Frozen Nick, Its laziness, blind faith, etc etc. Everyone wants a quick fix/answer/solution—spirituality is largely a farse undertaken by people addicted to cheap and quick fixes to their problems. Unfortunately, while it may work for a little bit when it's fresh and new, like most things in life it loses it's appeal and eventually the devotee finds themselves still needing to deal with lifes paradoxes, conundrums and difficult realities. All they've been doing up till that inevitable point is glossing over things and masking reality. Mukti bukti.
Vyasa is obviously a stand-in myth for a slew of vedic and post vedic thinkers, philosophers, poets, brahmins etc. No, there was no blue sage who went into a trance and was visited by a cosmic vina player and had a half elephant god break his tusk to write the vedas down. And no, Vyasa did not have a son that was born when he was 16 years old from his mother's womb. That's absurd and ridiculous and obviously illogical to believe as literal truth. Nor does it benefit anyone spiritually or otherwise to pretend its real recorded historical events.
Many cults, by virtue of their philosophy of totalitarianism and surrender, creates a type of mental bond that is hard to break. No one wants to admit they have been royally hoodwinked. They are afraid to point out the blunt flaws in the leader's thinking or actions similar to how no one wants to tell the emperor he is naked. That and the fact that the general message is a feel-good ideology and dogma, it creates cognitive dissonance. How can something so good be so bad? How can something that is so filled with seemingly logical and ration arguments ever be wrong? Confirmation bias. Instead of doing your actual spiritual work and separating the useful from the useless, the practitioner finds it too mentally taxing to do this work so they just accept it wholesale against all odds.
I think as a general rule you'll find that heavy mental illness or some sort of nervous system or brain disorder characterizes the major evolution of many cult origins (and likely attracts people who suffer from such issues as well—though as you pointed out, it also attracts seemingly brilliant and rational people).
It always starts with an initial charismatic figure who defies logic and reason but approaches their religious fervor with such conviction that it affects/infects others and convinces them. They think, "if this person has so much "devotion" and fervor, it MUST mean they are alit with the spirit of the divine!". Eclectic behavior is notable in most religious leaders.
Food for thought:
“Due to epilepsy, I sometimes fall unconscious. Out of their mercy, these four men maintain Me.”
CC Madhya 18.184, Translation
Epilepsy is mentioned in a number of texts related to the so-called biographies of the Chaitanya saint. I say so-called because any casual reading of such texts reveals a dramatic exaggeration and many downright fantastical moments that were hardly first-hand accounts and often don't match up in subsequent biographies of his life.
In descriptions of Chaitanya passing through south India, a reader would be left with the impression that all of south India was converted to radha bhakti vaishnavism and swooned in ecstasy. Many such passages exist that seem to spend more time trumping up the personhood of the saint rather than reading like a legitimate historical biography. Never mind the dancing with the tigers and dangerous animals in the forest and all manner of fantastical tales. One Chaitanya chronicler even states that the saint dies by hurting his foot (remind you of any other stories?). In fact, this is more than likely the case as his mental state deteriorated due to epilepsy, he probably was accident-prone and fell unconscious all the time. As per Indian guru-ism, the odder the guru's behavior the more divine they must be. It's true. Look at some of the extreme examples in India's guru history.
It's actually funny/sad, but, considering Butler is clinically mentally ill with his tinfoil habit, it's really no surprise he fits the role of the charismatic guru so well. I would argue it is near impossible to find a guru of any meaningful success who does not suffer from some brain or psychiatric issues if looked at clinically. Just saying. It's either that or the people the guru attracts are drug-fueled and mentally disturbed as in the large success of Bhaktivedants movement in the west. Lets face it, he convinced a bunch of young hippie junkies to shave their heads and adopt medieval Indian clothing dress style. That as largely his legacy: A bunch of pink-dhoti-clad, shaved up hare krishna's harassing people at airports and street corners fanatically dancing or murmuring a mantra over and over. Throw in murders, misogyny, child sex abuse, money laundering, and assorted scandals and a $72 million dollar failed Mayapur project (where they introduce us to vedic cosmology, replete with the sun being pulled by a chariot) and you have yourself a world-class cult if I ever saw one.
These early Butler devotees like Tusta and Katyayani as well as Acharya and Bhalakilya—all Prabhupada disciples—basically came along with Butler to ISKCON and as soon as the swami died they left and went back to their true master, Butler.
It's an interesting phenomenon that there is this mental illness thread following this cult and likely many cults and their origins. The religious fervor found in Chaitanya saint is basically this unachievable state because it was entered into by virtue of a brain disorder/epilepsy. That's not to say that a very detailed religious system didn't come out of it (though much of it is based on existing and evolved Indian religious and philosophical systems like Samkhya and Yoga). It certainly did—and some, but one can find the same detailed explanations and accounts given surrounding the lives of many cult leaders like Joseph Smith, Sai Baba and others. The fact is that as soon as dreams and visions are included in the mix as valid methods of proof for any manner of things, it is highly suspect and imperative to take a closer look instead of just gobbling it all up in one fell swoop. The issue is that such questions are looked at as offensive and demonic within these groups. In fact in India, historically, it was generally discouraged to challenge or criticize "sadhus". This type of artificial system that simply awards authority to those who play the role of holy man without verifying or challenging their self-proclaimed post is unhealthy and unrealistic. Butler has many lectures, as does Bhaktivedanta, where they claim to be gods representative. Followers ask how they can be sure. The assurance is given as such: Does what the guru says align with previous guru's, sadhus and scriptures—and my favorite one, "the lord in the heart", whatvever that is. But what is, upon cursury reasearch, we find that many of the guru's say really crazy ass shit, that a lot of the sadhus were nut jobs and the scriptures are archaic ramblings, outdated, contradictory, promote casteism, mysogeny, racism, brahmanism, cheesy and corney myths that read like childrens story books and are composed not by some revilation but clearly and distictly assorted grammatical styles that are divergent enough that scholars have dated them to be largely no older than 1000-3000 years max. What happenes when you realize that there is literally no way that god stopped his buddies charriot in the middle of a battlefield and started to give an 11 hour long lecture about totally random things like offeribg him flowers and leaves... What if you read manu samhita and realize that it's a law book written by primitive people in a time before basic human rights concepts existed? Do you still follow Butler then? because he told you what literally every world scripture already basically tells you: You are not your body, you are a soul... Do you follow the swamis ideas because he calims they are 5000 years old and part of a long unbroken line going back to a 4-headed creator god who sits on a giant cosmic lotus flower coming out of some even bigger gods belly button???
I think chanting and dancing are great. I also think dancing to whatever music you like and singing is generally great—with or without the "holy" component. It has the exact same basic effect on the average person's sense of wellbeing and brain. However, you guys remember Beatle-mania? You know, the young men and women who literally fainted or swooned or cried in hysteria as they beheld the Beatles on stage (for many of them it was a religious experience)? That right there is your average mechanism at work in most religions like the hare krishnas.
Those who have such a fervent and vigorous reaction/response to such singing and dancing (while no doubt it can be intensely pleasant and a terrific release of dopamine) are not "ok" to put it mildly. Such are the same people who claim all sorts of other fantasies/conspiracies and baseless absolutes. And as it goes, you can keep layering fantasy upon fantasy till it morphs into a system of theology or philosophy or religion. Or political ideology for that matter. Kind of like what Tusli is doing with the "aloha" phrase. She's creating more out of it than it really is. I lived in Hawaii. Trust me, there is no hidden deeper meaning behind "aloha" for the average hawaiian and haole. Much like "haribol" basically became a "hello" for butler devotees. The fact is that mantras and chants are just words. They hold no innate power or "shakti". At least not by their own accord. Sure, with a certain intent and implied meaning, anything can mean more than it really does. And that is basically what the maha mantra or any mantra is. It's the practioner believing and giving power to something that has no explicit power on its own. Yet most guru's and scriptures would have you believe that there is some innate, built-in, magic to it. That it's non-different than god or has the power to liberate us from lifetimes of blah blah blah even if we chant it by mistake. Like the story of the hunter chanting "mara" (death) over and over only to accidentally chant "rama" and he gains entrance to Vaikuntha. What would it were so simple?
This is just my opinion. It's backed by rational observation and it makes a ton more sense than the alternative narrative. At the same time, I am not a bigot. If worshipping and believing in elephant-headed, lion-headed, flying monkey and golden avatars does it for you, by all means, be my guest. It's pathetic to me to see modern humans falling for this crap let alone worshipping some guru for shoveling shit into their brains—especially their kid's brains. But, for all you rational people who have come here with a shred of doubt or if you were born into this crap but don't have that crazy gene (Beatle-mania) and always felt off in this cult. Don't be afraid to call it what it is and see it for what it is. You're not going to melt and go to patala-loka. Not just yet anyway. And if after all is said and done, you still feel a dramatic pull to it all, do the world a favor, go get checked out. There's a good chance you may be able to get some help for that.
The fact is that this cult thwarts many from having a normal life. They fear interacting with the outside world. They judge everyone who is not like them as being either demonic, offensive, or some other irrational negative thing they have invented. They also become hyper-dependant on their devotee "family dynamic" and can't break out of it. I know folks who literally have to rearrange their life to host their devotee parents or change the way they act to be around their devotee parents. That's very oppressive and limiting. Not to mention the countless youth in this cult who simply think they have no alternative or choice in the matter without it spelling iminant hell in their life. I want those people to know that is not even close to reality. You can still find community and be an otherwise good person who volunteers, dprs charity, enjoys music, life and love. There is a lot more freedom in building out your own authentic spirtual reality rather than getting trapped in the dynamics of a cult that tries to tell you exactly how god looks, what to believe and how to behave. I think rules and structure are great for certain situations and people. And in that sense, people who are perhaps drug addicts, sufferign in some physical way to an extreme or having relationship issues or other problems like divorce can sometimes find a type of solace in being told what to do to feel better or addopting a set of religious ideas to guide them to a more stable place.
I recall when Butler used to walk down the beach to where the devotees were chanting a sort of wave of stiffness and paranoia descended upon everyone as they scrambled to "welcome" him. It was most definitely not love and ease and comfort. Everyone tenses in anticipation. No wonder once the kirtan happened it felt ecstatic. Of course, as the lecture was about to begin it was not uncommon for Butler to poke fun of someone, make some snide comment or even go on an all-out rant against someone at the gathering, or a minority group he disliked. Bhaktivedanta had a similar dynamic. I've always said, anyone who is able to and willing to sit on a throne or special seat (vyasasana) and accept a bunch of bowing disciples, money, garlands, and so forth is a narcissistic sociopath. No human being deserves that level of worship and accolades, let alone for blowing a bunch of hot air.
There is hardly a verse in the gita that offers any detailed explanation of how to perform the so-called sankirtan or that it is even a "spiritual method" for the age of kali as they claim. No mantras are offered or mentioned except for OM—a very primal, vedic mantra, used by brahmins. There is a lot of mention of caste, karma and guna theory. There is even a rather detailed explanation of what type of seat you should sit on when meditating as well as offering god leaves and flowers and whatever... but not much in the way of kirtan as a practice. Yet many devotees claim the gita as a text spoken at the dawn of the so-called kali age. yet the god himself barely makes a substantial mention of its so-called importance. Kali Santarana Upanishad, a very very questionable, only 500 years old, Upnaishad makes a passing mention of the so-called maha-mantra (in reverse order). It's so odd that we now find ourselves in a time where the hare krishna's have pretty much made (or made up) a sort of brand out of the whole thing. It's an easy sell, I'll give them that. We all want that secret, simple solution for weight loss, money, diet, relationships, and of course spirituality.
Some relevant links:
Anyway, this is my personal opinion and observation. I feel bad for many of the kids born into this and people who get stuck in the abusive dynamics or backward thinking and pointless ritualism—thier fate is sealed in these cults. Few exceptions exist. For those who joined and it works for them and they enjoy it and find some usefulness out of it, I think it's generally fine. Hare Krishna has largely morphed into a very lose and simple cult: eat vege food and chant hare krishna. It actually asks very little from most practitioners and has a revolving door policy. Sure, you have some hardcore devotees out there trying to preach and retain followers, but the cult is mostly made up of old memebers and their offspring—not new serious recruits.
If you ever try to go deeper down the rabbit hole (specific ideology, dogma, rituals, traditions, beliefs and deeper cult structure and social order) beyond that it can quickly get to be a web that is very very difficult to free yourself from. I think your average modern-day hare krishna is into yoga, eating vege food, and likes the comradery of kritan. Outside of that they drink, smoke pot and have "illicit" sex and definitely are not chanting 16+ rounds or reading and seriously studying the scriptures or anything. Even the guru's are very loose about it all, or like Butler, not even in the picture much. Butler has literally been "out of the loop" for over 20 years now as far as having any major influence in his follower's lives. he's definitely not a "living guru" in any meaningful way. So none of it add's up. ISKCOn is the same, Their "living guru" has mostly become the plastic staues of the swami in their temples. And appointing of guru's is just a Gaudiya practice. You would be hard-pressed to find a Gaudiya Math, ISKCON or offshoot organizations that did not appoint guru's as a general practice. Such appointment is not based on some hidden qualifications, but rather on complete sentiment and favortism. This is evidenced by the fact that most of the guru's who have been appointed at these institutions have sordid pasts, fallen from their vows, or in osme way abused the trust of their followers, what to speak of running the organizations into the dirt.
For those of you who feel any of this is a harsh judgment, just lets all be clear that this is a forum dedicated to those for whome this cult did nothing. It's for those who have spent years devoted, following every rule and seriously engaging in service, chanitng with love/devption/attention and free from offences, and still found it all to be a load of bull shit. If you have fond memories in this cult or ones like it it is based on pure sentiment and emotion. It's not because something spiritual shifted inside of you and you were channeling the absolute truth. Not even close. You were hoodwinked by mentally ill gurus to believe in no more a "reality" than any other religion and cult. They likely asked you to give your time, money, energy and mind to them. The mroe of it the better they said.
I have friends in this cult. They are lifelong believers and born into it. I don't judge them. They know literally nothing else as far as a spiritual journey goes. for better or worse. In most cases it works for them as all of their fmaily and friends are in it as well. Not all of them suffer in these groups. But some have and they have glossed over it as thier "karma". They have not studied anything beyond the approved texts of their religion. They are wired to believe nothing but pure fiction that was planted in their brain from youth. They took initiation from the guru their family followed, they were told to avoid other krishna guru's and groups and stay with their clan at all costs. They may have even been told that other groups like theirs are not as good as theirs. Only the special chosen ones belong to their group. That's a sad mentality. But it's all they know. they've been robbed of choice and largly live their life on autopilot.