April 10, 2020
Dear ISKCON Leaders,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Covid-19 is a global crisis causing tremendous pain, suffering and death across the world. ISKCON has also lost several members of our own community. Today, many ISKCON devotees who serve as doctors, nurses and other healthcare experts are risking their lives to help those in dire need. Other ISKCON devotees are working hard to distribute free meals and other support to people hit hard by the pandemic. We thank all of these devotees and pray for their protection.
At the same time, it has come to the attention of the Communications Ministry that some ISKCON members are speaking in a way that may appear to minimize the suffering of others, or to be callous to it. This is causing ISKCON and our philosophy to be misunderstood and criticized.
Ultimately, we know that each soul is eternal and that the suffering of this world is temporary. Yet, such knowledge should not lead us to speak or act in a way that minimizes others or their suffering. Srila Prabhupada taught that a learned person is compassionate; he or she sees the pain and sufferings of others as their own:
Vaishnava is always feeling for others’ distress. That is Vaishnava. Vaishnava—para dukha dukhi. They’re very much afflicted with others’, I mean to say, miserable life. Just like Lord Jesus Christ, he presented himself as very much afflicted with others’ miserable condition of life. So all the Vaishnavas, devotees—It doesn’t matter which country he belongs to or which sect he belongs to. Anyone who is God-conscious or Krishna conscious. . . para dukha dukhi. Lecture July 21, 1971 New York
In this spirit, the Communications Ministry humbly requests all ISKCON leaders to be especially careful with their comments about the pandemic in any forum—regular classes, online, video, etc. We recommend the following guidelines for leaders while speaking during, or about, the pandemic:
1. Express first your heartfelt concern and prayers for those who are suffering.
2. Advise all to strictly follow government guidelines/restrictions that promote public safety.
3. Avoid statements that may be interpreted as callous, or lacking empathy for others’ suffering.
4. While our tradition teaches that karma impacts our happiness and suffering, teach and highlight for devotees that a more essential principle for followers of Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada is karuna, compassion and mercy for others. This should guide all we do and say.
In closing, please take all precautions to keep safe. I pray that Lord Nrisimhadeva protects each of you, your families, followers, friends, and communities; and that Lord Krishna continues to inspire you in your service to Srila Prabhupada.
GBC Member and Minister of Communications