Yesterday I said that I don’t know the spiritual significance of Śrīla Prabhupāda appearing on the day after Janmāṣṭamī but here’s another tactical reason – after midnight feast on Janmāṣṭamī and then both Śrīla Prabhupāda’s and Nandotsava feasts the following day devotees’ bodies must be overwhelmed with sugar and fats and all kinds of carbs, and so to return them to normalcy ekādaśī fast a day later is most welcome. This feasting, especially at irregular times, throws bodies off balance, and celebrations affect our minds, too, so sitting back and simply reading and chanting extra rounds on ekādaśī brings the order back to the universe.
That’s not the kind of balance I was going to talk about today, though. Yesterday I said that Janmāṣṭamī immerses us in Kṛṣṇa līlā while Prabhupāda remembrance roots us in our present, “material” service instead, and that these two effects counterbalance each other.
I’m not sure that Prabhupāda’s lack of interest in our thinking of Kṛṣṇa is a real thing and I don’t think it does justice to him or to his memories, so I want to counterbalance that.
It was only my impression after watching a series of videos and, perhaps, it’s the selection of those videos that produced this bias. If I find a couple of hours and sit down and watch another set of Prabhupāda memories this bias would disappear naturally. I’ve tried, it works, but the first impression is usually the strongest one so it still stays, too. Where did it come from?
As I looked over all uploaded videos on the topic I noticed that there are very few ones by active members of our society. Wherever they appear they look like clips from lectures or separate events, not sit-downs with the series producers and interviewers. Perhaps the idea was to find those who left ISKCON and record their recollections and active members were included as an afterthought, perhaps specifically to dilute the kind of impression I got myself.
Devotees who are not engaged in spiritual practices naturally see the world around them from a materialistic perspective. Sometimes their new habits shine through their tilakas and contrast greatly with the spiritual significance of their words, they don’t look and sound like devotees anymore. Some of their talk about Śrīla Prabhupāda is still self-centered, they just can’t help it. There’s one devotee who spent half his time on describing his own path, slowly leading to “Oh, and then I met Prabhupāda” introduction, and then ending with “Prabhupāda immediately singled me out from the crowd”. That’s how special there were, which is still true, btw.
Hansadutta rose an interesting topic in this regard – the meaning of his name. He might have been talking about himself but his plea to Prabhupāda to know what it means is legitimate. Unfortunately, Śrīla Prabhupāda never gave him a satisfactory answer and so if someone accuses him of leaving ISKCON he can legitimately shoot back that Prabhupāda bungled his name and didn’t even tell him what it means so until that issue is resolved there are grounds for pouting and obstructing. This kind of resentment is a tiny little thing but it adds spice to the relationships and so we should not be quickly to judge and take sides. Hansadutta is still very dear to Prabhupāda and always will be, we are incomparable to him.
The point was that if devotees direct their consciousness towards some material pursuits then naturally they’d appreciate Prabhupāda turning this kind of pursuits into devotional service and would not talk about “always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget” solution of the slackers like me. To them service means doing something while I, perhaps foolishly, try to distill service to reading, listening and chanting. I think that in my case everybody is cool with that but it’s not inconceivable that someday more will be required of me and then I’d naturally shift stress to doing actual service rather than sitting around and “thinking”.
It’s just the nature of the modern day ISKCON – we wouldn’t know what to do with all our ex- and sleeper devotees if all of them one day decided to come back and demand service. And it’s not only ISKCON management that can’t handle it, these people themselves won’t come back because of lack of their surrender. Given service is great but service offered is greater, the first one is mercy, the second one is pure bhakti. Maybe one day an effulgent ācārya would appear once again and re-energize our movement so that sleepers get tired of sleeping and worrying about what will happen to them if they engaged actively with ISKCON, and our leaders will stop worrying that they don’t have enough service opportunities and can’t possibly take responsibility and provide for everybody, as they’ve been taught in management seminars.
We are all very cautious now and we are averse to risks, and there are a couple of testimonies to show that it wasn’t like that in the early days. One is by Uttamaśloka and there he talks how he was planning to buy an expensive property as a temple and Prabhupāda said that “we don’t want to buy anxiety” because paying for it would take all the energy of the devotees. This kind of opposition went for a long time, for several months, but at the end Prabhupāda slammed his fist on the table and proclaimed that “anxiety must there, otherwise we will just sit and eat prasādam all day”.
Another story was by Śyāmasundara and there he talks about financial difficulties with maintaining the temple in San-Francisco and how in the most desperate moment, when they were about to be evicted, they walked down an empty street and suddenly hundred dollar bills were simply floating through the air in their direction. They still don’t know where they came from but their immediate problems were solved, and that’s all that matters. He said they had trust in Kṛṣṇa and Prabhupāda in those days but now it’s gone, devotees have become cautious.
His then wife, Mālati, told a story in a similar vein. For some reason she and her husband got sentenced to five years in prison but were released just after twenty four days. Prabhupāda had already arrived in San Francisco and she hurried to his flat straight out of jail. She knocked, he opened the door and matter-of-factly told here that he just thought the day before that five years was too much. She still doesn’t know why and how she was released, her parole officer couldn’t understand it herself.
Same thing happened to Upendra who got sentenced to several months in jail for possession of marijuana (he was caught before he got initiated, I understand). The judge offered him some time for himself before turning in and Upendra flew to LA where Prabhupāda was at the time. He offered his prostrated obeisances and put Prabhupāda’s feet on his head. That’s when Prabhupāda told him that he was a good boy and he would be released in only a few days, and then it actually happened.
Now I am describing memorable memories, which is an auspicious activity in itself, but I think it’s time to stop.