Review: What is the Difficulty?
Published on July 6th, 2009 | by Harmonist staff4
Srutakirti Dasa, What is the Difficulty? Herts: Dharma Publications, 2006.
Review By Swami Tripurari
A friend gave me a copy of Srutakirti dasa’s book, What Is the Difficulty? The book gives the reader a glimpse into Srila Prabhupada’s humanity/divinity, as Srutakirti remembers his two-year stint as Prabhupada’s personal servant. In my opinion, it is the humanity of Srila Prabhupada as portrayed by Srutakirti that makes his book most relishable.
An inordinate emphasis on the guru’s divinity can in the least eclipse the sweetness of his humanity. At worst such an emphasis can turn into religious fanaticism, in which the scriptural conclusions of a spiritual tradition (siddhanta) are distorted and everything is lost.
It is the tension between madhurya (sweetness) and aisvarya (majesty) that holds the Bhagavatam together. Vyasa wants to tell us about the sweetness of the Absolute, but he cannot do so without telling us about its majesty. If only the sweetness of the Absolute is presented, everything will be lost, and if only its majesty is stressed, the book will hold no charm. Thus on the backdrop of majesty Vyasa masterfully paints a picture of the sweetness of the Absolute.
For the most part Srutakirti has provided a much-needed emphasis on Prabhupada’s sweetness—his humanity—to a backdrop of majesty erected by others that has unfortunately left many with little common sense. And it is strong common sense, among other things, that Srila Prabhupada exhibits throughout Srutakirti’s account.
I laud Srutakirti for the obvious sincerity, simplicity, and immense love for Srila Prabhupada that pervade the book, but occasionally his comments partially cloud the import of the anecdotes he cites. However, most readers will probably not notice this, being charmed by the sweetness and humanity of Srila Prabhupada that many of his disciples did not have a direct experience of. Sharing that experience is for the most part what this book is about, and thus it is very refreshing. Hopefully it will help to tip the balance away from the religious fanaticism in the name of adherence to Srila Prabhupada so prevalent today in favor of a much lacking common sense approach to understanding the immense contribution of His Divine Grace.
What follows is an example from the book accompanied by my reflections on it.
At one point Srila Prabhupada explains that his “adjustment” of allowing women to live in his temples (a standard not found in India and Gaudiya Matha in particular) was one of the reasons for his success. When Srutakirti asks how one can determine what can and cannot be adjusted, Prabhupada replies that for this one requires a little intelligence.
Reading this I thought that such statements would shock readers who are convinced that the requirement for making such adjustments is that one must be a saktyavesa avatara, nitya siddha, etc., etc., as is often implied. Shock them, that is, in a positive sense and help them to better understand the dynamics involved in expanding the tradition. Thus I was disappointed when I read Srutakirti’s insights that followed. His realization was that Prabhupada was only exhibiting his humility by his statement, for only he could make such an adjustment.
Realizations like this have served only to halt the progress of disseminating the precepts of Sri Caitanya. Why? Because they are often used to intimidate others from using their God-given intelligence to distribute Krishna consciousness. Sri Krishna speaks of such intelligence in the Gita when he says, dadami buddhi yogam tam.
This was the first verse of the Gita that I learned, and one that Prabhupada cited to me and one of my Godbrothers many years later when discussing the nature of preaching. He stressed that each preacher derives inspiration and insight—buddhi/intelligence— from Sri Krishna in consideration of time and circumstances, and that such intelligence is the essential dynamic of preaching. It is also well known that Srila Prabhupada expected his students to use their intelligence and thereby continue disseminating the tradition in his absence. In the absence of such intelligence, the ongoing relevance of the tradition will be lost.
Details need to be adjusted over time to establish the principal tenets of a tradition. One who understands the principal tenets understands the difference between that which is essential to a tradition and that which is a detail. When such a devotee makes adjustments, no doubt those who have not understood the difference between these two will cry foul, but as Prabhupada himself would say, “Dogs will bark, but the train goes on.”