I have been listening to the various Iskcon internet radio stations of late. Yesterday I had Jayapataka Maharaj's lectures playing most of the day while I worked. Most of it was poorly recorded so they made background sound and I did not pay much attention, but others were much clearer and I listened a little more carefully. Some of the talks were 20 years old, and his voice sounds like that of a young man, but he does some of that trademark yelling, working the crowd, making them chant Hare Krishna or respond to questions.
Every one of his lectures consists almost entirely of stories and anecdotes. These are either scripturally or real-life based. Nearly all are somehow related to the miraculous nature of the various lilas, or to "miraculous" events related to devotees' experiences in real life.
I felt a feeling of kinship towards him. I know, I know, I have heard all the negative stuff, and there is plenty of it. But there is something in me that responds whenever I come into contact with any Krishna conscious products that makes me nearly always feel this sense of belonging to this movement. No matter how superficial, formulaic, downright wrong-headed the things that I hear, I know that this is something that I am a part of. I rarely feel as though what I am hearing is something foreign to me, even when I am in full consciousness that my point of view is probably quite foreign to most devotees, as was proved during my stay at the Iskcon temple last year. Even when I disagree, I rather appreciate the direct relationship between what I am hearing and the way that I have come to see or interpret the very same material.
My major criticism is with the stridency, the "defeating of impersonalism" and so many other of the subjects I hear being discussed by Iskcon gurus, which seem to nearly always contain an element of rote. What I mean is that Srila Prabhupada set the discourse and though the penetration into the mysteries of what impersonalism is often seems extremely shallow, the rhetoric is bombastic. It all comes down to the creation of a common enemy as a way of psychological manipulation. These are very naughty games to play. Once again, I hate to throw around the "kanistha adhikari" accusation, but that is what it is. When the leaders resort to these kinds of ploys, they may gather followers, but they limit the development of their own followers by entrapping them in this spiritual bottleneck.
On the other hand, I will admit to feeling a twinge of envy. By striking out on my own, I have been exiled from the community of devotees. The only solution is to create a community, and I have not been able to muster the force to do that. To create a faith community, you need to have a central basis, a common purpose. Intellectuals usually make poor leaders because they are too absorbed in the pleasures of search and discovery; they are not simple enough for the masses who prefer the stories to the explanations of the stories.... Not that there's anything wrong with that...