Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 37

BY: ROCANA DASA - 16.6 2022

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

As we continue on with the remainder of Chapter 5 of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, "Free to Preach", we actually have a date reference for the material at hand. The focus is a March 4, 1966 class Srila Prabhupada gave on Bhagavad-gita 2.11. The audio for this class is available, which obviously means that Srila Prabhupada was taping it -- which goes to show that Krsna wanted his pure devotee's classes and chanting to be recorded. Even at this very early date, prior to the first temple, while Srila Prabhupada was still staying at his residence in the same building as Dr. Mishra's yoga center he felt it important to record this class. The lecture in itself is amazing to read.

As usual, Satsvarupa only includes part of the lecture, and the part he included was the last section. There was some dialogue between Srila Prabhupada and a woman who was asking about holy places. Srila Prabhupada started to describe Vrindavan, how he was missing Vrindavan and that it was his home, and that he'd come to the western world out of duty to his Spiritual Master. He repeated this theme of executing his duty and how he was duty bound.

We find that in the lecture, Srila Prabhupada had the opportunity to say that he was an advanced devotee and people should be taking shelter of him, and that the real reason you go to holy places is for the purpose of associating with people like him. But he didn't do that. Even in this context, where most preachers would make it abundantly clear that the people are very fortunate to have their association, Srila Prabhupada didn't push himself personally. He didn't try to promote himself as a big advanced devotee, which is quite amazing itself. Of course, this is not pointed out in the Lilamrta.

The next section is based on an interview with a person called Robert Nelson, whom Satsvarupa has decided to present in quite a derogatory way. He tells us that this person was simple, he was a country boy, his intelligence was limited, he spoke unimpressively, he didn't have a wide range of friends, he didn't have any money, etc. At the same time he's decided to include fairly long sections of Mr. Nelson's interview about Srila Prabhupada. So it's somewhat mysterious to me why, considering the way he described him, Satsvarupa felt he should include pages of his actual interview.

I found that the transcripts were endearing in terms of how he described Srila Prabhupada. He obviously had developed an affection for Srila Prabhupada, understandably, and that in itself is some prerequisite for him being engaged in Srila Prabhupada's lila, regardless of whether he chose not to become a disciple. Still, he obviously made a lot of spiritual advancement on account of this association.

The way that Satsvarupa depicted Srila Prabhupada going around New York with this Robert fellow, I found rather demeaning. Satsvarupa describes the odd combination in an almost comical way, which is not the proper way to describe your Spiritual Master, what to speak of the Sampradaya Acarya. Srila Prabhupada was trying to engage Robert in Krsna consciousness and Srila Prabhupada went with him to see if he couldn't rent a nicer circumstance, even though he had no money. Robert had no money, either, but Srila Prabhupada was willing to associate with him. So that says a lot in itself.

Then Satsvarupa goes on to glowingly describe the personalities that were on the Lower East Side of New York. It appears that there was a restaurant called the Paradox, which was kind of watering hole for the macrobiotic, hip types. They could hang out, get a cheap meal and coffee… sort of a precursor to Starbucks. There are two characters in this part of the story: Harvey Cohen and Bill Epstein (p. 64). I'm not certain whether these two actually ended up being disciples, and that wasn't made clear in the story. But it appears that Bill was Srila Prabhupada's greatest advocate at that point in time, and he was telling everyone else about Srila Prabhupada, encouraging them to go visit him and hear his lectures.

It's interesting to consider how Srila Prabhupada had his first get-togethers on the 72nd Street location, wherein he still had some conservative, elderly people coming from Dr. Mishra's crowd, then there was this new influx of younger, hip people from the Lower East Side. A person called James Greene, who was also coming with Harvey and Bill, described the fact that when they came to hear Bhagavad-gita they didn't chant - Srila Prabhupada just lectured on the Gita.

Satsvarupa obviously identifies with or had great affection for the personalities that had been interviewed from this particular crowd. It appears that they wanted to arrange for Srila Prabhupada to get a location in the part of the city where things were happening, and Srila Prabhupada was into it. He apparently didn't see any problem in getting involved with this type of happening in New York, regardless of the fact that the original persons who attended his lectures were conservatives and well-to-do types. Again, this says a lot about Srila Prabhupada, although Satsvarupa doesn't embellish or elaborate at all about the fact that Krsna was not only protecting Srila Prabhupada, but orchestrating the build-up to the beginning of the Hare Krsna movement in America in a way that we can identify with as devotees.

The devotees don't really give much emphasis to the period prior to Srila Prabhupada's establishing the Lower East Side temple, and Satsvarupa's lack of focus on that period in Lilamrta may be one of the reasons this is the case. The other aspects of this early part of Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON lila have not been looked upon as important, but there's a lot to learn about Srila Prabhupada and the way we should be looking at him. This period of Srila Prabhupada's mission will not only give us inspiration and ideas about how to preach Krsna consciousness, but also illustrates just how a pure devotee goes about dealing with circumstances that a materialist would find extremely depressing and difficult.

None of these people that met Srila Prabhupada and were later interviewed by Satsvarupa gave any indication that they felt Srila Prabhupada was in any kind of distress, what to speak of unhappy. They report that he was always positive, always proactive, always in the mood of being in touch with and having complete faith in Krsna, and always giving everyone the impression that something big was going to happen. And sure enough, it did.