Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 21

BY: ROCANA DASA - 17.5 2022

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

Today we conclude our review of Chapter 8, New Delhi - "Crying Alone in the Wilderness". Srila Prabhupada was approximately 60 years of age at the time of his pastimes, as described in this chapter. Interestingly enough, Satsvarupa himself is about that same age. Although Srila Prabhupada had no financial backing and no disciples to speak of at this stage, he did amazing things on behalf of his Spiritual Master. Satsvarupa, on the other hand, had a tremendous amount of facility at his fingertips, and did almost nothing of value with it. Even today, he's living quite comfortably and not producing anything of any transcendental substance.

Let's also take note of the fact that at the time of Srila Prabhupada's departure, Satsvarupa was the deputed editor of the BTG and was responsible for printing the magazine - a magazine that was obviously near and dear to Srila Prabhupada's heart, as is easily understood by reading this particular section of Lilamrta. This job was handed to Satsvarupa when hundreds of thousands of the BTG's were being published and distributed and there was a full crew at his disposal. Today, although it is still being printed, the circulation has greatly diminished to a fraction of what it was, and in large part it has become a promo piece for ISKCON and the big leaders.

Much of the commentary Satsvarupa offers in this chapter about Srila Prabhupada during this period was obviously extracted from two sources, one being the printer, Kumar Jain, and the other Justice Mishra, who apparently gave an interview to Satsvarupa or one of his assistants. There are no direct quotes from Srila Prabhupada and as I understand it, he didn't say much about how he felt about his circumstances during that time. Satsvarupa also had access to copies of the BTG magazines that Srila Prabhupada wrote while he was in Delhi during this period. Therefore, Satsvarupa was speaking from his level of realization at that point in time.

I have continually mentioned the fact that in my opinion, to a large degree the Zonal Acaryas were using Satsvarupa and this Lilamrta 'biography' as a subtle way to promote themselves and the philosophy they were preaching at the time. A good example of this can be seen in statements such as: "Writing articles was no problem. By the grace of his spiritual master, he was neither short of ideas nor unable to set them down." Satsvarupa, of course, was busy writing Zonal Acarya manifestos at the time, and all the devotees were expected to believe that his pen flowed directly from the mind of his Spiritual Master, Srila Prabhupada.

Just prior to this quote, we read that Justice Mishra had so many endearing things to say about Srila Prabhupada. Not surprisingly, Satsvarupa does not embellish or elaborate upon favourable statements such as the fact that Srila Prabhupada had an abiding faith in God's name and mission. Srila Prabhupada obviously made a profound impression upon the judge, although he's obviously a neophyte person who was unlikely to have detected the level of Srila Prabhupada's advancement.

Another statement in the same paragraph is also suspect, wherein Satsvarupa says that Srila Prabhupada's writing and printing of BTG "put Abhay into an ecstatic meditation". The truth of the matter is that Srila Prabhupada was always in a state of ecstatic meditation because he was a maha-bhagavata nitya-siddha, and as such, he was constantly demonstrating how a true devotee should continue to try and preach the message of Krsna consciousness regardless of whether they're in circumstances such as Srila Prabhupada was during this time in his life.

Satsvarupa writes in the Lilamrta that Srila Prabhupada refused to flatter materialists in order to maintain himself. Yet that's exactly what Satsvarupa is doing now. In fact, he states in this section that people who do as he's doing now, Srila Prabhupada called "monkey renunciants".

In this section of the chapter Satsvarupa does as he always does, creating what I consider to be filler content, describing what was going on politically and socially at the time and how Indian culture had deteriorated. This was based on Srila Prabhupada's writing in his BTG's, where he was commenting on situations in India. One can see how later on during his ISKCON lila period he used the same analogies about how you can't eat nuts and bolts, and how he was critical of the industrialization program that the Indian government was embarking upon. The author could have stuck to the pure devotees comments, and reduced his own narrative on national affairs.

In commenting on the interview that was done with the printer, Satsvarupa paints a picture of Srila Prabhupada shivering in the cold without proper clothing, fighting cold weather, and basically appearing to be an everyday pauper. This, of course, is entirely based on the printer's perception of Srila Prabhupada at the time, which we must consider imperfect, at best. This is simply Srila Prabhupada as seen through the eyes of a pious man, but certainly not anyone who could possibly understand the mind of a pure devotee. Of course, that also applies to Satsvarupa, who's writing is based on his interpretation of what this printer said.

So we are given this picture of Srila Prabhupada as going through all sorts of miserable conditions - bad weather, being gored by a bull, having to move from place to place, getting rejected constantly by everyone he approached, etc. And we see this same mood in terms of perception of Srila Prabhupada being projected even today on account of the way Satsvarupa has written this book. For example, practically every time an ISKCON devotee introduces Srila Prabhupada to a new person they talk about how Srila Prabhupada suffered heart attacks on the boat, and how he came to the West penniless. So this whole contaminated mood and method of presenting a topmost Acarya in the guru-parampara -- the seeds were planted in the Lilamrta by telling these stories of Srila Prabhupada's pastimes from long before he even boarded the Jaladuta. The impression everyone is given is that this is how you present a pure devotee. But of course, this is the exact opposite of the bona fide Vaisnava method for doing so.

In truth, the miracle is that Srila Prabhupada not only transcended his circumstances, which from a material point of view may have been far from ideal. He never gave up and he always did his duty, just as we heard from him through his Bhagavad-gita As It Is - the fact is that an advanced devotee is not affected by heat and cold, happiness and distress. Srila Prabhupada exemplified this truth. This, of course, is not a truth that can be seen in most of the gurus holding court in ISKCON today. In fact, it's interesting to note that Srila Prabhupada made a commentary in his BTG which Satsvarupa chose to include, wherein he's describing politicians and how they spent twenty thousand rupees per week trying to alleviate their ailments. In the end, they died. We now know that ISKCON gurus and sannyasis have done -- and are doing -- the very same thing. And these are disciples of Srila Prabhupada, what to speak of politicians and rich men who Srila Prabhupada commented upon as being a total waste of money.

It's also interesting to note that Satsvarupa paints the picture of Srila Prabhupada going out to distribute BTG's, and what his method of doing so was. It was very civil, low-key and congenial, unlike the way the ISKCON leaders at the time of the writing of this book were training up their followers to distribute Srila Prabhupada's books and BTG's. Their methods were very aggressive and harsh, and created a great deal of fallout in terms of bad publicity for the movement - an impression that continues on today. While book distribution tactics today appear to be much more civilized, in the days following Srila Prabhupada's departure we were extremely aggressive. We still often hear this from people who had bad encounters with us at airports and in parking lots. So while Satsvarupa is describing how Srila Prabhupada did things, he and his Zonal Acarya peers were doing the exact opposite, and encouraging all the devotees in that direction.

The rest of the chapter is excerpts from the BTG's, with filler commentary by Satsvarupa. I find his 'purports' to be very un-philosophical. He simply embellishes the valuable content about the pure devotee with his own historical commentary on what was happening in the U.S. with Harry S. Truman, how many people were unemployed in Delhi at the time, etc.

Satsvarupa even makes up fictitious characters like "the Delhi man", who was supposedly noticing Srila Prabhupada distributing BTG's. Satsvarupa also tells a story that is often told today, and it appears to have come directly from the Lilamrta, because there's no description of it having come from Srila Prabhupada or any other source that I'm aware of. In this story, Srila Prabhupada fainted due to distributing BTG's in 110 degree heat in Delhi. This may or may not have happened, and there's certainly some inspiration to be had from the story, but there's no philosophical explanation of how a pure devotee of Krsna appeared to suffer in this way.

Satsvarupa ends the chapter by quoting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, wherein he says that if he would make just one of his disciples into a pure devotee his mission would be successful. Of course, Satsvarupa doesn't elaborate upon the fact that Srila Prabhupada is just such a person. Instead, Satsvarupa writes:

"…Abhay became overwhelmed when he thought of how small he was, how much work had to be done on behalf of Krsna, and how difficult it was to convince even one conditioned soul."

We are left to wonder which one of Srila Prabhupada's disciples is likely to manifest themselves as a pure devotee and carry on the Sankirtana mission in the same way that Srila Prabhupada carried on his Spiritual Master's mission. This, of course, is the mission of the Sampradaya Acaryas. Time will tell, but at this point I personally haven't come across anyone who appears to fit that description.