Srila Prabhupada’s Arrival in America
By Giriraj Swami and Sri Prahlada dasa
To commemorate the anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s arrival in America, we shall sing and discuss the second poem that he wrote on the ship Jaladuta when he arrived in the Boston harbor on September 17, 1965.
1: My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me.
2: But I guess You have some business here. Otherwise, why would You bring me to such a terrible place?
3: Most of the population here is covered by the material modes of ignorance and passion. Absorbed in material life, they think themselves very happy and satisfied, and therefore they have no taste for the transcendental message of Vasudeva. I do not know how they will be able to understand it.
4: But I know Your causeless mercy can make everything possible, because You are the most expert mystic.
5: How will they understand the mellows of devotional service? O Lord, I am simply praying for Your mercy so that I will be able to convince them about Your message.
6: All living entities have come under the control of the illusory energy by Your will, and therefore, if You like, by Your will they can also be released from the clutches of illusion. I wish that You may deliver them.
7: I wish that You may deliver them. Therefore, if You so desire their deliverance, then only will they be able to understand Your message.
8: The words of Srimad-Bhagavatam are Your incarnation, and if a sober person repeatedly receives them with submissive aural reception, then he will be able to understand Your message.
9: It is said in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.17-21): ‘Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone’s heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses the desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who relishes His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted. By regularly hearing the Bhagavatam and rendering service unto the pure devotee, all that is troublesome to the heart is practically destroyed, and loving service unto the glorious Lord, who is praised with transcendental songs, is established as an irrevocable fact. At the time loving service is established in the heart, the modes of passion [rajas] and ignorance [tamas], and lust and desire [kama] disappear from the heart. Then the devotee is established in goodness and he becomes happy. Thus established in the mode of goodness, the man rejuvenated by loving service to the Lord gains liberation from material association [mukti] and comes to know scientifically of the Personality of Godhead. Thus the knot in the heart and all misgivings are cut to pieces. The chain of fruitive actions [karma] is terminated when one sees the self as master.”
10: He will become liberated from the influence of the modes of ignorance and passion and thus all inauspicious things accumulated in the core of the heart will disappear.
11: How will I make them understand the message of Krishna consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified, and the most fallen. Therefore I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them, for I am powerless to do so on my own.
12: Somehow or other, O Lord, You have brought me here to speak about You. Now, my Lord, it is up to You to make me a success or failure as You like.
13: O spiritual master of all the worlds! I can simply repeat Your message, so if You like You can make my power of speaking suitable for their understanding.
14: Only by Your causeless mercy will my words become pure. I am sure that when this transcendental message penetrates their hearts they will certainly feel engladdened and thus become liberated from all unhappy conditions of life.
15: O Lord, I am just like a puppet in Your hands. So if You have brought me here to dance, then make me dance, make me dance. O Lord, make me dance as You like.
16: I have no devotion, nor do I have any knowledge, but I have strong faith in the holy name of Krishna. I have been designated as Bhaktivedanta, and now if You like You can fulfill the real purport of Bhaktivedanta.
Signed—the most unfortunate, insignificant beggar,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami,
on board the ship Jaladuta, Commonwealth Pier,
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
dated 18th of September, 1965
Sri Prahlada dasa:
I shall read from the introduction:
“On September 17, 1965, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada arrived in Boston on board the ship Jaladuta, carrying within his heart the orders of his spiritual master to spread the teachings of Sri Chaitanya beyond the borders of India throughout the entire world. As he looked upon Boston’s bleak and dirty skyline, he could understand the difficulty of this sacred mission and felt great compassion for those godless people. Thus, with perfect humility, he composed this historic prayer in Bengali, praying for the deliverance of the fallen souls.”
Verse 1: “My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me.”
Here, Srila Prabhupada is expressing strong sentiments. First, Krishna is always kind to His devotee. Srila Prabhupada, in his humility, is calling himself a useless soul and asking Krishna, “You are so kind, but if You are so kind, why have You brought me to this place? Obviously, You have some plan.”
It is interesting how Srila Prabhupada sees his coming to America as Krishna bringing him, although he himself made so much endeavor to fulfill the mission of his spiritual master and come to the West, such as cultivating Sumati Morarji to get her to sponsor his journey. He had to convince her; it wasn’t easy. She was reluctant because of Srila Prabhupada’s age and the fact that he didn’t have any friends or relatives in America. So, he had to convince her, but still he is saying to Krishna, “I don’t know why You brought me here.” He is seeing that it was actually Krishna who made the arrangements and who brought him to the United States.
That is how the devotee sees any experience he has in life: he sees it as Krishna’s mercy. It is said that when Gaurakisora dasa Babaji would go about Navadvipa, if he saw a boy who was dark, he would think of him as Krishna, and if he saw a boy who was fair, he would think of him as Gaura. And if one of the boys would touch him, he would say, “Look, Yasoda Mayi, your Gopala has punched me!” or “Look, Saci Mata, your Gaura is making a face at me!” So, he was seeing Krishna everywhere. We might see rascal boys misbehaving and become angry at them and want to correct them, but Gaurakisora dasa Babaji Maharaja’s vision was completely transcendental.
The principle here is to see everything as Krishna’s arrangement. And we also have to try to develop that vision, to see Krishna’s plan in everything, to see Krishna’s arrangement in everything—that we have surrendered to Him and so He is taking care of us. Sometimes we may experience setbacks or disappointments, but actually Krishna has some reason for giving them to us. We should try to understand that, and if we do, we’ll never be disappointed in life. We’ll be always happy in Krishna’s mercy, even in adversity.
Srila Prabhupada says, “Why have You brought me here? Whatever the case, do with me as You like.” And this is very much the mood of this poem—Prabhupada’s complete surrender: “I am Your instrument. You can use me. You can engage me as You wish. I have no personal agenda. My agenda is whatever You desire. I am here to accept Your desire as my life and soul, to give everything to please You, to serve You.”
Verse 2: “But I guess You have some business here. Otherwise, why would You bring me to such a terrible place?”
This is an interesting perspective. In India everyone wants to go to America because it’s the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” But here Srila Prabhupada is arriving in America and calling it “a terrible place.” When he was staying in London, there was a famous presenter who had a popular television show. He would invite different personalities and ask them difficult questions that embarrassed them on the set, and that’s why he was so popular. So, he invited Prabhupada. Knowing the man’s reputation and thinking that he would try to humiliate Prabhupada on screen, the devotees were reluctant to let Prabhupada go. They humbly advised him, “Srila Prabhupada, we don’t think you should go for this.” But Srila Prabhupada replied, “No, it is our duty. We must go.”
So, Prabhupada went, and he sat comfortably in the chair, and then the interviewer, as usual, began with some casual question—just to make the guest comfortable before he brought in the punch. He asked Srila Prabhupada, “So, how do you like it here in London?” Generally, everyone would give the same clichéd answer: “It’s wonderful. I really like it. I am really enjoying myself here. It’s so good to be in this great city.” That’s the expected response—being positive on screen. But Srila Prabhupada answered, “London? London is hell!”
The interviewer was shocked; it wasn’t the expected response. He didn’t know how to continue. Prabhupada had actually stumped him. There was a short period of silence. He had his plan, but this—“London is hell!”—wasn’t part of the script. So, there were some moments of uncomfortable silence. Then Prabhupada saved the day. He said, “But it is a great credit to the British people that they have built such a beautiful city under such hellish conditions, with hellish weather.” And from then on, the interviewer was very respectful, and Prabhupada actually got to preach. Srila Prabhupada was so expert. His view was that this material world is hellish. Whether it is America or England, it’s all the material world and so it’s hellish.
In his poem, Srila Prabhupada has just come from Sri Vrindavan dhama, Radha-Damodar Mandir, and now he is arriving in Boston: “Why have you brought me to this terrible place?”
Another thing I remember here is Srila Prabhupada’s statement in Gainesville, Florida, while he was sitting on his vyasasana, after beholding a painting of Lord Chaitanya and His associates in the temple room: “It is so nice to see so many young boys and girls here in this remote corner of the world, so far away from the birthplace of Lord Chaitanya.” So, his perspective was that this was a terrible place and that he was here only for Krishna’s work, only for Krishna’s pleasure, only to fulfill Krishna’s desire: to deliver the conditioned souls—to give them a spark of Krishna consciousness, a ray of bhakti.
Now Prabhupada describes why it is a terrible place:
Verse 3: “Most of the population here is covered by the material modes of ignorance and passion. Absorbed in material life, they think themselves very happy and satisfied, and therefore they have no taste for the transcendental message of Vasudeva. I do not know how they will able to understand it.”
This is why people cannot understand—because they are covered by ignorance and passion. The nature of passion is that we become feverish to enjoy material life. We hanker. We make schemes and plans, and then when they are not fulfilled we become disappointed and fall into ignorance, depression, apathy, bewilderment, madness. This is bhoga-tyaga, desire for enjoyment and then so-called renunciation, the “sour grapes” philosophy of the fox that couldn’t reach some grapes: “Anyway, they are sour. Who needs them? Who wants them?” First he is trying so hard to jump and catch them, but when he is not successful, he says, “What is it, anyway? They are sour.” He becomes very renounced. So that is our situation in material life, material conditioning. We are constantly fluctuating between these two states of bhoga and tyaga, the desire for enjoyment and false renunciation. And because of this, it is difficult to develop attachment or attraction to the transcendental message of Vasudeva. We are so absorbed in materialistic life that the message of Vasudeva has no appeal. And so Srila Prabhupada is wondering, “How will I be able to tell them of Krishna? How will I be able to tell them of Sri Vrindavan dhama and devotional service?”
Not only is it very difficult; it is almost impossible, and it is a miracle that Srila Prabhupada accomplished what he did. No one else could do it, not even all the other great acharyas who had appeared in this world. They taught in Bharata-varsa, in India, where the Lord Himself made His appearance and where the Vedas are generally understood and respected. But that Prabhupada was able to come to this foreign land and instill this sraddha, this faith, within the hearts of the Westerners is a great miracle. Bhaktivinoda Thakura envisioned it and endeavored for it himself. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura spoke with Westerners (as did Bhaktivinoda Thakura) and personally sent his disciples to the West to try to do it, and he was maintaining them in London. But it was Srila Prabhupada who was actually successful in performing this miraculous feat. And by reading these songs, we can get a taste, or a glimpse, of how and why: it was by his surrender to Krishna, his humility, his absolute faith in the instruction of his spiritual master.
When we were in Bombay some years ago, some Sri Vaishnavas came to the Chowpatty Temple. They wanted to speak with somebody, and they were introduced to me. So, we sat in the temple room, and they said, “We have a very important question.”
“Yes—please. We are not very qualified, but we’ll try to answer.”
They asked, “Who is Prabhupada?”
“Prabhupada is our spiritual master. He took Krishna consciousness to the West and started . . .”
“No, no. We know that. We know about his life and his achievements. But who is he?”
It was a very esoteric question. I said, “You should explain a little more what you want to know.”
They explained, “Ramanujacharya—we know that he is Sesa, that he is Laksmana, that he is Balarama. We know. So, Ramanujacharya was able to teach Vaishnavism throughout India, though mainly in Southern India. But your Prabhupada took it all over the world. Who is he?”
I replied, “We can’t answer that question. Once, Prabhupada was asked, ‘Who are you?’ and he said, ‘If I told you, you would faint.’ And that is as much as we know. Still, we can understand that he is such an intimate servitor of the Lord that he performed such an important and confidential service, fulfilling the vision of the acharyas and the plan of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who said, prthivite ache yata nagaradi-grama: ‘In all the villages and towns of the world My name will be chanted.’ ”
Their next question was, “How did he do it?”
I answered, “You know, he went and chanted . . .”
But they interrupted, “No. That’s the external, but how actually did he do it?—because no one else was able to do it.”
I replied, “Well, this is also a difficult question to answer.” But I suggested that it was by his faith in the words of his spiritual master. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati gave him the order, and he understood that it was the desire of his spiritual master and of the acharyas and of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and that because it was their desire, so it would be. Because of that faith and surrender, he was able to do the impossible.
Verse 5: “How will they understand the mellows of devotional service? O Lord, I am simply praying for Your mercy so that I will be able to convince them about Your message.”
Verse 6: “All living entities have come under the control of the illusory energy by Your will, and therefore, if You like, by Your will they can also be released from the clutches of illusion. I wish that You may deliver them.”
Verse 7: “I wish that You may deliver them. Therefore, if You so desire their deliverance, then only will they be able to understand Your message.”
In reply to the question “How?” Srila Prabhupada answers, “By Your mercy,” by Krishna’s mercy. But Krishna’s mercy is not the whole answer; it is actually by Srila Prabhupada’s appeal to Krishna for His mercy.
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura discusses how the conditioned souls get bhakti. He proves with evidence from the scriptures that one cannot get bhakti by karma or jnana (by fruitive activities or mental speculation), or by austerities, charity, mystic perfections, or any other pious acts. He quotes from the Bhagavatam (11.3.31), bhaktya sanjataya bhaktya: bhakti comes from bhakti.
How does bhakti come from bhakti? What is the actual process? He says that someone may propose that one gets bhakti by the mercy of Krishna. But Krishna is equal to all. He is the supreme father of all living entities, so He must be equal to all. So, we cannot simply say that the cause of bhakti is the mercy of Krishna, because Krishna would bestow bhakti equally on everyone, whereas we see that some get bhakti while others do not. Then Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says, “One could propose that one gets bhakti by the mercy of the devotee.” But again one might argue that the devotee, like the Lord, should be equal to everyone.
Here Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says that the preacher, the madhyama-bhakta, by nature shows partiality or discretion in distributing mercy, as stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.46): prema-maitri-krpopeksa yah karoti sa madhyama—he gives his love to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, makes friendship with devotees, shows mercy to the innocent, and neglects the envious. Thus, giving mercy, specifically to the innocent, is the preacher’s function. Therefore, even though a maha-bhagavata such as Srila Prabhupada in the ultimate sense sees everyone equally, everyone as a servant of Krishna and therefore in no need of mercy, when he takes the position of a preacher and functions as a preacher, he does give mercy, especially to the innocent. How does he give the mercy? He prays to Krishna to give mercy, and thus it is said that the mercy of Krishna follows the mercy of the devotee.
Here I have my own experience: I met Srila Prabhupada in 1969 in Boston, and I was touched by him. I felt that he was the spiritual master I had been looking for. After about three months, the devotees there needed another pujari. (In those days one could be a pujari after first initiation.) They thought, “He has been here for awhile; why not recommend him?” So Satsvarupa Maharaja, as the temple president, recommended me. Srila Prabhupada was in Los Angeles at the time, so I suppose in one sense I was actually initiated there. He sent back a letter: “Your initiated name is Giriraj. Giriraj is a name for Govardhan Hill where Krishna used to tend His cows. Sometimes devotees take a stone from Govardhan Hill and worship it as Krishna. So, I marked it in your person when I was in Boston, and I prayed to Krishna that this good soul may be aware of the importance of Krishna consciousness.”
What is our qualification? I think that if I look for my qualifications, I don’t find any. Our only qualification is that Srila Prabhupada took compassion on us and gave us his mercy: He prayed to Krishna for us, just as he says here in the poem.
Coming back to Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s discussion, someone could question, “Why should Krishna listen to the prayers of the devotee? So many people are praying to Krishna; why should He listen especially to the devotee? Is that not also partiality in Krishna?” Here Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says that of all of Krishna’s qualities, the quality of being affectionate to His devotees, bhakta-vatsalya, is considered the supermost, the emperor that conquers over all the Lord’s other qualities and reconciles all contradictions. So being partial to His devotees is not a fault (dusanam) in Krishna but an ornament (bhusanam)—His most exalted quality. He really has no desire other than to please His devotees. Just as the devotees have no desire other than to please Krishna, Krishna really has no desire other than to please His devotees. So when a devotee such as Srila Prabhupada prays to Krishna to give mercy to the fallen souls, or to a particular soul, Krishna readily does it—to please His devotee.
Years after my initiation, I found the verses that Srila Prabhupada paraphrased here in “The Prayers of the Personified Vedas” from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.87.14). The personified Vedas prayed to the Lord, “The fallen souls are under the control of maya, and maya is under Your control. Therefore, if you show them Your mercy, they can be released from the control of maya. We pray that You kindly do so.”
The same verse was quoted by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to Vasudeva Datta. Vasudeva Datta had prayed, “Let all the sinful reactions of all the living entities in the entire universe fall upon me,” and Lord Chaitanya became overwhelmed with love for him and began to tremble and weep out of affection.
Generally, we wouldn’t accept the sinful reactions of even one living entity. There is the famous story of Valmiki. Valmiki was a thief, but he wasn’t stealing for himself; he was stealing for the sake of his family. Then Narada came and asked Valmiki’s wife, “Your husband is stealing for your sake, not for his sake. You are enjoying because he is stealing for you. Will you at least take some share of the sinful reactions?”
“No! Why should I? He is the one who is doing the stealing—not I.”
So, we don’t want to take anyone’s sinful reactions. Just our own sinful reactions are hard enough to tolerate. Yet here Vasudeva Datta is saying he will take the reactions for every living entity in the whole universe. We cannot even conceive of how much suffering he would have to undergo. “Let me suffer in a hellish condition perpetually,” he said. And he spoke without duplicity. Sometimes we may say things to sound good, to say the right thing, to sound like a pure devotee. But Vasudeva Datta was serious. Thus, when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu heard what he said, His heart melted and He told Vasudeva Datta, “You need not suffer their sinful reactions. By your desire alone they can be liberated. Krishna fulfills the desires of His pure devotees. So by your desire He can liberate them without your accepting their sinful reactions.” And Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu quoted the same verse from “The Prayers of the Personified Vedas”: “O Lord, kindly conquer the nescience of the living entities by Your grace.”
So, from one point of view, this is the secret: In his sincere love and compassion, and in his intimate relationship with Krishna, Srila Prabhupada prayed for us, and Krishna reciprocated.
But again, what is the method by which we get the mercy? Srila Prabhupada wrote, “So I prayed to Krishna that this soul may be aware of the importance of Krishna consciousness.” In other words, we must become aware of the value of Krishna consciousness and then take to the process that Srila Prabhupada gave. Thus we come to the second part of Verse 7: “If You so desire their deliverance, then only will they be able to understand Your message.”
Many people heard Srila Prabhupada’s message, Krishna’s message, but not all developed faith in it. The beginning of bhakti is faith (adau sraddha). Thus, when we ask how one gets bhakti, we really mean, how does one get sraddha, which is bhakti in its initial stage.
Here “faith” means faith in the words of the scriptures and the words of the spiritual master that glorify and explain the process of bhakti. Prabhupada, in utter humility, prayed that Krishna make his words suitable, and he also prayed that Krishna enlighten us, or inspire us, with appreciation for His message. Thus Srila Prabhupada, in the mood of utter surrender, really saw that Krishna was doing everything: Krishna was inspiring him to speak, and Krishna was inspiring us to appreciate what he said.
Even we, as servants of Srila Prabhupada, had the same mood—though not to the same degree—when we tried to distribute books. We prayed, “Please empower me to approach this person; please inspire me to approach this person. Please make my words suitable.” We would pray to Krishna—especially while the person was looking at the book and considering whether or not to buy it—“Please inspire this person to take the book. Please inspire this person to do service.” That is the mood.
Of course, here Srila Prabhupada is speaking in the mood of compassion, praying for the sake of others, but we can pray even for our own protection. It is not wrong to pray for our own protection. Once, in a lecture at Bhaktivedanta Manor, Srila Prabhupada said, “All of you can fall down, but I cannot fall down.” After the lecture, Srila Prabhupada came before the Deities and was praying, and later one disciple asked him, “Srila Prabhupada, what were you praying?” Srila Prabhupada replied, “I was praying that I may never fall down.” The disciple, astonished, objected, “But Srila Prabhupada, you just said that you cannot fall down.” And Srila Prabhupada explained, “Yes, because I am always praying that I may never fall down, therefore I can never fall down.”
Verse 9 is actually a series of five verses from Srimad-Bhagavatam, and we shall read the translations:
Verse 9: “It is said in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.17): ‘Sri Krishna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone’s heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses the desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who relishes his messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted.’ ”
Earlier Srila Prabhupada had said, “Because the population is absorbed in material enjoyment they cannot appreciate the message of Vasudeva.” And now he is saying, “If they hear the message of Vasudeva, the desire for material enjoyment will be cleansed from their hearts.” The idea here is similar to Rupa Gosvami’s verse that says that even though the sweet holy names, forms, qualities, and pastimes of Krishna may be bitter to the diseased conditioned souls, if they take the medicine of the holy names they will be cured of the disease, and then they will be able to relish the sweetness.
“By regularly hearing the Bhagavatam and rendering service unto the pure devotee, all that is troublesome to the heart is practically destroyed, and loving service unto the glorious Lord, who is praised with transcendental songs, is established as an irrevocable fact.” (SB 1.2.18)
So, both methods work—serving the person bhagavata and reading the book Bhagavata—and from the very beginning Srila Prabhupada engaged the devotees in service. One famous example was when a man walked into the storefront at 26 Second Avenue with some rolls of toilet paper and offered them to Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada accepted them and said, “He has begun his devotional service.” Another time, someone came to the storefront in New York with some Mayavadi leaflets, and Prabhupada accepted them too. Later, when the devotees were distributing prasada, he handed out those leaflets for the guests to use as paper plates. So Prabhupada knew the value of service, and he did whatever he could to engage anyone and everyone in devotional service.
“At that time loving service is established in the heart, and the modes of passion [rajas] and ignorance [tamas] and lust and desire [kama] disappear from the heart.” (SB 1.2.19)
Earlier, Prabhupada had prayed, “People are covered by passion and ignorance; how will they be able to understand Your message?” Now he says that by hearing the book bhagavata from the person bhagavata and rendering service to the person bhagavata, one will be freed from the lower modes and become established in goodness. Then he will be able to understand the message. “Then the devotee is established in goodness and becomes happy.” (SB 1.2.19)
“Thus established in the mode of goodness, the person rejuvenated by loving service to the Lord gains liberation from material association [mukti] and comes to know scientifically of the Personality of Godhead. Thus the knot in the heart and all misgivings are cut to pieces. The chain of fruitive actions [karma] is terminated when one sees the Self as master.” (SB 1.2.20–21)
So, Srila Prabhupada prayed to Krishna to give His mercy to us, to make his words suitable and to make us appreciate his message. But then again, we also have to take up the process, and here I think of the example of a person fallen in a well. On his own, he cannot get out. But if someone comes and sends a rope down into the well, he can be delivered. Still, he has to make the effort and hold on to the rope. The mercy of the spiritual master is that he gives us proper instructions, and if we hold on to the instructions, he will lift us out of the well of material existence and deliver us to the lotus feet of Krishna.
Once, in Bombay, when a disciple said to Srila Prabhupada, “Please give me your mercy that I may follow your instructions,” Prabhupada replied, “It is like you are in a well and I hand down a rope to lift you out and you are praying, ‘O Prabhupada! O Prabhupada! Please make my fingers curl around the rope and hold on.’ ” Srila Prabhupada explained, “My mercy is that I send down the rope, but you have to hold on to it.” So, Srila Prabhupada’s mercy is that he gives us the instructions and prays to Krishna that we can appreciate the instructions. But we also have to do our part. Therefore, because both are involved—mercy and effort—if someone was too far on one side, Srila Prabhupada would emphasize the other side to bring the person to the proper position.
Another time in Bombay, an Indian gentleman came to Srila Prabhupada and said, “Swamiji, Swamiji, please save me. Only you can save me. I am drowning in the ocean of material existence. Please save me. Only you can save me.” And Srila Prabhupada replied, “I cannot save you. But I can give you the method by which you can save yourself. But you have to do the work.” This is the combination that works: on the one side Srila Prabhupada’s mercy in the form of his instructions and his prayers to Krishna that we can appreciate His mercy and instructions, and on the other side our efforts. But of course, Srila Prabhupada also inspired us to make efforts, and he continues to do so today.
Sri Prahlada dasa:
We also have the example of Yasoda trying to bind Krishna with ropes but being unsuccessful. The ropes are always two inches too short. She is struggling, taking ropes from all over the house, tying them together, but still the ropes are two inches too short. When Krishna sees the perspiration on her forehead, when He sees that the flowers that were decorating her hair have fallen to the ground and that her hair has become disarrayed, and how she is working so hard to bind Him, He thinks, “Okay. Let her bind Me.” And so she finally ties that knot, and Krishna is bound. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says that the two inches of rope that were missing represent two things: one is the endeavor of the devotee, and the other is Krishna’s mercy, Krishna’s agreement. When Krishna gives His mercy and the devotee endeavors to take that mercy, then we are successful in binding Krishna, or achieving Krishna. Of course, that mercy comes to us by Krishna’s grace.
Verse 10: “He will become liberated from the influence of the modes of ignorance and passion and thus all inauspicious things accumulated in the core of the heart will disappear.”
The three modes of material nature (sattva, rajas, and tamas) are the constituents of material nature, and the spiritual nature also has three constituents—samvit, sandini, and hladini, or eternity, knowledge, and bliss (sac-cid-ananda). They translate in this material nature as goodness, passion, and ignorance. They are the opposite of transcendence. Because we are covered by these modes of material nature, we cannot appreciate the message of Vasudeva. However, by contacting the pure devotee and hearing that message, these troublesome things in the heart are cleaned away, and then we can appreciate the message of Vasudeva.
Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says, ceto-darpana marjanam: the cetah, or the consciousness, which is also the heart, is cleaned of all the dust accumulated for years on it. When a mirror is covered with dust, you cannot see yourself in it. You cannot see who you are. But when that dust is cleaned away, you can see yourself. Similarly, when the mirror of the heart is cleaned, we can understand our nature as soul, as servant of Krishna.
Verse 11: “How will I make them understand the message of Krishna consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified, and the most fallen. Therefore I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them, for I am powerless to do so on my own.”
It is not something mechanical or artificial; one has to become empowered by the Lord. One has to become saktyavesa, an empowered representative of the Lord, and then that dynamic is there. Certainly, Srila Prabhupada was empowered by Krishna because of his full dedication, full faith, and full surrender. It is not a material phenomenon, that one can represent the Lord and transform the heart of the conditioned soul. It is a transcendental phenomenon.
Verse 16: “I have no devotion, nor do I have any knowledge, but I have strong faith in the holy name of Krishna. I have been designated as Bhaktivedanta, and now if You like You can fulfill the real purport of Bhaktivedanta.”
Bhakti means “devotion” and vedanta means “knowledge.” Actually, veda means “knowledge” and anta means “the end.” So vedanta means “the end of knowledge,” or “the conclusion of all knowledge.” Here Srila Prabhupada is saying, “I am designated as Bhaktivedanta, but I have no bhakti or vedanta. But if You like, You can make me Bhaktivedanta.” And so we come back to Srila Prabhupada’s secret. How did he succeed? He says, “I have strong faith in the holy name of Krishna.” Sri Prahlada mentioned Prabhupada’s faith in his spiritual master and in the previous acharyas, and along with such faith comes faith in the process of devotional service and especially in the holy names.
Srila Prabhupada had a godbrother, Akincana Krishnadasa Babaji Maharaja, who was always absorbed in hari-nama. Srila Prabhupada said that he was a paramahamsa, a liberated soul. I heard that Krishnadasa Babaji Maharaja met a godbrother . . . Before I continue with the story, I want to give a little preamble about how we should deal with other Vaishnavas. We should treat them with respect. Obviously, if they directly or indirectly criticize or attack Srila Prabhupada or Srila Prabhupada’s movement, we have to defend. But otherwise, our attitude should be respectful. We should appreciate their service, however big or small it may be. I am telling the story just to illustrate Srila Prabhupada’s faith in the holy name and the secret of Srila Prabhupada’s success.
So, Krishnadasa Babaji met another of Srila Prabhupada’s godbrothers, who had been sent by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura to England to preach. Babaji Maharaja asked him, “You went to the West and Swami Maharaja (our Srila Prabhupada, Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja) also went to the West. You presented the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and he presented the teachings of Mahaprabhu. You chanted the holy name of Krishna, and he chanted the holy name of Krishna. Yet he was successful, and you were not. Why?” Then Babaji Maharaja himself gave the answer: “Because Swami Maharaja had full faith in the holy names, that if the Westerners just chanted the holy names of Krishna, gradually they would become Krishna conscious, they would become devotees.”
For some time in Calcutta, the temple president somehow became absorbed in doing business, in making money for the temple, and the devotees in the temple were sort of neglected. We were poor—very poor. We couldn’t afford milk. And even if we could, we wouldn’t know what white liquid we might get. It seemed likely to be a combination of buffalo milk, water, and paper. Milkmen used to soak paper in watery milk to add bulk to the liquid.
So, there was a devotee there named Sudama Vipra. He had tattoos, and he was really strong. But even he was starving. We all were starving. So after the arati, he would get the ghee wicks and squeeze them to try to get a drop or two of ghee out.
We were all just waiting for Srila Prabhupada to come and save us. Srila Prabhupada did come, and different devotees met him and complained, and then he called a meeting. He listened very patiently and sympathetically to all the devotees’ complaints. At one point the GBC there said, “Srila Prabhupada, I was just trying to execute the will of Your Divine Grace.” And Srila Prabhupada said sarcastically, “Is it My Divine Grace’s will that all the devotees should be disturbed?”
So, he was very sympathetic to the devotees. He said that we should have meetings every week and that we should record our resolutions in the minutes book and stick to the resolutions. He was very concerned.
But then Srila Prabhupada’s mood changed. He told us that we shouldn’t be too absorbed in these material matters, because the tendency of the conditioned souls is to become engrossed in material things and if we get too preoccupied and just talk about material things, we’ll forget Krishna. We won’t talk about Krishna.
Then he told us, “My motto has always been ‘Everything for Krishna and nothing for myself.’ Therefore I never complained.” He said, “I suffered so much for the sake of this movement”—for our sake, really. “I had two heart attacks on the ship on the way to New York. Then in New York City I had a stroke.” And he confided, “Even otherwise, I had headaches and ringing in my ears. . . . You cannot conceive of how much I suffered, and I don’t want to discuss it. But my motto was always ‘Everything for Krishna and nothing for myself.’ ” And that is Prabhupada. That is Prabhupada.
Then: “Signed—the most unfortunate, insignificant beggar, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.”
This poem was first published in Back to Godhead many years ago, by early 1971, which is when I first heard it. A few of us were living in the Sea Palace Hotel in Bombay. Srila Prabhupada had a friend from England named Ramchand Chhabria, who owned the hotel. He was vegetarian and the hotel was vegetarian and we didn’t have any other place to stay, so he invited us to stay there. When the magazine came, there were just a few of us—Guru dasa Prabhu, Yamuna Devi, and myself. The first article was the poem. Yamuna Devi read it out loud. And when she came to this—“Signed—the most unfortunate, insignificant beggar, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami”—she burst into tears. She just couldn’t contain herself.
So what can we say here?
Srila Prabhupada ki jaya![A talk by Giriraj Swami and Sri Prahlada dasa, September 28, 2002, Three Rivers, California]