THAT GREAT SAINTS exist is the most powerful proof for me that God exists. Few of us get excited about academic exercises proving God's existence, and most of us have been born with a healthy amount of skepticism. Therefore, we need to find personal proofs, proofs that can conquer our doubts and convince us not only of God's existence, but of our need for Him. Often, discussions about the philosophy of religion are just too abstract. They don't touch our hearts. What touches my heart is that throughout history certain human beings have developed a high degree of God realization and have acted upon it in their lives.
I hadn't met any great souls before I met Srila Prabhupada in the summer of 1966. I was raised Catholic, but in my nominally Catholic family I had never even heard about the lives of the Catholic saints, nor did I meet anyone who claimed to follow them. By the time I met Srila Prabhupada, I was a professed atheist. But I recognized Prabhupada's saintliness at once, and it was both his saintliness and his own faith in Krsna's existence that convinced me there was more to spirituality than I thought.
When Prabhupada spoke, I was captivated. I had never heard such descriptions of saintly persons Vyasadeva, Pariksit Maharaja, Lord Caitanya and His followers. And when Prabhupada plunged into explanations of transmigration, the spiritual world, karma, hell, I was able to look at the life he led and his intense dedication and certainty and find a frame of reference by which to accept such foreign concepts.
Every major religion has scriptures, most have an institution, and all have a mixture of adherents, some following strictly, some nominally, and others somewhere in the middle. Every religion also has a line of saints who have established and developed and directed the congregation's faith. That small group of inwardly renounced stalwarts, who truly identify with the ultimate perfection being professed, are the living force behind the religion. Without their presence, people are not inspired to achieve the goal themselves.
There is a story told in the Hassidic tradition of a famous guru who advised an aspirant to approach a particular saint. "If you want to know the truth, you should go to this saint not to hear the Torah, but to see how he puts on his shoes." That is how we absorbed Krsna consciousness from Srila Prabhupada: We watched him put on his shoes and perform numerous other small and seemingly ordinary activities with such humility and extraordinary concentration on his Krsna conscious mission that his conviction in Krsna consciousness developed our own.
Because such saints are far above us in conviction and ability to practice, we need to find the key by which we can apply their example in our lives. The scriptures say we cannot imitate a saint's behavior, and many of us have discovered the truth of this in one way or another. As we cannot become Krsna by pretending we can do what He did, so we cannot become a saint by imitating his or her activities. All we can do is appreciate the saint's perfection and learn to aspire as the saint aspired. Admitting our fallen nature, we can nevertheless follow the instructions of the saintly teacher. We can also take courage from his or her example when we execute our own devotional service, and we can fall at the saint's feet to beg for mercy and help. We can trust the saints, and trust their spiritual process.
We can also hear their prayers. The scriptures are full of the prayers of saints. Here is a famous prayer by Srila Madhavendra Puri, exemplifying his exclusive devotion to Krsna and his renunciation of all mundane religion:
O my evening prayer, all good to you. O my morning bath, I bid you good-by. O demigods and forefathers, please excuse me. I am unable to perform any more offerings for your pleasure. Now I have decided to free myself from all reactions to sins simply by remembering anywhere and everywhere the great descendent of Yadu and the great enemy of Kamsa, Lord Krsna. I think this is sufficient for me. What is the use of further endeavor?
We cannot imitate Madhavendra Puri's prayer or his mood, but we can value it, and from his prayer and his life's example, we too can learn to make an earnest cry from the heart.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of many books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.