Is It Necessary To Belittle Others To Preach Your Own Religion?
It’s not often that I have such a bad experience at a place of worship that I feel compelled to write about it. But this morning, I went to the Bhakti Center in New York City’s East Village and caught about an hour of the Sunday morning program, which consists of readings from the Bhagavatam, a talk based on the readings, kirtan (devotional singing and chanting) and prasadam (a blessed meal). I’ve been to the Bhakti Center several times, and while I’m not a core member, I consider it to be one among my many spiritual homes in the city.
This morning the guest teacher was Jayadvaita Swami, a senior disciple of Shrila Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON. I did not catch the beginning of the lecture, but was there for about 30 minutes towards the end, and a few things that I heard really bothered me:
1) The countless attacks on advaita and other schools of Hinduism that emphasize liberation from the material world as the primary goal.
2) A few attacks on what he understands Christianity to be about, that it is a religion about comforting people, that Christians go to church with prayers for their son to perform well in exams, etc.
3) Finally, what bothered me most was that most of the congregation laughed when he spoke disparagingly about other religions.
Given that this comes from a senior disciple of Shrila Prabhupada and someone widely respected in ISKCON circles, I have to ask — is this the sorry state of preaching in ISKCON? I understand that there are major disagreements between Gaudiya Vaishnava theology and other Hindu schools of thought, what to speak about other religions. But is it necessary to degrade the sanctity of a sacred space by making jokes at the expense of other people? It is not funny and certainly not inspiring in any way. This is not the first time that I’ve heard swamis at the Bhakti Center belittle other religions, but definitely the first time it has disturbed me so much.
This is not to say that my experiences at the Bhakti Center have mostly been negative. I’ve been blessed with friendship and enlightening conversations with many of the wonderful monks there. I love the beautiful singing and dancing that is always a part of services at the temple. In fact, it is because I love going to the temple that I feel compelled to write this.
I hope that in the future, I’ll see less attacks on other religions when I visit the Bhakti Center.