BY: ROCANA DASA
Nov 06, 2011 CANADA (SUN)
Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer,
~ The Beatles
I would like to address the phenomenon of Swamis, ex-Swamis and ISKCON notorieties who have been presenting their memoir books in the marketplace. In response to the articles presented in the Sun over the last few weeks involving my exchange with Pusta Krishna ex-Swami, some of our readers have been making me aware of books that have been introduced into the Vaisnava community by two of the 'old-timers', so to speak – pioneer devotees who played a prominent role in the early days of Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON lila. I'm referring to Gurudasa ex-Swami, and Mukunda Goswami.
Gurudasa and Mukunda prabhu appear at first glance to have quite different backgrounds and histories. One significant pastime they shared, however, was the opening of the San Francisco temple in 1967. Afterwards they shared another pastime, which has brought them name and fame: Mukunda, who was married to Janaki devi at the time, along with Gurudasa and his wife Yamuna devi, and Shyamasundar das with wife Malati devi, all journeyed to London and participated in Srila Prabhupada's lila pastimes there. They quickly developed a friendship with George Harrison of the Beatles, who took an interest in Krsna consciousness and helped to facilitate Srila Prabhupada's mission. George let the devotees use his property at Letchmore Heath, now known as Bhaktivedanta Manor, and the rest is history.
The devotees' pastimes during this era are well known and documented. Initially, the story was told in Satsvarupa's Lilamrta. Today, everyone has their own version and perspective. George Harrison's participation has become legendary to the point of mythology within the ranks of ISKCON, where his notoriety increases in scope and luster as the years go by. This trend goes hand in hand with another – the tendency of ISKCON devotees to immerse themselves in entertaining books the devotees are producing about their memories of the early days. Once the books hit Amazon and the Krishna.com storefront, the authors also grow in stature, and are invited to programs and festivals worldwide to reminisce live and in person about what happened way back when.
Over the years, I've made my position known on how I feel about these memoir books. Not only do I think they're a waste of time and money for devotees to buy and read, I also find that generally, they do not depict Srila Prabhupada in the proper mood and philosophical perspective. For the most part, they prove to be subtle glorifications of the individual authors themselves, and appear to be written primarily for entertainment value and personal aggrandizement. Thus, they provide little real philosophical or spiritual benefit to the reader.
When one is actually remembering personalities like Srila Prabhupada, they are remembering the pastimes of the pure devotees, which are transcendental. But such transcendental pastimes have to be presented by persons who are enlightened, just as the Caitanya-caritamrta is presented by Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, a truly advanced devotee. This is the scripture the Sampradaya Acaryas prefer to present on Caitanya-lila, even in comparison to the Caitanya Bhagavat. That's because the Caitanya-caritamrta presents Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His lila in a very philosophical manner and as such, it has great spiritual value. Caitanya Bhagavat is also bona fide, but emphasizes the actual pastime events more than the philosophy.
In the case of Gurudasa (Roger Siegel), the author is know for having left Srila Prabhupada during his manifest lila. Gurudasa left his wife Yamuna and took sannyasa prior to leaving it all behind. Those who knew him at the time were well aware that he was not sannyasa material, but in the latter part of Srila Prabhupada's lila, if you wanted to enjoy the best that ISKCON could provide in terms of power and position, opulence and respect, then you were anxious to take sannyasa, as Gurudasa was. He didn't last too long, and after leaving, we never heard anything about him for many years. We now know that he went back to Haight-Asbury, essentially returning to the life he'd previously lived before meeting Srila Prabhupada. In other words, he became a mouse again.
After many years of a notoriously debauched lifestyle, he resurfaced first with the self-promoting memoir book, "By His Example", and more recently with "Love, Medicine and Music" (see the excerpt, below). His website now includes a plea to the devotees to help support him financially, because he's made no provision for his old age. In other words, he's burnt out. Based on the fact that he has some memories from the early days, when he did legitimately participate in Srila Prabhupada's lila, he is now playing the sentiment card in an effort to get back on the bandwagon that all his friends from that time are riding on, including Shyamasundar and Mukunda.
I'm not saying that Gurudasa didn't render some service to Srila Prabhupada, as did thousands of Prabhupada's disciples during that period, and that will undoubtedly go to his credit at the time he passes out of this body. I'm not in any position to calculate or judge what his fate will be after leaving his body. All I can say, as Srila Prabhupada himself says, is that you can judge the level of consciousness a person is on by what they write. And from the little I've read of what Gurudasa has written, it's not only very poor literature, it also fails to depict Srila Prabhupada in a proper philosophical way. It really just shows that he has learned little over all these years about the transcendental personality who essentially saved him from whatever fate he was destined to suffer. He went back to his fate and karma, so we have an idea of what Srila Prabhupada saved him from, and thus we can see that his pastimes with Srila Prabhupada were a great array of mercy. Needless to say, I would never recommend that anyone donate any money to him, nor would I suggest that you buy his book, or even read it. While his book is one of the worst examples, it's just another indication of the "literary" trend taking place in ISKCON today.
Mukunda Goswami's new book, "Miracle on 26 Second Avenue", is a slightly different story, although with a similar background. In the early days, Mukunda (Michael Grant) was one of the first devotees to get initiated. He is closely associated with Srila Prabhupada's famous storefront temple on the Lower East Side. Sadly, 26 2nd Ave today gets so little support from ISKCON's wealthy leaders that the property is at risk of being lost, which would be a disaster. Our wealthy leaders have plenty of money to enjoy retired life and write personal memoirs, but they don't have enough money to support Srila Prabhupada's first temple.
Although he has stayed more in the background than many of our prominent godbrothers, Mukunda's book has been endorsed by the 'big Swami' Radhanath, and Ravindra Swarup, a GBC who's known as a literary personality. They endorse Mukunda's book in the same way you'd endorse a popular best-seller… 'it's a real page-turner'… 'a got-to-read'… 'don't put it down'… 'a great contribution'… and so on. But in my mind, the authors of such books are a few notches below the professional Bhagavatam reciters, who are at least talking straight from the sastra.
Although Mukunda Goswami seems to have little to say in his new book that hasn't been said before, the reader should take particular care in noting how he philosophically presents Srila Prabhupada. One should also consider the history of Mukunda's service over the years since Srila Prabhupada's departure. Personally, I find it somewhat embarrassing that he's been a Swami all these years, and we've heard so little preaching from him.
For nearly 25 years, ending in 1999, Mukunda Goswami served as the GBC Minister of Communications. In 1996, he was appointed to the official GBC Interfaith Commission. According to Wikipedia:
"In the 1980s Mukunda established the ISKCON Communications Office in Los Angeles, and published the ISKCON World Review and ISKCON Communications Journal (ICJ). Mukunda Goswami is still an ICJ Advisory Board Member. When the ISKCON organization was mired in legal troubles Mukunda worked at damage control, but finally grew tired of the pressure and left the position in hands of his assistants."]
In 1999, Mukunda resigned from his position as a GBC, as did Hrdayananda. That same year, the GBC gave "Emeritus" status to these three devotees, along with Satsvarupa. At the same time that he resigned from the GBC, Mukunda was put on the GBC committee responsible for GBC restructuring and writing a constitution (which to this day has not been completed).
In 2000, the GBC specifically called upon their Emeritus members – specifically Mukunda Goswami, Giriraj Swami, Hridayananda Goswami, Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami and Balavanta das -- asking them put up $20,000 in funding for the Child Protection Office.
Over the years, Mukunda Goswami has co-authored three books with Drutakarma das (Michael Cremo), along with Coming Back: The Science of Reincarnation (a compilation of Srila Prabhupada's teachings), along with two other titles he's authored, most recently, Miracle on Second Avenue.
The "Emeritus" title bestowed upon Mukunda Goswami by the GBC essentially refers to the fact that from 1999 onwards, the Swami has retired to private life. Although Mukunda and Satsvarupa das Goswami Emeritus, author of Lilamrta, are very fond of emphasizing the fact that Srila Prabhupada came to America in his seventies, 'alone, penniless, and in poor health', they apparently do not see the contradiction in terms -- that they have retired from active preaching life at such a young age – the opposite of the example set by their Spiritual Master.
Of course, such depictions of Srila Prabhupada are completely incorrect philosophically. The notion of Srila Prabhupada being 'penniless' is a ridiculous philosophical conception, considering that Sri Krsna Caitanya sent him to America, and was always protecting him. The fact that he displayed a pastime wherein he appeared to be penniless is not unlike Sri Krsna appearing as a cowherd boy, and Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu as the son of a Brahman. To call Srila Prabhupada "lonely" or "penniless" is philosophically inaccurate, and untrue.
Of course, ISKCON's retired 'Emeritus' Swamis are not living a penniless life. They're living a comfortable, reclusive lifestyle that goes against the mandate Srila Prabhupada set down for his sannyasa preachers. They aren't often seen engaged in direct preaching activities, beyond writing their books and going from festival to temple, talking about their association with Srila Prabhupada, and sharing their perceptions according to their immature minds back then, when they were young and reckless. Srila Prabhupada provided them an opportunity to dovetail some of their talents in Krsna's service. But nowadays, although they have far more opportunity from a material point of view, they are not actively preaching. They don't capture the mood of Srila Prabhupada, they don't know how to philosophically present him. They're living off the results of their past participation. Because of their friendly relationship with the GBC they've been allowed to initiate. They write a few little articles, a memoir book or two, and wait for the invitations and airline tickets to arrive, with the promise of nice accommodations when they come to say a few words at some event about their reminiscences of Srila Prabhupada.
Few seem to notice that nearly all of them are at a younger age than Srila Prabhupada was when he first arrived here, working tirelessly on Sri Krsna Caitanya's behalf. Our Emeritus Swamis have totally given up the preaching mood, and are basically living off their past glories, like old rock stars collecting their royalty checks, and doing a few gigs each year at the casino. They're capitalizing on their past, and living a comfortable life as a result of it. Selling their book is just another cash flow stream for them, another way to glorify themselves. It's not really glorifying Srila Prabhupada, and is not, therefore, a great contribution to the Vaisnava literature. In fact, nowhere in our Vaisnava Sampradaya literatures do we find such novels, biographies and memoirs. Srila Prabhupada did not recommend us to do that with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati or Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Many books that had already been written were not recommended by Srila Prabhupada, even though they were far more philosophical and bona fide than those we see proliferating in ISKCON today.
But this is the new mood in ISKCON. We have all these untrained disciples and followers who are supposedly ordered by the Gurus and Sannyasis to read Srila Prabhupada's books daily and follow his sadhana program, but the leaders themselves aren't preaching actively or following that program. Instead, they claim they're getting old at 68 or 70, and have some health problems… but how does that compare to Srila Prabhupada? As mentioned in a recent article by Aviram das, "Leaving Sannyasa", Srila Prabhupada commented on the Gajendra pastime, saying that he gave out sannyasa to young people because Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu took sannyasa at a young age, and so did his Spiritual Master, for preaching purposes. But it you don't get totally absorbed in preaching and you've taken sannyasa, then you're in a dangerous situation. Under such circumstances, perhaps it would be a more honorable thing to give up sannyasa. Of course, after many years of getting used to this particular status in life and enjoying the many material benefits that it provides, you become accustomed, conditioned. Your ego includes being a sannyasa, even though so many sannyasis have been outed, exposed as womanizers, money lenders, etc. Yet they cannot give up sannyasa. Satsvarupa and Hridayananda are two good examples. While their lifestyles aren't remotely inline with the sastric mandates for sannyasa, their false ego includes being seen as a sannyasi. It's a trouble-free life for them, in many ways, and they just don't want to give that up. They're attached.
In the case of Mukunda Goswami and his recent book, we can see that Mukunda is a sweetie-pie swami, a soft-spoken, gentle devotee who has managed to avoid scandal. He has not thrown his weight around as a GBC/Guru/Sannyasi, and therefore is seen as not being politically ambitious. And this was his nature from day one. Mukunda's amiable nature made him the preferred favorite of George Harrison, and after a certain point, George would only associate with Mukunda. The devotees couldn't contact or visit him unless it was through Mukunda. Once or twice a year, Mukunda would fly to the UK and arrange an appointment to go and see George Harrison. He would take along a few other devotees, some prasada and they'd have a little kirtan at his estate. I attended one of these get-togethers in the late 70's, early 80's, and frankly I was very unimpressed by the fact that Mukunda did not preach to him. It was obvious that George Harrison was taking all sorts of illegal substances, and that his main absorption was in racing cars and gardening. He was spending only one or two evenings a year with the devotees, who weren't even preaching to him, and that was about the extent of it.
The fact is that George Harrison, at a certain point in the 1980's, requested the devotees to vacate the Bhaktivedanta Manor. He thought he'd given us a start, and now he wanted to give some other new spiritual group a start, by giving them use of the Manor. His wife Olivia is a long-time follower of Paramahamsa Yogananda, so perhaps they wanted to give the property to that group. To my knowledge, Mukunda did not come in and save the day, as George's close friend. Maybe he did preach to him, and it was Mukunda who convinced George not to give away the Manor, but to sell it to us for the approximate half million pounds he did (I don't recall the exact agreed upon selling price, but it was significant). Contrary to the current and growing mythical legend, George Harrison did not donate the Manor to Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON. He didn't give it, he sold it to ISKCON, albeit at a discounted price.
Let us also remember that the pastimes that took place in the early days in London, which included the Beatles and getting access to the Bhaktivedanta Manor, were all due to Srila Prabhupada's potency. It was all Krsna's arrangement for spreading Krsna consciousness around the world. It had little or nothing to do with the individuals who happened to be recruited to participate in this pastime with Srila Prabhupada. It could have been anyone. Although Shyamasundar exploits his past connections in this regard for fame and money, the fact is that Shyamasundar almost ruined the Manor, and the leaders had to get rid of him. He was an eccentric, a crazy man.
Gurudasa and Yamuna went off to India, and yes, they participated in the development of the Vrindavan temple when it was being started, and they went to Jaipur and participated in having the Deities created there. I met them when they were in Jaipur, while they were living with the best murti-wallah in town, in very comfortably circumstances. I was not impressed with the level of their Krsna consciousness at the time. Yet when we hear them tell the pastimes today, one would think they were all transcendental.
Back in those days we were all just like babies, very immature and unqualified persons who Krsna allowed to participate with Srila Prabhupada, because the free will was there. And we did participate, we all did, including myself, give up a certain number of years, making a sincere effort to keep up with Srila Prabhupada's momentum. Some fared better than others. In his case, Mukunda fared better than most, but it's all fairly relative. Pusta Krishna das wrote in a recent article that he was better than others, I'm not sure who he's referring to, but I'm sure Mukunda feels the same way… that he caused less harm than others among his friends and cohorts, who did so much damage in ISKCON.
Mukunda and Shyamasundar have been good friends over the years, although Shyamasundar was a real rascal. On a Morning Walk, Srila Prabhupada told the GBC that they should have Shyamasundar arrested for theft. Yet nowadays, Shyamasundar is coming back to ISKCON like a celebrity. His ex-wife got one of her followers to donate one of their bodily organs to this person, who due to his debauchee life needed one. But just because he can tell stories about his previous devotional activities with Srila Prabhupada, the devotees all gather round to listen, ignoring all the obvious and relevant facts.
We're told that Gurudasa spends a lot of his time in a marijuana head shop in San Francisco. Mukunda das is living out in the Australian countryside, very secure financially and writing memoirs. Then we have Giriraja, who's living in a beautiful mansion in Santa Barbara, enjoying the service of his disciples and the inheritance money he's gotten from his parents, from Tamal Krishna Goswami, and from a disciple. This is all ridiculous, and offensive for sannyasis. Anyone in their right mind who knows Srila Prabhupada, as they claim to, would have good cause to believe that Srila Prabhupada would be very displeased and offended by the pastimes of these disciples who are living comfortably, not dedicated to preaching. But preaching is not a comfortable occupation, and they've instead chosen to live a comfortable lifestyle based on their previous activities.
As I understand it, sometime prior to his going to Australia, Mukunda had been living in New Zealand in a house George Harrison gave him. He sold that house, and used the money to build a little house he's living in at the ISK Australia farm. He calls the house "Harrison House", not "Prabhupada House". So ISKCON had to buy the Manor for cash, while George gave a house to Mukunda personally, and he has apparently used that asset for his personal benefit. If he actually put that asset under the control of ISKCON or his disciples and they used the asset for preaching, it would be good of Mukunda to share those details with the devotee community.
I think these personalities should be seen for who they are and challenged to step up and start following Srila Prabhupada now, by preaching. They should fully disclose their financial dealings. They have all the resources, they have disciples, they have the sannyasa order, they have position within ISKCON, and they have a certain reputation – so go out and actually preach – don't just tell stories, and the rest of the time live comfortably. Come out of retirement, put away the creature comforts, and start preaching to the fallen conditioned souls as enthusiastically and energetically as Srila Prabhupada did during his advanced years.
I know that many readers, sentimentalists and New Age softies will consider what I'm saying to be so cruel and mean… these Swamis are such sweet persons… But they're actually ruining Srila Prabhupada's reputation, they're going against sastra by the way they live, and they're not setting a good example for others to follow. It's a bad example, and their stories simply help to propagate a myth about themselves, while improperly and un-philosophically depicting who Srila Prabhupada is.
* * * * *
An excerpt from the book "Love, Medicine and Music" by Gurudas (Roger Siegel):
"The Swami sat between us. He was unassuming, comfortable in all situations, and smiled a lot. His jolly manner was infectious, so I smiled a lot from being around him. If someone gave the Swami any money he would immediately use it for printing, either books or magazines, never for his own self. He lived simply, but he would accept gifts as tools if it helped him to serve Lord Krishna.
He woke at 2:00 a.m., bathed, chanted 250,000 holy names or 16 rounds on a rosary of 108 beads. He encouraged us to also take up this practice, which we did. The Mantra (mind-deliverer) was a way of cleansing the mind of unwanted things. A purification process. Anyway, it felt good to chant:
"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."The chanting was also a prayer to Lord Krishna to please allow us to serve. This was a culmination of all my protests, deeds, experiments, and studies.
The Swami did not ask anything for himself. He always deferred to Krishna. We wanted to give him gifts and things and he would politely decline unless it could help him to serve Lord Krishna, such as a dictaphone to help him write. After he chanted his morning rounds, he would write while most of the population was still sleeping. He brought with him the three volumes of Srimad Bhagavatam and now he was finishing his translation and purports of the Bhagavad-gita. After many hours of writing, he would go for a walk.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings and evenings at 7 a.m and p.m., the Swami would come to the temple and lead us in chanting (kirtan). His melodious voice comforted me, and soon we would dive into the shelter of his paeans. He showed us how to play the kartalas, as a few came from India. He wrapped the handmade cloth through the 3-inch metal discs, and clang clang, he would play and begin the chanting. Listening and then singing was the process. His honey-gravel voice flooded the small storefront temple. Then we joined in. There were about 6 initiated devotees and many regular students attending now.
Sometimes at the night kirtans, Swamiji would lead us on a bongo drum. As the congregation increased, kettle drums, trumpets, violins, guitars, and kelp horns added supporting musical notes. Soon, our chanting became faster and louder, and we could not help dancing. All the while, the Swami would chant with closed eyes, then open them while we were chanting and dancing, beaming his Benedictine smile on us. Whirling, exciting feelings of transcending time, this earth, myself, and all the good trips culminated into a feeling of bliss.
I was looking for the ultimate high, from within and without. The less I needed outside substances, influences, affirmations from others, keys, clothes, desires, the happier I could be. I was searching for the most natural and eternal high. We shared the medicinal sacraments as a group and did not overindulge. I was looking for the ultimate groove, the nth degree, the zenith. All people sharing lore, medicine, clothes, and food. When my love for Krishna is felt, then my love for all spilled over, and when I love everyone and everything, then my love for Krishna is increased.
After we chanted, the Swami would say some Sanskrit prayers honoring past saintly persons in his spiritual line (Samprediya). He would then speak very simply and very sweetly to us so we could understand.He said, "Chanting is sublime, and by doing so, we become purified and happy." He was an example of this."