1990 Following Śrīla Prabhupāda
Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,
I write this offering sitting on a balcony overlooking your house and garden in the Krishna-Balaram Mandir, Vṛndāvana. Spring weather still lingers, although April has begun. In the early afternoon heat, a few birds accompany the silence with their song.
Just now I was reading Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and came across this quote: “When the ācārya disappears, things once again become discorded. The perfect disciples of the ācārya try to relieve the situation by sincerely following the instructions of the spiritual master.”
The verse appears insignificant. I put down the book and meditate on your statements.
“Life has certainly been ‘disordered’.”
Not in reference to some ISKCONian sociological context but within my own framework….The last years surge through my mind, a wave of shadows, vampirine anarthas flood in their wake….
What was simplicity has turned into a web of doubts and misapprehensions. Beset with duplicity and faithfulness, somehow I cling to your purports. What is the remedy for my disorder?
You write about the “perfect disciple”….
..(a voice) “A natural aspiration of your followers. By the spiritual master’s mercy, one easily attains perfection. Just continue working; everything will work out….”
Just about to close the book….I think (for a change). “Well, what does it mean to be perfect anyway? What does it meant to achieve the mercy of the spiritual master?”
From the corner of the eye a becloaked figure retreats.
The last line answers the question….”sincerely following the instructions of the spiritual master.”
….(another voice) ”That should be easy. After all, I am a sincere devotee. Aren’t we all?… What do you think I’d be doing here for twenty years if I weren’t? “
My intelligence pauses. Perhaps it is the effect of the dhāma.
…(voice continues) ”…doing my best to follow… A guru follows his guru….What would I be doing as a guru if I weren’t?”
Buddhi perseveres. I need a more comprehensive description. What does it mean to be a sincere follower?
By using the word perfect you have qualified the characteristics of a disciple. As there are grades of devotees, so there are degrees of following and sincerity, each establishing the caliber of a disciple’s devotion. There are beginners and intermediates, and variations of both. But here you speak of the perfect disciple. Not a beginner, not an intermediate, but a perfect disciple.
Such exacting standards are an embarrassment. Self-analysis, historical evidence, the testimony of Vaiṣṇavas – evidence that I continue to germinate as one “not perfect”. No secret.
Two noisy parrots fly into a tree. They jump effortlessly from one branch to another. How am I to move from the stages of imperfection to perfection?
In a following purport you further describe the perfect disciple: “It is the duty of the disciples to take charge of the mission of the spiritual master and execute it properly. In other words, to execute the will of the spiritual master, the disciple should be prepared to lay down his life and abandon all personal considerations.”
Three answers take charge of the mission of the spiritual master, execute it properly, and lay down all personal considerations. By aspiring to perfect an attitude of service to the guru, the disciple achieves the means of perfection by the grace of the Lord.
A little introspection at this point. Time to reflect on what elements stand in the way between perfect and imperfect. In a moment countless arguments arise.
….(Karma speaks) ”Sometimes I imagine that executing your mission means to keep body and soul together, practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness ….comfortably under all circumstances. Live as a favorable devotee in the ‘greater ISKCON.’ Support the society…after I make my first million, of course. The way I’ll do it is to donate to a well-chosen project in the movement… which doesn’t exist as yet.”
…then (pratiṣṭhā) “Or perhaps I should reside in the temple. Become a sannyāsī, GBC, and guru, collect followers, receive respect and fame, become known as a great preacher. After all, who will know what horrible things pervade my mind?”
…(Greed) ”Am I not the inheritor of the property of my father? There are many guest visiting our temples. Encourage them to take darśaṇa. They will empty their pockets, I will give effortlessly as the mathācārya …while all around me decays into ruin. “
A ray of “purity” enters…(Jñāna) ”Become free from anarthas. Yes, I shall retire to Vṛndāvana, study Bhāgavatam, chant fifty rounds a day. When qualified, I will return to save the society from a renegade course.”
…..(Hankering) “But in all circumstances, there must be some arrangement for security, stability, a solid future… Old age pension, mortgage, disciples, the children…No one told me I would have to work for a living if I couldn’t live by preaching…”
…(Envy) ”I’ll tell you why there are problems…ṛtviks, gurus, G.B.C’s, P.R. child abuse, midlife crisis, saṅkīrtana tactics, fanatical temple presidents, Deities, devotees, him, that, everything….but not me.”
I grab for my bead bag…Hare Kṛṣṇa… and that was just scratching the surface.
A moment of sanity: Śrīla Prabhupāda, what was your mission?
Did you want your books translated into all the languages of the world, a complete set in every home in every town and village? Did you not want people to worship Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa in their homes and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa? Was it not your desire to fulfill the will of Lord Caitanya and Rūpa Gosvāmi by transforming this planet into Vaikuṇṭha, with its spiritual capital situated in Navadvīpa, where the ISKCON flag flies atop the Māyāpura Candrodaya Mandir?
Śrīla Prabhupāda, did you not expect your disciples to at least follow the four regulative principles and chant sixteen rounds, and also to work together to serve your mission under your authorized representatives, the GBC? It seems the greater one’s commitment to “greater ISKCON,” the lesser one’s commitment to your mission.
New-age psychiatrist, hair cut with fringe, dresses as an astrologer, “Prabhupāda” tattooed on his forehead, prescribing pills, rings, slogans, and independence. The purports read on: “Rogues and nondevotees take advantage and immediately begin to introduce unauthorized principles in the name of so-called swamis, yogīs, philanthropists, welfare workers, and so on.”
A last effort, the voices echo hollow in the oncoming twilight: “Will have enough time left for my personal sādhana? How will I advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness? What about ‘the practical necessities of life’? What about some other effort to ensure them first?”
Your purports continue: ”When one becomes serious to follow the mission of the spiritual master, his resolution is tantamount to seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead… this means meeting the Supreme Lord in the instructions of the spiritual master. Simply by following on that line one sees the Supreme Personality of Godhead….
“If one engages in the service of the spiritual master, he attains liberation….As far as material conveniences are concerned, they automatically come….All material conveniences are simply awaiting him at all stages of life.”
Silence…for some time anyway. Doubts have dispersed, illusions retreat. A moment to reconsider.
The perfect example. Obviously you.
Without a doubt you exemplify perfection within the disciplic succession. There are many exalted souls to whom we could turn for precept. But you are the embodiment of all predecessors for your disciples. Their service is fully reposed within you.
Did you not say on countless occasions that following the order of one’s spiritual master is the principal criterion of a disciple (humbly including yourself)? “My only qualification is that I try to satisfy my spiritual master. “ “I have not changed anything I have heard from my Guru Mahāraja.” “If I have had any success, it is because I strictly follow the order of my spiritual master.”
The results of your service speak for themselves. Worldwide you are recognized.
Someone wanted to challenge in court that you were a sannyāsi. The judge replied, “Sir, this is ridiculous. Everyone in the world knows he [Śrīla Prabhupāda] was a sannyāsi.”
You did it. Such attainment is possible only when one is fully empowered by Kṛṣṇa. Perfect.
Another moment goes by. The peacocks cry in the distance.
Not long ago, as you were walking on Juhu Beach, a young devotee followed behind, trying to match his every step to your imprint in the sand. It was one of those efforts that was meant to be etched in my mind. I was somewhere else in your ISKCON world, but the picture came to me through sound.
Many time you instructed us, “Just do as I do.” In that scene, following you was simplicity itself.
In time, “doing as you did” was accentuated by your departure, an event that catalyzed my understanding of the need for surrendered intelligence, which unfortunately is still conspicuous in me by its absence.
In an attempt to glorify you, I have simply analyzed my failure. By realizing my insignificance I have sketched a shadow of your greatness. The best way to glorify you would be to follow your orders perfectly, with all sincerity, serving your mission without reservations.
But I cannot.
The remnants of my sins still try to block the way.
But I will try. I will try. If I am capable of anything, I can say with confidence that I will never stop trying-trying to serve you despite blunders and insurmountable ignorance.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, I pray that you will please continue to accept my worthless service. Although it is incomplete, please encourage me from within. Keep me under the shade of your lotus feet.
Perhaps someday, in some far distant lifetime, after the poisonous effects of countless sinful lives have diminished, when you bless me with your causeless mercy, perhaps then I can become a real disciple, a perfect disciple, and render some real service at your lotus feet.
Aspiring to become your sincere follower, I remain
Your eternal servant,