By Madhava Ghosh
1968 September 4 : “It is not very difficult to open a center. You can remain in any apartment as husband and wife, and invite persons there to hear your chanting and topics, that is our center, and let it be gradually improved.”
Prabhupada Letters :: 1968
Currently , ISKCON is in a holding pattern in the West, eking out an existence dependent on support from Hindus. There is nothing wrong with that; it is essential and serves a purpose. Still, it is a rear guard action. With scattered exceptions, preaching to Westerners is in decline and in many temples western brahmacaries no longer even exist.
Eastern Europe is often cited as a bright spot. I don’t doubt it is. Still, if they don’t learn from the mistakes made in America, they are simply in the part of the cycle the US was in 20 years ago, and many of the same problems will eventually rear their heads.
India seems to be thriving, and that is fine, but it wasn’t Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s mandate to his disciple to preach in India — it was to preach to Westerners. Much of the success in India is directly attributable to Westerners going back to India and openly embracing spiritual and religious aspects that are also common to Hinduism. What happens when that reverse flow dries up?
I think there is some reason for optimism for the future of ISKCON now, but I think it will not be a opulent Deity worship centric future. I think it will take the form of a Resurgence, going back to basics.
Resurgents will be decentralized, independent, light on assets, based in RVs or rental housing. No heavy overhead or labor demands for opulent Deity worship. They will make pilgrimages to existing temples, and encourage others to do so, but not try to emulate them.
Rent an apartment, get a few cases of books from the BBT, and set up a picture of the Pancatattva and they are operational. A set of kartals or a mrdunga and and it’s off to the park or campus for sankirtan and leaflets inviting interested parties back for an informal evening of chanting and sharing prasadam.
Who will your typical resurgent be? Not whom you might expect. When Srila Prabhupada came there was him, representing the oldest generation, then a huge gap to a bunch of newly minted adults. When he left, there was a vacuum.
Jung once said that some problems are never solved, you simply outgrow them. Instead of two generations of adults, the oldest and the productive stages, raising one generation of kids, ISKCON had only one, focused on production. Now, thirty years later, you are beginning to see the oldest generation, the elders, once again starting to be represented in ISKCON.
The leading edge are in their sixties, but most are in their 50s, still working but starting to get their homes paid off and their kids through college. When they reach retirement age, and start receiving some passive income in the form of Social Security, pensions, or equity conversion, they will start looking around and want something to do.
They will be able to afford to take up the preaching lifestyle. Some will become more active in the existing old school temples, but I predict that many of them will use their independence to adopt the tactics of the Resurgency — rent, few cases of books, a picture of Panchatattva and a lot of face to face time.
Some may do it directly, some may subsidize some young devotees and give them logistical support and let them do the hands on.
The Resurgency looms.