Practically speaking, Vaishnavas are killers. . . It is not that because Mohammed used a sword, we also must use a sword, No! --we can use a Gun. We will ask-...You like Krishna?? No--Booom..You like Krishna? No--Booom. We can use everything for Krishna, we can use the ATOM BOMB FOR KRISHNA!! We have to kill this civilization of mudhas [fools] . . .those who are mudhas, we have to kill them. This is our business. Kill all the mudhas. . . Not now but later when we are more powerful.
Why is the sight of a youth being recruited on the street by a member of ISIS so eerily familiar? That describes my feelings exactly as I recently saw a video clip from Australia of one of these fanatics in action. The pattern is unmistakable: the target is approached by a person whose appearance and fervor declare an allegiance to a call to arms that transcends the rule of law and any obligations to family or the homeland. This call to brotherhood—complete with handshakes and hugs--is nothing more than an invitation to join a gang whose core ideology and practices reveal that it is really nothing more than a cult. Worse, the signs pointing to cults as incubators of extremism have been glaringly obvious in the West for more than 40 years.
Those of us with years of experience in ISKCON should use the valuable insights we possess to teach such would-be miscreants how to avoid the cult indoctrination process altogether. They might have mutated over two generations, but the diseases afflicting both cultists and terrorists have one symptom in common: at their core they are cults of personality with only a thin veneer of religiosity.
How does an otherwise unremarkable young man, usually from a working class family, turn into a hero- worshiping jihadist? At first glance, it appears that the new recruit has been illuminated by a sudden blast of piety: he becomes immersed in studying the Koran and quits drinking, whoring, and drug taking. So far, so good. However, when he travels to meet with his ISIS brothers, the pious cloud disperses, revealing just another gangster with a penchant for murder, rape, and pillaging. Instead of teaching its new recruits to assume responsibility for their own actions, terrorists preach a doctrine of victimization by Western culture and add to it a criminal sense of entitlement. In practice, it is a license for seeking out non-Islamic minorities and using them as scapegoats for their ill-conceived rage and insecurities.
Most recently, Graeme Wood, in his now famous article, "What ISIS Really Wants," has traced the impetus for its followers' practices to a literalist, millenarian interpretation of the Koran. These practices include eliminating any Muslim who does not subscribe to the Islamic State's reactionary, simplistic world view. Muslims who depart from what Wood calls a "seventh-century legal environment" are infidels who must die, whereas all others must be subjugated, acknowledge the supremacy of ISIS, and pay fines to ensure their continued existence. Bernard Haykel (whose authority on ISIS Wood cites many times in his article) adds elsewhere that the Islamic State's back-to-basics mentality sidesteps a tradition of diverse, learned Islamic interpretation that spans more than a thousand years. The reason for this pitiful state of affairs, according to R. Rumi of the Hudson Institute, is "the weakened state" of that tradition today stemming from the Islamist misuse of ideology in the pursuit of their political aspirations.
One of the most persistent fallacies plaguing religious fundamentalists of all denominations is the idea that scriptures are products of divine inspiration, usually originating from oral recitations of great antiquity that were codified by one or more holy scribes who tradition holds merely functioned as mouthpieces of a prophet. Modern scholarship avails itself of textual, archaeological and linguistic research to provide a more historically accurate picture of how scriptures developed, but the fanatics bent on insisting that everyone read with the literalism of small children need to offer incentives to their would-be followers that appear to put them on a fast track to enjoying adult goods and services they have done absolutely nothing to legitimately acquire.
The reformation Islam needs at a minimum is therefore two-fold: its members must repair its image world-wide, beginning with condemning the terrorist model of rape and plunder as economic and political suicide; in addition,private and public educational institutions must endeavor to create an atmosphere where Islamic interpretation is encouraged and its scholars protected. Needless to say, implementing these changes will entail considerable risk since it requires freedom of speech and other individual liberties that gangs such as ISIS and the Taliban have systemically denied to all in their reach in their frenzied race to oblivion.
Moreover, the naked opportunism that characterizes ISIS--for all of its appeal to a medieval Prophet-centered worldview--is expressed using methods that are quite technologically adept. It is as if their black-clad followers have emerged out of an Islamic-themed version of the Call of Duty video game, smartphones and computers at hand, using the latest social media to urge the gullible to regress to a tribalist existence filled with mayhem and slaughter. Unfortunately, but for a change of religion and attire, the practices now associated with ISIS have been used repeatedly by any number of cults that began to infiltrate American and European society beginning in the counter-culture ("Hippie/New Age") era of the mid 1960's and continuing to the present. What follows will establish beyond a reasonable doubt that religious fanaticism, much like an antibiotic-resistant plague, is capable of adapting to find better ways of breaking down the resistance of its hosts.
Similarly, if you are a newly-hatched terrorist prowling about Syria or Iraq looking for anyone your self-appointed Caliph deems an apostate, what will you do when these so-called apostates beat your forces into submission? Whether you are committed to following an ISKCON guru or waving a black ISIS flag, sacrificing your rational faculties for an obvious ruse also means that you have unnecessarily sacrificed your humanity. Such a deluded state of mind and the actions necessary to sustain it typically require the new adherents' adoption by a leader or guru, who, together with his other followers, convinces them that salvation is to be found in retreating to another time and place where they are de facto reborn with new ethnicities and allegiances. ISIS, for example, is fiercely determined to build an Islamic society based on a seventh-century model derived from a literal reading of the Holy Koran. It is as if they are time travelers from the past who are given falsified passports that they somehow believe render them fully-functional members of a divinely inspired people destined to drive out infidels and subjugate all others.
Wresting these lost souls from their delusions and bringing them back to reality will prove to be a challenge, as families and friends of cult members learned back in the hippie era. Their ideological grandchildren--both the Hindu would-be cultists and the Islamic terrorist imports from the West--cannot be saved until they learn to recognize the dangers of literal scriptural readings (especially in regard to apocalyptic themes) and begin to think for themselves.
Perhaps the most effective means of brainwashing the followers of either a cult or a terrorist gang is the use of violent propaganda lifted from religious texts that are both taken in a literal sense and presented as the bedrock of an ancient social order. To new adherents searching for a rapid-fire means to enlightenment, the ardent, blind faith in a few lines of a holy book taken out of context often seems like an easy way to feign knowledge of a scripture they lack the erudition and the inclination to study and read at greater length. In most cases, however, they slavishly follow and disseminate their leaders' commentaries on scripture without reading the original for themselves and seeking to educate themselves beyond what is strictly allowed by the cult. The following examples of scripture and commentary from sacred texts of Hinduism and Islam show what mischief can arise when they are taken literally:
Founder/Acharya of the Hare Krishna movement, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada:
Arjuna was a great Vaishnava, and he was killing. Bhima was a great Vaishnava, and he was killing. Dhruva Maharaja was a Vaishnava, and he was killing. Parikshit Maharaja was killing. Prahlada Maharaja was killing. Rama was killing. Krishna was killing. Practically speaking, Vaishnavas are killers. . . It is not that because Mohammed used a sword, we also must use a sword, No! --we can use a Gun. We will ask-...You like Krishna??No--Booom..You like Krishna? No--Booom. We can use everything for Krishna, we can use the ATOM BOMB FOR KRISHNA!!We have to kill this civilization of mudhas [fools] . . .those who are mudhas, we have to kill them. This is our business. Kill all the mudhas. . . Not now but later when we are more powerful.
Whatever Muhammad said that is authority. That we accept. We accept Muhammad as the representative of God. Whatever he says, we accept; that's all. What you mean, that is your business. But he is the authority; he said, This is the name of God. You chant, you pray. "Allah of God." That's all. This is authority.
Manu Samhita (Oxford Edition):
Drinking (spirituous liquor), associating with wicked people, separating from the husband, rambling abroad, sleeping (at unseasonable hours), and dwelling in other men's houses, are the six causes of the ruin of women. Women do not care for beauty, nor is their attention fixed on age; (thinking), '(it is enough that) he is a man,' they give themselves to the handsome and to the ugly.Through their passion for men, through their mutable temper, through their natural heartlessness, they become disloyal towards their husbands, however carefully they may be guarded in this (world).Knowing their disposition, which the Lord of creatures laid in them at the creation, to be such, (every) man should most strenuously exert himself to guard them.(When creating them) Manu allotted to women (a love of their)bed, (of their) seat and (of) ornament, impure desires, wrath, dishonesty, malice, and bad conduct. 9: 13-17.
A man, aged thirty years, shall marry a maiden of twelve who pleases him, or a man of twenty-four a girl eight years of age; if (the performance of) his duties would (otherwise) be impeded, (he must marry) sooner. 9: 94.Holy Quran:
And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing . . .But if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah and worship is for Allah alone.I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them. 8:12.The "kill the mudhas" bluster A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada engaged in during the last years of his life shows how role-playing is an intrinsic part of the cult leadership mentality. Another is the practice of demonizing your real or imagined opponents and both exaggerating the threat they pose to you as well as your reaction to it. The fools our guru advocated killing would include anyone not a Krishna devotee, yet when he went to Tehran to preach, his absolutism shifted to relativism--"we accept Muhammad as the representative of God"--an obvious attempt to disarm his hosts. He would also use this trick on Christians and Jews: he claimed that Jesus was an avatar of Vishnu and praised Jewish intelligence on various occasions (many of his early American disciples were Jewish) and then praised Hilter and Lenin at unguarded moments or in private correspondence.
Similarly, the Swami insisted that the (Laws of Manu) is "the law book for the entire human society"iii but departed from its treatment of castes as hereditary, claiming that by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and "by accepting regulative principles, even Westerners (mlecchas and yavanas) become brahmanas"iv Regardless of what the Bengali reformer and Vaishnava saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu advocated, to regard the chaturvarna (four castes) system as anything but hereditary and rigidly hierarchical is to deny the scriptural foundations on which they rest and the fanatical way they have been maintained in the past and most certainly in the present. In her introduction to B.R. Ambedkar's, Annihilation of Caste, Arundhati Roy observes that unlike "contemporary abominations like apartheid, racism, sexism, economic imperialism and religious fundamentalism," the caste system gets a relatively free ride from international criticism The West's continuing flirtation with Eastern mysticism and exoticism in general might be a mitigating factor, but when a prominent organization of British Hindus can flatly state that "any form of discrimination is frowned upon by Hindu Dharma," it is clear to anyone even dimly aware of the caste-related violence that continues to roil India, that something more than mere denial is afoot. Of course, those of you who were ISKCON devotees are well aware of the kind of "Brahmins" our guru managed to create was as notorious in its own way as the abuses hereditary Brahmins and other upper caste Hindus heap upon the Dalits. These Hare Krishna brahmins were, in dress, laughable imitations of Gaudiya Vaishnavas in tilok and saffron garb, obsessed with controlling their sankirtan-funded temples and, after our guru's demise in 1977, a bunch of power-hungry businessmen fighting for guruship,embroiling themselves in various territorial squabbles.
When a political party wishes to hide inconvenient news from the voting public, it will sanitize, expurgate,and sugarcoat as it sees fit and voila! Propaganda is born, an evil with more heads than the demon Ravana. Although it is an insult to reason, propaganda carries an emotional charge that causes the gullible to attach themselves to it like flies to honey. In turn, these human flies become carriers of the propaganda virus and act like parasites in spreading delusions saturated with emotional content. I remember chanting and dancing with other Hare Krishna devotees, awash in our exoticism-intoxication, only to discover in short order that our guru was far more interested in our selling his books. Sure enough, soon "sankirtan" no longer meant congregational chanting, it meant "hitting the street" and making nuisances of ourselves in airports. Our budding piety and enthusiasm became the tool of another person's desire to perpetuate himself.
This pattern also applies to religious-terrorist groups such as ISIS and the Taliban. Everyone knows, for example, that the puppet-masters without whose ideological and financial support terrorists could not survive would themselves be munching dates and fighting petty tribal skirmishes if not for the immense revenue stream flowing from their nationalized oil fields. The rise of tightly organized terrorist groups openly sponsored by either Saudi Arabia or Iran shows how "geography is destiny" insofar as their funding is concerned. As for their gun-toting pawns, they are fools to think that their economic and educational impotence can be cured by dressing like an assassin out of a video game and roving about butchering innocents. Until and unless they stop living off the largesse of others, they will find themselves unable to afford the typical appliances--not even a lowly microwave oven--they will need if they are to attempt to bribe a poor family to allow them to marry one of their daughters.
Similarly, cults, whether they are outgrowths of established religions or simply the product of a fevered imagination, survive by attaching themselves to productive individuals and draining their funds with the tenacity of leeches. Thus fattened, they invest these "contributions" in lavish temples, restaurants, and various elaborate functions, all of which serve to stuff their coffers to the bursting point. Your actual religious beliefs might be absurd and laughable, but if you open a nice vegetarian restaurant and flatter your patrons, who cares? ISKCON, in addition, has gotten into the practice of giving its temples names (e.g., ISKCON Cultural Center) in an effort to seek legitimacy and broader social acceptance by the Hindu community. So, on the one hand, you have pious Hindus making large pledges to support ISKCON and Akshaya Patra food for school children programs, while the history of the catastrophe its founder's single-minded focus on selling his books visited upon the children of his disciples has been conveniently swept into the dustbin of the cult's early history. What is the likely outcome when a parasite encourages others to become parasites? Ask any of the innocent Indian school children who have been fed vermin-infested dal and roti mid-day meals by ISKCON food relief and the better-known Akshaya Patra! It is maddening even to think of such indignities visiting the recipients of an act of charity, which, for many, is indignity enough.
Little do they know that the carnival-like atmosphere of many of the temple programs is simply a means to direct attention away from the cult's ludicrous and contrived beliefs, what to speak of the abuses their internal hierarchical systems heap upon strict followers and dissidents alike. Chief among these beliefs is their insistence on perpetuating their guru's claim that he was the first Indian guru to bring the true wisdom of the Vedas to the West and that his translation of and commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita are uniquely authoritative. To believe these claims, one would have to be both gullible and suffering from a severe case of historical amnesia. In fact, by his own admission, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada never read the Vedas and openly plagiarized the translation of the text of the Bhagavad-Gita from the Gita Press edition.
Today, the miasma of deception to which we once succumbed has long since dissipated, having taken with it our youthful idealism and in too many cases, the best years of our lives. Despite losing these years, many of us have triumphed over great adversity to raise our children, obtain stable employment, and, in many cases put ourselves through college and even graduate school. Life does indeed find a way. For others, adapting to society after spending years and sometimes decades in the alternate universe of a repressive and sadistic cult has been a never-ending struggle. The years spent with the Hare Krishna cult (or any other similar pseudo-religious group) inevitably will have a formative effect on one's life. So the interest in what the cult is currently doing to ensnare newcomers and keep its current members docile and deluded does resurface, often with alarming results.
Imagine my horror in this regard, to learn that my guru--whose "four regulative principles" observed rigorously by his initiated disciples contained a ban on any form of tobacco--used snuff (powdered tobacco) to stay awake when he was working on his commentary of the Srimad Bhagavatam. This revelation hit me hard, bringing back memories of my habit of fiercely defending my guru when anyone would dare criticize him. I had no idea that we had been duped by a public relations scheme, any more than the lost souls who are streaming from all over the world to join the jihadists in the Middle East and now, parts of North Africa, eager to regress morally and intellectually in a tribalist quest for ill-gotten gains. Add to this the role of social media in disseminating a stream of half-truths and wild distortions to those without the education and common sense to separate fact from fiction and you have a toxic brew for which few antidotes exist. However, we must try.
I submit that the antidote is education, beginning in elementary school where both boys and girls learn to compare and contrast the religious beliefs and associated cultural practices of major world religions. Teachers should be recruited, as they are in Finland and South Korea, from the top 10% of the college classes and be compensated generously. Students should progressively learn rhetoric and the fundamentals of argumentative reasoning. The basis of such education is to teach students--boys and girls--to develop their reasoning powers and intellectual prowess. A youth who has learned to recognize the ideological maneuvers of cults can easily demolish them and actually point out their deficiencies to the slack-jawed cultist who is trying to recruit him or her. But what about the unemployed youths who turn to cults the same way many of their friends turn to gangs? This is an issue too many choose to side-step, focusing instead on methods of deterrence and profiling.
The answer is again to be found in the Nordic and South Korean models of education, where it is recognized that not all students are college-bound, and educated accordingly. Many of the social problems in the ghetto-like housing developments in the outskirts of major European and North American cities could be vastly diminished if youths starting high school entered apprenticeship programs where they learn a trade from mature professionals in various fields. Part of the job description for these educators involves encouraging and nurturing the talents of their young charges, many of whom lack a stable father figure at home. Believe me, if a young man or woman has the social and technical skills to earn a living upon graduating from high school, they will almost certainly look at gangs and cult recruiters as nothing more than a bunch of losers and parasites.
Most of all, our children must be taught an unwavering respect for the integrity and fundamental human rights of the individual. This must include freedom to pursue one's own interests and happiness without degrading or enslaving another regardless of religious or cultural precedent. Freedom of speech, including the right (as in this essay and others in this blog) to present opposing arguments and share one's personal experiences in order to help secure the rights of others and embolden them to seek redress as necessary and in a lawful manner. Finally, we should keep in mind Swami Vivekananda's exhortation that we:
Do not believe in a thing because you have read about it in a book. Do not believe in a thing because another man has said it was true. Do not believe in words because they are hallowed by tradition. Find out the truth for yourself. Reason it out. That is realization.
i. http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980. ii ii.http://www.hudson.org/research/11172-the-prospects-for-reform-in-islam iii Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, 3.21 purport. iv Srimad Bhagavatam 6.5.39 "Purport" by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. v http://hfb.org.uk. "Caste within the Single Equality Bill 2010." vi Swami Nikhilananda. Vivekananda: a Biography. NY: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1953.
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