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Letter To My Prabhu - Kundali Das

Jagat - Sat, 17 Apr 2004 02:01:00 +0530

Though Kundali is not everyone's cup of tea--I don't find his ideas of Krishna consciousness to be truly based on a valid understanding of Raganuga bhakti--I have to give him credit for having made some of the most valuable contributions to Iskcon's intellectual life. His site is HERE. In this open letter, he outlines his intellectual ambitions as an Iskcon devotee. There are certainly things here that I can identify with. Let's all wish him Krishna's blessings.

Letter to My Prabhu

by Kundali Dasa

Dear Prabhu,

On the subject of me doing the kind of writing you suggested, I appreciate your suggestion and the concern for me that I do something more fulfilling for my bread and butter issues than try to sell real estate. But the truth is that at the end of the day, Iím not really interested in current affairs, politics, social commentary issues, etc., although I know they are valid issues and some person should be inspired sooner or later to do the KC take on those angles. Also, Iím pretty sure that even if I were to go into these areas, my take on these things would not jibe with what most devotees consider KC. Oh, Iím pretty sure of it. To my mind, most devotees have never learned to think for themselves, though they usually believe they do. But to me, they are either little prabhus, or little great prabhus, which is no real improvement at all, as described in Our Mission 2.

Commentary on current events is simply not my calling. My areas of interest are philosophy, psychology, religion and literature, and sociology, but not in the sense of current affairs. I have some powerful ideas in these areas, all based on the works of the Gosvamis of Vrindavana, their system of thought, so to speak--such as reconciling their theism with humanism, reconciling Gaudiya Vaishnava thought with Kierkegaardís theology and the psychology of Otto Rank. Stuff no one else is into. Also, my own commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, which will in effect reconcile much of Frommís psychoanalysis with several key concepts in the Gita. All these works would give readers a fresh take on Eastern thought, and each would bring credit to the six Gosvamis, because their ideas would be the cornerstone of all my efforts. These works, about 6 titles in all, are major scholarly efforts, on the level of a PhD thesis. Each may take years to research and write, and I truly believe this is what some of our devotees should be focused on contributing in their various areas of training, like Srila Prabhupadaís original idea of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, which is now mostly a flop. Instead of trying to take the parts of science that we can dovetail and open up readers to new vistas by reconciling those ideas with the parts of Vaishnavism that would fly, they want to knock over science completely, which will never work. Mark it down. It will never work. Itís as sensible an approach as going after a rhino with a rubber knife. Anyway, what I hope to do would bring intellectual recognition to our tradition. It would bring respect and interest in that field. It may take many years to happen also, and devotees are all pre-programmed for short-term results. But it was 100 years before people paid attention to Kierkegaard, and same with Marx, and Rankís work is still largely unknown in the popular mind. His 100 years has not elapsed yet, you see.

Prabhu, many devotees donít know this, but the intellectual tradition in our line, that Iím concerned about preserving and giving new life, is a huge part of our legacy. Bhaktivinoda reinterpreted bhakti for his time, and that is needed again. I see the need and I see a particular opening. I have not figured out the way to make it happen. That is my test. But Iím noodling about it, between my struggle to deal with bread and butter issues. Iím a soul in torment about this piece, but itís my lot. The reality of it is that ISKCON should be giving full facility to all like me who want and have the potential to make an intellectual contribution. After all, didnít Srila Prabhupada sail on the Jaladuta to create a class of thinking men? I thought so. It won me to his feet. But it seems like we lost sight of his reason for that fateful trip. Instead we have an ISKCON in which an intellectual mafia want to profit from any othersí industriousness, or feel so threatened by it that they have to rub them out. ďFor Prabhupada,Ē of course. Itís always ďfor Prabhupada.Ē Hey, the Inquisition was ďfor Jesus.Ē How do you like that? The intellectual mafia is out to get recognition in Oxford or to prove that Prabhupada was the greatest theologian or put out substandard commentaries on the Bhagavatam, where they cut and paste (read ďparrotĒ) Prabhupadaís purports because they have nothing of their own to put into the kitty. Pseudo-intellectuals, in other words, who have not got a single original idea or realization of their own, but wonít let anyone do original work unless they get credit somehow. These pretenders wrap themselves in Prabhupadaís name, and, oh, how the devotees oooh and aaaah. Poor sods.

Prabhu, my defect as a person is that I refuse to kowtow to such naked emperors. Itís not that Iím not clever enough to play the game they have set up; I can do it, but I refuse to play by their rules and in that way let them get credit to go on bluffing. I refuse. Itís really that simple. It goes against my conscience to kowtow. Prabhupada didnít kowtow to his godbrothers, so I categorically refuse to go down that road. I would rather die a cab driver than endorse those bluffers. Otherwise, I too can wrap myself in Prabhupadaís name and have security, profit, adoration and distinction, and even get a big samadhi erected in my honor one day, just a tad shorter than Prabhupadaís. Donít doubt me, I can play that game; I can do it better than some of the players we already have on the field. But I wouldnít much like myself when I was alone, so I refuse.

Trust me, I know WHAT I want to do. My problem is HOW to pull it off. How to fund it? I donít know. Creative people have always had to struggle with this. Usually someone who believes in their potential would patronize them, or there would be a grant system or philanthropists or whatever. In fact thatís the Vedic system too: kings or well-off merchants would fund the bread and butter and other costs so creative people, the men of thought or men of art could make a contribution; but itís darn hard to find that among devotees, or when you do, there are weird strings attached, or envy such as we saw when Satyanarayana and I were getting funded by the BBT to work on the Gosvami literature. Oh my, the cornered polecat response from those who wanted the money and prestige was hardly disguised at all. ďStrings attachedĒ is always a hard one to live with if one is truly brahminically inclined. You canít be an authentic man of thought if you must first consider what your patron would approve. That sours the whole deal.

Letís face it, our recruitment efforts are so dumbed down at this point (or were they ever not dumbed down?) that most devotees donít even value intellectual work, or they fear intellectuals. They label them pejoratively, as jnanis or some other foolish label, while they are single-minded about preaching, which only means grabbing market share to make people into cheerful robots ďfor Prabhupada,Ē people who must then turn around and mass produce more such robots. The truth is that we are part of a tremendous intellectual tradition, and the biggest responsibility we have, the legacy we have inherited through Baladeva, Bhaktivinoda, Bhaktisiddanta, and Srila Prabhupada is to keep that tradition going. Not by building a big city in Mayapur, as most leaders and devotees think. Thatís actually small potatoes by comparison. To Harikeshaís credit, he realized that and tried to make his claim to fame the funding of a BBT project to enrich us with books, translations, etc., but that was too much for all the also-ran ISKCON intellectuals with political power. So they had to sabotage it. Name, fame, and glory must accrue to them or else. . . you get the guillotine. ďFor Prabhupada.Ē

As far as I can see not a single godbrother of mine except for Shukavak has appreciated KC in this way as a major intellectual tradition that we are charged with revamping in every era. Perhaps another godbrother is close, but not close enough to suit me. He is too keen about marketing his own wonderfulness so his efforts are not ultimately as nourishing or as outside the box as it at first seems. But under the komala concept of Bhaktivinoda, some traditional preaching is valid, for others of the komala ilk. Itís a pity that some try to dress it up as preaching for the madhyama mindset, though. At least when I read him that part comes shining though, and I canít help but think that any true intellectual will be turned off by such obvious ambition and so thin a veil. But lesser minds will be in awe. Our great mistake is that we get too flattered when we can awe lesser minds. It always seems to seduce us and make us desist from going far enough to become truly deserving of making an authentic contribution. I donít think the Gosvamis had this weakness. They loved the work for what it did to them inwardly, not because of what it could do for them outwardly. Tricky stuff, but thatís the nature of this world, it is dicey.

Anyway, like I said, I know what I want to do. My problem is how to pull it off. As I keep niggling at it, sooner or later it will unravel. Iíll yet reach my goal. My Brighu Samhita reading encourages me as far as that part goes. You may recall that it said that I will win the mercy of my spiritual master, and that I would start a ďnew system.Ē I donít really believe it will be a new system, because how would that please my spiritual master? What I think it really means is that the work I want to do will be perceived as new, because it will be a new take on the old system. It will be mind-blowing for some, Iím sure. Something like the way Bhaktivinoda did a new take on the system as it was perceived in his time, but we donít see that as a new system. We see it as bringing out an updated take on what was already there. So, something like that is what I consider my calling. Sounds grandiose, huh? Well, Prabhupada said that he was told he would preach and build temples and so on, and he would repeat it. We thought it was wonderful, not grandiose. And so it goes. Iím still striving to get from A to B. Prabhupada was an old man before he even got to the U.S., so Iím not giving up. Time will tell. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

You asked about my association; dunno why thatís important, but since you asked, Iím not really associating with anyone. I like my life the way it is in that respect. Most associationĒ is unenlivening to me. Draining. Almost every devotee talks and thinks in the same predictable ways. I can usually carry on both ends of our conversations, even with the same predictable language. I find it tiring to listen to. Since coming here, except for e-mails with the few people I feel urged to stay in touch with as personal friends, not because they are ďdevotee association,Ē but because they seem to have minds of their own, I have been successful in keeping pretty much to myself. Thatís my choice. I quite like it. I am too tired of the rutted way of thinking and speaking that I experience with the majority of devotees. Hearing it, responding to it, all that seems a waste most days. I prefer to read a novel, if I have some time on my hands, which I donít have much of at the moment. So, I remain at a distance. It works for me. And as long as itís working Iím not going to fix it. As you can see from my outings on Saragrahi, my way of thinking is quite different from the devotee norm. I need to stay like that for the sake of my sanity and for the work I want to do. ďTraditionĒ is a box. Tradition is all about conformity. And to do what I want to do for the parampara, I need to think outside the box. To be a parrot for tradition, or to finesse appearing not to be a parrot, while Iím really just a parrot, neither of those will work for me.

So, I hope this is not all too much for you, my friend, but itís a sum up of where Iím at in this this moment, in this phase of my own story. Iím going to send this to Saragrahi, because I think others may have questions similar to yours about myself, and Iím thinking that I may as well share this, now that Iíve written it all out.

Hare Krishna