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06 : The Greatness of Śrīla Prabhupāda

As Kṛṣṇa is unforgettable, so also is Kṛṣṇa’s great devotee. His character and activities are so sublime that they are ever being discussed, even after hundreds of thousands of years, by others who draw inspiration from the personality of a pure devotee. Just as great devotees like Prahlāda Mahārāja and Pṛthu Mahārāja will always be remembered, so also will Śrīla Prabhupāda—not just for a few hundred or even a few thousand years, but for as long as the universe exists.

Śrīla Prabhupāda used to say that it is not enough to state that God is great; one must know how He is great. Thus we come to a deeper appreciation of His glories. Similarly, if we examine the elements of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s greatness, our realization of his unique qualities will certainly be strengthened. In Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī says that if we consider the mercy of Lord Caitanya, our hearts will be struck with wonder. In the same way, if we examine the qualities and achievements of Śrīla Prabhupāda, we cannot but be amazed.

A great person is recognized by his great qualities. The greatest person is Kṛṣṇa, who has unlimited transcendental qualities. Kṛṣṇa’s pure devotees are also decorated with wonderful qualities that clearly distinguish them from even the greatest of conditioned souls. Many people are advertised as great, but the greatness of a Vaiṣṇava ācārya stands far above the petty “greatness” of mundane heroes. Yet even in the history of Vaiṣṇavism, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s position is unique, for he gave Kṛṣṇa to millions. At every moment Śrīla Prabhupāda manifested hundreds and thousands of brilliant qualities.

Being conditioned by māyā and having limited intelligence, our understanding, or even perception, of the greatness of Śrīla Prabhupāda is miniscule. Even so, from the information available on Prabhupāda, along with appreciations of his many divine qualities, a great encyclopedia could be compiled.

I have given herein merely a tiny glimpse into some of Prabhupāda’s most prominent qualities, yet I hope that this small taste will help to increase awareness and love of Śrīla Prabhupāda.

Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, “The Lord is praised for His glories. Of all His glories the most important is His causeless mercy upon the conditioned souls in reclaiming them from the clutches of māyā.” (Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, “Prayers by the Personified Vedas.”) Kṛṣṇa is very kind and merciful. He comes as Lord Caitanya specifically to spread His kindness to the most fallen. He also distributes His mercy through his empowered representatives. Therefore any devotee who is widely preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness with no personal motive, working tirelessly on His behalf to uplift the conditioned souls, is understood to be a representative of Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.

Several devotees in the past have been outstanding bearers of Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Narottama dāsa, Śrīnivāsa Ācārya, Śyāmānanda Prabhu, and others were all powerful preachers who brought many people to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Still, if we consider what Śrīla Prabhupāda has done, we do not find anyone else who spread Kṛṣṇa’s mercy so widely, or who attempted to spread His mercy upon so many people who were so badly fallen into māyā. Of all Kṛṣṇa’s unlimited and unfathomable opulences, His greatest is His mercy on the conditioned souls. And Śrīla Prabhupāda is the greatest manifestation of that mercy.

All the previous ācāryas endeavored to establish the supremacy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness by preaching and writing. They did so in traditional India, where the culture was Vedic, and knowledge of śāstra was widespread. Śrīla Prabhupāda spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness in a world bereft of Vedic knowledge and respect for Vedic culture. This tremendous achievement sets Śrīla Prabhupāda apart as great even among great ācāryas. Of course, Prabhupāda always considered himself the servant of the ācāryas. His service to the previous ācāryas was not only to present their message, but to establish their absolute correctness by his faultless and uncompromising presentation.

Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, “It is extremely difficult to convert a mleccha, or meat-eater, into a devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Therefore anyone who can do so is situated on the highest level of Vaiṣṇavism.” (Cc Antya 7.19 Purport.) If converting a single mleccha into a Vaiṣṇava is the sign of a topmost devotee, then we can hardly imagine Śrīla Prabhupāda’s position, for his mercy is simply not possible to comprehend. Caitanya Mahāprabhu personally entered the body of Nakula Brahmacārī and manifested in him His own potency so that just by seeing him people became devotees. (Cc Antya 2.13–21) In this way Lord Caitanya empowered him to deliver many people. Then what kind of mercy has Lord Caitanya manifested in Śrīla Prabhupāda that he could go alone to the countries of the mlecchas and make thousands of devotees? Even after his disappearance, Śrīla Prabhupāda continues to make thousands of devotees through his books and through his movement. Therefore even amongst great ācāryas, Śrīla Prabhupāda is extraordinary.

With every step, Śrīla Prabhupāda purified this world of billions of sinful reactions. His every glance and movement was an instruction. Every atom of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s being was surcharged with the energy of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa for infusing others with love for Them.

Prabhupāda’s intense Kṛṣṇa consciousness, love for all living beings, depth of personality, and all other transcendental qualities are so fully present in him that the more we discuss them, the more we become enlivened. The more we become enlivened, the more we realize that we cannot reach the end of Prabhupāda’s qualities, for they are wonderful, endless, and unlimited.

Śrīla Prabhupāda is best known for having spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness all over the world. Nowadays we almost take it for granted that there are devotees in America, Russia, Japan, Africa, and everywhere in the world, but let us not forget that just a few years ago it was unimaginable that non-Indians could possibly adopt traditional Vedic culture with restrictions on down to “no tea-drinking.” It was unimaginable that Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism would ever be more than a cultural subsect restricted to Bengal, Orissa, and Vṛndāvana. Today the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement is an established religious force. Westerners and other non-Indians chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and preach Bhagavad-gītā with a conviction and enthusiasm rarely found even in Indian Vaiṣṇavas. How is it possible? Who is responsible for all this?

That “little old swami” who landed on Boston Pier, not knowing whether to turn right or left.

Starting with forty rupees and a trunk of books, Śrīla Prabhupāda started an international movement comprising temples, farms, schools, and multiple volumes of books published in all major languages. Arriving in America at “the fag end of his life,” (Speech, 15 October 1972, Vṛndāvana.) within twelve years he made Hare Kṛṣṇa a household phrase, and sowed the seeds of a cultural and spiritual revolution destined to change the world. Certainly he was not just another swami starting another movement. The standard of purity and dedication he demanded of his followers testifies to his genuineness and unwillingness to compromise for the sake of having many admirers.

Such achievements do not just happen automatically. They are possible only for persons with tremendous determination, purity, faith, patience, and above all, love. One cannot spread the gospel of love unless he himself has love to give. Also, a person of remarkable achievements could not but have tremendous depth of character.

Just as the people of Bengal became attracted to Lord Caitanya because of His wonderful transcendental qualities, nearly five hundred years later the people of the West became attracted to Śrīla Prabhupāda. He came from India not to beg some insignificant technology, but to give the most extraordinary theology.

That Śrīla Prabhupāda created so much so quickly from so little is not, as some of his Godbrothers suggested, a mundane achievement based on a lifetime’s experience in business. It is not that Abhay Caraṇa De was an ordinary businessman who met a guru, studied Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and then became advanced in spiritual life. No! Śrīla Prabhupāda is a nitya-siddha mahā-bhāgavata. He himself made it clear, should we otherwise doubt it, that he is a special devotee specifically empowered by Kṛṣṇa to spread His glories all over the world. Kṛṣṇa-śakti vinā nahe tāra pravartana: “Without being especially empowered by Kṛṣṇa, no one can preach His glories widely all over the world.” (Cc Antya 7.11) Prabhupāda’s strength came from his pure devotion to Kṛṣṇa and resolute sense of mission. He was simply addicted to Kṛṣṇa. He never stopped talking about Kṛṣṇa or serving Him. For Prabhupāda it was natural, and he was completely satisfied to be like that.

It may be said that Śrīla Prabhupāda did not do everything alone, that he had many assistants to help him. But why did they help him? What inspired thousands of hedonistic youths of the Western world to drastically change the course of their lives and dedicate everything—their lives, minds, money, independence—to an elderly gentleman from the other side of the world? A similar question was asked by the Nawab when Caitanya Mahāprabhu returned to Bengal accompanied by thousands of people. The Nawab was intelligent enough to understand that Lord Caitanya must be a great prophet, because huge crowds were excitedly following Him even though He was giving them nothing material in return.

Śrīla Prabhupāda transformed so many lives by giving them substance. He was so full—“oceanic,” said Sally Agarwal—that he could fill up any number of empty hearts to overflowing. We love to hear about Prabhupāda because every Prabhupāda story communicates his depth of character, his love, his compassion, and his concern. We then feel assured and inspired.

Prabhupāda was special because he was totally free from lust, greed, envy, or any other frailty of normal human beings. His every action was wonderful, being consciously directed towards the goal of pleasing Kṛṣṇa. He never slipped from transcendental consciousness, not even for a moment.

Prabhupāda charmed everyone. One time a devotee, awed at Prabhupāda’s wonderful dealings with all kinds of people, remarked, “Prabhupāda, everybody loves you!” “Yes,” Śrīla Prabhupāda matter-of-factly replied, “because I love everybody.”

Prabhupāda was friendly, humble, simple, jolly, and pure. He was also aggressive for Kṛṣṇa, determined, lion-hearted, intense, and intolerant of nonsense. He was completely devoted to Kṛṣṇa. He imparted these qualities to whomever was intelligent enough to become his follower.

Śrīla Prabhupāda was a practical mahā-bhāgavata, a down-to-earth paramahaṁsa. Although he was obviously far above us, he did not dictate from the clouds. Rather, he spoke what we needed to hear: “You are not this body. Go out and preach.” Although a vastly learned scholar and brilliant exponent of scripture, he took the trouble to guide us through our neophyte ignorance and incompetence. He had no desire to impress others. All his endeavors were selfless, meant for the pleasure of guru and Kṛṣṇa. Thus he was automatically impressive, without even trying to be.

We have seen many saintly devotees, but none as dedicated to the cause of guru and Kṛṣṇa as Śrīla Prabhupāda. We have seen many scholarly devotees, but none with such an authoritative grasp of siddhānta as Śrīla Prabhupāda. We have seen devotees who are strong in śāstra and in their own spiritual practices, and also humble, but not very powerful preachers. We have seen devotees who are humble, gentle, and peaceful, but not very active. We have seen active preachers, but none nearly so accomplished as Prabhupāda. We have seen scholarly and successful preachers become affected by pride. We have seen devotees who are good managers, but none so expert as Śrīla Prabhupāda. We have seen devotees who are expert in one or two areas of devotional service, and others who are competent in many areas. But we saw only one—Śrīla Prabhupāda—who was expert in all departments: preaching, writing, managing, kīrtana, cooking, Deity worship, and so on. Yet despite out-achieving everybody, Śrīla Prabhupāda remained humble—the conclusive proof of his unique greatness.

There is no end to the description of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s transcendental qualities, nor do we wish to ever stop describing them. His qualities combined with his achievements undoubtedly establish him as an extraordinarily great transcendental personality.

Śrīla Prabhupāda is still with us, watching over the continuing expansion of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. We can expect that if we simply follow his instructions carefully, many amazing things will happen that we can hardly imagine now. Many wonderful devotees will emerge to perform many glorious activities. Still, we do not expect to see anyone else quite like Śrīla Prabhupāda. There is no one like Prabhupāda. Nothing we say or do can adequately describe his transcendental glories. We are eternally indebted to him and connected to him in a bond of love. Realizing my helplessness and inability to glorify Prabhupāda properly, I simply go on serving his mission. Bowing my head at his lotus feet, all I can say to sum up my feelings is, “Jaya Śrīla Prabhupāda!”