In support of Indradyumna Swami Maharaja: Someone who truly cares – by Saradiya Devi Dasi
Due to recent events and new facts that became public regarding abusive behaviour of former BVP Swami, many people are deeply concerned, and rightly so. When I learned some facts, my heart was bleeding with pain for the victims and my hands clenched into fists from anger towards the abuser. Child abuse is very serious topic, and it’s impossible to stay calm and many of us feel the same that it should not be tolerated.
Unfortunately, together with the anger towards abuser, I can see now on social media lots of false accusations are being spread towards other Vaishnavas. Our anger and fear and natural desire for justice and the protection for our kids appears to have turned into a witch-hunt. I observe some people trying to identify other possible abusers, expose them now and punish them now. Let’s be careful not to burn in the fire of our anger, those who have nothing to do with these deviant behaviours. Let’s not mix up love and lust and let’s support each other in the face of the pain that we all feel. Child abuse is very serious accusation that should not be thrown at anyone who was ever seen next to children.
I came across attacks towards my Gurudeva, Indradyumna Swami Maharaja, and I would like to stand for him and speak up. I first met my Gurudeva when I was 15, now I am fast approaching 50. Over all these years, I have gotten to know him well. I have travelled with him in large and small groups on preaching and pilgrimage tours, I served as his secretary, his book publisher, as translator, and I helped him organise various projects. Through the years he has become not just my spiritual master, but my life coach, my friend and my family.
Probably, in other cases of criticism towards my Gurudeva, I would not speak up. I know that he never answers to any critics and takes it in a humble way. He is real Vaishnava with incredible patience and is a very humble individual. But currently the words that were thrown at him are so wrong and unfair, and the issue in which regards his name is mentioned is so serious, that I can’t stand by and remain silent and not defend him.
In this drastic situation in which facts related to former BVP’s child abuse have came to light, my Gurudeva was the first one to publicly admit how much he was shocked and hurt with this situation. He was the first one to offer help, financial, psychological, spiritual to those students that were traumatised. He went to Mayapur himself to meet with victims, and he was the first one to give his hand to those in need, because this is the type of person he is. He helps people, saving them from all kinds of distress. I have witnessed so many times, how he is ready to do whatever it takes to help. I could give hundreds of examples of him standing for people and saving them. He was also very clear that he has zero tolerance in this case of exceptionally horrific abuse of minors and that he has zero compassion towards abuser and recommends that his crime should be dealt, using the full weight of law enforcement.
Now, some people who are shocked with the situation are bringing up photos where my Gurudeva is hugging kids, and questioning if that is appropriate, with some throwing serious accusations towards him. Those who know him well, know how much he loves children. He has this amazing ability to talk to kids at any age and to engage them. Kids naturally love him as well. I’ve seen so many times, children trying to climb on his asana during classes, or climb on his mridangam, or just jumping on him and hugging and screaming Gurudeeeeeeeev! It is a fact that kids just love him and follow him everywhere and try to climb on him. This is why there are so many photos of my Gurudeva with kids. Yes, that’s what’s happens when he arrives anywhere, children run towards him and there is nothing to hide about it. Actually, many of those kids in those photos that are brought as suspicions, have grown up already, gotten married, are not climbing on my Gurudeva anymore, but their kids are now doing the same thing their parents did. I can name hundreds of His disciples who are with him since childhood and became accomplished Vaishnavas with happy personalities under His guidance.
Many times, we organised programs for children with pizza and fizzy drinks and my Gurudeva told them Krishna book stories in such an engaging way with humour, theatrical performance and lots of laughter. But he also gives them their first beads and teaches them how to chant and he is inspiring them and engaging them in spiritual life and Mahaprabhu’s mission. For these kids, he is their friend, their Pita Maharaja, which is a famous “nick- name” of his, and they treat him as they treat their close ones and their family. They hug their mother and father and grandpa, and they hug Gurudeva in the same natural way. It is hard to hold them from doing that.
While they are four- or five-years olds following him holding my Gurudeva’s clothes or his hand, it’s not anybody’s concern, but when they grow to nine or 10 years of age, especially if they are girls, and they already may look mature, soon to become young ladies, but remain children inside, it’s difficult for them to understand why they can’t hug him anymore. Many times, he has asked his senior female disciples to explain to young girls that they are now growing up and becoming ladies and they should learn some other behaviours, but he still loves them and still will be their Guru and their friend and their Spiritual Father whenever they need him. I personally had those discussions with some 10-11 years old girls, and they were sad and were looking at me as if I am telling them not to hug their mom anymore. With the time they accept other norms of behaviour, of course, stop being kids, but still following my Gurudeva as his disciples.
I am writing all of this to humbly ask devotees to be careful with their judgments and not to be blinded with anger and not to hurt a decent Vaishnava, an amazing, loving and caring individual, with bad suspicions.
Some of those who question my Gurudeva now, are asking, can he actually engage with kids in his renounced order of life? Can a sanyasi in our society do that? And many people bring up examples of renounced personalities of the past that never talked to women or probably never played with kids and were very strict. Some are going back up to Lord Chaitanya himself and question, can sanyasi actually talk to women or engage with kids? Is that appropriate? I just want to mention that, yes Lord Chaitanya did engage with his disciple’s children, but aside from that we have a more recent example, and the most important for us example, of AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder Acharya of ISKCON and inspiration of all modern Vaishnava movements. He was different and revolutionary in many ways. Before him, no one gave Brahmanical initiations to women, and women never cooked for Sanyasi, never were pujaris in the temples, etc. We know that he engaged women in a large specter of services in Mahaprabhu’s mission. He was also spending time and engaging with kids himself, and he was feeding them from his hands.
It’s unfortunate that Srila Prabhupada only spent 12 years with His disciples in the West. Many things they could not learn from him the next generation had to figure out. For instance, I think that my Gurudeva had to figure out himself how to deal with kids that are growing to teens and how to distance them in appropriate manner that will not hurt them. Srila Prabhupada’s disciples did not get explicit instructions for every situation. They had to use their intelligence in accordance to time and place. But one thing we know, is that Srila Prabhupada gave an example of modern days Sanyasi and Guru, that was loving, engaging and sometimes revolutionary, but always very decent and intelligent, a true gentleman. I was once fortunate to be at my Gurudeva’s place in Vrindavan when he was meeting with a group of his God-sisters, who were closely serving Srila Prabhupada early days, and he asked them to share their memories of Srila Prabhupada, and how he was with them, the first ladies in his society. When those senior ladies, told their stories of their loving relationships with Srila Prabhupada and how he was with them, back then young girls, how he engaged and showed his love and care and guidance and protection to all of them, how he helped them to grow, it was heart melting. Definitely, in those memories, Srila Prabhupada was very personal and yes, he was talking to women, and yes, he was engaging with kids.
My Gurudeva, in his renounced order, lives a very open life. He never stays alone. He always travels with a group of disciples and God-brothers. During the Polish tour, he sleeps on the floor in a classroom in the school that devotees rent to accommodate everyone who is serving on the tour. He normally shares a room with his God-brothers and is surrounded with about 300 disciples constantly. If not on a tour, he is on parikramas with his disciples and God-brothers living together or having preaching tours where he is always traveling and living in a group. He literally never stays alone, and he is never seeking the opportunity to stay alone. He rarely rests. He is always engaged in preaching, or developing his disciples, or saving somebody’s life literally or figurately. I can only marvel at how kind he is, how generous he is, how much love and compassion there is in his heart.
I am a parent myself and I sense the pain that parents might have when discovering their child had been subjected to abuse. I can only imagine the pain and rage I would experience if my kid would be a victim of abuse… What if…? Just this question makes my hair stand and my blood run cold. But this fear should not make us blind, and we should not start accusing each other. Otherwise, we may burn in the fire of our fear and anger, the best of those who actually love, who protect, who truly care.
The onus is upon all of us to take more personal responsibility and work on a variety of things that can be done on all levels to protect our children. I am grateful to those who have spoken up and brought cases to light for their courage. This awareness would enable society as a whole and each individual to take some necessary steps to prevent future abuse from happening. Now, I think the most urgent thing is to give comfort to those who were traumatised and to offer them protection and help. And I know this is exactly what my Gurudeva is doing.