sādhanā

How bhakti-preaching is devastating families

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.

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19 replies »

  1. But many genuine devotees left their homes as we see in the history of Gaudiya Vaishnavism so how to know the best time to renounce the world?

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      • narottam das thakur took diksha after he left his home and ramachandra kaviraj who was recently married left his wife and raghunath ds goswami also left his wife.

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      • Ok but these are already siddhas. They are not sadhakas. For sadhakas we have the Bhakti rasamrta Sindhu. There Sri Rupa rejects vairagya explicitly. Stick to what the Goswamis teach us as sadhaka dharma.

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      • So my question is that we can do bhajan without vairagya but when somebody does bhajan and listens to harikatha his taste for material world is finished and he does like to do wordly things then at that stage what should a person do and how to know that his feelings are not a kind of escapeism and real vairagya?

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      • This is a good question. That is why I say wait for 20 years. Bhava is the goal of sadhana and not vairagya. When you get bhava you will experience Krsna directly. There will be no doubts left. Even then, you may not feel like renouncing the world. How many sannyasis do you know of in Krsna’s Vrindavana?

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  2. Devotees like pundrik vidyanidhi are exceptional if we see Raya Ramanand if one tries to copy him he will become prey to his senses but Raya Ramanand is free from all agitation. so to do bhajan we need vairagya otherwise we will indulge in sense gratification.

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    • The point is that all the persons you are talking about are siddhas. They are not sadhakas.

      You do not need vairagya for bhajan. You need vairagya for gyaan marga. Vairagya is a by-product of bhajan.

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  3. Thank you for the article. Your article brought back some memories, the traumatic ones and it felt very validating and therefore theurapatic. I know exactly what you are saying, I have also witnessed this, the use and throw dynamic. I too have seen couples suffer.

    Perhaps there are some places where this does not happen, or at least to not this extent, but those are probably the exception. This is just a beginning, soon all modern social media influencer techniques, profiling etc will be used to the fullest extent to extract donations and a following.

    It greatly angers me and also saddens me to read this. But this is how it is, humans acting based on the gunas and samskaras.

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    • I am surprised by how decent, normal human beings can be persuaded to develop a distorted morality in the name of bhakti which justifies entrapment of people, extortion of money, alienation from family and family traditions and so on.

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      • yes but those who brain wash – the leaders and intellectuals- are not unaware of this. Rather they use their intelligence to justify unethical acts. I am surprised at the intellectuals and leaders who are dishonest with themselves and with others.

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  4. ‘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.’

    As someone new to Bhakti from a previously more Jnana-marga background, community seems to be an vital part of religious life. Given that there really are not any options for consistent in-person satasangs in the West apart from the modern Caitanya sects, is it wrong to frequent their temples just for darshana and kirtan (while keeping in mind that what is being spoken by a preacher may not be consistent with what Jīva Goswami taught, for example)?

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