Personal thoughts on ISKCON membership.
There’s been a lot of Internet Hare Krishna chatter lately about membership in ISKCON, and it’s a subject that I’ve been thinking about as it relates to me personally. In an ideal world, there would be no question for me. When I began my aspiration for devotional service, Krishna said to get some association of His devotees, and automatically I thought of ISKCON, even neglecting some subtle warnings He gave. Some years later, when I was first confronted by the rtvik issue, I decided to put off investigating it primarily because all my friends were in ISKCON and I did not want to be alienated or forced out of their association. Unfortunately, we’re not in an ideal world.
I remember after a few years of pursuing Krishna consciousness, I observed the peculiar fact that my devotional life seemed stronger when I did not have much devotee association. In fact, I’ve been through a handful of major and minor crises due to the influence of ISKCON devotees. Some of the bigger ones were when we found out about the New Vrindavana crimes while living there (1998), learning of the gurukula child abuse (1999), and being driven out of Gita-nagari for speaking up in opposition to a child molester who was praised by a few big gurus (2005). Somehow I managed to bounce back after each of these tribulations, but I’m beginning to wonder if there is a broader message that I’ve been suppressing, which is that perhaps I should reconsider my identity as a member of ISKCON.
It’s beginning to seem that if I don’t make a decision on this, it will be made for me. One devotee friend of mine was banned from Gita-nagari several years ago, so he finally built a small temple himself, a short walk down the road from the Gita-nagari driveway. Actually he once mentioned to me that his land was a part of the original Gita-nagari purchase, so he considers it also Gita-nagari, though I’m sure the ISKCON leadership would see it differently. Despite being forced out of the main devotee community, this gentleman has remained faithful to Srila Prabhupada and very enthusiastic in his spiritual life. I presume he has some personal flaws like the rest of us, but I admire his determination and demeanor, especially after what he’s been through. Naturally when he called me to announce the opening of his new temple, I was eager to attend.
There were just a few devotees at the temple opening, and ironically I heard later that the Sunday Feast at the ISKCON temple was cancelled that day. Apparently the Gita-nagari Temple President is somewhat infuriated by the existence of this new temple, as evidenced by the fact that one devotee was banned from Gita-nagari for helping announce the event and cooking the feast. Personally I think that taking such measures to deny a faithful follower of Srila Prabhupada the association of devotees on his own property is unbefitting conduct of a Vaisnava and outright cruel. I will never be able to accept such dirty politics among devotees. Oddly enough, for at least the past four years there has been a photo of Srila Prabhupada on the Gita-nagari bulletin board that is captioned with a quote of him saying there is no politics in Vaisnava society. It makes me wonder what kind of society ISKCON has become.
It so happens that I’ve also been wondering if I’ve been blacklisted because of attending a few programs at the “other” temple. A few weeks ago the temple president sent out an e-mail to community members, including several who live out of state, but my wife and I were not on the recipient’s list. Someone forwarded the e-mail to me noting that fact, but I haven’t made an issue of it. I’m still considering it. Furthermore, in the e-mail the TP said he was meeting with the families in the community, but he hasn’t met with us or contacted us about it. I can’t imagine that was an accident. It’s beginning to seem like he doesn’t consider us a part of the community, although we have not been overtly informed of this apparent fact.
I’m a little surprised, because I thought we had a deal. A few months ago he called me aside to discuss the fact that I believe Srila Prabhupada intended to remain the diksa guru for ISKCON. He confirmed that I’m aware of the GBC’s position on the issue, acknowledged my family’s value in the community, and requested that I not preach my view on this subject to existing members in the Gita-nagari community. I accepted his proposal and thought that keeping my end of the deal would be sufficient. Now it seems maybe not. We went to the Sunday Feast last weekend, and my wife had a cordial discussion with the TP’s wife, and I joined in after paying my respects to Srila Prabhupada and the Deities. Though I only briefly saw the TP and didn’t get to speak with him, the vibe we got from him seemed less friendly. I haven’t decided whether I should discuss my concerns with him or just let it go. One thing is that at least two devotees have had articles anonymously published on the Sampradaya Sun in the past several weeks, complaining about Gita-nagari management. It crossed my mind that I could be a suspect in that, but in fact I had nothing to do with any of those articles, nor do I know who did.
On a side note, one of the issues in the matter of ISKCON membership is the acceptance of the GBC’s authority versus the authority of the diksa guru. This is something that remains a question from several angles, and we may see it various ways depending on whether one is wearing the hat of the GBC, the guru, the disciple, or the ISKCON member. As I recall, there was an article and comments on Dandavats.com (heavily moderated, no doubt) a few months ago, and the issue is not resolved. Yes, more than thirty years after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance, they still haven’t figured out how to balance authority between the GBC and the initiating gurus. There can only be one reason for that problem, which is that Srila Prabhupada didn’t give any guidance on it. It really is an important issue, and I can’t believe Srila Prabhupada would have entirely neglected it, except for one simple reason: He did not intend there to be initiating gurus in ISKCON, other than himself, just as he was doing before. Take that one fact, which is supported by abundant evidence, and the problem ceases to exist.
Of course, my saying that could get me banned from ISKCON, but what can I do? I became an aspiring devotee because of seeking the absolute truth; not for society, friendship, and so-called love. I can’t change my view unless I’m convinced that another view is superior, and the threat to revoke my membership has exactly the opposite effect. What this comes down to is that I like being a part of ISKCON but I don’t depend on ISKCON for my relationship with Srila Prabhupada or with Krishna. If ISKCON wants aspiring devotees like me, I’m here and available along with my family; but if push comes to shove, I’d rather give up my membership than my ideals. Hare Krishna.