By Vaivasvata dasa
Dear Priyavrata Prabhu,
Namonamah. Jay Srila Prabhupada.
This is in response to your “Open letter to Bhakti Vikas Swami” (http://www.dandavats.com/?p=9969). You write that Bhakti Vikas Maharaja’s recorded class, “Some Concerns About ISKCON”, uses “selective quotes and straw man arguments” to unfairly align “Midday meals and Food for Life with mundane welfare.” Your seek to support this statement with a handful authoritative statements, including:
“The Krishna consciousness movement is based on this principle: Chant the Hare Krishna maha mantra at every moment, as much as possible, both inside and outside of the temples, and, as far as possible, distribute prasada. This process can be accelerated with the cooperation of state administrators and those who are producing the country’s wealth. Simply by liberal distribution of prasada and sankirtana, the whole world can become peaceful and prosperous.” (SB 4.12.10)
It is unlikely that the Prabhupada quotes in your letter support your case. The quotes you give state general principles. You have yet to show how they apply specifically to MDM. You also disregard statements by Prabhupada where he deals specifically with distribution of prasadam in the context of welfare work, which is what MDM is.
In applying Prabhupada’s teachings (including the quotes in your letter) to MDM the following facts should be taken into account:
1. It is open to question whether what MDM distributes is indeed prasadam. I have seen one of MDM’s kitchens - it’s a modern, mechanised kitchen with big machinery and a small picture of Radha-gopinath. I am not confident that the persons cooking the bhoga are of such a standard that we can assume Sri Krishna accepts the bhoga being offered. They do not, I am told, all chant 16 rounds, for example.
2. According to an email from a MDM fund raiser (excuse his English): “Midday Meal is a strategic program to liberate the underprivileged children from scourge of hunger and malnutrition”. I think we can safely conclude this presentation comes within the mundane welfare work category. Other quotes: “ISKCON Food Relief Foundation is a non-profit, non-religious, non-sectarian charitable trust.” Non-religious, yet devotional?
3. The purpose is clearly mundane: “The purpose of implementing this scheme is to facilitate the Government in increasing the enrollment in these schools, reducing the drop out rate and improving the attendance.” The reason they want to improve attendence is to “eradicate following four major problems of the society at large”, namely:
“A. Starvation and Malnutrition: By providing nutritious meals to the hungry children not only their hunger is taken care of but meal is so nutritious that there is no question of malnutrition.”
Prabhupada was not concerned with the question of malnutrition.
“B. Illiteracy: When this poor hungry children come to school on the pretext of getting meal, in the process they get educated. Empowered with education when they grow up they can discriminate between right and wrong and they become responsible citizens and add value to society.”
Prabhupada was totally opposed to the modern educational system. He felt there is no need for anyone to receive a modern education, nor for the majority of people to be educated at all.
“C. Livelihood: Empowered with education when these children grow up they are in much better position to secure a decent job and they are not burden on society.”
“Empowered by education”? Apart from the fact that most educational institutions in India are a parody at best, even if they were not the idea that people should be educated so they can get a “decent job” is completely opposed to Prabhupada’s philosophy.
“D. Child Labor: Below poverty line parents have a major difficulty to even get two times meals daily. Their priority is not education; their priority is food so they send their children to work instead of school. But when the meals are served in the school, parents send their children to school instead of work. So the child labor issue is very well taken care of.”
Child labour is another issue Prabhupada would not have been concerned about.
“In this way these poor hungry children who would have otherwise become a big nuisance to society when they grow up because of hunger, lack of education and unemployment, with the help of School Equals Lunch project can become healthy, educated, employed and responsible citizens of INDIA.”
‘Responsible citizens of India’ is also something completely unrelated to Prabhupada’s movement. Prabhupada was a revolutionary. He was not interested in becoming a respectable part of modern society, but in completely revolutionising it.
4. The marketing materials are equally mundane. One poster apparently addressed at youth states “I will not drink like a maniac this Saturday” followed by “Save one binge. Donate Rs 900 to keep a child in school for a year”. To my mind, there is an implied message in this that drinking like a maniac each Saturday is normal, but that one should abstain from it one Saturday a year to keep a child in school.
My favorite, however, is “Kichdi has the power to make India a super power”. If India is to become the next America then I doubt Prabhupada would have been supportive.
They also have ’signature fund raising events’ with themes like “Celebration of childhood”. This is simply mundane sentimentalism.
5. The children who eat the prasadam (if it is prasadam) do not know it is prasadam, nor what prasadam is. Some of them have a vague idea where it comes from (ISKCON). I strongly doubt that they will magically become devotees en masse simply by having a little prasadam at school without being taught to abstain from sinful activities, sadhana, etc.
Now that we have a clear idea of what MDM is, do you really think that this is the sort of thing Srila Prabhupada thought should be “extended universally” or at least “as far as possible”? In light of the quote referred to by Maharaj in his class (concerning the Andhra Pradesh Relief Fund), among others, I strongly doubt it.
Now, it could be argued that all this mundane propaganda is just a trick to actually feed prasadam. While Prabhupada did at times ‘trick’ people into becoming devotees I really doubt he would have gone to this extent. The reason I doubt that is that he often emphasised clear, straight forward preaching.
The conclusion is that rather than spending so much time, money and energy on MDM - which includes having full-time fund raisers going from company to company to raise money to feed children with mundane welfare propaganda - the same time, money and energy should be put into actual preaching activities, particularly book distribution, which Prabhupada stressed much more than prasadam distribution. Prasadam distribution should not be stopped, but should be done in conjunction with preaching (kirtan, philosophy, etc) as was Prabhupada’s desire.