Saturday, November 21, 2009

A comment on some ISKCON leaders' struggle to define membership

A few weeks ago, I received a copy of a PowerPoint presentation arguing for certain standards for ISKCON membership. More recently, an ISKCON news site published some audio accompanying this presentation, along with some editorial comments. Perhaps against my better judgement, I posted a comment on this presentation.

I haven't had a chance to listen to the audio yet, but someone sent me Sivarama Swami's powerpoint presentation a couple of weeks ago. At the moment, I can only respond to that. Although I understand the perceived need to define membership, such definition should be in line with Srila Prabhupada's standard, as suggested by others here and elsewhere.

With regard to specifics of his presentation, I can share a couple of my initial, immediate responses to reading his ideas.

He suggests that membership requires accepting the GBC as one's "ultimate managerial and spiritual authority." What's the basis for such an assertion? Certainly not Srila Prabhupada's instruction. We know he told us that the GBC is the Society's ultimate managerial authority, but spiritual authority? Bullet Point One, and I'm already out.

He says that members must "be connected to ISKCON's line of authority." That reads to me as an empty claim. What does it even mean?

He writes that members may "only accept initiation from member of ISKCON." Well, I guess I'd be okay, if I hadn't already been excluded by Bullet Point One. But we might ask about the status of those serving in ISKCON who are initiated by preachers working outside the GBC's authority. Perhaps he means that they should be purged, however valuable their service may be and despite the fact that they follow all the other requirements. I'm not sure that's a good idea.

He says that members of ISKCON "do not divorce." It appears that certain members of the GBC, as well as other officers in the Society, be they local, regional, or international, must be exempt from this requirement.

He writes that "[t]he laws and bylaws of ISKCON determine devotees’ values and conduct in all aspects of their live; work (varna), social status (asrama) and spiritual practice and aspiration." I'm certainly further excluded, it seems. I have chosen for the last 40 years to shape my values and conduct according to guru, sadhu, and shastra. ISKCON's laws and bylaws change too frequently, and on the basis of too many factors other than guru, sadhu, and shastra, for me to take that seriously.

This strikes many devotees as an outline of a plan for further reducing ISKCON's membership and consequently its influence. I'm looking for a reason to disagree with that assessment. Can someone throw me a line?


Anonymous said...

sorry prabhu, I can't throw you a line- your assessment is accurate, unfortunately, proving we have become a small narrow-minded sect of fanatical rule followers. So different from Sri Mahaprabhu's all-encompassing embrace...!
The statement by Sivarama Swami (SS?) that our devotees values etc. must be determined by ISKCON's laws and by-laws was utterly creepy. We are supposed to be connecting people to their inner guide- caitya guru, not to a social ecclesiatical authority. This is the mindset of ownership- that devotees are simply ISKCON's property.It is guidance in the mode of passion, leading to bondage. Guidance in the mode of goodness liberates- opens the disciples eyes, allowing him to see things for himself, through the vision of the gita- sastra caksusa. The spiritual authority is a transparent via medium, meaning that through him, one sees the Lord in one's heart and is connected to and guided by Him. SS's version of spiritual authority is instead opaque, blocking off any possibility of glimpsing the Lord within, and beseeching His guidance at every step. No, we must just follow laws (and by-laws...)

Anonymous said...

It is too fanatical, and also too narrow minded - There are factors within ISKCON which are worse than the 'caste' system, that exclude people who are actually sincere, and in dire need of help. ISKCON, in my view, has become a clique of fanaticism and membership is restricted to those who can satisfy monetary needs... Much like Scientology... There was no limit as to whom this philosophy could be preached to in the 1960's, but now you have to be a member of the elite...

As for the divorce aspect. It would be cruel to ask a women who is being emotionally abused and blackmailed to remain in a marriage befitting that of demonic entities. There are many members of ISKCON who adhere to the principles of demons...