Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 41

BY: ROCANA DASA - 24.6 2022

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

Today we complete our review of Chapter 7 of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, "Breaking Ground". We begin by hearing from Satsvarupa that Srila Prabhupada was very jovial when he said that he was going to call his society ISKCON". As it turned out, unbeknownst to any of the first devotees, including Satsvarupa, Srila Prabhupada had already initiated the legal work to incorporate, earlier on in the Spring before he had even moved to the first temple at 26 Second Avenue. He had decided on the name, the "International Society for Krishna Consciousness". In response to the well known question put to Srila Prabhupada about why he didn't call it the International Society for "God consciousness", Srila Prabhupada's reply was that it was too vague. Satsvarupa writes that the term "Krsna consciousness" came from a phrase from Srila Rupa Gosvami's Padyavali, meaning "to be absorbed in the mellow taste of executing devotional service to Krsna."

Carl Yeargens had introduced Srila Prabhupada to a lawyer named Stephen Goldsmith, and he helped Srila Prabhupada form the corporation. Goldsmith had visited Srila Prabhupada a number of times and had brought his children, who Srila Prabhupada fed. He also attended a few of Srila Prabhupada's lectures and came dressed up as a businessman, which was a great contrast to the other "hippies" in the room.

The way Satsvarupa describes the July 11th evening class where the lawyer was present, at the end of the class Srila Prabhupada introduced Mr. Goldsmith to the rest of the people. Goldsmith asked for participants to sign the incorporation papers, and Srila Prabhupada instructed some in the room to give him their addresses and actually be trustees. Of course, Satsvarupa had to say not a soul among them was committed to Krsna consciousness, although he doesn't elaborate as to what he means by this.

We have to keep in mind, especially in this particular section, that Satsvarupa is writing this about 12 years after the event, and he was well aware of all ISKCON's history in the interim period. Still he doesn't give any indication that he's aware of who these people are, he doesn't tell the reader if these personalities did or did not become devotees, what their devotee names were, or what position they later took in ISKCON. Perhaps this information will be presented in later chapters. He does mention Michael Grant, who is Mukunda, but the others are all just karmi names. From previous chapters we know who the "Mott Streets Boys" are: Kirtanananda, Hayagriva and Umapati. So while Satsvarupa wrote that there was no one committed to Krsna consciousness, he doesn't note that several later they became devotees… although time tested some of them, and they weren't committed either.

Of course, Satsvarupa's trying to paint a particular mood here, which is that no one had a clue what Srila Prabhupada was up to. They were just going along with it. He had his vision and everyone was playing their part. Satsvarupa tries to give a little Krsna conscious input here, but I found that even though he acknowledged the fact that Srila Prabhupada was an advanced devotee, he always has to say that he's just serving his spiritual predecessors. This always seems to be stated in such a way as to really diminish Srila Prabhupada in comparison. In fact, Srila Prabhupada was not only nitya-siddha, but very, very expert from a professional point of view. He wanted to and did do everything very professionally, even though his early disciples weren't professional at all. He was setting up a corporation and involving everyone that he came in contact with who would take up his instructions. If they could participate, he would have them serve that purpose.

Satsvarupa goes on to state that Srila Prabhupada had basically taken all of the original prospectus from his League of Devotees, which was founded in Jhansi in 1953. The author has to remind us that this preaching effort was "unsuccessful". Of course, nothing a pure devotee does can be classified as "unsuccessful". Srila Prabhupada obviously used the League of Devotees as a stepping stone, and he set an example for all of us to keep pursuing our vision in Krsna consciousness, and to do it without any deterioration of our enthusiasm.

From the 1966 incorporation papers we read the following "Seven Purposes for the International Society for Krsna consciousness":

1. To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.

2. To propagate a consciousness of Krishna, as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus to develop the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).

4. To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy names of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

5. To erect for the members, and for society at large, a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the personality of Krishna.

6. To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.

7. With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.

Satsvarupa then goes into speculating as to how the different people at the temple saw this event, basically saying they were clueless and didn't really understand what Srila Prabhupada was doing. We have more of the language Satsvarupa typically uses, like "He seemed to know -- not that he definitely did know that ISKCON would transform into what it was like a few years later. Satsvarupa tries to tell us how Srila Prabhupada saw his own activities and ISKCON, but it's obvious that this is just his own perspective, not something Srila Prabhupada said that he was thinking. Of course, Srila Prabhupada made many statements throughout his ISKCON lila period, but still, if he had made certain statements one would think the Lilamrta should have cited exactly what he said, when, and given us some indication of where to go to put everything in context ourselves. Instead, we have to settle for Satsvarupa just cobbling everything together from his own speculative mind.

Interestingly, he says that Srila Prabhupada didn't want to start a new religion and that he saw himself as part of the Sankirtana Movement, which is an eternal preaching movement that had nothing to do with religion. That is the truth, although ISKCON of today has basically turned the spiritual movement into a religion. So here we have Satsvarupa himself stating in the Lilamrta that ISKCON is going in the wrong direction, according to what Srila Prabhupada envisioned it to be. Of course, you don't hear him speaking out against that now. He's too busy writing poems and dime-store novels. In fact, as we go further into the ISKCON lila period of Srila Prabhupada's pastimes, we find that Satsvarupa is consciously trying to paint a picture wherein the persons involved, and especially the Zonal Acaryas, are always painted in a favourable light. This was the real purpose of his writing the Lilamrta.

We repeatedly find this duality throughout Lilamrta, wherein on one hand the author is praising Srila Prabhupada and fairly accurately describing his transcendental nature, while on the other hand injecting comments like Srila Prabhupada was working in "extremely limited circumstances".

In the next section, the author is describing his fellow Zonal Acarya, Kirtanananda. As we all know, history reveals the fact that Kirtanananda's motives weren't as pure as Satsvarupa is trying to paint them here. It was abundantly clear fairly early on that he was simply learning how to be a guru and be successful enough to have his own following. In fact later on, when New Vrindaban was formed with the other Mott Street participants, it was established with that mentality. They had actually left ISKCON and found the New Vrindaban property on their own, but Srila Prabhupada convinced them to come back. We know the history of what came after. When Kirtanananda was finally kicked out of ISKCON it was revealed that he had maintained his own vision all along, trying to amalgamate Christianity and Krsna consciousness together. He never abandoned that desire throughout the entire period, which ended some twenty years later.

So we read about Keith, as Satsvarupa describes him, and also how Keith describes himself. This is the first point in the book that Kirtanananda has stated something or is being quoted directly from an interview. It's a lot of self-glorification, of course, and talks about how he learned to cook, etc. Then there's a back and forth commentary from Howard/Hayagriva and Chuck. Now I'm not absolutely sure who Chuck is, or what his devotee name is…. perhaps we'll find out later. Chuck is the least flattering of all three contributors to this quite extensive dialogue about what was going on at that time. By and large, his contribution is fairly mundane and doesn't really say much - just how they would go and see Srila Prabhupada anytime, mainly in the mornings, getting Srila Prabhupada to buzz them in, for his morning program or a mangal arotik.

The way Chuck describes it was very shallow, and Satsvarupa should have simply excluded the material. Instead, the reader has to hear from Chuck that in the mornings, Srila Prabhupada didn't look "shiny and brilliant, but very withdrawn". And that "His eyes were only two tiny slits of glistening light."

Finally we come to Steve, who is the author of Lilamrta himself. There is a direct quote from Steve/Satsvarupa, wanting everyone to know that every morning he would bring Srila Prabhupada a mango. He provides a lot of detail about where he bought the mangoes, how pleased Srila Prabhupada was to get them, and how Srila Prabhupada called him "a very good boy".

Next we hear about Howard/Hayagriva offering to do some typing for Srila Prabhupada. He told Srila Prabhupada that he was an English major and had his M.A. or was striving to get it. Srila Prabhupada was very pleased, so he typed up some things. When he said 'well if you have anything else', Srila Prabhupada said 'Oh, I have lots'. He opened up his closet and there were thousands of pages of manuscript! Hayagriva said 'that's a lifetime of typing', and Srila Prabhupada said 'oh yes, many lifetimes'.

I don't know if Satsvarupa coined the phrase, "The Mott Street Boys", but he goes into an elaborate description of how they got motivated one day to decorate the temple using mostly the paraphernalia from their own apartment. This included some posters they'd brought back from India, which they put up at the temple without telling Srila Prabhupada. Very humorously, they thought Hanuman was a cat. And amazingly, they actually had a picture of Lord Caitanya in his sad-bhujah form, although they had no idea it was Lord Caitanya. Some of the other people got involved and brought rugs, etc. Then they built a little raised asana for Srila Prabhupada to sit on and give class. When Srila Prabhupada walked into the room his first words were, "You are advancing." Smiling broadly, he said "Yes, this is Krsna consciousness."

He didn't get into inspecting all their handiwork right then, but just continued on with his regular program, stepping up onto the platform to begin leading the kirtan. Satsvarupa sort of spoils the whole occasion by telling us that many hidden and unsightly cockroaches were there behind the scenes, the floor was tilted, and there was poor lighting. As if any of that mattered.

After Srila Prabhupada finished, he said that he would come the next day to appraise the decorations and tell them about the new artwork. He then moved around the room saying, well, this one is alright, no, this one should go, etc. Then he came across the picture of Lord Caitanya, and explained what all the different arms of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu were. He also explained that Hanuman was a monkey, not a cat.

I find it very interesting and strange that Satsvarupa says Srila Prabhupada knew everyone would change and improve because of chanting and hearing about Krsna, yet he doesn't mention that they were improved by having the association of a pure devotee. It's true, of course, that chanting and hearing about Krsna is going to purify you and Srila Prabhupada is introducing it, but just his association alone, as far as I understand the philosophy, is what really purifies a person.

Satsvarupa tell us that at this point in time in New York it was very hot, but the heat didn't affect Srila Prabhupada in the least. He actually seemed to enjoy it, and was quite comfortable in that atmosphere, while everyone else was just suffering.

It's also interesting how Srila Prabhupada mentions that Rupa Goswami said an important principal is that one should somehow or other become Krsna conscious. This is one of the things that Srila Prabhupada once said in my presence. He used the very same phrase when talking to Jagadisa, who was trying to explain all the details of his personal arrangements to improve his sadhana practice. Srila Prabhupada interrupted him and said, 'Somehow or other, just try to think of Krsna'.

As the chapter comes to a close, we find a few strange phrases that Satsvarupa included. One of them was his statement that Srila Prabhupada was sometimes shouting and pounding his fists. The term "shouting" really calls for some clarification, which is not provided. Consequently, this could easily come across to the uninformed reader that Srila Prabhupada was angry and was pounding his fist. At least Satsvarupa could have specified that this was in the context of Srila Prabhupada's reaction to Mayavadis or some similar un-Krsna conscious element, not that he was pounding his fist because of some frustrating material circumstance. But not surprisingly, Satsvarupa doesn't draw this distinction.

All in all, this section of the Lilamrta is relatively better than many of the previous segments, in the sense that Satsvarupa seems to give Srila Prabhupada more acknowledgement as an advanced devotee. Of course, he doesn't state how advanced he is, or the fact that he's nitya-siddha or maha-bhagavata, or what the symptoms are of someone who's that advanced, and how Srila Prabhupada was displaying those symptoms directly. This would have been an accurate depiction of the pure devotee.