Prabhupada: The moments that made his movement – Part 3
1971, May: Visited Australia for the first time:
As a part of his vision to share spiritual love with the whole world, Srila Prabhupada had sent his disciples to Australia. They had initially faced suspicion and opposition, even being arrested for dancing on the streets. But gradually their spiritual sincerity shone through and they attracted many interested people. When Srila Prabhupada came to Sydney, Australia, at their invitation, he inspired both followers and visitors by his words and actions.
Given his age, he knew that he didn’t have much time for sharing the bhakti movement in Australia. Still, wanting to give it a strong fillip in the available time he came up with a transcendentally bold move. Though the devotees in Australia were young and not adequately trained, he still installed Radha-Krishna Deities and prayed to their Lordships to guide the novice devotees from within their hearts about how to render devotional service properly.
His faith in the devotee’s sincerity was well-placed, as he saw during his next annual visit. The devotees had learnt proper devotional principles and practices – and were maintaining high standards of Deity Worship, standards that are being continued even now.
1971 June: Visited Moscow: Having shared spirituality successfully in the Western super-power America, Srila Prabhupada had set his sights on the other superpower: Soviet Russia. But that country’s communist government and underlying atheistic ideology made it much more difficult to penetrate spiritually. But even the Iron Curtain couldn’t hold Srila Prabhupada back. Finally, through his correspondence with a respected Russian professor of religion, he was able to visit USSR for five days. But he wasn’t allowed to do any public programs, and he had to spend most of those days in a small hotel room. Nonetheless, his spiritual potency couldn’t be suppressed by anything material. Through a series of transcendental coincidences, one sincere Russian seeker, Anatoly Pinyayev, came to meet him in his hotel room. Anatoly heard from him like a starving man getting a feast. Srila Prabhupada blessed and empowered him, granting him the initiated name Ananta Shanti das.
Through this first Russian Krishna devotee, the message of spiritual love spread gradually but unstoppably to thousands. Unfortunately, the devotees faced severe persecution from the KGB. The devotees were nonviolent and tolerant – and wanted to do nothing more than simply follow their heart’s calling to love Krishna, and share that love with others. Yet the KGB deemed Hare Krishna one of the three main threats to the Soviet Union, the other two being pop music, Western culture, and Hare Krishna. Decades of persecution resulted, till finally communism fell. Thereafter, devotees were able to follow their heart’s calling much more freely and with amazing results – the Newsweek magazine (1994) noted that the Hare Krishna movement was the fastest growing religion in Russia.
1971, Nov: Visited Africa for the first time:
Srila Prabhupada had sent his followers to Africa, but they hadn’t been able to make much headway with the native African population. So they had focused on cultivating the Indian diaspora there. But Srila Prabhupada’s vision was universal – he saw the message of spiritual love not as the property of any particular religion, but as the ultimate destiny of all people. So when he came to Nariobi, he told his followers to perform kirtans in a centrally located Hindu temple and open the doors for everyone. The joyous singing and dancing attracted Africans to enter and join the celebration. As the joy of spiritual love linked them all together, centuries of racial stereotypes and prejudices were swept away in the flood of devotion.
Later, while addressing two thousand students at the University of Nairobi, he urged them to avoid the path of uni-dimensional material development that the West had followed, for it led only to disappointment and frustration, as seen in the hippie culture emerging in the West. Instead, he urged them to give due time to spiritual growth and thus achieve balanced progress.
By his inspiration, the bhakti legacy is going strong in Africa, with the Hare Krishnas being among the most rapidly growing religious groups in Ghana.
1972, Feb 29: Conducted ground-breaking ceremony for a magnificent temple in Mayapur: Srila Prabhupada represented and presented a spiritual lineage coming from Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a medieval saint who had spread the culture of sankirtan throughout India. Lord Chaitanya is revealed in esoteric bhakti texts to be an hidden incarnation of God descended for propagating the yuga-dharma, the recommended spiritual practice for this age: the congregational chanting of the holy names. Since Lord Chaitanya had appeared in Mayapur, Srila Prabhupada desired to establish the spiritual headquarters of his movement in this sacred place. The project that started with a deserted patch of land surrounded by overgrown fields and forests has now become a vibrant community, indeed a spiritual township wherein people from various parts of the world live in devotional harmony. A beautiful temple there attracts millions of pilgrims annually. And under construction is what will become the biggest Hindu temple in the world with a height of 340 feet, a covered area of 6,750,00 square feet – and a 75-feet domed planetarium theater, the only one of its kind in India.
1974: Established Food for Life: When Srila Prabhupada was in Mayapur in 1974, once he saw local village children struggling with stray animals for scraps of food. Moved to tears, he called his followers and told them that no one should go hungry for ten miles around a temple. That compassionate pronouncement became the rallying call of ISKCON Food for Life, which has gone on to become the world’s biggest vegetarian food relief program. Its activists have distributed food in many of the world’s most destitute areas and in the world’s worst disaster-hit areas. The New York Times (December 12, 1995) stated that Food for Life volunteers in Chechnya were having “a reputation like the one Mother Teresa has in Calcutta: it’s not hard finding people to swear they are saints.”
Food for Life, through its projects in over 60 countries distributes two million free meals every day, that is, 23 free meals every second. Its Indian wing, ISKCON Food Relief Foundation, distributes free meals to 1.2 million school children daily.
1974: Published Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita in 17 volumes. This Bengali biography-cum-theological treatise on the life and teachings of Lord Chaitanya is a storehouse of exalted insights on spiritual love. Wanting to make its wisdom available to the world, Srila Prabhupada worked on his translation-commentary with phenomenal speed, as if on a literary marathon. He completed all the seventeen volumes of his translation-commentary in just two years.
1975, Feb: Visited South America for the first time:
Having shared spiritual love on four continents, Srila Prabhupada came to Caracas, Venezuela, South America to enrich spiritually this last among the inhabited continents. His followers had already established a vibrant center there, and they welcomed him with a jubilant kirtan. Seeing their enthusiastic devotion as the mercy of the Lord whom he had strived lifelong to glorify, Srila Prabhupada broke into tears during a rare public display of spiritual emotion. In a choked voice, he urged all the assembled devotees and newcomers to treasure the gift of spiritual love – it was life’s only eternal treasure.
His words and actions created a lasting spiritual impression among all present. The inspiration and wisdom he provided powers the bhakti legacy’s ongoing expansion in South America.
1975, April 20: Conducted grand opening of temple in Vrindavan:
Returning to the place where he had lived and prayed and written, Srila Prabhupada envisioned an elegant temple that would showcase the beauty of Krishna and Vrindavan for the whole world to relish. And in 1975 on Rama Navmi day manifested a marvelous temple, the Krishna-Balarama Mandir. While the temple has Radha-Krishna Deities, as to most temples in Vrindavan, its distinctive feature is that the central altar features Deities of Krishna-Balarama. This special feature reflects the significance of its location: it is situated in the part of Vrindavan where Krishna and Balarama played during their descent to this world.
1975: Established ISKCON’s scientific wing: Recognizing the enormous influence that science had on the modern mind, Srila Prabhupada inspired his scientist-followers to form a special wing for scientific outreach: Bhaktivedanta Institute. Drawing insights from the Vedic literature, this wing would counter the atheism that had hijacked contemporary science and reinstate the spiritual paradigm. Today, many of his followers carry on the legacy of scientific outreach by presenting papers, arranging conferences and writing books.
1977: Went to Krishna: In his life, especially in his last decade, Srila Prabhupada had, by Krishna’s grace, achieved far more than what most people could achieve or even dream of achieving. And at the end of his life he also achieved what is the cherished aspiration of a devotee of Krishna: to leave the world remembering Krishna in Vrindavan. After having taught how to live in devotion, he taught through his death how to leave in devotion. Despite suffering from a prolonged and debilitating illness, he remained absorbed in Krishna, dictating his commentary to the Bhagavatam with the final reserves of his energy. Even when his lips could barely produce any sound, he remained fixed in sharing spiritual wisdom. Surrounded by loving devotees singing the holy names, he uttered the name of Krishna with his last breath on Nov 14, 1977, and went to the abode of his beloved Lord.
Though he left the world in 1977, he left for the world an enduring legacy that continues to spiritually enrich millions even today.
Among his most significant gifts are his books, temples and followers. When he was still an unknown Swami taking walks on the streets of New York, he could envision scores of temples and thousands of devotees – and he declared that time alone separated him from them. His vision was astonishingly prophetic. In little over a decade after he took his first step outside India, he had circumnavigated the globe fourteen times, built hundred and eight temples, and inspired millions to take up the path of spiritual love.
From 1965 to 1977, he wrote eighty books, all based on India’s spiritual wisdom-literature. That worked out to be about 7 books every year, or more than one book every two months continuously for twelve years. Such was his literary proficiency that the Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year in 1976 noted, “[ Bhaktivedanta Swami] astonished academic and literary communities worldwide by writing and publishing fifty-two books on the ancient Vedic culture . . . in the period from October 1968 to November 1975.”
Similar appreciation had been expressed by the CNN in an article on 16th May, 2010, which deemed him one of the ten most successful people in the world who launched their careers after 50.
Appreciating the magnitude and significance of his legacy, the renowned scholar on Indian history and culture, A L Basham, author of The Wonder that was India, wrote, “The Hare Krishna movement arose out of next to nothing in less than twenty years and has become known all over the West. This is an important fact in the history of the Western world.”
A momentous step for humanity
Though the first forty years of his outreach efforts in India met with only a lukewarm response, Srila Prabhupada was not one to take no for an answer. With an indefatigable determination that stemmed from his transcendental love for Krishna, he pressed on and decided to go to America, despite being in his late sixties, despite having no reliable contacts, despite having no money worth mentioning and despite having no organizational backing. Given these crippling disadvantages, his stepping on the Jaladuta to embark on an outreach mission to America could well be seen as one of the most courageous steps in human history. What was one small step for a man was to become a giant leap for humanity in its spiritual evolution – an evolution that we all have an opportunity to participate in and carry forward.
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