Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 39

BY: ROCANA DASA - 20.6 2022

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

Today we'll finish Chapter six of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "On The Bowery". The last part of this chapter involves Srila Prabhupada's transition from the New York loft he was sharing with a character named David, and how Krsna arranged for him to be situated in the first temple.

Satsvarupa's writing style is consistent, so this section isn't much different in that regard. He takes transcriptions from classes that are available and intermingles them with interviews he and his associates have taken from all sorts of people, along with letters that he's come up with, and the odd statement Srila Prabhupada has made in regards to that period of his lila.

It's obvious that Srila Prabhupada chose not to say a great deal about what was going on with him personally, in terms of how he was dealing with or adapting to -- and ultimately transcending -- a situation that would be awkward and uncomfortable for most. Satsvarupa likes to dramatize all this, of course, and depicts this particular period in a particularly unfavourable light. He describes the part of the city Srila Prabhupada is in as being very low, with many bums. The focus here is that Srila Prabhupada had to vacate this residence because his loft-mate was freaked out on an acid trip or something, and became somewhat threatening to Srila Prabhupada.

As previously mentioned, Srila Prabhupada was using this loft to preach three times a week and he was getting quite a few people to come over and listen to the preaching. Then the loft became a little bit of a hang out place because Srila Prabhupada didn't have exclusive use of the space, and his young loft-mate was quite accommodating to friends.

A journalist named Howard Smith came and interviewed Srila Prabhupada for an article in the Village Voice, and Satsvarupa included that article. I found it quite insightful in the sense that this reporter was able to zero in on what differentiated Srila Prabhupada from the usual Indian holy men. The point he made, both in his article and in his interview, is that Srila Prabhupada was so sensible, direct and realistic. He didn't try to put up a big mystical smokescreen of words that have little or no meaning, just to give the impression that he was spiritual. Srila Prabhupada was kind, and as Mr. Smith says himself, he was very basic and practical. And of course, we've all learned this was exactly what Srila Prabhupada was like. These are the qualities of a pure devotee. As such, Srila Prabhupada said himself that he's going to start a big movement, but he's very patient and he's starting with what Krsna's given him. He has a regular program of reading, chanting and writing, all the time, and he can do that anywhere.

Then Satsvarupa goes into a section which deals with Srila Prabhupada's attempts to get Indian people involved in his program. First of all there was Sumati Morarji, but she didn't help any further. There were others who said they'd help, but they needed permission from the Indian government to get the money out of the country. This was probably just a way to put Srila Prabhupada off. And it was obvious that it was Krsna's plan not to have Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers involved or giving money, probably with strings attached and complications. Krsna had the plan, which now we all know, and Srila Prabhupada was making a constant effort to fulfill his duty in the sense of keeping his mission clear and just seeing who's going to get involved.

There's an interesting excerpt about a brahmacari called Mukti Brahmacari, who had written to Srila Prabhupada and said he wanted to come over and Srila Prabhupada was encouraging him to come. But Mukti was afraid his Spiritual Master wouldn't approve. Satsvarupa chooses not to mention who that is, but it would certainly be interesting to know. Srila Prabhupada was apparently annoyed by the situation, and wrote a strong letter back to Mukti. Satsvarupa gives some additional narrative, but how Srila Prabhupada felt about all this can only be determined by reading his correspondence, not through Satsvarupa's speculation.

During this period of Srila Prabhupada's attempting to get his Krsna consciousness movement off the ground he was appealing to his godbrothers, and as we all know they didn't make much attempt to help him. So basically, the whole attitude towards the Gaudiya Matha, which is still controversial to this day, is set in this particular time frame. The Lilamrta itself plants negative seeds in this regard. In terms of cooperation, the Gaudiya Matha godbrothers clearly didn't come to Srila Prabhupada's assistance, which ultimately means they didn't fulfill the orders of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, who wanted this type of preaching to go on. Srila Prabhupada was doing it and asking for their help, and they refused to help him. Of course, you cannot look to the Lilamrta to give you an accurate understanding of the set of circumstances at that time.

While he was writing these letters and getting negative responses, Srila Prabhupada was at the loft he shared at David. Satsvarupa provides a narrative of how it was that Srila Prabhupada had to flee from the loft on account of David's insanity. From what I can gather, a lot of this is speculation on Satsvarupa's part. How Srila Prabhupada thought, how he felt, how he was afraid, how he is depicted as vulnerable and insecure, that Srila Prabhupada was as 'homeless as any derelict' on the street, that he was wandering and in total confusion until a person named Carl Yeargens came to help -- all this is just Satsvarupa's spin on the pastimes of the pure devotee.

According to the author, Carl invited Srila Prabhupada to stay in his loft with his new wife, Eve. But as Satsvarupa tells the story, the reader would almost think he was with Srila Prabhupada or actually saw this apartment... almost as though he had a videocam in the apartment. Obviously it's all based on what Carl had to say, and a few other people they interviewed. Personally, I don't think it's worth getting into it, except in terms of explaining how transcendental Srila Prabhupada is.

The way that the Lilamrta's written, Satsvarupa makes very little mention of Krsna, and how Krsna is the Supreme Controller and is protecting His devotees. He doesn't emphasize that Krsna sent Srila Prabhupada on this mission. The uninformed reader will certainly wonder why Krsna would put Srila Prabhupada in such difficult circumstances. Rather than speculating on what happened materially, you would assume someone of Satsvarupa's so-called spiritual situation, being a big Zonal Acarya and all, would have had a lot more spiritual things to say about Srila Prabhupada. He could have told us what the sastra has to say about how pure devotees handle diversity. He could have, for example, compared Srila Prabhupada's pastimes to great devotees such as Prahlad Maharaja. But that is not the way the book was written.

As the story goes, Michael Grant, Carl and a few of the other musicians who were regularly taking in Srila Prabhupada's class got together and decided to chip in towards paying Srila Prabhupada's rent. They realized that he needed his own space, and it wouldn't be right for him to be living in someone's apartment. If he did, it would mean they'd be subtly pressured into giving up some of their bad habits, because Srila Prabhupada made it abundantly clear to everyone that eating meat, keeping animals, watching television, having sex, etc., just wasn't Krsna consciousness, and he was against it.

The group found the Matchless Gifts storefront on Second Avenue, and the real estate agent was quite favourable towards Srila Prabhupada, so they collectively moved him in.

Next we'll talk about what happened, according to Satsvarupa, at the scene on Second Avenue.