I was reading today about Śrīla Prabhupāda and his visions for ISKCON and it appears he was fully committed to taking over the world. He really wanted devotees to be if not in charge politically then at least in charge of shaping public opinion. In light of yesterday’s post it sounded a bit adventurous to me so I need to reconcile myself with this vision.
In the bits I read today Prabhupāda wasn’t talking about forming a political party anymore and he wasn’t talking about enforcing Kṛṣṇa consciousness with machine guns, as per ad Bakulum argument, so it was a relief, but his plans were still grandiose, not to say grandeur, for that would be offensive.
The first problem is that we’ve been fifty years at it already and we got nowhere. I think anyone can be excused for seeing those plans as unrealistic. Unfortunately, we can’t think like that about the words of our ācārya, we just can’t, so we have to find another way.
Perhaps postponing their implementation is a good cop out – we’ll get there, just not as fast we thought back in the 70s. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself didn’t set any deadlines and we have ten thousand years ahead of us so there’s no hurry. Frankly, I don’t see any other good answer. I can only add that there was time when building TOVP was seen as unrealistic, too, yet there it is, almost completed.
Still, building one temple is nothing in the big scheme of things, to really take over the world we need temples like that in every country, instead we are proud that some of our centers do not have any devotees living on the premises and they come in only for the services. Importing pūjarīs from India also doesn’t sound right – lots of Indians would do anything to stay in the West and so their commitment is questionable, what to speak of the lack of native devotees to look after our temples.
Our farms are not going anywhere fast either. Farm living is the best way to practice pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness in sattva guna and raise the next generation of solid brāhmaṇas, which is necessary for taking over the world, but this strategy is not without drawbacks.
The world is just not ready for farm life as a model, in fact, it moved even further away from simple living since invention of the Internet. When you look at the teenagers these days the question of them moving to the farms doesn’t even arise. We might finally train our devotees as perfect, exemplary gṛhasthas who can support their families by agriculture, as the Lord intended, but current generations are not into families at all. Monogamy is so old fashioned it’s not even on the cards, it’s just not what people do, outside of conservative Christian circles. Preserving your chastity for marriage is not going to happen either, plans or no plans.
Perhaps the world needs a major shake up that would drive it into our arms but we can’t seriously plan for that either. Instead, we have to learn to accommodate gays and vegans who won’t touch milk, and female devotees who want to be traveling sannyasīs.
The way things are going on in the West we don’t stand a chance at taking control any time soon, we are old news, we’ve discredited ourselves, and we need to make people a new offer before they’d listen to us again. However, the West is also losing its grip on the world and western culture is being seen as destructive. Even Europe is on the verge of redefining itself and moving away from old paradigms of EU and liberty, democracy, and prosperity for all. Nationalism is on the rise and with it the search for old lost values. This is where we can get our foot in the door again, if only we weren’t so progressive ourselves.
I once heard of a female devotee who married a Muslim man because she just couldn’t trust male devotees around her. I guess we all can see why – culturally we are too westernized and we take things like family very lightly. We’d abandon our wives and children in a second and we might even say that it’s “for Kṛṣṇa”. Muslims might not chant Hare Kṛṣṇa but they won’t bail on you either. I don’t know what they do about food, I guess even Muslim men can adopt a vegetarian life style, or maybe not.
It’s not that ISKCON is completely disconnected and hopeless but the way we behave does not look like it would lead to taking over the world any time soon. We might have a wider cultural outreach but it comes at the expense of purity and we attract people with Indian things rather than with our devotion. It creates friends and we need them from time to time but it doesn’t put pure devotion at the center, and that’s what Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted.
Being dedicated solely to Kṛṣṇa’s service is what is absolutely required. Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t see everyone taking up our vows and chanting daily rounds but he wanted us to form a core of the society for everyone else to look up to. This is not happening at the moment. As our movement grows sideways and people naturally see dedicated, core devotees as fanatics while the good life is enjoyed on the fringes.
The other day our local center sent out a newsletter that had an interview with a local devotee, a nice touch, I thought, let people know what our congregation thinks. Unfortunately, this girl didn’t even say she wants to develop pure devotion, she just delivered a straight high school talk about “pursue my dream”, “go and get it”, followed by getting married and supporting the family.
Personally, I have no problem with this but if this is what our centers are helping people with it doesn’t inspire me in any way. Is this what Lord Caitanya inaugurated saṅkīrtana movement for? I don’t think so. I’m sure He appreciates every devotee who comes to ISKCON but I don’t feel I want to get entangled with such mundane matters.
And here is the other thing – no one will deliver us the world on a silver plate and we WILL have to fight for it and fight hard. People will not relinquish their power and let Hare Kṛṣṇa’s set the rules. I’m not sure that’s what Lord Caitanya had in mind either. The way I see it, we are supposed to go and pick up those rare and pure souls who want nothing by devotion to the Lord, the rest can benefit from chanting but their benefits should be of no great concern to us.
Our only salvation in this age is saṅkīrtana, which means chanting of the Holy Name or glorifying the Lord in a company of pure devotees, not in the company of people who are dedicated to their other goals or to their families.
So, I dread the time when devotees would engage in politics, even if it would be necessary for ISKCON to grow, and I dread the time when there will be no one around to discuss Kṛṣṇa’s glories as opposed to discussing Kṛṣṇa conscious ways to get material comforts. Is this the sacrifice we should do for Lord Caitanya? I don’t think so. I don’t know what to do, I can only seek shelter of those rare souls who somehow manage to stay faithful to our spiritual duties and attract new devotees at the same time. They are not making any visible progress in changing the world but at least they talk about nothing but Kṛṣṇa and guru’s pleasure. Maybe one day the Lord will find a place for me to help in their mission, too, but I might be a spent force good for nothing. Maybe in the next life then.