Srila Prabhupada – in a Class by Himself…?

Sep 4 2018 - Krishna Talk 217

(The following article is from the book, ‘Prabhupada Vijaya’ a compendium of articles by Swami Narasingha about Srila Prabhupada)

When speaking of Srila Prabhupada, we sometimes hear the quote of Bhaktivinoda Thakura –“When thou art living still in sound,” or that, ‘Srila Prabhupada is living in his instructions’ but this doesn’t simply mean that he’s living in so many gigabytes in the Bhaktivedanta Folio or that he is living in the pages of the beautifully hardbound books adorning our bookshelves.

If we want to experience that he is non-different from his instructions, then that necessitates that we must embrace the conception of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. We cannot live without that conception and simply honour him in the form of paperbound books, folios, marble murtis and so forth. We will have to join him by joining in with that conception. If we give so much praise to him but we ourselves don’t come to the proper conception of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, then that praise may do some good to us and to the people in general, but it does not do the highest type of good. It is like propagating namabhasa – what will namabhasa do? It will give freedom from material miseries, it will award liberation and it will defeat so many things. But all those results are a mere shadow of prema-bhakti. Propagating namabhasa pales in comparison to suddha-nama, the pure Name of Krsna. The pure Name of Krsna does not give liberation. The pure Name of Krsna gives one a taste of love of God. Even liberation is considered mundane in the face of krsna-prema.

We will have to come to the right conception. Many times our siksa-guru, Srila Sridhara Maharaja was asked the question, “How will we come to the right conception?” Many ‘how’ questions were asked, and he answered them by saying, “Guru, sadhu and sastra.” By taking shelter of the lotus-feet of our spiritual master, by associating with saintly persons who themselves have that conception, and by studying the scriptures in light of that conception. Bhagavatam is not an alien literature to India, but who knows the meaning of Bhagavatam? Who understands the actual message of Bhagavatam? The followers of Ramanuja study Bhagavatam, the Tattvavadis at Udupi study Bhagavatam, the Vallabhas study Bhagavatam and even the Mayavadis study Bhagavatam, but Mahaprabhu has rejected all of them! Mahaprabhu recognised Sridhara Svami, the original commentator on Bhagavatam.

sridhara-svami-prasade bhagavata jani
jagad-guru sridhara-svami guru kari mani

 “It is only by the mercy of Sridhara Svami that I understand the Bhagavatam. Therefore, I accept jagat-guru Sridhara Svami as My spiritual master.” (C.c. Antya-lila 7.133)

There is a line from Sridhara Svami through the Six Gosvamis to the Seventh Gosvami (Bhaktivinoda Thakura) and through Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura to those who live by their teachings at present – they understand Bhagavatam. Those persons should be our holy association. Guru, sadhu and sastra will help us come to the proper conception. Then we will have the merciful presence and grace of Srila Prabhupada.

It is sometimes said that, “Prabhupada is in a class by himself.” In fact, these days it has become popular to praise Srila Prabhupada by saying this. But this is a misnomer. He is not in a class by himself – he is in the top class of the servants of the Lord, who live eternally in the Lord’s company. He is not alone. A Mayavadi may say, “My guru is in a class by himself. Bliss is experienced alone!” They will eliminate everything and everyone. But we are not for elimination. ‘A class by yourself’ means you have been sentenced to hell for eternity. Ramananda Raya declared that to be without the devotees is the worst type of hell.

duhkha-madhye kona duhkha haya gurutara
krsna-bhakta-viraha vina duhkha nahi dekhi para

(Mahaprabhu asked:) “Amongst all types of miseries, which is the greatest? (Ramananda replied:) Apart from the separation from the devotees of Krsna, I see no other misery.” (C.c. Madhya-lila 8.248)

We must see Srila Prabhupada in light of the devotees. Srila Prabhupada would never take pleasure in those words. “Oh yes Prabhupada, you are alone and you are by yourself!” That is like saying, “Srila Prabhupada, you are a failure.” Srila Prabhupada is always with his Guru Maharaja, and Srila Sarasvati Thakura is always with his Guru Maharaja and they are all gathered together far from here. If you study the Srimad Bhagavatam, you can get some idea where all these great souls are gathered together. The universe is covered by ten material layers, each one ten times thicker than the previous one.

etad andam visesakhyam krama-vrddhair dasottaraih
toyadibhih parivrtam pradhanenavrtair bahih
yatra loka-vitano ’yam rupam bhagavato hareh

“The universal sphere known as visesa (subtle manifested energy) is surrounded with elemental layers such as water etc., each ten times thicker than the previous one. The last layer is covered by the pradhana. Within this sphere are the various planetary systems that make up the form of Lord Hari.” (Bhag. 3.26.52)

The last of the ten layers is 450 quadrillion miles thick, and after you cross that, you are on the border of infinity. Those great souls are gathered together there – on the higher side of the infinite.

Therefore, we should select our words of praise carefully – they should not be gathered from mundane feelings. A politician may come and people will tell him, “Oh sir, you are a great man!” but what his greatness is, is never really defined. So we may say that Srila Prabhupada is great, he is our saviour etc. but without understanding in which way he is great and in which way he is actually our saviour. Proper understanding is required. In the days that Srila Prabhupada was physically present, the disciples were oftentimes at a loss for words to really describe his greatness and to praise his actual position. Now, as time progresses, we should try to understand and not simply make his glorification as something cheap, just as so many people praise Jesus or Mohammed. We find devotees saying the same thing of Prabhupada – “He is the way, the truth and the light!” but behind that, the meaning is very elusive. Devotees enthusiastically want to glorify Srila Prabhupada, but they don’t actually know about his greatness, and thus they make statements such as, “He was in a class by himself.” This is a big mistake. Our Guru Maharaja is known as Prabhupada because he was qualified for that title and his qualification was not that he was independent in his activities, in his writings, or in his siddhanta. He stated many times, “My only qualification is that I did not deviate one inch from my spiritual master’s instructions.”

He did not come to present something different to us. What he came to present is what they represent. The proper understanding of Srila Prabhupada is to see him in light of the previous acaryas, and a proper glorification of him necessitates remembering those previous acaryas. In other words, when we think of Srila Prabhupada in any deep way, for any length of time, we must think of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, we must think of Sri Nityananda Prabhu, we must think of Sripada Rupa Gosvami, Sanatana Gosvami and Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami. We must remember the various prayers of great acaryas like Prabodhananda Sarasvati. We must remember the statements of Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura – because these are the things that Prabhupada came to give us and to teach to us. The conception of Mahaprabhu is represented in all these personalities.

If we want to understand who Srila Prabhupada is, we should look at his title – ‘Prabhupada.’ Where does it come from? We find in the Madhya-lila of Caitanya-caritamrta that Krsna Dasa Kaviraja Gosvami refers to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as Prabhupada. And it is also mentioned that Nityananda Prabhu was called Prabhupada as well as Sri Advaita Acarya.

kasi misra kahe – ami bada bhagyavan
mora grhe prabhu-padera habe avasthana

"Kasi Misra said, 'I am very fortunate that the Lord of all Prabhus (Prabhupada) will stay on my house.'" (C.c. Madhya-lila 10.23)

Mahaprabhu, Nityananda Prabhu and Advaita Acarya are all visnu-tattva, and They are all referred to there as Prabhupada. Later on, in Caitanya-caritamrta, there is a description of the tree of caitanya-bhakti. Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the trunk of that tree, then there are two branches – the two branches are Sri Nityananda Prabhu and Advaita Acarya. So in our parampara, the first Prabhupada is Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself and then Nityananda Prabhu and Sri Advaita Acarya.

When the Lord appeared, many devotees of Radha and Krsna from Goloka, also appeared in Navadvipa-dhama and other parts of Bengal in order to assist Him in His pastimes. All were fully qualified in an infinite variety of ways; nonetheless, the Lord selected certain ones amongst His associates that would be the icons for the sampradaya in various ways. For example, He selected Haridasa Thakura to be the namacarya – the acarya for chanting the Holy Name. He selected Sripada Rupa Gosvami as the rasa-tattvacarya, and positioned him as the head of the sampradaya. When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu met Rupa Gosvami at Prayaga, He instructed him in rasa-tattva. Rupa Gosvami is also known to us as Prabhupada, but he is not visnu-tattva. He is from the associate servitor group of Srimati Radharani, and heads the group of select servitors generally known as the mañjaris. Rupa Gosvami literally became Prabhupada – he received the Lord’s feet upon his head. What warranted him to be selected by Caitanya Mahaprabhu to become the head of the sampradaya? There were so many devotees. What did Srila Rupa Gosvami do? What did he say? Particularly, what did he write? We find in Caitanya-caritamrta that Sri Rupa could understand the mood and feelings of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

mora slokera abhipraya na jane kona jane
mora manera katha tumi janile kemane

"Nobody understands the point of My verse. How do you understand the intention of My mind? "(C.c. Madhya-lila 1.69)

From that time until this day, we are known as Rupanugas – the followers of Sri Rupa Gosvami. I am oftentimes surprised to see glorifications of Srila Prabhupada running on into hundreds of pages and never a mention of Sri Rupa Gosvami or the previous acaryas. Srila Prabhupada is waiting for the day when we will realise who he is, and what his connection is with all these great personalities. He is not in any way pleased or charmed by our foolishness when we say he is ‘in a class by himself’ or that he is the sena-pati bhakta. It means we have not understood His Divine Grace.

The book, Prabhupada Vijaya is available at the following URLs: