Recently Sita-pati Prabhu composed a blog entry addressing my strained relationship with ISKCON, and I appreciated what he wrote. ( http://www.atmayogi.com/node/3595 ) ?I realize that it must be a challenge for him dealing with the controversy I sometimes raise, which feeds to PlanetISKCON. I try to take that into consideration when I write, but I also do not want to do too much self-censorship on account of PlanetISKCON readers. It’s important to me that it stays authentic. ? Still, I have several draft posts that will probably never be published in consideration of their feelings. ? One devotee told me that the PlanetISKCON aggregator can pull posts based on tags too, and I proposed that to Sita-pati as a possibility. ? Maybe that will help reduce the number of reader objections, but I’m still waiting to hear back about it. Until then I don’t have a way to prevent anything I write here from appearing there.
I get a significant number of requests for me to lay off the negative view, and I wish it were that easy. ?In theory, I could have this be a purely inspirational blog, but I think there’s enough of that out there, and frankly that kind of writing doesn’t inspire me. ?Thats why I’m trying to be real here. ?My idea for this blog from the beginning was to give a candid look into the experience of an aspiring devotee, and I can only do that in the “first person” perspective.
If my writing often expresses a negative view, it’s important to ask why that is. ? I don’t think I’m an especially negative person, especially when it comes to spiritual life, and when I began my relationship with ISKCON I was extraordinarily hopeful. ?Unfortunately much of that hope has turned into disappointment, and I’ve been trying to understand exactly how and why that happened. ? I would think others should see the value in that too. ? It’s not like I’m the only one who has felt spiritually injured by their experiences in ISKCON, and if this phenomenon is not examined and understood then I’m sure there will be many more to come.
I remember one of my first visits to an ISKCON temple. ?It was in Issaquah, WA. ? My wife and I (we were a couple, but not yet married) went there three times, and on the second or third visit one young mataji, a mother with a young child, told me she was being abused by the temple president, Hari Vilas. ? At that time I had no concept at all of temple life and knew nothing about ISKCON, and I don’t recall the details of her story (I don’t think she was alleging violent or sexual abuse, rather I recall that she seemed to feel like a slave working all the time and unable to properly tend to her child), but I got the impression she felt desperate to just tell someone. ?I really didn’t know what to make of it, and I couldn’t really offer any help since I had so little experience. ? But this sits in the back of my mind as my first encounter of a cry for help from an ISKCON devotee. ?I regret that I could not intervene, and I hope that she is OK.
Really, that whole encounter was so far outside of my concept of Krishna consciousness that I had no place to file it in my mind. ?It’s a wonder I can even remember her at all. ?Back then my conception of Krishna consciousness was entirely mystical. ?Six months earlier I had left my former life in New York behind with the intent to go live as a hermit meditating in the Olympic National Forest. ? I arrived in Olympia at 10pm on a Thursday night (Sept 28, 1995), and the next morning I went to town and found a used hardcover Bhagavad-gita As It Is in a new age bookstore and a Vrajabasi painting of Krishna in an imports shop across the street. ?I dove into studying the text, and a week later Krishna appeared through the painting to tell me that what Srila Prabhupada said was all real. ?That’s a long story… ? I went back and bought several more of the paintings thinking they were Krishna personally hiding in them.
After that, I read Bhagavad-gita three times before I felt like I was prepared to meet Krishna again. ?(I had no idea how ridiculous that would sound to devotees.) ?I assumed that by going to a Hare Krishna temple I would get a chance to speak with Him again, and that His devotees there would put all have such an intimate, manifest relationship with Him, and more. ? Instead, whenever I’ve talked about Krishna as a real person, devotees would usually look at me as if I was weird or just trying to get attention. ?So I mostly stopped. ? Actually I’ve noticed that at least at temples where I’ve spent time, its rare to hear anyone talking about Krishna, and those who do tend to be seen as more or less weird or even a little crazy. ?I’ve always liked them though.
So that’s one thing that’s nobody’s fault. ? We have a certain degree or aspect of Krishna consciousness, and get Krishna’s causeless mercy as He as He gives it. ?Still, I came to ISKCON because Krishna told me to get some association of His devotees, but also because I really needed to find someone who understood what had happened to me and could help me to see Krishna again. ? I thought at least the gurus would be able to do that, but instead they’ve had the opposite effect on me.
Recently I read something that Satsvarupa had written, saying that we’re too neophyte to see Krishna. ? Well, that may be true in one sense, but I first saw Him a week after I began studying Bhagavad-gita and had never even met devotees. ?I didn’t even know whether to believe what I was reading yet. ?So obviously it’s not a question of neophyte or not. ? I was sincere and had set aside all other goals, and Krishna saw that and put me on the path of bhakti. ? We may be neophyte or not, but Krishna is always free to decide whether to appear or remain hidden.
So anyway, what Satsvarupa said is just what I need not to hear from a guru. ? I need hope that if by purifying my desire to see Krishna, by looking for Him everywhere, Krishna may be pleased and reveal Himself again. ?When He visited me in October 1995 He said I would be back for me at my time of death and I would see Him then, but He did not exactly say that I couldn’t see Him sooner. ? Should I give up that hope just because I’m so neophyte? ?That hope is my life.
in the Spring of 1976 Leslie and I went back to New York together, and in 1997 I really wanted to do the Hare Krishna thing full time. ? We decided we wanted to learn to farm, so we went to New Vrindavava, where, instead of learning to farm (the temple president just laughed when I said I wanted to do that), I learned about the crimes of New Vrindavana. ? What if New Vrindavana had developed the way Srila Prabhupada wanted it? ?I imagine my life would be a lot different than it is now.
What went wrong there? ? I would have to say it was the Zonal Acarya era. ?Was it a mistake? ?I can’t imagine how. ? They must have known what Srila Prabhupada wanted them to do, but they did something else to satisfy themselves. ?What we have now is an evolution of that corruption. ?I still dream of what ISKCON would be like if the Zonals hadn’t appointed themselves as so-called acaryas and then instituted a guru-by-vote system when that failed.
The idea that the corruption was systemic first hit me when I heard about the child abuse lawsuit. ? How could a society run by so many Krishna conscious, self-realized souls, Hare Krishna gurus for goodness sake, allow the devotees to be molested, beaten, and tortured? ?It was inconceivable. ? One could harshly declare it the kids’ karma, or something, but ISKCON’s job isn’t to dish out karma; it is to distribute Krishna’s mercy, inspire everyone to devotional service, and train devotees. ?Instead it produced hundreds of kids for whom the sounds “Hare Krishna” produced nightmares.
Yes there was a settlement and a little remuneration, but it was really a pittance. ? What’s a few thousand dollars compared to what these kids endured, not to mention what was taken from them in terms of faith in Srila Prabhupada’s gift of ISKCON? ?Moreover, not much was done to correct the the cause of the problem. ?Who put creeps in charge of the children? ? Who let them stay when their abuses became known? ?Have any of these leaders and managers been prosecuted for endangering the children? ?I’ve heard of none. ?With so many Krishna conscious acaryas running around, it’s a real surprise that such a scandal could happen.
So what does it mean? ?I wonder how this fits into Krishna’s plan. ?I know I had nothing to do with any child abuse, except for standing for child protection when the need arose. ? But somehow the experience of belonging to a spiritual society plagued with such scandals must have a root somewhere in my karma. ? None the less, I don’t believe that diminishes my duty to assert what I believe is right and good, and oppose what is wrong.
Notice there are two sides to that. ?The principle for rapid?advancement?in Krishna conscious is to accept what is favorable and reject what is unfavorable. ? Without focusing on the unfavorable, for the sake of eliminating it, when it is present, the system is incomplete. ? I don’t know if the gurus are so focused on themselves that they don’t notice the problems that affect the society at large, or if they’re too busy trying to keep their own flaws out of the public view to deal with the problems. ? Someday it may be that there are enough really advanced devotees around that?everything?goes smoothly and any difficulties are handled automatically, but for now I really think ISKCON needs some ombudsmen types who can voice concerns without fear of retribution.
Right now it takes a lot of courage to point out the appearance of a glaring fault on the part of a popular guru, obviously more courage than most devotees have. ? I can only do it because Krishna has already promised my deliverance, and even still I can tell you without a doubt that the suffering that comes from being ostracized from devotee association is almost unbearable. ? None the less, I would do it again for Srila Prabhupada if the need arises.
From what I can see, the heart of the problem is aspiring devotees’ desire to pretend we are more advanced than we are, for the sake of being held in high esteem. Lord Caitanya said that we have to chant Hare Krishna humbly, without false prestige, and that definitely includes not posing as a worshipable guru without being completely free from material desires. ? Because we have many desires that are too subtle for the conditioned souls to see, we need a self-realized guru to give?authorization, saying when one is qualified to accept disciples. ?Who has been given such a certification by Srila Prabhupada? ? The historical record reveals no one. ?I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to say that no one following in Srila Prabhupada’s line should act as a worshipable guru without such certification by Srila Prabhupada. ? We should give that position back to Srila Prabhupada and see how everything quickly comes into place. ? All glories to Srila Prabhupada. ? Hare Krishna.