Yesterday I talked about our position on the tree of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism and came to the conclusion that as of now we are practically the whole tree by ourselves. I was saying that based on simple observations, whatever life is present in non-ISKCON branches they are simply dwarfed by comparison AND are represented by ex-ISKCON devotees, too. We have surely shed many devotees in our short history and that’s a phenomenon that needs to be addressed on its own but not today. Yesterday I said that all the non-ISKCON branches form only a safety net for those who can’t stay the course with us. A noble service but incomparable to the direct service to the mission of Lord Caitanya. Today I’m going to talk about why this has happened and argue the same point from a different perspective.
It has everything to do with yuga dharma. I said “mission of Lord Caitanya” but it is much more than that. When we say “mission” we sort of separate it from everything else Lord Caitanya has done. Spreading the glory of the Holy Name was only an external reason for His appearance anyway and He spent much more time relishing His internal service in the mood of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇi. A devotee then might think that cultivation of this sublime mood is more important than preaching, that preaching is for neophytes, and also that preaching was the mission of Lord Caitanya, not ours per se. We can help when He needs us but there are times when He wants us to become pure devotees fully engrossed in Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. That’s what the Six Gosvāmīs left all their literature for, right?
Here’s another observation – all our detractors, as well as all “original” non-ISKCON Gauḍīya who still survived to this day, do not put much value on preaching, considering it as secondary to developing taste for Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in Goloka. That’s probably the single tell-all sign – we preach, they don’t, and are proud of it.
I’ll repeat it again – it happens because people consider preaching only one of the missions of Mahāprabhu, something temporary and relatively less important.
Well, no. Preaching is the yuga dharma and so only fully liberated souls are not obliged to follow it.
What these devotees think instead is that yuga dharma is served by chanting on our beads, singing kīrtanas and discussing or simply reading about Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.
This is all very well, but Lord Caitanya prescribed saṅkīrtana, and this term has two meanings. One is congregational chanting, of course, and the second is “complete” chanting in the same sense as Sanskrit is a complete, perfect, and fully accomplished language. What is this perfection then?
Whatever it is, perfection means absolute degree, and absolute means unattainable, like infinity. We know the concept, we can strive for it, but we will always come short, even for a simple reason that every attempt in the material world must be accompanied by imperfections.
When we accept that absolute perfection demanded by saṅkīrtana is unattainable we’ll realize that we can never settle on “acceptable” level either. Whatever we do will never be good enough, and so Lord Caitanya’s prescription becomes to be constantly on the move, in a perpetual expansion mode. Our service to saṅkīrtana is in constantly pushing the limits in all possible directions.
Trying to improve only one particular aspect where we think we are going reasonably well is not saṅkīrtana, we cannot limit ourselves in this way and claim our service is being done. We must try our hand at everything as much as physically possible and nothing, absolutely nothing can be neglected.
Even if one reads saṅkīrtana as congregational chanting it must be understood as ever expanding congregation. It doesn’t mean imitating Lord Caitanya and His three and a half persons intimate circle. Therefore, in any way you look at it, saṅkīrtana means preaching, preaching means saṅkīrtana, and one can never ever be separated from another, for it will become incomplete.
One could say that there must be more to saṅkīrtana than preaching [to outsiders] and that is true but it doesn’t mean that preaching can be taken out. If you expand saṅkīrtana you ADD to it, not subtract.
We can never afford to slacken in our resolve to spread the message of Lord Caitanya, whatever inner realizations might come next should be an addition, not a subtraction or a substitution. One would also be a fool to assume that he has achieved a level where he doesn’t have to follow yuga dharma anymore.
Even if preaching to outsiders might be considered as relatively inferior to preaching to devotees, as implied by Kṛṣṇa Himself (BG 18.68) it doesn’t mean that there’s a point in performing our yuga dharma where it must be stopped, and there’s another way to look at it, too – we never preach to real outsiders, only to those who are receptive to our message, and the moment they accept it, they become devotees. Or I could say that everyone is a devotee of the Lord by the nature of his soul and so if we see someone as an outsider it’s true only in our faulty vision, and therefore we should not treat people as atheists, we just have to measure our message accordingly to suit their level of relationships with the Absolute Truth, which sometimes could mean walking away but never ignoring them altogether. We can’t ignore somebody’s service, however insignificant, that would be so un-Vṛndāvana thing to do – for those who value Vṛndāvana mood above all.
Okay, let’s say this reasoning it correct and it doesn’t contradict anything else said about preaching or saṅkīrtana, is it okay to claim exclusivity and denigrate other, non-ISKCON devotees’ service the way I’ve done here and the way ISKCON has been perceived for a long time?
It so happened that I just read Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s explanation of the meaning of sarva-vaiṣṇava. When he wrote it there was no “ISKCON and non-ISKCON” distinction, of course, but there was plenty of opposition to Gauḍīya Maṭha, which was more or less in the same position we find ourselves now. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta went to great lengths to explain that sarva-vaiṣṇava, meaning “all vaiṣṇavas” includes only pure vaiṣṇavas and excludes those who reject the pure path of Lord Caitanya. At that time it meant thirteen apa-sampradāyas and that’s what he focused on, not giving them any credit as any kind of devotees.
It must be noted that these apa-sampradāyas comprised practically all non-Gauḍīya Maṭha vaiṣṇavism in Bengal at that time and there’s no reason to believe this non-GM contingent has gotten any better now. Boosting their numbers with ex-ISKCON devotees doesn’t add them any more credibility.
Lord Caitanya’s mission is non-sectarian, if devotees outside ISKCON take it up very seriously they must be considered as pure vaiṣṇavas and they must be awarded all respect, and that’s what we should do when it happens, but those who have rejected shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda and refused to follow his orders have willingly excluded themselves not only from the mercy of Lord Caitanya, but also stopped performing yuga dharma when they stopped preaching. The fact that they are willingly obstruct our preaching efforts and disparage ISKCON publicly doesn’t help their standing either.
It’s not my fault that devotees strictly following the mission of Lord Caitanya happen to exist only in ISKCON. I don’t see how ex-ISKCON devotees can ever move forward without coming back to Śrīla Prabhupāda and cooperating with ISKCON, and there simply aren’t any original non-ISKCON devotees to speak of left out there to start anything new.
Strictly following yuga dharma cannot be avoided, and cherry picking only some aspects of it is why no one else outside ISKCON succeeds. Why does THAT happen? It’s a question for another time.