Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 50

BY: ROCANA DASA - 15.7 2022

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

Today we complete our review of Chapter 10 of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "Beyond the Lower East Side" which takes us up to the point where Srila Prabhupada leaves for San Francisco, in January, 1967. Satsvarupa tells us about a certain phenomenon that was prevalent throughout the whole movement, wherein all the devotees were extremely interested, or 'all ears', when it came to hearing of the pastimes of Srila Prabhupada from the mouths and minds of the early disciples.

As we've discussed in the last few segments, those who had the opportunity to interact with Srila Prabhupada on a personal and intimate basis were very much sought after as a news source for the rest of the devotee community. As Satsvarupa explains, these individuals would take every opportunity to tell their godbrothers and sisters about something that happened while they were with Srila Prabhupada individually. Satsvarupa says that Jadurani was "guileless" in her storytelling, which I find a little condescending. Of course, at one point Satsvarupa married Jadurani, only to leave her and take sannyasa.

Satsvarupa talks about some of the different stories from that day, but the reader has to keep in mind that not only were the devotees very neophyte at the time, they were obviously compelled to exaggerate and speculate on what they experienced. Then, of course, the 'grapevine effect' was always in play, as the same story was repeated many times over and passed down the line. The reader should note that the whole Lilamrta is based on this very principle. The mind certainly prefers to hear these kinds of stories rather than hear the truth of the philosophy that Srila Prabhupada was handing out to everyone, and that phenomenon is evident in the author's choice of content for this book. In all honesty, many of these stories don't carry much philosophical content, and Satsvarupa himself doesn't provide any philosophical insight. In fact, his whole writing style is to give the reader the "experience" of what it was like to be a neophyte devotee, whereas he as the writer was supposedly a very advanced devotee. Of course, real advanced devotees like Srila Prabhupada take every opportunity to preach, but Satsvarupa doesn't do that. He just tells stories. Even though Srila Prabhupada was always preaching, and Satsvarupa is supposedly presenting Srila Prabhupada's life story, he constantly glosses over the philosophical presentation Srila Prabhupada's making.

One of the stories Satsvarupa tells is how on New Year's Eve, the devotees got Srila Prabhupada to agree to having a New Year's Eve party, given that everyone in the West celebrates and parties on that night. The devotees felt that it would be a good idea to throw a party and cook some copious amounts of prasadam for a feast, which is just what took place. Srila Prabhupada participated and encouraged everyone to eat and chant in a Krsna consciousness festival mood. Of course from a philosophical point of view, Srila Prabhupada was treating the devotees as one would treat raw recruits. In other words, he allowed them to eat Krsna prasad, undoubtedly far beyond one's need or even capacity, because that was our only form of intoxication, as such. This scenario was played out in all temples during that era, in terms of the devotees using Krsna prasad and feasts as an intoxication or escape from austerities. Really, this is just a sign of how a pure devotee deals with neophytes. Never was there a time that anyone can relate that Srila Prabhupada ate too much, nor did he ever allow eating to interfere with his service and preaching. Of course, this wasn't the case with the devotees, either here at 26 Second Avenue on the eve of 1967, or elsewhere.

When it came to explaining the fact that Srila Prabhupada was regularly presenting the Caitanya-caritamrta and doing instant, on-the-go translations from Bengali, we get precious little real content from Satsvarupa. And even though as it's explained here that Srila Prabhupada gave over fifty of these Caitanya-caritamrta lectures, as recently as 2007, none of them were presented in the Tape Ministry. We can be sure that all these lectures were taped so my question is, where are they? I'd love to hear these lectures. Why have they never been made available to the devotees?

Satsvarupa goes on to explain the pastimes of Sanatana Goswami, presenting them in a very neophyte manner. He doesn't explain about Sanatana Goswami's pastime of surrendering to Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, or the humility that he exhibits, nor the philosophical importance of this pastime. The author doesn't clarify for the reader that Sanatana Goswami didn't personally have to be purified in this way, or have to surrender. Rather, he was showing for our benefit what it means to surrender to Krsna and to the Spiritual Master. Just as Arjuna, as an eternal associate of Lord Sri Krsna, performed a pastime in hearing the Bhagavad-gita, the events unfolded for our benefit. If you don't explain it like this, that these nitya-siddhas were eternally engaged in such pastimes, then the tendency for sadhana-bhaktas like all of us, including Satsvarupa, will be to think that we're on the same level as Sanatana Goswami. Of course, this led Satsvarupa and his friends to just that conclusion, within a relatively short period. Right after Srila Prabhupada's departure, they claimed to be Zonal Acaryas who had obtained siddha on the basis of krpa, or mercy, which is a completely bogus understanding. We can see the seeds of this mentality evident throughout Satsvarupa's writings, and this is just one such example.

This whole chapter leads up to Srila Prabhupada actually departing for San Francisco, after being informed by Mukunda that he had obtained and renovated a temple. The devotees had also lined up all sorts of fantastic preaching opportunities, one of which was the famous Mantra Rock dance. This was obviously Krsna's divine arrangement because it catapulted Krsna consciousness right up to rock star status in the Bay Area, and was a huge boost to the preaching. Srila Prabhupada obviously realized this, even though he never in his lifetime experienced the reality of what it meant to ride the 'psychedelic wave' of the hippie phenomenon unfolding at that time. Regardless, he was enthusiastically determined to take advantage of the opportunity to preach. As a pure devotee, all he saw was Krsna's arrangement -- Krsna was communicating to him that he should take the next step.

Satsvarupa spends a great many words trying to express how he and the other devotees in New York were disturbed about Srila Prabhupada leaving. It's interesting to note, however, that when Srila Prabhupada actually left for the airport, there was no kirtan, ceremony, program or anything arranged by the devotees. In fact, Satsvarupa, Brahmananda and Rupanuga were at work and didn't take the day off. Srila Prabhupada just sort of walked out and into a car without any fanfare at all. This seems to run contrary to the message Satsvarupa is projecting about how the devotees felt about Srila Prabhupada leaving. Of course, it could mean something else - it could mean that they were simply neophyte and had no idea of how to act under those circumstances. As their realization slowly grew over the next few years, every time Srila Prabhupada left from or arrived at an airport, there would be hundreds of devotees with kirtans and garlands there to greet him. Needless to say, such fanfare is most appropriate for someone of Srila Prabhupada's status.