Next to every Hare Krishna temple there should be a mental institution!

Disclaimer: was not personally involved or connected with the production of this post.
Post transcribed, edited and produced by Alexander Shenkar.

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Key Points:

  • If we train people in fanatical ways to see everything black and white, then their minds are not functioning correctly.
  • Indians are much more ritualistic and superstitious than Westerners.
  • We can't be trained in a way where we are focusing on, "Did I offend?"
  • Often we're trained by people who focus on rules and regulations a lot of which are really not that important.
  • We don't want to create a society of paranoid people.
  • Krishna consciousness is not about rules and regulations. It's about affection. It's about service.

If the result of our training is that people come to a point where they are not even confident in their own intelligence and in their own intuition, then we’re making people mentally ill. It sounds kind of funny and awkward, and ironically paradoxical, but my point is that it happens. If we train people in fanatical ways to see everything black and white, then their minds are not functioning correctly; and they make wrong decisions that perhaps they would not have made if they hadn’t been trained that way.

Maybe some practical examples would be good. Let’s give some practical examples. What is common, and I find this more common amongst Indians than Westerners; ok, I have to preface this with a funny story: Indian religion is much more ritualistic than Western religion. Indians are generally more superstitious and in some cases they are superstitious for right reasons because there are certain things that we should do that are correct that are auspicious and some things are inauspicious; and they are more aware of that than people that are not Hindus. But, it can also backfire because they may take it to an extreme where it doesn’t make sense. It’s auspicious to do A, B and C – and then they’ll make E, D and G which have nothing to do with spirituality. You know, if you move into a new house, you do what’s called a griha-pravesg yagya which is auspicious. So before you move in, do something auspicious. That’s fine, as far as I know, that’s there in sastra. You also do a proper birth ceremony, which is an auspicious activity found in sastra. So Indians know this; they know there are certain auspicious days to do things, and inauspicious days. When you circumambulate, when you go around clockwise, that’s auspicious. Counterclockwise is inauspicious. You honor someone by walking around them clockwise. There are certain flowers which are considered auspicious for certain deities.

Indians are much more ritualistic and superstitious than Westerners.
Indians are much more ritualistic and superstitious than Westerners.

If you take that to an extreme then you can become overly concerned, “Did I really do this wrong? What’s going to happen?” And you know, when I say overly concerned, I mean very fearful. It limits often clearly being able to think about situations and being able to act more naturally because you’re overly concerned, “Was this right? Was this ok? Did I do the wrong thing? I was supposed to do it this way. Did I make an offense? Oh, I think I made an offense.” And then, you actually did not make an offense but because you thought you made an offense then you’re really upset and you believe that maybe your Krishna consciousness is going to be damaged because you said something or did something which is offensive when actually it wasn’t. But by just thinking that it was, you start believing it was and then you start feeling that your Krishna consciousness is weakening when it really isn’t. Can you relate to all this? (It’s within my experience. I’ve seen it.)

A funny thing that happened: we wen’t to this park built by an organization called Shaiva Siddhanta. It had a lot of beautiful statues of Ganesh and Shiva Linga, and they had eucalyptus trees. Prabhupada used eucalyptus tree twigs to brush his teeth. So I got a eucalyptus and I said, “Prabhupada used this to brush his teeth.” And so I started demonstrated how you would do it. And they said, “Do you want to take one?” And I said, “Ok.” So they pulled a branch with a lot of twigs and leaves. So we’re walking to a car and we see a lady doing a puja and I turn to the devotee and I said, “Next time you come, everyone is going to be carrying these leaves because they think these leaves are auspicious,” because there are certain leaves like kusha grass that is considered very auspicious physically and spiritually – just auspicious to carry. So I said, – I was joking, well, partially serious – “Well, next time, when you come here everyone will be walking around here with eucalyptus leaves.” And within 10 seconds of me saying that there was a lady there and she saw me carrying like 20 leaves and a few twigs, and she asked the devotee, “Should I be carrying that? Is that auspicious?” And he just started laughing. So you understand my point? Indian culture is like that. You always want to do the auspicious thing because you get good result; and you want to make sure you don’t do the inauspicious thing.

If we bring people to Krishna consciousness and we train them – which we should – in what is auspicious and what is inauspicious – what is right and what is wrong, what is proper and what is improper, but we train them in a way where they start to become fanatical, black and white, overly, overly, overly concerned about right and wrong when they shouldn’t be, then we’ll have to open up a mental hospital next to the temple because all those people are going to go crazy. And I’m sure you can relate to it. Maybe that’s a good idea. Maybe next to every Hare Krishna temple there should be a mental institution. Hahah. Hare Krishna! Ok, you know I’m just joking, but it may not be a bad idea after all. I’m dead serious because I’ve seen all this.

It concerns when you take someone who can function normally and you put them into a situation where they are so concerned about what is right and wrong that they are not actually able to think clearly because so many people are saying, “Don’t do that it’s wrong! You shouldn’t have done that!” And then you start thinking, “I’ve offended that person”; and you fall into maya because you think you’re getting the results of an offense when you actually did not even offend. Now that’s a problem. That is a serious problem. Because the way the mind works, is that if you believe something then it becomes real to you. So even if you didn’t offend anyone but you believe you did, the result of that offense which you didn’t make will come to you because you think and feel that you’re experiencing the result of an offense. I’s almost like you could psychologically throw yourself into maya just by thinking that you made an offense. That’s a very unhealthy state to be in.

Don’t train devotees to feel like they’re walking on eggshells, like that they can’t do anything because they don’t know.
Don’t train devotees to feel like they’re walking on eggshells, like that they can’t do anything because they don’t know.

Don’t train devotees to feel like they’re walking on eggshells, like that they can’t do anything because they don’t know. When people were new devotees, they would join the temple and there would be so many things that were different, “Only eat with your right hand.” We didn’t let men wear underwear, we only wear kaupins. And there was no toilet paper. Sometimes there were no toilet seats. You would squat on the toilet and use water. You would wake up at four o’clock in the morning, when previously that’s when you would go to sleep. And you’re wearing what appears to be a diaper instead of pants. You know, everything is different here. You’re wearing paint on your forehead. It’s like really different, right? And now you have a pony tail at the back of your head. You’re really in a different world. Aren’t you? Hahah! And we used to eat on the floor and put wax paper on the floor and put the prasadam on it. So you’re eating off the floor on wax paper. I mean, your life is really different! You could be a little confused.

You don’t really know what to do if you’re not a Hindu. You have to be told. You make so many mistakes. If people get on your case too much it could be too much, unless you like ritual. You know, “This is great! I like to know exactly how to do everything!” Some people are like that; it’s not a problem for them. But for others, “Don’t do that, don’t do that! You did that wrong!” – it could be difficult. We don’t want to make Krishna consciousness all about the rules. We want to make it about the consciousness.

We’re all individuals. Some people go into a temple in the same situation and they may not have that experience because we’re different. We relate differently. Some people are more submissive and more cooperative. And other people, you ask them to do something and they say, “I’m not going to do it. That’s stupid!” – which is not the way you’re trained as a devotee. You’re trained to do what you’re asked. But some people are like that. So, maybe those people will relate differently.

The problem is that if we’re being guided by people who don’t understand everything that I’m saying then it can be bad for us. Here is the problem: A lot of times in the way we’re trained and dealt with, the people who are training us are focusing on things that aren’t important. They’re giving us a list of rules and regulations a lot of which are really not that important. And then you start getting too concerned about rules and regulations. “Is it ok if I do this? I did this and they told me I was wrong. They told me I was chanting too fast. Ohhh – what’s wrong with me!? I’m chanting too fast, maybe I shouldn’t chant any more?” You know, it’s ok! Slow down a little bit – or were you really chanting too fast? These are unnecessary things to waste your energy on. But unfortunately in some situations they are like that because some people by culture or by nature are very very ritualistic and very black and white and very much trained in this is “right” and this is “wrong.”

I’m not saying that there are not rights and wrongs in ISKCON, but it can go to extremes in which you lose sight of what is the purpose of right and wrong. And then it can just become – for lack of a better word – from my perception – it could just become weird. Very weird way to practice devotional service. A weird way to be trained. And it could make you weird and the worst thing that it does is that you will train other people this way. So Krishna consciousness is more natural. And Guru/disciple relationships are more natural. Disciples are saying, “Did I make an offense to you Guru Maharaj?” If you’re going to spend your entire life worrying if you’ve made an offense to your spiritual master, then we need that mental hospital for you because you’re going to have a mental breakdown sooner or later.

There are a thousand ways you can offend your spiritual master, but did you really offend and did he actually take offense? Rarely if at all. So, what’s the real point? The real point is that you want to worry about serving your spiritual master. Why focus on “Did I make an offense?” We can’t be trained in a way where we are focusing on, “Did I offend? I don’t want to offend my spiritual master.” That’s not your relationship with your spiritual master; that not how to avoid an offense. The relationship is to hear and to serve. Right? You understand what I’m saying? “Oh no, Maharaj is coming I hope I don’t make an offense. I’m so offensive. My mind is so bad. Maybe I shouldn’t come to the temple. Maybe I should just stay home and put my mind in a pot of ice water and then I’ll be ok.” You know? What are you supposed to do?

Krishna consciousness is about affection. It’s about service. When we talk about what is offense or improper, we have to look at more in terms of its essence. We could do something wrong and it’s not improper because our intention was to do something right. Our heart was there in the right place. So I did something wrong. A devotee came to my house and I offered him water instead of milk, or I offered him milk instead of water. “Ok, he wanted water and I offered him milk. That was the wrong thing.” But why did I give him milk? Because I thought that milk was better than water. Ok, my brain should have understood that if somebody wants water then they don’t want milk. But my heart said, “Milk is better than water.” So my heart was in the right place. So it that an offense?

Think of it this way. I find this extremely sad but also extremely funny: Let’s say you’re not a devotee and you went to a friend’s house and said, “I’m really thirsty may I have some water?” And he gives you a cup of milk and says, “We just got this cow and the milk is so good that you’ve just got to try it.” And what would you say? Would you say, “That’s offensive! I asked for water and you gave me milk! You’re OFFENSIVE!” You wouldn’t say that? No body would say that. Would they? Hah – I don’t think so, right? Because you were just trying to serve out of your heart. So actually it was nice. You would say, “Thank you, I really just want some water but I really appreciate you offering the milk and maybe I’ll take it later.” You wouldn’t say that’s wrong or offensive. When I say wrong, I don’t mean like depositing 4 million dollars into the wrong bank account. Like, you wrote the wrong bank account number down and somebody else got the 4 million dollars. No, not like that. I’m saying, you thought this guest of yours, a spiritual master or senior devotee would like this but you gave them that. And they say, “No, no thank you but I really prefer this.” “Ohhh I must have made an offense. I’m so bad. What hell am I going to? I can’t do anything right!” To live that way is unhealthy.

Often we're trained by people who focus on rules and regulations a lot of which are really not that important.
Often we’re trained by people who focus on rules and regulations a lot of which are really not that important.

Due to our natures or due to the way we are preached, sometimes we may think that way. So the point is that you weren’t offensive because your heart was in the right place. Even if you deposit money in the wrong account, by the strict definition of offense, it’s not really an offense; it’s just an extremely unintelligent spaced out thing to do which as a result has displeased your spiritual master so much that as a consequence you’re in big trouble. But my point is, when you make an offense, generally it’s willful – like when you criticize a devotee; it’s willful. I mean, you may be bewildered by maya, but still, you could prevent it. Sometimes you offer milk, but it’s not a premeditated act of vengeance. That’s generally when a normal person would take offense; they’re taking offense because the person who is offending them is actually offending them, and actually hurting purposefully which is different than doing something honestly and with devotion but doing the wrong thing.

We don’t want to create a society of paranoid people who walk around saying, “Did I make an offense? Did I walk into the temple with my left foot rather than my right? Is there some hell for me now? Oh – I forgot to ring the bell! I’m going to take ten births as a pig in Calcutta!” You might just think, Mahatma, “You’re just telling jokes.” Maybe, but it’s sometimes like that. And I can testify to this because I get questions which sound like “Am I going to take ten births as a pig in Calcutta forgetting to do this … ?” You think I’m exaggerating. Ok, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but not entirely. Believe me. If this wasn’t real, I wouldn’t be talking about it right now. It’s very real. And it’s not healthy.

These factors prevent us from being able to use our intelligence fully and freely because we feel restricted and afraid we’ll do something wrong. Yes, you might do something wrong but you have to act anyway. And there will always be people who are going to correct you for walking into the temple with your right foot or your left foot first. Ok, I’m making this last part up. But I’m sure in some sastra it says you should walk into the temple with your right foot and you should throw some grain over your head and ring a bell three times. I’m sure you will find sastra that will tell you to do all that. And then if you become aware of that and you don’t do it then you start feeling guilty. “Do we have to do it as devotees? My grandmother used to do it. I don’t know!?” And this is how you become a prime candidate for ten sessions with a psychiatrist because you’re paranoid about walking into a temple with your left foot forward.