Why doesn’t ISKCON practice what it preaches? First new devotees are told to be detached from their parents and then senior brahmacharis spend months caring for their dying parents

by Chaitanya CharanMay 3, 2014

Comment on this article:

For him, Back to Godhead was both the means and the end

Dear Mr. Das,

This article (as well as the linked article) of your clearly shows how the ISKCON brahmacharis do not practice what they preach. A new practicing devotee is told not to be too attached to his/ her parents; but, here we find that two senior brahmacharis are leaving their responsibilities and taking care of their father. Moreover, they say that it is because of Srila Prabhupada that they are doing this- but, why then only their father? Why not take care of everyone who is suffering? Or at least, take care of all the ISKCON followers who are ill? Do they go and take care of all the ISKCON followers who are ill and on the verge of dieing?

This kind of articles may appreciated by fools who cannot see the reality of ISKCON and the double standards that they follow. But, anyone with a little intelligence can understand that although ISKCON says not to be attached to parents, they are themselves very attached.


Yours truly,
Sharad Agarwal.

P.S.: I understand that Mr. Das will never post this comment. But, I would really like to hear from his end just to see how he uses his intelligence to make a fool out of the innocent public.

Transcribed by: Shalini Ahluwalia

Question: Why do ISKCON spend so much of their time with their parents during their last days when they are supposed to be detached from their parents?

Answer: This article is based on a comment from an earlier article about Baldev Prabhu. For him Back to Godhead was both the means and the end. In this article both his sons spent almost the entire month with him and one of his sons took care of his father. Both the sons are brahmacharis, for almost the last year of his life. So this article, the question by Shard Agarwal is – This article as well as the linked article of yours clearly shows how the ISKOCN brahmacharis do not practise what they preach. A new practising devotee is told not to be too attached to his parents but here we find that two senior brahmacharis are leaving their responsibilities and taking care of their father. Moreover they say that it is because of Srila Prabhupada that they are doing this. But why then only their father? Why not take care of everyone who is suffering? Or at least take care of all the ISKCON followers who are ill? Do they go and take care of all the ISKCON followers who are ill and on the verge of dying. This kind of articles may be appreciated by fools who cannot see the reality of ISKCON and the double standards that they follow. But anyone with a little intelligence can understand that although ISKCON says that not to be attached to parents they are themselves very attached. Please practice what you preach. Yours truly, Sharad Agarwal. I understand that Mr Das will never post this comment but I would really like to hear from his end just to see how he uses intelligence to make a fool out of the innocent public.

Answer: Detachment is not an end in itself. It is a means, means to the end of attachment to Krishna. So Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita,

Sarva dharmaan parityajya, maamekam sharanam vraja

Give up all varieties of religion and surrender unto me. So the goal is not just detachment. The goal is attachment to Krishna.

Manmana bhav madbhaktow


18.66 is Sarva dharmaan parityajya.

And 7.1 is mayee aasakta manaaha. So make your mind attached to me. So the purpose of life and of everything in life including detachment is attachment to Krishna. Now there are different ways, there is the gyaan marg in which one just renounces this world and tries to turn towards The Absolute Truth. But the bhakti marg, which is what the Bhagavad Gita teaches, which is what ISKCON shares with the world, is it focuses not so much on rejecting the world as utilising the world in Krishna’s service. So the karma marg romanticises this world, this world itself is a place of happiness, all the relations of this world are the source of happiness and thats what we should focus on. The gyaan marg demonises this world. O this world and everything in this world is a source of entanglement and stay away from it. Bhakti marg utilises the world for developing our attachment to Krishna. So to develop our Krishna-bhakti one direct way is to focus on the devotional activities, hearing about Krishna, chanting about Krishna, doing deity worship, sharing Krishna’s message, these are directly devotional activities. But these devotional activities are also done by using this world and its resources in Krishna’s service. So we have a vertical relationship with Krishna but alongwith that we also have horizontal relationship with the people of this world. Now these horizontal relationships can be in three orientations – one is, if our relatives are anti-devotional, they are against Krishna they are extremely materialistic and anti-devotional then that horizontal relationship can drag us down or if they are neutral about Krishna consciousness then horizontal relationship doesn’t have a bearing on the vertical relationship. But if our relatives are also devotees or are devotionally-minded then that horizontal relationship can also link with our vertical relationship. And that is the ideal Vedic society. So that means that the parents love their children and the children love their parents and the parents are devotees and tell their children to become devotees. Then by following that horizontal relationship, by the children obeying their parents, the children develop their relationship towards Krishna and conversely in some cases children become devotees first and the parents love their children and because of their affection for their children the parents also start practising devotional service then again the horizontal relationship promotes the vertical relationship. So the important point is to recognise that our horizontal relationships can be used in Krishna’s service. And when we talk about being detached from the parents it is primarily in those situations where one is not able to connect those relationships with Krishna. So if the parents are too hostile or too apathetic then or the children are extremely inspired to focus all their energies on Krishna without taking up family responsibilities then the sons may become brahmacharis. So even when they become brahmacharis it is not that one becomes cold-hearted towards one’s parents. For whatever the parents have done for the children the children are always grateful. And we see even Shankaracharya who renounced the world at a very young age and left his mother alone, when his mother was in her last days he came back to her and he was with her helping her to remember The Absolute Truth at the moment of death. So there are precedents in the Vedic tradition itself and what to speak of somebody whose parents were devotees. Now we have Prahlad Maharaj praying even for Hiranyakashipu, although Hiranyakashipu was so explicitly and violently anti-devotional that he tried to not only oppose Prahlad’s bhakti but also tried to murder and torture Prahlad. Even though Hiranyakashipu did that Prahlad prayed to Lord Narsimhadev for Hiranyakashipu’s well-being. As devotees we recognise that we have our relationship with Krishna but Krishna has a relationship with everyone and we also have a relationship with many people. So that relationship we don’t give up. We try to dovetail it into Krishna’s service and the whole idea that we should be detached from our parents that is not an ISKCON teaching that is a scriptural teaching. If we look at the sixth canto where Chitraketu Maharaj’s pastime is being told, there it is said how Narad Muni and Angira Muni they come and they tell Chitraketu about the temporality, the temporary nature of material relationships. So that is definitely true but then again what is the purpose of this? The purpose of the detachment is to facilitate and maximise attachment to Krishna. So whatever helps us to become more attached to Krishna we do that. And if focussing exclusively on our relationship with Krishna and for that purpose accepting the renounced order then that is what the scriptures recommend and that is what if some people can do they should do. But then this detachment is not cold-heartedness. Detachment is essentially clear-headedness and we should not confuse between attachment and affection. Attachment means that if we are attached to someone we do for that person whatever that person wants even if it is not good for that person. So Dhritrashtra was attached to Duryodhana and because of that when Duryodhana wanted to do adharma Dritrashtra went along with it. On the other hand we see that Vidura was affectionate towards Dritrashtra. So Vidura at one time renounced the world because he repeatedly tried to give good advice to Dhritrashtra but finally Dhritrashtra not only rejected his advice but also stood silently while Duryodhana insulted and banished Vidura, then Vidura left. But after the Krukshetra war when Dhritrashtra’s attachments had been exposed and he had become a bit more open-minded, Vidura – he had left home and gone into the forest – but he came back. Why? To guide Dhritrashtra. So was this attachment? Was he not practising what he preached? No. He had affection naturally for his brother and he wanted to do good to him and earlier Dhritrashtra’s attachment had blinded him and now when the blinding was no longer there because Duryodhana and all his other sons had been killed so Dhritrashtra was now more open for hearing. So affection means that we want to do good to others and we let the relationship lift them up. Attachment means we let the relationship drag us down. So attachment is undesirable but affection is natural. It is not necessarily undesirable, by the affection we can grow closer towards Krishna and we can help others go closer to Krishna. So now in this case when a parent is in the last stages at that time the focus is very less on mutually enjoyable material things. Normally parents may want their children to just take up jobs which are high-paying, to get married to some particular person if that relationship is materially conducive and not be so much concerned about the children’s spiritual life. So thats what that is often the vortex of the relationship of parents and children. And that sort of materialistic focus can be detrimental for devotional life. But when the parent is about to depart from the world then at that time the focus is not on material well-being and the parents are hardly in a position to push the sons into further material things. And the focus is on Krishna and through the service that the sons do to their parents, the brahmacharis do for their parents, both the parents and the sons grow closer to Krishna. Both of them, if you read this article as well as the earlier article the focus was on Krishna and sons were helping the parents to remember Krishna. And the parents were also wanting to remember Krishna. And both of them became intensely closer to Krishna. And the whole purpose of life and the whole purpose of the renounced order in the bhakti marg is to go closer to Krishna. So actually speaking going through one experience of a loved one, going through the experience of death can give one far more realisations about the temporary nature of existence and the undeniable reality of the sheltering potency of Krishna consciousness, so we can get far greater realization of this than by giving hundreds of classes or even reading books. So whatever gives us realization of Krishna’s love and the reality of Krishna’s teaching that is anukool to bhakti and that should be accepted. So sharanagati as is described in the Vedic tradition is anukoolasya sankalpa pratikoolasya varjanam. Whatever is anukool for bhakti that one accepts and whatever is pratikool for bhakti, unfoavourable, one rejects. So if the relationship with the parents are having a materialistic focus and are taking the sons away from Krishna then that should be rejected – pratikoolasya varjanam. But if that relationship can help both to come closer to Krishna then it is anukool and it should be accepted. So it is not a question of practising what one preaches but it is a question of understanding clearly what is being preached. It is not detachment it is actually attachment to Krishna and detachment from anything that takes away from Krishna. And of practising that according to time, place, circumstance. So at sometimes the same thing may take one away from Krishna, so in the initial days of our Krishna consciousness it is possible that because of excessive attachment to our parents and other family relatives we sentimentally give up Krishna consciousness. But once we are strong enough in our Krishna consciousness then we can help others to come close to Krishna. So its a matter of not practising what we preach but understanding what we preach and practising it intelligently, sensitively, according to time, place, circumstance. So now this is what Srila Prabhupada taught. Srila Prabhupada although he encouraged devotees who were inspired to become brahmacharis still if they met their parents, Prabhupada told Brahmananda Prabhu one of his disciples, early disciples, to offer obeisances to his mother. She had no idea what was happening when she saw her son bowing down, whether she found that expression of respect flattering or confusing thats a different matter but the point was according to etiquette Prabhupada asked his disciples to offer respect and this is something which they would never have done because it was not in their cultural DNA but they did it now. And why did they do it? Because they were taught so by Srila Prabhupada and Srila Prabhupada also writes in the Bhagavatam purport in the seventh canto in the prayers of Prahlad Maharaj – viprad dvi-sad-guna-yutad aravinda-nabha- in that purport he says how a devotee’s mother when she was in her last days she was remembering Krishna when the devotee was right next to her. She was remembering Krishna and he approves this. This is how a devotee actually delivers one’s family member. This is what is said –

viprad dvi-sad-guna-yutad aravinda-nabha-
padaravinda-vimukhat svapacam varistham
manye tad-arpita-mano-vacanehitartha-
pranam punati sa kulam na tu bhurimanah

It is said that a devotee even if he is low-born, even if those devotees are low-born, because of their devotion to the Lord can deliver even the family members and in contrast Brahmanas who are proud of having all the qualities of a Brahmana, if they are not devoted to the Lord then though they may be proud they may not even deliver themselves what to speak of their dynasty. So now regarding serving everyone, see the important point here is to recognise that all of us have our human responsibilities and our human limitations. So the situation is in the context of the past ages the varnashram system was there, there would often be a joint family and even if one son became a renunciate there would be other family members who will take up the responsibility of the parents and they will take care of them. So today in India with more and more families being nuclear and India doesn’t even have a proper system of old age homes although that is not really desirable but atleast old age homes in Western countries offer some kind of systematic care although it may be impersonal and not with much affection but atleast some care is there. But in India the joint family system is disintegrating and through that the elderly parents don’t get the proper care. And we don’t have a system of old age homes, it is socially disapproved but often the parents are left in the lurch. So if other relatives are taking care of the parents then that is good but if other relatives are not ready to take care of the parents then the brahmacharis are encouraged that yes your parents have done so much for you to raise you throughout your childhood and you should help them in their time of need. So it is a human response. Somebody has done something first we would like to do something for them. And if that is not taking us away from Krishna, if that is taking us towards Krishna then definitely that is anukool to bhakti. So the primary point is that it is not humanly possible to do this for everyone. Yes, of course any devotee who is in the last stages the devotee community will try to help. The devotee community tries to, it may not be able to offer so much care as staying with and taking care exclusively but going to make some arrangements to have remembrance of Krishna, to speak something about the philosophy so that the person is not too mentally disturbed or fearful and can face the last days with faith in Krishna and with relative clarity in one’s consciousness the devotees with do what they can do to facilitate it.

So, why not help everyone. We would like to help everyone depart in Krishna consciousness. And we will do what we can and one of the important things is that we share Krishna consciousness with others. So sharing Krishna consciousness can be done in various ways. One is just at the time of death, so ISKCON has built  a hospice in Vrindavan and that is not just only for devotees, there are several devotees’ relatives who have departed, who have been assisted and they have departed gloriously over there. There are some other local people in Vrindavan also who have actually been benefitted by the hospice. So specialised care according to our capacities we are offering and also the BhaktiVedanta hospital has a dying service so according to people’s faith at the last moments the Bhagavad Gita verses are chanted and people are helped to make the transition in a God-conscious way. So wherever possible we would like to help but we have a natural relationship with our parents and the responsibility in that relationship, we don’t flinch from it. This is not any kind of partiality, it is simply reciprocity. If the parents have done something for us naturally we want to do something for them. It is out of affection and as ISKCON grows then more and more sources will be created to help other people also. There is a whole book written by His Holiness Giriraj Maharaj about life’s final exam – Death and Dying in the Vedic culture – where it is described how so many devotees, realtives of devotees, and others connected with the devotees were helped in their last days and how this whole experience brought everyone closer to Krishna. So the whole point is that do whatever we can to help people come closer to Krishna. So at a general level practising bhakti ourselves, sharing the principle bhakti with others is the way to bring ourselves and others closer to Krishna and with our close relatives even helping them in their final days that indicates that we would like to take up a higher responsibility but that does not mean that we run away from our lower responsibilities. So higher responsibility – lower responsibility is like say a soldier is fighting in the war, say Pakistan attacks India, and the soldier enlists in the army to defend India. Now when the person goes to war then the person may not be able to do the family responsibilities of taking care of home and parents and the person may die in the war also. But still that is considered glorious. For doing the higher responsibility one gives up the lower responsibility. But suppose there is an emergency in the family then that particular person who is on the front line, that person may take leave for sometime and come back home. But to be with one’s family and when the emergency is over one will go back to the front line and do the army duty. Same way when there is a family emergency the scriptures talk about aapad dharma. Aapad dharma is emergency religion. Emergency duty. So the normal brahmachari duty or the normaly duty of those who are in the renounced order is to focus entirely on Krishna and to share Krishna’s message directly. But the emergency duty whenever say there is a family crisis, it is not that suddenly attachment is being developed but basically human emotion and there is an appropriate reciprocation at the human level which should not be neglected in the name of detachment. That will not be detachment that will be hard-heartedness. That will be insensitivity and that is unfavourable to bhakti. We see Krishna told Arjuna to be detached ,

asaktir anabhisvangah 

in 13.10 Krishna tells Arjuna. That be detached from wife and son and such things and yet when Abhimanyu was killed Arjuna was devastated. Did Arjuna forget the Bhagavad Gita, did Krishna chastise Arjuna? You are not practising what I preached, you foolish person you forgot the Bhagavad Gita, you are a hypocrite, you are cheating the world. No. Krishna did not tell that to Arjuna. If you read in the Mahabharata, Krishna’s whole speech is encouraging, his tone is sensitive and he solaces Arjuna and he helps Arjuna to go through this crisis and what happens at the end. Arjuna, yes, he is emotionally overwhelmed but after that Arjuna’s service intensifies. On the thirteenth day Abhimanyu is killed in Krurukshetra, on the fourteenth day Arjuna wrecks havoc in the Kaurava camp ike never before. So his service to Krishna increases. So our spirituality should enhance our humanity, human sensitivity, not choke that human sensitivity. So similarly, this is aapad dharma. So its not that the soldier who is in the war field, if anybody is dying anywhere in the country the soldier will leave the front line and come back. Actually we would not want anyone to suffer but that is not that soldier’s responsibility. That is the overall government’s responsibility to arrange for that but the soldier has a special relationship with one’s parents and at a family crisis the soldier will come back.Similarly, devotees when there is a family emergency the aapad dharma is to do what they can and to help their parents in those hours of crisis and need and now as far as helping all of society is concerned if more and more people adopted Krishna consciousness and if we had a government that was spiritually aware then the government would also help create infrastructures by which people could go through this painful last transition of life – death – more gracefully and in greater God consciousness. And the sharing of Krishna consciousness is the best way that, the devotees can do to gradually influence society more and more and to eventually pave the way for a spiritually aware government. So with whatever resources we have in the context that what is our aapad dharma and what is the ultimate purpose of dharma – growing closer to Krishna – brahmacharis are practising what they preach but provided one understands what is actually being preached and one understands how it is to be practised according to time, place, circumstances.

Thank you, Hare Krishna !

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan
  • sri krsna gauranga Nitai das
    May 3, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Hare krsna ,

    Please accept my obeisances. All glories to srila prabhupada, sri guru and gauranga. i feel myself very fortunate to get an opportunity to provide a good satisfactory answer to the question of Mr. sharad agarwal.

    My dear Mr. Sharad Agarwal,
    Please allow me to clarify your points . First of all, There is no word called as Mr. das in the unlimited world of krsna consciousness. kindly understand that devotees are not any type of normal “DAS”. They are servants of the supreme lord Krishna. every initiated devotee has a spiritual name of krsna and das added to his spiritual name indicating that under the guidance of a bonafine spiritual master in the Guru shishya parampara, he has taken a strong vow to serve the lord.
    I sincerely request you to respect the devotees, because they indeed deserve highest respect as they are serving krishna and are dedicating to the service of the lord.

    lets analyze:
    (1) Materialistic people , in the name of earning more money are not even taking proper care of their parents and putting them in old age homes. Is that the proper way to treat the parents?
    In case of devotees, ISKCON never teaches a person to detach from family members, the devotees simply preach to get attached to krishna. The ultimate benefit of attaching to krishna is that the devotee is attached to every living entity as krishna is there in every living entity as paramatma. Devotees themselves preach wonderfully to their parents regarding krishna consciousness, hence there is no question of your so called accusations of leaving responsibilities. The devotees are hearts are so transcendentally involved in the love of krishna that wherever they go, they easily give krishna to others in the form of preaching. which is better now?
    materialistic people putting their parents in old age homes and engaging in sense gratification or devotees taking proper krishna conscious care of their parents ?
    this is all ” vasudhaika kutumbam”, the family of lord krishna.

    You say that devotees preach detachment from parents. Its not the case. It seems that you have misinterpreted the teachings with your own small intelligence. Devotees will always preach that not to get attached to materialistic sense objects. Devotees just repeat the teachings of HDG AC BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA. who in turn gave the teachings of the supreme lord without any sort of mundane modifications.

    Devotees strictly follow the 4 regulative principles, which form the foundation for a devotional life. Moreover they do wonderful services to krishna.

    Mr. Sharad, devotees are always following the 4 regulative principles which are taught by jagat guru srila prabhupada and are worshiping , doing lots of seva to krishna. and moreover, there are many educational, preaching programs going on in the world, wonderful medical services like Bhaktivedanta hospital, ISKCON food for life where prasadam is distributed to many many poor children, which even governments couldnt do properly. Devotees are already taking proper care of everybody.

    If you really have any accusations, you can accuse the politicians who are cheating the public everytime and you can accuse the people who dont follow what they say. If you think with cool mind, you also have many faults and you also need to improve yourself in many ways too.


    ” DEVOTEES ARE PRACTISING WONDERFULLY WHAT THEY ARE PREACHING” and they dont need any certifications from anybody. Devotees are most dear to krishna. I humbly request Mr. sharad not to make the innocent public as fools by accusing devotees. Its better that Mr. sharad can kindly see his own mistakes instead of unnecessarily wasting his time in accusing the servants of lord krishna.

    yours humble servant

    sri krishna gauranga nitai das

    • Chaitanya Charan das
      May 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      Thank you, Prabhu. What you are saying is definitely true for those devotees who choose grihastha ashram, which is more than 95% of ISKCON.
      Sharad’s question is also valid in regards to those who become brahmacharis.

  • Sripad Mahaprabhu das
    May 3, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Dear prabhu,
    Thank you very much for your wonderful reply. We hope that people will get proper understanding about how we can utilise everything in this world to become more & more attached to Krishna.

  • Amol Katkar
    May 3, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Many thanks to H. G. Chaitanya Charan Prabhu for the elaborate, balanced answer giving so many Shastric references. Clear thinking, deep spiritual understanding, excellent behavior in personal life and innumerable other qualities have endeared prabhuji to innumerable people.

    One quality of Chaitanya Charan Prabhu’s answers is that he covers a subject from so many points of view that one is left to wonder whether there is anything that could be added to it.

    Another point to note that prabhuji is very consistent in his answers. Some of the words used in the answers: we need neither romanticize the world nor demonize it etc have been used over and over in many of his articles. I have been following His Grace for more than a decade and time and again I have only been impressed by his consistency, love and scholarship.

    I can only thank devotees for carrying on the mission of helping conditioned souls on their way back home back to godhead with such focus and zeal!

  • sri krsna gauranga Nitai das
    May 4, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Hare krsna,

    please accept my humble and respectful obeisances. All glories to srila prabhupada. All glories to sri guru and gauranga.
    As lord krishna says in the Bhagavat gita that ” chatur varnam maya srshtam guna karma eva vibhagascha..
    ” The 4 varnas and the 4 ashrams are created by the lord, hence its known as daivi varnashrama”…brahmacharya is one of the most toughest aspect in krishna consciousness.
    My friend Mr. sharad has got a little misconception about the varnashrama system and i sincerely request him to go through ” Bhagavat gita as it is” by srila prabhupada.
    New devotees are not taught to leave their parents, but they are taught the science of soul or self realization which states scientifically that we are not the body , but a soul which is a part and parcel of krishna which enlightens the devotee a lot. There is no need of artificial endeavor for detachment by practising so called control of senses by various ways. By the practice of krishna consciousness, the detachment from this material world develops.
    I sincerely request My friend Mr. sharad not to criticize the devotees because they are dedicating their life to serve krishna. Instead of that, sharad can try to change the attitude of materialistic people who are not caring their parents at all.
    By the proper practice of krishna consciousness, a sincere soul can properly understand that he is not just the body, but a servant of God, he has relation with all living entities on the soul platform. A learned person will see everybody on the soul platform. Sometimes a devotee appears that he is engaged in so called worldly responsibilities , but that doesnt mean we must criticize them.

Leave a Response