Vanity thought #1595. The alternate world

Continuing with the latest vaiṣṇava news. Our sites are not sophisticated enough yet to sort them out into categories – sport, business, entertainment etc, so we have to group them by topics ourselves. I’ve noticed a couple of articles about the possible future of ISKCON and talked about one of them yesterday.

Come to think of it, what could possible news categories be for us? I guess “philosophy” would be a major one. “Calendar” would be another – a lot of stories are concerned with explanation of various events marked on our vaiṣṇava calendar, ekādaśī’s, appearance/disappearance days etc. There would certainly be “news” themselves – stories about various preaching programs around the world. There could be “journals” section, too, where selected devotees would post their personal stories. They would be like bloggers on big sites like NYTimes or Forbes, not pushed onto the main page but always there. There would certainly be a business section with job offers and advertisements of projects selling Vṛndāvana land. Much of the same would be on the opposite side to ISKCON but criticizing us for exactly these things instead, and their bloggers would be called “serial offenders”. “A diary of a serial offender. 1008th way to criticize Svami X devotional service”. They love that kind of thing over there. And their “news” section would be rightfully called “rumors and gossip”, and they should have one section called “rants”, but I’m being offensive here myself so let’s stop.

Anyway, Sun features several articles concerning the future of ISKCON but they are somewhat different. One thing they share is that everybody offers solutions – “do it like I said and everything will be alright”. Of course they cover their suggestions by quotes from authorities and so who can argue that harināma is the most effective method of preaching. Everybody knows that, how to revive it is the question.

Dandavats article I talked about yesterday saw salvation in devotees retiring from their gṛhastha life and taking up preaching. This seems solid because that’s what retired people are supposed to do under varṇāśrama but it’s not straightforward. One should spend 25 years in vānaprastha first, clarifying himself from sins and attachments accumulated while being a gṛhastha. These things don’t go away easily even with our process of chanting the holy name, it takes time, and with passing time the energy drains, too.

I mean one of the positive points of ageing is that detachment is easier because the body and the senses are not that strong anymore. Sex drive just disappears, for example. The downside is that with sex drive the energy to get up and go at it goes away as well. You see what the problem with relying on old people to do the bulk of our preaching is – the same thing that frees them for it strips them from the power to do it. There could be a solution to this problem but it’s most likely to be limited.

What this prediction shares with those of our critics is that it doesn’t put any trust in our institutions, GBC and temples. It is quite possible that the next surge of saṅkīrtana could come from outside traditional sources, like the way Gauḍiyā Maṭha saw Śrīla Prabhupāda’s success, but we are not in the same position GM was after Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s disappearance. Our institutions are the source of our strength, they provide shelter, refuge, and beneficial association on industrial scale to thousands if not millions of people at once. This can never be discounted no matter what imperfections appear to be there.

One more thing about that article, it mentioned in passing that while Eastern Europe might be going strong right now they are simply repeating the North American cycle and are where the US was twenty years ago. Incidentally, there’s a post on Sun about this exact time period and it doesn’t talk about growth but of clear signs of terminal decline – in the typical Sun fashion. Twenty years ago was 1996, the year of Prabhupāda centennial, and even if the whole of ISKCON was energized by it there was nothing special going on in the North America, it’s when they discovered that they can import Indians and milk Indian community there. 1996 was the time when ISKCON was carried almost exclusively by “Eastern Europeans”, or CIS, as they were called back then. They are still going at it with no sign of abating. They preach, they distribute books, they build their own settlements in Vṛndavāna and Māyāpura where they hold their own festivals, they appear unstoppable. North America, by contrast, didn’t last even ten years after Prabhupāda’s disappearance. For whatever reason, the Europeans broke the cycle.

Another suggestion of how to resurrect our mission in the US is the [infamous] “Krishna West”. Everybody everywhere loves telling Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī how it’s all going to fail, which is not helpful. Someone leaked his private conversations to add even more fuel to the fire, they handle it with the grace of Daily Mail or any other UK’s yellow press publications. The current status of this project, however, is that Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja is given a chance to build something himself first and if it works then GBC would consider taking up this method seriously, which is fair.

Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja even sees his current restrictions on traveling and preaching as a blessing allowing him to concentrate on building a center, he wouldn’t have time and energy for it otherwise. From the leaked conversation he appears to be quite rattled by GBC’s treatment of him but, as he explained himself, he was simply venting in private, letting off the steam. I don’t think we should judge him harshly for it and declare him a heretic. He is absolutely clear he does not want to leave ISKCON, that his Krishna West project IS an ISKCON project, so let’s not push him out. I believe GBC will have enough sense not to punish him for those leaked tapes.

All we have here is a devotee trying to preach, trying to invent a way to make us presentable and attractive. I don’t understand the fundamental problem with it at all. Lots of our devotees preach and distribute books wearing ordinary clothes and without visible tilakas on their foreheads (though lots of them have their tilakas on, too). Adapting out appearance to suit the public was started by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta nearly hundred years ago, it’s not a new proposal and it has always been met with resistance. Some of the subsequent innovations failed, perhaps too many, but some survived, like wearing leather shoes, traveling by planes, or using the internet.

The right balance between tradition and appeasing modern men is difficult to strike but only those who find it will succeed. Our reaction to other people’s efforts should not be guided by one of my favorite observations about driving – everyone driving slower than me is a moron and everyone driving faster is a suicidal maniac. We should not judge these things from our personal perspective, which gives rise to the duality and, therefore, can’t be correct as a matter of principle.

2 comments on “Vanity thought #1595. The alternate world

  1. I hope ISKCON survives far into the future for if it weren’t for my local ISKCON temple I would have never have known about Krishna consciousness. Every organization will have its hurdles to get over, a bit of a tarnishes past-how could anyone be without that given the world we live in? But despite all of that, I know many sincere devotees within ISKCON, I have been to a couple of beautiful ISKCON temples where the mood of devotion and fulfilling Lord Caitanya’s mission goes strong. Perhaps if everyone ignored the naysayers, not even giving them a second thought, and just kept moving forward, that would help. I don’t know.

    When it comes to Krsna West-I just saw an article about how its leader was going to take somewhat of a break. How he would be involved somewhat but not in the same capacity as he is now and that, after a recent GBC meeting, he planned to live a life of more solitude. Hmm..I don’t know, that’s just what I read but I read it on a somewhat biased website. I wouldn’t listen to the Sun too much. It seems like anti-ISKCON propaganda.

    • Personally, I don’t understand this doom and gloom about ISKCON. As long as preaching spirit is there, means as long as people read Prabhupada’s books, ISKCON will survive just fine. Maybe devotees in North America are somewhat disheartened but they’ve been in this state since the 80s, it’s not that bad, maybe even the new normal.

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