Same Old Brave New “ISKCON”

By Kailäsa Candra däsa

Article One, Section Two: “ISKCON” is a Pragmatism

Second of a Six-Part Series

“Do not try to follow the unauthorized advice of Kirtanänanda. Nobody cares for the dress; every sane man follows the philosophy and practical talks. Let Kirtanänanda Swämé do something practically.” Letter to Brahmananda, 10-11-67

“(Pragmatism) frees us . . . from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretend absolutes and origins. . . (It directs us) toward power.” William James, Pragmatism

“Only shallow people do not judge by appearances.” Oscar Wilde

In the previous Section, we explained that a pillar of the fabricated, so-called “ISKCON” confederation is pragmatism; we there contend it is that movement’s covert philosophical paradigm and operating system, rarely if ever admitted as such. It is much more potent for the leaders of “ISKCON” not to reveal the pragmatism in their scheme, because, by not overtly pushing it, they cannot have that fact so easily pinned on them when revealed for the first time (as it is here).

All emphases added for your edification and realization

“Pragmatism became the most important philosophical movement in the United States during the early 1900’s, and it has had an enormous influence on American life. Pragmatism has been called a typically American philosophy, because of its basic optimism, its emphasis on action, and its belief in a future that can be changed by human ideas and effort. Many people claim that pragmatism expresses the essential American character.” The World Book Encyclopedia, 1988 Edition

Pragmatism is uniquely an American philosophical contribution, and we have all been influenced by it during our formative years. For those devotees who are aware of the word (what to speak of the philosophy behind it), many, if not most of them, may think it to be a synonym for “practical.” There can be no doubt that His Divine Grace Çréla Prabhupäda emphasized practicality in the performance of Kåñëa conscious sevä. We all know and remember him saying that utility is the principle. Nevertheless, does “pragmatic” actually mean “practical?” Furthermore, if it doesn’t, should we not only recognize that fact but also understand the importance of the difference between the two concepts?

The New International Webster’s Dictionary, 2002 edition, defines “practical” as “useful, workable, sensible,” and it similarly defines “utility” as “fitness for a practical purpose.” Nothing about pragmatism is mentioned in these definitions; it is not indicated as being synonymous with either practicality or utility. Does making utility our principle mean that we are utilitarians? Does being practical mean that we are pragmatists? Do ritual and “pukka” appearances automatically represent the Absolute Truth?

Let us now delve into just what pragmatism is; you can decide for yourself whether or not “ISKCON,” especially after the disappearance of His Divine Grace, operates according to what it projects—its appearances or profiles—relative to its community of followers and the public at large. However, before getting into this topic, let’s see, in summary, what Prabhupäda had to say in relation to the pragmatic and the practical. In the 2003 Folio, in the lecture, conversation, and lecture sections, we find only eight entries for “pragmatic,” while we find 1,831 entries for “practical.” Which word obviously thus signifies what Srila Prabhupäda is both meaning and stressing? Of those eight entries for “pragmatic,” five are not spoken by His Divine Grace. Of the three attributed to him, two are in the same context, same discussion, and exact same part of one given conversation.

There, Prabhupäda is derogatory when first using the word (this excerpt was quoted at the top of Article One, Section One); the second entry, which immediately follows it, could be subject to interpretation. However, if that second use of the word is logically considered in terms of its first usage (which immediately precedes it), then interpreting “pragmatic” in a positive light would be both illogical and forced.

The Book of James

Prabhupäda: What is the opposite word of utopian?
Leading Secretary: Pragmatic.
Prabhupäda: Pragmatic?
Leading Secretary: Pragmatic means practical, and utopian means idealistic concept.

“The truth is the name of whatever proves itself to be good . . . it is always valuable and expedient when the means of thought works effectively and satisfactorily.” William James, Pragmatism

“It was James more than anyone who gave pragmatism its mother tongue, its characteristic vocabulary, its identifying phrases and stock of illustrative materials . . . the modus operandi of discussion and understanding has its base in the writings of James.” H. S. Thayer, Meaning and Action

Now, let us take a concise look at pragmatism in order to realize how it may have indeed wormed its way into the movement. We mentioned the first two references by Prabhupäda (to “pragmatic”) previously; that excerpt above is the third reference. It is simply one word (“Pragmatic?”) in the form of an interrogatory. His Divine Grace knew what pragmatism was, although here he is feigning as if he did not know. He did this often.

The leading secretary referenced here was a Governing Body Commissioner notorious for centralization schemes, and he was also one of the original pretender mahäbhägavats, numbering eleven. He met his end during the mid-Eighties in a most gruesome manner, decapitated and dismembered by one of his own followers. Here we see that he gives a common yet false definition to Prabhupäda concerning the meaning of “pragmatic.” We shall establish that this interpretation is false as our article proceeds. That Çréla Prabhupäda chose not to correct him does not mean that Prabhupäda accepted the man’s definition; those who push such a misconception will eventually find the foundation of their notion built on sand.

The most important conclusion to glean from the exchange (immediately cited above) is that the leading secretary, a very influential man at the beginning of the “ISKCON” deviation, was into the misconception that pragmatic meant practical. If that fellow was influenced like this, we have little reason to believe that his peers were not similarly so inclined; what went down adds credence to this inclination.

Now, the question may be raised as to Prabhupäda’s opinion of William James. Some will say that he was quite positive about James; others will contend just the opposite. There is evidence to support both views. However, Prabhupäda’s opinion of James is not the issue here. What we are concerned with is only Prabhupäda’s view on pragmatism.

That’s where it gets interesting. Proposals of various philosophers (including political philosophers) were presented to His Divine Grace. They were presented by Çyämasudara prabhu and the late Hayagréva däs Adhikäré, both Americans. In virtually all cases—or, at least, in the vast majority of them—one of these secretaries presented a given philosopher to Prabhupäda, and the other one presented the philosophy of a different man. The philosophy of James, however, was separately presented by—and very differently at that—both Çyämasudara and Hayagréva. In one sense, this indirectly indicates how much influence James had on Americans.

As stated by him at the very beginning of Hayagréva’s presentation: “This is William James. All of these quotations are taken from his most famous book, which was entitled The Varieties of Religious Experience. He's an American philosopher.” Actually, that was not his most famous book; his most influential treatise was Pragmatism, the book that made him. That Hayagréva, who was previously Professor Howard Wheeler, would emphasize Varieties should not be surprising, as it contains occult and drug references. Along with The Tibetan Book of the Dead (the bardo!), Varieties was very popular during the hippy era. Wheeler came out of that culture as part of the Eastern-oriented Mott Street Gang in New York City.

There is little mention of pragmatism in Hayagréva’s presentation. It could be said that Prabhupäda was somewhat favorable to James in that particular critique, and we would agree with such an assessment. However, in connection to pragmatism, the presentation made by Çyämasudara prabhu is far more valuable and to the point. In that one, Prabhupäda was noticeably unfavorable to James, at least for most of the discussion. We shall establish this as the article proceeds.

It is sometimes recorded that a contemporary of James founded pragmatism, and that person would be C. S. Peirce. This is a half-truth. James took what he wanted from Peirce and ran with it. Indeed, Peirce did not even call his philosophy pragmatism (he called it pragmaticism). It was not as concerned with external results as it was with internal, deliberative processes. There is no need to go into the details of this.

Similarly, another contemporary of these two, the much younger John Dewey, is also considered a pragmatist. Again, if that idea is not a half-truth, then it is little more. The exceptionally complex and sophisticated philosophy of Dewey would not be done justice even if it was detailed by an article as long as this six-part series. Furthermore, Dewey did not call his philosophy pragmatism; he called it instrumentalism.

Dewey had a tremendous influence on the American educational system, and virtually everyone knows this. As such, some pragmatism certainly entered into the mindsets of Americans during their formative years under the indirect influence of Dewey. Nevertheless, it was James who actually founded the basic structure of pragmatism. James established its critical lexicon, projected its mode (räjo-guëa), and presented the analogies that illustrate just what his pragmatism is, as well as its definition.

We are going to present some of his philosophy in a special context, i.e., how it was delivered to His Divine Grace Çréla Prabhupäda and how he responded to it. The pragmatic philosophy of James has precious little value in relation to Kåñëa consciousness. It may be expedient to some limited degree, but it will not produce any spiritual satisfaction accorded an ätmäräma even at the sädhaka stage. If sometimes it proves itself to be materially good, that does not necessarily mean that it was good in relation to realization of the Absolute Truth, especially for Vaiñëava personalists.

Pragmatism in a Nutshell

Çyämasundara: He (James) had a vague idea of brahman realization by saying that the consciousness . . .
Prabhupäda: Everything is vague idea.
Çyämasundara: . . . the consciousness eventually enters into the, what he called the mother sea.
Prabhupäda: What?
Çyämasundara: The mother sea.
Prabhupäda: Mother sea?
Çyämasundara: The mother ocean.
Prabhupäda: What is that?
Çyämasundara: He says that the consciousness eventually enters into the mother ocean. That is as far as he could speculate.
Devänanda: Let the bubbles go on popping in the ocean. The bubble bursting into the ocean is the mother sea. Critique of William James

Prabhupäda: . . . his knowledge is not perfect. He is speculating . . . a jugglery of words, that's all. Critique of William James

“The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable.” William James, Pragmatism

Western civilization began with the Greeks, and an incipient seed of pragmatism was already present in those ancient times. In order to understand this part of our article, some brain substance is required; the dull-witted, as well as the fanatics, will not assimilate it—because they cannot understand. The demigods in charge of knowledge, as well as the Supersoul, do not allow them to understand.

Nevertheless, for the sincere occultists, transcendentalists, and devotees, particularly in America, this topic should be given deep deliberative thought. It entails a two-fold realization. First, what pragmatism is (and isn’t) relative to what Prabhupäda’s opinion of pragmatism was and continues to be, and, secondly, whether or not pragmatism has infiltrated its way into the fabricated, so-called “ISKCON” confederation.

There are many facets to the philosophy of pragmatism, and we could not reasonably expect that His Divine Grace commented upon all of them; in fact, he did not. We are going to list some chief tenets of pragmatism here, and, wherever Prabhupäda made a pointed critique about one of them, we shall reproduce it. Pragmatism is anti-Vedic and anti-Vaiñëava. It does not lead to spiritual revelation. Dovetailing it is risky, and there is no need to even make such an attempt.

The principles of pragmatism are rooted in empiricism and reductionism. The chief misconception is that all ideas derive from experience--earlier introduced by John Stuart Mill (to whom James dedicated Pragmatism, as aforementioned)--and that all ideas, in the ultimate end, reduce to sense data. Santayana called it “a malicious psychology.”

Pragmatism, along with existentialism, were rebellions against Kant’s synthetic a prior postulate, essentially a Vedic concept.[1] According to Kant, practical laws are given through reason a priori, but, in pragmatism, pragmatic laws are created from empirical experience. Obviously, there must be some root reason why pragmatism is equated with practicality; the fact that this term was derived from a Greek word meaning practical action must certainly be an indication of that original reason.

Absolute Truth does not require empirical verification in order to be absolutely true; as far as that goes, even relative truth does not require this. The philosophy of pragmatism opines otherwise. The idea that truths are effected through a kind of material self-discovery-cum-creation does not accord with the Vedic version. Ultimately, even the most mundane action is shot through with occult principles operating outside the context of empirical verification. The functional psychology of James is certainly a form of utilitarianism, and, as could only be expected, it is cent-per-cent dependent upon a functional method.

In the Vedic teachings, intuition is important, and it most certainly exists. Besides higher intelligence, mundane intelligence—reason, logic, the deliberative faculty—is one of the eight separated material energies. As such, it is and can be objectified. Pragmatism, however, views intelligence not as an object or as an ontological category, but only as a teleological process exhibited in the world of material experience. On this basis, James considered himself a radical empiricist.

He came to believe that all his accumulated acts of thought were the pathway to salvation, the determinate of metaphysical reality. In Pragmatism, he also wrote: “All our theories are instrumental, mental modes of adaptation to reality.” Although there is a kernel of truth in this conception, it is nevertheless woefully lacking and potentially misleading.

In pragmatism, man is free to revise and thus essentially create a new order of categories of interpretation, and these creations then become the reality—but only when successfully implemented in the material world. The list of hypotheses that must flow from such unauthorized speculative freedom is infinite. We can certainly see Darwin present in the philosophy of James, as well. The person who is able to develop and assimilate the most pragmatic intelligence will be considered superior, acclaimed to possess an evolutionary mechanism that must prevail, simply because his hypotheses have proven “useful.” It lays the groundwork for the consumer society, also. To put this another way, unfettered capitalism combined with consumerism accords well with pragmatism. Just the opposite is the case in terms of Vaiñëava philosophy, where voluntary acceptance of self-abnegation for the purpose of self-realization is stressed.

According to Bhagavad-gétä (16.9), the pragmatists are lost to themselves. They reject a priori principles and propositions. They reject the postulate that these are linked to individual intuition or higher intelligence. For the pragmatists, what is called intuition can be granted nothing higher than the status of a proposal; what it produces is only true if its idea plays out successfully. However, yoga is not overly concerned with success or failure, and one who believes that all actions must work out successfully (in order for them to be linked to Truth) ignores Bhagavad-gétä:

siddhy-asiddhyoù samo bhütvä samatvaà yoga ucyate [2]

Çyämasundara: His idea (pragmatism) is that Truth is created in the same manner as health and wealth are created.
Prabhupäda: Truth is not created. Health can be created, but Truth is existing always. It is not created. . . Truth is not developing, but you are gradually progressing towards Truth. Truth is not developing.
Çyämasundara: He (James) calls Truth a system of verification; in other words, a process whereby ideas become true, and they are made true by events in our experience. As we get more experience, then Truth is created.
Prabhupäda: Not created. Truth is there. Truth is revealed. As you make progress, so the Truth becomes revealed. Critique of James

As we can see, Prabhupäda clearly rejected a fundamental pillar of pragmatism. Note also that the idea of there being no reality outside oneself is prominent amongst at least one school of Buddhists, the çünyavädés. In a related school in that line, objects exist relative to conceptual schemes or frameworks. As such, the pragmatic method, perhaps subtly influenced by Buddhist ideas somewhere in time, is what accords with that which is successful in practice, i.e., thought is deemed practical or genuine reasoning only inasmuch as it is based on successful material results. This view was integral to Fichte’s subtle warping of Kant, laying the groundwork for both Mill and James to twist the idea further.

It was not as new as they may have believed, however, because the Buddhists had developed something similar to it centuries ago. In pragmatism, everyone is doomed to his or her own framework of conceptions when those ideas do not work out practically in the material world. All categories that “pay off” are considered good and non-different from “reality”; all those that are not successful are considered darkness only.

James was not without contradiction in his philosophy. He said that reality is created by pragmatic experiment (via teleological intelligence), as juxtaposed to this excerpt from his Collected Essays and Reviews: “We know so little about the ultimate nature of things or of ourselves that it would be sheer folly, dogmatically, to say that an ideal rational order may not be real.” Prabhupäda spotted the flaw:

Çyämasundara: Because . . . observations of the universe are evolving toward a unity. This is his (James’) criterion for truth, that only that which I can perceive is true, or which I can experience.
Prabhupäda: What you can perceive, that may be wrong thing also, because you are not perfect. . . because you have got a poor fund of knowledge. Therefore, you are thinking that imperfect thing, it is also perfect. . .
Çyämasundara: Whereas he says that, ‘The truth develops as I experience it.’

Prabhupäda: . . . experience you have to take from a man who is experienced. Just like he wants to philosophize. He is trying to distribute his experience, but he does not like to take others' experience. That is the defect. . . We will meet a person whose experience cannot be transcended, cannot be surpassed. We take experience from him. Critique of James

That certainty is considered a futile quest is intrinsic to pragmatism. The humanistic optimism present in the pragmatic method is obviously ego-centric, and its proposition is sold to others—or, more appropriately, others are easily infected by it—via personal intangibles related to self-image. Self-image came to the fore in recent times, and pragmatism certainly helped set the stage for that. Pragmatism easily degenerates into solipsism in due course of time, and that’s what Bhagavad-gétä (16.9) is all about. We shall more thoroughly discuss its narcissism, especially in the context of existentialism, in Parts Three and Four of this treatise. Although more prominent there, narcissism is certainly present in the pragmatist.

Pragmatism is a complicated and comprehensive philosophical presentation, so we shall simply highlight four of its tenets, along with Çréla Prabhupäda’s rejection of those wrong conclusions:

1) Pragmatism postulates that the utility of a theory is found in the matter of its problem-solving power: Only if the idea “works” can it be a true hypothesis. If it does not work or is not useful, vice versa. This is the subtle pragmatist construal of utility, of course. A corollary of this is that something is true only if I feel good about it, if it affects me positively, if it is thus useful to me in that way. Prabhupäda had an entirely different take:

Çyämasundara: James uses the example of God. Whether God exists depends on the extent to which a belief in God affects my life. . . if I get some courage and strength by believing in God, then God is true, then God does exist.
Prabhupäda: So, one may not feel like that, (but does) that means that God does not exist? . . . You believe in God, you don't believe--what does it matter for God?
Çyämasundara: But I think he (James) would say that if everyone who believes in God gets some strength, some happiness, some courage, so that it would benefit everyone to believe in God.
Prabhupäda: But he does not get any strength by it, does it mean God is not there?

2) Pragmatism contends that all universal beliefs and theories must be treated as hypotheses only, which may very well need to be modified—refined, revised, or rejected—in light of future inquiry and experience. Universal reality is itself a working hypothesis. Pragmatists have always defended such universal fallibilism and are suspicious of foundationalist theories. Since universal fallibilism is factual to them, there can be no certain foundations for knowledge. The universe (what to speak of humanity) is inherently imperfect and can only evolve toward perfection. This is not in accord with what our spiritual master taught us, however:

Çyämasundara: (According to James) his idea is, the exact quote is: "That order is gradually one and always in the making." In other words, the universe is evolving toward ultimate unification, which is never fully achieved.
Prabhupäda: That means he has no knowledge, poor fund of knowledge. The universe is complete, but he is not complete.
Çyämasundara: Because his vision of a unified universe is evolving, then he ascribes that the universe itself is false.
Prabhupäda: No. The universe is not evolving. It is perfect since it was created, but, because we have no perfect knowledge, you are thinking it is evolving.

3) Related to Point Two (above) is the contention in pragmatism that there is no comprehensive universal control. To put this another way, there is always the possibility of uncontrolled chance, an accident that is not only unpredictable but has no ultimate controlling agent behind it. As a corollary, no statement or judgment about the world can be certain or incorrigible due to the music of chance. In light of this wild-card element (accident without supernatural control), it is the human being alone who must choose for himself how the world works and is to be described. To some extent, Prabhupada delved into the subtleties of this idea:

Çyämasundara: He says that there is an aspect of chance in nature.
Prabhupäda: Nature means always changing.
Çyämasundara: Chance.
Prabhupäda: What?
Çyämasundara: Chance. Accident. That there is an aspect of accident.
Prabhupäda: No, no, no. We don't accept that. . . Because it is imperfect, therefore there is an accident.
Çyämasundara: Oh! It is an accident?
Prabhupäda: Yes.
Çyämasundara: That is not determined by any. . .
Prabhupäda: No.
Bhavänanda: That's not determined even by karma?
Prabhupäda: What?
Bhavänanda: It is not determined even by karma?
Prabhupäda: Yes, in higher sense, it is also like that. That means, from God's eyes even, the so-called accident is also predestined. Critique of James

4) Finally, as could only be expected, James, who was obviously influenced by Mill’s version of utilitarianism, also bought into another philosophical postulate of the Victorian firebrand as it relates to what they both considered the illusion of a Supreme Controller’s omnipotence. Like Mill, James said that there can be no Parameçvara. Why? Due to the presence of evil, and that was also Mill’s contention. Prabhupada dismissed this idea:

Çyämasundara: He (James) didn't believe that God was unlimited. . . He believed that God was somehow limited--because there is evil, because evil exists, that God is somehow limited.
Prabhupäda: He does not know that evil does not exist independently. He does not know. Critique of James

The “ISKCON” Wall

“. . .one will gradually become sahajiyä or one who takes spiritual advancement as something materially manifest.” Letter to Makanläl, June 30, 1970

Çyämasundara: So practicality has to be judged on the result, what is the result of that action?
Prabhupäda: Yes. That is that ‘the end justifies the means.’ Means is not very important. What is the end we have to see. Critique of William James

“The präkåta-sahajiyäs misunderstand the pure devotees and Vaiñëava Äcäryas as being mental speculators or fruitive actors. As a result of such a conclusion, they themselves become Mäyävädés and leave the service of the Supreme Lord.” Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Conversations with Prakäçänanda

When we refer to “ISKCON,” we refer to the fabricated, so-called spiritual institution in general and its leaders (or beneficiaries) in particular. These men (and at least a few women) know how to employ their own particular pragmatic method; none of them is spiritual master, but they all are past masters when it comes to pragmatic implementation. Although yoga must always be a mystical discipline—and pragmatism is considered empiric—that system of thought can also have an occult application: Such implementation requires insight, no dearth of canny intelligence, and a ruthless mentality trained and geared for exploitation.

How many times a subtle manifestation of “ISKCON” pragmatism has overwhelmed a newcomer--inducing him to surrender himself to what is allegedly an institution representing buddhi-yoga--has never been documented and cannot be accurately determined. Just as no one knows the attrition rate of all the newcomers who came to and left “ISKCON” since 1978, no one could possibly keep records on when and how various “ISKCON” leaders have played the pragmatist card in order to prove what they are doing is bona fide Vaiñëavism. Anecdotes from personal experience, however, can give us both a clue and a scope for understanding the operation. Therefore, we shall begin the denouement with a couple of anecdotes, which may be considered but a sampling of how the “ISKCON” methodology tends to play out and go down.

One of our former members was a brilliant young fellow with very sharp intelligence, although he was lacking, most unfortunately, in prajïa. In all likelihood, he was a devotee in his previous lifetime. One day in California, he came into contact with Prabhupäda’s books and was immediately attracted. He saw the list of addresses at the back of the book and noticed that there was a temple nearby. He then went to that center, as so many others have done at so many other places over the decades since Prabhupäda departed physical manifestation.

This young man was a game-board protegπ, and these kinds of guys deliberate in terms of making logical moves relative to interlocking relationships of various facts, factors, and entities within an overall scheme. He came to the temple and saw that it was clean. He saw the “pukka” devotees there in their Oriental dress, with shaved heads and tiläka. He smelled the incense wafting throughout and heard the chanting of Prabhupäda emanating from the loudspeakers in the background. He was fed the basic line by those who initially preached to him and concluded that, the books being so reasonable, and the center which was (allegedly) representing them so different from the rat race outside, how could the whole thing be anything but bona fide?

He bought into the dogma that Prabhupäda had recognized eleven initial gurus just before he left and empowered the GBC to eventually expand the number. Circa 1983, three more gurus had been voted to the post, and the young man could and should choose from any of these fourteen in order to be initiated into Kåñëa consciousness. As such, he picked one of those new gurus. The young man moved in, followed the temple program for a few months, and soon became initiated. His “ISKCON” guru hardly even met him, and they certainly did not study each other carefully in any way before the eventual initiation ceremony.

This fellow not long afterwards hit the wall, and, to make a long story short, he came to doubt everything about “ISKCON” in due course of time. However, having received the “ISKCON” béja, he was not able to stay with us for very long. That fact, however, is secondary. The lesson to be learned from this example, almost certainly emulated hundreds if not thousands of times elsewhere, is that “ISKCON” presents a pragmatic set-up—an appearance, a show-bottle.

In combination with a simple playbook, it is able to make and eventually break many newcomers. It snaps them, chews them up, exploits them, and then spits them out. Initially attracted by the pure message in Prabhupäda’s teachings, but due to some lack of sincerity and seriousness on their own parts, they accept that the whole show must be bona fide--because of the appearance of the centers and its inhabitants. They eventually pay the price for falling victim to such “ISKCON” pragmatism, but you cannot fault them entirely: The configuration of the trap is not easy to figure out.

The standard of judgment in pragmatism is effectiveness, expediency, and efficiency, with the consequence of the action supposedly clarifying the meaning of the idea behind that action. This standard was applied to book distribution statistics and money collection back in the day. In 1978, with the scheme of the zonal äcäryas in its incipient stage, one particular GBC—skeptical about whether or not the new dispensation was bona fide—met with a fellow commissioner, who was a member of the eleven pretender mahäbhägavat clique, at his mahä-temple.

When a fan is unplugged, it still spins for awhile; book distribution had doubled for three straight years between 1975-1977, and it was still going strong in 1978. Both of these men had received the order of sannyäsa, so the non-“ISKCON”-guru sannyäsé, a powerful and influential man in his own right, questioned his “new guru” godbrother. There were flaws in how the whole thing went down, as well as to the roots of its so-called legitimacy. The Swami (now no longer a sannyäsé) was pointing these out, and the discussion became a bit heated.

Ultimately, the “ISKCON” guru rationalized the new system, and I can only paraphrase his rationalization, because I was not directly privy to the conversation.[3] He contended that how the eleven mahäbhägavats, all GBCs, had decided to continue the disciplic succession within their institution had to be bona fide, because so many books were still being distributed. This elicited an appropriate response of dismay (“That would be going on anyway!”), but what was likely not noticed by the man was the fact that the zonal äcärya was employing pragmatism in his explanation.

The framework of “ISKCON” had already changed dramatically; the movement had been replaced by an entirely different template. Yet the “new guru” was saying that the dispensation had to be right, because so many books were still being distributed, particularly out of his center. This is nothing more than God-is-on-the-side-of-the-biggest-guns philosophy, which is prominent throughout the West, particularly in America.

Just before he was voted out as an initiating guru, a flagrant libertine “guru” in India, one of the original eleven, had a newcomer disciple in New York who wanted to prove that his guru was bona fide. We heard this story third-hand but have decided to include it; it might help you get a perspective on how the “ISKCON” mentality functions. So, this young fellow in America went to a rock concert in the city. He did the pick with paraphernalia and employed all the techniques. He made a big collection.

It gets better. He then got someone to give him a ticket to enter the concert itself, just as it was about to start (and the flow of people came to a trickle outside the stadium). He got in without showing his ticket, however, and made an even bigger pick. He then got caught by security but said that he bought the ticket, producing it. They tore it and let him keep the stub, escorting him out of the complex.

He went around to the other side, produced his stub, and got back in. He made an even bigger pick. Finally, he got ejected for good, but not before raking in a very great deal of money. He then said that this collection could only have been accomplished if Kåñëa was pleased with his spiritual master, who had empowered him to make that pick.

In point of fact, at that time—if not on that very day—his so-called spiritual master was engaged in Våndävan in homosexual activity with his own personal servant, who was also his initiated disciple.

Çästra was both manipulated and ignored when the new dispensation went down in 1978; it was replaced, under the direction of Professor Moriarity, by another transformation in less than a decade. In other words, belief in Çästra was replaced by a belief in “ISKCON,” which invariably boils down to placing one’s faith in the vitiated GBC, the controlling node.

Another way of putting this is that beliefs are justified only if that justification does not derive from anything other than the empiric given—in this case, books distributed and money . . . err, “laxmi” . . . collected. The zonals replaced the process of cultivating knowledge and realization with the process of pushing the world around in order to see what the results could be by doing so. If those results were “good,” then whatever they were implementing had to be bona fide. They thus became the true knowers of things, agents of an experimental theory of knowledge not authorized by guru (Prabhupäda), Çästra, or ostracized godbrothers who, at great personal risk, pointed out the evils and contradictions.

As mentioned in the previous Section, we have not yet seen all the results. Of those we have experienced, have all of them been “good”? Phalena-paricétyate, you say? Certainly, but it is incumbent upon all of us to know the difference between the appearance of results and the actual end result. Prabhupäda says what is the end, we have to see. Well, the end has not arrived yet, but what we have seen so far is, giving it the best gloss possible, nothing more than mixed results.

Consider the following: Does book distribution falling to about five percent of what it was in the Seventies qualify as a good result? Does the vast majority of Prabhupäda’s disciples leaving the institution, many with extreme prejudice against it, qualify? Do all the unauthorized book changes qualify as a good result? Does the “very human story” of Prabhupäda in the so-called “Lélämåta” qualify as a favorable result? Does the Hinduization of “ISKCON” qualify? Did the second transformation of the mid-Eighties actually uproot the previous fratricidal war? If you answer correctly that it did not—that, instead, the war amongst various factions has only intensified—does that qualify as a good result?

Does the substantial percentage of “ISKCON” guru fall-downs indicate a good or bona fide system?[4] Does the emergence of the rittvik heresy—and the Commission’s inability to check its influence—qualify as a successful result? In point of fact, there are rittviks in the second echelon, and they are tolerated, as long as they don’t make waves.

We could expand the volume of this Section with many more rhetorical questions, all of which qualify as “results.” There is no need for this, however, because we do not buy into the pragmatic philosophy that puts so much stress on the ephemeral. Çréla Gaurakiçora däs bäbäjé made only one initiated disciple, and he didn’t even want to accept him—despite the fact that his disciple was the divine son of Çréla Bhaktivinode Öhäkur. Gaurakiçora däs bäbäjé sat next to a latrine when he chanted.

He produced no books, no temples, and no great following. From the pragmatic standpoint, Gaurakiçora däs bäbäjé would not be considered at all successful. Nevertheless, he was the most successful, because he was a premätura-bhakta, situated on the highest platform of mahäbhägavat. Prabhupäda had us all worship him on the altars.

Unless asamprajïäta-samädhi is attained, the Absolute Truth is not automatically rooted in any person’s immediate experience of the given. Such samädhi is a rare state of realization for any embodied individual, and it reveals the changeless. The pragmatist, however, always likes to create something new. He distrusts fixed systems, and he also has a disdain for systematic reasoning. Both the pragmatist and the sahajiyä have a vision subject to change—as long as it suits their purposes--although they are experts in interpreting what “proves” them to be successful.

When eleven men, who were not yet even actually on the kaniñöha-adhikäré platform, made a pragmatic arrangement to artificially jump to the post of uttama-adhikäré, they were all immediately degraded to the status of präkåta- sahajiyä. Actually, this may not be exactly accurate, because some of them may have already been sahajiyäs before that all went down. Prabhupäda knew the nature of his leading secretaries and GBC men; if we could see their predominant içvara-bhäva, certainly he could see it. He knew very well that, after he left the scene, his leading men may misuse the benedictions they had received from him. He knew that they could choose to misuse their free will and deviate from him—after all, it happened a number of times while he was still with us. If they did this, then chaos would ensue, and all newcomers—and even many of his initiated disciples—would become bewildered and thus fall from the platform of niñöhita-sädhana-bhakti.

He knew the mentalities of his leading secretaries. He could see the pragmatism-cum-existentialism present within them. He thus knew that they could degrade into sahajiyäs, particularly when he was no longer there to correct them. We shall see (in the next two parts of this article) just where existentialism is rooted, but we have already provided a hint. As such, if his leading men (his “best men”) deviated from him and exploited their power and opportunity, eventually the seed of Mäyäväda—already in all of them—would sprout and flourish under the guise of Vaiñëavism. As we have often noted in previous articles, the business of “ISKCON” is to cover Kåñëa consciousness in the name of spreading it.

So, what is now actually being pushed? The quote from TLC (above) should give you a clue. You need to plow through the wall of “ISKCON”—the bricks of which are held together by a mortar of pragmatism--and stop letting yourself be double-crystallized by the facts (unpalatable) and that which is not (having the appearance of being true). If you say that Prabhupäda did not warn all of us what could go down after he departed, then kindly consider the following quote:

“The pseudo religionists have neither knowledge nor detachment from material affairs, for most of them want to live in the golden shackles of material bondage under the shadow of philanthropic activities disguised as religious principles. By a false display of religious sentiments, they present a show of devotional service while indulging in all sorts of immoral activities. In this way, they pass as spiritual masters and devotees of God. Such violators of religious principles have no respect for the authoritative äcäryas, the holy teachers in the strict disciplic succession. . . These rogues are the most dangerous elements in human society. Because there is no religious government, they escape punishment by the law of the state. . . Çré Éçopaniñad confirms that these pseudo religionists are heading toward the most obnoxious place in the universe after the completion of their spiritual master business, which they conduct simply for sense gratification.” Çré Éçopaniñad, Mantra 12, purport

To Be Continued

Return to Article One, Section One

Go to Article Two, Section One

Go to Article Two, Section Two


[1] “The German or a priori view of human knowledge, and of all knowing faculties, is likely (to remain viable) for some time longer . . . to predominate among those who occupy themselves with such inquiries . . . (but) the System of Logic supplies what (is) wanted, a textbook of the opposite doctrine. . . the notion that truths external to the mind may be known by intuition or consciousness, independently of observation and experience, is, I am persuaded, in these times, the great intellectual support of false doctrines and bad institutions. John Stuart Mill, Autobiography


[2] Perform your duty equipoised, O Arjuna, abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga. Bhagavad-gita (2.48)


[3] The anecdote was related to me directly by the prabhu (then Swami) who was questioning the legitimacy of the zonal acaryas, i.e., the issue of its authenticity is not third-hand, but from one of the two principles involved in this private discussion.


[4] We were a bit hesitant to include this one, because none of the “ISKCON” gurus have ever been bona fide, i.e., they are all fallen in terms of what constitutes an actual guru. Just as some people are so insane that they have to be institutionalized while others are functionally insane, similarly, some of the “ISKCON” gurus crossed the line so egregiously that they either left or had to be expelled. By providing this Endnote, however, we can include this factor as one of the results to be considered.

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Quotes from the books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada are copyright by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust