We often hear that Srila Prabhupada said “Preaching is the essence, purity is the force, books are the basis, utility is the principle” as a kind og slogan or motto for ISKCON.
But did he?
BOOKS ARE THE BASIS
“Practically, books are the basis of our Movement.” (Letter to Mandali Bhadra — Jaipur 20 January, 1972)
“Books are the basis of our Movement.” (Letter to Tusta Krsna — Bombay 9 January, 1976)
PURITY IS THE FORCE
“Purity is the force…” (Letter to Trai — India 4 March, 1973)
UTILITY IS THE PRINCIPLE
Nowhere to be found.
PREACHING IS THE ESSENCE
Prabhupāda: What is that?
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: It’s called Preaching is the Essence. “His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda.” It says, “Compiled by Rāmeśvara dāsa Swami and Śubhānanda dāsa Brahmacārī.” It says, “A note of explanation. Every word of the text of this book is taken directly from the books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, founder-ācārya of the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. The text appearing in boldface type is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s translations of verses from the Vedic literatures. The text in regular roman type consists of excerpts from His Divine Grace’s summary studies and purports. Contents in brief: 1) The mission of the Lord—to give all living entities the benediction of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. 2) It is the duty of the devotee to preach.” Each one of these subjects, then they give verses or purports.
Brahmānanda: All about preaching.
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: In other words, a devotee can use this book to learn these verses which substantiate the following points. These are the points. “3) Preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the highest welfare activity. 4) Kṛṣṇa consciousness should be distributed to everyone without restriction.”
Prabhupāda: How many copies? (Room Conversation — November 2, 1977, Vrndavana)
Since Srila Prabhupada approved the book, I guess we can say he approved the phrase “Preaching is the essence”.
THE CHINESE SCROLL THAT STARTED IT ALL
Trivikrama: He has brought you one Chinese script.
Hari-śauri: What does it say?
Devotee (3): Prabhupāda, this is Chinese character scroll. It says, “Books are the basis, preaching is the essence, utility is the principle and purity is the force.” It was translated poorly by myself, and the characters were written by…
Prabhupāda: Is that all right?
Devotee (5): I can read, but I don’t write. Ah… The last part, “purity,” it should be… It’s not so exact. That’s my opinion.
Prabhupāda: What did he say in the trans…?
Devotee (5): It’s “cleanliness” rather than “purity.”
Bali-mardana: He has translated purity as “cleanliness.” Not quite exact.
Devotee (5): But people can understand.
Cāru: Śrīla Prabhupāda? There’s some devotees here from Berkeley temple, and they’d like to make a gift. These are some pictures of the temple which has just been newly redecorated.
Hari-śauri: This is outside the temple. (770225ED-MAYAPUR – February 25, 1977 – 40:33 Minutes)
Srila Prabhupada did not seem interested in this Chinese scroll.
Even though Srila Prabhupada said “books are the basis of our Movement”, that “purity is the force” and approved the term “Preaching is the essence” it is clear that he did not use these four expression at a kind of slogan and motto for ISKCON, and there seems to be no basis for using them as such. He never used these expressions in connection to each other.
“…just like in our ISKCON there are so many false things: “Prabhupada said this, Prabhupada said that.” (721107 – Letter to Krsnadasa written from Vrndavana)