Every morning at maṅgala-ārati we praise the spiritual master as being an ocean of transcendental qualities. The following, compiled from personal realizations, the realizations of others, and from quotes of Śrīla Prabhupāda that illuminate his transcendental personality, is just a glimpse into some of Prabhupāda’s divine qualities.
To be considerate means not to take others for granted, but to be sensitive and thoughtful in personal dealings. Śrīla Prabhupāda showed the highest standard of consideration by not allowing people to remain ignorant of Kṛṣṇa. Apart from that, there are innumerable examples of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s being personally concerned about the needs of others.
In 1977 Śrīla Prabhupāda was sick on his bed in Vṛndāvana. Even though he himself had not eaten for weeks, he was concerned as to whether the devotees were taking prasāda to their full satisfaction. (Śrīla Prabhupāda-līlāmṛta, Ch. 54)
I am very sorry to learn that Srimati Bahuji is suffering from Pyorrhea. It is due to excessive betel chewing. Anyway, I am sending herewith a small cheque for her treatment. Please accept it with my blessings. (Letter, 15 April 1967)
I am always prepared to do anything for spreading Krishna consciousness. (Letter, 14 July 1976)
Śrīla Prabhupāda was independently strong-minded and stuck to his own principles. Indians generally take everything Western to be best, but Śrīla Prabhupāda was never taken in by the so-called advancement of modern society. He noted that Bon Mahārāja was admiring Western ways and had learned to eat with a knife and fork. “The difference between me and the other swamis,” Prabhupāda once said, “is that they started off by calling the West advanced. I started off by calling them all rascals.”
People in India think that pants and shirts are high class, but Prabhupāda stuck to his own standard of high-class—dhoti, kurtā, shaved head, neckbeads, tilaka—and taught it to others.
Prabhupāda seemed to be expert at everything. The following letter shows Prabhupāda giving advice on how to build houses. Is there anything that Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t know?
For the small cottages I suggest to construct as the diagram below—wooden beams and between the beams fill with gravel cement. The roof may be tile. The size may be 12’ x 15’. This design is especially suitable for grihasthas, who can feel very comfortable there, and you may house four brahmacharis in such place. Every day you can build one such house, ten may be required, and in one month you will have 30 such nice shelters. (Letter, 27 July 1973)
This book publishing was the most important work of my Guru Maharaj and he ordered me to continue in the Western world. So I am very much indebted to all of you who are helping me to carry out the order of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami. (Letter, 4 January 1976)
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s humility is expressed in the following excerpts from letters to disciples.
I hope you all pray to Krishna so I may be able to execute my duty properly. (Letter, 28 June 1967)
Actually I am dependent on your mercy. (Letter, 28 August 1976)
You cannot survive without my mercy and I cannot survive without your mercy. It is reciprocal. This mutual dependence is based on love—Krishna Consciousness. (Letter, 22 January 1976)
Although officially I am your Spiritual Master, I consider you all students as my Spiritual Master because your love for Krishna and service for Krishna teach me how to become a sincere Krishna conscious person. (Letter, 16 December 1967)
On behalf of Krishna I am accepting your sincere service, but on the whole, I am servant of the servant of Krishna. Therefore I may be in designation your Spiritual Master, but actually I am servant of the servant of Krishna, and because you are all sincere servants of Krishna, I am your servant. (Letter, 15 February 1968)
Śrīla Prabhupāda is a nitya-siddha, an eternally liberated devotee. In one sense, there is no need for him to accept a spiritual master, for he is already perfect. However, he presents himself as a sinful conditioned soul dependent on the mercy of his spiritual master:
Actually we are all conditioned souls, so our demand from Krishna to accept us is unreasonable. From my personal point of view, I think that I am so sinful that I cannot even approach Krishna to show me any favor. But I have only one hope—my Spiritual Master—He is very kind. So some way or other He is dragging me towards Krishna. (Letter, 10 March 1969)
Prabhupāda was bold and unabashed. For Kṛṣṇa he could do anything or say anything to anybody. But about himself he was very humble. He did not consider himself a pure devotee. He actually thought himself the most fallen.
When Revatīnandana said, “You must be higher than the paramahaṁsa stage, Prabhupāda,” Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, “No, I am lower than you. I am the lowest of the all creatures. I am simply trying to execute the order of my spiritual master.” (Conversation after Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam class. (Surat, 19 December 1970))
On Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’s disappearance day, Śrīla Prabhupāda was lecturing from the vyāsāsana in Los Angeles. At that time there were only about six or seven ISKCON temples. Prabhupāda said, “Try to open 108 centers if you can, then I will think that my guru-mahārāja may be a little satisfied with me if I die having done this. And then I will go to hell.”
Sudāma said, “Śrīla Prabhupāda, if you are going to hell, then we will go to hell with you.”
Prabhupāda replied, “No, you are devotees. You will go to Vaikuṇṭha.” (Told by Revatīnandana dāsa at the Prabhupāda Reunion Festival, London, 1993)
Giving Credit to Others
I have received your description of the books sold during the three-day Christmas period, and I am very much pleased upon all of the nice boys and girls who have helped me in this way. I could never have thought it was possible to distribute so many of our literatures. Therefore I can understand it is simply Krishna’s blessing us for your sincerely working on His behalf. Actually, that is the secret of my success, not that personally I have done anything wonderful, but that because those who are helping me are sincere, they have done the work, that is the reason for our success all over the world where others have failed. A little sincerity is very difficult thing in this age of hypocrisy and bluff, but I am so fortunate that Krishna has sent me all of you nice boys and girls who are sincerely working. Please convey to all of them my deepest appreciation. (Letter, 9 January 1973)
You have written so many nice things in praise of me but I think that my Guru Maharaj is great, I am not great he is great. So sometimes by association of the great one appears great. Just like the sun is great heat and light and by reflecting the greatness of the sun’s light the moon in dead of night also appears great, but actually the moon is by nature dark and cold, but in association with the sun it has become accepted as great, this is the real position. So I thank you very much that you are appreciating my Guru Maharaja who wanted to preach Krishna Consciousness all over the world, he is so great. (Letter, 1 August 1973)
I am nothing, I am just a peon. Whatever respects are offered to me are due to my spiritual master. (Lecture, 5 September 1969)
Why did Śrīla Prabhupāda, in old age and ill health, struggle so hard to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness? Why did he speak so strongly against everything not Kṛṣṇa conscious? Why did he argue with and even shout at stubborn nonbelievers? Why did he repeatedly, incessantly, and tirelessly indoctrinate us: “You are not the body. You are an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead”? Because he could not tolerate the sufferings of the jīvas in their forgetfulness of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa’s claim to be the well-wisher of all living beings (suhṛdam sarva-bhūtānām) has been proved by His having sent Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Always remember and never forget: if it were not for Śrīla Prabhupāda, we wouldn’t be here today. At least outside of India there would be no temples, no Deities, no saṅkīrtana parties, no prasāda, no Ratha-yātrās, no ISKCON, no ecstasy, no transcendental anything. Just think what Śrīla Prabhupāda has done for us, how he took so much trouble to save us, how he is still watching over us, and how he is so greatly concerned for us. If we think about how much Śrīla Prabhupāda loves us, surely we will cry. Why not cry? We should cry.
Guest: I would like to ask, Swami, would you pray for me?
Jayatīrtha: He wants you to pray for him.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: I am praying for everyone. That is my business. Otherwise why have I come here? (Conversation, 13 July 1975)
We may disappoint Śrīla Prabhupāda, but he will never disappoint us.
I write at the end of my letters to my disciples, “Your ever well-wisher,” and as such, I cannot become otherwise than being ever well-wisher of my disciples, even though he may leave me. (Letter, 26 April 1968)
I am praying always to Krishna that my disciples will not fall away from the path of Krishna consciousness. (Letter, December 1974)
I have already replied Jadurany’s letter. Regarding her offenses, I do not remember when she committed offenses, and even though she might have done so, I excuse her 100 times, without any hesitation. So she has nothing to bother about it. (Letter, 19 March 1969)
This rascal, Ginsberg, he used to say, “Swamiji, you are very conservative.” And, “You do not know what is conservative. I am so lenient. You do not know what is the meaning of conservative,” I used to reply him. If I was conservative, then for a single moment I could not stay here. Immediately I would have gone. (Conversation, 15 April 1977)
Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is more merciful than Kṛṣṇa because She gives us Kṛṣṇa. Lord Caitanya is the most merciful incarnation because He gives us Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Prabhupāda is the chief recipient and distributor of Lord Caitanya’s mercy because he has practically done Lord Caitanya’s work of distributing Kṛṣṇa consciousness all over the world to the most fallen people. Śrīla Prabhupāda is giving us Lord Caitanya, Rādhā, and Kṛṣṇa. Who could be more merciful than Śrīla Prabhupāda?
I believe in the mercy of Śrīla Prabhupāda. He is very merciful, and his mercy is very powerful. We have seen some extraordinary instances of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mercy; and in the future we shall see more.
Take the case of Buddhimānta Prabhu. Buddhimānta was one of Prabhupāda’s first book distributors. Back in the 60s he pioneered big book distribution, first in America, then in Europe and Australia. He was a tall, heavy, tough guy who used to play American football—not the kind of fellow to get into an argument with. But Buddhimānta had a heart of gold. He loved Prabhupāda and loved to distribute Prabhupāda’s books. His style of book distribution was unique and has never since been emulated. Sometimes threatening, sometimes pleading, and always eccentric, he personally distributed many books and also inspired others to do so. Śrīla Prabhupāda was very pleased with him.
Sometime after Prabhupāda left, however, Buddhimānta fell into māyā. He stopped following the regulative principles. Lost again in the darkness of material life, he almost completely forgot about Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
So Kṛṣṇa kindly arranged for Buddhimānta to get brain cancer. For when Buddhimānta learned that his headaches were the beginning of his body’s end, he again remembered Kṛṣṇa. He went to Vṛndāvana and left his body there. Yad gatvā na nivartante, tad dhāma paramaṁ mama. Such is the power of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mercy. We may forget him, but he doesn’t forget us, and therefore Kṛṣṇa won’t forget us.
Brothers! Please be merciful by giving Prabhupāda’s mercy. If we want to qualify ourselves as real followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda, we have to give out his mercy. That’s what he wanted from us more than anything else. So we must continue to distribute his books and give his teachings. We must preach his instructions by following them strictly, neither inventing nor concocting anything new, thus obstructing the flow of mercy while posing as authorized distributors. We must believe in Śrīla Prabhupāda, and . do what he told us to do. In this way anyone can become a most merciful person, an empowered distributor of love of God. Yāre dekha, tāre kaha, ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa/ āmāra ājñāya guru hañā, tāra ’ei deśa. No one stressed this “become a guru” verse as much as Prabhupāda did. On his order, conveyed in paramparā from Lord Caitanya, everyone should become a guru, a spiritual master capable of delivering others. How is that possible? By always remembering our position. Śrīla Prabhupāda is our eternal link with Kṛṣṇa (janme janme prabhu sei). Let us aspire to be the most humble servants of the specks of dust clinging to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s divine lotus feet. Those specks of dust are the members of ISKCON—past (those gone back to the spiritual world), present, and future. Dāso ’smi, dāso ’smi, dāso ’smi.
One who has got knowledge is humorous also. (Conversation, 20 May 1975)
A gentleman should be humorous. (Letter, 26 September 1975)
Śrīla Prabhupāda was simultaneously grave and joyful, serious and jolly. He had a good sense of humor and often laughed, joked, or told comical stories. But although funny, Prabhupāda was never frivolous. Even his lighter mood was fully Kṛṣṇa conscious. He did not laugh, joke, or perform antics for cheap popularity or just to pass the time of day. He had a transcendental purpose in everything he did. Unlike the joking of mundane comedians, Prabhupāda’s wit did not leave us feeling empty. Rather, it helped us on the path of fulfillment, because he gave Kṛṣṇa consciousness along with the laughs.
The consciousness of a pure devotee is peaceful like the ocean. Sometimes the ocean becomes greatly agitated, but only on the surface. From just a few feet below its surface down to its unfathomable depths, the ocean is always still and calm. Similarly, Śrīla Prabhupāda was active and busy and sometimes became angry like fire, but inside he was calm and still, his consciousness peaceful and steady, fixed on the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa.
The Power of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Desire
A pure devotee is satya-saṅkalpa:
Whatever he desires is fulfilled by the grace of Kṛṣṇa. He does not desire anything for his material benefit. If he desires anything, he simply desires to serve the Supreme Lord. That desire is fulfilled by the Lord’s grace. (SB 5.4.5 Purport (from Chāndogya Upaniṣad))
No one asked Śrīla Prabhupāda to come to America to preach. Indeed when he first came no one was very interested. But by Prabhupāda’s desire ISKCON came into being. ISKCON is a manifestation of Prabhupāda’s desire that every living being in the universe be Kṛṣṇa conscious. ISKCON exists for this reason only.
As Mahā-Viṣṇu’s dream manifests as the material world, so Śrīla Prabhupāda dreamt of a worldwide society of devotees, and Kṛṣṇa made his dream a reality:
Śrīla Prabhupāda: I am simply dreaming, and you are actually on the field.
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Yes, but that’s because we’re in your dreams. If you weren’t dreaming like this, we would be on the material field.
Jayādvaita: It’s like Mahā-Viṣṇu is lying down. The whole material world is being expanded by His dreaming. So you’re lying down here, and the whole ISKCON activities are being expanded by your dreaming. (Conversation, 3 November 1977)
The Ideal Leader
Śrīla Prabhupāda once remarked that managing a spiritual movement is not easy. To be even an ordinary leader is difficult, because it is not easy to keep others satisfied and inspired. And when things go wrong, as they will do, the leader must accept the blame. However, Prabhupāda not only kept everyone satisfied and inspired, but things always went right when his instructions were followed. Devotees thus naturally developed confidence in his leadership.
Śrīla Prabhupāda inspired confidence, not just by talking, but by his very life. He never quit, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He was never overcome by disappointment when setbacks occurred. He was ever willing to tackle problems. Although fixed in spiritual consciousness, he was not dreamily “mystical.” Rather, he was pragmatic and wise in the ways of the world. He knew what was needed to organize and spread a worldwide movement, and was prepared to do whatever was necessary to get the job done. He led with strength, determination, charm, intelligence, conviction, and faith in the will of Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīla Prabhupāda used to say that ISKCON was a pushing movement:
“This is the paramparā system. My guru-mahārāja pushed me, I am pushing you, and you are pushing others. It is like a train.” (Śrīla Prabhupāda-līlāmṛta, Ch. 53)
Prabhupāda Did Not Make Mistakes
One particularly remarkable feature of Śrīla Prabhupāda is that he simply did not make mistakes. Mistakes in management cause many unnecessary difficulties, but Prabhupāda did not make such mistakes. His ideas worked, even if in the beginning devotees could not understand them. Why, devotees wondered, should we build a temple in some remote rice fields in Māyāpur? Why struggle to build a temple in Bombay when no one except Prabhupāda seems to have much interest in it?
Another program Prabhupāda pushed his disciples into was book distribution. No one thought it was feasible. “Distribute books? Not possible. No one will buy them,” the early disciples thought. But Prabhupāda insisted, and the results were astonishing. Devotees gradually came to accept Prabhupāda’s judgement as infallible. They gradually realized that if they just did as he asked, even if it seemed impossible or impractical, the results would be wonderful. Devotees became aware that Śrīla Prabhupāda had tremendous success potency, and that if they just tried to do what he wanted, they would be empowered and amazing things would happen. In management and in all practical affairs his judgement was always correct.
Even in the details of how he walked, talked, and lived in this world, Śrīla Prabhupāda was perfect. For instance, if he slipped while walking he would regain his posture in a most dignified manner. His dealings and mannerisms were always careful and grave. He was aristocratic but never arrogant. His disciples were full of mistakes, and Prabhupāda took the trouble to correct them again and again. It certainly would have been easier to have overlooked their minor faults. But as an ideal spiritual master, Prabhupāda took it as his duty to accept all inconveniences in order to lead his disciples to perfection. As the founder-ācārya of ISKCON, he set the standards for future generations of devotees. He did not simply let things glide.
Śrīla Prabhupāda pushed his leaders hard and sometimes strongly reprimanded them when they did not do things exactly as he wanted. And although he wanted everyone to work hard, he himself worked harder than anyone else. No one could reasonably claim that Śrīla Prabhupāda was living comfortably at the expense of others. Devotees responded to Prabhupāda because he believed in their sincerity and put faith in them even if they made mistakes. Although he consistently pushed his disciples to accomplish great tasks, he was grateful for any service rendered. Even when devotees slipped from the strict standard of behavior, Prabhupāda was always ready to give them another chance. He was so expert that even when a devotee did not want to do something, Prabhupāda would convince, cajole, or trick him into doing it. Then that devotee would feel blissful because he had done service for Kṛṣṇa under Prabhupāda’s order. No one ever felt manipulated or exploited by Śrīla Prabhupāda. His purity and concern for others was transparent. He offered everything to Kṛṣṇa, never desiring anything for himself. Even when others praised him, Prabhupāda remained humble, down-played his own role, and gave all credit to his spiritual master.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was a philosopher, but practical also. For him there was no difference between theory and practice, between philosophy and life. Whatever he spoke was meant to be practiced. Whatever he did was based on philosophy. The philosophy he gave was sound in theory and practically applicable in all circumstances. Prabhupāda saw that nothing was separate from Kṛṣṇa. He saw Kṛṣṇa everywhere and in everything, and everything in Kṛṣṇa. He wanted to engage everything and everybody in Kṛṣṇa’s service.