Friday, March 14, 2014

Krishna West and Shame

One of ISKCON's senior acharya Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, who has been teaching at the prestigious Berkeley Theological Union for many years, has been promoting a movement within the movement called "Krishna West." His proposal has met with controversy, especially since the GBC at its annual Mayapur meetings effectively "quarantined" him. Rank and file members of the movement have been commenting copiously on the meaning of Hridayananda's proposals, which primarily center around issues of the distinctive Hare Krishna dress, showing that he has definitely struck a nerve.

Hridayananda vehemently protests that he remains true to the teachings of Srila Prabhupada without compromise and that he is using the issue of dress to make Krishna consciousness more palatable to a wider range of people whose prejudices are awakened by strange appearances. In other words, he claims that he is using the dress issue as a kind of subterfuge to bypass people's bias in order to preach pure Krishna bhakti. Nevertheless, though he presents his proposals in this way, his arguments clearly go beyond dress: they subvert the very concept of "Vedic culture" that the founder of ISKCON promoted in his disciples, almost completely marginalizing its very Indianness or the meaning and significance of its Indian origins.

Recently I have been reading Thomas Scheff's "Microsociology," In attempting to answer the riddle and role of social bonding, he pinpoints shame and pride as constant and natural dynamic in the individual as he or she responds to social acceptance by feeling "pride" and to rejection, however subtle, with "shame."

One of Scheff's primary insights is that this microcosmic dynamic,
constantly taking place subliminally in all interpersonal relationships from infancy through life, manifests in groups as well as in individuals. In India, this is apparent in the ways that jatis would take up the mission of Sanskritization in order to elevate their status within the highly structured world of caste. In the USA, a similar mechanism led to a kind of homogenization of religions, where in the interest of belonging to the wider American culture fundamental differences between religious traditions were marginalized and a kind of "national religion" with a common ethic was tacitly given overarching authority.

Scheff points out that human beings are fundamentally social, with both positive and negative possibilities. He uses the term "engulfed" to describe those who submerge themselves into a particular social group or community at the cost of their individuality, such as in a cult, whereas those who are cut off from society are "isolated." This latter characteristic is also referred to by terms such as anomie and alienation.

In the 1960's, when Krishna consciousness first came to America, there was a wave of  alienation amongst youth that manifested as the hippie counterculture. The failure of hippiedom to provide answers left a group of isolated individuals -- who were thus doubly alienated -- to further seek a meaningful alternative, which was provided by adherence to the new group, Hare Krishnas.

In the beginning, Prabhupada pushed these young social dropouts towards an alternative concept of human life and meaning, and his followers eagerly embraced the Vaishnava "dress code" as a symbol of their rejection of both the dominant "work ethic" establishment as well as the confusion and seemingly directionless libertanism of hippie-ism. The dress was a proud and externally visible symbol of that act of rejection and our acceptance of a different lifestyle paradigm.

Other than for the most committed members of the Krishna conscious movement, Western dress is already the de facto norm for most devotees (West or East) in daily life. It thus seems to me that unease with wider, fundamental aspects of the religion is the unspoken undercurrent for which dress is a synecdoche.

The underlying worry is that Hridayananda is capitulating to modern Western rationality and this is where the real danger is perceived by many bhaktas. The question is whether or not Krishna West is a betrayal of Srila Prabhupada's fundamental rejection of the post-Enlightenment scientific consensus and its cultural manifestations in the great spreading Blob of modern civilization. Following Scheff's analysis of this fundamental social dynamic, we can look at the entire phenomenon as rooted in a generalized sense of shame.

After Prabhupada left, our original sense of pride and omnipotence slowly began to dwindle. We became increasingly ashamed at our numerous collective failures to realize the promises that were made in terms of personal and social leadership and our ability to effect significant change in the broader society, especially in the "advanced" Western societies. This failure was not a result of dress code choices, but in our inability to recognize the relation of modern societies to religion and the depths of the critiques of religion that have been made over the last 250 years in the West, and to respond to them meaningfully.

The secular juggernaut opposes simplistic and fundamentalist religion, a distaste that is constantly being renewed with quite credible arguments, many of which fall directly on our ears and apply to our own lived experience. The dissonance between our professed beliefs and lifestyle and the necessity to function in the world where we live grows.

Moreover, the greater portion of the society has a colossal indifference to the kind of spirituality we profess, and Western society is so constructed to make it easier to melt passively into this indifference than to take a stand for a recondite and foreign religion.

The overall result has been a sensitivity to our separatedness from mainstream society and its dominant class attitudes to the very differences we had once eagerly embraced and been so proud of. We once laughed at critics who told us to get a job, but eventually we found out that doing the pick and living off welfare were not only not spiritually rewarding but alienated us even further from the mainstream of our own birth cultures -- a triple alienation if you will.

We gradually began to notice that there were things that Western civilization seemed to do better than us; and then we further saw that the adopted India of our dreams seemed itself unable to resist the pressure of this secular world civilization, and when exposed to our direct experience rather than idealistic mythologies, it too lost its magical hold over us. What to speak of the generalized European cultures.

And this renewed sense of alienation from our spiritual tradition and the India of our dreams, as well as from our birth societies, has only increased with the passage of time.

Western media made fun of devotees because of their choice to differentiate themselves radically from the mainstream, in act and appearance, but gradually devotees internalized the mockery. We became increasingly ashamed as it became harder and harder to idealize our own character and accomplishments. Or, for that matter, to justify ourselves coherently to intelligent inquiry. Bombast and chutzpah only get you so far.

This shame, as Scheff noticed, is repressed. It is unspoken. It creates a corporate or communal sense of isolation that manifests itself internally in aggressive fundamentalism and obscurantism on the one hand, and an intense longing for acceptance by mainstream society on the other. "We are just like you," we want to say, where before we said, "We are different" and reveled in it.

So what is the solution? Hridayananda Maharaj has himself encouraged his disciples to pursue the scholarly vocation and (I have heard) even says that he thinks devotee intellectuals, trained by Western academics, will "save" the movement. My own faith in this proposal is tempered by the very fact that for most academics, the sacred lies in the exercise of rationality alone, something that enlightened members of their class themselves recognize as a flaw, since rationality is not the principal element in human behavior (to say the least).

Perhaps this rationality can be engaged in as a means to support bhakti, and certainly no religion can stand forever on the basis of ritual combined with irrational belief alone, but this also means facing off directly with doubt, meeting the challenges head on.

Wrestling with doubt does not inevitably lead to faith, but it certainly does require a change in perspective in order for the wrestler to come to terms with his or her beliefs.

The future of Krishna consciousness, if it has one, does indeed lie in an improved rational understanding of our symbols qua symbols, our myths as myths, and in the capacity of this rational understanding of our tradition to effect personal change in our own lives, i.e., in the practical application of an evolving understanding of the actual "scientific" truths of our religious approach. This requires an ability to extract universal meanings and apply them socially and personally. Current scientific findings in relevant fields can thus be used as support for establishing the meanings of Krishna bhakti and its scriptural traditions, etc.

The practical approach is not in one's isolated individuality alone, as those who promote spirituality often testify. It even more importantly requires the mastery of an enlightened and loving approach to personal relations with other members of our tradition, and in the consequent creation of effective communities based in the culture of prema.

It is my feeling that it is impossible to proceed in Krishna consciousness without radically rejecting the worldly point of view. At the same time, I do not believe that Krishna consciousness can be properly understood without a comprehension of human phenomena, i.e., without an analysis of our own spirituality and religion as a human phenomenon and subject to the laws of nature.

The Upanishad says that one must cultivate vidyā and avidyā side by side in order to properly negotiate our way forward in distinguishing the two and searching out the essence of our spirituality. But the dynamics described above make me suspicious that the arguments expressed in the debate over dress will result in interpretations of Krishna bhakti that due to acceptance of modern Western prejudices will not be capable of adequately describing it.





I have not studied Hridayananda Goswami's thought exhaustively, but I was told that he created a slogan, "West is real, East is best."  I doubt that he did, but the words provoked a little thought in me.
It is true that the West for Westerners is the working reality (vyāvahārika satya). How can we ever be free of the facts of our birth and existence in this world, no matter how much we run? And since we philosophically accept the world as "real," that means that as serious sādhakas we accept the reality of our situation; it is to be understood as real and possessing direct meaning for us, material and spiritual.

When we adopted the ideal of  "East is best," we were making a radical choice. The "East" here is clearly not the chaotic living India, but a romantic spiritual East presented us by Hindu preachers from Vivekananda to Yoganananda and finally to Prabhupada. 

It does not have to have existed historically in its ideal form to be real because it is only a dream, a human dream of spiritual perfection that was still alive because it was communicated to us by Srila Prabhupada himself. That made it real mentally and became the inner guide by which we set about transforming our living reality, internal and external.

As such, the West can be seen as giving us our sādhaka-deha, while the East gave us our siddha-deha.

But even on this level there are multiple Easts and Wests, so which ones do we choose? Which sādhaka-deha? Which siddha-deha? And how does the one affect the other? These are open questions that require more debate and introspection than the rather symbolic ones surrounding dress alone.

19 comments:

Jagadananda Das said...

A couple of issues come to mind that have not been mentioned here.

Krishna "West" really means Krishna as perceived by Americans, and a particular subsection of America at that.

Americans have been the protagonists of the spreading of KC everywhere in the world, and the American stamp is already clear in its international manifestation.

There is little doubt that Prabhupada himself promoted this, but the American personality is not adored everywhere, nor considered normative, whatever the existential situation.

Needless to say, the American optic is neither universally desirable, nor loved, and certainly not the absolute standard.

Another thing is that Hridayananda is a wealthy man by birth. It is hardly unusual for him to want to hang on to his class advantages, rather in opposition to the classical concepts of sannyas.

I take this as a consequence of his personal shame in relation to his class and a mostly unconscious attempt to support an ideological justification for that advantage, in keeping with the Marxist critique.

Anonymous said...

When are you going to stop speaking on this elementary form of GV?

Any idiot can argue with these feeder Iskcon gurus.

You know more, why are you not speaking the hard truth anymore?

You want disciples ?

Jagadananda Das said...

Thanks for the comment, Anonymousji. I wrote simply as an observation based on the confluence of two elements. My truth underlies everything I say and this too is part of it.

Jagadananda Das said...

You are right, of course.

sungazer said...

Pamho JagatJi. I am just thinking out loud. If I dont wear kanthiMala, tilak and have a sikha, then is it somehow assumed that I cant have Sri Krsna Bhakti in my heart? Assume at your own risk. What do we know, from external appearances about his internal state? Is it not true, in Vraja there are so many Uttama Devotees,who have had Darshan of Sri Sri Yugal Kishore, and in fact internally are very dear to Sri Bhagwan. They probably participate in the nitya leela, and they can hide it very well. So, what do we know. Who are we to judge? To say no, we dont accept that you can have Bhagavat Prapti? We may say whatever we want, and we can justify all our 'standards' of who Vaishnabas are and arent.

Acyutananda dasa said...

Great Artice!!!

Jagadananda Das said...

My thought, Sungazer, is that Hridayananda Maharaj is actually correct, but that does not solve the underlying problem that I am trying to point out.

A proper action done for the wrong reasons is not going to be effective in the intended way and may indeed have effects contrary to the intention.

I do not trust someone who does things "for the sake of preaching." Preaching what? This preaching is of a religion. And from what I have seen, other than this dress business, Krishna West purports to be about dress and appearance only. As I say in this article, I think that is just the external dress. This is the thin edge of a wedge, but one that will shape Krishna consciousness in Hridayananda's image.

I doubt that he has grasped what Krishna consciousness in Rupa Goswami's image, or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's image is. From what I see, HDG is trying to synthesize a fundamentalist Prabhupadaism with his desire to fit into the world of his bodily identity.


Anonymous said...

Jagadananda Das said...

You are right, of course.

Anonymousji says...

I know...

Anonymous said...

I think you should assume a Sunderananda Vidyavinode type persona at this time and be a trident to all this madness created by these Iskcon feeder gurus, you should basically take them apart now, you have tried the 'lets all get along approach'

Maybe this has been your plan all along, and you been waiting for the right moment.

If so I thinks it's here

Anonymous said...

Or maybe guys just really don't like wearing pantaloons.
--darwin

Anonymous said...

Hi its darwin. I haven't read you in a long time, Jagat. And cool beard. I thought you'd be busting the whole thing open a lot more by now. Come outside of everything you're thinking. Lie to yourself and stop betraying the part of you the truth is covering. This style of Western analysis of our Hare Krishna religion.. there is no real Western analysis of religion. The utter boredom mundane depressing mood of it should be a giveaway. There is no sexual psychoanalysis. In any so-called study of religion. Its like Freud and Melanie Klein never existed. There is no open all-out total defense of the self or soul in any and all struggles or problems we have dealing with or acknowledging waking reality. Like Nietzsche was never here. 'I want to do something to my forebrain' Don't you remember when you first joined the Hare Krishnas? And all this with us here, you and your thinking and me and my refusal and my.. whenever you complete your universe you make a wall around it, I just say I'm on the other side of that. Remember seeing Nilachale Mahaprabhu? Wow I just found the whole thing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vea04_6Zuko What's Caitanya's guru's name? "This is pure love for Krishna in separation. The description of the avatar in the Naradiya Purana fits him exactly.." "Sannyasi, pacified, devotional and peace loving.." His daughter's really hot.

Jagadananda Das said...

What can I say, Darwin. Jai Gaura. The golden moon is rising over the mountains of Rishikesh. That summarizes my forlorn situation. But there is still time.

Patrick said...

Ha Jagadananda Prabhu,
I have a question and you seem to be the best person in the Gaudiya community to ask it to.

For a long time now I have doubts about the relevance of the Radha-Krishna symbol to my life... in the sense 'Why this particular couple out of poems of poets from a small subculture in far away India ?'. Even the message of the Bhagavad-Gita seems stranger to me than ever before. I guess I am losing faith... Radha and Krishna are becoming mythological figures, just like Aphrodite and Cupido already are.

I have been reading a lot of articles by C.G. Jung lately in the hope he would provide me with some answers. I also know you have some opinions about Jung and the relevance of his archetypes to Gaudiya philosophy.

Could you share some of your views on Jung, specifically in relation to GV.

Yours sincerely,
Patrick

Jagadananda Das said...

Did you check the keywords?

Anonymous said...

Why not drop the silly Krishna part and have it just "West" and teach about Western stuff like Thomas Paine, Baudelaire and stuff like that?

danagati das said...

Krsna bhakti can only appear in the heart if we follow the orders of guru.

it was Srila Prabhupada's strict instruction to many of his disciples to always maintain Vaisnava dress code.

after Kirtanananda Swami tool sannyasa and came back to New Vrndavan he started preaching that Srila Prabhupada did not want Viasnava dress. Srila Prabhupada wrote back telling him that he disturbing the society by preaching bogus stuff. Srila Prabhupada told him that he wanted him I sannyasa dress at all Times. i think he also chastised Guru das for not following the dress code.

if Srila Prabhupada's disciple who were personally trained by him fail to follow the strict Vaisnava ettiquttes, how do we expect the rest of the generation to follow.

HG Krpamoya Prabhu once mention in a Kirtan ettiqutte class, that what we do know will be followed by the future generation. if we mess up now the future generation will be missed up.

it is like a Mathematical equation. if we get one step wrongat the top then the answer will be wrong.

another analogy is a straight line. one fraction off and the line will be move in a different direction. Similarly what changes we make to the movemeñt now will effect the movement in the future.

Jagadananda Das said...

Patrick, I am sorry I missed answering your questions. This apology is now long, long overdue. If you write me at vrindavantoday at Google mail, I will try to respond. If you get this.

Jagadananda Das said...

Danagatiji. No doubt it is best for a disciple to follow as much of the spiritual master's direction as possible, but in general it might be well to understand that _no one_ can follow all the directions that are there, such as in Hari bhakti vilasa. Bhakti is not the path of grace for nothing, so there is much room for leeway. There are many verses that describe how even a small amount of service done sincerely is better than great external show. This is the difference between vaidhi bhakti and raganuga, as an ethos. At any rate, I think that to be a "taker of the essences" is advisable. See and acknowledge the good in others, and follow the path to the best of your ability, according to your understanding, for yourself. The worst thing would be to create a mood of animosity with those who are not following all the instructions when you yourself are unable to follow everything.

If the dress is important to you, and I agree that it serves an important function in strengthening your self-identity as a Vaishnava, and is therefore a valuable assist in breaking free of conditioned identity constructs, you must be careful that it does not simply become _another_ such construct.

vaishnavi said...

I did not join the Hare Krsna movement to wear a uniform. I believed in the idea that everything can be used in God's service. I lived as a monk for many years and wore robes while working in the temples. Now temples have changed and many devotees require money to make ends meet...hence, I work outside, and have to look the part. I don't identify with my work clothes. And when I come to worship in the temple it feels natural to wear temple garb. End of story.

Prabhupada did not preach wearing a uniform. According to time, place and circumstance we preach the philosophy. The same with clothing. I don't identify with any of it. It's not essential to consciousness. End of story.