Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #48 – What Made Prabhupāda Prabhupāda?

November 27th, 2023

It was the late seventies, early eighties—I can’t remember the exact date, but it was soon after Śrīla Prabhupāda left this world. I was given the service of inviting some of the senior Vaiṣṇavas in Vrindavan who knew Śrīla Prabhupāda to his disappearance festival. I first approached Śrīla Bhaktivedanta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja, as Śrīla Prabhupāda lived in his ashram after taking sannyāsa. He was at first somewhat reluctant to speak, but I prodded him by asking him to describe the qualities he saw in Śrīla Prabhupāda when he lived at his ashram as a humble mendicant that indicated who he would become later as a world ācārya. He thought about my inquiry deeply and then began to explain two qualities that he saw in Śrīla Prabhupāda: his boldness and his ability to relate to others.[1]


Recently, when reflecting on that exchange, I began to ponder what I thought was the prime quality in Śrīla Prabhupāda that perhaps indicated what made him Prabhupāda, the person who succeeded above all others to bring the holy name of Krishna around the world. I thought of his many attributes and came up with one—his depth of realization.


When I thought about this quality, I had in mind Śrīla Prabhupāda’s definition of realization that struck me when I first read the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:


“[…] he must realize the subject so nicely that he can present the matter for the particular circumstance in a suitable manner. The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realization.” (Bhag. 1.4.1)


Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission in the west was challenging. He had to explain to those who came mostly from a drug infused and sex crazed hippie culture the very high theological conception of Śrī Śrī Radha and Krishna, in addition to a supportive culture of dharma and discipline. To effectively communicate those teachings in a suitable manner to such an audience without compromising the principles and conceptions of those teachings indeed required a very deep realization of the subject. Otherwise, how was Śrīla Prabhupāda able to make such a tradition and philosophy so alluring to those who recently came from a culture so antithetical to the Vaiṣṇava way of life? Śrīla Prabhupāda’s unique ability in this regard was highlighted for me in my early days of Krishna-consciousness in an unexpected way.


Eleven days after Śrīla Prabhupāda left this world, his commemoration festival was held. To honor the Indian system of spiritual hierarchy, the most senior Vaiṣṇava in attendance was given the distinction of presiding over the assembly. He was from a very high class brāhmaṇa family, a life-long celibate, the third person to receive tridaṇḍi sannyāsa from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta, and one of the most renown preachers in the Gauḍīya Maṭha. He was especially lauded for going to the west years before Śrīla Prabhupāda to bring back to India two German converts to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Obviously, Śrīla Prabhupāda far surpassed him and that that seemed to bother him was reflected in his inaugural talk: “I could have done what Swamiji had done, but I didn’t have the mentality to preach to the hippies.” I could see that many were upset by his remarks, as they appeared to be minimizing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s greatest accomplishment. Initially I was also upset, but then I saw that he was in fact complimenting Śrīla Prabhupāda even though he didn’t mean to, for what was that mentality to preach to the hippies—it was the deepest realization of Krishna consciousness that allowed Śrīla Prabhupāda to effectively communicate the teachings of Śrī Caitanya to those with little frame of reference to assimilate it.


I thus think that, among his many qualities, his depth of realization and consequent ability to communicate was especially significant in making Śrīla Prabhupāda who he was. What do you think made Prabhupāda Prabhupāda?



[1] He described Śrīla Prabhupāda’s boldness by describing two drama’s he wrote: One was a spoof on the very popular Ramakrishna Mission in Hindi called the Murga [Chicken] Mission because although a Hindu mission, they weren’t vegetarians, and the other a satire on the Gauḍīya Maṭha after it splintered where the main character was called Bhojane Vilāsa [the pastime of material enjoyment] Mahārāja. I don’t remember the title. Śrīla Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja also described to me a very heavy letter that Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to the President of India. When he described to me Śrīla Prabhupāda’s ability to relate he described to me how when a senior person came Śrīla Prabhupāda was the most respectful, when a peer came he was most collegial, and when a junior came he was very affectionate.


Comments are closed.