Hare Krishna Youth
Chapter 3, Section A.
Circumstantial Connection Between Prabhupad & Iskcon
Child abuse was happening while Prabhupad was here and also after his
death. We were children who grew up in Iskcon, and we knew Prabhupad as
the guru, we studied and memorized his translations and interpretations of
the Bhagavad Gita and other Vedic books, and we his words were quoted to
us continually. Prabhupad set up the gurukula system. There is a
The image of Prabhupad held by Iskcon members, both then and now, is of a person on a different level from 'ordinary people'. It is a matter of accountability for actions, why they were carried out, and what effects those actions had. The supposedly acceptable perception attempts to create a scenario in which every situation is looked at with the underlying assumption that everyone besides Prabhupad is responsible.
Take the analogy of a large company. If a number of large mistakes are made and the causes are being looked into, it is not common sense to isolate say the founder/ceo and preclude him/her from scrutiny. In this instance the boss did place the order, which was widely accepted, implemented and followed, and the outcome was gravely negative. Is it then all blame on the worker who did what they were told, or does responsibility lie in a more equitably with upper management? We believe this to be the more accurate placement of responsibility. Followers practically demand that our first imperative is to avoid looking at any connection to the head figure (Prabhupad in this case), and that if we must continue our scrutiny, then any incongruencies in the ´company´ policy are supposedly inadequacies in our understanding. To us, this is avoidance.
1) The Order
Prabhupad directed that children of four and a half, and any age above, be sent to gurukula. Because of the way our parents and others perceived him, this 'instruction' translated to an 'order'. Indeed, if he saw one of his disciples with their child, he would ask why that child wasn't in gurukula. Prabhupad never made any indication, not to speak of effort, that children should be in close proximity to their parents. Parents understood correctly that he ordered that their children be sent to gurukula. In the boys' case it was actively propagated by him that they be sent to India. If there had been any concern, it was obvious that very few if any parents could be a part of their child's life, for even visits. The teachings and behavior expected of parents, teachers, and children was directly taken from Prabhupad´s words and books.
2) Foundation of the Order
One of the factors which directly facilitated an environment where child abuse occurred, both inside and outside the gurukulas, was the philosophies' consistent attitude toward love as it relates to families. Marriage was a concession for those too weak to control their 'sex desire'. Sex was of course the biggest illusion and was not looked on favorably in any way. Love, it was constantly stressed, is not associated with family relationships and least of all with sex. These and other factors created an environment where mothers and fathers did not give credence to the feelings and emotions which bonded them to their children. In fact they denied and felt guilty for them. Even if they were to become involved with family life, they were supposed to be apologetic and acknowledge they were weak, holding onto an illusion, and that they longed to be strong enough to renounce. All of these beliefs are directly supported by Prabhupad's statements.
3) Results of the Order
The term 'pure devotee' is one that is used and defined by Prabhupad in his books, and is not a term used by any other culture or religion. All followers hold that he fits the definition of a pure devotee. In the consensus opinion amongst followers, one of the defining intellectual properties of a pure devotee, suggests that he is incapable of making mistakes.
One of the attributes possessed by such a person is that he not 'illusioned', as are others. This stems from the fact that God is supposed to communicate directly with that person. This being the argument, the implication is that God/Prabhupad had us abused intentionally. This thinking implies that he was aware that the 'teachers' were perverts, and that he put us under them intentionally.
This conception of all-awareness as part of the reference to the guru as
"a pure devotee" is there because followers want to hold their guru in the
highest regard. However to truly believe that Prabhupad was aware of what
was going on, while taking into account the horrible child abuse that
occurred, would be the worst indictment of Prabhupad in the eyes of the
There is also the idea that Prabhupad had no knowledge of what was going on, or at least the severity of it. To them this is necessary so as to exclude him from any culpability in the matter. This again attempts to absolve him of any responsibility and tries to lay it solely at the feet of the individuals directly involved, mainly teachers. This thinking does not however absolve him entirely, as it is meant to, but instead implicates him in other ways. We would never have been in the custody of those abusive teachers had Prabhupad not given the order to start a school. Gurukula would never have been conceived had he not directed it and given the guidelines for it.
In fairness, it is highly improbable that Prabhupad intentionally stuck us with abusive teachers so that we would be abused. We can see from the letters he wrote on the subject that he was against some of the things happening in Dallas. However, the system was very much his creation and the results of that system can thus be laid, at least partially at his feet.
There is another argument that involves the fact that Prabhupad did everything in a hurry because he had very little time. This expedience is used as an excuse for the mistakes that were made - like giving pedophiles high positions of power. This directly contradicts the 'knows-everything' argument. If Prabhupad was fulfilling God's will, then God would have given him as much time as needed to do things right so that children weren't being tortured and abused. No matter what God might or might not have thought, the time should have been taken to ensure that something as important as raising children, was done right the first time, as there is no second chance. This argument, similarly, provides some evidence for Prabhupad's culpability insofar as it shows the fact that he didn't take the time to ensure that there was nothing putrid and rotten lurking below the surface of his, what was to be glorious gurukula experiment. It is not plausible to hold that ´pure devotee´ knows everything that goes on in everyone's mind, nor can they control what everyone does. This may seem to lend weight to the viewpoint that Prabhupad does not share responsibility. This is not what is being said; simply that he placed perverted people in controlling positions over children, by direct orders and/or by a lack of effort to have someone removed, possibly because he was not fully aware of a number of factors in the situation. He may not have recognized the abusers' deviant nature; he may have over-judged their competency; and/or he was over-confident of the efficacy of the philosophy in fixing any problems.
The other possibility though far less appealing, is that he knew about the children's plight and gave his direction and consent to perpetuate its occurrence. This course of action, for whatever reason, is of course despicable; to sit back knowing that children would be molested by people under your direction, while you had the power to stop it but didn't do anything because you thought this was how God wanted it. Since this does not seem to be plausible, we conclude that there were mistakes made by Prabhupad.
Chapter 3, Section B.
Philosophical Connection Between Prabhupad & Iskcon
We also cannot isolate Prabhupad from having responsibility for what happened for fear that it is supposedly offensive. Based on the assumption that Prabhupad would be forthright and honest, we presume that he would be inclined to take responsibility. Hopefully he would admit and acknowledge that the care and well-being of children was grossly ignored. Although he might have been well-intentioned ideologically in putting the future success of Iskcon with its children, he failed to focus the necessary attention on the needs of families and especially children. His priorities were in establishing centers(temples), distributing books and initiating followers.
He did not make the children a priority at all. His instructions suggest that he naively thought that if is disciples followed the rules, they would be purged of their 'bad' behaviors, and would automatically treat the children well. It is recognized that Prabhupad had a life and identity before Iskcon and that his followers who later made up Iskcon are partly responsible for their perception of Prabhupad and the reality they created since his death.
1) On Happiness
It was impossible for some of us to reconcile the contradictions we saw of Prabhupad's supposedly peaceful image, with living in `his' violent atmosphere. Everyone was supposed to be happy following his instructions, but everyone we saw, no matter how hard they tried to adhere, was entirely unhappy. Were we supposed to be happy having the `karma' beaten out of us? Were we supposed to be happy being forced to 'behave' and not express ourselves? Were we supposed to feel proud going out as teenagers giving people books telling them how to 'really' be happy, when we felt miserable and looking like strange of freaks?
When as a child, you become more versed in the teachings, you are faced with a dilemma. The teachings claim to induce love, yet everyone around you, including yourself, is fearful and full of guilt. This makes you question the claims and validity of the teachings. While you are concluding that this environment is unhappy, you are constantly being bombarded with reminders of how horrible it is supposed to be for the people outside the religion, the karmis. You are told that they are the miserable lost souls, and so there seems to be no hope.
The basic gist was that happiness does not exist in this world. When a person thinks they are happy they really aren't, it is just an illusion. This world is an illusion and is meant to trap souls and cause them pain while making them think they are happy. Family life is one of the strongest entrapments. All of the relationships in a family are temporary and are therefore illusions. This means that the relationships between mother and child, father and child, husband and wife, and any other family relationships are not real. They are held by the philosophy to be hindrances to spiritual life.
Women, because of their close connection with children and natural relationship to family, are held to be less intelligent and less capable of detaching from those falsities. It was preached that one should not 'interpret' on their own but should simply follow the instructions as they are given. Given these belief structures, family relationships were not given importance, as compared with the other parts of 'spiritual' life. The teachings held that to renounce those ties was the goal of the effort.
In India the physical tasks of raising children are considered to be the women's duty. Prabhupad was a product of the Indian culture from which he came. In establishing Iskcon, there wasn't much, if any, concern for the children nor was there understanding of children's needs. It is assumed that he did not have much practice with children. Hence, many of his ideas and they're implementation with children, were theoretical at best and did not work in practice. Any group of children put together ranging from 4 and up, especially when taken away from any of their family, are going to be plagued by a host of justifiable fears, with each child having unique individual needs. As it was, there was no room for individual behavior amongst children, the attempt was to enforce the desired behavior upon them.
The responsibility was likely to be mismanaged, even if the teacher was not horribly abusive. So, the responsibility does lie with Prabhupad because he had little idea about what he was dealing with. He did not understand the vulnerability or the vast needs of children. At least one hopes that he did not understand, rather than that he just was not caring. He created a system that could not work. A system that would attract pedophiles and other abusers, as such people have a good nose for situations in which they will be able to take advantage of children. He did not know the repercussions of his orders, and in that instance he is entirely responsible for the abuse that took place.
People who didn't participate in family life would be held in higher regard and so on. This `status' of the renounced person in India is very well culturally established. The virtues of renouncing were stressed by Prabhupad. Some of us speculate that Prabhupad did not personally enjoy his family life and was eager to 'renounce'. He does hold some responsibility for how prevalent `renunciation' became. Truly, he created a movement for sanyasis and brahmachari's.
Still many followers cling to the notion that renunciation will lead them to real happiness. Their contention is that the only reason it has not worked thus far is because the people who tried to implement it were flawed. We, as children, led enforced renounced lives. Our feelings were ignored, we were not allowed families, we had few or no possessions, we could not associate with the opposite sex and we endured profuse amounts of torture and punishment. Contrary to the philosophy we were brought up with, it is our conclusion that there is real love in families, that the love between child and mother/father is real and is as important, and perhaps more than anything else in life. Sexual relationships can provide opportunities for love and happiness. Why should anything, simply because it is temporary, be construed as false? Feelings are very real.
4) The Valued vs. the Devalued
Many of our parents followed Prabhupad because they perceived him to be a wise and loving person. They were convinced that he knew what they needed and decided to do anything he said. There are contradictions to what Prabhupad taught. Some factors from the religious references seem to support to the notion that family life held value. Many of the stories were about relationships between family members. It was preached however that these instances were only because they existed on a separate spiritual plane and it was still held that they were not comparable to 'mundane' relationships that exist here now.
Despite any seeming importance given to family, there was an over-weighing amount of information which lead people to act otherwise. It often manifested as an intense internal struggle inside of people. Any 'attachment' or 'love' one feels for their child or partner is immediately accompanied by a barrage of self-judgments. The judgments are that their parental or familial feelings are not real, that this type of 'love' is false, that they are not 'elevated' because of their attachments, that they had better try and give up these attachments, and that the sooner they renounce all of this stuff the better. The thinking is that 'there is danger at every step' and if one died while being 'attached' they would have to continue suffering. It is not difficult to see that given this internal struggle, a person would neglect their family and be generally very disconnected from their responsibilities or cares.
This should convey the mixed messages that the children were receiving. Do you see how it could be utterly confusing and disturbing for a child? We constantly found ourselves in a catch-22 situation, the outcome being that we could never protect ourselves because we could never question the religion or Prabhupad.
5) Dissempowered Questioning
To us, and as portrayed by Prabhupad's writings, Iskcon was intended to consist of those people believing and abiding by his sampradaya's rendition of the Vedic philosophy. The question of who is actually 'doing' what it says or just wrongly interpreting is a strongly disputed topic depending on who you're talking to. Supposedly, there is no reinterpretation of the teachings in the sampradaya. The guru is to repeat exactly what they learnt from their guru. So there is no way out!
The religious dogma goes something like this: You cannot interpret the religious teachings correctly yourself, therefore you must find a qualified guru (i.e. Prabhupad), but since there is no qualified teacher alive, the only option then is to study the teachers' books. For instance there is a statement in which Chaitanya (the founder of the Hare Krishnas branch of Hinduism 500 years ago) says that there are no hard and fast rules. This statement however is quite contradictory to other more prominent statutes and if one were to prefer believing the above quote to the others they would invariably be accused of misinterpreting the books.
Suppose that you then inform your `accuser' that by default they are assuming that they are qualified to tell you how to correctly interpret. The quoting battle then begins and the person who can out-quote the other, can claim philosophical rightness. Subsequently you feel even more confused because any choice of quotes requires the use of judgment and interpretation. As children, being forced to defend yourself on the basis of quotes from religious books, is very exhausting, discouraging, and impossible. The whole process demonstrates the lack of emotional expression and acceptance in our living atmosphere. You live in a constant state of fear and guilt for what your feelings are, especially when those around you feel differently. You don't know what it is that you are missing, that something is love, affection and understanding, but you despair because you know that you can't allow yourself to ever have hope for anything better in this life because they say it doesn't exist.