Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 31

BY: ROCANA DASA - 6.6 2022

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

Today we begin with Volume II of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, "Planting the Seed - New York City, 1965 - 1966, starting with Chapter One, entitled "The Journey to America". This Volume includes a forward by Dr. Thomas J. Hopkins of Franklin & Marshall University. The Doctor wrote a favourable account of Srila Prabhupada from what is an academic, historical and mundane perspective. Clearly, he was picking up on the mood that Satsvarupa had set in terms of depicting Srila Prabhupada.

Considering that the Doctor had no idea what it means to be a pure devotee of Krsna and an advanced nitya-siddha maha-bhagavata, we should not be surprised at his message. In reading his introductory comments, one hears about how Srila Prabhupada's success had to do with all sorts of material circumstances, like coming to America during the counterculture period. The indication is that a particular historical mood existed and a lot of Srila Prabhupada's success is on account of that circumstance.

Strangely enough, many devotees present Srila Prabhupada in this very same way, including this factor as one of the reasons for Srila Prabhupada's success. Of course, I don't agree with that. If Sri Krsna wants his pure devotee to be successful, then no forces can stop that from happening, nor are any required in order for it to happen. I don't think it's proper to speculate on such aspects.

One also has to keep in mind when reading this section that particularly from the point in time when this volume came out and onwards, ISKCON has pretty well stuck to Satsvarupa's explanation of who Srila Prabhupada is. The very first introduction most newcomers get to Srila Prabhupada is a story of his life that emphasize the fact that he had heart attacks, that he arrived penniless in America, and that he encountered the hippie movement, and that he struggled alone until the devotees manifested. These were his external and material circumstance, and newcomers hear them told over and over again. Sadly, in many cases little or no emphasis is made of Srila Prabhupada being sent by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu to fulfill his prophesy of spreading Krsna consciousness throughout the world.

Newcomers are not told that whether Srila Prabhupada had 40 rupees in his pocket or millions of bars of gold bullion made no difference in the world, because Krsna is not a poor man. He's the richest, and he could supply Srila Prabhupada with whatever he wanted to. Perhaps by Krsna's arrangement, He's making a great philosophical point by having Srila Prabhupada's pastimes unfold in the way that they did, in the sense that the devotees have to depend on Krsna. That is our philosophy, that Krsna provides just what we need, when we need it, and that brahmans, sannyasis and renounced Vaisnavas don't hanker for any wealth. They completely depend on Krsna, and Krsna always provides whatever they need and protects them under all circumstances. This, of course, is the true story of Srila Prabhupada.

It's also interesting to note that while devotees bring up the heart attack aspect of Srila Prabhupada's material circumstance, when he left his body twelve years later he didn't die of a heart attack. I have yet to hear any philosophical comment on this fact of Srila Prabhupada's manifest lila.

Satsvarupa gives a little introduction to this volume in which he outlines what we're going to find in the coming chapters. He brings in the whole counterculture aspect, and paints a poetic picture of Srila Prabhupada in words. Of course, the reader mostly doesn't need to hear what Srila Prabhupada looked like, or what New York looked like. One picture could say a thousand words, and we have plenty of pictures. From my point of view, the introduction sadly lacks the philosophical content that I think is most needed and appropriate for presenting someone of Srila Prabhupada's spiritual status.

In chapter one, "The Journey to America", Satsvarupa includes excerpts from Srila Prabhupada's diary and other writings that he undertook while making the journey. Frankly, all you really need to do is read what Srila Prabhupada wrote, and you could dispense with all Satsvarupa's content, which for the most part is just saying the very same things Srila Prabhupada said, but in the author's words. We also have his literary narrations about what Srila Prabhupada did during the journey such as standing on the bridge looking at the ocean, etc.

We must remember that the real dilemma all neophyte devotees have when they read the writings of an advanced devotee is that they have to be extremely careful not to mistake their own natural humility. When Srila Prabhupada writes, for example, the writer's humility in describing himself cannot be taken at face value. While Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur might call himself a "dog", if would be offensive for us to think he's a dog, in any sense of the word. Rather, we understand this to be a display of his humility. But when Srila Prabhupada displays humility, Satsvarupa always appears to take it literally. He really seems to think that Srila Prabhupada is accurately describing himself like that. On one hand Srila Prabhupada is humble, but on the other hand he's aware of what his mission is: that he's a nitya-siddha, that he's a pure devotee of Krsna, and that Krsna is empowering and protecting him at every second and every moment. So any interpretation by a person like Satsvarupa that Srila Prabhupada was "fearful" or that he was concerned about his health is a misinterpretation of the facts.

Satsvarupa continues on with his previous themes of Srila Prabhupada being poor, and that he's simply following the orders of his Spiritual Master -- not that he is a nitya-siddha sent by Lord Caitanya to fulfill His prediction of spreading Krsna consciousness around the world, which is the real spiritual reality.

In one part of the story the author quotes from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, giving him his full title, but when he mentions Srila Prabhupada, he dispenses completely with "Srila" and just calls him "Prabhupada". So we're back to the author's use of a familiar name, just like "Abhay Charan".

We again read Satsvarupa's descriptive narrative about what Srila Prabhupada was thinking, exactly what he was seeing, what his moods were, etc., as if Satsvarupa had any idea whatsoever. In fact, in his introduction the author states "Srila Prabhupada did not regard his personal history as an important subject for study; his interest was to publish many volumes about Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead." So on one hand he's saying this, yet on the other hand he and his fellow Zonal Acaryas spent in the neighborhood of a million dollars publishing this Lilamrta.

Satsvarupa reminds us over and over again about Srila Prabhupada's heart attack, saying things like "Helplessly, he spoke his heart directly to God". Again there's an example of how a pure devotee describes themselves in a humble manner, as Srila Prabhupada wrote: "My dear Lord Krsna, you are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me." So the Lilamrta is largely intended to give newcomers their first impression of Srila Prabhupada, and this is what they get: no clarification on the part of the author explaining to the reader that comments like this are examples of pure humility, and the fact that Srila Prabhupada shouldn't be seen as a "useless soul", as he's describing himself.

Instead of recognizing Srila Prabhupada's exalted nature, Satsvarupa says things like "He plainly stated that his spiritual master had ordered him to accomplish this mission of worldwide Krsna consciousness, and feeling unworthy he prayed to Lord Krsna for strength." To me, these are like drops of urine in the vat of milk. Really, they're just the utterances of a neophyte devotee who has a very shallow realization of Srila Prabhupada, the pure devotee.