2008 Who Knows Śrīla Prabhupāda
Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Your Divine Grace.
Last year I picked up a book of anecdotes spoken by pre-ISKCON acquaintances of yours. Later, on your disappearance day, I attended a screening of the film that went along with the book. The author’s intent was pure and simple: to share with others nectar about you.
Soon after watching the film, however, some devotees told me of how those stories affected them. They had come to believe that their knowledge of you—as taught in ISKCON—was incomplete without supplementary teachings from sources outside ISKCON. They thought that such extra-curricular guidance would give them the “full Prabhupāda picture.”
This attitude reminded me of another controversy: Certain Vaiṣṇavas think that knowledge of the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, as taught by Your Divine Grace, must be supplemented with teachings from certain gurus outside ISKCON. These additional teachings, they believe, will give them the “full picture of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.”
I won’t delve into the second issue. The theme of this offering centres about the first, which is, simply put, “Who knows Śrīla Prabhupāda?”
Do your acquaintances, who may have met you during an epoch we ISKCONites missed, know you? Or do the devotees, who may never have met Your Divine Grace but who gave their lives to your mission, know you?
I propose that the persons who actually know you are the latter group, your dedicated servants: who stand on street corners in the heat, cold, and rain to sell your books; who serve the Deities you installed in temples around the world; who tolerate the complexities and tribulations of working in, working with, or managing your spiritual institution; who work day and night to translate your books into almost every language in the world; who preach Lord Caintanya’s message worldwide, sometimes at the risk of their own personal safety. These are the persons who know you.
And what about the acquaintances mentioned in that book and film? I suggest that these persons know something about you, but because they did not follow you, because they did not give their lives to your mission, they don’t know you factually.
The distinction between these two classes of persons is inherent in their respective identities as servant and acquaintance. A servant lives, eats, and sleeps with the master, attending to the master’s every need based on intimate knowledge of and relationship with him. An acquaintance is one who knows a person slightly, but is not a close friend by dint of serious commitment.
Kṛṣṇa says, “My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding.” (Bhagavad-gītā 11.54) From the Lord’s instructions, then, it appears that you, Śrīla Prabhupāda, can be known only by devotional service to you—by your devotees. And those who are not your devotees cannot know you in truth—tattvataḥ. Because mere acquaitances lack service to you, how can they know your greatness, the importance of your mission, your desires, and your personality—including your eternal identity.
Still, some persons may challenge: How did Śrīla Prabhupāda’s followers—especially the many who never met and will never get to meet him physically—come to know Śrīla Prabhupāda?
My answer is based on this statement of Lord Kṛṣṇa:
ananyāś cintayanto māṁ
ye janāḥ paryupāsate
yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham
“But those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form—to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.” (Bhagavad-gītā 9.22)
In other words, complete knowledge of you is revealed to those devotees who worship you with exclusive devotion and uncompromised loyalty.
Such revelation came from your own lips, through lectures, informal talks, and morning walks, and continues to come through your books, the reading of which you yourself said was the way to know you. Knowledge of your personality comes from three sources: from you personally, from your intimate associates, and of course from Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself. Revealed knowledge from these sources adds up to complete knowledge of Your Divine Grace.
Had there been other sources of knowledge about you, surely you would have told us, just as you would have told us had there been other sources to study in order to realize Kṛṣṇa consciousness. And were there any more to know about you than what you told your followers, surely you would have said so, just as you would have told us if there was more to know about Kṛṣṇa from others.
This is not to say that your followers, ISKCON’s members, are perfect. Certainly they make blunders in their service to ISKCON, in guiding ISKCON, and in their personal lives. History speaks for itself. But as long as their desire and efforts are aimed at worshipping you and Kṛṣṇa with exclusive devotion, meditating on Kṛṣṇa’s and your transcendental forms, you and the Lord reveal to such sincere devotees complete knowledge of you. And in time they can become perfect followers—yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham.
In conclusion let me cite evidence to substantiate my assertion:
In most, if not all, anecdotes in the previously-mentioned book and film, your past acquaintances admit that they finally recognized your greatness when they saw the mature results of your preaching (although even then none came forward to serve you).
But members of ISKCON, though not from Vaiṣṇava backgrounds, and rarely from faith-based or obedience-based backgrounds, recognized your greatness before the movement spread. In fact they recognized your greatness upon meeting you.
Why? Because by hearing about you in the ways mentioned above, they developed pure, exclusive faith in you. Such faith qualified your devotees to hear Kṛṣṇa’s instruction, “surrender to him.” And by such service and surrender devotees quickly came to realize, “Here is the empowered ācārya who has fulfilled Lord Caitanya’s prophesy. Here is the greatest Vaiṣṇava.”
Similarly—failings and all—devotees who remain constantly devoted to serving you with love, will, by your and Kṛṣṇa’s special mercy, be freed of all ignorance and will gain full knowledge of you, Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Kṛṣṇa says, “To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.” (Bhagavad-gītā 10.10-11)
Therefore I say that members of ISKCON can claim, “We know Śrīla Prabhupāda.”
Should devotees, then, hear anecdotes from your past acquaintances? That is a personal decision. If they do, however, they will not know more of you; and if they don’t, they will not know less of you. Everything devotees need to know about you, Śrīla Prabhupāda, will be revealed to them through undeviating service to you. And that means knowing many things others cannot know.
Your humble servant