Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 23

BY: ROCANA DASA - 1.5 2022

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

Today we will continue reviewing the content of Chapter 9 of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "A Resident of Vrindavana". We have read that Srila Prabhupada, while still residing in Vrindavan, was always going out for preaching purposes. In this section of the book, we're told by the author in quite a lot of detail how Srila Prabhupada was preaching in Bombay along with his disciple. This is fascinating information, but we can't help but wonder where all the information came from. The way the author is writing, you would think that he was personally present, or that his sources are very close to the situation. The author doesn't mention if the disciple, Acarya Prabhakar, was interviewed by someone and who that interviewer might have been, or how old Acarya Prabhakar was at the time of the interview.

In short, the source of this material is left entirely to our speculation. Someone appears to have given a great deal of in-depth information to Satsvarupa and as any writer knows, getting access to such exclusive information is certainly golden. Wherever the material came from, the author obviously imagined himself to be either a fiction writer or a person who writes in the style of epic narratives, like Michener or Solzhenitsyn.

It occurs to me, especially in this particular section, how wonderful and valuable it would be to humanity and the devotees to have actually had this archival material simply presented to us, perhaps organized in a chronological way, perhaps with brief archival footnotes. Instead, Satsvarupa takes credit for all sorts of information without giving any credit to the actual sources, let alone providing the all-important source documents. He then tries to weave the source material into a whole story, which he constantly peppers with inappropriate terms, like us constant and overly familiar use of "Abhay". In one section alone, it's astounding how many times he uses the name "Abhay" instead of Srila Prabhupada or His Divine Grace, or any other appropriate title. He even calls Srila Prabhupada's disciple "Acarya Prabhakar", not abbreviating his name. Yet for Srila Prabhupada it's simply "Abhay", "Abhay". Clearly, Satsvarupa is fixated with this familiarization of Srila Prabhupada.

Satsvarupa appears to accurately depict the fact that Srila Prabhupada was constantly endeavoring to preach and remained absorbed in carrying on with his concept for the League of Devotees. This information is extremely inspiring for those who want to understand what Srila Prabhupada's mood is, and always has been, in terms of spreading Krsna consciousness. ISKCON, of course, is a manifested form of what Srila Prabhupada envisioned, to varying degrees, as the organization called the "League of Devotees".

In this chapter, Satsvarupa quotes from and abbreviates very important and extremely valuable documents he refers to, such as "An Appeal to the Generous Public, Modern Philosophers, Leaders, and Religionists". Instead of making us privy to this document, which Satsvarupa apparently had at his disposal, we get an edited, abbreviated version in Satsvarupa's own words. So what was left out or re-phrased? We don't know. As far as I can tell, this archival material is not available today. Does it still exist? One of the important tasks the BBT Archives should be undertaking is to give the community of devotees a detailed, official index of all the source documents like this mentioned in Lilamrta or elsewhere, advising of the disposition of these documents. Where are they, what condition are they in, etc.? As I've previously mentioned, we know that a tremendous amount of archival material was mysteriously burnt to ashes in Satsvarupa's cabin. I feel the leadership of the BBT has a duty to all of Srila Prabhupada's followers to give a full accounting of this material.

In the meantime, we have to take gold from what is essentially a filthy place. In other words, the excerpts that Satsvarupa has chosen to paste-in to his dialogue and the paraphrased references are still most inspiring and a wonderful exhibition of the mind and mood of a topmost Acarya in the guru-parampara. For example, we get an opportunity to hear how Srila Prabhupada actively preached based on different concepts that were later instituted into the big picture ISKCON after he came to the West. At the time, we knew very little about these periods of Srila Prabhupada's life, like his membership program, which came about from previous attempts to establish the League of Devotees. Later, when he introduced it in ISKCON it was highly successful because Srila Prabhupada then had the big picture to offer people -- spiritual centers around the world and all sorts of published books.

We can see how brilliantly Srila Prabhupada went about organizing and constantly writing and working hard, every day, all day, in order to achieve his goals. He was never discouraged, always depending on the mercy of Krsna, even though Satsvarupa foolishly chooses to depict him as practically a penniless beggar. While emphasizing such sentimental 'hooks' in his writing, Satsvarupa really toned down the obviously important indications of the pure devotee's spiritual potency that was evident in these archival materials. Instead of hearing about Srila Prabhupada's total commitment to preach, we hear about what a beggar he is. There are explanations of how Srila Prabhupada would take every opportunity to preach Bhagavad-gita and that for him, presenting the philosophy was the utmost priority. Even though there were many opportunities to do a lot of chanting, Srila Prabhupada instead prioritized preaching. Today we find exactly the opposite in ISKCON because the leadership does not follow the Sampradaya Acarya's pure program, obviously because doing so is much more austere.

Unfortunately, Satsvarupa also felt moved to tell his readers that Srila Prabhupada was going out preaching because "his conviction was growing". Now how can a pure devotee, nitya-siddha have their conviction 'growing'? They're totally convinced, and totally absorbed in Krsna.

Instead of including important organizational documents like the prospectus for the League of Devotees, Satsvarupa includes incomplete, albeit still very fascinating letters that Srila Prabhupada wrote to various individuals. I'd dearly love to have the complete version of those letters, and I don't understand why they weren't included in the book. I suppose we may never get access to them now, but we should all make every effort to determine their whereabouts. Otherwise, everything we're told on these matters comes to us through Satsvarupa's contaminated mind-filter.

We can see from this material that Srila Prabhupada was constantly writing, and in many cases writing in an organizational manner. For example, his writings show that he was pre-determining how many BTG's he would send to various countries throughout the world, even though at that point in time it was part of a master plan that wasn't yet being implemented. Later, of course, it was implemented when ISKCON came into being. Today, unfortunately, it is again declining. Anyone who's read this section of the Lilamrta will be aware that the author was in charge of the BTG during the time of this writing. Satsvarupa, of all people, should have understood Srila Prabhupada's complete dedication to his magazine, and known that it was part of his plan to have it designed and presented in the way he presented it during his manifest lila. Basically, it was filled with philosophy. While I'm not much of a judge on what's contained in the BTG's these days, it seems to me to be less of what Srila Prabhupada had in mind and more of a guru/GBC promotional magazine.

The author tells us that Srila Prabhupada was writing to Prime Minister Nehru, but we only get a partial version of that letter. Again, Satsvarupa has to mention that Srila Prabhupada was "practically homeless" and he gives the impression that he was "so bold" that he was writing to the Prime Minister. Of course, we know that a Sampradaya Acarya is inconceivably greater than any Prime Minister ever was or ever will be. A personality of Srila Prabhupada's stature is more than entitled to write to anybody alive on this planet, and the content of his letters are just unbelievably brilliant and insightful… just perfect preaching.

On one hand, Satsvarupa is telling us that Srila Prabhupada is homeless, but on the other hand he's telling us that so many distinguished people were allowing Srila Prabhupada to stay with them. Clearly he was somewhat of a sought after guest. So the author's giving quite a mixed message throughout this chapter.

The whole period wherein Srila Prabhupada was preaching in Bombay is extremely exciting. Of course, in almost every paragraph we hear "he had been struggling and homeless", he was "alone and poor", ad nauseam. At the same time, the author talks about how Srila Prabhupada approached Sumati Morarji, the head of the Scindia Steamship Lines. Srila Prabhupada was being introduced to big industrialists and so on, so why is Satsvarupa practically contradicting the actual facts that he himself is presenting? It seems that he's trying to make us have pity on Srila Prabhupada, because he's supposedly failing in his circumstances. Satsvarupa is always trying to make us believe that before Srila Prabhupada came to America and got the "mercy" of the early American disciples (like the author himself), that Srila Prabhupada was basically a failure. This, of course, is absolute nonsense and completely offensive. All of Satsvarupa's comments in this regard are wrong, wrong, wrong.

I hate to recommend to the readers that they actually read the Lilamrta. However, those who feel confident that they can recognize Satsvarupa's contamination for what it is, and have thereby protected themselves from being contaminated by the many offensive elements in this book, might wish to venture into reading this section. It's just so inspiring once you develop the image of Srila Prabhupada as a nitya-siddha Sampradaya Acarya. These are inspirational pastimes of a rare soul teaching us individually the mood that is required in order to please the predecessor Acaryas in the Sampradaya, and of course Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.