Much has been said on the Internet on this topic and I wouldn't want to add any unnecessary fuel to the fire, but since it has come up again.. I feel sorry about this post in that I have to criticise some dear friends, but this topic is far too serious for social niceties and people have to stand up and speak out against bigoted and misplaced attitudes passing as "devotion".
Advaita recently wrote a blog
about his meeting with Dhanurdhara Swami which an anonymous commenter apparently criticised, leading Advaita to say
"To the anon referring to Dhanurdhara Swami as a 'notorious child abuser' (comment rejected): Dhanurdhara Swami doing wrong things 27 years ago does not disqualify him from bhakti forever, especially since he elaborately apologized. The jiva is constitutionally eternally Krishna's servant - jiver swarup hoy krishner nitya-das. Have you been celibate, a teetotaller and vegetarian for the 27 years since, like DD Swami? You tell us nothing about yourself, not even your name - what right do you have to accuse others as long as we don't know your record? Let us look at the future, not the past - I believe Dhanurdhar Swami has potential for raganuga bhakti."
A further comment from "Vikram Ramsoondur" followed:
"Aptly put, Advaitaji. As Madhavananda Das wrote on one of his previous blogs in which he mentioned conferring with Dhanurdhara Maharaja in Vrindavana, no acts are irredeemable. Madhavaji even went on to opine the beautiful thought that saints are in fact forged in purgatory fires, to use his own words. What I find exceedingly jocular about some of the comments that you receive on these blogs is the hypocrisy, spinelessness and hilarity characterising them, and by extension their anonymous authors as well. I could also add temerity to the above list, since apparently some of these clowns would have us see more sense in their own worthless, materially conditioned views than in the transcendental realisations of our revered purvacaryas, thanks to whom we owe so much confidential information about the Supreme Lord and his activities."
Out of interest, the anonymous observer whose comment was deleted by Advaita popped up
at Jagat's blog to reveal the nature of his original comment:
"Sorry to distract from your nice essay Jagat, but I wanted to say that Advaitadas is a censoring liar. One of his latest entries is about how he met Dhanurdhara Swami in Vrindavan and gave away some of his books to him. I made a comment that I couldn't believe that he would charge vaishnavas for his books and yet give them away for free to notorious child abusers. He didn't publish my comment and replied in such a way that completely twisted the point of my comment, turning it around on me and supporting Dhanurdhara Swami. I wrote another comment (which again he didn't publish) asking him to answer my questions about giving away books for free and not give me a lecture about Dhanurdhara which he hasn't responded.
"Advaitadas is a dishonest and censorious liar and cannot answer a question to save his life. He will charge vaishnavas money for his books and rudely answer back to critical questions to some of his ideas, but he will give free books to child abusers because they are likely to take 'raganuga bhakti'. He makes me sick."
Assuming that this is true, this does throw something of a different light on Advaita's harsh reply. But be that as it may, the comments in favour of Dhanurdhara Swami are part of what I see as a problem in religion, the ease at which a fallen or a publicly-acknowledged criminal is received back into the arms of supposedly loving and forgiving devotees of the Lord. It is because of this attitude that religion has come under fire these days; who can forget the sensational exposés of the Catholic Church's embarrassing moves to protect their child-abusing priests, making them complicit in the actual crime?
Here is a recent picture of Dhanurdhara Swami sitting in the Gambhira area at Mayapur, dated February 4th, 2008. He is wearing the characteristic orange robes that are donned by members of the renounced order in a spiritual sect. I do not know the exact details of Dhanurdhara's crimes (and nor do I wish to) as I expect some tabloid-minded people to have made hay about it somewhere in some parts of the Net, but I do know that this individual has been responsible for committing some of the worst crimes against ISKCON's children. I do not know if sexual abuse was involved, but that would not in any wish diminish the severity or seriousness of what he did do. Dhanurdhara, for his part, has openly and strongly expressed his grief and regret over his actions and has made endeavours to personally apologise to his former victims as well as making an open apology on the Net. Among the reasons he gave for his behaviour was the fact that he claimed to be maladjusted in his personal psychology. Despite Dhanurdhara's repentance, he has continued to bear the reactions of his history even now and even in the form of serious physical beatings from ex-gurukuli. I do not know whether he has been prosecuted legally, but there are extremely strict sanctions in place against him in ISKCON that make him more or less on the fringe; he is restricted in giving classes, working with children, taking disciples, and so on.
That said, I do not agree with the opinions of Advaita and others who support and continue to support Dhanurdhara by dismissing his extremely serious history with a wave of their hands and proclaim his virtues instead. I wonder if they would say the exact same thing or have the same attitude towards John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Fred West, Richard Ramirez, and others? OK, in fairness Dhanurdhara is not quite in their league, but I don't see why someone could or should be easily forgiven just because they are supposed to have led a long life of sadhana? Why should Dhanurdhara be granted special treatment because he is a devotee of God? Idi Amin ran away to Saudi Arabia and lived a Muslim life at Mecca up to his death, I'm sure he had his supporters too but does that excuse any of the horrific actions he carried out while he was the dicatatorial ruler of Uganda?
Should Vaishnavas reflect the magnanimity of Mahaprabhu and be forgiving, they being more merciful than the Lord and all that? Yes, Vaishnavas are ever-loving and forgiving in a perfect and idealistic world which is not the world we are living in. In the real world, child abusers are fully taken to task for their crimes and sent to jail. That is, if they haven't already received a dose of 'street' justice.
But we are talking of entering into bhakti here. As Advaita correctly says, activities performed years ago (and apparently repented for) do not disqualify one from practicing the path of bhakti. This is true, since the path of devotion to God brings forgiveness in itself. But yet again we are living in the real world. How many rogues and philanderers throughout history have turned to the Church while on the run in the hopes of finding sanctuary? To the eyes of the average person, engagement in bhakti with its concomitant features such as vegetarianism, abstaining from alcohol etc. do not excuse the terrible and horrific acts that constitute child abuse, especially since the effects of the same upon the victim are a significant trauma that has lifelong effects. And no amount of bhakti performed on Dhanurdhara's part will be able to take even a pinch of that trauma away. All the japa and kirtan that Dhanurdhara chants and sings will never equal the loud screams of the children who were beaten on the head until their ears bled. All the prasad that Dhanurdhara eats will never equal the vomit that children under his care were forced to eat. All the dandavats that Dhanurdhara carried out will never equal the pain of the little children who were thrown to the floor and kicked in the stomach.
For someone to even enunciate the idea that Dhanurdhara's practice of bhakti somehow absolves him from acts he committed years ago (as if the time of said abuse makes any difference to the severity of trauma caused and experienced) is to openly reveal one's complete lack of compassion and expose their sneering heartlessness. Such people have not and will never understand the ramifications of abuse perpetrated upon children, that too carried out by so-called "devotees". I have a little experience of working with people who were abused as children and there is a tremendous amount of evidence of lifelong suffering and trauma that affects their every action. Perhaps that's a reason why I've come on so strong in this post, but it shouldn't make a difference whether I have experience or not, because I would expect that any decent human being has a sufficient amount of brain to be filled with revulsion when hearing tales of abuse perpetrated by anyone. It's not just Dhanurdhara people have to worry about: the entire child abuse scandal of ISKCON has been a horrific stillbirth of a maturing organisation.
Ramsoonder's comment bears some weight; he has quoted an old post made by Madhava on the same subject on his blog where he related how he met with Dhanurdhara. This is what Madhava had to say:
"A bit further along the way, I invited him over to visit us at Radha-kunda when he was over at Govardhana. Swami came across to me as a thoughtful, gentle and deep individual. Yes we all have a history, and his is particularly well propagated across the internet — and he's gone through nothing short of a small hell over it, experiences I gather have made him grow immensely in many ways. I refuse to believe in unredeemable acts, saints are forged in purgatory fires."
Not only is this attitude unbelievable, but it is ridiculous as it is idiotic. It is fair play to mention that Dhanurdhara has gone through his fair share of hell over his past - I have done the exact same thing above - but to enunciate and propagate the idea that engaging in child abuse was some sort of "growth experience" for a "potential saint" is SICKENING TO THE CORE. This view is so completely irresponsible beyond belief, how can anyone even think like this? People who say glibly say things like this obviously did not hear the heartwrenching screams of the children, they did not see the children hammered with clenched fists, and neither did they wipe the tears that fell from their eyes. How could they, with their noses buried deep in scriptures and their ears blocked with iPod headphones? It is an act of immense arrogance and thoughtlessness to say, "Yes, the scriptures have nothing against a child abuser like Dhanurdhara engaging in acts of bhakti", as if this makes any blind bit of difference to either the path of bhakti or to Dhanurdhara himself.
I have never met Dhanurdhara personally, although I imagine that he may very well behave as a member of the renounced order that he is these days. I have no reason to treat him with any particular malice and I imagine I will treat him with as much civility and courtesy I would offer to any human being. Though of course, I will be filled with revulsion when I consider his history. This is actually a fact of life: No matter whatever "hell" Dhanurdhara has been through, he will always have to run the gauntlet of public opinion wherever he goes. This is one of the signs of criminal activity, people will never let you forget it. My opinion hardly matters in the grand scheme of things and has probably blended in with the mass of criticism that already exists.
The most fetid thing of all is to consider that Dhanurdhara is to be excused because he appears a good candidate for "raganuga bhakti". It is this sickening and ingratiating attitude of servile acceptance along "Vaishnava ideals" that I strongly object to. Child abuse can never be excused, ever.
Please see an update to this article: On Dhanurdhara Swami 2.
Labels: Child Abuse, Commentary, Deep Thinking, Dhanurdhara Swami, Serious Issues, Vaishnava Behaviour