Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
Varieties Of Dysfunctional Experience
Chapter 3
Dysfunctional Authority; A Study
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Part 4

We have had in our society men who blatantly display virtually no Vaisnava symptoms in that they were impersonal, ruthless, political, duplicitous, and crazy-making to associate with and to serve

A simple example: We have had in our society men who blatantly display virtually no Vaisnava symptoms in that they were impersonal, ruthless, political, duplicitous, and crazy-making to associate with and to serve. In short, they were blatantly irrational, but because they were “enthusiastic about preaching” or some other ISKCON sacred cow, we worshiped and venerated these people, gave them all facility, when we should have neglected them for their own good and the integrity of our society. Instead of facing reality, we failed to act “without hesitancy” in response to the situation that was clearly a disaster in the making. Then as surely as night follows day, we got disaster after disaster.

Yet, as Jagadish pointed out in his second letter after quitting his sannyasa and guru roles, we do not accept responsibility for our failures, though we readily to take credit for our successes. This is surely dysfunctional. Even more dysfunctional is that many have no compunction about taking credit for another’s success.

The phenomenon of us cuddling the irrational and elevating them to institutional and spiritual heights is not a thing of the past. We still have such “devotees” in our midst; and, despite history’s lessons, we are still being unrealistic about situations staring us in the face. We are in denial to the extent that we rather push a person out of the society for trying to bring the issues to our attention. Politically, this maneuver can perhaps be successful, but spiritually, it simply shows how seriously unhealthy the group organism has become.

Referring to the experiment, I recognize that in my tenure in ISKCON I have played both the prisoner and the guard and I deeply regret having been in these roles. I hope that with the kind grace of Krishna I will never be so alienated from myself as to make the same mistake again. This mistake is especially possible when we are in one of the several middle levels in the authoritarian hierarchy. Then we may develop a sado-masochistic relationship with the world, i.e., dominating those under us and being submissive to those above us, in an effort to please and to move ahead in the hierarchy.

From my experience I can testify that one becomes twisted inside, lost to oneself and filled with self-loathing. Ironically, self-contempt causes one to dominate one’s dependents with more vigor, as one of the guards admitted to in the above account. This is the opposite of self-realization.

History has shown that our devotees are not on the platform of flawless behavior and character, not above the modes of nature, but are really very, very conditioned souls struggling to rise out of the morass. Yet we seem to insist on working stupid instead of working smart; instead of applying ourselves to solving the problems in the most sattvic way, we either make quick-fix solutions that are nectar at first but poison in the end (raja-guna), or we ignore them, pleading a dependency on divine intervention (tama-guna). But God already has intervened, by giving us knowledge in parampara. Now it is up to us to know truth from illusion and to live in truth, by applying ourselves. We cannot get out of illusion and not face reality at the same time. Arjuna tried this but Krishna rejected it. He said it was unbecoming of a man who knows the progressive values of life to be cripple-minded.

Not wanting to confront unpleasant truths about our human flaws–both as individuals and as a group–we tend to compensate with an irrational damning of useful information that comes from nondevotees. In this way, we toss out the baby and end up with bathwater. This tendency to regress to immaturity or irrationality is a major problem in group dynamics and worthy of deep study.

If we would trade our idealism in exchange for realism for the duration of reading Listen, Little Prabhu! we’ll see that it would be irrational to reject the findings of this experiment, as well as the wealth of information throughout, for the implications herein are not irrelevant to us merely because “we are devotees.” Indeed, it is highly debatable whether or not we are devotees in the strict sense of the term, based on our character and conduct, but that is too broad to address here. Hopefully we will have both the text and Sanatana Gosvami’s commentary on Brhad-Bhagavatamrta and then we can decide where we fall in the relative scheme of who is what kind of devotee.

Rather than think, therefore, that the implications of Zimbardo’s six-day excursion to hell is irrelevant to us, we should consider that it sheds light on the possibility that similar abuses go on in our ISKCON, under the rationalization that it is for Krishna and Srila Prabhupada. An experiment revealing what tested “normal” citizens can do to each other in a few days, because of having a little temporary mundane power, is cause for us to try and imagine what can happen over a period of several years in the cases of our “normal” men that were never tested yet believe they have divine power. This is a very serious concern that we need to face. No devotees should have it on their conscience that they are participating in a whittled down version of a criminal state.

And we do not have to imagine all of it. As already noted, in the movement’s short history we have seen “devotees” perform virtually every sort of conscienceless act we know. Some have a reputation for their repeated transgressions of common decency. We know that we had to have reform in ISKCON once already because of abuses perpetrated by the top leaders onto the heads of their godbrothers back in the days of the Zonal Acarya blunder. We know that Gopijana ballabha and others committed or attempted suicide because of our crazy-making dynamics. We have no reason to believe there will not be more in the future; however, we deny responsibility for any of these outcomes.

We blithely lay the blame at the feet of the victims, saying that “In war there will be casualties.” But when are we going to self-examine as a society and see what was our role in dysfunctional events and act decisively to avoid it happening again? When are we going to ask ourselves, “Are these casualties from friendly fire or from encounters with the enemy?” We would be fools to ignore the signs that the institution should be more self-examining. If a little power can go to heads in a matter of two days, it is unimaginable what absolute power can do.

And ISKCON is not the only source to draw our lessons from. We know that some of Prabhupada’s godbrothers gave him a raw deal in some of their centers before he came to the West. We know that later on some tried to steal his disciples and many would not even acknowledge his accomplishments. Why assume that all these flawed dealings are past when experience tells us that history simply repeats itself.

Others who have experiences of abuses of their basic human rights should also write books, because open discussion of the abuses of power is the best safeguard against it recurring. I cannot abuse your human rights and expect you to pawn it off as divine or cooperating for Srila Prabhupada if I know that you know that such abuse by any other name is still abuse. My ruse only works as long as you think it to be a virtue, rather than what it really is.

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