How False Gurus in ISKCON
Interpreted the Scriptures to Justify Abuse
Love in the Krishna Book
Teachings of Queen Kunti
Ninth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita
Krishna's life story is the sacred heart of Hinduism. His birth is celebrated by all pious Hindus and the adolescent love affair between Radha and Krishna is considered sacred. Most Hindu worshipers would never describe these pastimes to non-Hindus, for fear that the stories might be misunderstood or exploited. Even in India, unscrupulous gurus have at times twisted the scriptures to justify sexual deviations.
Srila Prabhupada (a translator of Vedas who brought these scriptures to the West) was the tenth guru in a lineage coming from Lord Chaitanya, an incarnation of Krishna in medieval India (1496 to 1534). In His time, Lord Chaitanya inspired a massive nonviolent civil disobedience movement against the Muhammadan occupational government, as well as the Hindu caste brahmin priests. Like Lord Jesus, Lord Chaitanya taught followers to find a personal relationship with God, outside of the rigid religious social structure of the time. He traveled throughout India, converting scholars, religious leaders and thousands of others to His teachings. Lord Chaitanya chanted in the streets, so Srila Prabhupada introduced this practice in America. Some Hindus regard Chaitanya merely as a mystic saint, but Chaitanyite followers see Him as an incarnation of Radha and Krishna, together as one personality. The sacred purport is that Krishna wanted to understand the love Radha felt for Him, so He descended as a devotee - Chaitanya - in order to taste love of Krishna.
As Lord Chaitanya predicted, this brought a renaissance of Radha-Krishna worship in India that was destined to one day spread around the world. Unfortunately however, even though Prabhupada explained the esoteric details, his own disciples twisted the stories to suit perverted aims. In these pages, I'll describe the deviation of family violence and child abuse, and how the scriptural teachings were misinterpreted to prop up a corrupt, abusive leadership in ISKCON during the decade following Srila Prabhuapada's passing.
One of the multi-volume books Srila Prabhupada translated was the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, a biography of Lord Chaitanya, written by Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami shortly after Lord Chaitanya's death. This book reveals all the esoteric secrets of Krishna worship. The BBT books Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita and Caitanya-caritamrta comprise the main library of ISKCON and Krishna consciousness. None of these scriptures condone child abuse.
Love in the Krishna Book
Love was an important theme of Krishna's life, especially in His relationships with family, teachers and friends. In ISKCON, any mention of the word "love" usually draws nervous surprise and stern admonitions that we must love Krishna and Srila Prabhupada. However, in Krishna's pastimes, as in Lord Chaitanya's pastimes, the characters felt extremely emotional about each other. Krishna Book describes many instances of friends and relatives coming together to share love, for example the reunion at Kurukshetra before the Great War. Nanda and Vasudeva (Krishna's adoptive father and real father) lament the tragedies of the families due to Kamsa's and Duryodhana's persecution. Vasudeva says,
My dear friend, it is very difficult for us to live together. Although we have our family and relatives, sons and daughters, by nature's way we are generally separated from one another. The reason for this is that every living entity appears on this earth under different pressures of fruitive activities; although they assemble together, there is no certainty of their remaining together for a long time. According to one's fruitive activities, one has to act differently and thereby be separated. For example, many plants and creepers are floating on the waves of the ocean. Sometimes they come together and sometimes they separate forever: one plant goes one way and another plant goes another. Similarly, our family assembly may be very nice while we are living together, but after some time, in the course of the waves of time, we are separated. (Krishna Book, p. 41)
Vasudeva's words express his grief due to separation, yet ISKCON followers cited the passage to encourage new recruits to cut ties with "material" family and avoid marriage. "Grasses separated by the ocean waves--everything is temporary."
Things have changed for the better in many situations, but the earliest children of ISKCON grew up in a loveless environment. One symptom (or possibly a contributing factor) to the problem was the basic twisting of scripture to deny sentiments between family and friends. In ISKCON they used a lot of metaphors for war, telling us we were soldiers in Lord Chaitanya's army, the books are like bombs, and so on. We lived in a constant state of crisis, going from marathon to media disaster, leaving little time for friendship or love. The children, being the weakest and most dependent, suffered the most.
Teachings of Queen Kunti
Queen Kunti, mother of the five Pandavas, faced many tragic situations due to Duryodhana, her nephew. Nevertheless, throughout her life she remained close to her in-laws Dhritarastra and Gandhari, the parents of Duryodhana, and retired to the forest with them and died with them at the end. She felt a strong bond of attachment to her family and she also loved her nephew Krishna, her brother's son. Despite the curses that Gandhari had for Krishna, Kunti remained loyal to Krishna.
After the Great War, when Krishna was about to leave for His own kingdom in the north, Kunti offered her prayers of unconditional love and devotion in the humble mood of one who has been devastated by life's circumstances. She prayed,
My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of material progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education, and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling. My obeisances are unto You, who are the property of the materially impoverished. (Teachings of Queen Kunti, p. 53, 61)
She asks Krishna to free her from material attachment to family and worldly affairs, so she can go to the forest and dedicate herself to meditation. Lord Chaitanya also prayed in the mood of the goddess's unconditional surrender: "O son of Maharaja Nanda (Krishna), I am Your eternal servitor, yet somehow or other I have fallen into the ocean of birth and death. Please pick me up from this ocean of death and place me as one of the atoms at Your lotus feet." (Siksastaka 5)
Kunti pledges her unconditional devotional love (bhakti) to Krishna in this famous passage:
My dear Krishna, Your Lordship has protected us from a poisoned cake, from a great fire, from cannibals, from the vicious assembly, from suffering during our exile in the forest, and from the battle where great generals fought. And now You have saved us from the weapon of Asvatthama. I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths. (Teachings of Queen Kunti, p. 35, 43)
Devotees of Krishna find strength in Kunti's words of humility, surrender and tenderness toward Krishna, delivered just after she has endured the terror of the Great War. However, stories may also be twisted to suit institutional goals, or cover perpetrators' tracks. For example, Bhagavatam speakers sometimes advised devotees to go before the Deity and pray for bad things to happen in order to surrender like Kunti. This is a feeble interpretation to say the least, because it minimizes the intent of Kunti's words: unconditional love and surrender.
Ninth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita
The Bhagavad-gita, the most sacred and universally recognized holy scripture of the Hindu religion, is also the most important book of ISKCON. Ideally, ISKCON members gather every night to read Bhagavad-gita, recite the Sanskrit and hear a philosophical discourse. Some devotees enjoy memorizing their favorite verses. Therefore it is astonishing that the perpetrators in ISKCON used this holy book to get away with their crimes. In the Ninth chapter, Krishna says, "Even if one commits the most abominable actions, if he is engaged in devotional service, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated. He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes." (Bg. 9.30-31) ISKCON leaders constantly repeated the phrase "even if one commits abominable actions" to justify their abominable actions. As long as they kept their jobs in the hierarchy ("if he is engaged in devotional service"), they felt self-righteous and deserving of forgiveness for their grave mistakes ("he is to be considered saintly"). They enforced this with an iron fist at times.
However, there are other statements on this subject that they needed to take into consideration. In Chapter Two Krishna says: "But those who, out of envy, disregard these teachings and do not practice them regularly, are to be considered bereft of all knowledge, befooled and doomed to ignorance and bondage." (Bg. 2.32) Krishna can tell the difference between an envious person and a surrendered soul (described in 9.30-31) who makes mistakes.
It's a subtle difference, but definitely a meaningful one. Krishna says, "Those who are not faithful on the path of devotional service cannot attain Me, O conqueror of foes, but return to birth and death in this material world." For the sincere but unsuccessful yogi, Krishna promises a long life in the heavenly planets, and then another chance on earth to pursue the spiritual path. Krishna also describes the fate of people in the three modes of nature (goodness, passion and ignorance), and makes it clear that through the law of karma (the power of cause and effect) everyone will get what they deserve. "Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds." (Bg. 14.18)
It is unimportant whether one believes in heaven or hell in a literal sense, because even taken as metaphor, Krishna's words describe the difference between right and wrong. Karma is an equalizing force that starts to act whenever there is a duality. It brings the duality back to oneness, although it may take a long time. A basic tenant of Hinduism is that we all live through multiple lives to resolve our karmic yarns.
In the middle of the Bhagavad-gita conversation, Arjuna asks Krishna to prove that He is God. Krishna thus reveals his Universal Form, which is a phantasmagoria of faces, arms, weapons and power. Arjuna sees the soldiers at Kurukshetra flying into Krishna's mouths, where they are devoured. Overcome with Krishna's greatness, Arjuna finally asks Krishna to resume a normal form. When the vision ends, Krishna says, "My dear Arjuna, one who is engaged in My pure devotional service, free from the contaminations of previous activities and from mental speculation, who is friendly to every living entity, certainly comes to Me." (Bg. 11.55)