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Is our understanding of Krishna Consciousness coming under siege?

Monday, 24 June 2019 / Published in Articles / 877 views

Back in 1922, H.H.Bhakti Siddhantha Saraswati Goswami Maharaj categorically told Srila Prabhupada that Krishna consciousness didn’t have to wait for a change in Indian politics, nor was it dependent on who ruled.

Krishna consciousness was so important-so exclusively important-that it could not wait. Whether in the Indian sub-continent or elsewhere.

So, in this spirit, preaching was inaugurated, in very hostile circumstances, in communist Russia and also in south Africa where apartheid was at its height. Later, when the political climate changed in Russia and in south Africa, devotees continued to preach, taking advantage of the now-available freedom to preach.

Almost a century later, the golden rule laid down by Bhakti Siddhantha Saraswati Goswami Maharaj in 1922, still holds true, to a great extent.

Srila Prabhupada’s views were similar :

Political struggle ( except where directly sanctioned by Lord Krishna ), he opined, is a reaction to karma and devotees of the Lord are by and large not interested in political leadership or diplomatic implications.

The devotees are interested only in seeing that the people in general are not misguided by political propaganda and in seeing that the valuable life of a human being is not spoiled in following a type of civilization which is ultimately doomed. If the politicians, therefore, would be guided by the good counsel of the devotees, then certainly there would be a great change in the world situation by the purifying propaganda of the devotees, as shown by Lord Caitanya.

In July 1975, at a press conference at the airport in Dallas, Srila Prabhupada was asked to comment on the political situation in India.

He replied : “ Well, we are not very much concerned with political situation. But our proposition is—either political, social, economical or philosophical, anything—without Krishna, it is all zero.”

The situation we have in India today is interesting. It appears to have much in common with Krishna Consciousness and yet is quite different, at a fundamental level.

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When the general elections in India ( 2014 ) threw up major changes in the political scenario at the centre, there was expectation and anticipation among devotees in Iskcon of support and co-operation – and – of enhanced opportunities to expand our mission.

In its broad outlines, this new political force which swept to power five years ago, ( and which was voted back very recently) stands for upholding dharma, protecting temples and reviving the glorious heritage of this country. Its disambiguation is “religious”.

But political parties belong to the material realm and their understanding of religious principles must necessarily be limited to a materialistic conception of religion. Such an understanding is based on identification with this temporary material body. Hindu and Hindutva ideology which are corollaries of such understanding are quite distinct from what Krishna Consciousness stands for.

In the Introduction to the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srila Prabhupada wrote:

“Therefore, sanätana-dharma does not refer to any sectarian process of religion. It is the eternal function of the eternal living entities in relationship with the eternal Supreme Lord. Sanätana-dharma refers, as stated previously, to the eternal occupation of the living entity.”

“The English word religion is a little different from sanätana-dharma. Religion conveys the idea of faith, and faith may change. One may have faith in a particular process, and he may change this faith and adopt another, but sanätana-dharma refers to that activity which cannot be changed.”

“ You are not this body, you are spirit soul” – if we were to do a string search in Srila Prabhupada’s collected writings, this one phrase would probably generate the largest number of hits. For he hammered home this point, time and time again.

“Ätma-buddhiù, thinking “I am this body.” “I am American,” “I am Indian,” “I am brähmaëa,” “I am black,” “I am white,” “I am fat,” “I am thin,” “I am this.” No, no. You are not this body at all. That is knowledge. That is knowledge. Knowledge begins when you understand that you are not this body. That is the beginning of knowledge.” ( Pandal speech and Q &A session, Delhi, Nov 10th, 1973 ).

“This is the first instalment [ of knowledge ] “, he would say and go on to cite verses from the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita to establish this point. Because it is a recurrent theme in our philosophy, it wouldn’t be wrong to describe it as the keystone of our philosophy.

And yet, it appears that Iskcon devotees are embracing and identifying with the philosophy of dominant political parties in India that are founded on principles that are quite contrary to those of Krishna Consciousness. We need to remain alert to such distinctions , both at an individual level and also collectively. Or else there are bound to be serious consequences.

There is such a thing as “cultural appropriation” and “cultural co-option”. In the history of world regions, it has been seen that at times, a more powerful background culture co-opts or takes over another movement that is, relatively speaking, still in a minority. When this happens, the lines of distinction get blurred and the minority philosophy is put in a compromised position.

The reverse is also possible – Krishna conscious philosophy, being perfect, complete and eternal could infuse life and proper understanding into less complete philosophies . For this to happen, we as its members need to stay vigilant and to preach and practise strongly. From proper understanding comes proper action.

“One should be vigilant only that he is not diverting from Krishna Consciousness. One has to follow the footprints of the great Acaryas then everything is all right.” ( Letter to Madhusudana, Hawaii, 10th March,1969 ).

Submitted by Su-gita Vani devi dasi

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8 Responses to “Is our understanding of Krishna Consciousness coming under siege?”

  1. Sita Rama dasa 1962 says :

    Mother Su- Gita Vani,
    Dandavats.
    All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
    Thank you! You said:
    " And yet it appears that ISKCON devotees are embracing and identifying with the dominant political parties in India that are founded on principles that are quite contrary to those of Krishna Consciousness".
    Please go further and describe what the ideals are, the fallacies, and how devotees are embracing them.
    I have the same concern. It seems some devotees think some popular ideals,which are grounded in scientism and sense gratification, are laudable, or even spiritual. This confusion of the material and spiritual energy is more insidious, and therefore more dangerous, than
    conspicuous attachment to material pursuits. See " Plans on Materialistic Leaders Cannot Benefit Society.
    Your servant,
    Paramadayala Nityananda Dasa

    • sugitavani says :

      Hare Krishna Prabhu,
      All glories to Srila Prabhupada !
      Our centres will naturally invest a certain amount of energy in maintaining good relations with the powers that be.
      But that is quite different from what is going on at the individual level. Many Indian devotees are in BJP / Hindutva consciousness. It is evident in their posts and pictures on social media, in the close and indiscriminate interaction that some of them maintain and an overall enthusiasm to see this party come to power.
      Hindutva forces fallaciously claim a natural superiority for Hindus (based on seminal considerations alone ). They have no concept of sanatana-dharma as described by Srila Prabhupada and as being available for one and all.
      Their own cultural conditioning might render Indian devotees more susceptible than others, to the political propaganda of such forces. But others are also vulnerable to the extent that they fail to distinguish between that which is genuinely Vedic and that which is only seemingly Vedic.
      Politics and politicians are synonymous, by and large, with opportunism and exploitative behaviour. At the end of the day, devotees might find themselves much the poorer, for accommodating them.

  2. Mahaksa Das (KCS) says :

    Please accept my humble obeisances dear Devotees.

    I do not know about India but in west we as devotees are happy for certain political parties because it allows us to practice spiritual life openly. And some parties do not like it. Even we use to say democracy is demoncrazy yet we glorify democracy because from history we know that during communist governance devotees were harased and use to be imprisoned.

    So I have understood that present Indian main political power make laws for cow protection and another which Vaisnavas benefit from.

    So maybe it is the case why devotees like it.

    • sugitavani says :

      Hare Krishna Prabhu,
      All glories to Srila Prabhupada !

      Thank you for commenting. Yes, there are similarities – like cow protection.
      But the methods used to bring this about are quite different. Our method is to impart spiritual knowledge and bring people to a higher level of consciousness which includes understanding the greatness of Gomata. Their method is to use force and aggression to make their point.

      Just as we might have our reasons to feel favorably towards these political groups , rest assured that they also have their reasons for befriending us : In those parts of India where they have so far failed to make an impact, failed to win the trust of the electorate ( because the public remains suspicious of them ) it is now their strategy to go public with their praise of Iskcon . Because Iskcon enjoys a certain degree of respect and goodwill from the public. Before long, these political groups will find it easy to ride piggy back on the goodwill that our organization has, and, in this way achieve their own narrow political ends. We need to be aware of what we are dealing with here.

      Ours is an international organization with a groundswell of western devotees. Some of them feel strongly about the “mleccha” background they hail from. This makes them eager to accept and identify with whatever looks Vedic, even if, at the core, it is not Vedic at all. This vulnerability is exploitable.

      It might only be a matter of time before devotees who mix indiscriminately with political forces loose sight of their original goal in spiritual life.

      Ultimately, devotees need to take responsibility for their own spiritual lives.But, of course, this becomes possible only if you have the necessary training.

    • Sita Rama dasa 1962 says :

      Mahaska Prabhu,
      Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
      I made my previous response to you in haste, when my phone battery was dying. Looking back: I think what I said was true, but I might have implied you said something you did not. Sorry.
      I strive for dialogue, where varying views help all gain a more complete understanding. In spite of that I some come across as sharp or polemical. I am a work in progress.
      Your servant,
      Nityananda Dasa

  3. Sita Rama dasa 1962 says :

    Mahaska Prabhu,
    Your statement is not clear to me. If one political party in the U.S. allows us to practice spiritual life openly, and the other does not like it, there is no way for me to guess if you think it is all the liberals, or all the conservatives who do not like us.
    At anyrate, niether assertion is defensible. There are numerous examples of people employing ideals, from both sides, to appose Krishna Consciousness. Our preaching would be stifled, from within, if we were to expect a person to be against us because of their political affiliation: or any other affiliation. Devotees can come from atheists, born again Chistian, Catholic, Jewish, radical left or radical right, meat eaters, vegan, etc,etc. We distribute Srila Prabhupada's books to all who will take one

  4. Sita Rama dasa 1962 says :

    Sugitavani
    Well you certainly have the ability to describe the practical details.
    Of course , if devotees overtly want to adopt material, political, positions we cannot stop them. We can simply try to help those who are confusing the mundane with the spiritual, as Arjuna was before the Battle. I earnestly pray that Krishna empowers you to enlighten others.
    Personally, in my article, I had to use extensive qualifiers to establish that my critiic of a mundane ideal was not grounded in an opposing mundane ideal. To put it simply, I am not in a position to( directly) toch the issue you describe. But I wish you well.
    Your servant,
    Nityananda Dasa

    • sugitavani says :

      Hare Krishna Prabhu !

      Thank you for your comments and for trying to get a discussion going. Also for wishing me well in my endeavors. I did read your article, the one you had cited in your earlier comment. Its true that much confusion arises from not distinguishing between material and spiritual. As you wrote, ultimately its up to each one to decide but preachers and teachers can also help by drawing the attention of their listeners to such issues.

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