Writing books in Srila Prabhupada’s service
By Sridhara Srinivasa das
Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu incorporated two principles from each of the four Vaishnava sampradayas. Out of all of these principles, the most important one is Vaishnava seva. Hence the opportunity devotees get to serve other devotees of Lord Krishna is a stepping stone to achieve the desired success of human life. This is the foundation of all Vaishnava sampradayas, especially the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya. All Gaudiya sampradaya Acharyas of the past and the present preached and practiced this core aspect of devotional.
Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the karuna avatara, gave the most auspicious benediction of empowerment to preach Krishna Consciousness to whomsoever they meet. The Lord also instructed His chief disciples; the six Goswamis, and the entire Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya acharyas to serve the Vaishnava community and humanity at large by empowering them to make immense literary contributions. All our sampradaya acaryas till date and especially H.D.G. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada have followed this instruction of the Lord by writing volumes of literatures on Vaishnava siddhantha. This is the parampara of writers. In order for our parampara to continue on without a break, it is essential for every devotee of ISKCON to continue the parampara seva of making literary contributions on Vaishnava siddhanta and bhaktisiddantha. While carrying out this specific instruction is not only the most important seva (Vaishnava Seva) but any attempt to inhibit this seva shall indeed be the biggest disservice to Srila Prabhupada (Vaishnava aparadha), the vision of ISKCON, and the Gaudiya parampara (Gurur Avagnya).
Yet, in the recent past we have witnessed increasing number of incidents and activities within our movement that inhibit devotees from making legitimate literary contributions, in addition to constant discouragement of distribution of these legitimate Vaishnava literatures among the devotees circles. Naturally, this raises serious concerns of whether devotees’ conceptions, actions and judgments are based on sastra, sadhu, and guru parampara instructions. This article summarizes the views of some of the senior disciples’ of Srila Prabhupada on the need for writing transcendental literature in service of Srila Prabhupada. In addition to that this article also presents a series of quotes of Srila Prabhupada’s mandate for ISKCON devotees and disciples to write and publish articles and commentaries aligned with sampradaya acaryas’ instructions with evidences from sastra, sadhu, and guru.
[The following two sections are adapted from a lecture given by HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami titled:
“Is writing books offensive, Bg 4.3, Salem, 5 June 06”]
What constitutes legitimate writing
There is a famous saying; “the face is the index of the mind”, one can understand the mood and consciousness of a person based on his writings. The purpose of writing and the intention of the writer should be to serve the teachings and instructions of the previous sampradaya acarya, and for ISKCON devotees it is Srila Prabhupada without a doubt. If the intention and consciousness is to compete or out-do the works of our sampradaya acarya; Srila Prabhupada, then such writings are bad and guru aparadha and should hence be rejected as bogus (mayayapahrtha jnana). In any case, encouraging devotees to write articles on topics related to Krishna Consciousness is certainly the best course of developing and practicing ones pure devotional service attitude to Lord Krishna, since by this method even a devotee whose intelligence is stolen by maya gets an opportunity to correct himself (from within and without), what to speak of getting inspiration, and spiritual nourishment from legitimate writings for the writer and reader equally. Thus there is no loss or diminution in endeavors of literary contributions on the topics related to Krishna consciousness that are aimed at providing spiritual advancement for the Vaishnava community. On the other hand, there is everything to gain from such literary contributions made with pure intent of serving Srila Prabhupada and our sampradaya acaryas for only such writings can save us from the most dangerous type of fear (Baghavad Gita 2.40). Therefore, it is one of the most important teachings of our sampradaya acaryas, especially Srila Prabhupada, that every devotee should cultivate the knowledge by which they can clearly distinguish legitimate writing from bogus writing. A writer and his writings are legitimate if the intention behind the writings is to supplement and not to out shine the sampradaya acaryas, especially Srila Prabhupada. As the saying goes “the proof of the pudding is in eating it”, similarly any conclusions about the writer should be made through systematic study of the literature of the writer and not be prejudiced based on sentimental or sensual platforms.
The need for writing commentaries
Srila Prabhupada himself wanted to produce other editions of Bhagavad Gita that included commentaries of other acaryas such as Sripada Ramanujacharya. Likewise within ISKCON Burijana Prabhu’s; ‘Surrender Unto Me’, Vishakha Mataji’s illustrated children’s edition of Bhagavad Gita are commentaries on Bhagavad Gita based on the teachings of Srila Prabhupada. Similarly HH Sivarama Swami, HH Bhanu Swami have written personal commentaries expressing their realization which are the mature fruit of years of study of Srila Prabhupada’s commentaries and relishing the teachings of Bhagavad Gita. This does not mean that they are re-writing the Bhagavad Gita but rather expressing their esteemed respect and regard for the teachings of Srila Prabhupada’s commentaries. We also find how Baladeva Vidya Bhushan was instructed by the Lord to write the Gaudiya Commentary (Govinda Bashya) of the Vedanta Sutras. Hence everything depends on the intention of the writer. Apart from this there may also be a necessity to re-write or re-translate a writing for reasons mentioned below:
Like most languages of the world English too has undergone a lot of changes, and will undergo changes in future. For example, Shakespeare’s writings in ‘English’ clearly stand out as a language of a different era when compared to the ‘modern English’ writings. Hence at some point in time, all of Srila Prabhupada’s books would need to be re-written so as to fit with the changes that the modern English language undergoes, otherwise those will not be understood by the future generations. This was the answer given by HG Hari Sauri Prabhu, who is always quoting Srila Prabhupada, when this question was posted during one of his lectures.
As the old saying goes, “Old wine in a new bottle”. At times based on time, place, and circumstance it is necessary to present the subject matter in a slightly different manner but essentially sticking to the very same basic principles as enunciated by Srila Prabhupada and sampradaya acaryas. This is imperative when the writer is seeking to remove various misconceptions on confidential topics, such as Lord Krishna’s rasa-lila, especially among the modern indologists, scientist, or academic community. This was exactly the reason why Bhakthi Narayana das Sudhakar (Dr. Sanyal), a disciple of Bhaktisiddhantha Saraswati Thakur, wrote an essay on the topic; “Divine Love and THE Erotic Principle”, which was even published in the Harmonist magazine and sent to the west. In this essay Prof. Sanyal in his incisive way cuts right through the heart of the matter to demonstrate how Krishna’s pastimes are not immoral but are to be worshiped. It was one attempt made in the 1930s to address this issue.
In some countries like Thailand, wherein every single word in Sanskirt already has a Buddhist connotation, it becomes extremely difficult to preach Krishna consciousness without actually having to redefine the Sanskrit terms. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur thus once said how he wanted to write a new dictionary to redefine all words like Bhakti, Bhagavan since nowadays people have completely different understandings of these words.
[The following sections are the evidences for Srila Prabhupada mandating his disciples to write]
Quotes of Srila Prabhupada on the need for writing many books
There are numerous quotes from Srila Prabhupada regarding the necessity for devotees to write more and more books and as well as writing purports to his purports. An attempt is made herein to bring out a handful of those with references.
In Vrndavana there are prakrta-sahajiyas who say that writing books or even touching books is taboo. For them, devotional service means being relieved from these activities. Whenever they are asked to hear a recitation of Vedic literature, they refuse, saying, “What business do we have reading or hearing transcendental literatures? They are meant for neophytes.” They pose themselves as too elevated to exert energy for reading, writing and hearing. However, pure devotees under the guidance of Srila Rupa Gosvami reject this sahajiya philosophy. It is certainly not good to write literature for money or reputation, but to write books and publish them for the enlightenment of the general populace is real service to the Lord. That was Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s opinion, and he specifically told his disciples to write books. He actually preferred to publish books rather than establish temples. Temple construction is meant for the general populace and neophyte devotees, but the business of advanced and empowered devotees is to write books, publish them and distribute them widely. According to Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, distributing literature is like playing on a great mrdanga. Consequently we always request members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness to publish as many books as possible and distribute them widely throughout the world. By thus following in the footsteps of Srila Rupa Gosvami, one can become a rupanuga devotee.[CC Madhya Lila 19.132 – SP Purport]
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructed His disciples to write books on the Science of Krsna, a task which those who follow Him have continued to carry out down to the present day. The elaborations and expositions on the philosophy taught by Lord Caitanya are in fact most voluminous, exacting and consistent due to the system of disciplic succession. Although Lord Caitanya was widely renowned as a scholar in His youth, He left only eight verses, called Siksastaka. These eight verses clearly reveal His mission and precepts. These supremely valuable prayers are translated herein. [Teachings of Lord Caitanya, TLC – Mission]
Sometimes the Gaudiya Vaisnavas are challenged that “You cannot be accepted as bona fide community, spiritual community, because you have no bhasya on Brahma-sutra.” Then Baladeva Vidyabhusana wrote govinda-bhasya. But Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not like or ask His disciples to write, because He thought, “This is the Gaudiya, Brahma-sutra-bhasya.” Not Gaudiya—for every Vaisnava. Bhasyayam brahma-sutranam. So we have got now Gaudiya Vedanta-bhasya. Ramanuja Vedanta-bhasya is there. Madhvacarya Vedanta-bhasya is there, all. And Gaudiya had not. But since this challenge was made in Jaipur, then Baladeva Vidyabhusana, he took: “Yes,” and he finished, Gaudiya bhasya, and it is called Govinda-bhasya. Actually, in India, unless one follows the acaryas and has given commentary on the Brahma-sutra, he’s not a bona fide. Nyaya-prasthana. Brahma-sutra is called nyaya-prasthana. Sruti-prasthana, smrti-prasthana, nyaya-prasthana. So any bona fide acarya must give his understanding about these three prasthanas [1976 conversations June 1976 Interview with Professors O’Connell, Motilal and Shivaram June 18, 1976 Toronto]
I have much work to do in writing. Srila Prabhupada’s books are the law books, and everything we need to know to become fully Krsna conscious is in his books. Nevertheless, Srila Prabhupada wanted his disciples to write also. He once said that, “My disciples will write commentaries on my purports.” And, “ All the Vaisnava literatures should be translated into English and distributed all over the world.” [My Memories of Srila Prabhupada – MMSP – 1 Appeal, HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami]
Lecture – Hari Sauri Prabhu – about Srila Prabhupada’s view on writing- Manchester [from 6th min 44th second – 20.00th min]. Srila Prabhupada said “I want to spread Krishna Consciousness everywhere at once”. That was his ambition although he had no expectations of results. One of the things that Srila Prabhupada wanted from us is to become “writers”. Srila Prabhupada particularly mentioned about his God-brothers having not written any books and that even after 40 years later they were selling Bhakti Siddhantha Saraswati’s books. It was only Srila Prabhupada who had made significant literary contributions. In November 1975 when i joined the party at that time Harikesh Brahmacari was Srila Prabhupada’s cook and also had transcription service. That time Srila Prabhupada added one more service to him which is writing and even assigned the topic to write against material science and communist state. Srila Prabhupada was coaching Harikesh every day on writing specifically to expose the misuse of material science and scientist. Srila Prabhupada would review the essay by Harikesh every day. Srila Prabhupada was so particular that everyone should attend all of the morning programs from mangala arthi, but he allowed Harikesh to focus on his essay writings and even skip morning programs. Once during one of morning debates on the roof Srila Prabhupada called for Harikesh’ essay on lenins….and completely smashed the communist philosophy. Harikesh suggested that this be written as a BTG article, Srila Prabhupada asked him to author it and also asked him to thoroughly study the subject and present stronger arguments with evidence. He clearly wanted his disciples to be trained up nicely to present such opposing and defending arguments. This alone is the best way to please the spiritual master and better than mere eulogizing with glorifying words. Srila Prabhupada wanted Harkesh to prepare a small phamplet even translated them to Russian language and it contained all the conversations of Srila Prabhupada and Harikesh’ own points that completely defeated communist thoughts.
After mangala-arati I complete the prescribed chanting on my beads, then spend an hour or so in my office or at home studying Srila Prabhupada’s books or writing. Reading his books is extremely valuable for anyone who wants to understand the purpose of life and how to attain it. Srila Prabhupada also encouraged his disciples to write about their understanding of Krsna consciousness, so every day I try to make some time for writing.[BTG #23-02/03, 1988 Wont You Join the Dance? By Nagaraja Dasa]
WHEN I first met His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, His Divine Grace instructed me to read his books and to write. In one letter he wrote, “Amidst our heavy duties, we must write something to glorify the Supreme Lord.” [Sri Vyasa Puja 1969/2003 (New-2003), Sri Vyasa Puja 1986 Vysa Puja homages from the GBC Giriraja Swami]
“You must write more such songs,” Swamiji tells us, “songs praising the acharyas, great saintly persons. The bhakta in love with God wants to sing to Him and His representatives. And Hare Krishna, of all songs, is the supreme. It is the call of a child for his father, a call of pure love. Oh, there are many songs in the Vaishnava tradition, songs of Bhaktivinode Thakur, and songs of Mirabai. “ [HKE – Hayagriva dasa part 2 San Francisco, 1967 HKE 9 – Mad after Krishna]
- [SP lecture 1975 New York CC 1.1.1 750326CC.MAY] No. We are trying our best. We have engaged our scientist students. They have already…, one student has already written one small book, The Scientific Basis of Krsna Consciousness, and we are going to publish another book. I have given instruction to the scientist students. What is the heading of that?
Devotees: Life Comes From Life.
Prabhupada: Yes, Life Comes From Life. That is the fact. ………….