This was a note recently written in public by the wife of a prominent ISKCON Guru who very recently stepped down. In my opinion, it shows the prevalent dysfunctionality of families and married couples in ISKCON.
Dear GBC members, Godbrothers and Godsisters,
Please accept my most humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
It is not my desire to challenge my good husband, yet in light of the recent events surrounding him, I would like for you to please hear my story.
There are many devotees who are still present in this movement who can verify my claims as truthful. Typical of the way many ISKCON marriages were arranged in the 70’s without couples ever having spoken with one another, Prithu prabhu’s and my marriage (1976) was made following an instruction from our local GBC representative. As was also typical of ISKCON members during that era, we followed diligently all instructions coming down to us through the parampara system, via our local authorities.
For the duration of our marriage of 30 years, I never shared any kind of private living or sleeping facility with my husband, as he expressed his inability to preach Krishna Consciousness and participate in family life at the same time. Endeavoring to be a faithful wife I followed him in his lifestyle of choice, although admittedly, it was often, difficult to do so. Before we had children, I lived in the brahmacarini ashram, engaging in temple worship while my husband distributed Srila Prabhupada’s books full time. I saw him briefly every week or two on weekends, and then only to pick up his dirty laundry and deliver it a day later, washed and pressed. We never engaged in friendly conversation with each other as my husband viewed it to be a frivolous time-wasting exercise. When my husband decided “I” needed to have a child, he insisted I continue
to live in the temple rather than secure a home where together we could prepare to welcome our first child into the world. Hence, although we performed the garbhadhana samskara by chanting 50 rounds, the fact that he never provided a home for our child sent a clear message to me that he viewed him as “unwanted.”
Once our first child, Madan Mohan, was conceived, our lives virtually continued as before. I lived in the brahmacarini ashram; my husband continued distributing books. I remember how painfully insecure, helpless and humiliated I felt, living among temple residents, many of whom found householderlife repulsive. For example, in order to prevent my crawling son from going into any room but his own, devotees put 2-foot high boards in the thresholds of their doors. When he found a way to crawl over it, several devotees lifted him up, holding his entire body-weight by the fist-full of cloth they could grab at the back of his neck, and literally throw him out of the room. Instead of being joyful over my pregnancy, I felt I was being shunned although I had followed Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. Meanwhile, instead of supporting me, my husband avoided being seen with me together due to his embarrassment over our being married. By this time, my rational mind began seriously questioning how it could be pleasing to Krishna that a husband continued to perform sankirtan while his family was left uncared for. My husband rationalized in response to my request to move outside, “What is the use of enjoying mundane family life, if it meant not going back to Godhead at the end of our lives?” I wanted to leave the temple to find peace for my child, but I had no means to go. Had I been able to, the fact that my husband always kept my American passport in his possession meant I could never leave German without his permission.
After giving birth to my eldest son, I returned to a life of isolation in the temple’s small attic room; far enough away so no one could see me or hear the cries of my child; except when I descended to attend temple programs. This was in 1977. In 1979, I began preaching with my husband in Ireland. When I say “preaching” I mean, I did all the temple cooking, cleaning, shopping and organizing for the community, meanwhile having the added responsibility of minding my child, now crawling around at my feet or sleeping on the bhoga in the kitchen pantry. For this reason, I rarely attended lectures or other temple programs.
I was taught that the Vedic way of salvation for a woman was by assisting her husband in his preaching. In good faith, I did my duty. My husband was always the temple leader wherever we went, so I remained his shadow “cleaning lady” often finding myself unsupported and alone in the kitchen washing pots and floors while he slept or relaxed with a group of “select ” devotees.
For the next 10 years, our lives continued in much the same way. Eventually, we found ourselves on opposite ends of the preaching front; my husband, now enjoying life in the “Bell Tower” of ISKCON’s leadership while I continued my scramble for survival among the grassroots.
By 1986, I had a second child, Nila Madhava, who was conceived the same way as Madan Mohan. My husband and I still maintained separate living facilities within the temple. Now, I lived together with both my children; one 9 years old, the other still an infant in a 15’ X 15’ foot room next to the brahmacarini ashram, sharing a bathroom with 12 other women. Meanwhile, my husband lived on the opposite side of the Inish Rath Manor in a room 4 times its size with an attached bathroom and office he never had to share. When I expressed my need to have more facility to raise my children in, my husband insisted that it would make the other devotees envious should he provide his wife with any comfort in their midst. He repeatedly used his “preaching profile” as an alibi for his neglect of his family. I continued to follow for several reasons:
1) I was living on an island in the middle of the North Sea with an infant;
2) I had grown to doubt my own intelligence because I genuinely thought I was anyway just a stupid woman, whose only business was to disturb her husband’s service to Krishna;
3) I wanted to associate with devotees and knew if I caused too much commotion, I would be labeled “ Maya Devi” and shunned by Prithu’s followers;
4) the thought of becoming a single parent with 2 children was horrifying and I didn’t think I could cope, having been trained only in temple living; 5) I had no marketable skills, nor any knowledge of how to live in the “material” world. My only solace was knowing that everything was Krishna’s mercy and that He knew how much I suffered and how much I tried to please.
By now, as well as being responsible for the deity and devotee cooking, I was instructed to go on the altar and dress the temple’s 3 sets of deities, mind my 2 month old son (still in diapers) and educate my 9 year old son, materially and spiritually. My husband took no part in helping me do this. Instead, he often interrupted my attempts by instructing me to go whimsically in the kitchen and cook pancakes for “his guys” while our children were left unattended. One time while I was thus cooking, my youngest son who was 2 years old, fell from a steep staircase onto the concrete floor below, cracking his head and causing him to be hospitalized for a week. Naturally, my children would run freely around the temple as they saw it as their home as well as the other devotees. This was often annoying to the celibate students who, on several occasions physically or verbally abused them. When my oldest son became old enough to realize he had a father, he often appeared at his door. Immediately, my husband would look at his watch and
scuttle him away, saying he was taking precious time away from his preaching.
Madan Mohan, yearned to have the companionship of his father, and often begged him for some private, personal time. However, my husband never allowed him any entry into his life as a parent. In due course of time, my children and I became absorbed into the temple structure; only allowed to take Prithu’s “darshan” in public places.
You will remember, I’m sure, the “revolution” in Ireland that went on in Ireland in the late 1980’s, when Prithu prabhu was asked to leave and take his disciples with him. During that time, I was left in Ireland alone with my 2 children, with no money or place to go, while “rebel” leaders and my husband hashed things over in India during the Mayapur GBC meetings. Several devotees who remained on the island took this opportunity to unleash their hatred for my husband by verbally abusing and beating both of my children; my youngest, then under 2 years old. In the aftermath of this controversy when only my husbands’ 10 disciples remained, I was left alone with my children to do a
full-scale Radha-Krishna worship and manage the temple, while they all were sent out on book distribution. While offering my obeisances after putting Their Lordships to rest at 9:30pm, I often would fall asleep in that position and wake up a couple of hours later to find it was now midnight.
I started to resent having to do all the deity worship along with my other duties and realized there must be something seriously wrong with the way I performed “devotional service.” If devotional service was joyfully performed, why was I feeling so much hatred? I was profoundly overworked. I approached Prithu prabhu on this issue several times, and he always said there was no one else to do it.
Later, I witness him personally pacifying some disciples who no longer wanted to do their services as they had to go on sankirtan, say, “Don’t worry, my wife will do it for you.” When I complained that I was being exploited, he laughed in my face saying I was doing a PR job on him so I wouldn’t have to surrender.
By 1990 we had relocated to Vrindavan where the GBC suggested Prithu resettle with his disciples in order to figure out what Krishna wanted them to do next. Again, Prithu chose to live strictly with his disciples in the temple’s bramacari ashram, while I had to live in various non-ISKCON facilities. Many of these places were not only unsafe to sleep in but a dangerous walk away from the ISKCON temple, especially with small children. This meant I generally was unable to attend morning programs before sunrise or after sundown. On numerous occasions, my youngest son, now 4, and I were stalked and attacked by local Brijbasis, while we traveled alone without the protection of a husband.
My husband knew this, but he never attempted to protect us from these dangers by staying with us. He remained comfortably living in the temple compound. Eventually, Prithu’s disciples decided to collect money to buy an ashram facility near Krishna Balaram where I was “allowed” to stay while they traveled and preached in India. Being in India, more-than-ever, I felt pressured to cut the much romanticized profile of being the self-sacrificing Vedic Woman, happily scurrying around taking care of the needs of everyone except her own. Any Vaishnava Indian woman will tell you that their lives are not how it appears to be from the western male’s perspective. She cooks. She minds her children. She cares for the family’s elders. Even the poorest woman hires someone to wash dishes and laundry. She works closely with her husband sharing responsibility for the family business, which in our case was spreading the sankirtan mission. Somehow, my husband had the notion that his “real” family members were those he brought to the movement, instead of the ones he brought into the world. He often told me that he was married to ISKCON, and not to me.
All of his energy went into his “spiritual sons” instead of his children. I was taught it was unnatural for a woman to preach herself but that she should rather assist her husband’s preaching by being his menial servant. On several occasions my husband expressed his desire for me to fan him with a peacock fan and offer him arotik like a “real” Vedic woman should. When I refused to do this, he would become insulted. I dropped out of college in 1976 because I recognized Lord Chaitanya’s message as the perfection of Christianity. I feel cheated that I was not given more encouragement to follow my hearts inclination to preach Krishna Consciousness directly and rather instructed to fulfill some Hindu dharma. That is not to say that I do not feel blessed to have given birth to 2 very special children. It is just to make a statement on behalf of the need for the young mothers in our movement to be given the facility and encouragement to cultivate their philosophical sense along with their mothering. Many women who are attracted to our philosophy find it inconsistent that we offer lip service in regards to being spirit souls who are off the bodily platform, yet, many of our male members continue to exhibit averse and disrespectful attitudes and behaviour towards women. This sends any intelligent woman away disappointed, meanwhile still hankering for the true religion.
When my youngest son entered the Vrindavan Gurukula (1991), I began assisting some of the teachers there as I saw much there to improve in order to make the school pleasing to Srila Prabhupada. My husband was very unhappy for me to spend time there and discouraged me from doing anything unrelated to his preaching. Even though he and his “boys” were absent for months at a time, while I stayed alone in the Ashram, he still did not want me using my energy anywhere else. As women were not allowed to go on the altar or cook for the deities in the Krishna-Balaram Mandir, there was virtually no service I could offer directly to Srila Prabhupada’s mission in Vrindavan. I felt useless,
discarded and unwanted. Praying at the feet of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, I asked if, in spite of the fact that I was unwanted by my husband, there still might be something more I could do to serve the sankirtan mission.
After petitioning the deities in this way, I had a dream that clearly revealed Prabhupada calling me to take care of his personal body in the form of ISKCON by assisting Lord Nityananda in caring for the householder community. Very soon, I was invited by some of Niranjana Swami’s disciples to travel and preach in the Former Soviet Union, which I began to do for 2-3 months out of each year. My main service was counseling confused and disheartened grihasthas trying like me to figure out how to participate in Lord Chaitanya’s movement and meanwhile remain sensitive and responsible parents and spouses. When it came to my attention that my youngest son, now 10 years old, was repeatedly running away from the Vrindavan Gurukula, and that his ashram teacher had run away and gotten killed (killed himself by a drug overdose?) in Thailand, I realized the hypocrisy of my preaching to other householders to be responsible and take care of their children, when my own children were in trouble.
I returned to Vrindavan to discover my son, Nila, living in the so-called care of my husband’s disciples who had been instructed to beat and lock him in a room, should he not comply with their instructions. They did this several times. Before Nila ran away from the gurukula for the last time, Prithu had personally beaten him and sent him back to school, feeling betrayed and unloved by his father. The previous year, my eldest son, aged 17, had been given permission by Prithu prabhu to travel to Rajasthan with a crazy brahmacari to go treasure-hunting, when they got arrested by Indian police and put in jail for 3 days. As a result, Madan Mohan had to flee India because the bramacari failed to show for their trial, leaving Madan Mohan and another gurukuli to fend for themselves against the Indian government. To this day, Madan Mohan still risks being locked up by the Indian police should he ever enter India. He has taken shelter in the New Dvarka community ever since. I stopped traveling and preaching in Russia and remained in the Prabhupada Vani Ashram with my youngest son, while he attended the Porter Burchard
Methodist School in Vrindavan. After an incident where he, Nila Madhava , was beaten to unconsciousness by some of his classmates with bricks, I organized for both of us to move to Mayapur where he could attend the Gurukula there. We did not have the money to live in the grhastha sector of Mayapur Dham and attend their day school, so I put him in the boys ashram and became a teacher for the school which offered me a room and a salary of RS 1500 (now aprox. $35.00) per month.
During the 2 years I taught there, I lived alone in a neighboring apartment while my son lived in the ashram. I only saw my husband for 5 days out of every year, and then only because he anyway had to come to the yearly GBC meetings in Mayapur. Every so often, he would call to say he would be sending some money. On every phone call, I expressed that my son and I were very unhappy in this situation and that were he to continue to neglect our family, we were going to stop waiting for him and situate ourselves in a more secure and healthy environment. He blamed me for my lack of surrender saying that my children would simply adopt whatever attitude I took, and so if I would just happily
do my service, they would not feel any lack in their lives. In response to my requests that he spend some time with my youngest son, he promised to take us on a trip to Jaganath Puri for a week without having to be lumped together with his disciples. By the time we left for the trip from Mayapur, he had invited 20 disciples to accompany him on this trip. He decided to share a room with us for the first time in our lives, but as the room only had one large double bed which he did not want to share, my son and I slept (slept?) on the floor next to the bed on a single dirty saree. When all the devotees shared their meals from the Jaganath temple, neither my son nor myself were allowed by Prithu to speak to him nor his disciples while we were in their company. As soon as I would open my mouth, he would wave for me to be silent. This insulted me to the core.
The more I examined my situation, studied Prabhupada’s books and prayed to Lord Chaitanya, the more I began to understand that I could no longer follow my husband’s instructions. My duty to my husband as the mother of his children was to take care of their health and education, first and foremost. Somehow, Prithu never understood that, and rather wanted me to serve him and his mission and neglect his children. I knew I had to make a change towards recovering my children’s and my own life, but I had no money or means to do it. As a teacher at the Mayapur Gurukula, I could see that none of the children were receiving an education that would equip them for living in the world in the 20th Century and realized that if my son was going to live and work in the west, in all fairness to him, he would have to be educated in the west, not India.
In June of 1999, I took a trip to the USA to renew my visa, deciding that if I could find an ISKCON community where I could give my son appropriate education, I would not return to India. Although the Hillsborough Community would not accommodate me, Urmila Dasi agreed to give Nila Madhava room and board in exchange for payment during the week while he attended her school. I would take him on the week end. Having no money and no place to stay myself, I lived in a borrowed car for a couple of weeks, parked alongside Hillsborough country roads until my father suggested I return to Guilford College where I began my Bachelor’s degree in Religion (1974) and see if I could finish it while Nila was at Urmila’s gurukula. Guilford is located 45 minutes from the Hillsborough community. Happily, all my professors, who had worked with me in the 70’s were still there. One professor, in whose home I had rented a room as a student 25 years earlier, offered me a place to stay and found me a job washing dishes in the back of a Vegen restaurant near the campus. I lived there during the week and picked Nila Madhava up on the weekends, bringing him back to my room, still no larger than the one I had had in ISKCON; 15’ X 15’ feet. I shared a bathroom and kitchen with the rest of the family. On many weekends, due to cold, rainy or snowy weather, Nila and I sat in that room for the entire 2 days waiting to return to Urmila’s school. We had no money to go anywhere else.
Urmila found that my son, although an 8th grader, only had learned to read in our Indian gurukula’s to 5th grade level. By the time we left her school in 2001, Urmila had increased his reading capacity to that of a 9th grader, which prepared him to enter the public school system. While at her school, however, my son received serious emotional abuse from Urmila’s son-in-law who criticized his family members, tortured him about his weight problem and forbid him to speak during meals while he dominated the conversation. Meanwhile, my son and 3 other live-in students personally witnessed him giving his 2-year old daughter freezing cold showers as punishment for her not submitting to his demands. I probably never would have returned to college, had I not have seen it as a means of bringing my family back together. It provided me a way to fund ourselves through scholarships and loans; biding us time until we could learn some marketable skills. During the course of my stay in Greensboro, North Carolina, I began to reconnect with my eldest son, Madan Mohan by weekly phone calls which revealed the deep unhappiness each of us felt over having not shared with each other more of our lives. Madan Mohan had been living in Los Angeles since 1994 while Nila and I were living in India. Neither of my sons knew their brothers.
When I graduated from Guilford, we decided that we should reunite what was left of our family. Hence, I applied to and was accepted into the Claremont Theological Seminary in California. In this way, I could continue to cultivate my interest in preaching and also be a concerned and responsible parent. Prithu had always told me it was not possible to preach and have a family at the same time. I was so determined to refute this notion of his that I did my senior thesis project researching married preachers who had made major contributions establishing religious movements while remaining faithful and Responsible to their spouses and children. I found zillions of examples in history of men
and women who preached strongly the path of love for God while doing their householder duties.
By this time, Madan Mohan had completed writing his Burnt Laddhu theatre production and began showing it in various ISKCON temples around the world. If you have seen this production, it will give you a window into some of the pain he has experienced growing up as a “Preachers’ Kid”.
In spite of all the austerities my family and I have undergone, the one redeeming thought that has kept us alive throughout all of these years is that Prithu prabhu was out there spreading Lord Chaitanya’s mission and that we were somehow getting some spiritual benefit from all our sacrifices. Now, however, to learn that all along he has been breaking the regulative principles has shattered our lives. Not because he has so-called “fallen down”. In Kali Yuga, even the most saintly persons take their falls. None of us are perfect. However, knowing that as his family, we have been left entirely out of the
equation, not only from Prithu prabhu’s point of view, but from the viewpoint of his disciples and the GBC body, has disappointed me deeply. In all these years of service, I have never once been asked by GBC members my opinion regarding Prithu’s behavior on any issue, or if I needed help; even in this one.
Many senior devotees who knew well our lifestyle encouraged me to file for a divorce so at least I would qualify for financial aid from the government. But, I never did this due to the respect I had for his position and for Srila Prabhupada. I did not want to jeopardize Prithu’s service by shedding bad light on his family life. It is very hurtful that, even in this current crisis that GBC leaders were first and foremost concerned with Prithu’s disciples and Prithu himself, meanwhile, no one was considerate enough even to email us or call us on the telephone. Do we ever count as having any significance in Prithu’s life? Does the pain and suffering we have endured amount to anything at within the Vaishnava community?
Although it is certainly honorable and commendable Prithu has “come out of the closet” even if so late in life, it certainly does not free my memory of the pain I have suffered over the past 30 years. Nor does it repay all the financial debts I have incurred trying to put our family’s life in order after years of taking out college loans and borrowing money to survive.
For years, we have been unsupported by ISKCON while my husband has gotten virtually a free ride. His disciples have paid his air fare to places around the globe. He has slept in the best of facilities; eaten his choice of foodstuffs; spent months and months in some of the best vacation spots around the world recuperating from diseases, spending over $10,000 getting his teeth fixed or hiding out somewhere writing a book that mysteriously since 12 years never gets finished. Once I asked Prithu to please give me his rough draft so I could help him put it into some legible form. He said that there was nothing coherent that he could give me.
Is a mere apology really enough to compensate for the lives that have been hurt? At the very least, Prithu prabhu needs now, more than ever, to take an active role in offering concrete support to his family by clearing them of all of their financial debts so they can at least have the time-freedom to recover their spiritual equilibrium. It is not appropriate for ISKCON to simply nod their head like the Catholic Church does and say, “your sins are forgiven”
Prithu and I both desire to settle our karmic accounts with each other so that we may both sit down peacefully, chant Hare Krishna and leave our bodies.
My worry is that, if Prithu does not undergo some kind of practical atonement for his offenses, he is going to have to take birth again…next time in the body of a woman, married to a man who neglects him the same way that he has neglected his family. This is the price we all have to pay for not being respectful or compassionate to people we offend. I, on the other hand, may have to take birth as a man…maybe his husband, to personally mete out his punishment as the neglectful husband who has not been respectful or compassionate to their wife. This is what happens if one is unable to reconcile their resentment for someone who has offended them in this life. Neither of us wishes to repeat this scenario. Never. Having consulted counseling professionals regarding the unstable psychological condition Prithus prabhu exhibits, I found the general opinion to be that such persons must lead a stable and regulated life performing some kind of practical work. We all know that doing something on a regular basis is the power behind devotional service. I personally feel that, more than ever, Prithu prabhu needs to do some kind of practical work that will raise him out of his depression and stabilize his consciousness. I also feel that I will never be able to reconcile the suffering I have undergone in his service unless he can, at least make an attempt to practically support his family financially. Even if he can only do some simple work for an hourly wage and send it to his family, that would be greatly appreciated. By this I do not mean begging from his disciples for the money. I mean precisely performing some kind of honest labor by his own hands and getting paid for it with the specific intention of sending it to his family as symbolic retribution. Furthermore, after laboring at college for, going on 6 years, I finally have connected with scholars who are strategically linked to important theological circles. They are open to understanding the path of Bhakti as presented by Srila Prabhupada and are happy to hear it from one of their doctoral
students. However, it is almost impossible for me to continue to preach scholastically in such circles, while having to work at a juvenile prison 40 hours per week, which is currently how I make money. I seriously feel that having been neglected all these years, thinking I was supporting my husband’s preaching while he was sexually abusing himself, warrants him now to switch roles with me and support my preaching financially. In this way, before leaving his body, he will have the opportunity to clear his debt to me, and allow me the satisfaction of, in this way, letting go of the deep resentment I feel towards him, and thus truly be able to forgive him.
Thank you for listening to my story.
Yours in the service of Srila Prabhupada,
Rambhoru Devi Dasi