on an ingenious utensil he had fashioned with his own hands in India. In this four-layer apparatus he cooked four preparations at once. Stacked all around him and his ancient-looking portable typewriter in another section of the room were seemingly endless manuscripts. He spent almost all of his waking hours—about twenty in twenty-four, I learned—typing the sequels to the three volumes I had purchased. It was a projected sixty-volume set called the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and virtually it was the encyclopedia of spiritual life. I wished him luck with the publishing, and he invited me back for Sanskrit classes on Saturdays and for his evening lectures on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I accepted, thanked him, and left, marveling at his incredible determination.
A few weeks later—it was July 1966—I had the privilege of helping Śrīla Prabhupāda relocate in a somewhat more respectable neighborhood, on Second Avenue. Some friends and I pitched in and rented a ground-floor storefront and a second-floor apartment, to the rear of a little courtyard, in the same building. The lectures and chanting continued, and within two weeks a rapidly growing congregation was providing for the storefront (by this time a temple) and the apartment. By now Śrīla Prabhupāda was instructing his followers to print and distribute leaflets, and the owner of a record company had invited him to record an LP of the Hare Kṛṣṇa chant. He did, and it was a huge success. In his new location he was teaching chanting, vedic philosophy, music, japa meditation, fine art, and cooking. At first he cooked—he always taught by example. The results were the most wonderful vegetarian meals I had ever experienced. (Śrīla Prabhupāda would even serve everything out himself!) The meals usually consisted of a rice preparation, a vegetable dish, capātīs (tortilla-like whole-wheat patties), and dāl (a zestfully spiced mung bean or split pea soup). The spicing, the cooking medium—ghee, or clarified butter—and the close attention paid to the cooking temperature and other details all combined to produce taste treats totally unknown to me. Others’ opinions of the food, called prasādam (“the Lord’s mercy”), agreed emphatically with mine. A Peace Corps worker who was also a Chinese-language scholar was learning from Śrīla Prabhupāda how to paint in the classical Indian style. I was startled at the high quality of his first canvases.
In philosophical debate and logic Śrīla Prabhupāda was undefeatable and indefatigable. He would interrupt his translating work for discussions that would last up to eight hours. Sometimes seven or eight people jammed into the small, immaculately clean room where he worked, ate, and slept on a two-inch-thick foam cushion. Śrīla Prabhupāda constantly emphasized and exemplified what he called “plain living and high thinking.” He stressed that spiritual life was a science provable through reason and logic, not a matter of mere sentiment or blind faith. He began a monthly magazine, and in the autumn of 1966 The New York Times published a favorable picture story about him and his followers. Shortly thereafter, television crews came out and did a feature news story.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was an exciting person to know. Whether it was out of my desire for the personal benefits of yoga and chanting or just out of raw fascination, I knew I wanted to follow his progress every step of the way. His plans for expansion were daring and unpredictable—except for the fact that they always seemed to succeed gloriously. He was seventyish and a stranger to America, and he had arrived with practically nothing, yet now, within a few months, he had single-handedly started a movement! It was mind-boggling.
One August morning at the Second Avenue storefront temple, Śrīla Prabhupāda told us, “Today is Lord Kṛṣṇa’s appearance day.” We would observe a twenty-four-hour fast and stay inside the temple. That evening some visitors from India happened along. One of them—practically in tears—described his unbounded rapture at finding this little piece of authentic India on the other side of the world. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined such a thing. He offered Śrīla Prabhupāda eloquent praise and deep thanks, left a donation, and bowed at his feet. Everyone was deeply moved. Later, Śrīla Prabhupāda conversed with the gentleman in Hindi, and since what he was saying was unintelligible to me, I was able to observe how his every expression and gesture communicated to the very core of the human soul.
Later that year, while in San Francisco, I sent Śrīla Prabhupāda his first airline ticket, and he flew out from New York. A sizable group of us greeted him at the terminal by chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. Then we drove him to the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park, to a newly rented apartment and storefront temple—an arrangement very similar to that in New York. We had established a pattern. Śrīla Prabhupāda was ecstatic.
A few weeks later the first mṛdaṅga (a long clay drum with a playing head on each end) arrived in San Francisco from India. When I went up to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s apartment and informed him, his eyes opened wide, and in an excited voice he told me to go down quickly and open the crate. I took the elevator, got out on the ground floor, and was walking toward the front door when Śrīla Prabhupāda appeared. So eager was he to see the mṛdaṅga that he had taken the stairway and had beaten the elevator. He asked us to open the crate, he tore off a piece of the saffron cloth he was wearing, and, leaving only the playing heads exposed, he wrapped the drum with the cloth. Then he said, “This must never come off,” and he began giving detailed instructions on how to play and care for the instrument.
Also in San Francisco, in 1967, Śrīla Prabhupāda inaugurated Ratha-yātrā, the Festival of the Chariots, one of several festivals that, thanks to him, people all over the world now observe. Ratha-yātrā has taken place in India’s Jagannātha Purī each year for two thousand years, and by 1975 the festival had become so popular with San Franciscans that the mayor issued a formal proclamation—“Ratha-yātrā Day in San Francisco.”
By late 1966 Śrīla Prabhupāda had begun accepting disciples. He was quick to point out to everyone that they should think of him not as God but as God’s servant, and he criticized self-styled gurus who let their disciples worship them as God. “These ‘gods’ are very cheap,” he used to say. one day, after someone had asked, “Are you God?” Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, “No, I am not God—I am a servant of God.” Then he reflected a moment and went on. “Actually, I am not a servant of God. I am trying to be a servant of God. A servant of God is no ordinary thing.”
In the mid-seventies Śrīla Prabhupāda’s translating and publishing intensified dramatically. Scholars all over the world showered favorable reviews on his books, and practically all the universities and colleges in America accepted them as standard texts. Altogether he produced some eighty books, which his disciples have translated into twenty-five languages and distributed to the tune of fifty-five million copies. He established one hundred eight temples worldwide, and he has some ten thousand initiated disciples and a congregational following in the millions. Śrīla Prabhupāda was writing and translating up to the last days of his eighty-one-year stay on earth.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was not just another oriental scholar, guru, mystic, yoga teacher, or meditation instructor. He was the embodiment of a whole culture, and he implanted that culture in the West. To me and many others he was first and foremost someone who truly cared, who completely sacrificed his own comfort to work for the good of others. He had no private life, but lived only for others. He taught spiritual science, philosophy, common sense, the arts, languages, the vedic way of life—hygiene, nutrition, medicine, etiquette, family living, farming, social organization, schooling, economics—and many more things to many people. To me he was a master, a father, and my dearmost friend.
I am deeply indebted to Śrīla Prabhupāda, and it is a debt I shall never be able to repay. But I can at least show some gratitude by joining with his other followers in fulfilling his innermost desire—publishing and distributing his books.
“I shall never die,” Śrīla Prabhupāda once said. “I shall live forever in my books.” He passed away from this world on November 14, 1977, but surely he will live forever.
Michael Grant (Mukunda dāsa)
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