A Rush To Judgment?
Posted February 26, 2004
Krishna explains that "every endeavor is covered by some sort of fault" (Gita 18:48). Prabhupada understood this. Often, when devotees came to him criticizing the efforts of others he challenged them to go out and make a better effort than the devotees they were criticizing. Thus I am compelled to respond to Hari Krsna dasi's criticisms in The Hinduization of ISKCON? Actually, what she is perceiving as a fault in Caru's efforts may not even be a fault at all.
I think that as we review the efforts of devotees, we should, unless proven otherwise, give them the benefit of the doubt and consider that their intentions are to spread the mission of Srila Prabhupada. It seems we have become too eager to rush to judgment and jump on some perceived fault of a devotee. Although I have never met him nor been to his center, Caru das has been steadily committed to his project for many years. And when I read his announcements and communiqués I am impressed.
Many people in the West are either familiar with or curious about Shiva. And the Hindus, of course, delight in Holi. These are hooks or buzz words to attract the reader. A devotee may put on a cultural presentation about Shiva or may celebrate Holi, but what is their actual intention? My conclusion is that here is a devotee who understands Prabhupada's vision of "cultural conquest" and is expert in promoting his events to get people to the temple and learn about Krishna. I am reminded of the story of Bhaktisiddanta telling one of his disciples who was preaching in London to serve meat if he had to in order to attract people to hear the message of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
"Vegetarian" is another buzz word. A very dear friend began his preaching efforts by offering vegetarian cooking classes at colleges in the early 80's. To this day many of those American students who came to his classes continue to be favorable to the movement. So we have to trust devotees who are "racking their brains" (in Prabhupada's words) to present Krishna Consciousness in a variety of contexts; be it vegetarianism, yoga, academia, contemporary music or whatever. Hare Krsna dasi seems to be more skeptical when she writes "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." I don't see a problem when devotees appear as scholars, professors, artists, musicians, yogis, Democrats, etc to network in order to introduce Krishna Consciousness to others.
As for The Hinduization of ISKCON? - I don't disagree with her basic premise. Yes, temples have become complacent catering simply to their Hindu congregations. There is also an influx of Indian devotees who are more visible in temple management and preaching. This probably has most casual American visitors thinking that ISKCON is just a Hindu movement and that there is no room for them. We have to develop ways to reach out and attract a larger segment of the population. Due to our short sightedness in the past, the movement in America has failed to create a diverse congregation.
Of course, temples are struggling to survive. And friends and supporters have to be acknowledged. Over the years, as the movement has dealt with allegations of being a cult, of brain washing, of child abuse, of misappropriation of funds and abuse of power, it's the members of the Hindu community who have proved to be a constant ally and supporter. Their participation also helps validate ISKCON as being an authentic expression of Vedic culture and philosophy. At this stage of our development who else, other than the Hindu community, is going to support projects like cow protection. Again Prabhupada's words were to "do the needful."
The kaliyuga is certainly an ocean of faults and none of our efforts are perfect. I'm sure we can find fault with one another until we are lowered into the grave (or our ashes spread in the Yamuna). I, for one, would like to see more articles about individual devotee's efforts and successes; their hopes, their visions, their realizations and, yes, even their struggles and doubts. I want to be inspired by their stories; to see how devotees are striving to keep Krishna in the center of their lives and making Krishna Consciousness available to the public in many diverse and interesting ways
There is a poem by Robert Frost about two gardeners tending to the gardens and lawns of a large estate. One of the men doesn't see himself as having any connection with the other gardener since they both work separately. Then he comes to a place where the other gardener has been, and it looks beautiful. And he realizes that although they are both working in different places and doing different things in the garden, they are actually working together.
In conclusion I want to thank Hari Krsna dasi for sharing her concerns and also thank the devotees at Chakra for creating a forum so that readers may discuss various issues.
Check out two websites:
- Sankirtana's commentary on the growth of New Vrindavan and ISKCON at http://www.hanover.edu/newvrindavan - the site is sponsored by Hanover College.
- Sankirtana's programs and workshops of sacred and multicultural storytelling at http://www.sacredvoices.com