Chakra Discussions

Aren't we non-sectarian?

by Rama Kesava das

Posted January 13, 2004

It was with somewhat bittersweet poignance that I read Gauripriya Prabhu's VNN Editorial about her difficulties with the Boise ISKCON temple. I, too, have first hand experience of this type of situation. I live near Edinburgh, Scotland (UK). The only temple here is ISKCON Karuna Bhavan - after that it is a two hundred mile trek south to ISKCON Newcastle, or, failing that, about 500 miles south to the Gaudiya Matha temple in Birmingham.

In September 2001, I took initiation from my Guru Maharaja, B.V. Tripurari Swami (a disciple of Srila Prabhupada). At that time I was attending the nama-hatta programmes held in Edinburgh, and on occasion going to the temple. However, once the temple authorities found out what I had "done", I received a telephone call to my work from Prabhupada Vani prabhu stating that I was no longer welcome, and that "Prabhupadad would not be happy with what you have done". The authorities here at that time - Vipramukhya and Sivarama Swamis - stood by that decision despite what both Gauripriya dasi and I would describe as inherent unfairness and discrimination.

Since that time I have not been to an ISKCON temple in the UK, despite being warmly welcomed at those in America, and at the Gaudiya Matha temple in Birmingham.

My main objection to this can be summed up thus:

Rule # from the 1995 Gurus and Initiation regulations states:

"ISKCON members who, in violation of ISKCON law, take initiation from gurus who have not been approved to initiate in ISKCON shall not be permitted to serve within ISKCON. If the non-approved guru has an institution or ashrama outside ISKCON, then according to standard etiquette, his disciples should serve within the institution of their guru and should not serve within ISKCON."

Fair enough. Anyone can understand this rationale - to prevent overzealous disciples of one guru "taking over" and abusing their hosts' hospitality.

However, the situation now is that although ISKCON temples and nama-hattas routinely invite Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, and persons of virtually all others creeds (as per Srila Prabhupada's desire), there is still a blinkered sectarian attitude regarding those Gaudiya Vaisnavas who through no fault of their own have taken initiation elsewhere. The rule above refers to service, not association. I am quite sure Gauripriya prabhu and others in our positions would be quite happy being told "you cannot serve on the altar", "you cannot do this", etc. - as long as we could come. Will you not even let us offer our dandavats to our worshipful deities?

To this end I would implore the GBC to formally consider and address the issue of non-ISKCON Gaudiya Vaisnavas visiting ISKCON temples and attending at ISKCON temples, and draw up additional guidelines for appropriate behaviour and etiquette for both temple authorities and non-ISKCON visitors. I am sure many members of ISKCON would prefer a society in which all are welcome, knowing their place.

Your servant,
Rama Kesava dasa