In Every Town and Village
FROM FLORIDA, “THIS remote corner of the world,” Prabhupāda returned to New York and after three days flew to London. There he became ill. On August 14 he wrote to Tamāla Kṛṣṇa:
I am sick here since the last four days. There is no sunshine. Almost always there is darkness and rain. So it has affected my health, because I am already rheumatic.
Prabhupāda said he wanted to retire from traveling and management: “This body is old, it is giving warning.” But he didn’t have sufficient confidence that his leading managers could push on – without his pushing them.
Prabhupāda complained to his secretary, Śyāmasundara, criticizing him and the other zonal secretaries for not producing and distributing his books on a large scale. “Why are there no books?” Prabhupāda demanded, and Śyāmasundara cringed, unable to give a satisfactory answer. Śyāmasundara said he would immediately write to his Godbrothers on the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
* Teachings of Lord Caitanya; The Nectar of Devotion; Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam; Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“Well,” Śyāmasundara replied, “because they …”
“No! It’s your responsibility,” Prabhupāda yelled. “Why haven’t you done it?” Prabhupāda chastised his G.B.C. secretaries around the world through the one secretary before him. The G.B.C.’s duties were to see that Prabhupāda’s books were always in stock, that Back to Godhead magazine was being published regularly, that accounts were being paid regularly, and that the devotional life in the temples was healthy.
“Our business is how to expand,” said Prabhupāda, “ – how to introduce Kṛṣṇa consciousness into educational circles. Let any philosopher, scientist, or educationist come – we have got enough stock. But this sleeping, this leisurely work will not do. They can learn activity from an old man like me, because my determination is like this: If I die working, it is a great credit. Just like a marshal, if he dies on the battlefield, it is his credit. Arjuna was told, ‘Even if you die, you are still the gainer.’
“This slow process of printing is the most condemned position. Why should I go on translating when you cannot print? You say, ‘Retire and translate.’ But why should I translate? No one will ever see it! I can give you volumes. There is Dai Nippon, who will print in Japan on credit, so why don’t you print? Always, ‘It is to be done. It is to be done.’ That’s all. And big men complaining, ‘Either he goes or I go.’
“This restlessness, this diversion has to stop. When the father is providing, it is the duty of the son to serve. I am the father. I am giving you everything. Why don’t you serve me by printing these books? If one book only is read and understood, that is sufficient to make him Kṛṣṇa conscious. Don’t you see how important it is?
“They are always asking me, ‘Is such-and-such book bona fide?’ They can’t even take the time to read one of my books, and still they ask for one of my Godbrothers’ books. How will things go on? First Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is not even edited or corrected, what to speak of printed. So many books unprinted. So tell them: From the book fund not a farthing should be for eating.”
One day Advaita, the manager of ISKCON Press, called from New York with some good news: in a week they would be sending Dai Nippon the negatives for five big books. ISKCON Press had also sent a shipment of the German Īśopaniṣad to Europe. And other foreign-language books were forthcoming. Prabhupāda was pleased, and Śyāmasundara informed his G.B.C. Godbrothers.
Needless to say, this was just the medicine required to treat Prabhupāda’s slackening faith in us. Things are looking up, but still Prabhupāda encourages us all to write up these reports and get a clear all-around picture of the total book situation.
Although Prabhupāda’s health was still weak, he felt heartened to hear that his books were being printed, and he continued with his translation and commentary of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
Ranchor: One night I was up very late, one o’clock in the morning. As I came in I saw that Prabhupāda’s lights were on in his front room, and I could hear his voice speaking into the dictating machine. I came up the stairs, being as quiet as I possibly could so Prabhupāda wouldn’t know that I was up so late. But as I passed his door I couldn’t resist the temptation to just stop and listen for a while. I tried looking through the keyhole, but I couldn’t see anything. So I just listened to Prabhupāda’s voice as he was dictating Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
Then all of a sudden he stopped. I supposed he was just thinking about what he was going to say next. But then I got the feeling that he knew I was out there, listening through the door. I became frightened and went up the stairs as quietly as I could, although the stairs creaked. Everyone was asleep – not only the temple, but practically the whole city of London – at one o’clock in the morning. But Prabhupāda was awake and translating. He had been speaking quietly, but with a voice of great strength and determination. All during the day he was under pressure to organize things and see people, and yet at night, the one time when he could have some peace and quiet, he was up dictating.
In London Prabhupāda began a book on the Western philosophers, beginning with Socrates. Every morning Śyāmasundara would present a synopsis of a major philosophy to Prabhupāda, and for several hours Prabhupāda would discuss the philosopher’s major points from the light of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Daily Śyāmasundara was busy transcribing the morning discussions and preparing the next philosopher.
On August 14 Śrīla Prabhupāda observed Janmāṣṭamī, the birthday of Lord Kṛṣṇa. On the next day, Prabhupāda’s own seventy-fifth birthday, a paperback book of collected homages by his disciples arrived. Many of the Vyāsa-pūjā homages praised Śrīla Prabhupāda for his extensive traveling to deliver fallen souls all over the world and for the vast scope of his merciful preaching.
This year you have been traveling to India personally speaking and managing ISKCON and showing us the meaning of ācārya by example. And now you are traveling and inspiring the devotees and centers in the U.S. and Europe.
At Vyās Pūjā time we, your intimate children, are gathered at your feet to tell you our feelings as best we can. By your blessing, we can go forth from this Vyās Pūjā gathering of 1971 and, all devotees together as one great ISKCON, without faction, truly perform the work with our thoughts, words, and deeds. Let us go and distribute this literature of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s – Kṛṣṇa’s message – kindly delivered to the Western countries. Let us cooperate without ill feelings among ourselves. Let us very strictly observe all the regulative principles and stay as pure representatives. Let us celebrate pure saṅkīrtana and magazine distribution to please you. All glories to Śrīla Prabhupāda!
All your disciples pray that you will remain in our presence for many years to come, and by our cooperation you will be able to spend time writing volumes of Bhāgavatam while we carry on the program and mission of your Guru Mahārāja.
Prabhupāda’s ill health continued.
I was sick for four or five days; now I am a little better but the disease is prolonging in a different way. I cannot sleep at night more than 2 hours and during the day sometimes I am feeling some dizziness. Otherwise everything is all right. I am chanting Hare Krishna as usual and writing my books regularly.
Śyāmasundara: Aravinda and I were sleeping right outside of Prabhupāda’s room. I was on a lower bunk bed, and I heard “Śyāmasundara.” It was a really urgent sound, and I woke up so hard that I hit my head on the bunk above. I ran into Prabhupāda’s room. As I was opening the door, he collapsed in the doorway. I caught him. He felt so light, like a little doll, and his face was gray. I took him over to his bed and thought, “Oh, my God, what’s going on?”
He was shivering. I turned the electric heater way up and put it next to his bed. I covered him with a lot of blankets and waited. He was just still. His eyes were closed.
Finally he said, “Śyāmasundara, go get me some black pepper.” He described how to make a black pepper paste. “Rub it on my forehead,” he said. So I ran down to the kitchen and prepared it and came up and put it on his head. I asked him, “Are you … what’s wrong?” I don’t believe he made a response. He closed his eyes and appeared to be asleep.
I slept there by him on the floor for a while. At some point in the night, he said, “You may go back to your room. I’ll be all right.” He stayed in bed until about eight or nine o’clock the next morning. And then he was just completely well, like nothing had happened. His spirit was so strong that although he had encountered devastating blows to his body, he had come right out of it. I could tell it wasn’t a physical event. He had made a full recovery from what must have been something close to death.
One day while meeting with an Indian man, a Mr. R. B. Pandya from Mombassa, East Africa, Prabhupāda mentioned his illness. Mr. Pandya said he owned a house on the ocean at Mombassa, where it was always sunny and warm, with pleasant sea breezes – a perfect place for Prabhupāda to recover his health. Mr. Pandya invited Prabhupāda to go and live there as long as he liked. Taking the offer seriously, Prabhupāda began to think of going to Africa – not only for health, but for preaching. Three months ago he had sent Brahmānanda Swami and Jagannivāsa to East Africa, so a visit there would encourage them as well as enable Prabhupāda to work personally at expanding the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement on the African continent. Prabhupāda sent Bhavānanda and Nara-Nārāyaṇa from London to Mombassa to see if it would really be possible for him to stay there as Mr. Pandya had suggested.
When Bhavānanda and Nara-Nārāyaṇa arrived, Brahmānanda Swami, who had been struggling in East Africa with only one assistant, was delighted to see them and to hear that Prabhupāda was coming soon. Previously, Brahmānanda Swami had been preaching in Florida, and Prabhupāda had written him to go to Pakistan. Immediately he had gone, along with one assistant, Jagannivāsa, flying to Paris and then taking the Orient Express through Eastern Europe. On hearing that war fever was building in Pakistan, Prabhupāda had sent a second letter to Brahmānanda Swami in Florida, advising him not to go to Pakistan. But Brahmānanda Swami had never received the letter. En route to Pakistan, while holding public kīrtana in Turkey, Brahmānanda and Jagannivāsa had been arrested and detained for several days on suspicion of being Christian missionaries.
Finally, Brahmānanda and Jagannivāsa had arrived in Pakistan, where students had spit at them, accused them of being spies, threatened them, and called them names. Several times people on the street had rubbed the Vaiṣṇava tilaka off the devotees’ foreheads and warned them not to show themselves in public or they would be stabbed. Local Hindus had warned the devotees to leave as soon as possible, and so they had reluctantly decided to go to Bombay to see Prabhupāda.
Meanwhile, in Bombay Prabhupāda had read in an Indian newspaper that Pakistani soldiers in Dacca had killed four Hare Kṛṣṇa missionaries. “I am very much anxious to know about Brahmānanda,” Prabhupāda had written. “The day has been full of anxiety with this bad news, and still it is going on.”
When Śrīla Prabhupāda had heard that Brahmānanda Swami had actually arrived in Bombay, he had asked to see him at once. Like a father recovering his lost child, Prabhupāda had embraced him. “You risked your life just on my order,” Prabhupāda had said. After some days Prabhupāda had told Brahmānanda Swami, “You should go to Africa. If you go, then we will be on all the continents.”
Now, after preaching in Africa, Brahmānanda Swami eagerly awaited the visit of his beloved spiritual master.
September 9, 1971
As Śrīla Prabhupāda disembarked in Nairobi from the East African Airlines 747 jet, he wore a wool cādara over his shoulders and carried the same white vinyl attaché case he had taken with him all over the world. Flanked by his secretary and servant, he walked with his cane across the airfield toward the terminal building. Inside, he sat on a cloth-covered chair and joined in the kīrtana, while Indians and Africans gathered around to watch.
Kul Bhusana, a journalist and friend of Brahmānanda Swami’s, approached Prabhupāda with questions. He asked Prabhupāda what he had come to teach, and Prabhupāda answered, “Modern civilized man has forgotten his relationship with Kṛṣṇa, or God, and is therefore suffering. Whether you are Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist, that doesn’t matter. Unless you reestablish your relationship with God, you cannot be happy.”
“Have you come only for Hindus?” asked Mr. Bhusana.
“No,” Prabhupāda replied, “for everyone.”
Mr. Bhusana: “East Africa, especially Kenya, is one of those countries which enjoys a great amount of racial harmony in brotherhood of man. What is your special message you can bring to Kenya?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “That brotherhood of man can be complete when they are in God consciousness. Otherwise, it will again break.”
Mr. Bhusana: “So your disciples will be making special efforts to reach the Africans rather than confine themselves to the Hindus? That is very important here in this country.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Our method is the same. But the method is so powerful that it appeals to everyone. We do not have to convey a new method for a new place. The method is the same – universal. It will appeal to everyone.”
After spending one night in Nairobi, Prabhupāda and his party flew the next day in a small propeller aircraft to Mombassa. Mr. Pandya was away, and his family, although not very enthusiastic, opened their home to Śrīla Prabhupāda. The large house was of contemporary design, with rounded corners, porthole windows, and a spacious living room with a veranda facing the ocean.
Prabhupāda, standing by the window in his room, beheld an aquamarine sea, a cloudless blue sky, and a white sandy beach fringed with palms. Turning back toward Brahmānanda Swami and the others, he said, “Brahmānanda told me that this was one of the most beautiful places in the world. Now I see he is correct.”
Prabhupāda had come with a chronic cough, but walking on the beach and relaxing in the Mombassa sunshine, he soon recovered his health. Prabhupāda maintained his program begun in London of daily dialogues with Śyāmasundara concerning the Western philosophers. Chronologically he had proceeded from Socrates to Descartes.
Śyāmasundara: “He is saying, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ First of all, he has discovered that ‘I am.’ This was his innate basis for truth. In his time there was no real authority.”
Prabhupāda: “But this is not big knowledge. Long, long ago there were many who could understand ‘I am.’ This is called ātmānaṁ manyate jagat: a fool thinks all others are fools. He is not the first man to realize the identification of the self. Kṛṣṇa says aham. Aham evāsam evāgre: ‘I existed in the beginning, and when everything is finished, I shall continue to exist.’ This we also say. ‘I existed before this body was created, and I shall exist when the body is annihilated.’ This conception of I is there in God; it is in me. Then where is the new thing?”
As soon as he felt better, he was ready to preach. Mombassa, he said, was a small place, and Nairobi, the capital, would be better for preaching. So he returned to Nairobi.
September 18, 1971
In Nairobi Śrīla Prabhupāda demonstrated how a sannyāsī should preach. For one month he strictly followed Vedic tradition by staying only three days or less in the home of each of his Indian hosts. Then, although his hosts always provided him good food and comfortable accommodations, he would move on to the next place. This was the rule for sannyāsīs, Prabhupāda said; it kept them from becoming attached to bodily comforts and from inconveniencing their hosts.
For Śrīla Prabhupāda to practice these rudimentary lessons of sannyāsa was, of course, unnecessary, for he was a paramahaṁsa, a sannyāsī in the highest order of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. His body, mind, and words being totally engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s transcendental service, he was automatically detached from material comforts. Nevertheless, he followed the Vedic system, just to instruct his disciples by his example. He was following the system of madhukarī – named for the bee, which takes only a little pollen from a flower and then goes on to the next. This system of brief visits also enabled Prabhupāda to involve more families in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and to honor the abundance of invitations.
Wherever Prabhupāda went, he was undisputably the guru, the venerable sādhu. Yet he would deal intimately with his hosts, developing friendships and behaving practically like an elder member of the family. His hosts would offer him the best room in their home, usually their own bedroom, and the lady of the house, along with her assistants, would cook elaborate meals. Prabhupāda’s natural Kṛṣṇa conscious bearing was commanding, and his behavior was always aristocratic; yet his hosts were charmed by his humility. Quickly he was becoming the friend and Vaiṣṇava guru of many families in Nairobi.
Prabhupāda’s behavior in Nairobi was instructive for the few Western disciples who accompanied him. On one occasion a Mr. Devaji Dhamji invited Prabhupāda to bless the temple room in his home. Prabhupāda entered, and Mr. Dhamji offered him a deerskin to sit on. “We do not sit on deerskin,” Prabhupāda said. “It is pure, but our Vaiṣṇavas don’t wear them or sit on them. That is for the yogīs.”
Bhavānanda: Mr. Dhamji invited Prabhupāda to sit on a sofa, which had been covered by a clean white cloth. Prabhupāda sat down, and they bathed his feet. This was the first time I ever saw anyone bathe Prabhupāda’s feet. They bathed his feet with milk and then with water and rose petals. Then they put candana on his feet, then red kuṅkuma powder, rice powder, and jasmine flowers. His toes were red from kuṅkuma, and grains of rice and little white jasmine flowers just stayed on his feet. And then he gave a talk. I had never noticed the guru’s feet up until that time. That was the first time I realized that the feet of the guru are special. And they are astoundingly beautiful.
Prabhupāda wasn’t satisfied preaching only to the Indians. He wanted to preach to the Africans. Indians and Africans were completely segregated. But since a Kṛṣṇa conscious person does not make distinctions based on the body, Prabhupāda said the Indians had a duty to share their spiritual culture with the Africans.
Prabhupāda impressed on Brahmānanda Swami that his first duty in Africa was to give Kṛṣṇa consciousness to the Africans. Because of bad experience in Turkey and Pakistan, Brahmānanda Swami had been reluctant to hold public kīrtanas in Nairobi. Besides, the Africans spoke mostly Swahili; they were culturally different and usually too poor to buy books, so Brahmānanda Swami didn’t know how to preach to them effectively. Going to the Indians had been easy and natural.
But Prabhupāda wanted the Africans. “It is an African country,” he said simply. “They are the proprietors. We should be preaching to them.”
As with everything else in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Prabhupāda demonstrated how to do this also. He got the use of a Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple in a predominantly African downtown area. The temple had a hall with doors opening onto the busy street, and Prabhupāda instructed the devotees to hold kīrtana in the hall, keeping the doors open. The devotees did as he asked, and in five minutes the hall began filling up with people. It was a shabby area of town, and the people who entered were illiterate and dirty. But they were curious, and they happily joined in the kīrtana, smiling, clapping, and dancing.
Brahmānanda Swami left the hall and went to the nearby house where Prabhupāda was staying. “The place is filled with people,” Brahmānanda Swami said, “but it’s not necessary for you to come. We can carry on and do the program ourselves.”
“No,” Prabhupāda said, “I must go.”
Brahmānanda Swami tried to discourage him.
“No, I must go,” Prabhupāda repeated. “Are you going to take me?”
When Brahmānanda Swami arrived with Śrīla Prabhupāda, the hall was even more crowded than it had been a few minutes before. Prabhupāda, in his silken saffron robes, appeared effulgent as he entered the dingy, poorly lit auditorium. As he walked the crowd parted, leaving an aisle for him to pass among them, and they watched him curiously. Onstage Prabhupāda led a kīrtana and lectured. Although the Swahili-speaking audience was unable to understand Prabhupāda’s lecture, the people were respectful. And the kīrtana they loved.
Members of the Indian community had been apprehensive of Prabhupāda’s opening their hall to the Africans, and some of them had attended to see what would happen. Observing Prabhupāda’s compassionate program, however, the Indians were impressed. Such an apparently simple program had the spiritual potency to erase cultural boundaries.
This should be Brahmānanda Swami’s mission in Africa, Prabhupāda insisted – offering Kṛṣṇa consciousness to the Africans. And the program should be simple: distributing prasādam, distributing free books, and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa with drums and karatālas. Kṛṣṇa consciousness should not be just another Nairobi Hindu religious society. The Hindus should take part by donating money, but Brahmānanda Swami’s preaching and recruiting should be among the Africans.
When several black American disciples joined Prabhupāda in Nairobi, Prabhupāda told them, “Four hundred years ago your ancestors were taken away from here as slaves. But ah, just see how you have returned as masters!”
Prabhupāda also organized Nairobi’s first outdoor kīrtana performance. The devotees went to Kamakunji Park’s largest tree, a historical landmark connected with Kenyan independence. As they stood chanting beneath the tree, a large crowd gathered, and many began chanting. Some even danced in a sort of tribal shuffle. One young man stepped forward and offered to translate Brahmānanda Swami’s speech into Swahili. The devotees distributed sweet bundi, and the people in the crowd really enjoyed themselves. The whole affair was a great success.
Rushing back to Prabhupāda, Brahmānanda Swami reported on the wonderful kīrtana in the park. Brahmānanda felt the same emotion as in 1966 when he had reported to Prabhupāda the success of the first kīrtana at Washington Square Park in New York City. Now, as then, Brahmānanda Swami had followed Prabhupāda’s instructions, and the results had been successful. Prabhupāda, by his personal example and by his pushing Brahmānanda Swami, had within a few days changed the emphasis of preaching in Africa – from Indians to Africans.
The night of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lecture at the University of Nairobi, two thousand African students filled the auditorium, with hundreds more standing outside to look in through the doors and windows. First Prabhupāda had Bhūta-bhāvana, a black American disciple, deliver a short introduction, using some borrowed Swahili phrases. “Harambay,” he began – which means “Welcome, brothers. Let us work together.” Then Prabhupāda spoke.
“The whole world is simply hankering and lamenting. You African people are now hankering to be like the Europeans and Americans. But the Europeans have lost their empire. They are now lamenting. So one party is hankering, and one party is lamenting. …
“We have come to these African countries to invite all intelligent Africans to come and understand this philosophy and distribute it. You are trying to develop yourselves, so develop very soundly. But don’t imitate the Americans and Europeans, who are living like cats and dogs. Such civilization will not stand. The atom bomb is already there. As soon as the next war breaks out, all the skyscraper buildings and everything else will be finished. Try to understand from the real standpoint, the real view of human life. That is the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, and we request you to come and try to understand this philosophy. Thank you very much.”
The audience burst into applause, giving Prabhupāda a standing ovation. This response proved once again that Kṛṣṇa’s message spoke to the heart; it was for all people, regardless of their political, geographic, or social predicament. When Prabhupāda had first landed at the Nairobi airport, he had assured the reporter that he would be preaching to the Africans. And now he was. He was delivering to the Africans the same message and the same process of devotional service he had delivered to the Americans. What the Americans wanted and what the Africans wanted could be realized only in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Kṛṣṇa consciousness would work anywhere, if sincere and intelligent persons would only come forward and help distribute it.
Prabhupāda continued with outside speaking engagements. While appearing on the popular TV show Mambo Leo, Prabhupāda displayed a painting of Lord Caitanya dancing and chanting with His devotees. The interviewer asked Prabhupāda why only Caucasians appeared to be in the picture. “Well, there are many colors in India,” Prabhupāda replied.
“And who is the central figure here?” the interviewer asked.
“This is Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu,” Prabhupāda replied. “He is God.”
“He cannot be God!” the large, burly interviewer retorted. “What do you mean He is God? This is a human being.”
But Prabhupāda became even more aggressive than the interviewer. “Why do you say He cannot come as a human being? Why God cannot come as a human being?”
In another of his many Nairobi lectures, Prabhupāda stressed that peace was possible only on the spiritual platform. Kṛṣṇa consciousness alone would unite the present factions.
“For instance, in Africa the Indians may be satisfied with their own methods, but the Africans are not satisfied. So if one is dissatisfied in material life, then another is satisfied – and there will be disturbance. But if you come to the Kṛṣṇa conscious platform, if you engage yourself in the transcendental loving service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then your mind and soul will be fully satisfied.”
Prabhupāda went on to explain his plans for helping Africans.
“We have come to Africa to educate the people – not only Indians or the Hindus, but also the native people, the local population. I am glad that our people are going to saṅkīrtana party in the streets, as we go everywhere – in London, in New York, and all the big cities of the world. We are trying to lead our saṅkīrtana parties through the streets, and the local African boys and girls and gentlemen are gathering. They are receiving this movement.
“So there is every possibility of spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness everywhere. This movement has come here, so I request that those who are present try to cooperate with the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. And I am sure that the African boys and girls will take part in it, as you have experienced. We have a great many African boys and girls as our students in America, so there is no difficulty.
“It is not that because one is very busy, therefore he cannot serve God. Or that because one is poor, or black, or white, that he cannot serve God. No. Anyone who takes to the process of pure devotional service will never be checked.”
Prabhupāda also asked his audience to help the devotees establish a center in Nairobi.
“We must have a place to stay. Unless we stay, how can we prosecute the movement? Therefore, help us immediately. Give us a place and see how things improve. You have already tested this movement and found that it has been successful all over the world. Why not in Africa? We are not a sectarian group. We don’t consider whether one is African or American.”
In Nairobi Prabhupāda heard of a new law in Tanzania that after ten years all private property would automatically become the property of the state and that the owner would be entitled to only a ten-percent reimbursement. This was a typical Kali-yuga law, Prabhupāda remarked. The state passes a law with no reasoning and no benefit for the people. The state should protect the people, Prabhupāda said. In Vedic history, during the misrule of the demoniac king Vena, the sages and brāhmaṇas had become very disturbed and had punished him; the sādhus’ duty was to make sure the kings ruled justly. But today, nowhere in the world were political affairs in order. There was no sane philosophy to guide society.
“We must begin to interfere,” Prabhupāda urged his disciples. “Now we are five hundred men, and we each have fifty years. So think of what we can do. But you must become dedicated as I am. Sometimes a Vaiṣṇava is criticized as doing nothing. But Arjuna and Hanumān were Vaiṣṇava warriors. When the high-court judges wear tilaka, then we are successful – my Guru Mahārāja said that. My Godbrothers were for getting temples, some rice, eating a little, chanting. But for us – first we work, then samādhi.”
The word samādhi technically refers to a state of trance, in which one is completely absorbed in Kṛṣṇa and forgets the material world and all material desires. Generally, samādhi is thought of in terms of secluded meditation; a highly advanced yogī goes to a solitary, peaceful place and meditates or chants constantly. But Prabhupāda demonstrated by his life’s example that the world situation was too urgent for a devotee to retire and meditate. Rather, a devotee should labor hard to increase the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. This would benefit both the devotee and the masses. Prabhupāda’s disciples, therefore, as servants of their spiritual master, should work now; and later, perhaps in old age and spiritual maturity, they could retire to a holy place to constantly chant and hear about Kṛṣṇa.
Prabhupāda emphasized work. Yet what was that work? At least for Śrīla Prabhupāda, propagating Kṛṣṇa consciousness was samādhi itself. Samādhi didn’t have to be limited to sitting in a solitary place. The full meaning of samādhi implied complete absorption in the loving service of Kṛṣṇa, with the senses, mind, and intelligence fixed in trance. Thus in samādhi one could be active – traveling, preaching, distributing Back to Godhead magazines, chanting in the streets. If a devotee always thought of Kṛṣṇa and worked on behalf of Kṛṣṇa, then he was the topmost yogī. This had also been Lord Kṛṣṇa’s advice to Arjuna: “Remember Me, and at the same time fight.” Śrīla Prabhupāda was the emblem of active samādhi – always hearing about, glorifying, and remembering Kṛṣṇa, and always fighting as a soldier on behalf of Lord Caitanya.
Prabhupāda’s preaching in Nairobi had been especially active. He had established Kṛṣṇa consciousness in a new city, setting the example for Brahmānanda Swami to emulate, showing the standard for spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness throughout the continent. And Śyāmasundara was keeping his G.B.C. Godbrothers informed of Prabhupāda’s amazing activities.
The pace has been lightning fast, and His Divine Grace is opening up yet another vast theater of operations. The people are thronging with curiosity and serious questions. …
Prabhupāda, after finishing one late-night preaching marathon, asked for food and remarked, “You see, I am hungry. Keep me talking – that is my life. Don’t let me stop talking. …”
But Nairobi was only one city in one country on one continent, and Prabhupāda’s desire was to see Kṛṣṇa consciousness in every city, town, and village in the world. How could he do it in one lifetime – traveling to every city in the world, printing and distributing books in every language, constructing fabulous temples? He couldn’t. But he wanted to do as much as possible in whatever time Kṛṣṇa allotted to him, to insure that the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement would survive. He criticized the politicians’ typical attitude that unless they themselves remained active everything they had worked for would crumble. Such politicians were always reluctant to retire, preferring to remain in office until their last breath. Prabhupāda, however, had no personal ambition, and he knew that results were awarded by Kṛṣṇa. As a true sannyāsī, he had renounced the world and worldly ambition. But he had not become lazy.
He was executing his mission at an advanced age, and Lord Kṛṣṇa was rewarding his attempts. Prabhupāda, therefore, in a mood of reciprocating with Kṛṣṇa, kept working to expand the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Knowing that Lord Kṛṣṇa wanted the world flooded with love of God, Śrīla Prabhupāda had earnestly tried to do it, beginning in a storefront in New York City. And Kṛṣṇa had responded, sending him a few men and enough money to pay the rent. Then Śrīla Prabhupāda had attempted to do more, and again Kṛṣṇa had responded. Thus a second ISKCON center and a third and a fourth and more had sprung up, and book printing had begun. Śrīla Prabhupāda, in his mood of loving reciprocation with Kṛṣṇa, just kept attempting more and more.
Now it was no longer simply one person’s work; Śrīla Prabhupāda was entrusting the work to his disciples. And those disciples, if they were actually to help, would have to adopt Prabhupāda’s selfless dedication.
As they tried to follow him in his expansive plans, however, their minds faltered. For a handful of devotees to maintain even one temple in one city was a big job, yet Prabhupāda was doing this a hundred times over. He wanted the movement he had started to continue for thousands of years, and he was confident that as long as his followers remained pure, working within the guidelines he had given, they would be successful.
Although the present Age of Kali was the worst of all ages, in which people had little or no interest in spiritual life, Prabhupāda had faith in the past ācāryas’ predictions that Kṛṣṇa consciousness was destined to enter a golden age of worldwide influence. True, it was the worst of times; yet by the influence of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa it would become the best of times. The chanting of the holy name was the religion of the age; the people of Kali-yuga could find deliverance simply in chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s activities show he was empowered by Kṛṣṇa. This is evident from his childhood, when at the age of five he held a Ratha-yātrā festival, and it is certainly evident from these years, 1968 to 1971, when he actively expanded his Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Prabhupāda compared ISKCON to the Varāha incarnation of Kṛṣṇa, who at first had been no bigger than a thumb but had quickly expanded to half the size of the universe.
ISKCON’s rapid growth was not simply due to rapid communications and modern travel, nor to its founder-ācārya’s material organizational abilities. Prabhupāda, judged materially, was not a likely person to conduct a worldwide movement, to travel vigorously, to write volumes of books, and to train thousands of disciples on every continent. He was satisfied with a simple, regulated life, and he disdained all such cultural items as music, fashion, sports, politics, art, food – anything not related to Kṛṣṇa. He worked and traveled out of an intense desire to benefit the world with real culture, to implant spiritual culture in what to him was the desert of a materialistic society.
Therefore, accepting that Prabhupāda was not materialistically ambitious, we can understand his proclivity for worldwide propaganda and dissemination of a spiritual movement as entirely transcendental. He was acting solely to carry out the desires of Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Śrīla Prabhupāda saw himself as a servant of his spiritual master, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, whose message he was carrying. That message, which was also the message of Lord Kṛṣṇa, had come down through disciplic succession: “We are all spiritual souls, eternal servants of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. We have now fallen into forgetfulness and are suffering birth after birth in this material world. By chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, we can revive our lost relationship with God.”
With Prabhupāda’s first success in America, a few of his Godbrothers in India had minimized his work. Bhaktivedanta Swami, they had said, happened to have a temperament suited to mixing with lower-class Western youth. The fact, however, as Prabhupāda’s own experience testified, was that the young people among whom he preached were not particularly receptive, nor had he arrived timely and welcomed, simply to discourse on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam to throngs of submissive disciples. He had been successful because of his great patience, tolerance, and compassion.
It was not, therefore, the advent of the jet plane (although Prabhupāda gladly took advantage of it), nor was it happenstance, nor luck, nor even a social or historical phenomenon that enabled Śrīla Prabhupāda to spread Vedic culture from East to West and back again. No. It was the will of Kṛṣṇa and the sincerity of His servant.
Caitanya-caritāmṛta states that unless one is possessed of kṛṣṇa-śakti, special power from God, one cannot propagate the chanting of the holy name:
kṛṣṇa-śakti vinā nahe tāra pravartana
“The fundamental religious system in the Age of Kali is the chanting of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa. Unless empowered by Kṛṣṇa, one cannot propagate the saṅkīrtana movement.” (Cc. Antya 7.11) This verse describing Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu also describes Lord Caitanya’s servant, Śrīla Prabhupāda. Had Śrīla Prabhupāda not been empowered by Kṛṣṇa, he could not have inspired so many people to accept the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa.
According to Vedic literature, when a person has extraordinary spiritual endowment, kṛṣṇa-śakti, he is known as a śaktyāveśa-avatāra. Although the word avatāra generally refers to incarnations of God Himself, the term śaktyāveśa-avatāra refers to an individual empowered by God to enact the mission of God in this world.
Śaktyāveśa-avatāras and their particular functions are mentioned in the Vedic literature. For example, the emperor Pṛthu possessed the śakti for God conscious administration; the four Kumāras possessed the śakti of transcendental knowledge; and Nārada Muni possessed the śakti of devotional service. Lord Buddha, whose name and activities are described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, is also a śaktyāveśa-avatāra, and even other divinely empowered personalities outside the Vedic culture, such as Jesus Christ and Muhammad, are accepted by Vaiṣṇava ācāryas as śaktyāveśa-avatāras.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s activities during the years 1968 through 1971 establish him as a śaktyāveśa-avatāra, and he fulfills the predictions of the scriptures.
sarvatra pracāra haibe mora nāma
“In all the villages and towns all over the world, everywhere, the saṅkīrtana movement of Lord Caitanya will be preached.”
Even from the viewpoint of religious history, Prabhupāda’s preaching was a fulfillment of the mission of Lord Caitanya, who had appeared in West Bengal about five hundred years before Kṛṣṇa consciousness came West. The Vedic literature and the Vaiṣṇava ācāryas concur that Lord Caitanya is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa Himself, appearing in this age as a pure devotee of the Lord. And just as Lord Kṛṣṇa appeared with His plenary expansion Lord Balarāma, Lord Caitanya appeared with Lord Balarāma’s incarnation for Kali-yuga, Lord Nityānanda.
Śrīla Prabhupāda can be appreciated not only generally, as the empowered representative of God, but specifically, as the manifestation of Lord Nityānanda. According to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy, Lord Kṛṣṇa manifests Himself to the souls of ordinary men through Lord Nityānanda. The individual soul requires the help of God to realize God. This help comes by the causeless mercy of Lord Nityānanda, who is therefore known as the original guru. Although Lord Nityānanda is the direct expansion of Lord Caitanya, His pastime is to serve Lord Caitanya by redeeming the fallen souls.
Lord Nityānanda and His representative, the spiritual master, do not alter the scriptures or the teachings of Lord Kṛṣṇa but make them more accessible and understandable. Lord Caitanya commissioned Lord Nityānanda to preach the holy name at everyone’s door, and Lord Nityānanda’s exemplary mood of vigorous, compassionate preaching was also the mood of Śrīla Prabhupāda. As Śrīla Prabhupāda imparted this mood to his disciples, they in turn went out into the streets of cities around the world to distribute to everyone the mercy of the holy name of God.
Lord Nityānanda is especially renowned for saving two drunkard brothers, Jagāi and Mādhāi, even though they had assaulted Him when He had attempted to bless them with the holy name. In Lord Nityānanda’s time, Prabhupāda on several occasions explained, there were only one Jagāi and Mādhāi, but now the whole world is filled with Jagāis and Mādhāis. And Prabhupāda was recruiting his disciples from these Jagāis and Mādhāis. Śrīla Prabhupāda fully displayed Lord Nityānanda’s compassion in taking all risks and freely giving the holy name.
Even Lord Nityānanda Himself, during His appearance in India, did not approach as many fallen souls as Śrīla Prabhupāda, nor did He approach souls in such degraded conditions of life or in so many rejected parts of the world. But He has done so now, through His representative Śrīla Prabhupāda. As the recipient of the combined mercy of Gaura-Nitāi (Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityānanda), Śrīla Prabhupāda blessed the world with love of God.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, never described himself as a great empowered personality, either in public or among his disciples. But he stressed that he was in disciplic succession, carrying the authorized knowledge. And he encouraged his disciples to take the same position: “We want to create many pure devotees, so that other people will benefit by their association. In this way, the number of pure devotees increases.”
Prabhupāda knew well that propagating Kṛṣṇa consciousness was not a professional business. Although in India many professionals spoke or wrote on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam to earn their livelihood, they could not convert materialistic people to devotional service. Only a pure devotee could change the materialistic heart.
Prabhupāda did not even conclude that he was a pure devotee, only that he was the servant of a pure devotee, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, his Guru Mahārāja.
Prabhupāda prayed that before he left the world he could create a living family of pure devotees to spread the paramparā teachings of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and protect them from being changed or obscured. He emphasized that all the preachers of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement could become pure devotees by following the regulative principles, avoiding sinful life, and regularly chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. Only in this way, he said, could the devotees have an effect on others.
October 18, 1971
Having spent a busy five weeks in Africa, Prabhupāda was ready to travel on to India. His plan was to visit Bombay, Calcutta, and Delhi. He had made a strong beginning for ISKCON in India – with land in Māyāpur and centers in Bombay, Calcutta, and New Delhi, and he had groups of disciples strategically located in other parts of India. Indians were recognizing ISKCON and appreciating its festivals, kīrtanas, and prasādam. Life members were offering service and being benefited, they were receiving and reading ISKCON publications, and they were helping support the ISKCON centers.
And this was only a start. To get a foothold – anywhere, whether in India, Africa, America, or Russia – was certainly a great accomplishment. But a foothold was not enough. Although much had been done to establish the mission of Lord Caitanya, much more remained to be done. Preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness was not a job that at some point would be completed.
Of course in one sense it was already complete and perfect. Prabhupāda’s preaching had always been successful, even when he had struggled alone in India to make his message heard through Back to Godhead magazine, the League of Devotees, and his translations of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. He had always remained fixed in the transcendental order of his spiritual master and Kṛṣṇa; therefore, he had been successful. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement was already complete, and now, by the will of its author, Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, this completeness was becoming manifest. But the work, the ecstasy, the samādhi of selflessly and single-pointedly serving that mission was unending and ever unfolding. Now there was a foothold in Africa. Tomorrow he would fly to Bombay, where Kṛṣṇa had already allowed him a foothold. And, as Kṛṣṇa desired, he would continue to travel and to send his devotees and his books and his message until he reached every town and village in the world.