Impersonalism in the Guise of Familiarity
BY: ROCANA DASA
Feb 16, CANADA (SUN) I have tried to decipher what my friend and neighbor Gokulananda dasa is trying to communicate in his article, which appears to be his attempted impersonation of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. For those who don't know the author, Gokulananda prabhu's first language isn't English, it's really French-Canadian. This may be one of the reasons he finds it so hard to speak normally.
Here in Canada, all the godbrothers know Gokulananda dasa, but after reading this, I don't think he knows me at all. He chooses, for whatever reasons, to consider Radhanatha Swami as his hero and he apparently gets great inspiration and motivation from him. This is his personal business, and I have nothing against it. What I think he's trying to say is that I should stop writing, because he personally doesn't like my message. It doesn't sit well with his particular perspective. Of course, the nature of the material world is that everyone has a different perspective. Our main business as devotees is to try and ascertain what is the perspective of the Sampradaya Acaryas.
Now we might ask the question, is Radhanatha himself a Sampradaya Acarya? By the sound of it, Gokulananda dasa puts him on such an exalted level. Obviously I and many of the writers who have contributed to this discussion don't share Gokulananda dasa's deep love for this personality.
As Gokulananda should note, I am publishing his response to me in the spirit of brotherly love and to maintain my position that everyone should be given an opportunity to express themselves. It's my long-expressed opinion that this is what it means to live in Vaisnava community, that there is such freedom of speech. Had we had this in the past, so many grievous mistakes wouldn't have been made by the leaders of ISKCON. Of course, Gokulananda dasa doesn't agree with this. He eloquently tries to take the position that Radhanatha and ISKCON take, which is that Kirtanananda is the only one to blame for the New Vrindaban debacle. Gokulananda calls Kirtanananda "infamous", although he seems to believe that everyone who was supporting him is completely free from any blame.
Many Sun contributors have recently attempted to paint a more reality-based picture of what was going on at New Vrindaban during Kirtanananda's reign. Unarguably, that history includes Radhanatha and all the other now-big ISKCON dignitaries associated with New Vrindaban at that time. Kirtanananda couldn't possibly have done it all on his own without them. This seems like such a simple point of fact to me, but it's astounding how many persons can't grasp the concept. One of the reasons things got as bad as they did at New Vrindaban is because members of the devotee community weren't allowed to speak out and tell their stories about what was going on, how he was impacting them.
This whole debate between myself and Gokulananda dasa seems to have begun when I asked him to write the history of how Kirtanananda and his entourage devastated ISKCON Montreal back in the late 1970's, early 1980's. Gokulananda was a first-hand witness to this event. He likes to consider himself a writer, so I thought it would be helpful if he shed some light on how the effects of Kirtanananda and company were felt beyond New Vrindaban and its satellite temples. At the time of this conversation he agreed with my presentation of the facts, and launched into all sorts of stories describing how Kirtanananda had completely disturbed the mood that was created by Nandikesvara, who was then the French-Canadian Temple President of Montreal. At that time, the Montreal temples was at its height in terms of enthusiasm and preaching, devotee-making and book distribution, festivals, and so on. Interestingly, in British Columbia -- which is the opposite side of the country from Quebec -- there are still many French-Canadians living here who were exiled from Quebec, to various degrees on account of Kirtanananda's influence.
It almost impossible for an English speaking Canadian to preach in Quebec due to the nature of that culture and the attitude they have towards non-French speaking persons. We should also note that Quebec is a very good place for preaching and making devotees. In the early days, we had to replace one of the first Temple Presidents, Sripati, on account of the fact that he had a strong British accent and couldn't speak French. By Krsna's arrangement, Nandikesvara prabhu manifested on the scene. He had actually joined in another part of Canada, but grew up in a French-speaking community. No sooner had he taken over with his very talented wife, than Montreal began to flourish. It wasn't long after Srila Prabhupada's disappearance, however, that the Zonal Acaryas "gave" Eastern Canada to Kirtanananda as part of his initiation zone. And when the true story is told, that was the beginning of the end for Nandikesvara. Soon after, he gave up trying to deal with the contaminated Zonal Acarya dynamic. ISKCON Montreal declined, and to this day it has never regained its past glory.
When I recounted this story to Gokulananda dasa, he agreed with me completely. Yet strangely enough, although it is a proven fact that Radhanatha and his troupe of Swamis and ex-Swamis from New Vrindaban were a directly contributing factor to this destructive influence, Gokulananda won't confront that aspect of our historical truth. As far as I'm concerned, Radhanatha has to personally take responsibility for this devastating impact on Eastern Canada, first and foremost because he supported Kirtanananda and didn't object to anything he did.
Secondly, many of the disciples that were forced to take initiation from Kirtanananda were influenced to obey Kirtanananda's desires for them to leave their service and their country, their prabhu-datta-desha in Eastern Canada, and to go to New Vrindaban. This influence occurred as a result of their visits to New Vrindaban and the fact that all the inmates there "worked on them" in order to get them to relocate to New Vrindaban. So a great deal of pressure was brought to bear on these devotees, as evidenced by the fact that they dropped their responsibilities to their local temples in Eastern Canada, and ran off to join Kirtanananda's cult. Unarguably, Radhanatha and the other leaders at New Vrindaban were part of this recruiting machine.
In fact, this was an outright conspiracy to bleed manpower from the Eastern Canada temples. I had a recent conversation with Visvakarma Prabhu, the long time Temple President of Toronto and a good friend of Nandikesvara's and mine during that era. He reminded me that Kirtanananda's disciples, with the help of the New Vrindaban devotees, including Radhanatha, stole the Srila Prabhupada deity off the altar in Toronto and took it down to Cleveland, Ohio, to Radhanatha's temple. Visvakarma Prabhu naturally went after Radhanatha, trying to get Srila Prabhupada's murti back, but Radhanatha said no way, and wouldn't give it back. So let us personally hear from Radhanatha why he sanctioned the theft of this murti from the altar in Toronto by refusing to return it, against all Visvakarma's entreaties for him to do so.
Gokulananda dasa wasn't a temple authority during this time, and he may not have been privy to all that we knew, because that was the system during the Zonal Acarya era: the temple authorities had to be quiet and not tell anyone about all the nasty things that were going on. This was an important aspect of the Zonal Acarya dynamics. In Kirtanananda's case, he actually provoked the Temple Presidents in Eastern Canada, hoping that they would speak ill of him, so that his disciples could use it as an excuse to convince others to leave their local service and come to a place where there was 'never a harsh word spoken by Kirtanananda'. It's obvious that Gokulananda dasa didn't fully understand what was going on, and doesn't to this very day. Of course, if there had been a free press back then, he would have known and understood and could have acted accordingly.
Gokulananda dasa has decided that he has all the facts, as they are, as he personally experienced and remembers them. He has decided that the testimonials of those who were actually in New Vrindaban have no merit whatsoever. Only his perspective should be allowed to be presented or be considered as bona fide. In fact, he tells me that I should just give up on my writing and this website, and change my vocation. My response is, doesn't he see a world or a community or society wherein people like myself are included and welcomed?
He calls me a "great revolutionary" and makes it sounds as though I've always been in that mood, throughout my devotional career. But in fact, that's not true. As I have admitted in the past, I was somewhat silent and complacent and went along for a long time as a participant, all the way through the Zonal Acarya period. So it wasn't that I was an early revolutionary, by any stretch. This also goes to show how much Gokulananda dasa doesn't really know me, or my past. Still, he seems to think I need some sort of therapist to help me get over my post-traumatic stress disorder. And just to clear the record, I wasn't the only 'lone voice crying out in the wilderness' against Jayatirtha. There were other stalwarts. In fact, the long-time GBC of England, HH Sivarama Swami, was one of the key contributors to dealing with the Jayatirtha problem. So Gokulananda is very ill-informed on these matters. He obviously doesn't know me, and I doubt very much that he knows Radhanath Swami nearly as well as he knows me. But that doesn't stop him from releasing a river of saccharine-sweet verbiage on the matter.
Gokulananda dasa doesn't know and didn't share in my personal story. My story is not the same as his story. He didn't participate in the reform movement. We didn't see him at any of the meetings in New Jersey, just as we don't see him trying to bring about any change in ISKCON today. But that's him, and that's his story. Today he describes himself as being a "patient revolutionary", and his personal history depicts this same prevailing mood throughout his devotional career.
The main principle here is that we're godbrothers, and in a healthy Vaisnava community we should all be able to live together. It's not me who's excluding him, or even Radhanatha for that matter. They are excluding us -- not because I have adopted some forbidden siddhanta, but simply because I choose to tell what I see to be the truth, both historically and presently. I try to make sense of it in that way, and I make what I feel is a sincere effort to present the events in a philosophical context. This is something I don't hear from Gokulananda dasa as he waxes poetic on behalf of Radhanatha. Aside from all the flowery words, Gokulananda makes few, if any, real philosophical points.
Nothing Gokulananda dasa has said about Radhanatha is new. We all know that he has a lot of disciples and is now considered the great saviour of ISKCON. But in terms of Gokulananda dasa knowing Radhanatha, or knowing what he really stands for, I think he's as far off the mark as he in his presumptuous statements about "knowing" me.
This Radhanatha Swami issue has really hit a nerve, and has created some of the greatest reaction amongst the devotees that we've seen in recent times. And judging from the steady stream of incoming information, there's a great deal more to be disclosed and analyzed about this personality. In the minds of many newcomers as well as many jaded old-timers, Radhanatha has become a symbol of the hoped-for ideal devotee. He appears to be so sweetly devotional that when information is presented which casts him in a different, darker light, it greatly disturbs the minds and sentiments of some. Unfortunately, historical facts are just that. It's very hard to rebut many of the points that have made by Sun writers who are critically analyzing this personality. In fact, there has been essentially no rebuttal of any of the facts - only emotionally surcharged speeches like the one Gokulananda just made. While such rhetoric may be balm for the hurt minds of Radhanatha's ongoing supporters, it does nothing to overturn the allegations, clarify the very worrisome history, or make sense of the present facts surrounding Radhanatha's persona.
In the days ahead, we will attempt to lay out a clear presentation of all the evidence and allegations presented to date on the subject of Radhanatha Swami. Gokulananda dasa and other defenders of the Swami will then be asked to set aside all the flowery verse, and make an actual, factual, philosophically sound rebuttal of the points. If they can't or won't, then let us all take this as a measure of the value of their sentimental defense.
One of the objectives of my service in writing and allowing others to be heard through the Sun is to enable public discourse on circumstances impacting my Spiritual Master's movement. The Internet phenomenon is apparently very difficult for devotees such as Gokulananda dasa to deal with. While it gives devotees the freedom to say what they like in a very cost effective and efficient way, it also gives them the choice not to go to whatever websites disturb them. This is what is normally called a "free society". Many great intellectuals are applauding this facility for that very reason -- it's not being policed by one particular group and isn't under the control of someone who happens to have enough money to squelch dissenting opinions. So Gokulananda dasa is free to not come to my site, nor does he have to read what I have to say. He can stick strictly to Dandavats, where there's a very high level of sanitized control over the content. In fact, he can send all his writings, which I have dutifully published, exclusively to Dandavats. He doesn't even have to speak with me anymore if that's his choice. And frankly, even though we live a mile apart, we very seldom associate together. He has had unlimited opportunities to confront me face to face, by phone or in person, but he has never seen fit to give me the courtesy of a personal discussion on these contentious issues. Instead, he treats me to an impersonal and factually incorrect, albeit adjective-rich soliloquy. Nowhere does he address any of the philosophical points I made. In fact, his abject avoidance of dealing with the philosophical points puts him in good company with all the ISKCON leaders. That unbrahminical approach is precisely why I'm out here in cyberspace, hammering away at these issues. Until they're dealt with honestly, openly and philosophically, they'll never go away.
There have been innumerable times when I've sat across from Gokulananda dasa, out of earshot of the temple authorities, and listened for long stretches while he's filled my head with all sorts of complaints and inside stories, expressing his frustration with the way ISKCON is dealing with him locally, and the nonsense things that are going on here and elsewhere. To hear him, you'd think he's in the same mood that I am. But when it comes to making a public display of opinion, I see only blind loyalty to ISKCONů I see only the great dishonesty and hypocrisy of my godbrother, Gokulananda. He would apparently rather live in a society where you have to whisper behind the backs of the authorities, like he does, hoping that they never hear you or understand what you really think about them. And for what reasons does he choose this path? So that he can continue to benefit personally from whatever little facility they dole out, which in his case is frighteningly little.