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What is my real identity? Who is Krishna? What is bhakti yoga?
Read the books of Srila Prabhupada, one of the most prolific authors of commentaries on and translations of Vedic texts.
Challenging the very foundations of materialistic living
Srila Prabhupada was named Abhay Charan at birth, which means ‘one who is fearless having taken shelter at the feet of God’. A biographical study of Srila Prabhupada’s life reveals the prophetic significance of his name − the fulfilment of a fearless determination to spread his message all over the world.
The qualities of meekness and humility that characterise transcendentalists are not to be misconstrued as weakness.
A self-realised spiritual master of the calibre of Srila Prabhupada engages fearlessly in presenting sublime truths. The fearlessness referred to here is not a reckless and careless pursuit of action with disregard to consequences. On the contrary, Srila Prabhupada was quite convinced of the success of the instructions of his predecessor teachers and Lord Krishna; he had unflinching trust in the Supreme Lord.
Srila Prabhupada taught that the essential cause of fear and anxiety is a lack of understanding of the nature of reality − our attachments and perceived loss which occur in the mind are actually illusory. A person who learns this begins to be free from unnecessary mental anguish. So fearless was Srila Prabhupada that, at age 69, he begged a passage on a steamship to the United States of America. Despite suffering two heart attacks during the journey, he arrived in Boston harbour full of optimism that he would be successful.
Thus began Srila Prabhupada’s fearless preaching in the West about the fallacy of materialistic consciousness and the superiority of loving devotional service to God. He criticised leaders and politicians for their lack of morality and God consciousness, often commenting that “when the blind lead the blind, the entire society falls into a ditch!”
Once he remarked to his disciples, “If they only knew what I was doing, they would imprison me”. This is certainly an indictment upon the materialistic culture of the world that regards any critique of its hedonistic pursuits as a threat. Particularly, those in power will do anything to maintain the status quo, like using state force to suppress critical thinking.
He unabashedly challenged leaders of other spiritual traditions to delve deeply into the original teachings of their traditions and rectify compromises and mistakes in their practice. He challenged the modern education system as promoting a materialistic culture and referred to university education as “slaughterhouse education” likening it to cattle lining up for a disastrous fate.
During Srila Prabhupada’s stay in Calcutta in India, a militant group felt his preaching was undermining their mission of communism. They disturbed his programmes and threatened to kill him. Srila Prabhupada refused to be intimidated and asked to meet them. Speaking with a group of initially hostile youths, he explained to them the Vedic concept of communism, with Krishna at the centre, and they eventually left with a promise not to cause anymore disruptions.
His fearlessness is encapsulated in his statement: “Even if they were to attack me, what better way for a Vaishnava to leave this body than while preaching the glories of the Lord?”
The greatest symptom of his fearlessness was in conquering the fear of death and teaching his followers to do the same. Srila Prabhupada explained that:
“The living entity’s fear of death is due to his false ego of identifying with the body. Everyone is afraid of death. Actually there is no death for the spirit soul… When one is fully convinced that he is not his body, there is no question of fearing death, since the spirit soul does not die. If the spirit soul engages in the spiritual activities of devotional service, he is completely freed from the platform of birth and death. His next position is complete spiritual freedom from a material body.”