Sunday, June 26, 2005

ISKCON: Spirituality vs. Lavishness?

I visited the grand ISKCON temple here in Bangalore yesterday. Its the largest in India and truly grand with gold plated sculptures, and marvellous architecture. It must have taken a huge investment for sure. But then, ISKCON is about spirituality and renouncing desires for material pleasure or Mayaa. Is it contradicting for a cult popularizing this philosophy to have such a grand temple built? Do the followers or chanters need such a lavishly built building to chant? Is it a marketing gimmick to attract more visitors (who can then turn into followers)? These questions have been really bothering me since then.
Official website,, states that the 7 missions of ISKCON. I found 2 interesting:
  1. To erect for the members and for society at large a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
  2. To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler, more natural way of life.

To achieve (1), ISKCON temples have been built. But, (2) is a little confusing. Is is only relating to personal life, and not applicable to temples? Afterall, grandness in architecture is not a natural way of life. Followers will be leading a simple life, but remembering/chanting god rhymes in a lavish environment! Lavishness at all possible levels should be avoided according to ISKCON philosophy. Then, why do the followers need such huge temples to chant and pray? Is a simple temple, with spiritual environment, not good enough? Aren't these temples built as a marketing tool? Afcourse, there is no harm in marketing your way of life or philosophy, but marketing should not shake up your own philisophical foundations. Wouldn't it be better if the money invested had been used for educational or social purposes?

I have in touch with few ISCKON followers. Debating them is quite a tedious task as they derive their thought process from Vedas and other scriptures. I can think of one possible explanation from their side: "Followers are not affected by the lavishness of temples. They have insulated themselves from materialistic pleasures." Accepted. But then why need lavishness at all?

I have not been following ISKCON philisophy. Some of my inferences may not be complete, looking for an informed explanation....


ankush said...

I see that you have already started thinking like a management guy...with all the marketing gimmicks of ISCON and stuff...

Something on what you said about using the money spent on temples on education. Well, wouldn't it be great if every soul on this earth renounces his religion and the money saved is put to educating the society. Just imagine how large that sun of money would be? Not to mention the end of pain, wars, manslaughter, social rifts etc.

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Anonymous said...

pankaj...its great that you gave a thought to this issue and sometimes i too felt that they are a bit commercial people but there is another angle of looking at the same thing as well.
1.ISKCON bangalore is running the akshaypatra program which is the largest FREE food distribution program in india and is larger than those run by UNICEF or ant UN related organization.
2.they are having shortage of funds they are constructing temples in vrindavan and jaipur and the bangalore temple is a very big centre. should have attendeed the yoga retreat program(i did that),they charged rs.50 and gave lectures,food+ a book worth rs.30 free with it.the duration was 28 hours(it included accomodation as well.
4.the ISKCON bangalore is distributing the highest number of the bhagwad geeta(more than any other temple or probably organization in the world and thats a matter of pride for india). must see the ISKCON in vrindavan its absolutely free and very inexpensive(certain items) the most natural place i will love the place.
6.its better to spend on spirituality than a material pleasure.

Anonymous said...

see pankaj,those temples are not 4 us but 4 there4 they shud be built at the grandest possible scale
also they have a food for life program which 1 of yhe largest in the world

Anonymous said...

The general idea of renunciation, which is especially popular among the impersonalists school, is that everything material has to be rejected. However the
vaishnava understanding of renunciation is quite different. Vaishnavas see everything as belonging to Narayana and therefore to be used in the service of
Narayana. As vairagya is symptom of renunciation, yukta-vairagya must also be carefully understood.
Prabhupada gives the example of a hundred dollar bill lying on the street. One man might pocket it, while another man may think that it does not belong to him
and walk away in a spirit of renunciation. Yet another person might pick it up, find its original owner and return it to him. This third position is the most honest,
and the most intelligent.

Our Srila Prabhupada set an example by traveling around the globe, building grand temples, printing and distributing millions of dollars worth of books, and
accepting the worship of thousands of adoring disciples. Yet his followers have repeatedly recorded his remarkable detachment, renunciation, humility and
simplicity. He extended his efforts of humble service to Krishna, and accepted the worship and profit in the mood of a menial representative of Krishna ---
much like a bank clerk may deal with transactions of hundreds of thousands but does not claim anything for himself. Srila Prabhupada's purpose was simply to
glorify Krishna, in service to his guru maharaja.
In conclusion, we have to carefully consider one's capacity utilize some part of God's creation fully in the spirit of detatchment. When exercising caution in estimating what is an appropriate application of the yukta vairagya principle,
(Please refer to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Verses 5.3, 5.6, and 6.1.)

Simi said...

its quite ironical to see multiplexes, gaming zones and other materialistic stuff crores of rupees are spent. but when one makes a temple, upholds religious sanctity, people take to criticism.

read the philosophy.. look at the larger picture, look at the intent, is wat we must do instead of belittling ourselves with such narrow, shallow perspectives as calling building temples a waste!!

Anonymous said...

I am quite happy to see the last comment.

Now a days, people are building huge buildings & complexes for economic growth or some are building huge cinema theatres for making money.

The difference with ISKCON temples, is instead of building huge cinema theatres to spoil the population, build a huge temple, to spread the glories of Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Lord of all. If educated people give a little thought and read the Bhagavad Gita of Prabhupada, I doubt any one could NEVER understand what is God?


Avadhut Das said...

[why do the followers need such huge temples to chant and pray?]

Followers (ISKCON Devotees) do not need huge temples to chant and pray. They chant and pray walking on the street, sitting on a mat, walking down the isle, in the bus, in the kitchen... indeed where not!

As a matter of fact you must have seen the Hare Krishna ISKCON devotees chanting and praying all the time anywhere and everywhere.

Thus we understand that the "followers" demonstrably don't need the lavish facility for chanting and praying.

The temple resident brahmacharis (saffron clad shaven headed devotees) sleep on a wooden bed with a plastic or a straw mat on it. They don't even use a mattress. They eat on the floor. They wash their own cloths (without maidservant or washing machine), shave their own head (don't go to barber), and don't wear fancy expensive attire.

Their lifestyle is absolutely down to earth. When I was a resident brahmachari, I and many others used to wake up at 2am in the morning and take a cold shower bath everyday and start our mantra-japa (mantra-meditation) [an average devotee however wakes up generally by 3:30am... since the first arati -- Mangal arati is at 4:30am]

"Follower's" life is quite simple and from the average Indian lifestyle standard (those who are able to access internet to read this blog... from their standard) the devotee lifestyle standard may seem very austere.

Devotees don't drink tea or coffee ever (Tea contains an addictive drug called TANIN and coffee contains the addictive drug called CAFFINE)

Thus we see that in every aspect of a "Follower's" life, the lavish and posh temple environment is of no connection at all!

The "Followers" DON'T NEED IT.

Then why is it there?
Why ISKCON builds such lavish temples and has such lavish programs all over the world?

God is the Supreme Master of all. Yet most Hindus blaspheme God by using phrases as "daridra narayan!" No wonder they are confused when they see Lavish residence of God.

What is a temple? Temple = Residence of God.

If a Governor or a rich man can have a palatial place to live and no one has any objection, why raise eyebrows if God lives in a great residence!

Srila Prahupada the founder Acharya of ISKCON said, for us, we can live in huts, (and indeed we ISKCON devotees have lived in huts in treacherous conditions).

Krishna devotees build lavish Krishna temples so that materialistic people out of curiosity for this grandeur might finally visit a genuine place of Krishna worship and come in contact with the Krishna devotees.

(since otherwise they would seldom come in contact with Krishna devotees in fancy Mega Malls and thus remain in perpetual bewilderment about their own identity.)

What is that dazed out zombie like bewilderment?

It is: the fallacy of considering oneself to be the human body and to consider all that is in relationship with the body to be related to self.

Hello....?? But isn't that true?


Sorry... that aint not no true!

We are not the body made up of atomic matter. We posses the body. We are separate and potentially independent of the body.

We are an anti-matter particle, nature of which is diametrically opposite to that of the matter, atom.

In Sanskrit, this substance (that we inherently are) is called "jeeva-atma" or spirit-soul.

Right now, because of not being trained by our parents, teachers and society we are unaware of recognizing this original nature of (our) self.

In the Vedic Educational Institution named ISKCON (and other Krishna institutions) knowledge of Sri Krishna's Bhagavad-gita is propagated in a scientific manner leading to realization of this absolute unchangeable truth about our self.

The result of coming to know our true self is happiness. That is why we see that ISKCON devotees are always smiling ear to ear and dancing in abandon with upraised arms in bliss of pure love of God.

Please visit and read about ISKCON, the Vedic Philosophy and the Krishna Lifestyle.

yours humbly,
in service of my spiritual master Srila Prabhupada,
Avadhut das

rajeev said...

Whatever you said is thought provoking. But practically speaking in life there are many trade-offs that need to be made.

Although I my philosphy and experiences are not consistent with Iskcon, but I would like to give an Isckon point of view.

Aim 1 - Encourage spiritual development and realisation which is much far from the satisfaction that the Ego derives from using wealth, women, power

Aim 2 - Spread the Spiritual concsiouness far and wide and save people from suffering

The actions of Isckon are a trade off between these 2 Aims..

If you see the internal lives of Isckon brahmacharis or sanyasis, there is a lot of simplicity. The sweets that you get to eat daily are shunned by them except of festivals, when they take it a prasad. They fast for approximately 70 days & half-days in an year and this fast is without even one morsel of food. They dont have beds to sleep on and donot indulge in sexual issues if they pledge to remain sanyasi.

But Isckon is a cult for the masses .. and there are all sorts of people, attracted to wealth, power, Gold etc..

The philosophy is - in their language.. "You are attracted to gold.. no problem... see and enjoy Gold in the Temple of Krishna, in the diety of Krishna... You enjoy rich food... Eat Prasdam which has been purified by offering to Krishna.. Whatever u feel bring Krishna into it.. U like large mansions... Enjoy Large rich Krishna temples.. and so on"

Anything used for spiritual purpose no longer remains unpure since it is not used for the satisfaction of your Ego but has been sanctified by the relation to the Spirtual Being.

Once purification starts then the sadhaka slowly understand the meaning of real beauty and percieves that eternal beauty in all.. humans, animals, trees and everything.. living non living... he percieves the eternal spiritual beauty.

Spirituality is the most practical of all science and there is no scope for Dogma in it..

And the attachment to poverty and abstinence is also a fanatic Dogma when pursued without regard to the purpose.

I hope I have made somethings clear.

Anonymous said...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

Anonymous said...

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Radha DD said...

Hare Krsna !

What Avadhut Pr. has said is the same i have to say..

Hari Bol !!