Until very recently in Germany, studies have not been undertaken on the theological basis of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Prior to this, the task was mostly left to the polemics of religious policy, and needless to say, the subsequent consequences proved to be highly problematic. The combined forces of active religious polemics against ISKCON, and the lack of scholarly research into the theology of this movement has greatly diminished the chances of producing an objective analysis. Moreover, it has only succeeded in producing a barrier to creating an open atmosphere in which dialogue can legitimately take place.
There has been some cause for optimism in Germany as the freedom to practice religion as a basic human right has gained increasing respect. Recently, the alliance of aggressive forces against religious tolerance has ended, leaving room for a public and differentiating discussion between the participants, reinforcing a freer and more competent inter-civil dialogue about spiritual matters.
The rejection of an inter-civil dialogue on spiritual affairs however, undermines an effective democracy, which subsists on the continuous confrontation of free citizens with their common culture, and this is especially important with the ultimate questions of human existence. Moreover, the success of an inter-civil confrontation can be guaranteed if the participants in the dialogue respect their mutual freedom as citizens, and take the mutual dialogue among citizens as a basic starting point. This is the only way to attain a reasonable range of solutions to a changing society.
A constructive discussion in society about the new religious situation in Germany has been impeded by suppressing the science of religion. Today, the study of religion in Germany has a surprisingly more liberal impetus in the universities, enabling a broader theological research. There is a clear indication, not only of reform within ISKCON, but also in the churches that are setting about discussing multi-religious topics on a higher level.
As a contribution to this inter-civil dialogue, the following is a theological analysis of the religious culture practised by German citizens involved with ISKCON and their impact upon our culture.
1. Subject and Aim of Diacritical Theology
There are many understandings of theology and for this reason it is necessary to explain what it is and where it should and should not be engaged. Theology is not a religious ideology of a particular community that argues the interests of social organisations, but is a universal science. It is not limited to a certain religious culture or form of society, but is committed to its specific subject.1 Such an autonomous theology has the task of discrimen inter legem et evangelium-the diacritical analysis of Law and Gospel according to the description of its function by Martin Luther. We will follow these basic categories of diacritical theology and explain them here.2
The Law: man's relationship to God and to his neighbours
In traditional theological ethics, Law is described as the absolute demand to love one's neighbour with all one's heart. This definition presupposes that which Martin Luther calls the human possibility of free love.3 This freedom of loving God and man is not the subjective freedom of making a decision to love, but rather its objective natural quality of absoluteness and self-esteem- its actual ability to satisfy human existence. According to theological ethics man owns the natural force to love unconditionally and to experience in it the perfection of his existence. Perfection is nothing but the pure effulgence of natural energy.
The continuous task of religion is to liberate love to allow it to be experienced as a fulfilment in life. The enforcement of charitable work, whether done from free or conditioned motivation, however, is the task of politics. But the only means to realise religion and policy is through the mind, that is, by means of the universal wholeness of all human faculties.
The fact that Law is manifested as a claim in man's social and individual existence is due to the factual dominance of the idea of conditional love, the righteousness by work. Law in the sense of theological ethics does, however, not just demand the realisation of love, but also its free realisation; or in other words it demands the renunciation of the existential determination of the righteousness by work. Law contradicts the realisation of free love by challenging its claim.
The Gospel: God's relationship to man
The Gospel, however, does not contain any claim or aim. No human condition is meant other than, theologically speaking, for God's reality: God's free love of His creation, and the Gospel, the subject of theological dogmatism, transfers this internal Divine reality. By the agency of the Gospel God states that He was free, is free and will be free in His love to the world. The Gospel reveals its power in that way by revealing the paradox of the use of human works to reach perfection in God's relationship to man, who by no means can neither reduce nor enforce this relationship.
The distinction between both verba dei, concepts of theology, is necessary because otherwise in the human mind the idea of the freedom of love would be suspended. Martin Luther calls this suspension 'righteousness by work'. This is the fundamental idea that the sense of human life may be constituted by works alone. The result of this imagined self-made dependence on one's own works, results in a transubstantiation of free love into religious prostitution in the human mind. This commercial loving relationship relegates God to free love, and makes man capable of freely loving only the goddess of commercial righteousness. Thus God becomes an agent of this righteousness, and man either its beneficiary or its victim.
The existential catastrophe of this concept of man and God is that because God's free love is distorted, consciousness is deprived of the only opportunity of overcoming the lack of freedom. Using human works for un-natural purposes represents a closed system of views from which there is no possibility of escape. It is through this system of irreducible, contingent revelation of the absolute freedom of God's love and its unconditioned truth, that the determination of living life without changing the actual living practice may be overcome. Whereas the Law wants to change man's possibilities, the Gospel shows him that God's love remains free and unconditioned, even if man holds on to the concept of conditional love and righteousness by work (and according to that criterion should have lost the sense of his existence).
The functional distinction of these two Divine words guarantees that the final value of human existence is not determined by the realisation of conditional as well as free love. According to the Gospel, the value of existence is protected in the sacred realm where it remains taboo. Law then properly serves as stimulation to a perfection that is irrelevant for eschatology. Thus the essential discrimination between Law and Gospel is that one shows human creative abilities and the other Divine reality.
If Law challenges the general human ability of love, yet at the same time the universally valid Gospel is free for every culture, it becomes urgent for theology to reckon with the universal research project of discriminating between Law and Gospel. The religions of the world can act as research teams, studying this thesis from various perspectives. However, without a free exchange with mutually examined inter-religious criticism, this inter-religious dialogue and research will be incomplete. In this sense, inter-religious research is a touchstone of universal theology.
2: The Religion basis of ISKCON
What is the significance of the contribution of ISKCON to the relationship and formation of both Law and Gospel? ISKCON is not a substantially new religion or a mere product of modern mind detached from the human quest of the utmost truth. ISKCON is a branch of the millenary Krishna religion of Hindu culture in its Bengali form. The Gaudiya Vaishnavas appeal to the Vaishnava Saint, Krishna Caitanya, who is Martin Luther's contemporary. It therefore belongs to the broad bhakti movement in India, which receives an immense impetus in the regions influenced by the Hindu culture today.4
ISKCON is doubtlessly a Hindu denomination-it is ISKCON that uniquely propagates the Hindu culture as a universal and modern form of constructing the world. The particular character of ISKCON is not its religious enthusiasm, but rather that it is the first Hindu missionary movement outside of the Indian subcontinent. Against this background it should be asked how ISKCON may appear in the above mentioned theological perspective.
Law : the essence of religion is bhakti
First, the influence and construction of Law in ISKCON needs to be examined. One central question needs to be asked: how does ISKCON understand and confirm service for God and charitable work for our neighbours, is it conditioned or is there a free choice for people?
There is no doubt that the development of Law is extremely strong in this religion; it may rightfully be said that this religion represents a highly differentiated judicial piety. The concept used and highly appreciated in Vaishnava religion (and not only by it) is bhakti.Bhakti (service to God) is the highest form of human existence. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the founder of the ISKCON mission in the western world, describes this bhakti in a purport of Bhagavad-Gita with the words from the eight verses of prayer by Krishna Caitanya as follows, 'O almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor do I desire beautiful women, nor do I want any number of followers. I only want Your causeless devotional service, birth after birth.'5
Free love, the true way of Law-abiding piety, the true love of God is rather perfectly expressed. Bhakti is pure worship of God; it is not a self-constituent action as it is created by God's mercy. Through the theory of a merciful gift the freedom of God's love is confirmed. Bhakti, free love of God, is the essence of our existence, the unique reason that Krishna Caitanya claims for his existence; it is itself, the only purpose of life. But this bhakti does not deliver man from the circle of reincarnations; in no case is it a means of liberation; it is liberation in itself. It is not from reincarnation that man wants to be liberated, but from non-bhakti, from the senselessness of not realising free love.
Liturgical ethics: love of God, bhagavata-prema, as puja and liturgy
ISKCON doubtlessly belongs to the avant-garde of worshipping God in our society. I might guess that this opulent and elaborate religion has decisively pushed forward the ritualistic movement, in that it is on its way to gradually becoming the dominant force in the spiritual movement in Germany, a movement neglected so far by theologians. It is not by accident that the so-called eastern religions play a progressive part.
Since the Second Vatican Council, initiated by the hierarchy, the destruction of the Holy Liturgy of the Western church, especially of the ancient Latin Rite, has begun. The abolition of the sacral language was not the only means of the anti-liturgical revolution from above; it was the fundamental liturgical averting from serving God, from the service to God, that was decisive, and the pseudo-liturgical turn to the so-called people of God, serving the congregation which then had become the object of cultivation, according to the proper logic of liturgy.6 Consequently the old altars are abandoned, new tables (without any liturgical logic) have been forced into the churches, the priests turning their backs to the Divine.
Liturgy and choirs direct prayers and songs to the people present in the congregations. The pseudo-liturgical revolution of the Second Vatican Council places man in the centre of the so-called liturgical action, and the corresponding tendencies in the sister churches transforming the Holy Communion into a sociable bread and wine supper; this veritable profanation of the Holy Liturgy has continued the anthropologisation of theology, of the science of God, on the level of liturgy and service.
When the liquidation of the Holy Liturgy began in the West, at about the same time a seventy-year-old Bengali Vaishnava monk arrived in New York City and immediately began a liturgical counter-offensive, with the construction of temples where the Divine is uniquely worshipped.7 The success of this revival of service is, in my eyes, based on the fact that the traditional western mainstream churches yielded to one-sided social moralism, without noticing the enormous need for an intense immediate worship of God. The liturgical changes of the nineteen-sixties were counter-productive-instead of acknowledging this need for personal worship of God progressively, the traditional service has become even more mutilated.
Puja is liturgy-service to the Divine and the Holy; it sustains the hagio- or theo-centredness of human existence. ISKCON has reminded us effectively of the necessity and the beauty of dedicating oneself to preserving one's own inner existence and of cultivating it in all conceivable forms. It reminds us of the fact that service to God is the basis of the service to our neighbour.
A further contribution of ISKCON in re-establishing a rich culture of serving the Lord, by placing an emphasis on the central importance of glorifying the name of God in the cultural practice and in the theology of worship. According to the general Vaishnava teachings, the chanting of the Holy Name, the nama-sankirtana, is the only possibility in this day and age to sustain the basis of one's spiritual existence. For in this age of kali-yuga, when people cannot surrender to an elaborate form of religion, the chanting of the Holy Name is the direct method to attain perfection in spiritual life (that is bhakti or devotion and bhagavata-prema or love of Godhead)8 according to Bhaktivedanta Swami, and it is viewed as the sole method: 'Lord Caitanya has given the greatest boon: in this age one simply has to chant the holy name of God to attain perfection in spiritual life'.9 By emphasising the chanting, ISKCON shows us that the function of Lady Music, who has been placed immediately behind theology by Martin Luther, obviously is not only to offer relaxation to the stressed careerists but above all to prepare the way to love God-to bhakti. Who may believe in the power of the chanted glorification of the name of God in order to awake free love of God, and to one's neighbour, when listening to the church songs today? ISKCON reminds us of the hidden power of hallelujah, of the glorification of the Divine name.
Pastoral Ethics: guru and confessor
The religious changes in the Catholic Church produced by the adherents of the Second Vatican Council have reversed the liturgical order and de facto liquidated private confession. Thus the last remains of a millennial spiritual authority, the confessor or spiritual father, the serious individual guide, the critical and committed companion of the spiritual and moral life of a person, disappears. The demand for spiritual advice and guidance has shifted to social work or therapy, caused by the pressures of modern lifestyles. Thus more and more priests consider themselves primarily therapists and social workers, or they escape from their original task as spiritual guides by turning to policy and administration. It is the spiritual guide's business to support the individual according to his own capabilities, and by turning to the faith. For these reasons an immediate reform of our clergy is necessary. Their duty is to guarantee a durable and responsible spiritual guidance that links the two aspects of people's lives - this does not seem to be fulfilled today. It is no wonder that the ancient institution of the personal, often lifelong spiritual teacher, the lama or guru, meets with much sympathy.
The institution of a guru is self-evident in many religions and consequently well accepted. Teacher and disciple know what each of them might expect, and the incorporation into the traditional culture secures the effectiveness and reliability of that relationship. There are, however, public scandals again and again with such teachers in India, for example just recently with a Jain-Digamber monk,10 but this scandal shows us that teachers are not allowed to get away with criminal activities. If they are convicted of illegal behaviour, as a rule they are defeated. In the Hindu-Buddhist tradition gurus are, however, well respected and searched for, without people submitting blindly to the authority of spiritual teachers.
It is known that in the west ISKCON gurus misused their authority; this came about however, as a result of the actions and motivations of both the gurus and the diciples. Based on my own observation, I may say that often a disciple's exaggerated wish to surrender, together with the guru's overestimatation of the disciple, sometimes resulted in irregular behaviour. The inadequacies of the guru and the disciples might in most cases be due to a mutual weakness of personalities if there is no criminal intention. The number of western people that leave ISKCON is high in Germany, because many new converts can not adhere to the strict moral regulations of the society. Regardless of these problems in ISKCON's history, there is no doubt that the guru system has a future, especially for the development of a spiritual culture.
It is said that the territorial or congregational pastoral system is being made obsolete by the spiritual sensitivity of the modern individual. The local priests are left with the life cycle of stiff and shortened casual exchanges with their congregation. Vivekananda Swami, the Bengal Hindu reformer, has clearly realised this new pastoral situation rather early. He saw the duty of a spiritual father, the guru, to help the disciple discover and cultivate just that kind of religion which corresponds to the disciple's svadharma, not his own. According to him, the mere adoption of generalised standards leads to the destruction of every spirituality.11
The only way that a guru or spiritual father will survive in the long run is if he can adjust to the highly sensitive disciple, and to respond to the singularity of the disciple in a creative way. To my eyes, here the traditional ISKCON guru has reached a limit. His patriarchal self-understanding as well as the transmission of standardised patterns of a generalised religious culture, does not allow the sensitivity that is required today. Nevertheless, the modern guru's free and sensitive practice of caring for the disciples is a lesson especially for modern urban societies. The polemics' attack against the guru's authority is a genuine attempt to obstruct the spiritual way of those people who want and need spiritual advice.
Ministerial ethics: brahmanas and priests
ISKCON itself does not present a perfect social counter pattern. It is rather a brahminical society. What is new is that participation in this class organisation is enabled not by birth or child baptism, but by free decision and public initiation. Hence ISKCON is a branch of the neo-brahminical movement in modern Hinduism which decisively rejects Gandhi's physical conception of maintaining the castes.12 ISKCON does not share the conception of physical birth determining man's religious dignity, such as the Sayyids in Islam, the Cohanim and Levites in Jewdaism. It is rather a society of people committed especially to spiritual practice by dedicating their lives to an intense worship of God through puja (offerings made to the Lord) and sankirtana (the congregational chanting of the names of the Lord), and helping other people engaged in worldly affairs by giving them spiritual advice and instructions.
Such spiritual communities may be found in all religions: the monk and nun-orders, the Sikh-khalsa, the community of Taiz�, and the Sufi-order, are some examples. ISKCON is not self-centred, but altruistically directed to its counterpart, to God or the world.
Consider the members that dedicate their lives to devotional service, and intensely care for those working in material jobs. As a rule the priests are only able to do this if they are backed up by a brotherhood, or, if necessary, live together in a community (vita communis). The fact is that more and more Christian communities are founded using this method of operating, living to preach-as they say- and to live their faith. This shows us that ISKCON has been drawn into the pastoral vacuum left by the previous general ecclesiastical culture for the aim of propagating the worship of God.
It has been observed, however, that the vita communis is declining more and more in ISKCON and that in its place a community of more independent brahminical families is being established, inevitably pushing forward the pluralisation of ISKCON.
Inter-religious ethics: the universal glorification of God or ISKCON and other religions
Let us turn to a further question about the position of ISKCON towards Law. Is it ready and capable of overcoming theological barriers for the increase of God's praise? The Roman Catholic Church has made tremendous changes in the last few decades. On the subject of freedom of religion, the Second Vatican Council announced that every human being and every religious community has the right to freedom of religion, and that Christians have a duty to respect the freedom of their neighbours.13
On the occasion of their Ramadan fasting the Holy Father has sent greetings to the Muslims in the world for several years. He does not address them as fundamentalists or cursed followers of a cheat, but as religious brothers and sisters who adore the same God together with the Catholics. The Pope has declared that 'With great respect the Church considers the Muslims who adore the only God, the Living Being existing by Himself, the Merciful and Almighty Creator of heaven and earth who spoke to the people . . .They (also) appreciate a moral attitude of life and worship God by prayers, alms and fasting'.14
But Hinduism also endeavours for the sacred. It is said of Hinduism, to which ISKCON is affiliated, that 'In Hinduism, people search for the Divine secret and express it in an infinite number of myths and in profound philosophical attempts and seek liberation from our narrow and restricted condition15 by living a life of renunciation, or deep meditation or by lovingly taking shelter of God'.16
This acceptance of love of God, of bhakti, or other efforts for the sacred made by other religions, is based on the idea of God's truth transgressing the limits of the church. 'Everything that is true and sacred in other religions is not rejected by the Catholic church.' For 'not very rarely they let us see a beam of the truth which enlightens all men'.17 Thus the Catholic church no longer denounces and blasphemes the love of God in other religions but tunes them into the choir for the genuine glorification of God.
Considering the newly acquired religious openness in Rome the question arises whether ISKCON, with the single aim of worshipping and loving God, is able to acknowledge a multi-religious worshipping of God, or to even support it. We will see whether ISKCON will be able to integrate into their movement all those who want to praise God, or whether it has given up its Hindu character in favour of the older Christian sentence: extra ecclesiam nulla salus!
Evidence points ISKCON to the latter direction. In the Bhagavad-gita (9.23) it is said: 'Those who are devotees of other gods and who worship them with faith actually worship only Me, O son of Kunti, but they do so in a wrong way'.18 Bhaktivedanta comments on his translation as follows, 'The demigods are, so to speak, different officers and directors in the government of the Supreme Lord . . . In other words, Krishna does not approve the unnecessary worship of the demigods'.19 In my eyes, Bhaktivedanta Swami has inadmissibly sharpened the sentence from the Bhagavad-gita; for the clue in the sentence is that even wrong worship ultimately reaches Krishna, the true God.
In a conversation with P. Emmanuel Jungclaussen, a Benedictine monk of Byzantine rite from Niederalteich, Bhaktivedanta Swami said, '"Christus" is a different way to say "Krishto" and "Krishto" is another way of pronouncing the word "Krishna" the name of God'.20 In this statement, Bhaktivedanta Swami makes a distinction between the different types of worship between the other faiths, for now the object of worship is identical and the difference in worship are considered equal. This is similar to the founder of this movement, Bhaktivedanta Swami says when the Pope says, 'Jesus Christ means Jesus, Christ's or Krishna's son. He has called himself Son of God. Therefore, whether they call God "Krishto" or "Krishna" or "Christos", there is no difference.' 21
Bhaktivedanta Swami declaring Jesus the son of Christus / Krishna is an interesting annotation to Christology but does not impede the basic idea of a positive integration of the Christian worship of God into ISKCON, for he adds, 'There is no difference, Krishna or Christus, there is the name, and, according to the Vedic scriptures, we recommend to chant the name of God in this age'.22
Then Bhaktivedanta Swami develops his multi-religious theology of the names comprising many religions, 'We are limited, but God is unlimited, absolute, He has infinite names and energies, and every name is God. We can understand His names as far as our understanding reaches'.23 If this is true-that is, if worshipping other names of God means worshipping the unique true God-it begs the question why did Bhaktivedanta Swami come to the West for his mission? The answer is surprising; it is not that worshipping God was wrong here, but that He was not worshipped at all.24 Thus it is the duty of the 'Krishna-conscious movement . . . to teach people to revitalise their forgotten love of God'. 25
Bhaktivedanta Swami does not want to replace an existing religion with a new one, therefore he can claim to revitalise love of God in other religious traditions, ' "Christo" or "Krishna"-there is no difference. Let us co-operate and chant, and if you are prejudiced to chant the name "Krishna", then chant "Christo" or "Krishto"'.26
Obviously Bhaktivedanta Swami is open to other names of God and worshipping them, and to other religions, because the actual practice of glorifying God is the highest aim of religion, not the abolition of one religion to expand another religious organisation, he says:
'I think the Christian priests should co-operate with the Krishna consciousness movement. They should chant the name Christ or Christos and should stop condoning the slaughter of animals. This programme follows the teachings of the Bible: it is not my philosophy. You have your Christian teachings, follow them . . . !'27
The essence of ISKCON is the all-embracing awakening of love of God. Considering the lack of motivation to love God in western societies, this reminder from our Hindu friends for revitalising the first sentence of the Law-of free love of God-is of great benefit to us.
Social ethics: institutionalised charity as policy and diaconate
Charity as part of Hindu culture is not well recognised in the west. In general it is believed that charity is not the business of Hindu culture and their religious communities. This belief is doubtlessly a product of colonial self-justification. As in every society, the Indian society has a sophisticated system of political organisation and diaconate help. In this respect, ISKCON is in the Hindu tradition of Vaishnavism. It should also be mentioned that the Bhagavad-gita is accepted as a source of religious truth in which the institution of authority, as executor of justice, is theologically founded by God Himself. Thus the politicians have the necessary duty to assert justice even against their own interests, for example by laws of solidarity of the clan and the caste.
In his purport to the Bhagavad-gita (2.32), Bhaktivedanta Swami quotes a sentence from Parashara concerning this topic, 'The kshatriya's duty is to protect the citizens from all kinds of difficulties, and for that reason he has to apply violence in suitable cases for law and order'.28 If the holder of authority did not fulfil his duty he would go to hell. 29 The reason for Arjuna's proposal not to fight was based on sense gratification. Forgetting his prime duty, he wanted to cease fighting because he thought by not killing his relatives and kinsmen he would be happier than by enjoying the kingdom after conquering his cousins and brothers, the sons of Dhritarashtra'.30 At a closer look, Arjuna's concept of happiness does not appear selfless, 'Happiness derived from conquering them and happiness derived by seeing kinsmen alive are both on the basis of personal sense gratification, even at a sacrifice of wisdom and duty'.31 The administrator must fulfil his duty, 'Everyone has his proprietary right in regard to prescribed duties, but should act without attachment to the result'.32 That is, the administrative actions ordered by the respective svadharma must not be done or not done as a means for a different end. The Law of justice is to be upheld which is to be enforced in free love among people.
This political theory approaches the Lutheran doctrine of authority very closely, when, according to the reformer, the individual conscience must not triumph over the official duty. The office requires free love not bound to interests outside of the general welfare.
As to Bhaktivedanta Swami, charity towards one's neighbour is implied in the love of God, when he says that a mystic yogi practising yoga with half-closed eyes strives for any kind of self-interest or some personal satisfaction, but a Krishna conscious person, a devotee is free from every desire of personal satisfaction because his criterion of perfection is the satisfaction of Krishna, that is love of God.33 In this passage, Bhaktivedanta Swami directly connects free love of God with free love of one's neighbour. As free love of God is the final fulfilment of human existence, free love is the only solution for social relationship. What sense should a selfish motivation make? According to Bhaktivedanta Swami dharma (religion), whatever worldly function it may have, can only be properly fulfilled if it is fulfilled in the state of bhakti. Thus, every secular action of dharma becomes an act of serving God. An idea we know clearly from the Reformation.
Diaconate is an essential element of ISKCON; it is extensively practised world-wide.34 The foundation of Christiane R�ckert's charitable society 'Golden Lotus' in the 1980s, has proved the charitable power of ISKCON, and in-between the somewhat normal diaconate work, 'Food for Life', was registered in Germany.35
ISKCON is by no means restricted to the propagation of the first part of the Law; to love one's neighbour as an expression of love of God is rather an integer constituent element of its religious programme. Worldly accomplishment of duty should not be evaded, for, 'Such disinterested obligatory duties doubtlessly lead one to the path of liberation',36 that is, to love of God. That is that Bhaktivedanta Swami may say that love of one's neighbour is the basis of the existence of genuine love of God, and that not only a mere monastic application may bring it about.
If we confirm a clear theological connection of accomplishing worldly duties and spiritual love of God, it seems that due to circumstances, the strength of ISKCON is mainly shown in the re-cultivation of love of God.
From the perspective of a Protestant theology of a traditional origin, the most relevant question is, whether a difference can be found between Law and Gospel in the theology of ISKCON. Our question is whether the ISKCON religion realises that the sacred exists before and independent of every work, even of free love, and turns to people in free love.
To a large extent, ISKCON has developed the Law. This cannot be denied. To describe its evangelical aspect, however, a more profound inter-theological hermeneutic is required.
The main reason for the unwillingness to co-operate on an inter-theological level, is not only the fault of the dialectic theology but also of the anti-Lutheran understanding of the science of interpreting the Bible, which today is mostly understood as that which Luther considered as settled: as a better Law. Consequently Law differing from Gospel cannot be found in other religions because it is no longer known in one's own religion.
Nevertheless I would like to make an attempt to identify evangelical aspects in ISKCON. In ISKCON texts, it is said again and again that God turns to those persons who practise bhakti, and that love of God is the condition for God's love to a human being. Or, in other words, that God has implanted the possibility of free love in man who does not realise it.
In my eyes, this view of the relationship between God and man is widespread, reflecting a generally moral attitude in modern society, which is also shared by the religious culture of ISKCON.
ISKCON theology, however, transmits an alternative conception which is found in the basic document of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the above mentioned 'eight stanzas' of Krishna Caitanya. There He demonstrates his trust in Krishna being and remaining His Lord even if He, Krishna Caitanya, cannot feel 'ecstatic love' and has fallen 'into the ocean of birth and death'; that is, He has not realised free love of God, bhakti, but is obsessed by selfish motives. This confidence of transcending into that quality of faith leading to free love of God is present when Krishna Caitanya confesses His lack of bhakti, 'I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for Your name', although Krishna reveals His name in various ways, fills them with all His shakti, and does not give prescriptions how to worship His name.37 Having fallen into the ocean of reincarnation, by this He means having become a prey to selfish desires He cannot realise free love of God; bhakti being so easy to attain, I believe Krishna Caitanya draws an evangelical conclusion, 'I am Your eternal servitor, yet somehow or other I have fallen into the ocean of birth and death. Please pick me up from this ocean of death and place me as one of the atoms at Your lotus feet'.38
This faith in Krishna's mercy is the utmost horizon of the existence of bhakti freeing itself from the hallucination that the Supreme Reality attaches the sense of human existence to the achievement of Law and righteousness. Through Krishna Caitanya's verses the evangelical logic of Law permeates that man's free love of God is only possible with the presupposition of God's free love, in that God's free love is given to a person regardless of his or her achievements and works.
There are hints of an evangelical character as well as in the monistic psychology of the teachings about Krishna.
The verse from the Bhagavad-gita quoted by Bhaktivedanta Swami receives evangelical value if it is clear that Krishna cannot hate Himself, 'All living entities are minute parts of My energy'.39 Whereas the living entities feel separated from God due to Maya's energy and believe that they have to win God's love back, the devotees know that they can never be separated from Him, and can never get lost because they belong a priori to Him as any other living entity. If Bhaktivedanta Swami decisively emphasises that God and man are different, that man even may become a demon through attachment, the con-substantialised God's love to man is a real existing fact. Persons aware of this fact are happy, and those who do not know this do not have a different nature.
The strongest expression of Gospel may be, in my eyes, prasadam (food offered with Love and devotion to the Lord), distributed unconditionally to all men. These material elements do not require the adherence to a certain religion, a certain moral standard or theological insight. When a farmer with his family from Rajasthan surrounded by a swarm of flies enters the ISKCON Krishna-Balarama temple in Vrindavan and opens his hands for prasadam, he is not asked whether he has fulfilled this Law or that Law, by the priest distributing prasadam. The distributor does not care for the outer appearance of the farmer. The Lord's mercy is distributed to everyone, when they come to offer their respects to the Lord at the temple, regardless of their social position or faith.
�3: Summary and result
A diacritico-theological analysis of ISKCON comes to a conclusion that it does not only know free love as prescribed by Law but places it into the worship of God to a high and exemplary extent and calls it the essence of charitable love.
Krishna Caitanya transmits the consequence drawn from the concept of free bhakti, God's free love to man, the Gospel, as an alternative for human existence. This motive has, however, not yet been systematically and theologically developed because of the pressure of modern moralism.
Nevertheless, Law and Gospel, as well as their distinction are to be found in the Vaishnava religion of ISKCON, but they are not equally represented there.
It can be said with full confidence that ISKCON has made, and continues to make an obvious contribution to the topic of God's love and man's love in both religion and politics, both on a theological and practical level. However, a stronger profile is necessary with that, concerning the theological explanation of the Gospel and the distinction between the two verba Dei (the two words of God) because the cultural and herneutical barrier between the eastern and western way of understanding the two theological issues is self-evident even today; however, these could be overcome with a little effort.