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The Dumbing Down
of ISKCON

From Pancha Tattva dasa

You may have read accounts of schoolchildren being intimidated by rebellious classmates whose own academic performance is abysmal. The phenomenon is called "dumbing down." Students that attempt to excel are abused by their peers, who want to keep the overall achievement level of the class at an absolute minimum. In this way, a status quo of mediocrity is established and guarded jealously by its enforcers, who feel threatened by anyone trying to apply himself to the real business of school, which is to get a good education and be successful in life.

I submit that "dumbing down" can be found more and more in present-day ISKCON.

To pursue my analogy, I liken ISKCON to an institution for lifelong learning. The principal subject, Krishna consciousness, is a science that incorporates a number of fields of study, some of the major categories being the nature of the material and spiritual worlds, the conditioned and liberated living entities, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His innumerable manifestations. The role of each devotee as student and/or teacher is determined by his level of spiritual advancement as understood by his proven expertise in presenting Krishna consciousness and the "student record" or "teacher record" of his own personal behavior in applying the science.

The founder (founder-acharya) and professor emeritus of our school is Srila Prabhupada. All serious members of the ISKCON institution are engaged in the study and application of transcendental knowledge revealed by him through translation and commentary on the essence of Vedic knowledge: Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, etc., and careful study of Srila Prabhupada's personal application of the science of Krishna consciousness and that of the previous professors emeritus.

Since Srila Prabhupada's departure, some students who became professors have fallen from the proper application of the scientific method. Other professors have fared better, but senior members of the institution have many concerns. For example, a common complaint is that some students are trained to focus too narrowly on the professor who officially inducted them into the field of transcendental study, to the neglect of other very highly qualified teachers.
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Such questions and suggestions should be deeply considered in light of the track record of leaders of the institution. Professors must be willing to hear the well-meaning advice of their peers (godbrothers). Students must offer proper respect and service to all advanced practitioners, even if they do not have a big position within the institution. If ideas for reform and improvement in our institution are based solidly on supporting evidence from previous professors emeritus (gurus), the standard books of knowledge (shastra), and the authority and examples of highly learned and proficient scholars (sadhus), then such proposals can be considered and applied.

On the other hand, there are a small but growing number of students who, without the authorization of all three sources cited above, demonstrate for an overthrow of the standard teaching method (disciplic succession) and its replacement with a system based on sentiment and mental concoction.

The true believers of this "ritvik" doctrine display the symptoms of "dumbing down." They declare all professors to be unqualified to induct students, even going so far as to say that they occupy their posts illegally. They doubt the advanced standing of the professors of Krishna consciousness in spite of all evidence, and they vigorously campaign for elimination of the post of professor. If someone engages with complete dedication and single-mindedness in the practice of Krishna consciousness, they are treated with suspicion, derision and disrespect. If candidates for enrollment are attracted by that person's qualifications and wish to be inducted by him into the institution, the "ritviks" try to sway them to their distorted vision: No more teachers, just ritual-performing priests, everyone on the same level, no respect for advanced students, pull everyone down. They proclaim that the student's real professor is the founder (Srila Prabhupada) only, and thus they reject as insignificant his relationship with the teacher who inducted him.

In a sense congruent to my analogy, it's as if a student says that, because he's studying physics, Einstein is his real teacher, even though the transparent via medium of Einstein, his professor, is standing before him in the classroom. "No, you are not my professor. My professor is Einstein!" the befuddled fellow declares. It doesn't matter that the professor is presenting Einstein's teachings, explaining them, bringing the student into correct understanding, making sure he is following Einstein's science.

"Why don't you just come down here and sit next to me. You are not Einstein, therefore you are not my professor!"

Thank you for enduring my somewhat overwrought analogy of ISKCON as an educational institution. This analogy is not a perfect one. For example, the comparison of guru to professor does not convey the absolute position of the spiritual master, nor does it communicate the proper attitude of a disciple (student). The disciple's mood of submissive inquiry and service toward his spiritual master goes far deeper than that present in any mundane academy, and the benedictions of the guru can never be offered by a dry educator. Nevertheless, the analogy is a useful one when considering the dangers of "flattening" ISKCON by artificially considering devotees to be all on the same level. The fact is, there are very advanced devotees in this movement, big and small. These devotees meet the requirements for initiating disciples:

vaco vegam manasah krodha-vegam

jihva-vegam udaropastha-vegam

etan vegan yo vishaheta dhirah

sarvam apimam prthivim sa sishyat

"A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind's demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals, is qualified to make disciples all over the world."

I hope that my fellow students will not be misled by the "ritvik" doctrine. At the same time, let us all deeply consider improvements that can be made in our International Society for Krishna Consciousness that are bona fide and will benefit everyone. 'Dumbing down' will not help.

Your servant,

Pancha Tattva dasa

© CHAKRA 24-Nov-98

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