About the Author
Srila Prabhupada was born in Calcutta in 1896, the day after Janmastami, the appearance anniversary of Lord Krsna. His life history, from his earliest days, to his last, in 1977, is described in the vivid biography “Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta”, by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami.
Srila Prabhupada met Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, his spiritual master, in 1922 in Calcutta. Although this was the first time they had met, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta at once told him, “You are an educated young man. Why don’t you preach the message of Lord Caitanya in English?” This request became the driving force in Srila Prabhupada’s life.
At that time, Srila Prabhupada accepted Srila Bhaktisiddhanta within his heart as his spiritual master, and in 1932 became an initiated disciple. To support his wife and family, he maintained a successful pharmaceutical business.
In 1936, Srila Prabhupada wrote a letter to his spiritual master who at that time was passing his last days on earth. Srila Prabhupada inquired, “How can I serve you?” Srila Bhaktisiddhanta wrote back, “Preach this Krsna consciousness movement in English”. Srila Prabbhupada recognized this as the same instruction he had received at their first meeting and thus knew this to be his life’s mission. He began preparing himself for this great effort.
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, which is still published today. He would write, edit, oversee the layout, proofread and sell the copies himself.
He retired from his home and family life in 1950 and dedicated the next ten years to studying and preaching. In 1959, he accepted the order of sannyasa, renunciation, and within a few years wrote three volumes of English translation and commentary for the first canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. He bought the paper, gathered donations to print the books, got the books printed, and sold them himself and through agents in the larger Indian cities.
Srila Prabhupada presents a copy of Srimad-Bhagavatam to India’s Prime Minister in 1964.
Now that he had taken sannyasa and prepared three volumes in Englsih, he felt ready to carry out the heavy order of his spiritual master to bring the holy names of Krsna to every town and village in the world. Srila Prabhupada decided to go to America, convinced that if America took to Krsna consciousness, other countries would follow.
He begged free passage from a pious shipping magnate who had sponsored the printing of his books, and he sailed for America on the Jaladuta, a ship of the Scindia Steamship Company. Travelling for thirty-seven days across the ocean, he suffered two painful heart attacks. Srila Prabhupada arrived in New York city in September, 1965. As he related later on, “I didn’t know whether to turn left or right.”
After he spent a difficult half year living here and there, his followers rented him a small storefront and apartment at 26 Second Avenue in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was here that sincere searchers for knowledge had gathered, and gradually they found shelter with Srila Prabhupada, who they called “Swamiji.”
One day Srila Prabhupada brought his followers to Tompkins Square Park to chant Hare Krsna in public. Soon there were regular public chanting parties, as his followers became more serious. They eventually began taking initiation from Srila Prabhupada, promising to follow regulative principles and chant the Hare Krsna mantra a prescribed minimum of times daily.
In July 1966, Srila Prabhupada officially incorporated ISKCON, the International Society for Krsna Consciousness, and then he began to strongly develop it as an instrument for spreading the message of Krsna throughout the world. Srila Prabhupada also revived Back to Godhead magazine, which the new devotees distributed on the streets. He regularly chanted and gave lectures before eager groups of people at his storefront. And he distributed prasadam, spiritualized food; at programs he called the Sunday love feast. In early 1967, Srila Prabhupada visited San Francisco to start ISKCON on the West Coast. Many hippies joined and spread the mission throughout their community.
Srila Prabhupada then sent his disciples to other parts of the world to open centers: Montreal, Boston, London, Berlin, and the other cities in North America, India, and Europe.
By the time Srila Prabhupada left this world, after preaching for twelve years, he had established 108 centers, written more than sixty volumes of transcendental literature, travelled around the world fourteen times, initiated five thousand disciples, founded the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust – the world’s largest publisher of Vedic literature – and began a scientific academy (The Bhaktivedanta Institute) and the other trusts related to ISKCON.
Srila Prabhupada wrote more than sixty books. He translated the original text from Sanskrit to Bengali, word by word, and gave a complete commentary. In clear, lucid language, he exposed the foolishness of modern materialistic society and presented an alternative in the vast science of spiritual knowledge called Krsna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada works include Bhagavad- gita As It Is, Srimad Bhagavatam, the multi volume Caitanya Caritamrita, the Nectar of Devotion, the Krsna book, the Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Sri Isopanisad, the Nectar of Instruction, and dozens of small books.
After his first three books, Srila Prabhupada produced all the rest within eleven years. He would write almost daily between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m. He dictated his texts, which his disciples then typed and edited. Srila Prabhupada minimized sleep and spent the early morning hours writing. His days were filled with teaching both his followers and the public, and with guiding his growing society.
Until his last few days on earth, he continued his work of translating and commenting on spiritual texts. He was an extraordinary author, teacher, and saint.
His Teachings :
“Human life is simply awarded to a living entity so that he can realize his spiritual identity and his permanent source of happiness.”
Of all his various contributions, Srila Prabhupada considered his books most important. In fact, he would often describe his work of translating and explaining the ancient Vedic texts as his very life and soul. In 1970, Srila Prabhupada founded the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, now the World’s largest publisher of Vedic literature. Through its work over the last quarter century, millions of people have read at least one of Srila Prabhupada’s books and have felt their lives genuinely enriched. Here is a brief introduction to the spiritual knowledge you will find within those books.
There are many forms of life on this planet. There are immovable forms such as trees and plants, and a vast array of aquatic, insects, birds, beasts, 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 exactly are those unique capacities?
We can begin answering this question with another. 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 rather than dead. Even the small microbial germ or the common houseplant 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 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 that of the insect, the bird, the beast, or even the monkey? These creatures eat and we also eat; they sleep and we also sleep; they reproduce and we reproduce; they defend themselves and so do we. That we can perform these functions with greater sophistication may be one indicator 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 night time sky. Such an endowment is not present in any other forms 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 inquire 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.
If we can accept the importance of this type of inquiry, our next consideration would naturally be where to find authoritative answers to such questions. Clearly, if perfect knowledge concerning questions of the self, the universe, and God, exists at all, it 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.
All of us have imperfect senses and because we 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 various imperfections and ultimately fail. Therefore, so-called truths established exclusively on the basis of 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-the process is to 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. As a logical consequence, His knowledge must be perfect. And anyone who transmits that knowledge without change gives the same perfect knowledge. We need only to accept this proposition theoretically to progress in our understanding 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. That succession goes back thousands of years to Lord Krsna Himself. Thus the knowledge found within Srila Prabhupada’s books is non-different from that which 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.
The writings of Srila Prabhupada are represented mainly by three Vedic texts-the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Caitanya-caritamrta. Together these works of literature comprise more than 25 volumes of detailed information constituting the original Vedic science of God realization, or ‘Bhagavat-dharma. Their translation into the English language, along with elaborate explanations, constitutes Srila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution to the spiritual, intellectual, and cultural life of the world.
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. These three divisions of understanding represent universal principles common to all religious teachings of the world.
The knowledge described in Srila Prabhupada’s books enables anyone to advance in his 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 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 actually 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.
Without exception all material phenomena have a beginning and an end. A most prominent idea 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. This point of view, however, remains only an assumption. It has not been proven 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 most of us have been educated from early childhood to think of ourselves in terms of such beliefs. Few of us, however, have thought through the philosophical implications of this type of thinking, which draws us unconsciously toward voidistic and nihilistic styles of life.
The most basic of the Vedic teachings stands in direct opposition to the modern scientific view of consciousness and life. According to that teaching, individual consciousness is not at all 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, symphonized by consciousness, continues to exist even after the material body is finished.
If each one of us is an eternal soul covered 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 Krsna 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.
As Srila Prabhupada himself notes 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….
“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 God is said… to be simply a waste of time.”
“The Vedas are not compilations of human knowledge. Vedic knowledge comes from the spiritual world, from Lord Krsna.”
“As the embodied soul should continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.13)
AN EXPLANATION BY SRILA PRABHUPADA
In the modern age, people are so uneducated that they cannot understand that the body is changing at every moment and that the ultimate change is called death. In this life one may be a king, and in the next life one may be a dog, according to his karma. The spirit soul is in a deep slumber caused by the force of material nature. He is put into one type of condition and again changed into another type. Without self realization and knowledge, conditional life continues, and one falsely claims himself a king, a cat, or a dog. These are simply transformations brought about by the supreme arrangement.
“The scientists say life arose from matter. But they cannot actually demonstrate this in their laboratories.”