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Failing Well: Becoming Vaishnava in an Ideal Vedic City

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Since the early 1970s the small town of Mayapur in West Bengal has been home to a multinational Gaudiya Vaishnava community of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) devotees, popularly known as the Hare Krishnas. Although the land of Mayapur is understood to be sacred and therefore conducive to spiritual life, devotees often struggle with the practices and prohibitions that are deemed indispensable for their salvation. They are also, however, both prone to, and adept at, articulating their inability to live up to the ideals of Krishna consciousness. So much so that narrating failure itself becomes a privileged mode of moral self-cultivation. Devotees inhabit the moral system not simply by conforming to a set of Vaishnava ideals, but by articulating their failure to do so consistently within Vaishnava moral narratives that account for the aperture between precept and practice. In other words, they inhabit the moral system by failing well. This article contributes to recent debates in the ethical turn that centre on the twin problems of identifying and locating ethics. I suggest that beyond a focus on virtue, the anthropology of ethics must also account for how people relate to vices, and how moral systems accommodate the problem of moral failure.



anthropology of ethics, moral failure, Hinduism, ISKCON, India

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HAU : Journal of Ethnographic Theory

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University of Chicago Press