These days we can read a lot about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life, often including minute details in a diary like format. We often have several devotees remembering exactly the same events and conversations and Prabhupāda’s participation in them, too. All of this adds volume and depth to the standard story of his life but it also makes him human, which is not always a good thing.
Typically, we seek such deeper, more intimate understanding of our guru, or any other authority, for that matter. We want to be close to them, we want to feel what they feel, we want to know what they know, but I’m afraid these desires are not legitimate manifestation of devotion.
For a conditioned soul knowledge is power and possessing such intimate knowledge gives one unprecedented leverage over his peers. Regardless of how it’s used, a person who is known to be close to a guru, or Śrīla Prabhupāda in this case, is going to command a great deal of respect and his words would carry enormous weight in our community. Avoiding this power is impossible and power is the enemy of devotion, generally speaking.
Of course there are devotees who cannot be swayed and there are devotees who are put in the position of power to carry out the mission of Lord Caitanya but we if go through the list of those who once yielded it we can’t help but notice that close association with Śrīla Prabhupāda was not a guarantee of staying. These devotees will eventually reunite with their master, of that there’s no doubt, but while we are still here, struggling with out anarthas, we should note that power of association is not the same as staying power, which is the first sign of maturing devotion – niṣṭhā.
This is a really simple bottom line – if one forfeits his service to the Lord then he doesn’t have niṣṭha and all his previous achievements have not yet born the fruit of bhakti. It’s not a condemnation, it’s not a test that one has to pass, it’s just an observation. Devotees with niṣṭhā have Lord’s energy arranging their lives in such a way that they never spend a moment without service to the Lord. You can’t imitate it, it’s either there or it is not, cheating won’t help.
The first reaction would be; “Oh look, he’s blooped, let’s write him off as a neophyte.” Technically it might be correct but since niṣṭha or falldowns are both arrangements of the Lord blaming the devotee himself is doubly wrong. First, because he is not the cause of actions by the material nature, and secondly because blaming him means actually blaming the Lord. Nothing good will come out of it and this in itself is a sign of our immaturity.
When such thoughts enter our heads we should know them to be simply perturbations of the mind serving the false ego. The ego wants glory and recognition and even if we might accept that we are not perfect in our service we still go for the pleasure of being better than someone else. “Kṛṣṇa,” we mean to say, “I know I’m fallen, but at least not as low as him. You know that I’m actually a better devotee, right?”
What can we do? Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī recommended beating such a mind with a shoe. What was it – with the shoe in the morning and with a broomstick before going to bed? During the day the mind must be engaged and therefore always under control but when we sleep the mind has total freedom to dream whatever it wants. That’s why it must be beaten in advance, before bed, and on waking up to shake off its impure thoughts, too. That was Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s personal method, btw, our minds can’t be controlled by beating alone. In his waking hours he was totally engaged in service but we can’t master even that, what to speak of controlling our dreams.
Can we speed up the process? Possibly, but we should be clear in our motivation – if we want to become better devotees meaning better than someone else then our rush to perfection will be useless. We should become sensitive to our desires and spot the selfish ones as soon as possible. If we fail to do that then we’d naturally enjoy “making progress” and that would lead to our falldown.
How many times have we been caught indulging in selfish thoughts like that? Should be a lot, and if one denies ever having them he is still in deep illusion. That’s the feature of growing bhakti – it should make us look worse and worse in our own eyes. If the opposite is happening then we are doing something wrong. Real bhakti would never ever let us feel good about ourselves or take credit for our success.
So, instead of rushing it, we should gradually develop indifference to waves of fame and infamy and to successes and failures. These things come and go and only time separates a devotee from perfection anyway, so if he looks like a neophyte today just wait it out and Kṛṣṇa will eventually shine through him tomorrow, or next year, or next decade. Once you are sure it will happen you’ll stop looking at him as imperfect now, too.
Think of King’s child, everyone knows that he is special and great things await him so they don’t see him as on ordinary baby soiling his diapers. Same should be with devotees – forget what they look like now and appreciate their eternal connection with guru and Kṛṣṇa.
About frailty – unless our minds are ready for it, I think we should avoid seeing humanity in Prabhupāda’s life. It’s easy to see him as human, one just have to get close enough for it, either personally or through reading personal accounts. It’s far more difficult to see him as an external manifestation of the Lord.
It’s one thing to worship him from afar where we can imagine him to be whatever we want him to be, even God himself, as history shows, it’s another thing to see him as God’s representative when you are up close and personal. We were never meant to be in his entourage but, thanks to all the written diaries, we can take a mental place alongside individuals selected by the Lord as Prabhupāda’s personal servants, cooks, and secretaries. These are not the positions we were born for, we should always remember that. It’s not the kind of knowledge of Prabhupāda we should be seeking but we should rather try to pick the devotional mood of his servants, that’s the only thing that matters at the end of the day, not the amount of “once Prabhupāda said that..” quotes we can carry in our brains.
Our nascent personal service to Prabhupāda is frail and we should treat it with great care, always remembering all the devotees in between who make it possible. By personal service I mean simple stuff like offering praṇāma mantras and reading books, not anything special, like looking after his mūrti in the temple. We should always remember that this personal service is enabled by our guru and everyone else who helps. And we should also be sensitive in the service to our guru, too – nothing can be taken for granted in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and everything must be treated with great care, as if it was the most precious thing in the world.