Tag: snuff

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.” http://prabhupadasaid.com/?p=121

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.

Humbug.

I recommend the following webpage for anyone interested in reading more about Prabhupad: http://prabhupada.krishna.com/

Sincerely,
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.

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Regarding Snuff

“A genuine guru must not only speak the truth; he must also live it. In other words, his character must be perfect and his behavior exemplary. In the West we commonly see that a professor or philosopher achieves renown on the basis of his teachings alone, regardless of his personal life. But in Vedic society, if a man is a drunkard or in some other way violates the ideal principles he teaches, then he is considered not a teacher but a cheater. According to the Gita a real guru, who teaches by example, must have the qualities of peacefulness, sense control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, and faith in God. So-called gurus who indulge in abominable things like meat eating, cigarette smoking, and illicit sex, and who covet wealth for purchasing various other forms of sense gratification, are all disqualified. One who cannot control his senses cannot rightfully bear the title ‘guru.’” – A “special article” by the Back to Godhead staff, 1977, “Establishing the Proof: Who is a Real Guru”

I first heard about Bhaktivedanta Swami’s using snuff while I was visiting Vrindavana. At an evening sanga I attended, one of Bhaktivedanta’s disciples, Dhananjaya, recounted some of his personal memories from the time he’d spent with his guru. In particular he told about how ACBS, while on a short visit to England, had asked one of his servants to go to the druggist and purchase a tin of snuff for his own use. As Dhananjaya told it, the snuff was to be medicine for a cold or a sinus infection or some other minor, temporary ailment from which ACBS – himself a druggist earlier in life – sought relief. When word got out about the snuff, many of the swami’s followers also bought their own tins and started snorting it, eager to copy their master. The “punchline” to Dhananjaya’s little anecdote was delivered, as always, by ACBS himself, who upon realizing the sniffling, sneezing chorus in his morning class was the product of novice snuff-takers remarked, “You fools. I am taking it for health. You are taking it for pleasure.”

How clever.

Snuff, of course, is tobacco, one of the intoxicants prohibited in the life of a Hare Krishna devotee. Now, so many years after I first heard Dhananjaya tell this story, I wonder why I then paid it no mind. Here was firsthand evidence that the pure and faultless leader of my self-selected religious affiliation was not so pure and faultless after all. Even a child – perhaps especially a child – can see the hypocrisy: “Do as I say, not as I do.” (Which is not to suggest that seeing this as hypocrisy is childish. As we “grow up” we become all too willing to rationalize the things we know in our hearts to be wrong.) Perhaps one reason why ACBS’s snuff taking didn’t then register to me as hypocrisy is because of the way Dhananjaya had framed it. My assumption at that time, due to Dhananjaya’s suggestion, was that ACBS’s snuff use was not only medicinal but also temporary – something used in that particular instance to address a short-lived and easily alleviated condition. Not unlike taking aspirin for a headache.

(Not for nothing: How many devotees do you know who are reluctant or unwilling to do even that?)

Many years later I came to learn that ACBS’s snuff use was not at all temporary, nor infrequent, but persistent, even chronic. A search through the “VedaBase” turns up several references to it, from ISKCON’s early days in 1968 to just before the death of ACBS in 1977. (Each of those references will appear at the end of this post.) The most significant mention comes from ACBS himself:

“Regarding taking snuff, I myself take it sometimes at night because I am working at night on my books, and sometimes I become dizzy. But it is not for you to take. You should not imitate this, neither you work like me at night.” – Letter to Revatinandana, Los Angeles, 9 January 1974

There’s a lot to say about just this quote. A few things now, more later: (1) there can be no debate over whether or not ACBS took snuff; he personally admitted to taking it “sometimes,” (2) what he meant by “sometimes” is in part answered by the scenario he depicts – he took it “at night,” while composing his “Bhaktivedanta purports”; as nicotine, the active (and highly addictive) ingredient in tobacco, is a stimulant, ACBS’s taking snuff is much like a person who drinks coffee to stay awake while pulling an all-nighter, (3) perhaps most importantly, “you should not imitate this”; i.e., do as I say, not as I do.

So, what’s a devotee to make of all this? Luckily for true believers, two devotees (that I’m aware of) have addressed the issue online. We’ll take a look at both online commentaries, because I think what they have to say will help illustrate just how blindly one must follow in order to remain an ISKCON devotee “in good standing.”

First, we have Hari Sauri, direct disciple and previous traveling personal servant of ACBS, former ISKCON guru and sannyasi, present ISKCON celebrity. He’s addressed ACBS’s snuff habit on his blog, Lotus Imprints, in a post titled “In-Snuff-Lated…” from 14 September 2008. I’ll reproduce the bulk of it below, with comments throughout.

“I just got this question from Yadunandan prabhu of the Bhaktivedanta College in Belgium:

“‘While visiting some devotees in the UK, one of them asked me a question about Srila Prabhupada’s snuff box. This devotee was somewhat puzzled thinking that Srila Prabhupada’s snuff was made of tobacco. I did a little research on the folio and looked into the dictionary to answer accurately.

“‘There are two options I see from my little research:

“‘1. Srila Prabhupada was using some type of medicine as snuff.

“‘2. Srila Prabhupada was using tobacco snuff as medicine for his blood pressure and to keep him able to perform his translation work at night.

“‘As you were and are so close to Srila Prabhupada, can you please give some light on this matter so that my answer can be more accurate?’

“Answer : Snuff is a tobacco derivative in fine powder form. This is the type that Srila Prabhupada was using.”

Thank you, Hari Sauri, for the honest clarification. That’s helpful. ACBS was snorting tobacco, not some other type of medicinal, tobacco-free, non-addictive type of snuff.

“Here’s a general definition and history that I got from the internet:

“Snuff, preparation of pulverized tobacco used by sniffing it into the nostrils, chewing it, or placing it between the gums and the cheek. The blended tobacco from which it is made is often aged for two or three years, fermented at least twice, ground, and usually flavored and scented.”

Hari Sauri’s research/copypasta goes on for a few more paragraphs. Aside from what was likely his attempt to confer some sense of tradition and broad cultural acceptance to the practice of snorting tobacco, none of that information is really relevant to our discussion, so I’ve omitted it here. (By the by, the practice of fermenting and drinking alcohol has an extremely long history and the broadest cultural acceptance, and marijuana is gradually becoming accepted by some as medicinal, but because there’s no evidence ACBS was a habitual user of either, those facts are of no interest to Hari Sauri. It’s only snuff we’re concerned with legitimizing now. Just saying.)

This next part of Hari Sauri’s post is far more telling:

“I remember my paternal grandfather was a big fan of snuff. He was never without either a cigarette in his mouth or a pouch of snuff in his pocket and I would watch fascinated and slightly repulsed as he put a few pinches on the back of his had, stuck his nose over the top and insufflated. The brown powder would cling to his nostrils and top lip and sometimes he would absent-mindedly forget to wipe it off. My grandmother would have to give him nudge (he was stone deaf from the age of five) and wordlessly point at his nose. He would give a grunt and swab it off with his handkerchief. For him I guess it was a question of feeding his nicotine addiction. Nowadays its out of style. Too messy I guess.”

Hari Sauri’s grandfather took snuff. In his case it was slightly repulsive, addictive, and messy. It should come as no surprise that he doesn’t regard ACBS’s snuff taking in the same negative terms.

“I never personally asked Srila Prabhupada why he used snuff, although we carried a couple of small tins with us at all times…”

Note, first, the comment “we carried a couple of small tins with us at all times” – once again giving the lie to the notion ACBS’s snuff use was infrequent or conditional. Even more significant is Hari Sauri’s admission that he never asked ACBS about it. That’s incredible, isn’t it? Was it really of no interest to him? Did the hypocrisy of the situation never occur to him? If nothing else, these statements give some sense of what the emotional dynamic could in some cases be like between ACBS and his servants/disciples, namely one of fear and/or mindless obedience.

Next Hari Sauri describes in detail one of his snuff pastimes with ACBS, excerpted from one of the volumes of his Transcendental Diary:

“On June 16, 1976, Srila Prabhupada arrived in Toronto:

“We arrived in Toronto at 6:30 P.M. and had our most disagreeable encounter with customs officials yet. I accompanied Srila Prabhupada, who carried his soft, red vinyl hand bag, while Pusta Krsna Maharaja remained behind to bring the luggage through. On the other side of a glass wall next to the customs counter a large number of devotees, many from the Indian community, expectantly gathered. As soon they saw Srila Prabhupada they cheered, ‘Jaya Prabhupada! Haribol!’ There were two customs officers. One of them, tall, with an unpleasant demeanor and a slight sneer on his face, asked Prabhupada to open his bag. Then, slowly, with exaggerated attention, he searched every single item. Before leaving Bombay I had sealed several new tins of snuff with hot wax. Prabhupada uses it to gain relief from high blood pressure. The official insisted on breaking each seal to check inside.”

A not-so-quick note: This blood pressure business is bunk. Nicotine is a stimulant and as such will raise, not lower, blood pressure. I see three possibilities. (1) Perhaps Hari Sauri got it wrong, and ACBS had low, not high, blood pressure. It’s possible. (And ACBS’s comment about dizziness suggests it might be true.) But the high blood pressure explanation is repeated a number of times by Hari Sauri and by others, so it’s likely something ACBS told his disciples, not something they assumed about him. (2) Perhaps ACBS didn’t understand his own medical condition, or the effects of nicotine, or quite a few other things besides. His “cure” for jaundice, though still cited as an effective home remedy, likely wouldn’t pass a double-blind clinical trial. And his recipe for toothpaste has been known to cause damage to teeth and gums. His status as a skilled pharmacist is just one of several outlandish claims about the breadth of his knowledge it’s only reasonable to regard with suspicion. (3) Perhaps “relief from high blood pressure” was nothing more than a convenient lie intended to keep gullible disciples from questioning the obvious hypocrisy of their guru’s addiction.

“At the end of his fruitless search he turned to his fellow officer, looked askance at Srila Prabhupada, and in a most demeaning way said, ‘So this is what all the noise is about.’ I flushed with anger, but bit my lip.

“Srila Prabhupada seemed utterly indifferent, appearing not to have noticed their obnoxious attitude at all. He quietly shut his bag and proceeded on with a bright smile and a wave to all the assembled devotees…

“Although he had seemed indifferent, the next [day] Srila Prabhupada mentioned the incident in a conversation in his room with Pusta Krsna Swami, Jagadisa and myself:

“‘Everyone in government service, at least it is to be supposed they are all nasty men. Here also, why not? The other day the custom officer, unnecessary. Unnecessarily. He is opening the snuff box, this box, that box. Unnecessarily. Not a gentleman. It is stated there, “snuff,” and he is bringing knife to open.’”

Hari Sauri claims his guru “seemed utterly indifferent,” but the episode affected ACBS enough that he made mention of it the following day. While he and his disciples complained about various problems they were having with passport officers and other government officials, ACBS took the opportunity to revisit the snuff incident and, on that single point of data, conclude that “everyone in government service… they are all nasty men.”

So, not quite “utterly indifferent.” It’s also worth noting that earlier the same day, during a morning walk, ACBS and his disciples derided “so-called priests” – whom ACBS calls “fourth-class, fifth-class men” – for smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and “indulging in homosex.” Bluster and more hypocrisy.

Hari Sauri continues:

“Srila Prabhupada did use it on occasion, usually in the night time, and I remember particularly coming into his room sometimes in the early morning when he was resident in Vrndavan from September–November 1976 and seeing snuff residue on his lungi or handkerchief where he had wiped the excess off his nose after sniffing it. At that time he was suffering very high blood pressure.”

A few things: (1) “usually in the night time,” so, once again, he used snuff as a stimulant to help him remain awake and alert while (allegedly) receiving the divine inspiration he channeled directly into his books; (2) the description of “snuff residue on his lungi or handkerchief” sounds – to me at least, probably not to Hari Sauri – quite a bit like “grandfather” and his “messy” snuff habit; (3) “at that time he was suffering very high blood pressure,” so it’s unlikely the diagnosis was wrong – perhaps ACBS did have high blood pressure that his snuff use was just making worse.

Hari Sauri again:

“The only reference I can find in Folio is this postscript from a letter to Revatinandana Swami sent from Los Angeles 9 January, 1974:

“‘N.B. Regarding taking snuff, I myself take it sometimes at night because I am working at night on my books, and sometimes I become dizzy. But it is not for you to take. You should not imitate this, neither you work like me at night.’

“So I assume from this that the dizziness he referred to was caused either by too much mucus in his sinus, or by very high blood pressure, and the snuff relieved this.”

I’m not sure what to make of the statement “the only reference I can find in Folio.” Maybe he means it’s the only reference ACBS personally made about it (but even that is not quite true). Maybe he’s being less than honest; by my count, there are 12 references to ACBS’s snuff use. And, once again, we get the high blood pressure explanation. Hari Sauri ends his post with the following:

“Sruta Kirti prabhu or another servant or secretary may be able to add more.”

Maybe. Sadly, that I know of, neither Sruta Kirti nor anyone else with direct knowledge has since added more (though we’ll take a look at a few very telling quotes from Tamala Krishna at the end of this post). I did however mention we’d be looking at the commentary of another true believer “regarding taking snuff.” As I said, I find both commentaries instructive in showing precisely to what degree remaining a devotee requires that one stop thinking.

The post comes from a blog called back 2 Krishna, and is #884 in a series of what the author calls “vanity thoughts.”

(This name itself is rather interesting. According to ISKCON dogma, a true devotee should feel ashamed to have any desire to write or to express him- or herself, especially in such a public forum. Such an act is an obvious sign of vanity that must, at the very least, be acknowledged for the truly self-absorbed and un-humble act it is. There are, as of this posting, 1475 “vanity thoughts” in the author’s collection. So he is a decidedly vain, self-absorbed, and un-humble fellow – at least by the psychologically damaging metric ISKCON proposes for its members – a diagnosis I’m sure he would readily accept, if only in a crass and typically ISKCONian way meant to backhandedly stake a claim on so-called humility. Anyway, I digress…)

He begins:

“One reason I became somewhat lukewarm to never ending quest for knowledge is that sooner or later you run into some snafus that are extremely difficult to explain, which then goes against Occam Razor’s principle. Sometimes things become messed up beyond salvation yet, strangely, it doesn’t have any visible or lasting effect on one’s faith, so why bother? I mean why bother if knowing answers or not knowing them has no effect. Danger of losing faith is still there so why risk it?”

This thought process here is too jumbled for me to completely follow. However, Occam’s Razor is the principle that the simplest explanation – or, rather, the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions – is likely the correct one. In the case of ACBS and snuff, that explanation would be this: ACBS took snuff because he was addicted to it. Honestly, that is the simplest explanation, and the only one that doesn’t require you to assume something supernatural about him or his intentions. In other words, there are more than a few (completely unverifiable) assumptions involved if you’re saying to yourself, “Well, OK. Prabhupada took snuff. But he was transcendental. He wasn’t addicted to it. He couldn’t have been. He was transcendental.” As for the rest of that rambling intro, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the rest of the post will help to clarify.

“One of such snafus is snuff. Srila Prabhupada used it regularly and his servants always carried a tin or two in his luggage. Snuff is tobacco that is insufflated, that is inhaled, through the nose pretty much like cocaine or other drugs.”

“Pretty much like cocaine or other drugs…” You said it, prabhu, not me. At least we’re being honest. Let’s see how long that lasts…

“Why did Prabhupada use it? We don’t know. His servants remembered that he said it was for relief of high blood pressure or maybe to clear his sinuses or to help him stay up at night, working on books. Well, nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant that would rather increase blood pressure, sinuses can be cleared with non-intoxicant inhalers, and to stay up at night people usually drink coffee.”

Oh. This guy seems like he might be a straight shooter. Maybe I spoke too soon.

“No need to remind of our ‘no intoxication including tea and coffee’ principle that extends even to chocolate. It just doesn’t match.”

And… We’re about to see cognitive dissonance in action. If something doesn’t fit, completely disregard it.

“Maybe the principle is no intoxication, as no recreational drug use. People smoke to get high, if only a little, people drink to get drunk, intoxication means altering one’s consciousness to produce an artificial feeling of happiness. Clarity of consciousness also gets lost and so it’s easy to see why it’s one of our regulative principles.

“Maybe this would explain Prabhupada’s use of snuff – it wasn’t to get high or feel good, it was to keep his work rate through the night, to perform better service, not to enjoy. This is easy to understand, but what then of drinking coffee, the usual go to pick me up elixir? Students cramming for exams don’t drink coffee to get high, no one actually does, people drink it to get perked up in order to function better, though the process can obviously be enjoyed, too.”

You heard it here first: a coffee machine in every temple. (And a box of snuff beside every murti of ACBS.)

“Would that mean that if we feel sleepy it’s okay to have a cup to coffee or a can of Red Bull as long as we need our bodies to function in Krishna’s service? That would make sense but it’s also against our principles, always have been always will be.”

What’s going on here? Make up your mind. It’s either against the principles or it isn’t. And you (and everyone else) know(s) very well which one it is. Stop dithering.

“Or we can say that Prabhupada’s consciousness wasn’t affected by nicotine in snuff, only his blood pressure, heart rate etc. That could be the answer, that would also explain why he forbade his disciples to follow snuff sniffing practice.”

I love that. (By which I mean I completely hate it.) ACBS was transcendental enough to not get addicted to or intoxicated by nicotine, just not transcendental enough to not be affected by problems with his blood pressure. You’re reaching, my friend. Really reaching.

“Still, it’s not how it’s supposed to work with parampara, we are not ‘do as I say, not as I do’ movement, we actually practice what we preach.

“As I said – it’s a snafu.”

Yes! Everyone knows this. Even someone who’s only been to a single Sunday Feast can tell you this. Hence ACBS’s snuff use is hypocrisy. Bas. End of discussion. (At least it should be.)

“Vamsidas Babaji regularly smoke, or actually he used hookah. In his case we are told that he was beyond rules and regulations and didn’t have to follow sadhana prescriptions. Smoking didn’t affect his devotion to Krishna at all, they might even have been enjoying a pipe together. He used to offer it Radha Govinda, after all, but not to Gaura-Nitai.”

Yet more shameless rationalization. “He’s so pure the rules don’t apply to him.” Is it at all possible that because he didn’t follow the rules we have to say he’s pure in order to silence legitimate doubt? Tell me something, in all honesty, if a devotee had tried to slip this past you the first time you went to an ISKCON temple, how quickly would you have turned around and walked right out the door?

“Why not? Lord Nityananda Himself was fond of chewing betel nut according to Chaitanya Charitamrita – at the end of Raghunatha Dasa Goswami’s chipped rice festival (CC Antya 6.97). We can say that Lord Nityananda is God so he doesn’t have to follow any rules but right in the next verse it’s said that after chewing some himself He distributed the rest to devotees.

“Or maybe it was because Lord Chaitanya wasn’t there so Nityananda Prabhu could relax the rules a little, as if Mahaprabhu was a party pooper. Maybe that’s why when They were together Vamsidasa Babaji didn’t offer betel to them. But then Lord Chaitanya personally appeared at that festival and was visible to many devotees.

“As I said – it’s a snafu.”

Which I’m starting to think means something like “For obvious reasons, this is something I’d rather not accept for what it seems to be on the face of it.”

“When Gadadhara Pundit went to see Pundarika Vidyanidhi for the first time he was appalled by the betel nuts and reddened spittoons by his bed. Eventually he realized Pundarika Vidyanidhi’s greatness but it doesn’t say much for no-intoxication principle, does it? Betel nut is a stimulant and people take it to get a mild high, not to increase their work rate when they get tired.”

No argument here. Notice how all of these examples follow the same pattern: (1) assume divinity, (2) find an explanation for mundane behavior that excuses that behavior and at the same time protects the original assumption of divinity.

“Our opponents can have a field day exposing our ‘hypocrisy’ with these cases and I’m sure they can dig up a few more.”

They certainly could, those nasty, dishonest “opponents.” Keep reading, we won’t let you down.

“I was always worried by the saying ‘if you see Lord Nityananda going into a liquor shop’, for example. What’s with this ‘if’? Could it be ‘when’? Where’s this idea of Lord Nityananda and liquor coming from?”

Good question. And that’s not the only “pastime” of Nitayanda’s or Caitanya’s that’s untoward. But there’s no need to comb through the fictionalized accounts of the lives of mostly fictional “personalities.” Snuff-taking is not the length and breadth of ACBS’s hypocrisy. And he’s not alone.

“Anyway, none of that seem to affect my [lack of] faith in the above mentioned personalities though I can see how some might become disillusioned. These examples are also not an excuse to start drinking coffee or take other stimulants, ostensibly ‘for Krishna’.

“Would investigating them further bring any benefits? I don’t think so, I think it would be a waste of everyone’s time and it might lead to eventual disappointment.

“That’s why I think that at some point quest for knowledge has to stop, topping up will not add any value. This idea might not appeal to everyone but there’s a far less controversial side to it, too – it’s not how much you know that makes all the difference, it’s how much you believe in the simplest things – Krishna is God and chanting His holy name is our only duty.

“No one would argue with that.”

For crying out loud! (Sorry about including all of that. I just couldn’t help myself.) Here’s the tl;dr version: There’s this thing that – if I allow myself to think about it clearly – will force me to seriously question whether or not my faith is well placed. Because I have accepted that the highest principle is to maintain that faith no matter what, I will blithely ignore whatever threatens it. Oh, and, chant and be happy!

To be fair, this sort of intellectual dishonesty is exactly what ACBS ensured would always and forever be business as usual in ISKCON. He’s the one that insisted on a standard of so-called purity so unattainable that even he, the purest of pure devotees, could neither attain nor maintain it. And he’s the one that set the ISKCON standard of thoroughly rejecting all “pretenders.” In a letter to Aniruddha (Los Angeles, 4 February 1969), ACBS wrote, “You are right when you say that setting a good example for the boys is the best precept. There is a saying that an example is better than a precept. Our exemplary character depends on strictly following the four principles, and this will conquer the whole world.” At least that explains ISKCON’s foundering attempts at world domination. ACBS also wrote, in Dharma: The Way of Transcendence, “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.” (16: “When the Krishna Sun Rises in the Heart”) Well, if you say so, Srila Prabhupada. You’ve painted yourself into that particular corner.

(What follows are the 12 (+1) separate references to “snuff” found in the “Bhaktivedanta VedaBase,” aka “Folio,” arranged chronologically, with some commentary added by me where appropriate. Uses of “snuff” as a verb – as in “snuff it out” – have been omitted.)

The Hare Krishna Explosion, Hayagriva dasa, Part 3: New Vrindavan, 1968 to 1969, 18: Paramahansa in the Hills

Hayagriva, one of ACBS’s earliest disciples whom readers will probably know as the editor of the “original” Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, mentions snuff in his chronicle of ISKCON’s early days, The Hare Krishna Explosion. Hayagriva tells how ACBS prescribed snuff to him as a remedy for hay fever, from which Hayagriva was then suffering:

After years of dormancy, my hayfever returns with a vengeance. As the grass pollinates, my sneezing and wheezing begin. I run through dozens of handkerchiefs. My eyes constantly itch. At times, after paroxyms of sneezing, I sit helpless, totally congested.

Prabhupada asks Devananda for a valise, and from this he produces a small snuffbox.

“Here,” he says, handing it to me. “When there is discomfort, just take a pinch and sniff.”

I do so. The snuff sets off a fresh barrage of sneezes. Finally I sit dazed. Surely my head must be empty of mucus.

“When you’re irritated,” Prabhupada says, “you may use that. It will help. But you shouldn’t think that you are being attacked.”

Again he laughs, and suddenly, seeing myself pursued by legions of grass pollen, I laugh too.

Letter to Brahmananda, Hamburg, 30 August 1969

P.S. Please send my snuff pot when Hayagriva comes here. I could not get the _____ snuff here.

I wonder what’s been omitted here and, more importantly, why. Placement suggests it could be the name of the brand of snuff ACBS preferred, or maybe it was the word “tobacco,” scrubbed from the record by some loyal follower whose conscience was disturbed enough to make him or her want to “protect” the reputation of the pure devotee.

Letter to Yogesvara, Gurudasa, Digvijaya, etc., Los Angeles, 21 May 1970

…I am so much thankful to you for your respective presentations. They are as follows: one golden cup, mysore sandal soap, some scent in snuff box, one picture of London Radha-Krsna Deities and one xeroxed interview report. So I shall be glad to know what is the contents and its formula in the box, then I can use it as snuff.

This quote comes from a portion of a letter in which ACBS thanks his disciples for the gifts presented to him at the time of their initiation. Around this time it appears that ACBS’s use of snuff was common knowledge among his followers. It was at least well known enough for newly initiated disciples to think the intoxicant would make an appropriate gift to their spiritual master. If this were the only reference to snuff in the Folio, one might have reason to conclude that ACBS snorted a type of snuff that did not contain tobacco, given his query about the snuff box, “the contents and its formula.” But Hari Sauri has already made it clear that ACBS snorted regular tobacco snuff.

Letter to Revatinandana, Los Angeles, 9 January 1974

N.B. Regarding taking snuff, I myself take it sometimes at night because I am working at night on my books, and sometimes I become dizzy. But it is not for you to take. You should not imitate this, neither you work like me at night.

Transcendental Diary, Vol. 1 – Nov 1975 to April 1976, December 13th, 1975

Prabhupada likes to travel early in the morning. At 6:00 A.M., he chanted Gayatri-mantra, donned his coat, gloves, and hat, and headed for the door. In a flurry of activity Harikesa and I quickly packed last-minute items. Harikesa placed the dictaphone and Bhagavatams into a black attache case. Meanwhile I hastily filled Prabhupada’s red vinyl briefcase with his desk paraphernalia (a pen case, a golden straw for drinking coconut juice, a jar of ink, a small silver cask filled with cardamom seeds, his glasses, tilaka clay, lota, mirror, mortar and pestle, a small enameled tin full of snuff for his high blood pressure, and a black Revlon manicure case.) Finally, I swiftly stuffed Srila Prabhupada’s indoor slippers and the brass spittoon engraved with his name into my shoulder bag and rushed to catch up.

This is one of two mentions of snuff in Hari Sauri’s multi-volume Transcendental Diary. Here he simply mentions the presence of the intoxicant in ACBS’s personal effects (and again attempts to dismiss it by mentioning high blood pressure).

Morning Walk, Mayapura, 18 February 1976

Prabhupada: So one thing, if you can do, that India, at the present moment, that Swami Cinmayananda is prominent.

Acyutananda: Yes.

Hari-sauri: He’s very big. Especially in the South.

Prabhupada: (laughs) So if you can subdue him…

Yasodanandana: We’ll take care of that, Prabhupada.

Acyutananda: All right.

Prabhupada: That will be great triumph. He’s a nonsense. That’s… But he’s very popular at the same time.

Prabhupada: But he, he wants to keep his prestigious position.

Acyutananda: Oh, yes.

Yasodanandana: Yes. On your order, we shall try to hamper that.

Prabhupada: No, tactfully.

Acyutananda: I met him once. He is addicted to snuff very, very much.

Prabhupada: Constantly.

Acyutananda: Even during his lectures he makes gestures so that he can take snuff without anybody knowing.

I find this conversation particularly interesting, not just for the mention of snuff but for the context in which that mention appears. To be fair, ACBS is not the snuff snorter in question in this conversation. Rather it’s Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati, someone whom ACBS apparently considered a rival at this point in time. And for good reason: Swami Chinmayananda was a teacher of Advaita Vedanta – the Enemy! – who was the inspiration for Chinmaya Mission and was inspirational in the founding of Vishva Hindu Parishad, one of ACBS’s targets of scorn (despite the fact he was happy to use their name and Chinmayananda’s authority to legitimize his own movement). Chinmayananda was extremely popular in India and outside India as well; he made his first worldwide “preaching tour,” including stops in America, in 1965, beginning several months before ACBS first arrived on Western shores. He was also a renowned scholar of Vedanta who wrote in English and published over 90 books, including commentaries on the Gita and Vedic texts. According at least to his followers, Chinmayananda was a genuine Vedic scholar, which must have felt threatening to a man who had posed himself as a Vedic scholar but who also once admitted, “I have not studied all the Vedas and Upanisads. I have read only Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.” (TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days, 30 June 1977) It’s not hard to see why ACBS asked his followers to “subdue” Chinmayananda. Moreover, it’s ironic that Acyutananda and ACBS zero in on Chinmayananda’s “constant” snuff use as a point of condemnation.

Transcendental Diary, Vol. 2 – April 1976 to June 1976, June 16th, 1976

This is the account of ACBS’s arrival in Toronto presented in Hari-Sauri’s blog and taken from his Transcendental Diary:

We arrived in Toronto at 6:30 P.M. and had our most disagreeable encounter with customs officials yet. I accompanied Srila Prabhupada, who carried his soft, red vinyl hand bag, while Pusta Krsna Maharaja remained behind to bring the luggage through. On the other side of a glass wall next to the customs counter a large number of devotees, many from the Indian community, expectantly gathered. As soon they saw Srila Prabhupada they cheered, “Jaya Prabhupada! Haribol!” There were two customs officers. One of them, tall, with an unpleasant demeanor and a slight sneer on his face, asked Prabhupada to open his bag. Then, slowly, with exaggerated attention, he searched every single item. Before leaving Bombay I had sealed several new tins of snuff with hot wax. Prabhupada uses it to gain relief from high blood pressure. The official insisted on breaking each seal to check inside.

At the end of his fruitless search he turned to his fellow officer, looked askance at Srila Prabhupada, and in a most demeaning way said, “So this is what all the noise is about.” I flushed with anger, but bit my lip.

Srila Prabhupada seemed utterly indifferent, appearing not to have noticed their obnoxious attitude at all. He quietly shut his bag and proceeded on with a bright smile and a wave to all the assembled devotees…

Room Conversation, Toronto, 17 June 1976

And this is from the conversation in Toronto to which Hari Sauri refers in his blog and in his Transcendental Diary, and which contradicts Hari Sauri’s claim that ACBS was “utterly indifferent” about the episode the day before. The excerpt following this is Hari Sauri’s account of this conversation as presented in his Diary.

Prabhupada: Everyone in government service, at least it is to be supposed they are all nasty men. Here also, why not? The other day the custom officer, unnecessary. Unnecessarily. He is opening the snuff box, this box, that box. Unnecessarily. Not a gentleman. It is stated there, “snuff,” and he is bringing knife to open.

Transcendental Diary, Vol. 2 – April 1976 to June 1976, June 17th, 1976

Although Prabhupada hadn’t reacted to the customs official’s envious dealings when we entered Canada, he most certainly noted it. “Everyone in government service, at least it is to be supposed they are all nasty men. Here also, why not? The other day the custom officer… Unnecessarily. He is opening the snuff box, this box, that box. Unnecessarily. Not a gentleman. It is stated there, ‘snuff,’ and he is bringing knife to open.”

Prabhupada agreed with Jagadisa prabhu’s assessment that it was simply harassment. He quoted from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Twelfth Canto. “Everywhere. Rajanyair dasyu-dharmabhi, simply wanting some bribe. They are in power, and that will increase. It will be impossible to deal with. Now it is already. In India, any work you want to be done by government, unless you bribe… The situation is becoming very dangerous.”

Conversation with Svarupa Damodara, Vrndavana, 21 June 1977

Svarupa Damodara: …There will be books, proving that these are all nonsense.

Prabhupada: (aside:) You have got increased snuff boxes?

Upendra: Er, one little one and that big one there. I’ll check to see if there’s any more.

Prabhupada: Life is a different material…

This is an interesting reference. As the transcript makes clear, it is something ACBS said to his servant while in the midst of a conversation with someone else. Apparently ACBS’s snuff use was becoming more frequent at this time, in the last several months of his life, as indicated by his request for “increased snuff boxes.” (Emphasis mine.)

TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days – September 26, 1977

TKG’s Diary is a curious document that includes more than a few unsettling revelations about ACBS’s last days (one of which I’ve already included in the text above). In addition to this casual mention of snuff are the following three excerpts, which I’m including because they relate to the general topic of hypocrisy. The first two refer to ACBS’s infrequent to completely nonexistent practice of chanting japa, whereas the last mentions a kaviraja who diagnosed ACBS for gonorrhea(!), an ailment that can only be transmitted sexually.

In the afternoon, Srila Prabhupada had me read from Srimad-Bhagavatam. He sat up and put on his spectacles, then held Radha-Rasabihari’s photo. He looked for Their lotus feet and had me point Them out. He meditated on Them for a long time, leaning back occasionally with his eyes closed and listening to the Bhagavatam recitation. He had me put snuff near him, of which he also availed himself. For practically an hour we had a wonderful meditation, and I could see it was the most effective medicine.

When Tamala Krishna writes “I could see it was the most effective medicine,” I assume he’s referring to the “meditation,” though it seems the snuff was helpful too. Here is a reference to ACBS using snuff not only outside the context so far established as typical – late at night, while writing – but in the midst of a “wonderful meditation.” I find it hard not to see this as depicting a very casual, recreational user of an intoxicating substance to which he has long been addicted.

TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days – June 10, 1977

Gradually, I have seen that Srila Prabhupada is no longer chanting japa on his beads. Many years ago, he was chanting sixty-four rounds, then gradually less, until a number of years ago it was sixteen. But now he does not chant on beads. He can be seen with his eyes closed, always meditating on Krsna with an intense, concentrated expression. Sometimes he stretches his neck, and sometimes he drools in his sleep and his body shakes. Sometimes there is loud belching. In this way, Srila Prabhupada is exhibiting some of the ecstatic symptoms mentioned in The Nectar of Devotion.

That’s a very generous way of tying together those last few statements. Personally, I’m more interested in this: “He can be seen with his eyes closed, always meditating on Krsna…” Perhaps. But, let’s be honest, there are any number of things he could have been “meditating on.” Krishna is just one of a practically unlimited number of possibilities. But that’s the nature of devotion to “Srila Prabhupada,” isn’t it? Take every opportunity, however small, to assume divinity (even if that assumption stands in contradiction to what verifiable facts suggest).

TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days – September 16, 1977

Srila Prabhupada’s condition remained the same today. He was passing sufficient urine, well more than half the quantity of the liquid he consumed. But he seemed to be growing weaker. He began to chant on his japa mala for the first time in many months. In fact, he insisted on always keeping the beads around his neck. Even during his massage, he fingered the beads and silently chanted. His beads also remained around his neck while he slept in his bed.

TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days – October 16, 1977

When the kaviraja saw Prabhupada’s very discolored urine, he said the disorder was a type of gonorrhea. The urine contained semen, which could possibly turn into pebble-like substances and completely block the ureter.

The last two references to snuff come from the years after the demise of ACBS.

The first is from an article in Back to Godhead magazine titled “Drugs and Ecstasy.” In the section “Smoke From The Bottomless Pit” we get a clear picture of how the average ISKCON devotee regards snuff, independent of their founder’s using it:

In 1604, James I, King of England, tagged smoking, “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fumes thereof nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.” Today some 60 million Americans smoke millions of pounds of tobacco every year at a cost of about $9 billion. Tobacco is taken primarily, of course, in the form of cigarettes (528 billion consumed each year), which are supplemented by pipe tobacco, cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco. In spite of an anti-smoking campaign in the U. S. in recent years – a result of quite conclusive evidence linking cigarette smoking to a variety of diseases – there has been little progress made in stopping the habit.

Vyasa-puja 1984, St. Louis

The second and final reference is from a Vyasa-puja offering submitted by the St. Louis temple in 1984 that (lacking any clear indication from the text itself, I can only assume) is meant to rhapsodically depict the scene in Vrindavan during the final days of ACBS. The swami’s snuff box is a detail apparently too important to be omitted:

It is six-thirty in the morning. The birds sing sweetly, and peacocks sound their exotic meow. The air resounds with japa, chanted by your faithful disciples. Two devotees softly sing the Brahma-samhita on the outer veranda, upstairs in your Vrndavana quarters, waiting. You ring the bell, and one devotee enters the inner veranda, offers obeisances, and enters the mosquito net on the bed to massage your heart. You speak softly about ISKCON matters – Bombay, Mayapur, New Vrindaban, etc. Management is arcanam, you once said. Your servant helps you to your bath and personally bathes your transcendental form. Then he brings you to the indoor room. You sit in a rocking chair as he helps you with your kurta, and you apply tilaka from your Krsna-Balarama compact. The other servant changes the linens and brings the bed on the outer veranda with pillows, scented garland, bouquet, handkerchief, lota, snuff, incense, and camara. He has also brought fresh cloth and kaupina for you. You are then aided to the outer veranda, where you sit on the bed, garlanded by your loving disciples. The incense is sweet as one devotee fans you with a camara, in a figure-eight fashion, not for cooling but for keeping the numerous flies from your thin form.

And, I assume, as Tamala Krishna puts it, he occasionally “avails himself” of a little powdered tobacco.