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O Master at whose feet all masters sit, O Śrīla Prabhupāda, here is one of your students—by no means a master—bowing at your feet and begging to remain seated there, among my many masters, your followers.

It has been fifty years since you officially established your mission in the form of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. This year we celebrate a half-century of your enduring mission, and I pray to always have a place in your Society for the remainder of my life and beyond.

This year we celebrate your Society’s perdurance, and one aspect of celebration is reflection on successes, but also reflection on challenges, weaknesses, and failures, individual and collective. We do so, always with the aim of reaffirming and better comprehending your vision of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

You often expressed your vision in terms of a “movement,” the “Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.” With your blessings, I wish to reflect on your notion of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, as an appreciation of your vision for the world and as a challenge for us, your followers, to perpetually renew and deepen our comprehension of this vision.

In the Preface to your 1971 unabridged edition of Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, you refer several times to the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. In one passage there you write, “Our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is genuine, historically authorized, natural and transcendental due to its being based on Bhagavad-gītā As It Is.” These four qualifications—authenticity, historical grounding, naturalness, and transcendence—outline the features of this movement that you wished to emphasize; and each of these features you locate as originating in the teachings of Lord Kṛṣṇa as given in the Bhagavad-gītā as delivered through a proper teacher-student relationship (“as it is”).

To say that the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is “genuine” is to contrast it with other, apparently similar, movements which are in one or more ways lacking in authenticity, hence not facilitating proper training in how to serve the Lord. As you wrote (SB 7.9.17 purport), “Humanity must be trained to engage in the transcendental loving service of the Lord. That is the purpose of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.” We should note that acknowledging that the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is genuine does not preclude the possibility that there are other movements of a similar nature which are similarly authentic, or that other missions or organizations than ISKCON might be part of the same Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.

To affirm the historical grounding of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is to set aside misperceptions that it is a “new religious movement,” calling attention to its pedigree by virtue of disciplic succession. And in case one might express scepticism about the purity and consistency of the message thus delivered (after all, Kṛṣṇa himself admits in the Gītā that the message gets lost in course of time), you point to its “natural” quality: since it is the nature of all beings to serve, and since all beings are part of the Supreme Being, it follows that it is natural for all to serve the Supreme Being. As long as this basic truth is recognized, we can be assured that the essential teaching to be on course.

Finally, you point to the “transcendent” nature of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Here you may be referring to its connection to Kṛṣṇa as the transcendent Lord, and by virtue of this connection you are contrasting this movement with so many social, political, or cultural movements, all of which are tethered to worldly motivations, ideas and ideals. However exalted they may be in their aims, such movements are, at best, limited in their potential to spiritually uplift humanity.

You write optimistically of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement: “It is gradually becoming the most popular movement in the entire world, especially amongst the younger generation.” Just how one might measure such popularity might be a matter of contention; yet your optimism suggests to me that the “movement” aspect of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement may be perceived on many levels, in unexpected places and by cultural trends that one might not necessarily register as being directly associated with Kṛṣṇa consciousness as we presently understand it.

For me, this raises the question how to conceive the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement in the broadest terms, aligned with and grounded in your and the previous ācāryas’ teachings, yet truly transcendent in being ever respondent to and fostering solutions to the perceived needs of all kinds of people in the world today. How can we serve and promote the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement as a movement, unfettered by self-imposed limitations that accompany the various forms of unhealthy reification that typically creep into missionizing organizations and institutions? The admittedly vague yet dynamic term “spirituality” may be of help in this reflection.

In her essay “Approaches to the Study of Christian Spirituality,” Prof. Sandra M. Schneiders defines spirituality as “the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life-integration through self-transcendence toward the horizon of ultimate value one perceives” (Schneiders p. 16 in Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality, Arthur Holder, ed., Blackwell, 2005). This is clearly a very broad, inclusive definition, with the advantage that a wide spectrum of people could accept it and see themselves included in it. Understanding spirituality in this way, she notes, allows us to recognize that spirituality is “ontologically prior to its specification by history and theology.” The point for us is that, as you, Śrīla Prabhupāda, have said about the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, transcendence is an essential feature: as a movement of spirituality, Kṛṣṇa consciousness is meant to be manifest in the world, in history; but as a movement of spirituality, Kṛṣṇa consciousness always resists containment by the world.

What does this mean for members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness? To me it suggests that we keep alert for opportunities to engage with the world in a spirit of service, to help everyone, in whatever position they are in, to become more deeply “consciously involved” in their own “projects of life integration,” with respect to whatever they perceive as ultimate value. It means that we remain faithful to our own conviction that Kṛṣṇa, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the sum and substance of ultimate value, but that we can appreciate and honor others’ convictions regarding ultimate value as well. It means that we resist the temptations of sectarianism and constantly stretch ourselves to see the Lord’s presence in all sincere efforts by people to deepen their spiritual lives. In this spirit we may affirm your aspiration to “respiritualize” (Path of Perfection, ch. 1) the whole world through the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, and we may thus position ourselves, individually and collectively, as members of ISKCON, in such ways as we can positively advance the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement throughout all spheres of human society.

My prayer, on this day and in this year of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary celebration, is that I may be an instrument—an agent—in whatever small way I can, in the advancement of your mission to foster a truly spiritual movement, one that brings all people together in service to the Lord of all, recognizing and celebrating how indeed everyone follows His path in all respects.

Your aspiring servant,

Kṛṣṇakṣetra Swami