“ISKCON, with all thy faults, I love thee”

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By Srutadeva das

“ISKCON, with all thy faults, I love thee”

In May of 2006, a young man who had been born into a family of devotees, who had gone to and been abused at different ISKCON gurukulas in the 70’s and 80’s, committed suicide. A huge outpouring of emotion surged through the Vaishnava community, especially on the internet. On the Chakra website, in addressing abuse in ISKCON, someone wrote:

“How can somebody take disksha from Prabhupada, chant for many years, study the shastra for many years, and end up abusing their power like this? How can somebody who associated with Prabhupada personally so much, who was personally given sannyas by Prabhupada and who was glorified by Prabhupada, end up abusing his power so much? (I’m referring to ‘Kirtanananda Swami’ in particular.) How can I have faith anymore that Prabhupada was a pure devotee? I don’t want to offend anybody, but this is how I am really thinking and feeling right now. My faith in ISKCON is almost finished, and my faith in Prabhupada and Krishna is slipping.”

In a response, another devotee wrote:

“This is possible because contrary to mass opinion in ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada was not superhuman. Although he was amazingly accurate in assessing people’s character, he was not infallible. He was capable of making an error of judgment, of putting the wrong people in charge of our movement and in charge of our schools. The reason for this is the limitations inherent in the jiva soul - they include him not being omniscient, thus there is the possibility of him making a mistake. That freedom from error is in relation to the philosophy, as the liberated soul never changes it and thus presents it as it is - perfectly- and without error.”

The first devotee brings up some very important questions and honestly reveals having a crisis of faith. How could someone who had such close association with Srila Prabhupada falldown from his spiritual practices? How could someone who is chanting Hare Krishna regularly and following the practices of Krsna consciousness become an abusive person? I am sure we have all pondered these heart-wrenching questions at one time or another. There is an interesting word - iatrogenic. This term is defined as “induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures.” It is used especially in relation to a complication of treatment. It is estimated that in the United States alone, 250,000 deaths per year are attributed to iatrogenic causes. That would put doctors and hospitals as the third leading cause of death in the US! So not everyone who goes to a doctor or a hospital walks out a perfectly cured person. Similarly, this Krsna consciousness movement is a hospital for the diseased souls of Kali-yuga. It is a very difficult job to become free from the diseased condition.

Certainly I don’t think anyone involved in ISKCON will disagree that there is much room for improvement. But let us not subsribe to the logic of “give the dog a bad name and hang it.” Because there have been many problems within ISKCON, some of an extremely serious nature, that does not mean that the whole purpose and mission of ISKCON has been a failure. As for Srila Prabhupada, to understand his words, actions and decisions, one must have a fairly deep understanding and appreciation for Vaishnava culture and philosophy and also the time and place in which Srila Prabhupada was preaching.

ISKCON’s Mission

First of all, what is the purpose of ISKCON? Of course, Srila Prabhupada wrote down his seven purposes of ISKCON. But to summarize, if that is acceptable to our readers, Srila Prabhupada’s sole mission in life was, as was his spiritual master’s and his spiritual master’s before him, the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, to help the fallen conditioned souls who are rotting within this material world by teaching them the process of Krsna consciousness, devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna. Not only teaching, but benedicting and practically forcing them in one way or other to get some transcendental benefit. Something to change the terrible downward course of their sinful, Kali-yuga existences.

Krsna Himself states in Bhagavad-gita:

In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.

PURPORT

Activity in Krsna consciousness, or acting for the benefit of Krsna without expectation of sense gratification, is the highest transcendental quality of work… One percent done in Krsna consciousness bears permanent results, so that the next beginning is from the point of two percent, whereas in material activity without a hundred percent success there is no profit. Ajamila performed his duty in some percentage of Krsna consciousness, but the result he enjoyed at the end was a hundred percent, by the grace of the Lord. There is a nice verse in this connection in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.5.17):
“If someone gives up his occupational duties and works in Krsna consciousness and then falls down on account of not completing his work, what loss is there on his part? And what can one gain if one performs his material activities perfectly?”

(Bhagavad-gita 2.40)

And in the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta it is said:

“My dear Thakura Haridasa, in this Age of Kali most people are bereft of Vedic culture, and therefore they are called yavanas. They are concerned only with killing cows and brahminical culture. In this way they all engage in sinful acts. How will these yavanas be delivered? To My great unhappiness, I do not see any way.”

PURPORT

Those who are following in the footsteps of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu should take the Lord’s mission most seriously. In this Age of Kali, people are gradually becoming less than animals. Nevertheless, although they are eating the flesh of cows and are envious of brahminical culture, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is considering how to deliver them from this horrible condition of life. Unfortunately, even some so-called Vaishnavas enviously refuse to cooperate with this movement but instead condemn it in so many ways. We are very sorry to say that these people try to find fault with us, being unnecessarily envious of our activities, although we are trying to the best of our ability to introduce the Krsna consciousness movement directly into the countries of the yavanas and mlecchas. Such yavanas and mlecchas are coming to us and becoming purified Vaishnavas who follow in the footsteps of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. One who identifies himself as a follower of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu should feel like Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who said, “How will all these yavanas be delivered?” Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was always anxious to deliver the fallen souls because their fallen condition gave Him great unhappiness. That is the platform on which one can propagate the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

Haridasa Thakura replied, “My dear Lord, do not be in anxiety. Do not be unhappy to see the condition of the yavanas in material existence.

PURPORT

These words of Haridasa Thakura are just befitting a devotee who has dedicated his life and soul to the service of the Lord. When the Lord is unhappy because of the condition of the fallen souls, the devotee consoles Him, saying, “My dear Lord, do not be in anxiety.” This is service. Everyone should adopt the cause of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to try to relieve Him from the anxiety He feels. This is actually service to the Lord. One who tries to relieve Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s anxiety for the fallen souls is certainly a most dear and confidential devotee of the Lord. To blaspheme such a devotee who is trying his best to spread the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the greatest offense. One who does so is simply awaiting punishment for his envy.

“Because the yavanas are accustomed to saying ‘ha rama, ha rama’ [‘O Lord Ramacandra’], they will very easily be delivered by this namabhasa. A devotee in advanced ecstatic love exclaims, ‘O my Lord Ramacandra! O my Lord Ramacandra!’ But the yavanas also chant, ‘ha rama, ha rama!’ Just see their good fortune! Namacarya Haridasa Thakura, the authority on the chanting of the holy name, said, “The chanting of the Lord’s holy name to indicate something other than the Lord is an instance of namabhasa. Even when the holy name is chanted in this way, its transcendental power is not destroyed. Even a mleccha who is being killed by the tusk of a boar and who cries in distress again and again, “ha rama, ha rama” attains liberation. What then to speak of those who chant the holy name with veneration and faith?’ Ajamila was a great sinner during his life, but at the time of death he accidentally called for his youngest son, whose name was Narayana, and the attendants of Lord Visnu came to relieve him from the bonds of Yamaraja, the superintendent of death.

(Sri Caitanya-caritamrta - Antya 3.51-57)

Srila Prabhupada:
The mahatmas are always ready to render such service to the Lord with great determination. In this regard His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura once made this comment in a lecture:
“The neophyte Vaishnava devotees’ ringing the bell even once during worship of the Deity of the Supreme Lord is a million times more valuable, spiritually and otherwise, than the charitable fruitive workers building many hospitals, feeding thousands of the poor, or building homes, or even the empirical philosophers’ Vedic studies, meditation, austerities, and penances.”

(Renunciation Through Wisdom)

These are the Bhagavata. There is no comparison. There is no literature throughout the universe like Srimad-Bhagavatam. There is no comparison. There is no competition. Every word is for the good of the human society. Every word, each and every word. Therefore we stress so much in the book distribution. Somehow or other, if the book goes in one hand, he will be benefited. At least he will see, “Oh, they have taken so much price. Let me see what is there.” If he reads one sloka, his life will be successful. If one sloka, one word. This is such nice things.

(Lecture – Los Angeles, January 1974)

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Comments • [comment feed]

1 Pandu das

Thank you for this very valuable essay. For the past year I felt the same way as was expressed in the quote that began the article. For a moment I even thought it was a quote of something I had written, but apparently it was just very similar.

As I was reading, a few negative arguments came to mind that I had been unable to overcome. By the time I got to the end, I couldn’t remember what they were. It’s a pleasantly strange experience, having held onto negativity for a year and then to read something that makes me wonder what it was I was fussing about. What a relief! Hare Krsna!

Comment posted by Pandu das on August 18th, 2006

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