A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Sanskrit: अभयचरणारविन्द भक्तिवेदान्त स्वामीप्रभुपाद, abhaya-caraṇāravinda bhakti-vedānta svāmī prabhupāda, Bengali: অভয়চরণারবিন্দ ভক্তিবেদান্ত স্বামীপ্রভুপাদ (September 1, 1896 – November 14, 1977) was a Gaudiya Vaishnava teacher and the founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, commonly known as the “Hare Krishna Movement”. His mission was to propagate the Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a form of Hinduism that had been taught to him by his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, throughout the world. Born Abhay Charan De in Calcutta, he was educated at the prestigious local Scottish Church College. Before adopting the life of a pious renunciant (vanaprastha) in 1950, he was married with Radharani(a Bengali lady) and owned a small pharmaceutical business. In 1959 he took a vow of renunciation (sannyasa) and started writing commentaries on Vaishnava scriptures.

In his later years, as a traveling Vaishnava monk, he became an influential communicator of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology to India and specifically to the West through his leadership of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), founded in 1966. As the founder of ISKCON, he “emerged as a major figure of the Western counterculture, initiating thousands of young Americans.” Despite attacks from anti-cult groups, he received a favorable welcome from many religious scholars, such as J. Stillson Judah, Harvey Cox, Larry Shinn and Thomas Hopkins, who praised Prabhupada’s translations and defended the group against distorted media images and misinterpretations. In respect to his achievements, religious leaders from other Gaudiya Vaishnava movements have also given him credit.

He has been described as a charismatic leader, in the sense used by the sociologist Max Weber, as he was successful in acquiring followers in the United States, Europe, India and elsewhere. After his death in 1977, ISKCON, the society he founded based on a type of Hindu Krishnaism using the Bhagavata Purana as a central scripture, continued to grow and is respected in India, though there have been squabbles about leadership among his followers.

Prabhupada is sometimes criticized by Neo-Vedantic relativistic philosophers, mainly due to uncompromising and ‘unkind remarks’ against non-Vaishnava systems, particularly ‘the mayavadis’. This may be taken in the perspective of general underlying hostility of Neo-Vedantists towards fundamental truth of bhakti, devotion, and orthodox Vedanta system presented by Prabhupada being in conflict with heterodox views of mayavadis.

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