Saturday, April 18, 2009

Association

We live in a world full of denial-- denial of death, denial of grief, denial of compassion, denial of sacrifice. We are part of a "you only live once" culture. Everyone is busy maintaining a mask of successful well-being, a pursuit of enjoyment and an artificial movie of being a well adjusted, happy personality. This bullshit culture that we have grown up with and surrounds us also filters its way into so-called vaisnava society. But that is hardly spiritual association.

The vaisnava acaryas are not afraid to write and sing about how morose they are without pure association. ami boro dukhi. "I am so miserable." kripa balo kana koro. "Give me the glance of your mercy." To acknowledge depression due to lack of association is something the great acaryas did.

My point in my last post was simply to address the enormous loss each of us experienced when we felt it necessary to give up the association of devotees. We each had good reasons for leaving, but we also have good reasons for grieving.

Grief is a natural part of the process of coming to terms with a traumatic loss. In her landmark book, On Death & Dying, published in 1969, Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross researched grief associated with the dying process. The 'grief cycle' is actually a model for helping to understand and deal with all major losses--the emotional, physical and yes, spiritual traumas in our lives.

These are the five stages:
1 Denial
Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality relating to the situation concerned. It's a defense mechanism.

2 Anger
Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves or project it on others who they blame for their situation.

3 Bargaining
Persons in this stage of grief bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise with what they have lost or with a higher power, usually with God. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution.

4 Depression
Depression is a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty at a great loss. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept reality.

5 Acceptance
This final stage of the grief process indicates emotional detachment and objectivity. It brings a kind of peace and allows the person to move on to a new space, letting go of the old and embracing a new paradigm.

The grieving process is natural and like other forces of nature, unavoidable. It is when we get stuck in one phase that our situation feels intolerable. For example, if someone remains angry at Iskcon for year after year, unable to move to the next phase, that means he or she is not just angry at Iskcon but at themselves. Chronic anger is self destructive. The same for the other stages of grief. The idea is not to get stuck but to tolerate and acknowledge the different phases of grief while moving thru them to finally reach a new consciousness and corresponding worldview.

The soul "is" the world, and when we are in harmony with the soul and with Supersoul, our actions and emotions will create peace and happiness.

If you can find good association, you are very fortunate. If you cannot find it, you need to create it. There is no alternative. Association to facilitate harmony of the soul is the greatest necessity of our time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Depressed

I've had a couple of dreams recently that Hrdayananda appeared in. It's a bit unusual, since i hardly know the guy and i never liked him. I didn't serve in Iskcon with him and rarely saw him since the zonal acaraya fiasco. But there he was, in technicolor, in a couple of my recent dreams. Both times i tried to confide in him, to share with him my grief over what happened in Iskcon. I spoke to him in hushed tones from the heart. I reasoned. I cried.

Why my mind chose Hrdayananda for its catharsis i don't know. But the grief i experienced in these dreams is similar to the sadness of a marriage gone bad. When my first marriage was falling apart, i had to grieve to let go of the attachment. A strong commitment binds the heart.

For those of us who joined Iskcon as idealistic youth, it was like a marriage. As young monks with our hopes, our fears and our devotion, we married Iskcon because it was the vision of our great spiritual master. Sure most of us --if not all of us-- were totally unqualified to make such a commitment. But who knew that then?

All our karmic endeavors that followed-- our wives, our children, finances, businesses and hobbies-- were important to us but always remained subordinate in our hearts to our first big commitment, our unrequited bond to Iskcon. This tie, this great responsibility given to us, a vow and contract signed with the invisible ink of bhakti, was challenged and finally broken for most of us in the months and years following Srila Prabhupada's disappearance.

The details of how this happened i will leave to the historians and commentators. The official line is that we just "disappeared," thousands of us. But the reality is that we were humiliated, starting with being forced to obey and participate in the worship of wholly unqualified peers who sat on high seats in Srila Prabhupada's temples. Those 11 men controlled everyone. Now those men are gone. New ones have replaced them, the seats have been lowered and the externals look more democratic, but in practice, the same sore lack of genuine respect, give and take, openness and brahminical principles remain. The highly centralized control, the censorship, the sweeping corruption, the fundamentalism, party spirit and corporate mindset are all very much on display if you visit Iskcon and have the eyes to see it.

Recently i corresponded with one godbrother whom i haven't met in 25 years. I wrote:
"I think most of us, the godbrothers, are pretty depressed. We all wanted to do something wonderful for Prabhupada, but it didn't turn out the way we had hoped. That was a result of everyone's immaturity and impurities, but especially the disqualification of the leaders. Ironically, almost all of them fell down and became disgraced, but the system didn't fall with them. Instead, it became institutionalized, and it was the godbrothers who scattered and went their own ways.

"A few godbrothers started their own missions and are doing well. There is Paramadwaiti Swami (formerly Alanath) who is a very successful guru in South America, Jagat Guru (now Narasinga Swami) in South India and Tripurari in California. I'm sure there are other godbrothers getting some results on their own. But most of us do not have the ambition or the sakti to act as gurus. This is the problem. Unless we create it, we will not find association. Unless we pay the price of being co-opted by a Hindu-corporate structure or join a personality cult. And that is a Faustian bargain."

I haven't done a survey, but the godbrothers i know and still communicate with are feeling like they lost something that they will not be able to find again and seems impossible to recreate. The hopes of their youth have been smashed. The bride of Iskcon died in their arms just after the honeymoon and transformed itself into an apparition. That is reason enough to feel depressed.

But we must digest this grief and move on. Even if we completely fail, we can be satisfied knowing that failure is the pillar of success.