History of Gaudiya Vaishnavism IV – Prabhupada’s unprecedented success

by Chaitanya CharanApril 5, 2012

Srila Prabhupada’s presentation of Krishna Consciousness

In the last class we discussed about the different ways in which the academic scholars tried to explain the Spiritual phenomenon. They tried to see it as a sociological, historical, psychological or pseudoscientific/ partially scientific phenomenon. They try to explain in it in these factors, all these factors contribute are affected by spirituality. That is why all these factors contribute to the entirety of spiritual experience, but they are not the origin of spiritual experience.  So the spiritual experience originate in contact of the soul with the God and then that contact of the soul has sociological dimensions, it has historical expressions, there are psychological facts to it, there are scientific features also involved in it. than after that we discussed about Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur ‘s preaching and his revolutionary approach to modernizing and presenting Gaudiya Vaishnavism.


Today we will come to discuss Srila Prabhupada’s presentation of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and see it from a historical perspective. Objectively speaking Srila Prabhupada was most successful of all the Gaudiya Acharyas in sharing Krishna consciousness with the world.  It was he the first Gaudiya Acharya who actually went across the oceans, he was the first person to start significant major temples all over the world and he was the first person who in a very dramatic and authentic sense fulfilled the prophecy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura that in every town and village Holy name will be chanted Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s prediction and people from all over the world will come to Mayapur and they will sing Jai Sachinandan. This does not necessarily mean Srila Prabhupada is the greatest of all acharyas. Generally we don’t compare spiritual personalities and Srila Prabhupada himself  was asked this question, Srila Prabhupada Bhaktivinoda Thakura preached in Bengal and Orissa and Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  preached all over the country, all over India and you preached all over the world, therefore you are greater than all of them. Srila Prabhupada said never think like this, this is by their mercy I have achieved whatever I have achieved. So we don’t compare the acharyas in terms of spiritual potency because all of them are pure devotees and all of them have their own individual relationship with Krishna, but in terms of objective historical facts, Yes, it was Srila Prabhupada who was empowered to preach all over the World. We can look at the aspect of Spiritual empowerment but along with that we can also see Srila Prabhupada’s preaching in a different context. We know that Srila Prabhupada tried extensively to preach in India like almost 30 years or 40 years practically.


In 1921 he met Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  and initially he was not active in preaching himself, but as soon as he took initiation in 1922 from that time onwards he started assisting his God Brothers and that assistance also often took the form of preaching. We know when the Bombay center was established, Srila Prabhupada introduced his God brothers to many of his business colleagues and in fact whenever English seminar was required his God brothers used to tell him to give the talk.  So he was involved in preaching from 1923 onwards little bit and especially from 1933 onwards he considered as personal responsibility. It was in 1940s time onwards he started in Back to Godhead. As we discussed Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  departed in 1937 just two years before world war started and Srila Prabhupada went to west in 1965. Sat Swaroop Maharaj explains the social cultural factors that prevented Krishna consciousness  from taking hold during Srila Prabhupada time of preaching in India. He said just before and after that time India was in the peak of independence struggle.  Soon after that there was euphoria of achieving independence. Euphoria means very great happiness. Euphoria was accompanied by the trauma that came due to partition. The killing of lakhs of people that happened, the Hindus in  Pakistan were Killed and to some extent Muslims were in India, they were also killed. Sat Swaroop Maharaj explains in Lilamrita that Indians were at that time either too absorbed in politics or too crippled by poverty or too enamored by the west to take the message of Krishna consciousness seriously. Three factors, too absorbed in Politics, there was at that time there was still hope that political  change would bring about improved standard of living and would make people’s lives better. That has given way to skepticism now. The anna Hazare movement is having some mass appeal there is some hope of some rejuvenation, but if we large number of Indians especially educated Indians they don’t go for voting. They feel that whoever it may come to the power, they are all same people, same category of people and Srila Prabhupada had the same attitude of dismissiveness  to the political change as the way of bring substantial change in society and when Srila Prabhupada was in India at that time, just after the time of emergency, Indira Gandhi was defeated and Janata Dal came to power. People were very hopeful that the things would change and they felt that other party that would also be more spiritually encouraged. Spiritually facilitating and encouraging, but Srila Prabhupada said as long as there is no change in the consciousness there will be no difference. He said there is no use of political adjustments and what you need is adhyatmic adjustment. We have to change our consciousness, adhyatmic means spiritual.  So anyway India was too absorbed in politics and was too crippled by poverty because for centuries and centuries invaders have plundered India and India was reduced substantially to poor country by that and to large extent the war efforts of Britain in the first world war and in second world war were done using Indian soldiers and the Indian economic sources were used for that. So the third factor  was too enamored by west, too enamored by west means because the west had technology and the West had education. Although Islam had ruled India for six hundred or seven hundred years, Indians never got enamored by Islam or by the Arab countries. Even now sometimes people go for jobs to the Gulf that doesn’t have even the little sense of glamour that there when somebody goes for job to America. Why because the west now, during Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  time west means Europe because at that time America has not really risen to the level of Global super power. It was after the second world war, the second world war took place in Europe, Asia and Africa. America was not a direct venue for the war or the America was not a major participant in the war. So all the other counties faced damages, but America did not face so much damages. Where after the end of the second world war America emerged as a superpower  after the collapse of the USSR, then it became a unilateral superpower. But at that time west means Europe and now west means America. But whatever it is, Islam never enamored the Indian mind. That’s why to some extent if we see that our acharyas have never written any elaborate critics of Islam also. They have not really gone into the discussion with Islam, because Islam was never a intellectual competitor for Vedic culture. It was a political force which was threatened by culture but never considered as an intellectual competitor. That’s why we don’t see any of our acharyas commenting on Islam per se. Although there were times when our deities were threatened or even desecrated or when people forcibly converted and tortured and killed but still they were not the intellectual competitors. Whereas the west was intellectual competitor because they had education, they had technology, they had rationality, they had science. Because of this Indians were highly enamored by the west and even now they are enamored. Srila Prabhupada observed this among these three factors, the first two are not some amenable to immediate change. We can’t affect a political or a economic change immediately but the third factor Srila Prabhupada decided to utilize  for his preaching. If Indians are enamored by the west then let me go to the west and let me preach then if western people become devotees then we can use this enamorment of the Indian with the west to get them attracted to Krishna Consciousness one more time. Now I mentioned last time how one historical or the external factor for the failure of the Gaudiya math was the eruption of the second world war and the hostilities in Europe because of that Gaudiya math efforts to preach in Europe has flopped practically. Now in the historical perspective there could not have been a better time for Srila Prabhupada going to the west. We can see that Srila Prabhupada even in a very advanced stage he went and preached and succeeded. Srila Prabhupada was very humble and he said that, I was in maya, I should have followed the instructions of my spiritual master immediately, I should have taken sanyas and dedicated myself in preaching.  But any way Srila Prabhupada would humbly say better  late than never, In my old age I am trying to preach. But actually it’s not my idea,  Krishna’s arrangement.  In one sense it is glorious Srila Prabhupada that in his old age he was able to go and preach. But along with that, that was a most opportune time to preach. If we look at the American history  three factors created an openness that was essential in one sense as a foundation for setting up the stage for Srila Prabhupada preaching. One was political, one was religious and one was cultural. Politically America had very strict immigration rules from around 1910 to 1966, before that a lot of Puerto Ricans, Mexican and other south Americans had migrated to America and some of them were quite violent. So the Americans had laid very strict immigration rules.  By 1965 just about around some time Srila Prabhupada’s visit, American Government passed a rule which made  immigration relatively easy.  Getting Visa and being able to stay there has become much much easy.  That’s why we will see the Indian Diaspora ( those people who don’t stay in their native country. Indian who stay in  Europe, America are said to be Indian Diaspora) was practically nonexistent in 1965. But now Indians were one of the significant minorities in America. They are millions there practically speaking. Not millions but lakhs at least.  So there are large number of Indians in America. That was because the rules were made more open and that’s have Srila Prabhupada had got just two months visa initially and he could just keep extending and extending and extending the visa. As per the earlier rule it was not impossible unlimitedly, but then  Eigns Ginsburg was attracted to Srila Prabhupada and he arranged a good lawyer  and through that lawyer, Srila Prabhupada was able to continue his staying there for a long time. If you remember any of Radhanath Maharaj’s lectures about his spiritual search, he often says that during my whole stay in America I never met a single Indian there.  That was 1970, 71s. The first Indian he met was the Lady who threaten to shoot him on the border of India. Basically the point is that Indians were rare at that time.  One of factors was the immigration rules.  This political development was significant, otherwise Srila Prabhupada would not have stayed there. Then from the religious perspective in 1965 itself Pope John paul -II who was the pope of catholic church he issued an encyclical. Encyclical is like an official proclamation, official announcement by the Catholic Church. Which is a sort of instruction or injection for all Catholics. That was like a watermark event, 1965 encyclical, in which the synod of Rome said that  Catholic church recognizes all that is noble and holy in other religions this is at salvation can be attained through other religions. To some extent they said that. Before that Catholics idea was complete exclusivism  that Jesus is the only way and if you are not following Jesus, you are going to go to hell. To some extent that exclusive attitude is still there. In most Christians and even in Catholics even officially they are internally exclusive but externally they are pluralists. They said all that is good and holy in other religions we accept that. Now of course good and holy are very subjective terms. You can always say that there is nothing good and holy in this religion if you don’t want to respect it. They don’t consider the deity worship as good and holy.  They consider it as satanic. We will discuss about the deity worship little briefly because we know that Islam also seems to be highly against the deity worship.  So the idea is that in the Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic religions means Judaism, Christianity and Islam the conception is quite dualistic. Dualistic means two realities. There is earth and there is Haven. There is matter and there is spirit or rather they seem to be quite largely disconnected and Islam considers matter to be very profane. Profane means very sinful and opposite of sacred.  So their idea is that God is so transcendental that he can never come in contact with matter. Their idea is that because God cannot come in contact with matter, any representation of God is just that representation which actually has no contact with God. So it is a symbol which is separate from God. Their idea is that less intelligent people inevitably start focusing on the symbol and forget that which is symbolized. In this way the ideal that is worshipped becomes a distracter and competitor to the God who is to be worshipped. Because the ideal is suppose to represent or symbolize the God, but people forget that beyond the ideal there is a real God. They focus all their attention on the ideal and the ideal becomes the objects of worship and the God is the real object of worship, gets sidelined and therefore their idea is have no ideals and that they considered wherever there are ideals, they have to be destroyed. If we look at the old testament there are many incidents  of whenever Jews would conquer any Kingdom the first thing they would do is bible describes how in glowing terms this king so and so went there and bashed up all the ideals over there. Similarly Mohammad when he entered Mecca after he conquered and when Mecca surrendered to him first  thing he did was Quaba was a holy place, there were many ideals over there which he bashed. So now it’s a debatable issue whether these ideals were actually deities. In principle it is true, we have in India now the temples, in Calcutta there were six temples Kaliyug ke Ram ka mandir. What is this Kaliyug ka Ram, what is this Kaliyug Ka Ram, they say that it is Amitabh Bachchan.  They have temples of Amitabh Bachchan and they offer Bhoga to Amitabh Bachchan. It is ridicules and these sort of so called temples , they can very well be bashed. There are so many film stars who have their own temples in South India. This is nonsense and bashing this sort of things is not wrong.  But the conception is that the deity is the direct manifestation of God  is not there in their theology.  That’s why they extrapolate what is there in theology into their theology on to deity worship and so they say that this deity must be ideal and that is also the competitor of God and therefore that deity has to be bashed. So that there is no competition to God. Any way the point I was making is even the Catholic church also bashed lot of temples during the time when it has sway in India, especially in Goa. The Christian influence in India, those who came to Bengal were not Catholics, they were protestants . As I mentioned earlier Christianity got divided into two main parts , actually three around the eleventh century it got divided into Russian Orthodox church and the Catholic Church. Around 15th century Catholic Church itself got divided into Catholics and Protestants. Europe itself got divided into countries which are Catholic and countries which are protestants. Spain and Portugal were catholic countries and France and England were protestant counties. The Portuguese had conquered Goa, that’s why Catholics have lot of influence there and they did a lot of persecution there. But  the Britain got power in India, Protestants were the main people. The British Anglican Church is the one protestant church. The Indian Christian community church is largely protestants, at least it was during the British rule. Any way the point is in this 1965s the Catholic Church said that we recognize what is holy and noble in the other religions and that’s why there is a great openness in other religions.  When Srila Prabhupada went to America many Christian Scholars Harvey Kops and others, they came and met Srila Prabhupada and talk with him and they swas genuineness of their devotion of not only his devotion but also of his followers. This Harvey Kops is a nice person, who said that Srila Prabhupada and their disciples and their  austere lifestyle and their missionary view reminds me the early days of founding the Christianity.   When Jesus and his apostles lived in the similar penury (means poverty) and they had a similar vehement. He was officially connected with Christian nomination and he could not have made this statement , which later on contributed a lot to help promote the public good will for ISKCON. He could not have made that if that encyclical might have not come about. Thirdly which is most important, which contributed majorly for the Srila Prabhupada preaching was cultural phenomenon and that was the counter culture which is known as Hippie culture. After America became the unilateral superpower or the significant superpower after the second world war, America earned a lot of money during the second world  war. Because they had big ammunition factory and they provided Ammunition to all the countries practically who were fighting at least on the side of allies not on the side of Axis. So by selling ammunitions they made a lot of money and all other counties were heart, at least the European countries, France was entirely conquered by Germany and England was also heavily  bombed by Hitler. All the other countries suffered but the America became very prosperous. So the generation which was born and brought up in the post World war – II America they had tremendous prosperity. Previous generation they had to work hard, build a career and build a house and get some security and then maybe think of prosperity. But this generation had it all with them and they found it all in substantial and disappointing. Whatever enjoyment was offered by the mainstream culture they experienced it. They had the Gadgets, they had the whatever technology was there.   They had all the enjoyment and they found it very frustrating. So they found the mainstream religion, the mainstream culture,  the mainstream values, the mainstream education and all of it to be superficial. And because they found it to be superficial they  rejected it. After rejecting it what will they do they started looking for something else. At that time there is a notion that drugs can help one to get a spiritual high. Drugs give us a chemical high not a spiritual high. Unfortunately in the Catholic domain there  no clear understanding between the soul and the body. That’s why they bury the body and their idea is that the body itself will be resurrected at the time of death. That’s why they don’t had the difference between spiritual and chemical. So they started going to drugs. Basically they became more and more explorative about other religions. Now Islam did not have substantial reach in America at that time and Buddhism had just started coming in and Hinduism had a lot of fascination. Because it was seen as a mystical. Actually there is a book called American Veda written by Flip Goldman. He traces how for the last 200 and 300 years Indian spirituality have been influencing America to the extent now the Indian spirituality and its concepts have now became a part of the American intellectual heart. Basically it all started with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David thoreau. These are considered to the two very formative thinkers for American Rallies and both of them were significantly influenced by Bhagavad -Gita. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in fact sent a copy of his book Krishna Samhita to Ralph Waldo emerson and Ralph Waldo Emerson acknowledged that I received the copy but unfortunately I don’t know Sanskrit. So Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote an introduction to this book in English, I am not sure whether it is Krishna Samhita or Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s teachings.  But one of these books he had sent. So basically they were interested in Indian spirituality and they were quite appreciative and influenced by Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads and in fact we often have on Bhagavad Gita as it is either the quote of Emerson or thoreau.  Emerson says that I felt in Bhagavad Gita the voice of an old intelligence just pondered and answered all the questions that exercise us today. Bhagavad Gita is an empire of thought in front of which all of the western literature are  impenitent trivial. Similarly thoreau said that every morning I bathe myself in the stupendous cosmocongal wisdom of Bhagavad Gita.  So from that time onwards, there was a fascination of Indian culture. Of course those of you read searching for Vedic India you will know how after that when colonies interest took over then the positive India is suppressed and negative images of India were broadcasted by the British empire to keep India subjugated. But anyway that was more influenced in Britain than in America. After that we know when Swami Vivekananda went to America in 1893 and he made a significant impact. Actually his speech that was a world conference of religions. It was organized in Chicago and their original idea was to say that actually Christianity is the best religion of the World. But then they found that this monk from India has come and he is teeing such sensible things and they said that there are many Americans who said that this is the first introduction to them to the philosophical aspects of the India, especially the masses. From that time onwards there are several other people who went to the west. There was Paramahansa Yogananda and he also had a significant impact and after that just before Srila Prabhupada Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who had a quite big impact in his own way. All these people who had gone before and of course Mahatma Gandhi was there who was considered to be an apostle of peace. Especially after the second world war people were fed up with the war, because they are fed up with the war and Mahatma Gandhi got independence through nonviolence. So they were especially impressed by him. To some extent all these created a favorable curiosity about Indian culture. Srila Prabhupada uses this word favorable curiosity to talk about Sraddha. Adau sraddha sadhu sanga bhajana kriya.  So all these historical development they sort of created a sraddha. For the sadhu sanga Srila Prabhupada took and there to anartha nivritti, Bhajana Kriya and subsequent process of Bhakti. Now when Srila Prabhupada went to America the fascination that was there towards India, the disillusion that was there towards western values, Christianity to some extent became bankrupt over there. To large extent Christianity is dying in Europe where atheism is very aggressive and in America as of now became polarized between two extremes. There are aggressive Christians who are very hard lined and who say that the earth is 6000 years old and they want to rewrite the science and the history books saying that the earth is 6000 years old. This has provoked aggressive atheism whose say that religion is the source of all evil.  They have the slogans like ‘ if humanity has to live the religion must die’.  They are very aggressive. Christianity has the concept of trinity  the father, the son and the holy spirit. Atheist have their own trinity, there are three scientists Richard Dawkins,  Christopher Richens and Daniel Dennett, who  they say we are here to world of the evil of religion. The point is Christianity was quite weak and appealing and we will discuss sometime in the future the history of Christianity. We will go into that, why it is weak and appealing. But the main factor was that Christianity did not has any Sadhana to give spiritual experience. Without the Sadhana there is just a theoretical idea. Jesus was our savior, accept Jesus as your savior and you are saved by that.  But there are no spiritual emotions which are  genuinely experienced and there is no transformation that is there and everything seems superficial and to some extent hypocritical. When Srila Prabhupada when there, Catholic churches in general Christian churches were having sort of super markets, entertainment showrooms, movies, fairs and all these things inside the church campus. So that at least for these things people will come to church. They were so desperate to get people to come to the church and we know Srila Prabhupada often say that many of our temples were a places where they were churches earlier. So of course on one side Christianity has lost its appeal in the west because of the outrageous claims like 6000 years old earth, but what happened was Christianity  has fully capitalized on Indian charm with the west to make itself appealing to Indians and Christians were rapidly converting people in India. Gopala Krishna Maharaj said at ICC meeting that every year something like three million Hindus are becoming Christians. Three millions means 30 lakhs, it is a huge number. If we go to North East practically Assam and every one, you cannot practice Hinduism in public over there, it’s completely Christian. More than simple majority are Christians. But actually in one sense it’s misleading because the Indians are attracted to the west and they are thinking Christianity is from the west therefore it must be progressive. But the west has actually rejected Christianity  to a large extent. In one sense Srila Prabhupada says that people accept the refused remnants of others. We are not criticizing Christianity, there is a spiritual aspect of Christianity, but we are trying to understand the historical forces that were operational at the time when Srila Prabhupada went there. So Christianity was dying to large extent.  In later on we will see that Christians took on a  lot of the experiential aspects form the Hindu groups. There is a Christian group which has their equivalent   of Kirtan they call it as singing and they become musical coils. They actually had it, but it was not emphasized. Now they have made a song, we have Hare Krishna they made it ‘Har Christ Har Christ Christ Christ Har Har’ and they have kirtans like that actually.  The point is they have to take in some of the experiential aspects of the Vedic spirituality to be to have viability for people. When Srila Prabhupada went to the west there was a disillusionment with the traditional Christianity and mainstream materialistic value. There was a desire to explore spirituality, but the spiritual notion that people had about the east were not very appealing. The idea of oneness, everything is one, it is intellectually appealing but not emotionally fulfilling. What is the joy, everything is one, there is no reciprocation, there is no relationship, it is intellectually appealing but as far as the practical purpose is concerned there is no emotional fulfillment. Similarly Buddhistic idea of austerity was also not particularly appealing, because Buddhism negates the negative but it does not bring in the positive.  Impersonalism also does the same thing. So Srila Prabhupada went there the presentation of Krishna consciousness was like a hit. Because the hippies are looking for something, the drugs that giving them spiritual experience and chanting Hare Krishna also gave them spiritual experience. They were enormously attracted by that. Now of course the academic scholars of religion may try to explain away ‘oh Srila Prabhupada was successful because of these factors’. But not because of these factors Srila Prabhupada was successful. When an expert dancer dances very nicely and captivates people, for the dancer to dance nicely a stage has to be set. If the stage is slippery and there are glasses on the stage, oil on the stage the person may not be able to dance. But even if the platform is very suitable for dancing, unless the dancer is good there cannot be a good dance performance.  So the three factors that I have discussed Political, Socio Cultural and religious. These three sort of set the stage for Srila Prabhupada to preach. But it was Srila Prabhupada’s personal purity and devotional potency that actually led to the success of preaching, but the stage is also important. In this way we recognize the material factors but also we acknowledge the devotional or spiritual factors. Actually that is the all important. When Srila Prabhupada went to the west the idea of Krishna as God as a person and the person who is far out. Interestingly Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  when he started his preaching in the west because the Christian missionaries created so much propaganda about Krishna, they considered Kali and Krishna to be the main form of deities in Bengal and this Kali worship is horrible and Krishna worship is immoral. So to sidestep all that propaganda that was there, Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  focused on Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as preaching basis.  He and his disciples together Srikanth Sanyal, both of them together co-authored a book called Sri Krishna Chaithanya, which gives a nice biography about Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He said focus on Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s teachings, focus on Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastimes and attract people and it was quite successful in its own way. Although certainly not as successful as Srila Prabhupada, but Srila Prabhupada focused on Krishna and as I said America has been not so much affected by the negative propaganda of the Anglican Church and other protestant Christians from Europe, So Krishna was extremely charming idea for them.  Srila Prabhupada disciple Hayagriva Prabhu was a professor in America in Ohio state University (OSU). He was talking about Krishna consciousness to his students while teaching English.  One day his principal called him and said:

I heard you are talking about God in your classes.

He was little chunky, so he said is there any rule about talking about God in the classes in this collage?

He said that it’s not like that but you are talking about strange conception of God.

He said what is your conception of God?

That person went blank.

If you have no conception of God and how can you say my conception of God is strange?

There he said “but you are saying that God is Black”. (At that time there was civil rights movements was taking place, and God is Black)?

Hayagriva prabhu said that “No he is blue”. (Now blue is considered, blue is a music which Radhanath Maharaj talks about, the idea of a blue God was as far out as you can get).

Then he said that God is Cow boy?

No he is a cowherd boy. ( they have a idea of cowboy movies where people go on horses, wear hats and shoot people.  But they have no idea what a cowherd boy meant).

So Krishna was extremely attractive to them so as compared to the sacrifice of Jesus and the austerity of Buddha, Krishna seem far more attractive.  The Hippies like to do far-out things and they had a fascination for nature.  They said that Krishna is the most far out conception of God that they could have had. The Hippies loved music and the Krishna has a flute, the hippies loved nature and Krishna in Vrindaban lived right in the middle of nature.  He had a peacock feather, he had cows and he had his consort, he had Gopis and on top of that the chanting is so sweet. So it was immensely popular. Of course if we read Lilamrita Srila Prabhupada has to tunnel through the im-personalistic misconceptions of many of his disciples. That was not easy but still there were two aspects the intellectual appeal and emotionally fulfilling. So the whole concept of Bhakti offers tremendous fulfillment. As far as the intellectual appeal is concerned Srila Prabhupada considered it as quite natural, we are not the body we are the spirit soul and overall if we see Srila Prabhupada’s strategy, it’s not a strategy it’s his nature, but from the historical point of view it is a strategy.  Srila Prabhupada emphasized the cultural aspects of Krishna consciousness as much as the intellectual or to some extent more than the intellectual. Whereas under the direction Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur , his disciples downplayed the cultural aspects and focused on the intellectual aspects. They would go and give talks to leading people in England and they just made to the Dukes and the owls and other royal people. What happened was at the intellectual level we can impress people, but we really can’t inspire or transform  people. For impressing and transform people, people need to experience.  This is one of the main problem with academic scholars. They may analyze and they may be intellectually impressed also by our philosophy, but still they will say that this is one of the so many philosophies that are there in the world. You have an impressive presentation, but other philosophies also can make impressive presentation. So what happens is the intellectual presentations may impress the intellect but it does not transform the heart.   Whereas the culture of Krishna Consciousness which Srila Prabhupada made available to the west that really had a powerful transformation effect. The hippies except for a few of them, none of them were intellectuals. Srila Prabhupada said that Krishna gave me all fourth class and fifth class men, of course he was very appreciative of his disciples about the contribution that they have made, but the only first class man I have got is Bhakti Swarup Damodara Maharaj( Bhakti Swaroop Damodar Das at that time).  He said everyone else was fourth class and fifth class. This is not to minimize the disciples of Srila Prabhupada, they were glorious but the point is it’s not that they were highly intellectual at least they were in their own way intellectual  but they were not Brahminically intellectual like we would like to  consider intellectual to consider intellectuals to be. Their lifestyle was involved in breaking all the regulative principles and things like that. This is not necessarily mean necessarily that one disciple of Srila Prabhupada is greater than the others, the point here is they are looking at the historical perspective. The Hippies were not particularly intellectual, they were intelligent in some ways, they were very skeptical in many ways, because they did not accept Srila Prabhupada blindly. When Srila Prabhupada started his preaching in 26, 2nd Avenue there was a newspaper journalist who came and interviewed him. He wrote a very significant article, he said that this Bhaktivedanta Swami who came from India and he has convinced the toughest audience in the world that he knows the way to God. It was the toughest audience in the world. Why they are toughest, because these people are also skeptical. We see in Lilamrut especially the volume -II, the first five chapters, there we will see that Srila Prabhupada has to face such absurd questions sometimes. Srila Prabhupada had enormous patience and saintliness, but along with that the cultural aspects and the experiential aspects was what really hooked his followers. Srila Prabhupada became surprisingly almost astonishingly successful and in 1966 Srila Prabhupada started ISKCON. 1967 was a traumatic year because Srila Prabhupada has to come to India  because of his bad health. In 1968 when he again came back that was the time when ISKCON preaching really took off. Before that it was like a small group who were happy with their Swamiji. Srila Prabhupada infused them with a missionary vigor and that also contributed to their be able to practice Spirituality because all of them were young and young people had lot of passion. Srila Prabhupada engaged their passion in performing adventurous things. Even as Hippies they would not have dared to do such things, they might have dreamt of just go to distant country where they don’t know anyone practically speaking, the language of the country also they don’t know and go there and start preaching. That was really the cool thing for the hippies to do. Of course this is not to minimize the glory of their preaching, but we are looking at the additional factors certainly their dedicating to Srila Prabhupada and their vigor to spread Krishna consciousness.  But it is also factor that Srila Prabhupada channelized their youthful zeal and their fascination for adventure. By that time Srila Prabhupada departed from the world in 1977 ISKCON had dramatic success in going all over the World. During Srila Prabhupada preaching he had focusing on writing books and getting his disciples to read the books. But more than the books it was personal charisma of Srila Prabhupada and the ecstasy of the holy name that attracted and sustained the devotees. It’s a glorious chapter in the history of Gaudiya Vaishnavism how the Srila Prabhupada spread the Krishna Consciousness. Of course the past conditioning of the devotees kept coming and kept troubling several of them and there were difficulties because of that. But over all what Srila Prabhupada achieved was remarkable.


In our next class we will discuss about the post Srila Prabhupada ISKCON.

I would like to make two quick points before we end this class, two brief points:

First is Srila Prabhupada return to India and focus on India. There are some early attempts of Srila Prabhupada where he was very disappointed with the preaching in India.  To some extent he felt that he would make America his base and occasionally visit India. But later on Srila Prabhupada changed his strategy and he decided to base himself in India and go on World tours. We can ultimately not know the heart of pure devotee but from what Srila Prabhupada had written and spoken and from the historical circumstances we can understand some things. We see that Srila Prabhupada had spent a lot of time in Mumbai. In fact after starting ISKCON the place where Srila Prabhupada spent maximum time was Mumbai.  Srila Prabhupada considered it to be such a important place. Although the Delhi was the capital, Mumbai was considered as economical capital and the practical melting pot of various cultures. It was like the gateway to India and he wanted to have a significant impact on Mumbai. Srila Prabhupada started these huge temples. Now it’s interesting when we see that Gaudiya Vaishnava math broke up due to  many factors but the main one was the property dispute over Bagh Bazar temple. Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  told to Srila Prabhupada that if you get money print books, I wish I could take off the marble from these temples and just print books. But then we see Srila Prabhupada himself built marble temples. Why is that ? this is actually ‘the Desa Kala Patra’ principle.  Srila Prabhupada recognized India as such is in and of itself there is a lot of traditional piety in India. The Indians just like hippies, they are not primarily enamored by experience, but the experience is a part of it. For them the Vedic culture is a long coming tradition and they need to see the continuity of the tradition. So when Srila Prabhupada came with western disciples they were seen in one sense as the evidence of the cultural glory of Hinduism.  Yes, Westen people are taking up the Indian culture, but they were not really seen as gurus. Indians at that time could not take instructions from western people, who were quite young and who does not know many of the cultural subtleties of the Vedic culture which they knew and are little suspicious about. They like the idea that, it more contributed to their ego, ‘Oh our culture is so great but it was not possible for the Hindus at that time to really see the western disciples as spiritual teachers for them. So Srila Prabhupada’s personal presence was very important in India. Srila Prabhupada could see that his disciples could manage things in America, because they were born and brought up in America and they know how to preach.  Whereas in India, firstly even those pious Hindus who respected them as Vaishnavas could not respect them as teachers, for them Srila Prabhupada has to be present. The Secondly at practical level he found that his disciples were managerially and economically very malleable and so they would get cheated during the business transactions something like that. So Srila Prabhupada decided to create foundation for the culture by having big temples. So Indians if nothing else they will come to see the temple and then in the temples there will be classes, there will be books which are not there in many of the traditional temples. With all due respect if we go to Tirupati Balaji, we don’t even come to know where is the book stall and where is the literature available. Even if we go and see the literature over there it is all written in a traditional way that, it doesn’t seem to be appealing to the modern people. So Srila Prabhupada wanted his books to be there and later on we will see how Srila Prabhupada wanted to his disciples to write books. But the idea was attaining the cultural attraction of the people towards the temple and the deities and channelize them to the intellectual and transformation aspects of Krishna Consciousness. So Srila Prabhupada emphasized a lot on temple construction. This was as a contrast to America, if we read lilamrita later in the chapters two main activities of Srila Prabhupada were emphasized. In India it was let there be a temple, there are two or three chapters in Lilamrut and in the west that is please distribute books, please distribute books. The book distribution was established and was emphasized in America by Srila Prabhupada, because at that time ISKCON was started and was seen as a cult and Srila Prabhupada wanted the books to go out so that people would understand the intellectual basis of Krishna Consciousness. This is the first aspect of Srila Prabhupada preaching in India.   In the post Prabhupada phase we will discuss the ending scenario and what happened.


The second factor was formation of GBC and succession factor which Srila Prabhupada made. Just Srila Prabhupada delegated a lot of work to his disciples and he gave them a lot of freedom. By that they although in one sense with respect to  sambandha with Srila Prabhupada was absolutely uncompromising.  There is no question of breaking the four regulative principles and there is no trace of Mayavada. Srila Prabhupada even drove out of the ISKCON devotees who had some mayavada traces and who said Prabhupada was God, but with respect to abhidheya Srila Prabhupada was quite flexible. Srila Prabhupada allowed his devotees to come up with their own ideas for preaching and to use their creativity, when they had the Hare Krishna festival in Mumbai, Shyam sunder prabhu and other made a big balloon and this balloon was giant and it could be seen from the CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji terminal Railway station) at that time it was called VT station. On that top of that balloon it was written Hare Krishna. That was such a fascination on the visual skyline. Then we have 20,000 and 30,000 people come for Prabhupada’s pandal festivals. Srila Prabhupada gave a lot of freedom with how to present and preach Krishna Consciousness. But he did not let any of the substance of Krishna consciousness to be changed. Srila Prabhupada also appreciated his disciples, he said you are western people and use your western knowledge to preach Krishna consciousness then you will be able to do something wonderful for Krishna. This innovativeness which Srila Prabhupada gave encouragement. According to time, place and circumstances you think of what is the best way to preach. Different devotees were able to succeed tremendously by that.

I will summarize what we discussed, then we can have questions.

  • The settings for Srila Prabhupada’s preaching. The political factor was the relaxation of immigration rules in America and the Spiritual factor was the encyclical which the catholic church recognized the good and holy in other religions, socio cultural factor was the counterculture which rejected both mainstream religion and mainstream materialism and started openness towards the Eastern Spirituality. Srila Prabhupada presented eastern philosophy that was not in a impersonal, that was not dry and  intellectual but as personal experiential and transformational.
  • Then we discussed about Srila Prabhupada preaching in India where he focused himself on his own stay and on the building of the temples.


Questions & Answers


Q1. You said in Christianity there is no sadhana aspect for general population, but we see in India that for general population there is no specific sadhana, unless one is connected to sampradaya or something except for some festivals here and there. Can you explain about that?


A:  Some extent this is the effect of materialism in general, that have all the religions to some extent become degraded.  That’s why we see that Hinduism itself it’s paradoxical that India is a very religious country and India is also very materialistic country. Many people go to Sai baba temple or Chennai there is a visa Ganesh temple. Ganesh removes the obstacles for starting new things  and people who want to go aboard they want a visa. They go to this Ganesh temple and this Ganesha deity is a specialized one in giving the visas to his worshippers so that they can go to America. So what has happened is there is no  sadhana. There is worship, but their worship is at Karma Kanda level. Sadhana is for sadhya and generally sadhya is transcendental. So there is some worship. When we say that Christianity is dead it is not that there are no Christians at that time, but what I meant  by Christianity is dead means the transformation side of Christianity where the people try to come close to Jesus, that was very much lacking and Christianity was more or less another version of pious or religious version of the materialism that was pervading the country and that was true of Hinduism also. To some extent Hinduism also materialistic but they had some sort of ritual for doing the worship and the purpose of that rituals is to get something material and nothing more than that. So for mainstream there was no sadhana even for Hinduism, but at least they have a general understanding that there are Sanyasis and there are renunciates and they dedicate their life to search for God. But to large extent there were Christians in the society who were monks and who were completely dedicated to God. But the popular Christianity who has become far divorced from the spiritual Christianity to the extent that Spiritual Christianity was not known to many of the population. Just as we can say to some extent similar, we are all born in Hindu families, but how many of us know about the spiritual aspects of Hinduism. It is mostly cultural or sociological aspects for us. On festivals like Diwali, Ok we will get new dresses and we feast on lot of new kinds of foods and we blow lot of crackers and may be lot of relatives come together and meet together and then if there any worship of the deity, that is primarily Laxmi puja and that is for a very materialistic purpose, that is to just get Laxmi. Your point is well taken, yes sadhana is lacking in Hinduism also and that’s why Hinduism is also not having much of transformative effect on people. They are religious for whatever reason but they also materialistic. So it was similar in Christianity.


Q2. We can consider sociological and other factors which helped Prabhupada in the west, if we consider like that then one can use it as excuse, for example many times I hear some people saying that now you cannot do the same thing which Srila Prabhupada did. That’s why he introduced Indian traditional dress in the west because in the hippie culture they looked for something new and they accepted it. But now we cannot do it, there can be two reasons. One reason can be that now the sociological phenomenon in the west does not permit as the same culture and everything even that time and the other reason is that we might not have the determination or faith with which Prabhupada did it. Like when Prabhupada was asked that why didn’t you take up the spoon and other things for eating, the western habits. Prabhupada said that I have not come here to learn something. I have come here to give something. So


A:  The whole next class – The post Prabhupada movement is going to be on this. What all Srila Prabhupada has given, which of it is circumstantial and which of it is eternal. But the point is that it’s true that as much as possible a devotee must try to adopt traditional culture because that helps in spiritualizing our consciousness. I will give you a simple example of this now. Say in the west, in the western music for example in the Rock is Hare Krishna song. People there are already familiar with music and in Rock music when they hear Hare Krishna, for them the new thing is the Hare Krishna and that catches their attention. What is that thing sung over there? But in India if we sing Hare Krishna in Rock music, Hare Krishna is old stuff for them, Rock music is new. So what happens is Rock music is what catches attention. So it’s really a big question whether we have Rock Hare Krishna festivals, Rock mantra dance something like that in India, how much are the spiritual aspects people are relishing over there and how much is the musical aspect, disconnected from Krishna. Now you may say that’s Hare Krishna being chanted. That’s fine, still we cannot be sure that people are actually  remembering Krishna only. People may just be relishing the music. So according to time place and circumstance certain forms have to be presented. Now for example before I got introduced to ISKCON, I never knew what chow mein was, I never heard of chow mein, I don’t think I heard of Pizza also. The point is ISKCON is meant to bring Krishna consciousness to the world and Krishna consciousness can have cultural expressions. For example people in China are habituated to eating Chinese food and we give them Chinese food in China but offered to Krishna. That’s fine for them. But we in India if we started eating Chinese food in the name of Prasadam, it’s really a question whether we are focusing on chow mein or whether we are focusing on Krishna or the prasadam aspect we eat chow mein. This is not the question of chow mein or pizza, but the point is the cultural forms can contribute to Krishna consciousness or they can distract from Krishna consciousness and that can vary based on time place and circumstances. Radhanath maharaj introduced pizza in the Govinda’s and he specifically Radha Vallabha prabhu and other to have trained to have the pizza, because Indians are attracted to Pizza and let them come to temple to get pizza. Gauranga Prabhu was telling me that’s have this Pratibha Patil’s son came to the temple and his wife has become a devotee now, she is chanting. After the elections was over after Pratibha Patil became the president then her son had come for a big party in the Govinda’s and when he had come there at that time when Maharaj came to meet him, he had so many pizzas in front of Him. He and his friends were eating. He told Maharaj, Maharaj my wife come here for Bhakti and I come here for Pizza. Maharaj smiled and gave some more pizza and said keep coming. Then Maharaj told to Gauranga Prabhu, “you know this is the potency of pizza preaching”. We can use the cultural forms for attracting people Krishna, but we ourselves should not be attracted to cultural forms. Now in the west it is possible in certain situations that if we go out in saris and dhotis people may see us as a members of a sect and that may alienate people. Then it may be necessary that we not wear that dress. Ultimately the transmission of Krishna Consciousness boiled down to the sincerity of one’s purpose. So we may adopt some cultural forms to spread the Krishna Consciousness and we may downplay certain cultural forms for spreading Krishna Consciousness. For example when Radhanath Maharaj when he preaches in the west, he doesn’t wear tilak, especially going for programs. What happens is because of so many swamis going to the west and preaching, Swamis from Hindu tradition and the Lamas from the Buddhist tradition. The idea of a swami is considered to be a trendy thing in America. But when there is a prominent mark on the forehead that makes a person seem very sectarian. People have a idea that Vaishnavas will have this kind of mark. They don’t have an exact idea of what mark represents what sects. But they have the idea that this person belongs to a particular sect. Then that alienates people. So then certain cultural forms can be downplayed. This is Srila Prabhupada’s legacy. What circumstantial and what is eternal. It is an issue what is spiritual and eternal is a subject of ongoing debate and discussion in ISKCON also. There are no frozen answers for this, but there are general principles that apply. As I said the Primary principle is our own sincerity of purpose and the secondary principle is to the attitude of the audience to whom we are trying to preach. Whether the cultural form makes them Krishna consciousness or it alienate them from Krishna consciousness. When we have done, it has to be decided. We will discuss this more in our next class.


Q3. In Britain and in Europe Christianity had spread many wrong notion about Hinduism. Whereas in America it was not so much and well taken there. Then if that was the case when Prabhupada disciples went over there and had a massive success  over there. So how


A: Good Question. The first point is Srila Prabhupada had to deal with misconception in America and those misconceptions were primarily that Impersonalism at the highest end. But there was not much charge of Krishna being immoral. Charge was that Krishna was the symbol for the impersonal or poetic expression of the impersonal. If we look at the sensational and successful preaching that the three couple who went to London were able to do that was primarily the musical and mantra aspect of Krishna consciousness. We don’t really see George Harrison or any these six couples being seriously and philosophically sharing Krishna consciousness. So what happened was Hare Krishna Maha mantra was a mantra. This mantra is a way to go closer to God. Before that Maharishi yogi also introduced the concept of Mantra. He also came on American national television and he has also popularized the whole idea. So the focus was more on the Hare Krishna mantra than the Krishna the person. That’s why the idea of the Krishna’s immorality did not affect much and the other thing is again in the Hippie culture which started in America has also spread to Europe and Australia and George Harrison himself, he used to take drugs earlier and he himself felt at one time that the drugs will lead to spiritual high. Later on when he visited Hash bury and saw how so many young people were ruined, he regretted what he has done. To some extent he was like a star for the Hippies. If we look at how Krishna consciousness spread  through the music that happened in the Europe. That was primarily to the younger generations. It was not intellectual side of Krishna consciousness and more of cultural and musical spread of Krishna consciousness. This younger generation was not so much affected by the catholic church propaganda. They were quite a different audience and to large extent Catholic church influence is also waned after the second world war. So what happened was  during the second world war catholic church never directly opposed Hitler’s policy against the Jews and in fact Hitler used Christian anger towards Jews. Christians to some extent feel that Jews are responsible for the Killing of Jesus. So there has been a long history of hostility between the Christianity and Judaism (Jewism). In several speeches Hitler portrayed himself as Christian and he said that the Jews are the Killers of the Jesus and we have to kill them in revenge. The catholic church never opposed that. Of course this was a complex issue, it’s not that whole catholic church was supporting the holocaust in which the Jews were killed, but the point was at least that they did not oppose and to some extent they supported that was also one major factor which led to the unpopularity of Catholicism. Basically Church did not had sufficient influence and secondly the audience which our preaching was affected were very different from the audience on which Church had influence.

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Chaitanya Charan

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