Yesterday I questioned the qualifications of the emerging Indian middle class to pass judgment on religions that existed for thousands of years. To me it appears they do it with adolescent impudence, just because they had a few years of a good run. That aside, is their criticism justified in any way?
Whenever religion comes under attack I, due to my current misidentification, take the side of the faithful, infidels be damned. I should probably think first, though, and make my decisions with a cool head, free from attachment induced emotions.
Truth is, these Indians are saying things we should have been saying ourselves. Whether due to ignorance, lucky coincidence, or unexpected insight, they chose to expose corruption where we should have been exposing it ourselves. Śrīla Prabhupāda did it, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī did it, but we have dropped the ball.
We embraced Hinduism, sometimes for mercantile, sometimes for political reasons, and this association does not come free. We now must treat fellow misbehaving Hindus as a family, which means put them above any criticism.
PK has given us a long list of grievances against modern Hinduism, some exposed by the protagonist but many more exposed by twittering public. They’ve started a TV campaign for people to observe their local religionists, film them on their phones, and then send examples of cheating to the studio. They called it “wrong number” campaign, implying that when religious fraudsters speak on behalf of God they dial a wrong number to connect to him.
PK first meeting with Bhagavan was at a temple market where he saw several mūrtis in different sizes and at different prices. The man who sells them fails to properly explain to PK deity’s transcendental nature and how he should relate to it. His friend joined in and told PK that small deities are meant for small tasks and if he wants his lost remote beacon back he should go to the big deity in the temple because bigger deity has longer legs to catch the thief.
PK then goes to the temple and offers pūja in front of the big deity but is being pushed away before he gets the results. In crowded temples people get at most 10 seconds for praying and must move on to make space for the next in line. In some temples longer darśana is possible if one makes a generous donation. I’m not saying we should necessarily speak up against such practices but, besides practical considerations, they are born of neglecting proper pañcarātrika vidhi.
Instead of an authorized pūjarī everyone is encouraged to offer their own stuff, which they buy from temple merchants. Whether the deity would accept such offerings from unqualified and most likely grossly contaminated persons is not considered at all. As long as people spend money it’s all good.
The guy who sold PK the small mūrti got caught out on trying to explain why people need deities at all. He said that Bhagavan doesn’t need a transmitter and can hear people directly, but if He does, why there’s a need for a deity then? To tell God about our joys and sorrows? Of course not, deities are there to offer us the opportunity to engage in service. 5-10 seconds waiving of coconuts, flowers, and money on a tray is not it, proper worship should take one several hours each day, day in and day out without any breaks.
Not many people can do it, of course, and that’s why the Lord descended in Kali Yuga in the form of the Holy Name, something that went amiss for the movie creators. In general Hinduism the ability of the Lord to hear people directly is taken for granted without any consideration for Lord’s own arrangements. We are given the idea that we can invent our own methods of worship and they will all work the same regardless of Lord’s own instructions or feelings. Hinduism somehow makes God obliged to reciprocate with sloppiest of our services. We are being told that we are so special that God would eagerly accept everything from our hands.
Perhaps it all started with that fraud Rāmakṛṣṇa and his yata mata tata patha nonsense. This is what Śrīla Prabhupāda had to say about it (SB 6.8.19):
Even most people who claim to belong to the Vedic system of religion are actually opposed to the Vedic principles. Every day they manufacture a new type of dharma on the plea that whatever one manufactures is also a path of liberation. Atheistic men generally say, yata mata tata patha. According to this view, there are hundreds and thousands of different opinions in human society, and each opinion is a valid religious principle. This philosophy of rascals has killed the religious principles mentioned in the Vedas, and such philosophies will become increasingly influential as Kali-yuga progresses.
He plainly calls such views atheistic and a philosophy of rascals. Do they have any chances of achieving Lord’s lotus feet? Umm, not quite, to say the least, as Śrīla Prabhupāda immediately continues:
In the last stage of Kali-yuga, Kalkideva, the fierce incarnation of Keśava, will descend to kill all the atheists and will save only the devotees of the Lord.
Why should I feel protective about these Hindus?
In the movie they raise similar “wrong number” objections against other religions, too, in the spirit of equal rights, I guess. Christians tell people they would go to hell, Muslims tell girls they would shoot them if they go to school and so on. The movie also spends quite a lot of time arguing against religious identification itself. PK goes to a maternity ward and examines a new born baby for the signs of his religion, which God he should belong to. There’s no reason for us to be upset about that either.
Śrīla Prabhupāda brought us Kṛṣṇa consciousness so that people could transcend such materialistic view of religions and accept a scientific approach. Principles of Kṛṣṇa consciousness are the same for each and every religion. The soul is a soul, God is God, and Holy Names are Holy Names. The fact that we concentrate on the name of Kṛṣṇa doesn’t mean any kind of sectarianism. Kṛṣṇa is not a Hindu name, it means the all attractive aspect of the Absolute Truth, and Lord Caitanya is the all merciful aspect of the Absolute.
We don’t claim monopoly on mercy, of course, but I don’t know of any religion that has any equivalent of Kṛṣṇa, and since they do not deliver that particular aspect of God their mercy is incomplete. They are free to worship all-knowing or all-powerful aspects of the Lord and there are unlimited number of names that would serve their purpose but Kṛṣṇa is just not one of them. It has nothing to do with Hinduism or Indian history.
And, of course, there’s always a great supply of outright fraudsters making all kinds of claims in the name of God. We used to reject them all and when the movie exposes them, too, there’s no reason for us to object.
Here’s the thing – while there were some protests against the movie, generally, Indians have accepted it as a genuine snapshot of contemporary religion and most of them do not feel offended in any way. Fraud is fraud and calling it for what it is does not offend anyone.
Another point is that we’ve been trough all of this before – a hundred years ago, and Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura complained about contamination of Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism even earlier. Forget all the bogus religionists, even our own sampradāya got corrupted and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, whose appearance day is today, incidentally, had vigorously cleansed the body of Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism of all traces of corruption.
His attempt went a lot further than PK’s. He really turned corrupt establishment on its head. Family gurus were rejected en masse, brāhmaṇas were stripped of their privileges, all kinds of apa-sampradāyas were summarily dismissed – no one was safe. None of the characters or practices shown in the movie would get even the right to exist, let alone be treated as sacred.
Truth is, and it was loudly proclaimed by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, none of it has anything to do with real religion, which is selfless and unadulterated service to the Absolute. All which is passed as religion nowadays is only an illusion. It was true a hundred years ago and it is still true today.
Truth is, these PK “revolutionaries” look like children compared to the expositions of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta. They spotted some mistakes here and there but they offer no alternatives, no solutions, and certainly no service to the Lord. What kind of reform is that? It shouldn’t be even mentioned in the same paragraph as Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s.
They are caught in the perpetual cycle of discovering some faults, making some noise, and reverting to the old ways only to start it all over again. Hundred years later, still on the same page. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta offered a real way out, uncompromising and unadulterated, but unless we take to it sincerely we’ll end up just like them, criticizing and criticizing and criticizing without making any progress.