ISKCON & Sadhya

Gopakumara Das - August 2, 2010 9:59 pm
ISKCON has more facility and does more to propagate the precepts of Gaudiya Vaisnavism than any other institution, and perhaps more than all of the other similar missions combined. Yet is suffers from a weakness. It is largely uninformed with regard to its raganuga heritage. In this I do not fault its founder, but his followers, who were often more concerned with distributing his books than they were with reading them and tracing out their connection with the greater body of Gaudiya literature that is recommended in the commentaries of Bhaktivedanta Swami and from which his own commentaries are drawn. -Swami B.V. Tripurari (Sri Guru-Parampara, pg 30)


I traveled down to Los Angeles this weekend to spend time with a good friend of mine named Erica, our godbrother Vrindavana das, and spend Sunday at Ratha Yatra. I wanted to share some of my experiences with the group as I found them very enlightening. First, I have to say how utterly impressed I am with the New Dwaraka community. Despite the many ill things that might be said about the community and its president Svavasa prabhu, it is running as it has for years: like a well oiled machine. There are hundreds of devotees running around, a vast majority of them involved in some direct seva to Lord Jaganatha, Baladeva and Subhadra. They are all well engaged, recruiting other members to do some seva and organizing what is truly a spectacular festival; from one angle of vision. The temple room is full of matajis making hundreds of garlands, the young gurukulis are leading kirtana, and the other sadhakas are arriving by the dozens to help prepare the events. I was aware of my feeling like a spectator who was coming to reap the benefits of all their sweat while I sat quietly chanting japa on the temple floor.


I took prasadam in their very nice restaurant, bought Gaura Nitai some crowns and other paraphernalia at the very well-stocked Govinda's Imports, and ran into many old friends (given that I came to Krsna Consciousness at the New Dwaraka temple over 11 years ago.) The devotees that I ran into after over 8 years were so genuinely happy to see me, and even remembered in what context they had known me. They were non-judgemental in an external way of both my continued engagement with Swami B.V. Tripurari & my marriage, not to a lovely wife, but to a husband. We spoke of life, sadhana, and made tentative plans to see each other in the future, which everyone involved seemed sincerely interested in following through with. From our godbrother Vrindavana das I heard many many stories, not the least interesting of which had to do with Nirantara prabhu's going rogue (or independent as they all say) and starting his own non-profit group in order to fund and sustain his preaching and nama-hatta program. He has accomplished this while still remaining in good standing with the ISKCON community. As Nirantara prabhu was the devotee who first cared for me in KC and taught me how to chant on beads, I was very interested in seeing him and asking how he accomplished independence whilst still being allowed full praticipation in temple programs. This is yet to be explained as he had no time for details when I saw him. He was going to perform his innovative KC rock music which I choose to appreciate from a distance.


I was most impressed by the general bulk of devotees old and new that were at the temple involved with the community. Many have been there for decades and many many more are new sadhakas who have joined and remain within the community at New Dwaraka. I thought to myself, this is very special... and it is not all from the sole remaining energy of Srila Prabhpada, rather some of these devotees are directly sustained by their gurudevas (most of which are disciples of Radhanatha swami). They make reference to the activities and inspiration of their gurus and this in my opinion is worth noting. ISKCON is still reaching far and wide and making an impact on the preaching. The affect of the couple thousand devotees parading through the streets of Santa Monica and Venice causes the viewers on the sidelines –both drunk and sober– chant Harinama and Haribol! This is truly a sight and something that those members of our own group who were never a part of ISKCON should probably witness; as it is from these communities that a lot of our own group emerges.


Nevertheless, despite all of these magnificent things there was another side to this experience. It was very clear to me that the participants in this festival and in the community have different 'spirits' about them in their approach to KC. I have spent the last several years being trained on how to observe people and I think that it is a valuable skill that I do not always have the power to turn off. For example: I was listening to and watching the gurukulis do their kirtana in the temple room. It was so clear to me that the nature of the kirtana was one of pleasure making and pleasure seeking. They were having a great musical time amongst the boys and girls, chanting the lyrics they know so well and playing the musical instruments they impressively wield for the pleasure of their ears and those of others. I listened to talks being given by different leaders and the content and emotion was light and un-substantive. I watched the dancing and the relationship to the deity and it was at best formal at worst non-existent. I looked at the dioramas and they were silly and/or outdated. I do not mean this in the spirit of criticism... but rather to highlight something that I have been contemplating for some time. I say this as a means to distinguish what I find to be a few different tangible aims with regard to Krishna consciousness for better AND for worse. The whole beginning of my post is intended to support the first part of what GM's quote clearly says regarding the contribution of ISKCON in the GV world. The next part is to highlight the second half of his comment.


It is clear from my participation in this festival that for all the strengths in this well-organized event, there is a serious lack of depth that is obvious. (I cannot speak to the internal experiences of the practitioners, rather only the general experience of the group). There is no orientation given to the participants concerning the esoteric nature of the event and the subsequent approach is one of pleasure-seeking rather than meaning finding. The kirtaneers and participants are not dragging the Lord back to Vraja by the heartstrings, rather tugging him along their mardi gras parade on a leash. There is no booth (or for thousands of devotees old and new: booths, plural) for sadhakas of different levels of adhikara to listen to meaningful discussions and advance their sadhana. No one can be seen to be chanting diksa mantras and those chanting japa only do so murmured between the words of their random conversations. There is no sadhu sitting waiting to answer the questions of sincere aspirants. There is only one questions and answers booth for people to ask questions of technical and marginal significance. I watched Jayadvaita Swami get asked, "should I take aspirin or is it better to skip that and have wine instead since it might have the same effect". His responce was patient and clever, "Just take the aspirin! Its medicine. No harm. Better to become an aspirin addict than a wine addict. if that is the worst of your problems then you are ok." I thought, what a sad use of this man and at the same time, thank goodness there is someone to answer this type of question. I looked around and wandered hoping that around the corner would be something that would draw my attention and satisfy my yearnings. it was not to be found.


My reflection was this: there are different aims in approaching KC. They are interrelated and at times overlapping, but nevertheless, they are worlds apart in terms of the aim itself.


One should not make the mistake of thinking that anartha-nivrtti is the prayojana. One thinking like this will never enter into artha-pravrtti. -Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur (1932 talk at Radha Kunda)


This was what I observed: There were 3 types of aims at this festival.


The first aim was one of pleasure seeking that used Harinama and Krsna's form as a means to pleasure themselves. I mean this in the typical hedonistic definition of increasing pleasure AND of reducing pain. Besides the kirtanas that I spoke of already, there were many many other pleasure to enjoy (and I am not myself prone to deprivation). The most perfect metaphor (or literal expression) for this was the use of Jaganatha umbrellas. The face of the Lord is printed on umbrellas that –because the sun is so hot and will burn and bother our bodies– we put the Lord's face above us for protection. One might say, "using the Lord as our asraya!" Maybe. Or maybe the mentality is one in which the Lord is there only to meet our needs and his discomfort matters not. To be more generous in this regard this is a very very special kind of hedonistic activity. Because it involves harinama and the form of the Lord... and he makes himself available for this kind of pleasure seeking if this is how we want to use him.


The Second aim was one of religion: or coherence ensuring morality, duty, and ritual. This is nice in many ways as the general population does need groups that give them some coherence, rituals that give them a place in space and time, and morality that gives them stability and the potential promise of more esoteric dimensions of spiritual life. It is in this domain that I think Bhaktisiddhanta refers to the mistaking of anartha-nivrtti as the prayojana. There is a feeling in the group that if I am doing all of the above, then I am where I aspire to be. I regulate because that is the goal, I chant cause that is the expectation. Chanting seems and sounds more like counting that contemplating and preaching sounds more like coercing than inspiring. However, this is what makes the group such a large and cohesive bunch. Most people are in need of this level of engagement. AND in this aim some of those sadhakas are FAR more advanced than I am in regards to being fixed in 'faith' (there can be some question here of the quality of such a faith) and DEFINITELY more fixed and stable in their 'practice' (ditto) and absolutely more resolute in rejecting things unfavorable to sadhana. I believe that this group exists along a continuum and that at the higher most contemplative end there is a sub-group that is becoming increasingly more contemplative and looking for more depth in their practice. This is the group from which I came to GM as did many other members of this forum.


The Third aim of course is one in which the sadhya is of a more esoteric nature and the understanding of the sadhana is more deep. There are those whose engagement in the process is substantive and who are engaged more deeply. At least some of the participants are dipping into this deeper contemplation of the events at hand and experiencing various levels of insights based on their participation and the subsequent reciprocation of the Lord. It is for this reason that I myself sought out the association of GM as do many others. During the parade itself, I would gravitate towards those devotees who in my experience were embodying a deeper level of participation in the parade (such as Vaisesika prabhu and some others). I thought about GM a lot during this festival as I was feeling overwhelemed with gratitude for who he is and what he has to offer us. Not as a means of degrading the other valuable things that are occuring in the GV world but as a true appreciation for his depth and realization. He is not made –in my opinion– for the first two aims of engagement in KC. He is made for the third and most esoteric aim...that of mystical participation with the Absolute. I believe he wants sadhakas with him who are interested at this level and he is willing to sweat and cry to help these sadhakas achieve and sustain this level of participation. He could be at this festival taking in all those interested in the deeper meaning of this parade and helping them make every minute a means to reach for their highest aspirations. I would not have him any other way. He is a gem in the GV world and we need to find ways to mount this gem of ours that will allow him to be seen widely for his brilliance.


As a mission we can and should truly appreciate the work that ISKCON is doing by reaching out and acquiring & sustaining newer sadhakas. This leaves GM free to take care of those who –regardless of their level of advancement (distinguishing aim from success at the aim)– are interested in deep levels of esoteric achievement in regards to our beloved Vraja raganuga bhakti. It seems to me that the current state of affairs –in which cooperation is hindered by differences between the groups– might be more divinely arranged than we imagine. It actually creates an interesting buffer between us that can give peace of mind and liberty to both sides of the separation. It also creates a potentially beneficial hurdle for those interested in deepening their sadhana... am I willing to give up all religion and friends to get to Krishna? sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja/ aham tvam sarva-papebhyomoksayisyami ma sucah


I will stop here... I have already probably lost half the readers! woops!

Shyamananda Das - August 5, 2010 7:37 pm

Just two days back I read Sri Guru Parampara through for the first time, and it was very interesting to read about your observations. Yes, Krishna is certainly managing everything from behind the scenes and we just need to surrender. :Party:

Nitaisundara Das - August 6, 2010 4:40 am

Gopa, I read your post a few days ago and can't remember it all, but I appreciated it. I do agree that there is and should be a place for different groups and teachers with different presentations, and they fill different roles within the international scene. Like you said, most of our sanga came and continues to come through Iskcon, to one degree or another.


At the same time, GM is filling his role spotlessly: giving conclusive siddhanta, teaching people to think, providing shelter where one can go as deeply in bhakti as they have adhikara for, etc., whereas, Iskcon could certainly be holding up their end better. Particularly, they could still function as the broad group that spreads GVism in large numbers etc. without being offensive and potentially or intentionally (at times) hindering the progress of the very people they labor to bring in. And I know, I know, you cant just speak about Iskcon as one cohesive unit, but still, I think my point holds in far too many circumstances.

Gauravani Dasa - August 6, 2010 1:15 pm

This reminds me of 7.16 in the Gita, where Krishna describes the four type of people that worship him. Until a devotee is pure, their bhakti will be mixed with desires. I think it is important to recognize this fact when preaching. It is also important for the devotee to recognize it in him/herself. Doing so would cause them to seek the association of devotees who are pure, which is the only way of becoming pure.

Bijaya Kumara Das - August 8, 2010 12:32 am

nice analogy prabhu


Guru Maharaja commented on this at the previous SF Rathyatra with Bhrama das and my self. He was amazed at the lack of what you describe and felt that it was much a waste of time other than the darshan of Jaganat, Subadra and Baliram and the association that could just as well be had at Audarya. We 3 had a chuckle about what we had witnessed in Trivikaram and other maharajas attempts to preach while they never even attempted in all the years of Gurudevas attendance to have him speak sanga.

Gauravani Dasa - August 9, 2010 12:42 pm

This editorial from The New York Times entitled Congregations Gone Wild makes some interesting points about modern expectations of Christian clergy:


"The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.


"In this transformation, clergy have seen their job descriptions rewritten. They’re no longer expected to offer moral counsel in pastoral care sessions or to deliver sermons that make the comfortable uneasy. Church leaders who continue such ministerial traditions pay dearly. A few years ago, thousands of parishioners quit Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., and Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Ariz., when their respective preachers refused to bless the congregations’ preferred political agendas and consumerist lifestyles."


Iskcon is fulfilling this type of expectation but at the cost of depth, which GM provides.

Gopakumara Das - August 16, 2010 2:21 am

As I mentioned already, the highlight of LA Ratha Yatra, besides spending time with Vrndavana prabhu...our godbrother, was seeing Vaisesika prabhu, who is always so kind and engaging with me. We had met for the first time years ago at Brahma's home program in which gurumaharaja lectured on many topics, especially Bhagavad-Gita. This was at the time I first met gurumaharaja.


It it interesting because I went to ISKCOn Toronto today and who is leading the program with sankirtana and lecture? Vaisesika prabhu!!! We were both flabbergasted to see each other and he embraced me. What a wonderful devotee. He said it must not be a coincidence...that Krsna arranged our meetings...in very different parts of the world! I say its because Krsna wants him to remember Gurumaharaja's sanga!!


Very lively community in Toronto. Hundreds of devotees there!! Of course there is also their beloved Lordships pictured below...