BY: ROCANA DASA
Sep 06, CANADA (SUN) A weekly response to Dandavats editorials.
Today's Obeisances are in response to the recent article by Praghosa dasa entitled "Accepting Our Lot Gracefully". As most readers will know, Praghosa dasa is the Editor of Dandavats and GBC Zonal Secretary for the UK. In this article, Praghosa is chanting a repetitive theme that has become a mantra amongst the ISKCON leadership. While this is not a surprise, some of the statements he makes in the article do surprise me.
For example, he says that he feels "uncomfortable" reading the Srimad Bhagavatam pastime about Prajapati Daksa and Narada Muni. Why he would feel uncomfortable is a mystery to me. Prajapati Daksa, in this particular incident, is seemingly committing an offense to Narada Muni. Daksa is one of the great progenitors of mankind, and he didn't get that position by engaging in all sorts of demoniac activities.
Praghosa dasa tells us that anyone who chants the Hare Krsna mantra is a great devotee of the Lord, and that we have to be very careful not to commit offenses to anyone who's engaged in the activities of chanting. In my estimation, Praghosa's comments on Daksa are in themselves somewhat offensive. Prajapati Daksa is such a great personality that he is even mentioned in the Srimad Bhagavatam, and he is meeting Narada Muni face to face…. something that neither Praghosa dasa nor any of us are qualified to do. To even suggest that Daksa might be offensive is in itself questionable.
Of course, the real inference here is that we shouldn't criticize any devotees of the Lord. We have to keep in mind that Praghosa dasa is in a position of power as a GBC functionary, and it's his duty to see to it that devotees are following Srila Prabhupada's program properly. But the message I read between the lines of this article is that in his own personal application, he's having a lot of problems in this regard. First of all, he's had to deal with the most recent incident to hit the headlines, regarding one of his personal friends, the now ex-Temple President of Bhaktivedanta Manor. Gauri dasa was relieved of duty because of his great offenses to the children who were under his care at one point in time. All these children were chanting Hare Krsna, and Gauri dasa was physically beating them.
Later on in his article, Praghosa dasa insinuates that the children should just accept whatever lot they've been give in terms of their punishment. So they shouldn't criticize Gauri, but should just accept his actions as the mercy of the Lord. This is such hypocrisy that it just astounds me! And in addition to Gauri dasa, we also had the recent case of Balabhadra, who was also beating and abusing women under Praghosa's watch. In his case, too, Praghosa had a real problem criticizing him or dealing with the problem in such a way that fulfilled his duties.
Meanwhile, the GBC are criticizing all sorts of devotees who chant the Hare Krsna mantra, and even banning them from participating in Srila Prabhupada's movement. Of course, I'm referring to anyone who doesn't follow the GBC's conception of what is the guru, and/or criticizes any GBC or leaders. It also includes Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers and members of the Gaudiya Matha, to the point where the GBC ban them from ISKCON temples.
So in many respects, we can't help but read into Praghosa dasa's article for the 'real messages'. In fact, this is classic GBC preaching. Praghosa doesn't refer to anything that is current or has any relevance to the real life problems faced by the devotees today. Of course, because I'm willing to specifically mention such things, I'm considered a critic. And Praghosa's policy on Dandavats is that anyone at all critical of the GBC is banned. Only those who are careful to not say anything confrontive about the failings of the authorities are really welcomed at Dandavats. So we can see that this is a very hypocritical position Praghosa is taking. As Editor of Dandavats and as a GBC, he has no problem being critical in the extreme of certain devotees, even though this means he is being critical of devotees who chant Hare Krsna… including those who are very staunch followers of Srila Prabhupada.
Naturally, Praghosa offers no explanation of this dynamic in his lecture, which is so typical. It's up to the reader to come to the conclusion that the author obviously wants you to come to. Now, if you were one of the Gurukula students who has recently been criticizing Gauri, to the point that the CPO had to re-open an investigation of him, then you could easily conclude by reading Praghosa's article that you were offensive and wrong in criticizing Gauri. You should have simply accepted your lot and considered it mercy. That would have been a sign of how advanced you are.
We see that Narada Muni's response, which Praghosa glories, is one of tolerance, as he accepted the curse. Likewise, we could say that Gauri dasa was essentially cursed by the CPO to lose his position, but we know that Praghosa dasa doesn't support that conclusion.
This sort of article or lecture has now become an institutionalized teaching tactic in ISKCON. The leaders to use lectures and articles just like this one as a management tool. Those who are in the local vicinity where a difficult issue has arisen, and who listen to lectures such as this one, are expected to come to the natural conclusions the leader intends them to, without him having to be too specific. Just as you see here in Praghosa's article, he does not clarify or define what criticism is, particularly in sastric terms. Of course, we know that the sastra filled with examples of criticism. Take for example Narada Muni himself, criticizing Srila Vyasadeva for not completing his job by writing the Srimad Bhagavatam. We know that our own Srila Prabhupada criticized his godbrothers for not following the orders of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and focusing on preaching work, and this criticism has also been committed to sastra. So there is such a thing as constructive criticism… in fact, that's the business of a teacher or guru.
So while Praghosa tries to warm the devotees away from being critical, he's simultaneously criticizing those who criticize. There's no escaping the criticism as such - but you have to qualify what the motive is. Is it out of envy, or is it out of compassion and a desire to instruct or preach for the welfare of those that you're criticizing? This is what determines whether or not criticism is offensive.
Now, we know that Praghosa dasa has no intention of qualifying criticism in this way. He would not like to have to suggest that articles like this one, or sites like the Sampradaya Sun, fall into the category of constructive criticism. Rather, his intention is to make it sound like all criticism is inspired by envy or some other ill-motivation. Of course, those who are voicing their opinion don't think that they're committing offenses or that they're going to suffer as a result of voicing their opinion on matters such as how their Spiritual Master's movement is being managed. Quite the contrary. They're thinking it's their duty to do so, regardless of the fact that those they're directing their statements towards are chanting Hare Krsna.
So this article by Praghosa dasa leaves a lot to be desired. Not only is it terse and unqualified, it reeks of typical ISKCON leadership techniques and tactics… leaving everything vague, with the spin always in favor of the institution and leaders. If someone were to personally challenge Praghosa dasa in the way that I'm challenging him, he would simply say well, you've misinterpreted or misconstrued what I'm trying to say. But that's exactly the way he's written it -- so that it can be taken one way or the other. That way, you can always come back on anyone expressing an opinion, suggesting that they're only complaining out of envy, or misinterpreting what he's trying to say.
What Praghosa dasa forgets is that it's his business as a preacher and a leader to make it abundantly clear about what he's saying about such sensitive subject matter. And that is a sign of a real leader -- to clarify in no uncertain terms what the message is. Because the article is so vague, someone could easily interpret what Praghosa is saying as being offensive to them, for example, one of the gurukulis who was abused by Gauri, or one of Srila Prabhupada's followers who have been banned from ISKCON by the likes of Praghosa himself. The GBC also have blanket statements similar to this article at the ready in case anyone criticizes them - they just reply that you're being too critical, and you should just tolerate everything in the same way that Narada Muni tolerated Daksa.
Praghosa might like to emphasize that in this story from Srimad Bhagavatam, everything is orchestrated by Krsna, but that is not the complete message. In fact, one could easily conclude that the GBC are more like Daksa than Narada Muni. In other words, they're more concerned with being progenitors of ISKCON, collecting members and followers, and are not so much interested in being renounced and following the path set out by Narada Muni.
What if someone in Narada Muni's capacity were to come and tell all the newcomers: "Don't join ISKCON, don't become a disciple. Just become renounced and don't get entangled in all this institutional stuff. Just read and chant and be detached." I expect that the GBC, including Praghosa dasa, would become angry and critical, and try to curse anyone saying such things.
There are many ways to look at the situation presented in this Srimad Bhagavatam pastime, and there are many conclusions other than the one Praghosa dasa has come to in his article.
Obeisances to Dandavats, and to Praghosa dasa.