Is ISKCON an organization for rich people?
Transcribed by: Krishna Dhan das
Question: Is Iskcon an organization for rich people?
Answer: In no Iskcon temple income certificate is required as an entry pass. All Iskcon temples are free for anyone and everyone to enter and to avail the spiritual facilities there. So it’s definitely not restricted to rich people. People from any financial bracket are most welcomed to the temple to take darshan, to take prasad and to participate in kirtans and other spiritual activities thus helping them to get mercy of Krishna.
At the same time, as far as the institutional focus is concerned, the idea is that we would like to reach to as many people as possible and for that, because our resources, our time, our manpower is limited, we focus on reaching people having influence so that through them the message can be reached to large numbers of people. This is not actually only Iskcon’s strategy but it is Krishna’s strategy. We see in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna talks about sharing spiritual knowledge, he gives that knowledge to Arjuna, who is a king, a person with influence. In fact it is not just wealth but Arjuna has power, leadership qualities, intelligence etc. and so Krishna chooses him. And it is not that Krishna does that once. That has been the tradition – evam parampara praptam. He says that this knowledge is given in parampara to saintly kings. The idea is if the kings are god conscious then that knowledge can be effectively shared with citizens by the kings.
Today we don’t have kings but we have different kinds of social leaders. There are intellectual leaders, political leaders, financial leaders and cultural leaders. So what Krishna indicates by his own example is that of creating a system of knowledge generation after generation through influential people. If spiritual knowledge is given to people with influence then they can share it with many other people also.
So Iskcon also focus such people who have influence and that can include financially well to do people. But that can also include intellectually well to do people. For e.g. the youth outreach program of Iskcon focusses such colleges where students are more of intellectual nature and are more intelligent. They may be engineers, doctors or other such kinds of people. Such people have the capacity to understand and ability to share. So it’s not that it goes only to wealthy people. Anyone who has influence can share the message with larger number of people.
Now this does not mean that others don’t have capacity. We can understand this through an example given by Srila Prabhupada. He would say that if there is a red cross in a war front and there are finite numbers of doctors and large numbers of casualties then what do the doctor do at that time. Although they would want to treat everyone but they know that it is not humanly possible to treat everyone. Therefore they focus on treating those who have reasonable chance of surviving. If some people are severely wounded it’s unlikely that they could be quickly recovered. Now trying to battle with severely injured will mean delaying the treatment of slightly wounded which would worsen their condition to the extent of they becoming irrecoverable. But if they are quickly treated then they can recover and can even help many more people after recovery. So the idea is not to discriminate but to disseminate the treatment as widely as possible and for that whatever is effective is done. In some cases if there is abundant manpower available then most critically wounded people would also be treated first and others can be treated afterwards. Strategies may vary but principle idea is not to discriminate but to be effective. So similarly when Iskcon is doing its educational outreach or cultural outreach then it may focus on people who are intellectually or financially or in other ways are influential in the society because through them larger number of people could be reached eventually.
Iskcon even undertakes humanitarian relief work to especially help poverty stricken people. For e.g. through food for life and midday meal program Iskcon tries to help people who are struck worst by calamities and those who are extremely poor. So it is definitely not true that Iskcon is an organization meant only for rich people but it is meant for entire humanity because Krishna’s message of love is meant for all. While trying to reach as many people as possible different strategies may be used but that doesn’t mean that someone is intentionally neglected or rejected.
So at one level the purpose is effectiveness – how can Krishna’s message and wisdom be shared as effectively as possible to as many people as possible. But at an individual level the principle is essentially reciprocity. So even if somebody is coming from a financially challenged background if that person is serious and sincere in inquiring about philosophy and understanding and applying in life then that person will also be given whatever attention is required, whatever facilities are required and that person can also grow spiritually and the movement will facilitate that. So there is no deprivation of anyone because of their financial status. The important point is that everybody is encouraged to practice spiritual life and sometimes when there are yatras or other spiritual programs where some financial help is required and some devotees are not able to offer that help then there are other devotees who may sponsor or subsidize and that way facilities are provided.
So from broad social point of view the goal is not to discriminate but to disseminate effectively and at an individual level it is not financial status that is considered primarily but what is considered is individual’s interest and seriousness and based on that all facilities are provided. So sometimes the perception may come that wealthy people are given more attention or focus but it is not that it is non scriptural because Krishna himself does that and most importantly it does not mean that others are not provided facility. The important thing is to share Krishna’s message. And if somebody is seriously interested then facilities for learning Krishna’s message and guidance to lead a Krishna Conscious life is provided adequately. Thank you.