THE BHAGAVAD-GITA tells us that if we understand Krsna's birth and activities we can go back to Godhead. Srila Prabhupada's book Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead (he called it "the Krsna book") presents us with all the necessary information with which to reach this goal. In his Preface to the Krsna book Prabhupada writes, "The book Krsna is another presentation to help the Krsna consciousness movement in the Western world. … People love to read various kinds of fiction to spend their time and energy. Now this tendency can be directed to Krsna. The result will be the imperishable satisfaction of the soul, both individually and collectively. By reading this one book Krsna, love of Godhead will fructify."
We were surprised when Prabhupada first proposed that he write the Krsna book, a summary study of the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. As the end of 1968 approached, he had been working steadily on his translations of the Bhagavatam and was just completing the Fourth Canto. We all looked forward to years of Bhagavatam work ahead. Everything seemed possible and fresh.
Then in December a letter addressed to Jadurani arrived. "As soon as possible, I will require some artist who will paint pictures from the Bhagavatam as I give hints on what to paint, but the artist must be very quick. Two or three pictures must be done every week. These pictures will be used for my new book, Krsna, which I will begin as soon as I get the assistance of a quick painter. I am sure that you can do this, but you are already engaged with so much work. There is one girl in Seattle, Joy Fulcher, who is a nice artist. As usual I shall send Krsna tapes* to your husband with hints for you about the pictures so you and your husband can send me the complete materials for final printing. Consider these suggestions and do the needful."
Prabhupada didn't present us with an order, but a proposal. It was typical of him: he liked to share the enthusiasm he felt for his work, to share the adventure. Of course, we were honored to serve Prabhupada in any way, and naturally Jadurani agreed to do the paintings.
Prabhupada withheld the tapes until the first five paintings were done. I wrote to him asking for the tapes just after he introduced the idea of the book to us, but he responded: "So far as the new book Krsna, I have already sent suggestions to Jadurani, and as soon as the pictures are drawn, I will send you the tapes." I didn't receive tapes from Prabhupada for another few months.
Sometimes people look at those early paintings and smile at their lack of artistic sophistication, but Prabhupada considered them windows to the spiritual world. Paintings were important to the concept of his book. Prabhupada accepted them as devotional offerings and said they enhanced the beauty of his book.
Although we didn't know it at the time, there was a deeper meaning behind Prabhupada's suddenly deciding to summarize Krsna's Tenth Canto pastimes. He revealed it only later in his Caitanya-caritamrta purports. In the middle of the Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya-lila), the author, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, suddenly begins to described the Lord's final pastimes. Krsnadasa Kaviraja explains, "I am now almost an invalid because of old age, and I know that at any moment I may die. Therefore I have already described some portions of the Antya-lila [final pastimes]."
In a similar mood, Prabhupada wanted to give us the Tenth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. In his purport to Krsnadasa Kaviraja's statement, he writes: "Following in the footsteps of Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, I am trying to translate theBhagavata literatures as quickly as possible. However, knowing myself to be an old man and almost an invalid because of rheumatism, I have already translated the essence of all literatures, the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, as a summary study in English. I started the Krsna consciousness movement at the age of seventy. Now I am seventy-eight, and so my death is imminent. I am trying to finish the translation of Srimad-Bhagavatam as soon as possible, but before finishing it, I have given my readers the book Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so that if I die before finishing the whole task, they may enjoy this book, which is the essence of Srimad-Bhagavatam." (Cc., Antya 1.11 and purport)
In his next letter, he mentioned the size of the book: 8-1/2×11. This is an unusually large book, but Prabhupada chose the large trim size because he wanted to display the illustrations.
At first, Prabhupada asked for two or three paintings a week. Later he asked for one a day. The artists tried but could not keep up. Finally they wrote to Prabhupada and explained why they couldn't maintain such a pace and Prabhupada assured them, "That's all right. That was my idea. I don't say that you must do it if it's not practical. It was just my idea."
Prabhupada often set a pace for his disciples that forced us to change our lives if we were going to keep up with him. When the spiritual master gives an order, it's not that the disciple looks at his own list of priorities to see if he can fit the order in. Rather, the disciple should change his life to serve the spiritual master's order. Prabhupada often made us stretch ourselves, and we became happy to do it.
Soon, Krsna book became Prabhupada's main work, and he suspended his work on Srimad-Bhagavatam. We thought Krsna book would never end; Krsna had so many pastimes!
By November 1969 Prabhupada went to London. I received a letter from him saying, "So far as Krsna is concerned … one respectful friend has promised to get this printed immediately. In my previous letter, I asked you to give quotation for this Krsnabook. … It is essential for me to know [the cost] because the friend who wants to publish this book should be informed about the cost of production within a week." That friend, who remained anonymous in this letter, was George Harrison.
Prabhupada expected the book to come out in May of 1970. His disciple Syamasundara suggested we introduce Krsna book along with a new record, "Govindam," just coming out from ISKCON, and Prabhupada seriously considered the proposal. "Under the circumstances I wish to print a few thousand of a small booklet regarding Krsna book with a few pictures giving a short description of Krsna on the cover page."
Although this pamphlet was never actually printed, we still have Prabhupada's ad copy: "Krsna, the supreme rich powerful famous and beautiful Personality of Godhead without any material attachment is now available in book form. 400 pages reading matter and fifty-two colorful illustrations in first-class hard bound and wood-free paper printed. Those who have heard the Hare Krsna mantra record as well as 'Govindam' will do well by procuring this deluxe book and keep at home as a great treasure. Try to understand the basic principles of the great movement Krsna consciousness."
While all this attention was on publication, Prabhupada had not stopped writing. Now he was working on the second volume of what he envisioned as a three-volume Krsna book set.* When Gaurasundara invited him to Hawaii, Prabhupada declined. He was able to write in Los Angeles in a house some devotees had rented for him in Beverly Hills. "I'm sorry that I cannot come, I have to disappoint you but I'm not very enthusiastic to travel. I'm engaged in finishing the Krsna book and if I go even for fifteen days the progress will be halted."
Of course, book production was only one aspect of the Krsna book's history. Book distribution was the other. When the Krsna book finally arrived from the printer, I was in Boston. The devotees ripped open the cartons right on the lawn of the Boston temple. "Oh, look how beautiful Srila Prabhupada is on the cover!" "Look at the beautiful paintings!" We were so happy to finally receive the book.
Prabhupada received his copies at the Rathayatra in San Francisco. Devotees had rushed advance copies to him from the printer in Japan. What could give the devotees more pleasure than to see Prabhupada looking at a newly printed book? He looked at his dream fulfilled. Everything had been done, and now he could be relieved that even if he passed away, Krsna's Tenth Canto pastimes would be available.
Prabhupada looked at the book and announced to the people, "Now this book has just been delivered to us, Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We have fifty copies, so anyone who wants a book from me can come up." He offered them for ten dollars each. A mob of people pushed their money forward until all the books were sold. He didn't even keep a copy for himself.
This was the beginning of Krsna book distribution in America. Since that day, millions of copies have been sold all over the world.
Of course, Krsna book remains a wonderful transcendental literature. Read it carefully. "By reading this one book, love of Godhead will fructify."
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami travels extensively to speak and write about Krsna consciousness. He is the author of many books, including a 6-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.