Three Architects of Lord Chaitanya’s Movement

The following is an excerpt from Ravindra Svarupa dasa’s 1995 Vyasa Puja homage to Shrila Prabhupada.

The triumph of the modernized West binds the world more and more together by means of continually improving technologies of transport and communication. When traditional cultures and civilizations gathered within the prodigious octopus-grasp of Modernity, they began to intermingle and interpenetrate, even as Modernity engaged in dissolving and digesting their ancient substances. This event set the stage and prepared the means for the “breakout” of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s movement, for its setting forth into the world from its maternal home, India.

To retrofit Lord Chaitanya’s movement for its setting forth became the task of three empowered spiritual architects and renovators of three generations: Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, and Shrila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. When finally the story of the progressive achievement of these three geniuses is fully told, it will form an epic narration, a saga of spiritual adventure to place on the shelf beside the Ramayana and Mahabharata. It will fascinate the world for centuries to come. I can only give the barest hint here.

Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura:

He rescued Lord Chaitanya’s movement. Bhaktivinoda Thakura had the power to discriminate the genuine flowering creeper of Lord Chaitanya’s movement, which was nearly lost among the rank growths of well-established weeds of various apasampradayas. These mimics displayed perversities that had brought Lord Chaitanya’s very name into international disrepute. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura uncovered, rejuvenated, propagated, and defended the authentic teachings and practices of Lord Chaitanya.

Moreover, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura profoundly grasped both the challenge and the opportunity presented by the world-dominance of the modern West. He studied Western thinkers and confronted their ideas with the teachings of Lord Chaitanya. He envisioned the movement of Lord Caitanya acting on a global scale. In this way Bhaktivinoda Thakura effected the intellectual transfer of Lord Chaitanya’s movement into a radically new cultural context. He did this because, above all, he was possessed by an unrelenting drive to deliver pure Krishna consciousness to all people, by all means, and at any cost.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada:

He inherited from his father, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the same drive to preach. He was animated by his father’s realization of how Krishna consciousness could—and would—spread throughout the world. Therefore, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada gave concrete form to the vision of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura by creating the Gaudiya Matha as a practical instrument for active preaching in the world.

In so doing, he became a religious revolutionary. His father had uncovered the authentic Krishna consciousness movement in the shape of a religion of reclusive, maha-bhagavata babajis. Now his son transferred the elixir of this authentic Krishna consciousness into a new container. He transposed a religion on the platform of maha-bhagavatas to one on the platform of madhyama-adhikaris and thus produced an active preaching mission directed toward all people, whatever their class, caste, or cultural level. This entailed practical adjustments in sadhana and ritual. It was a transformation, but it was, as they say in philosophy, salve veritate: it preserved truth. The established groups of compromised, parochial, or merely complaisant Gaudiya Vaishnavas naturally could not see this. They criticized Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada. He took them on. He challenged all the apasampradayas and defeated them.

He embraced the most practical means of spreading Krishna consciousness. Book distribution was the foremost of his endeavors to engage modern technologies, especially of transport and communications, for preaching. Modern, secular things should not be rejected if they can be used in furthering Lord Chaitanya’s mission. To drive the point home, he drove up to Radha-kunda, the holiest of holies, in a Jaguar sedan, scandalizing the scandalous babajis there.

He also had the insight to realize that for a unified preaching institution to operate effectively in the modern world, on a global scale, and in a stable and enduring manner, it needed to be managed in the modern way, by a board of directors, rather than in the more traditional manner of a sole autocratic acharya. Unfortunately, the failure of his leading disciples in the Gaudiya Matha to understand this point led to the disintegration of the Mission after Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s disappearance.

Shrila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, our spiritual master and founder-acharya:

All of Shrila Prabhupada’s achievements demonstrably rest on one prime quality: He fully embraced his spiritual master’s order and made it his “life and soul.” As a consequence, Shrila Prabhupada was given the confidence, courage, and stamina to take that great leap of faith. All alone he crossed the dark waters and brought Lord Chaitanya’s movement to America. In reciprocation, Krishna sent thousands of lost souls to him to save. It was hard work; it was suffering: “I have to shed my blood three tons to make one convinced in Krishna consciousness. That is my experience … especially these Europeans and Americans.” Shrila Prabhupada shed his blood endlessly.

Shrila Prabhupada was empowered with the vision, the knowledge, and the compassion to fulfill the innermost desires of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. He worked only for twelve years, with crude and unmalleable material (us, his disciples), and yet the whole world heard the Hare Krishna mantra, and the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam found their way into every nook and corner of the globe. Carrying Lord Chaitanya’s mission as far as he was able, Shrila Prabhupada broke new ground practically every day; consequently, he was challenged repeatedly to make the correct decision. At stake was the vital issue: how to preserve and perpetuate unchanged the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in unprecedented circumstances. By virtue of his faithful following, Shrila Prabhupada was given the intelligence to meet these challenges.

He worked hard to set up his preaching institution, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, formed carefully after the directions of his Guru Maharaja. He set up and trained a Governing Body to continue ISKCON after him. He called ISKCON his body, and it indeed continues after him, still animated by his indwelling, ever-watchful spirit. He will remain thus with us as long as we ourselves make his order our own life and soul.

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