| |

Reply to Christian misinterpretation of ISKCON and Gaudiya Vaishnavism

This is an open reply to this article: so similar to many others found on Evangelical sites. They repeat the same misconceptions and shallow understanding. Earlier I wrote to some of these sites (one letter is included in Apology texts) explaining problems to be corrected but nothing happened. By the application of the principle of "phalena phala-karanam anumiyate" from the doctrine of Nyaya (logic), i.e. 'judging by the fruits', I've concluded that these sites are not seriously pursuing truth but only their own agenda. Webmasters didn't even have enough decency to reply. Whoever feels a reply is needed, let them do so through email on our Contact page.

This Hindu sect, however distinct it is in its unique adherence to Krishna, is still quite Hindu since even Krishna is but a manifestation (or "Avatar") of Vishnu—one of the classic deities of Hinduism.

'Hinduism' (a word derived from river Sindhu, now called Indus) is an umbrella term for all Vedic and even some non-Vedic traditions found in India. It's not a traditional term found in Vedic scriptures and therefore to use it means to lump often very different traditions in. An analogy would be to lump Judaism, Christianity and Islam into an artificial category called 'Jordanism' (since they are traditions from the area of Jordan river). The proper term for Vedic tradition is sanatana dharma or vaidika (Vedic) dharma.
Regarding Krishna as the Supreme Lord, the source of Vishnu, vs. a mere avatara of Vishnu issue see the article on avatAras.

Moreover, Hare Krishnas retain the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu Scripture, as well as the doctrines of reincarnation and karma.

From the above it is understood that BG is not a Hindu but Vedic scripture. 'Veda' means 'knowledge' in general and it refers to _all knowledge_, both material and spiritual knowledge, applicable to all beings in the universe. So the BG is relevant to everyone - but not everyone is able or ready to accept it. This is quite natural though.

Regarding karma and reincarnation see further below.

Christian idea of man's highest goal being to worship God and enjoy Him forever

If that is a Christian idea (which I doubt) then Vaisnavism (any of its four major traditions) teaches something completely opposite - that we are meant for God's enjoyment, not the other way round.

Some Christian overtones should be obvious at this point, even though the ISKON is a distinctly Hindu cult. Due to the mystical "devotion" expressed in chanting and dancing, the Hare Krishnas can be compared to Sufi Muslims ("Whirling Dervishes"), and some mystical expressions of Christianity which emphasize ecstatic experiences and mystical transcendence.

First, it's ISKCON, not ISKON. Second, this is a shallow understanding. Sufis are mostly monists, while Vaisnavas are dualists. As far as Christian mysticism is concerned, with all due respect, the realizations of Christian mystics are not as profound as those of Vaisnava mystics. Whatever is only vague in texts on bridal mysticism is very specific in Vaisnava texts. This is an objective fact, evidence galore.

The larger culture of the United States was shifting to a new religious paradigm of which ISKON was another player.

If this new paradigm is called a New Age then ISKCON is distinctively different, sharing only a few points with it (like karma and reincarnation - although their understanding is also rather different due to a crucial difference between monist vs. dualist approaches).

During the 1960s and 1970s, Hare Krishnas were so prevalent in public places such as airports that laws had to be passed to prevent them from accosting people with their often aggressive and intimidating demands for money.

What is not stated here is that ISKCON won several court cases and until this day its members can be present in most U.S. airports.

The ISKON is quite demanding of its adherents. Becoming a member involves choosing a guru and becoming his disciple. This guru is so critical that it is said, "without [the Guru] the cultivation of Krishna consciousness is impossible. From the devotee's side, “initiation means that he accepts the guru as his spiritual master and agrees to worship him as God." (Ron Rhodes, The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions 2001, pg. 176). And the whole of one's life is to be encompassed by Krishna-centered practice and devotion. As such, ISKON pulls its members into commune-type settings where all discussion and life is deliberately centered around Krishna. Very intricate rules are established in these communities to make sure that all activity is Krishna-centered.

When compared to some Christian monastic communes, ISKCON appears not at all strict. Actually, it resembles in many ways the early Christian Mediterranean Churches, complete with the guru (a bishop, a staretz).

It must be noted that these communities have been questioned by ex-members and outsiders alike who allege illegal and immoral practices within the safety of their relative isolation. The ISKON has been accused of great evils in this regard, even though such allegations, were they true, should not be hastily attributed to ISKON doctrine specifically but rather to the practices of some Hare Krishnas. A similar example could be made, for Christians, with the moral downfall of certain Christian Leaders and Televangelists.

Agreed. This is the real problem found in all genuine religions - inability of individuals to follow the religion's teachings and rules. This situation was not taken lightly within ISKCON and many measures were adopted to prevent such future excesses.

The beliefs of the Krishnas are typically Hindu and are largely incompatible with biblical Christianity. First, the view of God is basically pantheistic, meaning that they believe God is all and in all. For Hare Krishnas, God is everything and everything is God.

This is a serious misinterpretation. Vaisnavism is panentheistic - it accepts both immanence and transcendence of God. God is an eternal transcendent supreme person who possesses unlimited immanent energies. So everything is God's, not God.

For the Christian, God is transcendent—He is above all that He created.

So is He for the Vaisnava:

"Deluded by the three modes [goodness, passion and ignorance], the whole world does not know Me, who am above the modes and inexhaustible." (BG 7.3)

"You are the original Personality of Godhead, the oldest, the ultimate sanctuary of this manifested cosmic world. You are the knower of everything, and You are all that is knowable. You are the supreme refuge, above the material modes. O limitless form! This whole cosmic manifestation is pervaded by You!" (BG 11.38)

One of the tenets of ISKON thought is that we actually achieve relational unity with God ourselves. Christians can relate somewhat to this idea since Bhakti Hinduism, to which ISKON subscribes, is nearly theistic in its view of God and admittedly teaches that man can enter into a loving relationship with God. The Hare Krishna, however, is a little blurry on how relational this ultimate goal actually is. The goal of the Hare Krishna is to reach a "Krishna consciousness," a kind of enlightenment. This is the deepest identification with Krishna.

Not at all blurry, just the opposite! The relationship of each living being with God is individual and categorized into five major types - passive, servant, friend, parent and lover. Our relationships in the material world are a dim reflection of these original relationships in God's kingdom. Krishna consciousness (Krishna bhakti rasa) is the natural state of every living being there.

In so far as ISKON is truly Hindu, it can ascribe to a pantheist view of God and therefore teach that man is ultimately identical to God. The Christian may recognize in these words a faint and deceptive whisper dating back to the Garden of Eden, "you will be as God" (Genesis 3:5).

See above. The essential teaching of Vedanta sutra is that the man is not and will never be identical to God (1.3.42-43, 4.4.17-21). Monists may try to explain it away though but in vain.

Like all false religions, salvation for the Hare Krishna is reduced to a series of works. Yes, devotion and relationship are packed into their belief system. But these are built up from works. And, in practice there remains a push to chant more, dance more, and always work harder lest one retain some bit of karmic debt and fail to enter into Krishna consciousness. Self-denial and sacrifice are also crucial for salvation in ISKON.

Vaisnavism is definitely _not_ based on works! This is a complete misinterpretation due to an ignorance or a purpose.

Some Vedic traditions (karma kanda) are but they are rejected by Krishna in BG. The spiritual efforts are not meant to achieve liberation but are already on the liberated stage. The liberation itself is only a beginning of a real spiritual life and is a result of a 'causeless mercy', in Sanskrit 'ahaituki kripa' (synonyms are anugraha, anukampa, bhagya, daya, karuna, matri and prasada). I have tried to compile a list of their occurrences in Vedic/Vaishnava texts but they're so numerous that the list is only a sample - only those with exact numeric references are included leaving out many poems and proses:

Bhagavad gita 2.64-65, 11.1,44, 18.56,58,62,73,75
Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam) 1.2.3, 1.5.24-26,30, 1.6.31, 1.11.35, 2.7.16,23,32, 2.9.32, 2.10.4, 3.8.26, 3.9.11-12,34,38, 3.21.20, 3.27.28, 4.8.45, 4.9.4, 4.16.2, 4.22.42, 4.29.46, 5.3.9, 5.6.19, 5.19.9, 5.24.18, 5.25.10 (description of Sri Ananta), 7.9.5,26,42, 8.23.2, 10.2.38, 10.9.18, 10.12.27, 10.14.8,29,55
Garga samhita 6.22.76
Katha Upanisad 1.2.20
Narada Bhakti Sutra 2.25,30, 3.38.40-41 (specific definitions of bhakti)
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu - Siksastaka 2,5
Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami - Caitanya Caritamrta 1.1.4, 1.3.4,58,63, 1.4.52,275, 1.5.29, 1.8.65, 1.10.56,70, 1.13.98,122, 1.17.114, 2.1.1, 2.2.82, 2.6.235, 2.8.236, 2.9.160-162, 2.10.119,135, 2.20.122
Vrindavana dasa Thakura - Caitanya Bhagavata 1.1.54, 1.2.188, 1.4.2, 2.6.103
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada - Markine Bhagavata Dharma 4

Salvation for the Hare Krishna is thoroughly entwined with the Hindu concept of karma, or retributive justice.

Judeo-Christian tradition also accepts karma (Greek: 'krima' and 'krino' associated with God's judgement, derived Eng. 'crime') - 'as you sow, you shall reap'. Some references: Genesis 9:5-6, Job 4:8, Proverbs 5:21-23, Ezekiel 18:20-21, Matthew 7:1-2, John 5:14, 12:48-49, II Corinthians 9:6, 11:14-15, Galatians 6:5-9, II Thessalonians 1:6.

2 Samuel (DRC):

22:21. The Lord will reward me according to my justice: and according to the cleanness of my hands he will render to me.
22:22. Because I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22:23. For all his judgments are in my sight: and his precepts I have not removed from me.
22:24. And I shall be perfect with him: and shall keep myself from my iniquity.
22:25. And the Lord will recompense me according to my justice: and according to the cleanness of my hands in the sight of his eyes.
22:26. With the holy one thou wilt be holy: and with the valiant perfect.
22:27. With the elect thou wilt be elect: and with the perverse thou wilt be perverted.
22:28. And the poor people thou wilt save: and with thy eyes thou shalt humble the haughty.

More here.

On the other hand, there are practically no explicit mentions of reincarnation in the Bible, although many try to prove otherwise by pseudointerpretation. See

It is only when his good deeds have counterbalanced his bad deeds that he can cease the cycles of rebirth and realize his oneness with Krishna.

This is an usual misunderstanding. Good and bad deeds are not neutralized by each other. They're like two separate bank accounts. One has to remove both and this is not possible by any material actions.

How different this is from the compassionate and merciful God of the Bible who "so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

There is only one God who He assumes various forms and displays various moods, sometimes bewildering to those who don't really know Him (His names, forms, qualities and activities). Let us compare. God has unlimited names. Here are several ones corresponding to the given Biblical texts:

He's omnipresent: Psalm 139:7-12
Vishnu: Bhagavad-gita 11.30

He's all-knowing: Psalm 147:5
Sarva-vid: BG 15.19

He's all-powerful: Matthew 19:26
Bhagavan: BG 2.2

He's forever God: Psalm 90: 1-2
Parama-ishvara: BG 11.3

His characters never change: Psalm 102:27
Avikara: Bhagavata Purana 3.7.2

He's perfect: Matthew 5:48
Siddhesha: BhP 1.3.10

He's holy: Leviticus 11:44
Punya-sloka: BhP 1.14.6

He's a good God: Mark 10:18
Bhadra: BhP 2.1.21

He is love: 1 John 4:8
Prema-rasa-murtiman: Caitanya-caritamrta 3.7.38

He's the truth: Deuteronomy 32:4
Satya Para: BhP 1.1.1

His voice is like a thunder: 2 Samuel 22:14, Psalm 18:13, 29:3, 37:4-5, 40:9, 77:18, 104:7
BhP 4.30.7 (parjanya nada), Garga samhita 1.3.23, 2.18.32, 4.7.18 (megha-gambhiraya gira), Gopala sahasranama 20 (kolahala), 71 (megha-nada-ha), Nrsimha sahasranama 66 (parjanya)

Fire coming out of His mouth: 2 Samuel 22:9
His mouth is the blazing fire (mukham agnir iddhah): BhP 2.1.29, 8.20.26

He rides on a cherub: 2 Samuel 22:11
He rides on Garuda (Garuda-arudhah, etc.): BhP 2.7.16, 3.2.24, 3.21.22, 3.28.24, 3.33.37, 4.7.19, 4.9.1,26, 4.20.22, 4.30.5-6, 5.14.42, 5.20.8, 5.24.29, 6.4.36, 6.6.22, 6.8.12,29, etc. (60 texts just in BhP)

And even where Hare Krishnas rightly assert that a loving relationship is necessary for salvation, Krishna is still the wrong object of devotion.

Not at all. Jesus Himself asks us to love God above everyone and everything else:

"God declares, 'Everyone follows My path.' For as there is one God, there is one religion: devotional service to God in full surrender. We should not be misled by sectarian designations. Although 'Islam,' for example, is used to denote a sectarian community or its faith, the term al islam itself is not thus exclusive and particular, but means simply 'the submission,' or 'the surrender.' This one true, essential, and universal religion is also unerringly indicated by Jesus. When asked to cite the greatest commandment in the law, he replies, quoting the Pentateuch, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind'." (Ravindra Svarupa dasa, The Descent of God, Back To Godhead #20-05, 1985)

Hare Krishnas, like all humanity, have only one hope for eternal life: Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected and exalted forever. All other paths, sad to say, lead to destruction. Jesus Himself said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me" (John 14:6) for "there is salvation in no other One; for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Therefore Vaisnavas actually follow Him in their daily lives as He asks (Mark 8:34, John 7:17, 8:51, 12:26, 14:15,21,23, 15:10,14). They don't just pass proclamations which He condems in Matthew 7:21-23: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

As far as "other paths", this text clearly says that there's much more of Jesus's activities than those written in the Bible:

John 21:25 (DRC): But there are also many other things which Jesus did which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.

He is the one who attracts all (John 12:32), i.e. Sankarshana!

"Those who follow this imperishable path of devotional service and who completely engage themselves with faith, making Me the supreme goal, are very, very dear to Me." (BG 12.20)

God's names are unlimited and all are capable to deliver salvation. Vaisnavism teaches that they can give even more - a pure love of God. This is the real message of Jesus, not just salvation which is only the beginning. 'Be perfect as is your Father in heaven', He urges.

One of the main Vaisnava practices is a continuous prayer, by repetition of God's names, prominent especially in Eastern Orthodox tradition: Luke 24:53, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Thes. 5:17, 1 Tim 2:8 (pray without ceasing, everywhere, with raised hands), Hebrews 13:15 (continual sacrifice of praise to God, giving thank to His name). The last Psalm (150) describes vividly the essential practice of Vaisnavism - the congregational glorification of the Lord with music instruments:

1 Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
2 Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
3 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
4 Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
5 Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
6 Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.

Hope this sheds some light on this issue. Hare Krishna.

BVKS reply to xian innuendo 1
BVKS reply to xian innuendo 2
BVKS reply to xian innuendo 3

Please support us:  
© 2001 - 2024 VEDA - Bhaktivedanta Book Trust -, authors. CC-BY-SA J. Mares (contact)