“The Crux of the Problem Facing Us Was a Loss of Fellowship Among Srila Prabhupada’s Disciples”
During the week of reform meetings held at New Vrindavana in the late summer of 1985, I circulated a paper stressing that the crux of the problem facing us was a loss of fellowship among Srila Prabhupada’s disciples. We do not treat each other “as comrades in arms in the fight against maya”. We forgot that all Prabhupada’s disciples, whether designated leaders in ISKCON or just part of the rank and file, are heirs to Srila Prabhupada’s legacy. Still today, many of us believe that the main symptom that one is dedicated to Srila Prabhupada’s mission is his standing in society as a leader in the management structure, which is not only a philosophical untruth, but a superficial outlook as well. Prabhupada’s history in relation to the Gaudiya Math proves that commitment to the order of the spiritual master is not proportionate to participation in his organization. And full participation is not rubber-stamped proof of commitment to the spiritual master’s organization either.
So, the symptom, godbrothers going absolute, and the problem, absence of collegiality, are still with us. We are getting older and the younger devotees are not seeing good models for them to follow. Very few of my guru-godbrothers talk with me as a godbrother. Most of them do not discuss matters with me; they tell me. They assume a parent to child kind of dynamic, with the assumption that their utterances are the last word. Almost without exception they talk down to me—they cast me in the role of a disciple. That experience proves we did not have reform, we only had a reform attempt.
The so-called reform was more like reapportioning. Instead of a mere handful of men gone absolute, we now have upwards of 60 initiating gurus, a good number of whom have gone absolute. Before reform we had a two-tier structure—zonal Acaryas on the top tier and everyone else milling around on the lower tier. This was deemed oppressive and not in keeping with Srila Prabhupada’s vision. After the clamor for reform, we still have a two-tier setup, but now there are many more people in the top tier. In some places there is a three-tier setup, with the top tier still in place, in the middle, “the Prabhupada disciples” that are not gurus, GBC’s etc., and at the bottom are the mass of devotees. Two tiers or three, in effect, the reform gave us more of the same on a smaller scale by reapportioning the top tier. This is no more in keeping with Srila Prabhupada’s vision than the pre-reform era, because the same unpleasant dynamic is still in place.
By sharing the wealth—passing resolutions that allowed the creation of more gurus—the steam was taken out of the reform movement. The leaders of the reform were satisfied. Essentially the reform was over. To the rank-and-file devotee the human experience of life in ISKCON did not change substantially. There was less oppression at first, but as seen in the more recent GBC resolutions mentioned near the end of Chapter Eight, we are now formalizing laws that restrict movement and reading material.
I will cite but one anecdote of a godbrother’s experience to show how there is no reform, that some of our current guru-godbrothers have gone absolute.
A guru-godbrother told a non- guru-godbrother,
“I do not like to associate with you, because you always see the worst in me. My disciples see the best in me.”
Incidentally, this serves as a good example of one of the tactics used to ward off challenge, which was discussed in a previous chapter.
Let me recast his statement to show what is really going on here:
“When I associate with you, prabhu, I become aware of my anarthas, and, well, I do not like that. It does not make me feel good about myself. I like to be with my disciples. When I am with them, I am absolute. My every gesture takes on divine significance. Their association is uncritical and I am very comfortable with that.”
This is hardly collegiality. This attitude is by no means isolated. Another game is that when a guru and a godbrother differ, the guru lets his disciples know. The result is that the disciples’ close ranks against the ill-fated godbrother. This sends a clear message that if he disagrees with his guru-godbrother he will be punished in his other relationships. Therefore, we had only a token reform. The true outcome is that we have more of the same on a smaller scale.
The true and lasting solution, the mode of goodness solution, is collegiality. Until collegial dealings become the tenor of our society, major problems will remain no matter how high a degree of superficial successes we may garner. Unless we come to collegial dealings, we will be nothing but a disaster waiting to happen in different spheres of our operation. People will join and leave, join and leave, join and leave. Temples will go from being mansions to hovels; from being 80 strong to 8 strong. The advocates of ritvik vada will build a stronger and stronger case for their position and bewilder more and more potentially dedicated ISKCON men and women. We will continue to get periodic lawsuits for being a cult. We will continue focusing on whatever success some sincere devotees have made, while somewhere else a program collapse. We will spend more time talking of our accomplishments than about our failures, feeling good about ourselves, while the good ship ISKCON takes water.
We can either act with foresight to forestall such disasters, or we can act with hindsight. The beauty of hindsight, is that it is always 20/20. Yet hindsight is as useful as closing the barn doors after the animals have all fled. It is no substitute for the wisdom of foresight. Recall the dictionary definition of wisdom: “the possession of knowledge and experience together with the power of applying it critically or practically.” Therefore, in a collegial spirit, let us combine the knowledge we have received from Srila Prabhupada with our accumulated experience and apply it both critically and practically. That will surely do justice to Srila Prabhupada’s vision. He will undoubtedly be pleased with us if we show our love by truly cooperating for serving him.