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

The sad truth is that now the GBC hat is confused with the guru hat and the leaders think themselves absolute

12) Transformed the prisoners’ “rights” into “privileges”:

In authoritarian systems discussion is never an option in trying to work through a problem. “Firepower” is the preferred solution, because in that rajasic worldview the active principle is: might is right. Krishna does not condone rajasic solutions, because they are poison in the end; however, when the modes of nature are pulling our strings, philosophy takes a backseat, or philosophy is used to justify might is right.

Curtailing rights is a natural step once one has flexed muscle. The idea is to prevent the rebellion from happening again. History shows that beating dissenters back into line never works when they have legitimate gripes; rather the beating is added to their list of gripes. But all complaints are envisioned as threat rather than an opportunity to discern how to lead more effectively. Even if their gripes are not legitimate, there is no harm in civil hearing of dissenters concerns and discussing the matter to some mutual conclusion. Authoritarian types, however, always think this procedure a loss of face and loss of control. Actually, when leaders attend to the concerns of even the smallest dependent, they are considered benign. It never fails to win hearts, but rajo-guna blinds us to the obvious.

Problem-solving leadership, to-lead-is-to-serve leadership, knows that wave making is symptomatic of a problem. Leaders focus on locating and defining it, then try solving it in the most systematic, far-reaching way. Irrational leaders focus on the wave makers, and consider the problem-solved if successful in silencing them. Of course, killing off the bearer of unpleasant news never solves the problem. History shows that most likely it festers and reaches explosive proportions.

(13) Played the prisoners off against one another and systematically harassed them: 

This is a big favorite in dysfunctional systems. Almost everyone wants to win points with the system, so everyone else becomes fair play in each other’s scheme to advance. It even induces yesterday’s good friends to become today’s spirited enemies. And this goes on within a “spiritual” institution as much as any mundane assembly.

(14) One of the prisoners showed such severe symptoms of emotional disturbance (disorganized thinking, uncontrollable crying and screaming), after only one day he had to be released:

This I have witnessed several times. Regretfully, sometimes I caused others to have it, sometimes I went through it myself. The major difference between Zimbardo’s hell and our program is that we do not get released. The philosophy has such a hold on us that we are willing to endure dealings that have nothing to do with the philosophy, dynamics that shrink us, believing all the while that the problem is in us.

(15) On the third day a rumor spread through the “prison” about a mass escape plot. This led the superintendent and the guards to take various repressive and preventative steps: 

In 1994 a rumor spread through the movement that Satyanarayana and I had a different opinion than Srila Prabhupada about the origin of the conditioned souls, even though Prabhupada said in many places that no nitya-siddha can fall to become a conditioned soul, as in this example from Bhagavatam 3.16.26 purport:

The conclusion is that no one falls from the spiritual world, or Vaikuntha planet, for it is the eternal abode.

Despite “the conclusion” of Srila Prabhupada, so-called experts decided that our conclusion which was the same as Prabhupada’s was wrong and “offensive.” Thus in 1995, the book Satyanarayana and I researched and wrote to respond to the rumor was banned, by no due process, but a pretense of one, just to fool the mass of devotees. It worked. Most devotees being uninformed think there was an open discussion and that we were “defeated” fair and square. Even GBCs believed that this is what happened. The irrational claims against us led the GBC to take various repressive, what they thought were preventative steps, against us.

Ironically, on the philosophical issue we were brow-beaten with “Prabhupada said,” but what he said about procedure for resolving issues–namely by open discussion on the basis of sastra –was completely ignored. Emotion, slander, ad hominem fallacy, misquoting, and muscle were all preferred to rational discourse. And after experiences like this I, as a preacher, am supposed to win converts to Krishna consciousness and ask them to commit their lives to ISKCON. A truly astonishing notion.

Meanwhile, despite our mouthing “Prabhupada, Prabhupada, Prabhupada,” working ourselves into an impressive frenzy, but nevertheless an irrational one, are we still in the parampara?

Most devotees will say, “Yes, because the GBC says so.” But the GBC has said and done so many things over the years that was wrong, philosophically and practically, and sometimes downright foolish, so why should we blindly follow them now? Especially in light of Prabhupada’s “Nothing should be accepted blindly. Everything should be accepted with care and with caution.” This means that we understand everything on the basis of sastra pramana. Without sastra pramana there is nothing we are obliged to accept as siddhanta. Therefore Krishna says yah sastra viddhim utsrtjya, without sastra viddhi we achieve no happiness (na sukham) , no perfection (na siddhim) , and miss the goal of life (na param gatim) .

I cooperated with the ban on our book, but having faith in Srila Prabhupada’s oft repeated directive that disagreements between godbrothers should be resolved by discussion, I tried to get an appeal by going through the system. My efforts to get a dialogue going only met with more repressive and “preventative” steps and culminated with me being given ultimatums, which I could not follow, for fear of dehumanizing myself and the authorities, because it has been noted that complicity with authoritarian dealings degrades both parties.

Then I was forbidden to speak in any ISKCON center, for I had incurred the full wrath of the society’s leaders. My crime, not obeying the GBC. And what way the crime that brought the ultimatums that I refused to obey? That only the GBC’s know. None of these procedures followed any system of due process, so I continued my noncooperation policy. Research has taught me that the only response to authoritarianism is to refuse to comply. I love Srila Prabhupada too much to cooperate with the mutually destructive dynamics that are in force in our society at present.

(16) Some of the guards seemed to derive great satisfaction from exercising power and behaving in a sadistic manner: 

In ISKCON, we like to believe that we are above this kind of petty motivation. “We are Vaisnavas.

” This is nothing but the triumph of hope over experience. Self-examination and incisive observation will reveal that we are capable of deriving exquisite delight in exercising power and in trying to crush those we oppose. Some take pride in their capacity to do this by under-handed means. They call their approach to wreaking vengeance, which is a symptom of tamo-guna, ”being subtle.”

(17) A particularly interesting observation was that the use of force, harassment, and aggression by the guards increased steadily from day to day, in spite of the fact that prisoner resistance declined as time went by:

This is a striking phenomenon when one is unfamiliar with the psychology of authoritarianism, which is rooted in self-contempt. This is hinted at later on where one guard admitted that he hated himself. From this place of self-contempt, the person projects his self-loathing onto his victims. Yet the guilt of how he is dehumanizing another human like himself drives him to display extraordinary vehemence towards his victims. It becomes a vicious cycle of alternating self-loathing and lashing out.

But the victims’ shrinking back on themselves and reduction of resistance does not help. In fact, they are disdained for it. The authority loses all respect for his victims, probably out of a secret hope that they would resist and deliver him from his private hell. The question is, does this go on in our society?

Either it does or it can, because we have not shown ourselves to be much different than ordinary society. If we would be hard-headed realists, enough aberrations have shown up in our midst to convince us that it is foolish to assume any dramatic exceptions between our behavior and society at large.

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