Letter from Rupanuga ACBSP ’66
June 20, 2021
Thank you for this opportunity to give my response in this matter. My humble obeisances to you for this service to Srila Prabhupada by defending those children he saw as the flowers of his Movement and its future. I have examined your enclosure.
In my opinion, the problem for all involved is the need to fully understand the deeper meaning of the term “child abuse” when describing devotees involved, both perpetrators and victims. Actually, it is a disgrace that the need for a CPO in Iskcon even exists. How is it that a truly spiritual institution requires a special office for protecting its children from its own adult members? Any thoughtful person, apprised of such a need, what to speak of the documented abuses, would hardly join such an institution! Because Iskcon leadership has successfully managed to keep such anomalies from the public, what to speak of most of the devotee community, the institution has managed to maintain some acceptability and reputation in the modern world. Unfortunately, at this time there is even propaganda in the general society, rife with child abuse or pedophilia, to minimize the same behavior. In turn, this plays into the hands of Iskcon’s documented history of also reducing its importance, which means cheating or deceiving the public as well as the devotees.
However, in my opinion, unless the child abuse in Iskcon is made more public, it will continue as it is at this writing. Because such cases are so often kept secret by family members concerned about reputation and shame, they must ignore the potential of protecting other “Iskcon” children by releasing or providing information on their behalf.
The impact of the difference between child abuse in the general society and Iskcon is to be carefully understood. When a child is placed by parents in the charge or company of a teacher or preacher, it is in the context of or surrounded by a spiritual atmosphere of asram, temple worship, Deities, prasad, kirtans, paintings, books, dramas, festivals, parikrams, etc. In other words, a specifically spiritual culture.
Based upon such an atmosphere prized by surrounding adults, who very importantly endow the leaders of such a spiritual culture with reputation and authority, the children naturally develop faith and trust.
Herein is the deep difference between child abuse in Iskcon or by Iskcon leaders, and the abuse perpetrated in the general society. Professionals have well delineated the social, psychological, pathological and moral damage caused in the greater society by the many forms of child abuse and pedophilia. But they have no idea of the meaning of the abuse of the spirit-soul’s chances or opportunities for developing its dormant Krishna consciousness, the greatest advantage of human life. The faith of the child is at stake. Even in more normal circumstances as described by Srila Prabhupada, if a child is forced into 16 rounds before twelve years old, they will lose faith in chanting the Holy Name later.
Now it is true that the soul cannot be burned, wetted, withered by the wind, etc., or touched by bullet or rod. Yet the soul is affected, when the developing dormant Krishna consciousness is betrayed by other spirit-souls garbed in the guise of spiritual teachers and presenting as shelter and protectors. Such entities knowingly compromise or tamper with the natural evolution of Krishna consciousness in the children, creating confusion and fear of the process, by the force and audacity of perverse behavior. This is a direct attack on the children’s faith in their parents, Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna. Such heartless, selfish misbehavior is intended to be strongly dealt with.
Such a trauma of trust and hope for a dependent devotee child is beyond description for an adult who has never experienced it. To put it another way, can the sun rays be separated from the sun? Or consciousness separated from the soul? Is the sunlight different than the sun, the consciousness different from the soul? Yes, they are both one and different; yet the rays and the consciousness lead back to the sun and the soul. So, when the child’s consciousness is in the process of the purification of bhakti yoga, it is — especially in the child’s mood of dependent trust– vulnerable to the infusion of fear and distress. In other words, spiritual abuse is so much deeper than that to mind and body as in ordinary abuse cases. It is not to be temporarily cured or corrected by mundane therapies dealing with mind, intelligence and ego. Spiritual abuse is as close to touching the soul as one can get. Such spiritual trauma has to do with transcendence; it is in a class by itself.
What can be done? Firstly, the offender must sincerely beg forgiveness from the victim. And the offender must be simultaneously punished according the nature of the offense. During the last official meeting with the GBC on May 27, 1977, Srila Prabhupada made it clear that any previous past lenient policy “for working” must now be replaced by removal for misconduct by any GBC member. Certainly this applies to any sannyasi, guru or other trusted leader, especially since Srila Prabhupada is no longer present to make any nuanced adjustments acceptable to all. Abused devotees’ faith in Srila Prabhupada and his mission, both children and adults, has been damaged by the cavalier behavior of most leaders after his disappearance, who have ignored or abetted abusive misconduct by those amongst themselves. Secondly, those now-matured spiritually abused devotees must remain aware their faith in Srila Prabhupada is separate and beyond any relation to the misbehavior of his disciples or their followers. Srila Prabhupada once said that if teachers cannot love their students they should not teach. He forbade corporal punishment, what to speak of other abuses? He would never have tolerated what happened in this case for a single moment. How can any devotee in good standing tolerate it? He made it clear that the children were continuing from their past lives. Therefore, it is clear it was always the duty of the leaders to facilitate, at any cost, the advancement of the young devotees as the future leaders and preachers.
This particular case of abuse was brought to light just a few years after its occurrence in the early nineties. The fact that it still remains an unsettled trauma in the victim’s life after three decades, and the fact that other cases of abuse continue at this writing, indicates that the leadership of Iskcon has lost commitments and connection to standards bequeathed by its Founder-Acarya, thus leaving his society unguarded and open to continued exploitation and infiltration by unworthy, if not sinister elements–all in the absence of basic law and order and waning loyalty to Srila Prabhupada-vani, his sacred instructions.
It remains up to Prabhupada’s loyal disciples, followers and supporters-in-general to preserve, propagate, protect, and practice his teachings by continuing to introduce his ideas into their private lives, including the protection of children as foremost. Thus rooted, the cultural Movement Srila Prabhupada originally introduced (rather than an organized religion), can go forward as the only viable cultural alternative to the modern chaotic society. As Srila Prabhupada said June 15, 1972, during the Bhagavatam class on 2.3.19: “The Krishna conscious movement compromises all sides of life. It is not that a stereotyped churchianity, weekly going to the church and come back. No. It is embracing all sides of life—but, the only aim is how to go home, back to Godhead.”
Rupanuga das (ACBSP ’66 NY)
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