© 2003 - 2013 Suhotra Maharaja Archives - Vidyagati das
"Polish Woodstock" Festival, Zary, Poland
This is being written on the afternoon of 31 July. I just arrived at the "Polish Woodstock" camp in a village called Zary, somewhere close to Wroclaw in south Poland. Vidyagati and I are housed in a room within a school building rented by the devotees. I've not had a chance yet to see the festival set-up. I've dated this entry 1 August in the hope that tomorrow I'll be able to send it off. I don't know if making a connection to the Internet is possible at this place.
We drove here from Prague, leaving at about 9:00 AM, arriving at 2:30 PM. As I write I find myself tired. In a few minutes I shall begin a quick mudra-mantra puja for my silas .
Puja done. It is now 10 minutes past 4:00 PM in the afternoon. Shortly Vidyagati will serve prasadam .
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As we drove here I reflected on some Internet writings I had a glance at a couple of days ago, while I was setting up this Dell computer. There are websites dedicated to the ventilation of ill feelings by a section of what I suppose may be called "the greater ISKCON/Gaudiya Vaisnava community." While testing the Dial-up Networking function of the Dell, I bumped into a couple of these sites. One was a lengthy diatribe--I don't know what else to call it--against a decision reached by the GBC a couple of years ago. Another was a highly creative presentation of the theory that Srila Prabhupada was poisoned by a coterie of his senior disciples.
Reading such things, I try to put myself into the "head space" of the authors. What sort of mentality would I have to take on that I could write something like this? The word I reach for first is "crazy." But that is unkind. So I remember Rousseau. The people who knew him said he was crazy. But there was a method to his madness--the modern method of manic-depressive political thought. Similarly the conspiracy theorists build up lofty skyscrapers of radical idealism while digging deep pits of hopeless, paranoid disappointment and frustration. All the while they think they are being realistic and objective. This is why I want to reach for the word "crazy".
The way these authors of theories of conspiracy write about Srila Prabhupada, you'd think he was a spiritual Ernesto "Che" Guevara. If you don't follow the comparison, then let me spend a few sentences explaining that Che Guevara was a charismatic revolutionary who helped Fidel Castro come to power in Cuba in 1959. But he had little patience with the sort of "ordinary politics" that go into making a post- revolutionary government. Guevara was an agitator, and a very popular one at that; thus Castro was happy to see him leave Cuba to start a revolution in Bolivia. There he was betrayed to the authorities and summarily executed. Some suggest that his fellow revolutionaries (perhaps even Castro) betrayed him. So anyway, the conspiracy theorists in "the greater ISKCON/Gaudiya Vaisnava community" style Srila Prabhupada similarly: as a revolutionary so radical that those of his disciples who wanted to run ISKCON's government were afraid of him. So they conspired to do away with him by poisoning him and/or by replacing the legacy of his transcendental leadership with a mundane system of their own invention.
Like Rousseau when he argued his version of the rise of enslaving civilization, the conspiracy theorists don't much care whether history supports their picture of things. Their fire is fueled less by factual evidence and more by the dogged conviction that no one who holds a position of authority in ISKCON can ever be trusted. It follows from this conviction that the official history of ISKCON is really a deliberate cover-up of years and years of underhanded malevolence. If you can accept that much--that there is a mound of dirt hidden under the bed of ISKCON's management--then the conspiracy theorists want you to know that you have to just take one more small step to arrive at their most negative and pessimistic outlook. If ISKCON's leaders are rascals anyway, then why give them any benefit of the doubt? Believe the worst--it's liberating!
And if you believe the worst, then you must believe that ISKCON's present-day preaching successes are just cheating. After all, the leaders are rascals. So what they do--their leading of the preaching-- must also be rascaldom. But what preaching successes are the conspiracy theorists having? Oh, pardon me. I have to get into their heads and see things the way they do. They think they are having success when they cause harm to ISKCON. Good news to them is when they come to know of new problems facing ISKCON. How very positive.
That's the mindset I pick up when I read their writings.
And then, in my mind's ear, I hear their arguments that I just don't understand. Stock phrases billow from their mouths like the ash-clouds of their burned-out faith: "Things have to change..."; "We've had enough of it..."; "It's time to do something..."; "You don't know what we've been through..."; "You're just an escapist..."; "You'd better get over to our side before it's too late..."
Is anything really being said by these people other than, "Our minds are very disturbed"? If the mind is disturbed, one should behave like an adult, stop blaming others, and seek purification by following the real Srila Prabhupada, not one manufactured in the imagination.
Fanatics. Fanatics with their backs in a corner. Thirty-two years ago I joined ISKCON to get away from just this sort of people. Their expressions have a robotic look, as if their finer sentiments are blotted out by their obsessions. Their facial skin-tone is either too pale or too dark. In either case it lacks the glow of a devotee blessed with purity and inspiration. Their eyes glint weirdly, as if in each one there lives a demon, one of self-love and the other of self-loathing. The hearts of folks such as these cannot be reached by reasonable personal interaction. They are too full of their own jabber.
I watched a Godbrother of mine, Harikesa dasa, slowly turn into one of these automatons of dogmatic irrationality. In a way he is in a class of his own. Like the conspiracy theorists, he portrays Srila Prabhupada as an extremist. But he does that in an unflattering way. He presents himself as a victim of his spiritual master's extremism. Now he declares, "I have no room in my heart for Srila Prabhupada."
The conspiracy theorists, on the other hand, revel in Srila Prabhupada's supposed extremism. That is their justification for throwing all rationality and civility to the winds: "Gotta be heavy like Prabhupada! Gotta attack them GBC demons!"
Ironically, Harikesa used to be called "Heavykesh" because he was a leader of the extremists. But he grew sick of it. Instead of admitting that he had misunderstood Srila Prabhupada, he rejected his spiritual master, denouncing him as a Hitlerian dictator. Now he's a New Age Mr. Mellow who has been known to preach that women are more spiritually advanced than men and Chinese philosophy is superior to Vedic philosophy.
I am not saying he holds to these doctrines right now. When I knew him in the 1980's, his mind would latch on to some speculation like "the Third World War will start on June 22, 1982," or "before I die I will ride in a flying saucer" or "overdosing on Vitamin E is the answer to all health problems." Such notions would become his Absolute Truth for a period of 2 to 6 weeks. Then he'd throw away an old speculation to snatch up a new one. Once I asked him why he periodically embraced some wild idea as gospel truth. The question seemed to shock him, as if he hadn't noticed the pattern. Putting his head in his hands, he stared off into space. "Someday I'll explain it to you," he murmered wistfully. (I mention this because recently I got news that he declared he "loves" Srila Prabhupada. That just means his head was in a certain place at the time those words sprang from his mouth. At other times his head will be elsewhere; thus he will say opposite things.)
Swing, pendulum, swing, between self-love and self-loathing. (Oh yeah, he was into pendulums too...I remember when he used one to match up marriages of his disciples...)
By surrendering totally to his mind Harikesa gradually lost the magnificent abilities Lord Krsna endowed him with. The people who've seen him lately tell me he is a walking self-mockery. Still a fanatic, but now a fanatic for non-fanaticism. The conspiracy theorists are cut from the same cloth. They rage on and on, exhorting you to hear and believe their nightmarish tales splashed in lurid tones of neon red and green. Fanatics. A fanatic is one who knows all things except his own ignorance.
Now, I certainly do know that there is real dirt under ISKCON's bed that hasn't been brought into the light of every devotee's knowledge. But just because a conspiracy theorist's argument starts with a valid fact--that there is dirt under ISKCON's bed--does not mean that the logic that he constructs after that fact is valid. Spring water comes up from out of the earth in a pure state, but when it flows down to the ocean it becomes undrinkable. Similarly, when a fact comes to light it gleams with the purity of simple truth; but when it is seized by a loudmouth blinded by his own anger--or by a crafty schemer who wishes only to advance his own agenda--the purity of that fact is lost, being mixed with flaming invective and deceptive propaganda.
I certainly do know that there are serious devotees--particularly those who serve in the field of ISKCON communications--who believe that it is necessary that all hidden facts of the dark side of ISKCON's history be brought to the light. They feel that airing all the old stories proves that we are honest. Personally, I think to define honesty in this way is risking foolishness. It's like the fable of the honest but foolish man who let a person fleeing from a gang of robbers and murderers hide in his house. But when the gang came to his door asking if the victim was inside, he said yes so has not to tell a lie. He spared himself the sin of telling a lie but became party to a murder.
I think most people don't know how to handle such dirt when it comes to the light. It's hard for them to understand that dirt is to be expected in ISKCON. It is a society dedicated to cleansing the world's people of Kali's ills. When you scrub a dirty place, you yourself get dirty too, at least for a while. Plus, the dirt we have to clearn just keeps coming...it's a filthy world we have set out to clean. But people naturally want to see the end result--cleaniness--in an organization dedicated to cleaning. That's a reasonable expectation! Thus it is unreasonable to advertise the dirt. People lose hope. And when they lose hope, then the interest in cleaning stops. Then the dirt gets thicker and thicker with no possibility of removal.
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Between 6 and 7 this evening I preached at ISKCON's Reincarnation Booth at this Woodstock Festival. The festival is a 3-day open-air rock concert that will attract a 100 thousand people. From the looks of them, most are drunk.
ISKCON has a big area all to itself. Many tents are set up for prasadam service, book sales, preaching, face-painting, paraphernalia sales. The devotees have a large stage all to their own. There is even a big Rathayatra cart that is constantly being pulled around the concert grounds.
Tomorrow I have more preaching to do at the Reincarnation Tent and several other venues.
I am told an Internet connection will be possible tomorrow. Hopefully, then, this entry will be posted. Hare Krsna!
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It is 4:00 AM on August 1st. I am chanting japa. Vidyagati went to see the festival at 8:30 PM yesterday but still has not returned. He was with Rocana das, a disciple of mine from Wroclaw. I suppose they took rest in whatever room Rocana is staying. After I finish my rounds I shall take a shower and do puja . The devotees have no morning program, because the Woodstock preaching goes into the early hours of the morning. Forget that. I am sticking to the schedule I've been given by the festival organizers: some preaching during the daylight hours in various tents. Late-night missionary work among drunken, incoherent youth does not appeal to me.
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I finished my rounds and took a shower at 5:30. The school was totally silent, not a soul was to be seen. I guess all the devotees stayed up late. Later, as the tilak dries on my body, I sit before the computer and add to this journal entry. Vidyagati walks in at 6:30. He slept elsewhere. Now he's gone to take a shower. I am going to start my morning puja .
8:30 and puja is done. I've seen a few devotees around. At 11:00 AM I have to be at a festival tent to begin my day's schedule of preaching.