In the Brahma-vaivarta Purana, Lord Krishna describes that after 5,000 years of Kali-yuga have passed His mantra upasaka (a great sage and worshiper of Krishna’s holy names) will appear and spread the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra not only in India but throughout the world. Lord Krishna explains that by the chanting of His holy names the world will become spiritualized and everyone will be hari-bhaktas, engaged in the process of devotion to the Supreme. Thus, Sri Krishna predicted the appearance of a powerful devotee who would spread the chanting of His names worldwide.
In 1875 Bhaktivinoda Thakura also predicted: “A personality will soon appear to preach the teachings of Lord Caitanya and move unrestrictedly over the whole world with His message.” In the year 1896, on Nandotsava, the day after Krishna’s birth, Abhay Charan, who later became known as His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was born in Calcutta, India. It was Srila Prabhupada, a pure devotee of Krishna, who took the chanting of Hare Krishna around the world and made it a household name.
In 1922 Abhay Charan met Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, the son of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and the great acharya in the Gaudiya line, for the first time. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was a highly regarded spiritual authority. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati told Abhay, “You are a nice young man, you know English; therefore, you should preach this mission of Lord Caitanya specifically to the English-speaking countries in the Western world.”
Eleven years later Abhay Charan received formal initiation from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, accepting him as his spiritual master and in 1936 he wrote a beautiful poem as an offering to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, who then bestowed him the title “kavi” meaning poet. Just two weeks before Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati left this world, he sent a letter to Srila Prabhupada instructing him again to take the message of Krishna and spread it to the Western countries. In the years that followed, Srila Prabhupada wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita and in 1944, without assistance, started a fortnightly English magazine. Recognizing Srila Prabhupada’s philosophical learning and devotion, the Gaudiya Vaisnava Society honoured him with the title “Bhaktivedanta”.
At the age of 54, Srila Prabhupada retired from married life to devote more time to his studies and writing. Srila Prabhupada travelled to the holy city of Vrindavana, where he lived in humble circumstances in the historic medieval temple, Radha-Damodara. There he engaged for several years in deep study and writing. He accepted the renounced order of life (sannyasa) in 1959. At Radha-Damodara Temple, Srila Prabhupada began work on his life’s masterpiece: a multivolume translation and commentary on the 18,000-verse Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana). He also wrote Easy Journey to Other Planets.
By 1965 Srila Prabhupada had raised funds to publish the first three volumes of theBhagavatam. Armed with this, Prabhupada finally felt ready to carry out the instructions his spiritual master had given him nearly forty years earlier and decided to travel to the United States to fulfil his spiritual master’s mission.
Srila Prabhupada came to America on the steamship Jaladuta with little money, a pair of hand cymbals, and a small trunk of his books, without knowing anyone. Facing enormous odds, Srila Prabhupada wrote, “How will they understand the mellows of devotional service? O Lord, I am simply praying for Your mercy so that I will be able to convince them about Your message.” With humility and considering himself to be the most insignificant servant of his spiritual master, Prabhupada pushed on with great determination. He maintained himself by selling just enough books to get by.
In July of 1966, Prabhupada secured a storefront with an adjoining apartment at 26 Second Avenue. During those times almost anyone could come and spend practically the whole day with Srila Prabhupada. Gradually the American devotees began to live with Prabhupada and thus the first Krishna temple was established in the West. Late in 1966, Prabhupada officially founded The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Some devotees argued using ‘God Consciousness’ instead, so that Westerners would not be frightened off. But Prabhupada replied, “God has a name—Krishna. So why not use it?”
Srila Prabhupada and the devotees would go to the park to chant, sometimes for up to three hours. Four principles formed the foundation of Prabhupada’s preaching movement: chanting, dancing, feasting, and philosophy, and in this way Srila Prabhupada and his disciples had opened over 100 Krishna temples in the ten years of Prabhupada preaching in the West.
Prabhupada’s potency began spreading to those who associated with him. His disciples were going out and opening more new branches of ISKCON. Temples were opened in San Francisco, Montreal, Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia and Columbus. All the while Srila Prabhupada was going on with his translating work. First he publishedBhagavad-gitaAs It Is, followed by Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Nectar of Devotion. In addition, the work on the Srimad-Bhagavatam continued and the original three volumes Prabhupada had published in 1965 grew to thirty by 1977.
The work on Srimad-Bhagavatam was set aside for eighteen months during 1974-5 while Srila Prabhupada translated the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, the history and teachings of Lord Caitanya, a seventeen volume work considered, “the post graduate course in Vedic study.” In this way, Prabhupada’s preaching work went on incessantly, opening numerous centres, publishing many books. Srila Prabhupada formed the The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust for publishing his books and is now the world’s largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy.
In 1968 Srila Prabhupada established the New Vrindaban Community in West Virginia, introducing self-sufficient Vedic style living with Krishna in the centre, as the only positive alternative to the chaos of modern urban life. [Note our global energy and resource crisis today. Since that time dozens of similar communities have sprung up in all continents of the globe.
Thus, Srila Prabhupada tirelessly expanded his Krishna Consciousness Movement. This is the meaning of a Vaishnava. A Vaishnava’s business is not for himself, but for others. Even though Srila Prabhupada left this world in 1977, he wrote 51 volumes of books with translations in 28 languages. He established 108 temples in most major cities around the world, and touched many people with genuine spiritual knowledge.