Hare Krsna. Last week I received an e-mail from someone at Gita-nagari saying that Mother Malati was going to be at Gita-nagari that weekend to talk with devotees about relatinships. I think the idea was that there are too many conflicts and problems between devotees. I had a prior commitment, but the letter said we could also do the same through e-mail. So I wrote. The subject line said “why we don’t go to Gita-nagari much lately,” and the rest of it was as follows:
Dear Mother Malati,Hare Krsna. I humbly pray for your blessings. I received a message that you were interested in meeting with devotees at Gita-nagari to counsel on relationships. I appreciate your offering and wish to take advantage of the opportunity. However, I am predisposed this weekend, as my wife’s parents and grandparents are visiting from a distance. But I can write. 8^)
I was introduced to Krishna consciousness in October 1995, when Krishna gave a most fantastic Bhagavad-gita class through a painting in my bedroom at around 4 a.m. (I had just begun studying Bhagavad-gita As It Is a week earlier, and didn’t know if I could believe it, so I prayed for Krishna’s darshan and expected Him to respond.) After having a good laugh at me (“So, you think you’re a yogi? Ha Ha!”), He gave me little demonstration of Krishna consciousness and offered to take me with Him; but the destruction of my false ego terrified me like the final death of everything, and I not only couldn’t go, but the next morning I had forgotten all about Him. Frequent deja-vu feelings came with memories of Him. I wanted to see Him again so I went with my companion (now my wife) looking for devotees. I thought I would find Krishna with them, but I didn’t, and still haven’t. He said I could get to know Him slower, and we would come again when I reach death; but now I am forgetting Him more, and I am worried about this. I am sorrowfully discouraged in my hope for becoming Krishna conscious. I saw so many devotees I know tell lies to me last year, it seemed like I was in a dangerous cult.
My family moved to the Gita-nagari area about 3 ½ years ago, and two years ago I was very enthusiastically participating as much as I could. I’ve just been trying to remember Krishna again, or find out how I could get His association somehow. In February 2005 I started writing a blog to journal the happy progress I hoped I would be making in Krishna consciousness (and I have documented on the Internet [http://oppositerule.naturama.us] pretty much all of this), and in May I was elected to the Gita-nagari community board. My wife also accepted a position on the child protection team, teaching the younger Sunday school, and doing all the graphic design and printing. At that time, Bhakti-Tirtha Swami had recently arrived to prepare to leave his body. Of course, many other devotees came to see him also. One notable visitor was Vakresvara Pandit das. My wife and I didn’t know him, but we had recently seen a complaint about him related to child protection issues, so my wife asked Tamohara prabhu (CPO) for information about Vakresvara’s record with the CPO. He responded to the e-mail, but ignored that request. We didn’t press the issue.
Then came Bhakti-Tirtha’s disappearance day. It was summer, and the weather had been dry for 3 weeks. I remember that you were there, so I trust you saw the fires. I’m an outdoorsman, and I was concerned when I saw them. I didn’t want to cause trouble, so I simply resolved to attend the fires after the procession. I knew that some other devotees were also upset and had complained about the obvious risk of the fires spreading, and I happened to catch a stern talk between Anuttama prabhu (GBC) and Vakresvara, where Vakresvara reluctantly promised to extinguish the fires personally.
Later, when the kirtan was in the temple, and I was in the woods with a few devotees extinguishing the fires, Vakresvara drove into the woods with Maha Muni prabhu. They were sharply criticizing anyone who saw a danger; and when Vakresvara called Anuttama “that idiot GBC,” I spoke up in his defense, saying that I also thought there was a danger. At that point I became the target of these two men’s rage. They not only spoke damningly of me, but also of my wife. I was astonished, and I offered my obeisances, which were flatly refused. A few days later, Maha Muni apologized and parted in peace. Not so, with Vakresvara.
The next day my guru Bhaktimarga Swami met with me, expressed his support, and advised me to report the men to the CPO (which I did shortly after). (I saw that Vakresvara had several children clearing and burning the forest undergrowth, exposing them and others to real and serious risks of poison ivy inhalation and forest fire.) At that point, my wife and I obtained a copy of Vakresvara’s CPO decision from Madhusudani Radha, and we studied it carefully. My karmi job involves writing, interpreting, and enforcing similar documents, so I knew exactly what this document said.
It was clear that the devotees in leadership who were supporting Vakresvara’s activities were making a mockery of the CPO. We knew that Vakresvara was completely banned from ISKCON by stipulated penalty for disobeying the preliminary requirements for rectification, and that while he was supposedly banned, he was a temple president in Puerto Rico and that he had another ruling against him, apparently due to his misappropriating of temple funds. I could go on and on about the ways in which this charade manifested, but hopefully there is no need to belabor the point.
As we saw the way Vakresvara was glorified in numerous ways by Bhakti-Tirtha and Radhanatha Swamis, my wife and I were perplexed about why they would do this. The CPO had found, and we believe with much confidence, that Vakresvara had an ongoing, illegal, sexual relationship with a 13-year-old girl when he was a forty-year-old man. Vakresvara had been a disciple of Srila Prabhupada for many years when he was picking up Y***** mataji at her middle school to take her to a friend’s apartment for sex. I read one ISKCON criminal defense attorney’s letter labeling Vakresvara as a predator, and that seemed fitting. As we were watching Vakresvara’s behavior at Gita-nagari, we could see that his attitude had not changed. He was traveling with unmarried women and girls, and we saw him touching them in public. Later the TP admitted to me that he had trouble enforcing a curfew with them. I had also been told in a community board meeting that Vakresvara was planning to make Gita-nagari a home base, which was alarming.
I tried with all my power to understand what kind of Vaishnava nourishes a sexual appetite for children, and what kind of purportedly pure devotees (Bhakti-Tirtha and Radhanatha Swamis) glorify him. It was beyond my ability, so I sought help from my fellow community board members. They were very uncomfortable with the issue and simply stonewalled. They promised a meeting with Radhanatha on the subject, but I was denied invitation, and the meeting never convened. As the weeks passed, my stress became unbearable, so I put out a message asking if any of Bhakti-Tirtha’s disciples knew of his view on the subject. I carefully phrased my question to be polite but clear.
The response came like a big, rolling snowball. Within 2 days I was publicly threatened by a Gita-nagari temple board member, and within a few more days numerous disciples had condemned me as a guru-aparadhi. I simply wanted to understand why it is proper to glorify someone with Vakrevara’s abhorrent behavior, especially while ISKCON was fundraising to pay for a child abuse lawsuit. I know I am materially conditioned, and I assumed that there was transcendental understanding justifying their actions. I always felt very fortunate to be able to offer my obeisances to these great devotees. I didn’t want trouble at all. I simply wanted to be admitted into the devotees’ transcendental reality, and asked for it to be explained to me. I thought that after ten years I have not been able free myself from material conditioning, and it seemed like I had been shown a way to compel the devotees to sharing their realizations so that I might get a taste for devotional service. That illusion was dispelled quickly.
A few explanations were offered, but they simply eroded the devotees’ credibility. The responses that came conflicted with each other, and conflicted with all logic and reason that I could understand. For instance, I someone said BTS believed Vakresvara was innocent, and someone else said he believed him guilty but wanted to give mercy. To my understanding, giving mercy looks a lot different than giving glorification, and has nearly opposite effects on one’s spiritual direction. Some referenced his commitment to child protection; but our present case showed disrespect for the CPO’s conclusion. Nothing made sense, but one fact was clear: Whatever Radhanatha and BTS thought, their followers accepted as perfect; and if I disagreed, I was labeled as offensive.
Somehow I found that there were GBC resolutions passed in 1999 that reserved certain types of glorification for Srila Prabhupada, such as the title His Divine Grace, the -pada suffix, public displays of photographs, photo on the altar when no arati being offered, etc. I could see that BTS’ disciples were disobeying practically all of these fairly often, and I thought it helped explain why I was not permitted to question either BTS’ and Radhanatha’s actions. When I wrote about this on my weblog, BTS’ disciples saw it and united in a conspiracy to oust me. The 1999 rule says that those who don’t obey it are subject to censure, but they censured me instead.
Actually, they held secret joint-board meetings to draft a method for impeaching me from the community board. There were apparently two or three meetings, and one or two phone calls with my guru. I found out about all this in a meeting wherein the other community board members presented me with papers to sign, accepting a method of impeachment if I don’t behave according to their understanding of Vaishnava etiquette.
I mention the calls to my guru because Bhaktimarga called me afterwards but didn’t tell me he spoke to anyone about me. I don’t know why, but when he brought up a subject that I hadn’t told him about yet, he said, “I don’t know where I heard that.” It was a lie, as a few days later I found out that he called me in response to a call from the two other community board members. It was obvious from the other things that Bhaktimarga was saying what they told him to say, which was quite different from the way he usually advised me. The fact that devotees would interfere in my sacred relationship with my guru, and that my guru would allow himself to be manipulated in this way, hurt my ability to follow him. And yet, what am I to do? How will I find Krishna?
Although I have consistently felt that I acted as compelled by my commitment to integrity in Srila Prabhupada’s service, seeing so many Vaishnavas acting this way has robbed me of my faith in their association. Moreover, it’s practically killed my incentive for sadhana bhakti (since the devotees who lied to me were all much better at this than me), as I now find it very difficult to admire devotees, particularly in the Gita-nagari leadership. I did not want this to happen, so I apologized publicly in various forums (for what I saw as duty but others took as offense), and we tried attending temple programs again, hoping to get inspired again.
So far I’ve been unsuccessful, in spite of ten years of trying to do my best to serve Srila Prabhupada’s mission. My wife was also happily engaging in Krishna conscious service until last year, and our kids were also appreciative. But now my wife is also very disillusioned with ISKCON, and our kids don’t know what to think about Hare Krishna things. I think our withdrawal had a significant draining effect on the Gita-nagari community. I don’t know how we can regain our enthusiasm to serve there again, but perhaps your service will help. I admire your effort and hope for your blessings. Hare Krsna.