The Books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

“The words of Srimad-Bhagavatam are Your incarnation, and if people repeatedly hear them in submissive aural reception, then they will be able to understand Your message.”

The Books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Originally published in Back to Godhead No. 52
Bhaktivedanta Book Trust 1973
By Brahmananda Swami ISKCON East Africa

Part 4

In the opening sentences of Srila Prabhupada’s introduction to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, he affirms that the word “God” refers to the supreme controller and that a controller cannot be impersonal. In the first sloka of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, obeisances are offered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

om namo bhagavate vasudevaya

om—O my Lord; namah—my respectful obeisances unto You; bhagavate—unto the Personality of Godhead; vasudevaya—unto Lord Krsna, the son of Vasudeva.

O my Lord, the all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You.

Whereas others have translated the Sanskrit scriptures conveniently to suit their interpretations, Srila Prabhupada always gives word-for-word English equivalents for each Sanskrit verse, and thus the translations cannot be disputed. This is a painstaking process, considering the length of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, but it is in keeping with the heritage of the Gosvamis to present the literature of devotional service authoritatively and scientifically. Furthermore, the English-reading public can easily learn the meanings to the Sanskrit words from this format.

Srimad-Bhagavatam is the most mature work of transcendental science written by Srila Vyasadeva. Vyasadeva had compiled the four Vedas and written the Vedanta-sutra, the Puranas and the Mahabharata (which includes Bhagavad-gita), yet he was not satisfied with his work. Therefore his spiritual master, Narada Muni, instructed him to specifically glorify the transcendental activities of Lord Sri Krsna. Thus the famous Tenth Canto of the Bhagavatam reveals the most intimate of Krsna’s pastimes with His devotees. It should be cautioned that there are many professional Bhagavatam reciters who indulge in reading only this most confidential portion of the book, not caring for transcendental realization either for their innocent audiences or for themselves. However, Vyasadeva purposely placed these stories in the later portion of the text so that by reading through the first nine cantos the reader would be spiritually elevated and be able to understand the transcendental nature of these activities. Therefore Srila Prabhupada presents the Bhagavatam in a complete manner, beginning from the very first verse and progressing systematically to the most elevated portion of this great literature.

When Srila Prabhupada finally arrived in America in 1965, he did not come empty-handed. His baggage was a yellow tin box filled with sets of his Bhagavatams. Upon first setting foot on American soil, he wrote a poem addressed to Lord Krsna in Bengali, one passage of which reads as follows: “The words of Srimad-Bhagavatam are Your incarnation, and if people repeatedly hear them in submissive aural reception, then they will be able to understand Your message.”

Srila Prabhupada then commenced his legendary preaching, first in the rural towns of Pennsylvania and then in New York’s Bowery and Greenwich Village. He was practically supporting himself from the sales of his books until ISKCON was incorporated by some interested students and the first center was opened in July, 1966. (Even up until the present, the entire financial growth of the Society depends upon the distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s books by street sales, store distribution, and the Society’s Life Membership program. All major donations and sales proceeds are used for printing books).

On two mimeograph machines personally purchased by Srila Prabhupada, we, his American students, began putting out Back to Godhead, which consisted mostly of Srila Prabhupada’s lectures and some articles and poems by his students. Now that we had started it, we were instructed to publish an issue every month without fail, regardless of our financial situation—even if we could only afford one page. Upon seeing us putting together the first issue, Srila Prabhupada announced that ISKCON Press had been born. In the streets and through shops, we sold as many copies as we were able to run off and staple.

Srila Prabhupada was at that time delivering his lectures three evenings a week and every morning in the storefront assembly hall. One morning he titled his lecture, “Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.” That lecture was transcribed as the present introduction to his book. We learned that Srila Prabhupada was taking rest at 10:00 p.m. and rising at 2:00 a.m. to write his verse by verse translations and purports to the Bhagavad-gita. He would write all morning and then come down and speak on the verses upon which he had commented.

On a portable typewriter given by one of his students, Srila Prabhupada typed out the manuscript page after page. He would spend the remainder of the day writing correspondence, managing the center, speaking to visitors and teaching his students. Despite the threat of immigration difficulties, financial straits and the problems in teaching his fledgling students spiritual life, we watched the manuscript grow day by day. It was a labor of love which continued until one day serious illness struck Srila Prabhupada and he was unable to operate the typewriter. When our shock and confusion cleared away, we managed to purchase a dictaphone, and Srila Prabhupada was able to write by dictating tapes. One day a college student on leave who was an expert typist appeared and offered his services to Srila Prabhupada. Not long afterwards, the manuscript, over one thousand pages, was completed.

to be continued…

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