Because of Srila Prabhupada's extraordinary compassion, Krsna consciousness could take hold in the West.
I WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS the ways in which Srila Prabhupada extends his compassion to us. How Prabhupada applied his compassion to his followers, enduring any difficulty to do so, is a relishable and important topic. Prabhupada is Krsna's representative, offering us the priceless gift of Krsna consciousness. Although it is for each of us to accept this gift, Prabhupada has made it very easy for us to accept. That is his great compassion. If we are fortunate, we may also receive a drop of Prabhupada's compassionate mood and begin to care for the devotional lives of others.
Material compassion and spiritual compassion are two distinct entities. Prabhupada describes material compassion as rescuing only the coat of a drowning man. The sentiment may be sincere, but the compassion is misplaced. To understand spiritual compassion, we have to understand the essence of the living entity in his or her spiritual relationship with the Supreme Lord. Without this knowledge, we will not be able to understand the best interest even of ourselves, what to speak of others. Without spiritual understanding, our attempts at compassion will not benefit the soul.
Srila Prabhupada wanted to influence people everywhere to give up their sinful activities and to surrender to Krsna. He was successful because he combined humility, dependence on guru and Krsna, and confidence in Lord Caitanya's power to deliver the fallen souls.
Although we may think of a world reformer as aggressively ambitious, we should know that for one on the spiritual platform, humility and confident ambition are not mutually exclusive. Because the devotee knows he represents the most powerful person, Krsna, he is supremely confident. And because he sees himself as the Lord's servant, he is deeply humble. In the poem Srila Prabhupada wrote at sea during his 1965 voyage to America, he expresses this sentiment:
Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who is very dear to Lord Gauranga [Caitanya], the son of mother Saci, is unparalleled in his service to the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna. He is that great saintly spiritual master who bestows intense devotion to Krsna at different places throughout the world.
By his strong desire, the holy name of Lord Gauranga will spread throughout all the countries of the Western world. In all the cities, towns, and villages on the earth, from all the oceans, seas, rivers, and streams, everyone will chant the holy name of Krsna.
As the vast mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu conquers all directions, a flood of transcendental ecstasy will certainly cover the land. When all the sinful, miserable living entities become happy, the Vaisnavas' desire is then fulfilled.
Although my Guru Maharaja ordered me to accomplish this mission, I am not worthy or fit to do it. I am very fallen and insignificant. Therefore, O Lord, now I am begging for Your mercy so that I may become worthy, for You are the wisest and most experienced of all.
If You bestow Your power, by serving the spiritual master one attains, the Absolute. Truth one's life becomes successful. If that service is obtained, then one becomes happy and gets Your association due to good fortune.
From these verses we can understand something of Srila Prabhupada's humility and his confident dependence on his spiritual master and Krsna.
There are many world reformers as well as many persons who merely try to reform the little circle of their own lives. Some of these reformers may even express humility. But their attempts to create a compassionate change in the world are misplaced like saving only the coat of the drowning man. Srila Prabhupada, however, whom Krsna imbued to the extreme with the dynamic combination of humility and spiritual confidence, was able to save the world.
Srila Prabhupada applied his compassion first in converting nondevotees and then in preaching to his new disciples. If we find ourselves sometimes taking ISKCON for granted, we should remember that ISKCON did not develop automatically. It developed because Srila Prabhupada made such a careful and relevant presentation of the Krsna consciousness philosophy. It developed because Prabhupada expended great love and care to adjust Krsna's eternal message for the Western world.
One example of this is Prabhupada's allowing women to live in his ISKCON centers, a practice unheard of in Indian temples. Another example is when Prabhupada first instructed his disciples to chant the Hare Krsna mantra on beads.
Prabhupada's spiritual master had taught that initiated devotees must chant sixty-four rounds a day; otherwise they were considered fallen. Prabhupada mentioned sixty-four rounds to his new disciples, but he could see that it would be impossible for them. Mukunda Swami tells in the Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta how Prabhupada negotiated with him before finally settling on the minimum daily quota of sixteen rounds.
We could call these examples of leniency more than of compassion, but leniency is a constituent of compassion. Prabhupada sincerely wanted people to take to Krsna consciousness. Therefore he was not rigid. That he was willing to bend and adjust according to time and place is an example of his compassion.
When Srila Prabhupada was asked if we could write his biography, his reply illuminated in one line the compassion behind his apparent leniency: "If you write my life story, you should say that what I did was like transplanting a tulasi plant." In other words, Prabhupada did not ignore the cultural differences between India and America. Rather, he preserved the Vedic plant and fed it according to the conditions of the Western soil and environment. Always his concern was to preserve the plant. Therefore he was willing to adjust his preaching to suit the Western mentality, yet without altering the purity and authenticity of Krsna's message.
Prabhupada expressed compassion in his willingness to preach to anyone, including the receptive hippies he encountered in the West. Prabhupada was completely different from the American and European hippies. He was cultured, elderly, and completely transcendental. Yet when he looked out to his audience of hippies, he chose to look beyond the gruffy exteriors to see the heart. He preached wherever it was favorable, and Krsna rewarded him. One time he even preached at a nudist commune, holding kirtana and lecturing. Afterwards, some of the members changed their ways and requested to join his movement. Prabhupada was so compassionate.
Caring For Fallen Disciples
Another unprecedented display of compassion is evident in Prabhupada's arranging the marriages of his disciples. In India the tradition was that no sannyasi would take part in arranging marriages. Srila Prabhupada in America, however, saw marriage as the only remedy for the otherwise unrestricted mixing of men and women in his movement. Often his young married disciples were successful, continuing to follow their initiation vows and working to spread Krsna consciousness. Often new centers were opened by such couples.
It wasn't long, however, before Prabhupada felt the shock of hearing that some of his Western disciples could not keep their marriage vows. In 1967, Prabhupada arranged the marriage of two of his disciples. Within a short time, however, the woman left her husband, found a new boyfriend, and remarried. When Prabhupada heard this, he was disgusted. "I am going back to Vrndavana," he said. "I am a sannyasi. Why do I have to hear about these things?"
Yet although he was disturbed, he continued communicating with both the woman and her new husband. Prabhupada told her that his main interest was that she become Krsna conscious. She had made a serious mistake, but he accepted her back because he so much wanted his disciples to continue their Krsna conscious life. He was confident that, by the power of their association with Krsna consciousness, his disciples could rectify themselves.
Prabhupada also felt the shock of seeing his young sannyasis forsake their vows. And again he responded with compassion. He assured them that they could continue practicing Krsna consciousness, if not as sannyasis, then as married men. He simply wanted all of us to chant Hare Krsna.
Prabhupada didn't take these disappointments lightly. Sometimes he cried, and sometimes he could not sleep at night because he worried about the problems his Western disciples brought him. Once he said, "You Western people have two permanent diseases. You are so attached to sex, and you are always quarreling." But although he sometimes spoke like that, he was always willing to take us back if we were sincere.
Following His Example
Coming to Krsna consciousness is rare. Prabhupada told us to be amazed not that so many leave, but at that so many stay. "We are spending gallons and gallons of our blood," he said, "just to make one devotee."
Following Srila Prabhupada's example, we too should be compassionate with our fellow devotees. Instead of finding fault with them for their minor discrepancies, we should remember that it took great effort for Srila Prabhupada to introduce them to Krsna consciousness. We should also remember that whoever takes to Krsna consciousness is dear to Prabhupada. And each of us, as servant of Prabhupada, should help the others become properly situated, thus preserving what Prabhupada worked so hard to establish. If we do this, then Krsna will be compassionate toward us, despite our many faults.
Prabhupada expressed compassion in all his activities. Out of compassion he wrote his books, battled the atheists and Mayavadis, and reprimanded his disciples. Out of compassion he does not tolerate any interference in the flow of Krsna's mercy to the living entities. Therefore we pray to Prabhupada throughout the day: "I offer my obeisances to His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, who is very dear to Krsna on this earth, having taken shelter at the lotus feet of the transcendental Lord."
By comparison with Prabhupada, we are on such a low level. But Prabhupada is so dear to Krsna that he can awaken our devotional creeper, purify us of mixed motives and impure chanting, and give us the confidence to reach the goal of life.
Prabhupada is compassionate and realistic. He compassionately gives his followers practical, relevant services in carrying on his mission. We therefore pray to have faith in our spiritual master. And we pray for the confidence to continue hearing from him, serving him, and accepting his protection.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami travels extensively to speak and write about Krsna consciousness. He is the author of many books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.