Breathing freely, a reply to Waiting to Inhale
Posted March 31, 2005
Recently a devotee named Dasanudas Vanacari wrote an article posted on Chakra entitled Waiting to Inhale. In the article he gives his opinion that it is offenses and a lack of spiritual strength which impells people into leaving ISKCON.
"How can this experience of devotional ecstasy become covered, leading to exiting ISKCON and leaving the association of devotees, or even becoming inimical?"
He then goes onto blame these things on "offenses".
"Usually the reason involves some falldown or a conflict with some authority. We all know that Srila Prabhupada instructed us to remain within the society...
...How can this experience of devotional ecstasy become covered, leading to exiting ISKCON and leaving the association of devotees, or even becoming inimical?
There are many passages in the scriptures dealing with offenses and their results. We have all heard them so many times, it is not necessary to recap here. What I want to highlight is how to avoid these offenses by staying so enthusiastic and blissful that there is no question of creating offense."
I have to disagree with him on these points. From my experience and association with Ex ISKCON bhaktas, most of the people left because they simply wanted to do something else with their lives. While their is no doubt a small percentage who left ISKCON because of a direct falling out with management, I don't know any who left due to "some fall down". If by "fall down" he means breaking the 4 regulative principles, then I can assure him that most non elderly participants in any traditional Yoga Ashrama can only maintain that level of sensual renunciation for a limited amount of time. That does not cause them to leave though. Very few individuals in ISKCON have not "fallen down" if they have been members for any length of time. That is not the impetus for leaving ISKCON.
Dasanudas continued on from the above with:
"My interpretation of what these devotees are saying is that despite Srila Prabhupada's instruction, they are running away from the problems because they do not know how to deal with them, and this is simply too painful to bear. The ostensible reason is just a face-saving excuse."
People who leave ISKCON by and large are not leaving because they are unable to deal with some problem. They leave because ISKCON is run strictly on the highest possible standards of renunciation. Everyone involved is expected to live by a very strict code of renunciation, enforced expectations of sadhana, and abject submission to authority figures.
That lifestyle is simply not going to be sustainable for the vast majority of people. That lifestyle is the lifestyle of a renunciate monk. When you try to artifically impose that lifestyle on people who don't have that Brahminical nature, then they will eventually leave. Or they will not join in the first place.
It has nothing to with offenses as Dasanudas suggests. It has everything to do with people's nature.
When Srila Prabhupada first started ISKCON, he started it using the model of the traditional Gaudiya Bhakti Ashramas in India as a template. The traditional Ashramas in India were places of residence for renounced monks. They were not places of residence for married people nor families. They were Yoga Ashramas with Yoga Ashrama standards. People who joined were seeking to live a renounced lifestyle, a monks existance, a Brahmanas renunciative life.
When Srila Prabhupad set up ISKCON, it had a different purpose from the traditional monk's Ashramas in India. In India the Ashrama was a place for leaving the world behind, delving full time into transcendental teachings and meditation, a life of the highest Brahminical renunciation and devotion.
ISKCON was not that. ISKCON was set up for the purpose of spreading the literature and teachings of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and also to create an entire Indian counterculture within a dominant culture.
Srila Prabhupada created an Ashrama culture which was somewhat different then the traditional Ashramas in India. He incorporated women and families. ISKCON became something very different then the traditional Ashramas. Instead of the Ashrama being a place of total renunciation of all things, except strictly brahminical renunciative devotional activity, ISKCON became a mini culture unto itself. It became a place for women and men to court each other, it became a place of business. It became a place of escape from the dominant non Indian culture. Any type of person regardless of their Brahminical nature or lack thereof, would join and take part in a holistic counterculture. This was very different then simply joining a traditional Yoga Ashrama in India.
As would be expected if you create an entire counterculture with the rules of a monks renunciative lifestyle, most people will end up leaving because it goes against their nature to live up to the strict Brahminical standards of a traditional monk lifestyle.
From a conversation in 1977:
"Prabhupada: Yes. Caitanya Mahaprabhu recommended, sthane sthitah. Therefore varnasrama-dharma is required. Simply show-bottle will not do. So the varnasrama-dharma should be introduced all over the world, and...
Satsvarupa: Introduced starting with ISKCON community?
Prabhupada: Yes. Yes. Brahmana, ksatriyas. There must be regular education. So we are stressing on the point of education. You educate certain section as brahmana, certain section as ksatriya, certain section as vaisya. In that education we don't discriminate because he's coming of a sudra family. Take education. Be qualified.
Hari-Sauri: But in our community as it is, we are training up as Vaisnavas...
Prabhupada: Vaisnava is not so easy. The varnasrama-dharma should be established to become a Vaisnava. It is not so easy to become Vaisnava.
Hari-Sauri: No, it's not a cheap thing.
Prabhupada: Yes. Vaisnava, to become Vaisnava, is not so easy. If to become Vaisnava is so easy, why so many fall down? It is not easy.
Hari-Sauri: Varnasrama system is beneficial. Where will we introduce the varnasrama system, then?
Prabhupada: In our society, amongst our members.
Hari-Sauri: But then if everybody's being raised to the brahminical platform...
Prabhupada: Not everybody. Why you are misunderstanding? Varnasrama, not everybody should become brahmana.
Hari-Sauri: No, but in our society practically everyone is being raised to that platform. So then one might ask what is...
Prabhupada: Everybody is being raised, but they're falling down.
Hari-Sauri: So then we should make it more difficult to get brahminical initiation. After four or five years.
Prabhupada: Not necessary. You remain as a ksatriya. You'll be happy.
Hari-Sauri: No need for even any brahmana initiation, then...
Prabhupada: No, no.
Hari-Sauri: Unless one is particularly inclined.
Prabhupada: Not that a Sudra man is by force become a brahmana. You cannot improve. That is not possible. But even if he remains a sudra and does accordingly, he will get the same position as devotee. Sva-karmana tam abhyarcya sam... He'll get the perfection. At the present moment the idea is: if one remains a sudra, then he cannot get perfection. No. Even a sudra can get perfection provided he does the work of a sudra perfectly.
What ISKCON does is to demand that everyone live up to the highest Brahminical standards. Everyone must attend the early morning sadhana programs. Everyone must follow the 4 regulative principles. Everyone must renounce all activity that is deemed non-devotional. Everyone must lead a renunciative lifestyle.
That is why most people leave. Most people are not so Brahminically inclined to be able to follow the strict renunciative lifestyle enforced in ISKCON. Some may leave due to conflicts or some other reason. But the majority leave because they are not suited to the renunciative lifestyle. Everyone in ISKCON is forced into leading the Brahminical renunciative lifestyle of a monk, even the married people, even the children. And of course the result is that almost everyone leaves when they wish to lead a less renounced lifestyle.
It has absolutely nothing to do with offenses, nor does it have anything to do with a lack of devotion. Simply put, most people are not Brahmanas nor are they ready to lead a strictly renounced life until they reach their old age.
If ISKCON wants to retain it's membership, it needs to review what it demands of the participants. Clearly Srila Prabhupada wanted a type of Varna-Ashrama model introduced within ISKCON. He makes it clear that everyone cannot live up to the Brahmana status, and that there is no need to enforce that lifestyle as a pre-requisite for participation within ISKCON.
As Prabhupada pointed out, it will not work. In fact it not only fails, but it creates the revolving door phenomena. Also it impells the seeking for association in other groups which do not demand renunciation as an absolute requirement to be accepted.
The demanding self defeating style of management is encourgaged by the myth that this is what Prabhupada wanted. As we can read above, he was against this kind of institutionalized forced brahmana behavior. He makes it clear that the attitude he created was temporary, and that the time had come to change.
As long as the current modus operandi continues, with the enforcement of the highest brahmana standards on everyone used as a qualifier to be an acceptable member of the community, if this rule set in stone remains the same, then Srila Prabhupada's stated vision in the above talk will not be realized.
Varnashrama is what Prabhupada wanted as the next phase of Iskcon. He wanted real vedic culture as opposed to the current temple lifestyle. Real vedic culture is not an enforced renunciative lifestyle nor enforced sadhana, it is not oppressive nor stigmatizing the way Iskcon tends to be, which results in the continuing revolving door.
Vedic society is what Prabhupada said He wanted to create near the end of His days among us. He specifically requested His disciples to change Iskcon, from a solely renunicates society of monks, and quasi monks, into a microcosm of Authentic Vedic Varnashrama society.
This cannot be accomplished if we think that Vedic society was some kind of large scale renunciates society, or yoga ashrama, with everyone forced to try to act as great brahmanas.
Vedic society was never like that. If we think we can implement any kind of actual Varnashrama in an authentic manner, while having the attitude of fire and brimstone demagogue's towards each other, if we are intolerant of people who cannot live up to the very highest Brahminical standards, then our own ignorance will keep Prabhupada's mission stalled.
These things need to be brought out into the open and discussed like responsible adults. The knee jerk childish reactions I expect as well. But it is those knee jerk reactions and the intolerant, holier then thou attitudes towards Vaisnavas who are not renunciates, which is the barrier that must be torn down if we want Prabhupada's vision of Iskcon's evolvement to move forward.
Varnashrama is what Prabhupada wanted. It cannot become a reality until Iskcon treats all Vaisnavas with respect, regardless of their nature for renunciation or not, for regimented sadhana or not. Iskcon needs to transform into a microcosm of actual vedic society.
So a new paradigm needs to be established within Iskcon when it comes to who and what, is tolerable, for membership and participation.
A Varnashrama society cannot, and will not work, if you try and enforce the
highest standards on everyone. As we have seen with Iskcon so far, pretty
much everyone leaves.