On Leaving ISKCON

On-Leaving-ISKCON
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When Prabhupada predicted, once, that ninety percent of his disciples would eventually leave his movement, we, his disciples, were shocked that such a thing could be possible. In time, the overwhelming majority of his followers did indeed leave ISKCON, and it now appears the same will hold true for his grand-disciples. The effect of this on-going exodus is that the number of ex-members of ISKCON vastly exceeds that of current members, and the gap will only widen as the years pass. There exists, therefore, a substantial and growing body of people who share what can only be described as a traumatic experience.

It’s hard to imagine an experience more wrenching, more potentially disorienting, than leaving a spiritual community or tradition to which one has devoted years of one’s life. To lose faith in a comprehensive system of ideas that have shaped one’s consciousness and guided one’s actions, to leave a community that has constituted one’s social world and defined one’s social identity, to renounce a way of life that is an entire mode of being, is an experience of momentous implications.

Especially when the community/tradition one is leaving defines itself as the repository and bastion of all goodness, all meaning, all truth, all decency, all meaningful human attainment, it may require a major psychological effort to reorient oneself both to one’s own self and to the wider world. Internally, one must work to rediscover and reclaim one’s own unique, personal sources of meaning, truth, and spirituality and to live authentically from out of those inner depths. Externally, one must learn how to deal with the outer world, the vast territory laying beyond the gates of the spiritual enclave — that place that has for so long been viewed as a dark and evil abode unfit for human habitation. It’s a fact that very often devotees no longer happy living in ISKCON prolong their stay simply out of fear of the demonized world.

This re-orientation to self and re-entry into the world is no small task, and it’s more easily finessed when one has the support of others who’ve travelled a similar path. In my own journey I’ve received such support, and wish now to offer it to others.

Though I’ve had little to do with ISKCON for nearly six years now, I still feel a certain kinship with devotees, both past and present. How could I not? I devoted fully seventeen years of my life (ages eighteen to thirty-five — my youth!) to a life of Krishna consciousness in the association of similarly committed devotees. Virtually all my friends and acquaintances were devotees. For most of those seventeen years I had not the slightest doubt that I’d die while still in ISKCON (and rate a half-page obituary in BTG). I absorbed Prabhupada’s teachings into the depths of my being and preached them with an enthusiasm born of serene confidence in their absolute truth and efficacy. I dedicated myself both to encouraging a deeper immersion in Vaishnava spirituality on the part of my fellow devotees (through editing such books as The Spiritual Master and the Disciple and Namamrta: The Nectar of the Holy Name), and to cultivating respect and appreciation for ISKCON among intellectuals and scholars (such as with my book of interviews, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna).

Though my way of thinking and mode of being have changed considerably since leaving the movement, I cannot forget all my brothers and sisters who have shared the ISKCON/Krishna consciousness experience: aging pioneers, subsequent joiners, and expatriates alike. I embrace all of you, both friends and strangers, sisters and brothers, as fellow travelers on the path. There must be something in our respective temperaments that drew us all to the path of Krishna consciousness — some similar karmic history, some particular spiritual orientation, some certain degree of sincerity — something or other that landed both you and I on a path traversed by so few.

I, like you, entered the movement because I desperately wanted to know what in the world is going on in the universe, to find order in this madness, to be touched and transformed by Truth, to experience peace and joy, to crawl out of my rotting skin and confused mind and rise into some sublime Transcendence. I, like you, felt an inexplicable attraction to the supernally beautiful, blue-skinned boy Krishna, to the strangely beautiful music (how rarely heard!) of the mahamantra, to a felt sense of progression toward liberation from this highly imperfect material world (not to mention cauliflower pakoras and sweet-rice). I, like you, was blessed with tastes, now and then, of spiritual bliss — feelings not easily expressed in words. I cannot help, therefore, but feel a special kinship with you, and I offer you my sincere respects and affection, whoever you are.

I am writing this because I know that some of you, or many of you, perhaps most of you, have doubts, at times, about the truth of Krishna consciousness, or at least its relevance to your life — to your own personal spiritual and psychological growth. In my last few years in the movement I certainly did. And I know that, in spite of claims to the contrary, there are powerful disincentives to openly expressing one’s doubts in the company of devotees (loss of prestige, to name one), and even to admitting them to oneself (loss of self-respect, acknowledgement of grave personal failure, fear of falling apart, etc.).

Doubts, however, may be the voice of one’s own inner self, the self that doesn’t always exactly jive with the exterior “system” of Krishna consciousness, the self that protests being shaped and molded into something it is not. No matter how much one’s external mind assents to the authority of ISKCON (and the spiritual tradition from which it emerged), if the inner self is not being addressed, respected, honored, given expression, allowed to grow, it is, sooner or later, going to raise a protest. When that little inner voice first begins to speak, it can be quieted with regimental thinking, louder chanting, increased outer busy-ness, or simple denial. But sometime down the road it is bound to return, a little louder, a little more insistent, and at some point you’ll have no other choice than to acknowledge it.

I would like, now, to address that little inner voice (or that voice of growing volume) and answer it with my own. I have, by the way, no malicious intent in doing so. I’m no anti-cultist or any other species of crusading ideologue. I don’t wish to start a club, an organization, a revolution, or any other exciting enterprise. I’ve nothing to gain personally from this exercise except the pleasure of speaking words that I think need to be spoken to old friends and friends yet unknown. I hope that you’ll listen to me with an open mind.

What I wish to do, now, is relate to you some of the reasons why I (and my then wife, Sitarani) left ISKCON after so many years of committed service (twenty-five between us). I’ve divided my reflections into several categories:

Where are the Pure Devotees?

As I think back, it seems to me that the factor that initially set in motion my gradual disillusionment with ISKCON was my growing awareness that, judging by its own criteria for success, ISKCON had, quite simply, failed as a spiritual movement. It became increasingly and inescapably obvious that the movement was simply not fulfilling its own stated primary goal: to create “pure devotees” — to skillfully and successfully guide serious practitioners to those sublime states of spiritual consciousness elaborately described in the scriptures and talked about endlessly in Gita and Bhagavatam classes.

One does, of course, encounter devotees who seem peaceful, content, full of sincere purpose and conviction, high-spirited, enthusiastic, and so on. And it is true that most devotees have experienced, at one time or another, uplifting feelings from chanting, seeing the deity, etc. But what of the more developed and sustained spiritual states described by such terms as bhava and prema? What of the love of Krishna that flows from the depths of one’s being, overwhelms the mind and heart, utterly transforms one, and makes of one a saint whose very presence inspires sanctity in others? Is ISKCON actually producing such manifestly Krishna conscious persons? Take a look around and decide for yourself.

To account for this embarrassing lack of pure devotees in ISKCON, one is forced to enact a version of “The King’s New Clothes”: do the best one can to convince oneself and others that certain high-profile devotees are, indeed, pure devotees, and proclaim that those who don’t acknowledge their status are either not yet advanced enough for such discernment or are envious fools. Or, alternatively, redefine the term “pure devotee” in such a broad, generous manner as to include the greatest number of devotees possible (e.g., all gurus, all those aspiring to be pure devotees, all those following the regulative principles, etc.)

Some few, highly self-motivated, highly disciplined, spiritually gifted devotees do apply themselves to the principles of bhakti-yoga and taste the fruits of their efforts. But for the overwhelming majority of devotees, spiritual life in ISKCON is little more than a perpetual struggle against base attachment, pride, greed, and lust. One goes on, year after year, hoping against hope that, “One day, yes, one day, a day far off in the future, one magic and wonderful day, I shall become a pure devotee.”

After many years in the movement I came to the conclusion that whatever other success the movement may enjoy — whatever the proliferation of sikhas and saris, numbers of temples opened, books distributed, celebrity endorsements procured — in the absence of the creation of highly evolved Krishna conscious persons, it’s all an empty show.

Ethical Failure and Intellectual Dishonesty

Over the course of my years in ISKCON I became alarmed at the extent to which people (myself included) who joined the movement in part as a reaction against the pervasive dishonesty in interpersonal dealings in mundane society, permitted themselves to become clever, sneaky and two-faced in the name of promulgating Truth. However much it may be hard for us to admit, The-Ends-Justifies-the-Means has long been a defining and controlling ethic in the movement. Based on the presumption that tricking, deceiving and cajoling illusioned souls to financially subsidize, and otherwise support ISKCON represents a “higher” morality, devotees are taught to say and do almost anything if it can be justified in the name of preaching. From the new devotee in the street extracting money from karmis through blatant dissimulation, to the most intellectually and socially sophisticated devotee skillfully packaging ISKCON in such a way as to most effectively win friends and undermine enemies, the ethic of pulling the wool over the benighted karmis’ eyes in order to save their souls is the same.

Though this attitude may appear justified from the point of view of a certain self-serving, contrived “spiritual” ethic, in practice it encourages a fundamental disrespect and superior attitude toward those for whom it claims feelings of compassion, and a manipulative, controlling attitude towards those it claims to liberate. Though some of the grosser manifestations of that cheating ethic have been tempered in recent years, the basic attitude, as far as I can see, hasn’t changed, because it’s rooted in ISKCON’s necessary presumption of moral superiority.

Another kind of dishonesty fundamental to the movement is an intellectual one: a learned orientation by which one’s chief philosophical project ceases to be the sincere and disciplined effort to open oneself to Truth, but instead to study, memorize, internalize, preach and defend an already defined, pre-digested, pre-packaged “Truth.” Instead of dedicating one’s faculties of awareness to the fearless quest for truth through reflective openness to all that presents itself to experience and scrutiny, one simply waves the banner of received “Truth,” come what may, however much that “Truth” may or may not address itself to the reality or facts at hand.

This loyal and tenacious defense of received “Truth” in the face of potentially disconfirming realities represents, I suggest, not a courageous fending off of Illusion in protection of divine Truth, but a cowardly hiding away from unexpected and disarming truths in hopes of defending a fragile existential security masquerading as enlightened certainty. I am continually amazed, and in retrospect somewhat embarrassed, by my own and other ISKCON intellectuals’ easy willingness to jettison any sort of intellectual/philosophical/existential honesty in order to fortify our own and others’ insecure faith — to wave our tattered little banner of Truth in the face of the wealth of ideas and multi-textured realities surrounding us.

Hard Hearts

I can recall, throughout my years in ISKCON, often being disappointed with the behavior of high- and low-level leaders in the movement who seemed to care little for the personhood of the devotees under their authority. (I might have turned out the same way had I opted for a management position. Fortunately, I have an aversion for being “in charge” of other people.) I think the lesson to be learned from ISKCON is that there’s a certain hardness of heart that comes from subordinating people to principles, to defining the institution itself as pre-eminent and its members as merely its humble servants.

This rhetoric of submission has, of course, a certain ring of loftiness to it: the idea of devotees striving together, pooling their energies and skills, sacrificing personal independence and comforts in order to serve the Glorious Mission. The trouble is, in effect it creates a social/ interpersonal environment in which the particular needs of individuals are downplayed, devalued, postponed indefinitely and generally ignored — leaving the individual devotee sooner or later feeling neglected, not listened to, not taken seriously, taken advantage of.

Because of the nature of my service in the movement, the fact that I enjoyed a high degree of personal autonomy in my work (I was not closely monitored and directed by overlings), I have little to complain personally on this account. But through seventeen years of observation, as well as speaking with and counseling devotees on numerous occasions, I became more and more aware, painfully and sadly aware, of the ways in which, in the name of “engaging devotees in Krishna’s service,” leaders and administrators at all levels deal with the devotees “under” them in a patronizing, condescending, heavy-handed and authoritarian manner — viewing and dealing with their subordinates not as unique individuals possessing rich and complex inner lives, as having particular emotional needs, unique perspectives and opinions, but as units of human energy to be matched to the necessary tasks at hand. I recall leaders criticizing, even ridiculing the very notion that special attention should be paid to the individual psyches and needs of devotees — who dismissed such concerns as mere sentimentality, unnecessary coddling, a lack of tough-mindedness, and opposed to the principles of humility and surrender.

This hard-nosed, hard-hearted attitude, this unfeeling instrumentality, this insensitive disregard for the individual, this almost cynical exalting of the principles of humility and surrender to ensure that the floors get swept and the bills paid, leaves many devotees, especially those low on the institutional totem-pole, feeling used and abused. Many of these devotees, when the frustration, sadness and anxiety reach a high enough level, simply leave — and become, understandably, bitter and vindictive ex-members.

To the degree that I allowed myself to participate in this system — at least by enjoying its fruits — I feel ashamed. I sincerely apologize to any persons I might have offended.

Sexy Celibacy

Most devotees will acknowledge that ISKCON’s prohibition against “illicit sex” (any sex other than to conceive children in marriage) is the hardest of ISKCON’s rules to follow, the cause of the greatest difficulty among devotees, and (with the possible exception of disillusionment with ISKCON per se) the most common cause of “fall-down” from Krishna consciousness.

Without debating the merits of celibacy in spiritual life, it’s fair to say that the typical devotee, over time, is going to violate the celibacy rule at least once, if not multiple times. Desire for sex appears in every devotee’s life sooner or later, to one degree or another, in one form or another. From the guru lecturing from his asana down to Bhakta Bruce cleaning the bathroom, devotees think about sex, fanaticize about it, relieve themselves in secret and, as is often the case, indulge in sex (with other willing devotees, old girlfriends or boyfriends, outside contacts, whomever) if they think they can get away with it. This rather obvious fact isn’t openly acknowledged in the movement because it’s a source of significant embarrassment to devotees, who view indulgence in sex as disgusting, disgraceful, and a sign of personal failure — and, further, because they’re forever boasting to non-devotees that their enjoyment of a “higher taste” is evidenced most conclusively by their disinterest in mundane sense gratification.

To be frank, there is something very sad, tragic even, in the spectacle of sincere spiritual aspirants endlessly struggling against and denying sexual feelings (which are, after all, perfectly natural if you’re embodied), continually berating themselves for their lack of heroic detachment from the body, seeking dark corners in which to masturbate or, finding themselves “attached to” another devotee, planning and scheming “illicit” encounters. All this unavoidable cheating and hypocrisy, guilt and shame, denial and cover-up, make a pathetic sham of ISKCON’s ascetical conceit. Granted, there are some devotees, small in number, who have a gift (if that is what it is) for serene, contented celibacy. But the mass of devotees simply do not.

After many years of monitoring my own and other’s (through conversation and counseling) ambivalence about and mixed-success in following the standards, the whole celibacy fetish began to look a bit suspect. Why the abysmal failure of most devotees to be uncompromisingly celibate? Why the pervasive inability to perform an act of renunciation that ISKCON defines as a precondition not only of serious spiritual practice but of civilized human life? Why that fundamental failure?

Some devotees feel it’s due to some innate deficit in the consciousness of Westerners (we’re too lusty); others blame it on devotees’ chronically flawed performance of bhakti-yoga (offensive chanting, etc.); a few contend that Prabhupada passed on Gaudiya Vaishnava practice imperfectly (by omitting certain necessary mystical elements in the diksha); some say it’s a natural consequence of co-ed ashrams (and periodically suggest that the temples be rid of women); others blame it on the Kali-yuga. Whatever the cause, the fact remains that most devotees are nowhere near free from sex desire.

The result of the imposition of absolute celibacy upon those not sufficiently disassociated from their bodies is, as we’ve seen, the generation of great amounts of guilt, self-loathing, dishonesty and denial. “One day,” we assure ourselves, “I shall be sufficiently Krishna conscious to be free from sex desire.” Meanwhile, we remain within a physical body which, by its very nature, and in spite of chanting and the rest, desires to touch and be touched, to physically nurture and be nurtured, to feel the soothing embrace of a lover.

So strong is the natural human desire for physical touch that in order to avoid it, to successfully repress the desire for it (temporarily), one must paint the most exaggeratedly negative picture of it possible: one that envisions sex as a purely wild, disgusting animal act — one of total, chaotic abandon, or of regression into panting, drooling, general disgustingness.

But think back to your own past, my dear devotee friend: when you made love with your girlfriend or boyfriend, husband or wife, was it all really just bestial humping and grunting? Did it have no connection at all to feelings of love, caring, respect, appreciation, affection? Certainly, like any other human activity, sex can be beautiful or ugly. It can be an act of gross, selfish, piggish abandon, or (as you will recall from your own past or envision in your imagination) an act of gentle, loving self-expression, of affectionate mutual pleasuring, even a source of profound feelings of emotional and spiritual oneness. It is only through deliberate denial of personal experience, or of intuition, that one can obliterate such memories, or pre-empt such capacity for imagining.

My purpose here is not to advertise the glories of sex (glorious though it can be), but to remind you of the problems associated with outlawing it — and also to make the radical suggestion that perhaps it is possible to be a spiritual person, a God-conscious or cosmos-loving person, a person of goodness and compassion, of wisdom, sensitivity and awareness — under whatever spiritual banner — without denying and repressing one’s natural sexuality.

Disrespect for Women

If ISKCON had fully been the glorious spiritual movement it advertises itself to be, with its only defect being its offensive attitudes and discriminatory policies toward women, Sitarani and I still would have felt fully justified in abandoning the organization to which we’d devoted so much of our lives. It became increasingly difficult for us to tolerate (and to defend among the scholars and students it was our service to “cultivate”) the raw, unreflective, juvenile, boys-club mentality of the movement — the official, insulting view of women as childlike, irrational, irresponsible, emotional, and wild-unless-controlled-by-a-man.

It’s not at all surprising that ISKCON would be a woman-fearing, woman-hating, woman-exploiting institution. A male-centered religion that defines sex as the enemy of spirituality naturally is going to define the objects of men’s sexual desire as the Enemy Personified: Woman as Chief Antagonist in the holy drama of Man Transcending. Women, thus stigmatized, are, at best, to be tolerated — allowed to exist on the fringe in an officially reduced status, their wanton energies mercifully channeled into the service of men — and, at worst, to be officially and systematically denigrated, shunned and, not infrequently, abused emotionally and sexually.

A movement that can allow a brand new male recruit, still stinking of the street, to feel utterly comfortable in viewing himself as superior — by the sheer fact that he’s got a penis — to a seasoned woman devotee who’s been refining her consciousness for decades; a movement that can allow a husband to feel perfectly at ease bossing his wife around as if he were a Maharaja and she a coolie, as if she were put on Earth simply to serve and satisfy him — as if Krishna must be pleased by such a display of proper hierarchical dealings between humans — is going to invite the ridicule of outsiders, as well as incite pangs of conscience in its own thoughtful members. It’s a wonder that self-respecting women can tolerate such attitudes and treatment, and it’s to their credit, I suppose, that they tolerate such insult and abuse so as to remain connected to a spiritual tradition that they feel, or hope, is wiser and grander than that.

For a time, Sitarani and I felt content with being “liberal” on the issue — with lending our weight, for example, to efforts to allow the occasional woman to give a lecture, lead a kirtan, or have a vote on the temple board. But we grew tired of struggling to put the best possible spin on the issue when questioned by discerning college students and others — with having to employ our intelligence and savvy in the noble quest of covering up for an organization that was hopelessly and ridiculously out of touch with the contemporary world and with common decency.

When we finally left the movement we felt greatly relieved to have removed ourselves from a social and political environment that so determinedly denigrated women and positive feminine principles. ISKCON is, after all, such a positively male institution: all that obsessing over power, control, order, hierarchy, protocol, and competition. Not to mention all the chest-pounding martial rhetoric: conquering the senses, destroying illusion, defeating enemies, smashing demons.

What of the beautiful “feminine” qualities of Sri Chaitanya and his followers? What of gentleness, humility, empathy, love, compassion, spiritual protection and nurturance, delicacy of emotion and of interpersonal dealings? While devotees pay occasional lip-service to these acknowledged Vaishnava qualities, in practice it’s the cherished male qualities of tough-mindedness, aggressiveness and the power to dominate and manipulate others that the ISKCON establishment promotes and rewards. ISKCON is, clearly, an institutional environment that is innately hostile to women and to the spiritual attributes and principles that they, in particular, embody and exemplify.

I invite my sisters in the movement to contemplate these facts and to ask yourselves whether or not you truly feel at home in such an environment — whether it is possible for you to live in such a place without sacrificing your basic self-respect and resorting to painful denial. I encourage you, as many of you apparently now are doing, to discuss these matters among yourselves and come to your own conclusions.

Spiritual Depersonalization

A final factor in my decision to leave ISKCON was a philosophical one: a growing awareness that however much wisdom and beauty may be found in a particular religious tradition, no one tradition, no one system, can speak fully for any one individual. Whatever the possible transcendent origins of a spiritual path, it is passed down through human persons: wise, insightful, saintly persons perhaps, but distinct, individual persons nonetheless — having their own distinctive life histories, experiences, temperaments, ways of thinking, feeling and communicating. Though there was much in Krishna consciousness that I found deeply meaningful and appealing, I began to realize (subtly, slowly, over a long period of time) that, short of simply obliterating my own thoughts and feelings, I could not blindly, automatically accept every word of the scriptures (e.g., women are inferior to men, thunder and lightning come from Lord Indra, the sun is closer to the Earth than the Moon, etc.)

More important than difficulties with particular passages of scripture, however, was my growing sense that there was something unnatural, something artificial and forced, about the very idea of my having to completely supplant my own thoughts, reflections, insights, and intuitions about myself, the world, and my own experience, with a pre-packaged, pre-approved system of ideas and doctrines which, whatever its origins, has evolved through countless hands and been refracted through many minds and sensibilities through the centuries. I began to feel (though it took a long time to admit it to myself) that this is an unrealistic and unfair demand to be made upon any of us, however “imperfect” we may be, because it dishonors the integrity and particularity of who we are.

I came to feel that there is something ultimately impersonal about the notion that we are something utterly different from what we presently feel ourselves to be, and that the differences between us all (qualities of mind, behavioral style, etc.) are simply products of an unnatural, illusioned state — that when we become who we are meant to be, we’ll all conform to a particular, precise check-list of personality traits. And, further, that to evolve into this perfected state we must submit to the authority of certain authorized persons for radical re-education — cutting ourselves off, more or less, from any ideas, influences or persons that might possibly remind us of the selves we mistakenly felt we were.

Now, whatever the beauties of the spiritual path, there is something slightly ominous about a spiritual system that so utterly and uncompromisingly devalues me as I know and experience myself, that would make me (if I’m a loyal and diligent practitioner) doubt and question my every perception, my every inner sense of the ways things are, and that would render me so utterly dependent (even for my very sense of reality) upon others about whom I have no conclusive evidence of perfection (and whose spiritual status is tenuous at best, in light of the periodic scandals involving those promoted in ISKCON as “pure” and “perfect”).

Consider, again, the essential insult to the self that this kind of thinking entails. The Voice of Authority proclaims: “Whatever you think you are, is not you. The person you feel yourself to be, this complex accumulation of personal, idiosyncratic experience, thought and emotion, is but an illusion. You must not trust your own deepest instincts and intuitions about who and what you are, what your needs are, what your ideas are, what your ways of conceptualizing and dealing with the world are, what your purpose in life is. You are fallen, ignorant, in illusion, and incapable of knowing what is best for you. Your only hope lies in submitting yourself to the absolute guidance of certain individuals, living and dead, whose wisdom you must acknowledge as far superior to yours, as affirmed by themselves and their representatives.”

Must spiritual life depend upon such an act of extreme self-abnegation, such an uncompromising rejection of personal experience? Are Truth and Wisdom to be so radically abstracted from my own consciousness, my own life, the depth of my own being? Is such turning of a blind eye and deaf ear to my own inner sense of “the way things are” really in my best interest? Is that kind of self-denial really “humility” — a wise recognition of personal limitations — or is it ultimately little more than a form of self-shaming leading to blind adherence to the dictates of others who may or may not possess a firm, unadulterated grasp on Truth?

I began to feel strongly that religion is not a corporate matter — that of gathering in all manner of minds and hearts into a common, undifferentiated, regimented view of immediate and ultimate reality — but rather of honoring and trusting the individual spirit enough to allow it to seek its own path, make its own mistakes, find its own way by listening, intently and conscientiously, to its own inner knowledge and to whatever voices of wisdom present themselves on one’s journey through life.

I realized, ultimately, that for all ISKCON’s talk of freedom, of liberation, of escaping conditioned modes of being, the prevailing mentality in ISKCON is, in fact, characterized by a distinct fear of freedom: fear of personal quest, of trusting the moment, of openness to the unexpected — a self-defeating distrust of all those glimmerings of truth that present themselves to us in various forms and in various places (like gold within garbage), and that have the power to guide, instruct and enlighten.

Being outside ISKCON and the ISKCON mind-set, becoming intellectually and spiritually open-minded and adventurous, has been, for me, an exhilarating liberation: a far more genuine freedom than that promised by the commanding, disembodied Voice of “Vedic Authority” — the smoke-and-mirrors Wizards of Ozkon.

Is There Life After ISKCON?

That such a question might even occur to a devotee is itself a telling comment on the ISKCON mind-set. In seventeen years of Krishna consciousness I sat through literally thousands of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam classes (a great many of them my own!) in which I was regaled with nightmarish images of the world looming outside the walls of ISKCON — warned repeatedly of the miseries to come should I foolishly wander outside our fortifications. In a place where higher spiritual experience is in short supply it is necessary, indeed, to create powerful disincentives to leaving — even if they need be based on exaggeration and fear.

But the world, as it turns out, is not the unrelieved chamber of horrors described in Bhagavatam classes. It’s a mixed bag, just like ISKCON. Yes, there are all manner of terrible things in this world: war, poverty, disease, madness, sexual abuse, racism, and all the rest. A thoughtful and sensitive person has to acknowledge that the world is a place pervaded by suffering and illusion. But in the midst of all that craziness and suffering there is good as well. There are people whose hearts contain benevolence and compassion and who try to relieve others of their pain, who sincerely come to the aid of those who are misunderstood, disadvantaged, persecuted and mistreated.

There are many who seek truth, meaning and beauty through artistic self-expression in music, art, dance, creative writing. There are many who devote themselves to spiritual practices of various sorts, who seek to become more aware, more sensitive, more enlightened, and who try to apply the truths they experience within their hearts in their daily lives. And there are people who are not focused on ambitious spiritual goals but who have a basic decency about them and who try, in the course of their lives, to be kind to their fellow humans.

Out here, beyond the gates of ISKCON, one encounters good people and bad (just as in ISKCON), generous and selfish people (just like ISKCON), sensitive and insensitive people (ditto), geniuses and fools (ditto), spiritual and unspiritual people (likewise) — and, of course, all combinations of the above. Seek and you will find people who are good and decent, who share your values, whose friendship will nourish and deepen you.

Once you step outside the gates of ISKCON you’ll discover that you are, simply, who you are. Whether you reside in a temple, at home or in a ditch, it’s the quality of your own consciousness that determines what sort of person you’re going to be and what sort of life you’re going to live. When you leave the temple, you will not suddenly fall to pieces and find yourself transformed into a wanton debauchee (unless you really wish to be so, in which case you’ll tire of that soon enough). You’ll neither become a demon nor go crazy. Nor will you need assume an attitude of uncritical acceptance of the world. It’s quite possible (believe me) to remain acutely aware of the limitations and imperfections of the world and maintain a creatively ambivalent relationship with it, while constructing a safe, sane, and meaningful space for yourself within it. It’s a project, to be sure, but quite do-able.

You will most likely not, by the way, end up pumping gas (in keeping with the oft-cited case, enthusiastically repeated in innumerable Bhagavatam classes, of one former sannyasi). Ex-ISKCON people are doing anything and everything, vocationally speaking, from collecting unemployment checks to running companies. Some are “successful” in life, materially speaking, and some aren’t. It runs the gamut.

Often, because Krishna consciousness provided a powerful and consuming sense of meaning and purpose, one may feel depressed when one leaves — temporarily let down from the considerable excitement entailed in attaining perfection and saving the world. But one finds reasons to get up in the morning other than to attend mangala-arti and sell Bhagavad-gitas or bumper stickers to uninterested karmis. One finds meaning and purpose (or many meanings and many purposes) in life, sooner or later, through alternative spiritual practices, through pursuit of personal interests, through career, through helping people, and through friendship and love (strange, isn’t it, how “friendship and love” is practically an obscene term in ISKCON?). Ex-devotees often find profound satisfaction in developing the kinds of deep, intimate, loving relationships that they missed as brahmacaris and brahmacarinis, or as married persons caught in unsatisfying, hierarchical, sexless (or sexually abusive) relationships.

There are also, by the way, parks to wander, trees to climb, sunsets to watch, friends to be made, lovers to love, places to visit, authors to read. There are films, concerts, art museums, lectures, camping trips, parties — and a myriad other interesting, engaging, edifying and enjoyable experiences to be had. A life to be lived.

So, I’ve said what I’ve wanted to say. Thanks for hearing me out. Let ISKCON, if it wishes, commission one of its intellectual or literary lights to respond to these reflections of mine with some impressively philosophical defense of the status quo. I really don’t care. I only wish that sincere devotees honestly consider what I’ve said here and decide for themselves whether or not it speaks to their own minds and hearts.

Though I’ve canceled my subscription to ISKCON’s view of reality, I am deeply and sincerely interested in Truth/truth, and feel confident that I have common ground with people in ISKCON who’s love of truth supersedes any automatic allegiance to doctrines and lines of authority. Whatever the sorry state of ISKCON, whatever dimness with which it reflects its potential glory, there are many good and decent people in the movement who seek answers to life’s most profound questions and who are serious about discovering and fulfilling their highest purpose in life. To all of them, I offer my respects and my friendship.

If any of what I’ve written here has meaning for you, makes sense to you, touches you in some way, then I hope you’ll feel free to write to me. I’d love to hear from you, to hear your thoughts, and I promise I’ll do my best to respond. You can reach me at the following address: [removed]. I look forward to hearing from you.

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  • http://vediclifeorder.wordpress.org Victor Ade-Davies

    It is very good, Steven, that you are able to bear out your mind in this forum. We have few things in common and thus your article found a space in my heart. However our moods and sentiments are quite different. Let me quickly say I’m also outside of ISKCON, but ISKCON as an institution with all its magerial problems, and not ISKCON spiritual. I served thirty years from (1982 – 2012) before I was booted out by hired thugs by one of the ISKCON leaders who could not tolerate my being critical of him for selling a Temple that took us many years to build.
    So I have experienced the good and the bad of ISKCON as an institution, but I was lucky to have had a Spiritual Master, HDG BHAKTI TIRTHA SWAMI, whose influence on me as a devotee gave me the firm faith and conviction that I still possess till today. I think for every searcher of the Truth, your foundation and the premises on which you build your faith is very important. The problems that you encountered in ISKCON exists everywhere. My Spiritual Master, mentioned this in many of his teachings, that whatever religion you belong you would find three categories of people; sincere practitioners, materially motivated practitioners and the prentenders.
    These are not his statement alone, Krishna already mentioned same in the Bhagavad Gita CH 7:3, that “Out of thousands among men one may endeavour for perfection, and of those who have attained perfection, hardly ones knows Him in truth.” Our reaction to our former religious adherents as Christians or whatever was of course justified, because besides Vedic teachings hardly do you get lucid explanation of the goal of life or what hapens after death anywhere. It is of course true that we might again experience some of the deceit, duplicity that characterized other religious institutions in ISKCON, but our devotional career or practices (sadhana) should definitely prepare us for such eventuality. How much you yourself endeavour to perfect your life with the devotional principles would help you to have compassion for those who struggled along the path and later couldn’t measure up. In reality Krishna consciousness taught me many things and one of those is the Bhagavad Gita’s verse in Ch 6: 32 “He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna.”
    I may not be able to profer answers to all the issues raised in your article, as I found that in most cases they are not so important. Why did I say that, take for instance, woman issue, or celibacy in ISKCON, these are similar problems in other religions and in some cases even worse. And talking about authoritarian leaders expecting you to just follow their line of thoughts or laid down dogmas, this is not a particularity of ISKCON either. And you are certaily right when you said all religions and system of believes behave mostly in the same way when it comes to presenting their culture and system of beliefs as supreme.
    Where ISKCON and its Founder Srila Prabhupada are different is that, they gave the world an alternative that we can consider, which was hitherto not known in the western world. The message of Bhagavad Gita, and the spectrum of Vedic teachings will give solace to any sincere seeker, irrespective of what the so-called practitioners do with it.
    In all your long diatribes at ISKCON, hardly did you ever mention or state anywhere that Krishna’s teachings or Vedic teachings were defective, apart from your statement about the Sun being closer to the Earth than the Moon. You albeit admitted that ” There was much in ISKCON that you found deeply meaningful and appealing” so I think you simply allowed your lower conscioussness to get the better of you.
    Anyway thank you for sharing and forgive me if I did not respond in the manner that you would like. It is just my own way of saying I was brutally kicked out of ISKCON by a Zonal GBC, but I have no regret for ever serving as a Krishna devotee in ISKCON. Now I have my own organisation, VEDIC LIFE ORDER or MISSION LA VIE VEDIQUE and still ISKCON friendly. I would not hold the society responsible for the fault of an individual, and over and above all I look toward Krishna for the reward of my spiritual activities. I Love Krishna, I love Srila Prabhupada, I love my Spiritual Master Sripad Bhakti Tirtha Swami and no one can ever take away the gift that they have bestowed on this soul.

    Though
    there was much in Krishna consciousness that I found deeply meaningful
    and appealing – See more at:
    http://iskcon.us/steven-gelberg/leaving-iskcon/#comments
    Though
    there was much in Krishna consciousness that I found deeply meaningful
    and appealing – See more at:
    http://iskcon.us/steven-gelberg/leaving-iskcon/#comments
    Though
    there was much in Krishna consciousness that I found deeply meaningful
    and appealing – See more at:
    http://iskcon.us/steven-gelberg/leaving-iskcon/#comments

  • Yuga Avatar Das

    Yes we can complain and find fault many times justifiably…However the basic problem for all of us is our own envy.Iskcon is simply a group of devotees trying to please their gurus,either siksa ,diksa ,mantra guru or the sweet devotee whom gave us the opportunity to hear about Krishna.However as the years roll along ,we must get serious about our own chanting /our own sadhana.We must learn the art of ”spoon feeding ”,like a young child….ourselves krishna conciousness.This is our true vocation,our real test,can we ourselves learn to see purity in others..?Can we become pure devotees..?We are meant to step up to the plate ourselves and lead ,encourage and enthuse others..!We are not meant to see the externals so much,we are meant to see the selflessness being exhibited daily by sincere bhaktas.The surrender and submission required for seniors actually gets more differcult to give as kalasamvara /krishna in the form of time moves us towards death and the natural change of bodies.Sadly man y seniors, many Prabhupada disciples ,have refused to stay progressive in many cases.They sadly become victims of mayadevi because they are not sincere today,Bhakti requires us to daily surrender ,every morning i wake up i must bow down to guru and gauranga.But when we refuse,when we are insincere,when we refuse to be fired up..!Like my superiors ,they themselves cannot adjust and reinvigorate their enthusiasm towards bhagavan/guru and gauranga then they bloop!.Bhakti /krishna conciousness is an intrinsic science which eventually we must inculcate and digest daily.In essence my simple message is that we are the problem, i see thousands of pure devotees in iskcon and in the gaudiya matha.But then i am progressive and i am finding daily more knowledge and deeper understandings to sustain myself.Back to basics ..we failed to be sincere today committed offences then krishna kicked us out..!Iskcon has over 400 temples worldwide ,just because the usa is struggling ,do not think we all are..!Last week in my temple we cooked a feast for two hundred devotee guests,but 700 turned up..!We have over 1000 devotees whom are chanting 16 rounds ,on feast days 500 – six hundred of these devotees turn up to enjoy our festivals and serve from outside..We have only 100,000 dollars left on our thirty million dollars mortgage left to pay,then we will hopefully do something really big for krishna to please him and his pure devotees…but it is own responsibility to learn the art of re-inventing our enthusiasm and unique sincerity ,not the society..?We are the solution or we are the problem..

  • Parasurama Das

    I could not have said it better myself. I agree with everything you said. I wish I had written your article, but I do not have the courage to publish it as you have. Leaving ISKCON physically was a very scary thing for me . I thought for sure that I would be struck-down at any time a bolt of lightening. For a couple of years, I lived around the ISKCON community in Alachua, FL. They did not seem to have the same problems as everywhere else. The U.S. ISKCON leaders should study this community as when I was there it was doing things right.
    Thanks For Your Insights

  • Gauranga

    Interesting article highlighting the various problems within the institution. When was it written? Sounds like in the 80s. Yes, then the institution was everything and devotees who didn’t live in the temple were considered to be in ‘maya’.

    However, since then things have moved on. Most devotees live now outside the temple walls and increasingly live outside the institutional walls too. This is a very much different life altogether but one doesn’t need to give up KC altogether. We are running our own Centre and ‘preach’, interact and share with those who attend in a sensitive, supportive, personal and compassionate way, avoiding all those pitfalls mentioned in the article.

    And we can, no overheads as the program is in our house, no cohesion for manpower as we don’t need to, just a free flow of sharing KC and realisations. Yes, it was hard at the beginning as the local ISKCON Centre gave us lots of trouble thinking we are competing with them. But over the years that has also died down.

    No Vyasasanas either, just listening to a class of Srila Prabhupada and discussing it afterwards. Such a simple program and everyone loves it. Most of all no politics because there is no position of power and no money.

    Regarding where are the pure devotees I personally don’t see any either and certainly not those who advertise themselves as such, in obvious or in subtle ways. But this is not surprising at all. Doesn’t Srila Prabhupada say in the Gita that if only one person becomes a pure devotee he sees all his endeavours of books, temples etc. a successful one. It is not a cheap thing and may take us many life times to get there. So what?

  • Gunavatar Das

    Iskcon is a tool, a mean, for developing relations with Krishna. Who care for all the faults in the world, if these relations are realized within the movement. It is said that a wise person can accept gold even if it comes from the Garbage. So, against all the faults, if Krishna is to be approached through the Holy Name, and the Holy Name is there in Iskcon, what are the weight of the faults? And since Iskcon is the tool given to us by Srila Prabhupada to approach Krishna and to give Him to the world as the saving grace for the world, let us work to purify the movement – from within.
    But if someone joins a perfect movement, but without this internal desire to attain Krishna, what is the point? And who cares even for a perfect, faultless movement, if it does not brings one closer to Krishna?
    But if one can find Krishna somewhere else, let him find Him there. His spiritual sincerity will be judged by his giving up the tendency to find these secondary faults in the movement.

    • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

      Well put. ISKCON is a tool. There are many tools in the shed. No one tools is right for all jobs.

  • Dhanya d.d.

    Wow, what a great article! Was it really written so many decades ago? Still so very spot on.

  • sbharath

    TO summarize Iskon is Christianity repackaged with Krishna of Vrindavan.

    • Lukáš Dohnal

      Or is it? … 😉

  • Hare Krishna dasa

    With all respect. I am Krisnna’s devotee for 1979, and also a I get my Ph D, like a researcher scholar, professor, author. I see the paper like a razionatation for excuse the falldow of this person. I cannot undertand how, I sincere Sri Krishna follwer can pass this very poor anti-bhakti testimoy here.

    • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

      Bhakti and ISKCON are not synonymous. Leaving ISKCON does not mean leaving the bhakti movement.

  • Sarvopama dasa

    If I go into the market place with a few pennies expecting to buy diamonds it should be no surprise if I can only come out with broken glass.

    Krishna Consciousness as realized by Srila Prabhupada is not a cheap thing. He asked us to go out every day and chant the Holy Name in public. For many that is too embarrassing and awkward. When he passed on in ’77 that came to a screeching halt. If I do a Vedabase search using the words “discharge semen”, there are over thirty different purports where Srila Prabhupada gives clear information indicating that it is not a recommended act. Sadly this is not taken very seriously in the Western world and as a result those who attempt to carry on with his bhakti yoga process have all kinds of unnecessary problems.

    I am convinced that these two developments are most deleterious and unfortunate. The vitiation of Srila Prabhupada’s mission is more threatened by these two problems than anything else.

    • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

      Perhaps we should consider whether repressing sexual energy is a greater evil than discharging semen. Sex is natural. Our bodies were designed for sex just as they were also gifted with a more refined brain. You can suppress sex just as you can suppress passing stool, but you can only do that for so long until you shit your pants.

  • Chelsea Winegarden

    Krishna says in the Gita not to drop everything and go into the forest. Do things honestly at your own level but do them for krishna and his devotees. So if you seriously have a hard time not having caffeine in the morning accept it and move on but know you can do better in he future. This guy is on the bodily platform. I feel no sexism in iskcon because I was given a female body and I honestly don’t want to do what men do/act like a man. Yes I cover my body up not because I’m ashamed but because I’m engaged and I respect my man/prabhu…also I don’t want nasty dudes giving me unwanted attention. Iskcon respects women by calling them mothers. Not like asshats in the street whistling and saying “hey babe”. This Sounds like he had a bad experience at 1 temple and generalized the whole philosophy.

    • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

      Not all women bodied people are mothers. Also, the term “mother” is on the bodily platform since it frames a person in terms of their bodily functions.

      Also, Srila Prabhupada has said many questionable things about women. Are you familiar? Please take time to read:

      One American woman, was…. She was speaking that “In India the woman are treated as slave. We don’t want.” So I told her that it is better to become slave of one person than to slave of become hundreds. (laughter) The woman must become a slave. So instead of becoming slaves of so many persons, it is better to remain satisfied, a slave of one person. So she was stopped. She was the secretary of that Dr. Misra. You know that? And our Vedic civilization says, nari-rupam pati-vratam: “The woman is beautiful when she remains as a slave to the husband.” That is the beauty, not the personal beauty. How much she has learned to remain as a slave to the husband, that is Vedic civilization.

      >>> Ref. VedaBase => Morning Walk — March 19, 1976, Mayapur

      • Lukáš Dohnal

        Frankly, I can’t help but thinking that the purely negative view of such claims stem from misunderstanding the meaning. I do not believe he meant what critics of this and similar statements think or propose he meant. However, I definitely agree that such a statement IS questionable. It should be natural that any sincere follower of Prabhupada would like to understand what Prabhupada says correctly, and thus to question his statements. Especially potentially disturbing statements like this one.

        • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

          Yes, we should question. There are more similar statements. I will be publishing them soon. For me, I’ve tried to understand Srila Prabhupada, and what I found is that he meant is exactly what it sounds like in the quote. I also found that a lot of devotees feel uncomfortable about these statements and try to explain away or put an interpretative spin on what Srila Prabhupada meant. In one famous quote Srila Prabhupada says that women enjoy getting raped. Some devotees claim that Srila Prabhupada did not really mean sexual assault. But Srila Prabhupada himself defined rape as sex without consent. So we have to have courage in our ability to discern what is what, and not consider any particular person to be infallible. Even though it’s part of the Vaishnava philosophy, I don’t consider the guru to be as good as God and free from material influence. Srila Prabhupada is the proof.

          • Lukáš Dohnal

            We are not infallible, so I’d be careful with such a definitive statement that “Prabhupāda is a proof that guru is not infallible”. If I think about what he himself said about the descending form of attaining knowledge (which – correct me if I’m wrong – is also part of vaiṣnava philosophy), we naturally always have to come to a point where we’ll disagree with a statement coming from a source we accept as authoritative. That’s where the level of faith in our source comes into question. May it be that the source is right in something even though we find it inconceivable how it could possibly be true? In this instance, might it be possible that women actually do enjoy being raped? Either not consciously, or at the time of the rape only, or that maybe he said it in a rhetorical way (“they dress like this, because they want to be raped.. no?”) or whatever? … Don’t take me wrong, I’m not saying he’s right on this, and neither am I putting up these “suggestions” as arguments for what he said to open a debate on it. My intention is only to point out that it might be possible our evaluation of him being wrong about something might be wrong. We are very limited beings. So, my conclusion based on this isn’t that we should blindly follow an authority because we can’t check anything, but that maybe we should be careful about making definitive judgements on such matter. There’s a world of possibilities, and vast majority is hidden beyond our limited human reasoning and perception.

          • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

            Sure, I could be wrong. But just because we could be wrong it doesn’t mean that we should not do our best to make the right decision with the available resources and faculties which are obviously flawed and limited.

            No matter what, we have to make a decision. That decision belongs to us. Even if you are repeating or following another person, it is your decision to repeat or follow a particular person.

            I accept my responsibility for my actions, and if I take guidance or consultation from someone, I take responsibility for making that decision.

            At some point when you have tried to see how a person might be right, and you still can’t see how they’re right, you’ve got to move forward and conclude that they are not right. And when you do, it’s very liberating.

            Could it be that later I may see otherwise? Sure. I give myself the permission to make a mistake. We all make mistakes. Fear of making mistakes is fear of growing. Mistakes are only truly mistakes if you don’t learn from them. Otherwise, “mistakes” are part of the process of learning of what doesn’t work.

            Perfect knowledge from a perfect source works great as long as you are capable of recognizing the perfect source. So how can we do that provided that our senses and abilities are limited? Can a blind person recognize others who can see? It’s a catch 22.

            Also, about tradition. You and I are part of the tradition. Tradition is not something that is to be curated like a stuffed animal in a museum. Tradition is to be embraced and lived. We are the tradition that will be transferred to the next generation. We can shape the tradition – and in order for the tradition to survive and be relevant, it has to be adapted. Just as an animal must adapt to new climate, so tradition must adapt to the present age.

          • Lukáš Dohnal

            Yes, I agree. We have to make decisions based on limited knowledge. The mental approach I prefer to stick to is that I try to be conscious of the fact that I can’t be sure of stuff (which prevents fanaticism and makes me very careful about making extreme decisions on uncertain knowledge grounds), and when I do have to decide, I approach it with this attitude => I do not know, but I have to do something so I will follow my best guess; I will have eyes open for indications that I might have been wrong though, and will try not to make definitive conclusions, as in “it’s-a-closed-case style”. I think this is what’s called “open mind”… Well regardless of how we call it, this is the approach that I prefer, and which weighs the least on my consciousness of intellectual honesty.

            So, so far it seems to be that we share the same viewpoint. However, in the case of Prabhupāda, I don’t feel any practical need to make such a definitive conclusion in my mind (as “I believe Prabhupāda meant it this way and it’s simply not true”). If I am not sure that it is so (and I am not), I feel no need to “close the case” in my mind in this way. You seem to have closed the case in this way with Prabhupāda. Is it because you are sure that you’re right about this, or because you felt a practical need to close the case (at least for the time being, until you are proven otherwise), even though you’re not completely sure? Or a different reason?

            “Perfect knowledge from a perfect source works great as long as you are capable of recognizing the perfect source. So how can we do that provided that our senses and abilities are limited?” That’s a question that I asked myself early in the days when I came into contact with Prabhupāda’s books for the first time. I faintly recall I even asked ISKCON devotee about it, and I think he said that ultimately there is no reliable, every-time working way to determine the right source, and being as it is, the only way this happens is via Kṛṣṇa’s mercy (his mercy, that he’ll make us put the faith in the right thing). Personally, I feel like this explanation is acceptable to me. Interestingly enough, it implies we don’t have free will if this is the case, obviously – meaning we can’t achieve anything simply by our own power. The only thing we might be “in charge of” in a “free will sense” is the desire of our soul (based on which Kṛṣṇa would arrange different scenarios for different souls). Or maybe we have no free will at all, even in this, and even our inner-most desires are created and granted to us by Kṛṣṇa. This would mean that we have no free will at all, and everything without exception – including this material world, it’s corruption, suffering, wars, and the epic story of the return of souls to Kṛṣṇa – is Kṛṣṇa’s līḷā, completely intentional and wanted in this way. … Personally I find this way of understanding it – even though probably far from being commonplace in vaiṣnava community – one of the few or maybe the only one that doesn’t contain apparent contradictions and non-sense. It also makes me quite content, strange as it might seem for our society which places excessive value on individual freedom.

            I agree with you on the tradition, though I’d like to point out that there’s a world of difference between adjusting the truths that are passed down from teacher to student, and between adjusting the way these truths are communicated and applied. I am searching for the Absolute Truth. If there is one, and if it’s knowledge is passed on through disciplic succession or some other mechanism, it is impossible and wrong to adjust this truth – because it would cease to be truth, since it’s absolute. However, on the other hand as I say I think it’s completely different if practical adjustments are made, which have nothing to do with the essence of the truth itself – be it how the truth is communicated, or how it’s portrayed, or whatever else that isn’t the truth itself. Those changes are natural, necessary, and beneficial. Even ISKCON indirectly agrees, with their talk of preaching according to time and place.

          • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

            I appreciate you writing, because it helps me think about where I stand on things.

            It’s true that I come across strong and perhaps sharp. But that doesn’t mean that I’m unable to reassess my views, and adjust them over time with new information and experience. So while some of my views on things you could say are shut, the door is not closed. If it were closed, then that would put me into a situation of where I would deny myself the opportunity to learn.

            We all make mistakes. We can learn from mistakes. There is no embarrassment or anything negative in making a mistake and then admitting and acknowledging when you have identified yourself as making one. When I see a person admit a mistake, my respect for them increases dramatically.

            About this part:

            >>My intention is only to point out that it might be possible our evaluation of him being wrong about something might be wrong. We are very limited beings.<>ultimately there is no reliable, every-time working way to determine the right source, and being as it is, the only way this happens is via Kṛṣṇa’s mercy (his mercy, that he’ll make us put the faith in the right thing). Personally, I feel like this explanation is acceptable to me.<<

            In my estimate, the danger of what you're presenting is the notion that because our senses and faculties are flawed and limited, that we ought to not draw conclusion and instead let things happen as they may – after all, Krishna is in control and if He wills then by His mercy you will be revealed what you need to know.

            This is not what anyone lives by anyway. If there is a woman being raped in front of you, you would not stand there and remain agnostic, thinking that your perception of the situation could be wrong and that therefore you should not draw conclusions and not do something about it. Perhaps you would wait for the police authorities to do something, but personally I would be like a freaking Superman. Any decent person would act.

            We all have shortcomings and limitations, and it doesn't mean that the lack of perfection means there is no point or use in trying to do our best with what we've got. If you want to have faith in Krishna, then have faith that Krishna has provided you with sufficient means in your current situation and that you will be provided more if you are a good stewart.

            It's just like the story where a person is drowning and a rescue ship comes to save them. And instead of accepting the ship the person refuses and drowns waiting for Krishna to personally come and rescue. So I see it just like that. You have a ship. Krishna has given you a mind and intelligence. Use it.

            The alternative which I'm putting forth is the notion that yes our senses are limited and flawed. We can recognize that to be the case and still use our abilities to make a decision that aligns with our view and perception of reality. What counts at the core is not whether our perception of the reality is accurate — but — *provided* what is our perception of reality, what are we going to do about it?

            Yes, you may be wrong that a woman is being raped. But provided that you are seeing and hearing that to be the case – what are you going to do? Are you going to implode into self-doubt, or will you stand up and do what you believe is the right thing?

            I believe in standing up for what you accept as right. Yes, you could be wrong. But so what? It's better to see through and apply what you believe than to privately hold on to one belief and in public act otherwise. No, let it out and be yourself. This is how you can test and trial beliefs – not by hiding them but by living them. This is personalism. Be fearless. To follow Srila Prabhupada means to be fearless.

          • Lukáš Dohnal

            I am glad you take this conversation in such a positive way. :-)

            I didn’t really mean that you decided not to ever re-assess your view on Prabhupāda, even if presented with conclusive evidence. What I meant was that you reached a conclusion about which you were sure enough to build upon it – for example in argumentation (“Prabhupāda wasn’t infallible because he said this, which is wrong and he did mean it this way”). However, I don’t consider this very important anymore, I think I understand it now well enough. You might just express the same level of certainty differently than me.

            I will now quote you, since I consider this philosophical issue to be complicated enough for me to easily lose track.

            “In my estimate, the danger of what you’re presenting is the notion that because our senses and faculties are flawed and limited, that we ought to not draw conclusion and instead let things happen as they may – after all, Krishna is in control and if He wills then by His mercy you will be revealed what you need to know.”

            This is a danger which is “fulfilled” only if Kṛṣṇa is not, in fact, in complete control. If this is the case, then we might act in a wrong way if we believe that he is in complete control; for example, we might be passive in a certain situation because we would believe we cannot influence the outcome. However, if Kṛṣṇa IS in complete control, it does not matter whether we will “try” or “make endeavour” to act in a certain way, since outcome is determined by Kṛṣṇa no matter what we try to “do” (of course, it might be very easy to perceive the world as being controllable by one’s INDEPENDENT will – I believe that would be by the effect of Krṣṇa’s illusory energy, which allows jīvas to live in an illusion of them being īśvara).

            “This is not what anyone lives by anyway. If there is a woman being raped in front of you, you would not stand there and remain agnostic, thinking that your perception of the situation could be wrong and that therefore you should not draw conclusions and not do something about it. Perhaps you would wait for the police authorities to do something, but personally I would be like a freaking Superman. Any decent person would act.”

            I completely agree. Any person would act (if we count even doing “nothing” as acting, for the purpose of what I want to explain). Any person would act in a way according to his nature. THIS I FIND TO BE THE IMPORTANT POINT. I do not dispute the existence of our will. We indeed do have a will, and it forces us to act in myriad different ways. I am simply suggesting that our nature, which makes us act in a specific way, is not under our control, neither did we create the nature. No, it’s already there. And yes, it is our will to act in accordance with this nature. But I am suggesting that we did not choose this nature in the first place. So, even though I consider this to be the most likely way of how things are, ironically it doesn’t and wouldn’t really change how I act. So, I didn’t really suggest I’d just be watching because “Krṣṇa controls”. No, I wouldn’t be. If we are little parcels of Kṛṣṇa, and I as a little parcel will save that woman, it fits my hypothesis perfectly well. I, a little parcel of Kṛṣṇa, a little part of his body, have saved the woman. I acted in this way because my nature (which is directly controlled by or which was created by Kṛṣṇa, so in other words – Kṛṣṇa) forced me to act like that. So, I have acted in accordance with my will, and yet it was under complete control of Kṛṣṇa. In this way, I do not see a contradiction.

            “We all have shortcomings and limitations, and it doesn’t mean that the lack of perfection means there is no point or use in trying to do our best with what we’ve got.”

            This is not at all what I meant. I definitely agree that lack of perfection does not imply inaction to be best (even inaction is a form of action anyway, as it happens in time and creates consequences – although it’s not that apparent to the conventional way of thinking as in the case of direct action). What I am saying is that we might be completely controlled. You said that “This is not what anyone lives by anyway.”. Yes, definitely, no one is sitting around watching women get raped or whatever. Everyone acts in a specific situation according to his nature. I just mean that this nature is controlled by Kṛṣṇa, and we as living beings who act according to this nature are like parts of the universal body of Kṛṣṇa. “Arjuna saw in that universal form unlimited mouths and unlimited eyes. It was all wondrous.” … “At that time Arjuna could see in the universal form of the Lord the unlimited expansions of the universe situated in one place although divided into many, many thousands.” … “Arjuna said: My dear Lord Krsna, I see assembled together in Your body all the demigods and various other living entities. I see Brahma sitting on the lotus flower asWELL as Lord Siva and many sages and divine serpents. O Lord of the universe, I see in Your universal body many, many forms–bellies, mouths, eyes–expanded without limit. There is no end, there is no beginning, and there is no middle to all this.”

            “It’s just like the story where a person is drowning and a rescue ship comes to save them. And instead of accepting the ship the person refuses and drowns waiting for Krishna to personally come and rescue.”

            I know this story well and I understand why you brought it up. The difference between what the person in the story expected and what do I propose is following: The person in the story expected personal form of God (or at least a “miracle”, with God making magic gestures and shouting magic formulas somewhere from heaven) to rescue him. What I propose is that the rescue ship (the people on it) was part of the universal body of Kṛṣṇa – his divine spark, same in quality, but differing in quantity. .. Which the person in the story didn’t realize, because he didn’t know about bhedābheda.

            “Even in Vaishnana philosophy, the aim is not Absolute Truth – the aim is to change from one illusion to another. To go from maha-maya to yoga-maya. So it’s all maya. Perhaps the illusion is in the belief of the Absolute Truth. As you know, to Mother Yasoda Krishna is a little boy who needs her to take care of Him. Is she wrong? Is she ignorant of the Absolute Truth? Yes, of course.”

            This is a very interesting way to describe it. I did not come across this before, thank you. :-) Well, for a limited being, it is impossible to perceive the Absolute Truth in it’s absoluteness and fullness. So we always have to “make do” with a “simplification”, a “representation” – and in this sense, “illusion”… Since we can’t directly, wholly and fully perceive the paraṃ brahman itself. Do I understand correctly?

            “Yes, you may be wrong that a woman is being raped. But provided that you are seeing and hearing that to be the case – what are you going to do? Are you going to implode into self-doubt, or will you stand up and do what you believe is the right thing?”

            I never meant to suggest I will not take action just because I am unsure of the state of things, if the situation requires taking such action for practical reasons. That’s why I wrote this in my previous post: “However, in the case of Prabhupāda, I don’t feel any practical need to make such a definitive conclusion in my mind (…)” “Practical need”.

            “I believe in standing up for what you accept as right. Yes, you could be wrong. But so what? It’s better to see through and apply what you believe than to privately hold on to one belief and in public act otherwise. No, let it out and be yourself. This is how you can test and trial beliefs – not by hiding them but by living them. This is personalism. Be fearless. To follow Srila Prabhupada means to be fearless.”

            So… Yes. :-) I believe I have explained my stance on this in the last paragraph. I do agree with you on this. The only case where I prefer to reserve forming a definitive (for the time being) opinion upon which I act is where I do not deem it practically necessary or practically important enough. … Very nicely said by you, … and frankly, this attitude which you mention is what slowly moves me towards the leap of faith that gaudīya-vaiṣnava path is for me.

          • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

            Either you believe we have free will or you don’t. There is no going back and forth between the two. We have free will. Krishna is not completely in control. You have the power to decide. You have the power to act. Your ability to decide and act may be limited, but within those limitations you have freedom. Take responsibility for your decisions and actions. You’re already accountable for them. Use your limited intelligence and faculties to make the best decision. Be sincere. Have the courage to be sincere. Lean forward. Krishna will see and help – of that there is no doubt.

          • Lukáš Dohnal

            I didn’t assume there’s some going back and forth between the two.

            I don’t agree with you that we have free will, and I have śāstric and rational arguments to support this claim. I was hoping for a discussion in this manner, but now you simply stated “it’s like this and this”, seemingly refusing to discuss the issue further in this way. Is that the case?

          • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

            If you don’t have free will, then how can you agree or disagree? Are you disagreeing because Krishna is forcing you to disagree?

          • Lukáš Dohnal

            Oh, I see the problem here.

            In fact, yes. I believe that my belief of pre-determination is pre-determined as well.

          • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

            If your belief is predetermined, then you must not really believe in what you say you do. You only “believe” in the sense that it has been thrust upon you.

            I’ll have to talk to the person who made this predetermination for you and see if I can have them change the belief predetermined for you. That seems like the most logical approach.

            If you did have free-will and could change your beliefs, what would change them to?

          • Lukáš Dohnal

            I agree, in a way. Let me put it this way… I believe that humans have “will”, which influences how they act, and thus partially influences reality around them. However, I do not believe this will is “free” (i.e. independent, exempt from the law of causality). In the same way, this is actually my belief. However, I did not reach that belief by accident, or by exercising my free, independent will to believe in this.

            Well then, you’d have to talk to Kṛṣṇa I suppose. But since I have heard numerous times that Kṛṣṇa is no show-off magician who will appear before you just because you want Him to prove to you that He really exists, in the same way it would be unlikely He will change my destiny just because you want to see a proof of determinism (if you were able to speak to Him and ask Him to do it in the first place, of course).

            That question is absurd in essence, if you accept my point of view. From my point of view, the idea of FREE will is absurd, impossible. If I was to answer you, I could think of many possible beliefs and their advantages.. But regardless of which one I would choose in this way, I would choose it based on certain influences which would determine that I’ll make that choice. Thus, the question of “what would you choose to believe if you had free will” is a bit absurd if you understand what I’m trying to say. However, if you are hell-bent on getting an answer for this question (I don’t want you to perceive as myself avoiding the question, even though it’s not so), I would give a general answer that I’d choose to believe a belief that would bring me permanent, perfect happiness. … This would hardly be a free-will decision, as such a decision to believe a belief is pre-determined by my desire not to suffer and to be happy (content). I mean, I can’t want to believe anything else, because that would not correspond with my desires. E.g., you can’t decide to change your will to “I want to cut off my leg now”, just because you decide that it will be your will. That is a simple experiment which I think clearly demonstrates the absence of FREE will (not will by itself).

          • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

            It’s a pickle isn’t it? The question. I was just curious to see what was the predetermined answer.

            So, just out of curiosity, what is the advantage of there being a middle person? Why would I not just cut the middle person out and speak to the source directly?

            I guess what I hear you saying it that you’re like a radio that transmits sound from afar. In that case, is there only one frequency or do you have a tuning knob?

          • Lukáš Dohnal

            Thought so. :)

            I’m afraid I got lost know. I don’t know what you’re talking about here. What middle person?

            Hmm, that’s an interesting analogy, though it unnecessarily presents 2 or more frequencies. I don’t see any reason for separating causes into different categories for the purpose of discussion of free will… Because regardless of whether the determining cause comes from source A or source B, it still remains a determining cause, thus excluding free will from the process. Also, I consider all that is to be the part of that one frequency (although coming in contact with different parts of the frequency has different results in the form of me being driven to different actions and thoughts), so I don’t even see a reason to present an influence external to the frequency received (e.g., a person coming over to the table on which the radio stands and turning the tuning knob). Or maybe I didn’t understand what idea were did you want to express by using that analogy…?

          • http://iskcon.us/ Alexander Shenkar

            If what you say and believe is predetermined, then you are like the mouthpiece of the predeterminator. You are like a hologram, a vehicle for carrying out a predetermined program.

            Well, I’m impressed, to be honest with you, and I’d like to meet this genius inventor pulling your strings. Where can I find your puppeteer?

          • Lukáš Dohnal

            You just made me laugh out loud behind the PC. 😀 Thanks!

            Not necessarily so, though. Imagine our existence in this world as a play in a theatre, or a movie in a cinema. There’s a director according to who’s will everything happens, precisely as he decided it will happen. In the movie or play, there can be a character that has certain opinions, which he voices in a particular scene, but that doesn’t mean the director shares the opinion of that character. … Or another option is that the director agrees, in a way, with what the character says, but only if he immerses in the movie and adopts that particular character’s point of view. This is how the director likely created the story anyway – a director has to be able to view stuff from various angles, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to create a thrilling story which leaves you wondering. But the fact that he is able to envision himself as different characters expressing different points of view makes him able to grant “life” to each of his characters – even if the character is an antagonist of the movie.

            If I adopted the “vaiṣṇava stance”, I’d say that my puppeteer is Kṛṣṇa. There is nothing but Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa is bhedābheda. Everything (the whole of the radio frequency parts of which I am able to perceive and act upon) is Kṛṣṇa. Yes, I am not a lifeless stone. But I don’t believe that the difference between me and stone is free will. I believe the difference between me and a stone is CONSCIOUSNESS. Stone is not conscious. Maybe if stone was conscious of his existence, and he started falling down a mountain thanks to an earthquake, he would think “oh hey look, I have freely decided to move in this direction!”. I believe that we mistake being conscious with having free will, being free. The sole fact that we are aware of what’s happening does not mean that we have control over it, even though it might create an illusion of us being the prime actor, the decisive factor of what will happen. When an event happens outside of minds (but mind you, still inside our individual consciousness), we mostly perceive the event as not being the result of our will. This feeling of our free will causing the event decreases with certain factors, like – for example – increasing distance of the event from us (e. g., you are more likely to think that you could have influenced a crash of your own house than a crash of a house in China). And when the event happens in our own mind, it often automatically feels like our free will. For example when a desire to paint a pretty picture emerges in your mind, you will think of this desire as “your free will” (“I want to paint a picture, I have freely independently decided that I want it”). .. Now that I think of it, the reason why people perceive such things to be their “free will” might be that there are many desires, which are unconscious, and when the desire transfers to our conscious mind, it feels to as as if the desire came into being at that point (instead of us just becoming conscious of the desire), thus we feel like we were the cause of the creation of that desire. That’s just a hypothesis though. Maybe we’d just better stick to whether our behavior is fully pre-determined by causes which we can’t choose, form, shape, control, etc. It’s a complicated topic, I’m not sure if I haven’t digressed more than I wanted. :B