Back Where I Started From
“Suppose you have got now ten thousand. We shall expand to hundred thousand. That is required. Then hundred thousand to million, and million to ten million. So there will be no scarcity of acharya, and people will understand Krishna consciousness very easily. So make that organization. Don’t be falsely puffed up. Follow the acharya’s instruction and try to make yourself perfect, mature. Then it will be very easy to fight out maya. Yes. Acharyas, they declare war against maya’s activities.” (Shrila Prabhupada, 6 April, 1975)
Here I am back in Berkeley, West Coast, USA—right where I started from. This is the place where I went to school, at least if you call a nursery school of 1950 a school—which I do; because more valuable lessons are learned by a toddler than can be obtained from the University of California for which Berkeley is famous. After I graduated from Berkeley (the nursery school), I lived here and there around the world with my family. But, soon after graduating high school on Long Island, I stuck out my thumb, and headed for the West Coast to find the hippie mid-60s experience in Berkeley. I was searching for the “dharma of the road,” a wayward route that by the grace of Lord Krishna finally landed me at the lotus feet of my eternal spiritual master, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He initiated me in Santa Fe in October of 1968, on the day of Gopashtami, Kartika astama shukla. Every truth I had been seeking, and billions times more than that, I found in the bejeweled dust of the lotus feet of Lord Krishna’s pure devotee.
But here and now, the 80s are upon us, and I have finally returned to America after being away for a decade in a round-the-world jaunt as a Hare Krishna brahmachari. As a celibate wanderer, my global peregrinations have taken me to something like three dozen countries. Now, like some tired wayward beast washed upon the shore, I have returned to the West Coast again. And, today, the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna apparently has some realizations for me to deal with.
I am sitting behind the steering wheel of zonal acharya Hansadutta’s black early-60s Mercedes-Benz. I am inching along at the toll plaza of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, the great monument to long commutes from bedroom communities in the East Bay. Sitting in the car in their most stoic and formal poses, are my three passengers: each of whom is a newly-self-appointed zonal acharya of ISKCON. Like their fellow specious swamis, they do not know it, but they have become afflicted with a serious wasting disease that will doom each one of them to different forms of spiritual fatality in the near future. The three statuesque “acharyas” are Rameshwara, Bhavananda and Hansadutta. ISKCON’s neo-acharyas have each given themselves titles such as: “Shrila Vishnupada,” or “Acharyadeva,” or the most ridiculous of all: Hansadutta’s “Hari Kirtan Thakura.” With three self-appointed “His Divine Graces,” it is Pope-a-loka in the Mercedes.
That day in early ’81, as I ease towards the toll booth, the zonal boys are already in the early stages of their shared undiagnosed malady. Any amateur psychiatrist could have recognized their mental perversities at a glance. But tonight, the leprosy-like symptoms of ZAS (Zonal Acharya Syndrome) had not yet become apparent to these haughty victims of their own contagion. They are naked emperors; blind to their own “exposed altogethers.” Any common person knows that those who are taken in by self-adoration can never see a clear reflection in the smoky mirror of their egoism—even as an embarrassed world giggles at their dangling shortcomings.
As I inch the Mercedes to give the devil his due, I find myself fumbling for any forgotten change that might be lingering in some unused pocket. Naturally it a fruitless search: I am a brahmachari pauper, avowed to turn all collections over to my “authorities,” who alone are “authorized” (by themselves) to spend on their own luxuries, like private apartments, gold watches and silver eating utensils. For the past twelve years I have been a wandering, penniless sadhu. My concern was not money—at this moment my thoughts are on the gruesome destiny I have recently escaped.
I had been on trial in India for capital murder over the past year, after locked in a dungeon with other devotees for several weeks. Along with five other Bombay Hare Krishna Prabhus, we had been framed on trumped-up charges by a coterie of corrupt police and politicians. Fortunately, one of the corporate men, a swami, was in trial with us which prompted the authorities at Hare Krishna Land to hire a good team of lawyers, so that eventually we were found not guilty.
My body is also crisscrossed by the scars of a few serious injuries obtained along the way. In ’78, in Madras alongside wreckage left by a major flood, I had slipped and fallen into a cement drainage ditch running underneath the torn-up sidewalk. The fall nearly crushed my left testicle. I am also road-weary from several near-fatal bouts of dysentery, hepatitis, jaundice and malaria. One of the bouts of malaria left me lying by the side of a Sitapur garbage pile with a fever of 105 for over a week, where I had been eaten alive by insects. Two vertebrae in my back have been painfully crushed as a result of a pre-India sankirtan injury which left two other devotees dead on the roadside. Though road-weary as hell, I am abundantly aware that throughout each test and trauma, Lord Shri Krishna has protected me, as per his eternal promise in Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna and to all of his devotees.
sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo mokshayishyami ma suchah
Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear. (BG 18.66)
Still, having returned from those front line traumas to the shelter of Berkeley as a lowly driver for three naked emperors sitting like spoiled children, I am unaware of the next shock that is waiting for me. But the one that is coming is not physical, but it is of a much more subtle, psychological kind. But the hurt is greater.
The toll booth draws near. Since my search for currency has come up fruitless, I look to the three instant-paramahansas. It is difficult to address one who is propped up on the throne of his mind in imagined saffron glory, but I had no choice.
“I’m broke.” I confess sheepishly.
Their heads begin revolving as they all look from one to the other expectantly. Obvious indignation ricochets from one nose to the next like billiard balls. Here, then, is the secret to their millionaire lifestyle—force the next sucker to pay their toll. Their shared cheapskate philosophy seems to be that spending other people’s money in the millions exempts them from springing for a couple of bucks for the bridge. Finally, Rameshwara turns to me, glaring, and narrows his eyes hard with lowered eyebrows. He is actually the youngest person in the car, and the newest devotee. In fact by initiation, I am elder to him, and to Bhavananda. Hansadutta, who I have known since 1969, is the actual elder by physical years, and by diksha. But looking back, it was probably Rameshwara’s dark glance that was my “zonal acharya moment,” the actual nano-second when a Prabhupada disciple realizes that he has been rendered persona non grata by a conspiratorial gang of guru wannabes.
Why does a dog growl at another dog that comes too near to his bone? Because he feels a need to protect his form of sense gratification from any intruder—genuine or imaginary—that would steal it. In the same way, that is why the new acharyas lived in perpetual anger—lest some imaginary phantom try to steal the position each so much craved. Together, they were like a pack of dogs that hung together, not out of friendship or loyalty, but because there is safety in the pack.
Rameshwara is the only one to speak: “You advertised yourself as a driver—so why don’t you have the toll?” By now, we should have been used to such false, non sequitur logic from the mental speculators.
“Advertised?” he asked. I am flat broke and nearly broken, having given everything—though “everything” apparently was not sufficient for them. Rameshwara’s accusation is the very sort of bungled reasoning that has promoted these neophytes to their presumed rank of acharyas. Just invent some suitable line, and then enforce it with a little help from a blind pack of violent thug neo-followers. As they have become instant acharyas, everyone else has become their instant servants. And, their definition of service is that they expect you to pay for the privilege of serving them. Unlike those who seek profit, position and rewards from their spiritual master—there are other surrendered souls who actually believe in giving up everything to Shri Guru. In a single sentence and with a dark and furtive glance, little Rameshwara has unwittingly disclosed the sum and substance of the privileged position of zonal acharya-hood.
With Rameshwara’s two zonal eyes burning into me like coal embers, while the other imposters pretended that they did not know me—though I had faithfully served both in the past—the light now suddenly dawned. Seeing oneself through the eyes of those who no longer have any use for you can be painful. My gut feeling is to exit the car, slam the door hard in disgust, let one of the acharyas drive the damned Mercedes, and just saunter away through the line of cars to whatever karma awaits me. Why would anyone drive anywhere with such pretentious millionaire misers? Now the eyes of three self-appointed inheritors to the throne of imagination have begun to rivet me—and, as they do, my thoughts drift back to the checkered destiny that has brought me here today. But the great secret in that black Mercedes is that, just as much as they are revealing how much they despise their underlings like me, time will soon tell that they also detest one another.
India in the Seventies
It had been back in India where I had seen most of the action. Shrila Prabhupada, our fearless battlefield general, had empowered his servants to literally fight in the land of Bharata to re-establish the yuga dharma of Kali Yuga. Shrila Prabhupada had instructed us repeatedly that devotees are at war with Maya. And Maya is no ordinary adversary. The Goddess of Illusion has ten arms, and she holds invincible weapons in each hand. She is the power of the All-Powerful. With degraded influences of Kali Yuga being imported from the West, India at the time was on a corkscrew dive into religious oblivion. In response, Shrila Prabhupada had deputed a handful of rag-tag westerners in dhotis and saris to fix the dharmic woes of a sub-continent.
My fellow Godbrothers and Godsisters who, like me, were all commoners in the eyes of the naked emperors, had also battled hard. We had all lived very austere lives while fighting on the front lines. Hardly noticed by the leaders, many had by then even laid down their lives as they held high the banner of Krishna. Yet, for the servant of Shri Guru and the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna, the position in the rank and file is actually a treasured post. Its value lies in the fact that it is a devotee’s job to serve selflessly, and with undying humility. Humble service at the feet of the qualified servant of the representative of the Supreme Lord is the key to making spiritual progress, and to finding the ripened fruit of divine bliss in Krishna consciousness. Unfortunately, selfish and domineering personalities were quick to take advantage of the service attitude of genuine devotees. Often their ideas of receiving service did not mean to pass it up the line to the previous acharya. Rather it would be more important that their senses should be gratified and their false egos satiated.
For a while in ’76-’77 I had been part of the BBT Library Party—the group of traveling brahmacharis whose service it was to place Shrila Prabhupada’s books into college libraries throughout the vast Indian sub-continent. My job in India, as the vainglorious-sounding “Director of Reviews,” had been to meet top scholars and politicians and introduce them to Shrila Prabhupada’s divine Srimad-bhagavatam. One of our team members, Abhinanda dasa Brahmachari had conceived of a brilliant plan. Somehow, he had chanced upon a Who’s Who in India, which listed the names, addresses and accolades of the land’s top intellectuals, writers, scholars and politicians. Now, some devotee with a shaved head and dhoti would simply have to meet those leaders in politics and scholarship, and show the practical attributes of Prabhupada’s genuine ideas of Vedic civilization over the hedonistic indulgence advocated in the West. The Director of Reviews would travel all over India and introduce to them the books of Shrila Prabhupada, and obtain a letter of appreciation from the men of letters.
Riding for days on tedious second- and third-class trains infested with thieves and bedbugs, I had crisscrossed a sub-continent with a portable typewriter I found somewhere, and collected hundreds of reviews of Shrila Prabhupada’s Srimad-bhagavatam. In this way, I had not only been able to see much of the Indian sub-continent, but I had rubbed elbows with the intelligentsia of the land of Vyasa. Each scholar or governor was pleased to review Prabhupada’s commentaries on the Bhagavata, signed on their distinguished letterhead. And I had done it on the ridiculously Spartan sum of $50 a month—a buck fifty per day to cover third-class travel, room at run-down dharmshalas and some rice.
The reviews from scholars would prove to enable the brahmachari servants of Prabhupada to sell the books to the universities. BBT in-charge Gargamuni dasa (once a Swami), had designated Shrila Prabhupada’s writings as the “Library Encyclopedia of Vedic Knowledge.” I was sent ahead of the planned sales assaults on colleges, in order for our BBT library party to have on hand reviews from the region’s best and brightest. So with the ink practically still wet, these reviews were placed into the hands of the library party brahmacharis like Abhinanda dasa, Bahushiras dasa, Yajna dasa and a few other very brave, enthusiastic and dedicated servants of Shrila Prabhupada.
While staying at Mysore’s Ganapati Swami Ashram beneath the Hill of Durga, a respectable brahmana in full dhoti and Ramanuja sampradaya tilaka approached me. It was a cool and foggy morning in mid-November 1977 and he just sort of ambled out of the morning mist. Since I was in my saffron dhoti with Gaudiya tilaka, he offered me respect, and said sadly, “I have heard on the radio that last night your Guru passed away.” He gave me a long, compassionate look, bowed his head slightly and added, “I’m sorry” as he turned and ambled off into the morning mist surrounding the hill where Mahishasura had met his end at the hands of the Mother Goddess. Though this sad moment had been expected, due to Guru Maharaja’s long-lingering illness, it was nonetheless shocking and heart-breaking.
I would find out later from Shrila Prabhupada’s secretary Tamal Krishna—in an unusually candid moment (since he was also one of the self-appointed zonal lords)—that these reviews had been extremely important to His Divine Grace during his crucial last moments when he was preparing for maha-samadhi. Our spiritual master, a shaktyavesha avatara and member of the Supreme Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s own sankirtan party, would regularly call for these reviews as he lay in bed during the final weeks of his manifest lila. Tamal Krishna said that these reviews gave Guru Maharaja the greatest bliss in those dark days leading up to his disappearance on Kartika shukla chaturthi (Damodara-masa), 1977.
On the very day that I had encountered the Ramanuja brahmana, it had been my intention to try to obtain a review from the King of Mysore, but I decided instead to return to the shelter of Shri-Shri Radha and Rasabehari, the presiding deities of Hare Krishna Land at Juhu, Bombay. It was now time to grieve the departure of the greatest person on the planet, Shrila Prabhupada, in the company of Godbrothers.
Birth of the Pada Squad
Soon things in ISKCON changed drastically as an ominous dark cloud overtook the Hare Krishna Movement, and our dynamic and energetic family was being torn apart from the top. By design, ISKCON would gradually become transformed into a series of clashing personality cults that neither I, nor any of my thousands of God-siblings, had signed up for. These eleven “Zonals,” with the approval of the Society’s Governing Body Commission, had seized the gaddis of the temples during a morose period when the Society should have been pulling together to mourn the great loss of the Founder-Acharya. It was theft at the highest level. Prabhupada had repeatedly warned all his disciples of the consequences of “changing, manufacturing, mental speculating, adjusting or compromising” the tenets of his teachings:
“So don’t spoil the movement by manufacturing ideas. Don’t do that. Go on in the standard way, keep yourself pure; then [our] movement is sure to be successful. But if you want to spoil it by whimsical [ideas], then what can be done? It will be spoiled. If you manufacture whims, and disagree and fight amongst yourselves, then it will be another edition of these so-called movements. It will lose the spiritual strength. Always remember it.” (Shrila Prabhupada, morning walk 1976)
The infamous eleven did not understand the basic element of the Vedic science of muhurta, which states that whatever muhurta is chosen for any project will continue to resonate through the entirety of the project. Not only had they denied the pure devotee his right to his family’s joint farewell, a time of mourning which should have stretched for months but, in their ambitions, they had callously chosen a wholly inauspicious time to declare their divinity. These were the same persons who now eagerly sought the use of astrology to find out their own lunar dates of birth, so that they could receive worship on their birthdays right in the very ashrams of the Founder-Acharya. Even so, they would later try to ban astrology altogether from the ranks of the new Zonal ISKCON they had manufactured.
We had been initiated by Shrila Prabhupada, lovingly sheltered by him over the previous decade, and were unfailingly instructed by him at every step. In return, we had surrendered and served him—even blindly and with full faith—always thankful for every opportunity to perform the most menial tasks. But now, neophytes had posted themselves upon large thrones within his temples. During the most sensitive time in the wake of Shri Guru’s maha-samadhi, they were demanding that their own Godbrothers and Godsisters place flower petals upon their feet as they vaingloriously seized the position of acharyas. Apparently they did not understand that acharya is not an officially designated post, but rather acharya literally means “one who sets an example.” They had become exactly like the King Paundraka of Kashi. The tenth canto of the Bhagavata describes this wayward dictator, with his two extra false arms, as “the imitation Narayana.”
“Paundraka was emboldened by the flattery of childish men, who told him, ‘You are Vasudeva, the Supreme Lord and master of the universe, who have now descended to the earth.’ Thus he imagined himself to be the infallible Personality of Godhead.” (SB 10.66.2)
Soon the true colors of these wishful eleven gurus leaked out in the wash. Here, the very persons who we had once taken prasadam with, slept alongside on bare floors, or chanted on the streets with, had now re-incarnated into worshipful mahatmas. Shrila Prabhupada had made the impossible task of re-establishing a genuine conception of religion look easy. Yet, the crooked eleven had concluded that it was their leadership, their empowerment, and their intelligence that had brought so much success to the Hare Krishna Movement. In a repeat of Hans Christan Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, it appeared that the less dressed up they were in qualification, the more they should be worshipped for it.
In their minds, they were the chosen few and the exclusive heirs to all privileges and access to, what by late ’77, was a substantial treasury. It was for this reason that with such great aplomb they had usurped the throne and divided the treasury into eleven pieces, inventing their novel philosophy of zonalism to rationalize the theft. Devotees, godbrothers of the eleven, were leaned upon to surrender themselves before the instant acharyas if, that is, they wanted to continue living in the ashrams. Now fallen by the wayside, was the regulative principle not to gamble and to avoid mental speculation upon the Absolute Truth. New castles built upon a novel invention of pseudo-philosophy had been constructed overnight on non-existent foundations. Sanity had departed as the deranged absurdity caused by their insuppressible ambitions became harder to swallow with each passing day. Furthermore, new “ministers” were appearing everywhere because the chosen eleven mind-bogglers were promoting their own obsequious lap dog initiates over the heads of their Godbrothers. Positions like “Minister of Recordings” were invented for the sake cataloguing now-long forgotten cassette libraries of hot air. Dissenters were shown the door with harsh words, or sometimes physical violence, or even death.
Stories were circulating of rank and file devotees who had approached the eleven emperors with perplexing philosophical questions. Mostly these were simple brahmacharis whose jobs were mopping the temples, or cleaning the bathrooms, before going out to preach the message of Krishna consciousness on the streets. Whenever such sincere devotees approached the new gurus for some answer to a philosophical conundrum—perhaps some issue they had mulled over when studying Srimad-bhagavatam—the responses that devotees now received had usually been harsh and angry bluffs to cover up any lack of realization on the part of the eleven Paundrakas perched in stolen glory on their silken thrones. Generally, their responses carried the warning, “How dare you ask something that I can’t answer! So don’t try that again if you want to continue living here.” Thus the floodgates were opened, and an exodus of genuine devotees soon began. Dissatisfied disciples of Shrila Prabhupada, one by one, were abandoning the rudderless ship of the new ISKCON they had never signed on for.
Sitting at the wheel of the black Mercedes owned by “Shrila Hari Kirtan Thakura,” this stunning realization landed on top of me me like a ton of bricks. To them I was a disposable foot soldier—not a Godbrother or friend in service to the Supreme Lord. Now, the Hare Krishna Movement, under the eleven-member “Pada Squad” siege no longer had any use for me. And in the near future, as history would prove, practically every other Godbrother and Godsister would share the same feelings of betrayal and, with their departure, ISKCON’s vitality would be sapped. The new gurus were promoting their own wet-behind-the-ears disciples into positions of imagined importance that, in fact, no genuine devotee would wish to occupy. Due to the mental speculation of the Society’s GBC and their underling apologists, ISKCON soon became the very farce that Shrila Prabhupada had warned his disciples against. For His Divine Grace had often admonished:
“You are all intelligent boys and girls. You try to understand this Krishna consciousness philosophy with all your reason or argument. But try to understand it seriously. Don’t make it a farce.” (Shrila Prabhupada, conversation, 1969)
For the genuine disciple, breaking the order of the acharya in the interest of one’s own sense gratification—or landing in a feel-good position of pseudo-guruism—is a great offense. Truth be told, speculations on the subtle plane are compared to mental masturbation. And that was the problem with these mental speculators in a nutshell. Here psychos were basically playing mind games with themselves, and with the minds of the other devotees—and expecting adoration in return. But the hard truth is that these eleven had set themselves up for failure big time. For each of them the checkmate of karma would be waiting just around the corner in some form or another.
What Shrila Prabhupada’s disciples only wanted was to preach honestly the message of Bhagavad-gita As It Is on street corners, and to spread the chanting of Hare Krishna to the people of every town and village of the world. It is the order of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to tell everyone you meet the good news about Krishna consciousness and the Lord’s Holy Names. But, to the new wave of neophytes initiated by the eleven Paundrakas, spiritual advancement was measured by some puerile political appointment that had arisen as a result of mental speculation. Thanks to the new party politics of nepotism and greed, now only less advanced devotees preached on street corners, or carried book bags into offices. For the eleven, the new goal of preaching was not to preach, but to collect money to fortify their zones. Soon all the money would be chucked away in the millions due to unnecessary lawsuits.
The new wave of fawning apple-polishers, who had sprung up in all quarters, could not conceive that the actual prize of devotional service is the service itself. Genuine Krishna consciousness is in revealed in the dust of the feet of the servant, of the servant, of the servant, of the Lord. Respectful relationships—what to speak of warm exchanges—among members of ISKCON were no longer possible. Any new disciple of these Paundrakas would now be considered superior to any elder member who had worked to take this movement from cockroach-filled slum flats in Haight-Ashbury or the East Village, to building palaces all over the world for Shri Guru and Lord Krishna. Since the old soldiers were viewed with suspicion, several of the Paundrakas hired armed guards just in case anyone had ideas.
Those who had not succeed in bootlicking their way into comfortable positions were ordered to go out and sell assembly-line paintings from Korea, or to vend on the street stocks of rejected record albums that had never made the hit parade. “Sales Mantras” were invented to induce purchases from donors, who often walked away short-changed. Whereas in the seventies, ISKCON’s asset was to point out the defects of a society that Prabhupada called “two-legged dogs,” now the most popular paintings that devotees were selling were of dogs. Rather than preaching the message of the Absolute Truth, and waking up humans stuck with canine intelligence, devotees were now forced to sing lullabies of compromise in the quest for the almighty dollar to please their zonal overlords. It is said that money obtained illicitly can be enjoyed only for a limited time, after which it takes with it all wealth that has been honestly earned. And that is exactly what happened when ISKCON would nearly go bankrupt and then lost millions more in lawsuits.
“There is no need of accumulating wealth more. You can get wealth more, and also spend wealth more. This is brahmanaism. Get and spend, but not to spoil and squander. This example should be shown to others.” (Shrila Prabhupada, letter, 26 September 1975)
In the years to come the Society was forced to pay out some fifteen million dollars in legal fees, and to victims of sexual abuse in ISKCON’s gurukulas. It seems that the leaders had been too busily engaged in seeing to their own comforts and welfare, and had somehow forgotten about the most vulnerable who were under them. Dozens—or even hundreds—of children were molested, and the society was sued for some $400 million in the famous Turley lawsuit that forced ISKCON to declare bankruptcy. The innocent children of devotees were supposed to be demigods taking birth to benefit from a coming Golden Age. In the year 2000, Windle Turley, the attorney for forty-four victims, would call the gurukula outrage, “the most unthinkable abuse and maltreatment of little children we have seen. It includes rape, sexual abuse, physical torture and emotional terror of children as young as three years of age.”
Apparently, with the sincere devotees chased from the Hare Krishna Movement by the new elite, the sexual predators had been having a field day. Ironically, the only members of ISKCON who saw the inside of jail cells were street preachers and book distributors, arrested in hick towns all over America, or other countries, for chanting the Holy Names of the Lord. Not one of the criminal child molesters was ever charged with a crime, let alone made to stand trial. In fact, one of the Paundrakas now sitting in the Mercedes would be repeatedly accused by many victims and, as a reward, he was granted lifelong luxurious accommodation in Mayapur.
Senior devotees had found themselves judged by newcomers—as though they were as hungry as the neophytes for some invented ministerial post. In the real world, one can judge another only as far as his own vision allows—and the royal throngs of greenhorn devotees crowding behind ISKCON’s chosen eleven were no different. After all, many of them had been lured into the movement, not by the thought of selfless service or saving the world through chanting the Holy Names of God on street corners, but with promises of becoming the neo-acharya’s pampered pets fluffed up with fancy titles, and bribed with mahaprasada delicacies from the plates of the temple deities.
In other words, the pure devotion and selfless service that Shrila Prabhupada had taught us now was forced to take a seat way in the back of the bus, while corporate religiosity and ashram bureaucracy sat up high in the front rows. The ambitions of criminal sociopaths tossed genuine devotion to the wayside as the movement became transformed into The Church of the Eleven Paundrakas. Every Pope requires an army of self-righteous bishops to control the flocks of the ordinary with haughty threats of excommunication. And so it was that the weeds of pretended piety and imitation devotion became the rule of this concocted New ISKCON Empire, while older members rightfully wondered where Prabhupada is in all of this. With the direct disciples of the Founder-Acharya dropping off like dry leaves on a gusty autumn day, the unclothed Paundrakas found themselves at a nudist colony of sorts. Original initiates into Krishna consciousness who had given up everything were now being sent back penniless by the thousands into the cold to fend for themselves in a cold world of karma they had renounced years earlier. The world they had once railed against as false and fallible would now be their new home. Prabhupada had always wanted us to work together, but the eleven were too self-interested to care for his orders:
“We must be very careful to maintain unity in diversity, and remember the story in Aesop’s Fables of the father of many children with the bundle of sticks. When the father asked his children to break the bundle of sticks wrapped in a bag, none of them could do it. But, when they removed the sticks from the bag, and tried one by one, the sticks were easily broken. So this is the strength in unity.” (Shrila Prabhupada, letter, 1973)
Within just a few years after Shrila Prabhupada’s departure practically every rank-and-file devotee had been forced to accept the same conclusion, and somehow shown the door. The truth was that the very home for which we had given everything no longer had room for us. We were being squeezed out of our own house. For us, there was no longer even a six-foot space on the ashram floor, though our lodging sat several floors beneath the zonal acharyas’ luxury penthouses. They railed against any devotees as “demons” who they felt might criticize them—even if it was only a future possibility.
Contrarily, Shrila Prabhupada always spoke affectionately about every one of his disciples, including the foot soldiers of his army. He said:
“You have to spend or waste gallons of blood before you can convert a person to Krishna consciousness. It is [such a] difficult task.” (Shrila Prabhupada, morning walk, 1975)
Like an expert physician, our Guru Maharaja knew the pulse of each follower. Yet, the throne-thirsty Zonals seldom considered such words of Shrila Prabhupada as being of much importance—at least when gerrymandering for large swaths of imagined Earth, where they dreamed every inhabitant would now worship their new king. With gluttonous eyes fixated on their own private velour vyasasanas, the glare of imagined greatness blinded each one. They had little time to consider the approaching reality of coming sinful reactions—the vikarma-phala—that awaits the guru-drohi, or ungrateful disciple. In fact, offences against the Prabhus were offences against the Prabhupada, for the feet of Shri Guru where his true servant resides are also part and parcel of the spiritual master’s body. Although the feet are not considered the most important part of the body, it never occurred to the zonals that they should imagine what walking would be like without them, though each would soon find out.
Demigods or Demagogues?
Because they were busy implementing their own plans of tattooed divinity, and in their haste to experience the worship they craved, they had not noticed that such adoration was cheap and fake—and as a result it often had to be enforced by strong-arm regulation. For the zonal eleven had never allowed the enduring and faithful servants of the Society their moments of grief at the time of the mahasamadhi of Guru Maharaja. At one point they would even require that each temple build, at their own expense, eleven separate vyasasanas.
The great travesty of zonalism is—not only had the fourth regulative principle (no gambling or mental speculation) been crucified and entombed—that the throne of Shri Guru had been usurped and parceled out to the most cunning, greedy and aggressive members. Equally unjust was the fact that the Society’s faithful servants had not been allowed to mourn the loss of their spiritual master. Shrila Prabhupada was, and will always remain, the Founder-Acharya, the ultimate authority, and Guru or grand-Guru Maharaja of every member of ISKCON down the sampradayic line for eternity.
ISKCON as a society should have been able to spend some weeks and months in grieving their bereavement, and recollecting together all that Shrila Prabhupada had done for the Society, and towards saving the world. As His Divine Grace used to say, “I have given you everything.” That we were not allowed to weep for our loss by the grim tyranny of zonalism has remained as one of the festering sores on the back of ISKCON that will never heal.
Just days after the departure of the Founder-Acharya, the public talks by the Paundrakas were more like official sounding addresses of their intentions to become overlords. There were few public discussions about the great loss that the world had suffered with the departure of Lord Chaitanya’s direct representative. No longer as before during the manifest lila of Shrila Prabhupada would there be emphasis on sankirtana yajna. Although our Shrila Prabhupada had been the divine touchstone and transcendental desire tree for his initiated sons and daughters, his memory was being shelved away in eleven whirlwind quests for tinsel divinity. Now literature distribution dwindled as devotee preachers—persons who had actually studied the books—were chased away when they dared to inquire from the eleven confabulated authorities. The monthly magazine Back to Godhead became a bi-monthly. Its monthly distribution numbers dropped from well over a hundred thousand to just a couple thousand. When devotees had lost interest in the “backbone of the Society,” as Prabhupada called the magazine he founded in 1944, then naturally the public could not be expected to have much interest either. While the eleven zonals were focused on their comfort zones, actual preaching took a back seat.
There is nothing wrong with becoming guru, but the question of guru qualification must be given a hard look. The time-honored process of disciplic succession is to “become qualified by serving the most qualified.” Whether their goals had been the deliberate divide-and-conquer tactics of crazed megalomaniacs, or merely the posturing of eleven angry bumbling idiots, the results were identical. Devotees sought shelter in the Gaudiya Math, which Prabhupada had sternly warned us against. Ritvik camps and temples with non-parampara doctrines sprang up all over the world. Like orphans seeking shelter, devotees joined sahajiya yoga groups. Some devotees became members of outlandish cults or mundane support groups. Others returned to the “safe haven” of the religions they had been born into. Many committed suicide, or died namelessly and forgotten at the end of some lonely road.
As a response, the blind Paundrakas coldly blamed their contemporaries by accusing them of being “envious snakes.” They could not understand their own responsibility for creating the problems from which pseudo-groups headed by motivational gurus, ritviks or opportunists that had sprung in the first place.
At Hare Krishna Land, our resident acharya was known as His Divine Grace Shrila Tamal Krishna Goswami Gurudeva. In fact, he is the same person who I had known back at San Francisco in 1968, and we had stayed at the same hippie refuges together during the Summer of Love. Tamal was a force to reckon with in ISKCON. Each morning, bright and early after mangala-aratika, this gold-plated divinity would gallantly saunter into the temple all aglow with his gold Rolex and reverently climb the stairs of his marble Vyasa Asana situated next to (and at the same height of) Shrila Prabhupada’s holy seat. his facial expression was so grim and terrifying that his cold stare could have turned a Jesuit convention into a carnival. He was straight out of the Bob Dylan line, “Too serious to fool.” Comfortably ensconced against plush silk bolsters, and with flowers on his feet, Bombay’s stone-faced zonal received the worship of his humiliated peers while gazing straight ahead with cold, unblinking eyes.
By that time, two months after Shrila Prabhupada’s departure, I found myself arrested and placed on trial for first degree murder along with four other brahmacharis, a sannyasi and two chowkidhars, one of whom had wielded the weapon—an iron pipe. When we “Bombay Six” devotees were released from the jail in nearby Santa Cruz, we were given court orders to remain in the city. Four were Americans, one was an Argentine, and one Canadian. Being caught outside the city limits could have meant a trip back to jail, which was more of a dungeon. In truth the Bombay “lock-up” was actually a tortuous, filthy, mosquito-infested hell wherein we had spent several weeks. None of us wanted to go back. So we had a choice: swim with the current in the temple and avoid making waves. Or face the cruel fate of a dissenter—or even worse, as a patsy—on trial for Murder One in a very dangerous part of the world.
For the politician in the dress of a saffron pope, dividing and conquering requires washing out the old regime and changing the focus to the new-and-improved system. To appease the eleven spoiled brats in saffron, the zonal policy became the basis for a divide and conquer overthrow of the long-established parampara. All of this became obvious when this same panel of self-styled demigods voted to radically over-edit the books of His Divine Grace for the obvious purpose of instituting many of their unauthorized changes that would ever-so-subtly allow their speculations into their verses.
In the original text of Bhagavad-gita As It Is (4.34) we read: (Krishna tells Arjuna), “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.”
Soon that would change from singular to plural, from “soul” to “the self realized souls . . . ” Now we would learn: “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”
Most of us servants of Shrila Prabhupada saw the writing on the wall, and could read between the lines. We knew that this verse could just as easily have been re-edited to read, “Those eleven souls will impart their zonalism unto you—and you will be wise to agree, or else . . . ”
Within a few short years, the Hare Krishna Society became hopelessly divided against itself, as self-acclaimed zonals began running like cockroaches when the light is turned on from the monster they had created. Some, we have heard, with as much stolen loot as they could squirrel away.
Bizarre decisions in strange times and places have lead to the surreal future that surrounds us today. The pendulum has swung back to the other direction. Militant zonalism has given way to healthy fad diets, festivals of color, animal rights, motivational gurus, bogus literatures, eco-retreats, poor-feeding, gymnastic yoga, life-coaching, Krishna rap, Meher Baba, youth melas, hospitals, fashion shows, tantric-fests, photo-ops with war mongering politicians, and schmoozing with Hindu millionaires and movie starlets. Today’s ISKCON is a limp-wristed and wet handshake of the dynamic sankirtan movement that it was in the late 60s and 70s, during the manifest lila of the Founder-Acharya. Genuine devotion has been usurped in many areas by the feelgood crowd with strange forms of blended hippie-tantra with New Age pseudo-humanitarianism. The great harm that the original sin of zonalism has created to Shrila Prabhupada’s Hare Krishna Movement continues to deeply incise into the guts of a once-vibrant social phenomenon, although the present façade of liberalism with an expected friendly glow of acceptance is merely a mask for an even sterner Reich that simmers somewhere just beneath the quasi-liberal surface.
To this day, the poisonous fruits of zonal trees planted four decades past, are still growing among the weeds at the dead-end streets of the New Age ISKCON. The bitter fruits of the hybrid tree that was planted by ISKCON’s Paundrakas continue to mutate into various other new and improved concoctions. It defies logic that anyone can claim divinity only so long as he sits within the confines of his own personal kingdom surrounded by flatterers—but that is the Paundraka mentality of self-appointed divinity.
“Don’t manufacture your ways of pleasing God. Don’t manufacture. Suppose I want to please you. Then I shall ask you, ‘How can I serve you?’ Not that I manufacture some service. That is not pleasing. Suppose I want a glass of water. If you concoct the idea, ‘Swamiji will be more pleased if I give him a glass of milk, hot milk,’ that will not please me. If you want to please me, then you should ask me, ‘How can I please you?’ And if you do what I order, that will please me.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers)
Just as the British architects of India’s partition carved out many new countries from a single land, and created eternal fighting on the borders of each, so the eleven self-acclaimed “acharyas” carved up “the house that Prabhupada built for the world” into their own private lounge parlors, with wars waged by their dispensable foot soldiers on the borders. By design they created dissent and infighting by their warped fantasies to enjoy a seat way up on the melting tips of their own icebergs.
For anyone who feels that my assessment is either harsh or incorrect, when you come along to apprise me of my intolerance and fault-finding nature, please bring a cloth that I can wipe my tears with—for there is no sin greater than destroying the work of a pure devotee which is what the Paundrakas did. Shrila Prabhupada is my eternal spiritual master, and it is my duty as his initiated disciple to speak up and confront deviations. Speaking out without being a fault-finder or gossip monger is the very least that a genuine guru expects of his disciples. Guru Maharaja never approved of compromising Krishna’s message.
“But as a preacher[s] we should simply speak the real truth. There is no question of corresponding with your ideas and another idea, no. We ... Whatever we know, whatever we have heard from our authorities we’ll speak. That’s all. It may be somebody may know better than me. That is another thing. But I have to present what I have learned from the authority. That’s all. And our authority is Krishna, mainly. Yare dekha tare kaha ‘krishna-upadesha ... That is the spiritual master. Who does not add or subtract from the talks of Krishna, he is spiritual master. One who adds and subtracts according to his whims, he is not spiritual master. He is not bona fide spiritual master. ‘I ... my opinion...’ ‘I give this interpretation...’ He is not authorized. You are lawyer, you know better than me. In your law court you cannot change the law by your opinion. That is not possible.” (Shrila Prabhupada, conversation with a guest, 10 November 1970)
We must consider whether our narration of historical events constitutes mere gossip—mundane gramya-shastra. Or could this be a service to the reader who might learn to avoid the blunders of others? “Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.” Henry Doktorski’s books are tightly-researched and, apart from that, he was around many of the very scenes he describes, just as I was.
Such accounts stand as lessons to ambitious men and women to understand the depths of Prabhupada’s words, and to follow them. “Be very careful. You are dealing with Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, lecture, 1972)
Zonalism was eventually declared null and void, though its poisonous effects deteriorated the movement. Today as I write this, nearly forty-four years after Shrila Prabhupada’s departure, the departed eleven have mostly ambled off to their own destinies. Still, many ulcerate lesions and woeful after-effects linger and continue to haunt the Society. The wiser and more compassionate amongst us have advised forgiveness, because the hollow ambitions of the inexperienced only served to destroy their own lives, while the the more vigilant members of the Hare Krishna Movement managed to run from their tyranny, and to continue in their faith. Vaishnavas are meant to be saintly, magnanimous and tolerant individuals. As our Shrila Prabhupada’s Guru Maharaja, His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, famously said, “The only reason that I find fault with others is due to the fact that I, myself, am honey-combed with them.”
Perhaps all is not lost. A few very determined saviors of Lord Chaitanya’s movement have arisen from the dark shadows of blind absolutism. There is a handful of very stalwart devotees who have remained fixed and faithful to the order of Shri Guru, despite the rise and fall of despotic zonals. Though unnamed here, a few living gurus in the sampradaya that descends from Shrila Prabhupada have arisen and are pushing forward the work of Krishna’s pure devotee. These few are the heroes of the Hare Krishnas.
Nonetheless, the zonal era is a historical fact, and those who forget the follies and the blunders of a sordid history are condemned to repeat them. Neither can the past ever be changed. Their offenses against guru and Vaishnavas are set in stone, and—despite whatever price the eleven and their cohorts must pay for their deluded antics—only they can rectify their past sinful karmas by finally fully surrendering to Krishna, and begging forgiveness from each person, each devotee, they have offended, beginning with sincere obeisances to the Founder-Acharya of ISKCON himself. The Supreme Lord, in his four-armed form as Narayana, tells the great sage Durvasa Muni (SB 9.4.63-5):
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said to the brahmanas: I am completely under the control of My devotees. Indeed, I am not at all independent. Because My devotees are completely devoid of material desires, I sit only within the cores of their hearts. What to speak of My devotee, even those who are devotees of My devotee are very dear to Me. O best of the brahmanas, without saintly persons for whom I am the only destination, I do not desire to enjoy My transcendental bliss and My supreme opulences. Since pure devotees give up their homes, wives, children, relatives, riches and even their lives simply to serve Me, without any desire for material improvement in this life or in the next, how can I give up such devotees at any time? As chaste women bring their gentle husbands under control by service, the pure devotees, who are equal to everyone and completely attached to Me in the core of the heart, bring Me under their full control.”
In the instance described above, the Supreme Lord advised the offender Durvasa Muni—for his own benefit and protection—immediately to beg forgiveness from the devotee, King Ambarisha, whom he had offended. Lord Vishnu (Narayana) added, “One’s so-called prowess, when employed against the devotee, certainly harms he who employs it. Thus it is the subject, not the object, who is harmed.”
Even so, it remains a wonder that these regrettable episodes infiltrated the Hare Krishna family in the first place, nearly resulting in the dissolution of the only spiritual movement that can save the world. Prabhupada showed that every detail for spiritual perfection has already been long-established in the sampradaya with no need for the “new and improved.” Still, the vainglorious attempts of eleven self-centered personalities who posed as divinely-empowered innovators in a long-established spiritual lineage, continues to confound—and hurt. The Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness instructed his disciples many times that when he has given everything, there was no need to add or subtract. Convenient revisions cannot improve a message that is perfect and complete once and for all time.
“So don’t go to rascal. If you want real knowledge, take it from Bhagavan—bhagavan uvaca. Then your knowledge is perfect. That is our process. We, we have taken Bhagavad-gita as it is, and we are preaching. We don’t preach anything else which Bhagavan does not say. Bhagavan says, man-mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaji mam... [Bhagavad-gita 18.65]. We are canvassing, ‘My dear sir, you just become a devotee of Krishna. You always think of Krishna.’ Krishna says, man-mana bhava mad-bhaktah. We say, ‘You just think of Krishna.’ The same thing. There is no change. We do not interpret any way, ‘This man-manah means this, and mad-bhaktah means that.’ No. We don’t do that. We present as it is. Therefore if Krishna sees that ‘One is presenting My message as I have given,’ then he is pleased. Therefore, it is said, kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya. He has become very dear because he does not, nonsensically, he does not nonsensically change the meaning, that ‘This meaning’s that, this meaning’s that.’ Why? When Krishna has said, that is everything perfect. Why should I change it? That is guru-priya. Suppose if you say something and if somebody takes it as it is and behaves like that, then you become pleased. And if you say to your son or to your servant something and he misunderstand and talks something else, then he becomes angry.” (Shrila Prabhupada, lecture, 13 December 1974)
The glaring truth is that a genuine acharya is automatically a jagat guru, a teacher of the entire universe. The genuine acharya who freely dispenses the universal truths emanating from his heart cannot be limited to any zone on a single planet. He is the spiritual master of the universe. But such details elude false emperors who, though naked, like it when their wrists are adorned with gold Rolex watches, their clothes are laundered for them, their food is served on silver platters, and their bank balances are growing. However, factual history has spoken in loud, somber and tragic voices all too many times, and in too many instances, about the retributions for Guru-aparadha. Ultimately, Krishna himself is the judge and jury. His hands are in all places; he is all-seeing; he tastes all things; and he knows the character of all men and species. He speaks every language and understands each and every thought of everyone. He resides in the heart of hearts of all that live and breathe. The path of spirit is nothing less than the edge of the sharpest razor. As Shrila Prabhupada reminded us so many times:
“So we should be very much careful. Careful ... It is said, ksurasya dhara nishita duratyaya. The spiritual path, Krishna consciousness path, is just like sharpened razor. You take your sharpened razor and shave your cheek. If you are expert, it will be very clean-shaved. But if you are not expert, there is little inattention, immediately cut and blood.”
By adopting the contradicting terms “zonal” and “acharya,” and trying to glue them together with some convenient mental speculation, these foolish neophytes had actually created a glaring loophole in their own bids for Divinity. Since an acharya is not limited to time and place, the concept of “zonal acharya” is patently ridiculous. The egos carried on their noses, and the big chips balanced on their shoulders were obvious to any casual onlooker, but they blinded the foolish guru to their own follies. One who has nothing to lose is never defensive about losing it. Contrarily, the materialist goes mad by protecting something that he will never even actually own. Even though they bolstered themselves with gold ornaments, silk dhotis, and with male and female servants running hither and thither at their every beck and call, the top-heaviness of their platforms capsized each one along with their unfortunate followers.
When their Godbrothers and Godsisters were banished to their own destinies, it would be the divide-and-conquer policies instituted by the zonal boys that ultimately weakened each one. Their own selfish policies fragmented the work of Prabhupada and destroyed their fiefdoms. Though guru means “heavy,” their zones became so light that the eleven simply found themselves floating off or evaporating.
Nearly all of the zonal acharyas suffered ignoble ends. One ended up in jail for counterfeiting; another formed an LSD cult only to be decapitated by his disciple. One announced himself as God, and that his female masseuse was his divine consort, before going off to play elevator music on his guitar. Another was charged in a court of law with murder and imprisoned for racketeering. Another became an alcoholic, pill-popping womanizer. One fell for an underage girl and just ran away from his responsibilities, while two others were caught molesting boys. Yet another pined away writing a sex novel while trying to enjoy an Internet affair with a married woman, and drawing childish pictures. These are all factual warnings to the wise. Somehow or other, the eye of karma remained focused on each one of them.
As a result of the zonals assigning posts to only the most obsequious disciples, ISKCON’s gurukulas became hotbeds of child abuse and molestation. Little did the perverts in holy robes care that Prabhupada had stated these children were coming from higher realms to assist the movement of Mahaprabhu. Little did these phantoms of the school building care that the children’s parents were devotees, and that whole families for generations would be devastated by their evil transgressions. Neither was the management vigilant to investigate how the children were being cared for.
Many ex-gurukulis committed suicide, suffering from old wounds for which no one had really taken responsibility beyond issuing court-mandated checks. Not only did the gurukula scandal cost ISKCON millions—but it also caused the loss of support of every well-known person who was favorable to the Hare Krishna Movement.
To quote Bob Dylan, everywhere there were “phantoms of the opera in perfect images of priests.” In short, if there had been a Nobel Prize for ineptness and incompetence in leadership, it would have gone to the blundering progenitors of zonalism for making a farce out of a well-organized and once-happy spiritual family. In their eagerness to become instant acharyas, the zonals had given themselves the position of well-paid hangmen, whose first job it was to destroy imagined competition before hanging themselves. Which indeed happened almost to a man.
For the imitation guru, activities like flying around the world or giving private darshans to sexy women became more important than the sankirtana yajna, the only panacea for the dark age we live in. With the domino effect of each one’s personal catastrophe, the Paundrakas came within a hair’s breadth of taking Prabhupada’s ISKCON down with them. The golden beat of mridanga and karatals would be heard less and less on the main streets of the world. Flattering mundane scholars, or selling ordinary paintings became more urgent than Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s spreading of the Yuga Dharma. When ISKCON’s Bhaktivedanta Institute gave free Bombay vacations to leading scholars, one scholar was heard asking another how to tell who was in charge since all the devotees have shaved heads and robes. The other quipped, “The leaders are the ones with the gold Rolexes.” Shrila Prabhupada would always become dismayed if ever his disciples were ordered to sell books without understanding what was actually written within the books. One wonders whether the Paundrakas ever read this verse from the Bhagavatam (SB 5.14.7):
“Sometimes the living entity is interested in the yellow stool known as gold and runs after it. That gold is the source of material opulence and envy, and it can enable one to afford illicit sex, gambling, meat-eating and intoxication. Those whose minds are overcome by the mode of passion are attracted by the color of gold, just as a man suffering from cold in the forest runs after a phosphorescent light in a marshy land, considering it to be fire.”
Then, as the PhD wing of ISKCON—Bhaktivedanta Institute—fell to pieces, many of the Society’s so-called educated began to openly doubt some of Shrila Prabhupada’s teachings. That—despite the fact that in a genuine spiritual lineage, the acharya’s word is final, and changing one letter of his teachings counts as nothing less than spiritual treason. Today the Bhaktivedanta Institute is a distant memory.
Since the disciplic chain had become broken through the poison of mental gymnastics, the dynamic potency of pure Krishna consciousness felt during the manifest lila of the Founder-Acharya simply dissipated. Lectures became quasi-spiritual double talk that were nothing but poorly-concealed defenses, filled with pointless vituperance aimed at defending the positions of the GBC and their gang of eleven. What had once been a house for the whole world to live in, was now a giant conflagration, as the zonals became like fish in a shallow summer pond. Chained within the walls of their own mental fantasies, the Society they were supposed to lead was set ablaze with false doctrines fueled by their hurtful arrogance.
Just months into zonal Tamal Krishna’s reign, the threads began to pull apart in Bombay. Due to some mismanagement of tenants on the Hare Krishna Land property, a vicious fight broke out between an illegal squatter, a common thug, and the chowkidhars, or hired Indian gate guards. Their fight resulted in the death of the tenant, a first class bully. This murder gave the politicians the green light to arrest us. The trial took nearly two years, and when the Not Guilty verdict was delivered, I immediately left India lest some judge somewhere change his mind.
It was after the Not Guilty verdict that one of the zonals, Hansadutta, lured me to Berkeley where he said he would arrange college lectures. It was a great idea, and a great relief after years of very hard living. I traveled half way around the world on a shoestring and in good faith, but no college class ever materialized for me. I had not realized what I was getting into by escaping India for Berkeley. There could be no truer example of “out of the pan and into the fire.” Hansadutta, then a swami and a self-described “guru with guns,” was arrested some time after I arrived for shooting up a liquor store and Cadillac dealership. His defense was that he was trying to express his renunciation of materialism.
From Reverie to Reality
Today, that is all history. But on that spring day of 1981, as I was sitting at the wheel of Hansadutta’s Mercedes with three grumpy zonals in the passenger seats, each millionaire guru felt that the toll should be paid by someone else. As we pull up alongside the booth, I sheepishly suggest that one of the swamis must come up with a few precious dollars. After all, do they not each preach about how Krishna provides everything—when the money is funneled into their hands? It’s Hansadutta’s car, so he feels that someone else should pay. Bhavananda, whose fingers are adorned with tens of thousands of dollars worth of precious gems, is looking into the other direction out towards the bay in a pretense of distraction, while Rameshwara is spitting his venom.
The tiny episode had triggered some grand revelations. The message was clear, “A plebeian like you is meant to pay for us patricians.” About that time, most of my Godbrothers and Godsisters were having similar revelations. In the stoic and austere Mercedes, the collected spite of three false gurus told me in no uncertain terms that the need of the hour was to escape the burning house. I had never wanted to leave Prabhupada’s family, but now that was what I needed to do. I would soon join the ranks of thousands of God-brothers and sisters on a solitary road to God-knows-where, each of us moving on according to his or her own lonely destiny.
Eventually, Hansadutta found the dollar bills for the toll in a zippered purse. I continued to drive, but from that moment onward, I was no longer a member of whatever they had re-fashioned Prabhupada’s movement into. In my mind, I had just departed the family. Even so, I can never leave my spiritual master. That is impossible, because disciple means for all time. The words and blessings of Shri Guru are the heart and soul of the disciple. Shrila Prabhupada had assured me years earlier in a letter dated 5 June 1973:
“For the devotees of the Lord there always many difficulties for propagating Krishna Consciousness among the nondevotee demons. But we must learn to tolerate all the difficulties and push on regardless of whatever obstacles we may be presented with. No one can stop this Krishna Consciousness Movement because Lord Chaitanya wants that his Holy Names will be spread to every village and town. So go on with the preaching work and keep me informed of your progress.”
Patita-Uddharana dasa (Miles Davis)
April 21, 2021, Rama Navami: the Appearance Day of Lord Ramachandra
Image by Atmavidya: email@example.com