I was prowling the internet recently for some cyber-association and encountered a well written, straight forward presentation that raised questions about the role of ISKCON in the construction of Hospitals. I was so appreciative of how honest the article was I decided to leave a two sentence comment to that effect, not realizing that by doing so it would be automatically posted back to my Facebook wall. Two days later I discovered that I had unintentionally stirred up quite a fury of commentary about this apparently very sensitive subject. A robust exchange ensued and with great interest I read and appreciated many comments representing all sides of this controversial issue. Should ISKCON be involved in building hospitals or NOT?
There isn’t any controversy regarding how Srila Prabhupada felt about this topic. He had a clear idea of what he wanted ISKCON to be and he admonished us to not let it slip into just another mundane philanthropic organization. He reminded us several times that those who do not acknowledge the Supreme Personality of Godhead can’t serve Him so they take up benevolent humanitarian causes as an alternative to that. Instead of serving Krishna, they serve man by giving aid to the poor and distressed. Srila Prabhupada specifically pointed out how building hospitals and schools was the most popular example of such mundane philanthropy.
“Although the impersonalist rises to the Brahman effulgence and enters into that effulgence, he has no engagement in the service of the Lord, and therefore he is again attracted to materialistic philanthropic activities. Thus he comes down to open hospitals and educational institutions, feed poor men and perform similar materialistic activities, which the impersonalist thinks are more precious than serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Anadrta-yusmad-anghrayah. The impersonalists do not think that the service of the Lord is more valuable than serving the poor man or starting a school or hospital. Although they say brahma satyam jagan mithya–“Brahman is real, and the material world is false”–they are nonetheless very eager to serve the false material world and neglect the service of the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” – Srimad Bhagavatam 8.4.13 purport
If Srila Prabhupada didn’t want his disciples to be distracted by the pursuit of materialistic philanthropic activities, why then does it appear that exactly what some of them have done? Perhaps part of the answer lies in the fact that his western disciples have been indoctrinated from birth with the Western Judeo/Christian/Islamic idea of what “spiritual” life means and we just can’t seem to shake off our Biblical heritage:
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me… Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” Matthew 25:40 & 45
In this part of the Bible Matthew admonishes the followers of Christ to reach out to those who are less fortunate than we are and provide them with food, shelter, clothing, water and medications as they require. In fact, a good portion of the theology found in these mega faiths relies very heavily on all the miracles Jesus performed pertaining to the body. He gave sight to the blind, healed the lame, fed the hungry, cured a leper and even restored Lazarus from the dead! So perhaps because of all this heavy conditioning those of us influenced by these traditions still feel that if we aren’t healing the sick, we just aren’t very enlightened.
The irony is that as devotees we should know it’s actually just the opposite. The concept of offering a helping hand to someone in need is a very common characteristics of those in the mode of goodness. Devotees however aspire for the platform of suddha-sattva, which transcends all the modes of nature and addresses the soul directly without getting entangled in the minutia of bodily demands. One must be situated on the suddha-sattva platform to comprehend that the only effective healing we can offer someone is the medication of the Holy Name. Putting band-aid’s on one of the many millions of bodies the soul gets cycled thru is insignificant compared to the real prescription they so desperately need!
“After many millions upon millions of births, when one is complete in absolute knowledge, one still may not attain liberation, yet this man says that one may attain it simply by the awakening of a glimpse of the holy name.” – CC Antya 3 “The Glories of Srila Haridasa Thakura” -Text 194.
Yeah,.. this is a really tough concept for modern civilization to grasp because we have become so invested in trying to keep our current body, that is designed to age, decay, and chronically fail,… beautiful, healthy, and even fully sexual right up to our very last breath!
So is it terribly wrong for ISKCON to sponsor the construction of Hospitals?
Even neophyte devotees of Krishna know the answer to this some-what trick question. It’s not that it is a terrible thing for ISKCON to open a hospital… the real question is should we be giving the energy and resources Krishna bestows upon us towards doing that? After all, removing the cataracts from an old person so they can read the Bhagavad Gita perhaps for the first time is a wonderful blessing isn’t it? Of course it is,… but the dilemma is that building a hospital is just simply not found anywhere on ISKCON’s “Mission Statement.” Now why is that? Was it an over-site? Before we speculate too much about this let’s be careful to remember that ISKCON’s “Mission Statement” was personally authored by non other than the Founder Acharya of the Hare Krishna Movement himself, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
ISKCON’s “Seven Purposes” Mission Statement
When Srila Prabhupada incorporated the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in 1966, he provided seven very clear and deliberate directives on what he wanted ISKCON to accomplish. These seven points are very similar to those given in the prospectus for The League of Devotees that he formed in Jhansi, India, in 1953. The League of Devotees never really took hold but Srila Prabhupada’s vision remained unchanged 13 years later when he incorporated ISKCON in New York. He had 13 years to change his original vision and revise his goals for ISKCON if he wanted to do so, but he didn’t. He just revived the same original objectives he laid out in Jhansi for his disciples in the West to follow.
Srila Prabhupada then had 12 more years as the founder acarya of the Hare Krishna movement to rethink and change the mission statement he for ISKCON if he felt it needed to be rectified, but he still didn’t make any modifications. The important point here is that Srila Prabhupada had about 25 years to fine tune His vision even after he could see how his network of temples were growing and his movement was beginning to have significant international status. Yet he never wavered from his original vision. Srila Prabhupada knew what he wanted and he had plenty of time to change things if he wanted to, but he never did.
For the purpose of this commentary I invite the reader to study the following seven articles of incorporation. Nowhere in these objectives does His Divine Grace even slightly hint at suggesting ISKCON should participate in any form of mundane philanthropy:
- To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all people in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
- To propagate a consciousness of Krishna (God), as it is revealed in the great scriptures of India, Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
- To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus developing the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).
- To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy name of God, as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
- To erect for the members and for society at large a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
- To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler, more natural way of life. 7. With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.
Regardless of how rewarding it no doubt must be for a doctor to restore someones vision, that just isn’t one of the objectives stated within the scope of ISKCON’s mission. Distributing the transcendental books authored by His Divine Grace is part of his mission. Those who focus on that become overwhelmed by the tremendous satisfaction they get knowing the potential each book has to dispel the darkness of ignorance that has buried the conditioned soul for millions of births. So regardless of how nice it may seem, if ISKCON becomes involved with outside projects do so at the peril of what people in business refer to as: “Mission Drift” (Also sometimes called; “Mission Creep”) Anyone experienced in operating a large corporation or non-profit organization understands the very real danger of Mission Drift.
Two Ominous Consequences of Mission Drift
The first obvious danger is that every effort requires time, resources and funding and when those assets are routed to projects outside the mission of the organization… it is done to the detriment of other scheduled objectives. Regardless of how much abundance an individual within ISKCON may feel they have, until the forehead of every high-court judge is marked with Gaudiya Vaishnava tilaka, ISKCON’s mission remains incomplete. Until then it is the topmost responsibility for anyone acting as an agent within ISKCON to use all the funds they collect for nothing other than furthering the objectives outlined as ISKCON’s mission. In the corporate world if a CEO used company revenues for purposes outside the scope of their declared mission, he would hear about it from the stock holders and could loose his job.
Chanakya Pundit taught that even a King has a duty to his people and if it is observed that the king doesn’t manage his kingdom properly, it was the duty of the Brahmins to have him removed. Chanakya Pundit had to actually do this very thing upon realizing how corrupt and reckless King Nand was. He rallied the brahmins to force him out of power. He then put his own disciple Chandragupta in place which not only restore order but for the first time to unite all the districts of India into one contiguous nation.
It seems that the same principals would apply here. Isn’t it the duty of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples to speak up if they observe that ISKCON leadership is not upholding the vision and policies His Divine Grace had for ISKCON? Those who fail to stay within the boundaries Srila Prabhpada very deliberately laid out for ISKCON should expect a hailstorm of public scrutiny and discontent. It’s disappointing when an individual falls a bit short in their own personal goals as a devotee/disciple, but it is a travesty when those who are duty bound to lead others in the task of fulfilling the wishes of His Divine Grace flagrantly disregard his stated intentions. This is especially true when there is such an easy way to ameliorate the conflict that has come up over the construction of hospitals.
“As soon as the general public finds a little fault in the behavior of a sannyasi, they advertise it like wildfire. A black spot of ink cannot be hidden on a white cloth. It is always very prominent.” – Madhya 12.51
The second obvious danger is that all volunteer non-profit organizations rely totally on the charity and good will of it’s supporters in the form of donations. People give their time, resources and laxmi (money) to the charities of their choice based on the appreciation they have for the work that charity is doing. The whole reason why organizations have mission statements and post them for public review is so there is no disconnect between the donors and the directors of an organization. When mission-drift starts to leech funds from the stated objective of the institution, one should expect a lot of disharmony from both within and around the organization. If a deviation doesn’t get corrected it has the potential to grow like cancer and threaten both the financial stability and ethical integrity of the organization.
It is therefore the duty of those that lead the charity to see to it that whatever funds are collected are used on the projects people gave their donation to and not other pet projects, hidden agendas, or speculative undertakings. In the United States this type of scrutiny is actually demanded according to the laws that govern donations collected by 501(c)(3) organizations such as ISKCON. Managing laxmi properly is not only a pragmatic necessity, but is also an absolutely essential spiritual responsibility that transcends all other mundane considerations.
Two Types of Charitable Donations
The law makes two different careful distinctions in regards to the types of donations collected by charities.
1) Solicited Donations are those an organization specifically requests to help fund a specific designated project. This means that if an ISKCON temple campaigns for funds from the congregation to build a Tulsi greenhouse, any funds collected that way MUST be spent on that project alone. If instead those funds are later re-routed to increase the Food For Life program, that would be a violation of the law. As such the temple could even be subjected to a legal action by those who gave donations for a new Tulsi greenhouse that never got built.
2) Unsolicited Donations refers to monies given by the public to the general fund of a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The law is much more flexible about how those revenues can be applied. However, this extra leniency obviously also has it’s own limits as well. The news media reminds us all the time about organizations that have misappropriated unsolicited donations. One need only Google “misuse of charitable funds” to see how prevalent this problem is!
Srila Prabhupada… Once Again Spot On!
As is always the case, Srila Prabhupada understood all these fine points and therefore gave strict instructions to insure that ISKCON would not encounter difficulties related to the misuse of funds donated for the service of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna:
“I must be satisfied the money is properly spent. The first point is if I send you money for a certain purpose it must be spent for that purpose. Money for land must be spent for land purchase; if I send money for constructing of a kitchen it must be spent for that… money spent must be used for that purpose intended. That will keep it very clear.” – Letter to: Bhavananda , Jayapataka — Hyderabad 20 April, 1974
Now the well-wishers of ISKCON are again embroiled in yet another significant controversy that stems from what appears to be a direct contradiction to the instructions His Divine Grace gave! Is this merely a reflection of the changing times? Can we get more liberal about how we collect and route laxmi thru ISKCON because we are no longer struggling embryonic temples barely able to keep the lights on? Is it now OK to broaden our mission’s scope to include the construction of hospitals? What do we think Srila Prabhupada would say about these new strategies if we could approach him and get his feedback?
A strong argument can be made that Srila Prabhupada would not change anything, in fact might even demand that we become even more vigilant as we become more visible in the eyes of the the general public! What follows explains why.
“I am in due receipt of your statement of account and similarly every branch of our society should make a periodical trial balance and balance sheet. You can advise to all the branches that such accounts should be kept very nicely so that the public may know that we are very clear in our dealings.” – Letter to: Karandhara — Nairobi 9 October, 1971
As Jagat Guru, Srila Prabhupada was extraordinary in many ways and one of those ways was his shrewd business acumen. Because of that His Divine Grace would want to know where all the funds came from to build these healthcare facilities. If the funds were raised by his disciples under the ISKCON banner, then they would have a lot of explaining to do and we all know why. Everyone should be responsible for how they treat laxmi, but those who are looked up to as leaders in the Hare Krishna movement are particularly accountable for setting the proper example for the rest of the society. That is the BURDEN of being a real leader. If one is not prepared to carry that burden with integrity, then they should no longer expect the accolades and courtesies that are offered to responsible leaders.
“Leaders who have fallen into ignorance and who mislead people by directing them to the path of destruction [as described in the previous verse] are, in effect, boarding a stone boat, and so too are those who blindly follow them. A stone boat would be unable to float and would sink in the water with its passengers. Similarly, those who mislead people go to hell, and their followers go with them. – Srimad Bhagavat Purana Canto 6, “Prescribed Duties for Mankind,” Chapter7 “Indra Offends His Spiritual Master Brhaspati,” Text 14.
It is hard to imagine any position in ISKCON that could be higher than those who receive guru-dakshina from disciples gleaned from the ranks of ISKCON. It is particularly incumbent on those who accept gifts from disciples to use them in concert with the goals of ISKCON. Even unsolicited donations received by any agent of ISKCON, be they a temple president, a GBC, a sannyasi, a guru, a traveling preacher, or a life membership director etc. must be used only for the projects that are given by His Divine Grace in his mission statement. This is demanded by to both the mundane and divine laws!
Those who fail to act within those parameters would not just be deviating from the instructions of their spiritual master. Their actions could even jeopardize ISKCON with possible legal complications. History had already informed us that there are disgruntled devotees, envious individuals, and even those tormented with mental illness who want to see ISKCON fail as a charitable organization. We need to protect Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON from those very real pending threats! One need only do a google search on the key words “Charities Sued” to understand how real this threat can be! Management is just flagrantly asking for legal trouble if they remain sloppy about what Srila Prabhupada instructed us to do.
“On the whole our account should be kept very nicely because we are dealing with the public’s money.” – Letter to: Jayapataka — Brooklyn 28 July, 1971
If on the other hand, if ISKCON leaders set out to solicit donations specifically for the purpose of funding a hospital they might be abdicated from any legal issue, but very guilty of guru aparada due to their intentional disregard for Srila Prabhupadas instructions!
“No, no, we are not going to waste our time (building a medical dispensary)” 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. – Morning Walk — July 9, 1974, Los Angeles
I am not privy to the all the facts related to how these healthcare facilities were funded or built but it’s hard to imagine that they just “popped” into existence. Some names are heard whenever ISKCON hospitals are mentioned but I want to be careful not to speculate about any details regarding who did what and where the funding came from. It is not my intentions to embarrass anyone or cast shadows on devotees who have otherwise done tremendous service for Srila Prabhupada. However, who among us can say we are beyond the propensity to make mistakes?
Philanthropy is the Banner for Impersonalists!
The pseudo-religious organizations aren’t doing anything to help the condition soul restore their lost loving relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna. Instead they are doing exactly what Srila Prabhupad said they would do. They aren’t educating the public about how to get out of the material quagmire. Their philosophy is not based on Vedic Siddhanta. They don’t sponsor temples with robust deity worship or teach the four cornerstone principals of human life. The best they can do to justify collecting huge amounts of money from the public is “…open hospitals and educational institutions, feed poor men and perform similar materialistic activities…”
The devotees of Lord Krishna not only don’t need to do that, but we should be very careful NOT to fall into that trap because it blurs the line between ISKCON’s super excellent divine mission, and all the other bogus mayavadi organizations that Lord Siva clearly stated are at the root of all the worlds greatest miseries.
“The theory of Mayavadism, though given a facade of great importance and claiming itself to be derived from the Vedas, is in truth a non-Vedic theory. O goddess Parvati! It is I, who propagated this concocted theory which is the root cause of the world’s destruction.” – Lord Siva Speaking to Paravati in Padma Purana (Uttara-khanda 25.7)
The greater public is already very confused about the difference between what Srila Prabhupada gave the world and all the un-familiar-hindu-like things taught by Raja Nisha, Deepak Chopra, Guru Mahesha Yogi, Muktananda, Yogi Bhajan, Sai Baba, Vivekananda and particularly Krishnamurti and Rama Krishna. Because all of these people are of the same Indian heritage the majority of Western born citizens tend to think they are all teaching more or less the same thing. For the most part this is true. All of these other gurus are more-or-less teaching their own impersonal-neo-advaita flavor of Vedic wisdom. Srila Prabhupad is the only one who totally destroyed that exploitative guru-business paradigm to give the world the “Bhagavad Gita As It Is”. In this way ISKCON is truly unique and we should do all we can to demonstrate how the message of the Bhagavatam is NOT just another hybrid, kali-yuga “cheating religion.”
Now there is a whole new wave of personalities coming from India to exploit the prevalence of New-Age Non-Dual sophistry. The extent of their knowledge is often limited to the little bits and pieces of Vedic science they happen to have learned usually from their village tradition of some odd mystical experience they had as a child. Individuals like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (The Art of Living) and Sadhguru in particular are very adroit at manipulating the ignorance of their audience. They collect huge sums of money for their philanthropic projects just like Srila Prabhupada said they would. Kripalu Ji Maharaja is another example of a philanthropic sadu but he falls into his own bizarre unsavory category. Although he proudly claims to be in the lineage of Sankaracarya, he presents himself as a celebrated pundit and an incarnation of Lord Caitanya. Yet his behavior has been so disgraceful he is embroiled in several unsavory scandals. Sai Babba was also caught by his disciples engaging in his own reckless, abusive, criminal behavior but because his charities, estimated by some to be worth over a trillion rupees, had such a positive impact on the local economies no one would dare hold him accountable!
That is a huge tangible pay-back for big philanthropists. When the big shot gets exposed for being naughty there will be a lot of people ready to look the other way. Some people do so because they are in such gross denial about the reality of how they were manipulated. Others may know there is something very wrong but they want to avoid the embarrassment of not realizing that they put their faith in a person who was later exposed as being a colossal cheat, hypocrite or in some cases even a pervert! Some just don’t want to loose the quid-pro-quo of employment, medical treatments, or other tangential business opportunities.
This is the down side of philanthropy and the experts in this field make it very clear that we would be very foolish if we too are not extremely careful about how we manage the funds given to us by the public. In a detailed study summarized written by Adam Meyerson for the Wall Street Journal called “When Philanthropy Goes Wrong” Mr. Meyerson concludes: “Doners, whether large or small, need to take concrete action to safeguard their philanthropic principals.” (When philanthropy goes wrong)
As devotees should we be any less vigilant about funds given by donors to ISKCON projects? Shouldn’t we do all we can to distance ourself from these exploitative charlatans who use philanthropy as a way of legitimizing their own confused, misguided and self-glorifying bogus agendas? Doesn’t our whole purpose for existing demand that we hold on to the staunch tradition that both Srila Prabhupad and Bhaktisiddhanta spelled out for us?
“Being adverse to Lord Visnu, countless jivas have come to maha-maya’s dungeon to envy Lord Visnu in countless ways. To deliver even one of them from mahamaya’s fortress and make him a devotee of Krishna is unlimitedly better welfare work than the construction of countless hospitals and schools.” – Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati – Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava 1.421 (Sri Srila Prabhupadera Upadesamrta)
TO BE CONTINUED…