The following is a composite of the edited transcripts of four lectures on the topic of forgiveness given by His Holiness Bhakti Vikāsa Mahārāja in Russia 2019.
In the eleventh chapter of Bhagavad-gītā, after seeing Kṛṣṇa display His universal form, Arjuna had a profound realization that he was very small and insignificant compared to Him, the Supreme Lord. Arjuna was accustomed to treating as a peer and friend, sometimes addressing Him as ‘Yādava,’ which is a friendly insult and refers to the fact that Arjuna belonged to the socially superior Kuru family whereas Kṛṣṇa belonged to the inferior Yadu family. In Bg. 11.41-42 Arjuna asked Kṛṣṇa for forgiveness for all his offenses made when treating the Lord informally as his friend and companion.
The topic of forgiveness has been the subject of several seminars in ISKCON. I heard from attendees at one such seminar that they found it helpful and they were able to go forward in their Kṛṣṇa consciousness with a more positive attitude. Usually such seminars take the modern psychological approach whereby one thinks: ‘This person has done very bad things to me in the past but I am such a great person that I will now magnanimously forgive them’’ This is not the Vaiṣṇava view based on śāstric understanding but a materialistic one based on false egoism.
A Vaiṣṇava does not see anyone as being offensive to him rather he is surprised that anyone should concern themselves with his fallen and insignificant existence. If faults are found in him then he accepts it as an accurate appraisal of his character and that his faults are being very much understated. He is grateful to be corrected and sees his critic as his friend.
I will illuminate the topic of forgiveness based entirely on śāstra. There are many references to forgiveness in the Vaiṣṇava literature. In Bhagavad-gītā 18.66 Kṛṣṇa demonstrates His forgiveness for all souls who agree to surrender to Him:
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear. Bg 18.66
After innumerable sinful lives of neglecting Kṛṣṇa, He is still willing to forgive all offences if one resolves to surrender to serving only Him. He does not bear a grudge.
There is a verse in stotra-ratna by Śrī Yāmunācārya which refers to Indra taking the form of a crow and aggressively clawing at the divine, beautiful breast of Sītā-ṭhākurāṇī, the consort of Lord Rāmacandra. The Lord was ready to kill the offensive crow but when the bird begged forgiveness, Rāmacandra forgave him for attacking Sītā who is dearer to Rāma than His own life. Yāmunācārya prays to Lord Kṛṣṇa saying that He mercifully granted sayujya mukti to Śiśupāla who offended Him in multiple births and rhetorically asks the Lord, ‘What offense will you not forgive?’
In the West there is a general culture of blaming others and considering oneself to be an innocent victim. If someone does something wrong he may be sued for millions of dollars. There was a famous case where a woman bought a coffee from McDonald’s and spilt it on her own leg and burnt her skin because the coffee was so hot. She sued McDonald’s for serving coffee that was dangerously hot, and having won the case, was awarded a large sum of money. The McDonald’s company was to blame, not her!
One of the grounds on which one can sue for divorce is psychological abuse by the spouse. Such abuse is not possible to define precisely. If someone says something one doesn’t like you can call it psychological abuse. If a man is sitting next to a woman in the office she can sue him for being sexually aggressive if she thinks he is looking at her in a lusty way. In the USA even gurus are afraid that their disciples may sue them. These are examples of the mindset of blaming others for one’s own misfortune.
In Asia in general there is more of a culture of stoicism. People may not think about it philosophically but speaking from my experience, in India particularly, if something bad happens it is accepted as the hand of fate, as karma. Muslims do not believe in karma but they do accept the idea of fate; ‘Allah has willed this for me.’ In Hindi the word for fate is ‘kismat’ which is an Urdu word.
We are influenced by our cultural backgrounds. Although devotees are supposed to be transcendental, the culture that we have imbibed in our childhood has a strong influence on us. In the West devotees think forgiveness is more important than their counterparts in the East. One Western devotee couple were both doing remarkable preaching service. They married without checking the compatibility of their horoscopes; an astrological consultation would have shown the impending doom! After their marriage they preached together for several years and then fate took it course and they had a very bitter break up. Slowly, only after quite some time, were they able to forgive each other.
In śāstra there are many instances of forgiveness – narratives of Kṛṣṇa forgiving devotees and of devotees forgiving others. These are familiar stories to most of us. Kṛṣṇa forgave Ajāmila at the end of his long life of heinous sins, because he chanted Kṛṣṇa’s name, ‘Nārāyaṇa’, even though he was not at all mindful of Kṛṣṇa, rather he was intending to call his son. Kṛṣṇa had inspired Ajāmila to give his youngest son the name ‘Nārāyaṇa’ due to Ajāmila’s devotion to Kṛṣṇa in his life prior to falling down into debauchery. Kṛṣṇa never forgot Ajāmila’s devotional service even though Ajāmila forgot all about Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa cancelled all Ajāmila’s accumulated sinful reactions when he helplessly called out, ‘Nārāyaṇa!’ saving him from hell and reinstating him in devotional service.
Mahārāja Ambarīṣa was visited by Durvāsā who put him in a very difficult situation regarding the breaking of an ekādaśī fast. Ambarīṣa resolved it by drinking a little water but Durvāsā became unreasonably furious with Ambarīṣa and tried to punish him by having him killed by a horrible demon. Ambarīṣa was protected by the Lord who sent His Sudarśana cakra to kill the demon and to chase and kill Durvāsā who himself became subject to punishment for his ill-treatment of Mahārāja Ambarīṣa.
Durvāsā wanted to be free of his offense to Ambarīṣa Mahārāja by praying to Lord Viṣṇu but Lord Viṣṇu told him he had to approach Ambarīṣa himself and ask him for forgiveness. But how could Ambarīṣa forgive him when he didn’t feel that he had been offended? Ambarīṣa formally forgave Durvāsā to save him from the death threat of the Sudarśana cakra. Ambarīṣa did not have any thought of revenge. He didn’t think, ‘Let this Durvāsā be punished for what he has done to me.’ Undoubtedly Durvāsā was offensive but Ambarīṣa did not want to see him punished for his offense thus he forgave him. It wasn’t that Ambarīṣa hated Durvāsā and then got over it and forgave him. Despite Durvāsā’s extreme maltreatment of Ambarīṣa, he never thought badly of Durvāsā. In this case and other cases we will discuss here, there was forgiveness but actually there was no offense taken in the first place.
Mahārāja Parīkṣit was cursed to die by a brāhmaṇa boy, Śṛṅgi, for a very small fault. Parīkṣit forgave the boy, he did not blame him but saw the turn of events as the Lord’s will.
Nārada Muni did the greatest service to Dakṣa by training his eleven hundred sons in pure devotional service. Dakṣa should have been very grateful but instead he cursed Nārada. Nārada, however, never felt offended.
Hiraṇyakaśipu tried in so many ways to kill his own son Prahlāda. After Nṛsiṁhadeva killed Hiraṇyakaśipu, He asked Prahlāda to accept a benediction. Nārada Muni asked Nṛsiṁhadeva to please forgive all the great sins his father, Hiraṇyakaśipu, had committed. Prahlāda didn’t think, ‘Now with this benediction I can have Hiraṇyakaśipu roasted in hell.’ Prahlāda Mahārāja, chose, above all possible boons he could have requested, that his demoniac father be relieved of his sinful reactions. He desired the spiritual welfare of his father despite the sustained and extensive murderous ill-treatment he had received at his hands .
Haridāsa Ṭhākura encountered a prostitute who attempted to seduce him when she was incited to do so by Rāmacandra Khān who was envious of Haridāsa and desired to see him fall down and lose his reputation as a saintly renunciant. Haridāsa forgave the prostitute and made her a devotee. He didn’t respond to the atrocities of Rāmacandra Khān who later received the results of his bad behavior towards Haridāsa although Haridāsa had not personally taken any offense. Similarly the constables who were appointed to beat Haridāsa in twenty-two market places did not cause him to feel badly towards them as his assailants. It was expected that Haridāsa would die after being beaten in perhaps two or three market places. Beating him in various market places was to publicly demonstrate the result of a Muslim daring to leave Islam and become a Vaiṣṇava. After beating Haridāsa in twenty-two market places the constables were too exhausted to continue. They told Haridāsa, ‘If you don’t die we will be punished.’ Haridāsa did not want to cause any trouble for them so he assumed a corpse-like state as if he had died at their hands. Haridāsa wanted to benefit the ruffians who were intent on beating him to death by letting it be seen that they had done their duty of killing him.
The order given by the Muslim magistrate was to throw the dead body into the Ganga because according to Muslim understanding the Ganga is contaminating and thus Haridāsa would go to hell. Haridāsa in fact floated down the Ganga and came out of the river at Śāntipura, met Advaita Ācārya there and continued chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was very forgiving. He encouraged devotees to go on with their service despite any misbehavior on their part. In Bhagavad-gītā there is a list of the qualities of civilized persons. One of them is forgiveness. Śrīla Prabhupāda asked us to cooperate to push forward this movement; forgiveness is required in order that we cooperate. There will be offenses, especially in this age of quarrel but if we get hung up on the platform of grudges towards each other we won’t be able to cooperate to spread the saṅkīrtana movement.
rāma rāma mahābāho
bhavān pāpam akāraṣīt
avadhīn naradevaṁ yat
O great hero, my dear son Paraśurāma, you have unnecessarily killed the king, who is supposed to be the embodiment of all the demigods. Thus you have committed a sin.
vayaṁ hi brāhmaṇās tāta
yayā loka-gurur devaḥ
pārameṣṭhyam agāt padam
My dear son, we are all brāhmaṇas and have become worshipable for the people in general because of our quality of forgiveness. It is because of this quality that Lord Brahmā, the supreme spiritual master of this universe, has achieved his post.
kṣamayā rocate lakṣmīr
brāhmī saurī yathā prabhā
kṣamiṇām āśu bhagavāṁs
tuṣyate harir īśvaraḥ
The duty of a brāhmaṇa is to culture the quality of forgiveness, which is illuminating like the sun. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, is pleased with those who are forgiving.
In these verses the sage Jamadāgni speaks to his son Paraśurāma who has just killed king Kārtavīryārjuna. In the purport to SB.9.15.40 Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that brāhmaṇas become beautiful when they are forgiving. Forgiveness is especially meant for brāhmaṇas but it is a quality all human beings should cultivate. Jesus Christ, when asked how one should pray, gave the prayer, ‘Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…’ and part of that prayer is, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ In this context ‘trespass’ means a violation of proper civilized behavior.
Lord Indra by trickery, by going against the principles of dharma, stole the horse meant for the sacrifice being conducted by Mahārāja Pṛthu. Indra was envious of Pṛthu; he didn’t want Pṛthu to come to the same level as himself by completing one hundred horse sacrifices. Lord Viṣṇu appeared personally and asked Pṛthu to forgive Indra’s atrocious behavior in stealing the horse and disrupting the sacrifice. Pṛthu Mahārāja, as a ksatriya, might not have agreed to forgive Indra if anyone other than Lord Viṣṇu had requested he do so. Why should Indra be forgiven for such atrocious behavior? The reason is that Indra is the representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead for maintaining order within the universe.
It is related in the Purāṇas that Pṛthu Mahārāja took a lot of trouble to relieve his own father, Vena, of all his accumulated sinful reactions; his father was reputed for his wicked behavior yet his son was dutiful in helping him nevertheless.
Forgiveness means one is willing to forget the incident and let it go. When two siblings are fighting the parents may tell them to stop and forgive each other. But that is usually a begrudging kind of forgiveness. The highest level of forgiveness is when you want to benefit the person who has offended you. I have already cited several examples. These are extraordinary and above the general behavior of people in this world.
Lord Jesus Christ famously prayed to his father in heaven when being crucified, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’
Jagāi and Mādhāi attacked Lord Nityānanda. Lord Caitanya wanted to kill them but Lord Nityānanda intervened and had Lord Caitanya deliver them. So this kind of forgiveness is the behavior of highly exalted souls. We may think, ‘Well that is beyond me.’ But these narrations are given in śāstra to direct us as to how we should develop our behavior and character. This is the attitude and behavior of Vaiṣṇavas. We should try to imbibe these qualities and not just take it as some story we hear for our entertainment.
Maybe we are thinking how nice it is that Haridāsa Ṭhākura is forgiving towards those who beat him. Then if someone disturbs us we become immediately angry with them. I am talking about these things and feel the challenge to live up to the ideal myself. We learn from these narrations that forgiveness is a beginning but to show mercy, to try to benefit others those who harm us, is very exalted conduct.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura said, ‘Let me desire the highest benefit for those who are acting inimically towards me.’
Forgiveness is not the essence of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. There are so many qualities of Vaiṣṇavas such as mercifulness, having no enemies, accepting the essence, and mental equanimity. All the twenty-six qualities of good character are seen in a Vaiṣṇava. But the essence of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is surrender to Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇaika-śaraṇa – taking shelter of Kṛṣṇa solely and wholly.
It is not that we strive to forgive others and Kṛṣṇa consciousness follows. Rather if we seriously try to surrender to Kṛṣṇa then all good qualities, including forgiveness, follow. Often in seminars forgiveness or compassion or such things are discussed in a way that doesn’t put Kṛṣṇa in the center. I am not in favor of such seminars. I prefer to emphasize that one surrender and be serious. A disciple voluntarily accepts the discipline of the spiritual master with the faith that by this discipline he will be purified. Give yourself to Kṛṣṇa and automatically everything else will come. There is no need for repeated, detailed analysis of qualities other than surrender to Kṛṣṇa.
yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiñcanā
sarvair guṇais tatra samāsate surāḥ
harāv abhaktasya kuto mahad-guṇā
manorathenāsati dhāvato bahiḥ
All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vāsudeva. On the other hand, a person devoid of devotional service and engaged in material activities has no good qualities. Even if he is adept at the practice of mystic yoga or the honest endeavor of maintaining his family and relatives, he must be driven by his own mental speculations and must engage in the service of the Lord’s external energy. How can there be any good qualities in such a man? SB. 5.18.12
A Vaiṣṇava doesn’t feel offended. He thinks he is so low and fallen, how could anyone offend him? Kṛṣṇadāsa kavirāj Goswami the most exalted compiler of Śrī Caitanya caritāmṛta and Govinda līlāmṛta has described himself in this way.
jagāi mādhāi haite muñi se pāpiṣṭha
purīṣera kīṭa haite muñi se laghiṣṭha
I am more sinful than Jagāi and Mādhāi and even lower than the worms in the stool.
mora nāma śune yei tāra puṇya kṣaya
mora nāma laya yei tāra pāpa haya
Anyone who hears my name loses the results of his pious activities. Anyone who utters my name becomes sinful. Cc. 1.5.207-8
It’s difficult to understand him feeling like that when he is an exalted Vaiṣṇava, but that is the symptom of his being an exalted Vaiṣṇava.
We may be going on with our hearing and chanting yet harboring anarthas within our hearts which will hinder our progress. If we maintain bad feelings towards Vaiṣṇavas our sadhana will not manifest the desired advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness leading to Kṛṣṇa–prema. So for spiritual life we can analyse this topic of forgiveness.
The teachings of Lord Ṛṣabhadeva describe how a guru or parent or anyone in a role of sheltering others, has to be able to forgive. If he doesn’t forgive their wrong-doings and mistakes they have no hope. If the parent rejects the children then who will train them? If the guru rejects the disciple then who will train him? Therefore we pray:
yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto ‘pi
dhyāyan stuvaṁs tasya yaśas tri-sandhyaṁ
vande guroḥ śrī-caraṇāravindam
Śrī Śrī Gurv-aṣṭaka 8
If somehow we lose the mercy of the guru then we are completely finished in our spiritual life. In this regard Lord Ṛṣabhadeva states:
‘If one is serious about going back home, back to Godhead, he must consider the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead the summum bonum and chief aim of life. If he is a father instructing his sons, a spiritual master instructing his disciples, or a king instructing his citizens, he must instruct them as I have advised. Without being angry, he should continue giving instructions, even if his disciple, son or citizen is sometimes unable to follow his order. Ignorant people who engage in pious and impious activities should be engaged in devotional service by all means. They should always avoid fruitive activity. If one puts into the bondage of karmic activity his disciple, son or citizen who is bereft of transcendental vision, how will one profit? It is like leading a blind man to a dark well and causing him to fall in.’ SB.5.5.15
As a son, disciple or subject we must realize we are dependent on the mercy of the father, guru or king respectively. As disciples we should not take that mercy cheaply or think that, ‘I am a disciple and I can behave anyway I like and the guru is obliged to forgive me.’ Śrīla Prabhupāda said he would forgive once, twice but not thrice. There are disciples that Śrīla Prabhupāda chastised on more than three occasions. So we can understand that naturally a disciple will make many mistakes and be forgiven but if a disciple persists in knowingly doing the wrong thing he becomes liable to be rejected.
Seniors forgive those who are junior or dependent to benefit them. In family life there will be friction, especially between husband and wife but forgiveness is not really a consideration as the friction comes and it goes; it shouldn’t be taken very seriously. Husband and wife can have disagreements but they are quickly forgotten. How many times can such things happen? There is no limit!
What about offenses committed by seniors against juniors. Generally the attitude of the junior should be, ‘I cannot be offended by a senior.’ We find many cases in Vedic culture of gurus who, from a humanistic perspective, treat their disciples very badly. But the disciple is supposed to think that the guru is treating him like that to cut down his ego.
Lord Brahmā chased his own daughter with a sexual intent which is extremely bad behavior. Brahmā was mocked by the sons of Marīci for his deviant behavior. To be sons of Marīci meant they had a high consciousness. But they were cursed by Brahmā to take birth as sons of demons because they shouldn’t have criticized him. He was a senior and a great personality and he wasn’t in the habit of such illicit behavior. He threw off the body connected with the illicit desire and started again.
Aśvatthāmā was arrested by Arjuna because he had killed the five sons of Draupadī, and many other soldiers, in their sleep. Arjuna intended to execute him. Aśvatthāmā was a brāhmaṇa by birth; the son of the Pandavas’ guru. Draupadī, who was the person most affected by the death of her sons, intervened and said, ‘No don’t kill him,’ she argued, ‘He is a brāhmaṇa and even if he is not acting as a brāhmaṇa still we should not kill him. Just as I am crying for the loss of my sons, we do not want Drona’s wife to similarly lament; she is already grieving for the death of her husband. In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that one should not give up one’s discrimination and become like a woman. Kṛṣṇa, who was present, approved the desire of Bhīma and Arjuna to kill Aśvatthāmā. Kṛṣṇa also approved the desire of Yudhiṣṭhira and Draupadī to spare Aśvatthāmā.
Kṛṣṇa then inspired Arjuna to find a solution which satisfied the desire of both parties; by cutting off the topknot of Aśvatthāmā he greatly humiliated him without killing him. Aśvatthāmā is still wandering the earth incognito suffering the results of his sinful activities. There will come a time when, having been cleansed of his sinful reactions, he will become one of the sapta-ṛṣis, the seven sages who oversee the universe.
So we see that there is another aspect to forgiveness that the person, however bad they may be, may one day improve his character. Realistically speaking there is a lot of discontent and even anger in our Vaiṣṇava society. Devotees come to this society expecting saintly behavior. One reason we want to join the association is that we are fed up with the mistreatment we received in non-devotee society. We come to devotee association expecting saintly behavior. If we are fortunate we find it. But there are many devotees who have become disappointed at the behavior of devotees whom they expected to be saintly.
We may become depressed or angry, especially when leaders, misusing their position, mistreat us after we have surrendered to them. There is so much disillusionment with gurus who have fallen away from their role. We put full trust in them and they betrayed that trust. We may have given them all our money and have nothing left. We gave the money trusting that it would be used in Kṛṣṇa’s service but then see it being used for sense gratification.
How far should we go with forgiveness? What about a child rapist? Should he be forgiven? The prestige of the Catholic church tumbled down when it came to the public notice that there have been hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse by priests. Trusting parents sent their children to priests for religious guidance and the children were abused.
People put faith in priests as saintly persons but they abused their children. So many people who had great faith in the Catholic church now feel totally disgusted and especially so due to the attempted cover-ups of the abuse by the leaders of the church, even up to the level of the Pope, who didn’t want to admit this malpractice was going on and was a serious, widespread problem.
ISKCON, in terms of numbers, is much smaller than the Catholic church but we have had numerous cases of child abuse. Should there be any forgiveness for people who are supposed to be devotees but sexually abuse children in their charge? Should they be slowly roasted alive until after hours of torture they die? There are devotees who would seriously like to see that happen. However it is not the business of Vaiṣṇava brāhmaṇas to mete out such punishment. What about the following verse?
api cet su-durācāro
bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ
samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination. Bg 9.30
Most abominable – how far does that description go? Is there any limit to it? Some devotees say that ‘abominable action’ cannot include pedophilia. But if we take the literal meaning there is no limit. There is no sin which cannot ultimately be forgiven. The fact that we are all in the material world means that we have all committed the most horrible sins at some point in the past. What does the verse mean? That people who have committed sins should not be punished? Punishment is also a necessary part of human society. From our Vaiṣṇava understanding punishment is meant to rectify a person. For example a murderer is executed to free him from the heavy reaction for murder. Punishment is also a deterrent for people in general. People are much less likely to commit crimes if they are afraid of punishment.
Whatever someone may have done, we never tell them to stop chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. We may not allow them to associate with devotees if they are a danger to others.
The duty of a king is to punish wrongdoers. That relieves the offender from at least some of the bad reactions. It also helps to maintain order in society. Bhīṣmadeva says in the Mahābhārata if a king is too strict and gives punishments that are too heavy for the crimes committed he will be hated by his own people. But if the king is too lenient then people become criminals and the whole society spoilt. A practical application of punishment is that one should not be overly strict or overly lenient. We see that Vena Mahārāja was hated for being unnecessarily cruel but when he was killed by the curse of the brāhmaṇas, rogues and thieves took advantage and started pillaging; his severity as a monarch had kept the thieves under control.
Forgiveness in the legal context means the judge lets something go without issuing a punishment. Śrīla Prabhupāda gave an example from his own business life previous to his taking sannyasa. As part of his pharmaceutical business he had a license for manufacturing alcohol. Once he was summoned to court because his business was producing more alcohol than his license allowed and it was being sold for recreational purposes. Śrīla Prabhupāda recounted that in the court he submitted to the magistrate that as the proprietor of the business he accepted the fault but explained that it was his manager who was producing and selling the extra alcohol without his knowledge. He stated that in future he would supervise the manager more strictly. The judge let him off but if he had been called to court for the same offense a second time he would not have been let off.
So from the legal point of view one may be forgiven. There may be very little emotional involvement. The magistrate had no emotional involvement with Śrīla Prabhupāda (Mr De), but as a matter of good faith, he let him off.
We often find that we have an emotion towards someone who did something bad towards us. We hold a grudge in our heart. Often it is the people we are closest to, from whom we expected a lot, who disappoint us the most and we hold onto the feelings for years. That bad feeling towards others is called ‘dveṣa ’. A Vaiṣṇava is not expected to hold bad feelings towards anyone. In the twelfth chapter of Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa lists the qualities that endear Him to his devotees. The first quality he mentions is ‘adveṣṭā sarva-bhūtānāṁ’ – not envious of any living being.
If we are Kṛṣṇa conscious we will be happy and we won’t have bad feelings towards others. Srīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura sings:
pūrva itihāsa, bhulinu sakala,
sevā-sukha pe’ye mane
āmi to’ tomāra, tumi to’ āmāra,
ki kāja apara dhane
‘Whatever happened in the past I have forgotten it all. So many things I was attached to. So many illusions I had. So many bad feelings. I have forgotten all that because my mind is filled with the treasure of the happiness of serving You, Kṛṣṇa. I simply feel that I am Yours and You are mine. What have I got to do with anyone or anything else?’ Atma Nivedana Song 8
Bad feeling towards others is actually a symptom of tamo-guṇa, the lowest mode of nature. If a devotee is suffering, he doesn’t blame others. He thinks it is the result of his own previous sinful activities. In this regard there is a famous verse which, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, should be the motto or guiding principle of a devotee:
tat te ’nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo
bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam
hṛd-vāg-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jīveta yo mukti-pade sa dāya-bhāk
My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim. SB. 10.14.8
In Srīmad Bhāgavatam Parīkṣit Mahārāja asked Dharma the bull who had hurt his legs and the bull didn’t want to name the perpetrator. He knew that if someone is intent on blaming someone else then he also becomes blameworthy.
‘The King said: O you, who are in the form of a bull! You know the truth of religion, and you are speaking according to the principle that the destination intended for the perpetrator of irreligious acts is also intended for one who identifies the perpetrator. You are no other than the personality of religion.’ SB 1.17.22
From the purport to this verse:
‘A devotee’s conclusion is that no-one is directly responsible for being a benefactor or mischief-monger without the sanction of the Lord; therefore he does not consider anyone to be directly responsible for such action.’
If life is going on nicely, if we have enough money and people are pleasant with us, (which is hardly likely to happen in the current society) if we are pious we will think it is all the grace of God. If we are trying to be good but things go wrong and people are against us then we may think, ‘There cannot be any God.’ Śrīla Prabhupāda points out in the purport here that one should not become doubtful as difficulties are also the mercy of God. Śrīla Prabhupāda gives the example of Jesus Christ in the same purport:
‘Jesus Christ was seemingly put into such great difficulty, being crucified by the ignorant, but he was never angry at the mischief-mongers.’
The question of forgiveness arises when we feel that others have mistreated us, when others have apparently caused us suffering. In this purport Śrīla Prabhupāda continues:
In other words, a devotee has no suffering at all because so-called suffering is also God’s grace for a devotee who sees God in everything. The extraordinary behavior of the bull made the King conclude that the bull was certainly the personality of religion, for no-one else could understand the finer intricacies of the codes of religion.’
Now we can consider the case of Citraketu Mahārāja.
atha prasādaye na tvāṁ
yan manyase hy asādhūktaṁ
mama tat kṣamyatāṁ sati
‘O mother, you are now unnecessarily angry, but since all my happiness and distress are destined by my past activities, I do not plead to be excused or relieved from your curse. Although what I have said is not wrong, please let whatever you think is wrong be pardoned.’
Purport: Being fully aware of how the results of one’s karma accrue by the laws of nature, Citraketu did not want to be released from Pārvatī’s curse. Nonetheless, he wanted to satisfy her because although his verdict was natural, she was displeased with him. As a matter of course, Mahārāja Citraketu begged pardon from Pārvatī. SB. 6.17.24
We read about Arjuna begging Kṛṣṇa to forgive him because Arjuna considered that he had been treating Kṛṣṇa in an overly familiar way. Among men, friends jokingly insult each other. Kṛṣṇa enjoyed such insults from Arjuna but when on seeing the universal form of Kṛṣṇa he became so awed that he begged forgiveness although he had not done anything wrong. If Arjuna had spoken insultingly in front of one of Kṛṣṇa’s wives, His wife might have got upset. This is what happened to Citraketu who saw Lord Śiva sitting with Pārvatī, his wife, on his lap and Citraketu mocked Lord Śiva. ‘Oh you are supposed to be such a great sādhu but I see you are simply attached to sexual activity with your wife.’ Pārvatī became extremely angry with Citraketu but Lord Śiva and the other saintly persons present there did not. Pārvatī cursed Citraketu to take birth as a demon. By the power of his devotional service, he could have counteracted the curse; he did not have to accept it. He was so powerful that even if the whole material energy personified cursed him, he could counteract it and you would think he might want to. In one way it was worse than the curse of Śṛṅgi, to Mahārāja Parīkṣit. Parīkṣit was cursed to die in seven days, which from the spiritual perspective was a great blessing because he could detach himself from all his worldly activity and spiritually prepare himself for death so that he could attain the ultimate destination or at least take a higher birth. To be cursed to take birth as a demon means what? Viṣṇu-bhakto bhaved daivaḥ, a demigod is a devotee of Viṣṇu and a demon is just the opposite.
dambho darpo ’bhimānaś ca
krodhaḥ pāruṣyam eva ca
pārtha sampadam āsurīm
Pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness and ignorance – these qualities belong to those of demoniac nature, O son of Pṛthā. Bg 16.4
So from the spiritual point of view to become a demon is really a curse; one wouldn’t get any good association. If one is born in a dynasty of demons one will associate with all the worst people. Citraketu was so confident of Kṛṣṇa’s protection that he thought even if he took birth as a demon, Kṛṣṇa would look after him. He was confident that no-one could do any harm to him, including Mother Pārvatī, the material energy personified. Nothing could disturb his relationship with Kṛṣṇa. He didn’t ask for the curse to be removed but only that he be pardoned. It was a strange kind of apology as he said, ‘Actually I didn’t do anything wrong, you did something wrong but anyway whatever you think was wrong, you please pardon me.’ He was asking forgiveness for something he knew wasn’t wrong. It’s like apologizing for drinking a bottle of vodka when you didn’t drink a bottle of vodka at all. Citraketu asked pardon for the sake of Pārvatī not for himself. He thought that whatever she did was neither for his benefit nor for his harm because when one is fully fixed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness the material energy cannot touch you.
māṁ ca yo ’vyabhicāreṇa
sa guṇān samatītyaitān
One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman. Bg 14.26
A devotee should know that no-one can do him any harm. Whatever anyone does to me cannot stop me chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. If they cut out my tongue I will go on chanting in my mind. If they kill me I will go on chanting in my next life. In this way he doesn’t think anyone does anything requiring forgiveness because no-one can harm him. It’s a high platform no doubt. We can consider if someone does something wrong to me why should I be all upset like an ordinary materialist? Mahārāja Citraketu could have become upset with Mother Pārvatī and would have been justified in doing so. He could have said, ‘What is this! Who do you think you are?’ She could reply, ‘Well I happen to be the personified material energy and the mother of all living beings.’ He could say, ‘I am a pure devotee, I had direct darśana of Lord Ananta, Saṅkarṣaṇa.’ He could have appealed to the saintly persons present, ‘She is in maya.’ Actually she IS Māyādevī; we also bow down to her.
We may think this is all very well in the Bhāgavatam class but elsewhere there are real reasons to be bitter. But bitterness blocks our progress in devotional service and might drive us away from devotional service altogether.
In the mid 1980’s there was a lot of agitation in ISKCON, especially from the North American temple presidents, against the perceived, if not real, atrocities of the zonal ācāryas at that time. Three Canadian temple presidents who were big devotees in their own sphere, were especially critical of the zonal ācāryas. There was a very bitter atmosphere in the movement at that time, especially in North America. In due course of time most of those zonal ācāryas fell down from the strict practice of devotional service. So did the three temple presidents in Canada because although their criticism may have been accurate Kṛṣṇa wasn’t pleased that they took such an inimical attitude towards the zonal ācāryas and so they lost their standing in devotional service.
We may see others as being very wrong, but Kṛṣṇa doesn’t necessarily see that. We offend those who offend us and it becomes a Dakṣa yajña of clashing personalities. As an alternative course of action we can take the attitude that if someone is being nasty to us we should not let them ruin our life. If someone wants to harm us we don’t have to accept it; we can go on chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. We don’t have to go down to the level of those who are in lower consciousness.
Previous to his spiritual awakening Mahārāja Citraketu suffered a lot due the death of his son who was actually an enemy who died and was born as his son deliberately with the aim of causing pain to Citraketu’s heart. So we might carry enmity from one life to another. Is that what we want?
Generation after generation enmity may be perpetuated. My mother’s family is from Northern Ireland. Up to the present day the Orangemen, the Protestants, make an annual march through the Fenian or Catholic areas of Belfast playing music and singing songs that are insulting to the Fenians. This is a celebration of a victory of the Protestant troops over the Catholic troops in a battle that took place near the river Boyne several hundred years ago. Its madness that enmity is maintained between the two communities over a battle fought so long ago. We would hope that religious people would come to a higher level, but it is not necessarily so. I remember from my religious education at school being taught how the Protestants mercilessly tortured and killed the Catholics in England. I went to a Catholic school. They didn’t teach us how the Catholics had tortured and killed the Protestants. All this is going on in the name of religion.
In Palestine the situation is such that Arabs and Jews hate each other on the basis of their bodily identity and for no other reason. ‘Why do you want to kill those Arabs?’ ‘If we don’t kill them first they will kill us.’ There is the same mentality of ‘kill rather than be killed’ on the Arabs’ side regarding the Jews. There is political reasoning but it is madness. We should bring the leaders of both sides together and work out a solution like reasonable people. Such peace talks have been going on for years yet the bombing continues.
In the Śrī sampradāya there is an historical division amongst the members which is severe and bordering on hatred. As an outsider I have the highest regard for the Śrī sampradāya and I don’t understand why the differences are there. There are eighteen specific points of philosophical difference but as an outsider I see that both sides are engaged in deity worship and chanting the name of the Lord; they are all devotees.
What would an outsider say if they knew that within ISKCON we have the Ritvik camp whose adherents also identify themselves as members of ISKCON. An outsider wouldn’t be able to tell the difference as both parties have the same activities and beliefs. From an insider’s perspective those differences are very important. Ritvikism is predicated on the hatred of the current gurus whose role it is to continue the paramparā in ISKCON.
In Pakistan the leaders continue to tell the citizens how bad India is because their raison d’etre is enmity with India. Similarly in the Ritvik camp they have to continue repeating how bogus all the gurus in ISKCON are as that is the focus of their mission. Objectively they could have some valid points. Newcomers at a Ritvik temple are swayed by all the propaganda but are mostly innocent souls who would not necessarily take up such views otherwise.
I spoke about legal forgiveness and emotional forgiveness. There are nuances in emotional forgiveness. Someone may slip and spill a hot drink on you. He says, ‘Oh, I am sorry.’ He didn’t mean to do it, and he is sorry. That is very different from someone throwing a hot drink on you with a deliberate intent to cause harm. The second kind of offense is more difficult to forgive.
In the philosophy of law if a man is drunk and comes across someone and kills them one could ask if he could be excused from the crime on the basis that he was drunk and not in control of his mind? Someone may be drunk driving and kills people in another car by causing a collision. Should such a driver be excused?
There is a true story from New York city. One man was sitting on a park bench looking at his children playing boisterously around him. Another man was also sitting on the bench reading his newspaper but being disturbed by the boisterous children. Eventually the man reading the newspaper turns to the father of the children and asks, ‘Why don’t you keep your children under control?’ The father replies, ‘I am sorry but their mother just died and I am trying to think how to tell them.’ This is a mundane but poignant example of how we may judge someone and think they are offending us but we may not know their full circumstances.
The general principle is one of forgiveness but there are many nuances. What if you forgive someone but they go on doing the same thing? Forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no measures taken to rectify him or even to punish him. In general brāhmaṇas don’t punish anyone. Brāhmaṇas in particular, but also all human beings are supposed to see the good in others rather than the bad.
There is a story of Dronācārya who one day sent out the two boys Yudhiṣṭhira and Duryodhana. He asked Yudhiṣṭhira to find someone worse than himself and Duryodhana to find someone who was better than himself. At the end of the day Yudhiṣṭhira came back and said he couldn’t find anyone worse than himself. Duryodhana came back and said he couldn’t find anyone better than himself. The two boys could have cited each other. Yudhiṣṭhira could have said that Duryodhana was worse. Duryodhana could have said that Yudhiṣṭhira was better. Due to their natures neither of them could think like that.
There is a traditional story of the sādhu and the scorpion. A scorpion asked a sādhu to carry him across a shallow river. Some scorpions’ stings are fatal, some are just very painful. As the sādhu carried the scorpion over the river the scorpion stang him. Due to the sudden pain the sādhu dropped the scorpion in the river. Seeing the scorpion about to drown, the sādhu rescued it and continued carrying it across the river. This happened four times before they reached the other side of the river. An observer on the river bank asked the scorpion why he had stung the sādhu who was helping him. The scorpion answered, ‘That is my nature.’ Then the observer asked the sādhu why he again and again saved the scorpion from drowning even though he was stinging him repeatedly. The sādhu replied, ‘That is my nature.’
It is especially the nature of brāhmaṇas to forgive but punishment is required within society. Ahimsa, non-violence is an ideal, but not the basis for a whole society. Therefore in Vedic society there are kṣatriyas whose duty it is to punish wrongdoers. Brāhmaṇas may tell the kṣatriyas, ‘Yes, you should punish him, chop his head off.’
What to do in ISKCON? Should we forgive all the terrible things that are going on?
The symptoms of a sādhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime. SB. 3.25.21
Many transcendental qualities decorate the person of a Vaiṣṇava. In the purport to this verse Śrīla Prabhupāda describes how Vaiṣṇavas tolerate offenses, titiksava means tolerance which is closely related with ‘sama’ which means tolerance or forgiveness. We hear about Vaiṣṇavas forgiving but what about forgiving Vaiṣṇavas? Śrīla Prabhupāda had to repeatedly forgive his disciples for their mistakes. ‘Mistakes’ give the impression of some innocent error but still there were some very serious fall-downs.
To give one example; Madhuviṣa dāsa was a devotee whom Śrīla Prabhupāda loved very much. He did huge preaching in Australia. He was the GBC (Governing Body Commissioner) and a very inspirational leader. Śrīla Prabhupāda called him the emperor of kirtan because he led blissful kirtans which had everyone dancing. Then all of a sudden he disappeared. The news came that although he was a sannyasi he was having sexual relations with several brahmacāriṇīs. On one hand he was doing great service but on the other hand, as Śrīla Prabhupāda later said, he was not fit for sannyasa. Śrīla Prabhupāda never rejected him; he said I don’t care what Madhuviṣa has done, I just want my Madhuviṣa back. Eventually he did come back with his wife. He said to Śrīla Prabhupāda, ‘Can you ever forgive me? I was a sannyasi and I fell down.’ It was a very emotional reunion and Śrīla Prabhupāda said, ‘You have done so much service, how can I forget your service?’ Madhuviṣa was a sincere servant of Śrīla Prabhupāda. He wasn’t as strong as he appeared to be. He wasn’t fit for sannyasa and Śrīla Prabhupāda forgave that.
The case of Kīrtanānanda dāsa was very different. In 1967 Kīrtanānanda was with Śrīla Prabhupāda in India as his only disciple. There was no ISKCON in India at that time. Kīrtanānanda pressed Śrīla Prabhupāda to give him sannyasa which Śrīla Prabhupāda did. Śrīla Prabhupāda told him to go to London and start preaching there. He disobeyed the order of Śrīla Prabhupāda and went to the USA. There, being a sannyasi, thinking that Śrīla Prabhupāda was very sick and probably would not return to USA, he tried to establish himself as the leader of the whole movement. Kīrtanānanda started preaching the Māyāvāda nonsense that he himself had previously been absorbed in before coming to Śrīla Prabhupāda. He advocated preaching indirectly and told devotees to wear Western clothes instead of Vaiṣṇava dress. Practically he betrayed Śrīla Prabhupāda and wanted to take over the movement from him. Brahmānanda in particular was very strong and opposed this deviation of Kīrtanānanda. So being unable to establish his domination of ISKCON Kīrtanānanda left with his old homosexual boyfriend, Hayagrīva. They bought some land in a remote spot with the idea of starting their own spiritual community without any connection with Śrīla Prabhupāda or ISKCON. Some time later, after buying the land, they found they couldn’t get anyone to join them. So they went to Śrīla Prabhupāda, who by then had returned to the USA and said they wanted to re-align themselves with him and that maybe some devotees could come and join them in the rural location. So they came back to Kṛṣṇa consciousness and Śrīla Prabhupāda forgave them their abominable behavior and never referred to it again. He was affectionate to Kīrtanānanda whose community did develop and became New Vrndavan; Kīrtanānanda did something wonderful. Śrīla Prabhupāda forgave Kīrtanānanda and a whole new phase of ISKCON i.e. the establishment of rural communities, began with New Vrndavan. This history is not in the Śrīla Prabhupāda līlāmṛta. There are many things not given in the līlāmṛta which presents a rosy picture without all the details. In retrospect we wonder if Śrīla Prabhupāda hadn’t forgiven Kīrtanānanda it might have been better because after Śrīla Prabhupāda left Kīrtanānanda again brought up his impersonalist version of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He tried to mix Christianity and Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He had Jesus on the altar and had statues of Buddha and tried to make everything into a grand mixture. He was also having sex with young devotee boys. Eventually he was imprisoned by the federal authorities of the USA for various illegal activities. This is an example of forgiving someone and taking a risk as to whether they will re-offend. Śrīla Prabhupāda was very merciful and wanted to give a chance to everyone. He recognized Kīrtanānanda’s leadership qualities but ultimately Kīrtanānanda turned out to be unfaithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda and caused so much damage to ISKCON. So how far should forgiveness go? The GBC are the ultimate managerial authority in ISKCON; how far should they go to forgive? They also have to exert discipline. Although individually they may want to forgive a devotee, if he is dangerous in the form of a philosophical deviation or illegal activities they may have to disallow him a position in ISKCON. Individually we might forgive a devotee’s activities towards us but we may be angry if devotees are misrepresenting Śrīla Prabhupāda and ISKCON.
Here is a quote from SB.3.16.5
yan-nāmāni ca gṛhṇāti
loko bhṛtye kṛtāgasi
so ’sādhu-vādas tat-kīrtiṁ
hanti tvacam ivāmayaḥ
A wrong act committed by a servant leads people in general to blame his master, just as a spot of white leprosy on any part of the body pollutes all of the skin.
If a devotee behaves badly people in general will blame Śrīla Prabhupāda and ISKCON. So we might be concerned and angry for this misrepresentation. We may be willing to emotionally forgive someone but know that legally we should not. We might want to give a devotee another chance but if he has a record of pedophilia we don’t want him to be around devotees’ children for obvious reasons. As there are children at most ISKCON gatherings one might have to tell him not to attend programs. There is a widespread loss of faith in the Catholic church due to issues with priests and pedophilia. ISKCON has also had its problems in this regard. We might say wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the devotees exhibited all these saintly qualities; tolerance, mercifulness, friendliness to all living entities, having no enemies, peacefulness, abiding by the scriptures, and having all sublime characteristics. Surely everyone would be attracted to such a society. If we read the books and understand the character of a true Vaiṣṇava we would definitely want to find such association and we may wonder why anyone would leave ISKCON.
This is closely related to the question, ‘Why would anyone leave Kṛṣṇa consciousness? It has been happening since the earliest days of ISKCON that people take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness and then again leave. Kṛṣṇa mentions this in Bg.9.3
aprāpya māṁ nivartante
Those who are not faithful in this devotional service cannot attain Me, O conqueror of enemies. Therefore they return to the path of birth and death in this material world.
Why would anyone lose faith? Faith is created by association with devotees especially in the beginning stages of devotional service. So if we see that devotees whom we expect to have all good qualities don’t have them then we may lose faith altogether in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We expect devotees to be very tolerant but instead some may be very harsh. We expect devotees to be merciful but it seems that some devotees take pleasure in giving pain to others. We expect devotees to act in a friendly manner but they may act in an inimical manner. We may not want to associate with such people; they don’t appear to be decorated with the qualities of saintly people. We have all seen several cases of people who came to Kṛṣṇa consciousness and then went away. We used to say it was due to their insincerity that they did not stay. Probably that is true if someone is on the level of Citraketu who, even though he was cursed to become a demon for no good reason, was not the slightest bit disturbed in his Kṛṣṇa consciousness. If we are to be objective we see that people have left the association of devotees because they have been mistreated by devotees or they may have seen others mistreated. We may say if someone is truly sincere they will never leave but there are many devotees who distance themselves or leave ISKCON but they don’t leave Kṛṣṇa consciousness. They are serious about Kṛṣṇa consciousness but for various reasons, some of which may be valid, they don’t want to associate closely with devotees in ISKCON.
We hear that so many devotees, Śrīla Prabhupāda disciples, were driven out of ISKCON in 1980’s because they didn’t agree with the atrocities being perpetrated by the zonal ācāryas. Another reason may be that one comes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness with the ideal that we want to live the message of Bhagavad-gītā As It Is and spread it all over the world. Devotees can become discouraged when they see these ideals being compromised. If we see neophyte devotees misbehaving that may not disturb us so much. If a devotee perceives that the ideals and instructions that Śrīla Prabhupāda gave are being compromised by the very leaders of this movement then definitely they are going to feel disturbed and discouraged. What do you do when you see that certain leaders are misrepresenting the ideals that Śrīla Prabhupāda came to give us?
Theoretically there is a system to deal with complaints. If one has a complaint he should take it to his immediate authority. If one is not satisfied with the response he brings it to the next higher authority and ultimately one can bring it up to the GBC body. There is a minister of justice but there is no active ministry or practical function whatsoever.
I would like to tell you all to stay in ISKCON, follow your authorities, do whatever they say, chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and be happy. If you do have authorities who deal with you according to the verse titikṣavaḥ kāruṇikāḥ then you are very fortunate. Not all the devotees and their leaders are not going to come to that standard. ISKCON is a very big worldwide organization and it’s inevitable that within the society there will be instances of opportunism, exploitation, deviation, hypocrisy, false devotees, politics, nepotism, what to speak of disturbances caused by weak or neophyte devotees. It would be utopian to think that such defects could not arise. Ideally there should be systems in place so that such syndromes do not develop. Its one thing if locally there are instances of such unpleasantness, but it is perceived that it is endemic in the whole society then that is a serious consideration.
I know for a fact that sincere devotees have serious problems with certain of the ISKCON leaders they are in contact with. They perceive those leaders to be deviated, self-interested, irrational, unreasonable and just plain nasty. Is it possible in ISKCON? We wouldn’t be talking about it if it wasn’t possible. There is some good news – there is life after ISKCON. It is not only in Russia that there are disaffected devotees.
In the zonal ācārya days there were many devotees who continued to practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness but kept a distance from the official ISKCON. Many of them re-aligned themselves with various Gaudiya Math groups. There are many devotees who practice at home, they get together with other devotees whom they can relate with, they have kirtans and read Śrīla Prabhupāda books together. They don’t indulge in blaspheming or criticizing ISKCON but they don’t have much to do with it either. They have come to the conclusion that there is no point in making dissidence. ‘Let them do what they are doing, we offer our respects and we will do what we are doing.’ They may go once a year to Ratha Yatra or to Janmastami. They may keep relationships with certain individuals within ISKCON that they respect. They want to practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness and not have their head bothered with so many controversial issues.
There is a problem with this phenomenon in that the combined energy and manpower for spreading Lord Caitanya’s movement is not there in the way it could be. There are thousands of devotees all over the world who practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness and read Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books but keep a respectful distance from ISKCON. They don’t fight or protest but they don’t get involved either. In this way they keep their own spiritual life alive but it doesn’t at all make for a strong, united movement. So not everyone is doing distancing themselves; many may never do so.
Although I can’t relate with many things that are mainstream in ISKCON today I didn’t come to the point where I split off and leave and I don’t think Śrīla Prabhupāda would want me to. So I am staying in; no-one threw me out yet. If you want you can try fighting the system but in doing so you might be reminded of the analogy that Śrīla Prabhupāda gave of trying to wake up a person who is pretending to be asleep. Sometimes it is considered that I speak too bluntly and too openly about various issues and am very critical. So I would like to ask forgiveness from all the devotees whom I may have offended in doing so. I speak because naturally I care for the movement of my spiritual master, Śrīla Prabhupāda, as should all followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Objectively speaking many things are different today from what they were when Śrīla Prabhupāda was present which is inevitable because time is always moving on and we don’t expect everything to stay exactly the same.
If there were an outside observer they would probably agree that there are certain things that are valid causes for concern. For instance we are now told we have to do indirect preaching which Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t do; he was very direct. Nor did Śrīla Prabhupāda encourage such an ethos of indirect preaching. Although this is not written in any official document this is what we are told and no-one has ever explained it or why we have to do it or how it is authorized by guru, śāstra and sādhu.
When the Catholic church wants to change their policy in some way they have their scholars research it thoroughly and prepare what they call a ‘papal bull’ which is written in Latin and explains all the reasons as to why they have made a particular decision.
Indirect preaching has not been written as an official policy, there has been no study or paper given as to why it should be accepted. However, increasingly we are told this is the way it has to be and if you disagree you are considered a dissident.
I think it is understandable if myself and others protest and ask if this is really what Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted. To me it is clear that it is not what he wanted. He gave us so many books and letters and made it clear what he wanted. He made it very clear that this movement is against impersonalism and Māyāvāda. He enshrined that in his praṇāma mantra, ‘nirvisesa sunyavadi pascatye desa tarine.’ You would think it natural that certain members of this society become alarmed when they see impersonalism coming into this society from the top. ‘A fish rots from the head,’ is a Slavic saying.
I may be wrong, I don’t think so, but I might be. If one is in a car and the driver is drunk and heading towards a tree one would be alarmed and start screaming; there wouldn’t be time for a reasoned discussion. One might pull the wheel so that the car doesn’t crash into the tree. My perception is something like that; we are on a dangerous course. So I would request those who might be disturbed by my trying to point this out in various ways to please forgive me for causing you any disturbance but sometimes a little disturbance now can save a lot of disturbance in the future – a stitch in time saves nine.
As far as fighting the system goes I am not very hopeful. If one gets more and more into fighting one may lose the sweetness of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. My view is that one does one’s duty in trying to point things out and then, having done so, associates with like-minded devotees. One may have to tolerate being insulted and called all bad names. Lord Caitanya taught us:
tṛṇād api su-nīcena
taror iva sahiṣṇunā
kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ
“ ‘One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord.’ Siksastaka 3
One should tolerate and not feel insulted when we are insulted. We may think, ‘I am being unfairly attacked in so many ways, I have to respond.’ But by not responding we can remain cool and calm. There is an example we can give. Nārada Muni made a snake into a disciple. After some time the snake came to Nārada and complained saying, ‘Now all the local boys know that I am a Vaiṣṇava and will not bite anyone they throw stones at me.’ So Nārada advised him that when the boys throw stones he should spread his hood and open his mouth as if he is going to bite them.
So for people who are not reasonable and don’t want to discuss it is said, ‘paśūnāṁ laguḍo yathā.’ The only way to deal with such people is by showing a stick as one does to animals. That is all they understand. So there could be grounds to think, ‘OK we will fight back that is the only way to do it.’ The only problem is that they have much bigger sticks than you. If you want to be like Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and fight at every step of your life then you may consider doing so. While he was fighting he was magnificently spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness, enlivening people with the hope of going home back to Godhead.
We may think that suffering is being imposed on us in the form of insults and we must respond. But if we follow Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s advice to be tolerant it will liberate us from all distress. Let people think what they like, say what they like; Kṛṣṇa knows if I am sincere or not.
I am speaking in a general way. There are many complex and difficult situations. One way to get out of the difficult situation is to distance oneself from it. If you go into the situation it might be like Abhimanyu going into the vyūha. Once you go in you can’t get out so if you want to fight you have to think very carefully as to what the consequences will be. Will it really serve the cause of Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the best way? Maybe it will, it is difficult to say what will be the result of any action, especially unconventional actions. In response to someone’s egoistic attack we have to be careful not to be egoistic and think we have to show that they are wrong and we are right and therefore better.
So we all care about ISKCON and desire that ISKCON succeed wonderfully as Śrīla Prabhupāda desired. Even Śrī Vaiṣṇavas care about ISKCON. I met with some members of the Śrī sampradāya and they said that if ISKCON goes off course it will influence their members because it is so big and consequently their sampradāya will also go off course. They respect ISKCON for all the wonderful things this movement is doing all over the world and we would be blind if we didn’t recognize that.
In trying to address difficult situations we have to be careful not to make offenses. There is a fine line between valid criticism and actually making offenses. We should not switch off our sense of discrimination for fear of making offenses. At the same time we have to be wary of making offenses. I have been discussing forgiveness. I spoke in a general way about dealing with problems in ISKCON. People will have questions about their specific situations. Discussing details is complicated and difficult to understand without speaking with all the parties concerned. Generally the leaders concerned in specific situations don’t want to discuss, they just want to impose their views without any discussion.
One valid point about forgiveness, which the new-age people are aware of, is that forgiving is cathartic meaning that we get something out of our system which is causing harm. Catharsis can be physical or psychological. Getting toxins out of the body or out of the mind allows us to feel better for having released them. So we may feel much better if, instead of harboring bad feelings towards others, we just let them go. Two more relevant verses:
aho bakī yaṁ stana-kāla-kūṭaṁ
jighāṁsayāpāyayad apy asādhvī
lebhe gatiṁ dhātry-ucitāṁ tato ’nyaṁ
kaṁ vā dayāluṁ śaraṇaṁ vrajema
Alas, how shall I take shelter of one more merciful than He who granted the position of mother to a she-demon [Pūtanā] although she was unfaithful and she prepared deadly poison to be sucked from her breast? SB. 3.2.23
Uddhava refers to how Kṛṣṇa forgave Putana even though she tried to kill Him. And Prahlāda Mahārāja says:
svasty astu viśvasya khalaḥ prasīdatāṁ
dhyāyantu bhūtāni śivaṁ mitho dhiyā
manaś ca bhadraṁ bhajatād adhokṣaje
āveśyatāṁ no matir apy ahaitukī
May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified. May all living entities become calm by practicing bhakti-yoga, for by accepting devotional service they will think of each other’s welfare. Therefore let us all engage in the service of the supreme transcendence, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and always remain absorbed in thought of Him. SB. 5.18.9