Dear Satsvarupa Maharaja
Please accept my respects. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. Like many others, I read about your recent difficulties and in this open letter I want to share with you some thoughts in this regard. As you may remember, I was formerly a sannyasi and guru in ISKCON, but fifteen years ago, due to failing to maintain my vows of renunciation, I felt obliged to relinquish those positions. I believe this affords me some insight into and sympathy for such situations.
Unlike you, my health was sound, but each day I mentally suffered from a loss of integrity, as I had lost confidence in the direction that ISKCON was heading, yet felt compelled, because of my prominent position in the Society, to continue as a cheerleader for the movement. That was my unrelenting "headache," which acted as a trigger for my deviation from my duty as a sannyasi. I believe your migraines acted in the same capacity for you, i.e., as a trigger to initiate the difficulties you have experienced.
In the early stages, my slip-ups went undetected by others, so the devotees thought I was doing just fine. I had discontinued initiations years before, yet with my modus vivendi in place, I never seriously considered stepping down as a sannyasi. I enjoyed the admiration and priviliges of spiritual leadership in an relatively well-established organization, and since devotees were generally humble and trusting it didn't require any elaborate strategies to carry on. Not to say I wasn't trying to serve Srila Prabhupada. Preaching and firing up the devotees gave me plenty of satisfaction. But, without question, my motives were mixed.
When my illicit activities finally came to light, my first reaction was complete denial. This is something else we apparently have shared, for I understand you did not voluntarily offer the information on your transgressions. ISKCON leadership held an investigation into the extent of my contact with the woman, and found a damming "kissing in the lips." I was given over for counseling by the sannyasa ministry. They conceived a plan, including stopping initiations (moot at that point) and a preaching tour of Europe and India, which they felt would get me out of Los Angeles and change my sedentary lifestyle. In your case, retiring from initiating was prescribed, along with staying in the U.S. to avoid the risks of isolation and the solitary therapy you'd received in Ireland.
I agonized over the plan. On one hand it sounded exciting, even liberating. But on the other I felt it was unrealistic. I had violated my sannyasa vows. I knew it and everyone else knew it. So I thought better to give up sannyasa and return to my worthwhile service at the Spanish BBT facing in plain daylight the embarrassment that I deserved. In your open letter of May 10, you say you withheld the truth of your fall down in order to protect your loved ones -- truth being sacrificed for a higher good. Yet the truth has still come out, as it so often does, and you ask for sympathy and understanding for both your fall down and the cover-up. But we all must wonder "what if?" the truth hadn't been exposed? Would you have been able to carry such burden for the rest of your life and die peacefully? How well can one function as a guru while carrying such a burden? Or, would this become the future subject of a third "reform" notebook, maybe the Kaupin Reform Notebook?
Maharaja, with all due respect I find your claim that you hid the truth for the sake of others undignified and unworthy. You should "come clean" in all aspects of this sordid matter, including why you covered up your misdeeds, otherwise it will continue to fester in your soul, and your conclusion that everything is now fine is unconvincing. Might I humbly suggest you take more meaningful action, and consider giving up your sannyasa position. Here you could take a lesson from your god brother Keshava Bharati, who honored the ashram by stepping down and moving to India to continue serving his spiritual master. Or Harisauri Prabhu, who stepped down but has developed a respected career as a writer. In America you have seen Presidents Nixon and Clinton disgraced for their actions in office, but even more so for their lying to conceal their wrongdoing. It permanently stained their presidencies, because they failed to show the necessary strength to confront their misdeeds. In the first letter from your PR office, it said, "the allegations in the letter from Hari are distorted and lack context." Then, concerning having had sex, you wrote: "I honestly said 'no.' Krsna saved us from that." But we all know well how the term "sex" can be manipulated. (Your colleague Salvador Dali believed that he was faithful to Gala due to his very narrow definition of sex). In the end, you admit that, indeed, "we did become physically intimate." Seems like a lot of beating around the bushes for the author of "Truthfulness, the Last Leg of Religion."
By an odd coincidence a few days ago Michael Soden, the CEO of the Bank of Ireland -- yes, that Ireland -- resigned from his post. The reason? He accessed a web site with adult content from his office computer. It isn't illegal to do so but it was against bank rules. And he didn't disclose this himself; he was exposed later -- just like you and me. But to his credit he resigned in order to preserve the high standards of the bank. He was doing a superb job at the bank. And his job description was not as a moral or spiritual leader, yet he resigned. Another lesson to consider.
I ask you, a 64-year-old man, to contemplate what Srila Prabhupada once spoke in your presence, "Whatever we have, that is all right. But we see by experience that they're falling down. Why falling down? Because he was not fit for the position, therefore he has fallen. Better remain in his position and become perfect. Why artificially bring them? There is no need." You tell your followers that you are still their guru and can guide them. I have my reservations. I feel that you haven't being forthcoming with them concerning the extent of your problems, which you describe as a "mistake" and "just one incident." But there were other considerations, namely: -- Not chanting your rounds for an extended period of time. -- Not attending any temple programs for a long time. -- Being distracted by and into mundane activities for a long time. -- Giving such a bad example to your disciples that they knew that you were off. Some of them even rejected you.
-- Being such a bad influence to your own servant that he went bananas. -- Using a married woman for your sexual pleasure. An no one thinks that it was "just one incident" because sex is something that grows into you and has you thinking, planning, hankering and remembering it. -- Forgetting to tell the Sannyasa Ministry about your "mistake" until a younger devotee came forth to reveal it. -- Continuing to initiate after you had fallen down. And finally, even at the risk of overkill, two more considerations for the list: -- Turning to Narayana Maharaja for "higher realizations", then rejecting his association when reprimanded within ISKCON. Was it a mistake to go with Narayana Maharaja, or was it cowardice to leave him? Neither explanation is very flattering.
-- In 1978 you received Pradyumna Prabhu's letter denouncing the acharya charade. Due to your reputation for purity and goodness, he trusted you the most among the leaders of ISKCON. But you turned your back on him and he was driven away, even though ISKCON now accepts his position. What does this tell us about your inclination to fight for what is right? What did you do with his advise and trust? Why didn't you fight to support and protect him the way you are fighting now to preserve your confort and reputation?
In light of these considerations it seems that yours is not a mistake of the past, but something very serious and relevant today. Can you guide your followers in spite of this? This time, please demonstrate honesty, fraternity and respect for others, rather than further hurting the integrity of ISKCON.You will sleep better and die in peace.
A final observation; don't be blinded by the outpouring of support. Such outpourings have a long history in ISKCON, and they invariably lack discrimination; just think of Kirtanananda, et al. Don't be seduced by such misguided emotion and fall in that trap. Some think that you may even be promoting this with your writings. ("You are fighters. You are nurturers. You are my family.") Do the right thing and give us all hope. Tell us all that you are not a sannyasi nor a guru, because you are not. Such honesty is your best legacy to the vaishnava community of the 21st century.
Yours in service
Radha Krsna dasa