Is Hare Krishna Movement a ‘cult’?

Forums Forums Yoga Practice Is Hare Krishna Movement a ‘cult’?

Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)
  • Author
  • #13830
    Sugandha Sharma

    Hare Krishna Rsiraja Prabhuji

    Prabhuji it happens sometimes that I come across people who call the Hare Krishna Movement as a ‘cult’ in the strict sense of the word. But I am always clueless about how to argue with such people. Therefore, can you please elaborate on how to argue and defeat people who say that Hare Krishna Movement is a ‘cult’?

    Ashish Dalela

    If we don’t understand it, then it is a cult. If we understand it better, then it is a society. If we understand it even better, then it is a culture. And if we understand it best, then it is life itself. So, it depends on our understanding. I will try to improve that understanding here.

    Let’s begin with theology. Theology means the “science of God”. This science begins by asking: What is God? Many people might say: Supreme Being, but this doesn’t tell us very much.

    All over the world, there are four unique concepts of God–Controller, Creator, Greatness, and Love. These four ideas of God are present in Vedic philosophy also. Let’s discuss them one by one.

    God as Controller

    Controller means one who is managing worldly affairs, just like the CEO of an organization. The CEO has to (1) create an organizational structure, (2) hire and fire people for the correct position in the organization, (3) reward or punish them based on their work, (4) occasionally solve problems that they cannot solve, and (5) define the strategic direction of the organization.

    This is the lowest conception of God, according to which there is order in nature, namely, that bad people are punished and good people are rewarded, so there must be a power that is rewarding and punishing. Then, things are happening properly, such as the sun rising every morning, so there is order in nature, and that is because there is a power ensuring that things work fine.

    In Vedic philosophy, the material world has three CEOs or co-CEOs. Lord Shiva sets the strategic direction of the world, which is why He is called time. Under His supervision, there is His Sakti, who creates the organizational structure and a system of rewards and punishments. Then Lord Maha Vishnu brings people into the organization, by injecting the soul into the material world and helping them from inside and outside to do their respective jobs. They are all very powerful. Hence, there are three systems of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism, prevalent in Vedic philosophy. However, this is also the lowest conception of God. In Sanskrit, the Controller is called Ishvara.

    God as Greatness

    The next higher conception of God is that God is great. This form of God is also the head, but He is like the head of a family, in which all the members are dutiful, responsible, capable, and independent. There is no reward or punishment. There is no hierarchical structure. And there is no strategic direction. Everyone defines their duties and lives peacefully together. They assist each other, but that is only out of affection. Each person is fully capable of doing what they have to do.

    This world is called mukti or liberation. We also call it Vaikuntha. It is an egalitarian society in which people are independent. Mukti or liberation simply means that there is no strategic direction, no hierarchy, no reward or punishment. Therefore, Lord Shiva and His Shakti don’t exist. There is only Lord Vishnu who is fully capable Himself, and all the other living entities are also almost like Him. They can do almost all the things that Lord Vishnu can do. Since they can do almost everything, and they are independent, and yet they cooperate with each other, therefore, this is the world of greatness. Everyone is great, and God is the greatest. God is the first among equals.

    God as Love

    The highest conception of God is that of love. However, in this conception, God is not the responsible head of the family. Rather, He is the most childish, irresponsible, naughty, and playful person. Due to this, everyone has to be more responsible than God. For example, God will not eat His food on time; therefore, His mother has to feed Him. He will cheat in games, so He has an elder brother to correct Him. He will trouble others, therefore, He has a father to guide Him. And He is never satisfied with one girl, so there are millions of beautiful girls to love Him unconditionally, which means that they don’t stop loving even if Krishna goes to another girl.

    According to this conception, God is a playboy, and He is the combination of good and evil. This evil is not evil in God, because it is combined with good. Rather, evil becomes superior to good. Similarly, God is a sexual being, Who satisfies our innermost desires of fulfillment.

    This conception of God is Krishna. He is the master of the world called Goloka. Krishna is not an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, because Lord Vishnu is the most responsible head of a family, and Krishna is the most irresponsible child in the family. Therefore, when Krishna appears in this world, He is called bhagavān-svayam or “God Himself”. He is never considered an incarnation. Other forms of God are incarnations because they are acting responsibly and dutifully.

    Due to love, the residents of Goloka are most beautiful. Lord Shiva and Shakti are also beautiful, but because they are involved in managing the world, and rewarding and punishing, hence, they are not the most beautiful. Then, Lord Vishnu is also beautiful, but because He is a responsible head of a family, He is not the most beautiful. But Krishna is most beautiful because He is the irresponsible, naughty, loving child. This is called kandarpa-koṭi-kamanīyaKamanīya means sexy. God is sexier than millions of cupids. This is because beauty increases many-fold when a person is in love.

    God as Creator

    The three conceptions of God as Controller, Greatness, and Love are the primary conceptions. The conception of God as creator is a secondary conception. For example, in Goloka, Balarama is the creator, and Krishna is the enjoyer. In Vaikuntha, Narayana is the head of the family, and Vasudeva is the creator. And in the material world, Lord Maha Vishnu is the primary controller, and Lord Shiva is the creator. However, it is not that Krishna, Narayana, or Maha Vishnu are not creators. They simply create the creator, and after that, the creator creates the world. All these creations are manifestations or partial aspects of God. Since Krishna also manifests Balarama, therefore, He has a responsible aspect. But He doesn’t want to be responsible. So, he delegates responsibility to Balarama. Likewise, Narayana is the head of the family, but He doesn’t want to create the family. So, He delegates the charge of creating the family to Vasudeva. In the same way, Maha Vishnu is the controller, but He doesn’t want to create the world to control. So, He delegates it to Lord Shiva.

    All these things are theology, namely, discussing God’s nature, why He has many natures due to which He is understood as Love, Greatness, and Controller, and why the Creator aspect is secondary to these aspects. All these things are called Bhagavat-tattva or the nature of God. Srila Jiva Goswami has composed a text called Bhagavat-Sandarbha which discusses God’s nature.

    Hare Krishna Cult

    Hare Krishna movement was started by Lord Chaitanya because the conception of God as love was not present on this planet. There are three conceptions of God as Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism, which pertain to the material worldly conception of God as controller. Then, there are several conceptions of God as greatness in other Sampradāya. In all these conceptions, God is like a ruler, a father, a boss, a creator, a master, etc. However, beyond all these conceptions of God, is a conception of God as an irresponsible, childish, demanding, cheating, playful, naughty person. This conception of God did not have a philosophy and theology prior to Lord Chaitanya. This conception of God also doesn’t exist in any other religion in this world. Therefore, Lord Chaitanya started the Hare Krishna movement to present this unique conception of God as divine love.

    Now, we can say that since no other religion has this conception of God, therefore, Hare Krishna is a cult. After all, what is not a cult? That which is common to all religions, or well-known. So, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism are not cults because they are more prevalent as controllers of the material world. Then, the conception of God as greatness is also quite common. However, God as love, and what love really means, is not common. Hence we can call Hare Krishna a cult.

    However, this cult is also the highest conception of God. This is considered God’s innermost nature. Again, much discussion is required on why the child is the innermost nature, the head of the family is slightly outer nature, and the controller is the outermost nature. Since we cannot get into that here, we can just understand in a simple way that every great controller, or the head of the family, has an inner child. That child shuns responsibility, duty, accountability, etc. The child wants to play, be naughty, and be pampered by others. So, just by understanding our nature, we can understand God’s nature. Krishna is the highest conception of God because it is God’s innermost nature.

    However, this innermost nature is not revealed to everyone. Outwardly, God is a powerful controller or a great personality. But inwardly, He is a naughty, irresponsible, and pampered child. Since the innermost nature is revealed to very few, therefore, Hare Krishna is a cult of few people. But since this is the innermost nature of God, therefore, it is also the highest conception of God.

    The Science of God

    We generally begin the scientific study of God by studying Him as a creator. This is called janmādy asya yatah, or that from Whom everything has manifested. The term ādi has two meanings. In one sense, ādi means, etc., and this is expanded as creator, maintainer, and destroyer. Then, the term ādi also means original, and in this case, it is expanded as sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam or the cause of all causes. In many places, Prabhupāda uses these two meanings of ādi interchangeably.

    Once we understand God as a creator, then we can understand Him as a controller. Once we understand Him as a controller, then we can understand Him as greatness. Finally, when we understand God as a creator, controller, and greatness, then we understand Him as love. Therefore, the first step is to understand God as a creator. Love comes toward the end of this process.

    If we don’t follow this process, then we will misunderstand God as an ordinary person. For example, if we don’t know that God created the universe from Himself, we will not know that He is infinite. If we don’t know Him as a controller, then we will not know His power, that He can do everything simply by His will. Then, if we don’t know that God is great, then this infinite and powerful person will be misunderstood simply as infinity and power, rather than as the greatest personality. So, the conception of God as love comes after we understand that God is infinite, powerful, and great. This is also the reason that Hare Krishna is meant only for the most sophisticated people.

    Of course, Lord Chaitanya is so merciful that He has given this supreme conception of God freely to everyone. And He has made it very simple for everyone–just chant Hare Krishna mantra, and you can understand everything over time. The problem is that when diamonds are given freely, then they are treated as dust. People cannot imagine that the greatest thing can be freely distributed.

    Therefore, we have to distribute books to establish why love is highest, then greatness comes next, and the controller is last. Even within that controller, the creator and creation are next. So, in a limited sense, when we talk about “science” we are talking about creation. Then we talk about the creator. Then we talk about the controller. Then we talk about greatness. Then we talk about love.

    Most people don’t have the capacity to understand all these things. So they think that if something is given freely, then it must be just cheap like dust since they are only able to get dust for free. But that is a risk that Lord Chaitanya has taken, and we are trying to mitigate the risk by distributing books. So, if we read the books, then we can understand why Hare Krishna is also the highest truth.

    Sugandha Sharma

    Thank you so much for this elaborate answer Prabhuji, it really clarifies many things and also stresses upon important topics such as Lord Chaitanya’s unique contribution to theology. It was a very insightful reply for me. But Prabhuji, most of the people refer to the Hare Krishna Movement as a cult based on the following kinds of characteristics:

    • A charismatic leader: Cults always follow a charismatic leader, living or dead, whose teachings are considered of the highest importance. This leader may be considered a genius, or may be considered a religious figure like a messiah or prophet.
    • Ideological purity: Members are strongly discouraged from questioning the cult’s doctrine and any doubts are met with shame or punishment.
    • Conformity and control: Cult leaders often exercise an extreme degree of control over members’ lives, including dictating what they can wear and eat and what kinds of relationships they can have. Conformity is also enforced by group members who police one another.
    • Mind-altering practices: Sleep deprivation, chanting, meditation, and drugs are often used to break down individuals’ defenses and make them more susceptible to cult ideology.
    • Isolation and love-bombing: It is common for people in cults to be encouraged to cut contact with outsiders, including close family members. Within the cult, new members are often subjected to love-bombing, a practice where new initiates are showered with love and praise to bring them deeper into the cult and foster a sense of belonging.
    • Us-vs-them mentality: Cult members are often encouraged to see the cult as superior to life on the outside and to feel that those outside the cult lack understanding or insight.
    • Apocalyptic thinking: Preparation for a supposed apocalypse or cataclysmic event is a major characteristic of many cults, especially cult religions.
    • Time and energy: Followers are expected to dedicate huge amounts of time and energy (and often money) to the cult to the exclusion of their own lives, interests, jobs, and families.

    These were a few of the many characteristics that people use to declare Hare Krishna a cult, a dangerous and self hypnotic cult. Therefore, can you please elaborate on how to refute them in this particular context?

    (Here is a quote from Swami B.G. Narasingha who was a direct disciple of Srila Prabhupada:

    We were researching narcissism a few days ago and found an article which was about how a bona-fide religious institution or community can become a cult. It was a very interesting read. It mentioned many points, but a few really stuck out. One was that the leaders become elitists. They create this idea that they knew their founder better than anyone else so that makes them superior. They may not have even met him, or they had little association with him, or they just didn’t understand what he was really about – but they knew him! They figured him out! So when they speak, its as good as him speaking.

    Then the next point was that they make the founder to be like some cold, heartless statue. He becomes this inaccessible thing. Basically they just recreate him in their own image. Then another point was that they have to paint anyone who disagrees with them as black as possible – that’s how they manage to keep control of the rest of their members. Then they stop listening to any voice of reason and they start to believe in their own propaganda. And that’s the biggest danger! But it’s not that they are just some evil asuras or rakṣāsas who want to destroy the movement – they hoodwink themselves into actually believing that they are doing the right thing, It’s like self-hypnosis.

    So basically what started off as being something very pure and innocent eventually becomes an institution run by a few guys who want to be in power and are extremely insecure. This is exactly what happened in early Christianity at the time of Constantine, and it also happened in the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement.

    Can you please clarify this as well Prabhuji?)

    Ashish Dalela

    You have to understand that there are millions of bad things in each one of us, but they are hidden simply due to a lack of opportunities. For example, there is immense ego and selfishness in each person, which is hidden as long as they don’t get the opportunity to show their ego and selfishness. The moment they get some power and position, this ego and selfishness are manifest, and they act in a cruel manner toward others. The people who are criticizing others don’t know what kind of bad things exist in them simply because they have not obtained the power, prestige, and position yet. When they get it, they will not be any better. They might be far worse. This is the first point.

    The second point is that because people have done bad things in the past, a culture of acceptance of bad things sets in. Those who have done bad things cannot stop others from doing them, because they are themselves guilty of bad things in the past. Thus, a culture of normalizing bad behavior sets in which one bad actor supports other bad actors because they need each other to survive. They also don’t want to acknowledge their mistakes and let go of their position of power. There are too many vested interests. Even as people understand that this is wrong, they cannot admit it openly. So, they continue in their position, normalizing bad behaviors, and accepting the same of others.

    The third point is that as we practice devotion to Krishna, these things are slowly purified. So people get better with time. However, unless you are fully purified, you cannot go back to Krishna. You will be reborn again and again until you are purified. However, in your second birth, you will be a better devotee, because you have purified yourself in the last life to some extent. You will also not be carrying the baggage of past misdeeds, because nobody knows who you were in the past life. Therefore, you don’t have to defend yourself and don’t have to normalize bad behaviors anymore. Instead, you will generally try to correct them, and you will also act like a better person. So, those people who have done bad deeds in this life will be reborn in the Hare Krishna movement, and they will be better devotees in their next lives. It generally takes many lifetimes to purify oneself. As a result, the future will be better due to the same devotees being reborn again and again and starting from the point where they had stopped previously. Things will get better with time, but slowly.

    As things get better, there will be many good examples to follow and the complaints will diminish. People will simply say: Oh, our predecessors made many mistakes, but we are not making them now. This quantum leap in improvement will happen every 50-60 years or so, assuming that a person lives for around 70-80 years and joins the movement around the age of 20 years or so. In about three generations, which is roughly about 150-175 years from now, the movement will be completely transformed, because now you will have devotees who have practiced for about three lifetimes. 150-175 years is just a drop in the ocean from a cosmic time perspective. That much time is required.

    Srila Prabhupada also stated one time that in three generations we will have pure devotees. Once we get substantial purification, then people will get deeply interested in the philosophy and science of Krishna, and totally disinterested in politics and power. Then problems will resolve automatically. So, we have to know the problem, the gradual process of purification, and what it takes to progress. It is not magic and a miracle that in a few years we will come to the platform of transcendence. It takes many lifetimes because the material conditioning is also very long–millions of lifetimes.

    As far as the people who talk about cults are concerned, they may not be entirely wrong. However, for most people, their present association is not better. The younger generation is especially associating with drinkers, drug addicts, sex addicts, porn addicts, meat-eaters, depressed, narcissistic people. Those people are not better. For them to say that Hare Krishna is not perfect is not even an argument. They have to look at themselves in the mirror and see who they are, and where their future lies. The Hare Krishna movement may not be perfect today, but it is far better than their current association. Don’t demand the best association. After all, what you have done so far to deserve the best association? When life gives you a lemon, then you make lemonade. If you complain, then you go thirsty. So it is an option between lemonade and going thirsty.

    Then, the books are not written by a cultist. Srila Prabhupada was a pure devotee and not a cultist.  If they read his books, then they associate with a pure devotee. If they chant Hare Krishna, they associate with Krishna. So, they can study books, chant Hare Krishna, and worship the deity. As they start the process, they will slowly get purified, and understand that it is not easy to progress. One has to see the faults in oneself to understand what it takes to purify oneself. So, finding fault is very easy. Becoming perfect is very difficult. Those who find faults think that they are already perfect. Of course, some may be better, based on their previous lives. But there is a long way to go.

    Nothing is gained by arguments. One has to seek, and then Krishna will provide the answer. Krishna always gives you what you need. It may not be what you want. But He will give you what you need. If you don’t seek, then Krishna is not going to chase you. In the same way, Krishna’s devotees don’t chase anyone. If someone is interested, then they can give an answer. But one has to struggle hard. If they don’t struggle, and they want everything very easy, then they get nothing. This is the rule of spiritual life. M. K. Gandhi once said: Be the example you want to see in the world. We can take good things from everyone, and ignore or neglect the bad things. This is called the mentality of a swan. A swan separates milk from a mixture of water and milk. And a crow leaves milk and eats rotten things. So, we have to be swans rather than crows. Then we can make rapid progress in life.

    Sugandha Sharma

    Understood Prabhuji. Thank you so much for this insightful and instructive answer.
    Hare Krishna!

Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.