Interestingly, while offering universal solution to universal suffering we are not very clear about our own future, about what we want to be.
Sure, we have our ISKCON goals but that is not enough to envision our ideal society, ideal ISKCON.
If we read Prabhupada’s books, he mentiones ISKCON numerous times in various contexts but I like these two quotes:
ISKCON tries to perfect one who enters the society. The members of this society should always remember that the society is not like a free hotel. All the members should be very careful to execute their spiritual duties so that whoever comes will automatically become a devotee and will be able to return back to Godhead in this very life. SB 5.8.30
It is therefore requested that all our devotees in the ISKCON community become pure Vaiṣṇavas, so that by their mercy all the people of the world will be transferred to Vaikuṇṭhaloka, even without their knowledge. CC Antya 1.32
From these two it’s clear that ISKCON should maintain exceptional standards of purity and be clearly separate form the rest of the world, which might be saved by our efforts even without their knowledge.
In real life, however, the difference between ISKCON and the rest of the world is never clear. We have life membership program, for example. Are those people supposed to become pure, exemplary devotees? I don’t think so.
What about our congregation? People who regularly come to our temples but are not so strict in their personal behavior comparing to temple devotees. What about devotees who drifted away over the years and more likely than not engaged in some less wholesome activities? What about devotees who got married and carried away, too? What about devotees who left ISKCON for other Gaudiya institutions but would fiercely defend their loyalty to Krishna? What about Hindu community that has loyalty to no one in particular but are always there, ready to serve the Lord?
When problems come they all can be counted on. Be it revocation of Bhaktivedanta Manor’s temple license or trial over Bhagavad Gita in Russia.
Are they all ISKCON?
And if they are, should ISKCON embrace more and more of these kinds of people?
I think one day we should face the fact that we need to separate our ISKCON layers. There should be inner core and ever expanding circles coming from it in all directions. Only devotees in the inner core can be called ISKCON devotees in the sense Srila Prabhupada meant it, and only they can lay claims to promised benedictions, like going back to Krishna at the end of their lives.
Nobody outside that circle will be forgotten but they also shouldn’t expect to get the same results as sannyasis who travel the world for decades and train thousands of disciples, and do it all without any concern for building personal safety nests.
If we acknowledge this difference that it would be easier for us to talk about our vision for the future. We will not take over the world, we probably won’t even try to establish worldwide varnashrama, just maintain our ever-expanding vortex of sankirtana. As Sripa Prabhupada said, those who are not sucked in can still attain Vaikuntha at the end of their lives and become pleasantly surprised.
This would also make a case for daivi-varnashrama rather than Vedic society for all, but it’s a case for another day.