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Dr. Graham M. Schweig on Prabhupada's Historic Achievements

By: for ISKCON News on Oct. 1, 2015
Opinion

Graham M. Schweig, Ph.D. 

On September 19th, at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall Graham M. Schweig, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Christopher Newport University, recounted Srila Prabhupada’s achievements:

"Good evening. Esteemed guests, friends, and devoted Vaishnavas, I would like to welcome all of you to this special event in this historic hall. We are gathered here today to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda to our country. As a venerable monk of the Hindu faith whose central focus is the love of God or Krishna, Swami Prabhupāda arrived here fifty years ago from India on the shores of America, specifically to Boston Harbor, by traveling for weeks on a cargo ship at the ripe age of seventy. He had only about a dollar in his pocket and some holy books, his health was failing, and he knew no one. In the short span of twelve years thereafter, he established along with his early disciples at least one hundred centers around the globe, published over fifty thick volumes of translations and commentary, which have been further translated into dozens of modern languages, and traveled twelve times around the world bringing his teachings to virtually all peoples.

Prabhupāda launched his mission in New York City by going to Thomkins Square Park, offering inspiring homilies and sounding sacred chants of the divine names of God. It was from these humble beginnings that the ancient teachings and some of the most sophisticated theological visions among world religions arose and blossomed. I’m reminded of how the Apostle Paul initiated his mission and teachings in Rome, the New York City of the day, and how he from his humble beginnings inspired so many around the whole Mediterranean world. Prabhupāda, like Paul, possessed dignity and integrity, not favoring the rich or any particular persons in society, but was open to all. Like Paul, he lived simply without wants, and he surely taught boldly and vigorously. Like Paul, his calling was so powerful that he would not let even his health deter him. Nothing could hinder his sense of mission and purpose, a courageousness and boldness that anyone could so palpably and acutely experience just by being in his presence. And it is fitting that Prabhupāda’s arrival in this country was in Boston, one of America’s greatest seats of learning, just as Jerusalem was the seat of learning in Apostle Paul’s day. And as Paul’s teachings of early Christianity were new to the Mediterranean world, Prabhupada’s teachings of the ancient Hindu Vaishnava tradition were also new to our modern world. 

While I feel that the parallels between the Apostle Paul and Swami Prabhupada are compelling, let me now suggest that Prabhupada’s own sacred texts anticipate the accomplishments of such a person. The following is a verse from my translation of the sacred Bhāgavata Purāṇa published by Princeton University Press. It is a verse which I feel illuminates further the unique and even unparallelled achievements of Swami Prabhupada in particular. The following are the prayerful words for the divinity of Krishna from his dearest beloveds:

Your words of nectar

   described by sages and poets

Are life for the suffering,

   destroy all sins, and

   are auspicious to hear.

Those who extol your praises

   throughout the world

Are the most generous persons,

   bestowing the greatest riches.   

(BhP 10.21.9)

Indeed, I feel that Prabhupada is one of those “most generous persons,” who “bestow the greatest riches”. The greatest riches, the greatest gifts that Prabhupada had to offer a world in great need was a teaching, a vision, a worldview that essentially and most boldly asserts that all of reality, all the universe, is ultimately a loving place. It is a vision that worships love, divine love, an all-embracing love that tells us that life here, no matter how dismal, no matter how challenging or no matter how dark and miserable this world can be, it is certainly a life worth living, and that there is a treasure of this divine presence, of this divine love, within the hearts of all, a love that is truly reflected in the truly beautiful things of this world. Prabhupada’s vision certainly echoes and concurs with the New Testament’s Johanine assertion that “God is love.” But Prabhupada’s vision takes an additional step by essentially stating that “Love is God,” meaning that even the power of love can subsume God. Prabhupada recognized that persons, whether they be those from affluent societies or poor societies, persons suffer from impoverishment of the heart. And it was this that fueled Prabhupada’s passion and dedication to nourish these hearts in a world that can be so terribly dark and miserable. 

As Americans, we are proud to know that we can host such a one as this, and thus honor such a one as this today, one who brought his teachings and practices that have roots going back as far as the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of the world, that would form the basis of the modern Hare Krishna movement in the West and around the globe. We are proud to know that what he brought would establish roots here in the United States and ultimately blossom from here to Europe and then to the rest of the world in the short twelve years that Swami Prabhupāda would remain here on earth. And we are proud to know that Swami Prabhupāda has made significant contributions to the colorful cultural and diverse religious landscape of North America by nourishing so many religious hearts as well as the Indian religious diaspora by establishing centers of worship in the major cultural centers of this country. I applaud and congratulate all those whose lives have been touched and benefitted by the genius and sacrifice of Swami Prabhupāda on this special anniversary day of his arrival on the shores of America. 

As we hear from the ancient voice of the Upanishads cry out: tamaso mā jyotir gamaya! “From darkness, lead us to light!” (Bṛhadāranyaka 1.3.28). Swami Prabhupāda has brought more light into this world, a world in which we still find too much darkness. Let us celebrate on this day how Swami Prabhupāda raised greater awareness to the monumental teachings of the Bhagavad Gītā. Let us honor on this day how Swami Prabhupāda selflessly traveled the world to the hearts of so many. Let us recognize the accomplishments of one of India’s greatest exponents of Sanātana Dharma, the eternal teachings of what is good and right in the world that is in harmony with the divine. We owe a great debt to Swami Prabhupāda for raising the consciousness of countless millions to a much greater consciousness, ultimately to Krishna consciousness, and how he has moved the minds and hearts to a greater awareness of all the blessings we have in life and to a greater sensitivity to all living beings everywhere. And finally let me say how I offer my respects to such a man who represents so much the rising of India’s spirit in its exultation of all that is loving in the universe and of all the blessings showered down up us! Thank you, Swami Prabhupāda! Thank you very much. Namaste." 

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