Continuing with yesterday’s comment on the current state of Dandavats. The site has a great responsibility in setting an example for Krishna conscious internet – topics covered, rules followed etc. It’s supposed to show that following GBC does not mean instant death. I mean other popular websites like VNN and Chakra, now discontinued, declared themselves independent from GBC right from the start, as if it’s a position that cannot possibly be held by any reasonable person. Dandavats is our answer to that.
Maybe they are right and I, personally, don’t think that internet and Krishna consciousness are meant for each other. I don’t know if there are any historical examples that can be compared. Maybe people could say that printing machines of a hundred years ago were incompatible with sweetness of Gaudiya vaishnavism, too, but machines, even if products of ugro-karmic society, are, in themselves, neutral, no different from weaving looms. I do not see internet as similarly neutral.
Books have been with us for thousands of years and all through history written word has been considered as sacred. If there was a book it meant that it was something worth reading, be it a record of event, a philosophical treatise, or a travelogue. It’s only very recently that printed word has become abused for something like adult entertainment. Internet served a different need from the start. Books were meant to conserve knowledge, internet is meant for spreading gossip instead. It’s like a telephone on steroids where every conversation is recorded forever.
“Great thing” about it is that it gave everybody a voice while books were meant to make everybody a listener. Books were meant to capture the heights of human intellect, internet is meant to give same value to most vile and base of human thoughts. People who are attracted to it are attracted not by the entire Catholic Encyclopedia being online but by sites like Urban Dictionary. They seek communities where they own perversions are accepted and celebrated as new normal.
When we step into this world it’s like preaching in a pub on Saturday night – our message is the exact opposite of what people come here for. That’s why declaring a position independent of GBC is seen as a badge of honor – internet is not for followers, internet is for those doing their own thing and being proud of it. Dandavats is a noble attempt at creating our own community insulated from all the nonsense that goes on outside. Unlike Facebook, it can easily be moderated and it’s the devotees, not faceless FB content supervisors who select stories for your newsfeed.
All in all, Dandavats is doing a great job but I have some complaints as well. Lately it has become a place to dump photo albums of any ISKCON related event. These are like extended selfies where you are promoting your group rather than your own face. If you are not a member of this group they are not even mildly interesting. Sometimes these photos carry messages, like a huge number of people attending, but mostly its people you don’t know standing in places you’ve never been to. The entire “article” is two lines of often random text with a link to a Facebook page.
I guess it’s hard for the site designers to decide what should it actually be. Is it a news site to report on every single happening in ISKCON? Should it be a site for devotees to share well-thought articles on topics relevant to Krishna consciousness? I think they started off with the later but ended up with everything being dumped on the front page – news, eulogies, personal realizations – everything.
It’s not as active as BBC but there are two-three screens of new content added every day, meaning you have to scroll way way down and hope you haven’t missed anything interesting. I think they’ll have to made separate sections very soon or people would just share Dandavat links on Facebook and these links would go to their other Facebook pages. The website itself is not very useful in its current form.
And then there’s outright creepy stuff that, in my view, should never have been there in the first place. A few years ago Dandavats was seen as promoting one side in female diksha guru issue and this led to devotees like HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami leaving. One comment, which passed moderation, compared him to Taleban while anything even slightly off about his opposition was not allowed to pass through. That issue has largely resolved itself but, during banning his book controversy, Dandavats was absolutely silent when devotee after devotee stood up in his defense in every other vaishnava forum.
What scares me now is subtle promoting of hospital services provided by what looks like ISKCON and with Srila Prabhupada’s name attached to it, too. The other day their headline talked about Prabhupada’s blessings to Bhaktivedanta Hospital. That was strange, I thought – all quotes from Prabhupada I’ve ever seen is that hospitals is a useless display of sentimental compassion and we should have nothing to do with such charitable activities. Did Srila Prabhupada actually blessed it?
No, the title was completely misleading and missed a key word – it was Srila Prabhupada’s SON who was grateful for receiving treatment, not Srila Prabhupada himself. As far as I remember, Prabhupada’s children had “complicated” relationships with him after he took sannyasa so their blessings after getting free medical treatment should not be taken as anything special. Omitting that one word, “son”, is a big editorial oversight that goes on top of promoting medical services which Prabhupada never blessed in any shape or form.
It probably isn’t the worst example but I’m not the one to look into entire Dandavats history on this issue. The other article that caught my attention is some conference they held in the US for devotee “hospitalists”. It wasn’t immediately clear whether what it was all about – were they encouraging devotees to select medical profession as their service or was it a conference for devotees who ended up working in healthcare (to provide for themselves and their families). I don’t think there’s much difference anymore and they had actual ISKCON leadership giving speeches and setting visionary goals for this association.
Whichever way you look at it – health care has been practically legitimized as devotional service. I don’t want to discuss how exactly they achieved it just from this one article but they have examples of devotees who are also successful medical entrepreneurs and it’s their very existence that gives legitimacy to the whole endeavor.
I can’t help but remember a case of a devotee who approached Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji with a similar idea of setting a clinic in Navadwipa because Murari Gupta was a doctor in Caitanya lila and that he was severely chastised by Srila Gaurakishora for even daring to compare himself with the eternal associate of the Lord. That was imitation instead of following. Following means trying to reach the same level of realization and spiritual potency, not behaving in the same way externally without the same spiritual foundation.
What was even worse is that while these devotees were attending the conference their children were taken on a tour of Hershey chocolate factory. Chocolate is not offerable to the Lord and there’s no other way to look at it but as sense enjoyment. Is this what we are teaching our children these days? Seriously? It might not be as addictive as actual drugs but “chocaholics” and “chocolate cravings” are real, and there’s no way to purify them through Krishna consciousness like we can do with other foods that can be offered to the Lord. Kids would have been better off if someone read them Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that starts with realities of old age and then goes on to demonstrate the pitfalls of attachments.
What is going on in our society? How do these creepy “innovations” crawl into our devotional space? I suspect there already are thousands who see it as perfectly normal. I’ll just give another example before I shut up – Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati once organized a massive Hare Krishna festival in Calcutta when the rest of Bengal was flooded and millions of people were suffering. Some said that it was inappropriate to raise funds for this festival while money was very much needed to solve “real” problems but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had none of it. Every rupee spent on anything other then preaching is a waste and robbing the Lord of what is rightfully His.
I’m afraid I’ll have to take a forced break from this blog but it shouldn’t be too long. Let’s see how it goes.