By – Bhakti Raghava Swami
“No one can compare to you Srila Prabhupada who has saved me and countless others from the darkness of illusion by so mercifully giving the most precious of all gifts, pure devotional service in Krishna consciousness.”
His Divine Grace, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) is widely regarded as the worlds pre-eminent exponent of the teachings and practices of Bhakti-yoga to the Western world.
Born on September 1, 1896, in Calcutta, Abhay Charan De as a youth became involved with Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement. It was, however, a meeting with a prominent scholar and spiritual leader, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, which proved most influential on young Abhay’s future calling. Upon their first meeting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, who represented an ancient tradition of Bhakti (devotional yoga), asked Abhay to bring the teachings of Krishna to the English-speaking world. From birth, Abhay had been raised in a family devoted to Krishna – the name meaning the all-attactive, all-loving Lord. Deeply moved by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s devotion and wisdom, Abhay became his disciple and dedicated himself to carrying out his mentor’s request. But it wasn’t until 1965, at the age of seventy, that he would set off on his mission to the West.
Having since been awarded the honorary title of Bhaktivedanta in recognition of his learning and devotion, and having taken the vows of sannyasa (renunciation), Abhay Charan, now known as Bhaktivedanta Swami, begged free passage and boarded a cargo ship to New York. The journey proved to be treacherous, and the elderly spiritual teacher suffered two heart attacks aboard ship. After 35 days at sea he finally arrived at a lonely Brooklyn pier with just seven dollars in Indian rupees and a crate of his translations of sacred Sanskrit texts.
In New York he faced great hardships without money or a place to live. He began his mission humbly, by giving classes on the Bhagavad-gita in lofts on the Bowery, New York’s infamous skid row, and leading kirtan (traditional devotional chants) in Tompkins Square Park. His message of peace and goodwill resonated with many young people, some of whom came forward to become serious students of the Krishna-bhakti tradition. With the help of these students, Bhaktivedanta Swami rented a small storefront on New York’s Lower East Side to use as a temple. After months of hardship and struggle, in July of 1966, Bhaktivedanta Swami established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness for the purpose of checking the imbalance of values in the world and working for real unity and peace. He taught that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of God and that one could find true happiness through living a simpler, more natural way of life and dedicating one’s energy in the service of God and all living beings.
Having begun initiating his American followers into the Gaudiya Vaishnava lineage, Bhaktivedanta Swami next traveled to San Francisco. Amidst the emerging hippie community in the Haight-Ashbury district, during 1967’s “Summer of Love” he taught that the experience of devotion through kirtan was a spiritual “high” superior to any pleasures derived from material sources such as wealth, fame, or intoxication. In the following months many more came forward to assist him. Desiring to address him with the respect due a revered spiritual teacher, his disciples began to call him Srila Prabhupada, meaning “one at whose feet the masters sit”.
In the eleven years that followed, Srila Prabhupada circled the globe fourteen times, bringing the teachings of Bhakti to thousands of people on six continents. Men and women from all backgrounds came forward to accept his message. With their help, Srila Prabhupada established centers and projects throughout the world including temples, rural communities, educational institutions, and what would become the world’s largest vegetarian food relief program. With the desire to nourish the roots of Krishna-bhakti in its home, Srila Prabhupada returned to India several times, where he sparked a revival in the Bhakti tradition. In India, he opened dozens of temples, including important centers in the holy towns of Vrindavana and Mayapur.
Perhaps Srila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution is his books. He authored over seventy volumes on Bhakti-yoga, which are highly respected for their authority, depth, clarity, and fidelity to tradition. His writings have been translated into seventy-six languages. His most prominent works include: Bhagavad-gita As It Is, the thirty-volume Srimad-Bhagavatam, and the seventeen-volume Sri Caitanya-caritamrita.
For millennia the teachings of Bhakti-yoga had been concealed within Sanskrit and Indian vernacular languages, and the rich culture of Bhakti had been hidden behind the borders of India. Today, millions around the globe express their gratitude to Srila Prabhupada for revealing the timeless wisdom of Bhakti to a world immersed in a materialistic and self-destructive ethos.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada disappeared in November 14, 1977, in the holy town of Vrindaban, surrounded by his loving disciples who carry on his mission today.
HH. Bhakti Raghava Swami has concentrated his preaching mostly in Asian countries such as India, Indonesia and Cambodia. He travels extensively and holds seminars promoting the varnasrama mission. He has authored several books such a “Make Vrindavana Village” and “Varnasrama Education”. The Sanskrit word Varnasrama is formed by joining 2 words “Varna” and “Asrama”. “Varna” refers to a person’s social order or caste, where as “Asrama” refers to a person’s order of life or order of his spiritual culture.
Vedic literature maintains that all living entities are part and parcel of God or Krishna, and on the spiritual platform they all are equal. Yet when they fall into this material existence (i.e. while living in this world), they are influenced by the material nature. There are three types of material nature that influence the living entity namely – Goodness, Passion and Ignorance. These three natures are also called Modes or “Gunas”.
Under the influence of these modes, the pure spiritual living entity develops an artificial nature. This artificial nature can become so strong that it may completely cover a person’s original spiritual nature, hence we see that in this world, people have different natures, all based upon how much they are influenced by the various modes. This artificial nature is the cause of a person’s suffering, and every sane man wants to end their suffering. But it is possible for the person to revive his original nature and end this suffering.
Hence Vedic literature gives a very scientific method for revival of that spiritual nature. It’s scientific because it is based on good reasoning and logic. It gives a proper model as per time, place, person and circumstance and this model can be implemented and verified and the result can be reproduced. Thus one can even make proper theoretical prediction of the destination/result obtained by a person – following or not following this method.
Different people have different natures. Vedic scriptures recognize this and hence give different processes for people in different natures. For implementation of these different methods according to a person’s nature and work, he / she is given a different social order and a different spiritual order.
It should be noted that Vedic scripture does not want to leave out any one suffering and hence it suggest that processes be implemented totally in a society and the whole society be divided into different social orders and different spiritual orders. Specifically, into four social orders or “Varnas” and four spiritual orders or “Asrama”. The method/process is also referred to as Duty or Law so that everyone will be able to make use of the method and revive their original spiritual nature.
Thus the Varnasrama system basically gives a particular occupation or duty to everyone according to his position as per the model of social divisions and order of life. Such occupational duty is also known as Dharma or specifically Varnasrama Dharma.
Even though one may not be living in a society that is modeled as per the Varnasrama guidelines, and some may even argue that such ideal model is impossible to implement in this current age, nevertheless one definitely benefits from adopting various principles and duties, as those duties are ordained by the Supreme Lord himself and Lord Krishna is pleased to see someone endeavoring to follow them. When pleased, God definitely provides an extra help to that person endeavoring to purify himself. Hence we encourage everyone regardless of his society or position to learn and try to implement them.