28 October 2011
In 2001, Sripad Jayadavaita Swami gave a lecture series titled Food for
Death, which is still available on his website at
http://www.jswami.info/seminars#food and which examined how prasadam
distribution seen by the public as ordinary welfare work affects ISKCONs
core values. Sripad Bhakti Vikasa Swami in his 2011 lectures titled Some
Concerns About ISKCON and Further Discussion on Concerns About ISKCON
addresses the same issue Jayadvaita Swami addressed but in a more
generalized context that includes other welfare initiatives. Bhakti
Vikasa Maharaja in his lectures also addresses what he identifies as
fundamental, philosophical differences that have emerged within our society.
As far as social welfare is concerned, the lectures of both Swamis make a
common point: the time and resources devotees increasingly give to indirect
preaching in the form of welfare work, at the expense of direct preaching,
reflects ISKCONs growing acceptance of karma-kanda as a part of its core mission and, hence, core values.
That as grand a spiritual institution as ISKCON could itself become mundane
is not a new idea. In the Bhagavad-gita at the beginning of the 4th chapter,
Krishna describes the system of the guru-parampara and how, in the course of
time, the succession had been broken and the knowledge of the science of
yoga was lost. On some occasions, Srila Prabhupada himself said that ISKCON
could be destroyed not by outsiders but by insiders. Such changes are the
result of a gradual drift of the disciplic succession away from its original
message and mission.
Mission drift usually does not occur suddenly, like some natural disaster.
It almost always happens over long stretches of time, over generations. The
manner in which it is likely to occur is suggested by Srila Narada Muni in
his conversation with Srila Vyasadeva about the reason for Vyasas
despondency. Narada Muni says,
Whatever you desire to describe that is separate in vision from the Lord
simply reacts, with different forms, names and results, to agitate the mind
as the wind agitates a boat which has no resting place. The people in
general are naturally inclined to enjoy, and you have encouraged them in
that way in the name of religion. This is verily condemned and is quite
unreasonable. Because they are guided under your instructions, they will
accept such activities in the name of religion and will hardly care for
prohibitions (SB 1.5.14 15).
With regard to mission drift, Naradas statement is relevant in these two
Describing reality without connection to the vision of the Lord agitates
Where Krishna is not directly and sufficiently glorified, conditioned human
nature all but guarantees a perverse outcome.
The first attribute would correspond to an absence of direct reference to
Krishna in any stated purpose or description of the activity itself. For
example, in the Gita itself Lord Krishna criticizes the pretentious
followers of the Vedas known as veda-vada-ratah, who take the various
rituals and sacrifices offered in the Vedas as ends to worldly enjoyment.
They perform religious acts that are disconnected from krishna-bhakti,
because, as Narada suggests, the connection between the acts and the Lord
are not obvious.
It may be said that indirect worship of the Lord can be performed with the
expectation of making spiritual progress as long as the performer himself
remembers the true connection. But the second attribute in Naradas
statement explains why that almost never happens. Because people in general
are inclined to material enjoyment (especially in Kali Yuga), their perverse
nature predisposes them to forget the original purpose of such indirect
worship of the Lord and give up the regulative principles that must also be
followed in the course of its performance.
A view of the world separate in vision from the Lord need not be totally
separate to cause people to gradually become disinterested in religion. The
disjuncture may be partial. Vyasadevas former works that left him
dissatisfied were not devoid of krishna-katha. The Mahabharata, after all,
features Krishna and the Bhagavad-gita itself. So how could it lead to
dissatisfaction? As stated by Narada, Vyasa gave too much emphasis to pious
activities and not enough to bhakti. Although, great sage, you have very
broadly described the four principles beginning with religious performances,
you have not described the glories of the Supreme Personality, Vasudeva (SB
1.5.9). Vyasadeva was trying to gradually purify people by dovetailing their
propensity for enjoyment into religious activity. Yet that did not have the
effect Vyasa intended. As stated in the purport to this verse,
The prompt diagnosis of Sri Narada is at once declared. The root cause of
the despondency of Vyasadeva was his deliberate avoidance of glorifying the
Lord in his various editions of the Puranas. He has certainly, as a matter
of course, given descriptions of the glories of the Lord (Sri Krsna) but not
as many as given to religiosity, economic development, sense gratification
Again, symptoms that ones spiritual program has the same problem identified
by Narada include emphasis of its alleged material benefits while speaking
minimally about its spiritual benefits. It is like basing a large-scale
preaching program on telling people that Krishnas holy names recharges
your batteries, gives you peace of mind, while hardly speaking about their
true spiritual benefit.
Although the above criticism of spiritual activity devoid of proper
understanding is put forward by Shri Narada himself, one may still question
whether proper understanding is even necessary. For example, saying Hare
Krishna in a mocking or derisive way to taunt devotees will nevertheless
purify the person who utters Krishnas name in this way. This is an example
of ajnata-sukrti. Valmiki Muni is the quintessential example of how
transcendental activity performed unintentionally nevertheless has the same
transcendental effect as if it were performed intentionally. This is also
Sukadeva Goswamis point in narrating the Ajamila moksha-lila. Like
medicine, the potency of Lords holy name does not depend on the
understanding of the person who hears or utters it. The same can be said of
So then it may be asked what harm is there in clandestinely distributing
Krishna prasadam to the masses, as if one were conducting yet another
mundane welfare program popular among the karmis? The expected outcome is
that the karmis give us their money and good will, we give them prasadam,
they get purified, and we expand the Krishna consciousness movement. It
sounds like a win-win-win-win situation. What could possibly go wrong with
The key assumption made here is that devotees will maintain a level of
purity sufficient to keep themselves from falling into materialistic
consciousness while engaging in activity that purposefully avoids
krishna-katha. The time one spends extolling the perceived material benefits
of prasadam (which you call food now, not prasadam) is time spent NOT
glorifying Krishna. One is not engaging in krishna-katha while one is trying
to avoid describing Krishna. Distributing prasadam while not presenting it
in relation to Krishna has the same kind of problem Narada pointed out to
Vyasa. Although it is prasadam that is being distributed, it is not
presented in relation to the Lord. For this reason the devotees will not be
able to maintain for long the requisite level of purity required of such a
clandestine effort to distribute prasadam to be successful. This is why
Srila Prabhupada insisted that prasadam distribution be accompanied by
It may be further objected that although some people are too neophyte to
engage in any service other than direct hearing and chanting of the Lords
names and pastimes, the devotees distributing prasadam in the guise of
worldly food relief are strong enough in their own devotional service such
that they will not fall down. This is not true. As Srila Prabhupada explains
in the Nectar of Instruction (Text 5),
The Krsna consciousness movement prescribes sixteen rounds daily because
people in the Western countries cannot concentrate for long periods while
chanting on beads. Therefore the minimum number of rounds is prescribed.
However, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati used to say that unless one chants
at least sixty-four rounds of japa (one hundred thousand names), he is
considered fallen (patita). According to his calculation, practically every
one of us is fallen, but because we are trying to serve the Supreme Lord
with all seriousness and without duplicity, we can expect the mercy of Lord
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is famous as patita-pavana, the deliverer of
If already it is admitted that 16 rounds of japa plus the 4 regulative
principles are still deficient in terms of quantity of sravanam and
kirtanam, and if, according to Srila Prabhupadas assessment above,
quotidian devotional service makes up for that deficiency, then a preaching
program deficient in sravanam and kirtanam means that the devotees will not
get sufficient spiritual support from their daily activities. They will lose
their taste for spiritual life in the way that Narada describes to Vyasa.
In his lecture, Bhakti Vikasa Swami reminisces about how in the 1980s
devotees started selling non-devotional paintings and other paraphernalia to
accumulate money. This money would then be spent for preaching purposes. The
collection program and the direct preaching program were separate.
The result? Devotees lost their taste for spiritual life, and the program
proved unsustainable. As Maharaja points out, the best-selling paintings
were pictures of dogs. They were selling pictures of Dog, not God. It is
not that the money was not being used for preaching purposes. It was. Yet in
the end the program proved unsustainable.
We also find in Srila Prabhupadas letters similar, cautionary reminders to
his disciples that selling incense is not their primary business. Attention
diverted to incense business is not a very good sign. We should give all our
energy for distributing BTG (Letter to Satsvarupa 21/6/1971). ISKCON has
first-hand experience with the dissatisfying nature of activity in which
sankirtana is at best a secondary objective.
What makes something a secondary objective as opposed to a primary
objective? Consider the Sunday Feast. Contrary to what the name implies, the
primary objective of the Sunday Feast is not to give people prasadam. The
primary objective is to give people a chance to hear krishna-katha. The
secondary objective is to give people prasadam. Of course, prasadam is a
necessary part of the program, as prasadam is directly the Supreme
Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, Himself. It is His mercy. Yet
distributing prasadam is not the primary objective. We use it as an
incentive to get people to come to our centers to hear our lectures. The
emphasis of our program and hence its primary objective is on the
propagation of krishna-katha. It is more important than any other aspect of
Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja in his lecture notes not only the lack of
krishna-katha in the Mid Day Meals program but also that it is advertised as
having mundane, not spiritual, objectives.
The advertising for the Mid Day Meals program, if you see their brochures
is that were helping to build the nation, and that appeals to people.
Were helping to build the nation by getting the children educated, giving
them a good future. But thats against our philosophy. The idea of building
the nation is totally mundane.
Maharaja further notes how in India the India Regional Governing Body had
dealt with the question of what may be considered appropriate and
inappropriate in distributing prasadam, and one of the requirements they
came up with was that it must at least be accompanied by kirtana and
lectures. Yet the lack of devotees available to conduct kirtana and the
secular Indian government interfere with this requirement.
The first problem, which Jaydvaita Maharaja also mentions in his own
lectures, is that in the places where the Mid Day Meals program is conducted
on a substantial scale, there is nowhere near enough devotees that can
perform kirtana at each of the places where prasadam is distributed. Kirtana
performers cannot be hired like bus drivers. So the prasadam gets cooked and
dropped off at the schools and presented as if it were any other mundane
Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja raises the question of whether Krishna is
reciprocating in a way devotees running Mid Day Meals havent anticipated.
What might happen if, for example, instead of our pujaris worshipping the
Deities in the temple we hire non-devotee brahmanas to worship Them?
Maharaja asks, Is it prasada? If a murti of Krishna is handled
negligently, is Krishna still obliged to remain there as murti? Some of the
same considerations seem applicable in the case of prasadam.
The second problem has to do with the secular Indian government, or secular
governments wherever they exist. But in India in particular, in some places
the government will not allow kirtana and lectures because whatever is given
to the children or poor through the government must be strictly food relief.
Religious elements are not always allowed. And for that reason kirtana and
lecture would also not allowed.
And because devotees have collected extensively for these programs, it is
nearly impossible to withdraw from places that disallow kirtana. Bhakti
Vikasa Maharaja in his lecture gives the example of the day school on the
ISKCON Juhu property, where, after some time, the devotees there saw how the
school itself was taking up time and resources for no spiritual end, and it
was not producing devotees anyway. But when they tried to close down the
school, the parents and students objected, and now the temple has to raise
huge amounts of money to relocate the school outside of the temple campus.
Thus the devotees who run these programs will find it very difficult, if not
impossible, to reconnect the Mid Day Meals program with kirtana.
Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja raises a more serious issue: that the Mid Day Meals
program is advertised as fulfilling purposes that are against the philosophy
Srila Prabhupada taught. This is an example from the Who Are We? page of
ISKCON Food Relief Foundations Delhi Mid Day Meals website:
ISKCON Food Relief Foundation is a Non-Religious, Non-Sectarian, and
Not-for Profit Charitable Trust (http://www.delhimdm.com/whoweare.php).
The websites vision page (http://www.delhimdm.com/vision_m.php) makes it
even more self-evident that the prasadam distribution program embraces
objectives opposed to ISKCONs original core mission (bolding added).
Vision: Removing hunger and upscaling learning opportunities for
Mission: ISKCON Food Relief Foundation works with Government to provide
hygienically cooked, balanced, nutritious, wholesome Mid-Day Meal food to
children in municipal and government aided schools in India to improve
access to good food and promote education.
Philosophy: ISKCON Food Relief Foundation believes that food is a
fundamental right. Inadequate nutrition not only affects physical, mental,
and emotional health of children adversely but also restricts their learning
ability, development opportunities and effective participation in the
We believe that a simple way of breaking the vicious cycle of hunger and
poverty is by providing them regular and nutritious food and this fulfills
Goals: 1. To promote the provision of distribution of sanctified meals all
over the India; and 2. To promote food system education;
This is Bhakti Vikasa Maharajas response to examples like the one above:
The idea of building the nation is totally mundane. It is the idea that we
will build the nation by having more people educated so they can become
lawyers, doctors, or more likely become factory workers. It is also the idea
that we are helping children to improve their life, and thats also mundane.
And that we want to help develop the present modern society. . .
But that wasnt Prabhupadas welfare program at all. His social welfare
program was to develop varnashram communities where people dont have to
live in this demonic society. That was Prabhupadas welfare program.
It wasnt that Prabhupada was callous to social welfare, but he wanted to do
so through varnashram and varnashram educationthat people will be educated
according to their role in varnashram. So the advertising for Mid Day Meals
is totally mundane.
And you may say it is just a way to induce people to give a donation for it,
but the problem is that, when we start talking like this, our people go out
and speak to the public, they meet businessmen and tell them, OK, were
helping hungry children, and building the nation. . ., and you keep
repeating it and saying it again and again and again, you start to think
like that yourself. And instead of following Chaitanya Mahaprabhus order
jare dekha tare kaha krishna upadesh, youre going to people to talk about
mundane things. It changes the whole atmosphere of ISKCON.
Maharajas argument echoes the same point that Narada Muni made to
Jayadvaita Maharaja in his own lecture series argues similarly, except that
he follows through with his argument to its logical conclusion, which is the
mixing of karma-kanda with bhakti:
There is a problem, or downside to that, apart from whether or not youre
actually doing something that you are supposed to be doing, or that you are
authorized by Srila Prabhupada, by a Founder-Acharya to do. You have this
First you say, Were going to make a strategy here. Were going to do
something charitable, and people are going to give us their appreciation. We
understand that it is not really our business, but were going to do it, and
people are going to see that were doing it, and thats going to help us in
our main business. Were going to be able to distribute more books, people
will give us more facility, and so on. That is stage one.
Stage two is that as you start to get appreciation and as you preach to the
devotees that this is what were going to do, the next stage two comes. That
is, devotees start thinking that we really are doing something here, which
is our mission. That really, We are doing good work here. Really, were
fulfilling Prabhupadas mission. Were helping the needy. Were saving
people afflicted by disaster. Thats stage two, to the point where if
anyone says, Well, Prabhu, you know, this is not . . ., then youll start
getting heavy letters saying, Dont you know there are sincere devotees
working all over the world, dedicating themselves, risking their lives. . .
Thats stage twothis IS our mission.
And stage three, four, five comes when you reach the mature stage, like the
Salvation Army. I dont know how theyre known in England, in America, when
you have junk, that you would dispose of, rather than take it to the dump,
you call the Salvation Army. And they cart away your old clothes, old
furniture, old whatever-it-is, and distribute it to the poor. Or the St.
Vincent DePaul Society. There are various organizations. . .
I knew of that organization. I used to see their trucks with the big shield
on it, when I was a child, a boy. And I dont think I was younger than about
20 before I found out that they had any sort of spiritual component to them.
They are in fact a Christian missionary organization, they do have a message
about Jesus and salvation and so on. But I had no idea what it was, and in
fact, because in my tradition the word salvation is not a big term, as far
as I understood, salvation meant picking up your old garbage and carting
it away, and thats salvage.
So in the mature stage, you finally reach the point where even your leaders
of your organization believe that this is your mission. The leaders of your
organization, the theologians, the priests, believe that this is what Jesus,
or this is what Jehova, or this is what Lord Chaitanya wanted us to do. And
at that point, what is the distinction between you and a karma-kanda
What is the distinction between you and the Red Cross or the Red Crescent
Society? Now that you are doing the work of all these charitable societies,
who is doing your work? Who is there to preach renunciation? Who is there to
preach that youre not this body? Who is there to preach that you should
turn your back on material enjoyment and go back home, back to Godhead, now
that youre busy fully dedicated to the urgent mission of uplifting the
afflicted people of the poorer classes of this material world, so they can
have a decent life, who is going to do that other work?
Though Jayadvaita Maharaja focuses more on the end result the establishment
of karma-kanda as one of ISKCONs core values he and Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja
make the fundamental point that because welfare activities like the Mid Day
Meals program is promoted in a mundane way and in ways that stand against
our long-held siddhantas, the transformation of ISKCON into yet another
mundane religious institution is not merely a remote, theoretical
possibility. It is likely.
And now, perhaps inevitable.
From Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava, page 421:
The thousands of karmis who have opened innumerable hospitals, old age
homes, centers for the poor, and schools, and the thousands of jnanis who
have undergone meditation and severe austerities, are insignificant compared
to a single kanishta-adhikari Vaishnava once ringing the bell before the
Lords deity. This is not sectarianism, but plain truth. Atheists are wholly
incapable of realizing this; thus they become either direct or indirect
blasphemers of devotional service, or adherents to the doctrine of
harmonistic all-inclusiveness (Amrta Vani 102 3; Sri Srila Prabhupadera
Being averse to Lord Visnu, countless jivas have come to Maha-mayas dungeon
to envy Lord Visnu in countless ways. To deliver even one of them from
Maha-mayas fortress and make him a devotee of Krsna is unlimitedly better
welfare work than the construction of countless hospitals and schools (Sri
Srila Prabhupadera Upadesamrta 286).
Krishna-bhakti is the only way to deracinate miseries from the world. You
are working only for the good of the body and treating the symptoms, not the
original disease. Your patchwork schemes of various social, economic, and
political ideologies are like blowing on a boil, which gives but a momentary
and false sense of assuagement. The real cure is to lance the boil and
squeeze out the pus. Similarly, the pus of material attachment must be
excised by the sharp words of the expert devotee, the only genuine
well-wisher of human society (Jati Sekhara Prabhu, disciple of Srila
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura).
 Both lectures by Bhakti Vikasa Swami are available here: