(From an old letter)


I am a devotee of Krishna and have been one for the past seven years. I am also of Indian origin, and my story is a typical one.

I have been living in North America since I was nine years old. My parents came here to complete their higher education, and upon completion of their doctorates, they decided to settle down in this, their adopted country. As the family grew, came careers, households, mortgages, etc. Along with this material, success came several perplexing questions: How to relate to a materialistic western society without losing Indian values; how to bring up children here and yet protect them from the excesses of this culture; how to teach children something of their cultural background, and finally, to decide what’ goals to follow themselves and what to transmit to their children.

For us, the second generation, the questions were just as perplexing. How to balance the clash of cultural boundaries =: we were expected to behave in a certain way by our parents, but in another way by friends, teachers, and colleagues. This clash of cultures would lead to some hilarious situations, and to some tragic ones, but always to conflict. How much loyalty were we to give to our cultural origins, and how much were we to imbibe from the culture we were living in? And finally, what values were we to take form our parents, and what were the ones to establish in our lives?

I believe that ISKCON can play a valuable role in resolving these questions, for both parents and children, because of the nature of ISKCON, and because of the genius of Srila Prabhupada.

Srila Prabhupada has done with ISKCON what each of us tried to do individually. That is, he took the essential elements of India’s culture and transplanted it in the Western environment and made it work. In fact, Srila Prabhupada’s genius lay in that he was true to the original, but yet made the changes necessary for it to flourish within the Western cultural concept. He called ISKCON “a cultural presentation for the re spiritualization of society.” ISKCON is a culture, maybe a very special culture, but a culture nonetheless. It is not just the local temple or an international organization, but a whole culture, based on certain eternal cultural values. Let us look deeper at the issues I have raised here.


In the mid-nineteenth century, Lord Macaulay spoke his famous Minute on the floor of the British parliament. It was based on a negative evaluation of the merits of Indian language and letters. It led to the founding of several schools, on the Indian subcontinent, usually run by missions. These schools were based on two central ideas:- To expose Indians to the English language (as Indian literature was not seen as having any merit) and to expose the students to western scientific, cultural, and religious ideals (By which, it was hoped, the populace would see that their own beliefs as backward, superstitious, and hopeless and convert wholesale to the religion of their masters.)

However, the hopes of the colonizers did not work out as expected. The schools did not produce very many religious Christian natives. Rather, the prevailing European doctrines of the time, rationalism and humanism, was what was retained by the students of these schools. It is fascinating to read about Bengal in the nineteenth century, where the forces of colonialism, English education, the native bhakti faith, and the Hindu revisionists of the Brahmo Samaj, all met and clashed for’ the minds of the future generations of Indians.

The mission schools spared no pains in deriding the native faith of the populace. Every attempt was made to show its inferiority to Christianity; being condemned as_ being superstitious idol-worship, primitive, and being the work of the devil himself. It was from this experience that Indians developed an inferiority complex about their own culture, and looked for an alternative. The Brahmo Samaj in Bengal and other revisionists in other parts of India formulated their different versions of Hinduism, usually at the expense of the original faith. This original faith was the path of bhakti, as taught by the great saints, such as Tulsidas, Tukaram, Soordas, Tyagaraga, Meerabai, Inanadev, Kabir, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and others. It was also elucidated in the scriptures such as the Srimad Bhagavatam and the Bhagavad Gita and rigorously expounded by the great acharyas such as Madhvacharya, Ramanujacharya, Vallabhacharya and others. Their vast teachings and their great faith was disregarded as somehow inferior to the rationalists and humanists of Europe, and also to the revisionists who aped these European philosophies.

The efforts of the revisionists received a great boost by the work of Swami Vivekananda, who formulated his own version of Hinduism, and gave it a political message. The goal of Hinduism no longer centered around devotion to Deity; rather it was about social work. He exhorted Hindus to “Arise, Awake and Unite.” “Bread is God,” he shouted, and our goal was to feed and clothe the starving millions. Just twenty odd years after the death of Vivekananda, it took a political genius such as Gandhi, to harness and provide leadership to the forces of political Hinduism let loose by Vivekananda and turn it towards the goal of political independence for India.

Vivekananda knew that, in spite of Western education, the intellectuals (and the common man) of the day would not be interested in any of his political philosophies unless cloaked within the garb of religion. The Indian was the most religious of people, and the authority he would accept would be the traditional one. He cleverly grafted his ideas of political independence and social work upon the tree of Vedanta. The philosophy of Shankaracharya, while much respected but little followed and of interest mainly to a certain class of brahmin intellectuals, became the vessel by which his ideas gained respectability in the traditional sense.

My parents’ generation was the heir to this ferment of ideas in India. Thus, they unhesitatingly took to schools based on the Western model, to gain an education in science and technology.
Their aims were noble enough: following the _ patterns of Vivekananda, it was to make India self-sufficient and independent. Through the long years of the Indian freedom movement, they went to schools, eagerly learning everything, waiting to take their place among those who struggled to make India strong and free. However, they graduated after independence, and found that opportunities were few, remuneration was low, and their services not so welcome by the socialists and communists ( the next to final fruit of western rationalist eductions the final fruit being decadence ) in the government.

They came west and settled down here. Meanwhile, the original faith of devotion, ridiculed as irrelevant in the “new” India, and contrary to the principles of progress, lay neglected and abused for at least three generations. Then, in 1965, as if by a miracle, a 69-year-old man with a trunkful of books and forty rupees in his pocket, set sail to America on a tramp steamer to try teaching the principles of bhakti upon a foreign shore after many years and many attempts to do so in India ended in failure. The rest, as they say, is history.


Arrival and establishment of the immigrant in North America is, and always has been, a great struggle. Still, Indian immigrants had some advantages. They were not refugees, nor were they uneducated. Rather, they were the dispossessed elite of an ancient civilization. Opportunities came soon, and success was quicker than expected. Of course, this is a generalization. There were several waves of Indian immigration to North America. The most recent ones are those of refugees, those from Africa, and from Sri Lanka. But by and large, the Indian immigrant has been very successful.

The problems of the parents are briefly, those of 1) culture, 2) success and 3) children. The bond to India remains quite strong, with relatives, land and culture still tying one to the home country. Should we remain here, or upon retirement, return to India. To what extent should materialism be allowed to rule our lives. Material success is necessary to become established, but if success is allowed to become paramount, then it can only lead to decadence ( as is already happening to the children.) Finally, how to teach the children the things of value in their own culture, and to convince them that they should retain these valuable aspects and goals of their culture in their lives.

Let us see the solutions that ISKCON can offer to these questions. My parents were very busy getting themselves established here and were not very concerned with questions such as these. Their first contact with ISKCON happened when they saw the devotees dancing in the street, with shaven heads and tilak. What a shock to see the familiar in a completely unexpected context! Curious, they visited the temple and quickly recognized it as authentic (though being practiced by westerners.) There, upon attending the Sunday feast lectures, they encountered the questions about culture and faith for the first time since leaving India; maybe for the first time in their lives. ,

First the question of culture. Srila Prabhupada stressed that he was not attempting to establish Indian culture or “Hinduism.” Rather, he was introducing “eternal culture.” He Stressed that Krishna consciousness was not for some small sect of Bengalis, but rather was the natural function of the soul. Thus it was not necessary to be in India or return to India. Rather the best of Indian culture could be practiced right here in North. America. And it is certainly a fact that for a large number of Indians, the ISKCON temples became their home away from home.

Secondly, the question of success. Srila Prabhupada was very strong about this point. In fact, he severely criticized Indians who would come to North America just to make money. And, if we are honest, he was very much in the right to criticize us. My personal experience is that wealthy Indian families who place all the emphasis on success, and little, if any, on cultivating spiritual and moral values, are very swiftly traversing the path of corruption and decadence. Alcoholism and drugs, what to speak of meat-eating and smoking are no longer strangers to such families. ISKCON has always emphasized the need to follow certain basic moral standards and has maintained this standard of purity through its history.

Finally the question of the children’s values. All attempts of my parents to instill certain values always ended in failure. There are several reasons for this: first, they themselves were unsure about what they were trying to teach us. For example, attempts to teach us about religion went like this. ” Deities are Just representations of the ultimate reality,” they would say, reflecting the confused, revisionist philosophy they were taught, “but you should worship them.” We would reply, “If they are not real, why to worship them ?” And that was the end of that. Or the attempts would center around aspects of Indian culture that were, in our lives, not terribly important or relevant. There would be interminable struggles with arcane aspects of classical music or dance, while inside the children would singing along with the Beatles or dancing with Michael Jackson.

Iskcon makes the true and essential aspects of Vedic culture available to all of us in English, rather than in Sanskrit or other Indian languages that we, unfortunately, only barely understood. Srila Prabhupada already did the process of sifting through the vast field of Indian culture and successfully implanted the essential elements of it in the west. It is a successful model. It is presented by him in a clear, logical and fully integrated manner. To fully participate in the culture of Krishna Consciousness is to imbibe the eternal values, norms and most importantly, the basic attitudes of Vedic culture and integrate it in daily life. Thus there is no question of irrelevancy or confusion here.


My father was the first to take me to the ISKCON temple. Aside from the fascination of seeing the devotees, especially the women in saris, I did not like it at all. I was young, and my mind was bent upon sense-enjoyment. I especially did not like what I considered to be a “conservative Hindu” philosophy but wanted to “have fun” with my western friends. About ten years later, I met a devotee on the street who invited me to visit a center they had near the university. This was my first real encounter with the devotees. My father, who would always encourage me to visit the temple, became alarmed when I actually started to do so. Religion is fine, so he said, but it should be practiced at a distance.

My preference for having fun in opposition to my father’s concern for values, is, of course, the clash of cultures that is so common in all immigrant families. I was not, at that age, familiar with the background or history of my parents’ education or attitudes, or of why they came here in the first place. My problem was that I was forced to deal with their attitudes, and to reconcile them with those of the society I was living in. Our problem was that there was no idea presented to us as to how to resolve this conflict. In some ways, the reaction of our parents to this problem only compounded it. They would become overly Protective, especially with the girls, stifling our creativity, and causing great resentments.

ISKCON provided a way in which to resolve this dilemma. While it is itself evolving in a dynamic way, the greatest help was that it provided persons of my own age, western and Indian, with whom I could relate to. Here were young persons, who spoke in a way I could relate to, who were incorporating into their lives certain universal values. It was also a bridge between the generations. I could now understand my devoted grandmother, in a way my parents could never understand. I could see that I could live within the culture of Krishna Consciousness and also live in the culture of the West. I now have friends who are Indians, French Canadians, English, etc who are all of the same faith and culture. I am also a part of a worldwide family, and I am assured that no matter where in the world I go, I will always be welcome in the family of devotees.

In the schools we attended, and in the cultural activities that we were enrolled in, never was any aspect of values or morality discussed. In stark contrast, Srila Prabhupada was adamant that his disciples follow some basic rules of behavior. This was quite a shock for some. There was no ambiguity about this. For example, the whole question of vegetarianism. Our family was completely vegetarian, but my family never went out of the way to stress its value. When, in high school, due to peer pressure, I started to eat meat, they did not discourage me. In fact, their attitude was that, somehow, it was expected that their children would take up this habit and that they were somehow wrong in being vegetarian. However, once I became a devotee, and internalized the vegetarian commandment, it became very easy to follow its precepts. It was no longer difficult to explain to my peers that I do not eat meat. I have finished my university education, worked for five years in business without having to compromise this ideal.

Finally, and most importantly, the philosophy of Krishna Consciousness transcends all these material cultural considerations. It is not that I am practicing “Indian” culture, or following “Hinduism.” The path of devotion to Krishna, is, as Srila Prabhupada decisively proved, something that any person, regardless of origin or nationality, can pursue successfully. This fact of universality removes once and for all, the dichotomy of the culture clash.


We have so far spoken only of the first and second generation. But we should think of the succeeding generations. One reason for my writing this essay is that my wife and I are blessed by Krishna with a beautiful young son. So the circle comes around, but with one exception. And that exception is Krishna Himself. And this is my confidence that my son will have a better time of it than I did.

However, I do not feel very confident about the future of the ‘Indian community in the West. The second generation has already moved a large distance from the cultural values of their parents. The assimilation will be complete in the third or fourth generation. These fears are reflected in the frenetic temple building and establishment of cultural associations by the Indian community today. This is fine, but if these institutions have no meaning in the life of its members, they will not last. It will be like a shell on a beach, which is full of colors and patterns when seen from above, but when picked up, is empty inside.

ISKCON allows its members to participate in a dynamic, growing society Without the fears of ghettoization or assimilation. Of course, over time there may be some ghettoization or assimilation. ISKCON itself is not a static society, but itself growing and maturing. In the early years of the movement, it was somewhat immature in its attitudes to several social and cultural issues. However, as the central values of the culture is strong, it will survive and grow. I request our Indian readers to please participate in this discussion. I am sure that many see yourselves in this essay.

I also invite Indian parents and children (as well as others) to participate fully in the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. To become full participants in this Society requires one has to become serious about his spiritual life. This means more than just attending the Sunday feasts. Specifically, this means that, on a practical level, one should accept an authentic guru and follow his instructions, to chant the maha-mantra, and to follow the basic regulations of the Society. This will start one the path of devotion, and engage him in the process of Sravanam, Kirtanam and Vishnu Smaranam. One will find his life transformed and beautifully enriched. Thus it will be seen that all differences of culture, race, or origin are resolved at the lotus feet of Sri Krishna.

Source: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=80774

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