Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 25

BY: ROCANA DASA - 1.6 2022

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

Today we complete our review of chapter 9 of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "A Resident of Vrndavana". At the risk of being repetitive, I have to say that this particular section is the worst I've read thus far in Lilamrta. It has affected me more than any of the previous chapters in terms of knowing what I know and applying my past experiences during this period to the content I'm reading. Knowing Satsvarupa as well as I do and knowing the mood prevalent amongst the senior men, especially the Zonal Acaryas at the time Satsvarupa wrote this book, adds a whole dimension to my reading of it.

This particular section encapsulates the mood of those in Satsvarupa's association at that time. The story involves Srila Prabhupada taking sannyasa. The first thing the author mentions is that Srila Prabhupada had a dream in which he was instructed to take sannyasa. While I know that Srila Prabhupada mentioned this, he did not repetitively emphasize it, to my knowledge. There are certain literary devices that Satsvarupa employs throughout this book. For example, he picks up certain themes and runs them throughout the chapters and storylines, such as Srila Prabhupada's wife drinking tea, or the fact that Srila Prabhupada always rode third class and spent a lot of time on railways. Another of Satsvarupa's recurring themes is this sannyasa dream..

Here, Satsvarupa is describing Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, who in the dream is represented as a nitya-siddha and a very attractive, advanced personality. What's primarily emphasized is that he's a sannyasi. While reading these descriptions of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, one should keep in mind that this is what the early sannyasis who took over Srila Prabhupada's movement after his departure saw in themselves - that on account of them taking sannyasa, they had been super-empowered. They had accepted the position of sannyasa wholly and solely on the grounds that they wanted to serve Srila Prabhupada and give their life and soul to the sankirtana movement. Of course, those outside their ego circle could see that this wasn't true. Perhaps to a certain degree there were sentiments in that direction, but basically they wanted what Satsvarupa describes right here in his Lilamrta:

"Knowing that many cheaters would accept the saffron dress and abuse the respect given to sannyasis, Lord Caitanya had advised against accepting sannyasa in the Age of Kali. He knew that cheaters, in the guise of sadhus, would act immorally, accumulate funds for their own sense gratification, and make many followers simply to enhance their own prestige. Posing as swamis, they would cheat the public."

So we see that Satsvarupa himself describes what actually proved to be true - they themselves became cheaters in saffron cloth.

Worse still, throughout this section Srila Prabhupada is made to look like not only a sadhana-bhakta, but almost a pathetic character. According to Satsvarupa, he had so many reservations about his own ability to take sannyasa. As Satsvarupa portrays it, although his Spiritual Master had taken sannyasa and Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu had taken sannyasa for preaching, Srila Prabhupada didn't have enough preaching skill to take that final step. It supposedly took his Spiritual Master coming to him in a dream. This, of course, is rubbish.

Satsvarupa constantly emphasizes the idea that Srila Prabhupada was in 'desperate circumstances', and that he was "elderly and alone". Yet in the same breath, Satsvarupa says that Srila Prabhupada had an intense desire and determination to preach, and that desire is the rarest of all qualities. In fact, it was this quality that was lacking in his godbrothers who were sannyasis for years and years (just like Satsvarupa and his friends). Srila Prabhupada's criticism of them was that they didn't have the preaching spirit, whereas he did, as was proven over the years by his writing, his efforts to set-up preaching centers, and the way that he organized and ran them. Not surprisingly, Satsvarupa doesn't zero in on this at all.

We see that the big ISKCON sannyasis at that time did not have the preaching spirit themselves that Srila Prabhupada had. Many have now essentially retired and become like householders, giving up preaching unless they can fly first class and have the red carpet greet them at the airport. That's not the kind of preaching spirit Srila Prabhupada exhibited, before or during his ISKCON lila period. Even without an organization, followers or money, he persevered. Nowadays if a sannyasi/guru gets a little bit of a heart problem, they just retire into some comfy situation, just as many of Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers did. But in fact, Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers were far more strict in the traditional sannyasi mood compared to the ISKCON retirees.

In another reference to Srila Prabhupada taking sannyasa, Satsvarupa tells us that Srila Prabhupada wouldn't take sannyasa unless he got institutional permission. We read that he went to the original institution, the Caitanya Matha in Calcutta, which was then under the direction of Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja, whose permission he sought to take sannyasa. According to Satsvarupa, Srila Prabhupada was told that he had to join the matha or else they wouldn't give him permission. They apparently had a test period, something like ISKCON has today. Not surprisingly, Srila Prabhupada wouldn't lower himself to accepting these conditions, and instead went to another godbrother in Mathura, Kesava Maharaja, who immediately offered to execute the rituals surrounding Srila Prabhupada's taking the sannyasa order.

It comes as a great amazement to me that these particular pastimes were enshrined in the Lilamrta, setting down Srila Prabhupada's actions in a way that goes directly against the whole concept that ISKCON is working on now. Srila Prabhupada went outside the institution in order to be able to take sannyasa, and yet the same rules and regulations that were imposed on Srila Prabhupada, which he refused to accept, are now part of ISKCON's system.

It will be obvious to the reader who has studied Satsvarupa's style that his lack of realization shines throughout this chapter. As I've mentioned in previous articles, he takes Srila Prabhupada's expressions of humility, as found in intimate poems, letters, etc., and instead of recognizing them as the signs of an advanced devotee, Satsvarupa interprets them as being the signs of weakness and a neophyte. All of us have now had an opportunity to read the writings of advanced devotees, and we can see how humbly they express themselves, depicting themselves as very lowly persons. We know, of course, that these humble utterances shouldn't be taken literally. Satsvarupa, however, does exactly the wrong thing when it comes to this whole issue of Srila Prabhupada taking sannyasa.

In the last few pages of the chapter, which describe the actual circumstances surrounding Srila Prabhupada's taking sannyasa, there is a disgusting lack of realization on Satsvarupa's part. Satsvarupa basically describes the whole ceremony as though it were a non-event in the lives of the people who participated: that nobody attended, that Kesava Maharaja's assistant (Narayana Maharaja) chanted the mantras, that he took sannyasa with a 90 year-old brahmacari, that he was surprised when called upon to speak, etc. Satsvarupa goes so far as to say that taking sannyasa was the "mandate he required", and the "irrevocable commitment" that preceded his travels to the West. Such statements clearly depict Srila Prabhupada as a sadhana-bhakta, not as the nitya-siddha that he actually was.

If Satsvarupa had access to the English lecture that Srila Prabhupada gave at his sannyasa initiation, he chose not to include it in the book. Instead he included a brief excerpt from the Gaudiya Patrika magazine describing Srila Prabhupada's accomplishments in a manner that was not at all flattering.

When considering the way this particular section of Lilamrta was written, one only has to look at ISKCON's history to understand how far off base Satsvarupa actually was in his realizations of Srila Prabhupada. In my opinion, this particular section should be obliterated from all copies of the Lilamrta. Those who own a copy of the book should take a big, black marker to these pages, or tear them out and throw them into the fire. They have absolutely no redeeming qualities. While some sections of the book have long excerpts from Srila Prabhupada's writings that give it some sanctity, this particular section is comprised of nothing but contamination.