I will begin by reading a couple of exchanges with Srila Prabhupada about his coming to America. Once, Srila Prabhupada was asked, “Your godbrothers who came to the West went to England and Germany. Why did you choose to come to America?” And he replied, “They went and came back to India without accomplishing anything. So I thought, ‘If I am going to fail, at least let me fail in a different place.’ ”
And on a morning walk in Los Angeles, a disciple said to Prabhupada, “When you came to the Western world, no one anywhere believed it would be successful. But actually it has become very successful, by preaching.”
“I myself did not believe, ‘I shall be successful,’ ” Prabhupada replied, “what to speak of others. But because I did in the proper line, so it has become successful.”
Of course, it was a difficult voyage for Srila Prabhupada on the ship Jaladuta, and on the way he had two heart attacks, and he thought that if he had a third, he might not survive. He kept a diary, and that has been published—The Jaladuta Diary.
I will read a little from Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta to give the background leading up to Srila Prabhupada’s arrival: “On the night of the second day, Prabhupada had a dream. Lord Krishna, in His many forms, was rowing a boat, and He told Prabhupada that he should not fear, but should come along. Prabhupada felt assured of Lord Krishna’s protection, and the violent attacks did not recur.”
On Thursday, September 9, Srila Prabhupada wrote in his diary, “This afternoon, we have crossed over the Atlantic Ocean for twenty-four hours. The whole day was clear and almost smooth. I am taking my food regularly and have got some strength to struggle. There is also a slight tacking of the ship and I am feeling a slight headache also. But I am struggling and the nectarine of life is Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, the source of all my vitality.”
Then the next day, Friday, September 10, just a week before he arrived in America, he wrote, “Today the ship is plying very smoothly. I feel today better. But I am feeling separation from Sri Vrindaban and my Lords Sri Govinda, Gopinath, Radha Damodar. The only solace is Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita in which I am tasting the nectarine of Lord Chaitanya’s lila [pastimes]. I have left Bharatabhumi just to execute the order of Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati in pursuance of Lord Chaitanya’s order. I have no qualification, but I have taken up the risk just to carry out the order of His Divine Grace. I depend fully on Their mercy, so far away from Vrindaban.”
And when Srila Prabhupada arrived at Boston Harbor on September 18, 1965, he wrote a wonderful poem with rhyming stanzas, Markine Bhagavata-dharma, in which he expressed the same mood of dependence on the mercy of his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu:
baro-krpa kaile krsna adhamer prati
ki lagiyanile hetha koro ebe gati
“My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why You have brought me here. You can do whatever You like with me.”
Giriraj Swami speaks from 0:30 to 0:45.
Visvarupa-mahotsava marks the occasion on which Lord Chaitanya’s older brother, Visvarupa, took sannyasa, the renounced order of life. And on the same date some four hundred and fifty years later, our own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, also accepted sannyasa.
According to Vedic literatures, Lord Chaitanya is Krishna Himself, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, come in the present age in the role of a devotee. In the previous age, Lord Krishna came in His original feature and spoke the Bhagavad-gita, and at the conclusion He instructed, sarva-dharman parityaja mam ekam saranam vraja: give up all other duties and surrender unto Me. But people could not understand or appreciate Lord Krishna’s instruction. So later, about five hundred years ago, Krishna came again, not in His original form but in His devotional form as Lord Chaitanya. And Lord Chaitanya taught us how to serve Krishna, how to worship God in the present age.
Lord Chaitanya taught various methods of worship, but He especially emphasized the chanting of the holy names of God, or Krishna. In particular, He quoted a verse from the Brhan-Naradiya Purana (38.126):
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
“One should chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name of Hari, Krishna. In this age of Kali, there is no other way, no other way, no other way for spiritual realization.”
He acted like a teacher who shows students how to write the alphabet. The teacher stands in front of the class and writes on the board, “A, B, C, D.” The teacher has no need to practice writing, but he shows by his own example how to form the letters properly. In the same way, God, Krishna, had no need to worship, but to set the example for us, so that we could learn how to worship Him in the best way in the present age, He came as Lord Chaitanya and taught and demonstrated the chanting of the holy names of Krishna.
When Lord Chaitanya appeared, the social and spiritual system called varnashrama-dharma was still prevalent in India. In this system there are four social and four spiritual divisions, all necessary for society to function properly. Although we may not refer to them by the same terms, and although the system has not been developed as systematically and scientifically as in Vedic culture, still, by the arrangement of nature, the divisions still exist. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says, catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah: “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me.” (Gita 4.13) So, the four social orders, or broad divisions of occupational duties, are created by Krishna.
The four divisions include, first, the intelligent class, who are teachers and priests, but mainly teachers. Then there is the martial, or administrative, class, who are rulers and warriors; they govern and protect the citizens. There is the vaishya, or productive class, who engage in agriculture—farming and cow protection—and, with any surplus, in trade. And there is the service class, or workers, who perform services to support the other three classes.
When a person hears the description of the different social orders and duties, he or she may be alerted to the possibilities for exploitation and domination of the “lower” classes by the “higher.” But in Vedic society the different members work cooperatively for the common good, ultimately for the pleasure of God. In the physical body there are natural divisions—the head, the arms, the stomach, the legs—and they all have different functions. But they all cooperate for the benefit of the whole. In the social body, the brahmans are compared to the head—they give guidance. The kshatriyas are compared to the arms—they protect the body. The vaishyas are compared to the stomach—they provide food for the body. And the sudras, or workers, are compared to the legs—they carry the rest of the body where it wants to go. There is no question of competition among the different parts of the body—or of exploitation. They all work for the good of the whole.
Apart from the social divisions, there are four spiritual divisions. These are also natural, especially in a culture meant for self-realization and God realization, which Vedic culture is. The first order is the brahmacharis, celibate students. In the traditional system, the brahmachari would study in the ashram of the guru, in the gurukula. He would be trained mainly in principles of good character. And because the main emphasis was on good character and spiritual development, the teachers had to be spiritually qualified.
Here we can see the defect in modern education, where emphasis is given to material knowledge without much consideration of personal character. Now practically no spiritual or moral qualification is required of teachers. They may drink, they may smoke, they may gamble, they may do all sorts of nonsense in their “private” lives, but if they know the subject in a material way, they are considered qualified to teach. But in the Vedic system, because the emphasis was on moral character and spiritual development, the teachers, the brahmans, had to be exemplary. And in addition, they had to know the content of the subjects they taught. The exemplar in the Vedic system was called acharya. Acharya means “one who teaches by example”— not that in the classroom the teacher says, “You should not smoke” but then outside the classroom he or she smokes, or that the teacher says, “You shouldn’t drink” but then outside he or she drinks.
A friend of ours in Bombay was attending an international conference on drug abuse in Delhi. She is a devotee, and she works with a lot of underprivileged people in the slum areas of Bombay. And in her own way, she tries to introduce Krishna consciousness, seeing how, by God’s grace, it can transform people’s lives, how people who were addicted to drugs can give them up with the spiritual strength gained by chanting and other practices. So, she went to the conference, and during the evenings her colleagues would get together and have parties and drink and smoke and take drugs. Then, during the day, they would meet to discuss what to do about the problem of substance abuse. Socially, she would be with them. After all, they were her friends and colleagues, but when she would attend their parties, they would insist, “Why don’t you have a drink? Have a smoke. Have this, have that.” And she would always refuse.
One night, their party was busted by the police. The only one of them of good character, of spotless character, was our friend, the devotee. Her colleagues knew that her word would be accepted, because she was strict in her habits, so they appealed to her to make up a story that they were conducting an experiment, doing research, on taking drugs. Whatever happened in the end, the point I am making is that in Vedic culture the teachers were supposed to be exemplary. Their character was considered one of their main qualifications as teachers.
Today we have gathered for the most auspicious celebration of the appearance day of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was one of the most prominent acharyas in the disciplic succession after Lord Chaitanya, and his contribution to Gaudiya Vaishnavism and to the world is so great that one devotee called him the Seventh Gosvami. Much of the present Krishna consciousness movement founded by Srila Prabhupada is being conducted under the guidance of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and today I will focus on some of the areas in which the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is continuing his work and mission.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was born in an aristocratic, devotional family, but throughout his life he was afflicted by various illnesses. So, we shouldn’t think that he had an easy life or that everything just came to him; the tremendous contribution he made was in the face of physically trying conditions. Of course, in a way it did all come naturally, but he really had to face many obstacles, even in terms of his physical health. In this year’s Vyasa-puja book His Grace Kalakantha dasa wrote an offering in which he listed different trials that Srila Prabhupada had faced, and he suggested that Prabhupada had actually suffered. It wasn’t just an appearance of difficulties; he actually suffered. But in spite of the difficulties, he continued. And that is a lesson for all of us. We shouldn’t expect that things will always come easily or go smoothly, and in spite of the difficulties and miseries, we should persevere in our efforts in Krishna consciousness.
Srila Bhaktivinoda was appointed to a government position—assistant magistrate—that was practically the highest position that any Indian held during the British rule. The British had the idea to inculcate in the Indians the notion that Indian culture was inferior to the British or Western or Christian culture. In general they kept the Indians down, but Srila Bhaktivinoda was so qualified and so popular that they were obliged to appoint him to a high position.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was a grihastha with ten children. But even with all his heavy responsibilities in his government service and as a family man, he still did so much direct service to the cause of Krishna consciousness. He utilized his time expertly. After coming home from work, he would have a light meal and take rest at about eight o’clock, and then he would get up at midnight and write books. He wrote over one hundred books and songs, and he made so many contributions. From this we can learn how we too can engage in direct service to the cause of Krishna consciousness, even with our many responsibilities of family and work, by efficiently and enthusiastically using our time—every moment possible—for devotional service.
As a magistrate, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was very efficient and would dispose of many cases in short order. Judges are also judged—by how many cases they dispose of and how many of their cases are appealed and how many of their cases are overturned. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had the most outstanding record of any judge or magistrate. He disposed of so many cases so quickly, and people were satisfied with his judgments, and so his decisions were not appealed or overturned.
One famous case involved a yogi who falsely claimed to be an incarnation of Vishnu, or Krishna. He would have an imitation rasa-lila every night, and people were sending their wives and daughters to dance with him. But some more intelligent or sober persons complained to the British government, and the administration, knowing Kedarnath Datta, as Bhaktivinoda Thakura was known then, to be a religious man and also the deputy magistrate, assigned the case to him.
“The summary of this twenty-second chapter is as follows. The Supreme Personality of Godhead was pleased by the behavior of Bali Maharaja. Thus the Lord placed him on the planet Sutala, and there, after bestowing benedictions upon him, the Lord agreed to become his doorman.
“Bali Maharaja was extremely truthful. Being unable to keep his promise, he was very much afraid, for he knew that one who has deviated from truthfulness is insignificant in the eyes of society. An exalted person can suffer the consequences of hellish life, but he is very much afraid of being defamed for deviation from the truth. Bali Maharaja agreed with great pleasure to accept the punishment awarded him by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In Bali Maharaja’s dynasty there were many asuras who because of their enmity toward Visnu had achieved a destination more exalted than that of many mystic yogis. Bali Maharaja specifically remembered the determination of Prahlada Maharaja in devotional service. Considering all these points, he decided to give his head in charity as the place for Visnu’s third step. Bali Maharaja also considered how great personalities give up their family relationships and material possessions to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Indeed, they sometimes even sacrifice their lives for the satisfaction of the Lord, just to become His personal servants. Accordingly, by following in the footsteps of previous acaryas and devotees, Bali Maharaja perceived himself successful.
“While Bali Maharaja, having been arrested by the ropes of Varuna, was offering prayers to the Lord, his grandfather Prahlada Maharaja appeared there and described how the Supreme Personality of Godhead had delivered Bali Maharaja by taking his possessions in a tricky way. While Prahlada Maharaja was present, Lord Brahma and Bali’s wife, Vindhyavali, described the supremacy of the Supreme Lord. Since Bali Maharaja had given everything to the Lord, they prayed for his release. The Lord then described how a nondevotee’s possession of wealth is a danger whereas a devotee’s opulence is a benediction from the Lord. Then, being pleased with Bali Maharaja, the Supreme Lord offered His disc to protect Bali Maharaja and promised to remain with him.”
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
The Lord appears in various incarnations to favor the devotees. Bali Maharaja was also a devotee, and although he was born in a family of demons, Vamanadeva still appeared to favor him, as well as to favor the demigods, who were also devotees.
The Lord reciprocates with the particular mentality of each individual devotee. Bali Maharaja was inclined to give charity. In fact, he had achieved his opulence by the favor of the brahmans to whom he had given so much in charity. Therefore Lord Vishnu, in order to take service from Bali Maharaja, assumed the form of a brahman and begged some charity from him. And because Bali Maharaja was so inclined to give charity to brahmans, he agreed to give Vamanadeva whatever He asked. Vamana replied by saying, “I would like three steps of land.” Bali Maharaja was surprised. He said, “I thought You were more intelligent. You could ask for a whole planet. Why do You ask only for three steps of land?” And Vamana replied, “If I cannot be satisfied by three steps of land, I will not be satisfied by even a whole planet.” Srila Prabhupada enunciated the same principle for devotees, especially for brahmacharis: “All you need is a little service, a little prasada, and a little place to lie down at night”—three steps of land and a little prasada and service. Vamanadeva Himself played the role of a brahmachari, so He set the example.