Changing the design of the TVP: Reply to Hari-sauri

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By Tattvavit das

The first of Hari Sauri Prabhu’s articles, ‘A Reply to Concerns about the Current Design of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium‘, was his response to a letter we had written to the exhibits committee chaired by him. This article, which reproduced the content of our letter, was published by Hari Sauri on Dandavats without our consent. In writing our letter to the committee we had sought a private dialogue with its members, and, as a consequence of this, at a later stage with others responsible for the project.

One commentator, Sucih, asks why we “whip up anti-sentiment”, against the project and Ambarisa Prabhu’s and his team’s dedicated service. This is a very strange description of our modest and carefully formulated ideas in our non-public letter to the exhibits committee and in our Nine Reasons.

Hari Sauri’s public reply to our letter more or less forced us into a public exchange on Dandavats and PAMHO. In this exchange, distortions and misunderstandings of our position abound - not just in Hari Sauri’s two replies but also in some Dandavats comments by others on our articles, which, dishearteningly, imply that our design-improvement group is trying to discourage Ambarisa Prabhu and his team, or wants to go against the desires of Srila Prabhupada. Thus a new article-format reply is called for. We hope that all concerned will appreciate our efforts to clarify the issues at stake and the actual history of the design, and to contextualize more adequately Srila Prabhupada’s statements about the U. S. Capitol. We want to see a beautiful Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, and we want Ambarisa Prabhu and his team to receive full credit for it. We also want, however, to see Srila Prabhupada’s desires fulfilled, including what were, as we will show, his last expressed desires: to have Surabhi Prabhu’s Indian design built. (Surabhi designed and oversaw the construction of the Vrindavana and Bombay temples, and designed both of Srila Prabhupada’s samadhis in Vrindavana and Mayapur.)

There can indeed be “no doubt as to the degree to which [Srila Prabhupada] was impressed” by the Capitol. Hari Sauri makes the assertions that the thrust of our Nine Reasons is to “demolish in the readers’ minds the idea that Srila Prabhupada himself liked that design [the Capitol building]”, and that we do not like the U. S. Capitol and therefore do not like what Srila Prabhupada likes. But there is absolutely nothing in our Nine Reasons about Srila Prabhupada not liking the U. S. Capitol, and we explicitly and clearly state it is an architectural masterpiece. Hari Sauri says he has “shown conclusively” that it is not the case that Srila Prabhupada did not like it. We should have spared Hari Sauri the effort by stating explicitly that Srila Prabhupada liked what we say is an architectural masterpiece. We have now stated in our reply to Ambarisa that it is obvious that Srila Prabhupada was impressed by the U. S. Capitol. (We also stated that Srila Prabhupada liked Western architecture more generally.) He had every reason to be impressed. The Capitol is wonderful both at a distance and in the exquisite and consistently conceived details, not least the dome’s, that become more clearly discernible as one moves closer. It is easy to see the extent to which the Capitol differs from the current design of the TVP.

What we have done is just to point out that we do not know that Srila Prabhupada wanted in the historical heart and most sacred dhama of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition in India a building that looks like the U. S. Capitol in any other respect than having a big dome, and that, as Hari Sauri now himself insists, Srila Prabhupada also liked other designs (we say he approved them). And we have questioned the rightness and wisdom of using the U. S. Capitol design for Srila Praphupada’s “purpose in advertizing his international society around the world”, as Hari Sauri puts it.

Hari Sauri says that none of the previous designs “factored in Srila Prabhupada’s own stated preference for the exterior design”, and that for this reason Ambarisa Prabhu “decided to go back to a design which he knew Srila Prabhupada liked”. But the real fact is that in 1977 Srila Prabhupada approved the Indian design for the TVP made by Surabhi and said that construction should start. These were very explicit instructions that he gave to the design team itself in person, and there is nothing like that concerning the Capitol design.

In a letter from Bombay dated April 6, 1977, Srila Prabhupada wrote:

“My Dear Gurukrpa, Please accept my blessings. I beg to thank you for your letter dated 30 March, 1977. . . . Now that our Bombay temple is nearing completion you must begin to construct a nice temple at the birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu at Mayapur dham. I think in Japan there are some of the best architectural construction firms in the world. If it is possible kindly find out the best architect in Japan. Describe generally our Mayapur temple project and for more details have him write to Surabhi Swami, c/o Hare Krishna Land, Bombay.”

The significance of this letter is that by April 1977, Srila Prabhupada had seen Surabhi’s non-Capitol design in Mayapur and approved it. Here he is approving the beginning of construction based on that design. He is leaving it to Surabhi to come up with the final design.

There is no evidence that Srila Prabhupada emphatically, directly, and repeatedly said to his architectural team that he wanted the final design of the TVP to be just like the U. S. Capitol. If he really had wanted something American, something just like the Capitol, why did he enthusiastically approve Surabhi’s non-Capitol presentation and order it to be built?

Only a month or two before sending that letter, Srila Prabhupada had asked Surabhi to draw a master plan for Mayapur City. The “Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta” tells us what happened:

“Staying up all night, Surabhi made a preliminary architectural sketch, showing specific areas of the city for brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas, and sudras. The sketch also showed temples, schools, streets, walkways, residential buildings, cottages, a stadium and an airport, as well as self-sufficiency features like windmills, irrigation systems, and agricultural fields. Prabhupada was taking his massage when Surabhi brought him the drawing. Prabhupada’s golden body was glistening with mustard oil as Hari Sauri carefully, strongly massaged his head, back, chest, and limbs. Prabhupada was relaxed and silent, his eyes closed in meditation. But when Surabhi entered with the drawing of Mayapur, he became animated. Prabhupada liked the drawing and talked about it for an hour. Now Surabhi should make a formal drawing and approach professional architects and appropriate government agencies. The devotees coming to Mayapur should also see it. As fabulous and far-reaching as it was, the Mayapur City should now become a reality.”

The evidence from the above two sources is that Srila Prabhupada, after having given brief suggestions about the Capitol in 1976, no longer mentioned this idea in 1977 and in fact multiple times approved the design by Surabhi. Thus it cannot be argued that in preferring the kind of design offered by Surabhi, we are opposing Srila Prabhupada. We claim that in advocating an India-style design or non-Capitol design, we are following Srila Prabhupada’s last expressed wishes.

That Srila Prabhupada “did not want a repeat of the many Indian-style domes and temples” in Mayapur does not accurately describe the historical reality. We have learned from Surabhi Prabhu that Srila Prabhupada did consider using Indian-style architecture in Mayapur. He informed us that “Based on previous talks Srila Prabhupada liked the idea of having the Temple of Understanding with 108 domes. We studied many styles taking into consideration the local architecture, including the Gaudiamath and the older terracotta architecture from Bengal, to be used as the main features for the external looks. For the universal idea we used the pyramid shape as it represented the most ancient of buildings known to men (in general) and also would allow for a very large open space as we had little idea what would go inside and where the planetarium would be situated.” (Surabhi’s recent letters, which we have permission to quote, are included at the end of this article.)

Again, from the standpoint of actual history, Srila Prabhupada is on record as approving the Indian design made by Surabhi in 1977, and he gave instructions that construction should begin on the basis of that design. He had ample opportunities to correct Surabhi, in person, on several occasions in 1977, which indicates that Hari Sauri’s claims are not correct.

In a room conversation on April 19, 1977, Srila Prabhupada extensively discussed an article about the Mayapur City project, including the Temple of Vedic Planetarium, that appeared in the “Times of India”. The article presented the Indian design for the project that Srila Prabhupada had earlier seen and approved during the annual GBC meeting in Mayapur. The significant thing about the conversation is that Srila Prabhupada focused on the fact that the article did not mention his name, but only the name of Surabhi. Surabhi was there in the room, and explained that he had given the reporters material that did mention Prabhupada’s name, but they had left it out of the article. In any case, the main point is that Srila Prabhupada approved the design and wanted his name associated with it. He did not ask, “Where is the Capitol design?” If he were really that concerned about it, this would have been the time to mention it. He was in Bombay, where the design team was based, and he was talking with the head of the design team.

Here is just a short excerpt from the conversation to give the tone of it:

Patita-pavana: This is a great mistake. Surabhi Maharaja did not want that. He specifically said, and we also told him, “You must put this, ‘Founder-Acarya: His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.’” He said it definitely; I said it, and I wrote it down. And I wrote it down, I think, in two places for him. And then it was also written down on our release, “disciples of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.” Prabhupada: So how is that, nobody’s name is there, only Saurabha’s? And they have mentioned, “his city.”

Surabhi Prabhu has concurred with our opinion. He wrote, “I studied the articles [about changing the design of the TVP] and in my opinion the look alike of the Capitol Building was not the intention. Sometimes when a new project was to be started Srila Prabhupada would give me some photos. For Bombay I received the L. A. planned square skyscraper (copy attached) and photos of the Govindiji Temple that he gave me personally when I was in Bombay in ‘73. As far as I can recall the set of photos of the Capitol Building was not received by our office in Bombay, however I would like you to check that with Yadubara as well.” (We have written to Yadubara, but did not receive his response.)

Here Surabhi mentions a drawing made in Los Angeles of a square skyscraper, on which Shyamasundara wrote: “Use this as model for Juhu skyscraper.” As anyone who has been to ISKCON’s project in Juhu Beach knows, the five-story twin towers of the guesthouse turned out round, not square; Srila Prabhupada was very pleased with them.

It is clear that Srila Prabhupada had faith in Surabhi, and relied on him to make the final designs. Again, Srila Prabhupada could of course always exercise his authority, but he did not exercise his authority over Surabhi when he saw his Indian designs for the TVP and Mayapur City in 1977, by asking him to change the design to a Capitol design (and he had several opportunities to do this). Instead, he ordered construction to begin on the basis of the India design. One might argue that he just let his disciple go on, not wanting to expend the energy to correct him, but Srila Prabhupada’s criticism of Surabhi for allowing an article about the TVP to be published without his name being included, shows that Srila Prabhupada was not just letting Surabhi do whatever he wanted.

In fact, those who are supporting the Capitol design are disregarding Srila Prabhupada’s expressed wishes, though probably unintentionally.

Hari Sauri confirms that Srila Prabhupada welcomed Surabhi’s “multi-domed, pyramidal structure”, and thus what we insisted on, namely that he was “open to other options”. We welcome this. We pointed out that Ambarisa Prabhu himself not long ago supported other designs, and he would of course hardly have done that if he did not think Srila Prabhupada liked them. Our point was that the fact that Srila Prabhupada approved of other designs, and that even Ambarisa Prabhu supported other designs, are among those that render the decision to build the current one highly dubious. It was one of our main arguments that for thirty years, other designs were alone considered possible.

Hari Sauri argues that three designs were not Indian: Ranchor Prabhu’s early design, the design discussed in Hari Sauri’s “Transcendental Diary” of which Srila Prabhupada was “extremely enthusiastic”, and Surabhi’s design which Srila Prabhupada approved. Of course they were Indian-inspired. Although the design of the temple was “not yet fixed up at the January 1976 meeting” - we add that it seems it was not fixed up for thirty years! - and the plans at this time were “preliminary”, it is quite clear that the plans described are of an Indian-style temple; clearly it must have been similar to the design Surabhi developed not long after this. A multi-domed, pyramidal structure is, as such, a classical, Orissan one; Ranchor and Surabhi just made variations in the shape of the domes and the pyramids. As we pointed out, it is impossible to conceive of the centerpiece of the “Vedic city”, discussed both in the passage from Hari Sauri’s “Transcendental Diary” and in another conversation cited by us, as the current Capitol design, or any non-Indian structure. But we would much prefer even a multi-domed, pyramidal design that differs considerably from the traditional Orissan ones to the design based on the U. S. Capitol. There is, needless to say, still a decisive difference also between these alternatives.

In one of his comments, Hari Sauri argues that the Capitol design of the TVP “is going to be a large part of its attraction simply because it is different from other ‘Hindu’ temples in India.” We do not mind if the temple is different; but it should differ in the right way, by being a more expansive and creative development and renewal of some part of the Indian architectural tradition, which alone is relevant to the temple’s purpose, location, and symbolic status.

Hari Sauri asserts that the thrust of the first of our Nine Reasons is “to minimize as much as possible Srila Prabhupada’s own statements made in 1976 in order to deny the fact that he wanted a dome, or indeed a whole building, like the U. S. Capitol”. This first part of this sentence is an obviously misleading description of the first of our Nine Reasons: we INSIST that the only thing that is clear from Srila Prabhupada’s statements is that he wanted a big dome. The second part is what reduces Hari Sauri’s whole argument to petitio principii, or begging the question.

According to Hari Sauri, we “extrapolate or qualify” Srila Prabhupada, we “attempt by sleight-of-word, to reduce the unequivocally clear preference of His Divine Grace”. But nowhere does Hari Sauri show that or how we can know that Srila Prabhupada meant by “like that” etc. anything more than what we say it is clear he meant. Nothing but the latter is “unequivocally clear”.

The charge that we have avoided the relevant quotes from Srila Prabhupada in our Nine Reasons presentation is untrue. We have already pointed out in a comment that all of the quotes are given in extenso in the supplement part of that post, and Hari Sauri must of course have read it before responding. He even proceeds to repeat this accusation, saying that “it is interesting that again the authors have excluded my exact wording”, referring to the quote from his “Transcendental Diary”. Thousands of readers will have seen us give the exact wording and the full quote.

“Any discerning reader”, Hari Sauri claims, can see that Ambarisa is “attempting to build something we know without a doubt Srila Prabhupada likes”. But it is not just that what Hari Sauri calls the “stated preference for the exterior design” cannot with certainty be said to mean anything more than what we have explained. It is also of course obvious that we know nothing whatsoever about what Srila Prabhupada would have thought of the current design.

Hari Sauri asks why the fact that Srila Prabhupada’s statements were made in the course of long conversations about other things minimizes their importance. He thinks the case is “rather the opposite”. We do not understand this. It is obvious to us that if the importance of the statements were more than minimal to Srila Prabhupada, he would, considering the importance of the project, have made them in conversations, probably long ones, exclusively devoted to their content; he would have repeated them more than once, he would have emphasized them much more strongly, he would have written letters, he would have seen to that they were followed as instructions when he could clearly see they were not, instead of approving, as he did, another, Indian design. The argument that the fact that he made the statements in the course of a long conversation about other things with Harrison “shows that despite many other possible subject matters, he was meditating on the Capitol building and was eager enough to have it for his Mayapur project that he, again without prompting, voiced his desire” is not persuasive. Many other subject matters were apparently discussed in the long conversation - they were actual, not just possible - and Srila Prabhupada was not meditating on the Capitol and was not eager to a greater extent than that which made him make just a brief mention of “like that” and “a big dome” in the course of it.

We repeat again that in the statements Prabhupada made directly to his design team, he did not mention the Capitol, but in fact approved an Indian design and said it should be constructed. These statements directly to the design team are more important than remarks he may have made to others, given the actual history. Yes, at one point Srila Prabhupada said some things about the U. S. Capitol, but did not say them directly to his design team. He only instructed that photos of the Capitol be sent to the team, something he regularly did, without this being intended by him (or taken by Surabhi) as orders. The proof is this is that when Srila Prabhupada saw Surabhi’s Indian design in 1977, he approved it and said construction should begin, though he seemed to have thought there might be some refinement of the plans by professional architects, as mentioned in his letter to Gurukrpa. If, in 1977, when Srila Prabhupada met with Surabhi on several occasions and approved an Indian design, he had instead directed him to change it to a Capitol design, then Hari Sauri’s interpretation would make sense. But the history shows him to be wrong. To ignore this part of history and then go back to these other few remarks about the Capitol seems to misrepresent Srila Prabhupada’s decision-making process, as he carried it out historically.

Without adding any new, strong, and convincing argument for it, Hari Sauri has in his replies only repeated the simple assumption we have by now analytically refuted in very considerable detail, namely that Srila Prabhupada requested a building like the current design.

Trying to serve Srila Prabhupada and to set forth constructive criticism in a spirit of devotional unity and cooperation, we have, as our articles should have shown, tried to learn as much as possible about Srila Prabhupada’s stated desires, and to keep as close as possible to them. We have certainly expressed our own opinions, but definitely not at the expense of what we know about Srila Prabhupada’s desires. It is clear that at the end of his own historical decision-making process, Srila Prabhupada in 1977 approved the Indian design of the TVP. That should be accepted. In the context of this process, the Capitol remarks were not intended as instructions that could not be disregarded. If they had been, Surabhi would have been corrected, as Srila Prabhupada corrected him for not ensuring that Srila Prabhupada’s name was mentioned in the article about the project.

We note that our main concerns have this far not been properly addressed at all by Hari Sauri or anyone else. But the fact that there are other, responsible leaders and widespread support for our campaign to improve the design makes us trust that the GBC and those in charge of the project will, after all, be responsive to them.

Fortunately, it seems to us that Ambarisa Prabhu is the one who is most open to considering changing the design. At least he seems willing to accept the substantial changes in the current design that we included as one of the options in our poll and discussed in our reply to Ambarisha as an acceptable second-best solution, and that were also advocated by India’s Regional Governing Body.

SUPPLEMENT: LETTERS FROM SURABHI AND PANCARATNA

Letters from Surabhi Prabhu

Hong Kong October 6, 2008

Dear Tattvavit

I studied the articles and in my opinion the look alike of the Capitol Building was not the intention. Sometimes when a new project was to be started Srila Prabhupada would give me some photos. For Bombay I received the L. A. planned square skyscraper (copy attached) and photos of the Govindiji Temple that he gave me personally when I was in Bombay in ‘73. As far as I can recall the set of photos of the Capitol Building was not received by our office in Bombay, however I would like you to check that with Yadubara as well. Bhavananda has not yet sent me any photos of the new design. I will e-mail you this week my full comments on the matter as I can remember and what records I can find still with me.

I will get back to you very soon.

Yours S. D.

October 8, 2008

Dear Tattvavit

The first time when I was asked by Srila Prabhupada to make some drawings for the Mayapur Temple must have been a couple of months before the Mayapur Festival in ‘76 where I was to present those for the first time.

Based on previous talks Srila Prabhupada liked the idea of having the Temple of Understanding with 108 domes. We studied many styles taking into consideration the local architecture, including the Gaudiamath and the older terracotta architecture from Bengal, to be used as the main features for the external looks.

For the universal idea we used the pyramid shape as it represented the most ancient of buildings known to men (in general) and also would allow for a very large open space as we had little idea what would go inside and where the planetarium would be situated.

I prepared the drawing in perspective (artist rendering) and took the train to Calcutta, but in the night my luggage got stolen and I arrived in Mayapur with nothing.

I was told on arrival that Srila Prabhupada was anxious to see the plans. I went straight to his room and told what happened. He asked me how long it would take to make the drawings again and arranged for a room to work there till it was finished.

Two or three days later I presented the new drawings and he seemed to like the concept. Along with the Temple of Understanding and the Vedic Planetarium there was a city plan partially based on the Vastu Purusa.

From those original drawings we made a model that was displayed a year later. I was asked by the GBC to contact engineering companies to give us a realistic idea about cost and construction. At that time Pancaratna got involved and we invited several big international companies out of which three did come to India. [Surabhi added in an email dated October tenth: Bill Lemessurier was one. Also Paul Andrue from Paris who recently built the Beijing Opera House came to visit me in Bombay and two German engineers visited Mayapur.]

In the meantime Srila Prabhupada’s health deteriorated and I spent most of my time to concentrate trying to finish the Bombay temple as quick as possible leaving no time to further discuss the Mayapur project with Srila Prabhupada till he passed away.

The later developments in which I was involved after Srila Prabhupada’s departure, became GBC matters and various ideas were tested and two more models were prepared by me in the next three years. If more details are needed I could elaborate.

During that time my main design projects were the two Samadhis in Vrindaban and Mayapur.

I hope this will be of some use in the process of making the right decisions.

Yours sincerely S. D.

Letters from Pancaratna Prabhu

September 11, 2008:

Dandavat pranams. Srila Prabhupada kijaya.

All I remember is:

1) During the 1977 festival we installed a scale model on a pedestal outside the Lotus building. Srila Prabhupada saw this. In Mayapur I believe I have some color photos of the model.
2) Srila Prabhupada ordered the bhumi puja to be conducted at the site in the field where the temple was planned (approximately where Pada’s design is planned for, not the Lotus park).
3) He was too ill to preside over the ceremony, but the cornerstone was brought to his room and he “laid hands” on it.
4) Yasodananda Maharaja organized the yajna and BV Puri Maharaj presided.
5) We neglected to guard the site properly and at night the Ananta Sesa murti was stolen. However, I’m told that this does not invalidate the puja, as often the deity is removed after the yajna.
6) Based on this design world-class engineers were called [in] to bid on the project. One of them, Bill Lemessurier (a prominent US engineer) visited Mayapur.
7) However the engineers felt the pyramid shape of the design was not practical, so Surabhi started on a new design. Srila Prabhupada’s comments about the Capitol were well known, but no one, to my mind felt they were strong design directives that had to be incorporated. Rather the over-riding directive was to be world-class.
8) Surabhi’s next design did include a dome, but was primarily an exercise in form follows function. The design was considered too futuristic and was rejected.

[Surabhi commented on point 8 in an email dated October tenth: “The model with the Spiral Lotus Dome was presented to the GBC much later
(maybe early eighties?) but it had no relevance to the Capitol Building. It was developed at a time when confusion dominated ISKCON and the Mayapur project. Hence I did this experiment as some members expressed the need for Modern International Architecture! The top of the dome was meant to be replaceable as it was modeled after a concept of the Tower of Babylon, which speaks for itself. Please note that this development was fully paid for by the VCT (Vrindaban Coop Trust) a trust run by Ganarnava and myself (from the sales of paintings) and no ISKCON money was used at all. The GBC was informed about that.”]

9) Surabhi felt we should try a professional architect and there were two more designs, before Pada-sevana stepped in.

I was never with Srila Prabhupada when the plans were presented to him.

Your servant, Pancharatna dasa

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Comments • [comment feed]

1 Unregistered

Hare Krishna,
PAMHO. AGTSP.AGTSSG&G. It is very hard to read such lengthy postings. Especially when the topic of discussion is posted just for replying to one single individual HG Hari-Sauri. Better this can still be sent to him in an email. This creates fuss and confusion in public domain. More discussion on this subject in public-domain will certainly opens up to empty-ideas on the sky. THIS WILL DERAIL THE EFFORTS UNDERTAKEN BY HG Ambarish Prabhu and His Dedicated TVP team. I sincerely beg all true devotees of the lord to support in early starting of the project. The more we make postings on public portal (on TVP), we are wasting lots of time answering to many (without making progress in His Divine Grace’s endeavour).
Hare Krishna
Sivakumar

Comment posted by sivabd on October 13th, 2008
2 Unregistered

Hare Krishna,
PAMHO,AGTSP,AGTSSG&G. As mentioned earlier, posting on these forums are viewed by both devotees and non-devotees of the lord. I have seen for myself that some non-devotees who was curious to learn about TVP commented saying “These guys just fight within themselves doing nothing”…. another one challengingly commented saying “It is a day-dream that ISKCON could build structure similar to capitol structure”… some non-devotees even post reply comments to these import discussion. One guy just forwarded me a link (below) mentiong how others could have nice building planned-executed without much noise like iskcon folks are doing…-> http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WO.....index.html These kind of challengings talks at public on our TVP design is not what we expected.

Bottom Line : By making public forum posting on TVP, negative thoughts are abound across other non-favourable folks. I beg your team to be aware of this.

Hari Hari
Sivakumar/-

Comment posted by sivabd on October 13th, 2008
3 Unregistered

Hare Krishna Sivakumar,

Thank you for your letter. Perhaps you could also consider that many outsiders or non-devotees consider it a sign of health when there is an internal dialogue among members of an institution about the future development of their institution. It shows we are concerned, thoughtful and yet working together. Discussion and debate can help improve ISKCON if done in the right spirit.

Tattvavit Prabhu is not trying to derail anyone. He has provided valuable historical information that will help ISKCON move forward in with greater strength and vigor.

Does this make sense?

Janakirama dasa

Comment posted by JRD on October 13th, 2008
4 Akruranatha

“It is also of course obvious that we know nothing whatsoever about what Srila Prabhupada would have thought of the current design.”

I think what Tattvavit must have meant to say is that we do not have any conclusive, objective evidence that wins a debate of this kind.

To suggest we can know nothing of Srila Prabhupada’s feelings about our endeavors to please him would mean we have no spiritual connection, no ability to know whether he is pleased or not. I know Tatvavit Prabhu did not mean to say that.

“It shows we are concerned, thoughtful and yet working together. Discussion and debate can help improve ISKCON if done in the right spirit.”

Yes, Janakiram is correct. Discussion and debate must be done in the right spirit of being concerned, thoughtful, and above all working together. Mainly, we have to determine what will be pleasing to Srila Prabhupada. We have to believe this can be determined, or there is no hope.

Working together pleases him. It involves accepting that other devotees may have their own understanding that differs from our own, and having the judgment to know when to keep trying to persuade them, and when to simply acknowledge that a difference of opinion will persist that we have to live with.

On some rare issues it may be worth “going to the mat”, never giving up, never backing down. Mostly that will not be the case.

One characteristic of various Hare Krishna “debates” seems to be a lack of proportion, a tendency to make every issue a “do or die” proposition, and then things can quickly slide into the kind of schismatic, acrid discussions we see on some websites. This seems to be a characteristic of fundamentalist religions (and U.S. presidential campaigns), but not something we expect from enlightened devotees.

“Debating” should not be our method of choice for resolving our differences. Debating is useful in its sphere, but we have better tools available (because we know how to get in touch with Krishna, who is the Supersoul of everyone and is favorably disposed to His devotees.)

Re the TVP, Ambarish Prabhu showed that some protests were not offering any solution other than to stop the construction. I do not think such protests will succeed in derailing the current construction efforts.

We can welcome Tattvavit’s efforts at historical accuracy, without reducing our own support for Ambarish and his team to complete the construction. Let’s all come together to support this project now.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on October 13th, 2008
5 Unregistered

Pranams,

If there is some take home from the posts or replies in this thread by the TVP members,then it is worth posting public’s view.

“We can welcome Tattvavit’s efforts at historical accuracy, without reducing our own support for Ambarish and his team to complete the construction. Let’s all come together to support this project now.”–Totally agree.

What stage is the project in? Can public know it?

Dasan

Comment posted by scooty.ram on October 13th, 2008
6 Akruranatha

Rajagopal (scooty.ram) Prabhu,

It appears (I vaguely recall) from what Hari Sauri and Ambarish wrote here, that the plans have been approved as feasible, and that the funds are available (mostly due to Ambarish’s transcendental largesse), and that they are ready to begin construction soon, and expect to have the building mostly completed in a matter of a few years, absent unforseen problems.

At least, that is what I *think* I heard them say. It is pretty exciting to think that in less than five years there will be this huge building there, even if it is not everybody’s dream ideal of what the TVP could be architecturally.

I join your request for someone with more definitive knowledge give us a projected timeline as to different phases of the construction.

Looking at the artist’s rendition of a prior, more ambitious but less practical design at the top of this article (which I have not seen in a long time), I am losing my prior fondness for it. It kind of looks like a giant Vedic art-deco jukebox, or pipe organ, all lit up like that.

It might be nice, if someone was actually willing to come forward and build it, but they could not even get the necessary government permits for the land, there are even questions about whether that design is structurally sound, and anyway it is apparently far too expensive for our present means.

So we could dream about that design, or Surabhi Prabhu’s earlier pyramid of 108 domes (which I have no doubt Srila Prabhupada actually appreciated), but we have to be realistic and practical. It appears at this point that those designs never would or could be built, and we have already waited over 30 years and wasted obscene amounts of Ambarish Prabhu’s donations on pie-in-the-sky plans that have amounted to nothing.

So, it is exciting to hear that something, however controversial, will actually be built, and soon, and that there is a committed, enthusiastic team of devotees who have what it takes to actually get it done.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on October 14th, 2008
7 Tattvavit Dasa

There is no need to reply to Sivakumar’s complaint that it is hard to read
“such lengthy postings” and that this is so especially since our article is
a reply to “one single individual”. It says more about Sivakumar than about
our text.

As for his suggestion that the discussion “opens up empty-ideas in the sky”,
this can be so only for those who fail to understand the arguments and
evidence we present. Although those in charge of the project were undecided
with regard to the design for thirty years, the matter as to what kind of
design should be chosen was in fact, as we have now shown, settled by Srila
Prabhupada in 1977.

The example of the Saudi construction project Sivakumar gives as a positive
alternative is not one we would want for a temple in the most sacred dhama
of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition which will affect all devotees for
centuries.

With regard to the public discussion, Janakirama has already responded to
this: sound, open, public discussion can also be a sign of health in an
organization like ISKCON. But we add that in this case, as a matter of fact,
and as we point out in the article, it was Hari Sauri who started this
particular public discussion and forced us into it.

Comment posted by Tattvavit Dasa on October 14th, 2008
8 Tattvavit Dasa

Akruranatha suggests that by saying that we don’t know what Srila Prabhupada would have thought of the current design, we mean “we do not have any conclusive, objective evidence that wins a debate of this kind”. This is not so. But to claim to be able to know what Srila Prabhupada thinks about the current Capitol design, that he would prefer it to a design of the kind we have at least now shown conclusively that he approved and on the basis of which he ordered construction to begin, is problematic. Akruranath says there is no hope if this cannot be determined. It is not clear to us how in a case like this it can be determined; precisely with regard to this, it is correct to say that we don’t have any conclusive, objective evidence. We can, however, follow as closely as possible the actual instructions he gave, and then also take other considerations into account, of the kind we have set forth.

There is nothing “schismatic” and “acrid” in what we have written. We think it is grossly unfair to suggest that this is what our design improvement effort will lead to, and to say that by presenting arguments and evidence against a decision to build a temple and a Vedic planetarium in Mayapur that looks like the U.S. Capitol we are doing something that is not expected from enlightened devotees, is not just unfair, but slightly bizarre.

We agree that debating is not always the best way to resolve our differences, but on controversial issues, arguments and evidence must of course be set forth. Suggesting that this leads to schism and is not enlightened is a method of resolving differences that we find much worse than debate. And to claim that such a resolution is reached by being in
touch with Krishna makes it worse still.

We certainly do not regard this as a “do or die” issue. But we regard it as an issue that is of considerable importance for ISKCON’s, Srila Prabhupada’s, and the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition’s reputation and for the perception of what they are.

Comment posted by Tattvavit Dasa on October 14th, 2008
9 Tattvavit Dasa

Akruranath says that Ambarisa “showed” that “some protests” offered no alternative. We responded in our reply to Ambarisa that we had no reason to suggest anything more specific than an Indian design. But we also suggested that if it is not possible to go back to the earlier plans, a new Indian temple of the requisite size could be produced at lower cost than the earlier ones, and even that substantial changes could be made in the present
design. Architects and consultants have already contacted us and offered their services. Our concern is ONLY that it be an Indian design (and of course of as high quality as possible). The article from which the picture which illustrates our reply to Hari Sauri is taken contains pictures of AT LEAST THREE rather different versions of the earlier, Orissan plans. The one with lit-up glass domes may be a controversial innovation in the Orissan tradition; the others are more orthodox. But again, the question of the choice between different Indian designs is not part of our argument.

The rest of Akruranath’s objections too we have already addressed at great length in our reply to Ambarisa.

Comment posted by Tattvavit Dasa on October 14th, 2008
10 Akruranatha

Dear Tattvavit Prabhu,

Sorry if I sound “slightly bizarre.” I am willing to accept that. Maybe I am even more than slightly bizarre. :-)

You seem to take it that I am criticizing your position and supporting your opponents. I am really just going off on my usual tangent about how we Hare Krishnas communicate, especially about things we care a lot about. (You’ve all heard it before and I guess I am getting a little tiring, getting out my violin again.)

Probably I am too “squeamish” about devotees arguing. Maybe that is something I care too much about.

Devotees will argue. That is natural. I guess we need to develop proper ways to argue and better political and quasi-legal fora for certain kinds of arguments, unfortunately, because we are human and that’s what humans do. Even transcendental people sometimes disagree. Even Krishna and Balaram sometimes disagree. That is Their lila.

We just see a lot of arguments on the internet between devotees that take on strange dimensions. Devotees seem to unnecessarily become angry with one another and start name calling and worse. Talk about “bizarre”! I can sympathize with Sivakumar’s point that there is something about the way Hare Krishnas argue on the internet that discredits us in the eyes of the public.

I am not saying that you and Hari Sauri would ever speak to each other the way that some of those characters do (you know who I mean). Maybe you are showing us a better way to do it.

However, to me (maybe because I am more of a spectator and do not really have a horse in this race) this architecture controversy does seem like it is becoming one of those things that ISKCON and Hare Krishnas are endlessly arguing about in public with no resolution in sight.

My sympathies truly are on both sides and I would be delighted if the TVP team decided to make some compromises that satisfied the critics (though I doubt they could ever satisfy everyone). But for me (and apparently for other commentators) there has been enough point-counterpoint. It is time (years too late, actually) for resolute action.

I agree that public discourse and a certain amount of debate can be healthy. Maybe devotees debate so vehemently because we unrealistically expect a world of perfect harmony with no differences of opinion. Maybe we need proper channels for dovetailing our arguing propensity. This TVP controversy just does not seem to me to be a proper channel. I could be wrong, of course.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on October 15th, 2008
11 Akruranatha

What I meant about the possibility of knowing what Prabhupada would think was this:

A lot of times I hear devotees debating (for example about initiation controversies) in terms of minutely analyzing different written documents, parsing grammar in a very legalistic way, constructing complicated logical arguments, and it all seems to me like a totally wrongheaded approach to understanding the spirit of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions.

Kesava Bharati Maharaja told a story about once asking Srila Prabhupada, “How will I know if I have pleased you?” He had expected Prabhupada to say, “When your GBC is pleased, when your TP is pleased, when your temple commander is pleased” and so on down the objective chain of command. But Prabhupada surprised him (as he often surprises all of us), by saying “When you are pleased.” In other words, as disciples we do have a real, personal connection and we can tell when we have done well because Prabhupada tells us directly. Pratyaksavagamam . . . su-sukham.

Now here we have a case where different devotees are sure that Prabhupada would want different things. We cannot easily ignore the opinions of Pusta Krishna, Hari Sauri, Sivaram Swami, Braja Sevaki, et al., nor can we ignore Tattvavit and Janakiram and Deena Bandhu and the Indian TP committee and Rancor, either.

I am still optimistic that, if we try by right means, we can arrive at a solution nearly everyone can accept, so we can all pull in mainly the same direction again.

What are those means?

If you phrase the question, “Would Prabhupada prefer this design to that design?”, you are leaving out a lot of important context. The real question must be, “What does Srila Prabhupada want us to do now?” Our inquiry should encompass Prabhupada’s consideration for the spirit in which different disciples are serving him, as well as his long range strategy for massive worldwide glorification of Gaura-vani.

Prabhupada often surprises us. He is so dynamic and creative, like Krishna. We live with this question, “What does he want me to do?”, and we never stop getting surprising answers.

I am (unrealistically?) optimistic that if devotees meditate on this question and openly express their thoughts while remaining willing to being surprised or changed, the TVP controversy will be resolved.

But it seems one likely resolution is that the “Capitol” design will be built, and most of us will somehow learn to love at least the spirit behind it.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on October 15th, 2008
12 Radha Mohan das UK

Surely if the basic “US Capitol” design remains but as many ‘Indian/Vedic elements’ are slotted in as possible, then all parties could be happy.

Comment posted by Radha Mohan das UK on October 15th, 2008
13 Unregistered

With regards to the suggestion of keeping everyone happy by including, alongside the US capitol, more prominent Indian elements, I would like to suggest that by including certain elements from that architectural gem of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, the design team would receive wide appreciation and support from the many intelligent and influential ISKCON devotees who co-incidentially happen be Irish.

I would like to thank Dandavats.com, Hari Sauri prabhu (especially for the potted history of the project), Tattvavit and Ambarish prabhu for allowing us through this discussion to feel that we are part of what is going on.

Antardwip das

Comment posted by antardwip das on October 15th, 2008
14 Akruranatha

Antardvip Prabhu, what an excellent suggestion, worthy of those great Trinity graduates, Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde! :-)

Comment posted by Akruranatha on October 16th, 2008
15 pustakrishna

First, I want to apologize to Tattvavit Prabhu if I offended him in any way. It appears that his original letter was intended to be private, at least in as much as it related to the committee that would make some decision regarding the future design/architecture of the Vedic Planetarium. It was not originally intended to become an online debate that has the appearance of canvassing devotees to agree with one’s viewpoint. That Hari Sauri das created a controversy by publishing your letter on-line is inappropriate without your permission. Hari Sauri das has a way of doing these things in his diary which also can sometimes, I know personally for myself and others, can be a source of discouragement, in the name of Srila Prabhupad.
My only concern is that you should assist Ambarish Prabhu who has taken this service up as his life’s work. He is an uncommon devotee who merits extraordinary care. I know from witnessing their relationship that Srila Prabhupad felt this way about him personally. He gave personal encouragement to Ambarish das to take up this service. That means we must give him all encouragement and offer our service to him.
Anyway, again I place my confidence in the GBC to make the decisions, which may be more agreeable to some, and less agreeable to others. This is Srila Prabhupad’s will, and we know it. It is a practical matter of management.
Akruranath das mentioned at one point something about how Srila Prabhupad would know that we loved him. As I understood, it was that His Divine Grace would see that by how well we cooperated with each other. In the age of quarrel, it is difficult to see cooperation. Amongst orthopedic surgeons, we have a little joke that it is more difficult to herd cats then to control orthopedic surgeons. And, that tends to be the case. But, with experience, and wisdom (the ability to learn from one’s experience), tolerance becomes more the rule than the exception.
I are reminded that the ultimate goal of the Vedic Planetarium is to educate the visitors of the underlying reality of material and spiritual cosmology, lower to higher to highest. It is a message of hope, of optimism, of choice translating into Krishna consciousness. It will be unique in the world, and Lord Chaitanyadeva will surely take a personal Hand in guiding the devotees who will make this grand project take shape. Again, to you, Tattvavit, my apologies if I offended you in any way. Pusta Krishna das

Comment posted by pustakrishna on October 20th, 2008

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