(The following article was written by His Holiness Bhakti Vikas Maharaj and was published in June 2010 edition of Back to Godhead magazine.)
From time to time, the Indian press exposes some respected godman or sādhu for serious misbehaviour, such as sexual impropriety. For a renunciant sādhu, any sexual activity is an impropriety. In some cases, there are accusations of murder and sometimes in-fighting within the organizations of such sādhus. The incident becomes a big issue, and several repercussions follow. People get angry with the so-called sādhu, many of his followers leave him, followers also become targets of public abuse; sometimes the ashrams of such sādhus are attacked. Further, the so-called rationalists or atheists take the opportunity to inform everyone that actually all sādhus are bogus: they are all cheating and such exposures prove this. The insinuation is that some sādhus are found out but probably most, if not all sādhus are doing something that they should not be doing.
THE CHEATERS AND THE CHEATED
When these cheaters are exposed, people end up categorizing ISKCON devotees as being in the same league as the bogus sādhus who are now exposed. To be a member of ISKCON, one has to follow the four basic tenets of not eating meat, fish or egg, not gambling, not taking intoxication and not indulging in illicit sexual connections. An ISKCON member has to follow a rigid sādhana of rising early and following many spiritual practices. So it is quite illogical for people to categorize ISKCON devotees with these charlatans.
Unfortunately, most people do not know what sādhus are actually meant to be. They manufacture a stereotype of what they expect from a sādhu—ḥe should be nice, smile, gives blessing, tells you to be good, and makes you feel good—and there are many cheating sādhus who like to fit into this category. People think this is spiritual. But a real sādhu is one who tells you that material life is not good and simply being so-called good or even simply giving up tobacco and alcohol, is not in and of itself actual spiritual life. Spiritual life means to give up all material desires and completely surrender to Kṛṣṇa.
These comments on bogus sādhus are not meant as a sectarian diatribe, but should be understood in light of the teachings of Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, which unfortunately for the people of the world, and particularly so for Hindus, who should know it, is very little studied and even less followed. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement recognizes that there are many pious sādhus who are not grossly cheating others or making a personality cult around themselves. The derogatory comments in this article are not specifically directed against them.
FALL DOWN OF ISKCON DEVOTEES
Sometimes members of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, including some of its prominent leaders, are also exposed for acts unbecoming of sādhus. However, a devotee of Kṛṣṇa, particularly one who is seriously striving to surrender fully to Kṛṣṇa, is always in a better position than anyone else including those sādhus who are not exclusively focused on Kṛṣṇa yet rigidly adhere to moral principles. This may seem like a hypocritical statement, but it is not, because it is the statement of Śrī Kṛṣṇa himself in Bhagavad-gītā:
bhajate mam ananya bhak
sadhur eva sa mantavyah
“Even if engaged in most abominable activities, one who is desirous of fully surrendering to Me, who has no other object in life, is certainly to be considered a sādhu.” How is it possible that one who is fully focused on Kṛṣṇa as the goal of life could indulge in most abominable activities? It is possible because of previous bad habits, that a devotee, even a serious devotee, might circumstantially slip. But a sincere practitioner would regret the lapse and immediately attempt to rectify his situation by continuing to serve Kṛṣṇa with determination and enthusiasm.
Of course this does not exonerate habitually bad activities in the name of bhakti nor give a license for using the banner of bhakti to cheat others, even within the realm of devotion to Kṛṣṇa. Cheaters should be distinguished from genuine saints.
THE REAL SĀDHU
Who is a real sādhu? A real sādhu is one who follows Bhagavad-gītā as it is, who understands the difference between matter and spirit, who is not interested in material sense gratification, who lives in this world for the benefit of others without any personal desire, simply to serve Kṛṣṇa, who he understands from all the scriptures to be the supreme Absolute Truth. No one else can properly be termed as a sādhu. Real sādhu means vāco vegaṁ manasaḥ krodha-vegaṁ ihvā-vegam udaropastha-vegam: “A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.” (Nectar of Instruction, Sloka 1) People should study this verse and the purport given by Śrīla Prabhupāda.
So our call to the people is tamasi mā jyotir gama: “Come out of the darkness and come in to the light.” Kṛṣṇa—sūrya-sama; māyā haya andhakāra yāhāṅ kṛṣṇa, tāhāṅ nāhi māyāra adhikāra: “Kṛṣṇa is just like the sun, and māyā is just like darkness. If the sun is present, there is no question of darkness. Similarly, wherever Kṛṣṇa is present, there is no possibility of māyā's influence. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 22.31)Utthiṣṭhata jāgrata prāpta varān nibodhata: “Get up, wake up and attain the boon of human life.” (Kaṭha Upaniṣad 1.3.14)) How many people are ready for that? Do you want the truth or do you want to be cheated? The choice is yours.