When a first-time reader of Back to Godhead sees the photos of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and reads his essays, he sometimes asks, "Where does your spiritual master live?" But if the reader notices the statement on the inside cover that "He passed away in 1977," he might then conclude, "Oh, he's dead." A new reader might also think Back to Godhead is advocating a personality cult.
All of these casual impressions are uninformed. And an important function of Back to Godhead, therefore, is to give clear information about Srila Prabhupada and his teachings, which are important to everyone because they carry the message of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Because Srila Prabhupada is a Vaisnava, a pure devotee of God, he did not die, even though he "passed away" in 1977. The permanency of the Vaisnava is expressed by the nineteenth-century teacher Bhaktivinoda Thakura:
He reasons ill who tells that Vaisnavas die
When thou art living still in sound!
The Vaisnavas die to live, and living try
To spread the holy name around.
A bona fide spiritual master is undying because his instructions are eternal. Srila Prabhupada wrote in the dedication of his first book, "To my spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. He lives forever by his divine instructions, and the follower lives with him."
Srila Prabhupada did not teach his own concoctions but spoke and wrote on the basis of Bhagavad-gita, the science of the relation of the soul to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As the Bhagavad-gita's teachings are immortal, so the teacher ofBhagavad-gita is also imperishable. This is true of all teachers who live according to the scriptures.
The Vedic knowledge Srila Prabhupada taught was first taught at the beginning of material creation, when the Supreme Lord enlightened Lord Brahma, the first created being in the universe. Although Lord Brahma learned many departments of spiritual and material knowledge, the topmost instruction was bhakti-yoga, devotional service to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna. Brahma passed on these teachings to his disciples, who in turn passed them on to their disciples down through the canturies
One of the notable devotees in this line was Madhvacarya (A.D. 1239-1319), who is recognized as a great propounder of Vaisnava philosophy. When Lord Krsna descended in His form as Lord Caitanya five hundred years ago in Bengal, or Gauda-desa, He appeared as a disciple in the line of Madhvacarya. Followers of Lord Caitanya are therefore known as the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Sampradaya. Srila Prabhupada's own spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, who ordered Srila Prabhupada to teach Krsna consciousness in the West, appeared in this disciplic succession. The movement represented by Lord Caitanya and His followers is also known as the sankirtana movement because of its emphasis on the chanting of the holy names of God (Hare Krsna) as the most important method of God realization in this age.
Srila Prabhupada is therefore one of many faithful teachers in disciplic succession, and yet he is outstanding even among spiritual masters. Professor Harvey Cox, a noted Harvard theologian, said of Prabhupada: "In one sense Srila Prabhupada was not at all 'original' . . . , but one who incarnates an ancient tradition…. Yet, it must be added, Srila Prabhupada was also a unique person…. [He] is only one of thousands of teachers. But in another sense, he is one in a thousand, maybe one in a million."
Srila Prabhupada's essays and lectures regularly appear in Back to Godhead, because he founded the magazine, in 1944. Moreover, he founded the worldwide Krsna consciousness movement, ISKCON, which had been predicted by past Vaisnavaacaryas who yearned to see Lord Krsna's teachings spread outside the boundaries of India.
By reading Prabhupada's articles in Back to Godhead, one is introduced to his teachings. In the beginning of each issue of the magazine, we present a lecture by Srila Prabhupada. These lectures reveal how Prabhupada assimilated the complex Vedic teachings and presented them in a way comprehensible to ordinary people, but without losing the potency of bhakti-yoga. Srila Prabhupada gave us such a wealth of spoken and written material, all in English, that Back to Godhead is able to continually give new presentations of Vedic knowledge through his realized words.
Srila Prabhupada's most important contribution was his books. Not only did he translate Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and other Vedic scriptures, but he also wrote clear purports that assimilate the commentaries of the most prominent Vaisnava acaryas. So through Prabhupada we receive the distilled wisdom of hundreds of centuries. In addition to his scholarly and faithful renditions of the conclusions of the previous teachers, Prabhupada added his own realizations as a pure devotee of Krsna and a world teacher. A taste of this is given each month in Back to Godhead, through the Srimad-Bhagavatam insert.
Another aspect of Prabhupada appears monthly as "Srila Prabhupada Speaks Out." Here we see Srila Prabhupada in an impromptu mood conversing on topical themes. In "Srila Prabhupada Speaks Out," His Divine Grace decries cheaters in religion, politics, and science. His statements are not "shooting from the hip," but based always on Vedic evidence. Thus, we get eternal Vedic knowledge applied to the crises of the late twentieth century.
As followers of Srila Prabhupada, we feel love for him, and gratitude. But our desire to share his teachings with the readers of Back to Godhead is not sentimental. Prabhupada always taught us that he was a representative and servant of Krsna. He never made absurd claims that he was God or that everyone could become God. In the preface to his Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srila Prabhupada wrote, "Some say it is a great fortune for the Americans that I have started the Krsna consciousness movement. But actually the original father of this movement is Lord Krsna Himself."
Prabhupada deflected attention away from himself and toward Lord Krsna. Yet Krsna says that one cannot transcend the cycle of birth and death and go back to the eternal, spiritual world unless one serves Him through His devotees. As He states in theAdi Purana, "Those who are directly My devotees are actually not My devotees. But those who are devotees of My servant are factually My devotees."
In keeping Srila Prabhupada at the center of Back to Godhead, we are following this instruction of Lord Krsna. We hope that by reading the teachings of Srila Prabhupada, the readers will establish their relationship with him and come into direct association with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. – SDG