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I joined the movement fifteen years ago, being fed up with commercial love and superficial human relationships based on rapacious exploitation.
The only real and unconditional love I got was from my parents, who by the way, thought I was a kind of their possession. While reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, I could feel true love and genuine emotions oozing out of Vaisnava literature. I was impressed by Sri Caitanya’s loving dealings with His devotee, the Lord’s devotee’s compassion for the innocent and helpless, mutual unconditional love and trust shared between the Lord’s advanced devotees…and so on. "That’s it!" I thought, "an oasis in a desert," not being aware of devotees’ incapability of practical application of that wonderful theory.
One of the first things (if not the very first) I learned in ashrama was that women are an inferior species, nine times more dirty, six times lustier…than man, and being of very low intelligence— they should be told what to do. Well, this was obviously a well-filtered statement from the Vedic literature, taken out of its context. I can’t really remember anybody speaking about women’s protection in those days. Factually, one of our ISKCON sannyasis fuelled my newly acquired fanaticism saying that women are stool-pakoras. (I believe he has changed his attitude since then).
Being so caught up by that new paradigm I ventured to grab a few brahmacarinis by the neck for disobeying my orders. Some of my fellow brahmacaris went so far that they stepped over a sick mataji lying on the floor, or on another occasion failed to offer help to a mataji with a bleeding sore foot. I wasn’t aware that I was carried away by that chauvinistic notion until one day I came across one of Srila Prabhupada’s purports in the first canto of the Bhagavatam where he wrote: "The Vedic culture implies protection of children, women, elderly, brahmanas and cows."
Some years ago I heard that Manu-samhita confirms (something like):
"There where children, women, elderly, brahmanas and cows are not protected – all yajnas are destined to be a failure."
Today, I am glad to see that ISKCON has made a step forward— at least we have started to talk about children, women, and cow protection.
There are more and more devotees concerned about this. Unfortunately, many good intentions and ideas exist in theory only. But still, there is something we have forgotten to speak about (or we are pretending to have forgotten). As far as I can see, practically nothing has been done about protection of elderly Vaisnavas, our fellow devotees who have dedicated their youth, mind, intelligence, and bodies for one, two or three, decades in order to spread the glories of the Sankirtana mission.
What follow is a short story about how I became concerned about this. Nine years ago an elderly mataji told me, "Vrsabha prabhu, I am too old now to be able to live any longer in the brahmacarini asrama [she was in her early 60’s]. Do we have any nursing home in ISKCON where I could live together with other old Vaisnavas and render some service according to my limited abilities, preparing myself for death?"
As I didn’t know the answer to this question, I promised her to write to BTG to ask them. Soon after that I moved to Sweden with my wife (I got married that year) and forgot about the whole issue. There we met another elderly mataji (a Prabhupada’s disciple) who was very sick and needed a surgical operation. But since she couldn’t get financial help for her expenditures, she temporarily left her temple (and country) and came to Sweden to collect some money by selling paraphernalia.
My wife and I were moved out of compassion, but couldn’t help her. Then I remembered the first old mataji back in Croatia, and wrote a letter to BTG expressing my concern about the issue. I got a letter from HH Jayadvaita Maharaj who wrote that BTG wasn’t a suitable forum for that type of discussion. He wrote that he would forward my letter to the GBC, as their meeting was going to take place two months later in Mayapur.
As I happened to be in India that year, I knew that they had discussed the issue although I never received their reply sent to my address. A few days after GBC meeting I found in the prasadam room a copy of a brochure that had my letter (in an abridged form) and HH Prahladananda Maharaja’s response published in it. He was obviously appointed by the GBC to give a response to my letter. The answer was that at the moment we didn’t have any social scheme in ISKCON to deal with that matter, but what we did have was HG Prthu prabhu’s facilities in Vrndavana for ISKCON Vaisnavas who were just about to die.
What else could Maharaja answer? He simply presented a straight truth. I think it is about time we in ISKCON did something about it, as ISKCON is no longer a small joyous family of spiritual enthusiasts from the late 60s. Rather, it is a growing society, and as with any other society, it is based on relationships between its members. Being followers of Vaishnava philosophy, our dealings are supposed to be based on understanding and helping others. Isn’t it a practical application of genuine love?
Now, somebody may raise an argument: "But prabhu, we don’t have money for nursing homes and facilities for devotee’s health protection. You see, we have to spend a good deal of money on our preaching programs in order to redeem other conditioned souls from Maya’s clutches. We have to build a huge temple in Mayapur to impress the mainstream society in order to show them what the Vedic culture really means."
Is this a valid argument? I don’t think so. This sounds like an "Alexander-the-great syndrome." What would be more impressive for the mainstream society, a well organized spiritual institution with developed social structure or a huge temple in Mayapur? The former option would not only offer security and sense of love and care to the members of ISKCON, but would be a practical example of how "those Hare Krsna people" practically follow what is written in their books. It would mean translating theory into practice. Many potential spiritual candidates would thereby be encouraged to join us.
However, if we opine that it is more important to spend money on an impressive spiritual city, that city could be based upon a flimsy foundation. I mean to say, that would be like using a lot of cosmetics for covering up the bleeding sores of our society. Even after building such a monumental temple, all underlying problems will still remain; festering sores might transform into tumors or even cancer. That is actually what has been going on for many years — various groups of devotees are separating themselves from our ISKCON society and going somewhere where they feel safer, understood, loved, and emotionally fulfilled. (Of course, many people use this as an excuse for their deviant purposes, but there are some devotees who simply can’t cope with our society’s incompetence).
Now, somebody could raise another argument: "Every devotee must live out his or her karma and learn how to depend on Krsna." I conjecture that the adherents of such a philosophy wouldn’t say so if they broke a leg. They wouldn’t just leave it at that; they would do something about it (go to the hospital to get it cured) and then depend on Krsna. In other words, such an argument is simply an excuse for negligence, laziness, and hardheartedness.
There is a nice example in the Ramayana. When Ravana came to kidnap Sita, Jatayu didn’t shrug his shoulders thinking, "Well, what can I do? I am only a bird whereas this guy is a powerful king of the Raksasas. After all, Sita has to live out Her karma and depend on Rama." No. He was fighting fiercely, and even when he failed to succeed, Rama and Laksmana were very pleased with him.
This is what impresses God – our readiness to help and understand other devotees (and not only devotees and not only in times of trouble, but constantly). I understand that temple presidents want to get some new warriors against Maya, but what will happen to the old experienced fighters and generals whose bodies can’t go out anymore to collect money or be productive in any other way? Where can they ask for help?
It’s not that all of us will become gurus and be taken care of by our disciples in our old age. It’s not that all of us will become lucky parents of caring children who will look after us. It seems that this problem (unless dealt with) will become more and more prominent as time advances. I believe that some practical solutions could be found if we were prepared to confront ourselves with reality and our conscience. Let us create a better future not only for posterity, but for ourselves as well.
I apologize for my poignant statements. You could even get the impression that I am against our Mayapur project. It’s far from being the truth. I would be very happy to see both— a spiritual city in Mayapur and a well developed social structure in ISKCON based on love and trust.
But obviously, there is a logical and natural sequence. A solid foundation comes before the building itself.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
© CHAKRA 29 March 2002
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