Is ISKCON an American organization that sends temple donations from India to America?
- ISKCON is not an American organization, but an international organization.
- ISKCON has a standard policy of each center being financially self-sustaining. So normally donations from one temple are not sent to another temple even in the same country, what to speak of outside the country.
- As special holy places in India like Vrindavan and Mayapur are sacred for ISKCON devotees from all over the world, they give donations for temples there. So there is indeed a flow of donations, but it is into India, not out of India.
- ISKCON follows the vision of Srila Prabhupada, its founder, who envisioned a global East-West partnership with India contributing spiritual wisdom and the West contributing material resources, so ISKCON uses the latest technology that might make it seem foreign to some people.
- Those who target ISKCON for its foreign connections are misinformed because, though ISKCON started in America, ISKCON India is run almost entirely by Indians for offering cultural and spiritual services to Indians.
- ISKCON’s contributions in sharing India’s spiritual culture all over the world have been appreciated by eminent statesmen, thinkers and scholars of religion.
A video that has gone viral on youtube makes this bizarre claim. The claim is bizarre because nothing about it is true – in fact, the truth is entirely opposite to the claim. Let’s deconstruct the claim point-by-point:
1. ISKCON is not an American organization, but an international organization.
ISKCON by its very name The International Society for Krishna consciousness points to its global mission. It was established in America in 1966 by Srila Prabhupada, but the krishna-bhakti that it intends to share with the world has been practiced in Indian for millennia. And ISKCON is the successor of an organisation that Srila Prabhupada had earlier started in India itself, the League of Devotees. So in origin, ISKCON is quintessentially Indian.
And now ISKCON has over 600 centers, spread across nearly all the countries of the world, thus fulfilling the vision implied in its name. After Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON’s leadership is now shared by a Governing Body Commission, which comprises of spiritual leaders from various parts of the world, with no nation’s leaders having any exclusive or excessive privileges. So from both its membership and leadership point of view, ISKCON is not an American organization, but an international organization.
2. ISKCON has a standard policy that each center is financially self-sustaining. So donations from one temple are not sent to another temple even in the same country, what to speak of outside the country.
According to the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, the sacred text that is the scriptural basis for ISKCON, every person is a soul with the spiritual potential for devotion to God, Krishna. With this principle, Srila Prabhupada wanted ISKCON to universalize krishna-bhakti by inspiring people all over the world to practice it and further share it with others. That’s why whenever he established centers anywhere in the world, he intended the local devotees there to take up the initiative for maintaining and expanding it. Accordingly, ISKCON has a standard policy of financial independence and self-sustainability for each of its center. So, there’s no transfer of donations from even one center to another even within the same country, what to speak of from one country to another. What to speak of sending donations from country to country or city to city, donations are normally not sent even within the same city from one temple to another. That’s why for example in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai where ISKCON has many temples, some are huge, some are modest and some are small, depending on the capacity of the local patrons to support the temple.
3. As special holy places in India like Vrindavan and Mayapur are sacred for ISKCON devotees from all over the world, they give donations for temples there. So if there is any flow of donations, it is into India, not out of India.
The only exception to this principle of self-sustenance is with regards to temples in pilgrimage places that are sacred for ISKCON devotees all over the world. Srila Prabhupada wanted at these places magnificent cultural centers built around majestic temples – devotional retreats that would attract, shelter and inspire seekers from the world over. So, he encouraged temples and devotees everywhere to contribute for the devotional projects at these places. Thus, for example, for the temple in Sridhama Mayapur, near Kolkata, one of ISKCON’s prominent patrons, Alfred Ford (Ambarisha Dasa), the great-grandson of the famous American industrialist, Henry Ford, has personally contributed as well as solicited with his global contacts donations to the tune of Rs 250 crores. The Mayapur Temple is going to be the biggest Vedic temple in the world and will significantly enhance the cultural glory of India.
So, on the exceptional occasions when donations do move from one place to another, that movement is from is not from India to elsewhere, but from the rest of the world to India, to enhance India’s cultural glory by making those holy places more attractive for visitors.
4. ISKCON follows the vision of Srila Prabhupada, its founder, who envisioned a global East-West partnership with India contributing spiritual wisdom and the West contributing material resources, so ISKCON uses the latest technology that might make it seem foreign to some people.
Srila Prabhupada wanted ISKCON to serve as a vibrant vehicle for the spiritual rejuvenation of the entire world. To this end, he applied the traditional metaphor of the blind man-lame man joining forces to progress along the way. The West having to a large extent lost its spiritual moorings due to excessive materialism is like the proverbial blind man and the East, especially India, due to its financial weakness caused largely by nearly a millennia of foreign domination and exploitation, is like the lame man. ISKCON works to integrate the strengths of both – the spiritual wisdom of India and the material expertise of the West – for offering world-class facilities for the progressive respiritualization of the whole world. ISKCON has been a pioneer in using the latest technology and other such material resources in its temples. Such things that are not seen in other traditional temples (though many other temples have also started integrating such things too) may give some undiscerning Indian nationalists the mistaken impression that ISKCON is a foreign organization. But it isn’t – it’s firmly rooted in the krishna-bhakti tradition coming from India and simply uses global resources for sharing that tradition with the world.
5. Those who target ISKCON for its foreign connections are misinformed because, though ISKCON started in America, ISKCON India is run almost entirely by Indians for offering cultural and spiritual services to Indians.
In ISKCON’s Indian temples, non-Indian devotees are often seen, usually while they are on a pilgrimage to India. The presence of such foreigners attracts a lot of attention and may give the impression to some people that these foreigners run ISKCON. But that’s far from the truth. ISKCON was started in America in 1966 and for the first one-two decades of its history, its global leaders were primarily Americans, because they happened to be its initial members. But since the 1980s, hundreds and thousands of Indians have started practicing Krishna consciousness and they are now the prominent members and leaders of ISKCON, who actively share its cultural and spiritual gifts with fellow Indians. ISKCON India has books, courses and cultural centers customized to serve the needs, interest and concerns of Indians.
Moreover, today, ISKCON India is the leader for the rest of ISKCON with respect to number of practitioners, number of temples and number of spiritual books distributed.
So not only is ISKCON India essentially Indian, even ISKCON international has a prominent Indian presence. Hence, allegations about ISKCON’s foreign roots or connections are totally baseless.
6. ISKCON’s contributions in sharing India’s spiritual culture all over the world have been appreciated by eminent statesmen, thinkers and scholars of religion.
Here are a few examples:
“The ISKCON movement has few parallels in the world in terms of its rapid global spread, its trans-national, trans-ethnic, and trans-professional appeal, its outward simplicity, and the devotional energy of its followers. In the less than three and a half decades since its inception it has established temples in practically all parts of the world, and many of them are marvels of beauty, such as the one that is being opened in New Delhi today. The maha-mantra of Hare Krishna Hare Rama reverberates to the dancing feet of ISKCON devotees each morning and evening in temples from Stockholm to Sao Paulo and from Miami to Mäyäpur. What ISKCON has achieved is indeed globalization of the Gita appeal.”
– Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Former Prime Minister of India
“Guess again if you think Bollywood, or Indian writing in English, is the country’s biggest cultural export. You may not come across any of these if you visit Cochabamba in Bolivia or Gaborone in Botswana, what you will find instead is a centre of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) … It is easy to see where the Krishna movement’s global appeal lies. In the midst of today’s impersonal institutions and vast bureaucratic collectivities, it promises an intimate relationship with a personal god.”
– Times of India editorial, Jan 6, 2006
“The Hare Krishna movement arose out of next to nothing in less than twenty years and has become known all over the West. This is an important fact in the history of the Western world … for the first time since the days of the Roman Empire, an Asian religion is being openly practiced by people of western origin in the streets of western cities.”
– Dr. A.L. Basham; Eminent scholar of Hinduism, Author of A Cultural History of India
When ISKCON is striving tirelessly and selflessly for preserving and sharing India’s spiritual culture in India as well as over the world, as has been recognized by unbiased and eminent authorities, it’s unfortunate that some people with mistaken notions are making baseless allegations against it. We hope that this document clarifies the misconceptions and helps us all focus unitedly on the important work of raising global human consciousness by sharing spiritual wisdom and devotional culture.
To know more about ISKCON’s contributions to India, please see these series of talks centered on the acronym India:
I – Internationalization
N – Non-discrimination
D – Development
I – Infrastructure
A – Appreciation