“Srila Prabhupada Was Never Afraid to Change a Plan or Schedule if New Information Came to His Attention”
The readymade argument against this principle of constant map revision is that in Krishna consciousness, we are dealing with absolute knowledge, and as such it needs no revision. Whatever we heard from Srila Prabhupada is all we need to consider. The maps he has given us need no updating. Let us put this seemingly loyal idea under the lamp of critical scrutiny, by checking with Prabhupada’s example and teachings.
Srila Prabhupada was never afraid to change a plan or schedule if new information came to his attention. He was flexible and adaptable, in so many ways capable of assimilating new information. In this way he was immensely pragmatic in his practical affairs. In other words, Prabhupada never changed his goal, but he willingly changed his strategy for achieving his goal. As a preacher this ability is one of the reasons that account for his success.
Srila Prabhupada did say that we should tax our brain and develop different ways of spreading Krishna consciousness.
Letter to: Karandhara—Bombay 13 November, 1970,
“…The new procedures you are instituting on Sankirtana Party are very encouraging to me. The opportunities for expanding the Sankirtana Movement are unlimited. We should tax our brains as to what is the best way to present Krishna Consciousness to particular people at a particular time and place. …”
In this regard, “different ways”, or as Prabhupada says “what is the best way”, are unlimited; because Krishna is unlimited.
We must take full responsibility for our service to the mission of Srila Prabhupada, therefore, the principle of “desa kala patra” is essential.
- “Desa”, means situation.
- “Kala”, means time
- “Patra”, means the subject/circumstance.
We have to adept, according to time, according to situation, and according to circumstance. But we must keep our principles as it is, while making arrangement according to the circumstances.
Let us see what Srila Prabhupada wrote or spoke in regards to this principle.
In “Eight Prayers in Separation from My Spiritual Master by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada December 1958”, Seventh Octet Distributing the Pure Devotional Process:
“Lord Gauranga used many tricks just to engage the conditioned souls in devotional service, and you have also understood how to use all those tricks perfectly well.
You understood time, place, and circumstance, and utilized everything as a strategy for preaching. Although observing your activities with their very eyes. those who are blind like owls and other creatures of the night could not see your true purpose.”
Srimad-bhagavatam 1.5.16 Purport:
“The expert devotees also can discover novel ways and means to convert the nondevotees in terms of particular time and circumstance. Devotional service is dynamic activity, and the expert devotees can find out competent means to inject it into the dull brains of the materialistic population. Such transcendental activities of the devotees for the service of the Lord can bring a new order of life to the foolish society of materialistic men. Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His subsequent followers exhibited expert dexterity in this connection. By following the same method, one can bring the materialistic men of this age of quarrel into order for peaceful life and transcendental realization.”
Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 2.49-51 — New York, April 5, 1966:
“Vedic philosophy means Krishna philosophy. Vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyam (Bhagavad-gita 15.15). The all-Vedic knowledge, all Vedic wisdom means to understand Krishna philosophy. That’s all. Nothing else. The Krishna philosophy in different ways all over the world, they have been described according to the time, place and people, but you must know the whole thing is Krishna philosophy.”
Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 7.1 — Fiji-May 24, 1975:
“To surrender to God the great and to abide by His instruction, that is called religion. It may be that the Hindus may be following the same principle in a different way or the Christian may be following the same principle in different way. That is called desa-kala-patra. According to time, atmosphere, and the performer, there may be little difference. But real purpose of dharma is to surrender to God and try to love Him. That is religion.”
One might say,
“That’s just fine, but what about the philosophy, Prabhupada did not deviate an inch, he gave us everything as it is.”
That is true. But updating our maps does not imply directly or indirectly that the philosophy need be changed. It is a matter of updating our strategy, not changing our goals. Therefore, Prabhupada used to say that mahatma means “broad-minded”—open to new data and new ways of looking at old data.
Beyond that, to some extent, the concept of updating our maps does apply to the sastra. Prabhupada said we should study the philosophy from different angles of vision, and that any verse in the sastra has got immense meaning. Hence we may read Bhagavad-gita over and over and continue to draw out ever-fresh meaning from the same 700 verses, all of it based on sastra, because the Absolute Truth is unlimited. We know one famous example of multiple meanings being drawn from the atmarama verse, which Mahaprabhu explained in 61 different ways. What He did, in essence, was show us how to redraw the same map 61 different ways, all within the framework of the Absolute Truth.
Another point is that while our goal is realization of the Absolute Truth in its fullest splendor, we nevertheless have to contend in the interim with this world. We have to cope with the consequences for failure if we do not take full responsibility for our service to the mission of Srila Prabhupada. To be efficient in practical matters, it is surely necessary to revise our maps so we can make pragmatic choices.
There is yet another way of looking at the need to redraw our maps as the result of new knowledge or new awareness of the truth. As we grow in the process of self-realization we undergo a change of heart. In the neophyte stage we go along with so many misconceptions owing to our material contamination. But the time comes when we are face to face with the truth about ourselves—that we are not who we thought we were. Then we have the choice to either ignore the new information or accept it and act on it.
An example of this is that one may think he will be a lifelong brahmacari(ni), and for some time they have no problem. Then gradually they have to face the fact that brahmacarya is not their calling. They to change. If they do not adjust, then they may develop a neurosis, some form of aberrant behavior to compensate for the lie they are living. They may go on eating binges, for instance, or they may begin to work passionately at some project in the hope that the pressure they are feeling will go away. Their passionate absorption does not last, however, because they become too restless to see the project through to completion.
The same dynamic can transpire on a group or organizational level. For instance, countries start wars with their neighbors as a way of avoiding the problems at home. An enemy is created as a distraction from the pain of problem-solving.
It can be very fearful to accept the new information, because it means we have to change ourselves. We are afraid to give up our old self-conception, because it makes us uncomfortable. This tendency was pointed out by Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
“We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because it is more comfortable.”
Change may expose some weakness in us. We may fear, as in the example of the brahmacari above, losing face or losing friends. In reality the process of self-realization, requires honesty more than concern about our image. It requires giving up designations, removing anarthas (unwanted things), and we must be prepared to undergo this process of change many times, like a boat tacking and tacking as it approaches its destination.