Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 36

BY: ROCANA DASA - 16.6 2022

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

Today we begin with Chapter 5 of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "Free to Preach". Satsvarupa includes here an excerpt from a lecture that Srila Prabhupada gave on March 4, 1966, on Bhagavad-gita sloka 2-11. Of course, Satsvarupa doesn't refer to the actual date, but one can look it up.

The title refers to the fact that Srila Prabhupada rented a room in the same building that Dr. Mishra had his yoga studio in. It was a small office that only cost $70/month, and it didn't have any cooking or washroom facilities; he still had to go over to Dr. Mishra's apartment for that. But the rented room meant that he was now free to have his own programs, which consisted basically of three classes a week in Bhagavad-gita. People were also free to stop by and see him whenever they liked.

Those who attended Srila Prabhupada's get-togethers were primarily people who had been introduced to yoga by Dr. Mishra. In describing Srila Prabhupada's situation there, Satsvarupa insists on calling it "bare poverty", referring to his room as being like that of someone in deep poverty. I don't think Srila Prabhupada ever referred to himself as being poverty-stricken or even complained such a thing. In fact, Satsvarupa included a letter Srila Prabhupada sent to Sumati Morarji, at the end of which he said he thinks everything is going nicely and it's a great success.

As usual, Satsvarupa pays a lot of attention to describing just how bad this room is, how bad the city is, how bad the winter, the noise, and everything is. But that's just his perspective. It's not something you ever find Srila Prabhupada saying when describing his situation. So why it is that Satsvarupa consistently describes it this way?

Even at this early stage Srila Prabhupada was taping all his lectures, and Satsvarupa obviously had access to some of these tapes. By Krsna's arrangement someone had donated a reel-to-reel recorder and Srila Prabhupada was not only taping his lectures, but also bhajans he sang alone. These lectures can be found on the Vedabase, but we didn't find them in the audio library.

In typical fashion, Satsvarupa chops up Srila Prabhupada's lecture, making comments like describing Srila Prabhupada's voice as high-pitched, and 'breaking with urgency'… "His cultured British diction bears a heavy Bengali accent."

Satsvarupa decides to include a section of the lecture where Srila Prabhupada is challenging somebody in the audience for reading a translation of the Bhagavad-gita while Srila Prabhupada is lecturing. He asked them to stop doing that and just listen to what he has to say. There is no real explanation given by Satsvarupa as to why Srila Prabhupada took that position or made those comments to the person, or how this is the mood of a pure devotee preacher.

Satsvarupa goes on to give us a partial transcription of the lecture, wherein Srila Prabhupada explains about the sacred thread and how that indicates that a person has a spiritual master. Throughout the lecture, Satsvarupa intersperse his own comments in between Srila Prabhupada's. Why he chooses to describe Srila Prabhupada in the way he does is beyond me. In my mind, it is not flattering. For example, he says he is "frail, and small and foreign to them". Satsvarupa keeps reminding the reader that the room was very austere and was shaped like a railway car.

Reading the transcription of what Srila Prabhupada has to say is enlivening, and the way he preaches is very interesting. Satsvarupa decides to include little excerpts from the lecture wherein he's asking the audience for some help in finding the right English word to describe something. Of course, he doesn't include the entire lecture in itself. He puts more emphasis on these little dialogues. Satsvarupa muses or speculates about what the audience is thinking about Srila Prabhupada.

The subject of the lecture is the need for a spiritual master, but then Satsvarupa seemingly reads the minds of the audience and in doing so, he states that they're thinking 'this is just a traditional Indian thing', and another cultural item from Hinduism, and that they were looking at it more like a person looks at a foreign film or a foreign documentary on how people live in other countries. We've never seen a statement in which anyone said that's how they were looking at Srila Prabhupada, yet Satsvarupa decides to give us his wisdom in this regard. This is somewhat demeaning, to both the persons in the audience and to Srila Prabhupada himself.

This whole section of Lilamrta is based on this one lecture, which is apparently the earliest recorded lecture Satsvarupa could find. In the excerpts of the lecture we find Srila Prabhupada referring to the need for a spiritual master, and he is very interestingly practical about this. He doesn't give the impression to his audience that it's a mystical experience -- that once you take a spiritual master it's a great feeling, or a great karmic weight is taken off you, etc. He just refers to the fact that it's like going to university -- you have to choose the spiritual master carefully in the same way you choose a school. You're looking for the best… a spiritual master who knows about transcendental subject matters and is living a pure life.

One has to always keep in mind that Satsvarupa was one of the first disciples of Srila Prabhupada, and at this point in time none of the first disciples were attending these lectures. The people in attendance apparently didn't take Srila Prabhupada up on his offer to become disciples, and there's an underlying mood or attitude on behalf of the author wherein he makes it sound as if the audience wasn't very enlightened or serious, so consequently they didn't join him, like Satsvarupa and some of the other early disciples did once Srila Prabhupada got his place, later on in the Spring.

In the end of this section, Satsvarupa describes Srila Prabhupada as having this almost desperate desire to convince at least one soul to take up Krsna consciousness, immediately. Now this is apparently Satsvarupa extrapolating from just listening to the lecture and hearing Srila Prabhupada's voice. I find it very strange that he should come to this conclusion, based not on what Srila Prabhupada is saying, but apparently just on the tone of his voice.

At the end of this section the author concludes that everyone in the room just looked blankly at Srila Prabhupada after the lecture. Next time we'll discuss another excerpt Satsvarupa takes from another set of tapes, including an interview with someone who had some experience with Srila Prabhupada but didn't commit himself - a Robert Nelson.

I don't find any mention by Satsvarupa in this section of the tremendous spiritual benefit all those who attended these early lectures attained on account of their association with a pure devotee. There's a just a general impression that they weren't very qualified or receptive, and the way it's described here it sounds as though they didn't get much spiritual advantage because they weren't qualified - compared to himself and the early disciples who later joined, of course. This is not very spiritually or philosophically accurate. Anyone who associates, even for a moment, with a pure devotee is eternally benefited. There's no research to verify the fact that their lives weren't changed on account of this association, so this conclusion is just another product of Satsvarupa's own mind.