Today as we are celebrating the appearance day of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu we are further reminded of the great senapati bhakta Srila Prabhupada who Lord Caitanya foretold would take the sankirtana movement everywhere.
…Lord Caitanya foretold the coming of an empowered devotee who would take the sankirtana process everywhere: “I want to flood the whole world with the chanting of the holy names. I will personally preach and flood India with harinama sankirtana, chanting of the holy names. And My senapati bhakta (great devotee commander) will come, preach in different countries and flood the world with the chanting of Hare Krishna.” This means that, though Sri Caitanya came to establish and spread the process of congregational chanting of Krishna’s names in India, there would be one great devotee who would appear and spread it throughout the world.
Today we honor not only Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu but his empowered devotee as well with this nice biography written by Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandananda dasa).
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
by Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)
In the Brahma-vaivarta Purana, in a conversation with Ganga Devi, Lord Krishna describes that after 5,000 years of Kali-yuga have passed, His mantra upasaka, the great sage and worshiper of Krishna’s holy names, will appear and spread the chanting of Krishna’s names (in the form of the Hare Krishna mantra) not only in India but throughout the world. Lord Krishna explains that by the chanting of His holy names the world will become spiritualized and everyone will be hari-bhaktas, engaged in the process of devotion to the Supreme. The purified devotees will visit the holy places and holy rivers of India and will purify them. They will also purify those with whom they come in contact. Thus, Sri Krishna predicted the appearance of a powerful devotee who would spread the chanting of His names worldwide.
Even in the Sri Caitanya Mangala, a biography of Sri Caitanya, the most recent incarnation of Lord Krishna, written in 1537 by Srila Locana Dasa Thakura (who was born in 1520 A.D.), Lord Caitanya foretold the coming of an empowered devotee who would take the sankirtana process everywhere: “I want to flood the whole world with the chanting of the holy names. I will personally preach and flood India with harinama sankirtana, chanting of the holy names. And My senapati bhakta (great devotee commander) will come, preach in different countries and flood the world with the chanting of Hare Krishna.” This means that, though Sri Caitanya came to establish and spread the process of congregational chanting of Krishna’s names in India, there would be one great devotee who would appear and spread it throughout the world.
Later, in the 1800s, Bhaktivinode Thakura, a great devotee in the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya line, predicted in his magazine, Sajjana-toshani, in an article called Nityananda Suryodoy, “Soon there will be a time when chanting of Krishna’s name will be heard in England, France, Russia, Germany, and America.”
In this regard, Bhaktivinode also wrote in his Sajjana-toshani in 1895 that, “Sriman Mahaprabhu [Sri Caitanya] did not descend with His associates to deliver a certain number of human beings in the land of India, but rather His purpose was to deliver and uplift all living beings in all countries of the world by practicing the eternal religion of all souls.” In the same article, Bhaktivinode questioned, when will that day come when all greatly fortunate souls take up banners, drums, and hand cymbals and cause the ecstatic waves of harinama-kirtans [songs of the holy names of the Supreme] and the singing of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s holy name to rise in the streets of their towns and cities?
In 1896, Bhaktivinode predicted in his book, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts, on page 62, “The principle of kirtana, as the future church of the world, invites all classes of men without distinction of caste, creed, or clan to the highest cultivation of the spirit. This church will extend all over the world and take the place of all sectarian churches which exclude outsiders from the precincts of their mosque, church or temple.”
What all this means is that with his spiritual vision, Bhaktivinode could see how the sankirtana process would be taken in the near future to the western countries and, indeed, all over the planet. In fact, in 1875 Bhaktivinode Thakura also predicted: “A personality will soon appear to preach the teachings of Lord Caitanya and move unrestrictedly over the whole world with His message.” But who could this be? Who would do it?
As an answer to these prayers and predictions, on Nandotsava, the annual festival day celebrating Krishna’s birth, in the year of 1896, there appeared His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, known as Srila Prabhupada to many. It was Srila Prabhupada who grew up as a pure devotee of Krishna who took the chanting of “Hare Krishna” around the world and made it a household word.
Srila Prabhupada appeared in this world in Calcutta, India. His father was also a pure devotee of Lord Krishna. He would always invite sadhus, holy men, to his house for meals and always asked them to bless his son to become a great devotee of Radharani, Lord Krishna’s most beloved devotee and consort. Srila Prabhupada’s father once bought him a small cart to pull the Deity of Lord Jagannatha, as they do during the great Rathayatra festival in Jagannatha Puri. So Prabhupada would organize little festivals in his neighborhood. Even then among his playmates, Srila Prabhupada was always considered the leader.
Gour Mohan De was a very humble and kind person, and he found it almost unbearable to chastise his son. Sometimes if Prabhupada would perform something a little naughty, his mother would scold him, saying, “I will tell your father when he comes home.” Later, when his father would be informed of the incident, he would look sternly at Prabhupada and say, “Oh, you have done this?” Then after a moment he would smile and say, “Come, let us go make puns.” This would make Prabhupada very happy. He was very much fond of puns but his mother would not cook them for him, but simply give him chapattis.
Prabhupada’s father also wanted him to be a good mridunga drum player. So Prabhupada had two teachers, one for mridunga and the other for academics. When Prabhupada became too absorbed in the mridunga lesson, the other teacher would be outside waiting for hours. Prabhupada’s mother would say this was nonsense. “Do you think that you are going to make a living playing mridunga?” Little did she know that his mridunga playing, that he would use to accompany his public chanting, would become famous around the world.
As soon as Srila Prabhupada could read, he would get the train schedules and calculate how he could get to Vrindavana, Lord Krishna’s birthplace. So, even then he was absorbed in thoughts of Lord Krishna.
Prabhupada later attended Scottish Church College in Calcutta, which was administered by the British. Later, he joined Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement and refused to accept his diploma from that college as a type of protest, although he had actually completed all the requirements for the degree. After this, a friend of his father, Dr. Bose, made him a manager of his chemical company. Thereafter, in 1918, Prabhupada became married and soon started a family.
It was in 1922 when Srila Prabhupada met Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, the son of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, for the first time. Bhaktisiddhanta was a highly regarded spiritual authority. Srila Prabhupada went to see him only at the insistence of a friend, who asked him to come along. Prabhupada previously had some bad experiences with “holy men,” and was skeptical. Finally he agreed to see him and became very impressed, and agreed that Bhaktisiddhanta was indeed a great holy man. However, because Prabhupada was “addicted to Gandhi’s movement,” he made some argument that first India should become independent before other countries would take her spiritual message seriously. Nonetheless, Bhaktisiddhanta told Srila Prabhupada that, “You are a nice young man, you know English; therefore, you should preach this mission of Lord Caitanya specifically to the English-speaking countries in the Western world.” Srila Prabhupada always remembered this.
After this, Prabhupada left the management of Dr. Bose’s chemical company and became a representative of it to start his own store in Allahabad. While there, without any spiritual association, he was still thinking of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and what he might be able to do for him one day. Then in 1928 there was the huge Kumbha Mela festival in Allahabad and some of the disciples of the Gaudiya Math, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s spiritual institution, came and asked Srila Prabhupada for his help. With his financial assistance, a temple was started there in Allahabad.
In 1933, Srila Prabhupada took formal initiation from Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, accepting him as his spiritual master. In 1936, he wrote a nice poem as an offering to Bhaktisiddhanta, who then called him the poet. Also in 1936, Prabhupada sent a nice letter to Bhaktisiddhanta, in which he wrote, “All your disciples, they are serving you so much; I am just a householder, I cannot do anything. Please let me know if there is something I can do for you.” Then, just two weeks before Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati left this world on December 31, 1936, he sent one letter to Srila Prabhupada, instructing him again to take this message and spread it to the Western countries. Prabhupada, years later, once laughed and said, “But I did not know that I was going to have to do it.”
Following the desire of his spiritual master, Prabhupada began publishing his Back to Godhead magazine in 1944. It was difficult in the beginning. He wrote them himself, had them printed, and even road into town on the bus to distribute these one page sheets. But he never stopped. Srila Prabhupada had also written a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita that was 1100 pages long, but somehow it was stolen. He had also started his League of Devotees, a small organization of Krishna conscious people. This was a forerunner of what was to be The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which he founded after he came to America. Prabhupada’s wife, however, was not interested in all this spiritual stuff. She used to protest about the meetings and his preaching activities. So this was getting in the way of his mission.
Then, in a dream, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta appeared to him and called him to take sannyasa, the renounced order of life. Prabhupada later related, “I was horrified. Take sannyasa? Leave my family? Give up my business? I did not want to do this. But Srila Bhaktisiddhanta forced me to do it. That is his mercy.” Thus, in 1959, Srila Prabhupada accepted the order of sannyasa at the Gaudiya Matha Keshava Temple in Mathura to give up materialistic life and further execute the order of his spiritual master by preaching and writing in the English language. Thereafter, he took up residence in Vrindavana, the land of Krishna’s birth. After some years, he occupied a room in the Radha-Damodara temple. While living there, though almost penniless and sometimes only eating every other day, he continued writing and distributing his small magazine. However, a friend mentioned to him that instead of writing a magazine, which could easily be thrown away, he should write books, which a person would keep after purchasing. Srila Prabhupada took this up seriously and spent most of his time from 1959 to 1965 translating the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
By 1965 he had raised funds to publish the first three volumes of the Bhagavatam. Armed with this, Prabhupada felt ready to finally carry out the instructions his spiritual master had given him nearly 40 years earlier. Then he decided to travel to America.
Srila Prabhupada came to America in 1965 on the steamship Jaladuta with little money, a pair of hand cymbals, and a small trunk of his books, without knowing anyone. With enormous odds, Srila Prabhupada thought, “I am an old man, I cannot do very much. But what I can do, let me do in this New York City, which is the biggest of all cities in the world.” He maintained himself by selling just enough books to get by, and staying here and there. Prabhupada wrote, “Most of the population here is covered by the material modes of ignorance and passion. Absorbed in material life they think themselves very happy and satisfied. Therefore they have no taste for the transcendental message of Vasudeva. I do not know how they will be able to understand it.” Humbly considering himself to be the most insignificant servant of his spiritual master, Prabhupada pushed on with great determination to try to do just some little thing before the time he would die.
Once, sharing an apartment with a young man, Srila Prabhupada discovered that he was keeping meat and dog food and other abominable things in the refrigerator. Prabhupada began crying, thinking, “Now I have broken my vow of sannyasa. I am living in a place where they are keeping meat.” But, determined to serve his spiritual master, he went on. It was because of this great determination and faith, even in the midst of so many difficulties, that Srila Prabhupada gained the grace of his spiritual master and became successful.
Formerly, so-called yogis had come to the West, simply to get their pictures taken with some political big-wigs, for the purpose of returning to India and advertising themselves as international celebrities. Prabhupada was not out to make such a cheap display, but rather to preach Krishna Consciousness. We never see him pictured with some so-called important man. Instead, we have all seen the famous picture of Prabhupada standing in Tompkin’s Square Park chanting Hare Krishna under a big tree.
In July of 1966, Prabhupada secured a storefront with an adjoining apartment at 26 Second Avenue. He began holding Bhagavad-gita classes at 6 AM and 7 PM and at long last, 10 months after his arrival, prospective devotees started coming. Boys that later became Brahmananda Swami, Kirtanananda Swami, Hayagriva, Satsva-rupa Gosvami, Umapati, Acyutananda Swami and others would stop in. These boys used to come early in the morning, picking a few flowers along the way to offer to Prabhupada. His Divine Grace would spend most of the night translating Bhagavad-gita As It Is and would read some of what he had written for class the next day. During these times almost anyone could come and spend practically the whole day with Srila Prabhupada.
Prabhupada was now undertaking the role of acharya, or one who teaches by example. These new American Vaishnavas had to be shown how to eat nice prasadam [food offered to Krishna], how to chant on beads, how to cleanse the temple and themselves. There was no one to teach them except Prabhupada. With great patience and affection he spoon fed his first disciples the basic tenets of Krishna Consciousness.
Gradually the devotees began to live with Prabhupada and thus the first Krishna Conscious temple was established in the West. Late in 1966, Prabhupada officially founded The International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Some devotees argued for using ‘God Consciousness’ instead, so that Westerners would not be frightened off. But Prabhupada replied sternly, “God has a name—Krishna. So why not use it?”
In those early days Srila Prabhupada established his basic program for spreading Krishna Consciousness, from which he never deviated. Every night he would sleep only one or two hours, then rise early to translate. In the morning hours he would have the early morning worship of mangala aratika and then give class. The remainder of the day was devoted to preaching, managing, and teaching his students about Krishna.
One of Prabhupada’s greatest concerns was the fear that perhaps American boys would not appreciate Krishna prasada (food prepared for offering to the Lord). Prabhupada personally cooked and served the prasada, encouraging them to eat more and more. Eventually the initial reluctances were overcome and the devotees soon became addicted to consuming vast amounts of prasada. Prabhupada inaugurated Sunday love feasts which are still the tradition in all of ISKCON’s numerous centers. The devotees used to eat so much that they would pass out on the floor, right next to the pots. Then, upon awakening hours later they would finish off what was left. The ecstasy of relishing Krishna prasada was destroying their attachment for material addictions.
Kirtan [congregational singing and chanting of Krishna’s holy names] was stressed just as strongly. Beating on an old tom-tom, Srila Prabhupada would lead kirtan (the singing of the Lord’s holy names) for at least 45 minutes before and after each one-hour class. On Sundays the devotees would go to the park to chant and these weekly kirtans sometimes lasted for 2 to 3 hours. Prabhupada was tireless and wore out his disciples who were younger by 40 to 50 years. Finally, Prabhupada spoke, mostly on Bhagavad-gita, with the greatest conviction and air of authority. The young disciples were struck by the assurance with which Prabhupada declared, “It is a fact. Krishna says… No one can deny it,” and so on instead of, “I think,” or, “In my opinion,” or, “Maybe it is like this.” Altogether four principles formed the foundation of Prabhupada’s preaching movement: chanting, dancing, feasting, and philosophy, and in this way Srila Prabhupada and his disciples had opened over 100 Krishna Conscious temples in the 10 years while Prabhupada was preaching.
Then one day a note appeared pinned to the door on the bathroom. It stated matter-of-factly the basic regulative principles. All initiated devotees must avoid illicit sex, gambling, meat eating, intoxications, always chant Hare Krishna, and not talk any nonsense. So Prabhupada had begun to lay down the law. Of course, he was always most compassionate. He said; “I am 80 percent lenient. If I gave you all of the rules and regulations, you would faint.”
When things were doing nicely in New York, Srila Prabhupada left with Kirtanananda and Hayagriva prabhus for San Francisco where he opened another temple in 1967. Kirtanananda Swami only remained there a few days and then he flew to Montreal, where a third Krishna Conscious temple was begun.
It was in 1967 that Srila Prabhupada suffered a severe stroke which almost ended his life. As the stroke came on Prabhupada cried out, “Hare Krsna!” and collapsed into the arms of Kirtanananda. Later on he said that that was the time appointed for him to leave his body, but that Krishna wanted him to finish his work first. Prabhupada went back to India to recover.
Prabhupada’s potency began spreading to those who associated with him. His disciples were going out and opening more and more new branches. Temples were opened in Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia and Columbus. The list grew and grew. All the while Srila Prabhupada was going on with his translating work. Prabhupada would take rest late in the evening around 11 PM, sleep for one or two hours and then wake up and translate around 2 or 3 hours a night while everyone else would be taking rest.
First of all, he published Bhagavad-gitaAs It Is, then The Teachings of Lord Caitanya, then Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a summary of the tenth canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, then The Nectar of Devotion, which is a summary of Srila Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrta sindhu. In addition the work on the Srimad-Bhagavatam was going on constantly and the original three volumes Prabhupada had published in 1965 grew to thirty by 1977.
The work on Srimad-Bhagavatam was set aside for 18 months during 1974-5 while Srila Prabhupada translated the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, a 17 volume work considered, “the post graduate course in Vedic study.” In this way, Prabhupada’s preaching work went on incessantly, opening more and more centers, publishing more and more books. Wherever he went he sowed the seeds of Krishna Consciousness.
Once Prabhupada’s plane was held over for one hour on the remote island of Fiji. And in that one hour one Indian man who had known Srila Prabhupada previously, took the opportunity to come to the airport and talk with him. Prabhupada infused in him the idea of beginning a Krishna Conscious temple there and in the fall of 1977 that plan was actualized with the opening of the Krishna-Kaliya temple. So, simply by being in a remote place for one hour, Srila Prabhupada established another center for Krishna Consciousness.
As for his books, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust which was formed exclusively for publishing the works of Srila Prabhupada, is now the world’s largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy. During those days, over ten million pieces of literature written by Srila Prabhupada were being distributed annually.
Prabhupada’s books are dynamic, not stagnant or useless. They contain the master plan for perfect living on a personal, national and even universal scale. Their effect is ever-increasingly expanding. So many large scale projects have sprung from these books. In 1968 Srila Prabhupada established the New Vrindaban Community in West Virginia, introducing self-sufficient Vedic style living with Krishna in the center, as the only positive alternative to the hell bound chaos of modern urban life. Since that time dozens of similar communities have sprung up in all continents of the globe.
In India the Sridhama Mayapur project aims at establishing a complete Vedic city which will include the largest temple in India, a football-sized ‘kirtan stadium’, planetarium, and even an airport. This project is becoming the largest construction effort ever undertaken in India.
Thus, Srila Prabhupada tirelessly expanded his Krishna Consciousness movement. He has always been especially concerned with prasada distribution. Prabhupada wants restaurants in all the cities where we have temples. He has given us a program of going to new cities and beginning first by having restaurant-reading rooms where one can come take prasada, read the books, develop some taste for the philosophy and then, when there is some interest, open a new temple. So in this way the Krishna Consciousness movement can grow. This is the meaning of a Vaishnava. A Vaishnava’s business is not for himself, but for others. Srila Prabhupada was always fully realized, God conscious. There was no need for him to leave Vrndavana which was so dear to him, and to come to this horrible place. But out of his intense compassion and desire to please his spiritual master, he did so.
Thereafter, he continued to distribute this spiritual knowledge and the process of singing and chanting Hare Krishna all over the world. He traveled around the world 12 times and visited every major country to take bhakti-yoga and harinama sankirtana (congregational singing of the holy names of the Lord) to the western countries. He gave thousands of lectures, wrote thousands of letters, and met with many important scholars and dignitaries who very much appreciated his efforts. Therefore, it was Srila Prabhupada who had been predicted by the previous acharyas, and by Sri Caitanya, and even by Lord Krishna in the ancient Puranas, as the person who would spread this new spiritual awareness.
Even though Srila Prabhupada left this world in 1977, he wrote 51 volumes of books with translations in 28 languages, especially Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, so anyone can take advantage of this knowledge. He established 108 temples in most major cities around the world, and touched so many people who can also teach this philosophy that this genuine spiritual knowledge will continue to spread and be available for the next 10,000 years, throughout the length of this Golden Age in Kali-yuga.
Now it is the duty of those who have been so fortunate as to have received his association to continue his work. This is all that Prabhupada ever wanted, that his disciples all become pure devotees and that they continue spreading this chanting of Hare Krishna. Prabhupada’s wisdom, his determination, his strength, his example and his love; all these are available to anyone who simply desires them above everything else. Giving up all attachment to material things, the devotee takes the instructions of his spiritual master to be his life and soul. Srila Prabhupada has written, “Although my Guru Maharaja ordered me to accomplish this mission, I am not worthy or fit to do it. I am very fallen and insignificant. Therefore, O Lord, now I am begging for Your Mercy. Let me become worthy, for You are the wisest and most experienced of all. If You bestow Your power by serving the spiritual master, one attains the Absolute Truth—one’s life becomes successful. If that service is obtained, then one becomes happy and gets Your association due to good fortune.”
Text pasted from; Stephen Knapp