Thoughts on Deviation
Another godbrother has accused Krishna West of betraying Prabhupada and his mission. I will refer to this critic as CG, for Critical Godbrother. I have already replied to most of his arguments in my last paper, “Reply to a Senior Leader,” found here: Essay: Reply to a Senior Leader
In this paper, I will consider CG’s accusation that Krishna West is deviant and can be compared to three past deviations—two in ISKCON, and one in another religion. CG compares Krishna West to:
- Kīrtanānanda Swami
- Apostle Paul of Christianity
I hope that my analysis of these three figures will help the reader to consider rationally and fairly to what extent Krishna West is analogous to them, and whether Krishna West deviates from Prabhupada’s standards.
Any such study must deal with a clear paradox in Prabhupada’s teachings. Prabhupada said that we should not change anything he gave us. And at times, Prabhupada states that we should adjust or change according to time and place.
A paradox is an apparent contradiction which can be resolved by careful study. We often find paradoxes in Śāstra. For example, Śrī Īśopaniṣad Mantra 5 states that “the Absolute moves and does not move, is far and near, and is within and without all.”
Similarly, in Bhagavad-gītā 9.4, Kṛṣṇa states that “all beings stand in Me.” And in the next verse, 9.5, He states, “All beings do not stand in Me.”
The Bhāgavatam is rich in paradoxical language. For example, SB 1.3.35 states: “Thus, the births and actions of the Unborn non-actor…” And SB 3.2.15 similarly states: “the unborn is born.” In wisdom literature, paradoxes act like speed bumps that force us to slow down and go deep into the text.
Prabhupada’s paradox—to change and not to change—is easily resolved if we accept his and Rūpa Gosvāmī’s crucial distinction between unchanging principles and changing details.
Rather than compile long, confusing lists, I suggest we recognize that basically Prabhupada insisted that we not change three things:
- Our philosophy.
- Our basic spiritual practice.
- Our institutional framework—ISKCON.
On the other hand, Prabhupada often urged us to adjust, as necessary, variable non-essential details, as he does in his purport to Bhāgavatam 1.9.19, 4.8.54, and on many other occasions, some of which are found in my previous paper. As explained there, we must not confuse the two distinct categories of invariable basic principles and variable details. I will give one example here of the risk we take when we make original claims about what is essential in bhakti-yoga.
As shown in my last paper, Senior Leader claims:
The [external] cultural aspects of Krishna Consciousness are integral to practicing Krishna Consciousness…because it [sic] helps…identify with the…dress [etc.], of the spiritual world.
Yet Prabhupada states the opposite:
“In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta it is clearly said that one should accept the emotional activities of the associates of Kṛṣṇa, not imitate their dress…One should think of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa twenty-four hours a day and engage in Their service within one’s mind, not externally change one’s dress.” (Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Chapter 31)
Thus keeping in mind the key distinction between basic principles and details, let us consider the three cases of Siddha-svarūpānanda Swami, Kīrtanānanda Swami, and Apostle Paul.
CG compares Krishna West to Siddha-svarūpānanda in Hawaii. Some devotees today may not know of his role of ISKCON history, so here is a brief overview.
In 1970, a young spiritual teacher in Hawaii and his numerous followers surrendered to Prabhupada, who initiated the leader as Siddha-svarūpānanda Svami. His disciples were also initiated and went to serve ISKCON projects around the world, making a valuable contribution.
Sadly, a few domineering GBCs fought with Siddha-svarūpānanda, who then wanted to leave ISKCON. Prabhupada alone kept him more or less in our society. Not surprisingly, when Prabhupada departed, Siddha-svarūpānanda Svami left ISKCON, again formed his own spiritual society, and attracted more Westerners than ISKCON Hawaii. He also established a successful chain of natural food stores in Hawaii.
Siddha-svarūpānanda’s mission, now called the Science of Identity Foundation (SIF), kept strictly separate from ISKCON, and was anxious to protect itself from what it perceived as a threefold danger posed by ISKCON:
- Based on apparent threats from an ISKCON GBC, Siddha-svarūpānanda and his followers believed that ISKCON leaders sought to physically harm or eliminate Siddha-svarūpānanda. Initial apprehension hardened into a permanent culture of deep suspicion and distrust of ISKCON. Of course this also served SIF’s interest by keeping their members away from ISKCON and the allure of a large spiritual society.
- Siddha-svarūpānanda felt that ISKCON’s often negative public image threatened to ruin the public’s view of his own mission. Thus SIF went to extraordinary lengths to disassociate itself from ISKCON in the public mind, as we shall see.
- Siddha-svarūpānanda felt that ISKCON’s acceptance of a list of gurus who would initiate after Prabhupada threatened Siddha-svarūpānanda’s rightful place in history, since he was not on the list. Years ago, I received a letter from Siddha-svarūpānanda, sent to all GBC members, bitterly complaining about ISKCON’s understanding of the guru system after Prabhupada. Siddha-svarūpānanda began to call himself Jagad-guru Paramahansa, a title he retains to this day.
Given all this, to what extent today did Siddha-svarūpānanda and his SIF mission follow Prabhupada’s philosophy, practice, and institutional framework?
- On the SIF website, Siddha-svarūpānanda’s teachings faithfully present Prabhupada’s introductory teachings, such as that we are souls, not bodies, or that happiness comes from wisdom, not hedonism.
It seems that fear of being identified with ISKCON led the SIF to remove from their website and YouTube lectures, any reference to Kṛṣṇa. The short bio of Siddha-svarūpānanda does praise Prabhupada and state that Siddha-svarūpānanda is a disciple of Prabhupada, and that when Prabhupada was personally present, Siddha-svarūpānanda brought his followers to him.
There is evidence that at least in some locations SIF does present Prabhupada’s books. A trusted disciple of mine gave this account:
“I attended an SIF home program in New Mexico for about a year before I visited an ISKCON temple. The program consisted of kirtan, philosophy, and prasadam. When I showed interest, I was given japa beads and Prabhupada’s Kṛṣṇa Book. I know that the program leader (a disciple of Siddha-svarūpānanda) chanted japa fervently every morning.”
Further, Siddha-svarūpānanda’s disciple, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, keeps excellent relations with ISKCON, took her oath of office on Prabhupada’s Gita, spoke on behalf of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary celebration at Boston Harbor, and fully recognizes Prabhupada.
I do not know to what extent the SIF discusses Prabhupada and Kṛṣṇa in Hawaii, or to what extent they use Prabhupada’s books in their main centers.
- I have little information on the regular spiritual practices of the SIF. On their website, they do recommend that people chant names like Hari-bol or Gaura-nitai. Although still apparently preaching, the SIF advertises no public programs or physical address on their website. Google does provide an address and phone number of a small center in Honolulu.
CG claimed that Siddha-svarūpānanda’s followers were “not sincere” because they used “hippie dress” and chanted a small number of rounds. Siddha-svarūpānanda and his followers never adopted hippie dress as their uniform, though like ISKCON they did attract hippies to their mission many years ago. I do not know what role japa plays in their process. Of course many ISKCON devotees do not chant sixteen rounds daily. Still ISKCON maintains sixteen rounds of japa as an ideal standard. I do not know the SIF policy regarding japa.
Moreover, since Krishna West devotees are asked to dress like ladies and gentlemen, and to chant japa normally, it is hard to see the relevance of CG’s point here.
- Institutional framework. Siddha-svarūpānanda and the SIF strictly avoid any public link with ISKCON, though a few individuals do maintain positive relations with ISKCON devotees.
Is Krishna West like Siddha-svarūpānanda’s Science of Identity Foundation?
- Philosophy—Krishna West publicly promotes Prabhupada’s full Śāstric teachings.
- Practice—Krishna West teaches Prabhupada’s basic sādhana program.
- Institutional framework—Krishna West is part of ISKCON.
Conclusion: CG’s depiction and comparison of Krishna West and Siddha-svarūpānanda, intended to discredit both SIF and Krishna West, is inaccurate.
Kīrtanānanda Swami, who passed away in 2011, played an important and controversial role in ISKCON history. I will focus here on a series of incidents that took place between September 1967 and May 1968, though I will also say a few words on his departure from ISKCON in 1986. Since we have Prabhupada’s direct analysis of Kīrtanānanda Swami’s 1967-68 troubles, and since the later episode was essentially a playing out of earlier tendencies which Prabhupada personally critiqued, I will focus mainly on that earlier period.
Through Prabhupada’s letters, I will trace, more or less chronologically, the unfolding of Kīrtanānanda Swami’s early deviation that deeply shocked Prabhupada.
- Kīrtanānanda disobeyed Prabhupada’s direct order, and this disobedience shocked Prabhupada.
After giving Kīrtanānanda Swami sannyāsa in India, Prabhupada ordered him to open a center in London, and gave him money to change his ticket and a letter of introduction to a helpful English lady. However, Kīrtanānanda Swami ignored Prabhupada’s direct order and instead flew to New York to carry out his own plans. This flagrant disobedience shocked Prabhupada. Indeed, all his first letters on this subject express his shock.
“Kīrtanānanda should return [the money] which he took from me on the plea of stopping at London. I am feeling too much for his disobedience.” (September 23, 1967)
As stated in the next letter, adding to Prabhupada’s was his fear that his first sannyāsī disciple, Kīrtanānanda Swami, threatened to sew the seeds of anarchy in ISKCON.
“I entrusted this matter to Kīrtanānanda but he has disobeyed which has given me a shock. Once [in New York] he disobeyed my order and we lost $1200.00 in connection with Mr. Payne. This time he has again disobeyed me. If he sets such example in the Society, it will be a great impediment. Obedience is the first law of discipline. We are thinking of a great world wide organization which is not possible to be executed if there is disobedience.” (September 23, 1967)
“Swami Kīrtanānanda has given me a great shock. I advised him to go to London with introduction letter and money but he flew away to N.Y. without my knowledge. His first action after taking sannyāsa is a great shock to me which please note.” (September 30, 1967)
“Kīrtanānanda…was to stop [in London]…but he was so much frenzied to see and meet his old friends that he forgot the order of Krishna and indulged in a sort of sense gratification. It is certainly a shocking incident which I never expected from a disciple like Kīrtanānanda.” (October 3, 1967]
“…out of his whim [Kīrtanānanda Swami] did not go to London but went directly to New York. This is a terrible example and it has shocked me…We should always remember that Krishna is the only order giver. His order is received through the agency of the spiritual master.” (October 3, 1967)
“Very recently Kīrtanānanda has developed a different consciousness of Maya which is called misuse of one’s minute independence offered by Krishna…So it is my definite opinion that his lecture anywhere now will bear no spiritual sequence. He must rectify his mistake before he can play in our Society any important role. By lips he says that he is a surrendered soul but by action he is thinking differently.” (October 6, 1967)
We should note here that Prabhupada effectively bans Kīrtanānanda Swami from speaking in ISKCON temples or playing “any important role” before Kīrtanānanda Swami tried to change ISKCON. Prabhupada banned him because he disobeyed Prabhupada’s direct order. This disobedience alone shocked Prabhupada and spurred him to act.
The above letters, covering a thirteen-day period from September 23 to October 6, 1967, comprise the first stage of Kīrtanānanda Swami’s deviation and Prabhupada’s reaction to it.
- Kīrtanānanda Swami began to preach impersonalism, and dictate to the devotees to reject chanting Krishna’s names.
This second phase of letters begins on October 11, 1967. Prabhupada mentions a new twist, Kīrtanānanda Swami’s beard, acknowledging that “rarely” one may use it. But Prabhupada states a major concern that becomes a theme of this entire episode: we must not appear to be hippies, and therefore we should avoid beards.
“Rarely one can continue to keep beard but it is better not to keep it to distinguish oneself from the Hippies. We must let the public know that we are not Hippies. Kīrtanānanda…has begun to keep beard again…And he has deliberately disobeyed me by not going to London.” (October 11, 1967)
Five days later, the most troubling issue arises: Kīrtanānanda Swami is preaching impersonalism.
“Kīrtanānanda is giving me too much pain. From Rayarama’s letter it is clear that Kīrtanānanda has not rightly understood Krishna Consciousness philosophy and it appears that he does not know the difference between impersonal and personal features of Krishna. The best thing will be to prohibit him to speak in any of our functions or meetings. It is clear that he has become crazy…” (October 16, 1967)
On the same day, Prabhupada writes again about Kīrtanānanda Swami’s impersonalism.
It appears that Kīrtanānanda Swami is also urging devotees not to chant personal names God.
“When Krishna controls his diverse energies he does not become impersonal. If Kīrtanānanda believes in one Self, why does he stress the vibration and not the words? Why does he find difference in vibration and words? If he believes in one, there is no difference between vibration and words? And why shouldn’t one be attached to the chanting? All this means that he has no clear idea and he is talking nonsense. If Kīrtanānanda does not understand this philosophy, then better he should stop speaking nonsense.” (October 16, 1967)
The next day, Prabhupada continues to battle Kīrtanānanda Swami’s impersonal preaching.
“…when a man is frustrated in all the above mentioned stages [dharma-artha-kāma], he comes to four, which is impersonalism, and thinks himself one with the Supreme. This last attack is very serious and fatal. Kīrtanānanda has very recently developed the 4th stage malady on account of his negligence and disobedience to his spiritual master.” (October 17, 1967)
Prabhupada here attributes Kīrtanānanda Swami’s malady to his original disobedience, which first shocked Prabhupada. Two days later, Prabhupada wrote two more letters about Kīrtanānanda Swami’s “calamity.”
“If he is sincere in his concept of impersonal Absolute he should enter into correspondence with me and I shall refute all his arguments; but I understand that he could not answer you even when you hit him with some questions. I shall request that you save this poor creature from impersonal calamity.” (October 19, 1967)
“The impersonalist cannot render any service to Krishna because he is a great offender. Under the circumstances, Krishna will not accept food prepared by Kīrtanānanda in his present diseased condition.” (October 19, 1967)
A week later, Prabhupada confirms that Kīrtanānanda Swami “has become like a māyāvādī.”
“My grief for Kīrtanānanda isn’t anything personal but I am sorry that he has become like a māyāvādī…” (October 26, 1967)
- Kīrtanānanda Swami tried to usurp Prabhupada’s position by dictating to the devotees.
Throughout this incident, Prabhupada stated many times that Kīrtanānanda Swami not only disobeyed Prabhupada, but actually sought to usurp his position. Prabhupada makes this accusation in a series of letters.
“Kīrtanānanda has no right to dictate anything to the Society in this way.” (October 14, 1967)
In a letter to Kīrtanānanda Swami:
“I never advised you to dictate on my behalf.” (October 28, 1967)
“Kīrtanānanda was awarded the position of a Sannyāsī because he wanted it although I could understand it that he wanted to be a spiritual master himself… I wish that in my absence all my disciples become the bona fide spiritual master to spread Krishna Consciousness throughout the whole world.” (November 2, 1967)
Here Prabhupada emphasizes that Kīrtanānanda Swami sought the position of Guru in Prabhupada’s direct presence, and without Prabhupada’s blessings.
“Kīrtanānanda is a crazy man. That is proved. He says that he has become equal to the spiritual master but he is such a fool that he does not understand the principle of disciple even in ordinary worldly affairs.” (November 9, 1967)
Prabhupada declares that Kīrtanānanda Swami fell down because he considered Prabhupada to be an ordinary man.
“Kīrtanānanda was giving me direct service by massaging, cooking for me, and so many other things; but later on by dictation of Maya, he became puffed up, so much so that he thought his Spiritual Master a common man, and was existing only on account of his service. This mentality at once pushed him down.” (December 30, 1967)
“Kīrtanānanda was doubtful about my existence because he thought that I am dependent on his massaging, so the thought that there is no necessity of Spiritual Master, because Spiritual Master is an ordinary man, and to depend on an ordinary man is a tyranny.” (January 21, 1968) On January 14, 1969, Kīrtanānanda Swami is still preaching impersonalism, and this is
Prabhupada’s main concern:
“Kīrtanānanda’s refusal to accept the Paramparā system and authority of the scriptures is the cause of his misfortune. His version that the sun and the sunshine are one and the same is right, but when the sunshine is in the room it is not correct to say that the sun is in the room. His knowledge therefore is imperfect and therefore he cannot be a preacher. He is therefore contemplating for starting nightclub of the psychedelic type.” (January 14, 1968)
Rather than obey Prabhupada’s repeated instruction that one could use Indian dress or that of a Western gentleman, Kīrtanānanda Swami grew a beard like a hippie and now wanted to start a “nightclub of the psychedelic type.”
Kīrtanānanda Swami’s rejection of Prabhupada led him to reject Paramparā and śāstra.
“Kīrtanānanda does not believe in Paramparā or in the necessity of scriptural authority.
He seems to feel that this is a sort of tyranny.” (January 15, 1968)
- Prabhupada is not so concerned about dress.
Prabhupada’s real concern is that we not be taken for hippies. Thus he does not want long hair and beard. He is clearly far less concerned with respectable dress, Indian or American, as we see below.
“…if somebody dresses like nice American gentleman without any robes, I have no objection…” (October 13, 1967)
“They must continue to have robes and tilaka and flags and they must distinguish themselves from the hippies. I never objected to any of my students dressing like nice American gentleman, clean shaved; those who are my disciples must have flag, tilaka and beads on neck without fail.” (October 16, 1967)
In this one letter, Prabhupada says:
- Devotees must use robes. But in the very next sentence, he says:
- “I never objected” if devotees dress like nice American gentlemen, without robes.
- Devotees should use sikhā, tilaka, and beads “without fail.”
Clearly dress is a detail. Prabhupada says twice in this series episode he does not object if his disciples dress like Western gentlemen.
Again we see below that Prabhupada’s real concern is the hippie-like long hair and beard. “Regarding the hippy religion; we must distinguish ourselves from the hippies. The
hippies generally maintain long hair and beard and in order to distinguish ourselves from them we should be clean shaved. When our devotees go outside I have no objection if he dresses as nice American or Canadian gentleman. Up to date gentlemen are all clean shaved so if we do not
keep long hair and dress ourselves nicely with tilaka, flag and beads on the neck, apart from our devotional service, then certainly we shall be distinct from the Hippies.” (October 17, 1967)
Finally, there is a happy ending: Kīrtanānanda Swami returns.
“…my gladness knew no bounds, exactly like that when one gets back his lost child.” (May 23, 1968)
My analysis of Kīrtanānanda Swami’s first deviation is that clearly Kīrtanānanda Swami deviated on all three points:
- Philosophy—Kīrtanānanda Swami preached impersonalism.
- Practice—Kīrtanānanda Swami opposed the chanting of Kṛṣṇa’s names.
- Institution—Kīrtanānanda Swami thought himself equal to, or greater, than Prabhupada and defied his authority within ISKCON. Thus he tried to dictate to temples.
Kīrtanānanda Swami’s first deviation and Krishna West
- Krishna West does not preach impersonalism.
- Krishna West promotes Prabhupada’s standard sādhana, including the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa.
- Krishna West is loyal to ISKCON and does not attempt to dictate to ISKCON projects. In my recent tour of Europe, I stated in every temple that temple devotees must follow the rules of their local temple.
Kīrtanānanda Swami’s second deviation
After Prabhupada’s disappearance, New Vrindaban under Kīrtanānanda Swami experienced tremendous growth in its projects, and its controversies. At its annual Mayapura meeting in 1986, the GBC asked me to study the situation of Kīrtanānanda Swami and report my findings, which I did. The preface to my paper on Kīrtanānanda Swami explains the context and conclusions of my study, and so I quote it here.
I was requested by the full GBC body at their 1986 Mayapur meeting, as well as by the North American GBC at their December 1986 meeting in Dallas, to philosophically analyze [the situation of] Kīrtanānanda Swami, and to present a paper giving my conclusions. In obedience to that order, I have written this paper. After studying many relevant documents, I have summarized and will discuss Kīrtanānanda Swami’s basic thesis, as I perceive it, in four divisions.
[Kīrtanānanda Swami believes the following:]
- Kīrtanānanda Swami, and other similarly qualified gurus, are equal to and identical with Srila Prabhupada.
- Being equal to Prabhupada, present gurus deserve the same worship as that given to Prabhupada.
- The GBC should merely advise the guru, who will follow if he is inspired.
- The unity of ISKCON is infinitely less important than purity, as envisioned by the enlightened guru.
Hridayananda dasa Goswami
February 13th, 1987, Miami Beach
As I then explain in the body of my letter, Kīrtanānanda Swami explicitly rejected the ultimate managing authority of the GBC, as given in Prabhupada’s Will, declared himself equal to Prabhupada, and insisted he would act as an independent Ācārya, even if that meant the dissolution of ISKCON.
Kīrtanānanda Swami’s second deviation and Krishna West
Let us compare Kīrtanānanda Swami’s four points above to Krishna West.
- No member of Krishna West has ever claimed to be equal to Prabhupada. Such a claim would be absurd.
- No member of Krishna West is worshiped, or wants to be worshiped, like Prabhupada.
- Krishna West accepts the legitimacy of the GBC system, as established by Prabhupada.
- Krishna West recognizes the extraordinary importance of unity in ISKCON. Thus, we continue to work with the GBC, hoping to foster unity through mutual respect and understanding.
Conclusion: CG’s comparison of Krishna West to Kīrtanānanda Swami’s deviations, either first or the second, is inaccurate.
CG warns us that Krishna West, like Christianity, is sacrificing our spiritual essence in order to appeal to a wide audience. Thus CG attributes to Apostle Paul the following words: “To the Romans I am a Roman and to the Greeks I am a Greek.” CG also sarcastically states Krishna West is Jesus West.
Of course, it is a tradition among some devotees to accuse other devotees of “being like Christianity” to indicate some fault or other. Sadly, the devotees who make such accusations usually do not seriously study Christian history. That seems to be the case here, as I will show.
Although many key historical moments impel and punctuate Christian history, I will focus on the Apostle Paul, widely seen as the central figure in the early expansion of Christianity from a struggling band into an international religion.
The BBC article on Paul begins with these words: “Saint Paul is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the history of the Western world.” Indeed, of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, a full thirteen are letters of Paul. A fourteenth book, Acts of the Apostles, features Paul as its hero, and a fifteenth is written by Luke, often seen as Paul’s secretary.
CG compares Krishna West to Paul, disapproving of both: “St. Paul says, ‘to the Romans I am a Roman and to the Greeks I am a Greek’…To the Americans we try to be Americans and to the Indians we try to be Indians. That is not honest, it is not consistent.”
First I will address CG’s general complaint, that of adapting to one’s environment, and then consider whether his comparison of Krishna West to the apostle Paul is accurate. In my previous essay, Reply to a Senior Leader, I offered powerful evidence that Prabhupada urged us to adapt to our time and place. Indeed, the Bhāgavatam urges and praises such adaptation, and Kṛṣṇa Himself adapts to the worlds to which He descends.
In America, Prabhupada often praised America. For example, once in his garden in Los Angeles, he said to me and a few other American devotees, “What is the use of your being American, if you don’t do something wonderful?”
Once Prabhupada landed in Los Angeles in very thick fog. As we rode back to the temple, he asked how the plane could land in such fog, and a devotee told Prabhupada about radar. Prabhupada smiled and said, “In this material world there is no happiness. But if there is a little happiness, it is in America.” On many occasions Prabhupada gave high praise to America and Europe.
In December of 1973, I asked Prabhupada if I could leave America and preach in other countries. The next morning, as we rode to the beach for his morning walk, Prabhupada kept telling me what a great country America was, how important it was, and that I should preach here.
Similarly, in Nairobi he appealed to African pride and urged the Kenyans to follow Vedic culture, not modern culture. And as I showed in my last paper, in India Prabhupada regularly evoked Indian pride. This is exactly what Paul was doing among Greeks and Romans. He did not alter his basic teaching or practice in Greece, Rome, or anywhere else. He certainly did not, literally, become Greek or Roman. And we know that Prabhupada taught with absolute integrity around the world, even as he tried to appeal to each specific place. Thus, CG did not understand what Paul meant.
An advanced Vaiṣṇava shows sincere respect to all people, and compassionately finds ways to make varieties of people comfortable with Kṛṣṇa. ISKCON devotees with no direct connection to Krishna West do this all over the world with creativity and skill. And they remain staunch devotees.
Lord Caitanya said that to constantly chant the Lord’s names, one must be māna-da, one must give sincere respect to all living beings. Thus to invoke solidarity with our audience, with true empathy and compassion, is not dishonest, it is good manners, and a sign of spiritual maturity. It is the spirit of yukta-vairāgya. Prabhupada and Śāstra urge us to do it.
CG does not distinguish between invariable basic principles and variable details. Yet we must keep firmly in mind this key point of Rūpa Gosvāmī and Prabhupada. It is certainly shameful to change our basic principles. And it is equally shameful not to adjust variable details to help people approach Kṛṣṇa.
CG declares: “That religion that marries the spirit of today will be a widow tomorrow.” To marry is to intimately share one’s life with another. By analogy, to marry the modern world is to share its basic principles. The modern spirit is of course sense gratification. Krishna West does not “marry” sense gratification. The truth is just the opposite: by making people comfortable with our external presence, we have more freedom to speak the bold truth, and give pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
But what about Apostle Paul? In some ways, he is like Prabhupada and Krishna West. In other ways, he is very different from both.
Paul is like Prabhupada and Krishna West
- Although Jesus was born a Jew, and preached almost exclusively to Jews, Paul taught that one could follow Jesus without following the complex rules and rituals of Judaism. Thus, he made Jesus available to Gentiles, those outside the Jewish tradition.
Similarly, as he told Allen Ginsburg, Prabhupada left hundreds of rules behind in India, such as rules forbidding Westerners to become brāhmaṇas, or rules against unmarried men and women living in the same center. Prabhupada insisted that those not born Hindu, and who do not follow the complex Hindu rules and rituals, could still attain Krishna’s mercy simply by the grace of the Holy Name.
Thus like Paul, Prabhupada simplified the process so that those outside the strict tradition could adopt it.
- Like Paul, Prabhupada traveled intensely, spread the message to “outsiders”, and transformed a small, little known tradition into a world movement. Like Paul, Prabhupada did this by emphasizing the universality of the mission, and implanting it in foreign lands. Prabhupada thus perfectly followed Mahāprabhu Himself who taught:
Kibā vipra kiba nyāsī śūdra kene naya
Yei kṛṣṇa tattva vetta sei guru haya
“Whether a learned brāhmaṇa, a sannyāsī or even a śūdra—anyone who knows the science of Kṛṣṇa is a guru.”
This revolutionary teaching allowed Krishna consciousness to grow into a powerful movement.
Paul is not like Prabhupada and Krishna West
Unlike Prabhupada and Krishna West, Paul changed the message of his teacher (Jesus). In fact, although Paul’s letters make up almost half the New Testament, Paul rarely talks of the life of Jesus, or directly quotes the teachings of Jesus.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is perhaps most revealing. On their website, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states: “Of all the letters of Paul, that to the Christians at Rome [the book of Romans] has long held pride of place. It is the longest and most systematic unfolding of the apostle’s thought…”
Yet remarkably in this most influential document, Paul does not quote Jesus, nor does he speak of the life of Jesus, except his crucifixion and its saving power. In fact, apart from a mystic vision on the road to Damascus, Paul never actually met or associated with Jesus and it is not clear how much he knew about the life and teachings of Jesus.
Paul shifts the theological focus from the life to the death of Jesus, and its power to save us from sin and death. In Romans, Paul provides other ideas that Jesus did not directly preach.
Here are some of Paul’s theological innovations:
- One is saved and justified before God only by believing Paul’s interpretation of the crucifixion, rather than by loving God above all things, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself, as Jesus taught.
- Romans also plants the seeds of the doctrine of original sin [5.12], a belief not directly taught by Jesus, or the Old Testament.
- Romans also teaches that God predestines who will be saved [8.29-30], a doctrine that neither Jesus nor the Old Testament directly teach.
- Romans gives an original interpretation of the status before God of Jews and Pagans, a doctrine not found in Jesus or the Old Testament.
Apart from original theology, Paul also changed and adjusted basic regulative principles.
For example, in his zeal to differentiate the Jesus movement from its Jewish matrix, Paul authorized his followers to eat all kinds of meat, including meat forbidden by Jewish law.
In contrast to Paul, Prabhupada did not introduce any new theological doctrine.
Prabhupada faithfully presented the teachings of Lord Caitanya and Kṛṣṇa. And Krishna West faithfully presents Prabhupada’s teachings, without theological innovations.
Further, although Prabhupada eliminated many non-essential rules and rituals, he clearly preserved the fundamental regulative principles of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Here too, Krishna West faithfully follows Prabhupada.
For example, my previous essay, Reply to a Senior Leader, is filled with Prabhupada quotations. As stated, Paul generally does not quote Jesus, and talks about his death, not his life.
In contrast, Krishna West finds constant inspiration in Prabhupada’s words and actions in spreading Krishna consciousness.
Conclusion: CG’s comparison of Kṛṣṇa West to the apostle Paul, in a negative sense, is inaccurate.
Prabhupada knew that Western people would accept a non-sectarian spiritual science, but not a triumphalist, sectarian tradition.
“Why…should Christian become Hindu…? They should know what is God,…their relationship with God… [Because I preach that] therefore, they are following [and] accepting. If I would have preached that Hindu religion is better than Christian religion, they would have kicked me out long ago. It is a science; it is a philosophy.” (November 6, 1972)
With his pragmatic, generous spirit, Prabhupada was happy to borrow useful things from the West. ISKCON itself is an example of this. ISKCON is a non-profit religious corporation. Religious corporations did not exist in Vedic India. They are a Western invention.
Similarly, Prabhupada formed the In God We Trust political party. Democratic political parties are clearly a Western invention. Prabhupada formed one.
Prabhupada urged his scientist disciples to make modern scientific arguments, not traditional Vedanta arguments.
If we are to reject all “concessions” to the West, why did Prabhupada preach in English, instead of Bengali, Hindi or Sanskrit?
There are also cultural languages. Thus in his first letter to me, in 1969, Prabhupada asked me to stay in the university and get a “nice education” so that I could preach to educated people. Prabhupada recognized that to be effective, we must speak the cultural language of the audience.
Prabhupada described the path of bhakti as a razor’s edge. Certainly there is danger on all sides, and we must take extraordinary care not to deviate from Prabhupada’s pure teachings. False accusation is itself a deviation.
To avoid that danger, let us all try sincerely to understand and appreciate each other. Hopefully in that spirit, we can go forward as a united movement to fulfill Prabhupada’s fervent wish to relieve the world’s suffering through Krishna consciousness.