Srila Prabhupada as a “Demon”

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.

Srila Prabhupada’s Disappearance

We almost midway between Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance day of 2020 and of 2021, so what am I talking about? There is a paradox of sorts there – on his disappearance days we make special efforts to remember him and so we come closer, he actually “appears” in our consciousness, while in the middle of the year he kind of “disappears”. But that’s not what this article is about.

What I want to reflect on here is largely an Indian thing, though it manifests among western devotees, too, in somewhat different ways. When I say it’s an “Indian” thing it doesn’t mean all Indians are affected in the same way – there are simply too many Indian devotees to fit under any particular umbrella. I’m talking about a particular slice I see in particular communities and I hope it doesn’t spread to other Indian devotees elsewhere. These affected sangas are significant and non-trivial, and therefore I feel the problem deserves to be addressed.

It’s “Indian” because they see Srila Prabhupada as one of them. Krishna is their God, not Prabhupada’s God. Bhagavatam is their purana, not Prabhupada’s purana. Lord Caitanya is their saint, not Prabhupada’s. Okay, Gaudiya Vaishnavas consider Lord Caitanya to be Krishna Himself, but for most Indians He was only a saint and if Gaydiyas make claims otherwise they accept them as “okay okay, whatever…” Indians are followers of “sanatana dharma”, as they love to proclaim, not followers of Prabhupada.

In other words, Srila Prabhupada is not as essential to them as to western devotees who had no idea of any of those things before Prabhupada came and informed them. Indians put Prabhupada in context of their religion and culture, but for western devotees Prabhupada himself created context from scratch and they put Indian culture into this context created by Prabhupada.

See how their visions are fundamentally different, how they are practically mirrors. It doesn’t matter for the moment which vision is correct and which isn’t, just that they are completely at odds.

Typical reconciliation is that Srila Prabhupada gave us the true, correct, and pure culture while today’s Indians live in some kind of degraded forms of it. Indians can accept this argument, too – no one would argue that onions are bona fide, for example, or that common Indian perceptions of God are not tinged with mayavada. Nevertheless, approaching Prabhupada from these two different angles cannot be reconciled completely and sooner or later the differences will come up to the surface.

Typical example of that is disagreements over some aspects of the siddhanta. For western devotees whatever Srila Prabhupada said is accepted as final truth and everybody else’s opinions to the contrary are rejected, but for Indian devotees allegiance to previous acharyas are never to be dropped. If previous acharyas said something than it must be accommodated, and, if necessary, Prabhupada’s opinion put aside. Note how I said “opinion” – not truth, but only an opinion. Sometimes it can be elevated to “personal realization”, but still not to the level of “truth”.

Srila Prabhupada might have spoken strongly on demigod worship but Indian vernacular doesn’t even have “demigods” in the vocabulary, so Prabhupada’s statements need interpretation. Maybe he didn’t mean it, or maybe he meant it only for westerners, or maybe he meant it only to certain types of demigod worship. At the end of the day, Indians are bound by their karma to respect the worship done by their ancestors and by their acharyas, they can’t give it up just because Srila Prabhupada said something somewhere.

This is understandable, but it’s still not what I meant by “disappearance” in the title. I mean something far more radical – Srila Prabhupada, as he was known to his western disciples, was not a person of Indian origin, not even of Gaydiya Vaishnava origin. His appearance in the west was a total surprise even for Srila Prabhupada himself. He had no idea it would turn this way. He himself couldn’t attribute his success to anything “Indian”, it had full potency by itself. The only connection he could trace was to the orders of his spiritual master. This is what he said again and again – my guru ordered me to print books, I did it, and this is what happened. He didn’t say that his mother taught him how to cook and so everybody loved his prasadam, and that’s how his first ISKCON temple survived. He didn’t claim proficiency in singing or playing mridanga. By Aindra’s standards he wouldn’t be allowed to play karatals on his 24hour kirtan party. Okay, he dedicated Krishna Book to his father, but that was one off. All the other times he gave credit only to following his guru’s order. Not even to his guru as a full personality – only to following one specific order.

The point is that Srila Prabhupada’s success was unique and it had a life of its own. It didn’t depend on anything else and it couldn’t be described in any other terms – it was a substance by itself, a category by itself. I will repeat – I think when Srila Prabhupada arrived in the US he himself had no idea what it would be like, it was a total surprise.

When it came Srila Prabhupada embraced it exactly like that – like it had a potency of its own and it had to be served, not controlled. This “success” dictated how Srila Prabhupada had to to things, not the other way around. I use the word “success” as only a label, it had to be felt to be described, as I said. I think the word “success” conveys the undeniable aspect of it – everybody knows what “success” is, everybody knows how good it feels, and nobody can deny it. But what you or I experienced as “success” is not the same thing as what was experienced by Srila Prabhupada and his followers.

Srila Prabhupada gave some explanations, the root of which is that it was a mercy of Lord Caitanya – based on the statement in CC that preaching can become successful only if Lord Caitanya puts His potency in it. On other occasions he attributed it to the power of the holy name, which he saw as absolute. This is the point where I can finally start talking about disappearance – we don’t see the power of Hare Krishna mantra as absolute anymore. An example – one devotee complained about being overwhelmed by sexual desires and Srila Prabhupada’s answer was to simply chant. In his explanation the power of Hare Krishna would drive away all lust from disciple’s heart. In Prabhupada’s experience he saw that happening all around him – hippies were chanting Hare Krishna and forgetting drugs and girlfriends. He saw it worked. We don’t. We offer all kinds of other solutions instead, like “watch your diet” or “stop watching porn”. No one today would say that simply chanting Hare Krishna mantra will solve your lust problem in a minute but Srila Prabhupada meant it exactly like that – chant loudly and lust will be gone immediately.

This is what has disappeared – the power of the holy name, and I would argue that its disappearance is linked to disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. It worked in his presence, we have many anecdotes documenting how minds and hearts immediately became pure in his presence, it was undeniable. Now the name is still with us but without Prabhupada its power is not manifested to the same degree. What I mean to say is that it’s Srila Prabhupada who has disappeared, not the Hare Krishna mantra.

Hare Krishna mantra is not tied to Srila Prabhupada exclusively, we all know that, but Srila Prabhupada gave it a particular potency. Sooo many devotees felt it directly. The annotation to the first Hare Krishna mantra record spoke about it with absolute clarity as if it was obvious to everyone. It was repeated from devotee to devotee, it was all-pervading understanding back then. Now it’s absent and no one talks that way with any conviction.

For me, however, it’s the preaching aspect of that same potency of Srila Prabhupada that disappeared first. Maybe because I can’t recall any miracles associated with Hare Krishna mantra but I was fortunate enough to see mind blowing preaching in action. It had a life on its own and, listening to many remembrances of that era, I don’t know anyone who did not notice it. They usually say only a few words (“millions of books were distributed”) and move on but actually seeing these millions of books going away to meet their eager readers was something else. At the time it was spoken exactly like this – books were going away on their own. They were not sold, not distributed, not given – they were going away on their own, and the entire purpose of sankirtana, as it was called back then, was to find that sweet spot in space and time where, by Lord Caitanya’s mercy, books would get a life of their own and practically distribute themselves against all odds and against all objections. The power was irresistible.

This is what has become absent and, to me, it indicates disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. Of course books were not the only vehicle of this mercy. One time I clearly felt it was when one of Prabhupada’s early disciples was describing San Francisco Ratha Yatra. Not the first one in 1967 but the one a few years later where Srila Prabhpada started the address with “My dear frustrated youth of America” (not exact words, but that’s how some remember it). To me it was the same kind of potency, the same “rasa”, so to speak, as the one I remember from my own life. It still lives in the hearts of at least some of Prabhupada’s followers, but that particular disciple has left his body already. Others remember it but prefer to talk about something else, like today’s politics. There is a lot to be said about why and how and who but let’s not talk about it now.

This disappearance is “mostly Indian” problem because this aspect of Srila Prabhupada’s success was never known there in the first place. They don’t have reference points for it, except may be construction of Juhu and Mayapur temples, which is not a lot in context of the entire Indian history and gets easily overflown by memories and histories of other events. Those other events are no less significant, like self-manifested deity of Radha Ramana, for example, but they are not “Prabhupada”.

For the past twenty something years Indian devotees distributed many more millions of books, and yet I never hear them speaking of book distribution with the same “rasa”. It’s just absent and book distribution means something else to them. Likewise, TOVP is a massive project, far bigger than Juhu, but TOVP presentations do not carry the same “rasa” for me. They rely on other things to “prove” themselves – like everybody should do seva, or everybody should make donations, or everybody should bathe Srila Prabhupada with sacred waters etc, and because of this conviction one should… When Prabhupada was present the proposition itself, whatever it was, had a power of its own, it was self-evident, not reliant on one’s appreciation of “seva” or “donations” or “sacred rivers”. These are aspects of Indian culture and they were totally absent when Prabhupada came to the west. He didn’t have to rely on them at all – his preaching was self-evident and no one know what “seva” even was.

This is a principal point, actually – people didn’t know what seva was and that it should have been offered – they offered service because Prabhupada was there and they felt they should do something in appreciation. Today it’s “you know that seva is important, and therefore you should go and offer it to Prabhupada.”

That’s why I’m saying that Srila Prabhpada has disappeared even though he is arguably at the most remembered stage in ISKCON’s recent history. His name and his pictures are everywhere, but not the actual memory of his presence.

Many of our senior devotees worry about it, they just express it differently. To me this disappearance is not very important – because Srila Prabhpada is present eternally, it’s only us who moved to a different location and, if we so desire, we can move into the place of his presence again.

What I really wanted to say but wrapped it in the disappearance topic is that Srila Prabhupada’s “success” was an entity of its own and even Srila Prabhupada was its servant, that even he wasn’t in control of it. To me this is the biggest manifestation of Lord Caitanya’s mercy and in decades since I haven’t found any substitutes that come even close. And I really mean “any substitutes” – not even if someone starts chanting three lakhs a day or cry incessantly or go into trance every time they see an image of Lord Jagannatha. I would even say that some big name ISKCON gurus of Indian origin have never seen it, simply because they weren’t there when it was manifested, they were in India, but that is a whole other can of worms.

I remember one of these big gurus wanted to visit the zone where preaching was booming but his request was rejected because “his mood would spoil everything”. Today this sounds ridiculous and great many devotees, each of them great in their own ways, would reject this argument out of hand but I, after deliberating on it for some time, would still argue that it was the right thing to do and that Srila Prabhupada’s preaching mood, his preaching rasa, should have been rightfully protected and that once that protection was withdrawn it simply disappeared – scroll to the top to see an explanation how and why.

Vanity thought #1777. Missing things

One more important holiday that happened during my absence here was Gītā Jayanti. I don’t think I’ve ever paid serious attention to it in my life and I missed it this time around, too. It’s big in India, sure, but ISKCON temple where I grew up had Prabhupāda marathon taking up all energy and focus on this day. It was never a time to celebrate anything, only work our socks off trying to distribute as many books as possible.

I also must admit that I have never been a Gītā man. I know devotees who read Bhagavad Gītā every day just as they chant their rounds. My daily requirement is to read something from Bhāgavatam, which I, personally, consider the book of all books. I also feel distance from Lord Caitanya if I don’t read something about him, but another must is something about Śrīla Prabhupāda, either his biographies or devotees reminiscing about him. Bhagavad Gītā, I’m sorry to say, comes last on the list. Apart from that I read other books, like that Mystic Universe. Recently I also got Rāmāyaṇa by Bhakti Vikasa Swami – never knew he had a translation and it’s not on vedabase website. I was told that it’s more Prabhupāda-like in its approach rather than general story telling. The book starts with discussing personality of Rāma as the Supreme Lord, for example. Other storytellers simply state it once and move along but Bhakti Vikasa Svami really dwells on the subject of tattva there. That’s as far as I have progressed so far, sorry.

Still, the importance of Bhagabad Gītā cannot be overestimated. I remember once, many many years ago, I opened it on a random page and it said that reading even a few words from it can free oneself from the burden of all his karma, and at that moment I really felt like my accumulated karma disappeared from the back of my consciousness. Like a heavy weight you carry on your shoulders for so long you don’t even realize it’s there anymore, and then it’s lifted and you suddenly feel so light you feel you are a different person now.

There was a time when I tried to memorize Gītā verses, got to the middle of the second chapter, and then abandoned the idea when I had to move to a new place for while. I “pirated” Gītā content from vedabase and tweaked it to show Sanskrit and translation and collapse purports – it’s easier to read for memorizing that way. During that time I used to recite the verses from the beginning several times a day but now they are all gone from my memory and it’s this memory loss that stops me from resuming it again. What can I do? I tried, but that approach was clearly not for me.

I’ve also got to participate in book distribution this year and I helped to sell two Gītās. Not much but I’ll remember it for much longer than verses themselves, that’s for sure. I’ve also attended Marathon evening program at my local temple where they encouraged devotees to distribute books. I still don’t understand how it’s supposed to work, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

They’ve asked everyone to make “pledges”, that is to take a certain amount of books and pledge to give money for them. Some gave money upfront, most had their names entered into a ledger. The books were immediately put into their custody and they transferred them to their cars. As far as I understand, the temple doesn’t care whether they sell these books or give them away, all the book distribution for that (this, actually) month was done in the space of half an hour it took them to take the pledges. Maybe someone would pledge more later but overall that was it. “I pledge fifty Bhagavad Gītās” – “Jaya!”

I really don’t know how this shift in book distribution happened. I understand in India they get businessmen to give huge amounts of money and then book count goes to a devotee who took it. The second part is then to go out and give the books away. I don’t know how it works – if they collect donations before December and only give the books away during the Marathon – should they be counted for December or for November, too? What if they only collect donations during the Marathon and give away actual books after New Year?

It used to be individual devotees going out with books, meeting individual people, taking their money and giving them books immediately. The end result might be the same – money comes into the treasury and books are going to people, but this change of method changed how benefits are distributed, too. I mean when Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira conducted sacrifices he was supposed to be the main beneficiary and he got all the credit. It was HIS rajāsūya sacrifice, not anybody else’s. Many people have helped to collect the money for it, there were priests who conducted it on his behalf, there were brāhmaṇas who got gifts at the end and they all got something out of it, but it was still Yudhiṣṭhira’s sacrifice, not theirs.

When we sell a book to an individual and he pays his own money it’s HIS sacrifice and we are more like priests assisting him. All the main benefit goes to him according to how much he gave in proportion to his abilities. Who is the main beneficiary when one man gives the money and another gets a book? Obviously the donor, but the recipient will get a benefit later if he reads it and takes its instructions to the heart. A devotee in this case benefits twice – first when he assists the donor and then again when he puts a book in someone’s hand, but then again – these might be different devotees working as a team. It would certainly make more sense because collecting thousands of dollars/rupees in donations requires different skills then finding thousands of people ready to take the books.

The main point to consider here, however, is whether the books will have the same effect or not. If people take them like they do with “lose fat” pamphlets given out on the streets – carry them until they find a nearest bin, then what is the benefit of the whole sacrifice from start to finish? Donor’s money will all be wasted because his sacrifice isn’t actually complete until people start reading and become devotees, even if for a minute of their lives. As far as I remember, Prabhupāda’s instructions on this were clear – do not give books away for free, people should value them and this will force them to treat them with respect and try to extract as much benefit from reading them as possible to recoup their “investment”.

Having paid for the books isn’t a requirement for becoming a devotee, of course, but I have another post in mind to discuss how this physical arrangement matters, too. So, tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1776. Blog Revival

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?

Vanity thought #1751. Ways to hear

Continuing from yesterday, someone asked a question after class about how to stay faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda. The answer was to read his books, and I expanded on that in the previous post. The follow up question was how to develop taste to read the books. I think it’s a very important question that many of us prefer not to deal in real life.

It takes some honesty to admit that we don’t have the taste for reading. Many would protest this assessment, too, but it’s not different from the second sloka of Lord Caitanya’s Śikṣāṣṭaka which ends with “I have not taste for the Holy Name.” It doesn’t mean that we might not have the taste for chanting but might have a taste for reading instead. On the spiritual level both these activities are equal. Externally we might prefer kīrtana to japa or reading to kīrtana but these are only external considerations. Most likely what we really prefer is the beating of drums or self-confidence of accomplished yogis absorbed in meditation on the Holy Name, or we simply like to sit alone and read, doesn’t really matter what.

Not having taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books is a default state of a conditioned living entity. There are many times when we do like to read or chant or sing, of course, but those are displays of the Lord’s mercy when He tries to attract us despite our stubborn absorption in materialistic enjoyment. We should clam no personal credit for this.

So, having admitted that we’d often rather do something else then to read, how do we develop the taste for reading? The answer given after class was that there are many forms of reading and that listening to Bhāgavatam lecture can be counted towards one’s daily requirement of one or two hours with Prabhupāda’s books. Listening to Prabhupāda’s tapes (lectures, not bhajans) can also be counted as reading, and we can do that everywhere. The speaker said that he, personally, listens to tapes every day while doing various household chores. In this connection I heard that Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmi famously listened to tapes while in the bathroom. Or maybe it wasn’t him, I don’t remember exactly.

There’s nothing wrong with this answer – if we don’t like reading we can take our daily doze of philosophy in other forms, too. I see some other considerations that, I hope, could expand our understanding of what is actually going on here.

First, the philosophy. We read, and we were instructed to read by Prabhupāda himself, so that we become strong in our understanding of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and gain the ability to refute any objections. This is important, or rather WAS important, because these days hardly anyone is concerned with philosophical arguments when we preach, and even if they do they quickly become defensive about their own, highly cherished understanding, and no amount of solid arguments can change their minds. It’s the sign of our times – people are very proud of their own intellectual achievements, however meager they are, and anyone else with any other ideas is seen as an enemy rather than as a source of possible enlightenment. Point is, knowing philosophy is important but relatively less so when we preach. For many of us most of our preaching is to ourselves anyway and we read Prabhupāda’s books to stay in personal spiritual shape rather than to convert the rest of the world.

There’s also a point that after so many years we know our philosophy inside out, so much that we think we can forget some minor details or ślokas because keeping them all in memory is not as important as seeing philosophical principles manifest themselves in real life around us. We definitely know all that we can possibly need to explain things on the streets and much more. Reading for knowledge, therefore, is not a consideration, maybe for those who are only beginning their path to Kṛṣṇa. The devotee asking that question looked like he already knew what an average devotee is expected to know.

What we really read books for is for Prabhupāda’s association. We absorb his attitudes, follow the train of his thought, appreciate the turn of phrase and construction of arguments not to learn something new but to be with him in our minds if not in our hearts. The opposite of this kind of reading would be searching Vedabase or Folio for specific information we need in our own mental battles with someone. We might find it and it might turn useful, or we might misconstrue the meanings as I discussed yesterday, but what we won’t get is Prabhupāda’s association.

The association of a pure devotees is extremely important, no one would argue with that, but it does not always bring material results in the form of winning arguments. It has value that often has no value in the material world and we won’t gain any visible benefits, but those who got it won’t exchange it for all the wealth of the universe.

The next point to consider is how to develop taste for Prabhupāda’s association, because that is not automatically given, as I explained earlier. The answer about listening to tapes is fine, but it’s given from the position of Prabhupāda’s disciple. Second and third generation devotees should rather find this taste in the words of their own gurus rather than try to approach Prabhupāda personally.

Different Prabhupāda disciples see him differently. Take the incident with canopy over Rādhā-Londonīśvara deities during their installation, for example. The design had it rested on four columns but columns themselves were not fixed in any way. During the ārati one of the columns gave in and Prabhupāda had to personally step in and hold it in place. The class speaker told this story but he probably wasn’t there personally and heard it many times from devotees who were present (because he joined in London, too). Yamunā Mātājī was there and she remembered Prabhupāda’s uncommon agility and how he was faster than lightning to jump up and catch that falling column. She suddenly saw that the Deities were not marble statues for him and he cared about them as one would care for his own child.

Mukunda Gosvāmi noticed the speed, too, but he also thought that Prabhupāda stepping on the altar itself was unusual and he saw it as a necessary infringement on deity worshiping rules. He also remembered how angry Prabhupāda was and how he ordered to take that canopy away immediately. There was no place for it, though, and so Mukunda had to get help and carry it out on the street through the room packed with visitors. Some even thought it was a part of the ritual.

Śyāmasundara Prabhu probably has his own take on this story because he was the one who designed the altar and the whole temple room, too. It was a very complicated design that made the room look like inside of an upside down wooden ship. It was very intricate work and many had doubts it was necessary and that Śyāmasundara could pull it off, even Prabhupāda was skeptical. He did pull it off but the column incident was certainly an unfortunate oversight.

I’m using this as an example how disciples of different gurus can find different appreciations for Prabhupāda, and one’s own guru take on these stories should serve as primary input. In igniting interest in spiritual matters our own guru’s mercy is primary so it’s the surest way to gain appreciation for Prabhupāda, too. Then we can enrich our taste by taking in stories told by other people but we should never forget whose input is the source of all our understanding.

My suggestion here is that if we don’t feel the taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books we should fix the problem with hearing our own guru first. If we do that right then interest in listening to Prabhupāda will appear naturally. Then we can read or hear his tapes and we’ll take Prabhupāda’s association through the medium of our spiritual master and it all will become perfect.

Vanity thought #1750. Overcorrection urge

It might be a worrying phenomenon for me, but every time I hear what I think less than adequate responses to devotees’ questions I think I need to raise my voice and “correct” the answers. The answers are not wrong per se but appear to me as too incomplete to satisfy the questioners. In many situations I can’t just offer my opinion because that would be out of line, so I take this one recent example to vent out here.

It was a regular class and the speaker was a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda, so it would have been clearly impossible for me to speak over him there. The questions were translated and I heard them in English but I think, in the heat of the moment, the speaker misunderstood what was being asked exactly.

The first one was about how to stay faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda. The answer was to read his books. The nuance that was missed was how to avoid deviations in our understanding of Prabhupāda’s teachings. Simply reading books is clearly not enough as we have plenty of disagreements over what Prabhupāda meant to say.

In light of my newly planted understanding of how the universe works, I’d like to propose a different answer here.

When the three guṇas manifest material objects one always takes the predominant role and the other two step into the background. I’m not sure I remember all the details correctly but one guṇa expresses the intention, another guṇa means of achieving it, and the third guṇa gives the actual result. We can also see it in terms of sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojana – because material world is only a reflection of how things work on the spiritual level.

The important point here is to distinguish between the predominant aspect and two subservient ones. If we don’t do that then all that is contained in Prabhupada’s words becomes seen as of being of equal value so one becomes free to pick one over another and make a whole philosophy out of it. If we see that some ideas and thoughts are more important then others then we’ll never elevate minor details to the status of absolute truth never to be contradicted.

First, we should see Prabhupāda’s intention in writing this or that purport, for example. That would be the predominant thought and everything else must be seen in relation to it, not as standing on its own. Next we should see how Prabhupāda decided to express this intention, what line of arguing he chose, what quotes he brought to support it and so on. It’s only after that has been ascertained that we should look at his actual words.

If we go about it the wrong way then we start by picking familiar words, then see how they form sentences, then construct our meanings from them. Just yesterday I described this process as the materialistic one and it causes all sorts of trouble. Just consider this often quoted letter to Hamsaduta. I don’t want to post it here in full, take you time to read it if you want.

The context is replying to what Hamsaduta (I’m using Prabhupāda’s own transliteration of the name here) had written before. That’s the context and that’s the intention. Prabhupāda goes there point by point, talking about buildings and rents. Then he thanks Hamsaduta for appreciating newly published Bhagavad Gītā and expands on his plans to start examinations testing his disciples on how well they understood the philosophy because solid understanding of the Gītā guarantees that one becomes a strong preacher. This sets the context for the next paragraph:

    Next January there will be an examination on this Bhagavad-gita. Papers will be sent by me to all centers, and those securing the minimum passing grade will be given the title as Bhakti-sastri. Similarly, another examination will be held on Lord Caitanya’s Appearance Day in February, 1970 and it will be upon Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. Those passing will get the title of Bhakti-vaibhava. Another examination will be held sometimes in 1971 on the four books, Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and Nectar of Devotion. One who will pass this examination will be awarded with the title of Bhaktivedanta. I want that all of my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of the generations. That is my program. So we should not simply publish these books for reading by outsiders, but our students must be well versed in all of our books so that we can be prepared to defeat all opposing parties in the matter of self-realization.

See how he concludes it – he wants his disciples to be prepared to philosophically defeat all opposing parties. That confirms his purpose in writing that paragraph. The method he applies here is holding examinations, which means people will prepare for them and study the books very seriously. He talks about different level of examinations based on different books, too, because some books are considered more philosophically advanced than others and so there should be a progression.

It all makes perfect sense.

If we go about it the wrong way, however, say by searching Folio or Vanisource for key words, then these words will immediately stand out and probably be highlighted for us, too. Then we start by reading the sentences these words appear in and we construct the meaning from that. This approach then would give us a shorter version:

    … all of my spiritual sons and daughters … possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples.”

BOOM! Prabhupada wanted both men and women to become dīkṣā gurus!

Technically, it’s the correct reading and the ellipses in the middle do not alter it, but because we gave these key words the same value as to Prabhupāda’s intent and the way he decided to express it, there arises a serious contradiction and an ongoing problem for the whole society.

That was not the only question after that class I thought I should comment on so I’ll address the rest tomorrow. For today, however, I must stress the importance of a “holistic” approach to reading Prabhupāda if one wants to stay faithful and not deviate from our siddhānta. One must know what Prabhupāda wanted to say, how he chose to say it, and only then look at the actual words. To know what Prabhupāda wanted to say we might read the whole thing over first and put it in the context, or we can learn of Prabhupāda’s intention from our guru and his godbrothers. His overarching intention is to spread the glory of pure devotional service, we don’t even need books to know that, and all his books, conversations, and letters, must be seen in relation to that one big objective. How well and how deep we understand it depends on our service and the mercy of the guru, not so much on reading itself.

In any case, just as with creation of the universe, we should go from big to small, from more abstract to more detailed, not like materialists who build the big picture by combining minute details and unifying disjointed theories.

Oh, and one more thing – when guṇas create something the actual material manifestation is always carried out by tama, and I just said that one guṇa, possibly tama, can take the predominant role. That’s something I don’t really understand yet, but it will come up in my review of the book on cosmology again and I hope I’ll get it then.

Vanity thought #743. The gift of Prabhupada

It’s kind of symbolic that Srila Prabhupada appearance day follows that of Krishna Himself.

Conditioned souls in this world do not have the ability to perceive spiritual forms, our senses are not designed for that so impersonalists and mayavadis are half right when they deny spirituality to forms and shapes as all our perceptions of those are material.

However, every once in a while the Lord descends on this planet in His original form that is perceptible by our senses. Once He’s gone it’s all matter again, and this matter acts under the laws of material nature, ie karma, with unbreakable cause-effect chains. It means that there’s no way to introduce anything spiritual here again, each phenomenon here must have material origins.

This means you cannot just manifest something completely spiritual, made not of atoms and molecules, or ether, air, fire etc, but made entirely from spiritual energy. No one breaks nature’s laws and our senses will never be able to perceive such spirit.

The only way to preserve spirituality of perceptible matter is to link it to Krishna’s original appearance. Then it would be accessible to our senses just like Krishna’s body was five thousand years ago. That’s why we have the parampara – no one invents anything and all the members just carefully pass the message down the line.

This means that people have to be born, raised, schooled, and put in contact with preceptor acharyas, learn the message and then pass it down to the next generation.

If the message gets lost and parampara breaks down Krishna descends again, or their might be other ways to restore it, as when Madhvacharya went to see Srila Vyasadeva and learned from him, but that is not the point today.

The point today is that sometimes just this one single person spreads the message to thousands and thousands of others, and that was Srila Prabhupada.

We tend to think that the explosion of Krishna consciousness in this world is some kind of magic trick but it isn’t, there’s no uncertainty here, everything that happens has perfectly reasonable explanations – how people develop their interests, how they come in touch with Krishna Consciousness, what attracts them, what repels them and so on. From the outsider’s POV we, as devotees, do not do anything magical and are as predictable as the next religious group.

Outsiders can’t gauge our spiritual development, though, but, honestly, neither can we, so we all totally depend on external manifestations of the Divine energy, and that’s why Prabhupada was so important.

Now we can say – I’ve got books, I’ve got internet, there all kinds of translations and commentaries, all this ancient Vedic knowledge is just a few clicks away, why do I need Prabhupada?

Because he is the only one with connection to Krishna, and by connection I mean supreme level of devotion. Every Vedic book and every Indian guru has connection to Krishna, for He is the ultimate source of everything, but only Srila Prabhupada gives us unalloyed, uncontaminated devotion. That cannot be replaced and that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

We can attend hundreds of Gita and Bhagavatam recitals but it will not give us devotion, that we can learn only from Prabhupada.

So, in way, there are all kinds of parampara branches in all kinds of sampradayas and they are all more or less legitimate but they do not pass down pure devotion in the line of Rupa Goswami. No one expresses Rupa Goswami’s mood as well as Srila Prabhupada (and our acharyas before him).

So now we have a choice – so many Gitas, so many books, so many teachers, so many views. Who to follow? Ultimately, we’ll go with our tastes.

Our tastes, however, are material. We want food, we want safety, we want comforts, we want sex, we want intellectual comprehension of what we are doing, we want validation, we want to feel superior etc, and there are gurus, teachers and organizations that can provide all of that yet there’s no one but Prabhupada who can provide us with pure, unadulterated devotion, and if we stick with him and his representatives it is bound to rub off on us eventually. Might take time, might take sacrifices, but it’s in our nature, jivera svarupa haya, sooner or later it’s bound to come up and appreciate Prabhupada’s message whereas following our material inclinations might provide a temporary relief but will not satisfy the soul.

Knowing all that, it would be foolish of us to see Prabhupada as a Bengali man with human faults who was born on certain day. Yes, it is possible to look at him this way but that would deprive us of his gift. Why would we do it to ourselves?

Vanity thought #223. Prabhupada and Ramakrishna.

A while ago I mentioned Ramakrishna already but at that time I had no definite opinion of either his personality or his practices. Search through our books doesn’t bring anything conclusive, just a couple of references here and there and no evidence of calling him a rascal.

Pretty much all of it is mentioned in this question, and the answer is pretty much the same as I thought – the only good thing about Ramakrishna Mission is their organizational structure.

Somehow or other I felt compelled to revisit this topic and somehow or other I stumbled upon a lot more than I bargained for.

Let’s start at the beginning. Ramakrishna was a son of a pujari and he grew up as an illiterate boy. He was a big time devotee of Durga and his first religious breakthroughs all came from this worship. Somehow or other he tried to reach the same realizations via different paths, from worshiping various Hindu gods including Rama and Krishna to Christianity and Islam, and he achieved unparalleled success in each and every endeavor that lead him to conclude that all religions are one and the same and that all paths lead to the same goal.

This realization had a profound effect on temporary culture and was eagerly accepted outside of India, too. His disciples spread it all over the world and to laypeople Ramakrishna to this day remains the most influential Hindu saint. That’s the official version.

There’s some criticism, too. In fact the mere presence of an idea in the Western society mean that there must be opposition. They won’t sleep happily until this “balance” is achieved. In a way it cheapens the criticism – someone just have to say something simply for the sake of making noise.

In case of Ramakrishna, however, the criticism seem to come from the heart and Ramakrishna’s followers don’t let it gain any foothold in popular consciousness.

One of the most controversial issues is the portrayal of Ramakrishna revelations as homo-erotic exploits in Dr Kripal’s book called Kali’s Child. We should never put any faith into Freudian analysis of Eastern mysticism, however, so conclusions of the book itself were of little interest to me, it’s the defense that Ramkrishna followers put up against it that I consider most revelatory.

The book is based on a translation of the official Ramakrishna’s biography called Kathamrita written by a disciple but Ramakrishna’s defenders argue that Kripal has got it all wrong. They issued page by page rebuttals explaining errors in translation, errors in cultural interpretation, errors in citing sources and lots of other fallacies.

Sometimes it’s hard to disagree with them, for example the word “ramana” is very common in our Krishna Consciousness movement, too, but we never ever translate it as a sexual union as Dr Kripal always cites as a proof of eroticism in Ramakrishna’s behaviour.

Another example is interpreting worship of Shiva lingam as admiring an erect penis. This thought might occur only to someone completely outside of the tradition. It simply does not evoke any sexual connotations to millions of people pouring waters on lingams every day.

It’s what the defenders DO admit and their corrections that are truly eye-opening. Of course one can read English translations of Kathamrita himself and form his own opinion but that requires a substantial degree of interest and it requires substantial investment of time and energy and, I suppose, Ramakrishna’s swamis figured that non-devotees are unlikely to dig that deep and are better served with bits and pieces presented in popular literature that is conspicuously devoid of any potentially scandalous material.

The official presentation of Ramakrishna I outlined above does not include stories of him dressed up as a monkey, with a fake tail, jumping all over the place and throwing things around. A casual reader might be impressed by how Ramakrishna treated all women as mothers but they won’t tell you that in order to achieve that he had to dress and live as a woman himself, go to women’s lavatory and all that, for years, apparently. The exact things he was involved in while dressed as a woman might be the point of contention – did he participate in providing sexual services to one of the central people to his life story or not? Who cares about the details when we don’t even know that he lived as a cross-dresser?

Of course Ramakrishna’s disciples can explain how all of that behavior has spiritual motives behind it – playing Hanuman etc etc but the fact that remains obscured from the modern society is that in those days Ramakrishna was considered a deranged madman. That opinion is not allowed to exist in public consciousness anymore, only Ramakrishna’s saintly side is presented and vigorously defended.

All of this was well known to Prabhupada as Ramakrishna was Calcutta’s native and already a legend when Prabhupada was growing up. As I said, he didn’t say much about Ramakrishna in books and lectures but, thanks to Prabhupadavani site, there’s more than enough material in conversations and morning walks to leave no doubt that Prabhupada considered him the first class fraud responsible for destroying the Vedic tradition.

One of the most often cited complaints is that Ramakrishna followers turned to eating meat and accepting Western habits when they came to the US. They even told Prabhupada that if he wanted to succeed in spreading Krishna consciousness he had to give up dhoties, put on suits, and start munching on stakes with knife and forks.

Prabhupada referred to Ramakrishna’s own eating habits quite a lot, too. In Durga temples fish, chicken and other kinds of meat are a common place, no point in blaming Ramakrishna for consuming those, but once Ramakrishna decided to follow Mohammedan way to reach God and so he demanded to be served beef. It’s unclear whether he actually did it or not as the temple authorities gave him an ultimatum – we put up with a lot of your strange behavior but if you eat beef you will have to go. Prabupada said that the actual fact of beef consumption is not particularly important – the intention was clearly there.

Some of ISKCON devotees familiar with the situation even said that once Ramakrishna ate his own stool, to prove that it’s just the same prasadam. Prabhupada was surprised but not that much.

Philosophically, Prabhupada made several strong, uncompromising arguments against Ramakrishna and his teachings. First, Ramakrishna never studied the Vedas, he invented all his teachings and methods himself and never bothered whether they complied with the shastras or not. That alone is enough to dismiss him and all his ideas altogether.

Ramakrishna experimented with different religions, they say. We don’t experiment, said Prabhupada. Experiment means you don’t know the truth. We know the truth, we follow what Krishna says. Experiments are for those who refuse to follow and we do not accept experimenting in our spiritual lives. This is exactly the same argument Prabhupada uses against material scientists, too – they all experiment because they don’t know anything. Needless to say we don’t give any value to the conclusions of experimental “knowledge” and that includes Ramakrishna.

Ramakrishna’s followers also claim he was an incarnation of God, incarnation of Rama and Krishna and pretty much everyone else. Needless to say that this assumption often came under Srila Prabhupada’s ire. I don’t think Ramakrishna ever declared himself as God but it doesn’t matter now, when his followers preach that he was. It’s not our business to correct their false assumptions. They say he was God and so they deserve the treatment we display towards false avatars.

There’s also one very nice argument Prabhupada used against Ramakrishna. It goes like that – Krishna says “surrender only unto me”, mam ekam, and he says those who worship demigods are men of small intelligence. Now comes Ramakrishna, worships a demigod, Kali, claims to become Krishna and instead of saying mam ekam preaches yata mata tata pat – whatever path you take it’s alright.

It’s all nonsense from start to finish.

The only remaining question is how to deal with people who hold Ramakrishna in high esteem. Nowadays ISKCON virtually serves as an embassy of Hinduism and a Vedic shelter for all people of Hindu origin, many of the visitors to not like hearing anything disrespectful towards their idols. I suspect many of those who complain about Ramakrishna and others being denigrated in our lectures and presentations do so because of their personal belief in yata mata tata pata, all paths are equal.

However mislead they might be we don’t want to alienate them, too, and in this regard personal example of Prabhupada might serve as a guidance. One of his few mentions of Ramakrishna in books and lectures goes something like this: maybe Ramakrishna was Krishna, but we can know it for certain that Bhagavad-gita is Krishna, so why take risk?

See how he skillfully avoided causing unnecessary inconvenience to the listener but drove the point home anyway? On other occasions, when people were ready to hear unpalatable truth and there was time for presenting arguments, Prabhupada didn’t shy away from calling Ramakrishna a rascal and a cheat and proving it.

This is a question of preaching strategies, I don’t know much about it myself but I’ve seen people complaining about things they’ve heard in our temples without any explanations or background, nothing good comes out of it.

Anyway, I think that summarizes all we need to know about Ramakrishna and what Prabhupada thought about him very well. It’s not a dissertation and if anyone wants references – all the books, quotes and opinions can be easily found on the Internet. One need to only enter “ramakrishna site:” in Google search and there are four pages of results there.

Now, this is my yesterday’s entry, I had no time to type it up because the research took me so long. Now that I paid my debt for the last night I’m going to post another blog later today.

Vanity thought #207. Conversations with Srila Prabhupada.

This is too bold a title. I don’t mean people having conversations with Srila Prabhupada and gems of his wisdom, I’m talking about me running my own monologues in my head and imagining Prabhupada’s responses.

Why do I do that?

Well, I can’t help but notice that times have completely changed since Prabhupada’s appearance on the planet. Everything has been upgraded, replaced and improved, every facet of society, every bit of understanding. We don’t notice it much when we associate with each other but if you had a chance to talk to a person from a different era it would make an interesting conversation.

Why don’t I take it all the way back to, say, Gaura Kishora Dasa Babaji, or even Lord Chaitanya Himself? There’s a reason – they were all products of a completely different culture. Some of the previous acharyas tried to extend their mercy to mlecchas like us but it was only Srila Prabhupada who had a real, direct experience.

It was only Srila Prabhupada who actually made westeners into devotees and so he has a special place in our hearts and in history, so reporting back to him first is only natural.

I suppose meeting Bhaktivinoda Thakura would be interesting, too, and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, on the account of them realizing importance of preaching in English to reach to the fallen souls of the western world. In their days English were the lords, the golden standard of human achievement. Some say our GBC is actually modeled after management of the British Railway company in India, whatever it was called.

Well, look at the English now – four days of total rioting and anarchy, some society they have build there. Personally, I can’t remember this scale of looting just for the fun of it, without any particular cause.

So, if I were to report to Prabhupada the state of humanity thirty years after his passing, it would make some unexpected turns, in light of these recent events. We also have Greece that had its share of riots over economic mismanagement, we had Norwegian gunman killing almost a hundred people in cold blood just to teach them the lesson about about protecting the purity of their nation, we had American lawmakers driving their country to the brink of collapse simply because they could, we had Arab spring, we had the effective end of American manned space exploration, we had Japanese tsunami with subsequent nuclear disasters – we had a whole lot of things to tell Prabhupada about the world.

His response? I guess we can easily imagine him driving the unpalatable truth about godless civilizations being doomed to all kinds of calamities. Thus we can also imagine ourselves walking beside Prabhupada, hurrying to keep step with him and nodding to his every expositions of the faults of the world around us.

Well, I’m sorry to admit, but that leaves be somewhat unsatisfied and unfulfilled in my purpose.

There are several reasons for this. First, I, the product of ADD generation, want to hear something new and original. Second, the world has changed, the way we address the world should change, too. Third, no matter what happens with the world, our message should stay the same and our talking points, the soft spots we are looking for in people’s hearts, will never change.

Each reason has its own merits and its own doubts. If my dissatisfaction (see how I subtly moved myself from doubtful to opposing camp!) is the product of my own restlessness and lack of spiritual maturity, should it be addressed or ignored? On one hand I know that if I were a bit more dedicated, a bit more surrendered, I would never had these doubts in my head. Everything Prabhupada said forty years ago is absolute and so has direct and practical application to our lives now.

That is true, but forty years ago Prabhupada had no problems addressing what was considered important then – science, technology, unprecedented rate of material progress etc. He addressed people’s current needs and doubts then instead of sticking strictly to examples from Lord Chaitanya’s times and Mahabharata. He knew that those stories have little relevance to the westerners who had their questions about their own surroundings and couldn’t easily relate to flower airplanes and some magic bow shooting thousands of arrows at the same time. People of that age had memories of World War II and Hiroshima, it’s not quite the same as hearing about Kurukshetra and brahmastra.

My point is that if Prabhupada accommodated them then why not expect him to accommodate our modern concerns now? I must say first, though, that his mission on this planet is over, it is purely a mental exercise. If I want real answers I should expect Krishna to send someone new to dissipate my doubts and fears. If Krishna doesn’t do it, it’s probably because we still have the capacity to manage ourselves, we don’t need extra help yet, it’s our chance at doing something useful for the humanity.

So, while I could make it easier for myself and join in the chorus of well-deserved condemnation, I want to present a different view of the world. I would even dare to say that all those man made disasters is a straw argument. We, the people of the twenty first century, do not see our society as on the verge of collapse. Yes, defaults and slow growth and riots do worry us but they should be put in perspective. In pure money terms, British Royal wedding cost more to that country than four days of looting.

I would rather talk about that – do we need to support or condemn the present day monarchies? We know they are nowhere near the desired standard but what would be better for the future – keeping them or dismantling them altogether? It doesn’t directly affect any of us but it affects the atmosphere in the society as a whole, it affects our value structure. Will people become more sinful and thus more difficult to save?

In Prabhupada’s days we, the ISKCON, had a very very limited reach and were very very isolated from the rest of the world. We were just learning to walk and not wet our pants. Some ill-intentioned individuals might say that not much changed since but we will ignore their sarcastic remarks for the moment.

Isn’t it the time that we, as a society, came out of our temples and engage the rest of the world in running it? We might not be ready yet, but what should we start from if not forming reasonable and mature opinions on the society around us? “All them demons will go straight to hell” is not an example of a reasonable and mature opinion.

So, what should our views be on the developments of democracy, on the fate of monarchies, on global warming, on the globalization itself? On Arab-Palestinian conflict?

Yes, we could say that no one but God owns the land and if everyone accepts it they would live in peace, but they don’t accept it, that has been tried, so they remain at war and that war has influenced the rest of the world on the scale no other present conflict had.

When there were massive protests against Iranian election results two years ago everybody had to take a stand, the whole world was watching. Where were we? Were we on the side of the regime trying to protect the religion or on the side of the protesters fighting for democracy and freedom? Were we on the side of Muslim clerics forcing their dogmas on everyone or on the side of the progressive Iranians with their drug parties at their underground discos?

Yeah, well, we were transcendental, as always. That is fine, but I don’t think we can hope to change the world by being transcendental to its problems. We say Krishna will take care but we refuse to take any personal responsibility. How is Krishna supposed to take care if not through our agency?

Is the crux of the problem that we are not good enough to execute His will? Do we really have the right to blame the rest of the society for their lack of spirituality if we do not possess it ourselves, not in the amount necessary to demonstrate to the world that Krishna Consciousness really works at solving problems?

These are the kind of questions I would pose to Prabhupada if I had the chance.

Or maybe not. It would be a waste of time. I know the answers, more or less. Answers are obvious once you figure out the right questions.

What I really need from my imaginary talks is to develop even a small bit of unflinching faith and devotion, everything else would just follow.

Everything starts with devotion, it’s the only blessing we ever need, and if I can get infected with it by listening to Prabhupada blasting the materialistic civilization for the hundredth time over, it’s worth sacrificing interests of my mind.