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(C) 1995 by Richard S. Brown All rights reserved.
ISKCON Or Gaudiya Math

By Richard Shaw Brown

Dear devotees of the Lord, dandavat to all of you. Sri Sri Guru-Gaurangau Jayatah!!

Because different stories about my own past are circulating around ISKCON I have written the following reply to clear the matter once and for all. Please don't take it that I am acting out of pride, I just want the devotees to know the truth... Could you send this to any interested godbrothers or devotees?

Recently I have posted a few memories on the VNN and the response has surprised me. Many devotees sent me e-mail with both thanks and appreciation's as well as questions. One of the main questions were variations of "What's your story?" I know very well that I am no bigger than 1/10,000th the tip of a hair; but because the devotees have spread so many stories and others have asked me about my relationship with Srila Prabhupada and Sri Gaudiya Matha, therefore It is my duty to the devotees to tell the facts.

Here are two sample questions followed by my explanation:

Question 1: (Dear Hrsikesananda) "There is one thing that I do not understand. That is, some devotee told me some time ago, and I forget the exact story, that Srila Prabhupada instructed you at one point not to go to such and such place or to associate with such and such person but you went against his instruction. I know that the great majority of Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers were not envious as fanatics proclaim but were in fact highly advanced and realized Gaudiya Vaisnavas. Is there any truth to this story, and what are the circumstances?"

Question 2: (Dear Hrsikesananda) "I also remember finding in UCLA's library a shorter book, which if I remember correctly was titled, "Bhakti -- Positive and Negative Culture" by Swami Lalitananda Vana. It made a deeper impression on me at the time than anything I had read by ISKCON's "11 acaryas" and perhaps in its small way it helped prevent me from falling into the abyss of Vaisnava aparadha into which so many descended after Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's passing. So I am much indebted."

My reply: I was Lalitananda Vana the author of that small book. It is a long story: In 1967 I was robbed of Rock music super-stardom by the Vietnam War draft. My innovative band, The Misunderstood, had just been launched in Britain when the draft notice came. I was the lead singer and we were original pioneers of early, meaning full psychedelic rock. At that time I had already become a strict vegetarian and aspiring transcendentalist.

(Note of interest: The band fell apart when I was finally nabbed by the US Army. Subsequently, after 30 years, the band has now become cult hero's in UK, Europe, and among serious collectors in the USA. There are three "Misunderstood" CD's presently on the world market. The Misunderstood are also featured in "Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' Roll" by Richie Unterberger (1998), and a professional book and screen play are also written about The Misunderstood's crazy story.)

I first met devotees in Golden Gate Park during the "Summer of Love" 1967, the morning after I had deserted from the Army and become a fugitive. Later that year Sri Mukunda das took me to be initiated alone by "Swamiji" at Stinson Beach. When I first met Swamiji I was surprised at how small he was. I reached out my hand and Swamiji shook it. Later the same day, after finally bowing down, I was given "Hari-Nam" initiation and named Hrsikesa das.

I told Swamiji about my fugitive status and false passport and he advised me to join him in Vrndavana. After a harrowing escape via England I made my solo journey, penniless and hunted, to India. By the time I reached Old Delhi in Jan. 1968 Sri Swamiji had already returned to the West. But before learning about this, my first major 'experience' was finding "Chippiwada Kalan,"---Swamiji's Delhi address (printed inside the Bhagavatam which I carried in my hand). It was a needle in a haystack. What I finally found was dark, damp and very austere. There was an old lady praying before a Shiva-linga downstairs and a happy young Indian chap who informed me that, "Swamiji has gone to Vrndavana."

Arriving in virtually *pristine Vrindavan* from Mathura by Tonga I finally reached the other address mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam: Sri Radha-Damodhar Mandira. An old Goswami with thick glasses who spoke a little English said, "Swamiji has returned to America." Wham! He advised me to take shelter of Swamiji's Godbrother named Swami Vana (Bon) Maharaj.

When I arrived at Swami Vana Maharaj's Gaudiya Matha ashram (Bhajan-kutir), he also was absent for one month. But I was allowed to stay provided I was careful with all the rules. If I would step on any devotee's shadow they would bathe. I was a mleccha, a "sahib." The Gaudiya Matha devotees thought 'rightly' that I was a stupid, untrained, mute, low-life, (former) cow-eater incapable of understanding the sublime teachings of Lord Caitanya.

When Swami Vana finally returned, I told him I was a disciple of Swamiji, and I also told him about my fugitive status. He said I was welcome to stay and practice Krsna consciousness, but I must learn all the Vaisnavata (Vaisnava etiquette) and join all the ceremonies.

Subsequently Swami Vana vouched for me to get six one year visas and eventually apply for Indian citizenship. The President of India, H.E. Sri V.V. Giri was one of my signed guarantors for citizenship, along with the Mayor of Delhi and also the Chairman of India's Law Commission.

I wrote a letter to America telling Swamiji about my situation. I never received a reply but was told by Vana Maharaj that news had come to him saying that I should stay with him and study. Thereafter, I never again heard any news from Swamiji. But within a few months I did receive a letter from the U.S. Embassy in Delhi addressed to my devotee name at Swami Vana's ashram. The letter was an order for me to surrender for deportation to face US Army desertion charges. How they got my address is another story which is not important. With trembling hands I took the letter to Vana Maharaj, who advised me to burn it and then to do parikrama of Govardhana Hill.

By the grace of Krsna no police came to Vraja and I immersed myself in spiritual life. I had a private tutor in Srila Vana Maharaj for six years and met many of his Godbrothers and their disciples in different Gaudiya Math's while traveling with Vana Maharaj. After 2 (almost eternal) years of carefully following all the GM rules and practice, Srila Vana Maharaj gave me diksa (at my request) but didn't change the name given by my Sri Harinam Guru (Srila Prabhupada).

It was one year later, at the suggestion of Paramahansa Krsnadas Babaji Maharaj (Prabhupada's senior Godbrother), that Srila Vana Maharaj offered me sannyasa, and that is when my name was changed to Lalitananda Vana.

Years later, in mid 1973, when I returned to Srila Prabhupada, it was on HDG's written condition that I leave sannyasa ashram, and return as a brahmacari with my old name Hrsikesa das (ref. VedaBase).

The reason I left Vana Maharaj was because I became polluted by the mundane association of ISKCON devotees, who convinced me that Vana Maharaj (and everybody else) was NO good. It was my bad karma, but also the greatest spiritual mistake of my life leaving the sweet shelter of my Shiksa & Diksa Guru Srila Bhakti Hrdaya Vana Maharaj; and since returning to ISKCON I found so many things different, even opposite, to the bona fide Gaudiya Math system of Srila Param-Gurudev. I started to wonder if "Ignorance is bliss!"

Ever since returning to ISKCON in late 1973 I was stunned to see the ill-consciousness and bad behavior of rude ISKCON devotees. Going from Gaudiya Math to ISKCON was worse than "falling down." Like going from heaven to hell. The devotees were NOT trained in Gaudiya thinking, Vaisnavata (etiquette), puja, nor achar. It was such a shock. It went against everything I had learned for six years from Caitanya-caritamrita, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, etc., in the association of REAL devotees.

I watched in horror as an ISKCON sannyasi used his feet to kick other devotees during kirtana in front of the Deities (to make them dance); to see the puja standard performed incorrectly; to see men and women living in Ashram life together like cats and dogs; to see women during their stated monthly period directly worshipping bona fide Deities; to witness the complete lack of knowledge and Vaisnavata; and to see the mundane attitude of all these total kanistha beginners who were more like fanatic Jesus-freaks than a group of humble devotees. It was such BAD association. Everyone was running in circles like headless-chickens chasing after material goals in the worst way. It was like real "communism" but with Prabhupada (in his 'old man' vapu) as the center.

Since then I lost much respect for my godbrothers; it was obvious that they didn't understand Gaudiya dharma prayojan, and they were dead-set against taking help from or showing respect to Sri Gaudiya Math devotees nor Prabhupada's still living great Godbrothers. They were so sure that they were already liberated and all-perfect. But I knew, clearly, that just the opposite was the truth.

A perfect example is the zonal acarya guru worship I had to endure in L.A. before the "something-pad" fell down completely, leaving hundreds or even thousands of individual jivatma's with their faith completely shattered and their lives up-side-down. It was and still is disgusting to me.

I take "svarupa-siddhi" to mean self-realization. These untrained fools were bad-mouthing all of Prabhupada's Godbrothers and Sri Gaudiya Math, while kissing the ass of rich karmis. It was the greatest mental suffering for me to be a part of it all.

When I returned to Prabhupada in Mayapura, 1973, I asked him to give me diksa; Prabhupada asked me (tumi jani na?) "You already know it, no?" I replied, "yes Gurudev, I know it" (from Srila Van Maharaj). Prabhupada replied, "Tik achi!" (then that is OK). And that was that.

So Vana Maharaj never "stole" me because I belong to Krsna, not this or that manifestation of Guru tattva. It didn't matter this group or that group. My Godbrothers called me a traitor, and I was surprised at this after having sincerely practiced Krsna consciousness in Vraja Dham at the feet of Prabhupada's own Godbrother. This is material duality and nonsense! And most of my Godbrothers are full of it! In the event I became polluted which caused me to adopt the mundane fault-finding party-line of ISKCON; and become a prakrita-kanistha semi-devotee full with misery at having traded the feet of Lord Caitanya for life in an out-cast American cult.

After being a sannyasi for 3 years accepted by all the Gaudiya Math devotees it was hard to return to brahmacari ashram. So out of a material desire I begged Prabhupada to give me Sannyas again. Prabhupada did so and lengthened my name to Hrsikesananda.

Then I had the good fortune of working with Srila Prabhupada in Mayapura on the Nectar of Instruction to completion. And Srila Prabhupada allowed me to put "asta-kaliya-lila" into the sloka 10 translation of Sri Upadesamrta. That is the only place you will find it positively mentioned in the entire VedaBase. When speaking (almost always in Bengali) with Prabhupada (after 6 years training under Srila Vana Maharaj) about the esoteric matters he never once treated me like some fool the way he did with his other disciples. He knew that Vana Maharaj was a Gaudiya siddhanta expert and that I knew the inside truth and the Nitya-lila.

During this time Prabhupada (at my humble request) also corrected a mistake in the "sannyas mantra" which was being passed around ISKCON. But to this day many fanatics still chant it wrongly and give it wrongly to others, believing that Prabhupada is right even when it is wrong. FYI: Correct Sannyasa Mantra is "Kim gopibhavasrayaya svaha" Ref. Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati.

Due to my being a fugitive having no valid PP in India for over 6 years I was forced by the US Embassy to flee India (bare foot) into Nepal. Later I got married and adopted Sri Salagram Sila Puja as my sadhana; and when I wrote Prabhupada about it he replied to me by letter (found in Vedabase) giving his blessings and yet still referring to me as "Hrsikesananda das." In a later letter just before he passed away he also called me that name. So it has stuck by HIS will. (The name means, the servant ofSrimati Radharani (Who is the ananda of Lord Hrsikesa).

In 1970 I wrote a book published as Sri Bepin Shakhi Vilas which is all about the nitya-lila. Later I published a small book (before mentioned) named Bhakti Culture. In 1981 I wrote the "Devotee's Guide to Vraja Dham" which many of my close Godbrothers appreciated. Presently I am still working on a new book called Vraja Rasa Bindu which may be published by the Lord's will.

On the material platform I am considered by some jivatma's to be successful a Gemologist and Jewelry designer of Astral Gemstone Talismans, with head quarters in Bangkok, Kingdom of Thailand. I started this business of making Vedic astrological jewelry with Prabhupada's blessings in 1975, after having been introduced to gemstones by my dear Godbrother and Prabhupada's legendary secretary, Sri Shyamsundar Prabhu.

Since then my business has become very well known, especially around Asia, and this has enabled me to donate over Rs 5,000,000 to ISKCON over the years.

I have a Thai devotee wife (of 19 years) named Champakalata Devi Dasi (initiated by me) and we have a 9 year old son named Jiva who studies in the Palace. We live in Thailand right next to the King.

Besides English I have learned Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali and Thai.

FOR ME "GURU TATTVA" IS AS FOLLOWS:

1) My Harinam Guru is Srila Prabhupada;

2) My Diksa Guru is Srila Vana Maharaj;

3) My Siksa Guru is both of them (plus the lowest Gaudiya Math brahmacari);

4) My Chaitya Guru is Sri Salagram Bhagavan.

I hope there will be no more rumors about me any more. I am insignificant and hardly worth your speculation's. OM TAT SAT!

Your servant,
Hrsikesananda das

Appreciation:

Dear Hrsikesananda Prabhu,
Thank you for sharing your background. I am in a rather awkward position these days, as an initiated disciple of Srila B.R. Sridhara Maharaja who has been puzzled and saddened by so much of what has gone on not just in ISKCON but even in the Caitanya Saraswat Math and environs. When I first visited Sripad Sudhir Maharaja's San Jose ashram, I was warmed by the obvious difference in devotional mellows compared to what I had experience in Los Angeles (where I had served under Sripad Mukunda Maharaja in the Office of Public Affairs and under Rajendranatha Prabhu at the BBT). In San Jose we stood during the prema-dhvani prayers, and we did sing the maha-mantra one half-stanza at a time. In many respects it was a much purer approximation of what appears to be the proper GM standard. But even so, with the influence of the Westerners even the Chaitanya Saraswat Math was perhaps in a middle ground between the pure GM traditions and the wildly innovative ISKCON, and the groups that have split from SCSM have probably tended more toward their ISKCON deviations than their GM roots. Sad, really. Anyway, thanks again for your comments. I wish you success in publishing your Vraja Rasa Bindu.
YS, (Devotee) das