In the previous two posts (Part I and Part II), I have been trying to discuss the relationship of the foreign Vaishnava community to present-day Vrindavan looking through the lens of globalization and the way that Srila Prabhupada anticipated the developments that would take place. The conclusion of the last article was to stress that Prabhupada stimulated a desire for a more traditional ethics and morality, as well as a lifestyle oriented towards spiritual realization, what he called “simple living and high thinking.”
One cannot separate Srila Prabhupada from the general trend of Hindu nationalism, even though he vociferously stated, as a part of his preaching platform, that he was not teaching “Hinduism,” but the mystical Vaishnava path, which transcends all material identities, including that of being a Hindu. Be that as it may, Prabhupada claimed that this was the true teaching of the Veda and Bhagavad-gita, the “Hindu” shastras, and he accepted “Hindu” concepts like Varnashram Dharma and Sanatan Dharma; though his interpretation may have been different, he certainly fit within Hinduism’s millennial tradition of theological debate. So it is not really a surprise that his preaching in the West was considered a triumph for Hindus who still believe in their religion’s spiritual worth.
We have noted on these pages the geographical and historical importance of Vrindavan now that the Hindu nationalist party has taken the helm of the Center, the State and in all likelihood, the municipal corporations in the upcoming elections. There is no secret that every political party in India stands for economic development, the only difference is really that the BJP claims to represent the interests of the Hindu religion and its followers. Now the question arises: What kind of society is the modern “Hindu” society? And how does modern economic development fit in with the vision of the Hindu scriptures and traditions?
When Srila Prabhupada was on the Jaladuta traveling to America, he wrote a poem in which he speculated on the nature of life there:
nahe keno āniben ei ugra-sthāne
rajas tamo guṇe erā sabāi ācchanna
bāsudeb-kathā ruci nahe se prasanna
I guess you have some purpose for me here, otherwise why would you bring me to this terrible place? Most of the population here is covered by the material modes of ignorance and passion. Absorbed in material life, they think themselves very happy and satisfied, and therefore they have no taste for the transcendental message of Vāsudeva. I do not know how they will be able to understand it.
Prabhupada was not mesmerized by the glitter of material advancement in the West. He came to America to give people there an alternative to a lifestyle that is currently dominating the world, what he called
And though it may be too much to ask that vestiges of the Vedic tapo-vana should be plentiful in India, it is dangerous to steamroller over the tapo-vana to create parking lots and concrete jungles.
The voices of foreign devotees
Vrindavan’s development must be in keeping with the desires of the Brijbasis, as Mr. Shailjakant Mishra has repeatedly stated as the VP of the Braj Tirth Vikas Parishad. Of the some 3 crore visitors to Braj last year, only 60 thousand or so were foreign nationals. Yet we should not underestimate the symbolic power that Prabhupada’s disciples exerted when they came to India with him, exhibited by him as “dancing white elephants.” If anyone should think that Vrindavan’s renaissance is not in great part inspired by his success in inspiring people from America and Europe to take up bhakti-yoga, they are not thinking clearly.
Therefore, the Westerners, who followed Prabhupada in accepting the meaning of civilization as being something other than the enhancement of material pleasures and comforts, are ahead of the curve on globalization. They can see that this kind of exploitative, materialistic consumption society is not sustainable. We can see that the Western societies are being propelled down a road to increased social anxiety and violence. Is it not clear that material advancement alone is not the solution to the problems of humanity? Can India, especially its spiritual leadership, not recognize this?
Vrindavan is the most sacred place in India. There is no place like it anywhere in the world. Those who come here should find a place that promotes the spiritual life by every means possible. And it should be emphasized that Vrindavan, being by definition a place where the natural world intersects with the spiritual, that natural environment must be a part of any development plan, not gross tourist attractions like theme parks and skyscraper temples. These are good for gawking and not much else.
The Brijbasis are being carried away by the waves of enthusiasm for material development and increased revenues. Greed is a great motivator and in times like these, greed is given full sway. This leads to corruption and bad decision making, and certainly in a place like Braj, bad decision making can be fatal.
Westerners may have samskaras that are not purely “Hindu,” but those who are leading the Hindu charge for progress and seeking India’s rightful place as a global leader should remember that their real claim for Hindu national pride is that this is the civilization of the rishis and sants and acharyas.
Braj is a sacred land. The real tourist attraction here is the sants, sadhus and rishis and Bhagavata acharyas. They should be at the center of any discussion of development, and the voices of secular engineers and economists should be vetted by them.
Foreign devotees and living in Braj
Recently we learned that a longtime foreign devotee residing in Radha Kund was denied a visa extension. In the globalization context, this is a big problem. Millions of Indians have traveled to the West, to the US, to Canada, the UK and Australia where many have materially done very well. This has also been very good for Indian financially as remittances from pravasi Indians is a big economic boost for the country.
So the question is, why does the Indian government not recognize the spiritual connection that Western seekers have for India and adopt them as permanent residents and citizens. Western Hindu (and Buddhist) converts like Jayapataka Swami, Radhanath Swami and Kriyanananda Swami — and many, many others — now preach in India and make Indian disciples. But just as important, hundreds of Western devotees come to take shelter of the Holy Dham as an integral part of their spiritual practice. We want more of such people in the Dham, people who understand the purpose of this world as manifest in the “human sanctuary” of the holy land, where they can pursue a life that is dedicated to cultivating love for God. They want to serve the Dham. Who would not want such enthusiastic immigrants, who only want to glorify the holy land of Mother Bharata and its sacred places like Vrindavan?
Braj-Vrindavan is the creation of foreigners. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his followers were outsiders, mostly from Bengal. Narayan Bhatta, one of the most prolific discoverers of puranic sites in Braj, was from South India, as was Vallabha Bhatta. But many others came from Gujarat, Punjab, Orcha, and elsewhere to create the culture and heritage of this land. Globalization has brought foreigners also, who are helping to revitalize and enrich that culture and heritage. Should they not be welcomed and given facility? Surely any bad apples can be weeded out by India’s security apparatus.
We appeal to the Indian government to create a category of visa for serious practitioners of spiritual life from anywhere in the world. These people do not have a relationship of tourism to the Dham, they have a relationship of love. There is no Radha and Krishna without Vrindavan. Manifest Vrindavan and Radha and Krishna will manifest. The Hindu leaders of the BJP should recognize this and develop Vrindavan accordingly.
āroḍhuṁ kṣamate na yac chiva-śukādīnāṁ tu yad dhyāna-gam |
yat premāmṛta-mādhurī-rasa-mayaṁ yan nitya-kaiśorakaṁ
tad rūpaṁ pariveṣṭum eva nayanaṁ lolāyamānaṁ mama ||
My eyes have become filled with the avid desire to completely envelop that form of eternal youth that has been fashioned from the sweet essence of love-ambrosia, which can only be observed in Vrindavan. Even the most elevated section of the Upanishads has not been able to reach that form, nor have great personalities like Shiva and Shuka perceived it in their meditations. (Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi 76)