A short film about a recent conference at Harvard University, in which academic scholars appreciate ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada, while also encouraging devotees to self-reflect, brought an audience at the Mayapur festival to tears.
The film is directed by Krishna-lila Dasi (Krisztina Danka) and produced by ISKCON Communications. It covers the three-day academic conference “The Worldwide Krishna Movement: Half a Century of Growth, Impact and Challenge,” held at Harvard in April 2016 to commemorate ISKCON’s 50th anniversary.
ISKCON Communications Director Anuttama Das introduced the screening to a packed house of about 900 devotees this year on Feburary 10th, the last day of the International Leadership Sanga in Mayapur, West Bengal.
“This film shows how important it is for ISKCON around the world to have capable devotees build relationships with scholars in their respective countries,” he said. “It also shows how ISKCON has a role in promoting dialogue with academics and religious leaders; and in helping to promote, on the world stage, “real unity and peace” as Srila Prabhupada wanted in his seven purposes for ISKCON.”
The fifteen-minute film shows approximately thirty-five academics meeting at Harvard. Many are interviewed in the film. They include scholars who have studied the Hare Krishna Movement for many years, such as Thomas J. Hopkins, Professor Emeritus at Franklin and Marshall College; Larry Shinn, Professor Emeritus at Berea College; and Kenneth Cracknell, retired head of the British Council of Churches’ Committee on Interfaith.
Also at the conference were Vaishnava scholars who are members of ISKCON like Radhika Ramana Das, Ravindra Svarupa Das, and Urmila Dasi.
The film shows part of the conference taking place at Harvard Divinity School’s Sperry Room, where ISKCON Founder-acharya Srila Prabhupada himself spoke back in 1968.
Muslim scholar Sanaullah Kirman, who attended that talk while he was a young student, is shown affectionately recalling his meeting with Prabhupada and the impact it had on him.
Thomas J. Hopkins also speaks about Prabhupada in the film, admiring how he successfully carried “a whole cultural tradition across a huge cultural separation” entirely on his own.
During the conference, scholars of the Bhakti Tradition and scholars from the Bhakti tradition together took a look at the history, theology and sociology of the Krishna Movement. They also discussed the challenges ISKCON has faced and is facing into the future.
For instance, they talked about how a focus on transcendence and individual spirituality in the past led to minimizing the development of healthy families and communities, and how ISKCON can mature by giving attention to these important areas in the future. They also talked about how to balance ancient Vedic traditions with our modern Western surroundings and sensibilities.
In interviews in the film, scholars like Frank Clooney encourage devotees to keep a credibility and authenticity in their own faith tradition, while cultivating a genuine openness and willingness to learn from others.
Tom Hopkins encourages ISKCON devotees to study and write their own history, and develop their theological studies as a priority so that such things are clear for the future.
The scholars also express the feeling that if ISKCON does these things, the organization, its devotees and their message could play a very valuable role in peacemaking in today’s world.
“ISKCON has wonderful leaders, now, who are trying to promote that kind of conversation,” Larry Shinn says in the film.
As the screening ended, many devotees in the audience had tears in their eyes, while Gopal Bhatta Das, head of the GBC’s Strategic Planning Team, called it “fantastic.”
“Watching the film, devotees were inspired to see how much the Krishna tradition, Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON are appreciated by scholars; and how much these scholars think ISKCON has to offer to the world,” says Anuttama Das.
Anuttama hopes the film will help devotees understand how important building relations with academics is on a local and national level for ISKCON and its future.
“Interfacing with academics who study religious organizations, and know Gaudiya Vaishnavism and world religions is positive,” he says, “Because their perspectives enable us to look at ourselves with a critical eye and see objectively how we’re doing as a community. It’s important we look at what has gone well in ISKCON since our inception, and in what ways we need to improve and adjust to the changing world around us.”
Amrita Hari Dasi, one of the organizers of the conference, adds, “A conference like this, with so many notable scholars, also helps legitimize ISKCON and our place amongst the world’s religions. We are still very small and unknown, and many don’t realize how old and well-established our tradition is. If we want to have an impact and share our philosophy meaningfully, we have to engage in these kinds of conversations.”
The Joy of Devotion, another film produced by ISKCON Communications and directed by Krishna-lila Dasi – which shows ISKCON around the world today – was also screened in a short version. It will be available in a sixty-minute cut soon.
Please click here to watch the film “ISKCON 50 Academic Conference at Harvard”:
Jan 22, 2022
Sunanda Das, tovp.org