I was reading something by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and he mentioned a stunning verse that immediately reminded me of Krishna West. In our books in appears only once, in the Eleventh Canto – translated and purported by Hridayananda Dasa Goswami himself. This should be enough of an authority for his followers but I wanted to investigate its origin a bit further. This is what I found.
In commenting on SB 11.20.9 Hridayananda Dasa Goswami apparently used Bhakti Sandarbha (A.173) for the purport because that seems to be the only place where he could have gotten the following verse mentioned by Jīva Goswāmī as being spoken by the Lord:
yas te ullaṅghya vartate
ājñā-cchedī mama dveṣī
mad-bhakto ’pi na vaiṣṇavaḥ
“The śruti and smṛti literatures are to be understood as My injunctions, and one who violates such codes is to be understood as violating My will and thus opposing Me. Although such a person may claim to be My devotee, he is not actually a Vaiṣṇava.”
That’s a very strong statement – they may claim to be devotees but they are not.
Krishna West argues that “devotional dress” does not exist and all the rules regulating our devotional appearances and behavior are Islamic in origin, or in any case do not need to be followed – because “preaching”. This argument is destroyed in this verse – we MUST follow injunctions of śruti and smṛti, simply going by what we think is “goodness” is not enough. Rejecting these prescriptions would disqualify us from being accepted as devotees by the Lord.
BTW, it’s plain obvious that devotional dress and behavior in ISKCON are a lot closer to South Indian vaiṣṇavas than to Muslims and I hope KW is not going to preach to Ramanujas or Madhvas that they are following Islamic rules, too. As you will see later, even if our codes were influenced by Muslims or Ramakrishnas it doesn’t mean they can be rejected.
So, back to the heavy speaking verse – where does it leave KW? What do they have to do? Embrace dhoties and saries and tilakas and halava? Not going to happen and should not be happening against their will. However, the verse itself (SB 11.20.9), which was also used by Jiva Goswami in the same anuccheda, gives a clue:
tāvat karmāṇi kurvīta
na nirvidyeta yāvatā
śraddhā yāvan na jāyate
As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for devotional service by śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ, one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.
Sridhara Swami, also quoted in the anuccheda, explains: “The word ‘karmani’ here means ‘regular and occasional prescribed duties’.” HDG translated it as “fruitive activities” in the word-for-word, so it’s not exactly “regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions” as in the translation. This gives KW a way out – they have to follow prescribed duties according to their culture, regular and occasionally rising. These duties might not be Vedic but, as prescribed duties, we should accept them as some sort of upadharma for degraded people of non-Vedic civilizations.
That’s where they get their definitions of “goodness” already anyway, like acceptance of pants or pizza or french fries or or veggie burgers. Let them do it, in fact, they SHOULD do it – until they feel satiated and become naturally detached, or until they develop taste for Hari-Katha and forget they ever liked these things.
In the anuccheda Jiva Goswami mentions a few other verses explaining the conditions for when one can give up following “karmani” – when one takes complete shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord and stops relying on anything else in his life, which is a pretty advanced stage not yet reached by vast majority of non-KW devotees as well.
In this way both KW and mainstream ISKCON can happily co-exist. It becomes a problem only when KW devotees reject prescriptions given to mainstream devotees as artificial. That’s when they become non-vaiṣṇavas opposing to the Lord even if they still claim to be devotees. They, effectively, start saying that rules they follow themselves – how they dress, how they eat, how they behave in public – are sattvic and “real”, but mainstream vaiṣṇava rules are bogus. Calling them Islamic inventions only exacerbates the matter.
There’s another discussion about whether following upadharma can take one all the way to the Lord, as KW claims. SB verse above means that if they still feel the need to follow it then śraddhā yāvan na jāyate – their faith has not been yet awakened. In this position they shouldn’t be arguing about how exactly śraddhā will eventually blossom into prema. That would be premature.
This mistake – that by following upadharmas they feel they are qualified to talk about “going all the way”, as they say, is manifested in another area – that they feel they are qualified to talk about dharmas given in śāstra, too. Forget about arguing about actual merits of wearing dhoties all the time – the mistake is to treat dharma and upadharma as equal in the first place. They might not use the same words but that’s what they mean when they say things like “the Lord enjoys french fries and puris equally because they are both sattvic and are cooked with love and devotion.” Cooking oil is not sattvic, only ghee is sattvic, so the Lord would enjoy french fries cooked in ghee better than cooked in oil, there’s no equality even there, and that’s before comparing root vegetable (potato), which grows in cold, dump darkness to wheat.
This can be explained in many different ways, but the bottom line is simple – upadharma is called upadharma for a reason – it’s not as good as real dharma. At first, I was doubtful that I use the word “upadharma” correctly, but no, it seems fit with the definition in SB 7.15.13:
dharma-bādho vidharmaḥ syāt
upadharmas tu pākhaṇḍo
dambho vā śabda-bhic chalaḥ
Religious principles that obstruct one from following his own religion are called vidharma. Religious principles introduced by others are called para-dharma. A new type of religion created by one who is falsely proud and who opposes the principles of the Vedas is called upadharma. And interpretation by one’s jugglery of words is called chala-dharma.
It would seem unduly harsh to KW but they DO oppose the principles of the Vedas in favor of their version of “goodness” and they do think that Hridayananda Das Goswami is qualified to lay down new principles for others to follow, which is an indication of false pride being present, and it IS a new kind of religion when compared to mainstream ISKCON. I meant it to mean a sub-dharma not fit to be mentioned in Vedic texts but either definition is okay, mine was more generous.
The peace formula I propose here is simple – let them do their sattvic things, that’s how they’ll eventually get purified, but they shouldn’t reject rules followed by mainstream as bogus. They should just stay out of these “comparative studies”, nothing good will come from criticizing ISKCON. Most likely they’ll develop an attitude that is condemned by the Lord and the Lord Himself will stop considering them as His devotees. That’s a pretty heavy warning there at the top. As I said – stunning.