Is Blind And Ignorance is Bliss
Srila Prabhupada: "So we are accepting Krishna as
God not on blind faith but because His character and activities are mentioned
in the Shastra. And we should use the same process to determine who is a genuine
spiritual master: not by blind faith, but by reference to Shstra."
Faith we must have, but it must be faith in that which is authorized. It is not that we have blind faith, but that we accept something that is recognized. The conclusion is that blind faith in a particular mode of nature cannot help a person become elevated to the perfectional stage. One has to consider things carefully, with intelligence, in the association of a bona fide spiritual master. Thus one can change his position to a higher mode of nature.
Faith Is Blind And Ignorance is Bliss
By Hrishikesh Dasa | Published 03/21/2007
New Vrindaban has been in the news during the last few months, what with recent eyewitness disclosures from Janmastami about Radhanath Swamis alleged involvement in and support for the 1986 murder of Prabhupada disciple and dissident New Vrindaban resident Sulochan, and subsequent statements from both camps attempting to confirm or refute Janmastamis allegations.
I lived at the New Vrindaban Community from August 1978 until April 1994, when I decided it was time to move on. During my tenure there I served not in senior management, but in much more humble capacities: Palace Construction and Gold Leafing, Gurukula Ashram Moderator, Sankirtan Party Leader, Co-Director of Palace Publishing, Director of Music, Director of Palace Charities, Public Relations Assistant, etc. I was not privy to behind-the-scenes discussions and events not meant for the common devotees eyes, but I did witness a good many significant events, and recently have discussed New Vrindaban history with many former and current residents, and heard more than a few believable and unbelievable eyewitness stories.
This essay-and others which may follow-is not meant to disclose sensational stories and create a stir, but merely to reflect in my mind upon those times when I served Kirtanananda Swami and Sri-Sri Radha-Vrindaban Chandra faithfully as a devoted Bhaktipada disciple and inmate of New Vrindaban. The thoughts in this essay are a result of me trying to make sense of my life at New Vrindaban. What was I doing? What was I helping to support? A bonafide spiritual community guided by a pure devotee, or a criminal enterprise disguised as a religious community guided by a charlatan? Or perhaps a mixture of both?
Some of my godbrothers and sisters claim that New Vrindaban was Almost Heaven-a spiritual community of sincere Vaishnavas, despite the faults of its leaders. Others claim New Vrindaban was a cesspool of illegal activities. For many years I believed New Vrindaban was more of the former than the latter; but today I begin to suspect that New Vrindaban might have been, as prosecutor William Kolibash claimed in 1991, a criminal enterprise rampant with illegal and immoral activities.
Certainly I had heard about and seen and even participated in some criminal activity during my time at New Vrindaban. But we never thought we were criminals; we thought we were propounding the highest morality by serving Krishna. For instance, in 1978, when I was still a bhakta, I was quietly notified by a fellow devotee that a van full of members of Reverend Sun Myung Moons Unification Church were visiting New Vrindaban. Parambrahma, a member of senior management at the time, greeted our distinguished guests and gave them a private tour of the Palace-Under-Construction. While they were thus distracted, Vrindapati, the community blacksmith and metal-worker, broke into their van, cracked open their safe, and stole their money to give to Krishna, where it rightfully belonged at the Lotus Feet of Sri-Sri Radha-Vrindaban Chandra.
After their tour, when the Moonies returned and discovered the burglary, they complained bitterly to the devotees and demanded their money back, but everybody just played dumb. Huh? You say your safe and money was stolen? Must have been some local hillbillies. Welcome to West Virginia!
This was not a crime secretly committed by one individual; it was authorized by community leaders and gleefully enjoyed by many members of the community. Although I was a new devotee and not even initiated, I was proudly told about the theft, even while it was still happening.
I was taught that the Moonies were our mortal enemies, especially in the parking lots, as they competed with us for the best spots. Muktakesh, one of New Vrindabans biggest pickers, taught me what to do when I saw a Moonie in a parking lot: approach them innocently, offer to make a donation, show them a big bill like a fifty, ask for $40 in change, grab the money and run. When I got the opportunity to try this, the Moonie refused to let go of his cash after I grabbed it, so I just drove off out of the parking lot into the street still holding his money. The Moonie held on to the money with his right hand and with his left hand he hung on to my side mirror with all his might. I thought Id shake him off if I speeded up to 50 or 60 mph, so I gunned the gas and zoomed down the road while my sankirtan partner laughed heartily, but we did not get the last laugh, as a police officer just happened to be sitting there on the corner and noticed the Moonie hanging on to the side of my van for dear life. Within a few moments sirens wailed and red and blue lights flashed in my mirrors, and I had to pull over and stop. We were escorted to the local police station where the cops had a big laugh when they listened to our stories: The Krishnas ripping off the Moonies! This is one for the books. The police made me give the $40 back to the Moonie, then they let us go and told us all to get out and stay out of town.
What New Vrindaban resident can claim that they never went out on the pick? Even Radhanath Swami, one of the most advanced, most renounced and most loved inmates of New Vrindaban, sometimes went out on the pick with us. Radhanath liked to joke: Whenever I go out with a traveling sankirtan party, their collections decrease! We sankirtan devotees loved Radhanaths association, as he was always telling stories about Krishna and Lord Chaitanya.
And we sankirtan pickers were fond of hearing and telling the story about the time Radhanath was picked up by the police for suspicious activity. He had gone into a bank with the weekends pick of several thousand dollars to purchase a cashiers check to mail to Dharmatma, and the bank employees became very suspicious because he was dressed in shabby clothes like a homeless person. They wondered: how did he get all this money in one and five dollar bills? He must have stolen it.
Another experience at New Vrindaban which I never forgot, but did not completely understand until recently, was when Hayagriva, in the company of Kirtanananda and some other male devotees, attempted to ascertain my opinion about gay sex so they might perhaps invite me into the New Vrindaban Practicing Homosexuals Club. It was in the summer of 1978, a few days after I had become freshly shaved. At that time I was a 160-lb. physically fit attractive twenty-two-year old with a great tan, as at New Vrindaban we often went shirtless in the summer heat.
I was walking from Bahulaban to Prabhupadas Palace-Under-Construction, when Kirtanananda pulled over in his jeep and asked, Want a ride? I replied in the affirmative and hopped in the back of his truck, squeezing in with the spare tire and a few bags of cement. Kirtanananda was driving. Hayagriva sat in the passengers seat. The back seat had two or three other male devotees. I squatted in the trunk with the spare tire and cement bags, trying to get comfortable.
There was an interesting conversation going on about homosexuality. Hayagriva was acting as a protagonist, proclaiming-in a reserved uncommitted manner-the glories of the gay lifestyle: Some say that homosexuality is not a sin; it is an inborn genetic disposition which results in sexual attraction between members of the same sex. I hear it can be a stimulating and fulfilling activity between consenting and likeminded parties engendering great pleasure and even ecstasy.
Another devotee in the back seat, who I do not remember, acted as the antagonist. This devotee replied to Hayagriva, Not necessarily so. The scriptures condemn the practice of homosexuality as immoral and unhealthy and an abomination to God and man. Even the Bible with all its faults soundly condemns those who practice these gross and disgusting activities. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God as punishment to those who perpetuated these unnatural acts contrary to God and Nature.
But Hayagriva did not seem convinced, and he defended his position, Yet some say these scriptures are based on primitive and antiquated assumptions and superstitions about sex; that sex is meant only for procreation. Yet the desire for homosexual relations is not chosen by the individual, but is God-given. Why should not those who are blessed with this orientation be allowed to enjoy sexual pleasure with their own kind, as heterosexuals are permitted to enjoy intimate relations with the opposite kind?
Kirtanananda conspicuously remained silent during the entire conversation as Hayagriva and the other devotee argued back and forth. Suddenly the conversation paused, and Hayagriva looked at me and boomed in his stentorian voice: Bhakta Hank? What do you think about this? What is your opinion?
I reflected a moment before answering. I had several gay friends in college, even a roommate. Some of my professors were also gay. I knew this because they thought I was hot. Three or four college professors and at least two students had expressed their desires to have a sexual relationship with me. Although I was flattered, I had to respectfully decline their propositions one after another, as I had no innate sexual attraction for men.
I replied to Hayagrivas question with confidence and boldness, offering my frank viewpoint on the matter, and hoping to please Kirtanananda and the assembled Vaishnavas, as I had already heard several classes by Kirtanananda condemning ANY type of sex life: I think homosexuality is GROSS with a capital G! I once had a college professor who asked me to sleep with him, and I couldnt look him in the eye again! I lost so much respect for him. Maybe for others its OK, but NOT FOR ME!
Hayagriva muttered a long Hmmmnnn, and that was it; the conversation abruptly ended. There was a strained and uncomfortable silence in the vehicle. I was a bit curious why the conversation had stopped so suddenly, as I thought the discussion was interesting. Several times I had heard devotees engage in mock debates; one taking the personalist and another taking the impersonalist side. I thought this discussion was like that. But there was no conclusion to the debate. Everyone remained silent for the remainder of the ride.
After a minute or two Kirtanananda abruptly pulled over in front of the Palace and I hopped out to do my service of gold-leafing the column capitals in the kirtan hall. I thought nothing about the conversation again for many years; until recently.
At the time, I did not know what was happening, but now I understand that I was being tested. Gay men thought I was hot. If I had responded favorably to Hayagrivas question, I believe I would have been invited to experience an entire realm of underground New Vrindaban life which most likely had existed from THE VERY BEGINNING of the community ten years earlier in 1968, and continued unabated for nearly 30 years until Bhaktipada finally left New Vrindaban for prison in 1996.
There were other signs of sexual decadence. One former gurukuli told me that in 1978 Kirtanananda asked him and another boy (age 11 years) to shower together stark naked in his apartment on the fourth floor of the Bahulaban Ashram Building with the shower curtain opened while Kirtanananda lustily stared at the two boys.
Another sign: one mother told me her son at the New Vrindaban Gurukula exclaimed to her once during a 1979 visit with his mother: Guess what! While you were gone I was selected to be Kirtanananda Swamis personal servant for a week! And do you know what? He fondled my genitals! The mother chastised her son: Youre in maya! Bhaktipadas a pure devotee! Dont you ever say any nonsense like that again or Ill chastise you severely!
She was not alone in her blind devotion for Bhaktipada. I think nearly all of us believed he was a pure devotee, except for those few members of the secret inner sanctum like Hayagriva who knew him intimately, and a few other rare souls like Sulochan who saw through his show bottle pretending. And because of our blind faith, we were really blind: blind to reality and living blissfully ignorant in our imaginary world of make-believe.
One openly gay Unitarian minister came to visit and live at New Vrindaban in 1990. He was an intellectual and a lover of fine music, and he and I had interesting conversations. He, a man not following the regulative principles, told me he could plainly see that Bhaktipada was a practicing homosexual, based upon his observations of Bhaktipadas public flirtatious personal exchanges with his young blonde and handsome man-servants. (Sita-Love tells me she sometimes saw Bhaktipada tickling one 18-year-old personal servant, Bhakta Paul, in the temple hallways. She thought something was creepy about it.)
Although the Unitarian minister could see what was happening, we, who were supposedly following the regulative principles, could not see. It is said that it takes one to know one. The minister was incredulous when I told him that Bhaktipada was a celibate monk and engaged in no sexual activity, even on the mental platform. Yet the minister wasnt fooled for a minute; he wouldnt believe my protestations to the contrary. At the time I thought the minister was envious. But no, we Krishna devotees were blind and he, the less-advanced Christian, could see.
We believed that anyone who didnt follow strictly the regulative principles could have no knowledge or vision. We felt superior. We had knowledge. We had vision. We were in possession of the absolute truth. All others were inferior. That was one reason why we believed Sulochans allegations were nonsense and blasphemous. He sometimes smoked marijuana, therefore his allegations about Bhaktipadas sexual deviations must be untrue. But in the end who was in greater illusion: Sulochan or the faithful Bhaktipada followers?
Because of our blind faith in Bhaktipada, we were also blind to anything which contradicted our blind faith. This was true from the humblest devotee to the most exalted sannyasis. My godbrothers Jagannath Misra, Devavarsha and I traveled to India with Bhaktipada to the Mayapura Festival in February 1982. Bhaktipada was at the peak of his power. He was recognized and worshipped as one of the great ISKCON gurus; the leader of the largest community of devotees in the western world. We enjoyed hanging around Bhaktipada in his room in Mayapura, massaging his feet, serving him, running errands, etc. We thought this was the perfection of our lives.
Years later Devavarsha told me that during this 1982 trip once he was sitting alone with Bhaktipada in his room at Mayapura, just hanging around. Bhaktipada was reading a Back to Godhead magazine. Devavarsha told me after a while Bhaktipada got tired of reading, and then suddenly and unexpectedly became playful. Bhaktipada rolled the BTG into a tube and thrust it under his dhoti by his crotch, making it look like he had a huge erection. Bhaktipada smiled and waited to see Devavarshas response. Poor Devavarsha was completely bewildered. totally shocked and confused. He had no idea how to react. It was so unexpected. What was going on? Why was Bhaktipada acting that way? Was he dreaming? Devavarsha was such a mental guy anyway. So he just sat there dumfounded for a minute, and then silently left the room.
So what did Devavarsha do in his confused and bewildered condition? He did what any sober and responsible devotee would do: he consulted a respected and senior Vaishnava for advice. Devavarsha went to Radhanath to reveal his mind in confidence. He told his story, and the poor fellow was again shocked and bewildered (twice in one day) this time by Radhanaths reaction: Radhanath became terribly angry, like Nrisimhadeva, and (according to Devavarsha) Radhanath roared at him fiercely: How can you say such blasphemy! You are completely mental and insane! You dont deserve to be in this holy place. I cannot stand to look at you! You are so fallen and base! Dont you ever speak like that again or Ill have you thrown out on the street with the beggars and urchins!
To this day, 25 years later, Devavarsha says he still has resentful feelings toward Radhanath.
I tell this story not to discredit Radhanath, but only to show how blind devotion blinds even a great soul to the facts of reality. I have great fondness and respect for Radhanath Swami. He has helped many thousands of people. But even he was not perfect. Even he was in illusion; covered by maya. In this way, due to our blindness, Kirtananandas aberrations continued unabated for many more years.
Yet can we honestly blame Radhanath for this? We were all trained to shut our ears when we heard criticism of the spiritual master. Prabhupada said many times that one cannot criticize the spiritual master. A devotee should not be disturbed by the activities of his spiritual master and should not try to criticize him. A devotee should be fixed in the conclusion that the spiritual master cannot be subject to criticism and should never be considered equal to a common man. Even if there seems to be some discrepancy according to an imperfect devotees estimation, the devotee should be fixed in the conviction that even if his spiritual master goes to a liquor shop, he is not a drunkard; rather, he must have some purpose in going there. (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya-lila 3.11, purport)
Vaishnavas are not unique in this deliberate and intentional practice of ignorance. All religions attempt to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ. So tenaciously should we cling to the world revealed by the Gospel, that were I to see all the Angels of Heaven coming down to me to tell me something different, not only would I not be tempted to doubt a single syllable, but I would shut my eyes and stop my ears, for they would not deserve to be either seen or heard. Epictetus, Discourses, Book I, Chapter 2.
To rely on the evidence of the senses and of reason is heresy and treason. It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs. The fanatical Japanese in Brazil refused to believe for years the evidence of Japans defeat during World War II. The fanatical Communist refused to believe any unfavorable report or evidence about the USSR, nor was he disillusioned by seeing with his own eyes the cruel misery inside the Soviet promised land. Similarly, the fanatical New Vrindaban residents refused to believe that their beloved pure devotee saintly spiritual master was breaking the regulative principles despite testimony from eyewitnesses.
Neither the mother of the child who claimed Bhaktipada fondled my genitals, nor the newly-initiated sannyasi who was approached by a bewildered neophyte disciple who claimed his guru acted out some inappropriate sex play in his Mayapur suite could see the plain truth right before their faces. All maintain their faith by closing their eyes and ears to the facts of life. We could not see what was as plain as day to others, like Sulochan.
It is the devotees ability to shut his eyes and stop his ears to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. After I sent Tirtha in prison one of the articles published by the Sampradaya Sun, he wrote back and replied to the effect, Do not send me any more of this garbage.
The loyal devotee cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. Strength of faith manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move. And it is the certitude of the devotees infallible doctrine that renders him impervious to the uncertainties, surprises and the unpleasant realities of the world around him.
My question is this: If so many devotees were in complete illusion for so many dozens of years, and were unable to see facts clear as day in front of them, how can we know today, after they have risen to positions of great power and responsibility, that they are now suddenly free from illusion and error?
When Sri Galim, the former pedophile headmaster at the New Vrindaban Gurukula, lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I would sometimes visit him for kirtan and prasadam. Sometimes he would complain to me: I dont understand why Ive been exiled from New Vrindaban for allegations of child molestation, when they pay Kuladri-who conspired in Sulochans murder-$60,000 to $80,000 a year to help manage the community. Its not fair. If hes allowed there, I should also be allowed to at least visit New Vrindaban. Ive never been convicted of any crime.
I replied, Life is not fair, prabhu. You were exiled because dozens of former gurukulis pressured the community to banish you. I dont think the New Vrindaban leaders have any bones to pick with you, but I imagine they thought it was in their best interests to pacify the gurukulis. But who besides you is complaining about Kuladri working at New Vrindaban? I think hell be there for a long while, as long as the board of directors think hes worth the money they pay him.
But what about killing for Krishna? Bhaktipada often preached in class that a devotee could kill for Krishna. After all, he explained, Krishna recited Bhagavad-gita to incite his illusioned friend and devotee warrior Arjuna to kill his family members who had somehow taken the opposing side at the battlefield of Kuruksetre. If a devotee disobeyed Krishnas order to kill, the devotee was in maya.
In fact Bhaktipada spoke so frequently about this topic when I was a new bhakta in 1978 that I sometimes wondered, I dont know if I have what it takes to be a devotee. What if I was asked to kill my own father? What would I do? Could I do it? Clearly, as we later heard from Tirtha and others, this was not only a theoretical question, but a terribly real and practical question for the continued protection of the New Vrindaban empire.
However, we cannot blame Kirtanananda solely for the atrocities committed at New Vrindaban. Without devout followers and competent lieutenants, New Vrindaban would never have expanded beyond the original 132-acre parcel of land, and the brahmacharies today would still be living in the run-down barn and bathing in the creek.
Religious movements, such as New Vrindaban and its parent ISKCON, have many similarities with other mass movements, such as patriotic movements and revolutionary movements. They are not identical of course, but they share certain essential characteristics which give them a family likeness in a taxonomic sense.
All true mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; and all of them demand blind faith and single-hearted allegiance. Though there are obvious differences between the fanatical Christian, the fanatical Muslim, the fanatical Hare Krishna, the fanatical Communist, and the fanatical Nazi, it is yet true that the fanaticism which animates them may be viewed and treated as one.
All these fanatical movements had a leader to guide and inspire the masses during the active phase of the movements, before they became institutionalized. The Apostles Peter and Paul were the two primary leaders of the early Church of Christianity; Muhammad was the founder of Islam, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin were the leaders of Soviet Communism, Adolf Hitler was the leader of Nazi Germany, and Kirtanananda was the leader of New Vrindaban. Let us examine the similarities between the leaders of various mass movements. What qualities might Kirtanananda, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and the other leaders of mass movements have had in common?
Eric Hoffer eloquently answered this question in The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature of Mass Movements (1951): Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable. The main requirements seem to be: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness; a recognition that the innermost craving of a following is for communion and that there can never be too much of it; a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. This last faculty is one of the most essential and elusive. The uncanny powers of a leader manifest themselves not so much in the hold he has on the masses as in his ability to dominate and almost bewitch a small group of able men. These men must be fearless, proud, intelligent and capable of organizing and running large-scale undertakings, and yet they must submit wholly to the will of the leader, draw their inspiration and driving force from him, and glory in this submission.
All these qualities of the successful mass-movement leader were present in Kirtanananda to a great degree. Kirtanananda (1) delighted in defying his competitors (ask any other ISKCON leader who had to deal with him), (2) he had an iron will, (3) he had a fanatical conviction that he was Prabhupadas only successor, faith in his destiny as the founder of the Worldwide Cities of God and Savior of the World soon to be destroyed by nuclear holocaust, (4) he had hatred toward those who opposed him, (5) contempt for the present as evidenced by his austerities, (6) a cunning estimate of human nature and ability to engage everyone in a service according to their propensity. (7) Kirtanananda delighted in pomp and ritual, especially Guru-Puja, (8) he possessed unbounded brazenness, and (9) he astutely recognized that all his followers had to develop, as much as possible: (10) a bond of devotion for the deities, (11) love for him, their spiritual master, and (12) a taste for chanting, dancing and feasting, in order to experience some of the bliss of Krishna Consciousness (communion with the divine) to stay happy, content, loyal, and ready to sacrifice everything for their Lord and the Spiritual Master.
Yet Hoffer claimed that the ability to dominate and almost bewitch a small group of able men was one of the most essential and elusive qualities of a leader of a mass movement. Who were Kirtananandas able lieutenants who managed his empire in America and India? Kuladri, Dharmatma, Parambrahma, Radhanath Swami, Devamrita Swami, Vedavyasa Swami, Paramahansa Krishna Swami, Nathji and Mahaprabhu were the most influential, although many others, Sudhanu, Adwaita, Gargarsi, Nityodita, Tapapunja, and myself to a limited extent, served in management in various capacities. How can we place all the blame on Kirtanananda when it was we who kept the New Vrindaban Worldwide gears turning despite many warning signs about his corruption since the 1970s? It was not until September 1993-after the Winnebago Incident exposed Kirtanananda without question of doubt-when Radhanath, Devamrita, Nathji, Mahaprabhu, myself and many others finally shed our blind faith, and only then we rejected Kirtanananda completely.
But by 1993 much damage had already been done. Molestation of children, abuse of women, widespread selling of illegal drugs in New York and California to pay for the marble for Prabhupadas Palace, even murders of dissenters. Can we honestly claim complete ignorance and say we are not also partly responsible? At the Nuremberg trials could Hitlers lieutenants-Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, Erwin Rommel, Rudolf Hess, Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, and Heinrich Hoffmann-claim ignorance and say they were not also responsible for the atrocities of the Third Reich; that they were only obediently following the orders of their Führer and Master?
Perhaps the best we former New Vrindaban inmates can do is to admit we were blinded by our own blind faith. We REFUSED to believe anything else.
And it appears that today some in and out of ISKCON are still blinded by their faith in order to protect their faith and the faith of others. As one writer recently posted on the Sampradaya Sun: All these things better be left in the past as they will do us no good to contemplate further. Actually R. Swami is giving shelter to many sincere devotees that are all serving the mission of Srila Prabhupada. Is it proper to shake the faith of such persons?
What can we conclude? Faith is blind and ignorance is bliss. Hare Krishna!
Hrishikesh (Henry Doktorski)