2016 Your Deal with Kṛṣṇa
Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Your Divine Grace.
Recently, while writing of Kṛṣṇa’s dāmodara-līlā, I was spellbound by the similarities between the deliverance of Kuvera’s sons and that of your followers. To be more precise, I was captivated by the parallels between Nārada and Your Divine Grace in setting the terms of liberation for your dependents. Upon further research into your teachings, I understood that as the Founder-Acārya of ISKCON, it is your prerogative to set the terms of liberation for your followers and that Lord Kṛṣṇa is dutybound to honour those terms.
If your Divine Grace permits, I shall elaborate on what I have written above:
After Mother Yaśodā captured Kṛṣṇa, the Lord slowly pulled the mortar to the twin arjuna trees where He thought, “In a past life those two trees were the demigods Nalakūvara and Maṇigrīva, who were cursed by Nārada to become trees in Vraja. Although normally I would have nothing to do with such materialists, I must fulfil Nārada’s promise and deliver them.”
There is no record of Nalakūvera and Maṇigrīva having performed any significant devotional service. At best they were worshippers of Lord Śiva, and their only act of bhakti was recalling Nārada’s curse, standing in Vraja as trees and waiting for Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. Yet despite their lack of standard qualification, the two attained perfection, prema-bhakti. And the reason was that Nārada desired it. Being bound by his devotee’s love, Kṛṣṇa was obliged to liberate Kuvera’s sons. Śrīla Prabhupāda, you elaborate on this relationship between the pure devotee and Kṛṣṇa in this way:
“And there is Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura’s Prārthanā, āśraya laiyā bhaje, kṛṣṇa nāhi tare tyāge, ‘One who takes āśraya, shelter of a devotee, Kṛṣṇa does not give him up. Kṛṣṇa accepts him.’ Yasya prasādād bhagavat-prasādaḥ… Because if that person who is giving shelter, if he’s pleased, Kṛṣṇa is immediately… If he recommends a fool, ‘Oh, Kṛṣṇa, here is a devotee!’ Kṛṣṇa will accept immediately. It doesn’t matter whether he’s a fool or rascal. Because he is recommended by representative, he will be accepted.” (Conversation 12/12/70, Indore)
And this is exactly what happened with Nalakūvara and Maṇigrīva. While writing of Kṛṣṇa’s obligation to fulfil Nārada’s promise to Kuvera’s sons, I was reminded of your promise to your followers. How many times had you said, chant sixteen rounds and follow the regulative principles and by Kṛṣṇa’s grace we would go back to Godhead.
“Now you must agree to very rigidly follow the rules and regulations, i.e. chanting sixteen rounds of beads daily, rising early and attending maṅgala-ārati, observing the four principles, attending the classes, eating only bhāgavata prasādam as well as working under the instruction of my representatives, such as your GBC representative and Temple President, and if you follow this procedure very strictly then your life will be glorious and you will go back to home, back to Godhead, this I can guarantee.” (Letter to Ghanaśyāma, 16/2/73)
Your guarantee brings the same result as the curse of Nārada: Kṛṣṇa becomes obliged to accept a great devotee’s faithful followers.
And the similarity does not end there. Like Nalakūvara and Maṇigrīva, we, your followers, did not follow the ideal standard of sādhana. When you came to America, Śrīla Prabhupāda, you asked devotees to chant sixty-four rounds. However, when they were unable to do so, you eventually settled on sixteen as a minimum.
This indicates that you adjusted the terms by which Kṛṣṇa would accept us. And for those with implicit faith in Your Divine Grace, it is obvious that you set the conditions upon which the liberation of your followers, for all time to come, would take place.
There are some Vaiṣṇavas who doubt that members of ISKCON can actually go back to Godhead in one lifetime. They argue that the deep conditioning of westerners, the compromised sādhana of sixteen rounds, a lack of training in Vaiṣṇava culture, and perhaps a lack of understanding of esoteric teachings are combinedly too great a handicap. Their opinion is that our insufficient qualification can only ensure rebirth as a devotee in which a higher grade of bhakti can be practised.
But that is not the example of Nalakūvara and Maṇigrīva. Whatever standard Nārada set for the devas’ liberation, Kṛṣṇa accepted. Similarly, whatever standard you set for our liberation, Kṛṣṇa will accept. That is the conviction of devotees who accept that you, Śrīla Prabhupāda, are as dear to Kṛṣṇa as is Nārada.
Therefore, although Nalakūvara and Maṇigrīva attained perfection through causeless mercy, and members of ISKCON attain perfection through sādhana, some measure of sādhana is to be found in Nalakūvara and Maṇigrīva, and similarly a measure of mercy—your mercy, Śrīla Prabhupāda—is found in us. Our sādhana and its perfection are your mercy.
You explain the two paths of perfection in this way:
“Elevation to this stage of ecstasy can be possible in two ways. One way is by constant association with pure devotees. The other way is by the special mercy of Kṛṣṇa or by the mercy of a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa. Elevation to the ecstatic stage of life is generally attained through association with pure devotees, while elevation to that stage by the special mercy of Kṛṣṇa or His devotee is very rare. The purport is that one should execute devotional service rigidly in the association of devotees so that there will be certainty in raising oneself to that ecstatic position. In special cases, of course, there is special favour from Kṛṣṇa, and although we should always expect that, we should not sit idly and simply wait for Kṛṣṇa’s special mercy; the regular duties must be performed. It is just as when, sometimes, it is found that a person who never attended school or college may be recognised as a great scholar, or an honorary degree from great universities may be offered to him. But this does not mean that one should avoid school and expect to automatically receive an honorary degree from some university. Similarly, one should devoutly execute the regulative principles of devotional service and at the same time hope for Kṛṣṇa’s favour or for His devotee’s favour.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 17)
Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda! Thank you. Thank you for your mercy—mercy that has made the path of perfection easy for us. May we always remember that your arrangement with Kṛṣṇa also set requirements for us to which we agreed at the time of initiation. May we always remember that you did not want us to stand like trees but to engage in sādhana and preaching. May we always remember that you have settled on the terms of our liberation with Kṛṣṇa and that if we are true to our vows, like Nārada, you will be true to yours. Kṛṣṇa will see to it.
Your servant eternally