His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami arrived in America during a decade of discontent. There was widespread dissatisfaction with America's war in Vietnam and with what some consider her racist exploitative dealings at home and abroad. Disillusioned by the establishment the youth created a counter-culture of their own. Around the time Srila Prabhupada came, waves of Americans were breaking away from the status-quo, searching for an alternative.
“Krishna was all along preparing something”, Srila Prabhupada later wrote, “and He brought me to you one by one - sincere boys and girls to be trained in Krishna consciousness. Now I can see that it is a miracle otherwise one old man with only a few books to sell for barely getting food. How could he survive, what to speak of introducing a God conscious movement in a materialistic society.”
For Srila Prabhupada these were happy days, singing and speaking with the vigor of a young man. He brought the Hare Krishna movement into the public eye, by chanting in the parks, by distributing Back to Godhead magazines, by holding free Sunday love feasts. Many were attracted. His hopes for the future expanded without limit. The Hare Krishna movement had taken root. He founded a legally registered organization called ISKCON.
As people came to him convinced of the Krishna conscious philosophy, Srila Prabhupada accepted them for initiation, not on the basis of birth, as in the rigid Hindu caste system, but on the basis of qualification and sincerity. In the whole history of Indian spiritual life no one has ever attempted something as bold and seemingly impossible: to transform Westerners into full-fledged devotees of Lord Krishna. But by his intense spiritual energy and compassion, Srila Prabhupada was successful beyond his own expectations.
In Srila Prabhupada's eyes Krishna consciousness is not an armchair philosophy or a part-time religion. It is a way of life, a transcendental culture that can end man’s political, economic and social problems. To realize his vision Srila Prabhupada circled the globe fourteen times in twelve years inspiring his followers and discussing Krishna consciousness with all interested persons. His door was open to everyone.
To revive the Krishna conscious tradition in its full richness, Prabhupada envisioned God-centered, self-sufficient farm communities based on the principle of plain living and high thinking. The first such community began on 133 acres in the hills of West Virginia. Prabhupada called it "New Vrindavana" after Krishna's place of pastimes in India.
In 1972 Srila Prabhupada began a Krishna conscious primary school system in Dallas, Texas. Srila Prabhupada gradually trained his disciples in the time-honoured tradition of Deity worship to help them advance spiritually. He explained, "I have introduced this system of Deity worship among the non-believers, the atheists. Krishna cannot be understood with our present senses. But by His kindness he agrees to personally appear as the Deity to accept our service. When we are attracted to the beautiful form of the Deity we will forget our attraction for material things. And as we serve the Deity we will develop pure love of God. Then our lives will be successful.”
No one should go hungry within a ten mile radius of the temple, Prabhupada instructed. In March 1972 devotees started the ISKCON food relief program, distributing prasadam, vegetarian food offered to Lord Krishna. His ambition is to give as many people as possible access to the nectar of transcendental life, whether through philosophy, service or spiritual food, so that everyone can become happy, hopeful and peaceful.
His most significant contribution were his numerous books such as Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagwatam, and Chaitanya Charitamrita. Srila Prabhupada saw sixty million distributed in twenty-eight languages. Professors from dozens of major universities used them as standard texts and wrote appreciative reviews. Established in 1972 the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust exclusively published Srila Prabhupada's works. It became the world's largest distributor of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy. The transcendental knowledge in these books forms the basis of the Hare Krishna movement, prophesised to grow for the next ten thousand years.
Five hundred years ago Lord Chaitanya predicted that one day the holy name of Krishna would be heard in every town and village of the world. By the mid-seventies Hare Krishna becomes a household word. Prabhupada saw his society grow into a world-wide confederation with more than one hundred temples, restaurants, institutes, schools and farm communities. As a child Srila Prabhupada celebrated Ratha-yatra near his home in Calcutta with his playmates. Years later he was still celebrated the Ratha-yatra festival, but now on the main streets of twenty large cities around the world.
An unexplained persistent illness left Prabhupada weak and with no appetite, and he departed this mortal world to rejoin Krishna’s pastimes in the spiritual world on November 14, 1977. Since then the Hare Krishna Movement has endured but been beset by internal disturbances due to issues of philosophical disagreements among its members, and a departure from Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. Evidence that Prabhupada had been poisoned plus thousands of unnecessary changes to his books add to the dissatisfaction of the members. Turmoil in ISKCON has also resulted from the system of eighty self-appointed initiating gurus adopted by the leadership and a subsequent falldown from spiritual standards by over half of them.
Many followers around the world, called Prabhupadanugas, are now attempting to rebuild a movement based on the premise that Prabhupada lives in his teachings and, by his own arrangements via a July 9, 1977 letter, can still be fully available to any sincere person. Rejecting what are considered bogus gurus in ISKCON, they keep Prabhupada as the prominent guru and current link in the disciplic succession. There are once again hopes that Srila Prabhupada’s mission can be restored by avoiding the various deviations which have afflicted ISKCON.