PIONEERING THE WAY
Srila Prabhupada Impacts Mexico (Part 1)
The Beginning of the Hare Krishna Movement in Latin America
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja
Founder-Acharya of the International for Krishna Consciousness
Rama Govinda das
(R.G. Bhakti Prapanna Parvata Maharaja)
His Divine Grace Om Vishnupada Sri Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja Prabhupada wrote the following in a letter to the wife of the former temple president of Mexico City temple of ISKCON, after his first visit:
"Especially I was happy to see your nice temple in Mexico City, and I am always thinking of that place and all the nice devotees there." (Letter to Chandravali devi dasi 13.12.72)
Although this is not well known, His Divine Grace was very pleased with the Mexico City temple because of the way it was established, the people's natural tendency and receptivity in recognizing saintly persons, and the local public's general piety.
In another letter to the former temple president he expressed this as follows:
"I saw for myself how nice you have created the Mexico City temple of ISKCON, and I was very much inclined to those devotees. Only I had some difficulty with language difficulty to preach, but still I could see how pious they were and eager to listen anyway. That is the only qualification, if someone is eager for spiritual improvement." (Letter to Chitsukananda das 11.12.72)
By Lord Sri Krishna's Grace I was fortunate enough to be one of those devotees, as Srila Prabhupada kindly called us, although I personally do not feel as such, it was only because of his causeless mercy that he kindly appeared in our lives, that we were at the right place in the right time. As it is said in the Sri Caitanya Caritamrita:
brahmanda brahmite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru krsna prasade pay bhakti lata bija
"According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krsna. By the mercy of both Krsna and the spiritual master, such person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service." (Cc. Madhya 19.51)
We should confess that we have not been able to adequately take advantage of the great opportunity we have been given. But we hope that some day we will be able to adequately serve His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. For now we can only relate the events we witnessed twenty-five years ago. We were fortunate enough to be present during both of Srila
Prabhupada's visits to the Mexico City ISKCON temple and other events that directly involved Srila Prabhupada in establishing Krishna Consciousness in Mexico.
The following is a humble offering dedicated to His Divine Grace on the centennial celebration of his appearance, and also to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his first visit to the ISKCON temple in Mexico City on the second of June, 1972. This is the year in which I had the great fortune to meet His Divine Grace for the first time.
Because of Srila Prabhupada's visit, the year 1972 was of special importance for the development of the Krishna Consciousness Movement in Mexico City and for the rest of Latin America in general.
The second great incident that year was in August, he approved the installation of the first Deities of Lord Krishna in Latin America: Their Lordships Sri Sri Jagannatha, Baladeva and Srimati Subhadra. In this way the Hare Krishna movement was permanently established there.
Srila Prabhupada wanted temples in all main cities around the world. After he founded the Sri Sri Radha Krishna temple in New York City, which is considered the first genuine Vaishnava temple in the western world, he received the help of American youngsters who joined him, they became his disciples, and helped him spread the Hare Krishna movement throughout the entire world.
Mexico was one of the first countries with his early disciples and was the first one in Latin America. Chitsukananda das, who was from New York City and came from a Puerto-Rican family, and his wife Chandravali devi dasi, who was an American of Mexican descent initiated the Krishna Consciousness movement there. To their great fortune the Mexican public was especially receptive. People from all sectors of society spontaneously offered the devotees their help and the national university became the most important place to win adepts. Some of them moved into the temple ashram becoming full time devotees.
The sankirtan group would go out every day to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra throughout the city, and this was a big success. Large crowds thronged the devotees and soon everyone was chanting and dancing without reservations, buying books and incense without prejudice, and happily accepting the prasadam the devotees offered them. So this chanting in the streets and at the national University became a very good way to attract people to the temple arotikas, the Sunday feasts, and to the daily Bhagavad-Gita classes.
The Sunday festivals where especially noteworthy because literally hundreds of people would show up at the temple to chant and dance to the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, ask questions, and finally, honor prasadam. All of this caused a great impact whole families began to practice Krishna Consciousness in their homes. Srila Prabhupada took special notice of the
Mexican public's receptiveness:
"I only had some difficulty with the language to preach, but still I could see how pious they were and eager to listen. That is the only qualification, if someone is eager for spiritual improvement." (Letter 11.12. 72)
Srila Prabhupada visited the Mexico City ISKCON temple after the devotees had moved into an old mansion that had previously used as the Ethiopian embassy and was located only three blocks from the country's official presidential residence. With his visit, Srila Prabhupada firmly established the Krishna Consciousness movement in Mexico City by consolidating the regular temple programs like Mangala-aratika, Tulasi worship, japa chanting, and Srimad-Bhagavatam class for the early mornings, and the evening
programs with their arotikas, Bhagavad-Gita classes, and prasadam distribution to the guests.
During this first visit he initiated local persons in order to establish these programs. With very few exceptions, practically all the residents in the temple ashrams were initiated. This greatly inspired the devotees of the big city who then went out to the streets and distributed the first books produced in Spanish: Krishna Consciousness the Topmost Yoga System, which was distributed by Srila Prabhupada himself at the famous "Hotel Casino de la Selva" in Cuernavaca. It was also put out for public distribution at some of Srila Prabhupada's other preaching events. After this first book, another classic was published: Easy Journey to other
planets. All of this was done under the enthusiastic guidance of Haihaya das, who together with his wife, Narmada devi dasi, had come from Argentina to help establish Krishna Consciousness in Mexico City.
Srila Prabhupada's first visit to Mexico in 1972 definitively established the Krishna consciousness movement in this country, mainly, by initiating the first Vaishnava devotees of Mexican origin into the chanting of the holy names, by establishing the spiritual programs in
the temple, and finally by authorizing the installation of Deities for regular worship.
To reinforce the movement in this country Srila Prabhupada asked his more experienced Spanish speaking disciples from other countries to go and help their Mexican god brothers to develop their Krishna Consciousness at a personal and collective level. He wrote in a letter to the leader of this group of pioneers:
"As many Spanish speaking devotees as possible can go there and help you, and you can expand into South America from there." (Letter 5.03.72)
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura ordered Srila Prabhupada to preach in the English speaking countries. But by his causeless mercy and by the power of his preaching, Srila Prabhupada took the movement beyond that. Srila Prabhupada is the characteristic example of the preacher devotee who travels everywhere helping the conditioned souls to liberate themselves from the clutches of material nature. The first time His Divine Grace blessed the temple in Mexico City with his presence, he exhibited the kind and merciful character of the Vaishnava preacher who goes to great lengths to preach everywhere irrespective of material limitations. So during his visit to Mexico he did not doubt in leaving the capital for going out to preach in provincial cities, or in the open air at public squares, or even in lush conference halls in expensive hotels. He visited the home of a devotee, the university campus, the Mexico valley Masonic lodge located in the city's downtown area, and he was featured on television in the well known news broadcast "24 horas con Jacobo Zabludovsky." But
despite his many activities, in and outside the city, he still had time to give classes, initiate disciples, and preach to the Sunday guests who, with extraordinary enthusiasm where able to get a personal audience with him, being deeply impressed by the sublime personality of a pure devotee of Lord Krishna. This was certainly something they had never known or experienced before.
Even though we did not make enough publicity for Srila Prabhupada's visit, many people went to the temple that Sunday and filed it up to its capacity. They had come to listen to His Divine Grace. Their souls were able to detect the opportunity to liberate themselves from
material existence simply by listening to the words of a pure devotee. People were very enthusiastic and respectful in dealing with Srila Prabhupada. From the important director of the famous T.V. News broadcast (Jacobo Zabludovsky) to the simplest person who had contact with him.
When Srila Prabhupada came to Mexico City (the biggest in the world), he gave us the opportunity to submerge in the ocean of pleasure that is the Sankirtan movement of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Those of us who were among the first devotees in Mexico were blessed with the opportunity to personally deal with His Divine Grace. There were only a handful of us in the temple. With great generosity he spoke to us and freely gave us his company. Allowing us to travel with him, walk with him, and to offer him small services such as helping him with his footwear or accompanying him to the house of a female devotee.
Although he has ended his manifest pastimes, those activities come to our minds, and remain forever in our hearts, giving us the inspiration to act as witnesses to the great soul who walked among us, Om Vishnupada A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja Srila Prabhupada.
Of course we cannot entirely describe that transcendental personality, for that is certainly beyond our capacity, nor do we possess the literary talent necessary to deal with the subject as it deserves. Still, we prefer not to leave to oblivion these activities of His Divine Grace.
Regarding the present book and it's future readers, we allow ourselves to quote the following verse from the beautiful Srimad-Bhagavatam. From Sri Narada Muni´s instructions to Srila Vyasadeva:
yasmin prati-slodam abaddhavaty api
namany anantasya yaso'nkitani yat
srvanti gayanti grananti sadhavah
"On the other hand, that literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms, pastimes, etc. of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of
this world's misdirected civilization, such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest." (SB.1.5.11)
This determination and the way to carry out the task are confirmed in the Bhagavatam:
Tathapi kirtayanmy anga
Yatha matir yatha sutra
"In spite of my inability, whatever I have been able to hear (from the spiritual master) and whatever I could assimilate I am now describing." (SB.3.6.36)
For the same reason we support the testimonies presented in this book with pertinent quotes from the scriptures and from Srila Prabhupada's letters, lectures and works.