Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 53

BY: ROCANA DASA - 25.7 2022

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

Today we continue with Volume 3, Chapter One of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "Swami Invites the Hippies". Having personally been introduced to Krsna consciousness on the west coast of Canada, this description of what transpired during this period of Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON lila is of particular interest to me. When we were first introduced to Krsna consciousness it was by some hippie who had attended one of Srila Prabhupada's programs in San Francisco. He had learned how to chant Hare Krsna and 'Govinda Jaya Jaya'. After following this program of chanting, he came into contact with the temple in Vancouver. At the time I was living on Vancouver Island, with Bahudak, Bala Krsna, and our wives and girlfriends. The Vancouver Temple President at that time was Mahatma, who had come up from San Francisco. We connected to Krsna consciousness about a year after the pastimes of Srila Prabhupada mentioned in this section of Lilamrta.

It's amazing to me to consider how potent Srila Prabhupada is. As a result of his pastimes in San Francisco, fallen conditioned souls in the outer reaches were getting the mercy of Lord Caitanya's sankirtana movement.

The pastime that Satsvarupa presents here begin with the Mantra Rock Dance, which had been organized prior to Srila Prabhupada's arrival by Mukunda and his girlfriend/wife Janaki, Harvey Cohen, Hayagriva and Allen Ginsberg. The concert was a big gathering of the major hippie bands of the day, along with Srila Prabhupada. He and the devotees and Allen Ginsberg were to have an hour of stage time during the program. The event is very interestingly presented from the remembrances of all the devotees who were involved.

What I think is most philosophically relevant is that Srila Prabhupada would go anywhere and do anything in order to spread Krsna consciousness. Of course, Srila Prabhupada's program of spreading Krsna consciousness is essentially the opposite of the hippie lifestyle and philosophy - in fact, so far in the other direction that the two seemed like they were somehow meant for each other, because they were such strange extremes.

During the program they even asked Ginsberg to give a little explanation of chanting Hare Krsna and lead some kirtan. Part of the way through the kirtan Srila Prabhupada was given the microphone, then the whole program turned extremely transcendental. Srila Prabhupada got up and started dancing, and everyone started dancing. All in all, the Mantra Rock concert was a significant part of ISKCON history, in the same way that the Beatles' involvement with Krsna consciousness is considered, to this very day, to be significant. There's no question that Supersoul was orchestrating all these events in order to highlight Srila Prabhupada, and to give Krsna consciousness a great jump start in the west.

Srila Prabhupada didn't ask the devotees to live up to any high standards in terms of how they interfaced with the rest of the musicians, crew and organizers of the event. However, the statement he made while he was leaving the ballroom is so telling and significant: "This is no place for a brahmacari."

A few years later, when the devotees tried to introduce the whole idea of having rock and roll concerts by devotee musicians, Srila Prabhupada nixed the whole idea and didn't want that to be part of our preaching program. This is another example of the fact that whatever the Sampradaya Acarya decides to do can't simply be imitated by less advanced devotees. While there's no question of the pastimes of such an exalted Acarya being contaminated, we neophytes have to be very, very careful in our spiritual life. At the time of the Mantra Rock concert Srila Prabhupada's disciples and followers were so contaminated that attending the event didn't really make much difference. Of course, Srila Prabhupada never suggested that we follow it up by trying to organize more events like this, which should tell us a lot.

It's also interesting to note that when Srila Prabhupada ended the kirtan at the ballroom, he paid respects to his Spiritual Master and chanted the mantra, Om Visnupada Paramahamsa. So we see that Srila Prabhupada did have the blessing of his Spiritual Master to participate in this program. It's also interesting to note that as the kirtana became more heated and frenzied Kirtanananda tried to put a stop to the kirtan, saying that Srila Prabhupada was too old for this. But Srila Prabhupada just ignored him.

The next morning, when Srila Prabhupada took all the devotees out on a morning walk to the beach, he never mentioned or made an issue out of what had taken place the night before. He just acted exactly as he always had and preached, going to a very peaceful place for his walking.

Typical of his writing style, Satsvarupa chooses various adjectives to describe Srila Prabhupada and the impression he made on neophyte devotees, such as aloof, innocent, humble, and very grave and ancient. This is true in a sense, but these terms don't accurately describe the qualities of His Divine Grace. It's also hard to miss the fact that Satsvarupa gives all sorts of kudos to his friends, such as Kirtanananda and Hayagriva. Satsvarupa wasn't personally at the Mantra Rock concert, and they've obviously related some of these stories to him, although he doesn't quote them directly. He instead chooses to use the material from the interviews, writing as if he'd personally been there.

Satsvarupa does include little excerpts from what they said, such as when Hayagriva said that "the ocean seems eternal", and Srila Prabhupada immediately replied that nothing is eternal. The author then goes into a few pages of introduction of Joan Campanella, who became Yamuna devi, and her boyfriend Roger, who is Gurudasa. Although Yamuna first met Srila Prabhupada at her sister Janaki's marriage to Mukunda in New York, she joined Srila Prabhupada in San Francisco, given that she and Janaki were both from Oregon, on the west coast.

In due course Yamuna became famous for her cooking skills, and she wrote the great cookbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine. She was personally taught to cook by Srila Prabhupada while she was living at the temple in San Francisco. This aspect of the story is interesting enough, but it primarily deals with these individuals and their remembrances and impressions, and not with Srila Prabhupada himself. In fact, there's very little content here in direct regard to Srila Prabhupada and what he was doing, or any of his lectures. I find this a disservice and distraction from the truth that is supposed to be contained within this Lilamrta. In other words, this is supposed to be Srila Prabhupada's Lilamrta, not the pastimes of all these early devotees. Unfortunately, that's primarily what the reader gets in this chapter, at least up to this point. It's like a novel, where these characters are being introduced and the story is being developed around them. Of course, this has helped to make these individuals quite famous, giving them tremendous recognition throughout ISKCON. It seems to me that this didn't really help them spiritually.

So while we get a lot of background information on the devotees, we get only the highlights about Srila Prabhupada from Satsvarupa, and so much important information isn't mentioned, let alone emphasized. In fact, during this time Srila Prabhupada was making it clear and known to all his followers that his intention was to spread Krsna consciousness throughout the world, and that they should prepare themselves to be sent on other missions, which of course they were. He wasn't simply satisfied to be in America, what to speak of San Francisco. Just as when he was in New York, he had no qualms about leaving for the West Coast to expand the preaching, he made it known that his vision is much wider and greater than America - it is the vision of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his predecessor Sampradaya Acaryas. Srila Prabhupada not only had his own vision, but understood as a nitya-siddha that he was being used as an instrument by Lord Caitanya to fulfill the prophecy of Krsna consciousness being spread around the world.

All these major events that were taking place, such as the fact that the Hare Krsna devotees were accepted as an integral part of the counterculture, and that thousands of people were instantly introduced to chanting, was all part of this transcendental plan, put in place and orchestrated by Krsna Himself.