Srila Prabhupada’s Trancendental Qualities
by Ajitananda dasa
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who successfully distributed the message of Lord Krsna throughout the world, was not an ordinary conditioned soul, governed by the harsh laws of material nature. Although to the unenlightened he may have appeared to exhibit commonplace characteristics, it is evident through the careful study of his life and activities, that Srila Prabhupada perfectly displayed the twenty-six qualities of a pure devotee of Lord Krsna. We learn from Vedic literature that one who possesses these qualities is necessarily free from material bondage, and enjoys an eternal position in the intimate association of the Supreme Lord. Such a great soul is very rarely found within this material realm, and owing to his unparalleled purity and exalted status, he is worshipable by the entire world. Individually, and as a collective society of aspiring devotees, we must always strive to appreciate Srila Prabhupada’s divine qualities, teach this application to others, and perform all of our devotional activities for his satisfaction. This treatise is an imperfect but hopeful attempt to please Srila Prabhupada by illustrating, in a practical way, how he perfectly displayed the twenty-six qualities of a pure devotee of Lord Krsna.
The ultimate expression of mercy is to freely afford everyone with the opportunity to develop pure love of Godhead. Srila Prabhupada’s preaching work clearly fit this description. His distribution of mercy was not the mechanical performance of a duty thrust upon him by higher authority, but manifested naturally as a result of his heartfelt compassion for the long-suffering conditioned souls. It was unlimited and all-pervasive, falling everywhere like pleasing rain upon the burning hearts of this age. When Srila Prabhupada lectured during the early days of the Krsna consciousness movement, he would often tell his listeners, “I have come to your country not to take anything, but simply to give.” Those who were honest and sincere were able to sense Srila Prabhupada’s unalloyed desire to bestow upon them the highest form of mercy, and guided by the Supersoul, they voluntarily placed themselves under his guidance and protection. Although Srila Prabhupada is now gone from our material vision, his mercy is as attainable today as it was then. A liberated soul is not bound by time and space, and neither is his mercy. One has only to open up his heart to receive this benediction which is being distributed freely to everyone.
When Srila Prabhupada first met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, he was a supporter of Mahatma Gandhi’s effort to free India from the clutches of British rule. During that meeting, the two engaged in a discussion in which Srila Prabhupada expressed his viewpoint concerning this political matter. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta responded by defeating Srila Prabhupada’s notion, using sound logic and scriptural evidence to prove that Krsna consciousness alone could rid India, as well as the rest of the world, from all forms of material suffering. Because Srila Prabhupada was not defiant, being blessed with all humility and respect, he surrendered very graciously to his spiritual master’s infallible conclusion and accepted him as his spiritual guide. From this transcendental instructive pastime, we are able to see how a pure devotee of Lord Krsna is never defiant, and how we must conduct ourselves in the presence of genuinely advanced Vaisnavas if we wish to rise to the platform of divine consciousness. Although Srila Prabhupada was a personal associate of Lord Krsna, and was capable of giving spiritual guidance to the entire world, he was always surrendered to the lotus feet of his spiritual master and never exhibited even a drop of defiance in his character.
During the late 1960’s, a generation of young men and women took part in a mass rebellion against the lifetime of lies that had been perpetrated upon them by their government, schools, media and big business. They had grown weary of a social system that stifled their development in a network of lying, cheating and exploitation. At that time, Srila Prabhupada arrived on the scene, boldly preaching the message of Lord Krsna. He spoke truthfully, never altering the pure message in cowardly deference to the time and circumstance, in order to attract followers, fame and money. In an atmosphere seething with the fumes of unrestricted sense gratification, Srila Prabhupada presented a process of spiritual life which was based on personal sacrifice and purification of the senses. In those days, the peace movement was in vogue, and it was extremely unpopular to speak out to young people on behalf of any form of military activity. In spite of this strong public opinion, Srila Prabhupada spoke the truth about the Bhagavad-gita, explaining to his youthful listeners about Arjuna’s spiritual perfection in fighting a violent war under the order of Lord Krsna. Because of his straightforward presentation of Lord Krsna’s message, and his own shining example of spiritual perfection, people gradually began to understand what he was saying and received the message with great delight. Such was the powerful effect of Srila Prabhupada’s truthfulness.
Equal to Everyone
A pure devotee of Lord Krsna sees the spiritual nature of all living beings, regardless of the different material forms they are temporarily manifesting. He observes that all souls are qualitatively equal, although their individual, spiritual personalities remain distinctly unique. In addition, he is always thinking in terms of how to benefit them, and is therefore equal to everyone with regard to his outlook and treatment of them. Srila Prabhupada exhibited this sublime characteristic of a pure devotee, and was therefore the ideal representative of Lord Nityananda Prabhu, who desired to flood the entire universe with love of Godhead. He was constantly immersed in distributing Lord Nityananda’s mercy to everyone, regardless of their material situations, and he humbly requested his disciples to assist him in this effort. During one early lecture given in the storefront temple on the lower east side of New York City, a derelict came staggering through the front door, approached the lecture dais, handed Srila Prabhupada a roll of tissue paper and then departed, his demonstration completed. Despite this odd behavior by the derelict, Srila Prabhupada, because he was equal to everyone, did not take seriously his faulty position; rather, he took note of the spark of devotion coming through and expressed his appreciation, saying, “Just see, he has just begun his devotional service.”
Srila Prabhupada was faultless due to his permanent situation in the internal energy of Lord Krsna, which, by nature, affords freedom from the four faults found in the conditioned souls, namely, the tendencies to commit mistakes, to be in illusion, to cheat others, and the possession of imperfect senses. Because Srila Prabhupada performed all of his devotional activities in a mood of consummate surrender to the desires of Lord Krsna, his activities were guided by the personal hand of the Lord and were consequently mistake-free. His freedom from illusion was borne out by the fact that, by his preaching work, hundreds and thousands of souls were enlightened with spiritual knowledge. His willingness to sacrifice his own personal comfort for the service of humanity demonstrated his complete freedom from the tendency to cheat others; and finally, his eyes being tinged with the ointment of love of Godhead, were fully spiritual and free from defect, as were the rest of his senses, which were ever engaged in the transcendental loving service of Lord Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada was magnanimous in the truest sense of the word, as his gifts to the world were unlimited and filled with tremendous spiritual value. He gave us a wonderful philosophy to live by and knowledge of our true spiritual identities, as well as beautiful Deities to worship, the Holy Name to chant and delicious Krsna prasadam on which to feast. Srila Prabhupada also endowed us with the enlivening association of our godbrothers and godsisters, the opportunity to raise beautiful devotee children, and above all, the chance to develop pure love of Godhead and return to a life of eternity, knowledge and bliss in the association of Lord Krsna in the spiritual world. In return for all these blessings, Srila Prabhupada asked nothing for himself, but simply that we give this opportunity to others, refrain from sinful activities and chant Hare Krsna. In this way, unselfishly giving of himself at every step, Srila Prabhupada perfectly exhibited the magnanimous nature of a pure devotee of Lord Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada’s mild demeanor was another very attractive feature of his divine personality. In this material world it is generally seen that when a person attains a position of high authority, he becomes maddened with false prestige and loses all traces of mildness in his behavior. Thus, he becomes a source of anxiety for his subordinates and for all those with whom he interacts. Srila Prabhupada, although the world’s greatest authority, never displayed the quality of false pride and always maintained a mild nature, around which everyone felt at ease. There is a beautiful photograph of Srila Prabhupada, shown on the back of the large, silver-jacketed Krsna Book, volume two, in which he appears to be examining a flower in his hand. This one picture does far more to express Srila Prabhupada’s mild nature than this feebly-equipped writer can hope to communicate.
Srila Prabhupada exhibited summit cleanliness, both internally and externally. His heart and mind were constantly submerged in the purifying waters of love of Godhead and his shining body was always engaged in the Lord’s pure devotional service. Srila Prabhupada’s cleanliness was so profound and far-reaching that not only was he himself impeccable, but he also purified the lives of thousands of men and women who had previously possessed no proper concept of spiritual or bodily cleanliness.
Without Material Possessions
A pure devotee of Lord Krsna is always diving and surfacing in the ocean of spiritual happiness. In the Vedas it is explained that one drop of this happiness is millions of times greater than all of the pleasure derived from liberation, what to speak of the paltry relish afforded by material sense gratification. In this light it is clear that a pure devotee is not dependent upon the accumulation of material possessions for his happiness. He accepts only that quota bestowed upon him by the Lord, using it to keep his body and soul together for the performance of devotional service, and maintains full awareness that these facilities are actually the property of the Lord. During his years spent in Vrindavana preparing for his eventual journey to the west, Srila Prabhupada lived very simply in a tiny room in the courtyard of the Radha- Damodara temple. A small cot, a writing table and a few other amenities were there to assist him in his Deity seva and translating work. After preaching vigorously in the west for a number of years, Srila Prabhupada was presented by Lord Krsna with an unlimited measure of opulence. Despite having access to this vast storehouse, Srila Prabhupada never claimed any of it as his own, using every penny in the service of Lord Krsna, and carrying all of his personal paraphernalia from temple to temple in a small suitcase about the size of a tote bag.
Performs Welfare Work for Everyone
It is stated in the Krsna Book story of Sudama Brahmana that when loving service is rendered unto Lord Krsna, the entire creation is benefitted as a result. Thus, a pure devotee of the Lord, who is always engaged in devotional service, performs welfare work for everyone. This welfare work is nothing like the philanthropy conducted in the material world, in which the less fortunate are provided with some facility to temporarily offset their suffering condition; rather, it is meant to completely extricate the conditioned souls from material existence and bless them with an eternally blissful life in the spiritual realm. Srila Prabhupada served Lord Krsna wholeheartedly and without deviation during his lila among us. In this way, he benefitted the entire world indirectly through his devotional service, and directly by his presentation of a potent spiritual program capable of neutralizing the material existence of anyone who took to it seriously. His welfare work did not stop with his physical disappearance, however, as the preaching force that he set in motion will continue to spiritually uplift the inhabitants of this world for the next ten thousand years, thus far exceeding the meager philanthropy performed by those absorbed in the bodily concept of life.
Srila Prabhupada once described the mind of a pure devotee as being very peaceful, like a country pond filled with crystal clear water, beautiful lotus flowers and swans gliding happily across it. This much sought after state of mind is a natural quality of one who is situated in transendence at the lotus feet of Lord Krsna, far beyond the turbulence of the material world and material senses. Srila Prabhupada was certainly very peaceful due to his own situation in pure Krsna consciousness. Shouldering the immense pressure and responsibility of a worldwide spiritual family, and the concomitant problems that arose therefrom, Srila Prabhupada gracefully meted out love, guidance and practical instructions with full composure, never once losing touch with his peaceful nature.
Surrendered to Krsna
Srila Prabhupada’s complete surrender to Lord Krsna was demonstrated by his constant engagement in devotional service with body, mind and words. One symptom of a soul who is fully surrendered to Lord Krsna is his consequent detachment from bodily affectation. At the advanced age of seventy, and in the face of several heart attacks and various other onslaughts that would have incapacitated and demoralized a mere mortal, Srila Prabhupada single-handedly broke through maya’s formidable stronghold and planted the seed of devotional service in the hearts of millions of fallen souls. His ability to accomplish this feat was due to his complete surrender to Lord Krsna.
One is said to be desireless when his only interest lies in satisfying the transcendental senses of Lord Krsna. Desires are eternally flowing like a river from the heart of the living entity, and the process of Krsna consciousness is meant to change the quality of these desires from material to spiritual, at which point he is said to have attained pure love of Godhead. Although Srila Prabhupada began his preaching work in a very humble manner, in due course of time his mission became enormously successful and he was blessed with unlimited opulence by the grace of Lord Krsna. We have seen time and time again, throughout the course of history, that when a person acquires great amounts of wealth and power, he becomes thoroughly attached and polluted due to the strong force of his material desires. Srila Prabhupada, by contrast, remained aloof from this contamination due to his complete absorption in the desire to please Lord Krsna.
Indifferent to Material Acquisition
Because a pure devotee of Lord Krsna is desireless, he is naturally indifferent to material acquisition. Material facilities may come and go by the will of the Lord, but that does not concern him in the least. Srila Prabhupada once pointed out that it is sometimes necessary to exhibit various opulences in order to attract the minds of the conditioned souls to Krsna consciousness, and that if he had simply sat beneath a tree and preached, very few people would have come to listen. He therefore constructed and preached from beautifully ornate temples in order to effectively deliver the message of Lord Krsna. At no time, however, was he desirous of settling in comfortably to enjoy these facilities, choosing instead to follow a tremendously rigorous schedule of travelling and preaching, with which even the youngest and healthiest of his disciples could not keep pace.
When Srila Prabhupada was instructed by his spiritual master to preach Krsna consciousness in the English language, he took the order as his life and soul and fixed his determination upon carrying it out diligently. Founding the Back to Godhead magazine in 1944, Srila Prabhupada single-handedly attended to its publication and distribution for many years, never once deviating from his sincere effort to please his spiritual master. As a result of Srila Prabhupada’s fixed determination, all of his preaching activities were crowned with glorious success, and even now in his physical absence, his work is being carried on all over the world.
Completely Controls the Six Bad Qualities
A neophyte devotee of Lord Krsna, who is serious about achieving success in spiritual life, strives to control the six bad qualities, namely, lust, anger, greed, illusion, madness and envy, which act like deadly poison upon his constitution if not subdued. His practical method for accomplishing this is to actively engage his body, mind and words in Lord Krsna’s devotional service, which has the potency to neutralize these devices, in the same way that a serpent is robbed of his capacity to inject posion when his fangs are removed. Srila Prabhupada did not need to control these devices, however, as they were completely absent from his nature. He was like a vaidurya gem, manifesting a myriad of beautiful, transcendental qualities at every moment, as he moved about in the brilliant light of his pure devotional service. Since we are still very susceptible to the onslaught of the six bad qualities, we should place our heads, in all humility, at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada, engage enthusiastically in his glorification and try to please him by serving his mission to the best of our abilities. By doing this, we are sure to be purified of our material contamination and develop pure love of Godhead.
Eats Only as Much as Required
Although Srila Prabhupada was served the most opulent prasadam, often presented to him in grand amounts by his loving disciples, he never abused this luxury, taking only very small portions and distributing the remainder to the devotees. As a rule, one in the renounced order of life is forbidden from eating delicious foodstuffs, as this may drag him by the tongue into the material whirlpool and thus ruin his spiritual advancement. Srila Prabhupada, however, because of his exalted spiritual status, was never adversely affected by these culinary delights graced upon him by Lord Krsna. He always maintained full spiritual potency and complete dedication to satisfying the transcendental senses of the Lord.
The living entity in this material world has become certifiably insane due to the intoxicating influence of maya. He is, in reality, a spiritual being, part and parcel of Lord Krsna, and performs his various deeds in a field of activities which is nothing more than the Lord’s divine energy. Due to his inebriation, however, he sees himself as a material body, forgets his intimate relationship with the Lord and fails to see how everything around him is emanating from the Supreme Absolute Truth. Srila Prabhupada was never under the influence of these misconceptions, as evidenced by his paramount devotional service. Out of a natural humility, he never took part in promoting his own distinguished status, but on one occasion, when pressed for information concerning his position, he replied very modestly, “I cannot remember a time when I was not thinking of Lord Krsna.” Srila Prabhupada’s unwavering remembrance of the Lord provided the perfectly effulgent example of spiritual sanity, and by faithfully serving him we will eventually become free from our material inebriation.
Srila Prabhupada was respectful to all living entities because, with a pure heart, he saw them as children of the Supreme Lord, with whom he was fully in love. After successfully spreading Krsna consciousness throughout the world, Srila Prabhupada was sometimes criticized by those who were jealous over his achievements. An ordinary man would have certainly been offended by this behavior and might have even considered retaliating in one form or another. Srila Prabhupada, however, because of his genuine respect for all, did not respond to their attacks in this way. Although warning his disciples to protect their devotional creepers by avoiding this blasphemy, he praised his detractors as deserving of all respect. In this way, although given cause to be disrespectful, Srila Prabhupada remained gloriously aloof from this material contamination.
Without False Prestige
Srila Prabhupada’s humility was inconceivably deep and heartfelt, and it inspired a generation of young men and women, whose lifestyle had been practically based upon the rejection of authority, to willingly surrender at his lotus feet. Srila Prabhupada never took credit for his many successes, always preferring to acknowledge the grace of his Guru Maharaj and the assistance given to him by his disciples. During one lecture, Srila Prabhupada touched the hearts of his disciples when he stated that he considered them to be representatives of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saravati Thakura, sent to assist him in his preaching mission. This expression of sincere gratitude exemplified Srila Prabhupada’s mood of devout humility, and it should be the aspiration of all those pursuing the spiritual path to follow in his footsteps in this regard.
Sudama Prabhu once related an incident that took place between himself and Srila Prabhupada, out of which the Vaisnava definition of the word “grave” came to be known. Srila Prabhupada had been explaining to his disciples that a devotee of Lord Krsna is always grave. Upon hearing this, Sudama, who by nature was a very colorful and effusive personality, decided to tone down his disposition and become very straight-faced and silent in an attempt to please his spiritual master. After a few days of this behavior by Sudama, Srila Prabhupada looked at him quizically and asked him what was the matter. Sudama replied that he was trying to be grave. At that, Srila Prabhupada laughed and explained to him that being grave means to be serious about Krsna consciousness, and has nothing to do with artificially repressing one’s unique individuality. Srila Prabhupada himself was a most vibrant personality. His pastimes abounded with laughter and spiritual enjoyment, and those who associated with him properly drank nectar at every step. Yet he was always serious about Krsna consciousness, to the point that he never forgot Lord Krsna, not even for a moment, and in this way displayed perfect gravity.
A pure devotee of Lord Krsna is always very compassionate upon the fallen souls who are suffering greatly in the blazing fire of material life. He is ever busy making arrangements to relieve them of their host of problems, and becomes pleased to see them advancing on the spiritual path towards the goal of ultimate happiness. Srila Prabhupada’s behavior certainly fits this description, as he dedicated his every breath to distributing Krsna consciousness, taking only a few hours of rest every night in order to keep body and soul together. During his last days on this planet, various persons came at the request of his disciples to offer diagnostic and other medical advice, with very little result, either in terms of permanently improving his medical condition or impressing him with their diagnoses. Finally one day, such a person entered Srila Prabhupada’s room, and after some deliberation, suggested that his condition may have been caused by his grave anxiety over the tribulations that would beset his disciples after his disappearance. At that, Srila Prabhupada looked up and told the gentleman, “Yes, you have diagnosed my condition correctly.” With these words, Srila Prabhupada exhibited a thorough lack of interest in his own well-being and his extraordinarily profound compassion upon the fallen souls of this age.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna states that He is the friend of all living beings. As the Lord’s intimate associate, Srila Prabhupada also displayed this mood of friendship to all by dint of his constant engagement in spiritual welfare activities on their behalf. In the material world, so-called friendships are formed on the basis of mutual sense gratification, and when there is some disturbance in that sense gratification, the relationship is either damaged or discontinued. Srila Prabhupada was a true friend to all, however, because his forming of relationships with others was motivated by his unalloyed desire to assist them in achieving the highest goal of life. He never desired to exploit anyone, and if there was some offence committed against him or some difficulty caused by another party, Srila Prabhupada was always forgiving. It is stated in the scriptures that if a disciple commits a sinful activity, the spiritual master suffers as a result. Srila Prabhupada, out of his causeless mercy, accepted thousands of disciples, and due to their inevitable transgressions, he had to tolerate a great deal of grief. In spite of this, he never withdrew his mercy and friendship, humbly referring to himself as “Your ever well-wisher.” Such a friendship is the rarest of gems to be found anywhere, and it behooves us all to appreciate, revere and guard it as our life’s dearest treasure.
Srila Prabhupada was poetic, not only in the literary sense, as evidenced by his beautiful poems glorifying his spiritual master and Lord Krsna, but in every aspect of his personality as well. His gesturing, walking, talking, singing, smiling, dancing and arcana were all performed with an extremely natural poetic grace, befitting a swanlike pure devotee of Lord Krsna. For those sensitive souls who had embarked upon a pilgrim’s progress in search of truth, beauty and ultimate happiness, association with Srila Prabhupada marked their journey’s end, and they happily gave up all mundane pursuits and engaged in his service. Such was the attractive force of Srila Prabhupada’s poetic nature, which manifested fully due to his superexcellent level of Krsna consciousness.
When Srila Prabhupada arrived on the shores of America in 1965, he was faced with the tremendous challenge of interesting a civilization of determined sense enjoyers in the Krsna consciousness lifestyle, which is based on the principles of austerity, sacrifice, spiritual discipline and gradual detachment from sense gratification. For many years, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura had sent his disciples to preach in the western countries, and they were unable to circumvent this problem, let alone ignite a spiritual explosion as Srila Prabhupada did, whose waves are still being felt throughout the world. Srila Prabhupada demonstrated his expertise by tailoring his presentation of Krsna consciousness perfectly according to time and circumstance. He offered a spiritual program which the common man could easily follow, and presented it in such an attractive and palatable fashion that all sincere souls were spontaneously attracted. Srila Prabhupada’s expertise was so astounding that even in his physical absence, Krsna consciousness is being effectively spread through the faithful application of his instructions.
According to Vaisnava philosophy, being silent means to engage the tongue in speaking only about topics related to Lord Krsna. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura used to encourage this type of silence among his disciples, telling them, “Nonsense talk breeds nonsense thought breeds nonsense action breeds birth, death, old age and disease.” Srila Prabhupada, being the foremost disciple of his spiritual master, was also the chief exponent of the above adage in the modern age, as he single-handedly spread Krsna-katha throughout the entire world with his lectures, discussions and translating work. His words were like a river of nectar flowing mercifully into the hearts of all men, and in due course of time, all forms of material sound will be washed away by this mighty river.