Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) is widely recognized by great scholars, philosophers and spiritual teachers as the foremost Vedic scholar of the last century, as a youth he became involved with Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement. It was, however, a meeting with a prominent scholar and spiritual leader, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, which proved most influential on young Abhay’s future calling. Upon their first meeting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, who represented an ancient tradition of Bhakti (devotional yoga), asked Abhay to bring the teachings of Krishna to the English-speaking world.
Deeply moved by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s devotion and wisdom, Abhay became his disciple and dedicated himself to carrying out his mentor’s request. But it wasn’t until 1965, at the age of seventy, that he would set off on his mission to the West.
In July of 1966, Bhaktivedanta Swami established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness for the purpose of checking the imbalance of values in the world and working for real unity and peace. He taught that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of God and that one could find true happiness through living a simpler, more natural way of life and dedicating one’s energy in the service of God and all living beings.
In New York he faced great hardships without money or a place to live. He began his mission humbly, by giving classes on the Bhagavad-gita in lofts on the Bowery, New York’s infamous skid row, and leading yoga kirtan (traditional devotional chants) in Tompkins Square Park. His message of peace and goodwill resonated with many young people, some of whom came forward to become serious students of bhakti yoga.
In the eleven years that followed, Srila Prabhupada circled the globe fourteen times, bringing the teachings of Bhakti to thousands of people on six continents. Men and women from all backgrounds came forward to accept his message. With their help, Srila Prabhupada established centers and projects throughout the world including temples, rural communities, educational institutions, and what would become the world’s largest vegetarian food relief program. With the desire to nourish the roots of Krishna-bhakti in its home, Srila Prabhupada returned to India several times, where he sparked a revival in the Bhakti tradition. In India, he opened dozens of temples, including important centers in the holy towns of Vrindavana and Mayapur.
Besides being a prolific writer, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada spent the last years of his life to the arduous task of traveling around the world, establishing temples, ecological communities and publishing centers in over one hundred countries; besides giving shelter to thousands of people who took initiation from him. After his departure, in 1977, he was recognized by the great Vaishnava authorities as a ‘sakti-avesa-avatara’, the incarnation of a soul directly empowered by God to spread God’s love to the world. He dedicated his life to the service of his spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Takura.
Perhaps Srila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution is his books. He authored over seventy volumes on Bhakti-yoga, which are highly respected for their authority, depth, clarity, and fidelity to tradition. His writings have been translated into seventy-six languages. His most prominent works include: Bhagavad Gita As It Is, the thirty-volume Srimad Bhagavatam, and the seventeen-volume Sri Caitanya Caritamrita.
For millennia the teachings of Bhakti-yoga had been concealed within Sanskrit and Indian vernacular languages, and the rich culture of Bhakti had been hidden behind the borders of India. Today, millions around the globe express their gratitude to Srila Prabhupada for revealing the timeless wisdom of Bhakti to a world immersed in a materialistic life.