Buddha: A Vaisnava Perspective

Śrīla Prabhupāda gives a unique presentation of Lord Buddha which provides an explanation of who Buddha was, what Buddha taught, how Buddha’s teachings fit into the larger scheme of spiritual knowledge, and why Buddha taught the way he did. While Vaiṣṇavas do not agree with the materialist or voidist aspects of Buddha's philosophy, they do worship him as an āvatāra of Kṛṣṇa and respect him for his mission, his qualities and his basic instruction of nonviolence and renunciation. Śrīla Prabhupāda discusses Lord Buddha, his teachings and his preaching in light of scriptural revelation and the Vaiṣṇava conclusions, taking into account the context of Buddha's ministry as well as its tenets.

Lord Buddha
Lord Buddha is revealed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as one of the ten principle incarnations of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead

Summary Article

Śrīla Prabhupāda presents a Vaiṣṇava ācārya's perspective on Lord Buddha and the Buddhist mission. This article, sourced exclusively from the published archive of Śrīla Prabhupāda's books, lectures, conversations and letters, provides a summary of what Śrīla Prabhupāda had to say in regard to Lord Buddha and his ministry. In addition, it includes a view into how Śrīla Prabhupāda interacted with followers of Buddhism in the course of his own preaching.

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Historical overview

Śrīla Prabhupāda offers only a brief historical sketch of Lord Buddha and his ministry, summarized as follows. Lord Buddha, he says, appeared in India roughly 2,500 years[1] ago in a Hindu family as the son of a high-grade kṣatriya king. He left his princely life as a young man and renounced himself fully to a life of tapasya (austerity), engaging in meditation for self-realization.

He was Hindu, kṣatriya, Hindu prince, born in a kṣatriya family, and he was prince, a very luxurious life. So as young man, when he saw an old man and he is traveling, walking with great difficulty, he asked his servant, "What is this? Why this man is walking in this way?" He was explained that "This is old age, and in old age everyone has to become like this." So he at once left home and sat down in Gayāpradesh, a province in Bihar in India. And he began to meditate how to make solution of this old age. [2]

Although Lord Buddha lived within Vedic culture, he rejected the authority of the Vedas to establish a new cult rooted in the principles of ahiṁsā (nonviolence) and nirvāṇa (ending the process of material life). Lord Buddha's teachings came to be patronized by the Hindu Emperor Aśoka, resulting in the spread of Buddhism throughout India and the Far East during the second century BC. Later on, Lord Buddha’s cult was driven from the borders of India by way of the philosophical arguments of Śrīpāda Śaṅkarācārya, whose teachings re-established the authority of the Vedas in India. Buddhism, however, maintained its hold in areas outside of India.

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Incarnation of God

Scriptural reference

Śrīla Prabhupāda shows that the Vedas establish Lord Buddha as an avatāra, or incarnation of the Supreme Lord. Lord Buddha's advent, he explains, is predicted in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the Vedānta commentary authored by Vyāsadeva (compiler of Vedānta-sutra) approximately 5000 years ago.[3] Śrīla Prabhupāda cites Canto 1, Chapter 3, Text 24, one of a series of verses in which Vyāsadeva lists twenty-five līlā-avatāras [4] who are incarnations of the Supreme Lord:

tataḥ kalau sampravṛtte
sammohāya sura-dviṣām
buddho nāmnāñjana-sutaḥ
kīkaṭeṣu bhaviṣyati

"Then, in the beginning of Kali-yuga, the Lord will appear as Lord Buddha, the son of Añjanā, in the province of Gayā, just for the purpose of deluding those who are envious of the faithful theist."[5]

Thus it is on the strength of śāstric authority that Vaiṣṇavas accept Lord Buddha as an incarnation of God. Śrīla Prabhupāda emphasizes the critical necessity of such evidence when identifying an incarnation: "Each and every avatāra, or incarnation of the Lord, has a particular mission, and they are all described in the revealed scriptures. No one should be accepted as an avatāra unless he is referred to by scriptures."[6]

Buddha avatāra

The Buddha is a līlā-avatāra, a scheduled incarnation who appears in each kalpa, or day of Brahmā. The Lord Buddha of whom we speak is the Buddha incarnation for the kalpa in which we are presently living. Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the purpose of these Buddha avatāras: "Lord Buddha incarnates at a time when the people are most materialistic and preaches common-sense religious principles."[7] In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam we also find the sage Visvarupa, priest to the demigods, praying to the avatāras, "May Lord Buddhadeva protect me from activities opposed to Vedic principles and from laziness that causes one to madly forget the Vedic principles of knowledge and ritualistic action."[8]

More specifically, Śrīla Prabhupāda states that Lord Buddha is a ṣaktyāveṣa avatāra, or empowered incarnation. These avatāras are defined as "incarnations of Viṣṇu's power invested in a living entity,"[9] or souls whom God has "invested with transcendental power of attorney"[10] for a particular purpose. Śrīla Prabhupāda states:

When a jīva tattva becomes specifically empowered by the Lord, he is called ṣaktyāveṣa avatāra. Lord Buddha and Lord Jesus Christ were in this group of ṣaktyāveṣa avatāra. But they were not in conditioned state when they appeared; they came to teach here.[11]

Śrīla Prabhupāda further notes Lord Buddha’s extraordinary quality of renunciation as testimony to his empowerment as an avatāra.[12]

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Mission of Lord Buddha

Scriptural revelation

Lord Buddha's mission is indicated in Vedic scripture and elucidated by authoritative teachers. In this connection Śrīla Prabhupāda most frequently cites Śrīla Vyāsadeva’s Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and the transcendental song "Daśāvatāra-stotra" by the great Vaiṣṇava poet and ācārya Jayadeva Gosvāmī.

Vyāsadeva writes:

tataḥ kalau sampravṛtte
sammohāya sura-dviṣām
buddho nāmnāñjana-sutaḥ
kīkaṭeṣu bhaviṣyati

"Then, in the beginning of Kali-yuga, the Lord will appear as Lord Buddha, the son of Añjanā, in the province of Gayā, just for the purpose of deluding those who are envious of the faithful theist." [13]

Jayadeva Gosvāmī reveals another dimension of Buddha's mission:

nindasi yajña-vidher ahaha śruti-jātaṁ
keśava dhṛta-buddha-śarīra jaya jagad-īśa hare

"My dear Lord, you have assumed now the buddha-śarīra, body, just to, by taking compassion on the poor animals, and therefore you are also deprecating the animal sacrifices recommended in the Vedas."[14]

Mission in context

Śrīla Prabhupāda elaborates on the context of Lord Buddha’s ministry - how it had a purpose and method according to the time, place and persons involved.

From the Bhāgavatam we understand that Lord Buddha is the incarnation of Kṛṣṇa who appeared when materialism was rampant and materialists were using the pretext of the authority of the Vedas. Although there are certain restrictive rules and regulations regarding animal sacrifice for particular purposes in the Vedas, people of demonic tendency still took to animal sacrifice without reference to the Vedic principles. Lord Buddha appeared to stop this nonsense and to establish the Vedic principles of nonviolence.[15]

Because there is some prescription for animal sacrifice in the Vedas, Lord Buddha rejected the authority of the Vedas in order to uphold his teachings to contemporary practitioners, who, ignorant of the principles behind the Vedic injunctions, were citing the Vedas to justify their actions. Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that Buddha, as an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, could hardly be opposed to the Vedic teachings;[16] yet unless people are brought to a basic standard of understanding and behavior, there is no question of understanding religion or God. This is particularly true in regard to animal-killing.[17] Lord Buddha therefore came to stop the people from committing sinful activities and to teach the prerequisites of spiritual life, beginning with the principle and practice of ahiṁsā, or nonviolence.

What is sin, what is pious activities, these things are not understood by them because they are animal killers. It is not possible. Therefore Lord Buddha propagated ahiṁsā. Ahiṁsā. Because he saw the whole human race is going to hell by this animal killing. "Let me stop them so that they may, in future, they may become sober."[18]

While the immediate objective was to stop animal slaughter, Lord Buddha had to teach in a way suitable for the type of people with whom he was dealing. As Vyāsadeva states in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, "Propounding speculative philosophy, the Lord, as Buddha, will bewilder the unworthy performers of Vedic sacrifices."[19] Śrīla Prabhupāda summarizes Lord Buddha's mission thus:

Lord Buddha preached nonviolence, taking pity on the poor animals. He preached that he did not believe in the tenets of the Vedas and stressed the adverse psychological effects incurred by animal-killing. Less intelligent men of the age of Kali, who had no faith in God, followed his principle, and for the time being they were trained in moral discipline and nonviolence, the preliminary steps for proceeding further on the path of God realization. He deluded the atheists because such atheists who followed his principles did not believe in God, but they kept their absolute faith in Lord Buddha, who himself was the incarnation of God. Thus the faithless people were made to believe in God in the form of Lord Buddha.[20]

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Preaching and teachings


The main thrust of Lord Buddha’s preaching is ahiṁsā, or nonviolence. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes of ahiṁsā:

Lord Buddha incarnates at a time when the people are most materialistic and preaches common-sense religious principles. Such ahiṁsā is not a religious principle itself, but it is an important quality for persons who are actually religious. It is a common-sense religion because one is advised to do no harm to any other animal or living being because such harmful actions are equally harmful to he who does the harm.[21]

Although ahiṁsā is a Vedic precept, Buddha’s approach was not based on the Vedic authority, but rather on observable experience in material life.

Sadaya-hṛdaya darśita: Two sides. First of all he was very much compassionate, that poor animals, they are being killed. And another side, he saw "The whole human race is going to hell. So let me do something." Therefore he had to deny the existence of the soul because their brain will not tolerate such things. Therefore he did not say anything about the soul or God. He said that "You stop animal killing." If I pinch you, you feel pain. So why should you give pain to others? Never mind he has no soul; that's all right. He did not talk anything about soul. So these people say the animals have no soul. But that's all right, but he's feeling pain when you are killing the animal. So you also feel pain. So why should you give pain to others? That is Lord Buddha's theory.[22]

Ātmavat sarva-bhūteṣu: one should feel the happiness and distress of others as his own. It is on this basis that the Buddhist religious principle of nonviolence—ahiṁsaḥ parama-dharmaḥ—is established. We feel pain when someone disturbs us, and therefore we should not inflict pain upon other living beings. Lord Buddha's mission was to stop unnecessary animal killing, and therefore he preached that the greatest religious principle is nonviolence.[23]

Denial of Vedic authority

Due to widespread misuse of Vedic injunctions allowing violence, it was necessary for Lord Buddha to reject the Vedas altogether in order to promote ahiṁsā culture.

So Lord Buddha although incarnation of Kṛṣṇa, He said that "I do not believe in Vedas." What was the reason? The reason was to save the poor animals. At that time people were sacrificing the poor animals under the plea of Vedic sacrifice. So demonic persons, they want to do something under the protection of authority. Just like a big lawyer takes the protection of the lawbook and he makes the law unlawful. Similarly, the demons are so intelligent that they take advantage of scriptural injunction and do all nonsense. So these things were going on. In the name of Vedic sacrifice, they were killing animals like anything. So Lord became very much compassionate these poor animals, and He appeared as Lord Buddha, and His philosophy was nonviolence.[24]

Lord Buddha did not accept the Vedas. He had to do that because his mission was to stop animal sacrifice and animal killing. "Now if these foolish persons, without knowing the Vedic purpose, if they present, 'Oh, here it is recommended in the Vedas,' then there will be disturbance." So he had to discard, he had to go out of the Vedic rules and regulation, and he preached his own philosophy. [25]

Śrīla Prabhupāda notes how the great sage Nārada Muni, the spiritual master of Vyāsadeva, had foreseen this degradation, to a time when the purpose of the Vedic rituals would be forgotten and materialistic activities would be carried out in the name of religion.[26] The case in point centers on Vedic sacrificial rituals, which, if understood and executed properly, result in renewed life for the slaughtered animal.[27] As Śrīla Prabhupāda states, "Nārada Muni did not directly deprecate the value of performing sacrifices in which animals are sacrificed. Lord Buddha, however, directly rejected all animal sacrifice."[28] In short, Nārada had also spoken critically of animal slaughter, but Buddha, in keeping with his mission, opposed it entirely.

Materialist basis

Lord Buddha never spoke of a Supreme Person or of the spirit soul. Teaching solely from the material platform, his philosophy begins from the premise that consciousness is the product of a combination of matter.

This is the opinion of the modern scientists or the Buddha philosophy, that soul, there is nothing like soul separately, but by combination of matter, at a certain stage, the living symptoms are manifest. And as it is combination of several chemicals, so it is also finished as soon as the body is finished. There is no, nothing as soul. That is their opinion.[29]

Despite this materialist perspective, Buddha did not propose that one seek happiness in material existence, but rather seek peace in its cessation.

So Lord Buddha did not speak anything about the spiritual world, but his philosophy said that "Dismantle this material existence." Nirvāṇa. Nobody has preached that "You become happy here," either Lord Buddha or Lord Christ or Kṛṣṇa or anybody, Śaṅkara. Nobody.[30]

Śrīla Prabhupāda describes how Lord Buddha gave no information on spiritual reality, but instructed only to the end of material consciousness.

The body, because Buddha philosophy does not give any idea of soul - bodily concept. The body is combination of matter, so dismantle this combination. Just like you have got a skyscraper building, so you have to pay tax. Break it, make it zero, so no tax. This is philosophy. Do you follow? You have got a very big building, so you have to pay tax. To save tax, break the building. No more taxes. No more pains and pleasure. No more anxiety. That is Buddha philosophy.[31]

Vaiṣṇavas, who do not accept the materialist premise of Lord Buddha's philosophy, see his teaching as limited but not entirely untrue. Śrīla Prabhupāda gives this perspective:

When the spiritual spark, which is described as one ten-thousandth part of the tip of a hair, is forced into material existence, that spark is covered by gross and subtle material elements. The material body is composed of five gross elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether—and three subtle elements—mind, intelligence and ego. When one attains liberation, he is freed from these material coverings. Indeed, success in yoga involves getting free from these material coverings and entering into spiritual existence. Lord Buddha's teachings of nirvāṇa are based on this principle. Lord Buddha instructed his followers to give up these material coverings by means of meditation and yoga. Lord Buddha did not give any information about the soul, but if one follows his instructions strictly, he will ultimately become free from the material coverings and attain nirvāṇa... Unfortunately, unless the living entity has information of the spiritual world and the Vaikuṇṭhas, there is a 99.9 percent chance of his falling down again into material existence.[32]

Nirvāṇa and śūnyavāda

Nirvāṇa is the Vedic principle of ending the process of material life – material desires, material activity, and the pangs of material existence.[33] Lord Buddha taught that the ultimate goal of life is nirvāṇa. "Nirvāṇa, the Buddha philosophy, is just above the material conditional life but on the margin of spiritual existence." [34] Śrīla Prabhupāda further describes Buddha's nirvāṇa philosophy:

The Buddha philosophy advocates nirvāṇa, no more desire. That is their philosophy. "By desire, you are becoming implicated, so make all your desires extinct. Then there will be no more feelings of pains and pleasure. Desirelessness."[35]

Just like this house is made of stone, brick and wood and so many. So you break it, and there is no more stone and no more brick. This is distributed to the earth. Throw it on the earth. Then there is no house. Similarly, if you become zero, no body, then you are free from pains and pleasure. This is their philosophy, nirvāṇa philosophy, śūnyavādī: "Make it zero."[36]

The final destination, according to Lord Buddha’s version, is one of complete negation - a void or zero (śūnya) state. Because Buddha's philosophy ignored the presence of the spirit soul or of God, there could be no question of anything positive beyond the material realm - neither bliss, nor cognizance, nor even real existence. As Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, "His nirvāṇa philosophy means stopping all material activities. Lord Buddha did not recognize the presence of transcendental forms and spiritual activities beyond the material world. He simply described voidism beyond this material existence."[37]

Therefore, with its śūnyavāda conclusion, Lord Buddha’s nirvāṇa teaching differs from that of the Vaiṣṇavas, who speak of purified, spiritual desires and active, variegated spiritual life after extinguishing material consciousness. Śrīla Prabhupāda states the Vaiṣṇava version succinctly:

After nirvāṇa, or material cessation, there is the manifestation of spiritual activities, or devotional service to the Lord, known as Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In the words of the Bhāgavatam, svarūpeṇa vyavasthitiḥ: this is the "real life of the living entity." [38]

By comparison, he shows how Buddha's nirvāṇa conception agrees and disagrees with Vaiṣṇava teachings:

So zero, that is Buddhist philosophy to make zero, śūnyavādī, to make everything void. No. That cannot be. I cannot make my desires zero. That is not possible because I am living being. I may select what kind of desires I will have. That is intelligence. But desirelessness is not possible. Therefore the next item is that anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyam (CC Madhya 19.167). You make your material desires zero, void. "Then? What shall I do next? Shall I become void and finish?" No. Then your real life begins.[39]

If you have got a pinch of desire to enjoy this material world, then you'll have to remain here as, either as Lord Brahmā or as a small ant, according to your karma. But when you completely become free from material attachment, then the spiritual world is... So when the Buddha philosophy says śūnyavāda, nirvāṇa, nirvāṇa, it means the same thing, vīta-rāga, you have to become detached. You have to make this material enjoyment zero. The bhakti also says, bhakti formula, anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyam: (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.11) "You have to make your heart cleansed of all material desire." Then spiritual life will begin.[40]

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Understanding Lord Buddha and his mission

The Vaiṣṇava view

Śrīla Prabhupāda makes it clear that Vaiṣṇavas are critical of many points of Lord Buddha’s philosophy.[41] Yet they worship Lord Buddha as an avatāra of Kṛṣṇa.

Lord Buddha, He decried the Vedic principles. Therefore He is calculated as atheist. Anyone who does not agree with the Vedic principles, he is considered as atheist. . . So people will be surprised that Lord Buddha is designated as atheist and still the Vaiṣṇavas, they are offering their respectful prayers to Lord Viṣṇu (Buddha). Why? Because the Vaiṣṇava knows how the God is acting for His different purposes. Others, they do not know. [42]

Over the course of his expositions and discussions Śrīla Prabhupāda follows the declarations of the Vedas as well as the words of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu (a direct incarnation of Kṛṣṇa) and other Vaiṣṇava ācāryas to show how the Vaiṣṇavas – though Vedāntists, theists, and promoters of a different philosophy – can accept Lord Buddha as a genuine representative of the Supreme Lord while simultaneously refuting many specifics of his teaching.

Time, place and persons involved

Śrīla Prabhupāda notes that an ācārya or avatāra will teach in various ways according to circumstances. In general, he states:

To surrender to God the great and to abide by His instruction, that is called religion. It may be that the Hindus may be following the same principle in a different way or the Christian may be following the same principle in different way. That is called deśa-kāla-pātra. According to time, atmosphere, and the performer, there may be little difference. But real purpose of dharma is to surrender to God and try to love Him. [43]

This realization underlies Śrīla Prabhupāda’s presentation of Lord Buddha and his ministry.

Philosophy in context

Although Buddhist religious philosophy may be seen as incomplete or incorrect from the Vedic perspective, Śrīla Prabhupāda nonetheless maintains that such teaching was appropriate and necessary under the circumstances of Lord Buddha's appearance in order to give his followers a first step toward further spiritual advancement.

Nirvāṇa and śūnyavāda

Buddha's nirvāṇa and sūnyavāda philosophies, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains, were meant for the extreme materialist who could not begin to understand spiritual life.

In human life, this is, this intelligence required, vairāgya, not to serve this material world, but to serve Kṛṣṇa. The Māyāvādī philosophers, they simply stop these material activities. Just like Buddha philosophy, nirvāṇa. He simply advises to stop this. But after stopping, what is, sir? "No, zero. Zero." That cannot be. That is not possible. This is their mistake. But the people to whom Buddha philosophy was preached, they are not so intelligent that there can be better service after giving up this service. Therefore Lord Buddha said, "You stop this service. You become happy because ultimately everything is zero." Śūnyavādī. Nirviśeṣavādī.[44]

Nirvāṇa, nirvāṇa means that you give up all material desires. Not that "But he did not say anything more than that." Because it was meant for the fourth-class men, so he did not say. He simply asked that you finish this material desire… It is not misleading. It is truth, but the truth as much as you can understand. It is not misleading because Lord Buddha knew that "This rascal will not understand more than this." So he did not say further knowledge.[45]

Lord Buddha's teaching is... That is also detachment from matter, nirvāṇa. Nirvāṇa. But he does not speak anything about the spirit soul. Because the position in which he was speaking, that position, for the human, humanity, was not suitable for understanding what is the constitution of spirit, therefore he did not say anything about spirit. He simply preached nonviolence. So far our body is concerned, he stressed on the point that we should be nonviolent. We should not be killing animals anymore. [46]


Similarly, Lord Buddha's stress on the ahiṁsā principle was due to the nature and activities of the people with whom he was dealing.

This atheist class, they were killing animals in the name of yajña like anything. So yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati (BG 4.7), so He came as Buddha to stop this animal killing. His real business was stop the animal killing, that these rascals are going to hell in the name of religion, so at least stop their activities of animal killing. So therefore he started the mission, ahiṁsā paramo dharma: "Don't kill animals."[47]

Now just like in the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" this is a moral instruction for the sinful man. Similarly Lord Buddha also emphasized ahimsa paramadharma, "the highest religion is nonviolence." So these instructions are for the sinful men.[48]

So Lord Buddha's philosophy is like that. The atheistic people, they are against God. "Yes, there is no God. But you take this philosophy, ahiṁsā. Don't kill animals." That means if they stop animal-killing, then one day they will be able to understand what is God. Some day. Because so long one is accustomed to kill animals, he will never be able to understand what is God. [49]

As Śrīla Prabhupāda summarized, "First of all, the Buddha wanted to make them sinless. 'Don't kill.'"[50]

Nāstika preaching

Lord Buddha is referred to as nāstika, or atheist, by followers of the Vedas, due to his rejection of Vedic authority. However, Śrīla Prabhupāda describes this apparent atheism as "an act of camouflage by the Lord."[51]

No mention of God

Recalling the message of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke many times on how Buddha's 'Godless' preaching was designed to persuade atheistically minded people to accept God and obey His instructions. As Śrīla Prabhupāda expressed it, "So this is, in one way, cheating. But this cheating is not cheating. Just like father or guardian sometimes cheats the young boy. That is not cheating; that is for his good." [52]

Now, how he is cheating? He is the incarnation of God, but he is preaching amongst people who don't believe in God. So he is cheating in this way, that "Yes, there is no God. You hear me." But he is God. The people amongst whom he is preaching, they don't believe in God, but they accept Lord Buddha. But he is God. So by cheating, he is making others to worship God. God is there. But superficially they think, "We don't believe in God. We believe in Lord Buddha." And Lord Buddha is God. Therefore in the Bhāgavata it is said that his business will be cheat the atheist class of men. Sura-dviṣām. Sammohita-sura-dviṣām.[53]

Lord Buddha gave his followers preliminary spiritual instruction in a way they would accept.

Although he did not speak about God, because it is considered that he was himself God, but the people amongst whom he preached, they were mostly atheistic people; therefore he did not preach about God. But he did not deny also. He simply wanted to make extinction of this present worldly activities. That was, yes... Nirvāṇa. And he represented the sacrifice of renouncement. [54]

As a side note, Śrīla Prabhupāda makes an interesting point in connection with the officially nāstika stance of Buddha's following:

Now, those who follow the Buddha philosophy, they say that "There is no soul. There is no God." But there are thousands and thousands of temples of Lord Buddha, and they worship. Especially in the countries like Japan and China and Burma there are thousands of temples, and they exactly worship in the same way as we are worshiping Jagannātha. The lamp is given, the candle is burned, they offer very respectfully, and there are brahmacārīs, sannyāsīs. The whole principles is there. But officially, there is no question of God.[55]

No reference to Vedas

Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that actually Lord Buddha decried the Vedas in order to emphasize genuine Vedic principle (in this case, nonviolence) over details prescribed in Vedic ritual which were being abused at the time (in this case, animal sacrifice, which was recommended in certain Vedic literatures).

The mission of Lord Buddha was to save people from the abominable activity of animal killing and to save the poor animals from being unnecessarily killed. When pāṣaṇḍīs were cheating by killing animals on the plea of sacrificing them in Vedic yajñas, the Lord said, "If the Vedic injunctions allow animal killing, I do not accept the Vedic principles." Thus he actually saved people who acted according to Vedic principles. One should therefore surrender to Lord Buddha so that he can help one avoid misusing the injunctions of the Vedas.[56]

So Buddha wanted to stop this nonsense, who were eating and killing animals on the strength of Vedas. They did not know what is the meaning, but they would say in the Vedas it is stated, paśavo vadhyaḥ sṛṣṭaḥ: "The animals are created for being killed." And what purpose it is killed? They, without knowing... Actually, they wanted to satisfy their tongue by eating the flesh, but they would give Vedic evidences.[57]

According to capacity

Śrīla Prabhupāda discusses Lord Buddha's teachings alongside those of other well-known avatāras to show how circumstance has played a part in the way that spiritual understanding has been conveyed.

Although Lord Buddha was an incarnation of Kṛṣṇa, he did not speak about God, for the people were unable to understand. He simply wanted to stop animal-killing. Śrīpāda Śaṅkarācārya wanted to establish the predominance of one's spiritual identity; therefore he wanted to convert the atheists through an imaginary interpretation of the Vedic literatures. These are the secrets of the ācāryas. Sometimes they conceal the real purport of the Vedas and explain the Vedas in a different way. Sometimes they enunciate a different theory just to bring the atheists under their control.[58]

Teachings of Christ, teaching of Buddha, they are meant for a particular type of men. Generally it is meant for everyone, but specifically for a particular type of men. Just like Lord Buddha, he preached ahiṁsā. They were a particular type of men. Lord Jesus Christ also preached to a particular type of men. "Thou shall not kill." That means they were killing. Is it not? If I say, "Thou shall not steal," that means you are thief, you are stealing. So a kind of preaching among the thieves and a kind of teaching among the philosophers must be different. That is the difference. Lord Buddha is Kṛṣṇa, Lord Jesus Christ was Kṛṣṇa incarnation, but they were preaching to a different type of people. Therefore you'll find difference of Lord Jesus Christ teaching, Buddha's teaching, Kṛṣṇa's teaching. Kṛṣṇa's teaching also is there, which is also Buddha's teaching. But more than that, because the persons amongst whom He was teaching, they were far, far elevated than the thieves and the rogues. That is the difference.[59]

In connection with various scriptures, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains:

Bible begins, "God is the supreme authority," and Bhagavad-gītā concludes, "You surrender." Where is the difference? Simply the description is according to the time, society, and place and people. That's all. They are not Arjuna. You see? So the things to be understood by Arjuna is not possible by the persons who had crucified Lord Jesus Christ. You have to study in that light. The same thing. A dictionary, a pocket dictionary, child's dictionary, and the dictionary, international dictionary, both of them dictionary, but the value is different. That dictionary is meant for a class of children, and that dictionary is meant for high scholars. But none of them you can say it is not dictionary. That you cannot say. Both of them are dictionaries. So we have to take consideration of the time, place, persons, everything. Just like Lord Buddha, he simply said that "Stop this nonsense animal killing." That was his propaganda. They were so low-grade people, simply taking pleasure in animal killing. So in order to elevate them, Lord Buddha wanted to stop this nonsense: "Please stop killing." So in every time a different representative of God or God comes to teach people at different circumstances. So according to the circumstances there may be some difference in explanation, but the primary factor remains the same. Lord Buddha said, "All right, there is no God, but you surrender to me." Then where is the difference? That means one has to accept the authority of God either this way or that way. [60]

Progressive development of spiritual philosophy

Śrīla Prabhupāda tells that historically, Lord Buddha’s cult was driven from the borders of India by the philosophy of Śrīpāda Śaṅkarācārya, the founder of the Māyāvādi school of Vedāntists. Śaṅkarācārya’s purpose, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains, was to reestablish Vedic authority, which Lord Buddha had thrown out of his teaching. Śrīla Prabhupāda views this development, along with more following later, as part of a great progression of spiritual philosophy in the Vedic tradition, of which Lord Buddha’s mission was an integral part. In overview, he writes:

Lord Buddha preached the preliminary principles of the Vedas in a manner suitable for the time being (and so also did Śaṅkarācārya) to establish the authority of the Vedas. Therefore both Lord Buddha and Ācārya Śaṅkara paved the path of theism, and Vaiṣṇava ācāryas, specifically Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, led the people on the path towards a realization of going back to Godhead.[61]

Tracing this development of doctrine, Śrīla Prabhupāda says:

Śaṅkara... A little more than Buddha. He said, "No, no. Matter is not all. The spirit is real thing. Matter is false." Brahma satyaṁ jagan mithyā. Now, he did not say about the activities of spiritual life. He simply gave hint that there, that matter is false. Matter is generated by spirit. Spirit is the real, principle thing. Just like Buddha did not say anything about spirit. He simply wanted that detachment of, from matter. But detachment from matter... Then where is my stand? Where is my stand? If I leave this room, I must have another room to stay. So that is the position of Buddha. He did not say about the spirit. But Śaṅkara, Śaṅkara said, "No, matter is our false position. Spirit is real position." But he did not say anything, what are the activities of the spiritual life. Then Śrī Rāmānujācārya came. He described the actual position of spiritual life. These are gradual development. Your, I mean to say, Lord Jesus, also, Lord Jesus Christ, he also gave hints of spiritual life, kingdom of God. So when we speak of kingdom of God, a kingdom, vacant, cannot be. Kingdom means there must be activities. Otherwise, what is the meaning of kingdom? So, of course, he did not give any detailed account of the kingdom of God, but he gave hint.[62]

Śrīla Prabhupāda gives credit that although the ultimate level of spiritual realization is taught by the Vaiṣṇavas, Lord Buddha and his teachings should be respected for what they are.

There were many great ācāryas, I mean to say, reformers, came. Lord Buddha also appeared in India. Then, after Lord Buddha, Śaṅkarācārya came. Then, after Śaṅkarācārya, Śrī Rāmānujācārya came. Then, after Śrī Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, and then, lately, Śrī Caitanya, Lord Caitanya. He came. But you will find a link, a link, although superficially we may see that Lord Buddha is speaking something which is contradictory to Lord Śaṅkarācārya's teaching, or Rāmānujācārya is speaking something which is contradiction to Śaṅkara. No. There is no contradiction. It is the question of studying how they are paving way for ultimate spiritual realization. That requires a very, I mean to say, substantial knowledge, how they are paving the way, just step by step.[63]

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Śrīla Prabhupāda speaks to present-day followers

The record of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, letters, lectures and conversations gives some indication of how he dealt with present-day followers (or would-be followers) of Lord Buddha’s cult. While benevolent and never antagonistic, he did not hesitate to engage critically in philosophically-oriented dialogue to guide such persons on a better path, be it to recognize the limits or weaknesses he saw in Buddhist philosophy or merely to better understand what Lord Buddha preached and exemplified. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s interaction and approach, of course, varied per individual case; however, some general themes may be identified.

Know and follow

Śrīla Prabhupāda did not attack Buddhists or prospective Buddhists for their faith. For those who showed interest in the Buddhist path, he compassionately challenged them to demonstrate in both word and deed that they understood what Buddha taught. In one conversation, he used Buddha's teaching to help a seeker overcome speculative misunderstanding:

Prabhupāda: But how do you respect these words of Lord Buddha, first thing is.
Guest (1): No, I have got one thing, you see, that it is through the diffusion...
Prabhupāda: No, no, no. Lord Buddha, we have to accept him as an authority, Lord Buddha. Now, he gives you idea that no misery. So how do you accept these words of Lord Buddha?
Guest (1): No, I do not because that was not..., has not come into...
Prabhupāda: Yes. That means he was giving that hint in spiritual life, not in this life. [64]

Further, Śrīla Prabhupāda insisted that if one professes to be a follower of Buddha, then he must be willing to perfect this knowledge with practical action. Śrīla Prabhupāda recommended to a guest with whom he spoke at a university city in the United States:

You practice Buddha if you appreciate him. You give up everything like Buddha and meditate. But that you will not do. Then what is the talking of, useless talking about this? Do something. Either you believe Buddha or Jesus Christ or Kṛṣṇa. Do something. Don't talk simply. Lord Buddha is very nice. He gave up his kingdom in youthful life. He was prince. He thought, "It is all nonsense. Let me meditate." Do like that. That is the disease. We won't do anything. We talk much of this, that, this, that. Do anything, but do it perfectly. "Jack of all trade, master of none." That is not good. Be master of something. It doesn't differ. Either you follow Lord Jesus Christ or Lord Buddha or Kṛṣṇa, it doesn't matter much. But do it perfectly. That is our request.[65]

In another exchange, Śrīla Prabhupāda responded to an aspiring devotee in Germany, writing:

You have got a strong tendency to accept the Buddha philosophy, but you should know it also that if you want to accept Buddha philosophy you should act practically for this purpose. Lord Buddha was the embodiment of renunciation. He was in the princely order, grown up very luxuriantly, and he accepted the order of a mendicant, devoting his whole time to meditation. I meet many people who talk of Buddha philosophy, but their practical life is different.[66]

In the end, Śrīla Prabhupāda recommends the Vaiṣṇava process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness (devotional service and chanting the Lord's holy name) as the superior path both philosophically and practically. Nonetheless, to arrive to that conclusion, he was willing to take the intermediate step of addressing Lord Buddha's teachings seriously.

Stop animal slaughter

Another clear theme along these lines is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s call for Buddhists to be true to the teachings of their ācārya and oppose slaughterhouse culture. In one instance, Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke about meat-eating when at a business meeting with representatives from Dai Nippon, the Japanese company that was handling the printing of his books.

Dai Nippon representative: I am Buddhist.
Prabhupāda: So Buddhist religion I think animal sacrifice is prohibited, or what? Animal killing? What your religion says about animal killing. Stop or not?
Dai Nippon representative: In Buddhism, in my religion, originally it was, prohibited, but now, (laughs) somewhat changed.
Prabhupāda: So you come to again to the original. Yes. This Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we are teaching no animal killing, no illicit sex, no gambling, no intoxication. All my students, they are strictly following these principles all over the world.[67]

Śrīla Prabhupāda also discussed the topic with a Buddhist monk, who had himself been preaching against organized animal slaughter. Here he appeals for cooperation in a common mission:

Prabhupāda: This ghee-producing animal, and they're killing. Just see how much injustice. They have no sense even. I exact from you all the resources, and then I kill you. What is this?
Buddhist Monk (1): For no other reason but for greed again.
Prabhupāda: Yes. Simply... I have seen. I was telling that these people take meat, a small slice, not very much. But because they are taking, everyone, so many slaughterhouse are maintained. If they give up little, and we can replace it by other thing, then so many lives are saved. Swamiji, if you, your most philosophical thesis is ahiṁsā, you can teach them and that will help us also. [68]

And beyond conversation, we find this clear request in the purport to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.3.24 - testimony to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s emphasis on this point:

We are glad that people are taking interest in the nonviolent movement of Lord Buddha. But will they take the matter very seriously and close the animal slaughterhouses altogether? If not, there is no meaning to the ahiṁsā cult.[69]

Common ground

Many times Śrīla Prabhupāda would highlight the common ground between the Buddhists and the Vaisnavas. The excerpts cited above [70] show two examples based on common philosophy. Other times, Prabhupāda would appeal to common points of heritage. In 1961, prior to the founding of ISKCON, he approached the Japanese organizers of the upcoming International Congress for Cultivating Human Spirit, writing:

Without spiritual culture a human society is another polished edition of the animals. There is no value of education in the animal society as the trained-up lion in a circus is never to be trusted. The lion is not trusted because it cannot assimilate spiritual knowledge. But a man is able to take up this knowledge and his formation of the brain is meant for it. It is nothing extraordinary for him because he is prepared for this culture and is awaiting proper administration only. The ways and means were envisaged by the liberated souls and especially by the sages of India and I proud to feel that Lord Buddha happened to be an Indian and we worship Him as incarnation of Godhead. His holy name is mentioned in the Vedic literature like Bhagavata. We can take help from the Bhagavata, the cream and ripen fruit of the Vedic literature, and stop at once the quarrel and turmoil of the present world.[71]

Some years later, writing to his budding following in Japan, Śrīla Prabhupāda opened a lengthy philosophical letter by drawing a parallel between Lord Caitanya and Lord Buddha:

It is a great opportunity that Sriman Sudama Das Adhikari, one of my American students, has gone to your country to spread the gospel of Krishna Consciousness under superior order. The original order is from Lord Caitanya Who appeared 484 years ago at Navadvipa, a district in Bengal, India, as Lord Buddha appeared at Gaya, a district in Behar, India. We, the followers of Vedic culture, accept both Lord Buddha and Lord Caitanya as incarnations of God, as both of them are stated to be so in the authorized Vedic scriptures.[72]

Lord Buddha as an incarnation of Kṛṣṇa

Lord Buddha’s stature as an incarnation of Kṛṣṇa was fundamental to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s preaching among Buddhists. Speaking with a representative of Dai Nippon, he advised:

If you can preach Lord Buddha or Kṛṣṇa, it doesn't matter. I have already explained Lord Buddha is expansion of Kṛṣṇa. So if Lord Buddha is satisfied, then your life is successful. It doesn't matter what you are doing, but by your action Lord Buddha must be satisfied.[73]

In 1957, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to a prospective preacher in India:

For all practical purposes if we systematically preach to chant the holy name of Godhead, I think nobody, even the religious fanatic, will take objection to it. Every human being has a conception of the supreme truth. That conception is presented in some concrete shape. If therefore the Mussulman or the Christian denies to chant the name of Rama or Krishna we may ask him to chant the name of Allah or God respectively, and I think therefore there will be no objection even by the Buddhists if we simply ask them to chant the name of Lord of Buddha in the systematic way.[74]

Later, he guided his young Western preachers who were questioning how to bring the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement to Buddhist Thailand: "Don't establish Deity. Talk on philosophy. We accept Lord Buddha as incarnation of God. Show in our books that we have got all respect for Buddha. We do not disrespect Lord Buddha, neither go against him."[75]

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To conclude, Śrīla Prabhupāda's view of Lord Buddha, his teachings and his ministry may be summarized by Śrīla Prabhupāda's own words:

We should accept the instruction given by Vāsudeva and the śāstra, sādhu. Sādhu, śāstra, guru, they'll speak the same thing. Guru means who speaks on the basis of śāstra; otherwise he's not guru. And śāstra means the opinion of the great authorities. Just like Vyāsadeva, Parāśara Muni, Nārada Muni, modern ācāryas. We do not neglect. We may differ from the philosophical point of view—just like Buddha, Śaṅkarācārya. Vaiṣṇavas, they do not accept the philosophy of Buddha or Śaṅkarācārya. Buddha's philosophy: zero, śūnyavādi; and Śaṅkara's philosophy: nirviśeṣa-vādi, impersonal. So we defy these, nirviśeṣa-śūnyavādi. But we have got all respect for them. Don't think that we disrespect. Keśava dhṛta-buddha-śarīra jaya jagadīśa hare. And the Vaiṣṇavas know Śaṅkarācārya. Śaṅkara, svayaṁ śaṅkara, he is incarnation of Lord Śiva, and Lord Buddha is incarnation of Kṛṣṇa. So they come for particular purpose, to benefit the whole world. But that is for the time being. That is not permanent. The permanent solution is mataṁ ca vāsudevasya. That is permanent.[76]

References and Further Reading

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Key verses and purports

  • SB 1.3.24, Text and Purport – primary reference to the appearance of Lord Buddha and his mission as an incarnation of the Supreme Lord; purport gives a concise summary of the various aspects Śrīla Prabhupāda discusses throughout
  • SB 1.3.28,Text – explanation of incarnations in reference to previous verses (including SB 1.3.24)
  • SB 2.7.37, Purport – text refers to a Buddha incarnation from another yuga; however, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the common purpose of all Buddha incarnations in his purport

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam texts in which Lord Buddha is specifically mentioned:

Related texts:

Lectures, Conversations and Letters

The best way to identify key lectures, conversations and letters is through the notes and the Vaniquotes page references given below. The notes generally cite Vanisource directly. Vaniquotes is also very helpful for locating source material, as each quote includes a link to its full source text in Vanisource.



Vaniquotes categories are general topic areas for research and study based on key words (or phrases) and themes.

Direct references

Related topics


Vaniquotes pages are compilations or selected single quotes. They are collected under the Vaniquotes categories, and their content is indicated by title. The following list is not exhaustive; additional pages may be found by browsing any of the Vaniquotes categories listed above.

Page references are listed here according to sections of this article. (Many pages will also cover more than one subtopic.)

Historical overview (ref)

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Incarnation of God (ref)

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Mission of Lord Buddha (ref)

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Preaching and teachings (ref)

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Understanding Lord Buddha and his mission (ref)

(Note: Most references for the section Preaching and teachings will contain material pertinent to this section as well.)

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Śrīla Prabhupāda speaks to present-day followers (ref)

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  1. This is the approximate date that Śrīla Prabhupāda quoted for Lord Buddha's appearance. See Vaniquotes: Lord Buddha appeared 2,500 or 2,600 years ago
  2. Vanisource: Lecture, Day after Lord Rama's Appearance Day -- Los Angeles, April 16, 1970
  3. Vaniquotes: Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was compiled by Vyāsadeva...
  4. Vaniquotes: Names of twenty-five līla-avatāras.... Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī also enumerates and describes these līlā-avatāras in his book Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta.
  5. Vanisource: SB 1.3.24
  6. Vaniquotes: Without reference to the śāstras...
  7. Vanisource: SB 2.7.37, Purport
  8. Vanisource: SB 6.8.19, Text
  9. Vanisource: SB 4.19.37, Purport
  10. Vanisource: SB 3.5.21, Purport
  11. Vanisource: Letter to Aniruddha -- Los Angeles, 14 November 1968
  12. Vaniquotes: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, out of his six opulences...
  13. Vanisource: SB 1.3.42. Text
  14. Translation from Vanisource: Lecture on BG 4.20-24 -- New York, August 9, 1966. See also Vaniquotes: As described by Śrīla Jayadeva Gosvāmī...
  15. Vanisource: BG 4.7, Purport
  16. Vaniquotes: Lord Buddha is the incarnation of Godhead. As such, he is the original propounder of Vedic knowledge...
  17. Vaniquotes: God consciousness, Kṛṣṇa consciousness, cannot be understood by the animal-killer Śrīla Prabhupāda refers to SB 10.1.4 in this connection. See also Vaniquotes: Unless one is free from the sin of animal-killing...
  18. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 2.18 -- London, August 24, 1973
  19. Vanisource: SB 11.4.22, Text
  20. Vanisource: SB 1.3.24, Purport
  21. Vanisource: SB 2.7.37, Purport
  22. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 2.18 -- London, August 24, 1973
  23. Vanisource:SB 6.10.9, Purport "Ātmavat sarva-bhūteṣu" is from Cāṇakya-śloka 10 by Cāṇakya Paṇḍita, a famous political figure and moralist from Vedic history.
  24. Varāha-dvādaśi, Lord Varāha's Appearance Day Lecture - Daśāvatāra-stotra Purport -- Los Angeles, February 18, 1970
  25. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 4.20-24 – New York, August 9, 1966
  26. Vanisource:SB 1.5.15, Text and Purport
  27. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 2.18 -- London, August 24, 1973 See also the Vaniquotes category Vedas and Animal Sacrifice
  28. Vanisource: SB 4.5.29, Purport
  29. Vanisource:Lecture on BG 2.26 -- Hyderabad, November 30, 1972
  30. Vanisource: Room Conversation with Two Buddhist Monks – July 12, 1973
  31. Vanisource: Room Conversation -- February 15, 1972, Madras
  32. Vanisource: SB 4.23.15, Purport
  33. Vaniquotes:Nirvāṇa means
  34. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 5.26-29 -- Los Angeles, February 12, 1969
  35. Vanisource:Lecture on BG 16.13-15 – Hawaii, February 8, 1975
  36. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 2.14 -- Germany, June 21, 1974
  37. Vanisource: CC Madhya 6.168, Purport
  38. Vanisource: BG 6.20-23, Purport
  39. Vanisource: Lecture on SB 6.1.51 -- Detroit, August 4, 1975
  40. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 4.11 – Bombay, March 31, 1974
  41. For more on Śrīla Prabhupāda's critique of Buddhist philosophy, please consult the Vaniquotes categories: Buddhist Philosophy and its related categories, plus Sunyavadi, Zero, Make It Zero, and Void.
  42. Vanisource: Varāha-dvādaśi, Lord Varāha's Appearance Day Lecture - Daśāvatāra-stotra Purport – Los Angeles, February 18, 1970
  43. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 7.1 -- Fiji, May 24, 1975
  44. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 1.30 -- London, July 23, 1973
  45. Vanisource: Morning Walk – May 3, 1976, Fiji
  46. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 2.58-59 – New York, April 27, 1966
  47. Vanisource: Evening Darsana -- July 11, 1976
  48. Vanisource: Letter to Bhagavan -- Los Angeles, 2 March 1970
  49. Vanisource: Initiation of Lokanatha dasa – New Vrindaban, May 21, 1969
  50. Vanisource: Room Conversation -- October 3, 1977, Vrndavana
  51. Vanisource: SB 1.3.24, Purport
  52. Vanisource: Initiation of Lokanatha dasa – New Vrindaban, May 21, 1969
  53. Vanisource: Room Conversation with Maharishi Impersonalists
  54. Vanisource: Lecture on CC Madhya-lila 20.367-84 – New York, December 31, 1966
  55. Vanisource: Lecture on SB 1.2.6 -- Montreal, August 3, 1968
  56. Vanisource: SB6.8.19, Purport
  57. Vanisource: Room Conversation with Professor Regamay, Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Lausanne -- June 4, 1974, Geneva
  58. Vanisource: CC Madhya 25.42, Purport
  59. Vanisource: Room Conversation – May 4, 1972, Mexico
  60. Vanisource: Lecture – Seattle, October 2, 1968
  61. Vanisource: SB 1.3.24, Purport
  62. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 2.58-59 – New York, April 27, 1966
  63. Vanisource: Lecture on BG 2.58-59 – New York, April 27, 1966
  64. Vanisource: Room Conversation -- January 17, 1971
  65. Vanisource: Room Conversation – May 10, 1969
  66. Vanisource: Letter to Bertl -- Los Angeles, 18 April 1970
  67. Vanisource: Room Conversation with Dai Nippon – April 22, 1972
  68. Vanisource: Room Conversation with Two Buddhist Monks – July 12, 1973
  69. Vanisource: SB 1.3.24, Purport
  70. Vanisource: SB 1.3.24, Purport and Vanisource: Room Conversation with Two Buddhist Monks – July 12, 1973
  71. Vanisource: Letter to Sir – Delhi, 15 April 1961
  72. Vanisource: Letter to Japanese brothers and sisters – Los Angeles, 10 March 1970
  73. Vanisource: Room Conversation with Dai Nippon – April 22, 1972
  74. Vanisource: Letter to Sri Padampat Singhania – Kanpur, 7 May 1957
  75. Vaniquotes: So they will not make some objection if they thing we are thinking we have come to preach Hinduism in a Buddhist country? - VedaBase reference: Room Conversation -- July 31, 1976, New Mayapur (French farm) [second conversation] See also Vaniquotes: First of all the Buddha wanted to make them sinless..., for a short conversation between Śrīla Prabhupāda and a disciple about integrating Buddha's teachings into Vaisnava preaching in the Buddhist community
  76. Vanisource: Lecture on SB 1.7.32-33 -- Vrndavana, September 27, 1976 "Mataṁ ca vāsudevasya": the opinion or instruction of Vāsudeva, Kṛṣṇa

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