Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
Varieties Of Dysfunctional Experience
Chapter 4
On Pondering Zimbardo’s Hell
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Part 2

We use the philosophy to opiate our intelligence

(6) The least inclined towards anti-social behavior. In fact, the majority of them were middle-class students:

We cannot claim our members to be “the least inclined towards anti-social behavior.” To some extent, just to join ISKCON shows an inclination to anti-social behavior. We know that ISKCON was formed in the hippie era, when being anti-social or irresponsible was the way to be. Some of us want to escape from the freedom to take responsibility for our lives and come to our own decisions about the data confronting us. Yet we fancy ourselves as brahmanas, men of knowledge and wisdom. It is a profoundly mysterious thing to see people ostensibly on the path of shedding illusion, yet doggedly determined not to face reality, by living in a bubble of illusion.

(7) This mock prison was deliberately designed to be as unpleasant as possible:

Many of our asramas would qualify both from the point of view of the physical conditions and the psychic atmosphere. In one temple the quarters for seven women were a room fit for only two people to live in. Another temple had a gaping hole in the roof for a couple of years before we decided to attend to the devotees’ needs instead of sending the money to the BBT. Meanwhile, the privileged class in our society spend several times the cost of repairing the roof for travel and lavish living. A big popular trend is sannyasis building homes in Vrindavana for their one month, perhaps two-month annual visits to the dhama. Some do not even come annually. And this is in flagrant disregard for Prabhupada’s saying that sannyasis should not do it. The local people are appalled at our society and complain about our example. Only a conscienceless or self-estranged person can be in the renounced order yet have an opulent home in Vrindavana. Prabhupada, meanwhile, wanted gosvamis (setting exemplary standards, not just having the title) to live in Vrindavana. We make a mockery of his instructions.

There is another way to see the inattention to the ordinary devotees’ needs. We have made the institution into the deity. Instead of the institution being dedicated to serving the individual, the devotees, we train people to believe that they are servants of the institution, and that view is believed to be non-different from serving Krishna. In our paradigm, to lead is not to serve, but to accept service.

(8) The windows were barred, and in addition to guards there was a warden, a superintendent (Zimbardo), a parole board, and a grievance committee:

To my knowledge, we do not have barred windows, but the philosophy is powerful enough in its hold on our intelligence to serve that purpose; and when we have authoritarian dynamics we have the mental equivalent of barred windows: A young woman, aged 22, obviously emotionally shaken, gave me several examples about her authoritarian temple president’s abusive relationship with her, but she blamed herself the entire time for her condition. At that time, she was half-way around the world from her temple, so I encouraged her to not go back. She told me that she has to go back, because “I can hear his voice constantly in my head telling me I am a nonsense and in maya and I just have to go back and go out and sell stickers.” Who needs barred windows when one can have that effect?

I ended up having to loan her money for her ticket back to abuse, because she insisted on going back. After a year of more abuse and several expensive phone calls seeking my help, she finally found the strength to leave for a healthier environment. Up to the last minute she was subjected to abuse, called a lusty prostitute and other degrading names, because she was unsteady “in doing the pick.” Imagine even for an nth of a second Prabhupada doing something like this to a disciple.

That temple president is entrenched in his “service” and in a few more years, he may get promoted, eventually making it to GBC. We should consider how many like him have already come up through the ranks, but few of us will do this. The majority will do what we have been trained to do, fault whoever speaks out, discussing our dirty laundry in print. it is the path of least resistance; it’s also the path of not facing reality. Actually, this dirty laundry should be discussed in a court of law.

The Peter Principle states that in any organization the tendency is for people to get promoted to the level of their incompetence. In our organization it is not unusual to get promoted several levels beyond one’s incompetence, because we do not practice our philosophy of engaging people based on their qualities (competence), we engage people in leadership as rewards for service rendered to the institution to keep them happy, even if their only major ability at that organizational level is to make others miserable. If we practiced varnasrama culture instead of corporate culture, we would avoid making this mistake, but to let go of corporate culture, which is rajasic, is too difficult, and entails too much effort, unless one desires to change modes and operate in sattva-guna. But why labor to change modes, to upgrade one’s character, when we have an organizational structure in which upward mobility is equated with spiritual progress?

In a bureaucracy, promotion is the prime incentive for productivity, while emphasis on productivity is the result of placing the institution’s goals as the prime objective, above the spiritual well-being of the individual. Later, we shall see how the institution alienates the individual from himself and how the hierarchical structure becomes a network of impersonal dealings.

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