How not to make pea soup


A double-decker bus appears out of the London fog in the cold winter of 1952.  Photograph from The Daily Mail

Back in the 1950s, London used to have a lot of fog. When the fog combined with the smoke from thousands of coal fires, it created what the Londoners called ‘a real pea-souper’ because they experienced it to be just like the local pea soup!

Have you ever been in such a thick fog? Sometimes you can’t see in front of your eyes for more than a few feet. Any object coming towards you, like a horse, a walking man, or this double-decker London bus, can only be seen as a blurred shape until its very close. It can be difficult to find your way in such a fog. Sometimes you can even become completely lost.

People can generate fog too. Its not made up of ‘pea soup’ or even particles of water. Its made up of particles of conversation, emails, and website posts. When people come together to form groups, and groups come together as larger organisations the ‘cyber-fog’ can be really dense sometimes. Either the members speak so much about the organisation – or other people speak about it – that it forms a communications ‘fog’ so thick that its possible the entire organisation – rather like a London bus – can be completely obscured. Only when up close can you really see what its like.

In the Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada comments that all the lies in the world – especially coming from lawyers, politicians and the like – who routinely speak what they know to be untrue simply for personal advantage – can travel as vibrations into the atmosphere and come down again as subtle pollutants.

Every human being therefore has a duty to speak in such a way as to help clean the atmosphere. And devotees of Krishna in this wonderful movement for Krishna consciousness have an extra duty to spend their time glorifying Krishna and the Vaishnavas. Particularly they must not waste time in employing electronic gadgetry in broadcasting their less than helpful comments on the lives of others. Otherwise the fog thus generated will tend to obscure our movement. People will see a distant, vague shape but be unable to see our movement for what it is. They will see the fog first – and may miss the bus completely.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “How not to make pea soup

  1. Thank you for this 1984 script post. Do not let Goldstein contaminate you! 🙂 Keep the members of the party united. How many fingers do you see?

    • Of course, I’m not suggesting that the right to express oneself be removed, just that writers should take great care that when writing for the internet the repercussions are far wider than they may realise.

  2. This is interesting subject matter: what is the balance between hate generated plain destructive criticism and blind following “for the good of the cause”? Excuse me that I treat both as two parts of the same equation. In trying to protect our movement we can be stopping the means of the cure. Is all form of opposition not good? Is the “party” not becoming every day more like INGSOC (following the 1984 analogy)?
    Is that affirmation true? If it is, lets do something, some positive work via education and letting our leaders know they are somewhat astray in important matters. You cannot be sincere and try to sweep under the rug at the same time. And your article does not help a bit to recover our lost “shakti”, in my opinion contributes to the opposite.

    • Thank you Jaganat, for your thoughts. Its unfortunate that, unlike other organisations, ISKCON does not publish detailed annual growth figures. Although statistics can surely be manipulated they would, at least, give us some indication as to whether our movement was expanding or contracting. For an organisation that refers to itself as a ‘movement’ it would seem that growth is important wouldn’t it?

      My personal impression, gained from talking with our leaders from several countries, is that ISKCON is indeed growing at a surprising rate. But I gain from your comment that you wouldn’t agree with this and that consequently you feel the prerogative should always be there for the members to complain about the movement’s failures without being adversely labelled. I’m fine with that. My point was slightly different, as I hope my latest post explains.

      Certainly you must have had different personal experiences as a member of ISKCON than I have. But both of us have to deal with the facts as they are. Has ISKCON lost its ‘shakti’? Or has it merely grown congregationally and the number of ashram residents decreased proportionately? I have my impressions – and you have yours – but does anyone have the actual figures?

  3. You might like this post by Roger Ebert: LINK

    It’s along the same lines as your post.

    I really like the imagery of our words lingering and raining back on us as “subtle pollution.” It makes me want to take greater care before saying something negative.

    They say that Abraham Lincoln always asked himself three questions before he spoke: Is it necessary? Is it truthful? Is it kind?

  4. I’m guilty of wanting pity, being too engrossed
    in my self. I make a big splash and don’t think of the consequences. Prabhupada and ISKCON should be at the forefront of our minds before we say or do anything, then the pea-soup will not become foggy. Something to do with my upbringing…I guess.

  5. I think my point has nothing to do with growth, although it is quite clear for anyone who travels that temples in general are not producing new devotees, at least in the way we used to do and I mean temple devotees.

    We could even say that we are somehow preaching and helping household devotees, but again this is not my point. Growth or no growth, the dynamics of killing the messenger and getting rid of whistle blowers is fully in place. And that again speaks by itself of low modes of nature control.

    A healthy society will always welcome positive opposition as a means to revisit issues and gain insight to problems in real life. The perfect example is Lord Rama as you know well.

    I am not pretending our leaders will be like Lord Rama but at least try to follow His footsteps would be a solution to, for example, welcome back many many valuable elements for our society that have been ostracized beginning with Pradyumna Prabhu in 1978 just for trying to convene a message that “the powers that were” did not like, but proved to be an accurate prophecy.

    And the main reason that this is happening is because GBC has chosen the easy way, which is to plunge their heads inside the sand and pretend its all alright. As I said in a previous post, just criticizing for the sake of it or pretending everything is OK its all enacted by birds of the same feather that this time do not flock together.

    A personal question, if I may… Do you feel free to say anything on sensitive issues or you find yourself more than once restricting yourself for reasons that could be called self-preservation?

  6. Jaganat Prabhu, thank you for speedy response on this subject. Yes, your point was not directly about the growth of ISKCON as such, but when you mentioned that ISKCON had ‘lost its shakti’ then it suggested to me that perhaps the movement’s growth – or vitality – is one of the issues for you that render ISKCON’s current leadership worthy of criticism?

    My response was just to point out that we really do need figures if we both want to satisfy ourselves as to whether this is true or not. Otherwise what we have is opinions.

    As far as ‘killing the messengers’ or ‘getting rid of whistle-blowers’ is concerned, I’m painfully aware that this was indeed true in a several cases over the past few decades but you’ll have to be more specific to show that this has become an institutionalised policy within our movement. Lets not keep ISKCON’s history more alive than it needs to be. Constantly looking back to the mistakes of the past (although we should learn from them) will do us no good. We have a bright future, let’s all help to create it.

    Yes, positive opposition can be helpful where political power is required to be balanced. But our Vaishnava culture is not a political one. Srila Prabhupada would often direct one of his disciples that had long-standing issues with a local leader to go and start a branch of the Krishna consciousness movement somewhere else. Many temples were actually started in this way and critics soon discovered that Srila Prabhupada’s response for them not to be so critical could also be a blessing in disguise.

    It is far easier to criticise than it is to open a centre. But how great it would be if everyone who felt moved to criticise others because those others are ‘not following Prabhupada’ also felt moved to open a centre?

    I appreciate your concern that Pradyumna Prabhu’s letter of caution with regard to the status of some senior men was not heeded in 1978. Let me tell you that a lot was taking place in 1978 and his voice – although now in retrospect we can see that it was prophetic – was one amongst many godbrothers and godsisters trying to cope with great grief and the pain of Srila Prabhupada’s recent departure. Pradyumna was for a time in London in 1978 where he was translating the Srimad Bhagavatam. I was also there at that time. While some may feel that he was directly ‘ostracised’ I have not been left with that impression. There was confusion, certainly, and he found that his opinions were not shared by some leaders. That was our loss, for sure. But it is not that everyone who left the movement at that time did so because they were ‘ostracised’. Many became despondent in Srila Prabhupada’s absence, some to explore other spiritual avenues, and many left to pursue a career.

    I am extremely wary of our would-be historical revisionists who would have us all believe that suddenly 11 men divided up the world and thousands of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples left his movement. I was there and it didn’t happen like that. It is a gross and over-simplification of history which fits the mind-set of some, that’s all.

    I also do not agree with your rather uncharitable depiction of ISKCON’s GBC leadership with their ‘heads in the sand.’ Individual members may be over-stretched at times, trying to cope with roles of both spiritual leadership and administration; they may also be physically incapable of doing everything that is expected of them. We are talking of a very small number of men and women and a comparitively large international organisation. Our level of expectation is incompatible with the actual facts. So perhaps the problem is our expectation rather than their level of competence? But even if the problem is competence then let us offer to help them. Why not help?

    A lot of our challenges within ISKCON are at the local level, where institutional policies affect our lives and those we care for. What can we do at a local level? Surely there is more we can do than immediately reach for our keyboards to broadcast our thoughts to the world – and to the innocent, unknown reader who has just googled ‘ISKCON’? That was my point.

    Yes, I do generally tend to say what I think. Those closer to me will know that. But I tend to choose carefully in which forums I express myself. Should I have issues with my GBC or ISKCON policies generally, I will wait until the right ears are listening. Then something practical can be done.

  7. atmananda dasa

    Dear Krpamoya Prabhu,

    Please accept my obeisances.

    After reading your above conversation with this prabhu, Jaganat, I really felt a lot of respect for you as well as for Jaganat prabhu. I will just say up front that I consider myself to be a marginal member of ISKCON. My diksa guru is in ISKCON, my siksa guru is Srila Prabhupada’s disciple who is one of those who started his own movement outside of ISKCON. None the less, I do have great gratitude and appreciation for ISKCON. That aside, I was really impressed by how you were willing to allow Jaganats comments on your blog and respond to them with a compassionate voice. I must say that I do have some doubts about some of the leadership of ISKCON and I don’t submit myself. Somehow I’m trying to get through it and remain in the service of guru and Krishna. Your comments really moved me because of the real attitude of heart and soul trying your best to serve and your willingness to reveal that internal struggle. So, my obeisances to you with much appreciation. These are the qualities that impress me and inspire me so much. Thank you.

    At your service,

    Atmananda dasa

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