In reply to the Hinduization of ISKCON
By Gaura Keshava das
I do not agree that Divali is NOT a Vaisnava festival. It may not be emphasized by Gaudiya Vaisnavas but in North Indian it is not only associated with Laksmi (the consort of the Supreme Lord) puja but also with the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya. In South India it is celebrated as Lord Krsna’s victory over Narakasura. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divali
As far as Indian preaching is concerned. There has always been a double standard in ISKCON regarding Hinduism and Hindus. When it suits ISKCON to get the recognition of being a “mainstream” religion we represent our movement as part of Hinduism and when if does not suit us we object to that. I think that it’s time to face the facts of the matter. ISKCON is a branch of Gaudiya Vaisnavism which is in itself only one form of Vaisnavism which is also part of what is commonly known as the Hindu religion. Yes, we should preach to other Hindus and Vaisnavas in the same way that we preach to Atheists and members of other religious traditons. We should point out the unique aspects of our philosophy to them. This is sometimes harder when preaching to Hindus because they already have some pre-concieved ideas of Vaisnavism or Hinduism. So we should revel in the comonalities we have with others while at the same time pointing out the differences. It is harder to preach effectively to Hindus but at the same time it also can be easier in many ways. Many Hindus and other Vaisnavas have a great deal in common with us, thus if the misconceptions can be pointed out, the rest is easy.
Taking into consideration that Gaudiya Vaisnavas since Baladeva Vidyabhusana and upto and including Srila Prabhupada have accepted that there are actually 4 bonafide Vaisnava sampradayas in Kali Yuga, I would also suggest that there are a variety of Vaisnava views that should be tolerated by members of ISKCON. The Hindu congregation that support our temples have members of these bonafide groups also. Naturally I am not suggesting that we have to allow things that are abhorrent to us like demigod worship. (Point in case: I have been a strong opponent of dressing Jagannatha deities like Ganesha at snana yatra, something that many ISKCON temples have adopted). However there is demigod worship in Gaudiya Vaisnavism (always with the understanding that Lord Krsna is supreme). Here are something I put together years ago about this point:
Srila Prabhupada on How to worship the Demigods
Indian 2: If we follow the Krsna conscious path… Now, take for example our wedding ceremonies. Now, the first thing that we take, the Ganapati, there is Ganasyainava(?), and there is various other deities that we have to respect. Now, what happens in his case?
Srila Prabhupada: If you are actually Krsna conscious, then to worship Ganapati, there is no harm. But if you take Ganapati as independent God, then your Krsna consciousness is hampered.
Indian 2: But in certain ceremonies these things are…
Srila Prabhupada: Any ceremony. If you know the constable is constable and the president is president, then it is all right. But if you think constable is president, then you are misguided.
Morning Walk Conversation 12/10/75 Durban, South Africa
The important point in this verse is that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu regularly visited the temple of Visvesvara (Lord Siva) at Varanasi. Vaisnavas generally do not visit a demigod’s temple, but here we see that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu regularly visited the temple of Visvesvara, who was the predominating deity of Varanasi. Generally Mayavadi sannyasis and worshipers of Lord Siva live in Varanasi, but how is it that Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who took the part of a Vaisnava sannyasi, also visited the Visvesvara temple? The answer is that a Vaisnava does not behave impudently toward the demigods. A Vaisnava gives proper respect to all, although he never accepts a demigod to be as good as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In the Brahma-samhita there are mantras offering obeisances to Lord Siva, Lord Brahma, the sun-god and Lord Ganesa, as well as Lord Visnu, all of whom are worshiped by the impersonalists as pancopasana. In their temples impersonalists also install deities of Lord Visnu, Lord Siva, the sun-god, goddess Durga and sometimes Lord Brahma also, and this system is continuing at present in India under the guise of the Hindu religion. Vaisnavas can also worship all these demigods, but only on the principles of Brahma-samhita, which is recommended by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. We may note in this connection the mantras for worshiping Lord Siva, Lord Brahma, goddess Durga, the sun-god and Ganesa, as described in the Brahma-samhita.
chayeva yasya bhuvanani bibharti durga
icchanurupam api yasya ca cestate sa
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
“The external potency, maya, who is of the nature of the shadow of the cit [spiritual] potency, is worshiped by all people as Durga, the creating, preserving and destroying agency of this mundane world. I adore the primeval Lord Govinda, in accordance with whose will Durga conducts herself.” (Bs. 5.44)
ksiram yatha dadhi vikara-visesa-yogat
sanjayate na hi tatah prthag asti hetoh
yah sambhutam api tatha samupaiti karyad
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
“Milk is transformed into curd by the actions of acids, yet the effect ‘curd’ is neither the same as nor different from its cause, viz., milk. I adore the primeval Lord Govinda, of whom the state of Sambu is a similar transformation for the performance of the work of destruction.” (Bs. 5.45)
bhasvan yathasma-sakalesu nijesu tejah
sviyam kiyat prakatayaty api tad-vadatra
brahma ya esa jagadanda-vidhana-karta
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
“I adore the primeval Lord Govinda, from whom the separated subjective portion Brahma receives his power for the regulation of the mundane world, just as the sun manifests a portion of his own light in all the effulgent gems that bear such names as surya-kanta.” ( Bs. 5.49)
yat-pada-pallava-yugam vinidhaya kumbha-
dvandve pranama-samaye sa ganadhirajah
vighnan vihantum alam asya jagat-trayasya
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
“I worship the primeval Lord Govinda. Ganesa always holds His lotus feet upon the pair of tumuli protruding from his elephant head in order to obtain power for his function of destroying all obstacles on the path of progress in the three worlds.” (Bs. 5.50)
yac caksur esa savita sakala-grahanam
raja samasta-sura-murtir asesa-tejah
yasyajnaya bhramati sambhrta-kala-cakro
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
“The sun, full of infinite effulgence, who is the king of all the planets and the image of the good soul, is like the eye of this world. I adore the primeval Lord Govinda, in pursuance of whose order the sun performs his journey, mounting the wheel of time.” (Bs.5.5l)
All the demigods are servants of Krsna; they are not equal with Krsna. Therefore even if one goes to a temple of the pancopasana, as mentioned above, one should not accept the deities as they are accepted by the impersonalists. All of them are to be accepted as personal demigods, but they all serve the order of the Supreme Personality of Godhead….
We must offer proper respects to all the demigods. If one can offer respects even to an ant, why not to the demigods? One must always know, however, that no demigod is equal to or above the Supreme Lord. Ekala isvara krsna, ara saba bhrtya. “Only Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and all others, including the demigods such as Lord Siva, Lord Brahma, goddess Durga and Ganesa, are His servants.” Everyone serves the purpose of the Supreme Godhead, and what to speak of such small and insignificant living entities as ourselves? We are surely eternal servants of the Lord. The Mayavada philosophy maintains that the demigods, living entities and Supreme Personality of Godhead are all equal. It is therefore a most foolish misrepresentation of Vedic knowledge. (Cc. Adi. 7.157 Purport)
According to Vedic civilization, unmarried girls from ten to fourteen years of age are supposed to worship either Lord Siva or the goddess Durga in order to get a nice husband. But the unmarried girls of Vrndavana were already attracted by the beauty of Krsna. They were, however, engaged in the worship of the goddess Durga in the beginning of the Hemanta season (just prior to the winter season). The first month of Hemanta is called Agrahayana (October\-November), and at that time all the unmarried gopis of Vrndavana began to worship goddess Durga with a vow. They first ate havisyanna, a kind of foodstuff prepared by boiling together mung dal and rice without any spices or turmeric. According to Vedic injunction, this kind of foodstuff is recommended to purify the body before one enacts a ritualistic ceremony. All the unmarried gopis in Vrndavana used to daily worship goddess Katyayani early in the morning after taking bath in the River Yamuna. Katyayani is another name for goddess Durga. The goddess is worshiped by preparing a doll made of sand from the bank of the Yamuna. It is recommended in the Vedic scriptures that a deity may be made from different kinds of material elements; it can be painted, made of metal, made of jewels, made of wood, earth or stone or can be conceived within the heart of the worshiper. The Mayavadi philosopher takes all these forms of the deity to be imaginary, but actually they are accepted in the Vedic literatures to be identical with either the Supreme Lord or a respective demigod.
The unmarried gopis used to prepare the deity of goddess Durga and worship it with candana pulp, garlands, incense, lamps and all kinds of presentations-fruits, grains and twigs of plants. After worshiping, it is the custom to pray for some benediction. The unmarried girls used to pray with great devotion to goddess Katyayani, addressing her as follows: “O supreme external energy of the Personality of Godhead, O supreme mystic power, O supreme controller of this material world, O goddess, please be kind to us and arrange for our marriage with the son of Nanda Maharaja, Krsna.” The Vaisnavas generally do not worship any demigods. Srila Narottama dasa Thakura has strictly forbidden all worship of the demigods for anyone who wants to advance in pure devotional service. Yet the gopis, who are beyond compare in their affection for Krsna, were seen to worship Durga. The worshipers of demigods also sometimes mention that the gopis also worshiped goddess Durga, but we must understand the purpose of the gopis. Generally, people worship goddess Durga for some material benediction. Here, the gopis prayed to the goddess to become wives of Lord Krsna. The purport is that if Krsna is the center of activity, a devotee can adopt any means to achieve that goal. The gopis could adopt any means to satisfy or serve Krsna. That was the superexcellent characteristic of the gopis. They worshiped goddess Durga completely for one month in order to have Krsna as their husband. Every day they prayed for Krsna, the son of Nanda Maharaja, to become their husband. (Krsna Book 1.22)
She (Rukmini) explained that it was the custom of her family to visit the temple of the goddess Durga, their family deity, before a marriage. (The ksatriya kings were mostly staunch Vaisnavas, worshiping Lord Visnu in either the Radha-Krsna or Laksmi-Narayana form; still, for their material welfare, they used to worship the goddess Durga. They never made the mistake, however, of accepting the demigods as the Supreme Lord on the level of visnu-tattva, as did some less intelligent men.) (Krsna Book 1.51)
Rukmini further began to think that demigods such as Lord Brahma, Lord Siva and the goddess Durga might have been displeased. It is generally said that the demigods become angry when not properly worshiped. For instance, when Indra found that the inhabitants of Vrndavana were not worshiping him (Krsna having stopped the Indra-yajna), he became angry and wanted to chastise them. Thus Rukmini thought that since she did not worship Lord Siva or Lord Brahma very much, they might have become angry and tried to frustrate her plan. Similarly she thought that the goddess Durga, the wife of Lord Siva, might have taken the side of her husband. Lord Siva is known as Rudra, and his wife is known as Rudrani. Rudrani and Rudra refer to those who are accustomed to putting others in distress to cry forever. Rukmini was thinking of the goddess Durga as Girija, the daughter of the Himalayan Mountains. The Himalayan Mountains are very cold and hard, and she thought of the goddess Durga as hardhearted and cold. In her anxiety to see Krsna, Rukmini, who was after all still a child, thought this way about the different demigods. The gopis worshiped goddess Katyayani to get Krsna as their husband; similarly Rukmini was thinking of the various types of demigods not for material benefit but in respect to Krsna. Praying to the demigods to achieve the favor of Krsna is not irregular, and Rukmini was fully absorbed in thoughts of Krsna….
Deity worship in the temple has been in existence since the beginning of Vedic culture. There is a class of men described in the Bhagavad-gita as the veda-vada-rata; they believe only in the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies but not in the temple worship. Such foolish people may here take note that although this marriage of Krsna and Rukmini took place more than five thousand years ago, there were arrangements for temple worship. In the Bhagavad-gita the Lord says, yanti deva-vrata devan: “The worshipers of the demigods attain the abodes of the demigods.” There were many people who worshiped the demigods and many who directly worshiped the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The system of demigod worship was directed mainly to Lord Brahma, Lord Siva, Lord Ganesa, the sun-god and the goddess Durga. Lord Siva and the goddess Durga were worshiped even by the royal families; other minor demigods were worshiped by silly, inferior people. As far as the brahmanas and Vaisnavas are concerned, they simply worship Lord Visnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the Bhagavad-gita the worship of demigods is condemned, but not forbidden; there it is clearly stated that less intelligent men worship the demigods for material benefit. On the other hand, even though Rukmini was the goddess of fortune, she went to the temple of the goddess Durga because the family deity was worshiped there. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is stated that as Rukmini proceeded towards the temple of the goddess Durga, within her heart she always thought of the lotus feet of Krsna. Therefore when Rukmini went to the temple it was not with the intention of an ordinary person, who goes to beg for material benefits; her only goal was Krsna. When people go to the temple of a demigod, the objective is actually Krsna, since it is He who empowers the demigods to provide material benefits.
As Rukmini proceeded toward the temple, she was silent and grave. Her mother and her girl friend were by her side, and the wife of a brahmana was in the center; surrounding her were royal bodyguards. (This custom of a would-be bride’s going to the temple of a demigod is still practiced in India.) As the procession continued, various musical sounds were heard. Drums, conchshells and bugles of different sizes, such as panavas, turyas and bheris, combined to make a sound which was not only auspicious but very sweet to hear. Thousands of wives of respectable brahmanas were present, all dressed very nicely with suitable ornaments. They presented Rukmini with flower garlands, sandalwood pulp and a variety of colorful garments to assist her in worshiping Lord Siva and the goddess Durga. Some of these ladies were very old and knew perfectly well how to chant prayers to the goddess Durga and Lord Siva; so, followed by Rukmini and others, they led these prayers before the deity.
Rukmini offered her prayers to the deity by saying, “My dear goddess Durga, I offer my respectful obeisances unto you as well as to your children.” The goddess Durga has four famous children: two daughters-the goddess of fortune, Laksmi, and the goddess of learning, Sarasvati-and two famous sons, Lord Ganesa and Lord Karttikeya. They are all considered to be demigods and goddesses. Since the goddess Durga is always worshiped with her famous children, Rukmini specifically offered her respectful obeisances to the deity in that way; however, her prayers were different. Ordinary people pray to the goddess Durga for material wealth, fame, profit, strength and so on; Rukmini, however, desired to have Krsna for her husband and therefore prayed that the deity be pleased with her and bless her. Since she desired only Krsna, her worship of the demigods is not condemned. While Rukmini was praying, she presented a variety of items before the deity, chief of which were water, different kinds of flames, incense, garments, garlands and various foodstuffs prepared with ghee, such as puris and kacauris. She also offered fruits, sugarcane, betel nuts and spices. With great devotion, Rukmini offered them to the deity according to the regulative principles, directed by the old brahmana ladies. After this ritualistic ceremony, the ladies offered the remnants of the foodstuffs to Rukmini as prasadam, which she accepted with great respect. Then Rukmini offered her obeisances to the ladies and to the goddess Durga. After the business of deity worship was finished, Rukmini caught hold of the hand of one of her girl friends and left the temple, accompanied by the others. (Krsna Book 1.52)
Gopal Bhatta Goswami cites the alternative for the vaisnava according to the Padma Purana:
ananya sarano bhakto nama mantresu diksitah
kada cin narcayed devan ganesadims tu vaisnavah
yatra yatra surah pujya ganesadyas tu karminam
visnvarcane tatra tatra vaisnavanam hi vaisnavah
visvaksenam sa sanakam sanatana matah param
sananda sanat kumara pancaitan pujayet tatah
The devotee interested in pure devotion to the Lord, and initiated with vaisnava mantra should never worship Ganesa and the other devatas. Wherever the karmis prescribe worship of Ganesa and the devatas, the vaisnava should worship the pure devotees of visnu. Thus instead of worshipping Ganesa to remove material obstacles, the devotee should worship visvaksena and the four Kumara brothers to remove obstacles on the spiritual path. Padma Purana, cited in Sat Kriya Sar Dipika
In the same way, instead of worshipping the nine planetary deities one should worship the nine yogendras, and instead of worshiping the dik palas (protectors of the directions) one should worship the maha bhagavatas. Instead of worshiping the matr gana (sixteen expansions of Durga, in charge of material energy) one should worship the the Lord’s consorts who are the shelter of spiritual energies.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur has accepted Sat Kriya Sara Dipika as the authorized vaisnava manual for samskaras, just as he has accepted Hari Bhakti Vilasa as the authorized scripture for arcana, and has recommended that all vaisnava grhasthas should follow its procedures.
So the real problem in ISKCON with preaching to Hindus and other Vaisnavas is that our preachers and pujaris/priests are not trained for that. If there were proper training in how to perform Vaisnava ceremonies for the Hindu community and also in how to explain the differences to the Hindu community then there is no reason why preaching and including other Hindu/Vaisnavas in ISKCON cannot be extremely beneficial.