Chakra Discussions

No Take-Over: Phoenix Temple Remains Safely in ISKCON

by Harivilas das (ISKCON GBC)

Posted May 1, 2009

In response to Dasaratha Prabhu's article entitled "Hindu Takeover of Phoenix Temple", he and I may have different managerial styles, but I hope we share a keen desire to see the Phoenix temple develop and flourish. The goal must be to promote a Krishna conscious atmosphere in which the Phoenix devotees work together cooperatively. Unfortunately, the ongoing public dispute initiated by Dasaratha Prabhu casts a menacing cloud that can undermine the preaching efforts. Further, the disparaging of devotees who have dedicated their lives to Srila Prabhupada makes as much sense as criticizing someone in the shower for being dirty.

I have no doubt that the Tucson temple is proof of Dasaratha and Sandamani prabhus' sincere sacrifice and service to Srila Prabhupada. I was told, however, by senior members of the GBC Body that Dasaratha and Sandamini Prabhus have taken the Tucson temple out of the legal purview of ISKCON and the GBC authority. This may be their prerogative, but, it is something I have never done myself during my 40 years of service in ISKCON nor would I even contemplate doing such a thing.

With Hridayananda Maharaja obliged to focus his attention on his teaching at the University of Florida in Gainesville and other duties, the NA GBC felt that Phoenix needed more attention and support. I did not put myself forward to become the GBC secretary of the Phoenix temple as I have ample service already. This service was given to me. I accepted it as another opportunity to serve Srila Prabhupada, who wrote to me once that whenever one's service and responsibility is increased in Krishna Conscious it is a sign of Lord Caitanya's blessing. I have always cherished this instruction from Srila Prabhupada. Therefore, I believe it is my duty now to serve in Phoenix. I will do it without any self interest other than to help the devotees there work cooperatively to build up the temple programs.

An important step in advancing in Krishna consciousness is becoming free of temporary designations associated with the material body. In my case, through service and association with devotees, I had to reorient my self-identification from my material background to seeing myself as the eternal servant of Lord Krishna's devotees. Similarly, many members of the Indian community of Phoenix and elsewhere in the USA have undertaken significant responsibilities in ISKCON temples. They must be given credit for volunteering their expertise for devotional service and contributing generously for the maintenance of the temples.

From the spiritual perspective, the "Indian" or "American" designation is external to the real being within. Srila Prabhupada emphasized Lord Krishna's words in the Bhagavad-gita, "aham bija pradah pita." Lord Krishna says that He is the seed-giving father of all living entities. Therefore, regardless of superficial racial, ethnic or religious background, we are all members of Lord Krishna "Acyuta gotra" or spiritual family.

Still, it is difficult to do away with external perceptions. Srila Prabhupada was criticized by some people in India for corrupting the purity of Vaisnavism by initiating westerners. Thus, it is encouraging that so many sincere souls of Indian background have profoundly understood the Vedic knowledge and joined with their western brothers and sisters to serve Lord Krishna. Many have even accepted initiation from gurus in western bodies, instead of decrying an American take-over of Vaisnavism. This is the fulfillment of Lord Caithanya's and Bhaktivinoda Thakura's vision of the universal acceptance of Krishna consciousness.

Treating and respecting others as spirit souls is essential to harmony in our movement, which has so many diverse ethnic groups. Such respect and spiritual vision are necessary for the preservation of Srila Prabhupada's legacy of a world wide movement.

When Srila Prabhupada came to the USA from India, he did not have any prejudiced view of white Americans. I heard him say once to a French journalist, "When I am speaking to you, I am not talking to your pants or shirt. I am talking to your soul, who is the eternal servant of Krishna." This was the transcendental vision of the pure devotee and the reason why so many westerners joined the movement. A reverse discrimination of western devotees towards Hindus or any other group would be a gross violation of Srila Prabhupada's teaching.

I want to reassure everyone that there is no possibility of a hostile takeover of the Phoenix temple by any individuals or groups due to the loyalty of the present directors and the existence of a functional 501(c)(3) corporation in accordance with state and federal laws.

As life goes, there will be growing pains in the Phoenix temple, as well as mistakes to chronicle in website exposes. I believe the same could be said for Dasaratha Prabhu's attempts to build a temple and community in Sedona. I would appreciate if Dasaratha Prabhu hold off his fire and refrain from a public debate about the Phoenix temple for one year. Such a respite from ad hominem articles would provide a better chance of success for uniting the Phoenix community of devotees. After this grace period, I invite Dasaratha Prabhu and others to publish a fair assessment of the state of affairs in the Phoenix temple. I am sure Dasaratha Prabhu would appreciate the same courtesy from me.

As seen by the prolonged conflict in the Middle-East, each side may have points they deem valid but there is little hope for peace as long as there is no serious attempt to reach a consensus and strive for progress. Rather than criticize each other tit for tat, it would be better to concentrate our limited energies on positive development of Krishna consciousness.

I am praying that Srila Prabhupada bless all the Phoenix devotees to work together cooperatively so that within one year the temple will move forward significantly. As Srila Prabhupada has indicated, "cooperation is the basis of happiness."

The Phoenix devotees and I will always be grateful for the contributions of Dasaratha and Sundamani prabhus to the Phoenix temple. We welcome their positive encouragement for the sake of furthering Srila Prabhupada's mission now and in the future.