Honoring the Pure Devotee
As the latest headlines and news reports from around the world become increasingly disturbing for us all, it's quite natural to wonder just where the joy of life has gone for so many people. The pressing threat of world war hangs ominously above our heads as we go about our daily activities, hoping against hope that somehow everything will work out alright. Yet deep in our hearts, we know that something might happen at a moment's notice which can potentially destroy everything. Our precious lives -- and the lives of our loved ones -- hang in the balance. In reality, most of us don't have much of a safety net except for a vague sense of faith that life will go on. If truth be told, we live on a wing and a prayer.
This constant state of insecurity may appear to be something new as a result of our so-called material advancement, which has ushered in a new era replete with multiple means of mass destruction. But according to the Vedic scriptures, this is an age-old dilemma for humankind. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, spoke the following words 5,000 years ago:
"From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again." (B.G. 8.16)
In this simple yet potent verse, we are confronted with both the problem and the solution to our material miseries and anxieties. According to Krsna, the Supreme Lord (and therefore the supreme authority), the very nature of this world is insecure because there is no permanent shelter here. Who can deny that life is constantly changing -- for better or worse -- no matter how much we struggle to make it stand still? As the old saying goes, "Time waits for no man."
Krsna informs us that not only is this lifetime transitory, but there are more lifetimes, and they are all temporary and miserable. Krsna says, "punah avartinah," which is translated as "again returning." We must continue returning again and again to this world of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. This is what the Vedas refer to as samsara, or the cycle of birth and death. The living entity or spirit soul (atma) encased in one fleeting material body after another is rotating "from the highest planet down to the lowest" in search of permanent happiness. But since this world is certified by the Lord Himself to be a place of misery, then all such wanderings are ultimately futile. In other words, we're looking in the wrong place.
As gloomy as this may all sound at first, there is a straightforward answer to the problem. Lord Krsna is the benefactor of all living entities, so we can rest assured that He won't leave us high and dry. In fact, he doesn't. In the very same verse, the Lord promises, "mam upetya tu kaunteya, punar janma na vidyate": "But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again." Here is the simple but sublime solution. We must seek our happiness in Krsna's abode where there is no more birth and death. This is called our eternal life, or "back home, back to Godhead."
Of course, we may then inquire as to how we can actually make it to the spiritual sky where life is full of endless joy and happiness. If we read the Bhagavad-gita in full, our inquiries will be satisfied. Krsna advises the following in the fourth chapter of the Gita:
"Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth."
In the purport to this important verse, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness and the author of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, writes the following:
"The path of spiritual realization is undoubtedly difficult. The Lord therefore advises us to approach a bona fide spiritual master in the line of disciplic succession from the Lord Himself. No one can be a bona fide spiritual master without following this principle of disciplic succession. The Lord is the original spiritual master, and a person in the disciplic succession can convey the message of the Lord as it is to his disciple. No one can be spiritually realized by manufacturing his own process, as is the fashion of the foolish pretenders. The Bhagavatam says: dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam -- the path of religion is directly enunciated by the Lord. Therefore, mental speculation or dry arguments cannot help one progress in spiritual life. One has to approach a bona fide spiritual master to receive the knowledge. Such a spiritual master should be accepted in full surrender, and one should serve the spiritual master like a menial servant, without false prestige. Satisfaction of the self-realized spiritual master is the secret of advancement in spiritual life. Inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding. Unless there is submission and service, inquiries from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding. In this verse, both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned. One should not only hear submissively from the spiritual master, but one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries. A bona fide spiritual master is by nature very kind toward the disciple. Therefore when the student is submissive and is always ready to render service, the reciprocation of knowledge and inquiries becomes perfect."
Lord Krsna Himself recommends that we approach the bona fide spiritual master in disciplic succession. Because he is the transparent via medium to the Lord, the spiritual master is qualified to accept service on the Lord's behalf. This is the process of Krsna consciousness as revealed to us by the Supreme Lord, and which is supported by the self-realized spiritual master, the Vedic scriptures, and the saintly persons or sadhus (B.G.10.3, purport). Therefore it should be clearly understood that when we worship the spiritual master, we are not worshiping a common ordinary man. He is the authorized representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The Vedic literatures inform us that glorification of the spiritual master is due to his exalted position as a pure unmotivated servant of his own spiritual master in disciplic succession (parampara) from the Lord Himself. Srila Prabhupada clearly explains: "One has to understand Srimad-Bhagavatam through the process of devotional service and by hearing the recitation of a pure devotee. These are the injunctions of Vedic literature -- sruti and smrti. Those who are not in the disciplic succession and who are not pure devotees cannot understand the real mysterious objective of Srimad-Bhagavatam and Srimad Bhagavad-gita. (Cc. Madhya 22.131)
The worship of Srila Prabhupada is therefore the worship of the entire parampara, and ultimately, the worship of the Supreme Lord Krsna. It should always be understood that the pure devotee never takes the glorification for himself, and this can easily be concluded by studying Prabhupada's books, hearing his lectures, and reading his letters and essays. For example, in just one of his letters written in 1968, Srila Prabhupada counseled a disciple:
"A Krishna Consciousness person thinks always about himself as the lowest creature in the world, and the more one thinks like that he becomes elevated more and more. A Krishna Conscious person is never falsely puffed-up; he is satisfied with his humble position as the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna." (Srila Prabhupada letter, June 1, 1968)
Prabhupada always practiced what he preached. There was never any discrepancy between what he instructed and how he lived his life. That is the meaning of acarya, or one who teaches by example. Srila Prabhupada was the first to rise in the mornings, and no one could keep up with his incessant devotion and service throughout the day -- day after day, month after month and year after year. Yet despite his impeccable standard of pure devotional service, Srila Prabhupada always remained humble and sincere. In the same letter, he stated the following:
"Personally I have no credit for myself, but I am trying to act as faithful servant of my predecessors and just presenting without any adulteration the message which I have received from my Spiritual Master. Similarly, if this message is presented by you all who have accepted me as the Spiritual Master, then all the people of the world may be benefited by receiving this transcendent message of Krishna Consciousness. Try to execute this mission wholeheartedly and faithfully, and all of you try to broadcast the message to your best capacity."
In conclusion, we humbly encourage everyone to study Srila Prabhupada's life and teachings to their heart's content. There is so much available. His early writings and letters are just as timely and relevant to the world today as they were in the forties and fifties. And his later writings are indeed a welcome relief and panacea for society's chronic maladies. If one takes the time to really understand who Prabhupada is and what he is saying, there can be no mistake that he should be regarded with the highest respect and love. It is not blind fanaticism or sectarianism to honor the pure devotee of Krsna; but in fact, it's what the Supreme Lord wants us to do (B.G. 4.34). Since we're hoping to get out of this material world of miseries and go back to Him in the kingdom of God, then it's not without good reason that we should follow His advice in this regard. Therefore we can safely say that Prabhupada is for everyone, just as Krsna is for everyone.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.