My friend Pandu Prabhu is hurting. I can empathise with him because I’ve had similar hurts before. Here is his original post with others’ comments and my response below. Please note that my views don’t necessarily represent anyone else or anything other than my current views on things.
But what can I do? My experience with ISKCON, especially in the past six months, has destroyed my faith in that whole process. It’s been a terrible disappointment, feeling like ten years of religious faith and endeavor wasted. Of course, the prasadam was good, I developed friendships, and so on; but I was unable to find Krishna there, and that’s what it’s really about.
Big love Pandu Prabhu. I’ve been out of touch for a bit due to being swamped with responsibilities but I just came to your blog to catch up. Seems that the situation there hasn’t improved. I’m not sure what the details are but if it were me I’d move somewhere else. Its hard to stay in a place where you aren’t appreciated.
It was very sad for me to read that this whole thing has shaken you so bad that its got you questioning the process. I’ve seen similar things happen to devotees in the past – they get steamrolled by the institution and then lump the whole negative experience in with bhakti-yoga and lose interest. I’m no qualified counselor or anything but mabye my two cents might help?
The way I view ISKCON now is the same way I viewed ISKCON 10 years ago. I see ISKCON as an institution that Srila Prabhupada put together with the idea of massive preaching as its focus. ISKCON is rife with mega-problems but, in fact, these problems, however horrific, are generally the same problems folks in secular society are facing. I’m not sure if you keep track of statistics but 1 out of every 3 girls is supposedly sexually molested before reaching adulthood. Am I suggesting we should just get comfy having this same statistic in ISKCON. No way! But who joins ISKCON? The same cross section of folks from our host society. So the same problems come flooding in to our camp despite the aspirations of many sincere devotees who wish to follow Srila Prabhupada.
I personally don’t put my faith in any institution. If I didn’t know better I’d probably operate similarly to our friend Arjuna who has posted generously above (and just below so I can comment on it) …
I love Srila Prabhupada, and i thank him everyday, for example. But, when i find Radha-Govinda a sweet enveloping thought, when i sit in That presence after chanting for hours, he does not come in. When, thanks to Krsna’s mercy, for a few minutes i rest in perfect humility, when i burn with pure love, what can even Srila Prabhupada and all his books say to me ? Prabhu, the faith that stands on external authority is not faith. The reliance on external authority signifies the decline of spiritual life, the alienation of the soul. Believe in yourself, Prabhu ! Trust yourself, prabhu !
Perhaps this is a nice sentiment but its not Gaudiya-Vaisnava philosophy. According to Srila Rupa Goswami and every other authority in our line, bhakti certainly DOES depend on an external authority, namely Sri Guru. Srila Prabhupada is the external manifestation of supersoul. I can’t confidently say that every person who has managed to secure guruship within ISKCON can be ascribed the same level of authority but this ‘trust yourself’ new age stuff might be better expressed as ….
Wake up! Come to terms with where you are at with Srila Prabhupada and Krishna and, after due deliberation, decide what you want to do about it. Your bhakti is your bhakti. No institution can perform it for you. You can serve the institution is such a way that many more will benefit from your contribution than if you operated independently. This requires discrimination and very real relationships with good trustworthy friends in my experience.
I see ISKCON as a dysfunctional family just as every other family in kali-yuga practicaly is dysfunctional. There are some ill-motivated family members. I avoid them. There are some who are clearly on the road back home. I try to serve them. There are some, like me, who are somewhere in between. I make friendships with them.
It seems you’ve been exposed to some nonsense and there is, obviously, much more dirt in our family if you want to know about it. ISKCON horror stories abound. In every case though, these stories can be broken down into particular bad behaviour by particular people. Of course, it is also clear to anyone with intelligence that often our problems exist due to immature/fanatical attitudes in the followers and leaders. For these wide-spread general underlying issues I genuinely believe that Krishna will sort us all out – mabye not overnight – but in His time. After all, we are mostly a bunch of barbarians who have been given the highest benediction of Krishna-bhakti culture. Jaya Nitai-Gaura! Some heavy adjustment on our part must be expected which may be evidenced as the wierd stuff you are pointing out that so many devotees are embarassed of. So to keep faith we have to try to see the forest despite the trees.
I’m pretty content at present with my perspective within the institutional picture and at the same time I’m open for adjustment so long as its rational. I continue to serve ISKCON, however, I don’t just surrender myself to the institution carte blanche. At all times discretion is required and (despite Arjuna’s sincerely offered advice) this discretion should come from the external sources of guru, sadhu and sastra -> above all sastra because we rely on sastra to even understand what a guru or sadhu is.
So Krishna is just as real now as He was for you 10 years ago. I pray you will meet this challenge by taking shelter of Him further and try to ascertain what He wants for you to do. Please fully give your heart to chanting His names as most certainly He will come running to comfort you in distress just as He did for the four Kumaras when they were cursed by Jai and Vijaya …. if you want Him to come running that is. Krishna doesn’t seem to be in the habit of forcing Himself on anyone.
tat te ‘nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo
bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam
hṛd-vāg-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jīveta yo mukti-pade sa dāya-bhāk
tat—therefore; te—Your; anukampām—compassion; su-samīkṣamāṇaḥ—earnestly hoping for; bhuñjānaḥ—enduring; eva—certainly; ātma-kṛtam—done by himself; vipākam—the fruitive results; hṛt—with his heart; vāk—words; vapurbhiḥ—and body; vidadhan—offering; namaḥ—obeisances; te—unto You; jīveta—lives; yaḥ—anyone who; mukti-pade—to the position of liberation; saḥ—he; dāya-bhāk—the rightful heir.
My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.
Hope this is helpful and doesn’t just put you off further. I’m quite abrupt and to the point. In any case, I’m no spiritual authority or anything obviously but this is my attempt at giving heartfelt advice to a friend. The path of the sincere spiritual aspirant is beset with thorns and we can only truly be peaceful when we are mainly concerned with removing the thorns from our own hearts. (I wish I could take my own advice here.)
ys, ekendra das