BY: ROCANA DASA
April 9, CANADA (SUN) A weekly response to Dandavats editorials.
Today's Obeisances is in response to the article entitled "In Prabhupada We Trust" by Hari-sauri dasa.
Before I begin addressing some of the points the author makes in his article, I'd like to qualify for the reader that I've never read Hari-sauri's Transcendental Diary, even though many devotees in ISKCON consider it to be sastra-like in its content and accuracy. In my mind, the same principles that I apply to the Lilamrta also apply to this Transcendental Dairy. I don't object to the book on the basis that he wrote what he did - that's certainly his personal prerogative. I object on the basis that the book is simply another non-absolute recording of a devotee's personal memories and impressions; it has received the ISKCON stamp of approval and is therefore accepted as fact by a great many devotees. Of course, this has created a very positive result for Hari-sauri.
The author doesn't hesitate to begin his article by making sure that everyone knows about the wonderful service he's performed in the past. Of course, like many of the ISKCON celebs, he leaves out of this mythical past some of the very big "tests" which he has failed. He ends his article by saying that basically ISKCON has "passed the test", but when he talks about ISKCON, he's really talking about the leaders of ISKCON. Not surprisingly, he never mentions how many mistakes they've made or how many of them have fallen by the wayside, including himself. Instead he, like Bhavananda, Guru dasa, Shyamasundar and others, have written biographies or managed to be otherwise catapulted back into the ISKCON limelight, regardless of their actual history in and outside of the institution. Hari-sauri's Transcendental Dairy is on the top of the list of such books in terms of its acceptance in ISKCON as being gospel truth.
Throughout the article the author inserts various disqualifiers such as:
"…I certainly have no idea of Srila Prabhupada’s view of the world (if I had I would be a maha bhagavata!)…"
In my mind, he does not make clear to the readers of his Diary that the book is really just his own personal remembrances, so therefore the reader should be forewarned that they're not getting the absolute truth from him. They're just getting one fallen soul's perspective. While in the Introduction of the Diary he offers the disclaimer that he is "neither a devotee or a writer", he also asserts the following:
"This should not be taken as the personal memoirs of a former servant, although certainly I have expressed some of the feelings and emotions I experienced at the time. Nor is it a retrospective analysis. It is a simple, factual account of times, places, and events, which I, as his personal servant, was in a unique position to observe."
So the reader is actually informed that the conditioned author's observations are fact. This is not unlike the mood of the author of Lilamrta, who also presents as facts many contaminated musings that have been impeached and shown to be something other than fact. But for that story, I invite the reader to tune in to the Deconstructing the Lilamrta series here in the Sun.
Hari-sauri dasa begins his article by broadcasting the fact that for the last two years, he's been traveling all over the world with his entire family on account of the fact that he wrote this book. He's now famous in ISKCON, and he can embellish even more upon his original embellishments because the members of ISKCON are so hungry for this type of information that they're willing to go to the expense and effort of having the author and his family visit. Considering the fact that in this article and in his book he comes to the correct conclusion that everything is ultimately Srila Prabhupada's, we can understand that it is actually Srila Prabhupada's money that is allowing him to engage in this type of service. Flying about the world visiting the devotees is the envy of most of Srila Prabhupada's disciples, except the big gurus who enjoy it as a regular diet. But in Hari-sauri's case, he didn't have to again take sannyasa or accept disciples, nor again resume his responsibilities as a GBC. So in some ways, he lives in an even more privileged world on account of the fact that he's perceived to be one of the leading authorities on Srila Prabhupada. Regardless of the fact that he states he doesn't have a clue what Srila Prabhupada would say about the circumstances in ISKCON today, he's confidently giving a seminar series entitled "Srila Prabhupada: the Living Bhagavatam". He goes on to list all the places around the world where he's been accommodated and, by his own admission, treated like royalty.
He introduces himself in a very glorious way as having been a GBC for Australia and the South Seas Zone for seven years, telling the reader all the wonderful things that the devotees in his zone accomplished during that time. But what he leaves out is the fact that he had a very embarrassing falldown which put an abrupt halt to his career. Rather than be honest about his history, he mentions "human frailty" and "mundane realities" exerting themselves. He says he left management in 1984 and became an ISKCON "private citizen", but he doesn't explain that that's because he was forced to leave due to having an affair as a sannyasi with an Asian woman who was a non-devotee. This was discovered, causing him to have to become a "private citizen". In 1986 he began work on his Transcendental Diary.
We also note that prior to his taking the sannyasa/GBC position, he was Srila Prabhupada's personal servant. Following in the footsteps of Harikesa, who had been promoted from being Srila Prabhupada's servant to taking a GBC position, Hari-sauri had obviously became good friends with the power elite on the GBC due to his closeness to Srila Prabhupada. They recommended him to follow them into the management field, where he served for a number of years.
It's interesting to many of his godbrothers that Hari-sauri gave up his position as Srila Prabhupada's servant and secretary just as Srila Prabhupada was getting ill in early 1977. In his Diary, the final chapter ends rather abruptly in April 1976. No mention is made of the fact that shortly thereafter, as his Spiritual Master's health was declining, he chose to leave this service. So the question remains: why would someone who's so close to Srila Prabhupada and knew so much about serving him decide to leave under those conditions? This unanswered question has certainly served as grist over the years for the poison theorists. I encourage Hari-sauri to give us a public explanation on this point so the speculation can end and the facts be known.
Passing the Test
In the body of his Dandavats article, we find that the author employs a very interesting, expert, and classic ISKCON leadership literary trick. He paints a picture wherein there is a certain degree of admission that ISKCON hasn't been as completely successful as one would expect. This puts him into a comfortable 'gray zone' of admission that, of course, says nothing that could actually be used to criticize the institution. There's no mention of any of the previous big problem, such as the Zonal Acarya system, although you'd think the author would mention this, given that he was so involved in the system himself and was one of the few disciples who rode on the coattails of the Zonal Acaryas.
Although making what appears to be a humble disqualifier in terms of his "one man's observation", he goes on to clarify for us what Srila Prabhupada meant by the phrase "Your love for me will be shown by how well you cooperate together." The author is asserting his authority as someone who knows a great deal about Srila Prabhupada and he makes it clear that this commonly used phrase is not exactly what Srila Prabhupada said. Rather, it is the sentimentalized version of what Tamal Krishna Goswami wrote in his own Diary… which is also not an absolute authority on anything:
“Your love for me will be tested how after my departure you maintain this institution. We have glamour and people are feeling our weight. This should be maintained. Not like Gaudiya Matha. After Guru Maharaja’s departure so many acaryas came up.”
(TKG’S diary, May 23,1977)
The conclusion that the author comes to is that Srila Prabhupada wanted to maintain ISKCON regardless of the fact that the Zonal Acaryas had transformed it into something different than Srila Prabhupada gave us. The Zonal Acaryas used the branded title "ISKCON" and took advantage of whatever facilities Srila Prabhupada left. Somehow or other Hari-sauri feels that because the Zonal Acaryas didn't break-up into individual mathas, they were following Srila Prabhupada and cooperating together. Yes, they all agreed to stay underneath the ISKCON brand umbrella, but in reality they had their own zones which were the equivalent of the mathas. In fact, that gave them even more power. Somehow or other in Hari-sauri's mind because they decided to do that, it qualified them to consider themselves "cooperating" together, despite the fact that this move drove out the vast majority of Srila Prabhupada's disciples.
Hari-sauri even gives an example or a story wherein an old friend of his, a Srila Prabhupada disciple, describes his situation in comparison to Hari-sauri's circumstance, which was radically different. Although this unnamed godbrother virtually speaks for all of the godbrothers/sisters who were driven out due to a lack of cooperation from those at the top, Hari-sauri makes it out that this personality didn't "pass the test". He obviously believes that people like himself, who made big ISKCON comebacks regardless of all their falldowns and failures, somehow or other did pass the test. Hari-sauri himself "passed the test" because he had so many friends at the top and he wrote a book that became widely accepted in the society. Now he's unabashedly telling us about the good life he's leading on account of his unusual circumstances, which don't apply to anyone but himself and a few others, such as Bhavananda. And this is what he considers having "passed the test".
He again offers a disclaimer that both he and ISKCON have to do a lot of work in this regard. In other words, they have to reconnect with Srila Prabhupada's disciples and encourage them to come back. Of course, he doesn't give any direct suggestion as to how this should be accomplished. In all honesty he should admit that it will never happen because of the very way in which ISKCON is structured. While he acknowledges that fragmentation has occurred, he minimizes it by saying well, who didn't think that was going to happen, anyway? Anyone who thought that the society was gong to be held together in the way Srila Prabhupada desired it, they're just fools for expecting something other than what has transpired over these last 30 years.
The author reiterates the mantra, “Say what you like about ISKCON, but it’s the only act in town.”, then he proceeds to list all the achievements that ISKCON is maintaining throughout the world, such as Ratha Yatras, festivals, and so on. In some regards, we can see this as being the equivalent to the heir to Coca Cola, who's been cut out of the will, and is being told by the beneficiaries that the disenfranchised relative has the option of going out and starting their own company, and competing with Coca Cola. Of course, most of Srila Prabhupada's disciples weren't given any facility whatsoever after Srila Prabhupada left. In fact, the GBC's and Zonal Acaryas did everything in their power to ensure that their godbrothers didn't get anything. They arranged things so that they had all the power, assets, honor, distinction and affection of the grassroots devotees. As a result, the second tier managers like the Temple Presidents were no longer able to achieve the expected goals because they no longer had the support of the congregational members, who were now being 'handled' by the big gurus and GBC's.
So although there's a long list of so-called ISKCON achievements, whatever has been accomplished has be done on the back of a system that Srila Prabhupada never, ever have approved of. And we see the results all around us, especially here in North America.
To emphasize the point I've just made, the author actually quotes from Srila Prabhupada on the subject of loving feelings, and the fact that the whole movement was based on that principle of love and respect. But if all the love and respect is directed towards persons who are not local, and who only come to town occasionally to capitalize on the adoration and distinction they're getting, then it's not possible to build this 'house which everyone can live in'. And that's not going to change as far as I can see. Instead, we get people like Hari-sauri coming in to give us a few golden days of seminars, telling us a little more about Srila Prabhupada but not really defining philosophically who Srila Prabhupada is in relationship to those who are claiming to represent the Sampradaya as diksa gurus and represent ISKCON as GBC's.
The author says that we should trust Srila Prabhupada. Obviously, he is the only person we can trust. Individuals such as Hari-sauri want to reassure us that ISKCON is great in other places, and that these nice programs are going on somewhere over the horizon. Of course, this is a very inadequate substitute for the original plan Srila Prabhupada gave us for managing his movement.
Hari-sauri emphasizes his concept of "passing the examination", and that all big devotees in the past had to pass this test and they were judged on that basis. His message is that if you stuck it out in ISKCON through all the nonsense that was created by the leaders, then you individually passed the test. This, of course, he qualifies for because even though he failed in such a dramatic and significant way in his role as a sannyasi and a GBC. Never mind that he caused many disciples to leave as a result of his falldown and the huge disturbance it created across his zone - still, he passed the test. And after he fell, the leaders sent Bhavananda in to take over for him, making things even worse. Regardless, Hari-sauri is now treated very nicely. He and his family are given seemingly unlimited facility to travel from temple to temple and be hosted very opulently. In fact, his own test for ISKCON members is apparently that they treat him so nicely, they must be humble, sincere devotees.
In Hari-sauri's personal circumstance he can fail in so many ways, but because he has friends at the top and he's written this book, and is willing to write articles like the latest on Dandavats, he's recovered a prestigious position and all the facility that goes with it. At the same time he can claim that he's a fallen soul so everyone will know that he's humble about his past. Considering all the perks and benefits he's getting, it's no wonder that he's giving ISKCON a passing grade. But from my perspective, the fact that ISKCON is providing him all this facility and giving his book such a prestigious position is a sign that ISKCON has not passed the test. Hari-sauri and this article are glaring examples of what ISKCON is doing wrong.
Obeisances to Dandavats, and to Sriman Hari-sauri dasa.