My dad kept trying to bring up the point that the Veda and Krishna were great, but ISKCON was seriously problematic. That was not news to me. I knew ISKCON was faulty, but my response to that fact wasn’t to abandon it, but to try to help fix those flaws.
So, in late 1992 I decided to make a more concerted effort, in the best way I could: sitting at the computer at my desk in my converted hot-dog shack of a home.
What bothered me the most about ISKCON at the time was the very obvious symptoms of sexism pervasive throughout the Society’s daily life. So I decided to create a simple pamphlet called anārtha-nivṛtti. The title means “The Process of Purging Worthless Things.” It is a phrase used by Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī for the stage that should immediately follow after one begins devotional practices. This title was outlandishly bold, for it meant that ISKCON’s policies towards women were as worthless as all the other things bhajan must purify: addiction to sense gratification, false-ego, disrespect of guru and Krishna, and so on.
Rather than tackle the issue in an abstract, philosophical way, I decided to be very specific and aim to eventually change the abstract as a result of immediately changing the concrete situation. I identified a few specific instances of sexism in ISKCON daily life, particularly that women had to stand in the back of the room at any temple function, and that they were not permitted to give the morning classes on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Then I then laid out the desired reparations. I even included floor-plans detailing how to arrange men and women in the Boston, Brooklyn, Philly, and D.C. Temple rooms to maintain āśrama decorum without putting women into the offensively inferior positions.
With several dozen photocopied pamphlets in my shoulder bad, I traveled to the four temple’s I was focusing on, went to the men’s āśrama and handed my pamphlet to the residents, or slipped them under closed doors.
I didn’t hesitate to include the Swāmīs and Temple President’s either.
They flipped, swāmī’s and Temple Presidents most of all, and complained to Dhanurdhara Swāmī who instructed me that communication with superiors in ISKCON cannot be done so boldly and tactlessly. He asked why I didn’t consult with him before doing this, and said something that had bounced around my head for years before it could stop baffling me, “I’m not saying I don’t agree with you. Maybe I do, but what if I don’t? By writing this and distributing it like that, without even consulting me first, you may have inadvertently been making a statement that your own guru is full of anartha and needs to be purified by you.”
The only people who were happy about anartha-nivṛtti were a few ISKCON women (not all) and the majority of hardcore kids who had become involved with ISKCON over the last year, almost all of whom had similar perplexions on the subject as I.
Sure, the extremely unwelcoming reception bothered me, but not as much as the content of the objections, focusing nothing on the content of the pamphlet and everything on the writer and his distribution tactics. And so, of course, nothing changed – not immediately, the women kept standing in the back of the room, and the men kept giving the classes. But I would like to believe I contributed something to the momentum that, decades later, eventually started to enact these changes and more.
Prior to writing anartha-nivṛtti I had carefully nursed and propagated the idea that all of ISKCON’s flaws were the result of spiritually immature madness in the early ‘80s. Now that we had great reformers in place, I reasoned, everything weird would soon get repaired. After seeing how there reformers reacted to my pamphlet, however, I developed serious doubts in this positive outlook. I thought I could help create a positive change in the movement I loved, but now I began to see how difficult that would be, since its almost impossible to help someone who doesn’t want your help. I pictured ISKCON as a community striving nobly for reform, and therefore open to critique, but this experience very clearly showed me otherwise.
This certainly set me back a few paces and took a chunk out of my conviction that I was definitely doing the right thing with my life. But I still didn’t give up.
You can’t just fall out of love. When you love someone or something it becomes a part of you and you become a part of it, you become one. Getting out of a love one has fallen into is as daunting as removing a damaged vital organ. I had fallen deeply in love with ISKCON – because of their enticing promise to liberate me from petty material concerns and elevate me to the supreme platform of self realization.
Like a woman married to a man she assumed was perfect, I felt committed and even if my eyes clandestinely wandered on occasion, they could see neither a path out nor a better destination. How else could one achieve Krishna consciousness if not in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness?
– Excerpt from an early draft of
Train Wrecks and Transcendence: A Collision of Hardcore and Hare Krishna
By Vraja Kishor [VrajaKishor.com]