Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
Rasing Our Spiritual Standards
Chapter 11
The Conscience of ISKCON “III”
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Part 1

How Bad Should a Problem be Before we Address it? How Much of our House Must be on Fire Before we Begin to Fight It?

At the close of the last chapter the question was posed as to whether it was prudent that some of us serve as a conscience for ISKCON. One likely answer is that things are not that bad in our society. I like to answer that with a question: How bad should a problem be before we address it? How much of our house must be on fire before we begin to fight it?

Yes, we could be worse off than we are, but that is no consolation at all. We should be oriented towards addressing our problems, towards constant improvement, ironing out the wrinkles, we should be sharpening the saw. We should not wait for a crisis before we act. We should be proactive, the first of the seven habits. Both sharpening the saw and being proactive are eminently Krishna Krishna conscious ways of dealing with circumstances and are sure to lead to success.

The things-are-not-that-bad-outlook is a version of rabbit philosophy—if I downplay the problem, cover my eyes or look the other way, then maybe it’ll go away. Out of sight, out of existence. This kind of passivity was not Srila Prabhupada’s example. Besides, as already mentioned, the idea of a conscience for ISKCON is a step in the direction of varnasrama. People who ostensibly have full faith in Krishna’s teachings should be implementing varnasrama, no matter how smoothly the ISKCON ship is plying. That should be counted as one of our highest priorities.

Another response to the idea of a conscience for ISKCON is that we do have devotees who will raise a flag when something is amiss, so this proposal is not necessary. Yes, some devotees surely will send up a flag when there is a serious problem.  However, many will not, anticipating some sort of repercussion—social backlash—for their diligence, or a protracted battle to make themselves heard. This has cost some devotees their spiritual lives and seeing this example, others are now scared to speak out. Fear is not a good sign in a society that is supposed to make us fearless, even in the face of death. Fear means a lack of openness in our society, a lack of empathetic hearing, a lack of love and trust. No doubt certain persons will be heard, but the atmosphere in this connection is not inclusive, rather it is exclusive. Being heard depends on who speaks, rather than what is being said, which is not the humanitarian dynamic of personalism.

Another possible response to my proposal is the predictable:

“We already have the GBC for that.”

However, upon examination this is hardly a satisfactory answer. I find it shortsighted. The GBC is an executive body and as such is ineffectual in providing visionary leadership for our society, being swamped with the day-to-day affairs of their zones, disciples, and battling long term illnesses in some cases. We need an advisory body to work alongside the GBC that will provide detached philosophical input and serve as a steadying hand for the GBC in pretty much the same way Srila Prabhupada fulfilled that role when he was present. Again, these persons will have no executive powers, but their input would be invaluable to those who do, provided they are not hollow yes men.

Yet another possible answer to my proposal, which is an extension of “We already have the GBC,” is

“We are handling the situations. Look how we handled the Narayana Maharaja thing.”

Okay, let us take a look at this up close. This crisis was three years or more in the making. During this period the persons involved successfully stonewalled whoever was concerned about their activities. In three years so many devotees came to Vrindavana “to investigate,” and were also stonewalled. So, this is not at all a good example. In fact, this example supports my thesis, because it ended up as nothing but crisis management. It could have been discreetly nipped in the bud at least three years earlier if we would have been more decisive and not so easily misled. Simply because the persons involved have big stature in the society, this was allowed to cloud the issue. There was nothing proactive at all in the handling of this problem.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the GBC is not doing such a great job of being a conscience for the society. Add to that the complications of the internal dynamics of partisanship—with this GBC owing that GBC a favor for some past “mercy,” and so on—which is the natural conversation or speech characterized by quick, witty comments or replies, between people in management positions, and it is not difficult to see that objective critical examination among themselves is wishful thinking.

All of these possible responses to my question about the prudence of having some serve as a conscience for our society ignore one thing—that my proposal is imminently practical and philosophically sound. A symptom of integrity, of the gravity that stems from sattva guna, is that one does not try to wend his way around a proposal that is practical and philosophically sound. A symptom of integrity is that one moves to implement it. It is a symptom of faith in the philosophy as well.

As explained in the previous chapter, the main role of those in the advisory role would be reflective and advisory, not executive. Executive power would remain with the GBC. They would reflect to the GBC and to our other leaders what goes on in the trenches in our global organization, they would evaluate our policies and actions, and even our grasp of the philosophy. They would reflect on our performance in the four divisions of,

  1. Sharpening the saw.
  2. The physical (economic), social (how people are treated)
  3. Mental (how people are developed and used).
  4. Spiritual (the overall service or the contribution the organization makes)—

Moreover, give their valuable feedback. They may do this individually, as I am attempting to in this book, and sometimes in more organized group efforts. When needed, they may even be instrumental in changing or adjusting situations that need it. For example, in the Srimad-Bhagavatam the brahmanas had to step in to deal with King Vena when the situation became critical. In this way ISKCON could function as an alive, alert, vital, and adaptable organization, keeping astride with the changes that transpire within the organization and in the world at large. This will be an immensely healthy contribution for our Krishna consciousness movement.

To some degree, owing to the present climate of our society, initially this may not be received as a popular service, for it means going against the grain in many instances. However, Krishna has told us about that. He says that happiness in the mode of goodness is like poison in the beginning, but nectar in the end. It is purifying and leads to self-realization, which is exactly what we are in the Krishna consciousness movement for. 

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