Prabhupada stated that atheists, agnostics and so-called philosophers don’t understand real philosophy. And Prabhupada wanted as many disciples as possible to understand real philosophy, as I pointed out in my last letter. So what is real philosophy, apart from just listing quotes or true conclusions? What does it mean to reason in Krishna consciousness, as Prabhupada said we should?
Lord Caitanya Himself gives us an excellent example of this in His debates with two learned impersonalists, Prakasananda Sarasvati and Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, in His logical reliance on the notion of a self-evident foundational truth. Not only Lord Caitanya, but also Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson, and many modern philosophers agree that a system of thought must begin with the earnest, plausible claim of a foundational self-evident truth. I will explain.
Whatever one claims to be true, another person may demand proof. When proof is offered, one may demand proof of the proof, thus initiating an infinite regress of proofs, endlessly going backwards with no proof. I will give a mundane and a spiritual example:
1. Mundane: one claims that water boils at 100 C. Someone demands proof, so the claimer puts a thermometer in a pot of water and places it on the stove, showing that it boils at 100 C. However the sceptic demands proof that the water in the pot and the mercury in the thermometer are genuine. When that is proved, the water- and mercury-testing chemicals must be tested, and so on, ad infinitum.
2. Spiritual: one claims that Krishna is God. A sceptic demands proof. One cites the Gita, which of course incites another demand for proof. One cites one’s personal experience with the same reaction. One cites the Acaryas, and proof of their authority is demanded, ad infinitum.
For thousands of years, many philosophers have accepted that a self-evident truth can break the infinite, since that which proves itself requires no extrinsic proof. Aristotle discusses this in his Posterior Analytics 1.3, and Thomas Jefferson states justifies American independence from Britain by saying, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
Let us see how Lord Caitanya engages this same principle of self-evident truth in his learned debates with two great contemporary scholars.
At CC 1.7.132 Lord Caitanya tells Prakasananada and the Mayavadi sannyasis: “Veda is self-evident [literally, ‘evidence from itself’]. It is the crown jewel of evidence. By making an indirect/figurative meaning [of Veda], the quality of self-evidence is lost.” [svatah-pramana veda—pramana-siromani/ laksana karile svatah-pramanata-hani.]
At CC 2.6.137 Lord Caitanya made virtually the same statement to Sarvabhauma: “Veda is self-evident. What it says is true. By making an indirect/figurative meaning [of Veda], the quality of self-evidence is lost.” [svatah-pramana veda satya yei kaya/ laksana karile svatah-pramanya-hani haya.]
Later in the same chapter (CC 2.6.178-179), Lord Caitanya explains to Sarvabhauma the specific content of Veda’s self-evident truth: “Relationship [is with] Bhagavan; activity [therein] is bhakti; love [is] the ultimate goal. In Veda, [these] three realities are taught.” [178 bhagavan—sambandha, bhakti—abhidheya haya prema—prayojana, vede tina-vastu kaya]
“Whatever else at all one states [as Veda’s meaning] is all imagination. In the self-evident Veda statements, [indirect] interpretation is imagination.” [179 ara ye ye kichu kahe, sakala-i kalpana/ svatah-pramana veda-vakye kalpena laksana]
Thus devotees stop an infinite regress of proofs by correctly stating that the process of Krishna consciousness reveals the self-evident truth of Krishna. Just as on waking from a dream, one knows at once that the waking state is more real than the dream state, though one cannot empirically “prove” it, so one knows that Krishna consciousness is more real than material consciousness. One also thus knows that Krishna’s words in the Gita are true.
We should draw two important lessons from Lord Caitanya’s discussion of self-evident Vedic truth:
1. There is a crucial difference between philosophy based on the self-evidence of relevant Shastra, and philosophy that does not. Clearly Prabhupada criticized atheist, agnostic, and other “so-called” philosophers precisely because they did not see the need to begin real philosophy from the self-evident foundation of “Veda,” whose essence is Bhagavad-gita, as stated in Bg 15.15.
2. Therefore in a debate among faithful Vaishnavas, one cannot cite Prabhupada’s criticism of mundane philosophy as a way to impose one’s personal interpretations of Krishna consciousness. Religion requires philosophy, competent reasoning and logic based on the self-evident foundation of authoritative Shastra.
Nama Om Visnu-padaya Krsna-presthaya bhu-tale Srimate Bhaktivedanta Swamin iti namine
Namas te Sarasvate Deve Gaura-vani-pracarine nirvisesa-sunyavadi-pascatya-desa-tarine
I bow to my eternal spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada. This year, I will reflect on a sublime period that I think of as a golden age of ISKCON’s mission in the West. I speak of the time from 1966 to 1970, a time when Prabhupada personally knew most of his devotees and they personally knew him.
We can structurally compare Prabhupada’s Lila in this world to that of Lord Krishna and Lord Caitanya. Lord Krishna’s pastimes in Mathura and Dvaraka had the greatest impact on global affairs, in terms of slaying demons and reestablishing pious rulers. But Lord Krishna’s pastimes in Vraja are the sweetest, the most intimate, and the most revealing of Lord Krishna’s highest nature.
Similarly, for six years Lord Caitanya traveled around India, preaching with extraordinary success. But His pastimes in Navadvipa, like those of Krishna in Vrindavana, are very sweet. He lives in a smaller community, surrounded by family and lifelong friends.
Prabhupada repeatedly circled the globe, creating and managing the Hare Krishna Explosion. Yet I see his earlier pastimes as analogous to those of Krishna in Vrindavana and Mahaprabhu in Navadvipa. As stated above, in the early days Prabhupada knew all the devotees and in a sense, they knew him. Mukunda Goswami’s biography, that of Gurudas and of course Satswarupa Goswami, and others, describe these very intimate pastimes that the devotees relished in the early days of the movement. In those days, Prabhupada lived in America, and declared an American city, Los Angeles, to be his world headquarters. We find in those earlier days that Prabhupada trusted his disciples to discover effective preaching strategies. Prabhupada maintained boundaries, but within those generous boundaries, he encouraged the ingenuity, creativity, and local experience of his disciples. The result was wonderful.
My dream and goal in life is to help to reestablish what Prabhupada created then — a truly Western Hare Krishna movement in the West. In our hearts, we Western preachers must bring Prabhupada back, to live in our Western countries. By our love and service, we can relish with him the same intimate, sweet dealings that Prabhupada’s early disciples did. The more we spiritually manifest Prabhupada in the West, by our genuine devotion, the more Western people will be attracted. Let us work together to fulfill Prabhupada’s great dream of a Krishna conscious world.
Hridayananda das Goswami
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.
Hridayananda das Goswami