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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Hinduism, ISKCON and OCHS: Some Ideas from Rajiv Malhotra Thought

In response to Hindu Human Rights

ISKCON - International Society for Krishna Conciousness
OCHS - Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

The article gives an outsider, slightly hostile perspective on ISKCON. Let me give an insider perspective.

ISKCON is a diverse organisation with multiple factions. There are some problems that ISKCON shares with other Hindu institutions, some are unique to ISKCON and some are specific to certain factions.

1. When Prabhupada says we are not Hindu, he means that our Paramarthika identity is not Hindu, we are Atma, translated as spirit souls. Unfortunately, ISKCON  in the West has extended it to the Vyavaharika identity, except in order to gain acceptability as Hinduism in the Western academia and collect donations from Hindus. That is duplicitous. A new movement within ISKCON called Krishna West wants to discard all Hindu elements to appease Hinduphobic Westerners, who enjoy some things like  lactovegetarian Prasadam, Sankirtana musicals and monotheistic philosophy, but despise the references to Indian history, geography and sociocultural norms and institutions. Krishna West is bound to fail because of the poison pill, Krishna. Then they may try some form of syncretism involving Krishna, Buddha and Christ, which had been tried during the 1980s in New Vrindavana, West Virginia. However, the mainstream ISKCON, that is based in India, is rooted in Vedic-Vaishnava heritage, even if the term Hindu is not used.

2. Prabhupada spoke of Jesus and Mohammad as devotees of Krishna and Avesha incarnations (beings empowered by Krishna to perform special missions).  So, many ISKCON devotees believe that they preached Vaishnavism within the Jewish and the Arab cultural contexts respectively. Since there is no evidence in the Christian or Islamic scriptures of Krishna Bhakti, they believe that the Abrahamic God is Krishna. On this point, they betray the Vaishnava Siddhanta. Krishna doesn't resemble the Abrahamic God, He has form, He has female consorts, He assumes multiple personalities like Rama, Narasimha, etc. The Abrahamic religions will never accept Krishna as God. Hence, it is a stupid to validate the Abrahamic God, when they consider Krishna a false god. Traditionally, the idea of Avesha incarnation was applied to Buddha, who denounced the Vedas and preached ethical principles like Ahimsa to prevent misuse of Vedic technologies, especially animal slaughter. When Hinduism turned towards Vedanta and Bhakti and condemned animal slaughter, Buddhism lost prominence in India. It seems that Prabhupada envisioned something similar for the Abrahamic religions, but these things should be done from a position of strength and our generation is not the right time in history to do it.

3. ISKCON's obsession with Prabhupada Uvacha (said) is contrary to Vaishnava epistemology. Prabhupada's disciples recorded every word and gesture made by him through electronic devices or post-Samadhi memoirs. Many of these records are controversial and contradictory because they were spoken in jest, tongue in cheek or meant for a particular situation. The foundation of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Siddhanta was laid by the disciples of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan - all succeeding Acharyas have to conform to the Siddhanta (conclusion drawn from Shruti), while they can amend the rituals and the sociocultural norms and institutions (Smriti). Besides, every Guru has the right to interpret the Shruti-Smriti according to a particular situation. But these interpretations of the Guru cannot become Siddhanta. That has been the tradition also of other prominent Vaishnava Sampradayas  - Shri, Madhva, Vallabha and Nimbarka. Thus, it is important for outsiders not to exaggerate the statements made by Prabhupada and then project ISKCON as a outlandish, anti-Hindu organisation. There are numerous and fierce debates within ISKCON on every subject and so far ISKCON has not done anything serious to undermine Hindu civilisation.

4. Although the OCHS is not a branch of ISKCON, an ISKCON devotee heads it. He is a member of ISKCON's Ministry of Education. There is a serious problem in the ISKCON of the West that sometimes influences other parts of the world as well. The problem is the ideological influence of Western academia - liberal-leftism, feminism, postmodernism, queer theory, psychoanalysis, critical theory, et al.  These ideologies are as Hinduphobic as Abrahamic religions. After many ISKCON gurus fell down from the Vaishnava standards and deprogrammers and local communities harassed the ISKCON devotees, the ISKCON leaders decided to go mainstream during the 1990s. In the West, mainstream meant becoming acceptable to the academicians, theologians and politicians. So, ISKCON began to emphasise the aspects compatible with the Western civilisation - monotheism, whiteness, etc. But they could not become mainstream without numbers and funds, for which Hindus were the only tool. That is the genesis of the duplicitous nature of some ISKCON devotees like the head of OCHS. They are playing the game of balancing the two sides - on one hand, the Western mainstream and on the other, the Hindus. However, the balance has been disturbed by two opposite forces - the Hinduphobia of the Western academia and the rising power of ISKCON India. So, some of the Western devotees want a complete breach with India through Krishna West.  Nonetheless, the vested interests like OCHS will continue to play the old game that only the foolishness of Hindus in the West can sustain.

Some ideas taken from Rajiv Malhotra Thought include insider-outsider lens, Hinduphobia, poison pill, etc.

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