Book Review: Inside the Hare Krishna Movement
Posted June 10, 2006
Inside the Hare Krishna Movement: An Ancient Eastern Religious Tradition Comes of Age in the Western World
Author: Mukunda Goswami
In his book Inside the Hare Krishna Movement, Mukunda Goswami expertly discusses the relevance of Krishna Consciousness to modern life. Devotees are depicted not as ascetics renouncing the material world, but as active participants in the world's affairs. Devotees are shown associating with and distributing books, prasadam and the holy name to people from all walks of life, including celebrities and world leaders: Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Hayley Mills, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Fidel Castro, BIll and Hilary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Mother Teresa, etc.
Srila Prabhupada said Krishna Consciousness is meant to "solve all problems of the world." (p. 53) According to Mukunda Goswami, "Srila Prabhupada had an agenda for social change. He sometimes addressed financial, social, and political issues." The first lesson in Krishna Consciousness is that we are not these bodies--we are spirit souls. Social ills such as racism, sexism, caste-ism, nationalism and speciesism arise because souls falsely identify with their temporary bodies. On the spiritual platform, we are all equal. Herein lies the basis for a real "liberation theology."
Mukunda Goswami writes firsthand about the impact Krishna Consciousness would have on the world: "Political leaders must understand that human beings need to practice voluntary restraint in order to advance spiritually. Governments also need to be educated about the health threats, environmental degradation, and karmic disasters inherent in the flesh-food industry. Ignorance of this spiritual dimension has also made politicians permissive about obvious public dangers such as drinking, smoking, drug abuse, sexual harassment, pornography, and many environmental perils. Such permissiveness may be attributed in part to their own indulgence."
Mukunda Goswami addresses social issues such as abortion, euthanasia and animal welfare and rights. He demonstrates that Krishna Consciousness teaches a consistent ethic of nonviolence for all life--protecting animals as well as unborn babies. "The Krishna Consciousness movement," he writes, "can provide solutions regarding economics, the environment, family, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and education. We must master these solutions within our own Society, and we must do the needful to help others..."
According to Mukunda Goswami, "Shortages appear because of humanity's greed and lack of knowledge, which breed negative karmic reactions. In Mauritius in 1975, Srila Prabhupada said that the earth could support ten times its population, and modern research has found this to be true. A study by the University of California's Division of Agricultural Science shows that by practicing the best agricultural methods available, the world's farmers could raise enough food to provide a non-meat centered diet for a world population thirty times greater than can presently be fed. Incidentally, switching to a vegetarian diet would also bring many environmental improvements--less air pollution, water pollution, and destruction of forests, to name a few."
"During his time with us," writes Mukunda Goswami, "Srila Prabhupada constantly encouraged widespread book distribution as the top priority. He indicated that these writings would gradually effect change...(the) transcendental literature about Lord Krishna brings about 'a revolution in the impious life of a misdirected civilization'...By distributing his books, one is taking part in the process of social change, the revolutionary method of making the material world God-centered and therefore more livable. This, according to Srila Praabhupada, is the highest welfare work."
An historical inaccuracy occurs on page 212, where Mukunda Goswami says that starting in the early 1960s, educators began to remove the phrase "under God" from the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, recited every morning by children in the public schools. Actually, the original Pledge of Allegiance, as penned by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy in 1892, did not contain the words "under God." These words were artificially inserted into the Pledge by the U.S. Congress, under McCarthyism, in 1954.
Mukunda Goswami's criticisms of a secular society appear misguided. Secularism means tolerance of all religions and protects religious minorities like us. Krishna temples flourish in secular nations, but there are no Krishna temples in Islamic countries. Journalist Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State writes: "We have a vibrant, multifaith religious society that, with the exception of a few fundamentalist Muslim states, is admired all over the globe. We have a degree of interfaith harmony unmatched in the world. Our government is legally secular, but our culture accommodates and welcomes a variety of religious voices. New faiths take root here without fear.
"Americans remain greatly interested in religion and things spiritual--unlike their counterparts in Western Europe, where religion is often state-subsidized but of little interest to most people...Some European nations have passed so-called anticult laws aimed at curbing the rights of unpopular new religions. Such laws would not be acceptable in the United States or permitted under the First Amendment." Mukunda Goswami himself goes on to deplore "anti-sect" persecution against ISKCON in some European countries.
Mukunda Goswami acknowledges that "...the future of ISKCON--its
growth--will depend to a large extent upon congregational development."
(p. 197) And Inside the Hare Krishna Movement would be an excellent
book to give to congregational members to share with friends, relatives
and co-workers on the relevance of Krishna Consciousness to modern
life. As an ISKCON Life Member since 1988, I am pleased to endorse this