The Path of Much Resistance
Here are some thoughts on the current outreach efforts of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava missions in the Western countries.
In the western countries, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava outreach and community building seems to have taken a distinct path. Largely, the missions seem to have put their focus on catering to expat Hindus. The energy allocated towards organizing programs to serve the local western population pales in comparison.
Why is that? These are my thoughts on the matter.
In physics, there is a general principle that an object will usually follow the path of least resistance. Indian expatriates are often eager to support temples and festivals with their money and time. This pious commonality is a great thing around which to build a community. They generally feel that they should be doing this.
Westerners, on the other hand, generally have the feeling that they shouldn’t be contributing towards a spiritual organization, especially one as exotic as what we have to offer. A bit of kirtan is nice, maybe listen to a class or two, enjoy the feasts; but to pay a regular tithe from the coffers? No thanks. Either in this life or in previous lives, we Westerners have experienced what I call “theistic trauma”, which creates much resistance towards all but the most impersonal of pseudo-spiritual outlooks: nirviśeṣa-śūnyavād.
For example, if I were ever asked to give a talk in front of an Indian audience with no time to prepare, I wouldn’t worry a bit. I can talk about how Mākhana-cora Kṛṣṇa steals butter and feeds it to the monkeys. I can describe the different sounds from Kṛṣṇa’s various flutes and the effects they have on the residents of Vṛndāvana. This same talk to a Western audience might be seen as adorable, but not hugely relevant to their perceived needs. Who knows? Maybe I should try it sometime?
For Westerners to make any sort of commitment, they need to see value in that decision and gain enough trust to suspend their often justifiable apprehensions. For us, that requires a deeper commitment to our own growth. It means we have to become better people and do the internal work.
Western seekers aren’t interested in doctrine. They want to see the fruits of our advancement. They want to see how we tolerate adversity, how we treat those suffering from misfortune, if we speak ill or positively of others behind their backs. Oh … wait …
The symptoms of a sādhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime. (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.25.21)
Converse to working with the Indian diaspora, Westerners give us no cultural cushion upon which we can recline.
Taking the path of least resistance will bear a different kind of fruit from the one that requires growth and maturation to succeed. This isn’t to say that internal development is unnecessary to serve an Indian congregation, it’s just that without selfless sincerity, we have no appeal whatsoever to the Western community. If anything, we’re repulsive. This is a difficult cross to bear, but it’s the task laid out for those who aspire to carry the mission of our predecessors forward.
We can’t just speak the philosophy. We have to be the philosophy.
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These words were not generated with or augmented by artificial intelligence; just “flawsome” human thoughts here … with, of course, due homage to The Algorithm that abides over us all.
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