Surviving the Institution: One of the biggest secrets in Krsna Consciousness
Updated: Mar 11, 2020
This article is a combination of a few thoughts I got from a class by Madhavananda Prabhu, and a few personal realizations.
Our movement has two sides: one side is the institution, a kind of impersonal entity, the other are the devotees. When we look from the institutional side, our movement is not so different from other organized religious groups. It is important since it's the vehicle created by Srila Prabhupada to spread Krsna Consciousness, but just as other organized religious groups, it involves egos, politics, a certain struggle for power and so on. It's much better than many other groups, we can tell, but still, it's far from perfect. There are problems and we need to learn how to live with them if we want to go somewhere.
Organized religion is necessary for the enlightenment of the general public. It may not be perfect, but it is necessary. To try to abolish organized religion is a type of anarchist mentality that is influenced by the mode of ignorance, and don't bring any good result. It may be difficult to believe, but Lord Caitanya had to deal with many of the same problems we may complain about regarding "the institution" when he was living in Puri.
During these pastimes, he was going daily to receive darshan of Lord Jagannatha and was attending the Ratha Yatras and other festivals. The temple was part of his life, despite the problems. First time Lord Caitanya visited the temple, the pandas wanted to beat Him up because he fell down to the ground paying dandavats (which is not allowed in the strict code of rules followed in the temple). They didn't allow Haridasa Thakura, as well as Rupa and Sanatana Goswami in the temple. Being God, he could have started a revolution to overthrow the management, but instead he just followed the rules. He supported the managers of the temple, despite their shortcomings. It may be hard to believe, but God supports organized religion, even when the leaders are not perfect.
That's actually a noticeable difference between Indian culture and western culture. In traditional Indian culture, people are trained to respect authorities (like the teachers, father, mother, older brothers, etc.) regardless of their imperfections. In western culture however we tend to have a puffed-up mentality: if the authority is not perfect (according to our own standards), we don't want to follow. This is something that constricts our progress, since the whole Vedic concept of spiritual life is based on learning from authorities.
Another problem with rebelling against the leaders is that they may decide to leave and we may end-up in their place. To be a manager is not a very good position for one aspiring to progress in spiritual life. Considering that in ISKCON we usually don't receive salaries, it's not a very advantageous position for material success either. There are only two classes of persons that can execute a managerial position without harm for their spiritual life: a) one that has a Ksatriya nature (and qualities such as power, morality, integrity, etc.) and can thus be happy serving by managing and taking care of people and b) the pure devotee, that can do anything for Krsna. If you don’t fit in any of the two options, it's much more intelligent to assist and cooperate with the leaders that are already there doing this inglorious service than to try to take their place.
So, on the one hand we need organized religion and we need to follow authorities, but on the other hand we must also develop sufficient brain matter to be able to navigate the negative aspects of the institution. One problem with organized religion in general is that it tends to focus more in the rituals than on people. We need to be able to do our service and offer our contribution, but at the same conserve our individuality, otherwise we may end being swallowed by the impersonal aspects.
To counter that, we should have our private space, our circle of intimate friends, a place where we can cultivate human relations, where we fell nourished. People that abandon the institution tend to gradually abandon Krsna Consciousness, while the ones that become too much absorbed in the impersonal aspects of the institution may end-up becoming fanatics, that don't usually stay for very long either.
The secret is to be able to be a team-player, cooperating with other devotees, performing our service and doing our part in the cooperative effort, but at the same time keep our private space and our circle of intimate friends. There are so many nice, sweet devotees in our movement. If you can't mention at least ten names, I'm sorry but you are missing out. To cultivate friendship with like-minded devotees is one of the most important aspects of spiritual life. This is our safety net. The institution may not help you when you have someone sick in the family, but the devotees will. The institution may not bring you back to Godhead, but the devotees certainly can.
One of the biggest secrets in spiritual life is exactly this: to be able to combine our participation in the institution with solid relationships with like-minded devotees. By doing that, we can have the best of both worlds. By keeping this equilibrium, we can flourish in spiritual life, despite obstacles in dealing with "the institution" or with imperfect authorities. As we evolve, we can become more useful in helping others to become Krsna Conscious.
Lord Caitanya Himself gave this example when living in Jagannatha Puri, by simultaneously being engaged in the activities related to the temple and having intimate dealings with His intimate associates. One that can follow this advice, can be much stronger in his spiritual life, maintaining his progress and at the same time being able to do something for others.
Devotees that are not capable of doing that, end-up usually becoming too dependent on the institution, expecting that the institution will maintain them, and the institution may not be very competent in doing so. We can see that many, or maybe most of the devotees that abandon Krsna Consciousness do it with a very heavy heart, after having some experience when they felt neglected or offended. One that don't have a good safety net, will fall straight to the ground in such a situation, which can easily have fatal consequences.
We need to learn the art of being alone in the crowd, working inside the group, but at the same time maintaining our individuality. Krsna likes individuality, because individuality brings variety. The goal is not to extinguish our individuality and become one with the group, but to conserve our individuality, using it to serve Krsna and develop love for Him.