Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 75

BY: ROCANA DASA - 7.9 2022

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

Today we begin Chapter Five of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta entitled, "A Lot of Ground To Be Covered", which primarily focuses on Srila Prabhupada's visit in Indore, where he was invited to take part in a program at the Gita Bhavan. The pandal directors, and of course his disciples, made accommodations for Srila Prabhupada to speak there. By this point in his lila, Srila Prabhupada's fame preceded him everywhere, especially in India. The fact that he was arriving with many American devotees was seen as a great feat to most people in India at that time. The organizers of this Gita Jayanti Mahotsava were trying to draw as large a crowd as possible, and Srila Prabhupada was the main draw.

Just like at a rock concert or some other big gathering, the main event is always saved until last to keep the crowd from dispersing. This meant that the devotees had to sit through numerous lectures given by Shankarites, for the most part, and other people who were concocting their own interpretation of the Bhagavad-gita. Of course, this was all done in Hindi or whatever other Indian language was being spoken. Srila Prabhupada could understand everything, naturally, but the devotees had to sit there through all this boring drone. The devotees at that time, especially, had very little tolerance for sitting through anything boring. I can just picture them, fighting so they wouldn't nod out. Then finally Srila Prabhupada would speak, and they'd have kirtan.

On the first day of this very famous event, the devotees not only chanted on the stage with Srila Prabhupada, but they jumped off the stage and got the crowd chanting and dancing, and this was a bit hit! Everyone enjoyed it, and the event went down in ISKCON history as one of the big highlights of the year. Having helped instigate it, Hansadutta became more of an important personality, and this event became his debut claim to fame.

This chapter of Lilamrta also explains that every morning during the Srimad Bhagavatam class, Srila Prabhupada talked about the story of Ajamila. Most devotees are now familiar with this story, which took place many thousands of years ago, when varnasrama society was firmly established. Ajamila, however, left his position as a brahman to cohabitate with a sudra. Srila Prabhupada explains that back then it was unusual, but in Kali Yuga this is actually quite common.

One of the points that Satsvarupa makes here brings up a real sore spot, for me and I'm sure many of Srila Prabhupada's disciples. Satsvarupa explains that in the Ajamila story, Srila Prabhupada said that it's very natural for the father, at the time when he's leaving his body, to call for the son. In the case of Ajamila, he's calling "Narayana, Narayana". Srila Prabhupada gave himself as a personal example, saying that when his father was leaving his body and Srila Prabhupada hadn't arrived back home as yet, that his father was calling out for him.

Just prior to his leaving, Srila Prabhupada called out like this, instructing the senior men around him that it was his desire to have all his disciples come to be by his side. But although this expressed wish or decree was sent out by Srila Prabhupada, the GBC authorities, Satsvarupa being one of them, chose not to obey it. They said that only the leaders could come. I happened to be a Temple President at the time, and I flew with Satsvarupa to see Srila Prabhupada. It was a very memorable occasion, as I got to massage Srila Prabhupada's lotus feet and spend hours with him. While I've told this story before, it merits telling again to illustrate the reality behind Satsvarupa's Lilamrta writing in this regard.

While I was there, in Srila Prabhupada's room, the GBC leaders decided to stage a great dramatic get-together with Srila Prabhupada. Through some bogus, contrived understanding of the philosophy, they concluded that if they could somehow get Srila Prabhupada to agree not to leave - if he would just say that he wasn't going to leave his body -- then that would mean Krsna would have to accept it. And on the basis of that, they wouldn't have to go through with his instructions and call all his disciples to come to his side.

On Srila Prabhupada's Disappearance Day, this memory has added poignancy for me. I was there in the room when all the big GBC men bolted in. I say this because the door swung open and they all swarmed in, surrounding Srila Prabhupada's bed. Even at the time it seemed to me to be very weird, but in hindsight I can clearly understand what they were up to. They were basically harassing Srila Prabhupada, pleading and begging with him to say he wouldn't depart. Srila Prabhupada didn't capitulate immediately. But it seemed to me that he had decided they weren't going to go away and leave him in peace unless he agreed, so he said 'OK, I'm not going to leave.' As soon as he said that there was this big sigh of relief. Understandably everyone should feel that way, because everyone loved Srila Prabhupada and didn't want him to leave. But as soon as the leaders heard what they wanted to hear, the get-together was over as they quickly departed. They went directly out to send word to everyone not to come, because Srila Prabhupada was not going to leave his body.

I was sent back to Seattle by Satsvarupa so I could help organize the Xmas marathon. I missed out on being with Srila Prabhupada as he left his mortal form, as did all the thousands of other disciples. So here we read in the Lilamrta that when you leave your body, like Ajamila, like Srila Prabhupada's father, then you want to have your loved ones around you. Of course, the leaders had this bogus idea, due to being neophytes, that they were the only disciples that really counted. In their minds, Srila Prabhupada knew them and was affectionate and attached to them, but all the other disciples he wasn't so familiar with, and they virtually didn't count. In the minds of the leaders they were essentially second class disciples, so why pay all that expense and lose all that money from the Xmas marathon, flying them to India to be with Srila Prabhupada! Of course, they could justify it in their minds, thinking that Srila Prabhupada was into book distribution and this would interfere… that was their thinking. Consequently, so many disciples are disturbed to this day, as I am, that they didn't have the opportunity to be with Srila Prabhupada when he departed, and that his wish in this regard was subverted and ignored.

In the end there were only a few of them around Srila Prabhupada at the time of his departure. They didn't feel it necessary to return to their service, of course, so this was just the way they wanted it. Today in ISKCON we find many conspiracy theorists, some of whom speculate that these senior disciples poisoned Srila Prabhupada, and that's why they didn't want any of the other devotees hanging around. Others theorize that the leaders were afraid Srila Prabhupada would say something unexpected about the succession of power in ISKCON, and if this happened with a big audience around, then they couldn't manipulate the truth.

As history proves, they were hankering to be named the next Acarya, either individually or collectively, as evidenced by the Zonal Acarya System they quickly implemented. The July 9th Letter had been out for months, and no one at the time ascribed the meaning to the letter that the Rtviks today interpret it as having. The GBC men were obviously hoping that Srila Prabhupada would provide some further clarification, clearly giving them the power and authority they were so hankering for after his departure. They certainly didn't want Srila Prabhupada to say the wrong thing (in their minds), such as, 'Now I want you all to become gurus, as I have said so many times in the past…' That would have totally undermined their ambitions to be exclusive authorities.

Another problem was that there were just too many of them, all on a relatively equal level, and no one shone brightly as the 'next big Acarya'. Consequently, they had to opt for Plan B -- the Zonal Acarya idea. Of course, a lot of them were crossing their fingers that they would be named as succeeding Acarya. I know for certain Tamal Krishna was hoping it would be him, and Kirtanananda probably was. Of course, that would have caused a lot of disturbance in the society, and Srila Prabhupada knew very well that was the case. So in the end, he really didn't say anything that could be taken as a clear hand-off of power, although he had ample opportunity. He knew very well what these men wanted, and he chose to not give them what they were hankering after. He essentially left it up to Krsna, and left it up to them to try and do whatever they could… which they did, and it's all history now. So that is the present-day ISKCON story that mirrors the Ajamila story, mentioned here in Lilamrta by Satsvarupa.

Satsvarupa then gives Hansadutta's statement about how Srila Prabhupada sent him out to make Life Members. They came up with a story that colored the way the Life Membership program was carried out. According to them, Srila Prabhupada said the books are like gold, do and say anything, just get people to take them. And this was interpreted to mean 'by hook or by crook, sell the book'… use any technique you can think of that gets the results. Of course, this mushroomed into the devotees getting a notorious reputation with most anyone who came in contact with us, whether at airports or on the street. Some of the devotees really would do anything, and book distribution quickly evolved into just collecting money, because the book would give you away as being a Hare Krishna. This didn't prevent us from getting a bad reputation for collecting, however.

So here we have the story according to Hansadutta, who is known to be one of the most notorious of the no-holds-barred type personalities in ISKCON history, when it comes to collecting and lying about anything that suits his agenda.

Throughout the Lilamrta, Satsvarupa includes all these little anecdotes that mean little. It's not just that they're fillers… the problem is that they give the wrong impression about who Srila Prabhupada is. For example, Srila Prabhupada was saying that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur was very fond of a particular type of chiddwah, so the devotees got on the subject of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, and Srila Prabhupada in his humility, the sign of an advanced devotee, said:

"You have only seen the glitter… He is the gold. I am only iron. Iron can never be gold. But you have seen the glitter of real gold."

Based on this, to this very day some devotees have the notion that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was really more of a Sampradaya Acarya, more advanced then Srila Prabhupada. But this is a misconception of Srila Prabhupada's humility in terms of how he presented his Spiritual Master. Although we hear the devotees saying "Jai Srila Prabhupada", and "Srila Prabhupada this" and "Srila Prabhupada that," in reality Srila Prabhupada has become more of an institutional head in the minds of many rather than the exalted, rarified Sampradaya Acarya, as Srila Prabhupada presented Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.

Satsvarupa included an interesting little story about a palm reader, who wanted to read Srila Prabhupada's palm. But Srila Prabhupada said this doesn't apply to devotees… just clap your hands a few times in front of the Deities and your lines all change, because now you've become a devotee, your fate, karma, or destiny… whatever it is that shows in these lines, really doesn't apply. As long as you're an advanced devotee, that is. Srila Prabhupada told the reader to instead read the palms of his disciples. In other words, because they're not advanced, whatever you read off their palms will actually have some relevance, because they're not advanced enough to have all their lines made irrelevant by pure devotional service.

Srila Prabhupada told another interesting story about when he was staying at the Radha Damodar temple, where he observed an older lady, a widow. She got up every morning without fail, heat cold, rain or shine, and went down to the Ganges to get some water to bathe the Deities. Every day she would show up with this jug of water. So Srila Prabhupada made the declaration that because she did this without any hesitation and without consideration for heat or cold, happiness or distress, she was going back to Godhead. Of course, it was also being done in Vrindavan. By telling this story, Srila Prabhupada was also encouraging the devotees to get up early in the a.m., during the brahma muhurta, and follow his morning program.

Back in those days, especially in India, if the devotees could get out of going to the morning program, they'd do it. It was a bonus to be able to sleep in and recuperate with some needed rest, or do the rounds you hadn't gotten done. Srila Prabhupada was aware of this tendency, and he was discouraging it. Nowadays I'm not sure how many of the leaders strictly follow Srila Prabhupada's program, and set the example of spontaneously or without any hesitation going to the morning program each day, like the lady getting water, and encouraging their people to do the same.

As a Sampradaya Acarya, Srila Prabhupada was beyond needing to do sadhana on that level, and he had a different program than the rest of us. He would get up far earlier than us and work on translating and writing his books. He also had a different program for chanting, and he'd go for a walk and greet the Deities. He didn't exempt anyone, however, from keeping to the standards for his disciples, and he also didn't ask anyone to follow his program. In the same mood, Srila Prabhupada would say if you want to be like Lord Shiva, then drink the ocean of poison… do something on the level of such a great personality if you want to imitate t hem.

Satsvarupa makes a rather odd comment at this point, saying that Srila Prabhupada was unpredictable, and he was always Krsna conscious. So how Satsvarupa gets "unpredictable" and "always Krsna conscious" in the same breath, I don't know. Srila Prabhupada always acted according to Guru and Sastra, and he was instructing by his example, so how could you conclude that he was unpredictable? I suppose Satsvarupa meant that Srila Prabhupada did things that his neophyte devotees didn't expect and didn't understand. But this should have been clarified in the book, rather than just calling Srila Prabhupada "unpredictable".

As I've stated so many times, Satsvarupa had access to all sorts of interviews, gathered at great expense by sending devotees throughout the world, interviewing people who may have come into contact with Srila Prabhupada. Personally, I think a lot of this was a waste of money. The statements of most of these people are totally unnecessary, and in fact tend to give the wrong impression of the pure devotee. For example, in this section we hear from Baba Balmukund, who offers some glorification of Srila Prabhupada, but very much from a superficial platform. Baba never became a staunch follower of Srila Prabhupada, he just knew enough to say that Srila Prabhupada had the reality of bhakti, and he did a marvelous thing. That's true, of course, but why put it in the Lilamrta? Who cares what Baba said or did? What weight does it have? Srila Prabhupada is a great bhakta because Baba said so?

Going back to the program they were attending in Indore, Srila Prabhupada walked off the stage at one point. The event director had promised him he could be first, but when the program started someone else got up before him, and Srila Prabhupada just walked off. The organizer was fried, he couldn't believe it, and then Srila Prabhupada said well tomorrow, my disciples can come, but he's not going to come anymore.

Then Srila Prabhupada's party left Indore and went to Surat, which is in Gujarat. Gujarat is one of the most devotional parts of India, and there's a high concentration of bhaktas there, who are on what we consider to be the level of Vaisnavas. In fact there are probably more of them in Gujarat than in Bengal. Our preaching programs have always been successful there.

So the Surat program was extremely successful, with kirtans every day and thousands of people coming. The Mayor closed the schools and declared a holiday, and all in all it was a real highlight of Srila Prabhupada's preaching program. There's a nice description of what it was like in Lilamrta. It's interesting to note that even though this was the most successful program, Satsvarupa didn't give many pages to describing it. He gave more attention to the indoor program, which was less important or successful, by far.