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The children were awarded very little free time. Their lives were regimented down to the minute.
Dear Sri Rama dasa,
I am writing in response to your Chakra article dated December 6 directed towards Ragunatha Stocker, now a symbolic representative of all the abused children of ISKCON’s past. Your message was that Ragunatha was making a grave mistake by participating in the upcoming class action civil suit against ISKCON. Regardless of whether he or any of those you addressed take your advice, this lawsuit has gone far past the point of no return -- not because of the opportunistic lawyers, but because persons like you and the GBC failed many times over to listen to their heartrending stories.
Your historical hindsight regarding “root causes” for the failure of ISKCON/GBC’s gurukulas has some validity from a gurukula administrator’s vantage point. As I understand it, that is/was your primary service over the last 25 years. Your recollection focused on how the school managers suffered due to a lack of money, which was compounded by the shortage of qualified personnel. As I hear it from the victims, they suffered from the absence of love and affection (Bhakti).
Your use of Srila Prabhupada’s quote, “Poverty brings out a person’s worst qualities”, was very applicable, but not in the way you intended. As I understand it, the children weren’t very disturbed over the simple living conditions. However, they were very negatively affected by having to observe their teachers/administrator’s channeling the limited resources towards their own needs rather than the students, including food, clothing, living accommodations and personal time.
The children were awarded very little free time. Their lives were regimented down to the minute. This degree of control and disparity was the opposite of their previous family life, where parents generally gave their children more, not less. In reality, the assumption that seems to have been made by our application of Vaisnava philosophy was that the children would realize the principle of loving service by being forced to serve the teachers, instead of by observing the example of the teachers in service to them.
You complained about the confusion amongst the leaders over the practical execution of Srila Prabhupada ‘s vision for his gurukula. You even manifested quotes from Srila Prabhupada’s correspondence to educational leaders in an attempt to demonstrate why it was in the past that you supported policies, which are now highly controversial. However, you failed to note that the essential ingredients in Krsna consciousness, bhakti and common sense, were sadly lacking among the staff.
Incidentally, a few years ago I reacted in a similar manner to you. My twenty-nine-year old daughter confronted me about her experiences in Dallas, Seattle and Philadelphia. I was the Temple President in Seattle [1975-1978] when its school was open. I always thought that I had done a good job and that there was no abuse. In due course, I closed my mouth and listened carefully. I learned a great deal. I suggest you try this method.
The essential complaint I continually hear is that no “authority” attentively and lovingly listened to the children’s voices. Your claim that the GBC didn’t know about the abuses until 1988, even though you yourself acknowledge that they unquestionably go back to the mid-seventies, illustrates this point. After hearing attentively to those seeking justice, I conclude that they simply wish their stories to finally be heard, without being told that their childhood experiences are invalid.
According to you, these persons should dismiss their long held negative impressions by maturely understanding all the complex socio-economic factors you present in your public letter to Ragunatha. Please keep in mind that these impressions happened when they were youngsters and you were an adult. Face the facts: Gurukula staff instilled a lasting negative impression of Krsna consciousness in many, if not most, of our children. In addition, you subtlety but surely laid the blame for their suffering at the feet of Srila Prabhupada by offering quotes (from personal letters only) that seemingly indicate that Srila Prabhupada set the standards and principals by which the gurukulas were run.
You argue that over-simplification by gukukula alumni is the cause of this lawsuit. Ironically, this court case is headed-up by children of previous ISKCON leaders, including my daughter and Jagadisa’s son, (previous long-standing GBC Minister of Education). As I have heard, your stepdaughter is also involved. You seem to be unaware that many of these adults, previous ISKCON gurukula students, suffer core damage due to long-term deprivation of personalism. Krsna consciousness is based on this simple principal -- the philosophy of personal-ism.
Expert socio- psychologists, like the world famous Alice Miller, confirm that young children, especially “gifted ones”, can easily see truth from un-reality. They also have an instinctual fundamental need to be assured that they will be properly fed, kept warm and physically protected. This human requirement was ignored while the children were in the gurukula. They were well aware of their parent’s inability to assist them. They felt helpless and alone. No one appeared to care. Neither parents nor administrators chose to pay attention to their plight. Now we have to pay the price.
In your letters, I think you are lulling the members of ISKCON into complacency by failing to bring forward the following important facts:
1) There is no statute of limitations on child abuse or murder, therefore pre-1988 occurrences are admissible. We can observe how the various governments, companies, religions and institutions that benefited from the Nazi regime are still being held accountable, despite the passage of fifty years.
2) The “sweeping under the carpet routine” was going on for nearly fifteen years prior to 1988, and especially from 1978 until 1986, known as the zonal-acarya era. In your letter, you admit that “many” but not “all” of the current GBC are in sympathy with the gurukula alumni’s plight. Coincidently, these unsympathetic GBC’s are also the major “disciple” holders, thanks to their exclusivity between 1978 and 1988. We are left with the impression that the old timers remain unrepentant.
ISKCON chose in 1986 to “reform” those involved in the zonal-acarya debacle instead of removing everyone implicated and making a clean start. Consequently, anything that took place prior to 1986 remains the responsibility of the present administration.
There is a clear link between the two phenomenon of child abuse and unrestrained power in the hands of a few megalomaniacs. It’s undeniable that Kirtananandana and Bhavananda were recognized by the other zonals to be dyed in the wool pedophiles, and their perverted underlings also abused children with their approval and protection. It is important to note that both oversaw the Vrindaban gurukula. Bhavananda was also in charge of the Mayapura gurukula and Kirtanananda in New Vrindabin. Both relocated pedophiles from their local schools to Vrindabin.
3) In 1978, GBC/zonal acaryas unceremoniously removed Srila Prabhupada ‘s appointees to the Vrindabin gurukula and replaced them with abusers.
Vrindaban gurukula was established to replace Dallas as ISKCON’s international school. Consequently, there were many western born boys attending. This is contradictory to the statement made in your letter that after Dallas was closed down all the North American schools were strictly regional. You insinuate that the parents were close by in the community, and therefore have some responsibility for what went on in the schools. Surely you know this is not true.
For example, the Seattle school manifested directly after the Dallas children were disbursed. We were asked to admit children from all over the continent. In 1978, the GBC ordered the Seattle school be uprooted and moved to Philadelphia, strictly to accommodate their own political agenda. A few years later it was moved again, to Lake Huntington. During the whole time this school existed there were children from all parts of the country, as well as international students. The local New York GBC, the flamboyant, extravagant pedophile Bhavananda, closed down Lake Huntington due to lack of financial backing. Many of the boys were sent to Vrindabin or New Vrindaban. Bhavananda and Kirtananada, being homosexuals, didn’t care much for the welfare of young girls.
These historical truths are common knowledge. By your failure to include them we can only wonder whom your letter was intended to convince.
Following are a number of practical reasons the children were treated impersonally, and more harshly than even the rank and file adult “worker bees”:
1) For many years, ISKCON management pursued very short-term goals. Witness the many ridiculous moneymaking scams. The education of children is/was a “long-term” project. In other words, the children were initially a drain on limited resources, and their basic needs were consequently ignored.
2) Compared to the adult bhaktas, children were harder to keep under control with the clever use of various aspects of philosophy. They weren’t so understanding or respectful of institutional hierarchy, thus more physically “persuasive” tactics were employed.
3) The devotees taking care of our children had to live with the stigma of being in a lesser service than the moneymakers (sankirtan devotees). Their service didn’t offer the same glamour or excitement.
4) Young unmarried women put in charge of girl’s ashrams had their maternal instincts agitated. They naturally wanted their own children, which first required a suitable husband. Consequently, the emotional state of some was unstable. One moment they were motherly, the next angry, harsh, and moody. Their bodily circumstances (like monthly periods) were ignored by the authorities. The children were confused by such inconsistent behavior. They tended to blame themselves for the unhappiness of their teachers, parents, and fellow students.
5) How were single young men (brahmacaries) compelled to be ashram teachers of small boys? If they were heterosexual, then the factors experienced by the women also apply to them. This type of service runs contrary to the basic principles of brahmacary life. It is hard to believe that the administrators had so little concern as to the ulterior motives of many of the male volunteers?
Prior to 1988, the administrators appear to have never seriously studied or analyzed the many abuses going back to the mid-seventies in an attempt to determine the obvious symptoms and patterns. Consequently, they repeated the same mistakes time and time again.
The ignorance of the part of the GBC/zonals was a dark shadow cast over the entire society, including the children’s education and well-being. It appears, Sri Rama dasa, that as the present GBC of Education you are reluctant to highlight this sordid history for obvious reasons of conspiratorial solidarity.
As a long time friend of Jagadisa dasa, an ex-GBC and Minister of Education, I recall in the late 70’s a number of conversations in which he confided in me his frustration in being able to make any substantial changes to the gurukula system due to resistant pressure coming from zonal gurus. They wished to maintain complete control over what they envisioned as “their personal gurukula.”
Although Srila Prabhupada wanted his society to be a place where “all” could find shelter, in your letter you stated that the single-most negative factor responsible for Srila Prabhupada’s gurukula system failure was a false belief that mandatory participation in gurukula was to be enforced, whereas surrender to Krsna is a voluntary process based on free will. More than just a great over-simplification, this is a typical manipulation of the philosophy and an obvious unwillingness to accept responsibility.
Krsna consciousness is the natural inclination of every eternal spirit soul. The karma of the child is that they were born into devotee families. The Sankirtan Movement of Lord Caitanya is a joyful experience of chanting, dancing and taking sumptuous prasadam. Add some academic activity to this transcendental mixture and where is the problem? A child isn’t in a position to make an existential decision to surrender. They need and accept parental authority. The foolishness of the administrators was to introduce a full blown sadhana program tailored for advanced adult devotees -- one which many gurukula staff had difficulty following -- and superimpose it on these young children. The children were forced to be awakened from their sleeping bags on the floor at 3:30 am, then hustled into cold showers, chanting japa, sitting still for over a hour listening to Srimad Bhagavatam classes, after five hours sitting down to an unappetizing breakfast. Due to the morning program, the students had to take rest before 6:00 pm, consequently they had very little play time. This routine would quickly discourage even a precocious Brahminical child.
Wherever he visited, Srila Prabhupada almost always inquired into whether the devotees were happy. It is a fact that a great majority of the children were perpetually unhappy. The teachers chose to ignore this chronic state of mind. Judging by results is the hallmark of common sense.
In your letters you state that Srila Prabhupada was opposed to physical punishment, and the parents, teachers and leaders very well knew this in 1984. The headmaster of the International School in Vrindabin India, Dhanadhara Swami, didn’t seem embrace this commonly known instruction. The local GBC, Bhavananda, as well as the GBC in charge of gurukulas, Jagadisa, had ample opportunity to observe Dhanadhara’s (de Sade in saffron) severe use of physical enforcement. During that period, Bhurijana was a permanent teacher in Vrindabin. There was also a constant parade of visiting senior leaders to Vrindabin and it’s Gurukula. Still, no one did a thing to rectify the situation.
You claim that the instigators of lawsuits are the ones being hoodwinked by “downright demoniac mentality.” You now choose to find the American legal system to be at fault. With all its apparent shortcomings, it’s still far superior to ISKCON’s primitive “third world” judicial system… a different standard for the rich and powerful. It’s ISKCON’s lack of rules for any “due process”, presumption of innocence, equal access, etc., that has infuriated the children of ISKCON.
You say, “Why throw away all the good will and sympathy of those who are ready to help?” From my conversations with the accusers, the American lawyers are far more expert, pro-active, sympathetic, and willing to listen to they’re plight and stories. More than anything else they are powerful enough to achieve something tangible compared to the sympathetic pro-GBC representatives. It seem they are ones ready to help.
ISKCON’s failure to cultivate a second generation committed to achieving Srila Prabhupada’s goals throws up a wall of worry about the future. This is further exacerbated by the GBC’s lack of objectivity, honesty and humility in analyzing what went wrong and coming up with a practical plan on how to make things right.
You like to portray yourself and your associates as “innocent souls simply trying to do their best under difficult circumstances.” The actual innocent parties are the abused children and from you they get little sympathy. In your eyes the legal case is not seen as a reaction for past wrongs, but as a mistake by the immature, unsophisticated abused. You even warn them of the karmic consequences for taking this course of action.
I could applaud your efforts to protect children during the 90’s. Still, you fail to take responsibility for being shortsighted. You should have foreseen the inevitability of delayed reactions to the abuses of ISKCON’s past totalitarian regimes. Many sociological studies demonstrate that abused children don’t muster-up enough courage or develop the necessary degree of sophistication so as to publicly proclaim the trauma of their hellish experience until they come to their adult years. In the final analysis, Krsna provided many opportunities to rectify this situation since Srila Prabhupada left. This child abuse issue is one of the many symptoms of a totalitarian mentality. A confessional recognition that it would have been much better to challenge and changed the entrenched and corrupt power base within the GBC way back in the late 70’s. The class action suit is simply one of countless reactions we can expect to suffer due to the major mistakes that were made. Discounting the seriousness, attempting to gloss over the core truths these are but futile efforts to reconcile what we must acknowledge is a dismal history and relationship with our children.Yours in the service of Srila Prabhupada, Rocana dasa
© CHAKRA 16-Jan-2000
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