April 8 2009

Bhakta Stanislav asks:
“Can you please tell me if Srila Prabhupada always personally replied his letters or may be sometimes his secretaries did it for him? If his secretaries did that what was the procedure? Did they sign the letters as secretaries? Did they show their replies to Srila Prabhupada for approval?”


Good question.

In the early days Srila Prabhupada would hand type all his letters himself. However this soon became too difficult and as soon as he started traveling and his disciples started opening new centers, he took the service of a full time secretary and servant.

The general principle was that the secretary would deal with the mail. After my first day of traveling with Srila Prabhupada to Kuruksetra, we arrived back in Delhi:

December 1st, 1975 – New Delhi

It was about nine in the evening when we arrived at No. 9 Todar Mal Lane. As he sat in his room, Prabhupada inquired about the day’s mail. Generally, Prabhupada’s mail is handled exclusively by his secretary. But, since Hansaduta had gone off to get something to eat at Nathu’s, Srila Prabhupada sent me to the temple to collect his mail. When I handed him the letters, to my great surprise, he asked me to open them and read him the contents. It was a privilege that I eagerly although nervously accepted. Tearing open the envelopes one by one, I read out the messages. Prabhupada also opened a few and inspected them.

Pusta Krsna Swami sent one from South Africa, describing his plans to purchase a Mercedes in Germany and drive it here for Prabhupada’s use in India. One was from Kirtiraja dasa in Los Angeles. He is moving to Europe in order to begin preaching in Poland. Another, written by Gopiparanadhana dasa, contained a translation of the first chapter of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s work Sri Caitanya-siksamrta. There were several other letters as well.

Just as Prabhupada was finishing his reading, Harikesa came in. Shocked to see me reading Prabhupada’s mail, he proceeded to chastise me, disregarding the fact that Srila Prabhupada was present right in front of us. “This is to be done only by the secretary,” he said angrily, “You have no business even touching the mail!”

Srila Prabhupada did not say a word. He merely stood and walked quietly into his bedroom to take rest. Harikesa meanwhile continued to emphasize his point. “If Brahmananda was still the secretary, you’d never get away with this!” He cooled off, however, when I explained that Srila Prabhupada himself had asked me to read to him. Harikesa conceded that under the circumstances I had no choice but to do it.

In one sense Harikesa was right. Prabhupada’s mail is private and is not to be dealt with whimsically. From Harikesa’s point of view I am just a temporary helper, and thus I should be careful not to tread on the more exclusive domain of Srila Prabhupada’s regular servants. Otherwise Prabhupada himself will be disturbed in his daily activities.

Nevertheless, we both understood that, while recognizing a certain preeminence of his senior men, in the aggregate Prabhupada doesn’t discriminate. If the right man is not around, he employs whoever is available. To him we are all his disciples in the service of Krsna, and he engages anyone who is willing and available, according to necessity and the devotee’s own capacity.

Accepting my action as an innocent response to a direct request from Srila Prabhupada, Harikesa relented. Then I joined Srila Prabhupada to give him his massage.

December 2nd 1976 – Vrindavana

Prabhupada changed into his gamcha and sat on the straw mat.


As I began to massage him, Hansaduta arrived with the mail. Prabhupada sometimes replies to his letters at mid-morning, but more often during his massage. Hansaduta read each letter one by one, writing down Srila Prabhupada’s replies exactly as he dictated them.

It is instructive and entertaining to hear various ISKCON reports from all over the world, both the problems and the successes, and to hear Prabhupada’s responses to them. He is very punctual in answering, always replying within a day or two of receiving a letter. He answers a letter as if the correspondent is there in front of him. His responses are accompanied by all the same facial gestures that mark his conversations — appreciative raising of his brows and widening of his eyes, a slight tip of his head, bright smiles, scolding looks. He gives each letter his full attention and his replies are expressive and personal and always to the point.

Today he dealt with the letters received in New Delhi. …

Each day after taking dictation, Hansaduta types the letters and later, in the evening, places them on Prabhupada’s desk. Each one is clipped to an addressed envelope, a carbon copy, whatever enclosures there might be, and the letter being replied to. In the night Prabhupada reads and signs them. They are mailed the next day.”     [end quote]

So this was the general standard. Later in 1976 when Harikesa Swami was Srila Prabhupada’s secretary,


he noted that some letters of a routine nature or with questions that had been answered many times before, did not really need a reply from Srila Prabhupada. They could be replied by the secretary and thus save Srila Prabhupada from a small part of the burden:

September 21 1976 – Vrindavana

A few weeks ago Harikesa Maharaja suggested to Prabhupada a way to reduce his involvement in management. Some of the letters he receives are routine inquiries on subjects he has dealt with many times. Harikesa proposed that such letters could be sent to the GBC chairman, and then dealt with by the GBC men. They would reply to the letters instead of Srila Prabhupada, signing their own names. In this way Srila Prabhupada could get some relief.

Prabhupada tentatively agreed with the proposal, but he has now discovered that several letters came addressed to Harikesa as his secretary. Harikesa had replied to them, without first showing Prabhupada either the letters or his replies. This morning Prabhupada chastised him for this, telling him that he must be shown every letter. He later told me that Harikesa’s judgement was not good enough for this work, and he feared Harikesa would create some havoc.

September 22 1976 – Vrindavan

[discussion with Gurukripa Swami]

Prabhupada began to complain that he wanted a GBC man to do his secretarial work. Indicating Harikesa he said, “He is writing letters without my knowledge or approval. Actually no letter should go out unless it is seen by me.” [end quote]

Harikesa was removed as the secretary by Srila Prabhupada the same day.

Later on in 1977 when Srila Prabhupada became physically incapacitated, all letters were replied by his secretary Tamal Krishna Goswami, but still he read the letters to Srila Prabhupada first, and he would note Srila Prabhupada’s reaction or any comments, and then write the reply, signing it himself as Srila Prabhupada’s secretary.

Sometimes secretaries would write a letter on Srila Prabhupada’s behalf, sign it, and then Srila Prabhupada would counter-sign it as “Approved” such as this one sent to all the GBCs in January 1976:

To All Governing Body Commissioners
Re: Examinations for awarding titles of Bhakti-sastri, Bhakti-vaibhava, Bhaktivedanta and Bhakti-sarvabhauma. Your response is requested immediately by Srila Prabhupada.

Dear Prabhus,
Please accept my most humble obeisances. Srila Prabhupada has requested me to write you in regard to the above examinations which he wishes to institute. Here in India many persons often criticize our sannyasis and brahmanas as being unqualified due to insufficient knowledge of the scriptures. Factually, there are numerous instances when our sannyasis and brahmanas have fallen down often due to insufficient understanding of the philosophy. This should not be a point of criticism nor a reason for falldown, since Srila Prabhupada has mercifully made the most essential scriptures available to us in his books. The problem is that not all the devotees are carefully studying the books, the result being a fall down or at least unsteadiness.

His Divine Grace therefore wishes to institute examinations to be given to all prospective candidates for sannyasa and brahmana initiation. In addition he wishes that all present sannyasis and brahmanas also pass the examination. Awarding of these titles will be based upon the following books:

Bhakti-sastri – Bhagavad-gita, Nectar of Devotion, Nectar of Instruction, Isopanisad, Easy Journey To Other Planets, and all other small paperbacks, as well as Arcana-paddhati (a book to be compiled by Nitai Prabhu based on Hari-bhakti-vilasa on Deity worship)
Bhakti-vaibhava – All of the above plus the first six cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam
Bhaktivedanta – All of the above plus cantos 7 through 12 of Srimad-Bhagavatam
Bhakti-sarvabhauma – All the above plus the entire Caitanya-caritamrta

Anyone wishing to be initiated as a brahmana will have to pass the Bhaktisastri exam and anyone wishing to take sannyasa will have to pass the Bhaktivaibhava examination as well. This will prevent our Society from degrading to the level of so many other institutions where, in order to maintain the Temple, they accept all third class men as brahmanas. Any sannyasis or brahmanas already initiated who fail to pass the exams will be considered low class or less qualified. Anyone wishing to be 2nd initiated will sit for examination once a year at Mayapur. Answers will be in essay form and authoritative quotations will be given a bigger score. During the exams books may not be consulted.

Srila Prabhupada wishes to begin this program at this year’s Mayapur meeting. He requests that you all send your opinions and comments here immediately so that everything may be prepared in time.
Hoping this meets you in the best of health and Krsna Consciousness.

Your servant,
Tamala Krsna Goswami
 Personal Secretary

Approved: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami 

And on a very rare occasion even a personal servant might send something out with Srila Prabhupada’s approval.

November 26 1976 – Vrndavana


As a result of his class yesterday about shaving our heads and our conversation afterwards concerning the Western-style music tapes, I asked Srila Prabhupada if he wanted his comments on both topics to be distributed to all the centers. I was keen to correct the statements in Ramesvara Swami’s newsletter. Prabhupada was happy and said yes. So I spent a good part of the day transcribing the tapes of both his morning class and the room conversation (at the same time gaining useful practice in typing).

I then wrote a letter to Ramesvara:

“Dear Ramesvara Maharaja, Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. The following is an extract from a morning class on S.B. 5/6/3, delivered on 25/11/76. Srila Prabhupada has requested that it be sent to all temples and G.B.C.” I included the relevant quotes from the class and conversation and concluded: “Kindly send a copy to each of our centers as soon as is conveniently possible. His Divine Grace specially requests that the system of shaving on the fourth day (the head) after Ekadasi, on Purnima, be introduced immediately in all centers. Hoping this meets you in good health and Krsna Consciousness.” Your eternally worthless servant, Hari Sauri Das, personal servant.

I showed the letter to Srila Prabhupada, and he added his signature: “Approved: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.”

Your humble servant,
Hari-sauri dasa

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