Dr. J. Stillson Judah was for many years the Professor of the History of Religions and Director of the Library at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, U.S.A, After an exhaustive study of the Krishna consciousness movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s he published "Hare Krishna and the Counterculture." Srila Prabhupada was very pleased with Dr. Judah's book and also with Professor Judah himself whom he met and discussed philosophy with many times over the years. They had a uniquely personal and mutually respectful relationship. The following excerpts are from an interview with Dr. Judah from Back to Godhead magazine, August, 1979.
"I was rather impressed with Prabhupada at that particular time, impressed by the comprehensive philosophical knowledge which he obviously had. I was particularly impressed by his knowledge of Sanskrit, since I had studied Sanskrit myself for about six years in college. I was rather awed by the fact that about half of his part of the conversation was in Sanskrit, followed, always, by his English translation, which was something I wasn’t able to do. Although I was able to read Sanskrit, I certainly had never been able to memorize great quantities of Sanskrit and call it up at will to punctuate particular philosophical or theological points appropriately the way he did.
"I was impressed not only by his Sanskrit scholarship, but by his exhaustive knowledge of Indian philosophy, particularly the philosophy of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, about which we talked quite extensively. And so I had a very favorable impression, certainly, of his knowledge at that particular time.
"I have to say that I was struck by his humility. Although I wasn’t a devotee, I did not at all get the feeling that he was speaking down to me. Although he certainly was worthy of my reverence, not only for his scholarship, of course, but for his obvious holiness, he treated me, you might say, on an equal level, with gentlemanly respect. Although I had had a relatively extensive education in Indian philosophy, I came, eventually, to understand that it is ultimately only through the eyes of faith produced by serious and prolonged spiritual discipline that spiritual philosophy can be clearly discerned. In spite of my academic training, therefore, I was not really a proficient conversation partner for Srila Prabhupada. In spite of this, however, he treated me with brotherly respect and affection. His humility was very apparent.
"I was also very much impressed, even at that first meeting, and have been subsequently impressed, that he lived his life in the same way that he expected his disciples to. This is quite different from so many other gurus who come to the West and take up drinking a few cocktails and the like. Prabhupada really lived a strict life. He was the perfect example for his disciples. And I think this is certainly part of the great power of the man—that he did preach a very severe disciplined life, but he followed it himself, right down to the letter. His popularity among his disciples owes much to the fact that his own life was so truly exemplary, to the highest degree of the holy and disciplined life he demanded of them.
"Although he certainly was exalted by his disciples, he did not put himself on a plane above them. He ate what they ate, lived in the same kind of building. He didn’t want a palace to live in. He followed the same life as his disciples, strictly. The example he gave was a very good one, one that certainly impressed the devotees. I too was very impressed.
"When Srila Prabhupada came to America he went directly among the people, especially the people who needed him the most—the countercultural protesters on the Lower East Side of New York and in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. And from there the movement grew and expanded all over the world. So, in effect, Srila Prabhupada introduced theistic Hinduism, Vaisnavism, which has always been very popular in India, to the West for the first time.
"I certainly honor Srila Prabhupada as one of India’s pre-eminent scholars. As a translator of many of India’s important religious texts, he gave special attention to the spirit and beauty of the texts. I have seen, of course, many selfconsciously literal translations of Indian philosophical and religious classics. These very literal translations are generally very barren—void of the intended religious sense of the text. But Srila Prabhupada, in his translations, really captured their essential spirituality. A literal translation which lacks sympathetic reverence for the text itself can obscure rather than elucidate its profound inner meaning. I find that Srila Prabhupada’s translations bring these works to life.
"The Bhagavad-gita is widely acknowledged as essentially a devotional, theistic work. The Gita has, unfortunately, been commented upon almost exclusively by advocates of the nontheistic school who have obscured the deeply devotional nature of the work. So I feel that Srila Prabhupada’s translation and interpretation represent the true meaning and intention of the Gita. Due to his unstinting and diligent labors, the whole world now has been made aware of the devotional essence of the Indian spiritual tradition, as well as of one of India’s great saints, Sri Caitanya, and of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, whereas before they were scarcely known outside India except by specialists in Hindu religious traditions.
"He had written me a very nice letter about my book, praising it very highly. And I thought it rather amazing that he would feel this strongly about the book, because although it turned out sympathetic to the movement, it was written not from a devotional but from a critical-objective historical and sociological viewpoint.
"Srila Prabhupada taught a pure Vaisnava philosophy which emphasizes so many things that Jesus taught, but which so many of us Christians have either forgotten or ceased to practice in our search for materialistic pleasures. Certainly few Christians today would be willing to really take up the cross of Jesus, to follow Him in a sacrificial life that places the love of God and His service above material pleasures rather than to lay up impermanent the injunction of Jesus to the rich young ruler in Matthew 9:21—to give up all one’s possessions and to follow Him. Nor would many care to abide by Christ’s command in Matthew 6:19-21—to seek spiritual treasures rather than to lay up impermanent material ones. In their search for a tangible, vital spiritual life-style, many devotees came to reject the hypocrisy of much of contemporary Christianity and search further and eventually find Krsna consciousness, where they felt they discovered a life of genuine renunciation and spiritual discipline.
"Srila Prabhupada gave meaning to many whose lives had become meaningless during the countercultural revolution. In a time of prosperity, many American youth have felt a disdain for the materialistic goals of the established culture. They have not felt that earning more money to spend on sensual pleasures has given an abiding happiness to their parents. They have come to believe that there must be a more valuable transcendental reality which they have yet to find. Therefore, they have not found direction toward a goal in our established culture, nor have they found meaning in the mainline religions that have supported this culture. For these people, Srila Prabhupada has provided a meaningful place which bears witness to quite different objectives, and he has provided a strict discipline by means of which one may achieve them. So this, I think, was one of his greatest contributions.
"He transformed them through a discipline of strict morality. They gave up the drug abuse, the crime, and they made great changes in their personal lives. I think this is very important, and I think this is one of the great contributions he made, just from the sociological point of view. This is very important and something that, as I say, the critics rarely recognize. It was Prabhupada who changed the hearts of many from hatred of society to love—to a love of God and a love of all people through the deep spiritual recognition of God within each one of us as the Supersoul. Unfortunately the world is slow to recognize such contributions.
"I was always impressed by the great sacrifices he made. Here was a man who had been raised and educated in India, who had been a householder, had raised a family, had managed a chemical company and who finally decided to give his full time and energy to the religious mission which his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, had asked him to execute—to teach the message of Sri Krsna Caitanya in the West. True to the highest tradition of India’s holy men, he forsook the material comforts of retiring to his own beloved personal family. Instead, like the Galilean master before him, he was willing to abandon his personal family for a greater mission. He came penniless to America to begin a new life of sacrificial work at an advanced age. And I think that not enough attention has been given to the difficulty that this must have entailed—to come over here without any money at all. This is a tremendous thing, a tremendous sacrifice. Instead of retiring and living with the family and just enjoying life, he gave all that up. You know, that takes an awful lot. And he did this just because he’d been requested to by his spiritual master. As one thinks about this—meditates on it—one sees what a tremendous sacrifice that really is. Without ever going back, without ever retiring and saying, 'I’ve done everything I can do now, the thing is going now; so I’m going to retire and go back to my family,' he carried on that sacrifice right to his dying day.
"We can see that Srila Prabhupada sacrificed all personal comfort for teaching Krsna consciousness. Leaving India, alone and penniless, he came to America, where he established a new family consisting of thousands whom he loved as his own. To them he gave the commission of spreading Krsna consciousness throughout the world. Through his own example they learned of that transcendental love that extends to God, to plants and animals, and to all humanity."
(Back to Godhead magazine, Vol. 14, No. 8, August, 1979)