Reflections on Completing Srila Prabhupada’s Biography
As I prepare this month’s “Notes” I am in Ireland, where I have just concluded writing the seven-volume series Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta. Writing this biography of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder and spiritual guide of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), has been my main occupation for the last five years.
One conclusion I have reached by studying the life of Srila Prabhupada is that he was much more than the spiritual master of a few thousand disciples. He was truly a spiritual teacher for the millennium, because he revealed the pure spiritual path that humanity can follow for thousands of years to come. So although Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta is certainly not the only biography of a spiritual master, it is unique nonetheless—because Srila Prabhupada was unique.
Srila Prabhupada faithfully conveyed the transcendental message handed down through the disciplic succession, the chain of God-realized spiritual masters beginning with Lord Krsna’s direct disciple Brahma. Therefore he is a bona fide guru. Yet he is more. He is the spiritual master whom Lord Krsna empowered to accomplish what no previous spiritual master had ever accomplished: the establishment of a worldwide movement of Krsna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada’s International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a dynamic, living, spiritual reality, and that spiritual reality is nothing less than the embodiment of yuga-dharma, the spiritual path the Vedic scriptures recommend for all humanity in the present Age of Kali, the Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy.
The essence of all religious principles is contained in the Bhagavad-gita, in which Lord Krsna concludes, “Surrender unto Me and give up all other religious principles. I will release you from the reactions of all sins. Do not fear.” Lord Krsna taught this simple principle of surrender five thousand years ago, but in the course of time people misunderstood and misinterpreted it. After some time almost no one was following Krsna’s order to surrender to Him.
Five hundred years ago, therefore, Lord Krsna appeared on earth as Lord Caitanya to revive the original message of surrender to Himself. But this time He showed us how to surrender—by taking up the process of sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy names of God.
Centuries later, in the 1800’s, a great devotee of Lord Caitanya’s named Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura began the mission to disseminate the philosophy and practice of sankirtana all over the world. Bhaktivinoda Thakura had deeply studied many religions and philosophies, and he had concluded that sankirtana was the quintessence of spiritual life, a universally applicable process fully able to unite all people and bring them to life’s perfection—pure love of God.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s son, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, became the spiritual master of Srila Prabhupada and instructed him to go to the West, teach the principle of sankirtana, and thus implement the vision of worldwide Krsna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada, infused with unflinching faith in the instructions of his spiritual master, soon proved that Krsna consciousness could indeed be adopted by people of all races and cultures. In the short period of twelve years, Srila Prabhupada established more than one hundred centers of Krsna consciousness worldwide, initiated thousands of disciples on six continents, and saw many of the seventy or so books of transcendental knowledge he wrote during this time translated into more than thirty languages. Thus Srila Prabhupada showed the universality of Krsna consciousness. And as long as Srila Prabhupada’s followers continue to abide by his instructions, the Krsna consciousness movement will continue to develop in the same dynamic, nectarean way it did under his personal guidance.
Having completed Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, I am eager to see the remaining volumes printed, distributed, and read so that people will learn more about Srila Prabhupada and see how relevant his life’s example and teachings are. Of course, all biographers want their readers to remember the biography’s hero, and I’m no exception. The renowned biographer James Boswell, who wrote The Life of Samuel Johnson, wanted his readers to become immersed in “the Johnsonian ether.” But with all due respect for Boswell’s genius, we must frankly say that there is no great value in becoming immersed in the brilliant conversations and sometimes dubious moral conclusions of Samuel Johnson. Certainly the Johnsonian ether can’t help us at the time of death.
But if we immerse ourselves in the transcendental atmosphere of Srila Prabhupada’s pastimes, we will realize our eternal, spiritual identity beyond the body, an identity based on our eternal loving relationship with Lord Krsna. Just as we can come in direct touch with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, by remembering His activities, we can also come in touch with Krsna by remembering the activities of His pure devotee and representative, Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada’s pastimes can free us from the suffering of material life and enable us to taste the nectar of the eternal pastimes of Lord Krsna and His associates in the spiritual world. This is true because Srila Prabhupada’s life was solely dedicated to glorifying Krsna; so when we hear of Srila Prabhupada, we automatically hear the glories of the Lord and become Krsna conscious.
As for myself, I don’t think I can stop writing about Srila Prabhupada. Therefore I’m having my staff do more research so I can present supplementary books about him. I hope that readers everywhere, by hearing of Srila Prabhupada, will become Prabhupadanugas, followers of Srila Prabhupada. I can wish no better fortune for anyone.—SDG