Foremost, I want to make it clear that I am not “against” ISKCON. I do not believe that ISKCON is “bogus.” Nor do I feel that its leaders are without significant merit. Nor do I think that its members cannot attain Krishna-prema. Most certainly, I don’t at all believe that ISKCON’s founder, A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Prabhupāda, is any less than a unparalleled empowered exponent of Śrī Krishna Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
I am sincerely grateful for the role Śrīla Prabhupāda, ISKCON, and its leaders and members have played in my life. There are, in fact, a considerable number of people in ISKCON whom I continue to hold in the highest regard. Foremost among them in particular is the 24-hour Kīrtan Sevaka, Aindra dāsa.
However, since the very beginning of my involvement with ISKCON, I have found myself either rationalizing, defending, dreading, or trying in vain to correct several ISKCON issues — from blatant and severe sexism, child abuse, censorship, and irrationality (justified by immature and incomplete ideas of “Vedic culture”) to stubborn misconceptions of the sambandha, abhideya, and prayojana of Gauḍīya Vedānta.
For my first 9 years, I dedicated myself mainly to rationalization and defense of these flaws. In the next 9 years I mostly turned away in dread of it all. In the third 9 years I tried (mostly in vain) to correct and improve things in whatever capacity I could. Over much of these last 9 years the guidance from my ISKCON guru gradually faded and was replaced by increasingly satisfying guidance from a source that I found to be more traditional yet more open, inclusive, and vastly more intellectual and śāstric: Satyanārāyan dāsa Bābājī of the JIVA Institute in Vṛndāvana.
Upon mutually agreeing to dissolve the guru-disciple relationship, it soon felt natural and organic to establish dīkṣā with this source
I hope that my friends and associates in ISKCON will not be unduly distanced or threatened by this. Again, I have nothing against ISKCON and wish nothing but the best for it and for its individual members. I look forward to participating in the brighter side of ISKCON whenever it would still welcome, tolerate, or even just overlook my presence.
Śāstra on Changing Dīkṣā
In Bhakti Sandarbha Jīva Goswāmī explains that there are circumstances in which a guru-can be rejected. He quotes Nārada Pañcarātra: “He who gives irrational guidance, and he who follows that guidance, both attain a horrible destination.”
He also refers to Mahābhārata: “We should even reject a guru who proudly cannot explain the difference between right and wrong, or embarks on the wrong path.”
He also refers to Nārada Pañcaratra, “The guidance and mantras of a non-Vaiṣṇava lead one to hell. One should reject these and accept them from a Vaiṣṇava.”
In Jaiva Dharma Śrī Bhaktivinode explains that these references delineate two different reasons for changing one’s guru:
- If the guru opposes Vaiṣṇava philosophy and practice. (“The guidance and mantras of a non-vaiṣṇava lead one to hell. One should reject these and accept them from a vaiṣṇava.” )
- If, as Bhaktivinode says,“The disciple may have prematurely accepted the guru without having carefully examined him. Later he will realize that his endeavors are not bearing their expected fruits, so he may reject that guru.” (This is established by, “He who gives irrational guidance, and he who follows that guidance, both attain a horrible destination.”)
The Mahābhārata quote references both reasons: (1) the guru having improper behavior (“embarking on the wrong path”) and (2) the guru giving improper guidance (“cannot explain the difference between right and wrong.”) These are compounded by “pride,” which means the guru doesn’t respond to attempts at correction.
Hari Bhakti Vilāsa also explains that a guru can be rejected under some circumstances. If the guru is found to be or become unqualified, for example. Many qualifications of a guru are given, but the key to all of them is being thoroughly conversant in all śāstra and being able to answer all questions in reference to these śāstra. If a guru falls short in this department, the disciple has legitimate grounds to consider that he does not in fact have a guru, and therefore may seek another guru.
These are causes for rejection of the guru. If the guru is fit to be rejected as per the above criterion, there is no need for the disciple to seek his or her permission or agreement. However, there can be other situations in which a guru-disciple dīkṣā dissolves, when the guru and disciple mutually agree that it is the best way forward. I dissolved my relationship with my ISKCON guru by mutual consent. Thus I describe it as “dissolving the relationship” rather than “rejecting a guru.”
Why we agreed that dissolving the relationship was the best way forward for me is mostly private, but I have hinted at the reasons in the original statement, above. The crux of it all is that I do not have faith that ISKCON and its gurus are primarily based upon śāstra. Rather I think they are primarily based upon their own comprehension of their founding-guru, Srila Prabhupada.
My ISKCON guru, in fact, should be praised for being able to see and agree that this was best for my spiritual development, as a true devotee puts the wellbeing of others ahead of all other considerations.
Why Announce It?
This is an immensely significant part of my life, which I would certainly want my friends and the people I interact with to know about.
“But these things are private and personal, and announcing your departure from a guru and institution insinuates insult towards that guru and institution.”
I am a public person, and people would soon learn of it anyway. Would it have been better if I was secretive about it? Then I would have to answer a different complaint, “Why are you so devious and deceptive?” I thought it would be better to openly tell everyone, but do it in a way that does not disclose too many personal details and tries to avoid insult by expressing my appreciation and respect for ISKCON and my previous guru there.
I understand that many of you may want more details than I am giving. I’m sorry, THAT is the private part. Out of respect for my former guru I am not going to publicly discuss details of what created the conditions that caused me to request him to end the relationship.