Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Considering Srila Prabhupada’s Mercy

(Note: This is an old article, maybe nine years old or so. I've published it elsewhere on the 'net, and it was used for a couple of years in ISKCON San Diego's Janmastami souvenir magazine. But I haven't shared it here before, so here goes.)

About 500 years ago, Lord Krishna personally appeared as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the place of the avatar for the age of Kali. Lord Chaitanya had two purposes for coming: to experience first-hand the bliss of serving Krishna and to spread pure love for Krishna, which is very rare. Writing about Lord Chaitanya’s plan for making His mercy widely available, Srila Krishna das Kaviraja Gosvami says, “sri-krishna-chaitanya-daya karaha vichara, vichara karile chitte pabe chamatkara: If you are indeed interested in logic and argument, kindly apply it to the mercy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. If you do so, you will find it to be strikingly wonderful.”

Actually, Lord Chaitanya revolutionized vaishnavism. He took Krishna consciousness into the streets when He inaugurated the congregational chanting of Krishna’s holy names and deputed bands of devotees to widely preach the glories of sankirtana and pure devotional service. He Himself traveled all over India preaching Krishna consciousness. He specifically deputed Lord Nityananda to preach in Bengal. Whereas Lord Chaitanya’s direct followers came mostly from the higher social classes, Lord Nityananda made absolutely no distinction. He approached and anyone and everyone, as demonstrated in His pastime with Jagai and Madhai, and implored them to take up devotional service to Krishna accompanied by chanting Hare Krishna.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Srila Saccidanana Bhaktivinoda Thakura saw that Lord Chaitanya’s teachings had become distorted in several ways and had fallen into disrepute. He conceived a dynamic plan to spread the glories of devotional service to everyone around the world. Part of his program was a modern approach to presenting Krishna consciousness. He presented the philosophy of Srimad-Bhagavatam in a way that even those who were influenced by modern Western philosophies, both in India and abroad, could appreciate it.

Essential to Bhaktivinoda’s revolutionary view was the understanding that Lord Chaitanya was not exaggerating when He said that His name would be sung in every town and village around the world. Bhaktivinoda wrote in his monthly journal Sajjana-tosani, “Sriman Mahaprabhu 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.” He quoted a verse from Chaitanya-bhagavata in which the Lord predicted, “My name will be preached in all the countries and towns that exist throughout the world.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura then expressed his heart’s desire: “There are many kinds of religion in the world, and among all of them the highest development of religion is the congregational chanting of the Supreme Lord’s divine names. Of this there is no doubt. Alas! When will that day come when greatly fortunate souls in countries such as England, France, Russia, Prussia, and America will take up banners, kettle drums, mridangas and karatalas and thus cause the ecstatic waves of Harinama-kirtana and the singing of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Holy Name to rise in the streets of their towns and cities? O when will that day come, when pure and transcendental Vaisnava-prema will be the only religion of all souls and all tiny sectarian religions will meet in the unlimited and universal religion of Vaisnavism as rivers merge into the great ocean? O when will that day come?”

Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s plan for propagating Krishna consciousness also included reviving a scientific daivi-varnashrama system to help make society more conducive to spiritual culture. He passed this vision of preaching Krishna consciousness to his son and siksa disciple, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who extended Bhaktivinoda’s revolution by taking concrete steps to reinstitute varnashrama-dharma. Asserting that vaishnavas are as good as brahmanas, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati gave his disciples the sacred thread at initiation, regardless of their family lineage. He also reintroduced the ashrama of tridandi-sannyasa to Gaudiya vaishnavism. Moreover, he created an organized institution for systematically propagating Krishna consciousness and trained his disciples to aggressively confront all forms of false religion.

Throughout his preaching career, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati exhorted everyone he met to help spread Krishna consciousness to the entire world. His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada recounted that when he first met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta immediately challenged him and his friends, as educated young men familiar with English, to take Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission seriously and teach it to those who spoke English. In his last days, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati told his disciples to, above all, work cooperatively to continue and expand the systematic preaching he had begun, following Bhaktivinoda’s instructions.

Among Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s many disciples who were working to spread Lord Chaitanya’s message as broadly as they could, Srila Prabhupada worked steadily toward further extending this transcendental revolution. We know now how he persisted over the years to satisfy Bhaktivinoda’s and Bhaktisiddhanta’s desire for systematically making Krishna consciousness available to everyone everywhere in the world. He worked with his Godbrothers for decades, published Back to Godhead single-handedly and distributed it himself, wrote Easy Journey to Other Planets, translated Srimad-Bhagavatam, and coaxed Sumati Morarji to give him passage on a freighter to New York, where he arrived practically penniless at the age of 70.

After suffering two heart attacks on the ship, Srila Prabhupada struggled in New York to distribute his books and establish the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. He worked tirelessly for twelve years to translate, publish, and distribute many authentic Vedic literatures, establish temples on every continent except Antarctica, and train thousands of disciples to carry on his work.

In 1976, while Srila Prabhupada was staying in Honolulu, some friends of mine spent a night in the temple’s front yard. Unable to sleep, they stayed up until mangala-arati chanting japa and watching the window of Srila Prabhupada’s room. He was up all night working on his books, occasionally stopping to chant devotional bhajans with his harmonium. Although he was almost 80 years old, he worked through the night to satisfy the desires of his spiritual master and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Looking back, one of Srila Prabhupada’s prominent Godbrothers, Srila B. R. Sridhar Maharaja, concluded that Srila Prabhupada had been personally empowered by Lord Nityananda to give Krishna consciousness to everyone everywhere in the world. After reading the poems Srila Prabhupada had written aboard the Jaladuta and on his arrival at Boston Harbor, he reasoned that Srila Prabhupada had emptied himself of all desires except to spread Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s message. And very much like Lord Nityananda, who gave anyone he encountered the most valuable treasure of the chanting of Hare Krishna in exchange for only a little faith, Srila Prabhupada freely distributed the holy name of Krishna to anyone who showed even enough faith to stop and listen for a moment. Lord Nityananda distributed what amounted to free samples of the highest spiritual realization, confident that those who tried the sample would want to buy his product, possibly becoming steady customers. Srila Prabhupada also gave out free samples of harinama, advertising it with the slogan, “Chant Hare Krishna, and your life will be sublime.” Consequently, millions who tried it became at least lifetime customers, if not distributors.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had implored his disciples to work vigorously to spread Krishna consciousness everywhere, thus satisfying the desires of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Bhaktivinoda Thakura. “The line of Bhaktivinoda will never be closed,” he wrote. “With even more enthusiasm you should become engaged in preaching the desire of Bhaktivinoda’s heart.” He also figuratively exhorted all his disciples to “be prepared to shed two hundred gallons of blood for the nourishment of the spiritual corpus of every individual of this world.”

Considering objectively what Srila Prabhupada did in his lifetime, we can safely conclude that he set the perfect example of sacrificing everything to satisfy Krishna. It’s clear that he understood the revolutionary desires of Lord Chaitanya, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and worked to bring about what Srimad-Bhagavatam calls “a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization.” Anyone who uses logic and argument to consider the mercy of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada will certainly find it strikingly wonderful.