I've been going to ISKCON temples on and off all my life since I was 5 years old (so that's 35 years!), and Krishna is my main ishtadeva, though I am also happy with other Vaishnava, Saivite, Shakti etc. deities. I love chanting the maha mantra, but also chant to Shiva, Devi etc., and I think the current "Radhe Radhe!" chanting is great, and actually empowering for female devotees. I also find a great deal of value in certain elements of Buddhism. In my heart, I am equally at home in ISKCON temples as I am in any other Hindu temple. Yes, I know, ISKCON devotees don't consider themselves Hindus...! I don't actually consider myself one either - I just follow what feels right and true for my own spiritual path.
I do not have a guru and do not necessarily feel the need for one. I am wary of many of their motives, have problems with the hierarchical structures, and do not agree with all their teachings. There are HUGE egos all around, and I see them in gurus, musicians, and at pretty much every level of every ISKCON or Hindu temple I've been to. One of the great things about ISKCON is that it ignores the caste system, but this has not abolished big egos! All the in-fighting, bickering, controversies etc. attest to this, and until I see a guru immune to their own egos, I follow my own path of study and chanting....
I don't wish to offend anyone, but I also don't agree with some of Prabhupada's interpretations of the Gita or with some of his teachings. And I don't feel like I have to. For example, sex with my wife is an expression of love, not lust, and to me love is the closest we can come to divinity on earth. Maybe this means I have sahajiya leanings! Whatever, I refuse to limit my expressions of physical earthly love to procreation purposes only and don't see any valid reason for it. Too much like Catholicism! There is no guilt or shame in being human.
Clearly, there are parts of the Vedas that are no longer applicable to modern society. Otherwise we'd still be sacrificing animals, as the Rig Veda instructs. Change within a religion is not always necessarily a bad thing, and in fact is sometimes the only way it can survive. Even in the Mahabharata it says that it is worse to not kill a man who deserves to be killed than to not kill at all. I don't think many of us would agree with that.
I don't feel the need to stop eating onion and garlic, I like an occasional glass of wine with dinner, and the idea of giving up chocolate (caffeine) is unthinkable! I don't think these things make me unworthy or impious or a bad person or whatever. I also find that there is some hypocrisy about 'sense gratification', when incense, music and chanting, sometimes 8 or 10 different kinds of wonderful prasadam (including sweets), etc. are a feast for the senses. Why are these okay but not other forms, if they are within reason and done with love? Answers like "because Prabhupada said so" just do not cut it for me. Please don't get me wrong - there are many more things I respect and admire about him than otherwise - just not EVERYTHING.
I also would never even consider for a moment not associating with non-devotees, because that would cut off most of my family and friends. To me, that is not a sign of devotion or non-attachment, but a total denial of love and what it means to be human. That's what cults ask you to do, and has been one of the main criticisms of ISKCON.
On my last ISKCON stay, I was met with some disapproval about my inclusive attitude to religion. It even seemed that because I've been going for a long time it was even worse - as if I've rejected it. The fact that I come out of genuine interest, love, connection, and spiritual devotion, and that I chant and dance with enthusiasm and contribute karma yoga does not seem to matter to certain people if I don't accept Krishna and ONLY Krishna as the one true Supreme Godhead, and sign up to everything Prabhupada said. This is exactly what born-again Christians say about Jesus. I felt it was very exclusivist and judgmental, and it made me feel very unwelcome. This was very disappointing considering that ISKCON has been my main focus of spirituality for most of my life.
Of course not all devotees are like this, and there are always more warm, friendly people at temples than otherwise - people I would trust with my life within minutes of meeting them!
So my question is, given my liberal and INCLUSIVE views about religion, and the fact that I'm unwilling to accept and adopt all of ISKCON's "requirements", am I even welcome? Is there an official policy on this?