The Life of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

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His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada appeared in this world in 1896 in Calcutta, India. He first met his spiritual master, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami, in Calcutta in 1922. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, a prominent religious scholar and the founder of sixty-four Gaudiya Mathas (Vedic institutes) in India, liked this educated young man and convinced him to dedicate his life to teaching Vedic knowledge. Shrila Prabhupada became his student and, in 1933, his formally initiated disciple.

At their first meeting, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati requested Shrila Prabhupada to broadcast Vedic knowledge in English. In the years that followed, Shrila Prabhupada wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita, assisted the Gaudiya Matha in its work, and, in 1944, started Back to Godhead, an English fortnightly magazine. Single-handedly, Shrila Prabhupada edited it, typed the manuscripts, checked the galley proofs, and even distributed the individual copies. His disciples in the West are now continuing the magazine.

In 1950, Shrila Prabhupada retired from married life, adopting the vanaprastha (retired) order to devote more time to his studies and writing. He travelled to the holy city of Vrindavana, where he lived in humble circumstances in the historic temple of Radha- Damodara. There he engaged for several years in deep study and writing. He accepted the renounced order of life (sannyasa) in 1959. At Radha-Damodara, Shrila Prabhupada began work on his life’s masterpiece: a multi-volume commentated translation of the eighteen-thousand-verse Shrimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana). He also wrote Easy Journey to Other Planets.

After publishing three volumes of the Bhagavatam, Shrila Prabhupada came to the United States, in September 1965, to fulfil the mission of his spiritual master. Subsequently, His Divine Grace wrote more than fifty volumes of authoritative commentated translations and summary studies of the philosophical and religious classics of India.

When he first arrived by freighter in New York City, Shrila Prabhupada was practically penniless. Only after almost a year of great difficulty did he establish the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, in July of 1966. Before he passed away on November 14, 1977, he had guided the Society and seen it grow to a worldwide confederation of more than one hundred ashramas, schools, temples, institutes, and farm communities.

In 1972, His Divine Grace introduced the Vedic system of primary and secondary education in the West by founding the Gurukula School in Dallas, Texas. Since then, his disciples have established similar schools throughout the United States and the rest of the world.

Shrila Prabhupada also inspired the construction of several large international cultural centres in India. The centre at Mayapur is the site for a planned spiritual city, an ambitious project for which construction will extend over many years to come. In Vrindavana are the magnificent Krishna-Balarama Temple and International Guesthouse, gurukula school, and Shrila Prabhupada Memorial and Museum. There is also a major cultural and educational centre in Bombay. Major centres are planned in Delhi and in a dozen other important locations on the Indian subcontinent.

Shrila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution, however, is his books. Highly respected by scholars for their authority, depth, and clarity, they are used as textbooks in numerous college courses. His writings have been translated into over fifty languages. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, established in 1972 to publish the works of His Divine Grace, has thus become the world’s largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy.

In just twelve years, despite his advanced age, Shrila Prabhupada circled the globe fourteen times on lecture tours that took him to six continents. Yet this vigorous schedule did not slow his prolific literary output. His writings constitute a veritable library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature, and culture.

Further References:

The Heart of Hinduism:

Teachers’ Book: Chapter 12 (pages 143,144, 139)

Recommended Books:

“Hinduism – A Short Introduction” by K. K. Klostermaier (Oneworld, Oxford) – pages 154-156