Of Corruption At The Highest Levels Of ISKCON
July 22, 2000 VNN6104 VNN
This story URL: http://www.vnn.org/editorials/ET0007/ET22-6104.html
Corruption At The Highest Levels Of ISKCON
EDITORIAL, Jul 22 (VNN)
— (HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami)
The status of the GBC in the eyes of the general devotees is rock bottom and could
hardly go lower. A far cry from the Prabhupada days, when GBC men were practically
worshipped. Those who are responsible for this demise should kindly accept moral
responsibility, or be forced to do so. Unless punishment for abuse is extended
beyond that of child abusers, injustice will be done in the name of justice and
reform will not go to the roots.
At present, deviations by GBC members are simply not
taken seriously enough.
I was told by a GBC member that another GBC man recently slept in a van with a
brahmacarini, and regularly bought flowers for her. But no action is taken. There
is no accountability for the GBC, and thus they can do whatever they like and
get away with it. In extreme cases, they may get a temporary suspension from initiating,
which they don't follow anyway. This is abuse.
The lack of character and moral responsibility in our top leaders created an atmosphere
in which child abuse flourished and was allowed to continue unabated until some
ex-abusees got vocal about it.
Child abuse is the tip of an iceberg of improper behavior
that has led to massive lack of confidence in Iskcon and its leaders, and mass
If Iskcon leaders are serious to truly restore the good name and missionary dynamism
of the society, the first step is that they must have enough courage and character
to own up to their mistakes and be prepared to take the consequences for them.
I am not in favor of punishing devotees, but if at all there is to be punishment,
then it is unfair that --- and a few others are punished for past sins, while
the leaders who presided over the whole catastrophe and whose policies have caused
untold distress to thousands of devotees, not only go scot-free, but continue
to enjoy the honor and position of great saints.
Does not big position bring with it big responsibility? Should not the --- GBCs
accept responsibility concomitant to the unparalleled honor, facilities and personal
finances that have been bestowed on them for so many years?
Even in karmi corporations and governments, it is not uncommon for top leaders
to resign when subordinates make major blunders, especially blunders that are
injurious to people's lives and well-being. Even if the leaders were unaware of
their subordinates' malpractices, they take moral responsibility for it.
The logical extension of this should be a sincere desire to make amends, to reform
and to start a new era of zero tolerance for all forms of abuse, especially that
perpetrated by leaders, whose moral responsibility is greatest and who are therefore
more guilty for any crimes they have committed.
Several top leaders in Iskcon have abused their positions
and scorned the faith placed in them, by deviating from the high standard desired
by Srila Prabhupada. It is therefore in order to also take retroactive action
against Iskcon leaders who propagated erroneous and highly damaging speculations
such as zonal acarya-ism, premature gopi-bhava etc. Those who deviated from their
initiation vows by failing to regularly chant 16 rounds, or who engaged in grossly
sinful activities after initiation, should also have punitive action taken against
them. Child abusers are banned from giving class, leading kirtan, initiating,
or holding any leadership position, and the same measures should be taken against
those who have abused their leadership roles.
We are informed that child abusees often feel placated if they see real measures
being taken against abusers, and if abusers express genuine remorse. Conversely,
they feel disgusted and reject Iskcon if they see gross offenders carrying on
as if nothing had happened. The same applies in the case of abusers and abusees
of all types.
If we accept the concept of psychological abuse, then there is hardly a devotee
outside the top ranks of this movement who was not abused -- especially in the
zonal acarya era. Thousands of devotees who came to ISKCON with hope, later left
or were driven away in bitterness. Excesses by leaders even led to cases of murder
The grossest manifestations of abuse mostly fell on the weaker sections of the
society, namely the women and children. The leaders of ISKCON are surely responsible
for the ethos of abuse they created and presided over. Child abusers in ISKCON
may be victims of misguidance by leaders more than they are criminals.
If we were really remorseful about abuse, we would not punish only child abusers,
but abused of all categories. We show no interest in coming to terms with, for
instance, the shattering abuse that has been perpetrated in the name of guruship.
In light of the profound, all-pervasive abuse that took place throughout our society,
to target only child abusers is biased and hypocritical. Thus, while campaigning
against abuse, we perpetrate more abuse, all in the name of justice.
Reports of child abuse investigations take much care to persuade us of the fairness
of the proceedings. Yet there is inherent unfairness in pinpointing only child
abusers. If there is to be justice and retribution, let it be at all levels.
Why are only child abusers being punished? It is illogical to think that we can
contain the legal effects of abuse by punishing a few individuals. The child abuse
storm may seem like a big problem, but it is only a warning of worse things to
come. Today the ex-gurukulis are threatening legal action, but tomorrow there
may be thousands of devotees suing for psychological abuse. We will be as incompetent
to rebut their accusations as we are with the ex-gurukulis, because their claims
are true. Our movement has a horrible history of abuse.
Srila Prabhupada made a house for the whole world to live in, but we have made
it uncomfortable for anyone to live in, including ourselves. We are all collectively
responsible, and the leaders more so.
We needed a mass catharsis years ago, and it may not still be too late if we dare
to look into our hearts and be honest before Krsna about our massive failure.
But will it happen? Unlikely. The GBC are the perpetrators. How then, are they
going to put themselves on trial? They have already been judged and tried by thousands
of devotees, who have voted with their feet by walking out.
But the GBC goes on with its mutual lauding and platitudes, assuring each other
that everything is basically all right, and that we're really doing a good job
of cleaning up the house. Dear GBC men: is it possible that you open your eyes?
The house is in worse shape than anyone could have imagined.
There are many angry people both inside and outside it, and they can no longer
be easily fooled or appeased.
Unless and until there is a real change of heart, and a genuine attempt to overcome
the terrible mistakes of the past, those angry people are not going to let us
go. We will be smashed again and again until the name of Srila Prabhupada's Iskcon
will be universally shamed and scorned.
In the absence of sincere apologies from anyone for the horrendous and massive
abuse of the past, let's get on the case of all abusers, not only child abusers.
(BTW the same thing is going on today--devotees known to be spiritually sick are
allowed to go on initiating. Is this not abuse of the prospective disciples?)
However, I maintain that if we are really serious about cleaning out abuse, we
should do so at all levels. It is imbalanced, at best, to come down heavy on child
abusers while neglecting the widescale abuse that pervaded our whole society.
If I am cynical, I am not alone in my cynicism. Everywhere, devotees are expressing
discontent with the way things have been going on for the last so many years.
Many senior leaders, including temple presidents, sannyasis, and even GBC men,
have expressed to me their discontent with the state of the movement and with
the policies and attitudes of the GBC. I am not one to go looking for tales of
discontent, but nevertheless hear enough of them to understand that there is something
basically out of sync in our movement.
Many devotees have resigned themselves to living and working in an organization
in which they feel uncomfortable, but feel helpless to change.
My personal experiences in trying to communicate matters to the GBC have been
In response to my recent postings, a senior and respected devotee wrote to me:
> I very much enjoyed and appreciated reading this
from you, Maharaja. I
> share your anger. My specific service is ****, but I completely agree that
> there is deep corruption and hypocrisy in ISKCON leadership, and
> practically the ISKCON so-called leaders are the only ones who don't see
> it, and thus devotees more and more do not try to take shelter in the GBC,
> as the GBC body does not command respect, and in fact has become a
> laughingstock, at best, and perhaps an abject tragedy. Hare Krsna.