Is our understanding of Krishna Consciousness coming under siege?
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.
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