ISKCON is Like the Great Holy River Ganges
Here I would like to humbly suggest a positive alternative for the future development of ISKCON, which necessitates an understanding of what ISKCON is. Everyone says, “ISKCON, ISKCON, ISKCON….” But what is ISKCON?—That is the question.
ISKCON is like the great holy river Ganges. The discrepancies we see there should be considered just like the foam or stool and dead bodies we see occasionally floating in the holy river Ganges. They never contaminate the river Ganges; rather, Ganges can absorb unlimited contamination and sins of unlimited sinful persons, and still it remains pure.
As the mighty Ganges flows down from Vaikuntha and Lord Shiva, through the Himalayan mountains, through the plains of India, ending finally at the Bay of Bengal and apparently enters the salt water ocean, but in fact does not merge into the salt water ocean but goes underwater and descends to other lower planets, returning eventually to Vaikuntha, so similarly, ISKCON flows down from Goloka Vrindavan through the mighty mountain peaks of the great acharyas, through His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his disciples who appear to be merged into the mainstream of the human society for preaching Krishna consciousness and who are all destined to go back to Godhead.
No one has any proprietorship over the Ganges. However sinful one may be, no one can throw him out of the Ganges. That would be ridiculous.
If we accept the holy river Ganges as being analogous to the flow of transcendental teachings coming down from the spiritual world to the material world via the disciplic succession (Brahma, Narada, Vyasa, Madhvacharya, Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila Prabhupada), then some of the incongruities which we as devotees sometimes experience in ISKCON may be resolved in a realistic way.
We have already pointed out that although garbage, debris and dead bodies are to be seen floating in the holy Ganges, it is understood that the Ganges never becomes impure or polluted on that account. So ISKCON may also have apparent undesirable and non-spiritual aspects, even demons amongst its members—still ISKCON should be accepted as pure always. As with the Ganges, we simply push the undesirable debris and garbage aside and take our bath, similarly, in ISKCON we may brush aside or avoid the apparent non-spiritual members and their effects and try to dip deep into the instructions of Srila Prabhupada (books, instructions, etc.). Another consideration is that the river bed on the Ganges may be very broad, but that does not mean if we simply sit on a sand bar “where the river obviously is not flowing,” we are dipping in the Ganges River. So ISKCON, as an institution, has a very wide bed, but in many parts of the ISKCON institution there may be no flow of transcendental instructions or life.
The actual flow of the Ganges River is always changing. So Ganges means only where there is an actual flow of water. Where there was water last year there may be no water this year. So in ISKCON, what was spiritually vibrant at one time may have become completely dry and mundane at another time.
Although one may bathe regularly in the Ganges River, at no point in time does one ever become Ganges, nor does one ever have the right to restrict others from bathing in the Ganges. So a devotee does not become ISKCON. He is either a sincere recipient, practitioner and distributor of ISKCON’s transcendental knowledge coming from Prabhupada, or he is simply motivated to take material advantages by associating with ISKCON members. Some people may be fishermen and earn their livelihood from the Ganges in that way, thus receiving little or no benefit at all from the Ganges.
The Ganges River is most clear, uncluttered and consistently flowing nearest its earthly origin, Gangotri in the Himalayan mountains. Srila Prabhupada can be accepted as the mouth of the Ganges, known as Gangotri.
The early pioneering devotees who assembled around Prabhupada and engaged to help him push his ISKCON world-wide can be compared to pilgrims who trek to Gangotri for purification. Some of such early devotees eventually became known as ISKCON leaders. However, no provision has ever been made by Prabhupada to give any of such leaders authority to be guru-acharyas or to restrict, cast out, or “excommunicate” any devotees from the association of ISKCON, just as a pilgrim reaching the mouth of Ganges, Gangotri, does not have any right to restrict or cast out or “excommunicate” other pilgrims from bathing in the holy Ganges River, nor does he automatically become their guru, simply because he has trekked to the mouth of Gangotri.
All rivers entering the Ganges become Ganges. All rivers flowing away from the Ganges become non-Ganges. That is to say, they lose their spiritual power. But also, we should know that sometimes within the Ganges riverbed several separate streams of flow may be seen. So ISKCON may have diverse flows of spiritual activities in its one institution. Sometimes Ganges goes underground, so also may ISKCON go underground.
Sometimes Ganges floods beyond its banks. Similarly, ISKCON will flood beyond its normal institutional banks. In all cases, we must remember that as the holy river Ganges is not to be controlled by anyone, not even by her own river banks, similarly ISKCON is not an institution to be controlled by anyone. It is completely spiritual, and therefore everyone under all circumstances should be encouraged to dive deep into the transcendental flow of ISKCON’s teachings (as per Prabhupada’s books, etc.), and thereby be saved from material existence.
All kinds of persons take advantage of Ganges. Some ply their boat from one side to the other, taking passengers to and fro, thereby earning their living in that way, some earn their living as fishermen, and others use the river waters to irrigate their crops. Indeed, the British filled their ocean-going vessels with Ganges water, knowing of its unusual qualities. And lastly, some persons simply bathe in the waters of the Ganges with full faith in her transcendental power to wash away their sins. So it may be with ISKCON or as we say, “a house in which the whole world can live.”
The conclusion is that everyone, under all circumstances, should be encouraged to dive in deep into the transcendental flow of the river of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. If someone helps us in that endeavour, we would offer the appropriate respect due. But we should always remember that for such assistance we are not obliged to become blind followers to be exploited by such helper gurus for money, prestige, or other material enjoyments in the name of Prabhupada and ISKCON.
Sometimes pandas [extortionists] post themselves at popular bathing ghats along the Ganges river or popular temples like Jagannatha Puri. They take money from innocent pilgrims, bewildering them to believe that without their intervention or assistance, no blessings are forthcoming from the river or the gods. In our ISKCON, we see many such panda- like gurus—those who pose themselves advantageously for extracting wealth, honour and sense gratification from innocent disciples, bewildering them to think Prabhupada’s and Krishna’s mercy is only available if one submits to them. Such gurus may be compared to dead bodies floating in the river Ganges. The materialistic activities such gurus introduce for collecting money from the innocent public may be seen as garbage and debris floating in the holy river Ganges. The preaching these panda-like leaders do to encourage and perpetuate such practices can be compared to the stool and foam seen floating on the surface of the Ganges. It can be easily brushed aside. However, when dealing with dead bodies or garbage and debris, it is advisable to wait till they float by until entering the holy river.
Actually, anyone can have full access to the flow of transcendental instructions of Srila Prabhupada, which are just like the great holy river Ganges flowing uninterruptedly down from Vaikuntha, through the disciplic succession. Those who have set themselves up as pandas for regulating and extorting the
innocent public should be avoided.
A temple may be compared to a ghat along the river Ganges, which is built for the convenience of the pilgrims. But sometimes it is seen that these ghats become so crowded with materialistic men looking to exploit innocent pilgrims, it is often better to enter the Ganges at some secluded or less crowded place. In other words, it is advised by Lord Chaitanya, Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Prabhupada that it is better to remain at home and practice Krishna consciousness by following the principles and chanting the Holy Name than to prematurely abandon one’s social position to join a temple or math, thinking thereby, “I am a first-class devotee.” Such thinking should be avoided.