Chakra Discussions

Real renunciation and the failure of vows

by Sacitananda dasi

Posted June 20, 2004

In his article, "Whoa There, Nelly!", Prema Bhakti prabhu, commenting on an article of mine ("The Midlife Crisis of ISKCON"), states, "She begins by denouncing, as a failed ISKCON experiment, the act of men's taking sannyasa. But shortly thereafter she acknowledges how the renunciation by young ISKCON devotees contributed greatly to the spectacular preaching success of ISKCON."

A "funny thing happened," indeed. This rewording of my words by Prema Bhakti das is not reflective of my original meaning and is thus a little on the misleading side. To clarify things for Prema Bhakti das and readers in general, I would like to address yet again those two points. My choice of words was "venture into sannyasa", not "experiment". These two terms can represent two very distinct ideas according to their context. I stand by the words I chose and, yes, denounce the acts of men who took sannyasa and then failed to uphold their vows -- a failed venture, indeed, within ISKCON's otherwise cheerful career.

The other point, that the renunciation embraced by young ISKCON devotees contributed spectacularly to the success of the society, is not in conflict with the idea of renunciates upholding their vows, but is in fact supportive of it. Perhaps it was not clear in my original article that what I meant was: thousands of young men and women (not necessarily just those who took vows of sannyasa) renounced their ties with their immediately previous mode of living, and this very collective spirit of renunciation allowed for the rapid development of ISKCON. So there is no contradiction between these two points, as Prema Bhakti das seems to suggest.

Then there is an accusation from Prema Bhakti das that I hide "an apparent contempt for Goswami, sannyasis, ISKCON and, perhaps, men in general," and that I "denigrate ISKCON to advance [my] spiritual vision." Well, I do indeed denounce (but not with contempt, and absolutely not with hidden contempt) the misdeeds of goswamis, sannyasis, and yes, ISKCON itself -- whoever has not upheld their part of the bargain.

To paint a picture of ISKCON that it has increasingly improved its understanding of the subject matter it broadcasts in the world is another misleading feature in Prema Bhakti das's article, in my opinion.

Granted, preaching is still going on and buildings go up every other month somewhere in the world to house ISKCON devotees and host the public. However, although many people have come in the front doors of our society, perhaps an equal or greater number have departed through the back doors. This problem has not been addressed with genuine compassion, nor with one tenth of the importance given to the recent Satsvarupa affair -- one single sannyasa guru's admitted falldown.

Perhaps Prema Bhakti das is one of those ISKCON devotees who have lost touch with the inside life in the society for a long time now. Those who have gone through the latest decade of life in ISKCON can attest to what they have lost (if they have lost), when their guru fell from, not a special place in the disciple's heart, but from the sacred vow of reciprocating the disciple's trust in the guru's desire to bestow Love of God. If indeed such desire was, or is, in these gurus' hearts and minds, then no one should have been left behind.

If one pure devotee was made by his efforts, observed Srila Prabhupada, then his society should be considered a success. If one innocent devotee has left the path of bhakti due to the neglect of his guru and the society that harbors him, then that's a degree of failure considerable enough to be addressed, whether in cyberspace or otherwise.