A brand new single-volume biography of ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada, created to be marketed and accessible to the general public, was launched in New York City on May 19th.
The book, “Swami in a Strange Land: How Krishna Came to the West,” comes from publisher Mandala and author Joshua M. Greene (Yogesvara Das), a Prabhupada disciple, scholar and author of many books including George Harrison biography “Here Comes the Sun.”
It’s a lively, evocative telling of Prabhupada’s extraordinary life and the sacrifices he made to bring his spiritual message to humanity, illustrated with beautiful images of Prabhupada and his movement. Sure to appeal to devotees as well, it has been officially championed by the ISKCON 50th anniversary committee.
Its launch took place at the renowned Jivamukti Yoga School on Broadway, whose co-founder Sharon Gannon has a deep appreciation for Bhakti-yoga.
The School has also been home to Yogesvara’s Gita Wisdom classes for the past decade, in which he uses Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
“Because Prabhupada didn’t teach physical yoga, he isn’t usually included amongst famous yoga teachers,” Yogesvara says. “But more recently, people are starting to understand that the postures are not yoga – they’re the doorway to the yoga practice. And what yoga does is prepare us for the experience of opening our hearts – to a relationship with Krishna, with divinity. That’s a message Prabhupada clearly wanted people to understand, through his books like ‘The Perfection of Yoga.’ So having the book launch at Jivamukti was very natural.”
The cover of Swami in a Strange Land
The Swami in a Strange Land launch began with an invitation-only dinner at 6:30pm in the Jivamukti Café. About forty-five people attended, including Jivamukti founders Sharon Gannon and David Life, and Yogesvara’s family. Mostly, however, the audience was comprised of regulars from his Gita Wisdom classes, which Yogesvara says are a very close-knit group who share deeply from their minds and hearts.
Yogesvara’s presentation after the dinner at 8pm was a Powerpoint presenting Srila Prabhupada as the embodiment of “The Hero Journey” – a talk he has given already at several ISKCON temples.
It draws from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell, who traveled the world studying the great myths and legends of many cultures, and found that all followed a similar template: The hero leaves ordinary life, and embarks on a road of adventure, where he encounters trials. If he’s able to overcome this great adversity, there’s an opportunity to achieve treasure, and then give that treasure back to society.
The parallels with Srila Prabhupada’s life are obvious. “He had to go through the trials of family who did not share his convictions; a failing business; extreme poverty; derision; every imagineable setback,” Yogesvara says. “Then he made that journey on the Jaladuta steamship, suffering two heart attacks, to cross the threshold into a new and strange world, where he shared his treasure of spiritual knowledge.”
One of the aims of Yogesvara’s presentation, and the book, was to explain that the Hero Journey is not just reserved for the great names of history, but is for every one of us. As Joseph Campbell put it in a 1980s TV interview, all of our lives’ are a series of decisions, and how we choose affects the world around us. So Yogesvara invited his audience to take Prabhupada’s story as a call to action.
“Prabhupada’s story is not just some detached third party account of someone else’s life,” he says. “We’re all involved. Prabhupada made sacrifices so that we could understand what a real guru is; what the real journey is; and what the rewards of that journey can be.”
The author with Srila Prabhupada
Another of Yogesvara’s aims in the presentation, and the book, was not just to present Srila Prabhupada as a Shaktyavesha Avatar, or empowered representative of God, but also to “humanize” him for people.
“I remember, from my own experiences with him, that we loved Prabhupada, because he was the warmest, most caring person we’d ever met in our lives,” he says. “So those of us who were privileged to know him in those early days have a responsibility to communicate that part of his nature to others.”
After the presentation, attendees purchased copies of Swami in a Strange Land and lined up to have them signed by Yogesvara. Some had read it already, and said that while they had heard of Prabhupada before, it really helped them to understand his message. Others said it cast a light on how yoga culture grew in America, and what the complementary spiritual flipside to the physical yoga practice was.
“Prabhupada filled in the pieces of the spiritual puzzle that other yoga teachers didn’t,” Yogesvara says. “He answered the questions: ‘If you perfect your yoga, if you dedicate yourself to a spiritual life, how is the world different for you? What happens? Where does it take you? What do you see that you’re not seeing now?’ And he was able to describe personal divinity in a way that people had never heard before. He was able to avoid all of those biases that people have against religion. And that’s his absolute brilliance.”
With Swami in a Strange Land now available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and in general bookstores, Yogesvara is continuing to promote it. The book is being released in Italian, Indian, and Russian editions, and Yogesvara will next talk about it during a keynote speech for ISKCON London’s main 50th anniversary event in July.
“It was such a highlight for me that the 50th anniversary committee saw fit to endorse the book as the official biography of Srila Prabhupada, for ISKCON’s 50th anniversary,” he says.
He’s glad to get this opportunity to do something big for Srila Prabhupada.
“Prabhupada deserves great attention, and we have to try to achieve that for him,” he concludes.biography ] [ joshua-m-greene ] [ new-york ] [ swami-in-a-strange-land ] [ yogeshvara ]