ISKCON’s contributions to India 1 – Overview acronym INDIA
I – Internationalization
N – Non-discrimination
D – Development
I – Infrastructure
A – Appreciation
Transcription by: Santosh Prabhu
“ISKCON’s contributions to India” is the topic that we will discuss today.
I would like to present this as an acronym INDIA
In this first short talk, I will give an overview of these five ways primary reason which ISKCON’s contributed to India and then in subsequent five talks, I will talk about these more in detail.
I – Internationalization
ISKCON is International Society for Krishna Consciousness and one of its foremost contributions to India is that it has spread Indian culture all over the world. Today there are practically Krishna devotees in more countries than there are either software engineers or Indian expatriates and this is not ISKCON’s claim, this was the statement in Times of India editorial under the title ‘Rebirth of Krishna’ where it said how ISKCON has globalized Krishna, Krishna bhakti and Bhagavad Gita and even in ISKCON’s prominent temple in Delhi, when the then Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to inaugurate the temple, he said that in this area of globalization, ISKCON has globalized the Bhagavad Gita and its message.
So due to the vibrant spiritual presentations of ISKCON in various parts of the world, practically all the inhabited continents, today there are people who not only know about Krishna something which very few or most people did not know before 50 years ago, not only they know about Krishna but they know about the Hare Krishna mahamantra, many more people know about the Bhagavad Gita and millions of people have appreciation for these things.
So ISKCON has contributed to increasing substantially the respectability and the glory of India in the eyes of the world by sharing India’s spiritual legacy all over the world, the message of love of God, the message of devotion, the message of Bhagavad Gita of Bhakti, and this has led to millions of people all over the world coming to India in search of spiritual truth and appreciating Indian culture and Indian spirituality much more. So spirituality is India’s distinctive strength or uniqueness in the world. Very few countries in the world have as profound or broad or as deep spiritual culture as India has. And this spiritual culture in one of its most dynamic and relish able expressions, expression of bhakti yoga has been made available by ISKCON at an international scale. So ISKCON has internationalized India’s spiritual culture. So internalization is one major contribution that ISKCON has done for India.
N – Non-discrimination
India unfortunately is divided in many ways, not just according to state boundaries, not just according to religious lines, but even within the mainstream religion of India, there are cast divisions, there are creed divisions, so the message of bhakti which is based on the Bhagavad Gita which is widely shared by ISKCON is universal and in the temples of ISKCON and in activities of ISKCON, there is no discrimination based on caste, color, creed, gender or any such external bodily feature. So this India has for the last several centuries suffered because of caste discrimination and caste politics is also a major divisive factor in India today but in such a situation ISKCON’s universal message of bhakti where every person whether that person be born as a brahmana or a sudra or as whatever maybe the designation of that person by birth, everybody is invited encouraged and facilitated to practice spiritual culture, to practice bhakti and in fact ISKCON temples not only are people from all nominations, all castes invited to practice bhakti but they can themselves become serious practitioners of bhakti, they can become pujaris, they can become teachers, they can become gurus and in this way the divisiveness that is unfortunate characteristic of India’s society today, that has been largely dealt strongly with the universal bhakti message, in fact when there are kirtans and devotees chant and dance Krishna’s glories together, there is no thought of one’s bodily designation, what to speak of caste discrimination, there is also no financial discrimination, there may be people who may be multi-millionaires and there may be people who may be street sweepers, and when they come together and they sing the glories of Krishna, they sing the Hare Krishna maha mantra, they sing and dance together, they embrace each other and in this way actually there is unity at the level of devotion that is brought about and this has the potential to unify India in a very powerful way that is not just symbolic but which is also transformational. Actually it is not just a sentimental desire that we be united but by understanding that we are all at a spiritual level we are one and we are all loved by God and whatever be our caste and whatever be our designation, this universal message has a potential to unify India in a very powerful way.
D – Development
So ISKCON’s contributed to the development of India in many ways. Two of the foremost ways are its development of the pilgrimage places and development of food relief educational support programs.
So Mayapur and Vrindavan are the two very important pilgrimage places, Mayapur is in Bengal and Vrindavan is near Delhi and both of them are extremely holy places and since ISKCON established temples over there, there has been a huge amount of spiritual tourism that has come there and this has revitalized the local economy, generating jobs, generating business, generating opportunities that were not there in the past, in fact if we look at Mayapur 40 or 50 years ago, the place where ISKCON temple is now was just a overgrown wilderness, but now there is a whole community of hundreds and hundreds of people residing over there inside the temple complex, the Mayapur Chandrodaya complex and around it also the whole area has developed. So same happens with Vrindavan also,
and this sort of tourism not only brings the people who are site seers but people who are also spiritual seekers, so this is spiritual tourism and people come not just to these two places, once they come to these two places, they also go to many other holy places, so spiritual tourism has a huge potential for developing India in various ways and ISKCON has been among the pioneers in this front along with that also ISKCON has assisted the Indian government in its mid-day meal program through its ISKCON food relief foundation, this foundation feeds over two hundred thousand children just in the state of Maharashtra and all of them are given extremely nutritious food and this program has been appreciated by the most well respected leaders in the world, Barack Obama, Abdul Kalam, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, all of them have appreciated the technology, the dedication and the nutrition levels that are there by which this program is running. So this is development. And beyond this development
I – Infrastructure
Infrastructure preservation and build up. Of course ISKCON is a spiritual organization so the infrastructure that it provides is spiritual, so one of the foremost of these is temples, ISKCON has built beautiful temples not just in pilgrimage places like Vrindavan and Mayapur but also in metropolis, in Mumbai, in Delhi, in Chennai, in major cities of India ISKCON has built beautiful temples and these temples serve as spiritual oasis for people who have become stressed by the fast paced and demanding lifestyle that is the characteristic of urban India and in these spiritual place of oasis people find a place to retreat and rejuvenation and everyday thousands and thousands of people come to these temples to take darshan of the Lord, to take partake of the prasad, to be respiritualized, rejuvenated, refreshed by the melodious kirtans and within these temples, the temples are magnificent architectural construction, and within them the worship of the temple deities, the images of the Lord Radha Krishna are worshiped with extreme diligence and with meticulate attention, so in the temple deity worship standards of ISKCON are so high that people are attracted by the enchanting beauty of the deities and many other spiritual organization also come to ISKCON to learn about the deity worship standards and to practice and to share and to learn that to apply in their own organizations, so the temple deities attract thousands of people and this is the center of the temple and this is making this spiritually vibrant oasis available in the cities is a very important spiritual structure provided by ISKCON and this is many people who are software engineers, business tycoons, college students, and other people who are stressed out in various way and who simply want some relief they come, along with that there are also the festivals which are celebrated with great devotional zeal, Janmashtami, Ramanavami, Gaur Purnima, Holi, all these celebrated festivals are celebrated jubilantly in the temples and thousands of people come to the temples, many of these people if the temples were not offering the facility they would not be able to celebrate the festivals even when they want to and one of the most dynamic and balloon festival is the rath yatra festival where in many many cities, not just in India but actually all over the world, people are facilitated to take darshan of the Lord when he comes out in this procession and they have the opportunity to get Prasad and get opportunity to pull the cart and participate in this festival that is thousands of years of old. So many of the cultural facilities which would not have been available otherwise in urban India are made accessible by ISKCON and in this way the spiritual infrastructure is made available. Along with that another very important contribution is the books, the Bhagavad Gita especially which is widely distributed by ISKCON, and in this way the philosophical masterpiece of India which is one of its primary spiritual heritages is now available to millions and millions of people in India and of course all over the world. So making this literature available in accessible way is one other contribution for the continuation of India’s spiritual culture and that ISKCON has been doing vigorously.
A – Appreciation
Appreciation means that not only are the facilities/infrastructure made available but there is philosophical education, clarification that is provided so that people can appreciate, Indians can appreciate their own spiritual heritage, especially the younger generation because of the glamour of westernization and materialism is getting distracted, getting alienated from India’s spiritual culture and often the younger generation does not find anything appealing or relevant in the spiritual culture that has been cherished by their ancestors for millennia, but ISKCON has got many educated spiritual teachers and these spiritual teachers present India’s timeless spiritual message with relevant examples giving scientific logical systematic presentations, answering questions and overall showing the relevance and include the importance of the spiritual message in today’s times, so when the educated younger generation which often tends to be skeptical gets intellectual understanding of the glory of India’s spiritual culture, then they become inspired to practice it much more enthusiastically than what they would otherwise, if they were taught that this is juts our culture and we have to practice it, and this younger generation refers to youth as well as children. For children ISKCON has fun schools and schools where children learn about the Ramayan, the Mahabharat and other Indian tradition’s classics in a way that is very enjoyable according to their age. ISKCON has youth forums, children’s wings, and younger generation that grows up with these spiritual impressions carries them and in this way India’s spiritual culture is preserved and transferred to the next generation.
So to summarize ISKCON is contributing to India in many ways as summarized through the acronym INDIA, Internationalization spreading the culture all over the world, Non-discrimination making it available to everyone irrespective of caste or other designations, Development where spiritual tourism is coming to pilgrimage places and developing them, transforming the local economy, and also the food relief program is feeding lakhs of children every day and Infrastructure the temples, the deities, the festivals, the books, through all these people are being provided the infrastructure to empower and enrich themselves and their spirituality and Appreciation by giving educational facilities where questions are answered and the philosophy is taught in a systematic logical course based manner, many people especially younger generation are appreciating India’s timeless spiritual culture, are assimilating and in this way will continue this legacy in future generations also.