Saturday, February 13, 2010

Life After ISCKON, Interview part 3

GG: How do you look at the sannyas ashrama now?

B: Let me preface some things first before answering that question. I firmly believe that the healing process, call it self-realization, must be centered around reconnecting with God the Father and Goddess the Mother. Prabhupāda introduced us to Mahaprabhu’s teaching that God is Two. We have original cause separation issues not only with God as Father but God as Mother. We have separated from the Two for reasons we must find within ourselves, through the self-realization process. The enlightened souls help us know the transcendent Male and Female nature of the Source that we are part and parcel of and of our patterns that deepen the separation.

With that being said, through self-realization, our eyes open to reintegrate our own male and female, (yin and yang polarities), being part and parcel of Them. The male (yang) polarity is our ability to understand truth thru the vision of spirit, while our female (yin) polarity feels truth thru the emotional will and body. Feelings, emotions, desires and free will, are the feminine side that is often mistrusted and made out to be the lower or inferior aspect of the self. It is not so. This apprehension is reflected outwardly by the inability of men to balance or compliment women and is further expressed as male dominated, patriarchal governments, societies and religions that in one way or another suppresses and try to diminish the female energy.

With that in mind, I feel that sannyas if taken, should be at the end of life, after learning how to truly balance with the feminine energy. Often times the preaching by sannyasis about women is based on a broad stroke of fear and judgment. For the most part, I don’t feel sannyas is a helpful, healthy or safe choice for most young men.

GG: What are your thoughts about the grhastha ashrama?

B: There are probably as many separations and divorces within ISKCON as outside. You cannot put two people together in marriage just because they are practicing bhakti yoga anymore than marrying two people who are practicing any other type of yoga. There is a learning curve to understanding your partner that cannot be experienced by pushing a fast forward button with a fire yajna and instruction by the priest saying no divorce. Such expectations for success can be a serious gamble.

Individuals hardly understand their own personal issues before they get married. If marriage is the only option for people to be intimate without extended time together, it is a high-risk investment of your life. The children that come from unprepared relationships are at risk because of divorce. Often, a child comes when all a couple really wanted was to experience each other sexually. Yet, they couldn’t do that without guilt, because sex was considered “only for having children”. Relationships can become a pitri dish for growing neurosis when there is guilt intertwined with sex.

The way of sexuality is described in depth in the Kama Sutras. At its height, sexuality is meant to be a meditation in pleasing and understanding your partner and simultaneously opening a channel to God and the creative and healing force within each person. All are meant to be satisfied. After all, sex is part of the creation and the Creators cannot be separated from Their Creation. Spiritual sex opens the heart and mind to receiving information and communication. It is not simply an itch that needs to be scratched. As we invite God into our food, our thoughts, our meditation, our work, sex is no exception. If however, you judge all sex other than for procreation as a weakness or as being illicit, you deny you are part and parcel of the sexual energy of God. Anything can be misused and abused. Spirituality means not denying God’s presence and involvement in anything we do.

When partners have an accurate awareness of each other and have experienced freeing one another from blockages, they have a good foundation for bringing children into the world. Birthing each other comes before birthing a child. Then there is greater likelihood both parents will stay together and the child can experience what being balanced looks and feels like.

GG: Some time ago you got involved in the BBT legal case. What prompted you to participate?

B: I was approached initially by Gupta to become involved, because of my being an original BBT trustee. Hansadutta, who was also a BBT trustee; was using his position to print books in Malayasia, independent of the present BBT directors. A lawsuit resulted. It got so insane that ‘devotees’ from one camp literally burned thousands of Bhagavad Gitas from the other camp.

Originally I declined to be involved, because of past conflicts with Hansadutta. One day when I was at the Los Angeles temple, I met Swavasa, the temple president. He looked especially glum and I asked him what was happening. He told me he had come from a 10 hour deposition in the case that had cost thousands of dollars. When I learned from Gupta that hundreds of thousands of dollars were actually being spent by ISKCON from BBT funds, I was incredulous. I thought about how Prabhupāda had told us in his room that “every paisa should be spent cautiously”. So I felt impelled to help him end the squandering, which was being done in his name, by people who could never have collected such sums themselves, nor have the courage to ask Prabhupāda directly for such sums. Lacking the ability to find enlightened spiritual solutions, people resort to guns or legal guns to procure limited success.

GG: You may be aware that there has been a ten year court battle between ISKCON authorities and the management of the Bangelore Temple and millions have been spent.

B: Prabhupāda wrote in his diary when he first came to New York, that he received a few dollars donation from one of his guests so he was able to go out and buy chapati flour to offer to Krishna. When I was GBC in India, he chastised us for being a few paisas off in the bank reconciliation. Prabhupāda hated waste and squandering. Evidently those signing the checks are convinced that he approves going to court is the only way to resolve this conflict

Going to court is gambling, regardless of how airtight you think your case is. Gambling is something to be avoided when dispensing laxmi, especially laxmi that belongs to your guru. The courts are often no better than gambling casinos. Not being KC enough to call forth the Deity or guru’s presence into the quandary necessitates this wasteful misuse of laxmi to the lawyers. This is the state of affairs today. The leadership does not see how they are causal in bringing any of this about.

The challenge here is that there are two opposing forces to everything. Two opposing ISKCONS, two opposing sets of GBC, two philosophies of initiations, two sets of Prabhupāda’s giving each party the go ahead to do battle - and two Krishnas that everyone is depending on to defeat the other party.

I do not believe that Prabhupāda would want his funds to be spent fighting for years in courts, regardless of where the funds came from. I do believe that he would want all money to be used for nonviolent goals and not be put into the pockets of lawyers. I do believe that he would not tolerate the viciousness of attacks by either party.

There is no certainty that all parties involved have made no errors or done everything with true righteousness without a pinch of self-righteousness. As such, Krishna can appear to either party as an unexpected turn of events that can foil even those who are convinced they have the best intentions. Why is it said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions? It is because good intentions can have denial intertwined with truth and that can lead one to unfortunate places. One need only look at the gurukula history or the guru history to see this twist.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Life After ISCON, Interview continued, part 2

GG: What else was happening that effected your leaving?

B: At that time, because of so many abuses by those who were gurus/GBC’s, there was a natural reaction to challenging their authenticity. From this arose the ritvik movement that wanted everyone who is initiated to be the direct disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda, although he clearly stated that new initiates would be his grand disciples. Unfortunately, amongst god-brothers, it also became an issue of the haves and the have nots and what qualified some to hold the position over those who didn’t. Close relationships began to deteriorate.

The infighting between godbrothers which started seeping into our zone, the feelings of attraction that developed towards the woman I left with, the recognition of how extreme the child abuse was, the strange behaviors of many of my contemporaries in their august positions, and I suppose the sheer weight of the zonal responsibilities, created the vortex for my leaving. Although many people naturally blamed her, I do not see it that way and so I am taking this opportunity to try and explain a very sensitive and complex set of events. Blame often comes before understandings and sometimes gets frozen in place. I hope this helps to clarify the situation.

GG: You are aware how within ISKCON, there has been fracturing about gurus and the initiation process. Being one of the first generation of those giving initiation, do you want to comment on the process? I’m sure people ask you what you would have done differently knowing what you know now.

B: Although people say that everything is there in Prabhupāda’s writings, the room conversation of May 28th was like an astrological moment that set a new house in motion. In a matter of minutes or 2 inches on the scroll bar, questions and answers took place, that to this day are being debated and which have changed the face of the movement he began. To be sure, in his ailing condition, we all had great fears and reservations about bringing up the issue of his passing away and the initiation process. As such, the questioning that came about was very uneasy and cursory.

But to answer your question, I would have been more detailed in my questioning. After all, Prabhupāda was very detailed in organizing - from construction, to finance, to book printing, to traveling. He was the spiritual CEO, the founder-acarya, of an international corporation. The details of how to pass on the reins of management and authority were no small matter that a few sentences would clarify. He expected us to cooperate together out of love for him, but in the minds of many, the initiation issue was never settled clearly in that conversation.

Although he said in his presence, his disciples should not take disciples but act only as officiating acaryas, he does say in that conversation that he will appoint some to carry out this function and after his departure the students they initiate will be his grand disciples. The opposition to this is that some say he never appointed anyone to do more than act as ritvik. So I would have asked if he wanted future disciples to be his direct disciples. I would have asked how we should see ourselves as gurus, so the issue of pure devotee, uttama adhikary, etc. would be clear in the minds of initiating gurus and students. How the next generation of gurus actually see themselves and want their disciple to see them should have been and still should be part of the vetting process for both. Then there are the questions about ritualistic performances - gurupuja, vyasa pujua, guru daksina, householder gurus, sanyasa gurus, etc. Should we do just as he did or modify things to the new times?

It is a complex issue because so much in ISKCON is based around initiations. For the initiate it means turning a corner in life by wanting to experience a spiritual rebirth. For one who initiates, it is an opportunity to help someone break away from a superficial, mechanistic view of life. The problem arises when the two personalities don’t see deeply enough into the internal changes that must take place to pursue these choices. Movement forward and upward needs to grow out of inward movement. Otherwise it is like climbing up the material ladder of perceived success - brahmana, president, GBC, sannyas, guru, BBT …... Once teachers start calculating their projected annual income from their appearance day ceremonies, they begin their disappearance day funerals.

GG: So as a former leader how do you see this quandary being resolved?

B: In the name of initiating someone into bhakti, a process that begins with peace and ends with the highest love of God, so much un-lovingness and hatred has erupted - each side publishing vile literature about the other and taking each other to court. How publishers could think Prabhupāda would take pleasure in reading this diarrhea that is so often spewed forth in hateful internet posts and fault finding contests is beyond comprehension. These faultfinders talk about people in such a way that negates any good they have ever done and actually believe their spiritual master would enjoy reading their internet diatribes.

So I think the initiation process should slow down and go in careful, thoughtful steps that can reunite Prabhupāda’s vision. The temple president usually knows the new devotee the best. When Prabhupāda was present, we used to chant on beads, give names, perform yajnas, etc. The president or whichever brahmana knows the individual could be the first initiating guru and give hari nama initiation. It should be clearly discussed between the two, how they see each other and what is expected. Presently, when one takes hari nama, that guru is his guru for life and all eternity. In many cases, this can be quite an immature and uneducated leap of faith.

Prabhupāda wanted second initiation to take place after one became philosophically and scholastically competent as a bhaktishastri, bhaktivibhava, etc. Obviously, this should be given by one who has these brahminical qualities themselves - man or woman. These initiations are done on behalf of the guru parampara of which Prabhupāda is the representative, founder acarya of ISKCON. As such, the initiate has respect for his teachers, the guru parampara, and of course sees Prabhupāda as his siksha guru. At this level there can be unity between presently opposing opinions. Even if the person giving initiation leaves, it is not so traumatic to the initiate. There is nothing objectionable about multiple personalities helping in the rebirthing process - the first being the parents, then teachers, etc.

After some years of practicing, learning, teaching and hearing from many practitioners, one might come in touch with an individual who opens them up in ways no one has yet done. Such a person enables a qualified initiate to see where resistance to Radha Krishna hides internally in ways they could not see before. She or he reveals what loving God looks like and feels like in ways they have never seen or felt before, answer questions in ways you have never heard before and gives a taste like you never had before. At this point a student finds a living master who completes his or her connection to God. So here is yet another and perhaps final initiation.

It is important to learn from history. Someone who is accepting to be a guru should first study themselves and be clear how they want to be seen and accepted by an initiate. They should look within to see if and where there is any resistance to God. Clear, honest communication between the two is far more relevant than ritualistic worship or blind surrender.

GG: Have your understandings of gurus and GBC changed over all these years?

B: Guru/GBC/ sanyasa are positions that can devolve into designations that imprison and confine, rather than liberate. The test of whether something has become an addiction or pattern, is to see if you can do without it and still be secure and effective. Position needs to be flexible like Lord Ramachandra showed. Without attachment to the designation of king, He never diminished His potency and ability to establish dharma. Patterns, positions, rituals and relationships need to be tested and modified to keep them from becoming materialistic or inflexible behavior. A child can teach his parents, a teacher can learn from the student, a woman can humble a sadhu by her wisdom. Remember it was an old derelect that suggested to Prabhupāda to exercise and walk more.

At this point, it might be worth considering the worldwide association of temple presidents deciding how many GBC’s are actually needed to be effective and vote to reorganize the map. This was his idea in the direction of management,

GG: How would you apply that thinking to the present leadership in ISKCON?

B: At some point, for their own good, GBC’s can voluntarily allow others to take their place and evaluate who they have become. In Prabhupāda’s direction of management, he suggested elections. Then, in his room in Vrndavan, he decided there should be no change. I’m sure he wanted to maintain some level of stability, knowing he was about to leave.

Whenever there is control over people and money, patterns of self-interest and manipulation can take root. Unconditional acceptance of who one actually is, in present time, is necessary to be real. To whatever degree we are real, we are potent. If one is not true to himself, he can not be true to others. That is why so much destruction takes place in the name of religion. Sabbaticals are a healthy break in routine to regenerate. In a spiritual society, letting go should come naturally and voluntarily as welcomed steps towards freedom, especially for those who are sannyasis. No doubt, one can get stuck in the quicksand of titles, positions and designations.

What starts out spiritual can become dense or material. Being attached to title, power, position and control, is often born out of an insecurity of “what will become of me if I don’t hold onto this position?” One’s whole life can become defined by titles. The measure of how real someone is, should never be calculated in terms of money, fame, disciples or buildings, but rather in how one can keep letting go of external identities and still keep higher understandings flowing – unmotivated by and immune to material ego. Bharata couldn’t wait to give the kingdom back to Rama and considered himself to be nothing more than the caretaker.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Accidental loss of recent blog comments

Dear friends,

I regret to say that in the course of a recent blog maintenance, all 14 comments associated with the "Open Door" blog, somehow got deleted from the blog. I apologize to have this loss of your kind words of encouragement and invaluable input. I look forward to hearing from you again.


Vaisnava das (Dave Ehrlichman)

Life after ISKCON

an interview between William Ehrlichman and Guru Gauranga das

Giving up a medical career in 1969 to establish K.C. in America, nine years later, renouncing family life to enter the sannyas order, were sacrifices he felt at the time were necessary to move forward in spiritual life. He would later come to re-examine these choices and with new insights, redefine himself.

One of the principle waves that began to dislodge the way he saw himself and the society he was an integral part in directing, was the unfolding of perverse physical and mental child abuse, that in time began to surface everywhere. As the years passed, it became more and more flagrant, to the point where it had taken root amongst his peers at the highest levels of authority. His departure was a rejection of the current denials of the status quo way of thinking about the pervasive child abuses within ISCKON… and it was indeed a blow to the functionality of the institution as a whole. However, after he left, instead of the focus being on the real issues of child abuse, which many in ISCKON were trying to brush under the rug and even defend against, the focus and mis-information perpetrated, became about his “fall down with a woman” and his failure as a guru and the failure of all the gurus…

For him, these abuses began from the very inception of the gurukula system in Dallas in 1973 and ended with his leaving the movement in 1986, after finding out that even his own children were being abused. He left with a mother who was coping with the fact that her children had also suffered abuse. To this day, he considers these children to be his immediate family.

His son Vaisnava entered the Dallas ‘gurukula’ at the age of three and a half. He returned to France, 3 years later with unsettling stories of children regularly being beaten and made to eat spilled food off the floor; violently awoken early in the morning to attend spiritual programs and forced to fast, to the point that spiritual life was becoming tasteless. Upon returning to New Mayapura, in France he found little relief in the new ashrams, where unqualified ashram teachers perpetrated terrible abuses.

Vaisnava recalled: “When I told my father what Sudarsana was doing - locking us up for days in closets as punishment for minor disobediences, hitting some boys so hard he would break broomsticks over their backs and then later, turn around and perversely try to touch them… he was in shock. He called Sudarsana into his room with us present. After it was apparent that what we were saying was true, in a rage he pushed him against the wall, grabbed his throat, lifted him off the ground and kicked him out of New Mayapura for good.” Unfortunately that was too mild a punishment.

GG: What other incidents came to your attention?

B: After Prabhupada’s departure I was traveling in America with Ramesvara Swami. We met at the Denver temple and it so happened that when we arrived, it came to the surface that the ashrama teacher Chakradara, was abusing the boys terribly. The fathers approached us angered and confused. I asked myself how had this cannibalistic behavior taken root within our ashrams? I was shocked and disturbed, overall troubled by this level of darkness. I told the fathers to take him into the woods and beat him.

GG: What went through your mind when you began to hear these stories?

B: For me, shock and disbelief how anyone could get twisted pleasure from the sexual abuse of children - especially from people for whom self-control was supposed to be a way of life. In the beginning it wasn’t something we were on the lookout for. The first knee jerk reaction was to get rid of the symptom by expelling the perpetrators and making them feel some level of pain. Unfortunately, in other places, the incidents along with the perpetrators were minimized or ignored to avoid embarrassing public attention.

In the name of being spiritually advanced and determined, detachment from family life - from affection for wife and children, was a spartan regime that crippled relationships. Few recognized the denials and dangers in that thinking, which weakened the firewall of a parent’s natural protective powers and left children vulnerable, exposed and subjected to demented caretakers. We were up in our ideological heads with no feeling or intuition that our own children were in danger. Fear of physical and emotional intimacy provided an opening for un-lovingness to enter. Far from being a gurukula, it was in many cases becoming a cesspool of perversion, spawned by deep-rooted sexual misunderstandings.

The image of what a gurukula was supposed to be often references the well-known photo of Prabhupada holding Dwarkadisa’s hand as he helps him write a Sanskrit letter. It is one thing to call a school a gurukula because an enlightened master or teacher is present, awakening children to their highest potential. It is quite another to put children in the care of those who are mentally, emotionally or spiritually undeveloped, or in the extreme case, downright twisted. It would have been better to put the children in regular schools or have a day school and have them live with their parents. Except in cases where the parent is mentally or physically violent, it is not natural for parents to be separated from their children.

GG: How have you come to see this abuse taking root and playing out?

It begins with misunderstanding about the male and female dynamic. This misunderstanding is based on a judgment that sex outside of procreation cannot be connected to God. We hardly respected sex as a meditation that could connect us to our higher nature and open us to communication with our Creator. Of course anything can be abused, but the misuse of something doesn’t negate its brilliance. It is sex without love that makes it illicit. When this constitutional part of the self is judged against and held in denial, it opens the door to guilt. Having children when the heart is not in loving balance, means having children prematurely. If children are judged as the product of sense gratification, such judgment leaves them unprotected.

These misunderstandings and judgments caused men to be afraid and resentful towards women. It further led to abuse of wives and an unnatural detachment towards children. Mistrust of the feminine can be found in every patriarchal religion. Men are as much like fire as women and women are as much like butter as men. Philosophically, bringing everything down to “we are not this body” often brought denial or rejection of emotions and put heavy judgment on the physical - in this case sexuality, marriage and children. Feelings were considered sentimental, emotional baggage.

However, if we accept that we are part and parcel of a transcendent source of life - Radha-Krsna, Goddess and God, we must inherit our androgynous male and female natures from Them. Feeling, which is our feminine aspect and understanding, which is our male aspect, are the heat and light of what the self emanates. These yin and yang polarities are meant to balance each other in the heart chakra. That God is in the heart, means God’s presence can be experienced as Perfect Balance of the two polarities - the feminine (yin) charkas and the masculine (yang) chakras. When the heart is balanced in love, there is no fear of sex, sensuality, shame or guilt.

Children are the physical reflection of how well these polarities are balanced in the heart of each partner. If sex is considered a compromise to spirituality, children will manifest as guilt reflections. To “ detach” from the weakness of sense gratification, children were put in a school that taught austerity and detachment from family to come c loser to God. Children’s hearts are naturally open to receiving love. When these predators emerged, they filled the openness of our children’s hearts with fear and disgrace.

In our individual lives, it is this internal balance between our thoughts and emotions that gives us our ability to navigate life - to be Godlike in our feelings and understandings, or to be disconnected and toxic. Caution is required when something sounds good but feels wrong. Neither philosophy nor emotions are meant to dictate to one another. It is the imbalance of our male and female polarities that has caused the war against the goddess in her form of the environment and women in general. Men tend to see the female as something to be dominated, consumed and exploited. Both religion and consumerism have fostered this disrespect, which has led to the murder of so many women and children and the near extinction of the environment.

GG: What did you think about the gurukula legal case?

It shows how denial of these wounds was never given enough priority, openness and freedom to express, until it exploded. The perpetrators should have been pursued and still should be. Few ever went to jail. As you know, my leaving was in part prompted by the abuses of children in the L.A. temple school. After realizing the depth of the abuses and the reticence of the leadership to confront the issues in a meaningful way and legally, I encouraged the mother’s prosecution of the perpetrators. With the relentless and painful efforts of several determined mothers, fathers and others, including the L.A. Police Department, L.A. District Attorney, staff at St John's Children's Center and the children themselves, these criminals were finally convicted.

From what I understand, the “headmaster” in New Vrindavan was acquitted and Manohara went on to open an orphanage in India. Recently, Tattva Darshana from South India, was arrested in Thailand for being caught in the act of child sexual abuse. I understand that one of the former heads of the Vrndavana school, who used to violently beat the boys, has been a guru for some time. How did that happen? First he beats boys and now he takes money and worship from them.

I have always felt the perpetrators have to face their victims for healing and justice to take place. Money certainly won’t balance out the violence. It is only a token. The perpetrators are the reflections of the denied sexual guilt of both the parents and authorities and the terror and rage of the victims. Money won’t release such emotional charge, unless victims go through counseling. The molesters should be hunted as war criminals and made to face their victims. Also, the wife and sister of one of my close friends was molested by her father for years, when they were growing up. Years later, when he still refused to acknowledge his demented behavior, they printed posters of him as a pedophile and put them up around his neighborhood. There is always a way to find justice.

An Open Door

I often reflect how we had such a small window of time with Srila Prabhupada. During those eight brief years, some of us had personal time and training with him that left indelible marks on our consciousness. I was one of those people. Although I left his movement in 1986 he was never removed from my being. In moving towards greater balance I reassembled many understandings and experiences. I went into unhealed areas, released unexpected emotions and took on some difficult lessons - but never was I alone. At no time did I feel judged by God or Guru.

Sometimes in our awe and reverence for him, Prabhupada’s human nature was overlooked. We saw it when people went hungry or when a disciple would leave, or when he would get criticized and in the end when he took time to assure the well being of his former wife and family. In his attempt to create a social body he tried many things. Some worked well some didn’t. This is in no way a criticism. It is my personal observation of a human being and a Mahatma trying to bring the light of Radha Krsna into the world based on his own upbringing and the profound influence of his guru maharaja.

In the orchestration of his ISKCON, Prabhupada and Krsna sent many people to me to help develop their spiritual lives. Although the imperfections can be noted, I know that for who I was at the time I tried to give 100% of my self to everyone. For those of you who still have a connection and want to begin new communications, my close friend Guru Gauranga and my son Vaisnava have opened these cyber channels.

You may not agree with what follows but this is who I am. I am sorry for the confusion and disruption that came from the way I left but integrating form and essence is not always smooth. Everyday is another opportunity to begin again. Death leads to new life and new life leads to new love. We live in a time of war and natural disaster, of kali yuga politics and phantom wealth. The house that everyone can live under safely still needs to be constructed.