ISKCON as acintya-bheda-abheda tattva

Never mind my previous post about doubts in ISKCON’s direction – it will all work out alright. The reason is that ISKCON is growing and spreading throughout the society, which means it draws more and more of less and less qualified people in. They all deserve their chance at getting the mercy of the Holy Name and so they all deserve a chance to become ISKCON members.

Our membership is very relaxed now, btw. Anyone who thinks that following teachings of Śrīla Prabhupāda can bring them to the Absolute Truth is qualified. It’s not about initiations, not even about rounds being chanted – the only requirement is śraddhā – firm faith in the teachings of our founder-ācārya, just as it’s said in śāstra – ādau śraddhā. Whether these people are still attracted by mundane qualities like easiness or practicality is immaterial. This definition of ISKCON membership is from one of the GBC resolutions a few years ago, 2013 or 2014.

Having said that, there’s also obvious difference between ISKCON of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s time and this expanded part of ISKCON today. It would be incorrect to say that it’s the difference between old ISKCON and new ISKCON because it would betray materialistic thinking, which is influenced by time and which assumes materially manifested phenomena as reality. Just because we don’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exists. Let me explain.

Under the influence of materialistic education we think that life comes from matter. As devotees we shrugged off this gross misunderstanding but vestiges of it still stay with us in various subtle forms. One of them is the assumption that if something isn’t manifested empirically it means it doesn’t exist or it’s “gone”. We don’t believe in independent existence of life, not for real. Instead we believe life exists on the spiritual platform as something magical, imperceptible, and unattainable. This includes all subtle manifestations of life such as mind, meanings, emotions, ideas etc. Our false, atavistic assumption is that if there’s no head to hold the brain and mouth to speak then ideas don’t exist. Even if we might verbally agree that it’s not right we are still prone to making the next logical misstep – that if heads, brains, and mouths disappear it means ideas disappear, too. In that sense old ISKCON is gone – true, but that’s not how it exists!

When we define ISKCON as Śrīla Prabhupāda’s child we mean that which comes from his unalloyed devotion. That devotion is eternal, it never disappears, it was never born and it will never cease to exist. Consequently, the same applies to the child of this devotion – ISKCON. It might get unmanifested, it might get embodied in different forms, which are ever changing in material perception, but it will never cease to exist. It’s eternal, its real state of being is immutable just like the soul.

What we see with our material vision, however, is simultaneously one and different from that eternal state of ISKCON’s being, and from my experience this simultaneous connection and divergence is inconceivable. Inconceivable in that it’s impossible to predict when we should treat it as the same and when as different. It’s kinda obvious when it actually happens but there aren’t any rules that would constrain any particular ISKCON manifestation to being one or another.

On one hand our Congregational Ministry reaching out to people with promises of fun and practicality is fundamentally different from pure selfless devotion of Śrīla Prabhupāda, but on the other hand if that is how we can bring people in and put them through the process of purification then even these materialistic goals become spiritual. I’m not going to share them myself but if it works for other people I’m all for it. In this way I see them as devotees and as non-devotees at the same time, as parts of “true” ISKCON and as impostors simultaneously. It’s inconceivable.

Empirically perceptible manifestation of ISKCON might grow and shrink. It’s like a wave spreading across the surface of the pond to reach the other shore. This wave will lift up all kinds of jetsam and flotsam, it will lift up and stir all kinds of silt and sediment, maybe even oil spills. If you meet this wave on the other side you might not recognize the water at all but it’s still the same wave, simultaneously one and different with the water manifesting it. In some places the wave will be almost invisible, in other places it will apparently grow in height, in some places it will appear as surf, but it’s still the same wave from the same source carrying the same transcendental vibration.

As individuals we are located in different places and experience it differently, but it’s the experience of the same vibration. Sometimes it might not resonate with us and sometimes it will, every strongly. Sometimes it will change us, sometimes we will affect the wave as well. These experiences are largely unpredictable, like in typical śāstric references to little straws being brought together and then drawn apart by whirlpools. We don’t have much control over what happens exactly, but the sincerity of our prayer, sincerity of our chanting is one predominating factor. Kṛṣṇa will not put us in a situation harmful to our spiritual progress. Challenging – yes, but never harmful.

On one hand it means that our situation doesn’t matter, we should simply go on chanting and let Kṛṣṇa worry about arrangements of the material nature. On the other hand it means all these arrangements are Kṛṣṇa’s arrangements and so should be treated accordingly – as His personal mercy. There’s inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference here as well. The world is material and, therefore, is of no interest, and yet it’s Kṛṣṇa’s world and, therefore, needs to be seen as His mercy. Eventually time will come when His mercy will be shown through fully spiritual energy instead but we can’t look in the mouth of a gifted horse, that would be selfish and, therefore, undevotional.

So, on one hand there’s ISKCON where they want fun and easy ways to get through Bhagavad Gītā, on the other hand there are devotees who made this video:

It deserves a post of its own, and one post would not be enough. I’ve been watching it for a month and a half now, a few minutes everyday. It’s is absolutely free from all contamination of karma and jñāna. It represents ISKCON I absolutely need even if my body is not manifested in the same place as devotees who made it. Does it matter, though? They encoded their devotion in this film and I decode it into instructions on my side of the world. In this way I obtain their association. In my experience it’s far closer than sitting next to a person you don’t really share your ideas with. In this way I’m part of the ISKCON I see but don’t appreciate much and a part of ISKCON I don’t see but feel so close to. It all is inconceivably one and different.

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