ISKCON Guru attraction driven by economics 

Autumn 2005

Perhaps the most “glamorous” of the GBC’s voted-in Gurus is HH Indradyumna Swami (henceforward ‘IDS’). Famed in ISKCON for his involvement in the Polish “Woodstock” festival, IDS has a reputation for acquiring adoring disciples. His desire for disciples is so deep-rooted that we find IDS lamenting the fact that not enough disciples came to glorify him on his recent visit to Moscow, as his following Diary entry illustrates:

"On the morning of my Vyasapuja celebration, I checked through the list of my disciples. There were over 2,000. Although all of them certainly knew me, I could not possibly remember each and every one.
I took a deep breath. “It’s a heavy service, isn’t it?” I thought. “But it’s the order of my own Guru Maharaja […]
The next day I flew to Moscow with my disciple Uttama-sloka das, who would translate for me during my three-week visit to Russia. When we arrived, I was surprised to find only four devotees waiting to greet us, three of them in non-devotional dress. In previous years there would always be large groups of disciples, often hundreds, waiting to greet me in Moscow. Colorfully dressed in dhotis and saris, singing melodious kirtans, they would surge forward with garlands and bouquets of flowers, each one trying to be the first to greet me.”
(Diary of a Traveling Preacher, Volume 6, Chapter 9, May 24 - 25, 2005, Indradyumna Swami)

Of course, it is entirely misleading for IDS to proclaim that taking disciples for himself is “the order of my own Guru Maharaja”. There is no directive anywhere from Srila Prabhupada that any of his disciples are authorised to act as initiating Gurus; rather, the only directive ever issued by Srila Prabhupada on the future of initiations in ISKCON was the July 9th 1977 Letter to all GBCs and Temple Presidents, which only authorises ritviks, or representatives, who are meant to initiate new disciples on behalf of and for Srila Prabhupada – an instruction repeated no less than three times in this one letter!
IDS’ Diary entry continues:

"I turned to Uttama-sloka. “What happened?” I said. “Where is everyone?” “It’s a sign of the times Srila Gurudeva,” he said. “Russia—and Moscow in particular—are not the same places they were when you first started coming here. Moscow is a wealthy city now, even by Western standards. There are forty-eight billionaires living in Moscow, compared to forty-three in New York.” “What are you getting at?” I said as we walked towards the baggage claim, the four disciples trailing nervously behind.
“Well,” he said, “it seems that the opulence of present-day Moscow has bewildered some devotees, and they have compromised or even given up their Krsna consciousness.” “It’s true,” I thought. “It’s happened elsewhere as well.” […]
Adding to my anxiety was the fact that my main reason for this trip was to raise funds.”

This scenario described above is actually the opposite of what happened in Srila Prabhupada’s time. For in Srila Prabhupada’s time, it was the wealthy Westerners who gave up their material lifestyles to join Srila Prabhupada’s movement, attracted by the saintliness and purity of the bona fide Guru:

“In your country, although there is enough facility for material enjoyment, actually they are not happy.
Otherwise why in your country the hippies are coming out? They are coming from respectable, rich parents, nation, but they have given up their home, their father’s opulence, mother’s opulence. That I have seen practically. Practically all my students... Here, Brahmananda, his father, at least he was a big industrialist, industrialist, mother. But he did not like. He joined this movement. Similarly, Giriraja, his father is a big lawyer, rich man. But he did not like that. There are many, many students, their fathers are... Syamasundara’s father is big lawyer, rich man, businessman. He is the only son. But he did not like his father. So there are many... ”

(Srila Prabhupada Room Conversation, September 21st, 1973)

However, since Srila Prabhupada departed in 1977 and the GBC imposed two unauthorised, false Guru systems on ISKCON, a pattern is being repeated everywhere in the movement: people join as full-time devotees mainly to escape poverty, attracted by the material opulence that surrounds the Gurus and their acolytes.
This “green card” phenomenon is particularly prominent in the Indian subcontinent and certain countries in Eastern Europe. However, once these new “thirdworld” recruits leave ISKCON having tasted a higher standard of living from what they were used to, the Gurus then move on to poorer areas, and the cycle repeats itself.

Thus the only people who are actually left supporting and funding the movement are the local Hindu population, who see it as their religion out of a natural sentiment. In this way, ISKCON’s Gurus and Temple Presidents have a ready source of income, while the number of materially well-situated Westerners – the very people Srila Prabhupada left India to preach to – are not joining in the thousands as they were when Srila Prabhupada was the only Guru in ISKCON.
In IDS’ Diary, we see further evidence of this reverse scenario whereby wealthy ISKCON Gurus today can only attract large numbers of poor disciples:

“A few hours later, we landed in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. There was a large group of devotees greeting us at the airport with a big kirtan. The arrival hall was resounding with the holy names, and devotees rushed forward with garlands and flowers. It reminded me of the old days in Moscow. Uttama-sloka winked at me.
“Kazan’s not as opulent as Moscow,” he said.”

The fact that ISKCON has become a “polarized and disintegrating society*”, when we are told by the GBC that there are now 80 “as-good-as-God” Gurus like Indradyumna Swami on the planet who have replaced Srila Prabhupada, is just further proof that the current Guru system in ISKCON has no potency; and that is not surprising when this very Guru system is completely unauthorized and in direct disobedience to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions.

*Ravindra Svarupa Das, ISKCON GBC-elected Guru, and GBC Chairman 2000, GBC Memo, May 2000