The following conversation took place in January, 1992.
Satyaraja Dasa : Lord Caitanya predicted a Golden Age for the next ten thousand years. ISKCON and Prabhupada's books, specifically, are to survive, even thrive, for that period. But then the Kali age really sets in, and intense degradation becomes more and more prominent. In the interim period, however, devotees are convinced that ISKCON will flourish. But in exactly what form? This is open to question. So, first of all, how do you feel about this notion of ISKCON flourishing or abiding? Do you think it will?
Dr Rochford: We must acknowledge that the movement will exist - it has staying power. That's for certain. I think the bigger questions involve the form, because the movement has already gone through several serious transition periods. But the movement has definitely shown that it's here to stay. There's a nice segment by sociologist Rosabeth Kanter who, in her book Commitment and Community, talks about communes in the nineteenth century. She looks at ninety-one such movements who've left historical records, and it's interesting because less than a dozen were able to survive twenty-five years, or a single generation. And the majority lasted less than four years. So, one thing we have to understand, as a starting point, is that this movement has lasted well beyond the average life expectancy of such organisations. It has without a doubt shown its ability to endure.
Satyaraja Dasa: Well, then, let's begin like this: just why has ISKCON endured? To what would you attribute its longevity?
Dr Rochford: I think we can point to a couple of things. First of all, I think we can look at its strong, deep religious tradition - its roots in the Gaudiya Vaisnava heritage. Then we can also look at the ways in which that tradition has been passed on over the course of time such that those who take it up are transformed, or altered, in terms of consciousness - the richness of its theology and practice. These are formidable considerations.
In fact, of those nineteenth-century communes that Kanter had investigated, the majority of those that had endured were religious. So, wherever you see this sort of all-encompassing ideology, especially where there is a societal plan with a deep theological background, you see the prospects for success being that much greater.
Satyaraja Dasa: I guess there are many reasons for this, the foremost being spiritual. But I think that from a strictly sociological point of view, it might be said that such communities are more likely to be successful because they unify people around a common goal.
Dr Rochford: Exactly. It presents a sense of common purpose for people. Also, relating it to the 'spiritual' reasons you were alluding to - and this is especially the case with ISKCON - people have experienced advancement in their pursuit of God. In other words, the movement gives what is promises. It's that simple, really. There's little question as to whether the practice of Krsna consciousness works - you've got people who have been devotees for over twenty years. They're getting something from this. You've got centuries of Gaudiya Vaisnavas in India - and tens of thousands (if not millions) today - who also have adhered to the process of Krsna consciousness and derived spiritual satisfaction. So this cannot be ignored. The primary reason for an enduring community is time-tested proof that the goals of that community are attainable and valuable. ISKCON has shown this beyond any questionable doubt, at least for an informed observer.
Satyaraja Dasa: Let's return for a moment to Kanter's study. Of the few communal groups who had staying power, how many went through radical transformations? I mean, longevity is important, but if a given group, especially a religious group, departs from its initial goals ... .
Dr Rochford: Most of them did undergo change. And these are far-reaching. Some movements remained true to their traditional form. Others have become transformed in the sense that they've taken on a sort of accommodationist stance in regard to the world, or the larger society. But they, too, remain true to their religious principles and vows in some manner. And then there are other religious groups that went through tremendous transformations, becoming big business enterprises and worldly concerns - a total transformation. Such groups often retain some semblance of their religious elements, but as a secondary concern.
Satyaraja Dasa: Do you think, perhaps, at one time the danger was that such a fate could have befallen ISKCON? In the mid seventies, when the movement was more financially stable, we could just as easily become another big business, wouldn't you say?
Dr Rochford: Some say it could have happened. But I don't think so. And history has shown that it didn't happen. I think the primary reason for this is the fact that ISKCON money was always going into the printing of religious books, the distribution of sacred food, temples, and things of this nature. The money from the sankirtan was not used, at least not for the most part, in making a comfortable, material life for people. It went directly back into the religious concerns. So this is an important factor.
In one sense, though, this is all ancient history, although economics is still a critical factor for the movement. In fact, it may be more important now than ever before. ISKCON, at this point, doesn't really have a stable, viable economic infrastructure. This distinguishes it from similar communities, and it should be a critical concern. It can affect the form the movement takes in the years ahead. Householders, for instance, are finding, more and more, that they have to go out and get jobs or set up private businesses. This is now accepted, by and large, by the community of devotees.
Working outside, of course, was also accepted ten or twelve years ago, but it was the exception rather than the rule. Such things would have more generally been perceived as maya, or 'illusion', with only very rare exceptions. Now, I think this accommodationist view is a sign that the movement is developing in a healthy way, but there are dangers too. And this is clearly the problem that is perceived by 'the purists', if you will. They don't want to compromise the tradition, which is valid. So, there's a tension developing, and we'll have to see the way in which devotees deal with this.
These developments, by the way, present a potentially dramatic effect on the movement in terms of what its course is going to be. It's bringing devotees into the outside world in a rather full way - they have to work side-by-side with people who do not share their beliefs and sense of commitment. So that can have its effect. But on the other side, devotees can now preach to people with whom they wouldn't have ordinarily come into contact, and in a profound way. Not only with words, but with an example of how to be Krsna conscious in what these people consider to be 'the real world'. This is important: if the only example ISKCON can set is that of cloistered monks, you're going to lose a whole segment of society that could otherwise seriously respond to what you have to say.
You know, taken within the context of earlier Vedic tradition, this could all be seen as the unfolding of the varnashrama system. Initially, Prabhupada wanted to create brahmanas, an intellectual class, to guide society and, clearly, a lot of the early devotees did see themselves in this way, even if many of them lacked the necessary qualifications. Then, again, many were qualified, and have shown it over the years. The point I want to make, though, is that this was a natural place for Prabhupada to start: his first and foremost concern was to create a society that had God in the centre. This necessitated the making of brahmanas - people who see spirituality as the most prominent part of their lives.
In Prabhupada's wisdom, he emphasised this as the paramount thing, knowing that once he had a class of brahmanas the movement would be established on a strong foundation, and the other classes would grow out of that. Therefore he intimated that fifty per cent of his work was left undone - the natural unfolding of the varnashrama system. And as time goes on, varnashrama organically unfolds. In fact, we see that some devotees are performing brahminical work, but others are going out and finding work that suits them most. You have lawyers, farmers, businessmen - the whole nine yards. This diversity can create a stable economic and social base for ISKCON.
In fact, ISKCON requires this if it is to become what sociologists call 'institutionally complete'. Anyway, diversity of employment or occupation is a step in this direction, even if it's not necessarily the varnashrama system proper. Actually, it's a facsimile of varnashrama that is just beginning to rear its head in ISKCON. I wonder, as the movement grows and learns to accommodate this, will it turn into the actual varnashrama ideal that we've read so much about? So it opens new doors . .
Satyaraja Dasa: But many devotees will naturally find themselves going in this direction as they mature both physically and spiritually, and so they should be ready for this and know how to deal with it.
Dr Rochford: Definitely. Now that the boundary between ISKCON and the outside world is more flexible and fluid, there's potential to really grow. The old idea that 'you're a monk or you're in maya' has more or less seen its day. Devotees are assimilating, or maturing, as you say. And it's interesting to look at the factors that were instrumental in this. First, you have a decline in book distribution and the selling of paraphernalia; you have devotees growing older and developing the need to take care of their families. Again, the economic factor. Devotees were left without alternatives. When books and incense were on the decline ..
Satyaraja Dasa: I think this had a lot to do with the time. In the late sixties and early seventies, exotic Indian religion, incense, and things of this nature, were in vogue. As the seventies came to an end, so did the popularity of many of these items, things associated with Krsna consciousness.
Dr Rochford: Right. And then you had the anti-cult movement, which really gained ground in the late seventies. That really affected sankirtana - especially in America (maybe only America!). .People became suspicious of the devotees and all so-called cults. So a new economic base was needed for a variety of reasons. And many devotees, out of necessity, took to working in the outside world. Now, it can be said that some of these devotees are not strict practitioners, but I don't think that this is a fair appraisal. Of course, some of them are not strict but, then again, some of those who continue to live inside the temple are not strict. It is very much an individual thing.
You know, I visited one temple recently for a mangal aratik service at 4.14 a.m., and I witnessed what I'm sure was a minority representation of the community of devotees - and I suspect this is true in most North American temples. Now, what does this mean? Well, the purists would say that the people who don't attend all of the services are in maya, but I think it runs a little deeper than that. Many purists may not have a nine-to-five job. Or they may not have a family to raise. To be involved in one's family, in the way that is required, is no easy task. It takes a lot of time and energy. But if one takes on that responsibility, he has to do it correctly. So this has to be considered.
A sincere devotee will naturally have some modicum of an early morning service, simulating what goes on in the temple or actually attending part of the temple functions. But it is unrealistic to expect that a householder, living outside, with tons of responsibilities, should have the same requirements that a monk inside will have. Of course, at this point, devotees will run to their Bhagavad-gita and show a million 'Prabhupada saids'. But the plain fact is that the movement is evolving, and Prabhupada clearly expected this. It evolved constantly while he was here, and it continues to evolve in his physical absence.
The economic needs of the devotees, and their requirements as people, as we've shown, are clearly different than they were in the days when Prabhupada was here, and the purists have to accept this. You see, the purists and the accommodationists can either benefit from, or suffocate, each other. It's up to them. With the cautions exerted by the purists, the accommodationists can spread Krsna consciousness into the world. And with the financial, preaching, festivities, and sheer numbers support of the accomodationists, the core members of the institution can carry on their grassroots activities.
Satyaraja Dasa: I see that. It's going on already, to some degree. This is definitely the direction we're heading in. We say, 'Prabhupada built a house in which the whole world could live'. And we're working to realise that goal. But there are problems.
Dr Rochford: Yes. But without labouring the finer points of the issue, I think the problems can be solved rather simply. If devotees both inside and outside the temple learn to communicate more, and to have mutual respect, Prabhupada's vision could be achieved. Of course, this is more difficult than it seems. Nonetheless, the importance of devotee relationships cannot be overstated. And, if I'm not mistaken, this is now a much vocalised point among the reformers in the movement.
Satyaraja Dasa: That's right. But this is related to older, long-standing problems. I'm talking about the rift between ascetics and householders. In fact, the tension between monks and married people is an old one. It existed in India for some time, and was even seen in the Gaudiya Matha (ISKCON's parent institution). But, despite this tension Gaudiya Vaishnavism, from the time of Mahaprabhu to the present day, has accommodated householders. To start the movement in theWest, Prabhupada emphasised monastic life. Of course, I'm not saying that this emphasis would have necessarily shifted but as devotees matured, and began to work and raise families, I think he would have structured the organisation to accommodate these things in a more grassroots kind of way. Emphasis on in-house businesses, gurukula, and these kinds of things.
If you look at the history of our sampradaya, there has always been a large contingent of householders, even among the greatest devotees. Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great teacher in our line, was the father of ten children, a court magistrate, and a prolific writer. Now, his lifestyle was quite different than the
monks of his time, but he was also a respected devotee - a devotee of the highest order.
I see it as a question of maturity. Mature purists, to use your term, will embrace householders - trying to understand their different lifestyle - and work with them to spread Krsna consciousness. And mature householders, who largely fit into what you call the accommodationist category, will work with the monks and do their level best to come up to standard.
Dr Rochford: This is required if the movement is to survive. Well, it will survive in any case. But this is required if the movement is to prosper. And look at the example you mentioned - Bhaktivinoda. His co-workers would have seen in him an upright, honest, ethical citizen, who is contributing to the world both materially and spiritually. Clearly, not everyone will contribute in this all-consuming way. But his example is significant. Such a class of devotees, in some sense at least, offers an even better example than their renunciant counterparts. They are clearly in the world, but not of it. This impresses people, at times on a much deeper level. It's something they can relate to, and it makes Krsna consciousness appear practical, something that has value for them in their present state. And something that's accessible.
I think one thing that needs to be discussed is the subject of role models, both for purists and accommodationists. Again, you mentioned Bhaktivinoda - a perfect role model, in a sense, for both. And then there's certainly Srila Prabhupada. But the onus now falls squarely on the shoulders of Prabhupada`s disciples. Good leadership is called for . .
Satyaraja Dasa: Let me read you something that was written by a sociologist named Stuart Wright: 'Commitment to a movement characterised by charismatic leadership emerges out of an investment of "trust" made by members . One problem all world-transforming movements face is that followers need to be convinced that movement leaders are legitimate embodiments or representatives of moral truths and, therefore, worthy of their sacrifice and dedication. If, however, invested loyalty or trust is betrayed through actions that are perceived as morally inconsistent with espoused ideals or goals, the likelihood of defection is increased.'
This interests me and dictates, perhaps, the next course of our discussion. ISKCON thrived under Prabhupada's guidance and personal example. Soon after his departure, things started to get difficult, to say the least. It seems that the onus really is on the current leaders of ISKCON to set high examples . .
Dr Rochford: It has to be there in any movement, and doubly in this one, if for no other reason than the overwhelming centrality of the guru/disciple relationship. So all senior devotees have an obligation to set a high standard, but this obligation is especially poignant for those who are set up as gurus - they must embody the ideals, or else people will simply leave the movement.
There is, of course, the phenomenon of seeing Krsna consciousness as larger than the institution and even larger than the relationship with one's own guru. In that case devotees who have problem-gurus, shall we say, will stay within the fold of Krsna consciousness. They will go on with their practices and take recourse in Prabhupada and his teachings, eventually taking shelter, perhaps, of one of Prabhupada`s more exemplary disciples. But such things are rare, and the more common case scenario is that a disenchanted disciple will simply leave the movement to pursue a more materialistic life.
In ISKCON today, though, there is a sense of connection with Srila Prabhupada and, through him, the whole Gaudiya tradition. So disenchanted devotees would do well to nurture this relationship in addition to the relationship with his or her individual guru, or through his or her guru. That way, if there is some betrayal of trust - if the guru falls away from the movement - the disciple still has Prabhupada and the entire process of Krsna consciousness. Do you agree?
Satyaraja Dasa: Absolutely. Traditionally, this is called acharya-purusha - everyone is linked to the pure representative of Krsna. In our case, Prabhupada is the founder/ acharya of ISKCON - so everyone in the institution should have a direct relationship with him. This is not to say that one is not linked through one's guru, or that one does not honour one's guru, but the acharya is of central importance to everyone in the institution. The relationship with one's guru is dependent upon the guru's relationship with Prabhupada. This is parampara. In this way there is a common interest of all disciples and, as we've discussed, this enables an institution to grow and prosper.
Dr Rochford: This is the point. I know there's some controversy about ritvik and diksha, and things of that sort. That's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about a very pragmatic connection. It's real. No matter who one's initiating guru is, an ISKCON devotee is distinctly related to Prabhupada - a Prabhupada follower.
Satyaraja Dasa: We call it Prabhupad-anuga!
Dr Rochford: Right. And while we're talking about the importance of leadership, I want to say that I think there is some trouble in ISKCON today. Leaders are not what they once were. Maybe it's because they are feeling Prabhupada`s absence, I don't know.
Satyaraja Dasa: Well, it really varies. There's strong leadership in Europe. Harikesa Maharaja . .
Dr Rochford: Oh, I'm generalising, without doubt. I'm speaking mainly about the movement in America. That was subject of my dissertation and the area in which I've conducted the most elaborate amount of research. But, no, I'm aware of the success, especially in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It's phenomenal. Since Prabhupada's departure, the movement has tripled in those places. And it continues to grow in South America, too. But there is clearly a problem in America. The devotees there, by and large, are not as inspired as they once were.
There are a lot of reasons for this. One reason may simply be a reflection of age. Devotees are older, with families, and their concerns are shifting. In some ways, their commitment to Krsna consciousness may be deeper than ever before. But externally, they don't appear to have the zealousness of bygone days. Their time is spent with the family or at work. We've discussed this already. Even the people who are joining the movement today, though, do not seem to have the same spirit as the devotees I met when I first came around, some fifteen years ago. A lot of young people today have hardly even heard of the movement, much less desire to join it.
Satyaraja Dasa: Well, there is the straight-edge phenomenon, you know. I was discussing this with J. Stillson Judah several months ago. He asked me about the young people today and if they still join for the same reasons as when I joined the movement, almost twenty years ago. I told him that the kids of today are very different, and I had these straight-edge kids in mind. They join the movement because it gives theological legitimisation to practices they already hold dear. For example, straight-edge kids are mostly celibate, they avoid intoxication, and they are determined vegetarians. Naturally, Krsna consciousness is appealing to them. They're already in the mode of goodness, and so they're attracted to the lifestyle of the devotees. Not surprisingly, more and more of these kids are joining the movement. So I'm not sure if I'd agree with you ..
Dr Rochford: No, I'm not saying that. There's a good clientele out there. But I don't think the devotees are responding as quickly as they should. Or, at least, they're not responding as quickly as they would have, say ten or twelve years ago. This is definitely the case in America. You know, I used to be able to ask my students, an entire class, 'How many of you have had a face-to-face encounter with a Hare Krsna?' Practically all hands would rise - every student had a story to tell. Over the years, however, this has happened less and less, and now few have had direct contact with the devotees. So there's a problem with the movement in America, and, in my estimation, a lot of it can be traced to poor leadership. Book distribution is down, harinama is down.
Now, part of this is to do with the economic situation, age, leadership etc., as already discussed, but there are other factors as well. Some devotees say that things started going downhill once Prabhupada departed. But, if truth be told, book distribution and other things started to decline a couple of years prior to that. And I think the end of the sixties and early seventies - with its hippiedom, exotic Indian religion, incense, etc., was one of the factors.
Still, things started to deteriorate even before Prabhupada left. It's interesting, isn't it? The days of annually doubling book distribution scores and the millions of books sold started to taper off by 1976. It wasn't as bad as it was to become in the eighties, but there was a clear decline. And so devotees started to go out on sankirtana as Santa Claus and distribute records and paraphernalia even while Prabhupada was still here! So these were the beginnings of the economic difficulties for ISKCON.
Satyaraja Dasa: Of course, instead of solving the problems these things exacerbated the situation, and devotees were perceived as entrepreneurs - just out to make a buck. Even for the devotees who were honest and relatively straightforward, it started to look bad. 'Devotees as Santa Claus? Just see how deceptive these
devotees are!' But the Santa Claus thing started in good spirit, using the holiday season to distribute the message of God. And Prabhupada supported it! Unfortunately, it was eventually abused by opportunistic devotees, and so the suspicions of already sceptical non-devotees seemed justified.
Dr Rochford: Exactly. In a sense, it couldn't have been worse. The short-term gain was not worth the long-term consequences. I don't think there's any question about this. And these things developed independently of Srila Prabhupada's disappearance. Whether he was here or not, these things were going on. And then with the anti-cult movement and the Robin George Case, the defection of New Vrndavana, bad or bogus gurus, bad or bogus media - Americans, by and large, came to mistrust the devotees.
The anti-cult movement became a viable force in America, especially in the mid-to-late seventies. That's when they were at their strongest, which means that they were spreading their own propaganda about ISKCON and other new religious movements. So they were, in a sense, shaping public opinion. The press obviously helped them along the way. As a result, people were already gaining a sense of distrust and even began to think that the movement was dangerous in some way. This was going on while Prabhupada was here.
The other thing we have to look at is the devotees themselves. In some cases, you had inexperienced, if well-meaning, devotees, who acted like anything but Vaisnavas while out on sankirtana. This is not to say, of course, that there weren't many sincere devotees out there - and still are - who were doing it properly with compassion and the correct religious attitude. But let's face it, there were many overzealous devotees who were just trying to rake in the bucks. Some did it 'to please Prabhupada'; others did it for name and glory; still others, I'm sure, did it for their own profitable ends. But it created a bad name for the movement. A growing public hostility was taking place - an unfortunate hostility. So there are a lot of factors that are working together to make things difficult for the devotees here in the States.
Hopefully, American devotees have learned their lessons well and will not make the same mistakes. They can learn from their past and from the Indian community as well. Here's a prime example of how to pursue Krsna consciousness in a tangible but sophisticated way. I think the example of the Indian people is significant and fits very neatly with the paradigm we've set up of accommodationist devotees. But this is a touchy subject.
Satyaraja Dasa: How so?
Dr Rochford: Well for starters, I don't think there's any doubt that the East-Indian people will continue to have a significant role in the movement. Now, there are many sides to this issue. I think initially at least, Indians were brought in more as a strategic consideration than anything else. With the anti-cult movement labelling ISKCON 'a cult', something had to be done. The logical and most natural move at this point was to affirm the long-standing assumption that ISKCON was part of the Hindu heritage. Thus, it's not a cult by the prevalent definition.
The fact is, however, that ISKCON sees itself as sanatana dharma and it sees Hinduism as a sectarian religion, possibly having its origins in sanatana dharma but nonetheless a separate phenomenon. Leaving all these technicalities aside for a moment, one fact remains: ISKCON doesn't really see itself as Hindu and so many see this identification as little more than a strategic move. However, there's enough historical and ideological evidence to associate ISKCON with Hinduism and so the identification can wash with the legal system: ISKCON is part of Hinduism. Fine. It has a neat label.
But what happened is interesting. As more Indians started to identify the ISKCON temples as their own, both they and the devotees started to see that the two groups could benefit from each other.
Satyaraja Dasa: In fact, this was one of Srila Prabhupada's plans. He wanted to popularise Krsna consciousness in the West because people in other parts of the world generally try to emulate the things they see going on here. He thought that Indians would get more serious about Vaisnava dharma if they saw Westerners taking it seriously. Which is exactly what happened.
Jack Hawley, a professor of religion at Columbia, calls it 'the pizza effect'. Most people assume that pizza originated in Italy. It didn't - it originated in America. But now it's popular in Italy as well. So ISKCON, as a distinct institution, originated in the States - but it had a huge effect in making India and Indians Krsna conscious.
Of course Prabhupada wanted East-Indian involvement, and as early as 1970 he created the Life Membership programme. But he wanted it to be clear that we were not teaching Hinduism, at least as it's presently understood. We were not supporters of polytheism or the caste system nor were we, in an ultimate sense, to be identified with any sectarian religion. But Hindus were like our close relatives ... .
Dr Rochford: Right. Anyway, the alliance between the devotees and the Indian community initially gained strength as a result of the efforts of the anti-cult movement. So this sort of came in through the back door, if you will. But it's an important merger of interests. The Indians came to the devotees' rescue: 'Oh, when you attack ISKCON, you're attacking Hinduism'. And the devotees, for their part, established Vaisnava temples and explained Vedic texts and culture with renewed enthusiasm. So they helped each other.
Satyaraja Dasa: Another way in which East-Indians help ISKCON is related to our initial conversation about the growth of ISKCON and its accommodationist direction. Most Indians who consider Krsna consciousness their religion live outside the temple, have jobs, family. So they provide an example of how to pursue Krsna consciousness in the world which, as we've said, is becoming more and more a part of the ISKCON lifestyle.
Dr Rochford: Precisely. East-Indians have indeed traditionally supported ISKCON with funds -that's the life membership programme. But why they were able to do so? Because they have jobs and things of this nature. So they provide an essential model for ISKCON devotees, especially since ISKCON is naturally growing in the ways we've mentioned. If ISKCON devotees - and by this I especially mean the householders - follow the lead of many of the well-established Indian members it can decrease, if not put to an end, ISKCON's economic problems.
This is not just for householders, but for all those who want to keep jobs or make financial contributions. As you know, the Indian community is becoming more and more involved as full-time practitioners, advisers and managers of the movement so they will naturally be a tremendous resource for ISKCON's future needs. I think they're also being accepted more in the devotee community. It seemed to me, some fifteen years ago, that devotees shunned the Hindu world.
Satyaraja Dasa: Well, I think the problem stemmed from this: most Hindus did not want a twenty-year-old American telling them about something they deemed to be their own religion. In other words: 'Who are you to be telling me about an Indian religion? I come from India'. But over the course of time, I think the Hindus began to see that devotees did know more about the tradition (they learned Sanskrit and Bengali) or, at the very least, they seemed more committed to it and won Hindu acceptance because of that.
On the other side, I think devotees were humbled by having to align themselves with Hindus due to the anti-cult antagonism, and also because of the economic problem - here were people who knew how to make money and use it in Krsna's service. So devotees came to respect Hindus and the experience they had to offer.
Dr Rochford: Nicely put. But let's consider a potential problem. As East-Indians become more involved in ISKCON, what is the danger that Prabhupada's movement might become another ethnic church? Of course, it is more likely they will be accepted into ISKCON like everybody else, and because they accept the principles and teachings expressed in Prabhupada`s books they will not fall into the ethnic pitfall that so many religions have. 'You're not that body' is, of course a simple straightforward teaching of ISKCON. So, although the danger is there, I would trust that it's not likely.
Satyaraja Dasa: I don't think it's likely to be a problem. The leadership of the movement is very cautious about this, and anyone who makes it into ISKCON management knows the philosophy well enough to avoid such pitfalls. Anyway, only time will tell.
Dr Rochford: Indeed, that's true. Still, a lot depends on devotee interaction and the way in which they deal with the Indian community in the next few years. It should be an enlightening experience for all concerned. Actually, the involvement of the Indian community is something that will occur quite naturally. Perhaps a more immediate thing to deal with, however, is the ongoing tension between purist and accommodationist factions in ISKCON.
There are definite ways that devotees can deal with this, as we have discussed. Yet there are also ways that a fanatical purist view could be detrimental, and I think ISKCON history has shown that.
Satyaraja Dasa: Can you give some examples of things devotees should watch out for as the accommodationist view becomes more and more prevalent?
Dr Rochford: Well, to give some very brief examples: if devotees assimilate too well they will, in a sense, minimise the urgency of establishing the varnashrama system. There will be virtually no need for it, at least as a formal institution. If devotees take advantage of the already existing infrastructure of the material world, in terms of work etc., they will not find the need to establish modes of employment within the confines of the movement, which will remain a small, economically inefficient society. So that's one potential problem. Related to this is the problem of gurukula. If devotees make use of outside schools, they will never feel the urgency to develop the gurukula system. So these are the types of problems.
Now, I'm not saying that these are necessarily bad things. Perhaps it is in this way that economic and educational facilities will unfold for ISKCON. No one really knows at this point. But these things have to be thought about and openly discussed. Should devotee children be educated outside? Maybe - ISKCON doesn't have the same resources as outside institutions. The children can perhaps be educated outside but given their spiritual education in the home. Even so, there are critically important trade-offs involved. And these may put ISKCON's young, and ISKCON itself, at risk.
Nor are there vast numbers of job opportunities within ISKCON. Devotees are learning to make use of the larger 'outside' institutions, and perhaps this will lead to compromise - or maybe it will simply lead to increased preaching opportunities. Maybe devotees will work outside of ISKCON but their dedication to ISKCON will not diminish in the slightest. That's certainly possible. But the purists will not accept it and they will see this as undermining the values of the institution. So, how to balance these things?
The movement needs to recognise that both these points of view are valid and have a place in Krsna consciousness. What's more, they are not isolated but represent a continuum - these are grey areas in which every devotee will find himself from time to time. It's not that one devotee is a purist and another is accommodationist. Not at all. Every devotee periodically drifts from one of these worldviews into the other. The future of ISKCON rests on exactly how the institution, as a whole, finds a balance.