When Leaving ISKCON Was Best
Posted June 6, 2006
Hundreds of miles from any ISKCON temple I had gone home to visit my family in a small all-American village that looks like a photo on a jigsaw puzzle. It was Radhastami 1996, and I was just leaving the grocery with items to prepare and offer to Srimati Radharani. My 90-year-old grandma just loves prasadam. As i was leaving the store, a woman stopped me and asked if I knew about Tulsi. She noticed my tulsi necklace and wondered if I was a Hare Krsna devotee or just a straightedge kid who wore Tulsi.
She was a magnificent middle-aged woman. I asked her if she knew Srila Prabhupada. Yes, she knew Srila Prabhupada. She began to tell me of the pastimes in Vrndavana and of how Srila Prabhupada had given her son cookies. I could tell by her relishing these pastimes that she was in pure bliss. After Srila Prabhupada left the planet things went bad in Vrndavana. Around 1978, I think, she left Vrndavana and left ISKCON never to return. Her name is Mary and her son is David.
Mary had lost all personal contact with devotees until that day. I told Mary that today was Radhastami and I had a feast prepared at my place. I asked if she would come back and take prasadam with my family and me. Sometime later Mary invited me to her home as well. Mary was active in her Christian church and sang in the choir. She loves to sing. She has kept the same apartment since she came home and has had the same job as well -- a very stable person.
I was a newer devotee and not familiar yet with the bad news of the past. When I went to visit Mary I was expecting a nice, pious woman in the mode of goodness. Instead I was startled by what I saw in her home: an altar for Srila Prabhupada, every BTG magazine ever printed, Srimad Bhagavatams. Her home was a temple frozen in time, as it should have been or may have been intended for grhasthas back in the late 1970s.
Now this is a surrendered disciple of Srila Prabhupada! Her heart had remained pure.
Our friendship carried on even after I returned back to the temple asrama after my holiday with family. It made going home much nicer. But Mary had a question she just had to know, so she asked: "Did I do the right thing by leaving ISKCON because I wanted a safe life for my son?"
My answer to her was: "Yes, you did the right thing."David was the most well-adjusted adult, having suffered no abuse at all. David had grown up with loving family members, a good church and a small community where everybody still knew their neighbors. David is the most brilliant, artistic and intelligent person to have ever been born in ISKCON (no offense to other gurukulis, just my own maternal affection at work). David does remember Srila Prabhupada with the fondest of memories.
All those years Mary was filled with remorse and regrets for having left. She lamented daily, thinking she was a horrible devotee never worthy of Bhakti because of it. She was haunted by this for 18 years. Was she a bad Vaishnava mother and wife? No, I do not believe so at all.
Ten years have passed since we met. My grandma is still alive and doing well in a nursing home. Grandma likes the nursing home because she has lots of friends there and would not consider living with any of her children or grandchildren. We are doubting the year of Grandma's birth; could she be 100 years old already?
Mary stops in to visit my Grandma. My grandma then remembers me and all that prasadam. Grandma remembers the Blue God and also sports a tulsi necklace I made for her. My Grandma grew up with Mary's elders.The whole town knows each other. Today I have over 30 cousins and second cousins still living in that town. That makes us descendants of the coal miners of a previous era.
So that also makes Mary and me related, as our ancestors came from the
same place.Our ancestors founded that village and our family names
continue -- as does Krsna consciousness.