Thursday, January 14, 2016



Now I will show how A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami used his personal experience to teach his disciples about his notion of the “Vedic” or traditional Indian view of marriage (this is a direct quotation):
So I think I have spoken about my own life. You know that I was a married man. So after being married, I did not like my wife. (laughter) . . .So I was preparing for next marriage. . . . So my father, he was a saintly person. So he called me one day and said, "My dear boy, you are trying to marry again. I request you don't do that. You do not like your wife. That is a great fortune for you." (laughter) So I gave up that idea of marrying. Yes. So now I am realizing my father's blessing, yes, that if I would have been too much attached to my wife, then I could not have come to this position. That's a fact. So by ethical point of view, from spiritual point of view, to become too much attached to wife is an impediment for spiritual advancement.
Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.17, Los Angeles,  22 September,  1972.
This advice from the swami’s father, far from being a “blessing,” condemned his son and daughter-in-law to a loveless cohabitation that could have hardly aided the “spiritual advancement” of either party. Worse, the swami’s open admission that he never liked his wife proved in his own experience that Vedic marriage as he understood it is a farce. As Milton put it, the notion of remaining married under such circumstances, is to “grind in the mill of an undelighted and servile copulation.”[1] The swami’s making an example of his arranged marriage to an 11-year old girl he never even liked (despite her virtuous behavior), speaks volumes about his lack of character in general and of human dignity in particular.


You might now ask why ISKCON marriages took place at all if the swami had such negative views of the institution from a religious viewpoint. The next quotation and the one following it will provide an answer:
But if there is sex desire, how to control it? Women are normally very lusty, more lusty than men, and they are weaker sex, it is difficult for them to make spiritual advancement without the help of husband. For so many reasons, our women must have husband. That's all right, but if once they have got a husband he goes away so quickly, that will not be very much happy for them. 
                                                                                Letter to Madhukara, 4 January 1973
Generally, separation between husband and wife is due to womanly behavior; divorce takes place due to womanly weakness. The best course for a woman is to abide by the orders of her husband
                                                                                 Srimad Bhagavatam 4.4.3 purport

These pronouncements are typical of the unsubstantiated, ignorant drivel that the swami used to justify ISKCON’s barbaric treatment of women. Never at any time did he present one iota of evidence to support this and other blatantly sexist assertions; instead, he used terms such as “normally” and “generally” to give the impression that they are common knowledge. All of these nonsensical claims about the lust and weakness of women are transparent excuses crafted by cowardly men to justify their sexual abuse and battering of females of all ages.

Furthermore, what does a sham marriage to a buffoon so stupid as to believe such nonsense about his would-be wife do to advance her spiritually? I personally witnessed the agony of both partners when the swami performed the arranged “marriage” of two sincere devotees in the first ISKCON temple in New York City back in 1968, all for the purpose of their starting a temple in Boston. The misery and humiliation on their faces was unmistakable. 

As was soon clear, the only reason the swami advocated marriages between his American disciples--most of whom were strangers to each other--was to use them to open new temples. Soon, after it became clear that sanyasis were better suited to this task, he just as easily gave the couples a “spiritual divorce,” leaving a shaven-headed “widow” with one or two white saris toiling in a temple or hoodwinking the public in the street. This fact alone makes his comment about the distress of the wife when her husband “goes away so quickly” so ironic and cruel.


Moreover, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami did not hesitate to offer the same advice he alleged his father gave to him to a number of his senior disciples to justify their separation from their wives for the express purpose of enhancing his preaching aims and in one case, urging one of his Indian disciples to become a sanyasi like himself. The following is an excerpt from the letter dated 11 May 1972 he sent to the ISKCON guru now known as Gopal Krishna Goswami:

Your wife has proven turbulent, that is the grace of Krishna. I may inform you in this connection about my family life. Actually, I never liked my wife. I was going to marry another, but my father saved me from the danger and he told me that you do not like your wife, that is the grace of Krishna. So don't be worried about your wife. If she wants to re-marry, let her do so, and you'll be free and I shall give you Sannyas [the renounced order] and you will be preaching freely.                          
Please note: I was the “wife” the swami is referring to here and at the time I was a few weeks pregnant. It is painful even now—40 years later!—to write about my reaction to reading it: I was devotee since age 14 and had passed my teenage years tending my deities at home (while going to high school) and living for the weekends when I would go to the temple. By all accounts, I was a very sincere and stalwart devotee.  In fact, although I was repulsed by the very sight of Gopal Krishna and actually fled to the protection of my sister at the St. Louis temple, I was flown to Boston to marry him under the mistaken notion that the swami had ordered me to do so.

I remember a powerful chill passing through my body as I read above letter, because I realized that Gopal Krishna had the temerity to write to our guru to defame me, all the while using me to satisfy his lust. However, what cut me most of all was the swami’s casual dismissal of me, without even as much as asking me for my side of the story. For all of my loyalty and courage in his service, I was nothing to him. At the time, I simply had no inkling of how low he regarded women (as I discuss below). Had I known, I would have never wasted a precious moment of my life serving a foreigner who believed women are nine times as lustful as men and half as intelligent.

It is interesting to note that the swami never speaks of love between husbands and wives; instead, he uses the binary terms of “attachment” and “detachment” as if the emotions of family members are as meaningful as the interactions of caged lab animals. How irrational he sounds, despite the claims that his loveless family life resulted in his “complete liberation from worldly attachment.” In truth, a miserable family life simply tends to perpetuate itself: the wife or husband might seek affection elsewhere (as the swami admitted in his own case) and the children often become abusers or violent sociopaths in their grief at their unremitting feelings of loss.


To understand Brahman is not the business of tiny brain. Alpha-medhasan. There are two Sanskrit words, alpa-medhasa and sumedhasa. Alpa-medhasa means having little brain substance. Physiologically, within the brain there are brain substance. It is found that the brain substance in man is found up to 64 ounce. They are very highly intellectual persons. And in woman the brain substance is not found more than 34 ounce. You’ll find, therefore, that there is no very great scientist, mathematician, philosopher, among women. You’ll never find because their brain substance cannot go. 
                       Lecture on Bhagavad Gita Hawaii, 3 February, 1975
It is obvious that there is no substance to the swami’s laughable claims about the “little brain substance” of women compared to that of men. His saying that “it is found” or “is not found” when dealing with matters concerning human physiology is an attempt to dupe the gullible into believing that some sort of expert is the source of this manifest rubbish. However, no evidence is offered, simply pronouncements that reflect nothing more than self-serving prejudice. Unfortunately for bigots everywhere, arguments that fail the test of rational analysis are easily defeated by simply pointing out their logical fallacies. In this case, the first is a hare-brained leap of logic: how does the claim that men “64 ounce” of “brain substance” lead to the conclusion that “they are very highly intellectual persons”? This is a patently nonsensical claim, of course. Brain size is always relative to the body weight of the species in question and even then it is no predictor of general intelligence. If this were not the case, the sperm whale, which has the largest brain in the animal kingdom (averaging 7,800 grams to the 1,300-1,400 of a human) would hold the world in thrall and subjugate even the most fanatical saffron-wearing “saints.”

Readers at this point might wonder at the sheer idiocy of anyone in the modern age claiming that “there is not very great scientist, mathematician, philosopher, among women.” It is not unusual, however, for religious fanatics to have their heads so far in the clouds that they forget that they are actually lodged securely in their nether regions. Whenever I hear such evil claims as the swami’s, I feel less sorry for their ignorance than for the tremendous harm these ideas have done to women since time immemorial. It is bittersweet to note that while 57% of college students in the U.S.are women, little girls going to school in Afghanistan risk their lives every day. It is also impossible to ignore the achievements of modern Indian women in every sphere and forget that, as BBC News reported last year, up to eight million girls were selectively destroyed in India in the past decade (using modern ultrasound and abortion) simply because families prefer boys.   

To add insult to injury, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami also advocated denying the children of his disciples’ arranged “marriages” the opportunity to develop whatever intellect they possessed:
There is no question of academic education for either boys or girls--simply a little mathematics and being able to read and write well, that's all, no universities.
              Letter to Chaya Dasi: 16 Feb. 1972.

It follows that the ISKCON gurukulas where these children were sent at the ages of four or five had no need to employ qualified teachers and, indeed, it soon became apparent that many of these roles were occupied by sexual deviants and child abusers of every description. The parents of these children were allowed to see them once a year during “parents weekend,” otherwise they generally lived separately in the ashrams at or near the temple, spending their days on “sankirtan,” which at the time (and to the present) was nothing more than an organized scheme to dupe the public on the streets and in airports to purchase one of the swami’s books. If that was a barren life for the parents, it was much worse for the children. In essence, they missed their childhoods entirely. 

To get a more comprehensive picture of the abuse these innocents suffered, I refer the reader to the many accounts of abuse contributed by the former gurukula students themselves, most of which came to light when many of them filed a lawsuit in 2001 against the Hare Krishna movement. Typically enough, after spending many millions defending themselves against the lawsuit, the ISKCON movement filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the express purpose of avoiding making settlements that would be even remotely decent. Instead, the former students were given meager financial compensation along with a lame apology from the ISKCON GBC (Governing Board Commission). Not one of the perpetrators has ever been arrested.


Now I want to address for once and for all the excuses the ISKCON management has proffered to defend their guru against any claims of responsibility for the gurukula abuse. I have already treated the low opinions the swami held of women and his habit of arranging marriages between his disciples for the purpose of spreading his warped version of Vaishnava Hinduism. How these practices led to the degrading treatment of children has always been side-stepped, often by fervent advocates of the swami who allege that the worst of it occurred after his death in 1977. 

An entire industry consisting of accusations and counter-accusations consumes many senior devotees (particularly in India), all of which derives from the notion that the original executors of A.C. Bhaktivedanta both colluded in poisoning him and then took on the mantle of guruship for themselves. There is even a very vocal faction that believes that the new adherents can take initiation from the swami, albeit in spirit. This “ritvik” controversy has continued unabated for years while the now largely Indian public attending and supporting these often extremely lavish temples are ignorant of the policies and history of a cult that in reality is far removed from Hinduism. The following quotation twists the lid off the stinking jar of excuses his followers continue to offer to defend him against the torture so many of the gurukula children endured:

Any householder devotee who is working full-time (with his wife) as a sankirtana book distributer, of temple managerial duties, artist, cook, etc. shall be provided food, shelter, and other bare minimumnecessities by the temple itself.They should not cook their own meals separate from the temple meals. If they have children, then some minimal allowance may be given according to the number of children. If they want anything extra or over and above what the temple president sees as absolute necessity, then they should work outside—the temple cannot pay for anything beyond the bare necessities.             
                                                         Letter to Kirtiraja Das, Bombay, 12 Jan, 1975
“Bare necessities” is the key term here: in practice, it meant spicy, ill-prepared food unfit for children, squalor typified by no furniture or even proper bedding—sleeping bags without pillows were the norm—and a regimen of deity worship that began at 4:30 in the morning after a shower so frigid that some gurukula students reported being cut by shards of ice.  The swami’s obsession with selling his books came at a very high price for everyone, but the already fragile marriages and the hapless children they produced suffered worst of all.Readers unfamiliar with the culture of the ISKCON movement A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami developed are probably in shock by now and understandably so. It is important to note that the swami had numerous children in the marriage I have touched upon earlier in this essay and so was undoubtedly aware of the responsibilities of a father and husband. Many of these are financial in nature and others grow from the love and security both parents should naturally provide for each other and their children. However, in his rush to market his published works to the public in the West, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami used his disciples as little more than robots, insisting that the main business of his sect was “sankirtan,” which meant hitting the streets to dupe the gullible into purchasing a book or pamphlet that was usually promptly tossed in the nearest trash can. 

He wanted absolutely nothing to do with the practical issues arising from families that were ripped apart as easily as they were formed. Extreme poverty ensued, with ISKCON parents forced to use public assistance of various kinds (medical, food assistance, etc.), with much of it subject to confiscation by temple authorities. The children in the few years they spent with their parents (before being shipped off to abuse and privation at the gurukulas in the West and in India), had few if any toys and either lived with their mothers in the brahmacharini ashram or in a shared apartment where two or three families were crammed in unfurnished rooms.

Actions provoke reactions and when the family is used to promote ideas without consideration for the parties involved, the consequences can be severe indeed. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, who we affectionately called “Srila Prabhupada,” had an ambitious plan to spread his version of Bengali Vaishnavism and carefully constructed an image of himself as a “pure devotee” whose edicts and beliefs were divine in origin and therefore not subject to challenge of any kind. His ideas about women and the roles they should occupy in the Hare Krishna movement were, as I have amply demonstrated, products of an irrational, dark-age mindset that he persistently tried to present as both Vedic in origin and scientifically valid. In other words, he was an ignorant bigot bent on using his hypnotic chanting and prasadam feasts to lure the inquisitive minds of the West into following a social model that is at root nothing more than an assault on reason and, for believers in the Divine, an insult to the Creator who so obviously endowed both men and women with unparalleled reasoning capabilities. 

What really amazes me is why his male followers—many of whom were college-educated—never confronted him about these and other blatantly absurd claims. That they fell under the spell of the swami’s self-imposed cult of personality is clear and that he inflated their egos by filling their heads with notions about the mental, moral, and physical superiority of men is just as obvious. In the final analysis, however, the passive-aggressive attitudes of the men in ISKCON perpetuated a system of abuse that they knew was rotten at the core.

Today, the ISKCON schools serve a primarily Indian population and therefore most use a standard educational scheme, all the while hiding their preposterous so-called Vedic notion of the universe from the parents of these students. It would be interesting for these sincere Hindus to investigate the cult they are supporting so generously and, when they do so, I guarantee all my readers that they will wonder at the brass statute of the founder of the ISKCON movement on the altar of the temple where they worship and start thinking about shifting their donations to another more worthy cause.

[1] The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” in The Complete Prose Works of John Milton, ed. Ernest Sirluck (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 11:258.

See "India’s Unwanted Girls.” 
For a representative example, see: for a representative discussion.

No comments: