For readers who have seen a lot of my posts, you know how critical i am of today's Iskcon. The truth is, internally i was critical of Iskcon almost since i joined, because i have the kind of mind that cannot overlook or justify exploitation and abuse. And there was plenty of that from the leaders of Iskcon that i saw with my own eyes--and much, much more that i didn't see but heard about-- since the early '70s. The simple fact that Krsna Consciousness is both a process and a goal based on "relationships," the Achilles heel of Iskcon has always been the betrayal of relationships between its temporal leaders and followers.
But in fairness to Iskcon, there have been and still are relationships between devotees that were/are not abusive. Even in today's Iskcon, while i complain and am disgusted by the unresolved issues of the past, and the lack of competence, sincerity and vision of most of its present-day leaders, there are still lots of nice vaisnavas and situations where Iskcon serves the higher purpose that it was created for: to help jivas reconnect with the Supreme Lord thru sadhana bhakti.
I slept last nite at the Chicago temple. Got up for mangal arotik and attended the morning program. Perhaps because i joined in Chicago, way back in 1970, when it was a small, freezing storefront manned by a handful of insanely blissful devotees, i have a soft spot for this temple. It has gone thru many incarnations: at least 3 locations and probably more than 20 Temple Presidents. I was here when a devotee named Rudra was its first TP, and later, when Sri Govinda installed the deities of Sri Sri Kishore Kishori. They asked Prabhupada, who named the deities, why Radharani's name came after Krishna's, when the standard form is that Her name is first. Prabhupada, charmingly replied something to the effect: "We decided to save the best for last."
The current TP in Chicago is an African American devotee, an anomaly in an organization that is run by Indian Americans and some old-timer Iskcon apparatchiks. He appears to be an exceptionally low-key, humble guy. And the temple is basically a brahmacari ashram now, which helps keep the atmosphere free from drama. There are brahmacaries from India, a few from Russia. And one American devotee: a very nice godbrother who has lived in the temple since around 1975. He let me spend the nite on a sofa in the temple library.
When i arrived the Sunday Feast was in full swing. Of course, as usual, it was an Indian American affair. Fat middle aged Indian ladies in saris and gold bracelets, waddled like ducks around the temple. Middle aged men in shirt and pants followed them with their large "pakora" bellies. Lots of young Indian professional couples with their well behaved one, two or three children, were snapping digital pictures right and left of the deities and themselves. It reminded me of a kind of Disneyland where exceptionally pious people go with their families. You can call it Krishnaland.
I arrived after the lecture, so i cannot give my impression of that, but the feast was simple but tasty and the kirtan in the temple was sweet, sung by a devotee who learned how to do kirtan in Vrindavan. The guests stayed for the last arotik and even longer, and the temple shop and a prasadam stand sold their wares. The brahmacaries kept mostly to themselves, but everyone was at mangal arotik six hours after the last guest had left. Another nice thing was there were no high profile gurus or GBCs, and the morning class was given by Srila Prabhupada, from a conversation that was recorded in Bombay! I've been so critical of Iskcon in this blog that i wanted to share something more positive.
So here's the bottom line: There is hope when simplicity and following of the basic mood given to us by Srila Prabhupada becomes prominent. With that as the criteria, there is great hope. Practically, the current generation of leaders should resign en masse from their posts and allow vaisnavas to act like devotees, to have honest relationships with each other where there is less drama and more service. I would gladly renounce all my criticism if such a reality came to be. Of course, that won't happen anytime in our lifetime. But still, i challenge everyone, including myself, to help create such a bright new world, based on honest relationships and a Krishna centered, rather than ego-centered, world. That was the world Srila Prabhupada lived in, and the world he risked his life to give to others, and it remains the most noble object of sacrifice.