One Century Since the Birth of
by Aja das
Reprinted by permission of Bhaktivedanta Book Trust
- His Journey
- His Prayer
- His Society
- ISKCON's Purpose
- Distributions of Spiritual Food
- His Teachings
- The Importance of Human Life
- The Perfect Knowledge of the Vedas
- A Universal Science of God Realization
- A Distinction Between the Body and the Self
- Srimad Bhagavatam Quote
- Scholars Appreciate his Teachings
- His Temples
- The Spiritual City of Mayapur, India
His JourneyAlthough one candle kindles unlimited numbers of other candles, each with the same intensity as the first, there yet remains the original candle. Similarly, although the Supreme Personality of Godhead expands Himself in unlimited forms, He yet remains the original cause of all causes. In the Vedas, that supreme original cause is known by the name Krishna because He possesses unlimited transcendental qualities that attract all living beings.
Five hundred years ago, that same supreme cause, Lord Sri Krishna, appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and declared that the chanting of His holy names Hare Krishna, Hare Rama would spread beyond the shores of India to every town and village in the world. Hundreds of years then passed and Lord Caitanya's faithful followers were left wondering just how and when His bold prediction would come true. Then, on August 13th, 1965, just a few days before his 69th birthday, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, philosopher, scholar, and saint, set out for America to see what could be done. Begging passage from a local steamship company, he traveled as the only passenger on board a small, weathered cargo ship named the Jaladuta. In his possession were a suitcase, an umbrella, a supply of dry cereal, about seven dollars worth of Indian currency, and several boxes of books. When the Jaladuta arrived in New York harbor thirty-seven days later, Bhaktivedanta Swami was utterly alone. He had come to America knowing no one, with absolutely no visible means of support, and with only the meager handful of possessions he had carried on board the ship. He had no money, no friends, no followers, not his youth, good health or even a clear idea of how he would accomplish his far-reaching objective -- to present the spiritual knowledge of the Vedas to the entire Western society.
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In a poem written in Bengali just after his arrival, Bhaktivedanta Swami expressed his humble faith in Lord Sri Krishna and the special instruction of his spiritual master, who had intended him to spread the teachings of Krishna consciousness throughout the English-speaking world: "My dear Lord Krishna. How will I make them understand this message of Krishna consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified, and the most fallen. Therefore I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them, for I am powerless to do so on my own... I am sure that when this transcendental message penetrates their hearts they will certainly feel engladdened and thus become liberated from all unhappy conditions of life..." This poem was written on September 17, 1965. Just twelve years later, on November 14, 1977, Bhaktivedanta Swami passed away in India at the age of 81. What happened in those twelve years? What was Bhaktivedanta Swami able to accomplish during this brief period, beginning with nothing, and at an age when most are ready to retire? The list of accomplishments is striking by any standard. In short, between the years 1965 and 1977, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, or Srila Prabhupada, as his followers affectionately came to know him, spread the teachings of Krishna consciousness to every major city in the world and formed an international society comprising thousands of dedicated members. He established 108 temples across six continents and circled the globe 12 times to personally guide the members of his broadening mission. As if this were not enough accomplishment for a person proceeding from his 70th to his 81st year, Srila Prabhupada also translated, wrote, and published 51 volumes of books in 28 different languages, tens of millions of which were distributed throughout the world. He delivered thousands of lectures, wrote thousands of letters, and participated in thousands of recorded conversations with followers, admirers, and critics alike. And he won the esteem of hundreds of prominent scholars and social figures, who genuinely appreciated Srila Prabhupada's contributions to religion, philosophy, and culture. The astonishing story of how Srila Prabhupada achieved such a marvelous result in twelve short years is far beyond the scope of this article. But the remainder will provide you with a glimpse into his remarkable teachings and achievements.
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His SocietyAfter arriving in New York City in September of 1965, Srila Prabhupada struggled alone for the first year to establish his God conscious movement. He lived simply and lectured whenever and wherever he got the opportunity. Gradually he began to attract some people interested in his teachings.
In July of 1966, while still working alone from an obscure storefront on the Lower East Side, Srila Prabhupada nonetheless founded a spiritual society intended for worldwide participation. He called it the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON for short. At the time of incorporation, Srila Prabhupada had not attracted even one committed follower. Undeterred, he enlisted volunteers from among the small group of regular attenders of his evening lectures to act as ISKCON's first trustees. That was then. Today, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness comprises over 300 temples, farms, schools, and special projects throughout the world and maintains a worldwide congregation numbering in the millions.
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More than another sectarian faith, Krishna consciousness is a technical science of spiritual values that is fully described in ancient India's Vedic literature. The aim of the Krishna consciousness movement is to acquaint all people of the world with the universal principles of God realization so that they may derive the highest benefits of spiritual understanding, unity, and peace. The Vedas recommend that in this age the most effective means for achieving self-realization is to always hear about, glorify, and remember the all-good Supreme Lord, who is known by many names. One of these names is Krishna, which means "the all-attractive one," another is Rama, which means "the reservoir of all pleasure," and Hare indicates the Lord's inconceivable energy. Following the Vedic recommendation, the members of ISKCON are always seen chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This sublime chanting puts us directly in touch with the Supreme Lord through the sound vibration of His holy names and gradually awakens us to our original relationship with God. ISKCON's primary mission is thus to encourage all members of human society to devote at least some portion of their time and energies to this process of hearing and chanting about God. In this way they will gradually come to realize that all living beings are spirit souls, eternally related to the Supreme Lord in service and in love.
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Distribution of Spiritual Food
Along with teaching Vedic knowledge and spreading the chanting of the Lord's holy names, ISKCON also freely distributes spiritual food throughout the world. Like the philosophy and the chanting, vegetarian food, which has first been offered to the Lord, purifies the heart and mind. Thus it assists in the process of gradually uncovering one's original awareness of God. ISKCON's distribution of spiritualized food, therefore, through its program known worldwide as Food for Life, is beneficial for the body and the soul of each recipient.
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His TeachingsOf all his contributions, Srila Prabhupada considered his books the most important. He would often describe his work of translating and explaining the ancient Vedic teachings as his very life and soul. Over the last quarter of a century, millions of people have read at least one of Srila Prabhupada's books and felt their lives genuinely enriched. Here is a brief introduction to the spiritual knowledge contained within those books.
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Srila Prabhupada's Books Stress The Importance of This Human Form of Life
There are many forms of life on this planet. There are immovable forms such as trees and plants, and a vast array of aquatic, insect, bird, beast, and mammalian forms as well. Our human form is also one among these varied forms of life, yet even a casual observer would have to agree that we human beings are endowed with unique capacities that distinguish us from all other forms of life. What are those unique capacities? We can begin answering this question with another question. What is it that distinguishes a living form from a nonliving form? The answer is consciousness, or awareness. All living forms display this symptom of consciousness to one degree or another. That is why we call them living as opposed to dead. Even the small microbial germ or the common house plant show signs of consciousness, whereas our dining table and chairs do not. It is also evident that different forms of life display different degrees and levels of consciousness and that the human form represents the highest development of consciousness that we know. It is this greater development of consciousness, then, that distinguishes the human being from all other forms of life on the planet. But what is it about our consciousness that makes it so different from the consciousness of the insect, the bird, the beast, or even that of the monkey? These creatures eat and we also eat; they sleep and we also sleep; they reproduce and we reproduce; they have some capacity for defense and so do we. Our ability to do these functions with greater sophistication may indicate that we possess higher consciousness, but it does not fully explain our excellence above all other forms of life. A more satisfactory explanation is found in our ability to question our existence, reflect upon ourselves, and inquire into our own nature and the nature of God. We can create languages, ponder the meaning of life, and puzzle in wonderment over the nightime sky. This endowment is not present in any other form of life. The Vedas therefore advise that in this human form of life we should be inquisitive to know who we are, what the universe is, what God is, and what the relationship is between ourselves, the universe, and God. We should ask about the solution to the ultimate problems of life, namely birth, death, old age and disease. Such questions cannot be asked by the cats and dogs, but they must arise in the heart of a real human being.
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Srila Prabhupada's Books Reveal the Perfect Knowledge of the Vedas
If we can accept the importance of this type of inquiry, our next consideration will naturally be where to find authoritative answers to such questions. Clearly, perfect knowledge concerning questions of the self, the universe, and God, if it exists at all, would have to be of a standard higher than just your opinion or my opinion, or for that matter Freud's or Einstein's or anyone else's opinion. Because we all have imperfect senses and are all prone to make mistakes, our relative opinions about matters beyond our experience can supply neither valid nor reliable information. Thus our attempt to approach such matters empirically will be fraught with imperfections and ultimately fail. So-called truths established exclusively on mental speculation cannot help us understand the Absolute Truth, which is beyond the reach of the imperfect senses and mind. The Vedas explain that if we want to know about things beyond the jurisdiction of our experience -- beyond the limitations of human perception and cognition -- we hear from one who knows. The transcendental knowledge of the Vedas was first uttered by the Supreme Lord Himself. The Lord, the supremely powerful being, cannot fall under the influence of any other force. Consequently, His knowledge must be perfect. And anyone who transmits that knowledge without change gives the same perfect knowledge. We need only accept this proposition theoretically to progress in our comprehension of Vedic thought. The idea is that the perfect knowledge of the Vedas has been preserved over time by transmission through an unbroken chain of spiritual masters. Srila Prabhupada represents one such disciplic chain or succession. This succession goes back thousands of years to Lord Krishna Himself. Thus the knowledge contained within Srila Prabhupada's books is nondifferent from what was originally imparted by the Supreme Lord. Srila Prabhupada did not manufacture "truths." He merely delivered the timeless teachings of the original Vedas without addition, deletion, or change. Srila Prabhupada's writings are primarily represented by three Vedic texts -- the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Caitanya-caritamrta. Together these works comprise more than 25 volumes of detailed information on the original Vedic science of God realization, or bhagavata-dharma. Their translation into the English language, with elaborate explanations, is Srila Prabhupada's most significant contribution to the spiritual, intellectual and cultural life of the world.
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Srila Prabhupada's Books Present A Universal Science of God Realization
The Vedic teachings presented in Srila Prabhupada's books can be summarized under three general headings, known in Sanskrit as sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana. Sambandha means our relationship with God, abhidheya means acting in that relationship, and prayojana means the ultimate goal or perfection of that relationship. These three divisions of understanding represent universal principles common to all religious teachings of the world. Thus the knowledge described in Srila Prabhupada's books enables anyone to advance one's understanding of God without having to change current religious, national, or cultural affiliations. The science of how to understand God, how to understand one's relationship with God, and how to develop love for God has nothing to do with sectarian faiths. These are objectives that no religion in the world could deny. They are, in other words, the essence of religion -- universal features by which all religions may be understood. Preferences regarding God's holy name may differ from one religion to another, modes of worship may differ, and details of ritual and doctrine may differ as well. But the test is how much the practitioner develops knowledge of God and love for God. Real religion means to learn to love God. And how to love God is the sum and substance of the teachings found in Srila Prabhupada's books.
Srila Prabhupada's Books Distinguish Between the Self and the Body and Promote the Highest Welfare For All
Without exception, all material phenomena have a beginning and an end. One of the most prominent ideas of modern culture is that consciousness is another such material phenomenon. Thus it is believed that consciousness (or the self) also ends with the death of the material body. But this point of view remains only an assumption. It has not been proved true by any scientific observation or experiment. Nonetheless, the idea that the self ends with the body remains one of the great articles of faith of modern materialistic thought, and we have all been educated from early childhood to think of ourselves in terms of such beliefs. Few of us have thought through the philosophical implications of this type of thinking, which compels us to unconsciously embrace voidistic and nihilistic styles of life. The most basic teaching of the Vedic literature stands in direct opposition to the modern scientific view of consciousness and life. According to Vedic teachings, individual consciousness is not dependent upon neurobiological functions but permanently exists as an independent reality. The presence within the material body of a conscious observer who remains ever present throughout changing bodily and mental states indicates the existence of two energies -- the spiritual energy (represented by the conscious self) and the material energy (represented by the temporary body). The Vedas explain that this spiritual energy, symptomized by consciousness, continues to exist even after the material body is finished. If each of us is an eternal soul covered only by different temporary bodily dresses, we can reasonably conclude that the highest welfare activity for all human society is that which awakens us to our true spiritual identity and our dormant relationship with God. That activity is called Krishna consciousness. Just as there is neither glory nor profit in saving the dress of a drowning man, there is neither glory nor profit in humanitarian efforts aimed exclusively at improving conditions for the temporary material body, which in the end is destined to grow old, become diseased, and die.
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As Srila Prabhupada states in Srimad-Bhagavatam:
"The actual self is beyond the gross body and subtle mind. He is the potent, active principle of the body and mind. Without knowing the need of the dormant soul, one cannot be happy simply with the gratification of the body and mind... The spirit soul's needs must be fulfilled. Simply by cleansing the cage of the bird, one does not satisfy the bird. One must actually know the needs of the bird himself..."
"There is dormant affection for God within everyone... Therefore we have to engage ourselves in activities that will evoke our divine consciousness. This is possible only by hearing and chanting the divine activities of the Supreme Lord. Thus any occupational engagement which does not help one to achieve attachment for hearing and chanting the transcendental message of Godhead is said... to be simply a waste of time."
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Scholarly Appreciation of Srila Prabhupada's Teachings
Srila Prabhupada frequently noted that although modern colleges and universities had many departments of understanding, no department taught scientific knowledge of the self and God. By presenting the original Vedic science of God realization through his books, Srila Prabhupada filled the gap and met this vital educational need. Over the years, hundreds of scholars who met Srila Prabhupada or read his books have expressed keen appreciation for his personal qualities and the contribution his teachings have made to humanity. Harvey Cox, the world-reknowned professor of religion at Harvard University, for example, describes his gradual recognition of Srila Prabhupada's valuable contribution in the following passage:
"When I first met the Hare Krishnas, I can remember how surprised I was, and I wondered what this meant. The costumes, the chanting, and the shaved heads appeared a little strange to me. But as I came to know the movement, I came to find that there was a striking similarity in the essence of what they were teaching and in the original core of Christianity -- that is, living simply, not trying to accumulate worldly goods, living with compassion toward all creatures, sharing, loving, and living joyfully. I am impressed with how much the teachings of one man and the spiritual tradition he brought have impacted themselves into the lives of so many people. In my view Srila Prabhupada's contribution is a very important one and will be a lasting one."
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His TemplesAs already mentioned, ISKCON currently has over three hundred temples, farms, schools, and special projects throughout the world. At each center, members daily teach classes, chant mantras, and provide individual instruction on the science of Krishna consciousness. Each center also holds a weekly festival and vegetarian feast, as well as programs on holy days throughout the year. All programs are of course open to the public.
Srila Prabhupada introduced two specific programs for spreading his teachings in India: massive book distribution and the construction of major temples and cultural centers. By the time of his passing away in 1977, Srila Prabhupada had already seen to the construction of major temples in Bombay and Vrndavana and had begun work on a spiritual city in West Bengal. Today there are forty-one temples and centers spread throughout India, with a nationwide congregation of millions.
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The Construction of a Spiritual City in Mayapur, India
The construction of a spiritual city in Mayapur, India, represents the most ambitious of Srila Prabhupada's many programs for the further expansion of Krishna consciousness worldwide. When completed, Mayapur City will become one of the most powerful and attractive features of ISKCON's presentation of Vedic culture in the 21st century.
The project, already well under construction, will include a special memorial cathedral in honor of Srila Prabhupada, a Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, restaurants, hotels, permanent residences, several fully interactive theme parks, and much more.
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A.C. BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA
1896 - 1996
Drawings : Ananta Shakti dasa (Please do not use without permission)
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