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"Sentimental Reunion, Local Reality"
Dear CHAKRA readers: Due to the length of this article, Chakra was only able to publish a condensed version. Please see the following, which is the article in full, followed by reader comments.
Like many of my Godsisters and brothers, I felt encouraged by the reconciliation gesture extended by ISKCON’s "Srila Prabhupada Family Reunion Committee”. I received personal emails of invitation from Yadubara dasa, whose wife Vishakha dasi is a member of the Committee. A number of emails also arrived from other ISKCON notorieties such as HH Jayadvaita Swami [BBT] and Sriman Nrismhanadana dasa [ITV]. It would indeed be spiritually uplifting to go on pilgrimage to Mayapura, and I imagined the pleasure of reconnecting with dear friends with whom I had served throughout my thirty-five years in Srila Prabhupada’s service. Alas, I was not able to attend the global family get-together. In lieu of going, I began the “back to home, back to ISKCON” journey right in my own backyard by attending the local ISKCON temple in Portland with my wife Jahnava and a Bhakta friend.
At first, we were greeted with a very warm welcome. I was invited to present the Sunday feast lecture, and everyone present seemed appreciative. Over the next several weeks, with renewed enthusiasm we attended each and every Sunday, including Amala Bhakta’s visit on Lord Varaha’s Appearance Day.
Two weeks prior to Gaura Purnima, Trikalajna dasa, the Temple Commander, informed me that several members of the community were anxious to paint the inside of the temple before the festival. I agreed to assist them. Over two long days, I worked with the two Brahmacaris to transform the inside of the temple. I brought along a power washer and encouraged one of the local members to clean up the outside areas around the temple. None of the Board members pitched in that weekend.
The two brahmacaris had to spend an overnight at our home ashram because the paint fumes were so strong. The next day was the Sunday feast. The three devotees from our ashram arrived, with our usual contribution of numerous prasadam preparations. Having previously been asked by one of the Board members if I would join the lecture rotation, it was my turn to give the Sunday lecture. After the program, the Board members ushered me into their office, asking me to join them for prasadam. I was expecting a gesture of appreciation for helping to transform the temple from dirty and dingy to brilliantly bright. Instead, I encountered a thick wall of negativity from the Board members (Brhad Bala dasa Adhikary, Brhad Mrdanga dasa Adhikary, Govardhana dasa Adhikary and Seva Priya devi dasi). While taking prasadam, I was treated to a stream of accusations. At first I attempted a point-by-point counter, but my efforts to convince the Board members that my devotional service wasn’t ill-motivated fell on very deaf ears.
I reassured the Board that I am in full compliance with ISKCON’s position as it relates to their ecclesiastical rivals, the Rtvik and BV Narayana Maharaja camps. I pointed to articles on my website, HareKrsna.com, wherein I have strongly challenged the asiddhantic theories of these two groups. Regardless of how I tried to inject some reason into the conversation, it was apparent that the Board members were of a pre-determined state of mind.
The Board proceeded to communicate to me a convoluted conspiracy theory based upon their suspicions of my ‘sudden’ regular attendance. In order to give some evidentiary substance to their unfounded fears, they mentioned having seen various “offensive” passages on my website. The crux of the accusation was that I had “denigrated” HH Jayadvaita Swami and HH Bhakti Caru Swami. They suggested that I was now showing up at the temple for the purpose of promoting my website, hoping to get the local devotees to come online and read my articles.
I asked them to show me specific examples of statements in my writings that they found objectionable, but they were unable to point to anything specific, although they had the HareKrsna.com website up on the office computer screen. When I offered to discuss any perceived philosophical differences with them, Seva Priya dasi replied that they didn’t feel qualified to discuss philosophy with me, and I should go to Hridayananda dasa to have that discussion. After much ado about nothing, no incriminating documentary evidence was brought to bear. I shared with them the fact that I had been invited to attend the Srila Prabhupada Family Reunion in Mayapura this year by none other than HH Jayadvaita Swami, who had also recently emailed me expressing his approval of my paper, “The Church of Rtvik”. I assured the Board that the mood between Jayadvaita Swami and myself was collegial. While I haven’t talked with him personally in recent years, HH Bhakti Caru Swami is recognized as one the few GBC who regularly listens to outside Godbrothers, so I doubt that he is particularly offended over anything I may have written about him on the website.
Throughout the meeting, the Board members simply emoted unflattering opinions of me, personally. After much back and forth, their bottom line was communicated in the form of a ban on my giving any more classes or lectures in future. This decree was not based upon any philosophical statements I had made in the classes I had already given, nor anything I had said to any other temple member. Prior to this meeting, not one of the Board members had expressed any apprehensions to me. Their nebulous excuse for this abrupt sanction was summed up by the remark, “we don’t know you well enough”. Over the weeks prior to this meeting, many members of the temple community had frequently expressed their appreciation to my wife and I for the “older devotee association”. (I am nearly twice the age of most everyone active in the Portland temple.) While we had also heard these sentiments from a few members of the Board, none of the Board members had made any attempt to “get to know me”.
The Board declared that if I attended future programs, they would be watching and listening to insure I didn’t say anything that could be construed as criticism of ISKCON. They told me that in their opinion, I wasn’t a bonafide ISKCON member. I reminded them that I had held very responsible posts within ISKCON for over 20 years, and that to my knowledge, I had not been “ex-communicated”. I still have many friends in leadership positions within ISKCON. The Board would not budge, however. Except for the suggestion made by Brhat-Bala dasa that I could open my own temple across the street if I wanted, the only option on the boardroom table was that I must pass their nebulous “approval test”. They made it abundantly clear, however, that if I were foolish enough to continue attending temple programs, my every word and action would be scrutinized. Would anyone looking for spiritual enlivenment attend temple programs under those conditions?
A few days after the meeting, I requested that the Board’s official position be put in writing so there would be no future misunderstanding, given that the meeting wasn’t recorded and there were no impartial witnesses present. I never received the courtesy of a reply.
A few weeks after the Board roast, Bir Krishna dasa Goswami, the local GBC, arrived in Portland. I emailed him with a request for the two of us to meet and discuss the situation. He agreed to meet with me, but wrote: “I will not get into any philosophical debate or discussion. I will leave that up to devotees like Hridayananda Maharaja.”
Govardhana dasa sat in on the meeting to represent the Board. My three stated objectives were to discuss 1) the local Board’s sanction against me; 2) GBC guidelines on Srila Prabhupada’s disciples returning to ISKCON; and 3) GBC requirements for starting a new ISKCON temple.
In preparation for the meeting, Seva-Priya dasi had printed out for Bir Krishna dasa Goswami an example of “offensive utterances” taken from my website. While I wasn’t provided with a copy of these documents, the stack of papers appeared to include my “Sampradaya Acarya” and “Church of Rtvik” papers, along with an old Dharma Mela posting about the passing of Tamal Krishna Goswami. It was the latter reference that Bir Krishna dasa Goswami chose to focus his attention on. He said that this article in particular had “pierced his heart”. Interestingly, Bir Krishna dasa Goswami has just taken over Tamal Krishna Goswami’s Zonal responsibilities in Fiji. Perhaps he is now politically obligated to take a strong stand against anyone overtly critical of Tamal Krishna Goswami.
Throughout our two-hour conversation, the assumption was that this article about Tamal Krishna Goswami was presently online in my site, and easily accessible for all to read. Seva Priya devi had conveniently chosen to omit the crucial fact that she had not recently downloaded the article from my website. In fact, upon returning home I researched this Dharma Mela article and discovered that it had been written in April 2002, when it was posted behind a security wall in the website. At that point in time, one could only gain password access to the Dharma Mela by registering and signing a User Agreement. In addition, the post in question was only online for a 3 month period, because on June 1st, the entire Dharma Mela forum was discontinued at HareKrsna.com. Throughout my discussion with Bir Krishna dasa Goswami, he repeatedly stated that the current GBC policy is to “forget the past that sleeps”. It is unfortunate that Seva Priya devi wasn’t forthcoming with Bir Krishna dasa Goswami about when and where she got this article. If she had been, perhaps he would have considered it to be part of the ‘sleeping past’.
In fact, the real bottom line clearly presented to me by Bir Krishna dasa Goswami is that to be a member of ISKCON, one is obliged to never publicly broadcast one’s privately held opinions if they could possibly disturb the minds and hearts of the followers of diksa gurus or other important ISKCON officials. This message was emphatically and repeatedly communicated to me during the meeting. He conceded that many institutional insiders share many of my opinions, and that nothing he came across from my website was factually incorrect. However, I had broken the cardinal rule of confidentially: everything which is potentially controversial remains private amongst one’s Godbrothers/sisters. As he explained it to me, this ultimatum is based upon the principle that the political party faithful never criticize their public leaders, nor do institutional employees publicly criticize their bosses without risk of being fired.
Unfortunately, in the space of this article I can’t offer elaborate detail about the content of my long conversation with Bir Krishna dasa Goswami. Overall, he agreed with me on nearly all of my key points, yet throughout the dialogue he replied with the predictable “BUT BUT”. What he consistently disagreed with me about was my having a right to publicly state my personal opinions. His position was based on the principle that we have an obligation to not disturb the minds of the neophyte disciples, or those who may be looking for a guru. Consequently, he backed up the Portland Board’s decision one hundred percent. I remain persona non-gratis at ISKCON Portland for some indeterminate period.
In this article, I am relating my personal experience in order to illustrate what appears to be a society-wide dynamic faced by Srila Prabhupada’s disciples who attempt to re-involve themselves in ISKCON. Whether one was fortunate enough to attend the Srila Prabhupada Family Reunion festival, or simply begins to attend their local ISKCON temple, they are faced with a similar dilemma. Both alternatives require the prodigal son or daughter to overcome big reality hurdles at the grassroots level. We hear a familiar refrain coming from many ISKCON quarters these days: “rest assured, things are much better now”. Unfortunately, my local encounter indicates that for me, things are even worse today than they were during my ten post-samadhi years acting as an authority within ISKCON. Granted, I was a seasoned navigator of the institutional minefields back then and I had some institutional clout that eased my way. But what I found at the ISKCON Portland temple was that newcomers or uncommitted visitors coming through the door for the Sunday Feast were looked upon with less suspicion than a Godbrother of their spiritual master, dressed in dhoti and tilaka.
By tasting one drop of the ocean, one can tell how the whole ocean tastes. This sums up our visit to ISKCON Portland. The reality of the experience I described above is far from the ‘love and trust mood’ articulated on the Srila Prabhupada Family Reunion website. I invite the reader to study carefully the opening statement sent by the Family Reunion Committee to many disciples of Srila Prabhupada:
“His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada built a house in which the whole world can live. Many fortunate souls have taken shelter in that house and become a part of the ISKCON family, especially while Srila Prabhupada was on this planet. In course of time however, for various reasons, some members are not as actively involved as they once were. Srila Prabhupada himself explained that when an acarya leaves the planet, there are bound to be crises. Srila Prabhupada is not only the Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, but the preeminent siksa guru and dearmost well-wisher, guide and friend of every member of ISKCON for all time. Therefore, it is natural that after Srila Prabhupada's disappearance, our family faced difficulties, and the most unfortunate outcome of those difficulties is the distancing of some of our dear family members. Realizing this loss, the GBC body resolved to hold a "Srila Prabhupada Family Reunion" in Mayapur during the 2005 Gaura Purnima Festival. All members of our ISKCON family are humbly requested to attend, with a special invitation to those who may not currently play an active role in the society.”
Did Bir Krishna dasa Goswami embody this kind-hearted, welcoming mood with me? Certainly not! Are the individual GBC transmitting this heart felt, “all are welcome back” attitude down the line to their disciples? Apparently not. Past problems within ISKCON relating to the irreverent attitudes of grand-disciples toward their Guru’s Godbrothers have been a sore spot since 1977. For many previous members, particularly the high-level managers, this inhospitable mentality directly contributed to their reluctant departure. Proper sastric etiquette differentiating the relationships between the grand-disciples and the Guru’s Godbrothers is obviously still not being taught to the disciples.
According to the Srila Prabhupada Family Reunion Committee, “Srila Prabhupada himself explained that when an acarya leaves the planet, there are bound to be crises.” Considering that Srila Prabhupada departed nearly thirty years ago, I for one am wondering when this crisis will finally wind down. Is the yearly reunion idea the beginning of a new era, or just an attempt to tip toe past the graveyard?
Attending the Srila Prabhupada Family Reunion festival and becoming enlivened doesn’t translate back to the long-term, day-to-day grassroots reality. For many, associating with Srila Prabhupada’s followers can only be realized by regularly attending a local temple. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, when asked for the definition of a Vaisnava stated, “ A Vaisnava is one who associates with other Vaisnavas”.
As for the mass departure of God-siblings that resulted from the family crisis, my present, practical, personal experience illustrates that the original crisis dynamics known by many as the Zonal Acarya era are still all pervasive. The philosophical discrepancies lying at the root of this chronic illness have never been addressed by ISKCON. The well-meaning GBC who are spearheading this refreshing attitude of love and trust speak sunny words, but their mood apparently doesn’t translate down to the temple level.
At the source of this vexation lies the discordant concept of GBC verses diksa gurus. Many Diksa gurus tacitly consent to be seen by their disciples as pure empowered representatives of the past Sampradaya Acaryas. When their maha-mistakes become public knowledge, they beg everyone’s forgiveness by confessing that in truth, they are only sincere, fallible servants. This is also the case here in Portland, where the disciples of Prithu dasa are now struggling to make sense of this inconsistency.
Another dimension to this family crisis is that many diksa gurus have influenced their disciples into believing that the departed ‘family feud’ victims are, in fact, nothing more than spiritual weaklings, “bloopers” fringees, and/or cowardly deserters. The insiders repetitively remind us of Srila Prabhupada’s infrequent statements beseeching his disciples to continue participating in his ISKCON lila pastimes “through thick or thin”. Of course, broadcasting this same message under present day ISKCON circumstances, as if we are still in a Srila Prabhupada ISKCON lila period, is most disingenuous. I doubt that the reciting of new-age clichés such as “put the past behind us and look forward” will rectify the wrongs and heal the wounded hearts.
The re-recycled theme “when an acarya leaves the planet, there are bound to be crises” is a grand sweep on post-samadhi history. I can only assume that if I had gone to Mayapura and voiced my disapproval of this hallucinatory historical version, the welcome mat would have quickly disappeared. The GBC’s attempt to un-ring the bell by repetitively chanting this mantra is more than simply annoying. The Family Reunion invitation message was: “All members of our ISKCON family are humbly requested to attend, with a special invitation to those who may not currently play an active role in the society.” Yet the “humble” request expressed here seems to have an underlying message: the invited are expected to be humble and grateful for being extended this invitation -- not the other way around. Between the lines, we know that if any Godbrother/sister voices disagreement with ISKCON’s historical over-simplification, they essentially become un-invited. My experience at ISKCON Portland underscores the reality that this dynamic continues to this day at the local temple level.
As I have been reminded here in Portland, the underlying warning is crystal clear: Dear Godbrothers and sisters, we request you to refrain from sharing your traumatic experiences. In fact, we insist upon it. If sharing your personal history means turning the spotlight on present prominent ISKCON members, then be forewarned – you are not welcome here. Disparaging remarks made about ISKCON GBC or gurus are likely to offend their disciples. ISKCON finds it far preferable to offend the disgruntled Godbrothers/sisters -- Srila Prabhupada’s own direct disciples -– than to risk having them offend the grand-disciples. This is the bottom-line equation that was recently articulated to me by Bir Krishna dasa Goswami and the ISKCON Portland Board.
The filter the GBC has imposed over their historical lens is designed to eliminate the harmful blame rays illuminating the “ultimate managing authorities” who were directly responsible for instituting the many crisis-creating programs. The past GBC ‘turn or burn’, asiddhantic mandates resulted in institutionalizing extremely offensive attitudes aimed squarely at undermining the devotional service of many of their spiritual siblings. Bir Krishna dasa Goswami related to me his personal sad story of Zonal Acarya oppression, but that pastime must remain between us and behind closed doors. He is not free to state it publicly. That’s the name of the ISKCON game, and not abiding by the rules automatically disqualifies one from re-entry! God forbid that any victim of the “family crisis” should commit the unforgivable mistake of associating with, or worse still identifying himself with, an outspoken critic of any of the GBC or their policies.
Mutinous behavior of this sort burns an indelible mark on the outspoken devotee’s character, and this mark apparently requires an act of GBC absolution for removal. As for all the major deviations made by the GBC over the years, such as the Zonal Acarya System or the Gopi Bhava Club, to name just a few, we are expected to magnanimously delete these from our memories. In contrast, our personal mini-mistakes will require public exposure and profuse apologies such as those we’ve recently seen published by writers such as Dasanudasa Vanacari.
While talking to Bir Krishna dasa Goswami, I was informed that no society-wide rules or guidelines exist which specify the qualifications required of a returning Srila Prabhupada disciple. It appears that all such decisions are left to the local authorities, who for the most part, are likely to be disciples of the returning member’s Godbrothers. As we can see in Portland, if just one of the grand-disciples ‘Googles’ your name and comes up with anything they construe as “offensive”, then be prepared for an inquisition. It reminds me of McCarthyism, but in the ISKCON scenario the most neophyte among us may sit as judge and jury and there is no constitutional protection of freedom of the press, expression or religion.
It may be the luck of the draw, but the odds are stacked against many Srila Prabhupada disciples getting a fair shake at ISKCON temples. This phenomenon is one of the main reasons so many of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples have found that their only option is to move to Alachua in order to gain devotee association. One result of this unfortunate circumstance is that many North American temples are becoming either “hindu-ized”, a single guru’s matha/asrama, or else they are gradually dwindling into oblivion.
Recently, yet another ISKCON campaign was begun to try and stem this tide -- the Spiritual Strategic Planning Team (SSPT).
Sadly, we see that not one of the 53 initiatives heralded by the SSPT suggests attracting the previously trained-up, committed followers/disciples of Srila Prabhupada. The SSPT’s stated goal is to rekindle the enthusiasm manifest during Srila Prabhupada’s physical presence. The reader naturally assumes that would include re-involving those who were actually active participants in Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON lila, but that does not appear to be of significant interest to the group… at least not of enough interest to merit inclusion as one of the named initiatives.
Gopal Bhatta Prabhu’s primary qualification for leading the SSPT is his multiple successes in entrepreneurial business ventures. In many respects, ISKCON’s corporate structure parallels a standard business franchise. Unfortunately, in ISKCON’s case there are no written contracts to set the boundaries of how each branch is permitted to present itself to the public, as is the case with franchises. The SSPT has an initiative to protect ISKCON’s public image and continuity, yet there is no definition of what constitutes membership, which is inherent to continuity. Perhaps some of the devotee lawyers involved in SSPT will work with the GBC to produce a professional document which unambiguously sets forth the prerequisite qualifications required for ISKCON membership. Until that happens, we can expect that others will face the same situation I just did at ISKCON Portland.
At the root of this problem is the fact that no one in the GBC, SSPT or elsewhere, is facing up to the fundamental 28-year problem mentioned above: the dynamics of super-imposing diksa guru/disciple relationships onto temple management. This rasa-bhasa makes the day-to-day temple management exceedingly more frustrating and complex. Many of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, and especially the senior temple authorities, reluctantly bowed out of ISKCON due to their frustration in trying to manage under this impossible scenario. Is the GBC and SSPT going to cling to the traditional Vedic system like the Gaudiya Matha, or to the western religious institutional paradigm based on democracy and transparency? Clearly, the present day ISKCON managerial system is a hybrid that is unworkable in North America. Judge by the results! The SSPT will fall short of achieving it’s lofty goal of “rekindling the enthusiasm manifest during Srila Prabhupada’s physical presence” unless and until the GBC successfully addresses their clashing duel power structure. In our case, the power is surcharged by absolute-ness. Down at the grassroots level, where most of the “small-timers” and “outsiders” reside, this is the bewildering reality we experience. The elite don’t want to know about this problem because it’s a problem that seldom impacts them, and they don’t have an easy solution.
This question lies at the root of the declining North American Temple problem: In the minds of initiated members of the temple, who has the ultimate authority -- their diksa Guru or the local authority representing the GBC? The prevalent denial factor illustrates the enormity of this obstacle to progress. Managerial manipulation by the SSPT will not alone bring about achievement of our common goal. My comments concerning the Reunion or SSPT are not in the spirit of raining on someone’s parade. I wish the organizers of SSPT success in their undertaking, but wonder if it is possible without dealing with the issue of unclear ‘ultimate’ authority.
Given the absence of free communication with an open-minded ISKCON, my only access to affecting change is through the independent free speech offered by the Internet. Bir Krishna dasa Goswami made it abundantly clear during our candid conversation that my public truth-speaking has made me persona non-gratis within ISKCON. I asked Bir Krishna dasa Goswami whether or not he thought that I was being brahminically minded in my straightforward outspokenness. While he agreed with me on nearly all of my debate points, he would not agree that I was brahminical. He admitted that he had uncovered nothing on my website that was factually untrue, and several times remarked that my writing was ‘sophisticated’, BUT…. he equated brahminical behaviour with speaking only sweet words. He agreed that my complaints about ISKCON were valid and true, BUT…. he unabashedly explained to me that participating in any official capacity within modern ISKCON -- even giving classes in a small temple -- is equivalent to being a cabinet member of the Bush Administration. Here Govardhana dasa chimed in to say that it was comparable to being a member of the US Army (which he is). No one can criticize President George W. Bush.
What does Srila Prabhupada say?
“Prabhupada: So similarly, the first class man is truthful. Now, wherever you find a truthful man, you classify him as brahmana. That is wanted. Why do you take that “Here is a son of truthful man; therefore he is brahmana”? That is misconception. You have to pick up the truthful men all over the world and classify them as brahmana. The first qualification of a brahmana is that he’s truthful. He’ll disclose everything even to his enemy. He’ll never, I mean to say, hide anything.”
Srila Prabhupada Conversations 6-26-76
“Prabhupada: You are in need of manager. You cannot deny another class of men of manager, so why not make the best manager, the brahmana, who is truthful, who is equal, satya samah damah, who is control of his senses, satya samah damah titiksa, who is tolerant? These are the brahminical qualification. Satya samah damah titiksa. Who is simple, not hypocrite. Everyone is hypocrite. So why there should not be a class who is not hypocrite? All politicians saying something in the mouth and doing something else, because they are sudra.”
Conversation with Press 03-21-75
The first high profile persons thrown out of ISKCON after Srila Prabhupada’s departure were considered at the time to be the most brahminical, namely Pradyumna dasa and Yasoda nandana dasa. Their only fault was that they dared to speak out truthfully against the infamous Zonal Acarya system. If you are a truth speaking Brahmana today, then you are apparently still not welcomed back to ISKCON. That precondition appears not to have changed since those early years. At least Bir Krishna dasa Goswami was truthful enough to make that point abundantly clear to me.
In the final analysis Bir Krishna dasa Goswami, like most of the GBC, has a different individual conception of what Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON is compared to others such as myself. Being Canadian by birth, I like to read this letter sent by Srila Prabhupada in 1968 to the Governor General of Canada, wherein he concisely defines his ISKCON. His letter states clearly that ISKCON opposes religious dogmatic wranglings by providing clear theistic knowledge and practice. Is this the ISKCON of today?
“ISKCON (the International Society of Krishna Consciousness) is a non-lucrative organization, whose purpose is to promote the well-being of human society by drawing its attention to God. We are a non-sectarian society, and our members include people from Christian, Jewish and Moslem as well as Hindu faiths. The aim of ISKCON is not to found a new religious sect, but to invoke the living entity's dormant love of God, and thus provide the human society of all faiths with a common platform of clear theistic knowledge and practice. Members of ISKCON may retain their own respective religious faiths, as ISKCON is meant to establish a clear, practical common formulation of the common ideal of all theists, and to defeat the unnecessary dogmatic wranglings that now divide and invalidate the theistic camp. This common ideal of theism is to develop love of God.”
By sharing these thoughts, I hope to inform my readers. Perhaps some of the power brokers may also be inspired and motivated to institute the necessary changes in ISKCON. As stated by the SSPT, we all hanker for the original spiritual atmosphere found in Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON.
It’s not that power corrupts! It’s the fear of losing power. This is deafeningly amplified when the power is absolute.
Replies: 39 Comments
Posted by Cosmo Guarriello Jr @ 01/23/2006 07:34 PM PST
Attention all GBC Members All Glories to Srila Prabhupada,
Concerning the running of Radha Govinda Mandir (Brooklyn New York). We are the concerned devotees who attend the Temple on a regular basis. We are asking for a change in management because the temple is being insufficently run. There aren't any programs to cultivate our Krishna Conciousness. The neighborhood around the Temple is also being neglected because the people are black and poor. There are people here who are better suited to manage the temple affairs. Please look into this matter so that the devotees who are sincere can have a place that is progressive and noteworthy. Just the way Prabhupada intended.
Radha Govinda Mandir(ISKCON New York)
Posted by Cosmo Guarriello Jr @ 01/23/2006 07:34 PM PST
Attention all GBC Members All Glories to Srila Prabhupada,
Concerning the running of Radha Govinda Mandir (Brooklyn New York). We are the concerned devotees who attend the Temple on a regular basis. We are asking for a change in management because the temple is being insufficently run. There aren't any programs to cultivate our Krishna Conciousness. The neighborhood around the Temple is also being neglected because the people are black and poor. There are people here who are better suited to manage the temple affairs. Please look into this matter so that the devotees who are sincere can have a place that is progressive and noteworthy. Just the way Prabhupada intended.
Radha Govinda Mandir(ISKCON New York)
Posted by Garsett @ 01/23/2006 07:11 AM PST
As an outsider, this is what I see:
The blogosphere is the echo-chamber of the Internet. It is the worrying group mind, that amplifies our fears.
Compared to many other blogs, that can become real rat-holes, I've found many healing reactions from devotees here, which supports my trust in the Hare Krisna movement.
At the same time I am reminded that any effort in institutionalizing spirituality is bound to experience conflicts, as long as there are people who see organizing such a movement more important than the practice of love to Krisna, the source of all.
I wish all involved here healing and peace.
Posted by jagat-purusa dasa @ 08/14/2005 05:13 PM PST
actually, sorry... my post is there.
Posted by jagat-purusa dasa @ 08/14/2005 05:09 PM PST
why was my question taken out, but the answer left in?
Posted by shiva das @ 07/08/2005 10:10 PM PST
It was just brought to my attention by a disciple of Bhakti Marg Swami; Pandu Das, that I mistakingly refered to Bhakti Marg Swami in one of my posts on this thread, as having attacked a Guru Godbrother in writing in public.
That was incorrect. I apologize. I remembered incorrectly the name of the Swami who criticized his dying godbrother and was chastised by the GBC. It was Bhakti Vikas Swami, not Bhakti Marg Swami.
This is what I was refering to:
Which is from:
Again I apologize for the mistake.
Posted by Rocana dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:45 AM PST
Dear Harivilas prabhu,
Dandavats. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I appreciate your sentiment in regards to helping Prithu prabhu, and hope that you and I both have the same sentiment should one or the other of us be in a similar situation someday. I hope that the leopard has changed his spots, because Prithu in the past has been somewhat unfriendly to me, for various reasons I won’t get into now. Hopefully his circumstances have made him a little more humble. Along with recuperating from a lack of money, friends and good health, I trust he’ll get some nice spiritual realizations in the process.
I try to have faith that Krsna will protect me in all circumstances, and in hindsight it seems that He always has. In both external circumstances as well as internal spiritual ones I feel I have been protected, although I never would have guessed my life would unfold the way it has.
Thank you very much for explaining your philosophy surrounding My Sweet Lord. Next time we come through Seattle we’ll definitely stop. If you could give me a phone number and address, I’ll phone ahead and make sure we can connect. I’ll enjoy seeing how your program is going along.
In regards to manning your food booth at the Hemp Festival in August, we were planning on visiting the Vancouver Ratha Yatra. We have plans to take a new devotee we’ve cultivated (who we live with) up to Vancouver, which will be his first Ratha Yatra experience. I have many devotee friends I seldom see who attend that Ratha Yatra, and my family is all in that area, so it’s a little hard to extricate myself from that. Let us know the schedule and details of your other events this summer, and we’ll try to come and offer some assistance at some other venue. I’d rather be engaged in some preaching circumstance rather than food booth, if you have that kind of facility as well. My wife would be happy to get some service in anything prasadam related, as would Bhakta Eric.
Please pay my respects to the Deities and devotees, and to Prithu prabhu.
Posted by Harivilas das @ 06/26/2005 03:45 AM PST
Dear Rocana Prabhu,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I always try to put myself in the same position as the person I am thinking about. If one day I also find myself without friends, without money, and sick (like Prithu Prabhu), I would really appreciate someone offering a helping hand while I recuperated.
It is also very important to have faith that Krishna will protect us in all circumstances. I have never doubted this fact and have seen the miraculous working of it often.
My Sweet Lord is a fun place to preach and make many friends. I would like to open one in Portland. It requires a few very dedicated persons and a back up of
a community of donors. It is feasible if we have faith in the mercy of Krishna and preach in a humble way.
People are reluctant even to take free food unless it is offered with love. Soup kitchens offer free food. My Sweet Lord offers a place where people get a soft landing into KC as well as free food. There is no pressure on them and the athmosphere preaches more than the words. We have a Thursday night Bhagavad gita class and straight KC night but the rest of the days are more informal and just a get together place and making friends and engaging those who want in some service. We don't pressure anyone with learning about KC. They do it naturally because they are attracted by the affectionate devotees that serve there.
My Sweet Lord is an experiment in spreading opulence by giving, not hoarding for the accumulation of
opulence for a few. There is the added dimension of giving Krishna Prasadam. Many people are instantly atracted to such an endeavor.
Please vist us and let me know when. This year we are many festivals in the Seattle area with a My Sweet Lord Food booth and a separate Krishna book booth.
We will do the Hempfest in August at the same time as the Vancouver Rathayatra. If you would like to volunteer for the Food Booth with your wife we would be honored. It is a great preaching and bonding experience. There will be 200,000 young kids at the festival.
Posted by Rocana dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:45 AM PST
Dear Harivilas dasa Prabhu,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
It is touching that you are saddened by the treatment we received in Portland. As a local GBC, you apparently decided that your only alternative was to set-up another temple rather than fixing this one. Who am I to try and do something to rectify an embarrassing circumstance in the name of Srila Prabhupada? Dhananjaya dasa recently contacted me, kindly extending an invitation to the Hillsboro Yatra. It’s twice the distance for us to travel compared to Portland, but we’ll be taking him up on his invitation soon.
I have read about your new restaurant and it’s unique approach to preaching Krsna Consciousness. I would be interested to visit you there and see for myself the positive results you are experiencing. Being bold and inventive in our efforts to present the mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu is admirable. I am all for trying new means and methods.
I also heard from Bir Krishna dasa Goswami, the new GBC for Portland, that you have given shelter to Prithu dasa Prabhu, the past GBC/Guru of the Portland Temple. I asked The Goswami why it was that Prithu dasa was extended such a warm welcome under the circumstances, but I was not worthy of a similar mood. He struggled to come up with a suitable answer. It seems that you are more merciful than the local authorities here. We are looking forward to enjoying this favorable attitude upon our visit.
Rocana dasa and Jahnava devi
Posted by Rocana dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:44 AM PST
The following article by Sailendriya devi dasi recently appeared on Chakra in response to my “Sentimental Reunion” article:
I was saddened to read the article by Rocana Das. I am a disciple of Srila Prabhupada living in Nottingham. I was longing for the association of devotees and was fortunate to attend Rathayatra in Leicester. There I was reunited with some of my godbrothers who welcomed me and introduced me to some disciples of HH Sivarama Swami, who organise the Nama Hatta in Nottingham. These devotees have encouraged me, supporting me through difficult times. I am now an active member of Nama Hatta and I also have had the opportunity to visit the Temple in Leicester where I have felt nothing but affection from the devotees new and old. Whenever there is a visiting Swami or special event at the temple, these devotees make sure we all know of it so that we can take advantage of the association. They have shown me nothing but kindness and my spiritual life is now flourishing as a result. Please do not be discouraged. I am not qualified to advise anyone other than to constantly seek out the association of devotees.
Sailendriya Devi Dasi
Sailendriya devi’s name sounds familiar, but I’m not sure if we know one another. Perhaps we met when I was serving in England, from 1978 through 1982.
In my article, I pointed out that my reason for describing my local circumstances was not simply to cry the blues or find fault with the local authorities, but rather to highlight the inconsistencies in ISKCON’s policy regarding returning or visiting Srila Prabhupada disciples. There are a multitude of mitigating factors that determine the quality of welcome experienced by the disciples of Srila Prabhupada when they attend ISKCON temples. The reception they get often comes from the disciples of their Godbrothers, who usually make-up the local management. It would be hard for me to imagine the reception I’d get if I showed up unannounced at ISKCON Leicester. HH Sivarama Swami and I are old friends going back to our early days (1972) in eastern Canada. In fact, I remember picking him up at Heathrow Airport when in first arrived in England in 1980.
My last ten years of writing has focused on philosophical and critical analysis of issues of importance to the Vaisnavas. I’m sure HH Sivarama Swami doesn’t fully agree with some of the content, although I haven’t had any feedback from him directly. If Sivarama Swami or his disciples wanted to Google me, I’m sure they would discover something that could or would give them reason to meter out a similar fate as I experienced here in Portland. The question is whether or not the local ISKCON temple is looked upon as a Srila Prabhupada temple or as the local GBC/diksa Guru’s temple. Unfortunately, this most important point was not addressed by Sailendriya devi in her article.
From my point of view, my twenty years of uninterrupted service to Srila Prabhupada within ISKCON, and ten years outside, has awarded me the right to visit and feel welcome in each and every ISKCON temple. I have made it clear that I don’t profess any forbidden philosophy (Rtvik or Gaudiya Matha). Still, there’s no assurance that I would be welcomed at any of Srila Prabhupada’s temples. The international GBC has little or no say in what transpires on a local temple level other than assigning and empowering the local GBC, so, there isn’t any recourse for someone like myself if I’m ill treated in a particular temple. Then there’s the delicate matter of the small temple leaders feeling the need to protect their institutional position. Some may feel threatened by a much older, experienced Srila Prabhupada disciple coming regularly, as was the situation I found here in Portland. Here, the board virtually concocted bogus reasons to drive me away, in part because they anticipated the natural gravitation of their member’s attention away from them, in the direction of someone more knowledgeable about the philosophy.
In Leicester, just as here in Portland, I would surely have been given audience with the local GBC/Guru. Would Sivarama Swami have acted any differently than Bir Krishna dasa Goswami? That question is hard to determine, but somehow I think not. Supporting their own disciples over their Godbrothers has been a common practice in ISKCON for over twenty-five years. It’s a disturbing dynamic that has caused many Srila Prabhupada disciples to leave his movement, including myself. Maybe Sivarama Swami will tell you the story of how he and I teamed up, along with other senior disciples, in struggling with the problems created by the huge Zonal Acarya, Jayatirtha, in the early eighties. The Yatra lost may good disciples on account of them following their Guru rather than Srila Prabhupada. Soon afterwards, Sivarama Swami became the GBC of England after aligning himself 100% with another Zonal Acaraya, Bhagavan the Sun God. We all know what eventual happened to him. So, my past and my nature is no doubt much different than Sailendriya devi’s. Consequently, I am inadvertently put into a unique and awkward situation, which I never would have predicted back in my days of service to ISKCON.
Posted by Harivilas das @ 06/26/2005 03:43 AM PST
Dear Rocana Prabhu,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I am saddened by the treatment you received in Portland. However, I have started another temple there (last three years) with the intent to circumvent such discouraging events. You are more than welcome at the Hillsboro temple. You are also more than welcome in Seattle where there is a temple and a free vegetarian restaurant.
Posted by Jahnava @ 06/26/2005 03:43 AM PST
Dear Wendy and Nitai das,
Rocana and I would be very happy to get your association. Would you email your contact info to us, please? You can send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Rocana dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:43 AM PST
Dear Wendy, Nitai das, and all the local devotees who have shared their personal experiences here in Portland, Oregon. Jatayu dasa has hit on a very important theme, which I was also wanting to express. Namely, that my recent unfortunate experiences with the ISKCON Portland temple really highlight the overall worldwide perspective. Most recently, this ‘big picture’ perspective has been brought into focus due to the much-touted ISKCON Reunion at this year’s Mayapura Festival and the North American SSTP program.
As Jatayu dasa said, ISKCON is, in reality, a collection of diksa guru “mathas” along with a number of Hindu-ized Radha-Krsna temples. The original ISKCON founded and envisioned by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami is no longer manifest. There is a question of whether or not it was fully manifest even during his ISKCON lila period. From personal experience, I think not. Post-samadhi ISKCON history clearly indicates that Srila Prabhupada’s senior leadership did not or could not embrace the breadth and depth of Srila Prabhupada’s desire and vision for the International Society for Krsna Consciousness. Today, many individual centers are really just manifestations of the local guru/GBC or authorities with a limited conception of Srila Prabhupada’s Perfect Plan.
What I observed while attending the ISKCON Portland center was a core group of very sincere but poorly trained bhaktas surrounded by even more neophyte congregational members. Unfortunately, the supposedly ‘senior’ initiated householders, who had enough money to contribute to the basic temple upkeep, where put in-charge by the GBC. Although these board members where American born, it was a similar scenario to many ISKCON temples where the Indian born contributing householders formed the board and therefore had a great deal of institutional power. In Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON, the most enthusiastic, full-time preacher was the natural leader and set the programs and policies. They were essentially siksa gurus, truly and fully representing the Sampradaya Acarya. Granted, they were also prone to make mistakes due to their conditioned state, but overall their shortcomings were covered and minimized by the Grace of the present Sampradaya Acarya and the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In Portland Oregon, I found very dedicated preachers with whom I got along quickly and easily. They were also suffering daily from poor, unrealized management put in place by the GBC. Let us not forget that all these rare souls are/were disciples of a GBC diksa guru, which means they were trained up, or distilled with a distinctly colored vision of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada, the Sankirtan Movement, and our perfect philosophy. Time and time again I heard these sincere but struggling followers state that in their minds, they were perfectly following Srila Prabhupada’s original plan and program. That’s what they were told by their Guru and the GBC, and they had no way of knowing whether that was true or not. As a full-time participant in ISKCON from 1969, I could see that in fact, there were so many changes that had been made, both obvious and subtle, not only in the sadhana aspect but also the philosophy -- what to speak of the mood.
ISKCON Portland represents a blatantly graphic situation where the previous main guru/GBC, namely Prithu dasa, fell down into gross materialist activity and became chronically depressed. Assumedly this occurred because he was following his own path – the path that he passed on to his disciples – and not Srila Prabhupada’s path. Yet no one stops to consider this as being an obvious factor or influence. In fact, it is perhaps the most important factor.
Wendy shared with us her personal experiences as a women coming to the temple. We recently heard the public outcry from Prithu dasa’s wife, who shared the story of her horrific life under her big time devotee husband’s care, or lack of it. Obviously, some of Prithu’s mood in this regard will also have been passed along to his disciples. How could it not? We shouldn’t be surprised that some of his disciples may treat women in the same way. Did Srila Prabhupada treat his female disciples that way? No. So where does all this nonsense come from? It’s an easy question to answer -- the guru and the GBC. Everyone seems to be so intimidated by bogus “aparadhi” preaching that they can’t see that the King has no clothes. Devotees have become accustomed to never blame the leader, teacher or institutional authorities – they just see themselves as being a fallen fool who deserves all this pain and punishment. Of course there is always some truth there, but it’s only half the picture.
We must apply the principle of Guru, Sastra and Sadhu. In this case, the guru isn’t following sastra or sadhu (Srila Prabhupada). All devotees are empowered with the God-given right to scrutinizingly study guru, sastra and the teaching and pastimes of the Sampradaya Acarya, and make their own informed decision. We have purified intelligence (Caitya Guru) if we follow the purifying sadhana process. If one follows in this way, they can trust their own common sense, logic, and realizations.
Over the years, I have learned that what I internally thought was truly going on turned out in the long run to be verified. Big leaders fell down, disappeared, died, and faded away, leaving me to suffer or enjoy the results of whatever decisions I personally made as a result of my seeing all the circumstances and clearly acting – or not acting -- on it. In my case, I didn’t always take advantage of my intelligence, so there were plenty of instances where I learned the hard way. Over the years, my wrong moves were usually the result of doubting my own common sense conclusions. That’s why the characteristics of humility and sincerity are so essential in making advancement. Depend upon Caitya Guru to show you what is truly going on in this illusionary material world. Super soul will reveal the truth to you through your hearing from Srila Prabhupada or reading his books. That is the best course of action. As Srila Prabhupada said, trust no future, however bright.
Posted by pada @ 06/26/2005 03:42 AM PST
Haribol Rocana prabhu. My suggestion is to counter threaten them, that you will expose their leaders in complicity over the child molesting issue, locally. In this way, I have never been asked to leave an ISKCON temple except once in 1985, when Trivrikrama threatened to, and I told him, go ahead, I'll post a flyer all over town with your photo on it, as a person who supports child molester worship. Guess what? He never called the cops and I stayed, and I can still go to any ISKCON center using this principle, it is called, having a bigger stick, hey, hey, hey, your friend and servant puranjana dasa
Posted by Jatayu das @ 06/26/2005 03:42 AM PST
seemingly this issue is now a bit played down towards, individual case/rare exception. Rocana prabhu's situation is NOT a Portland issue but a global syndrome. Iskcon is doing the same course of action everywhere, installing a system where its
temples are in fact changed into mathas - of course labeled with ISKCON ( matha = individual monastary occupied by one or more diksa gurus with their disciples ) and gradually transformed into something like a coterie, private function and no other Vaishnavas, like for example non-initiating Prabhupada disciples, are welcome and being told to live as outside community members to support the matha/temple solely with monetary donations. Therefore we find worldwide 99% of Srila Prabhupada's disciples living outside their spiritual father's
movement and that became so obvious that even those who started this new configuration of Iskcon feel like having to make something like an indication of a global campagne calling it "Global reunion of Iskcon devotees". Why make a reunion if the ex-members, dissenters are all useless, asara, blooped and unqualified? The organizers of the so called "reunion campagne"
very clearly know the opposite is true, thousands of dedicated, qualified devotees were psychologically forced to leave
Iskcon and replaced by the individual spiritual masters new disciples ( who are even told to be the only genuine ones).
Now, irony of fate, in Europe, may be in other plces too, it went so far as the new generation of disciples, especially SKT devotees, started to leave Iskcon in such huge dimensions that the outstanding bank debts of USD 2.5 Mio can't be paid back and the GBC wrote into this years resolution 2005, 404.Europe Yatra Emergency Action.
Irony of fate - similiar a so called mother who aborts and when actually wanting a child there's a miscarriage after the other or she cant become pregnant anymore.
"Prabhu, do your own peaching, why care?"
This is in fact a very depressing, criminal proposition. The list of disadvantages of not being recognized as authorized member of Iskcon starts when Srila Prabhupada registered his movement in US as officially recognized religion by the US Department of State and goes further with the psychological ongoing altercation of being a splinter group of Srila Prabhupada's original mission. This is against all sastrical injunctions, why Rocana prabhu has to be put under the pressure of being a practising disciple of Srila Prabhupada, following all the rules and regulations, and being forced to call his temple something like a "splinter, deviation" of Srila Prabhupada's original mission? This is never what Srila Prabhupada wanted and no sane man/woman will ever consider to sincerely, with full inner conviction become a member of ISKCON and surrender ones live for such a twisted organization.
Posted by Nitai das @ 06/26/2005 03:42 AM PST
Apon re-reading my post, as usual, I am wanting to insert my foot into my mouth. I came off sounding rather critical of the devotees at the temple. My intention was not to offend. I ventured into speculating about the reasons why the board acted this way. I truly do not know. And any unwlecomeness I feel there is surely due to my irregular attendance and participation.
I am still very sorry to hear about how you have been rec'd and treated. I pray for forgiveness for any offenses I have commited towards anyone in my previous comments...
Posted by Wendy @ 06/26/2005 03:41 AM PST
Dear Rocana and Jahnava prabhus,
I just read your article and the responses, and I felt like adding a few comments, as I can relate to some of the dissappointment.
I became interested in the philosophy about six years ago and started attendinhg the Portland temple with my husband. It became really heartbreaking, in the beginning, as with every visit, I was having bad experiences. The "free speech" issue was a part of that. Having no previous knowledge or familiarity with vedic culture, or even Indian/Eastern culture and philosophy, I had alot of questions, which were met as if I were an idiot or was trying to be antagonistic. It got to the point where whenever I asked a question, I was given short, sarcastic, and even snide answers....Like "You have a husband, why aren't you getting your automatic %50 percent advancement?...Why are you even speaking? Just shut up and make ghee wicks with the rest of the women." It came down to feeling like I was an unwelcome intruder to some elite "Boy's Club"...but I wasn't really embraced by the women there either...Save but one or two, I was pretty much shunned by these women, and it seemed it was because my husband wasn't yet a full fledged member of the gang. For some time afterwards I had not been eager to attend any programs at the temple.
Recently, with renewed enthusiasm and a willingness to try and see things responsibly, with more maturity, I started going again, determined to keep the focus on Krsna and not petty social drama. The recent experiences I have had at the Portland temple are not as bad the ones I previously had... as long as I remain sincere and stay focused on what it is I am going for... To learn about Krsna and to join in Kirtan. Even with renewed enthusiam, which could be encouraged by the other devotees, I don't really expect it. Given the circumstances, this is the neighborhood temple, and I try to get the best out of it, rather than focusing on any negativity or controversy.
I am sorry we had missed your visits. It would have been nice to have some association with senior devotees who are willing to speek freely of their experience.
Up till today, I did not even know there was a board of devotees. How would I, as they keep to themselves. However, my interest is becoming Krsna Conscious and although I am still aspiring to become a neophite, it would still be nice to hear what everyone has to share, in an intelligent manner. It would be nice if we were more open and encouraging of one another and focus on one another's strengths rather than criticise our weaknesses. The fact that some seem to be so afraid of criticism of ISKCON, and dissrupting people's faith, it makes it look like there is something that needs to be hidden and/or swept under the rug.
I wish I could meet someone who could guide me in devotional service...because I already know how to squabble and contradict and argue...and I am an expert at getting offended by others. I already know where to go to get ignored...the supermarket is a good place to start for that. Where are all the great leaders we can meet with on a regular basis? Why do I have to go to Los Angeles or Mayapur to meet them? Or hope to catch them on their next tour date? It is sad that there doesn't seem to be very many in Portland. Someone who is regularly here...someone who is not at odds with someone or some camp or themselves. Especially being a woman...my husband, as kind as he is, is not my ideal guru. (Wink-Wink)
Tyraid aside, I am very sorry to hear of the tensions you are having with the Portland temple. By the way, my husband noticed his redundant suggestion regarding the Hillsboro temple, which you seem to be well aware of. We both hope to meet you someday soon, perhaps at your ashram.
Let us all call out!
Jai! Sri Hari! Jai! Sri Hari!
Posted by Jahnava @ 06/26/2005 03:41 AM PST
Dear Kula-pavana das,
Please accept my obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Please forgive me for chiming in on a comment addressed to Rocana. He shares my feelings on this issue, however. I’m writing in response to your comment as well as the recent post under the “Christianity and the Pope” thread by our Gaudiya Matha friend, Krsna dasa.
The events at the Portland temple are a small bump in the road, hardly an obstacle so large that the momentum of our preaching efforts will be slowed. If that’s all it took to stop the caravan, we would have stopped when the first jackals howled… which means we never would have started.
There seems to be a commonly held assumption that critical analysis of and writing/discussing about the problems faced by our Vaisnava community is somehow exclusive of “real preaching” work. This conditioned response seems to assume that it’s only “preaching” if it’s about starting temples, distributing prasadam, giving lectures, etc. I disagree. These activities are not exclusive of one another. It is possible – and I think preferable – to dovetail the two together. HareKrsna.com is a manifestation of that belief. The site is an ever-increasing preaching project that puts hundreds and thousands of people into contact with Srila Prabhupada and Krsna Consciousness. We’re now reaching the 500,000 hits per month mark, and the great majority of these hits are newcomers. So would this project only be “real preaching” if we deleted the Vada section of the site, or ceased engaging in Blog discussions of contentious issues? No, the two work together.
Don’t worry, we will be sure to continue our own preaching programs regardless of how ISKCON does or doesn’t respond to us. We’ll continue to make new devotees (who by the way, are learning a lot from these contentious discussions), distributing the nectar, inviting people to local programs, etc., etc. It’s not that we only have time, energy or enthusiasm for these things if we stop engaging in contentious debates. Krsna dasa exhorts us to stop wasting any more of our time, to go out and PREACH!!! and make new devotees. He apparently assumes that we’re not already doing that, or that our efforts are stifled by the GBC. Those are incorrect assumptions. We’re not stopped…. we’re not stifled…. we’re not discouraged…. and we’re not going to stop publicly, intelligently challenging those issues that we feel negatively impact Srila Prabhupada’s overall preaching mission -- even if that means getting into the occasional brouhaha.
It’s not about being "right" or "wrong" on some philosophical issue. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Having the ability to think and speak freely fuels the fire of our preaching work, adds to our overall enthusiasm and sharpens our intellect and level of realization by emphasizing where we’re right and illustrating where we’re wrong, so we can make corrections and adjustments. The sum total of that process contributes to our ability to preach potently.
As for how the success of our devotional lives will be judged, I think my personal service will first be judged as to how it was offered to Srila Prabhupada, then to Lord Caitanya, by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy. At the end of this lifetime, I don’t think Srila Prabhupada would judge us to have been more successful had we not wrangled over issues of guru tattva, the state of affairs of his preaching mission, or how our personal stand on such issues played out at the local temple level. To the contrary, I trust that he will be pleased that our preaching approach was broad enough to encompass all avenues of preaching activity without excluding one important element simply because its chafed against another.
It’s all good.
Posted by Kula-pavana dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:41 AM PST
Prabhu, if they do not welcome your help, just continue your own preaching programs. There is so much that can be done in that area. No sense wasting your energy on endless arguments leading nowhere. Ultimately, we are all evaluated in terms of service rendered to Lord Chaitanya's mission, and not whether we were "right" or "wrong" on some philosophical issue.
y.s. Kula-pavana das
Posted by Nitai das @ 06/26/2005 03:41 AM PST
Dear Rocana prabhu,
I have been going to the Portland temple for 6 years now. I once contacted you several years ago, back when I was aspiring to take diksha from Prithu prabhu. You courteously invited me to attend a Gaura Purnima celebration in your home. (I was bhakta Neal then) Sadly, I decided not to come, due to some of the opinions of the temple president at that time. I have since stayed on the sidelines while attending programs at the Portland temple, and for this have been unincluded in the "Click". It tends to be rahter clickish here. I look for the nectar... I had no idea you and your wife had been coming to the temple again...(I am a Mangal Arotika dweller, and seldom go to the Sunday or Wednesday feasts) I just want to say that I am really embarressed to hear how they have received and treated you. I read your article at chakra.org and am reminded of the last temple president. I would not be so suprised if the positions of Brhad Bala and Brhad Mrdanga are results of the hardcore opinions the Fornmer temple president had impressed upon them. Specificaly the Brhads, as they both were heavily influenced by him. He was very outspoken and extremely critical of anyone who left ISKCON and was not so quick at welcoming any back. It is sad. I am so very sorry that you feel so unwelcome here. Please, I beg your forgiveness. If I was any better of a devotee and was more invloved with the management there, I ceretainly would have spoken up on your behalf. I may still, next time I go, If you would like... I have never found anything at your website to be outside the instruction of Srila Prabhupada and this Sampradaya. I have been a silent admirer all these years, and infact recently have been learning the Sri Sri Radha Krpa-kataksa stava raja, thanks to the translation you have provided here. Again, I am very sorry that this has been happening, and please understand that this is not the feelings of the entire congregation. I am not sure if you are aware of the ISKCON preaching center in Hillsborough which is run by Dhananjaya prabhu, who is a disciple of HH Radanatha Swami? Their contact info is: http://www.iskconportland.com/ It may be worth checking out their Sunday programs...Dhananjaya is rare and one of a kind. Perhaps He would be more welcoming and encouraging? I truly hope this situation improves. I should like to meet you one of these days.
Posted by bhaktin Miriam @ 06/26/2005 03:40 AM PST
Dear Rocana prabhu,
I really felt very bad about this whole situation. I think that it was just plain mean-hearted of them to treat you and your wife in such a way.
They could have said to you that you are welcome to come anytime but to please not give any more lectures. That would have been enough. But the way they treated you was very shabby. It made me very sad to read about it.
Posted by pamu @ 06/26/2005 03:40 AM PST
It is the oldest of all stories. It is a struggle between fundamentalists (which have varied interests)and those willing to expand their views (you can call them liberals if you like). Their eternal enimosity heats up whenever there is a risk of losing money and manpower. Sad but true.
Posted by vijayananda @ 06/26/2005 03:39 AM PST
i sit here and wonder at how blessed i was in 1972 at the tender age of 15 and after one year in the hare krishna movement to have decided to move on. i barely missed srila prabhupada's passing, my dear friend sridam's murder, and later events involving many of my old friends and mentors like jadurani. how sad i became when a former devotee told me about "the pick". and these vaishnava wars? what is their usefulness in gaining god realization which is the only goal of life?
i have read quite a bit of the above, and can sincerely say thank you to prabhupad for my excellent beginnings in spiritual life--the discipline, mantras, bhakti path-- but i feel also blessed for having the insight to leave when i did. whenever i think about attending a temple event (and i did live in portland before moving to the coast five years ago), i remember the abuse of older devotees to my uninitiated self in 1971-72. i visited portland temple once about seven years ago for sri gauranga jayanti, and did not even have a conversation with one soul. where were the enthusiastic devotees serving guests? i remember the wonderful sunday feasts, the energy, the love for every soul who entered that door. the door, it seemed, was closed.
i breathe a sigh of relief but wish all of you nothing but goodness in your lives. you are not alone -- god is always with you and god is all that there is. this political nonsense is not worthy of your efforts and depletes necessary spiritual energy in which to reach godhead.
living alone is hard, i know, i am now housebound with an incurable illness. but i am not alone as well. it's krsna and i everyday. thus, i have been given the opportunity to enter the third stage of human life, and even with 24/7 pain, i know this is an opportunity directly from god and guru, my dear guru whom i accepted at the age of 19, swami sivananda.
please understand, it is with love that i write and with best wishes for all to find the sat-cit-ananda of sri krsna in their lives. eventually, we must all retreat to manifest the serious work of our spiritual life, and this is just the beginning! but we are never alone. be courageous! walk away from the abuse and be free to love god and guru. nothing else matters. nothing else exists.
om namo bhagavate vasudevaya!
Posted by Antariksa das / Eric W. Crosley @ 06/26/2005 03:39 AM PST
Dear Rocana Das Prabhu,
Please accept my deep respect. All glory to Srila Prabhupada. It is with very mixed feelings I read of your recent experiences at Portland ISKCON. I am so sad that
the folks at Portland are so caught up in what you refer to as the Mirage of ISKCON. Fear must be one of the strongest barriers to the healing of Prabhupada's
ISKCON. The letter Srila Prabhupada wrote in 1968 to the Canadian governmental official says it all. My dear God brother, you and your good wife and all of your associates have my thoughts and prayers for the great service you are providing to our dear Prabhupada. I pray that more and more of Srila Prabhupada's disciples will listen to the common sense of what you are writing. My Krsna, Prabhupada's letter referenced above is clear that we have the responsibility to pass on the light that can help us suffering souls get some relief from the viscious cross winds of sectarianism that
are blowing darkness everywhere we look. The "religious right wing" in American society, the fighting camps in the Islamic world, etc. etc. etc., the most unfortunate religiousity poisoning ISKCON, etc. etc.......all a product of what Srila Prabhupada, His ISKCON, is manifesterd to heal, to give a means for the sincere theists of this troubled present world to realize and recognize how to get along in peace and even, of course, natural divine bliss. The power of maya is invincible, without the Holy Name. Foo on organized religion, in what ever guise. Yes on devotional service in whatever appearance.
Our campaign here in the Michigan Eighth Congressional District is moving ahead. Thanks for your vote of confidence in our desire to serve Srila Prabhupada in this way, Rocana. I'll do my best to keep you up-dated as we go along with whatever Krsna has in store in this area. Must take some rest.
glories to Srila Prabhupada,
Posted by Jatayu das @ 06/26/2005 03:38 AM PST
Thanks Shiva, it gives me a lot!
Just wanted to add what I read today in NOI, 5th chapter, end of Prabhupada's purport:
"....In this verse Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī advises the devotee to be intelligent enough to distinguish between the kaniṣṭha-adhikārī, madhyama-adhikārī and uttama-adhikārī. The devotee should also know his own position and should not try to imitate a devotee situated on a higher platform. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has given some practical hints to the effect that an uttama-adhikārī Vaiṣṇava can be recognized by his ability to convert many fallen souls to Vaiṣṇavism. One should not become a spiritual master unless he has attained the platform of uttama-adhikārī. A neophyte Vaiṣṇava or a Vaiṣṇava situated on the intermediate platform can also accept disciples, but such disciples must be on the same platform, and it should be understood that they cannot advance very well toward the ultimate goal of life under his insufficient guidance. Therefore a disciple should be careful to accept an uttama-adhikārī as a spiritual master."
Posted by shiva dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:37 AM PST
This is something I wrote on my blog and I think it fits in well here with the discussion on initiation.
From Sri Caitanya Caritamrata Adi.1.46
By A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
acaryam mam vijaniyan
One should know the acarya as Myself and never disrespect him in any way. One should not envy him, thinking him an ordinary man, for he is the representative of all the demigods.
This is a verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.17.27) spoken by Lord Krsna when He was questioned by Uddhava regarding the four social and spiritual orders of society. The Lord was specifically instructing how a brahmacari should behave under the care of a spiritual master. A spiritual master is not an enjoyer of facilities offered by his disciples. He is like a parent. Without the attentive service of his parents, a child cannot grow to manhood; similarly, without the care of the spiritual master one cannot rise to the plane of transcendental service.
The spiritual master is also called acarya, or a transcendental professor of spiritual science. The Manu-samhita (2.140) explains the duties of an acarya, describing that a bona fide spiritual master accepts charge of disciples, teaches them the Vedic knowledge with all its intricacies, and gives them their second birth.
The ceremony performed to initiate a disciple into the study of spiritual science is called upaniti, or the function that brings one nearer to the spiritual master.
One who cannot be brought nearer to a spiritual master cannot have a sacred thread, and thus he is indicated to be a sudra. The sacred thread on the body of a brahmana, ksatriya or vaisya is a symbol of initiation by the spiritual master; it is worth nothing if worn merely to boast of high parentage.
The duty of the spiritual master is to initiate a disciple with the sacred thread ceremony, and after this samskara, or purificatory process, the spiritual master actually begins to teach the disciple about the Vedas.
A person born a sudra is not barred from such spiritual initiation, provided he is approved by the spiritual master, who is duly authorized to award a disciple the right to be a brahmana if he finds him perfectly qualified. In the Vayu Purana an acarya is defined as one who knows the import of all Vedic literature, explains the purpose of the Vedas, abides by their rules and regulations, and teaches his disciples to act in the same way.
Only out of His immense compassion does the Personality of Godhead reveal Himself as the spiritual master. Therefore in the dealings of an acarya there are no activities but those of transcendental loving service to the Lord. He is the Supreme Personality of Servitor Godhead. It is worthwhile to take shelter of such a steady devotee, who is called asraya-vigraha, or the manifestation or form of the Lord of whom one must take shelter.
If one poses himself as an acarya but does not have an attitude of servitorship to the Lord, he must be considered an offender, and this offensive attitude disqualifies him from being an acarya. The bona fide spiritual master always engages in unalloyed devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By this test he is known to be a direct manifestation of the Lord and a genuine representative of Sri Nityananda Prabhu.
Such a spiritual master is known as acaryadeva. Influenced by an envious temperament and dissatisfied because of an attitude of sense gratification, mundaners criticize a real acarya. In fact, however, a bona fide acarya is nondifferent from the Personality of Godhead, and therefore to envy such an acarya is to envy the Personality of Godhead Himself. This will produce an effect subversive of transcendental realization.
As mentioned previously, a disciple should always respect the spiritual master as a manifestation of Sri Krsna, but at the same time one should always remember that a spiritual master is never authorized to imitate the transcendental pastimes of the Lord. False spiritual masters pose themselves as identical with Sri Krsna in every respect to exploit the sentiments of their disciples, but such impersonalists can only mislead their disciples, for their ultimate aim is to become one with the Lord. This is against the principles of the devotional cult.
The real Vedic philosophy is acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, which establishes everything to be simultaneously one with and different from the Personality of Godhead. Srila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami confirms that this is the real position of a bona fide spiritual master and says that one should always think of the spiritual master in terms of his intimate relationship with Mukunda (Sri Krsna).
Srila Jiva Gosvami, in his Bhakti-sandarbha (213), has clearly explained that a pure devotee's observation of the spiritual master and Lord Siva as being one with the Personality of Godhead exists in terms of their being very dear to the Lord, not identical with Him in all respects.
Following in the footsteps of Srila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami and Srila Jiva Gosvami, later acaryas like Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura have confirmed the same truths. In his prayers to the spiritual master, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura confirms that all the revealed scriptures accept the spiritual master to be identical with the Personality of Godhead because he is a very dear and confidential servant of the Lord.
Gaudiya Vaisnavas therefore worship Srila Gurudeva (the spiritual master) in the light of his being the servitor of the Personality of Godhead. In all the ancient literatures of devotional service and in the more recent songs of Srila Narottama dasa Thakura, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and other unalloyed Vaisnavas, the spiritual master is always considered either one of the confidential associates of Srimati Radharani or a manifested representation of Srila Nityananda Prabhu.
Here we are given an explanation of what the bona fide guru is all about. But at the same time we should also understand that sometimes people can take the role of a guru or spiritual master or acarya, and not necessarily be all those things described above. There are gradations of spiritual masters, some are like what is described above, some are not.
Here is more from A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada on this concept.
The first-class devotee does not at all see anyone who is not in the service of the Lord, but the second-class devotee makes distinctions between devotees and nondevotees. The second-class devotees are therefore meant for preaching work, they must loudly preach the glories of the Lord. The second-class devotee accepts disciples from the section of third-class devotees or nondevotees. Sometimes the first-class devotee also comes down to the category of the second-class devotee for preaching work. (Srimad Bhagavatam 2:3:21 purport.)
This is a general principle. However, A person who is liberated acharya and guru cannot commit any mistake, but there are persons who are less qualified or not liberated, but still can act as 'guru' and 'acharya' by strictly following the disciplic succession. (Lecture 26th April, 1968. New York)
So here he writes about the second-class or madhyama adhikari vaisnava. He states that these vaisnavas who have not yet attained to the level of self realization, who are not liberated, that they can perform the function of guru and accept disciples.
But we should understand that there is a difference between a liberated first-class or uttama adhikari vaisnava guru, and those who are less then that. In the first quote from Sri Caitanya Caritamrta we hear about the position of the guru as being considered to be an incarnation of Krishna.
The guru is not Krishna Himself, but a person who is manifesting the instructions of Krishna because that person is a "confidential servant". That means the uttama guru is in direct communion and communication with Krishna. That is why that person is considered to be an uttama or highest level or liberated person. He channels Krishna directly because he is directly dealing with Krishna one on one.
Jiva Goswami writes in his Bhakti Sandarbha 237
From Sri Narada in the Seventh Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam
"One must conquer the modes of passion and ignorance by developing the mode of goodness, and then one must become detach from the mode of goodness by promoting oneself to the platform of suddha-sattva. all this can be automatically done if one engages in the service of the spiritual master with faith and devotion. In this way one can conquer the influence of the modes of nature."
In the Vamana-kalpa, Lord Brahma explains:
"One's mantra is identical with his spiritual master. One's spiritual master is identical with Lord Hari. When the spiritual master is pleased, then Lord Hari is pleased."
It is also said:
"When Lord Hari is angry, one's spiritual master can protect him. When one's spiritual master is angry, no one can give protection. Therefore with all efforts one should strive to please his spiritual master."
Therefore one should always serve his spiritual master. In another place in the scriptures, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself declares:
"First one should worship his spiritual master, and then afterward one should worship Me. One who does this attains perfection. One who does not finds that all his efforts are in vain."
In the Narada-pancaratra it is said:
"With body, mind and words, one should worship his Vaisnava spiritual master, who is like Lord Visnu, and who teaches the science of Lord Visnu. One who knows the true meaning of the scriptures is a Vaisnava."
"One who teaches the true meaning of the verses in the scriptures is always to be worshipped. What more need be said? He is a manifestation of Lord Visnu Himself."
In the Padma Purana, Devadyuti prays:
"For me devotion to my spiritual master it is more important than devotion to Lord Hari. If I am devoted to my spiritual master, then Lord Hari will personally reveal Himself to me."
In such a situation there is no need even to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead separate from the worship of one's spiritual master. This is explained in the Agama-sastra, where, in the course of describing the results of purascarana, it is said:
"As an alchemist's touch turns copper into gold, so the spiritual master's touch makes his disciple transcendental like Lord Visnu Himself."
This is also explained in Srimad Bhagavatam (10.80.34), where Lord Krsna declares:
"I, the Soul of all beings, cannot be satisfied as much by ritual worship, by generating progeny, by observing penances or by self-control, as I am by faithful service rendered to one's spiritual master."
Srila Sridhara Svami comments:
"This verse explains that no one is more to be worshipped than the spiritual master who gives transcendental knowledge. Therefore no duty is more important than the worship of him.
In this verse the word "ijya" means "the ritual duties of a householder". "Prajatih" means "the second birth by accepting the sacred thread". That word describes the duties of a brahmacari. "Tapasa" describes the duties of a vanaprastha" and "upasamena" describes the duties of a sannyasi". "Aham" means "I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead".
The Lord then declares:
"I, the Soul of all beings, cannot be satisfied by these things in the same way as I am by faithful service rendered to one's spiritual master."
So much respect and importance is the position of the guru, but we should be very clear in understanding what is being described is the uttama guru, not the madhyama or second-class vaisnava guru. If we think that just anyone who has taken the position of guru is exactly what is being described in the above, then we mistakingly will think a person who is not a confidential servant of Krishna, who is not in direct communion and communication with Krishna, is the type of guru Jiva Goswami and Sri Krishna are describing.
That will be a big mistake. As we have seen so many vaisnavas have accepted madhyama or second-class vaisnavas as guru all the while thinking that the sastric descriptions of an uttama or first-class vaisnava applies to them. When those madhyama vaisnavas let them down, it is devastating to the disciples. They lose faith in the society which they feel has cheated them by promoting a person as a guru, as a representative of Krishna, as a confidant of Krishna.
Potential disciples need to be told by madhyama vaisnavas who are taking disciples that they are not uttama vaisnavas. That they are not liberated souls in direct communion and communication with God. The abilities and powers of an uttama guru is what sastra generally refers to. To let potential disciples remain unaware of the distinction between a liberated guru on the highest level of intimacy with God, and a madhyama vaisnava who is not that, then that is going to cause problems.
Some people may say: "Well there is no difference between an initiating spiritual master and an instructing spiritual master. Here is what Prabhupada wrote on this concept"
siksa-guruke ta' jani krsnera svarupa
antaryami, bhakta-srestha, -- ei dui rupa
One should know the instructing spiritual master to be the Personality of Krsna. Lord Krsna manifests Himself as the Supersoul and as the greatest devotee of the Lord.
Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami states that the instructing spiritual master is a bona fide representative of Sri Krsna. Sri Krsna Himself teaches us as the instructing spiritual master from within and without. From within He teaches as Paramatma, our constant companion, and from without He teaches from the Bhagavad-gita as the instructing spiritual master.
There are two kinds of instructing spiritual masters. One is the liberated person fully absorbed in meditation in devotional service, and the other is he who invokes the disciple's spiritual consciousness by means of relevant instructions.
Thus the instructions in the science of devotion are differentiated in terms of the objective and subjective ways of understanding. The acarya in the true sense of the term, who is authorized to deliver Krsna, enriches the disciple with full spiritual knowledge and thus awakens him to the activities of devotional service.
When by learning from the self-realized spiritual master one actually engages himself in the service of Lord Visnu, functional devotional service begins.
The procedures of this devotional service are known as abhidheya, or actions one is dutybound to perform. Our only shelter is the Supreme Lord, and one who teaches how to approach Krsna is the functioning form of the Personality of Godhead.
There is no difference between the shelter-giving Supreme Lord and the initiating and instructing spiritual masters. If one foolishly discriminates between them, he commits an offense in the discharge of devotional service.
While it is true that there is no difference between the initiating or diksa guru, and the instructing or siksa guru, and that they are both considered to be manifestations of Krishna, we should not make the mistake in thinking that this means that all gurus are on the same level.
There are siksa (instructing) gurus who are uttama vaisnavas, and there are siksa gurus who are madhyama or kanistha (neophyte) vaisnavas.
There are diksa (initiating) gurus who are uttama vaisnavas, and there are diksa gurus who are madhyama or kanistha vaisnavas.
The points Sri Krishna and Srila Prabhupada are making is that a first class vaisnava, a liberated soul, whether he is diksa or siksa guru, giving initiation or instruction, there is no difference between them. They are both representing directly the potency of Sri Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada wrote in the above:
"There are two kinds of instructing (siksa) spiritual masters. One is the liberated person fully absorbed in meditation in devotional service, and the other is he who invokes the disciple's spiritual consciousness by means of relevant instructions."
Just like earlier he mentions two types of diksa gurus, the liberated uttama diksa guru and the madhyama second-class diksa guru, here he mentions the two types of siksa guru in the same way.
So to conclude, a person who is acting as a guru in ISKCON or anywhere, needs to let it be known to potential disciples if he is not on the uttama level. If he does not do so, and allows or encourages people to think that he actually is a confidant of God, in direct communion with God, then that is certainly going to bring some karmic effect. The role of a guru is very special. No one in ISKCON should use that role to gain service from others. By doing so eventually disrepute will come to both the "guru" and to ISKCON.
From A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Srimad Bhagavatam 1.13.10
My Lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage.
The Personality of Godhead is omnipresent by His diverse potencies everywhere, just as the power of electricity is distributed everywhere within space. Similarly, the Lord's omnipresence is perceived and manifested by His unalloyed devotees like Vidura, just as electricity is manifested in an electric bulb.
A pure devotee like Vidura always feels the presence of the Lord everywhere. He sees everything in the potency of the Lord and the Lord in everything.
The holy places all over the earth are meant for purifying the polluted consciousness of the human being by an atmosphere surcharged with the presence of the Lord's unalloyed devotees. If anyone visits a holy place, he must search out the pure devotees residing in such holy places, take lessons from them, try to apply such instructions in practical life and thus gradually prepare oneself for the ultimate salvation, going back to Godhead.
To go to some holy place of pilgrimage does not mean only to take a bath in the Ganges or Yamuna or to visit the temples situated in those places. One should also find representatives of Vidura who have no desire in life save and except to serve the Personality of Godhead.
The Personality of Godhead is always with such pure devotees because of their unalloyed service, which is without any tinge of fruitive action or utopian speculation. They are in the actual service of the Lord, specifically by the process of hearing and chanting.
The pure devotees hear from the authorities and chant, sing and write of the glories of the Lord. Mahamuni Vyasadeva heard from Narada, and then he chanted in writing; Sukadeva Gosvami studied from his father, and he described it to Pariksit; that is the way of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
So by their actions the pure devotees of the Lord can render any place into a place of pilgrimage, and the holy places are worth the name only on their account.
Such pure devotees are able to rectify the polluted atmosphere of any place, and what to speak of a holy place rendered unholy by the questionable actions of interested persons who try to adopt a professional life at the cost of the reputation of a holy place.
Posted by Rocana dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:35 AM PST
Dear Jagat-purusa dasa,
Dandavats, Prabhu. Thank you for posting your comments and questions here.
We are fairly close. I think there’s only 1 ½ hours between us. Perhaps you’ll come for a visit soon. We’re having a nice program for Lord Nrsimhadev’s Appearance. You and your family are very welcome to join us!
In answer to your question about recommending a guru, let me first reply with a paragraph I just wrote to another devotee, on a similar thread of discussion:
“It’s only through studying carefully Srila Prabhupada’s teachings that one can have any chance of evaluating who is a qualified guru at all. In my mind, the criterion that must be applied first and foremost is that the prospective guru recognizes Srila Prabhupada to be a Sampradaya Acarya, and as such they are following in Srila Prabhupada’s footsteps by following his method of presenting the siddhanta of the Sampradaya, his sadhana process for applying and realizing the philosophy, and his techniques for preaching Krsna Consciousness. Unless one adopts this attitude towards the Sampradaya Acarya, then the chances of them getting involved in an unfortunate relationship with an unqualified person who claims to be a representative, when in actuality they are falling far below the standard of being a bonafide representative of the Sampradaya Acaryas.”
The whole process of taking a guru, especially a diksa, is a very personal matter. It’s really not a matter of someone recommending who should be your diksa guru. It really depends on what your conception of diksa initiation is. If you think it’s just a mystical experience, then it’s probably easy to find someone willing to get into that kind of relationship with you. If you understand that diksa means that this personality is connecting you to the Sampradaya, and that this person is willing to accept responsibility of be the diksa, that’s another matter. Real diksa initiation is not what ISKCON is depicting it to be. Diksa in the true fashion means the guru is willing to take personal responsibility for training you up thoroughly in Krsna Consciousness, for your whole life, and in fact for lifetimes to come. That means the guru is getting to know you very intimately, has ample time and opportunity and facility, and knows you well enough to be able to give you advice on all aspects of your life, in how to become Krsna Conscious and get over all your anarthas and the material obstacles that stand in your way. So I don’t see that many ISKCON gurus assume that responsibility. The more common conception is that a diksa guru accepts you as a disciple, gives you a name, and catches the next plane out. You may not hear or see them again for many months, or longer.
So this kind of diksa is either a supposed ‘mystical experience’ or it’s a religious baptism. It’s not, according to my understanding of guru, anywhere close to actually being guru. What we see today is people trying to imitate Srila Prabhupada, without writing dozens of books and organizing temples, and all the things Srila Prabhupada did to train up his disciples. These gurus are not doing that. Not only that, they’re saying Srila Prabhupada’s going to do all the training for you. Read his books, visit a Srila Prabhupada temple, and take siksa instruction from someone who happens to be there. The system today is a farce.
The personal aspect of this is that you already have two gurus: Srila Prabhupada in the form of his books, etc., and Caitya Guru in the heart. When your time to take a diksa guru comes, the combinations of those two will assist to make arrangements for you to come in contact with such a personality. When that happens, you’ll know it. You won’t need a recommendation from me or anyone else. I would suggest first of all trying to find a siksa guru rather than a diksa guru. And good luck. My blessings to you, for whatever they’re worth.
Posted by Ragaputra dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:35 AM PST
Hari bol prabhus:
My two cents worth on the topic of judicial intervention in ISKCON's affairs:
As a lawyer who has practiced in California for the last 18 years, and who has represented ISKCON in some civil disputes in the past, my opinion is not so much directed to whether the law can direct the internal workings of ISKCON, but whether ISKCON may deny membership (whatever that means)and other benefits (such as positions of authority) to individuals who choose to avail themselves of legal process.
For instance, if I'm an aggrieved ex-gurukuli who has joined the current Chapter 11 case against ISKCON, according to the ISKCON law quoted above, I may be "excommunicated". While this seems to be unlikely under the current conditions we find in ISKCON, a more egregious example (purely hypothetical of course) may make the point more clearly.
Let's assume that a certain female devotee has been sexually harrassed by the temple president. She complains to her GBC who does nothing. This woman has served the movement faithfully for many years and has no support network outside of ISKCON. She has no marketable skills and is a candidate for public assistance but for the support she receives from the temple (food, shelter, transportation, medical care, etc.)
Let's also assume that she has consulted a lawyer who thinks she has a civil lawsuit against the temple and the GBC based on sexual harrassment/hostile work environment. The female devotee goes back to the temple president and the GBC and demands that the president cease his behavior and that she be assigned to a different temple or that the president be reassigned. She further states that she has consulted a lawyer and she will seek legal redress unless something is done. The GBC and president are unimpressed, and citing the above mentioned ISKCON law, kick the devotee to the curb.
While the behavior of the GBC and temple president is probably not criminal (depending on the extent of the sexual harrassment) nor purely contractual (no employment contract) I suspect that a court would find the devotee's claim suffciently meritorious to send it to a jury.
I'd take that case
Posted by Jahnava @ 06/26/2005 03:34 AM PST
Dear Jatayu das,
Dandavats. I just saw an answer to your question, coming from another discussion thread on the Net. A group of west coast Rtviks have been trying to gather steam recently to start a class action suit against ISKCON because certain management directives given by Srila Prabhupada were not followed by GBC. Gupta dasa replied, speaking to what the US law will and won't support in that regard. Here are relevant excerpts from Gupta dasa's emails:
"Black letter law in the U.S., based on church-state separation and First Amendment principles, prevents a court from intervening in the internal disputes and ecclesiastical policies of religious organizations. It is thus exceedingly unlikely that implementation of the DOM can be legally mandated.
....the U.S. judicial system does not provide a platform to adjudicate the internal disputes of religious organizations, unless those disputes are strictly contractual in nature. And litigating in India, where the legal system does provide a greater degree of flexibility for disputes involving religious organizations, would take just this side of forever. If you can convince a prosecuting authority in the U.S. to string together evidence of criminal wrongdoing over the past 35 years, then go for it; but I think we both know that's a highly unlikely scenario.
There is another body of law dealing with splinter group litigation, but that takes an extremely high level of cooperative effort which the various dissident groups and individuals, for lack of a better phrase, do not appear even remotely capable of, at least at this point in time. As lawyers say, even the best case or theory can be ruined by weak, uncooperative or uncommitted clients."
Posted by Jatayu das @ 06/26/2005 03:34 AM PST
12.8 Suing ISKCON
When a person becomes a member of ISKCON or assumes an office within ISKCON, he does so on the condition of submission to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of ISKCON; and however much he may dissatisfied with the exercise of that jurisdiction, he shall refrain from invoking the supervisory power of the civil court, but shall seek redress of any grievance(s) through the ISKCON judicial process. Otherwise, he may be removed from office and/or his membership in ISKCON terminated.(88)
Madhava prabhu: In other words, this is a mandate demanding the member to neglect the judicial power of civil court inasmuch as the internal affairs of the religious community are concerned. It therefore follows that the member is not to bring child abuse, tax fraud or homicide to the attention of the civil court or other government officials, but only pursue the matter through internal, ecclesiastic channels.
I wonder if this is compliant with US laws, or any laws for that matter?
Posted by Hanuman @ 06/26/2005 03:33 AM PST
Dear Rocana prabhu,
You are not alone in feeling the sting of censorship. In the book, Srila Prabhupada:The Prominent Link, Dhira Govinda prabhu says the following:
"Tones tend to be hushed in such conversations due to an apprehension that such expressions would incur the disfavor of members and leaders of the institution. There is a perceived culture of fear and repression in the ISKCON organization, masked by a pretense of openness to frank discussion of issues.
Ostensibly ISKCON wants innovative, thoughtful members who bodly apply their intelligence, within the framwork of guru, sastra and sadhu, for gaining a deeper understanding of devotional principles. In practi ce, as experienced by many, if one does not conform to the organizational line on issues such as those addressed in PL, then the institutional leadership, without rational discussion or genuine attempt at understanding, often condemns the dissenter and discourages members of the organization to honestly look at issues from unorthodox perspectives. The implied message is "We have already thoroughly considered these issues. So you needn't apply your intelligence here, because we've thought it through for you." Such stance is unlikely to attract and retain independent thoughtful members. There is in the organization a veneer of broad-mindedness, accompanied by an implicit assertion that views such as those espoused in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link are not to be found amongst persons in good-standing in the organization. If someone in the organization advocates such convictions, they are then branded and condemned, and pressured to leave the institution. Once they have left, it is again safe for the leadership to declare to the members that no one in good-standing would hold such views as expressed in essays such as The Prominent Link, and anyone who thinks that way is deviant, and so you'd do better to not even consider thinking in that way.
Authoritarian dynamics, wherein the leadership is fearful of permittting subordinates to analyze and discern for themselves, may be somewhat prevalent in today's religious institutions, but they are not conducive for Vaisnava society or relationships. Such reluctance to allow members to fully utilize their cognitive faculties may stem to a substantial degree from a benevolent desire to protect. The ISKCON organization may also benefit, however, from introspectively looking at other motivations for this authoritarianism, such as fear that members, upon analysis of facts from an alternative perspective, may realize that they are being, in some ways, misled.
We understand that this imperious leadership style is not extant throughout the organization, but it is manifested with sufficient regularity and pervasiveness that many, perhaps most, of Srila Prabhupada's followers, both inside and outside the institution, feel alienated and stifled. Thus, for the purpose of attracting and maintaining satisfied, intelligent members, it is, we believe, imperative for ISKCON leadership, especially at the top levels, to seriously assess its mode of addressing issues and concerns. As Balavanta writes in the Preference to PL, spiritual matters in Srila Prabhupada's society must be resolved through "open and frank discussion amongst mature devotees whose voices are not suppressed."
Posted by jagat-purusa dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:33 AM PST
Hari bol Prabhuji. Dandavat Pranams.
All glories to your preaching seva. I think it is great that you are preaching on your own and trying to remain within Prabhupada's ISKCON. I myself actually live somewhat near you. I am in Olympia, so I am between you and ISKCON Seattle.
Anyway, my question was: since you agree that the tradition of diksa should not be stopped--whom would you recommend for giving diksa if such a time came for someone you were preaching to?
Thanks in advance,
ys, jagat-purusa dasa
Posted by Rocana dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:33 AM PST
Dear Jatayu das,
Obeisances and all glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Thank you for sharing the reader’s digest version of your personal story. One of the first articles I wrote many years back was a piece called "Oh! I Remember You", wherein I described my traumatic experience in 1978 in Seattle involving one of the most notorious Zonals of them all, Hansadutta. Writing it was very therapeutic. Putting these stories in writing is also practical. I no longer have to continually tell the story – I can just point people to the URL and let them read it. Perhaps you, too, should immortalize your “stories of an exile”. I’m sure they’d be an important contribution.
Interestingly, soon after I arrived for my recent meeting with Bir Krishna dasa Goswami, we began swapping Zonal era horror stories -- like army war vets. He told his Miami temple experience with Hridayananda Swami, which I topped by listing off all the Zonals I served with, from Hansadutta, to Jayatirtha, then Kirtanananda. The final GBC who pushed me over the edge is still a big time GBC/diksa. He wasn’t one of the original eleven, just an original clone, some of whom were worse. As I told these stories, I could mentally hear the Swami’s mind saying “ Oh! No wonder he’s so bitter and scarred.” It’s a bit like a Jew listening to an Auschwitz survivor.
Bir Krishna dasa Goswami explained how in 1978, he too was driven from his Temple President position in Miami soon after the arrival of the high and mighty Zonal Acarya, Hridayananda. Bir Krishna reluctantly left his service in Miami and moved to North Carolina. With the help of his parents, he started his own community. In fact, Bir Krishna explained that during this period, he had actually left ISKCON altogether. Before he returned to the fold, there was a significant period of time when his New Goloka center wasn’t considered a part of ISKCON. I’m sure his faithful followers today don’t consider his time outside of ISKCON as being the same as Godbrothers like you and I, who departed but haven’t returned. I wonder if any of them recognize the hypocrisy of that inequitable conclusion.
The last time Bir Krishna dasa Goswami and I met was during the meetings in Towaco, NJ in the mid-eighties, when the local leaders “plotted” to rid ISKCON of the Zonal Acarya system. After partially accomplishing our goal, but caving on many critically important points, he, Ravindra Svarupa and others were allowed to initiate. But that’s a story for another time.
Coincidentally, you mentioned meeting with Prithu dasa. While it’s not emphasized in my article, our Portland temple experience actually has a lot to do with him, as he was the founding guru of this temple. No doubt the readers are up-to-date with the current headlines wherein Prithu dasa made some sort of vague admission of a “fall down”, and consequently resigned from his responsibilities as diksa guru, GBC, and so on. I was told that he was mercifully taken-in by the other local GBC, Hari Vilasa dasa in Seattle. I asked Bir Krishna why it was that Prithu dasa was shown so much mercy, whereas I was being shown no leeway. I pointed out that I hadn’t left Srila Prabhupada’s movement in disgrace or with great fanfare. My departure hadn’t in any way negatively impacted the image of the Society nor damaged the faith of followers, like Prithu dasa’s departure had. Bir Krishna’s only answer was that unlike myself, Prithu dasa hadn’t publicly bad-mouthed his old elitist friends or placed any blame on the GBC.
What are Prithu dasa’s “heart-broken” ex-disciples in Portland, who are now recommended by the GBC to become re-initiated, supposed to feel when their original diksa moves into an ISKCON temple community a few hours drive away? The duplicity and hypocrisy of this supposed “merciful gesture” to save poor Prithu dasa, while simultaneously forbidding me from becoming re-involved, was totally lost on the straight-faced Bir Krishna dasa Goswami. Govardhana dasa, an ex-Prithu dasa disciple and a recent re-initiate by Bir Krishna, was also incredulously in full agreement. I couldn’t believe my ears.
About 12 years ago, I spent one month with Prithu dasa in a health retreat near Bangalore. I had reservations to spend a month there. He needed treatment a lot more than me, so I recommended he join me. It was just the two of us, living together in the same room for a month. Throughout this period, he told and re-told to me his recent sad story of having being mercilessly cheated by Satsvarupa Goswami and his disciples. They wanted and got him out of his temples in Ireland because Satsvarupa Goswami had decided he wanted to retire in Ireland and write. Fortunately for Prithu dasa, he had been granted his guru-ship a year or so prior to this incident, so he had enough of his own disciples and some money for a fresh “grub-stake”. At the clinic, Prithu and I also shared Zonal Acarya war stories about his early post-samadhi battles in Germany. This resulted in him being driven out by Harikesa Swami, and then taking shelter of Jayatirtha, who granted him Ireland as his mini-zone.
There was so much “gobblee -gook” in Prithu dasa’s recent cryptic public apologies, wherein he blames his problems with deep depression, hazy fall down, and chronic family neglect on being too absorbed in preaching and serving Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON. In fact, I know that much of his personal trauma originated with the Germany and Ireland experiences. In truth, he was manically driven by revenge, competitiveness, one-upmanship and bitterness for many years after his shell shock from the coup d'etat in Ireland.
After many years of friendship, Prithu dasa and I had our falling out in the late nineties, while we were up at Saranagati Village in Northern BC. He had journeyed up there for the first and final time, prospecting for new ex-disciples after Jagadisa Swami made his ignominious fall-down departure. Prithu and I exchanged some very heated words at Saranagati, and later we exchanged a web-published series of vitriolic emails around our disagreement on current ISKCON/GBC policies surrounding re-initiation. By then he was spiraling down, losing his Krsna Consciousness and sanity, all on account of seriously playing the institutional guru game. In another sense, he is yet another victim of a tragically flawed religious system. Now, he’s ISKCON’s equivalent to the Roman Catholic’s Cardinal Law, spirited away to private retreat “on the inside” after his big public scandal.
Someone recently shared with me a statement by Jayapataka Swami*, found on Istagosti.org:
"I don't agree with your statement that the present policy in ISKCON is to "hush and crush". ISKCON is one of the most open societies where anyone can express themselves at least to the GBC's in any reasonable way."
Bir Krishna dasa Goswami said virtually the very same thing to me. That confidentially, behind closed doors and without disciples present, we could discuss anything I wanted. I found it very strange that at the same time, he had insisted on having his new disciple, Govardhana dasa, present during our long conversation. Bir Krishna went on to say that senior members and Godbrothers vent privately to each other on a regular basis, and it’s good therapy, male bonding and the like. I replied that if any GBC or senior ISKCON official had ever made any attempt at all to contact me over the last fifteen years since I left, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt compelled to “vent” over the Internet.
Too late now, the die is cast. In a world with Goggle search, my fate is sealed…. I’m crushed. As we witness right here on this Blog, contributors still feel they have to remain anonymous for fear of being banned by ISKCON. How these seemingly rational, intelligent “authorities” can adopt, and have the audacity to defend, this type of media control policy is beyond me. The fact is, devotees are one of the most wired groups on the planet. All around the world, we see countries, cultures and societies being transformed as a result of the free distribution of information across the Internet. There is an undeniable global move towards openness and transparency -- not towards secrecy and control! Today, even China and Japan are engaged in a public challenge to disclose and acknowledge the truth of their painful history. Why does ISKCON think they’re exempt? They are only postponing the inevitable, and Srila Prabhupada’s preaching mission is paying the dear price.
GBC, like the two Swamis above, should refrain from presuming to speak for the whole Vaisnava population on such philosophical questions as guru fall-down. Kings and queens used to make a mockery of religion by presuming to be its caretakers. What most of them really wanted was a kind of religion that would justify their rule while pacifying the populace. Our GBC representatives are prone to the same temptations. The religion that Srila Prabhupada’s supposed caretakers practice and promote often smells of sanctimony, manipulation and self-idolatry.
Individual Srila Prabhupada followers can be trusted to find their own appropriate ways to express their spiritual convictions, realizations, and virtue. What the people need from GBC leaders are the virtues of truthfulness, justice, practical wisdom, courage, vision and a kind of compassion whose effects can actually be discerned in the lives of the grassroots Vaisnavas. Sadly, compassion is exclusively for the disciples and the guru club members, not for old Godbrothers like us.
[* This name has been corrected. Ed.]
Posted by Rocana dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:30 AM PST
Following is the second email received from the individual who privately wrote to me, in response to my letter, above. He writes:
Thanks very much for your thorough reply to my comments from the other day. Perhaps we have had different Iskcon experiences at different times. Based on my personal experience just over the last ten years, attempting what you attempted is an exercise in futility of the worst sort (unless you are prepared to sell your soul outright ahead of time). But you're right - the purity and sincerity of purpose which you bring to this experience is what will determine what you personally get out of it. And I'm sure you will get much out of it. I look forward to hearing more from you on that.
I am interested in your comments, "For years, I have been hesitant about encouraging newcomers to get involved in the temple scene because I was unable to guide them through the initiation’minefield’ without standing in direct opposition to ISKCON. The Sampradaya Acarya concept gives me spiritually safe, philosophically sound ground to stand on in that regard."
Could you elaborate? For instance, how would the Sampradaya Acarya concept allow you to relate to devotees who have put so much faith in people and systems that are not in line with Srila Prabhupada?
Also, I'm curious re: your Portland temple experience, could you elaborate on what would have been a positive outcome for you? In other words, in an ideal world what scenario do you imagine could have unfolded?
Thank you for the reply, and for posing two good questions.
In answer to your first question:
First and foremost, due to my own conviction and my ability to articulate that Srila Prabhupada is a Sampraday Acarya, I am not confused by the arguments set forth by the ISKCON diksa guru pandits. ISKCON authorities have a very difficult time disagreeing with my thesis, especially when I make it absolutely clear that I am not proposing that we do away with diksa initiation. If I, as an older devotee, advise the un-initiated to first become thoroughly educated by reading, hearing and worshipping, thereby establishing a deep, loving relationship with Srila Prabhupada, the Sampradaya Acarya, there isn’t much they can say against my position. It’s difficult to argue with the advice that a neophyte should get fully absorbed in Srila Prabhupada as a proper precursor to diksa.
No one in ISKCON can give a philosophically sound argument for why newcomers should be in a rush to take diksa. Even Bir Krishna dasa Goswami agreed with my stand on the over-emphasis within the institution on obtaining diksa initiation as soon as possible. Of course, while he acknowledged that over-zealous, immature disciples act as recruiters for their diksa guru, his attitude was that there’s not much that can be done about the phenomenon
I have discovered that both the un-initiated, trained up bhaktas as well as the relative newcomers can easily understand and appreciate my explanations in this regard. In fact, many seem genuinely relieved to hear things logically explained from this angle, and they’re comfortable with taking a slow, careful approach to preparing for initiation. It is unfortunate that by accepting the slower, more methodical path to initiation, they have to live with the social stigma of having the prefix “Bhakta” or “Bhaktin” placed before their karmi name. While this practice was applicable during Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON lila era, for obvious reasons it is just a subtle form of social pressure in today’s environment. Why not allow the local siksa gurus to choose an appropriate spiritual name for trained up bhaktas who are not yet ready to be initiated? They could have a ceremony, fire yajna, or whatever to memorialize the event. This would allow those who have not yet decided upon their diksa guru to identify themselves as dedicated followers of the Sampradaya Acarya, and they can point to their siksa gurus as instructors for the time-being. I also don’t support the current institutional practice of immediately having to identify oneself as “belonging” to a particular diksa guru, even placing their initials behind one’s name. This practice may seem practical in the digital world of email, but it isn’t sastrically sound, and it’s become a transparent ploy by those in the institution to exploit the emotions of the newcomers who just want to feel that they belong.
The question before us is how does the Sampradaya Acarya concept allow me to relate to devotees who have reposed their faith in people and systems that are not in line with this vision of Srila Prabhupada? I’m not saying it’s now completely easy – I am saying it’s easier now than it used to be. I’ve explained above how I can relate to the un-initiated and newcomers. It’s not difficult to talk with my Godbrothers and sisters about Srila Prabhupada’s elevated status as a Sampradaya Acarya, because most of them fundamentally agree, in their hearts. In many cases, it’s most difficult to try and relate with the disciples of my Godbrothers. The biggest difference is that I can now speak on the whole question of initiation with far more conviction and clarity than in previous years. I’ve carefully thought out the potential questions or challenges, I have my responses in the forefront of my brain, and I have a certain degree of realization. On the other hand, their position is not only philosophically weak, they’re not clear about their own positions.
Perhaps the bigger question is between-the-lines of your question: can I get away with taking the Sampradaya Acarya position and still be an ISKCON insider? I suppose that depends upon the particular temple, GBC, local authority, Board, or whatever. I’ve found that most of the aforementioned have a hard time defending ISKCON’s position on the topics mentioned above, so they shy away from the discussion. When the die-hard religionists want to rid themselves of free thinkers such as myself, they usually look for other reasons, such as that obscure Dharma Mela posting presented by Bir Krishna dasa Goswami.
In the case of ISKCON Portland, both the Board members and Bir Krishna dasa Goswami stated that they didn’t want to “debate” philosophy with me. Instead, they recommended that I confront their deputed heavyweight philosopher, Hridayananda Swami. When an attitude such as this is coming from an older sannyasi/GBC/diksa guru, how can we deny that we are witnessing the telltale signs of entrenched religiosity disguised as spirituality? I told them that if they could arrange such an encounter with Hridayananda Swami, I’m certainly up for it. I would welcome a lengthy, written debate with him. Of course, everyone involved knew very well that orchestrating such a debate would be “mission impossible”. In other words, they admitted their own inadequacies in order to defend the GBC’s nebulous resolutions.
In answer to your second question:
Also, I'm curious re: your Portland temple experience, could you elaborate on what would have been a positive outcome for you? In other words, in an ideal world what scenario do you imagine could have unfolded?
The entire experience at the temple, from beginning to end, was mixed in the sense that initially it did seem that it was positive. The personalities with whom I was principally associating were spiritualists, namely the two brahmacaris (Trikalajhn dasa and Bhakta Joe) and a strict, dedicated householder couple (Nityananda Rama and Krishna-mayi devi). My wife got engaged in conversations with many of the women at the temple, but time didn’t allow for us to actually develop relationships with many of the other householders. We had even less interaction with the Board members. In hindsight, I have to say it appeared that the Board members were purposely avoiding me, because none of them really invited me to talk, take prasadam, ask questions, nor did they inquire into my life. In due course I found out why, but at the time I was somewhat oblivious to the underlying hostility.
So, a positive version would have been the absence of the negative factors such as ignorance, fear, impersonalism, arrogance, duplicity and so on. Of course, even during the nostalgic ISKCON lila period when Srila Prabhupada was present, it wasn’t the “ideal world” you refer to. Still, my Portland temple experience wasn’t anything like what I experienced in the old days. Back then, the temple authorities (which included me) were always on the lookout for qualified personnel. The atmosphere throughout ISKCON was surcharged with the gung-ho mood of so much to do, so little time, money and devotees. If someone walked in the door who was enthusiastic, capable and willing, we got them involved and engaged as quickly as possible. Today, a laid back, lackadaisical mood seems to prevail, especially in terms of preaching. During my Board roast, Govardhana dasa told me that he thought the painting of the temple had been a waste of time and money. When I tried to explain how important it was for preaching to create the right atmosphere, bright and suchi, he just couldn’t comprehend. I think that’s because he doesn’t see the temple as a preaching center, just as place to come to every weekend. I’m sure he’d disagree with this assessment, but actions speak louder than words. My perspective is that Paramatma reciprocated with the spiritualists in providing the temple facility, not with the religionists represented by the Board members. To the spiritualists, everything possible should be done to improve the circumstances, post haste. To the religionists, Mañana… what’s the hurry?
Ideally, the Board members would have made it their business to engage us quickly and directly after the first or second visit. Instead of making themselves scarce, they would have talked to us at length each Sunday, asking a lot questions aimed at getting to know who we were, why we had come, what we hoped to gain there. They would have simply opened a healthy channel of communications. Had they done so, they would have discovered that Jahnava and I are both honest, open and articulate in expressing who we are.
Much could have been disclosed, in both directions, sincerely and humbly. Had we done that, we would have pretty quickly zeroed in on points of disagreement and contention. Talking privately, we then could have agreed to disagree on certain things, and committed to talking and exploring together much more in future to try and really understand our differences (istagosti). If they felt the need to do so, the Board could have worked with us to establish ground rules, and we would have agreed to stay within certain boundaries so everyone could comfortably go forward. For example, the Board could have isolated potentially problematic issues from their standpoint (e.g., Prithu’s departure, diksa initiation, GBC directives, HareKrsna.com content, etc.) that they don’t want discussed at the temple, mentioned during a Sunday lecture, etc. My wife and I would have been happy to comply with such a request. In this way, contentious issues could easily have been kept isolated and discussed privately, philosophically, amongst the Board and more senior devotees. Jahnava and I would have been very agreeable to such a situation, and would have diligently worked to stay within such boundaries. We would have welcomed the private, philosophical discussion and debate. Everybody would have learned a lot, the temple would have benefited from our service, and we would have benefited from getting darshan of the Deities and having the association of the devotees. Win-Win.
Coming to this kind of an arrangement is relatively easy to do. Of course, a key ingredient to making such an agreement work is that both sides have to be sincere and honest. You have to want it to work. You have to actually follow-through with istagosti: talk at length, get to know one another, discuss openly and honestly, allow free thinking and free speech, and work together to come to agreements that let everyone associate together nicely.
Had Bir Krishna dasa Goswami come to town and spent time discussing issues philosophically with me, as one would expect a sanyasis/GBC to do, who knows what we might have learned or accomplished together. Whatever boundaries I’d agreed on with the temple could have been explored more thoroughly between he and I, on the philosophical platform, between Godbrothers.
So all of this is not rocket science. It’s just good communications, personalism, and Krsna Consciousness. A lot to hope for, I know…. But you can’t fault me for having high hopes.
Posted by Jatayu das @ 06/26/2005 03:28 AM PST
Dear Rocana prabhu, dear Godbrother!
Thanks for sharing this eclat for a better understanding what's going on in our spiritual fathers movement. I joined Srila Prabhupada 1972 and made it till 1988, although at that time I was one of the last non-initiating Prabhupada disciples in that zone from previously more than 200 Godbrothers/sisters. At one point I knew clearly that they wanted me to leave and treated me just that way. I sold more than 150.000 hardbound books, helped quite some new devotees to join, opened temples, studied Prabhupada's books real hard to give qualified lectures, my parents donated tons of laxmi, still around 1985 they began to call me asara, strange-dasa, useless-dasa, in front of their new disciples. For teaching them how to distribute books, how to cook or leading them out on Harinama I was warmly welcomed. At that time I realized that they simply wanted to turn Iskcon into their own ashram, just new gurus and new disciples, no "disturbing" godbrothers in between. They came up with "siddhantas" like, a disciple who, after the disappearance of his spiritual master doesnt advance to the level of accepting his own disciples is to be considered fallen - terribly fallen. And thats what the new disciples were taught, non initiating Prabhupada disciple are to be considered as not having received the mercy of their guru (they seemingly also liked to hear this with big smiles). The way I was told to leave was of that kind that I actually never visited a temple again and I'm thankful to hear from you now, that nothing actually has changed, except one goes there with a USD 1 Million check! I associate regularly with two Godbrothers but mainly time is eaten up to work for mainting the families material situation and that's just the point from what Prabhupada wanted us to save by living within a healthy Vaishnava community. Two years ago Prithu dasa, who brought me to KC in '71, invited me into his preaching center and afterwards I realy regretted of having gone there. When I told him the situation within Iskcon - new disciples worshipping their gurus - is set up in such a way that it made the presence of non- initiating Prabhupada disciples impossible, he just laughed and said, wrong, nonsense, they all blubbed, weren't fixed up enough to make it after the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. For me that was like a knife in my heart and I thought how can he say that? Till today I havent found the answer and Jayapataka Swami's JSSS sounds to me like the same: we are all blubbed and imature, fallen and in great need to receive urgent help for our "vicissitudes of tender spiritual life".
"...To provide facility for nurturing and culturing the disciples of His Divine Grace in their understanding of the Guru Tattva and serve as a guide in stabilisinng their services in the face of the many material vicissitudes of tender spiritual life.
Posted by Rocana dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:27 AM PST
Dear Shiva dasa,
Thanks for your contribution and truth telling. As you so astutely pointed out, there was undoubtedly a political component to my encounter with the duplicitous authorities. The initial board roast was hastily called because unbeknownst to me at the time, one of the devotees was attempting to get support from the congregation to put me on the Board. I wasn’t aware of this exacerbating factor until after leaving the temple that night. The board was apparently scrambling to come up with viable reasons to get rid of me. There was no mention of the “offensive” letter about Tamal Krishna, which ended up playing the key role in my meeting with Bir Krishna dasa Goswami, because they probably hadn’t yet put their hands on it.
Frankly, I didn’t have a desire to be given that kind of temple responsibility. In fact, prior to the Board roast, I didn’t fully realize that Bir Krishna dasa Goswami had done away with the traditional Temple President position and had given the equivalent power to these board members. Srila Prabhupada’s formula was that a Temple President be in charge, but here we see yet another GBC “improvement”. Was it Srila Prabhupada who said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee”?
Trikalajna dasa, presently the Temple Commander at Portland, had to bow out of the crazy Board earlier in the year, out of shear frustration. He complained to Bir Krishna dasa Goswami about the Board’s ineffectualness, but to no avail. Trikalajna dasa and Bhakta Joe are the only live-in brahmacaris at the temple. They go out daily for preaching and maintain the temple programs. As such Trikalajna dasa would be the natural choice for being Temple President under Srila Prabhupada’s original plan. From what I saw, he appears to be well-suited for the position, with proper training and support. I was willing and able to be an advisor for Trikalajna dasa, having served many years as a Temple President, but I have gone long past the age where I’m attracted to that type of service -- especially under today’s conditions. Of course, I was never given an opportunity to share these thoughts with any of the existing authorities, namely the Board and Bir Krishna das Goswami.
I’m certainly not attached or broken hearted by the way things turned out, although I wish they turned out differently. I tried to keep my article focused on the bigger picture. I have commented many times that I believe ISKCON is, in essence, an ethereal mirage. The collective GBC members blow this international smoke screen so they can be perceived by their local followers as holding some big international institutional position. In fact, many temples function as separate mathas or asramas controlled and owned by a single personality, without any GBC oversight. That’s the way it is in many North American temples, including Bir Krishna dasa Gowsami’s North Carolina community.
Then there are the Hindu oriented, Board controlled temples. The one’s I’m most familiar with are in Canada, but there are a number here in the US as well. Many of the Indians are sincerely dedicated to Srila Prabhupada and are trying their level best to maintain the temples by catering to less committed Indians. This results in the side altars for demigods and celebrating festivals not emphasized on our Vaisnava calendar. I don’t blame them so much as I do the responsible GBC, who consistently show permissiveness and a lack of oversight, and generally do not see that Srila Prabhupada’s high standards are maintained. Pleasing the past Sampradaya Acaryas is the secret to success rather than pleasing congregational members whose real desire is a combination community center cum temple.
Even here in Oregon, just a few miles from Portland, there is a group of Indian’s who broke away from ISKCON Portland and started their own group-oriented Hillsboro ISKCON. They chose Hari Vilas dasa as their GBC. His Seattle scene is quite similar to what’s happening in ISKCON Hillsboro. So, the ISKCON that Srila Prabhupada started and oversaw from ‘66 to ‘77 is vastly different than what we find today.
When I suggested to Bir Krishna the idea of the GBC producing a standardized membership requirements document, he actually laughed out loud. Basically, he confirmed my theory that a homogeneous ISKCON, as is commonly portrayed, is in fact a complete illusion. He said it was impossible for the GBC to create such a document considering that almost anything and everything under the Vaisnava sun is fair game under the auspices of being called ISKCON. The only disqualification for a member is being publicly recognized as an outspoken critic of the GBC and/or the diksa gurus, or being offensive towards Srila Prabhupada. Of course, they don’t have a vision of Srila Prabhupada as being on the level of a Sampradaya Acarya, which in my mind is also offensive.
Bir Krishna dasa Goswami went on to say that I would have experienced far less of a welcome at the Los Angeles Temple than I had initially experienced in Portland. Sevasa dasa, the long standing Temple President in LA, runs his temple like a family fiefdom. There is an eerie similarity to many localized temples scattered throughout India. There’s a good chance that Sevasa dasa passes on to another body, his oldest son will ‘inherit’ the temple. Time will tell, but all the symptoms of history repeating itself can be observed on the Vaisnava landscape today.
I don’t claim to have all the details in order to accurately categorize into sub-groups all the worldwide temples flying the ISKCON flag. All in all, not much has changed since I faded out of the ISKCON picture over fifteen years ago. There’s lots of cheery talk about big improvements since the early “crisis years”, along with the open-armed welcomes from a certain sector of well-intentioned individuals, but this mood appears not to be shared by the overall GBC or ISKCON in general.
Posted by Rocana dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:26 AM PST
I just received a private email which expressed sentiments that I’m sure other readers are also thinking. I’ve paraphrased the writer’s question below, along with my response:
Q: I am somewhat perplexed [by your ISKCON Portland article]. There is nothing in your extensive writings that would have prepared me for such a decision. Based on what you know, what did you expect would happen? In other words, if I were a veteran say of the Democratic Party, worked in it for years and years and left disgruntled, I would know what to expect if I re-entered the organization at the local level (unless I believed in miracles or magic which clearly you do not).
So my question is, why did you do it and what did you think would happen? From the perspective of the young devotees there (and put yourself in their shoes or socks as the case may be - what would you have done in a similar situation say in 1974 or 75?) They had good reason to question your motives. I question your motives and I'm a sympathizer! And surely you know Bir Krishna and his type as well as you know your own self. Don't you think your expressions of disappointment with the whole experience are just a little disingenuous?
Of course I realized there was a high percentage of chance that something like this could happen. But why should that stop me from testing the waters? Please keep in mind that this was the first time in more than ten years that I have attempted “re-entry”. It’s not like I’ve been bouncing in and out of ISKCON temples over the years under the pretense of wanting to get involved, just so I can get thrown out and have another critical article to write. As to whether or not there were signs in my previous writings that I might attempt such a thing, over the years I’ve certainly expressed my reticence about being on the ‘outside’ of my Spiritual Master’s movement. Should everyone on the outside plan to just wait until some huge, sudden change occurs that signals the “all clear”…. then we all come running back at once? That’s not a very likely scenario, either. Change always happens incrementally, as does reconciliation.
ISKCON Portland represented a good opportunity, at the right time and place, to test the waters. First of all, as you know, Prithu dasa Adhikary left his position some six months ago and ISKCON Portland had been his matha. We’d made a few visits to the Portland temple over recent years, and saw that they were in need of assistance. We purposely didn’t go to the temple during the first six months after Prithu’s departure, so we wouldn’t give the impression that we were trying to exploit the situation. Perhaps we didn’t wait long enough. While we knew that his disciples/ex-disciples there were probably still recovering from the trauma, it also meant there wasn’t likely to be a direct personal conflict with Prithu himself. We’d heard that in his wake, various other ISKCON sanyasis and leaders were coming to the temple to help ‘stabilize’ it. So there was an opportunity for me to re-connect with various Godbrothers who weren’t fully attached to this temple. Following Prithu’s resignation, Bir Krishna das Goswami had been made the new GBC, which meant there was opportunity for a new mood to get established here. As Shiva das noted in his Blog reply, Bir Krishna, left to his own devices, might just as likely have been happy to have someone experienced arrive on the scene. It was the reaction of the local Board leaders that shifted the balance, and Bir Krishna followed their lead. Going in, we had no way of knowing that’s what was going to unfold.
In addition, my wife and I had just started a new Bhagavad-gita class series in downtown Vancouver. Jahnava was interested in visiting the temple to see if we could establish good rapport and get some participation from the devotees there to come support the Gita class, and have a place to recommend our class participants go to experience more of Krsna Consciousness.
Also of importance is the fact that my wife has never lived in or been an active part of a Hare Krsna temple community. All her experience has been gained ‘on the outside’, in private devotee community and the home asrama. We’re currently living with Bhakta Eric, who has taken up Krsna Consciousness over the last year we’ve been house-sharing with him. Jahnava was anxious the he should also get a taste of the temple experience. In fact, both Eric and Jahnava benefited spiritually from the few visits to the temple. Association with Vaisnavas for Krsna kirtan, darshan of the Deities, class and prasadam is unquestionably very nice and important. My wife immediately was connecting with the other ladies, planning for deities and festivals. It made her very happy.
Add to this the recent expressions of ‘family reunion mood’ coming from the GBC and ISKCON leaders, and the recent return of numerous other older, disenfranchised devotees, and you can see how all of this combined to set the scene.
Finally, my willingness to ‘test the waters’ has been impacted by my having firmly arrived at the Sampradaya Acarya conclusion. Having come to this philosophical understanding, I have now personally resolved many of my concerns around the diksa issue as relates to how one can work cooperatively with the institution. In other words, I now have a clear, philosophically sound way to express to newcomers I’m cultivating how they can consider the concept of diksa. The diksa concept, as presented in the Sampradaya Acarya construct, lets me stand within the boundaries of the ISKCON institutional model, while at the same time maintaining a healthy distance from the aspects of institutionalized diksa that I find unacceptable and am not willing to convey to newcomers just for the sake of participating with ISKCON. For years, I have been hesitant about encouraging newcomers to get involved in the temple scene because I was unable to guide them through the initiation ‘minefield’ without standing in direct opposition to ISKCON. The Sampradaya Acarya concept gives me spiritually safe, philosophically sound ground to stand on in that regard.
Comparing being a member of Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual family to being part of some mundane political party illustrates a perception of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada, and the sankirtan movement that I don’t share. I agree that idealism verses realism is the question here. ISKCON types like to paint the rosy ‘big Vaikuntha’ picture to their participants, especially newcomers. In other words, most ISKCON bhaktas don’t believe they are joining a “political” party or that their authorities place controlling and maintaining their material power first and foremost over what’s best for spreading the glories of the Holy Name, even though that’s often the truth of it. So, let them at least hear from my example what this so-called ISKCON and it’s leaders are truly like. I see it as a good part of their education. Don’t you think I have a right or duty to broadcast my experience if I think it can help others?
Your comparison of today’s circumstances within ISKCON and what was transpiring back in the mid-seventies during Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON lila period is more than a stretch. I can’t recall being put into a similar situation when I was Temple President. How could I? Srila Prabhupada is/was a Sampradaya Acarya and as such, is an inconceivably advanced personality. Is such a person present in ISKCON today? Are these leaders trying to make out that they are far more advanced than they actually are? That reality is one of the pillars of my Sampradaya Acarya theme. Why not expose them whenever possible, and especially when personal experience plays a part? I don’t consider that disingenuous at all.
We made a sincere effort in our approach to the temple. I did not have an ulterior motive to watch a failure unfold, then report about it publicly in order to say “I told you so”. We actually hoped the mountain might have moved enough to give us a little foothold, trusting that on the local level our sincerity would help open the door at least long enough for some mutual trust to grow. That could have been the outcome, you know. Given different people and dynamics, the re-entry could have resulted in a successful outcome. I don’t think any of the choices we made would or should have changed. Failure occurred on the other side of the equation. I simply followed the dominoes as they toppled, engaged in whatever process was there in front of me to be engaged in, and recorded and published the outcomes and my commentary on them. I do not see that as disingenuous, in any way.
I do understand how you and other readers might judge the mood of my article to be disingenuous based on the tone of “disappointment” expressed there. Yes, I could certainly have applied the razor’s edge in that article. Instead of the somewhat neutral, disappointed tone, I could have conducted a post mortem on the personal qualities and levels of realization expressed by the various participants. That might have sounded a bit more like the articles you’re used to reading from me. I didn’t think it was necessary, wise or fair to express that tone in the article because I do understand the dynamics going on for there for the younger devotees. At the same time, I think they deserve to be challenged, and publicly so. Believe me, there are many more revelations coming down the pike from me on the Bir Krishna front. I only presented a small fraction of the contents of my conversation with him, and I’ll certainly express a different level of challenge when I get into the rest of that story.
So you can believe one of two things: that my motives for going were as stated in the article and elaborated upon above, or that I was acting as an ‘undercover investigative journalist’ looking for a good story. If it had turned out positively, which as you say was hope against hope, that would have been great. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. If the predictable happened, as it did, then where’s the downside? I am given an opportunity to say what I’ve said in the article, and perhaps someone might learn from it.
"The person explained to Srila Gaurakisora, "I thought it better to reside in a solitary place and perform my own individual worship then to become disturbed at heart by hearing another holy person's sharp words." Srila Gaurakisora replied, "Please notice that those devotees who speak sharp words to drive away the witch of illusory energy are actually the only real devotees and the friends of the living entities. The conditioned living entity hears the distressful quarrels of his wife and close relations until death, yet he never desires to leave their association. To the contrary, he absorbs himself in ways to please them by his service. But when a devotee of the Lord who is always desirous of the living entity's ultimate welfare speaks just one instruction to drive away Maya, then the conditioned entity immediately makes plans to leave that person for his entire life. If you actually want to perform proper devotional service, then you must accept the harsh language as the medicine by which Maya can be given up. Then one can obtain the necessary spiritual advancement and accept the chanting of the Holy Name."
“An Era Not to be Forgotten” by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati
Posted by shiva dasa @ 06/26/2005 03:24 AM PST
You mentioned that they brought up an analogy of a presidential cabinet member or a military member being in the same position as a member of ISKCON.
Both analogies are false. A President chooses his cabinet. They in turn give advice to the president on the issues of the specific secretarial position they occupy. The process was created not so that the President could tell them what to do, or to use them as a propaganda mouthpiece, their job was to provide expertise to the president in the fields of their expertise.
The president isn't expected to know everything about everything, therefore the cabinet is supposed to be a body of advisors to the president about things he is not expert at.
How is non critical membership in ISKCON like being a cabinet member?
In fact the job of the cabinet is to teach the president, to educate the president, to preside over the section of government for the president because they are supposed to be experts in the field. Their job is to tell the president when they feel he is mistaken, it is their job to critique the president not to be his yes men.
As for the military analogy; the military has a chain of command. They also have a system of redress for complaints about superiors. They also are encouraged to be "whistle-blowers" by law.
So the military analogy is false as well. The military does not disallow membership if you criticize an officer or a policy.
The military is a bad analogy also because they follow rules laid down in a lawbook. The creator of ISKCON had rules for ISKCON. Nowhere did he mention that criticism of management or of other devotees made one ineligable for participation.
There may or may not be such a law on ISKCON's books now. But that would not be in the spirit of the founder acarya.
What Bir Krishna and Govardhana were really saying is that they want to enforce a militaristic authoritarian culture within ISKCON for their own material benefit. They want no dissent. They want to be controllers. They want to exploit people's ignorance for the service they can get out of them. They want to make ISKCON there own personal organization.
Some may claim that dissent is bad for newcomers. That is totaly absurd. What kind of person will become involved with ISKCON in todays culture without first going online and sussing them out?
All the criticism and dirt and everything they supposedly want to hide, is hiding in plain sight for anyone with half a brain and a computer.
If someone joins and doesn't know the history of ISKCON, then I have to question whether they are stupid or have been living without contact with modern civilization.
If there is no freedom of speech allowed in ISKCON, then just what the hell do they think they are promoting ISKCON to be?
Oh, come join the dispensation of the yuga dharma. Come take part in the highest level of God's munificence, the Sankirtan Lila. Come join the descent of the spiritual world on earth.
No freedom of speech allowed.
Anyone who promotes that conception is a hypocrite, a mudha, a fake brahamana, and an aparadhi towards the vaisnavas.
Vedic culture is free speech culture.
Anyone with a position or even without a position of management in ISKCON, who thinks that ISKCON is their own little private kingdom, that they can use Sri Krishna's mercy for their own little power trips, take a look around. Seen any problems with those who thought just that of late? Don't think you are above karmic reaction.
Karmic reaction is worse for those in knowledge of their sins.
Posted by shiva das @ 06/26/2005 03:23 AM PST
They said it was because you wrote some criticism of an ISKCON guru and that therefore you were disbarred.
Pure unadultered lie.
I can point to you numerous quotes from various ISKCON leaders severely criticizing each other all over the internet.
Why just recently Bhakti Marg Swami created a big stink by severly criticizing a sick dying guru godbrother, he was forced to make a retraction in public. Yet he is not disbarred.
We can find numerous severe harsh criticisms of Hrdayananda Swami, Jayaptaka Swami, and others made by various vaisnavas in positions in or out of leadership in ISKCON.
Some have made huge swipes at the entire GBC!
A few years ago a few GBC Gurus resigned from the GBC over claiming that the GBC body were bogus for not taking some kind of harsher stance against some lady devotee who made controversial remarks on an internet forum.
The point is we can find numerous biting and harsh criticisms coming from ISKCON leadership towards other ISKCON leaders, but they are not disbarred.
So Rocana Ji, you were not disbarred because of some comment about Tamal Krishna Goswami.
You were disbarred because you presented a perceived threat to the authority of the temple leaders. And since you hold no position in the society they could then simply disbar you.
It wasn't about what you said, it was about who you know.
Clearly what happened is that Bir Krishna could probably have cared less or even welcomed you into taking part. A seasoned devotee with speaking skills is going to enhance a temple in it's preaching mission.
The problem was that the temple leaders feared losing respect and authority as the final word on Krishna consciousness for their community.
They feared that if someone outside of their command structure all of a sudden showed them up in philosophical teachings, to the public, then in the eyes of the congregation (follow the money), giving money and support to the leaders may become secondary to giving money and support to the outsider.
So the temple leaders were being protective of their positions and became anxious by your presence. They then approached Bir Krishna Goswami in an anxious state. Seeing their distress and not wanting to alienate them for someone that has no standing in ISKCON, and who is not his personal friend, he simply made a politically expedient choice.
I'll comment on the rest of what you wrote later. I'm short on time right now.
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