Deconstructing the Lilamrta, Part 76

BY: ROCANA DASA - 12.9 2022

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

Today we continue with Chapter Five of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta entitled, "A Lot of Ground To Be Covered", beginning with Srila Prabhupada's arrival at the ISKCON camp at Kumbha Mela. This was the devotees' first exposure to the Mela. Since that time, the devotees have become regular attendees at all Kumbha Melas. Having gone there myself, I know to a certain degree the circumstances that the devotees had to get accustomed to - it's very austere from a material point of view.

Of course, Srila Prabhupada had no problem whatsoever adjusting to the circumstances. They gave him slightly better accommodations, but still the facilities were limited. Everyone had to bathe in the river or under a pump. The first thing Srila Prabhupada stated was that what distinguishes a saintly spot or location like where the Kumbha Mela is held is that there are saintly persons there. Srila Prabhupada didn't want his disciples to get too enamored by all the exotic personalities and situations they'd find there, but to remember that Krsna consciousness is very practical and simple, which distinguishes it from mystic yogis and Vedic rituals. Today, of course, these Vedic rituals are being introduced more and more into the ISKCON temples, especially in Mayapur.

Yadubar is mentioned here as 'John Griesser,' following Satsvarupa's usual methodology that when a devotee isn't initiated yet, he uses the person's karmi name. Of course when this was written, Yadubar was not only initiated, but was a very well-known personality in ISKCON, so why Satsvarupa decides to do it this way is beyond me. Likewise Giriraj, who was a Swami by the time the Lilamrta was written, is just called 'Giriraj'. Yadubar is quoted a number of times in this chapter, and being a professional journalist, his remembrances are given very articulately.

Satsvarupa writes about 'staunch devotees like Tamal Krishna and Hansadutta', referring to how they went to take their bath early in the morning, and referring to himself and other brahmacaries as 'not so staunch'.

We know that Giriraj Swami was a close friend and associate of Tamal Krishna's, and in some ways idolized him. In fact, he helped Tamal Krishna become a GBC of Bombay. Tamal Krishna wasn't a GBC of Bombay when Srila Prabhupada departed, but it's a very prestigious temple, and Giriraj Swami was the Temple President. Gopal Krsna Swami was also there. He wasn't a Swami at the time, but was a very expert business type, and he was running the Indian BBT out of Bombay. So there were lots of politics and very heated controversy around Tamal Krishna becoming a GBC in Bombay, but Gopal Krsna didn't have a chance at that position, with Giriraj Swami standing behind Tamal Krishna as he did.

The reader should keep in mind that these Lilamrta remembrances were actually spoken during the Zonal Acarya period, which was 8-10 years after the events had taken place. As a result, whatever influences, circumstances, or realizations the persons being interviewed had experienced during the interim period, and especially at the time they were being interviewed, will have had a great deal to do with the way they presented their actual remembrances. If you had interviewed them a week after this Kumbha Mela event, I'm sure you'd have gotten a whole different perspective on things.

Satsvarupa indicates that the devotees were relatively uncomfortable at the Kumbha Mela, but in fact they were quite freaked out about the situation they found themselves in. The impression given in Lilamrta is that they were ecstatic, and so elated that Srila Prabhupada was there with them, and so on, but that's rather overstating things in my opinion. I don't want to denigrate their experiences, but the fact is, even according to Satsvarupa, that Srila Prabhupada was disappointed that a lot of the devotees didn't come to mangal arotik. Instead, they were curled up in their sleeping bags, trying to gather enough courage, stamina and determination to get out of the bag, into the cold air and the freezing cold water, shaking like a leaf while getting dressed, then getting themselves over to the morning program.

Satsvarupa says that when Srila Prabhupada saw the devotees weren't showing up for mangal arotik, he himself went out and took a cold bath underneath the pump, to show by example. Then, at least for the first day, Srila Prabhupada led the devotees out on harinama throughout the complex, and afterwards he instructed them to do the same thing early every morning doing kirtan.

Satsvarupa makes a point which was often made during this period, when the common attitude among the devotees at the time was that they were the best… everything they were doing was just outrageously fantastic. Of course, Srila Prabhupada was there and it was during his lila, so Krsna was surcharging the situation. But this is never mentioned.

Satsvarupa makes statements like saying that in the whole Kumbha Mela, Srila Prabhupada and his disciples caused such a big stir, they were the biggest attraction at the Mela. Now this may or may not be true. It's a bit hard to imagine that the first Kumbha Mela was like that. We can understand that the devotees, being very neophyte, might come to that conclusion.

There's an interesting excerpt here that's attributed to Srila Prabhupada, although Satsvarupa doesn't say where it's from - from a letter, a lecture, from where? He doesn't bother to clarify what context Srila Prabhupada made this comment in. Throughout this whole period, Srila Prabhupada had been lecturing on Ajamila, from the Srimad Bhagavatam. I find it interesting that Satsvarupa doesn't equate the fact that the Western disciples - devotees like himself - were like Ajamila. There was a great deal of philosophical similarity to the circumstances involving Ajamila, and that of the devotees. Ajamila was living a very materialistic life, but when he started chanting the name of Narayana, the Names purified him to the point where he was saved from hellish birth. Srila Prabhupada's introduction of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra to his western disciples was very similar. How many would not be able to complete the process or follow it perfectly, or gain advancement or realization to become absolutely perfect, but having heard the Holy Names, got an opportunity to get tremendous benefit by having Krsna save them somewhere along the process, and presumably at the time of death, also?

Srila Prabhupada gives as an example of how you make advancement in Krsna consciousness, that one of the many abilities Indian women have is that they learn how to carry water on their head. They practice when they're young and they can do it effortlessly. Once they get that water swung up on their head, they can walk along without even thinking about it, and they never drop the water. So remembering Krsna takes that kind of practice. All aspects of Krsna consciousness are like this -- when one starts to engage in the practice, before long one finds it to be very natural.

I find it interesting that in ISKCON today, the devotees are introducing all these seminars and programs to train people how to do the devotional practices, whether it be japa, or being a guru, sannyasi or leader. I know, from having been thrown into the proverbial deep end in the early days, that Srila Prabhupada knew very well that it was going to be very difficult for us at first to perform our service, what to speak of the practice itself. But because it's natural, because Krsna's in the heart and we were sincere, he obviously knew that we would simply learn how to do these things. The fact that today some people are not doing it, or find that they're not able to accomplish the tasks or master certain elements of the processes, in my mind does not necessarily mean they lack training or need to go to a seminar. In fact, the problem might not even be with them, personally. They may be sincere, but are hampered by the fact that some aspect of Srila Prabhupada's program and formula has now been replaced, or is not being properly followed according to Srila Prabhupada's standards.

Another interesting example Srila Prabhupada gives is that if you think you're going to excel at something and you're convinced you are, then you'll probably achieve just below that. A certain amount of that accomplishment is due to the fact that you had the right attitude. It's interesting to see that there are quotation marks around this passage, but Satsvarupa doesn't specifically say it's Srila Prabhupada who's making this statement. Where he got it from verbatim is not clear. So whether or not Srila Prabhupada actually said this, or in what context he might have said it, we don't know. And in some ways, I get the feeling that Srila Prabhupada actually might now have said this. Right after the paragraph in quotation marks, Satsvarupa has Srila Prabhupada saying that chanting Hare Krsna is like the roar of a lion. Now I've heard that Srila Prabhupada said this, but the other story I've never heard before, and the author doesn't clarify it by stating, "Srila Prabhupada said."

The story of Ajamila is that even if you fall down, there's no loss of any advancement you've made. One has to be careful when considering this story not to think well, even if I fall down I'm not going to lose anything, therefore falling down isn't that bad for a devotee. While it's not stated here in the Lilamrta, many of the Zonal Acaryas did fall down, including Satsvarupa himself. So one has to be careful not to think they have carte blanche… you won't fall down and lose out because you're preaching, or because you're involved in the Sankirtana movement, therefore you've qualified yourself to do whatever nonsense you're doing, and even though it may appear to be sinful, dishonest, unethical, or cheating, you're somehow exempt from getting any reaction for doing those things. Which is not true. As we know, devotees don't fall down because of accidents, they fall down by accumulating a great deal of reactions from offenses they've committed.

After the Kumbha Mela, Srila Prabhupada was approached by someone from Benares who was putting on a Lord Caitanya festival, and wanted Srila Prabhupada to be the honored guest. By this time, Srila Prabhupada's position as a strong draw was becoming well known, and his presence was often desired at such events. Srila Prabhupada wasn't in the best of health, but he agreed to come. First, however, he wanted to go to Gorukphur, because an Indian disciple he had made in America went back there and became a professor, and had invited Srila Prabhupada to come. So Srila Prabhupada sent a few devotees there, a few to Benares, and a few to other places. Srila Prabhupada went to Gorukphur and he initiated some of the devotees there. I find it somewhat strange that when Satsvarupa wrote the Lilamrta in 1979-80, and spent so much money doing research, that he wasn't able to tell us what became of this group of disciples in Gorukphur. What became of the programs Srila Prabhupada encouraged them to set-up? Did they fructify? Unfortunately there's no information in this regard.

On February 6, 1971, Srila Prabhupada went to Benares, and that's where we'll begin next time. Thank you. Haribol.