Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 54

BY: ROCANA DASA - 26.7 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". This point in the story of Srila Prabhupada's preaching mission in the West is, of course, very interesting to read. While it's entertaining to hear the stories about who joined during this period, it's also incumbent upon the reader to keep in mind the timeline: when the events actually occurred (1967), and when the Lilamrta was written (1978-79). By the time the book was written, many of the characters presented here were already involved in completely different circumstances than at the time they're being presented here.

Most of the personalities included in Lilamrta were larger than life in ISKCON at the time these events unfolded, and they're the ones who are telling the stories, through interviews in Lilamrta. Of course, there's a constant theme about how they, as hippies, came into contact with Srila Prabhupada. That's what Krsna consciousness was at that time - it was coming into contact with Srila Prabhupada and chanting the Holy Name. At this point in time the theme of the hippie era permeated Srila Prabhupada's program. People were quite casual and slack, and Srila Prabhupada was very tolerant, forgiving and inclusive.

Basically this chapter describes a succession of famous, early devotees -- their remembrances, conclusions and stories, which tell us how they became famous in Krsna consciousness. Of course, the Lilamrta contributed to that phenomenon.

We hear about the pastimes of Yamuna and Guru dasa, Gaurasundar and Govinda devi, Malati and Shyamasundar, and Dayananda and Nandarani. Kirtanananda had come out from New York to be part of this chapter. While Satsvarupa never participated in this part of ISKCON history, he is piecing it all together with these remembrances and making his usual commentary.

Today, of course, we have the perspective of hindsight, and we know what has happened to all these persons over the course of time - whether they strictly stuck to Krsna consciousness, and essentially how much they really loved Srila Prabhupada to the extent they continued contributing to his movement and following his program. Frankly, not many of them did in the long run, although from the perspective of most of us, they had a far greater opportunity to be with Srila Prabhupada during this period. They also received a lot of adoration and distinction in the movement, and had way more opportunity to enjoy facilitated preaching events. As time went by, it was amazing to see how many of these so-called privileged personalities suddenly left Krsna consciousness, and really disappointed all of us.

In a sense, the Lilamrta is really more about the stories of these individuals than it is about Srila Prabhupada, the topmost Acarya in the guru-parampara. We were all recruited, just as these personalities were, to participate in Srila Prabhupada's lila. The fact that we were willing to do so was our main, if not our only qualification. The real story is how Srila Prabhupada mercifully saved all of us by engaging us in Lord Caitanya's sankirtana movement.

The fact that Srila Prabhupada didn't come down heavy on the rules and regulations side of the equation is very interesting, because the ultimate issue is how much any of us were willing to help Srila Prabhupada. Helping meant giving up one's time and energy to participate in the programs Srila Prabhupada introduced. Of course, he had his writing work, and a few devotees were engaged at that time, but there wasn't enough books printed to go and out distribute. Instead, he had the devotees cooking prasadam most of the day and serving a big lunch meal to all the hippies. Still, the prasadam had to be cooked very nicely and offered to Krsna -- not just any kind of preparation could be done.

Most of this chapter is dedicated to describing how these various individuals became devotees, offering little anecdotal stories about what it was like back then and what Srila Prabhupada said to them. Satsvarupa goes into further explanation of what the hippie movement was all about, but unless the reader has the proper perspective on Srila Prabhupada at this stage, he can easily get the wrong impression. And that wrong impression is partially created by Satsvarupa's soliloquies, which are deceptive. On one hand, they present Srila Prabhupada as a pure devotee, while on the other hand they present him as someone whose timing was ideal for what he wanted to achieve -- being there in the middle of the hippie revolution and taking advantage of that - not that Lord Caitanya was orchestrating events through his pure devotee.

Satsvarupa's perception is interesting in the sense that as we all know, he was known for being a strict sadhana man. He was never in the mood of being a gung-ho preacher, spreading Krsna consciousness. As it's explained here, according to Kirtanananda there were these two distinct types of devotees (sadhana and preaching), and Srila Prabhupada didn't make any distinction between them as to who he included and who he favoured.

Satsvarupa tries to make sense of it all, and states here that Srila Prabhupada's standard was devotion -- but devotion to who? Mainly it's devotion to him, of course. All the early devotees had this rare opportunity to associate with the Sampradaya Acarya in close quarters, but unfortunately they were too unaware to take full advantage.

Much of the chapter is dedicated to explaining what it was like in San Francisco at the height of the hippie era, and what part Krsna consciousness played in that scene. Satsvarupa describes how Srila Prabhupada was totally transcendental to the external circumstances and how he handled so many awkward circumstances, like people freaking out or being crazy, making outbursts during kirtans and lectures, and even coming to his door and pounding on it.

Satsvarupa could have done a lot more with Lilamrta had he had the actual realization of who Srila Prabhupada was, and how only someone of his spiritual stature could possibly have done what he did in terms of relating to all those early followers and engaging them. With the benefit of hindsight, we're able to see the degree to which he did engage all of us. And in the long run, these early devotees were really not much different or exceptional than any of the devotees who joined Srila Prabhupada at any stage of his lila, or in any part of the world. They were able to give what they could at a certain point in time in order for Srila Prabhupada's lila to unfold. In due course, especially when Srila Prabhupada's lila wound up and he left the planet, most if not all were put to the test and had to come back down to earth, so to speak, including the writer of this so-called Lilamrta.

If one reads this book without keeping in perspective who these individuals are at this point in time and what their actual history was, i.e., where are they now, then you're just reading interesting stories and allowing Satsvarupa to give you the conclusions or the philosophical explanations. And clearly, his philosophical conclusions are far from accurate or perfect.

The main reason we're reading this story is because we want to know more about Srila Prabhupada, but there's really not that much here about Srila Prabhupada - it's more about all of Satsvarupa's friends and associates who at that time, and I would dare say in a lot of cases throughout their whole lives, still don't know who Srila Prabhupada is, even though they had this rare opportunity and to a certain degree, took advantage of it. Now as readers of history, we should have the proper perspective on how much Srila Prabhupada accomplished, and how much they as individuals accomplished. And there's just no comparison.