by Chand Prasad, Ph.D.
Shrila Prabhupada did not timidly admit that ISKCON is a cult. He boldly and repeatedly declared it. How could anyone claim he did not know he joined a cult? ISKCON likely started as a beneficial cult, then degenerated into a malevolent cult to the detriment of its members, both old and new.
Shrila Prabhupada’s stated objective is to preach the cult of bhakti. The question that remains is Prabhupada’s role, if any, in imposing the undeniably harmful cult characteristics that are well documented in the literature on ISKCON. The addendum to Volume 1 of Gold, Guns, and God does not give a balanced, even-handed treatment of Prabhupada’s alleged complicity in the creation of a detrimental cult we know ISKCON to be.
Doktorski contends that Prabhupada fit the definition of a cult leader: “Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was by all accounts a strong and charismatic leader who controlled the power hierarchies and material resources of ISKCON.” [p. 282, Kindle page numbering, bold mine]
Actually Prabhupada did not put himself at the center. More than himself, Prabhupada stressed Krishna, the line of disciplic succession, and his obligation to follow the orders of his own guru which entailed spending time on translating scriptures, rather than controlling the power hierarchies of ISKCON. I doubt we will ever have full and honest accounts of ISKCON’s financial transactions, meaning the extent to which Prabhupada controlled the material resources of ISKCON is unknown and unknowable. Prabhupada’s disciples raised enormous sums of money, but it is not clear if all of those funds were disclosed or given to Prabhupada. Prabhupada was marginalized and possibly poisoned (murdered) by his own so-called disciples. ISKCON escalated its efforts to push Prabhupada aside after his physical departure.
The Addendum does not explain that ISKCON’s corrupt managers have proven adept at misusing Prabhupada’s words to protect and expand their positions, even as they deviated from his principles. A classic example is the no gossip rule [p. 288]. Any mention of a leader’s impure behavior can be labeled “gossip” or envious fault-finding, which, as the Addendum incorrectly suggests, is prohibited by Prabhupada. Actually, Shrila Prabhupada discouraged unnecessary talking “prajalpa”. Fortunately, calling a thief a thief is in the category of necessary speech, as indicated in Prabhupada’s purport quoted below:
“According to social conventions, it is said that one can speak the truth only when it is palatable to others. But that is not truthfulness. The truth should be spoken in such a straight and forward way, so that others will understand actually what the facts are. If a man is a thief and if people are warned that he is a thief that is truth. Although sometimes the truth is unpalatable, one should not refrain from speaking it. Truthfulness demands that the facts be presented as they are for the benefit of others. That is the definition of truth.” [Bhagavad-gita 10.4-5, purport]
Corrupt leaders twisted rules against unnecessary talking to censure truthful devotees. The fake gurus conveniently neglect to acknowledge that Shrila Prabhupada recommends calling a thief a thief, or a deviant a deviant. For this, I cannot blame Prabhupada. In my humble opinion, Prabhupada gave us more than enough ammunition to challenge politically motivated ISKCON leaders who cloak themselves in robes of renunciation and spirituality.
Although Vaishnavism is a bona fide religion, any philosophy that posits the existence of a spiritual world is subject to critique by anti-cult groups, materialists, skeptics, etc. Atheists often argue religious experiences are in reality physiological, psychological, or social in nature.
Doktorski explains that chanting is not necessarily a transcendental process when it causes unnatural breathing patterns. He presents examples of cults and other groups that employ chanting to induce their members to hyperventilate. The predictable outcomes of hyperventilation—the giddiness, the out-of-control feeling, the possible loss of consciousness, the tingling, and the clenching of fingers and toes—are immediately reframed or re-labeled as a religious experience. Doktorski goes on to say, “Over-breathing can also be produced through intense heavy expelling of air in more private, quiet ritualized chants.” [p. 281] In my experience, chanting loudly or quietly does not cause hyperventilation syndrome, and I seriously doubt over-breathing is a widespread occurrence among devotees chanting Hare Krishna.
Doktorski claims Prabhupada encouraged his disciples to see the world in terms of “Us versus Them” by teaching there are 2 classes of men in the world: the devotees and the demons. [p. 284] Actually, Prabhupada did not stop at just 2 classes of men. His teachings include 4 classes of men who do not surrender to Krishna [Bhagavad-gita 7.15]; four classes of pious men who render devotional service to Krishna [Bhagavad-gita 7.16]; the 3 modes of material nature and the competition for supremacy among them such that sometimes one mode dominates the other 2 [Bhagavad-gita 14.10]; the different kinds of transcendentalists which include those who are attached to the impersonal Brahman vision [Bhagavad-gita 18.66]; and different stages of development among devotees. A key lesson I learned early on is, unlike the mayavadi, Prabhupada teaches distinctions exist. He often used the term, “variegated”.
Even if we grossly oversimplify Prabhupada’s philosophy into a binary demon-devotee perspective, it does not logically follow that such a view creates an “Us versus Them” attitude.
Did Prabhupada have a policy of barring demons from chanting Hare Krishna or rendering service to the Lord? A devotee may have been a demon in a past life. Prabhupada teaches that the cult of bhakti has the potency to purify demons, and he welcomes everyone to take up Krishna Consciousness [Lecture, Srimad-bhagavatam 1.8.41, Māyāpura, October 21, 1974]. Is Prabhupada really the source of the “Us versus Them” mentality? Once again, the Addendum does not present differing views on Prabhupada. Rather, the Addendum distorts Prabhupada’s teachings to force him to fit Margaret Thaler Sanger’s definition of a harmful cult.
Cults do in fact promote black-and-white thinking, an all-or-nothing point of view, as Doktorski writes (p. 268). Prabhupada differs from the cult stereotype—he does not preach a no-middle-position philosophy in which only 2 extreme destinations are available, e.g. heaven or hell. Proponents of reincarnation do not have an all-or-nothing perspective.
Prabhupada assures us that “One percent done in Krishna consciousness bears permanent results, so that the next beginning is from the point of two percent; whereas, in material activity, without a hundred percent success, there is no profit.” [Bhagavad-gita 2.40, purport]
Prabhupada rejects the all-or-nothing point of view. “Those who are righteous in performing devotional service but who are not pure can attain the planetary system of the polestar, or Dhruvaloka.” [Bhagavad-gita 18.71, purport] I hear Dhruvaloka is a nice place.
Rather than procrastinating, it appears Prabhupada wanted people to immediately commit to a program of spiritual advancement. Although the Lord gives us many lifetimes to attain purity, His patient mercy does not in any way lessen the urgency of Krishna Consciousness. Prabhupada’s apparent dislike of procrastination may be misinterpreted or confused as an all-or-nothing attitude.
When disciples defected and left ISKCON, the managers and the remaining faithful devotees labeled the departing disciples as traitors, according to Doktorski [p. 283]. Of this, I have no doubt. In contrast, I strongly doubt that Prabhupada ridiculed and berated the memory of former disciples. Prabhupada’s edition of Bhagavad-gita clearly explains that even if a transcendentalist desists due to worldly-mindedness, he is permitted by the grace of the Lord, to make full utilization of his material propensities. And after that, he is given opportunities to live prosperous lives in righteous or aristocratic families. Those who are born in such families may take advantage of the facilities and try to elevate themselves to full Krishna consciousness. Please see Bhagavad-gita 6.37 – 6.45 for the full explanation.
Anyone who ridicules or berates the service of former disciples actually violates Prabhupada’s teachings. Did Prabhupada ever refer to Kirtanananda as a traitor? Personally, I wish Prabhupada had never shed a single tear for Kirtanananda, but obviously, I do not have Prabhupada’s Vaishnava compassion.
Citing Singer, the Addendum describes one way in which the cult attracts recruits: “Cults offer instant, simplistic, and focused solutions to life’s problems.” Would Singer’s statement also apply to the Christian teaching that salvation is a free gift? To be sure, Shrila Prabhupada did, in some respects, frame problems in parsimonious terms and offer simple, powerful solutions. For example, Shrila Prabhupada explained that though the earth produces enough grain, it is not evenly distributed, leading to profuse supplies in some regions and scarcity in other areas. The problem is not insufficient production, but rather poor distribution. [Srimad-bhagavatam 4.17.25, purport]
Now fast forward to the year 1998. Amartya Sen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for insights that are quite similar to Prabhupada’s. Amartya Sen found that famines and chronic hunger are caused more by inequitable distribution than insufficient quantities of food production. Sen’s analysis demonstrated that in many cases of famine, food supplies were not significantly reduced. Nobel-prize winning ideas can be quite simple. Never underestimate the power of parsimony and simplicity.
After the devotee accepts Prabhupada’s “simple” solutions and simple lifestyle, complex challenges arise. Prabhupada gave us a rich, nuanced philosophy. It is not easy for devotees to present the philosophy, and respond to questions and verbal challenges, including those articulated by Doktorski in his insightful books! Also, devotees found themselves doing and accomplishing projects they never dreamed possible. There were a lot of screw-ups, but that also indicates that these “simple” Vaishnava solutions opened the door to embracing complex challenges involved in building a preaching movement.
It is disturbing to hear stories of Hare Krishnas who become disconnected from family and good-hearted friends. Devotees with an orderly life and a compassionate attitude can influence their family and friends. I felt happy when my mother started chanting Hare Krishna about 4 years ago. “All Vedic knowledge is infallible, and Hindus accept Vedic knowledge to be complete and infallible.” [Bhagavad-gita Introduction] The purpose of the Vedas is to understand Krishna. [Bhagavad-gita 15.15, purport] Why then should my Hindu brethren not chant the holy name of Krishna?
Unfortunately, before joining the cult, many devotees had conflicts with their family and were drug users, as were their previous friends. In this case, it is best for the devotee to cut off contact with these “friends” with their bad habits. Vaishnavism is not the only religion that explains the importance of maintaining good association.
In isolation from Prabhupada’s philosophy, Doktorski points out that Prabhupada compared the intelligence levels of different groups and classes. In reality Prabhupada gave us the true basis for equality. On the material level, equality does not exist, nor shall it ever be possible. The good news is that every living entity, including the various classes of humans, is a transcendental soul, part and parcel of the one Supreme Personality of Godhead. Only on the spiritual plane is there equality.
Moreover, Prabhupada is very clear that “One does not need highly developed intelligence.” [Bhagavad-gita, Introduction] “If one is serious to understand the Vedic knowledge then Krishna gives the required intelligence.” [Bhagavad-gita 15.15, purport] “To those who are constantly, devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” [Bhagavad-gita 10.10] Since, as Doktorski claims, Prabhupada offered simple attractive solutions, it logically follows that the relative intelligence levels of various groups are irrelevant. Unfortunately, the Addendum failed to make this logical connection or at least he neglected to mention it.
Conditioned souls can become twisted and perverted, regardless of whether they occupy male or female bodies. Male serial killers do exist, and women write love letters to these mass murders while they are in prison. Clearly, I am critiquing the disease (maya), not female-bodied souls or male-bodies souls. Lack of Krishna consciousness is a disease. Was Ayn Rand inspired by a serial killer?
The Addendum indicates Shrila Prabhupada’s ultimate goals are political and totalitarian in nature: “In the introduction of his edition of Bhagavad-gita, Prabhupada described his ultimate political goal: the establishment of a worldwide totalitarian theocracy based on the Bhagavad-gita:” [p. 283] The Addendum creates a distorted depiction of Prabhupada. Doktorski was more thoughtful and magnanimous when he wrote about B.R. Sridhara in the Eleven Naked Emperors.
Doktorksi attempts to support his opinion by citing the Introduction where Prabhupada writes: “In this present day, people are very much eager to have one scripture, one God, one religion, and one occupation. Therefore let there be one scripture only, one common scripture for the whole world—Bhagavad-gita. Let there be one God for the whole world—Shri Krishna. And one hymn, one mantra, one prayer—the chanting of his name: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare; Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. And let there be one work only—the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
None of the above indicates Prabhupada harbored ultimate goals that are either political or totalitarian. Of course, Prabhupada desired everyone in the world to chant Hare Krishna, follow Bhagavad-gita, and serve Krishna. Some Christians assert that every word in the Bible is the word of God and that everyone in the world must accept Christ, otherwise, they burn in hell. Everyone has the right to preach his particular message. Prabhupada is not even remotely totalitarian because he respects that everyone has free will because that is the will of God.
Prabhupada persuasively argued food scarcity is tied to an inequitable distribution of grains across the planet, rather than inadequate global production. “If there were one government on the surface of the earth to handle the distribution of grain, there would be no question of scarcity, no necessity to open slaughterhouses, and no need to present false theories about overpopulation.” [Srimad-bhagavatam 4.17.25, purport]
Far from being a political manifesto, Prabhupada’s point about one-world government is merely sound economics. Historically, economists have argued against barriers that impede international trade and the free flow of goods and services among countries of the world. Similarly, Prabhupada stated, “the distribution of this grain is restricted due to trade regulations and a desire for profit.” [Srimad-bhagavatam 4.17.25, purport]
Doktorski lifts quotes from Prabhupada that apparently fit Margaret Thaler Singer’s contradictory opinions on cults. Prabhupada does indeed teach material life is suffering. However, this dour view of material life is not necessarily a characteristic of a cult, nor is it a way in which, “The group [cult] attacks your previous worldview, causing you distress and inner confusion”, as Singer contends and Doktorski avers [p. 287]. Before coming into contact with Prabhupada, an individual may already feel distressed, because of the death of a loved one, for instance. In Singer’s own words, “I have found that two conditions make an individual especially vulnerable to cult recruiting: being depressed and being in between important affiliations.” [p. 274]
An individual may feel confused as to why he feels distressed, especially if his middle-class material amenities are of no comfort to him. Prabhupada’s argument that material life is suffering could (1) confirm, rather than attack, an individual’s previous worldview (2) resolve, rather than create inner confusion. Interestingly enough, Jordan B. Peterson also informs us that life is suffering. He has not shown any signs of attempting to create a cult.
Although the Addendum presents arguments aimed at convicting Prabhupada of creating a harmful cult, it does not even allude to evidence that might exonerate Prabhupada. The absence of due process undermines the credibility of the Addendum. Through a process of selective quotations, Doktorski creates a caricature of Shrila Prabhupada. The Addendum reads like an anti-Prabhupada polemic, rather than a balanced exposition.
After carefully considering Doktorski’s arguments in light of Prabhupada’s overall philosophy, I respectfully reject the notion that Prabhupada had any complicity in creating a malevolent cult. On the contrary, I would suggest that Prabhupada’s body of published works, his lectures, and his letters, give us tremendous firepower to challenge and defeat pretenders who prey upon the spiritual desires of sincere seekers.
But if Prabhupada did not cause ISKCON to become the harmful cult that we know it to be, then how did ISKCON morph into a malevolent organization? Perhaps the answers can be obtained from reading the Eleven Naked Emperors, also written by Henry Doktorski.
Doktorski’s writings should never be censored. Since everyone is entitled to preach his particular message, I will preach my point of view, in part because the reader should know the nature of my possible biases, so they can judge the Rebuttal accordingly. My message is directed mainly at the younger generation. If an individual is thinking about joining ISKCON, please do not do it. Instead, get a real job, young man. While you are pursuing your career within mainstream society, please manage your finances so that you can retire at an early age. That is exactly what I did. While working, I built the resource base to finance an early retirement. For me, early retirement was a byproduct of Prabhupada’s books.
During your working years, I strongly recommend you read Prabhupada’s books because you will need to counteract the corporate brainwashing with Prabhupada’s positive, life-enhancing, liberating brainwashing. Also, although I am not credentialed in hypnosis as Henri Jolicoeur may very well be, I do find self-hypnosis beneficial.
At your karmi job, your boss may be a megalomaniac. Some of your work colleagues will be sociopaths. You will encounter politics and envy at your job. Your colleagues will try to take credit for your ideas and innovations. You may have to attend lots of useless office meetings. Perhaps you heard the old cliché in which the boss yells, “We will keep on having meeting after meeting until I figure out why no work is getting done.” Office meetings are a type of ritual. Conditioned souls are pack animals. I encountered censorship at my job. We had an entire department that was dedicated to censorship (The Office of Communications).
In most organizations, 80% of the work is done by 20% of the employees. Before I retired, my boss liked to tell me, “If you want something done, ask someone who is already busy.” During an annual performance review, my boss advised me to learn how to bullshit. He went on to say, “Look at all of the managers in the Division. What do they all have in common? They know how to bullshit.” My boss was obviously signaling his desire to promote me. As an individual progresses in his career, he will discover that middle management is a giant pain in the ass. And you will start becoming more similar to your boss. I am so thankful I could retire early. In the spirit of offering simple, attractive solutions to achieve financial independence and early retirement, I refer the reader to an article titled Enlightened Investing, available here: http://www.biodynamictheology.com/2020_update_of_enlightened_investing
Finally, reading Volume 1 of Gold, Guns, and God was not a pleasant experience. It reminded me of some of the worst aspects of ISKCON and it also brought back bad memories of my karmi career. However, Volume 1 did provoke me to crystallize my thinking, and for that, I am thankful to Henry Doktorski. Hare Krishna. All the best.
Chand Prasad, Ph.D.
Chand Prasad’s website: www.biodynamictheology.com