“I am the Spiritual Master of this institution, and all the members of the Society, they’re supposed to be my disciples. They follow the rules and regulations which I ask them to follow, and they are initiated by me spiritually” – (Srila Prabhupada Radio Interview, 12 March 1968, San Francisco)
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a brief life sketch
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was born on September 1,1896, in Calcutta. His father Gour Mohan De and mother Rajani Devi were Vaishnavas. They belonged to one of the very respectable aaristocratic families of gold merchants in Calcutta. His father Gour Mohan De named him Abhay Charan. His father’s only wish was that Abhay should become a devotee of Srimati Radharani.
Youth and married life
Abhay studied under the British colonial rule in Scottish Churches’ College and finally went to the university to learn chemistry. At the university, he became a supporter of Gandhi’s movement to gain independence for India. In support of this, he would only dress in white handloom cloth woven in India. Furthermore, to show solidarity for his country, he declined to accept his degree from the university under the British rule.
In the year 1918, Abhay married Radharani Devi while he was still a student. He went into business with a small pharmaceutical unit to support his wife and family. He met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami for the first time in Calcutta in 1922. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati took a liking to Abhay and told him to devote his life to teaching Vedic knowledge, more specifically to preach Lord Chaitanya’s message to the English speaking world. Although Abhay accepted Srila Bhaktisiddhanta within his heart as his spiritual master, it was not until 1932 that he took formal spiritual initiation from him.
In 1936, Srila Prabhupada wrote to his spiritual master requesting for any particular service that he could render. In response he received a reply containing the same instruction that he had received in 1922: ‘Preach Krishna consciousness to the English speaking world. His spiritual master passed away from this world two weeks later thus leaving these final instructions engraved in Srila Prabhupada’s heart. These instructions were to form the focus of Srila Prabhupada’s life.
Srila Prabhupada wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita and assisted the Gaudiya Matha in its work. In 1944, during the Second World War, when paper was scarce and people had little money to spend, Srila Prabhupada began a magazine called Back to Godhead. Single-handedly he wrote, edited, oversaw the layout, proof-read and sold the copies himself. This magazine is still being published today.
In 1950, Srila Prabhupada accepted vanaprastha (retired) life, thus retiring from home and family life in order to devote more time to his spiritual studies. In 1953, he received the title “Bhaktivedanta” from his God brothers. He traveled to Vrindavana where he lived very humbly at the Radha-Damodara temple. He spent several years there studying the scriptures and writing.
Renounced order of life
Nine years later in 1959 he took sannyasa, the renounced order of life. It was during his stay at the Radha-Damodara temple that he started writing his masterpiece: the translation and commentary of the Srimad Bhagavatam in English. He also wrote ‘Easy Journey to Other Planets’. Within a span of few years, he had written three volumes of English translation and a commentary for the first canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. Once again, single handedly, he bought paper and gathered funds to print his books. He sold the books himself and this time also got the help of agents in the larger Indian cities.
He now felt ready to carry out his spiritual master’s orders. He decided to start by taking the message of Krishna consciousness to America, convinced that other countries would follow suit. Obtaining free passage on a freight ship called the Jaladuta, he finally arrived in New York in 1965. He was 69 and practically penniless. All he possessed were a few copies of the Srimad Bhagavatam and forty rupees.
He had a very difficult voyage, suffering two heart attacks. Arriving in New York, he didn’t know which way to turn. After a difficult six months, preaching here and there, his few followers rented a storefront and apartment in Manhattan where he regularly gave lectures, held kirtanas and distributed prasadam. People from all walks of life, including hippies were drawn to this place in search of that missing element from their lives. Many became ‘Swamiji’s’ followers.
These followers began to hold regular kirtanas in the parks. The lectures and Sunday feast days became renowned. The young followers eventually took initiation from Srila Prabhupada, promising to follow the four regulative principles namely no meat eating, no gambling, no alcohol and no illicit sex. They also took a vow to chant the Hare Krishna mantra on 108 sacred beads 16 times over everyday. Srila Prabhupada also reinstated the Back to Godhead magazine.
Establishment of ISKCON
In July 1966, Srila Prabhupada established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness — ISKCON. His aim was to use the society to promote Krishna consciousness throughout the world. In 1967, he visited San Francisco and started an ISKCON society there. He then sent his disciples all over the world to spread Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s message and open new centers in Montreal, Boston, London, Berlin, and other cities in North America, India, and Europe. In India, three magnificent temples were initially planned: Vrindavana, the Krishna Balarama temple with all its ancillary facilities; Bombay, a temple with an educational and cultural centre; and in Mayapur, a huge temple with a Vedic planetarium.
Srila Prabhupada produced all his books, barring the three written in India, within the next eleven years. He slept little and spent the early morning hours writing. He wrote almost daily between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m. He dictated his text which his disciples then typed and edited. Srila Prabhupada translated the original texts from Sanskrit or Bengali, word by word, and gave a complete commentary.
The body of work included Bhagavad-gita As It Is, the multi-volume Srimad Bhagavatam, the multi-volume Chaitanya Charitamrita, The Nectar of Devotion, Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Sri Isopanishad, The Nectar of Instruction, and dozens of small books.
His writings have been translated into over fifty languages. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust established in 1972 to publish the works of His Divine Grace has thus become the world’s largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy.
Despite his heavy literary schedule, Srila Prabhupada did not let his writing stand in the way of his preaching. In just twelve years, in his advanced age, he travelled across the world fourteen times on lecture tours that took him to six continents. He was unstoppable.
His days were filled with writing, teaching his followers, addressing the public until the day he departed from this world. But before his departure on November 14, 1977, Srila Prabhupada gave many instructions to his disciples to follow in his footsteps and to continue the preaching and spreading of Krishna consciousness all over the world.
In the short time he spent in the West, he preached continuously, established 108 temples, wrote more than sixty volumes of transcendental literature, initiated five thousand disciples, founded the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, and began a scientific academy (the Bhaktivedanta Institute) and other trusts related to ISKCON.
Srila Prabhupada was an extraordinary author, teacher, and saint. He brought to fruition his Guru’s wish to spread Krishna consciousness all over the world through his writing and preaching. His writings comprise many volumes and are the basis of Krishna consciousness for all his disciples and for the public at large.