Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 35

BY: ROCANA DASA - 15.6 2022

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

In Chapter 4 of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "It Will Not be Possible to Assist You", we read about Srila Prabhupada's winter in New York before the disciples started to manifest. Satsvarupa obtained some interviews with different individuals who Srila Prabhupada met during that period, as well as letters he had written to various people. On top of that he obviously went to newspapers and researched the major news events of the day. These he included in his dialogue, along with his personal speculations and literary elaborations. As stated many times in the past, the worst part of the Lilamrta is when the author decides to show off his literary skills.

In this case, the title says it all –that Srila Prabhupada's efforts to spread Krsna consciousness during this period were thwarted by those he approached to assist him on his mission. This theme is a constant factor with Satsvarupa. As a nitya-siddha, Srila Prabhupada had a mission to perform – to spread Krsna consciousness throughout the world. And as we all know, he achieved that. How Krsna worked is something that really is not addressed by the author in the Lilamrta. If Satsvarupa wanted to do some speculating, which he certainly has a tendency towards, he could have easily tried to give us some philosophical insight into why it was that Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who was always overseeing his pure devotee, arranged for things to happen as they did. Satsvarupa could have offered an explanation as to why Srila Prabhupada's pastimes unfolded the way that they did, and why there's a period wherein he was seemingly giving certain individuals an opportunity to participate in the lila in a meaningful way, although they obviously didn't take up the offer.

The transcription of an interview given by Mr. Rubin was included in the Lilamrta. In fact, this interview has become something of a myth amongst the devotees. Srila Prabhupada met this person on a regular basis, on a park bench in New York. The way Mr. Rubin tells the story, Srila Prabhupada dispelled what anyone in the material consciousness would conclude if they'd met him during that period: first of all, that he's not poor. He's actually very rich, and those riches are there in the many temples and books that exist, and only time separates them from Srila Prabhupada. We now know that to be true. Another wrong idea being dispelled is that Srila Prabhupada is never alone, even though Satsvarupa keeps saying he is. Srila Prabhupada tells Mr. Rubin he's never alone.

Strangely enough, Satsvarupa doesn't make any comment on this. Instead he goes into describing what the weather was like, what it was like to ride on the bus, and what Srila Prabhupada was thinking. All of this may or may not be true, but most likely isn't true.

Then Satsvarupa gets into some of his references from the newspaper about what was going on at that time. He clips in another interview by a Mrs. Ferber, who was a bookseller. She describes how Srila Prabhupada would come in regularly to see if his books were selling, and he'd talk to her. Everyone always had a favourable attitude towards Srila Prabhupada. No one ever said anything negative about him, and I don't think it's because Satsvarupa just decided to give us the positive and leave out the negative. A pure devotee on Srila Prabhupada's level doesn't make enemies.

The next interview is with Harvey Cohen, another personality who has taken on mythical proportions of sentimental remembrance. He would go and visit Srila Prabhupada occasionally, when Srila Prabhupada was staying at his little office in the same building as the yoga studio. Every time that he came to visit him, Srila Prabhupada was always happy, upbeat, and busy typing. Srila Prabhupada immediately found out what Mr. Cohen's interest was, namely painting, and he immediately engaged him in painting. He did a nice painting called "Sankirtana". Where this particular painting is now, I'm not sure.

Satsvarupa's writing style was to go date by date, each little section being dated. The dates corresponded either to a letter Satsvarupa had gotten hold of or to some news event. It's fascinating to read these letters but as I've said before, there's no way to know if you're getting the whole letter, part of a letter, or an edited version, because Satsvarupa makes no attempt to inform us.

One of the letters Srila Prabhupada wrote was to a Mr. A.M. Hartman. I find it to be a very fascinating letter in the sense that Prabhupada dealt with Mr. Hartman just like a businessman. He was very businesslike in his approach to convince Mr. Hartman that it was a good move for him to let us have a certain building that Srila Prabhupada considered ideal for preaching. As we all know this deal didn't come to be.

Srila Prabhupada is always doing what all the pure personalities who are in the preaching mood do –constantly looking for circumstances in which to spread Krsna consciousness. Naturally many of these circumstances prove to be unfruitful in terms of achieving the desired goals. But not only did Srila Prabhupada set the example, he also showed that many side benefits are obtained by make the efforts, even if money doesn't come into play.

At the same time Srila Prabhupada was writing to his godbrothers and trying to get them interested in helping him to purchase a property in New York. One of the godbrothers he wrote to was Bon Maharaja, who had set-up an institute and had his headquarters right across the road from the Krishna-Balarama Mandir. None of us ever went to Bon Maharaja's in the early days, and we had no interest in cultivating a relationship with him.

Satsvarupa mentions that Srila Prabhupada always maintained his morning walk program, even though it was very cold in New York in the winter. We're told that Srila Prabhupada didn't have the correct wearing apparel to deal with the local climatic conditions. I think Satsvarupa probably glamourized or over-speculated about exactly what Srila Prabhupada did in winter, pushing through blizzards with a thin dhoti on, etc. The whole verbal description appears to me to be overly sentimental. Srila Prabhupada always did what was very practical and common sense, and he was obviously thinking ahead into the future. For Srila Prabhupada to take a big chance with his health and welfare simply on account of wanting to take his morning walks sounds far-fetched to me. He just kept working for Krsna, always in the best possible way.

In the excerpts from the letters Srila Prabhupada wrote to Tirtha and his other godbrothers, you can see how this was Srila Prabhupada's mood. He was always very practical and he wanted results. When preaching to his godbrothers he wanted them to send money and manpower to help him with his work, because it was the desire of their Spiritual Master. He was in a position to practically do something to fulfill the orders of their Spiritual Master –he just needed some seed capital in order to do so. Unfortunately, little or no help was forthcoming from the godbrothers in this regard.