Śrīla Prabhupāda

Founder, Ācārya and Spiritual Master of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, affectionately called Śrīla Prabhupāda by his many disciples, was born on 1 September 1896 in Calcutta, India. He attended university there, and after graduating in philosophy, English and economics in 1920, he joined Gandhi’s independence movement.

Srila Prabhupada Sitting BioIn 1922 he met his spiritual master Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī, who gave him the task of spreading the science of Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the Western world at their very first meeting. Nine years later he was officially initiated by Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī, and in 1936, immediately after the passing of his guru, he published the magazine “Back to Godhead”, which appeared regularly from then on and is now printed in all the main languages of the world. In 1962, he published the first volume of the over 5,000-year-old Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, a first translation into English, which was soon followed by two more volumes.

In 1965, Śrīla Prabhupāda decided to travel to America to fulfil the mission of his spiritual master. When he landed in New York harbour in September, he brought only approx. about seven dollars and a pair of hand cymbals, in addition to his books. In New York, in the spring of 1966, he founded the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness (ISKCON), which has since developed into the largest spiritual movement of the present day. Since that time, Śrīla Prabhupāda has translated and published 30 more major books and about 10 paperbacks, making him known to all Sanskrit scholars as the most eminent Sanskrit scholar of the present day.

Despite his advanced age, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda still translated several hours a day from the Vedic scriptures, many of which already serve as textbooks at universities. As Śrī Lal Bahadur Shastri, the former Prime Minister of India, stated, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami is doing valuable work; his books are significant contributions to the liberation of humanity.

ABOUT THE SPIRITUAL MASTER (quoted from the Śrī Īśopaniṣad of 1969)

When we talk about the real spiritual master, the guru, data is inadequate, and a description of his life does not bring us any closer to him. We can see pictures of him and witness the reverence and love that his disciples have for him. Śrī Guru is not brought closer to us in this way.

Srila Prabhupada Smiling BioHe eludes our endeavours to force him into any form that is familiar to us and through which we can make the object of our vision accessible to our own attitude. But the real guru is not just any object of this world. The lotus flower grows out of the swamp and yet is not wetted by water. And so the spiritual master appears in this world and yet is not touched by this world.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda appeared in this world on 1 September 1896 in Calcutta, India. His parents called him Abhay Charan De, his countless disciples all over the world call him Śrīla Prabhupāda.

We do not appear in this world. We are born due to our insatiable lust and greed for sense enjoyment. We have not come here to give. We want to take, to be master, to be independent. Śrī Gurudeva is not here to take, he is here to really give. He is not master, he is servant, not independent, but completely dependent on God, on Śrī Kṛṣṇa, on the Absolute Truth. In this perfect spiritual dependence on God lies the real freedom from the contamination of matter, which we seek in vain in this world. Because we want to take (want to enjoy) and do not want to serve, we cannot recognise the real servant, the servant of God, the devotee, the Bhakta, who is only here to give. The agents of the Lord, the real devotees, are here to give us the most precious gift of all: Krsna-prema, love of God.

We search this world for worthless broken glass. We see the fulfilment of all our desires in the insipid glitter that these useless objects make us believe. We listen devotedly to the call of the material senses and follow it, through all worlds, through all material bodies, as worms, as dogs, as fish, as humans, slaves to our false masters (our material senses and lust). But these false masters, to whom we surrender ourselves so wholeheartedly in this way, reward us in accordance with our perverted attitude of wanting to enjoy: Birth, old age, illness and death. In this way, true spiritual happiness, enjoyment, fulfilment, satisfaction and security are not achieved. The bitter aftertaste that we have to savour again and again is interspersed with fear, insecurity, deprivation and dissatisfaction. This is the effect of material impurity.

We search for worthless broken glass, not realising that the most precious gemstone is waiting for our attention to grace us with that spiritual wealth that we seek in vain in this transient world.

Śrī Gurudeva is the bringer of this spiritual wealth. He teaches through exemplary behaviour. He is the Ācārya. The spiritual master. This is Śrīla Prabhupāda, the founder AND Acarya of the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness, A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī.

Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad-gītā in chapter 4, 34. verse: ‘Entrust yourself to the guidance of a spiritual master to learn the truth. Ask him questions in a humble attitude and serve him. The self-realised soul can reveal insight/knowledge to you because he has seen the truth. In the first contact with the spiritual master, Śrīla Prabhupāda gives us an example. He says, ‘When I first went to see my Guru Mahārāj, he said about me, “This young man listens well. He does not go away. So I will accept him as a disciple.” – So that’s how I qualified, through this listening. And I asked questions when Guru Mahārāj spoke. Then I continued to listen. Sometimes I understood what was being said and sometimes I didn’t understand. But I stayed. Others came and went. But I stayed and kept listening.›

Srila Prabhupada Tradition BioIn 1933 Śrīla Prabhupāda received initiation (formal initiation) in Allahabad. He was chosen by his guru Mahārāj to bring Kṛṣṇa consciousness to the Western world. That was in 1936, just before Śrīla Bhakti-Siddhanta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Prabhupāda left this transient world.

The first great Ācārya to write about Kṛṣṇa consciousness and the teachings of Kṛṣṇa Caitanya in English at the turn of the century was Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākur, the father of Śrīla Bhakti-Siddhanta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Prabhupāda. Through the purity of his nature and through his salvific personality, which was completely anchored in transcendence, Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākur was able to re-introduce the teachings of Sri Kṛṣṇa Caitanya in their fullness.

Sri Kṛṣṇa, who appeared in India 500 years ago as Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, the golden avatāra of Kali-yuga, announced that Kṛṣṇa consciousness and the chanting of the holy names of God would be spread throughout the world. And so, for the first time, Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākur began to spread this teaching of Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, which was meant for all beings, beyond the borders of India. This task was continued by his son Śrīla Bhakti-Siddhanta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Mahārāj, who founded 64 temples of Kṛṣṇa consciousness in India, the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Math, and who also sent some of his disciples to the Western world for the first time. But it was only through Śrīla Prabhupāda, who came to America in 1965 at the age of 70, that Kṛṣṇa consciousness could find its ever-growing spread through its profound influence in the lives of countless people.

Our faculty of perception, dulled by meditation on sense objects, is powerless to recognise the spiritual master. We carry within us the distorted illusions of our so-called realisations with which we try to comprehend this world of appearances. If the spiritual master does not correspond to the image we have formed of a sage or saint, then we are inclined not to let him, the real saviour, through the narrow gates of our hearts. Śrī Gurudeva has not come to confirm our false sense of self, to hand us over to the handshake of hypocritical obeisance in laudatory recognition. Śrī Gurudeva has come to set us free from this disease of illusion of seeing ourselves as the centre of being and measuring everything by our own good.

We pay the pseudo-yogis and meditation jugglers, the false masters and idolised prophets the price of the soul, in cash and without hesitation, as long as they confirm us in our error, as long as they hand us the poison from golden cups, which tastes like nectar at the beginning, but very soon spreads devastatingly and completely robs us of the last remnants of vision. The guru’s medicine is often bitter, like the medicine that cures us of illness. The Guru tells us:

‘Don’t start with the small things in life, start with the greatest, with the source of all things, great and small. The Guru says:

‘Become humble, more humble than the straw in the alley. The real Guru is the epitome of humility. He is the grace of God made visible. Without him, there is no way that brings us back to God, back home.

We must try to rid ourselves of the crushing burden of our misconceptions. We must have the courage to admit our own inadequacy and total ignorance. We must have the intelligence to listen as Śrīla Prabhupāda has shown us by his own example. But to hear what is worth hearing. We need to hear the message of God from the mouth of the real guru. We need to ask questions. We need to keep listening. Whether we understand everything or not. Whether others come, whether others go. We must stay and keep listening.

Śrīla Prabhupāda speaks all the books into a dictaphone. The whole Bhagavad-gītā in its original version, as it is and as it is proclaimed and lived by great Ācāryas, by the guru-disciple succession (paramparā), the succession of spiritual masters, he translates it for us and explains it for us. And he has it translated for us into all the languages of the world, so that all may hear in order to attain the highest perfection of life. Śrīla Prabhupāda translates and explains for us the most important part of the Vedic scriptures, the Twelve Books of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the teachings of Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, Nectar of Loving Devotion (which is based on Śrīla Rupa Gosvāmī’s Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. ) If we read only one book of this and hear through this book the real Ācārya, the self-realised great soul, if we ask questions and continue to hear, then real knowledge will be revealed to us, knowledge of ourselves, of this transient world, of the transcendental world, of the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead-Śrī Kṛṣṇa. We will stop sacrificing ourselves as slaves of our false material masters to the agony of stupidity – through death, birth, old age and disease in the ever-recurring cycle. The feverish search for broken glass will come to an end, for we will begin to recognise the bearer of the most precious gem, the real guru, and with him the life of imperishability and pure spiritual knowledge, the life of spiritual bliss and joy that increases for all eternity, for which we are all created.