We, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, are philosophically solid, spiritually protected, and therefore our moral compass is always steady and straight. These factors are undeniably there but somehow it doesn’t stop us from engaging in moral relativism. Outsiders don’t care much about us so spotting our faults is left to ourselves.
How does it happen? “Fish rots from the head”, they say, and it looks true for materialistic societies but this answer is unacceptable for us. Our “heads” – Śrīla Prabhupāda, Lord Caitanya, and Kṛṣṇa are unimpeachable and spotless. The rot can’t start there by definition. Or can it?
Every endeavor in the material world is covered by faults, even when the Lord descends Himself. It’s not the fault of the Lord, however. We simply have to remember that by “endeavor” here we mean our perception and reaction to that endeavor. No phenomenon in this world exists without observers – us, and so it’s our perception and interpretation that brings faults, not the Lord. We come in with our selfish attitudes and look at all phenomena with lust for enjoyment, and it ruins everything. All the faults are also our reactions, not anything else.
Lord Caitanya started His saṅkīrtana movement, for example, but someone came up and started blaming Him, Kṛṣṇa, and the gopīs for being immoral, which only decreased chances of the blasphemers to make spiritual progress. Was it Lord Caitanya’s fault? Nope, it was people’s interpretation of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.
The point is – our “heads” are not to blame. Many then take the step down the ladder and accuse GBC and present ISKCON leaders. That might be deserved in some cases but then we should still remember the principle I just discussed – spirit can be corrupted only from below, not from the top. ISKCON Gurus and GBCs failed not as gurus and leaders but as disciples and followers.
I don’t think anyone in our society fell as a guru, ie started teaching deviant philosophy, introduced deviant practices, and got punished for that. We’ve “excommunicated” plenty of people for various deviations, of course, but they are not considered usually fallen by our critics, on the contrary, they are treated as if they stepped up and freed themselves from shackles of ISKCON, their behavior is usually acceptable to all. Those who ARE considered fallen and thrown in our faces as examples of failed guru system failed not as gurus but as disciples. They failed in their vows, broke the regs, and stopped chanting. These are not guru duties, these are disciple duties, so the rot didn’t come from the top.
One could always say that this argument can’t change the fact that these people were at the top and fell. True, but the “top” is also relative. Ultimately, whoever one is, there are always people below him and they will always be affected by their leader’s behavior. Not only by rot but also by enlightenment. Mercy also flows from the top so the original saying is meaningless.
In any case, if any faults are present we should not blame our superiors but engage in introspection instead. In pure devotee’s eyes there are no faults in any circumstances so it’s our imperfect perception that makes them visible, faults are an illusion. These perceived faults are OUR contribution to the situation and we have to deal with them in our own hearts.
These means that our GIVEN moral compass is firm and steady but we always try to subvert it and point it in a wrong direction. As long as we remain in the material world as less than pure devotees we’ll be doing this, there’s no escape, just dealing with the fallout. It’s not a matter of if – our moral compass is always corrupted here, the question is whether we realize it or not and what we can do about it.
One thing we shouldn’t do is to declare our own views as standard by which to judge others. Nor can we identify our own views with those of śāstra and assume the position of śāstra-cakṣuḥ. Lord Caitanya once used this word to describe Kṛṣṇa (CC Madhya 23.72), we are tiny illusioned living entities, we can only aspire to eventually have a glimpse of the vision attained with these “eyes of śāstra”.
Whenever we bring our own interpretations, even with full responsibility, we nudge our moral compass from its firm position. Only recognized ācāryas can do that, or at least those who are inspired solely by the Lord in their actions.
We don’t need to go very far for examples, practically everything we see or do in our society nowadays points to moral relativity. We accept outside values all the time in everything we touch. We model our businesses, families, and educational system after materialists. We have PR departments lifted straight from them. We have women, children and various other ministries that mimic materialistic organizations and which were created in step with times, not in step with our tradition. Even the GBC itself was modeled after British bureaucracy. The idea was given to us by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī so it’s okay and it’s proven to work but he was a spotless ācārya, our inventions should not be expected to fare equally well.
It’s not all bad and we need to care for women and children, no doubt about that, but we should be aware of outside influences we bring in when we try to use non-Vedic solutions. Education, for example, has never been centralized in Vedic times and never subjected to government oversight and control. Education is a domain of brāhmaṇas and government, the kṣatriya class, has no power there, but not in the modern world. I bet our gurukulas have to submit their curriculum for approval and regularly allow government inspections, and prepare children to take government administered tests in the end.
IMO, gurukulas should come under education, if we can’t avoid having a ministry at all, and it should include child protection in its duties. Instead we have a separate child protection ministry and also a youth ministry. I don’t know about youth but child protection was definitely a reaction to prosecution of Catholic priests for child abuse which eventually affected ISKCON, too.
One possible downside of having a ministry is shifting responsibility from individuals to bureaucracy. It’s like people refuse to give donations because they drink coffee at Starbucks and price there includes donations already, so they have done their part.
The world outsources raising children to government and we have done the same, it’s not parents’ responsibility anymore but teachers’s and schools’, and gurukulas’ and Child Protection Ministry’s in case something goes wrong. This is a case where institutionalized organization affects individual duties, and, therefore, individual dharma and morals.
Another example is caring for the elderly. We don’t have a ministry for that yet but that’s because we don’t care and elderly devotees aren’t ones to start the revolution. They don’t have the fire of women fighting for their “rights”, they just hope that Kṛṣṇa somehow would sort it out. With age comes maturity and indifference, and same is true for brāhmaṇas, I suppose, and so, without pressure from their side, we don’t have neither elderly care nor brāhmaṇa protection ministries, and brāhmaṇa protection is a prime duty of Vedic kings and Vedic government. We don’t do that and have GBC to use their energy to duplicate parents’ and husbands’ responsibilities instead.
See how we don’t do what śāstra says but follow the standards of materialistic society? What does it say about our moral compass? Who guides it? Vedas or public outrage? Rhetorical question.
I don’t know what to do about it either, not on the scale of the entire ISKCON. Our spiritual health, however, is our responsibility so we can figure out what to do in our own lives regardless of institutions around us. One day GBC might come around, or it might not, whatever happens shouldn’t affect our own path very much. We should remember that we can achieve success and go back home back to Godhead regardless of external impediments, we just have to learn to live our own lives right, stop seeing faults in others, and wait for vaiṣṇavas’ mercy.