I have kept putting off articles like this as I feel that this website should be exclusively about explaining bhakti concepts and refuting the various apasiddhāntas floating around today. Śrī Jīva Goswami’s teachings in my view have become distorted beyond recognition and need to be re-examined and restored to their rightful position as the foundation of the Caitanya sampradāya. Most people who call themselves Caitanya bhaktas have not read a single piece of writing directly from Śrī Jīva Goswami.
Every now and then, I meet people who express anguish and tell me horror stories about how preaching in bhakti is devastating families. It is quite despicable and I feel compelled to write about it again today. As before, I will avoid names and try to focus on the broader issues. If you do not want to read this rant, feel free to ignore and read the more sastric articles elsewhere.
Donating to a temple of Krsna does not mean donating to Krsna
A well-established IT engineer in Microsoft in the US was told to quit his job and move to a pastoral town where there is a temple where he can ‘serve’ and a bhakti school that will offer good ‘values’ to his children. Being pious, the person quit, moved, enrolled kids in the school, and promptly lost what job he had found on offer in the small town. Now he is without a job but with values and a temple. He now tries to eke out a living by selling bhakti books on the street. That was a nice transition – from Microsoft to peddler on the street, all in the name of bhakti.
But here is the catch – what if he found out later that the whole temple was basically desperate for money from its adherents in order to feed the many devotees who ‘serve’ there including the leadership? Does donating to a temple of Krsna imply donating to Krsna? The blunder many Indian families seem to make is to conflate the word ‘temple of Krsna’ with Krsna. The two are not necessarily the same although this used to be the case in the past. Is Krsna using their donated money Himself? No, it goes to clothe devotee families and their children, and feed their bellies and pay their rent. Now one might argue that serving devotees is a higher service than serving Krsna. But then we should be aware of this before giving up our jobs and profession. We are not serving Krsna directly, but His devotees, assuming they are His devotees. How do we know that they are? Did we perform a background check or examine their individual lives and histories? Do we even know the definition of bhakti? Do they? Can we guarantee when moving into a community of a thousand, that every single person is above board? Could there be many dubious characters around?
And what may these values be that one wants to give one’s children? In the beginning, it is cute to have children dress up as gopas and gopis, dance on stage and sing Krsna songs, attend morning lectures and seva in temples. I have seen it all. The fact, though, is that the morality of kids who grow up in religious schools is not much different than any secular high quality school. It is not that schools which do not teach bhakti values have only morally corrupt children. It is possible to raise children (as I have done) who are grounded in bhakti while giving them the best education, and this can be done anywhere. It is more important to teach them authentic knowledge of bhakti which can only be gotten from a genuine guru. And I would argue that a strong education in Mathematics and Science is vital for a child to grow up with self-confidence, find their way in the world, and not drop out of bhakti.
Bhakti is not the same as rejecting society – no – lets leave that to the hippies. But even the hippies reintegrated into society by ultimately eking out a living. I know many hippies who took to bhakti, and then re-enrolled in universities in their middle age and found jobs and worked hard. They have my deep respect. I also know of hippies who never held down a job, but ensured their financial security in other, more insidious ways. They have only my disdain.
These days, bhakti cults promote a form of ‘ghettoism’ – move closer to the temple, buy property there no matter how undesirable the location, donate money and your lives and your children to the temple, and well, become dependent totally on the temple emotionally and mentally. This alienates people entirely from society, from their families who actually care about them, and traps them in echo-chambers of self-sustaining sermons. As I point out below, people lose their ability to think for themselves and cause immense damage to themselves and worse, to their dependents.
People need to stop and think. Do not try to run before you can crawl. And no, there is no need to panic and freak out about your children’s values. And no, there is no need to listen to that guru who gives you the order- first ask yourself – what is the guru’s track record? Has the guru ever held a job that he gave up? More likely he subsists on donations from his many disciples. Where does the money come from?
A genuine guru would never give the order to disrupt a family’s well-established and secure situation and plunge them into uncertainty and a life of selling books on the street. Show me where the Goswamis order the bhaktas to do so – anywhere in their books.
If you are so renounced, then why can’t you stay renounced?
Another curious phenomenon that I notice more and more is that people quit their jobs but do not actually become renounced. One example is below.
A working professional from India, who had a prestigious job in the US, quit and moved to India to advance his bhakti preaching mission. Naive people in India took him to be some great person owing to his renunciation. Of course the person has a child and a wife and his own mouth to feed.
He goes about giving invited ‘lectures’ to gullible locals. He is dismissive of all the greats of Indian theology- Sri Ramanujacarya, Sri Sankaracarya etc. The modus operandi is to develop a big following, have them hooked to hourly messages on gigantic whatsapp groups about the great temples and achievements of their group, solicit money openly and shamelessly, and pay frequent visits to wealthy donors to ‘cultivate’ them. Start small by asking for small favors – can you pay for lunch for devotees at the temple today? Indians, particularly pious Indians, are unable to say ‘no’ to such requests. And there it starts.
Curiously though, the great renounced devotee drives a car of about ₹ 50 lacs (70,000 US $). His child owns the latest mobile phones, computers, tvs, and .. wait for it.. expensive drones, with which to take various types of videos. Does this sound ‘renounced’ to you?
Well it is yukta vairagya, is it not? They are engaging all their wealth in Krsna’s service, are they not? No, that is not the definition of yukta vairagya. This is another of those concepts that have been abused thoroughly to justify dubious actions in the name of bhakti.
Bhakti does not require splitting up of families
All too often, bhakti is resulting in divorces. Divorce was a strict no-no in Indian families till not too long ago. But it is amazing that divorces are occuring in those Indian families who take to bhakti!
The standard way this happens is through entrapment by skilled preachers of unsuspecting prospects – the idea is to ‘build a bridge and let them walk across it’. So whether it is the husband or wife- connect with them, shower them with sweet words and sweet gulab jamuns, convince them that the preacher is their ‘true well-wisher’ and then if the other partner doesnt come along, ask them to renounce the partner.
This is not my imagination – I know of several examples now including a high-profile doctor who divorced her husband, and get this, donated her ancestral property – the property her grandparents and their parents painstakingly built, and which rightfully belonged to her children- to a popular bhakti guru in Mumbai. It is worth crores of rupees. How does this meet the definition of bhakti? Do the Goswamis say anywhere that this ought to be done? Why do gurus accept these properties? Aren’t they supposed to be renounced?
Properties in the crores of rupees are being donated in this way to bhakti institutions lately. What about the divorced couple? Their children?
I remember years ago when an Indian lady, who had been heavily preached to, approach me about her husband. Her main complaint was that he liked onions. She had given up eating onions. What was she to do? My response was – when you get direct experience of Krsna, then you can stop serving onions. Till then, you dont know if your path is ‘real’. She was contemplating giving up her husband over his onion eating.
It is time for people to regain their senses. Pipe down, perform bhakti, and test whether it gives the outcomes it is supposed to give. Do not make any life-changing decisions for the next 20 years.
Beware of the sleazy preachers
The smiling bhakti preacher is a relatively new occurrence in India. This kind-faced gentleman will show up to your home. He will explain how he did well on his GRE, how he has an education from good universities, and how he gave all that up so he could save people. He will ask for small favors – could you donate 1000 Re to our lunch program where we feed poor people for free? He will cultivate familiarity, and then keep pressing for more, like a good used-car salesman.
But what about authenticity? Did the Goswamis, whom this preacher claims to represent, teach preaching as a part of sadhana? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Will the preacher do well on a simple quiz about the basic teachings of the Caitanya sampradaya? Likely no, because the preacher has swallowed a dumbed-down, jingoistic view of bhakti. He is like a bull in the delicate china shop of bhakti that the Goswamis built so painstakingly.