East meets West, or West meets East?

Manidhara Das
23 Nov 2022

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami came to the West on the order of his spiritual master in order to bring Krsna Consciousness to an area where it had never been seen or heard about before. He came to the land of the mlechas, those who were entirely unqualified to live in the manner humans live in Vedic culture. He brought knowledge unknown to those brought up on mayavada impersonalism and sunyavada doctrines of voidism and emptiness, in the absence of any recognition of God and his eternal parts, the souls, being present everywhere, even in an atom.

The hardship Srila Prabhupada has undergone is impossible to imagine for us as we entered an already established society of devotees of various sorts. Nowadays, you can find someone chanting or attempting to be affiliated with Srila Prabhupadas' teachings almost anywhere. When Srila Prabhupada disembarked the Jaladutta ship in New York, there was nobody who did chant Hare Krsna; there was nobody who practiced Krsna consciousness to welcome him and offer him prasadam.

What he did is something to be worshiped and deeply respected, because nobody planted the seed; we all harvested the fruits of his transcendental gardening and struggled on the strength of Srila Prabhupadas' prayers.

In the early days, even when I joined in 1972, nobody would dare to quote or try to follow anything other than what Srila Prabhupada had given. After all, nobody knew anything else. When the first devotees arrived in India, problems began to emerge as these inexperienced bhaktas encountered Indian vaisnavas or devotees of various types, unprepared to recognize where a sadhana bhakta stops operating and a sahajiya extrovert begins to cheat the public. Those who remembered Srila Prabhupadas' warning that "milk touched by the lips of a serpent becomes poison" were safe. Those who didn't were either influenced by the completely incorrect doctrines infiltrating Srila Prabhupadas ISKCON, or they began to practice "their" mentality designed "Krsna consciousness," forgetting that what is food for one person may be poison for another. Indeed, IMITATING Srila Prabhupada and not FOLLOWING him is deadly.

Growing up on the streets of western cities with Srila Prabhupadas books in my hands, I was taught to remain on these streets and work on my home field, always remembering Prahlad Maharaja, who, after his demoniac father was killed, did not leave his kingdom but became the patron of the remaining demons by introducing them to Krsna consciousness. Indeed, where our bodies were born is where we know best and where we may be accepted most easily, as those in bodily consciousness may believe we are one of them, but we are not. We are just "domestic vaisnavas" in disguise, using our genetic heritage to demonstrate that this is something we are not. Srila Prabhupada used the example of a rose thorn, which may be used to remove another thorn from the very same rose stucked in our hand.

Of course, preaching on domestic grounds exposes us to the challenge of familiarity, as any family man can confirm who tries to say something to his wife or his children:-) Even the Karmis say: "One cannot become a pope at home." But herein lies the challenge of Srila Prabhupadas' mission: to implement the non-body culture with the help of one's bodily genetic design in order to bring everyone back home, back to Godhead, where nobody is "genetically marked." but is serving Krsna in his constitutional position as his eternal servant.

Going to India was a rare treat when I first joined this movement. It was a reward for one's service in the West, as well as a welcome source of inspiration for bringing the "East" to the West. After all, Srila Prabhupada defined the East as the seer and the West as the faciliator. When the eyes and legs work together, the body's movements become smooth and productive. A blind man may have strong legs, but in no time he falls into a ditch as he loses his orientation.

So, in 1978, I arrived in India for the first time. Vrndavana temple just finished his construction, the structure of Srila Prabhupada samadhi being just a small brick cottage, Mayapur boasting with the new temple, (todays diorama museum), the long building, (the longest in Bengal at that time!:-), the gate, the wall towards the public street and the prasadam hall were the only structures erected, the rest was just rice fields. The mood of the festival was entirely based on book distribution; after all, that was the main service of everybody present. The "ISKCON Mayapur Festival" consisted of two weeks of strictly organized residence in Mayapur, two weeks in Vrndavana, and a trip home to one's designated preaching area. The parikramas were organized in a strict fashion; nobody was allowed to simply "roam round," as it is done today. As mentioned in the beginning, the real problems in ISKCON manifested, bringing it to the edge of its destruction, when devotees started to visit India, adopting ideas and schemes that had not been verified by Srila Prabhupada.

As a matter of fact, Srila Prabhupada, receiving large funds from book distribution all over the world, as an "extra bonus," established HIS temples in India. Why did he do so?

After all, he himself said that this was not included in the instruction of his spiritual master, who told him to preach in the West to English-speaking people. He also said that "there are so many temples in India dedicated to worship of the Lord, so why do we need another one?"
The temple was built so that when his disciples visited India, they would be safe in the vicinity of HIS ISKCON rather than wandering around and being victimized by any sahajiya babaji. Surely, in India, great saintly Vaishnavas reside, but who among us, the untrained Westerners, is able to recognize them? Even today, devotees have difficulty distinguishing between a demon and a devotee. The first devotees visiting India with Srila Prabhupada were shocked to see how different Srila Prabhupada was from anyone else. Keenly, they observed how he related to local devotees, as this was their only orientation line. As one of his followers exclaimed when hearing the wonderful melodious bhajanas of some local devotee, praising his tunes, Srila Prabhupada firmly commented: "He is a sahajiya." Indeed, seeing the first bhajan singer in India light his home-made cigarett after an ecstatic bhajan was an eye-opening experience for me.

Seeing these rules being widely violated and a large portion of leaders in ISKCON leaving the western preaching field to reside in India makes me wonder how Srila Prabhupada's initial preaching approach was forgotten. Whoever wanted to stay in India in the days I visited the Holy Dhamas had to stay fully engaged in the ISKCON temple; otherwise, he was asked to return to the West and serve there.

Is Krsna in India or in the West? Some upstarts came up with the idea that he is in the West, designating him "Krsna West," adopting some western melecha habits, and abandoning the ways Srila Prabhupada loved us to present him. Some came to understand that Krsna can be only in the East by making India their residence place. After all, it is recommended in the sastra (for those who do not preach) to make one's residence in Holy Dham. But Srila Prabhupada started the INTERNATIONAL society for Krsna consciousness, not limiting his preaching field to any particular area.

Do those who are preaching in India believe that the large numbers of followers they gather are the result of their spiritual strength? They must be truly illusory.
Perhaps they refuse to see that preaching in India, which certainly has its own challenges in terms of climate, the sahajiya and mayavadi doctrines established on the basis of Vedic teachings, and, above all, the naivety of local residents who easily imitate what has been proven to be destructive for others (of course, coming from the West! :-(
...still, it is the piety of the local residents that makes them easy followers, often without proper knowledge, by simply copying their family traditions.

Some of the western preachers became so halunacinated by „preaching to the Indians" that they forgot where they themselves came from or to whom they were actually preaching. Personality, whenever I come across an Indian congregation, even in the West, I apologize to them for daring to preach to them as a mlecha born varnasankaraite like me. This can only be done on account of Srila Prabhupada, and it is only on this account that I dare challenge the very same pious Indian folks to return to their wonderful but forgotten culture and preach to the Westerners or even to their own fallen countrymen.

India, filled with Holy Dhams, is surely a most wonderful place of inspiration. But one can only wonder how Srila Prabhupadas original instruction that his Bhaktivedanta Book Trust may give loans in order to „establish temples" was changed into the established order that BBT has to „sent money to INDIAN temples".
This is obviously bisar, as most western temples are on the verge of extinction, whereas Indian temples thrive due to their large Indian congregations. In the initial days, when such a congregation wasn't established, surely, like during Mumbai temple construction, Srila Prabhupada used western-created BBT funds to establish this particular temple. But to make it a permanent order in which every struggling, hard-working book distributor in the West has unconsciously collected for temples in India while the money from BBT sent to India disappears anonymously in some central Indian collection pool is clearly illogical.

Indeed, one of the greatest challenges in India is the MONEY pouring in from pious congregations. The struggle that Indian temple managers face is constantly defending "their" congregation from invaders from other temples who are attempting to steal a portion of it. :-(
It is an expression of the Kanistha adhikari mentality, which frequently dominates temples.
Where money becomes the priority, standards are automatically compromised as the vaisya class of Kanistha adhikari individuals take advantage of the innocently submitted donations from the pious public. The beauty of western preaching is that it requires one to demonstrate one's sincerity in an entirely hostile atheistic environment, as Srila Prabhupada did. It is this challenge that ties us more closely to his lotus feet.
As one of my godbrothers said more than forty-five years ago in one of his lectures, "When going on the street, people spit on us. But we take their seva as nectar, teaching us only how to be humble."

Indeed, in India, a place where one can get his feet washed three times a day and is continuously offered prasadam, the danger of becoming proud is far greater than in the West. Of course, pride and stupidity have no geographical boundaries, but preaching in the West brings us closer to understanding our own conditioning and makes us aware of the amazing achievement Srila Prabhupada acomplished.

Awareness of Krsna comes fast when we enter the Holy Dhamas.
The question is: WHAT WILL WE DO WITH IT?