A Biography of His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Who is Srila Prabhupada?
When His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1969 was asked by an English reporter as what he had brought, he responded: "I have brought what you have forgotten". And indeed, this is the role of a bona fide spiritual master. A guru comes to simply reawaken our dormant Krsna(God) consciousness. In other words, he is not imposing an artificial dogma on the mind, but quite the opposite, through his instructions one is able to discover one's natural, original consciousness. His Divine Grace or more commonly Srila Prabhupada is performing this task most brilliantly at this very moment by instructing on the science of bhakti-yoga(devotion) to millions of Hare Krsna devotees all over the world through his mp3's, DVD's and mostly through his highly esteemed transcendental books. He is thus fulfilling the purport of a poem written by a great Vaishnava acarya(teacher) who says : "He reasons ill who says that Vaishnavas die,When thou art living still in sound! The Vaishnavas die to live, and living try To spread the holy name around.".
But Srila Prabhupada's teaching is not appreciated exclusively by a limited circle of disciples or followers. Numerous scholars, professors, linguists and scientists from various fields have admired him for his expertly grasp on the ancient Vedic knowledge and proclaimed him to be the true ambassador of the original culture of India. The message of Krsna consciousness reaches beyond limited sphere of one's nationality, race, sex, religious denomination or other sectarian considerations and therefore it is not surprising that one can find Srila Prabhupada's scholarly translations practically in every university and college on the planet. In fact, in many of these institutions, teachers use them as standard textbooks. The following is just a small sample of reviews prominent scholars wrote on Srila Prabhupada's perhaps the most popular Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Professor of Religious Sciences from the Institute of Political Studies in Paris Francois Chenique writes: "Whether the reader be an adept of Indian spiritualism or not, a reading of the Bhagavad-gita 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."
Dr. Paul Lesourd, Author Professeur Honoraire from Catholic University of Paris says: "I can say that in the Bhagavad-gita 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-gita As It Is were more widespread and more respected, the world in which we live would be transformed into a better, more fraternal place." And Dr. Garry Gelade,Professor of Psychology from Oxford University notes: "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."
The message Srila Prabhupada is presenting is simple. We are not this body, but are of transcendental nature, which is in direct relationship with the Supreme Absolute Whole (Krsna). On account of our false desire to lord it over the material nature, we have become implicated in her complexities. Unless we understand this relationship with Krsna in truth, all our attempts to establish universal brotherhood and world unity will remain unfulfilled.
What is significant is that Srila Prabhupada’s voluminous literary contribution at the same time exemplifies the Vedic tradition of transmitting the transcendental sound. The Vedas(the most ancient scripture in the world) are also called sruti, because they are understood by hearing. A famous politican Canakya Pandit says that a fool remains unnoticed until he speaks. It is therefore the knowledge the spiritual master is speaking, not his appearance which is of importance. Krsna devotees all around the world are experiencing Srila Prabhupada’s direct guidance on daily basis through his literatures, which are nothing but a recorded transcendental sound and the effect of this spiritual potency manifests in their ability to easily refrain from unnecessary materialistic habits such as meat eating, illicit sex, gambling and intoxication even without meeting Srila Prabhupada personally. As Srila Prabhupada confirms in one of his purports: "The potency of transcendental sound is never minimized because the vibrator is apparently absent. "
A pure devotee from birth His Divine Grace is the true acarya, or in other words, a teacher who teaches by example. Just like a lotus although growing in a muddy water remains untouched, similarly Srila Prabhupada uses modern facilities such as dictaphones, airplanes, computers, television, etc. to broadcast the message of Krsna consciousness and yet remains completely unaffected. His exemplary behavior in dealing with material world, which he has manifested in his life serves as an impetus to many aspiring spiritualists.
The divine appearance of Srila Prabhupada has been prophesized several times, especially in the Vedas, which represent the most complex and voluminous scripture on the subject matter of God in history. Although the Vedas(translation: “knowledge”) have no beginning, they were written down by Srila Vyasadeva 5000 years ago and contain complete knowledge for man ranging from spirituality, art, politics, economic, astronomy, astrology up to military art and medicine. The essence or the cream of the Vedas is the beautiful Srimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana. This is the last contribution of Srila Vyasadeva to the world. In the First volume of this great literature we find the following prediction made:
This Bhāgavata Purāna 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.” Sb. 1.3.43
The Vedas divide the time into four yugas(ages) and what we are going through right now is described as the age of Kali(age of quarrel and hypocrisy). The verse says that the knowledge contained in the Bhagavatam will bring solutions to the world wide crisis and it is only due to Srila Prabhupada the Srimad Bhagavatam is not accessible on a massive scale. In fact, his Delhi-printed translation along with bag of cereals and a few coins was the only possession he took with him on the journey to the western countries.
More recently, in the 16th century Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is the last appearance of Lord Krsna in this world predicted that the name of Krsna will be heard in every town and every village throughout the world.
“In every town and village, the chanting of My name will be heard.”
Caitanya-bhägavata (Antya 4.126)
Another great acarya, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura in the 19th century predicts in a journal Vaisnava Tosani that soon the Hare Krsna movement will be propagated all around the world and people from England, France, Russia, Germany and America will assemble together and chant in the streets of their towns. Again, it was Srila Prabhupada who sent groups of his disciples to chant Hare Krsna mantra to all corners of the planet - a task unparalled in the history of Vedic tradition. These and numerous other references might give us a little hint as to the significance of Srila Prabhupada's appearance.
His Divine Grace was born Abhay Charan 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, Abhay Charan De took up the duties of manager of a large chemical concern. Then in 1922, he met His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhānta Sarasvati Gosvāmi Mahārāj, the founder of 64 Gaudiya Vaisnava Maths in India; Berlin and London. Bhakti Siddhānta Sarasvati belongs to the ancient disciplic succession(parampara) of spiritual masters through which the science of bhakti-yoga is passed down since Krsna reintroduced it to his friend Arjuna as the Bhagavad-gita on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra 5000 years ago. In other words the originator of the line is Sri Krsna(God) Himself, who says in the 4th chapter:
This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost. That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.
The succession from Arjuna is still current and in short we can say that His Divine Grace belongs to the Brahma-Madhva, Gaudiya-Vaisnava sampradaya:
20) Mädhavendra Puré,
21) Éçvara Puré, (Nityänanda, Advaita),
22) Lord Caitanya,
23) Rüpa (Svarüpa, Sanätana),
24) Raghunätha, Jéva,
28) (Baladeva) Jagannätha,
31) Bhaktisiddhänta Sarasvaté,
32) His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupäda.
The succession protects the message from being adulterated and consists of fully-realized, liberated pure devotees of Krsna, who act as a transparent via media through which the teachings are broadcasted to the people of the world as they are without change. 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 Charan De was formally initiated, and in 1936, just days before Bhakti Siddhānta Sarasvati's departure from this mortal world, he was specifically ordered to spread Krsna Consciousness in the English language to the West. Bhakti Siddhānta Sarasvati also instructed his disciples in his Gaudiya Matha institution to form a governing body commission to conduct the preaching in his absence and wait until the next self-effulgent spiritual master emerges. Unfortunately, the order was not followed and the institution broke into factions. Srila Prabhupada writes about these events in his purports to Caitanya-Caritarmrta
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. Despite the spiritual master's order to form a governing body and execute the missionary activities of the Gauḍīya Maṭha, the two unauthorized factions began litigation that is still going on after forty years with no decision.
C.C. Ādi 12.8
Remaining aloof from the politcs of the Matha, in 1944 Srila Prabhupada started a periodical "Back to Godhead" in English language and at the end of the 50's published Easy Journey to Other Planets -a small booklet challenging the so-called moon landing expedition dream on the basis of the astronomical information from the ancient Vedic texts. In 1959 he took sannyasa (a renounced order of life) and started working on his life's masterpiece- the translation of the 60- volume Srimad Bhagavatam. He resided in Radha Damodara temple in Vrndavana (a birth place of Krsna), where he found spiritual inspiration surrounded by the samadhis(sacred tombs) of Srila Rupa and Srila Sanatana Goswamis- direct disciples of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Then at the age of 70 in 1965, His Divine Grace arrived to USA. He had only a few rupees(Indian currency), a bag of cereals, his Bhagavatam volumes and a great aspiration to fulfill the order of His Guru Maharaja Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati to spread the message of Krsna as it is in the West. Upon arriving, fully depending on Krsna, 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 so-called struggled for one year in New York, the greatest city in the world, without any external success until he decided to simply chant the maha-mantra : Hare Krsna Hare Krsna krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare under a tree in Tompkins Square Park. He attracted attention of the younger generation, who resonated with the message of Krsna and who joined him ecstatically. A world wide Hare Krsna movement 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 "angels" chanting Hare Krsna on the streets and distributing prasadam(sanctified food offered to Krsna) and transcendental Vedic literature, which has been locked up for centuries from the Western people. This marks the only time in history that a Krsna devotee was successfully training non-Indians in the strict disciplines of Vaisnavism. In 1970 George Harrison of the Beatles applauded the movement by his song "My Sweet Lord" where he used the Hare Krsna chant. He also financed the printing of Srila Prabhupada's "Krsna-The Supreme Personality of Godhead" book and wrote a foreword, in which he encouraged his fans to take up the chanting process. Hare Krsna mantra became a household world and in 1976 Hare Krsna was recognized by the American government as a bona fide religion. According to the ancient Caitanya Caritamrta this is not a feat of an ordinary man:
kṛṣṇa-śakti vinā nahe tāra pravartana
"The fundamental religious system in the age of Kali is the chanting of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa. Unless empowered by Kṛṣṇa, one cannot propagate the saṅkīrtana movement."
C.C. Antya 7.11
Srila Prabhupada within a short span of 12 years accomplished:
- to write approximately seventy books on the science of Krsna consciousness. The Encyclopaedia Britannica proclaimed that his voluminous translations from the original Sanskrit and his lucid commentaries “have astounded literary and academic communities worldwide.” (By 1976, over 55,000,000 literatures had been published in twenty-five languages and distributed in almost every country, making the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust the world’s largest publisher of Indian religious and philosophical texts. One printing alone of Bhagavad-gita As It Is required seventy-six train cars to ship the paper needed to print it.)
- to initiate over 5000 disciples
- to establish 108 Krsna temples on six continents, install the deity of Krsna in each center and train his disciples in the process of deity worship.
-to inaugurate the Rathayatra Festival of Lord Jaganatha in major cities around the globe, in effect, bringing the temple to the people.
-instructed his disciples in 1967 to start an incense business to provide financial support for the temples. Within four years the business, Spiritual Sky Incense, generated an annual revenue of one million dollars (equivalent to $4,600,000 in 2004).
-introduced the “Sunday Love Feast” and other prasadam (sanctified food) distribution programs that provided millions of free meals to the public
-created the world’s first chain of vegetarian restaurants.
-built major temples in Bombay and Vrndavana, and founded a spiritual city at Mayapur. All became international sites of pilgrimage.
-established primary schools to provide education in the principles of devotional service.
-founded the Bhaktivedanta Institute to advance Krsna consciousness within the scientific community, engaging serious academics in the consideration of the science of self-realization.
-set up farm communities to teach “simple living and high thinking”, emphasizing cow protection and dependence on God and nature.
Srila Prabhupada initiated most of his disciples not physically, but through deputies, who would perform the initiation ceremony on his behalf. On the July 9th 1977 in a letter to the whole movement, Srila Prabhupada formalized the system as the initiation procedure for the future even after his physical departure. "I shall live forever from my books, and you shall utilize" -he said and ordered all his disciples to assist him by giving relevant instructions to the people of the world as they have heard from their spiritual master. The world is therefore yet to see the potency of Srila Prabhupada's transcendental books.