There’s another important aspect to Siddha Svarūpa’s and all other disputes following the same formula and it’s won solidly by ISKCON. At least in my not so humble opinion.
I’m not really sure Siddha Svarūpa was the first one to raise all the points I’ve been discussing for the past few days but he was the first one I know, and it was certainly the biggest case in terms of the followers, and they challenged GBC in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s presence. Not many others followed his footsteps afterwards, his was a clearly bad example, but exactly the same complaints have been raised again and again up until today, which means those are systemic problems, not an individual exception.
We shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it’s ISKCON’s or GBC’s systemic problem, it’s a problem of life in the material world, like sex. We don’t consider breaking our fourth reg a system problem or GBC’s fault and so neither are accusations of fanatical preaching and reluctance to strictly follow ISKCON authorities.
Those things come preloaded with our material births, we carry these tendencies with us at all times, sometimes they manifest externally, sometimes they are just thoughts in our minds that we can contain. Sometimes we express them in public and clash with other devotees, sometimes it leads to splits, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s just like sex or desire to control the world around us – the tendency is always there, we just have to learn to manage it and try to purify ourselves.
Take alleged fanaticism, for example. There’s a very true saying about driving – everyone driving slower than you is a moron and everyone driving faster is a suicidal maniac. I believe the same can be said about other devotees’ preaching, too. We compare it to our own and decide whether it’s timid or radical. On their own these labels have no meaning, they do not describe “objective reality”, only comparisons with our previous experiences.
Of course it’s possible to talk about objective neophyte deficiencies, too, but in most public spats over the matter we don’t question others’ level of devotion, only their behavior towards general public. We say this is too fanatical and that is too timid by comparing things to our own preaching or to the preaching done by other devotees.
Fanaticism, we say, drives people away. Okay, but what about times when our book distributors made devotees right in the shopping malls. They sold books to people on one floor, took them to a hair salon on the other, and brought new, cleanly shaved devotees back to the temple. Wasn’t that fanatical?
We think western devotees were annoying at the airports, how about Russians who broke out on the tarmac and stopped actual planes? Wasn’t that fanatical?
How about devotees who got into fistfights when people disrespected our books or fellow devotees? Wasn’t that fanatical? How about Armenian devotee who died in jail [partly] because he refused meat as prison food? Was he fanatical?
I think we can imagine how these stories, if put in certain contexts, would look unacceptable to many, that we shouldn’t risk our lives, health, or our reputation in such a manner, the gains were too trivial to be worth it. Yet all these stories were a source of great inspiration when told by saṅkīrtana devotees to the receptive audience and some were greatly enjoyed by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself.
My point is that fanaticism is relative. There are no limits to what Kṛṣṇa’s devotees would do to please Him and their gurus, and if there sincere devotees who accept and appreciate such “fanaticism” then what does it matter what the critics think of it?
We should forget our entire value structure. The only thing that matters is Kṛṣṇa’s personal reaction, that’s all our service shoud be about, and Kṛṣṇa has plenty of representatives around us to figure out whether we pleased Him or not.
This same accusation leads to another one – indifference towards the public. They say that ISKCON fanatics do not care what people think of them, what effect they have on the general population. They say that we should watch for public reaction very carefully and adjust our preaching strategies accordingly.
Well, I think we have an official PR department if not an entire ministry. They do not address each and every case, of course, but they do disseminate “official” code of conduct among ISKCON devotees. I think, as a society, we got very adept at pleasing people, both non-devotees and our congregation. I don’t think we truly deserve accusations of indifference anymore, it’s a well known problem that we try to address to the best of our ability.
There’s a fundamental problem lurking there, however, beneath the understandable need for being tactful and diplomatic – we are servants of our guru and Kṛṣṇa, not the general public. There’s a difference between preaching and pandering.
We are not going to compete with gay pride parades for showmanship, we realize that making people like us is not our goal. Our underlying principle should never be changed – we serve Kṛṣṇa, when He is pleased everyone else becomes content, too.
If we wanted to be popular we would dance in the streets half naked, that would be quite a show, and we might also sell a few books to the intrigued audience but we are not going to do that.
If we wanted to be popular we would talk about yoga and health and vegetarianism and environment and clean, sustainable fun. Oh, wait, this is exactly what many of us are doing nowadays. We have centers where words “Hare Kṛṣṇa” are forbidden, we have preaching programs where devotees are specifically instructed NOT to look and behave like devotees, too.
How does that please Kṛṣṇa exactly? I don’t know, there’s a long, roundabout way to ascribe some spiritual value to all these otherwise non-devotional activities. Maybe there’s some value in it but it would all depend on one’s actual motives, and those are hard to guess.
To me it looks as if this kind of soft preaching is driven by self-preservation and desire to avoid conflicts at any costs. We don’t want any trouble for ourselves even if we say that we want to protect Kṛṣṇa’s reputation, which we say was smeared by ISKCON fanatics of the years past. Hare Kṛṣṇa’s left a bad taste, we say, better not mention our mantra in public again, it doesn’t please people anymore.
Hmm, you see, it again comes down to pleasing people instead of pleasing Kṛṣṇa. We just don’t believe that genuine preaching would work, we don’t believe that it would please Kṛṣṇa enough to make the entire atmosphere filled with transcendental happiness or at least sattva. We think we can “fix” the world on our own and then present it to Kṛṣṇa who would inundate it with devotion.
We say that people should like us first, they should respect our authority in order for preaching to be successful, so there’s nothing wrong with trying to win that respect by whatever means necessary.
I don’t agree with this – everything we might ever need to preach would be provided by the Lord immediately, we don’t need to make any extraneous efforts. We must learn to depend solely on Kṛṣṇa and do not trust our material judgment, especially when it comes to preaching. Material rules and limitations have very little value to genuine preachers, Kṛṣṇa personally removes all obstacles from their path.
This should be the foundation of our most basic faith – that simply by serving Kṛṣṇa all our problems will be solved, there’s no need for any other sources or solutions.
If we don’t have that we shouldn’t be preaching anyway – preaching is the service for madhyamas, not kaniṣṭhas. Of course even kaniṣṭhas can preach if they strictly follow their authorities but that means they have no right to introduce any innovations.
If devotees insist that adjustments must be made but at the same time they have no faith in Kṛṣṇa’s power and rely on their own intelligence then they are not preaching, they are pandering. Pandering to non-devotees, pandering to their false egos, pandering to the illusion. We shouldn’t be doing that, period.