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Uncommon Books for the Common Man

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Uncommon Books for the Common Man

In the spring of 1976 His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness spent a month at the ISKCON center in Honolulu. There he worked intensively at translating and commenting on the Vedic classic Srimad-Bhagavatam. He had been in Honolulu about a week when he announced one morning, walking along Waikiki Beach, that he expected to finish that night the last purport to the Seventh Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. When the devotees expressed their happiness, Srila Prabhupada replied, “Oh, I can finish very quickly, but I have to present it for your understanding. It requires deep thought, very careful thought, to present it for the common man.”

Srila Prabhupada’s saying that he was making the Bhagavatam understandable for the common man didn’t mean his writings were lacking in substance: they are pure substance. But in the essential spirit of the Bhagavatam itself, Srila Prabhupada omitted anything extraneous and distracting, selecting from the commentaries of the previous acaryas (spiritual teachers) whatever would best impel his readers to pure devotional service. At the beginning of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the author, Srila Vyasadeva, states that the Bhagavatam excludes all materially motivated forms of religiosity and offers only pure devotional service. The Srimad-Bhagavatam is therefore called “the ripened fruit of the tree of Vedic knowledge.” And just as the Bhagavatam is itself the most essential spiritual knowledge, so Srila Prabhupada, in translating and commenting on the Bhagavatam, utilized the same spirit of delivering the pure message without any speculation or deviation.

Srila Prabhupada’s presenting Srimad-Bhagavatam’s message for the common man did not mean mere simplification. It meant urgently addressing the reader to give up the world of illusion and take to the eternal liberation of Krsna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada was making available to the average reader spiritual truth that had been hidden and unavailable, even to austere practitioners of yoga and to learned brahmanas proficient in Sanskrit. “Old wine in new bottles,” Srila Prabhupada called it.

The Vedic truths are eternal, but they must be presented in every age by stalwart Vaisnava acaryas. On the authoritative basis of the Vedic literature, the acarya clearly establishes the Vedic conclusion as relevant, universal truth. Modern society is so degraded, however, that an acarya can no longer appeal to the authority of Vedic scripture—no one will accept it. Srila Prabhupada’s writings, therefore, deal with such theories as the origin of life by chance, Darwinian evolution, and chemical evolution. And he defeats them all with strong logic, establishing that life comes from life, not from dead matter. Srila Prabhupada even dedicated one of first books, Easy Journey to Other Planets, to “the scientists of the world,” and he adapted the Bhagavad-gita verses quoted in that book into scientific jargon of “matter and antimatter.” Thus he deftly used scripture and logic to establish the Vedic conclusion.

Srila Prabhupada’s writings also combat the false teachings of bogus yogis, gurus, and “incarnations,” who appear like a tidal wave of falsity in the modern age, both in India and the West. His writings also criticize modern political institutions, analyzing why monarchies fall, why democracy is also failing, and how dictatorship will increasingly harass the citizens. The governments’ policies and their abusive taxation, their propaganda, their abandonment of simple, agrarian life—Srila Prabhupada discusses all in light of the scriptures.

In his travels Srila Prabhupada observed the rampant degradation of human society: sexual liberation, the latest fads in intoxication, and the vicious crimes of animal slaughter and meat-eating. And his criticisms and solutions focus the timeless Vedic wisdom on today’s world. One of his Bhagavad-gita purports deals specifically with the threat of nuclear holocaust:

Such people [atheists] are considered the enemies of the world because ultimately they will invent or create something that will bring destruction to all. Indirectly, this verse anticipates the invention of nuclear weapons, of which the world today is very proud. At any moment war may take place, and these atomic weapons may create havoc. Such things are created solely for the destruction of the world, and this is indicated here. Due to godlessness, such weapons are invented; they are not meant for the peace and prosperity of the world.

Srila Prabhupada’s criticisms are strong and authoritative, befitting a true acarya; his uncompromising spirit is appealing. He is not a timid scholar pointing out some obscure historical references. Yet underlying his writing, a humble tone of request speaks to the heart. As the servant of the servant of Lord Krsna, he asks everyone to please take up the process of Krsna consciousness and be restored to his original, constitutional position of eternity, bliss, and knowledge.

More than simply rendering the Vedic literatures, however, Srila Prabhupada also established a way of life based on that Vedic literature. Consequently, he gained first-hand experience in bringing the most materialistic persons to the standard of renunciation and devotional service. His books reflect these practical realizations, and many times his purports relate to the difficulties and triumphs in trying to introduce spiritual principles within a materialistic society.

In the Sixth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, for example, Srila Prabhupada presents the story of Daksa’s cursing Narada Muni after Narada had instructed Daksa’s sons in pure Krsna consciousness, The jealous father, considering Narada his enemy, cursed him to be always traveling, without any home. In his commentary, Srila Prabhupada writes that he also was cursed by the parents of his disciples and that, therefore, despite his having many centers around the world, he must constantly travel and preach. Thus Srila Prabhupada imbued his writings with the thoughtfulness of his own personality—that of a pure devotee faithfully dedicating his body, mind, and words in the service of the message of the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Srila Prabhupada’s books, therefore, are eternal truth made practical. They combine the thoughtfulness of a textual scholar with the practical application of a transcendental social and political reformer. Many scholars have translated and commented on the Vedic literature, but their writings have lacked the potency to change the heart of the reader and make him a devotee of Lord Krsna. Srila Prabhupada’s books, however, are genuine, and they are inspiring thousands of people throughout the world to become devotees of the Lord.—SDG

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