It’s all nice to talk about how superior our path is but we also need to show something for it, at least to ourselves. Knowing that we are doing the right thing would go a long way in convincing innocent people but I suspect our critics still won’t be impressed. Why?
Those who criticize us the most are also the ones who know us best. They know our philosophy, they know our culture, they know our way of thinking, they know our conditioning, they know how we react to this or that, they know what arguments we use and so on. They achieve this level of familiarity usually by being in ISKCON for quite some time. In come countries our opponents also studied us professionally, like deprogrammers in the West or Russian Christians. Most of the time it’s ex-ISKCON, however, so let’s focus on this group of devotees.
Yes, they are devotees even if they rejected either ISKCON, GBC or even Śrīla Prabhupāda. Some reject the devotional path altogether and go into sister schools in Hinduism. Even if that happens they are still devotees, just currently unable to accept that Kṛṣṇa is our eternal master and we can’t hide from Him so we might just as well start serving Him right now even if with clenched teeth. Sometimes the desire to enjoy is just too strong, not everybody is born into equally favorable conditions.
Some want gross material sense gratification that goes against our regulative principles so they have no choice but to leave our association. They might have done it in shame but over the time they probably grown to accept their condition and rather blamed us for being unreasonably strict. They can then find supporting arguments in either śāstra or history. India has seen everything so they can always find meat eaters or some schools where sex is not seen as a sinful activity. Some look for old drawings of Indians where their women were walking around bare chested and they cite those as proof that we are excessively puritan.
There are traces of this mentality in ISKCON, too. Devotees might cite example of objective analysis of various kinds of meat in aurveda, for example, or countless examples of fishermen and hunters in our books, or eating habits of various Vedic personalities like Bhīma. I don’t know exactly why they keep these things in mind, I suspect as a fallback option for when they can’t follow the regs and can cite historical precedents in their defense. Of course it won’t work on our authorities but they hope it would clear their own consciousness. Ex-ISKCON devotees use the same reasoning, I suppose, they just have actually implemented it in real life.
I don’t know why I am even talking about this, I was meaning to talk about their estimates of our progress or rather the lack of it. Somehow they think we are not making any and remain eternal neophytes. They can give reasons why it is so – some are connected with our personal conduct, some with our relationships with their newly found gurus from GM or Vṛndāvana, some, sad to admit, with Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. “Why” is not so important, the first question should be why they can’t see our progress in the first place, subsequent justifications are easy.
There are two ways why they fail to notice our spiritual advancement, or maybe even three. First is that we have a clear description of symptoms of higher stages of bhakti in our literature and none of us manifest them. Our voices don’t tremble, we don’t have goosebumps when chanting and so on. At least we should have tears but we don’t display even that. Well, the answer to this is that it’s impossible to expect these emotions manifesting in every ISKCON devotee in every non-devotional situation. They are not going to manifest when talking to serial offenders at all, that’s simply impossible, but if you look carefully at the devotees around you during deity greetings you will surely notice that some of them are experiencing very deep emotions. Maybe not everyday and certainly not in everyone but you’d see enough to dispel all your doubts that our process works.
Secondly, our critics often use wrong criteria of progress. Yesterday I talked about gross misunderstanding of what spiritual knowledge is and the same blindness is displayed when judging levels of devotion, too. Forget tears and goosebumps, if someone gets up at four in the morning to stand in front of the deties and sing about their spiritual master with deeply felt conviction everyday for years and years then it’s devotion pure and simple. If someone consistently submits himself to the orders of his guru even when they go against his basic self interests it’s devotion, too. If someone keeps chanting the mantra despite ever achieving anything substantial in his devotional life it’s still bhakti. Why would these people do these things if they do not feel any spiritual feedback? If they were truly in illusion they would have slept in, went to work, and watched TV instead. Of course one could say that this is what most of our non-temple devotees do all the time and that would be a fair objection.
The third reason our critics miss the point is that they expect high standards from common rank and file devotees. To check whether the method works they should look at the best examples – devotees who stay in the temples, devotees who do not abuse their gṛhastha status, devotees who’d rather stay poor but in ISKCON then get a job outside, devotees who do wake up for maṅgala-ārati every day for decades, devotees who have been known to display transcendental emotions and so on. I won’t give any names now but they do exist, some are very well known, too. So what if it doesn’t work for me or for most devotees I know, it works for our role models, it works for those who matter to us.
That’s the thing about every method – to achieve success you have to follow it to the “t” and you can’t judge its effectiveness by easily explained failures among general population. Truth is, no other tradition elevates people to following ISKCON level of sādhana bhakti, not even GM. If someone says that sādhana is inferior the answer is that you can’t follow it for a long period of time if you don’t have underlying rāgānugā. It doesn’t matter if you can’t see it right away – consistent following of sādhana is proof that rāgānugā is there.
All of the above is about externally observable symptoms, btw, we have to remember that our critics, due to their assumed position, are unable to see the spiritual side of things at all. It’s not like we can perceive it all the time either but when we get that lava-mātra moment in the company of advanced devotees we know advaya-jñāna is real, it’s presence become undeniable and this impression lasts forever. Therefore we can’t take accusations that our process does not work seriously, both for external and for internally felt reasons. And I also want to say something else about symptoms of devotion but I’ll leave it for another day.