For members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness the annual celebration of Janmashtami, the advent of Lord Krishna, is the first day of a two-day festival, the next day being the birth anniversary of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Society’s founder-acharya. That these two blessed days occur together is apt: Lord Krishna sent us Srila Prabhupada, and Srila Prabhupada gave us Krishna. While I must be cautious in trying to surmise Krishna’s motives, it seems fair to imagine that Krishna arranged the precise day for Prabhupada to arrive in this world.
Most of us outside India knew nothing about Krishna before Prabhupada left Vrindavan for the West. Saturated with pure devotion, Prabhupada carried Krishna, in his books and in his heart. He always intended to present Krishna and His teachings directly, without camouflage or compromise. Despite a friend’s advice that he use the term “God Consciousness” in naming his Society, Prabhupada insisted on “Krishna Consciousness.”
Though most people today may be unfamiliar with the title “The International Society for Krishna Consciousness,” many know of “the Krishnas” or the “the Hare Krishnas.” Srila Prabhupada was delighted when people started calling his early disciples “the Hare Krishnas.” His mission was to spread Krishna consciousness, and the phenomenon of average Westerners uttering Krishna’s names showed that great progress was being made.
As an emissary of Lord Krishna, Srila Prabhupada can legitimately be considered directly Krishna Himself. In the Chaitanya-charitamrita (Adi 1.45) Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami writes, “According to the deliberate opinion of all revealed scriptures, the spiritual master is nondifferent from Krishna. Lord Krishna in the form of the spiritual master delivers His devotees.” In his commentary, Srila Prabhupada clarifies: “A spiritual master always represents himself as the humblest servitor of the Personality of Godhead, but the disciple must look upon him as the manifested representation of Godhead.”
Prabhupada exemplified these instructions by insistently and consistently teaching that the guru is never God, but the servant of God; and by crediting his spiritual master for all that Prabhupada himself accomplished in Krishna’s service.
The Vedic scriptures say that the most powerful evidence for spiritual truths is the testimony of self-realized souls. Everything Prabhupada spoke, wrote, and did was in glorification of Lord Krishna, evidence of his fully realized conviction about the reality of Krishna consciousness. As a pure devotee of Krishna, Prabhupada could – and still does – awaken the faith and love for Krishna lying deep within us.
When we celebrate Lord Krishna’s appearance on the earth, we honor not only His “birth” but everything else about Him. Especially important for us is that while present here Lord Krishna spoke the Bhagavad-gita, a key component of His mission to reestablish dharma. Prabhupada began introducing Krishna in New York City by chanting His names and teaching His Bhagavad-gita. In Prabhupada’s lectures on the Gita and in his publication of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, he delivered Lord Krishna’s message with complete fidelity.
Here’s an anecdote that exemplifies Prabhupada’s relationship with Krishna: Prabhupada’s attendant Srutakirti Dasa tells of Prabhupada’s looking at a newly arrived copy of Back to Godhead, which included a photo of him offering the first arati to the Radha-Krishna deities in Paris. “Srila Prabhupada looked at the picture in a meditative gaze as if entering into it for just a fraction of a second. In the next moment, he returned to us and with twinkling eyes and a broad smile, he innocently revealed, ‘Just see! Krishna is looking at me, and I am looking at Krishna!'”
– Nagaraja Dasa