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A Response to the Debate on Charitable Acts
by Kenneth C. Rowe

As a "karmi" with many nice devotee associations (and working daily in New York City as I do), I must comment on the debate surrounding the spiritual merits (or lack thereof) of recent charitable efforts pursuant to the September 11th tragedy.

Both sides of the argument are rational, with Locanananda das' being the more spiritually compelling. Certainly, as a Society (of Vaisnavas centered around the teachings of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada) no one takes exception to Locanananda Prabhu's line of thinking. Such reasoning is based solely on Srila Prabhupad's writings, which form the nucleus around which your Society is based. All of this is logical and unquestionable if the core of the Society (and the teachings of the jagad-guru) are not to be rocked.

On the other hand, Malati devi dasa and Hayagriva das both raise salient points which cannot be overlooked either. Perhaps because I am so truly fallen and spend so much time on the mundane platform, I can deeply relate to their respective submissions. This brings me to the point of my letter.

To the extent that ISKCON is involved in endeavors — whether they be sankirtan in the City and/or shouting "Hare Krishna" and cheering the volunteers, or book distribution to gawking tourists, or prasadam distribution to those now left homeless or to the "rescuers," or raising token lakshmi from within the congregation — these acts push the Holy Name of Krsna out into the world and into the minds of those who need true rescuing...we, the public-at-large! To the extent that the public learns of ISKCON's efforts, and perceives those efforts to be charitable, this creates a favorable impression toward ISKCON — which in turn favors public receptivity towards the hearing and chanting of the Holy Name.

In other words, it is all ultimately done for Krsna's pleasure, in His name.

We must remember ISKCON is a truly unique, American-incepted, Western-rooted (but now) global Society. However, at the time Easy Journey To Other Planets was penned, it may have been difficult to conceive of the magnitude and breadth of influence that Bengali-based, Gaudiya teachings would have on the world over the ensuing 35 years, and to successive generations beyond just the hippie era. In order to shock our Western material conceptions of spiritual practice, and reverse our conditioned behavior, such "drastic" instructions had to be laid down.

But latter-day ISKCON must seize whatever opportunity it can to be in the public eye and consciousness — just as much as the Quaker society, or Mormon society, or Seventh Day Adventists, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any other religious-based societies have done in order to continue successful deliverance of mercy. Otherwise, ISKCON can remain insular and private and distant, like the Amish — which seems anathema to the very vocal purpose of sravanam, kirtanam, etc. (Besides, I don't see droves of people these days subscribing to Amish philosophy for its spiritual superiority or relevance. In fact, Amish Society is dwindling as they are reduced to a mere tourist attraction.)

If ISKCON desires to remain a viable, thriving (religious-based) Society — continuing to fulfill Lord Caitanya's Mission — it must be perceived as sensitive, relevant, and connected so that public impressions are favorable. It appears sensible then to follow the examples and advice set forth by His Holiness Bir Krishna Goswami and His Holiness Romapada Swami — to be empathic, caring, kind (yes, even patriotic) Vaisnavas — all in Krsna's name.

At the root and heart of your spiritual Society lies Srila Prabhupad's eternal instructions, of course. But we must abide by our living masters' leadership, interpreting His Divine Grace's instructions for life in today's world. In this way, too, the guys down at the firehouse will have the awareness (and respect enough) to save the Deities first, and devotees second, before running back to the station with that flaming platter of savories. Like it or not, we're all on this planet together.

Your unworthy servant,
Kenneth C. Rowe

© CHAKRA 7 October 2001

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