Why are ISKCON temples so commercialised?

by Chaitanya CharanSeptember 25, 2014

Transcribed by: Shalini Ahluwalia

Hare Krishna!

Question: Why are ISKCON temples so commercialized?

Answer: First of all, ISKCON temples are centred always on Krishna as compared to many other temples in the country or world which are often deserted with only the priest coming to take care once in a day or twice in a day and people coming once in a while. In ISKCON temple there is high-class worship of the deities, there are many pujaris who are devoted to the worship of the deities, often their entire life they are devoted and there are various aartis that happen as per a strict schedule throughout the day, nice bhoga is offered, the deities are dressed. So as far as the centre, Krishna, being decorated and served is concerned, that is done of usually far better than most other temples. Infact many other organizations nowadays are coming to ISKCON to learn how to do deity worship. So in that sense as far as the heart of the temple is concerned certainly the devotional vibrancy is very strong. So that is one feature which actually has not been affected no matter what commercialization has been there. Now of course if somebody has only an eye for finance then somebody will say why so much money is being spent on the deities. But then that is a different question. Krishna is the enjoyer of all things and we want to offer Krishna the best because we love him or we aspire to love him. Now apart from that also there is vigorous sharing of Krishna’s message and that happens through devotees who talk with visitors, who distribute books. Now somebody may say book distribution is also a commercial activity but often the books are sold at not very high prices. Same size books if one has to get outside then it is much more expensive. And moreover alongwith the books spiritual knowledge is given and there is chanting of the holy name, kirtan is going on, visitors are encouraged to chant Hare Krishna and participate in the kirtans. So what all is the temple expected to do :- there is darshan of deities, there is message of Krishna and there is prasad of Krishna. Now generally all temples will give some prasad free and along with that there are also stalls which give prasad and there may also be Govinda’s where one can take, which are like restaurants where one can take a proper meal also. So now as far as the spiritual facilities a temple which is expected to provide, most ISKCON temples provide those facilities more than most other temples. So in that sense the charge of commercialization actually falls flat on its face. But beyond that yes, the important thing from the philosophical perspective is that commerce is not divorced from Krishna. Commerce and finance that is actually manifestation of Laxmi devi the Goddess of fortune. And she is meant to be by the side of Lord Narayana. She wants to be serving Lord Narayana. So Laxmi is meant for the service of Lord Krishna. So bhakti yoga is not a culture that divorces the wealth of this world from the lord of this world. It uses the wealth of this world for glorifying that lord. So now that can happen in various ways. So thats why in principle its not that temples have to be places where there is no sign of any commerce at all. No. Another point is that the temples are not just religious places, they are also cultural places. And cultural places, culture also includes an element of commerce within it. So people come to a temple, an ISKCON temple, not just to take darshan of the deity, that is of course the heart of it but alongwith that they want to have a cultural experience. Cultural experience means that they want to take a nice prasad, they want to see some good places, they want to read something. So now if there will be some simple prasad that will be offered by the temple to all its visitors. But along with that if people want to sit and take prasad in an environment which is comfortable according to the kind of say social standard of living that they are familiar with then the temple offers those facilities also. So Govinda’s is there for people to get the cultural experience that they like and they are acquainted with – of taking food in a hotel – but they get the same experience here in an entirely devotional setting. So it is an opportunity for them to spiritualise their familiar cultural experience. And same way with the selling of paraphernalia which is there. Now generally most ISKCON temples don’t sell anything which is unconnected with the devotional culture. So that is sold so that temples can, so that people who come to the temple for the sake of worshipping Krishna, can also continue that worship of Krishna elsewhere. That is the important point which is to be understood. Now there are some cases where some people may actually be….Now temples also require donations. So it may happen in some cases that some people may be approached inappropriately for soliciting donations and that sort of incidents are undesirable. They are unfortunate and they need to be corrected. So overall as the temple devotees are maturing, temple leaders are maturing, in general there is no force on anyone to give donation but people may be approached and they need to be approached sensitively, respectfully and even if a person does not give donation that person needs to be respected as a soul, as a part of Krishna who has come to take darshan of Krishna. So now another issue which sometimes smacks of commercialization is that preferential treatment of people who give higher donation. Now that is not a matter of just the donation, the donation represents their desire to serve Krishna. And those who serve Krishna, Krishna says I reciprocate.

ye yatha mam prapadyante  tams tathaiva bhajamy aham (BG 4.11)

So if somebody gives donation that person is doing extra service to Krishna. And naturally Krishna will reciprocate through his devotee. And it will not just be through donation. If anybody offers anything extra to Krishna that will be reciprocated. If somebody has some talents, the person uses that talents in Krishna’s service, naturally there will be reciprocation. That reciprocation is an expression of affection, it is not a sign of commercialization. So having said all this even if sometimes there are some experiences of commercialization in some temples then we should see that as an anamoly. That is not the intention of the temple, that is not the vision of Srila Prabhupada – the founder of ISKCON – and that is not the intention of most of the devotee who are there in the Krishna consciousness movement for learning to love Krishna and learning to share that love of Krishna with others. So Prabhupada would say that there are spots even on the moon but the moon’s effulgence is actually far greater than the spots on the moon. The moon’s brightness, its warmness, warmness means its comforting warmness not the discomforting warmness of the afternoon sun. Similarly, Krishna consciousness movement can offer spiritual shelter to people all over the world and it is offering that spiritual shelter and that spiritual shelter is a complete culture not just some religious ritual. That culture includes commerce also but commerce is not meant to become the dominant thing and normally it doesn’t. So if in some temples one finds that things are becoming too commercialized then one can report to the local temple authorities and see if they can take corrective action. Many time it happens its not the temple authorities’ intention to have things commercialized, but there are some devotees who are over-zealous and then they can be cautioned and corrected by the temple authorities. One doesn’t have to take that one impression as the general impression of the whole Krishna consciousness movement and one can that way not miss on the spiritual facilities that the Krishna consciousness movement offers for our spiritual enrichment.

Thank you, Hare Krishna !

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Chaitanya Charan

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