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Hridayananda Swami and Krsna Devata on Child Protection

August 8, 2021

Hridayananda das Goswami and Krsna Devata spoke with Damodara on the subject of child abuse in ISKCON.

“Child abuse is Asura Dharma, it’s demonic.” – Hridayananda das Goswami

Hridayananda das Goswami:

“I think there is a lot of hypocrisy if I can just be honest, a lot of nonsense with masquerades of advanced Krishna consciousness.“

“The GBC doesn’t listen to me either. They were incapable of even minimal courtesy,… when they meet together something goes very horribly wrong.”

“I don’t say the GBC are illegitimate, but objectively, clearly they have major, major problems in dealing properly with devotees of Iskcon.”

“If I were going to be honest here I would say many of the GBC are nice people, I think they are trying to serve Srila Prabhupada sincerely. Some of them I think actually have problems of the type, you know,… They have serious problems.”

“Iskcon has a problem, we don’t have excellent leadership. Iskcon does not have inspiring leadership.”

“The GBC fits very neatly into the profile of an oligarchy that cares more about protecting itself then actually helping people.”

“I know many zones where there is just awful leadership at the GBC level, whether it’s incompetence, whether it’s a GBC who is bullying and just sort of bullies the people in the zone and there’s no diversity and if you’re not with him you get punished.”

“There are temple presidents where there is what I called in my paper, pockets of tyranny in Iskcon, little Banana Republics. Dictatorships.”

“There’s no question of following Prabhupada’s statement that Iskcon is meant to train devotees to be independently thoughtful.”

Krsna Devata dasi:

“We have institutionalised ourselves around an abuse culture.”

“I mean really, sometimes I get the impression that all the woman and children could just walk away and like, the celibate man would be happy with that.“

“This is actually the fundamental foundation of society, the child, and the rights of the child are so fundamental that this is the easiest means for us to measure integrity, effectiveness, respect and devotion.”

“Krishna Himself is a child most of the time when we worship Him.”

“Kamsa sent so many child abusers to Vrndavan,… and we don’t have any hero like Krishna to kill them.”

“When you’re in the top layer like in that first chart, you’re Brahmana/Sannyasa, there’s no way for you to know what it’s like to be a woman or a child within Iskcon. So I am telling you that we are left out with the shoes!“

(After an in-depth explanation of the Yama/Niyama chart) “I argue that child abuse breaks all four of the Regulative Principles.“

“This is an incredibly deep cut in the psyche and the karmic imprint.“

“I use that word Samskara because it marks us, that’s why I called the trauma a Samskara, because I feel like it’s maybe something people will understand, the lifelong imprint. That’s the karmic imprint of abuse.“

HDG: I would say that child abuse is, I’m tempted to say, that it not only breaks the principles of yoga, but it’s actually what would almost be called asuric-dharma. That it’s demonic.

85% of Protestant minister’s across all the denominations, 85% voted that a minister, someone who is in ministry, who has sexually abused anyone, especially a minor, should never again in this life be permitted or admitted into ministry.

KD: Every type of abuse, like physical, sexual, emotional, all involve psychological abuse, psychic damage.

The philosophy has been wielded as a tool of psychological abuse, as a tool or a weapon of psychological abuse.

If children aren’t acknowledged as Vaishnavas then they lose their human rights and it’s gone. Because the Sannyasi, or any adult is considered a Vaisnava.

It’s also important to make the distinction that child abuse is not a fall down, it’s not an accident.

When there is no acknowledgement then abuse survivors self-direct that pain, or direct it to the world.

It continues to perpetuate the human harm when we see a person who has made a violation or offence that egregious, asura-dharma, and they’re continuing to be elevated on the Vyasasana.

When we see abusers in positions of public trust and power it continues to harm the victim.

HDG: I think it’s very telling that the GBC, despite urgent calls for decades, is unable to establish a Justice Ministry in Iskcon. I mean that speaks for itself.

I thoroughly endorse and really want to sort of, free Iskcon from this pervasive amateurism on so many levels.

Prabhupada always taught this, that if we’re going to have the audacity to present ourselves to the public as a higher culture, spiritual culture, we have to set a higher standard, not a lower standard.

Blaming the victim is obviously absurd.

To commit child abuse, especially for one who is in a high position is an unspeakable, horrible thing.

KD: Would you agree that child abuse within Iskcon is Vaisnava aparadha?

HDG: Oh, it’s major Vaisnava aparadha.

KD: Do you know I get death threats for advocating for child protection?

HDG: Whoever made the death threats I would say is an asura in Vaisnava dress.

I think you are eloquently and powerfully making extremely important points. I think Iskcon cannot succeed, cannot flourish unless it really pays attention to what you’re saying.

KD: most abuses are protected by the institution already. Especially if they have any position, or if they have friends in the GBC. The GBC will always meddle and devalue the work of Child Protection.

So although I understand your considerations about due process, I think that you were making those points not in a general sense, but it was in relation to a particular case, and that intervention on that case was not welcome, like any other GBC or sanyasi should stay away.

There’s just been so much protection for abusers. There’s so many ways the abuse is enabled.

He, (Dhanurdhara) is an example of even where CPO made a ruling it is not followed by many GBC’s, Sannyasis and Gurus, and they enable him. They enable this.

KD: several brothers took their lives from being beaten. I’ll tell you stories Maharaja! I’ve heard from these men what their experiences were.

Dhanurdhara had a signature slap. Boxing kids by their ears really hard, both their ears, (makes a gesture of hitting both ears at the same time) and several boys, men, have permanent ear damage. Permanent damage to the eardrums from this boxing to the head.

Every day his method, (Dhanurdhara) of walking through the Gurukula and deciding, ‘who is going to get it today’? The element of surprise is intense psychological abuse.

So just let me put it to you this way, can you imagine if there was an Iskcon Swami who was using the same methodology with cows in the Holy Dham? They would have lost their life, (snaps her fingers for emphasis).

HDG: Good point.

KD: They would have lost their life in India. But here we waffle, “oh it was so long ago”.

Dhanurdhara will never be forgiven in this lifetime because his victims took their lives.

My point is, when I went after this, he is preaching, just like you have your Krishna West, he’s preaching all over America. So the message is that you know, that he’s accepted. While I watched him bring all those yoga people and tourists, new people and millennial’s, second-generation into the Holy Dham, following a Sannyasi who had performed asura-dharma, repeatedly, prolonged, for many years. And not just like one or two, like hundreds of children were slammed by this man. Then I was the one called a vigilante, I was the one called mob justice!

When I go to the GBC, I’m just a little girl Maharaja, they just see me as a little girl. And so I started a petition, and we approach the GBC with that, 3000 names. Because that’s the only way I’ll be heard, otherwise I’m out with the shoes Maharaja, I’m out with the shoes.

There is no place for me to be heard, and there is no means to advocate for our children, our victims, our brothers and sisters.

HDG: I see you as an activist, and that’s a very different to what I meant by vigilante.

In the case of the person you mentioned, there are proven offences, some of them very grave, I mean most grave. Vigilante means, in the sense that I’m using it, is you skip the judicial process and it’s like frontier justice, and just hang them from the highest tree. But in the case of Dhanurdhara Swami, he did go through the judicial process, and therefore the statement KD is making, she’s not bypassing the judicial process. It actually took place. And so what she’s demanding is justice, she’s demanding that on proven allegations that proper measures should be taken. That’s not vigilantism. She’s fighting for justice, she understands it.

KD: Maharaja, the problem with the case you were involved in though is that if you fight too heavily for fair process without fighting for the voice of the victim, and fight too heavily to make sure justice is served for the perpetrator,… that’s why you ended up on that side of the argument.

HDG: Okay, you’re probably right. The same thing you’ve said I’ve heard from my own disciples.

I think it’s very important that you, and myself, Damodara, and other people who feel strongly, and who are obviously coming from different experiences talk to each other. In order to have a Brahminical dialogue we can’t hate each other, we can’t call each other malicious names.

I think it’s a mistake tactically, strategically, to think that everybody has to wait around for an often ineffective GBC to become effective.

I believe that what Iskcon really needs is people like you, and to form really powerful NGO’s (Non-governmental organizations) that really sway public opinion.

When I started Krishna West there were some leaders in the Movement who were just absolutely determined to like, destroy it. There was an incredible amount of, I would say, abusive injustice. And so what I did is I took my case to the people.

What we see now (in Iskcon) is a totally top-down model with very little lateral movement.

When I was doing research on the GBC, I was writing a paper, a 60 page paper on the lack of justice in the GBC and Iskcon.

How do we solve the problem of a GBC which is largely unable to do quality control of its own members? The heavy word would be cronyism. They may interpret it just as compassion for their old friends or something, but you could call it cronyism.

KD: There does need to be some way to address the GBC that doesn’t take a crusade.

HDG: When the GBC understand that a lot of people are persuaded by your arguments, and a lot of people are behind you, they will do what they need to do in order to keep peace in Iskcon.

KD: Here’s the church and here’s the steeple,… and here’s all the people! (Displays powerful Mudra).

HDG: I believe in Iskcon, not because I think at this point we are doing particularly brilliant, but because I think that if we are sincere, and we are devoted, then Krishna will somehow empower us and help us.

Civility is so important because it allows us to enrich each other by bringing experiences that the other may not have had.

KD: Me being frustrated with Iskcon and saying, “I’m done with it”, they don’t know that they’re losing me, they don’t have any clue, right? And I’ve even heard recently like, people talking, like dismissing me, “oh she’s not part of Iskcon.” So I just want for you and many others to know that I didn’t say I’m leaving Iskcon, and even Iskcon to tell me I am not part of Iskcon! I was raised on Krishna prasadam, I was raised in the Temples of Iskcon, and Iskcon will forever be part of my life story. If I ever write a ‘Tell All’ they’ll definitely be in my book, even if I’m not in the theirs!

One of the reasons that I bring that up, and I think this is an important point: A group isn’t just a group. Everybody who has left the group is also telling of the group. Every person who has left Iskcon is actually part of Iskcon. And when we think of that broad picture, of the people who have been harmed or discarded in their story with Iskcon, that’s a much broader and more accurate picture.

I love Srila Prabhupada and Srila Prabhupada loves me. That I know. And I also know that Krishna has witnessed everyone of us.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

HDG: Let’s say a disciple feels, “you saved me from material life, you bought me to Krishna and I’ll always be grateful.” And on the other hand there is the (guru’s) past activities which are horrendous. I feel compassion for these people, those followers, because they haven’t abused anyone.

KD: I think this is where some of the really dangerous territory is. This is the first question that comes up with abusive gurus, “what about the disciples?” And unfortunately the question itself has been used to negate the victims over and over.

So if we talk about First Responders to a situation, The First Responders need to, 1: Acknowledge the victim. That has to come first! Not the institution. Not the Guru. Not the disciples. They’re always talked about first. What about the victim? That has to become number one! And then we can create empathy and space for feelings for everyone.

When we understand the impact of abuse, including spiritual abuse, including what happens to a victim once they speak, once they speak and then the secondary level of abuse that starts to happen, and this is where some of the spiritual abuse happens. They’re told not to criticise. They’re told he is a great devotee, all of those things. And so the whole thing is gaslit in the name of Krishna. And so the name of Krishna is weaponised. The words of Scripture and the Gita are weaponised to crush the victim.

HDG: If kind of a bad situation is created for the disciples, I think it’s the guru’s fault.

If the Guru uses whatever moral authority he or she has with the disciples to make it very clear that, I appreciate your love for me, and you appreciate what I’ve done for you, but that all of us, me and my disciples – this is what KD said – our first concern has to be for those people who were victimised.

I think ultimately a true disciple, seeing that this person I’m following and who did very bad things earlier in his life, is actually profoundly, and in the first instance, concerned for the victims. I think if the Guru sets that example that your first concern should not be with me, it should actually be with these people.

If it is a real conflict for the disciples, I think it’s the Guru who again, failed to really instill in the followers, first compassion for the victim.

Damodara: But in essence most of the time the “punishment“ I’m not even sure is truly a punishment. It’s more of a time-out.

HDG: the last thing in the world that I would want to do is try to influence the outcome. All I want to see is a professionalism where Iskcon meets appropriate standards to address this. And if that happens it’s none of my business what the judgement is.

Saraswati: (Damodara reading her question off the live comment feed)

I’ve noticed leaders will sometimes interfere in child protection cases to defend the abuser, but I’ve never seen or heard leaders interfering to defend the victim. Maharaja, have you yourself, or seen other leaders interfering to defend or support the victim?

HDG: Thank you Saraswati. That would correlate with general studies with some of the weaknesses and problems with oligarchies. The charge that when compassion has been shown it’s more often to the accused perpetrator than it is to the victim. I think there’s some truth in that.

So yeah, I have nothing to critique on what Saraswati said. I think it’s a very important observation.

Damodara: Do you have a view as to why it’s more prevalent in religious circles? We see this problem and other churches and other religions where the instinct is to protect Father so-and-so, and you know, re-locate him or petition on his behalf. Is there something about religious sentiments which potentially cloud judgements even more than in secular society?

(HDG invites KD to answer Damodara’s question)

KD: When we talk about ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ I can’t think of any position more powerful than Guru, because this is like, the God-Power.

I think what happens is fundamentalism comes into play. We start to weaponise religion as power. Then the Scriptures are being used to entrench power. And the disciples. All of that.

HDG: There’s a very significant way in which Iskcon is not following God-given social systems.

It’s clear that Krishna has separated the two most powerful communities in society, which is the religious authority, which can be very powerful, and the political wing. In Iskcon these two powers, Brahmana and Kshatriya are merged into one body. If you read Mahabharata and Bhagavatam you see that it is like a balance where these two powers are separated.

I think we shouldn’t underestimate the power of concerned, articulate citizens. In the paper I wrote I gave two examples where very important decisions were made by the GBC, but it was the tail wagging the dog, it was because of pressure.

There were some GBC members who were absolutely hellbent on destroying Krishna West. I mean that was their dream in life. And they used all kinds of underhanded techniques to do so, I might add.

I thank you, (KD) and other devotees like you who are articulate, principled, intelligent, and can really play a powerful role in Iskcon. It’s not just about the ultimate managing authority.

I was in Prabhupada’s room so many times when parents bought their little kids in, because those days almost all the kids were little. And there was one thing Prabhupada always said and it entered my heart and I never forgot it. He would look at us, like really transfix us in his gaze, and he would say, “take care of them, they are the future hope.”

I would encourage you (KD) and good devotees like you. We need a strong citizen’s voice in Iskcon. Loyal opposition. We need NGO’s.

And please don’t underestimate the power you can have by persuading good devotees.

Damodara: Srila Prabhupada often talks about preaching is taking a risk, and I always thought, well yeah, maybe if you were behind the Iron Curtain or something. But it does strike me that in this day and age of ‘cancel culture’ and so on, even taking a position on anything potentially can put you at great risk!

We are hoping more and more Iskcon leaders will follow your (HDG’s) cue and realise this is not an issue that we can keep sort of brushing under the carpet, it’s not an issue we need to avoid because it’s deeply uncomfortable and often exposes a shadow side of the Movement that we just don’t want to look at.

KD: It is really an honour to have the opportunity to have proper discourse. And I feel like we have made some progress in finding common ground and agreement and that’s really important.

HDG: I wanted to thank both of you. I’m really grateful to you both for facilitating this. And I’ve learned. I think I have a better understanding than I did before. And I’m happy that we’re talking to one another.

Damodara: Thank you for stepping into the fray on such an emotionally charged issue and providing some real thoughts. Thank you also KD for making such a passionate case for the voices that are often just not represented in these things. That’s really important.

NB: In parliamentary systems of government, the loyal opposition is the opposition parties in the legislature. The word loyal indicates that the non-governing parties may oppose the actions of the sitting cabinet while remaining loyal to the formal source(s) of the government’s power, such as the monarch or constitution.

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