Hinduization of Iskcon: another view

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By Phanisvara das

Hare Krishna, dandavat. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I’m living in India and don’t have experience in temples in the west, or far away from India, with large Indian communities. My “knowledge” comes from other devotees’ reports, which means I can’t be very sure of what I’m going to say - I’m ready to be corrected by others who know more, but I’m feeling pretty strong about this topic.

Jaya Madhava prabhu lives in Moscow, and if I remember correctly, the Indian community in Moscow, Russia, and all over the world was very active in raising support for the ISKCON temple there, which has been confiscated, practically, by the Moscow administration.

The last information I saw was that the Mayor of Moscow agreed, during a meeting with an Indian politician, to allot land for the temple. (according to some Indian news agency, repeated on several ISKCON-sites, but I haven’t seen it confirmed by other sources yet.)

Don’t you think, Jaya Madhava prabhu, the Indian community deserves a little respect, perhaps even “pampering”, for this effort?
I would like to know how, exactly, Indians are being “pampered”? Are they welcomed when coming to the temple, offered a nice, quiet place to sit, some prasadam, and do devotees spend time with them, listening to what they have to say and preach to them?

I’m afraid that this is not common practice in many temples, and those few who do it deserve to be congratulated, in my opinion. For properly treating not only Indians, but everybody else, hopefully, who has the good fortune to visit an ISKCON temple. As far as I know, vaisnava etiquette requires us to welcome any visitors to our place and make them comfortable, according to our means. why should Indians visiting ISKCON temples be excepted from this rule?

if this welcome is only extended to potential donors, Indian or from the local country, and only for the purpose to extract money, it’s no good, and the so welcomed guests will understand that quickly and loose their enthusiasm to donate, and therefore the preferential treatment.

If, on the other hand, the aim is to engage the guests in service to Krishna, either through their money, their personal efforts, or both, preach to them, ultimately help them to become devotees, I don’t see what’s wrong with that. Never mind where they came from, how long they have been living in that country, or where their forefathers were born.

So much for the “pampering” - now to the worship of demigods:

Books distributed are seeds, and without follow-up it’s like seeds sawn in a very unfavorable environment. Some will sprout and grow, eventually, but if the environment can be made more favorable, many more will survive.

Iin most of today’s societies the weeds opposing the bhakti latha’s growth are stronger than 30 years ago, and less fertile earth can be found. There are not many hippies searching for spiritual enlightenment anymore, and many of today’s city-dwellers are badly damaged already, bodily and mentally, before they reach
20. You can’t just give them a few books, invite them to the Sunday Feast, and hope that the lecture will convince them to become devotees. It’s too far away from where they presently are, and if they don’t get a better chance it will take several life-times for them to come closer to Krishna.

If you can create an environment where they feel comfortable, not threatened, and a little familiar at least, you have a chance to get through to them, slowly open them up to Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and instructions.

I am aware of several attempts in this direction. Loft Preaching is an attempt to build a bridge for western city-dwellers to come closer to Krishna consciousness, and recently devotees in Australia and New Zealand have been successfully using adaptations of hatha yoga to attract and cultivate them (see yogamandir.com and atma yoga at urbanmissionary.info for more information).

Srila Prabhupada didn’t say we should practice or teach hatha-yogA, but devotees were doing it while he was here, and are doing it now. Like jogging or taking medicine, it’s a way to influence body and mind, make them more favorable for devotional service. Neither is it the most important thing in life, nor is everyone required to do it, but there’s nothing wrong with it if done in the proper perspective, with Krishna consciousness at the center.

The same applies to the worship of devatas, who are, after all, advanced devotees of the Lord. If you can attract a large Indian community to the temple by observing the anniversary of Lord Siva or Durga-Devi, and use the opportunity to explain their position as devotees and servants of Lord Vishnu, Krishna, then that’s very good. If they are able and willing to donate badly needed Laxmi for our preaching mission, all the better.

To find a balance of how much effort and resources should be allocated for book distribution, loft preaching, or Indian-oriented functions is a strategic or managerial decision and up to the temple management and their supervising authorities. But to me Atma-yoga or Durga-puja makes a lot more sense than selling T-shirts on city roads, or paintings & candles to ignorant customers.

In the Middle East hundreds of devotees have been made by using the Bhakti-vrksa program, almost exclusively among Indian expatriates, and many new devotees have joined in Australia and New Zealand through Loft Preaching and Atma Yoga. these devotees are following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, distributing his books, and spreading his mission. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Your servant, Phanisvara das.

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1 Unregistered

I share Phanisvara’s positive thoughts about preaching within the Indian community. Even though the average temple situation in North america looks a little bleak in terms of manpower and financial base, the Indian community provide ISKCON with the best preaching opportunities available and serve as a potential source of maintenance revenue. Srila Prabhupada himself advised the devotees in the UK that if we would treat the Indian community properly, then they would maintain our Bhaktivedanta Manor for us, and this has come to fruition today.

What has happened in ISKCON is that the demographics have changed from an ashram-based institution to a congregational institution. ISKCON still has the ashrams but most of the preaching is being done within and by the congregational members.
Srila Prabhupada used to say the the hippies are our best customers. That may have been true 40 years ago but the fact is that the Indian community are our best customers today. They learn how to chant easily, they study Prabhpada’s books eagerly, recognise the importance of initiation and sadhana-bhakti, and they mostly live with their families outside the temples. They are well educated and earn substantial salaries or are in business. For many of them, following the 4 regulative principles was a standard lifestyle that they grew up with. Now as western values and corrupt politics are shrinking and eroding the traditional Indian culture and lifestyle, they are looking for answers and opportunities to get back to the source of their heritage. Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON is the perfect solution for those Indians who are serious about rediscovering their fast-disappearing culture and religion and making it the foundation of their lives. The problem with devotees who are stuck in the past is that they do not want or find difficulty in learning how to share Krishna consciousness with Indian families and become mentors to these innocent and willing participants in the Krishna conscious experience.
As far as the green-card seeking Indian brahmacari goes, lets welcome him and help him on his path to a mature and dedicted life in ISKCON where he can get married live with his family and dedicate himself to a lifetime of service to one of Srila Prabhupad’s temple communities. We simply can not afford to live with our nostalgia for the so called good old days. Today’s preaching is all about relationship and community building. Temples serve as the central magnet but the the real fruits of ISKCON’s growth are being experienced in our communites and congregations, and this is a healthy trend. This trend totally puts the spotlight on the grhasta ashram, the target of so much misunderstanding and neglect in ISKCON in days gone by. It also opens up a vision of Varnashram as we learn to engage in occupational duies and dedicate them for the pleasure of Lord Krishna.

Comment posted by Paradhyeya das on June 18th, 2006
2 Unregistered

Please accept my humble obeisances, all glories to Srila Prabhupada
Thank you for your positive attitude towards preaching Srila Prabhupada’s message throughout the world. It would be foolish and counterproductive to suggest that we should stop or reduce preaching Krishna Consciousness to the Indian communities in the West, however it is very important that what we are preaching is Krishna Consciousness and not Hinduism. Srial Prabhupada went to great lengths to make people understand that we are not Hindu’s and we should respect his wisdom in doing this.
In my experience many Indians love Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and make wonderful Vaisnava’s where as others cannot get over the hurdle of Mayavadi contamination.
It is very important that we are able to discriminate based on a persons consciousness and not their body so that we can learn to have the wonderful experience of developing deep Vaisnava relationships regardless of color cast or creed.

Comment posted by Ananda Hari das on June 19th, 2006

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