Abhaya Caranaravinda Bhaktivedānta Svāmi (born Abhay Charan De; 1 September 1896 – 14 November 1977) was an Indian spiritual teacher and the founder-preceptor of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), commonly known as the "Hare Krishna Movement". Members of the ISKCON movement view Bhaktivedānta Swāmi as a representative and messenger of Krsna Caitanya.
Born Abhay Charan De in Calcutta, he was educated at the Scottish Church College in Calcutta. Before adopting the life of a novice renunciate (vanaprastha) in 1950, he was married with children and owned a small pharmaceutical business. In 1959 he took a vow of renunciation (sannyasa) and started writing commentaries on Vaishnava scriptures. In his later years, as a traveling Vaishnava monk, he became an influential communicator of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology to India and specifically to the West through his leadership of ISKCON, founded in 1966. As the founder of ISKCON, he "emerged as a major figure of the Western counterculture, initiating thousands of young Americans." He received criticism from anti-cult groups, as well as a favorable welcome from religious scholars such as J. Stillson Judah, Harvey Cox, Larry Shinn and Thomas Hopkins, who praised Bhaktivedānta Swāmi's translations and defended the group against distorted media images and misinterpretations. In respect to his achievements, religious leaders from other Gaudiya Vaishnava movements have also given him credit.
He has been described as a charismatic leader, in the sense used by sociologist Max Weber, as he was successful in acquiring followers in the United States, Europe, India and elsewhere. His mission was to propagate, throughout the world, Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a school of Vaishnavite Hinduism that had been taught to him by his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. After his death in 1977, ISKCON, the society he founded based on a type of Hindu Krishnaism using the Bhagavata Purana as a central scripture, continued to grow. In February 2014, ISKCON's news agency reported reaching a milestone of distributing over half a billion of his books since 1965. His translation of and commentary on the Bhagavad Gītā, titled Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, is considered by adherents of the ISKCON movement and many Vedic scholars as one of the finest literary works of Vaishnavism translated into the English Language.
Television Interview — July 4, 1971, Los Angeles
Interviewer: As confirmed by all the Vedic scriptures and by the great sages in the disciplic succession, He has a body made of eternity, bliss, and all knowledge. God has infinite forms and expansions. But of all His forms, His original form, His transcendental form, is as a cowherd boy. A form which He reveals only to His most confidential devotees. So go the teachings of Krsna as laid down in the Vedic literature. And of the sages in the disciplic succession, which I mentioned, one is our guest for this conversation today. He is His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, foremost teacher in the West of the Krsna philosophy, which, moreover, he teaches not only by word, but by example. He came to this country in 1965 on orders of his spiritual master. As a Krsna disciple, he is the present human exponent of a line of succession going back five hundred years to the appearance in India of Lord Caitanya, and beyond that, to a time five thousand years ago when Lord Krsna Himself was on this planet and His words were recorded. Welcome, sir. What is Krsna consciousness?
Prabhupada: Yes. Krsna consciousness means that every living being, part and parcel of Krsna. Krsna has got many expansion. That is called personal expansion and separated expansion. So separated expansions we are, we living entities. But although we are very intimately connected with Krsna, somehow or other we are now separated by contact of material nature. So we have practically forgotten that we are part and parcel of Krsna. Actually that is the fact. And because… Just like a rich man’s son. Somehow or other, he has forgotten his father, and he’s loitering in the street as a poor man. But actually that is not his position. He has forgotten simply. So our, this Krsna consciousness movement means we are trying to invoke that original consciousness that he’s part and parcel of Krsna. Why he should remain in this material world and suffer the threefold miseries? So we want to revive that original consciousness. The original consciousness is Krsna consciousness. Just like a man born of a lord’s family, his title should be the lord’s family. But unfortunately, forgetting his own home, he is accepting some menial title. So our whole Vedic literature is meant for that purpose, to revive his original consciousness. Aham brahmasmi.
Interviewer: You came, sir, to this country in 1965, as I said, on instructions or orders given you by your spiritual master. By the way, who was your spiritual master.
Prabhupada: My spiritual master was Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Prabhupada.
Interviewer: Now in this line of succession that we were talking about earlier, this disciplic line of succession which goes way back, all the way back to Krsna Himself, right, was your spiritual master the previous one before you?
Prabhupada: Yes. The disciplic succession is coming from Krsna since 5,000 years.
Interviewer: Is your spiritual master still alive?
Prabhupada: No. He has passed away in 1936.
Interviewer: So you are at this particular time then the head in the world of this movement? Would that be correct?
Prabhupada: I have got many other Godbrothers, but I was particularly ordered to do this from the very beginning. So I am trying to please my spiritual master. That’s all.
Interviewer: Now you were sent to this country, to the United States of America. This is your territory. Is that correct?
Prabhupada: Hm. No. My territory, what he said, that “You go and speak this philosophy to the English knowing public.”
Interviewer: To the English speaking world.
Prabhupada: Yes. And especially the Western world. Yes. He told me like that.
Interviewer: When you came, sir, to this country about 15, 16 years ago and started…
Prabhupada: No, no, not 15, 16 years.
Interviewer: Five, six years ago. I beg your pardon. To this part of the world, you did not come to a part of the world where religion was lacking as such, you know. In the United States of America we have many religions, and I think people in this country like to believe, in great majority, that they are religious people, people who believe in God, who devote themselves to some form of religious expression. And I wonder what your thinking was. What do you think that you could add to the already living religious expression in this country by coming here and adding your own philosophy to it?
Prabhupada: Yes. When I first came to your country I was guest of an Indian friend at Butler.
Interviewer: In Pennsylvania.
Prabhupada: Pennsylvania. Yes. So although it was a small county, I was very much engladdened there were so many churches.
Interviewer: So many churches. Yes. Yes.
Prabhupada: Yes. So many churches. And I spoke in many of the churches there. My host arranged for that. So it was not with that purpose, that I came here to defeat some religious process. That was not my purpose. Our mission is, Lord Caitanya’s mission is, to teach everyone how to love God, that’s all.
Interviewer: But in what way, sir, may I ask, in what way did you think, and do you think right now, that the teaching of the love of God which you are doing, is different and perhaps better than the teachings of the love of God which already were being conducted in this country and have been conducted in the Western world for centuries?
Prabhupada: That is fact. Because we are following the footsteps of Lord Caitanya. He is considered… He’s accepted by us–according to the authority of Vedic literature–He is personally Krsna.
Interviewer: Which Lord is that?
Prabhupada: Lord Caitanya.
Interviewer: Oh yes. He is the one who came back five hundred yeats ago to India?
Prabhupada: Yes. So he is Krsna Himself, and He is teaching how to love Krsna. Therfore His process is most authorized. Just like you are the expert in this establishment. If somebody is doing something, if you personally teach him, “Do like this,” that is very authorized. So God consciousness, God Himself is teaching. Just like in Bhagavad-gita, Krsna is God. He is speaking about Himself. And at last He says, “Just surrender unto Me. I take charge of you.” But people misunderstand. So Lord Caitanya–Krsna again came as Lord Caitanya to teach people how to surrender. And because we are following the footsteps of Lord Caitanya, the method is so sublime that even foreigners who never knew Krsna, they are surrendering. The method is so potent. So that was my purpose. We don’t say that “This religion is better than this religion,” or, “My process is better.” We want to see by the result. In the Sanskrit there is a word, phalena pariciyate. A thing is judged by the result.
Interviewer: A thing is just…?
Prabhupada: By the result.
Interviewer: Oh yes.
Prabhupada: You can say, I can say my method is very nice. You can say your method is very nice, but we have to judge by the result. That is… Bhagavata says that that process of religion is very good following which one becomes a lover of God.
Interviewer: Yes. But of course, you know, your religion is not the only one which teaches this particular precept.
Prabhupada: That I am explaining, that it is not the only one. There may be many. But it is practically effective.
Interviewer: Now let’s say, in the part of the world where, if I’m understanding your philosophy and your history correctly, in the part of the world where this particular philosophy and this particular belief originated, which is in India, in the Eastern part of the world, at least as we look at it. Is it successful there? Do you have a large following over there?
Prabhupada: Oh yes. Recently I was in India. I held two meetings continued for ten days everywhere, and 20 to 30 thousand people were attending daily. So India’s position is that they are naturally Krsna conscious, but at the present moment by the so-called leaders, they want to replace this Krsna consciousness into material consciousness.
Interviewer: Is the Krsna consciousness belief or philosophy compatible with the Hindu religion which…
Prabhupada: With any religion.
Interviewer: Beg your pardon?
Prabhupada: Any religion. Because God is one. It is the science of God. The “two plus two equal to four,” it is understood by everyone. It is not that it is to be understood by the Christian, not by the Hindus. “Two plus two equal to four” is a fact for everyone. Similarly God is fact for everyone. Now how to love God. This is the only process. That is.
Interviewer: Now do you claim then that your way of loving God is the way to love God?
Prabhupada: Yes. At least for this age.
Interviewer: For this age?
Interviewer: You meant for Kali-yuga? For the time that we live in right now?
Prabhupada: Yes. Because the method is authorized. Krsna prescribes this. Krsna Himself as Lord Caitanya, He says that this is the only method for self-realization or for God realization or to learn how to love God. He says. Krsna says. Therefore it is authorized. And it is practically happening. Otherwise, these boys and girls, they are foreigners. They never knew Krsna. Now I have got sixty centers and each center, they are on the average hundred devotees and they have dedicated their life. How it is happening unless it is authorized?
Interviewer: Well, you know they say they never knew Krsna, and you are, of course right. But different peoples name their Gods in different ways. You name your God Krsna. In the Western world, many, many people name their God Jesus, Jesus Christ. There are other peoples in different parts of the world who have different names for the Gods which they pray to.
Prabhupada: Yes. that’s all right. We say in that connection that if you have got a name which is actually referring to God, that will also do. Just like we are chanting Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare. So according to Vedic literature, krsnas tu bhagavan svayam. Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the… He has got many names. Thousands and millions of names. This is the original name. So Caitanya says not that you have to chant Krsna, but if you have got actually a name for God, you can chant that. We are not asking you that you chant Krsna. If you have got actually a name for God, then you can chant that. We are requesting that you chant God’s holy name.
Interviewer: But before… When you came here… Now you came here in the middle sixties, less than a decade ago. What was it? This is what I’m trying to find out from you. What was the motivating force behind your coming to the United States?
Prabhupada: That is already explained. That is already explained. Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted that this propaganda should be made all over the world and they will accept. So my Guru Maharaja said that “You go and try to do this.” So I came with this purpose. And it is happening.
Interviewer: There must have been an element, though, of dissatisfaction then on your part, with the way God was being… Godhead was being professed in this part of the world before you came. Otherwise there would have been no sense in you coming here.
Prabhupada: Not this part. Every part. Every part of the world, practically everyone… There is very little interest in God. They have more interest in dog.
Interviewer: You are in general, then, trying to increase the interest in God. Is that correct?
Prabhupada: Yes. That is the only interest we must have in human life.
Interviewer: And you are not particularly interested in what particular name this God has.
Prabhupada: No. Our purpose, mission, is that people may become God conscious. And the process is in this age by chanting the holy name of God. If you have got any name for God which is actually name of God, then you’ll be successful by chanting that name.
Interviewer: The chanting of Krsna’s name, the Hare Krsna mantra, seems to play a very important role in the profession of your religious belief. Right? In fact, I think I will ask you and some of your followers who are sitting here with us tonight a little bit later to chant the name of Krsna.
Interviewer: That probably would be a proper ending to this particular program. However, I’m still wondering, you know, about some of the aspects. In reading a little bit… I have not read much, of course, but in reading a little bit about your beliefs and your writings, your magazines, your publications…
Prabhupada: I may correct here that it is not my belief.
Interviewer: Well, as you interpret it in your writings. Let me put it that way. It seems to me, sir, that there is a very high emphasis placed on the relationship between the individual and God.
Prabhupada: Yes, yes.
Interviewer: Much more so than upon the…
Prabhupada: That is for everyone.
Interviewer: Yes but more emphasis on that relationship than on the relationship between one individual and another individual. Am I right in that?
Prabhupada: No. We have to establish first of all our lost relationship with God. You see? Then we can understand what is the relationship between one individual to another. If the central point is missing, then there is practically no relationship. Just like you are American. Another is American. Both of you, you feel American nationally because the center is America. So unless you understand God, you cannot understand what I am, neither I can understand what you are. So we have to first of all reestablish our lost relationship with God; then we can establish, talk of universal brotherhood. Otherwise there will be discrimination. Just like in your country, or any country, the national… National means a man born in that land. Is it not? But they do not take the animals as national. Why they have no right to become national? That is imperfect knowledge. There is no God consciousness. Therefore they think only the man born in this land is national, not others.
Interviewer: Yes. That is not necessarily based on the religious principles, of course, what you are talking about.
Prabhupada: No, that is a philosophical principle. Religion without philosophy is sentiment.
Interviewer: Don’t you think there are very good reasons for the existence of these rules and regulations in this respect?
Prabhupada: Yes. Rules and regulations must be established on philosophy. Otherwise it is sentiment, defective. Religion without philosophy is sentiment, and philosophy without religion is mental speculation. They should be combined, philosophy and religion. Then it will be perfect.
Interviewer: I think that in this part of the world, in the Western world, at least, as much as I am aware of it, we do place a good deal of emphasis on religion and…
Prabhupada: Based on philosophy.
Interviewer: Well, on religion… What I would like to highlight, what I would like to emphasize is that we place a good deal of emphasis on religion in the ways it gets one man to deal with another man. The ethic of religion. Now…
Prabhupada: No. Our point is not that.
Interviewer: In the Krsna consciousness movement…
Prabhupada: No, no. Our… We must clear. We are not concerned how one man deals with another man. Our point…
Interviewer: As a part of your Krsna consciousness movement?
Prabhupada: No, no.
Interviewer: This is not important?
Prabhupada: No. This is not important. Because we know as soon as one understands how to deal with God, he’ll automatically deal with other men very nicely.
Interviewer: But you know… Let’s take the Christian religion for example.
Prabhupada: No, I do not wish…
Interviewer: You know the ten commandments for example, there is a heavy emphasis in the ten commandments on the relationships between one human being and another. “Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not steal.” That sort of thing.
Prabhupada: But I say that Jesus Christ never said, he never meant, “Thou shall not kill,” means only human being. Where is that evidence? Jesus Christ never said “Thou shall not kill means it means only human being.” Thou shall not kill any animal.
Interviewer: Any life.
Prabhupada: Any life. That is religion.
Interviewer: It has never been interpreted that way.
Prabhupada: But you have interpreted different way, but he said “Thou shall not kill.” He never said “Thou shall not kill amongst human being.” Why do you interpret in that way?
Interviewer: How would I recognize a true follower of the Krsna consciousness movement by his behavior? What would his traits be? What would his outward expressions be?
Prabhupada: Yes. His behavior, he’s a perfect gentleman. That’s all. You cannot find any fault in him. That is perfect Krsna consciousness. They are prohibited not to eat meat.
Interviewer: Not to eat meat?
Prabhupada: No. They are prohibited from illicit sex life. They are prohibited to intoxication. They do not smoke even, what to speak of other intoxications. And they are prohibited not to indulge in gambling. So if they can observe these four rules and regulations, they become perfect men. Simply.
Interviewer: Or women I presume.
Prabhupada: Woman or man. Anyone.
Interviewer: Men or women. There is place for women in the religion too isn’t…?
Prabhupada: Woman and man have got the same right. Just like we are getting married boys and girls. They’re following the same principles. The same principles. So these are the four pillars of perfect life. And if we indulge in these things, illicit sex life, meat-eating, and intoxication, and gambling, then they become the four pillars of sinful life. And If we take them away, then they become, the prohibited portion becomes the pillars of perfect life.
Interviewer: Now I would like to ask you one more question and I would like to ask you to end the program by chanting your mantra of Hare Krsna. One more question, though. In the six years that you have been in this country, in the United States, have you been encouraged or discouraged? (end)
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