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The Great Awakenings

The Essence of Contemporary American Religion

Part Forty-One

By Shlomo Phillips © 1989
(most recent update March 18, 2015)

Recorded Live on Facebook
Video 8:
Parts 39 - 42

Another influential Indian teacher who came West was His Divine A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1896-1977). The impact of his books, even more than the movement he founded, can not be overstated. While most Indian teacher who came to the West did not include the traditions Westerners found distasteful, the worship of murtis (which they considered idols), the homage to the Guru, and so on, Srila Prabhupada created 108 full Indian Vishnu temples.

Guru Puja Being Offered to Srila Prabhupada

Sri Guru Charana Padma

bando mui savadhana mate
jahara prasade bhai
e bhava toriya jai
krishna-prapti hoy jaha hoite

chittete koriya aikya
ar na koriho mane asha
sri-guru-charane rati
ei se uttama-gati
je prasade pure sarve asha

chakhu-dan dilo jei
janme janme prabhu sei
divya-gyan hride prokashito
prema-bhakti jaha hoite
avidya vinasha jate
vede gay jahara charito

sri-guru karuna-sindhu
adhama janara bandhu
lokanath lokera jivana
ha ha prabhu koro doya
deho more pada-chhaya
ebe jasa ghushuk tribhuvana


The lotus feet of our spiritual master are the only way by which we can attain pure devotional service. I bow to his lotus feet with great awe and reverence. By his grace one can cross the ocean of material suffering and obtain the mercy of Krsna.

My only wish is to have my consciousness purified by the words emanating from his lotus mouth. Attachment to his lotus feet is the perfection that fulfills all desires.

He opens my darkened eyes and fills my heart with transcendental knowledge. He is my Lord birth after birth. From him ecstatic prema emanates; by him ignorance is destroyed. The Vedic scriptures sing of his character.

Our spiritual master is the ocean of mercy, the friend of the poor, and the lord and master of the devotees. O master! Be merciful unto me. Give me the shade of your lotus feet. Your fame is spread all over the three worlds.
In 1922 Prabhupada's spiritual preceptor, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (founder of the Vaisnava Gaudiya Math), ordained and ordered Bhaktivedanta Swami to go to the West and spread the Bhakti Marga (i.e. "the Path of Devotion") of the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradeya (note 42). After a lifetime of preparation, a thirty-five day ocean journey from Calcutta (on the Jaladuta steam ship) during which he suffered an untreated heart attack, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada arrived in Boston September 17, 1965. He was 69 years old and possessed only forty rupees cash, which even he considered only a few hours spending in New York.

Part of what made this Indian teacher unique among those who had come to the West before was that Prabhupada was a strict "Personalist." He held to the dogma of acintya bheda-bheda tattva. This is the Vedantic doctrine of a single Supreme Being/God who is inconceivable, simultaneously one with the creation, and yet utterly distinct from it. This is to say, that like most historic Jews, Christians, Sikhs, and Muslims, Srila Prabhupada proclaimed the existence of an individual supreme God. He taught that the ultimate nature/form of God was personal (individual) rather than impersonal (i.e. not a collective consciousness), as believed by many other Hindus.

Prabhupada's conception of the One God was similar to the Christian Trinity (indeed the Christian doctrine developed from related non-biblical sources). For Srila Prabhupada the gods or devas, including the Hindu Trinity (trimurti): Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva/Rudra, were all emanations or manifestations of the One God Sri Vishnu/Krishna who alone, he taught, is eternal Bhagavan (God). All other conceptions of God and gods arise from Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

His Hindu predecessors to the West had all espoused variations of Advaita Vedanta, the monistic neo-Buddhist doctrine championed by Srila Shankara (aka Shankara Bhagavatpada 788-822 CE) and popularized by Swami Vivekananda, 1863-1902, Swami Shivananda, 1887-1963, Swami Muktananda, 1908-1983, and others more recently.

Srila Prabhupada also introduced deity (idol) worship (note 43) and traditional Hindu puja (worship methodologies) to the West as you can see in the above video. He translated more than sixty important Hindu Scriptures and teachings into English, such as the highly acclaimed Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, the first ten cantos (or books, in 28 volumes) of the Srimad Bhagavatam, a seventeen volume Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, the Sri Upadeshamrita, the Sri Brahma-samhita, the Raja-Vidya and many others. Well over one hundred million copies of his works have been distributed in more than thirty languages worldwide. He also established over a hundred and eight temples, ashrams, farm communities and schools around the world (LC 2,3).

Despite the many scandals that arose within his movement following his death, no continent is without a Hare Krishna temple today other than Antarctica. There's even an ISKCON temple in Moscow (NR 210). Through the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Srila Prabhupada introduced the West to mantra-yoga and japa-yoga, particularly the chanting of the Vaishnava Maha Mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna... (note 44). This mantra was incorporated into George Harrison's top ten single, My Sweet Lord favorably contrasting Christianity ("Hallelujah") with Vaishnavism ("Hare Krishna"):

My Sweet Lord

George's 1969 hit single Hare Krishna Mantra topped the 10 best-selling record charts throughout the UK, Europe, and Asia:

The Hare Krishna Mantra

During this period the Hare Krishna Movement had far more impact than is normally conceded. After their heavily publicized experiences with Guru Maharishi Mehesh Yogi (i.e. Transcendental Meditation), George Harrison and John Lennon studied with Prabhupada and Harrison became a devotee (CBH). George remained a devotee until his death on November 29, 2001. In 1969 he produced the Hare Krishna Mantra as a service to Srila Prabhupada. Harrison also donated a seventeen acre estate outside London to ISKCON. Today it is a Temple and ashrama known as Bhaktivedanta Manor (Back to Godhead magazine, January 1983).

Through ISKCON millions of Westerners were introduced to eastern spirituality and practical religious observance. Several thousands became full time Vaishnava monks and nuns for a time. Today only a few hundred people remain within ISKCON as full time devotees. A few thousand more remain associated as householder devotees (grahastha) living outside the ISKCON ashram system. Many of these people regularly visit and support the temples (mandirs). Due to the rampant abuses and rejection of Prabhupada's instructions the vast majority of Prabhupada's devotees eventually left the Movement. Several splinter groups arose and generally fell as the devotees left ISKCON seeking to restore the Movement to its original intent and spirit. Some Devotees joined other groups while most returned to the dominant culture and belief system. Many embraced Buddhism and not a few became Fundamentalist Christians.

On November 14, 1977, at 7:30 P.M., Srila Prabhupada attained Maha-samadhi (died). Since that time ISKCON has abandoned many of his core teachings and altered many more. Without his hands-on leadership the movement has been plagued with countless scandals, including grand theft, various cases of child abuse, arms smuggling, and even murders. It has become a small organization with little influence outside its own religious society (MoS). This is very sad but true. Prabhupada's books continue to be read however and individuals still put his teachings into practice in their personal lives.

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