Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 24

BY: ROCANA DASA - 1.6 2022

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

Today we continue with chapter nine of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "A Resident of Vrndavana". This section describes Srila Prabhupada's return from Vrindavan after preaching in Bombay. Overall, I find this section very offensive. Srila Prabhupada is repeatedly described by the author, Satsvarupa dasa, as being not a nitya-siddha, but rather as a sadhana-siddha. In fact, the way Satsvarupa is describing him, the reader is encouraged to conclude that Srila Prabhupada is simply a sadhana-bhakta.

The reader should keep in mind that at the time of this writing, Satsvarupa himself was anything but struggling. He was virtually living in the lap of luxury, in a situation of his own personal design. Anything he wanted or needed was provided in short order, by his servants or by the society in general. I'm again pointing this out because at the same time, Satsvarupa is repetitively writing about how "Abhay" was in such a struggling and homeless condition. This, of course, is the antithesis of how one should depict a maha-bhagavat who's never alone, who's always with Krsna and the other Sampradaya Acaryas, executing pastimes on behalf of Krsna.

Satsvarupa goes about telling us, in his own speculative manner, exactly what Srila Prabhupada is thinking and seeing, and what he's doing from moment to moment, like chanting japa. Much of this section centers around a poem that became available to Satsvarupa as part of the archival material he gathered. It's called Vrndavana-bhajana:

 

1
I am sitting alone in Vrndavana-dhama.
In this mood I am getting many realizations.
I have my wife, sons, daughters, grandsons, everything,
But I have no money so they are a fruitless glory.
Krsna has shown me the naked form of material nature;
By His strength it has all become tasteless to me today.
yasyaham anugrhnami harisye tad-dhanam sanaih:
"I gradually take away all the wealth of those upon whom I am merciful."
How was I able to understand this mercy of the All-merciful?

2
Everyone has abandoned me, seeing me as penniless --
Wife, relatives, friends, brothers, everyone.
This is misery, but it gives me a laugh. I sit alone and laugh.
In this maya-samsara, whom do I really love?
Where have my loving father and mother gone now?
And where are all my elders, who were my own folk?
Who will give me news of them, tell me who?
All that is left of this family life is a list of names.

3
As the froth on the seawater mixes again in the sea,
Maya-samsara's play is just like that.
No one is mother or father, or personal relative;
Just like the sea foam, they remain but a short time.
Just as the froth on seawater mixes again in the sea,
The body made of five elements meets with destruction.
How many bodies does the embodied soul take in this way?
His relatives are all related merely to the temporal body.

4
but everyone is your relative, brother, on the spiritual platform.
This relationship is not tinged with the smell of Maya.
The Supreme Lord is the soul of everyone.
In relation to Him, everyone in the universe is the same.
All your relatives, brother! All the billions of jivas.
When seen in relation to Krsna they are all in harmony.
Forgetting Krsna, the jiva desires sense gratification.
And as a result he is firmly grasped by Maya…

 

You can see for yourself how this poem is on such an advanced level and depicts the mood of a truly advanced maha-bhagavat. Of course, just as we read the writings of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur or Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, we find throughout the poem expressions of extreme humility. Unfortunately, Satsvarupa interprets these to be signs of Srila Prabhupada's personal unhappiness and an indication that he's not so advanced. For example, Satsvarupa tells us that Srila Prabhupada was "alone and poor", and that "More than ever, his mood was reflective and renounced."

Throughout the Lilamrta, the author frequently clips out sections from various writings of Srila Prabhupada and in a sense edits Srila Prabhupada's work, deciding what he's going to insert and then 'purport' on himself. And in many cases what Satsvarupa adds is just filler. He's never able to say anything better than Srila Prabhupada himself did, so what's the purpose of all this? Satsvarupa comments on another article that was published in the Back to Godhead magazine, extracting just a few lines and making his personal comments. I, for one, would much rather have just read what Srila Prabhupada had to say in that particular BTG. Instead, Satsvarupa gets the glory, so to speak, of being the one to purport the pure devotee's words.

The author then goes on to describe what Srila Prabhupada was supposedly thinking on Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati's Disappearance Day. On that day, we're told that he was thinking back on how the Gaudiya Matha was destroyed by these big sannyasis. Satsvarupa even calls this the "old story". Of course, as Satsvarupa was writing this, the "old story" was unfolding anew as ISKCON did a re-run of the Gaudiya Matha scenario. Even as he was writing about "how the big sannyasis had disregarded their spiritual master's instructions", Satsvarupa himself as one of the elite ISKCON leaders was doing exactly the same thing. Writing in what was to be a truly prophetic way, Satsvarupa says that the Gaudiya Matha godbrothers had "settled quietly into self-satisfied, insular, almost impotent units". Today we can see that Satsvarupa and his ISKCON associates have done precisely that, themselves.

While Satsvarupa accurately describes Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati's movement, he obviously doesn't see the parallels that were going on in ISKCON at the time of his writing. To my mind, this just shows how much illusion Satsvarupa and his peers were in. The ISKCON leaders clearly understood how Srila Prabhupada felt about the situation in the Gaudiya Matha, because he had told them exactly how he felt about it. Yet if we go about trying to tell ISKCON and the GBC about ISKCON's early history and what we feel is wrong with their leadership of our Spiritual Master's movement, those in Satsvarupa's circle of friends vilify and ostracize us for committing what they think is a big offense, even though it's just as true as what Satsvarupa is writing here about the Gaudiya Matha. It's also interesting to note that just ten years after he wrote this Lilamrta, Satsvarupa was trying to convince ISKCON to install B.V. Narayana Maharaja as the enshrined Acarya of ISKCON. Of course, B.V. Narayana was a product of the same Gaudiya Matha Srila Prabhupada had found so much fault in.

Satsvarupa then gives us his skewed insight into Srila Prabhupada by inserting another poem that Srila Prabhupada had written, entitled Viraha-ashaka. Again, the poem is expertly done, and is far more scholarly and subtle than Satsvarupa interprets it to be.

As he has done throughout the entire book, in this chapter Satsvarupa is describing Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur as a nitya-siddha maha-bhagavat, while depicting "Abhay" as a sadhana-siddha, struggling devotee… just like Satsvarupa and all his friends. In other words, the mood throughout is that the author is trying to subtly give the impression that he and his cronies, as the inheritor kripa-siddha disciples of Srila Prabhupada, can easily achieve many times more success than Srila Prabhupada did because they didn't have to start in the same way he did - penniless, homeless, and in a depressed condition. Instead, they started off with everything handed to them by Srila Prabhupada: money men, temples, facilities, books, everything. Yet we see what happened, regardless of the head start they were given. We see what's happened to Satsvarupa, personally.

One day, I will hope to see one of my senior godbrothers write a poem to Srila Prabhupada on his Departure day, describing ISKCON in the same way Srila Prabhupada described the Gaudiya Matha. The parallels are undeniable.