Jun 12, 2017 INDIA (SUN)
Dear Bhakti Vikasa Swami, I have been following your recent writings on the topic of Child Abuse and have come to the point of responding. Witnessing your plight has kindled my sympathy and I am attempting to offer you some help.
I myself am someone who enjoyed the hospitality of both ISKCON flagship Gurukulas in the late 1990s, from the young age of 6 to the ripe age of 12. Should you not be aware, these are the Vrindavana Gurukula and Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami's Mayapura Gurukula.
I am utterly delighted by the fact that child protection, an issue of paramount importance, is being brought to the forefront of discussion in ISKCON. This is of course, due to the efforts of Sri Sanaka Rsi, whom I cannot praise enough. May Srila Prabhupada shower his blessings on this soul.
My Dear Swami, I find your comments on the necessary ways of dealing with children, to say the least, disturbing. However, worry not, for I attribute this not to your lack of empathy towards the dependent, but rather, by and large to your enormous investment and to put it plainly, inexperience or, lacking of a better word, ignorance of the matter at hand.
Under investment herein, I refer to you having given your entire adult life to service of The Movement. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge you have not had children yourself nor have you been married. While this is a position worthy of utmost respect, which you by all means have from me, it carries with it a handicap when confronting certain practical issues, like the upbringing of children or ways of dealing with women.
You, out of all, are one I need not remind, that unlike your exalted self, the majority of souls go through three asramas preceding the Sannyasa Asrama. Among these, is the Grihastha Asrama. Procreation is allowed, the husband is supposed to support his wife and progeny, which carries with it a cost. His energy is spent on material endeavours, food has to be put on the table, the wife and children require clothes and so on. In his old age, the man goes on to the Sannyasa Asrama, now in his twilight, all his effort and remaining energy can be focused on spiritual activities, preaching which includes advising the younger generation on leading a proper life. Our eternal Spiritual Master, Srila Prabhupada went through and experienced every single moment of this, which is why he has utmost authority in giving advice and direction relating to every segment of life. You Dear Swami, on the other hand, to be rather blunt, have none; naught. You have not had a wife; you have not had children, yet you so willingly indulge in giving advice regarding these matters without any specifics.
Please do not misunderstand my words. Your status is in fact very respectable. Remaining a strict renunciate, a Brahmachari, throughout your entire adult life is a very commendable, more so, an amazing achievement, but it does not empower you, nor give you authority for commenting and advising on aspects of household life. Why am I stressing this? Allow me to present a simple thought experiment. Entertain the situation of you being a father and your son being in the Vrindavana Gurukula. Suppose you did not see him for a long time and were visiting him. As you walk into the Gurukula you see a crowd around one of the doors, curious you go see what is happening. You see a group of children lined up, with your son standing out of the line in front of the Headmaster, being humiliated with words, and suddenly being given a painful slap. What do you feel dear Swami? Can you put yourself in this situation? You can't. You might object, by convincing yourself that this scenario above was simply hypothetical. It was not; had you been to the Vrindavana Gurukula this was a regular occurrence. Public humiliation and slaps were second nature to Gauri dasa, myself having had first hand experience.
But wait, we have more. What is your stand on young children playing? I think I have an answer for you. You might fondly recall your time spent in Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami's Gurukula during the Gaura Purnima festivals. You had a hut for yourself. During the afternoons we young children, aged between 6 and 10 used to play catch and run around. Of course, we could only do this rarely as these activities were frowned upon. Playing the Mridanga and dancing in the Kirtan was our allowed exercise. Do you remember what you used to do Swami? Let me remind you. We got scolded and punished because you would complain about us running around and not doing sattvic activities. We were all pushed to show Bhakti Vikasa Swami our best face in fear of committing aparadha. Surely this is laughable, right? A couple of kids getting told not to play during their free time. The point is, that this happening simply shows how little understanding you have of dealing with children. Your perspective might have changed in the last 20 years since this occurrence; if it did, you have my gratitude, whereas if it did not, then please refrain from any further advice regarding children and women and leave it to those who are qualified.
We have now arrived to the gist of the matter. Dear Swami, could you go back in time, to your young, 18 year-old self and remember why you joined Srila Prabhupada's movement? What made you give up the life your parents had lived, the life most of your peers lived, and devote yourself entirely to Krishna Consciousness? There was something missing in your life, a feeling of emptiness, no true purpose. Srila Prabhupada filled in this gap, and you were swept away; a grand sense of having found the ultimate truth dawned upon you and as a conclusion, you devoted your life to him, and later on, to the Movement.
Now put yourself in the boots of someone who had the utmost fortune of being aware, nay being brought up in this amazing environment. Someone who had listened constantly to the Holy Name as a toddler and had the association of devotees ever since the day he can recall memories. His life must be amazing, to say the least, having filled the nagging emptiness at such a young age, correct? Oh but wait, let him go through the Gurukula first.
Now let me share some of my personal experiences. I was enrolled in the Vrindavana Gurukula when I was 6 years old; the perfect age for commencing structured education. One would expect that the teacher in charge of the asrama with the youngest boys would behave as a second mother to the children. Alas, this was not the case. The food we were given was basically uneatable; prepared in the dirtiest kitchen one can imagine, full of insects. I would throw up almost every time, and was forced to eat my vomit. Leaving the Prasadam hall without a clean plate, whatever it might contain, was considered a crime of the highest order. So there I was almost daily, the last one in the hall, sitting over my plate refusing to eat my vomit. This of course led to malnourishment. The already dire situation was aggravated further. I could not put on my dhoti by myself, and hence every time I went to the toilet I had to ask my asrama teacher to help me. Of course, I was not taught to put it on by her, rather scolded, mocked and punished, which lead me to procrastinate my calls of nature to the point of soiling myself, and developing serious digestive problems. Unfortunately this carried on to my early twenties when I could finally get rid of my unconscious fear of toilets.
Talking of fear, it was the prevalent emotion throughout the Gurukula. Did I have the feeling of completeness, leading a life surrounded by Krishna, in the Holy Dhama so dear to him? No, it was constant fear of being punished, being beaten, humiliated, forced to do tasks, all in the name of Krishna. This environment was consciously maintained by the headmaster, Gauri dasa; under the premise of discipline. So tell me Swami, what would you associate with Lord Krishna and the holy Dhama, were you brought up as such -- the feelings of completeness, true purpose? Being kicked out of bed at 3 am, then forced to chant the Holy Name; punished if not dancing enthusiastically in Mangala Arati; being forced to eat your vomit; soiling yourself; all this sprinkled with talk of true happiness and the real purpose of life? Sounds like Goloka itself.
I still had it easy. There were Gurukulis who had it a lot worse than me. My father had a higher position in ISKCON at the time, and thus I was not subject to as much abuse as others. Luckily, by the time I arrived at the Mayapura Gurukula, the heavy abuse had cooled down, due to the sanctions in place. In fact, throughout my three-year stay, I remember some of my teachers, who are still there, fondly. But the damage had been done; the Gurukula environment was not for me anymore.
I hope this short reminiscence will naturally lead you to the following train of thoughts. Are you aware of what truly happened to the countless children born into Srila Prabhupada's movement? The souls that wanted Krishna and took birth here? There was something taken away from them. That same gift you received from Srila Prabhupada and swept you away; that gift, which made you devote your life to this cause; that gift, which gave true purpose to your life. It was ripped away from them forcefully; stolen from them and shredded to pieces. For many years, the Japa experience of these children was all about being in a drowsy state at 3 in the morning after hardly enough sleep, being shouted at were they not pretending to chant. You can imagine the amazing associations this rendered towards Japa. What was your experience when you started chanting the Holy Name? It gave you an intense connection to the Lord due to the blessings of your spiritual master. Now imagine that this got taken away from countless children, by the very people you are defending. These now grown up children are trying to find the purpose in their lives. Where should they go for association, to ISKCON? The individuals, the thieves, are still there, in high regard, defended by the likes of you. Why would anyone take shelter of The Movement where these thieves roam freely, those that stole the most precious gift obtainable, and then deny the act, what to speak of apologizing? Of course, you could object by saying that Krishna cannot be taken away from anyone who has experienced His blessings and you are absolutely right. But what have these children experienced? I invite you to read the numerous testimonials available online.
What now dear Swami? Are you truly willing to help all these children? I am under the assumption that you are stoking the corporal punishment issue as an attempt to help children in their journey of growing up and becoming responsible, Krishna Conscious adults. Should my hypothesis be correct, allow me to suggest a course of action that might result in a more favourable outcome of your philanthropic endeavours. Why not follow the example of Srila Sanatana Goswami, and advise all the documented abusers, including your brother-in-arms, Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami, to seek out every single student that has hard feelings towards them and ask for their forgiveness? If an exalted devotee like Srila Rupa Goswami can be barred from the eternal lila due to him unknowingly offending a person, we can only imagine what these people would have to suffer. Why not help them by pioneering this initiative? Encourage them to make a public announcement on all ISKCON forums, that any former student of theirs that was abused by them, be given a personal visit by them, tied with an apology, and ISKCON make a separate fund for their travel expenses.
Unfortunately, all these very serious aparadhas that were committed will not be forgiven unless the offenders themselves ask for apologies. Even being uttama-adhikari, initiating spiritual masters, sum totals of the demigods and personal servants of Srimati Radharani, like yourself and some of your defendants, you are not exempt from this, just as the pastime with Srila Rupa Goswami shows.
You may very well ask, why am I writing this? Do I hold some sort of grudge against anyone? I can warmly assure you, that I do not. As fate would have it, my parents are amazing devotees who experienced the gift just as you did. They did not get contaminated by any sort of investment in the Movement, and left it after they realized the unfortunate state of affairs prevailing. By their purity of heart, they managed to rekindle the fire in me that was meticulously being brought to near extinguishment by the Gurukula experience. I simply want to help all the other Gurukulis who may have it different and are struggling in life.
Swami, are you too far invested in the Movement to make a change? Are you willing to do what is right and help those around you? It is all up to you.
Best of luck to you,
Some former Gurukuli