Excerpts from Srila Prabhupada – The Founder-Acarya of ISKCON, by His Grace Ravindra Svarupa Das.
The Importance of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium
We have been describing in chronological sequence the critical steps or stages by which ISKCON took form under Srila Prabhupada’s supervision:
1. The founding of an institution under the name “International Society for Krishna Consciousness.”
2. The recognition of that founder with the title “Prabhupada.”
Three more essential elements yet remained to be manifest in the morphology of ISKCON. All of them were finally in place by early 1971. They are:
3. The further recognition of Prabhupada with the title “Founder-acarya.”
4. The establishment of the Governing Body Commission.
5. The acquisition of land in Sradhama Mayapura for ISKCON’s “world headquarters,” and ceremoniously establishing there the foundation of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium.
With that, all the core elements of ISKCON will have been set in place by its Founder-acarya.
The final stage in Srila Prabhupada’s installation of the essential components in ISKCON’s spiritual morphology was also initiated around this time. After great difficulty and many setbacks, mainly occasioned by passive and active opposition of godbrothers, Srila Prabhupada was able to purchase land in Mayapura for ISKCON, and he quickly revealed his plans for a monumental temple there. By performing the ceremony for establishing the temple’s foundation, Srila Prabhupada committed himself to the completion of the structure. As it turned out, the foundationlaying itself was delayed until Gaura Purnima of 1972, and in the ensuing years many more vicissitudes sent ISKCON leaders repeatedly back to the drawing board. Yet Srila Prabhupada’s own commitment, established in 1972 as if a vow, has proved to contain a potency that has driven the concerted effort over, under, around and through all impediments, and the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium rises on the alluvial soil of Antardvipa. Srila Prabhupada gave high priority to acquiring land in Mayapura for ISKCON’s “world headquarters” and constructing on it an extraordinary temple. Gradually, Srila Prabhupada’s leaders began to grasp its importance for him.
During his visit to Calcutta [November, 1971], Prabhupada had also spoken of his plans for Mayapur. Nara-Narayana had built a scale model of the building ISKCON would construct on the newly acquired property, and Prabhupada had shown it to all his guests and had asked them to help. Seeing Prabhupada’s absorption in this project, Giriraja had volunteered to help in any way required. “It seems the two things you want most,” Giriraja had said, “are for the books to be distributed and to build a temple at Mayapur.”
“Yes,” Prabhupada had said, smiling. “Yes, thank you.”
We gain a deeper grasp of Srila Prabhupada’s priority when we understand this temple in light of the Gaudiya Vaisnava ecclesiology that lay, as we have seen, at the foundation of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s institution. We have already noted that Srila Prabhupada constructed ISKCON on the basis of that same ecclesiology. In the Gaudiya Matha institution, the Sri Caitanya Matha in Mayapura is the central or “parent” temple and all others are its branches: “The distinction between the Gaudiya Math [in Calcutta] and Sri Chaitanya Math is all analogous to that between one lamp lighted by another,” The Harmonist article explains (with an allusion to Brahmasamhita 5.46). The central temple, being located in Mayapura, the descended spiritual realm (Svetadvipa), is really the visible mundane complement or counterpart of its transcendentally located original, where the Lord and the acarya dwell eternally together. The diverse branches are places for training aspirants for service in the place of the acarya in the transcendent Mayapura. The central or parent temple of the institution, being thus located on the border, as it were, between two realms, serves as a kind of gateway. Its associated branches, though dispersed further throughout the mundane realm, by virtue of their links with the center also function in themselves as gateways.
The ISKCON Temple of the Vedic Planetarium presents the same teaching portrayed by the Sri Caitanya Maṭha in a more detailed and more comprehensive manner. On a cosmological scale, it maps, models, and illustrates the realized truth of acintyabhedabheda-tattva: that nothing is different from Krsna, yet Krsna is different from everything. Within the main dome of the temple we see the cosmos displayed as it discloses itself to those who experience it with unoccluded perception: as pervaded by and connected to Krsna as the Lord’s own potencies. The temple thus counters the two kinds of widespread false perception, both of which separate Krsna from His energies. One is the way of monism or impersonalism (nirvisesa-vada), which denies the reality of the divine energies and relegates both the personality of Godhead and the creation to illusion. The other is the way of materialism or nihilism (sunya-vada), which recognizes only the energies, which have no origin or foundation. Displaying the connections between the Lord and the creation, the temple can provide a kind of map of the pathway to divinity (together with the various way stations, detours, and diversions). Set into the inner wall of the dome, ascending concentric galleries offer the visitor a sequence of artistically rendered representations of the regions encountered on the cosmic journey by Gopa-kumara, passing through multiple material and spiritual realms to Sri Krsna in Vrndavana, as depicted by Sanatana Gosvami in Brhad Bhagavatamrta. The temple thus previews the ultimate ascent that draws all sentient life onward.
It is the last of the five steps by Srila Prabhupada, all accomplished by 1972, that puts all core components of ISKCON in place. The temple completes the whole spiritual structure of the visible ISKCON. The centers and temples scattered throughout the world are joined together in a network that converges on the center at Sridhama Mayapura. Like the widely spread roots of a tree that draw water to the central trunk, Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON brings conditioned souls to Mayapura, where the central temple opens a gateway to the vertical dimension, that, like a tree-trunk, soars upward to branch out luxuriantly in the spiritual sky.
This is the work of a Founder-Acarya. A Founder-Acarya opens an avenue that leads through the cosmos and crosses over into transcendence. Having laid out the illustrious path—from the beginning root tip to ending leaf tip—the Founder-Acarya makes provision for its regular maintenance and for the trained guides who will direct, protect, and encourage those who traverse it. He continuously oversees its functioning as long as there are those who act under his direction. In a sense, this lane to the land of the living is identical with its own craftsman. Naming his construction ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada engineered it so that this entirely spiritual artifact should be manifest not only to the wise (who recognize what they see), but even to the foolish (who cannot). Especially for them, he assembled a vast array of visible entrances to the path, spread in a network covering the world. All converge on the center in Antardvipa, where the map of the luminous path—in cosmological cartography—is marvelously displayed, and each step of the journey into transcendence finely depicted. Thus the temple discloses itself as a cosmic portal or gateway leading through the heavens and into the eternal realms of Krsna.
Our Founder-Acarya marked the beginning of his project with his first book, Easy Journey to Other Planets, and he continued his effort through the writing, printing and distributing of books and the simultaneous construction of a worldwide institution. His handiwork continues and now is at last crowned with its consolidating apex, the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, which unifies both Bhagavatam and Bhagavata, book and person. It marks the core and center of the Founder-Acarya’s creation, and it indicates the location of the true world-axis at sacred Sridhama Mayapura, the descended spiritual realm.