Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
Rasing Our Spiritual Standards
Chapter 9
The Conscience of ISKCON “I”
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Part 1

It is Critical and Valid That Critical Feedback be the Backbone of an Organization

It is critical and valid that critical feedback be the backbone of an organization. The posture of those giving such critical feedback could be something like this:

“ISKCON, here is what the philosophy says, here is what you say, here is what you do, and this is the effect it has. We are not about to make revolution, we do not want to take anyone’s service, we simply want to reflect what is going on. You may think about it and do as you like.”

In politics, this is the role of the loyal opposition. The opposition party, though it does not have the reins of power, has a hand in shaping the direction of the nation, just by the fact that it exists. Because it is the opposition party and not in power does not imply that it is any less dedicated to the country than the party in power. It is, however, a fact of life in ISKCON, that those not in power are generally and erroneously assumed to be less dedicated to the mission. In reality, if given a chance, the loyal opposition can have a similar positive effect on our society that the loyal opposition plays in secular politics. Such a dynamic would help to expand the humanitarian atmosphere in our society.

Indeed, it is time for us to afford the role of loyal opposition the credibility it deserves. Up to now, and not entirely wrongly, opposition has been largely stigmatized as envious, offensive, and against the GBC (which nowadays is equated with being against Prabhupada). The big favorite is the ad hominem attack:

“Ad hominem is a term that refers to several types of arguments, most of which are fallacious. Typically, this term refers to a rhetorical strategy where the speaker attacks the character, motive, or some other attribute of the person making an argument rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself. This avoids genuine debate, by creating a diversion to some irrelevant but often highly charged issue”

In other words:

“Someone raises a sensitive issue, and if we do not want to deal with it, we attack the person rather than address the issue.”

It is time for us to recognize the legitimate service need for the loyal opposition and respond by doing the needful, as our Founder-Äcarya would like us to do. Doing the needful in this case means to hear the feedback and to give it meticulous examination and discussion. One of three things can result:

  1. It is ultimately rejected.
  2. Ultimately accepted,
  3. It can be the inspiration to amend existing policy and practice and thereby bring about improvement.

In a society as big and sprawling as ISKCON, no one of us knows what is going on throughout. People at the top are unaware of the impact of their policies and actions on those at the bottom. Some of us need to pay attention to what is happening in various corners of the ISKCON world and offer critical feedback about it as well. The present mode of operation for ISKCON, does not encourage such dynamic openness. Thus, we lose a valuable resource in that those devotees who are not directly part of the management structure—or an intimate friend of someone who is—are disinclined to share their observations.

An effective strategy we can implement to avoid repeating the blunders of the past, is rather than be threatened by those offering critical feedback, we encourage and accommodate them, fully aware that they play a vital role in our group dynamic. We treat them as the loyal opposition, which is what they are. Please note that even disloyal opposition may offer valid criticism, and it behooves us to hear from both. To keep an impartial stance and avoid compromising critical judgment and integrity, a member of the loyal opposition would most likely not hold an administrative service. At the same time the task of serving as a conscience is not limited to certain people. Anyone can contribute. Is was desired by Srila Prabhupada. 

In this regard Srila Prabhupada instructed his disciple, that when find a contradiction, we should resolve it by consulting Srila Jiva Gosvami’s Sat—sandarbhas; and accept his version.

As realistic and Krishna conscious as this idea is, it will meet resistance, not on philosophical grounds, because philosophical grounds to reject this idea do not exist. It will be resisted because we like keeping things the way they are. We loathe change. There is nothing really sinister about that; it is just a automatic tendency that conditioned souls fall into. It is human nature. In psychological studies it has been found that the majority of people will apply the same solutions to problems, even though that solution failed in the past. Using the same strategy gives the same outcome. Most humans are conditioned along the lines of flies,

“They spend the whole morning banging themselves against the closed window when the open window is just a few inches away, because flies do not change their strategy.”

 Einstein, noting this tendency in people, said,

“We cannot expect toaa solve our problems with the same mentality that created them.”

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