Does Prabhupada’s instruction ‘do as I have done’ mean there’s no need to innovate in preaching”
Transcribed by: Argha Maji
Question: Does Prabhupada’s instruction ‘do as I have done’ mean there’s no need to innovate in preaching?
Answer: That “do as I have done” means devotees should not innovate is a very very superficial understanding of Prabhupada’s statements. Because even if we take it literally, “do as I have done”, Prabhupada has done many different things at different times. For example, Prabhupada advocated harinama sankirtan publicly in the West and he himself went on few occasions, but in India, especially in Bengal and other places when the devotees started doing harinama sankirtan and people started throwing coins at devotees, so it is a tradition that there is a kirtan mandali which goes and mandalis are like beggars and people throw coins at the beggars. So Prabhupada said that this was not the image that they wanted to portray of their movement. So he asked to stop doing kirtans. Now somebody can ask if that is a permanent injunction for a devotee in India. No.
So when we say, “do as I have done”, we cannot first of all, literally, externally speaking do every single thing that Srila Prabhupada has done or do everything exactly as Prabhupada has done. Because Prabhupada did not do the exact thing at all times. He is like a military general and the general will use different strategies at different times depending on time, place, circumstance depending on whatever is the best way to attain victory. So that is with respect to external action.
Similarly, that will also apply to the words. “Do as I have done”, does it necessarily mean if Prabhupada used words like fools and rascals, we also have to use words like that. Not at all, in fact Prabhupada told us, “I am old and I can do this, you cannot.” The point is that Srila Prabhupada by using his power of speech, attracted people towards Krishna. So there were other times when Prabhupada was very sensitive. For example when George Harrison met Prabhupada and he was already influenced by many other Indian spiritual teachers and he quoted them in that conversation, Prabhupada did not speak anything about them negatively, just continued focusing on his main point about glory of holy name and the supremacy of Krishna and how George Harrison can glorify Krishna by including Krishna’s names in his songs. So the way Prabhupada spoke was also different at different times.
So “do as I have done” doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to use the same speech. Prabhupada pronounced some words in particular way and some devotees would try to imitate that pronunciation, it looks very artificial and unnatural. That’s definitely not necessary.
So, we could say “do as I have done”, another way of looking at that is Prabhupada was innovative, so we see when Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada sent his disciples to the West, he sent them to London and Germany. And it was he who told them to approach gentlemen and behave in a gentlemanly way. So that meant they wore western clothes, shirt and pant, suit and tie. And they spoke high philosophy. In contrast, Prabhupada went in the traditional dress of dhoti and kurta and Prabhupada did not try to approach any highly influential members of society. He went directly to the Lower East side and he did Harinam Sankirtan, instead of going to lofty philosophy. So was it that Prabhupada was disobeying Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur? No, not at all. Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur himself would wear civil clothes whenever needed, and he encouraged disciples to wear it, if needed. So “do as I have done” means Prabhupada did best what was for preaching.
So in the Lower east side where people were unconventional, the radically unconventional dress of dhoti kurta which was actually radically conventional in India and like putting clay marks on forehead and putting a glove in one of the hands with one finger coming out, it was radically unconventional. So Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur used one strategy and Prabhupada used another strategy. So Prabhupada was very resourceful and innovative in doing things even which his spiritual master had not done.
So, Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur in the books which were published from the Gaudiya Math rarely put any pictures in the books. But Prabhupada had profuse pictures, attractive pictures in his books and the devotee artists were very important, his outreach assistants. Now Prabhupada said ,”Do as I have done” but he was in many ways if we look at external, literalist ways to understand not doing what Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur was doing. So what was he doing? He was like a battle general, choosing the strategy that was appropriate. “Do as I have done” can very well mean be innovative, be resourceful as I was. So as compared to Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur, Prabhupada improvised and did various things which were appropriate for sharing Krishna Consciousness and so did Prabhupada appreciated his disciples.
There are many places where Tamal Krishna Maharaja comes up with new ways of sharing Krishna Consciousness with people and Prabhupada appreciates. Prabhupada says,” You are sincerely trying to serve Krishna and Krishna in the heart is giving you intelligence about how to share his message with the people.” And Prabhupada would quote 10.10 in the Bhagavad Gita.
dadāmi buddhi-yogam tam
yena mām upayānti te
That I give intelligence those who try to serve me.
Those who do bhajatām prīti-pūrvakam, those who worship me sincerely, I give them the intelligence.
So here we see Prabhupada is appreciating those who are finding creative ways of sharing Krishna Consciousness. Ghanashyam Prabhu, who later became Bhakti Tirtha Maharaj, Prabhupada appreciated him for the creative ways in which he shared Krishna Consciousness.
So if we had a literalist understanding we could have three different ideas. “Do as I have done” means do exactly the way I have done. But Prabhupada used different ways. Then it could mean “speak the way I have spoken” but Prabhupada spoke in different ways at times. “Do as I have done” means I have followed my spiritual master, but Prabhupada also innovated and did things which his spiritual master had not done because that was required in his times in his preaching. So essentially “do as I have done” means we imbibe the spirit of Srila Prabhupada. The vigour of sharing Krishna’s message , the compassion so that one reaches out to people. And the determination, the tolerance, the courage. So it is the internal qualities that enable a devotee to achieve success in sharing Krishna’s message and mission with the world.
So it is that spirit of fighting for Krishna’s sake, not in terms of creating physical violence but in terms of overcoming challenges for Krishna’s sake and thereby moving forward in sharing Krishna’s message as far as possible with the world. So that spirit is what we need to imbibe. And certainly we can look at Prabhupad’s examples and we would like to be in the ambit of Prabhupad’s instructions. So rather than thinking of the parampara as one straight line, this is what the previous acaryas have done and this is what I am meant to do, instead of making the parampara as one straight line we need to think of it as a circle. And within the circle there is abundant room for different devotees to do different things in Krishna’s service.
So I will conclude with one incident. There was a devotee in London and Prabhupada had come to London which was at that time the European headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and devotees who were leaders from different yatras, from France, from Germany, from various places were coming and reporting. And this devotee was thinking that everyone has some service to report to Srila Prabhupada and I don’t have anything. So he went to Prabhupada and asked him,”What can I do for you?” Prabhupada replied,”What you want to do for Krishna?” So he thought Prabhupada was testing his surrender. He replied,”Whatever you want I will do.” Prabhupada said, “What do You want to do for Krishna?” He replied back the same thing. Prabhupada said,”Understand our philosophy, think what do you want to do and do it for Krishna.”
Now we have never heard this idea that I should think what I want to do for Krishna and do it. So, Prabhupada’s approach was very realistic and sound. He was recognising that when the movement goes very big, it is difficult for the leader to personally know the nature of each devotee and then to give specific instructions according to the nature of that devotee. So in this initial stages of our movement, devotees were exemplarily surrendered and they did whatever Srila Prabhupada told them to do.
But Prabhupada also expected to replicate the varnashrama model and it essentially means that everybody serves according to one’s nature. So now if a devotee is observant enough, takes guidance from other devotees and understands one’s own nature, then devotee will serve according to that nature. And that is essentially taking initiative in Krishna’s service. After that the devotee told Srila Prabhupada that he wanted to do something with his hands and he wanted to make mridangas using Western material, as the mridangas obtained from India take a long time to get and they break also easily.
Prabhupada was very pleased. “Your Western godbrothers are very passionate so make the mridanga so strong that even if they throw the mridanga, it will not break.”, Prabhupada said. So due to Prabhupada’s enthusiastic endorsement of his service plan, it became his lifelong service.
“Do as I have done” , it means take initiative and use intelligence to carry out the mission of Srila Prabhupada, sharing Krishna Consciousness with the world. How specifically we can do that, we can take inspiriration from Prabhupada’s example and learn from his actions. But specific strategy will vary and in many cases it needs to vary according to time, place and circumstance. So we shouldn’t consider “do as I have done” as a restrictive instruction, which means “don’t do what I have never done” rather it means imbibe the spirit with which I have done things and do accordingly. Some devotees may feel that we would like to do what Srila Prabhupada has done, and it is also perfect. Prabhupada would be pleased by that by their dedicated service attitude. They want to collect Life Membership, distribute books, build temples or do street Harinam . That’s wonderful but that doesn’t mean that every devotee in the movement has to do only those things. There are other ways also of sharing Krishna Consciousness and by the very fact that we are answering questions here through the Internet, and now there are hundreds of devotees who actually get a lot of spiritual nourishment by hearing classes of their spiritual masters through the Internet. Now Prabhupada never broadcast his classes on the internet directly, there was never love broadcast of his classes in other parts of the world because the technology was not there at that time.
So, if we have to take “do as I have done” as a limited instruction to imply “don’t do what I haven’t done” then we would have to reject the whole use of internet, as a deviation. But nobody is suggesting that, as it’s not a deviation, it is expansion of Prabhupada’s mission according to time, place, circumstance. So Bhagavatam also says about Bhishma and Dhruva that they knew their dharma and they knew how to apply according to time, place, circumstance. So we don’t have to be judgemental if we feel that somebody is doing a preaching in a way that Prabhupada has not done and we can consult our senior devotees and try to get a proper understanding. And if we feel inspired to serve Krishna in a particular way then we can take blessings from like-minded senior devotees and serve Krishna in that way.
So the important thing is to develop the inner spirit of vigour and compassion. We have to share Krishna’s message and compassion for those who dont have Krishna’s message. And then also develop the associated qualities, determination, patience, tolerance, sensitivity, hard work and carry on Prabhupada’s legacy in that way. Thank you. Hare Krishna.