Train your mind to keep one ideal in it and work towards it – the mind becomes single-pointed. – Chinmaya
Nothing is impossible for a single-pointed mind which is inspired by a noble goal.
This is the story of Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness).
He was born in Calcutta in 1896. His parents named him Abhay Charan and the boy was brilliant in his studies. He got his degree from Scottish Church College, a reputed institute of those times. He was actively involved in the non-cooperation movement started by Gandhiji during India’s freedom struggle.
But the turning point in his life came in 1922 when he met his spiritual master Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, a great devotee of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He told Abhay, “Educated youth like you who have an inclination towards the scriptures must take this spiritual knowledge to the West.”
Abhay, in all humility, asked, “Swamiji, but who will listen to our message? We are a foreign-dominated nation.” Swamiji said, “Dependence and independence – they are temporary. We are concerned about the eternal welfare of mankind.”
Just a fortnight before passing away, in 1936, his Guru Maharaj again wrote to him, “You must preach this gospel among people who are conversant with the English language. I know you can do it.” Those last words of his Guru moved his heart. He decided to take these words of his spiritual master as the very mission of life.
In 1958, Abhay Charan took sannyasa and retired from the active worldly life. His new name was Bhaktivedanta swami. He translated Bhagavad Geeta and Shreemad Bhagavatham to English. He tried various means to spread the knowledge of spirituality among the masses in India, but all seemed to be in vain. No one was showing interest. At last, he decided, “Indians are aping the West. We do only what the foreigners do. So I must start my work in the so-called ‘best country’. I must go to America.”
In the year 1966, he boarded the ship ‘Jaladoota’ to America. He was already 70 years of age at that time. He had only 7 dollars and a few books. Twenty-two days of sea travel made him sea-sick. He miraculously survived two severe heart attacks while travelling.
When Prabhupada reached America, he wrote in his diary:
“My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul but I do not know why You have brought me here. Most of the population here is absorbed in material life. How will I make them understand Your message? I can simply repeat Your words, and if You like, You can make my power of speaking suitable for their understanding. I have no devotion, nor do I have any knowledge but I have strong faith in the sankalpa (resolve) of my Master and in Your holy name. I have been named as Bhaktivedanta – ‘devotion with knowledge’, and now if You like, You can fulfil the real purport of Bhaktivedanta.”
And he signed – “the most unfortunate, insignificant beggar – A.C Bhaktivedanta swami.”
About his early days in America, Prabhupada described later: “The life was difficult in the initial days. I would sell my books and the revenue helped me to pay the rent and meet my expenses. But within three months, my typewriter and tape recorder were stolen. I was extremely dejected. I came to America risking my life. I was physically unfit and at the fag end of my life. Sometimes I did not know what to do and where to go. I was not used to severe cold weather. I had even decided to return back to India. But I couldn’t. Though I was alone, I never felt I was alone. I always felt the presence of my spiritual master. This kept my enthusiasm despite all difficulties.”
Prabhupada started his mission from Tompkins Square Park, New York, considered the best city from a materialistic standpoint. Those days, America was engaged in war with Vietnam. Youngsters, with no one to guide them, were getting attracted to ‘hippie culture.’ Hippies were those who would lie down on the roads naked, had illicit sex and drugs. They believed that true happiness came from total freedom. They were defiling the image of America all over the world and the Government did not know what to do with them.
Prabhupada thought, “Why not start with them?” He did something unimaginable. He decided to reform the hippies. He called all of them and started doing keertan. But they never listened to him. They ridiculed him, humiliated him, made fun of him, and disrespected him. They puffed cigarette smoke on his face. His things were stolen.
But Prabhupada was very kind and compassionate. He would feed them, and tell stories of Shreemad Bhagavatham to them. He accepted all and rejected none, in spite of all their imperfections and addictions.
One day Prabhupada asked them, “Why do you take drugs?”
They said, “We want to stay high!”
Prabhupad said, “I will give you such a drug which will keep you high forever!”
His loving, forgiving and caring nature, his soul-captivating chanting, his devotion-filled stories from Bhagavatham, his child-like innocence, his undisturbed peace – soon the hippies realised that there was a way out from all miseries of life and here was a man who demonstrated the way through his life.
The goodness of Prabhupada prevailed over them, and they started to follow his instructions on divine life and worked hard on self-reformation. They started enjoying the keertans and took active participation in it.
Just like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Prabhupad would do nagara sankeertan – taking his disciples round the cities and loudly chanting the name of the Lord with the accompaniment of musical instruments:
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare |
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare ||
It was an amazing sight to see. The very same people who were addicted to drinks and drugs were now seen addicted to the name of the Lord and dancing on the streets. The curious onlookers soon joined and became a part of the Hare Krishna Movement. The newspapers carried photos and articles about this unknown swami who was working wonders with the hippies!
Seeing that the Hare Krishna Movement was gathering momentum in every city and town of America, the Government officials came to meet Swamiji and said, “Sir, we are indeed grateful to you. You have indeed made these hippies happy and cultured!”
Prabhupada made almost 10,000 disciples and the movement gained momentum day by day. He then gradually trained these disciples in the time-honoured tradition of deity worship to help them advance spiritually. He won their hearts through love and trust, through his purity and devotion. These disciples were willing to do anything for their master who gave everything to them.
These disciples, who had now tasted the inner joy of Atmic bliss, became the trusted messengers of peace and happiness, and they were sent to Europe, South Africa, Australia, Russia, India etc., to spread the Hare Krishna Movement.
Prabhupada travelled all around the world 14 times and established 108 temples in 6 continents – and that too in a matter of just 12 years of his remaining life! He had written around 10, 000 letters guiding and inspiring his disciples to continue the work of spreading the message of Geeta and Bhagavatham.
To meet the expenses of running an organisation, Prabhupada taught his disciples how to make agarbattis. In three years they had a revenue of one million dollars!
The Bhagavad Geeta was translated into 28 different languages by his disciples and almost 5.5 crore books were sold throughout the world which also significantly contributed to the fundraising. With these funds, temples were constructed.
It is worth mentioning that ISKON has 12 temples even in Pakistan where ceremonial worship happens and the Bhagavad Geeta is taught daily to the devotees.
The popularity of Hare Krishna Movement gained further momentum when George Harrison, the lead guitarist of the famous English Rock Band, the Beatles, became an ardent devotee of Prabhupada. He released a song chanting Hare Krishna mantra and donated his 70 acres of farm to ISKCON.
Thanks to the organisations like ISKCON, today Bhagavad Geeta has been made compulsory in famous universities like the University of Cambridge, because the foreigners have realised that Bhagavad Geeta is not a mere religious book, but a character-building manual absolutely necessary to bring peace and harmony in the society.
Once, Prabhupada took some of his foreign devotees to India to show them the Jagannath Puri festival. But foreigners were denied permission into the temple. Unhappy with this, Prabhupada told the priest class there, “If you don’t allow the foreign devotees to have the darshan of Lord Jagannath, I will take Lord Jagannath to the whole world!”
Today rath yatra happens all over the world in the ISKCON temples!
In 1972, ‘bhojan’ also got included in their ‘bhajan’ program. Thousands of devotees were fed on Sundays after the mahamangala arati. In one of the talks given at Stanford University, Steve Jobs, the Apple founder, makes a mention: “There was a time when I had no money. I used to go walking 7 miles to Hare Krishna Temple to have a sumptuous meal every Sunday.”
Today, ISKCON is running the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which is the world’s largest NGO run school meal program, providing mid-day meals for around 14 lakh children all over India.
To revive the ancient tradition in full richness, Prabhupada envisioned God-centred self-sufficient communities based on the principles of plain living and high thinking. The first such community began on 133 acres on the hills of West Virginia. It was named “New Vrindavana.”
Prabhupada also started a primary school in ancient Gurukula tradition in Texas to teach children, keeping in mind their spiritual growth along with academic study. Prabhupada believed that small children have a pure heart and when teachers of sterling character train these children, it makes a big impact upon the young impressionable minds.
In his final days, Prabhupada was seen making use of every moment of his life in serving others. He slept only two hours and worked for 22 hours. As writing or typing was time-consuming, he would record his talks on a tape recorder and would assign his disciples to transcribe them. Even during his morning walks, he would give lectures while walking, and his talks would be recorded by his disciples. Even on his deathbed, with his body shrunk to half its size, and the body reduced to mere skin and bones, he was seen recording talks! He squeezed out every moment from the dying body in the service of others.
The great master left this earthly plane on 14th November 1977 but by then, in just 12 years, ISKCON had grown to become a worldwide organisation.
What is the secret of Prabhupada’s success?
His single-pointed mind focussed on fulfilling the desire of his Guru.
The law of life is – wherever there is single-pointed attention coupled with God’s grace, success is guaranteed.