Srila Prabhupada and The Gita

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On Gita Jayanti, the day of the advent of the Bhagavad-gita, spoken by Lord Krishna to Arjuna, I reflected on Srila Prabhupada and how he addressed members of the Gita Pratishthan (Gita Foundation) in India, in 1976. The way Srila Prabhupada dealt with the conference was exemplary - and extraordinary - as I shall relate.

In May, a prominent industrialist named Ramkrishna Bajaj (almost everyone in
India knows Bajaj Autos and Bajaj Electricals) wrote Srila Prabhupada that
he was organizing a conference under the banner of the Gita Pratishthan, to
promote the preaching of the Bhagavad-gita, and that he wanted Srila
Prabhupada, as the world's foremost preacher of the Gita, to attend. Srila
Prabhupada, however, did not want to join, because although the purpose of
the conference was to discuss how to preach the message of the Gita, he was
concerned that different participants would have different ideas of what the
message of the Gita was. The meeting would host many Mayavadis (impersonal
speculators) who preach in the name of the Bhagavad-gita that people can
become Krishna, that they can merge and become one with God. Then, who would
decide what the actual message of the Gita was? So, Prabhupada considered,
“What is the use of my going and wasting time, with no conclusion?” Rather,
he asked me to go on his behalf.

In his letter to me, Srila Prabhupada wrote that we must insist that the
Bhagavad-gita be presented as it is and that people not use the words of
Krishna simply to make money or to promote their own philosophies. “If they
have got their own philosophy, then let them preach their own philosophy,
but not in the name of the Gita.” And he gave an example: “Suppose a man
wants to smoke ganja [marijuana], but he does not want to be caught. So he
takes a friend's hand and smokes it in his hand, and then when the
authorities come he says, 'Oh, I have not smoked ganja. See, my hands are
clean!' The idea is that if one wants to preach the Gita, then he must
preach it as it is. Otherwise, don't use the Gita.” (In other words, don't
preach your own concocted philosophy and present it as Lord Krishna's.)

Eventually, Mr. Bajaj came in person to appeal to Srila Prabhupada to
attend, and Prabhupada finally agreed. And so, in December, we went to
Wardha, near Nagpur, in Maharashtra, in the center of India.

Most of the Bajaj family members were followers of Vinoba Bhave, a prominent
freedom fighter under Mahatma Gandhi. And Ramkrishna's father, Jamnalal
Bajaj, had been Gandhi's treasurer. So, every day Srila Prabhupada and his
party would take prasada on the veranda of the house where Mahatma Gandhi,
Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, and Jamnalal Bajaj all used to
take their meals. And Mr. Bajaj would point out where each of them sat, as
we sat in the very same places.

Finally, the main day of the conference came, and all the speakers went to
Vinoba Bhave's Paunar ashram. Various participants spoke, and Srila
Prabhupada, out of respect, was asked to speak at the end, just before
Vinoba Bhave. When Srila Prabhupada addressed the conference, his argument
was clear and simple: Krishna preached the Bhagavad-gita to instruct people
to become devotees (man-mana bhava mad-bhakto), and how do people become
devotees? By chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra (harer namaiva kevalam).
Therefore, those who want to preach the message of the Bhagavad-gita should
propagate the chanting of the holy names of Krishna--Hare Krishna Hare
Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare
Hare--because that will fulfill the Lord's purpose in the Bhagavad-gita.

Then Srila Prabhupada took his karatals and began to chant Hare Krishna,
which infused the meeting with tremendous spiritual energy, especially after
so many impersonal speculators had just spoken. The kirtana wasn't in the
schedule, and Srila Prabhupada didn't take anyone's permission (not that he
had to); still, he was very tactful, and before the audience could become
impatient, he stopped the kirtana--in what had been a most dramatic
interlude.

On the last day, there was to be a meeting of all the invitees to discuss
practically how to preach the message of the Bhagavad-gita, but the
organizers didn't come to invite Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada let some
time pass, and then ventured that the organizers may have thought he was too
aged and ailing and so they didn't want to bother him. “But actually,” he
said, “they don't want to invite me, because they know I disagree with
them.”

So he let them meet for some time, and then he walked into the meeting room
and sat down. Everyone had to pay heed to him because he was the most senior
preacher of the Bhagavad-gita in the world, and from every point of
view--age, learning, success in preaching--he was the leader. When he spoke,
he stuck to one point: parampara. Unless you follow the disciplic succession
and present the Bhagavad-gita as it is, without personal interpretation, you
have no right to preach the Bhagavad-gita. “You can preach any philosophy
you like, but don't take the name of Bhagavad-gita.”

Of course, no one could really dispute what he was saying.

Then Srila Prabhupada agreed to hear their proposals. The committee wanted
to produce a list of resolutions on how to promote the message of the Gita.
As soon as they presented their first proposal, Srila Prabhupada again
insisted on the point of parampara: First you must surrender in parampara,
as Arjuna surrendered to Krishna as guru, and then you can preach the
Bhagavda-gita. Srila Prabhupada was so heavy--truly powerful. After the
meeting, he commented, “We have injected our poison, and now it will act.”
Of course, he actually meant, “We have injected our nectar, or medicine,”
but as a sort of poetic device he said, “We have injected our 'poison', and
now it will act.”

Although Srila Prabhupada was bold and forceful when he preached, and
sometimes blunt in private, he was most polite and tactful otherwise. Even
though he argued on philosophical principles in debate, he was always
cordial in personal dealings. And because Srila Prabhupada was so genuine,
Mr. Bajaj remained friendly even after Prabhupada took such a strong
position, and later Mr. Bajaj gave quite a large donation to one of Srila
Prabhupada's farm projects. And, out of respect for Srila Prabhupada, he
held the next Gita conference at the Krishna-Balaram temple in Vrindavan, in
Srila Prabhupada's last days.

Even then, Srila Prabhupada repeated the same message to Mr. Bajaj--one can
lead others only if he follows the supreme leadership of the Supreme Lord
Sri Krishna, through parampara.

By Giriraj Swami