“The Supreme Personality of Godhead is pleased to guide a devotee from within and without. From within He guides him as the Supersoul, and from without He guides him as the spiritual master.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 8.79 Purport)
Vyasa Puja is the celebration of the appearance day of the spiritual master. Vyasadeva, also known as Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, is the literary incarnation of Lord Krishna. He is the author of almost every significant Vedic text, which includes the four Vedas, the Puranas, the Upanishads, and the Vedanta-sutra. One will be hard-pressed to find anyone who has authored more literature in their lifetime than Vyasadeva has. The bona fide guru, or spiritual master, is one who represents Vyasadeva and his teachings.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which is more commonly known as the Hare Krishna Movement. A bona fide spiritual master in the line descending from Vyasadeva, and notably Lord Chaitanya, he spread Krishna prema, love for God, throughout the world in a very short period of time starting in the late 1960s.
There has been a long held belief amongst many in India that the Vedas and their teachings are the sole property of Hindus, or more specifically, those born into the varnashrama dharma system. The Vedas prescribe society to be divided into four varnas, or classes, and one’s duration of life to be divided into four ashramas, or modes of life. The four varnas are brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra. According to the strict Vedic definition, everyone is born a shudra, meaning one who is untrained in any religious principles. This naturally makes sense since we are all born ignorant. One may be the son of a brahmana, kshatriya, or vaishya, but that doesn’t automatically mean they belong to the same caste or varna as their father. Rather, one has to be trained by a guru and given the sacred thread, which signifies the second and more important birth. However, over time the system in India degraded to a point where people started claiming to belong to a certain caste simply by birth. Investiture of the sacred thread was done more as a formality, for no one was taking any training from a guru. This practice is still going on, with many claiming to be brahmanas (priestly class) simply by birthright, though they engage in all sorts of sinful activity such as meat eating, gambling, and intoxication.
Those claiming brahminical status simply from birthright do so because they have some lineage to a famous rishi of the past, such as Kashyapa, Vashishta, Katyanana, Upamanyu, etc. These were all great brahmanas of the past, and one will find stories about them in the Purnanas, Ramayana, and other Vedic texts. While it is certainly very nice to have a family lineage that goes back that far, simply being born in a high family isn’t enough. One has to exhibit the qualities and work, guna and karma, to be classified as part of a certain caste.
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)
Lord Krishna declares that one’s caste should be determined by qualities (guna) that are inherent in them and by the work (karma) that they perform. In this manner, varnashrama dharma is actually open to anyone, provided they are trained by a bona fide spiritual master. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna Himself, was the first person to really spread Krishna prema to those born outside of the Hindu religion. This is the character of a true saint, for he believes that Krishna’s mercy should be made available to anyone and everyone, regardless of what family they were born into. By teaching others about Krishna, and urging them to become His devotees, one performs the highest service to his fellow man.
In 1965, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought Lord Chaitanya’s movement to America. His own spiritual master, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada, urged Shrila Prabhupada to translate the great Vedic texts into English and spread the message to the Western world. Shrila Prabhupada took this directive very seriously and his sincere efforts spawned a worldwide movement which continues to this very day. Krishna is now a household name known throughout the world.
Those born into Hindu families are very fortunate in that they know about Krishna from their very childhood. Almost every Hindu family has some sort of altar in their home, whereby they regularly perform arati at least twice a day. Though they might not offer everything they eat to the Lord, they make sure to offer Him some type of sweet at least twice a day, distributing the prasadam to their friends and family. Being a part of such family traditions, one naturally grows up to have a deep love and respect for Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Sita, Ganesha, and especially Hanuman. The stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are known to almost all Hindus, for in India there are many books and movies about them.
But what about those who aren’t born into such a family? Where does that leave them? Thanks to Shrila Prabhupada, millions of people around the world became acquainted with Vedic culture. He turned thousands of whites, blacks, men, women, Americans, Europeans, and others, whether they were Indian or not, into perfect brahmanas by requiring them to strictly adhere to the four regulative principles (no meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex) and to regularly chant the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Considering how engrained meat eating and intoxication are in the Western culture, such a feat was nothing short of a miracle.
Though no longer physically present in this world, Prabhupada continues to teach to this day through His many books and recorded lectures. On this occasion of Vyasa Puja, let us humbly offer our obeissances to a true jagad-guru. Shrila Prabhupada ki jai!.