On Leaving ISKCON
There are, basically, two ways of defining “ISKCON.” One is socio-political and the other is spiritual.
(1) The socio-political definition is: “One who abides by a specific set of laws established by a specific government body, is a member of ISKCON.”
(2) The spiritual definition is: “One who helps the expansion of Krishna Consciousness throughout the world, especially via the mercy of A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Prabhupāda, is a member of ISKCON.”
For the remainder of the discussion lets refer to the socio-political definition of ISKCON – because we can simply know that anyone who abandons the spiritual ISKCON makes a grave mistake.
Before proceeding, let’s remember the purpose of ISKCON, as envisioned by her founder: to facilitate the growth of Krishna Consciousness within individuals, and as a result, in society at large.
There are, basically two reasons for leaving socio-political ISKCON, as there are also two reasons for staying.
The two reasons for leaving:
(1) Due to the fact that sociology and politics are relative entities, they are inherently prone to limitation. It is not possible to legislate laws and rules that work well for everyone all the time. Therefore in some cases, devotees will experience that the socio-political atmosphere within ISKCON is unworkable for them as individuals, and they flourish more easily after establishing themselves in some setting that is less directly under the control of ISKCON’s government.
Put briefly, the first reason for moving outside socio-political ISKCON is that it does not, for that individual, accomplish its objective: fostering their Krishna consciousness — at least not as effectively as some other socio-political option.
(2) The second reason for leaving ISKCON is that the person does not have a sincere interest in fostering Krishna Consciousness, and eventually they come to realize that the socio-political climate of ISKCON fails to foster their ulterior ambitions adequately, and they leave to create some living situation more conducive to their ulterior motives.
The two reasons for “staying” in ISKCON are similar:
(1) The individual finds that ISKCON is a great inspiration and reliable guide to their personal advancement in pure devotion to Śrī Krishna.
(2) The individual finds that the socio-political climate of ISKCON is an excellent “prey” for their material ambitions towards leadership, security, or whatever.
So, we should be able to recognize that it is possible to stay in socio-political ISKCON for good and bad reasons, and it is possible to move away from socio-political ISKCON for good and bad reasons.
We should not disagree, insisting that there is never a valid reason to move outside the socio-political influence of one’s guru’s institution. After all, our own Śrīla Prabhupāda, ISKCON’s founding ācārya, moved outside the socio-political borders of his own Guru’s institution, the Gauḍiya-Math (and his Guru, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati Prabhupāda, also instructed his disciples with a very similar, “If you want to express your love for me, cooperate with one another and do not tear my institution apart.”) What’s more, even Śrīla Prabhupada’s guru himself moved outside the socio-political borders of his own father and guru’s institution, the Viśva Vaiṣṇava Rāja Sabhā.
Within the scope of reason #1, there is something more important. It is not just the fault or glory of the governing body that makes or breaks ISKCON. More, much more, it is the fault or glory of the individuals making up the masses who populate ISKCON.
In my own life I have role models, heroes and gurus both within and outside of the socio-political borders of ISKCON. Without any lessening of love and respect for those who established themselves outside the socio-political borders of ISKCON, I think I really have to pay my most appreciative and sincere extra respects to those who manage to continue to work within ISKCON’s boundary, despite the significant challenges inherent in doing so, trying constantly to serve her by improving her efficacy as a instrument for spreading Śrī Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s Krishna consciousness, and patiently tolerating her sometimes deeply stubborn unwillingness to improve. But I also deeply respect those who develop their Krishna consciousness effectively in whatever socio-political setting, since after all Śrīla Prabhupada’s first and foremost desire is that we become Krishna conscious.
This is more than enough discussion of this topic, I believe. Let us not become distracted from the essence and trapped the in maze of externals. Let all people, from this or that branch of Mahaprabhu’s tree, pick up karatala and mrdanga and dance together while singing Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare – from a heart full of budding love for Śrī Krishna, by the grace of Śrī Guru.
Śrī Śrī Nitai Gaura Premānande Hari Hari Bol.