Was Srila Prabhupada a pure devotee?
Posted September 15, 2003
Recently someone asked me, "How do we know if Srila Prabhupada was a pure devotee? We can argue whether he was in this rasa or that, but isn't it possible he wasn't in any rasa at all?"
I believe we can bring some objectivity to bear on this question and answer it to the satisfaction of the non-envious.
The scripture speaks to us about pure devotees (suddha bhaktas). They may be either practicing or perfected. Is Prabhupada a siddha mahatma who has attained spiritual perfection? If so, how do we know?
Real knowing involves realization. Some may have this realization, which involves experiencing Prabhupada in terms of his siddha deha. Otherwise, there are some objective criteria we can invoke in an attempt to gain some insight into this subject.
Srimad-Bhagavatam describes the superlative devotee thus: sarva-bhutesu yah pasyed bhagavad-bhavam atmanah bhutani bhagavaty atmany esa bhagavatottamah
"The most advanced devotee sees within everything the soul of all souls. Consequently he sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord and understands that everything that exists is eternally situated within the Lord."
Does Srila Prabhupada fit this description? What did he see? He saw there was much to be done in the service of Krsna, and he had an uncanny way of engaging everything he came in touch with in that service. In all of his involvement with worldly things, which was considerable, he never became distracted. From a homeless status in the Bowery of New York's icy winter to temples in every major city of the world with millions of dollars at his disposal, he never changed.
He remained fixed in serving Krsna. He ministered to people whom other Gaudiya Vaisnavas would not stand in the shadow of for fear of becoming contaminated. He cooked for them and ate their cooking. He was seeing God within everyone, and seeing everything around him as the energy of God.
In the Caitanya-caritamrta, Sripada Vallabhacarya declares that no one can effectively engage in propaganda of the holy name of Krsna without krsna-sakti: kali-kalera dharma-krsna-nama-sankirtana, krsna-sakti vina nahe tara pravartana. Vallabha praises Caitanya Mahaprabhu, telling Him that because He has effectively propagated the glory of the holy name of Krsna in sankirtana, this itself is evidence (pramana) that He is the bearer of krsna-sakti; taha pravartaila tumi, ei ta pramana krsna-sakti dhara tumi. He further emphasizes this point by saying, 'There is no doubt about it' (ithe nahi tumi.)
Mahaprabhu predicted that His name would be chanted in every town and village (prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama, sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama). Prabhupada effectively engaged in Krsna sankirtana, and was the devotee who fulfilled this prediction under the guidance of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and Thakura Bhaktivinoda.
I was also personally present and a part of his fulfilling the prediction of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who envisioned that one day people from all parts of the world would chant 'Jai Sacinandana' in Mayapura. It is ludicrous to consider that Mahaprabhu might select someone less than a suddha bhakta to fulfill these predictions.
Prabhupada was the bearer of the holy name of Krsna throughout the world. Wherever he went, people were moved to chant Hare Krsna. Some places he never physically visited -- places where Mahaprabhu's mission was unheard-of and the local environment less than favorable -- became centers of nama-sankirtana and seva-puja through his influence, with hundreds of devotees enthusiastically participating.
A devotee whose very darsana causes Krsna-nama to appear on one's lips is an uttamam vaisnava. I had this experience on the holy day that Srila Prabhupada first granted me his darsana. At that time, tears poured from my eyes, and my hairs stood on end. My sense was that I had met a very old and dearmost friend. Prabhupada's empowerment in krsna-sakti was so extensive that one who simply saw one of his disciples would chant 'Hare Krsna.'
Krsna-sakti refers to Krsna's internal energy (svarupa-sakti). This sakti dawns in one's heart when one develops from sadhana bhakti to bhava bhakti. Rupa Goswami describes bhava bhakti thus: suddha sattva visesatam prema suryamsu samyabhak. 'It is the ingress of suddha sattva, the ray of the sun of prema.'
The word visesatma implies the particular combination of the hladhini and samvit aspects of Krsna's svarupa sakti. When this appears in the heart of a sadhaka, that sadhaka becomes a devotee proper. He becomes a bhava bhakta who knows his relationship with Krsna under the influence of a particluar sthayi bhava (dominant emotion, such as sakhya or srngara).
The extensive sankirtana of Srila Prabhupada is an outgrowth of his empowerment in krsna-sakti. He himself prayed for this empowerment and, under scrutiny, his prayer aboard the Jaladuta reveals something about the nature of the empowerment in krsna-sakti that Prabhupada experienced. Together with the external meaning of this prayer an internal meaning is intertwined.
Its internal significance was brought out by Om Visnupada Bhakti Raksaka Sridharadeva Goswami Maharaja. It is very deep. Let me share it in brief for the sake of bringing out its significance.
In the refrain to his famous poem A Prayer to the Lotus Feet of Krsna, Srila Prabhupada says taba punya habe bhai e-punya koribe jabe radharani khusi habe dhruva ati boli toma tai. Here Prabhupada negotiates with his brother-friend (bhai) Krsna. He gives Krsna moral instruction, just as Subala sakha is said to be expert in doing in Rupa Goswami's Radha-krsna-ganoddesa-dipika.In the bhava of a priya narma sakha (bosom buddy), Prabhupada says, 'O my dear friend Krsna, it is certain that You will attain piety if Radha is pleased with You.' Here Prabhupada says that this is as sure as the Pole Star (Dhruva) is fixed. He tells Krsna, 'Your life revolves around Her.' In this way, he captures Krsna's attention. Having done so in the refrain of his poem, Prabhupada then begins to bargain with his friend in the following verses. He says,
(1) Sri Siddhanta Saraswati is extremely dear to the son of Saci and no one is equal to him in serving Krsna. A great guru, famed throughout the world, he delivered devotion to Krsna wherever he went.
Note: Here Prabhupada introduces his Gurudeva into the negotiation. Externally, in his sadhaka deha, he is the great preacher Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura Prabhupada. Internally he is Nayana-mani Manjari in his spiritual form, an intimate servitor in Sri Radha's group. Priya narma sakhas are intimately connected with a particular yuthesvari (gopi group leader). Here Prabhupada implies his connection with Radha's group and Lalita Sakhi, in whose service Nayana-mani Manjari is situated. In effect, he says to Krsna, 'My Gurudeva, who represents Sri Radha, has now appeared as a great preacher in Mahaprabhu's sankirtana movement.'
(2) He had a great desire to see Gauranga's name glorified throughout the Western world; so that in every town of the world, on the shores of its oceans, streams and rivers, people would call out Krsna's name.
(3) If that should happen, then that would be joy; that would be victory; that would be the extreme manifestation of Mahaprabhu's mercy. All those miserable creatures contaminated by illusion would be happy and the Vaisnava devotee's desire will see fruition.
(4) Now he has given me the order to do this task though I am unworthy and most unqualified. This is why I am begging You for the blessings I will need, for, today, You are wisest of all.
Note: Here Prabhupada tells Krsna, 'Nayana-mani Manjari has given me an order that I must fulfill. However, I cannot do it without Your help. As I have pointed out earlier, it will be good for You if you please Radha. This is my advice to You. Therefore, if You give the sakti to fulfill Her order to me, She will be pleased and You will attain piety.'
(5) If You would give me Your strength, then I could serve my spiritual master, and if I can make my life perfect by so doing, if I perfect my service and become joyful at this achievement, then Your company will be my reward.
Note: Here Prabhupada begins to express his own inner aspiration. This is further clarified in verses 7, 8 and 9.
(6) 'Thus was I fallen into the deep snake hole of material existence, following the bad company of people caught up in the cycle of desire; O Lord, I was adopted by the seer of the gods who delivered me from this fate, so how can I abandon the service of Your servant (my Gurudeva)?'
Note: This is a verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.28).
(7) You are ever my companion, but I had forgotten this and so suffered Maya's flogging, birth after birth. Today again this chance has come: if we make the connection, I will once again be able to meet with You.
(8) Once we are together, brother, I will once more feel the happiness of wandering all day long, grazing the cows. I pray for the day to come when we chase each other and wrestle in every one of Vrindavan's forests.
(9) Today, along with this great opportunity, I have been able to remember You and so, with great hope, I have called out to You. I am Your eternal servant; this is why I can hope, for, other than You, I have no other refuge.
In this prayer of Srila Prabhupada we find the essence of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Everyone is trying to please Krsna, but Krsna is trying to please Radha. Prabhupada was well aware of this, and by pointing it out to Krsna so sweetly, he got His attention, and thus the power to execute his Gurudeva's order in no small way was bestowed, and his personal request was no doubt fulfilled as well.
Regarding his personal aspiration, he stated it thus in a conversation related in the Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta, "I simply want to go to Krsnaloka, so I can have some of Krsna's laddu and kachauris. I do not have any great diversion from this. I simply want to go there so that I can enjoy eating laddus and kachauris with Krsna and the cowherd boys. Oh, 'If You will give me laddus and kachauris, then I will bless You.'"
Here Prabhupada states his aspiration, and in the last sentence he imitates Krsna's intimate friend Madhumangala, who is a vidusakha (joker friend), and who is sometimes classified as a priya narma sakha as well.
As I mentioned, the above notes on Prabhupada's poem are based on the realization of Srila Sridharadeva Maharaja, who explained the poem in this way several times. His opinion was that Prabhupada was situated in sakhya rasa. I have supplied the particulars regarding the disposition of a priya narma sakha.
Thus we have sastra, sadhu and the words of the guru himself to refer to for an answer. There may be other opinions regarding Prabhupada's relationship with Krsna, and Sridhara Maharaja himself offered a possible alternate point of view in response to those who criticized his initial glorification of Prabhupada as a sakha of Krsna. Although he considered this criticism to be based on a mundane understanding of spiritual mellows, he was a very generous soul.
May all of us who have been touched by Prabhupada's sakti be as generous
with one another.