Wroclaw, Poland
17 September 2004

This email arrived yesterday:

As you may recall, I’ve been catching up on your blog entries from last year. I just finished reading your entries from August 1 and 2, 2003.

It looked to me like you were grouping together different conspiracy-type things such as the poisoning thing, dividing up the world, etc., along with admitted sexual abuse and torture. I’m not sure if this was your intention, so I’m writing to ask. I would agree that throwing all sorts of accusations at sincere Vaishnavas is foolish and there do seem to be many crazies out there, but a lot of very serious charges have been made concerning treatment of children in gurukuls, and I’m not sure if these can be properly filed in the same group as poison conspiracy, book editing complaints, or zonal guru issues. In case you’re not that familiar with the gurukuli complaint, you can find it here:

I emailed back this reply:

In the August 1 2003 essay, I wrote this:

Now, I certainly do know that there is real dirt under ISKCON's bed that hasn't been brought into the light of every devotee's knowledge. But just because a conspiracy theorist's argument starts with a valid fact--that there is dirt under ISKCON's bed--does not mean that the logic that he constructs after that fact is valid. Spring water comes up from out of the earth in a pure state, but when it flows down to the ocean it becomes undrinkable. Similarly, when a fact comes to light it gleams with the purity of simple truth; but when it is seized by a loudmouth blinded by his own anger--or by a crafty schemer who wishes only to advance his own agenda--the purity of that fact is lost, being mixed with flaming invective and deceptive propaganda.

So here I've confirmed there that there is dirt under ISKCON's bed. I did not mention the gurukula tragedies in these essays of 1 and 2 August 03, but they are certainly an example of what I mean. My point is that even these misdeeds tell a simple truth of human failure in meeting the pure ideals that Srila Prabhupada expected of his Society. That simple truth, which illustrates (in a negative sense) that all we need in ISKCON is to be more Krsna conscious, is simply ignored by those who rush in to propagandize for mundane justice and reform. I am not saying that the ills of ISKCON should be swept under the rug. I am saying that they should be dealt with in a way that keeps the single goal of our movement at the forefront. Not that this goal--Krsna consciousness--should become the servant of the political fashions of democratic society.

While re-reading these two essays I realized I wasn't really saying anthing very constructive. I was reacting to some really crazy stuff I had seen on the Internet. This stuff certainly is not constructive. It is just criticism. So I was basically saying that it is hard for me to understand how someone claiming to be a devotee can absorb him/herself so deeply in the poisonous rasa of fault-finding.

Regarding the "single goal of our movement," below are two references I found in the Vedabase in which Srila Prabhupada succintly explains that goal. Note that he says that in this age there will always be light and darkness. And note carefully how he defines light. He does not define it as "human rights" or "justice" or "transparency", or by other cliched terms that have become shibboleths of political correctness.

But there is always light and darkness. Always. So the light party will be also there. This is the only, that take to Krsna consciousness. That is stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Kaler dosa-nidhe rajann asti hy eko mahan gunah. In the Kali-yuga, it is an ocean of faults. Dosa-nidhi. Nidhi means ocean, and dosa means faults. But there is one opportunity. Kaler dosa-nidhe rajann asti hy eko mahan gunah. Very great profit. What is that? Kirtanad eva krsnasya. Simply by chanting Krsna's name and becoming Krsna con..., one shall be freed from all these calamities and he'll go back to home, back to Godhead. Simply by this. Kirtanad eva krsnasya. This very word is used. Mukta-sangah param vrajet. So this is the only shelter. If people take to Krsna consciousness, they'll be saved from all the calamities of this age. Otherwise, there is no other... Now they are going to the forest, the hippies. Eh? Acchinna-dara-dravina gacchanti giri-kananam. Giri-kananam means to the forests, to the hills. They'll go. Acchinna-dara-dravinam. Dara means wife, and dravina means money. So they'll be separated from wife and money, and they'll go to the forest and hills, being disappointed. This is happening already.

This is Kali-yuga. But there is remedy. There is remedy. Kalau dosa-nidhe rajan. The faults of this age, just like ocean. Just like in the ocean, you cannot... Pacific Ocean... If you are put into the Pacific Ocean, you do not know how your life will be saved. It is very difficult. Even if you are very expert swimmer, so it is not possible that you can cross the Pacific Ocean. That is not possible. Similarly, the Kali-yuga, as it is stated in the Bhagavata, that infected with so many anomalies that there is no way out. But there is one medicine only: kirtanand eva krsnasya mukta-sangah param vrajet. That is also described, that "If you chant Hare Krsna mantra," kirtanad eve krsnasya, "especially the name Krsnasya, mukta sangah, you will be relieved from the infection of this Kali yuga."

ISKCON, being a world-wide society of mostly neophyte devotees who struggle to keep principles that stand in defiance of the current of the modern world, does indeed suffer to some extent from the infection of Kali-yuga. This shouldn't be surprising. In those August '03 essays I point out that the places where the most dangerous diseases are to be found are the hospitals. But that fact is no reason for agitating that all hospitals should be closed!

As Srila Prabhupada used to say, "What's done is done." The past can't be changed. The sinful reactions now coming down upon ISKCON from its past episodes of darkness can't be waved away by wishful thinking. We have many lessons to learn. Some of these lessons are going to teach us about Kali's strategy of using "good" (the rectification of injustice by worldly legal means) to tie down "the best" (the transcendental sankirtana mission).

In my opinion, those who propose to cure the infection of Kali-yuga by measures that are not supportive of what Srila Prabhupada called the "one medicine only" are themselves fomenting darkness against light. As we see from Srila Prabhupada's description of this age, people today are so overcome by frustration that they are blindly driven to any extreme to try to get relief. But to wage a court case aimed at the destruction of the very movement that administers the "one medicine only" to the whole world is not helping cure the greater ills of this age. It is a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

Child abuse is a grave spiritual offense. Jesus Christ declared that better a person enter deep water with a millstone around his neck than do harm to a child. Child abuse is also a very emotional social issue. But we need to keep a close watch on the emotions that it stirs up, because in our present conditioned state, our emotions are impure.

Emotions are like over-excited horses that can at any moment charge blindly against intelligence and sobriety. Democracy (Prabhupada called it "demon-crazy") is a servant of populist emotions. Again and again in history it is seen that the voice of democracy too often shouts down sober persons who advocate tolerance, caution, and scriptural reason. In this way democracy follows the stampeding emotions from bad to worse predicaments.

The Internet purports to be a loud voice of democracy. The forums where "devotees" come to play the populist game of I'm a Victim--by giving vent to their raw, unrefined emotions, by calling for the crippling of the ISKCON mission in the name of equality, justice, punishment, and drastic reform, and by shouting down sober thinking whenever it shows its gentle face--are obviously not the Internet sites that inspire the reader to enthusiastically perform the yuga-dharma. No, here you'll get the association of no-hopers like the German householder couple who, just after their guru Harikesa fell down, told me, "We don't think that 'just chanting Hare Krsna' is enough."

It's sad to see people join the Hare Krsna movement with bright hopes only to later meet with misfortune. Still, our philosophy warns us that becoming a devotee does not mean that we will never again see misfortune in this lifetime. Our philosophy asks us to keep a firm grip on clear intelligence and cautious sobriety so as not to angrily, immodestly style ourselves as blameless victims of some sinister conspiracy ("Man is born free but everywhere lives in chains!"). The very fact that we are born in Kali-yuga demonstrates that we are hardly blameless for the bad things that happen to us. Ours is not an age of innocence!

What can be said about those "devotees" who take victimology (a modern disease of the emotions introduced by Jean-Jacque Rousseau back in the 1700's) to such an extreme that they turn on Srila Prabhupada's world-wide sankirtana mission, laying upon it all the blame for their lives' problems?

They're upstarts...that's what I think, anyway. Dictionary definition:

A person of humble origin who attains sudden wealth, power, or importance, especially one made immodest or presumptuous by the change; a parvenu.

Such upstarts have become suddenly important (an important threat to the sankirtana movement, if nothing else) because of the growing influence of populist emotionalism upon the dynamics of ISKCON society.

Now, to switch gears while moving in the same direction of thought, I have something to add about pseudo-intellectuals. These folks are typically less emotional than the populist upstarts. But their goal is basically the same, though their way to the goal runs through the intellectual realm.

The populists get highly agitated by moral and social contradictions. Let's take an old rhetorical example: suppose a woman is discovered bathing a baby in a tub of dirty water. The populists want this morally outrageous contradiction instantly done away with, even if it means throwing the baby out with the dirty bathwater.

When a pseudo-intellectual reads scripture, he delights in finding contradictions. Why? Well, one thing is, he looks like an important scholar when he publishes a paper that points out contradictions that nobody else noticed before. But more to the point, scriptural contradictions are his cue for calling for the baby to be thrown out with the bathwater.

Here's a typical argument:

"The accounts of creation presented in different chapters of Scripture X are in contradiction. Moreover, as a whole, Scripture X contradicts Scripture Y and Scripture Z. All these scriptures together contradict modern science. Acarya P offers an explanation for this, but that is his opinion only. I have a better idea. When it comes to affairs of this world, scripture should not be taken literally. Literal interpretation is quite all right where scripture tells of the internal, heart-to-heart relationship of God and His devotee. But when it comes to practical human life, scripture should be open to interpretation, since its statements in that sphere are obviously not absolute."

Here we have the recipe for secularism, an important comfort zone for those of abiding faith in human-centered ideals. Scholars even know how to make secularism sound like a religious virtue. Shukavak's book about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Hindu Encounters with Modernity, argues that it takes a devotee of strong bhakti to conform to the ways and beliefs of secular society, where the narrative of how the world came to be accords to the Testament of Saint Charles Darwin. "No need to fight good old St. Charlie," the pseudo-intellectual smiles benignly. "Fighting the evolutionary account of the world is only for neophytes who haven't yet realized the underlying, allegorically-stated truth of scripture--that this world belongs to man, and that world belongs to God."

Hence ISKCON--which exists in this world, not that world--could be reformed to embody modern secular, democratic ideals. Could be, if its members weren't such neophytes who just have to believe that their God has from the start personally guided every little detail of our world exactly as scripture says...or at least as this chapter of this scripture says, which is in contradiction with other chapters of the same scripture, and of course is furthermore in contradiction with many other scriptures. And completely in contradiction with modern science, which, as we all know, has proven what's really going on in the material world.

That's why I call these fellows pseudo-intellectuals: their faith is ultimately reposed in sense data, not in the intellect. "Seeing is believing" is a motto of faith in the empirical method of knowledge. But in fact an intellect that is more detached from bodily values is able to call into serious question the validity of "seeing" through the senses. As Thomas Moore (1779-1852) put it, "The world is seldom what it seems; to man, who dimly sees, realities appear as dreams, and dreams realities." I never tire of pointing out in these In2-MeC essays that guys like Thomas Moore were not even devotees--they just had some flashes of real intelligence!

In a nutshell, pseudo-intellectuals, like the populist upstarts, have an agenda: the preservation of the modern secular state. Dictionary definition of secularism:

The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.

A secularist can be at the same time a devout believer in God. But the theology of his belief must tend to conform to Deism more than Theism. Dictionary definitions:

Deism: the belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation.

(Hence, for there to be order in this world, man has to take control of what God abandoned. The deistic God transcends this world but does not pervade nor otherwise influence it. Recalling the baby and bathwater example, according to the Deists there is no "baby", i.e. God, in the "bathwater", i.e. the world. So there's no point in looking for anything holy and worth preserving in the bathwater. It's dirty, that's all, throw it all out--i.e., everything in this world is open to political manipulation according to mankind's needs of the moment.)

Theism: belief in one God (monotheism) transcending but yet in some way immanent in the universe. Contrasted with Deism. Other characteristics are usually associated with this monotheistic deity of theism: God is personal, the creator, the sustainer of existence; omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient; supreme in power, reality, and value; the source and sanction of all values; and accessible to human communication.

Regarding scriptural contradictions, see what Srila Prabhupada has to say and how he ties that with theism:

Just like the cow dung is the stool of an animal, but the Vedic literature confirms that cow dung is pure. Now, you cannot argue, "It is stool of an animal. In one place you have condemned that if you touch the stool of an animal, you have to take bath thrice, and now you say cow dung, which is also stool of an animal, it is pure. Where is your argument?" You have to accept. That is called theism. Because the Vedas says, without any argument, you accept it. That is called theism. You cannot change. You cannot comment. That is called theism. Astikyam. Brahma karma svabhava-ja. And unless you have got such faith in the Vedic knowledge, you cannot make any progress. That is not possible. If you, with your poor fund of knowledge, you want to interpret, from the very beginning there is no question of progress.

Pseudo-intellectuals and populist upstarts immodestly jump to make fundamental changes in the philosophy and practice of Krsna consciousness. They do this because they are not really theists. They hold more to sense-based reason and/or emotion than they hold on to Krsna's guiding hand behind all things that happen in this world. This is called laukika-sraddha, worldly faith. It is not sastriya-sraddha.

They may be devotees of some kind or other, these pseudo-intellectuals and populist upstarts. But as Prabhupada states above, they "cannot comment." It is not their adhikara to give instruction. If they presume for themselves the positions of instructors, "from the very beginning there is no question of progress."

Speaking of Shukavak's book, Krsna-kirti Prabhu at the ISKCON Cultural Journal website published the following essay on 10 September. It is not about Hindu Encounters with Modernity per se, which I "reviewed" on 12 August. (Mine was not a review, really, it was--as I stated in In2-MeC of that date-- a "search and destroy" of one chapter of the book. I was being deliberately provocative. Yes, once in a while I do enjoy (NYUK! NYUK! NYUK!) agitating the hive mind of a certain "Gaudiya" website.) Anyway, Krsna-kirti's essay is about an article Shukavak wrote that covers the same ground as Chapter 5 of Hindu Encounters with Modernity. I'm happy to note that he arrives at the same conclusion I did: that a devotee of today who subscribes to adhunika vada (the modern approach) in his understanding of sastra will turn into the very same sort of person that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura intended his Sri Krsna Samhita to be read by: the faithless Westernized Hindu.

Shri Krishna Samhita and ISKCON's Future

There is a book written by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura titled Shri Krishna Samhita, and over time devotees within ISKCON are going to hear more about this book and its precepts. Shri Krishna Samhita is a critical historical analysis of Vedic literature, including the Srimad-Bhagavatam, using the academic techniques prevalent in the latter part of the 19th century. Devotees are going to hear more about it because it is being acclaimed by scholars on ISKCON's periphery and within ISKCON itself as providing an academic basis for strengthening the faith of its own members by reconciling Vedic texts with modern thought. As Tamal Krishna Goswami and Krishna Kshetra Prabhu in their essay "Re-Visioning ISKCON" declare, ". . . following the lead of nineteenth-century theologian Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838 - 1914) [9], ISKCON can reexamine its traditional texts and reappropriate them in ways consistent with modernity, discerning the symbolic through critical scholarship."{[1]}. This is overtly a reference to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura's work in Shri Krishna Samhita, which the footnote in the quoted declaration (the "[9]") confirms: "For the most authoritative work on Bhaktivinoda, see Shukavak 1999 [Hindu Encounter with Modernity: Kedaranath Datta Bhaktivinoda, Vaisnava Theologian.]

In the same book (The Hare Krishna Movement), Shukavak N. Das has contributed a short essay, "Bhaktivinoda and Scriptural Literalism," that concisely explains this position. Before examining in more detail Shukavak's thesis, it might be helpful to start off with his own experience in explaining to devotees the adhunika vada, or "modern approach" to understanding shastra (scripture).

I once presented a summary of Bhaktivinoda's analysis of Vedic history from his Upakramanika to an audience of Chaitanya Vaishnavas. I stated Bhaktivinoda's view that the Bhagavata Purana might not be a work compiled by the Vedavyasa 5,000 years ago, as orthodox Vaishnava tradition teaches, but may be a work not older than 1,000 years, compiled by a southerner writing in the name of Vedavyasa. Bhaktivinoda had reached this conclusion by analyzing certain geographic and cultural aspects of the Bhagavata..28 He was voicing an opinion arrived at through the use of the techniques of the adhunika vada.

A suggestion such as this coming from a secular scholar steeped in western criticism would not be unusual and could be easily deflected, but coming from Bhaktivinoda, a teacher from within the tradition, it cast a spell of disbelief over my audience. Many doubts arose: perhaps Bhaktivinoda did not actually believe these things but used them as a "preaching tactic"; perhaps he wrote his work when he was young and still learning but later came to reject these views; or perhaps my understanding of his perceptive was incorrect.

I was approached by one respected participant who was greatly perplexed by the mere suggestion that Bhaktivinoda may have said that the Bhagavata was only 1,000 years old or that it was not written by the Vedavyasa. I realized that this individual was upset because I had challenged one of his most sacred beliefs concerning certain historical details about that work, I had challenged his basic faith as a whole. The internal and subjective perspective of the traditionalist will not give credence to material facts that do not support and nurture religious faith.{[2]}

Evident here is the challenge to the faith of those devotees who always understood the Srimad Bhagavatam to be written by the Srila Vyasadeva and 5,000 years old. ISKCON's founder Srila Prabhuapada quite explicitly affirms this age and authenticity of Srimad-Bhagavatam in his commentary on the same,

Some Mayavadi scholars argue that Srimad-Bhagavatam was not compiled by Sri Vyasadeva. And some of them suggest that this book is a modern creation written by someone named Vopadeva. In order to refute such meaningless arguments, Sri Sridhara Svami points out that there is reference to the Bhagavatam in many of the oldest Puranas.{[3]}

The big problem, of course, is the claim that the Bhagavatam is no more than 1,000 years and not written by Vyasadeva has its origin in Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Now we have a real crisis of authority on our hands: on the one hand, if we accept the authority of Srila Prabhupada's commentary (and for that matter Sridhara Swami's commentary which Lord Chaitanya also accepted), then we face the possibility that one of our stalwart acharyas (in this case Bhaktivinoda Thakura) has spoken something gravely wrong and offensive, and on the other hand if we are to accept the authority of Bhaktivinoda Thakura as quoted from Shri Krishna Samhita, then that significantly weakens our faith in the authority of Srila Prabhupada and other recognized acharyas. The fact that acharyas who are recognized as beyond fault can so contradict each other on points that are so critical to Gaudiya Vaishnava theology stands to permanently wreck faith in the whole enterprise of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology and practice. If no one can be accepted as an authority in Gaudiya Vaishnavism on account of such egregious contradiction, then loss of faith is a logical consequence.

Part of the problem is with how Shukavak (and others) present Bhaktivinoda Thakura's writings to Vaishnava audiences. Shukavak is convinced that the fact that Bhaktivinoda Thakura was a stalwart Vaishnava with great faith in Lord Chaitanya and Krishna and also wrote such things is self-evident proof that one can view the scriptures through the lens of adhunika vada (modern criticism of scripture) and yet maintain even a superlative faith in Vaishnavaism. Shukavak implicitly assumes that Bhaktivinoda Thakura actually held the views he penned in Shri Krishna Samhita. Is this assumption reasonable?

We can test this assumption with a counterfactual example. Let us say that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura somehow reappeared in the 21st century and found out that, as Shukavak himself points out, that "his historiography is completely out of date."{[4]} If his faith and devotion were to some extent a function of adhunika vada, then to the extent that current critical methods differed from the earlier methods on which his faith was in part based on could possibly result in some loss of faith. Since the underlying philosophical presumptions of modern historical criticism is not so much different than that of their 19th century predecessors, the differences arrived at by the older methods of historical criticism versus the newer methods probably would not be so different as to precipitate a crisis of faith. Nonetheless, fundamentally such methods rely on sense perception and inference, and the nature of conclusions solely based on these methods of understanding are thus subject to error--specifically the four defects of a conditioned soul. Today's trends in thinking and research over time often become discredited and quaint. An important philosophical point regarding adhunika vada, then, is that through adhunika vada one can never come to a correct, objective conclusion that is not subject to future revision; objective knowledge through this process is in theory unattainable. Adhunika vada thus cannot lead to higher knowledge about things which depend upon authority for understanding. (For that matter, there is plenty in the material world itself which defies the limited understanding of the human.) Bhaktivinoda Thakura's superlative faith in Krishna, therefore, cannot be a product of adhunika vada because adhunika vada is subject to change, refutation and self-contradiction in the course of time.

Since Bhaktivinoda Thakura's faith cannot be dependent on adhunika vada, then we might well ask why he spoke it at all? Although Shukavak seems to hold a different view, the view that seems compatible with Bhaktivinoda's high faith can be found in his declared audience:

With folded hands I humbly submit to my respected readers who hold traditional views, that where my analysis opposes their long held beliefs, they should understand that my conclusions have been made for persons possessing appropriate qualifications. What I have said about dharma applies to everyone, but with regard to matters that are secondary to dharma, my conclusions are meant to produce benefits in the form of intellectual clarification only for qualified specialists. All the subjects I have outlined in the Introduction concerning time and history are based on the logical analysis of Shastra. Whether one accepts them or not, does not affect the final spiritual conclusions. History and time are phenomenal subject matters (artha-shastra) and when they are analyzed according to sound reasoning much good can be done for India.22 {[5]}

So Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura's intended audience, as he himself explains, are those who have certain "qualification" (western educated people) and who also do not accept the traditional means of understanding shastra. Preaching through adhunika vada, then, is to bring the faithless to the point of developing some respect for the authority of the shastras. Srila Prabhupada himself often did this, sometimes he would refer to the dictionary for the definition of a word when preaching to westerners, sometimes he would quote current events and refer to scientific discoveries as he did in Easy Journey to Other Planets. The point of using examples and evidence in the course of preaching is to guide people in the direction of accepting Vedic authority. For example, when telling someone where the Sun is, we may refer them to a tree saying something like, "The Sun is in that tree over to your left." Now, the sun is not really in the tree, but if you look in the direction of the tree you are also looking in the direction of the Sun. If in a few years time the tree is cut down, then some other point of reference, perhaps a house, needs to be used to point someone in the direction of the Sun. The tree or the house is to the Sun what adhunika vada is to Vedic authority. Just as these local and temporary points of reference such as the tree or the house appear for some time and then disappear, so also do materialistic theories about reality appear and disappear. However, their utility lies in their potential to bring us to the threshold of devotion. Bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyante vasudevam sarvam iti.... Bhaktivinoda Thakura's intent in presenting Shri Krishna Samhita, then, is to bring the faithless to the point of accepting some faith in shastra, for which he hopes that ". . . much good can be done for India." Accepting something from shastra as true and good is better than accepting nothing at all.

Something needs to be said, however, about who might benefit from and who might be harmed by adhunika vada. After all, one man's food is another man's poison. The Puranas, for example, are categorized according to each of the three modes of nature. Some Puranas, such as the Bhagavata and Vishnu Puranas, are meant especially for those in the mode of goodness whereas other Puranas, such as the Shiva Purana, are meant for those predominated more by the modes of ignorance. A Vaishnava partaking of religious rituals mentioned in some parts of Vedic literature can result in that Vaishnava's progressive degradation, whereas those same rituals may gradually elevate someone who is to begin with very fallen. In the case of utilizing adhunika vada as a means to understand shastra, for someone without any faith in shastra at all this could be of great help.

By clearing misunderstood statements within Vedic literature from the path of understanding--statements modern people may find exceedingly quaint or superstitious--our faithless but nonetheless educated gentleman through adhunika-vada could come to appreciate some highly elevated precept such as rasa as being superior to other concepts of love as found in other religions. This is the beginning of faith, because if someone actually comes to respect and factually understand something proffered by Vedic authority (whether it is the guru or shastra), then that opens the door to accepting as true other things found in the Vedas which before would have been dismissed as rubbish. This is something like following a map on a journey. As we progress on our journey and encounter landmarks predicted by the map, our faith grows in the authority of the map. In the same way, as people discover things in Vedic literature that are true, their faith grows to encompass more things from the Vedas as true that, before, would have been dismissed as fantasy. The distinctive characteristic of this person is that he or she is gradually rising from a position of ignorance and disbelief to a position of knowledge and faith.

Besides the faithless becoming faithful through the agency of adhunika vada is the person who already has faith but who wishes to enhance or strengthen his faith through the agency of adhunika vada. Like the faithless but educated gentleman, our devotee seeker also has doubts but unlike those who are gradually rising from a faithless condition, the devotee already has some developed faith in shastra (otherwise, why else is he a devotee?) but is turning to worldly means (adhunika vada) to try to understand shastra. Using our map analogy to describe this, we can say that the devotee has lost some faith in his map and is turning to other means to find his way. Some things can shake our faith. Perhaps he has been chanting Hare Krishna for years yet does not perceive any tangible reduction in his material desires. Perhaps he had a fall down. We start to doubt, "The map no longer works...." So instead our doubtful devotee gradually begins to replace Vedic authority with adhunika vada as an authority and comes to rely on it more and more. For this devotee there may be some satisfaction in the conclusions derived from adhunika vada, and because our devotee believes himself to be advancing in spiritual knowledge as a result of cultivating an understanding of shastra from a worldly standpoint, he gradually (and happily) looses access to the absolute and objective knowledge that was once available to him. It should be remembered that one of the defining characteristics of adhunika vada is that it can never produce an objective fact that can finally be accepted as it is and without possibility of future discredit. Devotees who use adhunika vada to enhance their own understanding of shastra, rather than simply as a means to enlighten the ignorant, will most likely see their faith and knowledge brought to the level of the audience Bhaktivinoda Thakura set out to enlighten.

Adhunika vada, then, is suitable only for people who are to begin with faithless and well steeped in a non-theistic world view. For devotees who try to improve their spiritual knowledge through adhunika vada, adhunika vada is just like poison. Devotees using academic methods such as historical criticism to evaluate facts and precepts of scripture will necessarily come to see their scriptures in a different way. In the west, this happened with Christianity:

If Christianity was supported and confirmed by objective science, then the Bible should be able to be subjected to the same historical analysis as the documents of any other religion. Scientific naturalism thus became the starting point for historical inquiry into the Bible. From that point of view, of course, the Scriptures looked very different than they did if viewed with the premise that they were revealed by God. The miracle stories, for instance, became embarrassments, rather than evidences. By modern critical standards historical reporting in Scripture looked inaccurate and fabricated. Particularly the Old Testament narratives, as well as many of the claims to authorship and dating, appeared implausible if the writings were viewed as simple products of the evolving faith of an ancient primitive people. {[6]}

What these [historical] methods meant for the Bible was that it would be treated, as was often said, just "like any other book." Once this initial move was made, of course, one was on a scholarly track that would yield conclusions consistent with the premise, namely, that the Bible was a cultural product just like any other book. {[7]}

Substitute the term "Gaudiya Vaishnavism" for "Christianity" and "Srimad-Bhagavatam" for "Bible," and you have a pretty good description of the philosophical direction ISKCON is heading in, considering that, as mentioned in the beginning of this essay, some of ISKCON's leaders advocate turning such academic methodologies on shastra for the sake of "re-visioning" ISKCON.

End Notes

  1. Tamal Krishna Goswami, Krishna Kshetra Das, "Re-Visioning ISKCON", as printed in The Hare Krishna Movement, The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant, Columbia University Press, New York, 2004. Page 418 - 419
  2. Shukavak N. Das "Bhaktivinoda and Scriptural Literalism", as printed in The Hare Krishna Movement, The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant, Columbia University Press, New York, 2004. Page 104 - 05
  3. Srila Prabhupada. Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.1 purport
  4. Shukavak N. Das 2004. Page 104
  5. Ibid. Page 106
  6. George M. Marsden. The Soul of the American University, From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief. Oxford University Press, New York, 1994. Page 174)
  7. Ibid. Page 207

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