In August and September 1965, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami made the journey by sea from Calcutta to New York. As he neared his destination in the ship, the Jaladuta, the enormity of his intended task weighed on him. On 13, September he wrote in his diary, 'Today I have disclosed my mind to my companion, Lord Sri Krishna (Goswami, 1980: 3). On this occasion and five days later, Bhaktivedanta Swami called on Krishna for help in two devotional poems composed in his native Bengali. Reading the first of these intimate records of his prayerful preparation for what lay ahead, we learn something of how Bhaktivedanta Swami understood his own identity and mission:
Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura is unparalleled in his service to the Supreme Lord Krishna. He is that great, saintly spiritual master who bestows intense devotion to Krishna at different places throughout the world. By his strong desire, the holy name of Lord Gauranga will spread throughout all the countries of the Western world. In all the cities, towns and villages on the earth, from all the oceans, seas, rivers, and streams, everyone will chant the holy name of Krishna . . . Although my Guru Maharaja ordered me to accomplish this mission, I am not worthy or fit to do it. I am very fallen and insignificant. Therefore, O Lord, now I am begging for Your mercy so that I may become worthy, for You are the wisest and most experienced of all . . . (Goswami, 1980: 277-8)
Bhaktivedanta Swami, by journeying to America, was attempting to fulfil the wish of his guru, possible only by the grace of his dear Lord Krishna. Five days later, docked temporarily in Boston, Bhaktivedanta Swami revealed his anxieties still further upon encountering the country in which he was to fulfil his guru's instruction and sow his devotional message. Speaking directly to Krishna, he confessed:
I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me. But I guess You have some business here, otherwise why would You bring me to this terrible place?
How will I make them understand this message of Krishna consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified and most fallen. Therefore I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them, for I am powerless to do so on my own
O Lord, I am just like a puppet in Your hands. So if You have brought me here to dance, then make me dance, make me dance, O Lord, make me dance as You like.
I have no devotion, nor do I have any knowledge, but I have strong faith in the holy name of Krishna . . . (Goswami, 1980: 283-4)
Sharing with Lord Krishna his sense of hopelessness, Bhaktivedanta Swami then surrendered to him, praying for his intervention in the task ahead, offering only his own 'strong faith' in exchange.
In addition to learning about Bhaktivedanta Swami's mission and his devotional relationship to Krishna and his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, in these poems we glimpse some aspects of his self-perception. His was a Bengali Vaishnava perspective, a view of himself as fallen, ignorant and lacking in devotion, as faithful to God and guru, but in need of mercy. In his later talks and letters, he refers occasionally to himself, his earlier life, his relationship to others and his vision of the spread of Krishna consciousness, but his viewpoint is wholly Vaishnava. He humbly presents himself to the West in parampara, in disciplic succession, continuing the teachings of Krishna, the sages and philosophers, Caitanya (Lord Gauranga), his followers, and the later Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.
The character, tone and mood of Bhaktivedanta Swami's devotional relationship to Krishna and his guru are mirrored in his own disciples' responses to him. This arises partly as a result of Vaishnava etiquette concerning guru-disciple relationships, but also because of the great love, respect and need for 'Srila Prabhupada', as he soon became known, which quickly grew up among his close followers.1 I will look at this more closely shortly and will examine how if differs from the perspectives on Prabhupada of those who were not his disciples. In particular, I will consider scholarly responses which, though respectful and admiring, generally arise from conceptions of greatness, stature and achievement that differ from those identified within Vaishnavism.
All perceptions of Prabhupada are complex by virtue of his geographical, social and cultural location. Seen from any perspective, he achieved what no other Vaishnava teacher had accomplished-successfully preaching devotion to Krishna worldwide. Geographically nomadic after sixty-nine years living in northern India, the person of Prabhupada, and his role and achievements have meaning in both Indian and Western contexts, but also cross-culturally, in terms of the late-modern process of globalisation. As I will show, devotees, no less than scholars, have been able to make sense of this crucial aspect of Prabhupada's significance.
As a means of learning more about insider and outsider perceptions of Prabhupada, I will consider three issues which have generated responses to his person, role and achievements: the guru, books and publishing, and the founding of ISKCON, an international missionary movement.
Prabhupada and the Role of Guru
By the time Bhaktivedanta Swami first arrived in the United States he had initiated but one disciple. He had little experience of being a guru, but saw himself rather as 'an English preacher', following the instructions of his own guru.2 An early newspaper account described him as an 'ambassador of bhakti-yoga . . . a slight brown man in faded orange drapes and wearing white bathing shoes . . . a messenger from India to the peoples of the West' (The Butler Eagle in Goswami, 1980:13). Like others who met him, Bhaktivedanta Swami's appearance as well as his purpose struck the journalist. Howard Wheeler, later to become Hayagriva dasa, recorded his first impression:
I first see him just after crossing the Bowery at Houston Street. As he passes before the iron-mesh fence of a playground, I distinctly glimpse the aura of saintliness. I watch him through the rushing traffic and stumbling derelicts.
He strolls almost jauntily down the sidewalk. He is an old man whom age has never touched. Aloof from the people and bustle about him, he walks proudly, independently, his hand in a cloth bead-bag. He wears the saffron robes of a sannyasi, and on his feet are quaint, pointed white shoes. (Hayagriva dasa, 1985:1)
As a young man who had spent time in India, Wheeler had correctly identified Bhaktivedanta Swami as a sannyasi. Where he recognised saintliness, other interested young people saw serenity, dignity and refinement. In addition to his presence, they gained an impression of him through his activities, his quiet chanting, his energetic kirtana, his lectures, his cooking and his conversation (Goswami, 1980, chapter 6). Some tried to make sense of what they encountered by linking the 'Swami' with other images and ideas they had acquired about India and Indian religions, but, by his gradual instruction and example, they learnt to appreciate his distinctiveness, his difference from other Hindu gurus and Buddhist teachers.
It was when Bhaktivedanta Swami suggested that he initiate some of these early followers that Vaishnava teaching about the nature and role of the guru began to emerge. To his anxious students the Swami explained that the guru or spiritual master was God's representative and accordingly worthy of worship and respect (Goswami, 1980:178-9). He repeatedly reiterated and clarified this in later talks and conversations. To hippies in San Francisco he stressed that, 'a guru is not some pet, some fad . . . One must find the bona fide spiritual master and surrender to him. That is the injunction of Bhagavad-gita' (Hayagriva dasa, 1985:150). His relationship with his own guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and the devotion and worship that followed from it, also provided a means for devotees to learn about the meaning of guru, and about their own Swamiji's humility. Michael Grant (Mukunda Goswami), one of the Swami's earliest initiates, recalled him reflecting on his own status, 'Actually, I am not a servant of God, I am trying to be a servant of God' (Prabhupada, 1977:xiii).
Bhaktivedanta Swami's role as guru was also revealed in an interview with an English journalist from The Times in 1969 in which the latter, reflecting all the conventional wisdom about gurus, enquired about what made a 'genuine' guru. Did followers have to give money to the guru, to leave their jobs, or to live in the temple? How could they know the difference between 'genuine' and 'fake' gurus?
The genuine guru is God's representative, and he speaks about God and nothing else. The genuine guru is he who has no interest in materialistic life . . . He is absorbed in the Absolute Truth . . . He represents the Supreme Lord, just as a viceroy represents a king. The real guru will not manufacture anything. Everything he says is in accordance with the scriptures and the previous acaryas. He will not give you a mantra and tell you that you will become God in six months. This is not a guru's business. A guru's business is to canvass everyone to become a devotee of God. (Prabhupada, 1977:62).
Through such exchanges, Bhaktivedanta Swami was able to teach his disciples and interested outsiders what it meant to be a guru in the Vaishnava tradition. He stressed the guru's relationship with God, the scriptural authority for the guru and the guru's duties, the link to previous acaryas or teachers, the avoidance of manufacturing opinions, and the focus on bringing others to God.
Not only have these teachings been instrumental in informing disciples of the nature and role of the guru, but they have also given them an interpretative framework for understanding the person and activities of their own spiritual master. This is evident, for example, in the morning lectures given by senior devotees in ISKCON and in the published writings of scholar-devotees such as Satsvarupa dasa Goswami and Ravindra Svarpa dasa. Steven J. Gelberg (Subhananda dasa) in 'ISKCON after Prabhupada', for example, wrote that Srila Prabhupada 'had tolerated no suggestion that he himself was any sort of divinity or avatar' (1985:8), thus stressing his spiritual master's teaching that as guru he was in no sense God. He continued, 'the guru's presence is in his instructions, and in their execution is spiritually tangible' (8), reiterating a vital point made by Prabhupada on many occasions but principally before his death in 1977: 'I may stay or go, but in my books I will live forever' (Goswami, 1983(a): 337). The guru lives in his eternal instructions (vani), not in his transitory body (vapuh). 3
In the years since his demise, this idea has been critical in how Prabhupada has been perceived by those exposed to his teachings. For those within ISKCON, in addition to the guidance of those gurus appointed post-1977 to initiate disciples, there has been the instruction of Prabhupada in his books, talks and letters. To those devotees who have contested the authority of ISKCON's Governing Body Commission to appoint initiating gurus and who have consequently left the movement, Prabhupada remains the only 'living guru'. In a journal, Back to Prabhupada, founded by some of these disciples, the authors seek to establish his 'unique, pre-eminent and unrivalled position as the saviour of mankind for the next ten thousand years' (Prabhupadanugas, 1995: frontispiece) and to challenge what they see as the usurpation of his position by subsequent ISKCON gurus. 4
The debate about guru succession and the authority of Prabhupada, not only as founder-acarya but as the continuing inspiration for Krishna consciousness, has been central in ISKCON for many years (Rochford; Shinn; Gelberg, 1985, 1988). In 1986, in a personal reflection on his own position as guru, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami considered the relationship between the new gurus and Prabhupada, noting particularly their error of imitation:
Prabhupada was the only example of a guru and acarya that we knew, and so we assumed that whoever was a bona fide guru would have to exactly imitate Prabhupada in every way. Thus the prayers, titles, big vyasasanas, lavish guru-pujas and Vyasa-pujas, lavish living quarters, the personal comforts. (35)
We see in this that Prabhupada's important role as an exemplar to be imitated went beyond that of Vaishnava etiquette and pious sadhana or devotional practice to that of perfect spiritual master worthy of worship.5 It was only after a number of gurus broke the principles of the movement and were removed from office in 1986 that an open and critical debate began about the position of the gurus after Prabhupada and their relationship to him. The authority and centrality of Prabhupada was reasserted after 1986. All devotees were reminded of their eternal relationship with the founder-acarya of ISKCON and the guru-parampara. The powers of the remaining gurus were curtailed, and other suitably qualified devotees were added to their number (Gelberg, 1988).6 There was recognition that Prabhupada's pious devotion and spiritual qualification could not simply be acquired along with the role of guru. These characteristics had to be attained by discipline and devotional practice.
In an evaluation of the nature of the guru, Larry Shinn, a scholar of religions, utilised Max Weber's analysis of charisma in order to understand Prabhupada and the issue of leadership in ISKCON. He noted that 'Prabhupada profited from two intertwined sources of authority' (1987:40), the traditional authority of the disciplic lineage, parampara, inherited from his own guru, and his own charismatic authority, derived from his spiritual attainment and presence, and that Prabhupada's guru-successors had been able to adopt 'his traditional role as initiating acarya but not . . . his status as charismatic leader' (49). Shinn offered an analysis based on sociological rather than spiritual (Vaishnava) authority in order to make sense of the role of guru in ISKCON and the unique qualities of Prabhupada.
He offered a further observation on Prabhupada as spiritual master by acknowledging that 'to critics outside ISKCON, Prabhupada may be viewed as being all to human to be considered "perfect"' (41). In doing this, he made the interpretative shift from the devotional perspective of insiders (Srila Prabhupada as 'a perfect spiritual master' and 'pure devotee') to the varied but non-devotional perspectives of outsiders. In such views, while Prabhupada might be admired for his achievements and spiritual discipline, or criticised, along with other gurus, for leading young people astray, he would be identified and presented as fully human. Neither scholarly nor anti-cult perceptions take the same starting point on the issue of Prabhupada's authority as devotees. He is examined for his human strengths and weaknesses. Shinn described him as 'a sincerely religious old man' (42) who made 'tactical and programmatic decisions he later would have to retract' (41). Thomas Hopkins, who first met him in 1967, in his Foreword to one of the volumes of Prabhupada's biography wrote of it as 'a very human story with a very human Bhaktivedanta Swami at the centre' (Goswami, 1980: xii). In anti-cult material, he and other gurus have been classified as 'god-men', as egotistical, cruel and exploitative of their followers (for example, Gods of the New Age).
Yet, while accentuating Prabhupada's humanity, a number of scholars readily indicate his special qualities and achievements. Harvey Cox identifies him as 'one in a thousand, maybe one in a million' (Gelberg, 1983:40-1); Hopkins notes that Prabhupada's is 'an astonishing story' (Gelberg, 1983:127). Others have used words such as 'stunning', 'remarkable' and 'extraordinary' to describe his work in spreading Krishna consciousness in the decade before his death.
These ideas - of Prabhupada's humanity and uniqueness, his sameness and difference - derive from Western ideas (modern Christian and liberal secular) about the nature of individual persons, their participation in a common humanity but with their own unique value and character. As a religious leader, Prabhupada has been evaluated by Westerners outside the movement from this perspective, though recognition has also been given - particularly by scholars - to the devotees' alternative, spiritual interpretation of their guru's activities and role.
Prabhupada, Books and Publishing
As Srila Prabhupada reminded his devotees before his death, he would live forever in his books. He would remain present for them as spiritual master by this means. What is more, the teachings of the guru-parampara or lineage he represented would be available to all. As author of some thirty books (including his translations and commentaries on Srimad Bhagavatam in thirty volumes and Chaitanya-charitamrita in seventeen volumes) published almost exclusively during the last ten years of his life, translated into many languages and distributed tirelessly by his devotees around the globe, Prabhupada fulfilled his own guru's requests that he print books and preach Lord Chaitanya's message around the world.
Srila Prabhupada had instilled in his devotees an understanding of the importance of writing and publishing not only with regard to his works, but also their own initiatives. His early disciples felt Prabhupada had given them Back To Godhead for their own writings, their own efforts at preaching (Goswami, 1980:247-50). Prabhupada had first produced the English language magazine Back To Godhead in 1944 in response to his guru's advice. In 1966 he passed this responsibility on to his own disciples. 'Don't be dull. Write something', he encouraged them (250). 'You write your realisation-what you have realised about Krishna . . . Whenever you find time, write. Writing or offering prayers, glories-this is one of the functions of a Vaisnava.' (Ravindra-Svarupa dasa, 1984: xiii). Through hearing Srila Prabhupada's words, the devotees felt affirmed in using their creative and intellectual skills to write about Krishna Consciousness. They saw Prabhupada inviting them, not to speculate, but to record their experiences and to present and represent the teachings of the Chaitanya tradition. They learnt from him two key ideas, that the parampara to which they belonged by virtue of their initiation was 'the sampradaya', or spiritual tradition, 'of the book' (xiii), and that books were the 'big mridanga' or great drum (Hayagriva dasa, 1985:195) with the potential to transmit Krishna Consciousness worldwide.7
A fellow Gaudiya Vaishnava, Shrivatsa Goswami, who as a young man had met Prabhupada in India in 1972, affirmed the significance of book publishing and distribution in spreading the message of Caitanya in an interview with Steven Gelberg:
Making these Vaisnava texts available is one of Srila Prabhupada's greatest contributions. Apart from the masses, his books have also reached well into academic circles and have spurred academic interest in the Chaitanya tradition ... The significance of making these texts available is not merely academic or cultural; it is spiritual. Jnana, knowledge, is spread, proper doctrines are made known, people come closer to reality. (Gelberg, 1983:247)
With these words he looked inwards, to the values of Vaishnavism, and outwards, to the interests of a wider academic culture, to locate the importance of Prabhupada's writing. From the Vaishnava perspective, his work spread the true teachings, enabling devotees to attain to consciousness and love of Krishna; from the perspective of the academy, it facilitated the study of an important tradition of Hinduism, previously little known and under-researched.
This second perspective has been noted by non-Hindu scholars too. Thomas Hopkins, referring to the Bhagavata Purana and Chaitanya-charitamrita, commented that Prabhupada 'has really made these and other major texts of the Vaishnava tradition accessible in a way that they never were before, and so he's made the tradition itself accessible to the West' (Gelberg, 1983:140). Prabhupada's strength in doing so, however, was not merely that he made important texts such as these and the Bhagavad-gita comprehensible to westerners, but that he provided a traditional Vaishnava commentary upon them (140). The texts were delivered in a particular devotional framework, thus enabling a reader to see how the text could live for its devotional community and how it could be applied to particular problems. Hopkins thus confirmed that Prabhupada's aim was not simply to serve scholars by providing new translations of key texts, but to make known a particular interpretation of those texts through his commentaries.
Hopkins and other western scholars of religion have given greatest consideration to Prabhupada's approach in their analyses of his Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Both Hopkins and Edward Dimock have reflected on the value of Prabhupada's translation and commentary, neither doubting his scholarly skills but both indicating and appreciating his devotional standpoint. Hopkins commented that his is 'the Bhagavad-gita as seen through the perspective of the Bhagavata Purana', in which Krishna the charioteer is understood to be 'one and the same as' the Krishna of Vrindavana (Gelberg, 1983:144). Dimock, in his foreword to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, wrote that, 'in this translation the Western reader has the unique opportunity of seeing how a Krishna devotee interprets his own texts' (Prabhupada, 1982:v). Both of these scholars recognised the utility for Western studies of religion of texts presented from within a living tradition.
Other scholars have experienced more difficulty in appreciating the value of a devotional standpoint, noting the negative aspects of such an interpretative frame. Eric Sharpe identified Bhaktivedanta Swami's interpretation as single-minded and fundamentalist (1985:141-7). He saw Bhagavad-gita As It Is as a work of faith and Bhaktivedanta Swami as a man who loved the Gita, but saw little virtue in these characteristics, concluding that, 'Bhagavad-gita As It Is remains substantially an impression of what a particular corner of the Hindu world imagines that it is' (146). Sharpe clearly recognised Prabhupada's particular standpoint, but did not identify the relationship between standpoints such as his and earlier Bhagavad-gita commentaries. Instead, he judged Prabhupada's scholarship according to Western values, noting that he had failed to mention ambiguities in the text and implying that he had misread the text in order to establish his own devotional perspective (144-5).
A. L. Herman also found Prabhupada's translation and commentary problematic. He, too, identified its standpoint, and like Sharpe referred to this as Krishna fundamentalism. Like Sharpe, he compared Bhaktivedanta Swami's translation with other translations and found it wanting, noting 'the curious and oftentimes embarrassing discrepancies' (1991:139), the contrary definitions and reinterpretations.
It is Robert Baird who has offered the most detailed exposition and analysis by a western, non-Hindu scholar of Bhaktivedanta Swami's translation and commentary. He located his account firmly in the very issue raised here, of conflicting interpretative frameworks. Succinctly, he wrote, 'the gulf between Swami Bhaktivedanta's presentation and that of the scholarly exegete is unbridgeable, for their purposes operate on different levels' (1986:200). Like Sharpe and Herman, as a scholar trained in western critical practices, he distinguished the Gita itself from its interpretations, such as Bhagavad-gita As It Is. He did this, however, by acknowledging the different interests and integrity of the academic and devotee, and by placing himself firmly in the camp of the former. From his standpoint, he then discussed Bhaktivedanta Swami's translation and commentary as a didactic work, a declaration of Krishna Consciousness by a guru in parampara, a guru for whom the text was revealed truth. Baird, who as a western, non-Hindu scholar was unable to share this perspective and, in fact, had quite different objectives in understanding the Bhagavad-gita and Bhaktivedanta Swami's interpretation of it, suggested that Bhaktivedanta Swami would have condemned his own approach as one of 'speculative reasoning' (202), opinion rather than truth received through the correct disciplic tradition. Prabhupada noted this himself in his Preface to Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Separating his intentions from those of 'so-called scholars', he explained that it is his purpose to present Bhagavad-gita 'without adulteration' (1982: viii).
Despite the distance between the standpoints of Prabhupada and such scholars, both parties have an interest in this last point. Prabhupada's concern was to present the text 'as it is' (viii); Baird noted that the historian's concern was a desire 'to understand everything that might be implied in the words of the text without importing anything that is not actually there' (201, my italics). Neither party, apparently, wished to see the text adulterated, but both had different ideas about the inherent meaning of the text. Although there was considerable mutual respect between Prabhupada and those scholars of religion who were in contact with his work, the matter of scriptural interpretation seems to have been the one which brought their fundamental differences of perspective most clearly into view.
Prabhupada, ISKCON and Mission
Prabhupada inherited not only the call to print books but also the motivating energy of the Gaudiya Math to spread Lord Chaitanya's message to 'every town and village' (Goswami, 1982: xix). For this purpose he had left India and gone west; for this purpose he had established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in 1966.8 In this capacity, Prabhupada was identified by his disciples not only as a guru following in the same lineage as Chaitanya, but also as 'founder-acarya' of ISKCON. In relation to both, he was seen as successfully fulfilling Chaitanya's missionary prophecy of sankirtana, praising Krishna in every town and village by his own travelling ministry and his inspiration to others to do likewise. The opening of temples worldwide, publishing of books in many languages, and touring of sankirtana parties for book distribution and public chanting were all seen as instrumental in the realisation of this prophecy.
The evidence of his success in fulfilling the prophecy has been vital for other Indians in formulating a view of Prabhupada. Charles R. Brooks, in his account of the Hare Krishna movement in Vrindavana, made clear that those who knew Bhaktivedanta Swami from his days as a resident there before his journey westwards little suspected that he would achieve the goals he had set himself. Seen variously as 'a beggar', 'a bother', 'naive', but 'determined' (1989:75-6), Bhaktivedanta Swami was not taken seriously by his neighbours. His mission to America was seen as 'a child's fantasy-very innocent but improbable' (75). Not surprising then that later, in 1982-3, Brooks should find some of Prabhupada's old neighbours claiming greater friendship with Prabhupada or more awareness of his spiritual gifts than they had had in reality at the time of his residence among them. With more honesty, one admitted:
We were thinking: Why this old man has such fancy? He has no disciples. He is old and lives as Vrindavana sadhu, so he has reached life's goal. Why he was bothering with such fancy dreams to only disturb his mind? Of course now we say, 'Oh yes, Prabhupada is my good friend for so many years. I encouraged his mission. I knew he was mahatma (great soul) and so forth.' We were all fools. We could not see this old man was some future jagatguru (world teacher)! (76)
Prabhupada's return to Vrindavana with his western disciples and news of the global spread of ISKCON led to a new respect and recognition that Krishna had indeed been behind his success.
One western scholar who knew Bhaktivedanta Swami from the time of his own stay in Vrindavana in 1962 was Klaus Klostermaier. In an article reflecting on the impact of the Caitanya movement in America, he reminisced:
Swami Bhaktivedanta, the later founder of the Hare Krishna movement, was a frequent guest at our Institute. As Swami Bon's guru-bhai, he used to visit us regularly and I had many conversations with him. Years later, when I first heard of the Hare Krishna movement, I was surprised to find my old acquaintance of Vrindaban days to be the founder and guru of this rapidly expanding movement. (1980:95)
Although initially bemused by the fact that young modern, progressive Americans were following the Swami and his Gaudiya Vaishnava teachings, he came to realise the potential of the idea of God-consciousness to capture the western imagination.
Klostermaier and other commentators have noted that an earlier attempt by a Gaudiya missionary to establish Caitanya's message in the West had failed. Bon Maharaj, like Bhaktivedanta Swami after him, had tried to fulfil the desire of his guru to extend sankirtana beyond the shores of India. He had returned from England with only one serious disciple to his credit.
Thomas Hopkins has been keen to stress that the success of ISKCON worldwide arose not only from Prabhupada's own efforts, but from 'the revitalised Chaitanyaite tradition that stemmed from Kedarnath Dutt's efforts in the nineteenth century' (1989:49). Prabhupada had inherited the impulse to preach from his own guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, the son of Kedarnath Dutt or Bhaktivinoda Thakura, as he became known. As middle class Bengalis, both father and son were influenced by the British administration in Calcutta, its English educational system and its commitment to the medium of printing for the dissemination of ideas. Both contributed to a repositioning of Caitanya's prophecy in a modern context, and it was this that led Prabhupada to success in the West. The comparison of Prabhupada with Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's less successful disciples, however, lead Hopkins to acknowledge 'his tremendous personal spirituality and holiness, and his incredible determination' (Gelberg, 1985:127), qualities which enabled him to succeed where others had failed.9
Shivatsa Goswami added to these qualities those of boldness and courage in his appreciation of Prabhupada's mission. As a Gaudiya Vaishnava himself, he admitted that,
When I reflect on Srila Prabhupada's achievement, I become a sort of Hindu chauvinist. I am not ashamed of it. The process initiated, rather imperfectly, by Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and others was brought to its logical and ultimate end by spreading and making 'Rama' and 'Krishna' household words throughout the world. That is the greatest achievement . . . What the Muslims could do only by the tremendous sword, and the Christians could do only with great financial resources and state power, has been done by one solitary man, without any ill effects. (241-2)
What was most striking, according to Shrivatsa Goswami, was the way in which this had been achieved in a materialistic, thus hostile culture.
Bridging the Cultural Gap
Both Thomas Hopkins and Shrivatsa Goswami have located Prabhupada's achievement firmly within its modern context by relating it to the self-conscious revitalisation of Caitanya Vaishnavism in British Bengal and the globalising strategy of other well-known neo-Hindu figures. As both point out, Prabhupada has been noted for transplanting a culturally specific form of Hinduism, though one stressing teachings with potentially universal appeal. This in itself is surprising.
Bhaktivedanta Swami has managed, successfully, to bridge an enormous cultural gap and to give practical application to teachings that were originally designed for people in a very different cultural setting. That's not easy to do, by any means. (Hopkins in Gelberg, 142)
Prabhupada's ability to bridge this cultural gap has been viewed in varying ways by commentators. Many have seen this as an extraordinary achievement, and have stressed Prabhupada's skill as a teacher and his ability to catch the interest of a generation; others have chosen to note his unwillingness to compromise, seeing this as a weakness in the context of modernity. Scholars themselves have disagreed on whether or not Prabhupada understood the scale and nature of his global preaching mission, some seeing him as naive, others as wise and commanding, though generally all have accepted the success of his transmission of Vaishnavism in novel, social and cultural milieus.
Devotees have also been interested in making sense of this aspect of Prabhupada's achievement. Satsvarupa dasa Goswami has seen this as an attempt to unite two different worlds in Krishna Consciousness, bringing benefit to both, bringing together 'the East's Krishna conscious culture with the West's prosperity and technological advancement' (1983(a): xvi), thus reiterating the cultural exchange proposed by Vivekananda at the end of the nineteenth century. Michael Grant (Mukunda Goswami) has focused on Prabhupada as an embodiment of Indian Vaishnava culture in the West (Prabhupada, 1977:xiii). But Ravindra-Svarupa dasa has noted Prabhupada's skilful use of 'innovation' in negotiating a successful form of Vaishnava practice and organisation for the West. With reference to chanting, ashrama (stages of life), worship and women, he has shown the adjustments that Prabhupada made to enable his mission to take hold and become popular in a very different religious and social context (1989:73). Prabhupada had to tread a fine line between intransigence and compromise in transplanting Krishna Consciousness. Remaining true to the teachings of the guru-parampara was imperative, while at the same time being receptive to differences in context. Ravindra-Svarupa dasa has presented a founder-acarya who was sensitive to these matters, aware of the need to bridge a cultural divide between India and her religious traditions, and 'the alien Manhattan streets' (1984:48), but without adulterating or reinterpreting his inheritance.
Conclusion: Perspectives from Inside and Outside
That those inside and outside ISKCON have drawn broadly different conclusions on the nature and significance of the person of Prabhupada and his activities in not in itself surprising. Generally, for devotees inside the movement, Vaishnava theology and etiquette provide the lens through which to view the 'spiritual master', 'pure devotee' and 'founder-acharya'; for those depicted in this examination as outside the movement, the secular liberal lens stresses Prabhupada's humanity at the expense of his spiritual significance. Furthermore, scholarly outsiders, using modern, textual-critical strategies read Prabhupada's translations and commentaries not as shastra, scripture, presented unadulterated to a new audience by a bona fide guru, but as a modern, devotional interpretation of the Bhagavad-gita in the Mahabharata. Even Prabhupada's success in transplanting Krishna consciousness and expanding ISKCON worldwide has a different meaning to insiders and outsiders. For the former, it represents the fulfilment of prophecy: for the latter, the highly successful and opportunistic engagement of a particular religious tradition with the modern process of globalisation.
Such insider and outsider standpoints have their own logic and integrity, their own objectives, tenets and values (Rosen, 1992; Knott, 1993). For Baird, with regard to Bhagavad-gita As It Is at least, the gap between the devotional insider and the scholarly outsider views is 'unbridgeable', one open to esoteric interpretation and the other closed to its possibility (1985:201).
Identifying such differences of view can be helpful in understanding where a key religious figure, like Prabhupada, or a text, symbol or tradition, is positioned in both religious discourse and discourse about religion. A case study in which this complementarity is exemplified is the book edited by the devotee-scholar Steven J. Rosen (Satyaraja dasa) in which he discusses aspects of Gaudiya Vaishnavism with historians, sociologists and textual critics of religion. As he affirms, however, we should beware of overstating the distinction between different perspectives. It is clear that there is sufficient diversity in the views of both insiders and outsiders-as witnessed above by scholars on Prabhupada on the Gita and devotees on Prabhupada as cultural bridge-to challenge any temptation we might have simply to polarise these perspectives into two opposing camps. As Katherine Young has pointed out,
... our terminology of 'insider' and 'outsider' is out of date. This is true because our 'insiders' are also 'outsiders'. In addition to their experience as devotees, their understanding draws from historical and philosophical studies, and they use the language of the modern academic disciplines. Also the 'outsiders' are, in a way, 'insiders' in that they have studied traditional Vaishnava religion with phenomenological appreciation of this form of spirituality and perhaps have discovered analogies with their own religious experience. Thus, today, the comparative perspective of 'insider' and 'outsider' has a new complexity . . . (1985:29)
This 'new complexity' is visible in the selected perceptions of Prabhupada presented above. In addition to devotional views among insiders, there are also critical, theological insights provided by 'devotee-scholars'. And among the perspectives of outsiders, there are those that favour empathy and those that depend on critical distance. This 'new complexity' is, on the one hand, spurred on by the nature of the study of religion as a scholarly practice and, on the other, by the need and interest of contemporary religious movements like ISKCON to negotiate the secularising and globalising processes of modernity.
Although Prabhupada was aware of such processes and had his own ways of confronting them, there can be little doubt about his own perspective on the meaning of his life and work: He was the most fallen creature and the founder-acarya, the servant of the servant and the guru worthy of worship, the disciple of his guru and the guru of his disciples. His was the view of a Gaudiya Vaishnava in all its traditional complexity.