Financial security – Are we joining the bandwagon?

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Today, the world has come to a stage where practically every person is made to believe, or compelled to think, that unless he has money, he is not protected. So much so that even religious organizations are also falling prey to this propaganda.  Instead of depending on the Supreme Lord, such organizations have started depending more on the banks and real estate. In fact, unscrupulous people are using God’s name to amass huge amount of wealth and using it for abominable purposes. This has adversely affected the good work of a few genuine organizations like the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON. However, to say that ISKCON is not affected by the above propaganda would be an overstatement.

While appreciating ISKCON’s many noteworthy achievements after Srila Prabhupada’s physical departure, we have observed for over twenty five years that ISKCON, with its enormous potentials and vast resources, could achieve many more milestones if we focus on Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, his strategies and his vision without any alteration, however well-intended it may be.

It is not our intention to undermine the hard work of anyone but a well-meaning observation calls for both praise and constructive criticism wherever needed.

With changing circumstances and introduction of many new managerial bodies within ISKCON in last two decades, at times the top leadership appears to be losing the required control over local leaders’ activities in terms of their projects, missions, objectives and, more importantly, the ways and means they apply to accomplish them. The ways and means employed by many ISKCON leaders today are far away from Srila Prabhupada’s own ideology and stipulations on how his vision is to be achieved. In the majority of instances, the definition of preaching is reduced to collecting funds and making long-term donors. Srila Prabhupada wanted devotees to “collect for preaching” but the focus has shifted to “preach for collecting”, and unfortunately, this is considered “being practical” by many leaders. Gradually, this deviation has enveloped almost all activities including those that are supposedly brahminical ones.

It is true that all the wealth of the world belongs to the Supreme Lord, and as such devotees can collect it from various sources and use it in Krishna’s service. However, the disturbance sets in when money, collected from various sources, under various schemes, is not used in Lord Krishna’s service. Such accumulation contaminates the otherwise pure society, and results in ugly scenarios like internal quarrels, legal suits,  etc. just like impurities in the body manifest as a disease. Undoubtedly, the non-devotee world, including ordinary as well as intellectual class of people, media agencies and government authorities are all watching ISKCON activities from their own mundane perception, no matter how much we try to justify such activities by Krishna conscious philosophy. This is because we often fail to set good examples. In other words, we are giving them the opportunity to misunderstand us. Again, I do not wish to point fingers, but this money-centered preaching has hurt ISKCON the most when it comes to its public image, specifically in India. It has driven many sincere souls away from ISKCON.

Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita, “yat karosi yad asnasi yaj jushosi dadasi yat, yat tapasyasi kaunteya tat kurusva mad-arpanam” (B.g 9.27). Translation: “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, what you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you peform- do that, O son of Kunti, as an offering to Me.”

Srila Prabhupada followed this instruction while allowing his disciples to collect from various sources, and expertly utilized the fund in directly serving Lord Krishna. Printing transcendental literature, building temples, maintaining go-shalas for cow protection, distributing free prasadam to the rich and the poor alike,  opening gurukulas, and promotions of farm communities, agriculture, self sufficiency, etc.  were some of the main activities that he used the money for. Today the situation has changed. Not all donations, collected under various schemes, are strictly used in Lord Krishna’s service. We have started investing in banks, mutual funds, corpus funds, and even in real estate ventures within ISKCON. Are we more intelligent than Srila Prabhupada, in any way?

Many leaders and devotees may not like to hear these things because they think that we cannot do anything without money. But that is what the karmis also say.  One of the unique gifts of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings is, it helps us depend on Krishna. When I say “Krishna”, I mean the Person Krishna, not His external energy, money, that devotees often try to present as Krishna’s gift to justify their attachment for it.  A gift, by its definition, is different from a result of actions.  Money earned by hard work and by all kinds of marketing tricks is not a gift. It is a result of the hard work.  Not necessarily bad but it is not Krishna’s gift in the strict sense o the term. If such results in the form of money, and money, and more money, encourage us to work for collecting money only, and make us forget to use it in Lord Krishna’s service, then we are missing the point. Such accumulation of money amounts to greed, and ISKCON, as the most important society on the planet today, must protect itself from it.

laksmi serving vishnu

Srimad Bhagavatam says: “After profusely offering obeisances unto Lord the devotee should offer respectful obeisances unto mother, the goddess of fortune, and pray as follows. “O wife of Lord Vishnu, O internal energy of Lord Vishnu, you are as good as Lord Vishnu Himself, for you have all of His qualities and opulences. O goddess of fortune, please be kind to me. O mother of the entire world, I offer my respectful obeisances unto you.(S.B. 6.19.6).

Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport,  “It is said, shakti shaktiman abheda: the power and the powerful are identical. Therefore mother Laksmi, the goddess of fortune, is the constant companion of Lord Vishnu; they remain together constantly. One cannot keep Laksmi in one’s home without Lord Vishnu. To think that one can do so is very dangerous. To keep Laksmi, or the riches of the Lord, without the service of the Lord is always dangerous, for then Laksmi becomes the illusory energy. With Lord Vishnu, however, Laksmi is the spiritual energy.”

It is clearly advised that one cannot keep Laksmi in one’s home without  Lord Vishnu – “To think that one can do so is very dangerous”.  Does this apply to ISKCON devotees and ISKCON temple managers? Certainly it does. At home or in the bank, if the money is not used in Krishna’s service, it’s going to be very dangerous. The banks loan out the money we keep with them, instead of using in Krishna’s service, to all kinds of obnoxious purposes that break all four regulative principles.

Are we focusing too much on wealth building?
Are we focusing too much on wealth building?

I am not saying that ISKCON has tons of money. I know we have massive projects and communities to take care of. We do, and will, need much more money, i.e. Laksmi, as She is Lord Krishna’s energy that runs the show in this world.  There is no argument on that. I rather think that as the devotees of Lord Krishna, and as the principle operators of Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtan mission, ISKCON temples should have unlimited amount of wealth. The point, however, is, our focus must be on engaging it in Krishna’s service, not just on collecting it.  We need to keep the faith that if we simply follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on preaching, economy, agriculture, self sufficiency, cow protection, etc. while maintaining the highest possible standard of purity of conducts, Krishna will certainly provide what we need.

Lord Krishna assures us in Bhagavad Gita (9.22)

ananyāś cintayanto māḿ ye janāḥ paryupāsate
teṣāḿ nityābhiyuktānāḿ yoga-kṣemaḿ vahāmy aham

“But those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form — to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.”

Hare Krishna