Prabhupada and Prophecy

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History shows that there are basically four types of people who claim to “see” the future, not including those who are simply absurd: scientists who make suppositions based on hard facts; economists, historians, and sociologists who make predictions based on historical trends; artists, astrologers, and other deeply empathetic people who feel it in their bones or read it in the stars; and religious persons who claim connection to a divine source. All these categories of people have had successes and failures. Some were completely accurate, and some were eventually embarrassed by their claims.

Because of such mixed results, images naturally abound of laughably deluded enthusiasts or, far worse, scary extremists, and there have been plenty of both. But barring the plethora of disappointments, from the millennium bug mania (Y2K) to the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012, from the Bible to Nostradamus – some happened, and some didn’t, and so it goes.

But there are those that did come true. And among them – a fact that might be surprising for many – are the predictions involving His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Such transcendental forecasts, at least those that are verifiable, go back some five hundred years to Sri Vrindavana Dasa Thakura’s Chaitanya-bhagavata, one of the first biographies of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna Himself in the form of His own devotee.

Worldwide Krishna Consciousness

Most devotees are aware of the prediction that is the basis of the Krishna consciousness movement, words that emanated from the divine mouth of Sri Chaitanya Himself:

prithivi-paryanta yata ache desha-grama
sarvatra sancara haibeka mora nama

“In every town and village of the world, the chanting of My name will be heard.” (Chaitanya-bhagavata, Antya 4.126)

“Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,” Prabhupada writes, “predicted that both His glorious names and the Hare Krishna maha-mantra would be broadcast in all the towns and villages of the world. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada desired to fulfill this great prediction, and we are following in their footsteps.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 4.22.42, Purport) Or further, “Prithivite ache yata nagaradi grama.1 Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s prediction: ‘As many towns and villages are there on the surface of the globe, everywhere this Hare Krishna mantra, or Lord Chaitanya’s name, will be celebrated.’ That is being done.” (Lecture, Hyderabad, November 23, 1972)

Indeed, both Prabhupada and his Godbrothers recognized that it was he who had fulfilled the prediction: “Sripada Sridhara Maharaja also appreciated my service. He said that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s prediction: prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama/ sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama, would remain a dream only, but he congratulated me that I have done it practically.” (Letter to Bon Maharaja, July 7, 1975)2

The context of Sri Chaitanya’s original prophecy is illuminating. We find the complete narrative in the Chaitanya-bhagavata, where in Antya-khanda Mahaprabhu is making His way toward the north Indian town of Mathura. Stopping at Ramakeli in West Bengal, He and His devotees engage in ecstatic singing and dancing (sankirtana) on the streets for all to see. The public display attracts the negative attention of Ala-ud-din Husain Shah (reign 1493–1519), who at the time was sultan of Bengal. The result is that he places a regional ban on sankirtana.

This is naturally concerning to Mahaprabhu’s followers, and so He assures them that a day will come when even the “stone-hearted” will engage in sankirtana and shed tears of love upon hearing the holy name. It is in this context that He says, prithivite-paryanta yata ache desha grama / sarvatra sancara haibeka mora nama” – i.e., “My name [or the names of Krishna] will spread to all the towns and villages of the entire world (prithivite-paryanta).” The narrative ends with Sri Chaitanya continuing on toward His destination, even if He did not at this time reach Mathura, returning to Puri instead.

But the point is this: prithivite indicates that His prediction will take place “throughout the surface of the earth,” not just in India, and if there is any doubt that He is referring to the earth as a whole, paryanta amplifies His meaning: “to the full extent.” And further, sarvatra means “everywhere; in all places; on all sides; always . . .” In other words, His name will reach the entire planet. It should be clear, then, that His prediction was this: “The holy name will extend beyond the borders of India, to the rest of the world.” And this was accomplished only with Prabhupada’s journey westward some five hundred years later.

Again, context is important. Just six verses earlier, Mahaprabhu highlights the same point: “I have incarnated to inaugurate the sankirtana movement, and in this way I will deliver all the fallen souls of this world.” (sankirtana-arambhe mohara avatara/ uddhara karimu sarva patita samsara) And two verses after that He says, “In this age I will distribute devotional service, which is desired by the demigods, sages, and perfected beings, to everyone, including untouchables, miscreants, yavanas . . .” (yateka asprishta dushta yavana candala stri-shudra-adi yata adhama rakhala hena bhakti-yoga dimu e-yuge sabare sura muni siddha ye nimitta kamya kare) A yavana is a “foreigner.”

In fact, the Chaitanya-bhagavata gives us several such predictive quotes. Two other examples should suffice. Advaita Acharya says to a group of devotees: “The chanting of Krishna’s names will be spread to all countries, towns, and houses.” (sarva-deshe haibeka krishnera kirtana/ ghare-ghare nagare-nagare anukshana) Indeed, all the demigods, headed by Brahma, affirm this message: “The whole world will be filled with the sound of sankirtana, and pure devotional service will be preached from house to house.” (sankirtane purna haibe sakala samsara ghare ghare haibe prema-bhakti-paracara)3

An often overlooked similar prophecy, found in the Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya 7.82), is uttered by Nityananda Prabhu Himself, Sri Chaitanya’s “elder brother,” the incarnation of Lord Balarama: “Upon seeing the chanting and dancing of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Lord Nityananda predicted that later there would be such chanting and dancing in every village.” It would be valuable to quote Prabhupada’s short commentary in full:

his prediction of Sri Nityananda Prabhu’s is applicable not only in India but also all over the world. That is now happening by His grace. The members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness are now traveling from one village to another in the Western countries and are even carrying the Deity with them. These devotees distribute various literatures all over the world. We hope that these devotees who are preaching the message of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu will very seriously follow strictly in His footsteps. If they follow the rules and regulations and chant sixteen rounds daily, their endeavor to preach the cult of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu will certainly be successful.

The Tree of Bhakti

The Chaitanya-charitamrita (Adi-lia, chapter nine) tells us about a metaphorical bhakti plant, of which Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is envisioned as the gardener as well as the trunk and the entire tree itself. This tree evolves in such a way that it goes well beyond Indian shores: “From these two trunks grew many branches and subbranches that covered the entire world.” (9.22) “Thus the disciples and the granddisciples and their admirers spread throughout the entire world, and it is not possible to enumerate them all.” (9.24) “All the parts of this tree are spiritually cognizant, and thus as they grow they spread all over the world.” (9.33) In this way, the Chaitanya-charitamrita offers us the same prediction yet again.

In the original language of the text, these verses use Bengali words like jagat (“world,” “universe”), sabe sakala bhuvana (“all parts of the world”), and jagat vyapiya (“spreading all over the world”). At the time of its writing, hundreds of years ago, this “tree” had of course not yet spread its branches beyond India. But it eventually did.

For those who know the tradition, this prophecy, again, can only point to the work of Srila Prabhupada, and Prabhupada himself says this in his purport to Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi 9.40:

This prediction of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s is now actually coming to pass. The Krishna consciousness movement is being distributed all over the world through the chanting of the holy name of the Lord, the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and people who were leading confused, chaotic lives are now feeling transcendental happiness. They are finding peace in sankirtana, and therefore they are acknowledging the supreme benefit of this movement. This is the blessing of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His prediction is now factually being fulfilled, and those who are sober and conscientious are appreciating the value of this great movement.

Later Predictions

In 1892, commenting on the words of Vrindavana Dasa Thakura’s Chaitanya-bhagavata, the Vaishnava acharya Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838–1914) wrote an article called “Nityadharma Suryodaya” (“The Rising Sun of Eternal Dharma”), which appeared in his journal Sajjana-toshani. This visionary article explained that the movement of Sri Chaitanya would spread across the world, especially to the West. The pertinent part of the article, enhancing the earlier prophecy with specifics of his own, reads as follows:

The purpose behind Chaitanya’s avatara is not just to save (uddhara) a few people in India. Rather, His need is to deliver people in different countries of the world by distributing the eternal religion (nitya-dharma). Chaitanya himself says, “My name [or the names of Krishna I chant] will be spread to all towns and villages of the entire world.” . . . There is no doubt that this indisputable prediction will soon be translated into reality. I think it is true that the varieties of religions (dharmas) we find across the world will one day mature to their fruition and become the religion of congregational singing of the holy names (nama-sankirtana). . . . I have no doubt that the time is ripe for the prophecy of Sri Mahaprabhu to be fulfilled. . . . When will that day come when people in England, France, Russia, Prussia, and America will take up kholas (drums) and karatalas (cymbals) and raise the waves of sankirtana, acknowledging Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu?4

He concludes with imagery that is especially memorable:

When will that day come when fair-skinned foreigners (bilatiya shvetavarna purusha sakala) travel to Sri Mayapur-dhama and join with the Bengali Vaishnavas to chant, “Jaya Shacinandana, Jaya Shacinandana.” When will that day be?5

Thus Prabhupada’s mission is the fulfillment of Mahaprabhu and Bhaktivinoda’s prophecy, with men and women from all parts of the world engaging in harinama-sankirtana, using the traditional instruments of sixteenth-century Bengal, just as Bhaktivinoda suggests. These ”foreign Vaishnavas” also regularly visit Mayapur-dhama and chant the many names of Sri Chaitanya as well, something that would have seemed unlikely in Bhaktivinoda’s time.

Four years after his initial prediction, in his book Sri Chaitanya: His Life and Precepts, Bhaktivinoda wrote, “The religion preached by Mahaprabhu is universal and nonsectarian. . . . The church of kirtana invites all classes of people, without distinctions as to caste and clan, to engage in the highest cultivation of the spirit. This church, it appears, will extend all over the world …”6 Again, an allusion to Prabhupada’s mission, which would not take root for another seventy years.

And indeed it blossomed. While the successes of Prabhupada’s mission need not be reiterated here, one other prediction, made by Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s son Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (1874–1936) – Prabhupada’s own guru – should be mentioned as well. Sarasvati Thakura basically prophesied the very basis of Prabhupada’s mission, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the fruits of which could be considered the core of his movement’s success.7

In 1932, long before Prabhupada traveled west, his guru wrote an article entitled, “Madhva-Gaudiya Literature.” His prescient insights are as follows: “The Gaudiya literature will be translated into all the languages of the world by the agents of the Divine Mercy at the appointed time. . . . [Indeed] the Gaudiya literature will not long remain confined to the Bengali-speaking people. It will in a short time expand and display its full brilliance through the medium of all the languages.”8

Roughly forty years after these words were written, thanks to the hard work of Srila Prabhupada and his followers at the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, Gaudiya literature exists in almost ninety languages, from Albanian to Arabic, Chinese to Croatian, Farsi to Finnish. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta would be proud.

Birth Prophecy

Prophecy has been part of Prabhupada’s life from the time he first appeared in this world, and, as we have shown, even before that. But the instance of his birth prophecy is especially significant, and so we conclude with that visionary beginning. Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami writes in his Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita (Volume 1):

An astrologer did a horoscope for the child, and the family was made jubilant by the auspicious reading. The astrologer made a specific prediction: When this child reached the age of seventy, he would cross the ocean, become a great exponent of religion, and open 108 temples.

“And in my horoscope,” Prabhupada elaborated, “it was written there, ‘After seventieth year this man will go outside India and establish so many temples.’ I could not understand. ‘What is this, that I have to go outside India? That is not . . .’ And Guru Maharaja foretold. He told my Godbrothers, Sridhara Maharaja and others, that ‘He’ll do the needful when time comes. Nobody requires to help him.’ He told in 1935. And after all, this was true. Guru Maharaja told. And in the beginning, first sight, he told, ‘You have to do this.’”9

This is a prediction that Prabhupada would see come to pass: From 1966 to 1977, the year he transitioned from this mortal realm, he gradually opened temple after temple, and the goal of 108 was reached toward the end of his earthy pastimes. If one looks at the listing of ISKCON centers in this very magazine, Back to Godhead, specifically the edition that appeared in the month of Prabhupada’s demise, one can see the addresses of each temple, culminating in the desired number.10

Of course, in some ways, Prabhupada’s life involved a measure of self-fulfilling prophecy, meaning that desirable expectations within the tradition naturally incited his desire to fulfill them. Prabhupada was in effect trying to accomplish for the tradition the realization of its cherished goals.

That said, in his youth he had no intention of traveling abroad and opening 108 temples, despite the astrologer’s prediction, nor was he thinking in terms of fulfilling the earlier mandate to spread the holy name to every town and village of the world. Rather, he raised a family, started a business, and became an early supporter of Mahatma Gandhi.

His fulfillment of prophecy came later in life. As he often said, it was through an inner transformation, sparked by his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, that a desire to implant Krishna consciousness in the hearts of all souls was awakened within him, and by doing this he would – almost incidentally – fulfill all the pertinent predictions discussed above.

In the end, Prabhupada and prophecy go hand in hand, and it seems likely that his herculean and far-reaching accomplishments, prognosticated by his distinguished predecessors, will become more widely known as time goes on. In fact, one could easily predict that this is exactly what will happen in due course.

Notes

  1. There are two versions of this verse, and they both translate in essentially the same way. The variants are prithivi-paryanta yata ache desha-grama/ sarvatra sancara haibeka mora nama and prithivite ache yata nagaradi grama/ sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama.
  2. One could dispute whether the prediction literally came to pass. That is to say, there are quite probably remote villages in South America, Africa, Russia, etc., that have not yet been exposed to the holy name of Krishna. But the spirit of the prediction – that the name of Krishna will be heard around the world – has certainly been fulfilled, and Prabhupada accepted this truth, as shown above.
  3. See Chaitanya-bhagavata, Madhya-khanda 2.15 and Adi-khanda 2.179, respectively.
  4. Kedarnatha Bhaktivinoda, “Nityadharma suryodaya,” Sajjana-toshani 4, no. 3 (1892): 42–44. Translated by Abhishek Ghosh, “Vaishnavism and the West: A Study of Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinod’s Encounter and Response, 1869–1909,” PhD thesis (University of Chicago, 2014), 1.
  5. Kedarnatha Bhaktivinoda, “Nityadharma suryodaya,” op. cit. Special thanks to Brijbasi Prabhu for helping with the translation of this article.
  6. Bhaktivinode Thakur, Sri Chaitanya: His Life and Precepts (San Rafael, California: Mandala Media, 2001, reprint), 69–70. See original text, Srigouranga Smaranamangal or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts (Calcutta: K. Dutt, 1896, English and Sanskrit), 60.

Incidentally, Bhaktivinoda Thakura made this latter prediction in the year of Srila Prabhupada’s birth, a “coincidence” not lost on His Divine Grace. See, among other places, the dedication to his book Teachings of Lord Chaitanya as well as his conversation with O. B. L. Kapoor (October 15, 1972, Vrindavan).

  1. I say that it is the “basis” of Prabhupada’s mission in accord with his own dictum: “Books are the basis of our movement.”
  2. See Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, “Madhva-Gaudiya Literature,” The Harmonist (Vol. xxix, No. 12, June 1932), 364–65.
  3. Room Conversation, Vrindavan (June 17, 1977).
  4. See Volume 12, Number 11, 1977 (https://back2godhead.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/129_1977_12-11.pdf)