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Time to be Dharmic

Thursday, 06 July 2006 / Published in Ongoing debates, Satyaraja Dasa / 4,649 views

By Satyaraja Dasa (Steven Rosen)

I should begin by stating that i do not usually express my views on websites, nor do I frequent them. Although I am a writer, as most of you know, and value the written word, I find cyberspace somewhat questionable, especially in the sense that here everyone — informed or not — has an equal voice, and discretion and quality are often conspicuous by their absence. Additionally, I do not usually get involved in political issues. My interests are Vaishnava history and philosophy, as my readers know.

But now to the point: I want to write a short article about a complicated issue. I do not presume to have all the answers, nor do I expect everyone to agree with me. But I do have something to say. As I read reports of Dhanurdhar Swami, Ananda, and the Gurukula debacle, I am deeply concerned — not only because of the gravity of recent events and the accusations of the past but for how it is being dealt with. It seems few people who post their opinions have read Dhanurdhar Swami’s case files and, perhaps worst of all, the “leadership” of ISKCON North America leaves a great deal to be desired — they are spectres who watch from afar, knowing truths that they keep to themselves. I can only hope that they are formulating a response as I write these words.

I am shocked that not one of them has come to the fore (with the exception of Jayadvaita Swami), explaining that Dhanurdhar Maharaja was already taken to task for his past misdeeds, and that he has paid his dues. They do not reveal their extensive case files, elaborate research, and conclusive findings. Moreover, they neglect to mention that the swami has complied with their reprimands. Apropos of this, they should now come forward to reveal all that they know, beyond hearsay or the dim memories of young minds whose ability to reconstruct history might be a bit compromised, as the evidence shows.

But my main concern is not the above. It is, rather, the poor logic demonstrated in the heartfelt but uninformed reactions to the Ananda tragedy and its implications. Most of the articles I have read seem to say that if someone has actually performed the horrible acts that Dhanurdhar Swami is accused of (and, again, the case files should be studied to know for sure…), then such a person should step down from positions of leadership; they should not be sannyasis or gurus. Where does this logic come from? Is it sastric, or is it sentimental? Indeed, who is not a sinner before coming to Krishna consciousness? And even then, does it not generally take many years to reach maturity in devotional service? If one has seriously taken to the process of Krishna consciousness, shouldn’t he or she be forgiven for the iniquities of the past, especially if he has made amends?

Thus, responses asking for the swami to step down do not take into account two very important principles of Vaishnavism:

(1) The transformative power of bhakti.

That is to say, even if Dhanurdhar Swami is accurately portrayed in these incidents, has he reformed? This is the question. If he has, then why ask him to step down? And why speak of his child abuse in the present tense, as 90% of the recent on-line articles do? Time marches on, and with it, hopefully, we advance in Krishna consciousness. Let us understand that the terms Kripa-siddha and Sadhana-siddha imply a past that was less than perfect.

Consider Jagai and Madhai, whose infractions were every bit as bad as Dhanurdhar Swami’s (and certainly much worse). What does our tradition teach us about them? The two wayward brothers were not only forgiven by Nityananda Prabhu, but they became great leaders in the Gaudiya Vaishnava movement. Important to note: Srila Prabhupada explains that they were already brahmanas when they began their wayward activities, which would make their case even more analogous to that of Dhanurdhar Swami. They were already highly regarded religious people, and their community expected them to behave in a first-class manner. But their horrendous ways became the stuff of history.

As a result of chanting, however — and the mercy of Nityananda Prabhu
— they were elevated to the status of leading devotees, and their memories and tombs are honored to this day. (See Cc Adi 10.120, purport)

Or consider the many mayavadis of Chaitanya-lila, like Prakashananda Sarasvati, or Bilvamangala Thaur, who, by the grace of the Lord, became leading devotees. (Mayavadis are considered the “greatest” offenders at Lord Krishna’s feet.) Tirumangai Alvar was a lowly robber, whose nefarious activities are well documented in Sri Vaishnava tradition. Yet he was gradually accepted as one of the patriarchs of that lineage.

Another example is Kala Krishnadas, Mahaprabhu’s personal servant while touring South India and Bengal. He actually left the Lord’s service, allured by the gypsy-like Bhattaharis in the villages of South India. Mahaprabhu not only forgave him but personally brought him back to the path of devotional service — he didn’t force him away from the association of devotees or demote him in some dishonorable way. This is instructive. Even later, when Mahaprabhu decided to strip Kala Krishnadas of his personal service, the devotees, in their compassion, gave him an equally wonderful service — to tell Sachimata and the other devotees of Bengal about Mahaprabhu’s adventures. Prabhupada makes the point in his purport (Cc Madhya 10, Verse 67) that devotees are even more merciful than the Lord. If a person commits a terrible offense, the Lord may be hard on him, but the Vaishnavas will always forgive.

Certainly, if Dhanurdhar Swami has truly reformed (any GBC men care to step in at this point?), then he can be honored as a leading Vaishnava, and he is worthy of our compassion, which brings me to the second principle in Vaishnavism:

(2) Compassion and the ability to forgive.

Mahaprabhu’s hardest stance to the contrary was in His interaction with Chota Haridas, but this is an easily explainable exception, meant to instruct Vaishnavas in the importance of chastity among sannyasis. Otherwise, forgiveness and compassion is the lesson we learn from our Vaishnava tradition. If, indeed, Dhanurdhar Swami has complied with GBC mandates for his rectification, and if he has shown proper remorse and strict adherence to Vaishnava practice, he may certainly take his place at the side of leading devotees who are so honored in our society.
(Again, the GBC investigators of his case will know for sure, and they should step forward and speak their minds.) I say this knowing that I will be criticized for proposing a charitable response to someone who has become persona non grata in our society. But I have personally known the swami for over 20 years, and he is not the person depicted in recent articles — he may have been such a person at one time (though even this is doubtful), but he is now a pukka Vaishnava without question.

Two related points may be of consequence here as well: (a) Compassion for the swami’s disciples; and (b) compassion for the abused gurukulis who suffered greatly under the swami’s leadership. Let us briefly look at these two categories. How the movement’s leaders deal with the entire Dhanurdhar Swami situation will resonate loudly for years to come — it will be precedent setting. The swami’s dependents, disciples, well-wishers and friends will all be watching closely, and their spiritual allegiances and future in devotional service may well hang in the balance. All would agree that, given the allegations, he should never again be given the service of being in charge of a school. But that hasn’t been his service for years anyway. Rather, he studies, travels, preaches, and inspires others in Krishna consciousness. And he does this well — there are numerous personalities that have, in recent years, benefitted from his association. Should their inspiration be compromised because of mistakes long passed?

And what of the “victims” of Dhanurdhar Swami’s past? Surely, they were already well considered when the swami was first taken to task for his alleged infractions, when he was made to pay the price he paid. And, by the way, has any other convicted ISKCON leader gone to the lengths Dhanurdhar Swami went through to make things right? Raising money, apologizing, and touring the world to help the gurukulis far and wide? We should know his work as a penitent soul before crucifying him. The GBC rightly saw to it that Dhanurdhar Swami did what he had to do. But that, as they say, should have been the end of that. He should not be tried again for a “crime” that he was already tried for– and for which he paid his dues. The GBC’s integrity will now be shown by their support of Dhanurdhar Swami. Otherwise, he was foolish to comply with their justice system. Now it is time to be dharmic, and to stand behind Dhanurdhar Swami, who has certainly shown his dedication to the institution.

Please do not judge me too harshly for stating what’s on my mind, even if it may not conform to popular opinion. I wish only harmony and happiness for the association of Vaishnavas.

dasanudasa, Satyaraja dasa (ACBSP)

11 comments

  1. 0
    Praghosa dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    From the Editor: It should be noted that the CPO guidelines are very extensive and have worked exceptionally well in 95% of cases that the CPO have dealt with. If the word ‘guru’ had be included in the CPO guidelines in relation to positions that could not be held by someone who had a CPO conviction, then the 95% success rate of the CPO would likely have been 100%. As I understand it the CPO guidelines will be revisited in due course of time.

  2. 0
    madhava gosh ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I am glad that Satyaraja has clearly identified himself as an academic, whose only knowledge of the Dhanadhar case is the historical files. Given that limited information, his conclusions have some validity. The difficulty is that the case files do not represent the full range of experience on the matter. Ergo, any conclusions based solely on the case files will be skewed.

    I would suggest that more research be done before confirming his conclusion. Seeking out the truly estranged former gurukulis who were under his care would yield a different conclusion. They were never satisfied that justice was done in the Dhanadhur case, and place more weight on their direct experience than the case files. Aspersions cast at their memories aside, the sheer volume and consistency of their stories cannot be ignored.

  3. 0
    Madhava ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Prabhu,
    As an ex Gurukuli who “went through” Gurukula for 11 years i find it refreshing to hear someone who speaks with the backing of Sastra on an issue which is so mixed up with emotion and popular opinion. We are trying to be Vaisnavas and as such it is important as a society to follow our own philosophy with integrity, humility and courage. By doing so we will please Guru and Krsna and also be a part of a “functional society” . That is the point after all. No?
    Thankyou for your nice article.
    ys
    Madhava Dasa

  4. 0
    Suresh das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I keep hearing about the Case Files, but try as I have, I can’t find them anywhere on the Internet. As far as I have found, the only thing the Swami did was apologize profusely for what he did to the children in his school, many times, over several years. But, this might not be enough to satisfy the victims.

    Perhaps this site could post the Case Files to show what the Swami did to repent his past actions. I suspect this is private information, that only the inner circle of the GBC are privy to, and the common devotees aren’t allowed to know, or are expected to be satisfied that justice was served.

    Some are proposing that Dhanurdhara Swami had powerful allies in the upper echelon of ISKCON who allowed him to sidestep and skirt real justice, and this is perhaps what the uproar is about.

  5. 0
    Suresh das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Citradas Prabhu,

    I went to Dhanurdharaswami.info site, as you recommended, and read everthing on his site, but still couldn’t find the Case Files which everyone is alluding to in their articles.

    I was impressed though with the professionalism of the Swami. He seems to have made many sincere attempts to heal his past, and all those whom he affected by his previous actions.

    What I was most impressed with was the reference to ISKCONResolve.com at his site.

    This is a very interesting branch of ISKCON today, which helps resolve issues and problems in a very professional way, through Ombudsmen and Mediation. I did not know such a thing existed. I was happy to see such a high degree professionalism within our society.

  6. 0
    Krishnadas ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Suresh,

    Hare Krishna. I also went to Dhanudhara Swami’s site. What seems to be the case files that Citradas Prabhu is referring to, are there under the heading: “Dhanurdhara Swami’s Response to the ISKCON Child Protection Office’s Case”.

    Here is the exact link:

    http://www.dhanurdharaswami.info/2006/05/27/3/#more-3

    If this is not what Citradas Prabhu is referring to, then I hope that he or someone else will correct this comment.

    Personally I found the history presented in the above link to be very interesting. It should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to comment on this topic.

  7. 0
    Kaisoridd ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Satyaraja Prabhu,

    Regarding the Dhanurdhar Swami case, I appreciate your efforts to keep harmony among the Vaishnavas. But abusing children is not a Vaishnava activity. My concern is that your friendship with Dhanurdhar Swami may bias your conclusions.There are two perspectives: one as a friend, and one as a victim.

    Would you come to the same conclusions if your own child was a victim of Dhanurdhar’s abuse?

    That’s why we have a CPO, which is neither friend nor victim, and can judge things fairly and impartially, based on relevant facts on a case to case basis.

    As far as Maharaja paying his dues, that is what he should do. As you say Vaishnavas are more merciful than Krishna, but that mercy is not a one way street. Our compassion should be given first and foremost to the many children, and then the one adult. Protection and compassion means for the innocent, for the women, for the children, and for the elderly first.

    Child abuse is not a brahminical activity, nor a preceptor’s activity, nor a renunciate’s activity. If Maharaja would have renounced physical abuse, he would not be in the situation he is in now.

    I have nothing personal against Maharaja, but I strongly believe dharma should be applied first to the victims. In the example of the Titanic, the women and children were saved first, that is dharmic.

    Let the GBC come forward as you suggest and bring some closure to everyone involved in this unfortunate case, for now and for the future. Let’s not make the same mistake as the Catholic Church that protected the priests over the children.

    Sincerely,
    Kaisori Devi Dasi.

  8. 0
    nrsimhananda ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I applaud the courage with which Satyaraja das prabhu has demonstrated in publicizing his views on the way this case has been tried in the public media. I’ve been reading the postings on this case for a number of years, and I have no idea of what is fact and what is fiction. There is no system for evidenciary hearings in the media courtroom. Nothing accused would be admissable in any respectable court of law. I have been critical of the GBC for not establishing a legal system which conforms to the minimal standards of English law practices. There is a propensity for finding people guilty by the waving of an accusing finger – “J’accuse!” at all levels. Now it has come to haunt the GBC itself. Please empower the Minister of Justice. Fund it. Give it teeth of enforcement. Otherwise, chaos like we’re seeing in this case explodes, and the jury of political pressure replaces the jury of thoughtful enquiry and judgement. I cover my ears when I hear hearsay evidence filtered as it is through variegated agendas. The prescription for reform was given by the GBC body to Dhanadhar Swami. Did he abide by it? I have no idea. Some people whom I respect say, “no!” The institution should stand by its ruling and give its members an authorized, authenticated, confirmed assesment of whether the tenets of that rectification were followed. As Satyaraja wisely suggests, the facts of the entire case are known only to the few that researched and studied the charges on behalf of the CPO. Moreover, he reminds us that the very process of Krsna consciousness is one of transformation. Do we believe that is true? Do we believe that the story of Jagai and Madhai really happened? How did I change from a killer of cows, killer of the soul, and atheist to take to the bhakti marg? How did you? Do we believe in the power and potency of the Holy Names? of association of saintly persons? of the mercy of guru even for the most fallen? If there is any place to request revisiting of that decision, it is to the body that drew its conclusions and recommendations to the GBC – not directly to Dhanandar Swami himself. As a society, we have to create and respect “due process,” not a lynch mentality no matter how heinous the crime. Otherwise, we become abusers ourselves, and the cycle of violence continues. Your servant, Nrsimhananda das

  9. 0
    Suresh das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The very process of Krishna Consciousness is transformational, that’s true; however for many of us, if not all, this process is very slow and will take many, many years, if not lifetimes to complete. Srila Prabhupada compared the process for us to “washing coal”.

    Secondly, we are not Jagai and Madhai, the direct associates of the Lord, from Vaikuntha, the Door-Keepers of Lord Visnu. We can’t be compared to them, because although they sinned before they surrendered to Lord Chaitanya, and never sinned again, we sin again and again and again. We are also not the Direct Associates of the Lord, but ordinary conditioned souls.

    Following the Four Regulative Principles, chanting one’s rounds, as well as all the other devotional processes, are really voluntary services, which are difficult to police and monitor. Everyone has to follow the Honor System, and be trusted.

    But some actions which our members, especially high-level officials of our society such as Initiating Gurus, who are very much in the public eye, have committed, which are illegal and illicit, especially after they accepted Initiation and promised to never sin again, such as Child Molestation, are unacceptable.

    Persons who commit such grievous acts as Child Abuse must be removed from their positions, because it has been found that such persons tend to commit the acts again and again. The Nectar of Devotion states that the reward of sinful activity is repeated sinful activity in the future. One is forced to engage in sinful actions, even against one’s wishes and one’s will.

    If we don’t remove them from their positions of power, then the non-devotee society or the courts may do so for us, causing huge public scandal and legal costs to our movement, as we have recently experienced.

    Regarding the Swami in particular, Badrinarayan Prabhu showed in his article that the Swami not only abused children many years ago, but that he continued his practice in secrecy even into the late 1990’s.

    Also regarding the Case Files, they exist, however the Swami requested that they not be made available to the public, to prevent his personal humiliation. This is very convenient for him, as well as his followers and supporters, because references are being made to the “Case Files”, such as Satyaraja’s statement “if you have seen the Case Files” in his article, but only a very limited few have seen them or are allowed to see them.

    Regarding Nrsimhananda’s statement that many of the charges and claims against the Swami are hearsay evidence, such as Ananda stating that he was so upset over his Gurukula experience that he wanted to blow up the L.A. Temple, here is the link if you wish to read it: http://www.chakra.org/discussions/HealthJun17_06.html

    And so, since no justice has apparently been administered to date, it is being administered in the forum of public opinion instead, whether we like it or not, specifically by the remaining and former devotees of our movement, as well as his victims who might never have received justice for what was done to them.

  10. 0
    scott wetherell ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Regarding the case file. It is not so clearly black and white what Dhanurdhara Swami requested information to not be released. I’ll be very interested in hearing the exact context and details of this accusation. Maharaj’s camp has been very willing over the years to share the case files and also Sadhusagananda Prabhu’s defense with local well-wishers. There has never been any cover-up from his end. Frankly, most of the devotees posting in his defense have had access to this information. Actually, the entire “case file” is under the control of the CPO, not Dhanurdhara Swami. Satyaraj Prabhu has also challenged this statement by Badrinarayan Prabhu and more posts doing the same will follow shortly.

    A deeper study into the case of Dhanurdhara Swami quickly reveals other issues, such as a current initiating guru with thousands of disciples who in direct opposition from Dhanurdhara Swami, intentionally reassigned known sexual abusers of children to ANOTHER gurukula while Dhanurdhara Swami traveled all over India appealing this decision through the Ministry of Education and ultimately to the GBC meetings in Mayapur. This is confirmed in Jayadwaita Maharaj’s reposted letter, although it is not mentioned that this devotee is now a guru.

    It is a shame that this has not been clarified, especially when NO CHARGE even close to this has ever been leveled at Dhanurdhara Swami. I wish this stuff wasn’t online for the whole world to read and offer opinions on, but since it is, it will only be a matter of time before tall the facts are known.

    I intend no offense to anyone with this post, but we must approach this sensitive issue with mercy and compassion for all those involved, the former students and Dhanurdhara Swami, and to do so means we have to get all the facts right.

    Yours in the service of Srila Prabhupada,

    Scott Wetherell
    Boston

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