Beach 5: DEVOTEES OF THE LORD
Wave 2: Ten Gems of Superlative Devotion
Namdev. Kabir. Chaitanya. Purandara. Eknath. Tulsi. Bhattadri. Bhaskararaya. Thiagaraja Swami. Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada (1896–1977) was one of the foremost spiritual leaders of the twentieth century.The remarkable challenge that he undertook and successfully accomplished was the transformation of the most materialistic youth of the times – not just the orthodox and naďve believers of a gullible society of the East who grew up with hoary traditions of religious beliefs, but the rebelling anti-conformist westernised youth who were products of the luxury, affluence and license of the West -- not just a few, but literally thousands of them -- into the most godly personalities with the loftiest of spiritual and ethical ideals. This miraculous achievement has no parallel either in the past or in the present and very probably there would never be one in the future. This happened to be a marvel of just twelve years, precisely the last twelve years of his 82 years of life. It was all due to the fact that Prabhupada was an open book as an exemplary devotee of God, who would have been placed among the greatest of the Alvars or Nayanmars if only he had lived in ancient times. Coming in the lineage of Chaitanya mahAprabhu of the sixteenth century, he re-established the traditional bhakti school of Chaitanya in a totally modern context, by ‘building a house in which the whole world can live’. Till he was seventy he struggled alone to implement his master’s injunction of propagating the glories of Lord Krishna and transmitting the treasures of the SrImad bhAgavatam. But even in the land where these had been held, without any doubt, in superlative esteem by one and all, he could not succeed. Only three books were written by him. In the next twelve years he wrote sixty. Till he was seventy he initiated only one disciple. In the next twelve years a few thousands were initiated by him. . Till he was seventy the worldwide society of Krishna devotees was only in his dream. In the next twelve years not only did it come to fruition but it came to have more than one hundred centres all over the world. His unflinching and uncompromising devotion to the Supreme Transcendental Personality of Krishna made all this possible. He was the Lord’s Gift to humanity at large.
Opulence, potency, fame, beauty, knowledge and dispassionare only some of the infinite qualities of the Supreme Personality that is Krishna , but each one of them is possessed by Him in infinite extent to the absolute degree. Not a leaf moves without the Will of Krishna. He is the Absolute Brahman. This declaration of the scriptures is the solid foundation for the movement now known all the world over as Krishna Consciousness, named as such by Prabhupada. Remaining faithful to the disciplic succession, that goes back to the days of Chaitanya, Prabhupada created a whole new international community of the young and old, male and female, scholars and laymen, all of them fully versed in the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bhagavatam and all of them fully convinced that no man-made system can cure the ills of the world, it is only the eternal reality of Krishna that will do it. The logical conclusion is the unceasing chanting by this ocean of devotees, singly and collectively, of the classic mantra :
hare kRSNa hare kRSNa kRSNa kRSNa hare hare;
hare rAma hare rAma rAma rAma hare hare.
It is now the most popularmantra known the world over. But even till as late as the fifties of this century it was not known – and certainly not heard -- beyond the shores of India and even within India it was familiar only to those who had any contact with Hindu religious activities or bhajans. The ecstasy with which the Krishna Consciousness devotees dance and jump at the chanting of this mantra for hours together is a sight that should be marked as the greatest miracle of modern times for every one to watch. This ecstasy of divine bliss is not in something that you obtain with great effort after you reach a certain level of spiritual consciousness or after you enter the precincts of the divine worlds, but it is experienced right here, almost effortlessly, in the chanting of the hare kRSNa mantra -- this is something which must have surprised even the demigods and angels in heaven.
Abhay, that was his nameas a child, only played with idols and pictures of God. Abhay De as a youth struggled to bring his wife and children and his contemporaries into his world of bhakti. Sri BhaktivedantaSwami as the disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, struggled to find a sponsor for the popularisation of his manuscripts which he conceived, wrote, edited and typed for the benefit of this fallen humanity. But the spiritual revolution was still not coming. Taking his Master’s prophecy of several years past as his only guidance and with total faith in Krishna he crossed the seas against heavy odds, his only property being a suitcase of manuscripts he had already written, two hundred three-volume sets, already printed, of the bhAgavatam explained by him in his inimitable english, an umbrella and a supply of dry cereal and with almost no money (just forty Indian rupees). The first few months of his American life must go down in the history of Devotees of the Lord as the worst torture (challenge!) to mind and body that any devotee ever experienced. He was frantically (but with hope and faith) looking for people who would listen to him not just once but repeatedly, people who would chant the transcendental name of God first at his bidding and then spontaneously, people who would live a life without illicit sex or gambling or intoxicants or meat, people who would live for Krishna. In looking for these he became a revolutionary in that he accepted their participation whether they chanted it as jazz, folk music or rock or Indian meditation. He had no government or other support, no sanction of a religious organization, no patron. As a total loner he planted the seed not only in a foreign soil, but that too in a completely unfriendly environment, whether of the weather or of the people. The American hippies were his first disciples. The major attraction to them was: his good food, even though unfamiliar, and a promise of reaching 'the high' and 'staying high' without drugs. They trusted him because he was the most sincere swAmi they had ever come across.
What started like thissteamrolled, by the Lord’s Grace, within the course of two years into an international movement, with a printing press of their own, with a few temple-like apartments on American soil, where there would be congregations at least three days a week, chanting almost every day, lectures by the swAmi, and certainly the writing work at the desk probably all the early hours of every morning by the divinely inspired architect of the whole scheme and unending dreams and explorations for the progress of the movement. Thereafter there was no looking back. The whirlwind tours of the swAmi started. As he said he never belonged to any single place, neither New York, nor Bombay nor even Brindavana. He belonged to Krishna. So he travelled wherever his devotees called him. One by one temples were coming up. Ratha-yatras, i.e., public processions of the sacred idols of the Lord displayed in gigantic chariots in all pomp and majesty were held in far-off cities of the world where they had never seen or thought of God in idols ever. Krishna’s Grace brought sponsors; a Ford, a Harrison and many more. The records of the chant created record sales. The swAmi’s bhAgavatam kept continually rolling off the press. The books were sold in thousands by the devotees in marathon efforts, with the same persistence and devotion, perhaps more, as their master had shown in writing them all his life. Altogether he had written more than 60 books. A Book Trust was created. The earnings of the Book Trust became the major assets of the Krishna Consciousness Society. Temples for Radha-Krishna and Jagannath were coming up in almost every country of the world. The swAmi had circled the globe almost a dozen times. A new era of Krishna Consciousness had been heralded and had come to stay. His Mission was over. The call was now coming from Krishna for him. But he was working till the last moment. He left behind him a large and growing organisation of properties and monies intended one hundred per cent for the purpose of devotional service to Krishna. And he also left a legacy of spiritual consciousness and devotional life which will live as long as the memory of Krishna lives. This would change the course of history for all time. Having taught the world how to live, he also taught them how to die by breathing his last peacefully in Brindavan amidst the chanting of hare krishna mantra by numerous devotees and representatives of the hundred and odd temples around the world .
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April 12, '99 Copyright Ó V. Krishnamurthy