It is not one of the purposes of ISKCON to open hospitals.

Srila Prabhupada told his disciples not to open hospitals:

Hospital-making business is there, going on by the government, by the state. You are not meant for making hospitals.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Bhagavad-gita 4.37-40 — August 21, 1966, New York

Is the Bhaktivedanta Hospital bona-fide?

One may argue that through our hospital we are making devotees, good public opinion, collection etc. If Srila Prabhupada sees the Bhaktivedanta Hospital he will surely be pleased for it is run by devotees and is used for preaching.

What is wrong with opening of such a hospital which blends material and spiritual care?

The Holy name makes devotees, not hospitals.

People become devotees in the hospitals or for that matter even in the shopping malls, because of the holy name, not because of the hospital or the shopping malls.

Even if a devotee opens a shopping mall, he would probably be able to make some devotees but this does not mean that we should begin opening of Hare Krsna Mall’s all over the world to make devotees and take this as an important mission in ISKCON– “because, prabhu, in the shopping mall’s we make devotees”. We can preach everywhere; in the hospitals, in the streets and at the shopping malls, but ISKCON’s mission is to open temples, preaching centers, farm-communities & gurukulas, not the hospitals or shopping malls.

“So therefore the best advancement of civilization is not to open hospitals, but to give them a lesson that they may not fall sick and go to hospital.” (Srila Prabhupada )

If one is such an expert devotee that one can preach very effectively in a hospital then, how much greater the result will be if all of one’s energy is sacrificed in the sankirtan mission! Can you imagine how much money and energy one has to invest to open a hospital? If all that money and all the devotees were engaged in spreading the holy name and increasing book distribution, surely that would be much more pleasing to Srila Prabhupada !

So why was the opening of a hospital particularly chosen and not a shopping mall for preaching?

It is because people in general (karmis) consider running of hospital as something good, selfless, beneficial for people – a good social welfare work. A shopping mall would not make such a good impression on people. Although even in the mall one would be able to distribute books and make devotees, a hospital is a perfect choice because most people consider mundane social work as the best activity one can do towards their fellow man and even equate it with spiritual service.

Those who are not devotees, therefore, are interested in so-called humanitarian or philanthropic work, such as opening a hospital or charitable institution.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.27

Thus devotees will be accepted in the society as good citizens performing commendable work.  In this way we see that this is actually an attempt to take advantage of people’s ignorance for getting a good name, recognition by the government, funds etc. A similar thing was done by the Salvation Army in the past and it is still one of the main strategies of Christians to open schools and hospitals and then convert people. But before we start opening hospitals we should carefully think of the following implications.

Mission Drift

Opening hospitals in ISKCON’s name is a drift in the mission of ISKCON, from spreading the holy name to mundane welfare work. It gives a wrong picture of the movement to the society at large and misguides the devotees and new comers about the real mission of the movement which is to spread the holy name. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not descend 500 years ago to open hospitals as Srila Prabhupada writes:

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s welfare activities were concerned to take the people ‘Back to Godhead’ by the simple devotional activity of ‘Samkirtan.’

That is the picture of the welfare activities of Lord Shri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. People misunderstand Him because He did not open any hospital, because He did not canvass for the undertakers or because he did not labour for any so-called social welfare work. But in fact what He did, that include all varieties of social, political, humanitarian, altruistic, moral and spiritual work.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => BTGPY7b: Lord Sri Caitanya and His Teachings

Opening of hospitals by us will open a Pandora’s box of all kinds of welfare work (old age homes, feeding the poor, blood donations, eye camps, clothes to poor, etc.) all done with the aim of creating a good image of ISKCON amongst karmis, so that they will appreciate us. They will indeed appreciate us but for the wrong things. We should be appreciated as the ’real welfare workers‘, the givers of transcendental knowledge and the holy name of Lord Krsna. But karmis cannot understand this, so what shall we do? Shall we change the yuga dharma to suite the public or change the public and make them accept the yuga-dharma?

If we start opening hospitals we will be blurring the distinction between body and soul, between matter and spirit and between material welfare and the spiritual welfare activities and that will be cheating, consciously performed by devotees just to please materialistic society to be accepted by them on their terms. Not only did Srila Prabhupada never opened a hospital, rather he criticized those who did it.

Hrdayananda: You’re the only one, Prabhupada, who dares to criticize hospitals and schools. [laughter]

Prabhupada: Yes. So many people came to request me… Even Dr. Ghosh. Eh? You know.

Satsvarupa: He wanted you to open a medical dispensary.

Prabhupada: “No, no, we are not going to waste our time in that way.” I frankly told him. We have no extra time to waste like that. What he thinks very big project, we say it is waste of time. [laughter]

Jayatirtha: Yes.

Hrdayananda: Jaya. It is a completely revolutionary idea.

Prabhupada: Yes. I cannot allow anyone he’s waste his valuable time of human life.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Morning Walk — July 9, 1974, Los Angeles

Easy collection and favorable public opinion

One may argue that it is good to open a hospital because apart from getting a good name and sympathy from the public, if we open a hospital, it would be much easier to collect donations in the name of mundane welfare work than for the constructions of temples or for book distribution. But we have to ask ourselves is ’easy collection‘ a valid reason to open a hospital and thus deviate from pure devotional service?

Srila Prabhupada said:

” Nowadays, especially, it is very difficult to collect fund. If you say, “I am going to open a temple,” nobody will give you. But if you say, “I am going to open a hospital,” he’ll give you.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.42 — October 22, 1974, Mayapur

Srila Prabhupada was fully aware of the benefits of opening hospitals such as ’easy collection‘ and ’good PR‘, but he still did not approve of implementing such a preaching method. Rather he said that we are propagating our mission successfully without compromise and deviation from pure bhakti.

In a conversation about one so called spiritual leader Srila Prabhupada  mentions that the fact that she opened a hospital means that she had no spiritual assets.

Prabhupada: Actually she has no… She is not a preacher. She is a sentimental so-called religionist among some women, and naturally their husbands… And she has no objection. Whatever you do, it doesn’t matter. Therefore she is getting some following. And posing herself as… She’s opening hospital. That means she has no asset.

Guru dasa: True.

Prabhupada: We are going without opening hospital and school; rather challenging…

Guru dasa: [laughs]

Prabhupada: …and diminishing everything, decrying. We do not agree with anyone, and still people like us. Is it not?

Guru dasa: Yes

>>> Ref. VedaBase => 142+ Transcripts

It is a trap

It looks like a good deal, we open a hospital, we get a good public opinion, a lot of money and fame, and then we can easily spread the holy name and distribute Srila Prabhupada ’s books and Krsna’s prasadam. But, lo and behold, since we have collected donations for hospitals, medical camps etc. we now have to do a ’show‘ and  actually do mundane welfare work at some level, although intrinsically we do not believe in it. We will have to recognize and appreciate other mundane welfare groups as well, even if they are mayavadis, and mingle with them and thus be exposed to asat-sanga.  Thus instead of distributing Srila Prabhupada ’s transcendental books our initiated devotees will be running eye camps or some other trivial activities, although Srila Prabhupada was against it. Unfortunately it is already going on.

(Bhaktivedanta Hospital’s eye camp)

(Helping the blind)

In Bhagavad-gita there is no such statement that you take care of the eyes of the people. There is no such statement. That is your manufactured idea.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Room Conversation — January 8, 1977, Bombay

By opening hospitals, ISKCON devotees become engaged in mundane welfare work and not in pure devotional service – this is mission drift. What then is the difference between us and Ramakrishna Mission or Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity? Why should ISKCON come down to that level? And the pinnacle of hypocrisy is the statement that “the inspiration behind the hospital is the teachings of ISKCON’s Founder Acarya HDG A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, thus the hospital name is ’Bhaktivedanta Hospital“. Where did you find such an instruction in Srila Prabhupada’s books???

Rather they are full of statements against it. Srila Prabhupada did not open hospitals and neither did he want his devotees to ’put the bandages‘ on sick people.

Bhagavata: That he has opened the clinic.

Prabhupada: Daridra-narayana-seva. [laughs] We are not all these false things. Dr. Ghosh is also after daridra-narayana-seva. [break] We will collect medicine. Our… We shall pay for the expenditure. Our men will be engaged for bandaging. [laughs] Nonsense.

Bhagavata: And the preaching stops.

Prabhupada: Ah. They cannot understand what is the meaning of this Krsna consciousness. They are such dull-headed men. They have no brain to understand. They are coming down again. Just like the dog’s tail. Know, dog’s tail? You may, however grease it… [laughs]

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Morning Walk — May 9, 1974, Bombay

Compromised preaching

If ISKCON opens hospitals then we cannot preach against mundane welfare work as Srila Prabhupada did. We cannot quote his transcendental purports wherein he smashes all ideas of mundane welfare work as a remedy for the suffering. We will have to give our own speculations and explanations as to why we are doing something which Srila Prabhupada forbade and thus justify our running of hospitals. And then we will start preaching that this is actually our mission – the mundane welfare work. After some time we will start believing it. Then we will start criticizing others who are not opening hospitals. But we have to ask ourselves why didn’t Srila Prabhupada open even one such a ’bona fide‘ hospital?

Srila Prabhupada and the previous acaryas never opened a hospital

Acharya means one who teaches by his example. So if srila Prabhupada thought that this would be a good preaching method, he would certainly have attempted to open at least one hospital to give us an example of how it should be done. For example Srila Prabhupada wanted to start self-sufficient farm communities and gurukulas so he opened both of these. But, we find that not only did Srila Prabhupada never open a hospital, rather he was against it.

Srila Prabhupada said:

If government has got so many hospitals, what is the use of opening a teeny hospital by us? Vivekananda policy—to collect money by school and hospital.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Morning Walk — May 9, 1974, Bombay

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada said:

“To transform the adverse desires of the jivas is the supreme duty of the most merciful. To rescue one person from the stronghold of Mahamaya is an act of superb benevolence, far superior to opening innumerable hospitals.”

The opening of hospitals is not one of the 64 angas of bhakti listed in NOD nor is it mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita.

” Is there any such thing in the Bhagavad-gita? Is there any advice that “You open hospital, school and do this philanthropic work”? No.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Bhagavad-gita 2.2 — August 3, 1973, London

Opening hospitals is a karma-kanda activity

“…to give help to the poor or to open a school, hospital. This is called karma-kanda.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Lecture — May 18, 1972, Los Angeles

ISKCON is meant to engage everyone in pure devotional service not in karma-kanda activities such as running hospitals. No ISKCON’s guru has any right to engage his disciples in any other activity except pure devotional service. Even if the disciple is a doctor by profession and he renders selfless free service in Bhaktivedanta hospital’s eye camp project – by this he is not engaged in pure devotional service. By curing the sick their bhakti will not be revived, so why to waste our time as Srila Prabhupada said:

“What he thinks very big project (medical dispensary), we say it is waste of time. [laughter]”

Someone may argue that they are not only curing people but also preaching to them.

Then why not just directly preach as ISKCON is doing for years. Why to waste our time, money and energy to organize a free eye camps so that we can preach – just preach. If you perform nice (with humble attitude to please guru and Krishna) kirtan, lecture & prasadam people will come and hear.

Srila Prabhupada had started and spread the KC movement in this way and it is still expanding all over the world without opening of hospitals. So obviously no one can say that we cannot preach without having hospitals or eye camps in ISKCON.

So it is clear that the free eye camps & hospitals are not done exclusively for preaching purpose, for obviously we can preach nicely without organizing eye camps. Rather, they are done to show to public ’the good work’ that we do so that we can get an appreciation from people, governments and moreover more donations.

So it seems that we are ready to give up principles of pure bhakti which is that vaishnavas do not engage in mundane welfare activities (anyabhilisita sunyam jnana karma anavritam), and promote less important karma kanda for the sake of collecting “easy money”.

Do we not misguide people by giving importance to activities that will not lead to bhakti? Do we not cheat in that way the public of the real goal of life? We know the truth, which is given to us by Srila Prabhupada , that by pure bhakti only one can please Krsna, and not by karma or jnana, but still we are not presenting it clearly to the people. Do we not giving up our dependence on Krsna for money as we resolve to earn money by karma-kanda?

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur said in Tattva-viveka:

By building hospitals and schools, and by doing various philanthropic works, they try to do good to the world and thus please God. Worship of God by performing fuitive work (karma) and by engaging in philosophical speculation (jnana) is very important to them. They have no power to understand pure  devotional service (suddha-bhakti), which is free of fruitive work and philosophical speculation.

It is not an ISKCON  sannyasi or guru’s business to open a hospital

Srila Prabhupada said:

“Now let us start this school, now let us start this hospital…” They’re coming to the mithya platform under some disguise of philanthropy activities. If it is mithya, why you are starting a school?

Satish Kumar: Yes. Only way is to sannyasa.

Prabhupada: Yes. It is not sannyasi business. For starting a school the government is there, public is there. Why you…

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Room Conversation with Satish Kumar, Editor of Resurgence Magazine — July 30, 1973, London

Srila Prabhupada’s warning:

It is the acarya’s duty to spread a bona fide religious system and induce everyone to bow down before the Supreme Lord. One executes the religious principles by rendering devotional service, specifically the nine items like hearing, chanting and remembering. Unfortunately, when the acarya disappears, rogues and nondevotees take advantage and immediately begin to introduce unauthorized principles in the name of so-called svamis, yogis, philanthropists, welfare workers and so on.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 4.28.48

What kind of hospital would be accepted?

Someone may argue that if there are many devotees in the congregation who are doctors by profession, then what is wrong if they get together and open their own hospital, so that they don’t have to work for karmis?

If devotees who are doctors open their own hospital and work & preach together there would be no problem, just like if engineer devotees get together and open a construction company where they work together and also preach to their customers or workers – no problem. Indeed everyone should be encouraged to preach at his working place.

The problem comes when we declare the hospital as ISKCON’s or Bhaktivedanta’s and advertise it as a mundane social welfare work done by ISKCON – this is the problem, for all the reasons already described – mission drift, giving up principles of pure bhakti for the sake of “easy money”, “good PR” and personal name and fame. That type of hospital is not acceptable. Let them remove the name “Bhaktivedanta Hospital” so that people are not misinformed that Srila Prabhupada wanted and had run hospitals and that ISKCON is another mundane welfare organization just like Ramakrishna Mission. Is it not an offence to present HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada as mundane welfare worker?

Although the Bhaktivedanta Hospital is not ISKCON’s direct project and is in fact run by a separate trust –the general public will still consider it an ISKCON’s project due to its name and presence of Srila Prabhupada’s murti at the entrance which is the hall mark of every ISKCON temple. Moreover we are advertising it as such.  Put any other name to the hospital, do not advertise it as ISKCON’s project, and run it silently as your means of earning a livelihood and no one would complain.

Another acceptable situation would be if devotees open and run a hospital only for the benefit of devotees. It should be aimed at serving devotees community and should not be advertised as social, humanitarian welfare work. Such a hospital will qualify as Vaisnava seva and by such action one will advance in spiritual life. Thus we could have our own hospitals in Vrindavan, Mayapur or wherever there is a great congregation of devotees.

But unfortunately this is not how Bhaktivedanta Hospital works. Although many devotees come and take treatment there, the hospital is open also for general people as any other hospital and it is advertised as a philanthropic project of ISKCON.

For example you will find it advertised as one of the great achievements of ISKCON’s 50 years on the link , a web page sponsored by ISKCON GBC. Therein, the following sentence appears:

340,000 – the number of patients treated by ISKCON hospitals such as Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Mira Road, the Bhaktivedanta Hospice in Vrindavan, mobile clinics and eye camps.

What would Srila Prabhupada say if he hears patients’ numbers instead of book scores? Will he be pleased?

Not only is Bhaktivedanta Hospital advertised as ISKCON’s welfare work so that we can collect donations from general public (and supposedly use it for preaching), but even ISKCON devotees are approached and encouraged to give donation for running of hospitals and eye camps. It is much better to donate our money for book distribution or temple construction then for hospitals and eye camps.

Prabhupada: Yes. Temple construction is different from hospital construction. That is for Krsna.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Morning Walk — April 1, 1974, Bombay

We recommend that as soon as money accumulates in our Krsna consciousness movement, fifty per cent of it should be invested in printing books, and fifty per cent for expenditures, especially in establishing centers all over the world. The managers of the Krsna consciousness movement should be extremely cautious in regard to this point.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 7.13.34

Srila Prabhupada said that our temples are real hospitals. He never gave any hint, by words or actions that he intended to open a Hare Krsna Hospital and thus show to the world what a bona-fide hospital is. No, he considered our ISKCON temples as spiritual hospitals and that was sufficient for him.

Just like take for example, hospital. There are hundreds and thousands of hospital, but where is the hospital for treating the spirit soul? They have no knowledge. They have no knowledge even, what to speak of hospital. This is the hospital. This Krsna consciousness temple is the hospital for the diseased spirit soul. And everyone is diseased. Come to this hospital. We shall take care of you and cure your material disease.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Town Hall Lecture — April 14, 1972, Auckland

By opening hospitals, are we not trying to bypass the previous acaryas by doing something that they never did and in fact preached against?

Proposed solution:

The ISKCON GBC body should pass a resolution prohibiting all devotees to open or run hospitals in ISKCON’s or A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada ’s name, for this is against his teachings and his faithful followers should understand his mood and mission and follow his instructions.

For that cause a small essay shall be written by the GBC sastric advisory board clearly showing the superiority of pure devotional service from mundane welfare work for all generations to come for next 10,000 years.

All propaganda of mundane welfare work such as feeding the poor, needy etc. should be banned in all ISKCON temples, on the brochures or web pages and the real mission of propagating the holy name of the Lord Krsna; Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare; Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, which is recommended in the Vedic Scriptures for gaining self-realization in this age, should be emphasized by encouraging harinama-sankirtanam, book distribution and distribution of Krsna’s prasadam.

Thus the movement will be saved from falling into the maya’s trap of mundane welfare work.

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  1. Hare Krishna,

    A well researched article. Yet another analysis into the can of worms that was once our Srila Prabupada’s ISKCON.

    This mundanizing, or dumbing down strategy is a time tested and effective means to neutralize what was a genuine spriritual movement, and in our devotee experience, the results of such a strategy are now a well-entrenched normality.

    It pains me to list all the symptoms, and doing so is quite beyond the scope of this little observation. Concerned souls are questioning and commenting on the subject of institutional health on various blogs daily, where it is quite apparent that bhakti devi has taken a back seat to the plethora of pseudo spiritual ideologies which now abound.

    Your proposal to approach the GBC body and expect them to correct the situation by mandate, is, in my opinion, rather credulous. The GBC’s specialty is orchestrating the dumbing down program; IT IS THEIR PORTFOLIO! They do not exist to cultivate bhakti; not in themselves or others. The present state of affairs in ISKCON, is exactly the dynamic THEY have put in place, and will simply continue to solidify under their auspices. Welcome to the neobhakti! If the CIA backed agents who derailed Prabhupada’s ISKCON and their present day lackeys were sacked, then we would have a good chance of meaningful refurbishment – otherwise, not.

    Kind regards,

    Narayan das

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