A few times here I mentioned how internet is not conducive to devotional progress. One could argue that it’s just a tool and when engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service it’s beneficial, just like everything else, but we live in the material world where everything is colored by the modes of nature and some corners of it are more conducive to devotional service than others. Different places attract different people and satisfy different aspirations, internet is just one of those. What, or rather who we find here are not people seeking spiritual enlightenment, we do not expect to find them in slaughterhouses, brothels, and casinos either.
On the other hand, everybody is on the internet, it doesn’t not attract malcontents exclusively, and a lot of people come here to find new information. They are open to new ideas and as perceptive to our preaching as people on the streets and so they are the ones we need to talk to, but the thing is that we are usually too late.
A couple of months ago there was an announcement of a new project designed to improve our presence on the internet, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it and so I won’t give a link to my old post about it. I’ll just say that these devotees realized that we are losing the battle for the internet and people seeking information about Hare Kṛṣṇas are very likely to come across all kinds of deviants first. They gave a couple of example to illustrate the point – searching for “Srila Prabhupada” on youtube gives a link to a video of his final moments, which at one time in our society wasn’t shown to uninitiated devotees, and it was coming from the camp convinced that Prabhupāda was poisoned.
I must say that current search produces completely different results but what they were saying was true at the time, I checked. Maybe that project is showing results already.
Anyway, the point is that we were too late and not very skillful and the stage was taken by our various critics instead. They figured our early on how to manipulate google search and get themselves to the top of the result pages. This is ABC of internet PR management but we somehow missed it, but I don’t want to talk about our mistakes, I want to talk about our opponents and how they give Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism a bad name.
Their message is very simple – Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism is a beautiful and gentle religious movement that was hijacked and misrepresented by fanatical ISKCONites. They would pounce on every negative perception of Hare Kṛṣṇas and argue that real Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism is not at all bad and that people should give it another chance – to the real Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism that is, not to ISKCON.
People would come up with some gripes – sexual abuse in Hare Kṛṣṇa schools, guru falldowns, cult like fanaticism, aggressive attitude while preaching, etc etc and our opponents would capitalize on that, give them a shoulder to cry on, pacify them, agree with everything they say, and tell them that ISKCON is Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism black sheep, a one idiot in the family, and that they are also ashamed of us.
When I say it that way it looks like they are doing public a favor and keeping people in touch with Kṛṣṇa despite their negative experiences. That might be true and if they are really doing that we must begrudgingly admit that it’s a useful service and be thankful to those who clean up after our mistakes. Most of the time, however, they plant these negative perceptions themselves. People might have heard something here and there but our opponents give their vague memories solid shapes, fan their half-doubts into flames of war and convince them that we are a spawn of Satan. That’s not public service at all.
Whatever the means, they manage to take control of the conversation and start promoting their own agenda, which is still about Kṛṣṇa’s service so it isn’t all bad but any perceptive person can see through their charade and dismiss us, and I mean the entire Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism, as a sham.
The fundamental problem is that our opponents are not promoting devotional service, they are promoting service to one’s ego and their attitudes are atheistic despite externally professing allegiance to God. Perceptive people can smell this a mile away, they can see absence of humility, they can see mental gymnastics even without understanding the details, and nothing can cover this stink completely, no matter how much they dress it up as genuine service. People sense when they are being used and abused and they sense lack of sincerity, they also see personal aspirations and it turns them off – if they were seeking genuine religion, that is.
That’s why when I was talking about saṅkīrtana last month I stressed again and again that preaching must come from a pure heart, everything else people can find elsewhere if they want to. When they sense that they are being used for one’s personal agenda they realize that they have intrinsic value and they exploit it like cheap prostitutes. With this attitude even talking about Kṛṣṇa becomes useless because it’s the opposite of surrender, everybody keeps exploiting each other and saṅkīrtana does not take place.
If this becomes people’s experience with Hare Kṛṣṇas it becomes so much harder for us to get their attention for the third time. First time was when they learned about our existence and second time is when they become victims of our critics preaching. It isn’t an insurmountable obstacle but it would take exceptional effort and purity for our saṅkīrtana devotees to reach their hearts in the limited time they have when they meet people on the streets. After all, saṅkīrtana is about seeking favorable audience, if a devotee can’t find anyone supportive he would just move along to the next place rather than try to correct misconceptions created by our critics from the comfort of their computers.
Saṅkīrtana devotees can’t afford to spend time arguing, it would only make people more defensive and they would gather all their energy and intellect to try and prove us wrong and themselves right, and by “themselves” I mean our critics who planted these devious ideas into their heads. It is very hard to overturn one’s emotional allegiance to somebody and most of the time it can’t be done by arguments alone. Time is usually too short for that kind of sober analysis and people would rather go with what feels good than what is right.
That’s for the general mass, but we should also be concerned with genuine seekers of the Absolute Truth. They won’t find what they are looking for in conversations with our critics and move on. Their numbers might not be great but they are out there, joining Islam in record numbers because there’s a lot less BS there. When I first saw these western converts myself I was very surprised but it made sense immediately – they went for honesty, you can’t substitute it with nice words and fake sincerity. People do want to surrender to God, they do want the company of similarly devoted people, they do want mutual trust, and Islam easily provides all that. I mean real Islam, not that caricature image presented in the media.
I’m not going to pull statistics but, despite universally bad publicity, Islam is probably the fastest growing religion. There might be some others with a higher rate of growth but they also have a much smaller base. For them even a hundred new adherents might be statistically significant.
Well, I wasn’t planning to end this post by talking about Islam but somehow it happened. It does attract a fair number of nutcases but it’s the loss of sincere souls that should worry us. Why do they go to them and not to us? Part of the blame lies with us, part of it lies with our critics. We should not have allowed them to hijack the conversaton but it happened. Correcting it will never be too late, though, so nothing is lost forever. We just have to oppose their misrepresentation of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavims whenever we see it and do not let sully the pristine image our sampradāya with their mental concoctions.