Archive for the tag 'ISKCON'

Monday Morning Greetings #25 – Why I Support ISKCON

June 20th, 2016

I can’t believe I just said that! What about the bureaucracy, the disempowerment, the micro-management, the anti-intellectualism, abuse of power, and the silly rules (think chocolate ban)? I’m not technically even a member. I support ISKCON. Here’s why.
 
The key to my sentiments can be found in the difference between reform and revolution.
 
“Reform” means to root out the problems of an established institution while valuing the societal structures that maintain it. “Revolution” means to destroy the institution and the structures that maintain it to make something better, but there is a risk involved. Societal structures, with all their weaknesses, have taken years or centuries to build and mature. They are not easily replaced. New ventures thus usually fail as they are thwarted in their development with the same problems as before, or even worse, and historically they usually even wind up more stifling.
 
So when I think beyond what I don’t like about ISKCON and contemplate the societal structures that have been inspired by Śrīla Prabhupāda and maintained by his followers, I see something quite formidable that is neither easy to recreate nor to maintain.  I see temples, festivals, farms, books, outreach and kirtan. I see Māyāpur, Vṛndāvana, and most important the association of many good devotees raised and nourished by ISKCON, some who now chant the pure name of Kṛṣṇa.  And even most who sometimes criticize ISKCON, and I can’t exclude myself, have come from ISKCON and still benefit from it.
 
Anything big will have problems, and the bigger something is and longer it has lasted the bigger its problems will be, but if the intent of the organization is sincere it’s accomplishments will also be bigger. A friend shared with me something analogous in this regard that he heard about the Catholic Church.
 
No institution has saved as many people.
No institution has killed as many people.

 
No institution had as many celibates.
No institution had as many debauches.

 
No institution has as many saints.
No institution has as many sinners.

 
Institutions have a tendency to become impersonal and to crimp initiative and individuality. Śrīla Prabhupāda, its founder, explicitly warned his disciples about that, but he also vigorously supported and promoted those same structures. A Vaiṣṇava scholar in Vṛndāvana shared with me an analogy about institutions that succinctly expresses this simultaneous necessity for institutions and the cautions of membership.
 

Institutions are like water and our spiritual life is like a boat. Just as water is necessary for a boat to keep afloat, but sinks the boat if it gets inside, institutions are both necessary to help keep a person’s spiritual life afloat and risk drowning one’s spiritual life if they become too stifling and intrusive.

 
Of course, sometimes in dire circumstances revolutions are necessary, and sometimes, like Śrīla Prabhupāda, circumstantially and reluctantly one needs to even step outside of the institution they were born into to fulfill its mission. ISKCON? I still see its growth, the substantial things it is accomplishing, the many people coming to and being trained in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and the variety of services it still offers, but I am not blind. Reform is needed and great challenges are there. I thus remain a well-wishing critic. *
 
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura eloquently describes this difference between reform and revolution in reference to ideas, but his analysis is applicable to any attempt at making something better that you strongly feel needs reform. I leave my reader   with a part of the beginning of his well-known article The Bhagavat: Its Philosophy, Its Ethics and Its Theology.
 

He is the best critic, who can show the further development of an old thought; but a mere denouncer is the enemy of progress and consequently of Nature. “Begin anew,” says the critic, because the old masonry does not answer at present. Let the old author be buried because his time is gone. These are shallow expressions. Progress certainly is the law of nature and there must be correction and developments with the progress of time. But progress means going further or rising higher. Now, if we are to follow our foolish critic, we are to go back to our former terminus and make a new race, and when we have run half the race, another critic of his stamp will cry out: “Begin anew, because the wrong road has been taken!” In this way our stupid critics will never allow us to go over the whole road and see what is in the other terminus. Thus the shallow critic and the fruitless reader are the two great enemies of progress. We must shun them.

 

The true critic, on the other hand, advises us to preserve what we have already obtained, and to adjust our race from that point where we have arrived in the heat of our progress. He will never advise us to go back to the point whence we started, as he fully knows that in that case there will be a fruitless loss of our valuable time and labor.

 
* In terms of the need in ISKCON for reform see my recent article,  ISKCON’s Greatest Deficiency.
 
 

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