It's been very interesting for me to read so many online accounts about, 'when Srila Prabhupada sent Tamal to China', for disrupting the US temples. Not surprisingly, not one of the accounts I read has given the exact details regarding how it actually went down. It's quite a fascinating story, and I've told it many times privately. This is the first time in print in public.
I was also sad to see that there's so much misinformation and distortion online about many details of ISKCON history during Srila Prabhupada 's lila, so I felt compelled to share this particular story from my unique perspective as a primary participant in these events, as well as some events that ensued, that were directly related in ways that most are not aware.
I'm writing more or less in the same mood I had back then, and in a voice that those who know me, will recognize instantly. First of all, I didn't see or treat our GBC or sannyassi godbrothers as the spiritually exalted devotees many of them either pretended to be, or shamelessly allowed others to treat them. I knew full well that we were all on the same platform – struggling neophyte devotees from mleccha backgrounds.
Thus, I never treated them as anything but peers and brothers of the same family. The true hierarchy was simple – Srila Prabhupada, and then us. I was respectful, but I didn't hesitate to speak the truth or put them in their place, as those who served with me know well. There's a fine line between Vaishnava aparadha and Vaishnava spanking between peers. Let the spanking begin!
As a short preamble, up to July 1975, even though our path's crossed a few times, I hadn't actually associated personally with Tamala Krsna, but he of course knew who I was. The famous 1975 Thanksgiving Day Marathon Book Distribution Contest between Los Angeles ISKCON and Chicago ISKCON was legendary throughout ISKCON. Ramesvara had sent my letter describing the event to Srila Prabhupada, and the devotees around the world, via the weekly BBT Newsletter. Srila Prabhupada 's subsequent personal reply to me, glorifying the book distributor's efforts, was also shared world wide. That's another story that I’ve shared several times!
At the time of Tamala's China episode, I was Temple President of Chicago ISKCON, which was well known throughout the ISKCON world for O'Hare Airport book distribution, and it soon became famous for Bengali style kirtans and Gopati's incredible prasadam. It was a smooth running temple, with very happy devotees! Ask anyone who was there.
I took over the Chicago Temple in the summer of 1975, right after the huge fire yajna there, where Srila Prabhupada initiated about 80 brahmacaris and installed 6 or 8 sets of Gaur Nitai Deities for the Radha Damodara Travelling Sankirtan Party, which was managed by Tamala Krsna and Visnu Jana. It was an amazing, unprecedented event.
This unleashed the saffron hoard of the Radha Damodara Travelling Sankirtan Party – RD TSKP – and their Greyhound bus mobile temples. Srila Prabhupada also initiated the first ISKCON babaji – Audalaumi, who shortly after became a bye-bye-gee-I-made-a-mistake, and got married! Sorry, I couldn't resist. I have a thing about premature renunciation.
From that point on, the RD TSKP travelled throughout the US, stopping at all the temples and systematically siphoning off as many brahmacaris as they could, while distributing books in that temple's area. The US temples were being devastated.
Less men = less books = less $ = great difficulties. Good for Tamala's agenda, but not good for the Temples. ISKCON = Temples – plain and simple. ISKCON does not = Greyhound busses filled with brahmacaris.
The US Temple Presidents were in a tail spin. Individually they had little power, and their GBC reps were equally challenged when going up against Tamala Krsna and his band of saffron macho men, with their huge weekly book scores.
After all, that's what Srila Prabhupada wanted – distribute my books – that will please me. So we all did. And so did the RD TSKP, headed by Tamala, smiling at Srila Prabhupada with the book scores, while his men secretly bled the temples of man power resources. Not good for the overall mission.
At the annual Mayapura festival in March of 1976, as usual, all of the Temple Presidents came together casually to chat about our service issues. It was clear from the start that so many US Temple Presidents were very disturbed and didn't know how to resolve the conflicts with the RD TSKP.
Ironically, I had no issues with Tamala or the RD party – no devotees wanted to leave the Chicago Temple and join the RD party – quite the opposite actually! Tamala never gave me any personal grief either. Their normal tactics were useless on the Chicago devotees, and the RD devotees in the bus headed by Adhikeshava loved the kirtans and prasadam so much, they never wanted to leave the Chicago area.
Tripurari's exclusive BBT, hard core book distribution party was also embedded in the Chicago temple, but there was absolutely no, 'us and them', mentality – we were all serving and living together as one big happy family. Powerful kirtans and delicious prasadam works wonders.
So even though I had no direct complaints, I could see that something had to be done. What's right is right. It's not a personal matter – it's a matter of principle and Srila Prabhupada 's mission. I prayed to Krsna and meditated on the situation, and I realized that the Temple Presidents never had any formal organized meetings as a group – ever.
I understood then that I had to spearhead organizing the temple presidents to present an unified front. The GBC always met in Mayapur, but not the Temple Presidents. By 1976 that was a bit strange, and didn't seem wise managerially speaking, since we were the ones actually running ISKCON, ie: the Temples.
So I got together with Visvakarma (Toronto Temple President) and a few others and I told them my ideas. We thus organized the first formal meeting of North American Temple Presidents in Mayapura. Later, in early 1978, after Srila Prabhupada's passing, Visvakarma and I spearheaded the founding of the North American ISKCON Temple President's Association.
Jayatirtha, GBC of Chicago, was the GBC liaison at these Mayapura meetings, which I moderated. Each Temple President told their story, one after the other, and we discussed the details as a group. Of course I also told them why Chicago was never raided by Tamala's men. The Canadian temples were spared since the RD party never went there.
Jayatirtha took our compiled grievances report to Srila Prabhupada before mangala aratik the next day. After Srila Prabhupada assimilated the details of our report, he obviously understood the serious repercussions of problems created by Tamala's subversive, self-serving, destructive activities, and decided to take the most powerful disciplinary action against a disciple that he had ever done. It shocked the ISKCON world, to put it mildly.
I waited at Srila Prabhupada's door for Jayatirtha to tell me the results of their meeting. It seems so strange now that I wasn't allowed in, considering the circumstances. After about 15 minutes, Jayatirtha cracked opened the door and quietly told me the news – Srila Prabhupada is sending Tamal to China!!!
My jaw dropped, my eyes bugged out, and then a huge cheshire cat smile appeared on my face. I couldn't believe it! I was stunned! I immediately lit the fuse by telling others and it spread like wild fire all over the Mayapur temple compound.
We had quite a Mangala aratik kirtan that morning! I don't remember Srila Prabhupada's lecture that morning, and whether it might have been relevant. I should look it up in the Vedabase to refresh my memory.
A few hours later, I went upstairs to go on the morning walk on the roof, and two devotee guards tried to stop me. Not a chance! I looked them sternly in the eyes and told them to back down – there is no way that I'm not going on this walk. They knew who I was, and they immediately stepped aside.
There were about 30 devotees following Srila Prabhupada as he talked to Tamala about going to China. I was following behind Tripurari, several people back. After a few minutes, the crowd circled around Srila Prabhupada and Tamala as they stopped to continue talking.
By the Divine movement of the saffron and white chess pieces, I was situated in the inner circle, with an unfettered view, about 8 feet from Srila Prabhupada and Tamala. I watched wide eyed as Srila Prabhupada literally court martialed Tamala.
I'm paraphrasing and summarizing of course, but as I remember witnessing this, it went something like this…
Srila Prabhupada: It will be good if you go to China.
Tamala: They are atheistic communists and they won't let religious people dressed like us into their country to preach.
Srila Prabhupada: That's OK, don't wear a dhoti, leave your danda, cut off your sikha, don’t wear tilaka, grow your hair, wear a suit, and you can go as an incense salesman to see if we can spread Krsna Consciousness there.
You could almost see Srila Prabhupada stripping Tamala of his sannyassi uniform and icons, and downgrading him to a businessman in a suit. It was symbolic of course, but quite a powerful statement for all onlookers. Everyone was duly entranced by this powerful lesson unfolding in front of us.
It was surreal to say the least. Just shortly before, I had the idea for all the Temple Presidents to meet together, and here Krsna let me see the results of our efforts in person, front row, center! No second hand accounts or recordings. How's that for validation?
Tamala even saw me smile at him a few times during his public humiliation. He didn't seem to see the humor in it that I did. I'm sure he found out ASAP who engineered the Temple President's meeting that brought him down.
Ironically, he still never treated me bad over the next few years, and as a matter of fact, he made an effort to get to know me better. 'Keep your enemies closer', perhaps? I didn't see him as a personal enemy at the time.
About twenty years ago, by chance, I met with Drishtadyumna, and we discussed this incident. He told me that at the request of Tamala, he compiled an extensive document that detailed the challenges related to introducing Krsna Consciousness to China. Drishtadyumna's father had been one of the top people charged with shepherding Japan during the implementation of its new constitution after WWII, so he had an inside connection with Asian affairs.
On their way to China, Tamala and Drishtadyumna stopped in Hawaii to present the one inch thick analysis to Srila Prabhupada, in a last ditch attempt to get out of this service. Tamala told Srila Prabhupada what the document was and Drishtadyumna put it on his desk. Srila Prabhupada looked at the document for a few seconds, and then he just pushed it back towards them. He didn't even open it or read it.
Srila Prabhupada then let them off the hook and said Tamala didn't have to go to China if he didn't want to (obey his guru). Of course, they did end up going at some point. It's also truly ironic that after all of Tamala's criticisms of the US temples, Srila Prabhupada put Tamala in charge of the New York Temple – a small sky scraper in Manhattan, that ended up being a big white elephant.
Some months later in 1976, I unexpectedly received an invitation from Tamala to visit him in New York for a few days. I have to be honest and say that he treated me like royalty. He insisted that I lead every kirtan, and actually told me that I had to ask his permission to not lead a kirtan.
I wasn't overtly suspicious or dubious, so I just went with the transcendental flow and had a great time. This was the first time Tamala had ever tried to connect with me, so I carefully observed his modus operandi for my own edification.
So that's the story from my perspective. Perhaps others who were there can offer additional insights and perspectives.
By Uttamasloka Dasa