Dearest Srila Prabhupada,
On the occasion of celebrating your glorious appearance in this world, I offer my most humble obeisance and prayers at your lotus feet, with these words of reflection:
You have delivered to the world a venerable and ancient tradition of devotional dialogue, what I like to call “dialogical Vaisnavism.” Most of our sacred literature is in the form of dialogue, saṁvāda: Sages speak with kings throughout the Bhāgavatam, and the Lord himself speaks with his dear friend Arjuna the dialogue that comes to be known as Bhagavad-gītā. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu speaks with Rāmānanda Rāya, and more recently, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura fills his Vaiṣṇava narrative catechism, Jaiva Dharma, with dialogues. In the same tradition, you welcomed numerous guests into your quarters, engaging them in dialogue on spiritual topics.
I use the word “with” to better understand the richness of our tradition: Sages speak with kings, rather than to kings. We might want to say that you, in your room conversations, spoke to your guests, instructing them, not exactly dialoguing with them. But while you were surely instructing, you were also listening, having exchanges with your guests. And, in effect, you were engaging your guests in saṁkīrtana, community glorification of the supreme Lord, as spiritual dialogue. By such activities, you taught us, as you taught us so many truths, by example.
In his extended free verse poem Remembering Śrīla Prabhupāda (Book 3, p. 7), Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami wrote of “Hari Nama on Hippie Hill”:
On a walk through Golden Gate
they had shown him Hippie Hill
“Hold kirtan here,” said Swamiji.
And on a balmy Sunday
he sent them to the park
and joined them, eager to sing.
They had a flag for each religion:
the blue Star of David,
the Islam Star and Crescent,
the Vedic Omkara,
the Christian Cross.
And universal dharma poured forth as Hari Nama,
the trumpet, karatals, and kettle drum. …..
Such a spirit of universalism, of inclusiveness, has driven the samkirtan movement from its earliest beginnings in the nagara-kirtans of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his enthusiastic followers to the early times of your nascient congregation in New York and San Francisco. Everyone who took part in those occasions remember them fondly, at times wondering if present-day Vaiṣṇava culture, after your departure, has experienced a shift in its collective disposition. Doubtless much of our nostalgia is just that, a creeping sense that something like a child’s lost innocence has passed.
And yet in our enthusiasm to participate in this glorious spiritual movement, with your felt blessings we continue to extend ourselves outward as best we can to attract anyone and everyone to come closer to the Lord, especially through chanting His holy names. I like to think of those flags carrying symbols of the various religions in that early Hippie Hill kirtan. What can we do to foster more of such a spirit, one that is more “dialogical”?
Anticipating that some might think the chanting of the hare kṛṣṇa mantra is sectarian, you once countered, “But Lord Caitanya says, ‘It doesn’t matter. If you have some other bona fide name of God, you can chant that. But chant God’s name.’” You then went on to assure your audience, “Do not think this movement is trying to convert you from a Christian to a Hindu. Remain a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim. It doesn’t matter.” And then you invited everyone, “But if you really want to perfect your life, then try to develop your dormant love for God. That is the perfection of life.”
I pray to remember—and to serve you by doing what I can to help foster—the spirit of inclusiveness that you instilled in us by your example. Despite the rumors that atheism increases in popularity, millions of people are firm in their theistic convictions. As you said during one room conversation, we [theists of all sorts] “should make combined effort” to revive people’s God consciousness. In the spirit of dialogue that our Vaiṣṇava tradition holds dear, I pray that we, your followers, may properly represent you in all dialogical venues for the common good of the world and the glory of our disciplic succession.
Praying to remain always in your service,