A tribute to A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Praphupada, founder of ISKCON
His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Praphupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness ( ISKCON), appeared in this world on 4 september 1896. He has written more than 100 books and more than fifty volumes of authoritative commented translations of key philosophical classics like the Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad Bhagvatam amongst others. These books have been translated in more than 50 languages and are recognized by various spiritual heavy weights as very useful references on spirituality and philosophy.
It would be impossible to cover his achievements and we struggled to focus on a few, realizing that it would be incomplete. The most striking aspect of his writings is his focus on universal spiritual principles and values and his openness to all faiths. He emphasised the timeless truths in the Bhagavad Gita ,the Upanishaads and the Ramayana but never blasphemed other religious texts. He repeatedly argued that we are children of the same God and famously said: ‘Just as the honeybee takes nectar from all flowers, big and small ,an intelligent human being should take the essence from all religious scriptures’. Srimad Bhagvatam 11.18.10)
As we struggle with the effects of Climate Change, he offered a priceless solution ‘Simple Living and High Thinking’. Serious policy makers realize it is the only sustainable agenda to save the planet but have constraints to implement. Simple Living can be aesthetic, clean, varied and of high quality. If we are stubborn and continue to damage nature selfishly, it will pour her divine fury on us as we are already experiencing and we cannot blame anyone. True wisdom is not to forget our divine connection and to cooperate with the universal principles established trillions of years in our spiritual texts. He emphasised smart living. We will end up listening but it could be too late. It is useful to emphasize that the cost of ignoring is immense which more and more economists are repeating. Indicatively Harari in his best seller 21 Lessons for the Twenty First Century recommends sustainable growth and meditation to deal with rising anxiety. We can quote extensively also on our wasteful habits which are glaringly unsustainable .Here is an example , we manufacture around 5.5 trillions of cigarettes yearly and a lot of the butts are ending in the ocean Economic Times ( 4 September 2018).
The importance of employee engagement for happy and productive employees is now accepted by Human Resource Specialists. The Financial Times (26 August 2018 ) noted that companies spend around $ 720 m yearly on employee engagement. In his discussions with the International Labour Organization in 1974 he had forcefully argued for employee engagement policies and a dose of spirituality at work. This combination is the best recipe to improve labour productivity, governance and sustainable development. There will be a wider credibility crisis if we avoid such changes.
In that same year, he argued with Professor R.Webster for free trade and openness. He was against arrogance and severely criticised the excesses of President R.Nixon.
The emphasis on values like truth ,humility, discipline, tolerance and profound and sincere internal relationship with Krishna /Vishnu attracted thousands even in the West. Indeed he made spirituality relevant to the larger world in this century. He times and times repeated that we must accept the way we are, be careful with illusions, do our best and the Lord will help ultimately. The side effects of past lives bring shortcomings but can be erased by our present actions. This optimistic message forms a core part of his teachings.
On a practical level he recommended sincere praying /chanting, avoiding bad association, going beyond barriers imposed by the ego, not relaxing on spiritual standards, giving up ritualistic fruitive activities and loving and pleasing Krishna. Everything is in our hands and if we play our cards rightly by adhering to timeless and sacred principles optimistically, we will avoid short term fluctuations and contribute meaningfully at work, at home and in society.
The importance of the soul and that we are not this body or a biophysical computer is central to all spiritual texts which he constantly emphasized. He famously said that gradually we should identify more with the soul rather than the body and we are not identical with our material body. He explained with remarkable clarity the key spiritual truths in the Bhagavad Gita that gains and losses, births and deaths and pain and joys are inevitable and that they have nothing to do with our long term eternal and spiritual life. We should be equiposed in all places, times and circumstances and seek the spiritual world within.
We leave with his formidable quote in the Bhagavad Gita: ‘the practice of yoga, especially bhakti –yoga in Krsna consciousness ,may appear to be a very difficult job. But if anyone follows the principles with great determination, the Lord will surely help,for God helps those who help themselves’. Purport (6.25)
We will have to navigate with more complex risks in the coming decades but his teachings will remain valid. If you want to know more, read his books and also highly creative websites of his followers like The Spiritual Scientist and Yoga for the modern world, amongst others.
V.Appanah (Vishnu Das)