Thoughts on a lesson in sakhya

This is a post that has been somewhat long in coming, but I think that it needs to be done and said publicly. A few weeks ago I posted on this blog an article about Vishwananda Swami, the founder and acharya of Bhakti Marg.

I had my doubts about posting it and knew almost immediately that I was headed for trouble. When I talked to Satyanarayana Dasaji, shortly after which I removed the article, he said to me in an exasperated tone,
प्रयोजनमनुद्दिश्य मन्दोऽपि न प्रवर्तते
prayojanam anuddiśya mando'pi na pravartate
Even a fool does not undertake an action without having some purpose to fulfill.
So what was my purpose in writing such an article?

Well, I have to admit, that I had not really thought it out carefully. For one thing, I just wanted to write something. I was going through a somewhat dry period and I felt that I really should write anything at all.And since Swami Vishwananda had been around, I decided to write about what I had seen and thought and heard.

But my article, being written in a journalistic style, was rather shallow. A critic would say, justifiably, that I had "phoned it in."

I have reposted it in an edited form, for which I hope no one will be offended, as I still think that it was worth thinking about this friendship, and indeed how friendship works. And for that I have to thank Satyanarayanaji especially, but also Vishwananda Swami.

Now the thing that really struck me in all this was the idea of friendship. Satyanarayana Dasaji has proven his friendship to me on a couple of occasions, as well as his character, i.e., his character of friendship. For example, I was very impressed by Ananda Gopal Das Shastri's testimonial to me about how when he had a heart condition and needed an operation, Babaji took full responsibility for costs and so on. Ananda Gopal Dasji nearly broke down when he spoke of the extent to which he felt indebted to Babaji. They of course had become friends through their common love of Vaishnava shastra, the Sanskrit language and the Goswamis.

Not long before Vishwananda came to Jiva this time, a Western devotee came to Satyanarayana Dasaji and spoke ill of me, reciting a litany of semi-truths and a number of downright interesting lies of the type that easily could become tasty fodder for the gossip mill. Whatever the case, Babaji sent that person packing, backing me up fully.

The point is, of course, that Babaji could very easily think that being associated with me is damaging to his reputation. Already before the above incident someone came and told him that I was preaching Sahajiyaism and illicit sex 24-7 and that my participation in the Sandarbhas work would be disastrous, as nobody would go near them on account of my association with the project. Babaji had a clear answer for him also, "Nobody cares for my books in ISKCON or the Gaudiya Math. I am on their blacklist, so what should I worry about what they think? They already think the worst!"

And, to be honest, that is exactly what Babaji told me here also. I had been thinking as though ISKCON and orthodoxy and everyone else who is bound by sectarian rules matters. Babaji clearly said Vishwananda is his friend and that stands above the rules made by institutions and sects.

And Vishwananda Swami shows that this is mutual. A few months ago he came with a number of his disciples from Europe and Africa to participate in Babaji's Mahanta inauguration. His disciples were an important part of that very festive celebration, especially in providing enthusiastic kirtans for several hours. Vishwananda Maharaj himself sat quietly without drawing any attention to himself.

When I say "I phoned it in" I really mean it. I had ample opportunity to talk to Vishwanandaji and address any concerns I or anyone else might have had. I could have stated my intent to write something to Babaji. That might have made a decent article. But instead, I wrote like an outsider and that was a mistake of friendship. If you decide to make public statements about your friends, you had better be doubly careful if the friendship is meaningful to you. It is what you call a conflict of interest.

I was still working another angle... the scandalous. It was based on an attitude of distrust. But my mistake was not to think, "The friend of my friend is my friend."

Now some people, with that journalistic spirit, the digging-up-the-dirt spirit, could have done a number on Vishwananda. It is almost impossible nowadays for even the slightest dirt to remain a secret. My Lord, I am surprised that there is no page dedicated to revealing my sins, true and imagined to the world.

The most popular article on this blog is one I wrote about Kripalu, which was in the vein of an exposé as well as a philosophical interrogation into the issues it raised. Not long after I wrote this Vishwananda article, I received a call from an Indian friend of mine who happens to be a disciple of Kripaluji. A very learned gentleman with remarkable openness. Of course, we had talked about these issues before.

And the two verses came up, as they must, in such discussions.

api cet sudurācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk |
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ samyag vyavasito hi saḥ ||
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā śaśvac-chāntiṁ nigacchati |
kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati ||

Even if a person of very bad behavior worships me with undivided devotion, he is to be thought of as saintly, for he has the proper resolution. He quickly becomes righteous and attains everlasting peace. O son of Kunti, let it be known that my devotee never perishes. (Gita 9.31)

satāṁ nindā nāmnaḥ paramam aparādhaṁ vitanute
yataḥ khyātiṁ yātaṁ katham u sahate tad‑vigarhām |

To blaspheme the saintly is a supreme offense to the Holy Name,
for how will the Name tolerate insults to those who spread Its glories?

I have been thinking that we don't really approach the "offense" question correctly. Maybe the verses themselves emphasize a negative rather than a positive. But the point is that those people who establish the path and who bring people onto it are doing a positive service. That is, unless you think that religion itself is the source of all evil -- as many people today do. I think that it is better for people to come to the devotional path, even if it is imperfectly taught or exemplified. And those who manage to do so are worth more than those, however pure, who choose to criticize them.

But the fact of the matter is that a devotee who eschews gossip and mundane talk has to give up journalism. The journalist is always tempted to highlight the negative as he appeals to those who seek the "truth", and as we know, the truth is always a skeleton in the closet. And search long enough, you can always find some dirt, true or imagined.

I made an attempt at journalism with Vrindavan Today. My concept then was not to start a Vrindavan smut rag or gossip sheet. But it is hard to avoid that kind of thing when you are engaged in journalism. And from the very beginning that Vrindavan Today, whatever its brilliance as an idea, it was not my real calling. I want to be a real Vaishnava.

It is my greatest good fortune that at this time in my life I have the opportunity to work in security and comfort for people of quality like Satyanarayana Dasaji and Swami Veda Bharati.

I would like to do more independent teaching and preaching, and perhaps one day I will. But in the meantime, I will try to learn what it means to be a friend. And try to become someone whose heart has no place or time for gossip (nindādi-śūnya-hṛdam).


Anonymous said…

All that is true will stand, all that is false will fall.

The truth is always spoken between friends of good standing.

Real friends do not fall away when truth is spoken.

There is an old Egyptian idiom expressed by the crook (wisdom) and flail (morality) crossed above the heart, with the end of the beard also touching this juncture:

"The mouth that speaks truth must first strike true upon one's own heart before it's words strike true in the hearts of others."

Anything less than the truth has no place between good friends...
Anonymous said…
How much have you grown and learned in the last 40 years?

I ask this because it appears you have come full circle, and are back to being the same fellow who considers it moral to cover up for a friend whose improprieties are hurting others.

You appear to have learned NOTHING from the gurukulis and their suffering, despite much earlier hand-wringing to the contrary.

Instead of learning the lesson, "Choose your friends wisely and do not speak of what you don't know," your blog post admits that you learned the lesson "If your friend is a scoundrel, speak palatable things to cover for him and preserve your friendship."

Abandoning such hypocrisy is a pre-requisite for the first rungs of bhakti. What does this say about your last 40 years of practice?
Jagadananda Das said…
Indeed Anonymous 1. I agree with you. And this is why the first article was a mistake, because I did not talk to him about it. After talking to him, I felt it necessary to write this article.
Jagadananda Das said…

Well, you have certainly stated with clarity the moral dilemma. There are a great number of issues involved, one of them being faith itself.

If I believe that Vishwananda is doing more good than bad, or better yet, in the circumstances, that Satyanarayana Dasaji so believes, should I not give him the benefit of the doubt, as a friend? Does friendship not bestow at least this much credit?

I trust Satyanarayana Dasaji's moral integrity and judgment from my personal experience.

Another important point I made in the article is that I myself am a dubious character morally, at least in terms of public perception. I am like SN also a persona non grata in Iskcon and the Gaudiya Math.

I have openly called myself a Sahajiya. There are people who believe I am a danger (not too many thank God) and are willing to slander me on any pretext, but SN defended me.

Am I an angel of goodness and impeccable morality? Have I never done anything wrong in my life, or at least could be so judged? My life is a morass of mistakes after another, I am sorry to say. I am a product of my mistakes. Why should I become a crusader for the truth? The only truth I have is my own.

I believe in my own sincerity or good faith, and in the midst of accusations of hypocrisy, if my friend says, "I trust this man as fundamentally honest or good" in my defense, does that not make me indebted to him?

And this, I might add, Babaji did without even asking me whether the accusations were true. Is that not the way a friend acts? Can I not trust him, that as he acts towards me, so he acts towards another? I know Satyanarayana well enough to know that he is a good brother.
Jagadananda Das said…
Now as to the question of whether I have learned the lessons of the Gurukula.

Perhaps not. There are a great many lessons to be learned, and they reach far into the workings of evil.

I am not ready to compare this situation with that. In my opinion, if Satyanarayana Dasaji trusts him, then I assume that Vishwananda is serious enough not to abuse his trust. And if it is naive to do so, then I am sure that when his naivete breaks, he will do the right thing. And I will back him then because his primary motives were always good.

In SN's mind, Vishwananda is a Vaishnava who respects the Goswamis and their teachings. He is willing to hear from SN and he expects his disciples to think of SN as a siksha guru.

I guess I have taken a stand for Vaishnava etiquette rather than journalistic truthseeking.

Let there be no abuse. Let Love truly rule. Let it not be a slogan just to inflict pain. Let us be honest in love, I certainly agree with you and I will do everything I can to stick to that principle.
Anonymous said…
Hiranyagarbha Lingam Vomited by Vishwananda!

Interesting! One of Vishwananda's "miracles" is that he vomits Hiranyagarbha Lingam!
Anonymous said…
twenty-five years ago, in hard times, in London, I was called into the temple off Tottenham Court Rd in London.

I still don't know who it was - some great swami - who named me, after a year of intense Bhakti, Jagadanda Das.

I was very young then, studying Pharmacology. During that time I was with Krsna I almost gave up on pursuing the rest of my degree.

One day, in light, I was told through my heart, that I had other things to do. That when I had finished those things, I would know, and perhaps I would come back.

Last year I went to Sri Mayapur, a long, long journey, and stayed only a few days, incognito.

It was a wonderful experience.

I know nothing of the ways, have no initiation except the name given, I can't even remember who gave me the name.

I have chanted all the days since I met Krsna in that small place in London. I have experienced grace and guidance in my life.

I have no reason in writing this comment other than, I came across your blog this morning, and have been reading, and reading and reading.

Devotion and Humility shine through you like a Sun, even across such a tenuous connection such as this.

Know in your heart, that your words, your love and your honesty have reached a servant and humble African Devotee

I feel blessed and radiant reading this blog and seeing your photographs.

Hare Krsna.

Jagadananda Das said…
Thank you very much. It is nice to receive such nice comments from a namesake. There are many of us Jagadanandas in the world. Let's hope that if not alone, then together, we can make our name meaningful. Jai Radhe. I was in London from 88-92 at SOAS in the Tottenham Court area.
Anonymous said…

As a result of my twenty plus year experience with Gaudiya Vaisnavaism I can spot a fraud a mile off and Vaiswananda is most certainly a fraud. Just look at the golden egg vomiting videos on You Tube! Why? Why? Why?

Just because Satyanarayana Dasji vouches for the cheat doesn't mean he is not one. If Satyanarayan Dasaji says a cat is a dog doesn't make the cat a dog even if the cat is his friend. Please trust your own judgement after all you are an intelligent man. Learn to think for yourself. I have seen so many people, including myself, capitulate their sense of wrongness to a supposedly more advanced devotee's opinion only for the sense of wrongness be vindicated much later.

Check out the following link:

I now reject all god men (gurus) as I believe there is something in their psychology that is frightenly disturbing. Being a guru must be so seductive. Imagine having people whorshipping you, feeding your need to be a god man. I have watched many gurus in the gaudiya world closely and remain suspicious of them all.

You've spend enough time in the Gaudiya world to have asked yourself why someone worships another as guru. There are people in England today still whorshipping Jayatirtha. Why? Why? Why?

I have read your blog regularly over the years and learned a lot about the Gaudiya world for which I am grateful. The article above is, for me, the final nail in the coffin of my attachment to Gaudiya Vaisnavaism as it confirms, after Satyanarayan's support of Vishwananda, my suspicion that all Gaudiya groups are tinted with degrees of corruption.

I fell in love with Gaudiya Vaisnavism years ago but it's leaders have lead me to believe it is all just fantasy. Ah well, you live and learn...

Anonymous said…

Please don't censor my posting. Be brave...let it be seen.
Jagadananda Das said…
When one makes a decision, one has to stand by it.

Those pictures were from 8-10 years ago. As far as I know, Swami Vishwananda no longer does this kind of thing.

We will be monitoring the situation.
Prem Prakash said…
Jagadanandaji, You are a good friend to others and I respect your struggles to be a friend to Satyanarayan dass. Being a good friend might also include pointing out when a friend has a blind spot. When things hit the fan with this kind of person, as they always do eventually, your friend will be included in the list of those who gave him shelter and a platform. More problematic, perhaps, he may then be disqualified in the minds of many people who might otherwise come to him to answer the age-old question, "How did I get so burned?" They won't want his help because he will be associated with the problem.

In the Ramayana, Hanuman is noted for being able to spot a phony regardless of his disguise. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong, and it's not a case of journalistic indulgence, to identify problems or falsehoods.
Jagadananda Das said…
Of course, dear Prema Prakashji, this article itself is a fruit of such discussions with Satyanarayan Das. The upshot is that I trust his judgment. And if he is wrong, then I trust that he will do the right thing to compensate.

Let me just say that Satyanarayan is no fool. I have known him for many years now: He is a very determined and highly intelligent and spiritual individual. He has one ambition and that is to serve the world and God through translating and spreading the teachings of Jiva Goswami.

Vishwananda I have only met a few times, and generally I tend to shy away from charismatic individuals. But I see that he respects and honors Babaji. If Babaji has any calculation in all this, it is that he thinks that Bhakti Marg people could use a little guidance philosophically. Vishwananda seems to agree with him. If Babaji teaches those disciples proper siddhanta, there will be no scope for abuse.

Most people assume the worst about Vishwananda Swami, and I did also. I happen to trust Satyanarayana Dasaji's judgment over conventional opinion. If I am wrong, it won't be the first time. But sometimes it is better to be wrong than right.
Jagadananda Das said…
BTW, nice to hear from you, Prem Prakashji. Did you get the book?
Anonymous said…
Those pictures were from 8-10 years ago. As far as I know, Swami Vishwananda no longer does this kind of thing.

As recently as September 2014, during his joint appearances with Satyanarayan Das, he was "manifesting" rings for his devotees.

South Africa Journal

Notice that the guests are not being told to consider Satyanarayan Das their teacher, nor their guru's teacher; typical is the reported response, "There was much that one could take away from the discourse." These people are filtering Satyanarayan Das's teachings through the prism of Vishwananda's teachings, not the reverse.

What will happen when one of these followers asks Satyanarayan Das to "manifest" something? Will he comply? Or will he acknowledge that he has a lesser status/power than Vishwananda?
Anonymous said…
"If I am wrong, it won't be the first time. But sometimes it is better to be wrong than right."
On this sentiment, my friend, we agree. How many times was I sure about something only later to be shown I was a fool. Everything we claim to know is tainted by our own fallible subjectivity. But, by God's grace, that's how we go forward. I'll say this, though, if I walked onto a used-car lot and a guy like V came towards me, I'd ask for a different salesman.

Still no book.

-Prem Prakash
Jagadananda Das said…
I will admit that these things concern me also, and I will communicate whatever you say directly to Babaji. As for the rest, I plead as above.
birkhauer said…
Hare Krsna! Speaking of offenses Sri JagatJi, is it one to have a pariprashna regarding a quote that i come across transcripts and in the 'BG as it is' regarding Sri Arjuna being "defeated" by Lord Shiva?
Here are the links to the quote:

Srila Prabhupada says and i quote"So Arjuna was claiming, and Lord Śiva as a hunter, he was also claiming. Then there was fight between Lord Śiva and Arjuna. So Lord Śiva was defeated. So he then disclosed his identity that "I am very much pleased that you (are) such a nice fighter."

Perhaps from this transcript quote, the final purport in the 'BG as it is' also states and i quote "Arjuna was a famous fighter, and he attained fame by fighting many great demigods, including even Lord Śiva. After fighting and defeating Lord Śiva in the dress of a hunter, Arjuna pleased the lord and received as a reward a weapon called pāśupata-astra."

I fail to comprehend why this error is included in all the editions for all these years, when clearly in the Mahabharata the prasanga is quite different and infact it states the opposite, that indeed Lord Siva defeated Sri Arjuna and then pleased with his penance and courage, granted his desire of recieving the Pashupat-astra.
Is there some other shastric evidence which states that Sri Arjuna somehow defeated Mahadev?
And is it an offence if I, who considers Srila Prabhupada as my Guru, ask this question with humility and genuine desire to find out the facts?
Jagadananda Das said…
Such things are trivial and when they stop being trivial they cause problems way beyond their importance. If someone had reminded Prabhupada while he was dictating this, he would no doubt have said, "Of course, slip of the tongue." So why is there a problem? You tell me.
birkhauer said…
Jai Sri Hari! JagatJi, that this is no doubt an error is not what i am pointing out. What is puzzling me, is why should this as you say 'trivial' error therefore not be corrected for the last 40 years and over 1 million copies in the english language itself in circulation. Its a valid question, and why is it that my motives are being questioned and not the thing itself?

Lets say JagatJi, for arguments sake, that i am holding some grudge against Srila Prabhupada (i dont) and lets say i am doing this not out of genuine pariprashna
( i am), does it invalidate the point brought to light?
Srila Prabhupada has advised us to read the 'BG as it is' multiple times, and i am on my 3rd reading. Thats all, and anyone doing due diligence will see this glaring inconsistency in Tattva.
It is Srila Prabhupada and our whole Gaudiya Vaishnav Guru Parampara that have precisely taught us with full logic why it is impossible for any Vibhannansha Jiva's to defeat any of the Svansha expansions of Sri Bhagavan.
So then whats the problem in correcting this prasanga mentioned JagatJi is my question.
i am not one of those people (although i can understand where they are coming from ) who had an argument with Srila Prabhupada about some "billions of servants for a king" quote from the Bhagavatam that they were trying to understand if it was accurate and Srila Prabhupada said something to the effect of "take my word for it that it was so, and dont pay attention to this, look at the most important things to learn about Bhakti...."etc, i fully get that.
I am hooked to aspire for Suddha-Bhakti towards the Divine Couple, and nothing is going to change that!
But you are much much wiser than me JagatJi, and its not that i dont get your point as well, absolutely i do. I am not so foolish as to base my faith on some typo's or mistakes in grammar or occasional misogynistic statements etc etc.
This is why i asked the question in the end of my original reply. My gratitude towards Srila Prabhupada, Srila Sridhara Maharai, Srila BV Narayana Gosvami Maharaj and so many other elavated Vaishnavas including your esteemed self JagatJi, will never be shaky, i can always reconcile as you are instructing me to. Its just interesting to me, and maybe i am speculating and you can call me an idiot and i will gladly accept it, but it seems that this is perhaps not such an innocuous misstatement after all. You may thing, ah this fool is diging his own grave, but please allow me to continue. Is this something to do with the animosity that i keep hearing about between Shaiva's and Vaishnava's that may have lead to keeping this statement intact? Is this the context? Of course you dont have to answer that JagatJi. Part of being a kanishtha adhikari is you can openly make statements that show your stupidity and the other elders can brush it off saying ah, he is a fool and he will learn. I came to the wonderful world of G.V. through Iskcon only in 2010, and it has been a wonderful enriching and empowering journey, and i am still on it.

Jagadananda Das said…
It is a mistake. If they don't understand and accept, it shows the degree to which they are unwilling to use their intelligence to understand things. But don't let things of this sort, which are relatively minor, distort or color your perception of the ultimate goal.

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