Used with permission of the author.

Originally published on December 22, 2010, this article was written by Willem Vandenberg (Varnadi das), who joined ISKCON in Amsterdam in 1990. He served in the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in Sweden as a translator and editor and as a manager of one of its sub-complexes. After officially leaving ISKCON in 2010 he went on to further his career as a computer programmer in higher education. He now lives in Texas and enjoys life reading, writing, and traveling the world.

 

 

H i n d s i g h t

One mere step to enter a cult; a thousand to get out

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 article it would be in mid-2005, when I first read Steven Gelberg’s highly recommendable essay on why he had left the Hare Krishna cult.[1] It offered a concrete reflection of my own burdened conscience, eloquently expressed in words by someone who hadn’t just theorized over the internal culture of the cult but experienced it firsthand.

Fifteen years had passed since I moved into the ISKCON[2] 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 a fleeting feeling that I had finally come home. The existential questions I had pondered for a lifetime so far had been answered, and laying prostrate at my feet was a complete world of perfection and harmony, its radiant sun, the very meaning and purpose of life. 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, many of whom I know and have known. 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 stood frozen for so long.

Since joining in 1990, 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 spending a year in Amsterdam and another seven in the BBT[3] 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 on another continent, married, and my connection to the BBT severed. Reentering the secular world after a near decade of isolated temple life turned out to be so all-engaging that my conscience was now no longer squelched by socio-environmental demands to conform, but by distraction upon distraction.

When finally somewhat settled in early 2005, I found an opportunity 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, blooper[4], offender, or otherwise inadequate follower carries the burden of doubt and unquestionable outrage. No. Here an educated and intelligent person had 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 a point like this 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 abuse 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, of course, for those who would consider at all that such a thing could possibly apply to the Hare Krishna cult. Only little investigative curiosity is required and Google can no doubt hand you more than enough to make your own fair assessment. Beyond accepting that some of these dynamics were involved, there are still some personal insights I would like 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 the cult, re-initiation by yet another guru 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, Harikesa Swami, 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] This was too close for comfort. If it takes a slap in the face to wake up, 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. 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.[8]

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 side of the martyr to that of the scapegoat, where we unleash a different kind of misplaced blame. Both are, of course, merely 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 the Hare Krishna cult. 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. The cult’s wholesale acceptance of these claims has fortified them, so that subjective to its dogmas there appears a plethora of divinely revealed truth. 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 your intellect. Mine sided with common sense. Although once at the forefront myself with all necessary mind-wrangling, I have since turned my back on the cult’s 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.[9]
  • A family employing 38 million school teachers for their children and an ancient king with 30 trillion personal attendants.[10]
  • 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.[11]
  • Virginal birth, birth from clay pots, and other incredulous types of birth.[12]
  • 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.[13]
  • Invisible oceans of, among others, liquor, milk, sugar cane juice, and yoghurt all many times larger than this planet and part of a simplistic flat-Earth cosmology.[14]
  • Sin entering grains and beans on the eleventh day after a new Moon and full Moon, requiring fasting.[15]
  • 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.[16]
  • 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.[17]
  • Trees hundreds of miles high, some with fruits that create rivers of juice when falling to the ground.[18]
  • The Sun being closer to the Earth than the Moon and being the only source of light in the entire universe.[19]
  • 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.[20]
  • The inherent mental and intellectual inferiority of women and their need to be controlled and dominated by men at all times.[21]
  • 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.[22]

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 the Hare Krishna cult, 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.[23] 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 twenty years of my involvement 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 new outlook on Indian scriptures and the role of the guru are 180 degrees opposite to what I was taught in the cult and is most of the time still followed in its communities (and to a large degree in its institutional suburbs[24]). 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 cult 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 Indian scriptures already so incredibly questionable (to the point of unacceptable), I cannot help but also question the reality of 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 article 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 otherworldly) 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. 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 of god the cult so freely assigns to Renaissance reformer Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, particularly vis-à-vis the insights and import of Jan Brzezinski’s article entitled Charismatic Renewal in Gaudiya Vaishnavism[27] 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 faulty Gaudiya line the cult so proudly claims descent of.

Gelberg left the Hare Krishna cult 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 the cult 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 don’t you 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 article might have on Hare Krishna cult 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 cult more over the decades than the cult itself. It is ongoing and, if history is an indicator, won’t stop anytime soon. Pointing fingers to individuals and cliques like its leadership[31] only goes so far until the realization sets in that all are products of the cult — creations of adherence to its own teachings. The cult has nothing to fear from me. Protecting the cult 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 Discussions[33] 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, the defection of many ISKCON members to “rival” groups, and the continued entrapment of innocent spiritual seekers into the delusions of a failed pharmacist.

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, superseding 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 allegations, 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 counterproductive, 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 books[36] — 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 underlie it a global model of societal governance for many thousands of years to come[38] and therefore, as the founding teacher, he is directly responsible. For all his good intentions, ISKCON, the Hare Krishna cult, 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 cult 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 has had a profound effect on my consciousness, but perhaps not in a way most cult members 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 the 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.”[40] 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!

 

– Willem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I welcome your thoughts on this. You can reach me at: willemv369@gmail.com

[1] On Leaving ISKCON, by Steven J. Gelberg, 1991.

[2] The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (the official name of the Hare Krishna cult) was founded by Bhaktivedanta Swami in 1966. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iskcon

[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. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhaktivedanta_Book_Trust

[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. See: http://www.icsahome.com/infoserv_articles/dasa_bhaktivasala_dynamicsspiritabuse.htm

Spiritual Pain and Painkiller Spirituality: Issues of Spiritual Abuse, Religious Addiction, and Dependency in ISKCON, by Diana Lorenz, August 1999. See: http://www.icsahome.com/infoserv_articles/lorenz_diana_spiritpain.htm

[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. See: http://robertcampagnola.com/

[7] See Appendix I: Extended Notes, a. Gurus expelled from ISKCON

[8] 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 severely affected or traumatized by his departure: you misunderstood. None of that was ever the case. I am talking about dynamics. Harikesa Swami had over 3,000 disciples, so there were really no personal relationships with the vast majority of them.

[9] SB 3.20.14-53: “From the navel of the Personality of Godhead Garbhodakasayi Visnu sprouted a lotus flower effulgent like a thousand blazing suns. This lotus flower is the reservoir of all conditioned souls, and the first living entity who came out of the lotus flower was the omnipotent Brahma. When that Supreme Personality of Godhead who is lying on the Garbhodaka Ocean entered the heart of Brahma, Brahma brought his intelligence to bear, and with the intelligence invoked he began to create the universe as it was before.” Etc.

SB 5.20.29: “On Puskaradvipa there is a great lotus flower with 100,000,000 pure golden petals, as effulgent as the flames of fire. That lotus flower is considered the sitting place of Lord Brahma…”

[10] SB 10.90.41-42: “I have heard from authoritative sources that the Yadu family employed 38,800,000 teachers just to educate their children. Who can count all the great Yadavas, when among them King Ugrasena alone was accompanied by an entourage of thirty trillion attendants?”

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.”

A conversation with Jamadagni and Kanupriya in Los Angeles, June 26, 1975, challenges the accuracy of these numbers.

[11] 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.” (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. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population_estimates

[12] SB 1.9.6-7, purport: “It is learned that this ṛsi, while taking bath in the Ganges, happened to meet Ghṛtaci, one of the beautiful society girls of heaven, and thus he discharged semen, which was kept and preserved in an earthen pot and from which Drona was born.”

SB 4.14.43: “After making a decision, the saintly persons and sages churned the thighs of the dead body of King Vena with great force and according to a specific method. As a result of this churning, a dwarf-like person was born from King Vena’s body.”

SB 6.18.6: “Upon seeing Urvasi, the celestial society girl, both Mitra and Varuna discharged semen, which they preserved in an earthen pot. The two sons Agastya and Vasistha later appeared from that pot, and they are therefore the common sons of Mitra and Varuna.”

SB 3.31.20, purport: “It is said that Sukadeva Gosvami, on this consideration, remained for sixteen years within the womb of his mother…”

SB 9.21.35: “When Saradvan met Urvasi, he discharged semen, which fell on a clump of sara grass. From this semen were born two all-auspicious babies, one male and the other female.”

SB 1.10.7, Mayapur, June 22, 1973: “Generally, the son is born from the vagina, but Kunti’s son was born from the ear.”

SB 1.3.21, Los Angeles, September 26, 1972: “Then again, Vyasadeva was born, but nobody could understand. She remained a virgin girl by the blessings of Parasara Muni.”

[13] SB 1.10.3, purport: “Therefore, it was possible for Maharaja Yudhisthira to rule the whole world, including the seas, because the principles were infallible and universally applicable to everyone.”

SB 1.12.24, purport: “He ruled over the world for several thousands of …”

SB 1.15.38, purport: “The total land on the earth bordered by the seas was under the subjugation of the King of Hastinapura.”

SB 3.1.20, purport: “The history of the world cannot give any systematic account for more than three thousand years into the past, but before that the whole world was under the flag and military strength of Maharaja Yudhisthira, who was the emperor of the world.”

SB 3.21.2, purport: “They ruled this earth, which is divided into seven islands. These seven islands are still current, as Asia, Europe, Africa, America, Australia and the North and South Poles.”

SB 4.16.27: “Just as there are many united states in various parts of the world, in olden days the entire world was ruled through many states, but there was a supreme emperor who ruled over all subsidiary states.”

SB 4.21.12, purport: “Prthu Maharaja ruled over the world many thousands of years before the so-called prehistoric age, and it is clearly mentioned here that in those days not only were all the different parts of the world known, but they were ruled by one king.”

BG 1.4-5, London, July 10, 1973: “There was only one flag. The whole planet was being ruled by one king.”

BG 2.11, Edinburgh, July 16, 1972: “At that time, 5,000 years ago, the Kuru dynasty was ruling all over the world.”

BG 2.11, Rotary Club Address, Delhi, March 25, 1976: “… Maharaja Pariksit, he ruled over the whole world. Bharatavarsa means the whole world, and the capital was here, Hastinapura.”

SB 1.10.3, Mayapur, June 18, 1973: “So Maharaja Yudhisthira, when he was firmly convinced of his position, then he took charge, took charge of ruling over the whole world. Not… The whole world. He took charge of ruling over the whole world.”

SB, Melbourne, May 19, 1975: “Formerly, up to five thousand years ago, the whole world was being controlled and ruled over by kings whose capital was Hastinapura, New Delhi. … Madhudvisa: She’s just wondering how it would be possible for one king to rule the whole world? It seems like it is very difficult. Nowadays we have so many leaders and they cannot manage… Prabhupada: Forget that. Why you are thinking that you cannot rule over; therefore others cannot? You are thinking in your term. But there are. That is possible.”

Pandal lecture, Bombay, March 31, 1971: “There was human society before 2,600 years. And what was their religion? We think, from Vedic evidences, the whole world was in Krishna consciousness. There was one God, Krishna; one scripture, Bhagavad-gita; one consciousness, Krishna consciousness; and one work, service of the Lord. From Mahabharata, the great history of India, we can understand that up to Maharaja Pariksit, the whole world was ruled by one flag, this Vedic culture.”

Conversation with David Wynne, July 9, 1973, London: “Five thousand years ago, it was all perfect. The whole world, this planet, was being ruled by one king. And they were all happy. That is in the history.”

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. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cradle_of_civilization

[14] SB 5.20.2: “As Sumeru Mountain is surrounded by Jambudvipa, Jambudvipa is also surrounded by an ocean of salt water.”

SB 5.20.7: “Plaksadvipa is surrounded by an ocean of sugarcane juice, equal in breadth to the island itself. Similarly, there is then another island—Salmalidvipa—twice as broad as Plaksadvipa and surrounded by an equally broad body of water called Surasagara, the ocean that tastes like liquor.”

SB 5.20.13: “Kusadvipa is surrounded by an ocean of liquid ghee as broad as the island itself.”

SB 5.20.18: “Krauncadvipa is surrounded by an ocean of milk as broad as the island itself.”

SB 5.20.24: “Sakadvipa is surrounded by an ocean of churned yogurt as broad as the island itself.”

SB 5.20.29: “Outside the ocean of yogurt is another island, known as Puskaradvipa … It is surrounded by an ocean of very tasteful …”

Curiously, on several occasions Bhaktivedanta Swami contradicts himself and the Puranic cosmology by stating that the seven islands of bhu-mandala are the seven Earth continents:

SB 3.21.2, purport: “These seven islands are still current, as Asia, Europe, Africa, America, Australia and the North and South Poles.”

SB 4.21.12, purport: “Sapta-dvipa refers to the seven great islands or continents on the surface of the globe: (1) Asia, (2) Europe, (3) Africa, (4) North America, (5) South America, (6) Australia and (7) Oceania.”

[15] CC Madhya-lila 24.342: “You should recommend the avoidance of mixed Ekadasi and the performance of pure Ekadasi. You should also describe the fault in not observing this. One should be very careful as far as these items are concerned.”

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 Ekadasi days. There is, however, no mention of beans or any of the other grain-less and bean-less products added to the list over time.

[16] Garuda Purana 2.1-20 details the various types of ghosts.

SB 2.3.23, purport: “When a man dies, he is called dead, but when he again appears in a subtle form not visible to our present vision and yet acts, such a dead body is called a ghost. Ghosts are always very bad elements, always creating a fearful situation for others.”

SB 4.18.18, purport: “Those who are very sinful and attached to their family, house, village or country do not receive a gross body made of material elements but remain in a subtle body, composed of mind, ego and intelligence. Those who live in such subtle bodies are called ghosts.”

SB 4.26.10, purport: “A confused, frustrated man cannot get relief by committing suicide because suicide will simply lead him to take birth in the lower species of life or to remain a ghost, unable to attain a gross material body.”

SB 4.29.61, purport: “Unless the living entity gets another gross body, he will have to continue in a subtle body, or a ghostly body. One becomes a ghost when the subtle body acts without the help of the instrumental gross body.”

SB 4.29.76-77, purport: “Those who are overly attracted to their life situation are forced to remain in a ghostly body and are not allowed to accept another gross body. Even in the body of a ghost, they create disturbances for neighbors and relatives.”

SB 6.12.26, purport: “It appears from the statement of this verse that sometimes there are flying mountains and that their wings are cut by the thunderbolt of Indra.”

SB 5.23.3, purport: “Regarding the great eagles mentioned in this verse, it is understood that there are eagles so big that they can prey on big elephants. They fly so high that they can travel from one planet to another. They start flying in one planet and land in another, and while in flight they lay eggs that hatch into other birds while falling through the air.”

SB 8.11.34, purport: “Indra thought: Formerly, when many mountains flying in the sky with wings would fall to the ground and kill people, I cut their wings with this same thunderbolt.”

BG 1.41-42, London, July 29, 1973: “Sometimes due to sinful activities, too much attachment, a man becomes ghost. Ghost, there is ghosts. Bhuta preta pisaca. Not only this life, demonic life, but after death also, there are ghostly lives. They do not get this gross body.

BG 2.12, Hyderabad, December 12, 1976: “Just like ghost. Ghost is also individual. But because the ghost does not get this material body they are invisible. They create disturbance for want of this body.”

And many, many more references…

[17] The asuras are descendants from Kasyapa Muni and his wives Diti and Danu, while the suras are the offspring of his wife Aditi.

[18] SB 5.16.16-19: “On the lower slopes of Mandara Mountain is a mango tree named Devacuta. It is 1,100 yojanas high. Mangoes as big as mountain peaks and as sweet as nectar fall from the top of this tree for the enjoyment of the denizens of heaven. When all those solid fruits fall from such a height, they break, and the sweet, fragrant juice within them flows out and becomes increasingly more fragrant as it mixes with other scents. That juice cascades from the mountain in waterfalls and becomes a river called Aruṇoda, which flows pleasantly through the eastern side of Ilavrta. … Similarly, the fruits of the jambu tree, which are full of pulp and have very small seeds, fall from a great height and break to pieces. Those fruits are the size of elephants, and the juice gliding from them becomes a river named Jambu-nadi. This river falls a distance of 10,000 yojanas, from the summit of Merumandara to the southern side of Ilavrta, and floods the entire land of Ilavrta with juice.”

SB 5.20.8: “On Salmalidvipa there is a salmali tree, from which the island takes its name. That tree is as broad and tall as the plaksa tree—in other words 100 yojanas [800 miles] broad and 1,100 yojanas [8,800 miles] tall.”

[19] SB 3.15.2, purport: “It appears from this verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam that the sun is the source of light for all the planets in the universe. The modern scientific theory which states that there are many suns in each universe is not supported by this verse. It is understood that in each universe there is only one sun, which supplies light to all the planets.”

SB 4.29.42-44, purport: “According to Western theory, all the stars are different suns, but according to Vedic information, there is only one sun within this universe. All the so-called stars are but different planets.”

SB 5.21.11, purport: “The Vedic literature informs us that within this universe there is one sun, which is moving. The Western theory that all the luminaries in the sky are different suns is not confirmed in the Vedic literature.”

Morning Walk, June 2, 1975, Honolulu:Paramahamsa: Srila Prabhupada, people will be very surprised to find out that the moon is farther away from us than the sun when they read your…, when they read Fifth Canto.”

Morning Walk, November 7, 1975, Bombay:Prabhupada: Yes, they have got, but we have also got. So it is little difference. Just like we are calculating that the sun is the beginning of the planets, sun, then moon. Therefore we say ‘Sunday, Monday.’ This is very quite reasonable. Tuesday. … Yes. And planet is 1,006,000 miles above, above. And Saturday, Saturn is the last. So now sun is calculated to be 93,000,000’s miles from earth, and if the moon is still further 1,600,000, then it becomes about fifteen hundred thousand miles. No. Fifteen million miles. So how they are going, in four days, fifteen million?”

Morning Walk, June 4, 1976, Los Angeles:Prabhupada: But this is the arrangement all over the world. Sunday first, Monday second, then Tuesday. So Sun, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, in this way. Last Saturn. This is the arrangement of the planets. So if this is the arrangement of the planets, moonday next to…, moon next to sun, and if you cannot go to the sun, how can you go to the moon?”

[20] SB 5.26.5-37: See Appendix I: Extended Notes, b. Description of the Hellish Planets

[21] Misogyny and Hypocrisy by Example, by Willem Vandenberg, 2010

Prabhupada in His Own Words – Regression of Women’s Rights, compiled by Willem Vandenberg, 2010

[22] SB 8.9.24-26: “Rahu, the demon who causes eclipses of the sun and moon, covered himself with the dress of a demigod and thus entered the assembly of the demigods and drank nectar without being detected by anyone, even by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The moon and the sun, however, because of permanent animosity toward Rahu, understood the situation. Thus Rahu was detected. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, using His disc, which was sharp like a razor, at once cut off Rahu’s head. When Rahu’s head was severed from his body, the body, being untouched by the nectar, could not survive. Rahu’s head, however, having been touched by the nectar, became immortal. Thus Lord Brahma accepted Rahu’s head as one of the planets. Since Rahu is an eternal enemy of the moon and the sun, he always tries to attack them on the nights of the full moon and the dark moon.”

SB 4.29.69, purport: “In this connection, the darkness occurring before the full moon, the lunar eclipse, can be explained as being another planet, known as Rahu. According to Vedic astronomy, the Rahu planet, which is not visible, is accepted. Sometimes the Rahu planet is visible in the presence of full moonlight. It then appears that this Rahu planet exists somewhere near the orbit of the moon. The failure of modern moon excursionists may be due to the Rahu planet. In other words, those who are supposed to be going to the moon may actually be going to this invisible planet Rahu. Actually, they are not going to the moon but to the planet Rahu, and after reaching this planet, they come back.”

CC Adi-lila 13.92, purport: “According to the Jyotir-veda, the Rahu planet comes in front of the full moon, and thus a lunar eclipse takes place. It is customary in India that all the followers of the Vedic scriptures bathe in the Ganges or the sea as soon as there is a lunar or solar eclipse.”

[23] 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.

[24] 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.

[25] SB 2.1.30, purport: “But there is no room for common sense in the injunctions of the sastras. We must accept the description of the sastras and concentrate more on the form of the viraṭ-rupa than on common sense. Common sense is always imperfect, whereas the description in the sastras is always perfect and complete. If there is any incongruity, it is due to our imperfection and not the sastras.”

SB 2.2.32, purport: “That is the way of knowing the knowledge contained in the Vedas. It is not a thing to be understood by one’s erudite scholarship or by the fashionable interpretations of mundane scholars. There is nothing to be added and nothing to be subtracted, because the truth is the truth. One has to accept, after all, some authority. … The common man cannot argue about what is beyond the sky or beyond the universe; he must accept the versions of the Vedas as they are understood by the authorized disciplic succession.”

SB 2.3.11, purport: “…the followers of the Vedas … accept the statements of the Vedic literatures as authority in toto…”

SB 2.6.34, purport: “The Vedic knowledge is infallible because it comes down directly from the Supreme Lord unto the heart of Brahma, and since he is the most perfect living being, Brahmaji is always correct to the letter.”

CC, Madhya, 20.397, purport: “… we must accept the verdict of the Vedic literatures.”

BG Introduction, recording: “We must accept the Bhagavad-gita without interpretation, without any cutting, and without our own whimsical participation in the matter because it should be taken as the most perfect Vedic knowledge.”

Initiation, Delhi, August 31, 1976: “So these sastras are the words of God. So they are also perfect. So the sruti-sastra-nindanam means to think that there may be something wrong in the scripture or to take one verse out of Bhagavad-gita and reject another verse. Because it is all coming from Krishna and is all perfect, therefore everything is perfect within it. We must accept everything. We must accept it without any…, as being without any fault.”

Discussion with Hayagriva das: “You cannot defy it or you cannot deny it. That is authority. We are presenting our Krishna consciousness movement on this principle, that you should carry out the orders of the authority, and Krishna or God is the Supreme authority. Whatever He is speaking, instructing to the human society, they must accept it without any wrong interpretation.”

Morning walk, August 1973, London: David Lawrence: In the Srimad-Bhagavatam there seems to be a great deal of … demonology, if you like. Now, I confess this raises problems for me. Are the references to, say, the demoness Putana taking Krishna on her lap and Krishna sucking her breast and killing her—is this to be taken literally or allegorically? Srila Prabhupada: Literally. Mr. Lawrence: Literally, as a physical fact? Srila Prabhupada: Yes.”

Room Conversation, April 5, 1977, Bombay: “The Bible should be accepted literally and not symbolically.”

[26] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Aryan_migration

[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] See Appendix I: Extended Notes, c. Too Little, Too Late

[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. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Governing_Body_Commission

[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 can be found in Appendix I: Extended Notes, d. Prabhupada’s Responsibility.

[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 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).

[34] These are Bhaktivedanta Swami’s own words from letters to Satsvarup das Gosvami (Steven Guarrino) from February 28, 1972 (“Our revolutionary medicine will be experimented on these children”) and April 11, 1973 (“Now I am concerned that the Gurukula experiment should come out nicely.”).

[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.

The Swami’s Lunacy, by Willem Vandenberg, 2010

[36] Misogyny and Hypocrisy by Example, by Willem Vandenberg, 2010
Women and the Laws of God, by Willem Vandenberg, 2008
The Swami’s Lunacy, by Willem Vandenberg, 2010

Prabhupada in His Own Words, a series compiled by Willem Vandenberg, 2010, consisting of quotations in the following categories: Regression of Women’s Rights, Racism and Homophobia, Violence and Dictatorship, Religious and Cultural Elitism, Astronomy and Cosmology, Apollo Moon Landings, Biology and Nature, History of the World, Scientists and Authority, and False Prophecies.

[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. See: http://www.prabhupada.com/Vedabase/VedaBase.html

[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 SB 1.11.12, purport: “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.”

[40] SB 7.5.30, purport: “Those who try to adjust material conditions are said to be chewing the chewed. No one has been able to adjust material conditions, but life after life, generation after generation, people try and repeatedly fail.”

SB 4.22.13, purport: “This material world is said to be padam padam yad vipadam na tesam, dangerous in every step.”

 

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– Easy Journey to Other Planets, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1972.

– Teachings of Lord Caitanya, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1968.

– Sri Isopanisad, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1969.

– Krishna Book, Volumes 1 and 2, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1970.

– Nectar of Devotion, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1970.

– Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1972.

– Srimad-Bhagavatam, Cantos 1 to 10.13, 18 Volumes, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1980.

– Caitanya-Caritamrta, Adi, Madhya, and Antya Lila, 9 Volumes, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1980.

– Nectar of Instruction, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1975.

– Coming Back: The Science of Reincarnation, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1982.

– The Perfection of Yoga, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1974.

– The Science of Self-Realization, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1994.

– Beyond Birth and Death, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1972.

– Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, by Abhya Charan De (Bhaktivedanta Swami), 1974.

– Salted Bread: a True Story as Told To His Son, by Sarvabhavana das, 2007.

– Varnasrama Manifesto for Social Sanity, by Harikesa Swami (Robert Campagnola), 1990.

– Essential Truths: The Questions and Answers Conference 1989-1994, by Harikesa Swami (Robert Campagnola), 1997.

 

 

Appendix I – Extended Notes

 

  1. Gurus Expelled from ISKCON

 

Jayatirtha Swami (James Immel) was expelled from ISKCON in 1982 and murdered by a former follower in 1987 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Immel).

 

Hansadutta Swami (Hans Kary) was convicted of illegal weapons possession in 1974 and 1980, and expelled from ISKCON in 1983 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamsadutta).

 

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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Ham).

 

Umapati Swami (Wally Sheffy) was expelled from ISKCON in 2011 for sexual deviancy.

 

These are just some of the high profile cases of ISKCON’s past. Other 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.

 

  1. Description of the Hellish Planets

Bhagavata Purana, Canto 5, Chapter 26, Verses 5-37

The great sage Sukadeva Gosvami answered: All the hellish planets are situated in the intermediate space between the three worlds and the Garbhodaka Ocean. They lie on the southern side of the universe, beneath Bhu-manḍala, and slightly above the water of the Garbhodaka Ocean. Pitrloka is also located in this region between the Garbhodaka Ocean and the lower planetary systems. All the residents of Pitrloka, headed by Agnisvatta, meditate in great samadhi on the Supreme Personality of Godhead and always wish their families well.

The King of the pitas is Yamaraja, the very powerful son of the sun-god. He resides in Pitrloka with his personal assistants and, while abiding by the rules and regulations set down by the Supreme Lord, has his agents, the Yamadutas, bring all the sinful men to him immediately upon their death. After bringing them within his jurisdiction, he properly judges them according to their specific sinful activities and sends them to one of the many hellish planets for suitable punishments.

Some authorities say that there is a total of twenty-one hellish planets, and some say twenty-eight. My dear King, I shall outline all of them according to their names, forms and symptoms. The names of the different hells are as follows: Tamisra, Andhatamisra, Raurava, Maharaurava, Kumbhipaka, Kalasutra, Asi-patravana, Sukaramukha, Andhakupa, Krmibhojana, SandamSa, Taptasurmi, Vajrakantaka-Salmali, Vaitarani, Puyoda, Pranarodha, ViSasana, Lalabhaksa, Sarameyadana, Avici, Ayaḥpana, Ksarakardama, Raksogana-bhojana, Sulaprota, DandaSuka, Avata-nirodhana, Paryavartana and Sucimukha. All these planets are meant for punishing the living entities.

My dear King, a person who appropriates another’s legitimate wife, children or money is arrested at the time of death by the fierce Yamadutas, who bind him with the rope of time and forcibly throw him into the hellish planet known as Tamisra. On this very dark planet, the sinful man is chastised by the Yamadutas, who beat and rebuke him. He is starved, and he is given no water to drink. Thus the wrathful assistants of Yamaraja cause him severe suffering, and sometimes he faints from their chastisement.

The destination of a person who slyly cheats another man and enjoys his wife and children is the hell known as Andhatamisra. There his condition is exactly like that of a tree being chopped at its roots. Even before reaching Andhatamisra, the sinful living being is subjected to various extreme miseries. These afflictions are so severe that he loses his intelligence and sight. It is for this reason that learned sages call this hell Andhatamisra.

A person who accepts his body as his self works very hard day and night for money to maintain his own body and the bodies of his wife and children. While working to maintain himself and his family, he may commit violence against other living entities. Such a person is forced to give up his body and his family at the time of death, when he suffers the reaction for his envy of other creatures by being thrown into the hell called Raurava.

In this life, an envious person commits violent acts against many living entities. Therefore after his death, when he is taken to hell by Yamaraja, those living entities who were hurt by him appear as animals called rurus to inflict very severe pain upon him. Learned scholars call this hell Raurava. Not generally seen in this world, the ruru is more envious than a snake.

Punishment in the hell called Maharaurava is compulsory for a person who maintains his own body by hurting others. In this hell, ruru animals known as kravyada torment him and eat his flesh.

For the maintenance of their bodies and the satisfaction of their tongues, cruel persons cook poor animals and birds alive. Such persons are condemned even by man-eaters. In their next lives they are carried by the Yamadutas to the hell known as Kumbhipaka, where they are cooked in boiling oil.

The killer of a brahmana is put into the hell known as Kalasutra, which has a circumference of eighty thousand miles and which is made entirely of copper. Heated from below by fire and from above by the scorching sun, the copper surface of this planet is extremely hot. Thus the murderer of a brahmana suffers from being burned both internally and externally. Internally he is burning with hunger and thirst, and externally he is burning from the scorching heat of the sun and the fire beneath the copper surface. Therefore he sometimes lies down, sometimes sits, sometimes stands up and sometimes runs here and there. He must suffer in this way for as many thousands of years as there are hairs on the body of an animal.

If a person deviates from the path of the Vedas in the absence of an emergency, the servants of Yamaraja put him into the hell called Asi-patravana, where they beat him with whips. When he runs hither and thither, fleeing from the extreme pain, on all sides he runs into palm trees with leaves like sharpened swords. Thus injured all over his body and fainting at every step, he cries out, “Oh, what shall I do now! How shall I be saved!” This is how one suffers who deviates from the accepted religious principles.

In his next life, a sinful king or governmental representative who punishes an innocent person, or who inflicts corporal punishment upon a brahmana, is taken by the Yamadutas to the hell named Sukaramukha, where the most powerful assistants of Yamaraja crush him exactly as one crushes sugarcane to squeeze out the juice. The sinful living entity cries very pitiably and faints, just like an innocent man undergoing punishments. This is the result of punishing a faultless person.

By the arrangement of the Supreme Lord, low-grade living beings like bugs and mosquitoes suck the blood of human beings and other animals. Such insignificant creatures are unaware that their bites are painful to the human being. However, first-class human beings—brahmanas, ksatriyas and vaisyas—are developed in consciousness, and therefore they know how painful it is to be killed. A human being endowed with knowledge certainly commits sin if he kills or torments insignificant creatures, who have no discrimination. The Supreme Lord punishes such a man by putting him into the hell known as Andhakupa, where he is attacked by all the birds and beasts, reptiles, mosquitoes, lice, worms, flies, and any other creatures he tormented during his life. They attack him from all sides, robbing him of the pleasure of sleep. Unable to rest, he constantly wanders about in the darkness. Thus in Andhakupa his suffering is just like that of a creature in the lower species.

A person is considered no better than a crow if after receiving some food, he does not divide it among guests, old men and children, but simply eats it himself, or if he eats it without performing the five kinds of sacrifice. After death he is put into the most abominable hell, known as Krmibhojana. In that hell is a lake 100,000 yojanas [800,000 miles] wide and filled with worms. He becomes a worm in that lake and feeds on the other worms there, who also feed on him. Unless he atones for his actions before his death, such a sinful man remains in the hellish lake of Krmibhojana for as many years as there are yojanas in the width of the lake.

My dear King, a person who in the absence of an emergency robs a brahmana—or, indeed, anyone else—of his gems and gold is put into a hell known as Sandamsa. There his skin is torn and separated by red-hot iron balls and tongs. In this way, his entire body is cut to pieces.

A man or woman who indulges in sexual intercourse with an unworthy member of the opposite sex is punished after death by the assistants of Yamaraja in the hell known as Taptasurmi. There such men and women are beaten with whips. The man is forced to embrace a red-hot iron form of a woman, and the woman is forced to embrace a similar form of a man. Such is the punishment for illicit sex.

A person who indulges in sex indiscriminately—even with animals—is taken after death to the hell known as Vajrakantaka-Salmali. In this hell there is a silk-cotton tree full of thorns as strong as thunderbolts. The agents of Yamaraja hang the sinful man on that tree and pull him down forcibly so that the thorns very severely tear his body.

A person who is born into a responsible family—such as a ksatriya, a member of royalty or a government servant—but who neglects to execute his prescribed duties according to religious principles, and who thus becomes degraded, falls down at the time of death into the river of hell known as Vaitarani. This river, which is a moat surrounding hell, is full of ferocious aquatic animals. When a sinful man is thrown into the River Vaitarani, the aquatic animals there immediately begin to eat him, but because of his extremely sinful life, he does not leave his body. He constantly remembers his sinful activities and suffers terribly in that river, which is full of stool, urine, pus, blood, hair, nails, bones, marrow, flesh and fat.

The shameless husbands of lowborn sudra women live exactly like animals, and therefore they have no good behavior, cleanliness or regulated life. After death, such persons are thrown into the hell called Puyoda, where they are put into an ocean filled with pus, stool, urine, mucus, saliva and similar things. Sudras who could not improve themselves fall into that ocean and are forced to eat those disgusting things.

If in this life a man of the higher classes [brahmana, ksatriya and vaisya] is very fond of taking his pet dogs, mules or asses into the forest to hunt and kill animals unnecessarily, he is placed after death into the hell known as Pranarodha. There the assistants of Yamaraja make him their targets and pierce him with arrows.

A person who in this life is proud of his eminent position, and who heedlessly sacrifices animals simply for material prestige, is put into the hell called Visasana after death. There the assistants of Yamaraja kill him after giving him unlimited pain.

If a foolish member of the twice-born classes [brahmana, ksatriya and vaisya] forces his wife to drink his semen out of a lusty desire to keep her under control, he is put after death into the hell known as Lalabhaksa. There he is thrown into a flowing river of semen, which he is forced to drink.

In this world, some persons are professional plunderers who set fire to others’ houses or administer poison to them. Also, members of the royalty or government officials sometimes plunder mercantile men by forcing them to pay income tax and by other methods. After death such demons are put into the hell known as Sarameyadana. On that planet there are 720 dogs with teeth as strong as thunderbolts. Under the orders of the agents of Yamaraja, these dogs voraciously devour such sinful people.

A person who in this life bears false witness or lies while transacting business or giving charity is severely punished after death by the agents of Yamaraja. Such a sinful man is taken to the top of a mountain eight hundred miles high and thrown headfirst into the hell known as Avicimat. This hell has no shelter and is made of strong stone resembling the waves of water. There is no water there, however, and thus it is called Avicimat [waterless]. Although the sinful man is repeatedly thrown from the mountain and his body broken to tiny pieces, he still does not die but continuously suffers chastisement.

Any brahmana or brahmana’s wife who drinks liquor is taken by the agents of Yamaraja to the hell known as Ayaḥpana. This hell also awaits any ksatriya, vaisya, or person under a vow who in illusion drinks soma-rasa. In Ayaḥpana the agents of Yamaraja stand on their chests and pour hot melted iron into their mouths.

A lowborn and abominable person who in this life becomes falsely proud, thinking “I am great,” and who thus fails to show proper respect to one more elevated than he by birth, austerity, education, behavior, caste or spiritual order, is like a dead man even in this lifetime, and after death he is thrown headfirst into the hell known as Ksarakardama. There he must great suffer great tribulation at the hands of the agents of Yamaraja.

There are men and women in this world who sacrifice human beings to Bhairava or Bhadra Kali and then eat their victims’ flesh. Those who perform such sacrifices are taken after death to the abode of Yamaraja, where their victims, having taken the form of Raksasas, cut them to pieces with sharpened swords. Just as in this world the man-eaters drank their victims’ blood, dancing and singing in jubilation, their victims now enjoy drinking the blood of the sacrificers and celebrating in the same way.

In this life some people give shelter to animals and birds that come to them for protection in the village or forest, and after making them believe that they will be protected, such people pierce them with lances or threads and play with them like toys, giving them great pain. After death such people are brought by the assistants of Yamaraja to the hell known as Sulaprota, where their bodies are pierced with sharp, needlelike lances. They suffer from hunger and thirst, and sharp-beaked birds such as vultures and herons come at them from all sides to tear at their bodies. Tortured and suffering, they can then remember the sinful activities they committed in the past.

Those who in this life are like envious serpents, always angry and giving pain to other living entities, fall after death into the hell known as DandaSuka. My dear King, in this hell there are serpents with five or seven hoods. These serpents eat such sinful persons just as snakes eat mice.

Those who in this life confine other living entities in dark wells, granaries or mountain caves are put after death into the hell known as Avata-nirodhana. There they themselves are pushed into dark wells, where poisonous fumes and smoke suffocate them and they suffer very severely.

A householder who receives guests or visitors with cruel glances, as if to burn them to ashes, is put into the hell called Paryavartana, where he is gazed at by hard-eyed vultures, herons, crows and similar birds, which suddenly swoop down and pluck out his eyes with great force.

One who in this world or this life is very proud of his wealth always thinks, “I am so rich. Who can equal me?” His vision is twisted, and he is always afraid that someone will take his wealth. Indeed, he even suspects his superiors. His face and heart dry up at the thought of losing his wealth, and therefore he always looks like a wretched fiend. He is not in any way able to obtain actual happiness, and he does not know what it is to be free from anxiety. Because of the sinful things he does to earn money, augment his wealth and protect it, he is put into the hell called Sucimukha, where the officials of Yamaraja punish him by stitching thread through his entire body like weavers manufacturing cloth.

My dear King Pariksit, in the province of Yamaraja there are hundreds and thousands of hellish planets. The impious people I have mentioned—and also those I have not mentioned—must all enter these various planets according to the degree of their impiety. Those who are pious, however, enter other planetary systems, namely the planets of the demigods. Nevertheless, both the pious and impious are again brought to earth after the results of their pious or impious acts are exhausted.

  1. Too Little, Too Late

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 multimillion 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.

 

  1. Prabhupada’s Responsibility

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“?!