Vanity thought #1451. Tails

If sannyāsīs are the heads of our movement then the rest of us are tails, the other side of the coin. Sannyāsīs, the “real” ones, are right-hand path people – those who truly renounce as much of the world as possible and see playing yukta-vairāgya as dangerous to their spiritual health. Those who go against traditional roles and accept all kinds of dangers for the sake of the service are left-hand people and there are no rules yet that have been written for them. Ordinarily, they should be a tiny minority, but not in ISKCON.

This is not unusual, it’s actually by design, as we are followers of the vāmācāra associates of the Lord starting from Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī herself. Our previous ācāryas, particularly Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, were revolutionaries and completely upended what was understood by Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism back then. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was gentle, Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī thought it was hopeless and didn’t want to have anything to do with it, but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī boldly grabbed the “righteous” Gauḍīyas by the scruff of their necks and threw them in the garbage bin of history. We’ve never heard of them again, accept when they come out to prey on fallen devotees.

That is not to say that there were no real devotees outside of Gauḍīya Maṭhas but somehow they either didn’t survive or excused themselves from the preaching mission and decided to keep an extremely low profile. And that was a four hundred year old institution starting from Lords Caitanya and Nityānanda themselves, as well as Advaita Ācārya and other eternally liberated souls. They also started as left-hand path, changed the face of Bengal, well established themselves, but then gradually faded away.

This is just the dynamics – old powers corrupt, new powers come in, break all the rules, establish the new ones, and then they also eventually corrupt and get replaced. Ordinary people learn to get their spiritual benefits at each stage, both during the renewal of the tradition and during practice of working methods and strategies. We just learn to cope with it all. Ready for a change but also valuing the status quo when the status quo is the only spirituality we know. We’ll make do, thank you for your care.

ISKCON was a major revolution for the westerners, we challenged the world on everything, we accepted a strikingly odd culture, we rejected all their axiomatic truths, and we simply refused to live by their old rules. That was then, now it’s somewhat different. New rules have been put in place, new codes of behavior, some of us are milking them for our spiritual sustenance while there are those who rebel against them, too, even if silently.

Take the morning program, for example. Officially, every ISKCON devotee must attend it without exception, many gurus make regular attendance as part of the qualification for discipleship. GBC is watching out for complaints about our leaders slacking off in their sādhana, everyone knows that. And yet all this commotion has come about only because plenty of our devotees thought that morning programs are for neophytes while seasoned devotees, fully engaged in their preaching service, don’t really have to go as they are above such silly regulations.

People would quote how Śrīla Prabhupāda put preaching and book distribution above rules about fasting, for example. I don’t think he ever said devotees could skip morning program but it’s a logical next step for those who come from book distribution very very late and don’t get enough sleep. They never say that morning programs are not important, they say that attending them affects their preaching and preaching can’t be sacrificed.

Those who moved out of the temples got a natural excuse and even if they are expected to conduct morning programs at home they can say they are not ready for deity worship yet and without deities there’s no real reason to wake up in such an ungodly hour, they just say they are not morning persons and it screws up their lives.

I’m not judging them here, my intention is to point out how our left hand affinity to breaking rules edges us to rebel against ISKCON itself. There are probably better examples than morning programs but you get the drift.

We do not see sense gratification as dangerous, sannyāsīs can think whatever they want, we aren’t them, they are special. After a while we might start to think that they are not special at all as we accept our new normal as true spirituality and forget that it might look very different to those who really gave up on self-indulgence. We think they are doing it for the status, we don’t see sannyāsa as particularly necessary for preaching anymore. When one of our fellow devotees applies for sannyāsa we accept that if he gets it we’ll have to take whatever he says more seriously and we are fine with it. We don’t think that sannyāsīs discover new spiritual truths, that’s just not possible. We all read the same books, study the same philosophy, come to the same programs, visit the same dhamas, so their experience must be the same as ours.

Of course we don’t say this out loud and we probably try to purge such thoughts from our minds, if we are sober enough, but that should be our natural reaction whether we approve of it or not (of course we shouldn’t).

And so we let our senses rip, they are not meant to be stopped, we argue, but merely directed towards Kṛṣṇa. This connection to Kṛṣṇa far outweighs all other possible concerns about rules and regulations, we think. It purifies us no matter what it looks like to outsiders, and there’s no other way to deal with them – it’s the only way. Personally, I don’t see any other way either, our ācāryas didn’t recommend any other alternatives and were rather strict against immature renunciation, so that’s it?

Of course not, this left-hand path might work great in the beginning but dynamics always change, people settle in their routines and soon enough problems start to appear. First they hit our sannyāsīs, who weren’t even practicing sannyāsa in the traditional sense of the word, but what their failures told us is that renunciation is bad and must be rejected in our age.

Well, they fell down because they weren’t renounced enough and gave in to the amount of sense-indulgence they couldn’t handle, all those perks that came with their jobs finally got them. We, however, took a completely wrong lesson out of it and blamed the wrong party – renunciation. Their fall strengthened our resolve to go along with our senses as much as possible and we started pushing boundaries anywhere we can, demanding spiritual recognition of our material urges. That doesn’t work, of course, and it bred a new wave of failures, but that’s something I will probably talk about tomorrow.

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Vanity thought #1450. General mislabel

Yesterday I got to the point where we award devotees with sannyāsa but then appoint them to lead our saṅkīrtana army as if they were generals. There are implications to this so let’s talk about it.

In a fight against atheism we certainly need leaders and we can’t expect our leaders to engage in frontline battles, standing out there on street corners and converting people one by one. That wouldn’t be an effective use of their abilities because one such leader can inspire thousands of other devotees who will contact thousand time more people and with a greater degree of success.

That last point is important – normal logic would dictate that since our leaders are the best than they should be better at preaching than their followers, so if a leader converts five people per day than one thousand followers would convert less 5×1,000=5,000. Maybe 4,000 if on average they are only 80% as good.

Kṛṣṇa conscious math doesn’t follow normal logic, however. Individually, the followers might not be as effective but when acting on the orders of the spiritual master they project the power of the entire parampāra. There are no limitations on what one devotee can achieve, no matter how mediocre they might appear to outsiders. Technically, a leader, backed up by the parampāra, can convert the entire world single-handedly, but so can any number of his followers, because we don’t know how many of them can turn into a moon and eclipse everyone around them. We have more chances trying with a thousand people than if we put all our expectations on just one.

That’s what Śrīla Prabhupāda did when he appointed eighteen GBCs and demanded them to work collectively. Far from finding the moon, but they have managed to keep ISKCON together despite huge losses, and we can’t attribute this success, however modest, to any one devotee in particular. Saṅkīrtana, after all, means congregation, it always works better in numbers.

Where was I? Ah, yes, we need generals to lead and organize our saṅkīrtana efforts but somehow we mislabel them as sannyāsīs. A general, a leader, must project image of power, fame, and opulence. Ordinary people won’t follow him otherwise, that is a defect of human nature that has become a lot more prominent in Kali yuga. People won’t pay attention to someone who has not “made it”, as simple as that.

I remember one Australian politician seriously proposing that unless a man can’t afford to drive a BMW he shouldn’t even try to run for office. Right now Donald Trump leads Republican pack of presidential candidates and his only claim to expertise of any sorts is that he has ten billion dollars. If he managed to do that he must be able to lead the country. Now, that might not impress everyone but that’s because all other alternatives aren’t poor either and can raise billions of dollars themselves. Bernie Sanders and his ideas don’t stand a chance, as I mentioned yesterday.

You can read Prabhupāda’s interviews with reporters in the US and lots of them don’t hide the fact that ISKCON’s financial success played a major part in stocking their interest. When we had a twelve story building in Manhattan as our temple they couldn’t dismiss us as weird ex-hippies pestering people at the airports, our wealth had made us count.

It was the same story in India. White dancing elephants or not, but we needed to build big ass temples to be taken seriously. Sometimes Śrīla Prabhupāda was frank about it – what’s the use of all my American disciples if they can’t build something awesome. He didn’t want us to be seen as penniless white trash begging even from poor Indians for sustenance.

Raising money was important and we gave this job to our leaders, but then we called then sannyāsīs, renunciates. The more money you could produce, the greater the chances were of you getting sannyāsa. Of course you couldn’t just buy it but raising funds meant the ability to command and control devotees, and if you have proven yourself at that, you were good for sannyāsa.

Well, we just didn’t have any other titles for our leadership, and we saw this drive to command and control as an example of yukta-vairāgya.

We argue that people can’t stop from feeling and willing and so real renunciation is to engage themselves in Kṛṣṇa’s service. There’s nothing wrong with this logic but sannyāsa traditionally means reducing one’s feeling and willing to a bare minimum. Śrīla Prabhupāda practiced that for a decade before being put in charge of a worldwide movement. And he took sannyāsa after he was thoroughly done with his household life. Our devotees, OTOH, had less than a decade starting from scratch, from a position far far lower than Śrīla Prabhupāda’s birth in a vaiṣṇava family, never ever having engaged in sinful activities that our ex-hippies were accustomed to.

It was implausible for us to wait out until they prove themselves sannyāsa-wise, they had to take leadership positions now and then. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself sometimes explained it as war-time rules. During the war soldiers get promoted to lieutenants right on the spot, to fill positions left by their killed commanders, there’s no time to wait for them to finish the academy. There’s no alternative, you simply have to pick the best available and go with your choice.

We aren’t at war anymore, though, are we? With fifty years of history we can afford to wait until our next generation of leaders mature and get necessary training, and we can finally award sannyāsa to mature renunciates, too. We can wait for people to prove their abilities in controlling their senses and we aren’t so fixated on GBCs being sannyāsīs anymore.

This doesn’t completely solve our problem with awarding spiritual titles to material leaders. We need to have people expert at manipulating our material resources but we also need to motivate them spiritually. Traditionally, it was the job of the kings, we haven’t got those yet. We haven’t got devotees who are so inspiring that people can ignore that they also require a degree of opulence and sense gratification. We ourselves aren’t used to the idea that our leaders can legitimately indulge their senses, we see it as a spiritual disqualification. We want sannyāsīs to raise millions of dollars in funds and build big temples like TOVP, or even organize massive preaching efforts, which we expect to be strictly Kṛṣṇa conscious. If we see our leaders monetizing preaching we find it unappealing, and if we see not so pure wannabe devotees allowed on the stage we think it’s a sacrilege and Śrīla Prabhupāda would never let them anywhere near the microphone.

This might be true, I’m actually pretty sure it is, but this is what moving forward with kings at our helm would eventually mean – all kinds of people being brought in and given a place and awarded respect.

The next step would be us realizing that we shouldn’t mix with kings, no matter how devoted they are, and stay away from them as far as possible, like Lord Caitanya did with King Pratāparudra. Our next generation of renunciates will be renouncing ISKCON!

I see nothing wrong with “diluting” our society for the sake of growth. As we embrace more and more people we will have to put up with their imperfections, Kṛṣṇa does that with not so exemplary residents of Vṛndāvana, Lord Caitanya treats Muslims living in Navadvīpa as His own, too. We need to treat everyone who takes shelter in our society as a family, we can’t reject them for the sake of purity, though the urge is sometimes difficult to resist.

We should better concentrate on our core, strengthen the spiritual position of our most dedicated members, and we should allow them to sometimes distance themselves from ISKCON’s “hoi polloi”. They are not after titles anymore and they don’t apply for sannyāsa, they are perfectly happy to chant without getting any recognition for their efforts but we should never forget that they are always there and they should be the source of spiritual strength for everyone else, including our nominal leaders.

I think we, as a society, are doing okay in this regard. It’s not a utopia but a reality, if one knows where to look.

Vanity thought #1449. Sannyasa FTW

When I wanted to talk about us being led by Kali Yuga I didn’t mean our personal struggle with renunciation but us as a society, I simply got sidetracked. My original intention was to discuss our implementation of sannyāsa.

What do we know about sannyāsa? It’s a last stage of life in varṇāśrama system, ideally meant for people over seventy-five years old. In Kali Yuga lifespans get shortened so we instead talk about last quarter of one’s life, sometimes after fifty. Śrīla Prabhupāda took sannyāsa at the age of fifty eight, for the reference.

There are several stages to sannyāsa itself – first one moves out of his house but settles nearby, within the reach of his family, but gradually his renunciation matures and he leaves human society as a whole. Then, at the most perfected stage, one becomes parivrājakācārya, a wondering teacher of the entire human race. Prior to that sannyāsa means personal renunciation, whatever preaching that might be involved is secondary to the main goal – achieving complete control over one’s own senses.

In order to preach one also has to be a devotee, which is always rare even in the Vedic society. Of course one can preach some other philosophy, too, but that would require special training – one does not become a ṛṣi or a yogī simply by not eating and not mating. Bhakti, however, is open to all and, as said in Upadeśāmṛta, simply conquering one’s senses is enough for a devotee to start making disciples all over the world. In our tradition sannyāsa means guruship, renunciation for the sake of personal advancement is seen as a waste.

There’s also the injunction against taking sannyāsa in Kali Yuga and that should have put an end to the practice but not for devotees who do not take it as a personal project but as a means to preaching. Control of the senses does not come through straight on renunciation for devotees and, paying tribute to Kali Yuga limitations, they are not trying to achieve it through sannyāsa but rather through taking prasādam.

This has put the entire aśram upside down. Ordinarily, sannyāsīs capitalize on weakening senses and natural lack of drive and motivation that comes with old age but this weakness is seen as an impediment in preaching. Preachers need to be strong and powerful, eager to learn and be attuned to the interests of the population, and generally full of vigor. They should have a drive and display significant degree of success or otherwise no one will take them seriously.

As Kṛsṇa said in Bhagavad Gītā, people follow leaders, and to become a leader one should display leadership qualities, ie act like a kṣatriya, not like a traditional sannyāsi. It should be an exception for a brāhmaṇa to accept such a role and I can’t think of Vedic sannyāsīs playing it at all, yet this is what is required for successful preaching.

In Gauḍīya vaiṣṇavism we have examples of Lord Caitanya and His associates, and then Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati Ṭhākura re-establishing the institution of sannyāsa for preaching purposes, and then our own mixed bag ISKCON experience.

Lord Caitanya was a perfect sannyāsī, but a very exceptional one. He took sannyāsa from an impersonalist order and that was already unusual. Śaṅkarācārya had many followers but they were still only a small minority of the overall population, his brand of sannyāsa wasn’t for everybody, but they were very respectable, which was a plus for Lord Caitanya.

The Lord totally renounced His household life at a very young age and immediately went to preach all over India. For Him there was no question about control of His senses, He is the Lord, after all. That’s one example for us – if senses are not bothering devotees very much they can follow Lord Caitanya’s footsteps and immediately go out and preach, while they are still young and capable.

This is what we did in the seventies – requesting sannyāsa from Śrīla Prabhupāda was often contingent on taking up some audacious preaching mission immediately afterwards. For many, however, sannyāsa was given as a recognition of their previous service and as a means to cement their authority among the devotees. A cynic would say that even when people asked for sannyāsa and promised to preach they did it so that they got status, too, but I don’t want to see it that way even though status was always very important.

Lord Caitanya went on His preaching tour alone, accompanied only by one servant who we don’t even count this devotee among Lord’s eternal associates anymore, thanks of jīva falldown debate. Our sannyāsīs aren’t in the same position at all. Even though our preaching is directed at the outside population we must do it as an institution, as a collective rather than individual effort. People should see the strength of organization behind individuals presenting it. Whenever we preach, we refer to our success elsewhere, be it five thousand year long tradition in India, hundreds of temples all around the world, Beatles and George Harrison when they were relevant and so on.

This means that main job of our sannyāsīs is to organize the devotees – print books, build temples, get cars and buses for traveling parties, organize programs, reach out to supporters and do fundraising – basically act like politicians on campaign trail. The end product, a few words about policies or preaching speeches in our case, must always be delivered in manufactured and controlled settings. That’s why Bernie Sanders will never become a president even if he might have the right ideas. Without institutional support neither he nor our sannyāsī will be effective.

In my personal experience, our sannyāsī hardly ever talk to non-devotees at all, what to speak of preaching to non-believers. When they do they immediately go on their blogs and write about it, how they have sat next to someone on an airplane, for example. It’s such an unusual experience for them that it needs to be documented.

I’m not criticizing them for the lack of preaching but that’s what they are forced to do by circumstances. They preach to devotees non-stop, every minute of their waking lives. They are generals, not frontline troops in our saṅkīranta army, and we can’t fight without generals, there’s nothing wrong with that.

General, however, is a kṣatriya, not a sannyāsī – it’s a mismatch of varṇāśrama duties. Just think about implications of that.

I will continue tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1448. Contemporary asceticism

Thinking how the decision to drop atomic bombs was forced on US military command by the accumulated effects of the Kali Yuga I tried to find a connection to our ISKCON. We haven’t dropped any bombs anywhere ourselves (there was one episode in NZ, though) but it doesn’t mean we are immune to the influence of Kali. The problem is not only in overcoming unusually strong attachments but in that it forces us to act in decidedly non-Vedic ways even for a good cause.

Take our yukta-vairāgya, for example. The idea is for mahā-bhāgavata devotees to use everything they see for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. For us, however, it slowly turns into an excuse to indulge ourselves in sense-gratification under the pretext of service. If it was a real yukta-vairāgya then we would be able to stop it at will and simply sit still, absorbed in chanting and meditation on the Lord. We can’t however, we “need” to act, and so there’s no vairāgya in our actions of any kind, there’s plenty of hypocrisy, though.

Maybe it’s only karma-yoga – dedicating results of our work to Kṛṣṇa while we reserve the right to thoroughly enjoy the process. Maybe it’s only “always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget” rule where we allow ourselves to do practically anything and consider it okay as long as we keep Kṛṣṇa somewhere in the back of our minds.

I don’t mean “okay” from the rules perspective, I mean okay from the perspective of renunciation. Hitting a snooze button on alarm clocks is not against any rules, for example, it’s “okay”, but enjoying even a few extra minutes of sleep is not okay for renunciates, who we claim to be with our yukta-vaiṛāgya excuse. Well, what we cleverly say is that these extra minutes enable us to get up feeling fresh and so contribute to the quality of our morning service, which is very important, more important than getting up on time for the sake of the rules.

This explanation might be acceptable but what happens to us embracing these extra minutes of sleep with eager anticipation, longing for the comfort of our pillows? What kind of vairāgya is in that? if we gave in to this pleasure then everything we say afterwards to deny our self-indulgence is hypocrisy. If someone sprung up from bed on time but then dozed off during his japa we would call it monkey renunciation, but what do we call ours?

The only solution that I can think of is to accept our imperfection, stop calling it yukta-vairāgya, identify problem areas and start working on them. In the snooze button case it’s disassociating ourselves from the pleasure brought to us by the warm embraces of our pillows. We can’t avoid it, we also need to get up fresh so sleep is necessary, but we can’t see this enjoyment as ours, it’s an interaction between material elements extraneous to our real existence.

Beating the snooze button pleasure would be a great achievement, btw, because at this point our mind and intelligence are still turned off and so we don’t have the same sense of [false] self-awareness we are forced to live with during the day. The illusion is at its weakest during deep sleep, as śāstras say, and so finding “ourselves” in this situation should be a lot closer to the truth than our self-perception in fully awakened state. It should enable us to see daytime imposition of the mind as external to our real selves, finally beating “I think therefore I am” illusion.

Seeing failures in our renunciation, yukta or otherwise, should also enable us to see our real enemies. What is it that drives us to act? Is it our own desire on an external imposition? Is it a combination of both? How much of it is truly ours and what can we do about it?

A mahā-bhāgavata devotee would, presumably, see everything in this world as an external imposition but an imposition by Kṛṣṇa’s energies for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. His own participation would be determined by the degree of his realization of his actual spiritual form. I don’t think he would act on it, though.

We have an example of Lord Caitanya playing out His pastimes with Kṛṣṇa in “real” life but to outsiders it looked like total madness. No one else among His followers did anything close. What we’ve been told is that as we slowly uncover our preferred rasa we devevs vairagya
lop affinity for listening to that particular type of Kṛṣṇa līlā, and that is what I think the degree of our true spiritual involvement should ever be while still in this world.

Everything we do before we reach that level would be acting in illusion – illusion that we are the doers in this world and we can control and manipulate material energy according to our will. The only difference from the rest of the eternally conditioned population is that we assume our will as superior to theirs, so Kṛṣṇa Himself is helping us to do anything we want while they are left at the mercy of karma. I’m not sure this difference should count as positive for our spiritual progress, however.

Is this the kind of freedom we hope to achieve in Kṛṣṇa consciousness? The fulfillment of the same desire to control the world but now with Kṛṣṇa’s help?

Well, I guess it is progress but it should not be seen as the ultimate goal of our process. There should come a time when we realize that controlling the world is not as much fun as letting Kṛṣṇa do it and becoming His puppets instead. That’s what the liberated soul cries for when chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa – please engage me in Your service. Not “please empower me in whatever I want to do”.

But then there’s preaching – mahā-bhāgavatas don’t preach, the world is absolutely perfect as it is and doesn’t need any improvements. Every living entity is already engaged in service the Lord in whatever capacity that suits best his consciousness so there’s nothing for mahā-bhāgavatas to do here. Wait, maybe this isn’t right – it’s paramahaṁsas that don’t do anything, mahā-bhāgavatas could be different in that they see superiority of the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth so everyone who is not engaged in service to Bhagavan needs to be elevated to that stage. They see full potential of every living being and they see how it can be achieved, and they can convince the Lord to upgrade relationship level with these jīvas, too, so preaching is there as their service. It’s paramahaṁsas that don’t preach.

It makes sense but I’m just speculating here. I hope there’s a verse or two that clarify the difference, if there’s any, between mahā-bhāgavatas and paramahaṁsas.

In any case, the role of those liberated souls that take up preaching adds a level of complexity to the whole renunciation paradigm. That’s when yukta-vairāgya actually comes in, but that’s a topic for another day.

Vanity thought #729. In defence of sannyasa and (gasp) zonal acharyas

I’ve written quite a lot about sannyasa on this blog, there isn’t a single post I can point to and say – this is what I’m going to continue with, so let’s recap my basic points.

Sannyasa is forbidden in Kali Yuga because no one can follow it through, yet Lord Chaitanya took sannyasa and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta re-introduced it, and then Srila Prabhupada offered it to his disciples as if it was a normal thing to do.

Ordinarily we think of sannyasa as a complete dedication to the preaching mission without any distractions or interest in material life and so we see it as a highest spiritual rung on the ladder of devotion. Technically babaji/avadhutas could be higher but they don’t preach and so their devotion is incomplete, a real devotee on that stage should not be able to sit down and enjoy his bhajan when there are so many souls to save from the illusion, so sannyasa preacher is the highest.

On the other hand, sannyasa is an order in the varnashrama system, there’s nothing special about it and in olden times everybody was expected to take it. It’s the highest stage in varnashrama but it’s nothing compared to being a vaishnava, who is way above all such material designations.

When Srila Bhaktisiddhanta reintroduced sannyasa everyone was excited about it but he said that for a vaishnava it’s actually a downgrade so people should cool off their celebrations.

Both for him and for Lord Chaitanya sannyasa was primarily a political, not devotional move – maneuvering devotees in the position of power and influence, which is necessary for successful preaching.

Lord Chaitanya’s contemporaries didn’t show any respect to His preoccupation with Krishna and gopis and even ridiculed him for that, thus His preaching had a rather opposite effect – people were quickly accumulating offenses against Krishna. He took sannyasa and no one ever dared to ridicule Him again (except Bhattacharya’s son-in-law Amogha).

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s reason was basically the same, and if and where sannyasa couldn’t open the doors for him, he would use western suits and automobiles. He also had elephants for this purpose – to get the doors open to his preaching.

I believe there was another reason, too – devotees needed a structure and authorities to manage them, the Gaudiya Matha needed hierarchy to function. There were temple presidents but with so many temples it wasn’t enough and sannyasis filled the gap between the acharya and middle management on the ground.

I also believe there was a third reason – giving devotees a clear roadmap to spiritual progress. You start with nothing, then get harinama, then get diksha (our second initiation), then you get sannyasa. Like it or not, but while we are on the material platform carrots and sticks still work their magic, devotees need materialistic motivation. If we want their bodies to exert all their energy in the preaching mission, bodies need their own stimulants and their own rewards.

Srila Prabhupada didn’t need sannyasis to make his devotees heard, the position was meaningless to his target audience in the west, but the other two reasons were very much there. Maybe it’s not how it was acknowledged but if you look at how devotees treated sannyasa in those days it was exactly that – the highest stage in a devotional career and the highest authority in the society. Well, there was GBC, but that committee was filled with lifers, basically off limits for the rest of ISKCON.

Forget personal ambitions, the second reason – to establish authority within our society, was very important and it still is. On their own people tend to wander off, dragged by the temptations of the illusory world, keeping devotees in line, whipped up and ready for battle is not an easy job and they have to submit to such disciple voluntarily. That’s where sannyasis are irreplaceable.

In India they influence the ordinary folks, in ISKCON they influence the devotees. Someone must be there to insist on certain interpretation of what Srila Prabhupada wanted, we are not in the democracy, we should have a unified opinion, and someone must be there to enforce it, especially in the absence of the founder-acharya. We’ve seen what happened to Gaudiya Math where they couldn’t agree on a single authority and the mission divided into a myriad of chiefdoms and died.

This is why much maligned zonal acharya system was actually very good – we had a very strict authorities that kept core teachings and policies together. We didn’t let people get carried away with their visions and interpretations. The price was high, with the bulk of Prabhupada’s disciples leaving, but that is also what saved the entire mission.

With zonal acharyas Srila Prabhupada’s teachings were not open to interpretations, and they should never be. Of course it’s not as black and white and there were excesses here, there, and almost everywhere, but it in those days it was unimaginable to introduce veganism, hanging out with mayavadis, “rasika bhava”, or feminism.

What people complain about now is actually the result of a weaker authority, not just GBC being off mark. No one can force temple presidents to do anything. If they want to make money by serving weddings to general public, no one can stop them. If they want to introduce demigod worship to accommodate their Hindu community – no one can stop them. If they want to hide our identity as Hare Krishnas and Srila Prabhupada as our acharya in their preaching programs there’s no one to stop them.

On our platform we should be serving Krishna under the direction of guru and shastra but what we do instead is declare ourselves competent enough to make our own decisions. That is not service, that is sense gratification, we cannot afford to do it unless on the liberated platform. If not guru, nor a sannyasi, nor GBC, no one can order us around, maya will quickly take over. It’s her job to control people who refuse to submit themselves to authorities.

A couple more thoughts – Mahanidhi Swami says that it was his disciples who conspired against and framed him. If it is true – what kind of spiritual degradation is that? Devotees conspiring against their guru? Whose devotees are they? I’m afraid there’s no polite and respectful answer to that.

And, perhaps, one of the most important corollaries of this theory of sannyasa is that when a sannyasi falls there’s nothing to get freaked about. It’s just a job, a position. People hold it for a while and then they retire, it doesn’t affect their spiritual position in any way.

It is devastating for devotees who were trained to surrender to sannyasis as their authorities in both managerial and spiritual matters but, hopefully, by this time they are mature enough to realize that it was just a temporary crutch, and realize the need to follow authorities on their own.

The downside is that if they aren’t mature their trust might be destroyed forever and they’ll happily do whatever they want, and the society will be ruined.

It’s a tough task and sometimes ISKCON and GBC will have to hang by the skin of their teeth, but battling maya is probably more difficult than the battle of Kurukshetra. We can’t do it on our own, we have to give everything we have, lose everything, and maybe Krishna will break some rules, cheat, and help us win. There’s no other hope, our own strength is definitely not enough.

Vanity thought #723. Mahanidhi storm rages on.

Mahaniddhi means “great ocean”, according to my imaginary knowledge of Sanskrit, so things are as usual – we are being tossed by the giant waves of maya. Nothing here to see, move on.

Mahanidhi Swami’s storm, however, has been the hottest issue of the week. Everybody has an opinion on it and there are accounts dug up about events that allegedly happened in the long past. Personally, I still insist on my opinion from two days ago and so far there’s no new information that should change it.

The barrage of “editorials” on Sun reminds me of the long wait for the appearance of a royal baby a month ago when an army of reporters pointed their cameras at a blue door for hours with nothing going on. One honest reporter’s quote made rounds of the Internet and it can be easily adapted to Mahanidhi Swami’s case watch:

“Plenty more to come from here of course. None of it news…because that’ll come from GBC. But that won’t stop us!”

Without any facts people are free to spin the story in any way they want. Some see it as a confirmation that our sannyasis are bogus, which practically means that “no sex” rule cannot be followed and should be abandoned. Some see it as a testament that ISKCON follows a bogus guru system. Some see it as an exposure of the “rasika” deviation, some see it as a straight up sahajiism.

Whatever the spin, everybody wants to convince others that if they didn’t believe their cause, it’s time to accept the truth now. I myself also want this case to become a final nail in “rasika” movement and as another warning to the danger of associating with babajis.

There’s something wrong with these expectations, though. To me they all, including my own, display lack of faith and conviction. It’s as if there was no Mahanidhi Swami’s falldown we’d still have some spare space in the back of our minds where the opposite could have been true – rasika movement was kosher, babajis were the best sanga around, and for our detractors ISKCON guru system could be legitimate.

It’s as if we all need empirical proof to support injunctions of our acharyas and without this proof they could be wrong. I’m not sure that this “buyers beware” approach to surrender could ever be justified.

We certainly should be careful when accepting instructions, we should make sure that they are in line with our teachings, but this needs proof against guru and shastra, not against something happening in this world – falldowns, sainthood etc. There’s a time to test our sources and then comes the time to trust them explicitly.

Spiritual progress is possible only for those with full faith in their guru, not for those who found proof of their guru’s words.

So, today’s message is – no matter how this Mahanidhi Swami’s affair turns out, rasa katha should be off limits for non-liberated souls, babajis should be respected from a distance, sannyasa works even in Kali yuga if it’s done for the sake of the preaching mission, and those who think that ISKCON gurus are spiritually impotent are simply delusional.

That is not going to change even if we are presented with evidence proving otherwise. Empirical observations do not override authority of our acharyas and they should have no effect on our faith, too. Only when we accept this we can beg for Krishna’s mercy in all honesty, it’s this duplicity that usually holds us back.

Vanity thought #720. Another loss…, or was it a gain?

There was another jolt of electricity given to our movement a couple of days ago – the GBC announcement on HH Mahanidhi Swami’s status, who is no longer a swami and, subsequently, no longer HH either.

Disciples are obviously devastated, some have invested quite heavily to live in their guru’s neighborhood and are now left with no purpose in being there any longer. Another sannyasi falldown is also an obvious blow to our guru doctrine and a gift to our critics.

Having said that, I think it was actually a blessing in disguise.

Why? Because this is what Krishna thinks necessary for Mahanidhi’s own spiritual progress. If his body didn’t have enough strength to withstand material temptations then giving up the robes is better than pretending. No one can act against his own nature and if maharaj took upon himself a dharma of a sannyasi while still being attached to female association then, as Krishna teaches us in Bhagavad Gita, it’s better for him to be a failed grihastha than a perfect renunciate. This unnatural dharma can’t last very long anyway, and I think it’s better that maharaj was corrected at a relatively young age. Well, I think he’s got at least a couple of decades to properly deal with his attachments.

His spiritual health is not the only reason, though. Perhaps even more important is the effect his resignation will make on the particular type of practice that he’s been advocating.

My personal impression has always been that he was a Narayana Maharaj counterpart in ISKCON. I mean that while “rasika” devotees flocked to hear rasa katha outside, Mahanidhi Swami provided the same service “in-house”. I thought he showed that it can be done right, without leaving the shelter of Srila Prabhupada and within Srila Prabhupada established boundaries.

Apparently it wasn’t all that peachy, though, and now the chickens came to roost. I don’t know if there’s anyone who would continue with this experiment in ISKCON, I sincerely hope that Mahanidhi Swami’s falldown would be a lesson for all of us to stay away from rasa katha for good.

Apparently maharaj was taking instructions and more on the outside and had a big fallout with Aindra Prabhu. There is a talk about Mahaniddhi Swami receiving siddha pranali or some other “special” initiation from one of the babajis in Vrindavan. There’s no definitive proof of that but apparently that was the reason for Aindra Prabhu’s outburst.

If that really was the case, as everyone is led to believe anyway, then maharaja’s good standing in ISKCON kind of justified it. His falldown, however, proves that all this esoteric staff is nonsense.

When you start feeling your spiritual arms and legs then some sort of instructions on how to use them is definitely in order, and that’s what siddha pranali process is for, but for that you have to be way past the liberated stage, completely detached from the workings of your material body, and in awareness of your actual spiritual form. Trying to superimpose siddha pranali on our material mind and imagination won’t work, and I hope maharaja’s case has proven it once again.

This falldown also once again drew everybody’s attention to Vrindavana babajis. I can’t say they are all impostors but what is definitely clear is that nothing good comes out of our association with them. Ever.

Let them do their thing, Srila Prabhupada told as to stay away from them, and he gave us the process that works for us. What more do we want? Any attempt to outflank Prabhupada’s instructions would be ruinous, and any attempt to behave on a level higher than our actual spiritual advancement would be ruinous, too.

If we use our material bodies to participate in Krishna’s pastimes we’ll become sahajias. It’s perfectly okay to engage our bodies in Krishna’s service in any way He wants but the problem with material bodies is that until we are fully liberated we use them for our own enjoyment, not for Krishna’s. This will never change, no matter what we try. We can’t bring our lusty, needy, gluttonous bodies in contact with Krishna.

Look at the Six Goswamis – they were inside Krishna’s pastimes everyday but they never brought their external bodies into it. That’s the path shown by our acharyas – external bodies should be engaged in external service according to directions of guru and shastra while direct service to Krishna should be rendered internally.

“Rasika” devotees, on the other hand, having no access to this internal, spiritual platform, try to compensate for that with linking their material bodies and minds directly with the Lord. This will not work.

According to our acharyas these “rasikas” will never ever penetrate into spiritual Vrindavana even if they drink and bathe in Radhakunda all their lives. “You do not simply walk into Mordor”, as a popular meme goes. You do not enter into Radhakunda by sticking your hand into it.

As for disaffected devotees – I suspect they were attracted by these false promises and so their disappointed is not only natural but also well deserved. If they can look past it and re-examine the actually prescribed path then they should see that it’s a perfect opportunity for them to put their lives solely into Krishna’s hands.

They’ve been abandoned in Vrindavana, after all – do they really need saving? Maybe only from themselves.

So, all in all, this recent falldown looks like a good thing. GBC is accused of covering up earlier cases of indiscretion but I’m sure they’ve got used to it by now. They are the ones who are supposed to call an accidental slip up from an irreversible falldown, I don’t think any one of us would do this kind of job better, none of us has the same access to facts, and none of us has the experience of carrying this kind of responsibility. Internet trash talk is easy, we should not fall for it and we should not give any real credit.

PS. There is one Ramesh Baba of Varshana involved in this story. Some say he is a sahajiya but there aren’t any facts to back up this assessment, no reasons to believe so. For all we know he could be a genuine sadhu, we should be careful with branding him as this or that.

Vanity thought #552. Sannyasa in Kali Yuga

Sannyasa is, of course, forbidden in Kali Yuga yet our preachers take it to spread the glory of the Holy Name. Ordinary people are attracted by spiritual labels and tend to trust sannyasis more than ordinary missionaries.

In India the dress makes all the difference, in the West the vow of celibacy impresses people more. Otherwise our sannyasis live lifestyles that are envied by many ordinary people – flying across the globe, being greeted by adoring disciples and having all their needs served before they even announce them.

Our sannyasis manage big sums of money, build temples, run preaching programs and even sponsor other people if necessary.

The genuine spirit of sannyasa, however, is somehow getting lost among this flurry of activity. That is not a bad thing, however, because preaching beats sannyasa every time. Renunciation has no practical value in Kali Yuga anyway, it’s all about engaging everything in service.

A devotee who is engaged in preaching on a 24/7 basis does not need to renounce anything, it’s already the perfection of human existence. Those of us not so fortunate as to be at the forefront of the preaching effort, however, still need to think in terms of renunciation, for without it we can’t make any spiritual progress.

As I see it, renunciation shouldn’t be about eating less or sleeping less or any other artificial restrictions but about gradually losing interest in all material pursuits.

It’s very hard to achieve with all our senses and the mind making grand plans every minute but there’s a certain wisdom in prescribing sannyasa for people over 75 years old.

I’ve just seen a 74 year old man who has completely lost his mind to Alzheimer. He keeps eating or sleeping but his interest in these things is not even secondary – he lives in a world of its own, completely separated from reality.

Maybe that’s what sannyasa should look like – an old man with severely damaged brain who only thinks of Krishna.

If I go around without making any sense and only asking people to chant Hare Krishna I’be quickly stopped and consigned to a mental asylum but some old geezer can get easily get away with doing all kinds of crazy things as long as he doesn’t poze danger to himself and to others.

Actually, this won’t be sannyasa, this would be an uttama adhikari behavior.

Old men relinquish all responsibility for their behavior due to damaged brains, but a devotee should consciously do it, knowing full well that Krishna would take care.

If it is possible for an Alzheimer patient to forget his physical needs, why wouldn’t it be possible for a devotee?

This particular men walks around asking for smokes but with little faith I can hope to walk around asking people to chant if I ever get the similar condition.

Then my life would be perfect, too. That would be “my” kind of sannyasa.

There’s only one question – why would anyone listen to the ramblings of a crazy man? Wouldn’t it cast Krishna in a negative light? Wouldn’t it be counterproductive?

Perhaps the clue lies in preserving mental faculties like Shukadeva Goswami who appeared as an avadhuta and didn’t even bother to wear clothes, yet when necessary he recited Srimad Bhagavatam.

I guess by Krishna’s grace that is not an insurmountable task, I don’t need to recite Bhagavatam, I only need to have an actual level of realization corresponding to the level of renunciation.

Bhagavatam or not, people would appreciate genuine lack of interest in physical needs and, by Lord Chaitanya’s mercy, appreciate the value of the Holy Name. Unlike the ramblings of an ordinary crazy men, the Holy Name has real power and is supremely attractive.

It’s all lies in the faith in the Holy Name, all my speculations rest entirely on this premise – I will have enough faith to pull this through. If there’s faith, there’s a way – if old crazy people can do it, so could I.

Vanity thought #486. Sannyasa cont’d

Yesterday I talked about complex roles sannyasis play in modern times. There are traditional, vedic rules and expectations, there are rules introduced by Lord Chaitanya, there are rules and goals introduced by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, there are certain alterations that happened over the time under his guidance, there are differences in sannyasa order as it was given to us by Srila Prabhupada, too, and there are changes that happened over time since the seventies.

While sannyasa as it’s practiced in modern Gaudiya vaishnavism is based on the example of Lord Chaitanya and the essence of the order hasn’t changed since Mahaprabhu’s time, the difference with the vedic tradition is huge, especially as it is understood by modern Indians.

With all these different exectations, as a sannyasi does something there are so many angles to judge his behavior from one can easily get confused. Simple, iron cast rule – does his behavior comply with GBC regulations or not? If yes then he is above criticism.

On a more subtle level, however, there’s a leeway to judge sannyasi’s behavior even within GBC standards. While we should avoid criticizing perceived deviations we should be always think what lessons we can learn for ourselves.

Take a hypothetical example – a sannyasi in karmi clothes is photographed hugging a young woman, presumably a disciple.

  • Vedic point of view – fail.
  • Modern society’s point of view – no big deal, there’s nothing sexual about this.
  • Lord Chaitanya’s rules – he should drown himself in the Ganges.
  • Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s vision – unacceptable
  • Srila Prabhupada’s rules – he shouldn’t do that but it’s not Lord Chaitanya’s times.
  • ISKCON vision – is it a part of a preaching effort? If yes, then it’s not a big deal.
  • GBC rules – unless there’s a gross transgression we can just shake our heads and move on.
  • Preaching mission – we need to appeal to modern society, if we are too prude they won’t listen to us, no big deal.
  • ISKCON deviants reaction – he should go to hell.

You see my point? Each one of these reactions is justified according to some but maybe not all rules. Okay, Lord Chaitanya recommended drowning in Ganges when there was some sexual motive involved, if it’s an innocent photo hug without sexual context it probably doesn’t qualify for drowning, but still unacceptable.

What position should we, personally, take? I think the main criteria is the advancement of the preaching mission. If our target audience doesn’t mind then it isn’t a fail.

Lord Chaitanya was pretty clear about it – the problem is not so much the transgression itself but the loss of respect. Remember – the only raison d’etre for taking sannyasa for Him was forcing people respect His message at once.

Having said that, the other role of a modern ISKCON sannyasi is to serve as a role model for junior devotees, and appearing in the photos like that can be classified as a fail. We are not karmis, we don’t need to see sannyasis behaving just like us to trust them, we’d rather see them behaving very very different. There might be nothing really wrong with hugging a girl for a photo but it’s a kind of disappointment.

Or, perhaps, we should adjust our expectations of what sannyasis should do and what it should mean for us.

Our fail here would be taking the side of deviants and going into a full blown fault finding mode.

Another example is meeting with dignitaries. Some of those, like professors, are okay, but meeting people like presidents and prime-ministers used to be forbidden. Nowadays a year doesn’t pass by without news of that or this swami meeting this or that president.

Preaching excuse shouldn’t work here – Lord Chaitanya refused to meet with the King of Jagannatha Puri even when He knew the king was a devotee. The king eventually earned His darshan but we shouldn’t forget the dynamics – it was the sannyasi who “played” hart to get, the king was seeking sannyasi’s audience, not vice versa. Lord Chaitanya Himself had absolutely no interest in preaching to the King.

On the other hand, this was the case when He was concerned about ruining His own reputation. Before taking sannyasa He had no problems in visiting and preaching to the Kazi, maybe not as an important person as a king but a no-no for sannyasi anyway. So, if Lord Chaitanya had been a sannyasi at that time, would He had talked to the Kazi? It was kind of important conversation that started massive sankirtana parties all through the land.

In defense of our swamis – we get so much more out of preaching to the presidents now than five hundred years ago that we cannot miss the opportunity. “They” cant talk all they want, but access to presidents gives us enormous leverage in our preaching mission. Off the top of my head – if not for cultivating relationships with the highest echelons of India’s power it’s quite possible that Bhagavad Gita would have been banned in Russia altogether.

Funny thing – these days there are no “they” to condemn our swamis for mixing with presidents. I think we should be worried about that. Preaching opportunities are okay but who is there to check that our swamis are not searching for a spotlight in the fame of modern royalty?

The danger of associating with powerful people is the same as the danger of associating with women. Somehow we forget about that aspect of traditional sannyasa vows. As a society we are just starting to get foothold in power office doors so we haven’t had any negative reactions yet but they might come. Rules are there for a reason, breaking them is bound to have adverse effects, it will certainly come back to us.

There was also a case of one swami meeting with one VIP and no preaching going on, no gift of Bhagavad Gita, nothing. Apparently the meeting was arranged without even specifying that it would be a meeting with Hare Krishna representative. I don’t know what to make of it. Maybe it’s a “long con”, deep undercover spying mission, maybe that would make it legit, but it’s a very feeble excuse I just imagined myself, no one offered this explanation from the swami’s side.

The worrisome part is that no one in ISKCON batted a lid, too. I think it was an innocent oversight not deserving any punishment but it was an oversight nevertheless.

All I can think for myself is to keep watch without being judgmental, so I’ll leave it at that.

Vanity thought #485. There’s sannyasa and there’s sannyasa

Of all the social orders under varnashrama sannyasa is the most ambiguous one. We know that brahmachari stay away from women, and also, if possible, money. They live entirely at the mercy of their superiors. Grihasthas have been covered to such an extent that to ask about their duties would be displaying nothing short of gross ignorance. Vanaprasthas are neither here nor there, preparing themselves for the “big one”.

The “big one” is, of course, sannyasa. But what does it mean? Strange question – we all know what it means, but let me present a historical perspective first and then let’s see if the picture is really as clear as we assume.

There’s a famous injunction against taking sannyasa in Kali Yuga, along with impregnating your deceased brother’s wife and a few others. In general it might be true, for general population, even in conservative Indian society. According to varnashrama EVERYONE should eventually take sannyasa but it is simply unthinkable in this age.

Only the most advanced, most dedicated spiritualists are capable of pulling it off, and they got enormous respect for that. The top “dogs” in every mass spiritual movement, from Shankarites to vaishnavas, were sannyasis. Afaik they were the genuine articles, practicing renunciation for the sake of it.

Then came the time of Lord Chaitanya but His reason for taking sannyasa was not renunciation but preaching opportunities that came with respect given to the members of the sannyasa order. He even took sannyasa in Shankarite sampradaya, though not the top notch line.

Anyway, once committed to it, Lord Chaitanya was very very strict about following rules and regulations for sannyasis. Again, His main point was not the sadhana itself but maintaining His prestige as a serious religious practitioner that gave weight to His teachings about the glory of the Holy Name.

He once reasoned that one inappropriate incident would ruin His reputation and it would never go away, just as an ink stain on a white cloth. It must be said again that it wasn’t His reputation that was at stake here, it was the validity of the process of Harinama Sankirtana.

After Lord Chaitanya taking sannyasa had lost its popularity in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. The Six Goswamis were in the situation where they didn’t need to use artificial tools to earn respect of general population so they became “babajis” instead, and so it went for hundreds and hundreds of years.

According to our teachings, a vaishnava is transcendental to varnashrama rules and so should be considered on a much higher platform than any renunciate. We do not renounce things, we engage them in service of Krishna, it goes against the practices of sannyasa on many many occasions.

Then, after departure of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji, sannyasa became popular again, courtesy of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.

His reasoning was the same as Lord Chaitanya’s – if we were to establish a respected religious movement it needs to be led by respected men, and at that time it still meant sannyasis. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura took sannyasa in front of the picture of his guru, it was unprecedented.

Immediately it drew a lot of criticism, on one hand criticism over unauthorized procedure, on the other hand criticism over deviating from Gauydiya Vaishnava values.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s answer was simple and powerful – yes, devotees are above varnashrama system and so taking sannyasa is actually a step back but it needs to be done for the sake of preaching, just like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu did, and, on the other hand, BECAUSE devotees are above varnashrama it doesn’t matter what procedure they use to take sannyasa and whether they become “real” sannyasis or fakes. It’s just a show for the masses anyway, all you need is the blessings of your guru, it does not depend on external procedure itself.

The way Srila Bhaktisiddhanta followed sannyasa rules left no doubt that he didn’t care much about anything but the success of his preaching mission. He wore leather shoes, drove in cars, he counted money, he mingled with the cream of the society and so on. Some people didn’t like it but overall his method of executing sannyasa proved to be very very successful, and he never got the “ink stain” to sully his reputation.

However, re-introducing sannyasa in Gaudiya Vaishnavism brought some side effects, too, and this is where it becomes complicated. At first attaining sannyasa was considered as a sign of success in Gaudiya Matha hierarchy. After all, you can’t have a functioning society without hierarchy, and newly ordained sannyasis were easily the best candidates for leadership positions, at least spiritually.

Suddenly sannyasa became not just a tool for outward preaching but also a measurement of devotee’s progress. I don’t know what Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati thought about it in the beginning but as years went by and the need for establishing daivi-varnashrama as opposed to mundane caste caricature of the original system became obvious, sannyasis were needed more than ever.

The original idea that a devotee is above and beyond varnashrama had to be modified and within devotee society a new breed of sannyasis was born that was clearly above and beyond the devotee hoi polloi, so to speak. “New” sannyasa had become not just social but also spiritual stage of progress.

At least in India the main purpose of re-introducing sannyasa, the ability to project authority over non-devotee population was still valid.

When Srila Prabhupada came to the West, however, no one knew what sannyasa was, same shaved heads, same orange robes – no one can tell the difference between a sannyasi and a lowly brahmachari. The main raison d’etre was simply not present. Perhaps the general audience paid more attention to sannyasis because all the other orange people did and so outsiders took a clue from them.

This means that the second function, though probably not in the order of importance, had become more prominent – sannyasa as a sign of spiritual development. Respect for sannyasa is needed not to impress the infidels, it is needed to keep the main body of devotees in shape.

These two functions demand different rules and, consequently, two targets of sannyasi influence consider different transgressions to be indelible ink blots on sannyasi’s reputation.

For outsiders, no one cares if sannyasi is forbidden to cross an ocean or wear leather shoes. Mixing with women is also not a big problem, judging by numerous Indian “gurus” of the past half a century. People draw line at pedophilia, though, and they understand that sannyasa means no sex, but that’s about it.

Internally, however, one is sure to become a target of character assassination for maintaining female secretaries and helpers, for not wearing sannyasa clothes at all times, not wearing tilaka, visiting shopping malls, and not preaching enough or mixing with the wrong crowd.

A sannyasi is supposed to fully represent Srila Prabhupada, deviations are not accepted. We have a few “swamis” who left ISKCON to preach on their own but we do not consider them as role models, quite the opposite.

Our Indian devotees might be more relaxed about philosophical deviations but they are far more stricter regarding outward behavior.

So, while there still are some genuine reasons for taking sannyasa, there also are plenty of not so genuine ones and we’ve seen plenty of examples of things going wrong. Our first sannyasi’s first move was to dress everyone in Christian robes and pray in English, and after Srila Prabhupada’s departure it didn’t get much better.

Hopefully things are getting better, scandals and falldowns become increasing rare, sannyasis are also becoming a common sight which means that they don’t get as much kick out of their career advancement over the rest of the plebes.

Still, there are some peculiar cases where it’s not entirely clear what a sannyasi should do and whether he is doing the right thing or not given the mix of external and internal obligations and goals.

What might look okay to some devotees is totally unacceptable to others, and there’s always the shadow of WWLCD – what would Lord Chaitanya do? Or WWSPD.

What kind of sannyasa is being displayed in each particular case? Can a sannyasi switch his behavior at will, presenting one side to one audience and another side to another? Should he?

By now I think it’s obvious I have some example in mind and it might look like a desire to criticize a respected member of our sannyasa community, but let’s leave the temptation aside and conclude today’s article here.

There will always be another day.