GBC Issues Policy Against Swami B. V. Tripurari|
by Madan Gopal dasa
Posted September 17, 2012
Over the years many of my friends have asked me who Swami Tripurari is, what his relationship is with ISKCON and with ISKCON's founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada, and furthermore, how ISKCON devotees should relate to him. Though I have more often than not had to sort through various misconceptions about these issues, I've generally walked away satisfied, being able to clarify them for open minded devotees. I've been able to carry on as usual, in the association of ISKCON devotees, at ISKCON temples, and serving shoulder to shoulder in long-term relationships I've had since the time of my spiritual birth in the ISKCON movement some twenty-two years ago. The root of confusion about who Tripurari Maharaja is has usually been misinformation passed along word of mouth in everyday conversation. Sadly, there have also been direct malicious attacks on Tripurari Swami's character.
Most recently, the North American GBC of ISKCON issued a policy forbidding ISKCON members to associate with, host, or hear from Tripurari Swami and restricting Tripurari Swami's disciples from serving in ISKCON temples, in effect driving a wedge between friends, families, and other long-term relationships by artificially dividing between "us and them." Because the language of the policy spreads misconceptions and at times outright lies about Tripurari Swami, I feel it most important to respond to its charges in defense of Maharaja's wonderful devotional character and because I value the relationships that I have with ISKCON devotees. I know that many of us prefer to avoid these politically charged discussions in our pursuit of spiritual life, but I beg your attention to hearing me out in the spirit of "satyam eva jayate," allowing the truth to prevail. I do not seek to share my faith in Tripurari Swami or to bring anyone from one "camp" to another, but rather only to inform the public and by consequence lessen the burden of offensive attitudes, which spread by misinformation.
Below I have included the North American GBC's policy statement interspersed with my responses. Accompanying the policy statement are several appendices worth of "evidence" to support the points they have summarized. To include each of the appendices here would make this article very long and so I have distilled and commented on the points the appendices are used to support. A PDF of the policy letter below and all of the appendices in full can be viewed here: http://harmonist.us/wp-content/uploads/gbc-policy.pdf
North American GBC Policy Letter Regarding Tripurari Swami
June 12th, 2012
Dear North American leaders and fellow ISKCON devotees,
Please accept our humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Having received reports of a long pattern of troubling actions and comments by H. H. Tripurari Swami, the North American GBC has been obliged to draw up this position paper. The purpose is to establish a policy for ISKCON North America leaders and members. We hope that clarifying the relevant issues and establishing clear guidelines will reduce any tensions between Tripurari Swami and ISKCON.
To help understand the need for this position paper, we here present a list of those actions and comments by Tripurari Swami that have brought us to this point.
1. Leaving ISKCON
Tripurari Maharaja has left ISKCON. This is his own declaration.
(See appendix A)
Madan Gopal response:
Appendix A references a few quotes of Tripurari Swami regarding his relationship with ISKCON. As we will see, the GBC has taken these quotes out of context and highlighted them to portray Tripurari Swami as having an anti-ISKCON agenda. It is also notable that quotes from a "taped discussion in 1995″ are used several times in the policy and a quick internet search reveals that the GBC excerpted them from a similarly contextless attempt at defaming Tripurari Maharaja; an article written by Udayananda das in 2006. It is apparent from this that the GBC have not taken the care to research their information, or better yet to ask Tripurari Swami directly for a statement about his relationship with ISKCON. Rather, they have resorted to third-hand information from an unreliable source. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" is a strategy for political conquest, not Vaishnava relationships. Though they say they are "obliged" to write this position paper, these tactics are tell-tale signs of propaganda, not truth-seeking.
The lack of context for the rest of the quotes in Appendix A are telling. For example, the first quote referenced as evidence sounds quite reasonable:
…I have encouraged devotees to leave ISKCON at times. But I have also encouraged devotees to remain in ISKCON at times. For some it may be better to leave, and if they wish to follow their particular conscience they should do so.
Tripurari Maharaja advises some people to leave Iskcon, some to stay, based on what will be best for them. This quote was taken from an email forum for Prabhupada's disciples and was also used by Badrinarayan dasa in an email campaign against Tripurari Maharaja last November. I cannot reproduce the whole discussion that was going on, but here is a sentence from the very same paragraph that lends some context to this "evidence":
Furthermore in my mind leaving Iskcon and being its well wisher are not mutually exclusive. I continue to help Iskcon devotees every day. Many of them write me and ask me philosophical and practical questions and I take the time to answer them. I am not on a campaign against Iskcon and I recognize the many good things the sect is doing.
Obviously the GBC did not give the recipients of the policy the whole story, or all the "evidence" with which to come to judgment about Tripurari Swami's non-involvement in ISKCON. As I will discuss later in this article, Tripurari Swami's break with ISKCON some twenty-seven years ago, when seen in context, is much more complicated and yet understandable than the GBC tries to gloss over in this policy statement.
GBC policy continued:
2. Rejecting Srila Prabhupada as his preeminent instructing spiritual master
The members of ISKCON accept and revere Srila Prabhupada as the Society's Founder-Acharya. This means that for us, he is the link with the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya, and that his siddhanta, standards, and practices remain the permanent and irreplaceable basis for all subsequent teachings and activities of ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada must always remain the preeminent instructing spiritual master for all devotees in ISKCON. His position is unique.
Tripurari Swami does not accept this standard. Rather, he presents Srila Prabhupada as one among a number of Gaudiya authorities, among whom he can pick and choose to follow on a particular principle or practice. (See appendix B)
Madan Gopal response:
This second charge is the most offensive and inflammatory charge of the policy, and the GBC supports it with the least amount of "evidence", and flimsy evidence at that. What this charge highlights though is very important to consider.
Firstly, the GBC's claim that Tripurari Maharaja rejected Prabhupada as his pre-eminent siksa guru is illogical, confused, and impossible for them to verify. Tripurari Maharaja accepted siksa from Prabhupada throughout Prabhupada's time here, and siksa leads to diksa—of which Maharaja received three initiations from Prabhupada. Obviously from his diksa by Prabhupada, Maharaja accepted Prabhupada as his siksa guru as well.
The fact that Tripurari Swami also accepts Pujyapda Sridhara Deva Goswami as his siksa guru does not lessen his adherence to the siksa of Srila Prabhupada. Indeed, it was Srila Prabhupada who suggested that his disciples could accept Sridhara Maharaja as their siksa guru. Tripurari Swami holds both of his gurus in the highest regard, and you will never hear him relegate either siksa or diksa guru to a lower position. As Prabhupada explains in his Caitanya Caritamrita purport on guru-tattva; siksa and diksa gurus are equal manifestations of Krishna. (C.C. Adi 1.34)
In today's ISKCON, acceptance of a siksa guru within the society is acceptable and even encouraged. Tripurari Swami accepted a siksa guru in Srila B. R. Sridhara Maharaja almost 30 years ago, after Srila Prabhupada left for the nitya-lila. What is curious is that anyone with the slightest familiarity with ISKCON history knows what an incredibly conflictual and confused time the early 1980′s were for ISKCON. So many devotees were looking for spiritual guidance and on Prabhupada's own recommendation theAcaryas and GBCs had approached Sridhara Maharaja for assistance. Prabhupada's recommendation to go to Sridhara Maharaja was not in any way ambiguous. Indeed, we can see it repeated by the GBC members themselves on their first meeting with Sridhara Maharaja in March of 1978:
Jayapataka Maharaja: "After the departure of our beloved spiritual master we came to offer our respects to you as well as to hear your very esteemed upadesa on certain matters if you would be kind enough… He (Prabhupada) has given explicit desires, but he told us that, on other technical points and other matters of philosophy, if there was question we should approach you." (March, 1978)
Several years later when the GBC's relationship with Sridhara Maharaja deteriorated and turned into a campaign of aparadha against him, many devotees, including Tripurari Swami, were given a choice by the 1980′s ISKCON leadership: give up Sridhara Maharaja as your siksa guru, or leave ISKCON. When given a choice between a spiritually potent siksa guru with 60 years experience versus an ISKCON leadership with hardly a decade of experience and fraught with political in-fighting, the spiritual substance of Srila Sridhara Maharaja was obvious. How unfortunate it is that the mandates of misguided people in positions of ISKCON authority 30 years ago (most of whom are no longer practicing devotees) continue to set the agenda for ISKCON's relationship with other Gaudiya missions in the present day! Resolutions against Srila Sridhara Maharaja and the many disciples of Prabhupada who sought his siksaare still on the ISKCON law books and influence policy decisions like the one being discussed in this article.
Finally, while the GBC attempts to make the case that Tripurari Swami does not hold Prabhupada in prominence, people who are familiar with Tripurari Swami's preaching and his internal life understand how vitally important Prabhupada's role really is to this disciple of his. Quite to the contrary of the GBC's assessment, Tripurari Swami often points out the debt that any western follower of any Vaishnavasampradaya has to Srila Prabhupada's valiant preaching efforts. To question the faith of a disciple who has for 40 years followed Prabhupada loyally in both preaching and internal pursuit is most offensive.
GBC policy continued
3. Violation of Vaisnava etiquette regarding re-initiations
It is a well-established principle of Vaisnava etiquette that one does not "re-initiate" disciples of a Vaisnava guru who is in good standing. If beseeched by an aspiring initiate, one must at a bare minimum first receive the permission and blessing of the disciple's guru. (See appendices C and D)
Tripurari Swami has violated this principle of Vaisnava etiquette.
(See appendix E)
Madan Gopal response:
In any case of an ISKCON guru's disciples seeking initiation, Tripurari Maharaja, out of courtesy, has followed the etiquette that the GBC recommends herein. Tripurari Swami has been approached many times by members of ISKCON who have for one reason or another lost faith in their ISKCON guru, have been mistreated in the institution, have not had their faith in siksa outside of ISKCON honored, or have grown to understand guru-tattva outside of ISKCON's perspective. As these are not reasons for giving up Gaudiya Vaishnavism altogether, Tripurari Swami does the needful and cares for those who bring their faith to him. These are difficult issues for any preacher to navigate, but Tripurari Swami always honors the principle of divine faith first and foremost. It should be noted that Tripurari Swami has many siksadisciples who are initiated by ISKCON gurus and there is no question of re-initiation. Both Tripurari Swami and the ISKCON guru honor the faith of the disciple and the progress of the student continues as it should. As will be noted below, the GBC's evidences for Tripurari Swami violating Vaishnava etiquette in regard to reinitiation are either completely false or far more intricate than the policy indicates.
The first example of reinitiation of one of Indrayumna Swami's disciples has been researched and is entirely false. Tripurari Maharaja and his disciples in the area in question have confirmed that this did not happen. In stark contrast to this false claim, Indrayumna Swami just last year very sweetly encouraged one of his harinama (first initiated) disciples to accept diksa ("second" initiation) from Tripurari Maharaja. Here is his wonderful letter in this regard:
My dear _________,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Thank you for your letter and for revealing your heart to me. Actually, I was just thinking of you yesterday – and now your letter has arrived.
I have no objection if you accept 2nd initiation from HH Tripurari Swami. You have my full blessings to do so. I am well aware how much he has inspired you and your husband in your spiritual lives. I am happy that you feel so inspired in devotional service as a result of his guidance. My only desire is that you make nice progress towards life's ultimate goal. If you feel that Maharaja can help provide that for you, then by all means take shelter of his lotus feet. I would like to think that with me on your left side, and Maharaja on your right side, you will attain Goloka Vrindavan in this lifetime. Please do keep in touch with me. I would like to hear from you once or twice a year. Just share with me your experiences and realizations in devotional service.
Please offer my obeisances to Maharaja and my respects to your good husband.
Your ever well wisher,
These are the beautiful kind of dealings that gurus should be having with their disciples. Indradyumna Maharaja is honoring divine faith, which is the fuel of progress in bhakti. Tripurari Maharaja similarly honors the faith of his own disciples should they find inspiration elsewhere. Faith is not a doormat, something to try to manage or control.
In the case of Trivikrama Swami (example 2), when his disciples approached Tripurari Maharaja for siksa, Tripurari Maharaja referred them back to their ISKCON guru for blessings and they were told that if they took siksa from Tripurari Maharaja they would have to leave ISKCON and Trivikrama Swami would reject them. This experience was recounted to Tripurari Maharaja and verified by others. Therefore these disciples were left without shelter. If Trivikrama Swami had permitted his disciples to hear from Tripurari Maharaja, there would have been no need to put the disciples in that awkward position. As explained above, Tripurari Maharaja has many siksa disciples who are initiated disciples of ISKCON gurus and for whom there is not a question of reinitiation. Many ISKCON gurus have graciously and correctly encouraged their disciples that it is okay to hear from Tripurari Maharaja as a supplement to their practice. This has not been a problem. The current GBC policy will make these cordial relationships much more difficult and only increase misunderstandings.
Example three from Appendix E mentions the case of a harinama disciple of an ISKCON guru receiving "second" initiation from Tripurari Swami. This is not "re-initiation." Having one harinam guru and anotherdiksa (second initiation) guru is not against our tradition or etiquette, and the disciple in question honors both of her gurus. I know of similar cases in ISKCON where the disciple accepted diksa from a different ISKCON guru. In fact, Srila Prabhupada set the example in this regard when he recommended aharinama disciple of his to accept diksa from one of his godbrothers.
If you want to take initiation from Madhava Goswami Maharaja, I have no objection. (Letter to Asita, 1/10/75)
Prabhupada also wrote to Madhava Maharaja:
I understand from the letter of Asita das that he has gone to your place in Jagannatha Puri. He has asked permission from me for taking initiation from you. I have given my permission and you can initiate him if you like so that he may increase his devotional service there." (Letter to Madhava Maharaja, 1/14/75)
GBC policy continued:
4. Standards and practices different from those of Srila Prabhupada
Tripurari Swami requires a different, less strict standard for initiation vows. (See appendix F)
Madan Gopal response:
There are many differences in details between how individual gurus make the practice of sadhana-bhakti most effective for individual disciples. Prabhupada also made many adjustments, just one being his reduction of the number of rounds required in chanting japa from 64 to 16. I also know of many adjustments made by ISKCON gurus today. Such is the duty of the acarya, the guru. The guru has to make the practice relevant for the disciple, and this may vary according to individual circumstances.
There is a difference between details and principles in the practice of Krishna consciousness. Principles are not to be changed. Whereas details of how those principles are pursued and by which practices, are made relevant by current acaryas and gurus. These details serve to help establish the relationship between guru and disciple and need not be an arena for discussion by anyone else but these two.
In Tripurari Swami's role as an acarya and guru in the parampara, he considers, in consultation with prospective disciples, how they will best advance through their practice of sadhana-bhakti. This does not mean the vows or number of rounds agreed upon are "less strict" than ISKCON's. As a matter of fact, sometimes they are more strict. Some initiates based on status in life or ability to honor their vow agree to chant more than 16 rounds of harinama, while some chant less and many others simply chant 16 rounds. After all, if the disciple is unable to follow the instructions of the guru given to them at initiation, they will be guilty of the offense of neglecting the orders of their guru. Srila Prabhupada makes this clear in his Nectar of Devotion:
In the Naradiya Purana it is directed, "One should not accept more than necessary if he is serious about discharging devotional service." The purport is that one should not neglect following the principles of devotional service, nor should one accept the rulings of devotional service which are more than what he can easily perform. For example, it may be said that one should chant the Hare Krsna mantra at least one hundred thousand times daily on his beads. But if this is not possible, then one must minimize his chanting according to his own capacity. . . . He must be sure to keep his vow. If he does not strictly follow this out, then he is sure to be negligent. That is offensive in the service of the Lord. If we encourage offenses, we shall not be able to make progress in devotional service. It is better if one fixes up a regulative principle according to his own ability and then follows that vow without fail. That will make him advanced in spiritual life.
The underlying basis of Tripurari Swami's instructions and requirements of his initiated disciples is an attention to and honoring of their faith and their individual circumstances. This is a very personal and endearing system that I would suggest makes for a very strong bond between the guru and disciple.
GBC policy continued:
SUMMARY: Position and Policy
Srila Prabhupada labored long and hard to design ISKCON as a great transcendental boat. He believed that it was fully able to carry those who take shelter of it across the ocean of the material world to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. The planks, the sails, the rigging, and the charts of Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON boat are his standards, his mood of devotion, his instructions, and his system of organization. Thus, out of duty, to help assure that the elements set in place by Srila Prabhupada remain intact, the North American GBC is obliged to establish the following policy.
Temple presidents and congregational leaders are directed to not promote or host Tripurari Swami.ISKCON devotees in general are requested to not promote or host Tripurari Swami. Tripurari Swami has his own society. As per international GBC resolutions, those who want to hear from, follow, and promote Tripurari Swami are advised to serve in his society, not ISKCON. (See appendix G) Likewise, ISKCON's policy regarding those initiated by a spiritual master outside ISKCON—including those initiated by Tripurari Swami—is that they should serve in the mission of their initiating spiritual master. (See appendix G)
Madan Gopal response:
To be very clear, Tripurari Swami's disciples do not use ISKCON facilities to promote him. ISKCON temples are supposed to be places of seva, and so when we followers of Tripurari Maharaja go to them, we are interested in rendering seva; singing kirtan to Prabhupada, Mahaprabhu, and Krishna, worshipping the deities, speaking on the siddhanta, and associating with the devotees. On Tripurari Swami's own direction, we don't have any other business there and don't use the temples for politics. We have many relationships with ISKCON devotees and many of us attend ISKCON temples without any incident. There are also many of Prabhupada's own disciples inspired by Tripurari Maharaja who are also members of ISKCON in good standing and render service within ISKCON. It is very much their right to continue doing their service to their spiritual master, as it is also their right to follow their heart and accept siksa from their godbrother.
GBC policy continued:
The North American GBC does not like being in this position. There is no short-age of conditioned souls eager to hear Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's message, and the world is full of ripe fields to spread that message. Lord Gauranga has given all of us His sweeping mandate:
prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama
"In every town and village, the chanting of My name will be heard."
As fellow followers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and our previous acharyas, we pray that the seva of ISKCON and of Tripurari Swami may continue to bring benediction to the forgetful jivas of this age. At the same time, experience tells us that it will benefit us all, help us all avoid Vaisnava aparadha, and protect Srila Prabhupada's position in and standards for his Society, if ISKCON and Tripurari Swami spread Krishna consciousness each in our own specific and separate ways.
The North America GBC Executive committee
Contact: Nityananda dasa / NA GBC executive committee chair
Madan Gopal response:
I hope it is clear that the North American GBC does not need to be in this position. As fellow followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, our previous acaryas, and Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON and Tripurari Swami's mission could be serving Mahaprabhu's sweeping mandate arm in arm. Though there may be some differences in details between our two missions, there is no good reason why the two cannot continue to work cooperatively. We have a record of doing that for many years without incident, most notably in North Carolina where the local GBC does not oppose our co-existence with the ISKCON community and temple. Unfortunately, it seems that elements of the North American GBC and perhaps other ISKCON leaders are determined to see that a divide is created and widened. We also know that the policy, although officially an action of the North American GBC, has already made its way to Europe, essentially making it an international policy. When this policy was originally conceived of by the GBC, they planned on releasing it to ISKCON temple presidents without notifying Tripurari Swami. It was ISKCON devotees who intervened and asked that the GBC show the courtesy to Tripurari Swami by informing him of the planned release of this policy. Despite many attempts on our part, the GBC ignored our requests for communication and decided to release this policy in the current form. It seems the only reasonable way to interpret this action is to conclude that the North American GBC is insincere in their claim of regret for "being in this position."
In conclusion, I would like to offer my heartfelt apologies if my discussion of this subject has caused disturbance to your spiritual practice. I cherish my relationships with my devotee friends and family, and yet our loving relationships must grow from a well-informed foundation. I pray that I have helped to clarify some issues and look forward to progressing towards our goal of prema-purusartha in your association.
Report From the GBC's Strategic Planning Outreach Committee|
by Kaisori dasi
Posted May 25, 2011
I don't think anyone in ISKCON doubts the importance Srila Prabhupada gave to preaching. Like his own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada considered preaching - or outreach, as we tend to call it these days - proof that ISKCON was alive and well. "Preaching is our real business, preaching and distributing books. If your preaching work is strong, then your management of temple affairs will also become automatically very strong. Just like if the head wills it, the hand will move. Preaching is like the head of our KC Society - if the head is removed, the whole body dies." (Letter, December 8, 1971)
In the 1970s and '80s and following Srila Prabhupada's instructions and lead, ISKCON distributed millions of Srila Prabhupada's books. Harinama parties went out regularly. University programs were thriving in many places. Devotees were encouraged to bring people to the temples, and Sunday feasts were usually well attended.
Then the strong focus on preaching largely abated, although, of course, devotees have continued to preach. ISKCON has had internal work to do. Devotees have moved out of temples and had little time for active preaching, while those who remained were largely engaged in temple maintenance. As the congregation grew the preaching changed too, with less emphasis on "shaving people up" and more on the kind of education and encouragement that would support people becoming and remaining devotees at home. It has taken ISKCON time, collectively and individually, to absorb these changes.
In the meantime, the society around ISKCON has also changed. ISKCON, once the sole purveyor of Gaudiya Vaisnavism in the West, no longer holds that position. The yoga movement is burgeoning. People can now go to their local yoga center for a kirtana. Google and Facebook have changed the way people ask and get answers to their questions and participate in spiritual communities.
Given all this, it's essential that ISKCON examine strategically how to deliver Srila Prabhupada's pure message, using the preaching methods he gave us, in a way that is accessible to the people of our times, who, while having the same needs as any conditioned soul, are different from the people of Srila Prabhupada's time.
The Outreach Committee has one of the more difficult jobs among the strategic planning initiatives because it has to somehow accommodate the many possibilities the word "preaching" conjures under one roof. So it has been forced to start with essentials. Therefore, the Committee has decided on a first step: to help devotees and temples study their internal and external environments and determine what types of outreach will work best for them.
Bhakti Vinoda Swami, head of the Committee, explains: "Outreach means how well we are sending out our message to the conditioned souls. How efficient are we at that? Our first step in the Outreach Committee is to create a measurement of effectiveness - what I am calling an 'outreach index' - whereby all temples and devotees can assess how well they are using the preaching tools Srila Prabhupada gave us: temples, books, festivals, Deities, and food distribution. These are the main ways we have to attract people to Krsna. Are we efficient in using them?
"With this in mind we are creating a website resource for temples and individual preachers that will contain listings and contact information for standard ISKCON outreach programs as well as information on all the innovative preaching devotees are doing around the world. We hope to start a dialogue on how these programs can increase ISKCON's collective 'outreach index' and allow devotees to share their best practices and challenges. We'll also be creating a questionnaire devotees can use to get feedback on how they're doing. And the site will offer global networking possibilities. This means someone in Tucson can look at the experiences of the devotees in Thailand and decide, 'We're going to try this in our own outreach programs because it sounds so sensible.'"
Aside from the website, the Committee wants to emphasize the core of every preaching initiative: relationships with those we meet - whether while distributing a book or in line at the supermarket.
We used to call this "contact sankirtana," and it's something ISKCON's Congregational Development Ministry has been encouraging for a long time. The Outreach Committee would like to widely promote the simple idea of gathering the names and contact information of those we meet and then to encourage us to invite those people to temple programs, seminars on the books they've purchased, festivals, cooking classes - there are so many ways to help people find their way into Krsna consciousness.
Urvasi Dasi, a new and dynamic member of the Outreach Committee says, "This kind of sankirtana is being done in pockets around the world, but we should be doing it everywhere. ISKCON is good at creating an initial impact, but we're not actually so good at helping people move forward into a full Krsna conscious practice. Cultivation of devotees, with a systematic process of caring for those who come forward for more association with ISKCON, can start simply, perhaps with a small study group in someone's home that allows for more personal interaction with devotees. Later, people can attend their local Sunday feast or join a bhakti-vriksha group, learn to chant japa and develop a taste for Srila Prabhupada's books."
If you have ideas you'd like to share with the Outreach Committee or would
like more information, please contact Bhakti Vinoda Swami at email@example.com
or Urvasi Dasi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to thank and congratulate the GBC members for sending out letters from the Turley Law Offices to the second-generation devotees, extending their apologies and pledges of support to them in their continued struggle to engage in Krsna consciousness after having suffered abuse from unscrupulous persons under whose care they had been placed. Certainly their heartfelt remorse and desire to encourage our future generations to take shelter of the love of God given to us so graciously by Srila Prabhupada is inspiring.
We see that many young devotees are taking to the Sankirtan movement with their whole hearts and want to see the mission of Lord Caitanya manifest as predicted. The Hare Krishna movement cannot be stopped from without or from within. Our words and intentions are very important, even if our attempts are imperfect. Hopefully, with continued realizations of what it means to be Vaishnava, our ISKCON home will be the safe haven for the world that it is meant to be.
As well as appreciating the positive sentiments, I do petition the leaders to try to understand the effect of seeing some of those abusers still allowed to be in powerful positions of influence. The idea that a sadistic child abuser has the qualifications to be a guru or even a sannyasi is beyond my understanding. Full disclosure to the initiates should be made. Srila Prabhupada stated that someone who is suspect should not be in a leadership position.
My heart is broken and torn to see pictures of these abusers being honored openly with no thought of the effect it has on their victims. For the benefit of our continued progress of purification, I request that those repentant devotees be given the opportunity to distribute Srila Prabhupada's books and Krsna prasadam in a humble state of mind but not sitting on a Vyasasana giving class.
Actions speak louder than words, and I am sure that the ultimate managerial authority can manage to see beyond the business at hand to the next ten thousand years. Most likely we will be taking birth as our own great-grandchildren and will be living in the movement of our making. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. All glories to your service.
It is encouraging to know that our GBC are interested in finding the best way for making our temples successful, by surveying all the temples and finding out what works. If it is an impersonal survey, for the purpose of gathering statistics, leading to the passing of numerous resolutions for people they have never met, never spoken to, much less having gotten to know, then it will do more for the cause of depersonalization than for temple development and reform, and devotees will feel more than ever, reduced to numbers. When we are driving dangerously we are warned “you may become just another statistic!”, an idea that makes the skin crawl with horror, yet it is where we are at, if the only importance our leadership can assign us is numerical- how many books we have given out, how much money collected, etc…
Yet there is another way to do a survey… asking the devotees personally, their needs, problems, observations. Or if that is not possible to do in person, then much can be learnt from the various devotee forums, maybe even coming down to their level and taking part in the discussions, to find out what they find lacking in the temples.
Many devotees are crying out for an atmosphere of personalism and family, of honesty and integrity, summed up in a theme much written about by them on the various forums- “love and trust”, the lack of which creates many an embittered soul, not “enviousness”, as we were spoon-fed to believe...
“Love and trust” was a dynamic modeled by Srila Prabhupada, creating all those smiles exploding with joy, which are now preserved only in fading photographs or nostalgic memories Love and trust is also the dynamic modeled in his instruction to introduce varnashrama into ISKCON, something we haven’t done thus far, and thus it is no wonder we have leaders more worried about results and money, than the personal well-being and happiness of temple members, the lack of which they usually put down to them “being in maya” or “mental, prabhu”…
That varnashrama is about love and trust is clear from the descriptions in Mahabharata and so on. The citizens loved their leaders and had absolute trust in them. Consequently they were happy to serve under them. There is nothing in our literature or in the instructions of Prabhupada to suggest that varnashrama is only for rural communities, as vaisyas may do business. That we think it so, means that we are overlooking the central benefit of varnashrama- not the qualification of the vaisya, but that of the leadership. The difference it would make to our society can hardly be calculated, because it necessarily means every leader is qualified, as guna determines one’s service, or karma. It means that every leader must be a ksatriya-- or a brahmana if he is not involved in management. This ensures the dynamic of love and trust, as the brahmana is trustworthy and the ksatriya, love-worthy, by nature.
Love and Trust equals ksatriya and brahmana
The ksatriya's character is amply described in our literature. From descriptions of Pariksit, Arjuna etc, it is clear that their forte was to offer protection, not specifically to those who can give them the most service or money, but to everyone and especially to the most vulnerable, the helpless. This is love in practice. When Arjuna could not relieve the distress of one of his citizens, he was prepared to enter fire. Superimposed onto the temple scene, the presence of a ksatriya leader means that elderly and sick devotees are offered assured shelter and facility, without the need for exchange of labour or money. For others, it means that everyone is listened to, their viewpoints, their problems, their issues, taken very seriously by the management...no one feels neglected or undervalued or unimportant.
No one is told "stop being mental prabhu”, or “just chant hare krsna" when they are in distress, as goes on in many of our temples, which being focused on what the individual can give us, rather than what we can give the individual, have a dynamic of exploitation in the name of Krsna. A ksatriya leadership, on the other hand, ensures a dynamic of sub-zero exploitation, in other words, nothing less than love, concern for the welfare of the individual, and an attitude of selfless service . Such a personal dynamic in this day and age is very rare, both inside and outside of ISKCON, yet it is essential for a good community atmosphere. Who would ever leave it for the impersonal exploitative dynamic pervading kali yuga? It is the basis of the loving family atmosphere that everyone hankers for. How can we be a movement for personalism without it?
We are not a movement for book distribution and festivals, nor for big feasts, sugar overdoses and sore feet, nor even are we a movement for making devotees- we are a movement for Krsna consciousness, following in the footsteps of the great devotees. When we enrich our atmosphere with such consciousness of loving service, devoid of any vestige of exploitative mentality, people are attracted. They become devotees without any pressure, fulfilling the purpose of mass book distribution and festivals. But if, after a festival or receiving a book, they join and find our leaders not caring about their welfare, more interested in what they can do or collect for them, rather than finding out who they are,… or leaders who are aloof, absorbed in their personal affairs or in making money… they leave after a few years of service, often using the excuse of their guru’s falldown, or marriage, so they don’t feel guilty about it.
Besides a general lack of love and concern, the other problem much expressed by devotees is lack of trust in the financial affairs of leadership. That is why a thoroughly detached brahmana must be present in every temple, and to ensure detachment, he should be not in the pay of the temple, but be an unpaid advisor and if necessary a whistleblower. He or she ensures that the temple is run ethically and morally, that making money does not supercede the importance of the welfare and happiness of the least significant member. The brahmana ensures that the ksatriya lives up to his name and function… that he acts as the arms of the Supreme Lord, Who is always available whenever we turn to Him.
Since he is by nature opposed to any sort of hypocrisy, the brahmana ensures the trust of the devotees in the integrity of their leaders. With that love and trust comes faith and commitment. Without it, we may keep devotees for a few years, by the same tactic president Bush used to justify his war in Iraq- utilization of paranoia.. We fear to be judged, and we know that devotees who leave ISKCON are judged as “bloopers”, “in maya” “envious” “ungrateful”, “disloyal” and so on. So that keeps us in the movement for a few depressing years, after which many of us leave, either by using the excuse of marriage, family or career, or the excuse of our guru’s falldown, or by using no excuse at all and just practicing Krsna Consciousness separately or in another group.
Love and Challenge
The challenge of ksatriya leadership is not to make sure everything gets done and bills are paid, but whether everyone is joyfully situated in a service suitable for their nature. Under the guidance of long-sighted brahmanas, the ksatriya knows that he need not worry about money and labour, as the joyful cooperative atmosphere that ensues from his loving concern for each member’s well-being, ensures the payment of bills and execution of services, by voluntary enthusiasm of devotees to rise up to the task.
The brahmana counsels him, don't worry about making big money, just make sure it is ethically done, for the goal is not to impress others, but the Lord within. The brahmana also makes sure that devotees are evolving in their understanding of the philosophy. He gets them to question their understanding, and lay naked their blind assumptions. Thus, the ksatriya provides the emotional support the devotees need, and the brahmana, their spiritual and philosophical challenges. In this way, devotees feel both challenged and loved.
Love is necessary for security and a sense of belonging. Challenge is needed for growth, evolution, aspiration. They are opposite forces, rarely present in any one individual. That is why varnashrama is so necessary, to make use of each person’s natural talents. It may be that we don’t have anyone in ISKCON of the caliber of Pariksit or Arjuna, or Maitreya Rishi, but we do have individuals who are more caring and concerned about others welfare (ksatriyas), some who are more detached and philosophical (brahmanas), some who are good at getting things done (sudras) and some who are good at making money (vaisyas). The work of the vaisya and sudra is extremely valuable to the community, except when they take up leadership positions, then they cause problems...
Then the soft-hearted ksatriyas are ridiculed as “sentimental” or “mushy” and the brahmanas are ridiculed as “armchair philosophers”. And our society becomes less than the positive alternative it is purported to be…
The Interdependency of Book Distribution, four stages of Bhakti, and Varnashrama
Our current situation is that ISKCON is mainly a society for Indian ex-patriots wanting to preserve their culture for their kid’s heritages. They provide nearly all of the labour and money for running our programs, which is wonderful, kind of like a mother putting cool cream on her child’s boil. It eases the pain of self-reflection, because things are getting done- the concern of the sudra. No doubt the GBC will find many temples thriving under such cold cream. But as our temples fill up with Indians who are enthusiastic- and rightly so- about their heritage, it becomes less and less relevant for the western mindset, and more and more a movement for Hinduism in the west. That is fine, except that we should change our name to the International Society for Preserving Indian Culture- ISPIC- for Krsna consciousness is not about cultural heritage but the sanatana dharma of every soul on the planet, regardless of their so-called heritage.
It is the heritage and birthright of every soul. Our business as ISKCON, not ISPIC, is to bring the knowledge of that birthright to the world. The first step is knowledge, book distribution- which brings about sraddha- the enkindling of faith. Then after that, sadhu sanga, to provide an association of saintly persons dedicated to truth and the welfare of all. Then the third step is anartha nivritti, which is interesting… How can we help others with their unwanted baggage if we are burdened with our own, and not even being aware of that burden, how can we render the ultimate welfare service-“ to distinguish reality from illusion for the benefit of all”? If the thoroughly truthful are suppressed in our movement, as Kundali and others have been, then we neither have sadhu sanga, nor anartha nivritti, and it is doubtful that sraddha will ever become unshakeable, with few extant evidences for bhakti’s efficacy on the planet…
Then the fourth step, bhajana kriya, but how can we provide the peace of mind for constant bhajana, which includes the active meditation of karma yoga, when we have no facility for it, no varnashrama…instead we have each temple acting more or less as a church for attendance once or twice a week for an hour or so. We are not meant to be an occasional relief from the rat race, but channel the full energy and latent talent- karma and guna- of each individual who comes to us, in the service of the Lord, the only qualification being that they are willing.
Bhakti must be “uninterrupted and unmotivated to fully satisfy the living entity”. The brahmana in varnashrama helps to rid each devotee of ulterior motivation, by helping him or her separate reality from illusion and overcome all the anarthas that strangle the devotional creeper, anarthas “that often appear like the creeper itself”…. The ksatriya in varnashrama provides the shelter for uninterrupted service according to one’s nature, making surrender joyful and natural.
No longer need the living entity struggle alone against his inner and outer obstacles to the attainment of bhakti- if only we can show him ISKCON and leave ISPIC for another group to be concerned about. I hope that the GBC members will at least consider the truth and rationality behind this argument, and if they find any fault in it at all, are welcome to contact me: email@example.com
“The true test of a gentleman is how he treats those who are of no use to him”
This is part three of a series of reports informing you about the work of the GBC's Strategic Planning committees. If you missed the discussion about the Succession Committee or the Education Committee, you can find them here, respectively: www.dandavats.com/?p=9337 and www.dandavats.com/?p=9385
A devotee friend asked me recently about the rationale behind creating a strategic plan for a spiritual organization. He understood the need for strategic planning in the corporate world where you have to anticipate market changes and consumer interests, but he suspected its relevance to our confederation of devotees who, after all, are ultimately interested in transcendence. Doesn't it go against the spontaneous nature of performing devotional service and spoil the devotees' spirit a little if everything has to be so mapped out?
But it's clear to me that Srila Prabhupada intended ISKCON to be more than a loose confederation of devotees. He wanted us to support the spiritual development of those who had given their lives to Lord Caitanya's mission, and he wanted strong preaching. As early as 1968 Srila Prabhupada wrote a disciple, "[J]ust make a very rigid plan for opening centers in every nook and corner of the European countries. ... try to install Deities and centers as many as possible. Actually the modern human society is in need of Krishna relationship, so as soon as they will come in touch with our movement, surely they will feel very happy. So kindly execute this responsibility to your best capacity, and Krishna will be very happy upon you." Srila Prabhupada made many such statements pointing to organization and planning.
Like many organizations, ISKCON has spent a fair amount of time over the years reacting to rather than anticipating the demands of its own growth. This has created a cycle of mild to severe crisis management, which has left us, as a global movement, in survival mode, with little energy to do much more than cope with our day-to-day needs and problems. In many areas of the world we have lost the dynamic energy the movement had during the 1970s and much of the '80s. It's easy to give reasons for the decline - and they'd likely all be true from one angle or another. But there's something else that's true, too: All the ups and downs ISKCON has experienced since Srila Prabhupada's departure have been pretty much inevitable - normal, even - for organizations, spiritual or otherwise, that are growing up.
So why strategic planning? Well, one reason is because it provides a viable alternative to crisis management. Another is that it allows us to study and anticipate our experiences as a movement and then help to shepherd our growth so that it stays positive and pleasing to Srila Prabhupada.
Which leads me to the work of the Temple Development Committee.
Srila Prabhupada wanted ISKCON's temples to be centers of intensive devotional service, especially in the form of the five main practices essential to bhakti-yoga: chanting the holy name, hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam, worshiping the Deity, serving Vaishnavas, and living in a holy place. He also wanted the temples to serve as hubs for outreach, where the spiritual lives of our guests could blossom. While some of ISKCON's temples are meeting these objectives, many are struggling.
In response, the Temple Development Committee is focusing on two projects. First, the creation of a resource directory listing what's working for ISKCON's most successful temples around the world. With a scheduled release date of October 2011, the pilot edition of the directory will cover the best practices of eleven temples and include sections on preaching, devotee care, effective administration and management, commercial initiatives, construction (including a section on environmentally friendly design), training and education, kitchen, finance, prasada distribution, and communications.
"Sharing best practices among temples has the potential to help small or struggling centers to avoid having to reinvent the wheel," Gauranga Dasa, head of the Committee says. "We hope it will inspire temple leaders and become a valuable resource, especially for smaller yatras, by helping them feel their connection to and the support of our international movement." The second project the Committee is working on is the development of a networking website - a shared database containing information about all of ISKCON's temples. By gathering such information in one place, temple leaders anywhere in the world will be able to browse through it and find the ideas that most suit their own situations and use it to establish or expand their own centers. They will also be able to exchange with other temple leaders and share their own best practices or challenges.
The Committee plans to include quite a bit of detail about each center on the website. Aside from the obvious information, they plan to add details about each temple's physical dimensions, and, in the case of new constructions, the contact details of the architect who designed it and anything else that could b of help. "The idea is that the website will serve as a database to optimize human resources for individual temples," Gauranga Dasa says.
During Srila Prabhupada's time, the GBC had a system whereby established
temples adopted fledgling temples and helped them along. In effect, the
Temple Development Committee is reviving the spirit of those days. With the
help of this website, temple leaders will be able to network with other
temple leaders anywhere in the world, creating a collective sharing of
information, encouragement, best practices, and association that we hope
will make stronger, more resource-efficient temples for the health of the
In his recent article published on the rather new website, TheWatchdog.info, His Holiness Tripurari Swami gives the GBC and Iskcon devotees his opinion on where change and improvement needs to happen in Srila Prabhupada's mission. Pointing to a loss of "love and trust" by the leaders of Iskcon he states, "It is no wonder that the society is not bursting with innovative ideas for preaching and independently thoughtful members. Its leaders do not trust its members, at least not with the power to think for themselves, a crime that has become synonymous with "mental speculation". In his article he goes on to say why he is no longer an official member of Iskcon, although still a well-wisher.
In a recent preaching tour of North Carolina, Tripurari Swami's gatherings were well attended by many Iskcon devotees, to whom he offered spiritual advice and encouragement. For years now, some sannyasis and GBC representatives have encouraged a reuniting of Tripurari Swami with Iskcon. He is one of the oldest and senior most members of Lord Caitanya's sankirtan mission, and has maintained his sannyasa ashram very well since Srila Prabhupada offered him the danda in 1976.
The Watchdog website seems to have articles written by a good cross section of senior devotees whose stated aim is to encourage the GBC in its march towards accountability in GBC management, and accountability to the members of the Iskcon society. The fact that some devotees continue to leave Iskcon and look elsewhere for their spiritual involvement is a statistic of concern.
Those wishing to read Tripurari Swami's article can click on: