BY: ROCANA DASA
May 14, CANADA (SUN) A weekly response to Dandavats editorials.
Today's Obeisances is in response to the article by Mahatma dasa entitled "Exploring Your Word of Honor". This weekend, the Festival of Inspiration was being held at New Vrindaban. In this article, Mahatma dasa was basically advertising the fact that he would be holding his workshop at the Festival. In fact, it may be going on as I write this editorial.
As I've previously stated, Mahatma dasa was my first Temple President in 1969-70, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Even his name lent an air of high profile to those of us that weren't yet even called "Bhakta". All the newcomers looked up to Mahatma Prabhu as a leader, and we naturally assumed he was on a high level of spiritual advancement. Ironically, due to his not being able to maintain his vows, he disillusioned a lot of newcomers. Fortunately, I didn't suffer that fate. I find it almost humorous that he should now, nearly 35 years later, be giving seminars on this very subject.
Before I begin, I invite the reader to first read Mahatma dasa's article so you'll understand my remarks without my having to paste-in many of his statements. In his article, you'll find that the first thing he offers is a suggestion for the reader to "imagine this scene". I find this psychological device somewhat disturbing because it's philosophically incorrect. Another devotee who read his article posted a comment on Dandavats that pretty well sums up how I feel about this "imagine the scene" concept, which is not at all in line with our philosophy.
How can someone who is impure have the type of darshan Mahatma dasa suggests you can achieve when he invites you to imagine Sri Krsna as an enchanting cowherd boy Who looks at you with a serious look on His face and states: "I don't know if I can trust you." Obviously this scenario is not at all possible. So why would Mahatma dasa, a devotee of 35 years who obviously feels himself qualified enough to give this seminar, begin his article by asking you to imagine something that is not at all true?
I have personally had other godbrothers try to interest me in similar New Age concepts, which are basically what Mahatma dasa is presenting here. While authors and New Age workshop wallahs like Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins and Deepak Chopra may be highly successful and even academically credentialed, what they teach is often diametrically opposed to the science of Krsna consciousness as presented by Srila Prabhupada. Regardless, Mahatma dasa has somehow convinced himself that the work of these authors is important, and that what they have to teach is potent enough to merit being presented in a Krsna conscious milieu. Obviously his friends in ISKCON leadership agree, and have permitted his workshop to take place.
At the end of his article Mahatma dasa says that he's doing this because our society needs some "structured systems that offer support for those who have taken vows". Of course, we all know that this has become a trend in ISKCON, and many senior devotees are now introducing such cross-over concepts in a for-fee seminar format. We also know, however, that neither this method nor content was introduced by Srila Prabhupada during his ISKCON lila period. But that is another topic, for another time.
Mahatma dasa's presentation is primarily about how one should become 100% committed to following the vows that one made to their Spiritual Master in regards to chanting all their rounds and following the four regulative principles. What he does not mention is the reason that so many devotees like himself, who are potentially good preachers, have been seriously compromised to the point that they are having to approach preaching Krsna consciousness in the way Mahatma is. They are simply handicapped by the fact that they can't address the real problems in ISKCON because doing so would attract a negative response from the leaders of the institution.
What Srila Prabhupada emphasized more than the aspect of keeping your vows to chant and maintain the four regs is an essential ingredient in our philosophy: the need and importance of having the association of devotees. Srila Prabhupada has stated in his lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam 6.2.14, September 17, 1975 in Vrindavan:
"Therefore Narottama dasa Thakura says,
tadera carana-sevi-bhakta-sane vas
janame janame mor ei abhilas
“Let me engage myself in the service of the Gosvamis and associate with the devotees. I do not want anything.” Janame janame mor ei abhilas. Bhaktivinoda Thakura said that kita-janma hau, jatha tuwa das. This association. “Let me become a worm, not a devotee, even worm.” Kita. Kita means worm, an insignificant ant, worm. Better to remain as an ant with the association of devotees than to become a Brahma without any devotee’s association. Brahma-janme nahi mora as. Bahir-mukha brahma-janme, nahi mora as, kita janma hau, jatha tuwa das. This is Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s hankering. So some way or other, we are propagating this association, Krsna consciousness, International Society for Krsna Consciousness. Why? Why we are establishing so many centers? Just to give the people in general the chance of association. It is very important thing, association. Sangat sanjayate kamah."
Srila Prabhupada states that he established the International Society of Krsna Consciousness in order that this association can be provided to all devotees. When one has this essential ingredient, then such matters as maintaining your vows and being able to follow the process as Srila Prabhupada set it down can actually be achieved. But now, the society that Srila Prabhupada established, and that he envisioned and instructed his leaders to provide, is not being maintained. Consequently, we have to substitute that circumstance with constant festivals, seminars, and "feel good" get-togethers. The devotees have to somehow or other make due with this method of association rather than having the benefit of the type of community Srila Prabhupada actually set down, and instructed his leaders to maintain after his departure.
These leaders took a vow to Srila Prabhupada to follow his instructions, and in my mind, these vows are far more important than the vows of some individual devotee working to maintain his vows outside the community scenario. So rather than asking everyone to "imagine" what it would be like to have personal darshan of Lord Krsna, who is unhappy with you (which will supposedly give you the strength to keep your vows), why not imagine what it would be like if Srila Prabhupada's vision of a community was actually achieved, wherein the prescribed type of association was being provided to the devotees? In fact, this type of nurturing Krsna conscious community, which Srila Prabhupada established and achieved, could have been maintained had his leaders followed their own vows.
Of course, Mahatma dasa can't say any of this or make the real points clear without ending up like the rest of his godbrothers outside ISKCON. I've found by listening to Srila Prabhupada that whenever there is a major problem, he always points to the leadership: whether it's political or religious leaders. He does not point to the individual who is suffering on account of having to be put in difficult circumstances by unscrupulous leaders. So why is Mahatma dasa placing his focus at the lowest level in this way?
New Age leaders like Stephen Covey don't criticize the leaders of society, as Srila Prabhupada did. He strongly criticized the political and religious leadership that is causing, encouraging and supporting human society to engage in demoniac activities such as the blatent acceptance of athiesim in the form of Darwinism, or rapant capitalism. New Age authors like Covey put the full responsibility on the individual to "transcend" these circumstanbces. Srila Prabhupada, however, did the opposite. He gave a broader vision wherein society has to change from the leadership on down. And in our case, this means the leaders in his own ISKCON society have to change. But just like the New Agers, Mahatma dasa avoids this situation so he can continue taking advantage of the facility ISKCON has to offer him
Much of the "New Age speak" that is prevalent throughout Mahatma dasa's article is attributed to Stephen Covey, a Mormon businessman whom he attributes with having been a great deal of help in helping him overcome his own problems in maintaining his vows. He was obviously introduced to Covey's work by reading his books or attending his seminars. We can assume that Mahatma relishes talking about Covey's techniques with other devotees, and that all of them prefer Covey's approach to addressing the real, difficult problems that are actually faced by Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON. If we were collectively discussing how we can practically apply Srila Prabhupada's program, namely establishing societies of devotees that functioned in the way Srila Prabhupada intended them to function, this would be far more potent than trying to adopt non-Krsna conscious principle set down by Stephen Covey.
Srila Prabhupada's program can be established in either rural or city programs. Take, for example, the devotee community of Alachua, Florida. While I've only briefly visited there, it's clear that Alachua has become one of the few places where devotees feel they can go to in order to get this association of devotees under practical circumstances. Even so, the challenges one must face to make a living there make it impractical for some.
We often hear reports about the high quality of devotee association available in Alachua, but even Alachua is not what Srila Prabhupada envisioned. While it's the only community of its kind in all of North America, it wasn't established by the GBC or ISKCON leaders. As I understand it, it sort of spontaneously manifested due to certain circumstances. Why is it that we don't have dozens of Alachua-like scenarios across North America? Even though it's not a self-sufficient community based on simple living and high thinking, which was Srila Prabhupada's plan for his communities, it's at least providing a greater degree of association than one can find in most cities across the US or Canada.
We can see by the Alachua example how important it is to have this type of circumstance be available. If the leaders of ISKCON understood this principle of the necessity of having devotee association, then how is it that they can justify banning or throwing their godbrothers out of the local temple communities simply because they criticize them or dislike them? How unrealized and heartless is it, to make it even more difficult for the devotees to have this much-needed association?
We should understand this principle, which Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself established. When asked what is the definition of a devotee, He replied that a devotee is a person who associates with other devotees and avoids the association of non-devotees. I'm sure many of the readers are in this predicament. They are forced, due to their own personal circumstances, to daily associate with non-devotees in order to simply maintain themselves in this material world. This, on account of the fact that the local ISKCON leadership is making absolutely no attempt whatsoever to fulfill Srila Prabhupada's instructions for providing sincere devotees with a community wherein they can work, associate and cooperate together so they can easily follow the vows that Mahatma dasa is now talking about.
When I first joined ISKCON as a young man, I had no problem following the four regulative principles as long as I stayed in association with the devotees in Srila Prabhupada's temples. Unfortunately, many devotees who were also keeping their vows were discouraged when they made the shocking discovery that the leaders weren't following these vows. I won't cite all the well-known examples, but suffice to say many readers are familiar with the stories. And they're not stories of individual devotees, but of leaders who had personal instructions from Srila Prabhupada. When you take a leadership position, that in itself is a vow -- fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of that leadership position is a vow made to the Spiritual Master himself.
We see all these ex-leaders who are now writing biographies and gaining all sorts of adoration and distinction from innocent and somewhat foolish admirers, despite the fact that they completely let Srila Prabhupada down. At this very moment, most are doing little or nothing to fulfill the original promise they made to Srila Prabhupada, to maintain his society so the devotees can take shelter of having association. And no one is calling them on this. No one is holding them up to the light of scrutiny, demanding responsibility and accountability from them. These leaders have enjoyed all the notoriety, living quite comfortably themselves on the basis of their past association with Srila Prabhupada, but they're doing nothing to fulfill their early vows, which would enable the rest of their godbrothers and sisters to have the same benefits of association. But regardless, their close followers give them all respects, and expect everyone else to do the same.
All these seminars and festivals are just blowing on the boil. There's absolutely no chance that the process Mahatma dasa is advocating is going to replace the program Srila Prabhupada established, which is required in order for the individuals in the society to be supported in their efforts to keep their vows. I suspect that Mahatma dasa, like so many others today, is just trying to carve a little program niche out for himself - something that will enable him to fly around the world visiting temples, enjoying the festivals, and having all the devotee association he wants. Like Stephen Covey, I assume he charges a fee for his workshop that enables him to make a decent living at this work.
Personally, I find all these packaged, for-fee seminars to be an insult to Srila Prabhupada and a shirking of responsibility by the devotees who run them. Mahatma dasa has a great deal of leadership capability, as he has demonstrated in the past when he accepted leadership positions in ISKCON. He has the ability to become part of a leadership movement that can establish the true community, as Srila Prabhupada envisioned it. Instead, he's copping out to this seminar phenomenon, which in my estimation is a far more substantial breaking of his vows to Srila Prabhupada then even his focus on following the four regulative principles and chanting of 16 rounds.
Obeisances to Dandavats, and to Sriman Mahatma dasa.