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.”
In his humility, Srila Prabhupada refers to himself as a “useless soul.” And he submits himself, as he says later, as a puppet in the hands of Krishna and the parampara to do with him whatever they like. That should also be our mood in our devotional service, that we just want to be puppets in the hands of our spiritual master and act as he wants us to act or do as he wants us to do. And Srila Prabhupada’s poem gives us an insight not only into his mood of surrender and dependence on the mercy of the Lord and his spiritual master, but also into what our mood should be in our execution of devotional service.
ache kichu karja taba ei anumane
nahe keno aniben ei ugra-sthane
“But I guess You have some business here; otherwise why would You bring me to this terrible place?”
It is interesting that Srila Prabhupada called America a “terrible place” (ugra-sthane). Most people want to come to America. They think America is the promised land, where their desires will be fulfilled and all their aspirations will be met. But Srila Prabhupada is not seeing America like that, as the promised land, the land of the free and the home of the brave; he is seeing it as a terrible place.
rajas tamo gune era sabai acchanna
basudeb-katha ruci nahe se prasanna
“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.”
In this verse Srila Prabhupada elaborates on the challenge he is facing in presenting Krishna consciousness, and that is that most of the population are covered by the modes of ignorance and passion, and to appreciate Krishna consciousness, or krsna-katha, one should be in the mode of goodness or at least be under the influence of goodness. So, Srila Prabhupada is seeing this formidable challenge that he will have to meet in presenting Krishna consciousness to the people in America.
tabe jadi taba krpa hoy ahaituki
sakal-i sambhava hoy tumi se kautuki
“But I know Your causeless mercy can make everything possible because You are the most expert mystic.”
After presenting his incapability, Srila Prabhupada now expresses his hope that Krishna will make the impossible possible, because Krishna is the most expert mystic. It is said in the Bhagavad-gita (18.78) about Krishna, yatra yogesvarah krsno, that He is the most expert mystic, so He can work miracles. And He did, through Srila Prabhupada.
ki bhave bujhale tara bujhe sei rasa
eta krpa koro prabhu kori nija-basa
“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.”
Srila Prabhupada is exhibiting that mood of helpless dependence on the mercy of the Lord, and that should be our mood when we preach, that we pray for the Lord’s mercy to make our words suitable for the audience, and we also pray for the Lord’s mercy in the hearts of the audience, to make them receptive to the message.
When I was distributing books, I would always pray to say the right words to influence the person to take the books, and I would pray to the Lord in the heart of the person I was approaching, to inspire them to take the book and do some service, give some donation for the book or magazine.
tomara icchaya saba hoy maya-basa
tomara icchaya nasa mayar parasa
“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.”
For me, this particular stanza has special significance, because shortly after I first came to the Boston temple, I was initiated by Srila Prabhupada by mail, and in my initiation letter Srila Prabhupada wrote, “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,” and Srila Prabhupada’s prayer for me was instrumental in my coming to Krishna consciousness. The Lord is known as bhakta-vatsala, very affectionate to His devotees, and if a devotee, especially a pure devotee like Srila Prabhupada, prays to the Lord, the Lord will accept the devotee’s prayer. Out of his causeless mercy, Srila Prabhupada prayed to Krishna to make “this good soul . . . aware of the importance of Krishna consciousness.” The prayer of the devotee to the Lord for the sake of a candidate for devotional service, or for the sake of a fallen soul, is effective.
Here Srila Prabhupada is saying, “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.” So, yes, Krishna is all-powerful, and Srila Prabhupada is praying to Him on our behalf.
And then, in the next verse, he says it explicitly:
taba iccha hoy jadi tadera uddhar
bujhibe niscai tabe katha se tomar
“I wish that You may deliver them. Therefore, if You so desire their deliverance, then only will they be able to understand Your message.”
It reminds me of Prabhupada’s prayer for me, but he is so magnanimous that he is praying for everyone in America, and by extension for everyone everywhere, but specifically he’s praying for us fallen souls in America.
“I wish that You may deliver them. Therefore, if You so desire their deliverance,” which of course the Lord does, “then only will they be able to understand Your message.”
bhagavater katha se taba avatar
dhira haiya sune jadi kane bar bar
“The words of Srimad-Bhagavatam are Your incarnation . . .”
Very important. Yes, Srimad-Bhagavatam is Krishna Himself, an incarnation of Krishna.
Idam bhagavatam nama puranam brahma-sammitam: “This scripture named Srimad-Bhagavatam is the literary incarnation of God.” (SB 1.3.40)
kalau nasta-drsam esa
“This Bhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krsna to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the Age of Kali shall get light from this Purana.” (SB 1.3.43)
“. . . and if a sober person repeatedly receives it with submissive aural reception . . .”
So, these are the qualifications for understanding the message of Srimad-Bhagavatam: to be sober—not intoxicated by one’s own greatness or by the prospects of enjoying in the material world—and to receive it repeatedly (nityam bhagavata-sevaya). Nityam means “always,” or “regularly.” With submissive aural reception. It is very important to be submissive, not challenging.
When I was first coming to the Boston temple, one of the devotees told me that Srila Prabhupada had said that I was submissive, and I, in all my twenty-one years, had never heard of being submissive as a virtue. It was not something that we were taught. So, when Srila Prabhupada was appreciating that I was submissive, I thought, “Oh, that’s odd.” He was appreciating me for being submissive. And here he is saying, “The words of Srimad-Bhagavatam are Your incarnation, and if a sober person repeatedly receives it with submissive aural reception, then he will be able to understand Your message.”
And then, in his poem, Srila Prabhupada quotes five very important verses from Srimad-Bhagavatam:
srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah
hrdy antah-stho hy abhadrani
vidhunoti suhrt satam
Suhrt satam—“Krishna is the benefactor of the truthful devotee.” Satam. Sat is often a word for “devotee,” but the root of sat is “truth.” So, we should be truthful; we should not be duplicitous, pretentious, or hypocritical. We should be truthful, we should be honest, we should be sincere.
bhaktir bhavati naisthiki
This verse also has personal significance for me. The translation is, “By regular attendance in classes on the Bhagavatam and by rendering of service to the pure devotee, all that is troublesome to the heart is almost completely destroyed, and loving service unto the Personality of Godhead, who is praised with transcendental songs, is established as an irrevocable fact.”
In the early days when we were serving Srila Prabhupada in India, he kept us so busy that we hardly had time to read. And I was starting to feel guilty that I wasn’t reading his books. So, one day I was sitting with him in his room in the Calcutta temple, and even though I didn’t say anything about feeling guilty, he could read my mind, and he quoted this verse: nasta-prayesv abhadresu, nityam bhagavata-sevaya. Bhagavata refers to the book Bhagavata or the person Bhagavata, the devotee Bhagavata. Srila Prabhupada was saying that by serving the person Bhagavata, all the truths of the book Bhagavata will be revealed to you even if you never read the book. He was encouraging me to continue with my service to him, the devotee Bhagavata, and he was assuring me that all the truths of the book would be revealed even if I didn’t read the book. Of course, that was a special time, when we were so busy; in general, we should do both—serve the person Bhagavata and read the book Bhagavata. But if under certain circumstances one is actually engaged fully in serving the person Bhagavata and does not have time to read the book Bhagavata—which could happen even now—all the truths of the book Bhagavata will be revealed.
kama-lobhadayas ca ye
ceta etair anaviddham
sthitam sattve prasidati
ksiyante casya karmani
Now, this is all in Srila Prabhupada’s poem: “It is said in the 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 desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted.’ ”
Srila Prabhupada quoted these verses from Srimad-Bhagavatam as the process by which he would deliver the fallen souls he would encounter in the West. This cleansing of the heart is very difficult, and we are not able to do it on our own. Krishna enters the heart in the form of transcendental sound as Srimad-Bhagavatam, and that sound vibration is purifying, and more than that, Krishna, as the Supersoul, will also cleanse the heart of desires for material enjoyment. So, we’re really quite helpless on our own, but Krishna helps. All we have to do is lend submissive aural reception to His messages, and then He will help, both in the form of transcendental sound and as the Paramatma within the heart.
I’ll read it again; Prabhupada says it here repeatedly: “Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone’s heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted.” Punya-sravana-kirtanah: Just by hearing and chanting, one becomes pious or virtuous.
“By regular attendance in classes on the Bhagavatam and by rendering of service to the pure devotee, all that is troublesome in the heart is almost completely destroyed, and loving service unto the glorious Lord, who is praised with transcendental songs, is established as an irrevocable fact.”
The Sanskrit is nasta-prayesv abhadresu. Abhadresu means “all that is inauspicious,” nasta means “destroyed,” and prayesu means “almost completely.” Not completely—that comes later—but almost completely. (Commenting on this verse, Srila Prabhupada has said 75 percent.)
“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.”
Then you are really purified.
“And thus established in the mode of goodness, the man rejuvenated by loving service to the Lord gains liberation from all material association (mukti) and comes to know scientifically of the Personality of Godhead.”
Then the devotee, the listener, through submissive aural reception, which leads to liberation from material association (mukta-sangasya jayate), comes to know scientifically of the Personality of Godhead (bhagavat-tattva-vijnanam).
“Thus the knot in the heart and all misgivings are cut to pieces.”
It is so liberating just to read this.
“Thus the knot in the heart and all misgivings are cut to pieces. The chain of fruitive actions is terminated when one sees the self as master.”
After quoting these five verses from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada continues his poem:
ajas tamo hate tabe paibe nistar
hrdayer abhadra sate ghucibe tahar
“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.” Srila Prabhupada, in his Bengali, was summarizing these verses.
ki ko’re bujhabo katha baro sei cahi
khudra ami dina hina kono sakti nahi
“How will I make them understand this 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.”
We can see Srila Prabhupada’s abject humility and his complete dependence on the Lord’s mercy. There is no pretense when he calls himself “the most fallen.”
Srila Prabhupada had a disciple who once said to him, “I am the most fallen,” and Srila Prabhupada replied, “You are not the most anything.” When Prabhupada said it, he meant it. But Prabhupada was actually fulfilling his disciple’s desire; the devotee wanted to be humble, and he was presenting himself as humble, and Prabhupada’s words were humbling, “You are not the most anything.”
athaca enecho prabhu katha bolibare
je tomar iccha prabhu koro ei bare
“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.”
Again, complete dependence on the Lord.
akhila jagat-guru! bacana se amar
alankrta koribar khamata tomar
“O spiritual master of all the worlds! I can simply repeat Your message, and if You like You can make my power of speaking suitable for their understanding.”
This is also a very important verse, because it speaks to the point of realization. “I can simply repeat Your message.” So, we repeat, but at the same time Srila Prabhupada is praying to the Lord to make his power of speaking suitable for his audience. Indirectly, he is alluding to the point of realization.
In his purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto One, Chapter Four, “The Appearance of Sri Narada,” text one, Srila Prabhupada gives a nice definition of realization:
iti bruvanam samstuya
vrddhah kula-patih sutam
bahvrcah saunako ’bravit
Sri Vyasadeva said: On hearing Suta Gosvami speak thus, Saunaka Muni, who was the elderly, learned leader of all the rsis engaged in that prolonged sacrificial ceremony, congratulated Suta Gosvami by addressing him as follows.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
Sri Saunaka Rsi had all these qualifications, and thus he stood up to congratulate Sri Suta Gosvami when he expressed his desire to present Srimad-Bhagavatam exactly as he heard it from Sukadeva Gosvami and also realized it personally. Personal realization does not mean that one should, out of vanity, attempt to show one’s own learning by trying to surpass the previous acarya. He must have full confidence in the previous acarya, and at the same time he must realize the subject matter so nicely that he can present the matter for the particular circumstances in a suitable manner. The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realization.
Now I come back to Srila Prabhupada’s words here. It’s exactly the same thing:
akhila jagat-guru! bacana se amar
alankrta koribar khamata tomar
“O spiritual master of all the worlds! I can simply repeat Your message . . .”
That’s the idea of just repeating, but more than that also:
“. . . so if You like You can make my power of speaking suitable for their understanding.”
taba krpa ha’le mor katha suddha habe
suniya sabara soka duhkha je ghucibe
“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.”
And that’s exactly what happened when Srila Prabhupada, empowered by Krishna, came—we heard him, we appreciated what he said, and we became happy. As Srila Prabhupada said, he was converting the hippies into happies.
aniyacho jadi prabhu amare nacate
nacao nacao prabhu nacao se-mate
kasthera puttali jatha nacao se-mate
“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.”
Such a beautiful metaphor.
bhakti nai beda nai name khub daro
“bhaktivedanta” nam ebe sarthak kor
“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” of knowledge. So, Srila Prabhupada is saying that he’s been designated as Bhaktivedanta but actually he has no devotion, bhakti, or knowledge, Vedanta, but, “I have strong faith in the holy name of Krishna.” And this in one sense is really the secret of Srila Prabhupada’s success—his strong faith in the holy name of Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada had a godbrother named Akincana Krishna dasa Babaji Maharaja, who Prabhupada said was a paramahamsa, a liberated soul, and was always chanting. At Prabhupada’s sannyasa initiation, Akincana Krishna dasa Babaji Maharaja was present in the Gaudiya Matha in Mathura, where Prabhupada took sannyasa from His Holiness Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja. During the ceremony there was a break, and Babaji Maharaja started chanting, and then, when it was time for the mantras for the ceremony to begin again, the priest, not Kesava Maharaja, but his disciple who was doing the fire ceremony, motioned to Babaji Maharaja to stop chanting, and Prabhupada, behind his back, motioned to Babaji Maharaja, “Keep chanting, keep chanting.” And Babaji Maharaja said that at that time he understood that Srila Prabhupada would become the world leader of the Hare Krishna movement, because he had complete faith in the holy names. And Srila Prabhupada himself says it here: “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.”
And Srila Prabhupada signed the poem:
“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”
This poem was unknown to us, and Srila Prabhupada himself wasn’t even sure if there was any record of it. But devotees did find it, and they published it in Back to Godhead magazine. And that Back to Godhead with the poem came into our hands in 1971 when we were staying at the Sea Palace Hotel in Colaba, which was owned by our friend and life member Ramachand Chhabria. It was a vegetarian hotel, and we didn’t have any other place to stay in Bombay then, and he allowed us to stay free of charge. So, the magazine came, and Gurudas and his wife, Yamuna Devi, and I were reading that from it, and when we came to the signature, “the most unfortunate, insignificant beggar, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami,” Yamuna Devi burst into tears. She was just so moved by Srila Prabhupada’s humility. I will never forget that. She burst into tears. We should have such feelings for Srila Prabhupada.
So, this is a momentous historic occasion—Srila Prabhupada’s arrival in America—and because of his coming here, pursuant to the order of his spiritual master, our lives have been changed: we have been saved from nature’s modes of passion and ignorance and all the other things that Srila Prabhupada described about the population that he was preparing to encounter.
Devotee: What do you think inspired Srila Prabhupada to write such a poem? Most of us, when we land in another place, the first thing we think of is, “Thank God we are out of this airplane, or this boat.”
Giriraj Swami: Srila Prabhupada was very sober and deliberate, and he was feeling very helpless and dependent on the mercy of the Lord and his spiritual master. It’s true—I never thought of it in that way, but it’s true—that usually after a journey we can’t wait to get off the boat or out of the airplane. But yes, I guess it was out of Srila Prabhupada’s humility, his feeling meek and humble, that he wrote this. He said it was a terrible place, so maybe that was part of it; he wasn’t in a hurry to get into the terrible place.
It’s such a gift to us that we have this poem in which he expresses his mood of surrender: “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.”
Siddhi-lalasa dasi: I heard Prabhupada saying that he was successful because he was in line. So, does that mean being in line with the disciplic succession? My question is, Weren’t his godbrothers also in line? So, what was the difference?
Giriraj Swami: The difference, I would say, and I’m not saying—I’m repeating what Krishna dasa Babaji Maharaja said. . . . Srila Prabhupada had a godbrother named Bon Maharaja, and Bon Maharaja also came to the West. So, once, Babaji Maharaja asked Bon Maharaja, “You went to the West, and Swami Maharaja went to the West . . .” That was how they referred to Srila Prabhupada: Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja. “You went to the West, and Swami Maharaja went to the West. You presented the teaching of Lord Chaitanya, and he presented the teachings of Lord Chaitanya. You did the same things that he did, but he was successful and you could not do anything. What is the reason?” And then Babaji Maharaja himself gave the answer: “Because he had full faith in the holy name of Krishna.” And Srila Prabhupada says as much here: “I have no devotion, nor do I have any knowledge’’—that is his humility—“but I have strong faith in the holy name of Krishna.” And he had faith that if we chanted, everything else would follow.
[A talk by Giriraj Swami on Srila Prabhupada’s arrival in America, September 9, 2020, ISKCON Portland (via Zoom)]