Question: Do you think that the increased food distribution to poor children and the opening of hospitals by ISKCON (in India) compromises ISKCON’s purpose as established by Srila Prabhupada, or diminishes its purity of distributing pure spirituality?
Answer by Srila Hridayananda das Goswami:
I agree that ISKCON should not become, or be perceived as having become, a mundane welfare society. It would be hard to make the case, for example, that Chowpatty is predominantly ‘mundane’, given the extraordinary attention to sadhana-bhakti there, and the powerful preaching programs at colleges etc.
In the US and West Europe there are far fewer ‘welfare’ programs, and of course the movement is largely irrelevant and forgotten. Prabhupada spoke of varnashrama and even wanted to dedicate his last visit to the US, which health did not permit, to varnashrama. Mundane society is a headless body, but ISKCON is a disembodied head. One may imagine that without widespread prasadam distribution, hospitals etc ,we will become a major spiritual force in society simply by preaching philosophy and chanting etc, but we may not. Ever.
In the West, an extraordinary historical ‘window’ opened and ISKCON grew. That window is now largely closed and we make devotees at a tiny rate compared to then. Other windows may be opening but we have yet to clearly identify them.
In India, the stunning novelty of western Vaishnavas powered the initial expansion of ISKCON, and now ISKCON India is flying under its own steam. To imagine that we can be a large, powerful movement in India and entirely reject programs such as food distribution and hospitals is, in my view, unrealistic. Such a view, I believe, ignores real history. Of course we may go too far. But we must be careful not to go to either extreme.
With best wishes,
Hridayananda das Goswami