closed chapters :: hindsight

December 22, 2010

I don't know how it happened, it all took place so quick
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 movement.1 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 human attainment" 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 want to believe slowly turned into a self-imposed need to believe; 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 broken.

        My former guru fell from 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 fall 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 to believe.

        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 Earth.12
  • 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, requiring fasting.14
  • 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 of John, infused with absolutism and repackaged into an obligatory master-serf format.22 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 writings.

        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 philosophical content.

        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, amalgamated, adulterated.24 This, of course, stands in stark contrast to Bhaktivedanta Swami's urging for literal acceptance of their contents.25

        With that said, I am not yet completely writing off the existence of a sentient origin of existence per se, nor all 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-wearing 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 was composed.26 In later aryanized minds, 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 the insights 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 Although 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 and ashram 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.

        "But wait!" I can 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 reluctance.30 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 inspired.

        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 experiment,34 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, the zonal-guru 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, and books36 — as evident from the VedaBase.37 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 you think
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 to be 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 in particular — 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!

        Be well.

- Willem

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.

1: On Leaving ISKCON, by Steven J. Gelberg, 1991.
2: The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishna movement, was founded by Bhaktivedanta Swami in 1966.
3: The Bhaktivedanta 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.
4: 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.
5: 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.
6: 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.
7: Jayatirtha Swami (James Immel) was expelled from ISKCON in 1982 and murdered by a former follower in 1987.

Hansadutta Swami (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 molestation.

Ramesvara Swami (Robert Grant) left ISKCON in 1987 after a sexual relationship with an under aged girl came to light.

Kirtanananda Swami (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.
8: SB 3.20.14-53.
SB 5.20.29.
9: SB 10.90.41-42.

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."
10: 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)

In contrast, 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.
11: SB 1.9.6-7, purport.
SB 4.14.43.
SB 6.18.6.
SB 3.31.20, purport.
SB 9.21.35.
SB 1.10.7, Mayapur, June 22, 1973.
SB 1.3.21, Los Angeles, September 26, 1972.
12: 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.

Research 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.
13: 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 Earth continents.
14: 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.
15: 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...
16: The asuras are descendents from Kasyapa Muni and his wives Diti and Danu, while the suras are the offspring of his wife Aditi.
17: SB 5.16.16-19.
SB 5.20.8.
18: 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.
19: SB 5.26.5-37.
20: See Footnote 36.
21: SB 8.9.24-26.
SB 4.29.69, purport.
CC Adi-lila 13.92, purport.
22: 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.
23: 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.
24: 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, 1920.
- 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.
25: 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, purport
BG Introduction, recording
Initiation, Delhi, August 31, 1976
Discussion with Hayagriva das
Morning walk, August 1973, London
Room Conversation, April 5, 1977, Bombay
26: See
27: Charismatic Renewal in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, by Jan Brzezinski, 2006.
28: Lord Chaitanya: A Biographical Critique, by Bimal Bihari Majumdar, 1st English edition of 1997 in 3 volumes by K. P. Bagchi.
29: 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 a few.

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 spiritual guidance.
30: 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 1978.

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 still none).

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 men are.

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.
31: ISKCON's 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 supposedly serves.
32: 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:

Prabhupad's Responsibility
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"?!

33: 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 For more information on its history and services, please see

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).
34: These are Bhaktivedanta Swami's own words from letters to Satsvarup das Gosvami (Steven Guarrino) from February 28, 1972 and April 11, 1973.
35: 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.
36: Click on the following links to see references to these topics:

- Mysogyny and Regression of Women's Rights.
- Homophobia.
- 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.
37: The VedaBase 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 1977.
38: In a conversation while driving from an airport on June 21, 1976, in Toronto Bhaktivedanta Swami stated:

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 the principles.

39: 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.