April 2 2009

Here’s an interesting two-part question about Srila Prabhupada’s former family (a sannyasi’s previous family relationships are always referred to as ‘former’)

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Radharani De; Srila Prabhupada holding eldest son Prayag Raj; Gaura Mohan De; other family members

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Srila Prabhupada, his brother, and three of his children-Prayag Raj, Mathura Mohan and Sulaxmana.

From Chanakya Pandit das:

a) “What kind of useful lessons can young members of ISKCON can take from Srila Prabhupada’s family life?”
Answer:

This is a big topic. There are many angles of view on this. It is best always to have the positive view because all of Srila Prabhupada’s family were Vaisnavas of one kind or another. It is no small thing to be born in the same family as such an exalted devotee as Srila Prabhupada.

The main thing is that Srila Prabhupada demonstrated how to become Krsna conscious within family life. He did his duty of having a family and maintaining them while at the same time developing his eternal relationship with his spiritual master. The two are not incompatible but rather complimentary.

b)    “Have anyone from Srila Prabhupada’s physical children become real Vaisnava? How his children were brought up?”

Answer:

Srila Prabhupada told me that all of his family were Vaisnavas, for many generations. Their traditional family Deity is still being worshiped after several hundred years.

On December 22 1976 Srila Prabhupada went by car from Poona to Mahabaleshwar. His hosts were the Malhotra brothers, Sat Pal and Harish Kumar:

[From TD 6 -unpublished]

“In the course of the journey Sat Pal mentioned how his family had come to Maharashtra from Punjab. He inquired a little about Srila Prabhupada’s own spiritual antecedents and Prabhupada obliged him with a brief overview of his family. “No, we are trained up, because we belong to Krsna family. So this Radha-Krsna worship is our family tradition. Our forefathers, my father, my maternal uncles, we are Vaisnava family. Belonging to the Caitanya-sampradaya …We were trained up from the very beginning of our life by our father, mother.”
“Grandfather also?”
“Yes, our whole family. We have our family Deity, Damodara. In my childhood I was worshiping Radha-Krsna Deities. And then, fortunately, I got my Guru Maharaja, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. So this was a good fortune, from the very beginning we were trained up. So in the beginning of our life, I was worshiping Radha-Krsna and playing with Ratha-yatra. The same thing is being done now. In a larger scale. Nitya yukta upasate [Bg. 9.14]. There is no change.”
[end quote]
As far as Srila Prabhupada’s own children go, naturally because Srila Prabhupada was a serious devotee, as was his sister Bhavatarini, his children were fully familiar with Vaisnava philosophy and practice. However, Srila Prabhupada said that they were all kanistha adhikaris, meaning they were not motivated to preach nor really strictly practice. But they appreciated and counted themselves as followers of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, at least as a religion.

Some of his children did not do too well in their adult life. His oldest son Prayag Raj became mentally disturbed and died on the streets of Calcutta around the age of 30 yrs.

Next was his daughter Sulaxmana. She lived an ordinary life, got married had some children and remained in Calcutta. She is now dead.

Next was Mathura Mohan De. He was described by Srila Prabhupada as being very intelligent, and a “beautiful child’ who was liked by all the members of the Gaudiya Matha, and he also met Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur in Radha Kunda. He was small then, just a few years old and he would lie down flat and touch SBSST’s feet.

Later on though he became spoiled by bad association and became a radical in his late teens. He also resented very deeply that Srila Prabhupada took sannyasa, because as the eldest son he had to take responsibility for the rest of the family. He took an inimical stance towards Srila Prabhupada after the formation of ISKCON yet despite his bitterness Srila Prabhupada still tried to engage him in some service to Krsna.

As far as I know he never married, and immediately after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance he sued ISKCON to try and take control of the whole of ISKCON as his family ‘inheritance.’ That case dragged on for many years and was eventually settled in 1993 in ISKCON’s favor. MM De died a few years back.

Next was Bhaktilata De, the second daughter. I don’t know much about her. She never married and apparently felt some resentment towards her father for taking sannyasa before getting her married. She is still alive, and lives with the youngest of the five children, Vrindavan Candra De and his family.

Vrindavan Candra was in his early teens when Srila Prabhupada took sannyasa. He is a simple man and has always been very respectful and appreciative of his father and the ISKCON society. He and his wife and son live in a flat that Srila Prabhupada provided for the family in Calcutta.

VC had a small book trading company called Vrinda Books. Srila Prabhupada tried to engage him in some devotional service by giving him the rights to distribute his books in Bengal but he was never very good at business and could not make it successful.

VC’s daughter was married to one of our devotees, Sujitendriya dasa, here in Mayapur but she drowned in a tragic boat accident three years ago, along with one of her daughters. Still Vrindavan Candra is favorable and I speak with him from time to time.

As far as Srila Prabhupada’s former wife Radharani De goes, she died around 1984. At the end she also took up chanting japa, at least to some degree. Srila Prabhupada had said that she was a devotee but she was not interested in helping him with his preaching. She would go in another room whenever Srila Prabhupada had guests or devotees visiting his house.

When MM De sued ISKCON he managed to persuade his siblings, with the exception of Vrindavan Candra, to join with him in the case. Radharani De signed an affidavit denouncing her son’s attack on ISKCON.

Apart from these five children I was informed some years ago that Srila Prabhupada had several other children prior to these five, but they all died either before or after birth. I asked Vrindavan Candra about this and he confirmed it. So it seems superficially that Srila Prabhupada did not have very good ‘karma’ (in his case Krsna’s direct arrangement) as far as children are concerned.

Now the question may be raised as to how none of the five children became serious about Krsna consciousness, and in helping their father in his preaching mission. Certainly they must be exalted souls. Their father was a maha-bhagavat so they are guaranteed to go back to home, back to Godhead. Yet none of them lived up to his expectations nor showed any signs of seriously pursuing their spiritual lives.

I have my own theory about this, which if no one minds my speculation, I can share with you here. It is my surmise that Krsna deliberately covered them over so that they would not get the impetus to join their father in the development of ISKCON. Had they done so, we would have had tremendous problems after Srila Prabhupada’s departure with a seminal claim to succession. Rather than having our leadership develop on the basis of actual surrender and committment, we would have had to deal with succession by birth right. Because none of them were serious, that was one problem we avoided.

I hope this answers your questions adequately,

Your humble servant,
Hari-sauri dasa

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