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Prabhupada
on a Lotus (2)

from Locanananda Das

I wish to thank my godbrothers for posting responses to my letter to Chakra and I offer my obeisances to both His Holiness Jayapataka Swami and Dravida Prabhu for having given this matter their attention. Such discussions are actually a wonderful opportunity for us to focus on the ever-merciful lotus feet of our Guru Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada, and to consider the practical application of philosophical concepts propounded by His Divine Grace.

I should mention at the outset that my original letter was not meant as an editorial but was simply a friendly reminder to my dear godbrothers that a degree of caution should be exercised in the artistic representation of great spiritual personalities like Srila Prabhupada. It was His Divine Grace himself who warned against the use of the artist's fanciful imagination in portraying spiritual reality.

Dravida Prabhu has given the example of Srivasa Thakura who is depicted standing on a lotus when worshiped as a member of the Panca Tattva, but his spiritual position is completely different from that of our spiritual master. Srivasa Thakura is one of the five features of the absolute truth, which are all on the same spiritual platform. As mentioned in the Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, there are no differences between these five tattvas although they do manifest different spiritual varieties as a challenge to impersonalists to taste different transcendental relationships. Even though Srivasa Thakura represents jiva-sakti, the marginal potency, he is inseparable from the other features of the absolute truth which cannot be understood independently. His standing on a lotus flower to receive worship in the company of Lord Caitanya is not to be imitated by any living entity in the category of jiva-tattva.

Once, in 1971, at the Bury Place temple in London, Srila Prabhupada noticed that a painting of the Panca Tattva on the temple room wall was hung too low. From his elevated vyasasana he was obliged to look down to see this painting. He indicated to us that it should be raised higher on the wall because his position as a humble servant of Caitanya Mahaprabhu was being compromised. He never considered himself equal to the members of the Panca Tattva, and he did not want to commit a serious breach of etiquette by placing himself on their level.
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There is a distinct difference between how we worship the lotus feet of a pure devotee and how we worship the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. According to pancaratrika regulations, for example, tulasi leaves are offered on the lotus feet of the Lord but not to the lotus feet of the spiritual master. In the Srimad Bhagavatam, it is further stated: "The waters of the Ganges are always carrying the flavor of tulasi offered at the lotus feet of Sri Krishna, and as such the waters of the Ganges are ever flowing, spreading the glories of the Lord."

Acts of glorification that appropriately honor the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord cannot be automatically transferred to the Lord's pure devotee. That would include offering tulasi leaves or a lotus flower to stand on.

We say that the Lord has lotus feet because of the symbol of the lotus engraved on the soles of His feet. The fragrance of the lotus is another characteristic of the Lord's lotus feet, as is the softness of the lotus. Another reason is because His feet never leave His spiritual abode, Goloka Vrndavana, which is in the shape of a lotus whorl. That is why the Lord is worshiped standing on a lotus. It is one of His transcendental pastimes. The Lord's pure devotee servants, however, also have lotus feet which are worth taking shelter of because they themselves are situated in the shade of the Lord's lotus feet. How the lotus feet of the devotees are served is exemplified by Kaviraja Goswami in the concluding verses of the Sri Caitanya Caritamrita:

"I now worship the lotus feet of all my readers, for by the mercy of their lotus feet there is all good fortune. If one hears the pastimes of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as described in Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, I wash his lotus feet and drink the water."

Does this mean that all of the readers of the Caitanya Caritamrita can be depicted standing on a lotus flower? Would it be permitted for granddisciples of Srila Prabhupada to similarly depict their own gurus because they also have lotus feet?

I am perhaps more sensitive to this point than others because of the instructions I received personally from Srila Prabhupada. When we were preparing to install the first deity of Srila Prabhupada on the vyasasana in Amsterdam on his Vyasa Puja day in 1977, His Divine Grace told us that the spiritual master's form is not to be worshiped like Krishna on the altar. Earlier, he had explained to me that we must very carefully avoid equating the spiritual master with Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He said that it was the practice of Mayavadis to imitate the pastimes of the Lord. Unable to differentiate between himself and the Supreme Lord, the monist considers himself worshipable, as good as God. This is what Srila Prabhupada called the "last snare of nescience".

Actually, prabhus, the onus is not on me to cite a scriptural prohibition that outlaws the use of the transcendental lotus flower in your picture. If you want to consider your art as devotional service, it is up to you to confirm that it is bona fide. Please keep in mind, however, that the absence of a prohibition does not mean that an activity is authorized. In the mind of the disciple, it is the order and approval of the spiritual master that authorizes any activity. To say that you can do whatever is not explicitly forbidden in the scriptures is a non-devotional argument used to justify whimsical behavior. I am surprised that a devotee of the stature of Jayapataka Swami would resort to such an irreverent and combative approach in response to my suggestion.

As a final note of Vaisnava etiquette to the Maharaja, I feel that I should mention that although a devotee signs his name with a "das", he should be addressed as "prabhu". I do not take any offense personally, but in your post you neglected this important rule. It subtly indicates a general lack of respect for your "non-guru" godbrothers, something I have tried to bring to your attention through private correspondence, as well. It is absolutely essential that ISKCON leaders improve in the area of social skills and empathy and not react defensively when they feel challenged by the call to reform. To be neglectful of the rules of Vaisnava etiquette in dealings amongst godbrothers sends a message to the entire devotee community that "non-guru" godbrothers are not worthy of respect when actually they are supposed to be respected on the same level as the guru. I hope that you will do the needful to correct this because it is alienating many of those I know you would like to encourage in Krishna consciousness.

Please accept my apologies for any offenses I may have committed, either knowingly or unknowingly. I beg to remain faithfully

Your servant,

Locanananda Das

© CHAKRA 20-Nov-98

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