Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Advaita Saptami 2008

I had a good experience today. After so many months of being unable to visit the temple, I finally went today for the occasion of Advaita Saptami. This occasion is always exciting, because it means that Nityananda's and then Mahaprabhu's advent days are coming up. :-)

Thankfully, and unlike as usual, I turned up in time for the Rajbhog arati so I was able to have a good darshan of the deities. Today the deities were dressed up beautifully, apparently in Rajasthani style. I found myself wishing that I had brought my camera, but never fear, take a look at this beautiful picture from the temple's Flickr site:

What I liked most about it was the fact that Krishna's hair could be seen. Usually Krishna's hair is covered because of the ornate headdresses or flower garlands, but today it could be seen and I always love it when His hair is showing.

While I was enjoying the darshan, it seemed that nobody was there to pass the arati flame etc. through the crowd - almost unbelievable. I sprang into action and took care of it myself; first taking the 'first' arati and then the second, then the "water spray" thing (what is that called?) and then the prasadi-flowers through the crowd.

Such great mercy! I never imagined that I could be allowed to this, after so many months of not coming to the temple. What can I say? I was so grateful for the experience.

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On Dhanurdhara Swami 2

I wrote yesterday's port about Dhanurdhara Swami in quite an emotional mood yesterday, which is unlike me. But then again, the subject of violating childhood innocence is extremely emotional and heartbreaking.

So I'd just like to clarify my view: if Dhanurdhara Swami has genuinely taken to the spiritual path and weeps for forgiveness for his past actions, then of course there is no real obstacle to his endeavour there.

I just don't think it is correct to enthusiastically open your arms and embrace all and sundry in a world like the one in which we live today. That cartoon is a good pointer of the bias that exists towards the religiously-inclined, and the snootiness that exists in relation to nonbelieving 'good' citizens.

The story of Jagai-Madhai is a good model of forgiveness in the Mahaprabhu story. What is often not mentioned is that, after Jagai-Madhai were forgiven by Mahaprabhu, Madhai was especially repentant and wanted to do something to expiate for his sins. He was told by Nityananda Prabhu to construct a bathing-ghat for the Vaishnavas.

So if this is the sort of thing that Dhanurdhara is doing, all best wishes to him in his attempt at expiating for his sins. Still, just as the former history of Jagai-Madhai is always mentioned when retelling the story, a critical appraisal of Dhanurdhara's (in fact, any child-abuser or "devotee criminal") history should also take place so that people are conscious of it.

Some people may complain that it is unfair to drag up his history at every occasion and shove it in his face. Well, people are still dragging up Jagai-Madhai 500 years later as an example of Mahaprabhu's forgiveness. Who knows, maybe it will all turn out alright in the end for Dhanurdhara.

But who can say such a thing without the memory of his child victims pricking their conscience? They must not be forgotten. They should be compensated adequately.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On Dhanurdhara Swami

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.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Kirtaniyah Sada Harih - Radio!

My recent sojourn through the Chakra site let me know of a nice little site that broadcasts kirtans 24/7!!! I especially like the singing of Vaiyasaki das, who I met last Janmastami, he is a wonderful singer in ISKCON.

I've been listening to it while on the PC for the last two days, I'm even listening to it right now.

Listen to it yourself! :-)

Kirtaniyah Sada Harih Internet-Radio - Kirtans and bhajans 24 hours a day!
By the way, this Internet Radio does not play through your Windows Media Player, Winamp or whatever program you use, it plays directly from the browser window. So you will need to keep the browser window open to listen to the kirtans and bhajans.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Dealing with psychological conflicts

As someone who has experienced significant changes in their belief-system over time (as if that was ever in doubt, how many people are born as Gaudiya Vaishnavas, for example?) it seems to me that one of the functions of an intelligent mind is to observe any arising conflicts and deal with them as an when necessary. Since religion seems to be a touchy subject for many and strongly-held beliefs rarely change except after a significant amount of persuasion and/or a shifting of the shores, it is a reason to celebrate when an intelligent mind becomes merely cognisant of a conflict. Changes that take place on account of said conflict are rather a rare event but equally laudable in my view, if not more so. Such changes should not take place lightly, but over time and with measured consistency and internal (or external!) discussion.

I find an example of an intelligent mind recognising a conflict in this recent article at Chakra.Org: When's the Time for Raganuga, Anyway? The author gets straight to the point in the very first paragraph:

"In Srila Prabhupada's books we see a stress on the need for following sadhana bhakti- up to a point- and then rejecting rules and regulations in favor of the spontaneous loving platform. The difficulty is knowing exactly when to make the transition, and again Srila Prabhupada's books have the answer- when one is pure, free from material desires. But this presents another problem- devotees never think themselves pure, or advanced. So does this mean that by definition, devotees never approach raganuga? That cannot be right as the implication of this would render meaningless much of Srila Prabhupada's teachings and that of the line of acaryas before him. How can one approach raganuga while still maintaining the vaisnava standard of humility? Is it that when one is free from material desires one is automatically in raganuga, without even knowing it? That cannot be so, for then there would be no meaning to the instruction to give up rules and regulations. Clearly there must be a conscious deliberate move towards it, and one not based on an assessment of one's personal level of purity. What then is the basis of this conscious decision to move towards spontaneity?"

This is a conflict that devotees in IGM must address in order to further along their journeys. A deeper theme to be observed from this writing relates to an issue of humility: How can one adequately measure one's advancement when one is trained to think of themselves in a continually subordinate position? A thoughtful concept indeed. The author then provides a couple of examples that show how mere following of rules is practically useless when they fail to serve the spirit of the rule. Just as it is the trend these days to make light of rules by quoting the following verse from the Padma Purana:

smartavyaH satataM viSNur vismartavya na jAtucit
sarve-vidhi-niSedhAH syur etayor eva kiGkarAH
"Always remember Vishnu and never forget Him.
All scriptural rules and regulations are the servants of this rule."
- Quoted in BRS 1.2.8

This is the active principle in devotional life. 'Tis indeed a pointless affair to regard the rote as the all-in-all and ignore the broader application in the wider service of the object. The author makes this point even clearer:

"It seems that while following rules and regulations, these servants of the Lord did not consider them very important, and certainly did not consider them the basis of their love. Yet in our temples we see, painted all over, the assumption that one can judge a person's merit by how many mangalarati's he attends each week, and, generally speaking, how strictly he follows all the rules and regulations, right up to how perfect he has applied his tilaka."

A fine observation indeed! Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in discussion forums will doubtlessly know of ridiculous instances of nit-picking such as whether 'pada' is an appropriate epithet to be affixed on the end of Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti's name, or other instances of some practices being criticised because there is no "historical precedent". This situation is sadly prevalent in the wider world too. But the general point of this article is that one should be sufficiently intelligent to examine his own motives and to be frightfully honest with one's own self in regards to his suitability and/or eligibility to pass upwards into the advanced stages of devotion:

"After all, the process we are following is about purification- and it is specifically purification of motives. If ones is following the rules and regulations to please the Lord, it is not an impediment, but if one is doing it just to please the Lord, it is unlikely that one will always follow, as there are other ways to please the Lord, which at times become apparent to the devotee. They may not be apparent to others though, and for this the inner followers may be judged by others to be not so strict- maybe even a 'fringie' but he cares not."
It is unfortunately a prevalent tendency - even among religionists - to demonise (in small or great ways) a person who deviates from the groupthink even if it is obvious that they have done so through careful and deliberate intelligent reasoning. It is unfortunate. But as an amusing riposte, why not observe that the judgers are themselves subject to judgement? Didn't a notably "Christian" preacher say that around 2000 years ago? ;-)

The article ends with a call to take up the process of raganuga-bhakti with due care and consideration. I can only imagine how certain quarters will howl in derision at this suggestion as they have done every time this issue comes up. For some groups, this issue of raganuga-bhakti is the elephant in the room that is troublesome to sweep up under the carpet. I cannot understand how this grudging attitude is so prevalent in supposedly religious movements; it is as if one is so poor and bitter and disappointed that they cannot make sufficient progress, that they would grudge against other people who want to move ahead. "I can't have it so no one else can have it either!" Childish and immature.

But the author indeed advises that one should attempt to move forward with due care and consideration:
"Taking all this into consideration, let us examine again the question 'When's the Time for Raganuga?'. It appears the time is now, in fact, don't waste a minute, but not because you are pure, but because you have started to cultivate an understanding of the spirit of vaisnavism, as opposed to all its rules, to the letter. Don't give them up prematurely, but don't make them your foundation, for they are not. The foundation is love and all the qualities that nurture it. If you cannot love, try to, for even the attempt is loving. Then Krsna will help you from within. It might be that you need to take his mercy in the form of helping words from a counselor or psychotherapist, to find out what history of abuse you suffered long ago, that now impairs your ability to give yourself to others, which is your inner nature. It might break the rule of 'avoiding association of non-devotees' but it might be, in this case, a rule that needs to be broken. And who is a non-devotee anyway, someone who helps devotees to find their hidden inherent nature, or someone who judges everyone by appearance alone- like at 4.30 am?" (emphasis added)

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