Because of the efforts I have made since moving to Ojai, I have had more than my share of experiences attempting to pursue Interfaith teamwork with non-Vaishnava traditions. Incomplete faiths that promote a sentimental feel-good sense of cooperation with others' traditions rely on Interfaith events for credibility and endorsement. They need these things to boost up who they are and get more visibility in a terribly confused public forum.
However those who have taken shelter of the Bhagavata Purana have already arrived at the highest representation of the truth available in this world. There is, therefore, nothing available at an Interfaith gathering that we don't already have. Our ONLY interest in attending these events would be to give the other participants what we have to offer. However, both our personal history and scripture confirms that the majority of those who attend these programs are too covered over or envious to acknowledge their own limited, conditional perceptions about religion. They are literally incapable of hearing the message of Bhagavatam. Pride about one's own false knowledge is the worst handicap because there is no medical cure for it.
"Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all." - Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Chapter 2 "Contents of the Gita Summarized", Text 29. LINK
In 1991 Rodney King made a desperate plea on behalf of all of humanity. He asked: "Can't we all just get along" . This simple question became a huge challenge for everyone in the business of social engineering, psychology, religion and most particularly the New-Age. Although all the evidence seems to scream the obvious answer, nobody really wants to seriously consider that maybe… despite all the philanthropy, good thoughts, prayers for world peace, meditation and people talking about "Higher Consciousness": "No! We can't seem to get along at all!" There are some so committed to living the dream of a rosy world that they will do all they can to avoid expose\ure to the critical issues of our day such as: the abundance of drug abuse, fatherless children, crime, poverty, prejudice, lawsuits, homelessness and war, etc. The clinical term for this is: "Chronic Avoidance Behavior"
On the other hand, thoughtful people are attempting to try and establish a structure that offers a more hopeful outlook so we can respond to Rodney King's plea with a robust "Yes!" Bill Gates is using his excess wealth to try and wipe out disease and ignorance. Barbara Marx Hubbard has rallied a whole bunch of support for her panacea called: "The Shift" . Those with influence or money are funding large format, what they believe will be self-help, or awareness lifting films like: The Secret; What the Bleep?; I AM; Samsara; and Conversations with God, etc. Billionaires fund the political party of their preference with the hope that new government leadership will help everyone get along better than we have in the past.
All of this sounds hopeful to the uninformed, but devotees know that all of these efforts MUST fail because they do not address the root of the problem. As long as the four legs of dharma (1.Mercy/Vegetarian Lifestyle, 2.Cleanliness/Sexual Control, 3.Austerity/No Intoxications, and 4.Truthfulness/No Gambling) continue to be violated, there will be dire consequences! (A matrix illustrating these principals in detail is
Yet this does not stop the soothsayers of the New Age movement from jumping into the fray with their own whipped up ideas of how to solve the major failures that are evident in the world today. For the last few years their most bodacious solution is presented in the form of the BhaktiFest, which is promoted as an:
"… evolution of human consciousness through a heart-centered revolution. Bhakti Fest builds a community of people drawn to follow the path of the heart – a devotional, prayerful, loving, healthful, respectful family. All the artists, presenters, and vendors embody, practice, and share the spirit of Bhakti through a variety of ways."
Let's now take a careful look at the so-called heart-centered revolution that the Bhakti Fest claims to be promoting. Our critique will be based on the definition of bhakti as it is described in the Vedas, where the term originated.
Bhakti Fest… As you Like It!
On a recent journey to New Dwarka, Los Angeles I had the opportunity to meet with the ISKCON Minister of Sankirtan, Vijaya dasa (HDG). He informed me about the difficulties well-seasoned book distributors had when they tried to distribute BBT literature at the increasingly popular BhaktiFest. Although at first I was a bit surprised to hear this, as I gave it further consideration it made perfect sense. Those infected with the hubris that is quickly enthroned in the antipathy of Neo-Advaita jargon have absolutely no need for, or interest in "Spiritual Books" . This is particularly true for any literature that ties personal responsibility for upholding the four legs of dharma back to the individual. This, of course, is what separated the true path of Bhakti Yoga from all the other less serious traditions, which make no clear distinction about anything similar to the Vaishnava path of Bhakti:
"Because a devotee of Lord Krsna is desireless, he is peaceful. Fruitive workers desire material enjoyment, jnanies desire liberation and yogis desire material opulence, therefore they are all lusty and cannot be peaceful." – Srila Hari Bhakti Kalpa Latika
So despite all the grandiose bravado implied by the event name, there doesn't really appear to be very much "Bhakti" at the BhaktiFest. The $175 admission ticket does tend to confirm that it's a brilliant money-making, commercial venture designed to capitalize on all the flakey ideas people have about their own self-empowered, co-created concept of "Spirituality". However, none of that gets close to the standard Rupa Goswami gives for the definition of bhakti:
"Srila Rupa Gosami appropriately defined bhaktis as: "The superior quality of devotional service to Krishna is to act favorably for the personality of Godhead. This means that the service must not be covered by the path of the monists, furtive workers, or desires other than devotional service." – Srila Hari Bhakti Kalpa Latika
A short visit to the BhaktiFest website confirms that there is a lot of stretching yoga, bohemia dancing, and some type of music that resembles kirtan, but an objective viewer will quickly notice that there is actually very little hari-katha, which is the only real way to measure the degree of bhakti that is going on at the so called BhaktiFest.
"The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are surrendered to Me, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss enlightening one another and conversing about Me." - Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Chapter 10 "The Opulence of the Absolute", Text 9. LINK
Seeking liberation is such a big part of the mayavadi New Age agenda that there is even an East Indian Rock-N-Roll musical fusion group called "Moksha" , that is very popular with those pursuing cosmic spirituality. However a sober devotee has no interest in "Liberation" . Yet that is a big theme at the BhaktiFest and 100% consistent with the type of behavior scripture tells us is the goal for impersonalists. Liberation by merging into brahmana (sayuga-mukti) isn't just a cheap matter of declaring: "Yes I am open to it…"
We know from the Vedas that sayuga-mukti requires a far more rigorous control of one's senses than the participants at BhaktiFest could hardly imagine. This is particularly true for the BhaktiFest superstars who are motivated by revenues that often extend past their performance paycheck. This exclusive group thrives on public recognition and demigod like recognition from fawning members of the opposite sex. Who among the entire crowd of so called "Yogis" even knows that the liberation they are allured by requires the following type of discipline?
"To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kusa-grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should neither be too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place. The yogi should then sit on it very firmly and should practice yoga by controlling the mind and the senses, purifying the heart and fixing the mind on one point. One should hold one's body, neck and head erect in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose. Thus, with an unagitated, subdued mind, devoid of fear, completely free from sex life, one should meditate upon Me (Krishna) within the heart and make Me the ultimate goal of life. Thus practicing control of the body, mind and activities, the mystic transcendentalist attains to the kingdom of God [or the abode of Krsna] by cessation of material existence." Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Chapter 6"Knowledge of the Supreme", Text 11-15. LINK
The fact that our most talented book distributors couldn't seem to sell any books at the BhaktiFest is tangible proof that the majority of the people who attend this event have very little interest in Hari Katha. So what is the BhaktiFest really all about? We can get a sense of that by looking at what is posted on the BhaktiFest website:
Continuous Kirtan Music - (Para-Kirtan? Intended to please the Supreme or our senses?)
Yoga Classes - (Tantric yoga? Do they teach Yama & Niyama too?)
Meditations and Prayer - (To whom, for what?)
Teachings and workshop - (About what & for what purpose? To empower the self?)
Fire Ceremonies (Pujas) - (Offered to what deity & for what benediction?)
Hanuman Chalisas - (40 Verses Glorifying Hanuman. Why just Hanuman?)
Eco-Friendly, holistic market place - (Environmentalism is the new non-secular religion of choice!)
Vegetarian, Vegan, & Raw Vegan Cuisine - (Why vegan or raw food. Who came up with that agenda?)
Massage, bodywork, energy work, intuitive readings - (Sensuous Tantra massage as well?)
Other unique wellness enhancing modalities - (Wellness according to the mode of Goodness?)
Under the Bhakti-Fest Resources tab we also find a list of books that reads like it's right from the shelf of the local New Age head shop, with titles like:
The Art of Happiness
Eight Human Talents
Be Love Now
Light on Pranayama
Shakti: The Feminine power of Yoga
The Journey Home
It's hard for any objective person who knows what bhakti really means to find any of it at the BhaktiFest. What one does find is a lot of individuals devoted to propping up their own whimsical, self-serving, hybrid-mishmash and imaginary conception of who they are, what constitutes "Service" and who God is. (Assuming they haven't already completely tossed out the whole concept of God based on their completely subjective and often highly conditional approach to self-inquiry.)
If the BhaktiFest was about bhakti, it would be FREE, just like any of the numerous large Rathayatra Festivals sponsored by the Devotees of Lord Krishna. The real BhaktiFest is the Los Angeles Festival of the Chariots, which is made possible because a whole army of volunteers are committed to helping their Spiritual Master serve Krishna. Some of those individuals work tirelessly for weeks in advance to prepare for this huge public event, that attracts approximately 10,000 guests and includes a FREE complimentary multicourse transcendental feast for all!
Therefore the BhaktiFest would be more appropriately referred to as the BhogaFest, because it is not about glorifying Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead or pleasing His senses. It's about providing $175 of sense gratification for those who attend it. It's about people who desire to increase their income by claiming to be yoga teachers who, for the most part, only teach about "Asanas" (How to stretch the body), but say virtually nothing about the "Yamas" (things to be given up, such as meat eating, wanton sexual pursuits, greed etc.) or the "Niyamas" (things that must be adopted such as: study of the Vedas, and accepting the Supreme Personality of Godhead as Lord Sri Krishna).
The BhogaFest is about people posing like big Kundalini yoga experts when they don't even realize that nobody in Kali Yuga is qualified to do Kundalini yoga! None of these big Kundalini teachers can point to anyone in recent history who successfully demonstrated the severe austerities required to actually succeed in Kundalini liberation. The majority of these Kundalini experts are students of Yogi Bhajana, but they don't even know that the practice they claim to teach culminates in raising one's consciousness to the crown chakra, projecting their soul to a different planetary system and then voluntarily leaving the mortal body behind! Yogi Bhajan's never shared with them the story Srila Prabhupada gave us about Prthu Maharaja, where the real Kundalini process is described.
"…blocking the doors of his anus with his ankles,.. lifting his life air up between the eyebrows, to the hole in his skull,.. giving up desire for material existence… merging all the elements of his body,.. amalgamating the mind with senses, objects, ego and Mahat-tattva, and finally giving up his body as prabhu etc. " - Srimad Bhagavat Purana Canto 4 "The Creation of the Fourth Order", Chapter 23 "Maharaja Prthu Going Back Home" Text 14-18. LINK
Sadly most of the people, along with the disciples of Yogi Bhajan, who attend the BhogaFest seem to think that Kundalini yoga is hardly more than practicing a few asanas and some breathing exercises for about 20 minutes every morning.
The BhogaFest is about those who have no appreciation for the Vedic definition of "Sat" (truth), yet have no hesitation to tag the word sat-sanga onto any pseudo-spiritual gathering where someone "speculates" about what "they FEEL" is true. "Sanga" means "association" and "Sat" which means "the truth" which lies beyond one's feeling alone! According to the Bhagavad-gita, real sadhus do everything for the satisfaction of the Supreme as given by God via the Vedas, not some vague urge or sentiment as suggested by the New Agers.
"The Absolute Truth is the objective of devotional sacrifice, and it is indicated by the word sat …all works of sacrifice, of penance and of charity, true to the absolute nature, are performed to please the Supreme Person, O son of Prtha. " - Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Chapter 17 "The Divisions of Faith", Text 26. LINK
Even the slogan used to promote the BhaktiFest: "Being In the Bhav" suggests a mood of selfish sense gratification on the material plane, not one of giving service to the personhood of God, Sri Krishna. ( Bhav = nature, becoming, state of being, mood, manifestation of samsara in the material world).
The BhogaFest is about promoting the name and reputation of those who host it, the CD's of those who perform at it, and the wisdom of sidewalk gurus looking to increase their own donation yielding flock that attend it. It's about a hormonally surcharged young people looking for tantric love, merging into the one, getting exotic massages, dressing "Spiritual" and strutting around looking "holy" with little or no interest in actually becoming "Holy" !
A real BhaktiFest would look more like the historic gathering of sages from Naimisaranya, who sat for seven days to hear from Suta Goswami. That event wasn't about bodywork, energy work & intuitive readings, it was about the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead solamente!
"We never tire of hearing the transcendental pastimes of the Personality of Godhead, who is glorified by hymns and prayers. Those who have developed a taste for transcendental relationships with Him relish hearing of His pastimes at every moment." - Srimad Bhagavat Purana Canto 1 "Creation", Chapter 1 "Questions by the Sages" Text 19. LINK
Regardless of how musically talented the musicians may be, or how melodiously they may chant, any potential bhakti they may sing about is eclipsed by the fact that many of them have no legitimate understanding of who God is. Nor are they interested in surrendering to someone else's idea of who God is, particularly when God boldly declares it, like Krishna does in the Bhagavad-gita.
"Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution. O conqueror of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread." - Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Chapter 7 "Knowledge of the Absolute", Text 6-7. LINK
The musicians at the BhogaFest are paid for their "Performance" because their music is their business, not their service given in love to glorify the Supreme, which is the definition of Bhakti.
"The supreme occupation [dharma/duty] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self." - Srimad Bhagavat Purana Canto 1 "Creation", Chapter 2 "Divinity and Divine Service" Text 6. LINK
It appears from the presence of the Hanuman Chalises that the coordinators of the BhogaFest have some affection and respect for Hanuman Ji, Lord Rama's confidential and faithful servant. This is nice, but what about any of the great Vedic Personalities such as Krishna, or Rama, the Personality of Godhead that Hanuman served?
On the other hand, those organizing the BhogaFest apparently have no appreciation for the injunctions the Father of Mankind, Lord Manu. (Bg. 4.1) gave for our benefit. In his Manu Samhita, this exalted demigod clearly warns against the mixing of commerce with any type of spiritual advice, as clearly stated in this particular admonition:
"Neither by (explaining) prodigies and omens, nor by skill in astrology and palmistry, nor by giving advice and by the exposition (of the Sastras) let him ever seek to obtain alms." – Manu Samhita Chapter 6. Text 50.
Lord Manu basically warns that there absolutely cannot be any FORCED exchange of funds for things that are spiritual by nature because as soon as that gets introduced, the whole event becomes about pandering to the audience for increasing cash flow and NOT the transmission of true unadulterated spiritual guidance. That is exactly what the cosmic religions are all about -- making money not transmitting knowledge about how one can become free from the material world. That knowledge is available free, but requires more discipline than many are willing to accept. Instead they prefer to purchase books or attend seminars from bogus New Age teachers who falsely reassure them that controlling their senses isn't necessary for personal growth!
By intentionally keeping the concept of spirituality vague, undefined and open to personal interpretation, the BhogaFest has virtually endorsed everything offered by the New Age movement regardless of origin, motive, lack of continuity, integrity or philosophical content! Therefore, according to Lord Krishna, the final authority on anything bhakti, the whole event is rendered completely useless.
"But sacrifices, austerities and charities performed without faith in the Supreme are nonpermanent, O son of Prtha, regardless of whatever rites are performed. They are called asat and are useless both in this life and the next." –Bhagavad Gita As It Is Chapter 17, "Divisions of Faith", Text 28. LINK
Before we go any further into this study, let us take a step back and remember what Srila Prabhupada's mission was all about.