Q. I recently read your publication O My Friend!, which implies that Srila Prabhupada’s rasa, or eternal spiritual identity, is that of a cowherd boy in Krishna lila (sakhya rasa). To my knowledge Srila Prabhupada did not specify which rasa he was in, so isn’t it speculative and therefore mundane to say he is in sakhya rasa?
A. There is a difference between mental speculation and sastra-yukti. My conviction as to Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual affinity is not simply speculation as I have supported it with Srila Prabhupada’s own words, the realization of sadhus, and Krishna conscious philosophy. This support constitutes sastra-yukti. Indeed, my position seeks to end speculation by directing attention to Srila Prabhupada’s own words on the matter, which incidentally refute the idea that he did not specify his rasa.
What is “mundane” about collecting everything that Srila Prabhupada said about his sentiment? As it turns out he said quite a lot, so is it not meaningful to make this evidence available to the community? We should be interested in all that Srila Prabhupada said about his sentiment and in thinking about the implications of his statements in light of sastra. This is exactly how the sentiments of other Gaudiya acharyas were determined. They said things and their followers have scripturally reasoned about them to reach a conclusion. This is exactly how Gaura-ganodesa-dipika was written. Kavi-karnapura collected the available evidence and testimony and reached his conclusions. This process is not speculative and mundane but rather the bona fide process of sastra-yukti.
Furthermore, I don’t think talking about what Srila Prabhupada has said about himself or the idea that he is in sakhya rasa or any other rasa is any more inappropriate than talking about Rupa Goswami’s spiritual affinity or Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s affinity. My siksa guru Pujyapada B. R. Sridhara Maharaja talked about it, and Srila Prabhupada considered him his own siksa guru.
So let us judge by the fruits. Srila Prabhupada said on a number of occasions that he identified with sakhya rasa. He also wrote a poem to Krishna in his intimate moments expressing the desire for sakhya rasa. We find no equivalent stated aspiration on his part for any other rasa. So, to keep it simple, if some devotees feel enthused to see Srila Prabhupada in sakhya rasa and pursue that ideal in relation to him, and we find that in doing so they remain enthusiastic about their spiritual practice, do we really need to condemn them for mental speculation?
Q. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura said that one’s rasa could never be grasped by a person who is not completely purified of material contamination. Therefore it should not be divulged to the general public in any medium. Could you explain your justification for making knowledge of Srila Prabhupada’s rasa available on the Internet by publishing O My Friend?
A. Actually Bhaktivinoda Thakura published a book called Navadiwip-bhava-taranga in which he speaks openly about his rasa, spiritual form, eternal seva, and so on. It is widely available in English, even on the Internet. So you misrepresent Bhaktivinoda here and misunderstand what he writes concerning confidentiality in bhajana.
In contrast, O My Friend! contains general information that speaks only about Srila Prabhupada’s affinity for sakhya rasa. It does not discuss details of his particular svarupa (form, dress, seva, and so on) but rather encourages devotees so interested to pursue intense spiritual practice by which such details can be known in the privacy of one’s own heart. Furthermore, far more intimate truths are available in Sri Caitanya-caritamrita and other standard Gaudiya scriptures.
Q. Nonetheless, in Sri Caitanya-siksamrita, Bhaktivinoda Thakura states, “Rasa is not a part of sadhana. Therefore if somebody says, ‘Come, I will teach you rasa.’ Then it will be his wickedness or foolishness.” Doesn’t this quote give sufficient reason to avoid publishing O My Friend! or similar books?
A. O My Friend! does not “teach rasa,” it is citing and reasoning about what Srila Prabhupada said concerning his spiritual affinity. The book does not encourage anyone to do anything other than engage in hearing and chanting the name of Krishna. Yes, rasa is not part of sadhana. It is the perfection of bhava bhakti—prema. Ultimately, one cannot teach love, as it is experiential; nonetheless, we do teach the theory of bhakti rasa in books like Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu.
Q. In my view, whatever we say on behalf of Srila Prabhupada must be something we could say in front of him. I find it hard to believe he would be happy with our raising this subject matter for general discussion–confidential means confidential. Without a definitive comment from Srila Prabhupada or a mutually accepted arbiter there can be no conclusion to this discussion.
A. While telling me that I should not entertain the subject, you summarily dismiss the fact that Srila Prabhupada himself entertained the subject and then say that what Srila Prabhupada did say about himself in this regard was not definitive. It would seem safer to just go with Srila Prabhupada on this one. O My Friend! sets the record straight as to what Srila Prabhupada actually said on the matter.
Furthermore, there will be issues that arise that were not dealt with when Srila Prabhupada was here. Some of them could very well be spiritually progressive insights into the spiritual reality of our divine master. I certainly hope so, and it is reasonable that they would eventually be made public, as have such insights concerning our previous acharyas.
As for a final arbiter on this issue, I for one accept Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja’s words on the matter. Others may disagree, but let them present convincing insight and evidence to the contrary. In any case, I have no problem if devotees want to think of Srila Prabhupada as being in madhurya rasa as long as they don’t try to suppress evidence to the contrary. In regard to coming to a conclusion to this discussion, realization resulting from spiritual practice is the means of definitive knowing and O My Friend! encourages its readers to take up such practice.