In yesterday’s blog (12 June 2007/ “Letters from 1968”), i published excerpts from Srila Prabhupada’s early letters to a few disciples and friends. I would like to examine some points made by Prabhupada in these letters, as they are full of divine instructions and guidance. After almost 40 years, they are still fresh and illuminating.
The mahabhagavata guru does not die when he leaves this world. He lives forever in sound, and part of Prabhupada’s “sound,” is recorded in his correspondence. In thousands of letters, he made his desires and teachings crystal clear to his disciples. If we sincerely study his letters, and carefully follow his guidance, there is no need to seek out a new siksa guru, as Bhagavat das encouraged me to do in his article responding to the “Dilemma of Association” piece i recently wrote. There would also be no need for any godbrother to stay outside the institution that Prabhupada founded, if the leaders of Iskcon sincerely followed Prabhupada’s detailed instructions found in his letters. Unfortunately, they don’t.
In fact, the proper hearing and following of Prabhupada’s advice in his letters would be the painless way to extract the rot that has covered Iskcon. The trouble is, devotees today mostly ignore Prabhupada. Some think they already know everything and are free to speculate. Some think they need more esoteric instructions to make advancement or to impress others. And some wrap themselves in Prabhupada’s “flag,” quoting him or using him for purposes that are motivated by personal desire and ambition. The leaders of Iskcon insist on everyone repeating a “pledge of allegiance” to the GBC, rather than everyone discussing, understanding and implementing the spirit of Prabhupada’s instructions as found in his letters. And followers of some gurus outside Iskcon also use Prabhupada’s image to bolster their credibility, without promoting an understanding of what Prabhupada actually taught.
Not only are the leaders of today’s Iskcon deaf to the essence of Prabhupada’s instructions, they censor and ban anyone who challenges their deafness. But Srimad Bhagavatam, the literary incarnation of Sri Krishna in Kali yuga, clearly says in the 10th Canto: “A wise person should not enter an assembly if he knows the participants there are committing acts of impropriety. And if, having entered such an assembly, he fails to speak the truth, speaks falsely or pleads ignorance, he will certainly incur sin.” S.B. 10.44.10 At the risk of incurring sin, we must speak the truth as we understand it.
Here’s a tiny sample of truth from six of Srila Prabhupada’s letters from 1968 with my comments added. This is really a random sampling. There are thousands of letters with similar instructions. Prabhupada’s letters can be found at an archival site of Srila Prabhupada’s letters on the web: http://prabhupada.blogspot.com
In his letter to Pradyumna (Feb. 17, 1968), Srila Prabhupada explains that practical devotional service is “the secret to understanding the Sastras....My Guru Maharaja used to say that for one who is not engaged in devotional service, reading all the books is simply like licking the outside of the honey jar. One who thinks the books is the thing is content in this way. But we should learn the secret to open the jar and taste the honey. In this way, if we can simply understand one book, or one sloka, the perfection is there.” Service also means hearing without mental speculation, and chanting without duplicity. Mental speculation and pretense are not paths to love. Do not try to lord it over others, misuse your authority, or engage in speculation and call it bhakti. When we practice “devotional service” in name only, but have other motives within our heart, we are cheating ourself and others. We create conflicts of interest rather than synthesis. We encourage hate, not love; conflict, not harmony.
In a letter to Brahmananda (Feb. 20, 1968), Prabhupada expresses a deep poetic meaning of faith. “Faith increases in Krishna Consciousness by our voluntary increase of serving Krishna. Serving Krishna is unlimited and he can accept our unlimited service, and award us unlimited transcendental pleasure in the unlimited service of the Lord. That is the meaning of unlimited.” In the most concise and poetic way, Prabhupada explains how faith increases in proportion to our desire to serve. Bhakti is a voluntary act of love, not something forced or enforced. Service is unlimited, just as Krishna and the pleasure of devotional service is unlimited, and unlimited love is inspired from the heart, not from resolutions.
To Karunamayi (Feb. 25), Prabhupada emphasizes the universality of devotional service. “So you please continue to serve Krishna in these ways you have mentioned, and do not feel that your service is any less valuable than that of others. In the transcendental loving service of the Lord, it doesn't matter whether we are working, cooking, painting, writing, chanting, or whatever, they are all the same. There are no such distinctions of higher and lower on the transcendental platform.” Krishna does not discriminate between higher and lower servitors. He does not make elite clubs for a few devotees who wield political power and delegate those who do menial tasks to an inferior status. All are equal in Krishna’s transcendental vision. “Krishna sees simply that this time is being spent in His service." So there is no higher or lower service. Do your duty, chant, and you’ll become happy and successful.
Writing to Uddhava (March 5), Srila Prabhupada makes the point that feelings of separation from one’s guru maharaja can be overcome by working together according to your guru’s direction. “Please be happy in separation. I am separated from my Guru Maharaja since 1936 but I am always with him so long I work according to his direction. So we should all work together for satisfying Lord Krishna and in that way the feeling of separation will transform into transcendental bliss.” I don’t think anyone in Iskcon today can honestly say they are feeling much transcendental bliss by working together. Neither do most feel much separation from Srila Prabhupada.
To Hamsadutta (March 3), Prabhupada explains how important humility is to the practice of bhakti. “The more one feels imperfect in Krishna's service, the more he is advancing in Krishna Consciousness. Even the topmost devotees feel they are inadequate in their service to the Lord. So it is good to feel inadequate, and to try harder to please Krishna with better service. But one should never feel, oh, I have seen Krishna, and so I am reached perfection--this is not Krishna Consciousness.” How many of today’s leaders make a show of being advanced, and how many behave towards their godbrothers with humility?
Again Prabhupada points out the equality of doing service. “It is true that Krishna has given some the opportunity to serve Him by nice writing, some by good business ability, some by nice cooking, and so on, but these various services are all accepted equally by Krishna. On the transcendental plane, one service is as good as another. There is no question of higher or lower.”
And how Krishna becomes pleased: “We are very tiny, and so we cannot really do very much. Simply we can engage our time and energy, and that is all Krishna sees. He sees this boy or girl is spending his time in My Service, and He is pleased.” To Krishna, there are no “big guns” or “small fry.” Vaisnavas are a classless society. Krishna sees the effort, not the duality of so-called important or menial service.
Finally, in this brief sampling of letters from early 1968, Prabhupada writes to one of his friends in India, Seth Harikrishnadas (March 3). Srila Prabhupada tells him that the movement he has started in America is non-sectarian. “Anyone can join us, never mind whatever he is. (We shall entertain Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, or whoever may come. We shall have no restriction. In that Temple, everyone will be welcome. In other words, in our secular state international feelings of God-consciousness will be introduced, where no one will be restricted.)” Anyone can join, everyone is welcome, there will be freedom to serve Krishna according to one's nature. Iskcon is a "secular state," not a religious movement or church with its hierarchy. “And I am glad to inform you that this principle is accepted by everyone working under me.” Prabhupada writes that his students have accepted this spirit of universal harmony. They are all working together as one family. Prabhupada now wanted to expand this family to India and all across the world. In this spirit Prabhupada wrote to his old friend in Bombay for his help in forming a world sankirtan party.
Back to the future, or rather, the present. Most of the instructions in Prabhupada’s letters are as relevant today as they were when he dictated them 30-40 years ago. But not hearing them and not acting on them, we all miss the chance for genuine sadhu sanga amongst each other. Instead of purifying the world with the crystal clear instructions of our guru maharaja, we fight amongst ourselves for name and fame, or we join “new, improved” sangas, or we find ourselves alone as outsiders struggling to keep our connection to our divine master alive.
Prabhupada is crystal clear in his letters. Why aren’t we listening?