Anarthas Caused by Bhakti
Any discriminating person can see that the 1994 Kartika event is indicative of anarthas, most likely of the kind that Viçvanatha Cakravarti Öhakura warns us about in Madhurya Kadambini—Anarthas Caused by Bhakti. With wisdom and insight, we must try to avoid victimizing our society by this sort of phenomenon. To do that we have to place a premium value on those persons who are capable of giving us critical feedback while remaining rooted in the philosophy. To do this we have to go beyond our tendency to look at each other in terms of whether your personality strokes mine or not. We have to look at people on the basis of character, not marginal symptoms. This is a wisdom that comes with age—that as we grow in understanding, character becomes the principal criterion by which we measure another.
Therefore, Srila Prabhupada sometimes defined the Krishna consciousness movement as “creating men of ideal character.”
Letter to: Pope Paul VI — Montreal 3 August, 1968 Vicar of Jesus Christ State of Vatican City Rome, Italy:
“… By frustration, people are gradually becoming communists and hippies, and the guardians of the society must now take up the situation very seriously, without further delay. The Krishna Consciousness movement is meant for overhauling the whole situation. We are creating men of character,”
Good leadership is exemplary, and a Krishna conscious person is naturally discriminating. It is a basic requirement. My experience, however, is that I am often expected to follow blindly, without discriminating. I am expected to let others discriminate for me. I am told that this is cooperation, showing my love for Srila Prabhupada. However, Srila Prabhupada has said one symptom of a person who is asammoha, free from doubt and delusion, is that,
“nothing should be accepted blindly”.
How, then, can anyone be expected to cooperate with their eyes closed? I fail to see how this serves Srila Prabhupada’s interest and our interest (growth) as well. We do not grow by giving up our capacity to observe and reason and apply critical thinking. We must learn the art of critical thinking so that we can raise the standard of our individual and collective performance as representatives of Srila Prabhupada. Yet, as much as the philosophy supports this, ISKCON seems stubbornly resistant to applying it in practice on all levels of our society.
Lapses of responsibility by persons in high positions in spiritual life can carry a stiff penalty—for their followers and companions and for the persons themselves. History in ISKCON since Srila Prabhupada’s maha-samadhi in 1977 has illustrated this point many times over. Those with leadership responsibilities have a greater burden to bear—the faith of hundreds and thousands—and therefore greater consequences for their lapses. Those consequences affect the entire society. They have to be exemplary, even when being penalized. In other words, we may fail to be exemplary in the first instance, but then we must be exemplary in the second. We must act with integrity somewhere along the line, if not in the first instance, then in the aftermath. However, if we just help each other to close ranks and save face, where will this conduct and example lead us, but to a corrupt ISKCON in which one leader “has the goods” on another leader and vice versa?
The Ramayana illustrates the risk of corrupt leadership. A dog once approached the king and complained that a brahmana was ill-treating him. The king asked,
“What punishment should I give the brahmana for beating you?”
The dog replied,
“Put him in charge of a temple.”
The king was surprised. He asked the dog what was the reason for this unusual recommendation. The dog explained that in his previous life he was the head of a temple and owing to his corruption he had to take birth as a dog.
For a leader to own up to a transgression is a big pill to swallow, but to weed out corruption and to set an example it is necessary. Otherwise, the negative model, that of doing whatever it takes to save face, becomes the standard for the next generation, and the next. If we are unwilling to carry the burden of high-level service with integrity, we should graciously step down and leave it to someone else. Srila Prabhupada made this point in the Bhagavad-gita (2.5 purport):
“According to scriptural codes, a teacher who engages in an abominable action and has lost his sense of discrimination is fit to be abandoned.”
Of course, this is the material world, a treacherous place, so when someone slips up accidentally, we should be understanding, lenient, considerate, and helpful—when it is accidental. Even then we should not be sentimental and take a six as a nine. But when it is a deliberate ploy, and when the person or persons in question simply go on justifying, defending, counter-accusing, plotting to silence the opposition, and generally refusing to come clean, then there is no more question of an accidental slip up. It becomes willful behavior, conduct unbecoming of a person in Vaisnava dress.
Lord Caitanya describes this as one of the weeds we must be careful to uproot before it chokes the bhakti creeper (Caitanya-caritamåta Madya 19. 159):
“Some unnecessary creepers growing with the bhakti creeper are the creepers of behavior unacceptable for those trying to attain perfection, diplomatic behavior, animal-killing, mundane profiteering, mundane adoration and mundane importance. All these are unwanted creepers.”
In the purport Srila Prabhupada makes this important point:
“All these obstructions have been described in the verse as unwanted creepers. They simply present obstacles for the real creeper, bhakti-lata-bija. One should be very careful to avoid all these unwanted things. Sometimes these unwanted creepers look exactly like the bhakti-lata creeper. They appear to be of the same size and the same species, when they are packed together with the bhakti-lata creeper, but in spite of this, the creepers are called upasakha. A pure devotee can distinguish between the bhakti-lata creeper and a mundane creeper, and he is very alert to distinguish them and keep them separate.”
A pure devotee’s symptom according to this definition is that he is expert at discriminating. Subsequently, he can distinguish the creeper from the weeds and uproot the weeds. Such a wonderful scientific process. However, if we close ranks to insulate people’s weeds, how will that help us, or the person?
Persons who find themselves in a position where they can conveniently dovetail their in devotional service, are in very subtle maya, not easy for them or others to detect. Hence they may appear in good shape but they are in jeopardy. Not only are they in jeopardy, but inasmuch as they are leaders, they put the whole society in jeopardy. They can wear down the whole spiritual fabric of our movement. Before long we end up with something akin to churchianity (like Christianity). What a travesty that would be to happen so soon after Srila Prabhupada left us. The fact remains that ISKCON, organization is no different than a Christian Church, were there are over 9,000 denominations; each with their own take of Lord Jesus Christ.