Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 26

BY: ROCANA DASA - 2.5 2022

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

Today we begin our review of chapter ten of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta entitled "This Momentous Hour of Need". The title itself begs for an explanation of what it actually refers to. In this chapter the author picks up another literary theme, as is his habit. This time, it is that Srila Prabhupada has no money. This is repeated over and over again.

In this chapter, Satsvarupa finally switches over from calling Srila Prabhupada "Abhay", a name he used very casually up to this point, to now referring to Srila Prabhupada as "Bhaktivedanta Swami". Because Srila Prabhupada had taken sannyasa, Satsvarupa writes that everyone began referring to him as "Swami" and "Maharaja", and that this was a big boost to his preaching ability. But in truth, as Srila Prabhupada's life unfolds we can see that there really wasn't much change in his mood, attitude or preaching, which is primarily through writing.

But Satsvarupa, being a young sannyasi, is obviously of the mind that it was a 'necessity' for a preacher to be a sannyasi. While that may be true to a certain degree in India, it's certainly not of such great importance in the case of Srila Prabhupada.

Another theme that the author erroneously asserts is the fact that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur is the real Sampradaya Acarya, while Srila Prabhupada is a struggling sadhana-bhakta. Satsvarupa shows this in statements such as the one where he suggests that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was speaking through various persons to motivate Srila Prabhupada. This is in reference to Srila Prabhupada's decision to write books rather than magazines, namely Back To Godhead, and that his Spiritual Master appeared in the form of a librarian and some retired army officer, who suggested that Srila Prabhupada write books. Satsvarupa essentially paints the picture that Srila Prabhupada would never have thought of this, or would never have attempted to write his purports to Srimad Bhagavatam had it not been for his Spiritual Master speaking through some mundane persons, and Srila Prabhupada interpreting or realizing that his Spiritual Master was directing him in this way. This, of course, is ridiculous when you consider that Srila Prabhupada was a pure devotee and nitya-siddha.

This particular pastime of his is instructive for everyone in terms of how pure devotees are not affected by any external material circumstances, but just continue to serve Krsna in whatever way Krsna devises. How could a pure devotee serving Krsna not be considered pure? How is it that Krsna at that point in time didn't provide facility for Srila Prabhupada's living nicely and being able to print whatever he wrote? Of course, we now know the whole story, just as Satsvarupa knew how Srila Prabhupada's pastimes unfolded even as he wrote this book. He knew that Srila Prabhupada came to America and Krsna gave him full facility, which was obviously part of Krsna's plan. But the way that Satsvarupa describes it, the reader is left to his own devices to come up with this idea. The author doesn't provide any such insight.

In the places where Satsvarupa had an opportunity to give us some deep insight into how Srila Prabhupada is a nitya-siddha, he failed to do so. In fact, I find that the particular aspects of Srila Prabhupada's pastimes that illustrate this truth are relatively short, thanks to the author's editing choices. Satsvarupa wasted so much space describing what the material circumstances were. For example, he described the time when Srila Prabhupada was offered an opportunity to have a room in a temple in Delhi, near Chandni Chowk. All who have been to this part of Delhi know that it's a congested, over-crowded place. But what does that have to do with Srila Prabhupada or his pastimes? While Satsvarupa neglects to point out Srila Prabhupada's exalted pastimes, he does go on for pages describing what his material circumstances were like, even though this has absolutely no relevance to the spiritual aspects of Srila Prabhupada's life.

The author's lack of spiritual realization in this regard is clearly reflected in the way he depicts how Srila Prabhupada acquired his rooms at the Radha Damodar temple, which is where Srila Rupa and Sanatana Goswami's samadhis are. Those who have seen this transcendental site could only conclude that it was Krsna's divine arrangement that Srila Prabhupada should be working on Srimad Bhagavatam while glancing through his window at Rupa Goswami's samadhi.

As far as I can see, Krsna was making all the arrangements for Srila Prabhupada. He had a room next to Rupa Goswami's samadhi in Vrindavan, and he had a room above the Deities in a temple in Delhi, so he could go to either place and write. It wasn't until after Srila Prabhupada's departure that most devotees came to understand that these arrangements were all part of Krsna's overall plan.

It's interesting to note Satsvarupa's choice of an excerpt from the Srimad Bhagavatam that he placed as the opening quote in this chapter. While as a disciple we find the quote wonderful, we also have to keep in mind that this Lilamrta was written for new people, to introduce them to Srila Prabhupada. Out of all the brilliant writing in the Srimad Bhagavatams that Srila Prabhupada wrote while still in India, Satsvarupa picks out this quote, wherein Srila Prabhupada's divine humility is being expressed:

"Our capacity of presenting the matter in adequate language, specially a foreign language, will certain fail and there may be so many literary discrepancies inspite of our honest attempt to present it in the proper way."

Now why would he ever choose that quote? You have to ask yourself this question. Is it because Satsvarupa considered himself to be an editor, so he wanted to emphasize the fact that once Srila Prabhupada's Srimad Bhagwatams reached America, they needed to be edited by qualified disciples such as himself? I don't know. But it certainly makes one wonder. Satsvarupa could have chosen any excerpt, but he chose this one.

It's obvious that Satsvarupa had the opportunity (or one of his deputed assistant writers did) to interview some of the people that knew Srila Prabhupada during this period. A great deal of input into Srila Prabhupada's pastimes appear to have come from such sources. In fact, where Satsvarupa actually quotes directly from them, I would venture to say that the persons interviewed had a deeper insight into Srila Prabhupada's divine nature than the author himself, as a disciple and a writer of this Lilamrta.

Satsvarupa obviously chose to discard a lot of the information that was at his disposal. The whole idea of someone like him writing this book was to paint a proper picture of Srila Prabhupada during that period, yet the author wastes a lot of the reader's time with unnecessary content, while also painting the wrong picture. He gives the reader erroneous pictures of Srila Prabhupada in India, as well as the Hindu culture there, which he refers to. He suggests, for example, that it was due to Hindu culture that Srila Prabhupada was treated more respectfully because he was a sannyasi. This may be true to a limited degree, but not to the degree Satsvarupa emphasizes it. When the author does quote the personalities who interfaced with Srila Prabhupada at that time, they themselves don't emphasize the fact that he was a sannyasi, but rather that Srila Prabhupada was a wonderful, gracious, accomplished scholar.

Satsvarupa used much of this archival material to do his own creative writing, in a rather self-serving manner. By doing so, he essentially adds drops of urine to the milk, in the sense that he loves to describe situations in literary narrative. He's using his own perception, of course, 25 or 30 years after the events took place, so there's no saying what the situations actually were back then. We only get them through Satsvarupa's filter.

Satsvarupa decided to insert an excerpt from an appreciation that Srila Prabhupada wrote in the Chippiwada Temple guest book. The passage was absolutely brilliant and was undoubtedly very pleasing to the persons who offered him the facility. In the excerpt, Satsvarupa chose to include just one paragraph, where Srila Prabhupada described how the facility shouldn't be used for ordinary householders, which was the case at the Chippiwada Temple. We know that Srila Prabhupada warned us about this in terms of not allowing ISKCON temples to turn into scenarios like this, although we have to admit this is happening in a lot of Srila Prabhupada's temples at the present time.

I would personally have loved to read this entire article of appreciation, but alas. We get only the short version. The reader must remember that throughout this book, we're simply getting a representation of Satsvarupa's level of realization of who Srila Prabhupada is, as reflected in the author's editing choices. As a writer myself, I have to envy the fact that Satsvarupa had access to so much reference material and a huge staff of people with essentially unlimited facility and money. Yet in this particular chapter, he's describing how Srila Prabhupada had absolutely no facility and no money - not even enough money to print his work.

We read, for instance, that Srila Prabhupada's Easy Journey to Other Planets was based on an article he read about how some American scientists had received the Nobel Peace prize based on their work on the principal of anti-matter. Srila Prabhupada brilliantly took up that theme and presented his wonderful book, which Satsvarupa describes as "a little book". Satsvarupa said that Srila Prabhupada gave his own 'fresh translations' of Bhagavad-gita verses during the process of writing Easy Journey. Satsvarupa not only tells us that this was "a little book", but also that it was only 38 pages… really just an essay. This is ridiculous. Why say that?

Satsvarupa did insert a long quote from Dr. Bannerji. In fact, it appears to be the entire transcription of an interview. It's much longer than anything Srila Prabhupada personally wrote that was included here. I found it very interesting to hear Dr. Bannerji's comments, which confirm that Srila Prabhupada had amazing potency and was so active in preaching. But the Doctor's lack of realization is also projected through this quote, which helps to give the incorrect vision of Srila Prabhupada to a new reader.

We saw that later on, when Easy Journey was produced in large quantities, it was an extremely valuable book for preaching. It remains so to this day, and will long ito the future. Satsvarupa, however, considers it a "warm up" for Srila Prabhupada's real work of presenting Srimad Bhagavatam. While this is true on one hand, Easy Journey was really just one of the many books Srila Prabhupada wrote. It's not a "warm up", and saying this simply indicates that Srila Prabhupada need to be "warmed up" in order to produce Srimad Bhagavatam, but that isn't true.

In fact, Srila Prabhupada didn't require any kind of warm up for anything. He was always an on-fire writer and preacher, and completely under Sri Krsna's protection and guidance. That was true for his whole life as a nitya-siddha. Once one gains that kind of perception of Srila Prabhupada, then you see all these things in an entirely different light. It's obvious that Satsvarupa was not seeing Srila Prabhupada in this way, and new readers of the Lilamrta will undoubtedly gain the same perception that Satsvarupa has. And we can see how Satsvarupa's personal perception has helped him in his life.