I’ve been absent from this blog for two months now and it’s time to bring it back to life. There was a period when I was fully expecting myself to resume blogging but other things occupied my mind then and took a lot of my time. It’s not that I couldn’t post anything at all but I wasn’t ready for daily writing of 1000+ words stories and so I postponed it again and again.
I even had specific ideas in my mind I thought I should have written about (apart from simply resuming commenting on Vedic Cosmology) but with time these ideas piled up and gradually dissolved into the background of my mind. I don’t think I have an interest in reviving them, nor do I want to go the easy road and just continue with Mystic Universe. Something, however, still sticks and needs to be said, so, in no particular order.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance day is marked in the calendar and everyone talks about difference between vāṇī and vapu and Prabhupāda’s disciples reminisce, including about adjusting to a new reality of life without Prabhupāda’s personal presence, but people like me, the second and third generation devotees, have never been in his presence to begin with. What’s different for us? Nothing.
Relatively few of us have an experience of losing their guru, I haven’t had a chance to hear how it feels from their mouths so I really don’t know what it’s like. In any case, with Śrīla Prabhupāda all we ever had was vāṇī – all our realizations of him, all our love and devotion is based on keeping his vāṇī in our hearts and nothing else. Technically speaking, his disappearance hadn’t made any changes to our lives and so we will go on in the same vein regardless.
I like binge reading Prabhupāda’s Daily Meditations posted on Dandavats. They’ve been going for over a year but it’s still 1966 there, with wonderful memories making his life vivid like never before. Many people described the very same experiences, some written books about these same events, there are videos, too, but it’s Satsvarupa Dasa Gosvami’s personal approach that brings up new colors into them. I won’t mention names but some come across as somewhat aloof and objective but SDG really opens up his heart there, with all the nuances of personal interactions, personal faults, personal response, and general imperfections that make our lives into what they are rather than smoothed out biographies of them.
One time someone asked Prabhupāda why he was putting chili sauce on his prasādam. Good question. Can a devotee have personal tastes different from Kṛṣṇa’s? Can he “improve” prasādam to suit those tastes? Or was the food cooked not for Kṛṣṇa Himself but for the tastes of Prabhupāda’s disciples? There are no easy answers here, but sometimes Prabhupāda spiced food up after it was offered, though not in the later years when he didn’t have to eat the same food as his disciples. Should we really be fixated on that?
Another time Satsvarupa came to Prabhupāda’s room to discuss what he understood from a book by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Prabhupāda listened to him for couple of minutes and then told him to, effectively, get lost and stop wasting his time. Was he really that busy or did he think that Satsvarupa’s discussions of topics far beyond his understanding was cute but a wasteful?
We also tend to think that those early years were magical and Prabhupāda was converting people on the spot. It was more like out of ten who came only one would stay, and very very few of them are still with ISKCON now. The churn rate was high but Prabhupāda also met a lot of people to keep the movement growing.
I’ve been also watching Following Srila Prabhupada videos on youtube. I understand that it’s practically the whole footage we have of him but with a voiceover by different devotees describing what was happening or telling their personal stories connected with the videos. On one hand this is very enlightening, on the other hand sometimes you want to hear Śrīla Prabhupāda himself instead of someone else talking over him.
There’s also often repeated misconception, at least in my circles, that Prabhupāda started his preaching with harināmas in Thomson Square Park in New York. This is not right – he had the temple of 26th Second Avenue first, harināmas came several months later. On the surface it doesn’t sound like a big deal but not if you use it as a template for starting a local community.
When Prabhupāda was chanting in the park there were dozens of devotees with him, there was food and pamphlet distribution, and people could come to the temple three-four times a week for public programs. This is very different from sitting there and having nothing else to offer and no one else to help either.
In reality Prabhupāda started with kīrtanas and lectures in private settings first, right after he arrived and was taken to Butler. He then received invitations here and there and always responded to them. His time with Dr Mishra was a very important stepping stone for starting his own society and he kept visiting his ashram even after getting his first temple. Public, open for all harināmas came after that. Externally, Śrīla Prabhupāda depended on Dr Mishra for several months even if he was a genuine māyāvādī – we should not forget that, too. They are not always our sworn enemies and sometimes we can’t do anything without them. Whatever Prabhupāda said about māyāvādīs later should be seen through the prism of that experience in late 65 early 66, it comes on top of it and does not replace it. Life becomes so much richer that way.
That’s how we should see dissenting devotees, too – their dissent does not replace their devotion to Prabhupāda, it comes on top of it. Dissent, even outright criticism, grows out of their devotion, too, even if heavily mixed with outside influences. One more argument for becoming paramahaṁsas who extract only Kṛṣṇa’s nectar from everything they see. After all, what’s the use of seeing the world from a point of view of cats and dogs masquerading as humans?