Out of the blue Bhakti Vikasa Swami dedicated a whole talk to “falldown of Harikesa”.
He says he felt he wanted to say something after watching this video. I watched it, too, though not recently. I’m not going to re-watch it or go throgh BVKS response minute by minute. I will just say that I was surprised how BVKS got so much wrong. I blame it on him doing no research whatsoever, except maybe repeating what he remembers from the official GBC releases from that era. He certainly didn’t try to find out Hari’s side of the story.
In ISKCON he is still presented as Harikesa but he himself prefers to be addressed as Hari and I think this should be accounted for. I see it as his personal rebellion against what he considers as an unwelcome imposition on his persona. The name given at his initiation was the root of everything else that came with it and so he rebels at the very concept of “guru” as it is understood in ISKCON. At the same time he does not reject his relationship with Srila Prabhupada, he is just allergic to the “guru” aspect of it, which he considers as external and rather limiting. “Limiting” because it was good and useful for some time but after that time had passed and lessons had been learned he discarded it as no longer necessary formality. The actual relationship goes deeper than that. I think it’s like as if your father becomes your school teacher and you have to behave accordingly and your father calls you by your last name just like he does everybody else, but this teacher-student relationship is external to your father-son connection and you can’t bring it home. It has to be left outside if you want to preserve real bonds of unconditional love between you two.
That aside, I think Hari and his remaining followers would simply laugh at the suggestion that Hari has left Krishna Consciousness. It would sound ridiculous to them but it’s the basis of BVKS entire talk. Sheer nonsense. I can’t speak on Hari’s behalf, I don’t think he would be interested in explaining himself to ISKCON, and I’m not sure he’d want any of his followers to respond either, but I feel pretty confident I know enough to try and explain his situation.
First off, he left ISKCON in 1998, not 1999, and it was a drawn out process, not a moment’s decision – it lasted months. Much of this time Harikesa (not Hari yet at the time) spent trying to convince GBC that ISKCON can’t continue in the same vein and he would not stay (as everybody expected) unless ISKCON dramatically changed its course. GBC did not bulge and Harikesa left. Now, I say “GBC” but it was actually GBC EC, and it was actually one or two people speaking on EC’s behalf. I wasn’t there and don’t know all the details. There are still many devotees who lived through this very difficult period and, in fact, just a couple of weeks ago I heard another account as it was experienced on ISKCON side of things.
Eye witnesses in this case, however, are not very reliable because everybody was very heavily affected and everybody had his own perspective, often not shared by even his close friends. I know my understanding is very incomplete as well, but I can point to reliable sources who went on record. Reliable might also mean “I don’t trust half of what he says” because even that limitation makes the other half still “true” and therefore possible to rely on. But I don’t think we need to dwell on the details at all. Nobody came out spotless, pure, and fluffy out of that period. Mistakes were made, words were said, but, with time, we should be able to see past that. Those were just fluctuations, only spikes on the “long arch of the universe” that bends towards justice. For primary sources one could read “Good Old Days” discussions on Hari’s forum. I also looked at archived snapshots of his site – he eventually deleted all controversial material from there. There are also tons of his audio recordings where he speaks about ISKCON and Prabhupada from time to time. In summary, his post-1998 development is characterized, in my eyes, as “anything but ISKCON”. He consciously purged all ISKCON affiliations and authorities from his life and from his talks. Babies have been thrown out with the water but it’s an understandable reaction. Can the loss be substituted in the long run? I believe it can – because his is a different branch growing from the same root. The nutrients will eventually reach him, too. This takes me back to “falldown from Krishna Consciousness”.
In Hari’s understanding he is far more Krishna Conscious today than he was in ISKCON. He still quotes from Bhagavad Gita, still relies on examples of Lord Caitanya and Six Goswamis, and his life is centered around his relationship with his Radha-Krishna deities. He is very very close to them, so close that he won’t even post their pictures on the internet – if people want to see Them they should come to Them personally. One prominent ISKCON sannyasi, after seeing them, said that his deities are really alive. That might have been flattery but it’s undeniable how often Hari refers to his deities as the source of his strength, the source of his inspiration, the source of his knowledge, the source of love for others and so on. I will repeat it again – the time he spends in the company of his deities is the foundation of his life. Everything else sprouts from it.
BVKS at one point mentioned how Harikesa Swami, in the “Glimpses” video, was telling devotees that they should never fall down but then fell down himself. I remember it differently. I rather remember how what Harikesa Swami said in that speech is almost exactly the same as what Hari tells his followers now, sans ISKCON paraphernalia and sans institutional spin required to be put on by an ISKCON guru and a sannyasi. That speech centered around devotees having real relationships with the deities, too. That’s what we are never supposed to give up, not following ISKCON norms and regulations.
Several times in the video BVKS brought up the importance of following sadhana. No one is against that, but sadhana is a personal thing. It looks the same when everyone lives in the temple but once people build lives on their own they should set their own sadhana according to their situation, and then follow that. BVKS came across as thinking that Krishna Consciousness is the result of following one uniform sadhana. This is the kind of thinking that was utterly rejected by Harikesa back in 1998. I mean we should all remember that bhakti is not caused by sadhana and that actual loving devotion cannot be manifested within boundaries set by external sadhana rules. Latest example I’ve seen is that Jagannatha Dasa Babaji shared his prasadam plate with dogs. A devotee compliance with sadhana is voluntary and is not required. One could object that we are not on that level yet and so sadhana for us is a must. This kind of thinking was also rejected in 1998.
I don’t know how to put it without provoking unnecessary controversy. How about this – you can’t make kids love Krishna by forcing rules on them. You can force them to bow down, you can force them to memorize slokas, but it won’t make them love Krishna. It would be rather counterproductive as many of our parents discovered for themselves. By 1998 Harikesa Swami was in the movement for some 25 years and much of this time he was one of the most powerful spiritual leaders, as was freely admitted by BVKS himself. You can’t say that he had no love and devotion in his heart and depended solely on following sadhana. But that’s what BVKS effectively said. I don’t want to cast any aspersions on Maharaja’s personality, but to Hari and his followers this sounds like an eternal neophyte dragging everyone down to his own level, for otherwise – for the neophyte – the world doesn’t make sense. I know that in personal relations BVKS is far more accommodating and warm than in this talk, but he was channeling a rather common ISKCON way of thinking. Utterly rejected in 1998, as I said. Dogmatic, bigoted, cold, permeated by envy – the worst features produced by any organized religion. We all have it in us so it’s not a personal dig at BVKS. I’m also guilty of this thinking and of imposing my rules and judgments on others – look at this article itself!
Back to 1998 – in Hari’s own version, he was devastated by financial losses on Russian stock market. It wasn’t *his* losses. I doubt he had sufficient understanding how the money was made there to accept personal responsibility. The company was created by one devotee who was inspired by Harikesa Swami’s disciple and he named that company after her. He got initiated by Harikesa Swami later – he wasn’t a brahmachari ordered to go and learn stock markets. As I heard in memories of recently departed Brahmananda Puri, Harikesa Swami would sometimes tell him how much money he needed and Brahmananda would find a way to make it happen. As far as I know, Brahmananda himself was not up to date on how that stock company worked either – the nitty-gritty was left to the devotee actually running it. Brahmananda had several other businesses as well and Harikesa Swami had no idea how to actually run those either. How could he be held responsible? Only in a very limited way. Besides, it was a stock market meltdown on the scale of an entire country and it couldn’t have been avoided. If we say devotees should never take risks like that I would answer that devotees exist in this world precisely to “launder” people’s money. They, the people, all earn it in nefarious and sinful ways and only us, devotees, are capable of purifying these offences by engaging this money in service of Krishna, which Harikesa Swami did. Most of this money went into Mayapur, btw.
Another aspect of the “falldown” was even more important (if true). When Harikesa Swami was made GBC chairman he learned about the extent of women and child abuse in ISKCON and he tried to do something about it. Having money played a big part in his ability to persuade others to go along and, conversely, losing money made him powerless. This was a big part of negotiations in the summer of 1998 as well – GBC thought they could use the funds in any way they wanted while Harikesa and his donors supported his agenda or demanded their money back. The fact that GBC did not support the reforms Harikesa Swami initiated also played the part in his decision to part with ISKCON altogether.
One could say that we’ve never heard of these reforms so it might be a made up excuse to make himself sound better as a champion of women’s rights. I admit I’m largely unaware of those reforms, too, though I did hear a few words about it. This is not important, however, what is important is that “women’s rights” was the main reason why Harikesa Swami decided to break with Srila Prabhupada as his “guru”. In the video BVKS said that Harikesa blamed Prabhupada for his own problems, but in Hari’s view he blamed Prabhupada for what happened to ISKCON’s women and children everywhere. He didn’t blame him for forcing Harikesa to take sannyasa, which also meant he had to keep his vows against his personal desires. No, Hari blames Prabhupada for forcing all of ISKCON to follow the same path of renunciation, in all ashramas, including grihasthas. He rejected this entire path, he rejected the process. He did not reject the goal and he found another way to approach it.
This goes to the heart of the matter – what should be our relationship vis-a-vis “material nature”? All things considered, renouncing it doesn’t sound like a mature Gaudiya Vaishnava understanding. What makes it “material” is Maya but nature has its own existence free from Maya’s influence, too. Hari is learning to see it as Krishna’s energy, not as something separate we can enjoy ourselves, and, consequently, we need to develop appropriate relationships with it. “It” meaning everything manifested in this world – women, demigods – everything. ISKCON’s traditional understanding is that it’s all maya and all needs to be rejected – phalgu vairagya. Therefore one must be a sannyasi to be considered as a real devotee – everybody else is somewhere below, in the andha-kupa of married life. It might be accepted as necessary for many, but still “below”. Hari doesn’t see it that way, he sees it as Krishna’s energy which requires to be related accordingly and which derives its value from its relation with Krishna. If “treating it accordingly” requires to have sex then so be it – sannyasa by itself has no value in this structure and doesn’t make one better or more advanced. In fact, it rather makes one worse off spiritually because of insistence on external rules and drawing a line between one’s physical body and one’s consciousness which is always full of interactions with “material energy”. It’s a line between sex and no sex, with subtle sex in between (but still sex!). This distinction is artificial, in Hari’s view – it’s all sex anyway, the difference is some of it is inappropriate and other is perfectly fine and desired by the Lord Himself.
One of the common objections to Hari’s current views is that it’s “sahajiya”. I just said “sex desired by the Lord Himself”, for example. I don’t mean Krishna wants to have sex with us, I mean Krishna wants us to have sex with each other in the appropriate way. And by “each other” I mean absolutely every manifestation in this world – all interactions here are interactions between feminine and masculine energies, they are all sex. You plug your charger in the wall outlet and it’s “sex” already – the parts are designed to accommodate each other’s assigned “genders”. Absolutely every interaction in this world, if it has any chance of success, must be between feminine and masculine energy. There is nothing “sahajiya” about this understanding. How about I turn the argument around and say that anyone who thinks that “sahajiya” is to think that attaining Krishna Consciousness is as easy as following sadhana and one does not bother himself with subtleties of interactions between sakti and saktiman. “Sahajiya” is when we think that what we already have (4 regs and 16 rounds) equals Krishna Consciousness already.
Well, of course it’s not “sahajiya”, it’s just an argument for argument’s sake. Plus sahajiya has to feel good and one should not have to force himself and everybody else into following it, so our 4×16 combination doesn’t qualify. That last point was sarcastic.
One more thing about this feminine-masculine dynamic. As I said, it’s how the whole word works on absolutely every level. When scientists talk about our brains and how left and right hemisphere are different they talk about this same dynamic. Our bodies have both “male” and “female” part in them, the externally manifested gender is only the dominant “color”. We can place it at the top of hierarchy and on the levels below there would still be other male and female parts and behaviors. These parts and behaviors are common to all people but, depending on dominant gender at the top, they would manifest slightly differently.
What we tried for the first three decades of ISKCON is to purge all signs of femininity from it. It was undeniably a masculine in gender and it created an imbalance. That’s why Harikesa heard from the deities (more on that below) and he realized that it can’t continue like that. Harikesa left but then, in just a few years, the same shift happened anyway – everyone got married, brahmacharies went extinct, and female voices and attitudes asserted themselves. Today we call it “mission drift” and “watering down” and “so called devotees”. That might be true, but pure masculinity has no place in the spiritual world – we are all feminine energy there. And it has no place in this world either – it’s the domain of Sakti – Durga. Nor does it have place in Gaudiya philosophy, which is about Radha-Krishna – female energy cannot be excluded.
Personally, I already sense that after two decades of feminism our devotees are getting fed up with in, including feminists themselves, and are striving for the rise of masculine principles again. You don’t have to trust my “sixth sense” on this, I’m just saying that I see the symptoms everywhere. It’s like Maharaja Yudhisthira saw symptoms of Krishna’s departure everywhere in the nature around him. Birds behaved differently – how’s that connected to Krishna, a scientifically minded one might ask. But they are – these universal shifts are, well, universal. They can manifest everywhere, there doesn’t have to be a visibly traced connection. But that is getting off-topic.
It might appear from my arguments that Hari has made no mistakes at all and never said anything cringe worthy but I’m just avoiding his faults (as I perceive them) here. There is a very thin line between dealing with male-female energies appropriately and sliding into genuine sahajiya, for example. I would even say that we, as a society, haven’t figured it out after five hundred years and for every “sure we know” I could find legitimate examples from the opposite side, either working or not working – depending on what is the opposite of what you want to prove. We’ve had everything in our history, but that’s also a different subject.
Speaking of cringe – BVKS mentioned terrible horrible rendering of Sad Goswami Astaka by Harikesa Swami when he had that “Rasa” band. There were two versions and I guess Maharaja means this one here. Listen for yourself, I understand what he wanted to hear there but I think he is grossly exaggerating. There was another rendering, earlier one, I understand, and it’s available here. I don’t think Maharaja meant that one at all. He also mentioned that it was just Harikesha Swami and no one else, implying that no respectable devotee had joined. That’s not entirely true. In the early 90s they organized what was called “Gauranga Bhajan Band” and they toured several countries in Eastern Europe, culminating with a huge concert in Moscow with 30,000 people in attendance. That band included Sacinandana Swami and Moscow concert had Indradyumna Swami, BB Govinda Goswamis, and Bhakti Vaibhava Swami (our recent GBC chairman) jumping up and down on stage as well. “Rocking” like there was no tomorrow. That concert was one for the ages. If this elicits cringe in devotees then I don’t think it can be helped and I’d refer to the description with words “dogmatic” above. All said, there was a lot of stuff in Hari’s musical career that not everybody will be comfortable with, but it also produced this. I can’t think of any devotee who could top that offering of devotion. Singing someone else’s bhajans in a sweet sweet voice is just not on the same level. Finding your own song and your own words is a next stage in evolution. Not many devotees can write their own songs.
A couple of other things. BVKS said that Harikesa’s followers were not solid devotees and didn’t read our books. It was also based on a testimony from “Glimpes” video. I think I know what he refers and it was about the period when there were no Russian books to read and all devotees had were, indeed, those Rasa records. This very same devotee later published first underground Bhagavad Gita and Isopanishad, and then he became the head of Russian BBT, publishing about twenty million books. I have spent a lot of time with him, personally, and I would say that he is one of the most thoughtful and intelligent people I’ve ever met in my life. To say that he didn’t know our books is a claim I can’t accept in any shape or form. There were a lot of other devotees who left ISKCON after 1998, too. What about them? Did they know the books? Well… sankirtana devotees in those days were required to read two hours a day, it was an essential part of sadhana and it was followed everywhere. Only during marathon times devotees were allowed to reduce reading time to one hour. Then they all left as well. Contrast this with recent GBC report that 80% of our current leaders don’t read our books regularly.
So, what happened? Why did they leave it if wasn’t their sadhana (I’m talking about rank and file sankirtana devotees who collectively set world book distribution records) and if it wasn’t their reading? That’s a whole other topic by itself and I don’t want to tackle it here. I would repeat that Harikesa rejected the process and, interestingly, the process had created its own goal, not necessarily the same goal as we were supposed to achieve. In other words it created a different conception of the Lord than the Lord is Himself. That conception got shattered, but since Hari wasn’t beholden to it he himself survived. Those who had seen it constructed and then shattered left. Krishna, as He is, remained, of course.
There was also the whole story with the tantric and vibhuti. His name is Citesvara, I served as his interpreter when he came to Russia and I have a few things to say about him. First is that he won’t reject money from people ready to give it even if they don’t require any treatment. Second is that he follows his tradition and all his mantras, tantras, yantras, yajnas, kavacas, vibhutis – all his powers come from his istadeva, who is none other than Hanuman. It’s not a demigod worship at all. Do I need to say something in defense of Hanuman’s powers? I hope not. Maharaja himself mentioned Lord Vamana as presiding deity of health. How’s that different from approaching Hanuman for ghost protection? Or even from taking Tylenol from headache – whatever works. Third is that I personally witnessed Citesvara performing legitimate exorcism of truly possessed persons, just like they show them in the movies. To see people losing control of themselves and starting to behave like that – impossible to restrain and speaking in voices that I can describe only as “evil” – is very unnerving to say the least. I have no idea what I could have done if that person overpowered Citesvara, too. There was no escape from the room, no other exits. Luckily, Citesvara kept his cool and subdued the “demon” (we call them ghosts) with his peacock feathers, holy waters, and mantras. It actually worked, though I admit that I didn’t see the ghost getting inside that little box he locks them in. If someone claims that it was all bogus I could only shake my head and say they have no clue whatsoever.
Besides that, Hari himself offers several reasons why vibhuti could not have been the cause of his nervous breakdown. For one thing, it happened several months after he stopped taking it but withdrawal effects should be felt immediately. I myself seriously doubt that Citesvara knows western medicine well enough to spike his vibhuti, plus I doubt he could have easy access to psychotropic drugs even if he knew what was needed. Swedish lab results could have been caused by anything – we don’t know what exactly makes these ashes powerful in the first place. Their production might as well produce compounds that are known to western chemists as drugs. Speaking of medicine, one thing needs to be said.
In the video Maharaja said that Harikesa Swami went mad. Going by GBC reports it’s hard to disagree and one of them even features a diagnosis by psychiatrist. I can’t deny that at times Harikesa Swami seemed totally mad, but people should know that that psychiatrist never ever met him and diagnosing people this way is illegal and, when Harikesa Swami actually went for psychological evaluation, he was told that if he reported this diagnosis then that doctor would lose his licence. Oh, and Harikesa was declared perfectly sane by a psychiatrist who actually interviewed him.
One other interesting thing that needs to be said in this regard – during that summer he spent a lot of time with the deities, as I said already, and he felt a clear communication from them. When he mentioned it to GBC they thought it was a sign of madness, too. Their reasoning was that deities are made of stone and they don’t talk or communicate to people. In short – you can’t hear God. I understand that but, on the other hand – isn’t it what we came to ISKCON for? To establish connection with God? To Harikesa it seemed ridiculous and he didn’t need GBC approval or confirmation of what the deities “told” him. They don’t really “speak”, they communicate differently. One would have to go through hundreds of Hari’s lectures and meditations to understand this process. I haven’t done it but I know people, his followers, who did and for them this connection is as real as you reading these words. They don’t need anybody’s opinion to tell them whether it’s real or not – it’s the direct, self-evident experience, the kind Srila Prabhupada offered everyone when he taught us to chant Hare Krishna mantra.
After all these years we should know it and we should learn to recognize it in others. We should also learn to recognize fakes, but that is possible only when you know how the real thing works. It’s also a whole other different subject I won’t go right now.
All in all, I expected more from Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja. I don’t think he researched these things well enough and I believe when presented with additional information he would adjust his thinking accordingly. I don’t want this post to be addressed directly to him because it would require certain etiquette adjustment rather than me freely speaking my mind. I would conclude by saying that denying people’s spiritual experiences is at the very heart of this episode. If we admit that it was possible we would judge it one way, and if we deny it we would judge it differently. That’s all, really – we believe that ours is the only way and that we “got it” while other devotees must be bogus.