I was watching the local university TV station, which was showing a colloquium on the French anti-sect laws passed last year. Unfortunately I did not catch the name of the speaker, a Québécois, who spoke strongly against the law as an imposition on the freedom of expression.
His main argument was that people exaggerate the negative effects of religious sects, or even the potential for such danger. One thing he said particularly stuck in my mind, perhaps because I have thought it often before, was the comparison he made with "extreme sports." People who join cults similarly tend to be people who are looking for powerful religious states that take them out of the ordinary realm of experience.
He had some statistics, sort of in the manuSyANAM sahasreSU mode, which I noted down but promptly lost. From memory, of those who take up a serious spiritual search, only about 4% go as far as joining a fringe religious group of any kind. Of those that join such groups, only 20% still remain in them after three years. However, of those who leave, about 85% remember their implication as being positive overall. These are very interesting statistics.
Other statistics were that there are about 1,000 such fringe religious groups in Quebec alone (population 6 million), but the largest, the Jehovah's Witnesses, numbers only 40,000. The Baptists (yes, we consider them fringey up here, like Mormons and Hare Krishnas! Practically everything but Catholics and mainline Protestant) are second with 20,000. But most, he said, are miniscule, numbering only a handful of people in each case.
I have mused before that Iskcon, as we know it, has had trouble finding its place because, on the one hand, at some point it obstructs the radical religious experience dimension of the aspirants, and at the same time it has tended to neglect the congregational aspect, i.e. finding a place for the less implicated, even though they may still have a favorable disposition to its fundamental ideas. It is slowly working these things out.
So where do we stand, here in the "Raganuga" camp? First of all, I put "Raganuga in quotation marks because it is clear that most of us are not "pure" raganuga bhaktas in the sense that someone living at Radha Kund might understand it. This has been made clear by the discussions with Advaita Dasji over the last few weeks, which seems to have led him to abandon us.
What marks most of us, I think, is the search for authenticity. This has led us away from forms of Gaudiya Vaishnavism that somehow don't seem authentic enough, despite their radical nature in comparison to customary forms of religion in the Western world. But I think that what I characterized as "the obstructing of radical religious experience" has a great deal to do with it. "If attaining Radha and Krishna and manjari bhava is what Rupa Goswami taught, then by God we'll go after that, if you don't mind!" sums up (or summed up) our attitude.
But having such an attitude has led some of us, me at least, to inquire further into the nature of authenticity itself. Perhaps such an intellectual quest may start too soon--should one not have a solid anchoring in religious experience first, in order to know what he or she is talking about? I tend to think so. This is why I find articles like this one by Kshamabuddhi,
The creation of a congregation lies somewhere in that 85% who leave within three years, or after five or ten years, or who find themselves banging their heads against new limitations after thirty or forty years of religious life. The intellectual safety net has to be created, new meanings have to be found, the religious experience needs to be repeatedly validated rationally, it has to be renewed by new forces, of which the intellectual is one of the most important.
My vow is this: “I give freedom from fear to anyone who throws himself at my feet and says just once, "I am yours.”
The surrendered soul lives happily, witnessing with his words ‘Lord, I am yours!’ and feeling so in his heart, and physically living in the Lord’s abode.
O Goddess! I am yours! I am yours alone! I cannot live without you. Now that you know this, give me a place by your feet.This sense of belonging can only come through direct religious experience and the association of devotees, like-minded, affectionate people who exude spiritual knowledge and maturity.
Just contemplate the blessings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Dwell on them, and you will be radically amazed!Moreover, he says (1.2.117).
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