Ambassadors Of Goodwill
By Vaisesika Dasa
My spiritual master and ISKCON’s founder-ācārya, Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, was born on September 1, 1896 as Abhay Charan De. He first met his spiritual master in 1922. It was at that first meeting that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura asked him to go to the West to preach in English the message of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Convinced that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s message was the panacea for suffering humanity, he took his guru’s request seriously. From that day on, he later told us, he always thought of how to execute his spiritual master’s order.
Later, during Kārttika in 1935, Abhay received further confirmation of his lifetime service at a meeting with his guru at Rādhā-kuṇḍa. This time Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta told him that if he ever got money, he should print books.
In December 1936, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote his guru a letter asking how he could best serve him. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s response, dated December 13, 1936, just two weeks before he passed away, reconfirmed his initial request that Śrīla Prabhupāda preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West.
In 1956 Śrīla Prabhupāda formally retired from his business and family life, then took sannyāsa in 1959. Throughout all these phases of his life, he kept his spiritual master’s order in his heart until he was finally able to act on it. Śrīla Prabhupāda recalls, “With no companion, I loitered here and there until 1959, when I took sannyāsa. Then I was completely ready to discharge the order of my spiritual master.”
Filled with sincere humility, Śrīla Prabhupāda writes that from the day he first received his spiritual master’s order he desired to fulfill it, yet he felt “quite unfit to do so.”2 Nonetheless, he fixed his life’s goal on fulfilling that order. On a number of occasions he explained to his disciples how his having adhered to his guru’s order was the key to his success in spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness all over the world. In a letter to Bṛhaspati Dāsa, written on November 17, 1971, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “I am successful in my teaching work because I have not deviated one inch from my spiritual master’s instruction. This is my only qualification.”
A Line of Unselfish Servants
With this comment, His Divine Grace evinces his fidelity to his spiritual master as well as the essential mood of a true ambassador of goodwill. An ambassador is a person who acts as an official representative of a country or specified activity. Everyone in this world works for someone else, but it’s rare to find someone who works without a profit motive. As difficult as it is to find someone serving purely out of goodwill, Nārada Muni encourages us each to strive for such unselfish service, for it is “the eternal duty of the living entity.”
Every soul is by nature a servant. The only question is what type of service one should perform. In his manual of pure devotional service, the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī quotes a verse in which an aspiring devotee expresses remorse for having blindly followed the bad masters of his worldly desires, which never give him relief. The Gosvāmī prays that he may break off his service to these bad masters and instead engage in service to Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His internal energy. This full engagement of the mind and senses in selfless spiritual service is the only way to attract Kṛṣṇa. Such service exempts one from mundane worldly obligations and brings full satisfaction to the self. Sincere desire for transcendental service is a sign that one’s spiritual intelligence has awakened. A person who receives instruction for divine service from Kṛṣṇa’s authorized representative and then takes it up wholeheartedly invokes the blessings of his spiritual master and the previous teachers in the line of pure devotion.
In a handwritten letter to the “boys and girls” who were distributing books in the Los Angeles ISKCON community, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote: “You are working so hard for broadcasting the glories of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet and thus my guru mahārāja will be so pleased upon you. Certainly my guru mahārāja will bestow His blessings thousands [of] times more than me and that is my satisfaction.”
On hearing from scripture that only unmotivated, uninterrupted service to God can completely satisfy the self, the wise aspire to render such service. The previous masters in the line of devotional service all agree that such a person will not be disappointed. Even neophytes who follow the authorized previous masters and catch the spirit of pure devotion to Kṛṣṇa at once become effective ambassadors of goodwill and gradually become flawless servants of the Supreme Lord, despite their present shortcomings. Śrīla Prabhupāda confirms this eternal truth in his purport to Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 15.106:
[W]hen the novice engages in devotional service … and follows the order of a bona fide spiritual master, he is a pure devotee. Anyone can take advantage of hearing about Kṛṣṇa consciousness from such a devotee and thus gradually become purified. In other words, any devotee who believes that the holy name of the Lord is identical with the Lord is a pure devotee, even though he may be in the neophyte stage. By his association, others may also become Vaiṣṇavas.
Śrī Nārada Muni thus declares:
Pure devotional service rendered to the Supreme Lord is spiritually so potent that simply by hearing about such transcendental service, by chanting its glories in response, by meditating on it, by respectfully and faithfully accepting it, or by praising the devotional service of others, even persons who hate the demigods and all other living beings can be immediately purified.
Remarkably, Lord Caitanya offers any willing person this topmost service: become a guru by carrying Kṛṣṇa’s message, and in this way deliver everyone you meet (yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa āmāra ājñāya guru hañā tāra’ ei deśa).8 Within this simple order lies the seed of perfection. In his purport to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 2.9.34, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the power of the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s direct orders: “This direct order of the Lord is a manifestation of His internal energy, and this particular energy is the means of seeing the Lord face to face.”
Even a simple person who embraces the order of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and carries it out despite all obstacles rises to the highest position of bhakti by divine grace. Nārada Muni, for example, was elevated from an obscure birth to the topmost authority in pure devotional service by following the instructions of advanced devotees. By the same principle he was able in turn to elevate Mṛgāri the hunter to the status of a pure Vaiṣṇava. Nārada told Mṛgāri: “If you listen to my instructions, I shall find the way you can be liberated.”9 Mṛgāri had been raised by his father not only to hunt but also to enjoy torturing animals, but after accepting Nārada’s instructions, Mṛgāri became famous as a soft-hearted Vaiṣṇava who refused to harm even an ant.
Śrīla Prabhupāda points out the urgent need for ambassadors to carry Lord Caitanya’s message of spiritual service to the people of the world, who are desperate for relief from material misery.
Human society, at the present moment, is not in the darkness of oblivion. It has made rapid progress in the field of material comforts, education, and economic development throughout the entire world. But there is a pinprick somewhere in the social body at large, and therefore there are large-scale quarrels, even over less important issues. There is need of a clue as to how humanity can become one in peace, friendship, and prosperity with a common cause. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam will fill this need, for it is a cultural presentation for the respiritualization of the entire human society.
Government leaders are anxious about rising levels of unemployment, and people everywhere are eager for the dignity that comes from an honest livelihood. But Lord Caitanya is offering full employment in the most exalted livelihood of all. Why should anyone be worried? “Distribute this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement all over the world. Let people eat these fruits and ultimately become free from old age and death.”
A devotee who has embraced the saṅkīrtana service of distributing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books and realized its value wants to share that good fortune of expanding Lord Caitanya’s mission to as many people as possible. Lord Caitanya Himself says: “I am the only gardener. How many places can I go? How many fruits can I pick and distribute?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda writes in his purport to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.21.31:
One’s energy should be utilized for one’s self-interest. That is the perfection of the energy. This energy can be utilized for real self-interest if one is compassionate. A person in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, a devotee of the Lord, is always compassionate. He is not satisfied that only he himself is a devotee, but he tries to distribute the knowledge of devotional service to everyone. There are many devotees of the Lord who faced many risks in distributing the devotional service of the Lord to people in general. That should be done.
By serving the devotees fervently engaged in spreading the saṅkīrtana movement, one catches the spillover from their service, a single drop of which gives one the invaluable gift of a place in Mahāprabhu’s transcendental family of devotees who assist Him in spreading the saṅkīrtana movement. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes about this in his purport to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.22.5:
Thus it is actually a fact that if one meets a saintly person completely engaged in transcendental duties and achieves his favor, then one’s life mission becomes complete. What is not possible to achieve in thousands of lives can be achieved in one moment if there is an opportunity to meet a saintly person.
To his own spiritual master Śrīla Prabhupāda writes:
Message of service
thou has brought
A meaningful life
as Caitanya wrought
Unknown to all,
it is full of brace.
That’s your gift,
Your Divine Grace.
My first inkling about the life of divine service came via the mercy of the devotee whose identity remains unknown to me – the devotee who sold a copy of Back to Godhead magazine to Richie Corsa, my unsuspecting high school friend, on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California. Richie was wholly uninterested in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but he had dutifully brought me the magazine because he knew I was an avid spiritual seeker. The very second I held that magazine in my hands I knew that my prayers for spiritual guidance had been answered. With one-pointed attention I studied the magazine, practically inhaling the words and pictures. Its contents seemed familiar to me, like meeting a best friend after a long separation.
Nārada Muni explains the significance of such an event: “My dear friend, even though you cannot immediately recognize Me, can’t you remember that in the past you had a very intimate friend? Unfortunately, you gave up My company and accepted a position as enjoyer of this material world.”
After reading that publication dozens of times, I fixed my plan to move in with the devotees at 455 Valencia Street as soon as possible. By the kindness of my parents I succeeded. As a baby elephant lost in the jungle attaches itself to its mother, I grabbed on tightly to the devotees at the San Francisco temple. Kindred souls, they understood my cheerfulness on finding a life of devotional service. On my second day in the temple, my revered temple commander, Kṛtakarmā Dāsa, entrusted me with a most enjoyable service – washing the Lord’s pots. He taught me how to make every single inch of a pot so shiny that I could see my reflection in it. He told me that the cleaner I made the pot, the cleaner my heart would become. I scrubbed very hard.
My pot-washing service ended abruptly one day three months later when Kṛtakarmā pulled me aside for a talk. “Listen, Bhakta William,” he said, “pot washing is great, but how would you like to try a service that is especially pleasing to Śrīla Prabhupāda, a service that will put you in closer touch with him?” I said I was interested. In anticipation of his suggestion I felt as if I were about to hear the amount of the payout after winning a state lottery. Delighted by my response, Kṛtakarmā said, “Śrīla Prabhupāda has asked that we distribute his books. If you go out and try, not only will you quickly attract his attention, you’ll also be following in his footsteps and those of the previous teachers in our line. You can start tomorrow.” Without asking for details I agreed, and I spent the rest of that day and night wondering what book distribution would be like.
The Best Job in the Universe
The next day after breakfast, a jovial Kṛtakarmā handed me a canvas bag full of Back to Godhead magazines, a collection can, and a fistful of incense sticks. He then introduced me to my tutor, Bhakta Roberto – a happy-go-lucky devotee who spoke fluent Spanish but only a few words of English – and ushered us out the front door of our cozy temple.
Roberto led me on a fifteen-minute walk north on Valencia Street, through the seedy Mission District, and into the clamorous downtown business district at Market and Powell, bustling with cable cars, tourists, and shoppers. Standing outside a Woolworth’s department store, Bhakta Roberto began his work. Wearing a permanent smile, he approached passersby and methodically offered each a stick of incense. When someone took one, Roberto would hold out his collection can and say in his Latino accent, “Please, to give a donation for the temple.” Whenever a charitable person dug into his or her pocket, extracted some change, and dropped it in the collection can, Roberto quickly handed the donor a BTG and then said thank you and a cheerful “Hare Kṛṣṇa!”
After watching for a while, I got the idea. Roberto taught me to fix my mind on how we were helping people to start their journey back to Godhead. He told me that anyone who gave even a penny would get permanent spiritual benefit. Roberto’s mood of doing good for others had been passed down to him through the devotees who had learned it from Śrīla Prabhupāda, who had imbibed it from his own spiritual master. In fact, all the Vaiṣṇavas in the line of devotion are famous for their mood of generosity. Rāmānujācārya, for example, in order to give mercy, is known to have publicly distributed his confidential initiation mantra, even though his guru told him that if he did so, he would have to see hell. Śukadeva Gosvāmī, even though completely self-satisfied, spoke the Bhāgavatam out of his compassion for others. And Nityānanda Prabhu and His associates, the most intimate servants of Lord Caitanya, went door to door throughout Bengal to distribute Lord Caitanya’s teachings.
Bhakta Roberto worked with the same big-hearted mood. He would nod at me after someone had taken a magazine and say, “Kṛṣṇa’s mercy!” I liked Roberto’s happy, openhearted mood. As we became comrades on that windy street, I thought back to only a few months before when indirectly a devotee had done me the same favor by distributing a Back to Godhead to my friend, Richie. Now I was on the giving end, with an opportunity to pass the favor on to someone else.
To onlookers at Market and Powell, my newly assumed service might have looked trivial, even lowly. Certainly my approach was awkward at first; in fact, on that first day, a thirty-year-old tie-wearing man said to me, “Why don’t you get a job?” I immediately thought, “I have the best job in the universe – following in the footsteps of my spiritual master and all the great bhakti masters before him.”
When we got back to the temple in the evening of that first day, Kṛtakarmā and a few other devotees greeted us enthusiastically at the front door. With his hand on my shoulder, Kṛtakarmā asked me how I liked my new service. From his question I could understand that I had been given a promotion.
About advancing in devotional life Śrīla Prabhupāda writes that advancement in spiritual life is exactly like advancement in service in a government office. “If the supervisor of the department is satisfied with the service of a particular person, a promotion and increase in pay will automatically come.”
As the Ganges River descends from the spiritual world, passing through the different planets of the universe to sanctify whomever touches her waters, pure devotional service descends through generations of Kṛṣṇa’s unalloyed devotees to cleanse the hearts of whomever it touches. Anuttama Dāsa, one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s distinguished disciples and ISKCON’s International Director of Communications, wrote in his 1986 Vyāsa-pūjā offering:
To serve you by becoming a dedicated preacher and servant of your mission is actually the most intimate service to you, Śrīla Prabhupāda. And it is available to all your disciples, granddisciples, and all future generations. It is available to me, and it will always be available to me. This is how I will realize your smile, your chastisements, your gentleness, guidance, and love. This is how we all can come to know you and feel you with us most intimately at every moment.
The realization that distributing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books was to be my lifetime service came to me incidentally in 1975 aboard a flight en route to the annual Māyāpur festival. A flight attendant handed me the disembarkation card I needed to fill out in order to clear immigration in India. On the card was a box that asked me to state my occupation. Since my only occupation was distributing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, I thought of the word “messenger.”
As I looked out the plane window I thought, “Who can argue with that? After all, everyone is some kind of messenger.” Some are professional messengers, like the bicycle couriers who tear through New York City traffic to deliver time-sensitive letters to corporate managers. Others, like US postal carriers, earn a living by lugging and delivering mail. Professional or not, everyone is busy dispatching some kind of message. Politicians, poets, and parrots – all have a message to deliver. Kṛṣṇa Himself acted as a messenger for the Pāṇḍavas when he pleaded for peace at the Kuru court.
Looking down again at the immigration form, I was struck anew by my assumed title “messenger.” I was truly fortunate to be a messenger for my spiritual master, the great general in Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana movement. My fate could have had me carrying messages for the government or for a corporation run for ill-motivated profit. Instead, it seemed, officially and by the special mercy of a pure Vaiṣṇava, I was an authorized agent carrying Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Bhagavad-gītā, and Caitanya-caritāmṛta, each enhanced with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s divine purports and adorned with stunning paintings that opened a window to the spiritual world.
Saved By Service
Now decades have passed since Bhakta Roberto took me to Market and Powell, and I can see how it was my tight grip on the rope of distributing books that has pulled me past the many dangerous whirlpools that might otherwise have drowned me. In maintaining my vow of celibacy during my passionate youth, meeting my responsibilities in my married and business life, facing the death of my parents, making the inevitable hard decisions that come in life, my service was my savior. As my beloved friend Sura Dāsa once told me, “Vaish, your sevā will save ya.” He was right. And I pray that my grip may remain tightly around this rope of distributing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books as I enter the last phase of my life.
This service is open to all! Anyone from any social stratum may voluntarily accept this service and become a messenger for Kṛṣṇa, thus rising to the exalted status of ambassador of goodwill. Śrīla Prabhupāda gives a practical example of how this happens in a letter to Uttamaśloka Dāsa dated December 11, 1975: “The saṅkīrtana devotees are very, very dear to Kṛṣṇa. Because [they] are doing the fieldwork of book distribution, Kṛṣṇa has immediately recognized them as true servants. Just like during wartime a farm boy or ordinary clerk who goes to fight for his country on the front immediately becomes a national hero for his sincere effort. So Kṛṣṇa immediately recognizes a preacher of Kṛṣṇa consciousness who takes all risks to deliver His message.” About those who deliver His message, Kṛṣṇa says in the Gītā (18.69), “There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.”
Millions of so-called good causes abound in this world, but according to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, only one cause is truly great: delivering Kṛṣṇa’s message to the forgetful conditioned souls suffering from ignorance of their true selves.
Anyone who feels thrilled upon hearing Kṛṣṇa’s statement in the Gītā, or Mahāprabhu’s order to deliver the Gītā’s message, and who takes up that order, becomes a fortunate soul and the noblest of messengers; such a person becomes an ambassador of goodwill, tastes the sweetness of giving others the greatest gift, and feels the protection of Kṛṣṇa’s internal energy.
“Higher-Class Propaganda Work”
Distributing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s transcendental books, canvassing for Kṛṣṇa, going door to door to deliver kṛṣṇa-kathā, inviting people to chant the holy names – all these methods are authorized, practical, and standard ways to give Kṛṣṇa and His message to others. The exemplars in our spiritual line are particularly fond of these methods, and they bless anyone who engages in such devotional service. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī verifies this truth:
We do not belittle the importance of the pāñcarātrīka process [the rules and rituals of Deity worship], of having representatives in theistic institutions, or establishing temples with Deities, yet we are of the opinion that the duty of the better or higher class is propaganda work. Mahāprabhu’s mano-’bhīṣṭa [heart’s desire] is that Vaikuṇṭha-nāma be proclaimed everywhere, and to that end many pamphlets need be printed.
Fully absorbed in the mood of his guru even before coming to America, Śrīla Prabhupāda sat in his room at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple in Vṛndāvana and wrote:
Just preach the Lord’s message to the fallen souls,
going continuously from door to door
By the grace of that preaching
your life will become truly successful
After arriving in the West and launching his campaign on American shores, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote this to Madhudviṣa Dāsa on March 26, 1970: “You are trying for the new temple, but our main business is saṅkīrtana and distribution of literature. If Kṛṣṇa gives us a better place, that is all right. Otherwise, we can remain at any place never mind hell or heaven; but we shall be only very cautious about propagating our saṅkīrtana movement.”
Those who risk their lives to distribute transcendental knowledge through books, magazines, and other media get unusually high spiritual returns. The motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said: “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” One need not hesitate to distribute transcendental books on the mandate of Mahāprabhu and His followers, for anyone who takes up this mission to any extent will be empowered to do so by the Lord’s internal energy – an empowerment that resides eternally in Mahāprabhu’s fully potent order. Such a fortunate soul becomes recognized as a true ambassador of goodwill.