About My Spiritual master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Dressed in light orange robes, with yellow clay markings on his forehead, and carrying the cloth-wrapped bamboo rods of a monk, he (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada – known to his disciples as Srila Prabhupada.
Years of study and a lifetime of spiritual practice allowed him to articulate the Vedic knowledge with scholarly authority and a deep personal wisdom. He knew his subject because he lived it, and realized it, and he passionately wanted others to understand and share in it.
Srila Prabhupada’s sober demeanor and the urgency of his delivery were tempered by his natural humility and a childlike innocence. He had a genuine warmth and affection for his students, and a remarkable wit. He explained the deepest complex philosophical ideas through colorful analogies or stories or by using vivid examples from nature.
As he spoke, Srila Prabhupada seemed to be talking about something we already knew deep down, but of which we needed reminding. The effect was not of being converted to a set of beliefs, but of being gently woken up.
He was a compassionate, saintly teacher, with a warm, generous, and friendly heart. As such, he seldom criticized individuals, but he did speak strongly when particular beliefs of political and intellectual leaders threatened the welfare of others. He felt completely justified in pointing out the inadequacies of prevailing worldviews when people were suffering.
… he regarded much of what passed as religion to be social conventions with “watered down” versions of the religions’ original teachings. He was a critic of modern, overly mechanized urban living divorced from food production and called it a way of life in which “the blind lead the blind.” He called educational institutions devoid of morality and knowledge of the soul “slaughterhouses,” and human life lived without ultimate purpose “a life wasted.”
But he spoke positively, at great length and in detail, on all subjects from the Vedas, the ancient wisdom preserved in the beautiful Sanskrit language. The teachings came from a time before all the diverse religions we now know made their appearance, yet they presented the essential truths that all the later prophets and teachers would speak.
Srila Prabhupada presented a radical departure from a shortsighted way of life – a lifestyle based on quick fixes – and inspired countless thousands of people to take up daily practices of spirituality and meditation. He started farms, vegetarian restaurants, schools, temples, communities, and numerous other artistic and cultural projects. In the West he came to be regarded as an authentic voice from the East, and in India as a reformer, invigorating a tired tradition with fresh enthusiasm.
He had met his own spiritual master in Calcutta in 1922 at the age of 26, and it was from him that he had received the sacred commission to teach in the English language. … he was doing what no other had done before him – making the teachings accessible to those who spoke the most common language on earth. To do this he traveled constantly, delivering the knowledge personally and guiding the lives of those who decided to follow it.
The effects of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and the rapid worldwide expansion of his movement prompted the noted British historian Dr. A. L. Basham to remark, “Not since the time of the Roman Empire has someone brought an entire religion from east to west.”
We live at a turning point in history, a time when many cultures of the world have set aside their traditional ways in favor of a more global culture. This means, in practice, a Western-originated postmodern consumerist capitalism. The problems with having this as an operating norm can already be seen everywhere. Material progress has come at a great price, and it’s a price our small, delicately balanced planet can no longer afford. Short-term happiness – pursued at the expense of others around us – is not happiness at all.
To restore ourselves to balance with nature and the universe, we need to behave once again as if our spiritual aspirations were important – because they are. They are in fact the most important needs we have. There is a subtle, but very real, link between unrecognized spiritual hunger, rampant consumption, and social and economic imbalance. By addressing individual and collective spiritual needs, we can achieve a healthy balance.
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