Impersonalism and Krishna West

Both of these statements are from Hridayananda Goswami: “It’s like a rite of passage, a test of your faith and love, that you don’t care what the public thinks,” Resnick said. “If we go out in the street, it’s like Vedic Cirque du Soleil. People love it. They take pictures. But how many Americans want to join the circus?”[1]

“Then of course there’s the argument about uniforms. And what I say is the general advantage of a uniform does not necessarily justify a specific uniform. It’s like what if for example a policeman instead of wearing these sort of like really cool pants and shirts and everything, what if they wore mini-skirts, or what if they wore clown costumes? You could say, “Well it’s a uniform.” What if police wore clown costumes so if you saw someone dressed as a clown on the street you know, “That’s a policeman. So, I need a policeman. Look for someone in a clown costume.” It’s not just the general idea of wearing a uniform, it’s wearing something that people feel comfortable with, they can relate to, and it totally connects with them.” [2]

The first is from a recently published article on the Krishna West project, and the second is from a lecture he gave at the ISKCON temple in Hawaii in 2011. It is clear he thinks devotees who dress in dhotis and saris and chant Hare Krishna on the streets of cities all over the world are “clowns” and part of a “circus.”

Compare his unflattering remarks to Srila Prabhupada’s praise for Western devotees who dressed in dhoti and sari and took to the culture he himself loved.

SP_ON_CULTURAL_CONQUES_and_SB_1.9.48_Gandhari_Chaste_And_Faithful.mp3

“When I was speaking in Berkeley University sometimes in the year 1966, one Indian student stood up and he said, ‘Swamiji, what this Krsna consciousness movement will do? We require now technology.’ So I replied, ‘Yes. You are after technology. So you are a beggar. I am not a beggar. I have come here to give something. That is the difference. I have come here to give some culture, and you have come to imitate the Western civilization by technology. That is the difference. You’ll remain a beggar, I shall remain a giver. That is the difference.’ So still I am maintaining that position of giving, not taking. Before me, so many swamijis went there. They did not give, but they took something and came here and advertised themselves as foreign-returned sannyasi and exploited the people. They lost even their original dress. Everyone knows, I have never changed my dress. Rather, I have given the dress to the foreigners, and they have taken it. The Ramakrishna mission people came to request me that I dress myself in coat, pant, hat. Because they are doing. Their so-called swamis, they are dressed in coat, pant, hat.

“So this is a culture. This culture is meant for the human society. Fortunately this culture developed on this land of Bharatavarsa. Unfortunately, people are so much bewildered that they are giving up this culture. That is the most regrettable portion of, of our movement. Anyway, my mission was that I shall go to America, and if some of the American boys and girls, younger section, would accept it, then I’ll bring them here to show these rascals that how great this culture is. So portion of the population, they are realizing now.” (Lecture, SB 1.9.48 Mayapur, 14 Jun 1973)

The source audio clip (audio file attached) even more emphatically reveals Srila Prabhupada’s love and appreciation for the historic culture of India. He was proud of his disciples who had taken to it. If ISKCON is to remain Srila Prabhupada’s institution, then it must also continue to preserve the preferences of its founder. Otherwise, if it is indifferent or hostile to his preferences, then how is ISKCON still Srila Prabhupada’s institution? It can’t be, because even the so-called little things are pleasing to Krishna and His representative. Yasya prasadat bhagavat prasado yasyaprasadan na gati kuto pi. If this principle is disrespected, then ISKCON’s mission is also vanquished.

Consider for example a vyasa-puja celebration for Srila Prabhupada in which none of the foodstuffs prepared include anything Srila Prabhupada is known to have liked. Despite having positive information about Srila Prabhupada’s preferences and the ability to cook according to them, the cooks still say, “As long as whatever we cook is offered with love and devotion (and it is vegetarian), then Prabhupada will accept it.” But what does it mean to have “love and devotion” toward someone yet be indifferent to his likes and dislikes? Obviously, someone prefers pizza to pakoras, but it’s not Srila Prabhupada. It is someone else. The effort to cook the feast is motivated by the cooks substituting their own preferences for Srila Prabhupada’s and then ascribing those preferences to him. It is much like what scholars do when they use Krishna’s words to promote some idea of their own and then say that Krishna endorses their idea. The indifference is motivated by impersonalism, and all endeavors based on this indifference are therefore opposed to bhakti.

A typical motivation for this indifference is utilitarianism. In his purport to SB 3.15.19, Srila Prabhupada says, “One time an atheistic svami remarked, ‘What is the use of watering the tulasi plant? It is better to water eggplant. By watering the eggplant one can get some fruits, but what is the use of watering the tulasi?’ These foolish creatures, unacquainted with devotional service, sometimes play havoc with the education of people in general.” Although appealing to a utilitarian motive, the “atheistic swami” obviously prefers eggplant to Tulasi. His utilitarianism is still guided by a personal preference—his own.

By way of accepting a religious principle for a utilitarian purpose, even theists can make the same mistake of substituting their own preferences for Krishna’s or the acharya’s. At one time, large numbers of devotees engaged in collecting money by selling record albums and stickers with the idea that the money would be used for Krishna. But this generally turned out to have been a bad thing. Some of the money was indeed used for Krishna conscious purposes, but for the most part the motivation for taking up those economic activities was something other than bhakti. It was niyama-aagraha, which Srila Prabhupada says is “accepting some of the scriptural rules and regulations for immediate benefit, as utilitarians advocate” (NOD 2). That is why devotees in general eventually abandoned those activities. “Utilitarian” means that something is useful for a purpose, so with all things utilitarian, the question becomes a matter of desire. The purpose of doing something is to fulfill someone’s desire. If it’s not Krishna’s desire, it’s your own, and then you ascribe your desire to Krishna. The motivation again is impersonalism.

As quoted in the On Faith article, “’Some temples are a little too attached to the traditions as they came,’ said Sarvatma Das, a 34-year devotee and Hare Krishna priest.” [1] However, those traditions come substantially from Krishna Himself. People who develop reverence and devotion for some extraordinary person often adopt the likes and preferences of their object of worship. In the same way, it is natural for a devotee of Krishna to also be very interested in Krishna’s likes and preferences. The Lord in many incarnations appeared in India, and He interacted with the people there. How do Krishna’s people dress, eat, sit, walk, live, marry, etc? A devotee of Krishna will want to know these things, because they represent the preferences of that which is worshippable. But if in the name of swelling the ranks of ISKCON we abandon the principle that Krishna has His own, personal preferences apart from ours, our endeavor will have been useless from the beginning.

Some say that just because a woman wears a sari does not make her a devotee, and that is true. But that is irrelevant to the fact that the sartorial and culinary facets of India, along with many others, substantially reflect the original, unchanging culture that comes from the spiritual world—the culture that Krishna and His devotees prefer. The Krishna West project is motivated by a materialistic idea of culture, one that denies those personal preferences.

The Krishna West project is tainted with impersonalism. As stated in the On Faith article, “Resnick and his organization, Krishna West, want to reverse that [Indian] normalization. They imagine a temple without saris. Prasadam could be Italian, Brazilian or Chinese if correctly offered to Krishna. As long as they use the proper mantras, guitarists, drummers or jazz bands could lead chanting.”[1]  But what does Krishna Himself like, and what does Srila Prabhupada like? Krishna West teaches that we can worship Krishna and yet ignore Krishna’s personal preferences. They give us a Faustian bargain: we attract people to Krishna consciousness by catering to their own, personal desires while denying that Krishna has His own personal desires.

Notes

[1] Rosalie Murphy, “Hare Krishna Gets Evangelical” 16 Jun 2014, On Faith, 19 Jun 2014  

[2] Hridayananda Goswami, “Future of ISKCON” 18 Oct 2011, ISKCON Hawaii, ISKCON Desire Tree, 19 Jun 2014

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2 Replies to “Impersonalism and Krishna West”

  1. This is the perilous, hazardous continuum of the project. I don’t even like to talk about or write “Krishna West”, because I sense that the on-going deviations are taken way too lightly.

    Srila Prabhupada is the representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Anyone who intentionally does not feel like representing Srila Prabhupada even in the little details is make a precarious and risky infraction.

    As Prabhupada explained very perfectly, any error in a calculation throws the whole equation off, and the answer in the end is wrong.

    Shouldn’t we be enthusiastic and sincere enough to want the right answer.
    That’s what Prabhupada wanted for us, the right conclusions. If we are not able to follow, we are supposed to pray for the ability to follow, not change the instruction and​ recommendations given by Srila Prabhupada.

    Namaste saraswati deve gaura vani pracarine. nirvisesa sunyavadi pascatcya desa tarine.

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