Chakra Discussions

Banning Kirtanananda: a case of "spiritual racism"

by Didzis Melbiksis

Posted July 4, 2004

With due respect to ISKCON's right to regulate who is and who is not admissible to its temples worldwide, several questions must be raised concerning such policies. What is the aim of such exclusions? How compatible is it with Krishna conscious philosophy in general? How much is it compatible with commonly accepted values? How does it affect the public view of ISKCON?

It is not my business to try to answer these questions. Nevertheless, I have really hard time to keep my mouth shut when I see injustice taking place, wherever and whenever it happens.

Now, one might ask, where is it exactly that I see injustice here. What I'm talking about is the well-known example of Jagai and Madhai and their relation with Lord Nityananda. This is an example of perfect compassion and humility being shown without any discrimination. Shouldn't a person claiming to be a Vaishnava at least try to follow in the footsteps of such a great acharya as Lord Nityananda and practice forgiveness instead of refusal?

Unfortunately, the message from Executive Officers of the ISKCON North American Temple Presidents and GBC is just one example of how ISKCON is proving itself to be a society defined more by its exclusion of those who do not belong than by its inclusion of those who do. Another example of such exclusions is the treatment of Narayana Maharaja's disciples and followers. Even today, ISKCON doesn't have any formal procedure of becoming a member of the society, but at the same time it's enough, with a GBC resolution or similar decision coming from above, to expel somebody from ISKCON.

Neurobiologist and research psychologist Kenan Malik in his book Meaning of Race describes exactly this pattern of particularism as lying in the heart of all racial thinking. Well, dear devotees, who are the authors of this paper regarding Kirtanananda, if realization of such a connection doesn't get your hair standing up in horror, I feel true compassion for you and your state of mind and soul. Maybe you are praying to Krishna, asking Him not to let this criminal enter the spiritual world, no matter what he would do for his purification? If not, then why are you openly asking ISKCON temples, which are supposed to be embassies of the spiritual world, to deny entrance to Kirtanananda?

Of course, I am in no way intending that we have to mentally erase the past bad deeds of someone. The past is meant for learning; it certainly should be discussed and used for avoiding mistakes in the future. And what do we have to learn from the Kirtananda and New Vrindavan case? In my humble opinion, the very simple conclusion is that a closed and fanatical community (as New Vrindavan apparently was) is unhealthy from both sociological and spiritual points of view and, sooner or later, is going to collapse.

There is a very natural question to ask if Kirtananada would actually be expelled from any ISKCON temple's premises. The question is why. Because he has done something wrong in the past? Well, who hasn't? Because he has been in prison? So I guess now we have to check every visitor's record with Interpol, just to be sure. Because he is evil or demoniac? If you really dare to take the role of the perfect observer and put such a label on somebody, then, at least in my opinion, the person in question should be the first one to get some Vaishnava mercy. Kirtanananda should be allowed to freely enter any temple, and only if his behaviour is unacceptable can the question of prohibition measures be raised.

What we are wittnessing is some kind of pre-emptive strike to stop the guy before he really does something against us. What happened to the well known principle of a person being innocent until his guilt is proven? I really wonder who is next in this axis of evil. Maybe the USA can act as self-righteously in its foreign affairs as it does. Being the only military superpower in the world, it can more or less freely dictate the world order. ISKCON, in comparison, plays a much more minor role in the realm of religious organizations of today. Why, then, is ISKCON trying to follow in the footsteps of Bush administration by putting aside the very core of Vaishnava values (humility and mercy) and trying to apply some really demoniac and unjust ideas (like judging individual people or groups of people instead of their actions)? By dividing people in static groups and then judging which of these groups are to be excluded from participating in ISKCON's activities, ISKCON as a society is demonstrating what amounts to spiritual racism.

Whether such practices should continue till ISKCON collapses, is not my business. But I would really appreciate if those taking decisions would take their time, contemplate the questions raised here and re-evaluate ISKCON's policies. Otherwise someday they might be put in the position of those expelled (by the well-known law of karma hitting back). At least the door of my house will still be open for you, because, no matter how unadvanced in my spiritual life, I try to follow the example of my good friend Nataraj, and not some fingerpointing madman from Texas.

In the meantime, I hope to see some of those who feel responsibility for maintaining integrity inside the organization to refuse to apply the ban and, if possible, to voice their disgust regarding such racial policies being practiced in ISKCON.