The Roots of False Renunciation

BY: ROCANA DASA - 30.10 2018

 Reprisal of an article series from 2011 on the long-reaching effects of the Zonal Acarya System.

Of late, we have been discussing here in the Sun the topic of sannyasa within ISKCON. The sannyasis have essentially abandoned the principle that in the renounced order, you should be free from any material attachment: money, women, power, prestige, and so on. In many cases what's taking place in ISKCON is directly the opposite of sannyasa principles. It's easy to identify the particular individuals who are flaunting the sannyasa standards, and the more extreme cases are often mentioned in Sun articles, particularly Hridayananda, Satsvarupa, Radhanath, and other current and ex-Zonal Acaryas.

In this article, I'm going to make the case that this whole mentality, trend and phenomenon finds its roots in the Zonal Acarya system. In a previous article, I tried to make clear that the book changes were also a result of this era. In fact, all the problems ISKCON faces are due to the fact that they never properly dealt with the Zonal Acarya phenomenon. Krsna Himself had to deal with the Zonal Acaryas. The GBC were hopeless and helpless when it came to recognizing the fallacy of this whole concept philosophically, what to speak of reigning in and dealing with these Zonal Acaryas, who had become totally infatuated and intoxicated with their self-appointed role.

The Zonal Acarya system actually has roots all the way back to Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON lila period. Both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati before him, on the basis of the principle of preaching and nirbanda krishna sambandhe, introduced into the sannyasa order a certain amount of flexibility. They considered that the preaching of Krsna Consciousness throughout the world trumped certain traditions underlying the sannyasa order. The Sampradaya Acaryas did this with great perfection. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur rode in cars and met with important political figures, and lived in temples that were fairly opulent, but at the same time he was known for his strictness. Srila Prabhupada, prior to establishing ISKCON, lived a true and exemplary sannyasa existence. During household life, he lived the perfect grihasta existence, as did Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur.

But after establishing ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada had to, for the sake of preaching, initiate women, participate in marriage ceremonies, allow women to participate in the temple functions right up to the point of deity worship, and so on. Everyone is familiar with that history. Yet Srila Prabhupada was very, very strict – he knew where the line was and he did not cross it.

In his new ISKCON, for the sake of preaching he didn't necessarily encourage, but did allow very young persons, brahmacaries in particular and in some cases grihastas, to accept the sannyasa order. Now without going into a detailed history of Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON lila, let me just say that these new, young sannyasis did push the bounds of the sannyasa principles right off the bat. Srila Prabhupada initiated sannyasis because sannyasa, essentially in our tradition, is a position of ultimate preaching. It allows individuals full facility for preaching, and that's how Srila Prabhupada hoped that his sannyasis would use the position. But that did not prove to be the case.

Many of these sannyasis took on executive positions and lived a very comfortable life. For some, their daily life was much more like an executive's than a sannyasi's, like Ramesvara, Tamal Krishna Goswami, and later Bhagavan. These people later became the Zonal Acaryas, and they did not give up their administrative positions in ISKCON because, let's be honest, they wanted to be where the money was. They didn't have private bank accounts at that point, and they didn't display too much opulence relative to what happened after Srila Prabhupada departed, but they did have full access to any money they personally felt they needed, to fly wherever they wanted or to get whatever facility they thought they required. And they would look to Srila Prabhupada as an example and justification for this. In fact, that was the big excuse in the mid-1980's, when they disbanded the Zonal Acarya system. They came up with this lame rationalization, saying 'All we knew was the example that Srila Prabhupada gave – that what sannyasis gurus do is what Srila Prabhupada did.'

Of course one of my main themes has long been that because they didn't recognize, and still don't recognize, Srila Prabhupada as the Sampradaya Acarya, they made a lot of huge mistakes –they like to call them mistakes, but I call them catastrophic offenses. It wasn't a matter of simply imitating Srila Prabhupada, because Srila Prabhupada never exceeded the bounds of preaching, or of what was justifiable for the preaching. But they, as imitation Acaryas, went far beyond that by way of the opulence they accepted, required, demanded, and pushed the devotees to provide them with. They kept huge amounts of money in private bank accounts and lived a very opulent lifestyle. So this is the reality of what we observed taking place.

If we look at a hierarchical flow chart, or a sort of ancestral chart, we will see that although Krsna removed most of the Zonal Acaryas from the situation, they essentially all had disciples. And today these descendants, these persons on their particular branches of ISKCON, are now in charge of ISKCON.

Over the next few days we will publish another article on this subject containing these ancestral charts, which are being drawn up with as much data as we can provide, from memory and the archives. By taking a good look at them, one can understand that these personalities – the princes, or progeny of the Zonal Acaryas kings -- learned the tricks of the trade from their mentors. They learned how to participate in ISKCON and in the sannyasa asrama, and for the most part, they adopted the mood that was presented by their siksa guru, namely a Zonal Acarya.

There is the Kirtanananda school, the head student of which is Radhanath Swami. Many devotees will be surprised to learn how many of the big gurus today were actually given sannyasa by Kirtanananda, such as Gopal Krishna Swami. Then there's the Bhagavan school, where Indradyumna is one of the chief students. Sivarama Swami studied under Bhagavan after leaving Tamal Krishna Goswami's school, taking sannyasa from Tamal Krishna.

The point I'm trying to make here is that this mentality and justification, this mood prevalent throughout ISKCON, has its genesis in the asiddhantic Zonal Acarya system. Of course, we can point to the few sannyasis who doesn't fit into this mold, but I feel that the majority have been co-opted into this situation, by maya. Through their succession from these Zonal Acarya kings, and their association with them, they have developed this enjoying spirit.

It seems impossible to figure out just how much money has been squandered by these individuals. As I wrote in a previous article, even among the lesser known sannyasis there is a hierarchy, from the big Zonal Acarya types like Radhanath, Gopal Krishna Swami and Bhakti Caru Swami, on down. The super-rich swamis are all on one echelon, but many of these sannyasis and gurus, even on the 2nd and 3rd tier, have salted away a lot of money in private bank accounts. They have frittered away or misused so much money for their own travel and living expenses, what to speak of 'bad investments'. I gave the example in an earlier article of the least prominent sannyasis I know of, of Canadian origin, who has squandered far more money than I could ever image having accumulated. A lot of the money has just come from enticing disciples to give them the money directly, which they then became attached to, hid away, misspent, or lost.

For the most part in ISKCON, with the exception of a few rich householders, most of the wealthy are sannyasi/gurus, and they control all the money. The temples, especially in North America, are relatively poor. Book distribution has petered out. Big projects such as Srila Prabhupada's audio and the Archives are really hurting for money, and there are endless projects and programs that were directly established by Srila Prabhupada which could use a great infusion of capital in order to flourish and be successful. But the money is lying in the hands of these sannyasis.

You cannot say that Krsna can't give enough. There's no scarcity. But in the age of Kali, individuals and governments can be greedy and hoard assets, being non-Krsna Consciousness, and not returning the resources back to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Who provided them with whatever they have. Srila Prabhupada has made it abundantly clear where that money came from, and where it should go, and the kind of programs he wants the money to flow towards, such as distributing his books. Srila Prabhupada said even a brahmana, if he gets some money one day, will be poor the next, what to speak of a sannyasi.

Of course, these sannyasis also control the GBC and they control some of the major projects that are going on, and as such, they are controlling the money. And their overall mentality is prevailing. Now, they can try to justify this by saying this is the Vedic system, this is how things should be, this is how Srila Prabhupada wanted them to be, but we know this is not the case. ISKCON Bangalore, under Madhu Pandit, has demonstrated just how fallacious that argument is. He is just as successful, if not more, than many other ISKCON projects. His program and his organization are not populated by sannyasis -- especially not sannyasis in control of management and money. By their comparative success, he and his group have essentially proven what a great burden and hindrance these rich sannyasis are to the spreading of Krsna Consciousness.

As for how to get these rich sannyasis to give it up, I don't have the solution. The GBC, which they control, will never step in and deal with these situations, which are now so prevalent and obvious in ISKCON. The wealthy so-called renunciates have become so attached that they will never give it up until they die, or Krsna takes them out, or takes their wealth away. Of course, there have been so many dramatic take-out's by Krsna and in many cases, the reactions these individuals got were far worse then if the GBC had acted to sanction them. None of these personalities seem to be fearful of the fact that this could happen to them. They go on and on in their blissful ignorance, and never do they have a moment of realization that, I should just give all this up and live as a true sannyasi, study sastra and preach, and live the life that is described in the sastra and that the previous Acaryas have exemplified.

We, as observers, are very affected by this. As individual devotees and followers of Srila Prabhupada, but we have to make decisions, we have to see things clearly through the eyes of sastra, through the eyes of the great Acaryas, and we have to make our own personal decisions accordingly. That's what knowledge is about. So we can observe this phenomenon in ISKCON, and we can also record that it's actually what's taking place. When history is studied in the future, the readers will take into account that this is a dark period for the sannyasa order. After the departure of a Sampradaya Acarya, this is what happened. This is the true history. Srila Prabhupada spoke out about the true history of what happened after his Spiritual Master left. However, his godbrothers, although they themselves disobeyed the order of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and fractured into different mathas, none of them, as far as I know, went to the extent that these ISKCON gurus and sannyasis have gone in terms of flaunting an opulent lifestyle, in front of all the world, in front of the followers of Srila Prabhupada, setting a false standard for those who come in the future.

So I pray that the GBC will do something, although that's hope against hope. But Krsna will do something with these false renunciates, and the rest of us will observe it, just as we've observed all the other situations that Krsna has dealt with.