Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 52

BY: ROCANA DASA - 23.7 2022

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

Today we begin Volume 3, Chapter One of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "Swami Invites the Hippies". The date is January 16, 1967. Srila Prabhupada, who was 71 years old at the time, was taking his first airplane trip -- the first of many. It didn't seem to faze him in the least, according to the report we get from a devotee named Ranacora. Ranacora was the only devotee who could come up with the money for the airline ticket. He was only 19 at the time.

Satsvarupa, in typical fashion, makes it known that this devotee is a neophyte of the first order; he's hardly even stayed at the temple. Next he goes into minutia detail about what Srila Prabhupada was like on the flight. This obviously means he had to have gotten the information from the very person he describes as a neophyte. I've never heard of him, so I'm assuming that he never really joined, but perhaps I just don't know him. Somehow or other Satsvarupa apparently got an interview with him and included it in such a way as to give the impression that this is exactly what happened.

During this whole era, and especially the period we're about to get into in this section of the book, there were a host of urban myths surrounding Srila Prabhupada. The stories that we're about to be entertained with here in Lilamrta were actually going around the movement for years after the actual events. The devotees who were directly involved repeated these stories at every opportunity, especially when they visited different temples. Considering that they were neophytes when these events occurred, we can only assume that things didn't happen exactly the way they're describing. Of course, Satsvarupa does his normal routine of putting thoughts into Srila Prabhupada's head and telling us how he was thinking, which in itself is a foolish offense.

When Srila Prabhupada arrived in San Francisco, he received what was to be the first of many exuberant greetings at the airport. In fact, these airport pastimes continued for the duration of his manifest lila.

Among those who greeted Srila Prabhupada was Mukunda, who ran the ISKCON Communications group until he 'retired'. It's interesting to note that Mukunda is depicted here in the Lilamrta as the ultimate hippie. He was still dressed in hippie attire at this point, when Srila Prabhupada arrived. In his role on behalf of ISKCON Communications, he was among the most conservative of all the ISKCON leaders, making everyone look super clean and nice, although he's depicted here as quite the opposite.

Of the devotees whose claim to fame was being with Srila Prabhupada during this period, many are described in the Lilamrta and in ISKCON myth as being heavy-duty hippies. And strangely enough, many of them evolved into being the elite of ISKCON and the most conservative of all the devotees -- and the most resistant to any change, although the whole idea of change was synonymous with the concept of "hippie".

In the crowd meeting Srila Prabhupada at the airport was Allen Ginsberg. The devotees had an old Cadillac for Srila Prabhupada to ride in, which belonged to Harvey Cohen (Sri Haridasa Brahmacari), who helped Srila Prabhupada in the very beginning, before the New York temple. By this time he had grown a beard, and Srila Prabhupada didn't recognize him.

Throughout the Lilamrta, Satsvarupa makes little jabs at Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers, although at this point in time Srila Prabhupada wasn't saying anything outside of his correspondence, which was later made public. In correspondence, he was making comments about how his godbrothers couldn't or wouldn't do what he was doing -- in other words enlivening all these young people and giving them leadership, direction and association.

Another aspect of Satsvarupa's writing that bothers me is that he has to remind the reader that Srila Prabhupada had deep faith in the mission of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, especially in regards to spreading Krsna consciousness. First of all, "deep faith" is a nebulous term as it pertains to the science of Krsna consciousness. In fact, Srila Prabhupada's faith was unfathomable. It was pure, unalloyed, with absolutely no doubts. That was evident not only in the fact that he was ready to do things such as he was here in San Francisco, but in everything that he did in his preaching, vision, and whole methodology.

Srila Prabhupada was provided with an inexpensive apartment and the temple had been acquired, right on Haight-Asbury, at 518 Frederick Street. Along with that, the devotees had informed the press, so there were various reporters ready to interview Srila Prabhupada as soon as he'd settled himself into the apartment. Srila Prabhupada was asked about his position on drugs and the hippie lifestyle, which is the antithesis of the Krsna consciousness lifestyle. Srila Prabhupada was clearly drawing that comparison for the reporters, and being unequivocal in his position on intoxication, gambling, sex, and meat-eating.

The way Satsvarupa tells it, and this aspect of it is undoubtedly true, Mukunda had been verbally hyping everyone up as he described Srila Prabhupada prior to his arrival, and no one was disappointed at all when Srila Prabhupada came. His energy and his demeanor completely won everyone over, which of course is to be expected with someone of his spiritual status.

The next day Srila Prabhupada read the articles that were written in the newspaper, and he made some commentary, but overall it was good. Srila Prabhupada explained that conservative means that you're following sastra, and that really, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's movement is not conservative - it's very liberal. And as Lord Caitanya's pure representative, Srila Prabhupada was even more liberal.

The way it's described, his apartment was very sparsely decorated and provided little in the way of furniture. He was still having to write on his trunk, which contained his Bhagwatams. Regardless of his air travel, he still got up at 1:00 in the morning and started translating - without an alarm, without anyone looking after his needs whatsoever.

It was at this time that Srila Prabhupada started translating the Caitanya-caritamrta, beginning with the Teachings of Lord Caitanya.

Satsvarupa likes to make a comparison between what Srila Prabhupada was experiencing in India and what he was experiencing there in America, especially in San Francisco. The early sections of the Lilamrta describe how simple a life Srila Prabhupada lived in India. In some respects, the facility he had here, even under these early conditions, were qualitatively better. Here he had Dictaphones, hot and cold running water, and a three bedroom apartment. At the same time, he never changed his program whatsoever. He never complained. He never demanded. He just went about the same program he did from the beginning of his ISKCON lila period to the end, and that's how he spread Krsna consciousness.