Inspired by one of Srila Prabhupada’s unpublished essays,
a senior disciple formulates a plan to bring
Krsna consciousness to everyone’s doorstep.
by Rupanuga Dasa
Srila Prabhupada originated the annual international gathering of devotees at Mayapur and Vrndavana, India, to celebrate the anniversary of the appearance of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. [Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krsna Himself in the role of His own devotee. He appeared in India five hundred years ago to teach love of God through the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra.] It was to create inspiration for spreading Krsna consciousness around the world. After the festival, the devotees were to return to their various countries, enthusiastic to take advantage of the opportunities another year would certainly bring.
I arrived early in Vrndavana, the sacred place where Lord Krsna enacted His childhood pastimes, for the second part of the festival. Hoping to be inspired, I chanted extra rounds of the Hare Krsna mantra on my beads, read more in Srila Prabhupada’s books, and contemplated my plans for the coming year. Here in Vrndavana, twenty years earlier, Srila Prabhupada had made plans to change the course of history. Now, many of those plans had already manifested, but the rest awaited the cooperative efforts of his faithful followers. Certainly, I reasoned, in this spiritually intensified atmosphere, I might be given inspiration to help fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s desires.
Some resident devotees prevailed upon me to present the morning class on the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The next morning in the spacious courtyard of the Krishna-Balaram temple, I respectfully requested the blessings of the devotees for a good year ahead. These devotees were dedicated to serving Lord Krsna in Vrndavana, and their austerities deserved appreciation, because no one could remain there unless his devotion was very pure and strict. Misbehavior could lead to being expelled by Lord Krsna’s arrangements; the devotees were convinced that Krsna Himself meted out justice in Vrndavana.
Later that day, I considered what Bhurijana, my first student in Krsna consciousness and now a resident of Vrndavana, had told me: “When you come to Vrndavana, Krsna holds a mirror up to you.” He meant that in the light of Krsna consciousness the foibles of false ego and materialistic attachments would be openly revealed as relative, temporary, and illusory, thereby reducing their influence. And I resolved to make the conscious effort, as Lord Krsna directs in the Bhagavad-gita, to reject all desires arising from false ego—such as the desire for honor and prestige.
The benevolent omnipresence of Srila Prabhupada facilitated my soul-searching. Wherever I turned, Prabhupada was there—within his samadhi shrine, on his vyasasana, on the altar, in his quarters, and in his picture hanging in every room of the Krishna-Balaram International Guesthouse. The sign on the cornerstone of his quarters stated: “The Home of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.” Each morning I would go inside, offer my obeisances, and beg for his blessings for my preaching plans.
One morning, as I entered the main room of Srila Prabhupada’s quarters, I stopped at the tall, glass-topped display table just inside the entrance. The display included a tiny notebook (with notations Srila Prabhupada had made for a meeting with Indira Gandhi in 1975), Srila Prabhupada’s old reading glasses, some of his old business cards, and other items. A handwritten, laminated manuscript in one corner of the display table caught my eye. The faded script was hard to read through the reflections on the glass, but the title was clear: “Perfection at Home: A Unique Contribution to the Fallen Humanity.” Perfection at home! Why, I had been meditating on this very idea, considering how to bring Krsna consciousness into the homes of people unable to regularly visit a temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
Filled with the expectation of discovering some secret, I went to find the caretaker, Daivi-sakti-devi dasi, who not only agreed to let me borrow the manuscript but also supplied a typewriter, typing paper, and carbons. For the next few days I typed the apparently unpublished essay, treating each paragraph as a revelation. A few words were illegible, a few were missing due to torn pages, but otherwise the manuscript was intact.
Srila Prabhupada began his essay by praising Lord Caitanya as the supreme benefactor of all humanity. Prabhupada then explained how humanity, remaining under the stringent laws of material nature, resembled a small bird who once became befooled by seeing its reflection in a mirror. The foolish bird was continually trying to struggle with the other “shadow bird” in the mirror. Day after day Srila Prabhupada had observed the futile attempts of the small bird to go through the mirror to the other side. The understanding of human beings ought to be different because they know well the illusory nature of the mirror; yet Srila Prabhupada had noted that civilized men, trying to lord it over material resources, appear just as befooled as the little bird. Such foolish persons would be similarly baffled in their attempts, due to their neglecting to learn about the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, and how His multifarious energies always remain completely under His control.
Srila Prabhupada characterized such persons in three ways: the fruitive workers, who want to enjoy the fruits of their labor; the mental speculators, who cherish a desire to become one with God; and the so-called devotees, who worship God to fulfill their material desires. All such persons are given hope by Lord Caitanya, who does not wish to disturb any of them in their respective positions.
The people of Kali-yuga (the modern age of quarrel, hypocrisy, and strife) were already in enough difficulty, being in a spiritually emaciated condition. Even so, out of His causeless mercy, Lord Caitanya gave them special facility—”a right of perfection” that was unattainable even by great sages of other ages. They must, however, reject the notion of merging with God or becoming equal to Him, calculated to be the main stumbling block on the path of spiritual realization. Then they would become more able to hear and realize spiritual knowledge.
By such submissive, aural reception of the powerful spiritual messages from self-realized sources, one is awakened to his original spiritual consciousness. The original spiritual consciousness, which is the inborn quality of every living being, remains in a dormant condition even in the primitive form of human life. Even the savage and uncivilized men of the jungle, who are not trained in the artificial conventions of civilized nations, bow down to the order of the Supreme Powerful. They worship the emblems of theism in the form of the thunderbolt, a big ocean, big mountain and other gigantic phenomena. The dormant obedience to the Supreme is artificially blocked by the conventions of so-called civilized man.
Lord Caitanya did not want people to come under the influence of rascals posing as learned or religious men. According to Srila Prabhupada, there are as many fools and cheaters among religionists as there are among ordinary men. And according to Lord Caitanya, there are as many great souls in the midst of ordinary men as there are in the renounced order. Therefore, Lord Caitanya was not anxious to gather spiritualists from a particular class, community, society, or nation.
Lord Caitanya is for everyone, even for the birds and beasts of the jungle. Some foolish persons consider that Lord Caitanya appeared to save the Hindu religion from the onslaught of the Mohammedans. But Lord Caitanya did not appear to save the Hindus or to declare anything against the Mohammedans. He appeared for the supreme benefit of all living entities in whatever form. He wanted to teach the real source of spiritual life, real religion, as the inborn quality of the living beings.
Srila Prabhupada explained in his essay that Lord Caitanya’s teachings were intended to unify people beyond all social, political, and religious designations. His original followers were from all sections of human society. One of His chief followers who was born in the Mohammedan community later became Haridasa Thakura, the preceptor of the chanting of the holy name of Krsna. Two others were ministers, ostracized from the Hindu community because they worked for the ruling Muslim government; they later became Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis, the greatest teachers of pure devotional service to God.
Another prominent follower of Lord Caitanya was a provincial king, Prataparudra Maharaja, who remained in his exalted position without attachment and always sought the association of Lord Caitanya and the devotees. And there were two brothers, Jagai and Madhai, fallen priests who had become notorious criminals; yet Lord Caitanya reformed them and elevated them to become spiritual masters. Lord Caitanya Himself accepted Sri Ramananda Raya, a provincial governor and householder, as His teacher in the highest spiritual principles.
In the final paragraph, Srila Prabhupada summarized the practical conclusion of Lord Caitanya’s teachings:
It is evident that one has only to learn the art (of devotional service] in the approved manner, and no one has to change his position of worldly life. The process of submissive hearing will help one in every way. That will inject the powerful medicine for curing one’s material diseases, and that will make one able to receive the message from the innermost region of one’s own self. As a matter of fact, BACK TO GODHEAD is the helping medium to convey the self-realized messages of liberated souls.
In other words, it is better to avoid pseudo-religionists and remain at home, learning the teachings of Lord Caitanya by reading from BACK TO GODHEAD magazine and by associating with devotees.
Now it was becoming clearer to me how the teachings of Lord Caitanya could be accepted in people’s homes in every town and village. It was a matter of reaching out, going to people in their homes and showing them how to spiritualize their lives at home. They could, if they desired, visit a temple—perhaps remaining there for a few days—and receive a Krsna conscious education. This would be good news. Srila Prabhupada had said people are not so interested in regularly attending churches, mosques, or temples. ISKCON temples, however, are institutions for all devotees to receive training and inspiration, including those who remain at home.
From ISKCON temples so many “spiritual seeds” have been planted over the years by devotees distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books. Those seeds would spiritualize the consciousness of many people. The watering of those seeds—the chanting of Hare Krsna and the association of devotees—would make the seeds grow. A seed, when planted and watered, first grows roots and then pushes into the atmosphere, sprouting green leaves and fresh flowers and fruits, creating a pleasant change in the countryside. Similarly, the development of Krsna consciousness would result in a most welcome spiritual reform within society.
Srila Prabhupada, the spiritual revolutionary, compared the Krsna consciousness movement with the Communist revolution, which spread its materialistic philosophy all over the world through the distribution of Communist literature by relatively few men. The readers were cultivated and organized to bring about social, political, and economic change. But unlike the Communist revolution, which ultimately produced another political oligarchy, unable to solve the citizens’ problems of birth, death, old age and disease, the spiritual revolution of Krsna consciousness would never result in artificial social and economic structures or in political machinery that allowed one class or group in society to exploit another. Krsna consciousness would develop among the people in general, regardless of race, social status, education, wealth, or religion—a spiritual democracy! Prabhupada’s essay stirred up my inherent idealism. I envisioned every book distributed as a future vote for Krsna conscious leadership and every home a hotbed of spiritual revolution.
But I had to bring my mind back to more immediate concerns, for in two days I would leave Vrndavana and return to my regular assignments in America. There wasn’t much time. I took a ricksha down to Loi Bazaar, with its tiny shops often stacked to their ceilings with cloth, utensils, and the paraphernalia of worship necessary to supply Vrndavana’s five thousand temples. The narrow, dusty street was choked with rickshas, bullock carts, shoppers, and meandering cows.
“Bas,” I said to the ricksha walla, motioning him to stop in front of the shop of Vrndavana’s most popular bead-maker. I stepped up onto the ledge of the narrow shop.
“Nice tulasi beads, only thirty rupees,” he said. “Yes, what do you want?”
He showed me a list of prominent customers, which read like a Who’s Who of ISKCON. Then he proceeded to show me such an array of strung tulasi beads that I momentarily forgot my purpose: buying beads for people who wanted to achieve perfection at home. Then I explained that I wanted two hundred strands of nim wood beads, strung on unbreakable nylon cord, but not too long, in case someone wanted to inobtrusively chant on a strand in his pocket.
Later, at the Krishna-Balaram Guesthouse in the coolness of my second-floor room, I must have looked like some miser surveying his precious treasure as I let the bundles of beads run through my hands. But, I thought, what if some of these just become knickknacks on a shelf in someone’s home? These beads were so valuable. They could become direct links to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Chanting on them would gradually give consciousness of the Supreme Lord and of the self as His eternal servitor.
How could people be convinced of this truth? I would have to persuade them by logical argument, evidence, and my own conviction. I couldn’t force anyone; even Lord Krsna does not tamper with our free will. As the Supersoul in everyone’s heart, He would encourage everyone I might encounter to chant Hare Krsna. Ultimately I would simply depend on Krsna’s mercy and on the good will of the people. I was confident that intelligent persons would be attracted by Srila Prabhupada’s program for perfection at home and would be willing to learn.
Srila Prabhupada had explained in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, while discussing the story of Prthu Maharaja, that “anyone who cooperates with this movement or accepts its principles will get the same result as the workers who are actively propagating Krsna consciousness.” There are four ways to help this spiritual cause: with one’s intelligence, one’s money, one’s words, or one’s life. Any one or more of these links with Krsna consciousness would bring success.
Sometimes people who have had some contact with the Krsna consciousness movement mistakenly conclude that they must first follow the rules and regulations—and then become Krsna conscious. But Srila Prabhupada often quoted Rupa Gosvami:
tasmat kenapy upayena
manah krsne nivesayet
sarve vidhi-nisedha syur
etayor eva kinkarah
“Somehow or other just become Krsna conscious, and the rules and regulations will follow.” Misinformed persons, however, often feel discouraged about ever becoming Krsna conscious because the teachings seem too advanced for them and the requirements too stringent. Namely, they think they must first become vegetarians, give up all intoxication, become celibate, stop gambling, and so on. But these principles will automatically follow in the path of chanting. Without changing one’s worldly position one has only to learn the art of spiritualizing one’s home and consciousness. Initially there need be no change of activities. Changes take place naturally, with realization, step by step. Spiritual practice is always voluntary, and one will perceive his own spiritual advancement just as a hungry man experiences satisfaction after eating a big meal, without someone having to confirm it for him
The “Perfection at Home” program would be step-by-step, depending on the pace of the individual, with no time limit for any stage but encouragement to progress to higher stages. At any time, one would know his stage of advancement and could progress gradually to the point of accepting a spiritual master. During the program, an experienced devotee would be available upon request to give informal instructions, in the home or by correspondence.
The first step would be appreciation for Srila Prabhupada’s unique contribution as the great spiritual teacher of the modern age. Such appreciation could be easily achieved by reading the biography Prabhupada: He Built a House in Which the Whole World Can Live. This would be a giant step into Krsna consciousness, and one could ascertain the authenticity of the program, deciding whether to pursue it. The second step, the meditation phase, would consist primarily of chanting Hare Krsna on beads. This would purify one’s consciousness and enhance the philosophical phase—readings in Srila Prabhupada’s books, perhaps including a correspondence course. Once the process started, there would be no limit. One could go all the way to the Spiritual world.
Srila Prabhupada always freely distributed the mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and his essay had given me a clear philosophical basis and practical strategy for helping him spread that mercy. Once more, just before packing my bags, I again read the final sentence of his essay: “We shall therefore request the people in general, religionists, modern philosophers, and all other enlightened men and women to take advantage of this opportunity and try to attain perfection at home.”
Srila Prabhupada had left his home, Vrndavana, to deliver this message to people far away from the spiritual atmosphere of Krsna’s sacred land. He had offered people the opportunity to accept that atmosphere into their very homes. And now I, a most insignificant disciple, would return to my duties with renewed enthusiasm to make that message heard.