Srila Prabhupada – the Devotee Bhagavata


Back To Prabhupada, Issue 60, Vol 4, 2018

Srila Prabhupada writes:

"There are two types of Bhagavatas, namely the book Bhagavata and the devotee Bhagavata."
(SB, 1.2.18, purport)

It has been argued that this statement proves we need a "living" guru to act as the "devotee Bhagavata", since Srila Prabhupada has only provided us the "book Bhagavata" via his Srimad-Bhagavatam. All emphases below added.

Srila Prabhupada provides both

However, Srila Prabhupada is also the "devotee Bhagavata". Srila Prabhupada states:

"It is imperative that one learn the Srimad-Bhagavatam from the person Bhagavatam. [...] The messages of the book Bhagavata, therefore, have to be received from the devotee Bhagavata, and the combination of these two Bhagavatas will help the neophyte devotee to make progress".
(SB, Introduction & 1.2.18)

We are learning the Srimad-Bhagavatam and receiving its messages from Srila Prabhupada's translation of and commentary on the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Thus, his translation of the text of the Bhagavatam constitutes the "book Bhagavata", while his purports are coming from the "devotee Bhagavata" from whom we are learning and receiving the messages of the "book Bhagavata". Indeed, we only learn of the two Bhagavatas due to Srila Prabhupada's statements which are explaining and giving us the messages of the Bhagavatam! To therefore use these same statements to exclude Srila Prabhupada as being the "devotee Bhagavata" would suffer from self-referential incoherence.

No need for another

A prominent ISKCON member agrees:

"by deeply and carefully studying and discussing Prabhupada's books we effectively get the association of both Bhagavatas, the book and the person."
(Krishna Dharma Dasa, "Improving Classes")

However, this is the same Krishna Dharma Dasa who has produced his own Srimad-Bhagavatam, claiming that Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavatam was found to be "challenging" whereas his version will be "accessible and understandable" (see BTP 55). Yet, he has agreed that Srila Prabhupada is the "devotee Bhagavata" from whom the "messages of the book Bhagavata, therefore, have to be received". And, thus he has to accept that he has not been authorised as the person from whom these "messages of the book Bhagavata" are to be received. As well as not being authorised, Krishna Dharma also admits in the introduction to his Srimad-Bhagavatam that he is not qualified to present such messages:

"It is advised that one hear Srimad Bhagavatam from self-realised devotees of Krishna. Since we are not such persons, one might ask why we undertook this work."

Krishna Dharma is correct that the Srimad-Bhagavatam should be heard only from "self-realised" devotees. The pastimes of the Lord must be given only by one who is pure:

"This is the sum and substance of transcendental writing. One must be an authorized Vaisnava, humble and pure. [...] By writing about the pastimes of the Lord, one associates with the Lord directly."
(Cc., Adi-lila, 9.5)

Preaching, not competing

However, Krishna Dharma continues in his introduction to explain why a non self-realised person such as himself is supposedly authorised to gives us the "messages of the book Bhagavata":

"The primary reason is the order of Srila Prabhupada, who asked that his followers present his works to others in their own words."

But Srila Prabhupada has not stated that his "works", i.e. his books, should be re-presented by others in an alternative written edition. Srila Prabhupada actually stated:

"And you must all study very scrutinizingly all of the books so that when the need arises you can repeat in your own words their purport."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, 6/1/72)

a) The words "when the need arises" show this is an instruction that merely refers to when the opportunity arises for every devotee ("you must all") to personally preach. Thus, Srila Prabhupada's Letter to Dinesh, 22/1/70, also makes the same point about studying the books and presenting their purport in one's own words – when referring to college preaching. And Srila Prabhupada's Letter to Kirtanananda, 2/5/72, mentions reproducing what is in the books in one's own language, when referring to a preaching program where Kirtanananda was to "speak like a learned scholar". Hence, there is no "order" from Srila Prabhupada that one should write new alternative versions of his books.

b) By falsely claiming that "repeat in your own words their purport" for "all of the books" means providing alternative written editions, one is actually proposing the following nonsensical scenario. Every single ISKCON devotee ("you must all") would have to write their own version for all of Srila Prabhupada's books ("all of the books"). Thus, each of Srila Prabhupada's books would be supplanted by many thousands of competing versions, leading to potentially millions of books being written in total. Thus, instead of distributing Srila Prabhupada's books, every single ISKCON devotee would have to become a full-time author to write their own versions!

Discussing, not authoring

Trying to justify why he wrote his Bhagavatam, Krishna Dharma continues in his introduction:

"Indeed, he sometimes had his disciples give lectures on the Bhagavatam in his own presence, knowing that this is one of the best ways to assimilate its instructions."

This reference to giving "lectures on the Bhagavatam" actually refers to the following:

"[...] the process is that we are going through some chapters of Srimad-Bhagavatam by taking one sloka each day, [...] And then we discuss the subject matter very minutely and inspect it from all angles of approach and savor the new understandings."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, 16/6/72)

Thus, the morning Bhagavatam class does allow devotees to assimilate the Bhagavatam's instructions. But this is done by discussing Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavatam among themselves – not writing their own Bhagavatam!


By reading Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavatam, we are getting the benefit of both the book and devotee Bhagavata. And thus Srila Prabhupada has not authorised us to write our own Bhagavatams!


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