2004 Perfect Example and Perfect Preacher
Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda!
Please accept my most respectful obeisances!
I write this offering as a heartfelt at your lotusfeet – an offering of love – much preferable to a lettre-de-rigueur (glorification required by current fashion or etiquette). The lines that follow are my humble attempt to glorify you as the inspirational example behind two important aspects of ISKCON’s mission. Śrīla Prabhupāda! I appeal to you for the empowerment to realize aspects of your mission in my service to you.
I begin with your own words:
In late October of 1977 you said, “Anyway, do things very carefully. I am already dead. But still I am giving you instruction as far as I can.”
Gopāla Kṛṣṇa Mahārāja answered, “You are still the inspiration for everything we do.”
To which you replied, “Yes. That I shall go on till the last breathing.”
Nearly twenty-seven years after pronouncing these words, you are still the inspiration for what we do – a sign that you have not yet taken your last breath. I shall now attempt to elucidate two of the many ways you continue to inspire your followers: as the perfect example of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and as the perfect preacher.
The grossly envious, or the deeply ignorant, may fail to recognize your perfect Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but sane men, truly enlightened men, cannot. Anyone who was in your physical presence can testify to the force of the pure devotion that emanates from your heart, a force that transformed thousands into devotees by its mere touch. Then there are your teachings – Kṛṣṇa’s teachings. Those who hear or read them can understand and feel the depth of your realization, realization that can come only from being in direct touch with Kṛṣṇa.
You were the personification of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
And your preaching record – still unequaled by sibling rivals – speaks for itself. Lord Caitanya’s preaching potency thundered I your being. Thus, you spoke constantly to a wide spectrum of listeners, while enthusing your followers to maintain and develop the preaching institution that you established. And that ISKCON lives today as the only institution with a constitution, a foundation, based exclusively on your instructions.
You were the ideal preacher of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
These two examples were two of the many perfect ones you set – examples that continue to inspire your sincere followers, and will for generations to come.
Yet you did not want your followers to deify your pure devotion or your achievements and then rest upon your laurels. You expected your followers to express their adulation of you not merely by words, but also by deeds. You wanted your followers to do as you had done, for what you had done was the practice of all realized devotees.
Devotees… who realize that their eternal nature is to be His (Kṛṣṇa’s) servants… practice and preach the eternal process of devotion. (Renunciation Through Wisdom 4.5.7)
Thus, you expected us to follow your example. You wanted your followers to be pure devotees and to give others the opportunity to engage in devotional service. These two practices were, and still are, the mission of ISKCON. Indeed, when done according to your directives, these practices are the very essence of ISKCON.
And what about those who did not cultivate true devotion, or those who did not preach?
With typical candor, you critiqued those who preached enthusiastically without a clear grasp of what they were preaching about. And you were even sterner with those who cultivated their own Kṛṣṇa consciousness and neglected the preaching.
“Unless all of my students become very much fixed up in… the philosophy and activities of Kṛṣṇa consciousness… what is the use of so many programs for expansion?” (Letter to Stoka Kṛṣṇa, 20 June 1972)
“Don’t be a bhajanānandī. As soon as you become a bhajanānandi you’ll be spoiled.” (Letter to Purṇaprajña, 11 December 1976)
Śrīla Prabhupāda, you wanted a balance of both ācāra, personal example, and pracāra, preaching. That balance was the sign of the perfect devotee, and the real guru.
Sanatāna Gosvāmī clearly defines herein the bona fide spiritual master of the world. The qualifications expressed in this connection are that one must act according to the scriptural injunctions and at the same time preach. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 4.103)
And how did you define devotional practice and preaching?
In your view, to practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness was to know the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa without offence, to develop the qualities of a Vaiṣṇava, and to adopt the cultural habits of Vaikuṇṭha. Preaching meant to liberate the nondevotees by distributing books, publicly chanting the holy names, distributing prasādam, opening temples to the public, and so on.
And you wanted these two things done. You did not want them to be simply the objects of eloquent lip service.
What was the value of devotees lecturing about preaching and not actually meeting the public? And what was the value of preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness without actually displaying such consciousness in one’s practical life? An institution that was obsessed by its internal affairs, that promoted a spiritual experience not followed by its practitioners, that relegated preaching to the realm of theory, would not stand the test of time.
You were emphatic:
“You are doing your duty very nicely. That’s all right. But by doing your duty, if you do not develop your Kṛṣṇa consciousness, then you are simply wasting your time.” (Lecture, Bombay 6 January 1973)
“If you yourself remain always pure, then your preaching will have effect. As soon as there is little impurity, the whole thing will deteriorate and go to hell.” (Letter to Pusta Kṛṣṇa, 9 December 1992)
In emphasizing practice and preaching, you defined ISKCON as that society in which your pure devotee followers preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It was simple – for the simple.
By your example and by your mission you revealed your greatness. Śrīla Prabhupāda, you were, and continue to be, the greatest.
But the reality of that greatness will sink into the mire of empty words and staid celebrations if successive generations of your devotee followers do not also become great.
“Is it fitting to become great in Prabhupāda’s shadow? If so, how?” asks a follower.
I reply, “It is your duty to Prabhupāda to become great! And you become great by becoming a humble Vaisnava who does “wonderful” things to preach.”
To this I add, “And as the number of such great followers increases, so will the world’s recognition of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s supreme greatness.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda! You will measure the glorification of your greatness by the responsibilities your followers take to realize a permanent legacy of pure devotee preachers within ISKCON!
It was for such a legacy that you inspired us and for such an ISKCON that you breathed. So long as your followers continue to follow your instructions, you will continue to breathe and ISKCON continue to live. ISKCON were to stop following your instructions, then your “last breathing” would come, and ISKCON too would breathe its last.
Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda, I conclude with a prayer at your lotus feet: As Gaṅgā-devī provides her worshipers with water to worship her, please give me the ability to be your true follower, a practitioner and preacher who, always inspired by your example, measures up to your standards and meets your expectations. Only then will the words I have written and spoken in this offering and elsewhere really be worthy of glorifying you.
Your servant eternally,