Art of asking the questions – Srila Prabhupada and Lalit Prasada

There is one quite instructive but not-so-know story from Srila Prabhupada’s life re-told separately by Acyutananda, Gurudas, and Jayapataka Swami. In 1976, Srila Prabhupada and a few disciples had meetings with Lalit Prasada, younger brother of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. At that time, Lalit Prasada was 96 years and was the only living son of Bhaktivinod Thakura. The idea behind the meetings was to come to a mutual agreement on how to renovate and improve Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s birthplace in Ula Birnagar, which was seriously ruined and abandoned at that time. The challenge was that Lalit Prasad’s ashram, located at the same address, could hardly maintain the place, what to speak about developing the facilities. So, in addition to taking personal care of Lalit Prasad, Srila Prabhupada offered to build a library, an exhibition, an ashram, and restore the temple to make it an international pilgrimage center. All looked promising since there was a mutual desire to establish a dynamic preaching ground that could be realized soon.

But, when Srila Prabhupada came another time to formalize the idea, Lalit Prasada changed his mind and, to the surprise of all present, dropped the idea of donating the temple and the land.

After hearing the final “NO”, Srila Prabhupada became very disturbed that all what was previously agreed will be canceled for no valid reason. Srila Prabhupada, in a strong voice, asked: “Isn’t it sinful that you can not develop the birthplace of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and you would not let anyone else to do it either?” Srila Prabhupada was pointing out that elevating the condition of Bhaktivinoda’s birthplace was their duty and something as must-to-be-done. Srila Prabhupada intensely asked the same question four or five times, every time repeating louder the same question: “Isn’t it sinful that you can not develop the birthplace of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and you would NOT let anyone else to do it either?” According to Jayapataka Swami, it was not on a level of shouting at Lalit Prasada, but just one volume below that. No question, it was a shocking experience for Srila Prabhupada’s disciples present there since here Srila Prabhupada was dealing with his spiritual uncle, a person senior to him materially and spiritually. Nobody said anything. The disciples were overwhelmed with the experience since they also felt profound affection for Lalit Prasada, who resembled Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s bodily appearance very much. Then, as they walked out, Srila Prabhupada turned to the disciples, knowing what they are thinking about, and said something remarkable that resolved their concerns. He said: “Because I asked a question, there was no offence.” 

What do we get from this extraordinary interaction between Srila Prabhupada and Lalit Prasada? First of all, let us recognize that this was a rare interaction between Srila Prabhupada and someone senior to him. Also, that was an event where Srila Prabhupada, as junior, expressed disagreement with his authority. Disagreement with the seniors is something we might experience, and here we get a hint on how to go about it without making an offense. It can be done via taking shelter of the questions. We do not need to shout, but asking questions is a way to go, even if we are obviously right on a particular issue!

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