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Reflections on the Lokanath Swami Case, Padmapani

Padmapani (l), and Tribhuvanath (r)

I joined ISKCON in 1973 at the age of 18. Many of you will know me from my preaching in the Middle East, The Vaishnava Journal, The Prabhupada Connection, and my work on the infamous Mahamantra das abuse case more than 20 years ago. I love ISKCON. I was spiritually born in ISKCON. I met Srila Prabhupada in ISKCON.

When ISKCON was in crisis in the mid-eighties, I started The Vaishnava Journal for open and respectful dialogue.

I joined Lokanath Swami’s bullock cart program at the Kumbha-mela in Allahabad in 1977. I was probably one of the first Western devotees to join that program. Later, Lokanath Swami visited me in Ontario, Canada in 1983 or ’84 so there’s no personal animosity here whatsoever.

I recently came to know about the Lokanath Swami child abuse case in detail. It’s a tragic story for everyone. There’s no joy in participating in this discussion, but I’m impelled to do so with the hope that I can at least present a different perspective for all concerned. Whatever I write is not a personal attack. It’s really about truth, morality and justice. It’s a matter of principle.

For those who remember the Mahamantra das abuse case, you’ll recall how adamant I was that justice must be served at all costs. It took two years to see that case resolved. I personally went to the police, obtained the services of a top domestic abuse lawyer, and got family services involved. The perpetrator was sentenced and jailed and he has a lifelong restraining order from the Supreme Court of Canada for the protection of his former family members. Dhira Govinda Prabhu, former director of the CPO, deserves honorable mention for his encouragement and participation in that case.

Under no conditions can I tolerate abuse of women and children, and I strongly believe that ISKCON should follow their 1997 Resolution in which they said, “THAT the GBC Body hereby declares that the International Society for Krishna Consciousness does not condone abuse of any kind, especially that which is directed towards dependents such as women, children, aged and cows.” If the GBC followed their own laws, there would be no need for this discussion. It’s black and white. But now we see that some leaders think that they can stretch the rules for their friends and this is where we have to draw the line. That’s unacceptable behavior in a healthy spiritual society and will certainly lead to its downfall. We’re not mundane politicians, or at least we shouldn’t be.

The unfortunate history of modern day ISKCON is filled with the monstrous horrors of child abuse which is 100% contrary to the wishes of our Founder-Acarya, Srila Prabhupada.

“These children are given to us by Krishna, they are Vaisnavas and we must be very careful to protect them. These are not ordinary children, they are Vaikuntha children, and we are very fortunate we can give them chance to advance further in Krishna Consciousness. That is very great responsibility, do not neglect it or be confused. Your duty is very clear.” (Srila Prabhupada Letter, July 30, 1972)

It seems we’ve hit an all-time low. The GBC is now authorizing “gurus” who molest little children, and not only that, they’re manufacturing fake investigations to cover for their friends in high places at the expense of ruining the lives of Prabhupada’s beloved children and their families, what to speak of the reputation of Srila Prabhupada and his International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

You don’t believe me? Then take a look at the following collection of files catching some GBC members red-handed in their elaborate cover-up of the facts regarding the sexual molestation of an 11 year-old girl named Satya by Lokanath Swami in 1990.

Let’s hear from Satya herself.

Satya: “I am the girl that Lokanatha touched inappropriately. It did NOT just happen one time in the living room, on the sofa, but rather throughout the week that he stayed he touched me various times inappropriately. I am surprised now (at age 32) that that NASTY, VILE PEDOPHILE did not try to rape me.

“He took my innocent father’s words of ‘she is growing up here in America, why don’t you teach her some more Indian culture’ and turned into his way of taking advantage of me.”

So let’s be clear, out of the goodness of their hearts, a pious Indian family invites Lokanath to stay in their home. They’re thrilled to have the rare opportunity of serving a sannyasi in Srila Prabhupada’s movement. The father is especially happy that his young daughter, Satya, will receive valuable spiritual instructions from Lokanath. But while Satya’s mother is cooking in the kitchen, Lokanath is in another room molesting her daughter. In a letter to one of his disciples on June 16, 2017, Lokanath refers to this incident as “a minor mishap.”

This is the reason that I’m speaking publicly now and not writing a private letter to Lokanath. There’s no remorse in saying that sexually abusing a child is “a minor mishap.” Not only that, but Lokanath actively colluded in the cover-up for some 30 years. Satya and her family are still suffering while Lokanath is accepting worship. I’m sorry, but devotees should have a conscience – especially so-called advanced devotees.

Interviewer: How would I recognize a true follower of the Krishna consciousness movement by his behavior? What would his traits be? What would his outward expressions be?

Srila Prabhupada: He will be a very perfect gentleman, that’s all. You could not find any fault in him. (Srila Prabhupada Interview, Gainesville, July 29, 1971)

“It is a gentleman’s greatest duty to be compassionate upon a person who is distressed.”

(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 4.27.26)

So let’s hear some more from the distressed victim herself.

Satya: “The next day, he (Lokanath) called me in the living room, and asked me to bring the Krsna book and read it to him. He had me sit RIGHT NEXT TO HIM, leaving no space between us. He PLACED HIS HANDS ON MY CROTCH, NOT ON MY LAP, and said I am keeping the book from touching you there, so just keep reading. He kept his hand there, and any time my mother would walk by the room, he would QUICKLY REMOVE HIS HAND AND PLACE IT ABOVE MY HEAD (around me). He did this several times throughout the course of an hour, and after that sick feeling inside me became the most prominent thing for me, I told him I was tired, and I left the room.”

And now from Satya’s mother.

Satya’s mother (1993): “She tell me, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to read with Maharaja Bhagavd-gita because he is touching my secret part. He is keeping his hand is there and I feel really bad. So I said, ‘No, I don’t think you telling truth.’ She said, ‘No, I’m not going. If you tell me to go read with him I’m not going.’ And she crying and she tell me, ‘I feel so bad.’ Maharaja, I had the respect for him, and since I heard from her I lose respect to him.”

It seems that the GBC – or some influential members of the GBC – agreed with Lokanath’s assessment that this incident was “a minor mishap” and a massive cover-up ensued to portray Lokanath as the poor victim instead of trying to help Satya and her family heal from this despicable crime.

My question is, when are the GBC ever going to come clean and do the right thing regarding child abuse in ISKCON? When are they ever going to stop covering up for their friends at the expense of justice for the victims? When are they going to follow the rules?

We’ve already lost many gurukulis – Prabhupada’s hope for the future of this movement and for the world. Where are those children now? Why have so many committed suicide? Does the GBC care about them?

Enough is enough. It’s long past due that we kick out the corruption at the top levels of our movement. Everyone is suffering for it. The GBC have proven again and again that they’re unable to police themselves. They’ve shown wanton disregard for women and children practically since the time the GBC was first formed in 1970. Their conduct has been dishonorable, unbefitting their position in our society.

Dhira Govinda (Director of the Child Protection Office 1998-2004): “When I served as CPO director, the GBC gave specific instructions for the CPO to not address the case of Lokanatha Maharaja. The dealings of ISKCON leadership around the case of Lokanatha Maharaja was filled with concealment, deception, inconsistencies, and lack of accountability.”

This case is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s not going to go away and it can’t be swept under the rug any longer. The worldwide community of devotees is watching this case, and so is the public. When the people no longer trust their leaders, the society is finished.

When Srila Prabhupada discovered deviations in the GBC, he wasn’t afraid to disband it.

“What will happen when I am not here, shall everything be spoiled by GBC? So for the time being, let the GBC activities be suspended until I thoroughly revise the whole procedure.”

(Srila Prabhupada Letter, April 11, 1972)

I would like to remind the GBC that this is not their movement. It’s Prabhupada’s movement. Srila Prabhupada worked very hard to create ISKCON, as we all know, and he was deeply concerned for its future.

Srila Prabhupada kindly blessed the GBC with temporary stewardship of his society, but if they’re negligent in their duties and offend the Vaishnavas then there are grave consequences.

“Therefore we have created these GBC. So they should be very responsible men. Otherwise, they will be punished. They will be punished to become a sudra. Although Yamaraja is a GBC, but he made a little mistake. He was punished to become a sudra. So those who are GBC’s, they should be very, very careful to administer the business of ISKCON. Otherwise they will be punished. As the post is very great, similarly, the punishment is also very great.” (Srila Prabhupada Lecture, Geneva, June 4, 1974)

Please watch the following video of two courageous Vaishnavis, Saraswati and Krsna-devata, who offer some practical solutions to help put a stop to the institutionalization of child abuse in our society once and for all. These devotees should be admired and respected for their bravery and for their love of Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Srila Prabhupada said that child worship is more important than Deity worship. I admire these young Vaishnavis and their bravery in speaking truth to power. They give me hope for the future of our movement.

In particular, these devotees are asking for the Lokanath case to be investigated by the trained ISKCON Child Protection Office (CPO) for “due process” without interference from the GBC. The CPO must be free to adjudicate every abuse case independently, and no one should be exempt from child protection guidelines. In fact, the leadership should be held under more scrutiny and to a higher standard.

I would also like to see a review of sannyasa standards in ISKCON. It’s a privilege to wear saffron, granted only to the pure at heart. And for goodness sake, it should go without saying that if a so-called “guru” molests an innocent child, they should never be allowed to sit on a high seat and be worshiped.

“No one should be allowed to sit on the vyāsāsana who is not spotless in character…” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.6, Purport)

As for Satya and her family, they should be financially compensated for the decades of suffering they’ve had to endure because of this repugnant episode in their lives. They’re still suffering. What is the GBC going to do about it? What is Lokanath going to do about it? Ignore them? Sorry, but it’s too late. The cat’s out of the bag. The world is watching.

ISKCON leaders should be educated in the long-term negative effects of child abuse. Why are sannyasis dealing with this matter anyway? Many of them have never had children. As per ISKCON law, the GBC should forward all child abuse cases to the CPO and stay out of the way. Anuttama said in a 2016 ISKCON News article, “The GBC Body selects the Child Protection Office Director, but does not interfere in investigations or other actions of the CPO.” Why are the GBC not following their own rules? There must be transparency and accountability from the GBC. The CPO should be completely independent and autonomous from the GBC.

If the GBC can’t fulfill their mandate and protect the devotees – and especially the children – from abuse in Prabhupada’s own movement, then it’s time for them to retire and let someone more qualified and honest do the job.

Srila Prabhupada wanted this movement to save the world, and unfortunately, it sometimes seems that the GBC is the greatest impediment to realizing Prabhupada’s glorious vision. Let’s hope that will soon change.

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