Regarding Snuff

“A genuine guru must not only speak the truth; he must also live it. In other words, his character must be perfect and his behavior exemplary. In the West we commonly see that a professor or philosopher achieves renown on the basis of his teachings alone, regardless of his personal life. But in Vedic society, if a man is a drunkard or in some other way violates the ideal principles he teaches, then he is considered not a teacher but a cheater. According to the Gita a real guru, who teaches by example, must have the qualities of peacefulness, sense control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, and faith in God. So-called gurus who indulge in abominable things like meat eating, cigarette smoking, and illicit sex, and who covet wealth for purchasing various other forms of sense gratification, are all disqualified. One who cannot control his senses cannot rightfully bear the title ‘guru.’” – A “special article” by the Back to Godhead staff, 1977, “Establishing the Proof: Who is a Real Guru”

I first heard about Bhaktivedanta Swami’s using snuff while I was visiting Vrindavana. At an evening sanga I attended, one of Bhaktivedanta’s disciples, Dhananjaya, recounted some of his personal memories from the time he’d spent with his guru. In particular he told about how ACBS, while on a short visit to England, had asked one of his servants to go to the druggist and purchase a tin of snuff for his own use. As Dhananjaya told it, the snuff was to be medicine for a cold or a sinus infection or some other minor, temporary ailment from which ACBS – himself a druggist earlier in life – sought relief. When word got out about the snuff, many of the swami’s followers also bought their own tins and started snorting it, eager to copy their master. The “punchline” to Dhananjaya’s little anecdote was delivered, as always, by ACBS himself, who upon realizing the sniffling, sneezing chorus in his morning class was the product of novice snuff-takers remarked, “You fools. I am taking it for health. You are taking it for pleasure.”

How clever.

Snuff, of course, is tobacco, one of the intoxicants prohibited in the life of a Hare Krishna devotee. Now, so many years after I first heard Dhananjaya tell this story, I wonder why I then paid it no mind. Here was firsthand evidence that the pure and faultless leader of my self-selected religious affiliation was not so pure and faultless after all. Even a child – perhaps especially a child – can see the hypocrisy: “Do as I say, not as I do.” (Which is not to suggest that seeing this as hypocrisy is childish. As we “grow up” we become all too willing to rationalize the things we know in our hearts to be wrong.) Perhaps one reason why ACBS’s snuff taking didn’t then register to me as hypocrisy is because of the way Dhananjaya had framed it. My assumption at that time, due to Dhananjaya’s suggestion, was that ACBS’s snuff use was not only medicinal but also temporary – something used in that particular instance to address a short-lived and easily alleviated condition. Not unlike taking aspirin for a headache.

(Not for nothing: How many devotees do you know who are reluctant or unwilling to do even that?)

Many years later I came to learn that ACBS’s snuff use was not at all temporary, nor infrequent, but persistent, even chronic. A search through the “VedaBase” turns up several references to it, from ISKCON’s early days in 1968 to just before the death of ACBS in 1977. (Each of those references will appear at the end of this post.) The most significant mention comes from ACBS himself:

“Regarding taking snuff, I myself take it sometimes at night because I am working at night on my books, and sometimes I become dizzy. But it is not for you to take. You should not imitate this, neither you work like me at night.” – Letter to Revatinandana, Los Angeles, 9 January 1974

There’s a lot to say about just this quote. A few things now, more later: (1) there can be no debate over whether or not ACBS took snuff; he personally admitted to taking it “sometimes,” (2) what he meant by “sometimes” is in part answered by the scenario he depicts – he took it “at night,” while composing his “Bhaktivedanta purports”; as nicotine, the active (and highly addictive) ingredient in tobacco, is a stimulant, ACBS’s taking snuff is much like a person who drinks coffee to stay awake while pulling an all-nighter, (3) perhaps most importantly, “you should not imitate this”; i.e., do as I say, not as I do.

So, what’s a devotee to make of all this? Luckily for true believers, two devotees (that I’m aware of) have addressed the issue online. We’ll take a look at both online commentaries, because I think what they have to say will help illustrate just how blindly one must follow in order to remain an ISKCON devotee “in good standing.”

First, we have Hari Sauri, direct disciple and previous traveling personal servant of ACBS, former ISKCON guru and sannyasi, present ISKCON celebrity. He’s addressed ACBS’s snuff habit on his blog, Lotus Imprints, in a post titled “In-Snuff-Lated…” from 14 September 2008. I’ll reproduce the bulk of it below, with comments throughout.

“I just got this question from Yadunandan prabhu of the Bhaktivedanta College in Belgium:

“‘While visiting some devotees in the UK, one of them asked me a question about Srila Prabhupada’s snuff box. This devotee was somewhat puzzled thinking that Srila Prabhupada’s snuff was made of tobacco. I did a little research on the folio and looked into the dictionary to answer accurately.

“‘There are two options I see from my little research:

“‘1. Srila Prabhupada was using some type of medicine as snuff.

“‘2. Srila Prabhupada was using tobacco snuff as medicine for his blood pressure and to keep him able to perform his translation work at night.

“‘As you were and are so close to Srila Prabhupada, can you please give some light on this matter so that my answer can be more accurate?’

“Answer : Snuff is a tobacco derivative in fine powder form. This is the type that Srila Prabhupada was using.”

Thank you, Hari Sauri, for the honest clarification. That’s helpful. ACBS was snorting tobacco, not some other type of medicinal, tobacco-free, non-addictive type of snuff.

“Here’s a general definition and history that I got from the internet:

“Snuff, preparation of pulverized tobacco used by sniffing it into the nostrils, chewing it, or placing it between the gums and the cheek. The blended tobacco from which it is made is often aged for two or three years, fermented at least twice, ground, and usually flavored and scented.”

Hari Sauri’s research/copypasta goes on for a few more paragraphs. Aside from what was likely his attempt to confer some sense of tradition and broad cultural acceptance to the practice of snorting tobacco, none of that information is really relevant to our discussion, so I’ve omitted it here. (By the by, the practice of fermenting and drinking alcohol has an extremely long history and the broadest cultural acceptance, and marijuana is gradually becoming accepted by some as medicinal, but because there’s no evidence ACBS was a habitual user of either, those facts are of no interest to Hari Sauri. It’s only snuff we’re concerned with legitimizing now. Just saying.)

This next part of Hari Sauri’s post is far more telling:

“I remember my paternal grandfather was a big fan of snuff. He was never without either a cigarette in his mouth or a pouch of snuff in his pocket and I would watch fascinated and slightly repulsed as he put a few pinches on the back of his had, stuck his nose over the top and insufflated. The brown powder would cling to his nostrils and top lip and sometimes he would absent-mindedly forget to wipe it off. My grandmother would have to give him nudge (he was stone deaf from the age of five) and wordlessly point at his nose. He would give a grunt and swab it off with his handkerchief. For him I guess it was a question of feeding his nicotine addiction. Nowadays its out of style. Too messy I guess.”

Hari Sauri’s grandfather took snuff. In his case it was slightly repulsive, addictive, and messy. It should come as no surprise that he doesn’t regard ACBS’s snuff taking in the same negative terms.

“I never personally asked Srila Prabhupada why he used snuff, although we carried a couple of small tins with us at all times…”

Note, first, the comment “we carried a couple of small tins with us at all times” – once again giving the lie to the notion ACBS’s snuff use was infrequent or conditional. Even more significant is Hari Sauri’s admission that he never asked ACBS about it. That’s incredible, isn’t it? Was it really of no interest to him? Did the hypocrisy of the situation never occur to him? If nothing else, these statements give some sense of what the emotional dynamic could in some cases be like between ACBS and his servants/disciples, namely one of fear and/or mindless obedience.

Next Hari Sauri describes in detail one of his snuff pastimes with ACBS, excerpted from one of the volumes of his Transcendental Diary:

“On June 16, 1976, Srila Prabhupada arrived in Toronto:

“We arrived in Toronto at 6:30 P.M. and had our most disagreeable encounter with customs officials yet. I accompanied Srila Prabhupada, who carried his soft, red vinyl hand bag, while Pusta Krsna Maharaja remained behind to bring the luggage through. On the other side of a glass wall next to the customs counter a large number of devotees, many from the Indian community, expectantly gathered. As soon they saw Srila Prabhupada they cheered, ‘Jaya Prabhupada! Haribol!’ There were two customs officers. One of them, tall, with an unpleasant demeanor and a slight sneer on his face, asked Prabhupada to open his bag. Then, slowly, with exaggerated attention, he searched every single item. Before leaving Bombay I had sealed several new tins of snuff with hot wax. Prabhupada uses it to gain relief from high blood pressure. The official insisted on breaking each seal to check inside.”

A not-so-quick note: This blood pressure business is bunk. Nicotine is a stimulant and as such will raise, not lower, blood pressure. I see three possibilities. (1) Perhaps Hari Sauri got it wrong, and ACBS had low, not high, blood pressure. It’s possible. (And ACBS’s comment about dizziness suggests it might be true.) But the high blood pressure explanation is repeated a number of times by Hari Sauri and by others, so it’s likely something ACBS told his disciples, not something they assumed about him. (2) Perhaps ACBS didn’t understand his own medical condition, or the effects of nicotine, or quite a few other things besides. His “cure” for jaundice, though still cited as an effective home remedy, likely wouldn’t pass a double-blind clinical trial. And his recipe for toothpaste has been known to cause damage to teeth and gums. His status as a skilled pharmacist is just one of several outlandish claims about the breadth of his knowledge it’s only reasonable to regard with suspicion. (3) Perhaps “relief from high blood pressure” was nothing more than a convenient lie intended to keep gullible disciples from questioning the obvious hypocrisy of their guru’s addiction.

“At the end of his fruitless search he turned to his fellow officer, looked askance at Srila Prabhupada, and in a most demeaning way said, ‘So this is what all the noise is about.’ I flushed with anger, but bit my lip.

“Srila Prabhupada seemed utterly indifferent, appearing not to have noticed their obnoxious attitude at all. He quietly shut his bag and proceeded on with a bright smile and a wave to all the assembled devotees…

“Although he had seemed indifferent, the next [day] Srila Prabhupada mentioned the incident in a conversation in his room with Pusta Krsna Swami, Jagadisa and myself:

“‘Everyone in government service, at least it is to be supposed they are all nasty men. Here also, why not? The other day the custom officer, unnecessary. Unnecessarily. He is opening the snuff box, this box, that box. Unnecessarily. Not a gentleman. It is stated there, “snuff,” and he is bringing knife to open.’”

Hari Sauri claims his guru “seemed utterly indifferent,” but the episode affected ACBS enough that he made mention of it the following day. While he and his disciples complained about various problems they were having with passport officers and other government officials, ACBS took the opportunity to revisit the snuff incident and, on that single point of data, conclude that “everyone in government service… they are all nasty men.”

So, not quite “utterly indifferent.” It’s also worth noting that earlier the same day, during a morning walk, ACBS and his disciples derided “so-called priests” – whom ACBS calls “fourth-class, fifth-class men” – for smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and “indulging in homosex.” Bluster and more hypocrisy.

Hari Sauri continues:

“Srila Prabhupada did use it on occasion, usually in the night time, and I remember particularly coming into his room sometimes in the early morning when he was resident in Vrndavan from September–November 1976 and seeing snuff residue on his lungi or handkerchief where he had wiped the excess off his nose after sniffing it. At that time he was suffering very high blood pressure.”

A few things: (1) “usually in the night time,” so, once again, he used snuff as a stimulant to help him remain awake and alert while (allegedly) receiving the divine inspiration he channeled directly into his books; (2) the description of “snuff residue on his lungi or handkerchief” sounds – to me at least, probably not to Hari Sauri – quite a bit like “grandfather” and his “messy” snuff habit; (3) “at that time he was suffering very high blood pressure,” so it’s unlikely the diagnosis was wrong – perhaps ACBS did have high blood pressure that his snuff use was just making worse.

Hari Sauri again:

“The only reference I can find in Folio is this postscript from a letter to Revatinandana Swami sent from Los Angeles 9 January, 1974:

“‘N.B. Regarding taking snuff, I myself take it sometimes at night because I am working at night on my books, and sometimes I become dizzy. But it is not for you to take. You should not imitate this, neither you work like me at night.’

“So I assume from this that the dizziness he referred to was caused either by too much mucus in his sinus, or by very high blood pressure, and the snuff relieved this.”

I’m not sure what to make of the statement “the only reference I can find in Folio.” Maybe he means it’s the only reference ACBS personally made about it (but even that is not quite true). Maybe he’s being less than honest; by my count, there are 12 references to ACBS’s snuff use. And, once again, we get the high blood pressure explanation. Hari Sauri ends his post with the following:

“Sruta Kirti prabhu or another servant or secretary may be able to add more.”

Maybe. Sadly, that I know of, neither Sruta Kirti nor anyone else with direct knowledge has since added more (though we’ll take a look at a few very telling quotes from Tamala Krishna at the end of this post). I did however mention we’d be looking at the commentary of another true believer “regarding taking snuff.” As I said, I find both commentaries instructive in showing precisely to what degree remaining a devotee requires that one stop thinking.

The post comes from a blog called back 2 Krishna, and is #884 in a series of what the author calls “vanity thoughts.”

(This name itself is rather interesting. According to ISKCON dogma, a true devotee should feel ashamed to have any desire to write or to express him- or herself, especially in such a public forum. Such an act is an obvious sign of vanity that must, at the very least, be acknowledged for the truly self-absorbed and un-humble act it is. There are, as of this posting, 1475 “vanity thoughts” in the author’s collection. So he is a decidedly vain, self-absorbed, and un-humble fellow – at least by the psychologically damaging metric ISKCON proposes for its members – a diagnosis I’m sure he would readily accept, if only in a crass and typically ISKCONian way meant to backhandedly stake a claim on so-called humility. Anyway, I digress…)

He begins:

“One reason I became somewhat lukewarm to never ending quest for knowledge is that sooner or later you run into some snafus that are extremely difficult to explain, which then goes against Occam Razor’s principle. Sometimes things become messed up beyond salvation yet, strangely, it doesn’t have any visible or lasting effect on one’s faith, so why bother? I mean why bother if knowing answers or not knowing them has no effect. Danger of losing faith is still there so why risk it?”

This thought process here is too jumbled for me to completely follow. However, Occam’s Razor is the principle that the simplest explanation – or, rather, the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions – is likely the correct one. In the case of ACBS and snuff, that explanation would be this: ACBS took snuff because he was addicted to it. Honestly, that is the simplest explanation, and the only one that doesn’t require you to assume something supernatural about him or his intentions. In other words, there are more than a few (completely unverifiable) assumptions involved if you’re saying to yourself, “Well, OK. Prabhupada took snuff. But he was transcendental. He wasn’t addicted to it. He couldn’t have been. He was transcendental.” As for the rest of that rambling intro, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the rest of the post will help to clarify.

“One of such snafus is snuff. Srila Prabhupada used it regularly and his servants always carried a tin or two in his luggage. Snuff is tobacco that is insufflated, that is inhaled, through the nose pretty much like cocaine or other drugs.”

“Pretty much like cocaine or other drugs…” You said it, prabhu, not me. At least we’re being honest. Let’s see how long that lasts…

“Why did Prabhupada use it? We don’t know. His servants remembered that he said it was for relief of high blood pressure or maybe to clear his sinuses or to help him stay up at night, working on books. Well, nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant that would rather increase blood pressure, sinuses can be cleared with non-intoxicant inhalers, and to stay up at night people usually drink coffee.”

Oh. This guy seems like he might be a straight shooter. Maybe I spoke too soon.

“No need to remind of our ‘no intoxication including tea and coffee’ principle that extends even to chocolate. It just doesn’t match.”

And… We’re about to see cognitive dissonance in action. If something doesn’t fit, completely disregard it.

“Maybe the principle is no intoxication, as no recreational drug use. People smoke to get high, if only a little, people drink to get drunk, intoxication means altering one’s consciousness to produce an artificial feeling of happiness. Clarity of consciousness also gets lost and so it’s easy to see why it’s one of our regulative principles.

“Maybe this would explain Prabhupada’s use of snuff – it wasn’t to get high or feel good, it was to keep his work rate through the night, to perform better service, not to enjoy. This is easy to understand, but what then of drinking coffee, the usual go to pick me up elixir? Students cramming for exams don’t drink coffee to get high, no one actually does, people drink it to get perked up in order to function better, though the process can obviously be enjoyed, too.”

You heard it here first: a coffee machine in every temple. (And a box of snuff beside every murti of ACBS.)

“Would that mean that if we feel sleepy it’s okay to have a cup to coffee or a can of Red Bull as long as we need our bodies to function in Krishna’s service? That would make sense but it’s also against our principles, always have been always will be.”

What’s going on here? Make up your mind. It’s either against the principles or it isn’t. And you (and everyone else) know(s) very well which one it is. Stop dithering.

“Or we can say that Prabhupada’s consciousness wasn’t affected by nicotine in snuff, only his blood pressure, heart rate etc. That could be the answer, that would also explain why he forbade his disciples to follow snuff sniffing practice.”

I love that. (By which I mean I completely hate it.) ACBS was transcendental enough to not get addicted to or intoxicated by nicotine, just not transcendental enough to not be affected by problems with his blood pressure. You’re reaching, my friend. Really reaching.

“Still, it’s not how it’s supposed to work with parampara, we are not ‘do as I say, not as I do’ movement, we actually practice what we preach.

“As I said – it’s a snafu.”

Yes! Everyone knows this. Even someone who’s only been to a single Sunday Feast can tell you this. Hence ACBS’s snuff use is hypocrisy. Bas. End of discussion. (At least it should be.)

“Vamsidas Babaji regularly smoke, or actually he used hookah. In his case we are told that he was beyond rules and regulations and didn’t have to follow sadhana prescriptions. Smoking didn’t affect his devotion to Krishna at all, they might even have been enjoying a pipe together. He used to offer it Radha Govinda, after all, but not to Gaura-Nitai.”

Yet more shameless rationalization. “He’s so pure the rules don’t apply to him.” Is it at all possible that because he didn’t follow the rules we have to say he’s pure in order to silence legitimate doubt? Tell me something, in all honesty, if a devotee had tried to slip this past you the first time you went to an ISKCON temple, how quickly would you have turned around and walked right out the door?

“Why not? Lord Nityananda Himself was fond of chewing betel nut according to Chaitanya Charitamrita – at the end of Raghunatha Dasa Goswami’s chipped rice festival (CC Antya 6.97). We can say that Lord Nityananda is God so he doesn’t have to follow any rules but right in the next verse it’s said that after chewing some himself He distributed the rest to devotees.

“Or maybe it was because Lord Chaitanya wasn’t there so Nityananda Prabhu could relax the rules a little, as if Mahaprabhu was a party pooper. Maybe that’s why when They were together Vamsidasa Babaji didn’t offer betel to them. But then Lord Chaitanya personally appeared at that festival and was visible to many devotees.

“As I said – it’s a snafu.”

Which I’m starting to think means something like “For obvious reasons, this is something I’d rather not accept for what it seems to be on the face of it.”

“When Gadadhara Pundit went to see Pundarika Vidyanidhi for the first time he was appalled by the betel nuts and reddened spittoons by his bed. Eventually he realized Pundarika Vidyanidhi’s greatness but it doesn’t say much for no-intoxication principle, does it? Betel nut is a stimulant and people take it to get a mild high, not to increase their work rate when they get tired.”

No argument here. Notice how all of these examples follow the same pattern: (1) assume divinity, (2) find an explanation for mundane behavior that excuses that behavior and at the same time protects the original assumption of divinity.

“Our opponents can have a field day exposing our ‘hypocrisy’ with these cases and I’m sure they can dig up a few more.”

They certainly could, those nasty, dishonest “opponents.” Keep reading, we won’t let you down.

“I was always worried by the saying ‘if you see Lord Nityananda going into a liquor shop’, for example. What’s with this ‘if’? Could it be ‘when’? Where’s this idea of Lord Nityananda and liquor coming from?”

Good question. And that’s not the only “pastime” of Nitayanda’s or Caitanya’s that’s untoward. But there’s no need to comb through the fictionalized accounts of the lives of mostly fictional “personalities.” Snuff-taking is not the length and breadth of ACBS’s hypocrisy. And he’s not alone.

“Anyway, none of that seem to affect my [lack of] faith in the above mentioned personalities though I can see how some might become disillusioned. These examples are also not an excuse to start drinking coffee or take other stimulants, ostensibly ‘for Krishna’.

“Would investigating them further bring any benefits? I don’t think so, I think it would be a waste of everyone’s time and it might lead to eventual disappointment.

“That’s why I think that at some point quest for knowledge has to stop, topping up will not add any value. This idea might not appeal to everyone but there’s a far less controversial side to it, too – it’s not how much you know that makes all the difference, it’s how much you believe in the simplest things – Krishna is God and chanting His holy name is our only duty.

“No one would argue with that.”

For crying out loud! (Sorry about including all of that. I just couldn’t help myself.) Here’s the tl;dr version: There’s this thing that – if I allow myself to think about it clearly – will force me to seriously question whether or not my faith is well placed. Because I have accepted that the highest principle is to maintain that faith no matter what, I will blithely ignore whatever threatens it. Oh, and, chant and be happy!

To be fair, this sort of intellectual dishonesty is exactly what ACBS ensured would always and forever be business as usual in ISKCON. He’s the one that insisted on a standard of so-called purity so unattainable that even he, the purest of pure devotees, could neither attain nor maintain it. And he’s the one that set the ISKCON standard of thoroughly rejecting all “pretenders.” In a letter to Aniruddha (Los Angeles, 4 February 1969), ACBS wrote, “You are right when you say that setting a good example for the boys is the best precept. There is a saying that an example is better than a precept. Our exemplary character depends on strictly following the four principles, and this will conquer the whole world.” At least that explains ISKCON’s foundering attempts at world domination. ACBS also wrote, in Dharma: The Way of Transcendence, “Sometimes we find that someone poses as a great devotee very much advanced in spiritual understanding, but he cannot even give up smoking cigarettes. That means he’s not liberated.” (16: “When the Krishna Sun Rises in the Heart”) Well, if you say so, Srila Prabhupada. You’ve painted yourself into that particular corner.

(What follows are the 12 (+1) separate references to “snuff” found in the “Bhaktivedanta VedaBase,” aka “Folio,” arranged chronologically, with some commentary added by me where appropriate. Uses of “snuff” as a verb – as in “snuff it out” – have been omitted.)

The Hare Krishna Explosion, Hayagriva dasa, Part 3: New Vrindavan, 1968 to 1969, 18: Paramahansa in the Hills

Hayagriva, one of ACBS’s earliest disciples whom readers will probably know as the editor of the “original” Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, mentions snuff in his chronicle of ISKCON’s early days, The Hare Krishna Explosion. Hayagriva tells how ACBS prescribed snuff to him as a remedy for hay fever, from which Hayagriva was then suffering:

After years of dormancy, my hayfever returns with a vengeance. As the grass pollinates, my sneezing and wheezing begin. I run through dozens of handkerchiefs. My eyes constantly itch. At times, after paroxyms of sneezing, I sit helpless, totally congested.

Prabhupada asks Devananda for a valise, and from this he produces a small snuffbox.

“Here,” he says, handing it to me. “When there is discomfort, just take a pinch and sniff.”

I do so. The snuff sets off a fresh barrage of sneezes. Finally I sit dazed. Surely my head must be empty of mucus.

“When you’re irritated,” Prabhupada says, “you may use that. It will help. But you shouldn’t think that you are being attacked.”

Again he laughs, and suddenly, seeing myself pursued by legions of grass pollen, I laugh too.

Letter to Brahmananda, Hamburg, 30 August 1969

P.S. Please send my snuff pot when Hayagriva comes here. I could not get the _____ snuff here.

I wonder what’s been omitted here and, more importantly, why. Placement suggests it could be the name of the brand of snuff ACBS preferred, or maybe it was the word “tobacco,” scrubbed from the record by some loyal follower whose conscience was disturbed enough to make him or her want to “protect” the reputation of the pure devotee.

Letter to Yogesvara, Gurudasa, Digvijaya, etc., Los Angeles, 21 May 1970

…I am so much thankful to you for your respective presentations. They are as follows: one golden cup, mysore sandal soap, some scent in snuff box, one picture of London Radha-Krsna Deities and one xeroxed interview report. So I shall be glad to know what is the contents and its formula in the box, then I can use it as snuff.

This quote comes from a portion of a letter in which ACBS thanks his disciples for the gifts presented to him at the time of their initiation. Around this time it appears that ACBS’s use of snuff was common knowledge among his followers. It was at least well known enough for newly initiated disciples to think the intoxicant would make an appropriate gift to their spiritual master. If this were the only reference to snuff in the Folio, one might have reason to conclude that ACBS snorted a type of snuff that did not contain tobacco, given his query about the snuff box, “the contents and its formula.” But Hari Sauri has already made it clear that ACBS snorted regular tobacco snuff.

Letter to Revatinandana, Los Angeles, 9 January 1974

N.B. Regarding taking snuff, I myself take it sometimes at night because I am working at night on my books, and sometimes I become dizzy. But it is not for you to take. You should not imitate this, neither you work like me at night.

Transcendental Diary, Vol. 1 – Nov 1975 to April 1976, December 13th, 1975

Prabhupada likes to travel early in the morning. At 6:00 A.M., he chanted Gayatri-mantra, donned his coat, gloves, and hat, and headed for the door. In a flurry of activity Harikesa and I quickly packed last-minute items. Harikesa placed the dictaphone and Bhagavatams into a black attache case. Meanwhile I hastily filled Prabhupada’s red vinyl briefcase with his desk paraphernalia (a pen case, a golden straw for drinking coconut juice, a jar of ink, a small silver cask filled with cardamom seeds, his glasses, tilaka clay, lota, mirror, mortar and pestle, a small enameled tin full of snuff for his high blood pressure, and a black Revlon manicure case.) Finally, I swiftly stuffed Srila Prabhupada’s indoor slippers and the brass spittoon engraved with his name into my shoulder bag and rushed to catch up.

This is one of two mentions of snuff in Hari Sauri’s multi-volume Transcendental Diary. Here he simply mentions the presence of the intoxicant in ACBS’s personal effects (and again attempts to dismiss it by mentioning high blood pressure).

Morning Walk, Mayapura, 18 February 1976

Prabhupada: So one thing, if you can do, that India, at the present moment, that Swami Cinmayananda is prominent.

Acyutananda: Yes.

Hari-sauri: He’s very big. Especially in the South.

Prabhupada: (laughs) So if you can subdue him…

Yasodanandana: We’ll take care of that, Prabhupada.

Acyutananda: All right.

Prabhupada: That will be great triumph. He’s a nonsense. That’s… But he’s very popular at the same time.

Prabhupada: But he, he wants to keep his prestigious position.

Acyutananda: Oh, yes.

Yasodanandana: Yes. On your order, we shall try to hamper that.

Prabhupada: No, tactfully.

Acyutananda: I met him once. He is addicted to snuff very, very much.

Prabhupada: Constantly.

Acyutananda: Even during his lectures he makes gestures so that he can take snuff without anybody knowing.

I find this conversation particularly interesting, not just for the mention of snuff but for the context in which that mention appears. To be fair, ACBS is not the snuff snorter in question in this conversation. Rather it’s Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati, someone whom ACBS apparently considered a rival at this point in time. And for good reason: Swami Chinmayananda was a teacher of Advaita Vedanta – the Enemy! – who was the inspiration for Chinmaya Mission and was inspirational in the founding of Vishva Hindu Parishad, one of ACBS’s targets of scorn (despite the fact he was happy to use their name and Chinmayananda’s authority to legitimize his own movement). Chinmayananda was extremely popular in India and outside India as well; he made his first worldwide “preaching tour,” including stops in America, in 1965, beginning several months before ACBS first arrived on Western shores. He was also a renowned scholar of Vedanta who wrote in English and published over 90 books, including commentaries on the Gita and Vedic texts. According at least to his followers, Chinmayananda was a genuine Vedic scholar, which must have felt threatening to a man who had posed himself as a Vedic scholar but who also once admitted, “I have not studied all the Vedas and Upanisads. I have read only Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.” (TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days, 30 June 1977) It’s not hard to see why ACBS asked his followers to “subdue” Chinmayananda. Moreover, it’s ironic that Acyutananda and ACBS zero in on Chinmayananda’s “constant” snuff use as a point of condemnation.

Transcendental Diary, Vol. 2 – April 1976 to June 1976, June 16th, 1976

This is the account of ACBS’s arrival in Toronto presented in Hari-Sauri’s blog and taken from his Transcendental Diary:

We arrived in Toronto at 6:30 P.M. and had our most disagreeable encounter with customs officials yet. I accompanied Srila Prabhupada, who carried his soft, red vinyl hand bag, while Pusta Krsna Maharaja remained behind to bring the luggage through. On the other side of a glass wall next to the customs counter a large number of devotees, many from the Indian community, expectantly gathered. As soon they saw Srila Prabhupada they cheered, “Jaya Prabhupada! Haribol!” There were two customs officers. One of them, tall, with an unpleasant demeanor and a slight sneer on his face, asked Prabhupada to open his bag. Then, slowly, with exaggerated attention, he searched every single item. Before leaving Bombay I had sealed several new tins of snuff with hot wax. Prabhupada uses it to gain relief from high blood pressure. The official insisted on breaking each seal to check inside.

At the end of his fruitless search he turned to his fellow officer, looked askance at Srila Prabhupada, and in a most demeaning way said, “So this is what all the noise is about.” I flushed with anger, but bit my lip.

Srila Prabhupada seemed utterly indifferent, appearing not to have noticed their obnoxious attitude at all. He quietly shut his bag and proceeded on with a bright smile and a wave to all the assembled devotees…

Room Conversation, Toronto, 17 June 1976

And this is from the conversation in Toronto to which Hari Sauri refers in his blog and in his Transcendental Diary, and which contradicts Hari Sauri’s claim that ACBS was “utterly indifferent” about the episode the day before. The excerpt following this is Hari Sauri’s account of this conversation as presented in his Diary.

Prabhupada: Everyone in government service, at least it is to be supposed they are all nasty men. Here also, why not? The other day the custom officer, unnecessary. Unnecessarily. He is opening the snuff box, this box, that box. Unnecessarily. Not a gentleman. It is stated there, “snuff,” and he is bringing knife to open.

Transcendental Diary, Vol. 2 – April 1976 to June 1976, June 17th, 1976

Although Prabhupada hadn’t reacted to the customs official’s envious dealings when we entered Canada, he most certainly noted it. “Everyone in government service, at least it is to be supposed they are all nasty men. Here also, why not? The other day the custom officer… Unnecessarily. He is opening the snuff box, this box, that box. Unnecessarily. Not a gentleman. It is stated there, ‘snuff,’ and he is bringing knife to open.”

Prabhupada agreed with Jagadisa prabhu’s assessment that it was simply harassment. He quoted from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Twelfth Canto. “Everywhere. Rajanyair dasyu-dharmabhi, simply wanting some bribe. They are in power, and that will increase. It will be impossible to deal with. Now it is already. In India, any work you want to be done by government, unless you bribe… The situation is becoming very dangerous.”

Conversation with Svarupa Damodara, Vrndavana, 21 June 1977

Svarupa Damodara: …There will be books, proving that these are all nonsense.

Prabhupada: (aside:) You have got increased snuff boxes?

Upendra: Er, one little one and that big one there. I’ll check to see if there’s any more.

Prabhupada: Life is a different material…

This is an interesting reference. As the transcript makes clear, it is something ACBS said to his servant while in the midst of a conversation with someone else. Apparently ACBS’s snuff use was becoming more frequent at this time, in the last several months of his life, as indicated by his request for “increased snuff boxes.” (Emphasis mine.)

TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days – September 26, 1977

TKG’s Diary is a curious document that includes more than a few unsettling revelations about ACBS’s last days (one of which I’ve already included in the text above). In addition to this casual mention of snuff are the following three excerpts, which I’m including because they relate to the general topic of hypocrisy. The first two refer to ACBS’s infrequent to completely nonexistent practice of chanting japa, whereas the last mentions a kaviraja who diagnosed ACBS for gonorrhea(!), an ailment that can only be transmitted sexually.

In the afternoon, Srila Prabhupada had me read from Srimad-Bhagavatam. He sat up and put on his spectacles, then held Radha-Rasabihari’s photo. He looked for Their lotus feet and had me point Them out. He meditated on Them for a long time, leaning back occasionally with his eyes closed and listening to the Bhagavatam recitation. He had me put snuff near him, of which he also availed himself. For practically an hour we had a wonderful meditation, and I could see it was the most effective medicine.

When Tamala Krishna writes “I could see it was the most effective medicine,” I assume he’s referring to the “meditation,” though it seems the snuff was helpful too. Here is a reference to ACBS using snuff not only outside the context so far established as typical – late at night, while writing – but in the midst of a “wonderful meditation.” I find it hard not to see this as depicting a very casual, recreational user of an intoxicating substance to which he has long been addicted.

TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days – June 10, 1977

Gradually, I have seen that Srila Prabhupada is no longer chanting japa on his beads. Many years ago, he was chanting sixty-four rounds, then gradually less, until a number of years ago it was sixteen. But now he does not chant on beads. He can be seen with his eyes closed, always meditating on Krsna with an intense, concentrated expression. Sometimes he stretches his neck, and sometimes he drools in his sleep and his body shakes. Sometimes there is loud belching. In this way, Srila Prabhupada is exhibiting some of the ecstatic symptoms mentioned in The Nectar of Devotion.

That’s a very generous way of tying together those last few statements. Personally, I’m more interested in this: “He can be seen with his eyes closed, always meditating on Krsna…” Perhaps. But, let’s be honest, there are any number of things he could have been “meditating on.” Krishna is just one of a practically unlimited number of possibilities. But that’s the nature of devotion to “Srila Prabhupada,” isn’t it? Take every opportunity, however small, to assume divinity (even if that assumption stands in contradiction to what verifiable facts suggest).

TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days – September 16, 1977

Srila Prabhupada’s condition remained the same today. He was passing sufficient urine, well more than half the quantity of the liquid he consumed. But he seemed to be growing weaker. He began to chant on his japa mala for the first time in many months. In fact, he insisted on always keeping the beads around his neck. Even during his massage, he fingered the beads and silently chanted. His beads also remained around his neck while he slept in his bed.

TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days – October 16, 1977

When the kaviraja saw Prabhupada’s very discolored urine, he said the disorder was a type of gonorrhea. The urine contained semen, which could possibly turn into pebble-like substances and completely block the ureter.

The last two references to snuff come from the years after the demise of ACBS.

The first is from an article in Back to Godhead magazine titled “Drugs and Ecstasy.” In the section “Smoke From The Bottomless Pit” we get a clear picture of how the average ISKCON devotee regards snuff, independent of their founder’s using it:

In 1604, James I, King of England, tagged smoking, “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fumes thereof nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.” Today some 60 million Americans smoke millions of pounds of tobacco every year at a cost of about $9 billion. Tobacco is taken primarily, of course, in the form of cigarettes (528 billion consumed each year), which are supplemented by pipe tobacco, cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco. In spite of an anti-smoking campaign in the U. S. in recent years – a result of quite conclusive evidence linking cigarette smoking to a variety of diseases – there has been little progress made in stopping the habit.

Vyasa-puja 1984, St. Louis

The second and final reference is from a Vyasa-puja offering submitted by the St. Louis temple in 1984 that (lacking any clear indication from the text itself, I can only assume) is meant to rhapsodically depict the scene in Vrindavan during the final days of ACBS. The swami’s snuff box is a detail apparently too important to be omitted:

It is six-thirty in the morning. The birds sing sweetly, and peacocks sound their exotic meow. The air resounds with japa, chanted by your faithful disciples. Two devotees softly sing the Brahma-samhita on the outer veranda, upstairs in your Vrndavana quarters, waiting. You ring the bell, and one devotee enters the inner veranda, offers obeisances, and enters the mosquito net on the bed to massage your heart. You speak softly about ISKCON matters – Bombay, Mayapur, New Vrindaban, etc. Management is arcanam, you once said. Your servant helps you to your bath and personally bathes your transcendental form. Then he brings you to the indoor room. You sit in a rocking chair as he helps you with your kurta, and you apply tilaka from your Krsna-Balarama compact. The other servant changes the linens and brings the bed on the outer veranda with pillows, scented garland, bouquet, handkerchief, lota, snuff, incense, and camara. He has also brought fresh cloth and kaupina for you. You are then aided to the outer veranda, where you sit on the bed, garlanded by your loving disciples. The incense is sweet as one devotee fans you with a camara, in a figure-eight fashion, not for cooling but for keeping the numerous flies from your thin form.

And, I assume, as Tamala Krishna puts it, he occasionally “avails himself” of a little powdered tobacco.

24 thoughts on “Regarding Snuff

    1. After I finished reading your article I thought: If ACBS had prohibited intoxication for his followers and was himself taking intoxication then he was surely a hypocrite. This exact summary was given by Damodar Roe in the comments below and yet he finds some “scriptural” justification for (a) This hypocrisy or what is even worse (b) Claiming that this is not hypocrisy at all.

      Un-freakin-believable !!


  1. It is true that Prabhupada prohibited intoxication, and yet used snuff. However, it is necessary to understand the context of this prohibition in the Chaitanya-Vaishnava tradition which he represented and the unique circumstances of his life in which he applied this restriction himself. Prabhupad was not hypocritical, as I shall now explain.

    This article, ‘Regarding Snuff’, is not a criticism of Prabhupada for using snuff, per se, but more precisely it an accusation that he was hypocritical for using a stimulant while teaching his followers not to use intoxicants of any kind. This means that in writing my rebuttal it is not necessary to prove whether using intoxication is good or bad. All that needs to be accomplished in order to defeat these criticisms of Prabhupada is to disprove the assumption that the tradition which Prabhupada represented would condemn his use of snuff. If Prabhupada had invented the rules himself and then broke them, then that would be hypocritical. But it is not so simple. Prabhupada represented the Chaitanya-Vaishnava lineage, which has both worldly laws and ultimate laws. And the sophisticated interrelationship between these two types of laws is crucial to understand before making a judgment about his snuff use.

    The author of ‘Regarding Snuff’ quotes the following statement of Prabhupad:

    “Sometimes we find that someone poses as a great devotee very much advanced in spiritual understanding, but he cannot even give up smoking cigarettes. That means he’s not liberated.” (Dharma: The Way of Transcendence, 16: “When the Krishna Sun Rises in the Heart”)

    This statement refers to cheating by presenting oneself one way while acting another. However, within the Chaitanya-Vaishnava tradition there is an exception to breaking prohibitions, for example smoking or using snuff, which is not cheating. In the Bhagavad-Gita, which is a holy text of central authority in Chaitanya-Vaishnavism and Vedantic Hinduism in general, it is said (9.30):

    api cet su-durācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
    sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ samyag vyavasito hi saḥ

    This verse says that even if a devotee of God does something which is ordinarily prohibited, that he or she should still be considered virtuous because his or her intelligence is fixed on the spiritual path. This verse necessarily does not condone cheating because Krishna, the speaker of Bhagavad-Gita, already discouraged cheating in the third chapter, sixth verse. Furthermore, the verse says that the devotee’s intelligence is completely fixed on the spiritual path, which means that his or her intelligence is not bent on cheating.

    So eliminating that possible misunderstanding, this verse may refer to two cases:

    1. A person takes up the spiritual path, but sometimes falls short due to past conditioning
    2. A person has to override scriptural or social morality because of exceptional circumstances in order to fulfill the spirit of the law of God

    Either of these two persons must, according to this verse, be considered virtuous.

    Arjuna, who heard the Bhagavad-Gita speech from Krishna, is an obvious example of the second case. In the first chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita it is explained how Arjuna finds himself in a fratricidal war against his cousins due to dissentions in his family. He becomes overwhelmed at the prospect of fighting his relatives, and gives many moral arguments why he should not fight. Indeed, all these arguments reflect the values of Hindu culture.

    The rest of the Bhagavad-Gita consists in Krishna affectionately explaining to Arjuna a broader and more profound perspective to his situation which justifies fighting the battle against his relatives. And indeed, the Bhagavad-Gita concludes with Krishna reiterating his affection for Arjuna and leaving the decision up to him, and Arjuna in response agreeing to fight. The Chaitanya-Vaishnava tradition, therefore, does not teach absolute puritanism as the author of this article portrays. Restrictions on sex outside of marriage, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling are meant to guide practitioners away from harmful involvements. But they are by no means absolute restrictions. For example, in the Chaitanya-Vaisnava tradition, the most revered exemplars of devotion are the village girls of Krishna’s home town of Vrindavana, who broke the moral law against affairs outside of marriage by sneaking away from their husbands at night to be with God in romantic love.

    This is an example of what Krishna is saying in this verse (9.30), and the Bhagavad-Gita in general; that although morality is necessary and helpful, devotion to God is of a higher value and may sometimes contradict scriptural morality, including restrictions on intoxication. This is confirmed in the Bhagavat-Purana (11.11.32), where God said:

    ājñāyaivaṁ guṇān doṣān mayādiṣṭān api svakān
    dharmān santyajya yaḥ sarvān māṁ bhajeta sa tu sattamaḥ

    “A devotee perfectly understands that the ordinary religious duties prescribed by Me in various Vedic scriptures possess favorable qualities that purify the performer, and he knows that neglect of such duties constitutes a discrepancy in one’s life. Having taken complete shelter at My lotus feet, however, a saintly person ultimately renounces such ordinary religious duties and worships Me alone. He is thus considered to be the best among all living entities.”

    This means that a devotee who risks crossing the moral instructions of the scriptures for the benefit of God and other people does not act selfishly, or ignorantly, but rather with full knowledge disobeys the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law. And for this he or she is praised.

    Prabhupad was an example of this. He was, like Arjuna, a person who in some cases had to override scriptural rules because of exceptional circumstances in order to fulfill the spirit of the law of God. For example, he crossed the ocean despite scriptural warning not to go to the West. He came to the United States at the age of 70 with no friends or contacts to greet him. And yet within a decade he gathered about 5,000 committed disciples, opened 108 temples, translated over 80 volumes of Sanskrit texts, traveled the world 14 times, and much more. He had the responsibility of single-handedly representing an ancient and sophisticated spiritual tradition, as well as creating the foundation by which it would remain and grow Worldwide after his death. For this reason Prabhupada hardly slept. He would sleep about 4 hours per day, passing his days guiding the active movement and his nights translating essential texts. So when Prabhupada used stimulants (mild intoxication) to remain awake during the night so that he could translate texts for the benefit of his followers, it was not hypocritical. Rather it was a conscious disobedience to ritual puritanism to fulfill the spirit of the law, and according to his own tradition, a legitimate and even praiseworthy act. According to the Bhagavad-Gita (9.30), he should be considered virtuous.

    The author of ‘Regarding Snuff’ wrote that, “You heard it here first: a coffee machine in every temple.” Here he implies that if Prabhupad can do it, then everyone can imitate him because there is no predetermined standard as to who can cross general prohibitions, in order to fulfill the ultimate purpose of the scriptures, namely, service to God. However, besides the obvious uniqueness of Prabhupad’s life, there is a standard, which is stated in the Bhagavat Purana (11.20.9):

    tāvat karmāṇi kurvīta na nirvidyeta yāvatā
    mat-kathā-śravaṇādau vā śraddhā yāvan na jāyate

    “As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for devotional service by śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ, one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.”

    This means that as long as one has a propensity to become diverted from the service of God towards selfish gratification, it is not proper to surpass scriptural prohibitions. However, a person who exclusively finds pleasure in service to God, rather than selfish gratification, is qualified to surpass scriptural prohibitions when it is necessary. Therefore it does not stand that because Prabhupada did it, that everyone can do it. Now the author of ‘Regarding Snuff’, I imagine will challenge my assumption that Prabhupad is on such a level. To this I respond that Prabhupada demonstrated a remarkable power in his life which is not possible to imitate. Prabhupada wrote that:

    “Lord Siva drank poison to the extent of swallowing an ocean, but if any common man tries to drink even a fragment of such poison, he will be killed. There are many pseudo devotees of Lord Siva who want to indulge in smoking ganja (marijuana) and similar intoxicating drugs, forgetting that by so imitating the acts of Lord Siva they are calling death very near.” (Bhagavad-Gita As It Is 3.24 Purport)

    So before rationalizing “a coffee machine in every temple”, marijuana, or taking snuff oneself in imitation of Prabhupad or Shiva, one must first be able to recreate their accomplishments.

    My purpose in relating all this information is not necessarily to promote my beliefs, but rather to defeat the criticisms of Prabhupad in this article. And as I already explained, to do this I simply need to accurately prove that the tradition he represented would not condemn his use of snuff. The Bhagavad-Gita and Bhagavat Purana quotes which I have provided accomplish this, which Prabhupada used as his central scriptural authorities. Therefore, he is not hypocritical, but rather, virtuous (sadhu) and the best of saintly persons (sat-tamah), in the words of these scriptures themselves.

    To be candid, I felt upset when I saw this article, and I suspect the author’s intention was to attack followers of Prabhupada rather than express any genuine concern. His research is very thorough, and yet his tone is sarcastic and hateful. I hope that he or she, who has chosen to write anonymously, will have a change of heart and not devote so much time and energy to writing meticulous yet empty criticisms. Life is much more fulfilling when devoted to the trust and love in worthy persons, who for me, includes Prabhupada.

    And for those who are new to Prabhupada:

    It is possible to criticize anyone, and all influential people have been criticized. But a reasonable reader should not make judgements from criticisms alone. No doubt, it is healthy to apply discretion in approaching any kind of religious authority. The author of ‘Regarding Snuff’ wrote of “how blindly one must follow in order to remain an ISKCON devotee.” But Prabhupad did not encourage blind following. What he actually taught was, in his own words:

    “One is free to deliberate on this subject as far as the intelligence goes; that is the best way to accept the instruction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Such instruction comes also through the spiritual master, the bona fide representative of Kṛṣṇa.” (Bhagavad-Gita As It Is 1863 Purport)

    I recommend the following webpage for anyone interested in reading more about Prabhupad:

    Damodar Roe

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice try trying to sidestep my logical and scriptural arguments by diluting my words with your rants and misrepresenting Prabhupada as a self-made teacher. Anyone who knows anything at all about Prabhupada and ISKCON know that Prabhupada is a Gaudiya Vaisnava who taught based on the scriptures called the Bhagavad-Gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam. Your logic is:

    Prabhupada taught that intoxication is bad
    Prabhupada took intoxication
    therefore, he is a hypocrite

    But I have challenged your first premise because Prabhupada used the Bhagavatam as his authority, a book which does forbids intoxication as a general rule, but also allows such under defined circumstances. So unless you can actually offer a superior hermanuetical argument, you are defeated. But hat you cannot do because you do not know the Bhagavatam or have faith in it. So therefore you cannot say what Prabhupada taught more than a superficial way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Superior hermanuetical argument…” Meh.

      This is your hermeneutics: “…There is no need for interpretation. Interpretation is necessary if things are not clear. But here the meaning is clear.” (Science of Self-Realization; Krsna, Christos, Christ) With a(n un)healthy dose of this: “…There is no room for common sense in the injunctions of the sastras… Common sense is always imperfect, whereas the description in the sastras is always perfect and complete. If there is any incongruity, it is due to our imperfection and not the sastras’.” (SB 2.1.30, purport)

      And since you’ve accurately represented my argument(s) – “Prabhupada taught that intoxication is bad;
      Prabhupada took intoxication; therefore, he is a hypocrite” – there’s nothing more for you to say.

      Still, tell me this, in your own words (i.e., leave scripture out of it): Why did ACBS use snuff? And, if your “hermeneutics” deem ACBS’s snuff-taking unobjectionable, why isn’t ISKCON more transparent about it?


  3. Maunamcaivasmiguhyanam,

    Please accept my humble respects.

    I think that what you’re doing here is important. I have been interested in the Hare Krishna movement for around half a year and I chant the maha mantra every day, but personally I reject most of Prabhupada’s teachings because I do not agree that he is infallible and “as good as God.”

    There is simply no reason for me to believe this because there is no evidence (apart from sketchy scriptures). Only blind faith. I do not believe anything if I do not have great evidence to support it.

    Let me say that I do not in any way mean to attack or discredit the Hindu religion or the sankirtana movement. The maha mantra is a very important part of my life now and I cherish my relationship with God that I have cultivated through chanting and through offerings to Him.

    However, being an intelligent and curious spiritualist, I am extremely skeptical of Prabhupada, who condones rape, violence, male superiority, and a very outdated view of science, among other things I cannot agree with.

    Please understand, not every one of the followers of the Hare Krishna movement are unalloyed devotees of Prabhupada. Most are, I think, but I personally do not think any man is worthy of worship. I worship God and God alone. But I have found the maha mantra to bring me great peace and religious joy, and has brought me closer to God. Of course I do not expect you to believe me blindly. But I want to share my experience and let you know that I appreciate you creating this blog to discuss Prabhupada, and let you know that I, for one, do not find offense in such objective and legitimate questioning.

    No, I do not think that it is wrong to question “authority,” because to do the opposite means presupposing divinity or perfection. And no, I will not argue with you or support Prabhupada blindly (or at all really). I respect Prabhupada for bringing me the maha mantra, but aside from that I cannot take anything he said seriously anymore after reading about him on your blog and on similar web sources. I never thought that everything he said was infallible, but I did once in naivety believe that what he said contained great truths. Now I think that, more than that, he has misrepresented the sankirtana movement, which, to me, is about love and acceptance (due to my experience) and not about dark age beliefs and mythology.

    I reject scriptures as “literal truths” and instead try to find real meaning in everything I experience. So I think Prabhupada was wrong about a great many things. This is my experience from learning in life and from reading objectively about him (even before reading your blog I had all these skeptical thoughts because he says things that are just absurd and I am not one to blindly accept anything without great evidence, as I have said).

    I think it is certainly very highly possible that Prabhupada was, as you said, a product of his time and place, and not a perfect being dispensing infinitely indisputable truth. And it is just as likely that the scriptures he referenced are not perfectly preserved from when they were introduced, and that he has not even interpreted these damaged scriptures correctly, and then his purports often diverge completely from the scriptures. So I don’t believe anything he says.

    But I want to know, what are your thoughts on the sankirtana movement APART from Prabhupada? Because while I have found Prabhupada to be a hypocrite and a very imperfect human being, I have found that chanting the maha mantra has consistently brought me ecstacy which has only grown over the days and months. But Prabhupada seemed, like I think you pointed out, to be more inclined to selling his books than propagating Krishna consciousness. By this I mean he was more interested in his own words than the ecstatic dancing and singing that Caitanya brought to the world.

    As a searcher of the truth, I have found and continue to find extraordinary truth and beauty in chanting Krishna’s names. But I have also found and continue to find great falsities in Prabhupada’s teachings so I reject him as my spiritual master or guru.

    This is my perspective.

    Thank you again for this blog, which has helped open my eyes, and thank you for your time reading this humble reply. I look forward to your response.

    Peace and love


    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this, Jake. You ask “what are your thoughts on the sankirtana movement APART from Prabhupada,” but I am incapable of separating one from the other. That’s an unavoidable consequence of the way in which I was exposed to “Krishna consciousness,” perhaps. At this point in time I couldn’t possibly think of one without also thinking of the other, and so I reject both. I don’t think you should take that to mean that I might one day be able to extricate some sort of enthusiasm for the “sankirtan movement” from my distrust and rejection of “Srila Prabhupada.” I have no desire to ever come to such a place. Like the stories of the so-called founder-acarya, mythologizing the hallowed history of the “holy name” and its proponents is to me equally as suspect.

      If you haven’t come across it already, I suggest you spend some time here:


  4. Thanks Damodar Roe, your reply makes good sense to me.

    You establish pretty clearly not only Srila Prabhupada’s standing in the Gaudiya tradition, but the list of some of his most extraordinary accomplishments, that far surpass what is possible for anyone not specifically empowered by Krishna.

    You also say that there are indeed circumstances where what is usually forbidden may be allowed in specific circumstances – of course, ayurveda is filled with specific remedies for specific conditions that utilize what would normally be poisons or forbidden.

    Actually Srila Prabhupada was already quoted herein in regards to distinguishing between what he did, and what anyone else would be doing in hopeful imitation. That he took a little snuff at night only, for his work, not for sense gratification. If he was helplessly addicted, then he would have been taking it all day, like any other nicotine addict. But what was his unusual circumstance? Well – first of all, he had almost died from several heart-attacks just coming to America – he should have in fact done so then, but his continued life was Krsna’s special mercy for us all. So what actual condition his entire cardiac system was in, we can only imagine.

    And then his writing, so many many books – and not like the previous acaryas in our line who also wrote extensively. They enjoyed living in spiritual and rural India, able to engage in bhajan in the most complementary environment, either in seclusion, or in the association of other first-class Vaishnavas. But this was not Srila Prabhupada’s position! He was responsible for so many thousands of neophytes needing so much of his attention, while he was also managing so many huge projects and preaching and traveling all over the world, all of which activities are enormously taxing on any ordinary person both mentally and physically. If Srila Prabhupada determined that a few pinches of snuff at night were a suitable aid to his extraordinary circumstances and service, how can any of us argue?

    Which of course brings me to the writer of this piece – it is hard to realize the level of ungrateful envy and hubris he has rooted so deeply within him. If Srila Prabhupada had not come, does he imagine he would even carry the name he has given himself, that he would know anything at all of this culture? I do not wish to engage directly with him, with such a cursed mentality. He is far too committed to aparadha to be able or willing to hear differently – he can only see the filth he is looking for, in accordance with his own consciousness.

    Srila Prabhupada’s bhakti is beyond question – or his stature as an uttama-adhikari, easily identifiable by the fact that his very presence resulted in so many people everywhere becoming inspired to chant and to serve Krsna. And such uttama-adhikaris are beyond the rigidity of the rules and regulations that bind the rest of us who are merely attempting to practice vaidhi-bhakti. This understanding has been misused to justify and extol the bad habits of neophytes in the garb of advanced Vaishnavas – but that is clearly not the case here. Srila Prabhupada’s adherence to his daily bhajan, his achievements, and his effects on the world, on the consciousness of millions, is undeniable evidence of his stature as an uttama-adhikari – and there are so many instances of such personalities accepting activities that are not allowed by others, or apparently abstaining from practices that are essential for those on lower stages. The lives of such siddha-purushas as Srila Vamsi das Babaji Maharaj offer plenmty of such examples – hence Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati disallowed most of his disciples from ever visiting this sadhu, because their less mature vision would cause them to make offenses. And then all would be lost for them. Just as with the immature writer of this piece. Simply a long litany of aparadhas, and not a single drop of bhakti, not a single inspiration towards bhakti, is to be found anywhere in it. The writer of this piece has revealed his own consciousness only, not the position of the Divine Couple’s own dear associate, whom we know as Srila Prabhupada. Poor fellow – he has no idea what he is actually saying or doing, how far removed from any possibility of bhakti he actually is, and where he is headed as a result of such miserly consciousness.


    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, ND. I think you may have missed my reply to DR’s comment ( as your analysis ignores some of the points made there. No matter. I find all that less interesting than your attempt to dismiss me and my rational criticism of ACBS with dogmatic fearmongering, which is (not incidentally) a crystal clear sign of cultic control.

      Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, in their brilliant book “The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power,” have actually composed the perfect reply to all this, so I’ll let their words speak for me:

      “Disciples usually become more attached to the psychological state that surrender brings than to the guru, whom they never really get to know as a person. Repudiation of the guru (or even doubt and questioning) means a return to earlier conflict, confusion, and meaninglessness. The deeper the surrender, and the more energy and commitment they put into the guru, the greater their emotional investment is. Disciples will thus put up with a great deal of contradictory and aberrant behavior on the guru’s part, for doubting him literally means having their world fall apart.

      “This is why many who are involved in authoritarian surrender adamantly deny they are. Those who see the dissembling in other gurus or leaders can find countless ways to believe that their guru is different. It is not at all unusual to be in an authoritarian relationship and not know it. In fact, knowing it can interfere with surrender. Any of the following are strong indications of belonging to an authoritarian group:

      “1. No deviation from the party line is allowed. Anyone who has thoughts or feelings contrary to the accepted perspective is made to feel wrong or bad for having them.

      “2. Whatever the authority does is regarded as perfect or right. Thus behaviors that would be questioned in others are made to seem different and proper.

      “3. One trusts that the leader or others in the group know what’s best.

      “4. It is difficult to communicate with anyone not in the group.

      “5. One finds oneself defending actions of the leader (or other members) without having firsthand knowledge of what occurred.

      “6. At times one is confused and fearful without knowing why. This is a sign that doubts are being repressed.”


      1. In this subject, the materially conditioned projections of flies on a stool-finding mission is hardly relevant!

        No scholar, no mundaner, no unrealized sadhaka is in any position to define the nature of the transcendental platform or the transcendental path of surrender to a bona fide Guru according top the perfect instructions of the Supreme Lord.

        If you or any scholars/researchers/psychologists you care to cite do not believe in the Lord’s position, or in the perfection of His words or other manifestations, i.e. the book and person Bhagavatas, then your entire situation is hopeless, you are merely a poor puppet under Maya’s complete spell, especially in the form of your false sense of self, the karana-sharira or ahamkara, which is clearly operating your thoughts and speech.

        Also – your silly response accusing me of ‘cultic fear-mongering’?!? Where did I engage in such in my previous note? I referred to you as as possessing a hellish mentality, and qualified such a description – but most of my words were simple appraisals of the actual facts of Srila Prabhupada’s accomplishments, to prove his utterly uncommon stature and position. Your arguments are crippled in their ‘logic,’ and I suitably rebutted them.

        FYI, I am not a member of the current organization known as ISKCON, though I am certainly under the anugatya of various elevated Gaudiya Vaishnavas, especially that of Srila Prabhupada – I have given clear justification for such an action, beginning with the fact that the most elevated personalities, who are engaged in raganuga bhakti, are themselves above the need to follow the rules and regulations that neophytes who are endeavoring to practice vaidhi-bhakti must follow ‘religiously.’

        Srila Prabhupada’s accomplishments speak for themselves – his transcendental status and empowerment and glories are all self-evident. Your own mentality is hellish and causes you only to focus on some kind of imagined fault, so that you criticize such a powerful and compassionate manifestation of Krsna’s own mercy – you will certainly reap the consequences of such ungrateful arrogance. This is a statement of fact, ‘karma’ mixed with aparadha and duskriti … but not ‘fear-mongering’ – telling the truth is not fear-mongering! But if you are too stupid or envious and covered-over to recognize the truth of who Srila Prabhupada, then life and nature will have to educate you in other ways.

        You could accuse Krsna of ‘fear-mongering’ because he is subjecting us all to repeated birth, disease, old age and death … or our Gurus of doing the same because they are pointing out thst such is all materialists have to look forward to, therefore you should use your intelligence to seek a superior life and consciousness.

        Meanwhile those who have a little sincere faith and humility in front of Srila Prabhup[ada are now reaping a little of the consequences of his actual activities and qualities, and are making significant advancement in spiritual life. But you have severed your link to such good fortune – how truly unfortunate you are!


      2. Your comments are perfect examples of cultic thinking. That you are incapable (or unwilling) to see that, is simply more proof of the same. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I have nothing to add to them.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. You are making a judgement, based purely on your own subjective emotional biased. To accuse me of mere cultic thinking, without making the slightest intellectual argument to justify such a claim, is not of the nature of philosophic get paid. It is purely ad hominem commentary, and is a useless display of your own bias.

        You have failed to in fact respond to or counter any of my arguments. Your position is hopeless. Why? Because not only is it sheer emotional biased, but it’s emotional quality is one of envy and offensiveness towards vastly Superior personalities


      4. You’re right, Narasingha. I didn’t take the time to respond to your reply by addressing your arguments directly. But then neither did you. Rather than read and respond to the excerpt I posted, which in fact directly addresses both the content and the tenor of your original comment, you attempted to dismiss it with an inane and dogmatic response, dubbing Kramer and Alstad’s insights “the materially conditioned projections of flies on a stool-finding mission.” That might impress some of your fellow cultists, but it does nothing to engage with the content of the analysis I presented.

        Because you insist that I respond to or counter your arguments, such as they are, I’ll offer a few more words in response. But, really, what’s the point? Your ability to think freely has been robbed by the fear of self preservation, for you are terrified that if you were to even think anything remotely negative about “Superior personalities” you might be forced by them to suffer in some hellish eternity for the sin of using your common sense. You feign ignorance of your having engaged in “dogmatic fear-mongering,” but all of your comments are filled with it. You want that I, like you, should cower in fear of the “sinful reactions” allegedly coming to me for my having seen and acknowledged clear faults in someone you presuppose is beyond criticism. So it goes.

        As I see it, life in your closed ideological system runs on two tracks: (1) complete mistrust and debasement of oneself, and (2) absolute and thoroughly irrational obedience to “spiritual” authority. One of the many negative results of this dynamic is that the ideology and its (more privileged) proponents will be forever and in all circumstances shielded from criticism, no matter how reasonable that criticism might be, meaning that any and all shortcomings must be blamed on the individual practitioner and his or her “materially conditioned mind and senses.” All of this explains why you need to attack me in the same instant you try to “protect” your “Srila Prabhupada.”

        I don’t imagine any of these comments will settle our disagreement or (let’s be honest) that you’ll even consider what I’ve said. Feel free to leave further comments, but I personally see nothing to be gained in continuing the conversation (aside from increased frustration for both of us). You’ll likely interpret that as your having “defeated” me. Fine. I couldn’t care less. At least you can rest easily knowing that cosmic retribution for my “enviousness” will come to me in due time.


  5. Even if Bhaktivedanta Swami slammed heroin in his balls and snorted 8 balls, many would still read his books, follow his instructions, and consider him a great Vaishnav.

    Lord Shiva, regarded by all Vaishnav sects as the greatest Vaishnav, drinks intoxicating beverages from skulls, covers his body in human ashes, and associates with demonic personalities who do far worse.

    Someone is a hypocrite if they violate the system of right and wrong that they claim to believe in.

    In all seriousness, if someone’s system says that:

    1. Living entities are bound (i.e. enslaved) by the material energy (i.e. the laws of nature).
    2. It is right for living entities to perform some specific process (i.e. follow the regulative principles, chant some specific mantras, etc…) to become free from bondage.
    3. For those who are already free (such as Lord Siva, Lord Nityananda, some great acharyas), following the process is optional.

    Then someone is a hypocrite if they don’t follow the process while believing themselves to be bound by the material energy.

    You may want to fix the conclusion of your disjointed essay (and all the typos).


  6. not just snuff , but saying it is:
    1) ” vedic ” to have sex with 10 year old girls ( paedophilia )
    2) the right thing to leave your family in the middle of the night ( ie to be ” callous ” ,Srimad Bhagavatam purport) ;devious cowardice on the part of ACBS
    any comments ?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. very interesting article , well , lets not talk about weather prabhupada has hypocrite or not hypocrite but my advice is ……………….why dont u try to solve the problems of world, climate, life , influence of bad political leaders, un-employment , rapes , terrorism , hungry ,overcoming new diseases by finding new medicine , poverty etc etc ………………

    because to publish a article is good but i feel the value of that good has no value because it has done nothing change in the lives of people and world………… remains as an article with no use just like a man explained nicely about new viral disease in the society but that man has no solutions for it , even if he had , the solutions had not successfully solved the spread of viral , so what is the value of his so called explaination ? no value ……… remains like that with nothing tangible .

    regarding problems , hypocritism , positives and negative about any man etc etc……….is relative for individuals …………………it cant be taken as fact , every man in this world has some problem with others or anything………..

    so u please prove urself as better man in solving the problems of this worldly people by showing example of ur life so that others can follow and be peaceful .

    and let me know after u successfully execute it .

    when i was child , i had a disease , the medicine was too bitter , that time i was thinking my parents are not good and rascals because they were telling me ” take it , it s good for health” and forcing me to take medicine but i was thinking ” they are forcing me to take it by telling me it is good for health and why are they not taking it for themselves ?” this is hypocrite right ? they are contradicting themselves right ?

    anyway child is always immature , to know why , child has to wait for time

    Liked by 1 person

  8. For most of its known history tobacco was used as a medicinal plant. The pre-columbian Native Americans from modern Mexico to Canada used it for a variety of ailments, including headaches and nasal inflammation. This was how it entered into use in Europe in the 1500’s. It was popularized as a medicinal herb by the French ambassador to Portugal Jean Nicot,from whose name we derive the word nicotine. In the beginning it was seen as a kind of panacea. Dried leaves would be smoked or powdered and inhaled and fresh leaves would be pounded and applied to wounds as a poultice. It was also a common practice to literally blow the smoke up your anus. All sorts of pharmaceuticals were created based upon the seemingly endless healing powers of tobacco. Only in the mid 1800’s, as scientific rigor took hold, was this brought into question. The medicinal pain relieving effects of nicotine were separated from the harmful alkalies found in the leaves. Tobacco use as medicine begin to fall out of favor in the early 1900’s.

    India, always slow to change, held onto the virtues of medicinal tobacco as late as 1992, when its government finally outlawed tobacco based toothpaste. The toothpaste was called “creamy snuff”.

    Of course, the recreational use of tobacco for pleasure is just as old. Native Americans smoked it communally for pleasure. After its dispersal throughout the Old World various forms of spice tobaccos for pipe smoking were cultivated with various forms of sweeteners and flavors added. In the 1600’s cigarettes and cigars arrived in Europe from the New World where tobacco had long been smoked by wrapping it in leaves.

    Snuff use was seen as both medicinal and pleasurable, a gentleman’s habit, as British as tea. It was commonly associated with the Scottish as they preferred it over cigarette or pipe smoking. In the same way a wooden Indian announced a general store sold tobacco in America, a wooden Scotsman announced a snuff store in England. As you say, perhaps Srila Prabhupada was introduced to snuff use at Scottish Churches college.

    As a pharmacist of his era, I am sure Srila Prabhupada not only used snuff medicinally but prescribed it and sold it.

    Now for my defense of Srila Prabhupada.

    It should be remembered that during Srila Prabhupada’s time, snuff was seen by the Indian public as a kind of harmless medicinal remedy for headaches and general bodily ailments. It was widely used in much the same way we use Vicks Vapor Rub today. In fact, if you look at the metal tins of Vicks Vapor Rub, they are designed to look like the same old medicine tins which were also widely used for snuff among other things. You can even buy a Vicks inhaler which shoots a myst into your nostrils. The active ingredient in Vicks is camphor, which has been used medicinally from time immemorial, much in the same way as tobacco (nicotine).

    You could argue that Srila Prabhupada should have known better. Perhaps some brave disciples could have suggested to their spiritual master that nicotine is not the best choice to manage his ailments, to steady dizziness, relieve headaches, or allay other symptoms widely (if not correctly) associated with high blood pressure. However, at the time the use of nicotine was not considered unhealthy. The link between smoking and cancer was only established scientifically in the 1950’s and began to come into the public awareness in the 1960’s. Not until the 80’s and 90’s was smoking considered anathema by the public.

    It should also be noted that nicotine, while addictive, is not necessarily bad for you. It is a stimulant similar to caffeine and is currently being researched as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. It is the smoking of tobacco to ingest the nicotine which is bad for you.

    Should Srila Prabhupada have used a mild stimulant medicinally? My guess is Srila Prabhupada used it because it worked. He was very practical.

    Should he have just used something else? Surely he understood that he was prohibiting his disciples from the use of intoxicants and therefore he should lead by example and adhere in the strictest way possible? Even if he felt the medicinal use of nicotine was no big deal and had found it to be helpful, surely he should put this aside for the greater spiritual good?

    My guess is that Srila Prabhupada was not fanatical. THAT is an example that we often fail to follow. Even in your relaying of how his disciples went out and bought snuff to imitate him, we can see that he was not angry or disturbed. His response was almost comical. Laughing at the “newbies”. On other occasions Srila Prabhupada was quite understanding and tolerant of devotees smoking. He asked them not to, but was not judgemental. His response was surprisingly detached. “Not a big deal just work on giving it up”. This is in contrast to how later devotees oftentimes respond to failings big and small.

    In other words, Srila Prabhupadas attitudes were more relaxed then ours. His medicinal use of snuff was no big deal to him. That in itself is a lesson. Perhaps our own attitudes need to be relaxed. For example an old female devotee with cataracts is using medical marijuana. Maybe instead of moralizing about her choices, we should go to the dispensary and pick it up for her.

    In your article you accuse Srila Prabhupada of lying. You say that he was most certainly using it for pleasure or as a stimulant for late night work, and that his claim to medicinal use was a red herring. Because you are making the accusation, you have the burden of proof.

    You used Occam’s Razor as a proof, that the simplest answer is often the correct one. More accurately, that “one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed”. It seems to me the simplest assumption is that Srila Prabhupada is telling the truth. When you argue that he had a lifelong addiction, that he lied to hide his addiction from his disciples, that he used it to stay awake at night pumping out nicotine fueled purports, you are adding assumptions.

    You have pointed out that his use of snuff increased as he approached death. This supports his claim of medicinal use. As his pain increased so did his use of snuff.

    Thanks for reading!


  9. After I finished reading your article I thought: If ACBS had prohibited intoxication for his followers and was himself taking intoxication then he was surely a hypocrite. This exact summary was given by Damodar Roe in the comments below and yet he finds some “scriptural” justification for (a) This hypocrisy or what is even worse (b) Claiming that this is not hypocrisy at all.

    Un-freakin-believable !!

    Liked by 1 person

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