Fortifying the Foundation of ISKCON
By Paramadayala Nityananda Das
The foundation of ISKCON is comprised of two things. Srila Prabhupada’s teaching and our understanding of those teachings. It is easy to measure our understanding of Krishna Consciousness. It is equal to how much we understand that anything other than service to Krishna is a cheating process. This includes everything from following Vedic rules (in pursuit of sense gratification) to cherishing modern ideals.
Very few can immediately give up all material activities; therefore, mundane morality must be observed. But we must understand the fallacies, otherwise materialism will go viral in the movement.
If we cannot, at least analytically, distinguish the difference between material and spiritual activity, we must strongly identify with the material body. Members of any group are connected by a collective identity. To see our spiritual connection, members of ISKCON must understand the philosophy. If we become dependent on the service of too many people who do not understand, these people will form connections based on imaginary material similarities. In other words, cliques will form. In the extreme, appositional factions will arise, and anything done by the leaders will be faulted by one group or another. It may be possible to satisfy the collective egoism of large congregations, if the members are materially homogeneous. But if they are only connected by illusory identities, they will fail to develop a spiritual connection with ISKCON, as a whole. Moreover, egoism will cause them to think their group is superior to the rest of ISKCON.
Christian sects tend to grow into “mainstream” churches through a process called secularization. Thus, they become reduced to social organizations. Then they lose members to competing social organizations. This could happen to ISKCON if we fail to fortify our foundation by continually discussing the primary understanding.
So let’s analyze the Bhagavad Gita!
Arjuna’s initial arguments depict a person making forceful arguments to defend his sense gratification. These are commonly used by conditioned souls.
Arjuna says his foes are fit for worship. Today a person would say “I love them”. This is an example of a common tactic -pursuing selfishness while depicting oneself as filled with pure emotions and motivations. This pretense, alone, is enough to fool many, especially if the person is crying. Arjuna also said, to save those he has affection for, he will give up his opulence and live by begging. The common tactic: Pursuing sense gratification under the pretense of self-sacrifice. Arjuna also argued that, by holding his laudable sentiments and not fighting, he would avoid heinously disrupting society. Common tactic: Protecting one’s own sense gratification under the pretense of protecting society.
Arjuna arguments are used by those described by Srila Prabhupada as “demoniac plan makers”. We call them “social justice engineers”. Of course, Arjuna never played the role of a demon, but the demons use his arguments.
Like Arjuna, the demoniac plan makers believe they are motivated by compassion and tenderness:
“Every demon is vainly proud, thinking no one is more intelligent and esteemed than himself. Therefore, the overpowering desires that urge him on to perform various activities are, according to him, ultimately beneficial for human society. In the end, of course, it is inevitably revealed that all his aspirations were illusory and unrealistic. Yet despite this revelation, the demons continue to influence the populace through manipulations and lies” (RTW 1.3).
Arjuna also wanted to defy the traditional values of military men; similarly, the social justice engineers challenge the status quo. But they do not do it alone. They recruit countless assistants by arguing that anyone with compassion must become an advocate of change. At the same time, they show no compassion for those who resist such change.
Arjuna wanted to protect his sense gratification, and decline to fight, under the pretense that he was concerned about the needs of human society. Social justice engineers do the same:
They pose as self-styled leaders and endlessly worry about the welfare of society. They worry, for example, about where to lodge the people who come to purchase in the marketplace. What they actually think about is how to make foolproof arrangements to secure their own long-lasting enjoyment, along with their children’s, their grandchildren’s, and their great-grandchildren’s enjoyment, up to the final dissolution of the world. (RTW 1.3).
Devotees hear about the plans of the current social engineers on the daily news. But only a few of us know enough about modern social/political science to deeply analyze the effects of proposed changes. Devotees are all compassionate souls. So, many of us make simplistic judgements and agree with those advocating compassionate change. In this way, we might unconsciously support Arjuna arguments. If we develop strong sentiments, and become passionate advocates of a social issue, we must see fellow advocates as good, and opponents as bad. This will diminish our Krishna Consciousness. Krishna said to Uddhava:
Whoever indulges in praising or criticizing the qualities and behavior of others will quickly become deviated from his own best interest by his entanglement in illusory dualities. (SB 11.28.2).
It is our duty to avoid this. If we hold strong sentiments about mundane politics, we will be forced to view issues within ISKCON through the same, jaded, lens.
We should have a holistic view. Even, most people who strictly followed the varnasrama system were simply pursuing sense gratification. Moreover, throughout the past 5000 years, countless social engineers have changed society with Arjuna arguments. Why should we get involved in considering what is good and bad in a world comprised of twisted values?
Krishna said to Uddhava
That which is expressed by material words or meditated upon by the material mind is not ultimate truth. What, therefore, is actually good or bad within this insubstantial world of duality, and how can the extent of such good and bad be measured? (SB 11, 28, 4)
I cannot answer that, in regard to the material world. I can answer it in regard to ISKCON. Anything that facilitates Krishna Consciousness is good, anything that inhibits it is bad. Debates in ISKCON would be most productive if we agreed to accept this axiom as exclusive grounds for our assertions (regarding how ISKCON should operate). Of course, this is a very high ideal, but if we attempt to ignore our conditioned values, through mental discipline, Krishna will reward us with realization. (We can, at least, approach the goal) In this way the foundation of ISKCON can be fortified.