Authoritarianism makes our society unattractive and unlivable for member who realize that they are getting mentally hobbled by the dynamics
Our philosophy places great emphasis on authority, and because the word authoritarianism is derived from authority, it may seem that Krishna consciousness sanctions authoritarian dynamics. When we put this under the lamp of critical scrutiny, however, we find that the very opposite is true.
A person is “authority” who is transparent both in the message and in his exemplifying openness to questions, especially from his peers. (See Our Mission for a discussion of the importance of openness to challenge in a problem-solving approach to life).
His mood should never be, I am the authority, therefore you must do as I say and you will make spiritual advancement.
His mood should be, I am the authority, and I am here to clear away your doubts, whatever they may be, with logic and reason, to aid your spiritual advancement. Anything else is fertile ground for dysfunctional dynamics to sprout.
An authority in the true spiritual sense is not necessarily one appointed by the institutional hierarchy. Whoever is a transparent via medium for the parampara is an authority, regardless of the institution’s view. Srila Prabhupada’s life in relation to his guru’s institution proves this. Therefore, Srila Prabhupada wrote, “Nothing should be accepted blindly. Everything should be accepted with care and with caution.” This stance reflects the true atmosphere of Krishna consciousness, which is sober, rational, and generally relaxed, anxiety-free, which was typical of Srila Prabhupada’s association.
The successors to Srila Prabhupada, having the topmost administrative roles in the society, have a responsibility to attend to the dynamics, firstly by setting a consistent example of rational dealings, then by enlightening and reminding the mass of devotees about this aspect, so that everyone is conscious of how they contribute to the overall atmosphere of the society.
My contention is that rampant disregard for this important aspect of Krishna consciousness is making the society a closed one, in which irrational or dysfunctional dynamics prevail.
Authoritarianism makes our society unattractive and unlivable for member who realize that they are getting mentally hobbled by the dynamics. Further, the society is unattractive to intelligent persons who pick up on the irrational dynamics underlying all the well-reasoned presentation of the philosophy. This deters them from joining the movement or contributing fully to the mission.
We may think it is their misfortune that they could not take to Krishna consciousness and go back to Godhead, but as hinted in the Introduction, it is highly questionable whether anyone caught in the downward spiral of the authoritarian dynamic–whether the perpetrator or the victim–is a suitable candidate for achieving genuine Krishna consciousness. If we have dysfunctional dynamics, then our hope of going beyond birth and death is nothing but a fantasy. This will become more apparent as we go along.
To illustrate how Srila Prabhupada viewed dynamics, I’ll tell a true story. In the period from the latter half of 1973 to the first half of 1975, in the old Henry Street temple, we had two devotees that had gone off the rails. Nothing unusual about that. It happens. In war there must be casualties. Unfortunately, the two devotees were the GBC man, a former sannyasi, and his wife. They did not come clean about their fall. They held up a front and remained as “authorities” in the temple/zone for two whole years. During that time the dynamics in the temple were oppressive. Many devotees left the temple to go elsewhere in ISKCON. Many left the path altogether.
When the corruption came to light, more devotees fled. There were bewildered faces all over the temple and several devotees changed their service because of the revelations of corruption. Eventually Srila Prabhupada came to the temple, and preached and encouraged the devotees. He gave us a new life, so to speak. His secretary during that visit was the former sannyasi Brahmananda prabhu. It just so happened that a few months later, I was in Vrindavana and Brahmananda was still Prabhupada’s servant, and I became Brahmananda Maharaja’s servant. One day we got to talking about events in New York. I asked him what Prabhupada had said about the crisis in New York. This is how I remember the relevant part of our conversation.
“I asked Prabhupada if the devotees that left were insincere. He said, ‘No, but if you want to attract flies you have to make the thing sweet.’ Then Prabhupada added, ‘Senior devotees like Jayadvaita and Gopi-jnana-ballabha should have said something.’
From this we understand two things: (1) That our dynamics are very important, because even very sincere devotees will not be able to stay, if we do not make the atmosphere sweet. By “sweet” he does not mean mushy; he means positive, growth-full, dynamic. (2) The senior devotees have a responsibility to Prabhupada, and the devotees to speak up when things go off the track. In fact, any devotee has such a civic responsibility if he or she knows facts. But it especially falls on the senior devotees, because presumably they have keener powers of discriminating between Krishna consciousness and maya. Hence a flippant or belligerent response to their disquiet is hardly appropriate.
No matter how lofty our intentions, the potential to mess up is high, as Kay Porterfield, author of Blind Faith: Recognizing and Recovering from Dysfunctional Religious Groups, explains:
“Religious organizations, no matter how holy their purpose, are not perfect. They are all composed of flesh and blood people, complete with very human flaws and aspirations. Regardless of the truth inherent in a group’s teachings, its dynamics can go awry. Even though clergy, lay leaders, and members sincerely aspire to serve God, any group has the potential to become spiritually abusive–from the Lutheran Ladies’ Sewing Circle to the New Age past-life regression group advertised in the newspaper.”
The history of ISKCON supports Porterfield’s observation. Our dynamics have gone awry in the past and it could happen again. It could be happening right now. Hence the atmosphere that prevails in our society is everyone’s responsibility. Although some unfortunate persons might endure third-rate dynamics, our having a great philosophy is not sufficient to keep most people in a mentally unhealthy situation. Sooner or later, they break out. Some break out bitter and seek to even the score in the court