We learned a lot about “rascals” from Śrīla Prabhupāda, from atheists to māyāvādīs, and we think we got it all covered. The world of rascaldom, however, does not stay in place and evolve with times. We need to keep up, too.
These days it’s not enough to know how to spot māyāvādīs and I think they are not the worst danger that awaits bewildered souls of the modern age. I’m not quite clear myself on the contemporary classification and I hesitate to lump all deviants together under the same label, especially when it comes to those who look like vaiṣṇavas.
Even in Prabhupāda’s time many of our devotees realized that those darned māyāvādīs are actually ourselves, that Prabhupāda was railing against tendencies prevailing in our own hearts, and that’s why it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between somewhat erroneous devotees and impersonalists.
Why do we need labels anyway? It’s like using “Hitler” brush to paint anyone we don’t like. Hitler was bad, some of our contemporaries might be similarly genocidal, too, but we can call them out for their exact crimes, not for comparisons with Nazi Germany. Trying to fit everyone under one giant label is a propaganda trick, we don’t need this unless we are trying to rally less-discerning masses to our cause. So far I’m talking about clearing our own hearts, not about leading others, which is a political process that plays by its own rules.
So, we know about māyāvādīs, we know about their new-agey followers, too. Most of us can spot them a mile away by their wishy washy attitude and love of all things “spiritual” without any discrimination. They can sing Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra right before they switch to singing for Gaṇeśa, it’s all the same to them. Sometimes our devotees invite them to our own functions and they are being called out for improper association. There’s danger in that but I think we’ve got it covered, the rest is up to our political leadership, it’s not our job to correct our seniors directly.
Another big and loud group is ex-ISKCON devotees who still claim to be Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavas and insist on judging us by their standards. Historically, it happened like this – devotees accompanied Prabhupāda to India and came across different sādhus there. Some decided to hedge their bets and take initiation from them just in case things didn’t work out with Śrīla Prabhupāda. It was a foolish decision, no doubt about that, but these devotees didn’t see it that way and still don’t see it that way. They and those who followed their path think rather the opposite – leaving ISKCON was the best thing that ever happened to them. When they meet our devotees they pity us: “Oh, you are still there? When will you finally realize and get out?”
In some places being out of ISKCON is a new normal, especially on the internet where a few people of similar persuasion can meet each other and present themselves as a solid community even if they are separated by thousands miles. With proliferation of discussion boards and then later blogs and other social media building your own community is relatively easy. If you can’t create one you can certainly find one to join, all it takes is a google search and a few clicks. I don’t think I’d be far off if I say that in Vṛndāvana there are more ex-ISKCON devotees than those who are still in our movement, but Vṛndāvana is unique in that sense. Still, it’s a place where they can feel at home and where they can be a community and support each other. They are all in the same boat, all facing the same dangers, and they have no choice but to stay united. This might shaken our resolve, too, because we are human and humans are social animals, we love to follow the crowds and we love to belong somewhere. Some might argue that spiritual monogamy is unnatural, too.
The other big group are those who left for Gauḍiyā Maṭha, they also love to tell how they represent the real Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism as opposed to immature ISKCON fanatics. Unlike Vṛndāvana bābājīs with their questionable behavior GM is a bona fide institution following bona fide philosophy. They know what’s right and what’s wrong, they know the value of preaching, too, and some of these renegades have built themselves a following and initiated their own disciples, something that has not yet happen to our fake “brijabasis”.
At this point we should be fair and accept that universal laws apply universally and that any service to Kṛṣṇa is accepted regardless of other transgressions. That’s one possible reaction to their success but we should not get confused even for a moment that there’s spiritual progress outside the shelter of our guru and Śrīla Prabhupāda. This is the most fundamental law of any spirituality – yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto ‘pi – without the mercy of the guru there’s no possibility of any progress whatsoever.
The mitigating part for those who left for GM is that they accept shelter of their newly found gurus there and if they follow orders they must achieve some sort of success, the universe can’t deny them that. The part that should be clear to us, however, is that we are not looking for this kind of rewards and should not be swayed by them. Some brainless celebrity can have a thousand times more followers than all our renegades combined, that does not mean much. We need to follow our guru no matter what. Some other guru having more followers is not a reason for us to doubt ours, and ISKCON is never going to be in danger of losing anyone numerically anyway.
What we need to know is that we can’t make any progress if we deviate even a little from serving our guru. We can see how others make progress elsewhere but that’s them, not us. They can learn to chant, worship the deity, and read books but they will never ever receive the mercy of Śrīla Prabhupāda and advaya-jñāna will never blossom in their hearts. You can see it for yourself if you ever come across them – all they do is talk philosophy and scriptures, accumulation of such mundane knowledge is their substitute for bhakti. The number of disillusioned GM devotees is also relatively high and many of these self-proclaimed real Guaḍiyās have left service to Kṛṣṇa altogether, their offenses have finally caught up to them and no amount of academic knowledge could protect them.
The difficulty is this – they are ostensibly vaiṣṇavas, they chant the holy name, they know the philosophy, the know intricacies of Rādhā-Kṛṣna līlā but they preach to everyone that leaving the guru is acceptable and even desirable, and they call it “real” Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism.
What label to put on them? “Imersonalists”? “Māyāvādīs”? Some form of apa-siddhānta? Which one? Sometimes, if we don’t have the ready label, we might think it’s rather innocent but there’s nothing innocent about disobeying orders of your guru. We can pull up generic quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda but this won’t impress them, no more than aforementioned yasyāpradādān na gatiḥ kutl ‘pi.
In a way they are like that Russian professor of Hindu studies who, when Prabhupāda asked him what happens after death, replied that there’s nothing. People like him know Bhagavad Gītā and can talk about it for hours but they don’t *know* even the most basic spiritual facts, it goes straight past them. What is the value of academic knowledge like that? What is the value of knowing all about Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa līlā if you don’t know you have to serve your guru no matter what?
This rant is not over.