In previous ages - the Satya, Treta and even Dvapara yugas - people were better able to gain self-realization by the various processes instructed in the Vedas. In this age of Kali-yuga, however, people are completely absorbed in mundane activities, are therefore overtaken by the modes of passion and ignorance. Performing great austerities or yogas, or even reading and comprehending all the Vedic literatures, is essentially impossible.
Out of his compassion for the fallen conditioned souls, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu manifested in this age of Kali to establish the sankirtana movement of the chanting of Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. Most recently, Lord Caitanya sent his nitya-siddha saktavesa avatar, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, to spread Krsna Consciousness to those suffering in the age of Kali. Srila Prabhupada left us a treasure trove of books on the process of Krsna consciousness so that we can understand the necessary devotional practices that will allow us to go home, back to Godhead.
Of the dozens of books written by Srila Prabhupada, six can be considered essential and complete for gaining perfect understanding. But studying these books analytically and systematically, in a humble mood, all knowledge can be gained.
"In our Krishna consciousness movement we have therefore limited our study of Vedic literatures to Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Chaitanya Caritamrta and Bhaktirasamrta sindhu. These four works are sufficient for preaching purposes. They are adequate for the understanding of the philosophy and the spreading of missionary activities
all over the world."
Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya lila 22:118
There is a natural progression that can be followed by the reader approaching the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. It is generally recommended that you begin with the Bhagavad-gita, which establishes the basic truths to be found in all sampradaya literatures. The Bhagavad-gita is accepted by all Vaisnavas around the world, and there is little difference in commentaries on Bhagavad-gita by the different sampradayas. The Mayavadis also accept the Gita, although their commentary supports the impersonal conception.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana, is considered post-graduate compared to Bhagavad-gita. The commentaries on Srimad-Bhagavatam begin to reflect the differentiations between the main sampradayas. Srila Prabhupada also published the Krsna books, from the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. While the Bhagavatam presents the Tenth Canto teachings in sastra-like format, Srila Prabhuapda's Krsna book presents them in more of a story format, interweaving the complete philosophy in commentary on the stories. As Sampradaya Acarya, Srila Prabhupada published the Krsna books to dispel any misconceptions that our sampradaya teaches anything that might be misconstrued as mundane sexuality or Sahajiya teachings.
Next are the teachings originating from the Lord Caitanya lila, of which the Caitanya-caritamrta is considered to be qualitatively superior by Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas. Before publishing his Caitanya-caritamrta, Srila Prabhupada distilled the essential philosophical teachings and put them into his book, Teachings of Lord Caitanya. This was published in advance of Caitanya-caritamrta to give his disciples a proper perspective on our sampradaya's unique philosophy.
Out of all the Gosvami's writings, Srila Prabhupada presented the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, or Nectar of Devotion. This book establishes the fact that Krsna consciousness is a very scientific process, and it maps out the step-by-step advancements to the very highest echelons of pure devotional service. After reading the first few chapters, most readers find themselves well on the way to a realm that is so exalted, it can be appreciated but one can hardly hope to attain it in a single lifetime.
"One should not partially study a book just to pose oneself as a great scholar by being able to refer to scriptures. In our Krishna consciousness movement we have therefore limited our study of Vedic literatures to Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Caitanya-caritamrta, and Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. These four works are sufficient for preaching purposes. They are adequate for the understanding of the philosophy and the spreading of missionary activities all over the world. If one studies a particular book, he must do so thoroughly. That is the principle. By thoroughly studying a limited number of books, one can understand the philosophy."
Caitanya-caritamrta, Madyam lila 22.118, Purport
Just as we are cautioned by the Sampradaya Acarya not to jump immediately to the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam without first reading carefully all the previous Cantos, similarly one should not delve into a study of the wealth of Vaisnava literature left by the previous Acaryas without first making a thorough study of the preeminent Sampradaya Acarya’s writings. For the Gaudiya Vaisnavas, that means His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
It is the duty of the Sampradaya Acarya to make relevant, according to time, place and circumstance, the essence of our philosophy. It is not forbidden by the Sampradaya Acarya to study writings by the previous Acaryas, and in some cases he himself recommends or introduces these literatures. For example, the Sri Isopanisad contains the purports of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thaur, and we sing songs written by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Narottama dasa Thakur, Jayadev Gosvami, and others. All these literatures, however, have been presented for us by the current Sampradaya Acarya, Srila Prabhupada.
For those who are brahminically inclined and wish to experience the richness of our heritage, venturing forth into the world of Vaisnava literatures may be beneficial for spiritual life. For those more neophyte devotees, I can assure you that you will not find any major aspect of our philosophy outside the writings of Srila Prabhupada.
Always keep in mind that the previous Sampradaya Acaryas were preaching according to time, place and circumstance. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu empowered the Six Gosvamis to write literatures that would convince the Vedic scholars of that time that our philosophy was solidly rooted in the great Vedic tradition. The Gosvamis have given us invaluable service, assuring us that there is no need to repeat the same exploratory research they did. We should also understand that Srila Prabhupada is their most modern representative, and has performed the same task for our benefit.
It is comforting to know that we are being introduced to the hallowed halls of the greatest philosophers the world has ever known. These Vaisnava literatures are a testament to that fact. Srila Prabhupada has ensured that we will not run the risk of straying from the path set down by the previous Sampradaya Acaryas. For preaching purposes, his books are the unalloyed authority for today’s Vaisnavas.
Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.