Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 22

BY: ROCANA DASA - 31.5 2022

A critical analysis of the Srila Prabhupada-Lilamrta by Satsvarupa das Goswami.

Today we begin chapter 9 of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "A Resident of Vrindavana". The author begins by quoting Srila Prabhupada, and this quote is humble in nature. Srila Prabhupada briefly comments upon his taking sannyasa and how his godbrothers and his Spiritual Master came to him and told him that to be a preacher, he needs to accept the renounced order. As Satsvarupa tells us, Srila Prabhupada said 'unwillingly, I accepted'.

Statements like this from Srila Prabhupada, by their very nature, need to be purported by someone who actually realizes Srila Prabhupada's elevated spiritual position. In reading the philosophy, the character and qualifications of an advanced devotee are one of extreme humility. This particular statement of Srila Prabhupada's was made in that mood, without a doubt.

Even as described in earlier sections of the Lilamrta, Srila Prabhupada is preaching constantly, regardless of the fact that he is appearing in white rather than saffron cloth. The very fact that he is describing himself in this way, as being unwilling to take sannyasa, has a whole different meaning than the way Satsvarupa is presenting it here. It's not that Srila Prabhupada hesitated to take sannyasa because it was too difficult or problematic. This is his lila pastime, and if one doesn't understand it they should not comment, let alone emphasizing it derogatorily, repeatedly, as Satsvarupa does.

Today when we look at sannyasis within ISKCON, we find many unqualified personalities who we can honestly and accurately say don't exhibit much humility. This is evident by the fact that they are being institutionally pushed rather than asked - pushed through the administrative loop to take sannyasa rather than having their godbrothers insist that they do so to increase their ability to preach, because their godbrothers already see what great preachers they are.

So Srila Prabhupada is setting the real standard for taking sannyasa. Of course, the author himself was a young sannyasi at the time of this writing. He was so full of himself that he became one of the architects for the Zonal Acarya system.

Satsvarupa starts this chapter in his usual travelogue writing style, and it's as if you're reading a tourist brochure. He even includes sites like the garbage dump at Nizamuddin, a mosque, and all sorts of unpleasant sites that one would see when pulling out of Delhi towards Mathura. There's no real purpose in painting this kind of picture, and neither do we have any idea of what Srila Prabhupada actually sees, how he feels about what he's seeing, or how what he sees affects him. Needless to say, when you're on his level of Krsna consciousness you would see it very differently than the way Satsvarupa sees and describes it. So why include this type of detail?

Of course, Satsvarupa has his favourite recurring themes, like the fact that Srila Prabhupada rode third class. He mentions this again and again. Whether or not the author knew that on a particular day there were only a few passengers on the train or not, or whether Srila Prabhupada stored his luggage under his seat or overhead, what is the difference? What does it add to the story, other than making Srila Prabhupada look like one of us?

Satsvarupa even goes into speculating over whether or not Srila Prabhupada had visited Vrindavan prior to his last personal darshan with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur in 1932. He includes remarks such as 'he likes to hear', which can easily be construed by an uninformed reader as putting Srila Prabhupada in a position that is far less elevated than he actually is. Of course, Srila Prabhupada could easily have visited Vrindavan when he was staying at the Mathura matha, and he likely did, as this was just a short time chronologically from the time being describing here. So this whole scenario that Satsvarupa treats us to is just total speculation on his part, and in my mind it paints the wrong picture.

Satsvarupa inserted paragraphs about the Six Goswamis and how they came to Vrindavan for the first time, and the fact that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur had houses at Radha Kunda and Vrindavan. He then extols the attributes of living in Vrindavan, which I find somewhat ironic in the sense that Satsvarupa himself was living in Pennsylvania. Today Satsvarupa is not far from the age Srila Prabhupada was at this point in the story, but he didn't move to Vrindavan himself. He moved to Ireland, California and then Mexico. So what wasn't he moving to Vrindavan? According to what he's writing here, that would be the best place for someone like him.

Even in his description of the Six Goswamis and what their circumstances were, Satsvarupa makes incorrect philosophical statements. For example, he states that the Goswamis had to preach to and inspire their wealthy Vaisnava patrons in order to build their temples. In reality, on the spiritual level the Goswamis were existing on, it was Krsna who provide them with whatever was needed. In the same way, Krsna provided Srila Prabhupada with what he needed to fulfill his pastimes, which were essentially an extension of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's pastimes, spreading Krsna consciousness throughout the world.

So the first few pages of this chapter don't really say anything about Srila Prabhupada that's worth reading at all. The author simply paints an inadequate picture of Srila Prabhupada as he makes the short trip from Delhi to Vrindavan. He goes on and on, describing Srila Prabhupada's tanga-driving experience and putting thoughts into Srila Prabhupada's mind as he took the trip. Whether Srila Prabhupada took a tanga or a limo, what real difference does it make other than to paint a picture of Srila Prabhupada being penniless, alone and having to put up with all sorts of austerities.

We are reminded by Satsvarupa that Srila Prabhupada wasn't going to Vrindavan to retire, and that he never stopped preaching. In fact, Srila Prabhupada's pastimes in Vrindavan while he wrote his Srimad Bhagwatams and Back To Godhead magazines enable those who study his pastimes in a transcendental way to gain some very valuable understandings of him. During these pastimes Srila Prabhupada set a standard for those who would follow in his footsteps, demonstrating how they should conduct their lives. This, of course, Satsvarupa does not give us the proper understanding of.

The author goes on about how Srila Prabhupada's daily routine and life unfolded in Vrindavan at that time and what it was like, down to minute details. All this is just total speculation on Satsvarupa's part, and this is non-different from a fiction writer's work. There's no other historical resource for him to rely upon other than his own imagination and personal experiences in Vrindavan, or the imaginations of others. If the author had historical resource material he would have quoted it in the book, but he is unable to even offer quotes from a qualified person who was associating with Srila Prabhupada in Vrindavan at the time.

Srila Prabhupada is described as a cultured Bengali gentleman, and Satsvarupa says that he was 'friendly with the caste Goswamis'. This is actually untrue. Granted Srila Prabhupada may have been 'friendly', but we know that he strongly disagreed with their whole system of so-called Goswamis passing on temples to family members. This, of course, Satsvarupa doesn't bother to qualify.

Satsvarupa describes how Srila Prabhupada chanted japa and what he looked like when he was walking through the streets. He doesn't hesitate to mention Vrindavan in a critical way, telling the reader about the 'crumbling old buildings, dirty paths, dark alleys', etc.. We can be sure that Srila Prabhupada didn't see Vrindavan in the same light that Satsvarupa does. He obviously experienced it like this himself, or he wouldn't be writing about it in this way.

In this chapter, Satsvarupa continues to address Srila Prabhupada as "Abhay". Regardless of whether he took sannyasa or not, Srila Prabhupada is a senior advanced disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, and I doubt if anybody that he knew at the time referred to him as "Abhay". I don't even think his children did, so why does Satsvarupa keep referring to him as "Abhay"? The narrative descriptions just goes on and on, serving no purpose whatsoever except to give Satsvarupa an opportunity to write in his chosen style, which is borderline fiction.

The author even decides to include things that are seemingly completely contrary to the way that he's describing Srila Prabhupada. For example, Satsvarupa explains this about Srila Prabhupada's preaching:

"Certain sadhus in India were celebrated and influential, but Abhay was not amongst them. Of course, the uncompromising preaching he had learned from his spiritual master, the "chopping technique" in which he openly criticized revered politicians and holy men, was not likely to win him favor and patronage. "Don't flatter," Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had said. "Speak the truth." And if Krsna is pleased, then you will come out successful. Money will com." And Abhay had firm faith in this."

Instead of understanding that this is how the Sampradaya Acaryas teach true preachers how to properly preach, he gives the impression that his success is all due to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and very little to do with Srila Prabhupada's own realization. He was simply imitating his Spiritual Master. Of course, that isn't right at all.

We also note that the preaching style described above is the opposite of the way we see most of the preachers in ISKCON operating today -- flattering life members to give money and being very careful not to appear critical to politicians or prominent people. So the Sampradaya Acarya's so-called "chopping technique" is not the technique or the mood that Satsvarupa himself is using to preach. In fact, Satsvarupa's whole idea of making Srila Prabhupada "human" and making this Lilamrta an easier read for neophytes is clearly something that Srila Prabhupada wouldn't approve of at all, as illustrated in the passage above.

This first section of the chapter is by far one of the worst I've read in the Lilamrta thus far. I don't recommend that anyone read it. It has no value and only demeans Srila Prabhupada, the Holy Dhama, and even Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the Six Goswamis.