Srila Prabhupada’s journey
One candle may light many other candles, yet each candle has the same intensity as the first. Yet the first still remains the original candle. In the same way the Supreme Personality of Godhead expands himself in unlimited forms. He yet remains the cause of all causes. In the Vedic scriptures the supreme original cause is known as Krsna because he posses unlimited transcendental qualities which attracts all living beings.
Five hundred years ago that same supreme cause Lord Sri Krsna appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and declared that the chanting of the Lords Holy Names of:
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna
Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
…is the only way of liberation in this age. He also declared that these names would be spread beyond India to every town and village in the world. After hundreds of years, the faithful followers of Lord Caitanya endeavored to expand his mission. All of the time they were wondering how Lord Caitanya’s prediction of every town and village would come true.
On August 13th 1965 days before his sixty-ninth birthday A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, philosopher, scholar, saint and swami, set out for America to see what could be done. With a free passage from a local steamship company, he traveled as the only passenger on board a small weathered cargo ship, named Jaladuta.
In possession he had an umbrella, a supply of dry cereal about seven dollars worth of Indian rupees, and several boxes of books. When the Jaladuta arrived in New-York thirty-seven years later Swami Bhaktivedanta was totally alone.
He had come to America knowing no one, with any clear means of support; he carried on boards the ship only a handful of possessions. He had no friends, money, followers and not his youthful age and good health. He didn’t even have a clear idea of how he could accomplish his mission – to present the spiritual knowledge of the Vedas to the western world and in turn to the entire world.
Bhaktivedanta Swami expressed the faith he had in his spiritual master and Krishna, in a Bengali poem he wrote shortly after his arrival:
“My dear Lord Krsna…How will I make them understand this message of Krishna consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified, and the most fallen. Therefore I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them, for I am powerless to do so on my own…I am sure that when this transcendental message penetrates their hearts, they will certainly feel engladdened and thus become liberated from all unhappy conditions of life…”
This poem is dated 18th September 1965. Twelve years later, on 14th November 1977, Swami Bhaktivedanta passed away in Vridavana, India at the age of eighty-one. In twelve years Swami Bhaktivedanta had amazingly accomplished his huge mission.
The society he created
After arriving in New-York City in september 1965, Srila Prabhupada struggled alone to establish his God consciousness movement. He lived simply and talked and lectured about Krishna whenever and wherever he got the opportunity to do so and gradually there was some small interest in what he was teaching.
In July of 1966, while still working alone from an obscure storefront in the Lower East Side of New-York City, Srila Prabhupada founded the society intended for the entire world’s participation. He named it the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or ISKCON for short.
At the time of the creation of his society, Srila Prabhupada had not even got one committed follower. Undeterred he enlisted volunteers from some of the regular attendees at his evenings lectures to act as ISKCON’s first trustees. They then became his first disciples. That was during the very beginning of ISKCON’s history.
Today the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has more than 300 temples, farms, schools and special projects throughout the world and has a strong congregation numbering in millions.
The purpose of ISKCON
Krishna consciousness is more than another sectarian faith. It is a technical science of spiritual values that is described and recommended in the ancient Vedic scriptures from ancient India.
The aim of the Krishna consciousness movement is to reveal to the people of the world, the principles of God and in turn Self- realization so that they may derive the highest benefits of spiritual understanding, unity and peace. The Vedas recommend that in the present age the most effective means of achieving self-realization is to constantly hear about, glorify and remember the all-good supreme Lord, who is known by numerous names.
The most important names in this age “Krishna”, which means “he who is all attractive”, another is “Rama” which means ‘He who is the reservoir of all pleasure”, and “Hare” indicates the inconceivable energy of the Lord.
The members of ISKCON follow the recommendation in the vedic scriptures and are seen constantly seen chanting:
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna
Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
This sublime chanting puts us in direct contact with the Supreme Lord through the transcendental sound vibration, of his Holy Names and gradually awakens us to our original and eternal relationship with God. The primary mission of ISKCON is to encourage all of the members of the human society, to devote at least some portion of their time and energies to this process of hearing and chanting about God. In this way they will eventually come to the realization that all living beings are spirit souls, eternally related to the Supreme Lord in service and in Love.
The distribution of spiritual food
Along with teaching the Vedic knowledge and spreading the Lords Holy Names, ISKCON also very freely distributes spiritual food throughout the world. In the same way that the philosophy and canting is done for Krishna, vegetarian food has first been offered to the Lord, this purifies the heart and the mind. This helps us in the gradual process of uncovering one’s original awareness of God. ISKCON’s distribution of spiritualized food (prasadam) throughout the world is therefore known as “Food for Life”, which is beneficial for the body as well the soul of each and every recipient.
The teachings of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Srila Prabhupada considered his books to be the most valuable contribution he had made in spreading the Vedic knowledge throughout the world. Actually Srila Prabhupada would say that translating and explaining the ancient Vedic scriptures was his very life and soul.
In the year of 1970, Srila Prabhupada founded the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, and now it has become the largest publisher of Vedic literature. Over the last twenty-five years, millions of people have read at least one of Srila Prabhupada’s books, and have genuinely felt their lives enriched.
Scholarly appreciation of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings
Srila Prabhupada noted often that, although universities and colleges of the modern day had many departments for understanding many things, there was no department that taught scientific knowledge of the self and God. By presenting the original Vedic science of God realization through his valuable books, Srila Prabhupada filled this large gap and met this vital educational need. Over the years, scholars who had met Srila Prabhupada or had read his works, have expressed their appreciation for both his personal quality ands the contribution his teachings have made to humanity.
Harvey Cox one such world renowned professor of religion at Harvard University, tells us how he recognized the value of Srila Prabhupada’s works ands what a contribution he had made:
“When I first met the Hare Krishna’s, I can remember thinking how surprised I was, and I wondered what this meant. The costumes, the chanting, and the shaved heads appeared a little strange to me. But as I came to know the movement, I came to find that there was a striking similarity in the essence of what they were teaching and in the original core of Christianity-that is, living simply, not trying to accumulate worldly goods, living with compassion towards all creatures, sharing, loving, and living joyfully. I am impressed with how much the teachings of one man and the spiritual tradition he brought impacted themselves into the lives of so many people. In my view Srila Prabhupada’s contribution is a very important one and will be a lasting one.”
The temples he built
Srila Prabhupada built 108 temples before leaving for the spiritual world in 1977. Now ISKCON has well over three hundred temples, farms, schools and special projects and weekly gatherings throughout the world. At each center members give classes, perform chanting and ceremonies, and provide valuable instruction on the science of Krishna consciousness. Each center holds a weekly festival and vegetarian feast, as well as festive occasions throughout the year. All programs are open to the public.