It appears that ISKCON is beginning to recognize, and is attempting to rectify, the mistakes of the past in regard to the students who attended the many experimental Gurukulas [ISKCON residential schools]. Upon studying their approach, we can see that they again fail to recognize the essence of the problem, which they have ignored for over 15 years. I am appalled that they still refuse to attribute some of the blame for this problem to the obvious fact that celibate men [brahmacaries and sannyasis] were placed in positions of authority, in close association with children. These authorities struggled with one-dimensional attitudes, and a lack of direct experience in dealing with young people. In many cases, they faced internal struggles caused by accepting the renounced order of life prematurely, without the purification of householder asrama, and in other cases due to suppressing their homosexual tendencies. These celibacy issues undoubtedly contributed to the creation of the problem.
At a recent meeting of ISKCON leaders, at their corporate headquarters in Florida, some of the abused children were flown in to give their personal testimonials. The meeting served as an attempt to wake up many leaders who were in denial that the problem even existed. The ex- gurukula children’s heart-rending stories convinced those attending, so much so that on the spot, the leaders present [most of whom were sannyasis] personally pledged $150,000 US in support for all the victims. Most of the main financial contributors to the fund were rich sannyasis/gurus. As I understand it, their pledges were placed in a fund to be administered by appointed sannyasis chairman and vice chairman, Bhira Krsna Swami and Vipramukhya Swami, who are to disburse the funds at their discretion. The victims, now intelligent young adults, are apparently not being trusted to determine by themselves how these funds should be allotted, although several of them have developed excellent and responsible ideas in this regard.
By making this arrangement, the GBC leaders again failed to recognize the obvious reality that most of the worst offenders were sannyasis, in the position of headmasters at the biggest most important schools in Vrindabin and Mayapura, India. Above these headmasters were the sannyasi GBC’s in charge of the gurukulas, along with the sannyasi gurus [zonal-acaryas]. As a result of this hypocritical reality, many of these young adults who were maltreated as young children 10 to 15 years ago have developed a complete lack of respect for anyone purporting to be of this the most exalted asrama within the Varna Ashram system. Likewise, the orphans who were abused in the Catholic run institutions understandably have little or no regard for the Church, particularly the celibate priests. This is a common sense conclusion. The justice these orphans are now beginning to receive has not come about because the Church leaders recognized and accepted the truth, but because the victims approached the legal system in secular society.
As a result of living through such tragic experiences these children, who are now young adults, have a deep resentment for those who were posing as spiritually advanced leaders, especially those who were in power during the time period when their abuse took place. It happens that most of the leaders throughout ISKCON were sannyasis. The children also place blame on the ISKCON leadership since their perception is that the leaders forced their parents to send them to these so-called gurukulas. For many, the gurukulas were nothing more than warehouses, where children were deposited so that their surrendered parents could be freed up from parental responsibilities, so as to be engaged full-time in programs primarily designed and administrated by sannyasis. These young devotees witnessed first-hand their sannyasis overlords [headmaster, GBC, zonal-acaya guru, minister of education] leading comfortable, if not opulent lifestyles, while they were forced to lead extremely austere lives with inadequate food, clothing, bedding, and most importantly, love and affection. These young children became understandably disturbed, and in many cases extremely rebellious as a direct result of having been so neglected. Their rebellion was interpreted as a sign of insubordination and a lack of surrender. As punishment, they were beaten mercilessly by the insensitive teachers who, if not celibates themselves, were under the close supervision of sannyasis. These sannyasi headmasters are still considered by the ISKCON organization to be revered leaders and/or diksa gurus, with many disciples of their own.
Now, these children incredulously observe that the same GBC leadership that ignored their plight in the first place has appointed more inexperienced sannyasis, who will be in the position of deciding how the victims will finally be compensated. This insensitive, foolish move on the part of the administration is looked upon by most of the psychologically damaged young adults with predictable suspicion and deeply felt disgust. Nearly all of the previously ill-treated are now very intelligent young adults, who have had to deal with their problems themselves. They have done amazingly well, considering. ISKCON’s recent moves to award them some compensation, after trying their best to ignore them for over 15 years, is not interpreted as genuine heartfelt regret. Nor is it seen as recognition on the part of the leaders who neglected their responsibilities, but rather as a desperation measure motivated by a morbid fear that their abundant opulence, power and position within the institution, which they are so attached to enjoying, will be forcefully taken away by the American court system if and when these abused become organized enough to seek legal action, and demand what they are rightfully due.
I recently wrote to one of the very close friends of Jagadisa dasa, Burijhana dasa Adhikary, a GBC guru within the organization. Burijhana dasa was a teacher at the infamous Vrindabin India Gurukula during the period when the worst abuses took place. He, along with his friend Jagadisa dasa and other teachers, permitted and to varying degrees participated in the physical abuse that was taking place at that educational institution. These teachers also repeatedly ignored the many complaints of sexual exploitation that was taking place right under their noses in the living asramas. They had the opportunity at the time to do something to put a stop to it, but they instead decided to look the other way so as not to stir up trouble with the celibate authorities in charge.
Following is an excerpt from my letter of today, December 6, 1996, to Bhurijana dasa:
Many ex-gurukula students I have been recently speaking with have revealed to me the extent of the sadistic activities that took place at the Vrindabin Gurukula in the 80’s, while your friend Dhanadhara Swami was the headmaster. I was very surprised to be told that you also were apparently actively participating in Dhanadhara Swami’s sick, twisted program, which consisted of severe and brutal punishment, including placing psychologically sick monitors in positions of supervision where they were sexually abusing the younger boys. When these abused children approached you and the other teachers with their many complaints and obvious signs of distress, you as well as the other teachers ignored them.
At least Jagadisa dasa [ex-swami and GBC guru], the previous Minister of Education, is finally breaking free from this destructive dynamic and is now desperately trying to start his life over by first relieving himself of the restraints of being a pretender sannyasis and unqualified diksa guru and doing what he should have done years ago. We, his friends and relatives who love him, are hoping that his sudden actions are not too little too late. We are praying to Krsna to give him strength and will wait to see how he recovers.
I was present this year in the park in L.A. when the ex-Gurukula students faced off with the brave representative of the GBC, Bhira Krsna Swami, who was put in charge of dealing with this matter. The main object of their anger was the ex-headmaster, Dhanadhara Swami, who to them is remembered as a commandant of a concentration camp, with you and other teachers as his obedient junior officers. Their main complaint was that all of you are still considered by the GBC to be highly advanced devotees, by dint of the fact that you are still considered qualified to be diksa gurus and/or GBC’s. And, in Dhanadhara’s case, a qualified sannyasis in good standing. Bhira Krsna openly admitted to these young adults during the encounter that the accused Dhanadhara Swami was, up until recently, in complete denial, a common psychological symptom of an abuser. I pray that you are also not in this denial mentality. You may be relieved to know that the ISKCON lawyer, Armarendra dasa was also present, incognito at this meeting obviously there to make a determination as to what the legal ramifications maybe if these individuals became organized and took their grievances to court.
The new VOICE website, at http://www.islandnet.com/~voice, invites participation from those who were victims of this tragic mistake, perpetrated in the name of Vaisnava education, under the supposed authorization of the Founder/Acarya of ISKCON, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
During His ISKCON lila, Srila Prabhupada gave many instructions as to the proper Vaisnava process for educating the children who were born into his disciple’s families. Before departing, He personally saw to the construction of the Vrindabin Gurukula, right beside the Krsna Balaram Mandir. He placed this educational institution in the able administrative hands of Dr. Sharma, and the asrama and spiritual training in the care of His trusted disciple, Yasoda nandana Swami. Upon Srila Prabhupada’s departure, both of these personalities were thrown out almost immediately, because they disagreed with the GBC administration [zonal acaryas] who had taken control of the organization. Yasoda nandana dasa is still actively protesting, seventeen years later. Even though the philosophical disagreements he registered in his protest paper were proven to be correct a few years later, he was never given any apology by the GBC, nor restored to the position he had been given by Srila Prabhupada as spiritual head of the Vrindabin Gurukula.
For me, personally, the most disturbing aspect in this whole disgusting mess is the discovery that many of these ex-gurukula children are carrying around in their hearts a deep-seated resentment towards Srila Prabhupada Himself. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly stated that these children were our hope for the future. Why do they hold this resentment? Because throughout their impressionable years, spent in an ISKCON educational system which became a perverted reflection of Srila Prabhupada’s dream, these children were constantly told by their teachers and parents that the situation they were experiencing was exactly what Srila Prabhupada envisioned for them. They were led to believe that this was His Plan, perfectly executed by the abusive leaders who were simply following Srila Prabhupada’s formula, and that these leaders were, in fact, humble, obedient servants of the Spiritual Master. In reality, these bewildered neophytes were intoxicated deviators, counterfeit acaryas, concoctors of the highest order, and basically extremely disturbed individuals which Krsna, in his form as Kala, the time factor, is gradually revealing.
Whether it is too late to salvage the burnt remnants from this ill performed sacrifice where our most precious assets, our own children, were offered up, Time alone will reveal. All those who consider themselves members of the eternal ISKCON that Srila Prabhupada manifested will eventually have to personally decide whether they are siding with the abused or the abusers. We all have to end our own denial about how they were abused, and by whom. These power hungry leaders lead everyone to believe they were our protectors and well wishers, when in reality they exploited everyone’s naiveté, and usurped the time and energy of those under them for their own personal gain. This was all done by a few expert manipulators under the guise of saintly Vaisnavas, and they are still being worshipped today. If they want all this prestige, power and glory, they will have to take responsibility for the mistakes as well, and the greatest mistake of all was the mistreatment of our children - Srila Prabhupada’s greatest asset.