In 1965, the way was finally cleared for Srila Prabhupada to embark on his historic journey to the West. When the ship docked at Boston harbour on September 17, 1965, Srila Prabhupada wrote,
“My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me. . . . How will I make the Westerners understand the 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.”
Srila Prabhupada arrived in America during a decade of discontent. There was widespread dissatisfaction in the political climate and disillusioned by the establishment, the youth created a counter-culture of their own. Around that time Srila Prabhupada arrived and soon the word spread among young seekers of spiritual truth that an Indian Swami had come with a special spiritual yoga method, the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra.
Srila Prabhupada later wrote to his disciple about his initial days in New York, “All right, I shall stay little longer, at least I can distribute a few of my books, that is something. But Krishna was all along preparing something I could not see, and He brought you to me one by one, sincere American boys and girls, to be trained-up for doing the work of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Now I can see that it is a miracle. Otherwise, your city of New York, one single old man, with only a few books to sell for barely getting eatables, how he can survive, what to speak of introducing God-consciousness movement for saving the humankind? That is Krishna’s miracle. Now I can see it.” (Letter to: Sudama — Bombay 23 December, 1972)
Srila Prabhupada brought the Hare Krishna movement into the public eye, by chanting in the parks, by distributing Back to Godhead magazine, by holding free Sunday love feasts which attracted many Americans. For him these were the happy days that were filled with singing and speaking with the vigour of a young man. His hopes for the future expanded without limit and the Hare Krishna movement took root.
As people came to him convinced of the Krishna conscious philosophy, Srila Prabhupada accepted them for initiation not on the basis of birth, as is 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. It is a transcendental culture that can end man’s political, economic and social problems. To realise his vision Srila Prabhupada circled the globe 14 times in 12 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-centred, 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 which Prabhupada referred to as "New Vrindavan" following 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.”
Prabhupada instructed – “No one should go hungry within a ten mile radius of the temple.“ Following which in March 1972, devotees started the ISKCON food relief programme, distributing prasadam, vegetarian food offered to Lord Krishna. His ambition was 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.
Srila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution with regards spreading Krishna consciousness is his books. Highly respected by the academic community for their authority, depth, and clarity, they serve as standard textbooks in numerous college courses. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, that was established in 1972 to publish his works, has become the world’s largest publisher in the field of Indian religion and philosophy. Srila Prabhupada’s books, and his movement, promise to occupy a significant place in the world’s intellectual, cultural, and spiritual life for a long time to come. For Srila Prabhupada, the transcendental knowledge in these books forms the basis of the Hare Krishna movement – a movement prophesised to grow for the next 10,000 years.
500 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. Srila Prabhupada saw his society grow into a world-wide confederation with more than 100 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 is still celebrating the Ratha-yatra festival, but now on the main streets of 20 large cities around the world.
Srila Prabhupada’s accomplishment didn’t know any boundaries. It is clear that Srila Prabhupada was not an ordinary devotee of God, or even an ordinary guru; rather, he was a great saint empowered by the Lord to teach the people of the world the science of Krishna consciousness.