By Satsvarupa Das Gosvami.
Writing the last chapter of the Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita was an intense experience for me. Prabhupada was teaching “the final lesson,” and I relived the day-by-day remembrances of being with Srila Prabhupada and serving in his ISKCON movement in the final days leading up to his disappearance. Those days were like a drama unfolding. Would Prabhupada stay with us? What would we do without him? And again I felt the grief at his departure. I was also reminded that Prabhupada’s last days were filled with the preaching spirit as he encouraged his disciples to continue his work. He exemplified calm and tolerance in the face of great pain, and fearlessness in the face of death. He allowed us the intimacy of chanting soft kirtanas in his room and reading to him from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Krishna book, and his other books.
Then it was again November 14, 1977 and Prabhupada departed at 7:30 p.m. In the Lilamrita I told briefly about Prabhupada’s actual passing–how he left in perfect circumstances in Vrindavana after a life totally dedicated to Krishna, a life of incredibly potent achievements for Lord Caitanya’s mission. I also told about how the news of Prabhupada’s departure affected his disciples around the world.
Well, was that it? Biography finished? No. There was more. I had to tell about service in separation. Even though Prabhupada appeared to pass away from this world, he continues to live through his instructions. Service in separation, vipralambha-seva, is a high level of realization, something which the residents of Vrindavana feel in Krishna’s absence. We too can feel a form of union in separation, even though we are not so advanced in spiritual realization, simply by meditating on Srila Prabhupada’s presence and instructions.
He was gone but he was still very much present. This realization was not a pretension or a myth, nor was it sentimental or psychic phenomenon or mental telepathy-it was a completely substantive, palpable reality, a fact of life. Srila Prabhupada had given them personal service and now they would continue that service. Prabhupada was still present through his instruction and all the nectar of his direct association-all the nectar of Krishna consciousness that he had given and shared with them was still available.
Service in separation for Prabhupada’s disciples was undoubtedly a fact. Otherwise, now that they were without his personal presence, how would they be able to sustain themselves in spiritual life? The fact that they could continue as before, increase their feelings of devotion, and increase their serving capacity, meant that Srila Prabhupada was still very much with them.
Now had I completed the biography? Again I found myself feeling that something more was needed. Therefore I wrote the Epilogue. I wanted readers to understand clearly that they too had a claim to a relationship with Srila Prabhupada. I expected that most of the readers would not be initiated disciples of His Divine Grace. In fact, I assumed that some of the readers might be encountering Srila Prabhupada for the first time in this book. Each of them could have a relationship with Prabhupada. It was their right. Otherwise, as touching as the biography of Srila Prabhupada might read, the reader would be left only with the idea that this was a story of one guru with his little band of disciples who tried to begin a worldwide movement. It had nothing to do with them and there was no way in which they could participate now since that guru had left this world. I wanted the reader to understand that Prabhupada was more than the guru of a particular generation; he was to be with us forever.
In describing how the followers of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada continued to relish the nectar of serving him in separation, we are not speaking of only a small band of several thousand devotees whom he initiated during his lifetime. Srila Prabhupada was not only an acarya, but he was the founder-acarya of the Krishna consciousness movement, which is a dynamic spiritual reality.
We cannot limit Srila Prabhupada, therefore, by describing only the drama of his being the guru for one generation of followers. Srila Prabhupada is jagat-guru, the spiritual master of the entire world. He is a bona fide spiritual master, faithfully conveying the message of the disciplic succession from Lord Krishna, as he received it in parampara from his spiritual master. But more than that, he was empowered by Krishna to do what no other spiritual master has done. He is the founder-acarya for spreading Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana worldwide in the midst of the age of Kali.
-SPL, Vol. 6, pp. 42324
Such a personal relationship with the founder-acarya is possible even for persons not directly initiated by Srila Prabhupada. It was Srila Prabhupada who taught us to apply Krishna consciousness to the modern context. It was Srila Prabhupada who set the standards of sadhana and cleanliness, of purity and association. Whoever follows these basic practices and recognizes Srila Prabhupada as Krishna’s direct representative is his follower.
In the Epilogue, I also pointed out that people could serve Krishna through their fields of endeavor-artists, philosophers, businessmen, and laborers could all become devotees. Srila Prabhupada placed few restrictions on his followers as to how they could serve. After all, he wanted Krishna consciousness to pervade the entire society and he felt that the Krishna conscious philosophy had jurisdiction over all subjects of learning and action. Why shouldn’t anyone anywhere in the world feel that if he took up Prabhupada’s instructions, he could become Srila Prabhupada’s follower?
The Krishna conscious gifts Srila Prabhupada brought to the West are for everyone. Srila Prabhupada left us with a dynamic legacy in his books, through his devotees, in the development of his communities, and in his teachings of how to expertly apply Krishna consciousness of his communities, and in his teachings of how to expertly apply Krishna consciousness in every situation. If we simply use our intelligence to claim our relationship with Prabhupada by practicing Krishna consciousness in the mood in which he taught it, we will inherit the most wonderful relationship with Krishna’s pure devotee, Srila Prabhupada.
That was the purpose of the Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita, and if anyone reads it and opens himself to the possibility of a deep relationship with Srila Prabhupada, he will not only become a Prabhupadanuga, but he will taste the sweetness of Prabhupada’s association. This is true not only of persons who joined ISKCON during Prabhupada’s physical presence but for those who joined after 1977.
Srila Prabhupada’s Mission
A Prabhupadanuga has exclusive devotion to Prabhupada. He doesn’t like to hear that Prabhupada is just one of many gurus teaching Gaudiya Vaishnavism and that there is little distinction between Prabhupada and any other Gaudiya teacher. A Prabhupadanuga recognizes Srila Prabhupada’s special place among gurus of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
What is that special place? To understand that, we have to understand some of the history of the Gaudiya Vaishnava mission. Lord Caitanya predicted, “In every town and village My name will be sung.” For generations following the prophesy, Gaudiya Vaishnavas wondered what it could have meant. How could such a thing be achieved all over the world? Did Lord Caitanya refer only to every town and village in India?
Immediately after Lord Caitanya’s departure, many brilliant acaryas appeared. Narottama dasa Thakura, Shyamananda Prabhu, Srinivasa Acarya, and Vishvanatha Cakravarti Thakura all appeared contemporaneously or in quick succession. Each of those acaryas propagated Lord Caitanya’s mission in Gauda. Then after their disappearance, the Gaudiya mission became disturbed. There was a sudden proliferation of prakrita-sahajiya and other bogus sects-so many, in fact, that the average Bengali began to identify Gaudiya Vaishnavism with a sex cult.
Some generations later, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura appeared and pioneered the reestablishment of the purity and solidity of Lord Caitanya’s teachings, bringing the movement again to people’s attention as the deep religious tradition that it is. He was assisted in his mission by his son, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, whose attacks on Mayavadi philosophy and the growing secularism of India were powerful and effective.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura and his son were not only interested in defeating Mayavadis and other unbona fide religious expressions, however. Rather, the main thrust of their movement was to teach the yuga-dharma, the chanting of the holy name of Krishna. It is in this tradition that Srila Prabhupada appeared, and with this mission.
It is stated in the Caitanya-caritamrita, kali-kalera dharma-krishna-nama-sankirtana/ krishna-shakti vina nahe tara pravartana: “The fundamental religious system in the age of Kali is the chanting of the holy name of Krishna. Unless empowered by Krishna, one cannot propagate the sankirtana movement.” (Cc., Antya 7.11) This verse underlines Srila Prabhupada’s specialness: he was empowered to spread the sankirtana movement all over the world. It was he who fulfilled the prediction Lord Caitanya had made five hundred years earlier that His name would be spread to every town and village, not just of India, but of the world.
Srila Prabhupada’s very human story of how he carried out this mission can capture our hearts. His courage and dedication inspire us to follow him, to love him, and to want to do great things on his behalf. He fought against great odds to carry out his spiritual master’s legacy. He came to America at an advanced age with only a trunkful of books and the equivalent of eight dollars in his pocket, yet he was the wealthiest philanthropist. To accept his gift fully requires that we become exclusively his followers. As Prabhupada is no ordinary guru, so our following of him cannot be ordinary or diffused. Rather, it must be focused on his mood, his teachings, and his mission.
Guru-nishtha in ISKCON
Srila Prabhupada’s mission is nondifferent from Srila Rupa Gosvami’s mission. In his purport to Cc. Antya 1.117, Srila Prabhupada writes:
The special function of Srila Rupa Gosvami is to establish the feelings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. These feelings are His desires that His special mercy be spread throughout the world in this Kali-yuga.
His desire is that all over the world, everyone, in every village and every town, know of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His sankirtana movement. These are the inner feelings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Rupa Gosvami committed to writing all these feelings of the Lord. Now again, by the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the same feeling are being spread all over the world by the servants of the Gosvamis, and devotees who are pure and simple will appreciate this attempt.
Srila Prabhupada also writes, “Advancement in Krishna consciousness depends on the attitude of the follower.” (NOI, Introduction) All the shastras declare the necessity to accept and follow a bona fide spiritual master in parampara. “Following” implies accepting the spiritual master’s particular mood and emphasis in his relationship with Krishna. Srila Prabhupada perfectly exemplified such following in his own relationship with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, as was proven by his successful execution of the mission. Srila Prabhupada’s own mood toward his Guru Maharaja was one of exclusive devotion and attention. We can follow that example.
Guru-nishtha is the most important point in spiritual life. In a lecture in Vrindavana (November 28, 1976), Srila Prabhupada states:
All you are young Westerners. You never study Vedanta, but you can surprise many so-called Vedantists how to understand Krishna. How it has become possible? Simply by your firm faith in your spiritual master and Krishna and chanting Hare Krishna. That’s all. Yasya deve para bhaktir, yatha deve tatha gurau. This is the Vedic process. If we have got firm faith in guru and firm faith in Krishna-guru-krishna-krpaya paya bhakti-lata-bija-then you get the seedling of bhakti-lata.
There is a tendency now that time is passing to see things more objectively and to think that perhaps Srila Prabhupada wasn’t so special. After all, he is just one more link in the parampara chain of innumerable gurus stemming from Krishna. Actually, ISKCON devotees are often accused by those outside ISKCON of being too exclusive in their devotion. Why should we claim a special place for Prabhupada or for any other guru for that matter? Even within ISKCON we can hear the advanced realizations of other devotees, or see them travel around the world, gain followers, write their own books. A follower of Prabhupada won’t allow such minimization to creep into his faith. Srila Prabhupada accomplished something so extraordinary that any comparison to others becomes a minimization of his position.
This is the nature of an ISKCON devotee: he or she wants to develop love for Krishna by following strictly in Srila Prabhupada’s footsteps and in the mood that he taught. It will be to the credit of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples and succeeding generations of followers to continue with this fixed determination in their glorification of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Such devotion is not fanatical. Prahlada Maharaja expressed a similar sentiment when describing his feelings toward his own spiritual master, Narada Muni:
My dear Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, because of my association with material desires, one after another, I was gradually falling into a blind well full of snakes, following the general populace. But Your servant Narada Muni kindly accepted me as his disciple and instructed me how to achieve this transcendental position. Therefore, my first duty is to serve him. How could I leave his service?
I am sure that Srila Prabhupada would encourage this kind of exclusive devotion. He expressed such undiverted attention toward his own spiritual master, and he tried to protect ISKCON from the various outside influences that could disturb it or that would misunderstand his application of Krishna consciousness for Westerners. Such exclusive devotion is not the property of only those devotees who joined ISKCON before 1977; it is the property of all who wish to follow Prabhupada. We can cultivate that exclusive devotion to Prabhupada by hearing about his life, studying his teachings, praying to him, and rendering service to him according to his desires.
Srila Prabhupada Inspires Our Faith
Since devotion to Prabhupada necessarily includes following his instructions, it is useful to know what types of things please Srila Prabhupada. When he was confronted with the question, “Srila Prabhupada, how can we please you most,” Prabhupada usually didn’t offer a list of service or preaching engagements, but made the simple statement, “If you love Krishna.” (“I have noted in your letter that you want to serve me. I only want that all you my disciples always think of Krishna and never forget Him for a moment. In this way you can conquer Krishna. He becomes so attracted by pure devotion that He gives Himself to His devotee. And if you get Krishna, then what you want more?”)
Beyond that, however, Srila Prabhupada instructed us how to come to the stage of remembering Krishna at every moment, and that constituted the basis of his ISKCON movement. In order for us to engage in his movement, we needed to have faith. Srila Prabhupada created that faith in his followers, most of whom were hampered by the cynicism born of living in an age of atheism and sense enjoyment. We were able to have faith in Prabhupada because he was renounced, because he was saintly, because he was so honestly and obviously dedicated to God. There were no scandals in his life. He was able to create faith in the minds of those who had come to believe that God was dead, or, as the East Village Other put it, present only in LSD.
He also created faith by his strong lecturing in which he not only appealed to shastric authority, but to logic. “Let us come to reason,” he would often say. The teachings-that we are eternal spirit soul, servants of God, and that real liberation is not to abandon our individuality but to fulfill our relationship with Krishna-he presented with strong yet simple arguments. We became convinced because the philosophy made sense; he made sense. He could answer all doubts, and he continues to do so in his books. Srila Prabhupada’s whole life was gloriously supportive of his own faith in guru and Krishna. Because he embodied faith, he became worthy of our faith in a world where we had been cheated and disappointed again and again.
Gratitude and Obligation
When faith develops in a devotee, he or she naturally feels gratitude and obligation toward the spiritual master. This sense of gratitude and obligation helps Srila Prabhupada’s followers to become the limbs by which he fulfills his own spiritual master’s order. We all know that any Westerner who has heard the words “Hare Krishna” must have had some kind of contact with Srila Prabhupada or his followers, if only from a distance. It was Srila Prabhupada who made “Hare Krishna” a household word. Once when Srila Prabhupada was traveling with a stopover in Athens, Greece, he overheard some young man jokingly singing the Hare Krishna mantra. Prabhupada himself was amazed at how far the holy name had spread. Just to contemplate that-what we were before, what we have become, that we have learned to aspire for the highest goal of life-and that all this has become possible, not only for us but for hundreds of thousands of people by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy can only increase our thankfulness.
Gratitude and obligation toward the guru are expressed through service. Following the spiritual master’s orders is the real test of love and faith. When a follower is serious about a relationship with Srila Prabhupada, he or she will begin to receive knowledge from him. The spiritual master gives that knowledge freely, unofficially. When the follower begins to feel gratitude,that is an open acknowledgment of debt. Whether or not we acknowledge our debt openly, however, the debt is there. We have accepted something from the guru and we are obligated to reciprocate with him. That is the meaning of guru-dakshina.
What Did Srila Prabhupada Want?
Then what did Srila Prabhupada want? That we should love Krishna, yes, and that we should follow his instructions in order to attain that love. This is evidenced by the fact that as soon as people become serious, Srila Prabhupada introduced them to the traditional relationship of guru and disciple. He also introduced them to the four regulative principles: no meateating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, and no gambling. He established the standard that all initiated followers should chant sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra a day both to purify their hearts and to awaken their dormant love for Krishna. We cannot overemphasize Srila Prabhupada’s importance in our lives as the giver of the holy name. That was his special contribution. Therefore, to follow this formula of avoiding sinful life and chanting and hearing about Krishna is the basic program Srila Prabhupada expected his followers to pursue. He also wanted us to cooperate with each other and to preach to the nondevotees.
Following the order of the spiritual master is not simply sentiment. The real substance of the spiritual master’s association is his vani, his teachings. We should know what it is, feel attached to it, and serve it with our life’s energy.
Satisfaction of the selfrealized spiritual master is the secret of advancement in spiritual life. Inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding. Unless there is submission and service, inquires from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. Not only should one hear submissively from the spiritual master, but one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries.
-Bg. 4.34, purport