Mentality of a Sheltered Disciple
BY: ROCANA DASA, SUN EDITOR
Oct 9, USA (SUN) Counterpoint response to Hari dasa's editorial, "The Honor of HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami"
Many readers have been following the lengthy debate regarding HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami, HH Radhanath Swami, Kirtanananda, and other ISKCON notorieties found in the Sun Blog, “Faith Before Initiation" and the Krsna Blog entitled
The latest enthusiastic contributor to this debate has been the offended disciple of HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami, Hari dasa. Hari dasa is articulate and emotional in his defense of his guru, thus providing our readers with an opportunity to taste “a drop of the ocean” of the disciple mentality that can be found in varying degrees throughout ISKCON and the Gaudiya Matha.
I recently addressed this problem from a slightly different angle in my article entitled “Disciple’s Dilemma". The emotional reactions expressed by second generation disciples are one of the main reasons many of Srila Prabhupada's disciple’s have difficulty interfacing with today’s ISKCON.
From day one, directly after the Zonal Acarya take-over in early 1978, this issue took front and center stage. The successful take-over conspirators initially came up with their simple solution, which was immediately employed with tyrannical fervor. Every ISKCON member was obliged to instantly act as if they were direct disciples of the Zonal Gurus. Keep in mind that the Zonal Acaryas were imitating Srila Prabhupada, not just acting as regular diksa gurus. Their rational was that new disciples had to be shown practical examples of behavior that they could emulate.
Hari dasa has no historical memory going back to that period, therefore he can’t even imagine what it was like for us. We were probably about the same age as he is now. So it isn’t like we haven’t gone through a lot of trauma after the departure of our Guru. The ISKCON elite have successfully de-emphasized, rewritten and basically deleted these embarrassing Zonal Acarya historical chapters. The result of this censorship policy is that we now have to experience self-righteous disciples like Hari dasa demanding that we stop criticizing their gurus. Of course, they have no qualms about condescendingly "preaching" to the Godbrother’s of their guru. They have been living in an insulated environment wherein everyone is obediently conforming to ISKCON’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. I say to Hari dasa and those like him, welcome to the real worldwide ISKCON, which goes all the way back to 1966. The real ISKCON includes all of Srila Prabhupada's followers, the majority of whom are not participating in the present day institution going by the name ISKCON. Many of us view today's ISKCON as a perverted reflection of the transcendental version. Those of us with a public presence are not likely to back down and stop talking simply because the second generation disciples feel uncomfortable about what we have to say.
Let’s keep in mind that this whole discussion with Hari dasa was initially sparked by Praghosa dasa, whose comments on HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami can be found in the Krsna Blog. Praghosa dasa's comments were followed by many others, including the recent comments by Bhakti Vikas Swami. By reading his comments, we see that at least one brave, straightforward ISKCON Swami/GBC/Guru has publicly revealed his mind. Apparently unbeknownst to Hari dasa, heated discussions such as these frequently take place behind the saffron curtain, well out of earshot of the disciples.
Another interesting dynamic to consider is that Bhakti Vikas Swami’s disciples are obliged to accept his perspective, which is obviously in direct conflict with Hari dasa and the other disciples of Bhakti Tirtha Swami. Hari dasa, showed signs of shock when he innocently wandered into the glare of Sampradaya Sun. Once his eyes adjusted, he discovered the goings-on in the world outside of his own sphere. Finding many devotees and ISKCON leaders who are criticizing his recently departed guru, we witness the “deer in the headlights” syndrome now being exhibited by Hari dasa prabhu.
Hari dasa personifies so many over-incubated disciples found in ISKCON today, who have been sheltered from real life. The questions raised about the departure of Bhakti Tirtha Swami were a catalyst for his outburst of immaturity. We can only expect more displays of emotion like this one in the future, as more and more diksa gurus come to meet their inevitable demise. The Godbrothers surviving them will undoubtedly have strong opinions about how these gurus lived and served. Some will be willing to share their opinions publicly.
My frequently expressed position is that the interests of the second generation disciples are better served if they have the opportunity to experience reality, in the form of hearing legitimate viewpoints which go beyond their own cloistered sentiments. I feel that I'm performing a service by providing a forum in which Srila Prabhupada's followers may express their opinions and understandings. A great deal of historical truth-telling takes place here, and this sometimes agitates the minds of the second generation disciples. Many of these disciples seem not to understand that their beloved gurus had a spiritual life prior to taking on their own diksa disciples. These gurus had relationships with many devotees in the movement, outside of the disciple/guru relationship. As sadhana bhaktas, it wasn’t so long ago that these gurus were neophytes who made mistakes, offended Godbrothers and associates, aligned themselves with the wrong persons, and struggled with their mind and senses. Just how spiritually advanced a sadhana bhakta is, is almost impossible for another conditioned soul to accurately determine. If you happen to accept diksa from such an imperfect person, then your unbiased objectivity is bound to be blurred sooner or later.
Many of ISKCON's gurus, especially the originals going back to the Zonal Acarya era, have perfected the art of appearing more advanced than they are. There are many tricks of the trade which they have shared with one other or learned by example. They have their own internal lineages, such as Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s, which can be traced back to Kirtanananda. These lineages are traced not just by chronological time, but by actions, attitudes, style, charismatic techniques, and siddhantic interpretation.
The enduring strength of these lineages was illustrated by the recent sentimental reunion between Bhakti Tirtha Swami and Kirtanananda, who came to visit the Swami on his death bed. The dynamics of that visit parallel so many other dynamics prevalent in these lineage relationships. The very fact that Bhakti Tirtha didn’t take into consideration the impact of having Kirtanananda visit him at Gita Nagari, or allowing Vakesvara Pandit to take a leading role in kirtans during his departure, says a lot to me and many others about just how he perceived himself. Only someone who believes they are above and beyond even Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON, the GBC, and many of their esteemed Godbrothers would have acted in this manner. Who can argue that these activities did not have a negative impact on Srila Prabhupada's movement? What was the point Bhakti Tirtha was trying to make? Now it’s all up to interpretation, because he obviously didn’t see fit to share his rational for taking these actions with the community of devotees. The movement could well do without such disturbances, but Bhakti Tirtha Swami didn’t take that into account. What does this tell you about the man?
Hari dasa is like a child growing up and being forced to accept that his loving parents aren’t adored by everyone in the neighborhood. ISKCON goes overboard in molly coddling their disciples, adopting unwritten agreements that they will all appear friendly and cordial, not criticizing one another in public. Of course, we know that they freely criticize one another behind closed doors. Let's take note of the fact that no GBC has stepped forward to defend Bhakti Tirtha Swami from the challenges laid down by Praghosa dasa, Shiva dasa, Bhakti Vikas Swami, or myself.
Hari dasa pasted-in to his article the "GBC Statement on the Passing of HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami" in order to prove to the readers that collectively, the GBC all “feel” exactly the way the funeral eulogy reads. This is yet another sign of extreme naiveté on the part of Hari dasa.
The GBC are conspicuous in their absence in this conversation. While their eulogy seemingly endorses some of Bhakti Tirtha Swami's activities, a eulogy can hardly be taken as formal acceptance of the Swami's practices. There is no official GBC document wherein they are willing to officially condone Bhakti Tirtha's many activities which are, and have long been, under question by his Godbrothers, such as his dress, his books, his separate associations, etc. The GBC is apparently not willing to do that. Perhaps Hari dasa should push them to endorse these things as being bona fide and acceptable, thereby clearing up the issue for us all.
By listing Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s lifetime accomplishments throughout his ISKCON tenure, the GBC are inadvertently endorsing all the controversial activities found on the list of his pastimes. In reality, many of Bhakti Tirtha's “out of the box” pastimes do not sit well with individual GBC members, other Godbrothers, or even the open-minded followers of Srila Prabhupada. Again due to ISKCON's long entrenched “mushroom” policy, which is exacerbated by a lack of free speech, these problems increase exponentially with each episode, and will eventually contribute to the further deterioration of ISKCON as a whole. As Praghosa dasa explained, the problems posed by Bhakti Tirtha were thankfully resolved by his passing on. All the dilemmas this phenomena poses, some of which I listed above, cannot be avoided. These problems will undoubtedly find their way to open debate, here in the Sampradaya Sun and elsewhere.
Hari dasa and all those he represents should understand that many of those he fault-finds have courage, conviction, and the skill to communicate. They have taken the time to express themselves and they speak for many other Vaisnavas. Carte blanche characterization of them as 'offenders' is in itself an offense. I suggest that Hari dasa consider this wake-up experience to be an intrinsic part of his spiritual education and journey. Jumping onto the Hari dasa bandwagon is not something I recommend to other readers who find themselves in a similar situation. Ultimately, situations such as this are a test of how well one understands our siddhanta, how properly trained-up, mature, and open-minded one is.
Hari dasa and company should consider the fact that a great many second generation disciples of the multitude of fallen ISKCON gurus have had to endure far more emotional trauma than the bruised ears he is having to endure. As Praghosa dasa suggested, HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s premature demise has possibly prevented his disciples from experiencing a similar fate. They have also been spared the anxiety that so many other disciples of still-standing gurus face, as they pray, wonder and wait in hopes that their diksa guru will survive.
Like other departed ISKCON diksa gurus, Bhakti Tirtha's disappearance yet again re-opens the Pandora’s box of unanswered questions that the GBC is obliged to address.
A few of them follow:
1) Is there a GBC committee empowered to determine which departed Vaisnavas are spiritually qualified to be laid in Samadhi on Mayapur lands?
2) Are the disciples of the departed gurus all now eligible to apply to the GBC for diksa guru status?
3) Is the GBC responsible to oversee/control the “myth-making” tendencies of the
departed guru’s disciples?
4) If the departed guru’s disciples managerially control an ISKCON facility such as Gita Nagari, and have the backing of a majority of the community constituency, how much control or influence does the GBC have in regulating the degree of worship given to the departed Guru?
5) How are the GBC proposing to deal with the reality that some departed gurus/swamis have accumulated great riches or have wealthy followers who wish to erect huge or multiple Samadhis and/or monuments to their departed objects of affection?
6) How is the GBC going to deal with properties or Matha-like situations where only one guru reigns supreme? The assets are not assigned to ISKCON, yet they fly the ISKCON flag. We all know such circumstances exist and the gurus play an increasingly important role in the GBC.
Tamal Krishna Goswami was the first test case for many of these questions. We witnessed, with various emotions (none favorable), what transpired in regards to his “requested deification".
A respected friend of mine, Kurma Rupa dasa, wrote an article a few years back entitled “Neglect Them Also”. Following are a few excerpts that are particularly relevant to the current discussion:
TKG ordered his followers to construct his samadhi. The term “samadhi” refers to two things: an elevated state of awareness beyond the modes of nature, and a mausoleum honoring those who have achieved such a state. In Vaishnava terminology, “samadhi” refers specifically to full absorption in the nama, guna, rupa, and lila of Sri Krishna. Those Vaishnavas who leave their body absorbed in samadhi are exalted and to commemorate their unique achievement their followers construct a samadhi tomb in which they place their remains. Yes, Srila Prabhupada instructed his followers to put him in a samadhi, but he demonstrated that elevated state by his absorption in translating Srimad Bhagavatam and hearing kirtana up to his last breath.
….TKG has a samadhi in Mayapura and will have a pushpa samadhi in Govardhana.
What’s the harm? We create an inaccurate account of history...a myth...a legend, an illusion. We dupe ourselves and others in the name of bolstering the faith of his disciples, uniting the institution, taking only the honey like the bee, and so on. Worse, we now open the door for anyone with a few wealthy sentimental followers to be awarded a “samadhi.” We deteriorate the tradition. In due course, at least in ISKCON, the term “samadhi” will lose its true meaning and will become synonymous with “death” and “tombstone.” And those who refuse to participate in the swindle, the honest devotees, those who are dedicated to living with their eyes open, will no doubt be ostracized. More tragedy?
And what to do with people who embrace the myth despite having information to the contrary? What to do with those who lack the courage to maintain awareness of the Truth? What to do with the duped, the cheated? Bhaktivinoda Thakura classifies them as dharmadvajis also, inasmuch as they serve to perpetuate the myth.
Not unlike the dharmadvajis mentioned by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Hari dasa has adopted the persona of a self-appointed crusader venturing out to defend his “Jagat-Guru”, HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami Krsnapada. His defense of Bhakti Tirtha Swami reveals that he assigns the same spiritual status to Bhakti Tirtha as he does to Srila Prabhupada. Hari dasa has equated Srila Prabhupada’s purported sastras to Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s science fiction. He equates Srila Prabhupada's worldwide travels to Bhakti Tirtha Swami's tours. How did he come to embrace these misconceptions? He has been a disciple of Bhakti Tirtha Swami for over ten years. Didn’t Bhakti Tirtha have ample opportunity to correct him on such misconceptions? Hari dasa seems to be oblivious of the reality that he displays, for all the world to witness, the very essence of what we are trying to point out to be wrong. By his words, he demonstrates himself as uneducated, immature and offensive to Srila Prabhupada, while proudly presenting himself as a senior disciple of HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami.
How many more Bhakti Tirtha disciples are there like Hari dasa, what to speak of disciples of the other diksa gurus? Would Srila Prabhupada be pleased by the results of these disciplic relationships? The readers must judge for themselves.