|From There to Eternity
My Journey In and Out of “ISKCON”
In the late summer of 2010, I was morose. I was at home on the outskirts of Mumbai (Bombay) sitting on the couch, flipping through television channels. There I contacted Aindra Prabhu performing kirtana. I had known that Caitanya Mahaprabhu was a bhakti yogi, but I was amazed to find out Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Lord Gauranga, God, Krsna, the Supreme Lord in golden form. Lord Nityananda was Balarama. I happened to read a few introductory sentences of one book where it was stated that anyone who does not chant the name Gauranga and Nityananda in this age is most unfortunate. It just hit me very strong, and I became serious about devotional life. I found some forums on the INTERNET stating that chanting Gauranga and Nityananda is non-different from chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, so I took it up enthusiastically.
At this time, I had been attending yoga classes. In philosophy discussion, we were asked to present our understanding on selected verses of Bhagavad-gita. Although I was previously interested in sankhya yoga, I discovered that it was atheistic. Now my interest grew in Bhagavad-gita, the theism attributed to His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. I was many times coming across Srila Prabhupada’s teachings during various web searches on different topics, but I still had not researched who Srila Prabhupada was.
I was becoming convinced by reading Bhagavad-gita that bhakti-yoga is the topmost yoga. These so-called teachers of philosophy were uselessly misinterpreting the verses. The meaning in Srila Prabhupada’s purports were self-evident. After reading Perfection of Yoga, I was firmly convinced that bhakti-yoga was better. Thus, I felt uncomfortable in my current situation. I desired to know who Srila Prabhupada was. I searched on YouTube and came across Srila Prabhupada’s poisoning; I was shattered to know that some of his disciples may have poisoned him.
Begin the “ISKCON” Trip
Then, at the end of December, 2010, after yoga class, I visited the Mumbai “ISKCON” temple. I picked up a copy of Bhagavad-gita and bought it. I was short of ten rupees, but the devotee who sold it to me anyway invited me to attend something called the youth program. I decided to do so.
I was, by this time, chanting Hare Krishna maha-mantra and was intently reading Srila Prabhupada’s books. I was also reading Srila Prabhupada’s instructions about chanting. My home environment was ridden with tension. I was not completing things that I had started, leaving them half finished.
Sometimes, I used to visit what was called the ISKCON Youth Forum office. By this time, I had caught the attention of the speaker of the program, who happened to be the head of department of this office. He invited me to Jagannath Rath Yatra in the summer of 2011. Later, during this yatra, I was aghast at seeing the mismanagement in book and food distribution.
Still, I decided to take up chanting sixteen rounds, but I couldn’t do it for more than a few days. The next week, I attended a program held by Radhanath Swami. I was introduced to one more devotee, from my college, who happened to be of the same caste, and he knew my cousin-brother intimately. He told me about dovetailing activities is Krsna consciousness. I was intently listening to Radhanatha but found his lecture boring.
Gradually, I started spending more time at the temple. I had once again picked up chanting sixteen rounds per day. In the morning, I used to reach the temple by 7.30 or 8.00 a.m. and spent the next two hours chanting. Although I had mildly appreciated Bhagavatam class during my initial visits, I really preferred chanting japa. Then, slowly, under the guidance of the departmental head, I began distributing books. My parents were puzzled, since now I was leaving home early in the morning and returning late at night. I was a getting the hang of distribution, and my shyness was disappearing. Also, a brahmacari used to assist us enthusiastically; he was a Radhanath disciple. He was also a bit irregular. He used to tell us about initiation, but I found him to be little more than a cloned facsimile of his “guru.”
The temple eating facility was a very dirty place, full of insects, discarded food, and rather animalistic behavior; it was in the section known as the basement. I spoke to the departmental head about these conditions. He told me that the visitors were less advanced souls, and we must tolerate their behavior; I was not satisfied with this explanation. He assured me that he would speak to the person in charge of that department, who turned out to be a grumpy, foul-mouthed “brahmin.” That fellow particularly liked to chastise the security guards, but this was nothing new.
The next three months, a subordinate friendship with an established book distributor, who was like a mentor, developed. I had, by this time, shifted from attending lectures to distributing books for the whole evening. Our stall was outside. The authorities didn’t like the idea of us distributing books out there, however. Our scores increased for three months straight and never before had book distribution been carried out from this stall. However, my departmental head would often disappear into his office, especially when I needed him to be with me to protect me from the battering by the vikarmis.
During this time, I had discovered The Guru Business on the INTERNET. I was shattered once more by learning about such a murder in the movement. It produced more dissatisfaction. I also discovered a schism, one camp of which called themselves rittviks; the Mumbai temple was involved in a court case with that rittvik Banglore temple. One of the main men accused in the Sulochana dasa murder case turned out to be Radhanath Swami. I felt great fear. I even discovered a few sites listing the bogus gurus of “ISKCON.” During book distribution, seeing the behavior of so many congregational devotees, I felt that something was wrong.
I asked my departmental head about these problems in “ISKCON” and mentioned the rittviks. He didn’t appreciate my question and chastised me heavily: “What do you want to do? Change the entire thing? You can’t do it! Just have faith in your service and Srila Prabhupada. Book distribution is the best service, so chant sixteen rounds.” I foolishly bought it. After all, I was considering him my “siksa guru.” I had even once asked him how I could know about my nature. He told me that chanting makes one transcendental; we must not think about who we are in material life. I was not convinced. As such, he told me that, if I wanted to, I could dabble in some astrology.
I appeared for my exams and thereafter immediately got heavier into book distribution. We were getting adoration from the student devotees and our names were even announced after mangal arati. During these times, I was entertaining ideas of rittvik, since I was not at all satisfied with the sannyasis. I noticed some senior men had homosexual tendencies, and I was becoming disillusioned by all of them.
After three months of book distribution, my mentor left for his native place to explain things to his parents about his joining the temple. I felt lonely. Also, devotees used to flatter me, asking how I managed to distribute so many books. They used to tell me how advanced I was. I used to tell them to read books and sometimes instruct them with a misunderstanding that I was their siksa guru.
On the INTERNET, I had found one devotee burning copies of the Lilamrta. Now I was learning about the book changes. I was never fond of the Lilamrta. I sometimes observed that a few devotees were imitators of Srila Prabhupada. Around this time, I came into initial contact with the Vaishnava Foundation website. I went through a number of articles such as Krishna Consciousness and Cracked Cord of Discord. I was firmly convinced that Lilamrta is offensive. In these articles, I found something which seemed to apply to me but, being on the mental platform of accept/reject, I soon rejected it as mental speculation on the part of the author.
The next day, I approached my departmental head with questions about the book changes. He said that they were only slight grammar changes, as Srila Prabhupada’s English was “unique.” I wasn’t convinced. I told him I had found something else on the web. He became furious and said that the INTERNET is a place of so much rubbish. Allegedly, many devotees in the past had fallen victim to propaganda from the INTERNET. He said that it should be avoided, since it was very bad for spiritual life. He told me that he had contact with Jayadvaita Swami—the chief devotee behind all of the book changes--and that he would visit the temple during the G.B.C. meetings next year. It was suggested that I approach him with my doubts.
Once, during book distribution, I spoke to a person who calmly listened to me without opposition. After I stopped speaking, he told that he had been a devotee in the Mumbai temple a few years back. He had helped the current temple president (who, at that time, was also the manager of the guest house) to collect crores of rupees, in order to allegedly build a complex for the temple inmates. It was to be called “Heaven on Earth.” In prosecuting that pie in the sky, this fellow told me he laundered thousands of rupees and had been caught. The temple president did not protect him, he was threatened by the temple authorities and kicked out. He told that the temple president is the most rascal person you would find. I seriously thought he might indeed be right. He advised me that I owed it to myself to get the real facts. I would see him more over the next few weeks, especially at Sunday feasts.
I was scared, because I thought he may be harmful to my spiritual life. Still, I knew he was serious. He would tell me that he could bring the whole temple complex down, including the president. He helped me to realize the contradiction of the authorities renting out a temple hall for business exhibitions and other non-Vaishnava purposes, such as mundane marriage ceremonies. I finally started to see some light.
After this, I only wanted to become educated in the eternal philosophy, and considered that solely pushing books was not enough. In the temple, however, our youth group in-charge was not at all interested in training us. We used to have small meetings comprising students, who were then put in charge of organizing some kind of Saturday program, along with what was supposed to be a follow up. All these discussions were just so much hot air, disorganized—and philosophy was almost always missing. I finally avoided them altogether. I had some ideas I wanted to develop, but my suggestions were always neglected. The leaders used to spend so much time plotting and scheming, but all their plans would more or less always fail.
Down Some More Rabbit Holes
I happened to find a site called Rupanuga Vedic College. With my departmental head, I discussed the prospects of my visiting this college, but he told me that the West is really tough for practicing Krsna consciousness. He suggested the Bhaktivedanta College, where the courses were accredited. I looked at the syllabus, and it didn’t exactly seem to be imparting Krsna conscious education. Nevertheless, I convinced my grandfather about the idea, explaining to him the details of the course and how I could become a professor of religion after its completion. He agreed to it, so I prepared to secure a passport. I was especially interested in the traveling sankirtan party the college advertised. I thought I could get training in book distribution and also learn more about the eternal devotional philosophy.
On this basis, I researched on topics related to Danavir Goswami, the headmaster. He had written academic papers. I became a bit peeved when I similarly found that there were criticisms of these papers. I found an article called Guru Tattva by Sadhudas Anudas, wherein he used the term “corporate” in refering to “ISKCON”.
Just after my local college again started up in the fall of 2011, I came to also find out about V.O.I.C.E. (Vedic Oasis for Inspiration Culture and Education). Its leader was but another Radhanath disciple. That made me hesistant, and the books were arranged in textbook manner, with a fill-in-the- blank format and was not supposedly based on Srila Prabhupada’s books. Also, I had found out that its psychological seminars--which I eventually found time to attend--were all based on written works centered around the power of mind control. I had no taste for hearing lectures along these lines. V.O.I.C.E. had a rigorous time-table indicating that it may be bona fide, but I soon realized that the whole scam was simply mechanical.
Prior to my planned journey to America and the Rupanuga Vedic College, I was considering an option of becoming trained in the temple program. It was called the Vaishnava Training Academy. Once moving into the temple, I felt enthusiastic—for the first few days. I got access to the brahmacari kitchen and used to help there in the afternoons. Three other helpers had been employed, along with a main cook and his paid assistant. Standards were very poor, and rats could be seen scampering all over the place. It was very dirty. Having moved to the temple, I found the food too heavy. Sometimes menus were foolish. These so-called bhaktas were not different in their behavior from basement people, except they wore saffron dress. We were all trained to overlord those below us in the hierarchy, also.
Actually, I even kow-towed to the other co-departmental head of the youth wing. He was bold and audacious. He had a personal servant, a young boy who lived nearby the temple. That boy later, under his direction, suddenly moved to Mayapur, and this made me wonder. The co-departmental head was also a teacher at the Vrindavan Institute of Higher Learning. He told me about his big, big plan to establish 108 centers throughout Bombay. He started laying the scheme out, and he told how he had everything ready. Just as Srila Prabhupada had 108 temples established worldwide, this fellow would have 108 such centers—but all in one Indian metropolitan area. He outsourced work to me, beginning with pamphlet distribution.
I was having problems washing clothes. I was not able to read. My book distribution output was going down. My time management was weak, and I was compromising on studies, with exams right around the corner. Somehow or other, I was able to pass them. Right after the exams, I was entrusted with “GBC seva,” along with some other students, under the guidance of the aforementioned co-departmental head. I was critical of the GBC, as I could observe their actual behavior. The practice of eating leftover food from the “sannyasi” plates was eagerly followed by some devotees; once the show was over, everyone would just pounce on leftover food.
Around this time, I was growing more and more dissatisfied with my decision to move into the temple. I also read in a purport where it was mentioned that demons would dissipate the eternal knowledge and its absolute value for no one’s benefit, and they would devise all types of interpretations according to personal whims. The thought crossed my mind that this was just what I was experiencing in this setting. I needed a retreat, as I was becoming convinced that I was surrounded by sahajiyas, with whom I had no eternal connection. I found this retreat by gaining access to the temple library.
During this time I found out from a disciple of Danavir Goswami that his college program had failed completely. It now consisted of nothing but an online course. I began to yearn for getting back into book distribution. A new counselor asked me to join another youth preaching program in a college at Jaipur, so I gave that a try. The temple was only under construction, however, with a few brahmacaris and couple of grhasthas, who all had television sets in their apartments. There was no activity at the temple, except when it came time to eat. The whole atmosphere was quite disgusting.
In the month of December, 2011, a Mumbai marathon had been initiated. This superficially changed the atmosphere in the temple. In no small part, this may have been due to a program accompanying this marathon, viz., those who went out had a full feast of food served to them every night. I also thought I should go out, because I could step my game up—and, yes, I could also get more and better food. Despite the fact that I was once again reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, I felt duped by the entire thing, as it seemed to me to be solely a business arrangement.
After the marathon, another brahmacari devotee joined at the book stall. He used to distribute books near the main book stall within the temple, under the auspices of the Bhaktivedanta Institute. Now he had shifted to the outside stall, since there were some problems with the management. I used to discuss various institutional problems with him; he was of the opinion that all of those were solely due to envy.
I used to serve the head librarian during the afternoons before going out for books. He was definitely overburdened and readily accepted my help. But he was a sycophant to higher ups and would easily lose his temper. I was getting affected by his association, but he would let me access controversial or even taboo books. I had found him accessing adult sites.
One Vaishnava Training Academy fanatic spoke to me how we should simply follow the authority, that this is the only basis for spiritual life. He pointed out how my distribution figures had fallen. He reminded me that I had been caught surfing on the INTERNET by the other co-departmental head. He browbeat me: My seva was failing! He expressed his serious displeasure with me. I told him I needed proper time to study and mentioned how essential it was to discuss topics related to controversies. He did not accept any of this, but, instead, reminded me how a devotee, who had been in the high post of temple commander, was removed and forced from the temple, simply because he developed problems with management.
I was confronted by the departmental head, who made it clear that he was not pleased with my attitude; he said that I had to become humble. Soon thereafter, the Vaishnava Training Academy fanatics approached me, asking if I was actually comfortable living within the temple. I was open to where they were coming from, as it appeared to be a chance to leave. I told him that obviously I was not doing well, pointing to being unable to follow up with Vaishnava Training Academy, as well as the fact that my enthusiasm for distributing books had diminished. I suggested that I would rather shift back home. They said that I had to change my view in order to stay. I had to realize that, no matter how devotees behave, it does not really matter, since we are all diseased, and, therefore, gathered at the temple for treatment. I was by this time not buying any of it, seeing clearly that all of it led down but another rabbit hole. I had read the article by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta entitled Organized Religion in the library, and I was beginning to see the hypocrisy.
In due course, I made repeated trips home for prasadam and accessing the INTERNET, since that facility was now restricted to me at the temple. By this time, I also started again listening to Aindra prabhu’s lectures and kirtans. I used to listen to a lecture where he urged all the institution’s devotees to revolution. I was not fearing authorities much anymore.
At the temple, I convinced the brahmacari at the book stall to perform sankirtan. I had a mridunga, and it went on very nicely for a few weeks. The book stall was right outside the temple, and the authorities were not pleased. They said it was no use performing there and gave strict orders to close it down. I even kow-towed to the Bhaktivedanta Institute devotees for some service, against my better judgment. I had an association with its leader once and asked him about various issues confronting movement. He was vague in his answers. I told him about my condition and accompanied him to his room. As soon as we entered, he lied down on his sofa and assured me not to worry about any problems. He was most unimpressive.
My Emergence from “ISKCON”
Around this time, I came across the article Ages and Stages of Man and Movement, written by Kailasa Candra dasa, the leader of the group. I had previously (but only once) come to this site and even saved that same article for further reading. This time I read it completely, and I was blown away. As a student, one of my favorite subjects was history. I kept in mind this site for reading some more of its articles, and I regularly did so. From this site, returntosquareone.com, I was directed to a site called the Vaishnava Foundation. It jogged my memory that I had once previously accessed this site also, where I had found that article on Lilamrta.
What I was observing within the “ISKCON” temple was so clearly and logically presented in these articles. One article by Kailasa Candra prabhu caught my attention in another way, especially a paragraph found in Beyond Contradictory Religions:
“Confirmation of one thesis results in the logical exclusion of all others which oppose and contradict it. This exclusion creates spiritual ramifications, and these force dynamic changes in intelligence. When the logic and authority is bona fide, those changes are evolutionary. When something is both shastric and logical, it automatically shatters and constrains anything which had previously covered it.”
I had felt like this after having initially read the Bhaktivedanta purports, as well as reading Bhagavatam slokas in the library. Now I was feeling the very same thing again. I felt such relief. I also started watching and listening to the videos available at this site. I could now see things more clearly, and I felt fearless. I got this realization that the so-called devotees I had been associated with were all karmis. They had made their ashram a joint mess. I was also re-developing faith to follow the bhakti process at home, after reading On Sufficient Guidance. I studied this article thoroughly. I then found it easy to deal with other temple devotees, who, by this time, were neglecting me. I wanted to tell them about these articles.
Spring of 2012 was approaching, my exams were finally over, and, the next day, I was a bit late for mangal arati. I received a message from a senior devotee to empty my space in order to accommodate a new man, and I did that enthusiastically. I sent off an e-mail to Bhakta Eric Johanson. Then, on Eric prabhu’s advice, a week after recovering from a minor accident, I went to the temple and collected my belongings. I did not want to be confronted by anyone. While returning home, I was feeling joyous. I was soon engaged in translation seva for the Vaishnava Foundation.
I was slow to begin it, however. I visited the temple one day, on plea of a Vaishnava Training Academy devotee who had arrived from Delhi for a few months in the month of January. After translating, I experienced a new spurt of energy; I was feeling confident that day. I was picking up. He was quite charismatic and well-liked by everyone. He was leaving to return to Delhi, so he mentioned he wanted to see me one last time. I thought I would preach to him and inform him about all these bogus guru issues. I had found him more sane than most of the other devotees and a bit more clear-headed, but he was initiated by Gopal Krishna Swami. However, as soon as I reached temple, he was nowhere to be found.
I went to the book stall, and I saw the departmental head with his team of chelas in full swing. I just stood there, and, in the meantime, spoke to a devotee who had been friendly to me. Previously that day, he had also called me. I spoke to him and confronted him with the issues. He was hearing patiently, but, at a certain point, he started attacking every point I made.
He said how he had been part of the institution for four years, how all the devotees had helped him, how he was even allowed an accommodation, personal income from distributing books. He advised me not to think about politics. I left him and then bumped into my mentor. He asked me why I had stopped coming to temple. Now I realized I had made a mistake by speaking too freely.
Finally, the devotee whom I had come to meet asked me to accompany him to the VTA room. Many devotees were present; it was a set-up. They were not happy to see me. He started love-bombing me. He told me that devotee association is very important. To some extent, the whole experience psyched me out, and, as a result, on the way back home, I wasn’t feeling good. I felt I shouldn’t have gone there that day and felt sorry for myself.
Soon after this, I e-mailed Eric prabhu and concentrated more on translation work. Also, a few days after this incident, I found I had some belongings of that departmental head (it was a bag he had given me for book distribution). So, I decided to return it to him. I was more cautious this time, and I gave him his belongings and decided to leave. I think I was subconsciously wanting to confront him, to let him know the facts and the truth.
He asked me to keep the item, saying it now belonged to me. Then he asked me how I was carrying on with my sadhana at home, whether I was still chanting or not. I answered in the affirmative. He calmly explained the importance of chanting in devotee association. Then I straightway said that “ISKCON” had deviated from Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. I first presented him with a brief idea of the first transformation, the selection of gurus by ecclesiastical process (Adi-lila, 1.35, purport).
He got quite agitated and presented a time, place, and circumstance rationalization. I stressed the term ecclesiastical. He did not know of it, so he asked me what it meant. Then, when I told him, he stated that I was directly trying to interpret Jiva Goswami. I asked him how a guru should be selected. He told me that those who like a certain devotee’s preaching, as long as he was one of the approved gurus of “ISKCON,” they can then ask him to become their diksa-guru. I told him that this is what Srila Jiva Goswami’s warning is all about, and it’s confirmed in Srila Prabhupada’s purports. I told him how the procedure of appointing gurus, by veto or by vote or by no objection certificate is all bogus.
He again argued time, place, and circumstance. He claimed there had been a successful reformation. This argument set me back a bit. I replied that, although such was the case, a large number of devotees still believed all the zonal acharyas were bona fide. He covered that by saying they only made a mistake. It was O.K. now. He said we should not target devotees like this, since that is Vaishnava aparadha. I told him if a person falls down, then why in the first place he should have become guru.
He asked if I was free from falling down. He again warned me that I was offending them. He told that there were qualified devotees now, citing Bhakti Caru as his leading example. I raised the topic of the book changes. This made him severely agitated, red with anger. He asked me to read some position papers so I could get my misconceptions solved. He told my that my attitude had worsened and said it was becoming detrimental. He then bluntly told me that I was not advancing in spiritual life.
I again contacted Eric prabhu. Over next couple of weeks, I would receive calls from that book distributor mentor. He would just go on speaking. In the beginning, I got rather angry, but later I answered him with cooly and soberly. I also received those aforementioned position papers.
Much before this time at college, I had met one former “ISKCON” devotee, who had been a brahmacari and, after that, had enrolled for a course a year back. However, he had left college some years ago when he joined the Mumbai temple. He found contradictions, so he had decided to shift back outside after a few months. He had warned me to be careful not to join the temple, but I did not listen to him, because I thought he was weak. I met him again now, as our classes were on the same floor.
I started discussing the deviations with him. He thought his initiation was bona fide and told me that we must not read shastras; let the scholars discuss the controversies. He had inquired from his guru about the 1978 deviations, and he told me that they are all humble since that time, having admitted their faults--after all, everyone is conditioned. He asked me what I would have done. They should still be respected since they had served Srila Prabhupada, and the way they were now doing it was the only way the parampara could go on.
However, he really did not fazed me. I am now a member of the Vaishnava Foundation and engaged in its service. Looking back, there was really no alternative. I had confirmed this organization’s thesis, and that excluded all of the other rationalizations these so-called devotees presented. My decision had made a dynamic change in my intelligence. I was now on the path of eternity, having surpassed the station of the temporary, represented by “ISKCON” and its apologists. My path is now shastric, logical, and has shattered whatever sentimental attachment I had previously had for the temporary cult. All glories to the teachings of Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga.
OM TAT SAT
Quotes from the books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada are copyright by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust