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.


  1. It is so interesting, this whole business around formalities and positions. Often, I find that the essence, the Love, the bhakti, gets lost in all this structuring, hierarchies and outer form.

    The forms are important tools, yes, but they are also very illusive, very tricky, and they present a huge amount of traps for the mind and the ego to get caught in. So one has to watch out...

    In the beginning of the 1980's I lived for one and a half year in a Krishna Temple in Stockholm, so I have just a little bit of experience of the temple life in ISKCON, but I have kept in touch with the devotees ever since.

    One thing that I found a real stumbling stone for a lot of devotees, was the strict celibacy rule. If this is followed artificially, superficially (or not followed, but secretly), I see only bad consequences. People who try very hard to maintain celibate often become more fixated on sex than others, only it is a negative fixation, which I find can be even more destructive and deteriorating for spiritual life than a highly promiscuous life.

    Of course, these are just my viewpoints and experiences, and you may all have different ideas around this. I respect that.

    But to come to the point, during the last 10 years, I have become very much more inspired by practicing the tantrik path, together with my lovely wife. Tantra is in fact quite closely related to the vaishnava tradition, in many ways, something that has made it easier for me to understand a lot of it, because I recognize a lot.

    To me, actually utilizing sexuality and love energies in my relationship to my wife, as spiritual tools, as means of worship of the Divine, does not make me more fixated on sex - I'd rather say that sex becomes a smaller part of something very much greater.

    And this has definitely had a very strong effect on my consciousness, my way of seeing and living life.

    To me, I see the Divine in everything and everyone. The tantric attitude is truly inspiring to me, in the sense that I can truly see the Divine in my partner. And from a very philosophical point of view - if I can worship the God & Goddess through a wooden figure, or a stone statue, or even a printed photo - why not through a living person?

    This is also very relevant within the vaishnava tradition, although generally one directs this worship towards the guru.

    But I see gurus everywhere too. My wife is certainly my guru. And my Goddess. And I am not speaking metaphorically - it's the absolute truth to me, that she IS my Goddess incarnate. My children are my gurus. Actually, everyone I meet can be my guru, if I have the right attitude.

    The most fascinating result of this attitude is the social consequences it gets. I have become a very much more loving person in general, it's easier for me to just accept and appreciate everyone around me, and I definitely enjoy my life much more, not focusing on what can be seen as inadequate, but rather that which fills me with happiness, love and appreciation.

    To me, spiritual life and love life is the same. Not just equivalent, but entirely the same. If it is true that God is Love, then it can also be true that Love is God.
    So that's my basic philosophy - and it works. At least for me.

  2. Dear Calle,

    I find great insight and wisdom in your words, on a very practical level. When we come from a place of full self acceptance and inner balance, between our masculine and feminine principles (yin & yang), which by the way, a loving partnership can facilitate... can we begin to understand how to love another more fully.

    How can we love another or God for that matter, if we are pre-occupied with denying our own selves and our own feelings and intuition? Only haveing parts of ourself to love with, is a very fragmented state to operate from.

    Without all of ourself present to love fully (because the "lower parts" are held in a state of denial and lack of self acceptance), how can we offer love onto another? Thus, embracing all of ourself into the light of loving acceptance, is key to loving others and God, for we are part and parcel of the whole.

    Self denial and artificial renunciation and ther over pre-occupations with rules and regulations, propelled by the philosophy of the naturally "sinful self"), will only seek to be released, often times in a distorted and convoluted ways (like the sincere brahmacharis who'se denials drive them to become pedophiles, due to lack of a proper channels for their denied feelings). When feelings and denied sexuality lack the acceptance to come forth into proper loving acceptance in an appropriate way, they become bottled up as if in a pressure cooker and will eventually explode in all the wrong ways.

    Seeing the divinity in ourselves, (which comes from an inner connectedness first, to our own innate divinity), allows us to see the divinity in others and all around us. From this perspective, we can then see that the messages of the divine are everywhere and we can thus learn from anyone or anything... thus guru's messages are everywhere, because they guide our very perceptions and interpretations of our experiences.

    Thanks you for your kind input.

    Vaishnava Das

  3. Hear, hear, Vaishnava das!

    A perfect conclusion and confirmation of everything I wrote. And some more.

    Thanks for your reflection!
    Truly inspiring.