Spiritual Abuse
by Subhadra-Mayi dasi
Posted December 17, 2002

At first sight, the term "spiritual abuse" seems odd, misplaced. Definitely not us.

Or is it? Is ISKCON free from controlling, dominating, and manipulating its members? No, say some, but it's for the protection of the devotees in general.

Does that mean ISKCON members are incapable of thinking for themselves? Wasn't that what Prabhupada wanted? Independently thoughtful people? The fact is that the persons being controlled and manipulated lose their self-respect. They become fearful and lose their ability to stand up against the manipulation, because if they do, they become branded. They are either called a feminist (pronouced with a spit by many) or they are accused of being in maya. Their faith in Prabhupada gets attacked, they get labeled as disloyal. They become the subject of ridicule, or worse.

So many devotees have low self-esteem. Is this what Krishna Consciousness produces?

No! It's what those who preach in the name of so-called Krishna Consciousness produce! We have become so used to it that those not directly affected don't see the harm anymore, and those who do see it turn a blind eye. Those directly affected give up fighting against a brick wall, and are happy to leave the institutional setting and worship in their own way, most for a very good reason.

Do you truly feel good when you visit temples? Do you question your own Krishna Consciousness? Do you check others'? In your eyes, are the GBC laws equated as coming from Krishna? Is your seriousness in spiritual life linked to the extent that you follow all the laws? Are exterior appearances linked to your dedication? Do you still feel the initial happiness that you felt when you first came into contact with Krishna Consciousness, or has that enthusiasm been replaced with low self-esteem, shame, and discomfort? Do you feel uplifted after all classes, or do some speakers make you feel beaten down or depressed?

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, it means that Prabhupada's house isn't what it was meant to be.

That I ask these questions may be seen as a sign of rebellion or maya. It may prove, to some, my lack of sincerity. But to the contrary, I happen to care a lot about the house which Prabhupada built. The house in which the whole world can live in.

Well, can the whole world live in it? No. There's no place for intelligent women, no place for children, no place for responsible men who provide for their families, no place for brahmacaries who choose to be gentlemen, no place for the honest, and no place for those with integrity, it seems!

If there was a place for all these devotees of Krishna, nobody would have allowed the abuse of women and children. Men would be given opportunities to provide amply for their family without being branded as being insincere or not fully dedicated to the mission. Brahmacaries who use their manners wouldn't be frowned upon or made fun of.

Those who demand acknowledgement and atonement for these problems get cast off as vaishnava aparadhis. That way, things will never change. Resentment continues to build up, which ruins devotees' material and spiritual lives, and in the end, what will be left of Srila Prabhupada's house? A bunch of fanatics who try to hold the empty fortress together -- with what? Their egos, their perceptions that they must be the sincere ones, since they are the only ones left? Let us not allow that to happen!

One may say that a lot of good gets done by ISKCON. That is true, but that doesn't give anyone the right to dismiss all the harm ISKCON causes too, particularly to its own members. Don't we owe it to Srila Prabhupada to not let his house go to ruin? Don't we owe it to him to keep his house in constant repair and even make it more glorious then it already was? Wouldn't he be proud? Let us please address these things, not just in small conferences or between friends but on every level. I'm dreaming of the day that I'll hear that new devotees don't get preached to anymore about how inferior woman are, or that Prabhupada's words have been twisted to imply that one should not even be in the same room with his mother, or else there will be a risk of falldown. The devotees who preach these kind of things should not be in the position of teaching others -- they belong in institution where they get help.

It's sickening how Prabhupada's words get twisted to these concepts. I dream of the day where a system is in place that protects the children of this movement instead of protecting paedophiles in fear of commiting 'vaishnava aparadha.' Why aren't new devotees checked on their criminal records? Anyone can pose as a sincere bhakta, join the temple and be free to commit hideous acts. Why are the perpetrators protected? Why aren't they turned over to the authorities? Is it really vaishnava behaviour to protect those people instead of the children and abused woman?

I dream of the day that the focus of the brahmacari ashram is Krishna, rather then the focus being the intelligence of women. It seems they can only feel secure in their way of life when they put others down. Otherwise why would it be such a matter of interest? Is it necessary? Moreover, is it normal?

I dream of the day that all devotees have manners, just like Prabhupada had. Impeccable manners. I dream of the day where classes are about Krishna and His instructions, where class doesn't get used for personal propaganda against a certain class of devotees. Prabhupada never mentioned anything demeaning in his classes simply because he knew that nobody would protest. Prabhupada didn't think in a demeaning way in the first place. Can you say that for classes now?

I have so many dreams. For now ISKCON is run as a dictatorship. If one says something that isn't liked by the authorities, you're harrased away, branded, etc. For now nobody takes ownership for all the problems. It's laziness, it's not caring for what Prabhupada's house is meant to be.

"Laziness," you may say, "that's a big word! Don't so many senior devotees in charge of ISKCON open temples, etc."

Yes maybe, but what's the use? They're merely expanding a dysfunctional movement -- if you can still call it movement? Wouldn't it be better to solve this whole mess? If that gets done, all those devotees who have left over the years may come back. ISKCON would attract intelligent people. ISKCON would flourish beyond imagination.

But new GBC laws won't do the job. These things must be tackled at the core. From the bhakta program to the way interactions take place in the GBC conference room, there's just no respect for each other as fellow vaishnavas. Really, the women and children of this movement aren't out to destroy anyone's spiritual life, so stop perceiving us this way. All we want to do is have a place in Prabhupada's movement where we all can contribute to our fullest capabilities. And we really are smart enough to figure out for ourselves what our capabilities are, rather than having someone throw sastric quotes at us, telling us that we don't have certain qualifications. Honestly, we can figure it out ourselves! Give us a chance. You may be amazed.