Kirtanananda was a major figure in ISKCON history, something like an iceberg, because what we saw on the surface was only a small part of what was actually going on with his life.
He was one of the brightest disciples of Srila Prabhupada, head and shoulders above the average ex-hippie crowd that made up most of the ISKCON of that time. Consequently, he was also the first one to be awarded sannyasa. Unfortunately he was also the first one to screw it up, even before he reached home. He stopped by London on the way from India and surprised everybody by his new interpretation of how we should practice Krishna consciousness. He was wearing a Christian cloak and told everybody that from now on we will look more acceptable to the general population.
Prabhupada was obviously upset and straightened him out. It was only a small blip on Kirtanananda’s devotional career and by the time Satswarupa Dasa Goswami was compiling Prabhupada Lilamrita it was deemed unworthy of being included. There was also the issue of politics because Kirtanananda was a big acharya at that time and it wasn’t wise to publish such unfavorable stories about him.
The fact is that he was practically undisputed leader of Hare Krishna movement for nearly twenty years, then sh*t hit the fan. There have been complaints about New Vrindavana devotees being a bit wacky in their worship of Kirtanananda but, in the face of their obvious preaching power, no one took these complaints seriously. Ultimately, however, hiding the truth had become impossible.
Just as Kirtanananda was the best example of ISKCON success, in no time he turned into the best example of everything that was wrong with our movement. Eventually he was excommunicated and incarcerated. In my community we just shrugged our shoulders, it wasn’t an emotional issue at all, he was just one of the many fallen idols, yet the future always looks bright for temple brahmacharies. Good times…
Anyway, Kirtanananda’s community was eventually reintegrated into ISKCON and given responsible posts within our movement, Kirtanananda himself faded away and upon his release led a quiet life.
And then he died. And the hell broke lose again.
Now that he has departed this world as a vaishnava we shouldn’t speak bad about him, this particular, troublesome incarnation is behind him. We don’t know if he rejoined Krishna’s pastimes but he certainly deserved a much better chance to serve Him if he didn’t succeed this time.
We just don’t speak ill of departed vaishnavas, period.
They might have made mistakes here and there, who doesn’t, and his mistakes might look gigantic comparing to our little transgressions, but Krishna consciousness is absolute, for Him no sin is too big to be forgiven. Some of us think that Kirtanananda’s crimes are impossible to forgive but we shouldn’t judge them by our own standards, Krishna is the one doing the forgiving and for Him the size doesn’t matter.
What matters for Krishna, and should matter for us, is outstanding preaching work of Kirtanananda. He has helped our movement so much we cannot repay this debt in our lifetimes, he created and nurtured thousands of devotees, some of them turned out to be next generation leaders who attracted thousands and thousands more people into our society.
There will always be grounds for criticism, Kirtanananda’s unorthodox ideas might still linger on and cause us doubt sincerity of his followers but at the end of the day that is immaterial. Even bad devotee is better than a non-devotee, we’ll take everything, souls eager to serve Krishna are very rare to dismiss them like misshaped potatoes in a supermarket.
Our critics, however, can’t stop blaming us for not being harsh enough towards Kirtanananda. They think he doesn’t deserved to be buried in Vrindavana, but that is not their decision to make, if Krishna didn’t want him there it wouldn’t have happened.
Not satisfied with dissing Kirtanananda himself they now turn their sights on his followers, blaming them for being agents of Kali sent to destroy our movement from inside. I don’t want to name any names but apart from our leading sannyasi critics target female devotees from New Vrindavana as being feminist. This just never ends, as soon as connection to Kirtanananda is discovered, abuse starts pouring like tropical rain.
In that sense he is like a curse on our movement. Yet he is our curse, he is part of our culture and he used to be a pillar of our community, so we must learn to live with it.
One thing we should never forget – we cannot afford to hear Kirtanananda being called convicted this and convicted that, our spiritual health should matter more to us than search for so-called truth. No one will lose his taste for the Holy Name by thinking only good things about devotees. The opposite is equally true – you let the blasphemy enter your mind and you are done, Krishna will become as far from your heart as ever.
Somethings better be left unheard.