Chakra Discussions

Unity In Perversity

by Urvashi Patel

Posted May 3, 2006

I recently read a report on Chakra about the GBC meetings in Mayapur ( Click Here ). What struck me most was Jayadvaita Swami's presentation entitled "Unity in Perversity", a report on schisms within religious movements and particularly within ISKCON. Maharaja stressed that we should deal with differences and schism through dialogue rather than in a negative and combative way. I especially found Maharaja's ten recommendations brilliant and courageous. It is worth reading them again:

1.) Recognize that post-charismatic dilemmas are an inevitable part of ISKCON's existence.

2.) Recognize that efforts to shut down or drive out dissenters-while sometimes perhaps required or inevitable-have only limited effectiveness, and may sometimes backfire.

3.) Recognize the value of the diversity of views among ISKCON members, on all sorts of issues.

4.) Continue to support and encourage ISKCON Resolve and the ombuds and mediation services it offers.

5.) Encourage "safety-valve institutions" - that is, opportunities for members to raise issues and blow off steam (such as the GBC open door sessions).

6.) In response to competition, recognize that combative responses alone are likely to fail without improvements in your "product, marketing, and customer service."

7.) Recognize that the appearance of "competition" within ISKCON, for example, two seemingly competing temples in one region, may serve to promote rather than hinder the spread of Krsna consciousness.

8.) Recognize the post-charismatic phase some groups are entering and how that is likely to affect its members.

9.) Vigorously explore opportunities for reconciliation.

10.) Take advantage of opportunities to learn more from conflict theory, the sociology of organizations, and the history and sociology of religion.

One of my friends has recently returned from a retreat in Leicester , UK. She was disturbed and had the following to say. While the seminars had been very inspiring due to the presence of Jayapataka Swami, Jayadvaita Swami and Kadamba Kanana Swami she saw a group of devotees sitting near the conference venue doing harinam while giving out prasadam and Srila Prabhupada's books. She joined the chanting for a while and when questioning the devotees if they were also coming to the seminar she found out that they had not been allowed to participate.

I feel this is a sad situation. I also heard that the local temple president is actually a disciple of Jayadvaita Swami himself. This kind of schism within ISKCON looks very bad in the eyes of the Indian community. These devotees seemed to be enthusiastic and genuine followers of Srila Prabhupada. They were not connected with any branch of the Gaudiya Math, Ritvik or any other Vaishnava grouping. They said they were running a small Centre, had an active Food for Life programme, preached at the local university and distributed Srila Prabhupada's books.

My concern is that these wonderful points Jayadvaita Swami has expressed so nicely do not actually filter down to the local level of managers and temple presidents. Surely there must be ways of dialogue to embrace all Vaishnavas in Srila Prabhupada's movement to work together or at least co-operate. If we keep demonizing and banning devotees who may not fit our expectations of management due to fear of competition we do actually hinder Srila Prabhupada's preaching mission. Leicester seems to be just another example of how two apparently competing Centres could potentially serve and promote rather than hinder the spread of Krishna consciousness.

I fully agree with Suresh Prabhu's observation in his article 'Cooperation Preferable To Catcalling' ( Click Here ) and his comments on the decline of book distribution. Surely more books could be distributed if ALL Vaishnavas worked together and stopped fighting and bickering amongst each other. It is indeed very embarrassing. It is a sign of immaturity to think we are the only ones right. It is the same fanatical attitude we so easily point out amongst Christians, however, we do the same thing in regards to other Gaudiya groupings and now even within ISKCON itself as shown on the example of Leicester.

Don't let Kali win this battle!