Date: February 18, 2005 01:46AM
Greetings to all on this forum. As you can see, I'm new (this being my first post). First of all, I'd like to thank Rick Ross for providing this forum, and for all of the work and effort that he has put into making this space available to us. I've been "lurking" for the past week or so, reading and learning a lot. I'd like to contibute to this particular thread, because of my long-standing association with ISKCON. I see that the originator of the thread seems to have moved on. Still, I'd like to add my .02 cents worth.
I have been hanging around on the edges of ISKCON for many years. I never took initiation. I guess you could say that I'm a "fringie" (someone who is considered to be friendly to the movement, but doesn't "go all the way", so to speak). I am aware of the many controversies and abuses that have taken place in ISKCON over the years. My experinces with ISKCON have to do mainly with the local temple here in town. I'm not an expert by any strech.
There have been many, many horrible things that have taken place by ISKCON devotees over the years. None of these can be excused, no matter what the rationale. That being said, none of those abuses reflect the spirit or teachings of Caintanya. He was the founder of the chanting movement, which started in Bengal around 500 years ago. One thing to keep in mind is that ISKCON is a man-made organization, with all of the short-comings of any human endeavor. ISKCON is seperate from the spirtual teachings that it espouses, just as all of the churches and doctrines that have existed since the time of Jesus are not Jesus Himself, or His teachings. Some people may see that as an inconsistancy, but it's the same with all the major religions of the world. I can only offer my deepest-felt condolances to all of the many people that were abused, decieved or taken advantage of by unscrupulous "leaders".
One of the things that has always been problematic for me is the fact that ISKCON is based on an actual, authentic spiritual traditon, but at the same time, it is definetly a cult, by almost any common definition of the word. I don't want to tell everything about myself in my first post. And I do want of keep a cerain degree of anominity (sp?) . I will say that in the earliest days of ISKCON, things were fairly simple and straight-forward. Of course, the 60's were a different time; the world was maybe a more innocent place? But things changed quickly. A quick example-The Summer of Love in 1967 (peace, love, dove-flower power) gives way to someone being murdered at the rock concert at Altamount in 1969. By 1970, Prabhupada (the founder of ISKCON) wrote in a letter to one of his disciples that there was (this is my paraphrasing, not an actual quote) "an evil presence" in the movment itself. So the founder himself was aware that things were not as they should be, as early as 1970 (only 3 years after he started the organization).
And after that, things got progressively worse. The power struggles and abuses went un-checked, and megolamaniacal "leaders" displayed just how corrupting absolute power can be. There is a huge body on data available on the net to back this up; there's no need for me to repeat it all. I do think that all the scandals, lawsuits and (deserved) negative press coverage helped to expose what was happeining, and to bring the light of day to what was a festering cesspool of human abuse and tragedy. ISKCON has attempted to deal with some of these issues, but it has not done enough, or "come clean" enough. And it's true that some of the perpetrators are still in the organization. They continue to cling to their power, and basically to live in a fantasy-world.
However, I do think that ISKCON has learned some lessons. In my experience, they now realize that you can't "trick" someone into joining. You can't hold someone against their will, or move them around from temple to temple to keep someone from being in contact with family or friends. I'm sure that they still "target" young people that are in transition... But I don't think that they are anywhere near as strident or militant about it as they were in the 70's.
I guess that's all for now for a first post. I'd be happy/interested in talking with any current or former ISKCON members about their experiences, as well as anyone who might feel like learning more or sharing their experiences. Especially if it will help someone to either get their head straightened out, or help them with their recovery, if that is whats needed. Also, one last thought---I really highly recommend the article that Rick has here on his site -- The reprinted chapter from R. J. Liftons book. It is very insightful and would for anyone to read, not just people that have experience with cults.