Look, here’s the thing: ISKCON is a cult. It just is. This is a fact – both because ISKCON is what it is, and because we use words to mean things. Particular things. That’s what they’re for. They allow us to make statements about the things in the world around us in such a way that other people who hear those statements can understand this or that factual truth about the world and those things. So the fact that ISKCON is a cult is something easily verified by one’s finding out what the word “cult” means and then evaluating whether or not it can be reasonably applied to ISKCON and how it operates.
Now, the definition of the word “cult” has boundaries somewhat more nebulous than is sometimes manageable (as is often the case when small words are unfairly tasked with helping us to understand big ideas). One might prefer the definition of Robert Jay Lifton or Michael Langone or Margaret Singer or the “BITE” model of Steven Hassan or whatever else. But whichever definition you choose, you will (if you’re honest) have to conclude that the word “cult” applies to ISKCON.
At this point it’s only fair to admit that the degree to which ISKCON occurs as a cult may be different for you than it is for Bhakta Bob or your TP or GBC or for that nice mataji who first helped you put on a sari. It might also be less (or more) true today than it was in 1983, or in Eastern Europe than it is in North America, or in Los Angeles than it is in Alachua. That’s worth noting. But let’s not waste time splitting hairs. Regardless of degree, ISKCON is a cult.
If you like, you also could argue that what some refer to as the cult dynamic is somehow conducive for your “advancement in spiritual life,” and that if that dynamic somehow helps you to surrender to Krishna, then it can’t be so bad. (Right?) But that’s just the cult talking, isn’t it? Don’t waste your time with this either. Instead, I suggest you allow yourself to honestly determine to what degree your experience in ISKCON is in fact a cult experience. Then ask yourself this very important question:
“Am I really OK with this?”