Bhaktivedanta, Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977)
Bhaktivedanta, Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977)
The religious name of Abhay Charan De, leader of the successful Hare Krishna movement that emerged in North America and Europe in the 1970s and is organizationally embodied in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Born in Calcutta, India, September 1, 1896, he studied philosophy, economics, and English at the University of Calcutta. As a young man he was a follower of Gandhi and advocated independence for India, and he refused to accept his degree in order to show solidarity with Gandhi. Intensely religious even as a child, he nevertheless followed his father's wishes by marrying and going into business. He was initiated into the Goudiya Vaishnava Society by Vaishnava holy man Shi Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami, and followed the Bhaki ("devotional") worship of Vishnu's incarnation as Krishna, which had been initiated by Chaitanya, a Bengali saint of the sixteenth century. Krishna's life is described in the Hindu scriptural texts Bhagavad-Gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Prabhupada managed a pharmaceutical business in order to support his family, but his guru, who died in 1936, ordered his disciples to preach the Chaitanya message in the West. The honorific name "Bhaktivedanta" was bestowed upon Prabhupada by the Gaudiya Vishnava Society. During this period he authored his first books, an Introduction to the Geetopanishad and the Bajgavad-Gita as It Is, a translation and commentary on the Gita from the Chaitaya perspective. In 1956, when his family duties were accomplished, Prabhupada renounced his secular life, including his family, to devote his whole life to religious teaching. His actions followed the ancient Hindu tradition of renunciation of everyday householder life when one's responsibilities were fully discharged.
At the age of 58 Prabhupada became a swami, and in 1965, shortly before the change in American immigration laws relative to India, he immigrated to America. He preached the worship of Krishna in New York and soon attracted students and dropouts, offering his brand of Vaishnava Hinduism in place of radicalism or drug counterculture. Large contributions were made to ISKCON funds by ex-Beatle George Harrison and B. M. Birla, a wealthy Indian textile magnate. Swami Bhaktivedanta spent much of his time distributing his translation of the Bhagavad-Gita and completing his translation and commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam and a variety of other writings. He kept up a voluminous correspondence and taught his devotees the basics of Krishna devotion. Like his devotees, he spent much time chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, and his devotees reported that he sometimes exhibited such emotional transports as weeping and dancing. They regarded him as a transcendental being and gave him the title H.D.G.—His Divine Grace. Prabhupada saw his movement spread internationally, and he experienced the harsh criticism of the new anticult movement. Swami Bhaktivedanta died of heart failure on November 14, 1977, at the age of 81, at Vrindavana, India, the district in Mathura where Sri Krishna spent his childhood. By the late 1970s ISKCON had some 5,000 American disciples and had gained the support of many Indian Americans, who found it like the worship they had left behind when migrating. The movement was left in the control of initiating gurus and a governing board. It experienced intense attacks by anticult groups and suffered some tumultuous internal conflicts, but ISKCON has emerged in the 1990s as a stable Hindu body that has begun to integrate a second generation in its adult membership.
ISKCON has temples across North America, in most countries of Europe, and in numeorus locations around the world. For information, contact the ISKCON International Ministry of Public Affairs, 1030 Grand Ave., San Diego, CA 92109.
Bromley, David G., and Larry D. Shinn, eds. Krishna Consciousness in the West. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1989.
Gelberg, Steven, ed. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. New York: Grove Press, 1983.
Goswami, Satsvarupa dasa. Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta. 6 vols. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1980-83.
Prabhupada, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Bhagavad-Gita as It Is. New York: Bhativedanta Book Trust, 1972.
——. KRSHA: The Supreme Personality of Godhead. 3 vols. New York: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1970.
——. Letters from Srila Prabhupada. 5 vols. Culver City, Calif.: Vaishnava Institute, 1987.
——. The Nectar of Devotion. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1970.
——. The Science of Self Realization. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1977.
——. Teachings of Lord Chaitanya. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1974.