From Krishna to Christ

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Strivings of Bhakti Yoga: An Initial Witness and Testimony

First of all, thanks be to God who has given us this Lord’s Day for His glorification in worship and our subsequent sanctification.

Now that the tiniest bit of personal perspective and background has been given with the last post, allow me to jump right in and share some thoughts on the directions I have seen devotees go in the last twenty-something years. For those unfamiliar with ISKCON, its history, beliefs, or practices, please utilize the link provided to their website.

When I look at the New Talavan site today (posted under My Links as “Where I grew up”), I only recognize a few faces here and there. Most, I assume, are either new devotees altogether or transplants from other temples or various parts of the world. I won't speak for the people I don’t know, but amongst those who I do recognize, I would consider even fewer to be above marginal in their beliefs. To old friends who may read this, please correct me in honesty if I am wrong here.

Perhaps it was the naivety of childhood blanketing my eyes, but the faith and cohesiveness of temple congregants twenty years ago seemed much stronger, and without question, much more dogmatic. I recall very little compromise in the structure and practice of Krishna Consciousness when I was a boy. I remember the days when all heads were shaven, all attire in worship was spiritual, initiated members chanted sixteen rounds every day, caffeine was enforced as an intoxicant, etc, etc. If you were a bhakta (new or aspiring devotee), you stood out like a sore thumb in your jeans and secular haircut. Maybe that is one of the reasons that things have loosened up over time. Maybe the temple is attempting to become more inviting to newcomers and visitors by making the expectations of the lifestyle seem more feasible in our society. But I must ask, does this not defeat the whole purpose of divorcing oneself from the material world, as is the foundational message of the Vedic scriptures? If I may say so myself, it seems to me a bit like someone attempting the Atkins Diet, except modifying it to allow sugar and carbohydrates.

More realistically, I think it is probably as simple as a slow decline in ISKCON’s fundamentalist enthusiasm. So what paths are devotees taking in life? Over the years I’ve noticed four very general trends unfold:

• First, and by far the obvious minority, are those devotees who have stayed the course with just as much passion as when they first joined or were born into the movement. Make no mistake, they do exist, but only in small numbers.

• Second and most broadly, there are those who still consider themselves a part of ISKCON, but have simply become less dogmatic about their faith and beliefs. This is where I find the majority of those from my youth to be today. They live fairly secular lives, enjoy Coca-Cola and coffee (and perhaps even beer) in good conscience, occasionally pray or chant rounds, and try to focus on just living a good life in general at the mercy of Krishna. For the most part, these devotees have already experienced a great deal of rigid devotional service within the temple and have (in some sense of rationale) “stored up” a treasury of good karma on which they now live spending. They are usually still staunch vegetarians, still attend major festivals or services, and still carry a shell of the general belief system that once indoctrinated their lives.

Most interesting, however, is that within this group there are an ever increasing number who are becoming comfortable with other religions being validated as but another river leading to the same ocean (more on this to come). That said, these more “lukewarm” devotees usually still stand by Krishna Consciousness as the safest and most faithful path to heaven.

• Third, there are some who have detached themselves from ISKCON either significantly or in full, yet who still believe in the teachings of the Gita, Chaitanya, and Srila Prabhupad. These are devotees who have grown tired of today’s gurus or ISKCON politics in general and who wish to search out Krishna on their own. Sometimes they are fervent, but quite often they also choose to live out mostly secular lives.

• Lastly, there are those who leave both ISKCON and Krishna Consciousness behind entirely. In tongue-in-cheek manner, these ex-devotees are referred to by remaining congregants as “blooped”, a term used by Prabhupad to describe food cooked too long over the fire. Admittedly, this category describes me. I have “blooped” and am no longer a follower of the movement, its beliefs, or its practices. I have remained a vegetarian, but not for any karmic reasons (once again, more on this to come).

As far as I can remember, most converts to ISKCON start out with relative enthusiasm. The test, superficially put, seems to be religious endurance over time. On the simplest level, Krishna Consciousness is a practice of works-based salvation, namely perfecting bhakti yoga, accompanied by a unique system of loop-hole promises and various superstitions. The followers who stay the course of faithful works with all their might are the ones in the first trend mentioned above. Honestly, is quite a remarkable race to run, but in my experience it is also a very unfortunate effort to begin with.

Most who stumble enough in search of achieving a life entirely on this spiritual platform seem to eventually find themselves settling for isolated promises in the quest for peace and salvation. To these devotees (and I too became one), the big picture of deliverance from the material world and its vicious cycles is still favorable in their minds because the nature of divine standard and acceptance is boiled down to a mere handful of comfortable proverbs or practices. For instance, I may be a thief and adulterer, but if only I chant Hare Krishna and die with a tulasi leaf in my hand I will be saved (see previous post, blessing 9). This is the land where struggling devotees find rest. And let me tell you, I've been there enough to share this: there is no hope to be found in such an illusion.

At this point, a current devotee may object to the purpose of these observations, especially considering that I am a Christian. Does not the Christian church experience similar struggles? With patience, I fully intend to discuss those as well (so far as I have encountered them). But rest assured that there is a remarkable difference between the two.

Next, and as time permits, I'll share what I've personally come to know as "Many River Theology", a compromise held by many devotees today. Then, my own coming to terms with who God is and how He turned my world inside out, leaving all protests in dust and ashes.

Until then, may His grace sustain you.
Michael 4:41 PM


Very good and interesting stuff Michael. Look forward to reading more.

Grace and Peace,

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