BY: ROCANA DASA
Sep 18, CANADA (SUN) A weekly response to Dandavats editorials.
Today’s Obeisances is in response to the recent Dandavats article by Kesava Krsna dasa entitled, “Them ‘N All”.
The author begins by saying that in days past, people have lumped the Hare Krsnas in with other pseudo-religions and charlatan sects. While out on book distribution, he’s apparently found that people ask if we’re members of the David Koresh suicide cult. In my preaching, I’ve more often encountered a response wherein people have heard about our own ISKCON leaders, who have caused all sorts of problems for us in preaching. I’ve gotten many questions about the “Monkey On A Stick” book, in which Kirtanananda’s exploits in New Vrindaban were exposed. These bogus activities went unchecked for years and years by the GBC, and the consequent negative media impact is one of the biggest handicaps to our preaching efforts.
Even more than questions about “Monkey” are sarcastic remarks about our previous airport ‘sankirtana’ techniques, which were developed, encouraged and in fact forced upon us by society leaders. These activities have resulted in a negative mindset with many non-devotees, and have setback our preaching efforts significantly. Everyone knows what I’m talking about here, namely the aggressive techniques at the airport, the use of the change-up, lying about what our cause is, etc. Basically, cheating people. All this came from our leadership, not from some outside group or the media. Of course, the author is a member of ISKCON, so he can’t and won’t mention this reality -- but I challenge him to say that it isn’t true.
Kesava Krsna dasa goes on to ask “Why were these stereotypical aspersions demeaning for us? Because they were grossly misinformed generalizations. Thank Krsna that some of us live in democracies.” Again, while it’s true that the devotees have been subjected to some erroneous generalizations by the general population, we have primarily been handicapped because of what our own leaders have done. Further, the fact is that ISKCON is not a democracy. In fact, it has all the attributes of a third world country. If you speak up against the leadership, you’re not given any recourse to justice. People don’t debate with you, they just summarily throw you out, even though you may have contributed many years of your life to the development of the society and have as much right to be there as anyone else. Those who challenge the authorities are often driven out into the wilderness of non-association, and can’t reap any of the benefits of their past efforts to create a Krsna Conscious society. You can’t even vote, let alone enjoy justice before a jury of your peers.
Kesava Krsna prabhu goes on to say that there’s a segment of human society that is basically uneducated, and they have tendencies to become fanatical and vent their frustrations against “ethnic minorities, unscrupulous capitalists, or culturally divergent groups”. He suggests that they’ll take out their frustrations on us, because we’re different, and that this is a real problem for us, as people may even resort to vigilantism as a way to vent their frustrations.
The author feels that the solution to this ever-existing problem is that we have to be very, very careful about what we say and do in describing different groups such as Christian and Muslims, scientists and scholars - that we should always clarify that we are not painting everyone with the same brush. This is an intelligent statement that has some validity, but the fact is that many devotees preach this way they do because they’ve been trained up that way. In other words, they hear this kind of preaching from the asanas.
Srila Prabhupada was very heavy, to say the least, in describing some of these groups, but he focused on their philosophy rather then on them as individuals or a group. It’s the philosophical aspect of what they stand for that we should be focused on, but that point isn’t mentioned in this Dandavats article. Basically it is true, according to Srila Prabhupada and sastra, namely the Bhagavad-Gita, that most of these people are demonic. They believe in Darwinism beyond any rationality, even though they consider themselves to be scholars and spiritualists. The Christian church propagates the philosophy that animals don’t have souls, because they like to kill and eat them. What are we to do about that? Just not say those kinds of things? Because of course, as soon as you say that, people take it in an unfriendly way. Srila Prabhupada, in almost any conversation with representatives of these groups, immediately goes for the Achilles heel, nailing them on their philosophy. They all wanted to talk in lofty esoteric terms and be friendly, sharing their ideals, but Srila Prabhupada stuck to the fact that killing animals is wrong, and if you do it, you’re disobeying God, the Ten Commandments and Jesus, and you’re therefore not being Christians. Scientists who believe in Darwinism believe we have no soul, and there’s no God.
So what is Kesava Krsna dasa trying to say, that we should hold back? That because some Christians are vegetarian, we shouldn’t preach against animal killing to the Christians because it would be a broad brush generalization?
He says we should improve our presentation of Krsna Conscious philosophy, but who are we actually following here? Are we following Srila Prabhupada and sastra, or are we trying to improve on the perfect? Other than saying the truth like Srila Prabhupada stated it, what should we do? As I recently mentioned, Srila Prabhupada said that he could preach like this to authorities even though he may not be expert in their field, because he’s standing behind what Krsna and the previous Acaryas have said… just like a child with his hand in the father’s hand. So we should also be bold, and speak very straightforwardly.
The fact is that ISKCON is devolving into a religious society. Just as the Christians had to make all sorts of compromises in order to stay mainstream when it came to Darwinism, abortion, women’s rights, and so on, ISKCON will be faced with similar pressures if it wishes to appeal to the lowest common denominator. And that’s the message I’m getting from the “Them ‘N All” article. There’s not an easy way to speak the truth. Yes, you should speak it very expertly by being able to use the arguments presented by Srila Prabhupada and the previous Acaryas and standing on the basis of sastra, but there’s no way to water it down, which I definitely get the idea he’s suggesting we do that.
The author writes, “Is there any scope for generalizing at all? Yes and no”, and he points out verse 16:6 of Bhagavad-gita wherein Krsna says there are two kinds of created beings, the divine and the demoniac. He further states that “Lord Krsna is giving a clue as to how pervasive the asuric mentality is.” This is not a “clue” that Sri Krsna is giving us. The Lord is stating very straightforwardly, here’s an easy way to tell who’s divine and who’s demoniac. It’s not a clue whatsoever.
Kesava Krsna goes on to say that Krsna can speak with “Samvit absoluteness”, but when we discuss “topical relative issues”, we have to be somewhat careful, and we can’t fall into the “trap of dogmatic stubbornness”.
One of the statements I find most disturbing is this: “it is well known that any debate concerning religion or politics invariably ends inconclusively.” I would remind the writer that we have extensive sastra dedicated to Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastimes, namely Caitanya-caritamrta, wherein Lord Caitanya spent a good portion of his life traveling around defeating all the religionists and politicians. Whether they be Mayavadis, Muslims or Sikhs, and even members of other Vaisnava Sampradayas, Sri Caitanya convinced them to the point they immediately became his followers. So there was nothing inconclusive about these debates.
In this article, the author has the habit of taking one word out of a sloka, quoting which sloka it comes from, but not giving us the translation from the sloka. He just takes one word and interprets it himself. This is not a bonafide method of citing sastra. For example, he offers the words “jiveta” and “loka-vicara”. Our writer uses the term “loka-vicara” in the context of Karna, at Kurkusheta, choosing not to kill his brothers out of affection, saying “we may do certain activities in order to make people favourable towards us”. In this context, “loka” means the planet.
Srila Prabhupada’s use of the term “vicara” is different than as presented by Kesava Krsna dasa. In a lecture on Bhagavad-gita 16:7, December 15, 1976, he says:
“Vicara means consideration. That is vicara. Just like vicara prati. The high court judge is called vicara prati. Two opposite party presenting their grievances and he will consider and give his judgment…”
In other words, Srila Prabhupada states that you have to be a very learned person to distinguish who’s right with two opposing parties. Srila Prabhupada goes on to say in that same lecture:
There’s another quote with “vicara”, from a Morning Walk in Bhubaneswar on February 1, 1977:
“He says, vicara, “Just try to understand by logic, by philosophy, by argument.” That is vicara. We are not following Caitanya Mahaprabhu blindly. That is not our position.”
In other words, you should be able to know our philosophy well enough to present everything logically. In the Bhagavad-gita lecture mentioned above, Srila Prabhupada makes the further distinction that in our philosophy, this ‘vicara’ aspect is not really applicable because once you have an Acarya for a guru, you’re not supposed to make any big considerations. While the judge is supposed to know the law more than anyone else and can therefore make considerations, in our case you should just follow the Acarya and not consider yourself qualified enough to make all these big considerations.
So we can see that not only is “loka-vicara” not a term that Srila Prabhupada used, this hyphenated word does not even appear in the Vedabase, or elsewhere. Kesava Krsna dasa has apparently manufactured the term “loka-vicara” to promote his idea that we should be friendly and considerate on a global scale when preaching.
The writer goes on to say:
“One of the qualities of a vaisnava is he is friendly. A friendly disposition that furnishes all our deeds both in exposing nonsense and in steely defence will ensure we get help even from unexpected quarters when we need it. In other words, there is a nice way of doing the needful.”
This is true, one should be as friendly as possible. But as Srila Prabhupada said in a lecture when he first started the movement:
“Arjuna was talking with Krsna in friendly terms just like friend. He was... Krsna was saying something, “Oh, you cannot... You are a ksatriya. You are a military man. How can you give up the fighting?” Just like friendly talks. But when Arjuna saw it, that “Our friendly talk will not make a solution,” so he surrendered unto Krsna that “I’ll...” Sisyas te ‘ham sadhi mam prappanam: “I just become surrendered disciple unto You. Please instruct me what is my duty.” So this is the process.
Bhagavad-gita 4.34 New York, August 14, 1966
As we all know, Arjuna had to stop friendly talks in order for Krsna to speak Bhagavad-gita. Srila Prabhupada says our friendly talk won’t make a solution. So one can be friendly up to a certain point, but after that point, one has to just lay out the absolute truth In fact, too much friendliness can be a barrier to having the truth penetrate the consciousness and mind of those you’re preaching to. In order to penetrate the veil of Maya, you can’t just be friendly.
Somehow or other, Kesava Krsna is saying that we should always keep in mind when we preach what kind of impression we’re giving people of our movement, and that we have to always be nice, and not generalize. This is generally good advice and good policy, and we should try to implement it as much as we can, but the far greater problem we find is that ISKCON itself is not living up to the standards Srila Prabhupada wanted it to be on. Consequently, we’re having to be very careful because our audience (those we’re preaching to) can easily point out all the inconsistencies between what we say and what we do as an institution. Of course, the author avoids mention of this like the plague. He won’t place any blame on the leadership because he’s an initiated disciple of one of the leaders, or someone who was previously a leader, and he has to be very careful about that. But it is the truth.
The author finally comes to the nugget of his message, and that is that we should be careful about what we say on the Internet. It is a fact that whatever one publishes on the Net is archived for a long time and can be easily researched. Consequently, Kesava Krsna dasa is saying that all our debates should be done in such a way that no one gets the impression we’re actually fighting with one another, which makes the society and its leaders look bad. The basic message here is that we shouldn’t say things publicly that cast ISKCON and its leaders fall in a bad light. But if it’s the truth, then that in itself is impossible.
The truth is, that the leadership of ISKCON is wrong on several important points of philosophy. They have caused the movement to be undermined and stifled, and they have driven out most of their Godbrothers as a result of their own actions and policies. This has created a great deal of frustration and dare I say, anger, and it is the root cause of what the author infers as being disrespectful dialogue
Kesava Krsna prabhu goes on to say that leaders of society and scholars might read what we have to say and become disillusioned, then they won’t be able to apply Srila Prabhupada’s blueprint for society. He goes on to give the example of Mauritius, where if hypothetically ISKCON could take over the whole country, what would happen if you told the citizens to quit meat-eating. You’d have a rebellion on your hands. In fact, we have countless quotes from Srila Prabhupada where he directly said the first thing you have to do is shut down the slaughterhouses and stop killing the cow. That is the main thing, to not kill the cow. He’s not focused on implementing vegetarianism, but you have to stop killing the cow, and there’s no way around that. Srila Prabhupada has said it, and it is part of his blueprint for society, rebellion or not.
Even though Kesava Krsna himself says we don’t want to compromise anything Srila Prabhupada gave us, he uses terminology which makes me scratch my head. For example, what exactly does he mean when saying we should “:be man enough spiritually to acknowledge differing opinions”? Is he just referring to Vaisnava etiquette? If so, we should explore how that etiquette moves down from above: if the leaders of ISKCON are not doing this in the context of their own Godbrothers, then how can we apply it to the society in general?
He goes on to say that “Vigorous healthy debate is a sign of tolerance”, and he gives the analogy of a soccer team. The fact is that as soon as you start to debate in a truthful way within the ISKCON context, you risk being banned and ostracized, as I myself have been here in Vancouver. There’s no recourse for me. Some absolute GBC authority tells me I’m not welcome to preach here, and that’s it. I can’t use all the experience and talent I’ve accumulated over decades of being in Krsna Consciousness simply because I speak out on what I see as being the truth. And it is the truth, and they can’t and don’t come back with any rebuttal. So consequently, who is it exactly that Kesava Krsna dasa is talking about? Rather than using sports teams as examples, I suggest he refer to what’s actually happing in our own community as an example. This is the reason I regularly use my own story as an example. It’s not that I wish to focus special attention of my circumstances - it’s just that I’m such a good example of the plight of so many of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples.
The writer closes by saying we should encourage “robust debate in our ranks”. That’s fine, as long as it has nothing to do with the leaders or the policies coming down from above. Of course, he can’t say these things because as the initials behind his name indicate, he’s the disciple of one of these gurus, which means he’s automatically very limited in his ability to speak the whole truth or say things in a straightforward manner. This is really a shame, because he appears to be a very intelligent person. Unfortunately, he’s like a horse tethered to a cart, with blinders on. He will never be free to find fault with anyone who’s a friend of his guru, which is basically the people that are causing all the problems. Instead, he appeals to the greater community of devotees, hoping to convince them to behave in such a way that the problems of the top won’t become public knowledge, thereby further impacting the preaching and effectiveness of the pure devotee’s spiritual movement.
I hope that Kesava Krsna dasa is not unpleasantly surprised by this rebuttal. We should all be surprised, however, that this rebuttal is not coming from ISKCON leaders. This is particularly true in the case of HH Giriraja Swami, the author's guru, who is duty bound to challenge the kinds of philosophical errors contained in this article. I invite Giriraja Swami to step forward and address these issues directly, on his disciples behalf or in cooperation with him.
Obeisances to Dandavats, and to Kesava Krsna dasa.