Who is Śrīla Prabhupāda?

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda first met his spiritual master, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati Gosvāmī Mahārāja, in Calcutta in 1922. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta liked this educated young man and injected in him the order of preaching the message of Kṛṣṇa consciousness all throughout the world.

Śrīla Prabhupāda recalled the key to his approaching his spiritual master: “When I first started going to see my Guru Mahārāj, he said of me, ‘This boy hears very nicely. He does not go away. So I shall make him a disciple.’ That was my qualification, or whatever you may call it. I would simply ask when Guru Mahārāj would speak, then I’d sit down and go on hearing. I would understand, or not understand; others would disperse, I’d not disperse. So he remarked, ‘This boy is interested to hear.’ Because I was serious in hearing, I am now serious about kīrtanam, which means speaking or preaching. If one has heard nicely, then he will speak nicely.”

At Allahabad in 1933, Śrīla Prabhupāda was formally initiated, and in 1936, just days before Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s departure from this mortal world, he was specifically ordered to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the English language to the West.

His Divine Grace Śrīla Prabhupāda has said that at first he did not take the mission given to him by his spiritual master with the utmost seriousness. But then he was reading a Bhagavad-gītā commentary written by Śrīla Bhaktivinode Thākur, who was the father of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and the pioneer of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement in the modern age. Śrīla Bhaktivinode has written that just as one cannot separate the body from the soul while in this conditioned state, so the disciple cannot separate the spiritual master’s order from his very life. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda took these words seriously, and gradually his whole life became dedicated to carrying out the orders of his Guru Mahārāja. In 1959 he took sannyāsa, the renounced order of spiritual life, and in 1965, at the advanced age of 70, His Divine Grace arrived in New York City to fulfill his master’s sacred mission.

His Divine Grace produced his books by speaking them on a dictaphone. Sometimes he was working on five books at once. These books are a matter of realization. As he said, “When you become self-realized you automatically write volumes of books.” And one of the qualifications of a devotee is that he is poetic. Śrīla Prabhupāda was always immersed in Kṛṣṇa by speaking, dictating, singing about Kṛṣṇa’s glories, preaching formally at meetings or planning the expansion of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. In the Bhagavad-gītā, Seventh Chapter, it is stated that out of thousands of men, few seek perfection, and out of the thousands who attain perfection, hardly one knows Kṛṣṇa. Lord Kṛṣṇa also declares in the Eighteenth Chapter that the dearmost devotee of all is he who spreads the teaching of love of Kṛṣṇa: “Never will there be one dearer to Me.”

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s spiritual master, His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati, once drew a picture of a mṛdaṅga (drum used on saṅkīrtana) and, beside it, a printing press. He said the mṛdaṅga can be heard for several blocks, but that the press can be heard around the world. He therefore called the printing press “the big mṛdaṅga.” For the purpose of worldwide service to humanity, ISKCON Press was established for the exclusive printing of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books.

In 1968, Macmillan published The Bhagavad-gītā As It ls, translated with commentary by Śrīla Prabhupāda. The gītā is the gist of the entire Vedic literature. Just this one book can free anyone from the clutches of material nature and fix one in eternal loving service unto Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead. As originally written by Śrīla Prabhupāda, the manuscript of Bhagavad-gītā As It Is is many times larger than the version first printed. In 1972, however, the Macmillan Company published the entire 1,000-page work, thus making available for the first time a complete and definitive edition of Bhagavad-gītā.

Śrīla Prabhupāda also wrote a summary study of the transcendental pastimes of Kṛṣṇa entitled Kṛṣṇa the Supreme Personality of Godhead, which has been published in a two-volume hardback edition and also as a paperback trilogy, both editions opulently illustrated in full color. Among other important published literatures by Śrīla Prabhupāda are Teachings of Lord Caitanya, which outlines the precepts of the Golden Incarnation of the Lord who appeared in India 500 years ago to propagate the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra as the means of God realization for the present age,

and The Nectar of Devotion, a scientific study of the development of transcendental love.

Śrīla Prabhupāda also translated the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in thirty volumes and the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta in seventeen volumes. The literatures compiled by His Divine Grace are authorized by the disciplic succession, which is descending from Kṛṣṇa Himself; Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission is to faithfully pass on the original understanding of Kṛṣṇa consciousness without distortion. According to the Vedic literature this descending process is the only way to realization of the Absolute Truth, as the Absolute Truth is beyond the reach of mundane speculation or scholarship.

His Divine Grace was not a retired personality, despite his prodigious literary output. He personally and very intimately guides his disciples through the most practical problems of daily life. Spiritual life is practical and, due to the predominant material atmosphere of Kali-yuga, often problematic. As spiritual master, His Divine Grace is the last recourse and the ultimate standard of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He wrote some twenty-five letters a day to leaders and students of his various worldwide centers. He himself resided in no one place, but travelled from center to center and regularly lectured. The spiritual master is responsible for his devotees; when he accepts a sincere soul as his disciple, he promises to take him back to home, back to Godhead. No one should think, “Oh, everyone is taking a spiritual master; let me take one.” The spiritual master as a style or as a pet is useless. Rather, his order is to be taken as one’s life and soul. By taking shelter at the feet of the bona fide guru and serving him twenty-four hours a day, the fallen soul can be lifted to the spiritual sky. It is said that if the spiritual master is pleased, then one can make great advances in spiritual life. And one pure convinced devotee can make many pure devotees by his example and teachings. Those serious students with an understanding of the absolute value of the spiritual platform of life therefore honor the spiritual master with the honor due to God because the guru is the transparent via media or representative of God who distributes unalloyed love of God. The reader is invited to take to this philosophy with the utmost seriousness.

Taken from the On Chanting Hare Krishna Pamphlet.