In my previous post I brought attention to the fact that we have mixed pure Krishna Consciousness with cultural details that are not only superfluous, but also counterproductive to our mission.
In this and other posts, I will propose some examples of this. I do not claim to have perfect knowledge of our core scriptures and Srila Prabhupda’s purport to them (I wish!), so I accept I could be wrong. If I am, I’ll welcome quotes that prove me wrong.
Krishna Consciousness and current Indian ethnic traditions.
Current Indian culture contains, in some parts, elements of Krishna Consciousness, not vice-versa. Elements of Krishna Consciousness are also now seen in the cultures of many other parts of the world, thanks to Srila Prabhupada and his ISKCON. The fact that, before Prabhupada, KC could only be found in Indian culture does not transfer to Indian culture a special transcendental status. It’s just a natural result of the historic fact that KC was limited to that geographic region in the last several thousand years.
I won’t go into many details, as this aspect of the subject has been discussed at length in the “What is Vedic?” discourses given by Srila Hridayananda das Goswami in the USA, Europe and India (click here to access), but the list of Indian mundane ethnic details still widely misconstrued as an integral part of KC include: use of dhotis, kurtas, saris, covering of the hair by women, Indian decorative styles, Indian architecture, Indian food recipes, use of the title “Maharaja” for sannyasis, bharatnatyam dance, sitting on the floor, eating with your hands, Indian music, and the Indian tradition of increasingly more intricacy in rituals and religious ceremonies in general.
A few general philosophical points to consider:
1) Could the infinite spiritual world, populated by infinitely brilliant and creative people, with infinite resources and time on their hands, produce less variety of architecture, fashion, food recipes, etc. than a puny little planet like ours, in the midst of the worst of Ages? So what to speak of the limited variety of these found in the entire planet, are we to believe the entire spiritual world is limited to only what is found India today, or even 5000 years ago?
2) Varna-ashrama was wildly corrupted to an oppressive social regime over the centuries, Vaishnavism practically destroyed in a few brief centuries after Lord C, India was under foreign occupation for nearly 1000 years, Sanskrit changed, Hindi changed, borders changed… are we to believe that some “eternal culture” survived all this? Of course not. Cultures are in a constant state of flux, what to speak of one with such intense global intervention.
3) In the midst of what ISKCONians popularly conceive as the archetypal “Vedic culture”, in the time of Lord Krishna’s pastimes on Earth, Krishna says in the Gita (4.2), “the science of yoga is lost”. While Indian cultural details were still mainstream, the science of KC had disappeared to the point that Krishna personally came to re-establish it.
4) There is no sanskrit term for “Vedic culture”. We use it all the time, but it’s not in our scriptures! You might say “sanatana dharma” is the term for “Vedic culture”. But sanantana dharma is KC, not a definition of clothing, architectural, etc. styles, certainly not a definition of Indian ethnic details. Prabhupada used the term “Vedic culture” in this sense, i.e. of life in Krishna consciousness, never does he equate this with external details of Indian culture.
Here is a nice way to disentangle true KC from superfluous cultural details. Just ask yourself this simple question, filling in the blank with something you now think could be a key part of KC:
“Can someone go back home, back to Godhead if he/she doesn’t _______?”.
Here are some examples of how someone might want to fill the blank, with the corresponding answers:
a) ever wear a dhoti – YES
b) ever wear a sari – YES
c) have a sikha – YES
d) sit on the floor – YES
e) eat with his hands – YES
Or, now to get the real KC:
f) chant God’s name – NO
g) live a life of strict morality – NO
h) understand the difference between body and soul – NO
i) serve the Lord – NO
In other words, I believe most of us KNOW what is truly KC and what is not, but sometimes we become conditioned by the way we were trained in ISKCON and thus, without really philosophizing about it, we think that it’s somehow less bonafide if you don’t wear a dhoti, if you have a KC program with chairs and cutlery, less bonafide if you don’t take up all the quirky aspects of ISKCON culture.