Chapter 14 – Society Consciousness vs. Kṛṣṇa Consciousness
Chapter 14 of Prabhupāda Vijaya, 'Society Consciousness vs. Kṛṣṇa Consciousness' illuminates the difference between the two and highlights the negative results of the wrong choice. It could be argued that this is the greatest obstacle facing devotees in these modern times. Narasiṅgha Mahārāja’s explanation on the topic is uniquely profound!
Question: I read a recent article on the internet by a leading Iskcon sannyāsī/GBC/guru wherein he said:
“We cannot even extend this family (Iskcon) to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta. We cannot even take one step forward because the problem is that if we put too much emphasis on Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, then we will miss out on our focus. We will lose the focus on Iskcon.”
Is there really a conflict of interest between Iskcon and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: There is a ‘yes answer’ and a ‘no answer’ to your question. One wonders who the ‘our’ in ‘our focus’ is that he is speaking of? Is it Śrīla Prabhupāda or is it the present Iskcon leadership?
No – there is no conflict of interest or a loss of focus if Iskcon gives emphasis to Bhaktisiddhānta because, in the opinion of Iskcon’s founder, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda, Iskcon is the movement of Bhaktisiddhānta!
On the other hand, yes – there will be a conflict of interest and a loss of focus if Iskcon gives any emphasis to Bhaktisiddhānta because the present day Iskcon is a deviation from the original Iskcon in numerous ways. The fact that thousands of devotees have left Iskcon and joined other bona-fide branches of the Gauḍīya Maṭha is a testimony to this. In the formative years of Iskcon, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote as follows:
“On the disappearance day of my Guru Mahārāja, you may hold a meeting to discuss his activities and offer respect to his memory. Practically this movement is his, because it is under his order that I have come to your country.” (Letter to Upendra, December 2nd, 1968)
“This movement was started by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and then it was entrusted to Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. Then we are trying to serve his word and many of my god-brothers, they are also…” (Lecture, Los Angeles, January 13th, 1969)
“Practically there is no credit for me – if there is any credit it goes to my Spiritual Master, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Prabhupāda, who is helping me by sending so many good souls like you in this movement. Whatever is being done, it is due to His Divine Grace only. So my business is just to carry out his order.” (Letter to Dayānanda, March 26th, 1969)
“So I am pet dog of my Guru Mahārāja and you have helped him so nicely to push on the message of Lord Kṛṣṇa or Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, and I am very much pleased by your serious and sincere attitude, so you will get all the full blessings of my Guru Mahārāja. That you may know for certain.” (Letter to George Harrison, January 4th, 1973)
These quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda clearly demonstrate a connection and the non-difference between Śrīla Prabhupāda’s movement and the movement of Bhaktivinoda and Bhaktisiddhānta. They are in harmony – not in contrast.
The person you have quoted, however, didn’t join Iskcon until a few months before Prabhupāda’s disappearance and therefore had no real experience of what Prabhupāda’s mood was in establishing Iskcon. It should also be remembered that this is the same person that made a TV series about Śrīla Prabhupāda in which a flash of light emanates from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s forehead, which repels the personality of Kali-yuga. Such a portrayal of Śrīla Prabhupāda as a Bollywood sādhu by a senior disciple is a serious cause for concern…
In the early years of Iskcon, it was an established daily practice to recite or sing the praṇāma-mantras of Bhaktisiddhānta in all Iskcon temples. Although we were not permitted at that time to read the books of Bhaktisiddhānta, still it was quite clear in everyone’s mind that Bhaktisiddhānta was our parama-guru and Śrīla Prabhupāda was carrying out his orders and fulfilling his desires. Thus, there is no difference between the interests of Bhaktisiddhānta and those of Iskcon. They are synonymous.
In 1976 Śrīla Prabhupāda instructed that the logo of the Gauḍīya Maṭha (originally designed by Bhaktisiddhānta) should be painted on either side of the gate at Iskcon’s world headquarters in Māyāpura. That logo remains there to this day, although hardly anyone pays any attention to its significance or meaning, both of which seem quite clear – Iskcon is non-different from the movement established by Bhaktisiddhānta under the name of Gauḍīya Maṭha.
In the final days before his departure, Śrīla Prabhupāda called for his god-brothers and sent a message to all saying, “The war is over” and he compelled everyone to work together in harmony to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Śrīla Prabhupāda also established the Bhaktivedānta Charitable Trust in 1977 for the purpose of working in harmony with the Gauḍīya Maṭha institutions of his god-brothers. Śrīmad Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Mahārāja of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha was made the first president of the trust. One of the first duties of the trust was to finance the completion of the temple room at Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s maṭha in Navadvīpa.
The problem lies not in how to accommodate Bhaktisiddhānta in Iskcon, but in how to keep Iskcon focused on Kṛṣṇa consciousness and not on society consciousness. These have a tendency to come into conflict with one another.
Kṛṣṇa consciousness means the absolute consideration and society consciousness means the relative consideration. The society is established for the purpose of Kṛṣṇa consciousness (the absolute consideration) and not the other way around. When the society ceases to represent the Absolute and functions only for its own well-being, then such a society is no longer transcendental – it simply becomes another mundane society. Bhaktisiddhānta has summed it up in this way:
“The idea of an organised church in an intelligible form, indeed, marks the close of the living spiritual movement. The great ecclesiastical establishments are the dikes and the dams to retain the current that cannot be held by any such contrivances. They, indeed, indicate a desire on the part of the masses to exploit a spiritual movement for their own purpose. They also unmistakably indicate the end of the absolute and unconventional guidance of the bona-fide spiritual teacher.” (From the essay, Pūtanā, The Harmonist, January, 1932)
Could the above quote apply to Iskcon? If one pays careful attention to what is happening, then one will come to the conclusion that many of Iskcon’s leaders do not want to give any value to the words of Bhaktisiddhānta. If they do, then the hoax will be exposed and the evidence suggests that the movement established by Śrīla Prabhupāda has been hoodwinked by pseudo-spiritualists and led astray.
It is the opinion of some of our editors, that the title of this article, Society Consciousness vs. Kṛṣṇa Consciousness, is antiquated because, in their opinion, the battle for Iskcon is already lost – it has become a society for itself and by itself, i.e. an International Society for Society Consciousness (Isscon).
On the path that Iskcon has chosen, society consciousness prevails. This is reminiscent of the formation of the Christian church after the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. when the church abandoned spiritual wisdom for the lure of dollars, diplomacy and despotism. One would be hard-pressed to show the difference between what the church became and what Iskcon is becoming.
Furthermore, if one reflects on Iskcon and listens closely to Śrīla Prabhupāda, one will discover that in Prabhupāda’s own words, the only addition that he made to the movement of Bhaktisiddhānta was that he (Prabhupāda) as a sannyāsī, performed the marriage ceremony for his young disciples. Otherwise, Śrīla Prabhupāda said that all other aspects of his movement were already established by Bhaktisiddhānta. That means that the Deity worship, the formation of a GBC, the establishment of the temple president as a lifetime commitment, decentralisation, preaching in foreign countries, printing and distributing books, hari-nāma saṅkīrtana, diorama exhibitions, film projects, prasādam distribution, printing and distributing journals, the establishment of daivi-varṇāçrama and the acceptance of sannyāsa as a Vaiṣṇava aṅga. Literally everything Iskcon does or has, was established by Bhaktisiddhānta and given to Śrīla Prabhupāda to form Iskcon. So how could anyone in their right mind think that the mood of Bhaktisiddhānta could be a negative influence in a progressive Iskcon?
Proof of the weakened position of Iskcon at present is evident in their inability to defend the paramparā, Śrīla Prabhupāda, and even the society itself from the attacks of the anti-party, caste-gosvāmīs, sahajiyās, Madhva-ugravādīs and even aggressive Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava preachers. In all these cases, Iskcon leaders have turned to devotees outside of Iskcon for help, guidance and relief. Had they included Bhaktisiddhānta as at least a member of the Iskcon family, then they might have been able to take care of themselves and not call others to the rescue.
It is the view of the Iskcon neo-cons (new-conservatives) that they can only be comfortable if all branches of the Gauḍīya sampradāya (including Bhaktisiddhānta) come under their control. They see themselves as the trunk of the tree and have even relegated Bhaktisiddhānta to that of a sub-branch. This is not a very humble view of one’s self. Of course, the societal jingoism is that Iskcon is Prabhupāda’s movement, Prabhupāda was better than anyone else and nothing has changed. In reality however, everything in Iskcon has changed! Practically nothing is the same – particularly the laws of Iskcon that Śrīla Prabhupāda hand-wrote in 1966. There were only eight and they could all fit on one page:
1) All initiated devotees must attend morning and evening classes.
2) Must not be addicted to any kind of intoxicants including coffee, tea and cigarettes.
3) They are forbidden to have illicit sex connections.
4) Must be strictly vegetarian.
5) Should not extensively mix with non-devotees.
6) Should not eat foodstuff cooked by non-devotees.
7) Should not waste time in idle talks nor engage himself in frivolous sports.
8) Should always chant and sing the Lord’s holy names.
The present Iskcon law book consumes nearly 1000 pages. What to speak of changing the laws, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original books have also been changed and that is a controversy that continues to rage on.
Iskcon wants everything under their control – to silence the voices of dissent and crush any opposing views. Everything must come under the standards of ‘Prabhupāda,’ that they themselves have created. This sounds like a draconian cult, or worse still, Christianity, and as Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has said, party spirit (society consciousness) is the enemy of truth:
“Party-spirit – that great enemy of truth – will always baffle the attempt of the inquirer who tries to gather truth from religious works of his nation, and will make him believe that absolute truth is nowhere except in his old religious book.” (The Bhāgavata, 1869)
If Iskcon is so sincere, then what is the difficulty in coming under Bhaktisiddhānta when even Prabhupāda took shelter at his lotus feet? This is not to suggest that Iskcon should join the Gauḍīya Maṭha or that the Gauḍīya Maṭha should join Iskcon, but that harmony amongst Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas will be drawn from acknowledging the common factor and grandfather of all, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura.
What is actually happening is that, step by step, slowly but surely, some of Iskcon’s leaders are pulling Iskcon away from the Gauḍīya sampradāya to become an apa-sampradāya – a shadow of the paramparā.