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But Badri — Isn’t Truth Many-Sided?

Wednesday, 19 July 2006 / Published in Ongoing debates, Satyaraja Dasa / 4,530 views

By Satyaraja Dasa (“The Servant of the King of Truth”)

I specifically hesitated when posting my initial article on Dhanurdhar Swami because I did NOT want to get involved in a protracted discussion. As it is said, “If the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.” I merely wanted to express my heartfelt concern about a current problem that just won’t go away, and about a friend who unfortunately will. I also wanted to express my concern about the GBC, to whom I stubbornly remain faithful.

My concerns have now grown: And I write specifically about Badri’s response to my article. I consider him a friend and I have the highest regard for him. In fact, because it is he who questions my perspective, I take the time to compose an answer. Otherwise, I would probably sit this one out. I have other work to do.

And so I address my response to Badri: To begin, let me point out that “truth”
— which was your chosen emphasis when responding to my article on DDS and dharma — is viewed variously from different directions, and reveals different things according to one’s point of view. It is many-sided, to be sure. I am not, of course, talking about Absolute Truth but rather about the relative fluctuations of the material world. The external history of the movement, and of Dhanurdhar Swami’s involvement in the movement, partakes of this latter category, wouldn’t you agree? Though our movement and its devotees are part of a transcendental continuum, no doubt, we exist in time and space and are, anyway, usually mixed at best — so we are subject to the laws of the material nature, relativity and all.

If we can agree on this basic point, I would like to go further by presenting a rather crude analogy. Suppose I asked a cartoonist to capture your expression when you read my article about DDS. After some days with pen and paper, he might eventually depict you with a shocked expression. We might also see your middle finger raised in an all-too-familiar Western mudra, accompanied by a word balloon allowing you to curse me with a number of choice obscenities. You are angry. Some might say that the artist had captured your essence at that particular moment. But let us move on. Let us imagine that, dissatisfied with this depiction, I engaged another artist, and this one envisioned you smiling, enjoying the fact that your old friend Satyaraja had written his opinions in a clear and forthright manner, even if you disagreed with them. This too could be a true and accurate portrait. So how do we resolve the conflict between the two images of this rather consequential devotee? Which is the “correct” portrait? In a word: both.

With that as a backdrop, I would like to let readers know how you interacted with Dhanurdhar Swami at the outset of this controversy, when you received (in the Winter of 1995), as the GBC Chairman, his letter of resignation from his Gurukula service. This tells us much about how even one person, at different times, might have varied perceptions of the same situation. Your following letter is a matter of public record:

Dear Dhanurdhar Maharaj,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but I was planning another visit to LA and I wanted to see what the response of the alumni to the resignation would be before I contacted you.

I have just finished that visit. Even before I said a word, they must have heard via Manu or something. I had a number of them come up to me, with tears in their eyes, that they were so relieved and grateful that ISKCON had listened to them. Even that young man Ananda, who as we both remember was the most disturbed, thanked me and said that he felt a great weight had come off his shoulders. He said that he could honestly say that he wished you well now. All of them said that their respect for you and ISKCON had gone way up. So if one of our goal was to try to close this chapter and heal the former students, we have made a major step in that direction.

I know the school is light years from the past. It is to your credit that it has become the fine institution it now is. I am sure that Krsna and Srila Prabhupada recognize and bless you for your efforts. I think the mistakes of the past have been rectified and therefore you can feel satisfaction that it has come full circle and there can be a sense of a job well done.

For the future, that will be decided when we all meet in Mayapur. I am just one member of the education committee. I have spoken with the other executive officers, Bhakti-tirtha Maharaj and Naveen Prabhu. We were planning out the agenda for the upcoming meetings, and they confirmed that the proper course is to discuss what has happened and let the committee decide how to proceed.

I hope that you will be in Mayapur during the meetings because you should be there for the session when we deal with this issue. I hope that you also plan on being there when we discuss the school with the teachers. Your years of experience and insight are invaluable and I was hoping that you would attend all the meetings we have on this. It will certainly make the teachers feel more comfortable as well.

As for the future, I don’t see any difficulty with your continuing to help the school as you had planned with the trust and advice. It seems consistent with recent developments if we explain that to compensate for the mistakes of the past you want to dedicate yourself to making the current and future educational experiences of our children as spiritually enriching, enjoyable, and safe as possible. If we keep that involvement at some arm’s distance, without an official title, I think that people will understand, and rather than being upset, they will appreciate your efforts.

Again, I know this has not been easy for you. It is said that the measure of a man is shown when facing adversity. And with that as a standard, you have measured up well. At least now the worst is over and we can plan for the future without this sword hanging over us. I am sure that Krsna has positive results planned to come from your sincere surrender.

Looking forward to your association in Mayapur,

Your servant, Badrinarayana dasa

Above we are allowed a glimpse into your observation about Dhanurdhar Swami’s tenure in the school, written more than ten years ago. In your recent response to me, we spy an alternate point of view, which, though coming from the same person, aware of the same events, now colors his perceptions differently. This is the problem when looking at the past – especially when looking at an emotionally charged issue that has become increasingly politicized, with high stakes for our entire institution. As your own words show, even our own perspective changes and we see the “truth” from various angles. There now even seems to be the need to demonize Maharaja. How else will we explain why such a good, competent, and much-loved devotee has left the institution? Of course, this does not discount his mistakes as described in the Official Decision. He has publicly regretted them and has been punished for them. But he is now a different person.

I have looked over your recent posting and your claims about Maharaja, some of which you say Dhanurdhar Swami has admitted. From my frame of reference, most of your claims are inaccurate, although there is truth in them also — at least in some of them. Many, however, are blatantly wrong, at least according to information I’ve been privy to from good, respected sources. I don’t see the value in examining each one of your comments here, for this would only make for an unsavory public debate.

If you will indulge me, however, I would like to address just a few of them, showing how truth is often many-sided, and how our predisposition tends to color our perceptions of a given event. Please excuse me if I am rather long-winded and if my words are poorly chosen. I write a long letter, Abe Lincoln once said, because I don’t have the time to write a short one.

I could in fact comment on practically everything you wrote from a different perspective, but I want to focus on the most important issues:

You claim that in April 1995 Maharaja was covertly coaching the teachers to beat the children with sticks. I do not see that in the CPO decision, and I would suspect that it is something they would have noted in their explanation. Indeed, they tried to vividly highlight Maharaja’s main mistakes. What I do know is that in April 1995 Maharaja was no longer in Vrindaban and actively running the school. I know this because I was in New York at the time and Maharaja had already left Vrindaban when he arrived there. This, I believe, is a key fact, and yet it’s missing in your reconstruction of Maharaja’s past, thus painting an inaccurate image of the Swami and his activities.

And besides, there are no other accusations from 1989-1995, Maharaja’s second tenure in the school. Even if there were some incidents, though none were reported, to my knowledge, in the Official Decision, his behavior has been exemplary since that time when he left the school over ten years ago. This supports the main claim in my initial article – which is that Maharaja has been rectified. And if this is true, then it is in our interest to support him. This is what I meant by “time to be dharmic.”

Furthermore, to carelessly highlight a Vaishnava’s past – even if he was guilty of questionable activity — is spiritually risky, especially when he has been tried and has served his sentence. I can offer you much scriptural evidence for this position, but I’m sure you are well aware of this point.

That Maharaja has served his sentence satisfactorily was confirmed by Dhira Govinda in an email to Dhanurdhar Swami in September 2003, “You have sufficiently complied with the official decision for the restrictions to be lifted at the end of the five-year period, as far as I’m concerned.” This reflects the general feeling at the time. Praghosa Prabhu, who then sat on the Executive Committee of the GBC and is a trained child protection panel member, was copied on this email. He did not object.

Next item: You cited four documents that were distributed to the GBC and said that Maharaja was consulted. Maharaja was NOT consulted about this. I asked him recently to know for sure. Here’s what happened: When Maharaja met with the NA EC GBC (or, at least, 3 out of 4 of them), they were woefully unprepared and uninformed. None of them had even read Maharaja’s reply to Shakuntala’s letter, for example. In that meeting, Maharaja agreed to send the GBC documents that he thought a reasonably informed person should read before discussing the issue. He has never seen the summary of evidence nor the letter from Tamohara.

Just one more point: You wrote that Maharaja was reluctant to have his case publicized. I heard a different story from respected, senior devotees who were directly involved. I trust their word. Here’s what I heard: In 2005 a group of leading devotees met in Mayapur for the last time to finalize Maharaja’s situation. This was after he had served the sanctions as outlined in the CPO’s Official Decision. You were one of those members.

Several of the others communicated to Maharaja, and it is in writing, that the conclusion was unanimous — “enough is enough,” they said, and that the GBC should now work with Maharaja, not against him. Shortly after, Niranjana Swami and Dhanurdhar Swami were on their way to a scheduled meeting with Anuttama Prabhu. Together they were going to forge a plan to meet Gurukula alumni and to take steps to heal the past. On their way to the meeting, they received an unexpected call from Anuttama. He told them that the NA GBC decided that instead they would send a delegation of their devotees to meet the GBC men who appeared to favor Maharaja; at that time, they would present all the accusations against him.

Maharaja objected to this. He knew that they had already been forwarded the Official Decision on his case, which reflected a thorough analysis of all the evidence and not just newly found accusations. Furthermore, it was improper to ask others to again pass judgment on him when a judgment had already been made. That judgment had been given by six respected devotees who reviewed the case for six months, carefully weighing the evidence. This was among the main points of my initial paper. Am I wrong here?

Conclusion: Setting aside all of this back and forth, it would be useful if we came to some mutual conclusions, especially because I have no intention of engaging in an ongoing debate. (Many others – stalwart devotees — will soon be sending in their articles, and these will be far more convincing than my own.) At least we can agree that this is a very important issue and that its conclusions will affect our entire society. You have a perspective on what happened and say it is truth. I hear other things, or even some of the same things, and say you are wrong. In fact, I am sure that some of the things you said are not accurate, at least from my frame of reference.

The fact of the matter is that, though we may both have our opinions, we should honor the Official Decision of the case. There are (at least) two sides to every story, as you know, and when it comes to judging a Vaishnava who is interested in personal rectification, I prefer to err on the side of compassion. What is your choice?

Of course, if we can help resolve this to everyone’s satisfaction, we should put that in the forefront. But such resolution is unlikely. In any case, with such sensitive topics, we must exercise the greatest caution and see that we move forward within the framework of proper principles. On this score, I’m sure you’ll agree.

4 Responses to “But Badri — Isn’t Truth Many-Sided?”

  1. Namaprabhu says :

    Dear Prabhus,

    I humbly request the help of the Vaishnavas. After reading the articles by Badrinarayana and Satyaraja I have many questions. Badrinarayana prabhu mentioned in his article that there are photos showing victims covered with black and blue welts. This is the first I have heard of such “hard” evidence. He also states that Dhanurdhara Swami admits to this abuse. I didn’t realize that he had admited to beating the children so severely. Is there someone besides Badrinarayna and Satyaraja who can confirm the existence of these photos and the confession? And if such photos do exist, then why has it taken over twenty years for them to surface? And why aren’t there other teachers besides Dhanurdhara being prosecuted? He couldn’t be the only one responsible for all the abuse in all the gurukulas. I think it would be helpful to get come clarification on these points. Thank you.

    Your humble servant,
    Namaprabhu dasa

  2. scott wetherell says :

    Dear Namaprabhu,

    There are positively no photos whatsoever of any abuse alleged against Dhanurdhara Swami and positively he has not “admitted” to any such thing regarding these photos. I believe the photos in question are from 1995, after Maharaj was no longer the Headmaster of the Vrindavan Gurukula. At the very most, they are photos of abuse from other teachers, after Dhanurdhara Swami had left the gurukula but was suppossedly still influencing there around 1995. I am also eager for a clarification on this accusation against Dhanurdhara Swami as it is amoung the most extreme to date. If our leaders are going to make such statements in public forums they need to back them up. These photos were not and still are not part of the official case files as far as I am aware. Someone please immediately correct me if I am wrong.

    Yours in the service of Srila Prahbupada,

    Scott Wetherell
    Boston

  3. Lalita Madhava d.d. says :

    Dear Satyaraja Prabhu,
    In your article you state that when judging a Vaisnava who is interested in personal rectification, you prefer to err on the side of compassion. But having compassion for a former child abuser does not mean our institution has to keep him in the position of initiating guru. And what about erring on the side of compassion when it comes to abused children? Where is your compassion for them? You write paragraphs and paragraphs in support of the abuser, but express not one single word of compassion for the children he abused. I frankly find your article very disturbing.

  4. bh. kurt harris says :

    Dear Lalita Madhava Mataji,

    Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

    I am sorry that you are disturbed by Satyaraja Prabhu’s article.

    I think the simple point that needs to be made is this:

    Compassion for a saintly Vaisnava and compassion for gurukula alumni do not have to be mutually exclusive.

    The Swami has expressed remorse and has already taken a number of steps to assume responsibility for mistakes of the past – including apologizing on many occasions, voluntarily submitting himself to the ISKCON justice system, meeting with ex students and working things out, etc. He’s now left ISKCON as a service to Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON youth.

    So why are there still devotees who are so determined to drag a good man down? Why is it compassionate to *anyone* to deny an accomplished Vaisnava his very substancial spiritual talents to be used in the service of Srila Prabhupada’s mission? If the Swami is so determined to serve Krishna as a sannayasi and a guru (neither easy services!!), and he can do a good job performing those services, why not support him?

    Srila Prabhupada’s society needs inspired, enthusiastic devotees. These days, less and less people seem willing to take on the sacrifice of strictly following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, taking up the austere vows of sannyasa, and making the major sacrifices involved in training disciples. It’s a shame to drag a good devotee down because of mistakes made 20+ years ago.

    Recognizing these simple points makes us no less sympathetic to the plight of ex gurukulis. The Swami himself has matured considerably, by everyone’s estimation, and has gone to great lengths to support his ex students. Why not appreciate him for his exceptional strengths and his ability to contribute positively to our movement?

    If we could just work together, instead of against each other, I’m sure that would be the most compassionate solution for all involved.

    Hare Krishna.

    Your servant,
    Bhakta Kurt

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