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Srila Prabhupada and the Gita

Sunday, 08 December 2019 / Published in Articles / 5,292 views

By Giriraj Swami

On Gita Jayanti, the day of the advent of the Bhagavad-gita, spoken by Lord Krishna to Arjuna, I reflected on Srila Prabhupada and how he addressed members of the Gita Pratishthan (Gita Foundation) in India, in 1976. The way Srila Prabhupada dealt with the conference was exemplary—and extraordinary—as I shall relate.

In May a prominent industrialist named Ramkrishna Bajaj (almost everyone in India knows Bajaj Autos and Bajaj Electricals) wrote Srila Prabhupada that he was organizing a conference under the banner of the Gita Pratishthan, to promote the preaching of the Bhagavad-gita, and that he wanted Srila Prabhupada, as the world’s foremost preacher of the Gita, to attend. Srila Prabhupada, however, did not want to join, because although the purpose of the conference was to discuss how to preach the message of the Gita, he was concerned that different participants would have different ideas of what the message of the Gita was. The meeting would host many Mayavadis (impersonal speculators) who preach in the name of the Bhagavad-gita that people can become Krishna, that they can merge and become one with God. Then, who would decide what the actual message of the Gita was? So, Prabhupada considered, “What is the use of my going and wasting time, with no conclusion?” Rather, he asked me to go on his behalf.

In his letter to me, Srila Prabhupada wrote that we must insist that the Bhagavad-gita be presented as it is and that people not use the words of Krishna simply to make money or to promote their own philosophies. “If they have got their own philosophy, then let them preach their own philosophy, but not in the name of the Gita.” And he gave an example: “Suppose a man wants to smoke ganja [marijuana], but he does not want to be caught. So he takes a friend’s hand and smokes it in his hand, and then when the authorities come he says, ‘Oh, I have not smoked ganja. See, my hands are clean!’ The idea is that if one wants to preach the Gita, then he must preach it as it is. Otherwise, don’t use the Gita.” (In other words, don’t preach your own concocted philosophy and present it as Lord Krishna’s.)

Eventually, Mr. Bajaj came in person to appeal to Srila Prabhupada to attend, and Prabhupada finally agreed. And so, in December, we went to Wardha, near Nagpur, in Maharashtra, in the center of India.

Most of the Bajaj family members were followers of Vinoba Bhave, a prominent freedom fighter under Mahatma Gandhi. And Ramkrishna’s father, Jamnalal Bajaj, had been Gandhi’s treasurer. So, every day Srila Prabhupada and his party would take prasada on the veranda of the house where Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, and Jamnalal Bajaj all used to take their meals. And Mr. Bajaj would point out where each of them sat, as we sat in the very same places.

On the main day of the conference, and all the participants went to Vinoba Bhave’s Paunar ashram. When Srila Prabhupada addressed them, his argument was clear and simple: Krishna preached the Bhagavad-gita to instruct people to become devotees (man-mana bhava mad-bhakto), and how do people become devotees? By chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra (harer namaiva kevalam). Therefore, those who want to preach the message of the Bhagavad-gita should propagate the chanting of the holy names of Krishna—Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare—because that will fulfill the Lord’s purpose in the Bhagavad-gita.

Then Srila Prabhupada took his karatals and began to chant Hare Krishna, which infused the meeting with tremendous spiritual energy, especially after so many impersonal speculators had just spoken. The kirtana wasn’t in the schedule, and Srila Prabhupada didn’t take anyone’s permission (not that he had to); still, he was very tactful, and before the audience could become impatient, he stopped the kirtana—in what had been a most dramatic interlude.

On the last day, there was to be a meeting of all the invitees to discuss practical programs for promoting the teachings of the Gita, and the organizers told Prabhupada that they would invite him when they were ready to present their proposals to him. Later than expected, they finally invited him to come.

When he entered the meeting room, everyone had to pay heed to him because he was the most senior preacher of the Gita in the world, and from every point of view—age, learning, success in preaching—he was the leader. When he spoke, he stuck to one point: parampara. Unless you follow the disciplic succession and present the Bhagavad-gita as it is, without personal interpretation, you have no right to preach the Bhagavad-gita. “You can preach any philosophy you like,” he told them, “but don’t take the name of Bhagavad-gita.” And he explained his success: “There is no interpretation. Krsna says, ‘I am the Supreme.’ Mattah parataram nanyat. We are presenting, ‘Here is God.’ You are searching after God, Krsna, and they [foreign devotees] are accepting. . . . How they are accepting? Because it is the real thing, there is no interpretation.”

Of course, no one could really refute what he was saying.

Then Srila Prabhupada agreed to hear their proposals. The committee wanted to produce a list of resolutions on how to promote the message of the Gita. As soon as they presented their first proposal, Srila Prabhupada again insisted on the point of parampara: First you must surrender in parampara, as Arjuna surrendered to Krishna as guru, and then you can preach the Bhagavda-gita. Srila Prabhupada was so heavy—truly powerful. After the meeting, he commented, “We have injected our poison, and now it will act.” Of course, he actually meant, “We have injected our nectar, or medicine,” but as a sort of poetic device he said, “We have injected our ‘poison’, and now it will act.”

Although Srila Prabhupada was bold and forceful when he preached, and sometimes blunt in private, he was most polite and tactful otherwise. Even though he argued on philosophical principles in debate, he was always cordial in personal dealings. And because Srila Prabhupada was so genuine, Mr. Bajaj remained friendly even after Prabhupada took such a strong position, and later Mr. Bajaj gave quite a large donation to one of Srila Prabhupada’s farm projects. And, out of respect for Srila Prabhupada, he held the next Gita conference at the Krishna-Balaram temple in Vrindavan, in Srila Prabhupada’s last days.

Even then, Srila Prabhupada repeated the same message to Mr. Bajaj—one can lead others only if he follows the supreme leadership of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, through parampara.

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3 Responses to “Srila Prabhupada and the Gita”

  1. Patita Pavana says :

    What a truly wonderful episodein the life of the World Acharya. Truly, we are indebted to HH Giriraja Swami for this important recollection.
    Patit Uddharan das Adhikary

  2. Puskaraksa das says :

    evam parampara-praptam
    imam rajarsayo viduh
    “This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way” Bhagavad-gita 4.2

    ‘Viduh” means “understood”. Sri Krishna Himself states the fact that the message of Bhagavad-gita is to be understood via parampara, bonafide disciplic succession…

    sa kaleneha mahata
    yogo nastah parantapa
    “But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.” Bhagavad-gita 4.2

    As a matter of fact, when the disciplic succession is broken, the message “as it is” appears to be lost!

    Therefore, it is essential for someone to receive the message of Bhagavad-gita “as it is”, to accept it from a bonafide source.

    In this way, there is no scope for just reading books and becoming one’s own guru!

    In the following quote, one will see how Srila Bhaktisiddantha Sarasvati Thakur Maharaja Prabhupada also exemplified the same point:

    Question:
    “If Jesus Christ was a jagad-guru and his instructions are capable of bringing us deliverance, why do we need a spiritual master?”

    Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada:
    “We accept both the universal spiritual master and the initiating spiritual master. By accepting only the jagad-guru, we may face many anarthas. If at present we want to follow Christ’s orders by accepting him as jagad-guru and we think we do not require an initiating spiritual master, we will certainly face doubt about how well we can follow Christ’s orders. The Supreme Lord or universal jagad-guru delivers his instructions about the absolute truth only through the disciplic succession. As I sit on the bank of the Ganga in Nabadwip, far from the Himalayas where the Ganga originates, and am able to touch her water here, the initiating spiritual master similarly brings the Ganga of pure devotional service, which emanates from the lord’s lotus feet, and places it in my hand and on my head. Because I am an ordinary, powerless, poor person, I am not able to climb the Himalayas to touch her water there. Similarly, if the flow of the Ganga from the Himalayas is interrupted on the way, I would have to face the danger of accepting a polluted flow instead of the pure Ganga.

  3. Puskaraksa das says :

    If the instructions Jesus Christ gave two thousand years ago do not come to us through disciplic succession, or if we have to sort them out from books, then perhaps we may create a blunder and accept a perversion of the truth taught in the name of Christianity. We may even come to accept something opposite from what he taught, thinking it his actual philosophy.

    The initiating spiritual master is also jagad-guru because he is a manifestation of the original jagad-guru. Out of his causeless mercy he delivers the message of the original jagad-guru through the disciplic succession. He does not cheat or flatter the disciple, nor does he yearn for any material gain. He is simply a messenger of the absolute truth.”

    – /

    In the same way, no one should claim either to be a direct disciple of Srila Prabhupada, unless it is the case, just as no one should pretend to be a direct disciple of Jesus.

    Jagat Guru Srila Prabhupada Ki Jaya!
    Sri Bhagavad-gita Jayanti Ki Jaya!

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