Sweet Tone and Other Considerations
“Attacking Our Problem at its Root Means Drastic Changes for Those Who Have Vested Interest in Keeping the Way They Are”
Attacking our problem at its root means drastic changes for those who have vested interest in keeping the way they are. The root problems are:
- An authoritarian atmosphere.
- Alienation from conscience.
- Unaccountability, both financially and for things higher-ups say and do.
- The culture of blind following.
- And the use of socioeconomic pressure or emotional blackmail to keep people in line.
Only histrionic, thoughtful, and serious attitudinal changes will uproot these problems. Legislation or structural changes, or any other kinds of solutions, are all cosmetic, blowing on ISKCON’s boil.
Attitudinal changes will be reflected not by resolutions and promotions, but by shifts in the dynamics of the society. This process does not even begin to happen unless we shift from focusing on the symptoms to focusing on our core problems—a shift which is not about to happen, according to some GBC officers. They forecasted more cosmetic measures in the coming year. And, to our great dismay, others have declared that “Things will never change.” Attitudinal change is not in the wind. That is bad news. How to put this sweetly? This last sentence was written 27 years ago, and is still true today.
The good news is that we do not need the leaders’ consent or participation to implement attitudinal change in Srila Prabhupada’s society. If we change, they have to change. If our attitude of blind following changes, then they have to change. No legislation is required. No permission. No resolution. Nothing from the top is needed. If you decide “No more automatic homage to any leaders, rather I will cooperate with those who prove to be Krishna conscious, by their conduct, and neglect those who are not,”; hence, change will surely come.
To put it more tersely: If you decide to live a life of integrity, uncompromisingly, ISKCON will change. In a sense that is the tightest definition of a saintly person; someone who decides to live with one face and no more.
Institutionalized homage has to be stopped. Let our leaders command respect, not demand it. Simply stop playing the game. All that takes is for you to become a person of integrity. That decision is entirely within your power. No one can switch it on or off but you. The person of integrity is one who gives up the psychology of helplessness, and reserve reticence and is outspoken; —truthful, ational, fair-minded, and outspoken.
Let our leaders know that the child role is no longer acceptable. Initially, there will be consequences, but remember the discussion of problem-solving in the mode of goodness from the first chapter of “Raising Our Spiritual Standards”—that there must be the capacity to delay gratification, to take the poison up front, for the sake of the nectar at the end. That nectar is not an ISKCON that is problem-free or pain-free, but an ISKCON in which there is a better quality of life psychologically, and practically, for all members of the society. Lancing and cleaning out a boil is only possible if we have the ability to endure the immediate pain for the sake of the long-term relief.
In the summer of 1997 ISKCON held a conference on education in Germany. A professional facilitator was brought in to moderate the discussions. One of the first guidelines he established was that with respect to the meeting, everyone is equal, and everyone’s input is to be valued. In other words, he shot down from the onset the standard ISKCON practice of paying more attention to who is speaking, than to what is being said, that if one has a title, he can take the floor out of turn, and people are obliged to see merit in his utterances, even when merit is not there.
We pretend a naked man is fully clothed. Meanwhile others are less credible, not because they are naked too, but because they do not have a position. This is blatantly foolish, but the practice has passed as Krishna conscious among us for years. The facilitator did not care for such a convoluted, diminished system. He freed people to speak from their hearts for a change, instead of having to go the long scenic route just to pander to egos, rather than attend to the job at hand.
In the 1996 Mayapur meetings I read a poem making the same point before the full GBC body, explaining that if we are to talk about my concerns for the state of our society, then we must first put aside “this thing between us”—their titles, which implies their assumption that might is right, their assumption that because of institutional position, they automatically have the best Krishna conscious understanding in all matters, and other similarly useless baggage; and let us talk as godbrothers. After all, many of them used to talk with me as godbrothers before getting a title, and we had no problem then.
However, my proposal went over like I was the neighborhood derelict, proposing to join the Maharaja’s dinner party. Perhaps after the German experience, for I hear the meetings went very well, they will now appreciate how they use “etiquette” as a communications roadblock, and change their modus operandi from modus rajas, to modus sattva. Time will tell.
To the discriminating mind, these are all symptoms of a profound problem in ISKCON’s system. And because ISKCON alienates the very people it was created to attract; the intelligent, self-trusting, self-actualizing men and women, then it is an urgent problem. So, this is not an occasion for “sweet talk,” for saving face; it is a time for coming clean. It is a time for open, matter-of-fact communications. It is a time for hard-headed realism.