Kalakantha's House or Krishna's House?
BY: JAYA MADHAVA DAS (ACBSP)
Nov 05, 2011 MOSCOW, RUSSIA (SUN) I came across this article, "Sixty New Devotees Join Gainesville's Krishna House Over Three Years at the ISKCON News website recently, and read it with mixed feelings. I don't know Kalakantha prabhu personally, but after contacting some Godbrothers who live in the Alachua/Gainesville area to verify certain facts and get another viewpoint, I found out that he's a very nice devotee, very caring, concerned, kind, exemplary in every way, a good preacher and knowledgeable. He's also an initiating ISKCON spiritual master. I would like to be the first person to avoid finding faults in such a devotee preacher who is accomplishing such remarkable results. At first glance the program sounds really appealing and intelligently organized. Yet some things in this article really bothered me philosophically. And they have far reaching and questionable effects on ISKCON in general.
First of all, I was also informed that the number of new devotees the article claims to have joined Krishna House is exaggerated and is not all the "young American students in their twenties" that the article boasts they are. Rather, I am told it is a mixture of new devotees from other parts of the country looking for a solid devotional training program (why don't the temples they come from have a training program?), Indian students at UF who have found a "home away from home" and some locals who met devotees, along with the regular Western UF students mentioned (about 25%). Whatever the case, large or small, it is certainly a significant number of devotees joining and getting trained all in one temple during a time when "few new Westerners are joining ISKCON", as the article says.
But WHY are so few Westerners joining ISKCON? That's the real question. Indirectly, this article is admitting that we seem to be doing something wrong, that Westerners aren't attracted to Krishna consciousness anymore as they were in the early days of ISKCON. Something has got to change. This appears to be the underlying overall theme in this article and the answer proposed by Kalakantha prabhu is where my philosophical objection arises.
He states unabashedly, "while the open-ended, ‘join now and worry about everything else later' style of early ISKCON worked well in the alternative social milieu of the sixties and seventies, a finite study program that simply gives people the training to add Krishna consciousness to their lives has proven much more attractive in today's world". He further states, "I do think that this is the future of ISKCON's outreach," he says. "In any religious organization, there are a small number of clergy, and a large number of flock. We were approaching Krishna consciousness as if the only option was to be a man of the cloth. And that's unrealistic. Religious organizations thrive when they have a relevance beyond the clergy."
"Outreach?" "Religious organization?" "Clergy?" Flock?" "Man of the cloth?" It's starting to sound like a mundane religion.
To clarify, Krishna House was started decades ago by our Godbrother Amarendra prabhu who later became a full-time lawyer. When this program began in the early '70s it was a real ISKCON Temple with authorized programs and ISKCON world standards established by Srila Prabhupada. Dozens of people joined, books were being distributed and preaching was going on in full force. Similarly, it didn't matter where you went, N.Y., L.A., London, Tokyo…Prabhupada's ISKCON was standardized and worked well in any country regardless of material considerations. The results came sooner or later (Russia is a prime example). Not like today, where it's changed to the whims of the local management for preaching to select crowds…Students, New Agers, Hindus (with money), etc. I call this selective preaching or putting it bluntly - discrimination.
That's a fact, the ISKCON Bhakta Program was once alive and making many real temple devotees. But heck, don't bother to mention that, or that many ISKCON Temples have been changed to new improved versions. ISKCON News P.R. leaves out pesky details about what an ISKCON Temple is supposed to be – a Temple with bonafide Srila Prabhupada programs. But instead we find Prabhupada's basic programs being altered and changed supposedly because his formula for Krsna Consciousness is now "old school" and doesn't work in America anymore. Or so says Kalakantha prabhu.
At Krishna House, Mongal Artik is at 6:00 A.M. and chanting only 8 rounds is all that is required. And you get two days off a week from the morning program. Sounds more like a half-way house than a Temple like the one I joined. In Srila Prabhupada's time, this compromise and change of temple standards to accommodate the masses would have been unheard of. Srila Prabhupada would have stopped it dead in its tracks.
I do not agree with Kalakantha that Americans won't join and surrender and live in our temples as temple devotees. The fact is, ISKCON Temples in North America have mostly stopped trying to offer that option and even discourage it. Temples like Gainesville have stopped trying to preserve the original Bhakta programs and offer this concoction. And just because something is "working" doesn't means it's necessarily right.
Yes, I do agree not everyone will live in the Brahmacari/Brahmacarini ashrams, but Srila Prabhupada wanted his temples to specifically be shelters so people could join and surrender and live according to high spiritual standards. Now, however, things have gone off or have been compromised in many ISKCON centers and remain without any correction from any GBC or guru. No strong ashrams exist anymore as ISKCON North America falls apart. Some communities are even rebuilding their Temples without including ashram facilities for full-time devotees.
One famous example of a Prabhupada disciple who decided to change the Krsna Consciousness programs was in Hawaii in the mid-70s. A strong charismatic sannyasi decided ISKCON's preaching strategy was too direct and confronting. He had his own ideas, which he still follows to this day. Even so, Srila Prabhupada reluctantly encouraged him to preach, though he eventually separated from ISKCON.
Therefore, if my Godbrothers think they have a better way of preaching and it's not in line with Prabhupada's standards, it would be more proper for them to start their own temples, not alter and compromise his instructions on how to manage the organization. This would be a more honest route… just go your own way and preach Krsna consciousness as you want, and don't imply Prabhupada's ISKCON must be changed to fit the times. This in itself is absurd and offensive to Srila Prabhupada and those disciples who preached in the 60s and 70s.
It's real heartbreaking to see Srila Prabhupada's disciples do things like this in his Centers/Temples. And the GBC body DO NOTHING to correct these compromises and deviations. And on account of not correcting misconceptions, these changes spread like a cancer all across the movement. Now it's a milder and user friendly, easy ISKCON (I'm Ok, You're OK, anything goes)...... take it easy folks, K.C. has arrived for the new age. Let's hold hands and dance with New Age Interfaith/Hinduized programs. We don't want to offend or scare the public away. We want to be accepted.
I find his statement, "what worked well in the alternative social milieu of the sixties and seventies" to be a convenient excuse for the lack of preaching enthusiasm in North America. From my perspective, what we did in the sixties and seventies to preach Krishna consciousness and make devotees is what Srila Prabhupada told us to do. And it had nothing to do with the social milieu of the day. Nor did his approach to presenting Krishna consciousness have "no relevance beyond clergy". It was always completely relevant for all times. And while we could have had a more mature application of his transcendental strategies and missionary mood, we pleased him by our efforts and achieved results beyond anyone's expectations. We followed the pure devotee, world acharya, Krishna was pleased and the results came. That was always the formula. Now we are to understand that the ‘join now and worry about everything else later' style of early ISKCON no longer works or was, in fact, not a good approach to begin with but was really "unrealistic", as are, apparently, many other things Srila Prabhupada taught us to do.
I think this is over-intelligent and subtly offensive to Srila Prabhupada. It infers that he was incorrect in his methodology, in his vision to transform the world by getting people to turn their backs on modern society and sense gratification and surrender their lives to becoming a devotee. Yes, Srila Prabhupada was heavy, he was straightforward, he cut to the chase and didn't mince ideologies. Even a cursory listen to some of his lectures, morning walks and conversations reveal a spiritual being who wouldn't settle for less than to transform every individual to the highest perfection of life, as quickly as possible.
Do I think that Kalakantha prabhu is not successfully preaching and making devotees? No, not at all. He has made a niche for himself and has found something that works well in that situation according to his abilities and perspective. What I object to is the idea that we shouldn't try to convince people to give up everything and become full-time devotees. That we should be selective and timid in our preaching and representation of Krishna consciousness and simply try to help people "add Krishna consciousness to their lives." That is also an acceptable approach. But what is the harm in preaching strongly? In other words, both are possible. And the expert preacher knows when and how to apply either strategy to a particular individual.
It is the institutionalization of these "new and improved" methods and ideologies that is objectionable and the lowering of the temple standards to facilitate such a concept. It's the ultimate in disregarding Srila Prabhupada's very last instructions to his disciples, "Do not change anything". Sadly, many things have been changed in ISKCON and not always for the better, as we watch helplessly.