Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
Varieties Of Dysfunctional Experience
Chapter 2
Why Emphasize Dynamics?
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Part 1

Studies prove that our childhood experiences influence us throughout life and Krishna consciousness supports this finding

Studies prove that our childhood experiences influence us throughout life and Krishna consciousness supports this finding. Srila Prabhupada cited the Krishna conscious upbringing of Prahlada and Pariksit, and his own childhood, to show how the positive influences from our early years stay with us in later life. Freud, for example, found that our past experiences powerfully impact on our present performance, and that the more remote the past the more it influences us in the present. Last week’s events generally have less impact on us today than our childhood. This influence applies with equal force to both positive and negative childhood experiences.

This may appear a ready explanation (and an excuse) for dysfunctional dynamics in ISKCON, several real-life examples of which are given throughout this book. We can blame it all on our childhood. Certainly, childhood is a major factor; however, research has shown that the group dynamic also exerts a powerful influence on our behavior. Hence, even if we may not have dysfunctional traits that stem from our childhood, we may still develop them as a result of the group character. The power of peer pressure is well-known. It is the basis for the stress in our philosophy for giving up asat sanga and seeking sat sanga.

Moreover, knowing the origin of a problem–whether in childhood or from group pressure–does not automatically lead to a solution. One has to apply oneself deliberately to the solution in order to change the conditioned pattern rooted in our childhood. As children we have little latitude to determine the dynamics we experience, but as adults we can take responsibility for our dynamics in two ways: (1) What we will accept as enacted upon ourselves and (2) what we will enact on others.

Group dynamics contribute significantly to the kind of person the religion produces. How and why its influence is so strong will be clear after five or six chapters of this book. By the end of the book there will be no doubts. The reader shall see that the group dynamic is a high priority, and that the organization must accept responsibility for the dynamics it enacts. Bad dynamics can be a sin of commission, the result of deliberate effort, or it can be a sin of omission, by neglecting to create the right Krishna conscious atmosphere, in which the institution’s members can grow into spiritual maturity, which is the reason we joined the Krishna consciousness movement. Just as atmosphere is vital to a restaurant’s success, so it is intrinsic to the success of our Krishna consciousness movement.

If our dynamics put us in conflict with our conscience, with our innate sense of integrity, if they stifle rather than foster our capacity to expand our reasoning faculty, and our freedom to question and to receive answers, without fear of reprisal; if we decrease rather than increase our sense of mutual respect, love, truth, and justice–in short, if we experience Krishna consciousness as disempowering, rather than empowering–then we can only become enfeebled as human beings and imitation Vaisnavas. And once our critical thinking is stifled in some aspect of our lives, it spreads, crippling our intellectual development in all spheres.

Surely this is not meant to happen in the practice of Krishna consciousness. The legitimate experience of Krishna consciousness is not feelings of powerlessness, but feeling powerful or empowered. Arjuna started out in doubt and confusion, fear and trembling, but after hearing from Krishna he was transformed. He became asammoha, free from doubt and delusion; he was firm, fixed, free, and ready to fight. He was not hobbled. He did not lose his power by achieving Krishna consciousness; rather he gained it.

What is this losing and gaining power?

Whenever we give away our power to feel responsible for our lives to someone, we believe more intelligent, more skilled, more holy than us, we take a risk. We make ourselves vulnerable. People do this with spouses, rock stars, sports stars, priests, politicians, the state, and institutions. We are often warned about giving away our power to individuals, but we are not warned about the many subtle ways we can be seduced into doing it. Furthermore, not many are aware that we can make the same transference of power to something impersonal like the state or an organization. The chapter “Alienation as Self-estrangement” is an eye-opening discussion on how the institution takes possession of the lives of the members–they end up serving the institution that was created to serve them–and, unfortunately, it is commonly assumed that either is equal to the other.

This situation is understood or assumed by some as the process of unconditional surrender to the spiritual master. We shall see from many angles of vision that such “surrender” to the spiritual master is a misconception; indeed, it is detrimental from several points of analysis. The Chinese saying, “Give a hungry man a fish and he eats one meal. Teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime”, points us in the right direction of understanding the guru/disciple relationship. The guru teaches us to distinguish between reality and illusion. That is empowerment. When the guru distinguishes between reality and illusion for us, that’s a form of deprivation, of disempowerment. It enfeebles us, because we are deprived from growing. The institutional guru-by-fiat[1], that is really unqualified to be guru, rationalizes this deprivation as protection, but it is like the protection called “smother” love, in which a mother overprotects her child and enfeebles it from growing up to cope with reality.

The guru’s business is to make the disciple as accomplished as himself in understanding and discharging devotional service, not to underscore the distance between himself and the disciple. If there is distance, awe, reverence, unconditional surrender, it should come voluntarily from the disciple’s heart, out of real appreciation for the guru’s imparting all the disciple is capable of receiving. When it results from institutional or peer pressure this can be psychologically scarring. Instead of growing in self-trust, self-realization, and becoming a self-actualized whole individual, one becomes estranged from self, from conscience, and one can end up in a worse state then when he or she came to devotional service. This is but one aspect of the disempowerment dynamic discussed in this book.

Another aspect, more complex to discern, is when both the guru and disciple have given away their power to the institution, in effect becoming “possessed” by the institution. Then the guru becomes a mere functionary of the institution and, being in illusion himself, is really incapable of leading anyone out of illusion.

One yet to attain the flowering of his own powers of reason, cannot act primarily for the well-being of himself or his disciple. Such a guru is but an ordinary “organization man,” a bureaucrat. Naturally he trains the disciple to be owned by the institution as well. All this comes about by having the wrong emphasis–that energy must flow from the individual to the institution instead of from the institution to the individual and leaving it largely up to the individual to reciprocate as per his or her level of appreciation.

The upshot is that those possessed by the institution, think they think, but they do not think, because their “thinking” is dictated by and streamlined with the institution. Specifically, the bureaucratic ebb and flow dictates the extent to which we can think. When we speak of thinking here, however, the mere having of thoughts, the ongoing stream of consciousness we experience internally, is not what we mean. By “thinking” we mean the capacity to resist one of the most common phenomena encountered in groups–the giving up by the group members, their capacity for ethical judgment to the group leaders, and the group leaders, as a sub-group giving up their judgment as well. Some psychiatrists call this “the regression to immaturity.”

By “thinking” we mean, therefore, the capacity to think critically, analytically–and especially ethically–with no institutional restraint or social taboo. Indeed, we mean that such thinking, rather than being discouraged or tolerated, is positively encouraged at all levels of the institution. This Srila Prabhupada called “independent thoughtfulness.”

Bureaucracy, however, as we know instinctively, automatically works against this desirable aim. Hence Prabhupada’s warning, “As soon as there is bureaucracy the whole thing is spoiled.” In the course of this book, we shall see the many, many ways in which this can happen.

[1] Fiat: a formal authorization or proposition; a decree

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