In 1965 an elderly Indian gentleman boarded a steamship in Calcutta. He was a saffron-robed sadhu – a holy man – bound for America, a place he had never visited before, and a place where he had no friends. Almost 70, he had spent the last eight years in the sacred medieval town of Vrindavan, the home of Lord Krishna. In the last years of his life he wanted to give his spiritual message to the world, but at such an advanced age in a foreign country, and with no support, what could he do? How many would listen to him?
He sat under a tree in a park in New York City, played on some small hand cymbals, and sang the Hare Krishna mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Surprisingly, some young people walked over, sat down, and joined in with this strange chant. They listened with interest when he spoke of the soul, karma, yoga and of how meditation could take them to a higher level of consciousness; they watched, fascinated, as he performed the arati ceremony with incense and lamps, and they followed him when he showed them how to chant on wooden beads.
He cooked vegetarian feasts for them, with tastes they had never experienced before: dahl, subji, chapatti, pakorah, samosa, halavah, laddhu and gulabjamon. Gradually he taught them how to live a good and simple life, free from bad habits and confusing ideas. The elderly sadhu’s name is now known to all: His Divine Grace Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada; and his young followers became the Hare Krishna Movement.
By the time Srila Prabhupada passed away, there were more than 100 branches of his ‘International Society for Krishna Consciousness’ (ISKCON) in all the major cities of the world. That was in 1977, only 12 years after he first sat under a tree. Now there are more than 600 places where his followers gather to sing the Hare Krishna mantra, study his teachings, and conduct religious festivals. Even in Russia more than 10,000 honour Srila Prabhupada as their guru, just as they do in Africa, the Amazon, China, and even in the Arctic Circle. It is a remarkable achievement for one elderly sadhu and a few followers.
Srila Prabhupada was remarkably gifted. He was an expert Sanskrit scholar, an articulate speaker, a generous teacher and a compassionate and understanding spiritual preceptor. He had an unshakeable conviction in the reality of Krishna, the Supreme Godhead, and his communion with that same Krishna nourished and informed his every move. But he said that anyone could achieve the same success by adding some simple spiritual practices into their daily life. As many thousands of his followers have found, by spiritualizing our life we can become peaceful, happy and contented, and by sharing what we know with others – just as Srila Prabhupada did – we can play our part in making the world a better place.
Here’s ten things you can do to transform your life – and the world:
- Recite the Hare Krishna mantra on a circle of 108 wooden beads. This is known as japa meditation. One time round the beads each morning is for beginners, four times round as a daily minimum is for committed members, and sixteen ‘rounds’ are for those who have taken their lifetime vows. Japa meditation is the basic practice of devotees of Krishna.
- Read the books translated and commented by Srila Prabhupada. Along with the well-known Bhagavad-gita there is the Bhagavata-Purana, rendered by him as the Srimad Bhagavatam. Its 18,000 verses were Srila Prabhupada’s life work and not only continue the philosophical teachings of Shri Krishna found in the Gita, but also describe Krishna’s divine appearance within this world, as well as accounts of his many avatars. Srila Prabhupada also published the Caitanya Caritamrita, the biography and detailed teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna’s most recent incarnation. There are also the important works of Srila Rupa Goswami, medieval disciple of Caitanya, such as Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu and Upadeshamrita, as well as one of the principal Upanishads, the Isha Upanishad. Srila Prabhupada’s books provide authentic and time-tested wisdom, and their careful study creates a strong foundation for spiritual life.
- Sing the Hare Krishna mantra and other melodious songs accompanied by musical instruments. This very popular devotional activity, known as kirtan, can form the basis of many family and communal gatherings.
- Join together with others to discuss the teachings and their practical application in your life. Hold kirtan and chant japa together. Treat these gatherings as your personal spiritual community.
- Offer a practical service to your local temple or group. Find something you like to do and spend one or two hours each week in volunteer service. This will be of great help to the mission and will be spiritually purifying and uplifting for you. Through this service, known as seva, the philosophy comes to life.
- Give up any bad habits you have, or at least try to minimize them. Remove all meat and fish from your diet, as they are the products of violence. Avoid impure items such as eggs, onions and garlic as they pollute the system. Abandon all forms of intoxicant. Try to live simply, without exploitation of the world or others around you.
- Create a sacred space in your home. A small altar dedicated to Krishna will sanctify your entire house. Offer pure foods to Krishna by placing them before his image. Eat only food which has been made sacred by offering, known as Krishna prasadam. If you can, light lamps or candles, and offer incense and flowers each day on your altar.
- Be generous to others – share what you have learned and experienced with them. Answering spiritual enquiries, giving out leaflets or books, distributing free Krishna prasadam, and taking part in public kirtans and festivals; all these are a blessing for you and to others.
- Celebrate the festivals and honour the days of fasting. Learn how celebrating special days can help your spiritual growth. Do not eat any grains, beans and legumes or items that contain them on the holy days of ekadasi, the 11th day of the moon which comes twice in a month.
- Make friendship with those who are spiritually strong. Meet with them regularly and enquire from them. Avoid those who seek to minimize your spiritual commitments. Create a strong friendship with at least one sadhu – an experienced and knowledgeable devotee of Krishna who shows interest in your spiritual progress.