Should Indian devotees preach to Indians and Western devotees preach to Westerners so as to have culturally sensitive presentations of Krishna-bhakti?
Transcription by- Keshav Gopal Das & Ambuj Gupta
Question- Should Indian devotees preach to Indians and Western devotees preach to Western people because both people know best how to present Krishna consciousness according to their cultures?
Answer- Definitely it requires cultural sensitization but we don’t need categorical separation.
That means we do need presentation of Krishna consciousness to be culturally sensitive and for that those devotees who are aware of the culture where they are living and practicing and where others are coming from they can present Krishna consciousness appropriately. Srila Prabhupada himself did that. He established Krishna consciousness movement in America but later on he spend significant time in India. He told his Western disciples you do the movement in America and Prabhupada came primarily for visits. He focused in India because both ways he felt that Western disciples can carry on his movement in the Western countries and he also felt that he will be best suited for presenting Krishna consciousness to Indians.
Now Indians may accept Westerners as Westerners taking to Krishna consciousness as specimens of the glory of their own culture but it won’t be so easy for them to accept Westerners as their gurus. Then Prabhupada trained his devotees in how to conduct themselves and live in a way that Hindus who were aware of Indian spiritual culture for centuries (although they may know for generations but themselves not practice it seriously), they would also gain respect. They would be able to respect ISKCON’S devotees.
Cultural sensitization is definitely required and that’s why when devotees come from one place to another place and they see some specific practices going on over there, it is not intelligent or safe practice to start criticizing those things without understanding the culture in which things are being done. Cultural sensitization is definitely required and that’s why it’s important that the devotees who are acting as guides for new people or even for coming devotees they be sensitive to the culture.
For example, in America there is no concept of say if young men want to become monks or join a spiritual organization. There is not much of a concept of son’s taking care of their parents and say financial worries are not seen such a big concern. People can get along. People just drop from their colleges and join the temples. But in India education is very much valued and sons are expected to take care of family responsibilities. It did happen in Prabhupada’s times that the devotees just dropped out even if they were doing some education. Some devotees who are doing very rare and prestigious PHD’S and they just dropped it and surrendered to Krishna. That’s what they did. Now after ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, forty years those devotees sometimes feel that if I would have completed my PHD and then joined, I might have been able to do some more effective service to Krishna. I might have been more respectable in the eyes of general people.
That apart, the important point is that in India especially for a young boy to leave the parents and leave them entirely or for a student who drops out from a college, it can create a huge scandal. It will be strongly frowned upon by society and that is undesirable. Specially where there are mature leaders, the students are asked to first complete their education and do some basic family responsibilities, provide for some basic financial security for their family and then they can join. This is just one example. There can be other examples of need for cultural sensitization. That is definitely required but categorical separation is not something which is required. That will become too much of a body based misidentification where we are not able to see commonality of Krishna bhakti that is there that joins devotees all over the world. Categorical separation that ISKCON India is separate from rest of the world and the two don’t need to have any connection, that is not desirable. If there are inspiring devotees from India, they will be able to share Krishna consciousness to people anywhere in the world. Similarly devotees from different parts of the world, they come to India if they are also serious and deep in Krishna consciousness, they will also inspire Indians.
The whole point of this discussion, rather than making it national and foreign, sort of dialectic, it will be better to see it as a recognition of the need for local guidance and mentoring for devotees. There can be occasional or periodic inspiration given by other visiting and travelling devotees also. Prabhupada also did not advise this sort of categorical separation in any way. Prabhupada had his Western disciples preach in India and he wanted the Indians to preach all over the world also. He would tell Indian families give me one son. He wanted Indians in general to take up the responsibility of sharing Krishna consciousness all over the world. Prabhupada will quote bharat bhumi te hoila manushya janma jar janam saarthak kari kara para upkaar. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said that those who are born in India should do the welfare work for the whole world. In that sense we cannot neglect the point of there being the need of connecting everybody at the platform of Krishna, with Krishna at center.
While we are connecting with Krishna at the center we also have to remember that cultural context are different and even within the gaudiya vaishnava devotee community there were differences. If we see just during Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s and post Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s time the way the gaudiya vaishnavas in Bengal, the way they were in Orissa, the way they were in Vrindavan, there were significant differences. For example the Vrindavan vaishnavas they primarily focused on Sanskrit literature and they focused on philosophy. The Bengali vaishnavas focused more on Bengali and they focus more on pastimes. We may even see that within Orissa and Bengal different kirtan styles developed. There is irreducible individuality that will be there within different devotee communities and that is a part of the irreducible individuality that is a characteristic of all of us. We don’t have to be afraid of diversity and make that diversity as a justification for rupture, for complete separation. But at the same time, we should not imagine that we can have homogeneity and think that ok, if Indian devotees were leading the whole of ISKCON, the ISKCON would be much better or Western devotees may fail if Western devotees were leading, Indians would listen to us and ISKCON would do much better. No, we have to understand that whether Eastern, Western or Indian, Krishna is not Western or Indian. Krishna is transcendental. He appeared in India but He Himself is transcendental and He has a relationship with every soul whichever part of the world that soul is in and He reciprocates and guides. Every generation of devotees will have to, by the sincerity of their practice, by their connection with Krishna, and by the wisdom they have learned from Srila Prabhupada and other spiritual teachers, find the best way to practice Krishna consciousness in their culture and share Krishna consciousness accordingly. There will be individuality and diversity and at the same time there will be commonality and unity based on the fact of that we are all Krishna bhaktas sharing Krishna bhakti, practicing Krishna bhakti and want to learn to love Krishna. By not letting the cultural sensitization become the defining center of Krishna consciousness, we can avoid divisiveness and by recognizing that even Krishna is in center still there will be variety in cultural expression of Krishna bhakti, we can give sufficient room for culturally sensitive presentations of Krishna consciousness.
Thank you. Hare Krishna.