The Final Lesson
DESPITE HIS PROMISE to live, Śrīla Prabhupāda said his life was still in Kṛṣṇa’s hands – everything was. His free choice did not mean he was absolutely independent. Rather, the pure devotee’s attitude is to freely surrender to Kṛṣṇa, whatever happens. In the mood of the gopīs, the foremost devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa, Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu prayed, “You may handle me roughly in Your embrace or make me brokenhearted by not being present before me, but You are always my worshipable Lord, unconditionally.”
Because the exchanges between the Lord and His pure devotees are always supremely personal, both the Lord and His devotees express desires and individual will. In His childhood līlā, Kṛṣṇa sometimes breaks mother Yaśodā’s butter pot, and sometimes He allows her to catch Him and bind Him. In any case, the will of the Lord and the will of the devotee are always one in interest, but they are sometimes expressed in the form of a loving conflict. Similarly, although Śrīla Prabhupāda had promised his devotees that he would stay in the world and defy death, he still remained surrendered to the will of Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had already expressed his surrender in the prayer he had given his disciples to offer on his behalf: “My dear Lord Kṛṣṇa, if You desire, please cure Śrīla Prabhupāda.” By the phrase “if You desire,” he was reminding his followers of the supreme prerogative of Kṛṣṇa and was asking them to abide by it, although he was also giving them an acceptable way to petition Kṛṣṇa. In a similar case in 1967, he had given his disciples another prayer: “My master has not finished his work.” He had said then that Kṛṣṇa had responded to this prayer, granting the wishes of the devotees. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself was responding to the devotees’ prayers, and Kṛṣṇa had given him the choice. But as a surrendered soul, Śrīla Prabhupāda waited for further developments, ever sensitive to Kṛṣṇa’s desire. As Prabhupāda had said when invited by Kīrtanānanda to come to his palace in New Vrindaban, “Let us see which palace I am going to.”
As a loving tension can sometimes exist between the Supreme Lord and His pure devotee, so now a similar tension existed between Śrīla Prabhupāda and his followers. Prior to his disciples’ desperate petition at his bedside, Śrīla Prabhupāda had seen his duty as instructing his disciples in how to die. Part of his mission was to set the perfect example in this most important lesson – how to pass life’s ultimate test. But now his disciples were asking him to postpone the lesson in dying and stay with them indefinitely in the preaching field. And Prabhupāda had agreed, showing that he had the ability to live if he chose. But sooner or later he would have to return to the lesson on how a person should face the end of life.
One special feature of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s activities is his relating intimately to the human condition while at the same time remaining aloof and transcendental. As a pure devotee, he was not subjected to the law of karma, which awards reactions for pious and sinful deeds. He was not born by the force of karma, nor would he die by force of karma. As stated by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, “One whose body, mind, and words are fully engaged in devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa is a liberated soul, even while living in this world.” People often misunderstand the movements of a pure devotee within the material world, just as one, on seeing clouds blowing past the moon, may think the moon itself is moving. The śāstra, therefore, warns us never to see the guru as an ordinary man subject to karma.
But Śrīla Prabhupāda, while always transcendental to this world, showed the conditioned souls how they too could come to the stage of liberation by constantly thinking about Kṛṣṇa and serving Him, so that at the time of death they could return to Kṛṣṇa in the eternal, spiritual world. And Prabhupāda’s lessons were always practical and universal. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, for example, were not mere theory but were practical and full of realized knowledge. And Prabhupāda practiced what he preached; his entire life was exemplary. He had been in family life, and even then he had vigorously preached, by starting his Back to Godhead magazine. In poverty and obscurity he had struggled to start a spiritual movement, and by the grace of Kṛṣṇa and his spiritual master, he had become successful. He had always shown by his humanlike attempts his willingness to bravely take on austerity and face danger. He had shown exemplary spiritual life for all to try and follow. He had gone alone, in old age, to a foreign country and had chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa in a park in New York City, attracting the young men and women of America. Therefore everyone should take his example and try to serve Kṛṣṇa, despite the immediate impediments. Śrīla Prabhupāda encountered obstacles, yet by his free will and the help of Kṛṣṇa, he surmounted them. This was his wonderful example. It is said that Lord Caitanya, five hundred years ago, made surrender to Kṛṣṇa more attainable than Lord Kṛṣṇa had five thousand years ago. And now, in the twentieth century, Śrīla Prabhupāda has made Kṛṣṇa consciousness possible for people all over the world.
As part of his instruction and example, Śrīla Prabhupāda knew he would have to show people just how to die. He had escaped death a number of times – by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, by the prayers of his disciples, and by his own pure and powerful will to propagate his movement. But from the signs given to him by Lord Kṛṣṇa in 1977, Śrīla Prabhupāda began decisively and conclusively ending his mission in the material world. And among his final duties was his giving complete guidelines on how to die. He was perfectly showing how to do that which everyone has to do, but which is most difficult to do successfully: die.
But a loving conflict was there. Prabhupāda loved his disciples. He also knew they were not yet fully mature. His movement already had great potency and stature in the world, and yet it had many enemies. He was inclined to always protect his devotees, his movement, and all living entities, even the animals. So when his most intimate and faithful disciples pleaded that they could not go on without him, he had turned from showing how to die, agreeing to stay with them and preach. But at what point would they ever be willing to let him go? At what point could he say that the world of māyā and the enemies of Kṛṣṇa were all gone? At what point would his disciples become fully mature?
In following his decision to stay, Śrīla Prabhupāda turned himself over to his disciples, allowing them to care for him completely. Those who took part recalled that never before had Śrīla Prabhupāda allowed such intimate dealings between himself and his disciples. The only thing comparable was in New York, in 1966, when he had been very intimate in dealing with the first persons to join him, persons who had known nothing of the etiquette of approaching a spiritual master. But those who were present now and who had also been present then said that these days were even more intimate.
At one point Kīrtanānanda firmly insisted that Śrīla Prabhupāda drink a full cup of juice, even when he said he had had enough. Kīrtanānanda felt awkward, insisting. “I am not like mother Yaśodā that I can do this,” he said. “I keep remembering that you are my spiritual master.” But Śrīla Prabhupāda allowed himself to be ordered by Kīrtanānanda. Similarly, Bhavānanda, Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, Bhakti-caru, Upendra, and other servants coaxed Śrīla Prabhupāda to follow certain diets and cared for his body constantly. The other devotees were reminded of the story of Īśvara Purī, who gave intimate bodily service to his spiritual master, Mādhavendra Purī, when Mādhavendra was in the last stages of his life and apparently invalid. According to the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, it was by this menial, bodily service that Īśvara Purī proved his love for his spiritual master and was allowed to become the spiritual master of Lord Caitanya.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had deferred the lessons in dying in favor of giving his disciples an unparalleled opportunity to serve him in pure and simple love. And he allowed this not only for a few, but for whoever came to Vṛndāvana. Many came, and all were allowed to enter Śrīla Prabhupāda’s room, massage his body, and sit with him as long as they liked, day and night, chanting the holy name for his pleasure. Śrīla Prabhupāda also recommenced his translating, and this was done openly. Whereas previously he had always worked in solitude, he now encouraged all devotees to come as he lay in bed dictating his Bhaktivedanta purports. He was giving himself completely and declaring it also, telling the devotees present, “Never leave me,” and “I cannot live without your company.” They had asked him to stay, and he had agreed, consigning himself completely to their care.
Those who were blessed to have this service felt themselves passing over all barriers of reluctance to serve, as well as all barriers of material desire. By intimately serving Śrīla Prabhupāda, they felt the strength of complete surrender and sensed that this would sustain them always, even when Śrīla Prabhupāda eventually did depart from the world.
Prabhupāda also continued speaking, as he had in recent months, about being unafraid of death and being fixed in transcendental knowledge. When receiving a presentation of some of his books recently printed in Portuguese by Hṛdayānanda Goswami, Prabhupāda encouraged him and said, “This is life. The material world is just bones. The bones are not our real life. Our real concern is the living force. The bones may remain or go – it doesn’t matter. The real life is sustaining the bones. There is even a history that there was a ṛṣi who had only bones. So there is a science by which you can sustain life by only bones. Hiraṇyakaśipu did it.”
“You are also doing it, Śrīla Prabhupāda,” Tamāla Kṛṣṇa said.
“So take care of the bones as long as possible,” said Prabhupāda, “but the real life is here, always remember that. The material world means we are simply all protecting bones and flesh together. But they have no knowledge of what they are.”
And when Ātreya Ṛṣi visited Śrīla Prabhupāda and asked that he visit Tehran, Prabhupāda said that he was ready to go, but “Now you have to take a bundle of bones.” These were, of course, the same themes that Prabhupāda had always taught, the same themes that were in his books. But the lessons were more poignant and striking when Prabhupāda applied them to his own situation.
More than one devotee compared Prabhupāda to Bhīṣmadeva, who gave important instructions in his last days. As Bhīṣma felt no pain and delivered learned and loving discourses even from his “bed of arrows,” and as Bhīṣma determined by his own will the time of his departure from the world, so Śrīla Prabhupāda spent his last days oblivious to his physical condition, defying death, and instructing his spiritually innocent sons. But Prabhupāda’s sons could no longer stand by and simply hear the philosophical lessons. Prabhupāda had accepted their affection when they had cried for him to stay with them, and now they wanted to express that affection in the only world they understood, a world with Śrīla Prabhupāda living and talking with them, laughing or reprimanding them, as he liked. They wanted him to eat and drink and become physically strong again.
But again Śrīla Prabhupāda seemed to change, and he began refusing food and drink. He had postponed his passing away to exchange lovingly with his disciples, and yet at the same time, by refusing to eat or drink, he was showing his preference for passing away. He admitted, when pressed, that it was an impossible course of action – to live without food or drink. Nor did he expect or want miracles. If he was to get better, it would be by taking nourishment. But for reasons of his own, he would not eat. He said recovery was material, and he didn’t want it.
He kept closely in tune with the will of Kṛṣṇa, allowing the holy name to sustain him. The doctors who came were often puzzled, but those who were Vaiṣṇavas understood and respected his prerogative. Prabhupāda’s servants made anxiety-filled attempts to induce Prabhupāda to take regular treatment. But Prabhupāda preferred to take only kīrtana and Bhāgavatam, while at the same time sustaining a willingness to live. He empathized with his disciples’ anxiety and patiently explained the puzzling situation they were in. He wanted their care, and he allowed them to try and treat him, knowing that it was bringing them more and more into a surrender of love. But gradually it became more clear that Kṛṣṇa’s will was indicating Prabhupāda’s departure.
“Śrīla Prabhupāda,” Bhavānanda coaxed, always working on the assumption that Prabhupāda could stay if he wanted, “your presence on this planet is the only thing that’s keeping the onslaught of the Kali-yuga from really taking effect. We have no idea even what will happen if you leave.”
“It is not in my hands,” said Śrīla Prabhupāda, with perfect clarity of consciousness. “Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda always spoke clearly, logically, and with complete devotion to Kṛṣṇa. Up until the last he dealt with practical matters, forming a Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity Trust for reconstructing ancient temples in Bengal and arranging final details regarding ISKCON properties and monies. Through all dealings he stayed always alert, and he absorbed himself in kīrtana and Bhāgavatam.
But it became obvious to his disciples that, despite his promise, he was again moving inevitably towards giving the final lesson. He was teaching that love was beyond death, that a disciple’s love could call the spiritual master back to the world to stay, and that a pure devotee has the ability to stay in the world beyond his allotted time. Meanwhile, however, he was progressing steadily to the final point. The devotees didn’t feel angry with him or cheated that he was doing so. He had told them that he had free will given by Kṛṣṇa. And they also, by their free will, had asked him to stay, and he had agreed. But they knew he was not obliged. If, despite their prayers, Lord Kṛṣṇa was telling Śrīla Prabhupāda that he should come back home to Godhead, what could they do but accept? If Śrīla Prabhupāda was accepting, then they would accept also. Nothing, however, could change the fact of their surrendered love; it had now become a solid pact that could not be vanquished by any material changes. They had passed the test of eternal loving service, and that could not be taken away by death.
Up until the end there were interludes of sweetness as well as displays of Prabhupāda’s indomitable mood of fighting for Kṛṣṇa. One day Prabhupāda’s sister Pisimā arrived unexpectedly, and Prabhupāda asked her to cook kicharī. At that time Kīrtanānanda was trying to put Prabhupāda on the road to recovery by gradually increasing his liquids, and Kīrtanānanda and the other devotees opposed the idea of his suddenly eating solid foods. But Śrīla Prabhupāda insisted.
“It doesn’t matter whether what she cooks does good to me or bad,” said Śrīla Prabhupāda. “She is a Vaiṣṇavī. It will be good for me.” He then began speaking in an extremely humble way. “Probably I became a little puffed up because of my opulence and success,” he said. “Now God has shattered that pride. If you don’t have your body, what is there to be puffed up about?”
Bhakti-caru Swami protested, “Śrīla Prabhupāda, whatever you have done, you have done for Kṛṣṇa.”
“That may be, but in this world, unknowingly you commit offenses.”
When Pisimā heard this, she exclaimed, “No, no, he never committed any offense.”
“You cannot ever commit offenses,” said Bhakti-caru. “You are God’s very dear one. How can you commit offenses?”
“I am a little temperamental,” said Śrīla Prabhupāda. “I used to use words like rascal and so on. I never compromised. They used to call it ‘A club in one hand and a Bhāgavatam in the other.’ That is how I preach. Anyway, make arrangements for my sister.”
There were also visits from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers, and again Prabhupāda asked forgiveness for his offenses. One time, Niṣkiñcana Kṛṣṇadāsa Bābājī, Purī Mahārāja, Āśrama Mahārāja, Ānanda Prabhu, Puruṣottama Brahmacārī, and about twenty others came and sat next to Prabhupāda’s bed. He was resting when they arrived, and they joined the kīrtana until he awoke. When he saw them, he asked to be raised up. Sitting in the center of his bed with his Godbrothers all around, he addressed them.
“All over the world there is a beautiful field to preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness,” he said. “I didn’t care whether I would be successful or not. People are willing to take. They are all taking also. If we preach together, the saying of Mahāprabhu, pṛthivīte, will come true. We have everything. Spread the holy name and distribute prasādam. There is a beautiful field. In Africa, in Russia, everywhere they’re accepting.”
When Prabhupāda began asking his Godbrothers to forgive him, they protested. “You are the eternal leader,” one of them asserted. “You rule over us, guide us, and chastise us.”
“Forgive all my offenses,” Prabhupāda repeated. “I became proud of all my opulence.”
“No,” said Purī Mahārāja, “you never became proud. When you started preaching, opulence and success followed you. That was the blessing of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Śrī Kṛṣṇa. There cannot be any question of your being offensive.”
When Śrīla Prabhupāda presented himself as mahā-patita, greatly fallen, Purī Mahārāja did not accept it. “You have saved millions of people around the world,” he said. “Therefore there is no question of offenses. But you should be called mahā-patita-pāvana [the great savior of the fallen].”
Prabhupāda’s disciples regarded Prabhupāda’s asking for his Godbrothers’ forgiveness as a manifestation of his humility. But they were also puzzled. Certainly Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers were sincere in saying Prabhupāda had committed no offense. Whatever he had done, he had done for Kṛṣṇa. But Śrīla Prabhupāda was also sincere in asking for forgiveness. That was the beautiful gem of his humility – to ask everyone for forgiveness.
For the purpose of preaching, displaying this gem had not always been the most effective way to spread the merciful teachings of Lord Kṛṣṇa in every town and village. But now it could be displayed. In London and now in Vṛndāvana, Prabhupāda was showing his disciples extra affection and gratitude, without the reprimands usually necessary in training disciples. This attitude of complete humility was a symptom of the highest stage of devotional life. Śrīla Prabhupāda had explained in his books that the madhyama-adhikārī, the second-class devotee, makes distinctions between the devotees, the innocent nondevotees, and the demons, whereas the mahā-bhāgavata, or first-class devotee, sees everyone – except himself – as a servant of God. Sometimes, however, the mahā-bhāgavata desires to come down from the first-class platform to the second-class platform, just to take up the most compassionate service of preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Prabhupāda’s disciples had all read of the mahā-bhāgavata stage in the scriptures, and now they were seeing it fully displayed, as Prabhupāda referred to himself as the most fallen and asked for everyone’s forgiveness.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had heard of the program of his disciple Lokanātha Swami, who was taking a small group of men on a bullock cart and preaching in villages throughout India. Lokanātha had told Śrīla Prabhupāda how in the course of their travels they had recently visited tīrthas such as Badarikasrama and Bhim Kapur. Śrīla Prabhupāda was enlivened to hear this, and he then evolved a transcendental desire to go himself on a cart pulled by bullocks to circumambulate the area of Vṛndāvana. Tamāla Kṛṣṇa and Bhavānanda, who were serving Prabhupāda with increased intimacy, felt themselves unable to support Śrīla Prabhupāda in his desire, since they thought his fragile body could not survive such rough treatment on the roads.
But Śrīla Prabhupāda reasoned that “Dying on parikrama is glorious,” and he asked them to take him. A controversy developed among the devotees, as some said Prabhupāda’s will to go on parikrama should be immediately honored as an order from the spiritual master; he wanted it, and he should not be denied. The doctor, however, assured them that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s body would not survive the jostling of the cart. The many devotees who crowded around Śrīla Prabhupāda’s bed held different opinions, and Prabhupāda could see this. Following his request, however, Lokanātha went out and hired a cart with bullocks and prepared it for the ride. Lokanātha and Haṁsadūta suggested that the parikrama could go to the city of Vṛndāvana or visit the seven main temples of the Gosvāmīs. But then they said that since the next day was Govardhana-pūjā, Prabhupāda could go to Govardhana Hill. Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, Bhavānanda, and Bhakti-caru, however, protested adamantly against the parikrama.
“One-day experiment,” Prabhupāda said. “It is for one day. Rest assured I will not die in one day.” He liked the idea of going to Govardhana. “And we shall make our cooking there,” he said. Lokanātha Swami, he assured them, was experienced. “Make very good picnic,” he said.
After discussing back and forth, the devotees finally decided that early the next morning they would take Śrīla Prabhupāda in a bullock cart to Govardhana. The majority of the devotees then left Śrīla Prabhupāda alone for the night.
Later that night Śrīla Prabhupāda received a visit from Niṣkiñcana Kṛṣṇadāsa Bābājī, who sat with Prabhupāda, chanting and sometimes speaking in Bengali. Suddenly, Tamāla Kṛṣṇa and Bhavānanda came to Prabhupāda’s bedside. They were in tears and beside themselves with anxiety.
Prabhupāda understood. “You request me not to go?” he asked.
“Well, Śrīla Prabhupāda,” said Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, “I’ll tell you, I’m getting so upset sitting in the room upstairs. I was walking around. Two of the devotees told me that this road is so bad that if you go on this road you’re going to be jolted back and forth. The road is terrible. I just can’t understand, Śrīla Prabhupāda, why it has to be tomorrow that we have to go. If anybody wants you to travel, I do. But why do we have to go when you’re in this condition? I can’t understand it. Why are we throwing everything out the window that we must go tomorrow? I can’t understand.”
“All right,” said Śrīla Prabhupāda softly, immediately agreeing to their proposal that he not go.
“Jaya, Śrīla Prabhupāda!” said Bhakti-caru, who was also present.
“Thank you, Śrīla Prabhupāda,” said Bhavānanda with great relief.
“All right. You’re satisfied?”
“Now I am, Śrīla Prabhupāda,” said Bhavānanda. “Yes. I was in too much anxiety.”
“Never mind. I shall not put you in anxiety.”
“Actually, Śrīla Prabhupāda,” said Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, “we’re so much attached to you that you practically drive us to madness sometimes. Tonight we were becoming mad.”
“No, no, I shall not do that,” said Prabhupāda. “Bābājī Mahārāja,” Prabhupāda turned to Niṣkiñcana Kṛṣṇadāsa Bābājī and said, “ – just see how much affection they have for me.”
“Śrīla Prabhupāda,” said Tamāla Kṛṣṇa, “the way you deal with us simply deepens our attachment every moment.”
“It is my duty,” said Prabhupāda, and the devotees laughed warmly, understanding. Yes, they could understand – that was his duty. By all his actions and dealings, Prabhupāda’s intention was to capture spirit souls and deliver them to Kṛṣṇa. His method was loving service, but he did not do it for himself. He was delivering them to Kṛṣṇa. That was his duty.
On November 14, 1977, at 7:30 P.M., in his room at the Krishna-Balaram Mandir in Vṛndāvana, Śrīla Prabhupāda gave his final instruction by leaving this mortal world and going back to Godhead.
His departure was exemplary, because his whole life was exemplary. His departure marked the completion of a lifetime of pure devotional service to Kṛṣṇa. A few days before the end, Śrīla Prabhupāda had said he was instructing as far as he could, and his secretary had added, “You are the inspiration.” “Yes,” Śrīla Prabhupāda had replied, “that I shall do until the last breathing.”
Prabhupāda’s “last breathing” was glorious, not because of any last-minute mystical demonstration, but because Śrīla Prabhupāda remained in perfect Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Like grandfather Bhīṣmadeva, he remained completely collected and noble and grave, teaching until the end. He was preaching that life comes from life, not from matter, and he was showing that one should preach with every breath he has. The many devotees who crowded the large room bore witness that up to the very end, Prabhupāda remained exactly the same. There was nothing suddenly incongruous with what he had previously shown and taught them. At the time of his departure, therefore, he was teaching how to die, by always depending on Kṛṣṇa. Prabhupāda’s passing away was peaceful. During the evening of November 14, the kavirāja asked him, “Is there anything you want?” and Prabhupāda replied faintly, kuch icchā nahīṁ: “I have no desire.” His passing away was in the perfect situation: in Vṛndāvana, with devotees. A few months previously, a young girl, the daughter of one of Prabhupāda’s disciples, had passed away in Vṛndāvana, and when Śrīla Prabhupāda had been asked if she went back to Godhead to personally associate with Kṛṣṇa, he had said, “Yes, anyone who leaves his body in Vṛndāvana is liberated.”
Of course, “Vṛndāvana” also means the state of pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness. As Advaita Ācārya had said of Lord Caitanya, “Wherever You are is Vṛndāvana.” And this was also true of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Had Śrīla Prabhupāda passed away in London, New York, or Moscow, therefore, his destination would have been the same. As Lord Kṛṣṇa states in the Bhagavad-gītā, “One who is always thinking of Me, surely he attains to Me.” But because Vṛndāvana-dhāma is the quintessential realm of Kṛṣṇa consciousness within the universe, the ideal place for departure from this world, so it was yet another exemplary feature of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life that he went back to Godhead with Vṛndāvana as his last junction.
Those Vaiṣṇavas who had taken the vow never to risk leaving Vṛndāvana could see that Śrīla Prabhupāda, after sacrificing everything – including the benefit of residing in Vṛndāvana – to deliver fallen souls in the most godforsaken locations of the world, had returned to the holy land of Vṛndāvana and from there had departed for the original abode of Lord Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual sky. As stated in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, “Anyone who executes service in Vṛndāvana certainly goes back to home, back to Godhead, after giving up his body.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure was also perfect because he was chanting and hearing the holy names of God. Thus the Supreme Personality of Godhead was present at Śrīla Prabhupāda’s passing just as He was at the celebrated passing away of Bhīṣmadeva, who said, “Despite His being equally kind to everyone, He has graciously come before me while I am ending my life, for I am His unflinching servitor.” As Lord Kṛṣṇa came before Bhīṣmadeva, assuring him and everyone else that Bhīṣma was returning back to Godhead on leaving his body, so the Lord in His incarnation of namāvatāra, the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, was present for Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life had been dedicated to spreading the holy name to every town and village, and for a month he had been surrounding himself with the holy name. For his passing away, he especially wanted to fill the room with devotees chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa fulfilled that wish. Śrīla Prabhupāda, therefore, departed under the most favorable circumstances possible – in the most sacred place, Vṛndāvana, surrounded by Vaiṣṇavas chanting the holy name.
An ideal spiritual teacher (ācārya) always acts in such a way that others may follow his example. As Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam states, these great souls who cross over the ocean of birth and death by taking shelter of the “boat” of the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa miraculously leave the boat on this side for others to use. And Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance, by its perfect example, affords all conditioned souls the means for meeting the greatest of all dangers. An auspicious death is not merely a matter of psychological adjustment, so that one may die without regret or without becoming unduly upset. The real point is that at the time of death the soul must leave the body and take his next birth. Only the Kṛṣṇa conscious soul can leave this world of birth and death and attain an eternal, blissful life in the spiritual world. Therefore one’s life is tested at death.
Death means the soul cannot stand to live in the body anymore. Whatever the material cause may be, the situation has become unbearable for the soul. And leaving the body causes great distress. The śāstras, therefore, advise us to get free from the cycle of repeated birth and death. Meeting an inauspicious death and being dragged down to a lower birth is the most fearful thing for the living being. So fearful is it that we may try to ignore death altogether. Death is painful because the eternal spirit soul is placed in a most unnatural situation: although he is eternal and should not have to die, he is forced to die because of his connection with the material body. At death, the eternal soul is forced to leave the body for a destination he knows not. Thus he is full of fear and suffering. The pain and fear are usually overwhelming, and one thinks only of material attachments or bodily pain. Therefore King Kulaśekhara prayed, and Prabhupāda often quoted, “Please let me pass away, not in some prolonged contemplation of my bodily death, but just while I’m chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. If I can meditate on You and then pass from this body, that will be perfection.”
Over the last months of his life in this world, Śrīla Prabhupāda taught how it is possible to meet death step by step in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In his last days, he told one of his sannyāsīs, “Don’t think this isn’t going to happen to you.” Prabhupāda came into this world, on Kṛṣṇa’s request, to teach us how to live a pure life of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and that includes how to finally pass away from this world to attain eternal life. Prabhupāda underwent death in a way that was perfect and glorious, and at the same time in a way which we can all follow. When we have to go, we can cling to the memory of how a great soul left his body – always thinking of Kṛṣṇa, surrounding himself with the medicine of chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, always desiring to hear about Kṛṣṇa, and practicing detachment from the misery of the material condition. This last lesson was one of the most wonderful and important instructions Śrīla Prabhupāda gave us. He taught by his life, by his books, and at the end by his dying. Education in how to die is meant especially for the human being. An animal dies, and a human being also dies; but a human being is supposed to understand the process of going back to the spiritual world at the time of death. Remaining always fixed and undisturbed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Śrīla Prabhupāda expertly taught the process. His passing away, therefore, was a perfect lesson, and one that can be faithfully followed.
While there was nothing lamentable for Śrīla Prabhupāda in his departing from the world and going back to Godhead, it was certainly lamentable for his followers and for the people of the whole world, who became bereft of the presence of their greatest well-wisher and benefactor. Śrīla Prabhupāda had written in a Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam purport, “When the mortal body of the spiritual master expires, the disciple should cry exactly like the queen cries when the king leaves his body.” At the departure of his own spiritual master, Śrīla Prabhupāda had written, “On that day, O my Master, I made a cry of grief; I was not able to tolerate the absence of you, my guru.” And so on November 14, 1977, as the powerful news spread around the world, those who knew and loved Śrīla Prabhupāda were gripped by a fearful, unrestricted grief. They saw everything around them in the overwhelming atmosphere of separation from Śrīla Prabhupāda. They turned for solace to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books.
However, the disciples and the spiritual master are never separated, because the spiritual master always keeps company with the disciple, as long as the disciple follows the instructions of the spiritual master. This is called the association of vāṇī. Physical presence is called vapuḥ. As long as the spiritual master is physically present, the disciple should serve the physical body of the spiritual master, and when the spiritual master is no longer physically existing, the disciples should serve the instructions of the spiritual master.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples were already carrying out his instructions, but now they would have to do so without the vapuḥ, without the opportunity of regularly seeing and being with him. At first this was very difficult for them to face, but those who were sincere soon realized that Śrīla Prabhupāda had, upon his departure, given them the greatest gift of all: service in separation.
Service in separation is the highest realization and ecstasy. This was the teaching of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, in regard to Lord Kṛṣṇa and His foremost devotees, the gopīs of Vṛndāvana. When Kṛṣṇa left His beloved gopīs and went to Mathurā, never to return to them in Vṛndāvana, the gopīs (and all the other residents of Vṛndāvana) wept piteously in separation. They so much loved Kṛṣṇa that they could not live without Him, and to maintain their lives they began to constantly remember and discuss His name, fame, form, and entourage. By constantly remembering Him in love and by anticipating His return to Vṛndāvana, they achieved an ecstasy of union in separation, which Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava scholars declare to be superior even to the ecstasy the gopīs felt in Kṛṣṇa’s presence. Because Kṛṣṇa is absolute, even remembering Him or chanting His name puts the devotee into direct contact with Him. But because there is simultaneously a feeling of separation from Him, there is an added dimension of inconceivable, simultaneous union and separation. This is the epitome of Kṛṣṇa conscious realization.
Prabhupāda’s followers knew this principle of service in separation, technically known as vipralambha-sevā, but to most devotees it was a theoretical realization. Before one can feel intense loving separation from Kṛṣṇa, one must first feel intense attraction to Him. But for the conditioned soul who has forgotten and abandoned Kṛṣṇa and has come to the material world under the spell of māyā, illusion – for him, “separation” from Kṛṣṇa is based on complete ignorance and forgetfulness.
In coming to spiritual life, a neophyte first begins to awaken to the very existence of God, as he overcomes atheistic misconceptions. Next, he comes gradually, through practice, to take up a relationship of service to Kṛṣṇa, through serving the spiritual master. Intense love of Kṛṣṇa in separation is the most advanced stage and cannot possibly be realized in full by the neophyte. Thus service in separation had remained a theoretical teaching to many of Prabhupāda’s followers.
But when Śrīla Prabhupāda departed from the world and left his disciples to carry on his mission, they immediately realized union with him in separation. He was gone, but he was still very much present. This realization was not a pretention or a myth, nor was it sentimental psychic phenomena – telepathy, “communion with the dead,” or so on. It was a completely substantive, practical, palpable reality, a fact of life. Śrīla Prabhupāda had given them personal service, and now they would continue that service. Prabhupāda was still present through his instructions, and all the nectar of his direct association – all the nectar of Kṛṣṇa consciousness that he had given and shared with them – was still available.
Service in separation for Prabhupāda’s disciples was undoubtedly a fact, otherwise, now that they were without his personal presence, how were they able to sustain themselves in spiritual life? The fact that they could continue as before, increase their feelings of devotion, and even increase their serving capacity, meant that Śrīla Prabhupāda was very much still with them. As Śrīla Prabhupāda’s last instruction was the lesson of how a human being should die, he now taught, beyond dying, how to practically implement the highest philosophical teachings of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism.
This realization gave the devotees great hope that Śrīla Prabhupāda and the revolutionary life of Kṛṣṇa consciousness he had brought with him were not finished upon his departure. Often when a great personality dies, his contribution collapses; but Śrīla Prabhupāda’s presence remained and expanded, sustaining his devotees’ lives. He was still in charge.
In describing how the followers of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda continue 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. Śrīla Prabhupāda was not only an ācārya, but he was the founder-ācārya of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, which is a dynamic spiritual reality. That reality is nothing less than the yuga-dharma, or the form of spiritual life recommended for all humanity in the present Age of Kali, the most dangerous of ages, in which humanity eventually abandons all religious principles.
The ultimate goal of human life was taught by Lord Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad-gītā, when He declared, “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” Kṛṣṇa taught this five thousand years ago, when He appeared in the world, but people have misinterpreted and misunderstood what Kṛṣṇa meant. Lord Caitanya advented, therefore, to revive the original message of surrender to Kṛṣṇa, primarily by introducing the saṅkīrtana movement of chanting the holy names of God.
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, a great devotee of Lord Caitanya appearing in the nineteenth century, foresaw that Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana principles could and would be introduced all over the world. He had studied deeply many other religions and philosophies, but he felt that Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana was universal, the essence of religious life able to unite all people and bring them to perfection. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s son was Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, who became the spiritual master of Śrīla Prabhupāda and who ordered Śrīla Prabhupāda to implement the vision of worldwide Kṛṣṇa consciousness by going to preach in the West.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda is, therefore, to be appreciated not only as the guru of a few intimate servants or even the guru of a single generation of disciples. As the founder-ācārya of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, he introduced the standard of Kṛṣṇa consciousness as it can be practiced by all sincere followers for thousands of years to come.
The scriptures predict that although the present age is constantly becoming more inauspicious, unfortunate, and degraded, for a period of ten thousand years from the time of Lord Caitanya’s advent a golden age of Kṛṣṇa consciousness can appear, despite the force of Kali-yuga. Śrīla Prabhupāda, therefore, prepared his translations and Bhaktivedanta purports on the essential Vaiṣṇava scriptures – Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Caitanya-caritāmṛta, and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu – with the plan that they would form the foundation of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement for ten thousand years.
We cannot limit Śrīla Prabhupāda, therefore, by describing him only within the drama of his being the guru for one generation of followers. Śrīla Prabhupāda is jagad-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 Kṛṣṇa, as he received it in paramparā from his spiritual master. But more than that, he was empowered by Kṛṣṇa to do what no other spiritual master has ever done. He is the founder-ācārya for spreading Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana worldwide in the midst of the Age of Kali.
Anyone who wants shelter from the evil effects of the present godless age can have it by taking up devotional service under the guidance of Lord Caitanya’s teachings as given by Prabhupāda. The dynamic preaching and realizations of Śrīla Prabhupāda reveal the sublime teachings of Lord Caitanya, which otherwise have been neglected, misused, and kept within the confines of India. Śrīla Prabhupāda was actually able to understand Lord Caitanya’s prediction that Kṛṣṇa consciousness would spread to every town and village in the world.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had faith in these words and personally saw in his lifetime that pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness could be adopted by people of all races and cultures, even those considered by Vedic standards to be aborigines and outcasts. Through the applications of Śrīla Prabhupāda, therefore, the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is now proven to be viable for anyone, anywhere in the world.
Anyone can serve Śrīla Prabhupāda in separation. He asked all his followers to avoid four sinful activities – meat-eating, intoxication, illicit sex, and gambling – and to chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra a minimum of sixteen rounds daily on beads. He also advised that one regularly read Vedic literatures such as Bhagavad-gītā As It Is and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. And for keeping spiritual health and strength to follow the spiritual principles, he advised that one associate with like-minded devotees. Whoever follows these basic practices and recognizes Śrīla Prabhupāda as the direct representative of Kṛṣṇa is his follower. And the Vedic scriptures say that only by serving the representative of Kṛṣṇa can one become dear to Kṛṣṇa Himself.
The ways of serving Kṛṣṇa are unlimited, as Śrīla Prabhupāda expertly displayed. He invited scientists, artists, philosophers, and businessmen to serve Kṛṣṇa according to their occupations and capabilities. The artist, instead of painting pictures out of his imagination or making renderings of the material energy, can paint pictures depicting Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world. The poet can describe Kṛṣṇa as the Absolute Truth; the philosopher can explain Kṛṣṇa as the cause of all causes; the scientist can prove that life comes from life; and the businessman can contribute money to the worthiest welfare activity of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. A person does not, therefore, have to abandon his family or retreat to a solitary cave to realize God. In any situation of life one can move from mundane to spiritual by adopting the practices of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This is the broad and liberal way Śrīla Prabhupāda intended Kṛṣṇa consciousness to pervade society.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Prabhupāda’s own society of devotees, is meant to help all persons interested in developing spiritual life under Śrīla Prabhupāda’s guidance. ISKCON was Prabhupāda’s organization for establishing and proliferating temple worship, book printing and distribution, and communities where devotees could live and serve together in close association. Prabhupāda therefore entrusted all his properties, including the magnificent temples he had built in India, to ISKCON, for the protection and perpetuation of his work. And he instructed his disciples to show their love for him by always cooperating among themselves to expand further the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.
When a disciple expressed his appreciation of Prabhupāda’s magnificent quarters in Bombay, Prabhupāda replied, “I cannot take these with me. I am leaving them for you to use.”
The essential gifts of Kṛṣṇa consciousness which Prabhupāda brought are for everyone. Although most people do not know it, they are actually hankering for the happiness of genuine spiritual life. Prabhupāda, out of compassion, wanted to distribute the gifts of Kṛṣṇa consciousness to all the hungry people in the world. These gifts – peace of mind, satisfaction, freedom from anxiety – can be obtained by anyone who takes wholeheartedly to devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This pure, happy state can be realized by receiving the ongoing, dynamic legacy which Prabhupāda left: his books, his devotees, his Kṛṣṇa consciousness society, and his method of expertly applying Kṛṣṇa consciousness to every situation in the modern context. Whoever intelligently takes up the practice of Kṛṣṇa consciousness will also inherit the most wonderful realization in his relationship with Śrīla Prabhupāda, the pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa.
We hope that the Śrīla Prabhupāda-līlāmṛta will help the readers in establishing their relationship with Śrīla Prabhupāda. Its contribution is in the mood of remembering Śrīla Prabhupāda in separation. Remembering his pastimes puts one into direct contact with him and with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and this remembrance can free one from bondage to material life and enable one to taste the nectar of the eternal pastimes of Kṛṣṇa and His associates in the spiritual world.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life did not end on November 14, 1977. And we hope that the readers of Śrīla Prabhupāda-līlāmṛta will not feel they have finished their connection with this literature by having read it once. Śrīla Prabhupāda-līlāmṛta can be read regularly, from beginning to end. Our hope is that by hearing about Śrīla Prabhupāda the reader will become himself a Prabhupādānuga, a follower of Śrīla Prabhupāda. We can wish no better fortune upon anyone.
THUS ENDS THE ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA-LĪLĀMṚTA, COMPLETED ON NOVEMBER 9, 1982, IN THE KĀRTTIKA SEASON, AT THE ISKCON KRISHNA-BALARAM MANDIR IN VṚNDĀVANA.