December 22, 2010
I don't know how it happened, it all took place
But all I can do is hand it to you and your latest trick
— Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms
If I were to pinpoint a defining
moment in the prelude to this manifesto it would be in mid 2005, when I first read
Steven Gelberg's highly recommendable essay on why he had left the Hare Krishna
It offered a concrete manifest of my own
burdened conscience, eloquently expressed in words by someone who hadn't just theorized
over the internal culture of the Hare Krishna movement, but experienced it.
Fifteen years had passed since moving
into the ISKCON2
temple in Amsterdam. Like many before
and after me I had joined as a convert, only summarily acquainted with the ISKCON
doctrines. The conviction I brought along was both fueled by hope and steeped in
naivety. The sigh of relief after first walking through the temple doors was quickly
followed by that fleeting feeling that I had finally come home. The existential
questions pondered upon for a lifetime so far had been answered. A complete world
of perfection and harmony prostrated at my feet; the meaning and purpose of life
its radiant sun. Stories like this abound. We tell them often, even if only to remind
ourselves why we joined. Although we'd love to see a happy and forever-after ending
like this followed by a curtain fall, it is instead often followed by a sequel,
a different and mostly unspoken story.
Here, in my own best interest, I
must let you know that although what follows does naturally contain criticism, it
is not meant just for criticism's sake. Up-front I must emphasize that my opinions
pertain to personal experiences within a defined historical context and do not constitute
a blanket dismissal of sincere practitioners of vaishnavism
, of whom I know
and have known many. Nor is this the woe-is-me
story of my life. I did not
write it out of some kind of vengeance or because of the proverbial sour grapes.
I wrote it primarily for me. If it is to serve any purpose other than my own edification,
let it be a source of clarification for friends, past and present, and a source
of inspiration and solace for those finding themselves at the same crossroads where
I have stood frozen for so long.
My unspoken story grew into chapters
and volumes over the next eight years, during which, to my surprise and sadness,
the society that Gelberg so aptly describes defining itself as "the repository
and bastion of all goodness, all meaning, all truth, all decency, all meaningful
unveiled a variety of antitheses to that very definition.
His observation that losing faith in the society and what it outwardly stands for
is an "experience of momentous implications"
is almost an understatement
— the more so because over time and with increasing exposure my voluntary
to believe slowly turned into a self-imposed need
a kind of hope against hope that aided in squelching the voice of my conscience.
Telling as that may be, I still tended to turn a blind eye and in doing so became
the reluctant agent of my own psychophysical detriment.
After a year in Amsterdam and another
seven in the BBT3
in Sweden I could barely hold down
the surfacing unrest, spurred on by personal experience of everything Gelberg elaborates
on as he answers his own inner voice. Several moves later and on the heels of the
departure of my guru
I found myself married and my connection to the BBT
severed. Reentering the secular world after a near decade of isolated temple life
turned out so all-engaging that my conscience was now squelched no longer by socio-environmental
demands to conform, but by distraction upon distraction. When somewhat settled in
early 2005, I finally had a chance again to look back and reevaluate my experiences
of the fifteen years prior. Gelberg's essay was an important part of that as it
showed me that not merely the purported loser, blooper4
offender, or otherwise inadequate follower carries the burden of doubt and unquestionable
outrage. No. Here an educated and intelligent person put into words what many would
only think or desperately try to suppress. It moved me to earnestly face my conscience,
let it speak, address its rage. What followed were many internal dialogs that opened
eyes I thought were open and revealed truths long covered by the dust of human motivation.
At this point outsiders in particular
often ask the obvious: "Why did it take so long for the coin to drop?"
A variety of well documented dynamics of spiritual debasement may offer some enlightenment
as to why anyone in a doctrine-led society hangs around for so long even after they
see castles drop from the sky.5
That is, for those
who care at all that such a thing could possibly apply to ISKCON. Only little investigative
curiosity is required and Google can no doubt hand you more than enough to make
a fair assessment. Beyond accepting that some of these dynamics were involved, there
are still some personal insights I want to share.
Notwithstanding the kneejerk reaction
of spiritual self defense and the well-intended bravado of feigned understanding,
there is simply no way for anyone
to comprehend the effect of guru
fall-down other than the former disciples. Those who lack the experience yet claim
to grasp it are like men claiming to know what it's like to give birth. Even among
the affected the experience varies and, despite its popular appeal in ISKCON, re-initiation
is not a panacea. As a matter of fact, there is no fix and there is no need for
one. The educational quality of a life experience can be missed out on, but is never
My former guru
grace in a stranger-than-fiction manner that shattered a continent and opened up
a gaping crevice behind the society's front of saviors-of-the-world.6
Not that it was the first time that an abrasive event of such
magnitude had occurred, but for me it was the nearest pillar still standing that
had just fallen.7
If it takes a slap in the face to
wake up to even just a groggy stage, this was it. Along with the guru
the paradigms that kept him standing and in the fertile soil of the ensuing confusion
a multitude of new perspectives sprout up, vying for attention and supremacy. Some
are nurtured, some trampled. In the aftermath, of the scores of followers some will
leave, some will stay, and some will merely
stay. At the bottom line the
embarrassment and inability to take responsibility for one's choices may make it
vital for remaining followers to protect the guru
and teachings from appearing
flawed. After all, such flaws directly reflect upon the follower. The resulting
need to justify bizarre scriptural teachings or out of line behavior of the guru
creates yet another paradigm that easily leads to delusion. Within this realm, tolerating
scriptural quackery and its exploiters is a choice we make every day — certainly
one I made, against the better advice of my screaming conscience — but almost
subconsciously, goaded by the effects of prolonged societal pressure, internal conflict,
and feelings of hopelessness.
Side note to those who (need to) infer from the above that I was greatly attached
to my former guru in some kind of deep relationship and was therefore severly
affected or traumatized by his departure: you misunderstood. None of that was ever
the case. I am talking about dynamics.
Even when awakening, the recovery
from a decade of voluntary, alienating indoctrination takes time. There may be an
initial tendency to beat ourselves up for having been so stupid and blind, but in
doing so we avoid a confrontation with the undeniable role played by the teachings
and their enforcers. If facing these comes at all in a mindset conditioned by claims
of their infallibility, it will be when their importance has worn off below the
level of sacrosanct and we get beyond the self-chastisement. It is not uncommon
that the pendulum then swings wholly from the martyr side to the scapegoat side,
where we unleash a different kind of misplaced blame. Both are, of course, different
sides of the same familiar coin.
There is a point of balance in between
these extremes that can be reached with a lot of work and introspection, and hopefully
some help from those who have gone before us. At the forefront of my own quest for
balance stood the willingness to accept that doubt and unrestricted inquiry are
not only of benefit to spiritual sanity, but required. With this prerequisite I
was able to move my perspective out of the doctrinal box and onto the plane of intellectual
freedom. As time resumed and doors reopened it all of a sudden no longer made sense
to hold on to outdated and oft-refuted arguments in support of an ancient (and therefore
supposedly better) culture — one that never existed as such, let alone be
our own. The world has seen more than thirty years of exponential progress in science
and information since the founding and heydays of ISKCON. Both the nifty word-jugglery
that worked its wonders to defeat opposing reason in the sixties and seventies and
the elusiveness of the foundational scriptures are relics long past their expiration.
I recognize that we must move along with progress, lest holding onto erroneous claims
and conclusions becomes a spiritual death grip.
It is my personal conclusion after
years of extensive research that the antique Indian scriptures are not what they
claim to be — or, rather, what the different philosophers, zealots, Brahmins,
politicians and clerks who wrote, copied, amended, obfuscated, extended, or in other
ways modified these writings, claim them to be. ISKCON's wholesale acceptance of
these claims has fortified them, so that subjective to its dogmas there appears
a plethora of divinely revealed exactitude. Objectively, however, I can see no more
than a compilation of multi-cultural and philosophical thought on various aspects
of life over a 3,000 year time span, limited to the region now covered by Pakistan,
India, and Bangladesh; incongruent, chronologically challenged, often unrealistic
and barbaric, endlessly superstitious, but above all much less historically accurate
and authoritative than "vedic
scripture" thumpers would want us
That is not to say that I cannot
relish the stories, recognize their poetic depth, participate in associated cultural
festivities, or even meditate. These are well within the realm of appreciative enjoyment
without the need for religious approval. Not only priests visit churches. Distortion
of reality is not required. It already became harder and harder over time while
working in the BBT to accept the quasi-spiritual justifications used to override
common-sense allegories, metaphors, poetic exaggerations, and even obvious mistakes,
with literal interpretations. It is quite a mental balancing act to keep accepting
things as literal that you know are not, and there comes a point where the divergence
ruptures the fabric of one's intellect. Mine sided with common sense. Although once
at the forefront with all necessary mind-wrangling, I have since distanced myself
completely from the double standard that makes out as inferior and delusional everyone
and everything not incontrovertibly aligned with these scriptures, while it at the
same time purports the literal reality
of such things as:
- A four-headed man creating the contents of the universe from aspects of himself
while seated on the stigma of a cosmic-sized flower that grows from a lake in the
navel of an even larger cosmic-sized person.8
- A family employing 38 million school teachers for their children and an ancient
king with 30 trillion personal attendants.9
- Ancient battles in which tens of millions of soldiers are slaughtered in a matter
of hours, with individual generals killing tens of thousands singlehandedly in mere
minutes using mantra-infused arrows.10
- Virginal birth, birth from clay pots, and other incredulous types of birth.11
- The existence of a vastly superior global civilization, complete with airplanes
and nuclear weapons, before 3,000 B.C.E. (going back millions of years cyclically)
with people of increasing size and life span, the emperors of which ruled the entire
- Invisible oceans of a.o. liquor, milk, sugar cane juice, and yoghurt all many times
larger than this planet and part of a simplistic flat-Earth cosmology.13
- Sin entering grains and beans on the eleventh day after a new moon and full moon,
- The true existence of cannibalistic demons, ghosts, witches, magic powers, curses,
talking animals, shape shifters, flying mountains, eagles capable of interplanetary
flight, and other fabled entities and abilities.15
- The existence of pious higher beings named suras, in charge of the cosmic
administration, and their less fortunate half-siblings the asuras, whose
quarrels and lives affect the entire universe.16
- Trees hundreds of miles high, some with fruits that create rivers of juice when
falling to the ground.17
- The Sun being closer to the Earth than the Moon and being the only source of light
in the entire universe.18
- The existence of 28 planets that make up a hell in which sinners are tortured beyond
belief for millions of years for even trivial transgressions.19
- The inherent mental and intellectual inferiority of women and their need to be controlled
and dominated by men at all times.20
- Evil influences exerted by solar and lunar eclipses that occur when the Sun and
Moon are swallowed by the disembodied head of a demon (sometimes representing an
invisible planet), requiring people to either stay home or bathe in a sacred river.21
This is just a small sampling. The
list goes on and on and on to make up, well, entire books... To see them as literary
elements framing moral and philosophical content is one thing. To claim that they
constitute absolute truths in themselves is another — a distorted understanding
of reality that stagnates progressive thinking into petrified tenets.
The first cut won't hurt at all.
The second only makes you wonder.
The third will have you on your knees.
— Propaganda, Duel
As a corollary, I shun the guru
business. This is something I feel strongly about. The concept of guides and teachers
(parental, educational, and vocational) is obviously a working model. It is the
way we learn in life, other than by experience. Spirituality, as any other field
of knowledge and practice, naturally deserves its own guides and teachers, but what
bothers me greatly about the doctrine of ISKCON, its predecessor and offshoots is
the brazen way it lifts the concept of guru
from its historical and philosophical
context and transforms it into a role much like that found in the Bible's Gospel
infused with absolutism and repackaged into an obligatory master-serf
I can no longer support this and at the
same time claim peace of mind. Gurus
and other charismatic leaders in religious
institutions like ISKCON are important only within that context and to the degree
that their followers are willing to endow them with superhuman traits. My experience
of the institution over the last twenty years has been one of an environment conducive
to abuse of various kinds especially because
individuals and groups are singled
out as special based on external designations and the trappings of alleged sacred
Needless to say, both my current
outlook on Indian scriptures and the role of the guru
are 180 degrees opposite
to what I was taught in ISKCON and is most of the time still followed in its communities
(and to a large degree in its institutional suburbs23
The consequences from a societal standpoint are quite clear, as that in accepting
both Bhaktivedanta Swami and his books as utterly infallible the Hare Krishna movement
is still pretty much a take-it-or-leave-it deal. Beyond this, further consequences
of much larger impact call my attention: with the validity of the material world
as presented by the vedic
scriptures already so incredibly questionable (to
the point of unacceptable), I cannot help but also question their spiritual and
At this point I do not think that
God is expressed in truth in these scriptures as Krishna, or whatever purported
manifestation (fish, turtle, boar, leothrope,
dwarf, warrior, etc.). There
is much I have found to support that conclusion, but within the scope of this manifesto
I think it suffices to say that in light of the recent three decades of text-critical
research and giant leaps of archaeological progress in India and Pakistan I do not
see these scriptures containing cohesive historical and philosophical information
from a single prehistoric (or outworldly) source, as claimed by their on-face-value
followers. Rather, the research shows that, much like any other scripture in the
world, they are products of their respective times and cultures; man-made, cumulative,
This, of course, stands
in stark contrast to Bhaktivedanta Swami's urging for literal acceptance of their
With that said, I am not yet completely
writing off the existence of a sentient origin of existence per se,
off the Indian philosophical insights into its possible nature. I tend to see it
more as the philosophy it is, though, instead of some kind of divinely revealed
absolute truth. What I do write off is the notion that a possible sentient origin
of existence is literally and at all times in its original form a dhoti
cattle herder boy — curiously befitting the ideological world of the cattle-herding
nomads that made their way into a more primitive India around the time the Rig Veda
In later aryanized
how could utopia not be a perfect little cattle herder village with wish-fulfilling
cows and trees and pretty milkmaids? Had they been pig herders, would India now
be full of sacred pigs?
I am likewise unconvinced of the
status given to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, particularly vis-α-vis
and import of Jan Brzezinski's article entitled Charismatic Renewal in Gaudiya Vaishnavism27
and the superb analysis of Chaitanya's biographies
and related scriptures by B. B. Majumdar.28
one can find much information on all kinds of so-called vedic
topics on the
Internet a large percentage of it is written by followers of Bhaktivedanta Swami,
drawing almost exclusively from the limited and biased information in his books
with little to no regard for manuscriptural discrepancies, the hagiographical nature
of their ancestral teachers' biographies, or text-critical research. The narrow
confines in which the acceptance of Chaitanya as God is to take place is no exception
and based purely on the assertions of gurus
in the Gaudiya line.
Gelberg left ISKCON in 1987 and
wrote his essay in 1991, less than a year after I joined it. I wish I had read it
then, because twenty years later his observations ring just as true. In that time
span many thousands more have left ISKCON in silence, disillusioned by exposure
to exploitation, abuse, guru
fall-down, philosophical collapse, or simply
because they burned out after decades of unreciprocated service. And although we
sometimes ask "Where are they now?"
we seldom want to know the
answer. If time would tell, then these additional twenty years have not changed
much. ISKCON still fails to deliver on its promise of creating a class of spiritual
intellectuals to save the world, and the implementation of the overestimated varna
system has never truly made it beyond its misidentification with
farming and self-sufficiency — both equally unattained, considering the time
frame and scale of opportunities.29
Not that it matters to the rank
and file. In the absence of clear indicators of success and the plentiful presence
of unattainable requirements, many of them silently accept the fruitlessness of
their own efforts to rise up spiritually as the result of a lacking or error on
their part. How could they not? The society is permeated with contradiction, dogma,
jargon, and taboo to accomplish just that. If not in failing to follow the regulative
principles, in substandard chanting, in questioning authority or scripture, or in
even just having your own thoughts, then there is always the trump card that one
must have committed offenses sometime somewhere to remain so distant from the illusive
status of advanced devotee. Whatever the reason, the fault is always with the individual
and never with the role model authorities or scriptures, which are conveniently
beyond reproach. In truth the majority of those who join the society leave it again
after being exposed to the unattainable nature of its lofty goals for long enough.
Some, however, don't, being brow beaten by guilt and shame, and having bought into
the fallacy of being (without exception) the root of their own failure. Even after
decades of sincere practice without the promised results they will trudge on in
depression (or blissful self delusion), chanting the same slogans of justification
to remind all and especially themselves that we should be happy, and that it's our
own fault (or some inexplicable mercy) if we're not.
already hear the objections, "If you think it is all that bad, instead of causing
further harm why not do something to make it better?"
There have been
many over the past 30 years that have tried to make the things that matter better,
with a modicum of improvement chained to concession, compromise, lip service, and
Improvement is an uphill battle when
seen as an unauthorized change of orthodoxy. Within this orthodoxy lurk the reasons
that make up the incline; and the higher you climb the steeper it gets. At the summit
you'll find the opposition to change staring right at you from every purport and
every conversation elevated to the level of divine revelation. Should I really worry,
then, about any harmful impact this manifesto might have on ISKCON while it has
the uncanny ability to be its own champion in this regard? I doubt it. I'd be pounding
my chest to impress lemmings. Nothing has harmed the society more over the decades
than the society itself. It is ongoing and, if history is an indicator, won't stop
anytime soon. Pointing fingers to individuals and cliques like the GBC31
only goes so far until the realization sets in that all are
products of the society — creations of adherence to its own teachings. ISKCON
has nothing to fear from me. Protecting ISKCON from itself is beyond my ability.
I can change neither its fundamental flaws, nor the people that exploit them, and
in absence thereof the hill remains insurmountable.
"Whoa, Nelly... Did you just
mention something about purports and conversations? What's wrong with you? Don't
you understand that Prabhupada has given us only the highest good?"
This is where many will take a
sharp turn to avoid the elephant that just entered the room, the one topic that
is still largely regarded off-limits more than a decade after the ice was broken
with the publication of V.O.I.C.E.32
in 1996 and
COM's Topical Discussions33
in 1999. Of course, I
am talking about Bhaktivedanta Swami's responsibility for the not-so-highest good
that permeated the lives of thousands as a direct result of his decisions. These
are strong (some will say accusatory) words, but they constitute a suppressed truth
that has smoldered silently in sufficient hearts for long enough to make its way
to the surface. In the eyes of the old guard Bhaktivedanta Swami's reputation has
always been untouchable and his divinely guided motivations imponderable to mere
mortals, but as a natural violation of conscience this was bound to be challenged
and dismantled. To understand the multi-faceted conglomerate of reasons and motivations
involved requires a deep and careful study that will likely consume a vast investment
of time and resources. It won't be mine. I have done my part. I will, however, provide
some pointers that may serve as a larger framework for future efforts of those so
The prolonged negative fallout of
some of Bhaktivedanta Swami's decisions is painful, yes, but it is also undeniable.
To ignore it is to ignore the literally thousands it affected and devastated over
generations. To defend and justify it is a morally objectionable insult to their
injury. To disguise it as collateral damage in some divine grand scheme is a barren
mitigation. Of course, of particular notice is the sexual, physical, and psychological
abuse of very young children as a result of his gurukula
but the effects of awarding high positions with power over
people to an inner circle of disciples in their early twenties cannot be glossed
over, either. The vast majority of these disciples were very immature, and poorly
acquainted with the philosophy and the so-called vedic
culture they were
imposing onto their environment. Too many of them later turned out to be pedophiles,
child abusers, thieves, drug users and traffickers, sexual predators, and power
hungry control freaks that shaped the society for a near decade under the direct
auspice of Bhaktivedanta Swami and another (catastrophic) decade after his death.
In their zeal to follow his instructions and teachings they became major catalysts
in the degradation of women in the society, the New Vrindaban split-off and murders,
system and its subsequent guru
fall-downs, the later
rise of factions like the Ritvik movement and the ISKCON Revival Movement, and the
defection of many ISKCON members to "rival" groups.
To put the onus on the direct offenders
alone is a shot guaranteed to ricochet. Bhaktivedanta Swami implied his own infallibility
as a pure devotee guru
and a direct representative of God both in writing
and in speech. He intimated the ability to communicate with God directly and to
be under God's direct guidance, superseeding the influences of his cultural upbringing.
This naturally warrants the expectation that 1) he knew his minions well enough
to prevent what happened, and 2) he would be extremely
careful with his words
and deeds, knowing well the divine esteem his followers bestowed upon his every
move and utterance. This is the crux of the matter.
His constant sweeping
generalizations, flippant misassertions, and additional naivety-born insistence
that scripture be taken literally show otherwise and set into motion a slew of further
aberrations ranging from polygamy to counter productive, wholesale science-bashing.35
Equally undeniable is the surprising
extent of misogyny, bigotry, religious and cultural elitism, homophobia, and promotion
of social regression found in Bhaktivedanta Swami's lectures, letters, conversations,
— as evident from the VedaBase
This is not a fabrication by antagonists, as
even I used to think, but reality in black and white that will outlast any personal
dealings he had to the contrary. He considered his movement and the religious and
cultural interpretations that underly it a global model of societal governance for
thousands of years to come38
and therefore, as the
founding teacher, he is directly responsible. For all his good intentions, ISKCON
is the seriously dysfunctional legacy of what he personally said and did. Other
than in the minds of those in desperate need of keeping Bhaktivedanta Swami on a
pedestal of divine perfection way beyond the clouds, I don't believe there is anything
I can say to affect his reputation more than his own words and deeds have already
done (and continue to do). I mean no malice in saying this, but Bhaktivedanta Swami's
accountability has been swept under the rug of infallible guru
-hood for far
too long at the expense of countless women, children, and other spiritual seekers.
Until the institution can recognize and address this, its credibility and longevity
will continue to falter in oblivio.
For every associated individual it is
a personal choice.
Life has a funny way of helping you out when
everything's gone wrong and everything blows up in your face
— Alanis Morissette, Ironic
As for me, moving through a more
balanced phase of life so far has had a profound effect on my consciousness, but
perhaps not in a way most devotees would expect (or hope for). I know that I am
not in control and that I cannot understand everything under the Sun, but I'm fine
with that. I don't strive for perfection. Like a friend of mine once said, there
is no way to live life but to live it. I fully accept that, so I live and let live.
It has given me a ticket to the universe, unbridled and uncensored. Religious support
and acknowledgement do not determine validity and usefulness, and I am content knowing
that there is so much more to discover in the world we live in — rather than
discredit advancement and discovery as demoniac ugra-karma.39
Some have asked me whether I plan
to drop all the devotee friends I have made over the years. Absolutely not. I expect
dropped (or phased out) by some as more become aware of my change of
life, but only by those whose adherence to dogma requires them to do so. I will
not blame them for that or hold anything against them. I understand where they come
from, because I have been there. I value all the friends I have made over time.
Twenty years may be a heartbeat in time, but not in a human life. Everyone has played
a significant role — the good, the bad, the ugly. I respect their choices
and understand that they are where they need to be according to forces beyond their
control and factors that only they may understand. All I expect in return is equal
respect for having chosen where I am at right now.
I joined ISKCON in 1990, young and
careless, in the hope that my spiritual life would flourish. Instead, I stood by
in good faith as it was stripped of individuality, wrapped up in dogma, rubberstamped
with doctrines, and used as a marker in dusty old books from a medieval culture.
In the origin of these books and their historical context I found the broader perspective
that enabled me to understand why my reason for joining had been wholly unfulfilled.
Throughout all these years my limitless curiosity had been slowly replaced with
increasing restrictions, my earnest interests sealed in paradoxes, and my sense
of wonder drowned in axioms. It took me long enough to realize my mistake. To conform,
I had to dismiss my entire being in favor of a version fabricated by ancient oriental
cattle herders, modified throughout the ages for cultural and political reasons,
and served up in modern times by agenda-driven literalist messiahs. But should life
in all its wonderful aspects ever be reduced to a mere glimmer of hope in the begging
bowls of elitist intermediaries?
To that question I now resoundingly
answer "No, never."
And it is with this answer that I take my leave
of organized religion in general and institutionalized vaishnavism
— not begrudgingly, mind you, but with a lightness of mind and heart. I have
met some wonderful people and have done some amazing things, both of which I consider
lasting enrichments of my life, but I am glad that I can finally move on. I hope
my friendships will endure as much as I like them to, despite the differences of
opinion, and, being the nostalgic I am, I will likely look back sometimes or take
a stroll down memory lane for old times' sake. Now, however, I want to focus on
my own life for a change and live it to the fullest.
I have always found it hard to view
life as "a dark and cold material world, full of misery and struggle, where
everyone is chewing the chewed and there is danger at every step."
I rather see it as a fascinating long and winding road, curving through rolling
hills under a blue sky. Sure, we may sometimes stumble, step in a puddle, or be
tempted to take a branching path that leads into dense forests and swamps, but that
is to be expected. After all, we're only human. It happens to the best of us. Back
on the road again I dust myself off, swing my knapsack over my shoulder, and whistle
a happy tune as I stroll on. The horizon of my future beckons. I've heard you can
see more once you get there. Semper questio!
I welcome your thoughts on this. You can reach me at:
SB stands for Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana), the compilation
with translation and commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami.
BG stands for Bhagavad-Gita, the compilation with translation and
commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami.
CC stands for Caitanya-Caritamrta, the compilation with translation
and commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami.
On Leaving ISKCON, by Steven
J. Gelberg, 1991.
The International Society
for Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishna movement, was
founded by Bhaktivedanta Swami in 1966.
Book Trust (BBT) is ISKCON's publishing arm, created by Bhaktivedanta Swami
in 1972 to ensure the continued production and sales of his books independent of
ISKCON's welfare. Its main stream of revenue comes from selling books to ISKCON
temples, most of which utilize unremunerated book distributors who believe that
selling Bhaktivedanta Swami's books is a service that yields spiritual advancement.
Many did and do this for years, even decades.
In 1966 Bhaktivedanta Swami once indicated that one who gives up ISKCON's spiritual
doctrines falls back again into the dark pool of material life. To illustrate his
point he imitated the sound of a stone falling into water — "bloop!"
It quickly became a standard ISKCON expression for leaving the society.
Best Intentions: Dynamics of Spiritual Abuse, by Bhaktavatsala
das, ISKCON Communications Journal, Volume 7, Number 2, 1999, pages 23-40.
Spiritual Pain and Painkiller Spirituality: Issues of Spiritual Abuse, Religious
Addiction, and Dependency in ISKCON, by Diana Lorenz, August 1999.
Harikesa Swami (Robert
Campagnola), one of ISKCON's most powerful gurus of the 90s, suffered a nervous
breakdown in 1998 due to the sudden withdrawal of allegedly stealthily administered
psychotropic drugs. He left ISKCON with a substantial amount of money and eventually
settled in Florida with his wife, a former disciple.
(James Immel) was expelled from ISKCON in 1982 and murdered by a former follower
(Hans Kary) was convicted of illegal weapons possession in 1974 and 1980, and expelled
from ISKCON in 1983.
Bhagavan Swami (William Ehrlichman) left his lavishly luxurious guru lifestyle abruptly
in 1986, along with $20,000.
Bhavananda Swami (Charles Bacis) was expelled from ISKCON in 1989 for years of child
Ramesvara Swami (Robert Grant) left ISKCON in 1987 after a sexual relationship with
an under aged girl came to light.
(Keith Ham) was expelled from ISKCON in 1987 for moral and theological deviations.
He spent 8 years out of a 20 year sentence in jail for racketeering, mail fraud,
and conspiracy to murder.
These are just some of the high profile cases of ISKCON's past. More recent cases
involved the sexual deviancy of gurus Prthu das (Peter Brinkmann) and Satsvarupa
das Goswami (Steven Guarrino) in 2004, and Param Gati Swami (Pedro Ferraz) in 2009
— although none of these were deemed serious enough to warrant expelling.
Addendum: Umapati Swami (Wally Sheffy) was expelled in 2011 for sexual deviancy.
Conversation with Jamadagni and Kanupriya in Los Angeles, June 26, 1975.
Krishna: the Supreme Personality of Godhead, (Bhaktivedanta Swami, 1970)
chapter 90, mentions: "As for their military strength, it is said that King
Ugrasena alone had ten quadrillion soldiers as personal bodyguards."
SB 10.50 has Krishna
and Balarama singlehandedly destroy more than 110 million soldiers.
In his purport to SB 1.8.46
Bhaktivedanta Swami accepts that 640 million soldiers were killed in the 18 days
of the Kurukshetra war, which roughly translates to 25,000 deaths per minute.
The Stri Parva of the Mahabharata (26.9-10) enumerates the casualties
of the war thus: "One billion 660 million and 20,000 men have fallen in this
battle. Of the heroes that have escaped, the number is 240,165." (translation
by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, published between 1883 and 1896)
statistic world population estimates put the number of people in the entire
world around 3,000 B.C.E at much less than 100 million.
SB 1.9.6-7, purport.
SB 3.31.20, purport.
SB 1.10.7, Mayapur, June 22, 1973.
SB 1.3.21, Los Angeles, September 26, 1972.
SB 1.10.3, purport.
SB 1.12.24, purport.
SB 1.15.38, purport.
SB 3.1.20, purport.
SB 3.21.2, purport.
SB 4.16.27, purport.
SB 4.21.12, purport.
BG 1.4-5, London, July 10, 1973.
BG 2.11, Edinburgh, July 16, 1972.
BG 2.11, Rotary Club Address, Delhi, March 25, 1976.
SB 1.10.3, Mayapur, June 18, 1973.
SB, Melbourne, May 19, 1975.
Pandal lecture, Bombay, March 31, 1971.
Conversation with David Wynne, July 9, 1973, London.
In reality, the earliest known contemporary civilizations (Sumerian, Egyptian, Chinese,
Toltec, Nordic and alike) nowhere acknowledge the existence of these emperors, let
alone their rule. To date no tangible evidence has ever been found anywhere on the
globe to support this claim.
suggests that all cradles of civilization emerge around the same time period
of approximately 8,000 to 6,000 B.C.E, including that of the Indus Valley. Archaeology
in India shows that going back further in time does not reveal advanced civilizations
with airplanes, but cave dwellings, paintings, and stone tools much like in the
rest of the world of the same time period.
SB 5.20.2, 7, 13,
18, 24, 29.
Curiously, on several occasions, like in his purports to SB 3.21.2 and
SB 4.21.12, Bhaktivedanta Swami contradicts himself and the Puranic
cosmology by stating that the seven islands of bhu-mandala are the seven
CC Madhya-lila 24.342.
The Padma Purana, Kriya-sagara-sara chapter 14 and Kriya-yoga-sara
chapter 22 explain how the papa-purusa (sin personified) is allowed to enter
grains on the ekadashi days. There is no mention of beans or any of the other
grain-less and bean-less products added to the list over time.
Garuda Purana 2.1-20.
SB 2.3.23, purport.
SB 4.18.18, purport.
SB 4.26.10, purport.
SB 4.29.61, purport.
SB 4.29.76-77, purport.
SB 6.12.26, purport.
SB 5.23.3, purport.
SB 8.11.34, purport.
BG 1.37-39, London, July 27, 1973.
BG 1.41-42, London, July 29, 1973.
BG 2.12, Hyderabad, December 12, 1976.
SB 3.26.27, Bombay, January 4, 1975.
etc. etc. etc...
The asuras are descendents from Kasyapa Muni and his wives Diti and Danu,
while the suras are the offspring of his wife Aditi.
BG 10.21, purport.
SB 3.15.2, purport.
SB 4.29.42-44, purport.
SB 5.21.11, purport.
Morning Walk, June 2, 1975, Honolulu.
Morning Walk, November 7, 1975, Bombay.
Morning Walk, June 4, 1976, Los Angeles.
See Footnote 36.
SB 4.29.69, purport.
CC Adi-lila 13.92,
The King James Bible, John 14:6, reads: "Jesus saith unto him, I am
the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
ISKCON's guru doctrine essentially states the same: surrender unto a guru
is absolutely required for reaching God because the guru is the via-medium
between God and the soul. However, throughout Indian history the role of guru
has traditionally been one of regional spiritual guide, befitting the geographical
and historical context. Bhaktivedanta Swami's overemphasis on unquestioned obedience
to the guru and his absolute position as a divine intermediary is unprecedented.
The various factions of the Gaudiya Math all have their roots in Bhaktisiddhanta
Sarasvati's version of Gaudiya vaishnavism and therefore follow literalist
and guru ideologies similar to those of ISKCON.
The ISKCON Revival Movement and the Ritvik movement are cousin-spawns
of ISKCON that revolve around even further idolized and distorted viewpoints on
Bhaktivedanta Swami's position and identity.
Among many others:
- A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century,
by Upinder Singh, 2009.
- India: A History, by John Keay, 2001.
- The Yuga Purana: critical edition, by John E. Mitchiner, 2002.
- Ancient India: In Historical Outline, by D.N. Jha, 2001.
- Ancient India: New Research, by Upinder Singh and Nayanjot Lahiri, 2010.
- The Rig Veda, by Joel Brereton and Stephanie W. Jamison, 2004.
- Puranic Encyclopedia 1st English edition, by Vettam Mani, 1975.
- Mysteries of the Sacred Universe, by Richard L. Thompson, 2000.
Some of the older works referenced:
- The Purana Text of the Dynasties of the Kali Age, by F.E. Pargiter, 1913.
- Early History of Vaishnavism in South India, by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar,
- Vaishnavite Reformers of India, by T. Rajagopala Chariar, 1909.
- Vishnu Purana, by N.M. Dutt, 1896.
- Garuda Purana, by N.M. Dutt, 1908.
- Brihat Samhita of Varaha Mihira, by N. Chidambaram Iyer, 1884.
- The Aryabhatiya of Aryabhata, by W.E. Clark, 1930.
SB 2.3.11, purport
SB 2.1.30, purport
SB 2.2.32, purport
SB 2.6.34, purport
CC Madhya-lila 20.397,
BG Introduction, recording
Initiation, Delhi, August 31, 1976
Discussion with Hayagriva das
Morning walk, August 1973, London
Room Conversation, April 5, 1977, Bombay
Renewal in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, by Jan Brzezinski, 2006.
Lord Chaitanya: A Biographical Critique, by Bimal Bihari Majumdar, 1st English
edition of 1997 in 3 volumes by K. P. Bagchi.
More than thirty years after Bhaktivedanta Swami's departure ISKCON claims it has
about fifty farms worldwide. Many of these serve as rural communities only, without
extensive agriculture and cow herding (or any at all). The idea of simple, rural
village life appears to exist in the dreams of many, but in the efforts of only
The last forty years have seen a handful of attempts to implement varnas
in ISKCON, but so far nothing has manifested. Of the ashrams only the grhasta
ashram is well established. The brahmacari ashram is still largely
just a landing place for single converts whose energy and enthusiasm is used in
temple maintenance and book sales until they burn out or get married. The vanaprastha
ashram is virtually non-existent in ISKCON. The sannyasa ashram —
battered by misappropriation in the early days of ISKCON and sporting a high potential
for abuse of power and luxury — is the only ashram regulated by the
GBC, yet still has seen only little of its intended function of exclusive, non-managerial
In 1999 the GBC issued a one-paragraph apology to the society for the zonal acharya
fiasco and three paragraphs to Pradyumna for ignoring his warnings on the matter
In 2000 the GBC issued a one-sentence token apology to all women of the society
for past suffering.
In 2007 the GBC issued a mail-merge template apology to the recipients of compensation
from the ISKCON Youth Fund (those who were abused but not compensated apparently
never received an official apology).
The thousands of former disciples of fallen gurus have never received an
apology for their suffering.
Four years of consideration of the first proposal led the GBC to finally decide
in 2009 that women are allowed to be initiating gurus (as of yet, there are
The first female GBC member was appointed in 1996, the second only in 2009.
In most ISKCON temples worldwide women are still relegated to the back of the temple
room and allowed to lecture and lead ceremonies less than a quarter as often as
Through global exposure in the mid 1990s ISKCON was finally forced to address its
child abuse problem, declared bankruptcy, and put the burden of the multi million
dollar court settlement on their congregation.
Although initially commissioned in 1997 by ISKCON Communication Europe as a project
to show how the previous teachers were represented in Bhaktivedanta Swami's books,
the research done by Ekkehard Lorenz (Ekanath das) instead revealed how Bhaktivedanta
Swami actually compiled his books versus how he is perceived to have "written"
them, and highlighted some of his plagiarism, problematic viewpoints and methodologies.
It was ill-received, scorned, and suppressed by the majority of the ISKCON leadership.
Originally titled Unzipping the Purports and unpublished, the gist of its
content was later reworked (and a bit watered down in my opinion) into two articles
that appeared in The Hare Krishna Movement: The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious
Transplant, by Edwin Bryant and Maria Ekstrand (Editors), 2004.
Governing Body Commission was established as the highest authority within
the society. Unfortunately, its track record in managing ISKCON has been dismal.
The GBC is viewed by many (even in ISKCON) as a dysfunctional club of self-absorbed
individuals, more in touch with the latest electronic gadgets than the society it
V.O.I.C.E. (Violations of ISKCON Children Exposed), a now-defunct website developed
by Nirmal-Chandra Hickey, son of the former Jagadisha Swami (Jeffrey Hickey, former
GBC member and minister of Education in ISKCON, who left the movement in 2004),
and Maya Charnell, was the first global exposé on the Internet of child abuse
in ISKCON and the first to publicly question Bhaktivedanta Swami's responsibility
for what happened in the boarding schools. The text of that accountability essay
reads as follows:
by Nirmal-chandra and Maya Devi
editors of the V.O.I.C.E. website
Prabhupad and ISKCON have been fundamentally linked for us. We grew up in ISKCON,
and Prabhupad is the founder of ISKCON and its cultural aspects. Although Prabhupad,
to our knowledge, was never personally abusive, he does in our minds share some
of the responsibility for our experiences as children. We agree that he was sincere
in what he was he was trying to do, but we also have to look at the fact that we
were suffering inside what was supposedly to be a haven from suffering.
Proponents to protect Prabhupad say that we should be absolutely clear that behavior
of our guardians in gurukula should in no way reflect on Prabhupad. According to
them Prabhupad had no responsibility in the matter. This would seem to leave us
with an either or situation; either we should say that Prabhupad is to be lumped
in with the other "demons," or he is kind benevolent and merciful and with no responsibility;
but we are saying neither. We see that serious mistakes were made that led to severe
abuse and negligence. It is impossible not to assign some responsibility to Prabhupad...
We also cannot isolate Prabhupad from having responsibility for what happened for
fear that it is supposedly offensive. Based on the assumption that Prabhupad would
be forthright and honest, we presume that he would be inclined to take responsibility.
Hopefully he would admit and acknowledge that the care and well-being of children
was grossly ignored. Although he might have been well-intentioned ideologically
in putting the future success of ISKCON with its children, he failed to focus the
necessary attention on the needs of families and especially children. His priorities
were in establishing centers (temples), distributing books and initiating followers.
He did not make the children a priority at all. His instructions suggest that he
naively thought that if is disciples followed the rules, they would be purged of
their 'bad' behaviors, and would automatically treat the children well. It is recognized
that Prabhupad had a life and identity before ISKCON and that his followers who
later made up ISKCON are partly responsible for their perception of Prabhupad and
the reality they created since his death...
There were no measures taken to ensure our safety because such concerns were not
top priority. Prabhupad did not set up the gurukula institution to abuse, but it
is equally evident that he didn't go out of his way to make sure that it didn't
happen. Because of the attitude, which is evident by the language and tone people
use, of Prabhupad being beyond any scrutiny, all the blame or responsibility that
is attributed, is deflected to anyone in the immediate proximity, including saying
it is our fault - as in "our karma"?!
Topical Discussions was a conference on the COM bulletin board system of the North
European division of the BBT (NE-BBT). Initially meant to help facilitate management
and operations of the NE-BBT, COM opened up to a global audience in the later 90s.
In 1999 Topical Discussions served as a public forum to discuss issues not directly
related to the BBT, but became the center of great controversy when translators
and editors expressed their frustration about some of Bhaktivedanta Swami's statements.
The response was quick and severe. Several GBC members threatened to resign if the
system wasn't taken down or put under full control of the GBC, while others called
for excommunication of the alleged offenders. The NE-BBT decided instead to sell
the system to its operators to evade the ruckus and future responsibility for its
content. As a privately owned system COM endures to this day under the new name
PAMHO.net. For more information on its history and services, please see http://pamho.net.
Curiously (or not), the GBC Resolutions that followed in 2000 saw the addition of
guidelines on how to properly express doubt (300.301.1-2) and the enforcement of
Bhaktivedanta Swami's position as absolute (600.602.1-3).
These are Bhaktivedanta Swami's own words from letters to Satsvarup das Gosvami
(Steven Guarrino) from February 28, 1972 and April 11, 1973.
In 1968 Bhaktivedanta Swami made a notorious public claim that the Apollo project
would fail. When it didn't, he changed his rhetoric to pseudo-scriptural conclusions,
peppered with arguments from fringe conspiracy theorists provided by his disciples.
For a more in-depth exposé, please see: Moonlanding Hoax Debunked
See also the next Footnote.
Click on the following links to see references to these topics:
- Mysogyny and Regression of Women's Rights.
- Regression and Debasement of Science (with sub-sections).
- Promotion of Violence and Dictatorship.
- Religious and Cultural Elitism.
- Racial Prejudice.
- Ambiguity of Responsibility.
- The War that Never Came.
- Women and the Laws of God.
is a digital Folio collection of all of Bhaktivedanta Swami's books, articles, essays,
and letters, as well as transcripts of all his recorded lectures, dictations, and
conversations, from his arrival in the United States in 1965 until his death in
In a conversation while driving from an airport on June 21, 1976, in Toronto Bhaktivedanta
Compared to the American population, what percentage we have got? Still they have
made some impression, the Hare Krishna movement. Literatures are selling, they are
appreciating, learned circle. Takes some time, but if we stick to our principles
and do not make any compromise and push on -- in this way, I have given you instruction,
it will never stop; it will go on. It will never stop. At least for ten thousand
years it will go on. That is your... (indistinct) And this movement is meant
for these fourth-class, fifth-class, tenth-class men. Not this movement is fourth-class,
fifth-class. They are so fallen that they cannot be counted even third-class, fourth-class,
tenth-class of men. Deliver them. Patita-pavana-hetu tava avatara. Caitanya Mahaprabhu's
incarnation is for delivering these classes of men. Caitanya Mahaprabhu never meant
to start this movement for high-class brahmanas, sages, saintly persons -- no. This
class of men. For the all fallen. Don't be disappointed, go on, go on. Stick to
BG 16.9 states: "Following
such conclusions, the demoniac, who are lost to themselves and who have no intelligence,
engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world."
Based on the gist of this verse and other references ugra-karma quickly became
ISKCON jargon for anything done in the secular world that doesn't vibe with the
ideology of "simple living, high thinking."
A good example of this would be: "Development of factories and mills is called
ugra-karma, or pungent activities, and such activities deteriorate the finer
sentiments of the human being and society to form a dungeon of demons." SB 1.11.12, purport.