The greater the risk, the greater the gain

(The following article was posted in the “Meditations” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 31 December 2002.) ONE OF the Dalai Lama’s ‘Instructions for Life’ in the new millennium is to’take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk’. It’s a fine line between risk and foolhardiness, rushing in where angels fear to tread, and all that. Unfortunately, I am of the American variety of humankind, a species that has a lot to be ashamed of. Thankfully however, I’m an ardent student of Indian philosophy and love the spirituality o? her culture. Many think I’m as Hindu as it gets. As a western Hare Krishna devotee who has travelled the world and lived long in India, I’m aware of how India, Hinduism and passive resistance are often lumped together. But Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON’s founder, uniquely established Vedic culture and spirituality all over the world: in America, Russia and the CIS, Africa, the Middle and Far East, Australasia, and Europe. Why does an element of pride sometimes surface when Indian citizens see non-Asians in sadhu dress? Partly it’s the nature of our hybrid world. Hinduism is no longer restricted to India, any more than Indians themselves. No longer are guru-disciple relationships confined to a banyan tree on the outskirts of a village. Instead we face unlimited challenges in realising the teachings of the sages. Today a guru accepts that disciples’ successes extend beyond attentively hearing the truth. Gurus must know how to facilitate their students’ retaining, cultivating and living what they have learned, wherever they make their homes and whatever their situation. Srila Prabhupada’s risk-taking is what drew people toward him, and gave birth to ISKCON as a global organisation. He embraced concepts such as atma and bhagavan. Some say he ‘walked through fire’ to establish his society. Why? Well, he lived alone in Brindaban for several years, then at 69 crossed the Atlantic on a steamer, endured heart attacks, the taunting of uncivilised people, the loneliness and chill of New York winters, non-stop world travel at an advanced age, and the foolishness of many disciples. His story is told in varied biographies, but all agree that no one took greater risks for God than he. He was joyfully sober, though, and never gambled with his spiritual life. We can’t be sure what will happen to the world – economic collapse, nuclear war, earthquakes. But one thing is certain: the soul will survive. And one thing is true: we are not alone. (The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON governing body commission)