Posted June 9, 2011
The GBC have used the Christian term “outreach” to describe the activities of preaching, book distribution and festivals, which can attract people to join the movement, as some people join a church. Once “converted”, they practice their beliefs at home while working at normal occupations, coming to the church or temple on Sundays as a congregational member. The hopeful idea behind this is that they turn their occupational duty into devotional service by a change in consciousness. The problem with it is that ISKCON may become just a change of consciousness on Sunday, and the rest of the week spent in forgetfulness of Krishna, absorbed in the economic and psychological challenges of work and family. It could become “churchianity” as warned about by Srila Prabhupada. Some of the obstacles in achieving that desired change in consciousness, that turns ordinary work into Krsna consciousness, will be discussed herein.
In various parts of the books that we distribute, the importance of association is stressed as vital to spiritual advancement- one must give up asat sanga and take only the association of devotees. If one is sufficiently advanced, one can live and work in the association of mundane people and not actually take their association, but give them association, by preaching to them. This is dependent, of course, on the receptivity of the recipients of one’s preaching…preaching to some people may result in only increasing their inimical feelings. Sastra warns against such preaching, describing it as “feeding milk to a snake” and advises to “avoid the association of mundane people”. At work, one cannot avoid such people, who may be in the majority, but one cannot ignore them either, for in most modern environments of work, cooperating as a team is important. And of course, one may not be sufficiently advanced to favorably influence even the “innocent”.
Though Krsna consciousness is not impossible in such situations, if one is determined enough, it is thoroughly compromised for most, and one is forced to trade off transcendental association for material security. Therefore, in addition to simplifying the process, by preaching to people that they need not change their occupation- but just their consciousness, in actuality Srila Prabhupada provided an environment where, if they so desired, they could live amongst devotees, hear all day about Krsna, and engage 24 hours a day in His service.
Srila Prabhupada also advised that in order to achieve this aforementioned change in consciousness, one should offer the fruits of one’s work to Krsna by contributing half one’s income to the spreading of Krsna’s message. In the current economic catastrophe, such may not be possible, as many are struggling to keep the family home from going into foreclosure. It may not be possible to give anything, what to speak of half, so we are left with at least some, if not most, of the congregation struggling, both materially and spiritually.
This may not be overt, one has to look within. In Srila Prabhupada’s time, even temple devotees were struggling and falling from the principles, though trying to hide it, so as to be able to stay as temple devotees. He called the facade “showbottle spirituality”, but immediately followed the criticism with outreach- to include them and allow them to engage fully in activities of Krsna consciousness within the varnashrama system. If temple brahmanas were falling down, what hope does the person living in a passionate city and working for materialistic people have, to stay in transcendental consciousness- or even achieve it? Therefore, Srila Prabhupada wanted to offer them an opportunity to live simply, and meet their material needs very easily in rural, self-sufficient communities. He wanted to end both the struggle to exist and the struggle to become Krsna conscious in one stroke- and “make the path easy.”
The history of our farming communities has not been an easy path, however- they have suffered the same fate as our temples, with devotees leaving, often embittered. It was not a lack of sat sanga in such cases, as they lived constantly in the association of devotees… Or did they? If they did, then why so many have left, embittered by the lack of “love and trust”, as so many put it? Thus, if we are to reach the crux of the problem, we have to address this issue- how to turn our farms into outreach places for the materially and spiritually disenfranchised? Certainly the dynamic must be loving and trustworthy …I have explained in “Varnashrama - How it works, Why It works” how the brahmana ensures a dynamic worthy of trust, and the ksatriya, a dynamic of love, concern and appreciation. How to outreach to those who have already left, or have been thrown out of ISKCON, embittered?
Nandini Prabhu (Nori Muster) suffered this fate and wrote a book about it (“Betrayal of Spirit”). I came across that book in a library one day. I was not a library member so I could not get it out, but reading some of it, I felt very sorry for Nandini, as I had also gotten excommunicated for speaking my mind in one community- only our details differed. Recently, I came across a devotee review of the book, in which Nandini was condemned, which lacked depth, compassion and understanding. As a service to Nandini, whom my husband has met and noted her naturally vaisnava qualities, I will provide a deconstruction of that unfortunate review below…to protect identity, the reviewer will be referred to as B prabhu…(A more detailed analysis may be found on my blog: Click Here )
B Prabhu wrote: "Muster (Nandini) has nothing positive to say, and her own book is based on unsubstantiated rumor, gossip, and memories produced and nurtured in a self-admitted psychologically unbalanced mind. "
Of course, we have to assume she has done a thorough psychological analysis of Nandini, and has conducted research into the validity of her claims to make such a comment. Otherwise it is character assassination, being based on what she is assuming about Nandini- unsubstantiated claims. This is not surprising- we all tend to project on to others, our own inadequacies. B Prabhu: Rather than simply denounce Muster's book out of hand ...which she has just done!
Nandini Prabhu: "Like many other members, I believed that the organization had The Answer and everyone else was in the dark. I tried to force my group's beliefs and values on other people."
Good point, Nandini. I lost count of how many classes I attended, supposedly on Srimad Bhagavatam, but that were actually about showing how everyone else, but us, are in the dark. And pushy sankirtana techniques were not uncommon.
Nandini: "It has taken years of psychotherapy to overcome my guilt and forgive myself. I'm still working out my victimization issues because I came to ISKCON innocently seeking spiritual life ..." Such should evoke a sense of compassion, but we are too busy in condemning her for spoiling our image to the outside world. What hope have our ex-pats got, when they try to voice their opinions inside ISKCON and are condemned for it, and punished by removal from service... Nandini lost her service, when she did so. In such an oppressive atmosphere, of course they go outside, for part of therapy is to be listened to by someone who is not in denial.
Ironically, Rupa Goswami describes two of the six loving exchanges between devotees as "revealing one's mind in confidence" and "listening to a devotee reveal his mind in confidence" Confidence is only possible when one is revealing to a person who does not judge or condemn one, especially publicly, what to speak of punishing them...
According to B Prabhu, Nandini is mentally unbalanced...looking at the particular mental disturbance experienced by Nandini- i.e. guilt- did we evoke it, or was it a problem before? Such would certainly happen if we condemn all those who leave Krsna Consciousness as insincere, fault-finders, traitors, or as having “turned against Prabhupada” and so on. A case in point- B Prabhu is doing it here, condemning, condemning, condemning. So in an atmosphere of condemnation for those outside and for those who have left, it is not surprising that guilt can be the result. Many ex-devotees feel guilt. If instead of condemnation, they feel love and compassion from us, they might not feel so guilty, and be attracted to again become involved. We prefer to punish those that leave, than offer outreach to them- offering them love, acceptance, forgiveness, etc, whereby it becomes very easy for them to join us again- and of course, hard for others to leave in the first place.
When a sannyasi’s falldown became public knowledge, Srila Prabhupada was greatly disturbed saying “Now you have made it impossible for him to return!” Following his example, we need to think of those who have left, and assess our attitude to them, not just outreach to people who have no experience of ISKCON and who may think that it perfectly represents Krsna conscious ethics- for they become embittered when it does not.
The condemnation of the embittered pervades every level of our society. Indeed, the GBC have enacted laws for excommunication of those who criticize any leader, or ISKCON as a whole. And this is why we don’t have varnashrama in ISKCON though Srila Prabhupada ordered it- varnashrama diffuses power away from the power-brokers, the law makers and the managers (ksatriyas) to those who are thoroughly honest and do not ever condemn criticism that is factual, but use it to reform society.
We can learn from Nandini - her book could become the basis of reform, for what better way to stop the exodus of devotees, than finding out why they have left in the first place?
The assumption always made about them is that it is their fault, even going so far as to claim mental illness as the cause of their observations that all in ISKCON is not well. The assumption preceding and spawning this assumption is that ISKCON is a transcendental society, because Srila Prabhupada once described it as his body…he also said “I am not this body”. In 1977 he left that body, but if we make our society full of transcendental consciousness, again he will return. That transcendental consciousness is devoid of religious self-righteousness, of sectarian divisions, indeed of any consciousness of “us” and “them”, which is the criterion, given by Srila Prabhupada, to be on the kanishta or materialistic platform of devotional service.
When we consider all those on the outside of this movement, whether from bad experience or lack of experience, as one of us, and when we make all facility to include them, by opening doors both literally and within our hearts, then we will do more than outreach, but in-reach and access our dormant sense of God consciousness, sleeping under the influence of external designations. NDD