Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Abhoy Charonarobindo Bhoktibedanto Shwamy Probhupad; 1 September 1896 – 14 November 1977) was a Gaudiya Vaishnavism spiritual teacher (guru) and the founder preceptor (Acharya) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), commonly known as the "Hare Krishna Movement". Adherents of the ISKCON movement view Prabhupada as a divine avatar and messenger of Krishna.
Born Abhay Charan De in Calcutta, he was educated at the Scottish Church College in Calcutta. Before adopting the life of a pious renunciant (vanaprastha) in 1950, he was married with children 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 travelling Vaishnava monk, he became an influential communicator of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology to India and specifically to the West through his leadership of ISKCON, founded in 1966.
As the founder of ISKCON, he "emerged as a major figure of the Western counterculture, initiating thousands of young Americans." He received criticism from anti-cult groups, as well as a favourable welcome from religious scholars such as J. Stillson Judah, Harvey Cox, Larry Shinn and Thomas Hopkins, who praised Bhaktivedanta Swami'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 sociologist Max Weber, as he was successful in acquiring followers in the United States, Europe, India and elsewhere. His mission was to propagate, throughout the world, Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a school of Vaishnavite Hinduism that had been taught to him by his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. 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.
It is believed that Bhaktivedanta Swami's most significant contribution are his books. Within the final twelve years of his life Bhaktivedanta Swami translated over sixty volumes of classic Vedic scriptures (such as the Bhagavad Gita, Chaitanya Charitamritaand the Srimad Bhagavatam) into the English language. For their authority, depth, and clarity, his books have won praise from professors at colleges and universities like Harvard, Oxford, Cornell, Columbia, Syracuse, Oberlin, and Edinburgh, and his Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is was published by Macmillan Publishers, in 1968 and unabridged edition in 1972, and is now available in over sixty languages around the world and some other books by Bhaktivedanta Swami are available in over eighty different languages. In February 2014, ISKCON's news agency reported to have reached a milestone of distributing over half a billion books authored by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, since 1965.
The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust was established in 1972 to publish his works, and it has also published his multi-volume biography, Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, that according to Larry Shinn will "certainly be one of the most complete records of the life and work of any modern religious figure". Prabhupada reminded his devotees before his death that he would live forever in his books, and through them would remain present as a spiritual master or guru. Bhaktivedanta Swami had instilled in his followers an understanding of the importance of writing and publishing not only with regard to his works, but also their own initiatives. His early disciples felt Prabhupada had given them Back To Godhead for their own writings from the very start.
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