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24 April 2008 @ 08:13 am
My feelings about Prabhupada and the myths that surround him  
On my forum, Gaudiya Repercussions, we have a topic about the various ways that Srila Prabhupada, leader of the Hare Krishna movement, has been mythologized. Myths often spring up around any great and charismatic personality and can overshadow the real person behind them. This is my take on the questions posed: which myth(s) did you believe about Prabhupada? Here is my story.

In 1974, I contacted the International Society for Krishna Consciouness, bought "Krsna Book" and became a registered member, sending in whatever small donations I, as a teen, could muster. I was 15 at the time.

After 4 months as a registered member, I had absorbed enough of the awe and reverence from reading the books and Swarup's letters to write the following poem about Prabhupada:

He Came To Us (Srila Prabhupada)

He came to us, to give us truth
He came to help misguided youth
Accompanying him were peace and love
A ray of light from up above
He's shown the way to end our hate
A way to try and change our fate
He brought us the Lord within our heart
It's up to us to make a start
To try and go back to the Lord
And remember that which we've ignored
Our Spiritual Master came to earth
Just to free us from re-birth
He took on pain to give us light
To make us see the Lord was right
He won't give up until we're free
Until the truth is plain to see
Our Spiritual Master is very dear--
Through his words the truth is clear

November 1974

It's clear that I had already absorbed some key elements of the mythos surrounding Srila Prabhupada. He came to earth just to liberate us from repeated birth and death, he knows THE TRUTH, he knows God's will and can teach us, and so on. In the temple (St. Louis, 1975, summer) I learned that Srila Prabhupada was always in touch with Krsna and therefore had access to whatever Krsna knows, which is presumably everything, even though he was not omniscient on his own. Of course this is problematic when it comes to Gurukula and other abuses. Naturally when I started hearing about such things I couldn't begin to think about holding Srila Prabhupada even slightly responsible, and put all the blame on the evil people who chose to do such things.

As a fatherless child (whose bio-father lived in the same town and yet chose not to be directly involved in my life) I saw Prabhupada very much as a father figure. I had immense affection for him and when devotees started turning to various GM gurus I shied away, feeling that it would be a betrayal. Instead, when living alone in Iowa with my children in the early-to-mid eighties, I turned to lecture tapes from Siddhaswarupananda (another Swarup FLOWERS.GIF ) as someone who also revered Prabhupada. Although I'd never received second initiation, I decided not to seek such from him, but rather remain faithful in my own way to Prabhupada and viewed Siddhaswarupananda as a siksa guru only. I had a brief correspondence with him.

My feelings underwent some changes when I came out as queer in the late eighties and was forced to re-examine my beliefs. Was it really evil and sinful to be queer? This question caused me to look at everything. Having been a fundamentalist, everything in GV hinged together and if I took out one piece it all came apart. I began to realize that I had shoved a lot of things I didn't believe into a dark corner of my mind so it wouldn't get in the way of my "surrendering." These are possibly too numerous to mention in this context, though two broad categories were science and the position of women.

Once I questioned the beliefs, I had to take a second look at the beloved man who had brought them to America and taught them to us. Unwilling to abandon any of my affection, I simply saw him as someone who was sincerely teaching what he himself believed, however flawed I might see it at that point in my life. I still wasn't willing to assign even the smallest .05 percent of responsibility for what happened in the organization that he started and was in charge of.

At this point I still have some affection for Prabhupada the human being, and some frustration with Prabhupada the leader who didn't check up on those he left in charge of the most vulnerable members of his movement, and who had little understanding of how badly his cultural makeover of his followers was combining with their culture(s) of origin. I no longer believe that he had any greater hotline to God than any of us has access to, though I do respect that he had a lifelong devotion to and practice of his spiritual path.

Re-evaluating my relationship with Prabhupada was an intensely painful process and not one I undertook lightly. I respect what he was trying to do even as I recover from some of the repercussions.