Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

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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  • At 13 February, 2008 02:47, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Readers who receive entries via RSS feed should note that this post has been edited quite a bit since the feed went out. They may like to read this entry again where all the points have been further outlined.

  • At 14 February, 2008 16:41, Anonymous arvind said…

    I agree fully.
    I placed a similar comment on Advaita's blog in the line that most secular humanists of the West seem to score higher on moral than some Swami(=Masters) Maharajas (=Great Kings ??!). They will probably frown at these titles in relation to the behaviour past or present that is displayed by public persons in the field of 'spirituality'.

    Let's see if I am also censored !

  • At 14 February, 2008 16:46, Anonymous anuradha said…

    Only one thing to add......

    Yes, indeed

    Performing bhakti... always, being a public person with a fancy title after abusing..... never in this lifetime.

    By the way, can I correspond with you over e-mail some way or another ?

  • At 14 February, 2008 16:51, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Anuradha, sure!

    gaurasundara AT gmail DOT com

  • At 14 February, 2008 17:31, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    I congratulate you on this post, especially regarding your insight into how violence against children is perhaps that one crime from which there can never be full redemption. I believe child abuse is an act a par with vaisnava aparadha. Acknowlegement is not enough. The offender must be willing to be at the mercy of those he abused. Advaitadas fails to be the moral man that he expects to be when he choses to protect an abuser over the abused. Disturbing, but not surprising, unfortunately. Advaitadas and Danudhara Swami, each would gain further more credibility if better understandood raganuga bhakti and spent the rest of his life as an activist in the cause against child abuse respectively.

    Again, well done Gaurasundara.

  • At 14 February, 2008 18:55, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Thanks, Govindanandini.

    On further reflection, I think it is Madhava's comment that sickens me most of all: "saints are forged in purgatory fires."

    This is clearly a misapplication of a spiritual principle; purgatory fires relate to the dross of our own humanimalistic nature, not the fact that being abusive towards other human beings can set you on the way to becoming a "saint".

    If it was that easy, we should all beat our wives and get free entrance into Goloka.

  • At 14 February, 2008 22:55, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Excellent post.

    One time sadhaka ABC was appalled that exSwami XYZ was going to be sitting on mini-Vyasasana giving a lecture for the Sunday Feast.

    So sadhaka asked a Temple authority "Umm this person's crimes are mentioned in 'Monkey on a Stick' and also delineated in 'Betrayal of the Spirit' So how can you allow this person to be a role model and give class to unsuspecting bhaktas and bhaktins?"

    Answer was, "Since we are all living in the material world, we all have committed crimes."

    Then sadhaka was all like, "Well can you narrow down the focus to this lifetime? Because in this lifetime I am pretty sure I did not commit armed robbery, theft, terroristic threatening, and vandalism [plus two dozen other Class A and Class B offenses according to State and Federal laws]..."

    Then the response was, "Oh XYZ exSwami he donated alot of money to the institution, that is why he can give class..."

    So then the sadhaka was all like, "Well how is that any different than the Catholic Church selling indulgences then?"

    And of course temple authority never went to college, and/or lived in a Catholic country and attended all Catholic schools. So temple authority didn't know what selling indulgences is. So sadhaka had to explain,

    "The Catholic church wanted money to build cathedrals. So back in the day, you could do any heinous crime but as along as you paid a fee, then the crime was excused.

    The practice was called 'selling indulgences' and that is why there was the Protestant Reformation, because Martin Luther freaked out and said it was not right, and alot of people agreed with him"

    Temple authority: [duhhh....]

    So then the sadhaka was all like, "Okay then. I have a few sins I would like to commit. So what is the going rate to do such and such, and then give class this Sunday at the Feast? Well any sin can be excused, right? if I pay the right price, hmmm?...

    "...So how much would you say? One million dollars? Fifty cents?..."

    Then alot of chelas were like "Oh sadhaka is brave. I never read those books. They told us we cannot read those books. But I heard XYZ did this and that, but I didn't know he did THAT much stuff against the law with THAT heavy of repercussions to KC..."

    So the m.o. seems to be basically if you are bringing more people and resources into the cult/ organization, then anything goes and anything is excused. But if you don't like it, then you have to start your own cult/ organization, as did Martin Luther.

    And this stuff has been going on for centuries. That is why it is a good idea to get as much education as you can, because then you can see the patterns faster. You know what the result of the pattern will be, because you know past precedents in history.

    Appropos to criminals seeking shelter by donning religious robes and living in temples, this has been going on for centuries also.

    In Japan even to this day, if you want to retire from the Yakuza, one of the easiest and most common ways to do it is you go off into the boonies somewhere and you start your own temple.

    You kill people for a living, get fried on killing people, then go and give yourself a "time-out" and create your own "time-out" corner. So it is not like the concept is without precedent and only happens in KC.

    But is hard to imagine that they would attain liberation in this lifetime. For example, the Buddha's cousin, Devadatta, who tried to kill the Buddha so many times, the Buddha said that he will achieve liberation someday, but only after millions of births.

    So I guess what the difficulty is, the co-dependent enabling feature, is the BG says, "Even is s/he has committed the most heinous crimes..." is what seems to be the most problematic and dysfunctional, co-dependent enabling statement in the BG.

    This is how it all gets swept under the rug, because they all cite that crazy-making statement.

    So that may cause some people to rethink if they want to accept BG
    "as it is" anymore. Maybe they want to rewrite it for themselves and leave out all the crazy parts.

    Anyway if there is a God/dess, it's difficult to believe that S/he would be so stupid and dumb to let these people get off scot-free and do all kinds of harmful behavior and not experience any repercussions for it in a future birth.

    Or something. It seems that there would have to be some accounting for it in the future. Like they will have to experience the traumas they inflicted ontho others either in the hellish state between rebirths, and then be reborn many lifetimes as someone who makes it their mission in life to help the abused more and more.

    So probably is not all going to be resolved in this lifetime. If reincarnation does exist.

  • At 15 February, 2008 18:14, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am not sure, Gaurasundara, you understand Madhava's comment in its intended meaning. Personally I tend to see Madhava as a highly honest individual, highly preoccupied as well with honesty in the world. So, I don't think his motivation (in excusing the actions of individuals such as Danudhara Swami or Bir Krsna Maharaja) can be put in the same category as the motivation of Advaitadas. I believe Advaitadas simply does not care, much in the same way a racist, a casteist, a misogynist, or any kind of sectarian thinker doesn't care. But Madhava - as far as I know Madhavananda, he is in fact himself a denouncer of these things. So why/how was he "duped" into making that approving comment of Danudhar Swami a while back? I believe the dynamic at the time was that Danudhar Swami was coming across as a repenting abuser who did the much needed “right thing” among a list of other abusers who never admitted to their crimes. So he was, as Madhava may have perceived it at the time, a sinner purified by the fire of repentance and redemptional action. However, we see now that there wasn't really, and hasn't been any redemptional action. And perhaps there wasn't any repentance either, for Danudhar Swami did not come to apologize out of his own initiative, but only after pressured by Iskcon who threatened that maharaja apologized or else lose his position altogether. This kind of "repentance" of course is utilitarian, a concept often and largely favored by Iskcon.

    But, Danudhar Swami's actions, present or past are between him and God, right? Wrong. His position concerning the events involving his abuse of children is a matter between him and the abused and between him and those like me and like you who feel for the abused. So it is in this vein only that we speak up in favor of the abused. Danudhara Swami has the right to raganuga bhakti just as any saint or sinner has, but sin is not the same as aparadha. Raganuga is not a sentimental state of perception where wrongdoings are forgotten at conveniences. I have said it earlier that the abuse of innocent jivas is at the same level as vaisnava aparadha. A vaisnava is innocent and free of duty in this world just as a child is. If a vaisnava is accomplished in bhakti whereas a child may not necessarily be, still all children are under the care of adults, and the duty of adults is to protect children so they may attain their utmost benefit. According to vaisnava faith, the ultimate benefit is opportunity for raganuga bhakti. A child who has been brutally abused within a religion [which is supposed to facilitate access to raganuga bhakti], clearly has his/her opportunity tampered with. This is aparadha. On the unfortunate event of vaisnava aparadha, the vaisnava himself may not take offence, but still the offence is detrimental to the future prospects of the offender. The offender then must first come to a full understanding of his act, and then only he may be able to understand deeper truths about love and respect for all living entities. He must undergo such a change of heart that he comes out of the fire truly purified of his previous ignorance. He must see that his victims are in fact the only means by which he can perceive God now. In the case of Danudhar Swami, his raganuga experience would develop out of and for a lifelong campaign against child abuse and misogyny in Iskcon. He would be leading a movement of enlightenment in the society, denouncing first the fact that the twisted philosophy which has allowed for the extreme abuse in Iskcon, still goes on unchecked, still untouched by reason, what to speak by sensibility, and honesty. Above all, raganuga bhakti is about caring about suffering fellow human beings. This is where Advaitadas fails to understand, and this is unfortunately where he finds common ground with Iskcon presently. Iskcon's child protection office and such actions are really mere political maneuvers designed to ultimately protect the institution from losing material assets. So they are not genuinely meant to protect the children themselves. Real protection would come from an honest and throughout revision of the philosophy, in the areas of relating to other human beings in this world have been grossly misnterpret and misapplied.

    Meanwhile though, individuals such as Danudhar Swami and Advaitadas may serve one another according to the conveniences of quasi-truths.

  • At 15 February, 2008 20:33, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I could not believe Advaitas support of Danudhara Swami on his blog..
    very disturbing..

  • At 15 February, 2008 23:30, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Dear Govindanandini,

    I agree with you that Madhava is generally a sincere and pure-hearted individual who may have made that comment by looking at the good side of Dhanurdhara. That is my experience of him also.

    It was just the idea that he enunciated that I found sickening, the idea that mere engagement in bhakti is "enough" to consider Dhanurdhara more or less absolved. That idea prevails throughout ISKCON and towards any of the other child abusers past and present. I hear that Bhavananda gives classes with some regularity and is "respected" as an ACBSP disciple, despite his own history that is arguably worser than Dhanurdhara's. I am not sure of the situation with Kirtanananda now that he is out of jail, but I have heard of various ISKCON leaders visiting him cordially.

    So it's just really the "idea" I am disgusted about.

    I agree completely with the rest of what you say regarding aparadha committed against the children. They are the ones with the broken hearts that may never heal. :(

    I found your comment about raganuga bhakti being about caring for suffering fellow human beings particularly touched my heart. This is a sore point with me also, and something which I strongly believe. Perhaps my knowledge of shastra is lacking but I haven't found anything there that adequately enunciates this idea apart from Sri Bhaktivinod Thakur's ideal of jive-doya. I don't think there is much value to all this without having compassion for those who suffer.

  • At 26 February, 2008 07:53, Anonymous Vikram Ramsoondur said…

    "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."


    This part of my comment did not really relate to this particular issue at all, but to other nasty remarks that Advaita Das often receives from anonymous posters. I hope that this throws some perspective into this entire theme. And like most, I have little sympathy for criminals of any stripe imaginable. Check out my more recent posts on Advaita's blog if you're interested in what I have to add on this. Since you deemed it necessary or appropriate to quote me, I thought that this was in order.

    My respects to you.

  • At 19 March, 2008 23:13, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Apologies for the late approval of your comment Vikramji, I have not logged into my account for a while.


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