Response to "Reflections On ISKCON's Lost Generation"
Posted January 31, 2012
Nandini Stocker shares her experiences in Iskcon in "Reflections On ISKCON's Lost Generation" . In her article, she talks about the rampant and pervasive abuse on children in the Hare Krishna society. Nandini writes, "Almost every person in my generation of the Movement suffered some sort of abuse.". She questions these inhuman and unimaginable acts of abuse in religious organizations. As she finds no answers, she gives up. She writes, "Ultimately I don’t know why the perpetration of sexual abuse exists historically in the Catholic Church. And I’ve given up trying to figure it out." Many people have commented on this article and the common theme is to blame post-1977 ISKCON leaders. Most members of Iskcon, including the leaders, joined this organization with a hope. They were looking for something higher in their life. God is within us and we are always seeking Him. In their search of God, they followed Iskcon's philosophy which promised to take them back to Godhead. But in the process something went wrong. Instead of finding God, many committed grave offenses of exploitation of children and women. This abuse was pervasive to a degree that almost all children in the Hare Krishna movement during the 70s and 80s have suffered it. What went wrong! Abuse can't be blamed on people as most members were good people. The common element among these followers was the philosophy. It is this philosophy which blinded them and resulted in a pervasive culture that supported abuse.
Many scriptural concepts are misunderstood in ISKCON. The qualifications of a devotee is one of them. Due to this misunderstanding wrong people have been considered as “advanced devotees” and have become leaders in ISKCON's history. One example was Kirtanananda Swami who died in late 2011. Many Iskcon devotees including two prominent Iskcon Swamis went to bow down to his samadhi even though he hurt a significant number of people. Dhunurdhar Swami is another example. He was Iskcon guru till early 2000s even after he was found guilty of violent abuse of innocent children in Vrindavan Gurukul.
Another misunderstood concept in the philosophy of Iskcon is the attitude of a devotee towards others. The judgmental and intolerant attitude towards others is encouraged. People are labeled as fallen, offenders, vaishnava aparadhis, karmis, rascals etc. Those associated with such labels are treated with contempt by Iskcon members. That is what happened with innocent children. They were labeled and seen with contempt because they couldn't behave as the adults demanded. This resulted in society's neglect which left the children vulnerable to abuse.
Who is advanced devotee? How we should treat people around us? Answer to both of these questions are related. In Ramayana, Lord Rama describes the qualities of a devotee as follows - "Ananya bhakta is the person who has firm determination that I am servant of Rama (God) who manifests in the form of the whole animate and inanimate world".(Kishkindha Kanda 3) What this means is that the devotee sees his beloved Lord in all people around him. Therefore, he treats them with love, respect, care and appreciation. Service to Krishna is direct service to people around us. As Krishna is manifesting in people around us, such devotee does not judge or label people. Instead he is always ready to give them happiness.
Lord Krishna explains the same understanding in his last instruction to Uddhava as follows - "I consider this process — using one's mind, words and bodily functions for realizing Me within all living beings — to be the best possible method of spiritual enlightenment.“ (SB 11.29.19) “With a pure heart one should see Me, the Supreme Soul within all beings and also within oneself, to be both unblemished by anything material and also present everywhere, both externally and internally, just like the omnipresent sky.” (SB 11.29.12) “For him who constantly meditates upon My presence within all persons, the bad tendencies of rivalry, envy and abusiveness, along with false ego, are very quickly destroyed.” (SB 11.29.15) "Within this world, whatever is perceived by the mind, speech, eyes or other senses is Me alone and nothing besides Me. All of you please understand this by a straightforward analysis of the facts." (SB 11.13.24)
The above vision of a devotee is also described by Lord Krishna as “Vasudeva Sarvam” in BG 7.19 which means to see everything and everyone as a form of the Lord. Just like not eating meat is a basic principle of a devotee, in the same way treating everyone with love and accepting everyone as a manifestation of the beloved Lord should be the basic requirement of a devotee. If this key principle of Gita was practiced in ISKCON, the second generation devotees like Nandini wouldn't have been lost.
Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Shantu Nir-Aamayaah |
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
Om,May All become Happy,
May All become free from Illness.
May All see the truth.
Let no one Suffer.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.
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