An example is better than a precept
Posted October 6, 2003
Summer 2003 marked my 12th summer of travelling and preaching at the North American national Rainbow Gathering, with up to 35,000 people coming together to celebrate life and pray for peace.
In several articles by sympathetic followers of non-ISKCON groups, people talk persuasively and only look at the good traits of the followers in their respective camps. Since my startling experience with a few "bad apples" in these various bunches was seen by tens of thousands at this year's national Rainbow Gathering, I felt it important to bring up. Granted, digressions are in all factions, but they seem to stem mainly from early initiation practices.
This is not an attempt to blaspheme anyone's camp, just to speak of my experiences as I witnessed them firsthand this summer and over the last three years.
By Srila Prabhupada's mercy, each year I set up a big "teepee" temple, preach, and set a Krishna conscious example, by which I was trained to live. Despite long-ago personal bad habits, as well as temptations at these gatherings, in these last 12 years I have not fallen down from Srila Prabhupada's standards in regard to the four regulative principles, which are the main pre-requisite for initiation.
These last three years, I encountered disciples of other camps. The presiding Deities, Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, gave them shelter in our large temple camp (a 20-foot teepee), as they sometimes had nowhere else to go. I just asked that they preach with the hundreds of Prabhupada books I had brought to carefully share (only bartering is allowed) and that they allow me to offer my vigorous classes and preaching program without interruption. These requests were difficult to enforce.
Some members of each group and two-thirds of the attending disciples of one particular group this year were smoking ganja (marijuana) openly and profusely, while being addressed by Krishna devotee names and bearing the outward appearance of Vaisnavas. Some attempted to do drug deals in the temple structure, in front of the Deities, and one wanted to wear the Deity earrings. I found this saddening, coming from "initiated" devotees. Since the Rainbow Gathering is somewhat wild to start with, I tolerated these things.
One regular woman participant at the temple had previously given one of these male "devotees" a "hello hug", which is normal at these rainbow gatherings. As I was seriously preaching to a group in the temple structure, by the altar, a three-year initiated "disciple" sat down next to her and started giving her a massage without asking (in the midst of my class), and said in a soft voice next to her ear, "You have such great energy." We in the group heard this.
After questioning these kids on their drug usage, one female disciple said something out of the ordinary. This is almost verbatim: "My Guru Maharaja would rather have me living as a junkie in a tent than stay in an ISKCON temple." I'm sure it was a case of misplaced sentiment, as well as not knowing the actual philosophy. She mentioned that she had lived in a temple for two years, and then began shallowly to insult ISKCON devotees.
The newest in the bunch was not so sane, but said he had injuries from a car accident and his guru had given him permission to smoke ganja, as medicine. He also smoked tobacco.
I repeatedly had to tell the quiet "disciple", who had been coming for three years, not to share his guru's books at Srila Prabhupada's temple. He (who gave unchecked back rubs) said various things like, "Unless my guru tells you otherwise, then you are a Gopi."
I employed another of these disciples in my Florida business a couple of months ago. In a similar speculative vein, this devotee said, "Ganja is an incarnation of the mother Kali; you have to respect the mother (Kali)."
Because of these occurrences, I have not been able to hold a philosophical conversation with any of these newer devotees.
Tens of thousands of people could consciously observe these sikha-bearing, tulasi-wearing, japa-mala-holding, devotee-dressed "Vaisnavas" lead an unfit type of devotee life. With little training or study, they are claiming they have a "higher truth" than Srila Prabhupada. These few people are continually saying that ISKCON does not understand siddhanta properly, and that ISKCON followers are blasphemers of other camps. I said nothing to blaspheme anyone's situation other than share humble corrections, yet these corrections were sometimes taken as "blasphemy".
When I introduced the possibility of more than one "pure devotee" on the planet, they thought it an impossible proposal, or a joke. My reply was, "Well, they have guided me to follow, teach, and live purely before my calling myself a "disciple" and these are only second generation from Srila Prabhupada. Is that not an amazingly great effect? Please tell me, how is your lot any better than mine?"
As for these newer disciples, I liked them as people and chanting with them was very nice. I was always tolerant and friendly to them all. When two of them fell sick, I gave my own bed and kept them warm by the fire every night, as well as arranging for good medicine. I love them and thank Srila Prabhupada for sending them there to help me in some way.
One last episode from this year's national Rainbow Gathering is especially disturbing. Collecting flowers for the Deities in a field, I met a young woman who asked, "Are you collecting flowers for Krishna?" I said, "Yes. How do you know about Krishna?" She said, "I was dating one devotee back home." She told the sad story: "He beat me and said he wanted many wives, because Krishna has many wives." She decided, with her God-given intelligence, that he was "off", and left him. Nonetheless, she offered to bring Gaura-Nitai a garland offering. It almost brought me to tears.
All I could respond was that the vast majority of devotees are striving sincerely to follow four regulative principles, and chanting at least 16 rounds to purify their hearts of sinful things. I also shared how in my experience, these more serious devotees are taking the time to get "fixed up", study their Guru, as he studies them, and then get initiated, according to Krishna conscious philosophy. I explained what I knew from Srila Prabhupada: that we carefully avoid taking cheaply such topics as Krishna with the Gopis, and make sure we have vastly studied and preached the message of the Gita in the mood of Lord Chaitanya's authorized sankirtan movement, while following nicely, before attempting to enter upon discussion of higher realms. Not having much other exposure to devotees, it seemed a light went off for her and she really understood.
ISKCON had a few bad years through the '80s and early '90s, trying to become mature. I also joined another splinter group at that time. Since I have come back to my original inspiration (an ISKCON guru), and given up talking trash about the Hare Krishna movement (which was routine in that now-dead splinter group), I have seen that, in general, the leaders and temple managers of today are coming to full maturity, and it is quite nice. I hope all can come to appreciate ISKCON without mixing other sentiments or bringing up past shortcomings of ISKCON devotees' youthful management of the movement. Though outdated, mid-1980s problems seem to be the essence of recent criticisms toward ISKCON.
I pray that spiritual masters be stricter to teach their students to keep the basic standard of 16 rounds and four regulative principles, and not initiate people unless they have given up meat and drugs and are moving towards marriage. If that is asking too much, at least they should give up meat and drugs as an initiation vow. This is the minimum sacrifice to please Srila Prabhupada. Many groups claim to serve, love and follow Prabhupada; these are obvious items to Srila Prabhupada, in his practical instructions, boiled down to the core. So, please do this much and honor him in that way. Otherwise, many serious devotees on the planet may take it that there is no love or respect for Prabhupada, as several different camps claim they have.
There are good devotees and struggling ones in every camp. In ISKCON, however, there is always very clear instruction, hope and facilities to attain a firm placing within properly-regulated and practically-proven methods. By sincere effort, their hearts may be cleansed after years of effort in good association. Then, down the road, they may understand personally the attainment of the higher nature of bhakti. These standards are the set foundation, and available at any ISKCON center around the world.
It is for everyone's benefit if they will honor the empowered soul, Srila Prabhupada, as His Divine Grace has set up the workings of his movement. They do not have to join ISKCON to please Prabhupada -- just follow his instructions on basic matters.
Even though Srila Prabhupada saw an emergency situation in the world, from the start of his small movement, he instilled a basic standard of following for six months the four regulations and chanting 16 rounds as the pre-requisite. Without compromising these items, he was miraculously able to accomplish his monumental task. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
If this standard is not carried through and adopted, it may, to some degree, ruin Srila Prabhupada's name, as well as the clean name he worked so hard to give to the phrase "devotee of Krishna" in this world.
It is only out of concern that I write this article. Please excuse any
offenses I may have committed in trying to help devotees make advancement.