Thursday, June 7, 2007

Diary of a Betrayed Godbrother

I’ve found it interesting and somewhat amusing to follow the critique on the brahminical website, Sampradaya Sun (, of Indradyumna Swami’s “Diary of a Traveling Preacher” by Rocan, and now the rebuttal of that critique, “In Defense of a Traveling Preacher,” by a gurukuli who finds the Swami’s writing “mildly inspirational.” First i would like to know what “mildly inspirational” means? Is it a form of inspiration that doesn’t quite get you motivated but makes you feel good? Or is it some new age spiritual literature that inspires you to become a kind of Krishna conscious Indiana Jones character? “Hey, Maharaj: Go to Tibet and give them the nectar!” I’m not writing to criticize Kapila prabhu or Indradyumna Swami. I respect their opinions and right to preach, immature or self serving as they may seem to me. But i have my own small anecdote and sad tale to share with you, dear readers.

I’m a godbrother of Rocan’s and Indradyumna’s. I joined Iskcon in the same temple and maybe the same year as Indradyumna did, Bhagavan’s Jefferson St. temple in late 1970. Iskcon was quite different then. But soon i left to go to other temples and we never knew each other during those early years. It was several decades later, after the Swami started his internet diary that i came into some contact with him again. A devotee friend of mine in Holland who also liked his mildly inspirational writing, forwarded a couple of his travel pieces to me. I don’t like self promotion, and that’s exactly what the “Diary” smelled like to me, so after reading the articles, i asked my friend not to send me any more. That was a few years ago. I was living at that time in Vrindavan, at MVT. It happened that Indradyumna Swami also came to Vrindavan that year for Kartik and stayed in the flat next to mine. Although i didn’t know him personally, i knew he was part of the GBC guru establishment, and i didn’t like his “Diary,” but i decided to be friendly. After all, we’re godbrothers, i thought. And maybe i’m wrong in my judgement. So whenever we passed by each other, i would smile and say “Haribol.” Although he could see i was living next door to him (in the flat above his actually), and he must have known that we’re godbrothers, he never once stopped to talk with me or even ask my name. Fair enough, i thought, he’s a busy guy. We ran into each other the whole month of Kartik and i continued to be friendly.

The following year, i found another forwarded “Diary of a Traveling Preacher” in my mailbox, again sent by the same friend in Holland. This time i got upset and told my friend i really didn’t appreciate receiving unsolicited articles and to please never send me another one. I had no interest in the Swami’s globetrotting heroics. A few months later, i was at the International Airport in New Delhi waiting to catch an Emirates flight to Dubai. (Sounds like my own travel diary now). Guess who’s in the transit lounge waiting for the same flight? Yep, Indradyumna Swami. I thought to myself, should i say hello to him, or should i ignore him, as he ignored me when we were neighbors last Kartik? We were the only devotees in a transit lounge full of passengers. I decided to approach him and walked over to where he was standing in the cue.

“Maharaj, haribol!, how are you?”
He looked at me, not recognizing me, but said, “Haribol.”
“We’re godbrothers, you may not know me. My name’s Nava Jauvana. We were neighbors when you stayed at MVT last Kartik.” He gave me a slight smile but no reply.
“Are going to Dubai?” i asked him.
“No, i’m going to South Africa.”
“Oh, i’m on my way to Amsterdam,” i said.
No response from him. Well maybe he’s tired, i thought. But we were just standing in the cue waiting to board the flight. So i gave it one more try.
“I’ve been living in Vrindavan for the past 3-4 years. I just recorded an album of original devotional music. The cd’s called Jivatma Express.”
He gave me a look that a traveling salesman must get when he solicits business from someone who has no interest at all. He just stared at me. Well, i wasn’t trying to sell him anything; i just wanted to have a conversation. If he doesn’t say anything back, i thought to myself, i’m not going to continue. I paused another second, waiting for some feedback, and when none came, i said:
“Well, have a nice flight, Maharaj.”
He looked relieved. “Yea, you too.”

As i walked back to my place in the economy line, (he was standing in the premier business/first class cue), i felt like a jerk for approaching him. Here was a godbrother sannyasi who loves to talk, gives classes for hours, sits on his vyasasan meeting hundreds of people. Why, i thought, would he not have the slightest interest in talking with an old godbrother? While waiting to catch a plane with nothing else to do? But this is part of the problem that young devotees like Kapila and thousands of other younger devotees cannot understand. Godbrothers who become “somebodies” (GBCs, gurus) don’t like to waste time with “nobody” godbrothers. It is almost a disturbance to them. If they know you from the “old days,” you might get a condescending haribol or a limp handshake and a “how’s it going?” If they want something from you, some favor, they may show you some warmth. But real friendship, genuine interest, concern, give and take exchange, revealing of minds, listening, help? Forget it. (As always, there are a few rare exceptions, but this neglect is almost universal.)

I don’t wish to judge Indradyumna’s entire career as a devotee or his service as a preacher just by a couple of small insignificant encounters with me. But these are not isolated incidents. Time and again, in countless ways, disciples of Prabhupada who took leadership positions in Iskcon and became gurus have betrayed their godbrothers. It started with the original “Zonal Acaryas” who forced themselves on their godbrothers, and has continued with the “Guru Reformers” who themselves became gurus but not reformers. My little incident with Indradyumna is nothing compared to the betrayal experienced by many if not a majority of godbrothers. And that abuse and neglect is perpetuated by the absolute silence from each and every GBC and guru godbrother about the mistakes of the past and present. That silence continues to this day.

So it’s really more than a critique of a Traveling Diary that Rocan is making when he writes about Indradyumna’s self serving prose. It’s about a history of 30 years of godbrothers stealing the spiritual wealth and legacy given to us by our uncommonly great father, Srila Prabhupada. We are not talking about jealousy here. Most godbrothers would be more than happy to let their guru godbrothers keep their positions, their service and their disciples, if they were doing their job properly and not behaving like wannabe rock and roll celebrities. If they were attached to following the example of Prabhupada's humility rather than their personal fame.

How could anyone complain if everyone had a fair opportunity to express themselves and participate in devotional service? But the structure does not allow this. Since Prabhupada's departure, Iskcon has become an exclusive club of elites and rank-and-file. Either you’re in or you’re out. And loyalty to the club, not individual inspiration to serve Prabhupada, is the gold standard. It sounds more like a totalitarian state than a society for promoting love of God. Or perhaps an ecclesiastic church. In any case, it’s not the same movement envisioned and nurtured by Srila Prabhupada, no matter what the propaganda on says. We need more than Traveling Diaries to bring about a spiritual revival of the movement founded by our beloved Guru Maharaja in Tompkins Square Park 41 years ago. We need devotees who have the courage to speak the truth. Millions of obeisances to Srila Prabhupada for the courage he had to tell the world about Krishna, and the sacrifices he made to teach his disciples the truth.

1 comment:

Axel said...

I read the exchange on the Sampradaya Sun and although I am not all that keen anymore to get into this kind of subject (it just agitates my mind) I like to offer a little comment. I do respect Rocan Prabhu for his patience, precise debating, and polite tone of voice (among other good qualities). The same applies to my friend Nava Yauvana Prabhu. The outspoken attitude of both of them is what is needed. I also feel that the time is getting ripe to become even a bit more radical. The last and final piece I read by Indradyumna Swami was his account of his American style tourist shopping in Bangla Desh. Any person with a bit of common sense, let alone an (aspiring) vaishnava devotee can clearly see that this so-called diary of a traveling preacher has nothing to do with Krishna Consciousness, or preaching. It is a dangerous kind of misleading young devotees looking up to you. At least, in that particular entry, Indradyumna revealed himself as outright foolish, accepting the first-quoted price of a Bangladesh bazaar shopkeeper as a deal. Like Rocan Prabhu, I also lost my “offence fear syndrom” long ago. Of course, I am still convinced that offences against vaishnava devotees will create havoc to your spiritual life. But I am also convinced that you cannot make progress if you are too afraid of committing offences when truth needs to be told. I also do not know Indradyumna Swami very much personally except when I ran into him in the Eighties. He was always one of Bhagavan’s main Yes-Men and to me it seems that these days he considers himself the “Better-Bhagavan” - the mood hasn’t changed the least. Anyhow, all these branches are going to dry up - sooner or later - Indradyumna Swami, Radhanath Swami etc. In some people’s minds they still seem to be important, but they are not. I also have a little story to relate. Last summer I sat down and told myself: Don’t be so damned negative - these godbrothers are doing preaching work. I really mad an effort to become more positive. I remember that was on a Saturday. Next day I went to the Hamburg Preaching center. The President had fresh video footage from the Polish Festival 2006. The very first thing on screen that I had the doubtful pleasure to watch was Indradyumna Swami with a water hose in his hand giving refreshment to a bikini-clad lady by spraying her with water. Go figure - you don’t need Sigmung Freud for that. His followers and fans will probably say: “Maharaj is so far-out”, which is the kind of talk I know all to well from the days with Hansadutta and the like.
Atmavidya das