Srila Prabhupada was born Abhay Charan De on September 1st 1896 in Calcutta, India. His father was Gour Mohan De, a cloth merchant, and his mother was Rajani. His parents in accordance with Bengali tradition, employed an astrologer to calculate the child’s horoscope, and they were made jubilant by the auspicious reading. The astrologer made a specific prediction: When this child reaches the age of seventy, he would cross the ocean, become a great exponent of religion, and open 108 temples.(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-wisher”. page x.)
It is noteworthy that in that very same year, 1896, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s book was accepted into McGill University in Canada, a pilot light for preaching in the West.
When young Abhay had been unwilling to go to school, his father saw the humour in it, and always treated him kindly, and was lenient. His mother however, hired a man to escort young Abhay daily to school.
Gour Mohan De was also a pure hearted Vaisnava. He often used to take young Abhay to the local Sri Radha-Govinda temple. Where young Abhay was seen to be stood for many long hours offering prayers before the Deity. “The Deity was so beautiful, with His slanted eyes”.
(A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada; Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-wisher”. page xiii.)
As Abhay grew up he became more and more devoted to the Deity form of the Lord. He was especially enamoured with the Jagannatha Rathyatra festival that was held in Calcutta each year. Hearing and understanding the significance of the festival Abhay would sometimes check railway timetables to go to Jagannath Puri where Lord Caitanya personally attended some 500 years before. Every year a conservative estimated 5 million people attended the festival, this absorbed Abhay more in the mood of Rathyatra.
1901 (circa) Young Abhay conducts his very own first Rathayatra. His father making a small cart, three feet high with a canopy resembling closely the huge carts in Puri. all the local children and many adults would come. Abhay stood out as a leader even then, as he organised and engaged everyone, even many of the mothers were engaged by him in cooking, (especially his sister Bhavatarini), who all cooked special preparations to be offered and distributed as ‘prasadam’ at this Rathyatra festival.
At age 6, his father purchased upon his request, his own Radha-Govinda Deities. Seeing the family engaged from his birth, watching his father performing the ‘puja’ at home, and going regularly to see Radha-Govindaji, it was only natural. From this day on whatever foodstuffs were brought before him by his parents, he would first offer to Sri Radha-Govindaji, and then eat Their ‘prasadam’. He also used to daily offer them a ghee lamp, and properly put Them to rest at night. Little is know of his adolescence.
During his college years his father arranged a marriage, selecting Radharani Datta as Abhay’s bride. In 1918 they were married, but for several years Abhay lived with his family and Radharani with hers. This was to facilitate his finishing his college education. As it was recognised that the added responsibility of supporting a family is a challenge.
In his fourth year of college Abhay felt reluctant to accept his degree, a degree that was given by the British. He had become a sympathiser to the Nationalist case, which advocated ‘National schools’, Freedom from British Rule, and Self Government (Self Rule).
At the same school (Scottish Colleges) in the class one year ahead of Abhay was the highly spirited Nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose, who later became the leader of the Indian National Army formed to overthrow British Rule of India.
Abhay was attracted to the pure and simple teaching of Mohandas K. Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi). Who stood by the ancient pure principles of moral India, and regarded Bhagavad Gita above all other books. His personal habits too, and life-style were pure, as he lived a life as a saint, ‘sadhu’. Abhay had seen many ‘sadhus’ and was not overly impressed. However, Gandhi had more integrity than most.
Gandhi called on all Indian students to rebel and give up British mundane, manipulative educations, that would ultimately bind one in slavery to the British Raj and would deny the Indian people of their freedom, religion, culture, and inevitably their country. The schools shaped the students, ‘brainwashing’ them to British Imperialism, teaching them the corrupted philosophies taught by the Christian Church funded Western Indologists shaping them for the control of generations to come.
Abhay weighed up the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. Abhay then rejected his diploma even after completing his fourth year and passing his examination. So doing he made his principled stand of protest in response to Gandhi’s call.
When Gandhi called for a boycott of everything British and ‘non-co-operation’ after the British soldiers had gunned down hundreds of innocent, unarmed Indians who gathered at a peaceful rally at Jallainwalla Bagh, Abhay moved closer towards Gandhi’s independence movement.
Abhay’s father was somewhat disturbed for Abhay’s future, but didn’t resent his decision. More concerned for Abhay’s future than Indian politics Gour Mohan De arranged employment for Abhay through a prominent friend, distinguished surgeon, and chemical industrialist, a Dr Kartick Chandra Bose. Dr Bose gladly accepted Abhay as his department manager in his firm.
1921 His wife gave birth to the first son and child, while she was just 14 years old (A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. June 8th 1974. Morning walk conversation. Geneva, Switzerland.).
1922 marked the first meeting of Abhay with his spiritual master. Some of Abhay Charan’s friends were going to see a ‘sadhu’ who was preaching in Calcutta, a descendant in the Brahma Madhwa Gaudiya line coming through Bhaktivinoda Thakur, his father none less. The ‘Scottish School’ educated, and prestigious leader of his group of friends, was asked to come along too. At his family home Abhay Charan De had seen so many ‘sadhus’ come, his father a pure devotee of the Lord, would daily invite ‘sadhus’ to his house for ‘prasadam’, and as a general feeling Abhay was not overly impressed with what he saw. His friends knowing his devotion, learning and expectations, valued his opinion, and so insisted that he come and see Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami. Abhay was reluctant, but his friends wanted his approval. So Abhay conceded to go.
“No sooner did Abhay and his friends respectfully bow before the saintly person and prepare to sit than he said to them, ‘You are educated young men. Why don’t you preach Lord Caitanya’s message throughout the whole world?’ “(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. Your Ever Well Wisher. page xvi.)
Abhay was surprised that the ‘sadhu’ had asked immediately for them to become preachers on his behalf. Impressed by Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakura he wanted to test him with intelligent inquiries”(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. You Ever Well-wisher. page xvi.)
Khadi clad, Abhay asked, “Who will hear your Caitanya’s message? We are a dependent country. First India must become independent. How can we spread India’s culture if we are under British rule?”
Note that he never objected to the concept of spreading Lord Caitanya’s mission, his concern was with the apparent obstacles that stood in the way.
Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati dispelled any thought of potential obstacles saying that Krsna consciousness didn’t have to wait for a change in Indian Politics, nor was it dependent on who ruled. Krsna consciousness could not be impaired by anyone or anything, it is so important that it could not wait. Therefore you must do it.
Abhay was struck by his boldness. He brushed all temporal material miseries and condions aside, leaving the only worthwhile and factual conclusion and solution to all material difficulties, Krsna consciousness.
In a very short time Abhay was convinced, “He’s wonderful!” Abhay said to his friend, “The message of Lord Caitanya is in the hands of a very expert person”(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-wisher”, page xvii.) It was that very night that in his heart young Abhay accepted Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada as his spiritual master(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-wisher”, page xvii-xviii.).
In 1925 Abhay Charan De first visits Sri Vrindavan, the Holy place of Lord Sri Krsna’s pastimes.
For business purposes, Abhay and his wife and family moved to Allahabad. As a pharmaceutical salesman, Abhay did a lot of travelling by rail, especially in North India.
By now Abhay Charan had developed a strong relationship with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupad, to the point where he requested formal spiritual initiation. On November 21st 1932., in the Gaudiya Math in Allahabad Abhay Charan De receives ‘diksha’ initiation.
Abhay tried to organise to visit his spiritual master but whenever he visited Calcutta Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was not there. Unlike many of his other disciples Abhay was thus unable to travel and spend time with his spiritual master. Consequently over the next four years they only met about a dozen times.
When finally they did meet Abhay Charanaravinda das took every opportunity to hear from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. “Although Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was so strong in argument against other philosophies that even his own disciples were cautious about approaching him if he were sitting alone, and although Abhay’s contact with him was quite limited, still Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati would always treat him very kindly. Srila Prabhupada would later recall, “….sometimes my Godbrothers would criticise because I would talk a little freely with him, and they would quote this English saying, ‘Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread’. But I would think, ‘Fool? Well, maybe. But that is the way I am’. My Guru Maharaj was always very, very affectionate to me”(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-wisher”, page xx.)
1935 on the occasion of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s 62nd birthday Abhay submitted a poem and an essay at as meeting of his Godbrothers in Bombay. The articles were well received and duly published in the ‘Harmonist’ for which Abhay was informally daubed ‘kavi’ (learned poet) by his Godbrothers. Abhay’s real pleasure in his offering was when it reached Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, who in particular liked one stanza and showed it to all his guests:
Absolute is sentient
Thou hast proved,
though has removed.
Later Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati said to the editor of the ‘Harmonist’, “Whatever he writes, publish it!”
That year (1935) held one of the most significant meetings with his spiritual master in Vrindavan. Once when Abhay Charanaravinda das was walking with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and several other disciples, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati began talking confidentially to Abhay Charan das. the conversation was in regard to some senior disciples quarrelling over who would use various rooms and facilities at the Gaudiya Math headquarters in Calcutta (Bagh Bazaar). Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati said to Abhay Charan’ if they are quarrelling now what will they do after their spiritual master passes away? Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was distressed. He said to Abhay Charan’ “There will be fire…….!” One day there would be fire in the Calcutta Gaudiya Math, and that fire of party interest would spread and destroy. Abhay Charan’ heard, but didn’t know what to make of it. “It would be better, to take the marble from the walls of the temple to secure money. If I could do this and print books, that would be better,” said Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.
Then Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati said directly to Abhay Charan, “I have a desire to print some books. If you ever get money print books”.(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-wisher”, page xxi.)
“Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupad departed from this mortal world in December 1936. One month before his departure Abhay Charan wrote him a letter. He was thinking that as householder, ‘grhastha’ he couldn’t fully serve his spiritual master, and he wanted to know what to do. Thus he inquired, “Is there any particular service I can do?”
Two weeks later Abhay Charan received a reply: “I am fully confident that you can explain in English our thoughts and arguments to the people who are not conversant with the languages Bengali & Hindi…..this will do much good to yourself as well as your audience. I have every hope that you can turn yourself into a very good English preacher.”(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-wisher”, page xxi.) Accepting this as his confirmation of his mission Abhay Charan began to further mould his life.
“The fire in the math”, mentioned by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati broke out almost immediately after his disappearance. Legal disputes followed and the mission as propounded by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, was spoiled.
Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad lets his feelings be felt in the following purports:
“In the beginning, during the presence of Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya Astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada, all the disciples worked in agreement; but just after his disappearance, they disagreed. One party strictly followed the instructions of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but another group created their own concoction about executing his desires. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, at the time of his departure, requested all his disciples to form a governing body and conduct missionary activities cooperatively. He did not instruct a particular man to become the next ‘acarya’. But just after his passing away, his leading secretaries made plans, without authority, to occupy the post of ‘acarya’, and they split in two factions over who the next acarya would be. Consequently, both factions were ‘asara’, or useless, because they had no authority, having disobeyed the order of the spiritual master. Despite the spiritual master’s order to form a governing body and execute the missionary activities of the Gaudiya Matha, the two unauthorised factions began litigation that is still going on after forty years with no decision.
“Therefore, we do not belong to any faction. But because the two parties, busy dividing the material assets of the Gaudiya Matha institution, stopped the preaching work, we took up the mission of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Bhaktivinoda Thakura to preach the cult of Caitanya Mahaprabhu all over the world, under the protection of all the predecessor ‘acaryas’, and we find that our humble attempt has been successful. We followed the principles especially explained by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita verse ‘vyavasayatmika buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana’. According to this instruction of Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, it is the duty of a disciple to follow strictly the orders of his spiritual master. The secret of success in advancement in spiritual life is the firm faith of the disciple in the orders of his spiritual master. The Vedas confirm this:
yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
‘To one who has staunch faith in the words of the spiritual master and the words of the Supreme Personality of Godhead the secret of success in Vedic knowledge is revealed’. The Krsna consciousness movement is being propagated according to this principle, and therefore our preaching work is going on successfully, in spite of the many impediments offered by antagonistic demons, because we are getting positive help from our previous ‘acaryas’. One must judge every action by its result. The members of the self-appointed ‘acaryas’ party who occupied the property of the Gaudiya Matha are satisfied, but they could make no progress in preaching. Therefore by the result of their actions one should know that they are ‘asara’, or useless, whereas the success of the ISKCON party, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which strictly follows ‘guru’ and Gauranga, is increasing daily all over the world. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura wanted to print as many books as possible and distribute them all over the world. We have tried our best in this connection, and we are getting results beyond our expectations.”(A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada; Sri Caitanya Caritamrta Adi lila 12:8. purport.)
asarera name ihan nahi prayoiana
bheda janibare kari ekatra ganana
“There is no need to name those who are useless. I have mentioned them only to distinguish them from the useful devotees.”(Sri Caitanya Caritamrta Adi lila 12:11. text.)
dhanya-rasi mape yaiche patna sahite
pascate patna udana samskara karite
“Paddy is mixed with straw at first, and one must fan it to separate the paddy from the straw.”(Sri Caitanya Caritamrta Adi Lila 12:12. text.)
“This example given by Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami is very appropriate. In the case of the Gaudiya Matha members, one can apply a similar process. There are many disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but to judge who is actually his disciple, to divide the useful from the useless, one must measure the activities of such disciples in executing the will of the spiritual master. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura tried his best to spread the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to countries outside India. When he was present he patronised the disciples to go outside India to preach the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, but they were unsuccessful because within their minds they were not actually serious about preaching His cult in foreign countries; they simply wanted to take credit for having gone to foreign lands and utilise this recognition in India by advertising themselves as repatriated preachers. Many ‘swamis’ have adopted this hypocritical means of preaching for the last eighty years or more, but no one could preach the real cult of Krsna consciousness all over the world. They merely came back to India falsely advertising that they had converted all the foreigners to the ideas of Vedanta or Krsna consciousness, and then they collected funds in India and lived satisfied lives of material comfort. As one fans paddy to separate the real paddy from useless straw, by accepting the criterion recommended by Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami one can very easily understand who is a genuine world-preacher and who is useless.”(A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada; Sri Caitanya Caritamrta Adi Lila 12:12. purport.).
1939 Abhay Charan prabhu in recognition for his devotional scholarship receives the honorary title ‘Bhaktivedanta’ from the Gaudiya Matha.
February 1944 A.C. Bhaktivedanta begins the ‘Back to Godhead magazine’, an English fortnightly magazine, single handedly. Srila Prabhupada edited it, typed the manuscripts, checked the galley proofs, and even distributed the individual copies.
Indian independence in 1947 was followed by the horrors of ‘Indo-Pak’ fighting. Hundreds of thousands died in the fighting that followed ‘partition’ of the land into India and Pakistan. Abhay Charan’ always remained in spiritual prospectus, reflecting Srila Prabhupada recalls, “We have seen in 1947, Hindu-Muslim fighting. One party was Hindu, the other party was Muslim. They fought, and so many died. And after death there was no distinction who was Hindu or who was Muslim – the municipal men gathered the bodies together in piles to throw them somewhere”.(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page xxiii.)
In regard to the problem Abhay Charan das presented a solution in BTG (Back to Godhead Magazine), in his article “Gandhi-Jinnah Talks”, he wrote, “Fighting will go on between Hindu and Mohammedan, between Christian and Christian, between Buddhist and Buddhist ’till the day of annihilation”.(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page xxii.) As long as people forget their purpose in life and relationship with God and each other out of selfish material interests and desires for sense gratification, they will continue fighting. “Real unity was possible only on the platform of spiritual understanding and service to the Supreme”.(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page xxii.)
On December 7th 1947 Abhay Charan’ wrote a long letter to Gandhi in New Delhi. Having doubts that Gandhi would ever receive it Abhay Charan addressing himself as Gandhi’s “Unknown Friend”, he wrote, “I tell you as a sincere friend that you must immediately retire from active politics if you do not desire to die an inglorious death”. Abhay Charan never received a reply, and on 30th January 1948 Gandhi was shot to death, his letter appearing as a prophecy.
For the next few years Abhay Charan put less and less energy into business and more and more into writing and preaching.
Abhay Charan was invited to speak at the Gita Mandir in Jhansi by a colleague he had met as a customer at the Jhansi hospital. The audience was mostly students and professionals, who were mostly interested in social and cultural mental titillation. Many speakers came and went. But Abhay Charan was visionary and ambitious, and leaving his Allahabad business affairs in the hands of his son, he tried to start a spiritual movement there in Jhansi. This was “The League of Devotees”.
1950 he retired from family life, adopting the ‘ashrama’ of ‘vanaprastha’ (retired). He was far from retirement in actuality. Now he dedicated his energy into study and writing.
In 1953 initiates his first disciple in that centre in Jhansi, Acarya dasa.
Starts his own centre in Jhansi, to which the Grand Opening for ‘The League of devotees’ was on May 16th.
The 1950’s were a difficult time for Abhay Charan. He had to leave his “League if Devotees” building because the governor’s wife insisted it be used for a “Ladies Club”. With no place to stay and no real support, he left Jhansi – but not his plan for a world wide association of devotees. He moved around from an ‘ashram’ in Delhi, stayed with different Godbrothers, now he knew he was on his own. He lived like a mendicant, staying here and there for a week at a time in various temples or in the homes of the wealthy pious people who would receive him. These difficult times of no money, simple clothing, little proper food, etc., made him more resourceful. He took these difficulties as assets(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page xxix.) Not so much in material terms, but in term of what it did for his faith. He had no-one, he was alone. Rejected by family and friends as a material failure his only solace was the mission of his spiritual master.
To fulfil this mission he approached many prominent personalities including Dr Rajendra Prasad, the President of India a that time, but received no reply.
In September of 1956., Abhay Charan moves to Sri Vrindavan Dham eighty miles south of Delhi to begin an intensive preparation and study to embark on his life’s mission. His plan was to draw enough energy from the well of spiritual purity and energy of Sri Vrindavan Dham, write in the tranquil atmosphere and then commute to Delhi to distribute his literature and seek donations from respected persons.
Having full faith in guru and Krsna, always expecting their mercy, daily Abhay Charan pushed on even in the 60 degree Centigrade heat of the Vrndavana and Delhi summers. Living simply, in an inexpensive room in the Vamsi-Gopalji Temple, located on the bank of the sacred Yamuna River, he entered into a special mood, and quality of Vrindavan life.
It was very difficult, commuting to Delhi on the early morning train, but having nowhere to stay, returning to Vrindavan the same night. It didn’t leave but a few hours in Delhi, and everything was so expensive, for one on a budget of next to nothing. Yet he continued, travelling, printing and mailing. After producing 12 consecutive fortnightly editions of “Back To Godhead” Abhay Charan ran out of money. The printer told him that he couldn’t print simply out of friendship, and so there was no more publication. Abhay Charan continued writing, building up a stock-pile of preaching materials, but the plan for publication was distant.
After many years of struggle to support and maintain his family, finally in 1954., A.C. Bhaktivedanta prabhu leaves his family to dedicate his life to the mission of fulfilling the order of his spiritual master.
He ventured again to preach in Delhi. Resolute in his definite major purpose A.C.Bhaktivedanta prabhu sat in his Chippiwada temple (Delhi) typing by day and night in order to present Srimad Bhagavatam faithful to the Vedanta Sutra of Vyasa, and with purports to affect the stone like hearts of the misdirected civilisation presently inhabiting the Earth. Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta prabhu carefully and thoughtfully with exacting care and concentration worked quickly to this end.
After some time moved to the Radha-Damodar Temple in town. There he would eat, sleep and write in his humble rooms overlooking the courtyard at the Sri Sri Radha-Damodara Temple, where the six Goswamis, four hundred years previously, would sit and take ‘prasadam’ and discuss Vaisnava philosophy and the loving pastimes of Sri Radha Krsna in the presence of Lord Caitanya. At this sacred place, the home of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Srila Prabhupada, by the mercy of the ‘parampara’, became surcharged. His conviction, and mission to write and preach becomes more apparent, with much deep reflection upon his role, and the method by which he would fulfil that role.
Living at the historic Sri Radha-Damodar temple in Vrindavana he began his monumental ‘life’s masterpiece’ the multi volume commentated translation of the eighteen thousand verse Srimad Bhagavatam (Maha-Bhagavat Purana)
Reflective, and in a renounced and solitary mood, Abhay Charan Bhaktivedanta prabhu composed a Bengali poem, entitled, “Vrindavan Bhajan”. Its opening stanzas were especially self-reflective and personal:
Verse 1. “I am sitting alone in Vrindavana Dham. In this mood I am getting many realisations. I have wife, sons, daughters, grandsons, everything. But I have no money, so they are a fruitless glory. Krsna has sown me the naked form of material nature; By His strength it has all become tasteless to me today, ‘yasyaham anugrhnami harishye tad-dhanam shanaih’ “I gradually take away all the wealth of those upon whom I am merciful”.
How was I able to understand this mercy of the All Merciful?
Verse 2. “Everyone has abandoned me, seeing me penniless wife, relatives, friends, brothers, everyone. this is misery, but it gives me a good laugh. I sit alone and laugh!
In this ‘Maya samsara’, whom do I really love?
Where have my loving father and mother gone now?
And where are all my elders, who were my own folk?
Who will give me news of them, tell me who?
all that is left of this family life is a list of names.(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page xxxi.).
Soon after this realisation Abhay Charan Bhaktivedanta prabhu had a striking repetitive dream, one that he had as a householder. In the dream his spiritual master appeared, just as he knew him, a tall, scholarly ‘sannyasi’, ‘Vaikuntha man’, the pure representative of the Lord. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur indicated to Abhay Charan that it is time now to take ‘sannyasa’. Repeatedly he called and motioned to the cloth. He was definitely asking Abhay Charan to take to the ‘sannyasa’ order.
When Abhay Charan awoke he pondered carefully the dream. “Abhay Charan dasa reasoned that his spiritual master was saying ‘now take sannyasa and you will actually be able to accomplish this mission. Formerly the time was not right’.”(Satswarupa dasa Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page xxxiv.)
Humbly Abhay Charan (Bhaktivedanta prabhu) although apprehensive, approached his senior godbrother, Srila Bhakti Prajna Keshava Maharaj in Mathura, who stressed that Abhay Charan take ‘sannyasam’ immediately.
September 17th 1959., he receives formal ‘sannyasa’ initiation in Mathura from Srila Bhakti Prajna Keshava Maharaj, a dear godbrother and senior disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada. He was given the suffix Goswami to his name, and so carried the full name A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
That day he was horned by a bull in the market place, and took it as purification after the initiation.
In the Autumn of 1959, “Srila Prabhupada was living in Sri Vrindavan Dham and would sometimes practice ‘madhukari’. ‘Madhukari’ means to collect a little food door-to-door for one’s maintenance just as a bee collects a little pollen flower-to-flower. Sri Prabhupada, however, often requested the householders whom he called upon to give pen and paper for his writing rather than the rice, dahl, and chapattis traditionally sought by holy men practicing ‘madhukari’.
On those papers that he received as alms, Srila Prabhupada wrote page after page, preparing his messages of Godhead for the world. Some of his manuscripts he published in his ‘Back to Godhead Magazine’, and others, like ‘Easy Journey to Other Planets’, he printed as small booklets. Although unable to publish everything he wrote, Srila Prabhupada nevertheless continued to write and stockpile his manuscripts. Unfortunately, some of the early writings of His Divine Grace were lost after Srila Prabhupada left Sri Vrindavan Dham to conduct his worldwide campaign of spreading Krsna consciousness.”(J.G. Bhaktigaurava Narasingha Swami. 1993. Introduction to ‘In Search of the Ultimate Goal of Life’. page xv.)
Following the mood of the day, acknowledging the world struggle and control between the ‘post war super powers’ for the ‘uncharted, unknown realm of space’, and understanding the mentality of the people of the day A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami publishes his first book ‘Easy journey to other planets’ in Delhi in the autumn of 1960.
As a culmination of many years of study, reflection, meditation, discussion, and thought A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami publishes Canto One, Volume One of Srimad Bhagavatam a commentary with super condensed, compacted purports which were the crystallised product of a life times study and realisation.
From his small room at the Radha-Damodar temple, where he would prepare his meals, and rest he could see the ‘samadhi’ of Srila Rupa Goswami and the Deities that he installed there. Bhaktivedanta Swami prayed there, at the feet of Rupa Goswami, his predecessor for guidance. what he received in return, the inspiration, intimate direction, was like the scribe Ganesh who wrote on Srila Vyasadeva’s behalf as Vyasa dictated to him.
In 1962, with his Srimad Bhagavatam now published he personally travelled, preached its glories, and sold copies. Using favourable reviews from prominent persons like; Hanuman Prasad Poddar (Gita Press – Gorakpur), Hindu philosopher Dr Radhakrishnan, the prestigious ‘Adyar Library Bulletin’, Scholarly Godrothers, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Dr Zakir Hussain – the Vice President of India, Sri Biswanatha Das – governor of Uttar Pradesh, as his advertisements. Bhaktivedanta Swami visited prospective donors as he tried to raise funds for further volumes. To publish the first canto in three volumes it had thus taken a little more than two years.
Outside the Radha Damodar Temple in Vrindavan 1964 with the Governor of UP.
Now he turned his attention to preaching in the West.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami was 69 years of age. He had treasured, nurtured and developed the instruction from his spiritual master some forty years. It seemed a long cultivation and preparation. As Satswarupa das Goswami so nicely calls his biography on Srila Prabhupada’s first volume “A life-time in preparation”, preparing to plant the seeds.
“In Vrindavan Bhaktivedanta Swami met Mr Agarwal, a Mathura businessman, and mentioned to him on passing, as he did to almost everyone he met, that he wanted to go to the West. although Mr Agarwal had known Bhaktivedanta Swami for only a few minutes, he volunteered to try to get him a sponsor in America by asking his son Gopal, an engineer in Pennsylvania, to send back a sponsorship form. When Mr Agarwal volunteered to help in this way, Bhaktivedanta Swami urged him to please do so”(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page xxxviii.)
Meanwhile A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami went about his daily affairs following his usual avenues of book selling, looking for whatever opportunity might arise.
Then one day to his pleasure and surprise, he was contacted by the Ministry of External Affairs and informed that a certificate of ‘No Objection’ for travelling to the U.S was ready. Mr Gopal Agarwal of Butler Pennsylvania had solemnly declared that he would bear any and all expenses of Bhaktivedanta Swami during his stay in the United States.
With newly acquired passport, visa, ‘P-form’, sponsor, and travel fare A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami travelled to Bombay to seek assistance in getting to America. He approached Srimati Sumati Morarji, head of the Scindia Steamship Line, who had previously helped him with a large donation for printing volume two of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Concerned to his health and welfare Sumati Morarji said, “no” to his request for assistance.
Bhaktivedanta Swami coaxed her secretary Mr Choksi, advising him in exactly what to say; “I find this gentleman very inspired to go to the States and preach Lord Krishna’s message to the people there…..” again she said, “no”. He demanded a personal interview, which he got, and then presented his single minded emphatic request; “Please give me one ticket!!!”
Finally she conceded and gave him a scheduled place on the ship Jaladuta, which was sailing from Calcutta on 13th August 1965. She made all the arrangements, making sure that he would travel on a ship whose captain understood the needs of a vegetarian and a ‘brahmana’. She organised that the captain, Arun Pandia carry extra vegetables and fruits for Bhaktivedanta Swami.
A couple of days before the ship was to sail Bhaktivedanta Swami arrived in Calcutta. Although he had spent so much of his early life growing up there and had known so many persons as in his poem, now he knew no-one.
Staying with a slight acquaintance, and on the day before his departure, travelling north to Mayapur to visit the ‘samadhi’ tomb of his spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura Prabhupada to ask for his blessings. Now he was ready.
His main baggage was several trunks, two hundred three volume sets of first canto Srimad Bhagavatam, his personal baggage a small suit-case, an umbrella, and a supply of dry cereal in case he couldn’t find food in the land of the meat eaters. If that be the case, he was prepared to live on boiled potatoes and the cereal he brought with him.
On Friday August 13th 1965., at 9:00 am., he sets sail for America aboard the steamship ‘Jaladuta’. By Saturday 14th., Bhaktivedanta Swami experienced seasickness, dizziness, vomiting as they moved slowly in heavy rains through the Bay of Bengal.
Reaching Colombo, Sri Lanka on 19th., Bhaktivedanta Swami was able to go ashore and get some relief from his seasickness. A diary is recorded of the exact route in Satswarupa das Goswami’s books in the chapter “Struggling Alone”(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, pages 1-3.)
After experiencing sea-sickness from the Atlantic crossing, in rough seas, and in mid-Atlantic, and at the advanced age of 63 years of age A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami suffers two heart attacks. “If a third comes I will not survive!”
That night in a dream the Lord appeared to him in a boat full of many incarnations, and assured the dedicated mendicant that He will protect him.
Sri Krsna was very kind to Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, and he appreciated that. In his diary he wrote, “If the Atlantic would have shown its usual face, perhaps I would have died. But Lord Krishna has taken charge of the ship”.
After a 35 day journey from Calcutta the Jaladuta docked at Commonwealth pier at 5:30 am., September 17th 1965., the ship docks in Boston, United States of America, stopping briefly before pushing on to New York City Harbour, for A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami a new journey had begun.
The Captain made comments to the effect that, this had been the calmest of all the Atlantic crossings that he had ever been on, and light heartedly, yet with regard for his health, asked Bhaktivedanta Swami if he would return with him to ensure another safe trip.
With only forty Rupees, and an Indian steel trunk full of Srimad Bhagavatams, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami set his sights for creating a movement that would have the effect of changing the world that we live in so many ways.
Unlike many Indians who had gone before him and come to the West, he had not come to receive from the West, but had come to give to the West!
He was staunch. In an uncompromised manner, with shaven head, ‘Vaishnava tilak’, Tulasi neck beads, saffron ‘dhoti’, ‘kurta’, ‘uttara’ and an old ‘chaddar’ – shawl; and rubber pointed slippers, all not uncommon for ‘sadhus’ in India. But who in America had ever dreamed of seeing anyone dressed in the traditional Vaisnava way? “He was possibly the first ‘Vaisnava sannyasi’ to arrive in New York with uncompromising appearance”(Satswarupa dasa Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page 5.)
Srila Prabhupada recalls, “I did not know whether to turn left or right”(Satswarupa das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page 5.) After passing through the dockyard formalities he was met by a representative from travellers aid, sent by the Agarwals’ in Butler Pennsylvania.
He stayed there for a while, always meditating on how best to preach. With a burning desire to start his preaching movement he got Gopal Agarwal to take him to Pittsburg where he got a bus for New York City.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami knew no-one in New york, he only had a contact: Dr Ramamurthi Mishra. Dr Mishra was a flamboyant, dramatic personality. Bhaktivedanta Swami was given a room at his apartment, but when it became inconvenient he shifted Bhaktivedanta Swami down to his Hatha Yoga studio near Central Park. Bhaktivedanta Swami stayed there for a short time, but found himself constantly at odds with Mishra who turned out to be a ‘mayavadi’.
In Butler he had been confined by the Agarwals’ middle class sensibilities; now due to having to be temporarily dependent on the good will of a ‘mayavadi’ – treated with kindness, yet viewed as a threat. Dr Mishra tried desperately hard to keep his ‘yoga’ students away from the personalistic philosophy emanating from Bhaktivedanta Swami’s mouth.
November 8th., 1965., Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote to his godbrother Tirtha Maharaj, who had become president of the Gaudiya Math. He tried to urge his godbrothers to come and help him, or at least send a couple of men he could work with, preach with and open a centre with.
Three weeks later a reply came from Tirtha Maharaj, unfortunately today, I think for him, Tirtha Maharaj’s letter was a very polite yet to the point, “…..that the Gaudiya Math’s funds could not be used to open a centre in New York”.
That didn’t deter him in the least, his faith in the mission of his guru maharaj was firm, he knew what he wanted and knew that all he had to do was be willing to follow the design of the Lord. the practical example of Arjuna was there in the forefront of his mind, trusting that the battle was in fact already won, the humble follower of this ageless tradition now stood up proudly amidst numerous potential foes and declared the battle won. Proof of the foresight of his faith, like one who puts faith in the darkness of the early morning, knowing that light of day will appear, he revealed his mind to those he met, who he found worthy.
“In his solitary wanderings in Manhattan, Bhaktivedanta Swami made acquaintances with a number of local people. there was Mr Ruben, a Turkish Jew, who worked as a subway conductor. Mr Ruben met Bhaktivedanta Swami on a park bench and, being a sociable fellow and a world traveller, sat and talked with the Indian holy Man.
Mr Ruben: He seemed to know that he would have temples filled with devotees. He would look out and say, ‘I am not a poor man, I am rich. There are temples and books, they are existing, they are there, but time is separating us from them’. He always mentioned ‘we’ and spoke about the one who sent him, his spiritual master. He didn’t know people at that time, but he said, ‘I am never alone’. He always looked like a lonely man to me. That’s what made me think of him like a holy man, Elijah, who always went out alone. I don’t believe he had any followers.”(Satswarupa dasa Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page 14.)
Even in the severest conditions of blizzards and snow Bhaktivedanta Swami worked on his “Krsna Book”, Srimad Bhagavatam, preached from Bhagavad Gita and offered his food to the Lord.
15th February 1965., Bhaktivedanta Swami moved from Dr Mishra’s ‘yoga’ studio to an place of his own, a small narrow office without furniture or telephone. Sleeping on the floor on blankets, and a makeshift desk for writing made by covering a trunk with a cloth. There were no bathing or cooking facility so he travelled up two flights to use Dr Mishra’s ‘Yoga Ashram’. Now Bhaktivedanta Swami maintained himself simply by selling his books to who ever he met that was interested.
Even in this bare room Bhaktivedanta Swami began to preach. On a donated reel to reel tape recorder he recorded some of his solitary ‘bhajans’, accompanying himself on ‘karatals’ (hand cymbals). He even recorded a long philosophical essay, “Introduction to Gitopanishad (Bhagavad Gita)”. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had told him, “…and even if no one attends, you can go on chanting to the four walls”. Now uninhibited by those around him, and free to speak, Bhaktivedanta Swami began lectures Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays to whoever would come. His first audience were Dr Mishra’s students that he had preached to at their ‘ashram’. But news soon spread like fire in the Lower East Side of New York, the time was right and so were the people.
After having his typewriter and tape recorder stolen, disappointed, Bhaktivedanta Swami moved to the Bowery to be where the people were, and where he was offered accommodation in a loft.
The classes continued, and the musicians of the area came to chant along with Bhaktivedanta Swami, as long as they chanted ‘Hare Krishna’ he didn’t mind.
But alas the nature of the Bowery’s drug using population convinced Bhaktivedanta Swami that as he was warned, the Bowery was unsafe for a gentleman such as he.
Gaining assistance from some of his students Bhaktivedanta Swami stayed with Carl Yeargens and his wife Eva, until Michael Grant and Carl helped him to find a store front, a former gift shop on 26 – 2nd Avenue, called “Matchless Gifts”. The rent was $71 a month and including bond, electricity etc., it came to $196 to move in. Carl, Mike and some of the others pitched in and Bhaktivedanta Swami was able to move in.
The apartment was painted, electricity connected, water turned on, and a phone installed – everything paid for by his friends.
The musicians and people of the Bowery considered Bhaktivedanta Swami “Highly Evolved”, and felt inspired when it was time to move him into his new place. He was pleased to be there too, and seeing things slowly but surely coming together encouraged the mission of his spiritual master to keep going on.
The time was right, things were radically changing in the west. The youth were looking for the positive alternative, something to give lasting peace after decades of war.
Now finding himself strategically placed by the Lord ready to receive the influx of potential spiritual seekers, who had come from all over the U.S. to descend on the Lower East Side, “Which in the parlance of the renting agents became known as the ‘East Village’.”(Satswarupa dasa Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page 34.) Their search was unlike other immigrants to the area, their’s was a search not for work or acceptance by material society. Their’s was a search to find real love, real peace, real existence, integrity, and ultimately real spiritual consciousness. They had rebelled against the war in Vietnam, political manipulation, T.V. propaganda, the trivia, and mundane advertising, and influence of the media – in fact they rebelled against everything that the ephemeral goals of ‘middle class America’ whence they came stood for. “They were disillusioned by parents, teachers, clergy, public leaders, and the media — they were just right for spiritual life.”(Satswarup das Goswami. 1987. “Your Ever Well-Wisher”, page 34.) Sometimes, with his usual visionary and humble outlook, he would declare that they had been placed there by his ‘guru maharaj’ to assist with his preaching.
With complete disregard for his own safety he went to a place that Vaisnavas normally find distasteful, the most materially successful place, but a land of passion and ignorance, beset with crazy misguided youth and demoniac scientists, and where intoxication, illicit sex, and cow killing were a way of life. Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, at an age when most elderly gentlemen would be thinking of rest and retirement, started a revolution that has, without any doubt, changed the face of the earth.
aitam sa asthaya paratmanistha madhyasitam purvatamairmaharsibhih
aham tarisyami durantaparam tamo mukundanghri nisevayaiva
“Following in the lotus footsteps of the great ‘rshis’ [we shall cross], he has crossed over the impassable ocean of the material existence by means of devotion to the Supreme Lord and by the transcendental service of Lord Mukunda, the Lord of liberation.”
The pure unalloyed Vaisnavas like Srila Prabhupada always act in a way that is pleasing to the Lord and in no other way, as in the case of Lord Caitanya’s servant, who, after Lord Caitanya fell asleep across the doorway of the room, stepped over His body to perform devotional service for the Lord. Upon Lord Caitanya’s waking he saw that His dear servant was still in the room and had not taken his meal. Lord Caitanya enquired why he had not gone for his meal, and the devotee replied that he couldn’t as You, the Lord were sleeping, blocking the door. The Lord further enquired saying, “How then did you enter the room?” The devotee replied that, “I had stepped over You so I could do some service for You, but for my service, service of my tongue and belly, I could not cross over You as this would be an offence.” There are many stories like this in the Srimad Bhagavatam. One story relates how, at one time, Lord Sri Krsna played the part of having a headache. He stated that the only medicine was to take the dust from the lotus feet of the ‘brahmanas’, and so approached the ‘brahmanas’ in that way. Thinking for their own welfare and not for Krsna’s, they all said that if they were to allow the Supreme Lord to take their feet on His head, they would all go to hell, never to return. However, when Krsna approached the ‘gopis’, the simple cowherd girls of Vrndavana with the same request, without hesitation gave Krsna their feet and He placed them on His head. Their thoughts are recorded as, “We don’t care if we go to hell. Let us satisfy our Krsna. If Krsna is suffering we will do anything we can to relieve Him.”
Another time in Jagannatha Puri temple, which gets very full, an old lady climbed onto the body of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to see the forms of Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva and Lady Subhadra. Many devotees were perplexed, but Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu could see her deep love for the Lord, and thus allowed her to do so. Another is in the case of Lord Krsna Himself, who broke His promise to save His devotee Arjuna. When grandfather Bhisma attacked Arjuna, Krsna ran at Bhisma to crush him with a chariot wheel, even though He had said He would not intervene in the battle. Yet for His devotee He gave up His reputation.
So in the same way, as a spotless ‘paramahamsa Vaisnava sannyasi’ of the Lord “our Srila Prabhupada”, for the service of the Lord and for the service of mankind and all living entities, took up the preaching mission as laid down by the Personality of Godhead, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, at the risk of his own personal safety and comfort.
Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami was never concerned for the petty criticisms of the caste conscious ‘smartas’ and ‘gosais’, or others who never preached to try to lessen the suffering of the living entities in this world, for his turning those born outside of the ‘Hindu’ caste of ‘brahmin’ into sincere ‘Vaisnava brahmins’. Rather he strictly followed the higher principal of compassion to all the conditioned souls, as spoken by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu;
bharata-bhumite haila manusya janma yara
janma sarthaka kari kara para upakara
“One who has taken his birth as a human being in Bharata Bhumi (India) should make his life successful and work for the benefit of all peoples outside India as well as in India.”
ateva saba phala deha ‘yare tare
khaiya ha-uk loka ajara amare
“Distribute this Krsna consciousness movement all over the world. Let people eat these fruits of love of Godhead and ultimately become free from old age and death.”(Caitanya Caritamrta Adi Lila 9:39.).
atheva ami ajnadilvn sabakare
yahan tahan prema-phala deha ‘yare tare
“Therefore I (the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu) order every man within this universe to accept this Krsna consciousness movement and distribute it everywhere.”(Caitanya Caritamrta Adi 9:35-36.)
Even at the cost of his own reputation, expense, safety and health.
The ‘shastric’ injunctions that the many rigid ‘smartas’ quote are it’s true there for our guidance and safeguard. The context however needs to be examined, and then applied to practical application as in the way of it’s intent. In reality the sum and substance of these injunctions restricts the movements of purified or pure devotees outside of ‘karmabhumi’ (India) to safeguard them from the undesirable lifestyles of the non-devotees, and barbarian carnivores who pervade such places, least not only their Vaishnava principles be threatened but also their lives. Specifically the west is referred to as ‘bhogabhumi’ meaning a place of unrestricted sensual exploitation and enjoyment.
We can see though, that such a strong willed, pure hearted and dedicated person as Srila Prabhupad never ever became affected by the lesser influences of the material energy. Rather ‘Mayadevi’ stands hands folded as the assistant of her Lord and master (Sri Krishna) to help and guide such a pure devotee.
“We shall call our society I.S.K.C.O.N. Bhaktivedanta Swami had laughed playfully when he had first coined the acronym”. He had initiated the legal work of incorporation that spring, while still living on the Bowery, but even before its legal beginning, he had been talking about his “International Society for Krishna Consciousness”, and so it had appeared in letters to India and in “The Village Voice” (newspaper). A friend had suggested a title that would sound more familiar to Wes