Another Pinch of Snuff

I’ve been surprised to find that my most recent post, Regarding Snuff, has generated more traffic to this site, and more quickly, than any other post thus far – several hundred views in just the first few days. It’s also inspired my first substantial criticism, in the form of a comment from one “Damodar Roe.” The comment is a lengthy one. I suggest reading the post that inspired it before diving into the comment itself or to my reply to that comment (both of which will comprise the rest of this post). Naturally, I don’t agree with Damodar’s interpretation of the facts, but I’m grateful for his contribution, and I appreciate the civility with which he presented it. (I’ve seen others refer to my thoughts by invoking a certain scripturally sanctioned response to “blasphemy.” Civility is not a given.)

Damodar begins:

It is true that Prabhupada prohibited intoxication, and yet used snuff. However, it is necessary to understand the context of this prohibition in the Chaitanya-Vaishnava tradition which he represented and the unique circumstances of his life in which he applied this restriction himself. Prabhupad was not hypocritical, as I shall now explain.

No surprises so far. Of course there’s the ever-present (but woefully misguided and always shortsighted) cry for “Context!” Aside from that, let’s be clear from the get-go, we’ll be giving “Srila Prabhupada” a pass. Not that we should’ve expected otherwise. The apologist’s standard operating principle is to assume that whatever he believes is unimpeachable then stack the deck to make it (seem) so. Harrumph. Whatever. Here we go…

This article, ‘Regarding Snuff’, is not a criticism of Prabhupada for using snuff, per se, but more precisely it an accusation that he was hypocritical for using a stimulant while teaching his followers not to use intoxicants of any kind. This means that in writing my rebuttal it is not necessary to prove whether using intoxication is good or bad. All that needs to be accomplished in order to defeat these criticisms of Prabhupada is to disprove the assumption that the tradition which Prabhupada represented would condemn his use of snuff. If Prabhupada had invented the rules himself and then broke them, then that would be hypocritical. But it is not so simple. Prabhupada represented the Chaitanya-Vaishnava lineage, which has both worldly laws and ultimate laws. And the sophisticated interrelationship between these two types of laws is crucial to understand before making a judgment about his snuff use.

I honestly think the distinction Damodar tries to make here is a non-distinction, but what other option does he have? It is a fact, confirmed by ACBS himself, that the “founder-acarya” of ISKCON regularly took tobacco and in so doing broke one of the fundamental rules he established for his followers. (Take note of that: he established. More on that in a moment.) But let me clarify something, because I wrote the article, “Regarding Snuff,” and so I know precisely what my intentions were: It is, most definitely, a criticism of “Prabhupada” for using snuff, per se. Whether or not I think using snuff is “good” or “bad” in general is beside the point. That’s true. And yet Damodar gains nothing by saying so. The particular (damning) criticism is exactly what he suggests it is, namely that ACBS was a hypocrite for using a stimulant while teaching his followers not to use intoxicants of any kind. As for Damodar’s non-distinction, he’s just setting up the pins he feels confident he can knock down. But in doing so, he’s lost. Why? Because of this: “If Prabhupada had invented the rules himself and then broke them, then that would be hypocritical.” I agree. And this is exactly what he did.

Any honest member of ISKCON knows – but apparently won’t admit as much when doing so is inconvenient – that ACBS did indeed “invent the rules himself.” ISKCON devotees like to say their organization represents a “bona fide religious tradition” or that they belong to the “Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya” or, as Damodar puts it, that ACBS and his followers “represent the Chaitanya-Vaishnava lineage,” and yet the practical reality is much more simple. It can be summed up in two words: “Prabhupada said.” What ISKCON’s alleged “lineage” has to say about this or that or the other thing will always and forever be subordinate to the personal and idiosyncratic interpretation of that lineage presented by ISKCON’s so-called founder-acarya.

And in this case, ACBS said something very specific about tobacco. Here, I’ll let Damodar tell you (what I told you):

The author of ‘Regarding Snuff’ quotes the following statement of Prabhupad:

“Sometimes we find that someone poses as a great devotee very much advanced in spiritual understanding, but he cannot even give up smoking cigarettes. That means he’s not liberated.” (Dharma: The Way of Transcendence, 16: “When the Krishna Sun Rises in the Heart”)

It’s that simple.

Unless, of course, you’re duty-bound to see ACBS as a man beyond reproach. Then it gets messy.

This statement refers to cheating by presenting oneself one way while acting another.

Like, for instance, instructing your followers to strictly refrain from all intoxication, including – say it with me now – coffee, tea, and cigarettes, and then regularly indulging in said intoxication.

However, within the Chaitanya-Vaishnava tradition there is an exception to breaking prohibitions, for example smoking or using snuff, which is not cheating. In the Bhagavad-Gita, which is a holy text of central authority in Chaitanya-Vaishnavism and Vedantic Hinduism in general, it is said (9.30):

api cet su-durācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ samyag vyavasito hi saḥ

This verse says that even if a devotee of God does something which is ordinarily prohibited, that he or she should still be considered virtuous because his or her intelligence is fixed on the spiritual path.

I’ll be honest, I always felt uncomfortable with this verse, though I’ve only recently allowed myself to articulate why: it’s proof positive that ISKCON dogma lacks any real morality. Actions are less important than actors. What’s being done is less important than who is doing it.

If you insist, as Damodar does, that the “lineage” is important, then recall his premise: “All that needs to be accomplished in order to defeat these criticisms of Prabhupada is to disprove the assumption that the tradition which Prabhupada represented would condemn his use of snuff.” If you’d rather not read the rest of this, I’ll save you some time. Damodar has set the bar extremely low. The “tradition which Prabhupada represented” would never and will never condemn him for any reason whatsoever. In a moment Damodar will help us understand why, but the simple explanation is this: “Srila Prabhupada” belongs, by the (purely subjective) standard of his “tradition,” in the category of “pure devotee,” and because he belongs in that category there is nothing he could’ve said or done that would require he be condemned. The “pure devotee” is categorically above criticism of any kind. (There’s no real way to prove or disprove that any one person is or isn’t a “pure devotee.” It depends more on sentiment and allegiance than it does on anything tangible or observable, but that’s not important. Not to them anyway.)

It’s also worth noting that Damodar is neglecting to mention the Gita’s next verse, in which Krishna says that such a conditionally sinful person eventually comes to rectify his or her bad behavior. Krishna does not give his devotees carte blanche to behave in any way they want just so long as they go on being his devotees. More importantly, he certainly does not grant them permission to habitually break the rules, as ACBS did. Damodar will say as much in a paragraph or so.

This verse necessarily does not condone cheating because Krishna, the speaker of Bhagavad-Gita, already discouraged cheating in the third chapter, sixth verse. Furthermore, the verse says that the devotee’s intelligence is completely fixed on the spiritual path, which means that his or her intelligence is not bent on cheating.

And who decides if one’s “intelligence is completely fixed on the spiritual path”? As I said, Damodar and devotees like him presuppose that their “Srila Prabhupada” was “comletely fixed,” and so his supposed faultlessness follows from that initial assumption. At one time I too thought this way. But I no longer do. Why? Because on the one hand there is scant evidence and zero proof that ACBS was the sort of “pure devotee” he repeatedly led his followers to believe he was or that “his intelligence was not bent on cheating.” In that regard there is only hagiography and mythology and wishful thinking. On the other hand, there is ample evidence (which for some amounts to proof) that ACBS was neither “completely fixed” nor that “his intelligence was not bent on cheating.” If you turn your attention from the constant eulogizing and mythologizing and instead spend just a little time with what he actually said and did, then you too may come to doubt Damodar’s presupposition.

So eliminating that possible misunderstanding, this verse may refer to two cases:

  1. A person takes up the spiritual path, but sometimes falls short due to past conditioning
  2. A person has to override scriptural or social morality because of exceptional circumstances in order to fulfill the spirit of the law of God

Either of these two persons must, according to this verse, be considered virtuous.

It’s safe to assume Damodar doesn’t put ACBS in category #1. But if he’s in category #2, that means that due to “exceptional circumstances” ACBS repeatedly broke the rules for god’s higher purpose.

Think for just a moment about what that means: Krishna needed ACBS to [insert sanctimonious, self-congratulatory ISKCON rhetoric here] but instead of making his devotee healthy enough to actually carry out that mission, he instead burdened the old man with a minor ailment that could only be alleviated by his breaking the principles he repeatedly instructed his disciples should be rigidly followed without exception. Doesn’t that make Krishna out to be a bit of a jerk?

(To be fair to Krishna – forgetting for a moment that nicotine is not actually a remedy for high blood pressure, and assuming high blood pressure was indeed an ailment from which ACBS was suffering – there are other remedies he could have taken, remedies that would have not involved breaking his own principles. And now, remembering that nicotine will only make high blood pressure worse, can we all, please, acknowledge that Damodar is unwilling to address this basic fact: the excuse that ACBS took snuff for medicinal purposes is no excuse at all. Nicotine elicits the exact opposite effect ACBS would have wanted for his alleged condition. The fact that Damodar does not deal with this at all should tell you everything you need to know.)

Arjuna, who heard the Bhagavad-Gita speech from Krishna, is an obvious example of the second case. [A person who has to “override scriptural or social morality because of exceptional circumstances.”] In the first chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita it is explained how Arjuna finds himself in a fratricidal war against his cousins due to dissentions in his family. He becomes overwhelmed at the prospect of fighting his relatives, and gives many moral arguments why he should not fight. Indeed, all these arguments reflect the values of Hindu culture.

The rest of the Bhagavad-Gita consists in Krishna affectionately explaining to Arjuna a broader and more profound perspective to his situation which justifies fighting the battle against his relatives. And indeed, the Bhagavad-Gita concludes with Krishna reiterating his affection for Arjuna and leaving the decision up to him, and Arjuna in response agreeing to fight. The Chaitanya-Vaishnava tradition, therefore, does not teach absolute puritanism as the author of this article portrays. Restrictions on sex outside of marriage, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling are meant to guide practitioners away from harmful involvements. But they are by no means absolute restrictions. For example, in the Chaitanya-Vaisnava tradition, the most revered exemplars of devotion are the village girls of Krishna’s home town of Vrindavana, who broke the moral law against affairs outside of marriage by sneaking away from their husbands at night to be with God in romantic love.

All of this makes sense from inside the ISKCON (cult) bubble. I know. I believed it too. But once you step outside and look back at it dispassionately, it’s utterly horrific. Because it boils down to this: You can lie, cheat, steal, rape, kill… whatever, as long as you’re convinced it’s what Krishna wants you to do. ACBS said it most succinctly: “…there is nothing illegal, what we do for Krishna.”

And what has been the outcome of that “morality”? An organization with a steady track record of dishonesty, abuse, and violence. When Kirtanananda persuaded Tirtha to kill Sulochana (and Chakradhari and who knows who else), you can bet this verse came up.

Ideologies have consequences, my friends.

In ISKCON the real distinction between who is spiritual and who is not comes less from actions and their consequences than it does from what everyone else is willing to assume about who’s been implicated. And the distinction between what is permitted and what is prohibited has less to do with the act itself than it does with what particular atrocity any one person is willing to defend (as always, making reference to “Prabhupada said.”) Fortunately, not everyone will still defend Kirtanananda, but there are plenty of devotees willing to defend a wide variety of sins, like, for Krishna.

This is an example of what Krishna is saying in this verse (9.30), and the Bhagavad-Gita in general; that although morality is necessary and helpful, devotion to God is of a higher value and may sometimes contradict scriptural morality, including restrictions on intoxication.

So ACBS’s snuff habit was a consequence of his devotion to Krishna? I would imagine that more than a few devotees will be happy to say Yes. I’ve read their comments out there in the digital ether. They think that ACBS’s snuff snorting was a means to an end, a way to either regulate health or to forgo sleep in order to spend more time on his books. Once again, the health claim is total bunk. As for that other thing… Well, frankly, I find that the most exasperating part.

ACBS admits he took snuff (primarily) in a very particular circumstance: “sometimes at night because I am working at night on my books.” Perhaps I was more naive than are other devotees, but when I imagined ACBS composing his “Bhaktivedanta purports,” I imagined him alone in the dark serenity of night, deep in meditation, directly communing with Krishna and channeling that divine inspiration into the texts that would become “the lawbooks for the next 10,000 years.” (Where, I wonder, could I have gotten such a strange idea?) I did not imagine him occasionally snorting a prohibited intoxicant to stay alert while staving off “dizziness” and fatigue. Now, you can argue if you like that I was naive to think this way. But then so are most ISKCON devotees. I didn’t paint that mental picture all by myself. It was handed down to me by devotees “more advanced.” And if you too are an ISKCON devotee, you know good and well it is the mythology you believe as well.

This is confirmed in the Bhagavat-Purana (11.11.32), where God said:

ājñāyaivaṁ guṇān doṣān mayādiṣṭān api svakān
dharmān santyajya yaḥ sarvān māṁ bhajeta sa tu sattamaḥ

“A devotee perfectly understands that the ordinary religious duties prescribed by Me in various Vedic scriptures possess favorable qualities that purify the performer, and he knows that neglect of such duties constitutes a discrepancy in one’s life. Having taken complete shelter at My lotus feet, however, a saintly person ultimately renounces such ordinary religious duties and worships Me alone. He is thus considered to be the best among all living entities.”

So, once again, it doesn’t matter what you do, just so long as you’re on god’s special list.

Oh, and by the by, quoting scripture means nothing to me. I’m aware that devotees wield slokas like cudgels to beat dissenting opinions into submission – whether those opinions come from their opponents or themselves – but I couldn’t possibly care less about such philosophical violence. Having spent some time finding out from where and from whom the “scriptures” actually came, I couldn’t possibly take them seriously anymore. This is in no case more relevant than it is with ACBS and his books. The snuff snorting is not the half of it.

This means that a devotee who risks crossing the moral instructions of the scriptures for the benefit of God and other people does not act selfishly, or ignorantly, but rather with full knowledge disobeys the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law. And for this he or she is praised.

If you say so. But, again, who decides what is “for the benefit of God and other people”? Hint: usually the same person who has decided to “cross the moral instructions of the scriptures.” And who decides which devotees get to do the crossing and which devotees don’t?

All of which is to say nothing of the fact that Hare Krishnas are convinced that endlessly repeating magic words will do more good for humanity than, well, actually doing good for humanity. (Save your “coat of the drowning man” business. I don’t buy it anymore. And, frankly, neither should you. If you actually want to do some good, take a few million dollars (just a few) from that obscene pile of money you’re using to build yet another outrageous monument to tunnel vision in West Bengal and instead use it to make a real difference in the lives of the impoverished local villagers there. Just for once, show the world you care about something other than the legacy of “Srila Prabhupada.”)

Prabhupad was an example of this. He was, like Arjuna, a person who in some cases had to override scriptural rules because of exceptional circumstances in order to fulfill the spirit of the law of God. For example, he crossed the ocean despite scriptural warning not to go to the West. He came to the United States at the age of 70 with no friends or contacts to greet him.

Except for the Agarwals, who took him in as soon as he arrived in America and gave him a place to stay and food to eat for his first month on foreign shores. Why does that always get so conveniently omitted? It makes the story less romantic, I know, but it’s the truth.

And yet within a decade he gathered about 5,000 committed disciples, opened 108 temples, translated over 80 volumes of Sanskrit texts, traveled the world 14 times, and much more.

I’d like to fact check this too, but why bother? More pointless hagiography. History is full of people who’ve accomplished unbelievable things after having had little to show for themselves at the start. Why is this one man the exemplar of all things holy, and all the rest are sinful fallen rascals not worth mentioning? In the realm of religious factions, Joseph Smith is the honored spiritual forefather of the Mormons, a group that has more property and more followers than ISKCON will likely ever see. Is he a figure of greater spiritual stature than “Srila Prabhupada”? You may hear devotees say that quality is more important than quantity, but they sure never miss a chance to make a case for themselves on the strength of quantity.

He had the responsibility of single-handedly representing an ancient and sophisticated spiritual tradition, as well as creating the foundation by which it would remain and grow Worldwide after his death. For this reason Prabhupada hardly slept. He would sleep about 4 hours per day, passing his days guiding the active movement and his nights translating essential texts. So when Prabhupada used stimulants (mild intoxication) to remain awake during the night so that he could translate texts for the benefit of his followers, it was not hypocritical. Rather it was a conscious disobedience to ritual puritanism to fulfill the spirit of the law, and according to his own tradition, a legitimate and even praiseworthy act. According to the Bhagavad-Gita (9.30), he should be considered virtuous.

Look, you can see it that way if you want. (You certainly don’t need my permission.) But you’re still glossing over some very obvious hypocrisy in order to maintain your reverence for someone who, in my opinion, simply does not deserve it. That’s your prerogative, but those who haven’t already been convinced to abandon common sense and then frightened into always and forever giving ACBS the benefit of the doubt will see it for what it is: the true believer’s knee-jerk response to cognitive dissonance. Ideological self-preservation, nothing more.

The author of ‘Regarding Snuff’ wrote that, “You heard it here first: a coffee machine in every temple.” Here he implies that if Prabhupad can do it, then everyone can imitate him because there is no predetermined standard as to who can cross general prohibitions, in order to fulfill the ultimate purpose of the scriptures, namely, service to God.

But there is no “predetermined standard.” At least not one made up of anything but intangibles. If there is, tell us clearly what it is.

Meanwhile, what about the other thing I said, “a box of snuff next to every murti of ACBS”? If you’re so convinced there was nothing wrong with his snuff snorting, then what would be wrong with being more transparent about it? We all know the answer: because common sense tells us it’s hypocrisy. And those who have not yet surrendered still have some common sense. To put it in ISKCON parlance: it’s not good for preaching. To put it in English: it would make it harder to dupe the newbies. No one wants to explain snuff to a guest at the Sunday Feast who just sat through a self-righteous lecture on the Four Regulative Principles.

As for the rest of Damodar’s response to “a coffee maker in every temple,” tell me this: If you found out tomorrow that XYZ Maharaja regularly snorted snuff or drank coffee or popped pills, how willing would you be to defend him like you’re defending ACBS? I suppose it would depend on whether or not XYZ Maharaja was your guru. But personal bias aside, you know the answer, and everyone else in ISKCON knows it too. You’d reject him. Maybe, if you were “humble” (read: fearful and obedient), you wouldn’t say so out loud, but the effect would be the same.

Snuff snorting, by the way, was not ACBS’s sole hypocrisy. Here’s just one more point of data, one I think it would be quite difficult to dismiss with the same philosophical approach Damodar has adopted to deal with snuff. Willem Vandenberg writes, in his excellent essay “Misogyny and Regression of Women’s Rights,” that “although [ACBS] made clear on many occasions that the sannyasa ashram excludes connections with former family and that he had nothing to do with his former wife, children and grandchildren, several letters (like Bombay, June 8, 1971), conversations (like Vrindavana, May 20-22 and October 28-30, 1977), and his will prove that Bhaktivedanta Swami himself continued to both support his family financially with proceeds of ISKCON and the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and made business arrangements with and for his sons Vrindavana De and Mathura Mohan De to ensure their sustenance as early as 1971.”

Later in the same essay Willem continues, “Some may say that the dollar value was minimal back then and that even the amount of converted Rupees was inadequate, but these arguments are very simplistic…The point here is not the fact that Bhaktivedanta Swami sent some money to his former family in itself, but that he went out of his way to use the modern day equivalent of $350,000 (Rs1,620,000) to do so, with provisions for future investments or acquisition of real estate, and monthly payments that were considerably above (in his wife’s case more than double) the average Calcutta income. If any current ISKCON sannyasi would make similar provisions for his former family with funds provided by unremunerated book distributors, disciples and donors, it would be considered unconscionable.” (emphasis mine)

As I’ve pointed out already, the principle is to presuppose divinity and then make excuses. The only reason ISKCON’s present crop of gurus aren’t allowed to get away with similar (even minor) transgressions is because far fewer devotees are willing to presuppose divinity.

“Prabhupada,” on the other hand, will get a pass. Every. Single. Time.

However, besides the obvious uniqueness of Prabhupad’s life, there is a standard, which is stated in the Bhagavat Purana (11.20.9):

tāvat karmāṇi kurvīta na nirvidyeta yāvatā
mat-kathā-śravaṇādau vā śraddhā yāvan na jāyate

“As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for devotional service by śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ, one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.”

Again, scripture. So what? You tell me how we decide, without question, that someone “has awakened his taste for devotional service,” then this verse means something. Otherwise, it’s useless. Just consider, even for a moment, that your assumption about the private, subjective experience of a man you’ve never even met may not, in fact, be such solid ground on which to base a life of forgoing “material” pursuits in “service” to “the Supreme.” Even if you had met him, how could you be sure another person’s thoughts and feelings are what you daydream they might be? How can you determine with any sort of certainty that another human being is worthy of your assumption that he – or she, outside of ISKCON maybe – is able to connect you to god directly?

This means that as long as one has a propensity to become diverted from the service of God towards selfish gratification, it is not proper to surpass scriptural prohibitions. However, a person who exclusively finds pleasure in service to God, rather than selfish gratification, is qualified to surpass scriptural prohibitions when it is necessary. Therefore it does not stand that because Prabhupada did it, that everyone can do it. Now the author of ‘Regarding Snuff’, I imagine will challenge my assumption that Prabhupad is on such a level. To this I respond that Prabhupada demonstrated a remarkable power in his life which is not possible to imitate. Prabhupada wrote that:

“Lord Siva drank poison to the extent of swallowing an ocean, but if any common man tries to drink even a fragment of such poison, he will be killed. There are many pseudo devotees of Lord Siva who want to indulge in smoking ganja (marijuana) and similar intoxicating drugs, forgetting that by so imitating the acts of Lord Siva they are calling death very near.” (Bhagavad-Gita As It Is 3.24 Purport)

So before rationalizing “a coffee machine in every temple”, marijuana, or taking snuff oneself in imitation of Prabhupad or Shiva, one must first be able to recreate their accomplishments.

This is too much. Now you’re saying that ACBS could drink poison? (There are a few devotees out there whose version of ISKCON history depends on ACBS’s inability to drink poison. That’s a different blog.) Prove to me that ACBS was not addicted to nicotine. Or that he could have drank alcohol without being “diverted from the service of God towards selfish gratification.” (Or, even, that he was in fact selfless, that he didn’t really kind of dig his golden straw and his Rolex watch and his Rolls Royce and his army of young zealots congratulating him on his every word, no matter how objectionable.)

Damodar writes, “Now the author of ‘Regarding Snuff’, I imagine will challenge my assumption that Prabhupad is on such a level.” I do. Obviously. But more than that I challenge Damodar’s assumption that anyone could be on such a level, “completely transcendental to the modes of nature.” As for ACBS in particular, I think if you more closely study his real life, specifically his interactions with others as documented in his many recorded conversations, you will find a man very often overcome by anger and insecurity and a host of petty concerns. Examine more closely, for example, just about any conversation he had regarding his views on science (the moon landing, evolution, species extinction, and so on). An impartial viewer will more than likely see a man with little to no understanding of the topic who is nonetheless bound and determined to circle his wagons and defend against any and all rational challenges to his worldview, no matter how ridiculous his claims must necessarily become.

My purpose in relating all this information is not necessarily to promote my beliefs, but rather to defeat the criticisms of Prabhupad in this article. And as I already explained, to do this I simply need to accurately prove that the tradition he represented would not condemn his use of snuff. The Bhagavad-Gita and Bhagavat Purana quotes which I have provided accomplish this, which Prabhupada used as his central scriptural authorities. Therefore, he is not hypocritical, but rather, virtuous (sadhu) and the best of saintly persons (sat-tamah), in the words of these scriptures themselves.

And the degree to which you agree with this is directly related to how unquestioningly you accept the presupposition that ACBS was a “pure devotee” and are determined to remain his follower no matter what.

To be candid, I felt upset when I saw this article, and I suspect the author’s intention was to attack followers of Prabhupada rather than express any genuine concern. His research is very thorough, and yet his tone is sarcastic and hateful. I hope that he or she, who has chosen to write anonymously, will have a change of heart and not devote so much time and energy to writing meticulous yet empty criticisms. Life is much more fulfilling when devoted to the trust and love in worthy persons, who for me, includes Prabhupada.

There is too much I want to say about this that including all of it here would be unreasonable. A few things: I think “hateful” is a bit much, and I – truly, honestly – have no intention to attack the followers of ACBS. I do, however, intend to attack the mindlessness that ISKCON and ACBS both require of them. It’s true, I have no “genuine concern” for ACBS’s snuff snorting. (Whatever that may mean practically to Damodar.) I do, whoever, have very genuine concern for the people – people like me, and people like you, Damodar – who have wasted substantial portions of their lives in subservience to fiction. Whether you want to call that fiction “Srila Prabhupada” or ISKCON or Krishna makes little difference to me, the pattern is generally the same: a young idealist, given to spiritual pursuit, moved by the notion of the fundamental equality of all living things (or something similar), inspired by the notion of bringing light and truth to a harsh and unjust world, mistakenly joins an ostensibly spiritual organization that is in fact a narrow and dogmatic spiritual corporation that worships as “god’s empowered representative” a man who was, judging by his own words, a bigot and a fundamentalist. In the face of this particular recurring injustice, I will not apologize for my tone. I will not apologize for sarcasm or “hateful(ness)” or anger. I’ve earned them. They are the natural consequence of my naiveté having been exploited by dishonest persons. And because I no longer subscribe to your view that humility is tantamount to realization – or, in fact, to your version of humility itself – I will express myself in whichever way I find most edifying and/or most effective.

Damodar writes: “Life is much more fulfilling when devoted to the trust and love in worthy persons…”

And I agree. Which is precisely why I left “Srila Prabhupada” behind. I would far rather devote myself to the trust and love of the real people in my life than to some fictional idea of a man, long dead, who in reality was undeserving.

And for those who are new to Prabhupada:

It is possible to criticize anyone, and all influential people have been criticized. But a reasonable reader should not make judgements from criticisms alone. No doubt, it is healthy to apply discretion in approaching any kind of religious authority.

It is healthy, which is exactly why I write this blog and why other ex-devotees I know make similar efforts to tell the truth in as public a way as their lives allow. There are a thousand channels of ISKCON propaganda bleating loudly about the unparalleled spiritual whatever of their “founder-acarya.” There are a scant few of us who hold a dissenting view who are trying to add balance to that noise. (There are, by the way, quite a few more who agree with that dissenting view but who have chosen to do exactly what ISKCON expects of them: leave quietly and don’t look back. There are far more devotees who eventually leave ISKCON than those who stay. And no matter how many may yet join, the majority of those will leave as well.) I’ll let Damodar get in his (no doubt completely unbiased) link below – sarcasm! – like he did in his original comment. But first I’m going to get in a few links of my own, in no particular order.

The Hare Krishna Thing

Kuruvinda :: In Hindsight

Steven J. Gelbrg – On Leaving ISKCON

Hare Krishna Truth Out

Radhika Bianchi

Anke Holst

Nitai Joseph – A Recovering Monk

Paul Ford – Mad After Krishna

Breaking Free

The author of ‘Regarding Snuff’ wrote of “how blindly one must follow in order to remain an ISKCON devotee.” But Prabhupad did not encourage blind following. What he actually taught was, in his own words:

“One is free to deliberate on this subject as far as the intelligence goes; that is the best way to accept the instruction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Such instruction comes also through the spiritual master, the bona fide representative of Kṛṣṇa.” (Bhagavad-Gita As It Is 1863 Purport)

Well, there’s precept, and then there’s practice. And any ISKCON devotee knows (but will seldom say out loud) that blind following is exactly what ACBS expected. Deliberate as much as you want, in the beginning. But once your ticket’s punched, there’s no getting off the train – “never leave ISKCON,” and never criticize the “pure devotee,” unless you want a one-way trip to Hare Krishna Hell.


I recommend the following webpage for anyone interested in reading more about Prabhupad:

Damodar Roe

Oh, Damodar. I have no doubt you are sincere. So many devotees are. But, in my own experience, many of the ones who are the most sincere eventually come to realize that the acarya wears no clothes. Once you see it, the rest comes naturally. It’s not easy, but you definitely won’t be alone.

10 thoughts on “Another Pinch of Snuff

  1. Namaste maunamcaivasmiguhyanam, I find you post Regarding Snuff and Another Pinch of Snuff
    the rebuttal to Damodar Roe’s critique of the former to be two very find examples of critical thinking in pursuit of Truth and Spiritual Awareness, congratulations, well done.
    L DAS

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations an a very interesting (and long) response to a committed adherent to the personalty cult of ACBS. I was one of those for a long time too. For many years, I excused the founder from all the glaring imperfections of his ISKCON. I was also well trained to see the faultlessness on the ‘pure’ representative of God (I was also scared shitless of making offences) that I disposed of my critical faculties.

    It is a simple thing really, anyone that assumes a public persona must be open to criticism, indeed they should welcome it. This is where ISKCON, like other cults, fall down they defend their leader from all criticism. Criticism is CRITICAL!

    Thank you for not suspending your discerning intelligence any longer I think many could benefit from reading this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. Thank you, Martin, for that very generous assessment of my piece. It’s always good to see others out there who have managed to make it through to the other side. My best to you. And, I agree, people who lead lives in public (especially people who present themselves as faultless and spiritually empowered) should expect to have their words and actions scrutinized.


  3. “The apologist’s standard operating principle is to assume that whatever he believes is unimpeachable then stack the deck to make it (seem) so.”

    You have just succinctly summed up my entire experience with dealing with devotees online. On Quora, on other blogs that speak out against the Hare Krishnas, there are piles of apologists and, every now and then, threats. I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of the latter, too. I love this sentence and I hope you don’t mind if I use it in the future when talking about my experience with the HKs and religion in general! :D

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “He had the responsibility of single-handedly representing an ancient and sophisticated spiritual tradition, as well as creating the foundation by which it would remain and grow Worldwide after his death. For this reason Prabhupada hardly slept. He would sleep about 4 hours per day, passing his days guiding the active movement and his nights translating essential texts. So when Prabhupada used stimulants (mild intoxication) to remain awake during the night so that he could translate texts for the benefit of his followers, it was not hypocritical. Rather it was a conscious disobedience to ritual puritanism to fulfill the spirit of the law, and according to his own tradition, a legitimate and even praiseworthy act. According to the Bhagavad-Gita (9.30), he should be considered virtuous.”

    I think this wee quote deserves a little bit more of a reply, particularly in regards to romantic claims that “Prabhupada” was charged with being the “sole representative” of an “ancient and sophisticated spiritual tradition.” Firstly, it’s not all that ancient. The idea that the “Chaitanya-Vaishnava lineage” or whatever they want to call it is “ancient” is rooted in ISKCON’s heavily delusional belief that, in the ancient world, there were powerful technological civilizations, magic powers, “nuclear” weapons, flying palaces powered by “mystic yogic power,” and more. They try to suck you into admitting their legitimacy as “ancient” using regular parlance, but in ISKCON-ese what they really mean is “our version of Hinduism is the *true* Vedic culture, all others are imitators and rascals.”

    As for being a “sophisticated” tradition, the only thing sophisticated about ISKCON and “Prabhupada’s” vision was it’s cosmogony and theology. Hindu theology is convoluted at the best of times but ISKCON’s interpretation takes the cake. In fact its complexity was one of the reasons I became a Hare Krishna, because I was awe-struck by how detailed it was and how it could seemingly accommodate other religious ideas (I was wrong about this in the end, and the “other religions are fine” line by ISKCON turned out to be thinly veiled contempt, as usual).

    The lineage that “Prabhupada” comes from, as exemplified by the Gaudiya Matt, was not widely respected in India before “Prabhupada” made waves in America. Their interpretation of Hindu texts is laughed at by other scholars, such as Indologists and Hindu theologians. Of course, “Prabhupada” had to cover for this by calling them “rascals,” “mayavadis,” and “impersonalists,” the latter two being insults that only hold water in ISKCON because they only have meaning within the cultic thought bubble. As an aside, the charge of being a “mayavadi” or an “impersonalist” has the same kind of currency in the outside world as does the charge of being a “statist” when talking with anarchists. The words are meaningless outside of the ideology.

    Even today, when ISKCON has some of the nicest temples in India, many Hindus I have met say that it’s very nice and all but they do not follow. I have met people from India who say “Prabhupada” is “too harsh,” and I have even met those who love the Gita and read it regularly who say “he contradicts the Gita’s message of love, compassion and wisdom.” And they’re right – you cannot turn more than a few pages in any of “Prabhupada’s” books without seeing a polemic against either women, homosexuals, Western culture, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, other Hindus, or a combination of the above.

    The bottom line is, if you look at the Gaudiya Matt and the Chaitanya mythology, neither are given much credence outside of a small circle within the area. Prior to “Prabhupada” adapting his religion of birth for his own purposes, the Gaudiya Matt was falling apart. Indeed, ISKCON is the only surviving legacy of that small religion, and it isn’t even consistent in following the original teachings of the Matt. Upon examining the lives of the people “Prabhupada” props up to justify his authority, we see that each new teacher in the line had some new version of the teaching, changed original ideas, or flat-out invented manuscripts. It is difficult to find this information online, of course, because ISKCON has done such a wonderful job of spreading their hagiography and mythology, thus blurring the lines and making the work difficult for any historian (On that note, would the author be so kind as to help me expose this?).

    In conclusion, my response to this twee little statement about “Prabhupada’s holy mission” is this: objective research into “Prabhupada’s” life and the actual history of the Gaudiya Matt reveals that this is just more mythology, hagiography, and romanticism. The sentiment that he was the “sole representative of an ancient spiritual tradition” betrays the naivety of the devotee who spouts it. Any honest devotee or ex-devotee knows that what you mean by “ancient” requires an enormous stretch of the imagination and suspension of disbelief in regards to human history and reality, and any honest inquiry into the true history of the Matt shows that it was a small, insular (cultic) religious group that had no legitimacy when it was around and only maintains legitimacy in the minds of ISKCON devotees, who haven’t bothered to look up the facts for themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well put, Robin. I agree with all of the above. And I admit the focus of this blog (and the FB page) has so far not been directed towards the problem of history beyond ISKCON’s own mythology since the late 1960s. That’s something I hope to address at some point, though I confess my own interests lie more in the social/psychological dynamics and the more recent lies about (and by) ACBS and his ostensibly spiritual movement.


    2. As an Indian Hindu, living near one of the biggest ISKCON temples, I must say this – most Hindus have not even heard of Srila Bhaktivedanta swami Prabhupada. ISKCON yes, due to its Akshaya Patra program of feeding poor school children.

      Most Hindus do visit ISKCON temples as a tourist spot, to take selfies etc. But nobody takes these temples seriously as a place of spirituality – where God is present.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I know I left a lengthy comment before but I must say, the borderline death threat level that ISKCON people stoop to when defending their “founder-acarya” is scary. They really do expect you to leave quietly and never turn back. I’ve been on the receiving end of violent threats before. The devotion is real, and it’s terrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you so much for your articles.

    I find your user name maunam chaivasmi guhyam and the name of the site itself, the most interesting and authentic about your ISKCON experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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