ADDED: Several people complained that they were out of the loop on this story. One can find most of the relevant information in the defensive Official PR Statement Concerning Satsvarupa Maharaj. PADA's latest newsletter also goes on about things in his usual crass manner. I shall not post the original letter from "Hari Das" on these forums. It is now available on Audarya forums.
The Satsvarupa Maharaj Allegations
Maharaj was a friend of mine in Iskcon many years ago--he encouraged my studious nature in Dallas and later, in Mayapur, brought me into Srila Prabhupada's company to read a poem on the Gita I had written. He was widely respected, and even more, loved as the one disciple of Srila Prabhupada's who exemplified the ideals of humility and kindness to all. Though I have not been in contact with Maharaj for more than 25 years, I remember him with fondness and would like to dare make a few comments on the situation.
To summarize my perception: First of all, the original letter written by a certain Hari Das is not particularly malicious sounding, whether it is anonymous or not. Nor does it seem as though Satsvarupa Maharaj or his spokespeople are really denying anything. Furthermore, Satsvarupa's "strange behavior" has been common knowledge over the past few years, so with the exception of the sexual relationship, whether labelled "counter-transference" or anything else, none of it is particularly new.
Being an Iskcon guru is not something I would wish on a dear friend. Indeed, being "guru" there is fraught with difficulties, because one is caught in a rigid straightjacket of expectancies. What one says, does, thinks, writes, or feels, are all subject to intense and critical scrutiny, but not as an individual with the right to explore and discover meanings on one's own, but only as the living representative of an impossible ideal, who will speak, think, feel and act as close to Srila Prabhupada as human difference can allow.
Of course, one may argue that accepting the role of spiritual master in a sampradaya requires such limitations, and that one should be finished with one's explorations before taking that great responsibility on one's shoulders. However, it is rather naive to think that the process of individual evolution does not continue throughout life, and that the exigencies of guruship will not affect an individual and produce unexpected stresses and personal discoveries. And many if not all of those stresses come from the cognitive dissonance between the ideal of the role and the reality of human weakness.
The loneliness must be terrible, and it is truly unfortunate that the few moments that Satswarup Maharaj was able to embrace his counsellor (whether this involved coitus or not) were probably a real tonic to his tortured spirit; the loss of these moments of intimacy with a sympathetic woman only more poison for his diseased body. In this case, Pranada ("life-giving") may have been true to her name. At any rate, the reduction of one's qualification to be a teacher on whether or not one has had sexual relationships seems to be a terrible reductio ad absurdum of the devotional ideal.
In my eyes it is rather unfortunate that Satsvarupa did not allow his explorations to go further when he was chanting more (as described in the Japa Reform Notebook) or when he was visiting Narayan Maharaj. This rigid interdiction to hearing from the Gaudiya Math has inflicted more damage than it has served, because it limited his spiritual life from taking a direction that led more deeply into the Chaitanya tradition and turned him rather to seemingly less profitable directions. But that is my personal view, based on my own life and character. His decision to remain as faithful as possible to the words of Srila Prabhupada are also admirable; they have formed him, and the difficulty he has had in following that ideal and his critique of it in view of the realities of his personal situation will result in his own unique response. This is more interesting to me than anything else. Ultimately, he is anchored in Srila Prabhupada and I don't think that that will ever change.
I imagine that Maharaj is rather thankful that his functions as spiritual master have been officially halted, but I don't know what course of action is open to him now. It is most likely that he will simply continue doing what he always has been doing. He will make his diaries from the Pranada days public and perhaps come up with another "reform" notebook. This is probably the best thing he can do--follow his own svadharma. Whether his life is ultimately seen as a success or a failure, in his own eyes or anyone else's, the honest public account of his experience and perception of his life will be of immense benefit to everyone and an important historical record for Western Vaishnava spirituality. It will be instructive, either as a cautionary tale or as a heroic story of triumph over adversity.
Whatever Maharaj does, I wish him the best in his own personal path of self-discovery, and may Radha and Krishna be with him throughout it all. I send him my best wishes and my sincerest prayers for his physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
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