Vanity thought #1155. By hook or by crook?

Yesterday I talked about Siddha Svarūpa’s split from ISKCON, a topic I actually know very little about, yet it was probably the first such case and in many ways it highlighted problems we have been suffering from ever since. Exactly the same issues crop up almost everywhere but, luckily, they are not serious enough to cause people to actually, leave, just fade into the background.

One one hand it would mean that these issues aren’t really that serious but those who do leave the shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda often cite them as reasons for their disillusionment with ISKCON. They then take radical decisions and join groups where preaching related problems simply don’t rise because they don’t do any preaching anymore, save for pestering other devotees to follow their footsteps.

That was the case with Siddha Svarūpa’s group, too – they stated their grievances but on close inspection it looked like they had much deeper problems they weren’t ready to admit even to themselves. Differences in preaching methods could be patched, desire to have a good life independently of your spiritual master is a tad more serious.

I can understand that – it was Hawaii, a place where “spirituality” seems to be floating in the air, no one can claim ownership to it, it’s free for everyone. There’s also an untouchable bond between the spiritualists and the nature there – mostly sea and surfing. Everyone must bow down to the gods of the Surf, the activity is assumed to be pure and beyond reproach.

Śrīla Prabhupāda had a one good look at it and said they’d be all born as fish. There was no question of him taking it seriously while the natives (from Siddha Svarūpa’s group) couldn’t tolerate such an assault on what is considered sacred by all the islanders.

So, when Kṛṣṇa consciousness landed on Hawaiian shores it found a rich and fertile ground which was also full of weed(s). It grew wildly there and the locals thought it didn’t need a gardener. That’s why they weren’t ready to follow the full program insisted by Śrīla Prabhupāda. They wouldn’t, for example, shave and wear vaiṣṇava clothes.

Now, about the details – I’m sure there’s tons of stuff there that I have no idea about and whatever I’m going to say here would be very simplistic and anyone who actually lived through those times would find my ramblings lacking in first hand knowledge. I understand that and those are limitations I can’t overcome but there’s a way to make the best of the situation.

I’ll just talk about some of the complaints that are generic to many such conflicts. They would be true only to the degree they could be applied to Siddha Svarūpa’s group but they would also have lives of their own – we face them in one form or another all the time. It’s the principles that would matter, not exact manifestations.

To start with I’ll mention alienating the public. Sometimes we come on too strong, too radical in our appearances and in our demands. It turns people off, they say. They think of us as cultish fanatics or outright crazies. Shave! Put on orange robes! Sing and dance on a schedule! In a chill out places like Hawaii it might spoil the mood even though there’s a genuine interest in the overall idea.

How many times we have heard this? I can’t count how many articles were submitted to Dandavats pondering this problem from all possible angles. Outside of tightly controlled ISKCON media it’s all taken for granted, people got tired of talking about this, it’s became axiomatic.

Then it goes to the book distribution. We do it by hook and by crook and people feel cheated. We misrepresent our books, sell them under false pretexts, and people throw them away, if not literally then at least figuratively.

Then it goes to all other fund raising activities. Luckily, we don’t do that anymore, but in the 80s it was a jungle out there. Devotees were selling all kinds of crap, often completely unrelated to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and often people had no idea they dealt with “Hare Kṛṣṇas”. Some were outright scams, like selling fake merchandise. Tons of money was made that way and there are mansions built in Vṛndāvana on such funds. I don’t even want to know where money for our Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma temple came from, but at least it became a temple, it’s much better than building multi-story “bhāhan-kuṭirs”.

We’d faced lawsuits for genuine book distribution even in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s time and Siddha Svarūpa’s arguments were made against such background.

Presented this way, they appear solid. I myself can’t find fault with them after typing them up.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, had none of it. One reason I mentioned yesterday was that he couldn’t allow Siddha Svarūpa’s people to “win” against GBC. GBC in this case was presumed to work on rectifying these problems to the best of their ability and that was basically the end of it.

There’s a formula, if you think it doesn’t work, offer an improvement, see if it gets accepted, and move forward. Pure science. Siddha Svarūpa’s group, however, burned all bridges with the GBC. They just didn’t want to work together, period.

This is what Śrīla Prabhupāda couldn’t accept because cooperation was his explicit and inviolable order. We all must submit to GBC authority and work under its umbrella. Whatever complaints we have we must settle them in house, leaving ISKCON must never be an option.

That is what surrender means – we take a leap of faith. It might work out fine, it might not, we do not surrender in exchange for assurances of personal comfort. That’s not what surrender means.

We must be ready to cut off areas of our personalities that clash with the orders of our guru, they are conjured by the false ego anyway, they are not our true nature. Anarthas like this are toughest to give up but giving them up also bring the most satisfying sense of relief, if we manage to shake them off.

We have the right to say “nah, ISKCON isn’t for me” but then we’ll be left pursuing Kṛṣṇa on our own and that will never end well. We can also imagine that there are other ways to reach Kṛṣṇa besides ISKCON but then we’ll be fooling ourselves. Alternatives suck big time, they’ve lost their spiritual potency hundreds of years ago and never regained it.

Lord Caitanya’s mercy is self evident – it’s successful preaching. When there’s another movement that supplants ISKCON in the preaching field like we supplanted aging Gauḍīyā Maṭhas we will have not only the right but the obligation to offer our services there. There’d be the question of loyalty to Śrīla Prabhupāda but it could be answered in many different ways. GM’s loyalty to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī is a good example here – it’s not worth much without loyalty to the preaching mission. Different subject anyway.

So, another post has come to an end and I haven’t even started addressing Siddha Svarūpa’s group concerns. Well, there’s always tomorrow.


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