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Section Three: Faith in the Context of ISKCON

What are we really part off?

Recently I witnessed an interesting exchange, one boy had been living at the temple for a substantial amount of time, but at the same time he was still continuing his studies in some university. Someone asked him,"When did you actually join?" He replied; "I haven't really joined yet!"

This raises indeed a number of interesting questions; What actually constitutes 'joining'? And if we did join, then what did we join? And why did we join?

To the question, "What did we join?" I would think that the broadest definition of what we joined would be 'the sankirtana movement'. We could sum that up in the verse:

harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha

For spiritual progress in this Age of Kali, there is no alternative, there is no alternative, there is no alternative to the holy name, the holy name, the holy name of the Lord.

Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 7.76

In other words, in the broadest sense anyone who takes up the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra would be considered a member of the sankirtana movement. If this would be the broadest definition of 'joining', then looking at the contents of what we have just 'joined', it may be noted with some irony that it includes a statement that many would consider the most narrow and sectarian namely; "There is no other way!"

If I progressively analyze what I have joined additionally, then I would say I have joined Prabhupada. Some would claim to have joined ISKCON, but my claim is that I've joined Prabhupada and that therefore I am a member of ISKCON. Then we can appreciate ISKCON as the dear creation of Srila Prabhupada, a facility in the middle of the modern world to offer people a connection with the spiritual tradition of the Gaudiya-Vaisnava-sampradaya, containing the essence of devotional service and yet in it's modern form the experiment of a religious movement.

When being questioned about the more excessive side of ISKCON, we might feel embarrassed to be identified in the public eye with; child-abuse and court cases, or with extreme books like "Monkey on a stick" or milder, "Betrayal of the Spirit", exposis describing a dark history of misconduct by too many of the spiritual leaders, or otherwise some have lost their faith after having been confronted with whatever garbage may be out there on the web. However one cannot just condemn a movement based on teachings that are of the highest standard of purity, because of the misconduct of some, and amongst them even prominent, members. They may have been in prominent in terms of their material position, but in the spirtual sense, they were not prominent in spiritual realization but rather sadhakas-'aspiring practitioners'-who like everyone else in the world fell pray to lust. Through observing such history one could learn many things, but it certainly doesn't dismiss the validity of Krsna consciousness.

Faith is meant to be Dynamic


sraddhavan jana haya bhakti-adhikari
'uttama', 'madhyama', 'kanistha'--sraddha-anusari

A faithful devotee is a truly eligible candidate for the loving service of the Lord. According to one's faith, one is classified as a topmost devotee, an intermediate devotee or an inferior devotee.  (Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 22.64)

Principle: As one is advancing in spiritual life one's faith is growing.


yo bhavet komala-sraddhah sa kanistho nigadyate

One whose faith is not very strong who is just beginning, should be considered a neophyte devotee.  (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.19)

arcayam eva haraye / pujam yah sraddhayehate //
na tad-bhaktesu canyesu /sa bhaktah prakrtah smrtah

A devotee who faithfully engages in the worship of the Deity in the temple but does not behave properly toward other devotees or people in general is called prakrta bhakta, a materialistic devotee, and is considered to be in the lowest position.  (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.2.47)


A kanistha adhikari, has weak faith is a materialistic devotee, who can not/ or does not want to follow sastra, but accepts Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.


yah sastradisv anipunah sraddhavan sa tu madhyamah

He who does not know scriptural argument very well but who has firm faith is called an intermediate or second-class devotee.  (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.18)








  • his priority is to become properly connected with the process.
  • it's difficult to change
  • is making a very serious effort to become purified from anarthas
  • really wants to change
  • is always absorbed in ecstatic loving devotional service
  • remembering Krsna

Principle: Srila Prabhupada said, that we must at least become madhayama adhikaris.

ISKCON in three layers

I. The Organization
II. The Perfect Process
III. Lord Caitanya's Intervention

I. The 'Organization'

It may also be called the'Society' or the 'Institution'. This part of ISKCON is its external form, it has facilities (the temples), authority structure (spiritual and managerial), history (glories and scandals), facts and figures (devotees made, books distributed, plates of prasadam, and the like).

Some have developed an extreme form of pessimism and have come to believe that ISKCON is dead.

Prabhupada himself was more optimistic throughout thick and thin he remained it's well-wisher. He compared himself to Mother Yasoda who would be fearful that something might happen to Krsna although nothing could happen. Prabhupada as the father of ISKCON, also an incarnation of Krsna, sometimes worried about his movement, although actually it cannot be harmed. (Danavir Gosvami)

II. The 'Perfect Process'

The real substance of this movement is its spiritual process, which is purely transcendental. No matter what happens, the chanting of Hare Krsna remains equally powerful.

One objection may be raised, "What about the risk of philosophical deviation that could corrupt everything?"

The Oil-spill

When some mammoth-oil-tanker spills oil in to the sea, the entire surface of the water in a large area gets covered by the black slick. It causes distress to so many living entities and many may die, especially those who are directly on, or just under the surface get the most affected. Although such an oil-spill is a big disaster, the sea has a self-purifying capacity and through the effect of waves and wind the oil is dumped on some beach.

In the same way a philosophical deviation may temporarily cover the truth, but the Absolute Truth will push away all confused ideas and their proponents.

However those animals that are living in the deep sea are not affected by the event. In the same way those who are deeply absorbed in the process of devotional service are not touched very much or not at all by such disruptions.

We have already introduced the concept of the kanistha- (neophyte), madhyama- (intermediate) and uttama- (topmost) adhikari. The word adhikari means authorization (authorization to enter in to Krsna consciousness). The kanistha is known as prakrta-bhakta, a materialistic devotee. one who is preoccupied with prakrti, the material energy, therefore such a devotee can not enter very deep in the spiritual process. He doesn't have much taste for it and therefore his attention will be drawn back to the 'Organizational' level, where all the latest ups-and-downs are the juice of the day. Because he remains only at the surface of the 'Perfect Process', he is susceptible to whatever may float on the top.

III. Lord Caitanya's Intervention

This is the deepest level of our movement, it is actually Lord Caitanya who is spreading the Holy Name to every town and village. This is the level where actual reality takes place. Who can see that the whole world is flooding in Love of Godhead, for many of us it remains still hidden. In construction water is one of the main problems in maintaining a building. There may be very fine, practically hairline cracks, but water will find its way and through seepage penetrate the entire building, yet on the outside one might never know.

Organized Religion

by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura

Sri Krsna manifest His eternal birth the pure cognitive essence of the serving soul who is located above all mundane limitations, King Kamsa is the typical aggressive empiricist, ever on the lookout for the appearance of the truth for the purpose of suppressing Him before He has time to develop. This is no exaggeration of the real connotation of the consistent empiric position. The materialist has a natural repugnance for the transcendent. He is disposed to link that faith in the incomprehensible is the parent of dogmatism and hypocrisy in the guise of religion. He is also equally under the delusion that there is no real dividing line between the material and the spiritual, he is strengthened in his delusion by the interpretation of scriptures by persons who are like-minded with himself. This includes all the lexicographic interpreters.

The lexicographical interpretation is upheld by Kamsa as the real scientific explanation of the scriptures, and is perfectly in keeping with his dread of and aversion for the transcendental. These lexicographical interpreters are employed by Kamsa in putting down the first suspected appearance of any genuine faith in the transcendental. King Kamsa knows very well that if the faith in the transcendental is once allowed to grow it is sure to upset all his empiric prospects.

There is historical ground for such misgivings. Accordingly if the empiric domination is to be preserved in tact it would be necessary not to lose a moment to put down the transcendental heresy the instant it threatens to make its appearance in earnest. King Kamsa, acting on this traditional fear is never slow to take the scientific precaution of deputing empiric teachers of the scriptures, backed by the resources of dictionary and grammar and all empiric subtleties to put down, by the show of specious arguments based on hypothetical principles, the true interpretation of the eternal religion revealed by the scriptures.

Kamsa is strongly persuaded that faith in the transcendental can be effectively put down by empiricism if prompt and decisive measures are adopted at the very outset. He attributes the failure of atheism in the past to the neglect of the adoption of such measures before the theistic fallacy has had time to spread among the fanatical masses.

But Kamsa is found to count without his host. When Krsna is born He is found to be able to upset all sinister designs against those who are apprised by Himself of His advent. the apparently causeless faith displayed by persons irrespective of age, sex and condition may confound all rabid empiricist who are on principle adverse to the Absolute Truth Whose appearance is utterly incompatible with the domination of empiricism.

But no adverse efforts of the empiricists, whose rule seems till then to be perfectly well-established over the minds of the deluded souls of this world can dissuade any person from exclusively in following the Truth when He actually manifests His birth in the pure cognitive essence of the soul.

Putana is the slayer of all infants. The baby, when he or she comes out of the mother's womb, falls at once into the hands of the pseudo-teachers of religion. These teachers are successful in forestalling the attempts of the good preceptor whose help is never sought by the atheists of this world at the baptisms of their babies. This is ensured by the arrangements of all established churches of the world. They have been successful only in supplying watchful Putanas for effecting the spiritual destruction of persons from the moment of their birth with the cooperation of their worldly parents. No human contrivance can prevent these Putanas from obtaining possession of the pulpits. This is due to the general prevalence of atheistic disposition in the people of this world.

The church that has the best chance of survival in this damned world is that of atheism under the convenient guise of theism. The churches have always proved the staunchest upholders of the grossest form of worldliness from which even the worst of non-ecclesiastical criminals are found to recoil.

It is not from any deliberate opposition to the ordained clergy that these observations are made. The original purpose of the established churches of the world may not always be objectionable. But no stable religious arrangement for instructing the masses has yet been successful. The Supreme Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in pursuance of the teachings of the scriptures enjoins all absence of conventionalism for the teachers of the eternal religion. It does not follow that the mechanical adoption of the unconventional life by any person will make him a fit teacher of religion. Regulation is necessary for controlling the inherent worldliness of conditional souls.

But no mechanical regulation has any value, even for such a purpose. The bona-fide teacher of religion is neither any product of nor the favourer of, any mechanical system. In his hands no system has likewise, the chance of degenerating into a lifeless arrangement. The mere pursuit of fixed doctrines and fixed liturgies cannot hold a person to the true spirit of doctrine or liturgy.

The idea of an organised church in an intelligible form, indeed, marks the close of the living spiritual movement. The great ecclesiastical establishments are the dikes and the dams to retain the current that cannot be held by any such contrivances. They, indeed, indicate a desire on the part of the masses to exploit a spiritual movement for their own purpose. They also unmistakably indicate the end of the absolute and unconventional guidance of the bona-fide spiritual teacher. The people of this world understand preventive systems, they have no idea at all of the unprevented positive eternal life. Neither can there be any earthy contrivance for the permanent preservation of the life eternal on this mundane plane on the popular scale.

Those are, therefore, greatly mistaken who are disposed to look forward to the amelioration of the worldly state in any worldly sense from the worldly success of any really spiritual movement. It is these worldly expectants who become the patrons of the mischievous race of the pseudo-teachers of religion, the Putanas, whose congenial function is to stifle the theistic disposition at the very moment of its suspected appearance. But the real theistic disposition can never be stifled by the efforts of those Putanas. The Putanas have power only over the atheist. It is a thankless but salutary task which they perform for the benefit of their unwilling victims.

But as soon as theistic disposition proper makes its appearance in the pure cognitive essence, of the awakened soul, the Putanas are decisively silenced at the very earliest stage of their encounter with new-born Krsna. The would-be slayer is herself slain. This is the reward of the negative services that the Putanas unwittingly render to the cause of theism by strangling all hypocritical demonstrations against their own hypocrisy.

But Putana does not at all like to receive her reward in only form which involves the total destruction of her wrong personality. King Kamsa also does not like to lose the services of the most trusted of his agents. The effective silencing of the whole race of pseudo-teachers of religion is the first clear indication of the appearance of the Absolute on the mundane plane. The bona-fide teacher of the Absolute, heralds the Advent of Krsna by his uncompromising campaign against the pseudo-teachers of religion.  (Excerpted from the essay Putana printed in the January 1932 edition of The Harmonist, or Sree Sajjanatoshani)

Via Negativa - Via Positiva

Excerpt from the virtue of Abstinence

Nonetheless while scientific research currently acknowledges the advantage of adopting certain ascetical practices, it was clearly the religious traditions of the world that initially propagated the wisdom of selective self-denial. Especially regarding sex. It is good to be chaste, to be continent, i.e., to exhibit self-restraint or moderation. In the West, such practices are identified with the early church fathers, who were often extreme in their pronouncements against sex. St. Jerome referred to sex as "unclean", while Tertullian called it "shameful" and St. Ambrose "a defilement." Augustine found it "particularly disturbing that Christians would exhibit such a lack of self-control,  and Aquinas felt that he "would rather run through the streets naked than give in to the lust associated with sexual activity." The views of these notable Christians can be traced to the Bible. The temptation and fall of Adam and Eve was the first indication that sex was a thing to be reckoned with. Augustine was the first to relate the original sin with sexuality, and by the time of Paul, it was "better to marry than to burn"-but better to remain celibate altogether. This ascetic worldview gained a stronghold in the early Church, and was not only supported by the Church fathers, as already noted, but also by less known groups such as Cathars (the Pure Ones ), an important Medieval Christian sect that stressed sexual abstinence. This view, characteristic of mainstream Christianity, is known as via negativa, and has traditionally been counterbalanced by a more Platonic/Franciscan centered doctrine, referred to as via positiva. 

Via Negitiva Versus Via Positiva

Via Negativa has been called the "fall/redemption" tradition. Its adherents hold that man and his world are inherently evil and that we need to take drastic measures to purify ourselves. Thhomas a Kempis, a strong supporter of this doctrine, put it bluntly: "Every time I go into creation, I withdraw from God." That is the basic idea- the creationb is bad, harmful, distracting, and therefore one must remove oneself from it, rather than become immersed in it. Via Positiva, on the other hand, has come to be known as a "creation-centered" spiritruality. Modern theologians, such as Matthew Fox, have articulated the virtues of this world-affirming view of life as opposed to the more world-denying view. Nature is beautiful, the doctrine preaches, and the body, as part of nature, is beautiful as well. Things of this world are to be embraced, not shunned; enjoyed, not dismissed.

This view has notable merit, and was endorsed in the Christian tradition by such masters as Meister Eckhart, St. Irenaeus, St. Benedict, and "the love mystics"- luminaries like St. Bernard of Claivaux, Hildegard of Bingen, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila, among others, who saw themselves related to Christ through bridal imagery. The via positiva, however, also has certain obvious limitations, of which the great Christian mystics were aware. One cannot hope to advance spiritually if one hedonistically embraces the joys of this world, an inherent danger when one sees the world in a positive light. If one becomes the slave of the body, how can he rejoice in the spirit? . . .

Both via negativa and via positiva, however, can be supported by biblical passages, and so contemporary theologians with a view towards pragmatism have opined that a merger of the two is probably the most appropriate worldview for believing Christians. And there is good sense in this. As Matthew Fox has written: "The via positiva is cheapened without the via negativa , and the via negativa without the via positiva becomes sick asceticism, more power-as-control instead of less in the universe." (From: Satyaraja Dasa, The four principles of Freedom)

Material Arguments for the success of ISKCON

By Harvey Cox and Larry D. Shinn

Religious movement in a foreign culture

When a religious movement moves into a foreign culture frequently the intensity of the devotion of that movement becomes more noticeable and more attractive- in part because the people who are going to make the long journey to another part of the world to present their tradition are people generally of a higher degree of commitment to it than people living back in the homeland, and also the new recruits to that movement will display, as new recruits do, a lot of enthusiasm.

Dilution of a tradition and revitalization

When a religious movement has been around for a long time, especially three, four, ten, twenty, thirty generations, it tends to a large extent to have made significant compromises with the dominant culture. Even though for time to time they may have internal renewal or revitalization movements, still, there is a certain kind of cultural accommodation which dilutes the power of tradition.

The cultural standpoint

Now, all this is one reason-looking at it from a cultural standpoint-why your movement is attractive to many in the West. But this dynamic has happened in the other direction also, from West to East. . . . There have for instance been many Hindu converts to Christianity in Japan in the latter part of the 19th century. The Jesuits who traveled to China in the sixteenth century were viewed by the Chinese as some kind of fantastic incarnations of wisdom and piety and they immediately became mandarins and advisors to the Emperor. There were even strong possibilities that many Chinese would have be Christians except that the Pope at the time thought that the Jesuits were making too many compromises with Chinese culture- not with material things but with wearing mandarin robes and integrating the Christian theology with Chinese philosophy and so on- and so he called them home and didn't allow them to pursue that course.  (In: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, p. 58-9)

Sociological reasons

Most people who join the movement were vegetarians before they joinediii far more than 50%, some for many years. And what is significant hat the theology provides a rationalization for that. So, it's not that someone joins the movement because they want to become vegetarian or are convinced of vegetarianism by the philosophy. It is that they are already largely vegetarians, some knowing why, some not quite sure why. Some just didn't like meat. There were four or five instances of this in my interviews, where devotees indicated that they simply didn't like meat and refused to eat it as a child, some would even throw up when they ate it. And so they became vegetarians almost out of physical necessity. But the theology provided an avenue for them to express this particular life choice they had already made and to make sense of it.  (In: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, p.65)

Prabhupada's arguments

Especially the youth of the world are taking very serious interest, because they are not at all satisfied with the standards of happiness their parents have accepted. Neither their teachers, parents, nor anyone can offer them the solution to what this human form of life is meant for.  (Letter to: Jagadisa -- Bombay 5 January, 1972)

Krsna arranged for Prabhupada's sake

When I was alone in your New York, I was thinking, who will listen to me in this horrible, sinful place? All right, I shall stay little longer, at least I can distribute a few of my books, that is something. But Krsna was all along preparing something I could not see, and He brought you to me one by one, sincere American boys and girls, to be trained-up for doing the work of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Now I can see that it is a miracle. Otherwise, your city of New York, one single old man, with only a few books to sell for barely getting eatables, how he can survive, what to speak of introducing God-consciousness movement for saving the humankind? That is Krsna's miracle. Now I can see it.  (Letter to: Sudama -- Bombay 23 December, 1972)

Bhagavad Gita also recognizes material reasons

for some to take up spiritual life

catur-vidha bhajante mam
janah sukrtino 'rjuna
arto jijnasur artharthi
jnani ca bharatarsabha

O best among the Bharatas, four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me-the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.

Bhagavad-gita 7.16

What import does this movement actually have in the world?

Why are there so few devotees?

Q.: How many are there who know of Vaisnavism? (or why so few take to it)

A.: How many postgraduates are being turned out? How many Newtons have been born? Is it a wise principle to give up the culture of science, because many professor J.C. Boses are not being produced. (Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, Lord Caitanya's teachings, Colloquium with Foreigners)

Can we actually change the world?

The relevant issue is not whether this movement attracts the people or not, it attracts Krsna and He can move mountains.

Garuda came to help the sparrow

A sparrow laid her eggs on the shore of the ocean, but the big ocean carried away the eggs on its waves. The sparrow became very upset and asked the ocean to return her eggs. The ocean did not even consider her appeal. So the sparrow decided to dry up the ocean. She began to pick out the water in her small beak, and everyone laughed at her for her impossible determination. The news of her activity spread, and at last Garuda, the gigantic bird carrier of Lord Visnu, heard it. He became compassionate toward his small sister bird, and so he came to see the sparrow. Garuda was very pleased by the determination of the small sparrow, and he promised to help. Thus Garuda at once asked the ocean to return her eggs lest he himself take up the work of the sparrow. The ocean was frightened at this, and returned the eggs. Thus the sparrow became happy by the grace of Garuda.  (Bhagavad-gita 6.24)

We may not be able to change the world, but the books can.

On the other hand, that literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms, pastimes, etc., of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world's misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.  (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.5.11)

This movement is changing the world

We are the living proof of it!