ISKCON and Interfaith Dialogue

Kenneth Cracknell

Interfaith relations have been a positive feature in ISKCON's development in the past decade. In this paper, Kenneth Cracknell, a key participant in this dialogue, reviews the history of ISKCON in its relationship with other faiths, particularly Christianity. He takes us from a time of mutual suspicion between ISKCON and other faith groups to a present where dialogue has led to mutual understanding, appreciation and, often, a deepening of faith on both sides. He examines the issues involved from many perspectives ranging from the institutional to the personal and from the theological to the practical.

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (hereafter ISKCON, or the Society) is increasingly putting other communities of faith in its debt because of its recent contributions to the theory and the practice of interfaith dialogue. At the theoretical level it has recently published its guidelines statement, 'ISKCON in Relation to People of Faith in God', and is currently engaged in soliciting responses to these. The Society's scholarly periodical, the ISKCON Communications Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2, carries eight important commentaries from members of other faith communities, each of which is a contribution to further theorising about the nature of interfaith dialogue. But the production of 'guidelines on dialogue' is not the beginning of dialogue. Far from it. The Society has, in a relatively short period of time, acquired a very respectable amount of practical experience in interfaith dialogue, and the new guidelines most certainly reflect ISKCON's energetic and wholehearted engagement in this field. As a Christian observer of ISKCON's life and development, and as a frequent participant in the dialogues, I want to pay tribute to all who have been involved in this activity.

It was, of course, not always so, and I therefore use the phrase 'relatively short period of time' advisedly. Only a decade ago, the devotee overseeing ISKCON's interreligious relationships was lamenting the paucity of opportunity for genuine encounter between Christians and his community. He mentioned particularly the lack of officially sponsored interfaith conferences and symposia, pointing to the absence of any official exchanges of monastic personnel, the lack of co-operative humanitarian ventures, and the absence of joint declarations on the moral and political issues of the day. 'There have been, to be sure', he wrote, 'critiques, assessments, constructive and non-constructive criticisms, reactions, condemnations and testimonials, but little serious, patient, face-to-face, soul-to-soul dialogue.' (Gelberg, pp. 138-9, 155)

The reasons for this state of affairs from the Christian side are complex and varied. Perhaps the most obvious is the suspicion with which ISKCON was treated in the earliest years of its existence. Notwithstanding a long and honourable historical pedigree as part, generically, of the great Indian bhakti movement, and, specifically, as a Vaisnavite tradition tracing its roots to the Bengali religious reformer Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534), ISKCON was seen at best as a 'New Religious Movement' (hereafter NRM) and at worst a 'cult'. This latter term, still, alas, in use among the uninformed, carries with it notions of brainwashing, forcible detention, bizarre belief systems, and megalomaniac leadership, and gave rise to the sinister activities of the self-styled 'deprogrammers'. The anti-cult groups for a short time gained the ears of politicians, and, both in Europe and the United States, considerable efforts were made to limit, if not to proscribe altogether, NRMs of whatever kind. Unhappily the mission of ISKCON's founder, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), to the West coincided exactly with the outburst of anti-cult activity in the 1960s and 1970s, and the new devotees, dressed in their Indian costumes, attracted an inordinate amount of pejorative attention. Dialogue with ISKCON could not happen until this particular climate changed.

This happened in or about the years 1984 to 1986. From the European point of view, 1984 signalled a sea change in the way in which ISKCON was viewed. In that year the anti-cult movement overreached itself by persuading an obscure British member of the European Parliament in Strasbourg to instigate a series of proposals which would control all new religious movements, opening them up to inspection by religious health authorities and limiting their freedom to make converts. Unfortunately these 'Cottrell proposals' would also have had the effect of infringing the liberties of all older religious movements like the Churches and would have been in direct violation of the articles on religious liberty of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the European Convention on Human Rights. National Councils of Churches throughout Western Europe were appalled and protested strongly. The Strasbourg Parliament retreated from the brink of making a serious misjudgement. Similar concerns were being felt by people in the USA and again the leadership of the 'anti anti-cult' movement fell to staff members of the National Churches of Christ of the USA, assisted by many brilliant academic students of religion, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. Thus the time was right for the World Council of Churches, together with the Lutheran World Federation, to hold a major consultation on New Religious Movements in Amsterdam in 1986. This gathering committed itself to the proposition that dialogue has no limits. NRMs were as much to be seen as dialogue partners as the venerable ancient faiths of the world.

One result of this struggle to deal justly with followers of NRMs on the part of the Christian establishment in the mid 1980s was that many of us became welcome invitees to the headquarters of these movements. So it was that I made my first visits to Bhaktivedanta Manor, and a few months later to the ISKCON centres in Ireland. For me, this meant a discovery of the deep spiritual life of the devotees, of their practical ecological concerns and of the ability of the Krsna message to transform former drug addicts and even people who had been caught up on either side of Ireland's culture of violence. I remember, too, sharing in an encounter between devotees and members of a nearby Cistercian monastery, and their mutual discovery of each other's traditions. But I was not alone in these experiences, and at this time a series of scholarly and unprejudiced books and articles appeared, correcting the one-sided propaganda of the anti-cult movement.

Yet there was one other major obstacle to be overcome before Christians could throw themselves wholeheartedly into dialogue with Gaudiya Vaisnavas. This lies in the history of Christian-Hindu relations in general. Both Catholic and Protestant scholars of Indian religions have preferred to acknowledge the monistic or non-dualistic school of Sankara, known as Advaita Vedanta, as the essence or highest development of Hinduism. For them this was the school most truly representative of Indian philosophy and therefore the one with which Christianity had most to reckon with.

To be sure, these scholars were well aware of the existence of devotional and theistic traditions within Hinduism. Yet a certain intellectual distaste seems to have crept into their description of the bhakti paths. On the Protestant side, the early twentieth century Scottish Presbyterian missionary to India, Nichol McNichol, seems to have set the tone for this, describing Krsna worship as 'incurably idolatrous', as 'sensuous' and as 'lacking a content of revelation' (McNichol). This judgement was reinforced by the leading missiologist of that period, Hendrik Kraemer, who asserted that the bhakti versions of Hinduism were 'exclusively individualistic and essentially eudaimonistic' (Kraemer, p. 160). In similar vein, leading Catholic writers have described bhakti as being a mere preparation for the 'higher', more universal Hinduism of Advaita. Henri Le Saux (Abhishiktananda) and Bede Griffiths were widely perceived as seeking to reconcile Advaitic thought with Christian spirituality.

But there was always a paradox in this position, for such writers often felt that Advaita needed the corrective of 'personalist' understanding of both God and the human soul. Thus Bede Griffiths once wrote that: 'Christians have to show the Hindu in the light of our faith, that in the ultimate experience of God, the absolute being, the world and the soul are not lost, nor is the personal being of God absorbed in the impersonal Godhead.' (Griffiths, p. 173) Griffiths writes here as though he had never heard of Ramanuja, Vaisnavaism's outstanding theologian.

Other students of India, and indeed Christian missionaries and their converts in India, knew better, and I cite first the work of the German Protestant theologian Rudolph Otto. He wrote in 1930 of India's religion of grace, which affirmed a salvation that is 'offered to all and to the "poor in spirit" in particular'. This salvation, he wrote, 'comes not by mystic experience, by the loss of personality in the impersonal primal cause of all being, but by bhakti, that is by surrender in simple, trusting appropriation of the "grace" of the "Lord" and in love to Him'. This salvation is the free gift of grace and is given through 'the saving might of the Lord'. Otto declared that in 'this Indian bhakti religion there is presented, without a doubt, a real, saving God, believed, received and - can we doubt it? - experienced.' (Otto, pp. 16, 18, 21).

Otto's scholarly perceptions were those of the Methodist missionary and early dialogue pioneer, E. Stanley Jones, who recorded the words of a Bengali gosvami at one of his round table conferences in the 1920s: 'I believe in Sri Caitanya. I practise both bhajana ... and kirtana. ... I feel that God is very near me. I have this experience almost every time I have kirtana in the morning. The name of Hari gives happiness.' (Jones, pp. 30-1). Bishop A.J. Appasamy, an Indian church leader in the 1920s, wrote of the bhaktas 'who speak of God, adore His goodness, worship Him with bowed heads and clasped hands as seeking in all possible ways to establish a relation with Him which will grow into a mystic union.' Appasamy believed that only such people could appreciate the inner spirit of Christianity and the inner spirit of India's religious thought. (Appasamy, pp. 2, 21).

It seems that it took nearly sixty years for most of us to wake up to the implications of such sentiments. Could it really be that our best partners in Christian-Hindu dialogue are those of the bhakti traditions? Could we not, from our Christian point of view, deem it as providential that Srila Prabhupada so brilliantly preached among Westerners? Might we not say that God has, through this man's teaching, raised up a new generation of interpreters of bhakti devotionalism? Could this not even be a new kairos, or turning point, in the long and chequered history of Christian-Hindu relations?

It will be no surprise to learn that my own answers to these far from rhetorical questions are positive. I offer the following eight reasons why Christians should rejoice to see this day.

(1) The willingness of our partners: It is striking how much material written in the 1980s, and even before, by ISKCON devotees demonstrates a yearning to contribute towards mutual understanding of Christians and Vaisnavas. We may note two important and scholarly articles from this time. In 1986 Kenneth Rose asked 'Has ISKCON Anything to Offer Christianity Theologically?' (ISKCON Review 2, 1986). Though at that time no longer a member of the Society, Rose affirmed that Christians can find a tradition 'no less vivid and profound than Christianity, in which an Absolute providence is experienced in a variety of personal relationships'. Dialogue with this tradition might persuade Christians to lay aside 'the proud and false claim of having, along with Judaism, the only historical and scriptural relationship with God'. If we were to do that, perhaps we might be better able to contribute towards a world theology of God's universal redemption.

Similarly, Steven J. Gelberg, writing as Subhananda Dasa, was moved to write 'An Invitation to Dialogue' directed to the Catholic Church in 1986 (The Catholic Church and the Hare Krsna Movement: an Invitation to Dialogue). This was a response to an official 'Vatican Report on Sects, Cults and New Religious Movements', in which this sentence appears: 'There is generally little or no possibility of dialogue with the sects.' Subhananda Dasa marshalled all his considerable rhetorical skill to refute such a view as it might be applied to ISKCON. He particularly wished to stress the benefits that might come to the Catholic Church through this dialogue, and we shall take up some of his points shortly. He equally forthrightly laid out some answers to the question 'What's in it for ISKCON?' The benefits to ISKCON, he suggested, were four-fold. ISKCON members would be enabled to confront religious pluralism; would learn from the Catholic Church's broad history; would receive constructive criticism, and, overall, the dialogue would serve as a 'reminder to take deeply to the contemplative side of religious life'.

Since Rose and Gelberg's responses, the ISKCON Communications Journal has published many personal testimonies of devotees who are excited by the notion of interfaith dialogue, especially with Christians. I take but two examples. Ranchor Dasa reflected in 1993 that it was sad that ISKCON had gained a reputation in many circles for being a 'type of fundamentalist organisation, always on the lookout for converts and self-advancement.' 'I do not believe', he wrote, 'that this is what Prabhupada wanted of us. Nor do I believe it is what we ourselves originally chose. Many devotees, like me, came to Krsna consciousness because it embodied the universal principle of Love of God in a way which embraced, not excluded, other religions.' (Ranchor Dasa, 1993) Like many others in ISKCON, Ranchor Dasa is a former Roman Catholic, but sees himself not as converted away from Roman Catholicism, but rather sees himself as having built on his original faith. The Christian church remains for him a holy place 'where I intuitively feel at home'. For him, as for many others, the dialogue is internal as well as external, and it is a joy to speak about Jesus and Krsna in the same discourse.

Other devotees have come rather more slowly to their commitment to dialogue, especially those of Jewish or secularist backgrounds. A report from one of the earliest residential interfaith conference records Vaisnavas as being moved by the 'openness and humility of all the members of the Christian churches present', and indeed some expressed not a little amazement at the 'lack of false ego' in these participants. They expressed gratitude for the 'real willingness to understand' the Vaisnava philosophy. According to this report, several devotees said that they had discovered a real increase in 'respect, appreciation and esteem' for Christians and Christianity, calling the conference time 'essential and extremely productive work'.

As a result of this groundswell of concern on the part of devotees, the ISKCON Interfaith Commission was formed in 1995. We know that we do indeed have willing partners for the dialogue.

(2) The accumulating experience of Christian-Vaisnava dialogue: When the first initiatives on the part of ISKCON were received by members of the Christian community in the mid 1990s, there was a ready response. Thus the very first of a now considerable series of residential meetings, which was held in Wales in January 1996, drew a distinguished group of Christian participants - church leaders, university teachers, interfaith experts, clergy and laypeople, all exceedingly busy people - to discuss 'The Nature of the Self.' Why was this so easily achieved? As I wrote at that time, it had dawned on all of us that the scholars and sages of ISKCON were highly trained and immensely acute exponents of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, so much so that they could represent the highest form of that philosophy extraordinarily well to their fellow Westerners. We were to have the opportunity to discuss with these men and women ideas and concepts with which we were more or less familiar through our reading and study. We were eager to learn from those who embodied these teachings in their life and practice.

This pattern has now been repeated on many different occasions in the United States. In September 1996, in East Freeport, Massachusetts, nine Christian theologians, Catholic and Protestant, devoted a weekend to speaking with Vaisnava scholars and other devotees about 'The Destiny of the Soul.' In April 1998, a similar group of nine devotees and nine Christians met for the first time in Potomac, Maryland, this time focusing upon 'The Everlasting Soul.' In September 1999, a new group from the Detroit area met with the theme 'The Millennium and Beyond: Christian and Vaisnava Perspectives'.

In each case a momentum has been created which has led to further engagements. In the Boston area a group of lay people (rather than scholars) is carrying the dialogue. The Maryland group has met each year since 1998, and its rapporteur has commented, 'There is something to be said for continuity in a dialogue group; this session seemed to build upon the mutual trust and affection of previous years. There was rich personal sharing as well as fruitful intellectual investigations: not only learning about or from one another but learning with, as well.' (Trapnell)

It appears that we have found a formula that works. In every case there has been the warm, open-hearted hospitality of ISKCON devotees as the hosts (necessarily so, since only they could prepare their delicious Vedic food). In every case there have been excellent scholarly presentations. I may mention the names of Keith Ward, Klaus Klostermaier, Peter Phan and John Saliba on the Christian side, and Tamal Krsna Goswami and Ravindra Svarupa Dasa on the Vaisnava side, to give some indication of the quality of this input. But the main ingredient has always been the readiness of all participants to listen and to share their spirituality and their worship. Michael Barnes once commented of his experience of this dialogue that 'it was one of those rare occasions when head and heart seemed somehow to be united', and his fellow Jesuit Francis Clooney speaks elsewhere of the Massachusetts meeting in 1996 as 'a rich and complex event.' We turn now to explore why heads and hearts have been so united, and the reason for such richness and complexity.

(3) A community of learners and teachers: However paradoxical it may seem to some, Christians and Vaisnavas draw very close to one another because of their sense of mission. At the heart of each faith is a sense that it bears good news for everyone. We are all preachers with a Saviour to commend. It is this devotion and commitment that we recognise in one another. At the same time, each of our theologies recognises that God has come to other men and women in different modes and forms. In Christianity, we look to the teaching of God's universal wisdom, and speak of Spirit or Logos Christologies. The sense that Christ will have spoken within other religious traditions is increasingly common among us. In any case, we are called to be obedient to the Holy Spirit who is Lord of all things. Only through the Holy Spirit are people led to God. We are not in control of conversions! For their part, Gaudiya Vaisnavas teach that all souls are created by and are eternally related to Lord Krsna, regardless of religious or cultural orientations. We have learnt that conversion in Vaisnava tradition depends on the assumption that Krsna, not the missionary devotee, is Isvara, the controller. Such teachings give space for others to be themselves, and indeed Gaudiya Vaisnavism in its Indian context has always recognised religious diversity as normal and healthy. Furthermore, though some Indians do define Hinduism as a religion of birth, Vaisnava tradition has almost always had a more universalistic outlook, welcoming non-Indians and non-Hindus into its fold for hundreds of years. In these ways, Gaudiya-Vaisnava teachings support dialogue and co-operation with other religious traditions.

But we Christians may also recognise a new factor, namely that ISKCON is the first global Vaisnava movement that is just now coming to understand its vocation to enable Westerners to understand Indian philosophy and spirituality. Since the ISKCON devotees are for the most part Westerners themselves, they have a unique opportunity to ensure a true understanding of Vaisnavism in the West. For our part, we must open up all doors so that as many Christians as possible take advantage of such opportunities of learning.

In this, Christians need not be fearful that it would be just a one-way process. The ISKCON guidelines make it clear that they, too, feel they have much to learn about Christian life and practice. But it is not only the guidelines that make this plain. It is the devotees' already well proven receptiveness to their Christian guests. Julius Lipner, for example, reports on a visit to Radhadesh, the ISKCON centre in Belgium, for a communications seminar in which he describes a 'genuine openness':

I was taken in friendly trust and I rejoiced in that honour. I was free to go where I wished, to converse with whomsoever I desired, to say whatever I wanted ... the devotees themselves seemed to shake off all constraints, as if realising the significance of the opportunity. In a communications seminar, it was vital to communicate, to reach out one another, to grasp the moment and to shape the future. (Lipner, p. 22)

Julius Lipner demonstrated his own ability to speak his mind as he challenged the Society to face the problems of the status and role of female devotees, and to consider the place of children in the Movement. But we who have taken part in formal dialogue sessions have also sensed a willingness to be challenged not just about practice but also about belief.

(4) A dialogue into mutual theological challenge: The consultations in Wales, in Massachusetts, in Maryland and in Detroit have all demonstrated this openness. Here, as one example of readiness to reconsider apparently entrenched positions, is a listing of questions thrown up by the Welsh weekend:


  • How central to Vaisnava philosophy is reincarnation?
  • Can reincarnation never be on the Christian agenda and can Vaisnavas do without it on their agenda?
  • What do we mean by eternity?
  • Will all souls be liberated, or is it possible that some souls never gain liberation?
  • What happens at the resurrection?
  • What is the relationship between, and the nature of the body, the soul, and the subtle body?
  • What is the distinction between the subtle body and the 'I' we identify with?
  • What is it that remains and experiences things after the liberation?
  • What is the kingdom of God?
  • Is there an end of time or is time cyclical?
  • Does the 'new heaven/new earth' encompass a corporate liberation or is it purely individual?
  • How does the concept of reincarnation and spiritual equality fit in with our observation of the caste system?
  • If we consider that the soul is not separate from the body, do we not lose out on a socio-political dimension in our dealings with others? Does that view not make us anthropocentric? Does it not impact upon ecological implications of stewardship?
  • How do Vaisnavas speak of death to others?
  • What sort of bedside language would we use in comforting a dying person?
  • What is our pastoral approach to death? Is that different if we were counselling a child or an old person?

That such questions were raised indicates an unusual level of trust. That such questions, and many others, remain on the agenda offers a serious programme for both our communities well into the future.

(5) A mutual stimulus to dedication in worship and spirituality: Intense interest in each other's forms of worship and spirituality has also marked the recent Christian-Vaisnava dialogues. Indeed, it has repeatedly been demonstrated on both sides of the Atlantic that theological dialogue cannot proceed fruitfully without the participants also drawing on the communal and personal religious resources of their traditions. Gavin de Costa puts this well in his commentary on the dialogue conference in Wales: 'I was particularly struck by the way in which European ISKCON devotees were bound together in their liturgical celebration. Whether in Sanskrit or Bengali, they knew their songs of devotion and chanting, and danced for Krsna in a beautiful and moving fashion,' and later reflects that he had learnt much in theory and practice that 'commends a less paper-giving orientation to such gatherings'. The opportunity to see each other at prayer and play makes for a wholeness of our encounter. Francis Clooney also notes the profound drawing together in the dialogue community when we turn together to God in worship. His record of the Boston meeting notes how all participants 'seemed to thrill to God's grace running through us when we prayed and sang together the Christian verse:

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun.'

Such experiences truly enable Christians and Vaisnavas to speak heart to heart and remind both traditions of the importance of the contemplative side of spiritual life. As Steven Gelberg wrote some years ago, 'For devotees in a highly activistic missionary organisation like ISKCON, the active, "busy" side of institutional life can come to overshadow (and in some cases almost eliminate) the interior and contemplative aspect of spiritual life without which external activity becomes unreflective, mechanical and self-centered.' He thought then that the systematically introspective and contemplative life, such as that found in Catholic monasteries, could act to remind devotees of the critical necessity of devotional reflection and prayer in the life of Krsna consciousness. We Christians, too, are no less likely to fall into an over-active busy-ness.

(6) Dialogue for the sake of the world: One significant result of the Christian-Vaisnava dialogue is the recognition (sometimes to the surprise of both parties) of a common concern for this world. To be sure, neither of us would have a sense of evangelistic mission if we were not profoundly moved by the lost soul of humanity. Jesus expressed concern for the 'sheep without a shepherd', and Srila Prabhupada and the sampradaya (or religious tradition) he represents is profoundly compassionate to all those men and women who have no sense of God and the joy that brings. The atheistic materialism of the West needs to be challenged at all levels. This was the message, too, of the Vaisnava acarya Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1836-1914), who taught that the enemy of Vaisnavism is not other religious tradition, but atheism. Here Christians and Vaisnavas can draw very close.

But we realise it is no easy task to restore faith in God to Western societies, and we have shared in our dialogues a sense that we need each other as we challenge the West's prevailing values. Klaus Klostermaier points to some of the findings of the first Massachusetts meeting when he writes:

Both Vaisnavas and Christians have to rethink their traditional teachings on the background of contemporary psychology and neuro-science, and have to restate their metaphysics in a contemporary idiom. They must recognise the historico-cultural conditioning of traditional teaching without giving up the timeless insights expressed in them. Vaisnavism was always perceived to be close to Christianity in its theology and its ritual practices. It may be possible to find a common language to speak about the soul and its destiny that could religiously inspire late-20th-century women and men. (Klostermaier, p. 83).

Now that the century has turned, it seems the urgency is even greater. We have a new millennium before us. We may profoundly hope that the new initiative in Oxford, England will take us more deeply into new thinking for the sake of the world.

(7) A dialogue towards a world theology: This is the year of the death of Wilfred Cantwell Smith (b. 1916), one of the great Christian thinkers about interfaith relationships. In a seminal paper about the study of comparative religion written as long ago as 1959, Smith described the traditional form of Western scholarship as being 'an impersonal presentation of an "it"'. But then came a great innovation, what he called the 'personalization of the faiths, so that we find a discussion of a "they"'. 'Presently', he continues, 'the observer becomes personally involved, so that the situation is one of a "we" talking about a "they". The next step is a dialogue when "we" talk to "you". If there is listening and mutuality, this may become that "we talk" with "you".' (Smith, pp. 31-58) At that point dialogue partners are saying to each other, 'This what we have seen of the truth, this is what God has done for us; tell us what you have seen, what God has done for you.' It appears that 'we Christians' and 'we Vaisnavas' have undoubtedly attained this stage. But there is one further stage to move towards. In Smith's terms, it is when 'we all' are talking with each other about 'us', and when we are able to formulate the beginning of a theology which talks about the same Lord's dealings with all his servants, the same parent dealing with all his or her children throughout world history.

Perhaps religious people in general are far from being able as yet to construct a world theology. But if such a theology were ever to come into being, certainly those Christians and Vaisnavas who have drawn close to each other will be among the great catalysts of a radical change in humanity's understanding of itself in the next millennium. When that day comes, we will rejoice to see how God has been dealing with the whole of humanity.

(8) For the sake of friendship - dialogue as an absolute value: We have tried to list some of the reasons for engaging in interreligious dialogue. We have seen among its benefits the dissipation of religious narrow-mindedness, the breaking down of insularity, and the destruction of xenophobia. We have emphasised that the increased understanding of another religious tradition must in itself lead to the development of a more introspective and critical approach to one's own faith, and a deepening of one's own spirituality. We have stressed, too, that dialogue heightens the awareness of, and appreciation for, God's universal saving grace. Yet there is one last thing to be said. It is this: that interfaith dialogue has its absolute value and should be engaged in for its own sake. Dialogue is about friendship, the highest human aspiration, as the mid-twentieth century British philosopher John Macmurray wrote: 'All meaningful knowledge is in order to action, and all meaningful action is in order to friendship.' Both communities have sensed this, rightly so, for the theology on both sides sees love as the essential attribute of God. Thus the ISKCON author and teacher Ranchor Dasa entitled his presentation to an Interfaith Conference at Bhaktivedanta Manor in 1994 'Searching for the Dearest Friend', and he movingly portrays the relationship with God in this terminology (Ranchor Dasa, 1994). Christians remember the words of Jesus, as recorded in St John's Gospel, 'Henceforth I call you not servants, for a servant does not know what his lord does, but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known to you.' (John 15.14) If Christians are friends of Jesus, it follows that we are friends of all people. Devotees speak in the same language and the 'Principles' of the new ISKCON guidelines are explicit, in that the friends of Krsna are honest, truthful, respectful and tolerant in personal relationships: 'We can live without the philosophy, the ritual and the institution, but we cannot live without our loving and serving relationship with Krsna and His devotees.' By extension this, as Ranchor Dasa makes plain in a second article, means friendship with followers of other ways and paths in what Srila Prabhupada called 'a league of devotees.' (Ranchor Dasa, 1993) It is, for many of us, a sign and a wonder of the new era of interreligious relationships that deep and true friendships have been formed between Vaisnavas and Christians. May this new century see this friendship grow and increase.


Appasamy, Aiyadurai Jesudasen. Christianity as Bhakti Marga; A Study in the Mysticism of the Johannine Writings. London: Macmillan, 1927.

Cracknell, Kenneth. 'The Nature of the Self, A Vaisnava-Christian Conference' in ISKCON Communications Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, June 1996.

Gelberg, Steven J. 'Krsna and Christ: ISKCON's Enceinte with Christianity in America,' in Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Perspectives and Encounters. Ed. Harold Coward. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1989.

Griffiths, Bede. Christ in India. Toronto: Templegate, 1984.

Jones, E. Stanley. Christ at the Round Table. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1928.

Klostermaier, Klaus. 'The Destiny of the Soul, A Vaisnava-Christian Conference' in ISKCON Communications Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2, December 1996.

Kraemer, Hendrik. The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World. London: Published for the International Missionary Council by the Edinburgh House Press, 1938.

Lipner, Julius. 'ISKCON at the Crossroads?' in ISKCON Communications Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, January 1994.

Macmurray, John. 'Persons in Relations' in Volume Two of Persons in Relation: the 1954 Gifford Lectures. London: Faber and Faber, 1961.

McNichol, Nichol. Indian Theism from the Vedic to the Muhammadan Period. OUP, Oxford: 1915.

Otto, Rudolf. India's Religion of Grace and Christianity Compared and Contrasted. London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1930.

Ranchor Dasa. 'A League of Devotees: My Search for Universal Religion' in ISKCON Communications Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2, July 1993.

Ranchor Dasa. 'Searching for the Dearest Friend' in ISKCON Communications Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2, July 1994.

Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. in Comparative Religion: Whither and Why? The History of Religions: Essays in Methodology. Ed. Mircea Eliade and Joseph M. Kitagawa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959.

Trapnell, Judson. Personal letter to the author. April 2000.