4. Confession, a Religious Act. A concealed provocation.

When Mr. Shenkar started his little anti-Vrindavan Today mission, in a rather grandiose fit of hubris and malevolence, possessed by the spirit of some other kind of self-righteousness, he decided to "out" Jagadananda by reprinting a 20-year old letter I had written to Nirmal Chandra and Bhaktimati Devi Dasi, both of whom I had known as devotee children when they were babies and I was just a new devotee in Toronto. To see their pain about the abuse expressed in such a public way brought out many reflections that had come to me as a result of my experiences in Iskcon and the various Iskcon Gurukulas I had been involved with for most of my time in the movement. This was also after five years of living in Nabadwip and spending another eight or nine years in university in Canada and London, so I had had plenty of time to reflect on these matters.

The letter thus reflects my state of mind at the time, and it is quite true that the experience in Iskcon's Gurukulas had been a tremendous learning experience that affected my entire way of looking at Krishna consciousness; it was one of the principal background forces that led me to take initiation from my guru, Sri Lalita Prasad Thakur, in 1979.

It was a difficult call for me to write the article that is reproduced below, as were basically all the things that I wrote as a result of Alexander's desire to stir the pot. I felt the best policy was to not feed the trolls. And that is something I will mention again. Indeed, even now, there is great reluctance to "get in the mud" with these people. Don't rassle with hogs, my boy, you'll both get covered with muck, but the hog will enjoy it.

Alex did very well for the site, cleverly recognizing the art of attracting flies with stool and how that works in the world of today's internet, the two of his articles about Babaji [responses to which I will post next] went pretty viral for Vrindavan Today, and he still is the beneficiary of Google's patronage as the real site. Anyway, you can go over there and read for yourself what in search of clicks he has shamelessly said was an admission to being a child predator. Muckslinging as it were. A call from the hog to do battle.

This then was my considered response that I published, a bit contrary to usual policy, on the Vrindavan Today site itself a few days afterwards. I posted this picture of myself, in great part to remind people that this was a long time ago and a lot has changed in the last 40 years, need I say? There is also something on that young Iskcon body that says to me, "Bhakta Demian." Something about that curl in the lip.

It does help to be aware of how people change. One person, of the unforgiving spirit, allowed themselves to be enraged by my acts and unmoved by my remorse. In the original letter I wrote about having been beaten in the Muslim attack on the Mayapur Chandrodaya temple in 1977, not long before Prabhupada left the planet.

There is nothing like a good beating to get one thinking. But the person had the kind of unforgiving mood that is really the theme of this entire series of articles.

I said, "I guess you had to be there" because I though that unless such people can have the catharsis of actually beating the child abuser, the embodiment of all evil, with bamboo staves, they will never be free from the inchoate anger inside them that so insidiously latches itself onto an external object. Any one will do, really, but those objects that engage one the most viscerally are the ones that cry out for activation.

So the confession twenty years ago came first. The translation of that into "self confessed child predator" is, in today's world, about as low a blow as one can possibly make. To give it the time of day is surely a waste of time, since the glories of "framing" are that once you have made a wild accusation like this, it tends to stick. And if you publicly counter it, you simply strengthen the framing idea. Nevertheless, since the issue did come to preoccupy me, I decided to state why I had written that letter in the first place.

And I also started with a preamble. It seems I am addicted to long preambles.

Although Vrindavan Today started out as a blog, it was never intended to be a personal one, but one that chronicled the activism of the Braj Vrindavan Heritage Alliance. My personal blog Prema Prayojan is kept quite separate from this one.

Nevertheless, due to recent events, I thought it might be good to respond a little to those who decided to use their illegal control over the original VT website to spread unpleasant half-truths about two of the members of the editorial board, namely Mahant Sri Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji Maharaj and this humble servant. I think it will be necessary for me to say something in glorification of Babaji Maharaj, whom I consider both a friend and colleague as well as a guru, but that is not this article.

The article in question (to which I deliberately am not linking) salaciously and sensationally stated that I was a "child predator," based on a letter I wrote more than twenty years ago, when I first became fully aware of the child abuse scandals that were rocking the International Society for Krishna Consciousness -- and which have unfortunately not entirely stopped.

Needless to say, it is a preposterous accusation and has no basis in fact or reality, and no proof of such behavior was or can be shown.

Since I had been a Gurukula teacher in ISKCON from 1972 to 1979, including responsibilities for the Mayapur Gurukula from 1975 onwards, I had a direct experience of the early days of that institution's efforts at educating its children and my own role therein. That letter can be found here. Seeing the turmoil many of the former Gurukul students were in, I thought it necessary to show remorse for my participation in those failures and to try to understand what had caused them. This led to a more intense life of introspection than would have perhaps ordinarily happened. At any rate, those introspections have led to a philosophy of life that I try to embody today.

Most of those who read the letter conscientiously were not fooled by the attempt to frame it in a way that would sully my reputation and diminish my service to the Dham as the founding editor of Vrindavan Today. Many people wrote to me and also publicly said that they found the posting malicious. But these events have made me reexamine what I was when I did those things and what I am now, and to see whether I have made any progress over the years. So altogether I am not ungrateful in the slightest that the whole matter has been brought up again.

Vaishnavacharya Shrivatsa Goswami
with son Suvarna Goswami
I went yesterday to consult with Shrivatsa Goswami, the most prominent member of our editorial board. At some time I would also like to speak the glories of Shrivatsa Goswami Maharaj, but I that too will not make it into this article. I will save that for another day. [Plenty of archives]

Maharaj said that there is no real need to respond to the public defamation of our character. He said such things are a permanent feature of life, and it was better to keep aloof and be careful not to stoop to others' level.

Maharaj recounted a story of his grandfather Damodar Shastri Goswami who was a leading pandit in Benares in the early 20th century and greatly respected for his scholarly translations of difficult texts. At one point, false accusations of some wrongdoing were used against him in public, but he remained silent. When asked why he was allowing people to do so, he said "because others wish to roll in the mud does not mean I should do so."

Goswamiji went on to say that the important thing is not to deviate from the original spirit of Vrindavan Today, i.e,. that of giving everyone "a daily dose of Braja raj," and not use it for any personal vendetta or to settle scores, or any other base motive. The important thing is to keep the purity of purpose of Vrindavan Today and nothing will be able to do any harm.

I said that I was in complete agreement and that was more or less what I was ineptly trying to say in my editorial about swans and crows a few days ago, "The Holy Places of the Swans and Crows."

He also talked about the Vaishnava's natural humility and how developing this quality is integral to the sadhana of prema. It is a rule to say mat-samo nāsti pāpātma ("I am the greatest sinner") when doing parikrama. That is not just an external act, but is an essential part of one's spiritual training. So I said, yes, I think I need to talk about that a bit, so that is the purpose of this article.

I was brought up in the Catholic religion. One of the sacraments of Catholicism is called confession or penance. Catholics are taught to practice self-examination and then to reveal in confidence their shortcomings to a priest, who gives them a penance to perform and absolves them.

This practice is not common in Hinduism, though I have heard that in the ancient Buddhist vihars, it was a regular practice among the monks as a purificatory rite. In the West today the practice survives to some extent in psychoanalysis, but this is generally not available to ordinary people, as it can be very expensive. But the principle of speaking and confessing one's guilt was considered salutary. People who make grave mistakes that go against the public conscience are expected to make sincere apologies or they are marginalized or ostracized.

Although some people mock the act of confession as an empty or artificial ritual that can even become exhibitionist, all truly religious people recognize that admitting one's past sins and making some amends for them is a necessary part of self-understanding and self-reformation. If not done, we have the very human tendency to justify and normalize our misdeeds and thereby become anchored in negative habits, strengthening the very samskāras that keep us in bondage to Maya. Indeed, to recognize one's fallen state is the beginning of all spiritual progress.

It is furthermore an act of recognition that every human being is not only susceptible to the six enemies of kāma, krodha, lobha, māna, moha, mātsarya, but is factually capable of the worst kinds of atrocities. According to the Bhagavata philosophy, every conditioned soul is susceptible to the gunas. Without recognizing that, what is the point of mere pretense at saintliness? From Catholicism I learned that the fact of our existence is that we are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God. This is, of course, not a particularly popular notion in the modern world.

Some people accuse me of spiritual ambition because of my activities on the internet, and of course in the spirit of the above paragraphs I will not deny that the desires for fame and adoration lurk in my heart as much or more than they do in anyone else's.

I am a scholar and a writer, so naturally I have a public profile, petty as it may be. Nevertheless, I have always considered it more important to be pure in heart and honest in my self-analysis rather than presenting myself as a miracle-working savior or incarnation. In fact, when I wrote this letter some years ago, I knew very well that the day would come when it would be used against me. When I wrote the letter, the Turley class action case against ISKCON was proceeding and it was clear that I was putting myself at some personal risk even then.

You could say that it was an act of self-sabotage for my ambitions to be guru.

There is a much-circulated story about Gandhi I heard, though it is too archetypal to be his story alone. A woman came to the Sarvodaya Ashram with a problem child and complained to the Mahatma that he was too gluttonous for sweets and would he please tell him to stop. The Mahatma asked the mother to come back with her small son in a week. He needed to do a week's introspection on the gluttony within himself before he could tell anyone else to stop being a glutton.

Precisely for that reason I think it is more important to be truthful than it is to make a show of learning or humanitarian service. I will say that as a Gurukula teacher I honestly had the good of my students at the forefront of my mind, to the best of my knowledge, but my knowledge was inadequate, whether of the self or of the world, or of God. My heart was still not a pure and still place of selfless love. Let it be a blot on my past, but my future is under the protection of Sri Guru, Nitai-Gauranga, the Divine Couple, their sakhis and this holy land of Vrindavan.

I don't think I need to make this very much longer, but I would like to quote a song by my worshipable Parama Gurudeva from Śaraṇāgati. I admit, I find it a bit over the top. I think he intended it as a kind of checklist. But a friend, a former Franciscan monk, sent it to me recently. So I thought to do honor to his reminder, I will give it as a meditation here:

Jai Sri Radhe! Jai Sri Guru!

āmāra jīvana, sadā pāpe rata,
nāhiko punyera leṣa
parere udvega, diyāchi je koto,
diyāchi jīvere kleśa ||1||

My entire life has been absorbed in sinful activity. I have caused som much anxiety to others, causing so many living beings suffering.

nija sukha lāgi’, pāpe nāhi ḍori,
doyā-hīna swārtha-paro
para-sukhe duḥkhī, sadā mithya-bhāṣī,
para-duḥkha sukha-karo ||2||

I have never feared sin if it serves my own pleasure. Devoid of all compassion, concerned only with my own selfish interests, it hurts me to see others happy. I am a constant liar, and others' misery gives me pleasure.
aśeṣa kāmanā, hṛdi mājhe mora,
krodhī, dambha-parāyana
mada-matta sadā, viṣaye mohita,
himsā-garva vibhūṣana ||3||

The material desires within the core of my heart are unlimited. I am wrathful, devoted to false pride and arrogance, intoxicated by vanity, and bewildered by worldly affairs. Envy and egotism are the ornaments I wear.

nidrālasya hata, sukārye virata,
akārye udyogī āmi
pratiṣṭha lāgiyā, śāṭhya-ācaraṇa,
lobha-hata sadā kāmī ||4||

Ruined by laziness and sleep, resistant to all piety; yet enthusiastic to perform wicked acts.

For worldly fame I practice deceit. I am overcome by greed and lust.

e heno durjana, saj-jana-varjita,
aparādhi nirantara
śubha-kārya-śūnya, sadānartha-manāḥ,
nānā duḥkhe jara jara ||5|| 

So wicked I am, rejected by godly people, a constant offender,

Devoid of good works, forever inclined toward evil, worn and wasted by various miseries.

bārdhakye ekhona, upāya-vihīna,
tā’te dīna akiñcana
bhakativinoda, prabhura caraṇe,
kore duḥkha nivedana ||6||

Now in old age, deprived of all means of success, humbled and poor,

Bhaktivinoda submits his tale of grief at the feet of the Supreme Lord.

Now I think I need to confess a little more. I don't think that this meditation on one's own sins is the mood of Vrindavan. BUT, it may be a necessary step to cross the frontier from the external Vrindavan to the internal one. That is the process called anartha-nivritti.

Here is a bit of bad faith on my part, that I must admit here. The Franciscan monk in question is Bhakta Demian himself. The reference here is to an earlier exchange I had had with him. But the bad faith is that I knew I was provoking him, should he read my article. And that, my friends, is my original sin in this matter, for which I must seek absolution by writing these articles. 

Planting a tree with Jagannath Poddar. Jai Vrindavan Dham!


Prem Prakash said…
I've always admired a man who is willing to air his dirty laundry in public, especially if it is done to heal or rectify. I think the purpose of a public confession depends on the target audience. Being modest and humble before one another makes us intimate. Others may use that intimacy to drive their agenda. So be it. What can we really do about them?

In my experience, internet debates rarely resolve. The parties end up speaking about rather than to each other. I've seen a number of times where someone thinks if he can only type in enough caps he'll get his logic across to his recalcitrant opponent, who will then grovel and admit his wrong.
Jagadananda said…
Jai Radhe, Prem Prakashji.

I wouldn't really call it "airing dirty laundry." But that is semantics. With regard to internet debates, well I guess you can see what I am going through.

It is an exercise in trollology. Today we will look at a "concern troll."

I am taking this in the following way: God is coming to me in the form of the troll. That is my current lila. Mysterious are the ways of the Lord.

Jai Radhe.
Prem Prakash said…
Radhe Radhe, Jagadananda dass,
Yea, I agree about the phrase, I've just always liked the image!
I offered my comment as a gesture of admiration and support. It sounds like your bhava is solid. Mysterious, indeed.
For those of us who appreciate your work, this lila has been a great blessing because you are posting more than ever.

Popular posts from this blog

"RadhaKrishn" TV serial under fire

Getting to asana siddhi

What is sthayi-bhava?