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Comments Posted By Vyenkata Bhatta dasa

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If Krishna does not accept my Chocolates, Who should I offer them to?

If djembe drum beats are drowning out the transcendental sound of kirtan by bringing in “the sounds of the lower modes of nature” then this is a serious issue indeed. In fact, I can hardly think of a single other thing that would pollute the sankirtana movement more.

» Posted By Vyenkata Bhatta dasa On Feb 1, 2007 @ 1:52 am Live Help Makes Devotees

This is great news, and I congratulate the team for their innovative and dyanamic use of Live Help to help transform their visitors’ spiritual lives.

I was, however, disappointed to read the headline “Live Help Makes Devotees.” The term “making devotees” has become a part of the ISKCON lexicon, but perhaps it is time to re-examine it.

For one, the term doesn’t accurately reflect our theology. Srila Prabhupada makes it clear, in the Nectar of Devotion for instance, that Krishna consciousness is dormant in the hearts of all and needs only to be re-awakened.

Secondly, operating under a “making devotees” model may allow a subtle depersonalization to take place. Instead of building real relationships, Vaisnava preachers might look at others as mere objects for conversion. If people “join up” we think our preaching was successful; if they fall short of that, we may view our preaching efforts as failure. Rather than helping others advance in their spiritual jouurneys, we end up seeing them as trophies. Not surprisingly, under such a model we often engender false ego and an inflated sense of importance (e.g. “Oh, I made so-and-so a devotee,” or “I made thirteen devotees in six months!”) that can wreck our own devotional practice.

Finally, the term just doesn’t mirror the social reality of ISKCON. It tends to support the misunderstanding that someone “becomes a devotee” only upon moving into the temple or otherwise going “full time.” As we know, ISKCON today is a congregational movement. While some may choose to live in ashrams or temples, we know that most of our devotees (initiated or uninitiated) serve while living and working within the general society. They maintain their Krishna consciousness, share their spirituality with others, and engage in the sankirtana mission in a healthy and honest way. Rather than see this as a decline in our movement’s growth (“Why aren’t they joining the temples anymore?”) we might instead view it as a healthy sign of growth and integration.

Again, congratulations to the team for their wonderful service and creativity in reaching out to others. I know these devotees and am constantly amazed by their work and the broad-minded, thinking that underlies it. I hope that they won’t take my concern about the use of the term “make devotees” in the headline as a criticism of their heart-felt service.

your servant,
Vyenkata Bhatta dasa
ISKCON Director of Communications for North America

» Posted By Vyenkata Bhatta dasa On Jan 7, 2007 @ 6:01 pm

ISKCON, Sect or Cult? Actually Both

Thank you for this thought-provoking analysis. I’d like to share two points:

1) The two approaches — one emphasizing authenticity and the restoration of orthadox religion (“sect”), and the other stressing spirituality unencumbered by institutional convention or prevailing religious norms — are important to acknowledge, but may not fall as neatly along ethnic lines as we often tend to assume.

While it is true that some devotees from Hindu backgrounds see ISKCON as a vital restoration of their roots, this is not the case for all. Some become involved with the movement for the very same reasons that many of their Western counterparts do: a dynamic revolutionary philosophy that made sense to them like nothing else did, joyful kirtans that rocked their world, tasty prasadam that melted their hearts. Likewise, there are more than a few non-Indian converts who join ISKCON because they are looking for an authentic, religion that calls for commitment. Such souls were attracted to this undeniablyly Eastern (“Vedic”) religion — dhotis, aratis, chappatis, and all — precisely because it was a religion, an orthodox modern day continuation of an ancient faith, and not something “new” at all.

Certainly, the split is not merely between Indian and Westerner. (By the way, to make matters even more complex, how do we factor insecond generation American-born Indian Americans — an increasingly significant demographic for ISKCON to connect with in North America?)

We have to be careful, then, not to make assumptions either way. I have seen, for instance, some temples rush to set up a “program for the Indians” and “program for Westerners” without giving any real thought as to why. On the other hand, I have also experienced communities where preachers and leaders analyzed their yatras, and then offered different styles of presentation, not along ethnic lines, but geared towards different approaches to Krishna consiousness relevant to their audiences. In the first case, both programs disintegrated into divisive politics, envy, and fuzzy thinking; in the second, the community as a whole becoming stronger and drew closer to one another as aspiring Vaisnavas.

2) If ISKCON is going to grow and expand the mission of Lord Caitanya, we need to find ways to accomodate both approaches (and some flavors in between) within the framework of the movement.

For those who appreciate the emphasis on authenticity, cultural ties with India, and traditional intricate ritual and orthadox worship, ISKCON temples should be exemplary beacons of first-class religion in practice. On the other hand, there may be those who seek, in Krishna consciousness, spirituality that is free of ethnic or “religious” trappings, and are loooking for more gradual and flexible ways to apply Vaisnava belief into their lives. We must enthusiastically provide avenues — whether within the physical temple structure, or through outreach events, loft-style centers, gatherings in homes, etc. — to lovingly engage and care for these seekers, as well.

Why limit ourselves with a rigid either/or approach to what ISKCON is or can be? Krishna is so wonderful that He inspires different souls to seek Him in different ways; isn’t it the least we can do to reciprocate with Him, by being similarly innovative, broadminded, and creative in how we receive them?

your servant,
Vyenkata Bhatta dasa

» Posted By Vyenkata Bhatta dasa On Dec 19, 2006 @ 8:41 pm

From Hinduism to Krishna Consciousness: Steven J. Rosen’s New Book Bridges the Gap

In his comment, ykd108 wonders where ISKCON’s leaders (and presumably Satyaraja Prabhu in writing this book) get the basis for a connection between the sankirtana movement of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and what is commonly referred to as the “Hindu” tradition. The answer: from Lord Caitanya Himself (who made such a connection, for instance when speaking to Chand Kazi), from Srila Prabhupada (who made such connection, for instance when trying to protect our movement from being branded a cult by the New York Supreme Court) , and from the Vaisnava sampradayas (which, as the book review mentions, often describe themselves as the largest constituents under the Hindu umbrella).

Of course, ykd108 is correct to point out that Srila Prabhupada made it clear that the Krishna consciousness movement is not preaching the Hindu religion — but why stop there? In fact, Srila Prabhupada made it equally clear that the movement is not preaching any sectarian religion; Krishna consciousness, he boldly reminded us, is trying to share pure love of God (a supra-religious, transcendent, universal goal). As far as theological statements go, that is both accurate and powerful.

From a historical and sociological standpoint, however, it is just as accurate to identify the movement as representing the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya, a monotheistic faith with roots in what is commonly known as Hinduism. Thus it is entirely possible (and legitimate) to speak about our philosophy as being both non-sectarian or non-religious (in an absolute context), and being one of the “traditions [that] collectively constitute the numerically largest portion of the Hindu world” (in the — dare I say, mundane — relative context).

In expressing his fear at the “mingling” he fears lurks beneath ISKCON’s bed, ykd108 actually highlights one (of several) reasons that devotees do need to participants in the Hindu world. “Hinduism” ykd108 informs us “…is strikingly and unmistakably polytheistic and pantheistic.” And lest we fault him for this generalization, he quickly points out that this snapshot of the religion is “the way it is presented by the Hindus themselves.” And that is precisely the problem. For who are “the Hindus” that ykd108 refers to? And by what process were they invited to be the unequivocal spokespersons for Hinduism? Surely, there are more than a few Hindus — for example, my dear Sri Vaisnava friends (who follow Sripada Ramanujacarya’s teachings faithfully and also identify themselves as Hindus) — who would beg to differ. Certainly, educated and realized ISKCON devotees — folks like Satyaraja Prabhu, for example — could do amazing service for Srila Prabhupada and Lord Caitanya by introducing people to the beautiful and theologically indefensible traditions of monotheism and devotional service within that vast Hindu culture.

But ykd108 seems content to surrender the task of defining Hindu to stereotype-fed indologists and an impersonalist elite (for instance, Swami Vivekananda and his neo-Vedantic progeny). Tragically, our consolation prize is the opportunity to bask in the conviction that “Vaishnava theology also considers such forms of theologies inferior to the exclusivity and monotheistic of bhakti” [sic], which puts us in the company of Western theologians (who, by the way, will likely still think of us as Hindus).

I think we can do better.

I truly believe that we can (and must) describe our tradition in an articulate, honest, and accurate way: by acknowledging the Vaisnava faith in its proper context, and by humbly sharing what makes being a follower of Lord Caitanya the most wonderful, unique, sublime process.

It may not always be easy, but to do any less — even in the name of safeguarding the exclusivity of bhakti — would constitute the real compromise.

» Posted By Vyenkata Bhatta dasa On Oct 17, 2006 @ 7:33 pm

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