The term Prabhuji
by H.H. Swami Ramananda
Several years ago, around 2009, some disciples, followers and friends of David, Ben-Yosef, Har-Zion, decided to refer to him as Prabhuji. In this article, I would like to clarify the deep meaning of this Sanskrit term. The word prabhu in Sanskrit means “a master , lord or a king” and it is applied in the scriptures to God and to the Guru.
Like many words in the Sanskrit language, the word is actually made of some components, and understanding its etymology, will lead us to discover its various meanings. The word prabhu is a combination of the root bhu which means “to become, to exist, to be, to live”, with the prefix pra, which can mean “forth, or forward” and which then, when attached to bhu applies- one who causes to exist, who gives life, from whom life emanates, that which sustains or maintains.
The prefix pra can also the meaning of very much, or supremacy, and then when attached to the root bhu will create the meanings “to be the master, to rule over”.
In the same scripture, (1.19.38), Mahārāja Parīkṣit, when he approaches the sage Śukadeva, asking him for spiritual guidance, in fact, accepting him as his guru, or spiritual master, addresses him as prabhu:
yac chrotavyam atho japyaṁ
yat kartavyaṁ nṛbhiḥ prabho
smartavyaṁ bhajanīyaṁ vā
brūhi yad vā viparyayam
“O prabhu, Please let me know what a man should hear, chant, remember and worship, and also what he should not do. Please explain all this to me.”
The suffix jī is an honorific in Hindi and other Indian languages. It is added after the names of Gods and esteemed personalities to show respect and reverence.
As manifestations of the Divine, great ṛṣis or “seers” and gurus are also called as prabhus. For example, in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (1.5.4) the sage Nārada is addressing the ṛṣi Vyasadeva as prabhu:
jijñāsitam adhītaṁ ca
brahma yat tat sanātanam
tathāpi śocasy ātmānam
akṛtārtha iva prabho
“You have fully delineated the subject of impersonal Brahman as well as the knowledge derived therefrom. Why should you be despondent in spite of all this, thinking that you are undone, my dear master (prabhu)?”