Srila Prabhupada on the use of the address “Prabhu”
1. Even the Spiritual Master sees his disciples as “prabhu”
We are teaching our disciples to address amongst themselves “prabhu.” This is not a new thing; this is very old. Now Narada is addressing Vyasadeva as “prabhu,” his disciple. His disciple he’s addressing as prabhu. So we should give respect. Just like we address, “Kirtanananda Maharaja.” Although he’s my disciple, the respect should be given. Here, see, Narada is addressing Vyasadeva: “Prabhu.” “My dear prabhu.” (lecture, SB 1.5.1-4, May 22, 1969)
A spiritual master takes his disciples as his spiritual master. That is the position. He thinks, “Krishna has sent me so many spiritual masters.” He does not think himself as spiritual master. He thinks himself their servant, because they have to be trained; Krishna has appointed him to train them. Therefore he thinks himself as servant of the disciples; this is the position. When one is advanced, he can see the importance of devotees.
Advanced devotees never disobey or disrespect another devotee. Disrespect to another devotee is a great offense — Vaishnava aparadha. Vaishnava aparadha is a very serious offense. Therefore we teach to address, amongst the devotees, “Prabhu”, “Prabhu”, “Such and such Prabhu.” This should not be simply spoken by the lips; it should be realized. Everyone should think other devotee as his prabhu, master, not that he should try to become master.
trnad api sunicena taror api sahisnuna
amanina manadena . . .
Manadena. We should be always ready to offer respect to all, not only devotees, but everyone, everyone, because every living entity is originally a devotee of Krishna. Circumstantially, being covered by the coat of maya, he’s playing like demon, but his original nature is a devotee of Krishna. Jivera svarupa haya nitya krsnera dasa. Everyone is eternally a servant of Krishna but, being influenced by maya, when he gets this body, given by maya — Prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah — when he’s conducted by the three gunas of maya, he thinks himself otherwise. He thinks himself independent of Krishna but, actually, nobody is independent of Krishna. (lecture, NOD October 23, 1972)
2. Devotees address each other as “prabhu”
We advise everyone to address one another as Prabhu. Prabhu means master, so how the master should be disobeyed? Others, they are also pure devotees. All of my disciples are pure devotees. Anyone sincerely serving the spiritual master is a pure devotee. Do not try to make a faction; amongst ourselves one should respect others as Prabhu, master, one another. As soon as we distinguish, “Here is a pure devotee, here is a non-pure devotee”, that means I am a nonsense. (letter to Tusta Krishna, December 14, 1972)
Any Vaisnava is addressed as prabhu, but Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Mahaprabhu, the topmost prabhu, the master prabhu. All others are servant prabhu; all Vaisnavas should be addressed as prabhu; that is the etiquette. (CcAdi 7.2 lecture March 2, 1974)
In Krishna consciousness we address our contemporaries as “prabhu.” Prabhu means master. The real idea is, “You are my master, I am your servant.” Just the opposite number. Here, in the material world, everyone wants to place himself as the master. “I am your master, you are my servant.” That is the mentality of material existence. And the spiritual existence means, “I am the servant, you are the master.” Just see. Just the opposite number. (lecture Bg 4.9, June 19, 1968)
A real devotee, he does not show any disrespect even to the ant, what to speak of the demigods, because he is in knowledge that every living entity is part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. They’re playing different parts only. “In relationship with the Supreme Lord, they’re all my respectables.” Therefore a devotee is taught to address all his contemporaries as “Prabhu, my dear sir, my dear lord.” That is the position of Krishna consciousness. (lecture Bg 7.18 October 12, 1966)
3. Women devotees as well as men devotees are addressed as “prabhu”
The Lord Caitanya is called Mahaprabhu. Mahan-prabhu. Prabhu, master. There are different kinds of master, but He’s the mahan-prabhu, the Supreme Master, Supreme Master, and Purusa at the same time. Prabhu, you can say. . . . A woman also can become the master. . . (Cc Adi 7.108 lecture February 18, 1967)
Now another thing is that girls should not be taken as inferior. You see? Of course, sometimes in scripture we see that woman is the cause of bondage. That should not be, I mean to say, aggravated. (laughs) That should not be aggravated, to say “Woman is inferior,” or something like that. The girls who come, you should treat them nicely. After all, anyone who is coming to Krishna consciousness — man or woman, boys or girls — they are welcome; they are very fortunate, you see. And the idea of addressing as “prabhu” means “you are my master.” Prabhu means master, and Prabhupada means many masters who bow down at his lotus feet. That is Prabhupada. So each, everyone shall treat others as “My master.” This is the Vaisnava. (September 24, 1968 conversation)
Yes, to call one another prabhu is all right, but not to become prabhu. To accept others as prabhu, and remain as servant is the idea. But, because somebody is calling you prabhu, one should not become a prabhu, and treat others as servants. In other words, everyone should feel himself as servant, and not think himself prabhu because he is being called prabhu. This will make the relationship congenial. (Letter to Himavati Devi Dasi, June 14, 1968)
4. Srila Prabhupada addressed his male and female disciples as “prabhu”
My Dear Ranadhira,
Please accept my blessings. . . Yes, I have all blessings for the happy marriage of Haladhara Prabhu and Joan Prabhu, so you may immediately do the needful in this regard.
My Dear Rsabhadeva,
Please accept my blessings. . . So long as there is Guru-Gauranga worship, Yamuna Prabhu may act as pujari . . .
Anna Prabhu may be initiated also and she has my blessings for being married to Puranda at the earliest convenience.
So the stock of japa beads I brought with me has been depleted. Malati Prabhu was supposed to have brought some beads with her from India, and so I would like that those beads be sent immediately to N.Y. center by air.
My Dear Kirtanananda Maharaja, Vrindaban Candra, and Silavati, Please accept my blessings. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letters just now received by me here in Calcutta and describing your plans for travelling Sankirtana party, and it is very much encouraging news for me. Silavati Prabhu said that this was her long cherished dream. It has been mine also. . .
In Los Angeles I personally advised them in all the different aspects of deity worship, so you may consult, especially with Silavati Prabhu (now in Dallas) and do the needful. . .
My dear Gangamayi,
Please accept my blessings. . . I am glad to hear that you are determined to stay and live in the temple now and that you are becoming very much attached to the Deity worship and very serious about serving the Deity along with Malati Prabhu. . .
My Dear Sacimata Prabhu,
Please accept my blessings. I am in receipt of your letter dated 3rd October 1976 and I have noted the contents carefully. . .
There is a place, which is full of eternal happiness. This life should be engaged for that purpose, not to fight like cats and dogs. That is not very much to one’s credit; it means ruining one’s life. If one fights like cats and dogs, he becomes cats and dogs. Nature’s law is very strict. Therefore we should be very careful not to become like cats and dogs but to become very humble — humbler than the grass and tolerant than the tree. Amanina. Everyone wants that: “I am very honorable man, prestigious man. And you should respect me.” That is our material disease. “I do not want to respect you, but you should offer me respect.” This is the position. Therefore our system is to call another Vaishnava as prabhu. “Sir, you are prabhu, you are master.”
But we call prabhu, but think, “No, you are not prabhu; I am prabhu. You are servant;” this cheating process will not help us. Actually, we should believe, “He is prabhu. He is servant of Krishna; therefore he is my prabhu.” This is Vaisnava mentality. Gopi-bhartur pada-kamalayor dasa-dasa-dasa-dasanudasa. One who wants to become servant of the servant of the servant of the servant, he is actually prabhu. If, falsely, one thinks, “I am prabhu,” then his life is spoiled. So this word we use amongst ourselves — prabhu — means, “I am your servant, you are my master.” But that should be practically exhibited. That is called tapasya: to learn all these things. (lecture SB 5.5.1, October 23, 1976)