Why did I join ISKCON?
Date: July 06, 2004 09:43AM
Why I joined ISKCON
By Patrick Lansdowne
[i:291d2f262c](This little bit of writing I did for myself originally for the purpose of coming to terms and understanding my almost 10 year involvement in the Hare Krsna cult. I wanted to understand myself and my motives better and to reflect some on what that experience meant and still means to me and to be honest.)[/i:291d2f262c]
When I was 19 years old I became attracted to ISKCON. Why, I have asked myself, for that attraction did not endure.
When I was 19, I went out into the world on my own for the first time, away from my parents. I was immature, scared and needy and at the same time some what rebellious and desirous of proving myself. I don’t think I was really prepared to meet the challenges of living life on my own with out the support of family, but I wanted to be independent and seem grown up. But I was not ready to face the responsibilities of being an adult. I wanted to discover some easy way to get through life, with out having to go the “normal” route of getting an education developing a career, taking care of a family, paying bills, making money etc. I seemed to be bent on rejecting everything that was “normal”.
I was somewhat interested in spirituality. It seemed to me that there had to be some kind of deeper meaning to life. I had had some “spiritual” experiences when I was younger involving the Catholic religion which gave me some kind of faith in spirituality, God, and religion, but to become a Christian seemed just too “normal” for me who wanted to be "different". Plus I was an insecure person. I didn’t trust myself and wanted to find something outside of myself. I didn’t like myself much and wanted to become a different person, someone people looked up to and was accepted by others. Although I didn’t want to fit into what I considered “the norm”, I still had a desire to fit in somewhere.
When I was introduced to Krsna Consciousness it was basically through the hardcore music scene via the band Shelter (punk rock from the USA). I liked alternative music just for that reason, because it was “alternative”. Then some kids in the scene became Hare Krsna’s and that just seemed completely as alternative as one could be, which was attractive to me. I tried to read Bhagavad-Gita and found it silly and incomprehensible. I immediately had doubts about the philosophy and theology of Hare Krishna-ism. Soon after that I met the devotees and heard about more and more kids from the hardcore scene joining ISKCON.
I started going to the Sunday feasts at the Krsna temple. The Hare Krsna life style seemed attractive to me because everything the devotees did seemed really different and “alternative”, from the way they talked and dressed to the way they ate and slept and they were doing it in the name of spirituality. Plus, it seemed so easy to me, such an easy life style. No bills to pay. Do a little work at the temple and you get free food, shelter and clothing. It seemed like a close-knit little family environment with its own unique customs and culture. I wanted a group to fit into, a family to belong to, and the Hare Krsna’s seemed to have it. They seemed to have the ultimate alternative life style that was completely separate from everything I considered “normal”. It was the first thing I came across that offered an approach to the materialistic life I had grown up with.
I tried to read the books. The parts of the philosophy I had problems with I would just either brush over or try to force my mind into blind acceptance. I really wanted to fit into the/a group. Doubts were not discussed in ISKCON really, but blind faith was encouraged. Pretty soon I had myself convinced that this Krsna religion was really what I was into and the “best” way.
Prabhupada is constantly repeating through out his books how he considers the Krsna religion the “highest” and the superior way and how all other religions and philosophies are inferior. This always seemed sectarian and narrow minded to me, but because I wanted to belong to a group I always pushed these doubts down and many others down inside and tried to forget them.
After a short time, I decided to join the temple and become a full time member of ISKCON. I told people and myself I wanted to be a monk. I “renounced” my girl friend and all my old friends and never spoke to them again. I practically stopped talking to my family also. This was encouraged by ISKCON, to renounce “material association” and to associate only with devotees. (asat-sanga tyaga…) I see now that all I really wanted was to live an easy life and run away from the fears of growing up. I wanted to “renounce the world” and my whole monotonous “material” identity. I wanted to run away from the responsibilities of life and just be “blissful”. I wanted to be a part of the highest most superior alternative scene. I wanted to “chant, dance, and be happy”, which is one of the favorite ISKCON slogans. I wanted to experience the bliss the Hare Krsna’s guarantee one will experience just simply by joining ISKCON and living the “ultimate” spiritual life.
It was not long after joining the temple that I realized that this was all hype. I did not ever really meet many genuinely happy people in ISKCON. The majority of people who joined did not stay very long. Many of the ones who stayed were like me, and seemed to simply want to avoid growing up. Of the few students of Prabhupada left, many had become power hungry leaders who had become completely alienated from themselves and the other members who they were supposed to be guiding.
Also, in my travels from temple to temple, I met many people who would probably be considered literally “crazy”, or mentally disturbed. Some of these had come from mental institutions; some probably should have been sent to them.
Many of the members of temples were caught up in politics and talking about people behind their backs. People would come to the temple programs and dance chant and try to look happy, but afterwards they would spend their time being miserable and unhappy, and many times they would tell me about it. And many members would spend much of their time with-in ISKCON traveling from temple to temple out of restlessness, trying to discover the temple which they hoped might actually have that blissful life they were idealistically and naively seeking when they first joined ISKCON, because so far they had been hard pressed to find it.
And then I began to discover much of the horrible and many times criminal history of the organization. Rampant and wide spread child abuse and molestation in the Krsna schools was the worst of it. Some of the people who had committed these abuses were still allowed to live in the temples. I also found out quite soon upon joining, how many of the leaders I was “under” were quite manipulative, unfriendly, and authoritarian and down right discouraging.
I began to feel more unhappy than I had before joining, but I felt trapped. I had been fully indoctrinated; my free will had been compromised. After a short time I had fully swallowed the idea that if I went any where else besides within the walls of the ISKCON organization my soul would be lost for ever. To go back out into the “material world” meant certain spiritual suicide, I was taught. Many times I felt depressed and miserable under the thumb of dictatorial temple authorities and contemplated leaving. After about 6 years I was unceremoniously kicked out of the temple with no money or job or a place to go because of a disagreement with one of the temple leaders where I lived. (But that is a long story which I do not wish to tell right now.) Needless to say, I felt at that time that it was unjustified and heartless on the part of these temple authorities to simply throw me out on my ear with no support.
But really, this was just the push I needed to actually escape my programming and fear of the outside world and face up to the responsibilities of life. Actually I am thankful for it. But it took me close to five years after leaving ISKCON to feel completely comfortable about being on my own again, and to feel fully free from all the backwards Hare Krsna conditioning I had swallowed.
Now I feel free from that oppressive and non-progressive way of thinking and I feel happy to just be “normal” again or possibly for the first time ever. Sometimes I feel regret for wasting close to ten years of my life as a Hare Krsna, but I try to just see the lessons. I have some respect for the ancient Vaishnava tradition and feel like there is some amount of truth there, although I am not an adherent to it. Now I feel that ISKCON is a perverted and bastardized representation of the ancient and genuine Hindu tradition: started by fanatical and immature western hippy followers of Prabhupada.
I have to say that, while reading Prabhupada’s books, I now feel that he promoted and encouraged fanaticism and narrow mindedness too. I feel that he was sexist and denigrating towards the female gender or at least I can say he provided a great deal of fodder for westerners with a sexist mentality to pick up on and institute, and try to justify it based on his books. Also I feel that Prabhupada encouraged fanaticism and blind following in his writings.
Now in my life; I feel satisfied taking the spiritual search on my own terms and at my own pace. I do not believe that Krsna is God and I think that most of Hinduism is mythology. I think Prabhupada was just an ordinary person who felt like he was doing the right thing by teaching the religion he grew up with in his Bengali culture to others. I don’t hold any grudge against ISKCON for I chose to join and become indoctrinated by it. I chose to turn off my rational mind and become a blind follower. I did not experience bliss while there, only disappointment and depression, so I left for good. Now I do not push away my doubts about religion but confront them and deal with them. I do not accept anything blindly anymore. And I feel more free than I have ever felt before. I have an inexplicable and undefinable faith that there is a Supreme Intelligence God. This is a faith that I have felt intuitively since I was a small child. I am now endeavoring to seek out God in a genuine way, free from the desire to “belong” to any other group save sincere seekers. If anyone were to ever ask me about ISKCON as a viable path, I would tell them that I believe ISKCON a genuine cult. I thank God that he allowed me to escape from it eventually.