By Sureshvara Dasa
To make our best contribution to the Krishna consciousness movement takes time, thoughtfulness, and guidance from experienced devotees dedicated to serving Srila Prabhupada’s mission.
To honor the fiftieth anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s incorporation of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, BTG presents Part Seven of a ten-part series celebrating Srila Prabhupada’s unique, transcendental position in ISKCON, as well as every follower’s foundational relationship with him.
Only twice in the Bhagavad-gita do two verses begin with the same Sanskrit line. In 9.34 and 18.65 Krishna highlights our need to always think of Him, and in 3.35 and 18.47 He stresses the importance of doing our own duty. Indeed, acting dutifully for Krishna, according to our nature, helps us remember the Lord, the perfection of life.
Confused about her duty, a disciple once complained, “You know Krishna, Prabhupada – what does Krishna want us to do?”
“That is not the point,” Prabhupada chided. “Krishna wants to know what you want to do!” (Prabhupada-lila, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, Seattle, 1968)
Since Krishna knows us better than we know ourselves, knowing what Krishna wants us to do takes spiritually guided thoughtfulness. “A devotee is as thoughtful as a nondevotee is speculative.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.24.59, Purport) To find our mission in Srila Prabhupada’s mission, let’s first look at the challenge of knowing who we are and what our duty is.
“Who Am I?”
“Know thyself,” the philosopher Socrates admonished his students, for “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And who am I? “Immortal soul,” Socrates asserted. When the court at Athens sentenced him to death for disrespecting “the gods,” Socrates was unafraid. “How shall we bury you?” a tearful friend asked. “Any way you like,” replied Socrates, “that is, if you can catch me, and I don’t slip through your fingers.” (from Plato’s Phaedo, 115b.)
Nearly two millennia later another now-famous “self” appeared in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all, to thine own self be true,” Polonius advises Laertes. But it is one’s worldly interests, not the immortal soul, that Polonius has in mind – an earthly “self.”
The downgrade continues today with Self magazine displaying well-built flesh as the self. Photo captions are enough to convey this “philosophy.” To think of the body as the self, to compete to satisfy its demands, and then to die is hardly better than animal life. Our capacity for higher consciousness should tell us something: we have a higher calling.
In Vedic times different classes of human beings were born and raised to cooperate in devotional service to the Supreme. Lacking that spiritual focus, today’s classes often conflict, and today’s individuals are often conflicted. As Prabhupada told the World Health Organization, such a population is called “varna-sankara, mixed population.” (Lecture, World Health Organization, Geneva, 6 June 1974) In a word, “mixed-up.”
Small wonder that professions like life coaching and occupational therapy have become so popular. By and large, modern materialistic culture is unaware that life has a sacred purpose. To understand what God is calling us to do, we moderns, largely disconnected from a culture of self-realization, need help. In a spiritual society, the first help is spiritual parents.
According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.5.18), we should not become “a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother, or a worshipable demigod” unless we can deliver our “dependents from the path of repeated birth and death.” Quite a responsibility. “That is the real contraceptive method,” Prabhupada wryly observed. “That we are married, undoubtedly, husband and wife, but unless we are competent to give protection to [our] children – no more death – we should not beget children. This is the real contraceptive.” (Lecture, Mayapur, 26 February 1976)
By contrast, modern groups like the International Planned Parenthood Federation are committed to providing “services” like contraception and abortion. “This is Kali-yuga,” Prabhupada would remark. “Even in the womb they are coming after you with a knife.”1 Consigning themselves to a similar fate, such people kill the human opportunity to escape the nightmare of birth and death.
In a letter to a disciple, Prabhupada underscored the responsibility that comes with that opportunity: “These children are given to us by Krishna, they are Vaisnavas [devotees] and we must be very careful to protect them. These are not ordinary children, they are Vaikuntha children,2 and we are very fortunate we can give them a chance to advance further in Krishna Consciousness. That is a very great responsibility.” (Letter to Arundhati Dasi, 30 July 1972)
Spiritually-minded parents naturally want their children educated by spiritually-minded teachers. Such a partnership helps children grow up to be all they can be in devotional service. But knowing what’s best for a child takes time and perseverance, even for great teachers. Consider Dhruva Maharaja’s talks with Narada Muni.
From saints to serpents, the sage Narada engages all kinds of embodied beings in devotional service, yet few have been as precocious as five-year-old Prince Dhruva. Forbidden by a spiteful stepmother to sit on the lap of his father, King Uttanapada, Dhruva angrily approached his natural mother for help to avenge the insult. Convinced that no one but the Supreme Lord could pacify her son, Dhruva’s mother inspired the boy to seek God in the forest and follow the mystic path.
Meeting Dhruva in the wilderness, Narada advised him to go back to his mother and return when he was grown-up. In the meantime, Dhruva should live undisturbed and satisfied with his lot as ordained by the Supreme. Good advice, acknowledged Dhruva, but because “I am covered by ignorance . . . this kind of philosophy does not touch my heart.”
In his commentary, Prabhupada writes, “Dhruva Maharaja indirectly informed the great sage Narada that there are four kinds of human spirit” – the saintly spirit, the warrior spirit, the mercantile spirit, and the worker spirit. What are appropriate instructions for one spirit are not necessarily appropriate for another. Further, “unless a child is trained according to his tendency, there is no possibility of his developing his particular spirit. It was the duty of the spiritual master or teacher to observe the psychological movement of a particular boy and thus train him in a particular occupational duty.” ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.8.36, Purport)
With Dhruva’s help, Narada was able to determine how to best engage him in devotional service. Although Dhruva’s intent was to achieve a kingdom greater than his father’s, by Narada’s expert guidance he came face to face with the Lord Himself within six months, fulfilling the mission of human life.
Since spiritual teachers play such crucial roles in helping us find and develop our life’s mission, how can we meet them?
As Lord Chaitanya instructed Srila Rupa Goswami: “Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.” (Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 19.151)
When we’re serious and sincere, we attract the mercy of Krishna, who sends a genuine spiritual master to help us come home to Him. How the Lord does this is mystical and unique for each person, yet to protect all concerned, the Vedic literature cautions prospective gurus and disciples to thoroughly examine one another before formally entering into a relationship.
Srila Prabhupada: “In Hari-bhakti-vilasa, by Sanatana Goswami, it is directed that the spiritual master and the disciple must meet together at least for one year, so that the disciple may . . . understand that ‘Here is a person whom I can accept as my guru,’ and the guru also can see that ‘Here is a person who is fit for becoming my disciple.’” (Lecture, Honolulu, 21 January 1974)
In Prabhupada’s ISKCON, before the mutual examination begins it is important that senior devotees ground a newcomer in the life, teachings, mood, and mission of our founder-acharya. Indeed, even when Prabhupada was traveling as the movement’s sole initiator, he depended on his local leaders to train and test aspiring initiates. In ISKCON’s multiple-guru culture today, the grounded aspirant will be better able to approach initiation with a cool head: “Who will best guide and engage me in Srila Prabhupada’s mission?”
By following Narada’s instructions, Dhruva mystically met the Lord. Prabhupada offers his followers a similar opportunity: “When one becomes serious to follow the mission of the spiritual master, his resolution is tantamount to seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.28.51, Purport) As Prabhupada’s own spiritual master would say, “Don’t try to see God. Work in such a way that God will see you.” (Lecture, New York City, 16 November 1966)
How Shall We Work for the Lord?
Seeing the Lord through our service to Him is more than an inference or figment; it is an ongoing experience. Prabhupada writes: “By intense service of the Lord, one can experience the presence of the Lord transcendentally. Therefore seeing the Lord means being engaged in His service because His service and His person are identical.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.6.22, Purport)
Once again, to know how to serve the Lord, the guidance of the spiritual master is essential. Srila Prabhupada: “Just like in the school, college, somebody is being trained up as a scientist, somebody is trained up as an engineer, as a medical man, as a lawyer. According to the tendency, practical psychology of the student, he is advised that ‘You take this line.’” (Lecture, Vrindavan, 29 September 1976)
At the same time, “Krishna wants to know what you want to do.” As Dhruva helped Narada understand how to engage him in devotional service, by being introspective we can also help our spiritual masters engage us so we can see the Lord in the direction of our service. What follows are a few pointed questions we can ask ourselves before our spiritual masters do:
1. To what service am I most drawn?
2. If I had all the money I needed, what would I do?
3. If I had all the time I needed, what would I do?4. If I knew I only had one year to live, what would I do?5. Doing what service do I most forget time?
The answer to any one of these questions may give us a hint of our mission. “A devotee is as thoughtful as a nondevotee is speculative.” The more thoughtful and introspective we are about ourselves, the more our spiritual masters can help us be all we can be – and more – in Prabhupada’s mission.
Pure Devotee’s Meditation
How can we be more than we are? That happens when we completely connect our tiny self to the Supreme Self, Krishna. Such was the case with Prince Dhruva, whose meditation on the Lord was so “heavy” that the entire world felt its weight. Prabhupada explains with an analogy:
When hundreds of persons are sitting in an airplane, although they remain individual units, they each share in the total force of the airplane, which runs at thousands of miles per hour; similarly, when unit energy is identified with the service of the total energy, the unit energy becomes as powerful as the total energy. . . . Dhruva Maharaja, because of his spiritual advancement, became almost the total heaviness, and thus he pressed down the whole earth. Moreover, by such spiritual power his unit body became the total body of the universe. Thus when he closed the holes of his unit body to firmly concentrate his mind on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, all the units of the universe – namely all the living entities, including the big demigods – felt the pressure of suffocation, as if their breathing were being choked.
Noting the power of Dhruva’s intense meditation on the Lord, Prabhupada then expressed his personal realization about the pure devotee’s power to spread Krishna consciousness:
This example of Dhruva Maharaja’s . . . clearly indicates that a devotee, by his personal devotional service, can influence all the people of the whole world to become devotees of the Lord. If there is only one pure devotee in pure Krishna consciousness, he can change the total consciousness of the world into Krishna consciousness. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.8.80, Purport)
Our Foundational Inspiration
In the years since Prabhupada spread Krishna consciousness worldwide, his personal example has continued to be the foundational shelter and inspiration for all generations of his followers. In a tribute to His Divine Grace, a granddisciple once wrote:
Srila Prabhupada, you “walked through fire” to establish ISKCON. The risks you took are legendary and beyond the call of duty. Leaving the transcendental shelter of the holy dhama, you crossed the ocean, suffered heart attacks, and put yourself in the association of uncultured Westerners. You tolerated the struggle and loneliness of a stranger in New York, the toll of world travel at the age of seventy, the criticism of your godbrothers, and the foolish mistakes of young disciples. No one took greater risks than you, Srila Prabhupada, to save us by establishing this International Society for Krishna Consciousness. (Devaki Devi Dasi, entry in the 1999 Vyasa-puja book on behalf of the ISKCON temple in Riga, Latvia)
In his book The Siksha-guru, ISKCON leader Shivarama Swami observes that all gurus and disciples are dependent on their founder-acharya “as a building is dependent on its foundation.” As neglecting the foundation eventually collapses a building, so neglecting our founder-acharya, our foundational spiritual master, eventually collapses guru-disciple relationships, with – as history has shown – “devastating consequences.”3
Absorbing ourselves in Prabhupada’s life, teachings, mood, and mission – with the intent to cooperatively serve – is the best foundation for pursuing genuine guru-disciple relationships, as well as finding our mission in his ISKCON mission. As singular and selfless as his own sacrifice was, Prabhupada would be happy simply to see everyone do what they love to do for Krishna:
It does not matter what one is. One must dedicate everything in the service of the Lord. If one is a learned scholar, scientist, philosopher, poet, etc., then he should employ his learning to establish the supremacy of the Lord. . . . Similarly, if one is a businessman, an industrialist, an agriculturist, etc., then one should spend his hard-earned money for the cause of the Lord. . . . One should try to engage in the service of the Lord everything for which one has specific attraction, and that is the way of peace and prosperity. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.5.32, Purport)</blockquote
If we engage everything we love in Krishna’s service, day by day Krishna will show us how to serve with unalloyed love for Him – the perfection of our mission in Prabhupada’s mission.
In the next issue:
As we find and develop our mission to help our founder- acharya respiritualize human society, we’ll be better able to develop real love for him. In the next lesson, we’ll look at why that intimacy with Srila Prabhupada we hanker for can be so elusive.
1. In Vedic cosmology, the present age of quarrel, hypocrisy, and ignorance.
2. Children who achieved a high degree of spiritual advancement in their previous life.
3. For more about the foundational position of the founder-acharya, see The Siksha-guru: Implementing Tradition Within ISKCON, Chapter 7, “The Distinctive Role of the Founder-Acharya,” Shivarama Swami, The Bhaktivedanta Institute, Hungary, 1999)