Chakra Discussions

"Theft" of ISKCON Members?

by Niscala dasi

Posted May 31, 2010

There have been many devotee discussions lately on the issue of diksa -- whether one should become initiated by Srila Prabhupada (ritvik), by one of his disciples (ISKCON and its affiliates), or by a vaisnava guru outside of ISKCON (such as in the Gaudiya Matha). Most of those discussions have centred around what group one should belong to, but it seems to me that more important than determining that for others, when it is a matter of faith it is vital to determine how we should conduct ourselves within and among those groups.

Srila Prabhupada told us: "Your love for me will be shown by how you cooperate to push on this Krsna consciousness movement." The Krsna consciousness movement includes all the vaisnava groups. Among and within these groups, dealings should be based on love and acceptance. Whether in ISKCON or outside of it, if one’s dealings with other groups and those within one’s group are friendly and respectful -- if possible, even loving and trusting -- it assures us of Krsna’s mercy.

There are many friendly and well-qualified devotees in all the above groups, but also some individuals who seem bent on animosity, division, hatred and offending others. In particular, it seems acceptable in all the groups to neglect Sri Krsna’s instruction not to take accidental falldown of His devotees very seriously, as well as Srila Prabhupada’s instruction never to broadcast such falldown. The ritviks -- some of them -- broadcast such falldown to persuade us to take initiation from Srila Prabhupada, which is disobeying his direct instruction. Others outside ISKCON do so to persuade us to take initiation from their guru. In ISKCON, as soon as one’s guru experiences any difficulty with a sexual attraction, it becomes a cause for a total loss of faith, as well as public knowledge.

One must keep in mind what pleases Krsna. That is the goal of the guru-disciple relationship, and of the association of devotees in whatever group one is in. When a devotee is having difficulty, whether he is one's disciple, one's friend or even one’s guru, one must reach out in friendship and assistance, not treat him with self-righteous condemnation.

We must try to cultivate a soft heart and a clear head. When the heart become hard, we block out people, and we thus fall into the kanistha mentality of "us" and "them" -- with "us" being in the superior category. We then try to put others down, and we rationalize this tamasic activity as devotion to the guru or to the group one belongs to.

With a clear head, we may avoid fanaticism, and we cultivate the contemplation of compassionate realism -- the consideration that although my guru is a powerful preacher, inspirational, even empowered by the Lord, and although I may on that basis want to take initiation from him or have done so already, still he is not God, possibly not even an eternally liberated soul, and so he may fall down. If he does fall down, or experiences difficulty, I will repay him for all the spiritual help he has given me by reaching out in friendship. How would Lord Bhakta-vatsala not be extremely pleased by such an attitude?

I have said that we should cultivate relationships of love and trust, and to do that we must be loving and trustworthy. All those who have left ISKCON have had their psychological skins burnt in some way. When the skin is burnt, it becomes sensitive to any touch whatsoever. Let that touch be only to apply the ointment of unconditional love for the Lord and His devotees.

We are here to become Krsna-conscious, not group-conscious. Krsna does not belong to any group or guru. He may be found in other religions, and He may inspire from within those who call themselves Christian, Muslim and so on. He can speak to us, and instruct us through anyone, even through a prostitute like Cintamani. Vaisnavas are found the world over, in all groups, but not all those in the ostensibly vaisnava groups are necessarily vaisnava. External symbols such as saffron clothes, danda, tilak and dhoti or title and position, etc. are not proof of being a vaisnava. Being in ISKCON or being a ritvik is no proof of loyalty to Srila Prabhupada, and being in another group is no proof of loyalty to the founder-acarya of that group.

A vaisnava is self-effulgent -- not by how his silken dhoti shines in the sun, but by his vaisnava qualities of compassion, tolerance, humility and so on. On the basis of advancement in such qualities, we offer friendship to devotees in different ways. We offer very respectful and humble friendship and service to those who are very advanced in vaisnava qualities. To those with similar advancement to our own, we offer friendship. To those less qualified, we do not condemn, but we offer friendly and gentle guidance. This is the instruction coming down in parampara. Even the envious we do not condemn, but we avoid. So all our relationships should be friendly. If we see someone in our group being unfriendly, we may try to instruct that person, or if unsuccessful we may avoid him. Condemnation or self-righteous judgment of others as lesser, on the basis of their group or guru, is totally alien to vaisnava character. It is a symptom of the kanistha or materialistic devotee.

So does it matter at all what group one belongs to? They are all based on the Krsna-conscious decision to associate with sadhus, either by instruction (vani) or personal presence (vapuh).

Srila Prabupada Ritvik Initiation
The ritvik idea is very nice -- taking shelter of Srila Prabhupada, learning from his books. In essence it is wonderful. But if, by association with some other ritviks, one starts offending those devotees who once took up the service of guru but who later fell captive to maya, then it is a problem, as anyone who has rendered service is very dear to Krsna (particularly those who have explained His philosophy to His devotees).

Another mistake one may make is to cut off all the other channels through which Krsna may choose to instruct. One can have many, many siksa gurus. Srila Prabhupada can speak and instruct through many imperfect persons (this happened when he was here personally), and they should be respected for instructing us, not disrespected for being imperfect. On the other hand, if a person is ostensibly advanced but showing symptoms of rajas and tamas -- is divisive, blasphemous, jealous or twisting the philosophy, even if everyone says he is a guru -- he is not. He is not even a vaisnava.

That popular opinion can lead to a thoroughly illusioned state of mind is illustrated in the story that Srila Prabhupada once told of how a man’s group of friends decided to play a joke on him. In separate incidents, they each told him that he had become a ghost, and pretended to be appalled and scared at the sight of him. Eventually, the man believed it. One is not a guru or sadhu because others say so, no matter how many say so. Divesting oneself of such illusory proclivities, and with keen discrimination, one should cultivate being open to genuine vaisnava guidance and examples, from wherever and whomsoever they may issue.

Gaudiya Matha Initiation
In an internet discussion, a disciple of a Gaudiya Matha guru has argued that everyone should leave ISKCON, because they are implicated in offence by the GBC having previously offended various sadhus. If the GBC members offend someone, it is the concern of those members, it is not our concern and it does not implicate all members of ISKCON. To think so is the mentality of the terrorists who attacked the twin towers -- the people killed in those buildings were citizens of a country which had gone to war with Muslims, but so many in those buildings were opposed to the war, and many had Muslim friends. Many indeed were Muslims themselves. Similarly, many devotees in ISKCON are united with the Gaudiya Math in heart. We don’t agree with all the resolutions our GBC makes, and the discussions on the Internet make clear that many of their resolutions are unpopular.

ISKCON Initiation
I have had experience of various ISKCON leaders in my zone not responding to my concerns regarding such serious matters as abuse and neglect of cows. This led me down a road of radical loss of faith, until another leader -- a GBC member and guru -- went out of his way to listen. So the pitfall in the ISKCON group is that one may lose faith because we make the fallacious assumption that those with title and position are necessarily advanced, which leads us, when disappointed, to the other side of the fallacious equation: that no one with title and position is advanced in vaisnava character and qualites.

Many ISKCON devotees go out on book distribution to save the fallen souls, and some of us also want to make ISKCON more loving and caring so that those who read the books will find a shelter here. Rather than demonize the so-called opposition for "stealing" our members, we should understand that members are not property that can be bought, sold or stolen. They are Krsna's property, and -- as with servants of the master on an estate -- our duty is to care for His property with great attention. Therefore, our only duty towards devotees, whether in our own group, or in another, is to care for them.

In order to care for someone, one must find out their needs, which are not the same as everyone else's needs. This is why we need to introduce varnashrama, to be able to care for and accommodate people differently. We also need to listen. No one in this movement is so exalted that he is above listening to the needs of those below him. Indeed, a truly advanced person in spiritual vision makes no such distinction of "higher" and "lower." All are the Lord's property, through whom He accepts service and the mood of friendship, until we are qualified enough in service and in mood to associate with Him personally.