Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 74

BY: ROCANA DASA - 7.9 2022

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

Today's Lilamrta begins with Srila Prabhupada's visit to Amritsar, October 21, 1970. There were seven men and two women in the party traveling with Srila Prabhupada. The train arrived at Kurukshetra and Satsvarupa describes how Srila Prabhupada talked about Kurukshetra, making the point that Kurukshetra is a real place, an historical place, although many unbonafide commentaries on Bhagavad-gita refer to Kurukshetra in an allegorical way. Srila Prabhupada is making clear the fact that Krsna is God incarnated, and God was actually there on the battlefield, talking with Arjuna.

Srila Prabhupada played mrdanga at a program there, and led the chanting and kirtan. He also attended the Vedanta Sammelan, and although it was only scheduled for a few hours, Srila Prabhupada didn't limit his preaching. He preached every hour of the day, and he was flooded with invitations from families to come and visit. So he would go from place to place, and the devotees had to try and keep up with Srila Prabhupada. This is very symbolic in many respects. Srila Prabhupada was such a dynamo, and had such unlimited energy when it came to the preaching, that even the young devotees couldn't keep up.

In the part of the country where Amritsar is situated there are many big Sikh temples. One of the most famous is the Golden Temple, which has been the source of a lot of controversy ever since the time of Srila Prabhupada's lila. At one point, the Indian army stormed the Golden Temple to roust some armed group that had taken shelter there during a rebellion. Many people were shot. All of this turmoil in Amritsar eventually led, many years later, to the terrorist attack on the Air India flight that killed 300 people. Many of the victims were from Canada, and I spent a lot of time in Ottawa preaching to the bereaved families. The terrorists were from Vancouver, where supporters still preach their radical philosophy.

Of course, while Srila Prabhupada was in Amritsar he made a good impression on all the Sikhs. Visiting the Golden Temple, Srila Prabhupada was very impressed with their prasadam distribution program. The Sikhs feed everyone, every day out of the Gurdwars, and they say no one in the town should go hungry. As they watched how the Sikhs performed the cooking of all this prasada, Srila Prabhupada instructed the devotees that this is how he wants prasadam distribution to be done. One of the places in India that is currently operating on this level is Bangalore, where they're using very modern equipment and processes that I'm sure Srila Prabhupada would be very happy with.

Srila Prabhupada and the devotees went on to visit various places, including Rama Tirtha Sarovara, the lake where the great sage Valmiki had his asrama. At that point in time the devotees didn't know much about Lord Rama, but they do now.

Because the Vedanta Sammelin was full of a lot of so-called experts commenting on Mayavadi philosophy, Srila Prabhupada addressed Mayavadi. He explained that there are unmistakable characteristics about Krsna that indicate he's God. It's not that we're simply speculating on this. I would also point out that there are unmistakable characteristics about Srila Prabhupada that to this very day, the devotees do not appreciate or identify with. And that makes all the difference in being able to successfully preach and advance in Krsna consciousness. In the same way that you have to accept that Krsna is God in order to understand the Bhagavad-gita, I believe that if you want to be successful in pleasing Srila Prabhupada and preaching Krsna consciousness today, you have to recognize and present Srila Prabhupada as the Sampradaya Acarya. If you don't, then you get into all sorts of problems such as the ones ISKCON has gone through over the last 30 years.

So the devotees completed their program in Amritsar. There are some excerpts in Lilamrta about how Srila Prabhupada was writing letters every day to various places throughout the world, and Satsvarupa clips out a few excerpts from letters sent to places like Los Angeles, Fiji and New York. This gives us a little more understanding of Srila Prabhupada's preaching through his letters. In many ways, these personal letters kept the movement going day to day.

Next Srila Prabhupada gets on the train for the long journey back to Bombay, via Delhi, and he invites Guru dasa to accompany him in the train compartment. Some of the first class compartments on India trains are very small, often with just one seat. These are usually taken by husband and wife. But in this case they invited Srila Prabhupada to have one of these compartments, so Guru dasa joined him. We find a little anecdote from Guru dasa about how they got bits of soot on their clothes, being so close to the engine. I don't know why Satsvarupa bothered to include that information, since it's quite meaningless.

Satsvarupa then presents a very long story by Yamuna about how Srila Prabhupada asked her to prepare some chapatis and some nice rice. This wasn't so easy to do on the train, although they do have a cooking compartment on board. Yamuna goes into a very elaborate explanation of just how she accomplished the task. For a time before she departed, Yamuna devi lived not far from us, at Saranagati. She was very popular there and well known as a storyteller. In this particular Lilamrta story, which is classic Yamuna, we don't find a great deal of content about Srila Prabhupada, other than that he asked his devotees to do fairly difficult things and expected them to accomplish it, which they often did. Yamuna reminisces that Srila Prabhupada called her the 'Goddess of Fortune'.

Another interesting part of this journey is that when they reached Delhi, there was a person who got on board named D.D. Gupta. When Mr. Gupta asked Srila Prabhupada to stay and do a program, Srila Prabhupada instead ordered Guru dasa to do it. Of course, Guru dasa was enjoying this ideal circumstance of traveling around with Srila Prabhupada, so this was probably a bit of a letdown for him. He asked Srila Prabhupada if some of the other devotees could go with him, so Yamuna, Giriraja and some of the others got off the train in order to satisfy the request. Srila Prabhupada placed many such expectations on his disciples. You were expected to comply, and he didn't take any excuses. You just served him in whatever capacity he wished, and it was often a personal test to meet his expectations.

I was talking some time back with Visvakarma dasa, once the Temple President of Toronto. He had visited the Montreal Temple for a festival they had, and the temple had invited some of the older devotees, including Guru dasa. At that point, just a few years ago, Guru dasa had been out of the movement since before Srila Prabhupada left. Lilamrta describes that one of the questions asked of Srila Prabhupada by the person they were staying with in Bombay was, 'What's going to happen when you leave?' The Indians are always interested in this. So they wanted to know what would happen … will they (the devotees) go bad? And Srila Prabhupada said no, they won't go bad, so long as they continue chanting they'll be protected. But when we read about all the people who were on board this train, we see that most of them left. You can say Yamuna devi is still in; although she left quite early on, she maintained a profile in Krsna consciousness, primarily through her cooking and writing efforts. Guru dasa left completely. Giriraja has been somewhat in and out at various points over the years.

Today we find a prevalent attitude amongst the devotees that if you were one of these older devotees and had personal association with Srila Prabhupada, that makes you special. This attitude is primarily due to the Lilamrta and a general lack of understanding of our philosophy. The devotees think that if you have a lot of good Prabhupada stories to tell, then even if you haven't been participating in the movement for 20-30 years, you're still given high status. But I don't think Srila Prabhupada would see it that way. Our philosophy, and the pastimes we read in sastra like Caitanya-caritamrta, do not refer to fallen devotees in this way. Those devotees who did their service, and took advantage of the opportunity to serve Srila Prabhupada, they might go down in history. But to characterize a person as "special class" even though they've fallen down, or fallen away from serving Srila Prabhupada, that is not the standard we find in Vaisnava literature.

As I've pointed out many times, throughout Lilamrta Satsvarupa makes comments that indicate he doesn't understand the philosophy or Srila Prabhupada. Regardless, he's put these comments down for posterity in the book, and they've now become his legacy. For example, there's a statement in this section that says, "As a sannyasi, Prabhupada was prepared to stay anywhere." Now this wasn't because Srila Prabhupada was a sannyasi, it was because he was serving Krsna and was a pure devotee, a Sampradaya Acarya who was totally absorbed in preaching on behalf of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He was ready to stay anywhere that the preaching was good. What's more true in ISKCON is that many of the sannyasis today aren't willing to stay anywhere, go anywhere and do anything, or perform any austerities. If their foodstuffs and room aren't exactly the way they like it, if they're not picked up at the airport on time, they get very agitated. This is completely different than Srila Prabhupada's mood. Many of these sannyasis today are huge exceptions to the principle of sannyasa. They have practically re-written the sastra as to who is a sannyasis and how he should behave and live.

We also read in this section about a program Srila Prabhupada and the devotees were invited to by Mrs. Morarji, who was the head of the Scindia shipping line. She gave Srila Prabhupada free passage on the Jaladuta. She invited some people to come, and according to the Lilamrta, Tamal Krishna was invited to give a little introduction of Srila Prabhupada. Instead of introducing Srila Prabhupada in the way he should have been introduced -- as a Sampradaya Acarya, an absolutely pure nitya-siddha devotee who Krsna sent on this special mission to spread Krsna consciousness throughout the world - Tamal just mentioned the historical 'facts' in his introduction. He said that Srila Prabhupada came with no money, had a heart attack, had no friends, he struggled, all of which is bogus. This is not the description of a pure devotee, what to speak of a highly exalted member of our guru-parampara. The fact that he went and chanted Hare Krsna in the park, and that he made the Americans give up meat, fish and eggs, all this is really not a transcendental version of who Srila Prabhupada is. Circumstances like these might be seen as something of a dilemma for Srila Prabhupada, because as a humble pure devotee he wasn't about to start saying wait a minute, I'm a very advanced pure devotee. Instead, he just let these sorts of annoying misconceptions slide. I suppose that he could only hope that the devotees would, in due course, come to understand who he was. Unfortunately, they didn't. Instead, they introduced the Zonal Acarya system as soon as Srila Prabhupada departed.

Satsvarupa includes an excerpt here, obviously transcribed from an interview with a man named Vaijayanti Mala, who was an Indian actor. What he had to say is of no significance or consequence at all. He had no realization of who Srila Prabhupada was, but still Satsvarupa put him in the book, saying that Indians see Srila Prabhupada as 'unique'. Not that they see him as a pure devotee. This type of material shouldn't be included in a biography of the pure devotee.

Srila Prabhupada and the devotees were invited by Mr. Agarwal to stay at his asrama, called Rama Sharanam. He took advantage of Srila Prabhupada's association there and talked to him for a very long time. It was Mr. Agarwal who was asking about what's going to happen when Srila Prabhupada leaves. Srila Prabhupada was positive and reassuring, not just about the devotees, but also about the potency of the Holy Name and the mission of Lord Caitanya's Sankirtana. And to a certain degree his pure preaching mission has survived, although it has been changed to the point where it seems almost impossible to bring it back to Srila Prabhupada's standards.

Srila Prabhupada began getting subtle hints from Mr. Agarwal that having all the devotees staying in his house was starting to become a burden, so Srila Prabhupada immediately picked-up on this and said they would leave. He was in the process of trying to establish temples in Mayapur, Bombay and Vrindavan, and Calcutta. So in due course, before he left, all these situations would be resolved by Krsna's arrangements. The money was found, the land was purchased, and the temples were built to what we see today.

Srila Prabhupada gave the example of Haridas Thakur. (This is a good example because the Americans are somewhat like Haridas, in the sense that they weren't born Hindus. Haridas Thakur was a Muslim but he became a great devotee.) As the story goes, Haridas was in a cave that he was cohabitating with a big python. The snake didn't bother him, he was transcendental, but a lot of Haridas's visitors were disturbed by this snake. So Krsna was in the heart of the snake as Supersoul, and whether asked or compelled, the snake suddenly left the cave on his own accord, never to disturb Haridas's visitors again.

There was another example Srila Prabhupada gave in this section that I appreciated, about the jackal. In hindsight, we find this to be true in ISKCON. When the jackals are living in a small forest, then all the other animals accept them as King of the Forest. They can fool some of the small animals like this, but when they have to leave the small forest, then their ruse is exposed. So in my mind this also refers to some of my foolish godbrothers, who got exposed when they started the big, nonsense imitation of the Sampradaya Acarya program. They all got exposed when they fell down in various ways. Nevertheless, they have the Lilamrta to enshrine them in the myth that they're very special devotees. The real special devotee, who should have been properly enshrined in Lilamrta but wasn't, is Srila Prabhupada.

In November, Srila Prabhupada stayed mainly in Bombay, but on December 3rd, he took his disciples off to Indore, and that's where we'll begin next time. This ends the chapter, "India: Dancing White Elephants".