The Hinduization of ISKCON?
Posted February 12, 2004
I was somewhat surprised to see the February 1 posting of an article publicizing a forthcoming Shiva Ratri festival at ISKCON's temple in Spanish Fork, Utah. The article advertises "a sacred bathing ceremony of Lord Shiva, a power point presentation projected onto a huge screen, the chanting of Lord Shiva's 108 names, music, dance, and feasting."
Any Vaisnava is certainly always pleased to see Lord Shiva glorified as the greatest devotee of Lord Krsna, but this celebration seems to be coming from a different perspective. In fact the only mention of Krsna's name is that the celebration is to take place in a Krsna temple. In some places the article comes very close to pronouncing Lord Siva to be the Supreme Lord: "The Puranas also narrate another incident. The gods argued between themselves as to 'who is the greatest.' Lord Shiva appeared before them as an unlimited pillar of fire, of which no one could find the beginning or the end. They realized the greatness of Shiva and worshipped the Shiva lingam which is the form of the flame."
Numerous instructions from Bhagavad-gita and Srila Prabhupada stress the folly of worshipping the demigods, (E.g. "Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet." Bg 7.23) One cannot help but wonder what Srila Prabhupada would have thought of an ISKCON festival that glorifies the worship of the Shiva lingam.
Later the article goes on to proclaim that "Shiva Ratri is one of the most auspicious of days in the Hindu calendar." Therein, it seems, lies the crux of the problem.
Srila Prabhupada himself stressed many times that ISKCON was not a Hindu movement. Consider the following statement:
"...That Mataji, she has taken land. I don't like that idea. Some Hindus are supporting. I don't want a Hindu temple. Our constitution is different. We want everyone. Krsna consciousness is for everyone. It is not a Hindu propaganda. People may not misunderstand. And actually, till now in our society there is not a single other Hindu than me. (laughter) Is that not?" Meeting with Devotees - June 9, 1969, New Vrindaban
The irony of course is, that under Kirtanananda Swami's influence, despite Srila Prabhupada's sentiment expressed above, devotees at New Vrndavana increased their attempts to win favor with the Hindu population in order to raise funds for their expensive temple-building project. In the end, Kirtanananda had strayed so far from Srila Prabhupada's original mission and intent that ultimately he and his whole community of followers had to be excommunicated from ISKCON for a period of years in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Under Kirtanananda's influence, Srila Prabhupada's whole New Vrndavana mission of creating a self-sufficient community was minimized to make way for a program of ostentatious ritual and temple building - much of it geared to attracting the Hindu community and its wealth.
You would think that devotees in ISKCON would have learned their lesson from the tribulations of New Vrndavana. Unfortunately, over the last 10 or 15 years, one sees that more and more emphasis is laid on incorporating various rituals and practices to please the Hindu community, often at the expense of developing the Krsna consciousness movement according to Srila Prabhupada's expansive, non-sectarian vision.
What harm can this Hinduistic orientation do, one may ask? The problem is that every new element of ritual and Hindu tradition that is brought in means that another element of what Srila Prabhupada gave us is gradually pushed aside. We may have an opulent temple, with a Siva Ratri festival and meticulous observance of various aspects of Hindu practice and tradition-- but at the same time we are losing energy to pursue Srila Prabhupada's social programs of building self-sufficient Krsna conscious communities, developing cow protection and ox power, protecting children, and empowering women to take an active, prominent role in preaching Krsna consciousness.
In essence, as different ISKCON temples adopt more and more elements of Hindu tradition, they lose more and more of what Srila Prabhupada personally gave us. A remarkable example of this is the very fact that the Siva Ratri announcement was posted on February 1, the day before Lord Nityananda's Appearance Day. And yet, there was no announcement for a festival for Lord Nityananda at the ISKCON Spanish Fork temple. Apparently, energies had been diverted to something else. One more thing that strikes the reader about the announcement of the Siva Ratri demigod festival is that the GBC has thus far remained silent about it. If someone says that Srila Prabhupada was mistaken in his material assessment that men have 64 ounce brains and women have 32 ounce brains, or if someone is a follower of Narayana Maharaja or even Tripurari Maharaja, GBC members may denounce them or even ban them from ISKCON. But none of these practices necessarily contradicts the core of Srila Prabhupada's teachings.
But in this instance we see a whole ISKCON temple launching a Hindu festival of demigod worship which appears to contradict the very core of Srila Prabhupada's teachings - and yet so far the GBC has remained silent. Given the degree and the scope of the discrepancy in this case, one wonders if they will feel it will it merits some comment from them.
Without a doubt Hindus are some of the nicest people a person can meet. So are vegetarians, vegans and even Sanskrit scholars. But we need to remember that these are all material - not spiritual - categories. Because these people may be already in the mode of goodness, they can be easily attracted to ISKCON temples. But when they are attracted, it is we who should be giving them Srila Prabhupada's teachings about how to be a Vaisnava -- not that we should leave Srila Prabhupada's teachings, and take up their lifestyles of Hinduism, vegetarianism or being Sanskrit scholars. If we do that, we do a disservice to both them and ourselves, and to Srila Prabhupada's Krsna consciousness mission.
ISKCON has many big expensive temple and Deity projects underway these days, which require a lot of funding. If we approach the Hindu community with the goal of exploiting them and getting their money, no matter what we have to do, both we and they will be the losers in the end. In Kali Yuga we must remember that gold is the legitimate home of the personification of sinfulness. Just like fire, it must be handled very soberly and carefully if we are to effectively serve Krsna with it. Attempting to get gold by Hinduizing ISKCON is a strategy we use when our judgment is clouded by the mode of passion.
Some may feel that worries about the dangers of Hinduism displacing Krsna consciousness in ISKCON are exaggerated here. If so, they should read to the end of the ISKCON Spanish Fork announcement: "Next event: Festival of Colors (Holi) Saturday, March 6th, 4 pm." Then they should check their calendars to see if there are any important Vaisnava celebrations at that date, which are not being mentioned.