Srila Prabhupada expressed the importance of hearing as a solution for the wandering mind in a morning walk conversation:
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Team Work - Janmastami 2014
by Lilasuka dasi
The days leading up to a Janmastami festival are often exciting and energy-charged. This year, some specific pre-Janmastami preparations held a special fascination for many.
Doing service together in co-operation with other devotees and friends towards a common goal is truly the key to surcharging both the atmosphere and our own souls with spiritual bliss. That was the scene on the days before Janmastami 2014. As people worked together, the air was surcharged with inspiration and creativity for the Lord.
Several days before Janmastami, Vijaya Radha dasi personally approached every devotee woman who lived within a four mile radius of the temple, asking them, “Prabhu, please come to the prasadam room on Saturday morning at 9:30 AM. We’re going to make decorations out of greens and flowers so that Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s altar looks like Vrindavan forest for Janmastami! We can do it! But we need your help.”
And they did it! Picture a scene in the beautiful gopi, Vrindadevi’s grove in the original Vrindavan forest. She dreams of preparing a gorgeous seat for her dearest Lords, Radha and Krsna, in the middle of the woods where they can feel very comfortable speaking and eating and joking and dancing in Each Other’s company. Vrindadevi and her friends gather all sorts of forest greens and wild flowers, and spend the day laughing and making colorful flower arrangements for the pleasure of Their Lordships. Following this mood, the younger and older women of New Vrindaban came together, along with many Janmastami visitors and guests─man and woman alike─using the best flowers and greens that Kali Yuga could provide. Collectively, they created beautiful flower arrangements and long, festive garlands to decorate the altars of the Lord for Janmastami. Surely, Krsna and Srila Prabhupada were especially pleased by this co-operative endeavor.
One long-time resident of New Vrindaban commented, “This is so uniting. We used to get together like this, years ago, for festivals, where many devotees used to join to work on a single project. I feel a real sense of community.”
Another devotee declared, “All of us working together─I don’t mind waking up early for this!”
A couple from Virginia visiting New Vrindaban for their first time exclaimed, “This is fantastic. We’ve found our peace.”
All weekend long, there were engaging activities and teamwork in so many areas. The kitchen devotees worked very hard, culminating in serving out 300 plates of prasad on Saturday night, and another 500 plates for lunch on Sunday. There was a fire yajna, cow puja, a swan boat festival, Bharata Natyam dance, a drama towards midnight Sunday, and even some Hare Krsna rap singing! The Lodge was super busy with many satisfied visitors; tours at the Palace went on all weekend, and the restaurant was open through everything, serving extra hungry visitors.
One of the highlights of the weekend was Sunday morning, Janmastami day, as everyone was getting ready to greet the Deities in Their new Janmastami outfit. The excitement was building. The crowd of residents and visitors were gathered before the altar, eager to see Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra. As the kirtan built up, and the altar curtains finally opened, everyone had joyful darshan of the Deities in Their charming New Vrindavan forest scene, amidst the shouting of “Jaya Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra ki jaya!!”
Normally because comedians make us laugh, we tend to think of them as happy people. Those who are sources of such joy would be themselves joyful, wouldn’t they?
“Modern science and medicine would be unrecognizable, and far more primitive, without the immense contribution of the ancient Hindus.”
After Srila Prabhupada left us on November 14, 1977, I came across a section in Srimad-Bhagavatam—Canto 4, Chapter 28—in which he explicitly discusses the disappearance of the spiritual master and how the disciple is to serve him—even in separation. The following paragraph summarizes the essence of his instructions:
“[T]he disciple and spiritual master are never separated, because the spiritual master always keeps company with the disciple as long as the disciple follows strictly the instructions of the spiritual master. This is called the association of vani (words). Physical presence is called vapuh. As long as the spiritual master is physically present, the disciple should serve the physical body of the spiritual master, and when the spiritual master is no longer physically existing, the disciple should serve the instructions of the spiritual master.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.28.47, purport)
This instruction—“As long as the spiritual master is physically present, the disciple should serve the physical body of the spiritual master, and when the spiritual master is no longer physically existing, the disciple should serve the instructions of the spiritual master”—seems simple enough, but like almost all of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, to follow it properly requires deep faith, surrender, and realization.
For example, we may want to render personal service to the spiritual master, but we may also be afraid—that we might disappoint him, that we might fail, that he might chastise us, even that he might reject us or banish us. Thus disciples may shy away from direct, personal service. We must have faith that whatever the spiritual master does will be beneficial for us, purifying and edifying for us, whether or not it is pleasing to our mind and senses.
I sometimes experienced chastisement by Srila Prabhupada, and sometimes my mind and senses revolted, but he would pacify me with his clear explanations, such as in this letter to me:
“[I]t is the duty of the spiritual master to find fault with his students so that they may make progress, not that he should always be praising them. So if you find some criticism, kindly accept it in that spirit. I am only interested in that you, along with all my other students, should become Krsna conscious.” (May 24, 1972)
One person who exhibited an extraordinarily high standard of service to Srila Prabhupada, to both his vapuh and vani forms, was our godsister Yamuna-devi Dasi.
Two of Yamuna-devi’s main direct, personal services to Srila Prabhupada were cooking and cleaning. She was extremely expert in both, and yet when she received correction from Srila Prabhupada she accepted and followed it wholeheartedly.
Around the time of the first Bombay pandal, when we were staying in Akash Ganga, a high-rise apartment building in an affluent part of central Bombay, Yamuna-devi would stay back and clean. She would clean the whole place, for hours. And while cleaning, she would sing in a very ecstatic mood. She put her whole heart into it.
Later, in April 2007, when she visited me in my ashram in Carpinteria, California, I asked her about this, and she said that Srila Prabhupada had put greater emphasis on bhagavata-marga because he wanted his books produced, so they would be there for all time, and because he wanted his books distributed, so the income from the sales would support the expansion of the mission. Thus he didn’t have much time to personally train disciples in pancaratriki-vidhi. But he did train her. She explained that Srila Prabhupada would teach each servant about the importance and standards of cleanliness according to the servant’s capacity to understand. And he had trained her very strictly. For example, she often had to clean his four-tiered cooker, and if he found a black spot on the bottom of any of the sections, he would really chastise her, or whoever had done the cleaning: “This is not Vaisnava. This is Muslim. No Vaisnava will ever leave a black spot on any of the pots in the kitchen.” Prabhupada’s cooker was always to shine like gold.
Based on Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, Yamuna developed a system for cleaning his quarters in Vrndavana—an elaborate five-step procedure in which she would go from bottom to top and top to bottom. First she would get the big dirt off the floor, then she would work her way up the walls as far as she could reach, dusting, and then she would go back to the bottom, cleaning everything as perfectly as she could. If there was anything wrong, Prabhupada would notice and tell her about it. And keeping the rooms in Vrndavana clean was very hard: With the drifting sands of Ramana-reti and the whole place being a construction zone, there was always dirt and corrosion everywhere.
One morning when Srila Prabhupada came back from his walk after Yamuna had gone through her five-step procedure and everything looked as clean as could be, he told her, “Please clean my room, Yamuna. Haven’t I taught you to clean?”
“No, Srila Prabhupada,” she replied, meaning that she hadn’t yet learned. “How may I improve my cleaning?”
He didn’t say anything. On his desk were a picture of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, his eyeglass case, his tilaka, pens, a flower vase, and a stapler. Srila Prabhupada took the stapler, which was about two and a half inches long, removed it from its plastic case, lifted up the metal staple holder, and ran his pinkie across the thin metal strip between the staple holder and the hinge, and . . . dust. “When will you learn how to clean?” he asked.
If Srila Prabhupada had had the time, Yamuna told me, he would have trained all his disciples in both pancaratriki-vidhi and bhagavata-vidhi, but because he was focused more on bhagavata-vidhi he mainly trained only his close managers and personal servants, be they men or women, in both. Srila Prabhupada knew the consciousness of his disciples—their capacity to absorb his instruction—and he would train them accordingly.
Yamuna-devi absorbed his training enthusiastically. More than thirty years later she told me, “I can honestly say that I engage in cleaning joyously. In our ashram [in Saranagati, Canada] we sometimes sing and clean for hours and hours. Our place is very primitive—we have a dirt floor and walls—but we like to clean a lot. We enjoy cleaning for Srila Prabhupada and the Deities.”
Cooking, like cleanliness, is also part of Deity worship, and Yamuna-devi was most expert. Once when Srila Prabhupada was coming to Vrndavana she went to some Vraja-vasis and asked, “What is the best way to make Vraja-vasi rotis?” They told her, “You have to get red Punjabi wheat berries. You have to grind them in the morning, and then you have to cook the rotis with neem wood.”
When Prabhupada came she didn’t say a word to him, but she got red Punjabi wheat berries, had them ground in the morning, and then cooked the rotis with neem wood. When she went in to serve Srila Prabhupada and put a hot roti on his plate, he took one bite and said, “This is from red Punjabi wheat berries. You ground them this morning and cooked the rotis with neem wood.” She hadn’t said a word to him—he just knew. And even then, he had a suggestion for improvement. “Just one thing,” he said. “If you cook them one or two seconds more, they will be perfect.”
That was at the Radha-Damodara temple in 1972. Yamuna also recounted a sequel, from Ramana-reti in 1973:
“One time when Srila Prabhupada came—I think it was the first time I met Satsvarupa dasa Goswami; he was Prabhupada’s servant—I was on a bucket stove again, on the floor—no kitchen. I was making Prabhupada’s prasada, and as you may or may not know, when you cook with a bucket stove and you have a little bit of hard coal and then a little bit of soft coal and then a little bit of cow dung, it is a little hard to regulate. There is a certain temperature, and you cannot turn a switch to make it higher or lower. And then, depending on the thickness of the pot, you know what intensity you want. And then there is what you call a thawa, which is an iron griddle, concave, and to make a chapati you keep that on the stove and then you lift it off and you put the chapati on top of the flame. So, I made chapatis for Prabhupada’s lunch.
“Satsvarupa Maharaja wanted to bring in the lunch, thinking that I probably shouldn’t do it. He brought in the plate, came back into the kitchen, and said, ‘Prabhupada wants me to teach you how to make chapatis.’ And I said, ‘Oh, Maharaja, I would be so grateful if you could do that. I’d love to learn to make chapatis. Please.’
“Then I got up, and he began to wash his hands. By the time he sat down and rolled out a chapati, the thawa was really hot. He rolled out an octopuslike chapati. Now, when you roll out a chapati, the ball bearing for rolling it out is the dusting of flour, and if you roll the chapati in too much flour you actually roll flour into the surface of the flatbread, and then even if you try to flap it off you will still have a crust of flour. So you should use a minimal amount for the ball bearing and then flap off the little extra.
“Maharaja’s octopus was covered with flour on a hot thawa. When he put it on, I said, ‘Maharaja, what should I be looking for?’
“He said, ‘You wait until there are pimples on the top.’
“As soon as the chapati hit the griddle—very hot—the pimples came very fast. He turned the chapati over, and there were little burnt holes. So there was no question of it puffing up.
“So, he put it on, and the little bubbles appeared at different places, and he took it in to Prabhupada. Then he came back and told me, ‘Prabhupada said, “This is excellent.” ’
“So that’s how Prabhupada taught me. It was never with a whip, but they were beatings nonetheless. They were beatings over my head.”
Vapuh: Service Without Expectation or Demand
Personal service should be offered without expectation of or demand for external reciprocation—for attention or expressions of approval or affection. When Yamuna-devi was undergoing treatment at Bhaktivedanta Hospital toward the end of her life, I encouraged some of my disciples to take the opportunity to serve her, and I asked her to guide and instruct them as she saw fit. Here is a written exchange she had with one disciple, a copy of which she sent me. The disciple wrote:
“I want to reconfirm with you my tomorrow’s visit, whether it would be convenient if I come around noon. I don’t want to disturb you, so let me know exactly what time I could drop in. One of my dear godsisters is craving to see you. Can she come along, if it’s not inconvenient?”
“Unfortunately, being in the hospital means being inconvenienced with medicines to help my condition. Three days ago I was put on new diuretics and am not up for any visits or visitors at all. . . . So many want to visit, but it is not possible.
“When you come you will have to be like the cook I was for Srila Prabhupada: bring the prasada for respecting and leave unspoken to. That was the norm, unless he gave some instruction how to make adjustment in the cooking or unless he made the occasional comment.
“Giriraj Swami asked me to instruct you, so I am passing this on to you. It is a small aspect of the classical teacher-apprentice mood—serve in silence unless spoken to. While I never took a teacher mood with you, this is a rich rasa to explore on different levels.
“If you continue to bring baked goods once or twice again, at least you will have access into experiencing the tip of the richness of this kind of service. It is similar to what we do when we offer bhoga on the altar: pray, cook in a meditative mood, deliver, offer, and depart—bas.
“I believe you are sincere and mature enough to do this. It was expected of Srila Prabhupada’s cooks. In fact, it was a prerequisite for cooking for him at all. Hopefully it will bring you to a new level of service, something you can use in your service to your own guru maharaja.”
When Srila Prabhupada was in Allahabad for the Ardha-kumbha-mela in December 1970 and January 1971, Yamuna-devi and I were there with him. Srila Prabhupada spoke on the story of Ajamila and the holy name from the Sixth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Only the first two cantos had been translated and published then, so Prabhupada read from his Sanskrit Bhagavatam with commentaries, sometimes translating from Sridhara Svami’s comments and occasionally from Jiva Gosvami’s. While there, I heard that Srila Prabhupada had said he was speaking for Yamuna.
In April 2007, when Yamuna visited me in Carpinteria, I asked her about it. And she told me something that etched an indelible impression on my heart. As she explained, she had always thought she had as much right as anyone to walk or sit close to Srila Prabhupada. And generally when he spoke, she would sit in front of the vyasasana at his feet. She had never really considered that men should walk or sit closer to Prabhupada, women further away. The movement had been like that in the early days—like a family.
In Allahabad, however, one of the sannyasis explained to Yamuna that in India the women sat apart and that she should too. So during the next morning’s lecture she sat at some distance from Srila Prabhupada. Later that morning, Prabhupada noticed her passing by his tent, and he called, “Yamuna, come in here.” She entered and offered her obeisances, and before she got up he said, “So, you don’t want to hear anymore?” Yamuna burst into tears; Prabhupada—hearing from him—was her life. “Where were you this morning?” he asked. Yamuna told him exactly what had happened. Prabhupada was silent.
That, as she told me, was a turning point in her life; it changed her whole orientation in Krsna consciousness. She suddenly had the realization that she would not always have Prabhupada’s company. Since 1967, when Srila Prabhupada recovered from his stroke, she had never been able to conceive of ever being separated from him. The devotees were so dependent on him for everything, it was inconceivable to them that he would not always be with them. But, she told me, every disciple must come to a personal realization that there will come a time when the spiritual master will not be present. And for her that moment came in Allahabad, after her talks with the sannyasi and then Srila Prabhupada.
Sitting in Prabhupada’s tent, she asked him, “How much time did you actually spend with your guru maharaja?”
“Very few occasions,” he said, “maybe five or six. But they were very intimate. We used to walk and talk so many things.” Then he said, “Those who think that association with the spiritual master is physical, they are no better than a mosquito sitting on the lap of a king. And what is the business of a mosquito? Simply to suck blood. So many of my godbrothers, they were big, big sannyasis, and they thought like that, and they simply sucked blood.”
Yamuna took Prabhupada’s words as confirmation. She now understood that she needed to go to another place to explore her relationship with him and her service to him in separation. She began to consider the question of vani (words, instructions) and vapuh (body, form), and she got more and more insight into it. As she told me, it is “unlimitedly deep and profound. You can hear the terms on the surface, but vani means to again be in Prabhupada’s presence”—to be in his presence in separation as much as when you were in his physical association. “So that was a turning point for me,” she said, “to realize that Prabhupada was going to leave this planet: ‘He is an old man, and he is going to leave, and I have to prepare.’ ” She understood that from that moment she must start mentally preparing—find a way of continuing in Krsna consciousness that was not based on Srila Prabhupada’s personal association.
“So, that is that story of hearing,” she continued. “Prabhupada said, ‘I am speaking so much because you want to hear so much.’ So he knew that hunger. I never expressed that to him, but he knew.” As Yamuna often said, Srila Prabhupada was completely aware of every disciple in every way—both their internal consciousness and the external manifestations of their service.
Vani and vapuh became a major theme in Yamuna-devi’s life—how to maintain one’s connection with Srila Prabhupada through vani to the same degree and with the same intensity as in his physical, even close personal, presence. She was convinced that it was possible, and she arranged her life in such a way as to always receive his guidance and mercy—to always be in his association.
In conclusion, I quote from a letter Yamuna wrote me some years ago, which has given me some solace and guidance in separation:
“I remember when Dina and I visited you in your house in Vrndavana. We asked you one question, and you took three hours to answer it: ‘How has your relationship with Srila Prabhupada changed since his departure?’ The departure of loved ones helps us to change, to go deeper. Surely this will happen.”
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi Sunday greeted the nation on the occasion of Janmashtami.
A new Mahabharata is being released as not just a book, but also bite-sized MP3 audio chapters and comic books downloadable onto your iPad, bringing continued interest in India’s spiritual classics into the 21st century. While author Sriram Raghavan is not an ISKCON member, ISKCON devotees may be interested in his bright, dynamic retelling of the ancient text, especially for their children.
Mangala Arati of Sri Sri Radha Gopinath;10th August 2014
On September 1, 1896, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada made his appearance in this world in Calcutta, Bengal. Born on the day immediately after Krsna Janmastami, he was given the name Abhay Carana by his Vaisnava father, Gour Mohan De, and his mother Rajani. Gour Mohan’s principle desire for his son’s spiritual future was for him to become a pure devotee of Lord Sri Krsna, the ultimate goal of Vaisnavism.
Krsna has four qualities, which are not manifest even in the Narayana form of Godhead, what to speak of the demigods or living entities. They are as follows.
When one thinks, ‘Yes, the holy name is powerful. Yes, the holy name can purify everyone,’ that is a shallow understanding of the holy name. The holy name is ALL powerful, because the holy name is non-different from Krsna!
So as soon as one brings in that element, that the holy name is not just invested with spiritual potency, but it is ALL powerful because it is non-different from Krsna, then one takes it to another level.
Every year the disciples and followers of Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of ISKCON, compose written tributes in celebration of the day of his birth. This year I was asked to write ‘The Meaning of Vyasa Puja’ for the international book. Here is what I wrote:
Earlier this year, I visited the city of Kolkata and was taken by a kind devotee to an old building on a short backstreet known as Ultadanga Junction Road. I had never been there before, but had heard about the place for forty years. The square, brown brick, rather plain three storey building was formerly known as Bhaktivinoda Asana and it was here, on the flat roof-top, that Srila Prabhupada met his spiritual master for the first time. I had always been intrigued by the idea of a sacred meeting place up on a roof, and it had a special relevance for me, too. In September 1977, Srila Prabhupada came to Bhaktivedanta Manor on what was to be his last visit. I had been sitting close to Srila Prabhupada when, during the Vyasa Puja ceremony, Tamala Krishna Goswami began recounting events from his spiritual master’s early life. He faltered when he couldn’t recall the date of this roof-top meeting. Even though Srila Prabhupada had said nothing until this point, and was in some obvious physical discomfort, he smiled and said “1922” drawing a cheery “Jaya!” from all of us disciples. I was a direct recipient of what had developed since that meeting, and it was because of what transpired on that Kolkata roof-top that I was now sitting before Srila Prabhupada.
The connection of guru and sisya comes after much searching on the part of the disciple and much compassion on the part of God. Srila Prabhupada explained that for the meeting of the disciple with his guru, God Himself makes the arrangements. He said:
“So guru is also incarnation of God, mercy incarnation of God. Guru means that… God is within you, caitya-guru, the guru, or the spiritual master, within your heart. Īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānāṁ hṛd-deśe ‘rjuna tiṣṭhati. So this Paramātmā is also incarnation of God. And the same Paramātmā, when He comes before you, being very much merciful upon you, to teach you from outside, that is guru.” (Lecture on SB 1.3.26 October 1, 1976)
“Therefore God is called caitya-guru, the spiritual master within the heart. And the physical spiritual master is God’s mercy. If God sees that you are sincere, He will give you a spiritual master who can give you protection. He will help you from within and without. Without in the physical form of spiritual master, and within as the spiritual master within the heart.” (Conversation on May 23, 1974)
On Vyasa Puja Day we worship Srila Prabhupada as the manifested compassion of the Supreme Lord, and we give thanks for the day he appeared in this world, as well as the blessed day we met him and heard his words for the first time.
* * *
And what are those words? The spiritual master teaches everything we need to know about the Lord who dwells within us, that one supreme person who is unseen by our eyes. As the external manifestation of the Paramatma, the guru teaches the Vedas, the sound manifestation of God. He teaches the Vedas, the Vedanta, the Puranas, and he does it as a messenger of the Lord’s incarnation, Srila Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa. Srila Vyasadeva is the original spiritual preceptor for all men. And all other preceptors are to be considered his representative.
Only by learning, understanding, living and teaching the Vedas is a person a spiritual master; and only being voiced through the spiritual master can the Vedas become fully manifested and understood in this world. The result of this successful combination – between God, the Vedas, the guru and the disciple – is that the cleansing of the heart takes place; the hard knot of material attraction is loosened; lifetimes of karma-phala are dissolved and the happiness of loving service to the Supreme Lord is established.
The spiritual master is a guru because he is heavy with knowledge and unmovable by any other, lighter arguments. He is an acarya because he moves and lives completely in accordance with the Vedas and teaches the deeper meanings of the scriptures to others. As the Manu Samhita states:
upaniya tu yah sisyam veda-madhyapayed dvijah
sankalpam sa-rahasyam ca tam acaryam pracaksate
One who confers the sacred thread, trains his disciples in sacrifice and teaches them the confidential meaning of the Vedas is known as an acarya, according to saintly authorities. (2.140)
Such a spiritual master is a rare personality indeed, and is someone whose very life contributes the best of all fortune to all those who seek his company. His presence in our life is so valuable because it gives us the greatest possible life: a life lived as a preparation for returning to our eternal home. Through the gifts of knowledge, guidance, encouragement and correction, the spiritual master takes us personally over the darkest valley of repeated birth and death and sets us up in the highest, most glorious place.
When the great Sri Vaishnava poet, Vedanta Deshika (1268-1370) was writing a book about the transmission of spiritual knowledge, he was trying to think of an analogy for the importance of the acarya, the foremost spiritual preceptor, when he remembered something his nephew, Mudaliyantan, had said to him:
“When a lion leaps from one hill to another, the little ants on its body are transported with him. Similarly, when Ramanujacarya leaped over this world of repeated birth and death, we were saved because of our connection with him.”
Srila Prabhupada has similarly leaped over the world of repeated birth and death, and we tiny souls have somehow or other been transported with him.
On Vyasa Puja Day we try to understand our incalculable good fortune of being connected with such an acarya as Srila Prabhupada. He not only carried the message of Srila Vyasadeva but showed us how to live it. He continues to personally lead us from this world of darkness to the world of eternal light. We give thanks for his boundless compassion and never-ending efforts to save us, and we think that through him, we have come to understand the meaning of the term ‘His Divine Grace’.
* * *
‘The juiciest, sweetest mango is always in the sunshine at the very top of the tree.’ Thereby begins the classic analogy of how the highest spiritual teachings are brought down from ancient times to today. A chain of ‘fruit-pickers,’ sitting in the branches of the mango tree, carefully hand down the delicate fruit from higher to lower branches until it reaches the ground. Similarly, the compassionate preceptors always ensure that the teachings are handed down to the next generations. Yet it is no easy task, and even Lord Krishna says that He must come to the Earth, age after age, to re-establish the teachings that have been lost. One essential component of preserving the living message is therefore the chain of teachers – the parampara.
The greatest spiritual master is moved by compassion to make the teachings of the Vedas accessible to as many as possible. Without compromising their integrity he renders them intelligible and accessible to contemporary listeners, protects them from adulteration, and preserves them by creating the next generation of teachers. Srila Vyasa codified, compiled and protected the entire Vedas and is therefore known forever as the ‘literary incarnation of God.’ The Srimad Bhagavatam provides a description of how the sage divided the responsibility for the preservation and extension of Vedic knowledge:
“Paila Rsi became the professor of the Rg Veda, Jaimini the professor of the Sama Veda, Vaisampayana protected the Yajur Veda, and Angira Muni the Atharva Veda. Romaharsana Suta was entrusted with the Puranas and historical records.” (1.4.21-22)
The illustrious son of Romaharsana Suta, the grand-disciple of Srila Vyasadeva, Suta Goswami, then assumed responsibility for protecting the Puranas.
Without teaching his disciples, empowering them to become advanced in spiritual practise and also engaging them in teaching and preaching, the acarya’s work is not complete. Only when he has safeguarded the message of the Vedas for the next generation – both in precept and example – can he be satisfied that he has offered the world what his own preceptor offered him. As the Vayu Purana explains:
Acinoti hi sastrarthan acare sthapayatyapi
svayam acarate yasmad acarya stena kirtitah
“The acarya is thus called because he has studied and understood the meaning of the scriptures, he practises what he preaches, and he establishes this meaning in the behaviour of others.”
The spiritual master not only comes in parampara, but he ensures that the parampara continues by making the Vedas accessible and intelligible, the essential spiritual techniques practicable, and by fully initiating and training his disciples. He encourages his students to do the same for their countrymen and the next generation. In this way the ancient knowledge and tradition is preserved yet always kept fresh. Thus the sacred mango gets passed down the tree to the next level and to the human society that is yet to come.
On Vyasa Puja Day we honour Srila Prabhupada as one who preserved Vedic knowledge and made it accessible to a fresh, new audience. We honour him as one who explained the deeper meanings of the scriptures and demonstrated by his example the efficacy of the spiritual techniques described in them. We honour him as one who walked through the Earth establishing the sacred arca-vigraha, restoring brahminical culture and arguing for cow protection – the hallmarks of civilized human life. We give thanks that he initiated and trained many disciples to carry forward his messages and preserve the chain of teachers.
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On February 5th, 1919, just three years before Srila Prabhupada met him, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur performed one more duty of an acarya. He gave a human and organisational shape to the mission to perpetuate the parampara. Although the parampara will continue to exist whenever and wherever there is teaching of the Vedas, training and mantra-giving, it is such a delicate structure that sometimes it may not even be located by those who are any less than supremely dedicated. When an organised mission is established there can be greater strength. When disciples gather into groups, each with a specific task, the mission to serve the predecessor gurus can be done with improved efficacy. Yes, there is always danger that the power so accrued by such an efficient organisation may turn the heads of even the most devoted disciple, but done well and with devotion to the spiritual master, it will serve his purposes well.
The Six Goswamis of Vrindavan had similarly organised themselves and their followers and called their assembly the Visva Vaisnava Raja Sabha. Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur had also revived the mission of the Goswamis as a human organisation. In 1919 Srila Saraswati Thakur gave a human shape to what he described as the ‘third descent’ of the Visva Vaisnava Raja Sabha. Speaking at the property known as ‘Bhaktivinode Asana’ at Ultadanga Junction Road in Calcutta, before a large assembly of Vaishnavas, he said:
“Even though this Sabha is eternally established, it has descended into the world three times. Eleven years after the disappearance of Shri Mahaprabhu, when the world was beginning to darken, six wonderfully bright stars arose in Sri Vraja-mandala and were engaged in the service of Gaurachandra…
“Sri Chaitanyadeva is Krishnachandra Himself—the King of all the Vaisnavas in the world (Visva Vaisnava Raja). The gathering of His devotees is the Sri Visva Vaisnava Raja Sabha; the foremost ministers amongst the members of the society are Sri Rupa Gosvami and his honoured Sri Sanatana Gosvami. Those who consider themselves to be the followers of Sri Rupa are the members of this Sri Visva Vaisnava Raja Sabha.”
A guru lives to give systematic knowledge, relevant guidance and inspirational encouragement to all who wish to receive it from him and who are qualified to become disciples. He gives whatever he has with compassion, love and discipline, and he sets before his grateful receivers a living example of what it means to be in consciousness of God and His laws. To better share his gifts with others, the guru invites them to come and live with him.
Yet the guru’s mission is also to broadcast and propagate the teachings to as many newcomers as possible. Even to those who cannot live with him. That enormous task requires the training of future travelling teachers, preparation of various types of publications, and the building of temples and other venues so that people can congregate and become educated and inspired, no matter what their level of spirituality or commitment and no matter where they live. It involves organising groups and devotee farms and villages so that future would-be disciples can be part of a social network and helped toward discipleship. Existing disciples and their families can also live peacefully and be supported through the inevitable challenges of life. The disciple’s role in all this is to help the guru and to alleviate his burden. When this larger mission of the guru is understood by the disciple, he or she will participate in the mission of the guru by offering energy, time, intelligence and resources.
It is a privilege to be even a small part of such a glorious movement for the spiritualisation of human society. Although to mundane vision ISKCON may be perceived as merely a human institution, with transcendental vision it can be seen as a compassionate vehicle of Srila Prabhupada’s divine grace, the most important institution in the world, and an excellent means to accomplish the complete manifestation of the desire of the Six Goswamis.
Vyasa Puja is an opportunity for all of us gathered here today to reflect upon the mission and movement of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It is a movement of inspired devotees of Krishna, established to make tangible the hopes of all the predecessor acaryas. It began on a suburban Kolkata roof-top in 1922 with a simple instruction to teach the message of the Vedas in the English language. Our appreciation for everything we have received from Srila Prabhupada, of how it has transformed our life, and our display of gratitude, must surely be to continue the mission and message of this most extraordinary of all representatives of Srila Vyasadeva. May we honour him today and always, and work together to share him with the world.
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“That is the specific reason why Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appears. Any incarnation of Vishnu could kill the demons, deliver the devotees, and re-establish the principles of dharma, but only Krishna can show us the beautiful life that awaits us if we join Him in intimate love in Vrindavan. Therefore Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.33.36) says:
manusam deham asthitah
bhajate tadrsih krida
yah srutva tat-paro bhavet
‘Krishna manifests His eternal humanlike form and performs His pastimes to show mercy to the devotees. Having heard such pastimes, one should engage in service to Him.’ ”