Child Abuse – A Violation To Our Humanity and Spirituality

Dear Devotees,

Jaya Prabhupada! Because of recent events, I believe necessary that I clarify my personal history and feelings in regards to the protection of children in ISKCON, and my feelings about the well known and tragic cases where children have not been protected.

My personal friends and associates know my history and feelings. But ISKCON is a society, not just a community, and therefore most devotees do not intimately know my history in this area. To clarify, I will openly, and honestly explain myself.

In 1971-1972, Mohanananda and Satswarupa established ISKCON’s first Gurukula in Dallas. At that time, I was a young grhastha temple president in Houston, and I came to Dallas regularly to visit my friend Satswarupa and observe the development of the school. As is well known, outside devotees at that time had no knowledge of abuse in the school.

I took sannyasa in 1972 and with Prabhupada’s strong encouragement, I preached in US colleges, chiefly in cities without temples. Thus, from 1972-1974, I spent very little time in ISKCON temples. I lived in a van, we had no internet or cell phones, and I knew very little about what was happening in ISKCON temples.

In 1974, Prabhupada sent me to be GBC in Latin America. There were few children then in Latin America, but I felt great affection for those few and would always spend time talking with them and even playing with them. My zone grew and a few years after Prabhupada’s departure, we established a Gurukula in Nova Gokula, Brazil. I engaged the best devotees we had to manage the school. I believe that Loka-saksi Prabhu, one of the first Brazilian devotees, was the first director of our school, and he eventually became my co-GBC for Brazil.

We had a policy of zero tolerance for mistreatment of children. For example, once when I was in Nova Gokula, I received a report that the senior teacher was punishing children by making them sit on their knees on large stones in the river. Upon hearing this, I immediately had that devotee brought to me and he was removed at once from the school.

Personally, I always loved children and whenever I was walking in the farm and saw children who were being punished and were missing their play time, I would tell them to go and play and that I would speak to their teacher.

When Loka-saksi became co-GBC, I requested Dhanvantari Swami, perhaps the best devotee in Brazil, to lead the school. To do this, he left his position as one of our best regional leaders. Some of you may know that several years ago, in Northeast Brazil, Dhanvantari Swami established one of ISKCON’s most successful educational institutes. Dhanvantari, who has a daughter, acted as a loving father to the Gurukula children.

During my tenure as Brazil GBC, we were not aware of any case of sexual abuse at our school. After I left Brazil, one tragic case from the past came to light.

Many years ago, after I left Brazil, we all began to learn of the terrible extent of abuse that took place in ISKCON schools around the world, both in the sheer number of victims and in the degree of evil inflicted on the children. In various ways, I tried to help. Many victims approached me and I did all I could to help them, emotionally, financially, and even legally. During the well-known Turley legal case, in which millions of dollars were given to Gurukuli victims, I was a member of the legal committee and worked long hours with my friend Amarendra, ISKCON’s main lawyer, to arrange compensation for victims.

I believe that I tried sincerely to help all those who approached me, and all those whom I was able to help, either individually or by supporting the ISKCON Youth Ministry or the CPO.

I will speak of my personal feelings about child abuse. It is not always easy, at least for some of us, to discuss an evil of such magnitude, an evil that shocks us to the core of our being. So, I will begin with Prabhupada’s own words as I heard them. Once, in 1972, I was sitting with Prabhupada on a hillside in New Vrindavana. Two little kittens were wrestling near us. They grabbed each other in such a way that they formed a round ball. They rolled on the ground and then rolled right onto Prabhupada’s lap.

Prabhupada gently petted the little kittens, who with full trust in Prabhupada, continued to play on his lap. Seeing their trust, Prabhupada looked up and said to us, “If I put my head in your lap, and you cut my throat, that is the greatest sin.”

I never forgot those words. Something like that happened to innocent children in ISKCON, and as Prabhupada said, that abuse is the greatest sin.

It is most natural for a decent person to love children, to nurture them, and to give one’s life if needed to protect them. I personally was very fortunate to have very loving parents and I never doubted for a moment that they would give their lives for me and my brothers. Having received so much love as a child, it was natural for me to feel that same love for children when I became an adult.

To sexually abuse a child, to treat a child with violence or any form of cruelty and abuse, violates the core of our humanity, not to speak of our spirituality. To abuse and harm the innocent is the root of all evil in this world. I believe in good faith that I have lived my life in accord with these principles. I know that much more needs to be done in ISKCON and along with many others, I will continue to do my best to help.

However the world may understand or misunderstand us, our shelter and consolation will always be Krishna, who knows us perfectly.

 

Your well-wisher,
Hridayananda das Goswami

PART II Response to Sanaka Rsi’s Letter Regarding Laksmimoni Dasi’s Case

Dear Sanaka Rsi,

 

Jaya Prabhupada! Thank you for your letter. I will address your points. First, I will frame my critique with a general remark. Universal norms of justice require three components to fairly adjudicate an accusation: an advocate for the prosecution; an advocate for the defense; an impartial judge.
Clearly you have taken the role of the advocate for the prosecution, and your entire letter has the typical form and tone of a prosecutorial interrogation. It is necessary that the abused have a strong advocate, and in that sense you are doing an important service. However to ensure fair process, a judge must be both impartial and professionally trained in jurisprudence. Since you are neither, you are clearly not the judge in this matter, nor am I.
I will now address your points. Your words immediately follow the numbers.
1. “I presented it as a fact that you have indeed been interfering with Laxmimoni’s case and you have confirmed this, albeit with different wording: “I simply called for fair judicial process…”
You accuse me of “interfering.” “To interfere” primarily indicates three actions, which I will analyze in order:
a. Interfere: take part or intervene in an activity without… necessity.
If I am right, and the CPO did not provide fair process, than in fact it was necessary for me to speak out. If the CPO did follow fair process, as you claim, then my intervention was not necessary. Since you are neither neutral in this case, nor professionally trained in jurisprudence, you cannot be the judge of the CPO’s procedure, nor the final judge of whether my intervention was necessary or not.
b. Interfere: prevent (a process or activity) from continuing or being carried out properly.
Again, if an impartial, trained judge rules that the CPO did not follow fair process, then I am actually enabling a process to be carried out properly, the opposite of interference. It depends on the quality of the CPO process and that has not yet been ajudicated by an impartial, trained judge.
c. Interfere: handle or adjust something without permission.
There is no ISKCON or CPO law that requires me to get formal permission to give my view.
 
Further, in your statement above, you equate a call for “fair judicial process” with “interference.” The difference will be obvious to any impartial reader.
 
2. “I assumed that you would want to portray your interference under the guise of justice and fair process, and you have also confirmed this.
Interestingly, even a prosecuting attorney would be forbidden to use such language as you employ in a court of law. A ‘guise’ is something that conceals the true nature of something. Here you claim extraordinary powers to discern the hidden motives of other people. You provide no evidence of my hidden motives, such as a letter I wrote, or a recording of a statement I made. With no objective evidence, your statement amounts to nothing more than name-calling, hardly the basis for a rational system of justice.  
 
3. “This leaves me wondering how many more senior leaders are campaigning to protect Laxmimoni under the pretext of ensuring “fair judicial process…”
Pretext? See my comments on #2. More gratuitous accusations.
4. “You state that ‘My only concern was fair process…’. While I can’t read your heart, it is evident that the only party that stands to gain from your interference in this CPO adjudication is Laxmimoni and certainly not her victims…”
Incorrect. Prabhupada repeatedly called for constitutional governance within ISKCON. A proper system of justice is a cornerstone of a constitutional society. Indeed, a proper justice system is a key difference between civilized society and uncivilized society. Thus ISKCON stands to gain enormously by paying more attention to fair judicial procedure.
You ignore my real purpose, which I clearly stated, and instead argue against your own twisted caricature of my position. You refuted your own imagination, not my real position.
And if you can’t read my heart, why do you so often claim to read it with words like “guise” and “pretext.”
5. “As far as I am aware, this is the first time you have ever raised concerns about CPO procedural fairness.
Correct. Until now, I had full faith in the CPO and assumed that they were doing their job properly. Thus, I saw no need to concern myself with their decisions. 
6. “I will be very grateful if you could elaborate on what exactly are these egregious procedural shortcomings you are aware of/concerned about, that suddenly prompted you to set aside your precious time to trouble yourself with CPO matters.
Since you are acting as an advocate for the prosecution, it is not to you that evidence of bad process is presented. It is presented to an impartial, professionally trained judge. I will say this: I have come to believe that the basic flaw of the CPO was to combine the two roles of advocate for the abused and judge of the accused. In respected systems of justice, an advocate for one side in a dispute cannot also be the judge. Again, an impartial, trained judge must assess the details of CPO process
 
7. “Would you kindly share with us exactly when you became concerned about the CPO’s procedural fairness? Was it from the beginning of the case, or did you decide to step in after the verdict was released? You see, if you got involved only after the guilty verdict, this would lend credibility to the concern that you have indeed stepped in with the intention to help Laxmimoni, on account of your disapproval of the verdict.
Here you make two false assumptions. a) You assume that there are no reasons that might lead me to get involved when I did, but that lend no credibility whatsoever to your assumption of my motives. b) You assume that I got involved when I learned of the guilty verdict. 
Here is what actually happened. I did not get involved at the beginning of the case for the reason stated above: I had full faith in the competence and fairness of the CPO. And when I heard that LM had been found guilty, I still did not get involved, because I still assumed the CPO had reached a fair decision. In fact, I became involved only when I read serious claims of faulty process. I cannot finally judge the claims, but they were credible enough to at least demonstrate the need for judicial review.
 
8. “I’d like to ask you a hypothetical question: “Do you think you would have also gotten involved to raise concerns about the judicial fairness of CPO proceedings if they had exonerated Laxmimoni”?
If I had received credible claims that LM had been unfairly exonerated, yes I would absolutely have protested.
9.  “It is also important to remember that Laxmimoni served as a CPO judge for many years. During this time, she adjudicated a number of important cases, Dhanurdara Swami being one of them. If fairness is truly important, I trust you would agree that she ought to be tried with the same rules she applied to others. Where is the justice in campaigning to change the rules, now that it’s her turn to occupy the stand of the accused, so that she can benefit from a more ‘fair trial’???
There are at least two problems in your question:
a) You equate “rules” with following rules. It is possible (I have no idea if this is true) that as a judge, LM followed certain CPO rules, and those same rules were not followed in judging her. 
b) If LM followed what are now seen as imperfect rules in her capacity as a CPO judge, it does not follow that the same imperfect rules should be used in judging her. I am not aware of any serious justice system in the world that would knowingly try a judge by rules that have been found to be wrong, because during his or her tenure, the judge used those rules. Such an idea may satisfy a need for vengeance, but it does not correspond to any respected system of justice.
10. “I appreciate Brahmatirtha Prabhu’s dedication to make you look good, but I encourage him to acquaint himself with the tragic history of the Latin American Gurukulas. The students in the Gurukulas in Mexico, Peru and Brazil were subjected to savage brutalities!
Since you are in favor of acquainting oneself with history, please note that I was not the GBC of the Gurukulas in Mexico and Peru. In Brazil, the one serious case of abuse that I know of from that period came to light after I left Brazil. We did many things right, and inevitably there were mistakes. But I was not aware of ‘savage brutalities’ during my time there.
 
Prabhupada said that ISKCON should be a constitutional society, and that religion without philosophy
, i.e. reason and logic, is sentimentalism or fanaticism. In that spirit, I have tried to address your points.

 

Your well-wisher,
Hridayananda das Goswami

Response to Sanaka Rsi’s Letter Regarding Laksmimoni Dasi’s Case

Dear Sanaka Rsi,

 

You are entirely mistaken in thinking that I asked Brahmatirtha Prabhu to “defend” Laksmimoni DD. My only concern was fair process, the same topic that I wrote about extensively in my paper on the GBC.
I have no plan to exonerate LMDD. I have never claimed that she is innocent and I have never asked anyone to help show that she is innocent. I simply called for fair judicial process.
Before publicly accusing others, I suggest that you exercise due diligence to get the facts straight. My position is, and has always been, that a fair trial should take place and I will accept the results.

 

Your well-wisher,
Hridayananda das Goswami

Response to Tripurari Swami’s Letter Regarding Shyamarani Dasi at New Dvarka

Dear Devotees,

Jaya Prabhupada! Once again, I have the honor of being criticized by Tripurari Swami, and once again the criticism involves the art of mind reading.
At the recent Prabhupada Festival in Jadurani , several leaders, including myself, felt that it was best that Jadurani DD not speak from the Vyasasana.
Tripurari Swami said about that decision, “What are they thinking? I can tell you this, it’s not about Prabhupada.”
Actually, it was about Prabhupada. Prabhupada personally trained and instructed me regarding dealings with his Godbrothers and their disciples. Based on Prabhupada’s explicit orders to me, I decided as I did in this case. I could have ignored Prabhupada’s instructions and instead followed Tripurari Swami, who was not trained by Prabhupada in these matters, but I felt it best to follow Prabhupada’s direct instructions to me.

 

Your well-wisher,
Hridayananda das Goswami

Krishna West Council (KWC)

Dear Devotees,

Jaya Prabhupada! I am happy to announce that we have formed a Krishna West Council, composed of senior KW leaders around the world, and this Council will now take responsibility for overseeing the affairs of Krishna West, so that I can rest and write.

The Council will focus initially on the following issues:

1. Establishing clear standards for individual and project membership in KW.

2. Establishing clear standards for authorized KW media, whether digital, print, audio, or video.

3. Improving KW’s image by making easily available reliable information.

Any devotees with questions, suggestions, or complaints about Krishna West are kindly requested to write to the Council at krishnawest.com/get-in-touch/ (choose General Inquiries).

I hope that all sincere devotees interested in Krishna West will cooperate with our Council. Thank you.

 

Your well-wisher,
Hridayananda das Goswami