The Prabhavisnu I Remember
By Bhakti Vikasa Swami
Soon after I joined iskcon, in England in 1975, I got the association of Prabhavisnu Dasa, who was the unofficial leader of the brahmacaris and respected by all. Although he was soft-spoken, his devotional qualities and leadership abilities endeared him to others. He was special.
From 1979 to 1989 I served directly under Prabhavisnu (then Swami) in Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, and Malaysia. During that period I also several times briefly visited Nepal, where iskcon activities were likewise overseen by him.
Serving Srila Prabhupada’s mission in those places during that period was difficult in ways that people joining iskcon nowadays can scarcely imagine. It was hard for him, for me, and for all others from overseas who went to serve there. But he stuck it out because it was his life’s mission — Srila Prabhupada had directly blessed him to preach in Bangladesh and Nepal. By gentle persuasion he kept me going, and others also, and now the movement has developed in that area in a manner we could hardly have imagined during those initial struggles (only in Thailand — responsibility for overseeing which he withdrew from many years ago — has the movement yet to really flourish). Especially in Bangladesh, literally millions of people have been positively affected by Srila Prabhupada’s movement, which would not have happened if Prabhavisnu had not done all that he did over many years of quiet, steady service.
I particularly relish recalling the times we spent together on traveling sankirtana in Malaysia. That was around 1986–88, and Prabhavisnu had become a bigshot in iskcon and myself something of a minor bigshot. Yet after years of striving together in tough places, we were both happy handing out Srila Prabhupada’s books in the relaxed atmosphere of Malaysia. We were both good distributor,s but almost always he did more than me.
In 1989, on accepting sannyasa, I chose to leave Prabhavisnu’s area of responsibility (not due to any issues with him) and since then we have not seen each other much. I was not shocked to learn of his resignation because he had been pretty low-key for quite a few years and anyway these days it’s hard to get shocked.
I haven’t yet seen the letter he sent out. A devotee related to me the gist of it, and I am not anxious to know the details. No doubt he made some serious mistakes, and will have to suffer for them. It’s no small thing to be a GBC, sannyasi, and guru, and for a leader to relinquish all of that and fall down causes so much pain and disturbance. It is understandable if many people become upset with and critical of leaders who revoke the trust placed in them.
What to speak of us, even Srila Prabhupada and Krsna must be deeply disappointed with Prabhavisnu’s recent decision. Yet if Krsna is the actual God who Srila Prabhupada has revealed to us, then we can be sure that He will never forget the outstanding service that Prabhavisnu has rendered to Him.
And I also choose to remember the Prabhavisnu who I lived with, sang and danced with, shared my troubles with, and was patiently trained by in circumstances that few of his critics would have been able to serve in. You never know how much some people mean to you until something really bad happens to them.
“There but for the grace of God go I.” I pray to the Vaisnavas that they mercifully maintain me, a mleccha with a big mouth, on the dangerous path I have chosen.
Bhakti Vikasa Swami
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