I don’t mean Māyāpura is doomed, I mean the doom it brings to visiting devotees. It’s not supposed to be understood this way but Māyāpura changes people, for good. Hopefully always for the better but maybe sometimes for the worse, too. In any case, once you have changed there’s no coming back. Things you were used to before will be gone forever, there’s no return, you are doomed.
Ultimately, everything that happens to us is for our benefit, even for ordinary materialists, so there’s nothing to worry about when we lose or gain something. In short and medium terms, however, some things are beneficial for our progress and some aren’t and we judge them accordingly. So, there could be situations where a visit to Māyāpura prevents a long term disaster but appears to damage our spiritual lives from a short term perspective.
I would even argue that this is a very common occurrence, we just don’t see it that way.
Originally, annual Māyāpura festivals were meant to recharge our spiritual batteries for a year-round preaching. That’s how Śrila Prabhupāda devised them – to let devotees get a taste of what is coming so that their faith becomes stronger and they see more compelling reasons to preach in cold and gloomy west. It certainly works for some but not for as many as we’d like.
What was true in Prabhupāda’s time might not be true anymore because devotees have changed, it’s been almost half a century, after all, which is a lot of time in the modern, Kali Yuga world. Just think about people back in the sixties and seventies, it was a height of the Cold War, hippie revolution, flowers, flying to the Moon and dreaming about the world of 2000.
We, the humanity, are a lot more cynical now. What was exciting fifty years ago only make us cringe t our naivety. Communism had become a huge disappointment, and then so did democracy. Flying cars haven’t been invented and no one flies to the Moon anymore, Americans don’t have a rocket to fly anywhere, period, they hitch rides on Russian rockets instead.
Social fabric has been completely torn apart, homosexuality and feminism have become a norm, and people go to concerts to take selfies, not to listen to ground breaking music.
ISCKON has also changed, devotees changed, tricks our managers used in Prabhupāda’s time do not work anymore, we’ve learned a lot of lessons and become very sensitive not to repeat them again. It’s not that we became more advanced, we rather became more sophisticated in our ignorance.
When devotees come to Māyāpura they certainly get a lot of inspiration but they do not apply it in the same way Śrila Prabhupāda had hoped all those years ago.
I suspect even in those days there were devotees who saw trips to Māyāpura as a validation of their progress or position in the society but let’s not dwell on the past, it’s not a problem anymore.
Everyone can go to Māyāpura now, even Russians, or, as they called them once, CIS devotees, have got enough money to visit India, money is not a problem. When the society consisted mostly of brahmacārīs they depended on the mercy and generosity of their superiors and so getting on the list of those who gets to go to India was an achievement, a sign of status. When everyone works and has his own money going to Māyāpura adds nothing to his status. So, okay, that motivation is gone, which is a good thing, right?
There are other problems still, yet unresolved.
Come, see Māyāpura, take in the spiritual atmosphere, which is always so thick there you can cut it with a knife, then go and share this ecstasy with people of your home country. Very easy, but it rarely works. Why?
I’d say it works on two kinds of devotees – very simple and very advanced. Most of us are neither. Most of us are not advanced enough to feel the innate need to preach. We get ānanda, we keep it to ourselves, we are not mature enough to share. We are envious of others, we don’t think they deserve to be equally blissful, most of the time we look at them with critical eyes and they never live up to our expectations, so no ānanda for them. If they want it, they have to work for it themselves. Holy Names are there for everybody, if they want bliss they should do their chanting themselves.
“They have to earn it, they have to earn their entrance to the dhāma. I worked my ass off to save this money and I prayed, and I did a good job because now not only I can afford to go to Māyāpura every year but I’m thinking about buying a condo there. If they were as dear to Lord Caitanya as I am He would have given them money, too. Or, if they got the money, I got contacts there, I’m needed there, I’m a part of Lord Caitanya’s eternal club of dhāma-vāsīs. If they want to be there, they have to make their own way, they have to serve their own authorities, it’s a privileged position that is not be shared lightly.”
So they don’t preach. They treasure their success too much to give it away. “It’s not mine to give,” they might even say, “Go beg Lord Caitanya yourself”.
So, we are not advanced enough to share our spiritual accomplishments, and we are not simple enough, too. A simple devotee would taste the bliss, come back home, and continue doing his service. We get the bliss and we want more of it right there, in Māyāpura. We come back and all we can think about is how awful our place is and how it was much better in India.
There’s a clear culture shock on return, you step off the plane and you just feel the weight of the Kali Yuga. People are not the same as in India, the atmosphere is not the same. We walk around and we feel that we don’t belong here, that our place, our real home, is Māyāpura, or Vṛndāvana, as the case may be.
We cannot stay satisfied in our position, as a simple devotee would be, we want better things for ourselves, we feel we’ve made a great advancement and we need to validate our progress by getting spiritual “promotions”. Walking the streets with books is for neophytes, we are ready for bhājana, we get to preach to other devotees, not to karmīs. So we don’t preach, if you don’t count sitting there spreading the word of our own advancement as preaching.
Yet there are others who treat visits to India as holidays. In Europe everybody gets a holiday once a year and everybody tries to travel somewhere warm and famous – Spain, Egypt, Thailand, etc. We go to India instead, and we go in March. People get charged by frolicking on the beaches, they come back, show off their tan, and feel good about themselves and their lives. We are no different, we might even stop in Thailand on the way back, to get two birds with one stone.
I don’t know what Lord Caitanya thinks of such visits. Maybe He doesn’t mind, who knows.
Bottom line – we come back and we don’t preach, we are too smug to bother.
We also get the idea that Māyāpura or Vṛndāvana are the best places for devotees, it’s said so in our books, after all. This means that streets where we live and where we are supposed to preach are not the best places for us. We think that staying there, meeting all those karmīs is not where we are supposed to be. We want to go back home, back to Kṛṣṇa, and He lives in Vṛndāvana, so that’s what we want, for ourselves.
How about what Kṛṣṇa wants from us? What Lord Caitanya wants from us? What Śrila Prabhupāda wants from us? What our guru wants from us?
These days one can easily find a guru with an āśrama in Vṛndāvana. If he wants to be there then he is not going to push us out into the cold streets of our cities, we’ll be safe with such a guru. He might tell us to preach as a test but if he himself spends most of the year in India then eventually we’ll get there, too.
Luckily, not everything is so bad. ISCKON is still a preaching society and most who entertain thoughts like the above tend to drift away to bābājīs or Gaudīyā Maṭhas.
My point is that we should watch out for attitudes like that in our own lives and we should not allow ourselves to indulge in such thinking. Maybe getting to Māyāpura IS a test, but we mostly fail it and so the Lord gives us shelter there because it’s where it is easier to keep us under control. If we pass, however, then we get to go and serve the Lord for His own pleasure. We get to take risks and suffer inconveniences on His behalf.
Will we get the same comfort and bliss from Him? Shouldn’t be our consideration at all. If we pass our Māyāpura test we won’t be thinking in such self-centered terms.
Our dharma is to preach, that’s what constitutes saṅkīrtana, congregational chanting. Mutually scratching our backs and congratulating ourselves that we have made it to Māyāpura is not saṅkīrtana. I would even say that no one who really wants to please the Lord will spend even a day there, it’s a place for those who want to accept Lord’s service instead, for those who want to enjoy at His expense, albeit spiritually.
No one needs us there. Yes, we need a big temple so that many Indians can come but it’s such a lame excuse. We don’t know what their motivations are, we can’t even talk to each and every one of them, we don’t really get to preach. We should be going out to meet them in their homes instead – that’s what Lord Caitanya did and that’s what He asked His followers to do.
We are not in business of preaching where results matter most, we should value the process instead. Our success is in reaching out and changing people’s hearts and minds. I don’t think that ever happens to temple visitors, it’s just one of the many temples they visit every year, it’s not a life changing experience like a meeting with a devotee could be.
I’m getting carried away here, maybe need to rethink some of what I just said, so I’d better stop now and get my mind back together