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“Arsenic was used as an insecticide for a least a century prior to 1945 when the first antibiotics were developed...”

Prabhupada was sick for a prolonged period of time
By Mary Nowak

To whom it may concern:

Please accept my humble obeisances, all glories to Srila Prabhupada and the other vaisnava acharyas.

I have read several articles about the “poison issue.” I was in the movement years ago when Prabhupada began falling ill. He was sick for a prolonged period of time and deliberately went to Vrindavana to die. I know there have been things written suggesting that Srila Prabhupada was poisoned with arsenic. When Prabhupada was ill all of his disciples were concerned about his health. Everyone was also aware of his imminent departure. I really don’t believe that any of his disciples could have, or wanted to kill him. It appears that no one has examined other, harmless or blameless explanations for the presence of this element in his system. There are other explanations.

Arsenic was used as an insecticide for at least a century prior to 1945 when modern insecticides were developed. It was also used as a medical treatment for syphilis from the mid 19th century through 1945 when the first antibiotics were developed. Arsenic tends to build up in the body as it is ingested. As a child during the depression era, my mother suffered from arsenic poisoning due to chewing on orange rinds. She had to drink water mixed with lime powder for more than a year in order to excrete the poison. It is well known that the groundwater in Bengal and some of the environs is contaminated with arsenic. It may well be that arsenic was also used widely as an insecticide in India and may still be in use in some regions. Prabhupada could have been ingesting this poison in small amounts for many years. Its presence in his system does not confirm that his death was caused by arsenic. As indicated in the article by Deva Gaura Hari Das, Prabhupada’s primary symptoms were related to other ailments associated with aging. He was quite elderly after all.

As mentioned, arsenic was used as a medicine. Again, In the west it was used to treat syphilis prior to 1945. Could some of the Ayur Vedic doctors still have been using this as a medicine? Might they be using it to treat other disorders? If the medicine brought to Prabhupada had a small amount of this innocuous white powder mixed into it, would any one have known? And, the intention to use it--if it was in the medicine that he took--may have been an honorable one.

Conspiracy theories frequently emerge after the death of someone who is famous or well loved. It took many years for this particular theory to emerge. Why now and not at the time of Prabhupada’s passing away? Is it because people are intrigued by conspiracy theories? And also because of our popular culture in the west some people are more attached to fault finding, particularly in those individuals who exhibit few faults. Shouldn’t we be spending more of our time looking to improve ISKCON and preparing for whatever Krishna may bring in the future? I know that many devotees in ISKCON are working hard to correct the sins of the past. And, yes, sometimes devotees have put on blinders to very real problems. Perhaps the trials of recent months have been to teach us a lesson, such as to face the future with greater prudence, compassion, empathy and wisdom. But we should not be looking for problems where there aren’t any.

© CHAKRA 22-Sep-1999

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