Your Srila Prabhupada

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Let’s consider how Srila Prabhupada is for everyone, and then look at some ways to access and nourish our personal relationship with him, our founder-acharya.

To honor the fiftieth anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s incorporation of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, BTG presents the final part of a ten-part series celebrating Srila Prabhupada’s unique, transcendental position in ISKCON, as well as every follower’s foundational relationship with him.

Universal Teacher

The year was 1935. In February Abhaya Charanaravinda Dasa spoke at the Vyasa-puja1 celebration of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura in Bombay. Not only was the Thakura Abhaya’s spiritual master, he was the founder-acharya of the entire Gaudiya Mission,2 which had ignited a renaissance of Krishna consciousness throughout the Indian subcontinent. Addressing the assembly, Abhaya declared:

The Acharyadeva to whom we have assembled tonight to offer our humble homage is not the guru of a sectarian institution or one out of many differing exponents of the truth. On the contrary, he is the Jagad-guru, the guru of all of us; the only difference is that some obey him wholeheartedly, while others do not obey him directly.

In 1971, after Prabhupada had become ISKCON’s founder-acharya, a reporter asked him how many followers he had.

"Unlimited,” Prabhupada replied, echoing his earlier homage to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. “Some admit and some don't admit. Admit you are a servant of Lord Krishna, and your life will be a success.”3

Global Preacher

Between 1965 and 1977 Srila Prabhupada circled the globe fourteen times, establishing the Krishna consciousness movement on every major continent. He initiated nearly five thousand disciples and inspired countless more people to accept Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. At an age when most people wish to be comfortably retired, Prabhupada kept up a nonstop preaching pace, tirelessly responding to his mission’s demands. As he wrote one disciple:

Regarding your invitation that I attend the Rathayatra festival in San Francisco, on July 7th, it is possible that I may attend depending on when I finish my European tour. I am due to arrive in Rome on May 23, then after a week Geneva, then Paris and possibly Stockholm, Germany and England. If there is time I can fly directly from Europe to Los Angeles and go to the festival, then as you suggest, go to Australia Rathayatra via Hawaii. This is known as jet-age parivrajakacharya.”4 (Letter to Jayatirtha Dasa, 5 May 1974)

Astonishingly, jet-age Prabhupada never experienced jet lag, or ignored it if he did, instantly adapting to the time at his latest destination. And though most of his disciples were young enough to be his grandchildren, they couldn’t keep up with him. As Prabhupada once told a personal assistant, “My desire is to spread Krishna consciousness everywhere at once.”5

Matchless Giver

That Srila Prabhupada founded over one hundred Hare Krishna temples, schools, farms, and restaurants, all while writing and publishing dozens of translations and commentaries on foundational Vaishnava scriptures, is simply superhuman. How did he do it? For one thing Prabhupada didn’t sleep much. After going to bed at ten, he would usually rise at midnight and write through the wee hours. If he had time, he would nap for maybe a half hour after breakfast and a full hour after lunch. His days and nights were a seamless weave of selfless acts.

Another short sleeper is the cow, to whom Prabhupada would sometimes compare himself. Guru Dasa recalls that in Bombay he once told Prabhupada he was concerned not enough people would come to a program the devotees had arranged. Prabhupada replied: “No, I am like a cow, I give milk anywhere. That is what I like to do.”6

Avesha-avatara

The Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita (Antya 7.11) states: “The fundamental religious system in the Age of Kali is the chanting of the holy name of Krishna. Unless empowered by Krishna, one cannot propagate the sankirtana movement.” Commenting on this verse in Antya 2.14, Prabhupada further identifies the one who empowers the spreader of the chanting: “Unless one is empowered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, one cannot spread the holy names of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra throughout the world. Persons who do so are empowered. Therefore they are sometimes called avesha-avataras, or empowered incarnations, for they are endowed with the power of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”

Once an Indian swami criticized Prabhupada’s global preaching by saying that, if Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had wanted Krishna consciousness in the Western countries, why didn't He go there Himself? To which Prabhupada replied: "He left the credit for me. He loves His devotee more than Himself!”7

Yet Prabhupada always passed on that credit to others – to his followers, to his spiritual master, and finally to Krishna Himself. It is a mark of Prabhupada’s absolute transparency as an avesha-avatara that he named the Hare Krishna movement after Krishna, not Bhaktivedanta Swami, whom most of the world has yet to know.

ISKCON’s Founder-acharya

If Srila Prabhupada is for everyone, he is certainly for everyone in his ISKCON. In 1994 ISKCON’s Governing Body passed its first founder-acharya resolution:

a. Srila Prabhupada is the foundational shiksha-guru for all ISKCON devotees.
b. Srila Prabhupada's instructions are the essential teachings for every ISKCON devotee.
c. Srila Prabhupada's books are the embodiment of his teachings and should be accepted as the standard by all future generations of ISKCON.
d. Srila Prabhupada should be worshiped daily by every ISKCON member.
e. Every spiritual master is responsible to guide his disciples to follow Srila Prabhupada's instructions.8

More founder-acharya resolutions since then have identified our foundational relationship with Srila Prabhupada as the sublime pivot around which all our relationships in ISKCON turn. He is the unity amid our diversity.

Your Srila Prabhupada

If you were born after Prabhupada’s time, or never knew him when he walked among us, you may be wondering, as many do, what will happen to his Society when the last “Prabhupada disciple” has left this world. If we take “disciple” as “follower,” we can understand that as the Hare Krishna movement continues to expand, Prabhupada’s presence will likewise continue through his divine instructions. We may have different gurudevas, but since we all share the same founder-acharya, generations will continue to follow Prabhupada into and out of this world, sharing Krishna’s mercy with suffering humanity in many ways.

Which Prabhupada inspires you most? Prabhupada the world sankirtana party leader? The divine writer? Sublime chef? Back-to-nature prophet? Cultural conqueror? Master educator? Founding father? A transcendental Renaissance man, Prabhupada is many-sided, but to whichever side you’re attracted, there are standard ways to build your personal, foundational relationship with His Divine Grace.

By Spiritual Sound

The first and foremost way we can all connect with Prabhupada is by becoming keen students of his spoken and written word. Regular, attentive hearing from our founder-acharya – especially in the company of like-minded devotees – grounds us in the one relationship that nourishes us all.

In August 1968 a new initiate in Montreal told Prabhupada she felt far away from him when he wasn’t there in person. Prabhupada replied:

Oh, that you should not think . . . There are two conceptions [of the spiritual master]: the physical conception and the vibration conception. So physical conception is temporary. The vibration conception is eternal. Just like we are enjoying or we are relishing the vibration of Krishna's teachings. So by vibration He is present. As soon as we chant Hare Krishna or chant Bhagavad-gita or Bhagavata, so He is present immediately by His vibration. So we should give more stress on the sound vibration, either of Krishna or of the spiritual master. Then we'll feel happy and no separation.”9

Separated from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta for decades, Prabhupada would nonetheless say he always felt his spiritual master to be right by his side. How? By absolute absorption in studying and presenting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s teachings. Likewise, in the company of sincere and serious devotees absorbed in studying and presenting Prabhupada’s teachings, we can access and develop our core connection with His Divine Grace.

By His Mission

While some devotional groups focus on seeing Krishna face-to-face, Prabhupada emphasized that the best way to see Krishna is to serve His mission under the guidance of His pure devotee, the spiritual master.

When one becomes serious to follow the mission of the spiritual master, his resolution is tantamount to seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead. . . . In conclusion, if a disciple is very serious to execute the mission of the spiritual master, he immediately associates with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. . . . This is the only secret of success in seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Instead of being eager to see the Lord in some bush of Vrindavana while at the same time engaging in sense gratification, if one instead sticks to the principle of following the words of the spiritual master, he will see the Supreme Lord without difficulty. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.28.51, Purport)

As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta would say, "Don't try to see God. You work in such a way that God will see you.”10 And when that work is done cooperatively in Prabhupada’s mission – synergizing the efforts of many generations – Krishna sees and blesses us manyfold.

No Jumping Over

In the early 1970s, as the first ISKCON devotees started to visit India, they became attracted to reading the English works of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila Bhaktivinoda. Prabhupada was not pleased:

You cannot imagine what my spiritual master said. Or even if you read some books, you cannot understand unless you understand it from me. This is called parampara system. You cannot jump over to the superior guru, neglecting the next acharya, immediate next acharya.11

Why, then, in his purport to the very first verse of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, does Prabhupada invite “the serious student” to study the commentaries of great Vaishnava scholars?

Within the past five hundred years, many erudite scholars and acharyas like Jiva Goswami, Sanatana Goswami, Vishvanatha Chakravarti, Vallabhacharya, and many other distinguished scholars even after the time of Lord Chaitanya made elaborate commentaries on the Bhagavatam. And the serious student would do well to attempt to go through them to better relish the transcendental messages.

As Prabhupada knows, before studying others’ commentaries, his serious students will have the sense to do what naive neophytes won’t: ground themselves in the Bhaktivedanta purports, the lens through which we see all teachings. And to help us look through that lens, our initiating and instructing spiritual masters play crucial roles. Best not to jump over anyone, neither our founder-acharya nor our “immediate next” acharyas. We need all the help we can get.

Imbibe and Impart

The more we imbibe Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, the more responsibility we have to impart them to others. When Prabhupada sees we’re sincerely following him, he blesses us with the realization to pass on his teachings in ways both faithful and fitting. Prabhupada explains:

Personal realization does not mean that one should, out of vanity, attempt to show one's own learning by trying to surpass the previous acharya. He must have full confidence in the previous acharya, and at the same time he must realize the subject matter so nicely that he can present the matter for the particular circumstances in a suitable manner. . . . The original purpose of the text must be maintained. [Prabhupada’s emphasis] No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realization. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.4.1, Purport)

To imbibe and impart Prabhupada’s legacy is to become gurus in our own right – not to imitate or replace our founder-acharya, but to follow in his footsteps: “Because people are in darkness, we require many millions of gurus to enlighten them. Therefore Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's mission is, He said, that ‘Every one of you become guru.’”12

Benefits of Deeply Understanding Srila Prabhupada’s Position

In his authorized booklet Srila Prabhupada, the Founder-acharya of ISKCON,13 Ravindra Svarupa Dasa lists the benefits of deeply understanding Prabhupada’s unique, transcendental position, especially for all who serve his movement:

1. Generation after generation will be able to receive the special mercy offered by Srila Prabhupada. The path back to Godhead he opened will be ever-increasingly traveled.
2. Srila Prabhupada’s active presence will secure the unity and integrity of ISKCON, strengthening both the GBC and guru-disciple bonds.
3. By taking full shelter of Srila Prabhupada as shiksha-guru in his vani manifestation, all teachers in ISKCON, on various levels of advancement, will be able to authentically convey Srila Prabhupada’s real teaching, thus giving proper guidance, shelter, and protection to all.
4. ISKCON’s teachings will remain consistent over space and time.
5. Prabhupada’s realized knowledge, endowing him with the specific potency to spread Krishna consciousness, will be not only preserved but also developed.
6. His books will remain central to us, for they contain insights and directions that await future development to be realized.
7. Srila Prabhupada’s eyes will always remain the lens through which all future generations see our predecessor acharyas.

All those benefits naturally accrue to devotees who realize their core identity as Prabhupada’s followers. Inspired by “our Prabhupadas,” we can cooperate – even when we disagree – to bring the Lord’s mercy to everyone. I can't imagine a better way to please Srila Prabhupada, our founder-acharya.

NOTES

1. The birthday anniversary of the spiritual master.

2. A name of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s preaching organization.

3. Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita, Volume 4, In Every Town & Village, Chapter 35: “This Remote Corner of the World.”

4. In Vedic culture, the third stage of renounced life when one travels everywhere preaching the glories of the Lord.

5. Remark by Srila Prabhupada to one of his personal assistants, Hari Sauri Dasa, as reported by Hari Sauri in his seminar “Srila Prabhupada, the Living Bhagavatam.”

6. Following Srila Prabhupada, DVD 2, World Sankirtana Party Harinama, Programs.

7. A Transcendental Diary, Vol. 1, January 4, 1976, Hari Sauri Dasa.

8. 1994 GBC Resolution No. 35, Founder-Acharya Statement.

9. Srimad-Bhagavatam lecture, 7.9.12, Montreal, 18 August 1968.

10. Bhagavad-gita lecture, 8.14–15, New York, November 16, 1966.

11. Srimad-Bhagavatam lecture, 1.15.30, Los Angeles, 8 December 1973.

12. Srimad-Bhagavatam lecture, 6.1.21, May 21, 1976, Honolulu.

13. ISKCON GBC Press, 2014 (http://www.founderacharya.com/book/).

About the Author: 

Sureshvara Dasa

Sureshvara Dasa joined the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement in 1970. From 2011 to 2015, on behalf of a committee of the movement's Governing Body Commission called "Śrīla Prabhupāda's Position," he traveled the ISKCON world presenting the seminar series "Śrīla Prabhupāda, Our Founder-Acharya."