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Drop the Snake
Umapati Swami Answers Mother Niscala

My thanks to Mother Niscala for answering my article, "More about Infallible Prabhupada." She has brought up some interesting points in her own article, "Trust Him, or Whim?" and I would like to deal with some of them here. I will answer in the third person, since both of us are quoting each other, and if I address her as "you," it could make the text hard to follow.

Mother Niscala says, "I found it interesting that your choice of title for your article, "Infallible Prabhupada," is in contradiction to the GBC who have decided that no jiva soul can be infallible, including nitya siddha devotees. That doesn’t bother me, though, as I don’t accept the GBC’s opinion on this, based on the ample sastric evidence I have read to the contrary."

I take it, then, that Mother Niscala believes a nitya siddha can be infallible. This should also apply to sadhana siddhas and krpa siddhas, as Srila Prabhupada said it is not important how one attains siddhi (perfection) as long as one attains it. The important point is whether or not one is a siddha at all.

If Mother Niscala believes that siddhas are infallible but that Srila Prabhupada is not, then I assume she does not accept Srila Prabhupada as a siddha. On what basis has she made this judgement? Can she give me a reference?

I will say on what basis I do accept Srila Prabhupada as a siddha: "Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has given some practical hints to the effect that an uttama-adhikari Vaisnava can be recognized by his ability to convert many fallen souls to Vaisnavism." (SMD 2)

And again, "One who is expert in logic, argument and the revealed scriptures and who has firm faith in Krsna is classified as a topmost devotee [uttama adhikari]. He can deliver the whole world." (CC Madhya 22.65)

Therefore, considering sastra and sadhu along with Mother Niscala’s own statement as quoted above, her denial of Srila Prabhupada’s infallibility goes against the very principles she professes. From here on, I will argue from the point of view that Srila Prabhupada is a siddha, something I have supported with reference to sadhu and sastra and which Mother Niscala denies without any visible basis.

Now some of the younger devotees may fear that by accepting Srila Prabhupada as a siddha they oblige themselves to accept all of the present ISKCON gurus as siddhas. That is not my stand. Each person has to be judged on his own merits. I, for one, am not a siddha. I am a reptile trying to crawl out of the swamp.

Therefore, I am arguing with Mother Niscala about the status of Srila Prabhupada and of no one else.

Some people say I am too heavy in my arguments with Mother Niscala, but from what I have been reading on Chakra, I can see that she is no cream puff either. I know she can take it. She can sure dish it out.

Mother Niscala writes, "In that article ["Who Says Prabhupada Knew?"] you argued that Srila Prabhupada did not know of the abuse of children in the gurukulas. But did he ever actually say, ‘I did not know about the abuse of gurukulis,’ or did you decide on the basis of other evidence that he didn’t know? I suspect the latter is true. If so, it’s inconsistent that you now insist that he must specifically claim ignorance on a particular point before we can be justified in claiming that he really didn’t know."

No inconsistency here. Srila Prabhupada indicated on many occasions that he did not know the movements of his disciples except by ordinary means, so it is not inconsistent to say that he did not know of the child abuse. On this question, Srila Prabhupada has indicated non-omniscience not on a particular incident but on a principle. I did not say it had to be a particular point, although I suppose one could have inferred that.

Mother Niscala writes, "It is also misleading to state that the spiritual master is ‘not necessarily omniscient.’ The fact is that he cannot be omniscient, period, unless he is visnu-tattva, which Srila Prabhupada made clear he was not."

Sometimes Lord Visnu may become the spiritual master, in which case the spiritual master would be omniscient. Since I was speaking about the spiritual master in general and not about Srila Prabhupada in particular, the word "necessarily" is appropriate.

Mother Niscala writes, "You quote Prabhupada, ‘You have to select another person where you will find that "Here is a mind, here is a man where I can surrender. Yes, he is greater than me in so many respects. Therefore I can surrender" ...You have to become blank slate: "Now, sir, whatever I have learned, oh, I forget. It is now blank slate. Now you write whatever you like." ’ "

"It is fascinating how you use this quote," Mother Niscala continues. "Its obvious meaning is that this is the best way to learn. If one feels that he knows better than the teacher, then he is not open to learn, which means to change."

So far, so good. Now let’s see what she says next: "But ‘blank slate’ does not mean being mindless, accepting everything uncritically, which is what you seem to believe. That should be clear from the nature of Arjuna’s questions to Krsna in Bhagavad Gita."

But how does Arjuna accept Lord Krsna’s answers? sarvam etad rtam manye, yan mam vadasi kesava. "O Krsna, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me."

It seems, then, that Arjuna does accept everything uncritically. Besides that, the quotation from Srila Prabhupada does not say anything about being mindless, nor have I suggested that. The quotation is about clearing your mind so you can accept the knowledge the spiritual master gives you.

A few sentences further down, Mother Niscala says, "Therefore Srila Prabhupada requested his all disciples to be independently thoughtful."

Independently? Where does he say that?

"He taught us all to think," she continues, "and apply the philosophy according to time, place, and circumstance."

To apply the philosophy does not mean to accept one part and reject another. To "apply the philosophy according to time, place, and circumstance" means that in all circumstances we apply the philosophy, not reject the parts that do not fit our material ideas.

And if Mother Niscala agrees that, "he taught us all to think," why does she say we should not think in the way he taught us? She still has the opinions she had before she read Srila Prabhupada’s books. She already knew how to speculate, how to accept and reject, so why does she claim to have taken Srila Prabhupada’s advice on how to think?

Mother Niscala writes, "On a deeper level, the point of this quote is to stress humility, which is often hard for the materially educated to accept. I personally went through this, the painful realization that all of my learning had been a useless waste of time, because here was an alternative explanation which made more sense."

If the previous learning had all been a useless waste of time and the alternative explanation makes more sense, then why does Mother Niscala reject so much of the alternative explanation and cling to the previous learning? Why does she say Srila Prabhupada is wrong about so many things and favor the previous teachers, who simply wasted her time? Here, then, is the inconsistency that Mother Niscala has been trying to point out. It is in her own thinking.

Mother Niscala writes, "It is specifically transcendental knowledge which is referred to in this verse [om ajnana timirandhasya]. I do not consider the size of a woman’s brain to be within the realm of transcendental knowledge."

Where does Mother Niscala get the authority to say what is transcendental and what is not? I would like her to give me something from guru, sastra, and sadhu about how to decide. Her word alone is not enough for me and should not be enough for anybody else, including her.

And does she know everything Srila Prabhupada said about the size of a woman’s brain? Try this:

"Prabhupada: And the highest brain substance in woman found, thirty-six ounce. So that proportion is always there. It may be twenty ounce, forty ounce, but brain substance in man is more than the woman. That is a fact, always.

"Harikesa: Is that in the Vedas also?

"Prabhupada: No, I am talking of the psychology. I have given the name, Dr. W.S. Urquhart. When I was student, he said. So he is a great authority in psychology. So I have given the date. But they say, ‘Now they have improved.’ Then what can be said?" (July 9, 1975, Room Conversation after press conference)

Srila Prabhupada is saying that whatever size a woman’s brain may be, men have more of something. But what has Mother Niscala or any other woman lost because Srila Prabhupada says that? Srila Prabhupada may have pointed out that they have less of something than men, but they still have as much as they did before. And Srila Prabhupada said that in Kali-yuga, men are also less intelligent. Is Mother Niscala really going through all this just to prove that nobody is more intelligent than she?

Mother Niscala writes, "If we disagree with the guru, we can refer to sastra. We have been given guru, sadhu, and sastra to resolve all controversy in regard to the subject matter of transcendence."

If sadhu and sastra refute the words of your guru, then you have accepted the wrong person as guru. And what constitutes the subject matter of transcendence? how to pray in a temple and nothing else?

Srila Prabhupada says there is much more: "From Bhagavad-gita we must learn what God is, what the living entities are, what prakrti is, what the cosmic manifestation is, how it is controlled by time, and what the activities of the living entities are." (BG Intro)

Srila Prabhupada says we must learn about these things, including the material world. And Lord Krsna teaches them. Therefore Srila Prabhupada’s words are supported by sastra, and Mother Niscala’s words are not.

Mother Niscala writes, "What to speak of material matters, like how far away the moon is. Is that really the essence? And yet, people such as yourself insist that faith in the guru must extend to such matters as well, or it cannot be complete faith. And my response to this is, that all such issues are completely irrelevant. Here your "faith" is simply in your own misconceptions, nothing more."

So my faith is only in my own misconceptions? Then why does Srila Vyasadeva write about these things? Is his faith only in his own misconceptions too?

Sri Narada Muni told Srila Vyasadeva to write something that described the glories of the Lord and nothing more: "Whatever you desire to describe that is separate in vision from the Lord simply reacts, with different forms, names and results, to agitate the mind as the wind agitates a boat which has no resting place." (SB 1.5.14)

Yet Srila Vyasadeva included knowledge of the sun, moon, and stars, as well as knowledge about the nature of women. Shall we assume that Srila Vyasadeva failed?

Srila Vyasadeva writes, "Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated, this Bhagavata Purana propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all." (SB 1.1.2)

Srila Vyasadeva says that Srimad Bhagavatam separates reality from illusion, but Mother Niscala says that Srimad Bhagavatam mixes them together, exactly the thing that Narada Muni criticized about the Vedas. But there is no hint that Narada Muni was ever displeased with Srimad Bhagavatam. In fact, in his incarnation as Sri Srivasa, he followed it strictly.

So Mother Niscala goes against Srila Prabhupada, Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Vyasadeva, and Narada Muni, and all for the same reason. Where has all her talk about guru, sastra, and sadhu gone? Bhagavad-gita also speaks of the sun, moon, and stars, so I guess Lord Krsna also speaks on irrelevant topics.

One might think, of course, that knowledge of the sun and moon was irrelevant to Arjuna’s problem. What does the moon have to do with killing one’s relatives in a war? Yet this was an integral part of the knowledge by which Lord Krsna enlightened Arjuna, and Arjuna accepted everything. If Arjuna accepted this knowledge, why shouldn’t we?

Of course, one may argue that Arjuna had not been enlightened by modern astronomers. According to Mother Niscala, they can explain these things better than Lord Krsna: "If one wants to find out the distance to the moon," she says, "he should ask an astronomer, not the guru."

Is it that Arjuna was in ignorance of modern astronomy so he accepted the Lord’s words? Arjuna traveled to other planets and even to the outside of the universe, so he obiously knew where the sun and moon were, and he did not argue with Lord Krsna.

Lord Caitanya condemns the idea that Vyasadeva can be wrong: "In his Vedanta-sutra Srila Vyasadeva has described that everything is but a transformation of the energy of the Lord. Sankaracarya, however, has misled the world by commenting that Vyasadeva was mistaken." (CC Adi 7.121)

According to Lord Caitanya, then, it is misleading to the whole world to say that Srila Vyasadeva is mistaken even about the material nature. Therefore, I ask, Who is Mother Niscala to say such topics are irrelevant?

Srila Prabhupada says, "Everything is given by Vyasadeva in writing, and we'll accept it, Narayana, incarnation of Narayana, mahamuni-krte. He is also Vyasa-muni, but He is also mahamuni-krte. So there cannot be any mistake in the words of Vyasadeva. This is the difficulty. If one does not come through the channel of disciplic succession, so they are in so many ways mistaken. Vyasadeva is above all this. He is not an ordinary writer, material description or material name and faith. He cannot be mistaken. As Bhagavan, Krsna cannot be mistaken. Similarly, Vyasadeva, incarnation of Bhagavan, he also cannot be mistaken. Neither devotee of Krsna can be mistaken. Devotee of Krsna, he does not say anything as his own opinion. He never says. What Krsna says, he says. He may be not perfect, but what Krsna has said, that is perfect." (Bhagavad-gita 2.2, London, August 3, 1973)

It has been argued, of course, that Srila Prabhupada’s statement about the size of a woman’s brain comes from somewhere other than sastra, as Srila Prabhupada himself says. Still, the principle comes from sastra, as in Bhagavad-gita, where Lord Krsna equates women with vaisyas and sudras. And Srila Prabhupada did sometimes quote material authorities when they supported the conclusions of sastra.

By the way, Srila Prabhupada also points out that the mentality of women is an advantage: "Women in general are unable to speculate like philosophers, but they are blessed by the Lord because they believe at once in the superiority and almightiness of the Lord, and thus they offer obeisances without reservation." (SB 1.8.20)

Please note that Srila Prabhupada says the inability of women to speculate is a generalization. We see that some of them can do quite a job of it.

And if such topics are so irrelevant, why does Mother Niscala quibble about them? Why does she not take Srila Prabhupada’s words on such trifling matters and go on with her Krsna consciousness? The truth is that Mother Niscala does not think they are irrelevant at all. They loom large before her and block her vision. Can’t see the forest for the trees.

Mother Niscala thinks these topics are important enough to reject guru, sastra, and sadhu for. Srila Prabhupada’s words prevent her from integrating Krsna consciousness and materialistic concepts, and this is her stumbling block.

Think I’m wrong? Then why does she have more faith in an astronomer than in Srila Prabhupada?

Mother Niscala and her followers speak about seeing for ourselves, but no matter how we see, we always see for ourselves. We are all individuals. The question is, Through which eyes do we want to see?

And what are we trying to see? I thought we were trying to see Krsna. Does Mother Niscala have the eyes to see Him? Where will we get these eyes? Whose eyes can we use? the astronomer’s?

Whose eyes will we use to tell a rope from a snake? I can already hear Mother Niscala’s answer to Srila Prabhupada: "No. It’s not a snake. It’s a rope. I can see with my own eyes, and I’m not going to put it down. Please go away and leave me alone. I’ll call you when I need you."

Unfortunately, Mother Niscala has really picked up a snake. (Or maybe it’s Dr. Frog in disguise.)

Mother Niscala quotes my article: "Do we all agree that Srila Prabhupada is a perfected jiva? I hope so. Then Srila Prabhupada must possess a full 78 percent of the godly attributes, the same as Lord Brahma, and Srila Prabhupada’s intelligence must be similar to the intelligence of Lord Brahma, which is greater than ours to the same degree that Lord Brahma’s life is longer."

Mother Niscala’s answer: "Remember your article wherein you concluded that Srila Prabhupada did not know of the gurukuli abuse? Now you are equating his knowledge with that of Lord Brahma. Do you really believe that Lord Brahma did not know about so many servants of Krsna being abused?"

The fact that the intelligence is on the same level does not mean that one great soul will necessarily know every fact the other knows. Gargamuni knew about the position of Lord Krsna, but Lord Brahma did not. Lord Brahma engages in one kind of devotional service and Srila Prabhupada engages in another; therefore, the Lord may give them different facilities.

Mother Niscala writes: "The fact that Srila Prabhupada knows ‘the way out of Lord Brahma’s trap’ is due to his place in the parampara."

Mother Niscala seems to admit that Srila Prabhupada knows the way out of the material world, and by her own admission this knowledge comes from his being in the parampara, but if this is so, Srila Prabhupada must know how to accept that knowledge. Where is the record of Srila Prabhupada’s rejecting part of it?

He does have the knowledge, and this is more than we can say for Mother Niscala. Whatever she knows that is correct, she has received from Srila Prabhupada. Therefore, she is not in a position to judge the limits of Srila Prabhupada’s knowledge.

Mother Niscala continues: "That knowledge is descending, not self-generated."

How true! "Self-generated" would apply to the knowledge claimed by Mother Niscala. That knowledge is definitely not coming from the parampara.

Mother Niscala then comments on my comparison of her with Kirtanananda. "Kirtananda rejected the very essence of Srila Prabhupada’s teaching, not just ‘parts’ of it," she writes.

Maybe now Kirtanananda rejects the very essence, but at the beginning, he only rejected the parts he considered irrelevant, the same as Mother Niscala. I have seen time and again, in my 35 years in this movement, that when someone thinks he knows better than Srila Prabhupada, all of his Krsna consciousness gradually comes undone.

Mother Niscala writes, "The spiritual master will act as the eyes until the disciple has eyes of his own with which to see clearly."

Where does it say that when the disciple sees clearly, he will reject the knowledge given by the spiritual master? If the spiritual master opens my eyes with knowledge, then I cannot reject any part of the knowledge and still hope to see. And what about seeing through the eyes of scripture? Is that a temporary state?

Mother Niscala quotes my article: "Does Srila Prabhupada know what the Spiritual World is like? If yes, then when we reject anything that Srila Prabhupada teaches, we may be rejecting a part of the Spiritual World."

Mother Niscala answers: "This is irrelevant, as we are discussing topics of the material world."

A poor evasion of my question. We are discussing the extent of Srila Prabhupada’s knowledge and the danger of rejecting it, not just the material world.

Mother Niscala continues: "We have made belief in the perfection of Srila Prabhupada’s knowledge in this area into an element of our faith in him."

Yes. In this area and in all other areas, because according to the standards given in the scriptures, Srila Prabhupada is perfect.

Mother Niscala has accused me of projecting my own fantasies onto Srila Prabhupada, but has she ever considered that the reality may be the opposite? Maybe what I see is actually there and Mother Niscala is blind to it. My vision is supported by sastra, but Mother Niscala has to contradict sastra and bring up twisted logic to prove her point. Some people have written in to praise Mother Niscala’s logic, but let us see what Srila Prabhupada says about such thinking:

"We don't use a combination of logic and authority, we use authority. Logic we use to convince someone who doesn't accept the authority. The basic principle is authority. Vedas say that cowdung is pure and we accept it. There is no logic, but when we practically use it we see that it is correct." (Letter to Satsvarupa, 21 October, 1975)

Please do not tell me that this applies only to cowdung.

And now it seems that the spiritual world is also irrelevant, but why have we come to Krsna consciousness in the first place? Do we want to go there or not? And do we agree that Srila Prabhupada knows the spiritual world and the way there? I am still waiting for an answer.

© Umapati Swami

CHAKRA 14 October 2001

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