Q&A | Adjust the Adjustable


Question:
As long as we have the deity forms of the Lord and the Mahamantra in Sanskrit, we are going to be somewhat bound to a certain culture of origin. Can we really cut our ties with singing the Mahamantra and dancing before the deities?

Srila Prabhupada said our movement was chanting, dancing, and feasting. So like it or not, the Hare Krishna Movement (Gaudiya Vaishnavism, bhakti yoga, etc.) is a culture bound to its origins, which are found on the Indian subcontinent.

Answer by H.D. Goswami:
Thank you for these observations. The following occurs to me:

1. You are right that inevitably some of our core practices, such as chanting Hare Krishna and celebrating the Deity, are unusual in Western culture. Hence, the need to do all we can with flexible details to soften the culture shock of the inflexible core practices.

2. Example of doing this right: George Harrison produced an enduring smash hit, “My Sweet Lord,” with the Mahamantra. But he adjusted the adjustable and encased the Mahamantra in great, popular music.

3. Prabhupada certainly wanted us to hold Rathayatra everywhere, but his goal was not that we “create confusion” or “repulse” some people, even if we cannot entirely avoid that. In India, where Prabhupada was more intimately familiar with cultural norms, Prabhupada made every possible adjustment to attract the public.

4. Keep in mind that virtually all of Prabhupada’s activities in the West took place during a highly anomalous period when tens of millions of young people actively sought alternative, exotic spiritualities. That historical window has now shut.

5. Keep in mind that the same nitya-siddha Prabhupada made little progress in his pre-Jaladuta Indian preaching. Result: he revamped his strategy. In fact throughout Prabhupada’s life, whenever the preaching was not progressing well, he changed tactics. Examples from his sannyasa life:

  • Switching from the failing League of Devotees to Back to Godhead distribution in Delhi.
  • Switching from BTG distribution to Bhagavatam production.
  • Leaving India to come to America.
  • After the four-sannyasi scandal of 1970, switching his headquarters from Los Angeles to India.
  • Stopping in India the pillars of ISKCON’s western expansion — public sankirtana and street book distribution — in favor of a life member program.
  • Starting and then suddenly stopping the In God We Trust political party.
  • Arranging marriages and then giving up the practice when most arranged marriages failed.
  • Switching from street sankirtana to book distribution as the main western outreach.

There are many other examples. The main point is that Prabhupada never insisted on doing the same thing, over and over again for decades, when it wasn’t working. That is what ISKCON in the West has done after Prabhupada left: the same tactics for decades, even when the western mission does not grow. That is not following Prabhupada.

I think we all agree on these points.

With best wishes,
Hridayananda das Goswami
March 14, 2015