Editorial Comment about the GBC paper titled “The Last Conversation”
By Praghosa Dasa
Dear devotees and friends,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
What follows is an editorial comment as the editor of Dandavats. We have received some feedback about the GBC paper titled “The Last Conversation”. While most of those writing in have appreciated that paper, there have been a few who have expressed some concern. Those concerns fall into two categories: one questions the historical accuracy of the paper while the other suggests the possibility of Vaisnava aparadha.
The issue about historical accuracy focuses on the question of whether there were more visits by Narayan Maharaja with Srila Prabhupada after their October 8th meeting and before November 14th, the day of Srila Prabhupada’s physical departure from this world.
The GBC paper clearly states that there was a second visit by Narayan Maharaja, the day before Srila Prabhupada’s departure on November 14th. During that second visit, Narayan Maharaja sang some bhajans but there were no verbal exchanges. Some say that Narayan Maharaja whispered a mantra into Srila Prabhupada’s ear but both sides agree that Srila Prabhupada did not speak with Narayan Maharaja during this second visit.
Bhakti Charu Maharaja reports that during this time period in Vrindaban they endeavored to record all of Srila Prabhupada’s words. The method was that a tape recorder was kept by Srila Prabhupada’s bedside and the record switch was employed every time Srila Prabhupada spoke. Certainly any and all meetings with guests were recorded.
So far, research of those recordings does not find any evidence of any additional visits or any more conversations between Narayan Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada. In the unlikely event that a visit and subsequent conversation did take place but was somehow or other not recorded, the GBC has reviewed diaries and recollections of senior devotees present in Vrindaban at the time. No remembrance or entry in a diary of any such additional visit has turned up amongst those who were in constant physical association of Srila Prabhupada during those final days. The GBC is continuing that research and should anything solid to the contrary be discovered they will naturally make that available to the devotee community.
That said, whether or not there were any additional exchanges between Narayan Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada is a secondary issue. The key issue and focus of the GBC paper is what was spoken during the October 8th conversation. This date is crucial because Narayan Maharaja himself has repeatedly referenced the October 8th conversation as the shaping his view of instructions given by Srila Prabhupada. The GBC has not highlighted the 8th of October conversation, rather that has been done by Narayan Maharaja himself. The GBC paper dutifully addresses Narayan Maharaja’s own statements about that particular meeting.
From an objective viewpoint, the issue of an additional conversation after October the 8th simply distracts from the matter at hand: What Narayan Maharaja himself presents as the conversation he had with Srila Prabhupada on October 8th.
As for the suggestion that the GBC is “offensive” for responding to Narayan Maharaja’s narration of this event, please consider that the GBC paper is simply setting the historical record straight. The catalyst for the GBC paper was the continual misrepresentation of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and intent for ISKCON. So finally, at the request of many, many devotees, the GBC accepted its duty and respectfully responded to these misrepresentations.
What is being presented now is an unjust dynamic using the underpinning of the charge of aparadha. On the one hand, Narayan Maharaja is free to make any presentation, no matter how questionable, because he is “senior” (although it should be noted that if the analogy of the extended family were to be used then Narayan Maharaja and the GBC would be god cousins). On the other hand when the GBC simply attempts to set the historical record straight, that act is labeled as “offensive”.
Thus this dynamic asks us to accept that while Narayan Maharaja should be given the natural respect due to a Vaisnava, ISKCON devotees can be disregarded and maligned. A clear example of this is Narayan Maharaja stating on tape and video that “There is no bhakti in ISKCON” and this allegation is allowed to stand. One can only imagine the outcry if such a statement was reversed. Yet when ISKCON simply corrects misrepresentations of the instructions and intent of Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acharya of ISKCON, that response is categorized as “offensive”.
One could be forgiven for concluding that the fear of Vaisnava aparadha is being employed as a mechanism to blur the facts. The simple truth is that ISKCON devotees have done their best to tolerate these misrepresentations for many years. However when Narayan Maharaja repeatedly puts his own views onto Srila Prabhupada’s words and when Narayan Maharaja misrepresents the historical record of Srila Prabhupada’s key instructions and intent, then there comes a point where ISKCON’s leaders are duty-bound to stand up and set the record straight. The GBC was forced to make a choice and while there was the risk of some offense if they responded, there was the certainty of an even greater offense if they had not done so.
In essence, ISKCON’s leadership has only done its duty to Srila Prabhupada and his followers by responding to Narayan Maharaja’s creative interpretation of the October 8th conversation. They have tried to do so in a non-confrontational way, while still communicating the essential message that needed to be conveyed.
Therefore, our humble suggestion here at Dandavats.com is that the GBC paper be seen in the above light. We all now know the interpretation Narayan Maharaja has put on the October 8th conversation with Srila Prabhupada and we also now have what the historical record reveals.
Your servants at Dandavats.com