Chakra Discussions

Honest Householders, Not Pretend Brahmacaris

by Name withheld by request

Posted June 7, 2010

A while back, many children (now adults) who grew up with silenced abuse in the gurukulas, spoke out publicly, sharing their previously untold stories of abuse and mistreatment which happened in the name of spirituality. Sharing such stories is important, because it is healing for those who were silenced, and because it educates others to help prevent such horror stories from occurring again. When people are silenced, they internalize the pain, and blame themselves for what happened, especially when the abusers continue to hold positions of leadership within the movement, gaining fame and glory despite what they did. When people speak out, the pain has a way of being released, and the healing process can begin.

There is another group of people within ISKCON who have been silenced, and I think it is time to create a forum for women to speak out and share their stories, to heal and become empowered, and to educate others to make changes within the structure of ISKCON to prevent mistreatment of women from continuing to happen. I have been through a semi-traumatic experience myself, and although painful, I feel it is a gift in that if I speak out, perhaps others will too, and if changes are made, future generations of women can have a healthier more wholesome experience in Krishna consciousness.

I believe that a big problem is the way in which the philosophy is taught to men, and the way in which women are portrayed. Men are taught to be brahmacari, which although great for young male students, for most will not be a lifelong, realistic choice. Because of the tremendous guilt and pressure placed on some men to remain brahmacari, some will remain externally in saffron cloth, while sneaking around and sleeping with women in private, without taking responsibility for a woman as a lawfully wedded wife to be protected, maintained and cared for. Alternatively, they may maintain their vows but feel internally repressed. This produces pain and confusion for women who are left unprotected, and for the men — basically, an unhealthy situation for all parties involved. We cannot talk openly about it because there is so much pressure to follow the four principles that people do not want to share what is happening, for fear of admitting our shortcomings.

If men were taught from the start instead to train to become responsible future grhastas — educated, responsible and with the utmost respect for spirit souls in women's bodies — perhaps we could create a more honest and real spiritual society with softer hearts. Artificial austerities harden the heart, and for most of us, lifelong brahmacari/brahmacarini status would be artificial. Instead of training new bhaktas that brahmacarya is the goal and highest standard, it may be more realistic to teach them that being a brahmacari is a choice, never forced, and is for most a temporary stage of life. Those who know they will want to marry in the future, must prepare by becoming educated so that they can hold decent jobs to maintain their families. This is practical and part of varnashrama dharma. If we do not promote this in our temples, we create a one-sided view of spirituality that will not be realistic for most people to maintain for the long run. Also, women are taught that chastity to the husband is their main duty, but if the husbands are not acting responsibly, then the women are left alone. Our true nature will come out eventually, and I see so many people, myself included, struggling at a too-late stage in life to return to school and get ourselves materially together once we can no longer repress our natural-born dharma.

I have befriended and spoken to men who were trained as brahmacaris, and they have very openly shared with me the inner guilt and confusion they experienced from trying to repress their nature and desire to associate with women, in order to uphold an external portrait of themselves as "good" devotees. Some admitted to sleeping with women in secret. I know when I was in Mayapur, two saffron-clad brahmacaris knocked on my room door at night to approach me for physical relations. I suppose they thought that American women were easy targets, but luckily, they took no for an answer. Still, it was shocking.

Besides that, I have experienced relationships with men who on one side want to have a relationship but on the other side cannot allow themselves to get fully involved in one because they want to maintain what they believe to be the highest standard and think that to be with a woman is a falldown. Due to sex desire they want physical contact with women, but due to pressures in the mind from the way they were taught, they do not want to marry, so are left living in two worlds — secret relations in one place and an external show of brahmacarya in another place. Then the relationships with the women become so focused on that which is forbidden — sex and lust — instead of being one based on respect and lifelong commitment.

Of course, this is not the case for all men. Of course, there are healthy relationships within ISKCON. However, I am just stating a pattern of behavior I have observed and experienced repeatedly in some men, mostly those who were taught that brahmacarya is the highest and best, and mainly in those men who were given a lot of pressure to remain brahmacaris beyond the time that they wanted to.

I know of a couple of men who keep their relationships secret, and one openly admitted to me that it is because he wants to maintain a certain image of himself in front of others. Yet behind closed doors he freely has illicit relations with women, and then leaves them alone to feel hurt and confused. If men like this were taught and pressured within ISKCON the other way around — pressured to be married, pressured to take full responsibility for one legally wedded wife, then such men might start to reanalyze their behavior rather than being applauded for their carefree single lifestyle, which harms the women in our society. The pressure for men to be lifelong brahmacaris (with some rare exceptions) produces dishonesty, whereas pressure for men to marry would produce a more Vedic society of varnashrama dharma where women are protected and men are responsible, and where we can live the scriptures, not just preach them. In an ideal spiritual society, men who treat women in such a disrespectful way (enjoying them without taking responsibility for them) would be looked down upon and encouraged to reform their behavior, but in our current society they easily get away with it and are applauded for being externally single.

I babysit a lot and always feel both impressed and embarrassed when I enter the loving, responsible, honest homes of the families I work for. They may be materialistic in the eyes of some, but to me they are following the Bhagavad-gita by doing their dharma responsibly, caring and protecting the women and children. Some of these families are Jewish or Christian, and in some of these families I feel and see the love of God by the way they warmly treat each other. Seeing such real-life relationships inspires me more spiritually than does the repeated hearing of philosophy without seeing enough living examples of the philosophy that is being taught. I feel embarrassed because I wonder why we, the people who are supposedly with the best philosophy and the chosen people going back to Godhead, live in a semi-dysfunctional society when it comes to interpersonal relations. Of course there are exceptions, and each temple community may have a different mood. But I have witnessed this type of preaching to men, and have witnessed the practical effect it has.

Temple leaders need brahmacaris to get the temple work done. But the spiritual needs of each individual must be met and cared for to produce a long-term, functional movement that will spread far and wide.

I look forward to hearing from other women on their experiences as women in ISKCON, and what healthy changes are needed in order to help both the men and women. I don't really blame the men who hurt women in this way, but rather the overall preaching that is going on, pressuring the men to stay brahmacaris and scaring them about household life. It is true that scriptures recommend avoiding household life if possible, but what is worse: trying to avoid it and repeatedly falling down with different women, or accepting it and living it in a responsible and dharmic way for gradual purification? I would like to hear other women's thoughts and experiences, and hopefully we can unite to produce positive change where it is needed. Hare Krishna.

Editor’s Note: Chakra welcomes more discussion on this topic. Naturally, for maximum impact and credibility we prefer that contributors allow us to associate their names with replies. However, in keeping with longstanding Chakra policy, we will, under certain conditions, post articles anonymously, provided that in every case the author reveals his or her name and contact information to the Chakra editorial board