Chakra Discussions

The Midlife Crisis of ISKCON

by Sacitananda dasi

Posted June 9, 2004

So that ISKCON's failed venture into sannyasa will not go into the storage shack without one last shake at it, lets give one more try at understanding the Satasvarupa Maharaja affair: What did really happen? No, we don't need more details on his encounters with a female counselor, persistency of headaches, treatments attempted throughout the years, etc., we did get a fair addressing of these. And everyone seems satisfied with conclusions spoken here and there about the deeper, underlying causes of the society's recurrent sannyasa falldowns. What has amusingly come into the foreground in the aftermath of the Satswarupa Maharaja affair is that devotees seem to be reacting condescending and sympathetic not to the fact that a fall was acknowledge, but to the claim that his guruship still stands. This reaction speaks almost hysterically of self- defense and self-assertion. Are we seeing that, unprepared, ISKCON is entering its inevitable midlife crisis?

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada did succeed in his mission of establishing a worldwide society for the spreading of the teachings of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Incidentally, we have seen that Satsvarupa Maharaja himself has invited 'all generations' to remain under Prabhupada's guidance, even in the later's physical absence. Prabhupada's accomplished worldwide preaching society was possible because in its beginning thousands of energetic young seekers took up his guidance without hesitation, powerfully embracing one central ideal: renunciation. It was embraced as if a play of trade, the trade of temporary, material family ties for an infinite, permanent spiritual world. An ideal made reality in a matter of a decision, and one which pulled many, many of us into a world of transcending possibilities. Why is it that this ideal is not working anymore? Why is it that the reverse now is true, that that spiritual universe now must be left to others to explore and we must try and recover lost time in relationships we never had? Or live by the affection experienced among vanishing, temporary engagements, which, if memory serves, we know was not where we wanted to be?

Its been reasoned that because Srila Prabhupada was not seen as a normal human being, his legacy has been one of unattainable ideals. To make him an erring normal human among us, it has been pointed out that he did make mistakes such as stating that no moon landing is a reality in a Hare Krsna world, or that women's brain are smaller than men's. But if we take the whole of Bhaktivedanta Swami's statements on various worldly subjects we will find that in all his speeches he was consistent with his ideal of cutting the jungles of Western misconceptions on transcendental truths. Thus shouldn't the classic "women's brain is smaller", for example, be read in another light, a deeper shade of grey perhaps than the abrupt spot of black in an otherwise willing white canvas? Bhaktivedanta Swami was more concerned with making an impression on his followers on the importance of moderation in sexual practices than to cater to a passing event such as feminism. It could in fact have been the case that he consciously resorted to creating such controversy so to make the point even more piercing. The fact is that women are naturally better equipped than men to receive and carry an extra load of renunciation. Thus they were branded as "less" so the men could make their attempt at more. If seen with detachment, this arrangement crafted by Bhaktivedanta Swami was nothing short of ingenious! He, not unlikely any other true sadhu, knew that no matter how reality is presented or perceived, one will find no way out of this material existence unless and until one is detached from temporary relationships.

So while the male section of the Krsna Consciousness movement now celebrates with relief the end of sannyasa, they would do well to notice a rising phenomena among the female section. Feeling their duty has been carried on for the duration of its necessity, more and more devotee women are devising ways to politely, compassionately, suggestively, or in other fashions, ask their dependent companions to please find their ways out of the comfort of the home couches out into separate quarters, some distance away from the main home. It is a new and growing trend, tangible, real, were respectable devotee couples within ISKCON communities, such as the ISKCON Alachua community, husbands are asked to build separate quarters where they live in various degrees of semi retirement, an alteration from the many years of closeness within the family facilities. What does such happenings tell us about our society and each of us, individually, within it? And what of an answer to this question, where does it leave sannyasis who find they need to take to companionship of the opposite sex to be healed of a venture which has served them little in a personal level? Will this be a new class of guides, the spiritual maturity planned by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami for his society? A highly pressing question indeed, specially to those who, like me, have dedicated nearly 50% of our years projecting deep spiritual aspirations on the alleged realizations of this class of men.