One national daily reported that a prominent law-en forcement official was visiting a European country where he saw a group of Hare Krsna devotees chanting in the street. One devotee requested him to participate and the official said: "Look, your ancestors came and converted my ancestors … now you do not try to convert me back again."
When someone undergoes religious conversion is it the victory of one objective over another or is it the discovery of a superior process for achieving the same goal?
Srila Prabhupada makes it very clear in his conversations with some guests and scholars. First he says that: "We are not preaching to Christian or Hindu or Muslim. We are preaching to human being. We do not say, 'Here is a Christian. Here is a Muslim. Here is a Hindu. Here is a white man. Here is a black man.' No. Every living being, his duty is to understand God. This is our preaching. This is our preaching, that 'You are living being. You are part and parcel of Krsna.' This designation, that 'You are Hindu,' 'You are Muslim,' 'You are Christian,' 'You are this' these are all designations. Actually you are living being, part and parcel of Krsna. Therefore your main duty is to understand Krsna."
"This is our preaching. We are not going to convert Hindu into Muslim, Muslim into Christian. No, that is not our business. He may think that he is Christian, he is Hindu, he is Muslim, but we think that he is a spirit soul, part and parcel of God. That is stated in as:
vidya-vinaya-sampanne brahmane gavi hastini
suni caiva sva-pake ca panditah sama-darsinah
If one is learned pandita, he does not see Hindu, Muslim, Christian. I went to America; I did not go there to turn the Christian to become Hindu. No, I never said that. Did I say, any, anyone, that "You are Christian. You become a Hindu."? No, never I said. That is not my business."
In another conversation he stated: 'ISO, submissively we shall try to hear from the authorized source, representative of God. San-mukharitam bhavadiya-vartam jivanti, lives, sthane sthitah. Sthane sthita~ means keeping himself in his position. Sthane sthitah. Just like you are hearing Bhagavad gita. Some of you are medical man. Some of you are engineer. Some of you businessman. Some of you clerk. That doesn't matter. You keep yourself in your position. You remain as American. You remain as Christian. It doesn't matte r. But there is no harm in hearing Bhagavad gita. There is no harm. You'll get knowledge. You'll get knowledge. You'll become better Christian. You'll become better American. You see? It is not the purpose, that we are trying to convert American into Indian, or Indian into American , or Christian into Hindu. That is not our mission. We are just preaching the science of Krsna, or science of God, Krsna consciousness. So everyone can learn this science. Just like when you go to college there is no question of whether a man is American or Indian or African. Everyone is allowed in the schools, college and universities to take science, knowledge. So this is Krsna consciousness, science of God. Everyone can take."
One reason why many intelligent people turn away from organized religion is that they disapprove this 'competitive' spirit involved in religious activities.
Among the mainstream religions today almost all have various ways of reaching Out to the flock and 'saving' others. You almost get the feeling that for every convert made the preacher is entitled to some 'brownie points'.
Srila Prabhupada was trying to establish a spiritual movement that grew from within a Hindu culture. In this he had natural allies amongst those who shared with him many of the common ideals of his culture. In his determination to achieve this purpose of bringing what he believed was a true spiritual message untainted by materialistic purposes, he could and did try to find such allies by appealing to such common interests.
A good example of this is the appeal he made to the Gandhi Memorial Fund in which he outlined how he intended to achieve Gandhian ideals such as the uplift of the Harijans, dissemination of the Bhagavad gita's message Ion an authentic basis'.
Of course the authentic basis was bhagavata dharma. Similarly, at one point he hoped to get grants in the context of Indian government cultural diplomacy by presenting his preaching efforts under the non sectarian designation of a 'cultural movement'. This was stated in similar terms to Nirmal Babu in 1970: 'So this Krsna consciousness cultural movement is not actually Hindu movement, but originally it is India cultural movement.'
As the movement grew in India, Prabhupada was made aware of other dangers which could grow out of an identification with Hinduism, specifically government interference in temple management such as was going on in Tirupati in South India. For this and other reasons, he recommended his disciples to openly deny any connection with Hinduism.
On other occasions, he overtly played to Hindu sensibilities. In his early days in New York, he solicited help from his benefactor Sumati Morarji for the construction of 'the first Hindu temple [in New York]': 'It will be recorded in the history of the world that the first Hindu temple is started by a pious Hindu lady Srimati Sumati Morarji who is not only a big business magnate in India but a pious Hindu Lady, a great devotee of Lord Krsna.' The object was 'to impress the people what actually the Hindu culture is'.
In this way Prabhupada made use of culturalties with 'Hindu' organizations for the purpose of preaching the message of the Vedas, even though he did not consider the message of the Vedas
to be 'Hindu' as such.
ISKCON belongs to the Gaudiya Vaisnava Samprada'a (denomination ortradition), a monotheistic tradition within Vedic or Hindu culture. Hindu culture is vast, and the term Hinduism encompasses numerous theologies, philosophies, religious traditions, and spiritual cultures. Thus, dialogue with Hindu traditions has been difficult for many seeking such dialogue. There are no official representatives of Hinduism, as the term Hinduism does not imply a single spiritual tradition. This statement therefore is representative of Hindu culture and religion as it is manifest in ISKCON, a Vedantic, monotheistic Vaiglava tradition.
(I) In ISKCON we consider love of a Supreme personal God to be the highest form of religious expression, and we recognise and respect this expression in other theistic traditions. We respect the spiritual worth of paths of genuine self realisation and search for the Absolute Truth in which the concept of a personal Deity is not explicit. Other communities and organisations advocating humanitarian, ethical and moral standards are also valued as being beneficial to society.
(2) ISKCON views dialogue between its members and people of other faiths as an opportunity to listen to others, to develop mutual understanding and mutual trust, and to share our commitment and faith with others, while respecting their commitment to their own faith.
(3) ISKCON recognizes that no one religion holds a monopoly on the truth, the revelation of God or our relationship with God.
(4) ISKCON's members are encouraged to be respectful to people of faith from other traditions and to see the need for people of different faiths to work together for the benefit of society as a
whole and for the glorification of God.
(5) ISKCON affirms the responsibility of each individual to develop his or her relationship with the Supreme Lord.
When Srila Prabhupada first registered ISKCON as a legal entity in New York in 1966, he stated that his primary aim for the movement was: 'To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.'
In pursuance of this aim, members of the Hare Krsna movement value charity, non violence, spiritual education, moral thought and action, devotion and service to God. We further value qualities such as humility, tolerance, compassion, cleanliness, self control, simplicity, steadiness, knowledge, honesty, and personal integrity. We value and respect the right to life of all other living beings, be they human, animal, aquatic or plant life. We value the environment and our natural resources as being God's property, which we have a responsibility to respect and protect.
We recognize the institution of the family to be an essential element in maintaining social stability and promoting spiritual values. We consider respect for parents, teachers and government representatives important for maintaining a stable society. Respect and protection for elders, women, children, weak and dependent living beings, and persons dedicated to the welfare of others and to the service of God are also important elements in the development of a healthy and secure society. We understand that many spiritual, altruistic and humanely inspired people share these principles and value. We respect and value any tradition or culture trying to promote, maintain and develop such qualities and behaviour.
Srila Prabhupada's mission is further elaborated in his pranama-mantra, in which it is stated that he came to deliver the Western countries from godlessness. Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838-1914), a revered Vaisnava acarya, explained that the enemy is not other religions, but atheism. The mission of Srila Prabhupada and the sampradaya (or religious tradition) he represented, promotes both morality and practices that support the development of individual and social spirituality, but it raises a challenge to atheistic and materialistic principles and values.