The Meaning of Vyasa Puja – “He came, he gave, he conquered”
(This article appeared at the beginning of the Srila Prabhupada Vyasa-puja book for 2016 )
Expression reflects and reinforces emotion. The celebration of Vyasa-puja is an expression of the gratitude that the disciple feels for the spiritual master. And that feeling becomes reinforced when a disciple expresses one’s own gratitude and hears other disciples’ express their gratitude.
The spiritual master’s guidance and grace are indispensable for elevating and liberating souls caught in this dangerous and treacherous material existence. The spiritual master is non-different from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as the sacred scriptures proclaim. In Srimad-Bhagavatam, in the Uddhava Gita (11.17.27: acaryam mam vijaniyam), Krishna himself declares that the acarya is nondifferent from him. This non-difference is not because of a merging of beings but because of a joining of hearts. The spiritual master is purely and selflessly surrendered to Krishna, as was Arjuna at the end of the Bhagavad-gita (18.73). The spiritual master is not just the conveyor of Krishna’s will – he is also the gateway to Krishna; on Krishna’s behalf, he receives the disciple’s service and bestows mercy.
yasya prasadad bhagavata prasado yasya ‘prasadan na gatih kuto ‘pi
By the mercy of the spiritual master is the mercy of Krishna accessed. So potent and transformational is the spiritual master’s mercy that the sincere disciple feels and remains indebted, lifetime after lifetime. The disciple strives to express that gratitude by dedicating one’s life to the spiritual master’s service.
During the course of our life, Vyasapuja offers us a precious annual opportunity to meditate on and better appreciate our spiritual master’s gifts. In composing our offering to the spiritual master, we go deep into our heart. Going beyond the routines and superficialities that frequently crowd our consciousness, we focus on that which matters most – the supreme treasure of Krishna-bhakti with which the spiritual master has enriched our heart. And by hearing the offerings of other devotees, we see those devotees with greater appreciation – not just for their functional roles in this world, but also as devoted and exalted souls committed to the spiritual master’s service.
Vyasadeva is the quintessential spiritual master. He is the literary incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By rendering the Vedic message in written form, he preserves and propagates that timeless treasure of wisdom. Therein, he provides a comprehensive gamut of guidelines for elevating people at all levels. And he also gives in Srimad-Bhagavatam, the ripened fruit of the Vedic literature (Bhagavatam 1.1.3), the conclusive guidelines of pure devotion for those seeking life’s highest destination – eternal spiritual love for Krishna.
All spiritual masters follow in the footsteps of Vyasadeva and carry on his mission. Thus, the spiritual master represents Krishna, specifically Krishna in his manifestation as Vyasadeva. Through the numerous representatives of Vyasadeva over millennia culminating for us in our spiritual master, we receive the treasure of krishna-bhakti.
Among the many spiritual masters who have carried forward Vyasadeva’s legacy, the position of His Divine Grace A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada is distinctive. Srila Prabhupada was the commander who fulfilled the prophecy of Lord Chaitanya that the holy names will be chanted in every town and village of the world.
Srila Prabhupada manifested both the literary vigor of Vyasadeva and the itinerant vigor of Vyasadeva’s spiritual master, Narada Muni. Srila Prabhupada wrote prolifically and profoundly, thus doing in English what Vyasadeva did in Sanskrit. And Srila Prabhupada, following in Narada Muni’s footsteps, circumnavigated the globe fourteen times, making Krishna’s message accessible to millions who had never heard it before.
The Vyasa-puja celebration of 2016 is special because this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of ISKCON. Devotees in various parts of the world have prepared inspiring presentations that demonstrate movingly the global spread and devotional depth of Srila Prabhupada’s legacy.
One way of contemplating Srila Prabhupada’s unparalleled contribution is by adapting a quote attributed to Julius Caesar: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Srila Prabhupada’s mission was not one of political conquest, but of spiritual compassion; so, the variant applicable to him is, “He came, he gave, he conquered.”
He came: Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.5.3) states, “O my lord, great philanthropic souls travel on the earth on behalf of the Supreme Personality of Godhead to show compassion to the fallen souls who are averse to the sense of subordination to the Lord.”
Srila Prabhupada descended from the spiritual world to the material world on the sacred day of Nandotsava, the day after Krishna’s appearance. That Srila Prabhupada’s appearance day follows Krishna’s appearance day signifies his mission: to carry forward Krishna’s message.
He came to the Western world with the message of Krishna’s love – a message that had never before been highlighted despite the many gurus who had come before him to the West from India. And he came back to India with a living demonstration of the universal appeal of krishna-bhakti: hundreds of Western men and women who had given up everything else for devoting themselves to Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada encouraged us to meditate on his coming as a mission for our personal redemption. During one of his visits to Australia, a girl asked him why this message hadn’t been brought earlier. He replied sweetly that it was because she had not been born earlier; the message had been brought now so that she could be delivered.
He gave: In Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.31.9), the topmost devotees, the gopis, laud those who shower the world with Krishna’s love by sharing his glories: “Those who spread the message of Godhead are most munificent.”
This world is like a quicksand of ignorance, wherein we are not only kept in ignorance of life’s spiritual side, but are sucked deeper into that ignorance by the lure of material pleasures. And in the present times, the accumulation of material knowledge creates an illusion of progress that doesn’t just lure us into ignorance, but also makes us complacent and arrogant, thus keeping us in ignorance of our ignorance. Srila Prabhupada rescued us from this ignorance by sharing generously the timeless spiritual knowledge of the Vedas. And his charity went far beyond offering spiritual knowledge alone; he offered spiritual love – love for Krishna that was revealed to the world by Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. And this charity of love enabled him to conquer hearts.
He conquered: Srila Prabhupada won the hearts of thousands of people all over the world by the power of spiritual love. He radiated pure, pristine love; his selfless, surrendered consciousness transmitted Krishna’s love to all those who came in contact with him. By that love, he inspired people from incredibly diverse backgrounds to enthrone Krishna as the Lord of their heart, conquering the many illusions that misdirected their love towards worldly things.
Chaitanya Bhagavata states that Lord Chaitanya descended to this world to bless it with the garland of Krishna-prema. Srila Prabhupada made that garland manifest by establishing all over the world temples that made loving Krishna intelligible and relishable.
The glory of his feat has been recognized not just by his followers but also by secular authorities, in both the West and the East. The religious scholar A L Basham stated, “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.” The phenomenal propagation that Srila Prabhupada pioneered has continued after his disappearance through the vision and vigor he has imparted to his followers.
The Times of India in an editorial in 2006 stated, “Guess again if you think Bollywood or Indians writing in English is the country’s biggest cultural export. You may not come across any of these if you visit Cochabamba in Bolivia or Gaborone in Botswana; what you will find instead is a centre of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).”
“He came, he gave, he conquered” is not just a historical and historic event – it is also an ongoing event. He conquers the hearts of new people who come in contact with him through the many manifestations of his mercy such as his mission, his temples, his books and his followers. And he conquers even more the hearts of us, his followers, as our appreciation of his gifts deepens.
Leading a life of devotion in a world of temptation is undoubtedly difficult, but meditating on the sacrifices of the givers of devotion lessens the difficulty. A child may be reluctant to take a bitter medicine, but if he remembers that his mother has sold her jewelry to pay for that medicine, then contemplating her sacrifice will replace reluctance with gratitude.
Similarly, difficulties while practicing and sharing krishna-bhakti may make us reluctant in our service. But by meditating on Srila Prabhupada’s innumerable and insurmountable sacrifices just for giving us the opportunity to practice bhakti, we can shed our reluctance and face whole-heartedly whatever challenges confront us.
If we keep the memories of his sacrifices alive in our hearts, he will come deeper into our hearts; the glory of his gifts will be increasingly revealed to us; and he will conquer our hearts more and more.
Srila Prabhupada conquered by surrendering. On the Jaladuta, in his celebrated song, Markine Bhagavata Dharma, he prayed to Krishna, “Make me dance; make me like a puppet; make me dance according to your will.” On the sacred occasion of Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasapuja celebration, during ISKCON’s fiftieth year, we pray that we too may surrender so that we can dance like puppets in Srila Prabhupada’s hands to do our small parts to push on his glorious mission.