In the western Vaiṣṇava community it is often assumed that the title ‘Prabhupāda’ only refers to Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda. There are however many Vaiṣṇavas in the West and in other places in the world who are disciples of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura or who are the disciples of the disciples of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Gosvāmī and for them the title Prabhupāda refers to Sarasvatī Ṭhākura.
Prabhupāda is not a title applicable only to Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda or even to only Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Prabhupāda. Nor is the title Prabhupāda simply a nondescript or generic term applicable to any and all spiritual masters. Since the title Prabhupāda has been accepted by so few bona-fide Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ācāryas it must indeed indicate a title for a spiritual master of exceptional status and transcendental qualifications.
If we examine the etymological and the ontological meaning of the title Prabhupāda we will ultimately come to the conclusion that the title Prabhupāda indicates one who represents the deepest flow of the Gauḍīya sampradāya in terms of rāgānugā-bhakti and rūpānugā-bhajana, the most dignified conception of service to Godhead in spontaneous divine love.
In the classical Gauḍīya sampradāya there were only a few personalities to have been recognized with the title Prabhupāda such as; Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda, Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhupāda, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhupāda, Śrī Prabhupāda Advaita Ācārya, Śrī Prabhupāda Nityānanda Avadhūta and Śrī Prabhupāda Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu. The later being the original Prabhupāda.
kāśī-miśra kahe, āmi baḍa bhāgyavān
mora gṛhe ‘prabhu-pādera’ habe avasthāna
“When Kāśī Miśra heard the proposal, he said, ‘I am very fortunate that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the Lord of all prabhus, will stay at my home.”(Cc. Madhya 10. 23)
Regarding this verse Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī comments:
“Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and all His servants address Him as Prabhupāda. This means that there are many prabhus taking shelter under His lotus feet.”
It is clear from the above verse and statement of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta that Mahāprabhu was also known as Prabhupāda. There were many masters, Gosvāmīs, (controllers of the senses) such as Rāya Rāmānanda, Svarūpa Dāmodara, Govinda Dāsa, Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya, Rūpa Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, Raghunātha Dāsa and many others who took shelter at the Lord’s lotus feet.
Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda has commented in his purport to the above verse as follows-
“The pure Vaiṣṇava is addressed as prabhu, and this address is an etiquette observed between Vaiṣṇavas. When many prabhus remain under the shelter of the lotus feet of another prabhu, the address Prabhupāda is given. Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu and Śrī Advaita Prabhu are also addressed as Prabhupāda. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Śrī Advaita Prabhu and Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu are all viṣṇu-tattva, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Viṣṇu. Therefore, all living entities are under Their lotus feet. Lord Viṣṇu is the eternal Lord of everyone, and the representative of Lord Viṣṇu is the Lord’s confidential servant. Such a person acts as the spiritual master for neophyte Vaiṣṇavas; therefore the spiritual master is as respectable as Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya or Lord Viṣṇu Himself. For this reason the spiritual master is addressed as Oṁ Viṣṇupāda or Prabhupāda. The ācārya, the spiritual master, is generally respected by others as Śrīpāda, and the initiated Vaiṣṇavas are addressed as Prabhu. Prabhu, Prabhupāda and Viṣṇupāda are described in revealed scriptures like Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Caitanya-caritāmṛta and Caitanya-bhāgavata. In this regard, these scriptures present evidence accepted by unalloyed devotees.”
One can say that all personalities in the viṣṇu-tattva can be addressed as Prabhupāda due to Their being the shelter of all living beings. Yet in regard to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhupāda and those personalities who have held the title Prabhupāda since that time, we note in them a special characteristic, they understood the confidential heart of Mahāprabhu.
When Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was living at Purī, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī composed a verse and after writing it on a palm leaf, he went to bathe in the ocean. At that time Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu visited the residence of Rūpa Gosvāmī and saw the verse written on the leaf:
priyaḥ so ‘yaṁ kṛṣṇaḥ sahacari kuru-kṣetra-militas
tathāhaṁ sā rādhā tad idam ubhayoḥ saṅgama-sukham
mano me kālindī-pulina-vipināya spṛhayati
“My dear friend, now I have met My very old and dear friend Kṛṣṇa on this field of Kurukṣetra. I am the same Rādhārāṇī and now We are meeting together. It is very pleasant, but I would still like to go to the bank of the Yamunā beneath the trees of the forest there. I wish to hear the vibration of His sweet flute playing the fifth note within the forest of Vṛndāvana.” (Cc. Antya 1. 79)
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu read this verse and was overwhelmed by ecstatic love. When Rūpa Gosvāmī returned, Mahāprabhu slapped him mildly and said, “My heart is very confidential. How did you know My mind in this way?” After saying this Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu firmly embraced Rūpa Gosvāmī.
Mahāprabhu then inquired from Svarūpa Dāmodara, “How could Rūpa have understood My heart?” Svarūpa Dāmodara replied, “I can understand that You have already bestowed Your causeless mercy upon him, otherwise it would not be possible for Rūpa to have understood Your mind.” Thereupon, Mahāprabhu was very pleased and requested Svarūpa Dāmodara to kindly give further instruction to Rūpa Gosvāmī in the matter of transcendental mellows, rasa-tattva.
After sometime, Mahāprabhu again visited Rūpa Gosvāmī accompanied by Svarūpa Dāmodara, Rāmānanda Rāya and others. Mahāprabhu requested Rūpa Gosvāmī to read a number of the verses that he had composed. Being very humble and shy by nature Rūpa Gosvāmī remained silent. Svarūpa Dāmodara then read the previous verse compiled by Rūpa which was so much liked by Mahāprabhu and also the verse:
tuṇḍe taṇḍavinī ratiṁ vitanute tuṇḍāvalī-labdhaye
karṇa-kroḍa-kaḍambinī ghaṭayate karṇārbudebhyaḥ spṛhām
cetaḥ-prāṅgana-saṅginī vijayate sarvendrīyāṇāṁ kṛtiṁ
no jāne janitā kiyadbhir amṛtaiḥ kṛṣṇeti varṇa-dvayī
“I do not know how much nectar the two syllables ‘kṛṣ-ṇa’ have produced. When the Holy Name of Kṛṣṇa is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that Name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the Holy Name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert.” (Cc. Antya 1. 99)
Hearing these verses compiled by Rūpa Gosvāmī all the Vaiṣṇavas became jubilant. Rāmānanda Rāya especially showed interest in what Rūpa Gosvāmī had written. Being very pleased with him, Rāmānanda Rāya began to praise the qualities of Rūpa Gosvāmī as if He had a thousand mouths. Rāmānanda Rāya said, “This is not a poetic presentation; it is a continuous shower of nectar. Indeed, it is the essence of all ultimate realizations. The wonderful descriptions of Rūpa Gosvāmī are superb arrangements to express transcendental loving affairs of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Hearing these verses will plunge the heart and ears of everyone into a whirlpool of supreme transcendental bliss.”
The significance of the praises of Rūpa Gosvāmī offered by Svarūpa Dāmodara and Rāmānanda Rāya are considerably more meaningful when we take into account the identity of these personalities in the ontological hierarchy of the spiritual world. According to Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, the author of Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Rāmānanda Rāya was the gopī in kṛṣṇa-līlā named Viśākhā and Svarūpa Dāmodara was the gopī named Lalitā-sakhī. Both Lalitā and Viśākhā are eternally the very intimate associates of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Lalitā and Viśākhā are considered the personal expansions of the serving mood of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, thus they are the two chief assistants in the mādhurya love affairs between Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.
Directly serving under Lalitā-sakhī in the mādhurya-rasa are the mañjarīs, the younger cowherd girls. This mañjarī group of servitors mainly consists of new recruits to the mādhurya-rasa and due to their young age they have been given the most sacred type of pure service to Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Our ācāryas have recommended that we should conceive of the mañjarī class most respectfully and attentively.
When Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are in secrecy, in a private place, the older sakhīs do not like to approach the Divine Couple at that time for fear of causing a slight disturbance. Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa may feel some shyness in the presence of the older sakhīs at that time. But the younger gopīs, the mañjarīs, can enter there without disturbing the free mixing of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. This mañjarī group of servitors in the mādhurya-rasa is headed by the gopī named Rūpa Mañjarī. To perform their service, the mañjarīs, headed by Rūpa Mañjarī, sometimes go to that place where Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are intimately engaged in divine love dalliances. Such a high and intimate scope of service is available to no other group of servitors than that of the mañjarīs. Rūpa Mañjarī who leads this mañjarī group has appeared in Gaura-līlā as Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī and Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has given him the supreme position as head of the Gauḍīya sampradāya (rūpānugā sampradāya).
Our śīkṣā-guru, Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja, used to say, “The camp, the sampradāya of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, is known as the rūpānugā-sampradāya. There, our fate and our fortune is located. Now we have to conduct ourselves in such a way that naturally we can connect with that highest, purest spiritual conception, from here. We must not allow ourselves to be satisfied with anything less than this highest ideal. That should be the highest goal of our life.”
So, the real meaning of rūpānugā-bhajana is nothing less than that; the highest ideal of the highest spiritual conception. Following in the footsteps of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī; ever desiring his mercy; falling prostrate at his lotus feet and praying again and again and again to be accepted as a speck of dust at his lotus feet, to be enlisted in his group of servitors. That is rūpānugā-bhajana. That is what it means to be a follower of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. That is what it means to hold the title Prabhupāda.
This conception has been expressed most perfectly in a song by Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura called ‘Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī-pada’. This song is the topmost bhajana sung by the followers of the rūpānugā line.
śrī-rūpa-mañjarī-pada, sei mora sampada
sei mor bhajana-pūjana
sei mora prāṇa-dhana, sei mora ābharaṇa,
sei mor jīvanera jīvana
sei mora rasa-nidhi, sei mora vāñchā-siddhi,
sei mor vedera dharama
sei brata, sei tapa, sei mora mantra-japa,
sei mor dharama karama
anukūla habe vidhi, se-pade hoibe siddhi,
nirakhibo e dui nayane
se rūpa-mādhurī-rāśī, prāṇa-kuvalaya-śaśī,
praphullita habe niśi-dine
tuwā adarśana-ahi, garale jāralo dehī,
ciro-dina tāpita jīvana
hā hā rūpa koro doyā, deho more pada-chāyā,
narottama loilo śaraṇa
“The feet of Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī (Rūpa Gosvāmī’s eternal form as a gopī of Vraja) are my real wealth. They are the object of my bhajana and pūjā. They are the treasure of my heart, and they are my ornaments and the life of my life.
They are the reservoirs of all rasa for me and the fulfillment of all my desires. They are the conclusion of the religion of the Vedas for me and are the goal of all my vows, austerities, and the chanting of my mantra. They are the purpose of all my religious activities.
By the power of those feet my activities will become favorable to devotion, spiritual perfection will be achieved, and with these two eyes I will be able to actually see. The exquisite beauty of Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī’s divine feet will shine like the brilliant moon upon the lotus of my heart both day and night, thus giving relief to my afflicted soul.
By the venom of the snake of separation from you, my soul has wasted away and my life is ever afflicted and distressed. O Rūpa Mañjarī, please be merciful and give me the shade of your lotus feet. Narottama Dāsa has taken refuge.”
The conclusion is that, although etymologically Prabhupāda means a spiritual master at who’s feet many qualified personalities have taken shelter —it must be that the ontological meaning of Prabhupāda is one who knows the heart of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, one who knows how to extract the internal moods of devotional service, unnatojjvala-rasa, from the lotus feet of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu just as a bumble bee extracts nectar from the lotus flower.
Additionally, without being a follower and obedient servant of the internal flow of devotional service, unnatojjvala-rasa, enunciated by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī one cannot be a true follower of Prabhupāda.
All aspiring candidates for devotional service (our humble self included) should try to enter into the deep and mysterious meanings of kṛṣṇānuśilanam, bhaktir-uttama in the line of Rūpa Gosvāmī. That is the real essence of the teaching of Prabhupāda Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.