Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 72

BY: ROCANA DASA - 2.9 2022

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

Today we complete Chapter Three of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, Vol. IV, entitled, "A Threat Against ISKCON". Last week, we left Srila Prabhupada in Tokyo, just before Janmastami and Vyasapuja. Satsvarupa was trying to explain what was taking place in North America in regards to the unnamed "four sannyasis" who were preaching impersonalism. Their "impersonalism" stemmed from the fact that they had misunderstood or misinterpreted the philosophy by stating that Srila Prabhupada was actually God. Mainly they were preaching that he had left America because he felt offended on account of the fact that the devotees, his disciples and followers, had not recognized the fact that he was God and therefore he had withdrawn his mercy and left them as a result.

As I stated last week, it's true that Srila Prabhupada was upset with certain symptoms and indications that this disciples were not treating him properly. We're left with the explanation and descriptions given by Satsvarupa in this Lilamrta and by the senior disciples, who explained from their perspective what had transpired. To this very day, the story is somewhat vague. By the time I joined, which was soon after this incident took place, we heard rumours that something had taken place. It seemed that by that time, which was just a few months after this event, that the problem had worked itself out. The four sannyasis were not removed from the society. Two of them were Brahmananda and Gargamuni, but I don't know who the other two were.

I can understand why these devotees might have come to that wrong conclusion. I assume it's not that they were intentionally preaching Mayavadi philosophy, but they were simply trying to make sense out of what was going on around them. In hindsight, now that we have close to 40 years perspective on this tendency, it makes much more sense.

We have to remember that when the Lilamrta was being written, during the heyday of the Zonal Acarya system, the author, being one of the Zonal Acaryas, was actually promoting far worse philosophical deviation than the four sannyasis back in 1969. As Satsvarupa himself describes it, the four sannyasis' preaching was an appalling display of ignorance. But in reality, the Zonal Acarya system was a far greater display of ignorance. While it's true that these four sannyasis came to a conclusion that was erroneous in regards to Srila Prabhupada's position, the Zonal Acaryas did the same thing - they didn't recognize and appreciate Srila Prabhupada as rare, topmost Acarya in the guru-parampara. In fact, they tried to imitate the Sampradaya Acarya, and instead of just taking the humble position of a regular diksa guru, they restricted their godbrothers from becoming gurus themselves. They wanted to be exclusive, phony Sampradaya Acaryas.

Satsvarupa states that the reason why so many of the devotees were taken-in by these sannyasis was the fact that they didn't understand Srila Prabhupada's books well enough, they weren't well versed enough in the books, so they were at a loss to defeat them or to correct them. Of course, the same circumstance was prevalent during the time when the Zonal Acaryas took over Srila Prabhupada's movement. No one could collectively organize themselves to challenge them, because they had so much power. Those who did challege were the more brahminical devotees, and they were thrown out of the movement when they suggested, in a cordial manner, that what the Zonals were doing was wrong.

It's also interesting to note that when Srila Prabhupada asked the sannyasis, namely Kirtanananda and Tamal Krishna, who were traveling with him, what they should do to solve the problem, they suggested to Srila Prabhupada that these sannyasis should be kicked out of the movement. Even though they were all good friends (or thought they were), this was the proferred solution. Instead of trying to preach to them or suggesting that they go back and correct the problem themselves, they just wanted to eject them from the society.

There was somewhat of a power vacuum with the senior devotees who were traveling with Srila Prabhupada at that time. Back in America, particularly at New Vrindaban where they were preaching, there was no one who had enough authority to challenge them. This was basically the same scenario that took place in regards to these sannyasis.

At the same time back in Japan, where these senior disciples were traveling with Srila Prabhupada, they didn't even know how to offer vyasapuja to Srila Prabhupada. This was years after the movement began, and Srila Prabhupada was very disappointed that his vyasapuja came up and they didn't have any flowers ready to offer. When he tried to explain it to them they just didn't catch on. They didn't even know what "pushpa" (flowers) meant. They thought Srila Prabhupada was referring to pushpanna rice, so instead of getting flowers, they began preparing some rice. Then Srila Prabhupada said well if you didn't know, why didn't you ask me how to do it properly? In his ISKCON, everything was to be done in the traditional way, so that we wouldn't concoct things.

Of course, these Zonal Acaryas had totally concocted how they themselves should be worshipped, which was on a much grander scale, by far, then what Srila Prabhupada himself was asking them to perform. The traditional vyasapuja ceremony as Srila Prabhupada explained it was fairly simple. I could give a detailed explanation here of some of the so-called vyasapuja ceremonies that were taking place during the Zonal Acarya period, and you probably wouldn't believe that I was telling the truth because they were so absurd and grandiose. But we'll leave that story for another day…

In writing this chapter, Satsvarupa offers one section in which he explains what was going on in Japan, and in another section he tells his version of what was going on in America. According to the author, everyone in New Vrindabin was despondent because of what these sannyasis were saying, which was that Srila Prabhupada had rejected them. Then a letter arrived from Srila Prabhupada wherein he made it abundantly clear that he hadn't rejected them at all and he was planning on returning to America. In his usual encouraging and personal manner, he clearly explained that he hadn't left with no intention of returning. At the same time, he was concerned about what was taking place in terms of the preaching of the sannyasis.

There was an overall attitude towards him that he had picked up on, and by and large, it was coming from all the neophyte, foolish leaders. They had become increasingly and amazingly puffed-up on account of being given so much power, prestige and authority within the society. And one of the ways that Srila Prabhupada dealt with that was to create more sannyasis and to create the GBC. On one hand, we can say this is a technique or organizational arrangement by Srila Prabhupada to increase the society, but another perspective that's not given is that it was also a means to give these leaders a position where they could either survive spiritually or fall away, because it essentially sidelined them from management positions. Sannyasis and the GBC, as Srila Prabhupada had set it up at that time, were taken out of management positions in temples. Of course, this didn't last long because most of the GBC were so addicted to those power positions that they simply used the GBC title to give themselves more power, creating direct management positions in larger temples. Between them, they took over the BBT, the Radha Damodar Party, the Library parties, etc., all of which allowed them to handle money.

Srila Prabhupada compared the poison that had entered the movement to the poison that was administered to Prahlad Maharaja. Because Prahlad was so pure it didn't infect him, and of course, it didn't seriously affect the movement while Srila Prabhupada was personally present and his lila was unfolding under Krsna's protection and guidance.

In the letter to New Vrindaban, Srila Prabhupada stated that he wanted to intensify the study of his literature and his oral instructions. Of course, Srila Prabhupada insisted that the literatures be printed, but very little was done in terms of providing the society with tapes of Srila Prabhupada's morning walks, lectures, and so on. In fact, the morning walks were kept out of circulation until long after Srila Prabhupada accepted maha-samadhi. The GBC tried to keep them exclusively amongst themselves... anything to prevent the devotees from thinking these senior men were in any way less potent than they wanted everyone to believe.

It took practically an act of sabotage and cost one devotee (Sulocana dasa) his life when he got hold of Srila Prabhupada's letters and started distributing them. This was just as much the cause of Sulocana's death as were his threats towards Kirtanananda. Without Rameswar's assistance, they would never have found Sulocana. Rameswar informed the assassins of where to find Sulocana because he was so mad at Sulocana for getting his hands on the microfiche of Srila Prabhupada's letters.

The ending of this chapter takes us back to Japan, describing how Srila Prabhupada very professionally and expertly dealt with the Dai Nippon printers. At this point in time Japan as a culture was similar to the situation we now find in China, in terms of the westerners trying to understand how to deal with them and their cultural practices. Of course, Srila Prabhupada picked up on this dynamic right away, and dealt with them in just the appropriate manner. He expertly got a very good price from them for the printing. I can remember very clearly how amazed I was when I received the first copies of the Krsna books. It was very high quality work. Why it was that the BBT didn't stay with Dai Nippon, and at what point the printing went back to North America, I'm not sure. But it was a stroke of genius that Srila Prabhupada chose these Japanese printers at the time he did. They were also printing the BTG magazines, which were extremely first-class.

This concludes Chapter 3, which covers a very significant point in ISKCON's history. I'm afraid that we may never know what actually took place during what Satsvarupa calls the "threat to ISKCON", because those who actually were the threat turned out to be the ones who wrote the Lilamrta.