It is observed over and over again that many religious and spiritual leaders tend to take their popularity for granted and indulge in acts inappropriate for someone in that position. This is historically true for every such organization. Srila Prabhupada, the Founder and Acharya of International Society or Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON, has categorically warned his followers against such behavior and has instructed them to carefully maintain both external and internal purity, particularly when it comes to leaders and preachers. All practicing devotee are bound to have shortcomings and it is acceptable, but such devotees must not pose as religious leaders, for that harms the society more than helps it. Srila Prabhupada was particular about practicing what he preached and wanted his disciples to do the same. He told them not to be cheap preachers.
Riding on popularity based on religious sentiments of innocent people, and engaging in immoral and unethical acts is utterly condemned. The number of scandals coming to light is increasing by every year, and the list of fake or tainted religious leaders and so-called saintly persons keeps growing. While acknowledging that ISKCON has a policy in place to deal with the wrongdoers and has been able to curb the nuisance to a great extent, I do not see any compelling reason to exclude all ISKCON leaders and preachers from the list.
The scenario outside of ISKCON is certainly next to hopeless but unfortunately, even the devotees at ISKCON are also seen behaving as if all the instructions given by Srila Prabhupada on behavior, ethics, morals, etc. are meant only for the outsiders. They seem to think that because they have already taken to Krishna consciousness, which, in its highest form, is beyond mundane principles, the rules of ethics and morality in this world do not apply to them. This is an immature understanding of Krishna consciousness. In fact, Srila Prabhupada’s instructions are primarily meant for and directed towards his immediate followers, that is, the members of ISKCON, including its congregation members, especially the initiated ones.
While it is understandable that ISKCON, with its existing infrastructure, cannot possibly keep track of every initiated devotee who may be in any corner of the world, it must monitor what is called “full time devotees”, for they directly represent ISKCON. If neophytes and spiritually unqualified people are allowed to take up leadership roles, or even worse, offered a position of being a “senior devotee” or a guru, who is looked up to by others, it creates more of a nuisance in the society.
A vaishnava is first of all a first class gentleman. ISKCON needs to ensure that its devotees and preachers do not get allured by and become victims of the modern facades of commercially oriented religious and spiritual leaders. Srila Sanatana Gosvami, a prominent acharya in the Gaudiya Vaishnava parampara, has strictly forbidden even hearing from the professional men who are not situated in the Vaishnava behavior. Srila Prabhupada stresses on the term “sadachara-sampanna“, one who is established in or possesses and practices good qualities. Again, one should not jump to a conclusion that this is directed only towards non-ISKCON preachers and sahajiyas.
Srila Prabhupada warns:
“Unless one is situated as pure Vaishnava in his dealing, in his behavior, inside and outside, he should not become a preacher because it will not be effective, neither one should hear from such person. But people in general, they can not understand, but those who are preaching, they must be very sincere, the same way. Rupa-raghunatha pade, haibe akuti. They should read the literatures, the instruction, just like Upadeshamrita, The Nectar of Instruction. We should follow, strictly follow. Then prithivim sa shisyat” Then you’ll be able to preach and make disciples all over the world. This is the injunction. That is called gosvami. Don’t be cheap preacher, cheap guru. No, no. That is not good. It is not possible.” – Srila Prabhupada lecture S.B. 7.9.28, Mayapur, March 06,1976
It is confirmed herein by Srila Prabhupada that it is not possible to become a preacher, a guru, if one does not strictly follow the teachings of the previous acharyas explained in the literature like Upadeshamrita, The Nectar of Instruction. It cannot make any sense to a sane person if one claims to be a vaishnava and does not follow basic principles of morals and ethics. Wrongly applying exceptions and examples from the past and using the philosophy to justify one’s own misdeeds is self-destructive.
Krishna consciousness does not exclude mundane good qualities like truthfulness, honesty, morality, compassion, charity, and other ethics; it goes beyond them.