Yesterday I talked about geopolitics, how countries external and internal policies are literally, not just metaphorically, guided by their geography. I don’t think my evidence and arguments were exhaustive and comprehensive but that’ll do for now, someone could write a book on this subject and it would still not be enough. Today I want to get to the meat of the issue – how geography affects devotees.
On one hand, devotees are transcendental by definition. We can also say that because of our residential impurities we might succumb to the control of māyā from time to time and we would see it as inconsequential personal failures. What I’m saying, however, is that we are guided by geography even in our best, most authoritative efforts. I’d be careful to interpret it as if our society is ALWAYS in māyā, I’d say that it’s guided by Lord’s internal potency BUT through the medium of mundane geography.
Well, not only geography, of course, also history and economics and a host of other aspects that define societies and cultures, I mean that quintessentially we, as a society, are guided by material nature, albeit acting on Lord’s orders. Understanding this point should lead, in my opinion, to better understanding of what is more important to our spiritual lives and what is less important, and to better understanding of reasons for our behavior, and to better understanding of who should get the blame, if anyone at all, when things go wrong.
I’ve not discovered anything new, haven’t invented any new arguments either, my conclusion is based entirely on what I have heard from our authorities. We all heard that, I’m just trying to put it into different context and draw attention to, perhaps, unnoticed consequences.
It is possible that logic fails me somewhere or that I missed something equally important but so far it looks good to me, corrections are welcome.
Where to start? Maybe at the beginning. Our ISKCON starts with Śrīla Prabhupāda. Śrīla Prabhupāda started as a son of a merchant from Calcutta. Should we take that into account when talking about spiritual impact of his life? Bear with me. First of all, being born in Calcutta he necessarily grew close to British colonial culture because Calcutta was the capital of British India at that time. Being born into a fairly wealthy family allowed him to receive British education in a British run school. That was important for several reasons.
Not everybody spoke fluent English and among those who did, not many were raised on “British” values and literature. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was one such man and his exposure to western thought and philosophy played a major part in him being able to accomplish what he did. We know him as a topmost devotee, of course, but we should also acknowledge that his career in government service made him a very authoritative figure able to grab attention of highest levels of Hindu society. Had he been a coolie no one would ever listen to him, he wouldn’t be able to write and publish books and so on. His familiarity with western philosophy and ability to transcend it and show how Bhāgavatam would always remain superior also earned him a lot of street cred among Hindus who at the time didn’t know how to respond to overwhelming superiority of the Brits.
For Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, it was his English literary ability that was more important for success of his spiritual mission. He could write and he appreciated books more than anything else, and that was apparently a rare quality among thousands of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī followers. He also spent decades of his life in business and that earned him street smarts that were helpful in running our society later in his life, and also made him realize that the world has changed, find where the winds were blowing, and go with the flow.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī sent his disciples to preach in England and Germany, Brits being the colonial master and the ruler of the world for the past two hundred years, and Germany being very interested in India, Sanskrit, and all things Aryan. Largely, these efforts failed, and for several totally natural reasons. Masters are not keen to be lectured by their subjects and wherever Bhaktisiddhānta’s ambassadors went, they were seen as inherently inferior, as monkeys who’d been taught to mimic people, or as savages who’d been taught some manners. Indians were meant to be servants, not teachers. It was simply impossible to overcome this attitude on a mass scale.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, went to America. By that time it was obvious where the future of the world was and that British Empire was in a steep and irreversible decline. British establishment had nothing to offer to the world but attempts at preserving old traditions and old imperial attitudes. The way forward lied elsewhere. After the World War II it was also very obvious who the winner was. English might have tasted victory but it was the US that emerged incomparably stronger and more powerful in every aspect. Americans controlled the future, and to control the world one must have learned to control Americans.
Śrīla Prabhupāda saw this, no one else in Gauḍīyā Maṭha did, and they were concerned with things other than preaching at that time, what to speak of conquering the whole world. Could they have seen it earlier, when Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was still around? They could, but there were geopolitical reasons why it didn’t happen then.
America was already incredibly strong but had very little interest in India, comparatively speaking, and Indians had very little exposure to the US. Indian political discourse was dominated by their relations to Britain, Britain was their chief adversary, they simply didn’t see anything else and they thought that Britain needed to be conquered first.
I guess it was possible for them to predict that Indians would never be able to convince British of superiority of Gauḍīyā Vaiṣṇavism on any scale but they HAD TO try first, there needed be a failed mission to England just to be sure.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, when his time came, had all this experience before him already. It wasn’t just failure, or rather modest success of the previous mission, but the whole experience, all kinds of issues and impediments that became clearly visible to him but were concealed from devotees who tried it first.
Money wasn’t the issue, for example, but adopting local culture and rituals was. Devotees sent by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta tried to fit in to, presumably, gain the trust of their hosts, and it didn’t work. Perhaps they thought that they were impervious to contamination but they were wrong. Of course we know that one must always maintain utmost humility and never think he can withstand material temptations on his own, but it’s quite another thing to learn this humility first hand, from actual failures.
Śrīla Prabhupāda saw it with his own eyes, devotees who trail-blazed it before him went down in flames. In retrospect, their sacrifice was necessary, I’m sure Kṛṣṇa has forgiven them and accepted their sacrifice even if it didn’t go as well as expected. Yes, hearts were affected, offenses were made, lots of other inauspicious things followed, but they tried it for Kṛṣṇa, for Lord Caitanya’s glory. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Lord had no grudge whatsoever and saw unfortunate consequences as an extraneous and unavoidable outcome. We need to know that Kṛṣṇa consciousness couldn’t be spread by fork wielding, tux wearing devotees speaking with posh accent. That was not so obvious then, someone had to volunteer and fail.
I think that’s enough for today, it’s a big topic, and I haven’t even gotten to Prabhupāda’s arrival in the West yet.