The events we’re commemorating in this issue could never have taken place without the occurrence of an earlier event that also coincides with this issue. Fifty years ago, on September 17, 1965, the cargo ship Jaladuta docked at Commonwealth Pier in Boston, and the ship’s only noncrew passenger, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, took his first step in America. Srila Prabhupada started the International Society for Krishna Consciousness the following year, in July 1966, and ISKCON is gearing up to celebrate 2016 as its Golden Jubilee.

When Prabhupada landed in America, I was fourteen years old and living in northern Vermont, about two hundred miles from Boston. I was one of 194 million people in America. What were the odds that our paths would ever cross? But Krishna ignored statistics and probability, and in June 1974 I saw Srila Prabhupada for the first time when he arrived for the annual Rathayatra festival in San Francisco, just a few weeks after my first visit to the temple.

A much-published photo of that festival shows Srila Prabhupada dancing in ecstasy onstage, his arms raised high as thousands join him in chanting the holy names. By then I had a budding commitment to Krishna consciousness, and at that festival I started wearing tulasi neck beads. That simple act turned out to have profound consequences.

I was a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, and regulations forbade wearing neck jewelry with my uniform. In my enthusiastic immaturity, I told my commanding officer and the base’s legal office that wearing the neck beads – visibly – was an essential part of my newfound religion. The Air Force wasn’t quite sure how to react to that, and six months later they granted me an honorable discharge, and I moved into the San Francisco temple.

My story is one among thousands that unfolded only because Srila Prabhupada, driven by the deepest compassion for humanity, risked his life to carry the message of Lord Krishna outside India. Despite his advanced age, less than optimum health, and seeming poverty, Prabhupada left the peace and sanctity of Vrindavan to sail halfway around the world and save me – and so many others.

When I consider the trajectory of my life before I met Srila Prabhupada, I’m reminded of a statement by Prahlada Maharaja: “Because of my association with material desires, one after another, I was gradually falling into a blind well full of snakes, following the general populace. But Your servant Narada Muni
kindly accepted me as his disciple and instructed me how to achieve this transcendental position. Therefore, my first duty is to serve him.” ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.9.28)

During this year’s fiftieth anniversary of Prabhupada’s arrival in America and next year’s fiftieth anniversary of the founding of ISKCON, may we all think deeply about how Prabhupada gave us the means and opportunity to free ourselves from lifetimes of suffering and return to Krishna. In gratitude, may we try to repay some of our debt to him by serving the mission so dear to his heart – the mission of delivering Lord Krishna to every soul on the planet.

Borrowing a few words from Neil Armstrong, I would say that Srila Prabhupada’s one small step onto Commonwealth Pier was truly one giant leap for mankind. And not just a figurative leap. Thanks to that step, thousands of people today are joyfully leaping in kirtanas all over the world.

– Nagaraja Dasa