I am posting this and am linking it to a discussion that might take place in the ISKCON & Gaudiya Math ETC section.
(It can be found here, as well)
(This article can be found at: http://siddhanta.com/weblogs/culture/ )
December 04, 2004
The Ascendancy of Psychology Within ISKCON and its Future Implications
The news swirling around Prithu Prabhu and Mother Rambhoru's religious and marital troubles seems to be outliving the normal news cycle for this kind of thing. (Bolding added.)
For those who have read my recent letter to the GBC and would like to help, what I need immediately is to have the financial freedom to hire a professional therapist and have some time off from work to offer emotional support to my children, hear, chant, associate with devotees and reflect on the past 30 years of my life in context of my husband's recent crisis. I am therefore sending out a cry for help throughout the whole Vaishnava community hoping that devotees will find room in their hearts to contribute even in a small way to our healing. I know there are many devotees like myself who need various kinds of support. Therefore, I encourage them to likewise voice their needs so that Krishna in the form of his assembly of devotees may have the opportunity to help.
(Rambhoru devi dasi "Request For Financial Assistance" December 2, 2004. site: http://vnn.org page: http://vnn.org/world/WD0412/WD02-8787.html)
This news just isn't dying a natural death, which suggests this incident is likely to inspire action at ISKCON's top managerial levels. The general rule in ISKCON politics is decisions and actions regarding social development happen at the top only when there is an emergency, or at least the appearance of one. If there is a victim in distress connected with a social issue, and the victims are one or more women, children, or a mixture of both, those are conditions conducive for something (good or bad) to happen as a consequence at ISKCON's topmost levels. The bolded portion of this text is an indicator of what may happen within ISKCON's socio-political dimension. What we are seeing with this event, which is really the most recent of a series of related events, is the gradual establishment of the humanistic sciences (psychology, sociology, etc.) as a core tenet of faith within ISKCON. In other words, ISKCON's secularization is becoming more of a certainty.
Loss of Faith
Among ISKCON's members, the attitude toward psychology has quickly changed from disdain to almost unqualified reverence. The quick ascendancy of psychology within ISKCON (and with it other humanistic sciences) was the inevitable result of its high profile child abuse scandals. Aside from forcing ISKCON's leadership to deal with outraged members and victims, these scandals necessitated practical action to protect ISKCON's assets as well as salvage its public image. Practical action meant convincing our secular host culture that ISKCON's leadership was serious about policing themselves. Convincing them meant adopting ways and means acceptable to the host culture, and those ways and means necessarily had to be administered by trained psychologists. As a result, psychology acquired great importance within ISKCON. ISKCON's survival partly depended on it. Also, ISKCON members with advanced degrees in psychology and allied disciplines quickly gained prominence and influence. For many of ISKCON's members, ISKCON's child abuse scandals resulted in reviving their faith in psychology.
But aside from dealing practically with ISKCON's host culture in the West, the bigger problem ISKCON faced was internal. Those scandals resulted in two significant internal changes: members lost varying degrees of faith in ISKCON the institution (and hence, in its leaders), and some also lost varying measures of faith in the revealed scriptures and teachings of the acharyas that are at ISKCON's theological core. When people loose faith, their tendency is to go back to their old ways and beliefs. For most devotees, the "old ways" were to be found in the culture they grew up with. That culture, with its "old ways", is predominantly secular. Those
who lost faith weren't going to go back to Church, they would, however, return to its secular equivalent: academia.
This also explains the apparent alliance ISKCON has been actively forging with academia. It is both politically expedient and a bellwether of the direction of the thinking and faith of ISKCON's managerial and intellectual elites. These people are also ISKCON members and, like other members of ISKCON, are compelled to reconcile their own faiths with ISKCON's past. Additionally, these elite classes in ISKCON have had to come to terms with their own roles in creating that past. For them, restoring their legitimacy is closely related with building their partnership with academia.
Many of ISKCON's Western members now are going back to the University for specialized training in areas ranging from religion, to linguistics and to the humanistic sciences--particularly in applied psychology. Accompanying this move to embrace University education is a deemphasis in study of the sacred literature provided by Srila Prabhupada. Formerly within ISKCON, becoming well versed in Srila Prabhupada's writings, memorizing verses, etc., was the sine qua non of learning and education. This kind of education served as the basis for evaluating all other areas of knowledge. This attitude is nowadays not as prevalent. An ISKCON sannyasi recently reported that a Western devotee who is a PhD candidate in Asian (Hindu) studies admitted, when queried, that he had not read all of Srila Prabhupada's books. At an ISKCON temple I visited one year ago, a brahmacari (celibate student) told me he was pursuing a degree in psychology so he could "help devotees." Two women members, one of them a long time member, went back to University to become marriage counselors in order to help devotees with their marriage problems. The practical solutions to ISKCON's social difficulties are sought less from the pages of its founder's teachings and more from the lecture halls and text books of the University. This represents a tangible shift in the emphasis of what is considered most important in terms of knowledge and endeavors to acquire it. The result has been a relative devaluation in the importance of revealed knowledge with a simultaneous increase in the value of empirical knowledge.
The Child Protection Office (CPO) is a good example of this. Since its inception, the CPO has grown to include investigation of not only child abuse allegations but also allegations of abuse against female members of ISKCON. It is ISKCON's defacto social police force and judiciary rolled into one. It is now a permanent fixture in ISKCON because ISKCON's members and especially upper management are convinced that child abuse will proliferate without it.
Perhaps most important, an organization serving and interacting with children should ensure that the children receive child protection education. Despite all preventive measures, there is a significant possibility that a child will be approached by a person with abusive intentions. A child who has received child protection education has a better chance of avoiding abuse (Patterson 1995).
(Edwin Bryant, Maria Ekstrand. "The Hare Krishna Movement, The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant." Columbia University Press, New York., 2004. "Child Abuse and the Hare Krishnas", Contributor: David Wolf. Page 328)
The context of what Dhira Govinda (David Wolf, PhD) Prabhu writes is clearly ISKCON: "Analyzing ISKCON's school and temple situations from the 1970s through the early 1990s, we find that in many instances the environment was very conducive to child abuse." (Ibid.) ISKCON's members and especially leaders now believe that it is, in general, impossible to raise unabused children without active and comprehensive oversight, education and training administered by a sub-institution like the CPO. This further implies that the welfare of ISKCON's children depend on maintaining staff and leadership who have received highly specialized education and training in psychology. Because such education and training is highly specialized, it is also highly inaccessible.
An Emerging, Professional Meritocracy
An important consequence of the apotheosis of the psychologist and the social worker within ISKCON is that even the finest grounding in Srila Prabhupada's teachings will be considered insufficient to minister to the social needs of either children or adults without education and training in applied psychology. This is, of course, an example of how Srila Prabhupada's teachings have been marginalized. It used to be in ISKCON that practicing bhakti yoga, as described in Srila Prabhupada's books, was sufficient to ameliorate any material distress. "You say that you would read only one book if that was all that I had written, so you teach others to do like that." (Letter to Sukadeva. Nov. 14, 1973) A lot of initiated devotees in ISKCON no longer believe this.
Another important consequence of the ascendancy of psychology within ISKCON is the implicit, permanent role people with specialized knowledge and training in psychology will have in shaping ISKCON's social future. Their training in psychology will largely form the basis of their decision making. Since psychology does not require any assumptions of a transcendent being or any other theological precept, decisions formed within such non-theistic paradigms will often clash with moral precepts formed within theistic paradigms. Whenever there is such a clash, the resecularized devotee will favor the scientifically derived social precept over those precepts derived from revealed scriptures. The rationale for dismissing divinely revealed precepts is that they are considered no longer applicable in this time, place and circumstance. They would be considered circumstantially irrelevant, or that such things, though perhaps valid five thousand years ago, are today disparaging anachronisms.
An example of this is that the social arrangement inherent in a traditional gurukula is now considered by many to be a favorable condition for child abuse: "Another important factor is that increased parental participation translates into decreased vulnerability for children." (Wolf. [Dhira Govinda] page 328); "That is a good proposal, that parents should not accompany their children. Actually that is the gurukula system." (Letter to Satsvarupa. Nov. 25, 1971.) Not only has this resulted in the disappearance of the traditional gurukula in the West, but it has also resulted in an aversion to attempts to reestablish it there. Trying to reintroduce the gurukula would be considered tantamount to creating a situation favorable for child abuse. This does not mean that there cannot be a consideration of time, place and circumstance that would be valid for not establishing gurukulas in the West. What is important here is that psychological research has concluded that the absence of parents is itself considered a condition for the proliferation of child abuse. With regard to the (traditional) gurukula, the absence of parents is a condition that will never change. The resecularized devotee will be more comfortable with the psychological conclusion.
Like chanting Hare Krishna, psychology is now regarded as something essential. This is not an exaggeration. In North America, the North American GBC has created the Grihastha Vision Team (GVT) to research contemporary issues in family life among devotees and train grihasthas (married couples within ISKCON). On their website there is little information about their activities and views. They do, however, have a strategy page, which is a prospectus of their five-year research plan. That page is notable because it suggests that the practical solutions are primarily going to come from research and not as much from between the covers of Srila Prabhupada's books. Their Team Members page leaves little doubt that action based primarily on research is the true path to social stability.
Krsnanandini devi dasi marriage educator, minister
Tariq Saleem Ziyad marriage and family educator
Annutama dasa ISKCON Communications Director
Dr. Cintamani devi dasi psychologist and marriage and family counselor
Jagannatha Pandit das psychologist, youth, and marriage counselor
Karnamrta dasa minister, hypnotherapist, counselor
Arcana-siddhi devi dasi licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)
Lakshmi Bhatt MD (Pediatrics and Neonatology), PhD Candidate in social work
Partha dasa marriage and family educator
Uttama devi dasi marriage and family educator
Praharana devi dasi social worker and marriage and family counselor
Urmila devi dasi an educator, working on her PH.D.
Nityananda dasa Bachelor of Law and Bachelor Coach, Accelerated Learning Systems, NLP [Neuro Linguistic Programming]
Manjvali devi dasi counselor
Another indication as to how deeply entrenched psychology is within ISKCON is that no one in a position that could conceivable control it is asking critical questions about what effects psychology and its proliferation will have on ISKCON's members. That is very troubling. This laissez-faire attitude toward ISKCON's new miracle workers, the psychologists and social workers, seems to have conferred a "sacred cow" status on them. There is little they can say that is not exempt from scrutiny.
A brahmacari in Bombay took the empathic principle to the top, applying the techniques of the course to his relationship with his beloved Deities. He reported that the morning after the course he took darsana of Lord Narasimhadeva, and became absorbed in the mood, thinking, "You seem very angry." Then he asked open-endedly, "How come you are angry?" After the Lord responded he reflected "Oh, you are angry because your devotee Prahlada is being tormented by the demon Hiranyakasipu." He related similar empathic encounters with each of the divine personalities on the altar. In this way he shared how he became more intimate with all the Deities through the skills learned in the Vaisnava Life Skills/Personal Transformation course.
(Dhira Govinda das [David P. Wolf, Ph.D.] "Vaisnava Life Skills/Personal Transformation Seminars and the Process of Krsna Consciousness". Undated. Page 2)
Conversing with the Deities is something done at a highly advanced stage of devotion. Now, such a highly advanced stage of devotion is easily obtained through a five day seminar called the "Vaisnava Life Skills and Personal Transformation Seminars." Cash on the table and five days of this and you can be talking with Krishna in no time. ISKCON's topmost leadership is aware of this, too--these specific facts have circulated up to the GBC level--yet no one up there seems to believe the systematic propagation of such ideas merits their intervention. The psychologist and social worker are ISKCON's post-modern brahmanas, who may be neither questioned nor censured.
Some within ISKCON's leadership cadre openly recommend that the kind of therapy afforded by the Vaisnava Life Skills / Personal Transformation seminars be made mandatory for ISKCON leaders. Not long ago, one prominent ISKCON leader told me that these seminars helped make a guru who was known to be somewhat belligerent with his subordinates and disciples into a more gentle, more considerate person. I was told this before Prithu's crisis manifested. In retrospect I think he was referring to Prithu Prabhu. Dhira Govinda Prabhu uses these testimonials to stimulate interest in his seminars, which of course leads to them being regularly and frequently offered.
An ISKCON leader and graduate of the Advanced Course expressed that the training allowed him to "dig deep inside and bring to the surface a lot of stuff; it helped me to remove a lot of blocks and masks I was carrying for years (and perhaps lifetimes) that were like anchors weighing me down, like leeches sucking my energy. I gained the clear insight and conviction that this course could represent a historic turning point in the life of the members of ISKCON and therefore a turning point for the movement as a whole. I would make it a prerequisite for responsible positions in our Society, as it would do a lot for personal balancing and realignment..."
(Dhira Govinda das [David P. Wolf, Ph.D.] "Vaisnava Life Skills/Personal Transformation Seminars and the Process of Krsna Consciousness". Undated. Conclusion, page 8)
--------- Forwarded Message ----------
Letter PAMHO:1111111111 (22 lines) [W1]
From: Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: 03-Nov-04 16:13 (17:13 +0100)
[From Prthu Prabhu]
The Satvatove seminars [Dhira Govinda's Vaishava Life Skills / Personal Transformation Seminars] made a huge difference in my life. It facilitated me to get rid of an old mask and to walk out as a free man. It literally was like throwing off the old body to rise into a more honest future. As Jesus said: "The truth will set you free." I experienced intense transformational forces during the course, which helped me to set the guidelines for a new life. The sense of love and trust that was created during the seminar among the participants created a wonderful environment for free, open, honest and loving exchanges. I highly recommend anybody who wishes to go forward in his life to take these courses. It easily was one of the most important events in my life.
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(Text PAMHO:11111111111) ---------------------------------------
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This last testimony by Prithu Prabhu, seen in relation to other advocacy for making this therapy mandatory for ISKCON leaders, is something on the order of "I told you so..." Many leaders and rank-and-file members as a result will say, "Look what happened to Prithu Prabhu and his family before the seminars. And now look at him afterwards. If we make this therapy mandatory for our leaders, we will have fewer such incidences." The status of psychology within ISKCON, the demands for therapy from the victims of this most recent high-profile guru crisis, the past history of advocacy for mandatory therapy, and Prithu's before-and-after testimony all seem to point to the eventual establishment of psychometric evaluation as entrance criteria to ISKCON's leadership cadres.
In the matter of informing ISKCON's members of their social and moral obligations, the quick ascendancy and influence of an atheistic system of knowledge such as psychology is unprecedented. I have argued here that this ascendancy is symptomatic of a widespread and significant, if not fatal, loss of faith in revealed knowledge among all levels of ISKCON's members. This loss of faith is perceptible in the simultaneous valuation of empirical knowledge and relative devaluation of revealed knowledge received from scriptural authority.
This shift in emphasis from revealed knowledge to discovered knowledge has diminished the credibility of devotees who offer alternative social solutions based primarily on scripture and the allied teachings of recognized acharyas. Social programs implemented by ISKCON are more and more resembling social programs conducted in Western society. This means that ISKCON will in the future have less and less to offer to society that is distinctly Krishna Conscious. If ISKCON's solutions for the mass of society are the same solutions proffered by the non-religious, then why should the "unchurched" be interested ISKCON? In other words, this progressive secularization will compromise ISKCON's position as an alternative and, hence, its preaching efforts.
ISKCON's social programs at this time have at their helm people who possess highly specialized and highly inaccessible skills and knowledge. As a result, ISKCON's social direction--particularly the development of its children-- will be exclusively in the hands of people whose primary direction for decision making comes from empirical methodologies rather than revealed knowledge from religious authority. This suggests that a meritocracy of psychological professionals and resecularized educators will likely produce within ISKCON a generation of children who themselves will be highly secular.
Various factors mentioned herein point to the eventual establishment of psychometric evaluation as essential criteria for ISKCON managers and leaders. Furthermore, leaders will be required to attend training and periodic reviews (and therapy if recommended) by psychologists. As psychology is as much the projection of personal opinion dressed up in scientific jargon as there is genuine scientific merit in it, psychology will likely be employed as a means of screening potential leaders for social and political views which may be Krishna Consciousness but which nonetheless offend secular sensibilities. Those people will be excluded from ISKCON's leadership. This screening will likely produce a homogeneous, secularized, socio-political groupthink within ISKCON's leadership cadres, which in turn will produce an extended period of peace and cooperation among its leaders. Although this would be heralded by many as a return to normalcy and spiritual equilibrium, this internal peace within ISKCON's borders, like the Pax Romana, is a misleading one. If this happens, then we will have witnessed ISKCON's final and permanent secularization, and with it its impending irrelevance. ISKCON would probably survive as a social entity but as a spiritual organization die.
Of course, ISKCON's demise does not have to happen. ISKCON can also be the means by which the world becomes genuinely Krishna Conscious. However certain trends and past events point to the progressive secularization of ISKCON. We should not, therefore, hold the mistaken belief that ISKCON, unlike its predecessor, the Gaudiya Math, cannot be run into the ground and rendered ineffective. ISKCON has many futures, and Krishna knows all of them. We also have a hand in choosing ISKCON's future path. The information presented in this essay to the Vaishnava community in general is yet another resource for making these great choices. It is my sincere hope that the inauspicious path of secularization that ISKCON has embarked upon is recognized for what it is and summarily avoided.