Gurus and expectations

Last weekend our regular program class was on the section in the Nectar of Devotion which deals with not accepting unfit disciples, not constructing too many temples etc. It’s a pretty straightforward topic – one should not initiate too many disciples, certainly not with the idea to increase his own prestige. Śrīla Prabhupāda also discusses the obvious statement that one should not initiate those who are unfit – how sometimes it’s necessary for propagation of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. Nothing we haven’t heard of before.

What spiked my interest, however, was looking at the sources for this section. In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu there’s a line by Rūpa Goswāmī stating these three rules (we’ll talk only about guru-disciples one here) and then he gives a supporting verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.13.8). The way Śrīla Prabhupāda translated that verse later on, when he got to the Seventh Canto, is somewhat different from how he talked about it in NOD:

    A sannyāsī must not present allurements of material benefits to gather many disciples…

See how it’s not about them being unfit or about extracting material benefits yourself (by guru). This is something else entirely – do not make any promises. This has not been mentioned in the class and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone explaining the rule this way. Once I spotted it, however, it downed on me that it’s what the very first line in NOD says as well:

    … a person may have many disciples, but he should not act in such a way that he will be obliged to any of them for some particular action or some favor…

That is a development on the initial thought, which is based on one word in that Bhāgavatam verse – anubadhnīta, which in word-for-word given as “one should induce for material benefit”. This word is repeated in Rūpa Goswāmī’s own line as well, in fact it’s the only meaningful word for this rule, the other two are “no” and “disciple”. Then in both SB and NOD we see Śrīla Prabhupāda explaining various implications of that word. In SB purport it’s all about not making alluring promises and nothing about “unfit” or “for your own prestige”:

    So-called svāmīs and yogīs generally make disciples by alluring them with material benefits. There are many so-called gurus who attract disciples by promising to cure their diseases or increase their material opulence by manufacturing gold. These are lucrative allurements for unintelligent men. A sannyāsī is prohibited from making disciples through such material allurements.

It’s pretty straightforward here, too, but let’s discuss implications of this rule most of us overlook when it comes up in NOD or when it’s buried deep somewhere in the Seventh Canto. I mean this rule is evoked quite often but is somehow never put this way. When we were reading it last week in class it went straight over our heads, too.

In NOD Śrīla Prabhupāda actually gives an explanation why attracting disciples with materialistic promises is dangerous – it makes guru obliged, ie conditioned and bound up by karma. Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t even say what promises are forbidden, he says one should not act in such a way that he becomes obliged. Stated like this it casts a very wide net – any time one feels a guru is obliged to do something for him the rule has possibly been broken.

A disciple might have his own expectations, of course, it doesn’t mean his guru actually promised anything, but I can think of several examples where two hands must have been clapping, and they are not very comfortable topics to discuss. Still, let me try, I only try to understand the issue here, not cast any doubts on anyone’s spiritual purity.

A typical ISKCON disciple expects that initiation will bring him recognition, that he would leave his current social strata of uninitiated “friends of Krishna” and enter into an exclusive club of ISKCON members for real. It’s a huge step up, nowadays it’s somehow even harder to make, but it’s a topic for another discussion. Offering initiation so that one becomes a fully fledged member of community has been done since forever, including by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. In NOD he explains why sometimes this rule has to be broken but in the absence of emergency there’s no justification for this.

When most of our devotees lived in the temples initiated disciples expected a place to live and engagement in service. When I grew up it was practically a demand – every temple resident must be given service, and not just any service but the one suitable to his nature. There were tons of seminars on how to achieve this and they were given by gurus who actually felt that it was their obligation. These days devotees live mostly outside but temple management or project management is a big big thing, gurus might not be directly involved but that’s only because there are too many people to manage so they delegate these responsibilities. The point is that our spiritual leadership obviously feels obliged to provide comfortable situation for our devotees. It would be an anathema to reject this responsibility, it’s unthinkable – we spent so many decades indoctrinating our entire society it’s not even an option anymore.

No one can stand up and say “I’m not making any promises. You might have service or you might not have service. You might get living quarters, food, and clothing, or might not – nothing to do with me.” And yet this is exactly what Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Bhakti Rasāmṛita Sindhu, and Nectar of Devotion tell us – do not make promises.

For non-temple devotees getting guru’s blessings for any project is a must. They open a restaurant – it must be under auspices of a guru, you set up a publishing company – it must publish books by spiritual leaders, you start a farming project – it must be associated with a big name, too. In all these cases devotees expect their projects to succeed. I don’t know how much of an obligation it is for the spiritual masters themselves, I hope they don’t get caught up and do not make any promises.

Varṇāśrama is, perhaps, the most controversial topic here of all. The very meaning of varṇāśrama is to produce tangible material benefits. It must produce food – milk and grains, and some even talk about allowing polygamy. If our varṇāśrama projects do not provide sense gratification they are considered a failure. Of course we all say that varṇāśrama is needed for practicing devotional service but it’s just our code word for “comfortable material situation”, let’s not pretend otherwise. The full sentence should read “comfortable material situation is needed for practicing devotional service”.

When we look at varṇāśrama this way it’s hard to justify our gurus and even Śrīla Prabhupāda himself pushing for it and not breaking “do not make promises” rule. I mean we generally think that by following Prabhupāda’s specific instruction on varṇāśrama we can obtain satisfactory sense gratification, be it marital advice or gurukula advice or farming advice, or advice on making your own toothpaste. We treat this advice as promises, and as the most solid promises ever. It. Should. Work.

Why? Did Śrīla Prabhupāda consider that advice as his solid promises? I don’t think so. Did he use it to attract people? Generally – no, but sometimes devotees were inspired to get closer to him by engaging in those projects, succeeding, and then claiming their rightful spots in his entourage, like on morning walks. When a spiritual leader starts any such project now it does attract devotees and disciples. The word in SB and BRS is śiṣya, btw – any kind of disciple, not only initiated ones. Projects do attract following, that’s a fact of life, and so if someone talks these projects up to recruit people then he creates an obligation, and that would be against the rule.

The tough part is that managing ISKCON is impossible without making promises and luring people in. One of our senior leaders lured devotees through their wives, for example. Ever so subtle but the message was “you do this and your marital happiness is assured”. It’s just how the world works, so what can we do? Here’s a radical solution – stay out of it. ISKCON is a preaching movement meant to attract more and more people but the rules for them are not the same as rules for making personal spiritual advancement. Personally, we should not fall for the same type of propaganda we are forced to produce when we reach out to non-devotees.

Even more radical solution – ISKCON is not meant for our own comfort. We cannot expect or demand it to serve our material needs. It is not meant to provide us with pensions or provide emotional support or business opportunities or food or shelter – nothing, really. Only when we want to serve it without any such expectations, not even waiting for a thank you, we can start making actual progress the way Rūpa Goswāmī has meant it. When all these egotisitical interests are absent from our relationships with our guru we can start to appreciate him for what he really does for us – saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka trāṇāya kāruṇya-ghanāghanatvam…

“I was deleted from ISKCON”

This is another old post that has been sitting as a draft for ages. Today I would have written it very differently but I think it should be preserved as historical evidence for myself – I DID think like that only a year or so ago, and now I changed.


I’ve heard this phrase twice in the past few weeks and every time I internally reacted to it though I’m not sure how exactly. I want to set myself straight on this and I still don’t know how this effort will turn out a few hundred words later. I have few ideas where it could go but let’s see. It’s mostly for my own purification.

Technically, it goes like this – we perceive something and first the intelligence tries to make sense of it, categorize it, figure out the context, intention, subtext, details etc. When this is done the new experience is plugged into our overall tree of knowledge, it becomes “memory” and it becomes searchable by date, person, place, topic and so on. As we ponder it longer we build more and more connections to already stored memories and so we might have sudden “realizations”.

The mind’s job is to like or dislike the experience, simply-minded thing that it is, and let’s not get entangled in whether it agrees or disagrees with judgments passed by intelligence and how they interact with each other. The point is that these first reactions are automatic and we don’t have much control over the process. It’s not that we have much control over anything else in the material world either but even if we think we are the doers we should honestly admit that first impressions are not our doings, it just happens and then we claim credit for it (as in “I knew it right away!”).

This is where this blog post comes in – the part where I feel I can make a difference by talking about it in a certain way. I could argue that this is also illusory and is determined by guṇa and karma but since I’m forced to think myself as a doer and given instructions on how to behave then I have no choice but to go along. The idea is to turn talking, thinking, and typing into a yajña, into glorification of the Lord and His devotees, so let’s get to it.

I was not proud of my first reaction to “I was deleted from ISKCON”, it was clearly lacking respect and empathy and, passing the buck, dictated by standard internet responses like “I’m fresh out of ***** to give”. We should not take shelter in this callousness no matter how prevalent it is today. As it happens, we have a whole “social media” generation coming up and it’s one of the first thing they learn in their world – no one cares about your feelings, people are too busy worrying about theirs. If you think sharing your feelings will be embarrassing – don’t, they don’t care about your dignity. On the plus side they won’t put you in “never listen to him again” category either. If you can present your case strongly no one will care about your history.

Those who fall for sob stories are suckers and they are meant to be milked as followers, fans, blog or channel subscribers. They can also be farmed – quite literally. You find what emotions they find appealing and you carefully feed these emotions to them, building a narrative and increasing their commitment. You get right people to deliver these emotions, find the right formula, and then they’ll do everything for you – whatever you want – buy tickets, deliver “Likes”, retweet, watch your videos again and again, and if you are smart you’ll be rolling in advertising money in no time. We should not fall into this trap, either as content consumers or content creators, our relationships should be more meaningful even if externally we happen to do the same thing – our consciousness should be different.

This wasn’t my full first impression, though, it was just a reaction to perceived bitterness. This bitterness might not have been even there but that’s what I heard. This first thought was suppressed rather fast and beyond that there was “what does it even mean – deleted from ISKCON?” and a sense of mismatch with reality. To me it stopped making sense about a decade ago.

There was a time when everything was clear – this is ISKCON and this is non-ISKCON and ISKCON was supposed to be pure and non-ISKCON wasn’t supposed to be touched. By standards set in those times this is still true and I’m not saying we should bring devotees who left for Sridhara Swami, Narayana Maharaj, ritviks etc back into the fold but what is considered ISKCON nowadays allows a great deal of freedom. Devotees learned to be in ISKCON and at the same time do outrageous things unthinkable in the “good old days”.

My temple won’t sell books for money, for example, they just won’t. Books only have to be given away for free, sponsored by members of the congregation. I grew up in a temple sustained by saṅkīrtana and we sold them for roughly ten times the price of today. I can’t remember exact consumer goods prices but I think one set of then available books could buy people a ton of potatoes and devotees sometimes distributed over a hundred sets per day. We saw the value of the books and so people felt they were valuable, too. Devotees today see this value differently and they don’t think it would be justified to demand so much money in return.

We have projects like “Krishna West” where they are okay with homosexual “marriages” between initiated devotees – hard to see that being approved or even contemplated by Śrīla Prabhupada. We have temples and entire countries off limits to certain preachers because authorities are afraid that their presentations would disturb the minds of the congregation. Last year there was a book banned by the GBC resolution, then unbanned following the outrage, and I’ll give a quote from a related e-mail: “One GBC member even stated that ISKCON’s very existence in his country would be jeopardised if this book were seen to at all be representing ISKCON.” I don’t think that GBC member was kidding there – some pretty straightforward things cannot be repeated in certain places anymore. We have mega preachers whose websites talk about love and compassion and don’t have words “Hare Krishna” on their front page. We have massive, millions meals a day food distribution programs where we are legally prohibited from mentioning that it’s prasādam or saying anything about philosophy, let along chanting, we have eye clinics and hospitals, we have sannyāsīs going on cruise ships and singing with māyāvādīs, we have māyāvādīs performing kīrtanas at our public programs, we have devotees forced to take paid exams to be even considered for initiation. Just what is it one must do to get “deleted from ISKCON” nowadays?

Somehow or other we’ve learned to see past all those things and don’t stress ourselves, though many do feel strongly about it. I think GBC doesn’t have the guts to put all those “deviants” straight, besides often they ARE the GBC. Every year GBC publishes its budget, for the sake of transparency I believe, and now it comes to about 130,000 US dollars. What about millions they collect for TOVP? I’m not saying there’s impropriety there but that GBC’s transparency appears to be irrelevant – that’s not where money could be misused. This isn’t the fault of the current members but does contribute to the impression that GBC is only a paper tiger. I’ve seen our local GBC read news on his iPad while singing Jaya Radha Madhava in class. How’s that going to improve our temple standards?

It is easy to get into a black book and be banned, i.e. “deleted”, but only if you openly revolt and disturb peace, otherwise no one cares and, if you can get along with the authorities, you can get away with murder.

We have one ex-guru here who got married under questionable circumstances and abandoned his disciples but no one, absolutely no one, considers him as fallen but rather as one of the seniormost authorities, always welcome to give class or lead kīrtana. One day he was at a festival where his “former” disciples were present and they got along just fine, no bad feelings as far as I know. As far as I can see I was the only one thinking that it could be awkward. I think it’s a welcome change but in the good old days that would have been unthinkable. Some things do improve.

Question is – how do we survive in this atmosphere that would appear surreal only a short time ago? We’ve learned to see and appreciate devotees’ commitment to Śrīla Prabhupāda and their submission to the ultimate authority of GBC. Everything else is just fluff, a foam on the surface of the Ganges. It’s just three modes of nature forcing jīvas to experience their karma, and that these experiences are carefully calibrated by Kṛṣṇa to bring their speediest recovery from material affliction. It might not be how current generation of devotees sees with it but this explanation works for me when I spot dissonance with my own upbringing in KC.

The only thing I can do to speed up this purification process is to engage in saṅkīrtana myself. When we talk about philosophy, praise and appreciate the devotees, discuss Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes etc all the impurities in our hearts gradually disappear and then people simply won’t do the things that are improper. They would stop talking about themselves and their feelings, they would stop acting out their feelings and they would stop doing things for their own pleasure.

Ultimately, Kṛṣṇa is so big that when we get even a drop of Kṛṣṇa consciousness all our worries appear incomparably small and fade away. I think this is how the promised Golden Age is supposed to manifest itself – not in fixing problems but in redirecting our consciousness elsewhere. “Reality” is produced from our minds and it’s “mind over matter” all the way. How to fix our minds? By mantra, of course. What mantra works the best? Hare Kṛṣṇa.

What about being in or out of ISKCON? I don’t think we have an authorized list of members and all one needs to do is to be loyal to Śrīla Prabhupāda as opposed to any outside ācārya, and to GBC, and even that in broadest possible terms. If one is already on some “no-fly” list then that has to be cleared, of course, and there are higher standards for those with appetite for authority positions, too.

Does anyone in ISKCON care whether one makes such a commitment? No, they really don’t. In the old ISKCON it mattered but old ISKCON doesn’t exist anymore. What is the use of this new ISKCON then? Umm, you get to discuss Kṛsṇa kathā in the company of devotees. You don’t get this anywhere else. Of course there are devotees outside ISKCON, too, but their appreciation for Kṛṣṇa kathā is considerably less and certain things cannot be mentioned at all because of their lack of commitment or commitment to different personalities. I’m not talking about anything esoteric, which is a common but wrong assumption, I’m talking about one’s personal realizations which are, if we are being honest, still on the level of dealing with matter. How to see spirit in matter, how to see value of devotees, or books, or non-devotees, or family. There’s no magic involved but mature ISKCON devotees see all these simple things differently and they have a lot to share in this regard, there’s always something to learn from them. From outsiders? Not so much.

What I’m saying is that a sober and intelligent man should take this opportunity and use it rather than restricting oneself with “in”, “out”, or “deleted” labels. There’s a verse in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam on a different topic but it in passing mentions this “world of names” (SB 2.2.3):

ataḥ kavir nāmasu yāvad arthaḥ
syād apramatto vyavasāya-buddhiḥ
siddhe ’nyathārthe na yateta tatra
pariśramaṁ tatra samīkṣamāṇaḥ

ataḥ — for this reason; kaviḥ — the enlightened person; nāmasu — in names only; yāvat — minimum; arthaḥ — necessity; syāt — must be; apramattaḥ — without being mad after them; vyavasāya-buddhiḥ — intelligently fixed; siddhe — for success; anyathā — otherwise; arthe — in the interest of; na — should never; yateta — endeavor for; tatra — there; pariśramam — laboring hard; tatra — there; samīkṣamāṇaḥ — one who sees practically.

For this reason the enlightened person should endeavor only for the minimum necessities of life while in the world of names. He should be intelligently fixed and never endeavor for unwanted things, being competent to perceive practically that all such endeavors are merely hard labor for nothing.

Vanity thought #1603. Problem with ecstasy.

Last time I mentioned something about symptoms of ecstasy – they are not universal proof of one’s advancement and therefore expecting our devotees to display them to prove that ISKCON works is unjustified. There’s a one curious Bhāgavatam verse in this regard (SB 2.3.24):

    Certainly that heart is steel-framed which, in spite of one’s chanting the holy name of the Lord with concentration, does not change when ecstasy takes place, tears fill the eyes and the hairs stand on end.

On the surface the idea seems very simple – only stone hearts do not melt when chanting the holy name. This is how I remember and understand it instinctively. Perhaps I’m confusing it with some other similar verse, probably from the songs of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, but this is not what this śloka says. Let me read it again, I still don’t get the full range of its implications.

First, it talks about steel framed hearts, aśma-sāram, which means it must be a rhetorical device because no one has actual steel framed hearts. Clicking around Sanskrit translations shows that aśma means stone and sāram means essence so it would be correct to translate it as “stone-hearted”, too, doesn’t make a difference to the meaning.

Secondly, the verse talks about those who chant the holy name with concentration, which is a no small feat. We’ve been trying this for years with little success – concentration is elusive. The exact word is dheyaiḥ and it means concentration and meditation, not just walking around, checking the birds and making plans for the rest of the day. We are talking about serious chanting here.

And then there’s the kicker – this heart does not change WHEN ecstasy takes place. Not that the person doesn’t experience ecstasy, he does, and there are two symptoms given of this ecstasy – tears fill the eyes and hairs stand on end, but it doesn’t change the heart. What is going on here?

We’d be glad to experience some ecstasy, we have śikṣāṣṭaka verse begging for it (CC Antya 20.36):

    ‘My dear Lord, when will My eyes be beautified by filling with tears that constantly glide down as I chant Your holy name? When will My voice falter and all the hairs on My body stand erect in transcendental happiness as I chant Your holy name?’

If Lord Caitanya only hoped that one day it would happen to Him, what about our expectations? And, according to Bhāgavatam, if we finally achieve that state it still doesn’t guarantee the change in our hearts? That’s depressing. Let’s see what Śrīla Prabhupāda says in the purport.

I’m not going to paste it here or go through it sentence by sentence, it’s too long for this, but there’s a general thrust there – this verse condemns prākṛta-sahajiyās. It needs to be noted, however that this term was given to us by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, no one has heard of it before, and therefore proper explanation of what it means is in order, which is what Śrīla Prabhupāda did in the purport.

The first paragraph puts this śloka in context as it comes in the third chapter of this Canto. This is where direct worship of Viṣṇu is finally recommended and is “suggested herein in relation to the change of heart”. The whole chapter is titled “Pure Devotional Service: The Change in Heart” and this verse is its culmination. After that the discussion shifts to the matters of creation.

Next paragraph explains what is this expected change of heart should be. It’s not about attaining love of God and manifesting bhāva but about accepting one’s position as Lord’s eternal servant and detachment from material world that goes hand in hand with it. This is what we are supposed to achieve, not walking around crying and shaking. Śrīla Prabhupāda does mention symptoms of ecstasy and that they are a natural consequences of this change of heart and he deals with the apparent contradiction later. His next paragraph explains that if we do not observe material detachment that it must be due to offenses and only due to offenses, there are no other reasons.

Second half of the purport deals with bhāva and it relies on Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī and even Rūpa Gosvāmī opinions to condemn unscrupulous neophytes’ imitations of it. Apparently it has a long history, going back possibly as far as Lord Caitanya Himself. Hmm, actually there’s a story with Haridāsa Ṭhākura and a snake charmer where one of such imitators tried to steal crowd’s attention but was beaten with a stick.

While condemning the imitators Śrīla Prabhupāda also says: “They are sometimes even affected by the reflection of such transcendental symptoms, yet if they still do not give up the forbidden habits, then they are hopeless cases for transcendental realization.” So they can experience glimpses of actual symptoms, not always imitate them, but they are still hopeless for transcendental realization.

In the next paragraph Śrīla Prabhupāda cites the example of the meeting of Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya and how the Lord had to suppress His ecstasy because other people were present. This is proof that even the first class devotees do not display bhāva all the time, for “certain circumstantial reasons”, and therefore

    … real, steady bhāva is definitely displayed in the matter of cessation of material desires (kṣānti), utilization of every moment in the transcendental loving service of the Lord (avyārtha-kālatvam), eagerness for glorifying the Lord constantly (nāma-gāne sadā ruci), attraction for living in the land of the Lord (prītis tad-vasati sthale), complete detachment from material happiness (virakti), and pridelessness (māna-śūnyatā). One who has developed all these transcendental qualities is really possessed of the bhāva stage, as distinguished from the stonehearted imitator or mundane devotee.

Six fool proof symptoms of progress are given – absence of material desires, constant engagement in service, eagerness to chant, desire to live in holy dhāma, indifference to material happiness, and absence of pride. It’s not very difficult to find ISKCON devotees manifesting those and we should take them over any other external “proofs”. All other traditions must be hiding their advanced devotees, or, more likely, no advanced devotee would even engage in a attack on ISKCON or Śrīla Prabhupāda. Unfortunately, it’s the loudmouthed ones that set the tone of public discourse, especially on the internet, and it’s one of the reasons why I think internet is a giant waste of time.

Vanity thought #1597. Same web for everyone

Yesterday I wrote about our lines of authority and ended talking about devotees taking shelter of particular manifestations of this authority, I mean Supreme Absolute Truth, Kṛṣṇa, who appears to us in many forms. That part probably needs a little expanding on.

Typically, we are very radical in our movement, it’s our way of highway, and I support this orthodoxy one hundred percent but we should remember the bigger picture, too. We absolutely must submit ourselves to GBC and its local representatives but that’s because we want a place in Kṛṣṇa and Lord Caitanya’s service. We won’t get there any other way. There are other people, however, who would gladly settle for something more modest and for them there are less demanding provisions. Today I want to talk about them.

If you ask people they’d never say they settle for something small. We would never say we are going after nothing less than a happy life in Vṛndāvana either. The reality is, however, somewhat different and deep within our hearts we know it. If we cut through the sweet talk for the general population Śrīla Prabhupāda’s goals for us were quite demanding. We are supposed to preach non stop every second our lives and we don’t have any other purpose. We often heard the saying “work now, samādhi later” but in reality even that is a cop out.

We do not aim for “samādhi”, we do not aim for comfortable life amidst desire trees, we aim only for the service to the lotus feet of our guru. It might not be very pleasing to us personally but it’s what impresses Kṛṣṇa the most and Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure the only thing we should care about in our spiritual lives.

Not long ago I heard a class where a devotee was reading from one of the books by Sanātana Gosvāmī and there was a story there how Kṛṣṇa often, more often than we expect, asks a newly returned devotee to go back and preach in the material world. I don’t know what to make of it. It sounds a bit cruel and uncaring on His part but that’s what He likes, and He asks us, by that time “formerly conditioned souls”, to go and do this service on His behalf because we know the place better than anyone else. Sanātana Gosvāmī didn’t say how often people refuse, which is understandable, or at least hesitate long enough to indicate they’d rather not, but the assumption is that we are supposed to take these assignments without a blink and with full enthusiasm.

That’s our line of rūpanugas, we are servants of the servants of the servants and we do not seek our own little sweet spot in Kṛṣṇa’s entourage. We take up service no one else is taking and we don’t expect anything in return.

It is very hard to accept this attitude with an open heart, it requires complete purity, but we know it’s what is demanded of us, if we are up to it. Nowadays even the intellectual understanding might not be so widespread anymore but the demand for this service is there and to satisfy it we need to be one hundred percent dedicated to Śrīla Prabhupāda and the mission he left for us, GBC, presidents, the whole institution. We are servants of everyone and we should not dare to criticize anyone, not even the littlest, clumsiest of wannabe bhaktas. We are their servants, too.

People who are not ready for this kind of commitment still need a place in ISKCON and for them demands are more relaxed. They can seek shelter in a wide circle of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s net. They can, for example, be faithful to him in their own way but not be on good terms with GBC. Or they can be faithful to GBC as an idea but not to some particular policies. Or they could be faithful to their local ISKCON chapter but not their temple president.

For us there might not be spiritual world outside of Śrīla Prabhupāda but actually there is, he never claimed to be one and only true representative for all eternity, that’s from another religion. For us, however, going around Prabhupāda would be offensive, we don’t really have a choice. Still the world is out there and it’s ready to provide shelter to those who seek it.

As far as I can see, there’s not much spirituality left outside of our movement, devotees in other sampradāyas don’t get Kṛṣṇa premā without taking shelter of Lord Caitanya so their progress is limited to Vaikuṇṭhas, which isn’t very much comparing to possibilities offered to us. There are Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavas outside of ISKCON, too, but they have discredited themselves by not supporting Prabhupāda when they had a chance and so their prospects aren’t bright either. Maybe some other day I’ll write about Prabhupāda’s attitude towards them. However crippled, they are still devotees and if one seeks their shelter he would still be protected by Kṛṣṇa, still guided by Him, they will never be rejected no matter what they do or say. We should also remember that those who rejected Śrīla Prabhupāda will never get the same opportunities as the original members, which isn’t much in the first place.

Hinduism, however is bigger than vaiṣṇavism and allows for gradual spiritual progress to all kinds of people. One time Śrīla Prabhupāda said that worshipers of Durgā are better than Christians because they follow the Vedic way which guarantees eventual success while those who call themselves Christians are on their own, no one can guarantee anything there.

Perhaps the biggest Hindu school is advaita these days and it manifests in the form of pañcopāsāna, worshiping the five principal deities. Externally it looks very much like vaiṣṇavism because Viṣṇu is also there but conceptually it’s impersonalism. Most people can’t be bothered with learning the difference and they will never miss a chance to worship a deity so pañcopāsāna flourishes.

As followers of Lord Caitanya and Śrīla Prabhupāda we do not like impersonalism one bit but it’s a legitimate realization of the Absolute Truth, albeit an incomplete one, and no one actually realizes it these days. Still the attempt is there and it also counts.

We often say that slaughtering goats for Kali is Kṛṣṇa’s concession to those who can’t live without meat but so is impersonalism. Advaita might be a misleading path and it might be meant to trick people into atheism but it was sill given by Lord Śiva in the form of Śaṅkarācārya and so is Vedic and eventually purifying. I mean if people want to be atheists it’s better for them to be Vedic atheists. They aren’t a pleasant company but they are still taking shelter of the Vedas.

My point is that we might not think much of all these non-vaiṣṇavas or non-ISKCON vaiṣṇavas, or ex-ISKCON vaiṣṇavas, and all kinds of apa-sampradāyas, but they are still taking shelter of Kṛṣṇa, Viṣṇu, or Śiva, or Durgā, and we should have nothing but respect for that. Kṛṣṇa’s net is very very wide and everyone caught in it safe, if not in this lifetime then in the next.

In the bigger scheme of things they do not deserve condemnation, we only allow it when we talk about our narrow, single-minded objective and only when we talk with similarly minded devotees. It’s not a talk for outsiders and we should be careful not to appear as sectarian and argumentative. We have our own thing and it’s big enough to attract everybody without the need to put anyone else down.

Vanity thought #1596. Lines of authority

GBC has been promoting its paper on the lines of authority for several years now, everyone must have read it already. I have, and forgotten all the details. The principle is that all our lines of authority – guru, GBC, temple president etc should be perfectly aligned with each and should not step on each other’s toes.

I don’t remember them offering any solutions to situations when various lines of authority intersect and create problems, and while on the surface it might look like a major omission I admire approach in that paper very much. Instead of dealing with consequences they say that it’s the authorities themselves who should not get into these situations in the first place. Do not create unnecessary intersections and no one will get into any trouble. Easy and simple.

If someone starts pushing for his rights to do this or that and it clashes with other lines of authority then something must be wrong. If we perform our service correctly it should not happen, therefore no one has the [spiritual] right to run a roughshod over anybody else. Either you come to an agreement or abandon your claims to righteousness. “I’m right and pure and they are wrong and in māyā” is not a winning but a losing argument, Kṛṣṇa consciousness does not offer any leg to stand on there.

I don’t know how it works in real life, I hope our society is mature enough to follow these guidelines, I hope it’s the stuff of the past. What interests me more is how people deal with such problems on a personal level. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to find examples of doing it wrong – because that’s what becomes fodder for “news”, but there are still important lessons to be learned, at least in what not to do.

Let’s simplify the situation to Prabhupāda, GBC, and Prabhupāda’s disciples. Vast majority of our members are second generation devotees but introducing another level of complexity, a guru between Prabhupāda and a devotee, is not required in order to understand the basic dynamics. Maybe it could be introduced later, let’s see.

So, let’s say a devotee has some problem and, unfortunately, he wants to blame someone else rather than his own karma. Somebody else should take a responsibility and correct the situation, but who?

We all trust Kṛṣṇa to be infallible but no one has seen Him, so we think that someone standing between us and Him is the source of our discomfort. The next infallible authority after Kṛṣṇa is Śrīla Prabhupāda. Some have left his shelter but I don’t want to even talk about them, that’s not an option. There’s a case study of Nitai who left ISKCON for Rādhā-kuṇḍa bābājīs and it’s not clear cut and one-dimensional but in any case we don’t want any of that for ourselves.

Unfortunately, Śrīla Prabhupāda is not with us any longer, too. We can’t summon him to solve our problems, we can only bicker and throw quotes at each other, which doesn’t solve anything. Next in line is GBC, a body assigned by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself to be our ultimate authority, both in spiritual and managerial matters. Then there zonal secretaries and temple presidents, and then there is lower level management. They are all alive and well and so we have a choice in who to blame or who to approach for help. So, who becomes our target first?

Let’s say you work in a temple kitchen and you see something wrong with the way food is prepared and offered. Do you snitch on kitchen manager to the president? Do you allow for some leeway and close your eyes on minor transgressions? If you did that then the problem wouldn’t even be there because that’s already a kind of solution. Most of the time, however, we are hell bent on actually correcting it. Let’s say you do go to the president and complain, and then what?

Temple president has a bigger picture in his mind, he can’t just dismiss his kitchen manager for a million of reasons. He can’t banish him from the temple, there aren’t adequate replacement positions, giving a service well below is not an option either, and there’s no question of promotion, too. In big temples it’s little easier but in a small temple the kitchen manager does not go anywhere. Complain or don’t complain, he is going to stay.

Except now you have introduced a strain into your relationships with your boss and trust between you and your immediate authority has been lost. It doesn’t solve your original problem but only add to it. Now you can set your sights on the president himself because it was his “fault” that he didn’t reassign kitchen manager somewhere else. It’s nepotism, you think. The president is protecting the management, not the interests of simple devotees who only want to make things better. It’s all about power and personal comfort, not about improving our service. A few days of thoughts like this and you have a problem with the president. Who’s next?

You can complain to your guru, you can raise the question with visiting sannyāsīs, you can even approach the zonal secretary. Of course you’ll need a bigger argument then some minor improprieties in the kitchen but once you set your mind in a critical mood finding faults is easy, you have convinced yourself that your president is not a devotee but a demon in a vaiṣṇava disguise already, the supporting evidence is already in your mind, you just have to make it presentable.

None of the above authorities is likely to take you complaints seriously for obvious reasons – they can easily see through your little plan, it doesn’t take a genius. And if they don’t assuage you then the GBC becomes the next target of your righteous indignation.

Most of the time we don’t start with our own personal problems but go straight for matters above our pay-grade, things like preaching strategies or policy making. Depending on how big our scope becomes we declare appropriate level enemies. Could be some GBC ministry, could be zonal secretary, could be just vague “they”. In this case we do not have any beef with our local authorities and think that ISKCON is being mismanaged from the top, most likely by that impersonal “GBC”, which starts to sound like “KGB”.

What do we do then? Some simply refuse to recognize the authority of the GBC. They took initiation from Śrīla Prabhupāda and their primary allegiance is to him while GBC is just an add-on, following it wasn’t part of their initiation vows. For second generation devotees it’s obviously not an option. Others admit that GBC is not up to scratch but they see ISKCON as a larger body of devotees who will always come to your help, clearly a less confrontational solution.

Ultimately, it’s all about shelter – where do we seek it? It might start with assigning blame but at the end of the day we all need shelter, so instead of talking about someone’s enemies we should look at who is that person’s shelter. Is it GBC? Is it ISKCON at large where they can go into hiding and live quiet peaceful life? Is it their outside work that provides for the necessities and so they don’t care what GBC is really up to anymore. Is it Śrīla Prabhupāda himself, with no intermediaries? Is it Kṛṣṇa? Is it the holy name? Is it a community of ex-ISKCON devotees who naturally want to look after each other? Is it some other, non-ISKCON guru?

All we need to know is this shelter and then adjust the level of our association with that devotee accordingly. If they can’t stop criticizing others they are to be avoided regardless of the situation, that’s a start, but beyond that we are talking about different degrees of delusion. Some are less harmful then the others but only a devotee who is at total peace with everybody else and who doesn’t see any faults in anyone is capable of infusing our hearts with bhakti. Everything else is only a substitution, not a real thing.

Problems will always be there, even for the best of us, but the wise ones won’t allow their consciousness to be polluted and won’t pay much attention to them. They are the ones we need to learn from while those who are at “war” fail by the standard of that GBC paper I mentioned in the beginning, no matter their reasoning.

Vanity thought #1595. The alternate world

Continuing with the latest vaiṣṇava news. Our sites are not sophisticated enough yet to sort them out into categories – sport, business, entertainment etc, so we have to group them by topics ourselves. I’ve noticed a couple of articles about the possible future of ISKCON and talked about one of them yesterday.

Come to think of it, what could possible news categories be for us? I guess “philosophy” would be a major one. “Calendar” would be another – a lot of stories are concerned with explanation of various events marked on our vaiṣṇava calendar, ekādaśī’s, appearance/disappearance days etc. There would certainly be “news” themselves – stories about various preaching programs around the world. There could be “journals” section, too, where selected devotees would post their personal stories. They would be like bloggers on big sites like NYTimes or Forbes, not pushed onto the main page but always there. There would certainly be a business section with job offers and advertisements of projects selling Vṛndāvana land. Much of the same would be on the opposite side to ISKCON but criticizing us for exactly these things instead, and their bloggers would be called “serial offenders”. “A diary of a serial offender. 1008th way to criticize Svami X devotional service”. They love that kind of thing over there. And their “news” section would be rightfully called “rumors and gossip”, and they should have one section called “rants”, but I’m being offensive here myself so let’s stop.

Anyway, Sun features several articles concerning the future of ISKCON but they are somewhat different. One thing they share is that everybody offers solutions – “do it like I said and everything will be alright”. Of course they cover their suggestions by quotes from authorities and so who can argue that harināma is the most effective method of preaching. Everybody knows that, how to revive it is the question.

Dandavats article I talked about yesterday saw salvation in devotees retiring from their gṛhastha life and taking up preaching. This seems solid because that’s what retired people are supposed to do under varṇāśrama but it’s not straightforward. One should spend 25 years in vānaprastha first, clarifying himself from sins and attachments accumulated while being a gṛhastha. These things don’t go away easily even with our process of chanting the holy name, it takes time, and with passing time the energy drains, too.

I mean one of the positive points of ageing is that detachment is easier because the body and the senses are not that strong anymore. Sex drive just disappears, for example. The downside is that with sex drive the energy to get up and go at it goes away as well. You see what the problem with relying on old people to do the bulk of our preaching is – the same thing that frees them for it strips them from the power to do it. There could be a solution to this problem but it’s most likely to be limited.

What this prediction shares with those of our critics is that it doesn’t put any trust in our institutions, GBC and temples. It is quite possible that the next surge of saṅkīrtana could come from outside traditional sources, like the way Gauḍiyā Maṭha saw Śrīla Prabhupāda’s success, but we are not in the same position GM was after Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s disappearance. Our institutions are the source of our strength, they provide shelter, refuge, and beneficial association on industrial scale to thousands if not millions of people at once. This can never be discounted no matter what imperfections appear to be there.

One more thing about that article, it mentioned in passing that while Eastern Europe might be going strong right now they are simply repeating the North American cycle and are where the US was twenty years ago. Incidentally, there’s a post on Sun about this exact time period and it doesn’t talk about growth but of clear signs of terminal decline – in the typical Sun fashion. Twenty years ago was 1996, the year of Prabhupāda centennial, and even if the whole of ISKCON was energized by it there was nothing special going on in the North America, it’s when they discovered that they can import Indians and milk Indian community there. 1996 was the time when ISKCON was carried almost exclusively by “Eastern Europeans”, or CIS, as they were called back then. They are still going at it with no sign of abating. They preach, they distribute books, they build their own settlements in Vṛndavāna and Māyāpura where they hold their own festivals, they appear unstoppable. North America, by contrast, didn’t last even ten years after Prabhupāda’s disappearance. For whatever reason, the Europeans broke the cycle.

Another suggestion of how to resurrect our mission in the US is the [infamous] “Krishna West”. Everybody everywhere loves telling Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī how it’s all going to fail, which is not helpful. Someone leaked his private conversations to add even more fuel to the fire, they handle it with the grace of Daily Mail or any other UK’s yellow press publications. The current status of this project, however, is that Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja is given a chance to build something himself first and if it works then GBC would consider taking up this method seriously, which is fair.

Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja even sees his current restrictions on traveling and preaching as a blessing allowing him to concentrate on building a center, he wouldn’t have time and energy for it otherwise. From the leaked conversation he appears to be quite rattled by GBC’s treatment of him but, as he explained himself, he was simply venting in private, letting off the steam. I don’t think we should judge him harshly for it and declare him a heretic. He is absolutely clear he does not want to leave ISKCON, that his Krishna West project IS an ISKCON project, so let’s not push him out. I believe GBC will have enough sense not to punish him for those leaked tapes.

All we have here is a devotee trying to preach, trying to invent a way to make us presentable and attractive. I don’t understand the fundamental problem with it at all. Lots of our devotees preach and distribute books wearing ordinary clothes and without visible tilakas on their foreheads (though lots of them have their tilakas on, too). Adapting out appearance to suit the public was started by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta nearly hundred years ago, it’s not a new proposal and it has always been met with resistance. Some of the subsequent innovations failed, perhaps too many, but some survived, like wearing leather shoes, traveling by planes, or using the internet.

The right balance between tradition and appeasing modern men is difficult to strike but only those who find it will succeed. Our reaction to other people’s efforts should not be guided by one of my favorite observations about driving – everyone driving slower than me is a moron and everyone driving faster is a suicidal maniac. We should not judge these things from our personal perspective, which gives rise to the duality and, therefore, can’t be correct as a matter of principle.

Vanity thought #1594. The future

By now I should have let go of my dream but the memory of it is still stuck in my head. Good times… Now I look at it mostly as an offer from Kṛṣṇa, an arrangement to go on with my [spiritual] life. Instead of my current identity I was offered a new one, nameless, free from obligations and free to pursue detachment. I still see it, however, as a replacement of my current set of attachments and as such it wasn’t bad either. The sun was bright, the air was clear, the sand was clean, I could have lived in that place. Of course it was only a dream and the offer wasn’t real but my mind is still in it so it still IS a reality for me even though imperceptible to everyone else. I’m not ready to talk about relationships between dreams and the real world yet, so I have another topic in mind.

The other thing I did over the weekend was to check vaiṣṇava news sites. I treat this habit as an addiction I have to get over with because nothing good ever comes out of reading news, it’s like junk food for the mind, we should know better. There’s a fact, however, that there are devotees who sincerely offer their articles for the spiritual benefit of others and it would be wasteful not to appreciate it. Our entire devotional life is sustained by absorbing bhakti of others, after all. They open their hearts and minds and that’s the only way bhakti can find a way inside ours.

Kṛṣṇa does not live in His holy name unless it was invoked by other devotees – that’s the thing with saṅkīrtana, you can’t do it alone. Otherwise it won’t be effective in this age. Kṛṣṇa is non-different from His name, of course, but by “live” I mean being accessible for us, extending His mercy that purifies our existence. Well, even if we chant the holy name in total isolation it still was given to us by our guru so repeating it is our tribute to him. The name never appears by our own efforts, not even the material sound of it. It must always come from other devotees, there’s no other way. Even Lord Caitanya gave us the saṅkīrtana while in a garb of Kṛṣṇa’s devotee.

Speaking of Lord Caitanya and His mission – I noticed several articles concerned with its future. One was on Dandavats and it advocated “resurgency”, the revival of Hare Kṛṣṇa movement in the US. The others were on Sun and so were rather critical and hopeless. Let’s go with the hopeful one first – I’m not buying it.

Basically, the prediction is that ISKCON in North America will be revived by a new wave of preachers independent of the temples. My first reaction was that it’s a hope against hope but it may be somewhat softened by now. You see – Kṛṣṇa doesn’t owe the US anything. That devotee, no doubt with the best of intentions, assumed that our mission there must be revived but, historically speaking, it never happens, it’s a false hope.

Every empire in a decline can’t imagine the world without it, its people naturally expect some kind of revival of its dwindling fortunes. Even up until now there are people on some Greek islands who still identify themselves as Romans even though Roman empire has been gone for over a thousand years. The identification goes on and people naturally assume that God owes them a good life. If I think myself as a Roman, or as an American, or as a Libyan – God surely must favor the entire group I identify myself with, the future is always bright, not just for me but for everything else I lay my claims to, too.

It’s an illusion and the material doesn’t work that way. Forget God, we are in the hands of time and time shows no mercy. Time owes nothing, it takes whatever it wants and gives whatever it wants regardless of how we feel about it. It always made us offers we can’t refuse. If North America is going into decline than that’s what will happen and hoping for a resurgency is futile.

The only part I agree with is that we are at the point in time where old devotees who left temples decades ago are retiring from their jobs and will have time and energy for preaching. I’m still not sure it’s what they would actually do with their lives but the retirement part is undeniable. Even so, it sounds more like a plot for a bad movie about old-timers defying their age, starting a new life, and succeeding at it. Even Hollywood makes them into comedies now, the premise is ridiculous. What would it be? “Expandables 4, ISKCON style”? It’s not really about preaching, it’s about refusing to acknowledge our age and imposing our presence on everybody else.

It’s like the phrase “young at heart”, old people appreciate it but it’s all about denying their age and new set of responsibilities that comes with and pretending to be young. It’s embarrassing, it’s undignified, it’s off-putting. Old people have their role in a society and young people have theirs, to each his own.

It doesn’t mean that retired devotees (retires from karmī jobs, that is) can’t become preachers but preaching requires energy and lots of it. It also requires one to become an authority or a role model. Young, energetic men are attractive, everyone wants to be like them, their have vigor, they are full of vitality, and it doesn’t really matter what they say. These might not be perfect qualities for preaching but they work. We have to make ourselves presentable so that people would want to be like us, want to live like us, want to emulate our behavior.

One could site the example of Śrīla Prabhupāda but he was unique, and the bulk of actual preaching work was done by his young disciples. They were the ones travelling everywhere and starting up temples. They went to San-Francisco and ignited everyone with interest in Śrīla Prabhupāda, they went to London and started UK preaching all on their own. This pattern was then repeated everywhere. “Dancing white elephants” wasn’t just a cute, slightly patronizing moniker, without their youthful energy ISKCON wouldn’t have happened.

Maybe some of our older devotees have enough energy left to get an RV, stuff it with books, and go travelling from town to town, singing kīrtanas and distributing books but, generally, it’s not what old people are good for. They should “lead from behind”, so to speak. They should inspire others to do all the footwork. Even if they are spiritually advanced so that they could turn others into devotees, still it should be done in stages, through their disciples. It’s how it has been always done in history. If there are exceptions, like Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, for example, they are still exceptions.

Older devotees should stay at the inner core of our movement, be a source of our inner strength and inspiration, not man the front-line barricades.

Maybe this resurgency will happen, but if the underlying motive is to prolong one’s illusion of being young and powerful, or the illusion that God owes us something, then it will fail without a doubt. A final thought – if need is there Lord Caitanya will pick someone younger to push His mission and we shouldn’t be envious of them when they come even if we dislike their ways.

Vanity thought #1555. New Age

It looks to me that our ISKCON gradually transitioned itself into a new era, not quite what we had when Śrīla Prabhupāda was present. For a couple of decades after his departure we tried to maintain the same spirit but now we are firmly in the new epoch. Some holdouts would say it’s a degradation, those living it now think they are living the dream, otoh. Who is right? Who is wrong? Should we continue or should we try to change our course before it’s too late?

A few days ago I mentioned Navīna Nīrada as the last vestige of saṅkīrtana and it turned out that he just gave a class (mp3) in Māyāpura on the topic. It’s that time of the year when ISKCON has a worldwide Prabhupāda marathon to take advantage of the holiday spirit, when people are ready to part with their cash somewhat easier than usual. These days it might be necessary to explain that “marathon” here means book distribution marathon.

Management arranges for inspirational talks by saṅkīrtana leaders and invites old timers to revive the spirit. Navīna Nīrada is fifty, for example. Again, it might be necessary to explain that saṅkīrtana here means book distribution, not group chanting in the streets. Hmm, for a while we’ve seen transformations of this word, too.

At first it meant harināma, when we had no books to sell. Devotees would accompany harināma parties and hand out leaflets. Then we got books and selling books meant money so temple authorities preferred book distribution to singing in the streets. This has inspired HG Aindra Prabhu to start his revolution of 24-hour kīrtana in Vṛndāvana. In the West, meanwhile, devotees discovered that it was easier to sell lots of other stuff, like candles, soap, paintings etc, and that came to be called saṅkīrtana, too. Thankfully, it didn’t last forever and books were soon back in the center, but distributing books is hard so we went back to chanting, but not by walking the streets but by holding nondescript yoga classes and anonymous bhakti festivals. I hope for most devotees going on saṅkīrtana still means distributing books but just to be clear…

Several things have changed in the world. One is that everybody knows Hare Kṛṣṇas, we are not a novelty anymore. Some play on the feelings of nostalgia but hardly anyone plays on surprise and a violent assault on the senses that was so overwhelming in the early days – I mean bright colored saris and dhotis, drums and karatālas, amazing free sweets, awesome, top quality books, and the enthusiastic chanting. We still do that but somehow it’s not very “assaulting” these days, sometimes it’s just a lonely devotee walking in the crowd singing to him/herself.

Another problem is that people do not read paper books as often as before and that makes us feel apprehensive and outdated. I’m sure saṅkīrtana devotees can turn it around to their advantage and present our books as something really valuable, compared to electronic junk filling their gadgets, or they just ask for donations with books given away as an afterthought, which isn’t cool.

I’ve noticed that these days devotees often ask for donations first, on the strength of their religiosity or our charitable activities, and then give a corresponding value book as a reward. That’s not how our books should be distributed – one single sentence from Prabhupāda’s books is more valuable than all the charities in the world. Books are not afterthought, they are the most valuable thing our society has ever had. We should make people want books and be ready to give an arm and a leg for them, and that’s what devotees like Navīna Nīrada do when they distribute them.

When Hare Kṛṣṇa exploded in Soviet Union all Russian books were printed in Sweden and therefore were outrageously expensive, Bhagavad Gīta cost something like a quarter of a monthly wage, and yet devotees were so inspired and convinced of its value that they sold them by thousands a day. Price is not an obstacle – our lack of conviction is. We don’t see them as valuable ourselves, we think we know them, we understand them, and they are our possessions, we have so many of them lying around. We’ve lost the feeling of urgency, having spent years trying to change our own lives, most of it in vain. We are trapped in the period between neophyte excitement and paramahaṁsa realization of our books spiritual value.

The most profound change, however, has been in how our temples maintain themselves. Because book distribution is relatively hard our managers found easier ways – by relying on congregation. We serve people and people donate. Likewise, one successful business can maintain a temple quite easily, we don’t require that much to function. We also reduced the number of temple dependents by marrying off our brahmacārīs. Some temples do not even have resident devotees anymore, maybe a paid pūjārī and that’s all.

Means of sustenance dictate everything in materially conditioned life and so we ceased to see ourselves as a book distribution movement. Big festivals like Ratha Yatras give us more exposure and more fame anyway, we can invite ISKCON big shots to preside and participate, big shots attract big congregation and bigger donors, that’s the way to go forward. If you want to succeed you need to get appropriate credentials as a pūjārī or as a scholar, become someone who fits in this new scheme of things. Book distributors usually aren’t a part of this, even if successful ones are valued as sources of income, too.

In this atmosphere old school devotees like Navīna Nīrada appear as a dying breed and no one takes them seriously anymore, only as a tribute to the tradition, not as an inspiration to move forward. As usual, he asked the audience what they were doing in Māyāpura. Most were studying something, taking vaiṣṇava courses and advancing their vaiṣṇava education, the rest were various temple devotees, which usually means providing some profitable services because no one lives in Māyāpura for free. He asked how many were saṅkīrtana devotees and he got only a few hands rising.

To him it was a crisis of identity because he was taught that we are all saṅkīrtana devotees, only that some of us have to stay back and provide essential supporting services. In his view there are no kitchen devotees, only saṅkīrtana devotees who have to go and help in the kitchen. Similarly, the pūjārīs are needed so that saṅkīrtana devotees can be inspired by a darśana of nice deities during their morning program. Even temple deities are supposed to serve saṅkīrtana that way, and why wouldn’t they? It’s a movement of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, it’s HIS mission, why would He be interested in simply eating, sleeping, and getting dressed?

This clarify of vision is not there anymore and Navīna Nīrada was right that we have a crisis of identity. People do not see themselves as saṅkīrtana devotees, they see themselves as aspiring pūjārīs, managers, scholars, valuable businessmen – whatever personal aspirations they have in our movement, but it’s rarely book distributors.

I wouldn’t necessarily conclude that it’s a bad thing, though. It’s not ideal, but if we want to have a sustainable society and build varṇāśrama we have to get to this stage, it’s unavoidable. Varṇāśrama is not a system for book distributors, it’s a system for common men to fulfill their common desires and get some spiritual benefit out of it as well. Book distributors need to find themselves some other place, even in daivī-varṇāśrama the goal is to please the Lord, not necessarily book distribution or any other forms of preaching. The model of daivī-varṇāśrama is Vaikuṇṭha and there’s no preaching there, book distributors will not be appreciated.

Saṅkīrtana is a gift from Goloka – golokera prema dhana, hari-nāma-saṅkīrtana. It has no comfortable place in this world and it will always be in some crisis of identity or the other, and we can’t expect everyone in our society appreciate it equally, not unless we are all on the same transcendental platform. We can be trained to respect saṅkīrtana but unless it manifests its glory in our own spiritual life it will be just words, we should not be surprised by our lack of natural enthusiasm.

I can’t claim to know what saṅkīrtana is, but thanks to the old training I can’t see myself as part of this new ISKCON either, even if I have nothing against this development and support it wholeheartedly, it’s just not for me. I’d rather die with good memories than invest myself into something I see as spiritually legitimate but still inferior.

Vanity thought #1541. The boat is leaving

While we organizationally procrastinate the world is rolling on and devotees sail along with it. We can’t set up authorized Hare Kṛṣṇa apps even for easy reading our books, someone else come to fill the void, for example, and this happens in other areas of devotional life as well.

In the last two posts I presented the problem – we are firmly anchored to our past, to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s presentation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but as time moves on it gradually becomes irrelevant to the modern lifestyle. “Easy Journey to Other Planets” might have offered a fresh perspective fifty years ago when everyone was enthralled by the race to the Moon but, come on, the book starts with discussing Noble Prize awards of 1959…

Spiritually there’s no decay but material luster is disappearing rather fast. Demands to add footnotes on rape is another sign of tradition getting out of touch with modernity. Prabhupāda’s exposition of feminism was acceptable for the middle of the last century but now we have our own devotees screaming in agony over being caged. Their pain is real and they WILL find a way to relieve themselves, but we are not ready to accommodate them, at least philosophically, and no one dares to offer a fresh take on the situation without compromising the essence of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Likewise, GALVA project seems to be very popular with gays but we still pretend they do not exist and have no place in our society as practicing homosexuals. That’s like closing the door to up to fifteen percent of world’s population while raising giant “House for the whole world to live in” banners.

These examples are not only signs of our institutional inadequacy but also signs of how the world is going to operate regardless of our readiness. GALVA people have invented their own explanation of śāstra. Female devotees have justified their own cravings for power and fulfillment. Scientifically minded devotees find Kṛṣṇa conscious interpretation of the latest advances in science. Hardly anyone is waiting for the GBC or for the emergence of the next self-effulgent ācārya.

If there’s a problem then we might not be the ones offering the solution, Kṛṣṇa is, and He works in mysterious ways, just like when no one expected Śrīla Prabhupāda to rejuvenate the Gauḍiyā Maṭha. This doesn’t mean that every new interpretation of sāstra is genuine and every lone wolf is the next sampradāya ācārya but if we ever paid attention to how the world works, the revolution is in the works and it’s only a matter of time before the next paradigm shift happens.

There’s a genuine need for changes and there are plenty of grassroot, even if half-arsed solutions, and it’s only a matter of time before Kṛṣṇa responds and empowers a devotee to be the agent of change. The fact that all these changes are driven by devotees makes the emergence of the next ācārya even more certain. Maybe it’s not the time yet and we are still twenty-thirty years away but it will happen, our sampradāya will never be barren of ācāryas.

Now is not the time to speculate about the details, though. The “progress” we need to respond to is the work of the lower modes of nature so I, personally, don’t think that the next pure devotee will emerge from the ranks of iPhone wielding kids with attention span of a goldfish. Nor do I think that gay devotees will offer a solution to homosexuality in our movement. Nor that the next ācārya will be a liberated woman.

The Lord will have to empower someone and He usually picks the best of the best. Lord Caitanya opened the way to self-realization for śūdras and mlecchas but was a brāhmaṇa Himself. Or Śrīla Prabhupāda was a hero for hippies but his own upbringing was exemplary and he had no affinity for hippie lifestyle whatsoever. Or Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta introduced wearing leather shoes and driving around in posh cars but no one would ever think of him being attracted to these things personally.

Speaking of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta – he got the ball rolling. Leather shoes and cars were a no-no for a sannyāsī before him. Śrīla Prabhupāda broke another rule – about traveling across the sea. I guess there was no specific rule about flying around the world but Prabhupāda did it fourteen times. Flying has become the preferred mode of transportation in our society since. Who know what rule the next ācārya will break? We can only be certain that he will break some and do something unthinkable for us at the moment.

Well, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta sent two sannyāsīs to England so Prabhupāda was not the first one to travel overseas, and this case should give us the clue that the next transgression won’t be totally unexpected. More likely our reaction would be “I knew this would happen, but why didn’t I think about it myself?”

Empowered by Kṛṣṇa, devotees are unpredictable. We think we know everything in this world and we got all the options covered, and that is true – but only for options visible to us. Our conditioning prevents us from seeing options visible to the Lord and it’s likely the Lord will take one of those that are still unseen, otherwise we would have done it ourselves.

We are trying to affect the change from the platform of our conditioning but that is not likely to be enough, it would only show to Kṛṣṇa that His devotees want something. The success will come from His blessing and it will be delivered from a transcendental platform, outside of our illusion. We can’t see it until it hits us in the face – by definition.

Where does it leave ISKCON and GBC? Hopefully still in the race. Hopefully we won’t fade away like our predecessor institution, and I seriously doubt Prabhupāda’s position will ever be eroded or that his books will stop being distributed and accepted as law books for the next ten thousand years. I mean people still value Bible and that book is thousands years old, age is not the problem. Current interpretation is.

I think we should be prepared for Prabhupāda to be explained to newcomers instead of giving him straight. Our Bhāgavatam classes will be explanations of what Prabhupāda meant in the purports fifty years ago and what it should mean now. We are already doing that, only fist generation ISKCON devotees can claim to speak for Prabhupāda, everyone else speaks for their gurus, and we have some who are second generation devotees themselves. They’ve never seen Śrīla Prabhupāda and in some cases they were raised by gurus who have since left the movement.

It’s not that they do not represent Śrīla Prabhupāda anymore but they have become a genuine transparent via medium themselves, just as Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted. Twenty-thirty years from now they’ll become the only gurus available and they will present their own interpretations of our founder ācārya. That’s just inevitable, just as devotees in GM have their own images of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. Their memories are not wrong but they are different and enriching.

What GBC should do is prepare for this impeding paradigm shift, prepare themselves and prepare the rest of the society. We can’t become envious of the next ācārya, for example, and go down GM path to obscurity. OTOH, we can’t expect old dogs to learn new tricks and by that I mean that the current GBC leadership might not be able to accommodate changes at all. Instead of reinventing themselves they should have a reliable programs of transferring power to new generations of devotees and that they should trust the new leadership.

The way GBC is organized they are not that different from corporations, and corporations have learned to deal with generational and institutional changes no matter where they are coming from. As long as the principle is there, serve Kṛṣṇa for us and serve mammon for them, we should do fine. I, personally, have trust in spiritual maturity of our leaders, they won’t let their vestigal attachments ruin our society.

As long we rely on Kṛṣṇa everything will work out okay.

Vanity thought #1454. Horrible exes

This past week or so I happened to come across a slew of articles and videos by ex-Hare Kṛṣṇas and that was an eye opening experience I still can’t make heads or tails of. I certainly have opinions about things they say and how they do it but I admit they are quite far out of my mental picture of ex-ISKCON “community”. I don’t understand it but I’ll try.

I won’t give links to everything I saw and read but Youtube channel of this girl is a good place to start. There are comments and links to related websites run by these people and pretty soon you’ll have an earful of worst imagined aparādhas possible. Be warned and prepared if you ever want to check it out for yourself.

I thought I knew plenty of and about ex-ISKCON people but I’ve never expected this, it’s new. Up until now I believed that no Hare Kṛṣṇa would become an actual atheist simply on the strength of experience of the Holy Name, our books, our movement, and Śrīla Prabhupāda. Devotees leave all the time but I thought no one could take Hare Kṛṣṇa out of their lives, save for a few cases of extreme offenses.

Normally, devotees just fade away from public participation in our society and they do it quietly, sort of taking a break from spiritual duties. Personally, I never consider them as ex-devotees, they are just on vacation in my view. There are those whose split in acrimony and they have stories to tell and sometimes I feel sorry about their experiences, sometimes I feel their complaints are overblown and they have share as much blame for the situation as their authorities. It’s still something we can eventually get over with as time heals all wounds.

There are those who leave ISCKON in search of something better. They never stop being Hare Kṛṣṇas and see themselves as devotees, they just don’t want to be associated with ISKCON anymore. I think, and I would argue, that their decisions are foolish but they are still devotees, still the family, and at the end of every dispute we can always find something common, like the unquestionable superiority of the service to the lotus feet of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī.

There are those who have become extremely offensive in their anti-ISKCON rhetoric and it cost them their place in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava family altogether. They went on to become śaivas or śaktas or yogīs or Buddhists. But not atheists.

There are those who found Christ, too. They can be very very nasty towards ISKCON, Śrīla Prabhupāda, and Hinduism in general, but they are still not atheists. The ones I’ve interacted with still talk a lot more about Kṛṣṇa and what’s going on in ISKCON than about their newly found religion and I find it very telling but as long as they encourage others to surrender to God and accept Him in their hearts it’s not really that bad. I can’t find anything in common with them anymore but everyone has a place in Lord’s service, their choice is okay by me.

And then there’s this bunch, extremely hateful, determined in their attempts to discredit us and everything we stand for, and I’m not sure how to relate to them properly.

The girl I linked to earlier was born into a devotee family and her first video about her experiences was actually fairly neutral but the latest ones are simply inexcusable. She is not simply going after ISKCON anymore, she specifically targets Śrīla Prabhupāda, and if that wasn’t enough she got into ridiculing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and she didn’t spare Lord Nityānanda either.

And this after being a devotee for twenty four years?

There’s another woman there who joined in the late 80s and left twenty years later and she isn’t as bad but equally determined to destroy our “cult” to the best of her abilities. She actually attends conferences by anti-cult groups and tries to be active in the movement I thought died long time ago. Seriously, someone still wants to outlaw ISKCON for being a cult? In the UK where hundreds of thousands of Indians come to our temples?

This activism hasn’t gone unnoticed and if you find a video with comments enabled someone always comes along and notices that the authors sound far more dangerous in their bigotry than the alleged cult they are fighting against.

How ridiculous can it get? There was a bit about our daily routine, for example, how devotees wake up early in the morning, attend the morning program, chant japa and listen to a Bhāgavatam lecture. Totally cult-like behavior, unbelievable that it’s allowed in this day and age. Maybe she should look at people’s routine in Buddhists temples where they wake up just as early, don’t sing and dance, only pray, meditate and study, and don’t eat food after 12 PM. Maybe she should check out Christian monasteries, too. Or how about Muslims who have their call to prayer blasted over speakers in the “ungodly” hour for everyone within hearing distance, not only for monks (there are no monks in Islam at all, btw).

For self-proclaimed experts on Hinduism who know spirituality better than Hare Kṛṣṇas they can leave pearls like this “by 7AM deites have been bathed and dressed in a new set of clothes, and I’m talking about brass dolls not even one foot tall – imagine that, how weird!” – I’m paraphrasing.

There’s one long rant about boys and girls separated at school from the age of nine or ten – who does that? Middle ages. There’s no such thing as all-girls or all-boys schools anywhere in the civilized world. Oh wait…

In fact, I’m thinking about taking one of these videos and addressing all their allegations against us point by point, how they twist and exaggerate and declare absolutely normal things weird and unacceptable, like Prabhupāda’s comparison of men with butter that always melts in presence of fire, or women in this analogy. Yeah, that never happens, where did Prabhupāda see that? Where is his proof? Where is his logic?

While girls do the talking on Youtube and roll their eyes trying to be cute, men try to provide arguments and facts to support their case (no gender stereotypes among these enlightened beings, right?) This is where it all gets disappointing as they use old bad arguments that have been floating around since forever and are never taken seriously. Most of our devotees would go like “wait, what”?

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had never actually been initiated by Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī. Been there, discussed that, this has been around for at least half a century and it originated with Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s brother. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura rejected his initiating guru – same source. Madhvas do not accept Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism as part of their sampradāya (except the do, save for some outliers’ opinions). This same hogwash is being recycled again and again, as started by ex-ISCKON devotees like Nitai and Jagat and later picked up by Madhavānanda.

I don’t know what Nitai is up to now, Mādhavānanda left his followers, the “real” Gauḍīyas, and went into Buddhism, and Jagat is/was a full blown sahajiyā, trying to find truth about Lord Caitanya through ritual sex, which was after he tried achieve same realization through smoking ganja. Lately he’s been into silent yoga, I think. Nitai and Jagat are still technically devotees, however, even though Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta didn’t count sahajiyās as vaiṣṇavas, but their new brand of followers are even more Catholic than these two Popes. Actually, Jagat comes across as quite a humble fellow, maybe misguided by ISKCON standards but still sincere in his devotion to Śrīla Prabhupāda and his search for the truth, and for that he deserves eternal respect, plus we shouldn’t criticize Prabhupāda’s disciples anyway no matter what they do.

And that’s why I don’t really know how to react to Jagat’s “work” inspiring this new generation of ex-Hare Kṛṣṇas to turn to full blown atheism. Who is going to bear responsibility for that? And if their source is beyond reproach, should I take their offenses seriously? Or is it just pent up rage being let out and they don’t really mean what they say, it’s just hormones talking?

I need some time to come to terms with this.