(Click to enlarge photo of Srila Prabhupada)
Thinking back to the late '60s and early '70s, I fondly remember how the Hare Krishna mantra had already infiltrated contemporary culture due to Srila Prabhupada's extraordinary efforts to spread the holy names throughout the world. A number of famous musicians and artists had begun to discover the chanting and were promoting it in their records and books.
For example, the Broadway musical "Hair" was a big hit and the accompanying record—which included the chanting of Hare Krishna— became a popular staple on the radio. George Harrison recorded the song "My Sweet Lord" with the melodious chanting of Krishna's names in the background; and prior to that, the words "Hare Krishna" could be found on one of the Beatles' albums (Magical Mystery Tour). Poet Allen Ginsberg, a self-styled leader of the new counterculture, had visited India and picked up the mantra there. He subsequently wrote about the chanting in at least one or more of his poetry books. After meeting Prabhupada at 26 Second Avenue in the Lower East Side of New York, Ginsberg increased his dedication to the holy names and often chanted them during "be-ins" and poetry readings. When John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their famous "bed-in" at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal in 1969, the devotees were there singing Hare Krishna during the recording of "Give Peace a Chance." The "Radha Krishna Temple" album produced by George Harrison in 1970 in co-operation with the London devotees could be found in record stores throughout Europe and North America. Such was the widespread influence of Srila Prabhupada's dynamic preaching efforts even though he had only been in the Western world for a short period of time. Srila Prabhupada was already expertly fulfilling the order of his spiritual master, His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaj.
"The pure devotees are not only satisfied by knowing everything about the Lord, but are also eager to broadcast the information to others, for they want to see that the glories of the Lord are known to everyone."
(Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.5.9, Purport)
Despite his rapid and enormous success at distributing Krishna consciousness worldwide, Srila Prabhupada always remained humble and never took credit for himself. His attitude was perfectly in line with the sastric descriptions of an unalloyed servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead:
"A pure devotee never thinks himself as great; he always thinks that other devotees are greater than himself."
(Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 1)
Although Srila Prabhupada accomplished superhuman results in his service to guru and Krishna, he was deeply and genuinely humble. I specifically remember seeing Prabhupada for the first time in the Los Angeles temple room. When the curtains opened for morning Deity greetings, Srila Prabhupada slowly but surely prostrated himself before his beloved Lord. I'll never forget the absolute surrender and humility he exhibited before our very eyes. In fact, watching Prabhupada in various temples over the years as he bowed to the Creator with such profound sincerity was always one of my favorite experiences. Lord Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita (2.20):
"He who follows this imperishable path of devotional service, and who completely engages himself with faith, making Me the supreme goal is very, very dear to Me."
While demonstrating such exalted devotional service himself, Srila Prabhupada was always very kind and merciful:
"So far as I am concerned, in relationship with my disciples who are so kindly cooperating with me in the matter of my rendering service to my Spiritual Master, for them I am always ready to come back from Goloka Vrindaban, if they are not delivered along with me. So don't be worried about the clutches of Maya. Be fixed up in your determination and go on serving the Supreme Lord, Krishna, with determination as you are already doing."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, November 15, 1969)
By showing such enormous compassion to us all, Prabhupada not only conquered our hearts, but according to scripture, he did the same to none other than the Lord Himself:
"A pure devotee is completely surrendered to the lotus feet of the Lord, and only by his love does he conquer Krishna, who cannot be conquered by anyone."
(Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 8.66, Purport)
Thus we can understand that the essence of Krishna consciousness is love—love for the Supreme Lord and all His parts and parcels. So Prabhupada arrived on the shores of America with a most appealing message at a remarkably appropriate time in the history of the world. Young people everywhere were screaming and clamoring for love, and Prabhupada distributed the highest form of love without charge. "Please chant Hare Krishna and be happy" he would tell us again and again. It's no wonder that Lord Shiva proclaims the following in the Padma Purana:
"My dear Parvati, there are different methods of worship, and out of all such methods the worship of the Supreme Person is considered to be the highest. But even higher than the worship of the Lord is the worship of the Lord's devotees."
Devotees' hearts everywhere are combined in love for His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, which ultimately—despite our personal differences—keeps us unified as a family of godbrothers and godsisters. If we can't always live together in body, at least we can live together in spirit. We are firmly united in our affection and appreciation for Prabhupada. His magnanimous heart and limitless love for Krishna have ignited the modern day Hare Krishna revolution. The mercy of Krishna has come to this world through Srila Prabhupada and therefore so many souls are forever grateful and indebted to him for his unparalleled service on the Lord's behalf.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.