Ekādaśī Śrimad Bhāgavatam class in Mayapur usually consists of a recording of Śrila Prabhupāda followed by a short discussion about what he said. This discussion is done more in a format of inverse questions and answers where devotees in the audience get picked up by a teacher to demonstrate that they have been listening, rather than audience asking the speaker as usual. I’m glad I’ve never been caught out this way, I can never answer anything on the spot, my brain is too slow for this.
This ekādaśī, however, was different. Instead of the usual memory check something else came up on the screen. There was a moment of confusion as the MC didn’t know himself what exactly was going on. After a short consultation with video team he told everyone to simply watch a short film “about Prabhupada”.
Turned out it was this video (Vimeo). I don’t want to include it here for reasons explained later.
I don’t know if this episode will find its way into ISKCON bashing sites but I won’t be surprised if it will. If you watch it without sound there are no problems – you can see Mayapur, ecstatic devotees, scenes of the dhāma, Prabhupāda Samādhi etc. Elephants might have been a bit out of place but they are okay for a video about India, no problem.
There was no Prabhupāda in the video, however, not that I remember, but it’s a minor detail, devotees who arranged this presentation on ekādaśī needed it to sound legitimate and so “about Prabhupāda” line was born.
Real problem was that the soundtrack for this video “about Prabhupāda” didn’t have any devotional singing. We can see kīrtanas but we cannot hear them. No mahāmantra, no bhajanas, nothing, just modern instrumental music, “trip hop”, as they called it on wikipedia. The musician himself is not a devotee, or at least he doesn’t declare himself as such anywhere in public.
The music was kinda nice to hear, good choice, but that’s exactly what is wrong about it – it pleases our senses, not the Lord’s. We enjoyed it, not the Lord, we want to hear more of it for ourselves, forgetting about the Lord’s enjoyment completely.
At first I thought maybe it was a recording from one of those “bhakti-fests” where they might not sing but at least everyone is supposed to be in devotional mood. Nope, it’s a studio recording from eight years ago, which only raises more questions to people who selected it for video about Mayapur.
The way I see it, they didn’t look for any devotional music at all, they just remembered this nice track from years ago they thought was attractive and pleasing to the ear. Looks good, sounds good, and it’s “about Prabhupāda”. Okay, really it’s about Mayapur but in a very loose sense anyway.
Here’s my second problem with this video – what does “Entrance into Eternity” mean? Are these just words thrown around by neo-māyāvādīs that are meant to invoke nice feelings rather than make logical sense? If that’s how they chose this title then there’s no point in dissecting it, every meaning is good, everything is okay, it’s “about Prabhupāda”…
Well, my interpretation is that these ecstatic kirtanas shown in the video are nothing more than just entrance, and then they lead to eternity. Or maybe Maypur is an entrance that leads to eternity. Somewhere there must be entrance that leads elsewhere, to eternity. Images of Rādhā-Mādhava is just an entrance, devotees are just an entrance, kirtans are just an entrance, Prabhupada is just an entrance, Kṛṣṇa is just an entrance to eternity, which is the ultimate goal.
That’s pure māyāvāda, there’s no other way to see it.
Of course the title can be interpreted differently, like watching this video is an entrance into devotional life – seeing ecstatic devotees will make one try their kīrtans for himself. Maybe someone’s devotion will start with this video, maybe it will blossom. This means that it’s not what you see but the act of watching itself is entrance into eternity, not the most direct explanation. It gives too much benefit of doubt to its creators, imo.
My interpretation matches with kīrtanless soundtrack better – what you see is only the means, there’s no point in dwelling on exactly what they are singing, there’s no point in sampling their music, we go for eternity so this “Anthem by Emancipator” fits it better than kīrtans themselves.
From māyāvāda point of view devotees shown in the video are just neophytes, they haven’t entered eternity yet though they discovered a cool way to reach there. Once they see beyond their singing and dancing they’ll appreciate the eternity and universal love, and then their journey will become their destination, or some such crap.
I really hope that it was all just a misunderstanding and that no one on that production team harbors any māyāvāda ideas. Otoh, someone deliberately chose trip hop soundtrack over devotional music, so…
If there’s some outrage expressed somewhere I would totally understand it – why would anyone bring sensual, non-devotional music to Mayapur, of all places? What are they trying to prove? What are they trying to show? Why would anyone play it during Bhāgavatam class? Why would anyone play it right after Prabhupāda’s lecture? On ekādaśi?
I guess I can imagine how these actions can be defended, too – someone just wanted Mayapur to look nice, and they did, the cinematography is superb, everything looks very professional and it sounds nice, too, so what’s the problem?
One could also say that it was not originally meant for devotees but to attract outsiders. Typical line of reasoning would be about bad connotation that comes with “Hare Kṛṣṇas” so it’s better to avoid it at the first meeting, let people just see how ecstatic our life is instead.
We usually say that Prabhupāda was always a straight talker and he would have none of this nonsense but that is not entirely true. He knew very well that for preaching purposes our message sometimes needs to be modified and sweetened. The goal is to give people the medicine of the mahāmantra, if they don’t like the taste at first we can mix with with sugary words and attractive imagery.
I can look it up but I’m sure that Prabhupāda didn’t insist on straight on Kṛṣṇa consciousness being presented in places like Soviet Russia or Iran, he had no objections about taking it slowly there first. There’s no reason we can’t employ this same method in a hostile western environment. Forty years ago we were welcome as a novelty but we ourselves sullied our reputation and so there is a need to disassociate us from people’s bad memories. We can’t start with “We are those Hare Kṛṣṇas you surely must have heard about years ago”.
This is walking a thin line, though, if we present Kṛṣṇa “forcefully” and make mistakes we at least force people to hear the message and the Name. It’s transcendental, it will work its way into people’s hearts regardless of their initial reactions. Mahāprabhu is also not strict with those who make mistakes while preaching about Kṛṣṇa.
If we take it slowly, however, and didn’t get a chance to introduce Kṛṣṇa at all – what have we achieved? Nothing. We get only a few minutes for our presentation and if it didn’t work we have completely wasted a precious opportunity.
There’s a much bigger downside to caution here, and beating about the bush does not please Mahāprabhu as much as preaching straight.
Still, if the preaching attitude is there and the goal is to attract people to Kṛṣṇa then criticizing this video is unwarranted. People preach according to their abilities. If they come up short by somebody else’s standards it doesn’t mean Kṛṣṇa does not appreciate their effort at all, and if Kṛṣṇa appreciates it – who are we to argue?
Somebody just have to make sure that videos like this are produced and distributed in good faith. If the attitude is wrong then it all smacks of māyāvāda and needs to be condemned in strongest possible terms.
I’m not the one doing this attitude check so I better shut up for now