After the very small matinee show in Detroit, we drove over to the ISKCON temple. I was surprised to discover that it was “Fisher Mansion,” a veritable palace built by an auto-baron in the late 1920s. I found myself on a tour of the place, walking through decadent room after decedent room, with our devotee tour-guide (dressed in slacks and shirt) proudly pointing out the ridiculous price tags that would be hung on any and all of the lamps, couches, and light-switches.
I was mortified and asked Dhanurdhara Mahārāja, “What’s the purpose of this? It just seems to glorify some karmī and his materialism.”
“I have my own doubts about it,” he said.
That was a relief.
When the tour ended, Mahārāja asked for something we could all eat. They brought out cold food, which seemed to really bother him, and he called for someone in charge.
“These are important guests,” he said to the man in charge. “All you can bring is cold prasadam?”
The man apologized and Mahārāja continued, “Some of them are very confused by the tour of the mansion. Vic, go ahead and explain your doubts.”
“Well,” I said. “It just seems so materialistic.”
“Prabhupāda wanted us to buy this mansion,” the man explained, “to attract people to come hear about Krishna.”
“OK,” I replied, “but when they come they don’t hear about Krishna, they just hear about how expensive the lamps and couches are.”
“It’s yukta-vairagya,” the man said. “We can use everything in Krishna’s service. Even very fancy material things.”
“Yeah, but how is this being ‘used in Krishna’s service?’” I asked. “The tour doesn’t glorify Krishna, it glorifies excessive sense gratification and some materialistic auto-baron.”
“Yes, but this is Krishna’s temple,” the man explained. “The money people pay to tour the mansion pays for Krishna’s temple and feeds Krishna’s devotees. So they are doing devotional service, unknowingly. And during the tour they see the ballroom, which is really a temple – so they see Krishna on the altar, and they get prasādam, and hear recordings of Prabhupāda chanting Hare Krishna.”
“That must just weird people out,” I said. “They must feel like it’s a ‘bait and switch.’ They come to see a historic mansion, but wind up in a Hare Krishna temple halfway through it? It would be much better to convert the mansion into a Vedic museum. People would still be attracted to see the opulence, but it would be so much more legit.”
Dhanurdhara Mahārāja was definitely on my side in the debate, and that made me feel great. I felt that even if there was stuff in ISKCON that made me very uncomfortable, at least this Swāmī was cool and was on the same page as I was about most of it.
This is what I wrote in my diary:
The Detroit trip did not do wonders for my faith in the current structure of ISKCON, but I did gain a great deal of respect for Danerdar [sic] Maharaj. I think that the present ISKCON is not anywhere near perfect, but if it is being helped into the future by great devotees like Maharaj, then there is good hope and bright times ahead.
When we retired to individual rooms for the night, Ray and I went with the two Swami’s. Dhanurdhara Swāmī seemed proud of and happy with me. “You are a real Vṛndāvana devotee,” he said, “renounced and simple. You should come to Vṛndāvana in October. We will have the Vṛndāvana Institute for Higher Education. It’s perfect for people like you.”
– Excerpt from an early draft of
Train Wrecks and Transcendence:
A Collision of Hardcore and Hare Krishna
By Vraja Kishor [VrajaKishor.com]