Article by Upendranath Dasa
Authoritarian Dynamics in Religion, How Corruption Begins to Take Hold and Spread
One may think that because of the strict principle of parampara, Krishna consciousness is philosophically an authoritarian system. Indeed, it stresses authority in the sense that we are not encouraged to speculate about the inconceivable name, form, qualities, and pastimes of the Absolute Truth.
For that, we strictly adhere to authority—guru, sadhu, and ultimately sastra.
In practical matters, however, we are expected to discriminate between matter and spirit, by seeing through the eyes of sastra. This very responsibility to discriminate, requires us to develop our power of reason to its fullest, and that purpose is best served in the humanitarian group dynamic. When the total picture is considered—the description of a social order that fosters the empowerment of the individual to develop his critical thinking; the stress on listening to one’s conscience or being guided by a moral compass; the need to act on principles of truth, love, and justice; along with other features of the humanitarian dynamic—when all these are considered, the scales definitely tilt in favor of Krishna consciousness being a humanitarian religion. In the simplest terms, the dynamic of humanitarian religion naturally breeds love and trust. The dynamic of authoritarian religion naturally breeds fear, loathing, bitterness; it can even breed hatred which is a far cry from a religious experience.
There are a few key examples that bring out the humanitarian nature of the Krishna conscious interpersonal dynamic. Bhagavad-gita begins with Arjuna in a state of fear and trembling, but by the end, he is a changed man. And Krishna, who is the supreme authority, patiently answers all Arjuna’s questions. The Lord mentions that this process is joyfully performed. When Prabhupada said “Chant, dance, and be happy,” he did not mean that it will be accomplished in some distant future and in the interim, we experience groveling, fear, trembling, and self-humiliation in the name of humility. We should live in that joy. Prabhupada said that the Lord would even have spoken the Gita again, if Arjuna had wanted.
“I have explained to you, knowledge still more confidential. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.”
Arjuna replies in Bhagavad-gita 18.73,
“My dear Krishna, O infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy. I am now firm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions”
There was no fear and trembling in Arjuna; rather he was ready to face the world. Arjuna was empowered as a result of Krishna consciousness. We should feel responsible to produce the same result in our preaching and dealing with others. If we produce fear and trembling, we should revamp our understanding and our performance; we should update our map.
Like everything else, there are exceptions. We have some instances where Srila Prabhupada was authoritarian in dealing with certain situations, for example the gopi-bhava business in LA in 1976. It should be emphasized that those instances where the exception, and not the general rule. Prabhupada was generally not authoritarian in his dealings with his disciples. He was eager to see his men come into their own and able to think for themselves. He did not instill a slavish mentality. This comes out in so many ways—in his firm warning not to be sentimental; not to be blind followers; to use our intelligence, judgment, and discretion in Krishna’s service; to do things according to time, place, and circumstance; in his asking disciples “What do you want to do for Krishna;” in his preference for using persuasion over force, and so on. There are so many, many examples of Srila Prabhupada applying the humanitarian dynamic.
Here is Daivi Sakti devi’s anecdote about her experience with Prabhupada.
Daivi Sakti devi: I went to Mayapur and soon after I arrived a devotee told me,
“You better be careful, the local GBCs heard you are here, and tomorrow they are going to ask Prabhupada if you can go collect for Vrindavana and Mayapur.”
Such a welcome should have been an honor, but terror gripped my heart. After four years in New York and other U.S. cities distributing books and collecting funds to build temples in America,
I was not ready to return. So, I spent the entire night trying to prepare what I could say to Prabhupada if he called me. Next morning the moment came when I entered the room with all the GBC’s and Srila Prabhupada, who smiled at me and said,
“They want you to collect for Vrindavana and Mayapur.”
I was ready, and with Prabhupada’s smile, I was sure he already understood my heart. Hence, I replied,
“If they want me to collect, then let me learn the way Giriraja preaches in Bombay. It is too unintelligent the way I preach, collecting a dollar here and there on the street corners. I should learn to preach so one person will be inspired to give lakhs to Krishna.”
“Yes,” Prabhupada understood. He turned to them and said,
“You cannot force. Force does not work.”
Then he looked seriously at me and asked,
“So, what is your idea?”
Humanitarian approach all the way. Personalism. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote in 1972 that says it all:
“(The) Krishna Consciousness Movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful and competent in all types of departments of knowledge and action, not for making bureaucracy. Once there is bureaucracy the whole thing will be spoiled. There must be always individual striving and work and responsibility, competitive spirit, not that one shall dominate and distribute benefits to the others and they do nothing but beg from you and you provide. No.”
Bureaucracy is one of the tools of the authoritarian setup. Those who are “safe” move up the hierarchical ladder. They are “in.” To this dynamic, Prabhupada says,
“The whole thing will be spoiled.”
Numerous examples could be cited here to substantiate that the general dynamic Srila Prabhupada applied was humanitarian or personalism. The statement from the above letter makes it clear and all readers surely will recognize the truth in this conclusion. Subsequently, every one of us should feel responsible to help make the experience of life in the Krishna consciousness movement conform more and more to the description of humanitarian religion. That will be powerful preaching. After all, humanitarian dynamics is really nothing but the dynamics of personalism.
Such a dynamic will attract devotees and keep them. Especially it will attract intelligent devotees. Really intelligent people are never attracted by the mind-numbing, disempowering authoritarian approach.
So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will arise to make them miserable.
Whenever a man casts a longing eye on an office, a rottenness begins in his conduct.