Hare Krishna Movement-One person’s vision, explosion into a revolution

Speaker : Visakha Devi

Interviewer/Host : Govindapriya devi


● As a photographer, Visaka Devi dasi traveled with and photographed His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his students in India, Europe and the United States. As a writer she wrote numerous Back to Godhead magazine articles as well as five books, most recently the award-winning and best-selling memoir Five years, Eleven months and Lifetime of unexpected love. Visakha also assists her husband Yadubara Dasa in making documentary films, most recently 90 minute award winning Hare Krishna, the mantra, the movement, and the swami who started it all.
● Content●
Srila Prabhupad’s mission began 99 years ago in 1922 when he met his spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, and received an instruction almost immediately after meeting him. He said ‘Please give Lord Chaitanya’s message to the english-speaking world.’ This is the power of sound. In the words of Krsnadas Kaviraja Goswami, he took these words to the innermost chambers of his heart and that became the focal point of his life. He gave his life to the words of his spiritual master, to the service of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The power of sound is infinite. If we take it deep into our consciousness, it changes our consciousness- which in turn changes our habits, our goals, our priorities, how we use our time. That’s the revolution and it happened in all the different people that Prabhupad was able to touch the hearts of.
● At the same time he was a householder had responsible with these but he kept meditating on the instruction trying different things.
● Why do I receive instructions but I am not to able to follow them?
● One half is receiving the instruction or getting instruction- the transcendental vibrations from the authentic representative of Krsna. The second half is the recipients namely us. We can see from Prabhupad’s life that his spiritual masters instructions changed the trajectory of his life. Similarly when he spoke his followers were and are being affected to different degrees. It depends on the eagerness and sincerity of the recipient to receive those instructions.
● From a gurus instructions comes empowerment but the soil has to be fertile. We need to be eager.
● How is it that devotees in Srila Prabhupad’s time didn’t think about what was practical and doable and just took the plunge, yet devotees in today’s era consider the feasibility of every idea? What is missing today?
● Visakha Devi: Srila Prabhupad said that when we do not understand something we call it a miracle and I call Prabhupad’s life a miracle because it is beyond my comprehension.
● It is such as source of inspiration because it is recent unlike some of the pastimes mentioned in the Srimad Bhagvatam that happened 5000 years ago.
● Prabhupada embodied all the qualities mentioned by Srivas Acarya in his song about the six Goswamis and he fulfilled the desire of Caitanya Mahaprabhu for the six Goswamis.
● Chaitanya Mahaprabhu told the Goswamis build a temple in Vrindavan, Prabhupada built temples around the world. He told them to write books, Prabhupada wrote books so that the future generations would have guidance and knowledge from the scriptures. He scrutinized and studied the revealed scriptures and this study is conveyed through his words and he was constantly engaged in hearing and talking about Krsna. And he was an expert in narrating the pastimes of Lord Caitanya.
● There were six Goswamis but Prabhupada was one person and he had all these skills, qualities and abilities.
● Question by Rajanita Dasi: Why do we see many Gurukula boys but very few girls? Why don’t we have serious spiritual education for Vaisnavis?
● Answer by Visakha Devi: We have some here in the UK and there is a very successful school in Alachua and they have both girls and boys and aren’t limited to one gender. I’m not sure about other places but at least in the West, they accommodate both genders. Perhaps it’s different in India, maybe the culture of India influences the Gurukula in that way.
● Govinda Priya Mataji: I think in Mayapur they have a girl’s school. They don’t spend the night there but they do spend the day and they go back home at night. So there is education for girls as well and it has evolved.
● Govinda Priya Mataji: When you decided to make this beautiful movie, the Hare Krsna movement, what was your thought process? What were you trying to achieve while making the movie?
● Visakha Devi: Prabhupada was such a unique personality and his story seems like fiction- that someone made it up. Which makes it so alluring, because it’s true. So we really wanted to convey that to people in a powerful way and as far as possible our goal was that Srila Prabhupad in his own would tell his story so for that reason we combed the audios of Srila Prabhupad. Usually he spoke about philosophy, about 90% of the time. But sometimes there would be sentences about meeting his spiritual master and about his spiritual master appearing in his dreams and saying “now it’s time to take sanyas”. So these things were gold for us and we compiled them chronologically and Srila Prabhupad in his own words would tell us his story, and for me that was so powerful and touching to hear it from him personally.
● Talking about Srila Prabhupada, at a time where anyone over the age of 30 was not considered trustworthy, how did his disciples develop the intense love and appreciation and faith towards him who was way above the age of 30? His accent was different, he looked different, how is it at that point devotees were able to connect with him in such a deep way that they were willing to give their lives and actually uproot. What do you think was Srila Prabhupad’s secret?
● Visakha Devi: the young audience was not Srila Prabhupad’s first audience. He first started in upstreet New York, the upper East side but with the arrangements of Krsna, he ended up in the lower East side, in the bowery and that was full at a time of young people who were sincerely seeking although they were misled in the sense of free sex and drug use and they had no guidance- not just misguided but they practically had no guidance but they were sincerely looking for something better that what their parents had, better than they had been exposed to in their education. And when they met Prabhupada, that need was fulfilled in such a powerful way that here they had a person who embodied the teachings that he was expressing and the teachings went right to the core of their identity so they could relate to it so thoroughly. They loved him without reservation. So this created that transformation in his disciples. The transformation that we saw in Srila Prabhupad in 1922 in turn happened to these young people in 1955, 1966 and going on to this very day.
● It was highly unusual for young men and women to wear dhotis and sarees and play kartals and mridangas in the middle of the street. Yet his disciples took to this lifestyle. They didn’t care about anything other than pleasing Prabhupada and developing the seed of devotion that Prabhupada had so firmly planted within their hearts.
● Malati Prabhu says that Prabhupada used to say that she would slit her throat for me and I would slit my throat for her.
● One of Srila Prabhupad’s disciples narrates a story of an Indian gentleman who approached Prabhupada and asked him, “What did you do to these people? What magic did you do?”
● Prabhupada then said, “I just sat under this tree, and chanted Hare Krsna and they got attracted to the holy name.” The Indian gentleman was looking for something very magical and mystical- for a mantra or spell of some sort, that might’ve transformed the hearts of the devotees, but Prabhupad’s method was so simple.
● Prabhupada was also able to convey the importance of the instructions of the spiritual master. In the absence of the spiritual master, his instructions are the pride and the life and soul of the disciple. He preached by example. He didn’t lose his focus or waver in any way when his spiritual master departed. This highlights the power of sound.
● A notable example is set by Bali Mardan Prabhu, who is a Prabhupada disciple. Bali Mardan Prabhu is an excellent book distributor with great enthusiasm and fearlessness that he got from Prabhupada. He particularly embodied the feature of “Abhaya” or fearlessness that Prabhupada did. He spoke very boldly and continued his service even when Prabhupada went to San Francisco. This is the power of instruction or sound.
● Devotees used to eagerly wait for Prabhupad’s next book or next translation and in our case, despite having his books, we don’t read them. The enthusiasm of the devotees was extraordinary.
● If we keep the sound pure and as hearers, our receptivity to the sound pure, then this sets the right environment for a potent transaction. And both the speaker and the hearers are benefitted.
● At that time, Damodar Prabhu’s interviews were circulated and people would hear them. And the parents would think of it as strange but the youth would be interested to know more about the mantra, the movement, the temple and so on. They would then investigate and very often become devotees by the influence of such interviews.
● The Hare Krsna movement never failed to make the news for everything.
● Along with the enthusiasm that we’ve been talking about,so much and the desire the sincere desire for spiritual life they were feeling such relief you know having the guidance the boundaries of the four regulative principles having prabhupad there with his profound and very relevant instructions creating this understanding of the culture that he was presenting and they felt really joyful even though very often they would hardly have any money. At one point brahmananda prabhu was saying that they they were so poor they had to eat the rind of the watermelon because they didn’t have money but nonetheless despite these austerities, they felt such inner pleasure having found this path and having it be so fulfilling for them and made so much sense and prabhupad there as the father who was looking after them and guiding them and encouraging them every step of the way.
● Visakha Mataji: I remember someone was mentioning that His Holiness bhakti Tirtha maharaj would write to Srila prabhupada you know different things about how the preaching activities was going and prabhupada was very very happy to receive these letters. He would say this gives me energy and this gives me life even when he was unhealthy at times.
● Once Srila Prabhupad was giving a talk uh for the disappearance of his bhakti Siddhanta saraswati Thakur and Prabhupad tears up and he starts to cry and out of gratitude mentioning that you young boys and girls are helping me serve my guru maharaj, so along with empowerment prabhupad was so unassuming so humble, always so grateful.
● He was so expert even at management and he knew how to weave all of this in such a beautiful way.
● He was more conscious than any person that i had ever met, more aware, he knew what was going on, how many people were in the room and perhaps the different mentalities, the different moods of those people, at the time and could relate to them accordingly. And so this awareness really if we can achieve it then we can be grateful for what people are doing.
● Visakha Devi: I had an example in my own life that I wrote a very long disjointed article. It was my the very first article that i wrote it was called ‘Srila prabhupada- india’s national hero” and it was published in a small magazine called the Hare Krishna monthly and so when i saw prabhupada next he said, “oh i’ve seen your article you’ve written so nicely”, and I was stunned because here he is, he’s traveling the world he’s opening up centers all over the world, writing letters, meeting non-devotees and devotees and he reads this disjointed, too long, poorly expressed article and then says something nice about it. And then after he said that he said, “I’ve read your article you have written nicely.” Then there was a tiny pause and he said, “of course it is not yet perfect, but if you go on writing it will become perfect.”
● He saw past the imperfections, but he saw that there was some endeavor there, and then there was encouragement and so that’s something that was very sincere on his part and it’s something that the follower doesn’t forget it’s so gracious it’s so endearing and so profound too, “That if you go on writing it will become perfect whatever you do you do it for krishna and you keep doing it and krishna will help you and it is still working still a work in progress.”
● Krishna will help you. It’s amazing sometimes we become so insecure about our shortcomings and limitations and imperfections to doing something, that we refrain from offering ourselves in service but in those days devotees offered their services regardless of perfection. If they didn’t know how to cook, if they didn’t know how to wear a sari or if they didn’t know how to do deity worship, they just continued to do it, and krishna empowered them in so many wonderful ways.
● You know four young devotees just going to start a temple with nothing but these are just things when we think and spot out it’s beyond understanding, really amazing.”
● Sometimes we as devotees also have desires in terms of how we want to serve and we want to assist guru maharaj in assisting Srila prabhupada in the service of the lord but when srila prabhupada with such dedication and fixed devotion he decided to overcome any obstacles that were placed in his path, whether it was not getting a ticket, coming by cargo ship you know, landing up in New York city not knowing where to go, so many different obstacles came his path but he did not give up he simply continued.
● How can we imbibe that spirit that srila prabhupada had to carry forth this mission that he’s really really sacrificed so much for.
● We want to have determination, yes we want to do these projects for Prabhupad’s pleasure, at the same time we want to preserve our own spiritual lives. Not that we’re overcome by stress.
● There was an instance, one week before prabhupad departed that means November 7th 1977. they were discussing (the devotees) were discussing the plans for Mayapur building the tovp with him and they discussed how high it should be and when they said it should be so many feet high 400 whatever feet, he said that’s that will be over endeavor.
● “Over endeavor is not good you know.” That’s unparaphrasing, but he was very realistic. He was very practical. You want to extend yourself but you don’t want to extend yourself so you sacrifice the quality of your rounds so you sacrifice your sadhana in terms of worshiping the deities in terms of reading. We want that balance there at the same time of course we don’t want to become complacent, that’s maya’s influence totally, so it takes association to help us find that very important balance between over-endeavoring and not endeavoring.
● A memory by Visakha Devi: Well i was traveling as Prabhupad’s photographer, I was traveling with him in the US on the east coast and when he was lecturing in new york at that time we’re at 55th street in new york. In the course of his lecture he said you sing this song, do you know the meaning, he was challenging us do you know the meaning, then we traveled on we went to Philadelphia and again in the course of his lecture he said the same thing do you know the meaning. This song he introduced as we remember it was in 1972 prior to that we didn’t sing this song every morning but he introduced it specifically so that we could understand the importance especially this line that he quoted at that time is such a significant line that refers to the consciousness our consciousness and not in the sense of merging but in the sense of unity of purpose, unity of desire. Our consciousness is unified with those words emanating from his lotus mouth and why is his mouth lotus because he’s always talking about the lotus-eyed lord the lord with lotus feet who’s sitting on the whirl of a lotus flower so this idea that our consciousness through the mercy of the spiritual master is united with a spiritual master’s desires united with a spiritual master’s consciousness so that our desires are one, our purpose are one, our intelligence is focused on one goal and this was so profound for me that the tendency is that we sing it every morning so it kind of is just what we do every morning you know, we do so many things every morning so we sing this song but it’s such a meaningful song every line is has so much meaning even that first line that it really woke me up to the potency of Narrotama Das Thakur’s words. Prabhupada says they’re in very simple bengali, but each and every line is profound, it goes to the core of our philosophy and has so much importance for us.
● Conclusion: Aligning your desires with the instructions of the guru and that’s the secret of success and that’s what srila prabhupad achieved, aligning his desires with the instructions of his guru and here we are having this conversation 99 years later when srila prabhupada has received this instruction from his guru maharaja