The turmoil in Māyāpura still hasn’t been resolved but there’s a lot of good stuff going on their right now so the conflict between TOVP fund raisers looks like an unwelcome distraction. There are more letters and opinions coming out but I don’t want to keep up with the news, let’s talk the bigger picture instead.
While on the surface it appears that it’s one devotee’s ego clashing with another’s but that’s just a symptom, not the disease. It’s not about only one man getting what is perceived as an unfair treatment but a lot of other grievances that have been collected over a long time. One way to look at it is as if it was a conflict between Bengalis and Americans in our movement, and not only Bengalis but Indians in general, too.
ISKCON is undeniably an American import, it’s been built by American and other western devotees, it captured the hearts of Americans and other westerners and only then was brought to India, its spiritual home. In the 70s it looked like a CIA project to some, as “dancing white elephants” to others, yet others thought it was only “cute”, and there were also those who saw an opportunity for personal advancement. I’m not talking the spiritual component yet, just the materialistic perception.
It was white people showing Indians how to do Kṛṣṇa consciousness right and building huge temples with white people’s money. In the 70s Indian devotees were still scarce and haven’t contributed anything substantial yet. Over the years, however, Indians have proven themselves just as capable and in many areas even better than westerners. Since the 90s ISKCON India has been growing exponentially and what is even more important it’s been doing so entirely on its own, without any western input.
Now it’s Indians who built temples with funds collected in India while westerners import pūjārīs because they have no one to worship the deities, and if there’s any success still left in the West it’s on the back of Indian community. At this point Indians have taken ownership of their mission. They might not have been there in Prabhupāda’s time but they have two generations of devotees who’ve managed entirely on their own and do not feel obliged to westerners in any way.
In places like Delhi and Mumbai westerners have no say whatsoever but in Māyāpura it’s different because it’s our HQ and our GBC is still mostly white. To our western devotees Māyāpura is “theirs”. They have been here from the start when there were no Indians yet, the temple was built on donations collected by westerners, they’ve been coming there every year for the festivals, they have a western money behind TOVP, too. They feel like they own the place, they feel entitled.
It’s not something we would ever say in public or even admit thinking but it’s how our material egos see the situation, we can’t change it, we can only try to keep these thoughts out of our consciousness. I don’t mean myself as part of “we” that owns the Māyāpura but all of us stuck in the material world with bodily conception of life, because Indians have their own “we” and their own rival claims and also feel entitled.
White devotees might feel entitled due to history, which they think they inherited, but it was the Bengalis who have been managing the temple for a long long time now, especially disciples of Jayapatāka Svāmī. They feel they inherited their master’s life project and they feel fully invested in it, too. If recent fund raising claims are true they, the Indians, have been huge contributors to TOVP as well, even if they have been collecting in the west (probably in Indian communities anyway). They feel ownership of Māyāpura by the dint of being Bengalis, too – Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism is a sort of their birth right.
White people, on the other hand, don’t even know their names, they still behave like sahibs from colonial times, just slightly more respectful of dark skinned servants who make things happen for them. There’s a perception of racism and disdain there, even if totally unjustified.
Take the Navadvīpa parikramā, for example. Most of the devotees taking part in it are white, all the speakers are speaking in English with translations in other white people’s languages. Many of the speakers are Indian but there’s a clear distinction between their celebrity status and unnamed, faceless Bengalis who cook food, arrange accommodations and facilities, transport luggage, and generally make parikramā a well organized, flawless experience. Visiting western devotees come in contact with them only when they are receiving service, that’s the sole basis of their interactions, all through the annual Māyāpura festival, year after year after year.
Well, for these Bengalis ISKCON Māyāpura is their life and soul, they know nothing else, and western devotees are guests, however distinguished. “We” come to “their” place, that’s how it’s seen from their perspective, and if we come with the sense of entitlement and if some of us behave like Bengalis are there only to serve then sooner or later clashes of egos will be there.
Philosophical differences on the role of women and varṇāśrama in general are not helping either. Indians are not going to accept being seen as culturally backward or spiritually immature, which is how traditionalists are described by our liberals. If Indian devotees rally behind varṇāśrama and proper strī dharma in particular then outright ban on Women: Masters or Mothers is not going to be seen favorably but as a sign of corruption. If devotees issuing such bans are seen as snubbing Indians in India itself there’s little surprise that Indians demand resignations.
I’m not saying that this one book is the straw that broke the camel’s back but there must have been tons of similar contributions we’ve never heard of. It’s the attitude that rubs them the wrong way, it’s not important how exactly and where it manifests itself.
Our only hope is that our spiritual training, both for Indians and for westerners, will prevent us from making serious mistakes and acting on our materialistic impulses. If we keep to our sādhana, which includes proper relationships with fellow vaiṣṇavas, then this little corruption can surely be overcome just as we overcome all other defects brought by Kali yuga. It would also help if we all saw ourselves as unworthy servants of Lord Caitanya, eternally in debt to all the devotees in our lives regardless of their bodily origin. If this realization is not there yet then our hope is sādhana and mind control, nothing else.