In Chapter 13 of Prabhupāda Vijaya, 'Books are the Basis?' - The whimsical habit of many devotees who misquote Śrīla Prabhupāda and its potential to distort the philosophy is explained in depth here.
“Books are the basis, purity is the force
preaching is the essence and utility is the principle.”
How many times did Śrīla Prabhupāda make this statement? This is indeed an important slogan in any temple, āśrama, or household where a disciple or follower of Śrīla Prabhupāda resides. This saying has been quoted thousands of times in Bhāgavatam class by sannyāsīs, gurus and leading preachers as a ‘Prabhupāda said’. But His Divine Grace never said it!
If you have the Bhaktivedānta VedaBase then simply type in the above slogan and see for yourself. This slogan, which has become a principle by which to understand the desires of Śrīla Prabhupāda for Iskcon, actually never came from the lips of Śrīla Prabhupāda! So how is it that we have all come under this misunderstanding?
This saying comes from a Chinese scroll which was pointed out to Śrīla Prabhupāda by his disciples on February 25th, 1977. Remarkably Śrīla Prabhupāda did not even ditto the slogan at that time. Although the devotees present appreciated the slogan, we do not find that Śrīla Prabhupāda made any further mention of it, nor did he authorise it in any way to be spread throughout Iskcon. However, this saying was popularised through the BBT newsletter.
Thus, for the most part, many devotees are under the impression that this motto was personally uttered by Śrīla Prabhupāda many times and that he established it as a pillar of thought in his movement or even as ‘law’ for that matter – at least that is what we have been led to believe.
Ironically, if we analyse it, this motto is philosophically incorrect when we try to apply it to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Firstly, books are not the only basis. The basis that forms everything in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy is guru, sādhu and śāstra. It isn’t just śāstra (books) – it has to be all three.
hṛdaye kariyā aikya
“One must make the words of the sādhus, the scriptures and the guru one within the heart.” (Prema-bhakti-candrikā 1.10)
Preaching is not the essence of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Preaching is what we do to convert non-believers to Kṛṣṇa consciousness – so how can that be the essence of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava siddhānta? The essence is śraddhā (faith) and śaraṇāgati (surrender). First there is śraddhā, which eventually matures into śaraṇāgati. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja has explained that śraddhā is the halo of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and śaraṇāgati is the halo of Kṛṣṇa. Śraddhā reveals Śrī Kṛṣṇa, thus, the most essential requirement in devotional service is faith, Without faith we cannot make any progress, and without śaraṇāgati, there is no entrance into Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Purity is not the force. From the standpoint of purity, the gopīs were impure due to their transgressing the laws of society and śāstra (ārya-pathaṁ ca hitvā). Whether one is in a pure or impure condition is irrelevant.
apavitra pavitro vā sarvāvasthāṁ gato ‘pi vā
yaḥ smaret puṇḍarīkākṣaṁ sa bahyābhyantara śuciḥ
“Whether one is pure or impure, or having passed through all conditions of life, one who remembers the lotus-eyed Lord becomes externally and internally clean.” (Garuḍa Purāṇa)
dvaite bhadrābhadra-jñāna saba mano-dharma
ei bhāla, ei manda – ei saba bhrama
“In the world of duality, the conceptions of good and bad are all mental creations. ‘This is good’ or ‘This is bad’ – this is all illusory.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 4.176)
Utility is the principle – using everything in Kṛṣṇa’s service (yukta-vairāgya) is certainly a principle in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but it is not the principle. The main principle is to always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget Him:
smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇur vismartavyo na jātucit
sarve vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur etayor eva kiṅkarāḥ
“Viṣṇu (Kṛṣṇa) is always to be remembered, and He is never to be forgotten. All other rules and regulations should serve these two principles.” (Padma Purāṇa)
Thus this slogan, ‘books are the basis’ etc. may sound good to rally the troops to action, but where is the śāstrika pramāṇa for this statement? There is none. It does not hold up under scrutiny.