About a year ago I listened to an interview where a devotee argued that Srila Prabhupada was a demon, like literally a demon sent from demoniac planets. At the time I started a post here refuting his arguments but it remained a half finished draft and I’m not going back to it again. Instead, I want to approach the same issue but from a different angle. That devotee was obviously wrong and there is no need to prove where and how exactly he made his mistakes, but what if we look at a possible genuine perception of Srila Prabhupada as a demon. It’s not as outrageous as it sounds initially.
First clue is right in the pranama mantra – “pascatya desa tarine”. We translate it as “western countries” and we add that they are filled with impersonalism and voidism but “pascatya” by itself points to demoniac population. A couple of years ago I wrote on this subject in some detail here but let’s do a quick recap:
East is a place where the Sun rises and Sun dispels ignorance and illuminates the world, so East is a direction of obtaining new knowledge. In the cyclical development South is the place of application of this knowledge, or what we call karma-khanda or karmic activities. As time goes by people realize that karma does not satisfy them and frustration builds up. At this point that same knowledge is seen as the cause of their frustration and people turn against it. This is what “West” means – the direction of denying and rejecting knowledge. On the body of the universal purusa, who is facing East, it’s purusa’s back, the place where demons live.
Coming back to Srila Prabhupada – his message appealed to the people of the west and they saw him as one of their own, ie “demon”. As hippies they obviously didn’t see Prabhupada as a hippy, too, but he nevertheless embodied their most cherished values and ideals. When they looked at the society around them they felt dissatisfied if not outright disgusted, and their rebellion against traditional values resonated with Srila Prabhupada’s teachings.
At this point we should remember that people actually in charge of the society at the time thought that they were on the right path, if not the righteous path, and so to them hippy rebellion looked demoniac. Society leaders developed the country, developed the economy, created prosperity, kept their family values, raised children, and protected themselves from moral degradation in the form of drug use, rock music, sexual freedom etc. Those who were into these things got attracted to Srila Prabhupada instead. The first thing Srila Prabhupada did was to raise them up, dust them off, and make them look like the happiest people in the world, which is the opposite of demoniac agenda, but we have many devotees remembering that time as Prabhupada supporting women liberation and embracing gay sex. They still think he was the champion of their values, which were and are demoniac. Somehow Srila Prabhupada created this impression in them – he didn’t object to homosexuality and he encouraged women to be free and do whatever they wanted. We can argue that this impression was wrong, that it wasn’t even Srila Prabhupada who created it but it’s their own memories, we can give quotes, we can give examples, but this doesn’t change the fact that some/many of his disciples really think that women had the greatest freedom in those years – late 60s early 70s, and that gay lifestyles were fully accommodated. They don’t call it “demoniac” but that’s what actually is. So, if they start objecting now it would be double standard duplicity – you ascribe Srila Prabhupada demoniac qualities and praise him for displaying them, but don’t allow to use the word “demon”, which is totally appropriate here.
The devotee in that interview never met Srila Prabhupada, so what’s his reason? I’d say the appearance of ISKCON itself. They had a closed community in Russia, persecuted by the state, and then ISKCON came to the rescue. How? Kirtiraja Prabhu led the campaign to free Soviet Hare Krishnas and we are all grateful to him for that, but by today’s standards it was an entirely demoniac endeavor, and it’s not Kirtiraja’s fault either.
We praise Srila Prabhupada for making a wise choice to start his preaching from America and not from England, which was a crumbling empire quickly losing its relevance in the world, while the American star was rising. The other side of that rise is that it was driven almost entirely by demoniac agenda. When Americans conquered the world they were not known for bringing God and moral values to people’s lives. No, they were pushing the image of a smug looking men chewing in public and cowboys putting their feet up on the table. In most other cultures in the world this kind of behavior is outright disgusting and demoniac, but ordinary people could not resist it and indulged in emulating this American behavior, loved the experience of being “cool”, and so resistance became futile. Americans conquered the world, and ISKCON was seen as very American. Going back to that “Free Soviet Hare Krishnas” campaign – it was carried out according to the best democratic practices – people holding signs, picketing, making noise, public demands, appealing to the officials, writing songs, getting themselves in the news etc. The whole premise of it is that people at the bottom must force their leaders to change their ways. This kind of revolutionary behavior is also demoniac, demoniac at its very core – giving voice to people on the lower rungs of the society which they normally wouldn’t have. Empowering people who should wield no power. Revolutions. Battle for one’s rights. How’s that not demoniac?
In Russia, specifically, there is a growing consensus that the 90s, when Americans almost freely
robbed ruled their country, was a decade of national disaster when demons temporarily took over and destroyed the place. ISKCON came on that same wave and employed the same methods, including, at one point, picketing and demonstrations within Russia itself, and Srila Prabhupada is ISKCON’s founder acharya. So, again, we ascribe demoniac qualities to his society but object when we hear the word “demon”. We need a little more introspection here, not blind outrage.
Let’s change the subject a little here. There are plenty of verses in Srimad Bhagavatam praising the demons. In other Puranas it’s one of the identifying features of the Bhagavatam – the purana which includes the story of Vritrasura. The story itself is described in many other scriptures but only in Bhagavatam we learn that Vritrasura was actually a great devotee, greater than even Indra. There is also a verse mentioning existence of asuras in the spiritual world:
In that personal abode of the Lord …. both the demigods and the demons worship the Lord as devotees.SB 2.9.10
This is from Lord Brahma’s vision granted by the Lord after he undergone his penances before creation. There is also this:
One should take shelter of holy places where My saintly devotees reside, and one should be guided by the exemplary activities of My devotees, who appear among the demigods, demons and human beings.SB 11.29.10
Srila Prabhupada taught us a lot from Prahlada Maharaja, who was a demon. We learn from Bali Maharaja, who was a demon. We worship Lord Ananta-Sesa. who is also the Lord of serpents and snakes are universally perceived as demoniac creatures. Lord Balarama likes drinking and offered support to Duryodhana.
So, by itself, displaying demoniac qualities does not disqualify one from being a great devotee or even from being God. Rather it’s like this – the Lord is the source and the unlimited reservoir of all qualities we can imagine. We can’t comprehend them all at once and we make selections which resonate with ourselves. So demigods – suras – make one selection to praise and to embody through their own behavior, and asuras make a different selection which appears contrary to that of the suras, but it’s still a selection from the same source.
Going back to Srila Prabhupada – many devotees hold the opinion that his identity in Krishna lila is that of a cowherd boy and they point out things like installation of Gaura-Nitai deities everywhere and Krishna-Balaram deities in Vrindavan specifically – in the place of cowherd boys pastimes in Raman Reti, so let’s go with cowherd boy identity for now. What do cowherd boys do whole day? They play with Krishna as their equal, they give Him orders to go look for the cows and calves, they challenge Him, they fight, they beat Him in many of their games, they make Him carry them on His shoulders and probably punish Him in many other ways not mentioned in Bhagavatam. How do you think this is perceived by devotees of Vaikuntha if not outright demoniac? Zero respect for Bhagavan. Zero respect for God. Is it not a definition of demoniac?
If we consider this, then why should we be surprised if people who were raised in the mood of awe and veneration towards God perceived Srila Prabhupada as having a demoniac disposition? Did he not teach us to distribute books by hook and by crook? Did we not learn the art of flaunting the rules from him? Was it not our devotees who casually told him that as vaishnavas they didn’t need to take bath at Kumbha Mela? On that occasion Srila Prabhupada cut the idea at the root – we are not vaishnavas yet and so should follow the rules just like everybody else, but did they not learn this attitude to rules from him? They did.
How many devotees still chastise others for this cavalier attitude to morals and mores? This attitude has its source in Prabhupada and in Prabhupada’s personal realtionships with Krishna – rules of this world don’t really matter. And by the standards of this world this attitude is demoniac, there is no doubt about that.
To sum it all up – there could be a legitimate perception of Srila Prabhupada as displaying ostensibly demoniac qualities but the conclusion that he was a demon is wrong. It’s like being in maya – we look at real things but we see in a wrong way, we take them for not what they really are.