Srila Prabhupada and the Hare Krishnas

Prabhupad Abhay Charan De was born in 1896 in Calcutta, India; he grew up, married, started a pharmaceutical business and had 5 children. He met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, a prominent Vaishnavite guru in the tradition of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a medieval Hindu religious leader, in 1922. He became his student and, in 1933, his formally initiated disciple. In the following years, he devoted more of his time to assisting his guru's work and less to his family and business and in 1954 (to his wife's horror) sent her and the children back to her father. He travelled to the holy city of Vrndavana, where he lived in humble circumstances in the historic temple of Radha-Damodara. He entered the renounced order of life (sanyasa) in 1959 and began his writing and translating work - mainly a multivolume commentated translation of the eighteen-thousand-verse Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana).

He begged passage on the Jaladuta, a cargo carrier of the Scindia Steamship Corporation, travelled 35 days (he had two heart attacks on the journey), and arrived in New York City with $8 worth of rupees in September 1965, to fulfil the mission of his spiritual master of spreading the Vaishavite worship of Krishna to the West. He established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, in July of 1966, and gathered devotees by public preaching, dancing and devotional chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Hare Hare Krishna Krishna Hare Rama Hare Rama Hare Hare Rama Rama), street begging and distribution of free food at his temples by his shaven-headed saffron-robed followers. He received much publicity through the interest of Beatle George Harrison who became a follower in 1969. By the time of his death on November 14, 1977, he had guided the Society and seen it grow to a worldwide confederation of more than one hundred asramas, schools, temples, institutes, and farm communities and had initiated over 4,000 followers. Their public presence and media image was always far greater than the number of converts due to their chanting and dancing in city streets and the disapproval caused by their appearance and clothing, street begging and worship of statues of Krishna and his consort Radha and of 'His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada' (Srila Prabhupada for short). Prabhupadha also engendered public controversy with his fundamentalist, medieval Hindu viewpoints, especially on the place of women and cows in his society, the evils of Western society and his refusal to accept the astronauts landing on the Moon as being real since the Moon was a heaven for demi-gods and Krishna, not for NASA.

Prabhupad with (from right) Balimardan & Bhavanada His followers believe that Prabhupada's persona was flawless and perfect. He was a 'pure devotee' who knows real love of God and had reached the stage of being in a direct and personal relationship with Krishna - the Supreme God. His devotees were taught that he was incapable of making a mistake. Despite his uncompromising views and personality, no scandalous accusations have been made about Prabhupada personally. He was a sick man of 73 on his arrival in the West and, presumably, no longer prey to physical desires. So it is paradoxical that his followers and organisation should have become involved in the grossest violations of both society's ethical norms and his own much stricter ones. Murder, drug smuggling and abuse, sexual abuse and paedophilia are among only some of the proven sins that his empowered gurus became involved in.

As the majority of the gurus that he empowered acted improperly (if not illegally), the blame for their actions cannot be placed onto a few individual bad apples. Prabhupada concentrated on ends and to some extent ignored means, a combination nearly always fatal to spiritual endeavours. His organisation's main mission was the printing and distribution of Prabhupada's books and the creation of new opulent temples and initiation of more devotees. From early in it's history the amount of money gathered became more important than the methods used. Like the Moonies, the Krishna's became involved in deception and cheating in their public collection of money and irretrievably cheapened and degraded the name of Krishna in the West. From there it was a small step to outright lies and then to theft and drug selling and smuggling. In photo on left, Prabhupad walks in India with (from right) Balimardan, expelled for embezzlement & illicit sex & meat-eating & Bhavanada for homosexuality.

Prabhupada had a simple ideology and an obvious belief in it's efficacy. When expelling "demons" from the New York temple in 1976 he stated:

"Krishna Consciousness is very simple. If your leaders chant and obey the regulative principles, they are practicing Krishna Consciousness, If they do not, they are demons disguised as devotees".

Unfortunately the method he preached, chanting the 'Hare Krishna' mantra, was not powerful enough to allow all the devotees to remain practicing the regulative principles (no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling, no meat-eating and chant a minimum of sixteen rounds of maha-mantra japa every day) and enjoying the simple blissful lifestyle that he preached, practised and demanded of them. In fact the life he demanded of his followers increased the likelihood of problems. This was especially so in regards to the children of devotees. He preached that loving family ties were an illusion and hindrances to spiritual life but encouraged families (in many cases marriage partners were decided by him) to have children (sex was only allowed for procreation) and send them away to 'gurukula' schools. Therefore parents were not able to supervise their childrens' lives and the people Prabhupada appointed or accepted to control and educate them, physically, mentally and sexually abused them. In New Vrindaban, public, anal penetration of children at the front of the classroom was accepted by Kirtananda as acceptable, even desirable.

Prabhupad Swami Prabhupada died in November, 1977 and of the over 4,000 followers he initiated only around 500 were left in the organisation by 1990. In just twelve years, despite his advanced age, Srila Prabhupada went round the world fourteen times on lecture tours that took him to six continents. His writings have been translated into over fifty languages. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, established in 1972 to publish his works, had become the world's largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy.

Within 12 years of his death only a shell of his vision was left and of the millions of copies of his books printed very few have ever been read.

It is not enough to find a guru who believes in his teachings, is personally trustworthy and ethical, the teachings themselves must have the power and truth he claims else the consequences of following them may turn out to be very disappointing.

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has a homepage, as does the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and the reform section has a Back to Prabhupada page.


Bibliography:

  • A Biography of his Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
    by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
  • Monkey on a Stick: Murder, Madness and the Hare Krishnas
    By John Hubner & Lindsay Gruson
  • Betrayal of the Spirit
    By Nori Muster
    This book is particularly valuable in demonstrating how an idealistic believer can join a cult, and very quickly find that life inside the group is nothing like they imagined it would be. They see there is a dark and hidden side of the group and that their peers are not experiencing the claimed benefits of its lifestyle without this in any way affecting their beliefs in the guru and his teachings.
  • Dark Horse: The Private Life of George Harrison
    By Geoffrey Guiliano
    Reveals the unhappy, unfaithful, often drunk and cocaine-guzzling man underneath his "spiritual" media image.

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