Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 62

BY: ROCANA DASA - 11.8 2022

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

Today we begin reading Chapter Six, Volume III of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, entitled "India Revised: Part 1". The chapter begins with Srila Prabhupada arriving in London. Satsvarupa goes into great detail about how Kirtanananda and Srila Prabhupada booked into a hotel near the airport and spent the night there. As usual, there's a lot of unnecessary detail provided and a shortage of description of Srila Prabhupada's transcendental qualities. We do hear about how Srila Prabhupada didn't use the air conditioning or the television set.

This whole chapter provides a lot of letters that Srila Prabhupada wrote during this period. Beginning with this first night, he was sending letters to the devotees back in America, encouraging them to continue on in Krsna consciousness and to serve.

Satsvarupa's persists in depicting Srila Prabhupada as being "alone" and not having any friends. This sort of narrative is sprinkled throughout the dialogue. I personally find this to be very undermining of Srila Prabhupada's position. When asked about this, Srila Prabhupada said that he's never alone, that Krsna and the previous Acaryas are always with him. In this material world we're all alone, except for having the company of the pure devotees. Even though one has friends on the material platform, it's all useless association. Yet Satsvarupa keeps referring to the fact that Srila Prabhupada was without friends, money or residence, and that even when he arrived in Delhi after a long delay in London, no one was there to greet him.

Satsvarupa also states that back in America, Srila Prabhupada had been surrounded by his loving disciples. As Satsvarupa was one of those disciples, we can see that this is a subtle form of self-glorification. For someone of Srila Prabhupada's spiritual status, assuming the responsibility to train all sorts of extremely neophyte and contaminated disciples is no doubt a great austerity, which he gladly performed for the sake of preaching Krsna consciousness. And given his advanced stage, he was no doubt quite satisfied to be alone rather than being surrounded by a bunch of neophytes. Of course, that's not how the Lilamrta presents things.

The author gives us all sorts of details that could only have come from Kirtanananda. For example, we read about how the taxi driver cheated Srila Prabhupada out of 40 rupees, and that when they got to Srila Prabhupada's residence in Chowpatty, Kirtanananda was shocked. According to him, Srila Prabhupada was living in a place that was poor, humble, and not even clean. So this is Kirtanananda's perspective, and thanks to Lilamrta, the readers are now obliged to accept it as a completely accurate understanding of what happened.

Satsvarupa also explains that Kirtanananda wasn't very happy. He describes him as wearing a wool suit and looking completely out of place. It was very hot and he had come down with dysentery. Srila Prabhupada had developed a cough and consequently had to stay in Delhi until he got over it. I can remember my first trip to India, in 1971. It was definitely a shock to the system, and I can easily imagine what it was like for Kirtanananda. Kirtanananda was obliged to attend to Srila Prabhupada's needs and at the same time, tolerate the shock to his own system and physical well-being.

Of course, we have to keep in mind that Satsvarupa was purposely painting a more flattering picture of Kirtanananda than was the reality. Satsvarupa has included little excerpts from letters that Kirtanananda's wrote, and one can tell by the letters that his understanding of the philosophy was pretty basic. As is the tradition in India, those who knew Srila Prabhupada prior to his going to America now wanted him to come to their homes and bless them with his association. Being ill, however Srila Prabhupada sent Kirtanananda out to their homes as his proxy. Of course, they treated him nicely, like a sadhu, even though in reality he was a bewildered neophyte.

We can tell by the Kirtanananda letters that were included in the Lilamrta that he didn't understand Vrindavan, what to speak of Srila Prabhupada's actual spiritual position. Instead, he had a sentimental, almost 'new age perception' of Srila Prabhupada. Kirtanananda described him by saying 'his eyes were glowing', or 'he appeared transcendental', but at the same time in the letters he described the Vrindavan temples as being in a bad state of disrepair and the people of Vrindavan being very poor. Srila Prabhupada, of course, was absorbed in the Vrindavan mood and lifestyle, and was right at home there.

Satsvarupa describes Kirtanananda as 'listless and tired from the heat', hankering to come back to the West, which he did. And just as I mentioned in last week's segment, Satsvarupa glossed over the fact that Kirtanananda had essentially abandoned Srila Prabhupada in India. Satsvarupa wrote that "Kirtanananda had already left for the West…", but he gave no explanation of why he'd left or what the circumstances were. After returning to America, Kirtanananda actually blooped along with Hayagriva. He went off to West Virginia and found the land now known as New Vrindavan. So essentially, Kirtanananda had blooped in India and didn't return to ISKCON until Srila Prabhupada later convinced he and Hayagriva to get re-involved, after his return to the U.S.

By the time Kirtanananda left, Achyutananda had arrived to take his place. This was after Srila Prabhupada had decided that Kirtanananda would take sannyasa. It's interesting to note that he gave Kirtanananda just the name "Kirtanananda Swami". In other words, he didn't completely change his name, as has become the fashion today in ISKCON as a result of Gaudiya Matha influence. Srila Prabhupada didn't change Kirtanananda's name or add lofty initials. What that means, exactly, I can't say for sure, but it was a tradition or a policy that Srila Prabhupada introduced. And that policy has now been changed in ISKCON. Many of the Swamis today have Gaudiya Matha-style names.

Those who have been to Vrindavan know that Bon Maharaja has a piece of land across from Krsna Balarama Temple. He was running what he called the Institute of Oriental Philosophy there. Srila Prabhupada tried to interest him in the idea of having his disciples come there to study Sanskrit, Bengali and Hindi, and having Bon Maharaja donate some land so that he could set-up his "American house". After a number of visits, however, he could see that Bon Maharaja had transformed this original idea of his into just a regular school so that he could get government support. Srila Prabhupada could see that he wasn't interested in helping him, other than having his disciples stay there so he could get some prestige for having westerners at his place.

When Kirtanananda arrived, interestingly enough his first contact after getting off the train from Delhi was to go and visit Narayana Maharaja, who at that point of time was a friend of Srila Prabhupada's. The way it's depicted here in the Lilamrta, Narayana did help Achyutananda, and compared to Bon Maharaja he was certainly more favourable and accommodating.

Next we get Achyutananda's perspective, along with Kirtanananda's perspective of what was going on. Both their depictions of Srila Prabhupada in Vrindavan are very neophyte. There is a paragraph where Srila Prabhupada is explaining to them what it means to be a caste Goswami, and that the original Goswamis (at Radha Damodar it was Jiva Goswami) would engage the householder devotees to do the pujari work. Today the relatives of these pujaris are still in charge, taking advantage of the temple and the facilities for their own household maintenance. It's interesting to now have historical perspective, and to see that the same transformation is taking place in Srila Prabhupada's original temples, albeit with a certain western flavour to it. But it's undoubtedly the same phenomenon… history repeating itself. Srila Prabhupada was transcendental to the whole phenomenon in the sense that he didn't try to change it. He just saw it for what it really was and used whatever he could for Krsna's service.

Satsvarupa gives us little snippets of inadvertent insight into the mentality or attitude of Achyutananda and with hindsight, we can see who Achyutananda is and what kind of part he played in Srila Prabhupada's lila. There's no doubt that he was precocious and a very talented personality, but as stated here in the Lilamrta, he was looking to have a nice time in India. There was a definite mentality that being with Srila Prabhupada and joining in on this whole trip was a way for them to have an interesting experience. We can see the difference between that mood and surrendering to the pure devotee, serving him throughout one's entire life as a disciple. In this case, however, Srila Prabhupada departed and the trip was over; Achyutananda gave up the "India phase" of his life and went back to his karmi destiny. At the time Lilamrta was written, however, he was still somewhat involved.

This whole chapter is full of elaborate remembrances by Achyutananda, and as those who knew him will understand, his ability to articulate and entertain was amazing. I can recall his lectures, which were always welcomed and well attended because he was so good at both lecturing and writing. That flavour is certainly present in this chapter of Lilamrta. We know that Achyutananda was the only one who could have explained all this detail to Satsvarupa, but the author doesn't give any credit to Achyutananda by actually quoting him. When providing an interview transcript, Satsvarupa typically italicizes the content and in that way gives some credit to the person telling the story. But in this case, he takes what Achyutananda obviously said and just re-writes it in his own style. The credit goes to Satsvarupa, as if he'd actually been there, experiencing these things. But those of us who knew and experienced Achyutananda can see that the mood behind the stories is distinctly Achyutananda-esque.

Overall, in terms of really helping us to understand who Srila Prabhupada is and what his real transcendental position is, we don't get much help in this section of the book. Instead, the reader is entertained with all sorts of descriptive narrative through the eyes of Achyutananda. And although he could cut a profile, he was essentially a total neophyte pretending to be a big Swami.

To this very day, people love to read these narratives from Lilamrta, but how much, if any of this information is really enlightening on the transcendental level? It does not give a clear description of who Srila Prabhupada is spiritually. In fact, it often does just the opposite. While it implants the impression of Srila Prabhupada as being a very advanced devotee, it does not describe him as the nitya-siddha maha-bhagavata topmost Acarya in the guru-parampara that he actually is.