Prophecies Regarding His Appearance
In the Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa, in a conversation with Gaṅgā-devī, Lord Kṛṣṇa describes that after 5,000 years of kali-yuga will have passed, His mantra-upāsaka, the great sage and worshiper of Kṛṣṇa’s holy names, will appear and spread the chanting of Kṛṣṇa’s names (in the form of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra) not only in India but throughout the world. Lord Kṛṣṇa explains that by the chanting of His holy names the world will become spiritualized and everyone will be hari-bhaktas (Kṛṣṇa’s devotees), engaged in the process of devotion to the Supreme. The purified devotees will visit the holy places and holy rivers of India and will purify them. They will also purify those with whom they come in contact. Thus, Śrī Kṛṣṇa predicted the appearance of a powerful devotee who would spread the chanting of His names worldwide.
Even in the Śrī Caitanya Maṅgala, a biography of Śrī Caitanya, the most recent incarnation of Lord Kṛṣṇa, written in 1537 by Śrīla Locana dāsa Ṭhākura (who was born in 1520 A.D.), Lord Caitanya foretold the coming of an empowered devotee who would take the saṅkīrtana process everywhere: “I want to flood the whole world with the chanting of the holy names. I will personally preach and flood India with hari-nāma saṅkīrtana, chanting of the holy names. And My senāpati bhakta (great devotee commander) will come, preach in different countries and flood the world with the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
Later, in the 1800s, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, a great devotee in the Brahmā-Madhva-Gauḍīya line, predicted in his magazine, Saj-jana-toṣaṇī, in an article called Nityānanda Sūryodaya, “Soon there will be a time when chanting of Kṛṣṇa’s name will be heard in England, France, Russia, Germany, and America.”
In this regard, Bhaktivinoda also wrote in his Saj-jana-toṣaṇī in 1895 that, “Śrīmān Mahāprabhu [Śrī Caitanya] did not descend with His associates to deliver a certain number of human beings in the land of India, but rather His purpose was to deliver and uplift all living beings in all countries of the world by practicing the eternal religion of all souls.” In the same article, Bhaktivinoda questioned, when will that day come when all greatly fortunate souls take up banners, drums, and hand cymbals and cause the ecstatic waves of hari-nāma kīrtanas [songs of the holy names of Lord Kṛṣṇa] and the singing of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s holy name to rise in the streets of their towns and cities?
In 1896, Bhaktivinoda predicted in his book, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu: His Life and Precepts, on page 62, “The principle of kīrtana, as the future church of the world, invites all classes of men without distinction of caste, creed, or clan to the highest cultivation of the spirit. This church will extend all over the world and take the place of all sectarian churches which exclude outsiders from the precincts of their mosque, church or temple.”
With his spiritual vision, Bhaktivinoda could see how the saṅkīrtana process would be taken in the near future to the Western countries and, indeed, all over the planet. In fact, in 1875 Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura also predicted: “A personality will soon appear to preach the teachings of Lord Caitanya and move unrestrictedly over the whole world with His message.” But who could this be? Who would do it?
Birth, Childhood And Youth
As a direct answer to all these prophecies, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda was born in Calcutta, India, on the 1st of September, 1896, just one day after Śrī Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭamī. He was named Abhay Charan De. His father was a pure devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa who would always invite holy men to his house for meals and ask them to bless his son to become a great devotee of Rādhārāṇī, Lord Kṛṣṇa’s most beloved devotee and consort.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s father once bought him a small cart to pull the Deity of Lord Jagannātha, as they do during the great Ratha Yātrā festival in Jagannātha Purī. So even as a child of 5 to 6 years old, Śrīla Prabhupāda would organize little festivals centered around Kṛṣṇa in his neighborhood.
Scottish Church’s College
Śrīla Prabhupāda later attended Scottish Church College in Calcutta, which was administered by the British. Then, he joined Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement and refused to accept his diploma from that college as a type of protest, although he had actually completed all the requirements for the degree. After this, a friend of his father, Dr. Bose, made him a manager of his chemical company.
Initiation, Writing And Preaching
Thereafter, in 1918, Śrīla Prabhupāda became married and soon started a family. He first met his spiritual master, the preeminent Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Ācārya Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī, in Calcutta in 1922. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, a prominent religious scholar and the founder of sixty-four Gauḍīya Maṭhas (Vedic institutes), liked this educated young man and convinced him to dedicate his life to teaching Vedic knowledge to the English-speaking world. Śrīla Prabhupāda became his student, and eleven years later (1933) at Allahabad, he became his formally initiated disciple.
At their first meeting, in 1922, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura requested Śrīla Prabhupāda to broadcast Vedic knowledge through the English language. In the years that followed, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gītā and in 1944, without assistance, started an English fortnightly magazine called Back To Godhead. Eventually, in 1953, he started a society called The League of Devotees which is a forerunner of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness that he started later in America 13 years later.
Recognizing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s philosophical learning and devotion, the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Society honored him in 1947 with the title “Bhaktivedanta.” In 1950, at the age of fifty-four, Śrīla Prabhupāda retired from married life, and four years later he adopted the vānaprastha (retired) order to devote more time to his studies and writing. Śrīla Prabhupāda traveled to the holy city of Vṛndāvana, where he lived in very humble circumstances in the historic medieval temple of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara. There he engaged for several years in deep study and writing. He accepted the renounced order of life (sannyāsa) in 1959.
At the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, Śrīla Prabhupāda began work on his life’s masterpiece: a multi-volume translation and commentary on the 18,000-verse Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa). He also wrote a small booklet called Easy Journey to Other Planets. He also continued publishing his Back To Godhead magazine with great difficulty. He would collect donations for its publications, write, proofread and after getting it printed, he would also distribute them on the streets in extreme weather conditions. In this way, he was undergoing great austerity to preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Beyond The Borders of India
After publishing three volumes of Bhāgavatam, Śrīla Prabhupāda left to the United States, in 1965, to fulfill the mission of his spiritual master. While on the ship, he suffered two massive heart attacks on two consecutive nights. When he arrived in Boston, Śrīla Prabhupāda was practically penniless. It was after almost a year of great difficulty that he established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in July of 1966. Under his careful guidance, the Society grew within a decade to a worldwide confederation of almost one hundred āśramas, schools, temples, institutes and farm communities.
In 1968, Śrīla Prabhupāda created New Vṛndāvana, an experimental Vedic community in the hills of West Virginia. Inspired by the success of New Vṛndāvana, then a thriving farm community of more than one thousand acres, his students founded several similar communities in the United States and abroad.
In 1972, His Divine Grace introduced the Vedic system of primary and secondary education in the West by founding the gurukula school in Dallas, Texas. The school began with three children in 1972, and by the beginning of 1975 the enrollments had grown to one hundred fifty.
Śrīla Prabhupāda also inspired the construction of a large international center at Śrīdhāma Māyāpura in West Bengal, India, which is also the site for a planned Institute of Vedic Studies. A similar project is the magnificent Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Temple and International Guest House in Vṛndāvana, India. These are centers where people from all over the world can live to gain firsthand experience of Vedic culture.
Concluding Pastimes And Beyond
While he was doing all this monumental work and despite his advanced age, he was traveling relentlessly circling the globe about 12 times in a span of 11 years, lecturing on Kṛṣṇa consciousness not only in our temples, but also in universities, churches, and met many prominent dignitaries worldwide. He also wrote thousands of letters to his disciples patiently encouraging them to progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He also had thousands of conversations with his disciples, news reporters and distinguished guests. By Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, technological advancement allowed for the recording of these lectures, conversations and letters which by themselves form a voluminous subject of study apart from his massive collection of books.
Śrīla Prabhupāda left us a complete system to facilitate the development of our Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He gave us his books to convince us about the dire need of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He gave us the holy name of Kṛṣṇa, the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra. He gave us the temples so that we can associate with devotees and serve the Deities of the Supreme Lord in a variety of ways according to the directions of predecessor ācāryas. He has even offered himself as the diksa-guru so that all devotees who would join in the future could safely tread the path back to Godhead.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s most significant contribution is his books. His Divine Grace has written over sixty volumes of authoritative translations, commentaries and summary studies of the philosophical and religious classics of India. Highly respected by the academic community for their authoritativeness, depth and clarity, they are used as standard textbooks in numerous universities. His writings have been translated into over eighty languages. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, established in 1972 exclusively to publish the works of His Divine Grace, has thus become the world’s largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy. His writings constitute a veritable library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature and culture. Highly respected by scholars for their authority, depth, and clarity, his books are used at colleges and universities around the world.
Śrīla Prabhupāda attained samādhi on the 14th of November, 1977 and entered into the eternal pastimes of the Lord. But it does not end there. Śrīla Prabhupāda did not limit his mercy to the short time of his manifest presence. He so mercifully resolved to take responsibility of all the souls who are willing to take shelter of his lotus feet even in the future. He instituted the ṛtvik system of initiations through which, as long as his books last, any serious devotee can take shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda by formal initiation.
His books have made thousands of devotees and promise to make millions more in the future. So by his teachings, Śrīla Prabhupāda is continuing his pastimes although not physically present. We have to become instruments in his movement by sincerely carrying out his sacred instructions.
As Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote:
“He reasons ill who tells that Vaiṣṇavas die,
When thou art living still in sound!
The Vaiṣṇavas die to live, and living try
To spread the holy name around!”
Unfortunately, much of ISKCON has strayed away from his sacred instructions by manipulating the system of initiations. Therefore, there is a great undertaking to restore the original system that was set in motion by Śrīla Prabhupāda for our benefit. At ISKM, we are making a humble attempt at this restoration.