Chakra Discussions

Seminars for sale: bhakti or business?

by Anantadeva das

Posted October 26, 2004

Since the samadhi of Srila Prabhupada, it has become a widening practice within ISKCON to charge fixed fees for courses on the Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, etc., and even mundane psychology, something unheard of in the manifest presence of Srila Prabhupada. One recent advertised course costs 10,000 rupees, exclusive of room and prasadam; another course, of four months' duration, is advertised as costing 1200 euros.

Is this new entry into Vaisnava society bona fide? Is the demand for money in return for instruction in Krsna consciousness in line with the principles of unmotivated bhakti and the traditions of our sampradaya?

Srila Prabhupada has declared that, according to the rules of Manu, Yajnavalkya, Parasara and other sages, the sages and brahmins who advised kings such as Pariksit would never have accepted a salary. Prabhupada frequently cited the example of Canakya, who continued to live simply without accepting any salary, even after being appointed prime minister for Candragupta Maurya, declaring that a brahmin who accepts a salary descends to the level of a sudra, or even a dog.

Many examples can be found in the Vedabase in which Srila Prabhupada castigates people who receive money for offering instruction, even calling them "professional Bhagavatam reciters."

"A brahmin is eager to see that people are educated," he declared. He was openly scornful of those who made a living from "selling Vedic mantras and reciting Srimad-Bhagavatam to maintain their families."

For example, in Honolulu, in 1969, he said, "Krsna says, 'You speak,' so we are speaking. That's all. Why should we charge? If somebody, out of sympathy, gives us something, we don't refuse. . . [but] there is no official cost."

"Teaching is the business of the brahmin. No salary." Formerly, he said, a brahmin would have a tola or catuspathi where he or she would sit down and teach. The students would bring some rice or dhal, or some other present, and the brahmins would be satisfied: "Whatever Krsna sends, that's all right."

Again, we hear,

"Only one who is completely surrendered at the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, depending fully on Him for personal maintenance or even for maintenance of his family, can attain perfection by recitation of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is full of narrations of the pastimes of the Lord and His devotees.

"The process can be summarized as follows: the audience must be faithfully receptive to the Bhagavata message, and the reciter should completely depend on the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhagavata recitation must not be a business.

"If done in the right way, not only does the reciter achieve perfect satisfaction, but the Lord also is very satisfied with the reciter and the audience, and thus both are liberated from material bondage simply by the process of hearing."

ISKCON, in the matter of attempting to educate its members in Vaisnavism, has now adopted the college paradigm of the mleccha/yavana society rather than that of the Vedic culture. One pays a fee and receives a certificate, as in a mundane college.

Such financially based procedures are unheard of in the Vaisnava literatures Srila Prabhupada worked so hard to present. In fact, they are actively condemned. Certainly, Srila Prabhupada, even in his most penniless moments, never charged fees for instruction.

The practices of colleges that Srila Prabhupada referred to as 'slaughterhouses' have become the methods of ISKCON,. as the society studies but strays far from the practice of Vedic knowledge.