The Poison Issue, Revisited
BY: ROCANA DASA
May 05, 2011 CANADA (SUN) Of late we have been reading in the Sampradaya Sun articles written by astrologers, who have reminded us of the controversy concerning Srila Prabhupada's departure and the suspicion that it was an untimely departure because he had been poisoned. This circumstance was a hot topic some years ago, and it resurfaces periodically.
At one point in time I was involved in an effort to try and get to the bottom of these very serious accusations. I became involved in various committees, and journeyed to Alachua to a conference that Naveen Krishna prabhu held in order to give the devotees an opportunity to discuss the matter at length.
For all the effort that was dedicated to this issue, it has never come close to being resolved. Several devotees have sacrificed their careers in ISKCON due to their conviction that Srila Prabhupada was poisoned. Naveen Krishna even gave up his GBC status.
Each time the poisoning issue resurfaces, we get requests from our readers for more information. Newer readers are often not aware of what was going on during the final days of Srila Prabhupada's manifest lila, or years later, when the poison issue first arose. They want to educate themselves, and begin searching for information. Having again received such requests, we are now making available some of the content on the poison issue that had been archived in the HareKrsna.com website for a number of years, but was eventually taken offline along with volumes of other content from the Vada section. I have reviewed it, and I feel that it's appropriate to again make it available for those who want to understand some of the issues surrounding the allegations of poisoning, and the opinions of various personalities in ISKCON.
The original collection of files entitled 'Allegations of Poisoning' from the Vada archives can now be accessed here. While nearly all the files are available, please note that the linkage has changed significantly over the years. All the in-page links are working, but the section links at the bottom of each page are not functioning, for the most part. Therefore, the easiest way to navigate this material is to click and read, then use your 'Back' key to return to the previous page.
Over the years, I've discussed this poison issue with many other godbrothers/sisters and sincere followers of Srila Prabhupada, and I've been surprised by how many devotees still strongly believe that Srila Prabhupada was poisoned. At the same time, for a variety of reasons, the issue is not something they are discussing or actively pushing to the forefront in the society.
Of course, the unsavory aspects of the issue are one of the obvious reasons it is avoided. For many, it is still too painful to confront for more than brief moments. Many devotees who feel strongly on this issue have made a tremendous effort to expose it, but have eventually surrendered to the fact that Krsna, ultimately, will take this issue where it needs to go. And for now, it appears that Krsna is not going to facilitate or orchestrate making this an issue beyond where it's already gone.
From the legal point of view, I believe there's still some sort of legal action ongoing in India, although I'm not sure of the particulars. Forensic evidence was presented, which consisted mainly of samples of Srila Prabhupada's hair, which was analyzed for the presence of arsenic. That, and the forensic analysis of audio tapes were the catalyst for this whole issue becoming public in the first place. When the tapes surfaced, those who listened to them felt they were hearing suspicious whispers wherein caregivers were using the term "poison". In addition, there are the statements by Srila Prabhupada, in Bengali, wherein he stated that he was being poisoned. This is one of the most convincing arguments for those who believe that the Acarya's words should be taken very seriously and literally, and not just conveniently interpreted to dispel the accusation.
My personal position is that Srila Prabhupada could well have been poisoned. This is not based solely on forensic evidence, or even on Srila Prabhupada's statements. Like many, I simply have an unprovable suspicion that the poisoning may have taken place because of the individuals who were closely involved in Srila Prabhupada's caretaking. I am one of many who believes that Tamal Krishna Goswami and Bhavananda had a character or nature that could very well have caused them to do such a thing. What happened right after Srila Prabhupada departed helps to fortify this suspicion – the Zonal Acarya strategy had already taken root in the hearts and minds of certain leaders, in particular Tamal Krishna, and that certainly could have been a motivating force.
There are a number of very suspect circumstances that come to my mind in this regard. I've mentioned them all in previous articles, submitted either to VNN or on my own website many years ago. I never got a satisfactory clarification as to why certain situations were orchestrated in the way they were. Of course, Srila Prabhupada was surrounded by certain individuals who insulated him from his other disciples. The character of these senior devotees has led me to suspect that they purposely arranged situations to be what they were.
One of the circumstances that has never been satisfactorily explained has to do with the fact that Tamal Krishna had surrounded himself with certain unlikely personalities. In light of history, and the accusations that this group poisoned Srila Prabhupada, we look back and wonder in hindsight at how and why some of these devotees came to be so close to Tamal and the circle of power during Srila Prabhupada's final days.
I also find it very interesting that Hari Sauri dasa is presently quite famous in ISKCON. Aside from the fact that he has published his Transcendental Diary memoir books, he has found for himself a surprisingly prestigious niche in ISKCON, despite the fact that he took sannyasa, fell down, and was involved in many activities over the course of leaving Srila Prabhupada's personal service that to me, are reprehensible. Yet he's still renowned for his service history and enjoys the benefits of being a senior member of ISKCON management.
The most questionable situation surrounding Hari Sauri dasa is the fact that at the time Srila Prabhupada became ill, Hari Sauri mysteriously and I think suspiciously resigned his service with Srila Prabhupada, and this service was turned over to Abhirama. Now, Abhirama's devotional career prior to this had been somewhat spotty, and there was some scandal following him. Although he's expert at portraying himself today as the handsome, debonair businessman-devotee, at the time he didn't seem at all qualified to assume the all-important service of being Srila Prabhupada's caretaker and nurse.
Why was it that Tamal Krishna and Bhavananda orchestrated that Hari Sauri should be given another assignment. As memory serves me, I believe he was sent to Australia, where Bhavananda became the Zonal Acarya right after Srila Prabhupada's departure. I believe he took sannyasa after leaving Srila Prabhupada's service and taking on this other service in Australia, which was his nemesis: he fell down from sannyasa and from his position as a GBC during that time.
So this set of circumstances, although not considered to be a significant factor by most devotees studying the poisoning allegations, have always seemed to me to be very suspect. In order for this poisoning to have taken place the way so many devotees feel it did, there had to have been a closely knit team of personalities who very much trusted each other, and who could be counted upon to keep the utmost secrecy. Naturally, one would assume that the surviving members of that group are still supporting one another in the current ISKCON power structure.
Of course, Tamal Krishna is no longer with us and cannot be asked directly about these things. As I recall, Hari Sauri dasa offered a very perfunctory response to these questions some years ago, and his answer was very unconvincing. The likelihood that anyone else involved, most likely Bhavananda, will make a deathbed confession to shed light on this situation is very unlikely, so it will continue to be one of the great mysteries.
The only other personality who might shed some light – and I don't expect he had anything personally to do with it -- was Bhakti Caru Swami. An unlikely member of the inner circle team, he wasn't a swami at the time, and was a newcomer, unknown to most everyone back then. He was involved with Srila Prabhupada's care at the time, we were told, because they needed a Bengali translator on the scene. Today, of course, he's a great Zonal Acarya, a big man in ISKCON, and his skyrocketing up to the higher echelons of ISKCON can certainly be attributed to Tamal Krishna's influence.
So that is the primary team. If you suspect Srila Prabhupada's been poisoned, you can't consider that it was done by just one person. It's not simply the fact of Srila Prabhupada's illness this is at issue – it's also the set of circumstances surrounding the fact that no attempt was made to bring in a highly qualified medical personality, either on staff or even to visit. The excuse, of course, has been that Srila Prabhupada made it clear that he didn't want Western medicine types involved. The alternative was the Ayurvedic persons who were brought into the mix, and the somewhat dubious Ayurvedic medicinal cures that were introduced.
Regardless of the fact that Srila Prabhupada requested such a scenario – or at least, we were told by the leaders that he had insisted on such a scenario -- I think it's quite suspect that no personality was brought into the mix who could really have done an expert analysis of Srila Prabhupada's medical condition. Today we see the other Zonal Acaryas who were part of the scene with Srila Prabhupada, and they've gone to great extremes to get medical attention for themselves. Jayapataka Swami is spending millions of dollars on his cures. Bhakti Tirtha Swami spent enormous sums of money on his cures. We see that whenever highly placed personalities become seriously ill, they generally spend a great deal of money seeking a cure. We recently had the example of B.V. Narayana Swami, who as a traditional Indian guru/sannyasi nevertheless spent a lot of time and money looking for a cure for his cancer.
Srila Prabhupada was given no access to expert medical facility, even though money was no object. And although Srila Prabhupada's desire was to avoid being put into hospitals or subjected to the mundane medical system, in the past he had agreed to accept some minor western medicine procedures, e.g., getting inoculated so he could get Visas, getting analyzed in New York for his medical condition, and being admitted to hospital in Watford, where accepted hospital care.
In the context of this discussion, we must also remember that Srila Prabhupada strongly desired to be taken on parikrama, and ordered his disciples to do so. A certain contingency of local authorities felt that this desire should be fulfilled, but Tamal Krishna refused to follow that order of Srila Prabhupada, stating that it would kill him. It didn't make any difference in the end, one way or the other, from a medical standpoint -- it was simply an order.
So we are expected to believe that on Srila Prabhupada's order, he was not given any expert medical attention from western authorities or Indian medical professionals, although it might have extended his life – yet another of his final orders, to be taken on parikrama, was flatly denied based on the contrary opinion of Tamal Krishna and his team.
Of course, if there had been a medical examination done by a professional, then forensic evidence would also be available. They would have taken samples of whatever they needed to determine whether Srila Prabhupada was being poisoned at the time. But these people were excluded from the scenario.
I can also relate what I personally experienced when I visited Srila Prabhupada just prior to his leaving, which was the fact that this group of leaders, the team we're referring to, was extremely protective of their position. Under the excuse of protecting Srila Prabhupada, they would not let anyone else onto the team, would not allow anyone else to participate in Srila Prabhupada's care except their few hand-picked men. There seemed to be practical reasons for this, but at the same time, there was no oversight by the GBC, no committee, no other authority watching over the situation other than the supreme authority of Tamal Krishna, who essentially took full responsibility. How was it that Tamal Krishna had absolute authority over that whole situation? He arranged to have a certain team put in place, and now we have the hindsight perspective of history to judge that circumstance from.
So the whole situation does lend one to say, in hindsight, that it is definitely within reason to suspect that something was going on. But again, I don't think we'll ever find out unless there's a deathbed confession, which is very unlikely.
Some of my godbrothers feel very strongly that it's not good for the movement, for Srila Prabhupada's image to cast a shadow over his departure by discussing the allegations of poisoning. They see it as a blemish on Srila Prabhupada's reputation. It does appear that Sri Krsna doesn't want any more focus being put on this, or else He could have arranged for more conclusive evidence to surface that would lead to exposure of the persons involved. Then again, neither has Krsna arranged to expose information that could put these suspicions to rest.
From my perspective, we are left with the fact that in the hearts and minds of far more devotees than I could have imagined, there remains a nagging doubt that Srila Prabhupada may have been poisoned. Some feel more strongly than others, but prefer to put it out of their minds. For whatever reasons, they have decided not to pursue it. But it remains as one of the many dilemmas forced upon the followers of Srila Prabhupada. Each devotee must decide for themselves -- do you believe that Srila Prabhupada was poisoned, or don't you?
Of course, the ISKCON authorities of today are still a shadow of the ring of power that was in place at that time. They're still entrenched in ISKCON, and there's a very protective attitude built up around them. They've re-written history to make the surviving leaders all look very honorable and sincere, and for that reason alone, I think it's important that this information remain available to those who wish to study it. Consequently, we'll again open our files to the public, via the link provided above. There are various books that have been written on the subject, including one by ISKCON, Not That I Have Been Poisoned, which is another statement Srila Prabhupada made.
Ultimately, the reader must judge for themselves. No criminal court is going to decide this matter. It's left to the court of public opinion.