His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was born in 1896 in Calcutta, India. He first met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, in Calcutta in 1922. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, a prominent devotional scholar and the founder of sixty-four branches of Gaudiya Mathas (Vedic institutes), liked this educated young man and convinced him to dedicate his life to teaching Vedic knowledge in the Western world. Srila Prabhupada became his student, and eleven years later (1933) at Allahabad, he became his formally initiated disciple.
At their first meeting, in 1922, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura requested Srila Prabhupada to broadcast Vedic knowledge through the English language. In the years that followed, Srila Prabhupada wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita and in 1944, without assistance, started an English fortnightly magazine.
Recognizing Srila Prabhupada’s philosophical learning and devotion, the Gaudiya Vaisnava Society honored him in 1947 with the title “Bhaktivedanta.” In 1950, at the age of fifty-four, Srila Prabhupada retired from married life, and four years later he adopted the vanaprastha (retired) order to devote more time to his studies and writing. Srila Prabhupada traveled to the holy city of Vrndavana, where he lived in very humble circumstances in the historic medieval 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, Srila Prabhupada began work on his life’s masterpiece: a multivolume translation and commentary on the 18,000-verse Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana). He also wrote Easy Journey to Other Planets.
After publishing three volumes of Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada came to the United States, in 1965, to fulfill the mission of his spiritual master. Since that time, His Divine Grace has written over sixty volumes of authoritative translations, commentaries and summary studies of the philosophical and religious classics of India.
In 1965, when he first arrived by freighter in New York City, Srila Prabhupada was practically penniless. It was after almost a year of great difficulty that he established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in July of 1966. Under his careful guidance, the Society has grew within a decade to a worldwide confederation of almost one hundred asramas, schools, temples, institutes and farm communities.
In 1968, Srila Prabhupada created New Vrndavana, an experimental Vedic community in the hills of West Virginia. Inspired by the success of New Vrndavana, then a thriving farm community of more than one thousand acres, his students founded several similar communities in the United States and abroad.
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. The school began with three children in 1972, and by the beginning of 1975 the enrollment had grown to one hundred fifty.
Srila Prabhupada also inspired the construction of a large international center at Sridhama Mayapur in West Bengal, India, which is also the site for a planned Institute of Vedic Studies. A similar project is the magnificent Krsna-Balarama Temple and International Guest House in Vrndavana, India. These are centers where Westerners can live to gain firsthand experience of Vedic culture.
Srila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution, however, is his books. Highly respected by the academic community for their authoritativeness, depth and clarity, they are used as standard textbooks in numerous college courses. His writings have been translated into eleven languages. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, established in 1972 exclusively 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 the last ten years of his life, in spite of his advanced age, Srila Prabhupada circled the globe twelve times on lecture tours that have took him to six continents. In spite of such a vigorous schedule, Srila Prabhupada continued to write prolifically. His writings constitute a veritable library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature and culture.
The following is a summary of Srila Prabhupada’s Miraculous Accomplishments from 1965 to 1977. Although this list is not complete, it is a good and comprehensive picture of Srila Prabhupada’s greatness. Most ordinary human beings do not even achieve one of these accomplishments in an entire lifetime. What to speak of doing it in only 12 short years, starting at the age of 70.
1. In 1965, at seventy years of age, he ventured outside India for the first time to fulfill the order of his spiritual master. During his voyage at sea, he suffered two severe heart attacks. He reached the shores of America with the equivalent of seven dollars to his name.
2. He founded the International Society for Krsna Consciousness with a small group of disciples, after a year of struggling alone in New York City. This marked the only time in history that a Krsna devotee successfully trained non-Indians in the strict disciplines of Vaisnavism. Amazingly, this was achieved during the blossoming of America’s hedonistic counterculture movement.
3. He sent his followers, chanting the names of God, into the streets of cities and towns everywhere and Hare Krsna became famous in every corner of the earth.
4. He sent his disciples to London, where they recorded the single, “Hare Krsna Mantra”, with George Harrison, in 1969. It became the fastest selling of all the Apple Corporation’s releases, including those of the Beatles. The record reached #3 in Czechoslovakia, #9 in Britain, and made the top ten in Germany, Japan, Australia, South Africa, Yugoslavia, and many other countries.
5. He formally initiated approximately five thousand disciples. These initiates represented a sweeping diversity of nationalities, races, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds.
6. He established 108 Krsna temples on six continents, installed the deity of Krsna in each center and trained his disciples in the process of deity worship. Thirty-two new temples (almost three a month) were opened in a single year, between 1970 and 1971.
7. He inaugurated the Rathayatra Festival of Lord Jaganatha in major cities around the globe, in effect, bringing the temple to the people.
8. He instituted the brahmacarini asram, something previously unheard of in Vedic culture, to give shelter to single women wishing to practice Krsna consciousness.
9. He instructed his disciples in 1967 to start an incense business to provide financial support for the temples. Within four years the business, Spiritual Sky Incense, generated an annual revenue of one million dollars (equivalent to $4,600,000 in 2004).
10. He introduced the “Sunday Love Feast” and other prasadam (sanctified food) distribution programs that provided millions of free meals to the public.
11. He created the world’s first chain of vegetarian restaurants.
12. He spoke daily on the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, delivering thousands of formal lectures. Over 2,200 were recorded and archived.
13. He conducted many hundreds of informal conversations on the science of Krsna consciousness with disciples, guests and friends. Over 1,300 were recorded and archived.
14. He had scores of interviews and philosophical discussions with news reporters, scientists, religious leaders and politicians, as well as meetings with world-renowned dignitaries and celebrities like Indira Gandhi, Allen Ginsberg, Ravi Shankar, Alice Coltrane, John Lennon and George Harrison.
15. He recorded more than twenty albums of devotional music.
16. He published the monthly magazine, Back to Godhead, which he called the backbone of his movement. At the height of its circulation in the mid seventies, over a million copies per issue were sold.
17. He launched the ISKCON Life Membership Program that enrolled tens of thousands of members.
18. He built major temples in Bombay and Vrndavana, and founded a spiritual city at Mayapur. All became international sites of pilgrimage.
19. He established primary schools to provide education in the principles of devotional service.
20. He founded the Bhaktivedanta Institute to advance Krsna consciousness within the scientific community, engaging serious academics in the consideration of the science of self-realization.
21. He formed the Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity Trust to unearth and renovate the holy places of Lord Caitanya’s pastimes.
22. He set up farm communities to teach “simple living and high thinking”, emphasizing cow protection and dependence on God and nature.
23. He commissioned his artist disciples to produce hundreds of illustrations of Krsna’s pastimes based on his meticulous instructions and the descriptions in his books.
24. He directed some of his followers to learn the Indian art of “doll making” to present Vedic philosophy through dioramas. This project became the FATE Museums.
25. He counseled his disciples on complex managerial, philosophical and personal issues in more than 6,000 archived letters.
26. He was the subject of more than 30,000 archival photos and more than seventy hours of documentary film footage.
27. He wrote approximately seventy books on the science of Krsna consciousness, sleeping only a few hours per day. Dozens of prominent scholars and educators from leading universities praised his work (see appendix). The Encyclopaedia Britannica proclaimed that his voluminous translations from the original Sanskrit and his lucid commentaries “have astounded literary and academic communities worldwide.” This feat is even more astonishing considering the translations and commentaries were in English, which was a second language to the author.
28. He founded the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) in 1972, to produce his books. By 1976, over 55,000,000 literatures had been published in twenty-five languages and distributed in almost every country, making the BBT the world’s largest publisher of Indian religious and philosophical texts. One printing alone of Bhagavad-gita As It Is required seventy-six train cars to ship the paper needed to print it.
29. He completed the entire Caitanya-caritamrta manuscript (seventeen volumes) in eighteen months.
30. He ordered and supervised the BBT in publishing seventeen volumes of his books in only two months time, in 1974.
31. He circled the globe fourteen times, visiting twenty-four countries, preaching, inspiring his followers and making countless public appearances before multitudes of people.
32. He skillfully managed his international society simply through letters and personal meetings, virtually without the use of a telephone.
“If you want to know me, read my books.”
“You may please me the most by reading my books and following the instructions therein.”
“These books I have recorded and chanted, and they are transcribed. It is spoken kirtanas. So book distribution is also chanting. These are not ordinary books. It is recorded chanting. Anyone who reads, he is hearing.”
“Until these world leaders read my books and take to this Vedic culture, what kind of civilization will they have? Dog race. Horse race.”
“Please print as many books as possible, this is my real pleasure. By printing these books of our Krsna Conscious philosophy in so many different languages we can actually inject our movement into the masses of persons all over the world, especially there in the western countries and we can literally turn whole nations into Krsna Conscious nations.”
“In my books the philosophy of Krishna consciousness is explained fully, so if there is anything which you do not understand, then you simply have to read again and again. By reading daily, the knowledge will be revealed to you, and by this process, your spiritual life will develop.”
“Anyway, print books, distribute profusely, and that will be the best preaching work. What will your three minutes’ preaching do?–but if they buy one book, it may turn their life.”
“I am requesting all of my students to read my books very seriously every day without fail. In this way, if your mind becomes absorbed at least one or two hours daily in the transcendental subject matter of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and other books then very easily you will make your advancement in Krishna Consciousness.”
“Therefore, I recommend you to read books more and more and try to understand the subject matter from different angles of vision and be always discussing it with your godbrothers even while you are working at the press, and when you are working and you cannot read, then listen to the tapes of my lectures and hear in that way.”
“So that is the real preaching, selling books. Who can speak better than the books?The real preaching is selling books..What your lecture will do for three minutes, but if he reads one page his life may be turned.”
“There is nothing new to be said. Everything is in my books. Therefore, if you want to know me, read my books.”
“So there is nothing new to be said. Whatever I have to speak, I have spoken in my books. Now you try to understand it and continue your endeavor. Whether I am present or not present, it doesn’t matter.”
“After 80 years, no one can expect to live long. My life is almost ended. So you have to carry on, and these books will do everything.”
Srila Prabhupada asked a devotee, ‘can you quote the verse?’ They could not. Srila Prabhupada said:
“Just see – you are not reading my books. You have to read my books and you have to study and learn my books just like a lawyer learns the law books. You must know everything chapter and verse. If you do not know, how will you teach these men unless you know my books. Every day you have to read my books. Do you know that every day even I read my own books?
Do you know why I read my books? I read my books everyday because even I learn something new when I read them. Do you know why I learn something new when I read my books? Because these books are not my books – I do not write these books. Every morning when I sit here to write my books Krsna comes personally and he dictates to me what to write, o I simply take dictation from Krsna and I write these books. Therefore when I read them even I learn something.”
“Yes. That is preaching. Therefore we are writing so many books. Unless we take care of the books and preach and read ourself, understand the philosophy, this Hare Kṛṣṇa will be finished within few years. Because there will be no life. How long one can artificially go on, “Hare Kṛṣṇa! Haribol!” That will be artificial, no life.
Without preaching, without understanding philosophy, you cannot keep your strength. Everyone should be thoroughly well-conversed with the philosophy which we are putting… That means you must read thoroughly every day.”