A while ago I saw a critique of Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami’s Prabhupada Lilamrita, which, apparently, is an ongoing project. First part was about Prabhuapada’a transcendental position and accusation that Satsvarupa maharaj decribed him as attached to matter instead. From the looks of it the second part is more of the same, I didn’t get to look any further yet, not sure if there’s any benefit in dissecting criticism of other devotees.
The first accusation, however, is an interesting one because we have plenty of quotes to support that the body of pure devotee is always transcendental. Critics took it to mean that it doesn’t experience pain or pleasure or expresses human emotions. Being always absorbed in Krishna’s pastimes he/it/the body does not show any personal interest in the affairs of the material world, only for the sake of preaching.
Basically, they accuse Satsvarupa maharaja of making Srila Prabhupada look human and making his life look like a progress from conditional to liberated state, from innocent childhood through to turbulent youth to householder life to sannyasa and finally to the position of parivrajaka acharya, and even at that stage maharaj made Prabhupada look human on the pages of Lilamrita.
There are objections, for example, to Prabhupada expressing interest in a vacuum cleaner when he saw it for the first time, or objections to Prabhupada, as a school child, feeling ashamed when reprimanded by his teacher.
I just don’t get it, however. What was maharaj supposed to say? That while internally fully engaged in Krishna’s pastimes in Goloka Vrindavana Srila Prabhupada let the body of young Abhai Charan express external feeling of shame? I have absolutely no doubt that people around Prabhupada, from childhood to old age, saw his external behavior as fully human. Maybe they misunderstood the real, spiritual emotions behind his behavior, or maybe they misunderstood external manifestation of shame as Prabhupada’s actual emotional state but I have no doubt that this is exactly what it looked like on the outside and what it would have looked like to each and every conditioned soul in this universe including overwhelming majority of Prabhupada Lilamrita readers.
I’m not even sure that it’s possible to have one’s consciousness in two places at the same time – in the spiritual world and in the material world. We can do some multitasking, of course, but that is the workings of our brains, here I’m talking about our actual consciousness. If Srila Prabhupada’s manifestation in this world wasn’t accompanied by him applying his consciousness here then the whole meaning of the word consciousness loses any sense because this is the only manifestation of consciousness we know – through our material bodies.
This is how we recognize the presence of consciousness, this is how we separate living from non-living matter. Prabhupada looked like a living being, his consciousness must have been here. I don’t see any other way for it to look like this.
Another explanation to consider is that Prabhupada didn’t see the world as material, he saw it as Lord’s energy interacting with other living beings so his consciousness was here but it didn’t see the world in the same way even though it looked totally common on the outside.
This is where we need to learn to separate material from transcendental. I don’t know how, though.
In Chaitanya Charitamrita there’s a detailed story of Sanatana Goswami suffering from skin disease he caught while traveling through a forest (CC Antya.4). It might give us an insight into how material and transcendental feelings and emotions exist side by side, how they look to the outsiders and how they should be treated by devotees.
Sanatana Goswami got itching sores on his body that were oozing pus, I guess, he thought himself contaminated to be in the presence of Lord Chaitanya or servants of Lord Jagannatha so he stayed away from them, avoiding any contact for their benefit. Lord Chaitanya, however, saw it differently. He compared His attitude towards these sores and pus to that of a mother cleaning her child’s stool and urine. At one point He said that actually it all smells like sandalwood. Then He embraced Sanatana Goswami and sandalwood fragrance was manifested for everyone to see (or smell). Then the sores disappeared.
In this episode we can compare Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami to Krishnadasa Kaviraja and Srila Prabhupada to Sanatana Goswami. In both cases they were describing apparently material phenomena and in both cases they were describing spiritual personalities.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja didn’t go into detailed description of Sanatana Goswami’s suffering but “itching” implies feelings were there. Similarly, when Sanatana Goswami went to see Lord Chaitanya by the beach soles of his feet got blisters from walking on hot sand. Krishnadasa Kaviraja didn’t exactly say that it was painful but everyone, including Lord Chaitanya, saw it like this.
At no point Krishnadasa Kaviraja described Sanatana Goswami as having no human feelings at all. In fact, in the beginning Sanatana Goswami was even contemplating suicide and was rebuked by Lord Chaitanya for that. That was a clear lack of understanding on his part and Mahaprabhu defeated it philosophically. There is no sign in the book that Sanatana Goswami had some higher, hidden consciousness at that time. One could say that this temporary illusion was Lord’s pastime but then who is to say that Prabhupada’s human emotions weren’t pastimes, too?
Then there’s a question of how everyone saw and smelled pus but Lord Chaitanya saw and smelled sandalwood. Why is that no one saw it like the Lord? Sanatana Goswami’s transcendental body was there all the time for everyone to see but only the Lord saw it as full of spiritual bliss. Haridas Thakur, who was part of the conversation, didn’t see it like that at first, too. It looked like blisters on the feet and pus oozing from itching sores. No one described it otherwise until the Lord embraced Sanatana Goswami and manifested the real, spiritual quality of his body.
Spiritual transcendence was there all the time, philosophically everyone was probably agreeing with it, yet everyone *saw* things as they appear to ordinary non-devotees and this is the way Krishnadasa Kaviraja described it, too.
Therefore I don’t think the charge against Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is justified, he was just following in the footsteps of acharyas.
Better question, away from criticism and responses to it, is how to reach the stage where we can see everything engaged in the service to the Lord as full of spiritual bliss, how to catch that elusive transcendence.
Maybe it’s only possible by the special mercy of the Lord and we should follow example of Haridasa Thakura who simply kept chanting and remained equipoised throughout the whole episode.