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Prabhupada and Compassion
by Thakur Haridas das

I have followed with interest the exchanges between Umapati Swami, Niscala devi dasi, Maharani devi dasi, Krsna Avatar dasa, Isvara dasa, Amara dasa, et al. As a sannyasi and senior Prabhupada disciple Umapati Swami is due all respect. He has called me "unintelligent" in response to my previous contribution and I accept his judgement. Since I lack intelligence and devotion there is no need to express my own views.

However, I am fortunate to have a new book by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, called Vaisnava Compassion, which is relevant to the dynamic of the exchanges. From the Chapter "Reaping the Fruits and Learning to Live With Them," I humbly offer some excerpts for the consideration of thoughtful devotees.

"As much as we need to preach to nondevotees, we need to preach to those who arrive at our doorstep, hoping to begin their spiritual lives. This is the moment when we reap the fruits of our preaching. Therefore, when we speak of Krsna conscious compassion, we must also discuss the vocation of counseling and caring for devotees.

"In the past, ISKCON was not so compassionate toward devotees, often rejecting them for their weaknesses or not accepting their desires to serve in more individualized ways. Institutions in general are often rigid, formalized, and they find it difficult to give room to those who need to express themselves in ways beyond the mainstream. This rigidity leads people to think of institutions as oppressive and uncompassionate, and often they are right....

"It is not within the scope of this book to present a treatise on ISKCON's ills and how we should remedy them. Still, there are some general points that can be made. The first is that we should be careful not to judge others. When we do avoid judging others, it's usually because we are prepared to hear from them why they are doing the things they are doing. Avoiding judgement does not mean failing to give guidance or support when necessary; it simply means we give up our self-righteousness. To give up self-righteousnesss, we have to be most interested in personal reform....

"Giving up self-righteousness, however, does not mean that we should rubber-stamp lower standards. It means facing the standards, our imperfect ability to follow them, and responding with humility. As we devotees try to find our balance between personhood and institutional life, ISKCON has become rife with humanistic sub-movements, many of which do advocate lowering the standards of behavior Srila Prabhupada set for us....

"Rebellion against ISKCON is another pit into which a number of devotees fall. As we mature in spiritual life, we actually lose our cynicism toward ISKCON, because we no longer mistake the institution for Krsna. Srila Prabhupada established ISKCON, and he seemed to have bright hopes that everything could be taken care of by living within it and following the rules and regulations. One could say that ISKCON is a faded utopia, or even that the movement has grown in such a direction as to require most devotees to pursue their Krsna consciousness outside the original framework. But if we are chanting Hare Krishna and serving Srila Prabhupada, we are not outside Lord Caitanya's gift, the kind of Krsna consciousness that we can take with us anywhere. It is a moveable feast.

"Although devotees are able to separate Krsna from ISKCON, however, they are not always able to separate Prabhupada from ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada is more than this institution, and he cannot be left frozen in 1977. Life has gone on, and our institution has grown and changed. We do not need to interpret Prabhupada now, but we do have to apply his teachings to the times that are with us. As we learn to do that, we learn to live with Prabhupada, pray to Prabhupada, beg Prabhupada for his mercy and guidance, and feel Prabhupada's compassion toward us. We will learn to see how Prabhupada is responding to us now.

"I thought about this point when I received a letter from someone accusing me of not doing what Prabhupada said. He said he had a letter that proved his statement. But I can only respond, 'You may say that, but my Prabhupada is very kind to me. I know that. I am still in touch with him.'

"If we learn to live with Prabhupada in the present, we can be confident that as our hearts become purified, he will speak to us—not only through the institution, but directly. Some devotees point out that this means we have lost the simplicity we had in those early days, but I feel that as we gain confidence in our current relationship with Prabhupada, despite the loss we will better serve the institution. We cannot stay children forever.

"Therefore, we can say that Srila Prabhupada was compassionate enough to create an institution not only to sell his books but in which we can offer many kinds of services. It is up to us to mature and cooperate out of love for him. His request that we do this has ensured the continued advancement of those who take that order to heart."

I hope these excerpts will provide valuable food for thought.

Thakur Haridas das

© CHAKRA 1 November 2001

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