Ever since Srila Prabhupada left the planet in 1977, ISKCON as an institution has seen lot of ups and downs. I have read so many articles and posts on how devotees have been manhandled so to speak. In other words, rank and file devotees ignored. This all reflects on its leadership.
ISKCON is a brand ambassador for the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition – which means its philosophy, culture, food, clothing, plus how to deal with people. It is easy to cook (relatively speaking), easy to speak high philosophy, and it is easy to dress up externally as a vaishnava but it is not easy to deal with people in a vaishnava way. If the philosophy, food, culture and clothing do not distill down to practical action for people to see…then essentially ISKCON is setting itself for it to fail in the long run and surely people can see and sense the disharmony between words and action. Ultimately ISKCON will become another “Hindu” temple showing off its deities to please Indians and temple board members of Indian origin.
A good leader before he goes out should gain trust and confidence within, among his peers, juniors and seniors. A good leader should be a part of every devotee’s life and much more. One person being a part of every devotee’s life is a demanding job and to do with spiritual integrity requires utmost purity. This level of purity is required at all levels of leadership roles even down to the bhakti vriksha and namahatta level.
In my own personal journey within ISKCON life, I have seen among so many devotees a common standard – devotees apparently who have been around a lot are very eager to tell new comers what to do yet are not willing to hear and associate in a way the new comers feel welcomed and naturally fit in. It is like the new comers or neophyte devotees have to “prove” themselves by speaking and acting in a “devotional” way so they can be a part of the ISKCON clan. Readers…I would like to disclaim this is my personal observation and experience. As a result of this, personally, I found it very hard to reveal my mind to any senior devotee as I could not create a trusting and loving relationship. I was only told what to do versus in a way that suited my false-ego. Unfortunately, that is the truth. I have a big ego and if the leaders told me in a way to please my ego and at the same time make me Krishna Conscious…I would have had more confidential relationships. This is the greatness of a spiritual leader. A leader who is pure when he goes down into the ditch to pick me up should acknowledge the ditch (which is where I am) but at the same time make me realize my ditch life by not hurting my ego so much. At the same time, the leader should not be disturbed by my ditch qualities and associate with me like a lotus in a dirt pond. One example that props in my head right now is the story of the interaction between Nimai Pandit and Keshava Kashmiri. Nimai Pandit (Lord Krishna Himself) defeated the great digvijay pandit Keshava Kashmiri but in a way as not to hurt his false ego. Once to his senses, Keshava Kashmiri himself realized his folly. This is the sign of real knowledge - to say and at the same time not to say - not easy!
Anybody can float around the temple for a week, read a 101 on Krishna Consciousness, wear a dhoti or sari, know to say the right things to the right people and then “tell” new comers what to do. This is easy and in one sense also necessary. But a leader is one who out of his/her purity of heart should tolerate, guide, lead and ultimately love (without any condition) the neophytes to get closer to Krishna. In this mood, the leader does not even have to “tell”…trust me the new comers will volunteer for service. This all also is possible provided the leader is untouched by the false ego and problems of the new comers. So when I say guidance and love…it is all not sweet talk but a genuine appreciation for new comer’s false ego and other limitations but ultimately to convey the message that it is the duty of the new comer to take his/her life seriously and aspire him/her more to live a Krishna Conscious life. Ultimately…the leader can do all this and still the new comer may not be satisfied. Not disturbed…the leader should continue!
So…like this when a leader earns the trust and love of all devotees…then he can go out and proclaim war against the agents of Maya…if not…our cry for war is like the will-o'-the-wisp (another illusion).