Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
Varieties Of Dysfunctional Experience
Chapter 4
On Pondering Zimbardo’s Hell
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Part 3

The Peter Principle states that in any organization the tendency is for people to get promoted to the level of their incompetence

(9) Under surveillance:

We have the most insipid form of this–neighbor spying on neighbor–like the former Iron Curtain countries–because in authoritarian systems people fear being out of line. One of the ways of achieving security in the system is by carrying news about others. By stroking the system, we hope to get stroked by the system. Hopefully, it won’t be long before our dynamics reach the same end as that of the Iron Curtain countries.

(10) Might be harassed:

In ISKCON, if you let on that you think for yourself, you’re likely to be harassed to no end, in a variety of ways, from ostracization to verbal abuse, and not always by authorities. The mass of devotees know instinctively that you are “tainted goods” and give you a wide berth. Isolation is a form of harassment in itself. Then there are the maverick types, usually ill-informed about the issues, who take it upon themselves to set you straight. In some places the smitten disciples of gurus will do the harassing and that will be tolerated by the authorities in the belief you are getting just desserts for your “offense” of daring to have a dissenting opinion from Srila Guru Maharaja. The pressure to conform (social coercion), is high and the price of nonconformity is higher.

Sometimes the local authorities claim responsibility in the personal lives of adult devotees that the same authorities would never accept in their personal life. For example, as I am working on this chapter, a grown woman, college educated, came to me in great distress because certain of her authorities want to manage her life for her by making her decision as to whether or not she should attend classes by a devotee. Our conversation went along these lines:

“They want me to get permission from my Guru Maharaja to attend classes,” she explained to me.

“That’s your decision. You may or may not take his permission, but the point is that’s between you and your guru. Why do they feel they have to get involved in your personal life? Do you monitor their lives?”

“They say they are responsible for me.”

“You are a grown woman. It is your business if you want to go to class or sleep the entire time you are not doing your service. If someone discusses it with you, that is one thing, but to make your decisions, manipulate and control your life, is not responsibility, it is control.”

“So, what should I do?”

“That you have to decide. I will not tell you what to do. I’ll tell you what I think about the situation and you must make a decision what to do according to your capacity. Do you understand?”

The devotee was very upset about the pressure she was under, because, understandably she resented being manipulated by the people who provided her with room and board in exchange for service, she did not realize that she would have to pay an emotional price and lose her authority over her own life in the process.

“When you give in to them, where will it end? They will encroach in your life whenever it suits them. Then, what happens to you?”

If we are willing to do this to a 35-year-old college-educated person, what will we do to children? How functional can they be when they get through such a system?

(11) some of their basic rights curtailed during imprisonment: 

We do not have to go to jail to have this experience. As the woman’s story above attests, infringing on one’s basic rights is par for the course in our society. Also, in ISKCON, in the name of “cooperate to show your love for Srila Prabhupada,” we have “laws” that restrict our movements, our reading material, how we may discuss the philosophy, and even whom we may associate with. The words of the respective spiritual masters are not enough. By making “laws” we do not have obedient and disobedient disciples or members, we have criminals.

Now we have laws to punish members whose thinking is not “lined up,” from censure all the way to excommunication. Prabhupada never excommunicated anyone, yet now we wield more authority to punish than he did. But do we have the same power he did to confer grace?

All these laws and the underlying dynamics serve to hobble our reasoning faculty. Those who are enfranchised as leaders are free to use their critical faculties on you, sometimes with devastating results, but woe be to you if you think you have an equal right to observe, reason, and speak out, unless you have money by the barrel. ISKCON respects money more than virtue, more than principle, more than character, more than devotion. In this regard, ISKCON is more like the Indian government than a gathering of men of ideal character, of principle.

If you have money, you can have a voice, providing you are actually surrendering your money as well. If you insist on holding on to it, you will be shunned for being “too attached.” The fact that you may have legit concerns about the handling of the money will never be considered as valid grounds for your being “attached,” prudent, cautious. You are just “on a trip.” That’s if you have money. If you do not have money, you are “simply useless,” an “idle meditator,” or “a troublemaker.” These are some of the milder epithets you will win. And the unwritten law of the society is that the laws do not really apply to the lawmakers.

And no one sees the absurdity of this. No one stands up to question and protest against all this irrationality, all done in Prabhupada’s name. Like one of Woody Allen’s characters said about the tele-evangelists, “If Jesus Christ came back, he’d never stop throwing up.” Is it Prabhupada’s fate to have his name misused like the show bottle Christians do in the name of Christ? Prabhupada cried in 1976 when the already irrational GBC, influenced by one forceful man, passed a resolution to ship all householders to Australia. It was bad enough that such an inane idea was even discussed on the floor of the GBC, but it went beyond that; it got proposed, seconded, and then garnered a two-thirds vote to become a resolution. Non-devotees, who do not follow our prohibition against intoxication, are capable of more sober decision-making than this.

We’d like to think we are now beyond such irrationality, that the current GBC is the most mature group we’ve ever had. The sad truth is that now the GBC hat is confused with the guru hat and the leaders think themselves absolute. Ironically, being absolute translates into license to be irrational with impunity, in contrast to Lord Caitanya’s statement, that the uttama-adhikari is symptomized by his capacity for logic and reason based on sastra.

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