Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 44

BY: ROCANA DASA - 1.7 2022

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

We resume Chapter Eight of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, "Planting the Seed", beginning at the end of August when Srila Prabhupada returned from his stay at Dr. Mishra's rural ashram. As always, Srila Prabhupada made a good impression on the guests. He got them all dancing and taught the "Swami Step" to all those present, including his followers. While there was a lot of tension between the different groups amongst Dr. Mishra's disciples that was contaminating the atmosphere, Srila Prabhupada 'broke the ice' by getting everyone to dance and dissolve the tension.

In this section Satsvarupa included dreams that both Hayagriva and Kirtanananda had while they slept under the stars outside Srila Prabhupada's cottage. Frankly, I don't see what the purpose of that was. Even the remembrances of neophytes are obviously imperfect, what to speak of their dreams.

Then Satsvarupa describes the trip back through the countryside, which was so much the antithesis of New York City. Srila Prabhupada said to the devotees, we're not interested in nice scenery, we're interested in the Person who created it.

After arriving back in New York, Srila Prabhupada was invited to attend a sit-in at the United Nations against the war in Vietnam. He agreed to do this, although when the devotees started chanting they were asked to observe a silent vigil, which didn't include kirtana. Srila Prabhupada capitulated and they all chanted japa instead. Before going back to the temple Srila Prabhupada was invited to give a lecture, and he talked about how the only way you can have peace is to engage in Krsna consciousness.

It just so happened that the press picked-up on Srila Prabhupada and gave him prominent billing at the event. Afterwards, the organizer of the event was inspired to come and visit Srila Prabhupada. As it turned out, even though Srila Prabhupada made elaborate arrangements to greet him at the temple, one of the crazy members of the temple community, who they had sitting at the door to wait for him, turned the fellow away. This was the first time they had an opportunity to see Srila Prabhupada get angry.

The individual who made the mistake was Stanley, a very young but disturbed person who Srila Prabhupada had taken charge of at the request of his mother. He was obviously looking for some way to save this young man from insanity. After getting chastised, Stanley wanted to commit suicide and asked Srila Prabhupada for the money to buy the gasoline. Srila Prabhupada said he knew Stanley was crazy because he asked for $50, when gasoline only cost $.35 cents.

The next section is very relevant to our circumstance today because it's a vivid description of the first initiation ceremony. Srila Prabhupada agreed to initiate anyone who wanted to be initiated. He had them all buy some wooden beads and string them up, and gave them some basic instruction on how to chant on the beads. The actual initiation took place on his Appearance day, the day after Janmastami. Srila Prabhupada organized the Janmastami festival and he asked everyone to fast all day, which was difficult for all the devotees.

The devotees asked him what initiation was, and Srila Prabhupada said well, you have to take these vows for following the 4 regulative principles and you have to accept the Spiritual Master as being as good as God. There was not much more explanation given, according to this account. Not surprisingly, everyone misinterpreted what he said and thought that Srila Prabhupada was saying they should worship him as God rather than the true philosophical message he was giving. It took them some time to form a committee and ask him what he'd meant. Of course, Srila Prabhupada made clear that God is God, and the Spiritual Master is his representative, therefore he should be treated as if he was as good as God, because he can deliver the disciple to God. According to what we read here, Srila Prabhupada didn't elaborate much on the point. And as we've been discussing here in the Sampradaya Sun, almost 40 years later devotees are still trying to figure out what initiation is.

According to what Satsvarupa has to say here, Srila Prabhupada brought up the whole concept of how many rounds you should chant. He started with 64, then whittled it down to 16. This story has been told and retold many times and it's hard to know for sure if it happened just the way Satsvarupa said it happened. To this day, some of the Gaudiya Matha people think that Srila Prabhupada compromised unnecessarily on this point. Of course, how the Sankirtana Movement could have spread as quickly as it did if the devotees had spent all day chanting 64 rounds rather than going out preaching is hard to say. In my mind, what was seemingly a compromise was really a situation that was ordained by Krsna so that Srila Prabhupada's lila could unfold in the way that it did in terms of achieving all the preaching results.

Satsvarupa describes the discussions that took place between those who were being initiated, and the details surrounding the day before the initiations. It's interesting to note that Satsvarupa and Kirtanananda were not initiated on the first day, and that many of those who were didn't end up taking an active part in Srila Prabhupada's lila after the initiation. But the three main characters in this part of the story didn't get initiated, and that included Brahmananda. Kirtanananda was in the hospital at the time.

Although he didn't participate in it, Satsvarupa gives us a somewhat in-depth description of how the first initiation fire sacrifice took place. It does sound like an accurate depiction of how Srila Prabhupada set-up the first yajna and the sequence of events. This particular procedure was followed throughout his lila period. I personally performed many of these same fire yajnas, following just this procedure. Nowadays, of course, this relatively simple procedure has been expanded in ISKCON to be far more elaborate. Considering how much emphasis is put on initiation as an institutional procedure, that's no surprise. When reflecting upon this simple program that Srila Prabhupada himself set-up, one can only consider the whole concept of formality of initiation as it was back then.

Although the fire sacrifice aspect remained simple throughout Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON lila, how important the formalities are is now a hot topic of debate, considering that Srila Prabhupada gradually turned over many of these procedures to his disciples. The fire yajna part of it was the first thing he passed off. Naming the names and chanting on the beads were later passed off, which took us up to the point of the now contentious July 9th Letter, which many in the Rtvik camp fallaciously represent as the be-all and end-all of Srila Prabhupada's instructions on guru-tattva.

Satsvarupa gives one the impression that the actual ceremony was just that -- a ceremony, although important in the sense that it marks the beginning of one's formal commitment to Srila Prabhupada. Of course, Srila Prabhupada himself understood his own spiritually elevated position, although the first initiates certainly didn't have a clue who he was in terms of being a Sampradaya Acarya. There was no question that he could take people back to Godhead as he was a pure, unalloyed representative of Krsna, regardless of the fact that the initiates didn't understand that at all. In the same way, people who chanted the Hare Krsna mantra didn't know what they were doing, but they received tremendous benefit regardless of not understanding the potency and purity of the Holy Names. To what degree that applies to others who are presenting themselves as diksa gurus in our disciplic succession, and whether or not they have the same potency and ability to deliver the disciples is a question up for discussion. (I've made my opinions on that question very clear over the years.)

Of course, this whole pastime of Srila Prabhupada's was well-known far before the Lilamrta was written, and has been told and re-told many times during Srila Prabhupada's later pastimes. Satsvarupa's version of the story appears to be fairly close to what we were all told by word of mouth, and the procedures are basically what we followed.

It's interesting to note that Srila Prabhupada didn't initially pre-qualify the disciples in the same way that we did later on, upon his instructions, namely that one had to be in the temple chanting and following the procedures for at least 6 months. The fact that he didn't institute that requirement in the very beginning goes to show that he was the transparent via media for Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's causeless mercy. Regardless of the fact that many of the initial initiates weren't as committed and serious as Srila Prabhupada would have liked them to be, still he made his point in terms of displaying for all the others, and for everyone who followed right up to the time that he departed, the importance of taking initiation. This is particularly true in light of the fact that they had the inconceivably merciful opportunity of getting initiated by a Sampradaya Acarya. Of course, Srila Prabhupada was well aware of the fact that they didn't have any idea what kind of mercy that entailed. The whole Vaisnava community, what to speak of his disciples, have only just begun to grasp the significance of Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON lila, what to speak of the initiation aspect of it.