“I was deleted from ISKCON”

This is another old post that has been sitting as a draft for ages. Today I would have written it very differently but I think it should be preserved as historical evidence for myself – I DID think like that only a year or so ago, and now I changed.

———–

I’ve heard this phrase twice in the past few weeks and every time I internally reacted to it though I’m not sure how exactly. I want to set myself straight on this and I still don’t know how this effort will turn out a few hundred words later. I have few ideas where it could go but let’s see. It’s mostly for my own purification.

Technically, it goes like this – we perceive something and first the intelligence tries to make sense of it, categorize it, figure out the context, intention, subtext, details etc. When this is done the new experience is plugged into our overall tree of knowledge, it becomes “memory” and it becomes searchable by date, person, place, topic and so on. As we ponder it longer we build more and more connections to already stored memories and so we might have sudden “realizations”.

The mind’s job is to like or dislike the experience, simply-minded thing that it is, and let’s not get entangled in whether it agrees or disagrees with judgments passed by intelligence and how they interact with each other. The point is that these first reactions are automatic and we don’t have much control over the process. It’s not that we have much control over anything else in the material world either but even if we think we are the doers we should honestly admit that first impressions are not our doings, it just happens and then we claim credit for it (as in “I knew it right away!”).

This is where this blog post comes in – the part where I feel I can make a difference by talking about it in a certain way. I could argue that this is also illusory and is determined by guṇa and karma but since I’m forced to think myself as a doer and given instructions on how to behave then I have no choice but to go along. The idea is to turn talking, thinking, and typing into a yajña, into glorification of the Lord and His devotees, so let’s get to it.

I was not proud of my first reaction to “I was deleted from ISKCON”, it was clearly lacking respect and empathy and, passing the buck, dictated by standard internet responses like “I’m fresh out of ***** to give”. We should not take shelter in this callousness no matter how prevalent it is today. As it happens, we have a whole “social media” generation coming up and it’s one of the first thing they learn in their world – no one cares about your feelings, people are too busy worrying about theirs. If you think sharing your feelings will be embarrassing – don’t, they don’t care about your dignity. On the plus side they won’t put you in “never listen to him again” category either. If you can present your case strongly no one will care about your history.

Those who fall for sob stories are suckers and they are meant to be milked as followers, fans, blog or channel subscribers. They can also be farmed – quite literally. You find what emotions they find appealing and you carefully feed these emotions to them, building a narrative and increasing their commitment. You get right people to deliver these emotions, find the right formula, and then they’ll do everything for you – whatever you want – buy tickets, deliver “Likes”, retweet, watch your videos again and again, and if you are smart you’ll be rolling in advertising money in no time. We should not fall into this trap, either as content consumers or content creators, our relationships should be more meaningful even if externally we happen to do the same thing – our consciousness should be different.

This wasn’t my full first impression, though, it was just a reaction to perceived bitterness. This bitterness might not have been even there but that’s what I heard. This first thought was suppressed rather fast and beyond that there was “what does it even mean – deleted from ISKCON?” and a sense of mismatch with reality. To me it stopped making sense about a decade ago.

There was a time when everything was clear – this is ISKCON and this is non-ISKCON and ISKCON was supposed to be pure and non-ISKCON wasn’t supposed to be touched. By standards set in those times this is still true and I’m not saying we should bring devotees who left for Sridhara Swami, Narayana Maharaj, ritviks etc back into the fold but what is considered ISKCON nowadays allows a great deal of freedom. Devotees learned to be in ISKCON and at the same time do outrageous things unthinkable in the “good old days”.

My temple won’t sell books for money, for example, they just won’t. Books only have to be given away for free, sponsored by members of the congregation. I grew up in a temple sustained by saṅkīrtana and we sold them for roughly ten times the price of today. I can’t remember exact consumer goods prices but I think one set of then available books could buy people a ton of potatoes and devotees sometimes distributed over a hundred sets per day. We saw the value of the books and so people felt they were valuable, too. Devotees today see this value differently and they don’t think it would be justified to demand so much money in return.

We have projects like “Krishna West” where they are okay with homosexual “marriages” between initiated devotees – hard to see that being approved or even contemplated by Śrīla Prabhupada. We have temples and entire countries off limits to certain preachers because authorities are afraid that their presentations would disturb the minds of the congregation. Last year there was a book banned by the GBC resolution, then unbanned following the outrage, and I’ll give a quote from a related e-mail: “One GBC member even stated that ISKCON’s very existence in his country would be jeopardised if this book were seen to at all be representing ISKCON.” I don’t think that GBC member was kidding there – some pretty straightforward things cannot be repeated in certain places anymore. We have mega preachers whose websites talk about love and compassion and don’t have words “Hare Krishna” on their front page. We have massive, millions meals a day food distribution programs where we are legally prohibited from mentioning that it’s prasādam or saying anything about philosophy, let along chanting, we have eye clinics and hospitals, we have sannyāsīs going on cruise ships and singing with māyāvādīs, we have māyāvādīs performing kīrtanas at our public programs, we have devotees forced to take paid exams to be even considered for initiation. Just what is it one must do to get “deleted from ISKCON” nowadays?

Somehow or other we’ve learned to see past all those things and don’t stress ourselves, though many do feel strongly about it. I think GBC doesn’t have the guts to put all those “deviants” straight, besides often they ARE the GBC. Every year GBC publishes its budget, for the sake of transparency I believe, and now it comes to about 130,000 US dollars. What about millions they collect for TOVP? I’m not saying there’s impropriety there but that GBC’s transparency appears to be irrelevant – that’s not where money could be misused. This isn’t the fault of the current members but does contribute to the impression that GBC is only a paper tiger. I’ve seen our local GBC read news on his iPad while singing Jaya Radha Madhava in class. How’s that going to improve our temple standards?

It is easy to get into a black book and be banned, i.e. “deleted”, but only if you openly revolt and disturb peace, otherwise no one cares and, if you can get along with the authorities, you can get away with murder.

We have one ex-guru here who got married under questionable circumstances and abandoned his disciples but no one, absolutely no one, considers him as fallen but rather as one of the seniormost authorities, always welcome to give class or lead kīrtana. One day he was at a festival where his “former” disciples were present and they got along just fine, no bad feelings as far as I know. As far as I can see I was the only one thinking that it could be awkward. I think it’s a welcome change but in the good old days that would have been unthinkable. Some things do improve.

Question is – how do we survive in this atmosphere that would appear surreal only a short time ago? We’ve learned to see and appreciate devotees’ commitment to Śrīla Prabhupāda and their submission to the ultimate authority of GBC. Everything else is just fluff, a foam on the surface of the Ganges. It’s just three modes of nature forcing jīvas to experience their karma, and that these experiences are carefully calibrated by Kṛṣṇa to bring their speediest recovery from material affliction. It might not be how current generation of devotees sees with it but this explanation works for me when I spot dissonance with my own upbringing in KC.

The only thing I can do to speed up this purification process is to engage in saṅkīrtana myself. When we talk about philosophy, praise and appreciate the devotees, discuss Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes etc all the impurities in our hearts gradually disappear and then people simply won’t do the things that are improper. They would stop talking about themselves and their feelings, they would stop acting out their feelings and they would stop doing things for their own pleasure.

Ultimately, Kṛṣṇa is so big that when we get even a drop of Kṛṣṇa consciousness all our worries appear incomparably small and fade away. I think this is how the promised Golden Age is supposed to manifest itself – not in fixing problems but in redirecting our consciousness elsewhere. “Reality” is produced from our minds and it’s “mind over matter” all the way. How to fix our minds? By mantra, of course. What mantra works the best? Hare Kṛṣṇa.

What about being in or out of ISKCON? I don’t think we have an authorized list of members and all one needs to do is to be loyal to Śrīla Prabhupāda as opposed to any outside ācārya, and to GBC, and even that in broadest possible terms. If one is already on some “no-fly” list then that has to be cleared, of course, and there are higher standards for those with appetite for authority positions, too.

Does anyone in ISKCON care whether one makes such a commitment? No, they really don’t. In the old ISKCON it mattered but old ISKCON doesn’t exist anymore. What is the use of this new ISKCON then? Umm, you get to discuss Kṛsṇa kathā in the company of devotees. You don’t get this anywhere else. Of course there are devotees outside ISKCON, too, but their appreciation for Kṛṣṇa kathā is considerably less and certain things cannot be mentioned at all because of their lack of commitment or commitment to different personalities. I’m not talking about anything esoteric, which is a common but wrong assumption, I’m talking about one’s personal realizations which are, if we are being honest, still on the level of dealing with matter. How to see spirit in matter, how to see value of devotees, or books, or non-devotees, or family. There’s no magic involved but mature ISKCON devotees see all these simple things differently and they have a lot to share in this regard, there’s always something to learn from them. From outsiders? Not so much.

What I’m saying is that a sober and intelligent man should take this opportunity and use it rather than restricting oneself with “in”, “out”, or “deleted” labels. There’s a verse in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam on a different topic but it in passing mentions this “world of names” (SB 2.2.3):

ataḥ kavir nāmasu yāvad arthaḥ
syād apramatto vyavasāya-buddhiḥ
siddhe ’nyathārthe na yateta tatra
pariśramaṁ tatra samīkṣamāṇaḥ

Synonyms:
ataḥ — for this reason; kaviḥ — the enlightened person; nāmasu — in names only; yāvat — minimum; arthaḥ — necessity; syāt — must be; apramattaḥ — without being mad after them; vyavasāya-buddhiḥ — intelligently fixed; siddhe — for success; anyathā — otherwise; arthe — in the interest of; na — should never; yateta — endeavor for; tatra — there; pariśramam — laboring hard; tatra — there; samīkṣamāṇaḥ — one who sees practically.

Translation:
For this reason the enlightened person should endeavor only for the minimum necessities of life while in the world of names. He should be intelligently fixed and never endeavor for unwanted things, being competent to perceive practically that all such endeavors are merely hard labor for nothing.

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